John Dryden.

The Poetical Works of John Dryden, Volume 2 With Life, Critical Dissertation, and Explanatory Notes online

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And take the patron's place of either knight,
With eyes impartial to behold the fight;
And Heaven of me so judge as I shall judge aright.
If both are satisfied with this accord,
Swear by the laws of knighthood on my sword.

Who now but Palamon exults with joy?
And ravish'd Arcite seems to touch the sky:
The whole assembled troop was pleased as well,
Extol the award, and on their knees they fell
To bless the gracious king. The knights, with leave, 430
Departing from the place, his last commands receive;
On Emily with equal ardour look,
And from her eyes their inspiration took.
From thence to Thebes' old walls pursue their way,
Each to provide his champions for the day.

It might be deem'd, on our historian's part,
Or too much negligence, or want of art,
If he forgot the vast magnificence
Of royal Theseus, and his large expense,
He first enclosed for lists a level ground, 440
The whole circumference a mile around;
The form was circular; and all without
A trench was sunk, to moat the place about.
Within an amphitheatre appear'd,
Raised in degrees; to sixty paces rear'd:
That when a man was placed in one degree,
Height was allow'd for him above to see.

Eastward was built a gate of marble white;
The like adorn'd the western opposite.
A nobler object than this fabric was, 450
Rome never saw; nor of so vast a space.
For rich with spoils of many a conquer'd land,
All arts and artists Theseus could command;
Who sold for hire, or wrought for better fame;
The master-painters, and the carvers came.
So rose within the compass of the year
An age's work, a glorious theatre.
Then o'er its eastern gate was raised above
A temple, sacred to the Queen of Love;
An altar stood below: on either hand 460
A priest with roses crown'd, who held a myrtle wand.

The dome of Mars was on the gate opposed,
And on the north a turret was enclosed,
Within the wall, of alabaster white,
And crimson coral, for the Queen of Night,
Who takes in sylvan sports her chaste delight.

Within these oratories might you see
Rich carvings, portraitures, and imagery:
Where every figure to the life express'd
The godhead's power to whom it was address'd. 470
In Venus' temple on the sides were seen
The broken slumbers of enamour'd men;
Prayers that even spoke, and pity seem'd to call,
And issuing sighs that smoked along the wall;
Complaints, and hot desires, the lover's hell,
And scalding tears that wore a channel where they fell:
And all around were nuptial bonds, the ties,
Of love's assurance, and a train of lies,
That, made in lust, conclude in perjuries.
Beauty, and Youth, and Wealth, and Luxury, 480
And spritely Hope, and short-enduring Joy;
And Sorceries to raise the infernal powers,
And Sigils framed in planetary hours:
Expense, and After-Thought, and idle Care,
And Doubts of motley hue, and dark Despair;
Suspicious, and fantastical Surmise,
And Jealousy suffused, with jaundice in her eyes,
Discolouring all she view'd, in tawny dress'd,
Down-look'd, and with a cuckoo on her fist.
Opposed to her, on the other side advance 490
The costly feast, the carol, and the dance,
Minstrels and Music, Poetry and Play,
And balls by night, and tournaments by day.
All these were painted on the wall, and more;
With acts and monuments of times before:
And others added by prophetic doom,
And lovers yet unborn, and loves to come:
For there the Idalian mount, and Citheron,
The court of Venus, was in colours drawn:
Before the palace-gate, in careless dress, 500
And loose array, sat portress Idleness:
There, by the fount, Narcissus pined alone;
There Samson was; with wiser Solomon,
And all the mighty names by love undone.
Medea's charms were there, Circean feasts,
With bowls that turn'd enamour'd youths to beasts:
Here might be seen, that beauty, wealth, and wit,
And prowess, to the power of love submit:
The spreading snare for all mankind is laid;
And lovers all betray, and are betray'd. 510
The goddess self some noble hand had wrought;
Smiling she seem'd, and full of pleasing thought:
From ocean as she first began to rise,
And smooth'd the ruffled seas and clear'd the skies;
She trode the brine, all bare below the breast,
And the green waves but ill conceal'd the rest;
A lute she held; and on her head was seen
A wreath of roses red, and myrtles green;
Her turtles fann'd the buxom air above;
And, by his mother, stood an infant Love, 520
With wings unfledged; his eyes were banded o'er;
His hands a bow, his back a quiver bore,
Supplied with arrows bright and keen, a deadly store.

