Comus is replete with Spenserian themes, diction, imagery and allusions. The poem was first published in 1637 and became a very popular poem in the eighteenth century, often performed in John Dalton's 1738 adaptation for the stage. William Wells asks, "Is Meliboeus Spenser? The identification is not improbable, if the freeing of the Lady from the charm of Comus by Sabrina reflects the episode of Amoret's release from the enchantments of Busirane by Britomart" Wells, Spenser Allusions (1972) 200.
Dedication by Henry Lawes to John, Viscount Brackly: "My Lord, This Poem, which receiv'd its first occasion of birth from your selfe, and others of your noble familie, and much honour from your own Person in the performance, now returns againe to make a small dedication of it selfe to you. Although not openly acknowledg'd by the Author, yet it is a legitimate off-spring, so lovely, and so much desired, that the often copying of it hath tir'd my pen to give my severall friends satisfaction, and brought me to a necessitie of producing it to the publick view; and now to offer it up in all rightfull devotion to those farie hopes, and rare Endowments of your much-promising Youth, which give a full assurance, to all that know you, of a future excellence. Live sweet Lord to be the honour of your Name, and receive this as your owne, from the hands of him, who hath by many favours beene long oblig'd to your most honour'd Parents, and as in this repraesentation your attendant Thyrsis, so now in reall expression Your faithfull, and most humble Servant, H. Lawes" sig. A2-A2v.
William Warburton to Thomas Birch: "I once saw the first edition of the Masque at Ludlow Castle, without Milton's name to it, and found that it was dedicated by Lawes the great musician who made the music for it: from whence I concluded that Lawes only employed Milton, and paid him for it, and took the benefit of the Dedication. This shews his small acquaintance, or ill reception at Court. What is very odd is, the silence of his contemporary Poets on his character. I mean before the Restoration" 24 November 1737; in Nichols, Illustrations (1817-58) 2:80-81.
John Upton: "As to the last verse in this stanza [FQ1.1.xii], 'Vertue gives herselfe light through darknesse for to wade,' Milton had the same beautiful idea in his mind, and perhaps this passage, when he wrote the following in Comus: 'Virtue could see to do what virtue would | By her own radiant light, though sun and moon | Were in the flat sea sunk'" Spenser's Faerie Queene (1758) in Todd, Works of Spenser (1805) 2:17n.
Samuel Johnson: "The greatest of his juvenile performances is the Mask of Comus, in which may very plainly be discovered the dawn or twilight of Paradise Lost. Milton appears to have formed very early that system of diction and mode of verse which his maturer judgement approved, and from which he never endeavoured nor desired to deviate" Lives of the Poets, (1779-81) ed. G. B. Hill (1905) 1:167.
Thomas Babington Macaulay: "The Comus is framed on the model of the Italian Masque, as the Samson is framed on the model of the Greek Tragedy. It is certainly the noblest performance of the kind which exists in any language. It is as far superior to the Faithful Shepherdess, as the Faithful Shepherdess is to the Aminta, or the Aminta to the Pastor Fido. It was well for Milton that he had here no Euripides to mislead him. He understood and loved the literature of modern Italy. But he did not feel for it the same veneration which he entertained for the remains of Athenian and Roman poetry, consecrated by so many lofty and endearing recollections. The faults, moreover, of his Italian predecessors, were of a kind to which his mind had a deadly antipathy. He could stoop to a plain style, sometimes even to a bald style: But false brilliancy was his utter aversion. His Muse had no objection to a russet attire: But she turned with disgust from the finery of Guarini, as tawdry and as paltry as the rags of a chimney-sweeper on May-day. Whatever ornaments she wears are of massive gold, not only dazzling to the sight, but capable of standing the severest test of the crucible" "Milton" Edinburgh Review 42 (August 1825) 314.
John Wilson: "You have already read the Comus of Milton — and love and admire — and would wish to kneel down at her feet — the Lady whose spotless innocence preserves her from the fiends of that haunted wood. She and the Una of the Fairy Queen might be sisters; nor, were such creatures as they ever to walk over our earth, could they turn away their gracious and benignant smiles from such a maiden as thou art — for thou too art without spot or blemish — nor could force nor fraud prevail against thee" "Christmas Presents" Blackwood's Magazine 23 (January 1828) 9.
Herbert E. Cory: "From his 'sage and, serious Spenser' Milton could certainly draw high moral truths. Belphoebe, Spencer's huntress wandering like Diana through the deep woods, Britomart, the warrior-maiden conquering all lustful knights, Spenser's perfect types of chastity, inspired Milton with faith to write his credo boldly in Comus. He speaks through the steadfast brother who believes that chastity is a defence in itself. Still the benignant influence of Spenser's dreams keeps Milton from absolute bitterness: ''Tis Chastity, my brother, Chastity, | She that has that is clad in complete steel'.... Spencer also had made his Red Cross Knight give Una lofty assurance as he entered the dark and squalid den of Error: 'Vertue gives her selfe light through darknesse for to wade.' Everywhere the presence of Spenser's influence is elusively apparent. Where Milton borrowed so masterfully from Homer, Tasso, Spenser, Peele, John Fletcher, and perhaps many more, it becomes mere pedantry to attempt a collection of unquestionable parallels. Yet the temptation is great. As Milton wrote of his Lady, Virtue incarnate, perhaps it was the memory of Spenser's Sir Guyon or Temperance who, under similar temptations, was protected by the sage advice of a palmer, to describe twilight as 'Grey-hooded Even, | Like a ad Votarist in palmer's weed.' This is an example instructive of how a Spenserian fancy might cling in the background of Milton's consciousness" "Spenser, the Fletchers, and Milton" UCPMP 2 (1912) 356-57.
Comus circulated in manuscript before being printed in 1637 at the behest of Henry Lawes, who wrote the music and performed as the Attendant Spirit.
There is a list of allusions in Wells, Spenser Allusions (1972) and a review of commentary on the subject in A. S. P. Woodhouse and Douglas Bush, Variorum Commentary on the Poems of John Milton (1972) 2:762-65 and passim.
