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John Dryden (1631–1700).  The Poems of John Dryden.  1913.
 
Fables Ancient and Modern
Theodore and Honoria
 
OF 1 all the Cities in Romanian Lands,
The chief, and most renown’d Ravenna stands:
Adorn’d in ancient Times with Arms and Arts,
And rich Inhabitants, with generous Hearts.
But Theodore the Brave, above the rest,        5
With Gifts of Fortune, and of Nature bless’d,
The foremost Place, for Wealth and Honour held,
And all in Feats of Chivalry excell’d.
  This noble Youth to Madness lov’d a Dame,
Of high Degree, Honoria was her Name;        10
Fair as the Fairest, but of haughty Mind,
And fiercer than became so soft a kind;
Proud of her Birth; (for equal she had none;)
The rest she scorn’d; but hated him alone.
His Gifts, his constant Courtship, nothing gain’d;        15
For she, the more he lov’d, the more disdain’d:
He liv’d with all the Pomp he cou’d devise,
At Tilts and Turnaments obtain’d the Prize,
But found no favour in his Ladies Eyes:
Relentless as a Rock, the lofty Maid        20
Turn’d all to Poyson that he did, or said:
Nor Pray’rs, nor Tears, nor offer’d Vows could move;
The Work went backward; and the more he strove
T’ advance his Sute, the farther from her Love.
  Weary’d at length, and wanting Remedy,        25
He doubted oft, and oft resolv’d to die.
But Pride stood ready to prevent the Blow,
For who would die to gratify a Foe?
His generous Mind disdain’d so mean a Fate;
That pass’d, his next Endeavour was to Hate.        30
But vainer that Relief than all the rest;
The less he hop’d, with more Desire possessed;
Love stood the Siege, and would not yield his Breast.
  Change was the next, but change deceiv’d his Care,
He sought a Fairer, but found none so Fair.        35
He would have worn her out by slow degrees,
As Men by Fasting starve th’ untam’d Disease:
But present Love requir’d a present Ease.
Looking he feeds alone his famish’d Eyes,
Feeds lingring Death, but, looking not, he dies.        40
Yet still he chose the longest way to Fate,
Wasting at once his Life, and his Estate.
  His Friends beheld, and pity’d him in vain,
For what Advice can ease a Lover’s Pain!
Absence, the best Expedient they could find        45
Might save the Fortune, if not cure the Mind:
This Means they long propos’d, but little gain’d,
Yet after much pursuit, at length obtain’d.
  Hard, you may think it was, to give consent,
But, struggling with his own Desires, he went;        50
With large Expence, and with a pompous Train,
Provided, as to visit France or Spain,
Or for some distant Voyage o’er the Main.
But Love had clipp’d his Wings, and cut him short,
Confin’d within the purlieus of his Court:        55
Three Miles he went, nor farther could retreat;
His Travels ended at his Country-Seat:
To Chassis pleasing Plains he took his way,
There pitch’d his Tents, and there resolv’d to stay.
  The Spring was in the Prime; the neighb’ring Grove        60
Supply’d with Birds, the Choristers of Love:
Musick unbought, that minister’d Delight
To Morning-walks, and lull’d his Cares by Night:
There he discharg’d his Friends; but not th’ Expence
Of frequent Treats, and proud Magnificence.        65
He liv’d as Kings retire, though more at large,
From publick Business, yet with equal Charge;
With House, and Heart still open to receive;
As well content, as Love would give him leave:
He would have liv’d more free; but many a Guest,        70
Who could forsake the Friend, pursu’d the Feast.
  It happ’d one Morning, as his Fancy led,
Before his usual Hour, he left his Bed;
To walk within a lonely Lawn, that stood
On ev’ry side surrounded by the Wood:        75
Alone he walk’d, to please his pensive Mind,
And sought the deepest Solitude to find:
’Twas in a Grove of spreading Pines he stray’d,
The Winds, within the quiv’ring Branches plaid,
And Dancing-Trees a mournful Musick made.        80
The Place it self was suiting to his Care,
Uncouth and Salvage as the cruel Fair.
He wander’d on, unknowing where he went,
Lost in the Wood, and all on Love intent:
The Day already half his Race had run,        85
And summon’d him to due Repast at Noon,
But Love could feel no Hunger but his own.
