Verse > Anthologies > Edward Farr, comp. > Jacobean Poetry
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Edward Farr, ed.  Select Poetry of the Reign of King James the First.  1847.
 
The Purple Island
XXX. Phineas Fletcher
 
CANTO XI.
THE EARLY 1 morn lets out the peeping day,
  And strewed his path with golden marygolds;
The moon grows wanne, and starres flie all away,
  Whom Lucifer locks up in wonted folds,
    Till light is quencht, and heav’n in seas hath flung        5
    The headlong day: to th’ hill the shepherd’s throng,
And Thirsil now began to end his task and song.
 
Who now, alas! shall teach my humble vein,
  That never yet durst peep from covert glade;
But softly learnt for fear to sigh and plain,        10
  And vent his griefs to silent myrtils’ shade?
    Who now shall teach to change my oaten quill
    For trumpets’ ’larms, or humble verses fill
With gracefull majestie, and loftie rising skill?
 
Ah, thou dread spirit! shed thy holy fire,        15
  Thy holy frame into my frozen heart;
Teach thou my creeping measures to aspire,
  And swell in bigger notes and higher art:
    Teach my low muse thy fierce alarums to ring,
    And raise my soft strain to high thundering:        20
Tune thou my loftie song; thy battels must I sing:
 
Such as thou wert within the sacred breast
  Of that thrice famous poet, shepherd, king,
And taught’st his heart to frame his cantos best
  Of all that e’er thy glorious work did sing:        25
    Or as those holy fishers once amongs
    Thou flamedst bright with sparkling parted tongues;
And brought’st down heav’n and earth in those all-conqu’ring songs.
 
These mighty heroes, fill’d with justest rage
  To be in narrow walls so slosely pent,        30
Glitt’ring in arms and goodly equipage,
  Stood at the castle’s gate, now ready bent
    To sally out, and meet the enemie:
    A hot disdain sparkled in every eye,
Breathing out hatefull warre and deadly enmitie.        35
 
Thither repairs the careful Intellect,
  With his fair spouse Voletta, heav’nly fair:
With both, their daughter; whose divine aspect,
  Though now sad damps of sorrow much empair,
    Yet through those clouds did shine so glorious bright,        40
    That every eye did homage to the sight,
Yeelding their captive hearts to that commanding light.
 
But who may hope to paint such majestie,
  Or shadow well such beautie, such a face—
Such beauteous face, unseen to mortall eye?        45
  Whose pow’rful looks and more than mortall grace
    Love’s self hath lov’d, leaving his heav’nly throne,
    With amorous sighs and many a loving moan
(Whom all the world would woo) woo’d her his only one.
 
Farre be that boldnesse from thy humble swain,        50
  Fairest Eclecta, to describe thy beautie,
And with unable skill thy glory stain,
  Which ever he admires with humble dutie;
    But who to view such blaze of beauty longs
    Go he to Sinai, th’ holy groues amongs,        55
Where that wise shepherd chants her in his Song of Songs.
 
The island’s king with sober countenance
  Aggrates the knights, who thus his right defended;
And with grave speech and comely amenance,
  Himself, his state, his spouse, to them commended:        60
    His lovely childe that by him pensive stands
    He last delivers to their valiant hands;
And her to thank the knights, her champions, he commands.
 
The God-like maid awhile all silent stood,
  And down to th’ earth let fall her humble eyes;        65
While modest thoughts shot up the flaming bloud,
  Which fir’d her scarlet cheek with rosie dies;
    But soon to quench the heat, that lordling reignes,
    From her faire eye a show’r of crystall rains,
Which with its silver streams o’er-runs the beauteous plains:        70
 
As when the sunne in midst of summer’s heat
  Draws up thinne vapours with his potent ray,
Forcing dull waters from their native seat;
  At length dimme clouds shadow the burning day:
    Till coldest aire, soon melted into showers,        75
    Upon the earth his welcome anger powres,
And heav’n’s clear foreheade now wipes off her former lowres.
 
At length, a little lifting up her eyes,
  A renting sigh way for her sorrow brake,
Which from her heart ’gan in her face to rise;        80
  And first in th’ eye, then in the lip, thus spake;
    “Ah gentle knights, how many a simple maid,
    With justest grief, and wrong so ill apaid,
Give due reward for such your pains and friendly aid?
 
