Words in italics in the original are surrounded by underscores.
The one Greek word has been transliterated and placed between plus signs.
Ellipses match the original.
See the end of the text for a more detailed transcriber's note.
POEMS PUBLISHED IN 1820
Edited with Introduction and Notes by
Oxford At the Clarendon Press 1909
The text of this edition is a reprint (page for page and line for line) of a copy of the 1820 edition in the British Museum. For convenience of reference line-numbers have been added; but this is the only change, beyond the correction of one or two misprints.
The books to which I am most indebted for the material used in the Introduction and Notes are The Poems of John Keats with an Introduction and Notes by E. de Selincourt, Life of Keats (English Men of Letters Series) by Sidney Colvin, and Letters of John Keats edited by Sidney Colvin. As a pupil of Dr. de Selincourt I also owe him special gratitude for his inspiration and direction of my study of Keats, as well as for the constant help which I have received from him in the preparation of this edition. M. R.
PAGE PREFACE ii
LIFE OF KEATS v
LAMIA. PART I 3
LAMIA. PART II 27
ISABELLA; OR, THE POT OF BASIL. A STORY FROM BOCCACCIO 47
THE EVE OF ST. AGNES 81
ODE TO A NIGHTINGALE 107
ODE ON A GRECIAN URN 113
ODE TO PSYCHE 117
ODE ['Bards of Passion and of Mirth'] 128
LINES ON THE MERMAID TAVERN 131
ROBIN HOOD. TO A FRIEND 133
TO AUTUMN 137
ODE ON MELANCHOLY 140
HYPERION. BOOK I 145
HYPERION. BOOK II 167
HYPERION. BOOK III 191
NOTE ON ADVERTISEMENT 201
INTRODUCTION TO LAMIA 201
NOTES ON LAMIA 203
INTRODUCTION TO ISABELLA AND THE EVE OF ST. AGNES 210
NOTES ON ISABELLA 215
NOTES ON THE EVE OF ST. AGNES 224
INTRODUCTION TO THE ODE TO A NIGHTINGALE, ODE ON A GRECIAN URN, ODE ON MELANCHOLY, AND TO AUTUMN 229
NOTES ON ODE TO A NIGHTINGALE 232
NOTES ON ODE ON A GRECIAN URN 235
INTRODUCTION TO ODE TO PSYCHE 236
NOTES ON ODE TO PSYCHE 237
INTRODUCTION TO FANCY 238
NOTES ON FANCY 238
NOTES ON ODE ['Bards of Passion and of Mirth'] 239
INTRODUCTION TO LINES ON THE MERMAID TAVERN 239
NOTES ON LINES ON THE MERMAID TAVERN 239
INTRODUCTION TO ROBIN HOOD 240
NOTES ON ROBIN HOOD 241
NOTES ON 'TO AUTUMN' 242
NOTES ON ODE ON MELANCHOLY 243
INTRODUCTION TO HYPERION 244
NOTES ON HYPERION 249
LIFE OF KEATS
Of all the great poets of the early nineteenth century—Wordsworth, Coleridge, Scott, Byron, Shelley, Keats—John Keats was the last born and the first to die. The length of his life was not one-third that of Wordsworth, who was born twenty-five years before him and outlived him by twenty-nine. Yet before his tragic death at twenty-six Keats had produced a body of poetry of such extraordinary power and promise that the world has sometimes been tempted, in its regret for what he might have done had he lived, to lose sight of the superlative merit of what he actually accomplished.
The three years of his poetic career, during which he published three small volumes of poetry, show a development at the same time rapid and steady, and a gradual but complete abandonment of almost every fault and weakness. It would probably be impossible, in the history of literature, to find such another instance of the 'growth of a poet's mind'.
The last of these three volumes, which is here reprinted, was published in 1820, when it 'had good success among the literary people and . . . a moderate sale'. It contains the flower of his poetic production and is perhaps, altogether, one of the most marvellous volumes ever issued from the press.
But in spite of the maturity of Keats's work when he was twenty-five, he had been in no sense a precocious child. Born in 1795 in the city of London, the son of a livery-stable keeper, he was brought up amid surroundings and influences by no means calculated to awaken poetic genius.
He was the eldest of five—four boys, one of whom died in infancy, and a girl younger than all; and he and his brothers George and Tom were educated at a private school at Enfield. Here John was at first distinguished more for fighting than for study, whilst his bright, brave, generous nature made him popular with masters and boys.
Soon after he had begun to go to school his father died, and when he was fifteen the children lost their mother too. Keats was passionately devoted to his mother; during her last illness he would sit up all night with her, give her her medicine, and even cook her food himself. At her death he was brokenhearted.
The children were now put under the care of two guardians, one of whom, Mr. Abbey, taking the sole responsibility, immediately removed John from school and apprenticed him for five years to a surgeon at Edmonton.
Whilst thus employed Keats spent all his leisure time in reading, for which he had developed a great enthusiasm during his last two years at school. There he had devoured every book that came in his way, especially rejoicing in stories of the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece. At Edmonton he was able to continue his studies by borrowing books from his friend Charles Cowden Clarke, the son of his schoolmaster, and he often went over to Enfield to change his books and to discuss those which he had been reading. On one of these occasions Cowden Clarke introduced him to Spenser, to whom so many poets have owed their first inspiration that he has been called 'the poets' poet'; and it was then, apparently, that Keats was first prompted to write.
When he was nineteen, a year before his apprenticeship came to an end, he quarrelled with his master, left him, and continued his training in London as a student at St. Thomas's Hospital and Guy's. Gradually, however, during the months that followed, though he was an industrious and able medical student, Keats came to realize that poetry was his true vocation; and as soon as he was of age, in spite of the opposition of his guardian, he decided to abandon the medical profession and devote his life to literature.
If Mr. Abbey was unsympathetic Keats was not without encouragement from others. His brothers always believed in him whole-heartedly, and his exceptionally lovable nature had won him many friends. Amongst these friends two men older than himself, each famous in his own sphere, had special influence upon him.
One of them, Leigh Hunt, was something of a poet himself and a pleasant prose-writer. His encouragement did much to stimulate Keats's genius, but his direct influence on his poetry was wholly bad. Leigh Hunt's was not a deep nature; his poetry is often trivial and sentimental, and his easy conversational style is intolerable when applied to a great theme. To this man's influence, as well as to the surroundings of his youth, are doubtless due the occasional flaws of taste in Keats's early work.
The other, Haydon, was an artist of mediocre creative talent but great aims and amazing belief in himself. He had a fine critical faculty which was shown in his appreciation of the Elgin marbles, in opposition to the most respected authorities of his day. Mainly through his insistence they were secured for the nation which thus owes him a boundless debt of gratitude. He helped to guide and direct Keats's taste by his enthusiastic exposition of these masterpieces of Greek sculpture.
In 1817 Keats published his first volume of poems, including 'Sleep and Poetry' and the well-known lines 'I stood tiptoe upon a little hill'. With much that is of the highest poetic value, many memorable lines and touches of his unique insight into nature, the volume yet showed considerable immaturity. It contained indeed, if we except one perfect sonnet, rather a series of experiments than any complete and finished work. There were abundant faults for those who liked to look for them, though there were abundant beauties too; and the critics and the public chose rather to concentrate their attention on the former. The volume was therefore anything but a success; but Keats was not discouraged, for he saw many of his own faults more clearly than did his critics, and felt his power to outgrow them.
Immediately after this Keats went to the Isle of Wight and thence to Margate that he might study and write undisturbed. On May 10th he wrote to Haydon—'I never quite despair, and I read Shakespeare—indeed I shall, I think, never read any other book much'. We have seen Keats influenced by Spenser and by Leigh Hunt: now, though his love for Spenser continued, Shakespeare's had become the dominant influence. Gradually he came too under the influence of Wordsworth's philosophy of poetry and life, and later his reading of Milton affected his style to some extent, but Shakespeare's influence was the widest, deepest and most lasting, though it is the hardest to define. His study of other poets left traces upon his work in turns of phrase or turns of thought: Shakespeare permeated his whole being, and his influence is to be detected not in a resemblance of style, for Shakespeare can have no imitators, but in a broadening view of life, and increased humanity.
No poet could have owed his education more completely to the English poets than did John Keats. His knowledge of Latin was slight—he knew no Greek, and even the classical stories which he loved and constantly used, came to him almost entirely through the medium of Elizabethan translations and allusions. In this connexion it is interesting to read his first fine sonnet, in which he celebrates his introduction to the greatest of Greek poets in the translation of the rugged and forcible Elizabethan, George Chapman:—
On first looking into Chapman's Homer.
Much have I travelled in the realms of gold, And many goodly states and kingdoms seen; Round many western islands have I been Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold. Oft of one wide expanse had I been told That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne; Yet did I never breathe its pure serene Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold: Then felt I like some watcher of the skies When a new planet swims into his ken; Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes He stared at the Pacific—and all his men Look'd at each other with a wild surmise— Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
Of the work upon which he was now engaged, the narrative-poem of Endymion, we may give his own account to his little sister Fanny in a letter dated September 10th, 1817:—
'Perhaps you might like to know what I am writing about. I will tell you. Many years ago there was a young handsome Shepherd who fed his flocks on a Mountain's Side called Latmus—he was a very contemplative sort of a Person and lived solitary among the trees and Plains little thinking that such a beautiful Creature as the Moon was growing mad in Love with him.—However so it was; and when he was asleep she used to come down from heaven and admire him excessively for a long time; and at last could not refrain from carrying him away in her arms to the top of that high Mountain Latmus while he was a dreaming—but I dare say you have read this and all the other beautiful tales which have come down from the ancient times of that beautiful Greece.'
