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John Milton. (1608–1674).  Complete Poems.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
Comus, a Mask
 
 
        
THE PERSONS
  
THE ATTENDANT SPIRIT, afterwards in the habit of THYRSIS.
Comus, with his Crew.
THE LADY.
FIRST BROTHER.
SECOND BROTHER.
SABRINA, the Nymph.
  
PRESENTED AT LUDLOW CASTLE, 1634, BEFORE THE EARL OF BRIDGEWATER, THEN PRESIDENT OF WALES
  
The Chief Person which presented were:—The Lord Brackley; Mr. Thomas Egerton, his Brother;The Lady Alice Egerton.
  
The first Scene discovers a wild wood.The ATTENDANT SPIRIT descends or enters.


BEFORE the starry threshold of Jove’s court
My mansion is, where those immortal shapes
Of bright aerial Spirits live insphered
In regions mild of calm and serene air,
Above the smoke and stir of this dim spot        5
Which men call Earth, and, with low-thoughted care,
Confined and pestered in this pinfold here,
Strive to keep up a frail and feverish being,
Unmindful of the crown that Virtue gives,
After this mortal change, to her true servants        10
Amongst the enthronèd gods on sainted seats.
Yet some there be that by due steps aspire
To lay their just hands on that golden key
That opes the Palace of Eternity.
To such my errand is; and, but for such,        15
I would not soil these pure ambrosial weeds
With the rank vapours of this sin-worn mould.
  But to my task. Neptune, besides the sway
Of every salt flood and each ebbing stream,
Took in, by lot ’twixt high and nether Jove,        20
Imperial rule of all the sea-girt Isles
That, like to rich and various gems, inlay
The unadornèd bosom of the Deep;
Which he, to grace his tributary gods,
By course commits to several government,        25
And gives them leave to wear their sapphire crowns
And wield their little tridents. But this Isle,
The greatest and the best of all the main,
He quarters to his blue-haired deities;
And all this tract that fronts the falling sun        30
A noble Peer of mickle trust and power
Has in his charge, with tempered awe to guide
An old and haughty Nation, proud in arms:
Where his fair offspring, nursed in princely lore,
Are coming to attend their father’s state,        35
And new-intrusted sceptre. But their way
Lies through the perplexed paths of this drear wood,
The nodding horror of whose shady brows
Threats the forlorn and wandering passenger;
And here their tender age might suffer peril,        40
But that, by quick command from sovran Jove,
I was despatched for their defence and guard!
And listen why; for I will tell you now
What never yet was heard in tale or song,
From old or modern bard, in hall or bower.        45
  Bacchus, that first from out the purple grape
Crushed the sweet poison of misused wine,
After the Tuscan mariners transformed,
Coasting the Tyrrhene shore, as the winds listed,
On Circe’s island fell. (Who knows not Circe,        50
The daughter of the Sun, whose charmed cup
Whoever tasted lost his upright shape,
And downward fell into a grovelling swine?)
This Nymph, that gazed upon his clustering locks,
With ivy berries wreathed, and his blithe youth,        55
Had by him, ere he parted thence, a Son
Much like his Father, but his Mother more,
Whom therefore she brought up, and Comus named:
Who, ripe and frolic of his full-grown age,
Roving the Celtic and Iberian fields,        60
At last betakes him to this ominous wood,
And, in thick shelter of black shades imbowered,
Excels his Mother at her mighty art;
Offering to every weary traveller
His orient liquor in a crystal glass,        65
To quench the drouth of Phœbus; which as they taste
(For most do taste through fond intemperate thirst),
Soon as the potion works, their human count’nance,
The express resemblance of the gods, is changed
Into some brutish form of wolf or bear,        70
Or ounce or tiger, hog, or bearded goat
All other parts remaining as they were.
And they, so perfect is their misery,
Not once perceive their foul disfigurement,
But boast themselves more comely than before,        75
And all their friends and native home forget,
To roll with pleasure in a sensual sty.
Therefore, when any favoured of high Jove
Chances to pass through this adventrous glade,
Swift as the sparkle of a glancing star        80
I shoot from heaven, to give him safe convoy,
As now I do. But first I must put off
These my sky-robes, spun out of Iris’ woof,
And take the weeds and likeness of a swain
That to the service of this house belongs,        85
Who, with his soft pipe and smooth-dittied song,
Well knows to still the wild winds when they roar,
And hush the waving woods; nor of less faith,
And in this office of his mountain watch
Likeliest, and nearest to the present aid        90
Of this occasion. But I hear the tread
Of hateful steps; I must be viewless now.
        COMUS enters with a charming-rod in one hand, his glass in the other; with him a rout of Monsters, headed like sundry sorts of wild beasts, but otherwise like men and women, their apparel glistering. They come in making a riotous and unruly noise, with torches in their hands.
  Comus. The star that bids the shepherd fold
Now the top of heaven doth hold;
And the gilded car of Day        95
His glowing axle doth allay
In the steep Atlantic stream:
And the slope Sun his upward beam
Shoots against the dusky pole,
Pacing toward the other goal        100
Of his chamber in the east.
Meanwhile, welcome joy and feast,
Midnight shout and revelry,
Tipsy dance and jollity.
Braid your locks with rosy twine,        105
Dropping odours, dropping wine.
Rigour now is gone to bed;
And Advice with scrupulous head,
Strict Age, and sour Severity,
With their grave saws, in slumber lie.        110
We, that are of purer fire,
Imitate the starry Quire,
Who, in their nightly watchful spheres,
Lead in swift round the months and years.
The sounds and seas, with all their finny drove,        115
Now to the Moon in wavering morrice move;
And on the tawny sands and shelves
Trip the pert Fairies and the dapper Elves.
By dimpled brook and fountain-brim,
The Wood-Nymphs, decked with daisies trim,        120
Their merry wakes and pastimes keep:
What hath night to do with sleep?
Night hath better sweets to prove;
Venus now wakes, and wakens Love
Come, let us our rites begin;        125
’T is only daylight that makes sin,
Which these dun shades will ne’er report.
Hail, goddess of nocturnal sport,
Dark-veiled Cotytto, to whom the secret flame
Of midnight torches burns! mysterious Dame,        130
That ne’er art called but when the dragon womb
Of Stygian darkness spets her thickest gloom,
And makes one blot of all the air!
Stay thy cloudy ebon chair,
Wherein thou ridest with Hecat’, and befriend        135
Us thy vowed priests, till utmost end
Of all thy dues be done, and none left out
Ere the blabbing eastern scout,
The nice Morn on the Indian steep,
From her cabined loop-hole peep,        140
And to the tell-tale Sun descry
Our concealed solemnity.
Come, knit hands, and beat the ground
In a light fantastic round.
 
