- Editor's Selection of Poems (Nymphidia) by Michael Drayton
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Editor's Selection of Poems

by Michael Drayton

The Court of Fairy

Old Chaucer doth of Thopas tell,
Mad Rabelais of Pantagruel,
A latter third of Dowsabell,
With such poor trifles playing;
Others the like have labored at
Some of this thing, and some of that,
And many of they know not what,
But that they must be saying.
Another sort there be that will
Be talking of the Fairies still,
Nor ever can they have their fill,
As they were wedded to them;
No tales of them their thirst can slake,
So much delight therein they take,
And some strange thing they fain would make,
Knew they the way to do them.
Then since no Muse hath been so bold,
Or of the later, or the old,
Those elvish secrets to unfold
Which lie from others' reading,
My active Muse to light shall bring
The court of that proud Fairy King,
And tell there of the reveling
Jove prosper my proceeding.
And thou, Nymphidia, gentle fay,
Which meeting me upon the way
These secrets didst to me bewray,
Which I now am in telling;
My pretty light fantastic maid,
I here invoke thee to my aid,
That I may speak what thou hast said,
In numbers smoothly swelling.
This palace standeth in the air,
By necromancy placed there,
That it no tempests needs to fear,
Which way soe'er it blow it.
And somewhat southward toward the noon,
Whence lies a way up to the moon,
And thence the Fairy can as soon
Pass to the earth below it.
The walls of spiders' legs are made,
Well mortised and finely laid;
He was the master of his trade
It curiously builded;
The windows of the eyes of cats,
And for the roof, instead of slats,
Is covered with the skins of bats,
With moonshine that are gilded.
Hence Oberon him sport to make
(Their rest when weary mortals take,
And none but only fairies wake)
Descendeth for his pleasure.
And Mab his merry queen by night
Bestrides young folks that lie upright,
In elder times the Mare that hight,
Which plagues them out of measure.
Hence shadows, seeming idle shapes
Of little frisking elves and apes
To earth do make their wanton 'scapes,
As hope of pastime hastes them,
Which maids think on the hearth they see
When fires well-near consumed be,
There dancing heys by two and three,
Just as their fancy casts them.
These make our girls their sluttery rue,
By pinching them both black and blue,
And put a penny in their shoe
The house for cleanly sweeping;
And in their courses make that round,
In meadows and in marshes found,
Of them so called the Fairy ground,
Of which they have the keeping.
These when a child haps to be got
Which after proves an idiot,
When folk perceive it thriveth not,
The fault therein to smother
Some silly doting brainless calf
That understands things by the half
Say that the fairy left this aufe
And took away the other.
But listen and I shall you tell
A chance in Fairy that befell,
Which certainly may please some well
In love and arms delighting;
Of Oberon that jealous grew
Of one of his own Fairy crew,
Too well, he feared, his queen that knew,
His love but ill requiting.
Pigwiggen was this Fairy knight,
One wondrous graciousin the sight
Of fair Queen Mab, which day and night
He amorously observed;
Which made King Oberon suspect
His service took no good effect,
His sauciness and often checked
And could have wished him starved.
Pigwiggen gladly would commend
Some token to Queen Mab to send,
If sea, or land, could aught him lend
Were worthy of her wearing;
At length this lover doth devise
A bracelet made of emmet's eyes,
A thing he thought that she would prize,
No whit her state impairing.

And to the queen a letter writes,
Which he most curiously endites,
Conjuring her by all the rites
Of love, she would be pleased
To meet him, her true servant, where
They might without suspect or fear
Themselves to one another clear
And have their poor hearts eased.

"At midnight the appointed hour,
And for the queen a fitting bower"
Quoth he, "is that fair cowslip flower
On Hipcut Hill that groweth;
In all your train there's not a fay
That ever went to gather May
But she hath made it in her way,
The tallest there that groweth."
When by Tom Thumb, a Fairy page,
He sent it and doth him engage
By promise of a mighty wage
It secretly to carry;
Which done, the queen her maids doth call
And bids them to be ready all;
She would go see her summer hall,
She could no longer tarry.
Her chariot ready straight is made,
Each thing therein is fitting laid,
That she by nothing might be stayed,
For naught must her be letting;
Four nimble gnats the horses were,
Their harnesses of gossamer,
Fly Cranion her charioteer
Upon the coach-box getting.
Her chariot of a snail's fine shell
Which for the colors did excel,
The fair Queen Mab becoming well
So lively was the limning;
The seat, the soft wool of the bee;
The cover, gallantly to see,
The wing of a pied butterfly,
I trow 'twas simple trimming.
The wheels composed of cricket's bones
And daintily made for the nonce,
For fear of rattling on the stones
With thistledown they shod;
For all her maidens much did fear
If Oberon had chanced to hear
That Mab his queen should have been there
He would not have abode it.

