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Vida's Game Of Chess

Oliver Goldsmith 1730 (Ballymahon) – 1774 (Brick Court, London)



Armies of box that sportively engage
And mimic real battles in their rage,
Pleased I recount; how, smit with glory's charms,
Two mighty Monarchs met in adverse arms,
Sable and white; assist me to explore,
Ye Serian Nymphs, what ne'er was sung before.
No path appears: yet resolute I stray
Where youth undaunted bids me force my way.
O'er rocks and cliffs while I the task pursue,
Guide me, ye Nymphs, with your unerring clue.
For you the rise of this diversion know,
You first were pleased in Italy to show
This studious sport; from Scacchis was its name,
The pleasing record of your Sister's fame.

When Jove through Ethiopia's parch'd extent
To grace the nuptials of old Ocean went,
Each god was there; and mirth and joy around
To shores remote diffused their happy sound.
Then when their hunger and their thirst no more
Claim'd their attention, and the feast was o'er;
Ocean with pastime to divert the thought,
Commands a painted table to be brought.
Sixty-four spaces fill the chequer'd square;
Eight in each rank eight equal limits share.
Alike their form, but different are their dyes,
They fade alternate, and alternate rise,
White after black; such various stains as those
The shelving backs of tortoises disclose.
Then to the gods that mute and wondering sate,
You see (says he) the field prepared for fate.
Here will the little armies please your sight,
With adverse colours hurrying to the fight:
On which so oft, with silent sweet surprise,
The Nymphs and Nereids used to feast their eyes,
And all the neighbours of the hoary deep,
When calm the sea, and winds were lull'd asleep
But see, the mimic heroes tread the board;
He said, and straightway from an urn he pour'd
The sculptured box, that neatly seem'd to ape
The graceful figure of a human shape:
Equal the strength and number of each foe,
Sixteen appear'd like jet, sixteen like snow.
As their shape varies various is the name,
Different their posts, nor is their strength the same.
There might you see two Kings with equal pride
Gird on their arms, their Consorts by their side;
Here the Foot-warriors glowing after fame,
There prancing Knights and dexterous Archers came
And Elephants, that on their backs sustain
Vast towers of war, and fill and shake the plain.

And now both hosts, preparing for the storm
Of adverse battle, their encampments form.
In the fourth space, and on the farthest line,
Directly opposite the Monarchs shine;
The swarthy on white ground, on sable stands
The silver King; and then they send commands.
Nearest to these the Queens exert their might;
One the left side, and t'other guards the right:
Where each, by her respective armour known.
Chooses the colour that is like her own.
Then the young Archers, two that snowy-white
Bend the tough yew, and two as black as night;
(Greece call'd them Mars's favourites heretofore,
From their delight in war, and thirst of gore).
These on each side the Monarch and his Queen
Surround obedient; next to these are seen
The crested Knights in golden armour gay;
Their steeds by turns curvet, or snort or neigh.
In either army on each distant wing
Two mighty Elephants their castles bring,
Bulwarks immense! and then at last combine
Eight of the Foot to form the second line,
The vanguard to the King and Queen; from far
Prepared to open all the fate of war.
So moved the boxen hosts, each double-lined,
Their different colours floating in the wind:
As if an army of the Gauls should go,
With their white standards, o'er the Alpine snow
To meet in rigid fight on scorching sands
The sun-burnt Moors and Memnon's swarthy bands.

Then Father Ocean thus; you see them here,
Celestial powers, what troops, what camps appear.
Learn now the sev'ral orders of the fray,
For e'en these arms their stated laws obey.
To lead the fight, the Kings from all their bands
Choose whom they please to bear their great commands.
Should a black hero first to battle go,
Instant a white one guards against the blow;
But only one at once can charge or shun the foe.
Their gen'ral purpose on one scheme is bent,
So to besiege the King within the tent,
That there remains no place by subtle flight
From danger free; and that decides the fight.
Meanwhile, howe'er, the sooner to destroy
Th' imperial Prince, remorseless they employ
Their swords in blood; and whosoever dare
Oppose their vengeance, in the ruin share.
Fate thins their camp; the parti-coloured field
Widens apace, as they o'ercome or yield,
But the proud victor takes the captive's post;
There fronts the fury of th' avenging host
One single shock: and (should he ward the blow),
May then retire at pleasure from the foe.
The Foot alone (so their harsh laws ordain)
When they proceed can ne'er return again.