THE ATTENDANT SPIRIT, afterwards in the habit of THYRSIS.
COMUS, with his Crew.
SABRINA, the Nymph.
The chief persons, who presented, were
The Lord Brackley.
Mr. Thomas Egerton his brother.
The Lady Alice Egerton.
The first Scene discovers a wild Wood.
The attendant Spirit descends or enters.
Before the starry threshold of Jove's Court
My mansion is, where those immortal shapes
Of bright aerial Spirits live insphear'd
In Regions mild of calm and serene air,
Above the smoke and stir of this dim spot,
Which men call Earth; and, with low-thoughted care
Confin'd, and pester'd in this pin-fold here,
Strive to keep up a frail, and feverish being,
Unmindful of the crown that Virtue gives
After this mortal change, to her true servants,
Amongst the enthron'd gods on sainted seats.
Yet some there be, that by due steps aspire
To lay their just hands on that golden key,
That ope's the palace of Eternity:
To such my errand is; and, but for such,
I would not soil these pure Ambrosial weeds,
With the rank vapours of this Sin-worn mould.
But to my task. Neptune besides the sway
Of every salt flood, and each ebbing stream,
Took in by lot 'twixt high, and nether Jove,
Imperial rule of all the Sea-girt Isles
That, like to rich, and various gems, inlay
The unadorned bosom of the deep:
Which he, to grace his tributary gods,
By course commits to several government,
And gives them leave to wear their sapphire crowns,
And wield their little tridents, but this Isle
The greatest, and the best of all the main,
He quarters to his blue-hair'd deities,
And all this tract that fronts the falling sun
A noble Peer of mickle trust, and power
Has in his charge, with temper'd awe to guide
An old, and haughty nation, proud in arms:
Where his fair off-spring nurs'd in princely lore,
Are coming to attend their fathers state,
And new-entrusted scepter: but their way
Lies through the perplex'd paths of this drear wood,
The nodding horrour of whose shady brows
Threats the forlorn and wandring passenger;
And here their tender age might suffer peril,
But that by quick command from sovran Jove
I was dispatch'd for their defence and guard:
And listen why; for I will tell you now
What never yet was heard in tale or song,
From old, or modern bard, in hall, or bower.
Bacchus, that first from out the purple grape,
Crush'd the sweet poison of mis-used wine,
After the Tuscan mariners transform'd,
Coasting the Tyrrhene shore, as the winds listed,
On Circe's Island fell: (who knows not Circe
The daughter of the Sun, whose charmed cup
Whoever tasted lost his upright shape,
And downward fell into a groveling swine?)
This Nymph, that gaz'd upon his clustring locks,
With ivy berries wreath'd, and his blithe youth,
Had by him, ere he parted thence, a son
Much like his father, but his mother more,
Whom therefore she brought up, and Comus nam'd,
Who, ripe and frolick of his full grown age,
Roving the Celtick, and Iberian fields,
At last betakes him to this ominous wood;
And, in thick shelter of black shades imbowr'd,
Excels his mother at her mighty art,
Offering to every weary traveller
His orient liquor in a crystal glass,
To quench the drouth of Phoebus; which as they taste
(For most do taste through fond intemperate thirst)
Soon as the potion works, their human countenance,
The express resemblance of the gods, is chang'd
Into some brutish form of wolf, or bear;
Or ounce, or tiger, hog, or bearded goat,
All other parts remaining as they were;
And they, so perfect is their misery,
Not once perceive their foul disfigurement,
But boast themselves more comely than before;
And all their friends and native home forget,
To roll with pleasure in a sensual stye.
Therefore when any favour'd of high Jove,
Chances to pass through this adventurous glade,
Swift as the sparkle of a glancing star
I shoot from heaven to give him safe convoy,
As now I do: But first I must put off
These my sky-robes spun out of Iris' woof,
And take the weeds and likeness of a swain
That to the service of this house belongs,
Who with his soft pipe, and smooth-dittied song,
Well knows to still the wild winds when they roar,
And hush the waving woods; nor of less faith,
And in this office of his mountain watch,
Likeliest, and nearest to the present aid
Of this occasion. But I hear the tread
Of hateful steps; I must be viewless now.
Comus enters with a charming rod in one hand, his glass in the other; with him rout of monsters, headed like sundry sorts of wild beasts, but otherwise like men women, their apparel glistering; they come in making a riotous and unruly noise, with torches in their hands.
The star, that bids the shepherd fold,
Now the top of heaven doth hold;
And the gilded car of day,
His glowing axle doth allay
In the steep Atlantick stream;
And the slope Sun his upward beam
Shoots against the dusky pole,
Pacing toward the other goal
Of his Chamber in the East.
Meanwhile welcome Joy, and Feast,
Midnight Shout, and revelry,
Tipsy dance, and Jollity.
Braid your Locks with rosy twine,
Dropping odours, dropping wine.
Rigour now is gone to bed,
And Advice with scrupulous head.
Strict Age, and sour Severity,
With their grave saws, in slumber lie.
We, that are of purer fire,
Imitate the starry quire,
Who, in their nightly watchful spheres,
Lead in swift round the months and years.
The sounds and seas, with all their finny drove,
Now to the moon in wavering morrice move;
And on the tawny sands and shelves,
Trip the pert faeries and the dapper elves.
By dimpled brook, and fountain-brim,
The Wood-Nymphs, deck'd with daisies trim,
Their merry wakes and pastimes keep;
What hath night to do with sleep?
Night hath better sweets to prove;
Venus now wakes, and wakens Love.
Come, let us our rights begin;
'Tis only day-light that makes sin,
Which these dun shades will ne'er report.—
Hail, goddess of nocturnal sport,
Dark-vail'd Cotytto! to whom the secret flame
Of midnight torches burns; mysterious dame,
That ne'er art call'd, but when the dragon woom
Of Stygian darkness spets her thickest gloom,
And makes one blot of all the air;
Stay thy cloudy ebon chair,
Wherein thou rid'st with Hecat', and befriend
Us thy vow'd priests, till utmost end
Of all thy dues be done, and none left out,
Ere the blabbing eastern scout,
The nice Morn, on th' Indian steep
From her cabin'd loop-hole peep,
And to the tel-tale sun descry
Our conceal'd Solemnity.—
Come, knit hands, and beat the ground,
In a light fantastick round.
