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John Milton. (1608–1674). Complete Poems.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.


Comus, a Mask

  • THE ATTENDANT SPIRIT, afterwards in the habit of THYRSIS.
  • Comus, with his Crew.
  • SABRINA, the Nymph.
  • The Chief Person which 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 insphered

    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,

    Confined and pestered in this pinfold 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 enthronèd gods on sainted seats.

    Yet some there be that by due steps aspire

    To lay their just hands on that golden key

    That opes 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 unadornèd 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-haired deities;

    And all this tract that fronts the falling sun

    A noble Peer of mickle trust and power

    Has in his charge, with tempered awe to guide

    An old and haughty Nation, proud in arms:

    Where his fair offspring, nursed in princely lore,

    Are coming to attend their father’s state,

    And new-intrusted sceptre. But their way

    Lies through the perplexed paths of this drear wood,

    The nodding horror of whose shady brows

    Threats the forlorn and wandering passenger;

    And here their tender age might suffer peril,

    But that, by quick command from sovran Jove,

    I was despatched 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

    Crushed the sweet poison of misused wine,

    After the Tuscan mariners transformed,

    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 grovelling swine?)

    This Nymph, that gazed upon his clustering locks,

    With ivy berries wreathed, 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 named:

    Who, ripe and frolic of his full-grown age,

    Roving the Celtic and Iberian fields,

    At last betakes him to this ominous wood,

    And, in thick shelter of black shades imbowered,

    Excels his Mother at her mighty art;

    Offering to every weary traveller

    His orient liquor in a crystal glass,

    To quench the drouth of Phœbus; which as they taste

    (For most do taste through fond intemperate thirst),

    Soon as the potion works, their human count’nance,

    The express resemblance of the gods, is changed

    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 sty.

    Therefore, when any favoured of high Jove

    Chances to pass through this adventrous 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 a rout of Monsters, headed like sundry sorts of wild beasts, but otherwise like men and women, their apparel glistering. They come in making a riotous and unruly noise, with torches in their hands.

  • Comus. 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 Atlantic 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 Fairies and the dapper Elves.

    By dimpled brook and fountain-brim,

    The Wood-Nymphs, decked 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 rites begin;

    ’T is only daylight that makes sin,

    Which these dun shades will ne’er report.

    Hail, goddess of nocturnal sport,

    Dark-veiled Cotytto, to whom the secret flame

    Of midnight torches burns! mysterious Dame,

    That ne’er art called but when the dragon womb

    Of Stygian darkness spets her thickest gloom,

    And makes one blot of all the air!

    Stay thy cloudy ebon chair,

    Wherein thou ridest with Hecat’, and befriend

    Us thy vowed priests, till utmost end

    Of all thy dues be done, and none left out

    Ere the blabbing eastern scout,

    The nice Morn on the Indian steep,

    From her cabined loop-hole peep,

    And to the tell-tale Sun descry

    Our concealed solemnity.

    Come, knit hands, and beat the ground

    In a light fantastic round.

    The Measure.
    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 stocked with as fair a herd as grazed

    About my Mother Circe. Thus I hurl

    My dazzling spells into the spongy 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 pretence of friendly ends,

    And well-placed 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 magic 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 hear.

    The LADY Enters
    Lady. This way the noise was, if mine ear be true,

    My best guide now. Methought it was the sound

    Of riot and ill-managed merriment,

    Such as the jocond flute or gamesome pipe

    Stirs up among the loose unlettered 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 loth

    To meet the rudeness and swilled insolence

    Of such late wassailers; yet, oh! 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,

    Stepped, 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 grey-hooded Even,

    Like a sad Votarist in palmer’s weed,

    Rose from the hindmost wheels of Phœbus’ wain.

