Michael Drayton Poems >>
Nymphidia, The Court Of Fairy

Old Chaucer doth of Thopas tell,
Mad Rabelais of Pantagruel,
A latter third of Dowsabell,
With such poor trifles playing;
Others the like have labored at
Some of this thing, and some of that,
And many of they know not what,
But that they must be saying.

Another sort there be that will
Be talking of the Fairies still,
Nor ever can they have their fill,
As they were wedded to them;
No tales of them their thirst can slake,
So much delight therein they take,
And some strange thing they fain would make,
Knew they the way to do them.

Then since no Muse hath been so bold,
Or of the later, or the old,
Those elvish secrets to unfold
Which lie from others' reading,
My active Muse to light shall bring
The court of that proud Fairy King,
And tell there of the reveling;
Jove prosper my proceeding.

And thou, Nymphidia, gentle fay,
Which meeting me upon the way
These secrets didst to me bewray,
Which I now am in telling;
My pretty light fantastic maid,
I here invoke thee to my aid,
That I may speak what thou hast said,
In numbers smoothly swelling.

This palace standeth in the air,
By necromancy placed there,
That it no tempests needs to fear,
Which way soe'er it blow it.
And somewhat southward toward the noon,
Whence lies a way up to the moon,
And thence the Fairy can as son
Pass to the earth below it.

The walls of spiders' legs are made,
Well mortised and finely laid;
He was the master of his trade
It curiously that builded;
The windows of the eyes of cats,
And for the roof, instead of slats,
Is covered with the skins of bats,
With moonshine that are gilded.

Hene Oberon him sport to make
(Their rest when weary mortals take,
And none but only fairies wake)
Descendeth for his pleasure.
And Mab his merry queen by night
Bestrides young folks that lie upright,
In elder times the Mare that hight,
Which plagues them out of measure.

Hence shadows, seeming idle shapes
Of little frisking elves and apes
To earth do make their wanton 'scapes,
As hope of pastime hastes them,
Which maids think on the hearth they see
When fires well-near consumed be,
There dancing heys by two and three,
Just as their fancy casts them.

These make our girls their sluttery rue,
By pinching them both black and blue,
And put a penny in their shoe
The house for cleanly sweeping;
And in their courses make that round,
In meadows and in marshes found,
Of them so called the Fairy ground,
Of which they have the keeping.

These when a child haps to be got
Which after proves an idiot,
When folk perceive it thriveth not,
The fault therein to smother
Some silly doting brainless calf
That understands things by the half
Say that the fairy left this aufe
And took away the other.

But listen and I shall you tell
A chance in Fairy that befell,
Which certainly may please some well
In love and arms delighting;
Of Oberon that jealous grew
Of one of his own Fairy crew,
Too well, he feared, his queen that knew,
His love but ill requiting.

Pigwiggen was this Fairy knight,
One wondrous gracious in the sight
Of fair Queen Mab, which day and night
He amorously observed;
Which made King Oberon suspect
His service took too good effect,
His sauciness and often checked
And could have wished him starved.

Pigwiggen gladly would commend
Some token to Queen Mab to send,
If sea, or land, could aught him lend
Were worthy of her wearing;
At length this lover doth devise
A bracelet made of emmet's eyes,
A thing he thought that she would prize,
No whit her state impairing,

And to the queen a letter writes,
Which he most curiously endites,
Conjuring her by all the rites
Of love, she would be pleased
To meet him, her true servant, where
They might without suspect or fear
Themselves to one another clear
And have their poor hearts cased.

"At midnight the appointed hour,
And for the queen a fitting bower"
Quoth he, "is that fair cowslip flower
On Hipcut Hill that groweth;
In all your train there's not a fay
That ever went to gather May
But she hath made it in her way,
The tallest there that groweth."

When by Tom Thumb, a Fairy page,
He sent it and doth him engage
By promise of a mighty wage
It secretly to carry;
Which done, the queen her maids doth call
And bids them to be ready all;
She would go see her summer hall,
She could no longer tarry.

Her chariot ready straight is made,
Each thing therein is fitting laid,
For naught must her be letting;
Four nimble gnats the horses were,
Their harnesses of gossamer,
Fly Cranion her charioteer
Upon the coach-box getting.

Her chariot of a snail's fine shell
Which for the colors did excel,
The fair Queen Mab becoming well
So lively was the limning;
The seat, the soft wool of the bee;
The cover, gallantly to see,
The wing of a pied butterfly,
I trow 'twas simple trimming.

