Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.
Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
Which in the very thought renews the fear.
So bitter is it, death is little more;
But of the good to treat, which there I found,
Speak will I of the other things I saw there.
I cannot well repeat how there I entered,
So full was I of slumber at the moment
In which I had abandoned the true way.
But after I had reached a mountain’s foot,
At that point where the valley terminated,
Which had with consternation pierced my heart,
Upward I looked, and I beheld its shoulders,
Vested already with that planet’s rays
Which leadeth others right by every road.
Then was the fear a little quieted
That in my heart’s lake had endured throughout
The night, which I had passed so piteously.
And even as he, who, with distressful breath,
Forth issued from the sea upon the shore,
Turns to the water perilous and gazes;
So did my soul, that still was fleeing onward,
Turn itself back to re-behold the pass
Which never yet a living person left.
After my weary body I had rested,
The way resumed I on the desert slope,
So that the firm foot ever was the lower.
And lo! almost where the ascent began,
A panther light and swift exceedingly,
Which with a spotted skin was covered o’er!
And never moved she from before my face,
Nay, rather did impede so much my way,
That many times I to return had turned.
The time was the beginning of the morning,
And up the sun was mounting with those stars
That with him were, what time the Love Divine
At first in motion set those beauteous things;
So were to me occasion of good hope,
The variegated skin of that wild beast,
The hour of time, and the delicious season;
But not so much, that did not give me fear
A lion’s aspect which appeared to me.
He seemed as if against me he were coming
With head uplifted, and with ravenous hunger,
So that it seemed the air was afraid of him;
And a she-wolf, that with all hungerings
Seemed to be laden in her meagreness,
And many folk has caused to live forlorn!
She brought upon me so much heaviness,
With the affright that from her aspect came,
That I the hope relinquished of the height.
And as he is who willingly acquires,
And the time comes that causes him to lose,
Who weeps in all his thoughts and is despondent,
E'en such made me that beast withouten peace,
Which, coming on against me by degrees
Thrust me back thither where the sun is silent.
While I was rushing downward to the lowland,
Before mine eyes did one present himself,
Who seemed from long-continued silence hoarse.
When I beheld him in the desert vast,
“Have pity on me,” unto him I cried,
“Whiche’er thou art, or shade or real man!”
He answered me: “Not man; man once I was,
And both my parents were of Lombardy,
And Mantuans by country both of them.
‘Sub Julio’ was I born, though it was late,
And lived at Rome under the good Augustus,
During the time of false and lying gods.
A poet was I, and I sang that just
Son of Anchises, who came forth from Troy,
After that Ilion the superb was burned.
But thou, why goest thou back to such annoyance?
Why climb’st thou not the Mount Delectable,
Which is the source and cause of every joy?”
“Now, art thou that Virgilius and that fountain
Which spreads abroad so wide a river of speech?”
I made response to him with bashful forehead.
“O, of the other poets honour and light,
Avail me the long study and great love
That have impelled me to explore thy volume!
Thou art my master, and my author thou,
Thou art alone the one from whom I took
The beautiful style that has done honour to me.
Behold the beast, for which I have turned back;
Do thou protect me from her, famous Sage,
For she doth make my veins and pulses tremble.”
“Thee it behoves to take another road,”
Responded he, when he beheld me weeping,
“If from this savage place thou wouldst escape;
Because this beast, at which thou criest out,
Suffers not any one to pass her way,
But so doth harass him, that she destroys him;
And has a nature so malign and ruthless,
That never doth she glut her greedy will,
And after food is hungrier than before.
Many the animals with whom she weds,
And more they shall be still, until the Greyhound
Comes, who shall make her perish in her pain.
He shall not feed on either earth or pelf,
But upon wisdom, and on love and virtue;
'Twixt Feltro and Feltro shall his nation be;
Of that low Italy shall he be the saviour,
On whose account the maid Camilla died,
Euryalus, Turnus, Nisus, of their wounds;
Through every city shall he hunt her down,
Until he shall have driven her back to Hell,
There from whence envy first did let her loose.
Therefore I think and judge it for thy best
Thou follow me, and I will be thy guide,
And lead thee hence through the eternal place,
Where thou shalt hear the desperate lamentations,
Shalt see the ancient spirits disconsolate,
Who cry out each one for the second death;
And thou shalt see those who contented are
Within the fire, because they hope to come,
Whene’er it may be, to the blessed people;
To whom, then, if thou wishest to ascend,
A soul shall be for that than I more worthy;
With her at my departure I will leave thee;
Because that Emperor, who reigns above,
In that I was rebellious to his law,
Wills that through me none come into his city.
He governs everywhere, and there he reigns;
There is his city and his lofty throne;
O happy he whom thereto he elects!”
And I to him: “Poet, I thee entreat,
By that same God whom thou didst never know,
So that I may escape this woe and worse,
Thou wouldst conduct me there where thou hast said,
That I may see the portal of Saint Peter,
And those thou makest so disconsolate.”