    But where they are, and why they came not back,

    Is now the labour of my thoughts. ’T is likeliest

    They had ingaged their wandering steps too far;

    And envious darkness, ere they could return,

    Had stole them from me. Else, O thievish Night,

    Why shouldst thou, but for some felonious end,

    In thy dark lantern thus close up the stars

    That Nature hung in heaven, and filled their lamps

    With everlasting oil, to give due light

    To the misled and lonely travailler?

    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 beckoning shadows dire,

    And airy 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-eyed Faith, white-handed Hope,

    Thou hovering angel girt with golden wings,

    And thou unblemished 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 glistering guardian, if need were,

    To keep my life and honour unassailed.…

    Was I deceived, 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 hallo to my brothers, but

    Such noise as I can make to be heard farthest

    I’ll venter; for my new-enlivened 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-embroidered vale

    Where the love-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 Parley, Daughter of the Sphere!

    So may’st thou be translated to the skies,

    And give resounding grace to all Heaven’s harmonies!

    Comus.Can any mortal mixture of earth’s mould

    Breathe such divine inchanting 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 smiled! I have oft heard

    My mother Circe with the Sirens three,

    Amidst the flowery-kirtled Naiades,

    Culling their potent hearbs and baleful drugs,

    Who, as they sung, would take the prisoned soul,

    And lap it in Elysium: Scylla wept,

    And child her barking waves into attention,

    And fell Charybdis murmured soft applause.

    Yet they in pleasing slumber lulled the sense,

    And in sweet madness robbed it of itself;

    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.

    Lady.Nay, gentle shepherd, ill is lost that praise

    That is addressed to unattending ears.

    Not any boast of skill, but extreme shift

    How to regain my severed company,

    Compelled me to awake the courteous Echo

    To give me answer from her mossy couch.

    Comus.What chance, good Lady, hath bereft you thus?

    Lady.Dim darkness and this leavy labyrinth.

    Comus.Could that divide you from near-ushering guides?

    Lady.They left me weary on a grassy turf.

    Comus.By falsehood, or discourtesy, or why?

    Lady.To seek i’ the valley some cool friendly spring.

    Comus.And left your fair side all unguarded, Lady?

    Lady.They were but twain, and purposed quick return.

    Comus.Perhaps forestalling night prevented them.

    Lady.How easy my misfortune is to hit!

    Comus.Imports their loss, beside the present need?

    Lady.No less than if I should my brothers lose.

    Comus.Where they of manly prime, or youthful bloom?

    Lady.As smooth as Hebe’s their unrazored lips.

    Comus.Two such I saw, what time the laboured ox

    In his loose traces from the furrow came,

    And the swinked 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 than 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-strook,

    And, as I passed, I worshiped. If those you seek,

    It were a journey like the path to Heaven

    To help you find them.

    Lady.Gentle villager,

    What readiest way would bring me to that place?

    Comus.Due west it rises from this shrubby point.

    Lady.To find out that, good Shepherd, I suppose,

    In such a scant allowance of star-light,

    Would overtask the best land-pilot’s art,

    Without the sure guess of well-practised feet.

    Comus.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 lodged,

    Or shroud within these limits, I shall know

    Ere morrow wake, or the low-roosted lark

    From her thatched pallet rouse. If otherwise,

    I can conduct you, Lady, to a low

    But loyal cottage, where you may be safe

    Till further quest.

    Lady.Shepherd, I take thy word,

    And trust thy honest-offered courtesy,

    Which oft is sooner found in lowly sheds,

    With smoky rafters, than in tapestry halls

    And courts of princes, where it first was named,

    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 proportioned strength! Shepherd, lead on.…


    Eld. Bro. Unmuffle, ye faint stars; and thou, fair Moon,

    That wont’st to love the travailler’s 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 dammed 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 levelled rule of streaming light,

    And thou shalt be our star of Arcady,

    Or Tyrian Cynosure.

    Sec. Bro.Or, if our eyes

    Be barred that happiness, might we but hear

    The folded flocks, penned 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, Oh, that hapless virgin, our lost sister!

