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They squeezed the juice, and cooling ointment made, Which on their sun-burnt cheeks, and their chapt skins, they laid;
Then sought green sallads, which they bade them eat, A sovereign remedy for inward heat.
The Lady of the Leaf ordained a feast, And made the Lady of the Flower her guest: When lo, a bower ascended on the plain, With sudden seats adorned, and large for either train. This bower was near my pleasant arbour placed, That I could hear and see whatever passed : The ladies sat with each a knight between, Distinguished by their colours, white and green; The vanquished party with the victors joined, Nor wanted sweet discourse, the banquet of the mind, Meantime the minstrels played on either side, Vain of their art, and for the mastery vied: The sweet contention lasted for an hour, And reached my secret arbour from the bower. The sun was set; and Vesper, to supply His absent beams, had lighted up the sky: When Philomel, officious all the day To sing the service of the ensuing May, Fled from her laurel shade, and winged her flight Directly to the queen arrayed in white; And hopping sat familiar on her hand, A new musician, and increased the band.
The goldfinch, who, to shun the scalding heat, Had changed the medlar for a safer seat, And hid in bushes 'scaped the bitter shower, Now perched upon the Lady of the Flower; And either songster holding out their throats, And folding up their wings, renewed their notes As if all day, preluding to the fight, They only had rehearsed, to sing by night. The banquet ended, and the battle done, They danced by star-light and the friendly moon:
VO L. XI.
And when they were to part, the laureat queen
Supplied with steeds the lady of the green.
Her and her train conducting on
on the way,
The moon to follow, and avoid the day.
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 crowned,
Who closed the rear, and softly paced along,
Repeating to herself the former song.
With due respect my body I inclined,
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 desired to know
Of whence she was, yet fearful how to break
My mind, adventured 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
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 clothed with earthly mold:
Our souls, not yet prepared for upper light,
Till doomsday wander in the shades of night;
This only holiday of all the year,
We, privileged, 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 even this grove, unseen before, is ours.
Know farther; every lady clothed in white,
And, crowned 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 crowned with radiant gold?
The sovereign lady of our land is she,
Diana called, 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 crowned,
Were for unblamed virginity renowned;
But those the chief and highest in command
Who bear those holy branches in their hand:
The knights adorned with laurel crowns are they,
Whom death nor danger ever could dismay,
Victorious names, who made the world obey:
Who, while they lived, in deeds of arms excelled,
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 unconquered nine, Who, crowned with laurel-wreaths, in golden armour shine?
And who the knights in green, and what the train
Of ladies dressed 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 laurelled chiefs were men of mighty fame; Nine worthies were they called 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 honour held,
And all in deeds of chivalry excelled :
Their temples wreathed 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. †
* The common list of the nine worthies comprehends-Hector, Pompey, and Alexander, Pagans; Joshua, David, and Judas Machabeus, Jews; and Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey of Boulogne, Christians: But it is sometimes varied.
+ This is a mistake of Dryden, who was misled by the spelling of the old English. Chaucer talks of boughs, not of bows; and says simply,
And tho that barin bowes in their hand,
Of the precious lawrier'so notable.
This refers to the description of the knights at their entrance, which Dryden has rightly rendered:
Some in their hands, besides the lance and shield,
The bows of woodbine, or of hawthorn, held;
Or branches for their mystic emblems took
Of palm, of laurel, or of cerrial oak.
The bow, though the youth trained to chivalry were taught to
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;
Unchanged by fortune, to their sovereign true,
For which their manly legs are bound with blue.
These, of the garter called, of faith unstained,
In fighting fields the laurel have obtained,
And well repaid those honours which they gained.
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 knights,
Who lived in slothful ease and loose delights;
Who never acts of honour durst pursue,
The men inglorious knights, the ladies all untrue;
Who, nursed in idleness, and trained in courts,
Passed all their precious hours in plays and sports,
Till death behind came stalking on, unseen,
And withered (like the storm) the freshness of their
These, and their mates, enjoy the 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.
use it, made no part of a knight's proper weapons. But it is curious how Dryden, having fallen into an error, finds out a reason for his false reading, by alleging, that the bows were borne as an emblem of strength of arm, valour, and victory. [Since this note was written, I observe, that the ingenious Dr Aikin has anticipa ted my observation.]