“But if my princely spouse do not delay        85
  His timely presence in my greatest need,
He will for me your friendly love repay,
  And well requite this your so gentle deed:
    Then let no fear your mighty hearts assail:
    His word’s himself; himself he cannot fail.        90
Long may he stay, yet sure he comes, and must prevail.”
 
By this the long shut gate was open laid;
  Soon out they rush in order well arranged:
And fastning in their eyes that heav’nly maid,
  How oft for fear her fairest colour chang’d!        95
    Her looks, her worth, her goodly grace and state,
    Comparing with her present wretched fate,
Pitie whets just revenge, and love’s fires kindle hate.
 
Long at the gate the thoughtful Intellect
  Staid with his fearfull queen and daughter fair;        100
But when the knights were past their dimme aspect,
  They follow them with vowes and many a prayer:
    At last they climbe up to the castle’s height,
    From which they viewed the deeds of every knight,
And mark’d the doubtfull end of this intestine fight.        105
 
As when a youth bound for the Belgick warre,
  Takes leave of friends upon the Kentish shore;
Now are they parted, and he sail’d so farre
  They see not now, and now are seen no more:
    Yet farre off viewing the white trembling sails,        110
    The tender mother soon plucks off her vails,
And shaking them aloft, unto her sonne she hails.
 
Mean time these champions march in fit array,
  Till both the armies now were come in sight:
Awhile each other boldly viewing stay,        115
  With short delaye whetting fierce rage and spight.
    Sound now ye trumpets, sound alarums loud;
    Hark, how their clamours whet their anger proud:
See, yonder are they met in midst of dustie cloud!
 
So oft the south with civil enmitie        120
  Musters his watrie forces ’gainst the west;
The rolling clouds come tumbling up the skie,
  In dark folds wrapping up their angry guest:
    At length the flame breaks from th’ imprisoning cold,
    With horrid noise tearing the limber muld,        125
While down in liquid tears the broken vapours roll’d.
 
First did that warlike maid herself advance;
  And riding from amidst her companie,
About her helmet wav’d her mighty lance,
  Daring to fight the proudest enemie:        130
    Porneios soon his ready spear addrest,
    And close advancing on his hastie beast,
Bent his sharp-headed lance against her dainty breast.
 
In vain the broken staffe sought entrance there,
  Where Love himself oft entrance sought in vain:        135
But much unlike the martial virgin’s spear,
  Which low dismounts her foe on dustie plain,
    Broaching with bloudy point his breast before:
    Down from the wound trickled the bubbling gore,
And bid pale Death come in at that red gaping door.        140
 
There lies he cover’d now in lowly dust,
  And foully wallowing in clutter’d bloud,
Breathing together out his life and lust,
  Which from his breast swamme in the steaming floud:
    In maids his joy, now by a maid defi’d,        145
    His life he lost and all his former pride;
With women would he live, now by a woman di’d.
 
Aselges, struck with such a heavie sight,
  Greedy to venge his brother’s sad decay,
Spurr’d forth his flying steed with fell despite,        150
  And met the virgin in the middle way:
    His spear against her head he fiercely threw,
    Which to that face performing homage due,
Kissing her helmet, thence in thousand shivers flew.
 
The wanton boy had dreamt, that latest night,        155
  He well had learnt the liquid aire dispart,
And swimme along the heav’ns with pineons light;
  Now that fair maid taught him this nimble art:
    For from his saddle far away she sent,
    Flying along the emptie element,        160
That hardly yet he knew whither his course was bent.
 
The rest that saw with fear the ill successe
  Of single fight, durst not like fortune trie;
But round beset her with their numerous presse;
  Before, beside, behind, they on her flie,        165
    And every part with coward odds assail:
    But she redoubling strokes as thick as hail,
Drove far their flying troops, and thresh’d with iron flail:
 
As when a gentle greyhound set around
  With little curres, which dare his way molest,        170
Snapping behinde; soon as the angrie hound
  Turning his course, hath caught the busiest,
    And shaking in his fangs hath welnigh slain;
    The rest, fear’d with his crying, runne amain,
And standing all aloof, whine, houl, and bark in vain.        175
 
The subtil Dragon that from far did view
  The waste and spoil made by this maiden knight,
Fell to his wonted guile; for well he knew
  All force was vain against such wondrous might:
    A craftie swain well taught to cunning harms,        180
    Call’d False Delight, he chang’d with hellish charms,
That True Delight he seem’d the self-same shape and arms.
 