    Where may she wander now, whither betake her

    From the chill dew, amongst rude burs and thistles?

    Perhaps some cold bank is her bolster now,

    Or ’gainst the rugged bark of some broad elm

    Leans her unpillowed 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!

    Eld. Bro.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 unprincipled in virtue’s 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 impaired.

    He that has light within his own clear breast

    May sit i’ the centre, 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.

    Sec. Bro.’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 grey hairs any violence?

    But Beauty, like the fair Hesperian Tree

    Laden with blooming gold, had need the guard

    Of dragon-watch with uninchanted eye

    To save her blossoms, and defend her fruit,

    From the rash hand of bold Incontinence.

    You may as well spread out the unsunned heaps

    Of miser’s 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

    Uninjured 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 unownèd sister.

    Eld. Bro.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 encline to hope rather than 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.

    Sec. Bro.What hidden strength,

    Unless the strength of Heaven, if you mean that?

    Eld. Bro.I mean that too, but yet a hidden strength,

    Which, if Heaven gave it, may be termed her own:

    ’Tis Chastity, my brother, Chastity:

    She that has that is clad in com’plete steel,

    And, like a quivered nymph with arrows keen,

    May trace huge forests, and unharboured 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 shagged with horrid shades,

    She may pass on with unblenched 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 meagre hag, or stubborn unlaid ghost,

    That breaks his magic chains at curfew 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 tamed the brinded lioness

    And spotted mountain-pard, but set at nought

    The frivolous bolt of Cupid; gods and men

    Feared her stern frown, and she was queen o’ the woods.

    What was that snaky-headed Gorgon shield

    That wise Minerva wore, unconquered virgin,

    Wherewith she freezed her foes to con’gealed stone,

    But rigid looks of chaste austerity,

    And noble grace that dashed 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 soul’s 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 sepulchres,

    Lingering and sitting by a new-made grave,

    As loth to leave the body that it loved,

    And linked itself by carnal sensuality

    To a degenerate and degraded state.

    Sec. Bro.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 nectared sweets,

    Where no crude surfeit reigns.

    Eld. Bro.List! list! I hear

    Some far-off hallo break the silent air.

    Sec. Bro.Methought so too; what should it be?

    Eld. Bro.For certain,

    Either some one, like us, night-foundered here,

    Or else some neighbour woodman, or, at worst,

    Some roving robber calling to his fellows.

    Sec. Bro.Heaven keep my sister!

    Again, again, and near!

    Best draw, and stand upon our guard.

    Eld. Bro.I’ll hallo.

    If he be friendly, he comes well: if not,

    Defence is a good cause, and Heaven be for us!

    The ATTENDANT SPIRIT, habited like a shepherd.
    That hallo I should know. What are you? speak.

    Come not too near; you fall on iron stakes else.

    Spir.What voice is that? my young Lord? speak again.

    Sec. Bro.O brother, ’tis my father’s Shepherd, sure.

    Eld. Bro.Thyrsis! whose artful strains have oft delayed

    The huddling brook to hear his madrigal,

    And sweetened every musk-rose of the dale.

    How camest thou here, good swain? Hath any ram

    Slipped from the fold, or young kid lost his dam,

    Or straggling wether the pent flock forsook?

    How couldst thou find this dark sequestered nook?

    Spir.O my loved master’s heir, and his next joy,

    I came not here on such a trivial toy

    As a strayed 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, oh! my virgin Lady, where is she?

    How chance she is not in your company?

    Eld. Bro.To tell thee sadly, Shepherd, without blame

    Or our neglect, we lost her as we came.

    Spir.Ay me unhappy! then my fears are true.

    Eld. Bro.What fears, good Thyrsis?

    Prithee briefly shew.

    Spir.I’ll tell ye, ’tis not vain or fabulous

    (Though so esteemed by shallow ignorance)

    What the sage poets, taught by the heavenly Muse,

    Storied of old in high immortal verse

    Of dire Chimeras and inchanted Isles,

    And rifted rocks whose entrance leads to Hell;

    For such there be, but unbelief is blind.

