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The process of the war I need not tell,
How Theseus conquer'd, and how Creon fell:
Or after, how by storm the walls were won,
Or how the victor sack'd and burn'd the town:
How to the ladies he restor'd again
The bodies of their lords in battle slain :
And with what ancient rites they were interr'd;
All these to fitter times shall be deferr'd :
I spare the widows' tears, their woeful cries,
And howling at their husbands' obsequies ;
How Theseus at these funerals did assist,
And with what gifts the mourning dames dismiss’d.
Thus when the victor chief had Creon slain,
And conquer'd Thebes, he pitch'd upon the plain
His mighty camp, and, when the day return'd,
The country wasted, and the hamlets burn'd,
And left the pillagers, to rapine bred,
Without control to strip and spoil the dead.
There, in a heap of slain, among the rest Two youthful knights they found beneath a load
oppress'd Of slaughter'd foes, whom, first to death they sent, The trophies of their strength, a bloody monument. Both fair, and both of royal blood they seem'd, Whom kinsmen to the crown the heralds deem'd; That day in equal arms they fought for fame; Their swords, their shields, their surcoats, were the
Close by each other laid, they press'd the ground, Their manly bosoms pierc'd with many a griesly
wound; Nor well alive, nor wholly dead they were, But some faint signs of feeble life appear :
The wandering breath was on the wing to part,
Weak was the pulse, and hardly heav'd the heart.
These two were sisters' sons; and Arcite one,
Much fam'd in fields, with valiant Palamon.
From these their costly arms the spoilers rent,
And softly both convey'd to Theseus' tent:
Whom, known of Creon's line, and cur’d with care,
He to his city sent as prisoners of the war,
Hopeless of ransom, and condemn'd to lie
In durance, doom'd a lingering death to die
This done, he march'd away with warlike sound,
And to his Athens turn'd with laurels crown'd,
Where happy long he liv’d, much lov’d, and more
But in a tower, and never to be loos’d,
The woeful captive kinsmen are enclos'd.
Thus year by year they pass, and day by day, Till once, 'twas on the morn of cheerful May, The young Emilia, fairer to be seen Than the fair lily on the flowery green, More fresh than May herself in blossoms new, For with the rosy colour strove her hue, Wak’d, as her custom was, before the day, To do th' observance due to sprightly May: For sprightly May commands our youth to keep The vigils of her night, and breaks their sluggard
sleep; Each gentle breast with kindly warmth she moves; Inspires new flames, revives extinguish'd loves. In this remembrance Emily, ere day, Arose, and dress'd herself in rich array ;
Fresh as the month, and as the morning fair ;
Adown her shoulders fell her length of hair :
A ribband did the braided tresses bind,
The rest was loose, and wanton'd in the wind:
Aurora had but newly chas'd the night,
And purpled o'er the sky with blushing light,
When to the garden walk she took her way,
To sport and trip along in cool of day,
And offer maiden vows in honour of the May.
At every turn, she made a little stand,
And thrust among the thorns her lily hand
To draw the rose; and every rose she drew,
She shook the stalk, and brush'd away the dew:
Then party-colour'd flowers of white and red
She wove, to make a garland for her head :
This done, she sung and carol'd out so clear,
That men and angels might rejoice to hear :
Ev'n wondering Philomel forgot to sing,
And learn'd from her to welcome-in the Spring.
The tower, of which before was mention made,
Within whose keep the captive knights were laid,
Built of a large extent, and strong withal,
Was one partition of the palace wall:
The garden was enclos'd within the square,
Where young Emilia took the morning air.
It happen’d Palamon, the prisoner knight, Restless for woe, arose before the light, And with his gaoler's leave desir’d to breathe An air more wholesome than the damps beneath : This granted, to the tower he took his way, Cheer'd with the promise of a glorious day :
Then cast a languishing regard around,
And saw with hateful eyes the temples crown'd
With golden spires, and all the hostile ground.
He sigh'd, and turn’d his eyes, because he knew
'Twas but a larger gaol he had in view :
Then look'd below, and, from the castle's height,
Beheld a nearer and more pleasing sight,
The garden, which before he had not seen,
In Spring's new livery clad of white and green,
Fresh flowers in wide parterres, and shady walks
This view'd, but not enjoy'd, with arms across
He stood, reflecting on his country's loss ;
Himself an object of the public scorn,
And often wish'd he never had been born.
At last, for so his destiny requir’d,
With walking giddy, and with thinking tir'd,
He through a little window cast his sight,
Though thick of bars, that gave a scanty light:
But ev'n that glimmering serv'd him to descry
Th' inevitable charms of Emily.
Scarce had he seen, but, seiz’d with sudden smart,
Stung to the quick, he felt it at his heart;
Struck blind with over-powering light he stood,
Then started back amaz’d, and cry'd aloud.
Young Arcite heard; and up he ran with haste, To help his friend, and in his arms embrac'd ; And ask'd him why he look'd so deadly wan, And whence and how his change of cheer began, Or who had done th' offence? “ But if," said he, “ Your grief alone is hard captivity,
For love of Heaven, with patience undergo
A cureless ill, since Fate will have it so:
So stood our horoscope in chains to lie,
And Saturn in the dungeon of the sky,
Or other baleful aspect, rul'd our birth,
When all the friendly stars were under Earth :
Whate'er betides, by Destiny 'tis done;
And better bear like men, than vainly seek to shun."
“ Nor of my bonds," said Palamon again,
“ Nor of unhappy planets I complain;
But when my mortal anguish caus'd me ery,
That moment I was hurt through either eye;
Pierc'd with a random shaft, I faint away,
And perish with insensible decay :
A glance of some new goddess gave the wound,
Whom, like Acteon, unaware I found.
Look how she walks along yon shady space,
Not Juno moves with more majestic grace ;
And all the Cyprian queen is in her face.
If thou art Venus (for thy charms confess
That face was form'd in Heaven, nor art thou less;
Disguis’d in habit, undisguis’d in shape)
O help us captives from our chains t'escape;
But if our doom be past, in bonds to lie
For life, and in a loathsome dungeon die,
Then be thy wrath appeas'd with our disgrace,
And show compassion to the Theban race,
Oppress’d by tyrant power !” While yet he spoke,
Arcite on Emily had fix'd his look;
The fatal dart a ready passage found,
And deep within his heart infix'd the wound :