But in the dome of mighty Mars the red
With different figures all the sides were spread;
This temple, less in form, with equal grace,
Was imitative of the first in Thrace:
For that cold region was the loved abode
And sovereign mansion of the warrior god.
The landscape was a forest wide and bare; 530
Where neither beast, nor human kind repair;
The fowl, that scent afar, the borders fly,
And shun the bitter blast, and wheel about the sky.
A cake of scurf lies baking on the ground,
And prickly stubs, instead of trees, are found;
Or woods, with knots and knares, deform'd and old;
Headless the most, and hideous to behold:
A rattling tempest through the branches went,
That stripp'd them bare, and one sole way they bent.
Heaven froze above, severe, the clouds congeal, 540
And through the crystal vault appear'd the standing hail.
Such was the face without; a mountain stood
Threatening from high, and overlook'd the wood:
Beneath the lowering brow, and on a bent,
The temple stood of Mars armipotent:
The frame of burnish'd steel, that cast a glare
From far, and seem'd to thaw the freezing air.
A strait long entry to the temple led,
Blind with high walls; and horror over head:
Thence issued such a blast, and hollow roar, 550
As threaten'd from the hinge to heave the door:
In through that door, a northern light there shone;
'Twas all it had, for windows there were none.
The gate was adamant; eternal frame!
Which, hew'd by Mars himself, from Indian quarries came,
The labour of a god; and all along
Tough iron plates were clench'd to make it strong.
A tun about was every pillar there;
A polish'd mirror shone not half so clear.
There saw I how the secret felon wrought, 560
And treason labouring in the traitor's thought;
And midwife Time the ripen'd plot to murder brought.
There the red Anger dared the pallid Fear;
Next stood Hypocrisy, with holy leer,
Soft smiling, and demurely looking down,
But hid the dagger underneath the gown:
The assassinating wife, the household fiend;
And far the blackest there, the traitor-friend.
On the other side, there stood Destruction bare;
Unpunish'd Rapine, and a waste of War. 570
Contest, with sharpen'd knives, in cloisters drawn,
And all with blood bespread the holy lawn.
Loud menaces were heard, and foul disgrace,
And bawling infamy, in language base;
Till sense was lost in sound, and silence fled the place.
The slayer of himself yet saw I there,
The gore congeal'd was clotted in his hair;
With eyes half closed, and gaping mouth he lay,
And grim, as when he breathed his sullen soul away.
In midst of all the dome, Misfortune sate, 580
And gloomy Discontent, and fell Debate,
And Madness laughing in his ireful mood;
And arm'd complaint on theft; and cries of blood.
There was the murder'd corpse in covert laid,
And violent death in thousand shapes display'd:
The city to the soldiers rage resigned:
Successless wars, and poverty behind:
Ships burnt in fight, or forced on rocky shores,
And the rash hunter strangled by the boars:
The new-born babe by nurses overlaid; 590
And the cook caught within the raging fire he made.
All ills of Mars his nature, flame and steel;
The gasping charioteer, beneath the wheel
Of his own car; the ruin'd house that falls
And intercepts her lord betwixt the walls:
The whole division that to Mars pertains,
All trades of death that deal in steel for gains,
Were there: the butcher, armourer, and smith,
Whose forges sharpen'd falchions, or the scythe.
The scarlet conquest on a tower was placed, 600
With shouts, and soldiers' acclamations graced:
A pointed sword hung threatening o'er his head,
Sustain'd but by a slender twine of thread.
There saw I Mars his ides, the Capitol,
The seer in vain foretelling Cæsar's fall;
The last triumvirs, and the wars they move,
And Antony, who lost the world for love.
These, and a thousand more, the fane adorn;
Their fates were painted ere the men were born,
All copied from the heavens, and ruling force 610
Of the red star, in his revolving course.
The form of Mars high on a chariot stood,
All sheath'd in arms, and gruffly look'd the god:
Two geomantic figures were display'd
Above his head, a warrior and a maid,
One when direct, and one when retrograde.