    Within the navel of this hideous wood,

    Immured in cypress shades, a Sorcerer dwells,

    Of Bacchus and of Circe born, great Comus,

    Deep skilled in all his mother’s witcheries,

    And here to every thirsty wanderer

    By sly enticement gives his baneful cup,

    With many murmurs mixed, whose pleasing poison

    The visage quite transforms of him that drinks,

    And the inglorious likeness of a beast

    Fixes instead, unmoulding reason’s mintage

    Charactered 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 abhorrèd rites to Hecate

    In their obscurèd 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’en 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 honeysuckle, 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 filled the air with barbarous dissonance;

    At which I ceased, and listened them a while,

    Till an unusual stop of sudden silence

    Gave respite to the drowsy-flighted steeds

    That draw the litter of close-curtained Sleep.

    At last a soft and solemn-breathing sound

    Rose like a steam of rich distilled perfumes,

    And stole upon the air, that even Silence

    Was took ere she was ware, and wished she might

    Deny her nature, and be never more,

    Still to be so displaced. I was all ear,

    And took in strains that might create a soul

    Under the ribs of Death. But, oh! ere long

    Too well I did perceive it was the voice

    Of my most honoured Lady, your dear sister.

    Amazed I stood, harrowed 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 often trod by day,

    Till, guided by mine ear, I found the place

    Where that damned 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 wished prey;

    Who gently asked if he had seen such two,

    Supposing him some neighbour villager.

    Longer I durst not stay, but soon I guessed

    Ye were the two she meant; with that I sprung

    Into swift flight, till I had found you here;

    But furder know I not.

    Sec. Bro.O night and shades,

    How are ye joined with hell in triple knot

    Against the unarmèd weakness of one virgin,

    Alone and helpless! Is this the confidence

    You gave me, brother?

    Eld. Bro.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 assailed, but never hurt,

    Surprised by unjust force, but not enthralled;

    Yea, even that which Mischief meant most harm

    Shall in the happy trial prove most glory.

    But evil on itself shall back recoil,

    And mix no more with goodness, when at last,

    Gathered like scum, and settled to itself,

    It shall be in eternal restless change

    Self-fed and self-consumed. If this fail,

    The pillared 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 damned magician, let him be girt

    With all the griesly legiöns that troop

    Under the sooty flag of Acheron,

    Harpies and Hydras, or all the monstrous forms

    ’Twixt Africa and Ind. I’ll find him out,

    And force him to restore his purchase back,

    Or drag him by the curls to a foul death,

    Cursed as his life.

    Spir.Alas! good ventrous 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 unthread thy joints,

    And crumble all thy sinews.

    Eld. Bro.Why, prithee Shepherd,

    How durst thou then thyself approach so near

    As to make this relation?

    Spir.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 skilled

    In every virtuous plant and healing hearb

    That spreads her verdant leaf to the morning ray.

    He loved 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 shew me simples of a thousand names,

    Telling their strange and vigorous faculties.

    Amongst the rest a small unsightly root,

    But of divine effect, he culled 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 esteemed, and the dull swain

    Treads on it daily with his clouted shoon;

    And yet more med’cinal is it than that Moly

    That Hermes once to wise Ulysses gave.

    He called it Hæmony, and give it me,

    And bade me keep it as of sovran use

    ’Gainst all inchantments, mildew blast, or damp,

    Or ghastly Furies’ apparition.

    I pursed it up, but little reckoning made,

    Till now that this extremity compelled.

    But now I find it true; for by this means

    I knew the foul inchanter, though disguised,

    Entered 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 necromancer’s hall;

    Where if he be, with dauntless hardihood

    And brandished 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 battail make, and menace high,

    Or, like the sons of Vulcan, vomit smoke,

    Yet will they soon retire, if he but shrink.

