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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
From ‘The Culprit Fay’
By Joseph Rodman Drake (1795–1820)
 
  
(See full text.)
  
My visual orbs are purged from film, and lo!
  Instead of Anster’s turnip-bearing vales,
I see old Fairyland’s miraculous show!
  Her trees of tinsel kissed by freakish gales,
Her ouphs that, cloaked in leaf-gold, skim the breeze,
  And fairies, swarming….
—TENNANT’S ‘ANSTER FAIR.’    

’TIS the middle watch of a summer’s night—
The earth is dark, but the heavens are bright;
Naught is seen in the vault on high
But the moon, and the stars, and the cloudless sky,
And the flood which rolls its milky hue,        5
A river of light on the welkin blue.
The moon looks down on old Cronest;
She mellows the shades on his shaggy breast,
And seems his huge gray form to throw
In a silver cone on the wave below;        10
His sides are broken by spots of shade,
By the walnut bough and the cedar made,
And through their clustering branches dark
Glimmers and dies the firefly’s spark—
Like starry twinkles that momently break        15
Through the rifts of the gathering tempest’s rack.
 
The stars are on the moving stream,
  And fling, as its ripples gently flow,
A burnished length of wavy beam
  In an eel-like, spiral line below;        20
The winds are whist, and the owl is still;
  The bat in the shelvy rock is hid;
And naught is heard on the lonely hill
But the cricket’s chirp, and the answer shrill
    Of the gauze-winged katydid;        25
And the plaint of the wailing whippoorwill,
Who moans unseen, and ceaseless sings
  Ever a note of wail and woe,
Till morning spreads her rosy wings,
  And earth and sky in her glances glow.        30
 
’Tis the hour of fairy ban and spell:
The wood-tick has kept the minutes well;
He has counted them all with click and stroke
Deep in the heart of the mountain oak,
And he has awakened the sentry elve        35
  Who sleeps with him in the haunted tree,
To bid him ring the hour of twelve,
  And call the fays to their revelry;
Twelve small strokes on his tinkling bell—
(’Twas made of the white snail’s pearly shell)        40
“Midnight comes, and all is well!
Hither, hither, wing your way!
’Tis the dawn of the fairy day.”
 
They come from beds of lichen green,
They creep from the mullein’s velvet screen;        45
Some on the backs of beetles fly
  From the silver tops of moon-touched trees,
Where they swung in their cobweb hammocks high,
  And rocked about in the evening breeze;
Some from the hum-bird’s downy nest—        50
  They had driven him out by elfin power,
And pillowed on plumes of his rainbow breast,
  Had slumbered there till the charmèd hour;
Some had lain in the scoop of the rock,
  With glittering ising-stars inlaid;        55
And some had opened the four-o’clock,
  And stole within its purple shade.
And now they throng the moonlight glade,
  Above, below, on every side,
Their little minim forms arrayed        60
  In the tricksy pomp of fairy pride!
 
They come not now to print the lea,
In freak and dance around the tree,
Or at the mushroom board to sup,
And drink the dew from the buttercup;—        65
A scene of sorrow waits them now,
For an ouphe has broken his vestal vow;
He has loved an earthly maid,
And left for her his woodland shade;
He has lain upon her lip of dew,        70
And sunned him in her eye of blue,
Fanned her cheek with his wing of air,
Played in the ringlets of her hair,
And nestling on her snowy breast,
Forgot the lily-king’s behest.        75
For this the shadowy tribes of air
  To the elfin court must haste away:
And now they stand expectant there,
  To hear the doom of the culprit fay.
 
The throne was reared upon the grass,        80
Of spice-wood and of sassafras;
On pillars of mottled tortoise-shell
  Hung the burnished canopy—
And o’er it gorgeous curtains fell
  Of the tulip’s crimson drapery.        85
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,        90
  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;        95
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,        100
  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;        105
Fairy! had she spot or taint,
Bitter had been thy punishment:
Tied to the hornet’s shardy wings;
Tossed on the pricks of nettles’ stings;
Or seven long ages doomed to dwell        110
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,        115
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—        120
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 moonshine,        125
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;        130
  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,        135
  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-illume its spark.        140
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        145
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,        150
Then plucked a crimson colen-bell,
  And turned him round in act to go.
The way is long; he cannot fly;
  His soilèd wing has lost its power,
And he winds adown the mountain high        155
  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;        160
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 leaped the bog, he has pierced the brier,        165
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,        170
But there came a spotted toad in sight,
  And he laughed as he jumped upon her back;
He bridled her mouth with a silkweed twist,
  He lashed her sides with an osier thong;
And now, through evening’s dewy mist,        175
  With leap and spring they bound along,
Till the mountain’s magic verge is past,
And the beach of sand is reached at last.
*        *        *        *        *
Up, fairy! quit thy chickweed bower,
The cricket has called the second hour;        180
Twice again, and the lark will rise
To kiss the streaking of the skies—
Up! thy charmèd armor don;
Thou’lt need it ere the night be gone.
 
