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With all the court'sies that she could devyse,
Ne wanted ought to shew her bounteous or wise.
Thus as they gan of sondrie thinges devise,
Loe, two most goodly virgins came in place,
Ylinked arme in arme in lovely wise;
With countenance demure, and modest grace,
They numbred even steps and equall pace:
Of which the eldest, that Fidelia" hight,
Like sunny beames threw from her christall face
That could have dazd the rash beholders sight,
And round about her head did shine like Hevens light.
She was araied all in lilly white,
And in her right hand bore a cup of gold,
With wine and water fild up to the hight,
In which a serpent did himselfe enfold,
That horrour made to all that did behold;
But she no whitt did chaunge her constant mood :
And in her other hand she fast did hold
A booke that was both signd and seald with blood; Wherein darke things were writt, hard to be understood.
Her younger sister, that Speranza hight,
Was clad in blew, that her beseemed well;
Not all so chearefull seemed she of sight
As was her sister; whether dread did dwell
Or anguish in her hart, is hard to tell:
Upon her arme a silver anchor lay,
Whereon she leaned ever, as befell;
And ever up to Heven, as she did pray,
Her stedfast eyes were bent, ne swarved other way.
Then Una thus; “ But she, your sister deare,
The deare Charissa, where is she become?
Or wants she health, or busie is elswhere?”
“Ah! no," said they, “but forth she may not come;
For she of late is lightned of her wombe,
And hath encreast the world with one sonne more,
That her to see should be but troublesome.
“ Indeed,” quoth she,
" that should her trouble sore; But thankt be God, and her encrease for evermore.”
Then said the aged Cælia; “ Deare dame,
And you, good sir, I wote that of youre toyle
And labors long, through which ye hether came,
Ye both forwearied be: therefore a whyle
I read you rest, and to your bowres recoyle.”
Then called she a groome, that forth him ledd
Into a goodly lodge, and gan despoile
Of puissant armes, and laid in easie bedd:
His name was meeke Obedience rightfully aredd.
Now when their wearie limbes with kindly rest,
And bodies were refresht with dew repast,
Fayre Una gan Fidelia fayre request,
To have her knight into her schoolehous plaste,
That of her heavenly learning he might taste,
And heare the wisedom of her wordes divine.
She graunted; and that knight so much agraste,
That she him taught celestiall discipline,
And opened his dull eyes, that light mote in them shine.
And that her sacred booke, with blood ywritt,
That none could reade except she did them teach,
She unto him disclosed every whitt;
And heavenly documents thereout did preach,
That weaker witt of man could never reach;
Of God; of grace; of iustice; of free-will;
That wonder was to heare her goodly speach :
For she was hable with her wordes to kill,
And rayse againe to life the hart that she did thrill.
And, when she list poure out her larger spright,
She would commaund the hasty Sunne to stay,
Or backward turne his course from Hevens hight:
Sometimes great hostes of men she could dismay;
Dry-shod to passe she parts the flouds in tway;
And eke huge mountaines from their native seat
She would commaund themselves to beare away,
And throw in raging sea with roaring threat:
Almightie God her gave such powre and puissaunce great.
The faithfull knight now grew in little space,
By hearing her and by her sisters lore,
To such perfection of all hevenly grace,
That wretched world he gan for to abhore,
And mortall life gan loath as thing forlore;
Greevd with remembrance of his wicked wayes,
And prickt with anguish of his sinnes so sore,
That he desirde to end his wretched dayes:
So much the dart of sinfull guilt the soule dismayes !
But wise Speranza gave him counsel sweet,
And taught him how to take assured hold
Upon her silver anchor, as was meet;
Els has his sinnes so great and manifold
Made him forget all that Fidelia told.
In this distressed doubtfull agony,
When him his dearest Una did behold
Disdeining life, desiring leave to dye,
She found herselfe assayld with great perplexity ;
And came to Cælia to declare her smart;
Who well acquainted with that commune plight,
Which sinfull horror workes in wounded hart,
Her wisely comforted all that she might,
With goodly counsell and advisement right;
And streightway sent with carefull diligence,
* To fetch a leach, the which had great insight
In that disease of grieved conscience,
And well could cure the same; his name was Patience.
