The Culprit Fay

THE CULPRIT FAY

(Selection)

by

Joseph Rodman Drake

Image

(Grimshaw – spirit of the night)

          ‘Tis the hour of fairy ban and spell:

            The wood-tick has kept the minutes well;

          He has counted them all with click and stroke,

            Deep in the heart of the mountain oak,

          And he has awakened the sentry elve

            Who sleeps with him in the haunted tree,

          To bid him ring the hour of twelve,

            And call the fays to their revelry;

          Twelve small strokes on his tinkling bell

            (‘Twas made of the white snail’s pearly shell)

          “Midnight comes, and all is well!

            Hither, hither, wing your way!

          ‘Tis the dawn of the fairy-day.”

 

          They come from beds of lichen green,

            They creep from the mullen’s velvet screen;

          Some on the backs of beetles fly

            From the silver tops of moon-touched trees,

          Where they swung in their cobweb hammocks high,

            And rocked about in the evening breeze;

          Some from the hum-bird’s downy nest—

            They had driven him out by elfin power,

          And, pillowed on plumes of his rainbow breast,

            Had slumbered there till the charmed hour;

          Some had lain in the scoop of the rock,

            With glittering ising-stars’ inlaid;

          And some had opened the four-o’clock,

            And stole within its purple shade.

          And now they throng the moonlight glade,

            Above, below, on every side,

          Their little minim forms arrayed

            In the tricksy pomp of fairy pride.

 Image

(Grimshaw – Dame Autumn)

          They come not now to print the lea,

            In freak and dance around the tree,

          Or at the mushroom board to sup

            And drink the dew from the buttercup.

          A scene of sorrow waits them now,

            For an Ouphe has broken his vestal vow

          He has loved an earthly maid,

            And left for her his woodland shade;

          He has lain upon her lip of dew,

            And sunned him in her eye of blue,

          Fanned her cheek with his wing of air,

            Played in the ringlets of her hair,

          And, nestling on her snowy breast,

            Forgot the lily-king’s behest.

          For this the shadowy tribes of air

            To the elfin court must haste away;

          And now they stand expectant there,

            To hear the doom of the Culprit Fay.

 

          The throne was reared upon the grass,

            Of spice-wood and of sassafras;

          On pillars of mottled tortoise-shell

            Hung the burnished canopy,—

          And over it gorgeous curtains fell

            Of the tulip’s crimson drapery.

          The monarch sat on his judgment-seat,

            On his brow the crown imperial shone,

          The prisoner Fay was at his feet,

            And his peers were ranged around the throne.

          He waved his sceptre in the air,

            He looked around and calmly spoke;

          His brow was grave and his eye severe,

            But his voice in a softened accent broke:

 Image

(EBJ – fairies playing)

          “Fairy! Fairy! list and mark!

            Thou halt broke thine elfin chain;

          Thy flame-wood lamp is quenched and dark,

            And thy wings are dyed with a deadly stain;

          Thou hast sullied thine elfin purity

            In the glance of a mortal maiden’s eye:

          Thou bast scorned our dread decree,

            And thou shouldst pay the forfeit high,

          But well I know her sinless mind

            Is pure as the angel forms above,

          Gentle and meek and chaste and kind,

            Such as a spirit well might love.

          Fairy! had she spot or taint,

            Bitter had been thy punishment

          Tied to the hornet’s shardy wings,

            Tossed on the pricks of nettles’ stings,

          Or seven long ages doomed to dwell

            With the lazy worm in the walnut-shell;

          Or every night to writhe and bleed

            Beneath the tread of the centipede;

          Or bound in a cobweb dungeon dim,

            Your jailer a spider huge and grim,

          Amid the carrion bodies to lie

            Of the worm, and the bug and the murdered fly:

          These it had been your lot to bear,

            Had a stain been found on the earthly fair.

          Now list and mark our mild decree

            Fairy, this your doom must be:

 Image

(Stanhope – Eve)

          “Thou shaft seek the beach of sand

            Where the water bounds the elfin land;

          Thou shaft watch the oozy brine

            Till the sturgeon leaps in the bright moonshine;

          Then dart the glistening arch below,

            And catch a drop from his silver bow.

          The water-sprites will wield their arms,

            And dash around with roar and rave;

          And vain are the woodland spirits’ charms—

            They are the imps that rule the wave.

          Yet trust thee in thy single might:

            If thy heart be pure and thy spirit right,

          Thou shalt win the warlock fight.” . . .

