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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 moon 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, crown'd with oak and laurel every knight,
Are servants to the Leaf, by liveries known
Of innocence ; and I myself am one.
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 unblamed virginity renown'd;
But those the chief and highest in command
Who bare those holy branches in their hand :
The knights adorn'd 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 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, the unconquer'd nine,
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 adore the flower, and some the tree ?
Just is your suit, fair daughter, said the dame:
Those laurell'd chiefs were men of mighty fame;
Nine worthies were they call’d 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 excelld:
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 Charlemagne:
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:
Unchanged by fortune, to their sovereign true,
For which their manly legs are bound with blue.
These, of the Garter calld, 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 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 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 green. 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
For this with golden spurs the chiefs are graced,
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,
Which bears the bitter blast, nor shaken falls to ground :
From winter winds it suffers no decay,
For ever fresh and fair, and every month is May.
Even when the vital sap retreats below,
Even when the hoary head iş 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-lived 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 decay'd.
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 smiled with sober cheer,
And wish'd me fair adventure for the year,
And gave me charms and sigils, for defence
Against ill tongues that scandal innocence:
But I, said she, my fellows must pursue,
Already past the plain, and out of view.
We parted thus: I homeward sped my way,
Bewilder'd in the wood till dawn of day:
And met the merry crew who danced about the May.
Then late refresh'd with sleep, I rose to write
The visionary vigils of the night.-
Blush, as thou may'st, my little book with shame!
Nor hope with homely verse to purchase fame;
For such thy maker se; and so design'd
Thy simple style to suit thy lowly kind.
In days of old, when Arthur fill’d the throne,
Whose acts and fame to foreign lands were blown;
The king of elfs and little fairy queen
Gambolid on heaths, and danced on every green ;
And where the jolly troop had led the round,
unbidden rose, and mark'd the ground :
Nor darkling did they dance, the silver light
Of Phæbe served to guide their steps aright,
And with their tripping pleased, prolong the night.
Her beams they follow'd, where at full she play'd,
No longer than she shed her horns they staid,
From thence with airy flight to foreign lands convey'd.
Above the rest our Britain held they dear,
More solemnly they kept their sabbaths here,
And made more spacious rings, and revell'd half the year.
I speak of ancient times, for now the swain
Returning late may pass the woods in vain,
And never hope to see the nightly train :
In vain the dairy now with mints is dress’d,
The dairy-maid expects no fairy guest,
To skim the bowls, and after pay the feast.
She sighs, and shakes her empty shoes in vain,
No silver penny to reward her pain :
For priests with prayers, and other godly gear,
Have made the merry goblins disappear;
And where they play'd their merry pranks before,
Have sprinkled holy water on the floor :
And friars that through the wealthy regions run,
(Thick as the motes that twinkle in the sun,)
Resort to farmers rich, and bless their halls,
And exorcise the beds, and cross the walls :
This makes the fairy choirs forsake the place,
When once 'tis hallow'd with the rites of grace:
But in the walks where wicked elves have been,
The learning of the parish now.
The midnight parson posting o'er the green
With gown tuck'd up to wakes ; for Sunday next,
With humming ale encouraging his text;
Nor wants the holy leer to country-girl betwixt.
From fiends and imps he sets the village free,
There haunts not any incubus, but he.
The maids and women need no danger fear
To walk by night, and sanctity so near :
For by some haycock, or some shady thorn,
He tells his beads both even-song and morn.
It so befel in this king Arthur's reign,
A lusty knight was pricking o'er the plain;
A bachelor he was, and of the courtly train.
It happen'd as he rode, a damsel gay
In russet-robes to market took her way:
Soon on the girl he cast an amorous eye,
So straight she walk’d, and on her pasterns high:
If seeing her behind he liked her pace,
Now turning short, he better likes her face.
He lights in haste, and, full of youthful fire,
By force accomplish'd his obscene desire:
This done, away he rode, not unespied,
For swarming at his back the country cried:
And once in view they never lost the sight
But seized, and pinion'd brought to court the knight.
Then courts of kings were held in high renown,
Ere made the common brothels of the town:
There, virgins honourable vows received,
But chaste as maids in monasteries lived ;
The king himself, to nuptial ties a slave,
No bad example to his poets gave:
And they, not bad, but in a vicious age,
Had not, to please the prince, debauch'd the stage.
Now what should Arthur do? He loved the knight,
But sovereign monarchs.are the source of right:
Moved by the damsel's tears and common cry,
He doom'd the brutal ravisher to die.
But fair Geneura rose in his defence,
And pray'd so hard for mercy from the prince,
That to his queen the king the offender gave,
And left it in her power to kill or save :
This gracious act the ladies all approve,
Who thought it much a man should die for love ;
And with their mistress join’d in close debate,
(Covering their kindness with dissembled hate;}
If not to free him, to prolong his fate.
At last agreed, they call’d him by consent
Before the queen and female parliament;