Verse > Anthologies > Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. > An American Anthology, 1787–1900
Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908).  An American Anthology, 1787–1900.  1900.
67. From “The Culprit Fay”
By Joseph Rodman Drake

THE MONARCH sat on his judgment-seat
  On his brow the crown imperial shone,
The prisoner Fay was at his feet,
  And his peers were ranged around the throne.
He waved his sceptre in the air;        5
  He looked around and calmly spoke;
His brow was grave and his eye severe,
  But his voice in a softened accent broke:
“Fairy! Fairy! list and mark,
Thou hast broke thine elfin chain,        10
Thy flame-wood lamp is quenched and dark,
  And thy wings are dyed with a deadly stain—
Thou hast sullied thine elfin purity
In the glance of a mortal maiden’s eye,
Thou hast scorned our dread decree,        15
And thou shouldst pay the forfeit high,
But well I know her sinless mind
Is pure as the angel forms above,
Gentle and meek, and chaste and kind,
Such as a spirit well might love;        20
Fairy! had she spot or taint,
Bitter had been thy punishment.
Tied to the hornet’s shardy wings;
Tossed on the pricks of nettle’s stings;
Or seven long ages doomed to dwell        25
With the lazy worm in the walnut-shell;
Or every night to writhe and bleed
Beneath the tread of the centipede;
Or bound in a cobweb dungeon dim,
Your jailer a spider huge and grim,        30
Amid the carrion bodies to lie,
Of the worm, and the bug, and the murdered fly;
These it had been your lot to bear,
Had a stain been found on the earthly fair.
Now list, and mark our mild decree—        35
Fairy, this your doom must be:
“Thou shalt seek the beach of sand
Where the water bounds the elfin land,
Thou shalt watch the oozy brine
Till the sturgeon leaps in the bright moon-shine,        40
Then dart the glistening arch below,
And catch a drop from his silver bow.
The water-sprites will wield their arms
  And dash around, with roar and rave,
And vain are the woodland spirits’ charms,        45
  They are the imps that rule the wave.
Yet trust thee in thy single might,—
If thy heart be pure and thy spirit right,
Thou shalt win the warlock fight.
“If the spray-bead gem be won,        50
  The stain of thy wing is washed away,
But another errand must be done
  Ere thy crime be lost for aye;
Thy flame-wood lamp is quenched and dark,
Thou must re-illumine its spark.        55
Mount thy steed and spur him high
To the heaven’s blue canopy;
And when thou seest a shooting star,
Follow it fast, and follow it far—
The last faint spark of its burning train        60
Shall light the elfin lamp again.
Thou hast heard our sentence, Fay;
Hence! to the water-side, away!”

The goblin marked his monarch well;
  He spake not, but he bowed him low,        65
Then plucked a crimson colon-bell,
  And turned him round in act to go.
The way is long, he cannot fly,
  His soilëd wing has lost its power,
And he winds adown the mountain high,        70
  For many a sore and weary hour,
Through dreary beds of tangled fern,
Through groves of nightshade dark and dern,
Over the grass and through the brake,
Where toils the ant and sleeps the snake;        75
  Now o’er the violet ’s azure flush
He skips along in lightsome mood;
  And now he thrids the bramble bush,
Till its points are dyed in fairy blood.
He has leapt the bog, he has pierced the brier,        80
He has swum the brook, and waded the mire,
Till his spirits sank, and his limbs grew weak,
And the red waxed fainter in his cheek.
He had fallen to the ground outright,
  For rugged and dim was his onward track,        85
But there came a spotted toad in sight,
  And he laughed as he jumped upon her back;
He bridled her mouth with a silk-weed twist;
  He lashed her sides with an osier thong;
And now through evening’s dewy mist,        90
  With leap and spring they bound along,
Till the mountain’s magic verge is past,
And the beach of sand is reached at last.
Soft and pale is the moony beam,
Moveless still the glassy stream,        95
The wave is clear, the beach is bright
  With snowy shells and sparkling stones;
The shore-surge comes in ripples light,
  In murmurings faint and distant moans;
And ever afar in the silence deep        100
Is heard the splash of the sturgeon’s leap,
And the bend of his graceful bow is seen—
A glittering arch of silver sheen,
Spanning the wave of burnished blue,
And dripping with gems of the river dew.        105
The elfin cast a glance around,
  As he lighted down from his courser toad,
Then round his breast his wings he wound,
  And close to the river’s brink he strode;
He sprang on a rock, he breathed a prayer,        110
  Above his head his arms he threw,
Then tossed a tiny curve in air,
  And headlong plunged in the waters blue.
Up sprung the spirits of the waves,
From sea-silk beds in their coral caves;        115
With snail-plate armor snatched in haste,
They speed their way through the liquid waste;
Some are rapidly borne along
On the mailëd shrimp or the prickly prong,
Some on the blood-red leeches glide,        120
Some on the stony star-fish ride,
Some on the back of the lancing squab,
Some on the sideling soldier-crab,
And some on the jellied quarl, that flings
At once a thousand streamy stings,—        125
They cut the wave with the living oar
And hurry on to the moonlight shore,
To guard their realms and chase away
The footsteps of the invading Fay.
Fearlessly he skims along,        130
His hope is high, and his limbs are strong,
He spreads his arms like the swallow’s wing,
And throws his feet with a frog-like fling;
His locks of gold on the waters shine,
  At his breast the tiny foam-beads rise,        135
His back gleams bright above the brine,
  And the wake-line foam behind him lies.
But the water-sprites are gathering near
  To check his course along the tide;
Their warriors come in swift career        140
  And hem him round on every side;
On his thigh the leech has fixed his hold,
The quarl’s long arms are round him rolled,
The prickly prong has pierced his skin,
And the squab has thrown his javelin,        145
The gritty star has rubbed him raw,
And the crab has struck with his giant claw;
He howls with rage, and he shrieks with pain,
He strikes around, but his blows are vain;
Hopeless is the unequal fight,        150
Fairy! naught is left but flight.
He turned him round and fled amain
With hurry and dash to the beach again;
He twisted over from side to side,
And laid his cheek to the cleaving tide.        155
The strokes of his plunging arms are fleet,
And with all his might he flings his feet,
But the water-sprites are round him still,
To cross his path and work him ill.
They bade the wave before him rise;        160
They flung the sea-fire in his eyes,
And they stunned his ears with the scallop stroke,
With the porpoise heave and the drum-fish croak.
Oh! but a weary wight was he
When he reached the foot of the dog-wood tree;        165
—Gashed and wounded, and stiff and sore,
He laid him down on the sandy shore;
He blessed the force of the charmëd line,
  And he banned the water-goblins’ spite,
For he saw around in the sweet moonshine,        170
Their little wee faces above the brine,
  Giggling and laughing with all their might
  At the piteous hap of the Fairy wight.