On his return to London he and his brother Tom, always delicate and now quite an invalid, took lodgings at Hampstead. Here Keats remained for some time, harassed by the illness of his brother and of several of his friends; and in June he was still further depressed by the departure of his brother George to try his luck in America.
In April, 1818, Endymion was finished. Keats was by no means satisfied with it but preferred to publish it as it was, feeling it to be 'as good as I had power to make it by myself'.—'I will write independently' he says to his publisher—'I have written independently without judgment. I may write independently and with judgment hereafter. In Endymion I leaped headlong into the sea, and thereby have become better acquainted with the soundings, the quicksands, and the rocks, than if I had stayed upon the green shore, and piped a silly pipe, and took tea and comfortable advice.' He published it with a preface modestly explaining to the public his own sense of its imperfection. Nevertheless a storm of abuse broke upon him from the critics who fastened upon all the faults of the poem—the diffuseness of the story, its occasional sentimentality and the sometimes fantastic coinage of words,[xiii:1] and ignored the extraordinary beauties of which it is full.
Directly after the publication of Endymion, and before the appearance of these reviews, Keats started with a friend, Charles Brown, for a walking tour in Scotland. They first visited the English lakes and thence walked to Dumfries, where they saw the house of Burns and his grave. They entered next the country of Meg Merrilies, and from Kirkcudbrightshire crossed over to Ireland for a few days. On their return they went north as far as Argyleshire, whence they sailed to Staffa and saw Fingal's cave, which, Keats wrote, 'for solemnity and grandeur far surpasses the finest Cathedral.' They then crossed Scotland through Inverness, and Keats returned home by boat from Cromarty.
His letters home are at first full of interest and enjoyment, but a 'slight sore throat', contracted in 'a most wretched walk of thirty-seven miles across the Isle of Mull', proved very troublesome and finally cut short his holiday. This was the beginning of the end. There was consumption in the family: Tom was dying of it; and the cold, wet, and over-exertion of his Scotch tour seems to have developed the fatal tendency in Keats himself.
From this time forward he was never well, and no good was done to either his health or spirits by the task which now awaited him of tending on his dying brother. For the last two or three months of 1818, until Tom's death in December, he scarcely left the bedside, and it was well for him that his friend, Charles Armitage Brown, was at hand to help and comfort him after the long strain. Brown persuaded Keats at once to leave the house, with its sad associations, and to come and live with him.
Before long poetry absorbed Keats again; and the first few months of 1819 were the most fruitful of his life. Besides working at Hyperion, which he had begun during Tom's illness, he wrote The Eve of St. Agnes, The Eve of St. Mark, La Belle Dame Sans Merci, and nearly all his famous odes.
Troubles however beset him. His friend Haydon was in difficulties and tormenting him, poor as he was, to lend him money; the state of his throat gave serious cause for alarm; and, above all, he was consumed by an unsatisfying passion for the daughter of a neighbour, Mrs. Brawne. She had rented Brown's house whilst they were in Scotland, and had now moved to a street near by. Miss Fanny Brawne returned his love, but she seems never to have understood his nature or his needs. High-spirited and fond of pleasure she did not apparently allow the thought of her invalid lover to interfere much with her enjoyment of life. She would not, however, abandon her engagement, and she probably gave him all which it was in her nature to give. Ill-health made him, on the other hand, morbidly dissatisfied and suspicious; and, as a result of his illness and her limitations, his love throughout brought him restlessness and torment rather than peace and comfort.
Towards the end of July he went to Shanklin and there, in collaboration with Brown, wrote a play, Otho the Great. Brown tells us how they used to sit, one on either side of a table, he sketching out the scenes and handing each one, as the outline was finished, to Keats to write. As Keats never knew what was coming it was quite impossible that the characters should be adequately conceived, or that the drama should be a united whole. Nevertheless there is much that is beautiful and promising in it. It should not be forgotten that Keats's 'greatest ambition' was, in his own words, 'the writing of a few fine plays'; and, with the increasing humanity and grasp which his poetry shows, there is no reason to suppose that, had he lived, he would not have fulfilled it.
At Shanklin, moreover, he had begun to write Lamia, and he continued it at Winchester. Here he stayed until the middle of October, excepting a few days which he spent in London to arrange about the sending of some money to his brother in America. George had been unsuccessful in his commercial enterprises, and Keats, in view of his family's ill-success, determined temporarily to abandon poetry, and by reviewing or journalism to support himself and earn money to help his brother. Then, when he could afford it, he would return to poetry.
Accordingly he came back to London, but his health was breaking down, and with it his resolution. He tried to re-write Hyperion, which he felt had been written too much under the influence of Milton and in 'the artist's humour'. The same independence of spirit which he had shown in the publication of Endymion urged him now to abandon a work the style of which he did not feel to be absolutely his own. The re-cast he wrote in the form of a vision, calling it The Fall of Hyperion, and in so doing he added much to his conception of the meaning of the story. In no poem does he show more of the profoundly philosophic spirit which characterizes many of his letters. But it was too late; his power was failing and, in spite of the beauty and interest of some of his additions, the alterations are mostly for the worse.
Whilst The Fall of Hyperion occupied his evenings his mornings were spent over a satirical fairy-poem, The Cap and Bells, in the metre of the Faerie Queene. This metre, however, was ill-suited to the subject; satire was not natural to him, and the poem has little intrinsic merit.
Neither this nor the re-cast of Hyperion was finished when, in February, 1820, he had an attack of illness in which the first definite symptom of consumption appeared. Brown tells how he came home on the evening of Thursday, February 3rd, in a state of high fever, chilled from having ridden outside the coach on a bitterly cold day. 'He mildly and instantly yielded to my request that he should go to bed . . . On entering the cold sheets, before his head was on the pillow, he slightly coughed, and I heard him say—"that is blood from my mouth". I went towards him: he was examining a single drop of blood upon the sheet. "Bring me the candle, Brown, and let me see this blood." After regarding it steadfastly he looked up in my face with a calmness of expression that I can never forget, and said, "I know the colour of that blood;—it is arterial blood; I cannot be deceived in that colour; that drop of blood is my death warrant;—I must die."'
He lived for another year, but it was one long dying: he himself called it his 'posthumous life'.
Keats was one of the most charming of letter-writers. He had that rare quality of entering sympathetically into the mind of the friend to whom he was writing, so that his letters reveal to us much of the character of the recipient as well as of the writer. In the long journal-letters which he wrote to his brother and sister-in-law in America he is probably most fully himself, for there he is with the people who knew him best and on whose understanding and sympathy he could rely. But in none is the beauty of his character more fully revealed than in those to his little sister Fanny, now seventeen years old, and living with their guardian, Mr. Abbey. He had always been very anxious that they should 'become intimately acquainted, in order', as he says, 'that I may not only, as you grow up, love you as my only Sister, but confide in you as my dearest friend.' In his most harassing times he continued to write to her, directing her reading, sympathizing in her childish troubles, and constantly thinking of little presents to please her. Her health was to him a matter of paramount concern, and in his last letters to her we find him reiterating warnings to take care of herself—'You must be careful always to wear warm clothing not only in Frost but in a Thaw.'—'Be careful to let no fretting injure your health as I have suffered it—health is the greatest of blessings—with health and hope we should be content to live, and so you will find as you grow older.' The constant recurrence of this thought becomes, in the light of his own sufferings, almost unbearably pathetic.
During the first months of his illness Keats saw through the press his last volume of poetry, of which this is a reprint. The praise which it received from reviewers and public was in marked contrast to the scornful reception of his earlier works, and would have augured well for the future. But Keats was past caring much for poetic fame. He dragged on through the summer, with rallies and relapses, tormented above all by the thought that death would separate him from the woman he loved. Only Brown, of all his friends, knew what he was suffering, and it seems that he only knew fully after they were parted.
The doctors warned Keats that a winter in England would kill him, so in September, 1820, he left London for Naples, accompanied by a young artist, Joseph Severn, one of his many devoted friends. Shelley, who knew him slightly, invited him to stay at Pisa, but Keats refused. He had never cared for Shelley, though Shelley seems to have liked him, and, in his invalid state, he naturally shrank from being a burden to a mere acquaintance.
It was as they left England, off the coast of Dorsetshire, that Keats wrote his last beautiful sonnet on a blank leaf of his folio copy of Shakespeare, facing A Lover's Complaint:—
Bright star! would I were steadfast as thou art— Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night, And watching, with eternal lids apart, Like Nature's patient, sleepless Eremite, The moving waters at their priest-like task Of pure ablution round earth's human shores, Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask Of snow upon the mountains and the moors— No—yet still steadfast, still unchangeable, Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast, To feel for ever its soft fall and swell, Awake for ever in a sweet unrest, Still, still to hear her tender taken breath, And so live ever—or else swoon to death.
The friends reached Rome, and there Keats, after a brief rally, rapidly became worse. Severn nursed him with desperate devotion, and of Keats's sweet considerateness and patience he could never say enough. Indeed such was the force and lovableness of Keats's personality that though Severn lived fifty-eight years longer it was for the rest of his life a chief occupation to write and draw his memories of his friend.
