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James Thomson (1700-1748)

The Castle of Indolence: Canto I

(excerpt)


The Castle hight of Indolence,
And its false luxury;
Where for a little time, alas!
We liv'd right jollily.

              1  O mortal man, who livest here by toil,
              2Do not complain of this thy hard estate;
              3That like an emmet thou must ever moil,
              4Is a sad sentence of an ancient date:
              5And, certes, there is for it reason great;
              6For, though sometimes it makes thee weep and wail,
              7And curse thy star, and early drudge and late,
              8Withouten that would come a heavier bale,
              9Loose life, unruly passions, and diseases pale.

            10  In lowly dale, fast by a river's side,
            11With woody hill o'er hill encompass'd round,
            12A most enchanting wizard did abide,
            13Than whom a fiend more fell is no where found.
            14It was, I ween, a lovely spot of ground;
            15And there a season atween June and May,
            16Half prankt with spring, with summer half imbrown'd,
            17A listless climate made, where, sooth to say,
            18No living wight could work, ne cared even for play.

            19  Was nought around but images of rest:
            20Sleep-soothing groves, and quiet lawns between:
            21And flowery beds that slumbrous influence kest,
            22From poppies breath'd; and beds of pleasant green,
            23Where never yet was creeping creature seen.
            24Mean-time, unnumber'd glittering streamlets play'd,
            25And hurled every where their waters sheen;
            26That, as they bicker'd through the sunny glade,
            27Though restless still themselves, a lulling murmur made.

            28  Join'd to the prattle of the purling rills
            29Were heard the lowing herds along the vale,
            30And flocks loud bleating from the distant hills,
            31And vacant shepherds piping in the dale:
            32And now and then sweet Philomel would wail,
            33Or stock-doves plain amid the forest deep,
            34That drowsy rustled to the sighing gale;
            35And still a coil the grasshopper did keep;
            36Yet all these sounds yblent inclined all to sleep.

            37  Full in the passage of the vale, above,
            38A sable, silent, solemn forest stood;
            39Where nought but shadowy forms was seen to move,
            40As Idless fancied in her dreaming mood:
            41And up the hills, on either side, a wood
            42Of blackening pines, aye waving to and fro,
            43Sent forth a sleepy horror through the blood;
            44And where this valley winded cut, below,
            45The murmuring main was heard, and scarcely heard, to flow.

            46  A pleasing land of drowsy-hed it was,
            47Of dreams that wave before the half-shut eye;
            48And of gay castles in the clouds that pass,
            49Forever flushing round a summer-sky:
            50There eke the soft delights, that witchingly
            51Instil a wanton sweetness through the breast,
            52And the calm pleasures always hover'd nigh;
            53But whate'er smack'd of noyance, or unrest,
            54Was far, far off expell'd from this delicious nest.

            55  The landskip such, inspiring perfect ease,
            56Where Indolence (for so the wizard hight)
            57Close-hid his castle mid embowering trees,
            58That half shut out the beams of Phœbus bright,
            59And made a kind of checker'd day and night.
            60Meanwhile, unceasing at the massy gate,
            61Beneath a spacious palm, the wicked wight
            62Was plac'd; and to his lute, of cruel fate
            63And labour harsh, complain'd, lamenting man's estate.

            64  Thither continual pilgrims crowded still,
            65From all the roads of earth that pass there by;
            66For, as they chaunc'd to breathe on neighbouring hill,
            67The freshness of this valley smote their eye,
            68And drew them ever and anon more nigh;
            69Till clustering round th' enchanter false they hung,
            70Ymolten with his syren melody;
            71While o'er th' enfeebling lute his hand he flung,
            72And to the trembling chords these tempting verses sung:

            73  "Behold! ye pilgrims of this earth, behold!
            74See all but man with unearn'd pleasure gay:
            75See her bright robes the butterfly unfold,
            76Broke from her wintry tomb in prime of May.
            77What youthful bride can equal her array?
            78Who can with her for easy pleasure vie?
            79From mead to mead with gentle wing to stray,
            80From flower to flower on balmy gales to fly,
            81Is all she has to do beneath the radiant sky.

            82  "Behold, the merry minstrels of the morn,
            83The swarming songsters of the careless grove,
            84Ten thousand throats! that, from the flowering thorn,
            85Hymn their good God, and carol sweet of love;
            86Such grateful, kindly raptures them emove:
            87They neither plough, nor sow; ne, fit for flail,
            88E'er to the barn the nodding sheaves they drove:
            89Yet theirs each harvest dancing in the gale:
            90Whatever crowns the hill, or smiles along the vale.