Break off, break off, I feel the different pace
Of some chaste footing near about this ground.
Run to your shrouds, within these brakes and trees,
Our number may affright: Some virgin sure
(For so I can distinguish by mine Art)
Benighted in these woods. Now to my charms,
And to my wily trains; I shall ere long
Be well-stock'd with as fair a herd as graz'd
About my Mother Circe. Thus I hurl
My dazzling spells into the spungy air,
Of power to cheat the eye with blear illusion,
And give it false presentments, lest the place
And my quaint habits breed astonishment,
And put the damsel to suspicious flight;
Which must not be, for that's against my course:
I, under fair presence of friendly ends,
And well plac'd words of glozing courtesy
Baited with reasons not unplausible,
Wind me into the easy-hearted man,
And hug him into snares. When once her eye
Hath met the virtue of this magick dust,
I shall appear some harmless villager,
Whom thrift keeps up about his country gear,
But here she comes; I fairly step aside,
And hearken, if I may, her business here.
The Lady enters.
This way the noise was, if mine ear be true,
My best guide now: me thought it was the sound
Of riot and ill manag'd merriment,
Such as the jocund flute, or gamesome pipe,
Stirs up among the loose unletter'd hinds;
When for their teeming flocks, and granges full.
In wanton dance they praise the bounteous Pan,
And thank the gods amiss. I should be loath
To meet the rudeness, and swill'd insolence,
Of such late wassailers; yet O! where else
Shall I inform my unacquainted feet
In the blind mazes of this tangled wood?
My Brothers, when they saw me wearied out
With this long way, resolving here to lodge
Under the spreading favour of these pines,
Stept, as they said, to the next thicket-side
To bring me berries, or such cooling fruit
As the kind hospitable Woods provide.
They left me then, when the gray-hooded Even
Like a sad votarist in palmer's weed,
Rose from the hindmost wheels of Phoebus' wain.
But where they are, and why they came not back,
Is now the labour of my thoughts; 'tis likeliest
They had engag'd their wandring steps too far;
And envious darkness, ere they could return,
Had stole them from me: else, O thievish Night,
Why should'st thou, but for some felonious end,
In thy dark lantern thus close up the stars,
That Nature hung in Heaven, and fill'd their lamps
With everlasting oil, to give due light
To the misled and lonely traveller?
This is the place, as well as I may guess,
Whence even now the tumult of loud mirth
Was rife, and perfect in my listening ear;
Yet nought but single darkness do I find.
What might this be? A thousand fantasies
Begin to throng into my memory,
Of calling shapes, and beck'ning shadows dire,
And aery tongues that syllable men's names
On sands, and shores, and desert wildernesses.
These thoughts may startle well, but not astound
The virtuous mind, that ever walks attended
By a strong siding champion, Conscience.—
O welcome pure-ey'd Faith, white-handed Hope,
Thou hovering Angel, girt with golden wings;
And thou, unblemish'd form of Chastity!
I see ye visibly, and now believe
That He, the Supreme Good, to whom all things ill
Are but as slavish officers of vengeance,
Would send a glist'ring guardian, if need were
To keep my life and honour unassail'd.
Was I deceiv'd, or did a sable cloud
Turn forth her silver lining on the night?
I did not err, there does a sable cloud
Turn forth her silver lining on the night,
And casts a gleam over this tufted grove:
I cannot halloo to my Brothers, but
Such noise as I can make to be heard farthest
I'll venture; for my new enliv'nd spirits
Prompt me; and they perhaps are not far off.
Sweet Echo, sweetest Nymph, that liv'st unseen
Within thy airy shell
By slow Meander's margent green,
And in the violet-embroider'd vale,
Where the lore-lorn nightingale
Nightly to thee her sad song mourneth well;
Canst thou not tell me of a gentle pair
That likest thy Narcissus are?
O, if thou have
Hid them in some flowery cave,
Tell me but where,
Sweet queen of parly, daughter of the sphere!
So may'st thou be translated to the skies,
And give resounding grace to all Heavens harmonies.
Can any mortal mixture of earth's mould
Breathe such divine enchanting ravishment?
Sure something holy lodges in that breast,
And with these raptures moves the vocal air
To testify his hidden residence.
How sweetly did they float upon the wings
Of silence, through the empty-vaulted night,
At every fall smoothing the raven-down
Of darkness till it smil'd! I have oft heard
My mother Circe with the Syrens three,
Amidst the flowery-kirtled Naiades,
Culling their potent herbs, and baleful drugs;
Who, as they sung, would take the prison'd soul,
And lap it in Elysium: Scylla wept,
And chid her barking waves into attention,
And fell Charybdis murmur'd soft applause:
Yet they in pleasing slumber lull'd the sense,
And in sweet madness rob'd it of it self;
But such a sacred, and home-felt delight,
Such sober certainty of waking bliss,
I never heard till now. I'll speak to her,
And she shall be my Queen. — Hail foreign wonder!
Whom certain these rough shades did never breed,
Unless the goddess that in rural shrine
Dwell'st here with Pan, or Sylvan; by blest song
Forbidding every bleak unkindly fog
To touch the prosperous growth of this tall wood.
Nay, gentle shepherd, ill is lost that praise,
That is address'd to unattending ears;
Not any boast of skill, but extreme shift
How to regain my sever'd company,
Compell'd me to awake the courteous Echo
To give me answer from her mossy couch.
What chance, good Lady, hath bereft you thus?
Dim darkness, and this leafy labyrinth.
Could that divide you from near-ushering guides?
They left me weary on a grassy turf.
By falsehood, or discourtesy, or why?
To seek i' the valley some cool friendly spring.
And left your fair side all unguarded, Lady?
They were but twain, and purpos'd quick return.
Perhaps fore-stalling night prevented them.
How easy my misfortune is to hit!
Imports their loss, beside the present need?
