January And May. From Chaucer. - Translations And Imitations.

A poem by Alexander Pope

There lived in Lombardy, as authors write,
In days of old, a wise and worthy knight;
Of gentle manners, as of generous race,
Bless'd with much sense, more riches, and some grace:
Yet, led astray by Venus' soft delights,
He scarce could rule some idle appetites:
For long ago, let priests say what they could,
Weak sinful laymen were but flesh and blood.

But in due time, when sixty years were o'er,
He vow'd to lead this vicious life no more;
Whether pure holiness inspired his mind,
Or dotage turn'd his brain, is hard to find;
But his high courage prick'd him forth to wed,
And try the pleasures of a lawful bed.
This was his nightly dream, his daily care,
And to the heavenly powers his constant prayer,
Once, ere he died, to taste the blissful life
Of a kind husband and a loving wife.

These thoughts he fortified with reasons still
(For none want reasons to confirm their will).
Grave authors say, and witty poets sing,
That honest wedlock is a glorious thing:
But depth of judgment most in him appears
Who wisely weds in his maturer years.
Then let him choose a damsel young and fair,
To bless his age, and bring a worthy heir;
To soothe his cares, and, free from noise and strife,
Conduct him gently to the verge of life.
Let sinful bachelors their woes deplore,
Full well they merit all they feel, and more:
Unawed by precepts, human or divine,
Like birds and beasts, promiscuously they join;
Nor know to make the present blessing last,
To hope the future, or esteem the past:
But vainly boast the joys they never tried,
And find divulged the secrets they would hide.
The married man may bear his yoke with ease,
Secure at once himself and Heaven to please;
And pass his inoffensive hours away,
In bliss all night, and innocence all day:
Though fortune change, his constant spouse remains,
Augments his joys, or mitigates his pains.

But what so pure which envious tongues will spare?
Some wicked wits have libell'd all the fair.
With matchless impudence they style a wife
The dear-bought curse, and lawful plague of life;
A bosom serpent, a domestic evil,
A night invasion, and a midday devil.
Let not the wise these slanderous words regard,
But curse the bones of every lying bard.
All other goods by fortune's hand are given,
A wife is the peculiar gift of Heaven.
Vain fortune's favours, never at a stay,
Like empty shadows, pass, and glide away;
One solid comfort, our eternal wife,
Abundantly supplies us all our life:
This blessing lasts (if those who try say true)
As long as heart can wish--and longer too.

Our grandsire Adam, ere of Eve possess'd,
Alone, and e'en in Paradise unbless'd,
With mournful looks the blissful scenes survey'd,
And wander'd in the solitary shade.
The Maker saw, took pity, and bestow'd
Woman, the last, the best reserved of God.

A wife! ah, gentle deities! can he
That has a wife e'er feel adversity?
Would men but follow what the sex advise,
All things would prosper, all the world grow wise.
Twas by Rebecca's aid that Jacob won
His father's blessing from an elder son:
Abusive Nabal owed his forfeit life
To the wise conduct of a prudent wife:
Heroic Judith, as old Hebrews show,
Preserved the Jews, and slew th' Assyrian foe:
At Hester's suit, the persecuting sword
Was sheath'd, and Israel lived to bless the Lord.

These weighty motives January the sage
Maturely ponder'd in his riper age;
And, charm'd with virtuous joys, and sober life,
Would try that Christian comfort, call'd a wife.
His friends were summon'd on a point so nice
To pass their judgment, and to give advice;
But fix'd before, and well resolved was he;
(As men that ask advice are wont to be).

'My friends,' he cried (and cast a mournful look
Around the room, and sigh'd before he spoke),
'Beneath the weight of threescore years I bend,
And, worn with cares, am hastening to my end:
How I have lived, alas! you know too well,
In worldly follies which I blush to tell,
But gracious Heaven has oped my eyes at last,
With due regret I view my vices past,
And, as the precept of the church decrees,
Will take a wife, and live in holy ease:
But since by counsel all things should be done,
And many heads are wiser still than one;
Choose you for me, who best shall be content
When my desire's approved by your consent.

