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The hedge was set so thick, no foreign eye
The persons placed within it could espy;
But all that passed without with ease was seen,
As if nor fence nor tree was placed between.
"Twas bordered with a field; and some was plain
With grass, and some was sowed with rising grain,
That (now the dew with spangles decked the ground)
A sweeter spot of earth was never found.
I looked and looked, and still with new delight;
Such joy my soul, such pleasures filled my sight;
And the fresh eglantine exhaled a breath,
Whose odours were of power to raise from death.
Nor sullen discontent, nor anxious care,
Even though brought thither, could inhabit there;
But thence they fled as from their mortal foe;
For this sweet place could only pleasure know.
Thus as I mused, I cast aside my eye,
And saw a medlar-tree was planted nigh.
The spreading branches made a goodly shew,
And full of opening blooms was every bough;
A goldfinch there I saw with gaudy pride
Of painted plumes, that hopped from side to side,
Still pecking as she passed; and still she drew
The sweets from every flower, and sucked the dew:
Sufficed at length, she warbled in her throat,
And tuned her voice to many a merry note,
But indistinct, and neither sweet nor clear,
Yet such as soothed my soul, and pleased my ear.
Her short performance was no sooner tried,
When she I sought, the nightingale, replied:
So sweet, so shrill, so variously she sung,
That the grove echoed, and the valleys rung;
And I so ravished with her heavenly note,
I stood entranced, and had no room for thought,
But all o'er-powered with ecstasy of bliss,
Was in a pleasing dream of paradise;
At length I waked, and, looking round the bower,
Searched every tree, and pryed on every flower,
If any where by chance I might espy
The rural poet of the melody;
For still methought she sung not far away:
At last I found her on a laurel spray.
Close by my side she sate, and fair in sight,
Full in a line, against her opposite;
Where stood with eglantine the laurel twined,
And both their native sweets were well conjoined.
On the green bank I sat, and listened long;
(Sitting was more convenient for the song:)
Nor till her lay was ended could I move,
But wished to dwell for ever in the grove.
Only methought the time too swiftly passed,
And every note I feared would be the last.
My sight, and smell, and hearing, were employed,
And all three senses in full gust enjoyed.
And what alone did all the rest surpass,
The sweet possession of the fairy place;
Single and conscious to myself alone
Of pleasures to the excluded world unknown;
Pleasures which no where else were to be found,
And all Elysium in a spot of ground.
Thus while I sat intent to see and hear,
And drew perfumes of more than vital air,
All suddenly I heard the approaching sound
Of vocal music, on the enchanted ground:
An host of saints it seemed, so full the quire;
As if the blessed above did all conspire
To join their voices, and neglect the lyre.
At length there issued from the grove behind
A fair assembly of the female kind:
A train less fair, as ancient fathers tell,
Seduced the sons of heaven to rebel.
pass their forms, and every charming grace; Less than an angel would their worth debase:
But their attire, like liveries of a kind,
All rich and rare, is fresh within
In velvet white as snow the troop was gowned,
The seams with sparkling emeralds set around:
Their hoods and sleeves the same; and purfled o'er
With diamonds, pearls, and all the shining store
Of eastern pomp: their long-descending train,
With rubies edged, and sapphires, swept the plain:
High on their heads, with jewels richly set,
Each lady wore a radiant coronet.
Beneath the circles, all the quire was graced
With chaplets green on their fair foreheads placed;
Of laurel some, of woodbine many more,
And wreaths of Agnus castus others bore:
These last, who with those virgin crowns were
Appeared in higher honour than the rest.
They danced around; but in the midst was seen A lady of a more majestic mien;
By stature, and by beauty, marked their sovereign
She in the midst began with sober grace; Her servants' eyes were fixed upon her face, And as she moved or turned, her motions viewed, Her measures kept, and step by step pursued. Methought she trod the ground with greater grace, With more of godhead shining in her face; And as in beauty she surpassed the quire, So, nobler than the rest was her attire. A crown of ruddy gold inclosed her brow, Plain without pomp, and rich without a show: A branch of Agnus castus in her hand She bore aloft (her sceptre of command ;) Admired, adored by all the circling crowd, For wheresoe'er she turned her face, they bowed: And as she danced, a roundelay she sung, In honour of the laurel, ever young:
She raised her voice on high, and sung so clear, The fawns came scudding from the groves to hear, And all the bending forest lent an ear.
At every close she made, the attending throng
Replied, and bore the burden of the song:
So just, so small, yet in so sweet a note,
It seemed the music melted in the throat.
Thus dancing on, and singing as they danced, They to the middle of the mead advanced, Till round my arbour a new ring they made, And footed it about the secret shade. O'erjoyed to see the jolly troop so near, But somewhat awed, I shook with holy fear; Yet not so much, but that I noted well Who did the most in song or dance excel.
Not long I had observed, when from afar I heard a sudden symphony of war; The neighing coursers, and the soldiers' cry, And sounding trumps that seemed to tear the sky: I saw soon after this, behind the grove From whence the ladies did in order move, Come issuing out in arms a warrior train, That like a deluge poured upon the plain : On barbed steeds they rode in proud array, Thick as the college of the bees in May, When swarming o'er the dusky fields they fly, New to the flowers, and intercept the sky. So fierce they drove, their coursers were so fleet, That the turf trembled underneath their feet.
To tell their costly furniture were long, The summer's day would end before the song: To purchase but the tenth of all their store, Would make the mighty Persian monarch Yet what I can, I will: before the rest The trumpets issued in white mantles dressed; A numerous troop, and all their heads around With chaplets green of cerrial-oak were crowned, And at each trumpet was a banner bound;
Which, waving in the wind, displayed at large
Their master's coat-of-arms, and knightly charge.
Broad were the banners, and of snowy hue,
A purer web the silk-worm never drew.
The chief about their necks the scutcheons wore,
With orient pearls and jewels powdered o'er:
Broad were their collars too, and every one
Was set about with many a costly stone.*
Next these, of kings-at-arms a goodly train
In proud array came prancing o'er the plain:
Their cloaks were cloth of silver mixed with gold,
And garlands green around their temples rolled:
Rich crowns were on their royal scutcheons placed,
With sapphires, diamonds, and with rubies graced:
And as the trumpets their appearance made,
So these in habits were alike arrayed;
But with a pace more sober, and more slow,
And twenty, rank in rank, they rode a-row.
The pursuivants came next, in number more;
And like the heralds each his scutcheon bore:
Clad in white velvet all their troop they led,
With each an oaken chaplet on his head.
Nine royal knights in equal rank succeed,
Each warrior mounted on a fiery steed,
In golden armour glorious to behold;
The rivets of their arms were nailed with gold.
* Trumpeters, and other warlike musicians, long held some part of the character of heralds and of ancient minstrels. They were distinguished by collars and tabards, and often employed on messages, during which their persons were sacred.
The joints of the armour were rivetted with nails after the warrior had put it on. Hence among the sounds of preparation for battle, Shakespeare enumerates that of
The armourers accomplishing the knights,
With busy hammers closing rivets up.