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Poem by John Keats

The Cap and Bells; or, The Jealousies

A Faery Tale — Unfinished


  In midmost Ind, beside Hydaspes cool,
  There stood, or hovered, tremulous in the air,
  A faery city, ‘neath the potent rule
  Of Emperor Elfinan — famed everywhere
  For love of mortal women, maidens fair,
  Whose lips were solid, whose soft hands were made
  Of a fit mould and beauty, ripe and rare,
  To pamper his slight wooing, warm yet staid:
He loved girls smooth as shades, but hated a mere shade.


  This was a crime forbidden by the law;
  And all the priesthood of his city wept,
  For ruin and dismay they well foresaw,
  If impious prince no bound or limit kept,
  And faery Zendervester overstepped.
  They wept, he sinned, and still he would sin on,
  They dreamt of sin, and he sinned while they slept;
  In vain the pulpit thundered at the throne,
Caricature was vain, and vain the tart lampoon.


  Which seeing, his high court of parliament
  Laid a remonstrance at his Highness’ feet,
  Praying his royal senses to content
  Themselves with what in faery land was sweet,
  Befitting best that shade with shade should meet:
  Whereat, to calm their fears, he promised soon
  From mortal tempters all to make retreat —
  Ay, even on the first of the new moon,
An immaterial wife to espouse as heaven’s boon.


  Meantime he sent a fluttering embassy
  To Pigmio, of Imaus sovereign,
  To half beg, and half demand, respectfully,
  The hand of his fair daughter Bellanaine.
  An audience had, and speeching done, they gain
  Their point, and bring the weeping bride away;
  Whom, with but one attendant, safely lain
  Upon their wings, they bore in bright array,
While little harps were touched by many a lyric fay.


  As in old pictures tender cherubim
  A child’s soul through the sapphired canvas bear,
  So, through a real heaven, on they swim
  With the sweet princess on her plumaged lair,
  Speed giving to the winds her lustrous hair;
  And so they journeyed, sleeping or awake,
  Save when, for healthful exercise and air,
  She chose to promener à l’aile, or take
A pigeon’s somerset, for sport or change’s sake.


  ‘Dear Princess, do not whisper me so loud,’
  Quoth Corallina, nurse and confidant,
  ‘Do not you see there, lurking in a cloud,
  Close at your back, that sly old Crafticant?
  He hears a whisper plainer than a rant.
  Dry up your tears, and do not look so blue;
  He’s Elfinan’s great state-spy militant,
  His running, lying, flying footman too —
Dear mistress, let him have no handle against you!


  ‘Show him a mouse’s tail, and he will guess,
  With metaphysic swiftness, at the mouse;
  Show him a garden, and with speed no less,
  He’ll surmise sagely of a dwelling house,
  And plot, in the same minute, how to chouse
  The owner out of it; show him a —’  ‘Peace!
  Peace! nor contrive thy mistress’ ire to rouse!’
  Returned the Princess, ‘my tongue shall not cease
Till from this hated match I get a free release.


  ‘Ah, beauteous mortal!’ ‘Hush!’ quoth Coralline,
  ‘Really you must not talk of him, indeed.’
  ‘You hush!’ replied the mistress, with a shine
  Of anger in her eyes, enough to breed
  In stouter hearts than nurse’s fear and dread:
  ’Twas not the glance itself made Nursey flinch,
  But of its threat she took the utmost heed,
  Not liking in her heart an hour-long pinch,
Or a sharp needle run into her back an inch.


  So she was silenced, and fair Bellanaine,
  Writhing her little body with ennui,
  Continued to lament and to complain,
  That Fate, cross-purposing, should let her be
  Ravished away far from her dear countree;
  That all her feelings should be set at naught,
  In trumping up this match so hastily,
  With lowland blood; and lowland blood she thought
Poison, as every staunch true-born Imaian ought.


  Sorely she grieved, and wetted three or four
  White Provence rose-leaves with her faery tears,
  But not for this cause — alas! she had more
  Bad reasons for her sorrows, as appears
  In the famed memoirs of a thousand years,
  Written by Crafticant, and publishēd
  By Parpaglion and Co. (those sly compeers
  Who raked up every fact against the dead)
In Scarab Street, Panthea, at the Jubal’s Head.


  Where, after a long hypercritic howl
  Against the vicious manners of the age,
  He goes on to expose, with heart and soul,
  What vice in this or that year was the rage,
  Backbiting all the world in every page;
  With special strictures on the horrid crime
  (Sectioned and subsectioned with learning sage),
  Of faeries stooping on their wings sublime
To kiss a mortal’s lips, when such were in their prime.


  Turn to the copious index, you will find
  Somewhere in the column, headed letter B,
  The name of Bellanaine, if you’re not blind;
  Then pray refer to the text, and you will see
  An article made up of calumny
  Against this highland princess, rating her
  For giving way, so over-fashionably,
  To this new-fangled vice, which seems a burr
Stuck in his moral throat, no coughing e’er could stir.


