1822
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Poet's Pilgrimage. Canto II.

The Poet's Pilgrimage; an Allegorical Poem, in four Cantos.

John Payne Collier


The second canto brings the Poet and the Pilgrim to a dark and tangled wood which they are able to negotiate by means of a clue. Eventually they come to a brightly illuminated palace which the Pilgrim describes as the residence "of a queen, whose kingdom lies | O'er all the world; whom earthly monarchs prize | Above their crowns — by her their crowns they hold" p. 34. It is the Palace of Fortune, recalling that of Lucifera in the Faerie Queene: "Show without strength, and costly yet unsure: | The walls had scarcely power to sustain | The weighty roof" p. 37. After observing how unequally Fortune distributes her favors, the travelers pass through the gate of Humility into a desert waste.

The Poet soon discovers that he is unable to keep pace with his guide over the plashy ground; finally he falls on his face, unable to pursue the journey any further. In this condition he meets a fellow traveler, a beautiful youth, richly dressed, who had narrowly escaped from banditti. The young man urges the Poet to make haste: "My new-rais'd fears my want of strength assist, | And whither we were bound I neither cared nor wist" p. 51. The Youth, who had been crossed in love, suffers more anguish even than the Poet. Having passed the valley of Disappointment and Despair, they struggle up a high mountain and onward into the Dismal Vale, where the precipitate Youth suffers a bad fall.



To FORTUNE'S glorious palace now
The YOUTH and PILGRIM haste;
But are disparted in the night
On DISAPPOINTMENT'S waste.

We gain'd the wood ere long. The brushwood small
Tangled the narrow-winding path we trode;
The arching trees ascended over all,
In which the rooks had built their thick abode,
And balancing on limber branches rode,
With ceaseless din greeting their mates' return.
With doubtful step now kept we on our road,
For here the day was done, and we discern
Through outlets overhead the heav'nly fires to burn.

Ere long 'twas thickest night; yet still my guide
Mov'd on with vigorous step, and nothing spoke.
The path sometimes was open, straight, and wide,
As well as I could judge, for no light broke
On any side; nor noise, unless we woke
The night-perch'd wood-pigeon with sounding wing,
Or rous'd the leveret with our footsteps' stroke,
And cracking of young branches, when they cling
To stop our progress through, then sever'd backward spring.

Fearless I follow'd — what had I to fear,
Though all unknown the road we then pursue?
I could not dream of any danger near
With such a reverend guide, who had a clue
In ways most intricate to lead him through:
His gracious presence would have had the power
To chase all noxious ravenous beasts from view.
Sudden methought I heard the midnight hour
Borne on the stilly night from some high distant tower.

He paus'd a moment at the wafted sound:
"'Tis well," he cried, then on again he leads—
"Our weary feet a resting place have found
When we have gain'd the structure whence proceeds
That echoing sound, and all our various needs
Will be supplied." — I joy'd to hear him speak,
And to hear what he spoke: fatigue now pleads
In me for rest, for toil had made me weak,
And with reviving cheer with him that tower I seek.

We journey'd on another tedious hour;
Again the bell struck on our vacant ear,
Sounding indeed from that same lofty tower,
But now the stroke was vigorous and clear,
Not faint and distant as it was whilere.
Quitting the thick wood, on a plain we 'light,
Where straight before my wondering eyes appear
Thousands of torches streaking the dark night,
Streaming from windows vast of some huge palace bright.

Was not a window in the extended pile
But forth there shot long lances of bright beams:
Lofty the structure rose; for many a mile
The hills and woods were tinged with the gleams
Of the red light, aye pouring out in streams.
My eyes to mark its splendour scarce endure:
It seem'd as if created in the dreams
Of young enthusiasts. — I, almost unsure
Whether I slept or woke, turn'd to my guide demure.

