1787
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Metamorphoses. A Fairey Tale.

Poems on Various Subjects. By John Thelwall. In Two Volumes.

John Thelwall


A brief romance in 34 irregular Spenserians (ababcc in octosyllaic lines) in John Thelwall's fantastic attempt at Spenserian diction — the fairies, which derive from Shakespeare rather than Spenser, may have been suggested by the well-known passage in the first book of James Beattie's The Minstrel, a work Thelwall admired.

Preface: "Perhaps no literary adventurer had ever more impediments to struggle with than the author of the following collection. At an age when other votaries to the Muses have been refining their imaginations, and improving their judgments, by an application to the immortal productions of antiquity, in the academic shades of Cam or Isis, he has ventured to send into the world two volumes of Poems, mostly written at such short intervals as could be snatched from the avocations of a profession, perhaps the most unfriendly to the study of the liberal arts. The reader will be informed in several parts of these volumes, (what perhaps he would have discovered without any formal declaration) that the author is unacquainted with the classical languages" 1:v.

Town and Country Magazine: "In these poems genius often excuses an evident deficiency in education" 19 (November 1787) 508.



When elfins on the moonlight mead,
Full eft beside the tinkling stream,
Were wont the mystick dance to lead,
And gladsome hail the yellow beam,
'Twas, then, if legends truly tell,
That this adventure strange befel.

What time the moon her ruddy look
Had dofft, and ta'en her silver sheen,
And dancing on the glitterand brook
Her beamy rays were trembling seen,
A youth, deep shent with hopeless love,
Did by the dappled streamlet rove.

May seem he wot not where he hied,
For drooping hung his doleful head,
His arms were cross'd, and eft he sigh'd,
And thus full eft he mournful said:
"Ah bright Egwina! cruel fair!
Why wilt thou leave me to despair?"

As thus he rov'd, a tinkling sound
Awak'd him from his walking dream,
A dapper train the youth surround
Of tripping fays who haunt the stream.
"Aread and quick," the monarch said,
Why dost thou thus our haunts invade?

"Know'st not that where o'er pebbled beds
The winding streamlet babbling falls,
What time the moon her lustre sheds,
Her train the sov'ran Ouphant calls
Their nimble sports around to make?
Why didst thou then our gambols break?

"But truly speak: for should a lie—
A single lie escape thy lip,
All night shalt thou unpitied sigh,
Tormented by a nettle whip;
And prickly thorns, and thistles eke,
Thy bed shall strew, thy slumbers break.

"Into thy mouth, what time thou moan'st,
An ouphe shall devil's-dung instil;
And every time thou loudly groan'st,
The nettle whip shall do thee ill;
And up thy legs shall beetles crawl,
And evets from the mouldering wall."

"Oh monarch!" said the trembling wight,
"To thee I will the truth declare,
Or may each torment on me light
Which elfin magick can prepare.
A youth I am, whom pining love
Did cause unweeting thus to rove.

"Sir Egbert of the green am I,
Who efttimes in the listed fight
Was wont the tilting lance to ply,
And prove in war my mickle might;
And eft I wont the woods to trace,
With bow in hand the wolf to chace.

"My derring-does afar were spread—
But ah those deeds are now no more;
For love has damp'd my hardyhead:
I proud Egwina's scorn deplore.
The bright Egwina of the grove
My person flouts and slights my love.

"Albe the titled dames around
Declare how soote my sonnets been!
Albe 'tis by the hamlet own'd
There's none so bounteous on the green;
Yet, for my person is uncouth,
She slights my love, she scorns my truth.

"Albeit that my serving train
Proclaim I bear a gentle mind,
Albe't, ere love did mirth restrain,
Was none to pleasaunce more inclin'd;
Yet — for my person is uncouth,
She heeds not that my mind is smooth.

"What time with sighs, or trembling tear,
Her cruel heart I seek to move,
With wanton jest and bitter jeer,
Her taunting words my shape reprove;
And when love's softest arts I try,
She bids me cease to look awry.

"Then pardon, fays, a hapless wight,
Who, all unkenning where he stray'd,
Bewailing his untoward plight,
Did thus your sacred haunts invade:
Nor let a slighted lover gain
The hatred of the ouphant train."