  There he says plainly that she loved a man!
  That she around him fluttered, flirted, toyed,
  Before her marriage with great Elfinan;
  That after marriage too, she never joyed
  In husband’s company, but still employed
  Her wits to ’scape away to Angle-land;
  Where lived the youth, who worried and annoyed
  Her tender heart, and its warm ardours fanned
To such a dreadful blaze, her side would scorch her hand.


  But let us leave this idle tittle-tattle
  To waiting-maids, and bedroom coteries,
  Nor till fit time against her fame wage battle.
  Poor Elfinan is very ill at ease —
  Let us resume his subject if you please:
  For it may comfort and console him much
  To rhyme and syllable his miseries;
  Poor Elfinan! whose cruel fate was such,
He sat and cursed a bride he knew he could not touch.


  Soon as (according to his promises)
  The bridal embassy had taken wing,
  And vanished, bird-like, o’er the suburb trees,
  The Emperor, empierced with the sharp sting
  Of love, retirēd, vexed and murmuring
  Like any drone shut from the fair bee-queen,
  Into his cabinet, and there did fling
  His limbs upon a sofa, full of spleen,
And damned his House of Commons, in complete chagrin.


  ‘I’ll trounce some of the members,’ cried the Prince,
  ‘I’ll put a mark against some rebel names,
  I’ll make the Opposition benches wince,
  I’ll show them very soon, to all their shames,
  What ’tis to smother up a Prince’s flames;
  That ministers should join in it, I own,
  Surprises me! — they too at these high games!
  Am I an Emperor? Do I wear a crown?
Imperial Elfinan, go hang thyself or drown!


  ‘I’ll trounce ’em! — there’s the square-cut chancellor,
  His son shall never touch that bishopric;
  And for the nephew of old Palfior,
  I’ll show him that his speeches made me sick,
  And give the colonelcy to Phalaric;
  The tip-toe marquis, moral and gallant,
  Shall lodge in shabby taverns upon tick;
  And for the Speaker’s second cousin’s aunt,
She shan’t be maid of honour — by heaven that she shan’t!


  ‘I’ll shirk the Duke of A.; I’ll cut his brother;
  I’ll give no garter to his eldest son;
  I won’t speak to his sister or his mother!
  The Viscount B. shall live at cut-and-run;
  But how in the world can I contrive to stun
  That fellow’s voice, which plagues me worse than any,
  That stubborn fool, that impudent state-dun,
  Who sets down every sovereign as a zany —
That vulgar commoner, Esquire Biancopany?


  ‘Monstrous affair! Pshaw! pah! what ugly minx
  Will they fetch from Imaus for my bride?
  Alas! my wearied heart within me sinks,
  To think that I must be so near allied
  To a cold dullard fay — ah, woe betide!
  Ah, fairest of all human loveliness!
  Sweet Bertha! what crime can it be to glide
  About the fragrant pleatings of thy dress,
Or kiss thine eyes, or count thy locks, tress after tress?’


  So said, one minute’s while his eyes remained
  Half lidded, piteous, languid, innocent;
  But, in a wink, their splendour they regained,
  Sparkling revenge with amorous fury blent.
  Love thwarted in bad temper oft has vent:
  He rose, he stamped his foot, he rang the bell,
  And ordered some death-warrants to be sent
  For signature — somewhere the tempest fell,
As many a poor felon does not live to tell.


  ‘At the same time Eban’ (this was his page,
  A fay of colour, slave from top to toe,
  Sent as a present, while yet under age,
  From the Viceroy of Zanguebar — wise, slow,
  His speech, his only words were ‘yes’ and ‘no’,
  But swift of look, and foot, and wing was he),
  ‘At the same time, Eban, this instant go
  To Hum the soothsayer, whose name I see
Among the fresh arrivals in our empery.


  ‘Bring Hum to me! But stay — here, take my ring,
  The pledge of favour, that he not suspect
  Any foul play, or awkward murdering,
  Though I have bowstrung many of his sect;
  Throw in a hint, that if he should neglect
  One hour, the next shall see him in my grasp,
  And the next after that shall see him necked,
  Or swallowed by my hunger-starvēd asp —
And mention (’tis as well) the torture of the wasp.’


  These orders given, the Prince, in half a pet,
  Let o’er the silk his propping elbow slide,
  Caught up his little legs, and, in a fret,
  Fell on the sofa on his royal side.
  The slave retreated backwards, humble-eyed,
  And with a slave-like silence closed the door,
  And to old Hum through street and alley hied;
  He ‘knew the city’, as we say, of yore,
For shortest cuts and turns, was nobody knew more.