The wheels composed of crickets' bones
And daintily made for the nonce,
For fear or rattling on the stones
With thistledown they shod it;
For all her maidens much did fear
If Oberon had chanced to hear
That Mab his queen should have been there
He would not have abode it.

She mounts her chariot with a trice,
Nor would she stay for no advice
Until her maids that were so nice
To wait on here were fitted,
But ran herself away alone,
Which when they heard, there was not one
But hasted after to be gone
As she had been diswitted.

Hop, and Mop, and Drop so clear,
Pip, and Trip, and Skip that were
To Mab their sovereign ever dear,
Her special maids of honor;
Fib and Tib, and Pink and Pin,
Tick and Quick, and Jill and Jin,
Tit and Nit, and Wap and Win,
The train that wait upon her.

Upon a grasshopper they got,
And what with ample and with trot,
For hedge nor ditch they spared not
But after her they hie them.
A cobweb over them they throw
To shield the wind if it should blow;
Themselves they wisely could bestow
Lest any should espy them.

But let us leave Queen Mab a while,
Through many a gate, o'er many a stile,
That now had gotten by this wile,
Her dear Pigwiggen kissing;
And tell how Oberon doth fare,
Who grew as mad as any hare,
When he had sought each place with care,
And found his queen was missing.

By grisly Pluto he doth swear,
He rent his clothes, and tore his hair,
And as he runneth here and there,
An acorn-cup he greeteth;
Which soon he taketh by the stalk,
About his head he lets it walk,
Nor doth he any creature balk,
But lays on all he meeteth.

The Tuscan poet doth advance
The frantic paladin of France,
And those more ancient do enhance
Alcides in his fury,
And others Ajax Telamon:
But to this time there hath been none
So bedlam as our Oberon,
Of which I dare assure you.

And first encount'ring with a wasp,
He in his arms the fly doth clasp,
As tho' his breath he forth would grasp,
Him for Pigwiggen taking;
'Where is my wife, thou rogue?" quoth he,
"Pigwiggen, she is come to thee;
Restore her, or thou diest by me!"
Whereat the poor wasp quaking,

Cries, "Oberon, great Fairy King,
Content thee, I am no such thing;
I am a wasp, behold my sting!"
At which the fairy started;
When soon away the wasp doth go,
Poor wretch was never frighted so,
He thought his wings were much too slow,
O'erjoy'd they so were parted.

He next upon a glow-worm light,
(You must suppose it now was night)
Which, for her hinder part was bright,
He took to be a devil,
And furiously doth her assail
For carrying fire in her tail;
He thrash'd her rough coat with his flail,
The mad king fear'd no evil.

"Oh!" quoth the glow-worm, "hold thy hand,
Thou puissant King of Fairyland,
Thy mighty strokes who may withstand;
Hold, or of life despair I!"
Together then herself doth roll,
And tumbling down into a hole,
She seem'd as black as any coal,
Which vext away the Fairy.

From thence he ran into a hive;
Amongst the bees he letteth drive,
And down their combs begins to rive,
All likely to have spoiled;
Which with their wax his face besmear'd,
And with their honey daub'd his beard;
It would have made a man afear'd
To see how he was moiled.

A new adventure him betides;
He met an ant, which he bestrides,
And post thereon away he rides,
Which with his haste doth stumble,
And came full over on her snout;
Her heels so threw the dirt about,
For she by no means could get out,
But over him doth tumble,

And being in this piteous case,
And all beslurried, head and face,
On runs he in this wildgoose chase,
As here and there he rambles,
Half-blind, against a mole-hill hit
And for a mountain taking it
For all he was out of his wit,
Yet to the top he scrambles.

And being gotten to the top
Yet there himself he could not stop
But down on th' other side doth chop,
And to the foot came rumbling,
So that the grubs therein that bred,
Hearing such turmoil overhead,
Thought surely they had all been dead,
So fearful was the jumbling.

And falling down into a lake,
Which him up to the neck doth take,
His fury it doth somewhat slake;
He calleth for a ferry;
Where you may some recovery note:
What was his club he made his boat,
And in his oaken cup doth float
As safe as in a wherry.

Men talk of the adventures strange
Of Don Quixote, and of their change,
Through which he armed oft did range,
Of Sancho Panza's travel;
But should a man tell every thing
Done by this frantic Fairy King,
And them in lofty numbers sing,
It well his wits might gravel.

