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land we have a larger space
Than what is known to you of mortal race :
Where we with green adorn our fairy bowers,
And ev'n this grove, unseen before, is ours.
Know farther ; every lady cloth'd in white,
And, crown'd with oak and laurel every knight,
Are servants to the leaf, by liveries known
Of innocence; and I myself am one.
Saw you not her so graceful to behold
In white attire, and crown'd with radiant gold?
The sovereign lady of our land is she,
Diana call’d, the queen of chastity :
And, for the spotless name of maid she bears,
That Agnus castus in her hand appears ;
And all her train, with leafy chaplets crown'd,
Were for unblam'd virginity renown'd;
But those the chief and highest in command
Who bear those holy branches in their hand :
The knights adorn’d with laurel crowns are they,
Whom death nor danger never could dismay,
who made the world obey :
Who, while they liv’d, in deeds of arms excell'd,
And after death for deities were held.
But those, who wear the woodbine on their brow,
Were knights of love, who never broke their vow;
Firm to their plighted faith, and ever free
From fears, and fickle chance, and jealousy.
The lords and ladies, who the woodbine bear,
As true as Tristram and Isotta were.
But what are those, said I, th' unconquer'd nine, Who crown’d with laurel-wreaths in golden armour
And who the knights in green, and what the train
Of ladies dress’d with dailies on the plain ?
Why both the bands in worship disagree,
And some adore the flower, and some the tree ?
Just is your suit, fair daughter, said the dame :
Those laurel'd chiefs were men of mighty fame;
Nine worthies were they callid of different rites,
Three jews, three pagans, and three christian knights.
These, as you see, ride foremost in the field,
As they the foremost rank of honour held,
And all in deeds of chivalry exceld:
Their temples wreath'd with leaves, that still renew;
For deathless laurel is the victor's due :
Who bear the bows were knights in Arthur's reign,
Twelve they, and twelve the peers of Charlemain :
For bows the strength of brawny arms imply,
Emblems of valour and of victory.
Behold an order yet of newer date,
Doubling their number, equal in their state;
Our England's ornament, the crown's defence,
In battle brave, protectors of their prince :
Unchang’d by fortune, to their sovereign true,
For which their manly legs are bound with blue.
These, of the garter callid, of faith unstain'd,
In fighting fields the laurel have obtain'd,
And well repaid the honours which they gain'd.
The laurel wreaths were first by Cæsar worn,
And still they Cæsar's successors adorn :
One leaf of this is immortality,
And more of worth than all the world can buy.
One doubt remains, said I, the dames in green,
What were their qualities, and who their queen?
Flora commands, said the, those nymphs and knights,
Who liv'd in slothful ease and loose delights;
Who never acts of honour durst pursue,
The men inglorious knights, the ladies all untrue :
Who, nurs’d in idleness, and train’d in courts,
Pass'd all their precious hours in plays and sports,
Till death behind came stalking on, unseen,
And wither'd (like the storm) the freshness of their green
These, and their mates, enjoy their present hour,
And therefore pay their homage to the flower.
But knights in knightly deeds should perfevere,
And still continue what at first they were ;
Continue, and proceed in honour's fair career.
No room for cowardice, or dull delay;
From good to better they should urge
way. For this with golden ipurs the chiefs are grac’dl, With pointed rowels arm’d to mend their haste; For this with lasting leaves their brows are bound; For laurel is the sign of labour crown’d, Which bears the bitter blast, nor snaken falls to ground: From winter winds it suffers no decay, For ever fresh and fair, and every month is May. Ev’n when the vital sap retreats below, Ev’n when the hoary head is hid in snow; The life is in the leaf, and still between The fits of falling snow appears the streaky green.
Not so the flower, which lasts for little space,
A short-liv'd good, and an uncertain grace ;
This way and that the feeble stem is driven,
Weak to sustain the storms and injuries of heaven.
Propp'd by the spring, it lifts aloft the head,
But of a fickly beautyu foon to shed ;
In summer living, and in winter dead.
For things of tender kind, for pleasure made,
Shoot up with swift increase, and sudden are decay’d.
With humble words, the wiseft I could frame,
And proffer'd service, I repaid the dame;
That, of her grace, she gave her maid to know
The secret meaning of this moral snow.
And the, to prove what profit I had made
Of mystic truth, in fables first convey'd,
Demanded till the next returning May,
Whether the leaf or flower I would obey ?
I chose the leaf; she smild with sober chear,
And wish'd me fair adventure for the year,
And gave me charms and sigils, for defence
Against ill tongues that scandal innocence:
But I, said she, my fellows must pursue,
Already past the plain, and out of view.
We parted thus; I homeward fped my way,
Bewilder'd in the wood till dawn of day:
And met the merry crew who danc'd about the May.
Then late refrethod with sleep, I rose to write
The visionary vigils of the night :
Blush, as thou may'st, my little book, with shame,
Nor hope with homely verse to purchase fame;
For fuch thy Maker chose : and so design'd
Thy limple stile to suit thy lowly kind.
N days of old, when Arthur fill'd the throne,
Whose acts and fame to foreign lands were blown ;
The king of elfs and little fairy queen
Gambol'd on heaths, and danc'd on every green ;
And where the jolly troop had led the round,
The grass unbidden rose, and mark'd the ground:
Nor darkling did they glance, the silver light
Of Phæbe serv'd to guide their steps aright,
And, with their tripping pleas'd, prolong the night.
Her beams they follow'd, where at full the plaid,
Nor longer than the shed her horns they staid,
From thence with airy flight to foreign lands convey’d.
Above the rest our Britain held they dear,
More solemnly they kept their fabbaths here,
And made more spacious rings, and revel'd half the
I speak of ancient times, for now the swain
Returning late may pass the woods in vain,
And never hope to see the nightly train :
In vain the dairy now with mint is dress’d,
The dairy-inaid expects no fairy guest,
To skim the bowls, and after pay the feast.
She sighs, and shakes her empty shoes in vain,
No filver penny to reward her pain :
For priests, with prayers and other goodly geer,
Have made the merry goblins disappear ;