  It was the time when wholesale houses close
  Their shutters with a moody sense of wealth,
  But retail dealers, diligent, let loose
  The gas  (objected toon score of health),
  Conveyed in little soldered pipes by stealth,
  And make it flare in many a brilliant form,
  That all the powers of darkness it repell’th,
  Which to the oil-trade doth great scathe and harm,
And supersedeth quite the use of the glow-worm.


  Eban, untempted by the pastry-cooks
  (Of pastry he got store within the palace),
  With hasty steps, wrapped cloak, and solemn looks,
  Incognito upon his errand sallies,
  His smelling-bottle ready for the alleys.
  He passed the hurdy-gurdies with disdain,
  Vowing he’d have them sent on board the galleys;
  Just as he made his vow, it ’gan to rain,
Therefore he called a coach, and bade it drive amain.


  ‘I’ll pull the string,’ said he, and further said,
  ‘Polluted Jarvey! Ah! thou filthy hack!
  Whose springs of life are all dried up and dead,
  Whose linsey-woolsey lining hangs all slack,
  Whose rug is straw, whose wholeness is a crack;
  And evermore thy steps go clatter-clitter;
  Whose glass once up can never be got back,
  Who prov’st, with jolting arguments and bitter,
That ’tis of modern use to travel in a litter.


  ‘Thou inconvenience! thou hungry crop
  For all corn! thou  snail-creeper to and fro,
  Who while thou goest ever seem’st to stop,
  And fiddle-faddle standest while you go;
  I’ the morning, freighted with a weight of woe,
  Unto some lazar-house thou journeyest,
  And in the evening tak’st a double row
  Of dowdies, for some dance or party dressed,
Besides the goods meanwhile thou movest east and west.


  ‘By thy ungallant bearing and sad mien,
  An inch appears the utmost thou couldst budge;
  Yet at the slightest nod, or hint, or sign,
  Round to the curb-stone patient dost thou trudge,
  Schooled in a beckon, learned in a nudge,
  A dull-eyed Argus watching for a fare;
  Quiet and plodding, thou dost bear no grudge
  To whisking tilburies, or phaetons rare,
Curricles, or mail-coaches, swift beyond compare.’


  Philosophizing thus, he pulled the check,
  And bade the Coachman wheel to such a street,
  Who, turning much his body, more his neck,
  Louted full low, and hoarsely did him greet:
  ‘Certes, Monsieur were best take to his feet,
  Seeing his servant can no further drive
  For press of coaches, that tonight here meet
  Many as bees about a straw-capped hive,
When first for April honey into faint flowers they dive.’

[In the draft manuscript, now divided between the Morgan, Huntington and Harvard libraries, stanza xxix is followed by a cancelled stanza:

  ‘Ho! Ho thought Eban so this Signor Hum
  A Conversazione holds tonight
  Wheneer he beats his literary drum
  The learned muster round all light and tight
  Drest in best black to talk by candle light.’
  E’en while he thought, for eighteen penny fare
  He paid a half penny by cunning sleight
  Made argent; then with self-contented Air
Broke through the crowd to Hums, and all the world was there.

Gittings (1956), pp. 125-9, claims that this is a satire on Leigh Hunt.]


  Eban then paid his fare, and tip-toe went
  To Hum’s hotel; and, as he on did pass
  With head inclined, each dusky lineament
  Showed in the pearl-paved street, as in a glass;
  His purple vest, that ever peeping was
  Rich from the fluttering crimson of his cloak,
  His silvery trousers, and his silken sash
  Tied in a burnished knot, their semblance took
Upon the mirrored walls, wherever he might look.


  He smiled at self, and, smiling, showed his teeth,
  And seeing his white teeth, he smiled the more;
  Lifted his eye-brows, spurned the path beneath,
  Showed teeth again, and smiled as heretofore,
  Until he knocked at the magician’s door;
  Where, till the porter answered, might be seen,
  In the clear panel, more he could adore —
  His turban wreathed of gold, and white, and green,
Mustachios, ear-ring, nose-ring, and his sabre keen.


  ‘Does not your master give a rout tonight?’
  Quoth the dark page. ‘Oh, no!’ returned the Swiss,
  ‘Next door but one to us, upon the right,
  The Magazin des Modes now open is
  Against the Emperor’s wedding — and, sir, this
  My master finds a monstrous horrid bore,
  As he retired, an hour ago I wis,
  With his best beard and brimstone, to explore
And cast a quiet figure in his second floor.


  ‘Gad! he’s obliged to stick to business!
  For chalk, I hear, stands at a pretty price;
  And as for aqua-vitae — there’s a mess!
  The dentes sapientiae of mice,
  Our barber tells me too, are on the rise —
  Tinder’s a lighter article — nitre pure
  Goes off like lightning — grains of Paradise
  At an enormous figure! Stars not sure! —
Zodiac will not move without a sly douceur!