On February 23rd, 1821, came the end for which Keats had begun to long. He died peacefully in Severn's arms. On the 26th he was buried in the beautiful little Protestant cemetery of which Shelley said that it 'made one in love with death to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place'.
Great indignation was felt at the time by those who attributed his death, in part at least, to the cruel treatment which he had received from the critics. Shelley, in Adonais, withered them with his scorn, and Byron, in Don Juan, had his gibe both at the poet and at his enemies. But we know now how mistaken they were. Keats, in a normal state of mind and body, was never unduly depressed by harsh or unfair criticism. 'Praise or blame,' he wrote, 'has but a momentary effect on the man whose love of beauty in the abstract makes him a severe critic on his own works,' and this attitude he consistently maintained throughout his poetic career. No doubt the sense that his genius was unappreciated added something to the torment of mind which he suffered in Rome, and on his death-bed he asked that on his tombstone should be inscribed the words 'Here lies one whose name was writ in water'. But it was apparently not said in bitterness, and the rest of the inscription[xxiii:1] expresses rather the natural anger of his friends at the treatment he had received than the mental attitude of the poet himself.
Fully to understand him we must read his poetry with the commentary of his letters which reveal in his character elements of humour, clear-sighted wisdom, frankness, strength, sympathy and tolerance. So doing we shall enter into the mind and heart of the friend who, speaking for many, described Keats as one 'whose genius I did not, and do not, more fully admire than I entirely loved the man'.
[xiii:1] Many of the words which the reviewers thought to be coined were good Elizabethan.
[xxiii:1] This Grave contains all that was Mortal of a Young English Poet, who on his Death Bed, in the Bitterness of his Heart at the Malicious Power of his Enemies, desired these Words to be engraven on his Tomb Stone 'Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water' Feb. 24th 1821.
THE EVE OF ST. AGNES,
BY JOHN KEATS, AUTHOR OF ENDYMION.
LONDON: PRINTED FOR TAYLOR AND HESSEY, FLEET-STREET. 1820.
If any apology be thought necessary for the appearance of the unfinished poem of HYPERION, the publishers beg to state that they alone are responsible, as it was printed at their particular request, and contrary to the wish of the author. The poem was intended to have been of equal length with ENDYMION, but the reception given to that work discouraged the author from proceeding.
Fleet-Street, June 26, 1820.
Upon a time, before the faery broods Drove Nymph and Satyr from the prosperous woods, Before King Oberon's bright diadem, Sceptre, and mantle, clasp'd with dewy gem, Frighted away the Dryads and the Fauns From rushes green, and brakes, and cowslip'd lawns, The ever-smitten Hermes empty left His golden throne, bent warm on amorous theft: From high Olympus had he stolen light, On this side of Jove's clouds, to escape the sight 10 Of his great summoner, and made retreat Into a forest on the shores of Crete. For somewhere in that sacred island dwelt A nymph, to whom all hoofed Satyrs knelt; At whose white feet the languid Tritons poured Pearls, while on land they wither'd and adored. Fast by the springs where she to bathe was wont, And in those meads where sometime she might haunt, Were strewn rich gifts, unknown to any Muse, Though Fancy's casket were unlock'd to choose. 20 Ah, what a world of love was at her feet! So Hermes thought, and a celestial heat Burnt from his winged heels to either ear, That from a whiteness, as the lily clear, Blush'd into roses 'mid his golden hair, Fallen in jealous curls about his shoulders bare. From vale to vale, from wood to wood, he flew, Breathing upon the flowers his passion new, And wound with many a river to its head, To find where this sweet nymph prepar'd her secret bed: 30 In vain; the sweet nymph might nowhere be found, And so he rested, on the lonely ground, Pensive, and full of painful jealousies Of the Wood-Gods, and even the very trees. There as he stood, he heard a mournful voice, Such as once heard, in gentle heart, destroys All pain but pity: thus the lone voice spake: "When from this wreathed tomb shall I awake! When move in a sweet body fit for life, And love, and pleasure, and the ruddy strife 40 Of hearts and lips! Ah, miserable me!" The God, dove-footed, glided silently Round bush and tree, soft-brushing, in his speed, The taller grasses and full-flowering weed, Until he found a palpitating snake, Bright, and cirque-couchant in a dusky brake.
She was a gordian shape of dazzling hue, Vermilion-spotted, golden, green, and blue; Striped like a zebra, freckled like a pard, Eyed like a peacock, and all crimson barr'd; 50 And full of silver moons, that, as she breathed, Dissolv'd, or brighter shone, or interwreathed Their lustres with the gloomier tapestries— So rainbow-sided, touch'd with miseries, She seem'd, at once, some penanced lady elf, Some demon's mistress, or the demon's self. Upon her crest she wore a wannish fire Sprinkled with stars, like Ariadne's tiar: Her head was serpent, but ah, bitter-sweet! She had a woman's mouth with all its pearls complete: 60 And for her eyes: what could such eyes do there But weep, and weep, that they were born so fair? As Proserpine still weeps for her Sicilian air. Her throat was serpent, but the words she spake Came, as through bubbling honey, for Love's sake, And thus; while Hermes on his pinions lay, Like a stoop'd falcon ere he takes his prey.
"Fair Hermes, crown'd with feathers, fluttering light, I had a splendid dream of thee last night: I saw thee sitting, on a throne of gold, 70 Among the Gods, upon Olympus old, The only sad one; for thou didst not hear The soft, lute-finger'd Muses chaunting clear, Nor even Apollo when he sang alone, Deaf to his throbbing throat's long, long melodious moan. I dreamt I saw thee, robed in purple flakes, Break amorous through the clouds, as morning breaks, And, swiftly as a bright Phoebean dart, Strike for the Cretan isle; and here thou art! Too gentle Hermes, hast thou found the maid?" 80 Whereat the star of Lethe not delay'd His rosy eloquence, and thus inquired: "Thou smooth-lipp'd serpent, surely high inspired! Thou beauteous wreath, with melancholy eyes, Possess whatever bliss thou canst devise, Telling me only where my nymph is fled,— Where she doth breathe!" "Bright planet, thou hast said," Return'd the snake, "but seal with oaths, fair God!" "I swear," said Hermes, "by my serpent rod, And by thine eyes, and by thy starry crown!" 90 Light flew his earnest words, among the blossoms blown. Then thus again the brilliance feminine: "Too frail of heart! for this lost nymph of thine, Free as the air, invisibly, she strays About these thornless wilds; her pleasant days She tastes unseen; unseen her nimble feet Leave traces in the grass and flowers sweet; From weary tendrils, and bow'd branches green, She plucks the fruit unseen, she bathes unseen: And by my power is her beauty veil'd 100 To keep it unaffronted, unassail'd By the love-glances of unlovely eyes, Of Satyrs, Fauns, and blear'd Silenus' sighs. Pale grew her immortality, for woe Of all these lovers, and she grieved so I took compassion on her, bade her steep Her hair in weird syrops, that would keep Her loveliness invisible, yet free To wander as she loves, in liberty. Thou shalt behold her, Hermes, thou alone, 110 If thou wilt, as thou swearest, grant my boon!" Then, once again, the charmed God began An oath, and through the serpent's ears it ran Warm, tremulous, devout, psalterian. Ravish'd, she lifted her Circean head, Blush'd a live damask, and swift-lisping said, "I was a woman, let me have once more A woman's shape, and charming as before. I love a youth of Corinth—O the bliss! Give me my woman's form, and place me where he is. 120 Stoop, Hermes, let me breathe upon thy brow, And thou shalt see thy sweet nymph even now." The God on half-shut feathers sank serene, She breath'd upon his eyes, and swift was seen Of both the guarded nymph near-smiling on the green. It was no dream; or say a dream it was, Real are the dreams of Gods, and smoothly pass Their pleasures in a long immortal dream. One warm, flush'd moment, hovering, it might seem Dash'd by the wood-nymph's beauty, so he burn'd; 130 Then, lighting on the printless verdure, turn'd To the swoon'd serpent, and with languid arm, Delicate, put to proof the lythe Caducean charm. So done, upon the nymph his eyes he bent Full of adoring tears and blandishment, And towards her stept: she, like a moon in wane, Faded before him, cower'd, nor could restrain Her fearful sobs, self-folding like a flower That faints into itself at evening hour: But the God fostering her chilled hand, 140 She felt the warmth, her eyelids open'd bland, And, like new flowers at morning song of bees, Bloom'd, and gave up her honey to the lees. Into the green-recessed woods they flew; Nor grew they pale, as mortal lovers do.
Left to herself, the serpent now began To change; her elfin blood in madness ran, Her mouth foam'd, and the grass, therewith besprent, Wither'd at dew so sweet and virulent; Her eyes in torture fix'd, and anguish drear, 150 Hot, glaz'd, and wide, with lid-lashes all sear, Flash'd phosphor and sharp sparks, without one cooling tear. The colours all inflam'd throughout her train, She writh'd about, convuls'd with scarlet pain: A deep volcanian yellow took the place Of all her milder-mooned body's grace; And, as the lava ravishes the mead, Spoilt all her silver mail, and golden brede; Made gloom of all her frecklings, streaks and bars, Eclips'd her crescents, and lick'd up her stars: 160 So that, in moments few, she was undrest Of all her sapphires, greens, and amethyst, And rubious-argent: of all these bereft, Nothing but pain and ugliness were left. Still shone her crown; that vanish'd, also she Melted and disappear'd as suddenly; And in the air, her new voice luting soft, Cried, "Lycius! gentle Lycius!"—Borne aloft With the bright mists about the mountains hoar These words dissolv'd: Crete's forests heard no more. 170
Whither fled Lamia, now a lady bright, A full-born beauty new and exquisite? She fled into that valley they pass o'er Who go to Corinth from Cenchreas' shore; And rested at the foot of those wild hills, The rugged founts of the Peraean rills, And of that other ridge whose barren back Stretches, with all its mist and cloudy rack, South-westward to Cleone. There she stood About a young bird's flutter from a wood, 180 Fair, on a sloping green of mossy tread, By a clear pool, wherein she passioned To see herself escap'd from so sore ills, While her robes flaunted with the daffodils.
