Verse > Anthologies > Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. > Parnassus: An Anthology of Poetry
Ralph Waldo Emerson, comp. (1803–1882).  Parnassus: An Anthology of Poetry.  1880.
Comus, a Mask
By John Milton (1608–1674)
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 vapors 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 sovereign 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 misusèd wine,
After the Tuscan mariners transformed,
Coasting the Tyrrhene shore, as the winds listed,
On Circé’s island fell: who knows not Circé,        50
The daughter of the sun, whose charmèd 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 favored of high Jove
Chances to pass through this adventurous 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 odors, dropping wine.
Rigor now has 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
’Tis only daylight that makes sin,
Which these dun shades will ne’er report.
Hail, Goddess of nocturnal sport,
Dark-veil’d Cotytto! t’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 rid’st with Hecate, and befriend        135
Us thy vowed priests, till utmost end
Of all thy dues be done, and none left out,
Ere the babbling eastern scout,
The nice Morn, on the Indian steep
From her cabined loophole peep,        140
And to the telltale sun descry
Our concealed solemnity.
Come, knit hands, and beat the ground
In a light fantastic round.
Break off, break off, I feel the different pace
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 Circé. Thus I hurl
My dazzling spells into the spungy 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 here.
This way the noise was, if mine ear be true,
My best guide now; methought it was the sound
Of riot and ill-managed merriment,
Such as the jocund 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 loath
To meet the rudeness, and swilled insolence
Of such late wassailers; yet O! 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 favor of these pines,
Stepped, as they said, to the next thicket side        185
To bring me berries, or such cooling fruit
As the kind, hospitable woods provide.
They left me then, when the gray-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 labor of my thoughts; ’tis likeliest
They had engaged 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 traveller?        200
This is the place, as well as I may guess,
Whence even now the tumult of loud mirth
Was rife, and perfect 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, t’whom all things ill
Are but as slavish officers of vengeance,
Would send a glistering guardian, if need were,
To keep my life and honor 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 halloo to my brothers, but
Such noise as I can make to be heard farthest
I’ll venture, for my new enlivened spirits
Prompt me; and they perhaps are not far off.
Sweet Echo, sweetest nymph, that liv’st unseen
    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 mayst thou be translated to the skies,
And give resounding grace to all heaven’s harmonies.
Enter COMUS.
  Com.—Can any mortal mixture of earth’s mould
Breathe such divine enchanting 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 Circé with the Sirens three,
Amidst the flowery-kirtled Naiades,
Culling their potent herbs, and baleful drugs,        255
Who, as they sung, would take the prisoned soul,
And lap it in Elysium; Scylla wept,
And chid 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 homefelt 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 Silvan, 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.
  Com.—What chance, good Lady, hath bereft you thus?
  Lady.—Dim darkness, and this leafy labyrinth.
  Com.—Could that divide you from near-ushering guides?
  Lady.—They left me weary on a grassy turf.        280
  Com.—By falsehood, or discourtesy, or why?
  Lady.—To seek i’ the valley some cool friendly spring.
  Com.—And left your fair side all unguarded, Lady?
  Lady.—They were but twain, and purposed quick return.
  Com.—Perhaps forestalling night prevented them.        285
  Lady.—How easy my misfortune is to hit!
  Com.—Imports their loss beside the present need?
  Lady.—No less than if I should my brothers lose.
  Com.—Were they of manly prime, or youthful bloom?
  Lady.—As smooth as Hebe’s their unrazored lips.        290
  Com.—Two such I saw, what time the labored 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 colors of the rainbow live,        300
And play i’ the plighted clouds. I was awestruck,
And as I passed, I worshipped: 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?
  Com.—Due west it rises from this shrubby point.
  Lady.—To find that out, good shepherd, I suppose
In such a scant allowance of starlight,
Would overtask the best land-pilot’s art,        310
Without the sure guess of well-practised feet.
  Com.—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 neighborhood;        315
And if your stray attendants 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 tap’stry 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.
  1 Br.—Unmuffle, ye faint stars, and thou, fair moon,
That wont’st to love the traveller’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.
  2 Br.—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 O that hapless virgin, our lost sister!
Where may she wander now, whither betake her
From the chill dew, among rude burrs 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?
  1 Br.—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.
  2 Br.—’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 roll a hermit of his weeds,
His few books, or his beads, or maple dish,        395
Or do his gray hairs any violence?