No less then if I should my Brothers lose.
Were they of manly prime, or youthful bloom?
As smooth as Hebe's their unrazor'd lips.
Two such I saw, what time the labour'd ox
In his loose traces from the furrow came,
And the swink'd hedger at his supper sat;
I saw them under a green mantling vine,
That crawls along the side of yon small hill,
Plucking ripe clusters from the tender shoots,
Their port was more then human, as they stood:
I took it for a faery vision
Of some gay creatures of the element,
That in the colours of the rainbow live,
And play i' the plighted clouds. I was awe-struck,
And as I past, I worshipt; if those you seek,
It were a journey like the path to Heaven,
To help you find them.
What readiest way would bring me to that place?
Due west it rises from this shrubby point.
To find out that, good Shepherd, I suppose,
In such a scant allowance of star-light,
Would overtask the best land-pilots art,
Without the sure guess of well-practis'd feet.
I know each lane, and every alley green,
Dingle, or bushy dell of this wild wood,
And every bosky bourn from side to side,
My daily walks and ancient neighbourhood;
And if your stray attendance be yet lodg'd,
Or shroud within these limits, I shall know
Ere morrow wake, or the low-roosted lark
From her thatch'd pallet rouse; if otherwise,
I can conduct you, Lady to a low
But loyal cottage, where you may be safe
Till further quest.
Shepherd I take thy word,
And trust thy honest offer'd courtesy,
Which oft is sooner found in lowly sheds
With smoaky rafters, than in tap'stry halls
In courts of princes, where it first was nam'd,
And yet is most pretended: In a place
Less warranted than this, or less secure,
I cannot be, that I should fear to change it.—
Eye me, blest Providence, and square my trial
To my proportion'd strength! — Shepherd, lead on.
Enter The Two Brothers.
Unmuffle ye faint stars; and thou, fair moon,
That wont'st to love the travellers benison,
Stoop thy pale visage through an amber cloud,
And disinherit Chaos, that reigns here
In double night of darkness, and of shades;
Or, if your influence be quite damm'd up
With black usurping mists, some gentle taper,
Though a rush-candle from the wicker hole
Of some clay habitation, visit us
With thy long-levell'd rule of streaming light;
And thou shalt be our star of Arcady,
Or Tyrian Cynosure.
Or if our eyes
Be barr'd that happiness, might we but hear
The folded flocks pen'd in their wattled cotes,
Or sound of pastoral reed with oaten stops,
Or whistle from the lodge, or village cock
Count the night watches to his feathery Dames,
'Twould be some solace yet, some little cheering,
In this close dungeon of innumerous boughs.
But, O that hapless virgin our lost Sister!
Where may she wander now, whether betake her
From the chill dew, among rude burrs and thistles?
Perhaps some cold bank is her bolster now,
Or 'gainst the rugged bark of some broad elm
Leans her unpillow'd head fraught with sad fears.
What, if in wild amazement, and affright?
Or, while we speak, within the direful grasp
Of savage hunger, or of savage heat?
Peace, Brother; be not over-exquisite
To cast the fashion of uncertain evils:
For grant they be so, while they rest unknown,
What need a man forestall his date of grief,
And run to meet what he would most avoid?
Or if they be but false alarms of fear,
How bitter is such self-delusion!
I do not think my Sister so to seek,
Or so unprincipl'd in virtues book,
And the sweet peace that goodness bosoms ever,
As that the single want of light and noise
(Not being in danger, as I trust she is not,)
Could stir the constant mood of her calm thoughts,
And put them into misbecoming plight.
Virtue could see to do what virtue would
By her own radiant light, though sun and moon
Were in the flat sea sunk. And Wisdom's self
Oft seeks to sweet retired solitude;
Where, with her best nurse, Contemplation,
She plumes her feathers, and lets grow her wings,
That in the various bustle of resort
Were all-to ruffled, and sometimes impair'd.
He, that has light within his own clear breast,
May sit i' the center, and enjoy bright day:
But he, that hides a dark soul, and foul thoughts,
Benighted walks under the mid-day sun;
Himself is his own dungeon
'Tis most true,
That musing Meditation most affects
The pensive secrecy of desert cell,
Far from the cheerful haunt of men and herds,
And sits as safe as in a senate-house,
For who would rob a hermit of his weeds,
His few books, or his beads, or maple dish,
Or do his gray hairs any violence?
But Beauty, like the fair Hesperian tree
Laden with blooming gold, had need the guard
Of dragon-watch with unenchanted eye,
To save her blossoms, and defend her fruit
From the rash hand of bold Incontinence.
You may as well spread out the unsunn'd heaps
Of misers treasure by an outlaw's den,
And tell me it is safe, as bid me hope
Danger will wink on opportunity,
And let a single helpless maiden pass
Uninjur'd in this wild surrounding waste.
Of night, or loneliness it recks me not;
I fear the dread events that dog them both,
Lest some ill-greeting touch attempt the person
Of our unowned Sister.
I do not, Brother,
Infer, as if I thought my Sister's state
Secure, without all doubt, or controversy;
Yet, where an equal poise of hope and fear
Does arbitrate the event, my nature is
That I incline to hope, rather then fear,
And gladly banish squint suspicion.
My Sister is not so defenceless left
As you imagine; she has a hidden strength,
Which you remember not.
What hidden strength,
Unless the strength of Heaven, if you mean that?
I mean that too, but yet a hidden strength,
Which, if Heaven gave it, may be term'd her own:
'Tis Chastity, my Brother, Chastity:
She that has that, is clad in complete steel;
And, like a quiver'd Nymph with arrows keen
May trace huge forests, and unharbour'd heaths,
Infamous hills, and sandy perilous wilds;
Where, through the sacred rays of Chastity,
No savage fierce, bandite, or mountaineer
Will dare to soil her virgin purity:
Yea there, where very desolation dwells
By grots and caverns shagg'd with horrid shades,
She may pass on with unblench'd majesty,
Be it not done in pride, or in presumption.
