Hobbinol; or The Rural Games

by William Somervile

William Somervile


What old Menalcas at his feast reveal'd,
I sing; strange feats of antient prowess, deeds
Of high renown, while all his listening guests
With eager Joy receiv'd the pleasing tale.
O thou who late on Vaga's flowery banks
Slumbering secure, with Stirom well bedew'd,
Fallacious cask, in sacred dreams wert taught
By ancient seers, and Merlin prophet old,
To raise ignoble themes with strains sublime,
Be thou my guide! while I thy track pursue
With wing unequal, through the wide expanse
Adventurous range, and emulate thy flights.
In that rich vale, where with Dobunian fields
Cornavian borders meet, far fam'd of old
For Montfort's hapless fate, undaunted earl;
Where from her fruitful urn Avona pours
Her kindly torrent on the thirsty glebe,
And pillages the hills to' enrich the plains
On whose luxuriant banks flowers of all hues
Start up spontaneous; and the teeming soil
With hasty shoots prevents its owner's pray'r:
The pamper'd wanton steer, of the sharp axe
Regardless, that o'er his devoted head
Hangs menacing, crops his delicious bane,
Nor knows the price is life; with envious eye
His labouring yoke-fellow beholds his plight,
And deems him blest, while on his languid neck
In solemn sloth he tugs the lingering plough.
So blind are mortals, of each other's state
Mis-judging, self-deceiv'd. Here as supreme
Stern Hobbinol in rural plenty reigns
O'er wide-extended fields, his large domain.
The' obsequious villagers, with looks submiss
Observant of his eye, or when with seed
To' impregnate Earth's fat womb, or when to bring
With clamorous joy the bearded harvest home.
Here, when the distant sun lengthens the nights,
When the keen frosts the shivering farmer warn
To broach his mellow cask, and frequent blasts
Instruct the crackling billets how to blaze,
In his warm wicker-chair, whose pliant twigs
In close embraces join'd, with spacious arch
Vault the thick-woven roof, the bloated churl
Loiters in state, each arm reclin'd is prop'd
With yielding pillows of the softest down.
In mind compos'd, from short coival tube
He sucks the vapours bland, thick curling clouds
Of smoke around his reeking temples play,
Joyous he sits, and impotent of thought
Puffs away care, and sorrow from his heart.
How vain the pomp of kings! Look down, ye great,
And view with envious eye the downy nest,
Where soft Repose, and calm Contentment dwell.
Unbrib'd by wealth, and unrestrain'd by power.
One son alone had blest his bridal bed,
Whom good Calista bore, nor long surviv'd
To share a mother's joy, but left the babe
To his paternal care. An orphan niece
Near the same time his dying brother sent,
To claim his kind support. The helpless pair
In the same cradle slept, nurs'd up with care
By the same tender hand, on the same breasts
Alternate hung with joy; till reason dawn'd,
And a new light broke out by slow degrees:
Then on the floor the pretty wantons play'd,
Gladding the farmer's heart with growing hopes,
And pleasures erst unfelt. Whene'er with cares
Oppress'd, when wearied, or alone he doz'd,
Their harmless prattle soothed his troubled soul.
Say, Hobbinol, what ecstasies of joy
Trill'd through thy veins, when climbing for a kiss
With little palms they strok'd thy grisly beard,
Or round thy wicker whirl'd their rattling cars?
Thus from their earliest days bred up, and train'd
To mutual fondness, with their stature grew
The thriving passion. What love can decay
That roots so deep! Now ripening manhood curl'd
On the gay stripling's chin; her panting breasts,
And trembling blushes glowing on her cheeks,
Her secret wish betray'd. She at each mart
All eyes attracted; but her faithful shade,
Young Hobbinol, ne'er wander'd from her side.
A frown from him dash'd every rival's hopes.
For he, like Peleus' son, was prone to rage.
Inexorable, swift like him of foot
With ease could overtake his dastard foe,
Nor spar'd the suppliant wretch. And now approach'd
Those merry days, when all the nymphs and swains,
In solemn festivals and rural sports,
Pay their glad homage to the blooming spring.
Young Hobbinol by joint consent is rais'd
To' imperial dignity, and in his hand
Bright Ganderetta tripp'd, the Jovial queen
Of Maia's gaudy month, profuse of flowers.
From each enamell'd mead the' attendant nymphs
Loaded with odorous spoils, from these select
Each flower of gorgeous die, and garlands weave
Of party-colour'd sweets; each busy hand
Adorns the jocund queen: in her loose hair,
That to the winds in wanton ringlets plays,
The tufted cowslips breathe their faint perfumes.
On her refulgent brow, as crystal clear,
As Parian marble smooth, Narcissus hangs
His drooping head, and views his image there,
Unhappy flow'r! Pansies of various hue,
Iris, and Hyacinth, and Asphodel,
To deck the nymph, their richest liveries wear,
And lavish all their pride. Not Flora's self
More lovely smiles, when to the dawning year
Her opening bosom heavenly fragrance breathes.