But beauty, like the fair Hesperian tree
Laden with blooming gold, had need the guard
Of dragon watch with unenchanted 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 unowned sister.
  1 Br.—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 incline 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.
  2 Br.—What hidden strength,
Unless the strength of Heaven, if you mean that?
  1 Br.—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 complete steel,
And like a quivered Nymph with arrows keen
May trace huge forests, and unharbored 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, forever chaste,
Wherewith she tamed the brinded lioness
And spotted mountain pard, and 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 congealed 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 loath to leave the body that it loved,
And linked itself by carnal sensuality        480
To a degenerate and degraded state.
  2 Br.—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.
  1 Br.—List, list, I hear
Some far off halloo break the silent air.
  2 Br.—Methought so too: what should it be?
  1 Br.—For certain        490
Either some one like us night-foundered here,
Or else some neighbor woodman, or, at worst,
Some roving robber calling to his fellows.
  2 Br.—Heaven keep my sister. Again, again, and near!
Best draw, and stand upon our guard.        495
  1 Br.—I’ll halloo:
If he be friendly, he comes well; if not,
Defence is a good cause, and Heaven be for us.
Enter the ATTENDANT SPIRIT, habited like a shepherd.

That halloo I should know: what are you? speak;
Come not too near, you fall on iron stakes else.        500
  Spir.—What voice is that? my young Lord? speak again.
  2 Br.—O brother, ’tis my father’s shepherd, sure.
  1 Br.—Thyrsis? Whose artful strains have oft delayed
The huddling brook to hear his madrigal,
And sweetened every muskrose of the dale.        505
How cam’st thou here, good swain? hath any ram
Slipt from the fold, or young kid lost his dam,
Or straggling wether the pent flock forsook?
How couldst thou find this dark sequestered nook?
  Spir.—O my loved master’s heir, and his next joy,        510
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
To this my errand, and the care it brought.        515
But, O my virgin Lady, where is she?
How chance she is not in your company?
  1 Br.—To tell thee sadly, Shepherd, without blame,
Or our neglect, we lost her as we came.
  Spir.—Aye me unhappy! then my fears are true.        520
  1 Br.—What fears, good Thyrsis? Prithee briefly show.
  Spir.—I’ll tell ye; ’tis not vain or fabulous,
Though so esteemed by shallow ignorance,
What the sage poets, taught by the heavenly Muse,
Storied of old in high immortal verse,        525
Of dire chimeras, and enchanted isles,
And rifted rocks whose entrance leads to Hell;
For such there be, but unbelief is blind.
  Within the navel of this hideous wood,
Immured in cypress shades a sorcerer dwells,        530
Of Bacchus and of Circé born, great Comus,
Deep skilled in all his mother’s witcheries;
And here to every thirsty wanderer
By sly enticement gives his baneful cup,
With many murmurs mixed, whose pleasing poison        535
The visage quite transforms of him that drinks,
And the inglorious likeness of a beast
Fixes instead, unmoulding reason’s mintage
Charáctered in the face: this I have learnt
Tending my flocks hard by i’ the hilly crofts,        540
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,
Doing abhorred rites to Hecate
In their obscured haunts of inmost bowers.        545
Yet have they many baits, and guileful spells,
T’inveigle and invite the unwary sense
Of them that pass unweeting by the way.
This evening late, by then the chewing flocks
Had ta’en their supper on the savory herb        550
Of knot-grass dew-besprent, and were in fold,
I sat me down to watch upon a bank
With ivy canopied, and interwove
With flaunting honey-suckle, and began,
Wrapt in a pleasing fit of melancholy,        555
To meditate my rural minstrelsy,
Till fancy had her fill, but ere a close,
The wonted roar was up amidst the woods,
And filled the air with barbarous dissonance;
At which I ceased, and listened them a while,        560
Till an unusual stop of sudden silence
Gave respite to the drowsy frighted steeds,
That draw the litter of close-curtained sleep;
At last a soft and solemn-breathing sound
Rose like a stream of rich distilled perfumes,        565
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,
Still to be so displaced. I was all ear,
And took in strains that might create a soul        570
Under the ribs of death: but O ere long
Too well I did perceive it was the voice
Of my most honored Lady, your dear sister.
Amazed I stood, harrowed with grief and fear,
And O poor hapless nightingale thought I,        575
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,
Till guided by mine ear I found the place,
Where that damned wizard, hid in sly disguise,        580
(For so by certain signs I knew) had met
Already, ere my best speed could prevent,
The aidless innocent Lady his wished prey;
Who gently asked if he had seen such two,
Supposing him some neighbor villager.        585
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,
But further know I not.