 

          The goblin marked his monarch well;

            He spake not, but he bowed him low;

          Then plucked a crimson colen-bell,

            And turned him round in act to go.

          The way is long, he cannot fly,

            His soiled wing has lost its power;

          And he winds adown the mountain high

            For many a sore and weary hour

          Through dreary beds of tangled fern,

            Through groves of nightshade dark and dern,

          Over the grass and through the brake,

            Where toils the ant and sleeps the snake;

          Now over the violet’s azure flush

            He skips along in lightsome mood;

          And now he thrids the bramble-bush,

            Till its points are dyed in fairy blood;

          He has leaped the bog, he has pierced the brier,

            He has swum the brook, and waded the mire,

          Till his spirits sank and his limbs grew weak,

            And the red waxed fainter in his cheek.

          He had fallen to the ground outright,

            For rugged and dim was his onward track,

          But there came a spotted toad in sight,

            And he laughed as he jumped upon her back;

          He bridled her mouth with a silkweed twist,

            He lashed her sides with an osier thong;

          And now through evening’s dewy mist

            With leap and spring they bound along,

          Till the mountain’s magic verge is past,

            And the beach of sand is reached at last.

 Image

(E.R.Hughes – Valkyrie)

          Soft and pale is the moony beam,

            Moveless still the glassy stream;

          The wave is clear, the beach is bright

            With snowy shells and sparkling stones;

          The shore-surge comes in ripples light,

            In murmurings faint and distant moans;

          And ever afar in the silence deep

            Is heard the splash of the sturgeon’s leap,

          And the bend of his graceful bow is seen—

            A glittering arch of silver sheen,

          Spanning the wave of burnished blue,

            And dripping with gems of the river-dew.

 Image

(EBJ – luna)

          The elfin cast a glance around,

            As he lighted down from his courser toad,

          Then round his breast his wings he wound,

            And close to the river’s brink he strode;

          He sprang on a rock, he breathed a prayer,

            Above his head his arms he threw,

          Then tossed a tiny curve in air,

            And headlong plunged in the waters blue.

 

          Up sprung the spirits of the waves,

            from the sea-silk beds in their coral caves;

          With snail-plate armor snatched in haste,

            They speed their way through the liquid waste.

          Some are rapidly borne along

            On the mailed shrimp or the prickly prong,

          Some on the blood-red leeches glide,

            Some on the stony star-fish ride,

          Some on the back of the lancing squab,

            Some on the sideling soldier-crab,

          And some on the jellied quarl that flings

            At once a thousand streamy stings.

          They cut the wave with the living oar,

            And hurry on to the moonlight shore,

          To guard their realms and chase away

            The footsteps of the invading Fay.

 

          Fearlessly he skims along;

            His hope is high and his limbs are strong;

          He spreads his arms like the swallow’s wing,

            And throws his feet with a frog-like fling;

          His locks of gold on the waters shine,

            At his breast the tiny foam-beads rise,

          His back gleams bright above the brine,

            And the wake-line foam behind him lies.

          But the water-sprites are gathering near

            To check his course along the tide;

          Their warriors come in swift career

            And hem him round on every side:

          On his thigh the leech has fixed his hold,

            The quad’s long arms are round him rolled,

          The prickly prong has pierced his skin,

            And the squab has thrown his javelin,

          The gritty star has rubbed him raw,

            And the crab has struck with his giant claw.

          He howls with rage, and he shrieks with pain;

            He strikes around, but his blows are vain;

          Hopeless is the unequal fight

            Fairy, naught is left but flight.

 Image

(Meister)

          He turned him round and fled amain,

            With hurry and dash, to the beach again;

          He twisted over from side to side,

            And laid his cheek to the cleaving tide;

          The strokes of his plunging arms are fleet,

            And with all his might he flings his feet.

          But the water-sprites are round him still,

            To cross his path and work him ill:

          They bade the wave before him rise;

            They flung the sea-fire in his eyes;

          And they stunned his ears with the scallop-stroke,

            With the porpoise heave and the drum-fish croak.

          Oh, but a weary wight was he

            When he reached the foot of the dog-wood tree.

          Gashed and wounded, and stiff and sore,

            He laid him down on the sandy shore;

          He blessed the force of the charmed line,

            And he banned the water-goblins spite,

          For he saw around in the sweet moonshine

            Their little wee faces above the brine,

          Giggling and laughing with all their might

            At the piteous hap of the Fairy wight.

 

          Soon he gathered the balsam dew

            From the sorrel-leaf and the henbane bud;

          Over each wound the balm he drew,

            And with cobweb lint he stanched the blood.

