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John Milton (1608-1674)

Comus

(excerpt)


          1.1Sweet Echo, sweetest nymph that liv'st unseen
          1.2  Within thy airy shell
          1.3By slow Meander's margent green,
          1.4    And in the violet-imbroider'd vale
          1.5    Where the love-lorn nightingale
          1.6  Nightly to thee her sad song mourneth well:
          1.7    Canst thou not tell me of a gentle pair
          1.8    That likest thy Narcissus are?
          1.9        O if thou have
        1.10        Hid them in some flow'ry cave,
        1.11          Tell me but where
        1.12          Sweet Queen of Parley, Daughter of the Sphere,
        1.13    So mayst thou be translated to the skies,
        1.14    And give resounding grace to all heav'ns harmonies.

SONG

      2.858Sabrina fair
      2.859    Listen where thou art sitting
      2.860      Under the glassy, cool, translucent wave,
      2.861    In twisted braids of lilies knitting
      2.862The loose train of thy amber-dropping hair;
      2.863        Listen for dear honour's sake,
      2.864        Goddess of the silver lake,
      2.865      Listen and save.

      2.866Listen and appear to us
      2.867In name of great Oceanus,
      2.868By the earth-shaking Neptune's mace,
      2.869And Tethys' grave majestic pace;
      2.870By hoary Nereus' wrinkled look,
      2.871And the Carpathian wizard's hook;
      2.872By scaly Triton's winding shell,
      2.873And old soothsaying Glaucus' spell;
      2.874By Leucothea's lovely hands,
      2.875And her son that rules the strands;
      2.876By Thetis' tinsel-slipper'd feet,
      2.877And the songs of Sirens sweet;
      2.878By dead Parthenope's dear tomb,
      2.879And fair Ligea's golden comb,
      2.880Wherewith she sits on diamond rocks
      2.881Sleeking her soft alluring locks;
      2.882By all the nymphs that nightly dance
      2.883Upon thy streams with wily glance,
      2.884Rise, rise, and heave thy rosy head
      2.885From thy coral-pav'n bed,
      2.886And bridle in thy headlong wave,
      2.887Till thou our summons answer'd have.
      2.888      Listen and save.

SABRINA RISES, ATTENDED BY WATER-NYMPHS, AND SINGS

      3.889  By the rushy-fringed bank,
      3.890  Where grows the willow and the osier dank,
      3.891      My sliding chariot stays,
      3.892Thick set with agate, and the azurn sheen
      3.893Of turkis blue, and em'rald green
      3.894      That in the channel strays,
      3.895Whilst from off the waters fleet
      3.896Thus I set my printless feet
      3.897    O'er the cowslip's velvet head,
      3.898    That bends not as I tread;
      3.899Gentle swain at thy request
      3.900    I am here.

Notes

1.1] Comus was acted September 29, 1634, at Ludlow Castle, by members of the family of the Earl of Bridgewater, under the direction of the composer, Henry Lawes, who himself took the part of the Attendant Spirit. First published anonymously in 1637 with a dedication by Lawes to Lord Brackley, one of the performers; and republished in Milton's collected poems in 1645 and 1673.

1.3] Meander. A river in Asia Minor, noted for its windings.

1.8] Narcissus. The youth for whose love Echo pined away until only her voice was left.

1.12] Sphere. Her airy shell (I. 2), i.e. the atmosphere, surrounded by the sphere of the moon. Cf. Milton's Nativity Ode, 102-103.

2.858] For the story of Sabrina, see Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain (c. 1135), or Spenser, Faerie Queene, II. x. She was drowned in the river afterwards called by her name (Severn). Here represented by Milton as the goddess of the river.

2.867 ff.] Oceanus was the god of the water believed to surround the earth; Tethys was his wife; Nereus was a god of the Aegean, described as a wise old man of the sea; the Carpathian wizard was Proteus, famous for assuming many shapes, who lived in the island of Carpathus and had a "hook" because he was a shepherd of seals; Triton was the son of Poseidon, the Greek counterpart of Neptune, usually represented with a trumpet or conch and as partly a fish, hence "scaly"; Glaucus was a favorite oracle of fishermen and sailors; Leucothea and Thetis were marine goddesses, the latter a daughter of Nereus; Parthenope and Ligea were two of the Sirens, the "tomb" of the former being at Naples.

2.877] tinsel. Cloth woven of gold or silver.

3.893] turkis. Turquoise.


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: John Milton, Comus (London:H. Robinson, 1637). STC 17937. Facs. edn. (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1903). PR 3557 A1 1903 Robarts Library
First publication date: 1637
RPO poem editor: N. J. Endicott
RP edition: 2RP.1.362; RPO 1996-2000.
Recent editing: 2:2002/5/17

Composition date: 1631
Rhyme: varying ababbaccddeeff, abcbaddc, couplets, aabccbddeefg


Other poems by John Milton