  ‘Venus won’t stir a peg without a fee,
  And master is too partial, entre nous,
  To — ’ ‘Hush — hush!’ cried Eban, ‘sure that is he
  Coming down stairs. By St Bartholomew!
  As backwards as he can — is’t something new?
  Or is’t his custom, in the name of fun?’
  ‘He always comes down backward, with one shoe’,
  Returned the porter, ‘off, and one shoe on,
Like, saving shoe for sock or stocking, my man John!’


  It was indeed the great Magician,
  Feeling, with careful toe, for every stair,
  And retrograding careful as he can,
  Backwards and downwards from his own two pair:
  ‘Salpietro!’ exclaimed Hum, ‘is the dog there?
  He’s always in my way upon the mat!’
  ‘He’s in the kitchen, or the Lord knows where,’
  Replied the Swiss, ‘the nasty, yelping brat!’
‘Don’t beat him!’ returned Hum, and on the floor came pat.


  Then facing right about, he saw the Page,
  And said: ‘Don’t tell me what you want, Eban;
  The Emperor is now in a huge rage —
  ’Tis nine to one he’ll give you the rattan!
  Let us away!’ Away together ran
  The plain-dressed sage and spangled blackamoor,
  Nor rested till they stood to cool, and fan,
  And breathe themselves at the Emperor’s chamber door,
When Eban thought he heard a soft imperial snore.


  ‘I thought you guessed, foretold, or prophesied,
  That’s Majesty was in a raving fit?’
  ‘He dreams,’ said Hum, ‘or I have ever lied,
  That he is tearing you, sir, bit by bit.’
  ‘He’s not asleep, and you have little wit,’
  Replied the page, ‘that little buzzing noise,
  Whate’er your palmistry may make of it,
  Comes from a play-thing of the Emperor’s choice,
From a Man-Tiger-Organ, prettiest of his toys.’


  Eban then ushered in the learned seer:
  Elfinan’s back was turned, but, ne’ertheless,
  Both, prostrate on the carpet, ear by ear,
  Crept silently, and waited in distress,
  Knowing the Emperor’s moody bitterness;
  Eban especially, who on the floor ’gan
  Tremble and quake to death — he feared less
  A dose of senna-tea or nightmare Gorgon
Than the Emperor when he played on his Man-Tiger-Organ.


  They kissed nine times the carpet’s velvet face
  Of glossy silk, soft, smooth, and meadow-green,
  Where the close eye in deep rich fur might trace
  A silver tissue, scantly to be seen,
  As daisies lurked in June-grass, buds in treen.
  Sudden the music ceased, sudden the hand
  Of majesty, by dint of passion keen,
  Doubled into a common fist, went grand,
And knocked down three cut glasses, and his best inkstand.


  Then turning round, he saw those trembling two.
  ‘Eban,’ said he, ‘as slaves should taste the fruits
  Of diligence, I shall remember you
  Tomorrow, or the next day, as time suits,
  In a finger conversation with my mutes —
  Begone! — for you, Chaldean! here remain!
  Fear not, quake not, and as good wine recruits
  A conjurer’s spirits, what cup will you drain?
Sherry in silver, hock in gold, or glassed champagne?’


  ‘Commander of the Faithful!’ answered Hum,
  ‘In preference to these, I’ll merely taste
  A thimble-full of old Jamaica rum.’
  ‘A simple boon!’ said Elfinan, ‘thou mayst
  Have Nantz, with which my morning-coffee’s laced.’
  ‘I’ll have a glass of Nantz, then,’ said the Seer,
  ‘Made racy (sure my boldness is misplaced!)
  With the third part (yet that is drinking dear!)
Of the least drop of crēme de citron, crystal clear.’


  ‘I pledge you Hum! and pledge my dearest love,
  My Bertha!’ ‘Bertha! Bertha!’ cried the sage,
  ‘I know a many Berthas!’ ‘Mine’s above
  All Berthas!’ sighed the Emperor. ‘I engage,’
  Said Hum, ‘in duty, and in vassalage,
  To mention all the Berthas in the Earth —
  There’s Bertha Watson, and Miss Bertha Page,
  This famed for languid eyes, and that for mirth —
There’s Bertha Blount of York — and Bertha Knox of Perth.’


  ‘You seem to know — ’ ‘I do know,’ answered Hum,
  ‘Your Majesty’s in love with some fine girl
  Named Bertha, but her surname will not come,
  Without a little conjuring.’ ‘’Tis Pearl,
  ’Tis Bertha Pearl what makes my brains so whirl;
  And she is softer, fairer than her name!’
  ‘Where does she live?’ asked Hum. ‘Her fair locks curl
  So brightly, they put all our fays to shame! —
Live? — O! at Canterbury, with her old grand-dame.’


  ‘Good! good!’ cried Hum, ‘I’ve known her from a child!
  She is a changeling of my management.
  She was born at midnight in an Indian wild;
  Her mother’s screams with the striped tiger’s blent,
  While the torch-bearing slaves a halloo sent
  Into the jungles; and her palanquin,
  Rested amid the desert’s dreariment,
  Shook with her agony, till fair were seen
The little Bertha’s eyes ope on the stars serene.’