The Measure.

Break off, break off! I feel the different pace
        145
Of some chaste footing near about this ground.
Run to your shrouds within these brakes and trees;
Our number may affright. Some virgin sure
(For so I can distinguish by mine art)
Benighted in these woods! Now to my charms,        150
And to my wily trains: I shall ere long
Be well stocked with as fair a herd as grazed
About my Mother Circe. Thus I hurl
My dazzling spells into the spongy air,
Of power to cheat the eye with blear illusion,        155
And give it false presentments, lest the place
And my quaint habits breed astonishment,
And put the Damsel to suspicious flight;
Which must not be, for that’s against my course.
I, under fair pretence of friendly ends,        160
And well-placed words of glozing courtesy,
Baited with reasons not unplausible,
Wind me into the easy-hearted man,
And hug him into snares. When once her eye
Hath met the virtue of this magic dust        165
I shall appear some harmless villager,
Whom thrift keeps up about his country gear.
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,
        170
My best guide now. Methought it was the sound
Of riot and ill-managed merriment,
Such as the jocond flute or gamesome pipe
Stirs up among the loose unlettered hinds,
When, for their teeming flocks and granges full,        175
In wanton dance they praise the bounteous Pan,
And thank the gods amiss. I should be loth
To meet the rudeness and swilled insolence
Of such late wassailers; yet, oh! where else
Shall I inform my unacquainted feet        180
In the blind mazes of this tangled wood?
My brothers, when they saw me wearied out
With this long way, resolving here to lodge
Under the spreading favour of these pines,
Stepped, as they said, to the next thicket side        85
To bring me berries, or such cooling fruit
As the kind hospitable woods provide.
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.        190
But where they are, and why they came not back,
Is now the labour of my thoughts. ’T is likeliest
They had ingaged their wandering steps too far;
And envious darkness, ere they could return,
Had stole them from me. Else, O thievish Night,        195
Why shouldst thou, but for some felonious end,
In thy dark lantern thus close up the stars
That Nature hung in heaven, and filled their lamps
With everlasting oil, to give due light
To the misled and lonely travailler?        200
This is the place, as well as I may guess,
Whence even now the tumult of loud mirth
Was rife, and perfet in my listening ear;
Yet nought but single darkness do I find.
What might this be? A thousand fantasies        205
Begin to throng into my memory,
Of calling shapes, and beckoning shadows dire,
And airy tongues that syllable men’s names
On sands and shores and desert wildernesses.
These thoughts may startle well, but not astound        210
The virtuous mind, that ever walks attended
By a strong siding champion, Conscience.
O welcome, pure-eyed Faith, white-handed Hope,
Thou hovering angel girt with golden wings,
And thou unblemished form of Chastity!        215
I see ye visibly, and now believe
That He, the Supreme Good, to whom all things ill
Are but as slavish officers of vengeance,
Would send a glistering guardian, if need were,
To keep my life and honour unassailed….        220
Was I deceived, or did a sable cloud
Turn forth her silver lining on the night?
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.        225
I cannot hallo to my brothers, but
Such noise as I can make to be heard farthest
I’ll venter; for my new-enlivened spirits
Prompt me, and they perhaps are not far off.
 