            91  "Outcast of nature, man! the wretched thrall
            92Of bitter-dropping sweat, of sweltry pain,
            93Of cares that eat away thy heart with gall,
            94And of the vices, an inhuman train,
            95That all proceed from savage thirst of gain:
            96For when hard-hearted interest first began
            97To poison earth, Astræa left the plain;
            98Guile, violence, and murder seiz'd on man,
            99And, for soft milky streams, with blood the rivers ran.

          100  "Come, ye, who still the cumbrous load of life
          101Push hard up hill; but as the farthest steep
          102You trust to gain, and put an end to strife,
          103Down thunders back the stone with mighty sweep,
          104And hurls your labours to the valley deep,
          105Forever vain; come, and withouten fee,
          106I in oblivion will your sorrows steep,
          107Your cares, your toils; will steep you in a sea
          108Of full delight: Oh! come, ye weary wights, to me!

          109  "With me, you need not rise at early dawn
          110To pass the joyless day in various stounds;
          111Or, louting low, on upstart fortune fawn,
          112And sell fair honour for some paltry pounds;
          113Or through the city take your dirty rounds,
          114To cheat, and dun, and lie, and visit pay,
          115Now flattering base, now giving secret wounds;
          116Or prowl in courts of law for human prey,
          117In venal senate thieve, or rob on broad highway.

          118  "No cocks, with me, to rustic labour call,
          119From village on to village sounding clear;
          120To tardy swain no shrill-voic'd matrons squall;
          121No dogs, no babes, no wives, to stun your ear:
          122No hammers thump; no horrid blacksmith sear.
          123No noisy tradesman your sweet slumbers start,
          124With sounds that are a misery to hear:
          125But all is calm as would delight the heart
          126Of Sybarite of old, all nature, and all art.

          127  "Here nought but candour reigns, indulgent ease,
          128Good-natur'd lounging, sauntering up and down:
          129They who are pleas'd themselves must always please;
          130On others' ways they never squint a frown,
          131Nor heed what haps in hamlet or in town.
          132Thus, from the source of tender Indolence,
          133With milky blood the heart is overflown,
          134Is sooth'd and sweeten'd by the social sense;
          135For interest, envy, pride, and strife are banish'd hence.

          136  "What, what is virtue, but repose of mind?
          137A pure ethereal calm! that knows no storm;
          138Above the reach of wild ambition's wind,
          139Above those passions that this world deform,
          140And torture man, a proud malignant worm!
          141But here, instead, soft gales of passion play,
          142And gently stir the heart, thereby to form
          143A quicker sense of joy; as breezes stray
          144Across th' enliven'd skies, and make them still more gay.

          145  "The best of men have ever lov'd repose:
          146They hate to mingle in the filthy fray;
          147Where the soul sours, and gradual rancour grows,
          148Imbitter'd more from peevish day to day.
          149Even those whom fame has lent her fairest ray,
          150The most renown'd of worthy wights of yore,
          151From a base world at last have stolen away.
          152So Scipio, to the soft Cumæan shore
          153Retiring, tasted joy he never knew before.

          154  "But if a little exercise you choose,
          155Some zest for ease, 'tis not forbidden here:
          156Amid the groves you may indulge the muse,
          157Or tend the blooms, and deck the vernal year;
          158Or softly stealing, with your watry gear,
          159Along the brooks, the crimson-spotted fry
          160You may delude: the whilst, amus'd, you hear
          161Now the hoarse stream, and now the zephyr's sigh,
          162Attuned to the birds, and woodland melody.

          163  "O grievous folly! to heap up estate,
          164Losing the days you see beneath the sun;
          165When, sudden, comes blind unrelenting fate,
          166And gives th' untasted portion you have won
          167With ruthless toil and many a wretch undone,
          168To those who mock you, gone to Pluto's reign,
          169There with sad ghosts to pine, and shadows dun:
          170But sure it is of vanities most vain,
          171To toil for what you here, untoiling, may obtain."

          172  He ceas'd. But still their trembling ears retain'd
          173The deep vibrations of his witching song;
          174That, by a kind of magic power, constrain'd
          175To enter in, pell-mell, the listening throng.
          176Heaps pour'd on heaps, and yet they slipp'd along
          177In silent ease; as when beneath the beam
          178Of summer-moons, the distant woods among,
          179Or by some flood all silver'd with the gleam,
          180The soft-embodied fays through airy portal stream.