Then he moved on, and I behind him followed.
From The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. This poem is in the public domain.
"'Vexilla Regis prodeunt Inferni' Towards us; therefore look in front of thee," My Master said, "if thou discernest him." As, when there breathes a heavy fog, or when Our hemisphere is darkening into night, Appears far off a mill the wind is turning, Methought that such a building then I saw; And, for the wind, I drew myself behind My Guide, because there was no other shelter. Now was I, and with fear in verse I put it, There where the shades were wholly covered up, And glimmered through like unto straws in glass. Some prone are lying, others stand erect, This with the head, and that one with the soles; Another, bow-like, face to feet inverts. When in advance so far we had proceeded, That it my Master pleased to show to me The creature who once had the beauteous semblance, He from before me moved and made me stop, Saying: "Behold Dis, and behold the place Where thou with fortitude must arm thyself." How frozen I became and powerless then, Ask it not, Reader, for I write it not, Because all language would be insufficient. I did not die, and I alive remained not; Think for thyself now, hast thou aught of wit, What I became, being of both deprived. The Emperor of the kingdom dolorous From his mid-breast forth issued from the ice; And better with a giant I compare Than do the giants with those arms of his; Consider now how great must be that whole, Which unto such a part conforms itself. Were he as fair once, as he now is foul, And lifted up his brow against his Maker, Well may proceed from him all tribulation. O, what a marvel it appeared to me, When I beheld three faces on his head! The one in front, and that vermilion was; Two were the others, that were joined with this Above the middle part of either shoulder, And they were joined together at the crest; And the right-hand one seemed 'twixt white and yellow; The left was such to look upon as those Who come from where the Nile falls valley-ward. Underneath each came forth two mighty wings, Such as befitting were so great a bird; Sails of the sea I never saw so large. No feathers had they, but as of a bat Their fashion was; and he was waving them, So that three winds proceeded forth therefrom. Thereby Cocytus wholly was congealed. With six eyes did he weep, and down three chins Trickled the tear-drops and the bloody drivel. At every mouth he with his teeth was crunching A sinner, in the manner of a brake, So that he three of them tormented thus. To him in front the biting was as naught Unto the clawing, for sometimes the spine Utterly stripped of all the skin remained. "That soul up there which has the greatest pain," The Master said, "is Judas Iscariot; With head inside, he plies his legs without. Of the two others, who head downward are, The one who hangs from the black jowl is Brutus; See how he writhes himself, and speaks no word. And the other, who so stalwart seems, is Cassius. But night is reascending, and 'tis time That we depart, for we have seen the whole." As seemed him good, I clasped him round the neck, And he the vantage seized of time and place, And when the wings were opened wide apart, He laid fast hold upon the shaggy sides; From fell to fell descended downward then Between the thick hair and the frozen crust. When we were come to where the thigh revolves Exactly on the thickness of the haunch, The Guide, with labour and with hard-drawn breath, Turned round his head where he had had his legs, And grappled to the hair, as one who mounts, So that to Hell I thought we were returning. "Keep fast thy hold, for by such stairs as these," The Master said, panting as one fatigued, "Must we perforce depart from so much evil." Then through the opening of a rock he issued, And down upon the margin seated me; Then tow'rds me he outstretched his wary step. I lifted up mine eyes and thought to see Lucifer in the same way I had left him; And I beheld him upward hold his legs. And if I then became disquieted, Let stolid people think who do not see What the point is beyond which I had passed. "Rise up," the Master said, "upon thy feet; The way is long, and difficult the road, And now the sun to middle-tierce returns." It was not any palace corridor There where we were, but dungeon natural, With floor uneven and unease of light. "Ere from the abyss I tear myself away, My Master," said I when I had arisen, "To draw me from an error speak a little; Where is the ice? and how is this one fixed Thus upside down? and how in such short time From eve to morn has the sun made his transit?" And he to me: "Thou still imaginest Thou art beyond the centre, where I grasped The hair of the fell worm, who mines the world. That side thou wast, so long as I descended; When round I turned me, thou didst pass the point To which things heavy draw from every side, And now beneath the hemisphere art come Opposite that which overhangs the vast Dry-land, and 'neath whose cope was put to death The Man who without sin was born and lived. Thou hast thy feet upon the little sphere Which makes the other face of the Judecca. Here it is morn when it is evening there; And he who with his hair a stairway made us Still fixed remaineth as he was before. Upon this side he fell down out of heaven; And all the land, that whilom here emerged, For fear of him made of the sea a veil, And came to our hemisphere; and peradventure To flee from him, what on this side appears Left the place vacant here, and back recoiled." A place there is below, from Beelzebub As far receding as the tomb extends, Which not by sight is known, but by the sound Of a small rivulet, that there descendeth Through chasm within the stone, which it has gnawed With course that winds about and slightly falls. The Guide and I into that hidden road Now entered, to return to the bright world; And without care of having any rest We mounted up, he first and I the second, Till I beheld through a round aperture Some of the beauteous things that Heaven doth bear; Thence we came forth to rebehold the stars.
