100 Greatest Poems by A . E Housman - HTML preview
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from The Rape of the Lock, from Canto 1
What dire offense from amorous causes springs, What mighty contests rise from trivial things,
I sing—This verse to Caryll, Muse! is due:
This, even Belinda may vouchsafe to view:
Slight is the subject, but not so the praise,
If she inspire, and he approve my lays.
Say what strange motive, Goddess! could compel A well-bred lord to assault a gentle belle?
Oh, say what stranger cause, yet unexplored,
Could make a gentle belle reject a lord?
In tasks so bold can little men engage,
And in soft bosoms dwells such mighty rage?
Sol through white curtains shot a timorous ray,
And oped those eyes that must eclipse the day.
Now lapdogs give themselves the rousing shake, And sleepless lovers just at twelve awake:
Thrice rung the bell, the slipper knocked the ground, And the pressed watch returned a silver sound.
Belinda still her downy pillow pressed,
Her guardian Sylph prolonged the balmy rest:
'Twas he had summoned to her silent bed
The morning dream that hovered o'er her head.
A youth more glittering than a birthnight beau
(That even in slumber caused her cheek to glow) Seemed to her ear his winning lips to lay,
And thus in whispers said, or seemed to say:
"Fairest of mortals, thou distinguished care
Of thousand bright inhabitants of air!
If e'er one vision touched thy infant thought,
Of all the nurse and all the priest have taught,
Of airy elves by moonlight shadows seen,
The silver token, and the circled green,
Or virgins visited by angel powers,
With golden crowns and wreaths of heavenly flowers, Hear and believe! thy own importance know
Nor bound thy narrow views to things below.
Some secret truths, from learned pride concealed, To maids alone and children are revealed:
What though no credit doubting wits may give?
The fair and innocent shall still believe.
Know, then, unnumbered spirits round thee fly,
The light militia of the lower sky:
These, though unseen, are ever on the wing,
Hang o'er the box, and hover round the Ring.
Think what an equipage thou hast in air,
And view with scorn two pages and a chair. As now your own, our beings were of old,
And once enclosed in woman's beauteous mold; Thence, by a soft transition, we repair
From earthly vehicles to these of air.
Think not, when woman's transient breath is fled, That all her vanities at once are dead:
Succeeding vanities she still regards,
And though she plays no more, o'erlooks the cards. Her joy in gilded chariots, when alive,
And love of ombre, after death survive.
For when the Fair in all her pride expire,
To their first elements their souls retire:
The sprites of fiery termagants in flame
Mount up, and take a Salamander's name.
Soft yielding minds to water glide away,
And sip, with Nymphs, their elemental tea.
The graver prude sinks downward to a Gnome, In search of mischief still on earth to roam.
The light coquettes in Sylphs aloft repair,
And sport and flutter in the fields of air.
"Know further yet; whoever fair and chaste Rejects mankind, is by some Sylph embraced: For spirits, freed from mortal laws, with ease Assume what sexes and what shapes they please. What guards the purity of melting maids,
In courtly balls, and midnight masquerades, Safe from the treacherous friend, the daring spark, The glance by day, the whisper in the dark,
When kind occasion prompts their warm desires, When music softens, and when dancing fires? 'Tis but their Sylph, the wise Celestials know, Though Honor is the word with men below.
"Some nymphs there are, too conscious of their face, For life predestined to the Gnomes' embrace. These swell their prospects and exalt their pride, When offers are disdained, and love denied: Then gay ideas crowd the vacant brain,
While peers, and dukes, and all their sweeping train, And garters, stars, and coronets appear,
And in soft sounds, 'your Grace' salutes their ear. 'Tis these that early taint the female soul,
Instruct the eyes of young coquettes to roll, Teach infant cheeks a bidden blush to know, And little hearts to flutter at a beau.
"Oft, when the world imagine women stray, The Sylphs through mystic mazes guide their way, Through all the giddy circle they pursue,
And old impertinence expel by new.
What tender maid but must a victim fall
To one man's treat, but for another's ball?
When Florio speaks what virgin could withstand, If gentle Damon did not squeeze her hand?
With varying vanities, from every part,
They shift the moving toyshop of their heart;
Where wigs with wigs, with sword-knots sword-knots strive, Beaux banish beaux, and coaches coaches drive.
This erring mortals levity may call;
Oh, blind to truth! the Sylphs contrive it all.
"Of these am I, who thy protection claim,
A watchful sprite, and Ariel is my name.
Late, as I ranged the crystal wilds of air,
In the clear mirror of thy ruling star
I saw, alas! some dread event impend,
Ere to the main this morning sun descend,
But Heaven reveals not what, or how, or where:
Warned by the Sylph, O pious maid, beware!
This to disclose is all thy guardian can:
Beware of all, but most beware of Man!"