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“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 shewn,
When unendow'd, I took thee for my own,
And sought no treasure but thy heart alone.
Old as I am, and now depriv'd 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 undefil'd 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 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;
'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 pow'r to part,
Such secret transports warm my melting heart.
For who that once possess those heav'nly charms,
Could live one moment absent from thy arms?”
He ceas'd, and May with modest grace reply'd;
(Weak was her voice, as while she spoke she cry'd :)
“Heav'n knows” (with that a tender sigh she drew)
“I have a soul to save as well 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 plung'd 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 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 ev'ry 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 past.
She saw him watch the motions of her eye,
And singled out a pear-tree planted nigh:
'Twas charg'd with fruit that made a goodly show,
And hung with dangling pears was ev'ry 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 heav'nly progress thro' the Twins had run;
And Jove, exalted, his mild influence yields,
To glad the glebe, and paint the flow'ry fields:
Clear was the day, and Phoebus 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 befel, 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 green sword bound,
The dances ended, all the fairy train
For pinks and daisies search'd the flow'ry plain ;
While on a bank reclin'd 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.
“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 should'st 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 these Ladies, and to you,
And all the faithless sex, for ever to be true.”
“And will you so," reply'd the Queen, “indeed?
Now, by 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, guli'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 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 ev'ry word that Solomon has 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 bụt 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: 700
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: 705 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,
710 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."
715 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 spy'd her Love Full fairly perch'd among the boughs above. She stopp'd, and sighing: “Oh good Gods,” she cry'd, 720 “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!”.
725 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 eye-sight too, What could, alas! a helpless husband do? “And must I languish then, she said, “and die,
730 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.
735 “With all my soul,” he thus reply'd 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!
740 Nor let on me your heavy anger fall: 'Tis 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 ;
745 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 cry'd, 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 reply'd;
“I thought your patience had been better try'd:
Is this your love, ungrateful and unkind,
This my reward for having cur'd the blind?
Why was I taught to make my husband see,
By struggling with a Man upon a Tree?
Did I for this the pow'r 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 heav'n preserve the sight it has restor’d,
As with these eyes I plainly saw thee whor'd;
Whor'd by my slave-perfidious wretch! may hell
As surely seize thee, as I saw too well.”
“Guard me, good angels !” cry'd the gentle May, “Pray heav'n, this magic work the proper way! Alas, my love ! 'tis certain, could you see, You ne'er had us'd these killing words to me: So help me, fates, as ’tis 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 pow'rs it seem'd too plain—"
· By all those pow'rs, some frenzy seiz'd your mind,'
(Reply'd the dame,) “are these the thanks Í 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 wip'd 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 he made :
Let my repentance your forgiveness draw,
By heav'n, I swore but what I thought I saw.
“Ah my lov'd lord ! 'twas much unkind (she cry’d)
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.