From The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. This poem is in the public domain.
If from great nature's or our own abyss Of thought we could but snatch a certainty, Perhaps mankind might find the path they miss— But then 't would spoil much good philosophy. One system eats another up, and this Much as old Saturn ate his progeny; For when his pious consort gave him stones In lieu of sons, of these he made no bones. But System doth reverse the Titan's breakfast, And eats her parents, albeit the digestion Is difficult. Pray tell me, can you make fast, After due search, your faith to any question? Look back o'er ages, ere unto the stake fast You bind yourself, and call some mode the best one. Nothing more true than not to trust your senses; And yet what are your other evidences? For me, I know nought; nothing I deny, Admit, reject, contemn; and what know you, Except perhaps that you were born to die? And both may after all turn out untrue. An age may come, Font of Eternity, When nothing shall be either old or new. Death, so call'd, is a thing which makes men weep, And yet a third of life is pass'd in sleep. A sleep without dreams, after a rough day Of toil, is what we covet most; and yet How clay shrinks back from more quiescent clay! The very Suicide that pays his debt At once without instalments (an old way Of paying debts, which creditors regret) Lets out impatiently his rushing breath, Less from disgust of life than dread of death. 'T is round him, near him, here, there, every where; And there 's a courage which grows out of fear, Perhaps of all most desperate, which will dare The worst to know it:—when the mountains rear Their peaks beneath your human foot, and there You look down o'er the precipice, and drear The gulf of rock yawns,—you can't gaze a minute Without an awful wish to plunge within it. 'T is true, you don't—but, pale and struck with terror, Retire: but look into your past impression! And you will find, though shuddering at the mirror Of your own thoughts, in all their self-confession, The lurking bias, be it truth or error, To the unknown; a secret prepossession, To plunge with all your fears—but where? You know not, And that's the reason why you do—or do not. But what 's this to the purpose? you will say. Gent. reader, nothing; a mere speculation, For which my sole excuse is—'t is my way; Sometimes with and sometimes without occasion I write what 's uppermost, without delay: This narrative is not meant for narration, But a mere airy and fantastic basis, To build up common things with common places. You know, or don't know, that great Bacon saith, 'Fling up a straw, 't will show the way the wind blows;' And such a straw, borne on by human breath, Is poesy, according as the mind glows; A paper kite which flies 'twixt life and death, A shadow which the onward soul behind throws: And mine 's a bubble, not blown up for praise, But just to play with, as an infant plays. The world is all before me—or behind; For I have seen a portion of that same, And quite enough for me to keep in mind;— Of passions, too, I have proved enough to blame, To the great pleasure of our friends, mankind, Who like to mix some slight alloy with fame; For I was rather famous in my time, Until I fairly knock'd it up with rhyme. I have brought this world about my ears, and eke The other; that 's to say, the clergy, who Upon my head have bid their thunders break In pious libels by no means a few. And yet I can't help scribbling once a week, Tiring old readers, nor discovering new. In youth I wrote because my mind was full, And now because I feel it growing dull. But 'why then publish?'—There are no rewards Of fame or profit when the world grows weary. I ask in turn,—Why do you play at cards? Why drink? Why read?—To make some hour less dreary. It occupies me to turn back regards On what I 've seen or ponder'd, sad or cheery; And what I write I cast upon the stream, To swim or sink—I have had at least my dream. I think that were I certain of success, I hardly could compose another line: So long I 've battled either more or less, That no defeat can drive me from the Nine. This feeling 't is not easy to express, And yet 't is not affected, I opine. In play, there are two pleasures for your choosing— The one is winning, and the other losing. Besides, my Muse by no means deals in fiction: She gathers a repertory of facts, Of course with some reserve and slight restriction, But mostly sings of human things and acts— And that 's one cause she meets with contradiction; For too much truth, at first sight, ne'er attracts; And were her object only what 's call'd glory, With more ease too she 'd tell a different story. Love, war, a tempest—surely there 's variety; Also a seasoning slight of lucubration; A bird's-eye view, too, of that wild, Society; A slight glance thrown on men of every station. If you have nought else, here 's at least satiety Both in performance and in preparation; And though these lines should only line portmanteaus, Trade will be all the better for these Cantos. The portion of this world which I at present Have taken up to fill the following sermon, Is one of which there 's no description recent. The reason why is easy to determine: Although it seems both prominent and pleasant, There is a sameness in its gems and ermine, A dull and family likeness through