  While list’ning to the murm’ring Leaves he stood,
More than a Mile immers’d within the Wood,
At once the Wind was laid; the whisp’ring sound        90
Was dumb; a rising Earthquake rock’d the Ground:
With deeper Brown the Grove was overspred,
A sudden Horror seiz’d his giddy Head,
And his Ears tinckled, and his Colour fled.
Nature was in alarm; some Danger nigh        95
Seem’d threaten’d, though unseen to mortal Eye:
Unus’d to fear, he summon’d all his Soul,
And stood collected in himself, and whole:
Not long: For soon a Whirlwind rose around,
And from afar he heard a screaming sound,        100
As of a Dame distress’d, who, cry’d for Aid,
And fill’d with loud Laments the secret Shade.
  A Thicket close beside the Grove there stood,
With Breers and Brambles choak’d, and dwarfish Wood:
From thence the Noise: Which now approaching near        105
With more distinguish’d Notes invades his Ear:
He rais’d his Head, and saw a beauteous Maid,
With Hair dishevell’d issuing through the Shade;
Stripp’d of her Cloaths, and e’en those Parts reveal’d
Which modest Nature keeps from Sight conceal’d        110
Her Face, her Hands, her naked Limbs were torn,
With passing through the Brakes, and prickly Thorn:
Two Mastiffs gaunt and grim, her Flight pursu’d,
And oft their fasten’d Fangs in Blood embru’d:
Oft they came up, and pinch’d her tender Side,        115
Mercy, O Mercy, Heav’n, she ran, and cry’d;
When Heav’n was nam’d, they loos’d their Hold again
Then sprung she forth, they follow’d her amain.
  Not far behind, a Knight of swarthy Face,
High on a Coal-black Steed pursu’d the Chace;        120
With flashing Flames his ardent Eyes were fill’d,
And in his Hands a naked Sword he held:
He chear’d the Dogs to follow her who fled,
And vow’d Revenge on her devoted Head.
  As Theodore was born of noble Kind,        125
The Brutal Action rowz’d his manly Mind:
Mov’d with unworthy 2 Usage of the Maid,
He, though unarm’d, resolv’d to give her Aid.
A Saplin Pine he wrench’d from out the Ground,
The readiest Weapon that his Fury found.        130
Thus, furnish’d for Offence, he cross’d the way
Betwixt the graceless Villain, and his Prey.
  The Knight came thund’ring on, but from afar
Thus in imperious Tone forbad the War:
Cease, Theodore, to proffer vain Relief,        135
Nor stop the vengeance of so just a Grief;
But give me leave to seize my destin’d Prey,
And let eternal Justice take the way:
I but revenge my Fate; disdain’d, betray’d,
And suff’ring Death for this ungrateful Maid.        140
  He say’d, at once dismounting from the Steed;
For now the Hell-hounds with superiour Speed
Had reach’d the Dame, and fast’ning on her Side,
The Ground with issuing Streams of Purple dy’d.
Stood Theodore Surpriz’d in deadly Fright,        145
With chatt’ring Teeth, and bristling Hair upright;
Yet arm’d with inborn Worth, What e’er said he,
Thou art, who know’st me better than I thee;
Or prove thy rightful Cause, or be defy’d.
The Spectre, fiercely staring, thus reply’d.        150
  Know, Theodore, thy Ancestry I claim,
And Guido Cavalcanti was my Name.
One common Sire our Fathers did beget,
My Name and Story some remember yet:
Thee, then a Boy, within my Arms I laid,        155
When for my Sins I lov’d this haughty Maid;
Not less ador’d in Life, nor serv’d by Me,
Than proud Honoria now is lov’d by Thee.
What did I not her stubborn Heart to gain?
But all my Vows were answer’d with Disdain;        160
She scorn’d my Sorrows, and despis’d my Pain.
Long time I dragg’d my Days in fruitless Care,
Then loathing Life, and plung’d in deep Despair,
To finish my unhappy Life, I fell
On this sharp Sword, and now am damn’d in Hell.        165
  Short was her Joy; for soon th’ insulting Maid
By Heav’n’s Decree in the cold Grave was laid,
And as in unrepenting 3 Sin she dy’d,
Doom’d to the same bad Place, is punish’d for her Pride;
Because she deem’d I well deserv’d to die,        170
And made a Merit of her Cruelty.
