Verse > Harvard Classics > John Milton > Complete Poems
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John Milton. (1608–1674).  Complete Poems.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
At a Vacation Exercise in the College, Part Latin, Part English
 
(1628)
 
 
The Latin speeches ended, the English thus began:—

HAIL, Native Language, that by sinews weak,
Didst move my first-endeavouring tongue to speak,
And madest imperfect words, with childish trips,
Half unpronounced, slide through my infant lips,
Driving dumb Silence from the portal door,        5
Where he had mutely sat two years before:
Here I salute thee, and thy pardon ask,
That now I use thee in my latter task:
Small loss it is that thence can come unto thee,
I know my tongue but little grace can do thee.        10
Thou need’st not be ambitious to be first,
Believe me, I have thither packed the worst:
And, if it happen as I did forecast,
The daintiest dishes shall be served up last.
I pray thee then deny me not thy aid,        15
For this same small neglect that I have made;
But haste thee straight to do me once a pleasure,
and from thy wardrobe bring thy chieftest treasure;
Not those new-fangled toys, and trimming slight
Which takes our late fantastics with delight;        20
But cull those richest robes and gayest attire,
Which deepest spirits and choicest wits desire.
I have some naked thoughts that rove about,
And loudly knock to have their passage out,
And, weary of their place, do only stay        25
Till thou hast decked them in thy best array;
That so they may, without suspect or fears,
Fly swiftly to this fair Assembly’s ears.
Yet I had rather, if I were to choose,
Thy service in some graver subject use,        30
Such as may make thee search thy coffers round,
Before thou clothe my fancy in fit sound:
Such where the deep transported mind may soar
Above the wheeling poles, and at Heaven’s door
Look in, and see each blissful Deity        35
How he before the thunderous throne doth lie,
Listening to what unshorn Apollo sings
To the touch of golden wires, while Hebe brings
Immortal nectar to her kingly Sire;
Then, passing through the spheres of watchful fire,        40
And misty regions of wide air next under,
And hills of snow and lofts of piled thunder,
May tell at length how green-eyed Neptune raves,
In heaven’s defiance mustering all his waves;
Then sing of secret things that came to pass        45
When beldam Nature in her cradle was;
And last of Kings and Queens and Heroes old,
Such as the wise Demodocus once told
In solemn songs at King Alcinoüs’ feast,
While sad Ulysses’ soul and all the rest        50
Are held, with his melodious harmony,
In willing chains and sweet captivity.
But fie, my wandering Muse, how thou dost stray!
Expectance calls thee now another way.
Thou know’st it must be now thy only bent        55
To keep in compass of thy Predicament.
Then quick about thy purposed business come,
That to the next I may resign my room.
 
Then ENS is represented as Father of the Predicaments, his ten Sons; whereof the eldest stood for SUBSTANCE with his Canons; which ENS, thus speaking, explains:—

Good luck befriend thee, son; for at thy birth
The faery Ladies danced upon the hearth.        60
The drowsy Nurse hath sworn she did them spy
Come tripping to the room where thou didst lie,
And, sweetly singing round about thy bed,
Strew all their blessings on thy sleeping head.
She heard them give thee this, that thou shouldst still        65
From eyes of mortals walk invisible.
Yet there is something that doth force my fear;
For once it was my dismal hap to hear
A Sibyl old, bow-bent with crooked age,
That far events full wisely could presage,        70
And, in Time’s long and dark prospective-glass,
Foresaw that future days should bring to pass.
“Your Son,” said she, “(nor can you it prevent,)
Shall subject be to many an Accident.
O’er all his Brethren he shall reign as King;        75
Yet every one shall make him underling,
And those that cannot live from him asunder
Ungratefully shall strive to keep him under.
In worth and excellence he shall outgo them;
Yet, being above them, he shall be below them.        80
From others he shall stand in need of nothing,
Yet on his Brothers shall depend for clothing.
To find a foe it shall not be his hap,
And peace shall lull him in her flowery lap;
Yet shall he live in strife, and at his door        85
Devouring war shall never cease to roar;
Yea, it shall be his natural property
To harbour those that are at enmity.”
What power, what force, what mighty spell, if not
Your learned hands, can loose this Gordian knot?        90
 
The next, QUANTITY and QUALITY, spake in prose: then RELATION was called by his name.

Rivers, arise: whether thou be the son
Of utmost Tweed, or Ouse, or gulfy Dun,
Or Trent, who, like some earth-born Giant, spreads
His thirty arms along the indented meads,
Or sullen Mole, that runneth underneath,        95
Or Sevren swift, guilty of maiden’s death,
Or rocky Avon, or of sedgy Lea,
Or coaly Tyne, or ancient hallowed Dee,
Or Humber loud, that keeps the Scythian’s name,
Or Medway smooth, or royal-towered Thame.

The rest was prose.
        100
 

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