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- The Visions of the Sleeping Bard - 4/21 -


I.--VISION OF THE WORLD.

On {1a} the fine evening of a warm and mellow summer I betook me up one of the mountains of Wales, {1b} spy-glass in hand, to enable my feeble sight to see the distant near, and to make the little to loom large. Through the clear, tenuous air and the calm, shimmering heat, I beheld far, far away over the Irish Sea many a fair scene. At last, when mine eyes had taken their fill of all the beauty around me, and the sun well nigh had reached his western ramparts, I lay down on the sward, musing how fair and lovely compared with mine own land were the distant lands of whose delightful plains I had just obtained a glimpse; how fine it would be to have full view thereof, and how happy withal are they, besides me and my sort, who have seen the world's course. So, from the long journeying of mine eye, and afterwards of my mind, came weariness, and beneath the cloak of weariness came my good Master Sleep {1c} stealthily to bind me, and with his leaden keys safe and sound he locked the windows of mine eyes and all mine other senses. But it was in vain he tried to lock up the soul which can exist and travel without the body; for upon the wings of fancy my spirit soared free from out the straitened corpse, and the first thing I perceived close by was a dancing-knoll and such a fantastic rout {4a} in blue petticoats and red caps, briskly footing a sprightly dance. I stood awhile hesitating whether I should approach them or not, for in my confusion I feared they were a pack of hungry gipsies and that the least they would do, would be to kill me for their supper, and devour me saltless. But gazing steadfastly upon them I perceived that they were of better and fairer complexion than that lying, tawny crew; so I plucked up courage and drew near them, slowly, like a hen treading on hot coals, in order to find out what they might be; and at last I addressed them over my shoulder, thus, "Pray you, good friends, I understand that ye come from afar, would ye take into your midst a bard who wishes to travel?" Whereupon the din instantly ceased, every eye was turned upon me, and in shrill tones "a bard" quoth one, "to travel," said another, "into our midst," a third exclaimed. By then I had recognised those who were looking at me most fiercely, and they commenced whispering one to another some secret charms, still keeping their gaze upon me; the hubbub then broke out again and everyone laying hands upon me, lifted me shoulder-high, like a knight of the shire, and off like the wind we go, over houses and lands, cities and realms, seas and mountains, unable to notice aught so swiftly were they flying. And to make matters worse, I began to have doubts of my companions from the way they frowned and scowled when I refused to lampoon my king {4b} at their bidding.

"Well, now," said I to myself, "farewell to life; these accursed, arrant sorcerers will bear me to some nobleman's larder or cellar and leave me there to pay penalty by my neck for their robbery, or peradventure they will leave me stark-naked and benumbed on Chester Marsh or some other bleak and remote place." But on considering that those whose faces I knew had long been buried, and that some were thrusting me forward, and others upholding me above every ravine, it dawned upon me that they were not witches but what are called the Fairies. Without delay I found myself close to a huge castle, the finest I had ever seen, with a deep moat surrounding it, and here they began discussing my doom. "Let us take him as a gift to the castle," suggested one. "Nay, let us throw the obstinate gallows-bird into the moat, he is not worth showing to our great prince," said another. "Will he say his prayers before sleeping," asked a third. At the mention of prayer, I breathed a groaning sigh heavenwards asking pardon and aid; and no sooner had I thought the prayer than I saw a light, Oh! so beautiful, breaking forth in the distance. As this light approached, my companions grew dark and vanished, and in a trice the Shining One made for us straight over the castle: whereupon they let go their hold of me and departing, turned upon me a hellish scowl, and had not the Angel supported me I should have been ground fine enough to make a pie long before reaching the earth.

"What is thy errand here?" asked the Angel. "In sooth, my lord," cried I, "I wot not what place here is, nor what mine errand, nor what I myself am, nor what has made off with mine other part; I had a head and limbs and body, but whether I left 'em at home or whether the Fairies, if fair their deed, have cast me into some deep pit (for I mind my passing over many a rugged gorge) an' I be hanged, Sir, I know not." "Fairly, indeed," said he, "they would have dealt with thee, had I not come in time to save thee from the toasting-forks of the brood of hell. Since thou hast such a great desire to see the course of this little world, I am commanded to give thee the opportunity to realize thy wish, so that thou mayest see the folly of thy discontent with thine own lot and country. Come now!" he bade, and at the word, with the dawn just breaking, he snatched me up far away above the castle; and upon a white cloudledge we rested in the empyrean to see the sun rising, and to look at my heavenly companion, who was far brighter than the sun, save that his radiance only shone upwards, being hidden from all beneath by a veil. When the sun waxed strong, I beheld in the refulgence of the two our great, encircled earth as a tiny ball in the distance below. "Look again," said the Angel, and he gave me a better spy-glass than the one I had on the mountain-side. When I looked through this I saw things in a different light and clearer than ever before.