Some say, no evil thing that walks by night
In fog, or fire, by lake, or moorish fen,
Blue meager hag, or stubborn unlaid ghost
That breaks his magick chains at Curfeu time,
No goblin, or swart faery of the mine,
Hath hurtful power o'er true Virginity.
Do ye believe me yet, or shall I call
Antiquity from the old Schools of Greece
To testify the arms of Chastity?
Hence had the huntress Dian her dread bow,
Fair silver-shafted queen, for ever chaste,
Wherewith she tam'd the brinded lioness
And spotted mountain pard, but set at nought
The frivolous bolt of Cupid; gods and men
Fear'd her stern frown, and she was queen o' the woods.
What was that snaky-headed Gorgon shield
That wise Minerva wore, unconquer'd virgin,
Wherewith she freez'd her foes to congeal'd stone?
But rigid looks of chaste austerity,
And noble grace, that dash'd brute violence
With sudden adoration and blank awe?
So dear to Heaven is saintly Chastity,
That, when a soul is found sincerely so,
A thousand liveried Angels lackey her,
Driving far off each thing of sin and guilt;
And, in clear dream, and solemn vision,
Tell her of things that no gross ear can hear,
Till oft converse with heavenly habitants
Begin to cast a beam on the outward shape,
The unpolluted temple of the mind,
And turns it by degrees to the souls essence,
Till all be made immortal: but when Lust,
By unchaste looks, loose gestures, and foul talk,
But most by lewd and lavish act of sin,
Lets in defilement to the inward parts,
The soul grows clotted by contagion,
Imbodies, and imbrutes, till she quite lose
The divine property of her first being.
Such are those thick and gloomy shadows damp
Oft seen in charnel vaults, and sepulchers
Lingering, and sitting by a new made grave,
As loth to leave the body that it lov'd,
And link'd it self by carnal sensuality
To a degenerate and degraded state.
How charming is divine Philosophy!
Not harsh, and crabbed as dull fools suppose,
But musical as is Apollo's lute,
And a perpetual feast of nectar'd sweets,
Where no crude surfeit reigns.
List, list, I hear
Some far off halloo break the silent air.
Me thought so too; what should it be?
Either some one like us night-founder'd here,
Or else some neighbour woodman, or at worst,
Some roving robber calling to his fellows.
Heaven keep my sister. Again, again and near!
Best draw, and stand upon our guard.
If he be friendly he comes well, if not,
Defence is a good cause, and Heaven be for us.
[Enter the Attendant Spirit, habited like a shepherd.]
That halloo I should know; what are you? speak;
Come not too near, you fall on iron stakes else.
What voice is that? my young Lord? speak again.
O Brother, 'tis my father's Shepherd sure.
Thyrsis? Whose artful strains have oft delay'd
The huddling brook to hear his madrigal,
And sweeten'd every muskrose of the dale?
How cam'st thou here good swain? hath any ram
Slipt from the fold, or young kid lost his dam,
Or straggling weather the pen's flock forsook?
How couldst thou find this dark sequester'd nook?
O my lov'd masters heir, and his next joy,
I came not here on such a trivial toy
As a stray'd ewe, or to pursue the stealth
Of pilfering wolf; not all the fleecy wealth,
That doth enrich these downs, is worth a thought
To this my errand, and the care it brought.
But, O my virgin Lady, where is she?
How chance she is not in your company?
To tell thee sadly Shepherd, without blame,
Or our neglect, we lost her as we came.
Ay me unhappy! then my fears are true.
What fears good Thyrsis? Pr'ythee briefly shew.
I'll tell ye; 'tis not vain, or fabulous,
(Though so esteem'd by shallow ignorance,)
What the sage poets, taught by the heavenly Muse,
Storied of old in high immortal verse,
Of dire chimeras and enchanted isles,
And rifted rocks, whose entrance leads to Hell;
For such there be; but unbelief is blind.
Within the navel of this hideous wood,
Immur'd in cypress shades a sorcerer dwells,
Of Bacchus, and of Circe born, great Comus,
Deep skill'd in all his mother's witcheries;
And here to every thirsty wanderer
By sly enticement gives his baneful cup,
With many murmurs mix'd, whose pleasing poison
The visage quite transforms of him that drinks,
And the inglorious likeness of a beast
Fixes instead, unmoulding reasons mintage
Character'd in the face: this have I learnt
Tending my flocks hard by i' the hilly crofts,
That brow this bottom glade, whence night by night
He and his monstrous rout are heard to howl,
Like stabled wolves, or tigers at their prey,
Doing abhorred rites to Hecate
In their obscured haunts of inmost bowers.
Yet have they many baits, and guileful spells
To inveigle and invite the unwary sense
Of them that pass unweeting by the way.
This evening late, by then the chewing flocks
Had ta'n their supper on the savoury herb
Of knot-grass dew-besprent, and were in fold,
I sat me down to watch upon a bank
With ivy canopied, and interwove
With flaunting honey-suckle, and began,
Wrapt in a pleasing fit of melancholy,
To meditate my rural minstrelsy,
Till fancy had her fill; but ere a close,
The wonted roar was up amidst the woods,
And fill'd the air with barbarous dissonance;
At which I ceas'd, and listen'd them a while,
Till an unusual stop of sudden silence
Gave respite to the drowsy frighted steeds,
That draw the litter of close-curtain'd Sleep;
At last a soft and solemn-breathing sound
Rose like a steam of rich distill'd perfumes,
And stole upon the air, that even Silence
Was took ere she was ware, and wish'd she might
Deny her nature, and be never more
Still to be so displac'd. I was all ear,
And took in strains that might create a soul
Under the ribs of Death: but O! ere long,
Too well I did perceive it was the voice
Of my most honour'd Lady, your dear Sister.
Amaz'd I stood, harrow'd with grief and fear,
And, O poor hapless nightingale, thought I,
How sweet thou sing'st, how near the deadly snare!
Then down the lawns I ran with headlong haste
Through paths, and turnings oft'n trod by day;
Till guided by mine ear, I found the place,
Where that damn'd wisard, hid in sly disguise,
(For so by certain signs I knew) had met
Already, ere my best speed could prevent,
The aidless innocent Lady, his wish'd prey;
Who gently ask'd if he had seen such two,
Supposing him some neighbour villager.
