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ST AGNES' EVE.
1. The chief incident of this poem is founded on a popular superstition. The belief which in Scotland is associated with Halloween, or the Eve of All Saints' Day, was in England attached to the vigil of St Agnes, whose feast was celebrated on January the 21st. It was thought that, if certain rites and forms were observed, maidens might be vouchsafed a sight of their future husbands. The accounts of these requisite ceremonies vary. See Chambers' Book of Days, also Ellis' Brand's Pop. Antiq. It is impossible to say when such a notion became connected with St Agnes. Her legend is “one of the oldest” of the church; see Mrs Jameson's Sacred and Leg. Art; her effigies are as old as any, next to those of the Evangelists and Apostles; but in the story of her martyrdom, in the Diocletian persecution, there is no sign of the matrimonial interest that is found at a later time adding to her popularity. For other legends that gathered around her, her name is no doubt answerable. It was impossible that it should not suggest “agna," and that, consequently, lambs and she should not be allied. In Tennyson's lines, called St Agnes' Eve, the speaker, some saintly nun, wins through prayer and faith a vision of the Heavenly Bridegroom.
Other incidents of the poem seem to have been drawn from Romeo and Juliet, per from Chaucer's Troilus and Cressida, and also, it may be, from the old Haddon Hall story of the elopement of Dorothy Vernon with her true lover, John Manners.
2. The poem abounds with the beauties, and with the faults, that characterize Keats. It need not mar one's enjoyment of it as a poem that its archæology is somewhat inaccurate. Scott himself is by no means perfect in this respect. If we are not introduced into the veritable medieval world, at least we are taken out of our own present workaday atmosphere : we are borne away into a land of enchantment; we feel the very air of Romance blowing around us; we too are “hoodwinked with faery fancy."
176. 1. St Agnes' Eve, Jan. 21.
2. for all his feathers. See note in Hymn Nat. 73.
a cold. So King Lear, III. iv. 84, &c. In 13th and 14th century writings occur the forms acolden, to grow or make cold; akelen, accolded, and acold, part. &c. (Stratmann). See in the Ancren Riwle, Ed. Morten, p. 404: “Idel acoaldeth and acwencheth this fur" = Idleness cooleth and quencheth this fyre. The a here is a corrupted form of an intensive prefix af or of. So in a-hungred, which in Piers Ploughman, vi. 269, appears as af-yngred (comp. A. S. of-hingrian, and see Skeat's,: Clar. Press, P.P. Gloss.). So afered, afraid, atheist, ago (see note to Hymn Nat. 155), aweary (as Mids. N. D. V. i. 257, &c.), &c.
5. beadsman = strictly, prayers-man. The term often denoted one who in return for obligations received gave his benefactor the benefit of his prayers. Hence often beadsman =almsman. So the “ blue-gowns” of Scotland are called King's Bedesman; see the Antiquary. As for prayers being looked upon as a return for material kindnesses, comp. the yet extant phrase in “petitions": "and your petitioners will ever pray, &c." See in the N.T., St James v. 15, Shakspere, passim. For the form of the word, in Piers Pl is found bedeman (see iii. 41 and 46 in Clar. Press Ed.), in the Ancren Riwle, beodeman. The final e of bede represents the old plural inflection. When that infection was superseded by s, then came in the form bedesman. For the derivation, bede is connected with bid, beadle, &c. Bead,= a little ball, is bede itself in a secondary sense. Bidding-prayer is strictly a tautologue, if we may use such a word (comp. analogue).
told. See note to L'Alleg. 67.
6. rosary = (i) a rose-bed. See Virgil's “biferique rosaria Pæsti” (Georg. iv. 119). (ii) a rose-chaplet, a garland. Jeremy Taylor speaks of “rosaries and coronets.” (iii) a selection of prayers. Comp. such book-titles as the Crown Garland of Golden Roses, Foliorum Centuriæ, The Evergreen, &c. (iv) a string of beads; see note on bedesman, l. 4. Comp. Tennyson's St Agnes' Eve:
“My breath to heaven like vapour goes;
May my soul follow soon." 7. censer is shortened from the Fr. encensoir, Lat. incensorium. (Give other instances of such abbreviation.]
8. [Explain without a death.]
[oraťries. What letter does the apostrophe represent here? What other letters does it occasionally represent?] 17. fails. Comp. In Mem. ii.:
“I seem to fail from out my blood.” 18. hoods. Hood is cognate with head.
mails. This mail (quite distinct from mail, Fr. malle = trunk or bag, especially one for letters, which is of Teutonic origin) is ultimately from Lat. macula, in its secondary sense of a hole, an interstice, a mesh; which sense it has for instance in Ovid's Her. v. 19, where Enone speaks of her old pastimes with Paris :
“Retia sæpe comes maculis distincta tetendi.”
Hence macula, becoming macla, becoming maille, the Eng. mail, denotes steel-ring armour; ten, generally, steel armour of any kind.