I could see one city of enormous magnitude, with thousands of cities and kingdoms within it, the wide ocean like a whirlpool around it, and other seas, like rivers, dividing it into parts. After gazing a longwhile, I observed that it was made up of three tremendously long streets, with a large and splendid gateway at the lower end of each street; on each gateway, a magnificent tower, and on each tower, in sight of all the street, a woman of exceeding beauty; and the three towers at the back of the ramparts reached to the foot of that great castle. Of the same length as these immense streets, but running in a contrary direction, I saw another street which was but narrow and mean compared with them, though it was clean and upon higher ground than they, and leading upwards to the east, whilst the other three led downwards northerly to the great towers. I could no longer withhold from asking my friend's permission to speak. "What then," said the Angel, "if thou wilt speak, listen carefully, so that there be no need of telling thee a thing twice." "I will, my lord, and prithee," asked I, "what castle is that, away yonder to the north?" "That castle aloft in the sky," said he, "belongs to Belial, prince of the power of the air, and ruler of all that vast city below; it is called Castle Delusive: for an arch-deluder is Belial, and it is through delusion that he is able to keep under his sway all that thou see'st with the exception of that little bye-street yonder. He is a powerful prince, with thousands of princes under him. What was Caesar or Alexander the Great compared with him? What are the Turk and old Lewis of France {7a} but his servants? Great, aye, exceedingly great is the might, craftiness and diligence of Prince Belial and of the countless hosts he hath in the lower region." "Why do those women stand there?" I asked, "and who are they?" "Slowly," cried the Angel, "one question at a time; they stand there in order to be loved and worshipped." "No wonder, in sooth," said I, "so lovely are they that were I the possessor of hands and feet as once I was, I too would go and love or worship them." "Hush! hush!" cried he, "if that is what thou wouldst do with thy members 'tis well thou'rt wanting them: know, foolish spirit, that these three princesses are no other than three destroying enchantresses, daughters of Prince Belial; and that all the beauty and gentleness which dazzles the streets, is nought else but a gloss over ugliness and cruelty; the three within are like their sire, full of deadly venom." "Woe's me, is't possible," cried I sorrowfully, "that their love wounds?" "'Tis true, the more the pity," said he, "thou art delighted with the way the three beam on their adorers: well, there is in that ray of light many a wondrous charm, it blindens them so that they cannot see the hook; it stupifies them so that they pay no heed to their danger, and consumes them with an insatiate lust for more, even though it be a deadly poison, breeding diseases which no physician, yea, not death itself can ever heal, nor aught at all unless a heavenly medicine called Repentance be had to purge the evil in good time ere it become too deeply rooted, through gazing upon them too long." "Wherefore will not Belial have this adoration to himself?" asked I. "It is the same thing," said he, "for so long as a man adheres to these or to one of them, that man is sure to bear the mark of Belial and wear his livery."

"By what names are these three enchantresses called?" "The furthest away is called Pride, the eldest daughter of Belial; the second is Pleasure, and the nearest to us is Lucre; these three are the trinity the world adores." "I would fain know the name of this vast, madding city," said I, "hath it a better name than great Bedlam?" "Yea, 'tis called the City of Destruction." "Alas!" I cried, "are all that dwell therein ruined and lost?" "All," said he, "save a few that flee from it into yon upper city which is King Emmanuel's." "Woe is me and mine! how shall they escape while ever staring at what makes them more and more blind, and preys upon them in their blindness?" "It would be utterly impossible for any man to escape hence were it not that Emmanuel sends his ministers from on high, night and morn, to persuade them to leave the rebels and turn to Him, their true Sovereign, and sends to some a gift of precious ointment called Faith to anoint their eyes, and whoso obtains that genuine ointment (for there is an imitation of this as of everything else in the City of Destruction) and anoints himself therewith, at once becomes aware of his own wounds and madness, and will not tarry here a moment longer, even though Belial gave him his three daughters, yea, or his fourth who is greatest of all, for staying."

"What are the names of these immense streets?" I enquired. "They are called, each according to the name of the princess who rules therein; furthest is the Street of Pride, the middle, the Street of Pleasure, and next, the Street of Lucre." "Who, prithee, dwell in these streets? What tongue is spoken there? Wherefrom and of what nations are their inhabitants?" "Many people," answered he, "of every language, religion, and nation under the sun dwell there; many a one lives in each of the three streets at different seasons, and everyone as near the gateway as he can; and very often do they change about, being unable to stay long in the one because they so greatly love the princess of the other street. And the old renard, slyly looking on, lets everyone love whichever he prefers, or the three if he will--all the more certain is he of him."

"Come nearer to them," said the Angel, snatching me downwards in the veil through the noxious vapours rising from the city. We alighted in the Street of Pride, on the top of a great, roofless mansion with its eyes picked out by the dogs and crows, and its owners gone to England or France, there to seek what might be gotten with far less trouble at home; thus in place of the good old country-family of days gone by, so full of charity and benevolence, none keep possession now but the stupid owl, the greedy crows, or the proud-pied magpies or the like, to proclaim the deeds of the present owners. There were thousands of such deserted palaces, which but for pride might still be the resort of noblemen, a refuge for the weak, a school of peace and all goodness, and a blessing to the thousands of cottages surrounding them. From the top of these ruins we had plenty of room and quietness to see the whole street on both sides. The houses were very fine, and of wonderful height and grandeur, and good reason why, for emperors and kings lived there, princes in hundreds, noblemen and gentlemen in thousands, and a great many women of all grades. I could see many a horned coquette, like a full-rigged ship, strutting as if set in a frame with a fair store of pedlery about her, and pearls in her ears to the value of a good-sized farm: some were singing so as to be praised for their voices, some dancing, to show their figures; others coloring, to improve their complexion, others having been a good three hours before a mirror trimming themselves, learning to smile, pinning and unpinning, making grimaces and striking attitudes. Many a coy wench was there who knew not how to open her lips to speak, much less to eat, or from very ceremony, how to look under foot; and many a ragged shrew who would contend that she was equal to the best lady in


The Visions of the Sleeping Bard - 4/21

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