'One caution yet is needful to be told,
To guide your choice: this wife must not be old:
There goes a saying, and 'twas shrewdly said,
Old fish at table, but young flesh in bed.
My soul abhors the tasteless dry embrace
Of a stale virgin with a winter face:
In that cold season Love but treats his guest
With beanstraw, and tough forage at the best.
No crafty widows shall approach my bed;
Those are too wise for bachelors to wed.
As subtle clerks by many schools are made,
Twice-married dames are mistresses o' th' trade:
But young and tender virgins, ruled with ease,
We form like wax, and mould them as we please.

'Conceive me, sirs, nor take my sense amiss;
'Tis what concerns my soul's eternal bliss;
Since, if I found no pleasure in my spouse,
As flesh is frail, and who (God help me) knows?
Then should I live in lewd adultery,
And sink downright to Satan when I die:
Or were I cursed with an unfruitful bed,
The righteous end were lost for which I wed;
To raise up seed to bless the powers above,
And not for pleasure only, or for love.
Think not I dote; 'tis time to take a wife,
When vigorous blood forbids a chaster life:
Those that are bless'd with store of grace divine,
May live like saints, by Heaven's consent and mine!

'And since I speak of wedlock, let me say
(As, thank my stars, in modest truth I may),
My limbs are active, still I'm sound at heart,
And a new vigour springs in every part.
Think not my virtue lost, though time has shed
These reverend honours on my hoary head:
Thus trees are crown'd with blossoms white as snow,
The vital sap then rising from below.
Old as I am, my lusty limbs appear
Like winter greens, that flourish all the year.
Now, sirs, you know to what I stand inclined,
Let every friend with freedom speak his mind.'

He said; the rest in different parts divide;
The knotty point was urged on either side:
Marriage, the theme on which they all declaim'd,
Some praised with wit, and some with reason blamed.
Till, what with proofs, objections, and replies,
Each wondrous positive and wondrous wise,
There fell between his brothers a debate:
Placebo this was call'd, and Justin that.

First to the knight Placebo thus begun,
(Mild were his looks, and pleasing was his tone):
'Such prudence, sir, in all your words appears,
As plainly proves experience dwells with years!
Yet you pursue sage Solomon's advice,
To work by counsel when affairs are nice:
But, with the wise man's leave, I must protest,
So may my soul arrive at ease and rest,
As still I hold your own advice the best.

'Sir, I have lived a courtier all my days,
And studied men, their manners, and their ways;
And have observed this useful maxim still.
To let my betters always have their will.
Nay, if my lord affirm'd that black was white,
My word was this, "Your honour's in the right."
Th' assuming wit, who deems himself so wise
As his mistaken patron to advise,
Let him not dare to vent his dangerous thought;
A noble fool was never in a fault.
This, sir, affects not you, whose every word
Is weigh'd with judgment, and befits a lord:
Your will is mine: and is (I will maintain)
Pleasing to God, and should be so to man;
At least your courage all the world must praise,
Who dare to wed in your declining days.
Indulge the vigour of your mounting blood,
And let gray fools be indolently good,
Who, past all pleasure, damn the joys of sense,
With reverend dulness and grave impotence.'

Justin, who silent sate, and heard the man,
Thus with a philosophic frown began:

'A heathen author, of the first degree,
(Who, though not faith, had sense as well as we),
Bids us be certain our concerns to trust
To those of generous principles and just.
The venture's greater, I'll presume to say,
To give your person, than your goods away:
And therefore, sir, as you regard your rest,
First learn your lady's qualities at least:
Whether she's chaste or rampant, proud or civil,
Meek as a saint, or haughty as the devil;
Whether an easy, fond, familiar fool,
Or such a wit as no man e'er can rule.
'Tis true, perfection none must hope to find
In all this world, much less in womankind:
But if her virtues prove the larger share,
Bless the kind fates, and think your fortune rare.
Ah, gentle sir, take warning of a friend,
Who knows too well the state you thus commend;
And, spite of all his praises, must declare,
All he can find is bondage, cost, and care.
Heaven knows I shed full many a private tear,
And sigh in silence, lest the world should hear;
While all my friends applaud my blissful life,
And swear no mortal's happier in a wife;
Demure and chaste as any vestal nun,
The meekest creature that beholds the sun!
But, by th' immortal powers, I feel the pain,
And he that smarts has reason to complain.
Do what you list, for me; you must be sage,
And cautious sure; for wisdom is in age:
But at these years to venture on the fair!
By Him who made the ocean, earth, and air,
To please a wife, when her occasions call,
Would busy the most vigorous of us all.
And trust me, sir, the chastest you can choose,
Will ask observance, and exact her dues.
If what I speak my noble lord offend,
My tedious sermon here is at an end.'