21. flatterid. Leigh Hunt breaks out into an ecstasy on the use of this verb here. He says, the old man thinks the music is for him as well as for others, &c. &c.; see Imagination and Fancy'. But probably Keats uses the word somewhat vaguely—he is not a very accurate writer-for softened, Lat. solvit. Comp. Dryden's Dufresnoy ayud Johnson: “A consort of voices supporting themselves by their different parts make a harmony, pleasingly fills their ears, and flatters them.” Johnson defines flatter in this usage, as, “to please, to sooth.” This sense, he says, is "purely Gallick.” Etymologically, flatter is closely akin to flatten, flat, &c.
177. 31. chide. The A. S. cidan, whence chide = to strive, quarrel, brawl. Whence chide of any clamour, or noise, as of dogs, as Mids. N. D. IV. i. 119, of a flood, Hen. VIII. III. ii. 197 (comp. the reading chiding in Othello, II. i. 12), &c. With the sense here comp. the use of bray, as in braying trumpets, K. John, III. i. 303.
32. the level chambers. Comp. the level matting in l. 196.
revelry = revellers. See note to trashtrie, Twa Dogs, 63.
“βασιλείον τιάρας φάλαρον πιφαύσκων.” or like antecedents, and perhaps of much the same meaning, except that the riapa was used specially of the king's head-dress, were κυρβασία and κίδαρις, or κίταρις. For κυρβασία see Herod. v. 49, where Aristagoras speaks depreciatingly of the Persian trowsers (avašúpides) and Kuppaolal. Turban, too, is of Persian origin. Here it would seem that tiara refers to the ladies' head-dresses.
40. triumphs. See L'Alleg. 120.
43. (Explain this use of brooded. Can you illustrate it from the Latin or the Greek ?} 45. (How would you explain as here?)
49. upon, &c. So Tennyson's Mariana: “Upon the middle of the night.” Virgil's “nocte super media" (Æn. ix. 61)
52 supine = lying on the back See l. 54. So the Greek ÚTTLOS. Contrast pronus, Tonnis. From the complete relaxation of the attitude comes the secondary sense of indolent. “The fourth cause of errour,” says Sir Thomas Brown, in his Vulgar Errors. “is a supinity or neglect of enquiry, even in matters wherein we doubt, rather believing than going to see.”
54. for. The construction is according to the analogy of pray for, &c.
60. tip-toe = excited. See Hen. V. IV. ii. 42. 178. 70. hoodwink'd = strictly, hooded or covered as to the eyes, i.e. blinded: see All's Well that Ends Well, IV. i. 90; Romeo and Juliet, I. iv. 3:
“We'll have no Cupid hoodwink'd with a scarf, &c." So the simple hooded in Meas. for Meas. V. i. 355 ; comp. hoodman. For hood see l. 18. Il’ink in this compound seems = that which winks, the eye, though, as a simple word, it does not appear to occur in that sense. Perhaps it is shortened from winkers. Blinkers is used for eyes in the dialect of “slang.”
faery= Fairy land; as in the title of Spenser's poem.
all amort. See Taming of the Shr. IV. iii. 36, &c. Probably, as Nares suggests, a corruption of alamort. Fanshawe writes alamort in his translation of the Lusiad, v. 85.
71. (What is the force of to here?)
77 (What is meant by buttress'd here?] Buttress and abutment and butt are all cognate.
82 Comp. the visit of Romeo and his friends to the house of the Capulets.
90 beldam So 1 Hen. IV. III. i 32, &c. Perhaps the bel = belle is used ironically, perhaps euphemistically. Johnson says that in Old Fr. the word “ signified probably an old woman, as belle âge, old age.” But belle åge scarcely illustrates belle dame. In English we can speak of “a fair age," "a good age," “a good old age;" but we couldn't say “a good or a fair man ” for “a good-aged man." Goodman and goodwife mean something very different.
94. hall-pillar. From the words immediately following it would seem that Keats uses hall here in the modern acceptation, for a vestibule; not in the medieval, for the chief room of the house.
179. 100. dwarfish. Dwarf is the later form of the Ancient English dweorh or dweorg = crooked.
101. fit is perhaps connected with fight. It is quite a distinct word from fit, the adj., also used substantively, which is from the Fr. fait.
105. gossip = god-sib, strictly, a god-kinsman, or a kinsman with respect to God, that is, in a religious sense; a sponsor at one's baptism, a godfather or godmother. On the corruption of meaning see Trench's Eng. Past and Pres.
116. See the extract from the Translation of Naogeorgus, apud Brand:
“ Then commes in place St Agnes' Day, which here in Germanie
Is not so much esteemde nor kept with such solemnitie:
They offer them. The servants of the pope when this is done
Whereof, being ssonne and drest, are made the pals of passing gaine." 120. See Reginald Scot's Discovery of Witchcraft, Book xii, chap. xvi. p. 145, of Ed. 1665 : “ Leonardus Vairus saith that there was a Prayer extant whereby might be carried in a sieve water or other liquor. I think it was clam clay, which a crow taught a maid that was promised a cake of so great quantity as might be kneaded of so much flour as she could wet with the water that she brought in a sieve, and by that means she clam'd it with clay, and so beguiled her sisters, &c. And this Tale I heard among my grannams maids, whereby I can decipher this witchcraft.”.
