Canto 1 -

CANTO I

T HOU , whose attractions, from the world retir'd,
Glow without art, and blush to be admir'd —
Whose piercing intellect, and born for truth,
To virtue has allied the charm of youth —
Has bound the Muses in a wreath of taste,
And vestal honour with a dimple grac'd;
At whose command I sing, in playful rhyme,
Offending purity, infection's crime,
The dupe, the cheat, the polish'd, and the coarse,
The saint by art, the libertine by force;
Be thou alone the genius of my lay,
The model of my verse, thyself convey;
Breathe into mine the soul-impassion'd Muse,
And those pathetic melodies infuse,
That stream'd in living sorrows of the lyre
When Beauty saw the dear Fidelle expire,
Who, on thy lap caress'd, was, in his prime,
Seiz'd by the partial hand of jealous Time:
So may the Parrot's theme, abjuring fear,
Live in the fame of that " melodious tear! "
There are, whose fancy, touch'd with Homer's fire,
In Epic note an Odyssey require,
Of this terraqueous pilgrim's motley fate
The loves and the achievements to relate;
Invoke aethereal spirits to their vein,
And superannuated Gods retain;
Some to Æneas would the bird compare,
The pious bird, but less of gods the care,
Of equal virtue, and of more distress:
But strains like these Euphrosyne oppress.
Her Muses take their pattern from the bees,
That on the scented bloom at random seize,
They never dwell upon a single taste,
Or on the cup at hand their passion waste,
But sipping, each in turn, with speed of light,
From this to that perfume they shift their flight.
If, bold and free, the Convent I have trac'd,
And rudely have the sister-nuns unlac'd,
If the uplifted veil I here expose,
And cloister'd love to ridicule expose,
The shaft is innocent, if you forgive;
Smile, and the colours will be sure to live:
— — Could Virtue ever be to earth reveal'd,
Her playful air to art would never yield,
Her features would no solemn cast inherit;
In thy resemblance would an altar merit.
The Bards have sung, the wise have preach'd in vain,
That vice in travels many a Pilgrim stain;
That wandering feet, and shifted scenes, impart
The devious turns and mazes of the heart;
That Syrens may around the vessel swarm,
Allure the fancy, and the soul deform.
The wisdom of this antiquated theme
Historians from oblivion shall redeem;
A Parrot's doom records the living tale,
Till birds are mute, and ships no more can sail;
Till streams are dry, that fleets to Ocean bore,
And Beauty, such as thine, can charm no more.
If doubt should whisper, that my rhymes deceive,
And the cold heart should wish to disbelieve,
The Convent parlour's echo at Nevers
Stamps with its proof the legend of despair.
Immur'd with Nuns of unexampled grace
A Parrot liv'd, the meteor of his race;
With tender passions, and with polish'd air,
He justified capricious Fortune's care;
Nor would he such reverses have endur'd,
If against fate the heart could be ensur'd.
From India's burning clime, a native there,
In France the denizen was nam'd Ver-vert .
In cloister'd cell, though young, he was inclos'd,
And, for his good, in pious chains repos'd.
His eye was brilliant, and his colours gay,
His manners debonnaire , and full of play;
The heart was open, though reserv'd the life,
And fond — as a departed Bramin's wife;
To Nuns in prattle a congenial bird,
Nor any so caress'd, and so preferr'd.
Perhaps it would superfluous appear
To mark how Nuns the minion would endear:
When their Director had explain'd the text,
It has been often said — the bird came next;
And Fame could whisper, that by some the bird
Was to the man of God, their Saint, preferr'd;
At least, he shar'd the comfits and liqueurs ,
That zeal monastic for its Guide procures;
A licens'd object of their vacant love,
His cherish'd beak from lips to lips could rove;
He was of beauty's ripening charm the feast,
With passion courted, and with pain releas'd:
The ag'd alone, duennas to the rest,
Were uncaressing, and were uncaress'd.
Exempt, as under age, from laws of reason,
Crimes were a jest, and privileg'd was treason;
To charm, his follies could be ever certain;
At holy vespers he undrew the curtain,
Or peck'd at stomachers, but unreprov'd,
Perhaps unpinn'd them, and the sight improv'd;
No measures of delight were ever plann'd
Unless their beau was perch'd upon their hand,
Or danc'd curvetting, or in transport flew,
Or sung, or whistled, or impatient grew,
Though modest, and with timid air, to sip
The living nectar of the rosy lip;
Just as a coward Novice might have done
Before she was accomplish'd as a Nun .
By all the learn'd, with probing art assail'd,
His just and pointed answers never fail'd;
Thus to four languages, adept in each,
Could Julius dictate an imperial speech.
Admitted freely, and with no reserve,
The Nuns to him the refectory serve;
There fruits, to appetite, with ample measure,
Supplied, in varied sweets, a copious treasure.
The pockets of the sisterhood were lin'd
With pilfer'd stores, by taste and love refin'd;
A Parrot of the Court could not be more
Endear'd and fondled on a palace-floor.
The lovely Pensioner was all in all.
His days no chilling office could enthral;
At night he chose the Sister's favour'd cell,
And lov'd her, it was thought, perhaps too well;
For old and jealous prudes her pet would steal,
And the lov'd minion from her eye conceal:
He , in finesse expert, profound, and sage,
Would seem, by choice, to pitch his tent with age;
But still at heart the young and fresh preferr'd,
In all selection a sagacious Bird.
The feather'd Anchoret, his option made,
On some choice relicks of devotion laid,
Repos'd him till the morn; — blest witness, then,
He saw — what never had been seen by men!
He saw — the toilette; — whisper'd is the word,
But I relate the gossip: I have heard,
That beauties veil'd and cloth'd in stuff like these
Before a mirrour can their fancy teaze,
To give their flowing draperies a turn,
Which tempts the eye proportions to discern;
Arrangements these, at which the Loves preside,
Avenging Nature's insulated pride.
The Loves, that oft can spin the subtle scheme,
Elude the fetters, and the bonds redeem,
Breathe on the fillet a peculiar grace,
Float in the limbs, and languish in the face.
Resume, ye Nine, the Hero of my verse,
And the Voluptuary's life rehearse;
Nor fast, nor prayer, to him the Nuns impart;
He is their King , — his throne is in the heart.
For him Terese her Sparrow could forget,
Three Nightingales were martyrs of the pet;
And six great Cats, the minions heretofore,
With envy bursting, fell — to rise no more.
Alas! what piercing thought could then presage,
That in this Fairy-land, this golden age,
Though nurs'd by Vestal Saints with jealous care,
He wasted all their sweetness in the air?
That other times would come, of guilt and shame,
Their Pupil to corrupt, their work defame?
Suspend, pathetic Muse, the gushing tear,
That soon on Beauty's eyelid must appear,
When Love, in torture of despair, shall find
That art is fruitless, and that hope is blind.
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