Verse > Anthologies > William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. > The Book of Elizabethan Verse
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CONTENTS · GLOSSARY · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
William Stanley Braithwaite, ed.  The Book of Elizabethan Verse.  1907.
 
Nymphidia
By Michael Drayton (1563–1631)
 
The Court of Fairy

OLD 1 Chaucer doth of Topas tell,
Mad Rabelais of Pantagruèl,
A later third of Dowsabel,
    With such poor trifles playing;
Others the like have laboured at,        5
Some of this thing, and some of that,
And many of they knew not what,
    But what they must be saying.
 
Another sort there be, that will
Be talking of the Fairies still,        10
For never can they have their fill,
    As they were wedded to them;
No tales of them their thirst can slake,
So much delight therein they take,
And some strange thing they fain would make        15
    Knew they the way to do them.
 
Then since no Muse hath been so bold,
Or of the later, or the old,
Those elvish secrets to unfold,
    Which lie from others’ reading,        20
My active Muse to light shall bring
The Court of that proud Fairy King,
And tell there of the revelling:
    Jove prosper my proceeding!
 
And thou, Nymphidia, gentle Fay,        25
Which, meeting me upon the way,
These secrets didst to me bewray,
    Which now I am in telling;
My pretty, light, fantastic maid,
I here invoke thee to my aid,        30
That I may speak what thou hast said,
    In numbers smoothly swelling.
 
This palace standeth in the air,
By necromancy placèd there,
That it no tempest needs to fear,        35
    Which way soe’er it blow it;
And somewhat southward toward the noon,
Whence lies a way up to the moon,
And thence the Fairy can as soon
    Pass to the earth below it.        40
 
The walls of spiders’ legs are made
Well mortisèd and finely laid;
He was the master of his trade
    It curiously that builded;
The windows of the eyes of cats,        45
And for the roof, instead of slats,
Is covered with the skins of bats,
    With moonshine that are gilded.
 
Hence Oberon him sport to make,
Their rest when weary mortals take,        50
And none but only fairies wake,
    Descendeth for his pleasure;
And Mab, his merry Queen, by night
Bestrides young folks that lie upright
(In elder times, the mare that hight),        55
    Which plagues them out of measure.
 
Hence shadows, seeming idle shapes,
Of little frisking elves and apes
To earth do make their wanton scapes,
    As hope of pastime hastes them;        60
Which maids think on the hearth they see
When fires well-near consumèd be,
There dancing hays 2 by two and three,
    Just as their fancy casts them.
 
These make our girls their sluttery rue,        65
By pinching them both black and blue,
And put a penny in their shoe
    The house for cleanly sweeping;
And in their courses make that round
In meadows and in marshes found,        70
Of them so called the Fairy Ground,
    Of which they have the keeping.
 
These when a child haps to be got
Which after proves an idiot
When folk perceive it thriveth not,        75
    The fault therein to smother,
Some silly, doting, brainless calf
That understands things by the half,
Say that the Fairy left this aulfe 3
    And took away the other.        80
 
But listen, and I shall you tell
A chance in Fairy that befell,
Which certainly may please some well
    In love and arms delighting:
Of Oberon that jealous grew        85
Of one of his own Fairy crew,
Too well, he feared, his Queen that knew,
    His love but ill requiting.
 
Pigwiggen was this Fairy Knight,
One wondrous gracious in the sight        90
Of fair Queen Mab, which day and night
    He amorously observèd;
Which made King Oberon suspect
His service took too good effect,
His sauciness had often checkt,        95
    And could have wished him stervèd.
 
Pigwiggen gladly would commend
Some token to Queen Mab to send,
If sea or land him aught could lend
    Were worthy of her wearing;        100
At length this lover doth devise
A bracelet made of emmets’ eyes,
A thing he thought that she would prize,
    No whit her state impairing.
 
And to the Queen a letter writes,        105
Which he most curiously indites,
Conjuring her by all the rites
    Of love, she would be pleasèd
To meet him, her true servant, where
They might, without suspect or fear,        110
Themselves to one another clear
    And have their poor hearts easèd.
 
