The Castle of Indolence: Canto I

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The Castle hight of Indolence,And its false luxury;Where for a little time, alas!We liv'd right jollily.

O mortal man, who livest here by toil,Do not complain of this thy hard estate;That like an emmet thou must ever moil,Is a sad sentence of an ancient date:And, certes, there is for it reason great;For, though sometimes it makes thee weep and wail,And curse thy star, and early drudge and late,Withouten that would come a heavier bale,Loose life, unruly passions, and diseases pale.

In lowly dale, fast by a river's side,With woody hill o'er hill encompass'd round,A most enchanting wizard did abide,Than whom a fiend more fell is no where found.It was, I ween, a lovely spot of ground;And there a season atween June and May,Half prankt with spring, with summer half imbrown'd,A listless climate made, where, sooth to say,No living wight could work, ne cared even for play.

Was nought around but images of rest:Sleep-soothing groves, and quiet lawns between:And flowery beds that slumbrous influence kest,From poppies breath'd; and beds of pleasant green,Where never yet was creeping creature seen.Mean-time, unnumber'd glittering streamlets play'd,And hurled every where their waters sheen;That, as they bicker'd through the sunny glade,Though restless still themselves, a lulling murmur made.

Join'd to the prattle of the purling rillsWere heard the lowing herds along the vale,And flocks loud bleating from the distant hills,And vacant shepherds piping in the dale:And now and then sweet Philomel would wail,Or stock-doves plain amid the forest deep,That drowsy rustled to the sighing gale;And still a coil the grasshopper did keep;Yet all these sounds yblent inclined all to sleep.

Full in the passage of the vale, above,A sable, silent, solemn forest stood;Where nought but shadowy forms was seen to move,As Idless fancied in her dreaming mood:And up the hills, on either side, a woodOf blackening pines, aye waving to and fro,Sent forth a sleepy horror through the blood;And where this valley winded cut, below,The murmuring main was heard, and scarcely heard, to flow.

A pleasing land of drowsy-hed it was,Of dreams that wave before the half-shut eye;And of gay castles in the clouds that pass,Forever flushing round a summer-sky:There eke the soft delights, that witchinglyInstil a wanton sweetness through the breast,And the calm pleasures always hover'd nigh;But whate'er smack'd of noyance, or unrest,Was far, far off expell'd from this delicious nest.

The landskip such, inspiring perfect ease,Where Indolence (for so the wizard hight)Close-hid his castle mid embowering trees,That half shut out the beams of Phœbus bright,And made a kind of checker'd day and night.Meanwhile, unceasing at the massy gate,Beneath a spacious palm, the wicked wightWas plac'd; and to his lute, of cruel fateAnd labour harsh, complain'd, lamenting man's estate.

Thither continual pilgrims crowded still,From all the roads of earth that pass there by;For, as they chaunc'd to breathe on neighbouring hill,The freshness of this valley smote their eye,And drew them ever and anon more nigh;Till clustering round th' enchanter false they hung,Ymolten with his syren melody;While o'er th' enfeebling lute his hand he flung,And to the trembling chords these tempting verses sung:

"Behold! ye pilgrims of this earth, behold!See all but man with unearn'd pleasure gay:See her bright robes the butterfly unfold,Broke from her wintry tomb in prime of May.What youthful bride can equal her array?Who can with her for easy pleasure vie?From mead to mead with gentle wing to stray,From flower to flower on balmy gales to fly,Is all she has to do beneath the radiant sky.

"Behold, the merry minstrels of the morn,The swarming songsters of the careless grove,Ten thousand throats! that, from the flowering thorn,Hymn their good God, and carol sweet of love;Such grateful, kindly raptures them emove:They neither plough, nor sow; ne, fit for flail,E'er to the barn the nodding sheaves they drove:Yet theirs each harvest dancing in the gale:Whatever crowns the hill, or smiles along the vale.

"Outcast of nature, man! the wretched thrallOf bitter-dropping sweat, of sweltry pain,Of cares that eat away thy heart with gall,And of the vices, an inhuman train,That all proceed from savage thirst of gain:For when hard-hearted interest first beganTo poison earth, Astræa left the plain;Guile, violence, and murder seiz'd on man,And, for soft milky streams, with blood the rivers ran.

"Come, ye, who still the cumbrous load of lifePush hard up hill; but as the farthest steepYou trust to gain, and put an end to strife,Down thunders back the stone with mighty sweep,And hurls your labours to the valley deep,Forever vain; come, and withouten fee,I in oblivion will your sorrows steep,Your cares, your toils; will steep you in a seaOf full delight: Oh! come, ye weary wights, to me!

"With me, you need not rise at early dawnTo pass the joyless day in various stounds;Or, louting low, on upstart fortune fawn,And sell fair honour for some paltry pounds;Or through the city take your dirty rounds,To cheat, and dun, and lie, and visit pay,Now flattering base, now giving secret wounds;Or prowl in courts of law for human prey,In venal senate thieve, or rob on broad highway.

"No cocks, with me, to rustic labour call,From village on to village sounding clear;To tardy swain no shrill-voic'd matrons squall;No dogs, no babes, no wives, to stun your ear:No hammers thump; no horrid blacksmith sear.No noisy tradesman your sweet slumbers start,With sounds that are a misery to hear:But all is calm as would delight the heartOf Sybarite of old, all nature, and all art.

"Here nought but candour reigns, indulgent ease,Good-natur'd lounging, sauntering up and down:They who are pleas'd themselves must always please;On others' ways they never squint a frown,Nor heed what haps in hamlet or in town.Thus, from the source of tender Indolence,With milky blood the heart is overflown,Is sooth'd and sweeten'd by the social sense;For interest, envy, pride, and strife are banish'd hence.