She mounts her chariot with a trice,
Nor would she stay for no advice
Until her maids that were so nice
To wait on her were fitted,
But ran herself away alone,
	Which when they heard, there was not one
But hasted after to be gone
As she had been diswitted.
Hop, and Mop, and Drop so clear,
Pip, and Trip, and Skip that were
To Mab their sovereign ever dear,
Her special maids of honor;
Fib and Tib, and Pink and Pin,
Tick and Quick, and Jill and Jin,
Tit and Nit, and Wap and Win,
The train that wait upon her.
Upon a grasshopper they got,
And what with amble and with trot,
For hedge nor ditch they spared not
But after her they hie them.
A cobweb over them they throw
To shield the wind if it should blow;
Themselves they wisely could bestow
Lest any should espy them.
But let us leave Queen Mab a while,
Through many a gate, o'er many a stile,
That now had gotten by this wile,
Her dear Pigwiggen kissing,
And tell how Oberon doth fare,
Who grew as mad as any hare
When he sought each place with care
And found his queen was missing.
By grisly Pluto he doth swear,
He rent his clothes and tore his hair,
And as he runneth here and there
An acorn cup he greeteth,
Which soon he taketh by the stalk,
About his head he lets it walk,
Nor doth he any creature balk,
But lays on all he meeteth.
The Tuscan poet doth advance
The frantic paladin of France
And those more ancient do enhance
Alcides in his fury,
And other Ajax Telamon;
But to this time there hath been none
So bedlam as our Oberon,
Of which I dare assure you.
And first encountering with a wasp,
He in his arms the fly doth clasp
As though his breath he forth would grasp,
Him for Pigwiggen taking;
"Where is my wife, thou rogue?" quoth he,
"Pigwiggen, she is come to thee;
Restore her, or thou diest by me!"
Whereat, the poor wasp quaking
Cries, "Oberon, great Fairy King,
Content thee, I am no such thing;
I am a wasp, behold my sting!"
At which the Fairy started;
When soon away the wasp doth go;
Poor wretch was never frighted so,
He thought his wings were much too slow,
O'erjoyed they so were parted.
He next upon a glow-worm light,
 (You must suppose it now was night)
Which, for her hinder part was bright,
He took to be a devil,
And furiously her doth assail
For carrying fire in her tail;
He thrashed her coat with his flail;
That mad king feared no evil.
"Oh," quoth the glow-worm, "hold thy hand,
Thou puissant king of Fairyland,
Thy mighty strokes who may withstand;
Hold, or of life despair I!"
Together then herself doth roll,
And tumbling down into a hole
She seemed as black as any coal
Which vexed away the Fairy.
From thence he ran into a hive;
Amongst the bees he letteth drive,
And down their combs begins to rive,
All likely to have spoiled;
Which with their wax his face besmeared
And with their honey daubed his beard;
It would have made a man afeared
To see how he was moiled.
A new adventure him betides;
He met an ant, which he bestrides
And post thereon away he rides
Which with his haste doth stumble
And came full over on her snout;
Her heels so threw the dirt about
For she by no means could get out
But over him doth tumble,
And being in this piteous case
And all beslurried, head and face,
On runs he in this wild goose chase,
As here and there he rambles,
Half blind, against a molehill hit
And for a mountain taking it
For all he was out of his wit,
Yet to the top he scrambles.
And being gotten to the top
Yet there himself he could not stop
But down on th'other side doth chop,
And to the foot came rumbling,
So that the grubs therein that bred,
Hearing such turmoil overhead,
Thought surely they had all been dead,
So fearful was the jumbling.
And falling down into a lake
Which him up to the neck doth take
His fury somewhat it doth slake;
He calleth for a ferry;
Where you may some recovery note:
What was his club he made his boat,
And in his oaken cup doth float
As safe as in a wherry.
Men talk of the adventures strange
Of Don Quixote, and of their change,
Through which he armed oft did range,
Of Sancho Panza's travel;
But should a man tell every thning
Done by this frantic Fairy King
And them in lofty numbers sing,
It well his wits might gravel.
Scarce set on shore but therewithal
He meeteth Puck, which most men call
Hobgoblin, and on him doth fall
With words from frenzy spoken.
"Ho, Ho!" quoth Hob, "God save thy grace,
Who dressed thee in this piteous case?
He thus that spoiled my sovereign's face,
I would his neck was broken."
This Puck seems but a dreaming dolt,
Still walking like a ragged colt,
And oft out of a bush doth bolt
Of purpose to deceive us,
And leading us makes us to stray
Long winter's night out of the way,
And when we stick in mire and clay,
Hob doth with laughter leave us.
"Dear Puck," quoth he, "my wife isgone;
As e'er thou lov'st King Oberon,
Let everything but this alone,
With vengeance and pursue her;
Bring her to me, alive or dead,
Or that vile their Pigwiggen's head;
That villain hath defiled my bed;
He to this folly drew her."
Quoth Puck, "My liege, I'll never lin, 
But I will thorough thick and thin,
Until at length I bring her in;
My dearest lord, ne'er doubt it;
Thorough brake, thorough brier,
Thorough much, thorough mire,
Thorough water, thorough fire,
And thus goes Puck about it."
This thing Nymphidia overheard,
That on this mad king has a guard,
Not doubting of a great reward
For first this business broaching;
And through the air away doth go
Swift as an arrow from the bow,
To let her sovereign Mab to know
What peril was approaching.
The Queen, bound with love's powerful'st charm,
Sat with Pigwiggen arm in arm;
Her merry maids that thought no harm
About the room were skipping;
A humble-bee, their minstrel, played
Upon his hautboy; every maid
Fit for this revels was arrayed,
The hornpipe neatly tripping.
In comes Nymphidia and doth cry,
"My sovereign, for your safety, fly,
For there is danger but too night,
I posted to forewarn you;
The King hath sent Hobgoblin out
To seek you all the fields about,
And of your safety you may doubt,
If he but once discern you!"

When like an uproar in a town
Before them everything went down,
Some tore a ruff and some a gown,
'Gainst one another justling;
They flew about like chaff i'the wind;
For haste some left their masks behind;
Some could not stay their gloves to find;
There never was such bustling.
Forth ran they by a secret way
Into a brake that near them lay;
Yet much they doubted there to stay,
Lest Hob should hap to find them;
He had a sharp and piercing sight,
All one to him the day and night,
And therefore were resolved by flight
To leave this place behind them.

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