The watchfull’st sight no difference could descrie;
  The same his face, his voice, his sail the same:
Thereto his words he feign’d; and coming nigh        185
  The maid, that fierce pursues her martial game,
    He whets her wrath with many a guilefull word,
    Till she less carefull, did fit time afford:
Then up with both his hands he lifts his balefull sword.
 
Ye pow’rful heav’ns! and thou, their Governour!        190
  With what eyes can you view this dolefull sight?
How can you see your fairest conquerour
  So nigh her end by so unmanly slight?
    The dreadful weapon through the aire doth glide;
    But sure you turn’d the harmfull edge aside:        195
Else must she there have fall’n, and by that tratour died.
 
Yet in her side deep was the wound impight;
  Her flowing life the shining armour stains:
From that wide spring long rivers took their flight,
  With purple streams drowning the silver plains:        200
    Her cheerfull colour now grows wanne and pale,
    Which oft she strives with courage to recall,
  And rouze her fainting head, which down as oft would fall:
 
All so a lilie prest with heavie rain,
  Which fills her cups with show’rs up to the brinks;        205
The wearie stalk no longer can sustain
  The head, but low beneath the burden sinks:
    Or, as a virgin-rose her leaves displayes,
    Which too hot scorching beams quite disarayes,
Down flags her double ruffe, and all her sweet decayes.        210
 
Th’ undaunted maid, feeling her feet denie
  Their wonted dutie, to a tree retir’d;
Whom all the rout pursue with deadly crie:
  As when a hunted stag, now welnigh tir’d,
    Shor’d by an oak, ’gins with his head to play;        215
    The fearfull hounds dare not his horns assay,
But running round about, with yelping voices bay.
 
And now perceiving all her strength was spent,
  Lifting to list’ning heav’n her trembling eyes,
Thus whisp’ring soft, her soul to heav’n she sent;        220
  “Thou Chastest Love! that rul’st the wand’ring skies,
    More pure than purest heavens by thee mov’d;
    If thine own love in me thou sure hast prov’d;
If ever thou myself, my vows, my love hast lov’d;
 
“Let not this temple of thy spotlesse love        225
  Be with foul hand and beastly rage defil’d;
But when my spirit shall its camp remove,
  And to his home return, too long exil’d,
    Do thou protect it from the ravenous spoil
    Of ranc’rous enemies, that hourely toil        230
Thy humble votarie with lothsome spot to foil.”
 
With this few drops fell from her fainting eyes
  To dew the fading roses of her cheek;
That much High Love seem’d passion’d with those cries;
  Much more those streams his heart and patience break:        235
    Straight he the charge gives to a winged swain,
    Quickly to step down to that bloody plain,
And aid her wearie arms, and rightful cause maintain.
 
Soon stoops the speedie herauld through the aire,
  Where chaste Agneia and Encrates fought:        240
“See, see!” he cries, “where your Parthenia fair,
  The flow’r of all your armie, hemm’d about
    With thousand enemies, now fainting stands,
    Readie to fall into their murd’ring hands:
Hie ye, ho, hie ye fast! the Highest Love commands.”        245
 
They casting round about their angrie eye,
  The wounded virgin almost sinking spi’d;
They prick their steeds, which straight like lightning flie:
  Their brother Continence runnes by their side;
    Fair Continence, that truly long before,        250
    As his heart’s leige, this ladie did adore:
And now his faithful love kindled his hate the more.
 
Encrates and his spouse with slashing sword
  Assail’d the scatter’d troops that headlong flie;
While Continence a precious liquour pour’d        255
  Into the wound, and suppled tenderly:
    Then binding up the gaping orifice,
    Reviv’d the spirits, that now she ’gan to rise,
And with new life confront her heartlesse enemies.
 
So have I often seen a purple flow’r        260
  Fainting through heat, hang down her drooping head,
But soon refreshed with a welcome show’r,
  Begins again her lively beauties spread,
    And with new pride her silken leaves display;
    And while the sunne doth now more gently play,        265
Lays out her swelling bosome to the smiling day.
 
Now rush they all into the flying trains,
  Bloud fires their bloud, and slaughter kindles fight;
The wretched vulgar on the purple plains
  Fall down as thick as when a rustick wight        270
    From laden oaks the plenteous akorns poures;
    Or when the thicken’d ayer that sadly lowers,
And melts his sullen brow, and weeps sweet April show’rs.
 