"What, what is virtue, but repose of mind?A pure ethereal calm! that knows no storm;Above the reach of wild ambition's wind,Above those passions that this world deform,And torture man, a proud malignant worm!But here, instead, soft gales of passion play,And gently stir the heart, thereby to formA quicker sense of joy; as breezes strayAcross th' enliven'd skies, and make them still more gay.

"The best of men have ever lov'd repose:They hate to mingle in the filthy fray;Where the soul sours, and gradual rancour grows,Imbitter'd more from peevish day to day.Even those whom fame has lent her fairest ray,The most renown'd of worthy wights of yore,From a base world at last have stolen away.So Scipio, to the soft Cumæan shoreRetiring, tasted joy he never knew before.

"But if a little exercise you choose,Some zest for ease, 'tis not forbidden here:Amid the groves you may indulge the muse,Or tend the blooms, and deck the vernal year;Or softly stealing, with your watry gear,Along the brooks, the crimson-spotted fryYou may delude: the whilst, amus'd, you hearNow the hoarse stream, and now the zephyr's sigh,Attuned to the birds, and woodland melody.

"O grievous folly! to heap up estate,Losing the days you see beneath the sun;When, sudden, comes blind unrelenting fate,And gives th' untasted portion you have wonWith ruthless toil and many a wretch undone,To those who mock you, gone to Pluto's reign,There with sad ghosts to pine, and shadows dun:But sure it is of vanities most vain,To toil for what you here, untoiling, may obtain."

He ceas'd. But still their trembling ears retain'dThe deep vibrations of his witching song;That, by a kind of magic power, constrain'dTo enter in, pell-mell, the listening throng.Heaps pour'd on heaps, and yet they slipp'd alongIn silent ease; as when beneath the beamOf summer-moons, the distant woods among,Or by some flood all silver'd with the gleam,The soft-embodied fays through airy portal stream.

By the smooth demon so it order'd was,And here his baneful bounty first began:Though some there were who would not further pass,And his alluring baits suspected han.The wise distrust the too fair-spoken man;Yet through the gate they cast a wishful eye:Not to move on, perdie, is all they can;For do their very best they cannot fly,But often each way look, and often sorely sigh.

When this the watchful wicked wizard saw,With sudden spring he leap'd upon them straight;And soon as touch'd by his unhallow'd paw,They found themselves within the cursed gate;Full hard to be repass'd, like that of fate.Not stronger were of old the giant crew,Who sought to pull high Jove from regal state:Though feeble wretch he seem'd, of sallow hue:Certes, who bides his grasp, will that encounter rue.

For whomsoe'er the villain takes in hand,Their joints unknit, their sinews melt apace;As lithe they grow as any willow-wand,And of their vanish'd force remains no trace:So when a maiden fair, of modest grace,In all her buxom blooming May of charms,Is seized in some losel's hot embrace,She waxeth very weakly as she warms,Then sighing yields her up to love's delicious harms.

Wak'd by the crowd, slow from his bench aroseA comely full-spread porter, swoln with sleep:His calm, broad, thoughtless aspect breath'd repose;And in sweet torpor he was plunged deep,Ne could himself from ceaseless yawning keep;While o'er his eyes the drowsy liquor ran,Through which his half-wak'd soul would faintly peep;Then taking his black staff, he call'd his man,And rous'd himself as much as rouse himself he can.

The lad leap'd lightly at this master's call:He was, to weet, a little roguish page,Save sleep and play, who minded nought at all;Like most the untaught striplings of his age.This boy he kept each band to disengage,Garters and buckles, task for him unfit,But ill becoming his grave personage,And which his portly paunch would not permit;So this same limber page to all performed it.

Meantime, the master-porter wide display'dGreat store of caps, of slippers, and of gowns,Wherewith he those who enter'd in, array'd,Loose as the breeze that plays along the downs,And waves the summer woods when evening frowns.O fair undress, best dress! it checks no vein,But every flowing limb in pleasure drowns,And heightens ease with grace. This done, right fain,Sir porter sat him down, and turn'd to sleep again.

Thus easy-rob'd, they to the fountain spedThat in the middle of the court up-threwA stream, high spouting from its liquid bed,And falling back again in drizzly dew;There each deep draughts, as deep he thirsted drew;It was a fountain of nepenthe rare;Whence, as Dan Homer sings, huge pleasaunce grew,And sweet oblivion of vile earthly care;Fair gladsome waking thoughts, and joyous dreams more fair.

This rite perform'd, all inly pleas'd and still,Withouten tromp, was proclamation made:"Ye sons of Indolence, do what you will,And wander where you list, through hall or glade;Be no man's pleasure for another stay'd;Let each as likes him best his hours employ,And curs'd be he who minds his neighbour's trade!Here dwells kind ease and unreproving joy:He little merits bliss who others can annoy."

Straight of these endless numbers, swarming roundAs thick as idle motes in sunny ray,Not one eftsoons in view was to be found;But every man stroll'd off his own glad way.Wide o'er this ample court's blank area,With all the lodges that thereto pertain'd,No living creature could be seen to stray;While solitude and perfect silence reign'd;So that to think you dreamt you almost was constrain'd.

As when a shepherd of the Hebrid-Isles,Plac'd far amid the melancholy main,(Whether it be lone fancy him beguiles,Or that aërial beings sometimes deignTo stand, embodied, to our senses plain),Sees on the naked hill, or valley low,The whilst in ocean Phœbus dips his wain,A vast assembly moving to and fro;Then all at once in air dissolves the wondrous show.


© James Thomson