These are beneath the canopy of heaven,
Also beneath the canopy of beds
Four-posted and silk curtain'd, which are given
For rich men and their brides to lay their heads
Upon, in sheets white as what bards call 'driven
Snow.' Well! 'tis all hap-hazard when one weds.
Gulbeyaz was an empress, but had been
Perhaps as wretched if a peasant's quean.
Don Juan in his feminine disguise,
With all the damsels in their long array,
Had bow'd themselves before th' imperial eyes,
And at the usual signal ta'en their way
Back to their chambers, those long galleries
In the seraglio, where the ladies lay
Their delicate limbs; a thousand bosoms there
Beating for love, as the caged bird's for air.
I love the sex, and sometimes would reverse
The tyrant's wish, 'that mankind only had
One neck, which he with one fell stroke might pierce:'
My wish is quite as wide, but not so bad,
And much more tender on the whole than fierce;
It being (not now, but only while a lad)
That womankind had but one rosy mouth,
To kiss them all at once from North to South.
O, enviable Briareus! with thy hands
And heads, if thou hadst all things multiplied
In such proportion! — But my Muse withstands
The giant thought of being a Titan's bride,
Or travelling in Patagonian lands;
So let us back to Lilliput, and guide
Our hero through the labyrinth of love
In which we left him several lines above.
He went forth with the lovely Odalisques,
At the given signal join'd to their array;
And though he certainly ran many risks,
Yet he could not at times keep, by the way
(Although the consequences of such frisks
Are worse than the worst damages men pay
In moral England, where the thing 's a tax),
From ogling all their charms from breasts to backs.
Still he forgot not his disguise: — along
The galleries from room to room they walk'd,
A virgin-like and edifying throng,
By eunuchs flank'd; while at their head there stalk'd
A dame who kept up discipline among
The female ranks, so that none stirr'd or talk'd
Without her sanction on their she-parades:
Her title was 'the Mother of the Maids.'
Whether she was a 'mother,' I know not,
Or whether they were 'maids' who call'd her mother;
But this is her seraglio title, got
I know not how, but good as any other;
So Cantemir can tell you, or De Tott:
Her office was to keep aloof or smother
All bad propensities in fifteen hundred
Young women, and correct them when they blunder'd.
A goodly sinecure, no doubt! but made
More easy by the absence of all men —
Except his majesty, who, with her aid,
And guards, and bolts, and walls, and now and then
A slight example, just to cast a shade
Along the rest, contrived to keep this den
Of beauties cool as an Italian convent,
Where all the passions have, alas! but one vent.
And what is that? Devotion, doubtless — how
Could you ask such a question? — but we will
Continue. As I said, this goodly row
Of ladies of all countries at the will
Of one good man, with stately march and slow,
Like water-lilies floating down a rill —
Or rather lake, for rills do not run slowly —
Paced on most maiden-like and melancholy.
But when they reach'd their own apartments, there,
Like birds, or boys, or bedlamites broke loose,
Waves at spring-tide, or women anywhere
When freed from bonds (which are of no great use
After all), or like Irish at a fair,
Their guards being gone, and as it were a truce
Establish'd between them and bondage, they
Began to sing, dance, chatter, smile, and play.
Their talk, of course, ran most on the new comer;
Her shape, her hair, her air, her everything:
Some thought her dress did not so much become her,
Or wonder'd at her ears without a ring;
Some said her years were getting nigh their summer,
Others contended they were but in spring;
Some thought her rather masculine in height,
While others wish'd that she had been so quite.
But no one doubted on the whole, that she
Was what her dress bespoke, a damsel fair,
And fresh, and 'beautiful exceedingly,'
Who with the brightest Georgians might compare:
They wonder'd how Gulbeyaz, too, could be
So silly as to buy slaves who might share
(If that his Highness wearied of his bride)
Her throne and power, and every thing beside.