THE SHEPHERD’S DREAM: OR, FAIRIES’ MASQUERADE
I had folded my flock, and my heart was o’erflowing,
I loiter’d beside the small lake on the heath;
The red sun, though down, left his drapery glowing,
And no sound was stirring, I heard not a breath:
I sat on the turf, but I meant not to sleep, 5
And gazed o’er that lake which for ever is new,
Where clouds over clouds appear’d anxious to peep
From this bright double sky with its pearl and its blue.
Forgetfulness, rather than slumber, it seem’d,
When in infinite thousands the fairies arose10
All over the heath, and their tiny crests gleam’d
In mock’ry of soldiers, our friends and our foes.
There a stripling went forth, half a finger’s length high,
And led a huge host to the north with a dash;
Silver birds upon poles went before their wild cry, 15
While the monarch look’d forward, adjusting his sash.
Soon after a terrible bonfire was seen,
The dwellings of fairies went down in their ire,
But from all I remember, I never could glean
Why the woodstack was burnt, or who set it on fire.20
The flames seem’d to rise o’er a deluge of snow,
That buried its thousands,—the rest ran away;
For the hero had here overstrain’d his long bow,
Yet he honestly own’d the mishap of the day.
Then the fays of the north like a hailstorm came on, 25
And follow’d him down to the lake in a riot,
Where they found a large stone which they fix’d him upon,
And threaten’d, and coax’d him, and bade him be quiet.
He that conquer’d them all, was to conquer no more,
But the million beheld he could conquer alone;30
After resting awhile, he leap’d boldly on shore,
When away ran a fay that had mounted his throne.
’Twas pleasant to see how they stared, how they scamper’d,
By furze-bush, by fern, by no obstacle stay’d,
And the few that held council, were terribly hamper’d, 35
For some were vindictive, and some were afraid.
I saw they were dress’d for a masquerade train,
Colour’d rags upon sticks they all brandish’d in view,
And of such idle things they seem’d mightily vain,
Though they nothing display’d but a bird split in two.40
Then out rush’d the stripling in battle array,
And both sides determined to fight and to maul:
Death rattled his jawbones to see such a fray,
And glory personified laugh’d at them all.
Here he fail’d,—hence he fled, with a few for his sake, 45
And leap’d into a cockle-shell floating hard by;
It sail’d to an isle in the midst of the lake,
Where they mock’d fallen greatness, and left him to die.
Meanwhile the north fairies stood round in a ring,
Supporting his rival on guns and on spears,50
Who, though not a soldier, was robed like a king;
Yet some were exulting, and some were in tears.
A lily triumphantly floated above,
The crowd press’d, and wrangling was heard through the whole;
Some soldiers look’d surly, some citizens strove 55
To hoist the old nightcap on liberty’s pole.
But methought in my dream some bewail’d him that fell,
And liked not his victors so gallant, so clever,
Till a fairy stepp’d forward, and blew through a shell,
‘Bear misfortune with firmness, you’ll triumph for ever.’60
I woke at the sound, all in silence, alone,
The moor-hens were floating like specks on a glass,
The dun clouds were spreading, the vision was gone,
And my dog scamper’d round ’midst the dew on the grass.
I took up my staff, as a knight would his lance, 65
And said, ‘Here’s my sceptre, my baton, my spear,
And there’s my prime minister far in advance,
Who serves me with truth for his food by the year.’
So I slept without care till the dawning of day,
Then trimm’d up my woodbines and whistled amain;70
My minister heard as he bounded away,
And we led forth our sheep to their pastures again.
Scorch’d by the shadeless sun on Indian plains,
Mellow’d by age, by wants, and toils, and pains,
Those toils still lengthen’d when he reach’d that shore
Where Spain’s bright mountains heard the cannons roar,
A pension’d veteran, doom’d no more to roam,5
With glowing heart thus sung the joys of home.