  ‘I can’t say,’ said the monarch, ‘that may be
  Just as it happened, true or else a bam!
  Drink up your brandy, and sit down by me,
  Feel, feel my pulse, how much in love I am;
  And if your science is not all a sham,
  Tell me some means to get the lady here.’
  ‘Upon my honour!’ said the son of Cham,
  ‘She is my dainty changeling, near and dear,
Although her story sounds at first a little queer.’


  ‘Convey her to me, Hum, or by my crown,
  My sceptre, and my cross-surmounted globe,
  I’ll knock you’ — ‘Does your majesty mean — down?
  No, no, you never could my feelings probe
  To such a depth!’ The Emperor took his robe,
  And wept upon its purple palatine,
  While Hum continued, shamming half a sob,
  ‘In Canterbury doth your lady shine?
But let me cool your brandy with a little wine.’


  Whereat a narrow Flemish glass he took,
  That once belonged to Admiral de Witt,
  Admired it with a connoisseuring look,
  And with the ripest claret crownēd it,
  And, ere one lively bead could burst and flit,
  He turned it quickly, nimbly upside down,	
  His mouth being held conveniently fit
  To save ‘the creature’. ‘Best in all the town!’
He said, smacked his moist lips, and gave a pleasant frown.


  ‘Ah! good my Prince, weep not!’ And then again
  He filled a bumper. ‘Great Sire, do not weep!
  Your pulse is shocking, but I’ll ease your pain.’
  ‘Fetch me that Ottoman, and prithee keep
  Your voice low,’ said the Emperor, ‘and steep
  Some lady’s-fingers nice in Candy wine;
  And prithee, Hum, behind the screen do peep
  For the rose-water vase, magician mine!
And sponge my forehead — so my love doth make me pine.


  ‘Ah, cursēd Bellanaine!’ ‘Don’t think of her,’
  Rejoined the Mago, ‘but on Bertha muse;
  For, by my choicest best barometer,
  You shall not throttled be in marriage noose.
  I’ve said it, Sire; you only have to choose
  Bertha or Bellanaine.’ So saying, he drew
  From the left pocket of his threadbare hose,
  A sampler hoarded slyly, good as new,
Holding it by his thumb and finger full in view.


  ‘Sire, this is Bertha Pearl’s neat handy-work,
  Her name, see here, Midsummer, ninety-one.’
  Elfinan snatched it with a sudden jerk,
  And wept as if he never would have done,
  Honouring with royal tears the poor homespun,
  Whereon were broidered tigers with black eyes,
  And long-tailed pheasants, and a rising sun,
  Plenty of posies, great stags, butterflies
Bigger than stags, a moon — with other mysteries.


  The monarch handled o’er and o’er again
  These day-school hieroglyphics with a sigh;
  Somewhat in sadness, but pleased in the main,
  Till this oracular couplet met his eye
  Astounded: Cupid I — do thee defy!
  It was too much. He shrunk back in his chair,
  Grew pale as death, and fainted — very nigh!
  ‘Pho! nonsense!’ exclaimed Hum, ‘now don’t despair;
She does not mean it really. Cheer up, hearty — there!


  ‘And listen to my words. You say you won’t,
  On any terms, marry Miss Bellanaine;
  It goes against your conscience — good! Well, don’t.
  You say you love a mortal. I would fain
  Persuade your honour’s Highness to refrain
  From peccadilloes. But, Sire, as I say,
  What good would that do? And, to be more plain
  You would do me a mischief some odd day,
Cut off my ears and hands, or head too, by my fay!


  ‘Besides, manners forbid that I should pass any
  Vile strictures on the conduct of a prince
  Who should indulge his genius, if he has any,
  Not, like a subject, foolish matters mince.
  Now I think on’t, perhaps I could convince
  Your Majesty there is no crime at all
  In loving pretty little Bertha, since
  She’s very delicate — not over tall —
A faery’s hand, and in the waist, why — very small.’


  ‘Ring the repeater, gentle Hum!’ ‘’Tis five,’
  Said gentle Hum, ‘the nights draw in apace;
  The little birds I hear are all alive;
  I see the dawning touched upon your face;
  Shall I put out the candles, please your Grace?’
  ‘Do put them out, and, without more ado,
  Tell me how I may that sweet girl embrace —
  How you can bring her to me.’ ‘That’s for you,
Great Emperor! to adventure, like a lover true.’


  ‘I fetch her!’ — ‘Yes, an’t like your Majesty;
  And as she would be frightened wide awake
  To travel such a distance through the sky,
  Use of some soft manoeuvre you must make,
  For your convenience, and her dear nerves’ sake.
  Nice way would be to bring her in a swoon,
  Anon, I’ll tell what course were best to take;
  You must away this morning.’ ‘Hum! so soon?’
‘Sire, you must be in Kent by twelve o’clock at noon.’


