An imitation of Spenser's account of the seasons in the Mutability Cantos. The Dreamer describes a walk in his garden (of the seventeenth-century variety, appropriately enough for the allegory). There he recites the visionary passage from Milton's Il Penseroso, and reflects on the mutability of life. He falls asleep, and the Genius of the Garden appears before him, and leads him to a walk in which he encounters the figure of Spring, bearing a narcissus in his hand. The follows a profusion of allegorical figures, the seasons, the months, and rural deities, all emblematically described. There is a particularly rich allegorical description of a two-sided Comus, who leads in the winter season.
There is hardly any thing gives a more sensible delight, than the enjoyment of a cool still evening after the uneasiness of a hot sultry day. Such a one I passed not long ago, which made me rejoice, when the hour was come for the sun to set, that I might enjoy the freshness of the evening in my garden, which then affords me the pleasantest hours I pass in the whole four-and-twenty. I immediately arose from my couch, and went down into it. You descend at first by twelve stone steps into a large square, divided into four grass-plots, in each of which is a statue of white marble. This is separated from a large parterre by a low wall, and from thence through a pair of iron gates, you are led into a long broad walk of the finest turf, set on each side with tall yews, and on either hand bordered by a canal, which on the right divides the walk from a wilderness parted into variety of allies and arbours, and on the left from a kind of ampitheatre, which is the receptacle of a great number of oranges and myrtles. The moon shone bright, and seemed then most agreeably to supply the place of the sun, obliging me with as much light as was necessary to discover a thousand pleasing objects, and at the same divested of all power of heat. The reflection of it in the water, the fanning of the wind rustling on the leaves, the singing of the thrush and nightingale, and the coolness of the walks, all conspired to make me lay aside all displeasing thoughts, and brought me into such a tranquility of mind, as is, I believe, the next happiness to that of hereafter. In this sweet retirement I naturally fell into the repetition of some lines out of a poem of Milton's, which he entitles Il Penseroso, the ideas of which were exquisitely suited to my present wanderings of thought.
Sweet bird! that shun'st the noise of folly,
Most musical! most melancholy!
Thee, chauntress, oft, the woods among,
I woo to hear thy evening song:
And missing thee, I walk unseen
On the dry smooth-shaven green,
To behold the wandering moon,
Riding near her highest noon,
Like one that hath been led astray,
Thro' the heaven's wide pathless way,
And oft, as if her head she bow'd,
Stooping thro' a fleecy cloud,
Then let some strange mysterious dram
Wave with his wings in airy stream,
Of lively portraiture display'd,
Softly on my eyelids laid:
And as I wake, sweet music breathe
Above, about, or underneath,
Sent by spirits to mortals good,
Or the unseen Genius of the wood.
I reflected then upon the sweet vicissitudes of night and day, on the charming disposition of the Seasons, and their return again in a perpetual circle: "And oh! said I, that I could from these my declining years return again to my first spring of youth and vigour; but that, alas! is impossible: all that remains within my power is to soften the inconveniences I feel with an easy, contented mind, and the enjoyment of such delights as this solitude affords me. In this thought I sat me down on a bank of flowers and dropt into a slumber, which, whether it were the effect of fumes and vapours, or my present thoughts, I know not; but methought the Genius of the garden stood before me, and introduced me into the walk where I lay this drama and different scenes of the revolution of the year.
