And one by one her articles of dress
Were laid aside; but not before she offer'd
Her aid to fair Juanna, whose excess
Of modesty declined the assistance proffer'd:
Which pass'd well off — as she could do no less;
Though by this politesse she rather suffer'd,
Pricking her fingers with those cursed pins,
Which surely were invented for our sins, —
Making a woman like a porcupine,
Not to be rashly touch'd. But still more dread,
O ye! whose fate it is, as once 'twas mine,
In early youth, to turn a lady's maid; —
I did my very boyish best to shine
In tricking her out for a masquerade;
The pins were placed sufficiently, but not
Stuck all exactly in the proper spot.
But these are foolish things to all the wise,
And I love wisdom more than she loves me;
My tendency is to philosophise
On most things, from a tyrant to a tree;
But still the spouseless virgin Knowledge flies.
What are we? and whence came we? what shall be
Our ultimate existence? what 's our present?
Are questions answerless, and yet incessant.
There was deep silence in the chamber: dim
And distant from each other burn'd the lights,
And slumber hover'd o'er each lovely limb
Of the fair occupants: if there be sprites,
They should have walk'd there in their sprightliest trim,
By way of change from their sepulchral sites,
And shown themselves as ghosts of better taste
Than haunting some old ruin or wild waste.
Many and beautiful lay those around,
Like flowers of different hue, and dime, and root,
In some exotic garden sometimes found,
With cost, and care, and warmth induced to shoot.
One with her auburn tresses lightly bound,
And fair brows gently drooping, as the fruit
Nods from the tree, was slumbering with soft breath,
And lips apart, which show'd the pearls beneath.
One with her flush'd cheek laid on her white arm,
And raven ringlets gather'd in dark crowd
Above her brow, lay dreaming soft and warm;
And smiling through her dream, as through a cloud
The moon breaks, half unveil'd each further charm,
As, slightly stirring in her snowy shroud,
Her beauties seized the unconscious hour of night
All bashfully to struggle into light.
This is no bull, although it sounds so; for
'Twas night, but there were lamps, as hath been said.
A third's all pallid aspect offer'd more
The traits of sleeping sorrow, and betray'd
Through the heaved breast the dream of some far shore
Beloved and deplored; while slowly stray'd
(As night-dew, on a cypress glittering, tinges
The black bough) tear-drops through her eyes' dark fringes.
A fourth as marble, statue-like and still,
Lay in a breathless, hush'd, and stony sleep;
White, cold, and pure, as looks a frozen rill,
Or the snow minaret on an Alpine steep,
Or Lot's wife done in salt, — or what you will; —
My similes are gather'd in a heap,
So pick and choose — perhaps you 'll be content
With a carved lady on a monument.
And lo! a fifth appears; — and what is she?
A lady of a 'certain age,' which means
Certainly aged — what her years might be
I know not, never counting past their teens;
But there she slept, not quite so fair to see,
As ere that awful period intervenes
Which lays both men and women on the shelf,
To meditate upon their sins and self.
But all this time how slept, or dream'd, Dudu?
With strict inquiry I could ne'er discover,
And scorn to add a syllable untrue;
But ere the middle watch was hardly over,
Just when the fading lamps waned dim and blue,
And phantoms hover'd, or might seem to hover,
To those who like their company, about
The apartment, on a sudden she scream'd out:
And that so loudly, that upstarted all
The Oda, in a general commotion:
Matron and maids, and those whom you may call
Neither, came crowding like the waves of ocean,
One on the other, throughout the whole hall,
All trembling, wondering, without the least notion
More than I have myself of what could make
The calm Dudu so turbulently wake.
But wide awake she was, and round her bed,
With floating draperies and with flying hair,
With eager eyes, and light but hurried tread,
And bosoms, arms, and ankles glancing bare,
And bright as any meteor ever bred
By the North Pole, — they sought her cause of care,
For she seem'd agitated, flush'd, and frighten'd,
Her eye dilated and her colour heighten'd.