But neither all rush on alike to prove
The terror of their arms: The Foot must move
Directly on, and but a single square;
Yet may these heroes, when they first prepare
To mix in combat on the bloody mead,
Double their sally, and two steps proceed;
But when they wound, their swords they subtly guide
With aim oblique, and slanting pierce his side.
But the great Indian beasts, whose backs sustain
Vast turrets arm'd, when on the redd'ning plain
They join in all the terror of the fight,
Forward or backward, to the left or right,
Run furious, and impatient of confine
Scour through the field, and threat the farthest line.
Yet must they ne'er obliquely aim their blows;
That only manner is allow'd to those
Whom Mars has favour'd most, who bend the stubborn bows.
These glancing sidewards in a straight career,
Yet each confin'd to their respective sphere,
Or white or black, can send th' unerring dart
Wing'd with swift death to pierce through ev'ry part.
The fiery steed, regardless of the reins,
Comes prancing on; but sullenly disdains
The path direct, and boldly wheeling round,
Leaps o'er a double space at ev'ry bound:
And shifts from white or black to diff'rent colour'd ground.
But the fierce Queen, whom dangers ne'er dismay,
The strength and terror of the bloody day,
In a straight line spreads her destruction wide,
To left or right, before, behind, aside.
Yet may she never with a circling course
Sweep to the battle like the fretful Horse;
But unconfin'd may at her pleasure stray,
If neither friend nor foe block up the way;
For to o'erleap a warrior, 'tis decreed
Those only dare who curb the snorting steed.
With greater caution and majestic state
The warlike Monarchs in the scene of fate
Direct their motions, since for these appear
Zealous each hope, and anxious ev'ry fear.
While the King's safe, with resolution stern
They clasp their arms; but should a sudden turn
Make him a captive, instantly they yield,
Resolved to share his fortune in the field.
He moves on slow; with reverence profound
His faithful troops encompass him around,
And oft, to break some instant fatal scheme,
Rush to their fates, their sov'reign to redeem;
While he, unanxious where to wound the foe,
Need only shift and guard against a blow.
But none, however, can presume t' appear
Within his reach, but must his vengeance fear;
For he on ev'ry side his terror throws;
But when he changes from his first repose,
Moves but one step, most awfully sedate,
Or idly roving, or intent on fate.
These are the sev'ral and establish'd laws:
Now see how each maintains his bloody cause.

Here paused the god, but (since whene'er they wage
War here on earth the gods themselves engage
In mutual battle as they hate or love,
And the most stubborn war is oft above),
Almighty Jove commands the circling train
Of gods from fav'ring either to abstain,
And let the fight be silently survey'd;
And added solemn threats if disobey'd.
Then call'd he Phoebus from among the Powers
And subtle Hermes, whom in softer hours
Fair Maia bore: youth wanton'd in their face;
Both in life's bloom, both shone with equal grace.
Hermes as yet had never wing'd his feet;
As yet Apollo in his radiant seat
Had never driv'n his chariot through the air,
Known by his bow alone and golden hair.
These Jove commission'd to attempt the fray,
And rule the sportive military day;
Bid them agree which party each maintains,
And promised a reward that's worth their pains.
The greater took their seats; on either hand
Respectful the less gods in order stand,
But careful not to interrupt their play,
By hinting when t' advance or run away.

Then they examine, who shall first proceed
To try their courage, and their army lead.
Chance gave it for the White, that he should go
First with a brave defiance to the foe.
Awhile he ponder'd which of all his train
Should bear his first commission o'er the plain;
And then determined to begin the scene
With him that stood before to guard the Queen.
He took a double step: with instant care
Does the black Monarch in his turn prepare
The adverse champion, and with stern command
Bid him repel the charge with equal hand.
There front to front, the midst of all the field,
With furious threats their shining arms they wield;
Yet vain the conflict, neither can prevail
While in one path each other they assail.
On ev'ry side to their assistance fly
Their fellow soldiers, and with strong supply
Crowd to the battle, but no bloody stain
Tinctures their armour; sportive in the plain
Mars plays awhile, and in excursion slight
Harmless they sally forth, or wait the fight.

