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This when I saw, inquisitive to know
The secret moral of the mystic show,
I started from my shade, in hopes to find
Some nymph to satisfy my longing mind:
And, as my fair adventure fell, I found
A lady all in white, with laurel crown'd,
Who clos'd the rear, and softly pac'd along,
Repeating to herself the former song.
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
To this the dame reply'd: "Fair daughter, know,
That what you saw was all a fairy show :
And all those airy shapes you now behold, [mold,
Were human bodies once, and cloth'd with earthly
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 dance we celebrate the day,
And with due honours 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 bowers,
And ev❜n this grove, unseen before, is ours.
Know farther 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 never 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, "th' unconquer'd Who crown'd with laurel-wreaths in golden armour shine?
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 adorn the flower, and some the tree ?"
"Just is your suit, fair daughter," said the dame: "Those laurel'd chiefs were men of mighty fame; Nine worthies were they call'd of different rites, Three Jews, three Pagans, and three Christian
These, as you see, ride foremost in the field,
As they the foremost rank of honour 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 Charlemain; For bows the strength of brawny arms imply, Emblems of valour and of victory.
Behold an order yet of newer date
Doubling their number, equal 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 call'd, of faith unstain'd,
In fighting fields the laurel have obtain❜d,
And well repaid the 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
What were their qualities, and who their queen ?" "Flora commands," said she, "those nymphs and knights,
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
These, and their mates, enjoy their present hour,
And therefore pay their homage to the Flower.
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 cowardice, 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 bound; For laurel is the sign of labour crown'd, [ground: Which bears the bitter blast, nor shaken falls to 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 snow 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 driven,
Weak to sustain the storms and injuries of Heaven.
Propp'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
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 chear, And wish'd me fair adventure for the year, And gave me charms and sigils, for defence Against ill tongues that scandal innocence :