  2 Br.—O night and shades,        590
How are ye joined with Hell in triple knot,
Against the unarmed weakness of one virgin,
Alone and helpless! Is this the confidence
You gave me, brother?
  1 Br.—Yes, and keep it still,        595
Lean on it safely; not a period
Shall be unsaid for me: against the threats
Of malice or of sorcery, or that power
Which erring men call Chance, this I hold firm,
Virtue may be assailed, but never hurt,        600
Surprised by unjust force, but not inthralled;
Yea even that which mischief meant most harm,
Shall in the happy trial prove most glory:
But evil on itself shall back recoil,
And mix no more with goodness, when at last        605
Gathered like scum, and settled to itself,
It shall be in eternal restless change
Self-fed, and self-consumed: if this fail,
The pillared firmament is rottenness,
And earth’s base built on stubble. But come, let’s on.        610
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
With all the grisly legions that troop
Under the sooty flag of Acheron,        615
Harpies and Hydras, or all the monstrous forms
’Twixt Africa and Ind, I’ll find him out,
And force him to return his purchase back,
Or drag him by the curls to a foul death,
Cursed as his life.        620
  Spir.—Alas! good vent’rous Youth,
I love thy courage yet, and bold emprise;
But here thy sword can do thee little stead;
Far other arms and other weapons must
Be those that quell the might of hellish charms:        625
He with his bare wand can unthread thy joints,
And crumble all thy sinews.
  1 Br.—Why prithee, Shepherd,
How durst thou then thyself approach so near,
As to make this relation?        630
  Spir.—Care and utmost shifts
How to secure the Lady from surprisal,
Brought to my mind a certain shepherd lad,
Of small regard to see to, yet well skilled
In every virtuous plant and healing herb,        635
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
Would sit, and hearken e’en to ecstasy,
And in requital ope his leathern scrip,        640
And show me simples of a thousand names,
Telling their strange and vigorous faculties:
Amongst the rest a small unsightly root,
But of divine effect, he culled me out:
The leaf was darkish, and had prickles on it,        645
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
Treads on it daily with his clouted shoon:
And yet more med’cinal is it than that moly        650
That Hermes once to wise Ulysses gave;
He called it hæmony, and gave it me,
And bade me keep it as of sovereign use
’Gainst all enchantments, mildew, blast, or damp,
Or ghastly furies’ apparition.        655
I pursed it up, but little reck’ning made,
Till now that this extremity compelled:
But now I find it true; for by this means
I knew the foul enchanter though disguised,
Entered the very lime-twigs of his spells,        660
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;
Where if he be, with dauntless hardihood,
And brandished blade rush on him, break his glass,        665
And shed the luscious liquor on the ground,
But seize his wand; though he and his cursed crew
Fierce sign of battle make, and menace high,
Or like the sons of Vulcan vomit smoke,
Yet will they soon retire, if he but shrink.        670
  1 Br.—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 enchanted chair, to whom he offers his glass, which she puts by, and goes about to rise.

  Com.—Nay, Lady, sit; if I but wave this wand,
Your nerves are all chained up in alabaster,
And you a statue, or as Daphne was        675
Root-bound, that fled Apollo.
  Lady.—Fool, do not boast.
Thou canst not touch the freedom of my mind
With all thy charms, although this corporal rind
Thou hast immanacled, while heaven sees good.        680
  Com.—Why are you vext, Lady? why do you frown?
Here dwell no frowns, nor anger; from these gates
Sorrow flies far: See, here be all the pleasures
That fancy can beget on youthful thoughts,
When the fresh blood grows lively, and returns        685
Brisk as the April buds in primrose-season.
And first behold this cordial julep here,
That flames, and dances in his crystal bounds,
With spirits of balm, and fragrant syrups mixed.
Not that Nepenthes, which the wife of Thone        690
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.
Why should you be so cruel to yourself,
And to those dainty limbs which nature lent        695
For gentle usage, and soft delicacy?
But you invert the covenants of her trust,
And harshly deal, like an ill borrower,
With that which you received on other terms;
Scorning the unexempt condition        700
By which all mortal frailty must subsist,
Refreshment after toil, ease after pain,
That have been tired all day without repast,
And timely rest have wanted; but, fair Virgin,
This will restore all soon.        705
  Lady.—’Twill not, false traitor,
’Twill not restore the truth and honesty
That thou hast banished from thy tongue with lies.
