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A lovely lady rode him fair beside,
Upon a lowly ass more white than snow;
Yet she much whiter, but the same did hide
Under a veil, that wimpled was full low,
And over all a black stole did she throw,
As one that inly mourn'd: so was she sad,
And heavy sat upon her palfrey slow;
Seemed in heart some hidden care she had,
And by her in a line a milk white lamb she led.
So pure and innocent, as that same lamb,
She was in life and every virtuous lore,
And by descent from royal lineage came
Of ancient kings and queens, that had of yore
Their sceptres stretcht from east to western shore,'
And all the world in their subjection held ;
Till that infernal fiend with foul uproar
Forewasted all their land and them expellid:
Whom to avenge she had this knight from far com-
Behind her far away a dwarf did lag,
That lazy seem'd in being ever last,
Or wearied with bearing of her bag
Of needments at his back. Thus as they past
The day with clouds was sudden overcast,
And angry Jove an hideous storm of rain
Did pour into his leman's lap so fast,
That every wight to shroud it did constrain, (fain.
And this fair couple eke to shroud themselves were
Enforced to seek some covert nigh at hand,
A shady grove not far away they spied,
That promised aid the tempest to withstand ;
Whose lofty trees, yclad with summer's pride,
Did spread so broad, they heaven's light did hide,
Not pierceable with power of any star:
And all within were paths and alleys wide,
With footing worn, and leading inward far:
Fair harbour, that them seems; so in they entered are.
And forth they pass, with pleasure forward led,
Joying to hear the birds' sweet harmony,
Which therein shrouded from the tempest's dread,
Seem'd in their song to scorn the cruel sky.
Much can they praise the trees so strait and high,
The sailing Pine, the Cedar proud and tall,
The vine-prop Elm, the Poplar never dry,
The builder Oak, sole king of forests all,
The Aspin good for staves, the Cypress funeral,
The Laurel, meed of mighty conquerors
And poets sage, the Fir that weepeth still,
The Willow, worn of forlorn paramours,
The Yew, obedient to the bender's will,
The Birch for shafts, the Sallow for the mill,
The Myrrh sweet bleeding in the bitter wound,
The warlike Beech, the ash for nothing ill,
The fruitful Olive, and the Plantain round,
The carver Holme, the Maple seldom inward sound:
Led with delight, they thus beguile the way,
Until the blustering storm is overblown,
When, weening to return, whence they did stray
They cannot find that path which first was shown,
But wander to and fro in ways unknown,
Furthest from end then, when they nearest ween,
That makes them doubt their wits be not their own :
So many paths, so many turnings seen, [been.
That which of them to take, in divers doubts they
Nought is there under Heaven's wide hollowness,
That moves more dear compassion of mind,
Than beauty brought t’unworthy wretchedness,
Through envy's snares, or fortune's freaks unkind.
I, whether lately through her brightness blind,
Or through allegiance and fast fealty,
Which I do owe unto all womankind,
Feel my heart pierced with so great agony,
When such I see, that all for pity I could die.
And now it is impassioned so deep,
For fairest Una's sake, of whom I sing,
That my frail eyes these lines with tears do steep,
To think how she through guilesul handelling,
Though true as touch, though daughter of a king,
Though fair as ever living wight was fair,
Though nor in word nor deed ill meriting,
Is from her knight divorced in despair,
And her due love's derived to that vile witch's share.
Yet she, most faithful lady, all this while
Forsaken, woeful, solitary maid,
Far from all people's preace, as in exile,
In wilderness and wasteful deserts stray'd,
To seek her knight, who, subtily betray'd
Thro’ that late vision, which th' enchanter wrought,
Had her abandoned : she, of nought afraid,
Thro' woods and wasteness wide him daily sought;
Yet wished tidings none of him unto her brought,
One day, nigh weary of the irksome way,
From her unhasty beast she did alight;
And on the grass her dainty limbs did lay
In secret shadow, far from all men's sight;
From her fair head her fillet she undight,
And laid her stole aside: her angel's face,
As the great eye of heaven, shined bright,
And made a sunshine in a shady place;
Did eyer mortal eye behold such heavenly grace.
It fortuned, out of the thickest wood,
A ramping lion rushed suddenly,
Hunting full greedy after savage blood;
Soon as the royal virgin he did spy,
With gaping mouth at her ran greedily,
To have at once devour'd her tender corse ;
But to the prey when as he drew more nigh,
His bloody rage assuaged with remorse,
And, with the sight amazed, forgot his furious force.
Instead thereof he kiss'd her weary feet,
And licked her lily hands with fawning tongue,
As he her wronged innocence did weet.
Oh how can beauty master the most strong,
And simple truth subdue avenging wrong!
Whose yielding pride and proud submission,
Still dreading death, when she had marked long,
Her heart 'gan melt in great compassion,
And drizzling tears did shed for pure affection.
“The lion, lord of every beast in field,”
Quoth she, “his princely puissance doth abate,
And mighty proud to humble weak does yield,
Forgetful of the hungry rage which late
Him prick’d, in pity of my sad estate :
But he, my lion, and my noble lord,
How does he find in cruel heart to hate
Her that him loved, and ever most adored,
As the God of my life? why hath he me abhorred ?"
Redounding tears did choke th' end of her plaint,
Which softly echoed from the neighbour wood;
And, sad to see her sorrowful constraint,
The kingly beast upon her gazing stood;
With pity calm’d, down fell his angry mood.
At last, in close heart shutting up her pain,
Arose the virgin, born of heavenly blood,
And to her snowy palfrey got again,
To seek her strayed champion, if she might attain.
The lion would not leave her desolate,
But with her went along, as strong a guard
Of her chaste person, and a faithful mate
Of her sad troubles, and misfortunes hard.
Still, when she slept, he kept both watch and ward;
And, when she waked, he waited diligent,
With humble service to her will prepared:
From her fair eyes he took commandement,
And ever by her looks conceived her intent.
It was a chosen plot of fertile land,
Amongst wide waves set like a little nest,
As if it had by Nature's cunning hand
Been choicely picked out from all the rest,
And laid forth for ensample of the best :
No dainty flower or herb that grows on ground,
Nor arboret with painted blossoms drest,
And smelling sweet, but there it might found
To bud out fair, and throw her sweet smells all
No tree, whose branches did not bravely spring ;
No branch, whereon a fine bird did not sit;
No bird, but did her shrill notes sweetly sing ;
No song, but did contain a lively dit.
Trees, branches, birds, and songs, were framed fit
For to allure frail mind to careless ease.
Careless the man soon woxe, and his weak wit
Was overcome of thing that did him please :
So pleased, did his wrathful purpose fair appease.
Thus when she had his eyes and senses fed
With false delights, and fill'd with pleasures vain,
Into a shady dale she soft him led,
And laid him down upon a grassy plain,
And her sweet self, without dread or disdain,
She set beside, laying his head disarm’d
In her loose lap, it softly to sustain,
Where soon he slumber'd, fearing not be harm’d;
The whiles with a love-lay she thus him sweetly
“Behold, oh man! that toilsome pains dost take,
The flowers, the fields, and all that pleasant grows,
How they themselves do thine ensample make,
Whiles nothing envious Nature them forth throws
Out of her fruitful lap: how no man knows
They spring, they bud, they blossom fresh and fair,
And deck the world with their rich pompous shows;
Yet no man for them taketh pains or care,
Yet no man to them can his careful pains compare.