Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. II. Ben Jonson to Dryden
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. II. The Seventeenth Century: Ben Jonson to Dryden
 
Extract from Comus
By John Milton (1608–1674)
 
[1634; æt. 26. See full text.]

  Comus.  The star that bids the shepherd fold,
Now the top of heaven doth hold;
And the gilded car of day
His glowing axle doth allay
In the steep Atlantic stream;        5
And the slope Sun his upward beam
Shoots against the dusky pole;
Pacing toward the other goal
Of his chamber in the East.
Meanwhile, welcome joy, and feast,        10
Midnight shout, and revelry,
Tipsy dance, and jollity,
Braid your locks with rosy twine,
Dropping odours, dropping wine.
Rigour now is gone to bed,        15
And advice with scrupulous head,
Strict age, and sour severity,
With their grave saws in slumber lie.
We that are of purer fire,
Imitate the starry quire,        20
Who in their nightly watchful spheres
Lead in swift round the months and years.
The sounds and seas, with all their finny drove,
Now to the moon in wav’ring morrice move;
And, on the tawny sands and shelves,        25
Trip the pert fairies and the dapper elves;
By dimpled brook and fountain-brim,
The wood-nymphs, deck’d with daisies trim,
Their merry wakes and pastimes keep;
What hath night to do with sleep?        30
Night hath better sweets to prove,
Venus now wakes, and wakens love.
Come, let us our rites begin,
’Tis only day-light that makes sin,
Which these dun shades will ne’er report.        35
Hail goddess of nocturnal sport,
Dark-veil’d Cotytto! to whom the secret flame
Of midnight torches burns; mysterious dame
That ne’er art call’d, but when the dragon womb
Of Stygian darkness spits her thickest gloom,        40
And makes one blot of all the air;
Stay thy cloudy ebon chair,
Wherein thou rid’st with Hecat’, and befriend
Us thy vow’d priests; till utmost end
Of all thy dues be done, and none left out;        45
Ere the blabbing eastern scout,
The nice morn on the Indian steep,
From her cabin’d loophole peep,
And to the tell-tale sun descry
Our conceal’d solemnity.        50
Come, knit hands, and beat the ground,
In a light fantastic round.
 
The Measure.
Break off, break off, I feel the different pace
Of some chaste footing near about this ground.
Run to your shrouds, within these brakes and trees;        55
Our number may affright: some virgin sure
(For so I can distinguish by mine art)
Benighted in these woods. Now to my charms,
And to my wily trains: I shall ere long
Be well stock’d with as fair a herd as graz’d        60
About my mother Circe. Thus I hurl
My dazzling spells into the spongy air,
Of power to cheat the eye with blear illusion,
And give it false presentments; lest the place
And my quaint habits breed astonishment,        65
And put the damsel to suspicious flight;
Which must not be, for that ’s against my course:
I, under fair pretence of friendly ends,
And well-placed words of glozing courtesy
Baited with reasons not unplausible,        70
Wind me into the easy-hearted man,
And hug him into snares. When once her eye
Hath met the virtue of this magic dust,
I shall appear some harmless villager
Whom thrift keeps up about his country gear.        75
But here she comes; I fairly step aside,
And hearken, if I may her business hear.
 
The Lady enters.
  Lady.  This way the noise was, if mine ear be true,
My best guide now; methought it was the sound
Of riot and ill-manag’d merriment,        80
Such as the jocund flute, or gamesome pipe
Stirs up among the loose unletter’d hinds,
When for their teeming flocks and granges full,
In wanton dance they praise the bounteous Pan,
And thank the gods amiss. I should be loth        85
To meet the rudeness, and swill’d insolence
Of such late wassailers; yet O! where else
Shall I inform my unacquainted feet
In the blind mazes of this tangled wood?
My brothers, when they saw me wearied out        90
With this long way, resolving here to lodge
Under the spreading favour of these pines,
Stept, as they said, to the next thicket side
To bring me berries, or such cooling fruit
As the kind hospitable woods provide.        95
They left me then, when the grey-hooded Even,
Like a sad votarist in palmer’s weed,
Rose from the hindmost wheels of Phœbus’ wain.
But where they are, and why they came not back,
Is now the labour of my thoughts; ’tis likeliest        100
They had engaged their wandering steps too far,
And envious darkness, ere they could return,
Had stole them from me; else O thievish night,
Why shouldst thou, but for some felonious end,
In thy dark lantern thus close up the stars,        105
That Nature hung in Heaven, and fill’d their lamps
With everlasting oil, to give due light
To the misled and lonely traveller?
This is the place, as well as I may guess,
Whence even now the tumult of loud mirth        110
Was rife, and perfect in my listening ear;
Yet nought but single darkness do I find.
What might this be? A thousand fantasies
Begin to throng into my memory,
Of calling shapes, and beckoning shadows dire,        115
And airy tongues that syllable men’s names
On sands, and shores, and desert wildernesses.
These thoughts may startle well, but not astound
The virtuous mind, that ever walks attended
By a strong siding champion, conscience.        120
O welcome, pure-eyed Faith, white-handed Hope,
Thou hov’ring angel girt with golden wings,
And thou, unblemish’d form of Chastity!
I see ye visibly, and now believe
That he, the Supreme Good, to whom all things ill        125
Are but as slavish officers of vengeance,
Would send a glist’ring guardian, if need were,
To keep my life and honour unassail’d.
Was I deceived, or did a sable cloud
Turn forth her silver lining on the night?        130
I did not err, there does a sable cloud
Turn forth her silver lining on the night,
And casts a gleam over this tufted grove:
I cannot halloo to my brothers, but
Such noise as I can make to be heard farthest        135
I ’ll venture, for my new enliven’d spirits
Prompt me; and they perhaps are not far off.
 