    Eld. Bro.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 music, tables spread with all dainties. COMUS appears with his rabble, and the LADY set in an inchanted chair; to whom he offers his glass; which she puts by, and goes about to rise.

  • Comus. Nay, Lady, sit. If I but wave this wand,

    Your nerves are all chained up in alabaster,

    And you a statue, or as Daphne was,

    Root-bound, that fled Apollo.

    Lady.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.

    Comus.Why are you vexed, 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 syrups mixed.

    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 yourself,

    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 received on other terms,

    Scorning the unexempt condition

    By which all mortal frailty must subsist,

    Refreshment after toil, ease after pain,

    That have been tired all day without repast,

    And timely rest have wanted. But, fair virgin,

    This will restore all soon.

    Lady.’T will not, false traitor!

    ’T will not restore the truth and honesty

    That thou has banished from thy tongue with lies.

    Was this the cottage and the safe abode

    Thou told’st me of? What grim aspects’ are these,

    These oughly-headed monsters? Mercy guard me!

    Hence with thy brewed inchantments, foul deceiver!

    Hast thou betrayed my credulous innocence

    With vizored 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-governed and wise appetite.

    Comus.O foolishness of men! that lend their ears

    To those budge doctors of the Stoic fur,

    And fetch their precepts from the Cynic 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-haired silk,

    To deck her sons; and, that no corner might

    Be vacant of her plenty, in her own loins

    She hutched the all-worshiped ore and precious gems,

    To store here 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 unthanked, would be unpraised

    Not half his riches known, and yet despised;

    And we should serve him as a grudging master,

    As a penurious niggard of his wealth,

    And live like Nature’s bastards, not her sons,

    Who would be quite surcharged with her own weight,

    And strangled with her waste fertility:

    The earth cumbered, and the winged air darked with plumes;

    The herds would over-multitude their lords;

    The sea o’erfraught would swell, and the unsought diamonds

    Would so emblaze the forehead of the Deep,

    And so bestud with stars, that they below

    Would grow inured to light, and come at last

    To gaze upon the Sun with shameless brows.

    List, Lady; be not coy, and be not cozened

    With that same vaunted name, Virginity.

    Beauty is Nature’s coin; must not be hoarded,

    But must be current; and the good thereof

    Consists in mutual and partaken bliss,

    Unsavoury in the injoyment of itself.

    If you let slip time, like a neglected rose

    It withers on the stalk with languished head.

    Beauty is Nature’s 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 tease the housewife’s wool.

    What need a vermeil-tinctured lip for that,

    Love-darting eyes, or tresses like the Morn?

    There was another meaning in these gifts;

    Think what, and be advised; you are but young yet.

    Lady.I had not thought to have unlocked my lips

    In this unhallowed air, but that this Juggler

    Would think to charm my judgment, as mine eyes,

    Obtruding false rules pranked in reason’s 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 law’s

    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-pampered Luxury

    Now heaps upon some few with vast excess,

    Nature’s full blessings would be well-dispensed

    In unsuperfluous even proportion,

    And she no whit encumbered with her store;

    And then the Giver would be better thanked,

    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 enow? 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 uttered to unfold the sage

    And serious doctrine of Virginity;

    And thou art worthy that thou shouldst not know

    More happiness than this thy present lot.

    Enjoy your dear Wit, and gay Rhetoric,

    That hath so well been taught her dazzling fence;

    Thou art not fit to hear thyself convinced.

    Yet, should I try, the uncontrollèd worth

    Of this pure cause would kindle my rapt spirits

    To such a flame of sacred vehemence

    That dumb things would be moved to sympathize,

    And the brute Earth would lend her nerves, and shake,

    Till all thy magic structures, reared so high,

    Were shattered into heaps o’er thy false head.

    Comus.She fables not. I feel that I do fear

    Her words set of by some superior power;

    And, though not mortal, yet a cold shuddering 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 ’t is 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 hand, and break it against the ground: his rout make sign of resistance, but are all driven in. The ATTENDANT SPIRIT comes in.