Longer I durst not stay, but soon I guess'd
Ye were the two she meant, with that I sprung
Into swift flight, till I had found you here;
But further know I not.
O night and shades!
How are ye join'd with Hell in triple knot
Against the unarmed weakness of one virgin,
Alone, and helpless! Is this the confidence
You gave me, Brother?
Yes, and keep it still,
Lean on it safely, not a period
Shall be unsaid for me: against the threats
Of malice or of sorcery, or that power
Which erring men call Chance, this I hold firm;—
Virtue may be assail'd, but never hurt,
Surpriz'd by unjust force, but not enthrall'd,
Yea, even that, which mischief meant most harm,
Shall in the happy trial prove most glory:
But evil on it self shall back recoil,
And mix no more with goodness, when at last
Gather'd like scum, and settled to it self
It shall be in eternal restless change
Self-fed, and self-consum'd: if this fail,
The pillar'd firmament is rottenness,
And earth's base built on stubble. — But come let's on.
Against the opposing will and arm of Heaven
May never this just sword be lifted up,
But for that damn'd magician, let him be girt
With all the grisly legions that troop
Under the sooty flag of Acheron,
Harpies and Hydras, or all the monstrous forms
'Twixt Africa and Inde, I'll find him out,
And force him to restore his purchase back,
Or drag him by the curls, to a foul death,
Curs'd as his life.
Alas! good venturous Youth,
I love thy courage yet, and bold emprise,
But here thy sword can do thee little stead,
Far other arms, and other weapons must
Be those, that quell the might of hellish charms,
He with his bare wand can unthred thy joints,
And crumble all thy sinews.
Why pr'ythee, Shepherd,
How durst thou then thy self approach so near,
As to make this relation?
Care, and utmost shifts,
How to secure the Lady from surprisal,
Brought to my mind a certain shepherd lad,
Of small regard to see to, yet well skill'd
In every virtuous plant and healing herb,
That spreads her verdant leaf to the morning ray:
He lov'd me well, and oft would beg me sing,
Which when I did, he on the tender grass
Would sit, and hearken even to ecstasy,
And in requital ope his leathern scrip,
And show me simples of a thousand names,
Telling their strange and vigorous faculties:
Amongst the rest a small unsightly root,
But of divine effect, he cull'd me out;
The leaf was darkish, and had prickles on it,
But in another country, as he said,
Bore a bright golden flower, but not in this soil:
Unknown, and like esteem'd, and the dull swain
Treads on it daily with his clouted shoon,
And yet more med'cinal is it then that Moly,
That Hermes once to wise Ulysses gave;
He call'd it Haemony, and gave it me,
And bad me keep it as of sovran use
'Gainst all enchantments, mildew blast, or damp
Or ghastly furies' apparition.
I purs'd it up, but little reck'ning made,
Till now that this extremity compell'd:
But now I find it true; for by this means
I knew the foul enchanter though disguis'd,
Enter'd the very lime-twigs of his spells,
And yet came off: if you have this about you
(As I will give you when we go,) you may
Boldly assault the necromancers hall;
Where if he be, with dauntless hardihood,
And brandish'd blade, rush on him; break his glass,
And shed the luscious liquor on the ground,
But seize his wand; though he and his curst crew
Fierce sign of battle make, and menace high,
Or like the sons of Vulcan vomit smoke,
Yet will they soon retire, if he but shrink.
Thyrsis lead on apace, I'll follow thee,
And some good Angel bear a shield before us!
The Scene changes to a stately palace, set out with all manner of deliciousness: soft musick, tables spread with all dainties. Comus appears with his rabble, and the Lady set in an enchanted chair, to whom he offers his glass, which she puts by, and goes about to rise.
Nay, Lady sit; if I but wave this wand,
Your nerves are all chain'd up in alabaster,
And you a statue; or as Daphne was,
Root-bound, that fled Apollo.
Fool, do not boast;
Thou canst not touch the freedom of my mind
With all thy charms, although this corporal rind
Thou hast immanacled, while Heaven sees good.
Why are you vex'd Lady? why do you frown?
Here dwell no frowns, nor anger; from these gates
Sorrow flies far: See here be all the pleasures,
That fancy can beget on youthful thoughts,
When the fresh blood grows lively, and returns
Brisk as the April buds in primrose-season.
And first, behold this cordial julep here,
That flames, and dances in his crystal bounds,
With spirits of balm, and fragrant syrops mix'd:
Not that Nepenthes, which the wife of Thone,
In Egypt gave to Jove-born Helena,
Is of such power to stir up joy as this,
To life so friendly, or so cool to thirst.
Why should you be so cruel to your self,
And to those dainty limbs, which Nature lent
For gentle usage and soft delicacy?
But you invert the covenants of her trust,
And harshly deal, like an ill borrower,
With that which you receiv'd on other terms;
Scorning the unexempt condition,
By which all mortal frailty must subsist,
Refreshment after toil, ease after pain,
That have been tir'd all day without repast,
And timely rest have wanted; but, fair Virgin,
This will restore all soon.
'Twill not, false traitor!
'Twill not restore the truth and honesty,
That thou hast banish'd from thy tongue with lies.
Was this the cottage, and the safe abode
Thou told'st me of? What grim aspects are these,
These ugly-headed Monsters? Mercy guard me!
Hence with thy brew'd enchantments, foul deceiver!
Hast thou betray'd my credulous innocence
With visor'd falsehood, and base forgery?
And wouldst thou seek again to trap me here
With lickerish baits, fit to ensnare a brute?
Were it a draught for Juno when she banquets,
I would not taste thy treasonous offer; none,
But such as are good men can give good things;
And that which is not good, is not delicious
To a well-govern'd and wise appetite.
O foolishness of men! that lend their ears
To those budge doctors of the Stoick fur,
And fetch their precepts from the Cynick tub,
Praising the lean and sallow Abstinence.
