Page images

Then, since those forms begin, and have their end,
On some unaltered cause they sure depend::
Parts of the whole are we, but God the whole,
Who gives us life, and animating soul.
For nature cannot from a part derive
That being which the whole can only give:
He perfect, stable; but imperfect we,

Subject to change, and different in degree;
Plants, beasts, and man; and, as our organs are,
We more or less of his perfection share.
But, by a long descent, the etherial fire
Corrupts; and forms, the mortal part, expire.
As he withdraws his virtue, so they pass,
And the same matter makes another mass.
This law the omniscient Power was pleased to give,
That every kind should by succession live;
That individuals die, his will ordains;

1050 The propagated species still remains. The monarch oak, the patriarch of the trees, Shoots rising up, and spreads by slow degrees; Three centuries he grows, and three he stays, Supreme in state, and in three more decays: So wears the paving pebble in the street, And towns and towers their fatal periods meet: So rivers, rapid once, now naked lie, Forsaken of their springs, and leave their channels dry. So man, at first a drop, dilates with heat,

1060 Then, formed, the little heart begins to beat; Secret he feeds, unknowing, in the cell; At length, for hatching ripe, he breaks the shell, And struggles into breath, and cries for aid; Then helpless in his mother's lap is laid. He creeps, he walks, and, issuing into man, Grudges their life from whence his own began; Retchless of laws, affects to rule alone,

1068. Retchless, reckless.

Anxious to reign, and restless on the throne;
First vegetive, then feels, and reasons last;

Rich of three souls, and lives all three to waste.
Some thus; but thousands more in flower of age,
For few arrive to run the latter stage.
Sunk in the first, in battle some are slain,
And others whelmed beneath the stormy main.
What makes all this but Jupiter the king,
At whose command we perish, and we spring ?
Then 'tis our best, since thus ordained to die,
To make a virtue of necessity;
Take what he gives, since to rebel is vain;

1080 The bad grows better, which we will sustain; And could we choose the time, and choose aright, "Tis best to die, our honour at the height. When we have done our ancestors no shame, But served our friends, and well secured our fame; Then should we wish our happy life to close, And leave no more for fortune to dispose; So should we make our death a glad relief From future shame, from sickness, and from grief; Enjoying while we live the present hour,

1090 And dying in our excellence and flower. Then round our death-bed every friend should run, And joy us of our conquest early won; While the malicious world, with envious tears, Should grudge our happy end, and wish it theirs. Since then our Arcite is with honour dead,

1071. Rich of three souls. There were, according to common belief in Chaucer's time, and even in the seventeenth century, in every man three spirits or souls : the vegetal, which dominated the lower functions, of digestion and the like, common to plants and animals ; the sensitive or animal, which regulated sensation and perception, not found in plants; and the rational or intellectual, peculiar to human beings, which controlled volition. One need not stop, however, to pay close attention to Theseus's philosophy. He is merely leading up, by devious ways, to the proposition that Palamon and Emily would be happy if married. Rich of, rich in.


Why should we mourn, that he so soon is freed,
Or call untimely, what the gods decreed?
With grief as just, a friend may be deplored,
From a foul prison to free air restored.

Ought he to thank his kinsman or his wife,
Could tears recall him into wretched life?
Their sorrow hurts themselves; on him is lost,
And, worse than both, offends his happy ghost.
What then remains, but after past annoy
To take the good vicissitude of joy;
To thank the gracious gods for what they give,
Possess our souls, and, while we live, to live?
Ordain we then two sorrows to combine,
And in one point the extremes of grief to join; 1110
That thence resulting joy may be renewed,
As jarring notes in harmony conclude.
Then I propose that Palamon shall be
In marriage joined with beauteous Emily;
For which already I have gained the assent
Of my free people in full parliament.
Long love to her has borne the faithful knight,
And well deserved, had Fortune done him right:
'Tis time to mend her fault, since Emily,
By Arcite's death, from former vows is free; 1120
If you, fair sister, ratify the accord,
And take him for your husband and your lord,
'Tis no dishonour to confer your grace
On one descended from a royal race;
And were he less, yet years of service past
From grateful souls exact reward at last.
Pity is heaven's and yours; nor can she find
A throne so soft as in a woman's mind.”
He said; she blushed; and as o'erawed by might,

1106. Vicissitude of joy, the changes of “past annoy” to joy.

1129 ff. It is interesting to note that the closing situation in Scott's The Lady of the Lake is not unlike this.


[ocr errors]

Seemed to give Theseus what she gave the knight.
Then, turning to the Theban, thus he said:
“Small arguments are needful to persuade
Your temper to comply with my command: ”
And speaking thus, he gave Emilia's hand.
Smiled Venus, to behold her own true knight
Obtain the conquest, though he lost the fight.
All of a tenor was their after-life,
No day discoloured with domestic strife;
No jealousy, but mutual truth believed,

and kindness undeceived.
Thus heaven, beyond the compass of his thought,
Sent him the blessing he so dearly bought.

So may the Queen of Love long duty bless, And all true lovers find the sal success!


1141. His, Palamon's.



[It seems best for two reasons to remove the Dedication from its proper position, before the poem, and print it here : in the first place, as it originally stood, it takes the attention of the modern reader from the poem itself; and, again, it is much more easily understood if read after the poem. Such difficulties did not, of course, exist with readers of Dryden's time. Then, and in the following century, a writer often gained his living through the patronage of persons of wealth and rank, to whom he dedicated his poems. This practice was brought to perfection by Dryden. The volume of Fables, as a whole, he dedicated to James Butler, the second Duke of Ormond ; to the Duchess of Ormond he inscribed, in particular, Palamon and Arcite. The present dedication is characteristic : it shows Dryden's skill in versification, and in clever, graceful, and, to our modern taste, obsequious compliment.

Notes to the Dedication have not been inserted, except when indispensable to the understanding of particular words and phrases in the text. Students who have been through the poem with care may be trusted to follow the general line of thought of the Dedication without great trouble ; that they should follow the allusions in detail does not seem necessary. Teachers who may desire information as to points of detail are referred to the foot-notes of Scott and Christie.

A word, however, about the characters and the situation may be added. The Duchess of Ormond was, says Scott, “Lady Margaret Somerset, second wife of the Duke of Ormond, to whom she was married in 1685.” She was a descendant of John of Gaunt by his third wife, and hence was connected, though distantly, with the royal line of the Plantagenets. In the Dedication, Dryden, after likening her to Emily and the Duke to Palamon, and displaying her relationship to the founders of the “noblest order” of the Garter, treats, in a highly figurative way, of her voyage to Ireland, whither she went after the revolts of the Irish in favour of the exiled James II. had been subdued ; and out of this event Dryden makes the

« PreviousContinue »