Up, Fairy! quit thy chick-weed bower,
The cricket has called the second hour,        175
Twice again, and the lark will rise
To kiss the streaking of the skies—
Up! thy charmëd armor don,
Thou ’lt need it ere the night be gone.
He put his acorn helmet on;        180
It was plumed of the silk of the thistle down;
The corselet plate that guarded his breast
Was once the wild bee’s golden vest;
His cloak, of a thousand mingled dyes,
Was formed of the wings of butterflies;        185
His shield was the shell of a lady-bug queen,
Studs of gold on a ground of green;
And the quivering lance, which he brandished bright,
Was the sting of a wasp he had slain in fight.
  Swift he bestrode his fire-fly steed;        190
He bared his blade of the bent grass blue;
  He drove his spurs of the cockle seed,
And away like a glance of thought he flew,
To skim the heavens and follow far
The fiery trail of the rocket-star.        195
The moth-fly, as he shot in air,
Crept under the leaf, and hid her there;
The katy-did forgot its lay,
The prowling gnat fled fast away,
The fell mosquito checked his drone        200
And folded his wings till the Fay was gone,
And the wily beetle dropped his head,
And fell on the ground as if he were dead;
They crouched them close in the darksome shade,
  They quaked all o’er with awe and fear,        205
For they had felt the blue-bent blade,
  And writhed at the prick of the elfin spear;
Many a time on a summer’s night,
When the sky was clear and the moon was bright,
They had been roused from the haunted ground,        210
By the yelp and bay of the fairy hound;
They had heard the tiny bugle horn,
  They had heard the twang of the maize-silk string,
When the vine-twig bows were tightly drawn,
And the nettle shaft through air was borne,        215
  Feathered with down of the hum-bird’s wing.
And now they deemed the courier ouphe
  Some hunter sprite of the elfin ground;
And they watched till they saw him mount the roof
  That canopies the world around;        220
Then glad they left their covert lair,
And freaked about in the midnight air.
Up to the vaulted firmament
His path the fire-fly courser bent,
And at every gallop on the wind,        225
He flung a glittering spark behind;
He flies like a feather in the blast
Till the first light cloud in heaven is past,
  But the shapes of air have begun their work,
And a drizzly mist is round him cast,        230
  He cannot see through the mantle murk,
He shivers with cold, but he urges fast,
  Through storm and darkness, sleet and shade;
He lashes his steed and spurs amain,
For shadowy hands have twitched the rein,        235
  And flame-shot tongues around him played,
And near him many a fiendish eye
Glared with a fell malignity,
And yells of rage, and shrieks of fear,
Came screaming on his startled ear.        240
His wings are wet around his breast,
The plume hangs dripping from his crest,
His eyes are blurred with the lightning’s glare,
And his ears are stunned with the thunder’s blare,
But he gave a shout, and his blade he drew,        245
  He thrust before and he struck behind,
Till he pierced their cloudy bodies through,
  And gashed their shadowy limbs of wind;
Howling the misty spectres flew,—
  They rend the air with frightful cries,        250
For he has gained the welkin blue,
  And the land of clouds beneath him lies.
Up to the cope careering swift
  In breathless motion fast,
Fleet as the swallow cuts the drift,        255
  Or the sea-roc rides the blast,
The sapphire sheet of eve is shot,
  The spherëd moon is past,
The earth but seems a tiny blot
  On a sheet of azure cast.        260
O! it was sweet in the clear moonlight,
  To tread the starry plain of even,
To meet the thousand eyes of night,
  And feel the cooling breath of heaven!
But the Elfin made no stop or stay        265
Till he came to the bank of the milky way;
Then he checked his courser’s foot,
And watched for the glimpse of the planet shoot.

Ouphe and goblin! imp and sprite!
  Elf of eve! and starry Fay!        270
Ye that love the moon’s soft light,
  Hither—hither wend your way;
Twine ye in a jocund ring,
  Sing and trip it merrily,
Hand to hand, and wing to wing,        275
  Round the wild witch-hazel tree.
Hail the wanderer again,
  With dance and song, and lute and lyre.
Pure his wing and strong his chain,
  And doubly bright his fairy fire.        280
Twine ye in an airy round,
  Brush the dew and print the lea;
Skip and gambol, hop and bound,
  Round the wild witch-hazel tree.
The beetle guards our holy ground,        285
  He flies about the haunted place,
And if mortal there be found,
  He hums in his ears and flaps his face;
The leaf-harp sounds our roundelay,
  The owlet ’s eyes our lanterns be;        290
Thus we sing, and dance, and play,
  Round the wild witch-hazel tree.


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