At midnight, the appointed hour:
“And for the Queen a fitting bower,”
Quoth he, “is that fair cowslip flower        115
    On Hipcut hill that bloweth:
In all your train there’s not a fay
That ever went to gather may
But she hath made it, in her way,
    The tallest there that groweth.”        120
 
When by Tom Thumb, a Fairy Page,
He sent it, and doth him engage
By promise of a mighty wage
    It secretly to carry;
Which done, the Queen her maids doth call,        125
And bids them to be ready all:
She would go see her summer hall,
    She could no longer tarry.
 
Her chariot ready straight is made,
Each thing therein is fitting laid,        130
That she by nothing might be stayed,
    For nought must be her letting;
Four nimble gnats the horses were,
Their harnesses of gossamere,
Fly Cranion the charioteer        135
    Upon the coach-box getting.
 
Her chariot of a snail’s fine shell,
Which for the colours did excel,
The fair Queen Mab becoming well,
    So lively was the limning;        140
The seat the soft wool of the bee,
The cover, gallantly to see,
The wing of a pied butterflee;
    I trow ’twas simple trimming.
 
The wheels composed of crickets’ bones,        145
And daintily made for the nonce,
For fear of rattling on the stones
    With thistle-down they shod it;
For all her maidens much did fear
If Oberon had chanc’d to hear        150
That Mab his Queen should have been there,
    He would not have abode it.
 
She mounts her chariot with a trice,
Nor would she stay, for no advice,
Until her maids that were so nice        155
    To wait on her were fitted;
But ran herself away alone,
Which when they heard, there was not one
But hasted after to be gone,
    As she had been diswitted.        160
 
Hop and Mop and Drop so clear,
Pip and Trip and Skip that were
To Mab, their sovereign, ever dear,
    Her special maids of honour;
Fib and Tib and Pink and Pin,        165
Tick and Quick and Jill and Jin,
Tit and Nit and Wap and Win,
    The train that wait upon her.
 
Upon a grasshopper they got
And, what with amble and with trot,        170
For hedge and ditch they sparèd not,
    But after her they hie them;
A cobweb over them they throw,
To shield the wind if it should blow,
Themselves they wisely could bestow        175
    Lest any should espy them.
 
But let us leave Queen Mab a while,
Through many a gate, o’er many a stile,
That now had gotten by this wile,
    Her dear Pigwiggen kissing;        180
And tell how Oberon doth fare,
Who grew as mad as any hare
When he had sought each place with care
    And found his Queen was missing.
 
So first encountering with a Wasp,        185
He in his arms the fly doth clasp
As though his breath he forth would grasp,
    Him for Pigwiggen taking:
“Where is my wife, thou rogue?” quoth he;
“Pigwiggen, she is come to thee;        190
Restore her, or thou diest by me!”
    Whereat the poor Wasp quaking
 
Cries, “Oberon, great Fairy King,
Content thee, I am no such thing:
I am a Wasp, behold my sting!”        195
    At which the Fairy started;
When soon away the Wasp doth go,
Poor wretch, was never frighted so;
He thought his wings were much too slow,
    O’erjoyed they so were parted.        200
 
He next upon a Glow-worm light,
(You must suppose it now was night),
Which, for her hinder part was bright,
    He took to be a devil,
And furiously doth her assail        205
For carrying fire in her tail;
He thrashèd her rough coat with his flail;
    The mad King feared no evil.
 
“Oh!” quoth the Glow-worm, “hold thy hand,
Thou puissant King of Fairy-land!        210
Thy mighty strokes who may withstand?
    Hold, or of life despair I!”
Together then herself doth roll,
And tumbling down into a hole
She seemed as black as any coal;        215
    Which vext away the Fairy.
 
From thence he ran into a hive:
Amongst the bees he letteth drive,
And down their combs begins to rive,
    All likely to have spoilèd,        220
Which with their wax his face besmeared,
And with their honey daubed his beard:
It would have made a man afeared
    To see how he was moilèd.
 
A new adventure him betides;        225
He met an Ant, which he bestrides,
And post thereon away he rides,
    Which with his haste doth stumble,
And came full over on her snout,
Her heels so threw the dirt about,        230
For she by no means could get out,
    But over him doth tumble.
 