Was this the cottage, and the safe abode
Thou told’st me of? What grim aspects are these,        710
These ugly-headed monsters? Mercy guard me!
Hence with thy brewed enchantments, foul deceiver;
Hast thou betrayed my credulous innocence
With visored falsehood and base forgery?
And wouldst thou seek again to trap me here        715
With liquorish baits fit to insnare a brute?
Were it a draught for Juno when she banquets,
I would not taste thy treasonous offer; none
But such as are good men can give good things,
And that which is not good is not delicious        720
To a well-governed and wise appetite.
  Com.—O foolishness of men! that lend their ears
To those budge doctors of the Stoic fur,
And fetch their precepts from the Cynic tub,
Praising the lean and sallow Abstinence.        725
Wherefore did Nature pour her bounties forth
With such a full and unwithdrawing hand,
Covering the earth with odors, fruits, and flocks,
Thronging the seas with spawn innumerable,
But all to please, and sate the curious taste?        730
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
Be vacant of her plenty, in her own loins
She hutched the all worshipped ore, and precious gems,        735
To store her children with: if all the world
Should in a pet of temperance feed on pulse,
Drink the clear stream, and nothing wear but frieze,
The All-giver would be unthanked, would be unpraised,
Not half his riches known, and yet despised;        740
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,
Who would be quite surcharged with her own weight,
And strangled with her waste fertility;        745
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
Would so emblaze the forehead of the deep,
And so bestud with stars, that they below        750
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
With that same vaunted name Virginity.
Beauty is Nature’s coin, must not be hoarded,        755
But must be current, and the good thereof
Consists in mutual and partaken bliss,
Unsavory in the enjoyment of itself;
If you let slip time, like a neglected rose
It withers on the stalk with languished head.        760
Beauty is Nature’s brag, and must be shown
In courts, at feasts, and high solemnities,
Where most may wonder at the workmanship;
It is for homely features to keep home,
They had their name thence; coarse complexions,        765
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,
Love-darting eyes, or tresses like the morn?
There was another meaning in these gifts,        770
Think what, and be advised, you are but young yet.
  Lady.—I had not thought to have unlockt my lips
In this unhallowed air, but that this juggler
Would think to charm my judgment, as mine eyes,
Obtruding false rules pranked in reason’s garb.        775
I hate when Vice can bolt her arguments,
And Virtue has no tongue to check her pride.
Impostor, do not charge most innocent Nature,
As if she would her children should be riotous
With her abundance; she, good cateress,        780
Means her provision only to the good,
That live according to her sober laws,
And holy dictate of spare temperance:
If every just man, that now pines with want,
Had but a moderate and beseeming share        785
Of that which lewdly-pampered luxury
Now heaps upon some few with vast excess,
Nature’s full blessings would be well dispensed
In unsuperfluous even proportion,
And she no whit encumbered with her store;        790
And then the Giver would be better thanked,
His praise due paid; for swinish gluttony
Ne’er looks to heaven amidst his gorgeous feast,
But with besotted base ingratitude
Crams, and blasphemes his feeder. Shall I go on?        795
Or have I said enough? To him that dares
Arm his profane tongue with contemptuous words
Against the sun-clad power of Chastity,
Fain would I something say, yet to what end?
Thou hast not ear, nor soul to apprehend        800
The sublime notion, and high mystery,
That must be uttered to unfold the sage
And serious doctrine of Virginity,
And thou art worthy that thou shouldst not know
More happiness than this thy present lot.        805
Enjoy your dear wit, and gay rhetoric,
That hath so well been taught her dazzling fence,
Thou art not fit to hear thyself convinced;
Yet should I try, the uncontrolled worth
Of this pure cause would kindle my rapt spirits        810
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,
Till all thy magic structures reared so high,
Were shattered into heaps o’er thy false head.        815
  Com.—She fables not; I feel that I do fear
Her words set off by some superior power:
And though not mortal, yet a cold shuddering dew
Dips me all o’er, as when the wrath of Jove
Speaks thunder, and the chains of Erebus,        820
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
Against the canon laws of our foundation;
I must not suffer this, yet ’tis but the lees        825
And settlings of a melancholy blood:
But this will cure all straight; one sip of this
Will bathe the drooping spirits in delight,
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 backword mutters of dissevering power,
We cannot free the Lady that sits here
In stony fetters fixed, and motionless:        835
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,
The soothest shepherd that e’er piped on plains.