  • Spir. What! have you let the false Enchanter scape?

    O ye mistook; ye should have snatched his wand,

    And bound him fast. Without his rod reversed,

    And backward mutters of dissevering power,

    We cannot free the Lady that sits here

    In stony fetters fixed and motionless.

    Yet stay: be not disturbed; now I bethink me,

    Some other means I have which may be used,

    Which once of Melibœus old I learnt,

    The soothest Shepherd that ere piped 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 sceptre from his father Brute.

    She, guiltless damsel, flying the mad pursuit

    Of her enragèd stepdame, Guendolen,

    Commended her fair innocence to the flood

    That stayed her flight with his cross-flowing course.

    The water-Nymphs, that in the bottom played,

    Held up their pearlèd wrists, and took her in,

    Bearing her straight to aged Nereus’ hall;

    Who, piteous of her woes, reared her lank head,

    And gave her to his daughters to imbathe

    In nectared lavers strewed with asphodil,

    And through the porch and inlet of each sense

    Dropt in ambrosial oils, till she revived.

    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 with twilight meadows,

    Helping all urchin blasts, and ill-luck signs

    That the shrewd meddling Elf delights to make,

    Which she with pretious vialed liquors heals:

    For which the Shepherds, at their festivals,

    Carol her goodness loud in rustic lays,

    And throw sweet garland wreaths into her stream,

    Of pansies, pinks, and gaudy daffadils.

    And, as the old Swain said, she can unlock

    The clasping charm, and thaw the numbing spell,

    If she be right invoked in warbled song;

    For maidenhood she loves, and will be swift

    To aid a virgin, such as was herself,

    In hard-besetting need. This will I try,

    And add the power of some adjuring verse.

    Sabrina fair,

    Listen where thou art sitting

    Under the glassy, cool, translucent wave,

    In twisted braids of lilies 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 Tethys’ grave majestic pace;

    By hoary Nereus’ wrinkled look,

    And the Carpathian wizard’s hook;

    By scaly Triton’s winding shell,

    And old soothsaying Glaucus’ spell;

    By Leucothea’s lovely hands,

    And her son that rules the strands;

    By Thetis’ tinsel-slippered feet,

    And the songs of Sirens 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 answered have.

    Listen and save!

  • SABRINA rises, attended by Water-nymphs, and sings.

  • By the rushy-fringèd bank,

    Where grows the willow and the oiser 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 fleet

    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!

    Spir. Goddess dear,

    We implore thy powerful hand

    To undo the charmed band

    Of true virgin here distressed

    Through the force and through the wile

    Of unblessed enchanter vile.

    Sabr.Shepherd, ’t is my office best

    To help insnarèd Chastity,

    Brightest Lady, look on me.

    Thus I sprinkle on thy breast

    Drops that from my fountain pure

    I have kept of pretious cure;

    Thrice upon thy finger’s tip,

    Thrice upon thy rubied lip:

    Next this marble venomed seat,

    Smeared 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.

  • Spir. 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 crowned

    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 Father’s residence,

    Where this night are met in state

    Many a friend to gratulate

    His wished 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 cheer.

    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.

  • SONG
    Spir. 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 ended, the SPIRIT epiloguizes.

  • Spir. 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 crispèd shades and bowers

    Revels the spruce and jocond Spring;

    The Graces and the rosy-bosomed Hours

    Thither all their bounties bring.

    There eternal Summer dwells,

    And west winds with musky wing

    About the cedarn alleys fling

    Nard and cassia’s balmy smells.

    Iris there with humid bow

    Waters the odorous banks, that blow

    Flowers of more mingled hue

    Than 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 famed son, advanced,

    Holds his dear Psyche sweet intranced,

    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 bowed 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 climb

    Higher than the spheary chime:

    Or, if Virtue feeble were,

    Heaven itself would stoop to her.