Ah, happy Lycius!—for she was a maid More beautiful than ever twisted braid, Or sigh'd, or blush'd, or on spring-flowered lea Spread a green kirtle to the minstrelsy: A virgin purest lipp'd, yet in the lore Of love deep learned to the red heart's core: 190 Not one hour old, yet of sciential brain To unperplex bliss from its neighbour pain; Define their pettish limits, and estrange Their points of contact, and swift counterchange; Intrigue with the specious chaos, and dispart Its most ambiguous atoms with sure art; As though in Cupid's college she had spent Sweet days a lovely graduate, still unshent, And kept his rosy terms in idle languishment.
Why this fair creature chose so fairily 200 By the wayside to linger, we shall see; But first 'tis fit to tell how she could muse And dream, when in the serpent prison-house, Of all she list, strange or magnificent: How, ever, where she will'd, her spirit went; Whether to faint Elysium, or where Down through tress-lifting waves the Nereids fair Wind into Thetis' bower by many a pearly stair; Or where God Bacchus drains his cups divine, Stretch'd out, at ease, beneath a glutinous pine; 210 Or where in Pluto's gardens palatine Mulciber's columns gleam in far piazzian line. And sometimes into cities she would send Her dream, with feast and rioting to blend; And once, while among mortals dreaming thus, She saw the young Corinthian Lycius Charioting foremost in the envious race, Like a young Jove with calm uneager face, And fell into a swooning love of him. Now on the moth-time of that evening dim 220 He would return that way, as well she knew, To Corinth from the shore; for freshly blew The eastern soft wind, and his galley now Grated the quaystones with her brazen prow In port Cenchreas, from Egina isle Fresh anchor'd; whither he had been awhile To sacrifice to Jove, whose temple there Waits with high marble doors for blood and incense rare. Jove heard his vows, and better'd his desire; For by some freakful chance he made retire 230 From his companions, and set forth to walk, Perhaps grown wearied of their Corinth talk: Over the solitary hills he fared, Thoughtless at first, but ere eve's star appeared His phantasy was lost, where reason fades, In the calm'd twilight of Platonic shades. Lamia beheld him coming, near, more near— Close to her passing, in indifference drear, His silent sandals swept the mossy green; So neighbour'd to him, and yet so unseen 240 She stood: he pass'd, shut up in mysteries, His mind wrapp'd like his mantle, while her eyes Follow'd his steps, and her neck regal white Turn'd—syllabling thus, "Ah, Lycius bright, And will you leave me on the hills alone? Lycius, look back! and be some pity shown." He did; not with cold wonder fearingly, But Orpheus-like at an Eurydice; For so delicious were the words she sung, It seem'd he had lov'd them a whole summer long: 250 And soon his eyes had drunk her beauty up, Leaving no drop in the bewildering cup, And still the cup was full,—while he, afraid Lest she should vanish ere his lip had paid Due adoration, thus began to adore; Her soft look growing coy, she saw his chain so sure: "Leave thee alone! Look back! Ah, Goddess, see Whether my eyes can ever turn from thee! For pity do not this sad heart belie— Even as thou vanishest so I shall die. 260 Stay! though a Naiad of the rivers, stay! To thy far wishes will thy streams obey: Stay! though the greenest woods be thy domain, Alone they can drink up the morning rain: Though a descended Pleiad, will not one Of thine harmonious sisters keep in tune Thy spheres, and as thy silver proxy shine? So sweetly to these ravish'd ears of mine Came thy sweet greeting, that if thou shouldst fade Thy memory will waste me to a shade:— 270 For pity do not melt!"—"If I should stay," Said Lamia, "here, upon this floor of clay, And pain my steps upon these flowers too rough, What canst thou say or do of charm enough To dull the nice remembrance of my home? Thou canst not ask me with thee here to roam Over these hills and vales, where no joy is,— Empty of immortality and bliss! Thou art a scholar, Lycius, and must know That finer spirits cannot breathe below 280 In human climes, and live: Alas! poor youth, What taste of purer air hast thou to soothe My essence? What serener palaces, Where I may all my many senses please, And by mysterious sleights a hundred thirsts appease? It cannot be—Adieu!" So said, she rose Tiptoe with white arms spread. He, sick to lose The amorous promise of her lone complain, Swoon'd, murmuring of love, and pale with pain. The cruel lady, without any show 290 Of sorrow for her tender favourite's woe, But rather, if her eyes could brighter be, With brighter eyes and slow amenity, Put her new lips to his, and gave afresh The life she had so tangled in her mesh: And as he from one trance was wakening Into another, she began to sing, Happy in beauty, life, and love, and every thing, A song of love, too sweet for earthly lyres, While, like held breath, the stars drew in their panting fires. 300 And then she whisper'd in such trembling tone, As those who, safe together met alone For the first time through many anguish'd days, Use other speech than looks; bidding him raise His drooping head, and clear his soul of doubt, For that she was a woman, and without Any more subtle fluid in her veins Than throbbing blood, and that the self-same pains Inhabited her frail-strung heart as his. And next she wonder'd how his eyes could miss 310 Her face so long in Corinth, where, she said, She dwelt but half retir'd, and there had led Days happy as the gold coin could invent Without the aid of love; yet in content Till she saw him, as once she pass'd him by, Where 'gainst a column he leant thoughtfully At Venus' temple porch, 'mid baskets heap'd Of amorous herbs and flowers, newly reap'd Late on that eve, as 'twas the night before The Adonian feast; whereof she saw no more, 320 But wept alone those days, for why should she adore? Lycius from death awoke into amaze, To see her still, and singing so sweet lays; Then from amaze into delight he fell To hear her whisper woman's lore so well; And every word she spake entic'd him on To unperplex'd delight and pleasure known. Let the mad poets say whate'er they please Of the sweets of Fairies, Peris, Goddesses, There is not such a treat among them all, 330 Haunters of cavern, lake, and waterfall, As a real woman, lineal indeed From Pyrrha's pebbles or old Adam's seed. Thus gentle Lamia judg'd, and judg'd aright, That Lycius could not love in half a fright, So threw the goddess off, and won his heart More pleasantly by playing woman's part, With no more awe than what her beauty gave, That, while it smote, still guaranteed to save. Lycius to all made eloquent reply, 340 Marrying to every word a twinborn sigh; And last, pointing to Corinth, ask'd her sweet, If 'twas too far that night for her soft feet. The way was short, for Lamia's eagerness Made, by a spell, the triple league decrease To a few paces; not at all surmised By blinded Lycius, so in her comprized. They pass'd the city gates, he knew not how, So noiseless, and he never thought to know.
As men talk in a dream, so Corinth all, 350 Throughout her palaces imperial, And all her populous streets and temples lewd, Mutter'd, like tempest in the distance brew'd, To the wide-spreaded night above her towers. Men, women, rich and poor, in the cool hours, Shuffled their sandals o'er the pavement white, Companion'd or alone; while many a light Flared, here and there, from wealthy festivals, And threw their moving shadows on the walls, Or found them cluster'd in the corniced shade 360 Of some arch'd temple door, or dusky colonnade.
Muffling his face, of greeting friends in fear, Her fingers he press'd hard, as one came near With curl'd gray beard, sharp eyes, and smooth bald crown, Slow-stepp'd, and robed in philosophic gown: Lycius shrank closer, as they met and past, Into his mantle, adding wings to haste, While hurried Lamia trembled: "Ah," said he, "Why do you shudder, love, so ruefully? Why does your tender palm dissolve in dew?"— 370 "I'm wearied," said fair Lamia: "tell me who Is that old man? I cannot bring to mind His features:—Lycius! wherefore did you blind Yourself from his quick eyes?" Lycius replied, "'Tis Apollonius sage, my trusty guide And good instructor; but to-night he seems The ghost of folly haunting my sweet dreams."
While yet he spake they had arrived before A pillar'd porch, with lofty portal door, Where hung a silver lamp, whose phosphor glow 380 Reflected in the slabbed steps below, Mild as a star in water; for so new, And so unsullied was the marble hue, So through the crystal polish, liquid fine, Ran the dark veins, that none but feet divine Could e'er have touch'd there. Sounds AEolian Breath'd from the hinges, as the ample span Of the wide doors disclos'd a place unknown Some time to any, but those two alone, And a few Persian mutes, who that same year 390 Were seen about the markets: none knew where They could inhabit; the most curious Were foil'd, who watch'd to trace them to their house: And but the flitter-winged verse must tell, For truth's sake, what woe afterwards befel, 'Twould humour many a heart to leave them thus, Shut from the busy world of more incredulous.