SONG

Sweet Echo, sweetest Nymph, that liv’st unseen
        230
    Within thy airy shell
  By slow Meander’s margent green,
And in the violet-embroidered vale
  Where the love-lorn Nightingale
Nightly to thee her sad song mourneth well:        235
Canst thou not tell me of a gentle pair
  That likest thy Narcissus are?
    O if thou have
  Hid them in some flowery cave,
    Tell me but where,        240
  Sweet Queen of Parley, Daughter of the Sphere!
  So may’st thou be translated to the skies,
And give resounding grace to all Heaven’s harmonies!
  Comus. Can any mortal mixture of earth’s mould
Breathe such divine inchanting ravishment?        245
Sure something holy lodges in that breast,
And with these raptures moves the vocal air
To testify his hidden residence.
How sweetly did they float upon the wings
Of silence, through the empty-vaulted night,        250
At every fall smoothing the raven down
Of darkness till it smiled! I have oft heard
My mother Circe with the Sirens three,
Amidst the flowery-kirtled Naiades,
Culling their potent hearbs and baleful drugs,        255
Who, as they sung, would take the prisoned soul,
And lap it in Elysium: Scylla wept,
And child her barking waves into attention,
And fell Charybdis murmured soft applause.
Yet they in pleasing slumber lulled the sense,        260
And in sweet madness robbed it of itself;
But such a sacred and home-felt delight,
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!        265
Whom certain these rough shades did never breed,
Unless the Goddess that in rural shrine
Dwell’st here with Pan or Sylvan, by blest song
Forbidding every bleak unkindly fog
To touch the prosperous growth of this tall wood.        270
  Lady. Nay, gentle shepherd, ill is lost that praise
That is addressed to unattending ears.
Not any boast of skill, but extreme shift
How to regain my severed company,
Compelled me to awake the courteous Echo        275
To give me answer from her mossy couch.
  Comus. What chance, good Lady, hath bereft you thus?
  Lady. Dim darkness and this leavy labyrinth.
  Comus. Could that divide you from near-ushering guides?
  Lady. They left me weary on a grassy turf.        280
  Comus. By falsehood, or discourtesy, or why?
  Lady. To seek i’ the valley some cool friendly spring.
  Comus. And left your fair side all unguarded, Lady?
  Lady. They were but twain, and purposed quick return.
  Comus. Perhaps forestalling night prevented them.        285
  Lady. How easy my misfortune is to hit!
  Comus. Imports their loss, beside the present need?
  Lady. No less than if I should my brothers lose.
  Comus. Where they of manly prime, or youthful bloom?
  Lady. As smooth as Hebe’s their unrazored lips.        290
  Comus. Two such I saw, what time the laboured ox
In his loose traces from the furrow came,
And the swinked hedger at his supper sat.
I saw them under a green mantling vine,
That crawls along the side of yon small hill,        295
Plucking ripe clusters from the tender shoots;
Their port was more than human, as they stood.
I took it for a faery vision
Of some gay creatures of the element,
That in the colours of the rainbow live,        300
And play i’ the plighted clouds. I was awe-strook,
And, as I passed, I worshiped. If those you seek,
It were a journey like the path to Heaven
To help you find them.
  Lady. Gentle villager,        305
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,
In such a scant allowance of star-light,
Would overtask the best land-pilot’s art,        310
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,
And every bosky bourn from side to side,
My daily walks and ancient neighbourhood;        315
And, if your stray attendance be yet lodged,
Or shroud within these limits, I shall know
Ere morrow wake, or the low-roosted lark
From her thatched pallet rouse. If otherwise,
I can conduct you, Lady, to a low        320
But loyal cottage, where you may be safe
Till further quest.
  Lady. Shepherd, I take thy word,
And trust thy honest-offered courtesy,
Which oft is sooner found in lowly sheds,        325
With smoky rafters, than in tapestry halls
And courts of princes, where it first was named,
And yet is most pretended. In a place
Less warranted than this, or less secure,
I cannot be, that I should fear to change it.        330
Eye me, blest Providence, and square my trial
To my proportioned strength! Shepherd, lead on….
 
The TWO BROTHERS.