          The mild west wind was soft and low;

            It cooled the heat of his burning brow,

          And he felt new life in his sinews shoot

            As he drank the juice of the calamus root.

          And now he treads the fatal shore

            As fresh and vigorous as before.

 Image

(A.Rackham – Bride Gift)

          Wrapped in musing stands the sprite

            ‘Tis the middle wane of night;

          His task is hard, his way is far,

            But he must do his errand right

          Ere dawning mounts her beamy car,

            And rolls her chariot wheels of light;

          And vain are the spells of fairy-land,

            He must work with a human hand.

 

          He cast a saddened look around;

            But he felt new joy his bosom swell,

          When glittering on the shadowed ground

            He saw a purple mussel-shell;

          Thither he ran, and he bent him low,

            He heaved at the stern and he heaved at the bow,

          And he pushed her over the yielding sand

            Till he came; to the verge of the haunted land.

          She was as lovely a pleasure-boat

            As ever fairy had paddled in,

          For she glowed with purple paint without,

            And shone with silvery pearl within

          A sculler’s notch in the stern he made,

            An oar he shaped of the bootle-blade;

          Then sprung to his seat with a lightsome leap,

            And launched afar on the calm, blue deep.

 

          The imps of the river yell and rave

            They had no power above the wave,

          But they heaved the billow before the prow,

            And they dashed the surge against her side,

          And they struck her keel with jerk and blow,

            Till the gunwale bent to the rocking tide.

          She wimpled about to the pale moonbeam,

            Like a feather that floats on a wind-tossed stream;

          And momently athwart her track

            The quad upreared his island back,

          And the fluttering scallop behind would float,

            And patter the water about the boat;

          But he bailed her out with his colon-bell,

            And he kept her trimmed with a wary tread,

          While on every side like lightning fell

            The heavy strokes of his Bootle-blade.

 Image

(A.Rackham – Soul)

          Onward still he held his way,

            Till he came where the column of moonshine lay,

          And saw beneath the surface dim

            The brown-backed sturgeon slowly swim.

          Around him were the goblin train;

            But he sculled with all his might and main,

          And followed wherever the sturgeon led,

            Till he saw him upward point his head;

          “Mien he dropped his paddle-blade,

            And held his colen-goblet up

          To catch the drop in its crimson cup.

 

          With sweeping tail and quivering fin

            Through the wave the sturgeon flew,

          And like the heaven-shot javelin

            He sprung above the waters blue.

          Instant as the star-fall light,

            He plunged him in the deep again,

          But left an arch of silver bright,

            The rainbow of the moony main.

          It was a strange and lovely sight

            To see the puny goblin there:

          He seemed an angel form of light,

            With azure wing and sunny hair,

          Throned on a cloud of purple fair,

            Circled with blue and edged with white,

          And sitting at the fall of even

            Beneath the bow of summer heaven.

 Image

          A moment, and its lustre fell;

            But ere it met the billow blue

          He caught within his crimson bell

            A droplet of its sparkling dew.

          Joy to thee, Fay! thy task is done;

            Thy wings are pure, for the gem is won.

          Cheerly ply thy dripping oar,

            And haste away to the elfin shore!

 

          He turns, and to on either side

            The ripples on his path divide;

          And the track o’er which his boat must pass

            Is smooth as a sheet of polished glass.

          Around, their limbs the sea-nymphs lave,

            With snowy arms half swelling out,

          While on the glossed and gleamy wave

            Their sea-green ringlets loosely float:

          They swim around with smile and song;

            They press the bark with pearly hand,

          And gently urge her course along,

            Toward the beach of speckled sand;

          And as he lightly leaped to land

            They bade adieu with nod and bow,

          Then gaily kissed each little hand,

            And dropped in the crystal deep below.

 Image

(EBJ)

          A moment stayed the fairy there:

            He kissed the beach and breathed a prayer;

          Then spread his wings of gilded blue,

            And on to the elfin court he flew.

          As ever ye saw a bubble rise,

            And shine with a thousand changing dyes,

          Till, lessening far, through ether driven,

            It mingles with the hues of heaven;

          As, at the glimpse of morning pale,

            The lance-fly spreads his silken sail

          And gleams with bleedings soft and bright

            Till lost in the shades of fading night;

          So rose from earth the lovely Fay,

            So vanished far in heaven away!

Image

(EBJ)

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~ by meanderingsofthemuse on November 6, 2013.

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