Scarce set on shore but therewithal
He meeteth Puck, which most men call
Hobgoblin, and on him doth fall
With words from frenzy spoken.
"Ho, Ho!" quoth Hob, "God save thy grace,
Who dressed thee in this piteous case?
He thus that spoiled my sovereign's face,
I would his neck were broken."

This Puck seems but a dreaming dolt,
Still walking like a ragged colt,
And oft out of a bush doth bolt
Of purpose to deceive us,
And leading us makes us to stray
Long winter's nights out of the way,
And when we stick in mire and clay,
Hob doth with laughter leave us.

"Dear Puck," quoth he, "my wife is gone;
As e'er thou lov'st King Oberon,
Let everything but this alobe,
With vengeance and pursue her;
Bring her to me, alive or dead,
Or that vile thief Pigwiggen's head;
That villain hath defiled my bed;
He to this folly drew her."

Quoth Puck, "My liege, I'll never lin,
But I will thorough thick and thin,
Until at length I bring her in;
My dearest lord, ne'er doubt it;
Thorough brake, thorough brier,
Thorough muck, thorough mire,
Thorough water, thorough fire,
And thus goes Puck about it."

This thing Nymphidia overheard,
That on this mad king had a guard,
Not doubting of a great reward
For first this business broaching;
And through the air away doth go
Swift as an arrow from the bow,
To let her sovereign Mab to know
What peril was approaching.

The Queen, bound with love's powerful'st charm,
Sat with Pigwiggen arm in arm;
Her merry maids that thought no harm
About the room were skipping;
A humble-bee, their minstrel, played
Upon his hautboy; every maid
Fit for this revels was arrayed,
The hornpipe nearly tripping.

In comes Nymphidia and doth cry,
"My sovereign, for your safety, fly,
For there is danger but too nigh,
I posted to forewarn you;
The King hath sent Hobgoblin out
To seek you all the fields about,
And of your safety you may doubt,
If he but once discern you!"

When like an uproar in a town
Before them everything went down,
Some tore a ruff and some a gown,
'Gainst one another justling;
They flew about like chaff i' the wind;
For haste some left their masks behind;
Some could not stay their gloves to find;
There never was such bustling.

Forth ran they by a secret way
Into a brake that near them lay;
Yet much they doubted there to stay,
Lest Hob should hap to find them;
He had a sharp and piercing sight,
All one to him the day and night,
And therefore were resolved by flight
To leave this place behind them.

At length one chanced to find a nut
In th' end of which a hole was cut,
Which lay upon a hazel root,
There scattered by a squirrel
Which out of the kernel gotten had,
When quoth this fay, "Dear Queen, be glad;
Let Oberon be ne'er so mad,
I'll set you safe from peril.

"Come all into this nut," quoth she,
"Come closely in; be ruled by me;
Each one may here a choser be;
For room ye need not wrastle,
Nor need ye be together heapt";
So one by one therein they crept
And lying down, they soundly slept,
As safe as in a castle.

Nymphidia that this while doth watch,
Perceived if Puck the queen should catch,
That he would be her over-match,
Of which she well bethought her;
Found it must be some powerful charm,
The Queen against him that must arm
Or surely he would do her harm,
For throughly he had sought her.

And listening if she aught could hear
That her might hinder or might fear,
But finding still the coast was clear,
Nor creature had descried her;
Each circumstance and having scanned,
She came thereby to understand
Puck would be with them out of hand,
When to her charms she hied her.

And first her fern seed doth bestow,
The kernel of the mistletoe,
And here and there, as Puck should go,
With terror to affright him,
She night-shade strews to work him ill,
Therewith her vervain and her dill,
That hindreth witches of their will,
Of purpose to despite him.

Then sprinkles she the juice of rue,
That groweth underneath the yew,
With nine drops of the midnight dew
From lunary distilling;
The moldwarp's brain mixed therewithal,
And with the same the pismire's gall,
For she in nothing short would fall,
The Fairy was so willing.

Then thrice under a briar doth creep,
Which at both ends was rooted deep,
And over it three times she leap,
Her magic much availing;
Then on Proserpina doth call,
And so upon her spell doth fall
Which here to you repeat I shall,
Not in one title failing:

By the croaking of the frog,
By the howling of the dog,
By the crying of the hog,
Against the storm arising;
By the evening curfew bell,
By the doleful dying knell,
Oh, let this my direful spell,
Hob, hinder thy surprising.