There, then, we met; both try’d, and both were cast,
And this irrevocable Sentence pass’d;
That she whom I so long pursu’d in vain,
Should suffer from my Hands a lingring Pain:        175
Renew’d to Life, that she might daily die,
I daily doom’d to follow, she to fly;
No more a Lover but a mortal Foe,
I seek her Life (for Love is none below:)
As often as my Dogs with better speed        180
Arrest her Flight, is she to Death decreed:
Then with this fatal Sword on which I dy’d,
I pierce her open’d 4 Back or tender Side,
And tear that harden’d Heart from out her Breast,
Which, with her Entrails, makes my hungry Hounds a Feast.        185
Nor lies she long, but as her Fates ordain,
Springs up to Life, and fresh to second Pain,
Is sav’d to Day, to Morrow to be slain.
  This, vers’d in Death, th’ infernal Knight relates,
And then for Proof fulfill’d their common Fates;        190
Her Heart and Bowels through her Back he drew,
And fed the Hounds that help’d him to pursue.
Stern look’d the Fiend, as frustrate of his Will,
Not half suffic’d, and greedy yet to kill.
And now the Soul expiring through the Wound,        195
Had left the Body breathless on the Ground,
When thus the grisly Spectre spoke again:
Behold the Fruit of ill-rewarded Pain:
As many Months as I sustain’d her Hate,
So many Years is she condemn’d by Fate        200
To daily Death; and ev’ry several Place,
Conscious of her Disdain, and my Disgrace,
Must witness her just Punishment; and be
A Scene of Triumph and Revenge to me.
As in this Grove I took my last Farewel,        205
As on this very spot of Earth I fell,
As Friday saw me die, so she my Prey
Becomes ev’n here, on this revolving Day.
  Thus while he spoke, the Virgin from the Ground
Upstarted fresh, already clos’d the Wound,        210
And unconcern’d for all she felt before,
Precipitates her Flight along the Shore:
The Hell-hounds, as ungorg’d with Flesh and Blood
Pursue their Prey, and seek their wonted Food:
The Fiend remounts his Courser; mends his Pace,        215
And all the Vision vanish’d from the Place.
  Long stood the noble Youth oppress’d with Awe
And stupid at the wond’rous Things he saw
Surpassing common Faith; transgressing Nature’s Law.
He would have been asleep, and wish’d to wake.        220
But Dreams, he knew, no long Impression make,
Though strong at first: If Vision, to what end,
But such as must his future State portend?
His Love the Damsel, and himself the Fiend.
But yet reflecting that it could not be        225
From Heav’n, which cannot impious Acts decree,
Resolv’d within him self to shun the Snare
Which hell for his Distruction did prepare;
And as his better Genius should direct
From an ill Cause to draw a good effect.        230
  Inspir’d from Heav’n he homeward took his way,
Nor pall’d his new Design with long delay;
But of his Train a trusty Servant sent,
To call his Friends together at his Tent.
They came, and usual Salutations paid,        235
With Words premeditated thus he said:
What you have often counsell’d, to remove
My vain pursuit of unregarded Love;
By Thrift my sinking Fortune to repair,
Tho’ late, yet is at last become my Care:        240
My Heart shall be my own; my vast Expence
Reduc’d to bounds, by timely Providence:
This only I require; invite for me
Honoria, with her Father’s Family,
Her Friends, and mine; the Cause I shall display,        245
On Friday next, for that’s th’ appointed Day.
  Well pleas’d were all his Friends, the Task was light;
The Father, Mother, Daughter they invite
Hardly the Dame was drawn to this repast;
But yet resolv’d, because it was the last.        250
The Day was come; the Guests invited came,
And, with the rest, th’ inexorable Dame:
A Feast prepar’d with riotous Expence,
Much Cost, more Care, and most Magnificence.
The Place ordain’d was in that haunted Grove        255
Where the revenging Ghost pursu’d his Love:
The Tables in a proud Pavilion spread,
With Flow’rs below, and Tissue overhead:
The rest in rank; Honoria chief in place
Was artfully contriv’d to set her Face        260
To front the Thicket and behold the Chace.