But now the swarthy Foot, that first appear'd
To front the foe, his pond'rous jav'lin rear'd
Leftward aslant, and a pale warrior slays,
Spurns him aside, and boldly takes his place.
Unhappy youth, his danger not to spy!
Instant he fell, and triumph'd but to die.
At this the sable King with prudent care
Removed his station from the middle square,
And slow retiring to the farthest ground,
There safely lurk'd, with troops entrench'd around.
Then from each quarter to the war advance
The furious Knights, and poise the trembling lance:
By turns they rush, by turns the victors yield,
Heaps of dead Foot choke up the crimson'd field:
They fall unable to retreat; around
The clang of arms and iron hoofs resound.

But while young Phoebus pleased himself to view
His furious Knight destroy the vulgar crew,
Sly Hermes long'd t' attempt with secret aim
Some noble act of more exalted fame.
For this, he inoffensive pass'd along
Through ranks of Foot, and midst the trembling throng
Sent his left Horse, that free without confine
Rov'd o'er the plain, upon some great design
Against the King himself. At length he stood,
And having fix'd his station as he would,
Threaten'd at once with instant fate the King
And th' Indian beast that guarded the right wing.
Apollo sigh'd, and hast'ning to relieve
The straiten'd Monarch, griev'd that he must leave
His martial Elephant expos'd to fate,
And view'd with pitying eyes his dang'rous state.
First in his thoughts however was his care
To save his King, whom to the neighbouring square
On the right hand, he snatch'd with trembling flight;
At this with fury springs the sable Knight,
Drew his keen sword, and rising to the blow,
Sent the great Indian brute to shades below.
O fatal loss! for none except the Queen
Spreads such a terror through the bloody scene.
Yet shall you ne'er unpunish'd boast your prize,
The Delian god with stern resentment cries;
And wedg'd him round with Foot, and pour'd in fresh supplies.
Thus close besieg'd trembling he cast his eye
Around the plain, but saw no shelter nigh,
No way for flight; for here the Queen oppos'd,
The Foot in phalanx there the passage clos'd:
At length he fell; yet not unpleas'd with fate,
Since victim to a Queen's vindictive hate.
With grief and fury burns the whiten'd host,
One of their Tow'rs thus immaturely lost.
As when a bull has in contention stern
Lost his right horn, with double vengeance burn
His thoughts for war, with blood he's cover'd o'er,
And the woods echo to his dismal roar,
So look'd the flaxen host, when angry fate
O'erturn'd the Indian bulwark of their state.
Fired at this great success, with double rage
Apollo hurries on his troops t' engage,
For blood and havoc wild; and, while he leads
His troops thus careless, loses both his steeds:
For if some adverse warriors were o'erthrown,
He little thought what dangers threat his own.
But slyer Hermes with observant eyes
March'd slowly cautious, and at distance spies
What moves must next succeed, what dangers next arise.
Often would he, the stately Queen to snare,
The slender Foot to front her arms prepare,
And to conceal his scheme he sighs and feigns
Such a wrong step would frustrate all his pains.
Just then an Archer, from the right-hand view,
At the pale Queen his arrow boldly drew,
Unseen by Phoebus, who, with studious thought,
From the left side a vulgar hero brought.
But tender Venus, with a pitying eye,
Viewing the sad destruction that was nigh,
Wink'd upon Phoebus (for the Goddess sat
By chance directly opposite); at that
Roused in an instant, young Apollo threw
His eyes around the field his troops to view:
Perceiv'd the danger, and with sudden fright
Withdrew the Foot that he had sent to fight,
And sav'd his trembling Queen by seasonable flight.
But Maia's son with shouts fill'd all the coast:
The Queen, he cried, the important Queen is lost.
Phoebus, howe'er, resolving to maintain
What he had done, bespoke the heavenly train.
What mighty harm, in sportive mimic flight,
Is it to set a little blunder right,
When no preliminary rule debarr'd?
If you henceforward, Mercury, would guard
Against such practice, let us make the law:
And whosoe'er shall first to battle draw,
Or white, or black, remorseless let him go
At all events, and dare the angry foe.
He said, and this opinion pleased around:
Jove turn'd aside, and on his daughter frown'd,
Unmark'd by Hermes, who, with strange surprise,
Fretted and foam'd, and roll'd his ferret eyes,
And but with great reluctance could refrain
From dashing at a blow all off the plain.
Then he resolved to interweave deceits,
To carry on the war by tricks and cheats.
Instant he call'd an Archer from the throng,
And bid him like the courser wheel along:
Bounding he springs, and threats the pallid Queen.
The fraud, however, was by Phoebus seen;
He smiled, and, turning to the Gods, he said:
Though, Hermes, you are perfect in your trade,
And you can trick and cheat to great surprise,
These little sleights no more shall blind my eyes;
Correct them if you please, the more you thus disguise.
The circle laugh'd aloud; and Maia's son
(As if it had but by mistake been done)
Recall'd his Archer, and with motion due,
Bid him advance, the combat to renew.
But Phoebus watch'd him with a jealous eye,
Fearing some trick was ever lurking nigh,
For he would oft, with sudden sly design,
Send forth at once two combatants to join
His warring troops, against the law of arms,
Unless the wary foe was ever in alarms.