And being in this piteous case,
And all be-slurrèd head and face,
On runs he in this wild-goose chase,        235
    As here and there he rambles;
Half blind, against a molehole hit,
And for a mountain taking it,
For all he was out of his wit
    Yet to the top he scrambles.        240
 
And being gotten to the top,
Yet there himself he could not stop,
But down on the other side doth chop,
    And to the foot came rumbling;
So that the grubs, therein that bred,        245
Hearing such turmoil overhead,
Thought surely they had all been dead;
    So fearful was the jumbling.
 
And falling down into a lake,
Which him up to the neck doth take,        250
His fury somewhat it doth slake;
    He calleth for a ferry;
Where you may some recovery note;
What was his club he made his boat,
And in his oaken cup doth float,        255
    As safe as in a wherry.
 
Men talk of the adventures strange
Of Don Quishott, and of their change
Through which he armèd oft did range,
    Of Sancho Pancha’s travel;        260
But should a man tell everything
Done by this frantic Fairy King,
And them in lofty numbers sing,
    It well his wits might gravel.
 
Scarce set on shore, but therewithal        265
He meeteth Puck, which most men call
Hobgoblin, and on him doth fall,
    With words from frenzy spoken:
“Ho, ho,” quoth Hob, “God save thy grace!
Who drest thee in this piteous case?        270
He thus that spoiled my sovereign’s face,
    I would his neck were broken!”
 
This Puck seems but a dreaming dolt,
Still walking like a ragged colt,
And oft out of a bush doth bolt,        275
    Of purpose to deceive us;
And leading us makes us to stray,
Long winter’s nights, out of the way;
And when we stick in mire and clay,
    Hob doth with laughter leave us.        280
 
“Dear Puck,” quoth he, “my wife is gone:
As e’er thou lov’st King Oberon,
Let everything but this alone,
    With vengeance and pursue her;
Bring her to me alive or dead,        285
Or that vile thief, Pigwiggen’s head,
That villain hath my Queen misled;
    He to this folly drew her.”
 
Quoth Puck, “My liege, I’ll never lin, 4
But I will thorough thick and thin,        290
Until at length I bring her in;
    My dearest lord, ne’er doubt it.”
Thorough brake, 5 thorough briar,
Thorough muck, thorough mire,
Thorough water, thorough fire;        295
    And thus goes Puck about it.
 
This thing Nymphidia overheard,
That on this mad king had a guard,
Not doubting of a great reward,
    For first this business broaching;        300
And through the air away doth go,
Swift as an arrow from the bow,
To let her sovereign Mab to know
    What peril was approaching.
 
The Queen bound with Love’s powerful’st charm        305
Sate with Pigwiggen arm in arm;
Her merry maids, that thought no harm,
    About the room was skipping;
A humble-bee, their minstrel, played
Upon his hautboy, every maid        310
Fit for this revel was arrayed,
    The hornpipe neatly tripping.
 
In comes Nymphidia, and doth cry,
“My sovereign, for your safety fly,
For there is danger but too nigh;        315
    I posted to forewarn you:
The King hath sent Hobgoblin out,
To seek you all the fields about,
And of your safety you may doubt,
    If he but once discern you.”        320
 
When, like an uproar in a town
Before them everything went down;
Some tore a ruff, and some a gown,
    ’Gainst one another justling;
They flew about like chaff i’ th’ wind;        325
For haste some left their masks behind;
Some could not stay their gloves to find;
    There never was such bustling.
 
Forth ran they, by a secret way,
Into a brake that near them lay;        330
Yet much they doubted there to stay,
    Lest Hob should hap to find them;
He had a sharp and piercing sight,
All one to him the day and night;
And therefore were resolved, by flight,        335
    To leave this place behind them.
 
At length one chanced to find a nut,
In the end of which a hole was cut,
Which lay upon a hazel root,
    There scattered by a squirrel        340
Which out the kernel gotten had;
When quoth this Fay, “Dear Queen, be glad;
Let Oberon be ne’er so mad,
    I’ll set you safe from peril.
 
“Come all into this nut,” quoth she,        345
“Come closely in; be ruled by me;
Each one may here a chooser be,
    For room ye need not wrastle:
Nor need ye be together heapt;”
So one by one therein they crept,        350
And lying down they soundly slept,
    And safe as in a castle.
 