Wherefore did Nature pour her bounties forth
With such a full and unwithdrawing hand,
Covering the earth with odours, fruits, and flocks,
Thronging the seas with spawn innumerable,
But all to please, and sate the curious taste?
And set to work millions of spinning worms,
That in their green shops weave the smooth-hair'd silk,
To deck her sons; and that no corner might
Be vacant of her plenty, in her own loins
She hutch'd the all-worshipt ore, and precious gems
To store her children with: if all the world
Should in a pet of temperance feed on pulse,
Drink the clear stream, and nothing wear but frieze,
The All-giver would be unthank'd, would be unprais'd,
Not half his riches known, and yet despis'd:
And we should serve him as a grudging master,
As a penurious niggard of his wealth,
And live like Natures bastards, not her sons,
Who would be quite surcharg'd with her own weight,
And strangl'd with her waste fertility;
The earth cumber'd, and the wing'd air dark'd with plumes,
The herds would over-multitude their lords,
The sea o'refraught would swell, and the unsought diamonds
Would so imblaze the forehead of the deep,
And so bestud with stars, that they below
Would grow inur'd to light, and come at last
To gaze upon the sun with shameless brows.
List, Lady; be not coy, and be not cosen'd
With that same vaunted name, Virginity.
Beauty is natures coin, must not be hoarded,
But must be current; and the good thereof
Consists in mutual and partaken bliss,
Unsavoury in the enjoyment of it self;
If you let slip time, like a neglected rose
It withers on the stalk with languish'd head
Beauty is Natures brag, and must be shown
In courts, at feasts, and high solemnities,
Where most may wonder at the workmanship;
It is for homely features to keep home,
They had their name thence; coarse complexions
And cheeks of sorry grain will serve to ply
The sampler, and to seize the huswifes wool.
What need a vermeil-tinctur'd lip for that,
Love-darting eyes, or tresses like the Morn?
There was another meaning in these gifts;
Think what, and be advis'd, you are but young yet.
I had not thought to have unlocks my lips
In this unhallow'd air, but that this juggler
Would think to charm my judgement, as mine eyes,
Obtruding false rules pranck'd in reasons garb.
I hate when Vice can bolt her arguments,
And virtue has no tongue to check her pride.—
Impostor! do not charge most innocent Nature,
As if she would her children should be riotous
With her abundance; she, good cateress,
Means her provision only to the good,
That live according to her sober laws,
And holy dictate of spare Temperance:
If every just man, that now pines with want,
Had but a moderate and beseeming share
Of that which lewdly-pamper'd Luxury
Now heaps upon some few with vast excess,
Natures full blessings would be well dispenc'd
In unsuperfluous even proportion,
And she no whit encomber'd with her store;
And then the giver would be better thank'd,
His praise due paid: for swinish Gluttony
Ne'er looks to Heaven amidst his gorgeous feast,
But with besotted base ingratitude
Crams, and blasphemes his feeder. Shall I go on?
Or have I said enough? To him that dares
Arm his profane tongue with contemptuous words
Against the sun-clad power of Chastity,
Fain would I something say, yet to what end?
Thou hast nor ear, nor soul to apprehend
The sublime notion, and high mystery
That must be utter'd to unfold the sage
And serious doctrine of Virginity;
And thou art worthy that thou should'st not know
More happiness than this thy present lot.
Enjoy your dear wit, and gay rhetorick,
That hath so well been taught her dazzling fence,
Thou art not fit to hear thy self convinc'd:
Yet, should I try, the uncontrouled worth
Of this pure cause would kindle my rapt spirits
To such a flame of sacred vehemence,
That dumb things would be mov'd to sympathize,
And the brute Earth would lend her nerves, and shake,
Till all thy magick structures rear'd so high,
Were shatter'd into heaps o'er thy false head.
She fables not, I feel that I do fear
Her words set off by some superior power;
And though not mortal, yet a cold shuddring dew
Dips me all o'er, as when the wrath of Jove
Speaks thunder, and the chains of Erebus,
To some of Saturn's crew. I must dissemble,
And try her yet more strongly. — Come, no more;
This is mere moral babble, and direct'
Against the canon-laws of our foundation;
I must not suffer this, yet 'tis but the lees
And settlings of a melancholy blood:
But this will cure all straight; one sip of this
Will bathe the drooping spirits in delight,
Beyond the bliss of dreams. Be wise, and taste.—
The Brothers rush in with swords drawn, wrest his glass out of his band, and break it against the ground; his rout make sign of resistance, but are all driven in. The Attendant Spirit comes in.
What, have you let the false enchanter 'scape?
O ye mistook, ye should have snatch'd his wand,
And bound him fast; without his rod revers'd,
And backward mutters of dissevering power,
We cannot free the Lady that sits here
In stony fetters fix'd, and motionless:
Yet stay, be not disturb'd; now I bethink me,
Some other means I have that may be us'd,
Which once of Meliboeus old I learnt,
The soothest Shepherd that ere pip'd on plains.
There is a gentle Nymph not far from hence,
That with moist curb sways the smooth Severn stream,
Sabrina is her name, a virgin pure,
Whilom she was the daughter of Locrine,
That had the Scepter from his father Brute.
She, guiltless damsel, flying the mad pursuit
Of her enraged stepdam Guendolen,
Commended her fair innocence to the flood.
That stay'd her flight with his cross-flowing course.
The Water-Nymphs, that in the bottom play'd,
Held up their pearled wrists and took her in,
Bearing her straight to aged Nereus' Hall;
Who piteous of her woes, rear'd her lank head,
And gave her to his daughters to imbathe
In nectar'd lavers, strew'd with asphodel;
And through the porch and inlet of each sense
Dropt in ambrosial oils, till she reviv'd,
And underwent a quick immortal change,
Made goddess of the river; still she retains
Her maiden gentleness, and oft at eve
Visits the herds along the twilight meadows,
Helping all urchin blasts, and ill-luck signs
That the shrewd meddling elfe delights to make,
Which she with precious vial'd liquors heals;
For which the shepherds at their festivals
Carol her goodness loud in rustick layes,
And throw sweet garland wreaths into her stream
Of pansies, pinks, and gaudy daffodils.