all ages, Of no great promise for poetic pages. With much to excite, there 's little to exalt; Nothing that speaks to all men and all times; A sort of varnish over every fault; A kind of common-place, even in their crimes; Factitious passions, wit without much salt, A want of that true nature which sublimes Whate'er it shows with truth; a smooth monotony Of character, in those at least who have got any. Sometimes, indeed, like soldiers off parade, They break their ranks and gladly leave the drill; But then the roll-call draws them back afraid, And they must be or seem what they were: still Doubtless it is a brilliant masquerade; But when of the first sight you have had your fill, It palls—at least it did so upon me, This paradise of pleasure and ennui. When we have made our love, and gamed our gaming, Drest, voted, shone, and, may be, something more; With dandies dined; heard senators declaiming; Seen beauties brought to market by the score, Sad rakes to sadder husbands chastely taming; There 's little left but to be bored or bore. Witness those 'ci-devant jeunes hommes' who stem The stream, nor leave the world which leaveth them. 'T is said—indeed a general complaint— That no one has succeeded in describing The monde, exactly as they ought to paint: Some say, that authors only snatch, by bribing The porter, some slight scandals strange and quaint, To furnish matter for their moral gibing; And that their books have but one style in common— My lady's prattle, filter'd through her woman. But this can't well be true, just now; for writers Are grown of the beau monde a part potential: I 've seen them balance even the scale with fighters, Especially when young, for that 's essential. Why do their sketches fail them as inditers Of what they deem themselves most consequential, The real portrait of the highest tribe? 'T is that, in fact, there 's little to describe. 'Haud ignara loquor;' these are Nugae, 'quarum Pars parva fui,' but still art and part. Now I could much more easily sketch a harem, A battle, wreck, or history of the heart, Than these things; and besides, I wish to spare 'em, For reasons which I choose to keep apart. 'Vetabo Cereris sacrum qui vulgarit—' Which means that vulgar people must not share it. And therefore what I throw off is ideal— Lower'd, leaven'd, like a history of freemasons; Which bears the same relation to the real, As Captain Parry's voyage may do to Jason's. The grand arcanum 's not for men to see all; My music has some mystic diapasons; And there is much which could not be appreciated In any manner by the uninitiated. Alas! worlds fall—and woman, since she fell'd The world (as, since that history less polite Than true, hath been a creed so strictly held) Has not yet given up the practice quite. Poor thing of usages! coerced, compell'd, Victim when wrong, and martyr oft when right, Condemn'd to child-bed, as men for their sins Have shaving too entail'd upon their chins,— A daily plague, which in the aggregate May average on the whole with parturition. But as to women, who can penetrate The real sufferings of their she condition? Man's very sympathy with their estate Has much of selfishness, and more suspicion. Their love, their virtue, beauty, education, But form good housekeepers, to breed a nation. All this were very well, and can't be better; But even this is difficult, Heaven knows, So many troubles from her birth beset her, Such small distinction between friends and foes, The gilding wears so soon from off her fetter, That—but ask any woman if she'd choose (Take her at thirty, that is) to have been Female or male? a schoolboy or a queen? 'Petticoat influence' is a great reproach, Which even those who obey would fain be thought To fly from, as from hungry pikes a roach; But since beneath it upon earth we are brought, By various joltings of life's hackney coach, I for one venerate a petticoat— A garment of a mystical sublimity, No matter whether russet, silk, or dimity. Much I respect, and much I have adored, In my young days, that chaste and goodly veil, Which holds a treasure, like a miser's hoard, And more attracts by all it doth conceal— A golden scabbard on a Damasque sword, A loving letter with a mystic seal, A cure for grief—for what can ever rankle Before a petticoat and peeping ankle? And when upon a silent, sullen day, With a sirocco, for example, blowing, When even the sea looks dim with all its spray, And sulkily the river's ripple 's flowing, And the sky shows that very ancient gray, The sober, sad antithesis to glowing,— 'T is pleasant, if then any thing is pleasant, To catch a glimpse even of a pretty peasant. We left our heroes and our heroines In that fair clime which don't depend on climate, Quite independent of the Zodiac's signs, Though certainly more difficult to rhyme at, Because the sun, and stars, and aught that shines, Mountains, and all we can be most sublime at, Are there oft dull and dreary as a dun— Whether a sky's or tradesman's is all one. An in-door life is less poetical; And out-of-door hath showers, and mists, and sleet, With which I could not brew a pastoral. But be it as it may, a bard must meet All difficulties, whether great or small, To spoil his undertaking or complete, And work away like spirit upon matter, Embarrass'd somewhat both with fire and water.
This poem is in the public domain.
