Page images
PDF

Within the navel,1 of this hideous wood,
Immured in cypress shades, a sorcerer dwells,
Of Bacchus and of Circe horn, great Comus,
Deep skilled in all his mother's witcheries;
And here to every thirsty wanderer,
By sly enticement, gives his baneful cup,
With many murmurs mixed, whose pleasing poison
The visage quite transforms of him that drinks,
And the inglorious likeness of a beast
Fixes instead, unmoulding reason's mintage
Charactered2 in the face; this have I learnt
Tending my flocks hard by i' the hilly crofts
That brow this bottom glade; whence night by night
He and his monstrous rout are heard to howl
like stabled wolves, or tigers at their prey,
Doing abhorred rites to Hecate
In their obscured 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
Had ta'en their supper on the savoury herb
Of knot-grass dew-besprent,3 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;
At which I ceased, and listened them a while,
Till an unusual stop of sudden silence
Gave respite to the drowsy-flighted4 steeds

1 Depth, middle.

1 Both Spenser and Shakspeare use this word with the same accent as Milton has done here.

3 Besprent, i. e. sprinkled. "Knot-grass" is mentioned in Midsummer Night's Dream, iii. 7.

4 So the commentators have rightly restored, instead of "drowsyfrighted." Milton had in view Shakspeare, 2 Henry VI. act 4, sc. i.—

"And now loud howling wolves arouse the jades,
That drag the tragic melancholy night,
Who, with their drowsy, slow, and flagging wings,
Clip dead men's graves."

That draw the litter of close-curtained sleep;

At last a soft and solemn-breathing sound1

Hose 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 :s 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 oh, 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, 1 found the place,

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.

SECOND BROTHER.

O night and shades, 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?

ELDER 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 firni:

1 See the beginning of Twelfth Night.

s This grotesque comparison is taken from one of Alciat's emblems, where a soul in the figure of an infant is represented within the nbs of a skeleton, as in a prison.

Virtue may be assailed, but never hurt,1

Surprised by unjust force, but not enthralled;

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 :2 if this fail,

The pillared firmament3 is rottenness,

And earth's base built on stubble. But come, let's oa.

Against the opposing will and arm of Heaven

May never this just sword be lifted up!

But for that damned magician, let him be girt

With all the grisly 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 restore his purchase back,

Or drag him by the curls to a foul death,

Cursed as his life.

SPIRIT.

Alas! good venturous youth,
I love thy courage yet, and bold emprise;
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.

ELDER BROTHER.

Why prythee, shepherd,
How durst thou then thyself approach so near,
As to make this relation?

SPIRIT.

Care and utmost shifts How to secure the lady from surprisal,

1 Milton seems to allude to the famous answer of the philosopher to a tyrant, who threatened him with death, "Thou mayst kill me, but thou canst not hurt me."—Thyer.

a This image is taken from the conjectures of astronomers concerning the dark spots which, from time to time, appear on the surface of the sun's body, and, after a while, disappear again, which they suppose Ut be the scum of that fiery matter, which first breeds it, and then breaks through and consumes it.— Warburton.

3 Cf. Paradise Regained, iv. 405.

Brought to my mind a certain shepherd lad,

Of small regard to see to, yet well skilled

In every virtuous plant and healing herb

That spreads her verdant leaf to the morning raj:

He loved me well,1 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;

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 soi: :2

Unknown, and like esteemed, and the dull swain

Treads on it daily with his clouted shoon ;3

And yet more med'cinal is it than that moly4

That Hermes once to wise Ulysses gave;

He called it haemony, and gave it me,

And bade me keep it as of sovran use

'Gainst all enchantments, mildew, blast, or damp,

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,

And brandished blade, rush on him; break his glass,

1 This is perhalis a compliment to the author's friend and school fellow, Charles Deodati, who had been bred up a physician.

2 Seward would omit " not," and substitute " light esteemed." But as Newton observes, " unknown and like esteemed" may be taken as equivalent to unknown and unesteemed.

8 So in 2 Henry VI. act 4, sc. 3. Cade says:—

"We will not leave one lord, one gentleman;
Spare not, but such as go in clouted shoon."

4 See Pope's Homer's Odyssey, x. 361 sq. Pliny, Nat. Hist. rxir. 4, speaks of it highly; but its nature and properties are unknown. Thyer thinks it was the herb called splecnwort.

And shed the luscious liquor on the ground,
But seize his wand; though he and his cursed crew
1'ierce sign of battle make, and menace high,
Or like the sons of Vulcan vomit smoke,
Yet will they soon retire, if he but shrink.

ELDER BROTHER.

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 deliciousness; 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, 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 c-harms, although this corporal rind Thou hast immanacled, while Heaven sees good.

COMUS.

Why are you vexed, lady? why do you frown?
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,1
When the fresh blood grows lively, and returns
Brisk as the April buds in primrose-season.
And first behold this cordial julep here,
That flames and dances in his crystal bounds,2
With spirits of balm and fragrant syrups mixed.
Not that Nepenthes,3 which the wife of Thone
In Egypt gave to Jove-b^rn 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,

1 An improvement on Romeo and Juliet, act i. sc. 3.

2 Prov. xxiii. 31 : "Look not thou to the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright."

8 See Pope's Odyssey, iv. 301, sq., and the Faerie Queen, iv. 3, 43.

« PreviousContinue »