  Eld. Bro. Unmuffle, ye faint stars; and thou, fair Moon,
That wont’st to love the travailler’s benison,
Stoop thy pale visage through an amber cloud,        335
And disinherit Chaos, that reigns here
In double night of darkness and of shades;
Or, if your influence be quite dammed up
With black usurping mists, some gentle taper,
Though a rush-candle from the wicker hole        340
Of some clay habitation, visit us
With thy long levelled rule of streaming light,
And thou shalt be our star of Arcady,
Or Tyrian Cynosure.
  Sec. Bro. Or, if our eyes        345
Be barred that happiness, might we but hear
The folded flocks, penned in their wattled cotes,
Or sound of pastoral reed with oaten stops,
Or whistle from the lodge, or village cock
Count the night-watches to his feathery dames,        350
’Twould be some solace yet, some little cheering,
In this close dungeon of innumerous boughs.
But, Oh, that hapless virgin, our lost sister!
Where may she wander now, whither betake her
From the chill dew, amongst rude burs and thistles?        355
Perhaps some cold bank is her bolster now,
Or ’gainst the rugged bark of some broad elm
Leans her unpillowed head, fraught with sad fears.
What if in wild amazement and affright,
Or, while we speak, within the direful grasp        360
Of savage hunger, or of savage heat!
  Eld. Bro. Peace, brother: be not over-exquisite
To cast the fashion of uncertain evils;
For, grant they be so, while they rest unknown,
What need a man forestall his date of grief,        365
And run to meet what he would most avoid?
Or, if they be but false alarms of fear,
How bitter is such self-delusion!
I do not think my sister so to seek,
Or so unprincipled in virtue’s book,        370
And the sweet peace that goodness bosoms ever,
As that the single want of light and noise
(Not being in danger, as I trust she is not)
Could stir the constant mood of her calm thoughts,
And put them into misbecoming plight.        375
Virtue could see to do what Virtue would
By her own radiant light, though sun and moon
Were in the flat sea sunk. And Wisdom’s self
Oft seeks to sweet retired solitude,
Where, with her best nurse, Contemplation,        380
She plumes her feathers, and lets grow her wings,
That, in the various bustle of resort,
Were all to-ruffled, and sometimes impaired.
He that has light within his own clear breast
May sit i’ the centre, and enjoy bright day:        385
But he that hides a dark soul and foul thoughts
Benighted walks under the mid-day sun;
Himself is his own dungeon.
  Sec. Bro. ’Tis most true
That musing Meditation most affects        390
The pensive secrecy of desert cell,
Far from the cheerful haunt of men and herds,
And sits as safe as in a senate-house;
For who would rob a Hermit of his weeds,
His few books, or his beads, or maple dish,        395
Or do his grey hairs any violence?
But Beauty, like the fair Hesperian Tree
Laden with blooming gold, had need the guard
Of dragon-watch with uninchanted eye
To save her blossoms, and defend her fruit,        400
From the rash hand of bold Incontinence.
You may as well spread out the unsunned heaps
Of miser’s treasure by an outlaw’s den,
And tell me it is safe, as bid me hope
Danger will wink on Opportunity,        405
And let a single helpless maiden pass
Uninjured in this wild surrounding waste.
Of night or loneliness it recks me not;
I fear the dread events that dog them both,
Lest some ill-greeting touch attempt the person        410
Of our unownèd sister.
  Eld. Bro. I do not, brother,
Infer as if I thought my sister’s state
Secure without all doubt or controversy;
Yet, where an equal poise of hope and fear        415
Does arbitrate the event, my nature is
That I encline to hope rather than fear,
And gladly banish squint suspicion.
My sister is not so defenceless left
As you imagine; she has a hidden strength,        420
Which you remember not.
  Sec. Bro. What hidden strength,
Unless the strength of Heaven, if you mean that?
  Eld. Bro. I mean that too, but yet a hidden strength,
Which, if Heaven gave it, may be termed her own:        425
’Tis Chastity, my brother, Chastity:
She that has that is clad in com’plete steel,
And, like a quivered nymph with arrows keen,
May trace huge forests, and unharboured heaths,
Infamous hills, and sandy perilous wilds;        430
Where, through the sacred rays of chastity,
No savage fierce, bandite, or mountaineer,
Will dare to soil her virgin purity.
Yea, there, where very desolation dwells,
By grots and caverns shagged with horrid shades,        435
She may pass on with unblenched majesty,
Be it not done in pride, or in presumption.
Some say no evil thing that walks by night,
In fog or fire, by lake or moorish fen,
Blue meagre hag, or stubborn unlaid ghost,        440
That breaks his magic chains at curfew time,
No goblin or swart faery of the mine,
Hath hurtful power o’er true virginity.
Do ye believe me yet, or shall I call
Antiquity from the old schools of Greece        445
To testify the arms of Chastity?
Hence had the huntress Dian her dread bow,
Fair silver-shafted Queen for ever chaste,
Wherewith she tamed the brinded lioness
And spotted mountain-pard, but set at nought        450
The frivolous bolt of Cupid; gods and men
Feared her stern frown, and she was queen o’ the woods.
What was that snaky-headed Gorgon shield
That wise Minerva wore, unconquered virgin,
Wherewith she freezed her foes to con’gealed stone,        455
But rigid looks of chaste austerity,
And noble grace that dashed brute violence
With sudden adoration and blank awe?
So dear to Heaven is saintly chastity
That, when a soul is found sincerely so,        460
A thousand liveried angels lackey her,
Driving far off each thing of sin and guilt,
And in clear dream and solemn vision
Tell her of things that no gross ear can hear;
Till oft converse with heavenly habitants        465
Begin to cast a beam on the outward shape,
The unpolluted temple of the mind,
And turns it by degrees to the soul’s essence,
Till all be made immortal. But, when lust,
By unchaste looks, loose gestures, and foul talk,        470
But most by lewd and lavish act of sin,
Lets in defilement to the inward parts,
The soul grows clotted by contagion,
Imbodies, and imbrutes, till she quite lose
The divine property of her first being.        475
Such are those thick and gloomy shadows damp
Oft seen in charnel-vaults and sepulchres,
Lingering and sitting by a new-made grave,
As loth to leave the body that it loved,
And linked itself by carnal sensuality        480
To a degenerate and degraded state.
  Sec. Bro. How charming is divine Philosophy!
Not harsh and crabbed, as dull fools suppose,
But musical as is Apollo’s lute,
And a perpetual feast of nectared sweets,        485
Where no crude surfeit reigns.
  Eld. Bro. List! list! I hear
Some far-off hallo break the silent air.
  Sec. Bro. Methought so too; what should it be?
  Eld. Bro. For certain,        490
Either some one, like us, night-foundered here,
Or else some neighbour woodman, or, at worst,
Some roving robber calling to his fellows.
  Sec. Bro. Heaven keep my sister!
Again, again, and near!        495
Best draw, and stand upon our guard.
  Eld. Bro. I’ll hallo.
If he be friendly, he comes well: if not,
Defence is a good cause, and Heaven be for us!
 
The ATTENDANT SPIRIT, habited like a shepherd.

