Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Canto III [excerpt]
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.