Canto the Second -


The feather'd Pupil could not be a fool
In gift of speech at such a vocal school,
But he was eloquent; the silver tone
Was by the Nuns adopted for their own.
It may be added that he talk'd a book
With a monastic air, and sapient look;
No gasconader, flirting, and profane,
Of the fair sex impertinently vain,
Or who, by secular endearments press'd,
Was into vice and foppery caress'd;
For he was moral, and of beak demure,
A Saint in feathers, innocent and pure;
His dreams of guilt no image call'd before 'em;
His words could never drop an indecorum.
Then all the Canticles he knew by heart,
In Benedicites he took his part;
La mere and v├┤tre charite he knew;
The fam'd soliloquy his passion grew;
The gifted Abbess, or the Nuns at hand,
Who had all Saints and Legends at command.
He was an echo to the words he caught,
Chaste as the sound by Virgin-seraphs taught;
Their pious lore, with emulating strife,
Leap'd from the canvas to a second life: —
The nasal twang, the matins, loud or faint,
The pealing anthem, or the dove's complaint,
That form'd the music of these hallow'd quires,
And lull'd into repose profane desires;
For him the Liturgy's reforming strain
Was never sung, was never preach'd in vain.
Such gifts, in such a " napkin " too confin'd,
Had learnt by fame a theatre to find;
In all Nevers from day to night it rung,
Fill'd every seat, and play'd on every tongue;
No other song but of the Bird inspir'd,
The cells were envy'd, and the veil desir'd;
Nay, from the city of Moulins by dozens
Came troops of aunts, of sisters, and of cousins.
The dove-like Melanie , to all preferr'd,
Was Maid of honour to the cherish'd Bird;
Pure as the cambrick that her bosom wore,
In her soft hand the miracle she bore;
With modest air the dazzling plume display'd,
Nor left a single beauty in the shade.
His temper next, above the reach of art,
His tenderness of nature, won the heart.
But of Religion's lovely Anchoret
Not half the beauties are discover'd yet;
No farther homage can the sight commend,
The ravish'd ear new miracles attend;
Refin'd, accomplish'd, and with phrases dress'd,
That owed their lustre to the young profess'd ,
The sainted beak its rhetorick began,
From lip to lip the choral plaudits ran,
So eloquent in idiom's bright finesse
That French Academies would shame confess;
And for a public speaker it was odd
That none who heard him could be seen to nod.
What Orator of this or any age
Could such a waking set of eyes engage?
They listen'd; call'd his memory divine,
And felt new rapture spring at every line.
Adept and perfect in coquetting made,
As if convinc'd that glory was a shade,
With coy distress their tribute he receiv'd,
And look'd as if he said — " Be undeceiv'd!
I'm nothing curious — quite a common Bird;
You are too partial, childish, and absurd: "
Like flatter'd Beauties, modest in their pride,
Who love the fiction they would seem to chide.
When he had now develop'd all he knew,
The beak half-clos'd, his periods fainter grew;
Then, to a modern Preacher's grace allied,
He left his flock enamour'd of their Guide:
No word impure defil'd his precious labours,
Except a little scandal on his neighbours,
Or, now and then, a harmless equivoque ,
That by a chance the Nuns had spilt in joke.
Thus bred in so delectable a nest,
The Bird of grace, by tempting charms caress'd,
By more than one of cloister'd Seraphs lov'd,
Sleek as a Monk, nor less by Saints approv'd,
Upon his beauty and his learning plum'd,
In frolick perch'd, in holy musk perfum'd,
By all the Loves endear'd, a minion quite,
And vain of his indifference to delight.
Nor yet the Fates their secrets had unravel'd;
Alas! how bless'd if he had never travel'd!
At length arrives the period of dismay,
Which Memory could wish to pass away —
The time that all his glories will be laid
In cold oblivion's desolating shade.
Oh, infamy of guilt with horror trac'd!
Oh, fatal voyage to the good and chaste!
