Nec tantum prodere vati, Quantum scire licet. Venit aetas omnis in unam Congeriem, miserumque premunt tot saecula pectus. LUCAN, Phars. v. 176.
How wonderful is Death, Death and his brother Sleep! One pale as yonder wan and horned moon, With lips of lurid blue, The other glowing like the vital morn, When throned on ocean's wave It breathes over the world: Yet both so passing strange and wonderful!
Hath then the iron-sceptred Skeleton, Whose reign is in the tainted sepulchres, To the hell dogs that couch beneath his throne Cast that fair prey? Must that divinest form, Which love and admiration cannot view Without a beating heart, whose azure veins Steal like dark streams along a field of snow, Whose outline is as fair as marble clothed In light of some sublimest mind, decay? Nor putrefaction's breath Leave aught of this pure spectacle But loathsomeness and ruin?— Spare aught but a dark theme, On which the lightest heart might moralize? Or is it but that downy-winged slumbers Have charmed their nurse coy Silence near her lids To watch their own repose? Will they, when morning's beam Flows through those wells of light, Seek far from noise and day some western cave, Where woods and streams with soft and pausing winds A lulling murmur weave?— Ianthe doth not sleep The dreamless sleep of death: Nor in her moonlight chamber silently Doth Henry hear her regular pulses throb, Or mark her delicate cheek With interchange of hues mock the broad moon, Outwatching weary night, Without assured reward. Her dewy eyes are closed; On their translucent lids, whose texture fine Scarce hides the dark blue orbs that burn below With unapparent fire, The baby Sleep is pillowed: Her golden tresses shade The bosom's stainless pride, Twining like tendrils of the parasite Around a marble column.
Hark! whence that rushing sound? 'Tis like a wondrous strain that sweeps Around a lonely ruin When west winds sigh and evening waves respond In whispers from the shore: 'Tis wilder than the unmeasured notes Which from the unseen lyres of dells and groves The genii of the breezes sweep. Floating on waves of music and of light, The chariot of the Daemon of the World Descends in silent power: Its shape reposed within: slight as some cloud That catches but the palest tinge of day When evening yields to night, Bright as that fibrous woof when stars indue Its transitory robe. Four shapeless shadows bright and beautiful Draw that strange car of glory, reins of light Check their unearthly speed; they stop and fold Their wings of braided air: The Daemon leaning from the ethereal car Gazed on the slumbering maid. Human eye hath ne'er beheld A shape so wild, so bright, so beautiful, As that which o'er the maiden's charmed sleep Waving a starry wand, Hung like a mist of light. Such sounds as breathed around like odorous winds Of wakening spring arose, Filling the chamber and the moonlight sky. Maiden, the world's supremest spirit Beneath the shadow of her wings Folds all thy memory doth inherit From ruin of divinest things, Feelings that lure thee to betray, And light of thoughts that pass away. For thou hast earned a mighty boon, The truths which wisest poets see Dimly, thy mind may make its own, Rewarding its own majesty, Entranced in some diviner mood Of self-oblivious solitude.
Custom, and Faith, and Power thou spurnest; From hate and awe thy heart is free; Ardent and pure as day thou burnest, For dark and cold mortality A living light, to cheer it long, The watch-fires of the world among.
Therefore from nature's inner shrine, Where gods and fiends in worship bend, Majestic spirit, be it thine The flame to seize, the veil to rend, Where the vast snake Eternity In charmed sleep doth ever lie.
All that inspires thy voice of love, Or speaks in thy unclosing eyes, Or through thy frame doth burn or move, Or think or feel, awake, arise! Spirit, leave for mine and me Earth's unsubstantial mimicry!
It ceased, and from the mute and moveless frame A radiant spirit arose, All beautiful in naked purity. Robed in its human hues it did ascend, Disparting as it went the silver clouds, It moved towards the car, and took its seat Beside the Daemon shape.
Obedient to the sweep of aery song, The mighty ministers Unfurled their prismy wings. The magic car moved on; The night was fair, innumerable stars Studded heaven's dark blue vault; The eastern wave grew pale With the first smile of morn. The magic car moved on. From the swift sweep of wings The atmosphere in flaming sparkles flew; And where the burning wheels Eddied above the mountain's loftiest peak Was traced a line of lightning. Now far above a rock the utmost verge Of the wide earth it flew, The rival of the Andes, whose dark brow Frowned o'er the silver sea. Far, far below the chariot's stormy path, Calm as a slumbering babe, Tremendous ocean lay. Its broad and silent mirror gave to view The pale and waning stars, The chariot's fiery track, And the grey light of morn Tingeing those fleecy clouds That cradled in their folds the infant dawn. The chariot seemed to fly Through the abyss of an immense concave, Radiant with million constellations, tinged With shades of infinite colour, And semicircled with a belt Flashing incessant meteors.