"Say, holy Pilgrim, what the glorious frame,
Whose night-insulting fires fatigue my eyes?"—
"It is a palace of a royal dame,"
The seer replied, "of a queen, whose kingdom lies
O'er all the world; whom earthly monarchs prize
Above their crowns — by her their crowns they hold:
Whom not the meanest subject dare despise,
Since she dispenses empires, honours, gold,
And he who reigns a king may be her bond-slave sold.

"Fortune she is, that mighty emperess,
To whom the greatest princes abject bow:
Myriads of subjects to her throne address
Unceasing prayers, and breathe the ready vow;
To whom the Pagans temples built, but now
She has a fane in every human heart,
Who, for her favours, care not where or how:
This is her palace, bright in every part,
Builded by lavish waste, and stuff'd by wanton art.

"Here is her court, and here she entertains
Her followers from all quarters of the world:
None are rejected from her ample trains;
And even those from highest honours hurl'd
Creep to her footstool bright, begemm'd, impearl'd:
The habitant of every clime is here,
From the sledg'd Iceman to the Afric curl'd;
All in their several modes and shapes appear,
Whether in Eastern born, or Western hemisphere.

"This is her palace crowded day and night,
For day and night they still on Fortune wait;
And day and night it is her sole delight
To accept the homage both of small and great.
Her honours she dispenses early, late,
And scorning to abase her eyes to ground,
She careless scatters gifts about her state
With liberal hand to those who bend around;
Yet his not always most who is most servile found.

"For some there are, and frequent is the proof,
Who crouching abjectly and basely down,
Miss many favours; while those more aloof,
Watching with anxiousness her smile or frown,
Catch what above those supple backs is thrown.
These stop her largess to the nobler kind,
Save accident may make some gift their own;
While modest merit, standing far behind,
And seeing not so clear, imagines Fortune blind."—

"Alas! good father, then what hope have we
Repose or cheer in that high place to gain?"—
He answer'd not. More clearly now I see
The wide-spread structure on that torch-lit plain,
Compos'd of every thing most light and vain;
Show without strength, and costly yet unsure:
The walls had scarcely power to sustain
The weighty roof, to make which more secure,
Buttresses far project that could still less endure.

Of architecture there was every kind,
Gothic and Grecian, mixture most uncouth;
The ponderous Moorish, and the style of Ind;
Part new, part crumbling 'neath time's gnawing tooth;
Where solid seeming, most unsound in truth.—
Its frail foundation shook when loud within
Resounded headlong revelry of youth.
Now near arriv'd, we heard contesting din
Of music, shouts, and mirth, which should the mastery win.

The column'd portico, illumined gay
With glittering lamps of every varied hue,
Spread all around an artificial day,
And carv'd antiquity expos'd to view,
Ting'd with each different light, green, crimson, blue.
The windows stain'd shew'd many a quaint device,
Giving to Fortune all her honours due;
Which to relate in all their truth and price,
The time from earliest youth to age would scarce suffice.

And now toward the gate our way we made,
Where we soon mingled with a struggling crowd,
Surrounded by a rattling cavalcade,
Wind-flaring torches, voices fierce and loud,
Chariots, and gilded cars, and sumpters proud.
This was the entrance nam'd of Confidence,
And none but with self-confidence endow'd
Could enter there. Fain would I haste from thence,
But could not now withstand the current's violence.

Vain was resistance; we were swift convey'd
Into a spacious hall, most richly dight,
In tapestry of freshest hues array'd,
And glittering with an aching blaze of light,
Reflected from a thousand mirrors bright.
The arras told the stories of all those
Who had ascended to the loftiest height
Of worldly power — by Fortune's aid who rose,
Ev'n from the basest grade, through circumstance and foes.

The Scythian shepherd's tale might there be read,
The mighty Tamerlane, and thousands more:
But chiefly mark'd I one who on his head
The diadem of two fair kingdoms wore;
Two sceptres also in one hand he bore,
And with the other scatter'd honours round,
While Victory long his legions flew before.—
But soon I saw him stretch'd upon the ground,
And he who empires gave, was now a captive bound.