Tired with deformities of death, I haste
To the third temple of Diana chaste.
A sylvan scene with various greens was drawn,
Shades on the sides, and in the midst a lawn: 620
The silver Cynthia, with her nymphs around,
Pursued the flying deer, the woods with horns resound:
Calisto there stood manifest of shame,
And, turn'd a bear, the northern star became:
Her son was next, and, by peculiar grace,
In the cold circle held the second place:
The stag Acteon in the stream had spied
The naked huntress, and, for seeing, died:
His hounds, unknowing of his change pursue
The chase, and their mistaken master slew. 630
Peneian Daphne too was there to see,
Apollo's love before, and now his tree:
The adjoining fane the assembled Greeks express'd,
And hunting of the Caledonian beast.
Oenides' valour, and his envied prize;
The fatal power of Atalanta's eyes;
Diana's vengeance on the victor shown,
The murderess mother; and consuming son;
The Volscian queen extended on the plain;
The treason punish'd, and the traitor slain. 640
The rest were various huntings, well design'd,
And savage beasts destroy'd, of every kind.
The graceful goddess was array'd in green;
About her feet were little beagles seen,
That watch'd with upward eyes the motions of their queen.
Her legs were buskin'd, and the left before,
In act to shoot; a silver bow she bore,
And at her back a painted quiver wore.
She trod a waxing moon, that soon would wane,
And, drinking borrow'd light, be fill'd again: 650
With downcast eyes, as seeming to survey
The dark dominions, her alternate sway.
Before her stood a women in her throes,
And call'd Lucina's aid, her burden to disclose.
All these the painter drew with such command,
That Nature snatch'd the pencil from his hand,
Ashamed and angry that his art could feign
And mend the tortures of a mother's pain.
Theseus beheld the fanes of every god,
And thought his mighty cost was well bestow'd. 660
So princes now their poets should regard;
But few can write, and fewer can reward.

The theatre thus raised, the lists enclosed,
And all with vast magnificence disposed,
We leave the monarch pleased, and haste to bring
The knights to combat, and their arms to sing.


BOOK III.


The day approach'd when Fortune should decide
The important enterprise, and give the bride;
For now, the rivals round the world had sought,
And each his number, well appointed, brought.
The nations, far and near, contend in choice,
And send the flower of war by public voice;
That after, or before, were never known
Such chiefs, as each an army seem'd alone:
Beside the champions, all of high degree,
Who knighthood loved, and deeds of chivalry, 10
Throng'd to the lists, and envied to behold
The names of others, not their own, enroll'd.
Nor seems it strange; for every noble knight
Who loves the fair, and is endued with might,
In such a quarrel would be proud to fight.
There breathes not scarce a man on British ground
(An isle for love and arms of old renown'd)
But would have sold his life to purchase fame,
To Palamon or Arcite sent his name:
And had the land selected of the best, 20
Half had come hence, and let the world provide the rest.
A hundred knights with Palamon there came,
Approved in fight, and men of mighty name;
Their arms were several, as their nations were,
But furnish'd all alike with sword and spear.
Some wore coat-armour, imitating scale;
And next their skins were stubborn shirts of mail.
Some wore a breastplate and a light jupon,
Their horses clothed with rich caparison:
Some for defence would leathern bucklers use, 30
Of folded hides; and others shields of pruce.
One hung a pole-axe at his saddle-bow,
And one a heavy mace to stun the foe;
One for his legs and knees provided well,
With jambeaux arm'd, and double plates of steel:
This on his helmet wore a lady's glove,
And that a sleeve embroider'd by his love.

With Palamon above the rest in place,
Lycurgus came, the surly king of Thrace;
Black was his beard, and manly was his face; 40
The balls of his broad eyes roll'd in his head,
And glared betwixt a yellow and a red:
He look'd a lion with a gloomy stare,
And o'er his eyebrows hung his matted hair:
Big-boned, and large of limbs, with sinews strong,
Broad-shoulder'd, and his arms were round and long.
Four milk-white bulls (the Thracian use of old)
Were yoked to draw his car of burnish'd gold.
Upright he stood, and bore aloft his shield,
Conspicuous from afar, and overlook'd the field. 50
His surcoat was a bear-skin on his back;
His hair hung long behind, and glossy raven black.
His ample forehead bore a coronet,
With sparkling diamonds and with rubies set:
Ten brace, and more, of greyhounds, snowy fair,
And tall as stags, ran loose, and coursed around his chair,
A match for pards in flight, in grappling for the bear:
With golden muzzles all their mouths were bound,
And collars of the same their necks surround.
Thus through the fields Lycurgus took his way; 60
His hundred knights attend in pomp and proud array.