  At this great Caesar started on his feet,
  Lifted his wings and stood attentive-wise.
  ‘Those wings to Canterbury you must beat,
  If you hold Bertha as a worthy prize.
  Look in the Almanack — Moore never lies —
  April the twenty-fourth, this coming day,
  Now breathing its new bloom upon the skies,
  Will end in St Mark’s Eve — you must away,
For on that eve alone can you the maid convey.’


  Then the magician solemnly ’gan frown,
  So that his frost-white eyebrows, beetling low,
  Shaded his deep-green eyes, and wrinkles brown
  Plaited upon his furnace-scorchēd brow:
  Forth from the hood that hung his neck below,
  He lifted a bright casket of pure gold,
  Touched a spring-lock, and there in wool, or snow
  Charmed into ever-freezing, lay an old
And legend-leavēd book, mysterious to behold.


  ‘Take this same book, —  it will not bite you, Sire —
  There, put it underneath your royal arm;
  Though it’s a pretty weight it will not tire,
  But rather on your journey keep you warm.
  This is the magic, this the potent charm,
  That shall drive Bertha to a fainting fit!
  When the time comes, don’t feel the least alarm,
  Uplift her from the ground, and swiftly flit
Back to your palace, where I wait for guerdon fit.’


  ‘What shall I do with that same book?’ ‘Why merely
  Lay it on Bertha’s table, close beside
  Her work-box, and ’twill help your purpose dearly.
  I say no more.’ ‘Or good or ill betide,
  Through the wide air to Kent this morn I glide!’
  Exclaimed the Emperor. ‘When I return,
  Ask what you will — I’ll give you my new bride!
  And take some more wine, Hum — O Heavens! I burn
To be upon the wing! Now, now, that minx I spurn!’


  ‘Leave her to me,’ rejoined the magian,
  ‘But how shall I account, illustrious fay!
  For thine imperial absence? Pho! I can
  Say you are very sick, and bar the way
  To your so loving courtiers for one day;
  If either of their two Archbishops’ graces
  Should talk of extreme unction, I shall say
  You do not like cold pig with Latin phrases,
Which never should be used but in alarming cases.’


  ‘Open the window, Hum; I’m ready now!’
  ‘Zooks!’ exclaimed Hum, as up the sash he drew,
  ‘Behold, your Majesty, upon the brow
  Of yonder hill, what crowds of people!’ ‘Whew!
  The monster’s always after something new,’
  Returned his Highness, ‘they are piping hot
  To see my pigsney Bellanaine. Hum! do
  Tighten my belt a little — so, so — not
Too tight. The book! — my wand! — so, nothing is forgot.’


  ‘Wounds! how they shout!’ said Hum, ‘and there, — see, see!
  The Ambassador’s returned from Pigmio!
  The morning’s very fine — uncommonly!
  See, past the skirts of yon white cloud they go,
  Tinging it with soft crimsons! Now below
  The sable-pointed heads of firs and pines
  They dip, move on, and with them moves a glow
  Along the forest side! Now amber lines
Reach the hill top, and now throughout the valley shines.’


  ‘Why, Hum, you’re getting quite poetical!
  Those nows you managed in a special style.’
  ‘If ever you have leisure, Sire, you shall
  See scraps of mine will make it worth your while,
  Tit-bits for Phoebus! — yes, you well may smile.
  Hark! Hark! the bells!’ ‘A little further yet,
  Good Hum, and let me view this mighty coil.’
  Then the great Emperor full graceful set
His elbow for a prop, and snuffed his mignonette.


  The morn is full of holiday: loud bells
  With rival clamours ring from every spire;
  Cunningly-stationed music dies and swells
  In echoing places; when the winds respire,
  Light flags stream out like gauzy tongues of fire;
  A metropolitan murmur, lifeful, warm,
  Comes from the northern suburbs; rich attire
  Freckles with red and gold the moving swarm;
While here and there clear trumpets blow a keen alarm.


  And now the faery escort was seen clear,
  Like the old pageant of Aurora’s train,
  Above a pearl-built minster, hovering near:
  First wily Crafticant, the chamberlain,
  Balanced upon his grey-grown pinions twain,
  His slender wand officially revealed;
  Then black gnomes scattering sixpences like rain;
  Then pages three and three; and next, slave-held,
The Imaian ’scutcheon bright — one mouse in argent field.


  Gentlemen pensioners next; and after them,
  A troop of wingēd Janizaries flew;
  Then slaves, as presents bearing many a gem;
  Then twelve physicians fluttering two and two;
  And next a chaplain in a cassock new;
  Then Lords in waiting; then (what head not reels
  For pleasure?) the fair Princess in full view,
  Borne upon wings — and very pleased she feels
To have such splendour dance attendance at her heels.