Calm and majestic was he, though undone;
His royal heart could never be subdued:
Still to the last his ardent spirit shone,
And as the setting sun more nobly show'd
Ev'n for the clouds that his decline pursued.
Few friends remain'd, but they preserv'd their faith
In worst extremes with generous fortitude;
They serv'd their master to his latest breath,
Through all his sufferings bitterer far than death.

And at the upper end of this great hall,
Uprais'd above the crouching throng below,
Sate Fortune, clad in purple and in pall,
Powder'd with pearls, and gems in many a row:
A crown she wore upon her ample brow,
Whose jewels shot such lustre to my eyes,
They scarce endure the many-colour'd glow.
Upon a throne she sate of antique guize,
And on a rolling sphere her foot for ever lies.

And on the goddess in high place did wait
Flattery, that fawn'd on all who came her near,
And paid most reverence to her idle state:
Smooth was his countenance, and fair his cheer,
And all in front right splendid was his gear,
As brave as lusty courtier well might need;
But different far behind, where foul appear
The loathsome rags of his unsightly weed,
While he to show it not took ever careful heed.

One female figure held me more than all,
Who to her lips uprais'd a trump of brass.
"Her," said my guide, "the vulgar do miscall
Life-giving Fame, and too much like, alas!
Yet Fame doth her in every point surpass:
Mark chiefly when she blows her clarion loud,
She points it downward to the thickening mass
Of awe-struck slaves below — the heathen crowd—
Not up to highest heaven, to pierce beyond the cloud.

"Not this th' immortal Fame, for whom that wise
Arch-priest of great Apollo's temple strove;
'That lives and spreads aloft by those pure eyes
And perfect witness of all-judging Jove.'
Nor such the fame that truly great men prove:
This is 'broad rumour' — loud report and base—
Which many more than purest honours love;
And some now serve within this gorgeous place,
That once high-hearted sought for other, nobler grace!"

This could we see, but could behold no more,
For through the press we could not make our way:
Oft we essay'd, but still the crowd before
Compell'd us most unwilling to delay;
And many more with us, in poor array,
Were made to yield to those in rich attire,
Whose progress no impediment could stay:
Them chance could never check, nor labour tire;
At Fortune still they aim'd, and gain'd their best desire.

Some work'd by impudence, and some by art;
Some boldly rush'd, some urg'd by slow degrees;
Others by accident did forward dart;
A few almost invited were to seize
Whatever most their wayward choice would please.
Many base worshippers there threw aside
What did them most encumber and disease,
Burdensome virtues and unwelcome pride;
By which the great have liv'd, for which the good have died.

For us 'twas vain to struggle longer there:
The royal dame her largesse bestow'd
With hand profuse; but none to us came near,
Or coming it was stay'd upon its road,
Just ere it reach'd. No longer we abode
In that great hall, but turn'd our steps from thence.
Before me still my guide the Pilgrim strode,
Not through the porch of youthful Confidence,
But through a lowly gate more humble of pretence.

'Twas in the rear of that huge palace bright,
Whose splendours shone more lustrous than the day;
And though in front so gay and richly dight,
Dreary and ruinous behind. No ray
Pierc'd the damp chilly darkness, to display
The path we were to tread. My wary guide,
With staff projecting, prob'd our doubtful way
From fortune-favour'd fools and empty pride—
Behind in dismal vaults their shouts and laughter died.

We issued on what seem'd a dreary waste,
As well as we might deem: though dark the night,
Compar'd with the black passages we past,
Even night's darkness had a greyish light,
Which offer'd not one object to the sight
That could console or cheer us — all around
Was one blank prospect, that might well affright
Me whom fatigue and baffled hopes confound,
While welcome rest was far, save on the bare cold ground.