That hallo I should know. What are you? speak.
        500
Come not too near; you fall on iron stakes else.
  Spir. What voice is that? my young Lord? speak again.
  Sec. Bro. O brother, ’tis my father’s Shepherd, sure.
  Eld. Bro. Thyrsis! whose artful strains have oft delayed
The huddling brook to hear his madrigal,        505
And sweetened every musk-rose of the dale.
How camest thou here, good swain? Hath any ram
Slipped from the fold, or young kid lost his dam,
Or straggling wether the pent flock forsook?
How couldst thou find this dark sequestered nook?        510
  Spir. O my loved master’s heir, and his next joy,
I came not here on such a trivial toy
As a strayed ewe, or to pursue the stealth
Of pilfering wolf; not all the fleecy wealth
That doth enrich these downs is worth a thought        515
To this my errand, and the care it brought.
But, oh! my virgin Lady, where is she?
How chance she is not in your company?
  Eld. Bro. To tell thee sadly, Shepherd, without blame
Or our neglect, we lost her as we came.        520
  Spir. Ay me unhappy! then my fears are true.
  Eld. Bro. What fears, good Thyrsis?
Prithee briefly shew.
  Spir. I’ll tell ye, ’tis not vain or fabulous
(Though so esteemed by shallow ignorance)        525
What the sage poets, taught by the heavenly Muse,
Storied of old in high immortal verse
Of dire Chimeras and inchanted Isles,
And rifted rocks whose entrance leads to Hell;
For such there be, but unbelief is blind.        530
  Within the navel of this hideous wood,
Immured in cypress shades, a Sorcerer dwells,
Of Bacchus and of Circe born, great Comus,
Deep skilled in all his mother’s witcheries,
And here to every thirsty wanderer        535
By sly enticement gives his baneful cup,
With many murmurs mixed, whose pleasing poision
The visage quite transforms of him that drinks,
And the inglorious likeness of a beast
Fixes instead, unmoulding reason’s mintage        540
Charactered in the face. This have I learnt
Tending my flocks hard by i’ the hilly crofts
That brow this bottom glade; whence night by night
He and his monstrous rout are heard to howl
Like stabled wolves, or tigers at their prey,        545
Doing abhorrèd rites to Hecate
In their obscurèd haunts of inmost bowers.
Yet have they many baits and guileful spells
To inveigle and invite the unwary sense
Of them that pass unweeting by the way.        550
This evening late, by then the chewing flocks
Had ta’en their supper on the savoury herb
Of knot-grass dew-besprent, and were in fold,
I sat me down to watch upon a bank
With ivy canopied, and interwove        555
With flaunting honeysuckle, and began,
Wrapt in a pleasing fit of melancholy,
To meditate my rural minstrelsy,
Till fancy had her fill. But ere a close
The wonted roar was up amidst the woods,        560
And filled the air with barbarous dissonance;
At which I ceased, and listened them a while,
Till an unusual stop of sudden silence
Gave respite to the drowsy-flighted steeds
That draw the litter of close-curtained Sleep.        565
At last a soft and solemn-breathing sound
Rose like a steam of rich distilled perfumes,
And stole upon the air, that even Silence
Was took ere she was ware, and wished she might
Deny her nature, and be never more,        570
Still to be so displaced. I was all ear,
And took in strains that might create a soul
Under the ribs of Death. But, oh! ere long
Too well I did perceive it was the voice
Of my most honoured Lady, your dear sister.        575
Amazed I stood, harrowed with grief and fear;
And “O poor hapless Nightingale,” thought I,
“How sweet thou sing’st, how near the deadly snare!”
Then down the lawns I ran with headlong haste,
Through paths and turnings often trod by day,        580
Till, guided by mine ear, I found the place
Where that damned wisard, hid in sly disguise
(For so by certain signs I knew), had met
Already, ere my best speed could prevent,
The aidless innocent lady, his wished prey;        585
Who gently asked if he had seen such two,
Supposing him some neighbour villager.
Longer I durst not stay, but soon I guessed
Ye were the two she meant; with that I sprung
Into swift flight, till I had found you here;        590
But furder know I not.
  Sec. Bro. O night and shades,
How are ye joined with hell in triple knot
Against the unarmèd weakness of one virgin,
Alone and helpless! Is this the confidence        595
You gave me, brother?
  Eld. Bro. Yes, and keep it still;
Lean on it safely; not a period
Shall be unsaid for me. Against the threats
Of malice or of sorcery, or that power        600
Which erring men call Chance, this I hold firm:
Virtue may be assailed, but never hurt,
Surprised by unjust force, but not enthralled;
Yea, even that which Mischief meant most harm
Shall in the happy trial prove most glory.        605
But evil on itself shall back recoil,
And mix no more with goodness, when at last,
Gathered like scum, and settled to itself,
It shall be in eternal restless change
Self-fed and self-consumed. If this fail,        610
The pillared firmament is rottenness,
And earth’s base built on stubble. But come, let’s on!
Against the opposing will and arm of Heaven
May never this just sword be lifted up;
But, for that damned magician, let him be girt        615
With all the griesly legiöns that troop
Under the sooty flag of Acheron,
Harpies and Hydras, or all the monstrous forms
’Twixt Africa and Ind. I’ll find him out,
And force him to restore his purchase back,        620
Or drag him by the curls to a foul death,
Cursed as his life.
  Spir. Alas! good ventrous youth,
I love thy courage yet, and bold emprise;
But here thy sword can do thee little stead.        625
Far other arms and other weapons must
Be those that quell the might of hellish charms.
He with his bare wand can unthread thy joints,
And crumble all thy sinews.
  Eld. Bro. Why, prithee Shepherd,        630
How durst thou then thyself approach so near
As to make this relation?
  Spir. Care and utmost shifts
How to secure the Lady from surprisal
Brought to my mind a certain shepherd lad,        635
Of small regard to see to, yet well skilled
In every virtuous plant and healing hearb
That spreads her verdant leaf to the morning ray.
He loved me well, and oft would beg me sing;
Which when I did, he on the tender grass        640
Would sit, and hearken even to ecstasy,
And in requital ope his leathern scrip,
And shew me simples of a thousand names,
Telling their strange and vigorous faculties.
Amongst the rest a small unsightly root,        645
But of divine effect, he culled me out.
The leaf was darkish, and had prickles on it,
But in another country, as he said,
Bore a bright golden flower, but not in this soil:
Unknown, and like esteemed, and the dull swain        650
Treads on it daily with his clouted shoon;
And yet more med’cinal is it than that Moly
That Hermes once to wise Ulysses gave.
He called it Hæmony, and give it me,
And bade me keep it as of sovran use        655
’Gainst all inchantments, mildew blast, or damp,
Or ghastly Furies’ apparition.
I pursed it up, but little reckoning made,
Till now that this extremity compelled.
But now I find it true; for by this means        660
I knew the foul inchanter, though disguised,
Entered the very lime-twigs of his spells,
And yet came off. If you have this about you
(As I will give you when we go) you may
Boldly assault the necromancer’s hall;        665
Where if he be, with dauntless hardihood
And brandished blade rush on him: break his glass,
And shed the luscious liquor on the ground;
But seize his wand. Though he and his curst crew
Fierce sign of battail make, and menace high,        670
Or, like the sons of Vulcan, vomit smoke,
Yet will they soon retire, if he but shrink.
  Eld. Bro. Thyrsis, lead on apace; I’ll follow thee;
And some good angel bear a shield before us!
 