121. You should be Oberon himself.
129. urchen, strictly = a hedgehog, coming ultimately from the Lat. ericius, is used jocosely for a child. The father
“Must needs express his love's excess
With words of unmeant bitterness.” See Christavel, conclusion to Part II., where with the consummate philosophical and poetica! power combined which characterizes him, Coleridge discusses such whims of speech.
crone means strictly a crooning or groaning sound. As if a beggar should be called a whine.
133. brook is oddly used here. Brook, from the Anct. Eng. brucan (comp. Germ. brauchen, Lat. fruor, fructus), means to use, to bear, to endure. He scarce could brook tears must mean "he could scarcely tolerate tears," certainly not “he could scarcely refrain from tears.”
180. 136. (like a full-blown rose. What is the point of the simile ? What verb, or verbal does the phrase strictly qualify ?]
153. fang'd. Fang is strictly that which seizes or clutches. Probably finger is of the same root.
156. passing bell. It was called also the soul bell. See Ellis' Brand's Pop. Antig. Ellis quotes from the Advertisements for due Order, &c. 7 Eliz. : “Item, that when anye Christian bodie is in passing that the bell be tolled, and that the curate be speciallie called for to comforte the sicke person; and after the time of his passinge to ringe no more but one shorte peale,” &c. He mentions “the present national saying:”
“When the bell begins to toll,
Lord have mercy on the soul."
158. plaining. So plaint. The stem is Lat. plango.
162. betide is from Anct. Eng. tidan to happen. Tidings = what happens, occurrences; then an account of what happens.
weal. So wealth, as in the Book of Common Prayer: “Grant her in health and wealth long to live."
169. (pale enchantment. How would you explain the epithet ?)
171. Evident reference is made to the fearful storm which swept over the woods of Broceliande, the night of that day when Merlin revealed his charm to his mistress and was tree-prisoned for ever. But Keats seems to be confusing that story with some other. See Tennyson's Vivien. 181. 177. cater is the Old Fr. acater, Mod. Fr. acheter, Low Lat. acceptare,
180. = “ Utinam nunquam resurgam."
193. like a mission'd spirit = like a spirit commissioned to succour the old woman.
196. matting. The poet should mean the rushes that were strewn over the medieval floor; see 2 Hen. IV. V. v 1, Tam. of the Shrew IV. i. 48, &c.; but matting can scarcely denote them. See note on carpet, l. 251.
199. ring-dove. The cushat or wood-pigeon, is so called from a white line that runs round its neck.
fled. Many neut. verbs in Eng have past part. Ited in an active sense. In this respect as in many others, the affinity between English and Greek is noticeable. Fled here = Quyovon. It could not be translated into Lauin by any une word; imagine such a form as fugitæ. The only verbs in Latin which have past participles with an active sense are what are termed deponent verbs: thus dead is exactly represented by inort:lus, risen by ortus, started (on a journey) by profectus, &c.
202. (What do you think is meant by visions wide?]
204. Zoluble. See it in its more literal sense in the form volubil accented on the penult., in Par. Lost, iv. 594:
“Whether the prime orb Incredible how swift, had thither roll'd Diurnal ; or this less volubil earth
By shorter flight to the East had left him there,” &c. Elsewhere Milton uses voluble.
206. When the tongue-bereft Philomela of the old Greek story was transformed into a nightingale, her tongue was restored her, or she might have died such a death.
132. 208. (asement = strictly, the case or frame of the window Case radically means that which contains or encloses, the ultimate stem being the Lat. capsa.
212. (What is the force of of here?)
shielded southeon. Strictly this phrase is tautologous: for scutcheon or escuti heoil is the Old 'r. escusson, which is from thc Lat. scutum. (Comp. espérer with sperare, espace with spatium, &c. Cognate is esquire, Old Fr. escuier from scutarius. The form from which escusson immediately comes is scutionem; scutionem corrupted gives scution, whence scusson, or with the prosthetic vowel escusson, Mod. Fr. ecusson, see Brachet's Dict. Etym. de la L. Fr. Technically scutcheon = a heraldic shield; so achievement, commonly corrupted into hatchment (here there is a radical reference to the service in return for which the armorial ensigns were granted. Keats somewhat maccurately uses sauti heon here to denote simply armorial bearings.
218. gules = red colour, represented in engraved shields by vertical lines. See Hamlet, 11. ii. 477, of “heraldry," with which Pyrrhus was sineared :
“Head to foot Now is he total gules, horridly trick'd
With blood of fathers, mothers, daughters, sons,” &c. la Timon of Athens, IV. iii. 59, the misanthrope bids Alcibiades
"With man's blood paint the ground, guls, gules.” The ultimate stem is that Lat. gula the throat.
According to Mr Millais' illustration, this exquisite passage is founded on a falsity. The light of the moon would not be strong enough to reflect the colours of the window. One feels a wretched iconoclast for saying so.
221. Amethyst = violet. Commonly a violet-coloured precious stone, so called primiLively because it was believed to have the virtue of preventing drunkenness.
222. a glory. So nimhus, and aureola.