To match this monarch, with strong Arcite came
Emetrius, king of Ind, a mighty name;
On a bay courser, goodly to behold,
The trappings of his horse adorn'd with barbarous gold.
Not Mars bestrod a steed with greater grace;
His surcoat o'er his arms was cloth of Thrace,
Adorn'd with pearls, all orient, round, and great;
His saddle was of gold, with emeralds set,
His shoulders large a mantle did attire, 70
With rubies thick, and sparkling as the fire:
His amber-colour'd locks in ringlets run,
With graceful negligence, and shone against the sun.
His nose was aquiline, his eyes were blue;
Ruddy his lips, and fresh and fair his hue:
Some sprinkled freckles on his face were seen,
Whose dusk set off the whiteness of the skill:
His awful presence did the crowd surprise,
Nor durst the rash spectator meet his eyes;
Eyes that confess'd him born for kingly sway, 80
So fierce, they flash'd intolerable day.
His age in nature's youthful prime appear'd,
And just began to bloom his yellow beard.
Whene'er he spoke, his voice was heard around,
Loud as a trumpet, with a silver sound;
A laurel wreathed his temples, fresh and green;
And myrtle sprigs, the marks of love, were mix'd between.
Upon his fist he bore, for his delight,
An eagle well reclaim'd, and lily white.

His hundred knights attend him to the war, 90
All arm'd for battle; save their heads were bare.
Words and devices blazed on every shield,
And pleasing was the terror of the field.
For kings, and dukes, and barons, you might see,
Like sparkling stars, though different in degree,
All for the increase of arms, and love of chivalry.
Before the king tame leopards led the way,
And troops of lions innocently play.
So Bacchus through the conquer'd Indies rode,
And beasts in gambols frisk'd before their honest god. 100

In this array, the war of either side
Through Athens pass'd with military pride.
At prime, they enter'd on the Sunday morn;
Rich tapestry spread the streets, and flowers the posts adorn.
The town was all a jubilee of feasts;
So Theseus will'd, in honour of his guests;
Himself with open arms the kings embraced,
Then all the rest in their degrees were graced.
No harbinger was needful for the night,
For every house was proud to lodge a knight. 110

I pass the royal treat, nor must relate
The gifts bestow'd, nor how the champions sate:
Who first, who last, or how the knights address'd
Their vows, or who was fairest at the feast;
Whose voice, whose graceful dance did most surprise;
Soft amorous sighs, and silent love of eyes.
The rivals call my Muse another way,
To sing their vigils for the ensuing day.

'Twas ebbing darkness, past the noon of night:
And Phosphor, on the confines of the light, 120
Promised the sun; ere day began to spring,
The tuneful lark already stretch'd her wing,
And flickering on her nest, made short essays to sing.
When wakeful Palamon, preventing day,
Took to the royal lists his early way,
To Venus at her fane, in her own house, to pray.
There, falling on his knees before her shrine,
He thus implored with prayers her power divine:

Creator Venus, genial power of love,
The bliss of men below, and gods above! 130
Beneath the sliding sun thou runn'st thy race,
Dost fairest shine, and best become thy place.
For thee the winds their eastern blasts forbear,
Thy month reveals the spring, and opens all the year.
Thee, goddess! thee the storms of winter fly,
Earth smiles with flowers renewing, laughs the sky,
And birds to lays of love their tuneful notes apply.
For thee the lion loathes the taste of blood,
And, roaring, hunts his female through the wood:
For thee the bulls rebellow through the groves, 140
And tempt the stream, and snuff their absent loves.
'Tis thine, whate'er is pleasant, good, or fair:
All nature is thy province, life thy care:
Thou madest the world, and dost the world repair.
Thou gladder of the mount of Cytheron,
Increase of Jove, companion of the sun!
If e'er Adonis touch'd thy tender heart,
Have pity, goddess, for thou know'st the smart!
Alas! I have not words to tell my grief;
To vent my sorrow would be some relief; 150
Light sufferings give us leisure to complain;
We groan, but cannot speak, in greater pain.
O goddess! tell thyself what I would say,
Thou know'st it, and I feel too much to pray.
So grant my suit, as I enforce my might,
In love to be thy champion, and thy knight;
A servant to thy sex, a slave to thee,
A foe profess'd to barren chastity.
Nor ask I fame or honour of the field,
Nor choose I more to vanquish than to yield: 160
In my divine Emilia make me blest;
Let Fate, or partial Chance, dispose the rest:
Find thou the manner, and the means prepare;
Possession, more than conquest, is my care.
Mars is the warrior's god; in him it lies,
On whom he favours to confer the prize;
With smiling aspect you serenely move
In your fifth orb, and rule the realm of love.
The Fates but only spin the coarser clue,
The finest of the wool is left for you; 170
Spare me but one small portion of the twine,
And let the sisters cut below your line:
The rest among the rubbish may they sweep,
Or add it to the yarn of some old miser's heap.
But, if you this ambitious prayer deny,
(A wish, I grant, beyond mortality,)
Then let me sink beneath proud Arcite's arms,
And I once dead, let him possess her charms.

