Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE PRAISE OF CHASTITY, by GEORGE PEELE

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE PRAISE OF CHASTITY, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: The noble romans whilom wonted were
Last Line: Whose chasteness triumphs, grows, and lives for aye.
Subject(s): Chastity

THE noble Romans whilom wonted were,
For triumph of their conquer'd enemies,
The wreaths of laurel and of palm to wear,
In honour of their famous victories;

And so, in robes of gold and purple dight,
Like bodies shrin'd in seats of ivory,
Their names renown'd for happiness in fight,
They bear the guerdon of their chivalry.

The valiant Greeks for sack of Priam's town,
A work of manhood match'd with policy,
Have fill'd the world with books of their renown,
As much as erst the Roman empery.

The Phrygian knights that in the House of Fame
Have shining arms of endless memory,
By hot and fierce repulse did win the same,
Though Helen's rape hurt Paris' progeny.

Thus strength hath guerdon by the world's award;
So praise we birth and high nobility:
If, then, the mind and body reap reward
For nature's dower, conferrèd liberally,

Press, then, for praise unto the highest room,
That art the highest of the gifts of heaven,
More beautiful by wisdom's sacred doom
Than Sol himself amid the Planets Seven;

Queen of content and temperate desires,
Choice nurse of health, thy name hight Chastity;
A sovereign power to quench such climbing fires
As choke the mind with smoke of infamy;

Champion-at-arms, re'ncounter with thy foe,
An enemy foul and fearful to behold:
If, then, stout captains have been honour'd so,
Their names in books of memory enroll'd

For puissant strength,—ye Roman peers, retire,
And, Greeks, give ground; more honour there is won,
With chaste rebukes to temper thy desire,
Than glory gain'd the world to over-run;

Than fierce Achilles got by Hector's spoil;
Than erst the mighty Prince of Macedon,
King Philip's imp, that put his foes to foil
And wish'd more worlds to hold him play than one.

Believe me, to contend 'gainst armies royal,
To tame wild panthers but by strength of hand,
To praise the triumph, not so special,
As ticing pleasure's charms for to withstand;

And, for me list compare with men of war,
For honour of the field, I dare maintain,
This victory exceedeth that as far
As Phœbus' chariot Vulcan's forge doth stain:

Both noble, and triumphant in their kinds,
And matter worthy Queen Remembrance' pen;
But that that tangles both our thoughts and minds,
To master that, is more than over men

To make thy triumph; sith to strength alone
Of body it belongs, to bruise or wound;
But raging thoughts to quell, or few or none,
Save Virtue's imps, are able champions found;

Or those whom Jove hath lov'd; or noble of birth:
So strong Alcides, Jove's unconquer'd son,
Did lift Achelous' body from the earth,
To show what deeds by Virtue's strength are done;

So him he foil'd; and put to sudden flight,
By aim of wit, the foul Stymphalides:
And while we say, he master'd men by might,
Behold, in person of this Hercules,

It liketh me to figure Chastity;
His labour like that foul unclean desire
That, under guide of tickling fantasy,
Would mar the mind through pleasure's scorching fire.

And who hath seen a fair alluring face,
A lusty girl, y-clad in quaint array,
Whose dainty hand makes music with her lace,
And tempts thy thoughts, and steals thy sense away;

Whose ticing hair, like nets of golden wire,
Enchain[s] thy heart; whose gait and voice divine
Inflame thy blood, and kindle thy desire;
Whose features rape and dazzle human eyne;

Who hath beheld fair Venus in her pride
Of nakedness, all alabaster white,
In ivory bed, straight laid by Mars his side,
And hath not been enchanted with the sight;

To wish to dally, and to offer game,
To coy, to court, et cœtera to do;
(Forgive me, Chasteness, if in terms of shame,
To thy renown, I paint what longs thereto;)

Who hath not liv'd, and yet hath seen, I say,
That might offend chaste hearers to endure;
Who hath been halèd on to touch and play,
And yet not stoop'd to pleasure's wanton lure;

Crown him with laurel for his victory,
Clad him in purple and in scarlet dye,
Enroll his name in books of memory,
Ne let the honour of his conquest die;

More royal in his triumph than the man
Whom tigers drew in coach of burnish'd gold,
In whom the Roman monarchy began,
Whose works of worth no wit hath erst controll'd:

Elysium be his walk, high heaven his shrine,
His drink sweet nectar, and ambrosia,
The food that makes immortal and divine,
Be his to taste, to make him live for aye;

And that I may, in brief, describe his due,
What lasting honour Virtue's guerdon is,
So much and more his just desert pursue,
Sith his desert awards it to be his.


To thee, in honour of whose government
Entitled is this Praise of Chastity,
My gentle friend, these hasty lines are meant:
So flowereth Virtue like the laurel-tree,
Immortal green, that every eye may see;
And well was Daphne turn'd into the bay,
Whose chasteness triumphs, grows, and lives for aye.

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