The Feast was serv’d; the time so well forecast,
That just when the Dessert, and Fruits were plac’d,
The Fiend’s Alarm began; the hollow sound
Sung in the Leaves, the Forest shook around,        265
Air blacken’d; rowl’d the Thunder; groan’d the ground.
  Nor long before the loud Laments arise,
Of one distress’d, and Mastiffs mingled Cries;
And first the Dame came rushing through the Wood,
And next the famish’d Hounds that sought their Food        270
And grip’d her Flanks, and oft essay’d their Jaws in Blood.
Last came the Fellon on the Sable Steed,
Arm’d with his naked Sword, and urg’d his Dogs to speed:
She ran, and cry’d; her Flight directly bent,
(A Guest unbidden) to the fatal Tent,        275
The Scene of Death, and Place ordain’d for Punishment.
Loud was the Noise, aghast was every Guest,
The Women shriek’d, the Men forsook the Feast;
The Hounds at nearer distance hoarsely bay’d;
The Hunter close pursu’d the visionary Maid,        280
She rent the Heav’n with loud Laments, imploring Aid.
  The Gallants, to protect the Ladies right,
Their Fauchions brandish’d at the grisly Spright;
High on his Stirups, he provok’d the Fight.
Then on the Crowd he cast a furious Look,        285
And wither’d all their Strength before he strook:
Back on your Lives; let be, said he, my Prey,
And let my Vengeance take the destin’d way.
Vain are your Arms, and vainer your Defence,
Against th’ eternal Doom of Providence:        290
Mine is th’ ungrateful Maid by Heav’n design’d:
Mercy she would not give, nor Mercy shall she find.
At this the former Tale again he told
With thund’ring Tone, and dreadful to behold:
Sunk were their Hearts with Horror of the Crime,        295
Nor needed to be warn’d a second time,
But bore each other back; some knew the Face,
And all had heard the much lamented Case
Of him who fell for Love, and this the fatal Place.
  And now th’ infernal Minister advanc’d,        300
Seiz’d the due Victim, and with Fury lanch’d
Her Back, and piercing through her inmost Heart,
Drew backward, as before, th’ offending part.
The reeking Entrails next he tore away,
And to his meagre Mastiffs made a Prey:        305
The pale Assistants on each other star’d,
With gaping Mouths for issuing Words prepar’d;
The still-born sounds upon the Palate hung,
And dy’d imperfect on the faltring Tongue.
The Fright was general; but the Female Band        310
(A helpless Train) in more Confusion stand;
With horror shuddring, on a heap they run,
Sick at the sight of hateful Justice done;
For Conscience rung th’ Alarm, and made the Case their own.
  So spread upon a Lake, with upward Eye,        315
A plump of Fowl behold their Foe on high;
They close their trembling Troop; and all attend
On whom the sowsing Eagle will descend.
  But most the proud Honoria fear’d th’ Event,
And thought to her alone the Vision sent.        320
Her Guilt presents to her distracted Mind
Heav’n’s Justice, Theodore’s revengeful Kind,
And the same Fate to the same Sin assign’d;
Already sees her self the Monster’s Prey,
And feels her Heart, and Entrails torn away.        325
’Twas a mute Scene of Sorrow, mix’d with fear;
Still on the Table lay th’ unfinished Cheer;
The Knight, and hungry Mastiffs stood around,
The mangled Dame lay breathless on the Ground;
When on a suddain reinspired with Breath,        330
Again she rose, again to suffer Death;
Nor stay’d the Hell-hounds, nor the Hunter stay’d,
But follow’d, as before, the flying Maid:
Th’ Avenger took from Earth th’ avenging Sword,
And mounting light as Air, his Sable Steed he spurr’d:        335
The Clouds dispell’d, the Sky resum’d her Light,
And Nature stood recover’d of her Fright.
  But Fear, the last of Ills, remain’d behind,
And Horror heavy sat on ev’ry Mind.
Nor Theodore incourag’d more his Feast,        340
But sternly look’d, as hatching in his Breast
Some deep Design, which when Honoria view’d
The fresh Impulse her former Fright renew’d:
She thought her self the trembling Dame who fled,
And him the grisly Ghost that spurr’d th’ infernal Steed:        345
The more dismay’d, for when the Guests withdrew,
Their courteous Host saluting all the Crew
Regardless passed her o’er; nor grac’d with kind adieu.