''Tis well, 'tis wondrous well,' the knight replies,
'Most worthy kinsman, faith, you're mighty wise!
We, sirs, are fools; and must resign the cause
To heathenish authors, proverbs, and old saws.'
He spoke with scorn, and turn'd another way:
'What does my friend, my dear Placebo, say?'

'I say,' quoth he, 'by Heaven, the man's to blame,
To slander wives, and wedlock's holy name.'

At this the council rose without delay;
Each, in his own opinion, went his way;
With full consent, that, all disputes appeased,
The knight should marry when and where he pleased.

Who now but January exults with joy?
The charms of wedlock all his soul employ:
Each nymph by turns his wavering mind possess'd,
And reign'd the short-lived tyrant of his breast;
Whilst fancy pictured every lively part,
And each bright image wander'd o'er his heart.
Thus, in some public forum fix'd on high,
A mirror shows the figures moving by;
Still one by one, in swift succession, pass
The gliding shadows o'er the polish'd glass.
This lady's charms the nicest could not blame,
But vile suspicions had aspersed her fame;
That was with sense, but not with virtue bless'd;
And one had grace that wanted all the rest.
Thus doubting long what nymph he should obey
He fix'd at last upon the youthful May.
Her faults he knew not, love is always blind,
But every charm revolved within his mind:
Her tender age, her form divinely fair,
Her easy motion, her attractive air,
Her sweet behaviour, her enchanting face,
Her moving softness, and majestic grace.
Much in his prudence did our knight rejoice,
And thought no mortal could dispute his choice:
Once more in haste he summon'd every friend,
And told them all their pains were at an end.
'Heaven, that (said he) inspired me first to wed,
Provides a consort worthy of my bed:
Let none oppose th' election, since on this
Depends my quiet and my future bliss.

'A dame there is, the darling of my eyes,
Young, beauteous, artless, innocent, and wise;
Chaste, though not rich; and, though not nobly born,
Of honest parents, and may serve my turn.
Her will I wed, if gracious Heaven so please,
To pass my age in sanctity and ease;
And, thank the powers, I may possess alone
The lovely prize, and share my bliss with none!
If you, my friends, this virgin can procure,
My joys are full, my happiness is sure.

'One only doubt remains: full oft, I've heard
By casuists grave, and deep divines averr'd,
That 'tis too much for human race to know
The bliss of heaven above and earth below;
Now, should the nuptial pleasures prove so great,
To match the blessings of the future state,
Those endless joys were ill exchanged for these;
Then clear this doubt, and set my mind at ease.'

This Justin heard, nor could his spleen control,
Touch'd to the quick, and tickled at the soul.
'Sir knight,' he cried, 'if this be all you dread,
Heaven put it past your doubt whene'er you wed:
And to my fervent prayers so far consent,
That, ere the rites are o'er, you may repent!
Good Heaven, no doubt, the nuptial state approves,
Since it chastises still what best it loves.
Then be not, sir, abandoned to despair:
Seek, and perhaps you'll find among the fair
One that may do your business to a hair;
Not e'en in wish your happiness delay,
But prove the scourge to lash you on your way:
Then to the skies your mounting soul shall go,
Swift as an arrow soaring from the bow!
Provided still, you moderate your joy,
Nor in your pleasures all your might employ;
Let reason's rule your strong desires abate,
Nor please too lavishly your gentle mate
Old wives there are, of judgment most acute,
Who solve these questions beyond all dispute;
Consult with those, and be of better cheer;
Marry, do penance, and dismiss your fear.'

So said, they rose, nor more the work delay'd
The match was offer'd, the proposals made.
The parents, you may think, would soon comply
The old have interest ever in their eye.
Nor was it hard to move the lady's mind;
When fortune favours, still the fair are kind.

I pass each previous settlement and deed,
Too long for me to write, or you to read;
Nor will with quaint impertinence display
The pomp, the pageantry, the proud array.
The time approach'd; to church the parties went,
At once with carnal and devout intent:
Forth came the priest, and bade the obedient wife
Like Sarah or Rebecca lead her life;
Then pray'd the powers the fruitful bed to bless,
And made all sure enough with holiness.

