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Is that which we from hence descry,
Too divine to be mistook :
This, this is she
To whom our vows and wishes bend:
Here our solemn search hath end.
Fame, that, her high worth to raise
Seem'd erst so lavish and profuse,
We may justly now accuse
Of detraction from her praise ;
Less than half we find express’d,
Envy bid conceal the rest.
Mark, what radiant state she spreads,
In circle round her shining throne,
Shooting her beams like silver threads;
This, this is she alone,
Sitting like a goddess bright,
In the centre of her light.
Might she the wise Latona be,
Or the tower'd Cybele,
Mother of a hundred gods ;
Juno dares not give her odds :
Who had thought this clime had held
A deity so unparallel'd ? probably being of a different nature, or composed by a different hand. This Countess Dowager of Derby to whom it was presented, must have been Alice, daughter of Sir John Spencer of Althorp, Northamptonshire, and widow of Ferdinando Stanley, the fifth Earl of Derby. And as Harefield is in Middlesex, and, according to Camden, lieth a little to the north of Uxbridge, we may conclude, that Milton made this poem while he resided in that neighbourhood with his father at Horton near Colebrooke. It should seem too, that it was made before the mask at Ludlow, as it is a more imperfect essay. And Frances, the second daughter of this Countess Dowager of Derby, being married to John Earl of Bridgewater, before whom was presented the Mask at Ludlow, we may conceive in some measure how Milton was induced to compose the one after the other. The alliance between the families naturally and easily accounts for it: and in all probability, the Genius of the wood in this poem, as well as the attendant Śpirit in the Mask, was Mr. Henry Lawes, who was the great master of mysic at that time, and taught most of the young nobility,
As they come forward, the Genius of the Wood appears, and turning towards them, speaks.
Stay, gentle Swains; for, though in this disguise
I see bright honour sparkle through your eyes ;
Of famous Arcady ye are,
Of that renowned flood, so often sung;
Divine Alpheus, who by secret sluice
Stole under seas to meet his Arethuse;
ye, the breathing roses of the wood,
Fair, silver-buskind Nymphs, as great and good;
I know, this quest of yours, and free intent,
Was all in honour and devotion meant
To the great mistress of yon princely shrine,
Whom with low reverence I adore as mine;
And with all helpful service will comply,
To further this night's glad solemnity;
And lead ye, where ye may more near behold
What shallow-searching Fame hath left untold,
Which I full oft, amidst these shades alone,
Have sat to wonder at, and gaze upon:
For know, by lot from Jove, I am the Power
Of this fair wood, and live in oaken bower,
To nurse the saplings tall, and curl the grove
With ringlets quaint, and wanton windings wove.
And all my plants I save from nightly ill
Of noisome winds, and blasting vapours chill :
And from the boughs brush off the evil dew,
And heal the arms of thwarting thunder blue,
Or what the cross, dire-looking planet smites,
Or hurtful worm with canker'd venom bites.
When evening gray doth rise, I fetch my round,
Over the mount, and all this hallow'd ground,
And early, ere the odourous breath of morn
Awakes the slamb'ring leaves, or tassel'd horn
Shakes the high thicket, haste I all about,
Number my ranks, and visit every sprout
With puissant words, and murmurs made to bless :
But else in deep of night when drowsiness
then listen I
To the celestial Syrens' harmony,
That sit upon the ninefolded spheres,
And sing to those that hold the vital shears;
And turn the adamantine spindle round,
On which the fate of Gods and Men is wound.
Such sweet compulsion doth in music lie,
To lull the daughters of Necessity,
And keep unsteady Nature to her law,
And the low world in measur'd motion draw
After the heavenly tune, which none can hear
Of human mould with gross unpurged ear;
And yet such music worthiest were to blaze
The peerless height of her immortal praise,
Whose lustre leads us, and for her most fit,
inferior hand or voice could hit
Inimitable sounds : yet, as we go,
Whate'er the skill of lesser gods can show,
I will assay her worth to celebrate,
And so attend ye toward her glittering state ;
Where ye may all, that are of noble stem,
Approach, and kiss her sacred vesture's hem.
O'er the smooth enamellid green
Where no print of step hath been,
Follow me, as I sing
And touch the warbled string,
Under the shady roof
Of branching elm star-proof.
I will bring you where she sits,
Clad in splendour, as befits
Such a rural Queen
All Arcadia hath not seen.
Nymphs and Shepherds, dance no more
By sandy Ladon's lîlied banks;
On old Lycæus, or Cyllene hoar,
Trip no more in twilight ranks ;
Though Erymanth your loss deplore,
A better soil shall give ye thanks.
From the stony Mænalus
flocks, and live with us; Here
shall have greater grace,
To serve the Lady of this place.
Though Syrinx your Pan's mistress were,
Yet Syrinx well might wait on her.
Such a rural Queen
All Arcadia hath not seen.
In this Monody, the author bewails a learned friend,
unfortunately drowned in his passage from Chester on the Irish seas, 1637: and by occasion foretells the
ruin of our corrupted clergy, then in their height.
Yet once more, O ye laurels, and once more
Ye myrtles brown, with ivy never sere,
I come to pluck your berries harsh and crude;
And, with forc'd fingers rude,
Compels me to disturb your season due :
For Lycidas is dead, dead ere his prime,
Young Lycidas, and hath not left his peer :
Who would not sing for Lycidas ? he knew
Himself to sing, and build the lofty rhyme.
He must not float upon his wat’ry bier
Unwept, and welter to the parching wind,
Without the meed of some melodious tear.
Begin then, Sisters of the sacred well,
That from beneath the seat of Jove doth spring;
Begin, and somewhat loudly sweep the string.
Hence with denial vain, and coy excuse :
So may some gentle Muse
With lucky words favour my destin'd urn,
And, as he passes, turn,
And bid fair peace be to my sable shroud:
For we were nurs'd upon the self-same hill,
Fed the same flock by fountain, shade, and rill.
Together both, ere the high lawns appear'd
Under the opening eye-lids of the morn,
We drove afield, and both together heard
What time the gray-fly winds her sultry horn,
Battening our flocks with the fresh dews of night,
Oft, till the star that rose at evening, bright,
Toward Heaven's descent had slop'd his west'ring
wheel. Meanwhile the rural ditties were not mute, Temper’d to th' oaten flute ; Rough Satyrs danc'd, and Fawns with cloven heel From the glad sound would not be absent long; And old Damætas lov'd to hear our song.
But, О the heavy change, now thou art gone, Now thou art gone, and never must return! Thee, Shepherd, thee the woods, and desert caves, With wild thyme and the gadding vine o'ergrown, And all their echoes mourn : The willows, and hazel copses green, Shall now no more be seen, Fanning their joyous leaves to thy soft lays.