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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 Knighty
Nor age, nor blindness, rabs me of delight.
Each other lass 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,
Sewed 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 sue cast Where Damian kneeling, worshippd as she past:
She saw him watch the motions of her eye,
And singled out a pear-tree planted nigh:
'Twas charged with fruit which made a goodly show,
And hung with dangling pears was every bough.
Thither the 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 warmed 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-sward 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 the 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 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 flame consume you all;
As i ell 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,
Called 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 resigned their breath,
Serene in torments, unconcerned 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 weighed
By every word that Solomon has said ?
What tho' 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 honoured 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-Oh! 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 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: