The Flower and the Leaf; or, the Lady in the Arbour
[In this tale Dryden exercises an unlimited discretion over the original, which can be fairly considered as furnishing him only with the texture upon which he has embroidered what Godwin calls a soothing and delicious luxuriance of fancy. The stanza of Chaucer is displaced by the regular heroic couplet, and the allegorical figures that move through the narrative are turned into a merry crew of fairies, an alteration scarcely for the better. Of all Drydens poems this is perhaps, the most melodious; and although it might seem impossible to transcend the richness of Chaucers descriptions, we turn from the one to the other, balancing with hesitation the delight we draw from each.
The reader who has been hitherto accustomed to regard Dryden as a satirist and disputant, will come with surprise upon these exquisite passages of woodland scenery and pastoral beauty in which he emulates the sweetness of Comus.
In the quaint argument prefixed to the poem in Urrys Edition of Chaucer, the meaning of the allegory is thus explained. The Lady in the Arbour (which second title is Drydens) sees a gay company of knights issuing out from a wood, and dancing on the grass, after which they knelt down to do honour to the daisy, some to the flower, some to the leaf. Upon inquiring into the meaning of this, the Lady in the Arbour is informed that they who honour the perishable flower are the votaries of beauty and worldly pleasure, but that they who honour the leaf, which abideth with the root, are such as cultivate virtue and enduring qualities.]
His course exalted through the Ram had run,
And whirling up the skies, his chariot drove
Through Taurus, and the lightsome realms of love;
Where Venus from her orb descends in showers,
To glad the ground, and paint the fields with flowers:
When first the tender blades of grass appear,
And buds, that yet the blast of Eurus fear,
Stand at the door of life, and doubt to clothe the year;
Till gentle heat, and soft repeated rains,
Make the green blood to dance within their veins;
Then, at their call emboldened, out they come,
And swell the gems, and burst the narrow room;
Broader and broader yet, their blooms display,
Salute the welcome sun, and entertain the day.
Then from their breathing souls the sweets repair
To scent the skies, and purge the unwholesome air:
Joy spreads the heart, and, with a general song,
Spring issues out, and leads the jolly months along.
In that sweet season, as in bed I lay,
And sought in sleep to pass the night away,
I turned my weary side, but still in vain,
Though full of youthful health, and void of pain:
Cares I had none, to keep me from my rest,
For love had never entered in my breast;
I wanted nothing Fortune could supply,
Nor did she slumber till that hour deny.
I wondered then, but after found it true,
Much joy had dried away the balmy dew:
Seas would be pools, without the brushing air
To curl the waves; and sure some little care
Should weary nature so, to make her want repair.
When Chanticleer the second watch had sung,
Scorning the scorner sleep, from bed I sprung;
And dressing, by the moon, in loose array,
Passed out in open air, preventing day,
And sought a goodly grove, as fancy led my way.
Straight as a line in beauteous order stood
Of oaks unshorn a venerable wood;
Fresh was the grass beneath, and every tree,
At distance planted in a due degree,
Their branching arms in air with equal space
Stretched to their neighbours with a long embrace;
And the new leaves on every bough were seen,
Some ruddy coloured, some of lighter green.
The painted birds, companions of the spring,
Hopping from spray to spray, were heard to sing.
Both eyes and ears received a like delight,
Enchanting music, and a charming sight.
On Philomel I fixed my whole desire,
And listened for the queen of all the quire;
Fain would I hear her heavenly voice to sing;
And wanted yet an omen to the spring.
Attending long in vain, I took the way,
Which through a path, but scarcely printed, lay;
In narrow mazes oft it seemed to meet,
And looked, as lightly pressed by fairy feet.
Wandering I walked alone, for still methought
To some strange end so strange a path was wrought:
At last it led we where an arbour stood,
The sacred receptacle of the wood:
This place unmarked, though oft I walked the green,
In all my progress I had never seen;
And seized at once with wonder and delight,
Gazed all around me, new to the transporting sight.
Twas thick benched with turf, and, goodly to be seen,
The thick young grass arose in fresher green,
The mound was newly made, no sight could pass
Betwixt the nice partitions of the grass,
The well-united sods so closely lay;
And all around the shades defended it from day;
For sycamores with eglantine were spread,
A hedge about the sides, a covering overhead.
And so the fragrant briar was wove between,
The sycamore and
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