And now the palace gates are open'd wide,
The guests appear in order, side by side,
And, placed in state, the bridegroom and the bride.
The breathing flute's soft notes are heard around,
And the shrill trumpets mix their silver sound;
The vaulted roofs with echoing music ring,
These touch the vocal stops, and those the trembling string.
Not thus Amphion tuned the warbling lyre,
Nor Joab the sounding clarion could inspire,
Nor fierce Theodamas, whose sprightly strain
Could swell the soul to rage, and fire the martial train.

Bacchus himself, the nuptial feast to grace,
(So poets sing) was present on the place:
And lovely Venus, goddess of delight,
Shook high her flaming torch in open sight,
And danced around, and smiled on every knight:
Pleased her best servant would his courage try,
No less in wedlock than in liberty.
Full many an age old Hymen had not spied
So kind a bridegroom, or so bright a bride.
Ye bards! renown'd among the tuneful throng
For gentle lays, and joyous nuptial song,
Think not your softest numbers can display
The matchless glories of this blissful day;
The joys are such as far transcend your rage,
When tender youth has wedded stooping age.

The beauteous dame sat smiling at the board,
And darted amorous glances at her lord.
Not Hester's self, whose charms the Hebrews sing,
E'er look'd so lovely on her Persian king:
Bright as the rising sun in summer's day,
And fresh and blooming as the month of May!
The joyful knight survey'd her by his side,
Nor envied Paris with his Spartan bride:
Still as his mind revolved with vast delight
Th' entrancing raptures of th' approaching night,
Restless he sat, invoking every power
To speed his bliss, and haste the happy hour.
Meantime the vigorous dancers beat the ground,
And songs were sung, and flowing bowls went round.
With odorous spices they perfumed the place,
And mirth and pleasure shone in every face.

Damian alone, of all the menial train,
Sad in the midst of triumphs, sigh'd for pain;
Damian alone, the knight's obsequious squire,
Consumed at heart, and fed a secret fire.
His lovely mistress all his soul possess'd,
He look'd, he languish'd, and could take no rest:
His task perform'd, he sadly went his way,
Fell on his bed, and loath'd the light of day:
There let him lie; till his relenting dame
Weep in her turn, and waste in equal flame.

The weary sun, as learnèd poets write,
Forsook th' horizon, and roll'd down the light;
While glittering stars his absent beams supply.
And night's dark mantle overspread the sky.
Then rose the guests, and, as the time required,
Each paid his thanks, and decently retired.

The foe once gone, our knight prepared t' undress,
So keen he was, and eager to possess;
But first thought fit th' assistance to receive,
Which grave physicians scruple not to give:
Satyrion near, with hot eringoes stood,
Cantharides, to fire the lazy blood,
Whose use old bards describe in luscious rhymes,
And critics learn'd explain to modern times.

By this the sheets were spread, the bride undress'd,
The room was sprinkled, and the bed was bless'd.
What next ensued beseems not me to say;
'Tis sung, he labour'd till the dawning day,
Then briskly sprung from bed, with heart so light,
As all were nothing he had done by night,
And sipp'd his cordial as he sat upright.
He kiss'd his balmy spouse with wanton play,
And feebly sung a lusty roundelay:
Then on the couch his weary limbs he cast;
For every labour must have rest at last.

But anxious cares the pensive squire oppress'd,
Sleep fled his eyes, and peace forsook his breast;
The raging flames that in his bosom dwell,
He wanted art to hide, and means to tell:
Yet hoping time th' occasion might betray,
Composed a sonnet to the lovely May;
Which, writ and folded with the nicest art,
He wrapp'd in silk, and laid upon his heart.

When now the fourth revolving day was run,
('Twas June, and Cancer had received the sun),
Forth from her chamber came the beauteous bride;
The good old knight moved slowly by her side.
High mass was sung; they feasted in the hall;
The servants round stood ready at their call
The squire alone was absent from the board,
And much his sickness grieved his worthy lord,
Who pray'd his spouse, attended with her train,
To visit Damian, and divert his pain.
Th' obliging dames obey'd with one consent:
They left the hall, and to his lodging went.
The female tribe surround him as he lay,
And close beside him sat the gentle May:
Where, as she tried his pulse, he softly drew
A heaving sigh, and cast a mournful view!
Then gave his bill, and bribed the Powers divine
With secret vows, to favour his design.