I journey'd on full weary and way-sore,
But he, the rev'rend Pilgrim, seem'd to feel
No weariness, but kept his pace before,
And I still follow'd closely at his heel:
Yet oft would I with feeble voice appeal
To him to stay his speed, but all in vain;
The whistling night-wind in careering wheel
Full in my face bore back the sound again;
And now began to fall the heavy pattering rain.

The skies grew darker as we travell'd on,
In blacker robes did night herself enfold:
I look'd around for shelter, but was none
That might protect us from the wet and cold.
Back whence we came my longing eyes I roll'd
Towards that palace bright — that royal place—
Nought but a wall of darkness I behold
Against my eyes; nor was there left one trace,
But night and wind and rain its glories all deface.

Still fell the rain, and still the Pilgrim sped;
Footing nor cold nor wet he seem'd to mind,
While I o'er quagmires and deep dykes was led,
Struggling and plunging, sometimes far behind:
He kept his way, nor his smooth pace declin'd,
Though oft I fell, and call'd to him for aid;
Nothing he heard but deep roaring wind:
Sometimes I lost him in the dismal shade,
And then for life itself I almost felt afraid.

At last I fell exhausted, void of strength
My endless-seeming journey to pursue;
Upon the splashy ground I lay at length:—
I heard the Pilgrim's parting steps, and knew
I had not power to follow. The wind blew
Even with greater fierceness than before,
Rushing in fury by; in torrents too
The skies descend, yet was I so way-sore,
That being left behind I scarcely could deplore.

Extended thus some little space I laid,
Blessing the rain-drench'd earth that gave me rest,
When suddenly methought the blast convey'd
To my dull'd sense the voice of one distrest:
Some traveller lost like me perhaps, at best;
Or one hard struggling 'gainst the deadly knife
Of dark banditti who the waste infest;
In the dread pauses of the mortal strife
Crying aloud for aid, yet hopeless of his life.

Half-rais'd, I listen'd, and mine ear did strain;
But ev'n the sweeping wind was hush'd and still.
At that dread moment nature paus'd: — the rain,
Fast pelting down, by its own mere will
Ceas'd to descend; yet darkness reign'd around,
Save waters, that in many a trickling rill
Cours'd lowly rattling o'er the channel'd ground.—
I listen'd still intent, but heard none other sound.

"Ah! luckless traveller!" I inly cried,
"Hast thou then fallen 'neath the assassin's steel?
Thy life was haply precious; had I died,
I might have welcom'd death, since now I feel
To death alone for aid I can appeal!"
Scarce had I ended, when my eager ear
Was struck by sound as of the rapid heel
Of one swift running, from some horrid fear;
By quick degrees it sounds more plainly and more near.

And now the sailing moon, unseen before,
Hidden behind some black and o'ercharg'd cloud,
Shone brightly forth: her brightness seem'd the more
From the deep darkness that whilere did shrowd
The barren waste. With burnish'd keel she plough'd
The rolling billowy sky, and cut her way
Right onward; like some gilded vessel proud,
Whose destin'd voyage no obstructions stay,
But splits the mountain waves, and scatters wide the spray.

And by her blessed lustre I beheld
A man, approaching at his utmost speed,
As though by dread of threaten'd death compell'd:
What might his face express I could not read,
His head was turn'd to whence his fears proceed;
Yet as he ran, and by the fresh moonlight
I could discern the richness of his weed;
Though weather-worn, of cloth and gold most bright,
And silks and trappings gay, fit for an amorous knight.

And now he had arriv'd near to the spot
Where I remain'd. From the wet splashy ground
I had uprisen, anxious for the lot
Of him whose flying footsteps I heard sound,
And who, I fear'd, had suffer'd from the wound
Of fierce banditti: — if from loss of blood,
Fatigue, or footing on the earth unsound,
I knew not; but fell just where I stood,
Calling on him to save who died upon the road.

I sprang to raise him as he lay at length;
For now a human creature needed aid,
Sudden I felt return my wonted strength.
He struggled fiercely with me, as afraid
That I was one of those that had waylaid
Him on the road. "Unhand me, wretch!" he cried:
"Had I but arms thou shouldst be well repaid!
But cowardice to murder is allied:—
Help, help, oh gracious Heaven! for there is none beside!"

