Percy's Reliques - Dowsabel.

Dowsabel.

            The following stanzas were written by Michael Drayton, a poet of some eminence in the reigns of Queen Elizabeth, James I. and Charles II.[ 1] They are inserted in one of his Pastorals, the first edition of which bears this whimsical title. "Idea. The Shepheards Garland fashioned in nine Eglogs. Rowlands sacrifice to the nine Muses." Lond. 1393, 4to. They are inscribed with the author's name at length "To the noble and valerous gentleman master Robert Dudley," &c. It is very remarkable that when Drayton reprinted them in the first folio edit. of his works, 1619, he had given those eclogues so thorough a revisal, that there is hardly a line to be found the same as in the old edition. This poem had received the fewest corrections, and therefore is chiefly given from the ancient copy, where it is thus introduced by one of his shepherds:--

"Listen to mee, my lovely shepheards joye,
And thou shalt heare, with mirth and mickle glee,
A pretie tale, which when I was a boy,
My toothles grandame oft hath told to me."

            The author has professedly imitated the style and metre of some of the old metrical romances, particularly that of Sir Isenbras,[ 2] (alluded to in v. 3.) as the reader may judge from the following specimen:

"Lordynges, lysten, and you shal here, &c."
*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *
"Ye shall well heare of a knight,
That was in warre full wyght,
And doughtye of his dede
His name was Syr Isenbras,
Man nobler than he was
Lyved none with breade.
He was lyvely, large, and lunge,
With shoulders broade, and armes stronge,
That myghtie was to se:
He was a hardye man, and hye,
All men hym loved that hym se,
For a gentyll knight was he:
Harpers loved him in hall,
With other minstrells all,
For he gave them golde and fee, &c."

            This ancient legend was printed in black-letter, 4to, by Wyllyam Copland; no date. In the Cotton Library (Calig. A. 2.) is a manuscript copy of the same romance containing the greatest variations. They are probably two different translations of some French original.

FARRE in the countrey of Arden,
There won'd a knight, hight Cassemen,
As bolde as Isenbras:
Fell was he, and eger bent,
In battell and in tournament,
As was the good Sir Topas.

He had, as antique stories tell,
A daughter cleaped Dowsabel,
A mayden fayre and free:
And for she was her fathers heire,
Full well she was y-cond the leyre
Of mickle curtesie.

The silke well couth she twist and twine,
And make the fine march-pine,
And with the needle werke;
And she couth helpe the priest to say
His mattins on a holy-day,
And sing a psalme in kirke.

She ware a frock of frolicke greene,
Might well beseeme a mayden queene,
Which seemly was to see;
A hood to that so neat and fine,
In colour like the colombine,
Y-wrought full featously.

Her features all as fresh above,
As is the grasse that growes by Dove;
And lyth as lasse of Kent.
Her skin as soft as Lemster wooll,
As white as snow on Peakish Hull,
Or swanne that swims in Trent.

This mayden in a morne betime
Went forth, when May was in her prime,
To get sweete cetywall,
The honey-suckle, the harlocke,
The lilly and the lady-smocke,
To deck her summer hall.

Thus, as she wandred here and there,
Y-picking of the bloomed breere,
She chanced to espie
A shepheard sitting on a bancke,
Like chanteclere he crowed crancke,
And pip'd full merrilie.

He lear'd his sheepe as he him list,
When he would whistle in his fist,
To feede about him round;
Whilst he full many a carroll sung,
Untill the fields and medowes rung,
And all the woods did sound.

In favour this same shepheards swayne
Was like the bedlam Tamburlayne,[ 3]
Which helde prowd kings in awe:
But meeke he was as lamb mought be;
An innocent of ill as he[ 4]
Whom his lewd brother slaw.

The shepheard ware a sheepe-gray cloke,
Which was of the finest loke,
That could he cut with sheere:
His mittens were of bauzens skinne,
His cockers were of cordiwin,
His hood of meniveere.

His aule and lingell in a thong,
His tar-boxe on his broad belt hong,
His breech of coyntrie blewe:
Full crispe and curled were his lockes,
His browes as white as Albion rocks:
So like a lover true,

And pyping still he spent the day,
So merry as the popingay;
Which liked Dowsabel:
That would she ought, or would she nought,
This lad would never from her thought
She in love-longing fell.

At length she tucked up her frocke,
White as a lilly was her smocke,
She drew the shepheard nye;
But then the shepheard pyp'd a good,
That all his sheepe forsooke their foode,
To heare his melodye.

"Thy sheepe," quoth she, "cannot be leane,
That have a jolly shepherds swayne,
The which can pipe so well."
"Yea but," sayth he, "their shepheard may,
If pyping thus he pine away
In love of Dowsabel."

"Of love, fond boy, take thou no keepe,"
Quoth she; "looke thou unto thy sheepe,
Lest they should hap to stray."
Quoth he, "So had I done full well,
Had I not seen fayre Dowsabell
Come forth to gather maye."

With that she gan to vaile her head,
Her cheeks were like the roses red,
But not a word she sayd.
With that the shepheard gan to frowne,
He threw his pretie pypes adowne,
And on the ground him layd.

Sayth she, "I may not stay till night,
And leave my summer-hall undight,
And all for long of thee."
"My coate," sayth he, "nor yet my fouled
Shall neither sheepe nor shepheard hould,
Except thou favour mee."

Sayth she, "Yet lever were I dead,
Then I should lose my mayden-head,
And all for love of men."
Sayth he, "Yet are you too unkind,
If in your heart you cannot finde
To love us now and then.

"And I to thee will be as kinde,
As Colin was to Rosalinde,
Of curtesie the flower."
"Then will I be as true," quoth she,
"As ever mayden yet might be
Unto her paramour."

With that she bent her snow-white knee,
Down by the shepheard kneeled shee,
And him she sweetely kist:
With that the shepheard whoop'd for joy,
Quoth he, "Ther's never shepheards boy
That ever was so blist."

NOTES

1. He was born in 1563, and died 1631.-- Biog. Brit.
2.
As also Chaucer's Rhyme of Sir Topas, ver. 6.
3.
Alluding to Tamburlaine the great, or the Scythian Shepheard, 1590, 8vo, an old ranting play ascribed to Marlowe.
4.
Sc. Abel.

 

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