CANTO I Moonlight is o'er the dim and heaving sea,— Moonlight is on the mountain's frowning brow, And by their silvery fountains merrily The maids of Castaly are dancing now. Young hearts, bright eyes, and rosy lips are there, And fairy steps, and light and laughing voices, Ringing like welcome music through the air— A sound at which the untroubled heart rejoices. But there are hearts o'er which that dancing measure Heavily falls! And there are ears to which the voice of pleasure Still vainly calls ! There's not a scene on earth so full of lightness That withering care Sleeps not beneath the flowers, and turns their brightness To dark despair! Oh! Earth, dim Earth, thou canst not be our home; Or wherefore look we still for joys to come? The fairy steps are flown—the scene is still— Nought mingles with the murmuring of the rill. Nay, hush! it is a sound—a sigh—again! It is a human voice—the voice of pain. And beautiful is she, who sighs alone Now that her young and playful mates are gone: The dim moon, shining on her statue face, Gives it a mournful and unearthly grace; And she hath bent her gentle knee to earth; And she hath raised her meek sad eyes to heaven— As if in such a breast sin could have birth, She clasps her hands, and sues to be forgiven. Her prayer is over; but her anxious glance Into the blue transparency of night Seems as it fain would read the book of chance, And fix the future hours, dark or bright. A slow and heavy footstep strikes her ear— What ails the gentle maiden?—Is it fear? Lo! she hath lightly raised her from the ground, And turn'd her small and stag-like head around; Her pale cheek paler, and her lips apart, Her bosom heaving o'er her beating heart: And see, those thin white hands she raises now To press the throbbing fever from her brow— In vain—in vain! for never more shall rest Find place in that young, fair, but erring breast! He stands before her now—and who is he Into whose outspread arms confidingly She flings her fairy self?—Unlike the forms That woo and win a woman's love—the storms Of deep contending passions are not seen Darkening the features where they once have been, Nor the bright workings of a generous soul, Of feelings half conceal'd, explain the whole. But there is something words cannot express— A gloomy, deep, and quiet fixedness; A recklessness of all the blows of fate— A brow untouch'd by love, undimm'd by hate— As if, in all its stores of crime and care, Earth held no suffering now for him to bear. Yes—all is passionless—the hollow cheek Those pale thin lips shall never wreathe with smiles; Ev'n now, 'mid joy, unmoved and sad they speak In spite of all his Linda's winning wiles. Yet can we read, what all the rest denies, That he hath feelings of a mortal birth, In the wild sorrow of those dark bright eyes, Bent on that form—his one dear link to earth. He loves—and he is loved! then what avail The scornful words which seek to brand with shame? Or bitterer still, the wild and fearful tale Which couples guilt and horror with that name? What boots it that the few who know him shun To speak or eat with that unworthy one? Were all their words of scorn and malice proved, It matters not—he loves and he is loved!
This poem is in the public domain.
XXXIV There is a very life in our despair, Vitality of poison,—a quick root Which feeds these deadly branches; for it were As nothing did we die; but Life will suit Itself to Sorrow's most detested fruit, Like to the apples on the Dead Sea's shore, All ashes to the taste: Did man compute Existence by enjoyment, and count o'er Such hours 'gainst years of life,—say, would he name threescore? XXXV The Psalmist number'd out the years of man: They are enough; and if thy tale be true, Thou, who didst grudge him even that fleeting span, More than enough, thou fatal Waterloo! Millions of tongues record thee, and anew Their children's lips shall echo them, and say— "Here, where the sword united nations drew, Our countrymen were warring on that day!" And this is much, and all which will not pass away. XXXVI There sunk the greatest, nor the worst of men, Whose spirit antithetically mixt One moment of the mightiest, and again On little objects with like firmness fixt, Extreme in all things! hadst thou been betwixt, Thy throne had still been thine, or never been; For daring made thy rise as fall: thou seek'st Even now to re-assume the imperial mien, And shake again the world, the Thunderer of the scene! XXXVII Conqueror and captive of the earth art thou! She trembles at thee still, and thy wild name Was ne'er more bruited in men's minds than now That thou art nothing, save the jest of Fame, Who wooed thee once, thy vassal, and became The flatterer of thy fierceness, till thou wert A god unto thyself; nor less the same To the astounded kingdoms all inert, Who deem'd thee for a time whate'er thou didst assert. XXXVIII Oh, more or less than man—in high or low, Battling with nations, flying from the field; Now making monarchs' necks thy footstool, now More than thy meanest soldier taught to yield: An empire thou couldst crush, command, rebuild, But govern not thy pettiest passion, nor, However deeply in men's spirits skill'd, Look through thine own, nor curb the lust of war, Nor learn that tempted Fate will leave the loftiest star. XXXIX Yet well thy soul hath brook'd the turning tide With that untaught innate philosophy, Which, be it wisdom, coldness, or deep pride, Is gall and wormwood to an enemy. When the whole host of hatred stood hard by, To watch and mock thee shrinking, thou hast smiled With a sedate and all-enduring eye;— When Fortune fled her spoil'd and favourite child, He stood unbow'd beneath the ills upon him piled. XL Sager than in thy fortunes: for in them Ambition steel'd thee on too far to show That just habitual scorn, which could contemn Men and their thoughts; 'twas wise to feel, not so To wear it ever on thy lip and brow, And spurn the instruments thou wert to use Till they were turn'd unto thine overthrow; 'Tis but a worthless world to win or lose; So hath it proved to thee, and all such lot who choose. XLI If, like a tower upon a headlong rock, Thou hadst been made to stand or fall alone, Such scorn of man had help'd to brave the shock; But men's thoughts were the steps which paved thy throne, Their admiration thy best weapon shone; The part of Philip's son was thine, not then (Unless aside thy purple had been thrown) Like stern Diogenes to mock at men; For sceptred cynics earth were far too wide a den. XLII But quiet to quick bosoms is a hell, And there hath been thy bane; there is a fire And motion of the soul which will not dwell In its own narrow being, but aspire Beyond the fitting medium of desire; And, but once kindled, quenchless evermore, Preys upon high adventure, nor can tire Of aught but rest; a fever at the core, Fatal to him who bears, to all who ever bore. XLIII This makes the madmen who have made men mad By their contagion; Conquerors and Kings, Founders of sects and systems, to whom add Sophists, Bards, Statesmen, all unquiet things Which stir too strongly the soul's secret springs, And are themselves the fools to those they fool; Envied, yet how unenviable! what stings Are theirs! One breast laid open were a school Which would unteach mankind the lust to shine or rule: XLIV Their breath is agitation, and their life A storm whereon they ride, to sink at last, And yet so nursed and bigotted to strife, That should their days, surviving perils past, Melt to calm twilight, they feel overcast With sorrow and supineness, and so die; Even as a flame unfed, which runs to waste With its own flickering, or a sword laid by, Which eats into itself, and rusts ingloriously. XLV He who ascends to mountain-tops, shall find The loftiest peaks most wrapt in clouds and snow. He who surpasses or subdues mankind, Must look down on the hate of those below. Though high above the sun of glory glow, And far beneath the earth and ocean spread, Round him are icy rocks, and loudly blow Contending tempests on his naked head, And thus reward the toils which to those summits led.