  For there was more magnificence behind.
  She waved her handkerchief. ‘Ah, very grand!’
  Cried Elfinan, and closed the window-blind.
  ‘And, Hum, we must not shilly-shally stand —
  Adieu! adieu! I’m off for Angle-land!
  I say, old Hocus, have you such a thing
  About you — feel your pockets, I command —
  I want, this instant, an invisible ring —
Thank you, old mummy! Now securely I take wing.’


  Then Elfinan swift vaulted from the floor,
  And lighted graceful on the window-sill;
  Under one arm the magic book he bore,
  The other he could wave about at will;
  Pale was his face, he still looked very ill.
  He bowed at Bellanaine, and said, ‘Poor Bell!
  Farewell! farewell! and if for ever! still
  For ever fare the well!’ — and then he fell
A-laughing! — snapped his fingers! shame it is to tell!


  ‘By’r Lady! he is gone!’ cries Hum, ‘and I
  (I own it) have made too free with his wine;
  Old Crafticant will smoke me by the bye!
  This room is full of jewels as a mine —
  Dear valuable creatures, how ye shine!
  Sometime today I must contrive a minute,
  If mercury propitiously incline,
  To examine his scrutoire, and see what’s in it,
For of superfluous diamonds I as well may thin it.


  ‘The Emperor’s horrid bad — yes, that’s my cue!’
  Some histories say that this was Hum’s last speech;
  That, being fuddled, he went reeling through
  The corridor, and scarce upright could reach
  The stair-head; that being glutted as a leech,
  And used, as we ourselves have just now said,
  To manage stairs reversely, like a peach
  Too ripe, he fell, being puzzled in his head
With liquor and the staircase: verdict — found stone dead.


  This is a falsehood Crafticanto treats;
  And as his style is of strange elegance,
  Gentle and tender, full of soft conceits
  (Much like our Boswell’s) we will take a glance
  At his sweet prose, and, if we can, make dance
  His woven periods into careless rhyme.
  O, little faery Pegasus! rear — prance —
  Trot round the quarto — ordinary time!
March, little Pegasus, with pawing hoof sublime!


  Well, let us see — tenth book and chapter nine —
  Thus Crafticant pursues his diary:
  ‘’Twas twelve o’clock at night, the weather fine,
  Latitude thirty-six; our scouts descry
  A flight os starlings making rapidly
  Toward Tibet. Mem. — birds fly in the night;
  From twelve to half-past — wings not fit to fly
  For a thick fog — the Princes sulky quite
Called for an extra shawl, and gave her nurse a bite.


  ‘Five minutes before one — brough down a moth
  With my new double-barrel — stewed the thighs
  And made a very tolerable broth —
  Princess turned dainty; to our great surprise,
  Altered her mind, and thought it very nice.
  Seeing her pleasant, tried her with a pun,
  She frowned. A monstrous owl across us flies
  About this time — a sad old figure of fun;
Bad omen — this new match can’t be a happy one.


  ‘From two to half-past, dusky way we made,
  Above the plains of Gobi — desert, bleak;
  Beheld afar off, in the hooded shade
  Of darkness, a great mountain (strange to speak)
  Spitting, from forth its sulphur-baken peak,
  A fan-shaped burst of blood-red, arrowy fire,
  Turbaned with smoke, which still away did reek,
  Solid and black from the eternal pyre,
Upon the laden winds that scantly could respire.


  ‘Just upon three o’clock a falling star
  Created an alarm among our troop,
  Killed a man-cook, a page, and broke a jar,
  A tureen, and three dishes, at one swoop,
  Then passing by the Princess, singed her hoop.
  Could not conceive what Coralline was at —
  She clapped her hands three times and cried out “Whoop!”
  Some strange Imaian custom. A large bat
Came sudden ’fore my face, and brushed against my hat.


  ‘Five minutes thirteen seconds after three,
  Far in the west a mighty fire broke out.
  Conjectured, on the instant, it might be
  The city of Balk — ’twas Balk beyond all doubt.
  A griffin, wheeling here and there about,
  Kept reconnoitring us — doubled our guard —
  Lighted our torches, and kept up a shout,
  Till he sheered off — the Princess very scared —
And many on their marrowbones for death prepared.


  ‘At half-past three arose the cheerful moon —
  Bivouacked for four minutes on a cloud —
  Where from the earth we heard a lively tune
  Of tambourines and pipes, serene and loud,
  While on a flowery lawn a brilliant crowd
  Cinque-parted danced, some half-asleep reposed
  Beneath the green-faned cedars, some did shroud
  In silken tents, and ’mid light fragrance dozed,
Or on the open turf their soothēd eyelids closed.


