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With due respect my body I inclin'd
As to some being of superior kind,
And made my court, according to the day,
Wishing her queen and her a happy May !
• Great thanks my daughter!' with a gracious bow,
She said ; and I, who much desir'd to know
Of whence she was, yet fearful how to break
My mind, adventur'd humbly thus to speak :
• Madam, might I presume, and not offend ?
So may the stars and shining moon attend
Your nightly sports, as you vouchsafe to tell
What nymphs they were who mortal forms excel,
And what the knights who fought in listed fields so well.'
To this the dame replied, ' Fair daughter, know
That what you saw was all a fairy show :
And all those airy shapes you now behold,
Were human bodies once, and cloth'd with earthly mould :
Our souls, not yet prepar'd for upper light,
Till doomsday wander in the shades of night:
This only holiday of all the year,
We privileg'd in sunshine may appear ;
With songs and ance we celebrate the day
And with due honors usher in the May.
At other times we reign by night alone,
And, posting through the skies, pursue the moon :
But when the morn arises, none are found,
For cruel Demogorgon walks the round,
And if he finds a fairy lag in light,
He drives the wretch before, and lashes into night.
• All courteous are by kind; and ever proud
With friendly offices to help the good.
In every land we have a larger space
Than what is known to you of mortal race :
Where we with green adorn our fairy bow'rs,
And ev'n this grove, unseen before, is ours.
Know further, every lady cloth'd in white,
And, crown'd with oak and laurel every knight,
Are servants to the Leaf, by liveries known
Of innocence, and I myself am one !
Saw you not her, so graceful to behold,
In white attire, and crown'd with radiant gold?
The sovereign lady of our land is she,
Diana call'd, the queen of chastity:
And, for the spotless name of maid she bears
That agnus castus in her hand appears :
And all her train with leafy chaplets crown'd,
Were for unblam'd virginity renown'd;
But those the chief and highest in command
Who bear those holy branches in their hand.
The knights adorn'd with laurel-crowns are they
Whom death nor danger ever could dismay ;
Victorious names, who made the world obey :
Who, while they liv'd, in deeds of arms excell'd,
And after death for deities were held.
But those who wear the woodbine on their brow,
Were knights of love, who never broke their vow :
Firm to their plighted faith, and ever free
From fears and fickle chance, and jealousy.
The lords and ladies who the woodbine bear,
As true as Tristram and Isotta were.'
' But what are those,' said I, the unconquer'd nine, Who, crown'd with laurel-wreaths, in golden armour
And who the knights in green, and what the train
Of ladies dress’d with daisies on the plain ?
Why both the bands in worship disagree,
And some adore the flower, and some the tree ?'
• Just is your suit, fair daughter, said the dame,
• Those laureli'd chiefs were men of mighty fame;
Nine worthies were they call'd of different rites,
Three Jews, three pagans, and three Christian knights.
These, as you see, ride foremost in the field,
As they the foremost rank of honor held,
And all in deeds of chivalry excell’d:
Their temples wreath'd with leaves, that still renew;
For deathless laurel is the victor's due,
Who bear the bows were knights in Arthur's reign,
Twelve they, and twelve the peers of Charlemagne :
For bows the strength of brawny arms imply,
Emblems of valour and of victory.
Behold an order yet of newer date,
Doubling their number, e jual in their state;
Our England's ornament, the crown's defence,
In battle, brave protectors of their prince;
Unchang'd by fortune, to their sovereign true,
For which their manly legs are bound with blue.
These, of the garter callid, of faith unstain'd,
In fighting fields the laurel have obtain'd,
And well repaid those honours which they gain’d.
The laurel-wreaths were first by Cæsar worn,
And still they Cæsar's successors adorn:
One leaf of this is immortality,
And more of worth than all the world can buy.'
• One doubt remains,' said I, the dames in green,
What were their qualities, and who their queen?'
• Flora commands,' said she,' those nymphs and kniglits,
Who liv'd in slothful ease, and loose delights:
Who never acts of honour durst pursue,
The men inglorious knights, the ladies all untrue:
Who nurs'd in idleness, and train'd in courts,
Pass'd all their precious hours in plays and sports,
Till death behind came stalking on unseen,
And wither'd, like the storm, the freshness of their green.