  There is a gentle nymph not far from hence,        840
That with moist curb sways the smooth Severn stream,
Sabrina is her name, a virgin pure;
Whilom she was the daughter of Locrine,
That had the sceptre from his father Brute.
She, guiltless damsel, flying the mad pursuit        845
Of her enraged stepdame Guendolen,
Commended her fair innocence to the flood,
They stayed her flight with his cross-flowing course.
The water-nymphs that in the bottom played,
Held up their pearlèd wrists, and took her in,        850
Bearing her straight to aged Nereus’ hall,
Who, piteous of her woes, reared her lank head,
And gave her to his daughters to imbathe
In nectared lavers strewed with asphodel,
And through the porch and inlet of each sense        855
Dropped in ambrosial oils, till she revived,
And underwent a quick immortal change,
Made Goddess of the river: still she retains
Her maiden gentleness, and oft at eve
Visits the herds along the twilight meadows,        860
Helping all urchin blasts, and ill-luck signs
That the shrewd meddling elf delights to make,
Which she with precious vialled liquors heals;
For which the shepherds at their festivals
Carol her goodness loud in rustic lays,        865
And throw sweet garland wreaths into her stream
Of pansies, pinks, and gaudy daffodils,
And, as the old swain said, she can unlock
The clasping charm, and thaw the numbing spell,
If she be right invoked in warbled song;        870
For maidenhood she loves, and will be swift
To aid a virgin, such as was herself,
In hard-besetting need; this will I try,
And add the power of some adjuring verse.

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

By the rushy-fringed bank,
Where grow the willow and the osier dank,
  My sliding chariot stays,
Thick set with agate, and the azurn sheen
Of turkis blue, and emerald green,        910
  That in the channel strays;
Whilst from off the waters fleet,
Thus I set my printless feet
O’er the cowslip’s velvet head,
  That bends not as I tread;        915
Gentle Swain, at thy request
  I am here.
  Spir.—Goddess dear,
We implore thy powerful hand
To undo the charmèd band        920
Of true virgin here distressed,
Through the force, and through the wile
Of unblest enchanter vile.
  Sabr.—Shepherd, ’tis my office best
To help ensnarèd chastity:        925
Brightest Lady, look on me;
Thus I sprinkle on thy breast
Drops that from my fountain pure
I have kept of precious cure,
Thrice upon thy finger’s tip,        930
Thrice upon thy rubied lip;
Next this marble venomed seat,
Smeared with gums of glutinous heat,
I touch with chaste palms moist and cold:
Now the spell hath lost his hold;        935
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,
Sprung of old Anchises’ line,
May thy brimmèd waves for this        940
Their full tribute never miss
From a thousand petty rills,
That tumble down the snowy hills:
Summer drouth, or singèd air
Never scorch thy tresses fair,        945
Nor wet October’s torrent flood
Thy molten crystal fill with mud;
May thy billows roll ashore
The beryl, and the golden ore;
May thy lofty head be crowned        950
With many a tower and terrace round,
And here and there thy banks upon
With groves of myrrh and cinnamon.
  Come, Lady, while heaven lends us grace,
Let us fly this cursed place,        955
Lest the sorcerer us entice
With some other new device.
Not a waste, or needless sound,
Till we come to holier ground;
I shall be your faithful guide        960
Through this gloomy covert wide,
And not many furlongs thence
Is your Father’s residence,
Where this night are met in state
Many a friend to gratulate        965
His wished presence, and beside
All the swains that there abide,
With jigs, and rural dance resort;
We shall catch them at their sport,
And our sudden coming there        970
Will double all their mirth and cheer:
Come, let us haste, the stars grow high,
But night sits monarch yet in the mid sky.
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.

  Spir.—Back, Shepherds, back, enough your play,
Till next sunshine holiday;        975
Here be without duck or nod
Other trippings to be trod
Of lighter toes, and such court guise
As Mercury did first devise,
With the mincing Dryades,        980
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,
  Here behold so goodly grown
  Three fair branches of your own;        985
  Heaven hath timely tried their youth,
  Their faith, their patience, and their truth,
  And sent them here through hard assays
  With a crown of deathless praise,
  To triumph in victorious dance        990
O’er sensual folly, and intemperance.
The dances ended, the SPIRIT epitomizes.

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

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