"I Was All Ear"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: The Earl of Bridgewater's installation as President of Wales was the occasion for the composition of Comus and its presentation in the great hall of Ludlow Castle. The earl's daughter and two sons acted leading roles. As the three seek to make their way through a tangled wood, the daughter, known as the Lady, becomes wearied, and the two brothers separate from her to find fruits and berries with which to restore her strength. They become lost in the forest and are met by the attendant Spirit of the Woods, who is disguised as a shepherd. He tells the brothers that they are in the domain of the great sorcerer Comus, son of Bacchus and Circe, who gives wanderers in the forest an enchanted drink that transforms their faces into those of beasts and undermines their reason. The supposed shepherd had listened this very evening to the roar of the wizard's followers that customarily filled the night woods with barbarous dissonance; he had noted a sudden cessation of the noise which he considered significant. At last he heard a most pleasing sound, a sound which he perceived was the Lady's voice. When he listened intently and discovered that she was in conversation with Comus, he sped through the woods to find the brothers:

At last a soft and solemn breathing sound
Rose like a steam of rich distilled perfumes,
And stole upon the air, that even silence
Was took ere she was ware, and wished she might
Deny her nature, and be never more,
Still to be so displaced. I was all ear,
And took in strains that might create a soul
Under the ribs of death; but O ere long
Too well I did perceive it was the voice
Of my most honored lady, your dear sister.
Amazed I stood, harrowed with grief and fear,
And O poor hapless nightingale, thought I,
How sweet thou singest, how near the deadly snare!