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Dead sleeping poppy; and black hellebore;
Cold coloquintida ; and tetra mad;
Mortal samnitis; and cicuta bad,
With which the unjust Athenians made to die
Wise Socrates, who therefore quaffing glad
Pour'd out his life and last philosophy
To the fair Critias, his dearest belamy!
The garden of Proserpina this hight;17
And in the midst thereof a silver seat,
With a thick arbour goodly over-dight,
In which she often us'd from open heat
Herself to shroud, and pleasures to entreat:
Next thereunto did grow a goodly tree,
With branches broad dispread and body great,
Clothed with leaves, that none the wood might see, And loaded all with fruit as thick as it might be.
Their fruit were golden apples, glistering bright,
That goodly was their glory to behold;
On earth like never grew, nor living wight
Like ever saw, but they from hence were sold ;18
For those, which Hercules with conquest bold
Got from great Atlas' daughters, hence began,
And planted there did bring forth fruit of gold;
And those, with which th' Eubean young man wan Swift Atalanta, when through craft he her out-ran.
Here also sprung that goodly golden fruit,
With which Acontius got his lover true,
Whom he had long time sought with fruitless suit;
Here eke that famous golden apple grew,
The which amongst the gods false Até threw;
For which the Idæan ladies disagreed,19
Till partial Paris deem'd it Venus' due,
And had of her fair Helen for his meed,
That many noble Greeks and Trojans made to bleed.
The warlike elf much wonder'd at this tree
So fair and great, that shadow'd all the ground;
And his broad branches, laden with rich fee,
Did stretch themselves without the utmost bound
Of this great garden, compass’d with a mound,
Which overhanging, they themselves did steep
In a black flood, which flow'd about it round.20
That is the river of Cocytus deep,
In which full many souls do endless wail and weep.
Which to behold, he climb'd up to the bank ;
And, looking down, saw many damned wights
In those sad waves which direfull deadly stank, 21
Plungèd continually of cruel sprites,
That with their piteous cries and yelling shrights
They made the further shore resounden wide.
Amongst the rest of those same rueful sights,
One cursèd creature he by chance espied,
That drenchèd lay full deep under the garden side.
Deep was he drenchèd to the utmost chin,
Yet gapèd still as coveting to drink
Of the cold liquor which he waded in:
And, stretching forth his hand, did often think
To reach the food which grew upon the brink;
But both the fruit from hand and flood from mouth
Did fly aback, and made him vainly swinck,
The whiles he starv'd with hunger and with droughth: He daily died, yet never thoroughly dyën couth.22
The knight, him seeing labour so in vain,
Ask'd who he was, and what he meant thereby ?
Who groaning deep, thus answered him again;
“ Most cursed of all creatures under sky,
Lo! Tantalus, I here tormented lie!
Of whom high Jove wont whilom feasted be!
Lo! here I now for want of food do die!
But, if that thou be such as I thee see, Of grace I pray thee give to eat and drink to me!"
“ Nay, nay, thou greedy Tantalus," quoth he ; “ Abide the fortune of thy present fate; And unto all that live in high degree, Example be of mind intemperate, To teach them how to use their present state.” Then 'gan the cursed wretch aloud to cry, Accusing highest Jove and gods ingrate:
And eke blaspheming Heaven bitterly, As author of injustice, there to let him die.
He look'd a little further, and espied
Another wretch, whose carcase deep was drent
Within the river which the same did hide :
But both his hands, most filthy feculent,
Above the water were on high extent,
And fain'd to wash themselves incessantly,
Yet nothing cleaner were for such intent,
But rather fouler seemed to the eye;
So lost his labour vain, and idle industry.
The knight him calling, asked who he was ?
Who, lifting up his head, him answered thus :
I Pilate am,23 the falsest judge, alas !
And most unjust; that, by unrightëous
And wicked doom, to Jews despiteous
Delivered up the Lord of Life to die,
And did acquit a murderer felonous;
The whilst my hands I wash'd in purity; The whilst my soul was soild with foul iniquity.”
Infinite more tormented in like pain
He then beheld, too long here to be told :
Nor Mammon would there let him long remain,
For terror of the tortures manifold,
In which the damned souls he did behold,
But roughly him bespake: “ Thou fearful fool,
Why takest not of that same fruit of gold;
Nor sittest down on that same silver stool,
To rest thy weary person in the shady cool ?”
All which he did to do him deadly fall
In frail intemperance through sinful bait;
To which if he inclinèd had at all,
That dreadful fiend, which did behind him wait,
Would him have rent in thousand pieces straight:
But he was wary wise in all his way,
And well perceived his deceitful sleight,
Nor suffered lust his safety to betray:
So goodly did beguile the guiler of his prey.
And now he has so long remained there,
That vital power 'gan wax both weak and wan
For want of food and sleep, which two upbear,
Like mighty pillars, this frail life of man,
That none without the same enduren can ;
For now three days of men were full outwrought,
Since he this hardy enterprise began :
Therefore great Mammon fairly he besought
Into the world to guide bim back, as he him brought.
The god, though loth, yet was constrain'd t obey;
For longer time than that no living wight
Below the earth might suffered be to stay :
So back again him brought to living light.
But all as soon as his enfeebled sprite
'Gau suck this vital air into his breast,
As overcome with too exceeding might,
The life did Ait away out of her nest,
And all his senses were in deadly fit opprest.
13 That house's form within was rude and strong, &c. Hazlitt, with his fine poetical taste, speaking of
the two stanzas here following, and the previous one beginning, And over all, &c., says, that they are unrivalled for the" portentous massiveness of the forms, the splendid chiaroscuro and shadowy horror.” — Lectures on the English Poets, third edition, p. 77. It is extraordinary that in the new “ Elegant Extracts” published under his name, seven lines of the first stanza, beginning at the words, “From whose rough vault,” are left out. Their exceeding weight, the contrast of the dirt and squalor with the gold, and the spider's webs dusking over all, compose chief part of the grandeur of the description (as indeed he has just said). Hogarth, by the way, has hit upon the same thought of a spider's web for his poor's box, in the wedding scene in Mary-le-bone church. So do tragedy and comedy meet.
15 “ Not such as earth,” &c. - Upton thinks it not unlikely that Spenser imagined the direful deadly and black fruits which this infernal garden bears, from a like garden which Dante describes, Inferno, canto 13, v. 4.
Non frordi verdi, ma di color fosco,
Non rami schietti, ma nodosi e’nvolti,
Non pomi v eran, ma stecchi con tosco.
(No leaves of green were theirs, but dusky sad;
No fair straight boughs, but gnarl'd and tangled all ;
No rounded fruits, but poison-bearing thorns.)
Dante's garden, however, has no flowers.