This poem is in the public domain.
And then went down to the ship, Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and We set up mast and sail on that swart ship, Bore sheep aboard her, and our bodies also Heavy with weeping, so winds from sternward Bore us out onward with bellying canvas, Circe's this craft, the trim-coifed goddess. Then sat we amidships, wind jamming the tiller, Thus with stretched sail, we went over sea till day's end. Sun to his slumber, shadows o'er all the ocean, Came we then to the bounds of deepest water, To the Kimmerian lands, and peopled cities Covered with close-webbed mist, unpierced ever With glitter of sun-rays Nor with stars stretched, nor looking back from heaven Swartest night stretched over wretched men there. The ocean flowing backward, came we then to the place Aforesaid by Circe. Here did they rites, Perimedes and Eurylochus, And drawing sword from my hip I dug the ell-square pitkin; Poured we libations unto each the dead, First mead and then sweet wine, water mixed with white flour. Then prayed I many a prayer to the sickly death's-head; As set in Ithaca, sterile bulls of the best For sacrifice, heaping the pyre with goods, A sheep to Tiresias only, black and a bell-sheep. Dark blood flowed in the fosse, Souls out of Erebus, cadaverous dead, of brides Of youths and at the old who had borne much; Souls stained with recent tears, girls tender, Men many, mauled with bronze lance heads, Battle spoil, bearing yet dreory arms, These many crowded about me; with shouting, Pallor upon me, cried to my men for more beasts; Slaughtered the heards, sheep slain of bronze; Poured ointment, cried to the gods, To Pluto the strong, and praised Proserpine; Unsheathed the narrow sword, I sat to keep off the impetuous impotent dead, Till I should hear Tiresias. But first Elpenor came, our friend Elpenor, Unburied, cast on the wide earth, Limbs that we left in the house of Circe, Unwept, unwrapped in sepulchre, since toils urged other. Pitiful spirit. And I cried in hurried speech: "Elpenor, how art thou come to this dark coast? Cam'st thou afoot, outstripping seamen?" And he in heavy speech: "Ill fate and abundant wine. I slept in Circe's ingle. Going down the long ladder unguarded, I fell against the buttress, Shattered the nape-nerve, the soul sought Avernus. But thou, O King, I bid remember me, unwept, unburied, Heap up mine arms, be tomb by sea-bord, and inscribed: A man of no fortune, and with a name to come. And set my oar up, that I swung mid fellows." And Anticlea came, whom I beat off, and then Tiresias Theban, Holding his golden wand, knew me, and spoke first: "A second time? why? man of ill star, Facing the sunless dead and this joyless region? Stand from the fosse, leave me my bloody bever For soothsay." And I stepped back, And he stong with the blood, said then: "Odysseus Shalt return through spiteful Neptune, over dark seas, Lose all companions." And then Anticlea came. Lie quiet Divus. I mean, that is Andreas Divus, In officina Wecheli, 1538, out of Homer. And he sailed, by Sirens and thence outward and away And unto Circe. Venerandam, In the Creatan's phrase, with the golden crown, Aphrodite, Cypri munimenta sortita est, mirthful, orichalchi, with golden Girdles and breast bands, thou with dark eyelids Bearing the golden bough of Argicida. So that:
Copyright © 1956, 1957 by Ezra Pound. Used with permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved. No part of this poem may be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the publisher.