The greedy Dragon, that aloof did spie
  So ill successe of this renewed fray,        275
More vex’d with losse of certain victorie,
  Depriv’d of so assur’d and wished prey,
    Gnashed his iron teeth for grief and spite:
    The burning sparks leap from his flaming sight,
And from his smoking jawes streams out a smould’ring night.        280
 
Straight thither sends he in a fresh supply,
  The swelling band that drunken Methos led;
And all the rout his brother Gluttonie
  Commands, in lawlesse bands disordered,
    So now they bold restore their broken fight,        285
    And fiercely turn again from shamefull flight;
While both with former losse sharpen their raging spite.
 
Freshly these knights assault these fresher bands,
  And with new battell all their strength renew:
Down fell Geloios by Encrates’ hands;        290
  Agneia, Moechus and Anagnus slew;
    And spying Methos fenct in’s iron vine,
    Pierct his swollen panch: there lies the grunting swine,
And spues his liquid soul out in his purple wine.
 
As when a greedy lion long unfed,        295
  Breaks in at length into the harmless folds,
(So hungry rage commands) with fearful dread
  He drags the silly beasts; nothing controles
    The victor proud; he spoils, devours, and tears:
    In vain the keeper calls his shepherd peers:        300
Mean while the simple flock gaze on with silent fears:
 
Such was the slaughter these three champions made;
  But most Encrates, whose unconquer’d hands
Sent thousand foes down to th’ infernall shade,
  With uselesse limbes strewing the bloudie sands:        305
    Oft were they succour’d fresh with new supplies,
    But fell as oft:—the Dragon, grown more wise
By former losse, began another way devise.
 
Soon to their aid the Cyprian band he sent,
  For easy skirmish clad in armour light:        310
Their golden bowes in hand stood ready bent,
  And painted quivers furnisht well for fight
    Stuck full of shafts, whose heads foul poison stains;
    Which dipp’d in Phlegethon by hellish swains,
Bring thousand painfull deaths, and thousand deadly pains.        315
 
Thereto of substance strong, so thinne and slight,
  And wrought by subtil hand so cunningly,
That hardly were discern’d by weaker sight;
  Sooner the heart did feel, then eye could see:
    Farre off they stood, and flung their darts around,        320
    Raining whole clouds of arrows on the ground;
So safely others hurt, and never wounded, wound.
 
Much were the knights encumbred with these foes;
  For well they saw, and felt their enemies:
But when they back would turn their borrow’d blows,        325
  The light foot troop away more swiftly flies
    Than do their winged arrows through the winde:
    And in their course oft would they turne behinde,
And with their glancing darts their hot pursuers blinde.
 
As when by Russian Volgha’s frozen banks,        330
  The false back Tartars, fear, with cunning feigne,
And posting fast away in flying ranks,
  Oft backward turn, and from their bowes down rain
    Whole storms of darts; so do they flying fight:
    And what by force they lose, they win by slight;        335
Conquer’d by standing out, and conquerors by flight.
 
Such was the craft of this false Cyprian crew:
  Yet oft they seem’d to slack their fearful pace,
And yield themselves to foes that fast pursue;
  So would they deeper wound in nearer space:        340
    In such a fight he wins who fastest flies.
    Fly, fly, chaste knights, such subtil enemies:
The vanquish’d cannot live, and conqueror surely dies.
 
The knights, oppres’d with wounds and travel past,
  Did soon retire, and now were near to fainting:        345
With that a winged post him speeded fast,
  The General with these heavy news acquainting:
    He soon refresh’d their hearts that ’gan to tire.
    But, let our weary Muse awhile respire:
Shade we our scorched heads from Phœbus’ parching fire.        350
 
Note 1. XXX. Phineas Fletcher, the brother of Giles Fletcher, was born in 1584, and died in 1650. He was a clergyman of the Church of England; having the living of Hilgay, in Norfolk, which was presented to him by Sir Henry Willoughby. The principal poem of this author is “The Purple Island,” a poem in twelve cantos, containing an allegorical description of the body and soul of man. As a whole, this poem would not suit the taste of the modern reader, but it abounds with rich and picturesque passages. Besides this poem, Phineas Fletcher wrote “Piscatory Eclogues,” and translated a few of the Psalms of David in verse. [back]
 
 
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