And, as the old swain said, she can unlock
The clasping charm, and thaw the numming spell,
If she be right invok'd in warbled song;
For maidenhood she loves, and will be swift
To aid a virgin, such as was her self,
In hard besetting need; this will I try,
And add the power of some adjuring verse.
Listen where thou art sitting
Under the glassy, cool, translucent wave,
In twirled braids of lillies knitting
The loose train of thy amber-dropping hair;
Listen for dear honour's sake,
Goddess of the silver lake,
Listen and save.
Listen and appear to us,
In name of great Oceanus;
By the earth-shaking Neptune's mace,
And Tehtys grave majestick pace,
By hoary Nereus' wrinkled look,
And the Carpathian wisards hook,
By scaly Tritons winding shell,
And old sooth-saying Glaucus' spell,
By Leucothea's lovely hands,
And her Son that rules the strands,
By Thetis tinsel-slipper'd feet,
And the songs of Syrens sweet,
By dead Parthenope's dear tomb,
And fair Ligea's golden comb,
Wherewith she sits on diamond rocks,
Sleeking her soft alluring locks;
By all the Nymphs that nightly dance
Upon thy streams with wily glance,
Rise, rise, and heave thy rosy head,
From thy coral-paven bed,
And bridle in thy headlong wave,
Till thou our summons answer'd have.
Listen and save!
Sabrina rises, attended by water-Nymphs, and sings.
By the rushy-fringed bank,
Where grows the willow, and the osier dank,
My sliding chariot stays,
Thick set with agate, and the azurn sheen
Of Turkis blue, and emerald green,
That in the channel strays,
Whilst from off the waters feet
Thus I set my printless feet
O'er the cowslip's velvet head,
That bends not as I tread;
Gentle swain at thy request,
I am here.
We implore thy powerful hand
To undo the charmed band
Of true virgin here distrest,
Through the force, and through the wile,
Of unblest enchanter vile.
Shepherd 'tis my office best
To help ensnared chastity;
Brightest Lady, look on me,
Thus I sprinkle on thy breast
Drops that from my fountain pure,
I have kept of precious cure;
Thrice upon thy finger's tip,
Thrice upon thy rubied lip:
Next this marble venom'd seat,
Smear'd with gums of glutinous heat,
I touch with chaste palms moist and cold:—
Now the spell hath lost his hold;
And I must haste ere morning hour,
To wait in Amphitrite's bower.
Sabrina descends, and the Lady rises out of her seat.
Virgin, daughter of Locrine
Sprung of old Anchises' line,
May thy brimmed waves for this
Their full tribute never miss
From a thousand petty rills,
That tumble down the snowy hills:
Summer drouth, or singed air
Never scorch thy tresses fair,
Nor wet October's torrent flood
Thy molten crystal fill with mud,
May thy billows roll ashore
The beryl, and the golden ore;
May thy lofty head be crown'd
With many a tower and terrace round,
And here and there thy banks upon
With groves of myrrh, and cinnamon!
Come, Lady, while Heaven lends us grace,
Let us fly this cursed place,
Lest the Sorcerer us entice
With some other new device.
Not a waste, or needless sound,
Till we come to holier ground;
I shall be your faithful guide
Through this gloomy covert wide,
And not many furlongs thence
Is your Fathers residence,
Where this night are met in state
Many a friend to gratulate
His wish'd presence; and beside
All the swains, that there abide,
With jigs, and rural dance resort,
We shall catch them at their sport,
And our sudden coming there
Will double all their mirth and chere;
Come, let us haste, the stars grow high,
But night sits monarch yet in the mid sky.
The Scene changes, presenting Ludlow Town and the President's Castle; then come in Country Dancers, after them the Attendant Spirit, with the two Brothers and the Lady.
Back, Shepherds, back; enough your play,
Till next sun-shine holiday:
Here be, without duck or nod,
Other trippings to be trod
Of lighter toes, and such court guise
As Mercury did first devise,
With the mincing Dryades,
On the lawns, and on the leas.
This second Song presents them to their Father and Mother.
Noble Lord, and Lady bright,
I have brought ye new delight;
Here behold so goodly grown
Three fair branches of your own;
Heaven hath timely tried their youth,
Their faith, their patience, and their truth,
And sent them here through hard assays
With a crown of deathless praise,
To triumph in victorious dance
O'er sensual Folly, and Intemperance.
The dances [being] ended, the Spirit epiloguizes.
To the Ocean now I fly,
And those happy climes that lie
Where day never shuts his eye,
Up in the broad fields of the sky:
There I suck the liquid air
All amidst the Gardens fair
Of Hesperus, and his daughters three
That sing about the golden tree:
Along the crisped shades and bowers
Revels the spruce and jocund Spring;
The Graces, and the rosy-bosom'd Hours,
Thither all their bounties bring;
There eternal Summer dwells,
And West-Winds, with musky wing,
About the cedar'n alleys fling
Nard and Cassia's balmy smells.
Iris there with humid bow,
Waters the odorous banks that blow
Flowers of more mingled hew
Then her purfled scarf can shew;
And drenches with Elysian dew
(List mortals, if your ears be true,)
Beds of hyacinth, and roses,
Where young Adonis oft reposes,
Waxing well of his deep wound
In slumber soft, and on the ground
Sadly sits the Assyrian queen;
But far above in spangled sheen
Celestial Cupid, her fam'd son, advanc'd,
Holds his dear Psyche sweet entranc'd,
After her wandring labours long,
Till free consent the gods among
Make her his eternal bride,
And from her fair unspotted side
Two blissful twins are to be born,
Youth and Joy; so Jove hath sworn,
But now my task is smoothly done,
I can fly, or I can run,
Quickly to the green earth's end,
Where the bow'd welkin slow doth bend,
And from thence can soar as soon
To the corners of the Moon.
Mortals, that would follow me,
Love Virtue; she alone is free:
She can teach ye how to clime
Higher then the sphery chime;
Or if Virtue feeble were,
Heaven it self would stoop to her.
[Poetical Works, ed. Todd (1826) 5:247-420]