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Like stabled wolves, or tigers at their prey,
Doing abhorred rites to Hecate
In their obscurèd haunts of inmost bowers.
Yet have they many baits and guileful spells
To inveigle and invite the unwary sense
Of them that pass unweeting by the way.
This evening late, by then the chewing flocks 540
Had ta’en their supper on the savoury herb
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 honeysuckle, and began,
Wrapt in a pleasing fit of melancholy,
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; 550
At which I ceased, and listened them a while,
Till an unusual stop of sudden silence
Gave respite to the drowsy-flighted steeds
That draw the litter of close-curtained Sleep.
At last a soft and solemn-breathing sound
Rose like a steam of rich distilled perfumes,
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
Under the ribs of Death. But, oh ! ere long
Too well I did perceive it was the voice
Of my most honoured Lady, your dear sister.
Amazed I stood, harrowed with grief and fear;
And “ O poor hapless nightingale,” thought I,
“ 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 570
Where that damned wizard, hid in sly disguise
(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 neighbour villager.
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.
O night and shades, 580
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 ?
Yes, and keep it still ; 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, Surprised by unjust force, but not enthralled ; 590 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, 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! Against the opposing will and arm of Heaven 600 May never this just sword be lifted up; But, for that damned magician, let him be girt With all the griesly legions that troop
Under the sooty flag of Acheron,
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.
Alas ! good venturous youth,
I love thy courage yet, and bold emprise ; 610
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.
He with his bare wand can unthread thy joints,
And crumble all thy sinews.
Why, prithee, Shepherd, How durst thou then thyself approach so near As to make this relation ? 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
620 In every virtuous plant and healing herb 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 even to ecstasy, And in requital ope his leathern scrip, 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.
630 The leaf was darkish, and had prickles on it, 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
That Hermes once to wise Ulysses gave.
He called it Hæmony, and gave it me,
And bade me keep it as of sovran use
'Gainst all enchantments, mildew blast, or damp, 640
Or ghastly Furies' apparition.
I pursed it up, but little reckoning 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,
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 650
And brandished blade rush on him : break his glass,
And shed the luscious liquor on the ground;
But seize his wand. Though he and his curst 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.
Eld, Bro. 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 deli-
ciousness : 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.
Comus. Nay, Lady, sit. If I but wave this wand, Your nerves are all chained up in alabaster, 660 And you a statue, or as Daphne was, 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. Comus. Why are you vexed, Lady? why do you
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 670
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 inixed.
Not that Nepenthes which the wife of Thone
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 680
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
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.
'Twill not, false traitor ! 690
'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,
These oughly-headed monsters ? Mercy guard me!
Hence with thy brewed enchantments, foul deceiver !
Hast thou betrayed my credulous innocence
With vizored falsehood and base forgery ?
And would'st thou seek again to trap me here
With liquorish baits, fit to ensnare a brute ?
Were it a draught for Juno when she banquets,