Thus ended he; then with observance due
The sacred incense on her altar threw: 180
The curling smoke mounts heavy from the fires;
At length it catches flame, and in a blaze expires;
At once the gracious goddess gave the sign,
Her statue shook, and trembled all the shrine:
Pleased Palamon the tardy omen took:
For, since the flames pursued the trailing smoke,
He knew his boon was granted; but the day
To distance driven, and joy adjourn'd with long delay.

Now morn with rosy light had streak'd the sky,
Up rose the sun, and up rose Emily; 190
Address'd her early steps to Cynthia's fane,
In state attended by her maiden train,
Who bore the vests that holy rites require,
Incense, and odorous gums, and cover'd fire.
The plenteous horns with pleasant mead they crown,
Nor wanted aught besides in honour of the Moon.
Now while the temple smoked with hallow'd steam,
They wash the virgin in a living stream;
The secret ceremonies I conceal,
Uncouth, perhaps unlawful, to reveal: 200
But such they were as Pagan use required,
Perform'd by women when the men retired,
Whose eyes profane their chaste mysterious rites
Might turn to scandal, or obscene delights.
Well-meaners think no harm; but for the rest,
Things sacred they pervert, and silence is the best.
Her shining hair, uncomb'd, was loosely spread,
A crown of mastless oak adorn'd her head:
When to the shrine approach'd, the spotless maid
Had kindling fires on either altar laid: 210
(The rites were such as were observed of old,
By Statius in his Theban story told.)
Then kneeling with her hands across her breast,
Thus lowly she preferr'd her chaste request:
Oh, goddess, haunter of the woodland green,
To whom both heaven and earth and seas are seen;
Queen of the nether skies, where half the year
Thy silver beams descend, and light the gloomy sphere!
Goddess of maids, and conscious of our hearts,
So keep me from the vengeance of thy darts, 220
Which Niobe's devoted issue felt,
When hissing through the skies the feather'd deaths were dealt;
As I desire to live a virgin life,
Nor know the name of mother or of wife.
Thy votress from my tender years I am,
And love, like thee, the woods and sylvan game.
Like death, thou know'st, I loathe the nuptial state,
And man, the tyrant of our sex, I hate,
A lowly servant, but a lofty mate:
Where love is duty on the female side; 230
On theirs, mere sensual gust, and sought with surly pride.
Now by thy triple shape, as thou art seen
In heaven, earth, hell, and everywhere a queen,
Grant this my first desire; let discord cease,
And make betwixt the rivals lasting peace:
Quench their hot fire, or far from me remove
The flame, and turn it on some other love;
Or, if my frowning stars have so decreed,
That one must be rejected, one succeed,
Make him my lord, within whose faithful breast 240
Is fix'd my image, and who loves me best.
But, oh! even that avert! I choose it not,
But take it as the least unhappy lot.
A maid I am, and of thy virgin train;
Oh, let me still that spotless name retain!
Frequent the forests, thy chaste will obey,
And only make the beasts of chase my prey!

The flames ascend on either altar clear,
While thus the blameless maid address'd her prayer.
When, lo! the burning fire that shone so bright, 250
Flew off all sudden, with extinguish'd light,
And left one altar dark, a little space;
Which turn'd self-kindled, and renew'd the blaze:


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Online LibraryJohn DrydenThe Poetical Works of John Dryden, Volume 2 With Life, Critical Dissertation, and Explanatory Notes → online text (page 18 of 25)