"Fear not," I cried, "fear not a timely friend;
Thy deadly enemies are distant now:
Look up, fair sir, and let thy terrors end!"
With that he lifted up his downcast brow,
And seeing me, breath'd out a silent vow
To pitying Heaven. By that pale light I see
A goodly youth, whom scarce I could allow
The name of man: most fair he seem'd to be,
And with his gay attire his youthful looks agree.

"Ah! gentle sir," he cried, "whoe'er thou art,
Danger awaits us here, fly quickest hence;
Oh! let us from this fatal heath depart,
Where force is useless, and in vain defence!"
And then anew his flight he did commence,
Drawing me after; nor could I resist
Nor ask from what our danger rose, and whence.
My new-rais'd fears my want of strength assist,
And whither we were bound I neither cared nor wist.

We travell'd on till morning 'gan to ope
Upon the dusky world her large grey eye;
Yet still could I discern nor aid, nor hope
Of welcome rest, or other comfort nigh.
Methought perchance the Pilgrim I might 'spy,
And as I pierc'd the dimness of the morn,
Fancied I saw him, while with the dun sky
His grey apparel mingled; but forlorn,
Whether 'twere true or false, he from my sight was borne.

My bright companion of the way the while,
(Bright was his raiment — bright as might be seen
In princes' courts to catch sweet beauty's smile,
Although 'twere now disfigur'd much, I ween,
By rain and splashy ways where he had been,)
Hasten'd along, as unknown dangers lay
Behind us still. With pale and haggard mien
He cast his eyes around, but most that way
From whence he fled so fast his threaten'd life's decay.

No sun arose our toilsome road to cheer,
But all the heavens a misty darkness wore,
According with the waste so wide and drear
Which with augmenting pain we journey'd o'er.
The stranger seem'd to suffer even more
Than I sustain'd: a court had been his place,
Though thence exil'd by some misfortune sore;
His person was most gracious, and his face,
Though trench'd with early woe, bore many a noble trace.

And as I pass'd along, some thoughts invade
In contrast sad of present and of past;
The change which but a few brief hours had made
Since I, upon the hill's side careless cast,
Heard the bright brooklet as it murmur'd past,
And mark'd the prospect glorious and wide:
How thought I then my tranquil bliss would last,
Full little deeming what would soon betide,
Thrown on a desert bare, without rest, hope, or guide!

Yet even sadder gloomier fancies seem
To fill the mind of the lorn stranger wight;
As if revolving on some hideous dream,
That all his waking sense did affright:
Sorrow had banish'd every lov'd delight,
That once cast sunshine on his spring of youth,
Which now had suffer'd such a woful blight.
Full of the beat his breast in bitter ruth,
And mutter'd curses deep on woman's vile untruth.

And now a rising mountain was in view,
Cover'd with dampish fogs all murky black,
On which no trees, nor shrubs, nor verdure grew,
To clothe the bareness of its sinuous back;
And up the side there seem'd a winding track
Toward the top — the top we could not see;
It was envelop'd in the skies' dark track:
Yet even this path afforded hope, that we
Beyond that hill might find some end of misery.

Urg'd by this dreary hope we slowly drew
T'ward the hill's base; and now our feet essay
The upward path we could be dimly view:
But toilsome, painful, endless seem'd the way;
The mountain's side was nought but slimy clay,
That treacherous fail'd our footing as we went.
'Gainst each projecting point our steps we stay,
And still towards the top our sight we bent,
Whence thought of prospect fair new strength and courage lent.

My sad companion kept not equal pace,
For now and then, as if his force declin'd,
He would hang back; and now, as in a race,
He madly struggled on, and left behind
Me, lost in wonder at his desperate mind;
Until again exhausted he would rest,
Panting for breath, and seem'd methought to bind
Something most closely to his heaving breast,
While agony and grief his tortur'd face exprest.