Nymphidia, that this while doth watch,
Perceived if Puck the Queen should catch
That he should be her over-match,        355
    Of which she well bethought her;
Found it must be some powerful charm,
The Queen against him that must arm,
Or surely he would do her harm,
    For throughly he had sought her.        360
 
And listening if she aught could hear,
That her might hinder, or might fear,
But finding still the coast was clear;
    Nor creature had descried her;
Each circumstance and having scanned,        365
She came thereby to understand,
Puck would be with them out of hand;
    When to her charms she hied her.
 
And first her fern-seed doth bestow,
The kernel of the mistletoe;        370
And here and there as Puck should go,
    With terror to affright him,
She night-shade strews to work him ill,
Therewith her vervain and her dill,
That hindereth witches of their will,        375
    Of purpose to despite him.
 
Then sprinkles she the juice of rue,
That groweth underneath the yew;
With nine drops of the midnight dew,
    From lunary distilling:        380
The molewarp’s brain mixed therewithal;
And with the same the pismire’s gall:
For she in nothing short would fall,
    The Fairy was so willing.
 
Then thrice under a briar doth creep,        385
Which at both ends are rooted deep,
And over it three times she leap;
    Her magic much availing:
Then on Prosèrpina doth call,
And so upon her spell doth fall,        390
Which here to you repeat I shall,
    Not in one tittle failing.
 
“By the croaking of the frog,
By the howling of the dog,
By the crying of the hog,        395
    Against the storm arising;
By the evening curfew bell
By the doleful dying knell,
O let this my direful spell,
    Hob, hinder my surprising!        400
 
“By the mandrake’s dreadful groans,
By the lubrican’s sad moans,
By the noise of dead men’s bones
    In charnel-houses rattling;
By the hissing of the snake,        405
The rustling of the fire-drake,
I charge thee thou this place forsake,
    Nor of Queen Mab be prattling!
 
“By the whirlwind’s hollow sound,
By the thunder’s dreadful stound,        410
Yells of spirits underground,
    I charge thee not to fear us;
By the screech-owl’s dismal note,
By the black night-raven’s throat,
I charge thee, Hob, to tear thy coat        415
    With thorns, if thou come near us!”
 
Her spell thus spoke, she stept aside,
And in a chink herself doth hide,
To see thereof what would betide,
    For she doth only mind him:        420
When presently she Puck espies,
And well she marked his gloating eyes,
How under every leaf he pries,
    In seeking still to find them.
 
But once the circle got within,        425
The charms to work do straight begin,
And he was caught as in a gin;
    For as he thus was busy,
A pain he in his head-piece feels,
Against a stubbèd tree he reels,        430
And up went poor Hobgoblin’s heels;
    Alas! his brain was dizzy!
 
At length upon his feet he gets,
Hobgoblin fumes, Hobgoblin frets;
And as again he forwards sets,        435
    And through the bushes scrambles,
A stump doth trip him in his pace;
Down comes poor Hob upon his face,
And lamentably tore his case,
    Amongst the briars and brambles.        440
 
“A plague upon Queen Mab!” quoth he,
“And all her maids where’er they be:
I think the devil guided me,
    To seek her so provokèd!”
Where stumbling at a piece of wood,        445
He fell into a ditch of mud,
Where to the very chin he stood,
    In danger to be chokèd.
 
Now worse than e’er he was before,
Poor Puck doth yell, poor Puck doth roar,        450
That waked Queen Mab, who doubted sore
    Some treason had been wrought her:
Until Nymphidia told the Queen,
What she had done, what she had seen,
Who then had well near cracked her spleen        455
    With very extreme laughter.
 
But leave we Hob to clamber out,
Queen Mab and all her Fairy rout,
And come again to have a bout
    With Oberon yet madding:        460
And with Pigwiggen now distraught,
Who much was troubled in his thought,
That he so long the Queen had sought,
    And through the fields was gadding.
 
And as he runs he still doth cry,        465
“King Oberon, I thee defy,
And dare thee here in arms to try,
    For my dear lady’s honour:
For that she is a Queen right good,
In whose defence I’ll shed my blood,        470
And that thou in this jealous mood
    Hast laid this slander on her.”
 