Now the white Archer with his utmost force
Bent the tough bow against the sable Horse,
And drove him from the Queen, where he had stood
Hoping to glut his vengeance with her blood.
Then the right Elephant with martial pride
Roved here and there, and spread his terrors wide:
Glittering in arms from far a courser came,
Threaten'd at once the King and Royal Dame;
Thought himself safe when he the post had seized,
And with the future spoils his fancy pleased.
Fired at the danger a young Archer came,
Rush'd on the foe, and levell'd sure his aim;
(And though a Pawn his sword in vengeance draws,
Gladly he'd lose his life in glory's cause).
The whistling arrow to his bowels flew,
And the sharp steel his blood profusely drew;
He drops the reins, he totters to the ground,
And his life issued murm'ring through the wound.
Pierced by the Foot, this Archer bit the plain;
The Foot himself was by another slain;
And with inflamed revenge, the battle burns again.
Towers, Archers, Knights, meet on the crimson ground,
And the field echoes to the martial sound.
Their thoughts are heated, and their courage fired,
Thick they rush on with double zeal inspired;
Generals and Foot, with different colour'd mien,
Confusedly warring in the camps are seen,
Valour and fortune meet in one promiscuous scene.
Now these victorious, lord it o'er the field;
Now the foe rallies, the triumphant yield:
Just as the tide of battle ebbs or flows.
As when the conflict more tempestuous grows
Between the winds, with strong and boisterous sweep
They plough th' Ionian or Atlantic deep!
By turns prevail the mutual blustering roar,
And the big waves alternate lash the shore.
But in the midst of all the battle raged
The snowy Queen, with troops at once engaged;
She fell'd an Archer as she sought the plain,
As she retired an Elephant was slain:
To right and left her fatal spears she sent,
Burst through the ranks, and triumph'd as she went;
Through arms and blood she seeks a glorious fate,
Pierces the farthest lines, and nobly great
Leads on her army with a gallant show,
Breaks the battalions, and cuts through the foe.
At length the sable King his fears betray'd,
And begg'd his military consort's aid:
With cheerful speed she flew to his relief,
And met in equal arms the female chief.

Who first, great Queen, and who at last did bleed?
How many Whites lay gasping on the mead?
Half dead, and floating in a bloody tide,
Foot, Knights, and Archer lie on every side.
Who can recount the slaughter of the day?
How many leaders threw their lives away?
The chequer'd plain is fill'd with dying box,
Havoc ensues, and with tumultuous shocks
The different colour'd ranks in blood engage,
And Foot and Horse promiscuously rage.
With nobler courage and superior might
The dreadful Amazons sustain the fight,
Resolved alike to mix in glorious strife,
Till to imperious fate they yield their life.

Meanwhile each Monarch, in a neighbouring cell,
Confined the warriors that in battle fell,
There watch'd the captives with a jealous eye,
Lest, slipping out again, to arms they fly.
But Thracian Mars, in stedfast friendship join'd
To Hermes, as near Phoebus he reclined,
Observed each chance, how all their motions bend,
Resolved if possible to serve his friend.
He a Foot-soldier and a Knight purloin'd
Out from the prison that the dead confined;
And slyly push'd 'em forward on the plain;
Th' enliven'd combatants their arms regain,
Mix in the bloody scene, and boldly war again.

So the foul hag, in screaming wild alarms
O'er a dead carcase muttering her charms,
(And with her frequent and tremendous yell
Forcing great Hecate from out of hell)
Shoots in the corpse
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Submitted by halel on July 15, 2020

16:45 min read
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Oliver Goldsmith

Oliver Goldsmith was an Irish novelist, playwright and poet, who is best known for his novel The Vicar of Wakefield, his pastoral poem The Deserted Village, and his plays The Good-Natur'd Man and She Stoops to Conquer. He is thought to have written the classic children's tale The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes. more…

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