Sir William Jones, from The Palace of Fortune, An Indian Tale Written in the Year 1769

[Click on image to enlarge] Sir William Jones (1746–1794), sometimes referred to as "Oriental Jones" and "Asiatick Jones," was the preeminent Orientalist of his day, a distinguished jurist (he was judge of the high court at Calcutta for the last eleven years of his life), and a friend of Dr. Johnson and other leading writers and thinkers. He was a pioneer in discovering the affinity between Sanskrit and Greek and Latin, and made it the basis of both Orientalism and modern linguistics as academic disciplines. He was also a principal founder of comparative literature studies and comparative legal studies, as well as an important figure in the field of the history of ideas. And he wrote and published a considerable amount of poetry, both original and as translation, most often with Eastern sources and themes at its center.

The Palace of Fortune, which Jones wrote in 1769 in his student rooms at Oxford, employs a machinery of dream-vision allegory that was a hackneyed device when Chaucer took it over from some medieval French poets in hisHous of Fame. It is "Oriental" mainly because of its subtitle — "An Indian Tale" — and the circumstances of its first publication, in Jones's Poems, Consisting Chiefly of Translations from the Asiatick Languages (1772). But these were sufficient to establish, in the words of the best modern editor and scholar of Jones's works, Michael J. Franklin, "the basis of the genre of the Oriental verse tale which was to prove so popular with the Romantics and their readers. The tale concerns an Indian girl, significantly called Maia, who, bored with the simplicity of her rustic cell, longs for an environment more appreciative of her youth and beauty. At the command of the goddess Fortune, celestial spirits transport Maia in an aerial car drawn by peacocks to a paradisical palace. Here she witnesses a series of visions which ultimately reveal the vanity of human wishes" (Sir William Jones: Selected Poetical and Prose Works, 1995, p. 36). Readers familiar with Blake's Book of Thel (NAEL 8, 2.98–102) and Shelley's Queen Mab will see immediate connections with this earlier work.

The extract given here, the opening 248 lines, sets up the framework and presents the first of Maia's morally instructive visions, that of the personification of Pleasure (with two lines introducing the second personification, that of Glory).

 





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Mild was the vernal gale, and calm the day,
When Maia near a crystal fountain lay,
Young Maia, fairest of the blue-eyed maids,
That rov'd at noon in Tibet's musky shades;
But, haply, wandering through the fields of air,
Some fiend had whisper'd — Maia, thou art fair!
Hence swelling pride had fill'd her simple breast,
And rising passions robb'd her mind of rest;
In courts and glittering towers she wish'd to dwell,
And scorn'd her labouring parent's lowly cell.
And now, as gazing o'er the glassy stream,
She saw her blooming cheek's reflected beam,
Her tresses brighter than the morning sky,
And the mild radiance of her sparkling eye,
Low sighs and trickling tears by turns she stole,
And thus discharg'd the anguish of her soul:
"Why glow those cheeks, if unadmir'd they glow?
Why flow those tresses, if unprais'd they flow?
Why dart those eyes their liquid ray serene,
Unfelt their influence, and their light unseen?
Ye heavens! was that love-breathing bosom made
To warm dull groves, and cheer the lonely glade?
Ah, no: those blushes, that enchanting face,
Some tap'stried hall, or gilded bower, might grace;
Might deck the scenes, where love and pleasure reign,
And fire with amorous flames the youthful train."

      While thus she spoke, a sudden blaze of light
Shot through the clouds, and struck her dazzled sight.
She rais'd her head, astonish'd, to the skies,
And veil'd with trembling hands her aching eyes;
When through the yielding air she saw from far
A goddess gliding in a golden car,
That soon descended on the flowery lawn,
By two fair yokes of starry peacocks drawn:
A thousand nymphs with many a sprightly glance
Form'd round the radiant wheels an airy dance,
Celestial shapes! in fluid light array'd;
Like twinkling stars their beamy sandals play'd;
Their lucid mantles glitter'd in the sun,
(Webs half so bright the silkworm never spun)
Transparent robes, that bore the rainbow's hue,
And finer than the nets of pearly dew
That morning spreads o'er every opening flower,
When sportive summer decks his bridal bower.

      The queen herself, too fair for mortal sight,
Sat in the centre of encircling light.
Soon with soft touch she rais'd the trembling maid,
And by her side in silent slumber laid:
Straight the gay birds display'd their spangled train,
And flew refulgent through th' aerial plain;
The fairy band their shining pinions spread,
And, as they rose, fresh gales of sweetness shed;
Fann'd with their flowing skirts, the sky was mild;
And heaven's blue fields with brighter radiance smil'd.