        The Scene changes to a stately palace, set out with all manner of deliciousness: soft music, tables spread with all dainties. COMUS appears with his rabble, and the LADY set in an inchanted chair; to whom he offers his glass; which she puts by, and goes about to rise.

  Comus. Nay, Lady, sit. If I but wave this wand,
        675
Your nerves are all chained up in alabaster,
And you a statue, or as Daphne was,
Root-bound, that fled Apollo.
  Lady. Fool, do not boast.
Thou canst not touch the freedom of my mind        680
With all thy charms, although this corporal rind
Thou hast immanacled while Heaven sees good.
  Comus. Why are you vexed, Lady? why do you frown?
Here dwell no frowns, nor anger; from these gates
Sorrow flies far. See, here be all the pleasures        685
That fancy can beget on youthful thoughts,
When the fresh blood grows lively, and returns
Brisk as the April buds in primrose season.
And first behold this cordial julep here,
That flames and dances in his crystal bounds,        690
With spirits of balm and fragrant syrups mixed.
Not that Nepenthes which the wife of Thone
In Egypt gave to Jove-born Helena
Is of such power to stir up joy as this,
To life so friendly, or so cool to thirst.        695
Why should you be so cruel to yourself,
And to those dainty limbs, which Nature lent
For gentle usage and soft delicacy?
But you invert the covenants of her trust,
And harshly deal, like an ill borrower,        700
With that which you received on other terms,
Scorning the unexempt condition
By which all mortal frailty must subsist,
Refreshment after toil, ease after pain,
That have been tired all day without repast,        705
And timely rest have wanted. But, fair virgin,
This will restore all soon.
  Lady. ’T will not, false traitor!
’T will not restore the truth and honesty
That thou has banished from thy tongue with lies.        710
Was this the cottage and the safe abode
Thou told’st me of? What grim aspects’ are these,
These oughly-headed monsters? Mercy guard me!
Hence with thy brewed inchantments, foul deceiver!
Hast thou betrayed my credulous innocence        715
With vizored falsehood and base forgery?
And wouldst thou seek again to trap me here
With lickerish baits, fit to ensnare a brute?
Were it a draught for Juno when she banquets,
I would not taste thy treasonous offer. None        720
But such as are good men can give good things;
And that which is not good is not delicious
To a well-governed and wise appetite.
  Comus. O foolishness of men! that lend their ears
To those budge doctors of the Stoic fur,        725
And fetch their precepts from the Cynic tub,
Praising the lean and sallow Abstinence
Wherefore did Nature pour her bounties forth
With such a full and unwithdrawing hand,
Covering the earth with odours, fruits, and flocks,        730
Thronging the seas with spawn innumerable,
But all to please and sate the curious taste?
And set to work millions of spinning worms,
That in their green shops weave the smooth-haired silk,
To deck her sons; and, that no corner might        735
Be vacant of her plenty, in her own loins
She hutched the all-worshiped ore and precious gems,
To store here children with. If all the world
Should in a pet of temperance, feed on pulse,
Drink the clear stream, and nothing wear but frieze,        740
The All-giver would be unthanked, would be unpraised
Not half his riches known, and yet despised;
And we should serve him as a grudging master,
As a penurious niggard of his wealth,
And live like Nature’s bastards, not her sons,        745
Who would be quite surcharged with her own weight,
And strangled with her waste fertility:
The earth cumbered, and the winged air darked with plumes;
The herds would over-multitude their lords;
The sea o’erfraught would swell, and the unsought diamonds        750
Would so emblaze the forehead of the Deep,
And so bestud with stars, that they below
Would grow inured to light, and come at last
To gaze upon the Sun with shameless brows.
List, Lady; be not coy, and be not cozened        755
With that same vaunted name, Virginity.
Beauty is Nature’s coin; must not be hoarded,
But must be current; and the good thereof
Consists in mutual and partaken bliss,
Unsavoury in the injoyment of itself.        760
If you let slip time, like a neglected rose
It withers on the stalk with languished head.
Beauty is Nature’s brag, and must be shown
In courts, at feasts, and high solemnities,
Where most may wonder at the workmanship.        765
It is for homely features to keep home;
They had their name thence: coarse complexions
And cheeks of sorry grain will serve to ply
The sampler, and to tease the housewife’s wool.
What need a vermeil-tinctured lip for that,        770
Love-darting eyes, or tresses like the Morn?
There was another meaning in these gifts;
Think what, and be advised; you are but young yet.
  Lady. I had not thought to have unlocked my lips
In this unhallowed air, but that this Juggler        775
Would think to charm my judgment, as mine eyes,
Obtruding false rules pranked in reason’s garb.
I hate when Vice can bolt her arguments
And Virtue has no tongue to check her pride.
Impostor! do not charge most innocent Nature,        780
As if she would her children should be riotous
With her abundance. She, good Cateress,
Means her provision only to the good,
That live according to her sober law’s
And holy dictate of spare Temperance.        785
If every just man that now pines with want
Had but a moderate and beseeming share
Of that which lewdly-pampered Luxury
Now heaps upon some few with vast excess,
Nature’s full blessings would be well-dispensed        790
In unsuperfluous even proportion,
And she no whit encumbered with her store;
And then the Giver would be better thanked,
His praise due paid: for swinish Gluttony
Ne’er looks to Heaven amidst his gorgeous feast,        795
But with besotted base ingratitude
Crams and blasphemes his Feeder. Shall I go on?
Or have I said enow? to him that dares
Arm his profane tongue with contemptuous words
Against the sun-clad power of Chastity        800
Fain would I something say;-yet to what end?
Thou hast nor ear, nor soul, to apprehend
The sublime notion and high mystery
That must be uttered to unfold the sage
And serious doctrine of Virginity;        805
And thou art worthy that thou shouldst not know
More happiness than this thy present lot.
Enjoy your dear Wit, and gay Rhetoric,
That hath so well been taught her dazzling fence;
Thou art not fit to hear thyself convinced.        810
Yet, should I try, the uncontrollèd worth
Of this pure cause would kindle my rapt spirits
To such a flame of sacred vehemence
That dumb things would be moved to sympathize,
And the brute Earth would lend her nerves, and shake,        815
Till all thy magic structures, reared so high,
Were shattered into heaps o’er thy false head.
  Comus. She fables not. I feel that I do fear
Her words set of by some superior power;
And, though not mortal, yet a cold shuddering dew        820
Dips me all o’er, as when the wrath of Jove
Speaks thunder and the chains of Erebus
To some of Saturn’s crew. I must dissemble,
And try her yet more strongly.—Come, no more!
This is mere moral babble, and direct        825
Against the canon laws of our foundation.
I must not suffer this; yet ’t is but the lees
And settlings of a melancholy blood.
But this will cure all straight; one sip of this
Will bathe the drooping spirits in delight        830
Beyond the bliss of dreams. Be wise, and taste…
 