By the madrake's dreadful groans,
By the lubrican's sad moans,
By the noise of dead men's bones
In charnel houses rattling;
By the hissing of the snake,
The rustling of the fire-drake,
I charge thee thou this place forsake,
Nor of Queen Mab be prattling.

By the whirlwind's hollow sound,
By the thunder's dreadful stound,
Yells of spirits underground,
I charge thee not to fear us;
By the screech-owl's dismal note,
I charge thee, Hob, to tear thy coat
With thorns if thou come near us.

Her spell thus, she stepped aside
And in a chink herself doth hide
To see thereof what would betide,
For she doth only mind him;
When presently she Puck espies,
And well she marked his gloating eyes
How under every leaf he pries
In seeking still to find them.

But once the circle got within,
The charms to work do straight begin,
And he was caught as in a gin;
For as he thus was busy,
A pain he in his headpiece feels,
Against a stubbed tree he reels
And up went poor Hobgoblin's heels,
Alas, his brain was dizzy.

At length upon his feet he gets;
Hobgoblin fumes, Hobgoblin frets,
And, as again he forward sets
And through the bushes scrambles,
A stump doth trip him in his pace,
Down comes poor Hob upon his face
And lamentably tore his case
Amongst the briars and brambles.

"A plague upon Queen Mab," quoth he,
And all her maids, where'er they be!
I think the devil guided me
To see her so provoked."
Where, stumbling at a piece of wood,
He fell into a ditch of mud,
Where to the very chin he stood
In danger to be choked.

Now, worse than e'er he was before,
Poor Puck doth yell, poor Puck doth roar;
That waked Queen Mab, who doubted sore
Some treason hath been wrought her,
Until Nymphidia told the queen
What she had done, what she had seen,
Who then had well-near cracked her spleen
With very extreme laughter.

But leave we Hob to clamber out,
Queen Mab and all her Fairy rout,
And come again to have a bout
With Oberon yet madding;
And with Pigwiggen now distraught,
Who was much troubled in his thought,
That he so long the queen had sought
And through the fields was gadding.

And as he runs he still doth cry,
"King Oberon, I thee defy
And dare thee here in arms to try
For my dear Lady's honor,
For that she is a queen right good,
In whose defens I'll shed my blood,
And that thou in this jealous mood
Hast layed this slander on her."

And quickly arms him for the field,
A little cockle-shell his shield,
Which he could very bravely wield
Yet could it not be pierced;
His spear, a bent both stiff and strong
And well-near of two inches long;
The pile was of a horse-fly's tongue,
Whose sharpness naught reversed.

And puts him on a coat of mail,
Which was of a fish's scale,
That when his foe should him assail,
No point should be prevailing;
His rapier was a hornet's sting;
It was a very dangerous thing,
For, if he chanced to hurt the King,
It would be long in healing.

His helmet was a beetle's head,
Most horrible and full of dread,
That able was to strike one dead,
Yet did it well become him;
And, for a plume, a horse's hair,
Which, being tossed with the air
Had force to strike his foe with fear
And turn his weapon from him.

Himself he on an earwig set,
Yet scarce he on his back could get,
So oft and high he did corvet
Ere he himself could settle;
He made him turn and stop and bound,
To gallop, and to trot the round;
He scarce could stand on any ground
He was so full of mettle.

When soon he met with Thomalin,
One that a valiant knight had been,
And to King Oberon of kin.
Quoth he, "Thou manly Fairy,
Tell Oberon I come prepared,
Then bid him stand upon his guard;
This hand his baseness shall reward,
Let him be ne'er so wary.

"Say to him thus, that I defy
His slanders and his infamy,
And, as a mortal enemy
Do publicly proclaim him;
Withal, that if I had mine own,
He should not wear the Fairy crown,
But with a vengeance should come down,
Nor we a king should name him."

This Thomalin could not abide,
To hear his sovereign vilified,
But to the Fairy court him hied;
Full furiously he posted
With everything Pigwiggen said,
How title to the crown he laid
And in what arms he was arrayed,
As now himself he boasted.

'Twixt head and foot, from point to point
He told th' arming of each joint,
In every piece, how neat and quaint,
For Thomalin could do it;
How fair he sat, how sure he rid,
As of the courser he bestrid,
How managed and how well he did;
The king, which listened to it,

Quoth he, "Go, Thomalin, with speed,
Provide me arms, provide my steed
And everything that I shall need;
By thee I will be guided;
To straight account call thou thy wit,
See there be wanting not a whit
In everything see thou me fit,
Just as my foe's provided."