And quickly arms him for the field,
A little cockle-shell his shield,
Which he could very bravely wield,        475
    Yet could it not be percèd:
His spear a bent both stiff and strong,
And well-near of two inches long:
The pile was of a horse-fly’s tongue,
    Whose sharpness nought reversèd.        480
 
And puts him on a coat of mail,
Which was of a fish’s scale,
That when his foe should him assail,
    No point should be prevailing:
His rapier was a hornet’s sting;        485
It was a very dangerous thing,
For if he chanced to hurt the King,
    It would be long in healing.
 
His helmet was a beetle’s head,
Most horrible and full of dread,        490
That able was to strike one dead,
    Yet did it well become him;
And for a plume a horse’s hair
Which, being tossèd with the air,
Had force to strike his foe with fear,        495
And turn his weapon from him.
 
Himself he on an earwig set,
Yet scarce he on his back could get,
So oft and high he did curvet,
    Ere he himself could settle:        500
He made him turn, and stop, and bound,
To gallop and to trot the round,
He scarce could stand on any ground,
    He was so full of mettle.
 
When soon he met with Tomalin,        505
One that a valiant knight had been,
And to King Oberon of kin;
    Quoth he, “Thou manly Fairy,
Tell Oberon I come prepared,
Then bid him stand upon his guard;        510
This hand his baseness shall reward,
    Let him be ne’er so wary.
 
“Say to him thus, that I defy
His slanders and his infamy,
And as a mortal enemy        515
    Do publicly proclaim him:
Withal that if I had mine own,
He should not wear the Fairy crown,
But with a vengeance should come down,
    Nor we a King should name him.”        520
 
This Tomalin could not abide,
To hear his sovereign villified;
But to the Fairy Court him hied,
    (Full furiously he posted),
With everything Pigwiggen said:        525
How title to the crown he laid,
And in what arms he was arrayed,
    As how himself he boasted.
 
’Twixt head and foot, from point to point,
He told the arming of each joint,        530
In every piece how neat and quoint,
    For Tomalin could do it:
How fair he sat, how sure he rid,
As of the courser he bestrid,
How managed, and how well he did;        535
    The King which listened to it,
 
Quoth he, “Go, Tomalin, with speed,
Provide me arms, provide my steed,
And everything that I shall need;
    By thee I will be guided;        540
To straight account call thou thy wit;
See there be wanting not a whit,
In everything see thou me fit,
    Just as my foe’s provided.”
 
Soon flew this news through Fairy-land,        545
Which gave Queen Mab to understand
The combat that was then in hand
    Betwixt those men so mighty:
Which greatly she began to rue,
Perceiving that all Fairy knew        550
The first occasion from her grew
    Of these affairs so weighty.
 
Wherefore attended with her maids,
Through fogs, and mists, and damps she wades,
To Proserpine the Queen of Shades,        555
    To treat, that it would please her
The cause into her hands to take,
For ancient love and friendship’s sake,
And soon thereof an end to make,
    Which of much care would ease her.        560
 
A while there let we Mab alone,
And come we to King Oberon,
Who, armed to meet his foe, is gone,
    For proud Pigwiggen crying:
Who sought the Fairy King as fast,        565
And had so well his journeys cast,
That he arrivèd at the last,
    His puissant foe espying.
 
Stout Tomalin came with the King,
Tom Thumb doth on Pigwiggen bring,        570
That perfect were in everything
    To single fights belonging:
And therefore they themselves engage,
To see them exercise their rage,
With fair and comely equipage,        575
    Not one the other wronging.
 
So like in arms these champions were,
As they had been a very pair,
So that a man would almost swear
    That either had been either;        580
Their furious steeds began to neigh,
That they were heard a mighty way;
Their staves upon their rests they lay;
    Yet ere they flew together,
 
Their seconds minister an oath,        585
Which was indifferent to them both,
That on their knightly faith and troth
    No magic them supplièd;
And sought them that they had no charms,
Wherewith to work each other’s harms,        590
But came with simple open arms
    To have their causes trièd.
 