      Now in a garden deck'd with verdant bowers
The glittering car descends on bending flowers:
The goddess still with looks divinely fair
Surveys the sleeping object of her care;
Then o'er her cheek her magick finger lays,
Soft as the gale that o'er a violet plays,
And thus in sounds, that favour'd mortals hear,
She gently whispers in her ravish'd ear:

      "Awake, sweet maid, and view this charming scene
For ever beauteous, and for ever green;
Here living rills of purest nectar flow
O'er meads that with unfading flowerets glow;
Here amorous gales their scented wings display,
Mov'd by the breath of ever-blooming May;
Here in the lap of pleasure shalt thou rest,
Our lov'd companion, and our honour'd guest."

      The damsel hears the heavenly notes distil,
Like melting snow, or like a vernal rill.
She lifts her head, and, on her arm reclin'd,
Drinks the sweet accents in her grateful mind:
On all around she turns her roving eyes,
And views the splendid scene with glad surprize;
Fresh lawns, and sunny banks, and roseate bowers,
Hills white with flocks, and meadows gemm'd with flowers;
Cool shades, a sure defence from summer's ray,
And silver brooks, where wanton damsels play,
Which with soft notes their dimpled crystal roll'd
O'er colour'd shells and sands of native gold;
A rising fountain play'd from every stream,
Smil'd as it rose, and cast a transient gleam,
Then, gently falling in a vocal shower,
Bath'd every shrub, and sprinkled every flower,
That on the banks, like many a lovely bride,
View'd in the liquid glass their blushing pride;
Whilst on each branch, with purple blossoms hung,
The sportful birds their joyous descant sung.

      While Maia thus entranc'd in sweet delight,
With each gay object fed her eager sight,
The goddess mildly caught her willing hand,
And led her trembling o'er the flowery land.
Soon she beheld, where through an opening glade
A spacious lake its clear expanse display'd;
In mazy curls the flowing jasper wav'd
O'er its smooth bed with polish'd agate pav'd;
And on a rock of ice, by magick rais'd,
High in the midst a gorgeous palace blaz'd;
The sunbeams on the gilded portals glanc'd,
Play'd on the spires, and on the turrets danc'd;
To four bright gates four ivory bridges led,
With pearls illumin'd, and with roses spread:
And now, more radiant than the morning sun,
Her easy way the gliding goddess won;
Still by her hand she held the fearful maid,
And, as she pass'd, the fairies homage paid:
They enter'd straight the sumptuous palace-hall,
Where silken tapestry emblaz'd the wall,
Refulgent tissue, of an heavenly woof;
And gems unnumber'd sparkled on the roof,
On whose blue arch the flaming diamonds play'd,
As on a sky with living stars inlay'd;
Of precious diadems a regal store,
With globes and sceptres, strew'd the porphyry floor;
Rich vests of eastern kings around were spread,
And glittering zones a starry lustre shed:
But Maia most admir'd the pearly strings,
Gay bracelets, golden chains, and sparkling rings.

      High in the centre of the palace shone,
Suspended in mid-air, an opal throne:
To this the queen ascends with royal pride,
And sets the favour'd damsel by her side.
Around the throne in mystick order stand
The fairy train, and wait her high command;
When thus she speaks: (the maid attentive sips
Each word that flows, like nectar, from her lips.)

      "Favourite of heaven, my much-lov'd Maia, know,
From me all joys, all earthly blessings, flow:
Me suppliant men imperial Fortune call,
The mighty empress of yon rolling ball":
(She rais'd her finger, and the wondering maid
At distance hung the dusky globe survey'd,
Saw the round earth with foaming oceans vein'd,
And labouring clouds on mountain tops sustain'd.)
"To me has fate the pleasing task assign'd
To rule the various thoughts of humankind;
To catch each rising wish, each ardent prayer,
And some to grant, and some to waste in air.
Know farther; as I rang'd the crystal sky,
I saw thee near the murmuring fountain lie;
Mark'd the rough storm that gather'd in thy breast,
And knew what care thy joyless soul opprest.
Straight I resolv'd to bring thee quick relief,
Ease every weight, and soften every grief;
If in this court contented thou canst live,
And taste the joys these happy gardens give:
But fill thy mind with vain desires no more,
And view without a wish yon shining store:
Soon shall a numerous train before me bend,
And kneeling votaries my shrine attend;
Warn'd by their empty vanities beware,
And scorn the folly of each human prayer."