Soon flew this news through Fairyland,
Which gave Queen Mab to understand
The combat that was then in hand
Betwixt those men so mighty;
Which greatly she began to rue,
Perceiving that all Fairy knew
The first occasion from her grew
Of these affairs so weighty.

Wherefore, attended with her maids,
Through fogs and mists and damps she wades
To Prosperine, the Queen of Shades
To treat that it would please her
The cause into her hands to take
For ancient love and friendship's sake,
And soon thereof an end to make,
Which of much care would ease her.

A while there let we Mab alone,
And come we to King Oberon,
Who, armed to meet his foe, is gone
For proud Pigwiggen crying;
Who sought the Fairy king as fast,
And has so well his journies cast,
That he arrived at the last,
His puissant foe espying.

Stout Thomalin came with the king;
Tom Thumb doth on Pigwiggen bring,
That perfect were in everything
To single fights belonging;
And therefore they themselves engage
To see them exercise their rage
With fair and comely equipage,
Not one the other wronging.

So like in arms these champions were
As they had been a very pair,
So that a man would almost swear
That either had been either;
Their furious steeds began to neigh
That they were heard a mighty way;
Their staves upon their rests they lay;
Yet, e'er they flew together,

Their seconds minister an oath
Which was indifferent to them both
That on their knightly faith and troth
No magic them supplied,
And sought them that they had no charms
Wherewith to work each other's harms,
But came with simple open arms
To have their causes tried.

Together furiously they ran,
That to the ground came horse and man;
The blood out of their helmets span,
So sharp were their encounters.
And though they to the earth were thrown,
Yet quickly they regained their own;
Such nimbleness was never shown,
They were two gallant mounters.

When in a second course again
They forward came with might and main,
Yet which had better of the twain
The seconds could not judge yet;
Their shields were into pieces cleft,
Their helmets from their heads were reft,
And to defend them nothing left
These champions would not budge yet.

Away from them their staves they threw;
Their cruel swords they quickly drew,
And freshly they the fight renew,
That every stroke redoubled;
Which made Prosperina take heed
And make to them the greater speed,
For fear lest they too much should bleed,
Which wondrously her troubled.

When to th' infernal Styx she goes,
She takes the fogs from thence that rose,
And in a bag doth them enclose;
When well she had them blended,
She hies her then to Lethe spring,
A bottle and thereof doth bring
Wherewith she meant to work the thing
Which only she intended.

Now Prosperine with Mab is gone
Unto the place where Oberon
And proud Pigwiggen, one to one,
Both to be slain were likely;
And there themselves they closely hide
Because they would not be espied,
For Prosperine meant to decide
The matter very quickly.

And suddenly unties the poke
Which out of it sent such a smoke
As ready was them all to choke,
So grievous was the pother;
So that the knights each other lost
And stood as still as any post,
Tom Thumb nor Thomalin could boast
Themselves of any other.

But when the mist gan somewhat cease,
Prosperina commandeth peace,
And that a while they should release
Each other of their peril;
"Which here," quoth she, "I do proclaim
To all, in dreadful Pluto's name,
That, as ye will eschew his blame,
You let me hear the quarrel.

"But here yourselves you must engage
Somewhat to cool your spleenish rage;
Your grievous thirst to assuage
That first you drink this liquor,
Which shall your understanding clear,
As plainly shall to you appear,
Those things from me that you shall hear,
Conceiving much the quicker."

This Lethe water, you must know,
The memory destroyeth so
That of our weal or of our woe
It all remembrance blotted;
Of it nor can you ever think;
For they no sooner took this drink
But naught into their brains could sink
Of what had them besotted.

King Oberon forgotten had
That he had for jealousy ran mad,
But of his queen was wondrous glad
And asked how they came thither;
Pigwiggen likewise doth forget
That he Queen Mab had ever met,
Or that they were so hard beset
When they were found together.

Nor neither of them both had thought
That e'er they had each other sought,
Much less that they a combat fought,
But such a dream were loathing;
Tom Thumb had got a little sup,
And Thomalin scarce kissed the cup,
Yet had their brains so sure locked up,
That they remembered nothing.

Queen Mab and her light maids the while
Among themselves do closely smile
To see the king caught with this wile,
With one another jesting;
And to the Fairy court they went
With mickle joy and merriment,
Which thing was done with good intent,
And thus I left them feasting.