Love in a hut, with water and a crust, Is—Love, forgive us!—cinders, ashes, dust; Love in a palace is perhaps at last More grievous torment than a hermit's fast:— That is a doubtful tale from faery land, Hard for the non-elect to understand. Had Lycius liv'd to hand his story down, He might have given the moral a fresh frown, Or clench'd it quite: but too short was their bliss To breed distrust and hate, that make the soft voice hiss. 10 Besides, there, nightly, with terrific glare Love, jealous grown of so complete a pair, Hover'd and buzz'd his wings, with fearful roar, Above the lintel of their chamber door, And down the passage cast a glow upon the floor.
For all this came a ruin: side by side They were enthroned, in the even tide, Upon a couch, near to a curtaining Whose airy texture, from a golden string, Floated into the room, and let appear 20 Unveil'd the summer heaven, blue and clear, Betwixt two marble shafts:—there they reposed, Where use had made it sweet, with eyelids closed, Saving a tythe which love still open kept, That they might see each other while they almost slept; When from the slope side of a suburb hill, Deafening the swallow's twitter, came a thrill Of trumpets—Lycius started—the sounds fled, But left a thought, a buzzing in his head. For the first time, since first he harbour'd in 30 That purple-lined palace of sweet sin, His spirit pass'd beyond its golden bourn Into the noisy world almost forsworn. The lady, ever watchful, penetrant, Saw this with pain, so arguing a want Of something more, more than her empery Of joys; and she began to moan and sigh Because he mused beyond her, knowing well That but a moment's thought is passion's passing bell. "Why do you sigh, fair creature?" whisper'd he: 40 "Why do you think?" return'd she tenderly: "You have deserted me;—where am I now? Not in your heart while care weighs on your brow: No, no, you have dismiss'd me; and I go From your breast houseless: ay, it must be so." He answer'd, bending to her open eyes, Where he was mirror'd small in paradise, "My silver planet, both of eve and morn! Why will you plead yourself so sad forlorn, While I am striving how to fill my heart 50 With deeper crimson, and a double smart? How to entangle, trammel up and snare Your soul in mine, and labyrinth you there Like the hid scent in an unbudded rose? Ay, a sweet kiss—you see your mighty woes. My thoughts! shall I unveil them? Listen then! What mortal hath a prize, that other men May be confounded and abash'd withal, But lets it sometimes pace abroad majestical, And triumph, as in thee I should rejoice 60 Amid the hoarse alarm of Corinth's voice. Let my foes choke, and my friends shout afar, While through the thronged streets your bridal car Wheels round its dazzling spokes."—The lady's cheek Trembled; she nothing said, but, pale and meek, Arose and knelt before him, wept a rain Of sorrows at his words; at last with pain Beseeching him, the while his hand she wrung, To change his purpose. He thereat was stung, Perverse, with stronger fancy to reclaim 70 Her wild and timid nature to his aim: Besides, for all his love, in self despite, Against his better self, he took delight Luxurious in her sorrows, soft and new. His passion, cruel grown, took on a hue Fierce and sanguineous as 'twas possible In one whose brow had no dark veins to swell. Fine was the mitigated fury, like Apollo's presence when in act to strike The serpent—Ha, the serpent! certes, she 80 Was none. She burnt, she lov'd the tyranny, And, all subdued, consented to the hour When to the bridal he should lead his paramour. Whispering in midnight silence, said the youth, "Sure some sweet name thou hast, though, by my truth, I have not ask'd it, ever thinking thee Not mortal, but of heavenly progeny, As still I do. Hast any mortal name, Fit appellation for this dazzling frame? Or friends or kinsfolk on the citied earth, 90 To share our marriage feast and nuptial mirth?" "I have no friends," said Lamia, "no, not one; My presence in wide Corinth hardly known: My parents' bones are in their dusty urns Sepulchred, where no kindled incense burns, Seeing all their luckless race are dead, save me, And I neglect the holy rite for thee. Even as you list invite your many guests; But if, as now it seems, your vision rests With any pleasure on me, do not bid 100 Old Apollonius—from him keep me hid." Lycius, perplex'd at words so blind and blank, Made close inquiry; from whose touch she shrank, Feigning a sleep; and he to the dull shade Of deep sleep in a moment was betray'd.
It was the custom then to bring away The bride from home at blushing shut of day, Veil'd, in a chariot, heralded along By strewn flowers, torches, and a marriage song, With other pageants: but this fair unknown 110 Had not a friend. So being left alone, (Lycius was gone to summon all his kin) And knowing surely she could never win His foolish heart from its mad pompousness, She set herself, high-thoughted, how to dress The misery in fit magnificence. She did so, but 'tis doubtful how and whence Came, and who were her subtle servitors. About the halls, and to and from the doors, There was a noise of wings, till in short space 120 The glowing banquet-room shone with wide-arched grace. A haunting music, sole perhaps and lone Supportress of the faery-roof, made moan Throughout, as fearful the whole charm might fade. Fresh carved cedar, mimicking a glade Of palm and plantain, met from either side, High in the midst, in honour of the bride: Two palms and then two plantains, and so on, From either side their stems branch'd one to one All down the aisled place; and beneath all 130 There ran a stream of lamps straight on from wall to wall. So canopied, lay an untasted feast Teeming with odours. Lamia, regal drest, Silently paced about, and as she went, In pale contented sort of discontent, Mission'd her viewless servants to enrich The fretted splendour of each nook and niche. Between the tree-stems, marbled plain at first, Came jasper pannels; then, anon, there burst Forth creeping imagery of slighter trees, 140 And with the larger wove in small intricacies. Approving all, she faded at self-will, And shut the chamber up, close, hush'd and still, Complete and ready for the revels rude, When dreadful guests would come to spoil her solitude.
The day appear'd, and all the gossip rout. O senseless Lycius! Madman! wherefore flout The silent-blessing fate, warm cloister'd hours, And show to common eyes these secret bowers? The herd approach'd; each guest, with busy brain, 150 Arriving at the portal, gaz'd amain, And enter'd marveling: for they knew the street, Remember'd it from childhood all complete Without a gap, yet ne'er before had seen That royal porch, that high-built fair demesne; So in they hurried all, maz'd, curious and keen: Save one, who look'd thereon with eye severe, And with calm-planted steps walk'd in austere; 'Twas Apollonius: something too he laugh'd, As though some knotty problem, that had daft 160 His patient thought, had now begun to thaw, And solve and melt:—'twas just as he foresaw.
He met within the murmurous vestibule His young disciple. "'Tis no common rule, Lycius," said he, "for uninvited guest To force himself upon you, and infest With an unbidden presence the bright throng Of younger friends; yet must I do this wrong, And you forgive me." Lycius blush'd, and led The old man through the inner doors broad-spread; 170 With reconciling words and courteous mien Turning into sweet milk the sophist's spleen.
Of wealthy lustre was the banquet-room, Fill'd with pervading brilliance and perfume: Before each lucid pannel fuming stood A censer fed with myrrh and spiced wood, Each by a sacred tripod held aloft, Whose slender feet wide-swerv'd upon the soft Wool-woofed carpets: fifty wreaths of smoke From fifty censers their light voyage took 180 To the high roof, still mimick'd as they rose Along the mirror'd walls by twin-clouds odorous. Twelve sphered tables, by silk seats insphered, High as the level of a man's breast rear'd On libbard's paws, upheld the heavy gold Of cups and goblets, and the store thrice told Of Ceres' horn, and, in huge vessels, wine Come from the gloomy tun with merry shine. Thus loaded with a feast the tables stood, Each shrining in the midst the image of a God. 190
When in an antichamber every guest Had felt the cold full sponge to pleasure press'd, By minist'ring slaves, upon his hands and feet, And fragrant oils with ceremony meet Pour'd on his hair, they all mov'd to the feast In white robes, and themselves in order placed Around the silken couches, wondering Whence all this mighty cost and blaze of wealth could spring.
Soft went the music the soft air along, While fluent Greek a vowel'd undersong 200 Kept up among the guests, discoursing low At first, for scarcely was the wine at flow; But when the happy vintage touch'd their brains, Louder they talk, and louder come the strains Of powerful instruments:—the gorgeous dyes, The space, the splendour of the draperies, The roof of awful richness, nectarous cheer, Beautiful slaves, and Lamia's self, appear, Now, when the wine has done its rosy deed, And every soul from human trammels freed, 210 No more so strange; for merry wine, sweet wine, Will make Elysian shades not too fair, too divine. Soon was God Bacchus at meridian height; Flush'd were their cheeks, and bright eyes double bright: Garlands of every green, and every scent From vales deflower'd, or forest-trees branch-rent, In baskets of bright osier'd gold were brought High as the handles heap'd, to suit the thought Of every guest; that each, as he did please, Might fancy-fit his brows, silk-pillow'd at his ease. 220
What wreath for Lamia? What for Lycius? What for the sage, old Apollonius? Upon her aching forehead be there hung The leaves of willow and of adder's tongue; And for the youth, quick, let us strip for him The thyrsus, that his watching eyes may swim Into forgetfulness; and, for the sage, Let spear-grass and the spiteful thistle wage War on his temples. Do not all charms fly At the mere touch of cold philosophy? 230 There was an awful rainbow once in heaven: We know her woof, her texture; she is given In the dull catalogue of common things. Philosophy will clip an Angel's wings, Conquer all mysteries by rule and line, Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine— Unweave a rainbow, as it erewhile made The tender-person'd Lamia melt into a shade.