These, and their mates, enjoy the present hour,
And therefore pay their homage to the Flow'r.
But knights in knightly deeds should persevere,
And still continue what at first they were ;
Continue and proceed in honour's fair career.
No room for cowardise or dull delay,
From good to better they should urge their way.
For this with golden spurs the chiefs are grac'd,
With pointed rowels arm’d to mend their haste ;
For this with lasting leaves their brows are boundl;
For laurel is the sign of labour crown'd,
Which bears the bitter blast, nor shaken falls to ground:
From winter winds it suffers no decay,
For ever fresh and fair, and every month is May
Ev'n when the vital sap retreats below,
Ev'n when the hoary head is hid in snow,
The life is in the leaf; and still between
The fits of falling snows, appears the streaky green.
Not so the flower, which lasts for little space,
A short-liv'd good, and an uncertain grace ;
This way and that the feeble stem is driv'n,
Weak to sustain the storms and injuries of heav'n,
Prop'd by the spring, it lifts aloft the head,
But of a sickly beauty, soon to shed ;
In summer living, and in winter dead.
For things of tender kind, for pleasure made,
Shoot up with swift increase, and sudden are decayil.'
With humble words, the wisest I could frame,
And proffer'd service, I repaid the dame :
That, of her grace, she gave her maid to know
The secret meaning of this moral show.
And she, to prove what profit I had made
Of mystic truth, in fables first convey'd,
Demanded, till the next returning May,
Whether the leaf or flower I would obey ?
I chose the leaf; she smil'd with sober cheer
And wish'd me fair adventure for the year ;
And gave me charms and sigils, for defence
Against ill tongues that scandal innocence:
• But I,' said she, “ my fellows must pursue ;
Already past the plain and out of view.'
We parted thus; I homeward sped my way,
Bewilder'd in the wood till dawn of day,
And met the merry crew who danc'd about the May,
Then late refresh'd with sleep, I rose to write
The visionary vigils of the night.-
Blush, as thou mayst, my little book, for shame!
Nor hope with homely verse to purchase fame ;
For such thy Maker chose; and so design'd
Thy simple style to suit thy lowly kind.
Yet, London, Empress of the Northern Clime,
By an high Fate thou greatly didst expire ; Great as the World's, which at the Death of time
Must fall, and rise a nobler frame by Fire.
As when some dire Usurper Heav'n provides,
To scourge his Country with a lawless Sway; His Birth, perhaps, some petty Village hides
And sets his Cradle out of Fortune's way.
Till fully ripe his swelling Fate breaks out,
And hurries him to mighty Mischiefs on :
His Prince, surpriz'd at first, no Ill could doubt,
And wants the Pow'r to meet it when 'tis known.
Such was the Rise of this prodigious Fise,
Which in mean Buildings first obscurely bred, From thence did soon to open Streets aspire,
And streight to Palaces and Temples spread.
The diligence of Trades and noiseful Gain,
And Luxury, more late, asleep were laid : All was the Night's, and in her silent reign,
No Sound the rest of Nature did invade.
In this deep Quiet, from what Source unknown,
Those Seeds of Fire their fatal Birth disclose : And first, few scatt'ring Sparks about were blown,
Big with the Flames that to our Ruin rose.
Then, in some close-pent Room it crept along,
And, smouldring as it went, in silence fed : Till th’ Infant Monster, with devouring strong,
Walk'd boldly upright with exalted Head.
Now, like some rich or mighty Murderer,
Too great for Prison, which he breaks with Gold : Who fresher for new Mischiefs does appear,
And dares the World to tax him with the old.
So scapes th' insulting Fire his narrow Jail,
And makes small out-lets into open Air There the fierce Winds his tender Force assail,
And beat him down-ward to his first repair.
And now, no longer letted of his Prey,
He leaps up at it with inrag'd Desire : O’erlooks the Neighbours with a wide Survey,
And nods at every House his threatning Fire.
The Ghosts of Traitors from the Bridge descend,
With bold Fanatick Spectres to rejoyce : About the Fire into a Dance they bend,
And sing their Sabbath Notes with feeble Voice.
Our Guardian Angel saw them where he sate
Above the Palace of our slumbring King, He sigh’d, abandoning his Charge to Fate,
And, drooping, oft lookt back upon the Wing.