  ‘Dropped my gold watch, and killed a kettledrum —
  It went for apoplexy — foolish folks! —
  Left it to pay the piper — a good sum
  (I’ve got a conscience, maugre people’s jokes).
  To scrape a little favour ’gan to coax
  Her Highness’ pug-dog — got a sharp rebuff.
  She wished a game at whist — made three revokes —
  Turned from myself, her partner, in a huff.
His Majesty will know her temper time enough.


  ‘She cried for chess — I played a game with her.
  Castled her king with such a vixen look,
  It bodes ill to his Majesty (refer
  To the second chapter of my fortieth book,
  And see what hoity-toity airs she took).
  At half-past four the morn essayed to beam —
  Saluted, as we passed, an early rook —
  The Princess fell asleep, and, in her dream,
Talked of one Master Hubert, deep in her esteem.


  ‘About this time, making delightful way,
  Shed a quill-feather from my larboard wing —
  Wished, trusted, hoped ’twas no sign of decay —
  Thank heaven, I’m hearty yet! — ’twas no such thing.
  At five the golden light began to spring,
  With fiery shudder through the bloomēd east.
  At six we heard Panthea’s churches ring —
  The city all her unhived swarms had cast,
To watch our grand approach, and hail us as we passed.


  ‘As flowers turn their faces to the sun,
  So on our flight with hungry eyes they gaze,
  And, as we shaped our course, this, that way run,
  With mad-cap pleasure, or hand-clasped amaze.
  Sweet in the air a mild-toned music plays,
  And progresses through its own labyrinth.
  Buds gathered from the green spring’s middle-days,
  They scattered — daisy, primrose, hyacinth —
Or round white columns wreathed from capital to plinth.


  ‘Onward we floated o’er the panting streets,	
  That seemed throughout with upheld faces paved.
  Look where we will, our bird’s-eye vision meets
  Legions of holiday; bright standards waved,
  And fluttering ensigns emulously craved
  Our minute’s glance; a busy thunderous roar,
  From square to square, among the buildings raved,
  As when the sea, at flow, gluts up once more
The craggy hollowness of a wild reefēd shore.


  ‘And “Bellanaine for ever!” shouted they,
  While that fair Princess, from her wingēd chair,
  Bowed low with high demeanour, and, to pay
  Their new-blown loyalty with guerdon fair,
  Still emptied, at meet distance, here and there,
  A plenty horn of jewels. And here I
  (Who wish to give the devil her due) declare
  Against that ugly piece of calumny,
Which calls them Highland pebble-stones not worth a fly.


  ‘Still “Bellanaine!” they shouted, while we glide
  ’Slant to a light Ionic portico,
  The city’s delicacy, and the pride
  Of our Imperial Basilic. A row
  Of lords and ladies, on each hand, make show
  Submissive of knee-bent obeisance,
  All down the steps; and, as we entered, lo!
  The strangest sight — the most unlooked-for chance —
All things turned topsy-turvy in a devil’s dance.


  ‘’Stead of his anxious Majesty and court
  At the open doors, with wide saluting eyes,
  Congēes and scapegraces of every sort,
  And all the smooth routine of gallantries,
  Was seen, to our immoderate surprise,
  A motley crowd thick gathered in the hall,
  Lord, scullions, deputy-scullions, with wild cries
  Stunning the vestibule from wall to wall,
Where the Chief Justice on his knees and hands doth crawl.


  ‘Counts of the palace, and the state purveyor
  Of moth’s-down, to make soft the royal beds,
  The Common Council and my fool Lord Mayor
  Marching a-row, each other slipshod treads;
  Powdered bag-wigs and ruffy-ruffy heads
  Of cinder wenches meet and soil each other;
  Toe crushed with heel ill-natured fighting breeds,
  Frill-rumpling elbows brew up many a bother,
And fists in the short ribs keep up the yell and pother.


  ‘A Poet, mounted on the Court-Clown’s back,
  Rode to the Princess swift with spurring heels,
  And close into her face, with rhyming clack,
  Began a Prothalamion — she reels,
  She falls, she faints! while laughter peals
  Over her woman’s weakness. “Where!” cried I,
  “Where is his Majesty?” No person feels
  Inclined to answer; wherefore instantly
I plunged into the crowd to find him or to die.


  ‘Jostling my way I gained the stairs, and ran
  To the first landing, where, incredible!
  I met, far gone in liquor, that old man,
  That vile impostor Hum — ’
				So far so well,
  For we have proved the Mago never fell
  Down stairs on Crafticanto’s evidence;
  And therefore duly shall proceed to tell,
  Plain in our own original mood and tense,
The sequel of this day, though labour ’tis immense!


  Now Hum, new fledged with high authority,
  Came forth to quell the hubbub in the hall. …

John Keats

John Keats's other poems:
  1. Specimen of Induction to a Poem
  2. Calidore
  3. To (“Hadst Thou Liv’d in Days of Old…”)
  4. The Poet
  5. The Castle Builder

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