That sting infix’d within her haughty Mind,
The downfal of her Empire she divin’d;        350
And her proud Heart with secret Sorrow pin’d.
Home as they went, the sad Discourse renew’d
Of the relentless Dame to Death pursu’d,
And of the Sight obscene so lately view’d;
None durst arraign the righteous Doom she bore,        355
Ev’n they who pity’d most yet blam’d her more:
The Parallel they needed not to name,
But in the Dead they damn’d the living Dame.
  At ev’ry little Noise she look’d behind,
For still the Knight was present to her Mind:        360
And anxious oft she started on the way,
And thought the Horseman-Ghost came thundring for his Prey.
Return’d, she took her Bed with little Rest,
But in short Slumbers dreamt the Funeral Feast:
Awak’d, she turned her Side; and slept again,        365
The same black Vapors mounted in her Brain,
And the same Dreams return’d with double Pain.
  Now forc’d to wake because afraid to sleep
Her Blood all Fever’d, with a furious Leap
She sprung from Bed, distracted in her Mind,        370
And fear’d, at ev’ry Step, a twitching Spright behind.
Darkling and desp’rate, with a stagg’ring pace,
Of Death afraid, and conscious of Disgrace;
Fear, Pride, Remorse, at once her Heart assail’d,
Pride put Remorse to flight, but Fear prevail’d,        375
Friday, the fatal Day, when next it came,
Her Soul forethought the Fiend would change his Game,
And her pursue, or Theodore be slain,
And two Ghosts join their Packs to hunt her o’er the Plain.
  This dreadful Image so possess’d her Mind,        380
That, desp’rate any Succour else to find,
She ceas’d all farther Hope; and now began
To make reflection on th’ unhappy Man.
Rich, Brave, and Young, who past expression lov’d,
Proof to Disdain; and not to be remov’d:        385
Of all the Men respected, and admir’d,
Of all the Dames, except her self, desir’d:
Why not of her? Preferr’d above the rest
By him with Knightly Deeds, and open Love profess’d?
So had another been; where he his Vows address’d.        390
This quell’d her Pride, yet other Doubts remain’d,
That once disdaining she might be disdain’d:
The Fear was just, but greater Fear prevail’d,
Fear of her Life by hellish Hounds assail’d:
He took a low’ring leave; but who can tell        395
What outward Hate might inward Love conceal?
Her Sexes Arts she knew, and why not then
Might deep dissembling have a place in Men?
Here Hope began to dawn; resolv’d to try,
She fix’d on this her utmost Remedy;        400
Death was behind, but hard it was to die.
’Twas time enough at last on Death to call;
The Precipice in sight, a 5 Shrub was all,
That kindly stood betwixt to break the fatal fall.
  One Maid she had, belov’d above the rest:        405
Secure of her, the Secret she confess’d:
And now the chearful Light her Fears dispell’d,
She with no winding turns the Truth conceal’d,
But put the Woman off, and stood reveal’d:
With Faults confess’d commission’d her to go,        410
If Pity yet had place, and reconcile her Foe.
The welcom Message made, was soon receiv’d;
’Twas what he 6 wish’d, and hop’d, but scarce believ’d;
Fate seem’d a fair occasion to present,
He knew the Sex, and fear’d she might repent,        415
Should he delay the moment of Consent.
There yet remain’d to gain her Friends (a Care
The modesty of Maidens well might spare;)
But she with such a Zeal the Cause embrac’d,
(As Women where they will, are all in hast,)        420
That Father, Mother, and the Kin beside,
Were overborn by Fury of the Tide:
With full consent of all, she chang’d her State,
Resistless in her Love, as in her Hate.
  By her Example warn’d, the rest beware;        425
More Easy, less Imperious, were the Fair;
And that one Hunting which the Devil design’d,
For one fair Female, lost him half the Kind.
 
Note 1. Text from the original and only contemporary edition, 1700. [back]
Note 2. unworthy] Scott and others wrongly give the unworthy. [back]
Note 3. unrepenting] Editors till Christie wrongly give unrepented. [back]
Note 4. open’d] Some editors wrongly give open. [back]
Note 5. sight, a] sight: A 1700. [back]
Note 6. what he] Warton and others wrongly give to be. [back]
 
 
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