Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. VI. Fancy: Sentiment
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume VI. Fancy.  1904.
 
Poems of Fancy: III. Mythical: Mystical: Legendary
From “The Castle of Indolence”
James Thomson (1700–1748)
 
From Canto I.

 The castle hight of Indolence,
  And its false luxury;
Where for a little time, alas!
  We lived right jollily.

  O MORTAL man, who livest here by toil,
  Do not complain of this thy hard estate;
  That like an emmet thou must ever moil,
  Is a sad sentence of an ancient date;
  And, certes, there is for it reason great;        5
  For, though sometimes it makes thee weep and wail,
  And curse thy star, and early drudge and late;
  Withouten that would come a heavier bale,
Loose life, unruly passions, and diseases pale.
 
  In lowly dale, fast by a river’s side,        10
  With woody hill o’er hill encompassed round,
  A most enchanting wizard did abide,
  Than whom a fiend more fell is nowhere found.
  It was, I ween, a lovely spot of ground;
  And there a season atween June and May,        15
  Half prankt with spring, with summer half embrowned,
  A listless climate made, where, sooth to say,
No living wight could work, ne cared even for play.
 
  Was naught around but images of rest:
  Sleep-soothing groves, and quiet lawns between;        20
  And flowery beds that slumbrous influence kest,
  From poppies breathed; and beds of pleasant green,
  Where never yet was creeping creature seen.
  Meantime, unnumbered glittering streamlets played,
  And hurlèd everywhere their waters sheen;        25
  That, as they bickered through the sunny glade,
Though restless still themselves, a lulling murmur made.
 
  Joined to the prattle of the purling rills
  Were heard the lowing herds along the vale,
  And flocks loud bleating from the distant hills,        30
  And vacant shepherds piping in the dale:
  And, now and then, sweet Philomel would wail,
  Or stockdoves plain amid the forest deep,
  That drowsy rustled to the sighing gale;
  And still a coil the grasshopper did keep;        35
Yet all these sounds yblent inclinèd all to sleep.
 
  Full in the passage of the vale, above,
  A sable, silent, solemn forest stood;
  Where naught but shadowy forms was seen to move,
  As Idless fancied in her dreaming mood:        40
  And up the hills, on either side, a wood
  Of blackening pines, aye waving to and fro,
  Sent forth a sleepy horror through the blood;
  And where this valley winded out, below,
The murmuring main was heard, and scarcely heard, to flow.        45
 
  A pleasing land of drowsyhed it was,
  Of dreams that wave before the half-shut eye;
  And of gay castles in the clouds that pass,
  Forever flushing round a summer sky:
  There eke the soft delights, that witchingly        50
  Instil a wanton sweetness through the breast,
  And the calm pleasures always hovered nigh;
  But whate’er smacked of noyance or unrest
Was far, far off expelled from this delicious nest.
 
  The landscape such, inspiring perfect ease,        55
  Where Indolence (for so the wizard hight)
  Close-hid his castle mid embowering trees,
  That half shut out the beams of Phœbus bright,
  And made a kind of checkered day and night;
  Meanwhile, unceasing at the massy gate,        60
  Beneath a spacious palm, the wicked wight
  Was placed; and to his lute, of cruel fate
And labor harsh, complained, lamenting man’s estate.
 
  Thither continual pilgrims crowded still,
  From all the roads of earth that pass there by:        65
  For, as they chanced to breathe on neighboring hill,
  The freshness of this valley smote their eye,
  And drew them ever and anon more nigh;
  Till clustering round the enchanter false they hung,
  Ymolten with his siren melody;        70
  While o’er the enfeebling lute his hand he flung,
And to the trembling chords these tempting verses sung:
 
  “Behold! ye pilgrims of this earth, behold!
  See all, but man, with unearned pleasure gay:
  See her bright robes the butterfly unfold,        75
  Broke from her wintry tomb in prime of May!
  What youthful bride can equal her array?
  Who can with her for easy pleasure vie?
  From mead to mead with gentle wing to stray,
  From flower to flower on balmy gales to fly,        80
Is all she has to do beneath the radiant sky.
 
  “Behold the merry minstrels of the morn,
  The swarming songster of the careless grove,
  Ten thousands throats! that, from the flowering-thorn,
  Hymn their good God, and carol sweet of love,        85
  Such grateful kindly raptures them emove:
  They neither plough nor sow; ne, fit for flail,
  E’er to the barn the nodden sheaves they drove:
  Yet theirs each harvest dancing in the gale,
Whatever crowns the hill, or smiles along the vale.        90
 
  “Outcast of nature, man! the wretched thrall
  Of bitter dropping sweat, of sweltry pain,
  Of cares that eat away the heart with gall,
  And of the vices, an inhuman train,
  That all proceed from savage thirst of gain:        95
  For when hard-hearted interest first began
  To poison earth, Astræa left the plain;
  Guile, violence, and murder seized on man,
And, for soft milky streams, with blood the rivers ran.
 
  “Come, ye who still the cumbrous load of life        100
  Push hard up hill; but as the furthest steep
  You trust to gain, and put an end to strife,
  Down thunders back the stone with mighty sweep,
  And hurls your labors to the valley deep,
  Forever vain: come, and withouten fee,        105
  I in oblivion will your sorrows steep,
  Your cares, your toils; will steep you in a sea
Of full delight: O, come, ye weary wights, to me!
 