Why may not from the annals of the world
This blotted page of destiny be hurl'd?
Alas, how dangerous a pearl is fame!
How to be envy'd those whom none can blame!
'Tis innocent obscurity alone,
That fickle planets never can disown:
How often talents, beauty, and renown,
Corrupt the heart, and throw its pageants down!
The Parrot, for achievements proudly fam'd,
Alas! by other scenes too soon was claim'd;
At Nantes the Convent's meteor was announc'd —
There, and for him, were other pets renounc'd.
" The Visitation " there, whose bar could hold
A corps of matrons in its grated fold,
Had yet one feature of their carnal Eve —
A thirst the cup of knowledge to receive.
On them was prompt intelligence conferr'd
Of the miraculous and gifted Bird:
Their chaste and snowy bosoms were on fire
To see his canoniz'd perfections nigher;
The wishing maid no discipline can tame —
But a Nun's wish is passion's maddening flame.
The coldest bosoms for possession burn'd;
By mystic zeal the firmest heads were turn'd.
They wrote, and the Superior of Nevers
Assail'd, with subtle purpose to ensnare;
Besought her, only for a time, to lend
This dear memorial of their bosom-friend,
Upon the river Loire to waft him over —
Then, at a word, their jewel to recover.
The cunning missive its departure took,
Pursued with lifted hands and flurried look;
" But when at soonest will the answer come? "
" Of twelve long days a melancholy sum! "
Again they wrote; and letter upon letter,
To guard their object, or to veil it better;
Sleep at a distance from their eyelids fled —
All had their fevers , and Cecile was dead.
Now at Nevers the guarded suit arriv'd,
A chapter call'd — when reason had surviv'd
The tumult half-suppress'd of rage and fear,
All ears were open'd the debates to hear.
" What! shall we lose the fond tho' chaste Ver-Vert?
No! — let us die — before the bird is there!
How in these living tombs, these hollow towers,
Can we, poor Vestals, chase the lingering hours,
If this dear partner of the midnight cell
Against his bound allegiance can rebel? "
Thus with a sigh that rent the heart exclaim'd
The tender Novices , but half-asham'd;
Their glowing hearts, of barren leisure tir'd,
The charm of innocent endearments fir'd;
And — sober truth to say — it was the least,
That parch'd and solitary lips could feast,
The very least; no other Bird was theirs,
A Parrot's love, to dissipate their cares.
But the sage council of the Matrons old
Was more sedate, more providently cold;
These reverend Hags the junior senate sway'd,
The calm approv'd, the mutinous obey'd.
The vote imported — " that, by way of loan,
The Bird shall live at Nantes two weeks alone; "
Those calculating heads had mischief seen
That might, if not resisted, intervene —
The two communities of zeal divide —
The barriers open, and let in the tide.
When thus it was arrang'd, in written form,
Despair and pique the junior Belles deform;
Revolt is menac'd — " What a sacrifice! "
The wretched Seraphine delirious cries.
But all things have an end; the tower is pass'd,
And of their parting looks it 's now the last.
With him , chaste love, the partner of their bed,
Impassion'd, though with barren zeal, has fled;
" Go, Bird of Paradise, where honour calls —
Return more charming to these hallow'd walls. "
Thus in the vernal morn of rising bloom
A Novice cheer'd her solitude and gloom;
A Novice who, to dissipate her grief,
Had found, by art, prohibited relief —
In secret orisons of soft Racine
Had felt the charm of his impassion'd scene;
A Novice who, with all her fluttering heart,
Would have consented from her chains to part.
But all is pass'd; the Fugitive 's on board —
Alas! till then, for innocence ador'd,
For modest words, and for deportment grave:
May all these virtues, that a Convent gave,
Defend his heart, and at no distant hour
Again produce him an unsullied flower!
Be it, however, as it may; — the oars
Impel the bark, and spurn the lessening shores,
The dashing billows echo in the air;
Away departs the Parrot of Nevers .
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