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Arthur pursues, taunting and defying the unhappy Saxon, who had rather have met the deadliest wounds which his enemy could inflict, than the threats and reproaches he was now condemned to hear. The preternatural speed of his courser, however, soon releases him from this vexation; the voice of Arthur and the roar of the distant battle die upon his ear, and, as evening closes in, he enters the remote forest of Celidon, where his horse, released from the maddening pest, sinks beneath him, and expires without a groan.
Harassed in mind, and fatigued in body, the disappointed chieftain rests for a while on the bank of a gushing streamlet. Then starting with anguish from the spot, he lifts his eyes to heaven, and whilst the recollection of this compulsory flight presses heavy on his heart, bursts forth into the following pathetic appeal, which, with the reflection naturally arising from it, furnishes us with a graceful and very interesting close of this division of the poem.
O sun! who, sinking from thy towering height, Hast seen me borne reluctant from the fight! Thou conscious moon! ye glittering orbs on high, That grace her course and gild the glowing sky;
Witness this bosom, though to flight compell’d,
Thus as he spoke, in spite of manly pride, From his swoll'n eyes forth gush'd the genial tide. Th’endearing joys that crown domestic life, The smiling offspring and the faithful wife Rise on his soul. Ye haughty sons of fame! Whose generous spirits high resolves inflame,
When urg'd to arms you quit your darling fair,
B. v. p. 168.
In the sixth book the poet transports us to a winter scene in Lapland, which he describes with great strength and minuteness. Here, as to a place congenial with the malignancy of their nature, which loves to contemplate the features of wreck and desolation, the weird sisters are accustomed at times to resort; and two of them are now drawn as performing their direful incantations in a tremendous cavern on this savage coast. The picture, notwithstanding the anticipations of our great dramatist, is a very fine one, and merits reproduction alike for the vigour of its tone and the grandeur of its conception.
There, a vast cave, unknown to mortal eyes,
But darkness reign'd within ; save when retired,
B. vi. p. 175. The responses of the demons being of doubtful import, and not such as the sisters require, their invocations are repeated with still more dreadful potency, when Urda, dimly descried through the lurid gloom, approaches with the body of Hengist, yet
insensate from the blow which he had received from the arm of Arthur. She joins in the invocation, reproaching the fiends for their tardy vengeance, and commits her fallen hero to the protection of the sister Fates, in language which breathes all the deep fervour of prophetic enthusiasm :
Spirits of night! reception due prepare : Take him, my sisters, to your guardian care,
His former strength renew; and through his soul
B. vi. p. 177.
Hengist, awakening from his death-like swoon, beholds far other objects than the scenes of terror just described ; for the cavern and its hell-born shapes have vanished, and a hall of exquisite beauty and symmetry meets his view. It is supported by a central pillar of white marble, whose ramifications diverge over the ceiling, and illumined by pendant lamps and reflecting gems, whilst ministering spirits, under the form of beautiful youths, stand round his couch, and endeavour to soothe his ear with the most delightful melody.