By her glad Lycius sitting, in chief place, Scarce saw in all the room another face, 240 Till, checking his love trance, a cup he took Full brimm'd, and opposite sent forth a look 'Cross the broad table, to beseech a glance From his old teacher's wrinkled countenance, And pledge him. The bald-head philosopher Had fix'd his eye, without a twinkle or stir Full on the alarmed beauty of the bride, Brow-beating her fair form, and troubling her sweet pride. Lycius then press'd her hand, with devout touch, As pale it lay upon the rosy couch: 250 'Twas icy, and the cold ran through his veins; Then sudden it grew hot, and all the pains Of an unnatural heat shot to his heart. "Lamia, what means this? Wherefore dost thou start? Know'st thou that man?" Poor Lamia answer'd not. He gaz'd into her eyes, and not a jot Own'd they the lovelorn piteous appeal: More, more he gaz'd: his human senses reel: Some hungry spell that loveliness absorbs; There was no recognition in those orbs. 260 "Lamia!" he cried—and no soft-toned reply. The many heard, and the loud revelry Grew hush; the stately music no more breathes; The myrtle sicken'd in a thousand wreaths. By faint degrees, voice, lute, and pleasure ceased; A deadly silence step by step increased, Until it seem'd a horrid presence there, And not a man but felt the terror in his hair. "Lamia!" he shriek'd; and nothing but the shriek With its sad echo did the silence break. 270 "Begone, foul dream!" he cried, gazing again In the bride's face, where now no azure vein Wander'd on fair-spaced temples; no soft bloom Misted the cheek; no passion to illume The deep-recessed vision:—all was blight; Lamia, no longer fair, there sat a deadly white. "Shut, shut those juggling eyes, thou ruthless man! Turn them aside, wretch! or the righteous ban Of all the Gods, whose dreadful images Here represent their shadowy presences, 280 May pierce them on the sudden with the thorn Of painful blindness; leaving thee forlorn, In trembling dotage to the feeblest fright Of conscience, for their long offended might, For all thine impious proud-heart sophistries, Unlawful magic, and enticing lies. Corinthians! look upon that gray-beard wretch! Mark how, possess'd, his lashless eyelids stretch Around his demon eyes! Corinthians, see! My sweet bride withers at their potency." 290 "Fool!" said the sophist, in an under-tone Gruff with contempt; which a death-nighing moan From Lycius answer'd, as heart-struck and lost, He sank supine beside the aching ghost. "Fool! Fool!" repeated he, while his eyes still Relented not, nor mov'd; "from every ill Of life have I preserv'd thee to this day, And shall I see thee made a serpent's prey?" Then Lamia breath'd death breath; the sophist's eye, Like a sharp spear, went through her utterly, 300 Keen, cruel, perceant, stinging: she, as well As her weak hand could any meaning tell, Motion'd him to be silent; vainly so, He look'd and look'd again a level—No! "A Serpent!" echoed he; no sooner said, Than with a frightful scream she vanished: And Lycius' arms were empty of delight, As were his limbs of life, from that same night. On the high couch he lay!—his friends came round— Supported him—no pulse, or breath they found, 310 And, in its marriage robe, the heavy body wound.[45:A]
[45:A] "Philostratus, in his fourth book de Vita Apollonii, hath a memorable instance in this kind, which I may not omit, of one Menippus Lycius, a young man twenty-five years of age, that going betwixt Cenchreas and Corinth, met such a phantasm in the habit of a fair gentlewoman, which taking him by the hand, carried him home to her house, in the suburbs of Corinth, and told him she was a Phoenician by birth, and if he would tarry with her, he should hear her sing and play, and drink such wine as never any drank, and no man should molest him; but she, being fair and lovely, would live and die with him, that was fair and lovely to behold. The young man, a philosopher, otherwise staid and discreet, able to moderate his passions, though not this of love, tarried with her a while to his great content, and at last married her, to whose wedding, amongst other guests, came Apollonius; who, by some probable conjectures, found her out to be a serpent, a lamia; and that all her furniture was, like Tantalus' gold, described by Homer, no substance but mere illusions. When she saw herself descried, she wept, and desired Apollonius to be silent, but he would not be moved, and thereupon she, plate, house, and all that was in it, vanished in an instant: many thousands took notice of this fact, for it was done in the midst of Greece."
Burton's 'Anatomy of Melancholy.' Part 3. Sect. 2 Memb. 1. Subs. 1.
THE POT OF BASIL.
A STORY FROM BOCCACCIO.
Fair Isabel, poor simple Isabel! Lorenzo, a young palmer in Love's eye! They could not in the self-same mansion dwell Without some stir of heart, some malady; They could not sit at meals but feel how well It soothed each to be the other by; They could not, sure, beneath the same roof sleep But to each other dream, and nightly weep.
With every morn their love grew tenderer, With every eve deeper and tenderer still; 10 He might not in house, field, or garden stir, But her full shape would all his seeing fill; And his continual voice was pleasanter To her, than noise of trees or hidden rill; Her lute-string gave an echo of his name, She spoilt her half-done broidery with the same.
He knew whose gentle hand was at the latch, Before the door had given her to his eyes; And from her chamber-window he would catch Her beauty farther than the falcon spies; 20 And constant as her vespers would he watch, Because her face was turn'd to the same skies; And with sick longing all the night outwear, To hear her morning-step upon the stair.
A whole long month of May in this sad plight Made their cheeks paler by the break of June: "To-morrow will I bow to my delight, To-morrow will I ask my lady's boon."— "O may I never see another night, Lorenzo, if thy lips breathe not love's tune."— 30 So spake they to their pillows; but, alas, Honeyless days and days did he let pass;
Until sweet Isabella's untouch'd cheek Fell sick within the rose's just domain, Fell thin as a young mother's, who doth seek By every lull to cool her infant's pain: "How ill she is," said he, "I may not speak, And yet I will, and tell my love all plain: If looks speak love-laws, I will drink her tears, And at the least 'twill startle off her cares." 40
So said he one fair morning, and all day His heart beat awfully against his side; And to his heart he inwardly did pray For power to speak; but still the ruddy tide Stifled his voice, and puls'd resolve away— Fever'd his high conceit of such a bride, Yet brought him to the meekness of a child: Alas! when passion is both meek and wild!
So once more he had wak'd and anguished A dreary night of love and misery, 50 If Isabel's quick eye had not been wed To every symbol on his forehead high; She saw it waxing very pale and dead, And straight all flush'd; so, lisped tenderly, "Lorenzo!"—here she ceas'd her timid quest, But in her tone and look he read the rest.
"O Isabella, I can half perceive That I may speak my grief into thine ear; If thou didst ever any thing believe, Believe how I love thee, believe how near 60 My soul is to its doom: I would not grieve Thy hand by unwelcome pressing, would not fear Thine eyes by gazing; but I cannot live Another night, and not my passion shrive.
"Love! thou art leading me from wintry cold, Lady! thou leadest me to summer clime, And I must taste the blossoms that unfold In its ripe warmth this gracious morning time." So said, his erewhile timid lips grew bold, And poesied with hers in dewy rhyme: 70 Great bliss was with them, and great happiness Grew, like a lusty flower in June's caress.
Parting they seem'd to tread upon the air, Twin roses by the zephyr blown apart Only to meet again more close, and share The inward fragrance of each other's heart. She, to her chamber gone, a ditty fair Sang, of delicious love and honey'd dart; He with light steps went up a western hill, And bade the sun farewell, and joy'd his fill. 80
All close they met again, before the dusk Had taken from the stars its pleasant veil, All close they met, all eyes, before the dusk Had taken from the stars its pleasant veil, Close in a bower of hyacinth and musk, Unknown of any, free from whispering tale. Ah! better had it been for ever so, Than idle ears should pleasure in their woe.
Were they unhappy then?—It cannot be— Too many tears for lovers have been shed, 90 Too many sighs give we to them in fee, Too much of pity after they are dead, Too many doleful stories do we see, Whose matter in bright gold were best be read; Except in such a page where Theseus' spouse Over the pathless waves towards him bows.
But, for the general award of love, The little sweet doth kill much bitterness; Though Dido silent is in under-grove, And Isabella's was a great distress, 100 Though young Lorenzo in warm Indian clove Was not embalm'd, this truth is not the less— Even bees, the little almsmen of spring-bowers, Know there is richest juice in poison-flowers.
With her two brothers this fair lady dwelt, Enriched from ancestral merchandize, And for them many a weary hand did swelt In torched mines and noisy factories, And many once proud-quiver'd loins did melt In blood from stinging whip;—with hollow eyes 110 Many all day in dazzling river stood, To take the rich-ored driftings of the flood.
For them the Ceylon diver held his breath, And went all naked to the hungry shark; For them his ears gush'd blood; for them in death The seal on the cold ice with piteous bark Lay full of darts; for them alone did seethe A thousand men in troubles wide and dark: Half-ignorant, they turn'd an easy wheel, That set sharp racks at work, to pinch and peel. 120
Why were they proud? Because their marble founts Gush'd with more pride than do a wretch's tears?— Why were they proud? Because fair orange-mounts Were of more soft ascent than lazar stairs?— Why were they proud? Because red-lin'd accounts Were richer than the songs of Grecian years?— Why were they proud? again we ask aloud, Why in the name of Glory were they proud?
Yet were these Florentines as self-retired In hungry pride and gainful cowardice, 130 As two close Hebrews in that land inspired, Paled in and vineyarded from beggar-spies; The hawks of ship-mast forests—the untired And pannier'd mules for ducats and old lies— Quick cat's-paws on the generous stray-away,— Great wits in Spanish, Tuscan, and Malay.