When we had crossed the threshold of the door Which the perverted love of souls disuses, Because it makes the crooked way seem straight, Re-echoing I heard it closed again; And if I had turned back mine eyes upon it, What for my failing had been fit excuse? We mounted upward through a rifted rock, Which undulated to this side and that, Even as a wave receding and advancing. "Here it behoves us use a little art," Began my Leader, "to adapt ourselves Now here, now there, to the receding side." And this our footsteps so infrequent made, That sooner had the moon's decreasing disk Regained its bed to sink again to rest, Than we were forth from out that needle's eye; But when we free and in the open were, There where the mountain backward piles itself, I wearied out, and both of us uncertain About our way, we stopped upon a plain More desolate than roads across the deserts. From where its margin borders on the void, To foot of the high bank that ever rises, A human body three times told would measure; And far as eye of mine could wing its flight, Now on the left, and on the right flank now, The same this cornice did appear to me. Thereon our feet had not been moved as yet, When I perceived the embankment round about, Which all right of ascent had interdicted, To be of marble white, and so adorned With sculptures, that not only Polycletus, But Nature's self, had there been put to shame. The Angel, who came down to earth with tidings Of peace, that had been wept for many a year, And opened Heaven from its long interdict, In front of us appeared so truthfully There sculptured in a gracious attitude, He did not seem an image that is silent. One would have sworn that he was saying, "Ave;" For she was there in effigy portrayed Who turned the key to ope the exalted love, And in her mien this language had impressed, "Ecce ancilla Dei," as distinctly As any figure stamps itself in wax. "Keep not thy mind upon one place alone," The gentle Master said, who had me standing Upon that side where people have their hearts; Whereat I moved mine eyes, and I beheld In rear of Mary, and upon that side Where he was standing who conducted me, Another story on the rock imposed; Wherefore I passed Virgilius and drew near, So that before mine eyes it might be set. There sculptured in the self-same marble were The cart and oxen, drawing the holy ark, Wherefore one dreads an office not appointed. People appeared in front, and all of them In seven choirs divided, of two senses Made one say "No," the other, "Yes, they sing." Likewise unto the smoke of the frankincense, Which there was imaged forth, the eyes and nose Were in the yes and no discordant made. Preceded there the vessel benedight, Dancing with girded loins, the humble Psalmist, And more and less than King was he in this. Opposite, represented at the window Of a great palace, Michal looked upon him, Even as a woman scornful and afflicted. I moved my feet from where I had been standing, To examine near at hand another story, Which after Michal glimmered white upon me. There the high glory of the Roman Prince Was chronicled, whose great beneficence Moved Gregory to his great victory; 'Tis of the Emperor Trajan I am speaking; And a poor widow at his bridle stood, In attitude of weeping and of grief. Around about him seemed it thronged and full Of cavaliers, and the eagles in the gold Above them visibly in the wind were moving. The wretched woman in the midst of these Seemed to be saying: "Give me vengeance, Lord, For my dead son, for whom my heart is breaking." And he to answer her: "Now wait until I shall return." And she: "My Lord," like one In whom grief is impatient, "shouldst thou not Return?" And he: "Who shall be where I am Will give it thee." And she: "Good deed of others What boots it thee, if thou neglect thine own?" Whence he: "Now comfort thee, for it behoves me That I discharge my duty ere I move; Justice so wills, and pity doth retain me." He who on no new thing has ever looked Was the creator of this visible language, Novel to us, for here it is not found. While I delighted me in contemplating The images of such humility, And dear to look on for their Maker's sake, "Behold, upon this side, but rare they make Their steps," the Poet murmured, "many people; These will direct us to the lofty stairs." Mine eyes, that in beholding were intent To see new things, of which they curious are, In turning round towards him were not slow. But still I wish not, Reader, thou shouldst swerve From thy good purposes, because thou hearest How God ordaineth that the debt be paid; Attend not to the fashion of the torment, Think of what follows; think that at the worst It cannot reach beyond the mighty sentence. "Master," began I, "that which I behold Moving towards us seems to me not persons, And what I know not, so in sight I waver." And he to me: "The grievous quality Of this their torment bows them so to earth, That my own eyes at first contended with it; But look there fixedly, and disentangle By sight what cometh underneath those stones; Already canst thou see how each is stricken." O ye proud Christians! wretched, weary ones! Who, in the vision of the mind infirm Confidence have in your backsliding steps, Do ye not comprehend that we are worms, Born to bring forth the angelic butterfly That flieth unto judgment without screen? Why floats aloft your spirit high in air? Like are ye unto insects undeveloped, Even as the worm in whom formation fails! As to sustain a ceiling or a roof, In place of corbel, oftentimes a figure Is seen to join its knees unto its breast, Which makes of the unreal real anguish Arise in him who sees it, fashioned thus Beheld I those, when I had ta'en good heed. True is it, they were more or less bent down, According as they more or less were laden; And he who had most patience in his looks Weeping did seem to say, "I can no more!"
This poem is in the public domain.
