Home  »  Complete Poetical Works by Alexander Pope  »  January and May; or, The Merchant’s Tale

Alexander Pope (1688–1744). Complete Poetical Works. 1903.

Paraphrases from Chaucer

January and May; or, The Merchant’s Tale

  • Pope says that this ‘translation’ was done at sixteen or seventeen years of age. It was first published, with the Pastorals, in 1709, in Tonson’s sixth Miscellany. Eventually Pope grouped the Chaucer imitations with Eloisa to Abelard, the translations from Ovid and Statius and the brief Imitations of English Poets. To this collection be prefixed this Advertisement:—
  • ‘The following Translations were selected from many others done by the Author in his youth; for the most part indeed but a sort of Exercises, while he was improving himself in the Languages, and carried by his early bent to Poetry to perform them rather in Verse than Prose. Mr. Dryden’s Fables came out about that time, which occasioned the Translations from Chaucer. They were first separately printed in Miscellanies by J. Tonson and B. Lintot, and afterwards collected in the Quarto Edition of 1717. The Imitations of English Authors, which are added at the end, were done as early, some of them at fourteen or fifteen years old; but having also got into Miscellanies, we have put them here together to complete this Juvenile Volume.’
  • Warburton asserts that Pope did not intend to include this group of poems in the final edition of his works.

  • THERE liv’d in Lombardy, as authors write,

    In days of old, a wise and worthy Knight;

    Of gentle manners, as of gen’rous race,

    Blest 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 heav’nly 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:

    Unaw’d 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 Heav’n to please;

    And pass his inoffensive hours away,

    In bliss all night, and innocence all day:

    Tho’ 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 sland’rous words regard,

    But curse the bones of ev’ry lying bard.

    All other goods by Fortune’s hand are giv’n,

    A wife is the peculiar gift of Heav’n.

    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 ev’n in Paradise unbless’d,

    With mournful looks the blissful scene survey’d,

    And wander’d in the solitary shade.

    The Maker saw, took pity, and bestow’d

    Woman, the last, the best reserv’d 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.

    ’T was by Rebecca’s aid that Jacob won

    His father’s blessing from an elder son:

    Abusive Nabal ow’d his forfeit life

    To the wise conduct of a prudent wife:

    Heroic Judith, as old Hebrews show,

    Preserv’d the Jews, and slew th’ Assyrian foe:

    At Hester’s suit the persecuting sword

    Was sheath’d, and Israel liv’d 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 resolv’d 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 liv’d, alas! you know too well—

    In worldly follies which I blush to tell;

    But gracious Heav’n 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 approv’d 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 ’t was 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 bean-straw, 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;

    ’T is 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 curs’d 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; ’t is time to take a wife,

    When vig’rous blood forbids a chaster life:

    Those that are blest with store of grace divine,

    May live like saints by Heav’n’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 ev’ry part.

    Think not my virtue lost, tho’ time has shed

    These rev’rend 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 inclin’d,

    Let ev’ry friend with freedom speak his mind.’

    He said; the rest in diff’rent parts divide;

    The knotty point was urged on either side:

    Marriage, the theme on which they all declaim’d,

    Some prais’d 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 liv’d a courtier all my days,

    And studied men, their manners, and their ways;

    And have observ’d 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 ev’ry 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 rev’rend 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, tho’ not Faith, had Sense as well as we)

    Bids us be certain our concerns to trust

    To those of gen’rous 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.

    ’T is true, perfection none must hope to find

    In all this world, much less in womankind;

    But if her virtue 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.

    Heav’n 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 vig’rous 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.’

    ‘’T is well, ’t is wondrous well,’ the Knight replies,

    ‘Most worthy kinsman, faith, you ’re mighty wise!

    We, Sirs, are fools; and must resign the cause

    To heath’nish 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 Heav’n 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 appeas’d,

    The Knight should marry when and where he pleas’d.

    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 ev’ry 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 aspers’d her fame;

    That was with Sense, but not with Virtue blest;

    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 revolv’d 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 ev’ry friend,

    And told them all their pains were at an end.

    ‘Heav’n, 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, tho’ not rich; and, tho’ not nobly born,

    Of honest parents, and may serve my turn.

    Her will I wed, if gracious Heav’n 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 ’t is too much for human race to know

    The bliss of Heav’n 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,

    Heav’n put it past a doubt whene’er you wed;

    And to my fervent prayers so far consent,

    That, ere the rites are o’er, you may repent!

    Good Heav’n, no doubt, the nuptial state approves,

    Since it chastises still what best it loves.