Who, comming to that sowle-diseased knight,
Could hardly him intreat to tell his grief:
Which knowne, and all that noyd his heavie spright
Well searcht, eftsoones he gan apply relief
Of salves and med'cines, which had passing prief;8
And thereto added wordes of wondrous might:
By which to ease he him recured brief,
And much aswag’d the passion of his plight,
That he his paine endur’d, as seeming now
But yet the cause and root of all his ill,
Inward corruption and infected sin,
Not purg'd nor heald, behind remained still,
And festring sore did ranckle yett within,
Close creeping twixt the marow and the skin:
Which to extirpe, he laid him privily
Downe in a darksome lowly place far in,
Whereas he meant his corrosives to apply,
And with streight diet tame his stubborne malady.
In ashes and sackcloth he did array
His daintie corse, proud humors to abate;
And dieted with fasting every day,
The swelling of his woundes to mitigate;
And made him pray both earely and eke late:
And ever, as superfluous flesh did rott,
Amendment readie still at hand did wayt,
To pluck it out with pincers fyrie whott,
That soone in
no one corrupted iott.
And bitter Penaunce, with an yron whip, Was wont him once to disple every day : And sharp Remorse his hart did prick and nip, That drops of blood thence like a well did play : And sad Repentance used to embayo His body in salt water smarting sore, The filthy blottes of sin to wash away. So in short space they did to health restore The man that would not live, but erst lay at deathes dore.
She was right ioyous of her iust request ;
And, taking by the hand that Faeries sonne,
Gan him instruct in everie good behest,
Of love; and righteousnes; and well to donne ;
And wrath and hatred warëly to shonne,
That drew on men Gods hatred and his wrath,
And many soules in dolours had fordonne ;'
In which when him she well instructed hath,
From thence to Heaven she teacheth him the ready path.
Wherein his weaker wandring steps to guyde,
An auncient matrone she to her does call,
Whose sober lookes her wisedome well descryde ;
Her name was Mercy; well knowne over all
To be both gratious and eke liberall :
To whom the carefull charge of him she gave,
To leade aright, that he should never fall
In all his waies through this wide worldës wave;
That Mercy in the end his righteous soule might save.
The godly matrone by the hand him beares
Forth from her presence, by a narrow way,
Scattred with bushy thornes and ragged breares,
Which still before him she remov'd away,
That nothing might his ready passage stay:
And ever when his feet encombred were,
Or gan to shrinke, or from the right to stray,
She held him fast, and firmely did upbeare;
As carefull nourse her child from falling oft does reare.
Eftsoones unto an holy hospitall,
That was foreby the way, she did him bring;
In which seven bead-men, that had vowed all
Their life to service of high Heavens King,
Did spend their daies in doing godly thing ;
Their gates to all were open evermore,
That by the wearie way were traveiling ;
And one sate wayting ever them before,
To call in commers-by that needy were and pore.
The first of them, that eldest was and best,
Of all the house had charge and governement,
As guardian and steward of the rest :
His office was to give entertainement
And lodging unto all that came and went;
Not unto such as could him feast againe,
And double quite for that he on them spent ;
But such as want of harbour did constraine :
Those for God's sake his dewty was to entertaine.
The second was an almner of the place :
His office was the hungry for to feed,
And thirsty give to drinke; a worke of grace :
He feard not once himselfe to be in need,
Ne car’d to hoord for those whom he did breede:
The grace of God he layd up still in store,
Which as a stocke he left unto his seede :
He had enough; what need him care for more ?
And had he lesse, yet some he would give to the pore.
The third had of their wardrobe custody,
In which were not rich tyres, nor garments gay,
The plumes of pride, and winges of vanity,
But clothës meet to keep keene cold away,
And naked nature seemely to array ;
With which bare wretched wights he dayly clad,
The images of God in earthly clay;
And, if that no spare clothes to give he had,
His owne cote he would cut, and it distribute glad.
The fourth appointed by his office was
Poore prisoners to relieve with gratious ayd,
And captives to redeeme with price of bras
From Turkes and Sarazins, which them had stayd ;
And though they faulty were, yet well he wayd,
That God to us forgiveth every howre
Much more than that why they in bands were layd;
And he, that harrowedHell with heavie stowre, 4
The faulty soules from thence brought to his heavenly bowre.
The fift had charge sick persons to attend,
And comfort those in point of death which lay;