Who studies now but discontented May?
On her soft couch uneasily she lay:
The lumpish husband snored away the night,
Till coughs awaked him near the morning light.
What then he did, I'll not presume to tell,
Nor if she thought herself in heaven or hell:
Honest and dull in nuptial bed they lay,
Till the bell toll'd, and all arose to pray.

Were it by forceful destiny decreed,
Or did from chance, or nature's power proceed;
Or that some star, with aspect kind to love,
Shed its selectest influence from above;
Whatever was the cause, the tender dame
Felt the first motions of an infant flame;
Received th' impressions of the love-sick squire,
And wasted in the soft infectious fire.

Ye fair, draw near, let May's example move
Your gentle minds to pity those who love!
Had some fierce tyrant in her stead been found,
The poor adorer sure had hang'd or drown'd;
But she, your sex's mirror, free from pride,
Was much too meek to prove a homicide.

But to my tale:--Some sages have defined
Pleasure the sovereign bliss of humankind:
Our knight (who studied much, we may suppose)
Derived his high philosophy from those;
For, like a prince, he bore the vast expense
Of lavish pomp, and proud magnificence:
His house was stately, his retinue gay,
Large was his train, and gorgeous his array.
His spacious garden, made to yield to none,
Was compass'd round with walls of solid stone;
Priapus could not half describe the grace
(Though god of gardens) of this charming place:
A place to tire the rambling wits of France
In long descriptions, and exceed romance:
Enough to shame the gentlest bard that sings
Of painted meadows, and of purling springs.

Full in the centre of the flowery ground
A crystal fountain spread its streams around,
The fruitful banks with verdant laurels crown'd.
About this spring (if ancient fame say true)
The dapper elves their moonlight sports pursue:
Their pigmy king, and little fairy queen,
In circling dances gamboll'd on the green,
While tuneful sprites a merry concert made,
And airy music warbled through the shade.

Hither the noble knight would oft repair,
(His scene of pleasure, and peculiar care):
For this he held it dear, and always bore
The silver key that lock'd the garden door.
To this sweet place, in summer's sultry heat,
He used from noise and business to retreat:
And here in dalliance spend the livelong day,
Solus cum sola, with his sprightly May:
For whate'er work was undischarged abed,
The duteous knight in this fair garden sped.

But ah! what mortal lives of bliss secure?
How short a space our worldly joys endure!
O Fortune! fair, like all thy treacherous kind,
But faithless still, and wavering as the wind!
O painted monster, form'd mankind to cheat
With pleasing poison, and with soft deceit!
This rich, this amorous, venerable knight,
Amidst his ease, his solace, and delight,
Struck blind by thee, resigns his days to grief,
And calls on death, the wretch's last relief.

The rage of jealousy then seized his mind,
For much he fear'd the faith of womankind.
His wife, not suffer'd from his side to stray,
Was captive kept; he watch'd her night and day,
Abridged her pleasures, and confined her sway.
Full oft in tears did hapless May complain,
And sigh'd full oft; but sigh'd and wept in vain:
She look'd on Damian with a lover's eye;
For oh, 'twas fix'd; she must possess or die!
Nor less impatience vex'd her amorous squire,
Wild with delay, and burning with desire.
Watch'd as she was, yet could he not refrain
By secret writing to disclose his pain;
The dame by signs reveal'd her kind intent,
Till both were conscious what each other meant.

Ah! gentle knight, what would thy eyes avail,
Though they could see as far as ships can sail?
'Tis better, sure, when blind, deceived to be,
Than be deluded when a man can see!

Argus himself, so cautious and so wise,
Was overwatch'd, for all his hundred eyes:
So many an honest husband may, 'tis known,
Who, wisely, never thinks the case his own.

The dame at last, by diligence and care,
Procured the key her knight was wont to bear;
She took the wards in wax before the fire,
And gave th' impression to the trusty squire.
By means of this some wonder shall appear,
Which, in due place and season, you may hear.
Well sung sweet Ovid, in the days of yore,
What slight is that which love will not explore?
And Pyramus and Thisbe plainly show
The feats true lovers, when they list, can do:
Though watch'd and captive, yet in spite of all,
They found the art of kissing through a wall.