    ‘Then be not, Sir, abandon’d to despair;

    Seek, and perhaps you ’ll find among the Fair

    One that may do your business to a hair;

    Not ev’n 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 int’rest 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 th’ obedient wife

    Like Sarah or Rebecca lead her life;

    Then pray’d the Powers the fruitful bed to bless,

    And make 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 ev’ry Knight:

    Pleas’d 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 am’rous 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 revolv’d 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 vig’rous dancers beat the ground,

    And songs were sung, and flowing bowls went round.

    With od’rous spices they perfumed the place,

    And mirth and pleasure shone in ev’ry 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 learned poets write,

    Forsook th’ horizon, and roll’d down the light;

    While glitt’ring 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;

    ’T is 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 ev’ry labour must have rest at last.

    But anxious cares the pensive Squire opprest,

    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 wrapt in silk, and laid upon his heart.

    When now the fourth revolving day was run,

    (’T was June, and Cancer had receiv’d the sun)

    Forth from her chamber came the beauteous bride;

    The good old Knight mov’d 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 griev’d 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 Heav’n 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;

    Receiv’d th’ impressions of the lovesick 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 defin’d

    Pleasure the sov’reign 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

    (Tho’ 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 pygmy King, and little fairy Queen,

    In circling dances gambol’d on the green,

    While tuneful sprites a merry concert made,

    And airy music warbled thro’ 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 bus’ness to retreat;

    And here in dalliance spend the livelong day,

    Solus cum sola, with his sprightly May:

    For whate’er work was undischarg’d 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 treach’rous kind,

    But faithless still, and wav’ring as the wind!

    O painted monster, form’d mankind to cheat,

    With pleasing poison, and with soft deceit!

    This rich, this am’rous, 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 seiz’d 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,

    Abridg’d her pleasures, and confin’d 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, ’t was fix’d; she must possess or die!

    Nor less impatience vex’d her am’rous 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,

    Tho’ they could see as far as ships can sail?

    ’T is better, sure, when blind, deceiv’d 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, ’t is 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 sleight is that which love will not explore!

    And Pyramus and Thisbe plainly show

    The feats true lovers, when they list, can do:

    Tho’ watch’d and captive, yet in spite of all,

    They found the art of kissing thro’ a wall.

    But now no longer from our tale to stray,

    It happ’d, that once upon a summer’s day

    Our rev’rend Knight was urged to am’rous play:

    He rais’d 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 ev’ry 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, ‘observ’d 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 Heav’n 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, robs 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 mountain;

    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 Heav’n 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;

    ’T is 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 heav’nly charms,

    Could live one moment absent from thy arms?’

    He ceas’d, and May with modest grace replied

    (Weak was her voice, as while she spoke she cried):

    ‘Heav’n 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 needless 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 Damain kneeling worship’d as she past.

    She saw him watch the motions of her eye,

    And singled out a pear tree planted nigh:

    ’T was 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.

    ’T was now the season when the glorious sun

    His heav’nly 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 Phœbus, rising bright,

    Had streak’d the azure firmament with light;

    He pierc’d the glitt’ring 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 reclin’d of rising green,

    Thus, with a frown, the King bespoke his Queen.

    ‘’T is 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.

    ‘Heav’n 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 wildfire 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 the 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 tho’ this sland’rous 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 sov’reign 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 tho’ this king (as ancient story boasts)

    Built a fair temple to the Lord of Hosts;

    He ceas’d 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 Heav’n’s own mind,

    Who lov’d 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 Heav’n, 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 injur’d 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, ‘O 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?

    O for that tempting fruit, so fresh, so green!

    Help, for the love of Heav’n’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 seiz’d a twig, and up the tree she went.

    Now prove your patience, gentle ladies all!

    Nor let on me your heavy anger fall:

    ’T is truth I tell, tho’ not in phrase refin’d;

    Tho’ 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 wond’ring Knight

    Look’d out, and stood restor’d 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,

    ’T is struggling with a vengeance (quoth the Knight):

    So Heav’n 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 Heav’n this magic work the proper way!

    Alas, my love! ’t is certain, could you see,

    You ne’er had used these killing words to me:

    So help me, Fates! as ’t is no perfect sight,

    But some faint glimm’ring 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 seiz’d 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, ’t is 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 Heav’n, I swore but what I thought I saw.’

    ‘Ah, my lov’d lord! ’t was 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 recov’ring 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;

    Heav’n knows how seldom things are what they seem!

    Consult your reason, and you soon shall find

    ’T was 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 pleas’d 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.