"Ah doff thy fear Sir Egbert soon,"
With smiles replied the elfin queen,
"For thou shalt bless the happy moon
That lit thee to this fairey scene:
And soon shall proud Egwina see,
Who plainness scoffs shall plainer be.

"Eftsoons shall she the haughty fair
With ardent love for Egbert burn:
As thou do'st now, shall she despair,
Nor shall you deign her love return;
For they who mock at others woe,
'Tis fit the same mishap should know."

Then turning to her swiftest elve,
She bade him to the night-mare go,
And prick her from her fenny delve,
To work on proud Egwina woe;
And her upon the squab fiend lay,
And jerk her there without delay.

The elve obedient stretcht his wing,
And swift to Lincoln's fens arriv'd,
And marking round a mystick ring,
The ground unclos'd, and down he div'd:
In shorter time he there did flit
Than I have been relating it.

There stretch'd upon the foggy swamp,
Where toads and evets crawl around,
And breathing eft a murky damp,
The fiend deform'd asleep he found;
While Will-o'wisps, with anticks strange,
Did round the dungeon trembling range.

And ever did adown distill
Unwholesome damps and aguish dew,
Which numb'd the breast with baneful chill,
And ran the trembling sinews thro'.
Then did the elve the fiend awake,
And thus, with oafish stare, she spake:

"What would'st thou, Puck, that I should do?
What is thy queen's supreme command?
Who now must Mab's resentment rue?
Who let her milk-dish empty stand?
Or who hath hateful nightshade spread
Around the place she loves to tread?

"Or hath some pair with love obscene
Of late her sacred haunts defil'd?
And must I gripe the wanton quean,
And sore appay the losel vild?
Or must I, from my doltish dug
Some infant milking him beslug?"

"Thou must with all thy swiftness move,"
Quoth elfin Puck, "and work thy spight
"On fair Egwina of the grove,
And bring her to my mistress' sight;
For she hath done Sir Egbert wrong:
Then flit away, nor be you long."

Away they flitted. As they fled,
The fiend from cypress brush'd the dews,
And chilling drops from willows shed,
And damps that wash the baleful yews;
And froth of toads, and serpents tears
She gather'd in her shaggy ears.

Then came they to the fair-one's bed,
Where they her sleeping charms survey'd:
One snowy arm beneath her head,
And one below her paps was laid:
May seem her dreams were sweet the while,
For on her face she wore a smile.

Then first the night-mare o'er her shook,
Upon her breast, the baleful dew,
And with her hoof her bosom strook,
That black the fading beauties grew;
Then Puck across the goblin threw
The stiffen'd maid, and off they flew.

Meanwhile, conducted by the queen,
Sir Egbert sought the fairey-hall,
Where thousand lamps with trembling sheen
Reflecting 'lumed the crystal wall.
Of shells was built the ouphant throne,
And colour'd glass that gaily shone.

And ever with a babbling sound
A limpid fountain thence did well,
And pour its mazy streams around,
And water all the royal cell:
On this the fays would dance so neat,
And scarcely wet their nimble feet.

And now they circle Egbert round,
And thrice they drench him in the tide,—
Which him with sudden dread astound—
And three times thrice they round him glide;
And thrice they whirl their spells on high;
Then louting low away they fly.

All this perform'd, his sallow face
Assumes the roses brightest glow;
His aukward limbs acquire a grace;
His length'ning locks in ringlets flow:
He views him on the streamlet's brim,
While manly grace adorns each limb.

Ere long a foul, deformed maid,
With visage thin, and goggling eyes,
Approach'd him, and his form survey'd
With mingled rapture and surprize:
She fondly gaz'd, she seiz'd his hand,
And woo'd with words and actions bland.

But he her shunn'd with all his might,
And turn'd with pitying look away.
Then thus bespoke a fairey wight:
"Egwina there thou dost survey;
Condemn'd for aye to pine and mourn
At once her charms and heart forlorn.

"But thou to fair Elgiva turn,
Whose heart has long been thine alone.
How must she now with ardour burn,
Whose gen'rous love before was shown?
Thy mind before did her enthral;
She now will love thee all in all."

This counsel Egbert well obey'd,
And sought and won Elgiva's hand;
Since when, by valley, hill, or shade,
Was none so blest thro' all the land.
Reader, may thee such bliss attend!
So please you here my tale I end.

[1:69-80]