The first person whom I saw advancing towards me, was a youth of a most beautiful air and shape, though he seemed not yet arrived at that exact proportion and symmetry of parts which a little more time would have given him; but however there was such a bloom in his countenance, such satisfaction an joy, that I thought it the most desirable form that I had ever seen. He was cloathed in a flowing mantle of green silk, interwoven with flowers: he had a chaplet of roses on his head, and a narcissus in his hand: primroses and violets sprang up under his feet, and all nature was cheered at his approach. Flora was on one hand, and Vertumnus on the other, in a robe of changeable silk. After this I was surprized to see the moon-beams reflected with a sudden glare from armour, and to see a man completely armed advancing with his sword drawn. I was soon informed by the genius it was Mars, who had long usurped a place among the attendants of the Spring. He made way for a softer appearance; it was Venus, without any ornament but her own beauties, not so much as her own cestus, with which she had encompassed a globe, which she held in her right hand, and in her left a sceptre of gold. After her followed the Graces, with their arms entwined within one another; their girdles were loosed, and they moved to the sound of soft music, striking the ground alternately with their feet. Then came up the three Months which belong to this Season. As March advanced toward me, there was methought in his look a louring roughness, which ill befitted a month that was ranked in so soft a season; but as he came forwards, his features became insensibly more mild and gentle: he smoothed his brow, and looked with so sweet a countenance, that I could not but lament his departure, though he made way for April. He appeared in the greatest gaiety imaginable, and had a thousand pleasures to attend him: his look was frequently clouded, but immediately returned to its full composure, and remained fixed in a smile. Then came May, attended by Cupid, with his bow strung, and in a posture to let fly an arrow; as he passed by, methought I heard a confused noise of soft complaints, gentle extasies, and tender sighs of lovers, vows of constancy, and as many complaining of perfidiousness; all which the winds wafted away as soon as they had reached my hearing. After these I saw a man advance in the full prime and vigour of his age: his complexion was sanguine and ruddy, his hair black, and fell down in beautiful ringlets beneath his shoulders; a mantle of hair-coloured silk hung loosely upon him: he advanced with a hasty step after Spring, and sought out the shade and cool fountains which played in the garden. He was particularly well pleased with a troop of Zephyrs who fanned him with their wings; he had two companions who walked on each side, that made him appear the most agreeable: the one was Aurora, with fingers of roses, and her feet dewy, attired in grey: the other was Vesper, in a rope of azure beset with drops of gold, whose breath he caught whilst it passed over a bunch of honey-suckles and tuberoses which he held in his hand. Pan and Ceres followed them with four reapers, who danced a morrice to the sound of oaten pipes and cymbals. Then came the attendant months. June retained still some small likeness of the Spring; but the other two seemed to step with a less vigorous tread, especially August, who seemed almost to faint, whilst for half the steps he took the Dog-star levelled his rays full at his head: they passed on and made way for a person that seemed to bend a little under the weight of years; his beard and hair, which were full grown, were composed of an equal number of black and grey: he wore a robe, which he had girt about him, of a yellowish cast, not unlike the colour of fallen leaves, which he walked upon. I thought he hardly made amends for expelling the foregoing scene by the large quantity of fruit which he bore in his hands. Plenty walked by his side with an healthy fresh countenance, pouring out from an horn all the various products of the year. Pomona followed with a glass of cyder in her hand, with Bacchus in a chariot drawn by tygers, accompanied by a whole troop of satyrs, fauns, and sylvans. September, who came next, seemed in his looks to promise a new spring, and wore the livery of those months. The succeeding month was all solid with the juice of the grapes, as if he had just come from the wine-press. November, though he was in his division, yet by the many stops he made seemed rather inclined to the Winter, which followed close at his heels. He advanced in the shape of an old man in the extremity of age; the hair he had was so very white it seemed a real snow; his eyes were red and piercing, and his beard hung with a great quantity of icicles: he was wrapt up in furs, but yet so pinched with excess of cold, that his limbs were all contracted, and his body bent to the ground, so that he could not have supported himself, had it not been for Comus the god of Revels, and Necessity, the mother of Fate, who sustained him on each side. The shape and mantle of Comus was one of the things which most surprized me; as he advanced towards me, his countenance seemed the most desirable I had ever seen; on the fore-part of his mantle was pictured Joy, Delight, and Satisfaction, with a thousand emblems of merriment, and jests with faces looking two ways at once; but as he passed from me, I was amazed at a shape so little correspondent to his face: his head was bald, and all the rest of his limbs appeared old and deformed. On the hinder part of his mantle was represented Murder with dishevelled hair, and a dagger all bloody, Anger in a robe of scarlet, and Suspicion squinting with both eyes; but above all, the most conspicuous was the battle of the Lapithae and the Centaurs. I detested so hideous a shape, and turned my eyes upon Saturn, who was stealing away behind him with a scythe in one hand, and an hour-glass in the other, unobserved. Behind Necessity, was Vesta the goddess of fire, with a lamp which was perpetually supplied with oil, and whose flame was eternal. She cheered the rugged brow of Necessity, and warmed her so far as almost to assume the features and likeness of Choice. December, January, and February passed on after the rest all in furs; there was little distinction to be made amongst them, and they were more or less displeasing as they discovered more or less haste towards the grateful return of Spring.