At last we gain'd the summit of the hill,
And found the mists less dense as we ascended.
To breathe at ease we stood some moments till,
Nor to the past nor present view attended:
At length we mark'd behind us, wide extended,
The vale of Disappointment and Despair,
Wide, drear, and cold, o'er which thick mists depended.
Before us was a sight uncouth and rare,
A vale on all sides bound by rocks, bleak, rugged, bare.

No vegetation on those rocks was seen,
Which so inclos'd the valley, that the sun
Could never cast his blessed beams between,
To change the noisome vapours dank and dun;
And sign of living creature there was none.
A few black pines their mouldering trunks uprear,
To shew the triumphs antique time had won;
And here and there lichens and moss appear,
To make this fearful vale more melancholy drear.

No mortal sound the dismal silence broke,
But all the hollow seem'd as still as death:
The wolf's hoarse bark, or raven's tuneless croak,
Would there have sounded cheerful. Not a breath
Of passing wind moan'd through the vale beneath,
As if the breath of life itself were dead.
Not one short word one to the other saith;
Gazing we stand, as if the silence dread
Had power to freeze our tongues — save sight, all senses fled.

But my companion stood not gazing long.
As by some sudden energy impell'd,
He darted forward, still in spirit strong;
Perhaps some welcome object he beheld:
I could not call to stay him, but compell'd
By secret impulse, his swift steps pursued,
Though to descend my coward heart rebell'd:
Yet stronger shame my weaker fear subdued,
And now to overtake my former strength renew'd.

That ampitheatre of high-pil'd rocks
We to descend attempt, to gain the vale:
Mass above mass were laid the ponderous blocks,
And all our efforts seem at first to fail,
Threaten'd at every step with death or bale.
Of crag and precipice a fearful sight
Presented was, that stoutest hearts might quail:
To jutting points I often clung, till quite
Exhausted, down I fell an unseen desperate height.

Yet still we liv'd by some preserving chance:
Could no obstruction the wild youth amate;
Dauntless, at every risk, would he advance,
Though the sharp rocks tore his fair limbs, which late
Seem'd to have known so far, far gentler state.
I cautious follow'd — all return forbidden—
On some projecting crag oft held debate
Whether to leap and dare the danger hidden,
While the deep chasm appear'd at every look to widen.

And now the bottom of the dismal vale
Look'd nearer than the top whence we had come;
Though to behold the height still turn'd me pale.
Nought heeded he of danger, but fast clomb
From crag to crag, as heedless of his doom.—
Trembling I watch'd him in his rash career
To a deep rift that might have been the tomb
Of some huge Titan: he, approaching near,
Essay'd its width to leap, reckless and void of fear.

He leapt and fell! — he fell — oh, horrid sight!—
Down, down, far down. On a jagg'd rock that hung
Across the chasm was stay'd his figure light;
All powerless, as lifeless, there it swung,
Without a groan those echoing caves among.
Aid he could not demand, nor I bestow:
Fearful I gaz'd, while to the rock I clung
With double force, and my eyes dizzy grow
With looking on that dismal spectacle below.

And here I had remain'd until my strength
Was quite evaporate, and like a stone
I fell down that same rift; but that at length
Some signs I knew life had not wholly flown
From his fair form — motion and feeble groan:
These gave new fear, lest in attempt to rise,
O'erbalanc'd, he should fall still deeper down,
And thus end hope at once: this thought supplies
New power, that wonted dread and obstacle defies.

I know not how I reach'd him, but I know
He had awaken'd as from deadly trance;
The cold sweat hung upon his colder brow,
And the blood trickled down the fair expanse
Of his broad and livid forehead. I advance
My hand to him, who look'd as though unware
Of present help, or of his dire mischance:
He took it with a wild unconscious glare,
And from that dreadful spot the tottering youth I bare.

[pp. 31-60]

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