See on von verdant lawn, the gathering crowd.
Thickens amain; the buxom nymphs advance
Usher'd by jolly clowns: distinctions cease
Lost in the common joy, and the bold slave
Leans on his wealthy master, unreprov'd:
The sick no pains can feel, no wants the poor.
Round his fond mother's neck the smiling babe
Exulting cling, hard by, decrepit age
Prop'd on his staff with anxious thought revolves
His pleasures past, and casts his grave remarks
Among the heedless throng. The vigorous youth
Strips for the combat, hopeful to subdue
The fair-one's long disdain, by valour now
Glad to convince her coy erroneous heart,
And prove his merit equal to her charms.
Soft pity pleads his cause; blushing she views
His brawny limbs, and his undaunted eye,
That looks a proud defiance on his foes.
Resolv'd, and obstinately firm he stands;
Danger, nor death he fears, while the rich prize
Is victory and love. On the large bough
Of a thick-spreading elm Twangdillo sits:
One leg on Ister's banks the hardy swain
Left undismay'd, Bellona's lightning scorch'd
His manly visage, but in pity left
One eye secure. He many a painful bruise
Intrepid felt, and many a gaping wound,
For brown Kate's sake, and for his country's weal;
Yet still the merry bard without regret
Bears his own ills, and with his sounding shell,
And comic phiz, relieves his drooping friends.
Hark, from aloft his tortur'd cat-gut squeals,
He tickles every string, to every note
He bends his pliant neck, his single eye
Twinkles with joy, his active stump beats time.
Let but this subtle artist softly touch
The trembling chords, the faint expiring swain
Trembles no less, and the fond yielding maid
Is tweedled into love. See with what pomp
The gaudy bands advance in trim array!
Love beats in every vein, from every eye
Darts his contagious flames. They frisk, they bound:
Now to brisk airs, and to the speaking strings
Attentive, in mid-way the sexes meet;
Joyous their adverse fronts they close, and press
To strict embrace, as resolute to force
And storm a passage to each other's heart:
Till by the varying notes forewarn'd, back they
Recoil disparted: each with longing eyes
Pursues his mate retiring, till again
The blended sexes mix; then hand in hand
Fast lock'd, around they fly, or nimbly wheel
In mazes intricate. The jocund troop
Pleas'd with their grateful toil, incessant shake
Their uncouth brawny limbs, and knock their heels
Sonorous, down each brow the trickling balm
In torrents flows, exhaling sweets refresh
The gazing crowd, and heavenly fragrance fills
The circuit wide. So danc'd in days of yore,
When Orpheus play'd a lesson to the brutes,
The listening savages; the speckled pard
Dandled the kid, and with the bounding roe
The lion gambol'd. But what heavenly muse
With equal lays shall Ganderetta sing,
When goddess-like she skims the verdant plain,
Gracefully gliding? Every ravish'd eye
The nymph attracts, and every heart she wounds;
Thee most, transported Hobbinol! Lo, now,
Now to thy opening arms she skuds along,
With yielding blushes glowing on her cheeks:
And eyes that sweetly languish; but too soon,
Too soon, alas! she flies thy vain embrace,
But flies to be pursued, nimbly she trips,
And darts a glance so tender, as she turns,
That with new hopes reliev'd, thy joys revive,
Thy stature's rais'd, and thou art more than man.
Thy stately port, and more majestic air,
And every sprightly motion speaks thy love.
To the loud bag-pipe's solemn voice attend.
Whose rising winds proclaim a storm is nigh.
Harmonious blasts! that warm the frozen blood
Of Caledonia's sons to love, or war,
And cheer their drooping hearts, robb'd of the sun's.
Enlivening ray, that o'er the snowy Alps
Reluctant peeps, and speeds to better climes.
Forthwith in hoary majesty appears
One of gigantic size, but visage wan,
Milonides the strong, renown'd of old
For feats of arms, but, bending now with years,
His trunk unwieldy from the verdant turf
He rears deliberate, and with his plant
Of toughest virgin oak, in rising, aids.
His trembling limbs; his bald and wrinkled front;
Entrench'd with many a glorious scar, bespeaks
Submissive reverence. He with countenance grim
Boasts his past deeds, and with redoubled strokes,
Marshals the crowd, and forms the circle wide.
Stern arbiter! like some huge rock he stands,
That breaks the incumbent waves; they thronging press
In troops confus'd, and rear their foaming heads
Each above each, but from superior force
Shrinking repell'd, compose of stateliest view
A liquid theatre. With hands uplift,
And voice Stentorian, he proclaims aloud
Each rural prize: — " To him whose active foot
Foils his bold foe, and rivets him to earth,
This pair of gloves, by curious virgin hands
Embroider'd, seam'd with silk, and fring'd with gold.
