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MUSIC'S DUEL

Now westward Sol had spent the richest beams
Of noon's high glory, when, hard by the streams
Of Tiber, on the scene of a green plat,

Under protection of an oak, there sat

A sweet lute's master: in whose gentle airs
He lost the day's heat, and his own hot cares.
Close in the covert of the leaves there stood

A nightingale, come from the neighbouring wood:-
The sweet inhabitant of each glad tree,

Their muse, their Syren, harmless Syren she,-
There stood she list’ning, and did entertain
The music's soft report, and mould the same
In her own murmurs, that whatever mood
His curious fingers lent, her voice made good.
The man perceived his rival, and her art;
Disposed to give the light-foot lady sport,
Awakes his lute, and 'gainst the fight to come
Informs it, in a sweet præludium

Of closer strains; and ere the war begin

He slightly skirmishes on every string,

Charged with a flying touch; and straightway she Carves out her dainty voice as readily

Into a thousand sweet distinguished tones;

And reckons up in soft divisions

Quick volumes of wild notes, to let him know

By that shrill taste she could do something too.

His nimble hand's instinct then taught each string

A cap'ring cheerfulness; and made them sing

To their own dance; now negligently rash
He throws his arm, and with a long-drawn dash
Blends all together, then distinctly trips
From this to that, then, quick returning, skips

And snatches this again, and pauses there.
She measures every measure, everywhere
Meets art with art; sometimes, as if in doubt-
Not perfect yet, and fearing to be out-
Trails her plain ditty in one long-spun note
Through the sleek passage of her open throat:
A clear unwrinkled song; then doth she point it
With tender accents, and severely joint it
By short diminutives, that, being reared
In controverting warbles evenly shared,
With her sweet self she wrangles; he, amazed
That from so small a channel should be raised
The torrent of a voice whose melody

Could melt into such sweet variety,

Strains higher yet, that, tickled with rare art,
The tattling strings—each breathing in his part-
Most kindly do fall out; the grumbling bass
In surly groans disdains the treble's grace;
The high-perched treble chirps at this, and chides
Until his finger-moderator-hides
And closes the sweet quarrel, rousing all,
Hoarse, shrill, at once: as when the trumpets call
Hot Mars to th' harvest of death's field, and woo
Men's hearts into their hands; this lesson, too,
She gives him back, her supple breast thrills out
Sharp airs, and staggers in a warbling doubt
Of dallying sweetness, hovers o'er her skill,
And folds in waved notes, with a trembling bill,
The pliant series of her slippery song;

Then starts she suddenly into a throng

Of short thick sobs, whose thund'ring volleys float
And roll themselves over her lubric throat

In panting murmurs, 'stilled out of her breast,
That ever-bubbling spring, the sugared nest

Of her delicious soul, that there does lie
Bathing in streams of liquid melody,—
Music's best seed-plot; when in ripened ears
A golden-headed harvest fairly rears

His honey-dropping tops, ploughed by her breath,
Which there reciprocally laboureth.

In that sweet soil it seems a holy quire
Founded to th' name of great Apollo's lyre;
Whose silver roof rings with the sprightly notes

Of sweet-lipped angel-imps, that swill their throats
In cream of morning Helicon; and then

Prefer soft anthems to the ears of men,

To woo them from their beds, still murmuring

That men can sleep while they their matins sing;— Most divine service! whose so early lay

Prevents the eyelids of the blushing day.

There might you hear her kindle her soft voice
In the close murmur of a sparkling noise,
And lay the ground-work of her hopeful song;
Still keeping in the forward stream so long,
Till a sweet whirlwind, striving to get out,
Heaves her soft bosom, wanders round about,
And makes a pretty earthquake in her breast;
Till the fledged notes at length forsake their nest,
Fluttering in wanton shoals, and to the sky,
Winged with their own wild echos, pratt'ling fly.
She opes the floodgate, and lets loose a tide
Of streaming sweetness, which in state doth ride
On the waved back of every swelling strain,
Rising and falling in a pompous train;
And while she thus discharges a shrill peal
Of flashing airs, she qualifies their zeal
With the cool epode of a graver note;
Thus high, thus low, as if her silver throat

Would reach the brazen voice of war's hoarse bird;
Her little soul is ravished; and so poured

Into loose ecstasies, that she is placed

Above herself-music's enthusiast!

Shame now and anger mixed a double stain In the musician's face: Yet once again,

Mistress, I come.

Now reach a strain, my lute,

Above her mock, or be for ever mute;
Or tune a song of victory to me,

Or to thyself sing thine own obsequy!

So said, his hands sprightly as fire he flings,
And with a quivering coyness tastes the strings:
The sweet-lipped sisters, musically frighted,
Singing their fears, are fearfully delighted:
Trembling as when Apollo's golden hairs
Are fanned and frizzled in the wanton airs

Of his own breath, which, married to his lyre,

Doth tune the spheres, and make heaven's self look higher;
From this to that, from that to this, he flies,

Feels music's pulse in all her arteries;
Caught in a net which there Apollo spreads,
His fingers struggle with the vocal threads,
Following those little rills, he sinks into
A sea of Helicon; his hand does go

Those parts of sweetness which with nectar drop,
Softer than that which pants in Hebe's cup:
The humorous strings expound his learned touch
By various glosses; now they seem to grutch
And murmur in a buzzing din, then gingle
In shrill-tongued accents, striving to be single;
Every smooth turn, every delicious stroke,

Gives life to some new grace: thus doth he invoke
Sweetness by all her names; thus, bravely thus—
Fraught with a fury so harmonious—

The lute's light Genius now does proudly rise, Heaved on the surges of swoll'n rhapsodies, Whose flourish, meteor-like, doth curl the air With flash of high-born fancies; here and there Dancing in lofty measures, and anon

Creeps on the soft touch of a tender tone,

Whose trembling murmurs, melting in wild airs,
Run to and fro, complaining his sweet cares;
Because those precious mysteries that dwell
In music's ravished soul he dare not tell,
But whisper to the world: thus do they vary,
Each string his note, as if they meant to carry
Their master's blest soul, snatched out at his ears
By a strong ecstasy, through all the spheres
Of music's heaven; and seat it there on high

In th' empyræum of pure harmony.

At length-after so long, so loud a strife

Of all the strings, still breathing the best life
Of blest variety, attending on

His fingers' fairest revolution,

In many a sweet rise, many as sweet a fall-
A full-mouthed diapason swallows all.

This done, he lists what she would say to this;
And she, although her breath's late exercise
Had dealt too roughly with her tender throat,
Yet summons all her sweet powers for a note.
Alas, in vain! for while, sweet soul, she tries
To measure all those wild diversities

Of chatt'ring strings, by the small size of one
Poor simple voice, raised in a natural tone,
She fails; and failing, grieves; and grieving, dies;
She dies, and leaves her life the victor's prize,
Falling upon his lute. O, fit to have-

That lived so sweetly-dead, so sweet a grave!

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