        The BROTHERS rush in with swords drawn, wrest his glass out of his hand, and break it against the ground: his rout make sign of resistance, but are all driven in. The ATTENDANT SPIRIT comes in.

  Spir. What! have you let the false Enchanter scape?
O ye mistook; ye should have snatched his wand,
And bound him fast. Without his rod reversed,
And backward mutters of dissevering power,        835
We cannot free the Lady that sits here
In stony fetters fixed and motionless.
Yet stay: be not disturbed; now I bethink me,
Some other means I have which may be used,
Which once of Melibœus old I learnt,        840
The soothest Shepherd that ere piped on plains.
  There is a gentle Nymph not far from hence,
That with moist curb sways the smooth Severn stream:
Sabrina is her name: a virgin pure;
Whilom she was the daughter of Locrine,        845
That had the sceptre from his father Brute.
She, guiltless damsel, flying the mad pursuit
Of her enragèd stepdame, Guendolen,
Commended her fair innocence to the flood
That stayed her flight with his cross-flowing course.        850
The water-Nymphs, that in the bottom played,
Held up their pearlèd wrists, and took her in,
Bearing her straight to aged Nereus’ hall;
Who, piteous of her woes, reared her lank head,
And gave her to his daughters to imbathe        855
In nectared lavers strewed with asphodil,
And through the porch and inlet of each sense
Dropt in ambrosial oils, till she revived.
And underwent a quick immortal change,
Made Goddess of the river. Still she retains        860
Her maiden gentleness, and oft at eve
Visits the herds along with twilight meadows,
Helping all urchin blasts, and ill-luck signs
That the shrewd meddling Elf delights to make,
Which she with pretious vialed liquors heals:        865
For which the Shepherds, at their festivals,
Carol her goodness loud in rustic lays,
And throw sweet garland wreaths into her stream,
Of pansies, pinks, and gaudy daffadils.
And, as the old Swain said, she can unlock        870
The clasping charm, and thaw the numbing spell,
If she be right invoked in warbled song;
For maidenhood she loves, and will be swift
To aid a virgin, such as was herself,
In hard-besetting need. This will I try,        875
And add the power of some adjuring verse.
 
SONG

Sabrina fair,
  Listen where thou art sitting
Under the glassy, cool, translucent wave,
  In twisted braids of lilies knitting        880
The loose train of thy amber-dropping hair;
  Listen for dear honour’s sake,
  Goddess of the silver lake,
    Listen and save!
 