Together furiously they ran,
That to the ground came horse and man,
The blood out of their helmets span,        595
    So sharp were their encounters;
And though they to the earth were thrown,
Yet quickly they regained their own,
Such nimbleness was never shown,
    They were two gallant mounters.        600
 
When in a second course again,
They forward came with might and main,
Yet which had better of the twain,
    The seconds could not judge yet;
Their shields were into pieces cleft,        605
Their helmets from their heads were reft,
And to defend them nothing left,
    These champions would not budge yet.
 
Away from them their staves they threw,
Their cruel swords they quickly drew,        610
And freshly they the fight renew,
    They every stroke redoubled;
Which made Prosèrpina take heed,
And make to them the greater speed,
For fear lest they too much should bleed,        615
    Which wondrously her troubled.
 
When to the infernal Styx she goes,
And takes the fogs from thence that rose,
And in a bag doth them enclose,
    When well she had them blended.        620
She hies her then to Lethe spring,
A bottle and thereof doth bring,
Wherewith she meant to work the thing
    Which only she intended.
 
Now Proserpine with Mab is gone,        625
Unto the place where Oberon
And proud Pigwiggen, one to one,
    Both to be slain were likely:
And there themselves they closely hide,
Because they would not be espied;        630
For Proserpine meant to decide
    The matter very quickly.
 
And suddenly unties the poke,
Which out of it sent such a smoke,
As ready was them all to choke,        635
    So grievous was the pother;
So that the knights each other lost,
And stood as still as any post;
Tom Thumb nor Tomalin could boast
    Themselves of any other.        640
 
But when the mist ’gan somewhat cease;
Prosèrpina commandeth peace;
And that a while they should release
    Each other of their peril:
“Which here,” quoth she, “I do proclaim        645
To all in dreadful Pluto’s name,
That as ye will eschew his blame,
    You let me hear the quarrel:
 
“But here yourselves you must engage,
Somewhat to cool your spleenish rage;        650
Your grievous thirst and to assuage
    That first you drink this liquor,
Which shall your understanding clear,
As plainly shall to you appear;
Those things from me that you shall hear,        655
    Conceiving much the quicker.”
 
This Lethe water, you must know,
The memory destroyeth so,
That of our weal, or of our woe,
    Is all remembrance blotted;        660
Of it nor can you ever think;
For they no sooner took this drink,
But nought into their brains could sink
    Of what had them besotted.
 
King Oberon forgotten had        665
That he for jealousy ran mad,
But of his Queen was wondrous glad,
    And asked how they came thither:
Pigwiggen likewise doth forget
That he Queen Mab had ever met,        670
Or that they were so hard beset,
    When they were found together.
 
Nor neither of them both had thought
That e’er they each had other sought,
Much less that they a combat fought,        675
    But such a dream was loathing,
Tom Thumb had got a little sup,
And Tomalin scarce kissed the cup,
Yet had their brains so sure locked up,
    That they remembered nothing.        680
 
Queen Mab and her light maids, the while,
Amongst themselves do closely smile,
To see the King caught with this wile,
    With one another jesting:
And to the Fairy Court they went,        685
With mickle joy and merriment,
Which thing was done with good intent,
    And thus I left them feasting.
 
Note 1. It is certain that no one will dispute Mr. Oliver Elton’s statement that this is the “finest of all seventeenth-century fantasies;” but will add that it is the finest in all the language. To quote Mr. Elton further from Michael Drayton, A Critical Study (ed. 1905), the reason is apparent: “To conceive common things in miniature, fitted to the needs of an elf; to plant the faintest sting of satire in a gay parody of well-nigh forgotten chivalrous ballads; to carry the vein of Sir Topas into the world of Obero; it is all done, and yet without one touch of the suffusing imagination of Shakespeare’s Dream, which Drayton had before him. The Nymphidia does not move in the land of dreams at all, their wings do not brush it. The smallest things described are in clear daylight. But the verses are kept fresh by the nicety of cutting.” [back]
Note 2. There dancing hays: country dances. [back]
Note 3. This aulfe: i.e., oaf. [back]
Note 4. I’ll never lin: cease. [back]
Note 5. Thorough brake, etc. Cf. No. 437. [back]
 
 
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