To him, who best the stubborn hilts can wield,
And bloody marks of his displeasure leave
On his opponent's head, this beaver white
With silver edging grac'd, and scarlet plume.
Ye taper maidens! whose impetuous speed
Outflies the roe, nor bends the tender grass,
See here this prize, this rich lac'd smock behold,
White as your bosoms, as your kisses soft:
Blest nymph! whom bounteous Heaven's peculiar grace
Allots this pompous vest, and worthy deems.
To win a virgin, and to wear a bride. "
The gifts refulgent dazzle all the crowd,
In speechless admiration fix'd, unmov'd.
Ev'n he who now each glorious palm displays,
In sullen silence views his batter'd limbs,
And sighs his vigour spent. Not so appall'd
Young Pastorel, for active strength renown'd:
Him Ida bore, a mountain shepherdess;
On the bleak wold the new-born infant lay,
Expos'd to winter snows, and northern blasts
Severe. As heroes old, who from great Jove
Derive their proud descent, so might he boast.
His line paternal: but be thou, my Muse!
No leaky blab, nor painful umbrage give
To wealthy 'squire, or doughty knight, or peer
Of high degree. Him every shouting ring
In triumph crown'd, him ev'ry champion fear'd,
From Kiftsgate to remotest Henbury.
High in the midst the brawny wrestler stands,
A stately towering object; the tough belt
Measures his ample breast, and shades around
His shoulders broad; proudly secure he kens
The tempting prize, in his presumptuous thought
Already gain'd; with partial look the crowd
Approve his claim. But Hobbinol enrag'd
To see the' important gifts so cheaply won,
And uncontested honours tamely lost,
With lowly reverence thus accosts his queen: —
" Fair goddess! be propitious to my vows;
Smile on thy slave, nor Hercules himself
Shall rob us of this palm: that boaster vain
Far other port shall learn. " She, with a look
That pierc'd his inmost soul, smiling applauds
His generous ardour, with aspiring hope
Distends his breast, and stars the man within:
Yet much, alas! she fears, for much she loves.
So from her arms the Paphian queen dismiss'd
The warrior god, on glorious slaughter bent,
Provok'd his rage, and with her eyes inflam'd
Her haughty paramour. Swift as the winds
Dispel the fleeting mists, at once he strips
His royal robes; and with a frown that chill'd
The blood of the proud youth, active he bounds
High o'er the heads of multitudes reclin'd:
But as beseem'd one, whose plain honest heart,
Nor passion foul, nor malice dark as hell,
But honour pure, and love divine had fir'd.
His hand presenting, on his sturdy foe
Disdainfully he smiles, then, quick as thought,
With his left hand the belt, and with his right
His shoulder seiz'd fast griping; his right foot
Essay'd the champion's strength, but firm he stood,
Fix'd as a mountain-ash, and in his turn
Repaid the bold affront; his horny fist
Fast on his back he clos'd, and shook in air
The cumb'rous load. Nor rest, nor pause allow'd,
Their watchful eyes instruct their busy feet;
They pant, they heave, each nerve, each sinew's strain'd,
Grasping they close, beneath each painful gripe
The livid tumours rise, in briny streams
The sweat distils, and from their batter'd shins
The clotted gore distains the beaten ground.
Each swain his wish, each trembling nymph conceals
Her secret dread; while every panting breast
Alternate fears, and hopes, depress or raise.
Thus long in dubious scale the contest hung,
Till Pastorel impatient of delay,
Collecting all his force, a furious stroke
At his left ancle aim'd; 'twas death to fall,
To stand impossible. O Ganderetta!
What horrors seize thy soul! on thy pale cheeks
The roses fade. But wav'ring long in air,
Nor firm on foot, nor as yet wholly fall'n,
On his right knee he slip'd, and nimbly scap'd
The foul disgrace. Thus on the slacken'd rope
The wingy-footed artist, frail support!
Stands tott'ring; now in dreadful shrieks the crowd
Lament his sudden fate, and yield him lost:
He on his hams, or on his brawny rump
Sliding secure, derides their vain distress.
Up starts the vig'rous Hobb'nol undismay'd,
From mother Earth like old Antaeus rais'd,
With might redoubled. Clamour and applause
Shake all the neighbouring hills, Avona's banks
Return him loud acclaim: with ardent eyes,
Fierce as a tiger rushing from his lair,
He grasp'd the wrist of his insulting foe.
Then with quick wheel oblique, his shoulder-point
Beneath his breast he fix'd, and whirl'd aloft
High o'er his head the sprawling youth he flung:
The hollow ground rebellow'd as he fell.
The crowd press forward with tumultuous din;
Those to relieve their faint expiring friend,
With gratulations these: hands, tongues, and caps,
Outrageous joy proclaim, shrill fiddles squeak,
Hoarse bag-pipes roar, and Ganderetta smiles.

Last updated October 28, 2017