Listen, and appear to us,        885
In name of great Oceanus,
By the earth-shaking Neptune’s mace
And Tethys’ grave majestic pace;
By hoary Nereus’ wrinkled look,
And the Carpathian wizard’s hook;        890
By scaly Triton’s winding shell,
And old soothsaying Glaucus’ spell;
By Leucothea’s lovely hands,
And her son that rules the strands;
By Thetis’ tinsel-slippered feet,        895
And the songs of Sirens sweet;
By dead Parthenope’s dear tomb,
And fair Ligea’s golden comb,
Wherewith she sits on diamond rocks
Sleeking her soft alluring locks;        900
By all the nymphs that nightly dance
Upon thy streams with wily glance;
Rise, rise, and heave thy rosy head
From thy coral-paven bed,
And bridle in thy headlong wave,        905
Till thou our summons answered have.
                              Listen and save!
 
        SABRINA rises, attended by Water-nymphs, and sings.

By the rushy-fringèd bank,
Where grows the willow and the oiser dank,
  My sliding chariot stays,        910
Thick set with agate, and the azurn sheen
Of turkis blue, and emerald green,
  That in the channel strays:
Whilst from off the waters fleet
Thus I set my printless feet        915
O’er the cowslip’s velvet head,
  That bends not as I tread.
Gentle swain, at thy request
  I am here!
 
  Spir. Goddess dear,        920
We implore thy powerful hand
To undo the charmed band
Of true virgin here distressed
Through the force and through the wile
Of unblessed enchanter vile.        925
  Sabr. Shepherd, ’t is my office best
To help insnarèd Chastity,
Brightest Lady, look on me.
Thus I sprinkle on thy breast
Drops that from my fountain pure        930
I have kept of pretious cure;
Thrice upon thy finger’s tip,
Thrice upon thy rubied lip:
Next this marble venomed seat,
Smeared with gums of glutinous heat,        935
I touch with chaste palms moist and cold.
Now the spell hath lost his hold;
And I must haste ere morning hour
To wait in Amphitrite’s bower.
 
        SABRINA descends, and the LADY rises out of her seat.

  Spir. Virgin, daughter of Locrine,
        940
Sprung of old Anchises’ line,
May thy brimmed waves for this
Their full tribute never miss
From a thousand petty rills,
That tumble down the snowy hills:        945
Summer drouth or singed air
Never scorch thy tresses fair,
Nor wet October’s torrent flood
Thy molten crystal fill with mud;
May thy billows roll ashore        950
The beryl and the golden ore;
May thy lofty head be crowned
With many a tower and terrace round,
And here and there thy banks upon
With groves of myrrh and cinnamon.        955
  Come, Lady; while Heaven lends us grace,
Let us fly this cursed place,
Lest the Sorcerer us entice
With some other new device.
Not a waste or needless sound        960
Till we come to holier ground.
I shall be your faithful guide
Through this gloomy covert wide;
And not many furlongs thence
Is your Father’s residence,        965
Where this night are met in state
Many a friend to gratulate
His wished presence, and beside
All the Swains that there abide
With jigs and rural dance resort.        970
We shall catch them at their sport,
And our sudden coming there
Will double all their mirth and cheer.
Come, let us haste; the stars grow high,
But Night sits monarch yet in the mid sky.        975
 
        The Scene changes, presenting Ludlow Town, and the President’s Castle: then come in Country Dancers; after them the ATTENDANT SPIRIT, with the two BROTHERS and the LADY.
SONG

  Spir. Back, Shepherds, back! Enough your play
Till next sun-shine holiday.
Here be, without duck or nod,
Other trippings to be trod
Of lighter toes, and such court guise        980
As Mercury did first devise
With the mincing Dryades
On the lawns and on the leas.
 
        This second Song presents them to their Father and Mother.

  Noble Lord and Lady bright,
I have brought ye new delight.        985
Here behold so goodly grown
Three fair branches of your own.
Heaven hath timely tried their youth,
Their faith, their patience, and their truth,
And sent them here through hard assays        990
With a crown of deathless praise,
To triumph in victorious dance
O’er sensual Folly and Intemperance.
 
        The dances ended, the SPIRIT epiloguizes.

  Spir. To the ocean now I fly,
And those happy climes that lie        995
Where day never shuts his eye,
Up in the broad fields of the sky.
There I suck the liquid air,
All amidst the Gardens fair
Of Hesperus, and his daughters three        1000
That sing about the Golden Tree.
Along the crispèd shades and bowers
Revels the spruce and jocond Spring;
The Graces and the rosy-bosomed Hours
Thither all their bounties bring.        1005
There eternal Summer dwells,
And west winds with musky wing
About the cedarn alleys fling
Nard and cassia’s balmy smells.
Iris there with humid bow        1010
Waters the odorous banks, that blow
Flowers of more mingled hue
Than her purfled scarf can shew,
And drenches with Elysian dew
(List mortals, if your ears be true)        1015
Beds of hyacinth and roses,
Where young Adonis oft reposes,
Waxing well of his deep wound
In slumber soft, and on the ground
Sadly sits the Assyrian queen;        1020
But far above in spangled sheen
Celestial Cupid, her famed son, advanced,
Holds his dear Psyche sweet intranced,
After her wandring labours long,
Till free consent the gods among        1025
Make her his eternal Bride,
And from her fair unspotted side
Two blissful twins are to be born,
Youth and Joy; so Jove hath sworn.
  But now my task is smoothly done,        1030
I can fly, or I can run
Quickly to the green earth’s end,
Where the bowed welkin slow doth bend,
And from thence can soar as soon
To the corners of the Moon.        1035
  Mortals, that would follow me,
Love Virtue, she alone is free;
She can teach ye how to climb
Higher than the spheary chime:
Or, if Virtue feeble were,        1040
Heaven itself would stoop to her.
 

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