But now no longer from our tale to stray;
It happ'd, that once, upon a summer's day,
Our reverend knight was urged to amorous play;
He raised his spouse ere matin-bell was rung,
And thus his morning canticle he sung:

'Awake, my love, disclose thy radiant eyes!
Arise, my wife, my beauteous lady, rise!
Hear how the doves with pensive notes complain,
And in soft murmurs tell the trees their pain:
The winter's past; the clouds and tempests fly;
The sun adorns the fields, and brightens all the sky.
Fair without spot, whose every charming part
My bosom wounds, and captivates my heart!
Come, and in mutual pleasures let's engage,
Joy of my life, and comfort of my age!'

This heard, to Damian straight a sign she made
To haste before; the gentle squire obey'd:
Secret and undescried he took his way,
And, ambush'd close, behind an arbour lay.

It was not long ere January came,
And hand in hand with him his lovely dame;
Blind as he was, not doubting all was sure,
He turn'd the key, and made the gate secure.

'Here let us walk,' he said, 'observed by none,
Conscious of pleasures to the world unknown:
So may my soul have joy, as thou, my wife,
Art far the dearest solace of my life;
And rather would I choose, by heaven above!
To die this instant, than to lose thy love.
Reflect what truth was in my passion shown,
When, unendow'd, I took thee for my own,
And sought no treasure but thy heart alone.
Old as I am, and now deprived of sight,
Whilst thou art faithful to thy own true knight,
Nor age, nor blindness rob me of delight.
Each other loss with patience I can bear,
The loss of thee is what I only fear.

'Consider then, my lady, and my wife,
The solid comforts of a virtuous life.
As, first, the love of Christ himself you gain;
Next, your own honour undefiled maintain;
And, lastly, that which sure your mind must move,
My whole estate shall gratify your love:
Make your own terms, and ere to-morrow's sun
Displays his light, by heaven, it shall be done!
I seal the contract with a holy kiss,
And will perform, by this--my dear, and this--
Have comfort, spouse, nor think thy lord unkind;
'Tis love, not jealousy, that fires my mind!
For when thy charms my sober thoughts engage,
And join'd to them my own unequal age,
From thy dear side I have no power to part,
Such secret transports warm my melting heart.
For who that once possess'd those heavenly charms,
Could live one moment absent from thy arms?'

He ceased, and May with modest grace replied,
(Weak was her voice, as while she spoke she cried):
'Heaven knows (with that a tender sigh she drew)
I have a soul to save as well as you;
And, what no less you to my charge commend,
My dearest honour will to death defend.
To you in holy church I gave my hand,
And join'd my heart in wedlock's sacred band:
Yet after this, if you distrust my care,
Then hear, my lord, and witness what I swear:

'First may the yawning earth her bosom rend,
And let me hence to hell alive descend;
Or die the death I dread no less than hell,
Sew'd in a sack, and plunged into a well,
Ere I my fame by one lewd act disgrace,
Or once renounce the honour of my race.
For know, sir knight, of gentle blood I came;
I loathe a whore, and startle at the name.
But jealous men on their own crimes reflect,
And learn from thence their ladies to suspect:
Else why these heedless cautions, sir, to me
These doubts and fears of female constancy
This chime still rings in every lady's ear,
The only strain a wife must hope to hear.'

Thus while she spoke a sidelong glance she cast,
Where Damian, kneeling, worshipp'd as she pass'd.
She saw him watch the motions of her eye,
And singled out a pear-tree planted nigh:
'Twas charged with fruit that made a goodly show,
And hung with dangling pears was every bough.
Thither th' obsequious squire address'd his pace,
And, climbing, in the summit took his place;
The knight and lady walk'd beneath in view,
Where let us leave them and our tale pursue.

'Twas now the season when the glorious sun
His heavenly progress through the Twins had run;
And Jove, exalted, his mild influence yields,
To glad the glebe, and paint the flowery fields:
Clear was the day, and Phoebus, rising bright,
Had streak'd the azure firmament with light;
He pierced the glittering clouds with golden streams,
And warm'd the womb of earth with genial beams.