As they approached their goal, The winged shadows seemed to gather speed. The sea no longer was distinguished; earth Appeared a vast and shadowy sphere, suspended In the black concave of heaven With the sun's cloudless orb, Whose rays of rapid light Parted around the chariot's swifter course, And fell like ocean's feathery spray Dashed from the boiling surge Before a vessel's prow.
The magic car moved on. Earth's distant orb appeared The smallest light that twinkles in the heavens, Whilst round the chariot's way Innumerable systems widely rolled, And countless spheres diffused An ever varying glory. It was a sight of wonder! Some were horned, And like the moon's argentine crescent hung In the dark dome of heaven; some did shed A clear mild beam like Hesperus, while the sea Yet glows with fading sunlight; others dashed Athwart the night with trains of bickering fire, Like sphered worlds to death and ruin driven; Some shone like stars, and as the chariot passed Bedimmed all other light.
Spirit of Nature! here In this interminable wilderness Of worlds, at whose involved immensity Even soaring fancy staggers, Here is thy fitting temple. Yet not the lightest leaf That quivers to the passing breeze Is less instinct with thee,— Yet not the meanest worm. That lurks in graves and fattens on the dead, Less shares thy eternal breath. Spirit of Nature! thou Imperishable as this glorious scene, Here is thy fitting temple.
If solitude hath ever led thy steps To the shore of the immeasurable sea, And thou hast lingered there Until the sun's broad orb Seemed resting on the fiery line of ocean, Thou must have marked the braided webs of gold That without motion hang Over the sinking sphere: Thou must have marked the billowy mountain clouds, Edged with intolerable radiancy, Towering like rocks of jet Above the burning deep: And yet there is a moment When the sun's highest point Peers like a star o'er ocean's western edge, When those far clouds of feathery purple gleam Like fairy lands girt by some heavenly sea: Then has thy rapt imagination soared Where in the midst of all existing things The temple of the mightiest Daemon stands.
Yet not the golden islands That gleam amid yon flood of purple light, Nor the feathery curtains That canopy the sun's resplendent couch, Nor the burnished ocean waves Paving that gorgeous dome, So fair, so wonderful a sight As the eternal temple could afford. The elements of all that human thought Can frame of lovely or sublime, did join To rear the fabric of the fane, nor aught Of earth may image forth its majesty. Yet likest evening's vault that faery hall, As heaven low resting on the wave it spread Its floors of flashing light, Its vast and azure dome; And on the verge of that obscure abyss Where crystal battlements o'erhang the gulf Of the dark world, ten thousand spheres diffuse Their lustre through its adamantine gates.
The magic car no longer moved; The Daemon and the Spirit Entered the eternal gates. Those clouds of aery gold That slept in glittering billows Beneath the azure canopy, With the ethereal footsteps trembled not; While slight and odorous mists Floated to strains of thrilling melody Through the vast columns and the pearly shrines.
The Daemon and the Spirit Approached the overhanging battlement, Below lay stretched the boundless universe! There, far as the remotest line That limits swift imagination's flight. Unending orbs mingled in mazy motion, Immutably fulfilling Eternal Nature's law. Above, below, around, The circling systems formed A wilderness of harmony. Each with undeviating aim In eloquent silence through the depths of space Pursued its wondrous way.—
Awhile the Spirit paused in ecstasy. Yet soon she saw, as the vast spheres swept by, Strange things within their belted orbs appear. Like animated frenzies, dimly moved Shadows, and skeletons, and fiendly shapes, Thronging round human graves, and o'er the dead Sculpturing records for each memory In verse, such as malignant gods pronounce, Blasting the hopes of men, when heaven and hell Confounded burst in ruin o'er the world: And they did build vast trophies, instruments Of murder, human bones, barbaric gold, Skins torn from living men, and towers of skulls With sightless holes gazing on blinder heaven, Mitres, and crowns, and brazen chariots stained With blood, and scrolls of mystic wickedness, The sanguine codes of venerable crime. The likeness of a throned king came by. When these had passed, bearing upon his brow A threefold crown; his countenance was calm. His eye severe and cold; but his right hand Was charged with bloody coin, and he did gnaw By fits, with secret smiles, a human heart Concealed beneath his robe; and motley shapes, A multitudinous throng, around him knelt. With bosoms bare, and bowed heads, and false looks Of true submission, as the sphere rolled by. Brooking no eye to witness their foul shame, Which human hearts must feel, while human tongues Tremble to speak, they did rage horribly, Breathing in self-contempt fierce blasphemies Against the Daemon of the World, and high Hurling their armed hands where the pure Spirit, Serene and inaccessibly secure, Stood on an isolated pinnacle. The flood of ages combating below, The depth of the unbounded universe Above, and all around Necessity's unchanging harmony.
Regarding cj. A.C. Bradley.