      She said; and straight a damsel of her train
With tender fingers touch'd a golden chain.
Now a soft bell delighted Maia hears,
That sweetly trembles on her listening ears;
Through the calm air the melting numbers float,
And wanton echo lengthens every note.
Soon through the dome a mingled hum arose,
Like the swift stream that o'er a valley flows;
Now louder still it grew, and still more loud,
As distant thunder breaks the bursting cloud:
Through the four portals rush'd a various throng,
That like a wintry torrent pour'd along:
A crowd of every tongue, and every hue,
Toward the bright throne with eager rapture flew.
A lovely stripling stepp'd before the rest >> note 1
With hasty pace, and tow'rd the goddess prest;
His mien was graceful, and his looks were mild,
And in his eyes celestial sweetness smil'd:
Youth's purple glow, and beauty's rosy beam,
O'er his smooth cheeks diffus'd a lively gleam;
The floating ringlets of his musky hair
Wav'd on the bosom of the wanton air:
With modest grace the goddess he addrest,
And thoughtless thus preferr'd his fond request.

      "Queen of the world, whose wide-extended sway,
Gay youth, firm manhood, and cold age obey,
Grant me, while life's fresh blooming roses smile,
The day with varied pleasures to beguile;
Let me on beds of dewy flowers recline,
And quaff with glowing lips the sparkling wine;
Grant me to feed on beauty's rifled charms,
And clasp a willing damsel in my arms;
Her bosom fairer than a hill of snow,
And gently bounding like a playful roe;
Her lips more fragrant than the summer air,
And sweet as Scythian musk her hyacinthine hair;
Let new delights each dancing hour employ,
Sport follow sport, and joy succeed to joy."

      The goddess grants the simple youth's request,
And mildly thus accosts her lovely guest:
"On that smooth mirror, full of magick light,
Awhile, dear Maia, fix thy wandering sight."
She looks; and in th' enchanted crystal sees
A bower o'er-canopied with tufted trees:
The wanton stripling lies beneath the shade,
And by his side reclines a blooming maid;
O'er her fair limbs a silken mantle flows,
Through which her youthful beauty softly glows,
And part conceal'd, and part disclos'd to sight,
Through the thin texture casts a ruddy light,
As the ripe clusters of the mantling vine
Beneath the verdant foliage faintly shine,
And, fearing to be view'd by envious day,
Their glowing tints unwillingly display.

      The youth, while joy sits sparkling in his eyes,
Pants on her neck, and on her bosom dies;
From her smooth cheek nectareous dew he sips,
And all his soul comes breathing to his lips.
But Maia turns her modest eyes away,
And blushes to behold their amorous play.

      She looks again, and sees with sad surprize
On the clear glass far different scenes arise:
The bower, which late outshone the rosy morn,
O'erhung with weeds she saw, and rough with thorn;
With stings of asps the leafless plants were wreath'd,
And curling adders gales of venom breath'd:
Low sat the stripling on the faded ground,
And in a mournful knot his arms were bound;
His eyes, that shot before a sunny beam,
Now scarcely shed a saddening, dying gleam;
Faint as a glimmering taper's wasted light,
Or a dull ray that streaks the cloudy night:
His crystal vase was on the pavement roll'd,
And from the bank was fall'n his cup of gold;
From which th' envenom'd dregs of deadly hue,
Flow'd on the ground in streams of baleful dew,
And, slowly stealing through the wither'd bower,
Poison'd each plant, and blasted every flower:
Fled were his slaves, and fled his yielding fair,
And each gay phantom was dissolv'd in air;
Whilst in their place was left a ruthless train,
Despair, and grief, remorse, and raging pain.

      Aside the damsel turns her weeping eyes,
And sad reflections in her bosom rise;
To whom thus mildly speaks the radiant queen:
"Take sage example from this moral scene;
See, how vain pleasures sting the lips they kiss,
How asps are hid beneath the bowers of bliss!
Whilst ever fair the flower of temperance blows,
Unchang'd her leaf, and without thorn her rose;
Smiling she darts her glittering branch on high,
And spreads her fragrant blossoms to the sky."

      Next tow'rd the throne she saw a knight advance; >> note 2
Erect he stood, and shook a quivering lance; * * *

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