Great bulk, huge mass, thesaurus; Ecbatan, the block ticks and fades out; The bride awaiting the god’s touch; Ecbatan, City of patterned streets; again the vision: Down in the viae stradae, toga’d the crowd, and arm’d Rushing on populous buriness, and from parapets Looked down—at North Was Egypt, and the celestial Nile, blue-deep cutting low barren lands, Old men and camels working the water-wheels; Measureless seas and stars, Iamblichus’ light, the souls ascending, Sparks like a partridge covey, Like the “ciocco,” brand struck in the game. “Et omniformis”: Air, fire, the pale soft light. Topaz, I manage, and three sorts of blue; but on the barb of time. The fire? always, and the vision always, Ear dull, perhaps, with the vision, flitting And fading at will. Weaving with points of gold, Gold-yellow, saffron . . . The roman show, Aurunculeia’s, And come shuffling feet, and cries “Da nuces! “Nuces!” praise and Hymenaeus “brings the girl to her man.” Titter of sound about me, always, and from “Hesperus . . .” Hush of the older song: “Fades light from seacrest, “And in Lydia walks with pari’d women “Peerless among the pairs, and that once in Sardis “In satieties . . . “Fades the light from the sea, and many things “Are set abroad and brought to mind of thee,” And the vinestocks lie untended, new leaves come to the shoots, North wind nips on the bough, and seas in heart Toss up chill crests, And the vine stocks lie untended And many things are set abroad and brought to mind Of thee, Atthis, unfruitful. The talks ran long in the night. And from Mauleon, fresh with a new earned grade, In maze of approaching rain-steps, Poicebot— The air was full of women. And Savairic Mauleon Gave him his land and knight’s fee, and he wed the woman. Came lust of travel on him, or romerya; and out of England a knight with slow-lifting eyelids Lei fassar furar a del, put glamour upon her . . . And left her an eight months gone. “Came lust of woman upon him,” Poicebot, now on North road from Spain (Sea-change, a grey in the water) And in small house by town’s edge Found a woman, changed and familiar face; Hard night, and parting at morning. And Pieire won the singing, Pieire de Maensac, Song or land on the throw, and was dreitz hom And had De Tierci’s wife and with the war they made: Troy in Auvergnat While Menelaus piled up the church at port He kept Tyndarida. Dauphin stood with de Maensac. John Borgia is bathed at last. (Clock-tick pierces the vision) Tiber, dark with the cloak, wet cat gleaming in patches. Click of the hooves, through garbage, Clutching the greasy stone. “And the cloak floated” Slander is up betimes. But Varchi of Florence, Steeped in a different year, and pondering Brutus, Then “SIGA MAL AUTHIS DEUTERON! “Dog-eye!!” (to Alessandro) “Whether for Love of Florence,” Varchi leaves it, Saying, “I saw the man, came up with him at Venice, “I, one wanting the facts, “And no mean labour. “Or for a privy spite?” Good Varchi leaves it, But: “I saw the man. Se pia? “O impia? For Lorenzaccio had thought of stroke in the open “But uncertain (for the Duke went never unguarded) . . . "And would have thrown him from wall “Yet feared this might not end him,” or lest Alessandro Know not by whom death came, O si credesse “If when the foot slipped, when death came upon him, “Lest cousin Duke Alessandro think he’d fallen alone “No friend to aid him in falling.” Caina attende. As beneath my feet a lake, was ice in seeming. And all of this, runs Varchi, dreamed out beforehand In Perugia, caught in the star-maze by Del Carmine, Cast on a natal paper, set with an exegesis, told, All told to Alessandro, told thrice over, Who held his death for a doom. In abuleia. But Don Lorenzino “Whether for love for Florence . . . but “O si morisse, credesse caduto da se.” SIGA, SIGA! The wet cloak floats on the surface, Schiavoni, caught on the wood-barge, Gives out the afterbirth, Giovanni Borgia, Trails out no more at nights, where Barabello Prods the Pope’s elephant, and gets no crown, where Mozarello Takes the Calabrian roadway, and for ending Is smothered beneath a mule, a poet’s ending, Down a stale well-hole, oh a poet’s ending. “Sanazarro “Alone out of all the court was faithful to him” For the gossip of Naples’ trouble drifts to North, Fracastor (lightning was midwife) Cotta, and Ser D’Alviano, Al poco giorno ed al gran cerchio d’ombra, Talk the talks out with Navighero, Burner of yearly Martials, (The slavelet is mourned in vain) And the next comer says “were nine wounds, “Four men, white horse with a double rider,” The hooves clink and slick on cobbles . . . Schiavoni . . . the cloak floats on the water, “Sink the thing,” splash wakes Schiavoni; Tiber catching the nap, the moonlit velvet, A wet cat gleaming in patches. “Se pia,” Varchi “O empia, ma risoluto “E terribile deliberazione” Both sayings run in the wind, Ma si morisse!
This poem is in the public domain.
Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne'er within him burn'd,
As home his footsteps he hath turn'd
From wandering on a foreign strand!
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no Minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;—
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonour'd, and unsung.
This poem is in the public domain.