          181  By the smooth demon so it order'd was,
          182And here his baneful bounty first began:
          183Though some there were who would not further pass,
          184And his alluring baits suspected han.
          185The wise distrust the too fair-spoken man;
          186Yet through the gate they cast a wishful eye:
          187Not to move on, perdie, is all they can;
          188For do their very best they cannot fly,
          189But often each way look, and often sorely sigh.

          190  When this the watchful wicked wizard saw,
          191With sudden spring he leap'd upon them straight;
          192And soon as touch'd by his unhallow'd paw,
          193They found themselves within the cursed gate;
          194Full hard to be repass'd, like that of fate.
          195Not stronger were of old the giant crew,
          196Who sought to pull high Jove from regal state:
          197Though feeble wretch he seem'd, of sallow hue:
          198Certes, who bides his grasp, will that encounter rue.

          199  For whomsoe'er the villain takes in hand,
          200Their joints unknit, their sinews melt apace;
          201As lithe they grow as any willow-wand,
          202And of their vanish'd force remains no trace:
          203So when a maiden fair, of modest grace,
          204In all her buxom blooming May of charms,
          205Is seized in some losel's hot embrace,
          206She waxeth very weakly as she warms,
          207Then sighing yields her up to love's delicious harms.

          208  Wak'd by the crowd, slow from his bench arose
          209A comely full-spread porter, swoln with sleep:
          210His calm, broad, thoughtless aspect breath'd repose;
          211And in sweet torpor he was plunged deep,
          212Ne could himself from ceaseless yawning keep;
          213While o'er his eyes the drowsy liquor ran,
          214Through which his half-wak'd soul would faintly peep;
          215Then taking his black staff, he call'd his man,
          216And rous'd himself as much as rouse himself he can.

          217  The lad leap'd lightly at this master's call:
          218He was, to weet, a little roguish page,
          219Save sleep and play, who minded nought at all;
          220Like most the untaught striplings of his age.
          221This boy he kept each band to disengage,
          222Garters and buckles, task for him unfit,
          223But ill becoming his grave personage,
          224And which his portly paunch would not permit;
          225So this same limber page to all performed it.

          226  Meantime, the master-porter wide display'd
          227Great store of caps, of slippers, and of gowns,
          228Wherewith he those who enter'd in, array'd,
          229Loose as the breeze that plays along the downs,
          230And waves the summer woods when evening frowns.
          231O fair undress, best dress! it checks no vein,
          232But every flowing limb in pleasure drowns,
          233And heightens ease with grace. This done, right fain,
          234Sir porter sat him down, and turn'd to sleep again.

          235  Thus easy-rob'd, they to the fountain sped
          236That in the middle of the court up-threw
          237A stream, high spouting from its liquid bed,
          238And falling back again in drizzly dew;
          239There each deep draughts, as deep he thirsted drew;
          240It was a fountain of nepenthe rare;
          241Whence, as Dan Homer sings, huge pleasaunce grew,
          242And sweet oblivion of vile earthly care;
          243Fair gladsome waking thoughts, and joyous dreams more fair.

          244  This rite perform'd, all inly pleas'd and still,
          245Withouten tromp, was proclamation made:
          246"Ye sons of Indolence, do what you will,
          247And wander where you list, through hall or glade;
          248Be no man's pleasure for another stay'd;
          249Let each as likes him best his hours employ,
          250And curs'd be he who minds his neighbour's trade!
          251Here dwells kind ease and unreproving joy:
          252He little merits bliss who others can annoy."

          253  Straight of these endless numbers, swarming round
          254As thick as idle motes in sunny ray,
          255Not one eftsoons in view was to be found;
          256But every man stroll'd off his own glad way.
          257Wide o'er this ample court's blank area,
          258With all the lodges that thereto pertain'd,
          259No living creature could be seen to stray;
          260While solitude and perfect silence reign'd;
          261So that to think you dreamt you almost was constrain'd.

          262  As when a shepherd of the Hebrid-Isles,
          263Plac'd far amid the melancholy main,
          264(Whether it be lone fancy him beguiles,
          265Or that aërial beings sometimes deign
          266To stand, embodied, to our senses plain),
          267Sees on the naked hill, or valley low,
          268The whilst in ocean Phœbus dips his wain,
          269A vast assembly moving to and fro;
          270Then all at once in sir dissolves the wondrous show.

...


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: James Thomson, The Castle of Indolence (London: A. Millar, 1748). D-10 9788 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto). Facs. edn. Menston: Scolar Press, 1973. PR 3732 C3 1748a ROBA.
First publication date: 1748
RPO poem editor: N. J. Endicott
RP edition: 2RP 1.658.
Recent editing: 2:2002/5/8

Rhyme: ababbcbcc


Other poems by James Thomson