It so befell, in that fair morning tide,
The fairies sported on the garden side,
And in the midst their monarch and his bride.
So featly tripp'd the light-foot ladies round,
The knights so nimbly o'er the greensward bound,
That scarce they bent the flowers or touch'd the ground.
The dances ended, all the fairy train
For pinks and daisies search'd the flowery plain;
While on a bank reclined of rising green,
Thus, with a frown, the king bespoke his queen:

''Tis too apparent, argue what you can,
The treachery you women use to man:
A thousand authors have this truth made out,
And sad experience leaves no room for doubt.

'Heaven rest thy spirit, noble Solomon!
A wiser monarch never saw the sun:
All wealth, all honours, the supreme degree
Of earthly bliss, was well bestow'd on thee!
For sagely hast thou said, Of all mankind,
One only just, and righteous, hope to find:
But shouldst thou search the spacious world around,
Yet one good woman is not to be found.

'Thus says the king, who knew your wickedness;
The son of Sirach testifies no less.
So may some wild-fire on your bodies fall,
Or some devouring plague consume you all;
As well you view the lecher in the tree,
And well this honourable knight you see:
But, since he's blind and old (a helpless case),
His squire shall cuckold him before your face.

'Now by my own dread majesty I swear,
And by this awful sceptre which I bear,
No impious wretch shall 'scape unpunish'd long,
That in my presence offers such a wrong.
I will this instant undeceive the knight,
And in the very act restore his sight:
And set the strumpet here in open view,
A warning to these ladies, and to you,
And all the faithless sex, for ever to be true.'

'And will you so,' replied the queen, 'indeed?
Now, by my mother's soul, it is decreed,
She shall not want an answer at her need.
For her, and for her daughters, I'll engage,
And all the sex in each succeeding age;
Art shall be theirs to varnish an offence,
And fortify their crimes with confidence.
Nay, were they taken in a strict embrace,
Seen with both eyes, and pinion'd on the place;
All they shall need is to protest and swear,
Breathe a soft sigh, and drop a tender tear;
Till their wise husbands, gull'd by arts like these,
Grow gentle, tractable, and tame as geese.

'What though this slanderous Jew, this Solomon,
Call'd women fools, and knew full many a one;
The wiser wits of later times declare
How constant, chaste, and virtuous women are:
Witness the martyrs who resign'd their breath,
Serene in torments, unconcern'd in death;
And witness next what Roman authors tell,
How Arria, Portia, and Lucretia fell.

'But since the sacred leaves to all are free,
And men interpret texts, why should not we?
By this no more was meant than to have shown
That sovereign goodness dwells in Him alone,
Who only Is, and is but only One.
But grant the worst; shall women then be weigh'd
By every word that Solomon hath said
What though this king (as ancient story boasts)
Built a fair temple to the Lord of Hosts;
He ceased at last his Maker to adore,
And did as much for idol gods, or more.
Beware what lavish praises you confer
On a rank lecher and idolater;
Whose reign indulgent God, says Holy Writ,
Did but for David's righteous sake permit;
David the monarch after Heaven's own mind,
Who loved our sex, and honour'd all our kind.

'Well, I'm a woman, and as such must speak;
Silence would swell me, and my heart would break.
Know, then, I scorn your dull authorities,
Your idle wits, and all their learned lies:
By heaven, those authors are our sex's foes,
Whom, in our right, I must and will oppose!'

'Nay,' quoth the king, 'dear madam, be not wroth;
I yield it up; but since I gave my oath,
That this much-injured knight again should see;
It must be done--I am a king,' said he,
'And one whose faith has ever sacred been--'

'And so has mine' (she said)--'I am a queen:
Her answer she shall have, I undertake;
And thus an end of all dispute I make.
Try when you list; and you shall find, my lord,
It is not in our sex to break our word.'

We leave them here in this heroic strain,
And to the knight our story turns again;
Who in the garden, with his lovely May,
Sung merrier than the cuckoo or the jay:
This was his song, 'Oh kind and constant be;
Constant and kind I'll ever prove to thee.'

Thus singing as he went, at last he drew
By easy steps to where the pear-tree grew:
The longing dame look'd up, and spied her love
Full fairly perch'd among the boughs above.
She stopp'd, and sighing, 'O good gods!' she cried,
'What pangs, what sudden shoots distend my side
Oh for that tempting fruit, so fresh, so green;
Help, for the love of heaven's immortal queen!
Help, dearest lord, and save at once the life
Of thy poor infant, and thy longing wife!'