  “With me, you need not rise at early dawn,
  To pass the joyless day in various stounds;        110
  Or, louting low, on upstart fortune fawn,
  And sell fair honor for some paltry pounds;
  Or through the city take your dirty rounds,
  To cheat, and dun, and lie, and visit pay,
  Now flattering base, now giving secret wounds;        115
  Or prowl in courts of law for human prey,
In venal senate thieve, or rob on broad highway.
 
  “No cocks, with me, to rustic labor call,
  From village on to village sounding clear:
  To tardy swain no shrill-voiced matrons squall;        120
  No dogs, no babes, no wives, to stun your ear;
  No hammers thump; no horrid blacksmith sear,
  Ne noisy tradesman your sweet slumbers start,
  With sounds that are a misery to hear:
  But all is calm, as would delight the heart        125
Of Sybarite of old, all nature, and all art.
 
  “Here naught but candor reigns, indulgent ease,
  Good-natured lounging, sauntering up and down:
  They who are pleased themselves must always please;
  On others’ ways they never squint a frown,        130
  Nor heed what haps in hamlet or in town:
  Thus, from the source of tender Indolence,
  With milky blood the heart is overflown,
  Is soothed and sweetened by the social sense;
For interest, envy, pride, and strife are banished hence.        135
 
  “What, what is virtue, but repose of mind,
  A pure ethereal calm, that knows no storm;
  Above the reach of wild ambition’s wind,
  Above those passions that this world deform,
  And torture man, a proud malignant worm?        140
  But here, instead, soft gales of passion play,
  And gently stir the heart, thereby to form
  A quicker sense of joy; as breezes stray
Across the enlivened skies, and make them still more gay.
 
  “The best of men have ever loved repose:        145
  They hate to mingle in the filthy fray;
  Where the soul sours, and gradual rancor grows,
  Imbittered more from peevish day to day.
  E’en those whom fame has lent her fairest ray,
  The most renowned of worthy wights of yore,        150
  From a base world at last have stolen away:
  So Scipio, to the soft Cumæan shore
Retiring, tasted joy he never knew before.
 
  “But if a little exercise you choose,
  Some zest for ease, ’t is not forbidden here:        155
  Amid the groves you may indulge the Muse,
  Or tend the blooms, and deck the vernal year;
  Or softly stealing, with your watery gear,
  Along the brooks, the crimson-spotted fry
  You may delude: the whilst, amused, you hear        160
  Now the hoarse stream, and now the zephyr’s sigh,
Attunèd to the birds, and woodland melody.
 
  “O grievous folly! to heap up estate,
  Losing the days you see beneath the sun;
  When, sudden, comes blind unrelenting fate,        165
  And gives the untasted portion you have won
  With ruthless toil, and many a wretch undone,
  To those who mock you, gone to Pluto’s reign,
  There with sad ghosts to pine, and shadows dun;
  But sure it is of vanities most vain,        170
To toil for what you here untoiling may obtain.”
 
  He ceased. But still their trembling ears retained
  The deep vibrations of his witching song;
  That, by a kind of magic power, constrained
  To enter in, pell-mell, the listening throng.        175
  Heaps poured on heaps, and yet they slipt along,
  In silent ease; as when beneath the beam
  Of summer moons, the distant woods among,
  Or by some flood all silvered with the gleam,
The soft-embodied fays through airy portal stream:        180
 
  By the smooth demon so it ordered was,
  And here his baneful bounty first began:
  Though some there were who would not further pass,
  And his alluring baits suspected han.
  The wise distrust the too fair-spoken man.        185
  Yet through the gate they cast a wisful eye:
  Not to move on, perdie, is all they can:
  For do their very best they cannot fly,
But often each way look, and often sorely sigh.
*        *        *        *        *
  The rooms with costly tapestry were hung,        190
  Where was inwoven many a gentle tale;
  Such as of old the rural poets sung,
  Or of Arcadian or Sicilian vale:
  Reclining lovers, in the lonely dale,
  Poured forth at large the sweetly tortured heart;        195
  Or, sighing tender passion, swelled the gale,
  And taught charmed echo to resound their smart;
While flocks, woods, streams around, repose and peace impart.
*        *        *        *        *
  Each sound too here to languishment inclined,
  Lulled the weak bosom, and inducèd ease;        200
  Aerial music in the warbling wind,
  At distance rising oft, by small degrees,
  Nearer and nearer came, till o’er the trees
  It hung, and breathed such soul-dissolving airs,
  As did, alas! with soft perdition please:        205
  Entangled deep in its enchanting snares,
The listening heart forgot all duties and all cares.
 
  A certain music, never known before,
  Here lulled the pensive, melancholy mind;
  Full easily obtained. Behooves no more,        210
  But sidelong, to the gently waving wind,
  To lay the well-tuned instrument reclined;
  From which, with airy flying fingers light,
  Beyond each mortal touch the most refined,
  The god of winds drew sounds of deep delight:        215
Whence, with just cause, the harp of Æolus it hight.
 
  Ah me! what hand can touch the string so fine?
  Who up the lofty diapason roll
  Such sweet, such sad, such solemn airs divine,
  Then let them down again into the soul?        220
  Now rising love they fanned; now pleasing dole
  They breathed, in tender musings, through the heart;
  And now a graver sacred strain they stole,
  As when seraphic hands a hymn impart:
Wild warbling nature all, above the reach of art!        225
 
 
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