How was it these same ledger-men could spy Fair Isabella in her downy nest? How could they find out in Lorenzo's eye A straying from his toil? Hot Egypt's pest 140 Into their vision covetous and sly! How could these money-bags see east and west?— Yet so they did—and every dealer fair Must see behind, as doth the hunted hare.
O eloquent and famed Boccaccio! Of thee we now should ask forgiving boon; And of thy spicy myrtles as they blow, And of thy roses amorous of the moon, And of thy lilies, that do paler grow Now they can no more hear thy ghittern's tune, 150 For venturing syllables that ill beseem The quiet glooms of such a piteous theme.
Grant thou a pardon here, and then the tale Shall move on soberly, as it is meet; There is no other crime, no mad assail To make old prose in modern rhyme more sweet: But it is done—succeed the verse or fail— To honour thee, and thy gone spirit greet; To stead thee as a verse in English tongue, An echo of thee in the north-wind sung. 160
These brethren having found by many signs What love Lorenzo for their sister had, And how she lov'd him too, each unconfines His bitter thoughts to other, well nigh mad That he, the servant of their trade designs, Should in their sister's love be blithe and glad, When 'twas their plan to coax her by degrees To some high noble and his olive-trees.
And many a jealous conference had they, And many times they bit their lips alone, 170 Before they fix'd upon a surest way To make the youngster for his crime atone; And at the last, these men of cruel clay Cut Mercy with a sharp knife to the bone; For they resolved in some forest dim To kill Lorenzo, and there bury him.
So on a pleasant morning, as he leant Into the sun-rise, o'er the balustrade Of the garden-terrace, towards him they bent Their footing through the dews; and to him said, 180 "You seem there in the quiet of content, Lorenzo, and we are most loth to invade Calm speculation; but if you are wise, Bestride your steed while cold is in the skies.
"To-day we purpose, ay, this hour we mount To spur three leagues towards the Apennine; Come down, we pray thee, ere the hot sun count His dewy rosary on the eglantine." Lorenzo, courteously as he was wont, Bow'd a fair greeting to these serpents' whine; 190 And went in haste, to get in readiness, With belt, and spur, and bracing huntsman's dress.
And as he to the court-yard pass'd along, Each third step did he pause, and listen'd oft If he could hear his lady's matin-song, Or the light whisper of her footstep soft; And as he thus over his passion hung, He heard a laugh full musical aloft; When, looking up, he saw her features bright Smile through an in-door lattice, all delight. 200
"Love, Isabel!" said he, "I was in pain Lest I should miss to bid thee a good morrow Ah! what if I should lose thee, when so fain I am to stifle all the heavy sorrow Of a poor three hours' absence? but we'll gain Out of the amorous dark what day doth borrow. Goodbye! I'll soon be back."—"Goodbye!" said she:— And as he went she chanted merrily.
So the two brothers and their murder'd man Rode past fair Florence, to where Arno's stream 210 Gurgles through straiten'd banks, and still doth fan Itself with dancing bulrush, and the bream Keeps head against the freshets. Sick and wan The brothers' faces in the ford did seem, Lorenzo's flush with love.—They pass'd the water Into a forest quiet for the slaughter.
There was Lorenzo slain and buried in, There in that forest did his great love cease; Ah! when a soul doth thus its freedom win, It aches in loneliness—is ill at peace 220 As the break-covert blood-hounds of such sin: They dipp'd their swords in the water, and did tease Their horses homeward, with convulsed spur, Each richer by his being a murderer.
They told their sister how, with sudden speed, Lorenzo had ta'en ship for foreign lands, Because of some great urgency and need In their affairs, requiring trusty hands. Poor Girl! put on thy stifling widow's weed, And 'scape at once from Hope's accursed bands; 230 To-day thou wilt not see him, nor to-morrow, And the next day will be a day of sorrow.
She weeps alone for pleasures not to be; Sorely she wept until the night came on, And then, instead of love, O misery! She brooded o'er the luxury alone: His image in the dusk she seem'd to see, And to the silence made a gentle moan, Spreading her perfect arms upon the air, And on her couch low murmuring "Where? O where?" 240
But Selfishness, Love's cousin, held not long Its fiery vigil in her single breast; She fretted for the golden hour, and hung Upon the time with feverish unrest— Not long—for soon into her heart a throng Of higher occupants, a richer zest, Came tragic; passion not to be subdued, And sorrow for her love in travels rude.
In the mid days of autumn, on their eves The breath of Winter comes from far away, 250 And the sick west continually bereaves Of some gold tinge, and plays a roundelay Of death among the bushes and the leaves, To make all bare before he dares to stray From his north cavern. So sweet Isabel By gradual decay from beauty fell,
Because Lorenzo came not. Oftentimes She ask'd her brothers, with an eye all pale, Striving to be itself, what dungeon climes Could keep him off so long? They spake a tale 260 Time after time, to quiet her. Their crimes Came on them, like a smoke from Hinnom's vale; And every night in dreams they groan'd aloud, To see their sister in her snowy shroud.
And she had died in drowsy ignorance, But for a thing more deadly dark than all; It came like a fierce potion, drunk by chance, Which saves a sick man from the feather'd pall For some few gasping moments; like a lance, Waking an Indian from his cloudy hall 270 With cruel pierce, and bringing him again Sense of the gnawing fire at heart and brain.
It was a vision.—In the drowsy gloom, The dull of midnight, at her couch's foot Lorenzo stood, and wept: the forest tomb Had marr'd his glossy hair which once could shoot Lustre into the sun, and put cold doom Upon his lips, and taken the soft lute From his lorn voice, and past his loamed ears Had made a miry channel for his tears. 280
Strange sound it was, when the pale shadow spake; For there was striving, in its piteous tongue, To speak as when on earth it was awake, And Isabella on its music hung: Languor there was in it, and tremulous shake, As in a palsied Druid's harp unstrung; And through it moan'd a ghostly under-song, Like hoarse night-gusts sepulchral briars among.
Its eyes, though wild, were still all dewy bright With love, and kept all phantom fear aloof 290 From the poor girl by magic of their light, The while it did unthread the horrid woof Of the late darken'd time,—the murderous spite Of pride and avarice,—the dark pine roof In the forest,—and the sodden turfed dell, Where, without any word, from stabs he fell.
Saying moreover, "Isabel, my sweet! Red whortle-berries droop above my head, And a large flint-stone weighs upon my feet; Around me beeches and high chestnuts shed 300 Their leaves and prickly nuts; a sheep-fold bleat Comes from beyond the river to my bed: Go, shed one tear upon my heather-bloom, And it shall comfort me within the tomb.
"I am a shadow now, alas! alas! Upon the skirts of human-nature dwelling Alone: I chant alone the holy mass, While little sounds of life are round me knelling, And glossy bees at noon do fieldward pass, And many a chapel bell the hour is telling, 310 Paining me through: those sounds grow strange to me, And thou art distant in Humanity.
"I know what was, I feel full well what is, And I should rage, if spirits could go mad; Though I forget the taste of earthly bliss, That paleness warms my grave, as though I had A Seraph chosen from the bright abyss To be my spouse: thy paleness makes me glad; Thy beauty grows upon me, and I feel A greater love through all my essence steal." 320
The Spirit mourn'd "Adieu!"—dissolv'd, and left The atom darkness in a slow turmoil; As when of healthful midnight sleep bereft, Thinking on rugged hours and fruitless toil, We put our eyes into a pillowy cleft, And see the spangly gloom froth up and boil: It made sad Isabella's eyelids ache, And in the dawn she started up awake;
"Ha! ha!" said she, "I knew not this hard life, I thought the worst was simple misery; 330 I thought some Fate with pleasure or with strife Portion'd us—happy days, or else to die; But there is crime—a brother's bloody knife! Sweet Spirit, thou hast school'd my infancy: I'll visit thee for this, and kiss thine eyes, And greet thee morn and even in the skies."
When the full morning came, she had devised How she might secret to the forest hie; How she might find the clay, so dearly prized, And sing to it one latest lullaby; 340 How her short absence might be unsurmised, While she the inmost of the dream would try. Resolv'd, she took with her an aged nurse, And went into that dismal forest-hearse.
See, as they creep along the river side, How she doth whisper to that aged Dame, And, after looking round the champaign wide, Shows her a knife.—"What feverous hectic flame Burns in thee, child?—What good can thee betide, That thou should'st smile again?"—The evening came, 350 And they had found Lorenzo's earthy bed; The flint was there, the berries at his head.
Who hath not loiter'd in a green church-yard, And let his spirit, like a demon-mole, Work through the clayey soil and gravel hard, To see scull, coffin'd bones, and funeral stole; Pitying each form that hungry Death hath marr'd, And filling it once more with human soul? Ah! this is holiday to what was felt When Isabella by Lorenzo knelt. 360
She gaz'd into the fresh-thrown mould, as though One glance did fully all its secrets tell; Clearly she saw, as other eyes would know Pale limbs at bottom of a crystal well; Upon the murderous spot she seem'd to grow, Like to a native lily of the dell: Then with her knife, all sudden, she began To dig more fervently than misers can.