He put his acorn helmet on:        185
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;        190
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 firefly steed;        195
  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.        200
 
The moth-fly, as he shot in air,
Crept under the leaf and hid her there;
The katydid forgot its lay,
The prowling gnat fled fast away,
The fell mosquito checked his drone        205
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,        210
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        215
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 needle-shaft through air was borne,        220
  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;        225
Then glad they left their covert lair,
And freaked about in the midnight air.
 
Up to the vaulted firmament
His path the firefly courser bent,
And at every gallop on the wind,        230
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;        235
  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,        240
  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.        245
 
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;        250
  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;        255
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,        260
  Or the sea-roc rides the blast,
The sapphire sheet of eve is shot,
  The spherèd moon is past,
The earth but seems a tiny blot
  On a sheet of azure cast.        265
Oh! 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        270
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.
 
Sudden along the snowy tide
  That swelled to meet their footsteps’ fall,        275
The sylphs of heaven were seen to glide,
  Attired in sunset’s crimson pall;
Around the fay they weave the dance,
  They skip before him on the plain,
And one has taken his wasp-sting lance,        280
  And one upholds his bridle rein;
With warblings wild they lead him on
  To where, through clouds of amber seen,
Studded with stars, resplendent shone
  The palace of the sylphid queen.        285
Its spiral columns, gleaming bright,
Were streamers of the northern light;
Its curtain’s light and lovely flush
Was of the morning’s rosy blush;
And the ceiling fair that rose aboon,        290
The white and feathery fleece of noon.
*        *        *        *        *
Borne afar on the wings of the blast,
Northward away he speeds him fast,
And his courser follows the cloudy wain
Till the hoof-strokes fall like pattering rain.        295
The clouds roll backward as he flies,
Each flickering star behind him lies,
And he has reached the northern plain,
And backed his firefly steed again,
Ready to follow in its flight        300
The streaming of the rocket-light.
 
The star is yet in the vault of heaven,
  But it rocks in the summer gale;
And now ’tis fitful and uneven,
  And now ’tis deadly pale;        305
And now ’tis wrapped in sulphur-smoke,
  And quenched is its rayless beam;
And now with a rattling thunder-stroke
  It bursts in flash and flame.
As swift as the glance of the arrowy lance        310
  That the storm spirit flings from high,
The star-shot flew o’er the welkin blue,
  As it fell from the sheeted sky.
As swift as the wind in its train behind
  The elfin gallops along:        315
The fiends of the clouds are bellowing loud,
  But the sylphid charm is strong;
He gallops unhurt in the shower of fire,
  While the cloud-fiends fly from the blaze;
He watches each flake till its sparks expire,        320
  And rides in the light of its rays.
 
But he drove his steed to the lightning’s speed,
  And caught a glimmering spark;
Then wheeled around to the fairy ground,
  And sped through the midnight dark.
*        *        *        *        *
        325
Ouphe and goblin! imp and sprite!
  Elf of eve! and starry fay!
Ye that love the moon’s soft light,
  Hither, hither, wend your way;
Twine ye in a jocund ring,        330
  Sing and trip it merrily,
Hand to hand, and wing to wing,
  Round the wild witch-hazel tree.
 
Hail the wanderer again
  With dance and song, and lute and lyre;        335
Pure his wing and strong his chain,
  And doubly bright his fairy fire.
Twine ye in an airy round,
  Brush the dew and print the lea;
Skip and gambol, hop and bound,        340
  Round the wild witch-hazel tree.
 
The beetle guards our holy ground,
  He flies about the haunted place,
And if mortal there be found,
  He hums in his ears and flaps his face;        345
The leaf-harp sounds our roundelay,
  The owlet’s eyes our lanterns be;
Thus we sing and dance and play,
  Round the wild witch-hazel tree.
 
But hark! from tower on tree-top high,        350
  The sentry elf his call has made;
A streak is in the eastern sky;
  Shapes of moonlight! flit and fade!
The hill-tops gleam in Morning’s spring,
The skylark shakes his dappled wing,        355
The day-glimpse glimmers on the lawn,—
The cock has crowed, and the fays are gone.
 
 
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