Song.
Sweet Echo, sweetest Nymph, that livest unseen
          Within thy airy shell,
        By slow Meander’s margent green,        140
And in the violet-embroider’d vale
          Where the love-lorn nightingale
Nightly to thee her sad song mourneth well:
Canst thou not tell me of a gentle pair
          That likest thy Narcissus are?        145
          O, if thou have
        Hid them in some flowery cave,
          Tell me but where,
Sweet queen of parley, daughter of the sphere!
So may’st thou be translated to the skies,        150
And give resounding grace to all Heaven’s harmonies.
 
Enter Comus.
  Comus.  Can any mortal mixture of earth’s mould
Breathe such divine enchanting ravishment?
Sure something holy lodges in that breast,
And with these raptures moves the vocal air        155
To testify his hidden residence.
How sweetly did they float upon the wings
Of silence through the empty-vaulted night,
At every fall smoothing the raven down
Of Darkness till it smiled! I have oft heard        160
My mother Circe with the Sirens three,
Amidst the flowery-kirtled Naiades,
Culling their potent herbs, and baleful drugs;
Who, as they sung, would take the prison’d soul
And lap it in Elysium; Scylla wept,        165
And chid her barking waves into attention,
And fell Charybdis murmur’d soft applause:
Yet they in pleasing slumber lull’d the sense,
And in sweet madness robb’d it of itself;
But such a sacred, and home-felt delight,        170
Such sober certainty of waking bliss
I never heard till now. I ’ll speak to her,
And she shall be my queen. Hail, foreign wonder!
Whom certain these rough shades did never breed:
Unless the goddess that in rural shrine        175
Dwell’st here with Pan, or Sylvan, by blest song
Forbidding every bleak unkindly fog
To touch the prosperous growth of this tall wood.
 
  Lady.  Nay, gentle shepherd, ill is lost that praise
That is address’d to unattending ears;        180
Not any boast of skill, but extreme shift
How to regain my sever’d company,
Compell’d me to awake the courteous Echo
To give me answer from her mossy couch.
 
  Comus.  What chance, good lady, hath bereft you thus?        185
 
  Lady.  Dim darkness, and this leafy labyrinth.
 
  Comus.  Could that divide you from near-ushering guides?
 
  Lady.  They left me weary on a grassy turf.
 
  Comus.  By falsehood, or discourtesy, or why?
 
  Lady.  To seek i’ the valley some cool friendly spring.        190
 
  Comus.  And left your fair side all unguarded, lady?
 
  Lady.  They were but twain, and purposed quick return.
 
  Comus.  Perhaps forestalling night prevented them.
 
  Lady.  How easy my misfortune is to hit!
 
  Comus.  Imports their loss, beside the present need?        195
 
  Lady.  No less than if I should my brothers lose.
 
  Comus.  Were they of manly prime, or youthful bloom?
 
  Lady.  As smooth as Hebe’s their unrazor’d lips.
 
  Comus.  Two such I saw, what time the labour’d ox
In his loose traces from the furrow came,        200
And the swink’d hedger at his supper sate;
I saw them under a green mantling vine
That crawls along the side of yon small hill,
Plucking ripe clusters from the tender shoots.
Their port was more than human, as they stood;        205
I took it for a fairy vision
Of some gay creatures of the element,
That in the colours of the rainbow live,
And play i’ the plighted clouds. I was awe-struck,
And as I past, I worshipt; if those you seek,        210
It were a journey like the path to heaven
To help you find them.

  Lady.            Gentle villager,
What readiest way would bring me to that place?
 
  Comus.  Due west it rises from this shrubby point.
 
  Lady.  To find out that, good shepherd, I suppose,        215
In such a scant allowance of star-light,
Would overtask the best land-pilot’s art,
Without the sure guess of well-practised feet.
 
  Comus.  I know each lane, and every alley green,
Dingle, or bushy dell, of this wild wood,        220
And every bosky bourn from side to side,
My daily walks and ancient neighbourhood:
And if your stray attendance be yet lodged,
Or shroud within these limits, I shall know
Ere morrow wake, or the low-roosted lark        225
From her thatch’d pallet rouse; if otherwise,
I can conduct you, lady, to a low
But loyal cottage, where you may be safe
Till further quest.

  Lady.            Shepherd, I take thy word,
And trust thy honest-offer’d courtesy,        230
Which oft is sooner found in lowly sheds
With smoky rafters, than in tapestry halls
In courts of princes, where it first was named
And yet is most pretended: in a place
Less warranted than this, or less secure,        235
I cannot be, that I should fear to change it.
Eye me, blest Providence, and square my trial
To my proportion’d strength. Shepherd, lead on.  [Exeunt.
 
 
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