Soon she turn'd up a soiled glove, whereon Her silk had play'd in purple phantasies, 370 She kiss'd it with a lip more chill than stone, And put it in her bosom, where it dries And freezes utterly unto the bone Those dainties made to still an infant's cries: Then 'gan she work again; nor stay'd her care, But to throw back at times her veiling hair.
That old nurse stood beside her wondering, Until her heart felt pity to the core At sight of such a dismal labouring, And so she kneeled, with her locks all hoar, 380 And put her lean hands to the horrid thing: Three hours they labour'd at this travail sore; At last they felt the kernel of the grave, And Isabella did not stamp and rave.
Ah! wherefore all this wormy circumstance? Why linger at the yawning tomb so long? O for the gentleness of old Romance, The simple plaining of a minstrel's song! Fair reader, at the old tale take a glance, For here, in truth, it doth not well belong 390 To speak:—O turn thee to the very tale, And taste the music of that vision pale.
With duller steel than the Persean sword They cut away no formless monster's head, But one, whose gentleness did well accord With death, as life. The ancient harps have said, Love never dies, but lives, immortal Lord: If Love impersonate was ever dead, Pale Isabella kiss'd it, and low moan'd. 'Twas love; cold,—dead indeed, but not dethroned. 400
In anxious secrecy they took it home, And then the prize was all for Isabel: She calm'd its wild hair with a golden comb, And all around each eye's sepulchral cell Pointed each fringed lash; the smeared loam With tears, as chilly as a dripping well, She drench'd away:—and still she comb'd, and kept Sighing all day—and still she kiss'd, and wept.
Then in a silken scarf,—sweet with the dews Of precious flowers pluck'd in Araby, 410 And divine liquids come with odorous ooze Through the cold serpent-pipe refreshfully,— She wrapp'd it up; and for its tomb did choose A garden-pot, wherein she laid it by, And cover'd it with mould, and o'er it set Sweet Basil, which her tears kept ever wet.
And she forgot the stars, the moon, and sun, And she forgot the blue above the trees, And she forgot the dells where waters run, And she forgot the chilly autumn breeze; 420 She had no knowledge when the day was done, And the new morn she saw not: but in peace Hung over her sweet Basil evermore, And moisten'd it with tears unto the core.
And so she ever fed it with thin tears, Whence thick, and green, and beautiful it grew, So that it smelt more balmy than its peers Of Basil-tufts in Florence; for it drew Nurture besides, and life, from human fears, From the fast mouldering head there shut from view: 430 So that the jewel, safely casketed, Came forth, and in perfumed leafits spread.
O Melancholy, linger here awhile! O Music, Music, breathe despondingly! O Echo, Echo, from some sombre isle, Unknown, Lethean, sigh to us—O sigh! Spirits in grief, lift up your heads, and smile; Lift up your heads, sweet Spirits, heavily, And make a pale light in your cypress glooms, Tinting with silver wan your marble tombs. 440
Moan hither, all ye syllables of woe, From the deep throat of sad Melpomene! Through bronzed lyre in tragic order go, And touch the strings into a mystery; Sound mournfully upon the winds and low; For simple Isabel is soon to be Among the dead: She withers, like a palm Cut by an Indian for its juicy balm.
O leave the palm to wither by itself; Let not quick Winter chill its dying hour!— 450 It may not be—those Baaelites of pelf, Her brethren, noted the continual shower From her dead eyes; and many a curious elf, Among her kindred, wonder'd that such dower Of youth and beauty should be thrown aside By one mark'd out to be a Noble's bride.
And, furthermore, her brethren wonder'd much Why she sat drooping by the Basil green, And why it flourish'd, as by magic touch; Greatly they wonder'd what the thing might mean: 460 They could not surely give belief, that such A very nothing would have power to wean Her from her own fair youth, and pleasures gay, And even remembrance of her love's delay.
Therefore they watch'd a time when they might sift This hidden whim; and long they watch'd in vain; For seldom did she go to chapel-shrift, And seldom felt she any hunger-pain; And when she left, she hurried back, as swift As bird on wing to breast its eggs again; 470 And, patient, as a hen-bird, sat her there Beside her Basil, weeping through her hair.
Yet they contriv'd to steal the Basil-pot, And to examine it in secret place: The thing was vile with green and livid spot, And yet they knew it was Lorenzo's face: The guerdon of their murder they had got, And so left Florence in a moment's space, Never to turn again.—Away they went, With blood upon their heads, to banishment. 480
O Melancholy, turn thine eyes away! O Music, Music, breathe despondingly! O Echo, Echo, on some other day, From isles Lethean, sigh to us—O sigh! Spirits of grief, sing not your "Well-a-way!" For Isabel, sweet Isabel, will die; Will die a death too lone and incomplete, Now they have ta'en away her Basil sweet.
Piteous she look'd on dead and senseless things, Asking for her lost Basil amorously; 490 And with melodious chuckle in the strings Of her lorn voice, she oftentimes would cry After the Pilgrim in his wanderings, To ask him where her Basil was; and why 'Twas hid from her: "For cruel 'tis," said she, "To steal my Basil-pot away from me."
And so she pined, and so she died forlorn, Imploring for her Basil to the last. No heart was there in Florence but did mourn In pity of her love, so overcast. 500 And a sad ditty of this story born From mouth to mouth through all the country pass'd: Still is the burthen sung—"O cruelty, To steal my Basil-pot away from me!"
EVE OF ST. AGNES.
St. Agnes' Eve—Ah, bitter chill it was! The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold; The hare limp'd trembling through the frozen grass, And silent was the flock in woolly fold: Numb were the Beadsman's fingers, while he told His rosary, and while his frosted breath, Like pious incense from a censer old, Seem'd taking flight for heaven, without a death, Past the sweet Virgin's picture, while his prayer he saith.
His prayer he saith, this patient, holy man; 10 Then takes his lamp, and riseth from his knees, And back returneth, meagre, barefoot, wan, Along the chapel aisle by slow degrees: The sculptur'd dead, on each side, seem to freeze, Emprison'd in black, purgatorial rails: Knights, ladies, praying in dumb orat'ries, He passeth by; and his weak spirit fails To think how they may ache in icy hoods and mails.
Northward he turneth through a little door, And scarce three steps, ere Music's golden tongue 20 Flatter'd to tears this aged man and poor; But no—already had his deathbell rung; The joys of all his life were said and sung: His was harsh penance on St. Agnes' Eve: Another way he went, and soon among Rough ashes sat he for his soul's reprieve, And all night kept awake, for sinners' sake to grieve.
That ancient Beadsman heard the prelude soft; And so it chanc'd, for many a door was wide, From hurry to and fro. Soon, up aloft, 30 The silver, snarling trumpets 'gan to chide: The level chambers, ready with their pride, Were glowing to receive a thousand guests: The carved angels, ever eager-eyed, Star'd, where upon their heads the cornice rests, With hair blown back, and wings put cross-wise on their breasts.
At length burst in the argent revelry, With plume, tiara, and all rich array, Numerous as shadows haunting fairily The brain, new stuff'd, in youth, with triumphs gay 40 Of old romance. These let us wish away, And turn, sole-thoughted, to one Lady there, Whose heart had brooded, all that wintry day, On love, and wing'd St. Agnes' saintly care, As she had heard old dames full many times declare.
They told her how, upon St. Agnes' Eve, Young virgins might have visions of delight, And soft adorings from their loves receive Upon the honey'd middle of the night, If ceremonies due they did aright; 50 As, supperless to bed they must retire, And couch supine their beauties, lily white; Nor look behind, nor sideways, but require Of Heaven with upward eyes for all that they desire.
Full of this whim was thoughtful Madeline: The music, yearning like a God in pain, She scarcely heard: her maiden eyes divine, Fix'd on the floor, saw many a sweeping train Pass by—she heeded not at all: in vain Came many a tiptoe, amorous cavalier, 60 And back retir'd; not cool'd by high disdain, But she saw not: her heart was otherwhere: She sigh'd for Agnes' dreams, the sweetest of the year.
She danc'd along with vague, regardless eyes, Anxious her lips, her breathing quick and short: The hallow'd hour was near at hand: she sighs Amid the timbrels, and the throng'd resort Of whisperers in anger, or in sport; 'Mid looks of love, defiance, hate, and scorn, Hoodwink'd with faery fancy; all amort, 70 Save to St. Agnes and her lambs unshorn, And all the bliss to be before to-morrow morn.
So, purposing each moment to retire, She linger'd still. Meantime, across the moors, Had come young Porphyro, with heart on fire For Madeline. Beside the portal doors, Buttress'd from moonlight, stands he, and implores All saints to give him sight of Madeline, But for one moment in the tedious hours, That he might gaze and worship all unseen; 80 Perchance speak, kneel, touch, kiss—in sooth such things have been.
He ventures in: let no buzz'd whisper tell: All eyes be muffled, or a hundred swords Will storm his heart, Love's fev'rous citadel: For him, those chambers held barbarian hordes, Hyena foemen, and hot-blooded lords, Whose very dogs would execrations howl Against his lineage: not one breast affords Him any mercy, in that mansion foul, Save one old beldame, weak in body and in soul. 90
Ah, happy chance! the aged creature came, Shuffling along with ivory-headed wand, To where he stood, hid from the torch's flame, Behind a broad hall-pillar, far beyond The sound of merriment and chorus bland: He startled her; but soon she knew his face, And grasp'd his fingers in her palsied hand, Saying, "Mercy, Porphyro! hie thee from this place; They are all here to-night, the whole blood-thirsty race!"