Sore sigh'd the knight to hear his lady's cry,
But could not climb, and had no servant nigh:
Old as he was, and void of eyesight too,
What could, alas! a helpless husband do?
'And must I languish, then, (she said), and die,
Yet view the lovely fruit before my eye?
At least, kind sir, for charity's sweet sake,
Vouchsafe the trunk between your arms to take;
Then from your back I might ascend the tree;
Do you but stoop, and leave the rest to me.'

'With all my soul,' he thus replied again,
'I'd spend my dearest blood to ease thy pain.'
With that his back against the trunk he bent;
She seized a twig, and up the tree she went.

Now prove your patience, gentle ladies all!
Nor let on me your heavy anger fall:
'Tis truth I tell, though not in phrase refined;
Though blunt my tale, yet honest is my mind.
What feats the lady in the tree might do,
I pass, as gambols never known to you;
But sure it was a merrier fit, she swore,
Than in her life she ever felt before.

In that nice moment, lo! the wondering knight
Look'd out, and stood restored to sudden sight.
Straight on the tree his eager eyes he bent,
As one whose thoughts were on his spouse intent;
But when he saw his bosom-wife so dress'd,
His rage was such as cannot be express'd:
Not frantic mothers, when their infants die,
With louder clamours rend the vaulted sky:
He cried, he roar'd, he storm'd, he tore his hair:
'Death! hell! and furies! what dost thou do there?'

'What ails my lord?' the trembling dame replied,
'I thought your patience had been better tried:
Is this your love, ungrateful and unkind,
This my reward for having cured the blind?
Why was I taught to make my husband see,
By struggling with a man upon a tree
Did I for this the power of magic prove?
Unhappy wife, whose crime was too much love!'

'If this be struggling, by this holy light,
'Tis struggling with a vengeance (quoth the knight):
So Heaven preserve the sight it has restored,
As with these eyes I plainly saw thee whored;
Whored by my slave--perfidious wretch! may hell
As surely seize thee, as I saw too well.'

'Guard me, good angels!' cried the gentle May,
'Pray heaven this magic work the proper way!
Alas, my love! 'tis certain, could you see,
You ne'er had used these killing words to me:
So help me, Fates! as 'tis no perfect sight,
But some faint glimmering of a doubtful light.'

'What I have said (quoth he) I must maintain,
For by th' immortal powers it seem'd too plain--'

'By all those powers, some frenzy seized your mind
(Replied the dame), are these the thanks I find?
Wretch that I am, that e'er I was so kind!'
She said; a rising sigh express'd her woe,
The ready tears apace began to flow,
And, as they fell, she wiped from either eye
The drops (for women, when they list, can cry).

The knight was touch'd; and in his looks appear'd
Signs of remorse, while thus his spouse he cheer'd:
'Madam, 'tis past, and my short anger o'er!
Come down, and vex your tender heart no more:
Excuse me, dear, if aught amiss was said,
For, on my soul, amends shall soon be made:
Let my repentance your forgiveness draw;
By heaven, I swore but what I thought I saw.'

'Ah, my loved lord! 'twas much unkind (she cried)
On bare suspicion thus to treat your bride.
But, till your sight's establish'd, for a while,
Imperfect objects may your sense beguile.
Thus, when from sleep we first our eyes display,
The balls are wounded with the piercing ray,
And dusky vapours rise and intercept the day;
So, just recovering from the shades of night,
Your swimming eyes are drunk with sudden light,
Strange phantoms dance around, and skim before your sight.
Then, sir, be cautious, nor too rashly deem;
Heaven knows how seldom things are what they seem!
Consult your reason, and you soon shall find
'Twas you were jealous, not your wife unkind:
Jove ne'er spoke oracle more true than this,
None judge so wrong as those who think amiss.'

With that she leap'd into her lord's embrace,
With well-dissembled virtue in her face.
He hugg'd her close, and kiss'd her o'er and o'er,
Disturb'd with doubts and jealousies no more:
Both, pleased and bless'd, renew'd their mutual vows:
A fruitful wife, and a believing spouse.

Thus ends our tale, whose moral next to make,
Let all wise husbands hence example take;
And pray, to crown the pleasure of their lives,
To be so well deluded by their wives.

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