Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


Alexander's Feast; or, the Power of Music

A song in honour of St. Cecilia's day, 1697.

'Twas at the royal feast for Persia won   
        By Philip's warlike son—   
    Aloft in awful state   
    The godlike hero sate   
        On his imperial throne; 
  His valiant peers were placed around,   
Their brows with roses and with myrtles bound   
  (So should desert in arms be crown'd);   
The lovely Thais by his side   
Sate like a blooming Eastern bride 
In flower of youth and beauty's pride:—   
   Happy, happy, happy pair!   
        None but the brave   
        None but the brave   
  None but the brave deserves the fair! 
   
    Timotheus placed on high   
        Amid the tuneful quire   
With flying fingers touch'd the lyre:   
    The trembling notes ascend the sky   
        And heavenly joys inspire. 
The song began from Jove   
Who left his blissful seats above   
Such is the power of mighty love!   
    A dragon's fiery form belied the god;   
    Sublime on radiant spires he rode 
    When he to fair Olympia prest,   
    And while he sought her snowy breast,   
  Then round her slender waist he curl'd,   
And stamp'd an image of himself, a sovereign of the world.   
  The listening crowd admire the lofty sound; 
  A present deity! they shout around:   
  A present deity! the vaulted roofs rebound:   
        With ravish'd ears   
        The monarch hears,   
        Assumes the god; 
        Affects to nod,  
    And seems to shake the spheres.   
   
The praise of Bacchus then the sweet musician sung,   
    Of Bacchus ever fair and ever young:   
        The jolly god in triumph comes; 
        Sound the trumpets, beat the drums!   
            Flush'd with a purple grace   
            He shows his honest face:   
Now give the hautboys breath; he comes, he comes!   
    Bacchus, ever fair and young, 
        Drinking joys did first ordain;   
    Bacchus' blessings are a treasure,   
    Drinking is the soldier's pleasure:   
        Rich the treasure,   
        Sweet the pleasure, 
    Sweet is pleasure after pain.   
   
    Soothed with the sound, the king grew vain;   
        Fought all his battles o'er again,   
And thrice he routed all his foes, and thrice he slew the slain!   
    The master saw the madness rise, 
    His glowing cheeks, his ardent eyes;   
    And while he Heaven and Earth defied   
    Changed his hand and check'd his pride.   
        He chose a mournful Muse   
        Soft pity to infuse: 
    He sung Darius great and good,   
        By too severe a fate   
    Fallen, fallen, fallen, fallen,   
        Fallen from his high estate.   
    And weltering in his blood; 
    Deserted at his utmost need   
    By those his former bounty fed;   
    On the bare earth exposed he lies   
    With not a friend to close his eyes.   
With downcast looks the joyless victor sate, 
        Revolving in his alter'd soul   
            The various turns of chance below;   
        And now and then a sigh he stole,   
            And tears began to flow.   
   
    The mighty master smiled to see  
    That love was in the next degree;   
    'Twas but a kindred sound to move,   
    For pity melts the mind to love.   
        Softly sweet, in Lydian measures   
        Soon he soothed his soul to pleasures. 
    War, he sung, is toil and trouble,   
    Honour but an empty bubble;   
        Never ending, still beginning,   
    Fighting still, and still destroying;   
        If the world be worth thy winning, 
    Think, O think, it worth enjoying:   
        Lovely Thais sits beside thee,   
    Take the good the gods provide thee!   
The many rend the skies with loud applause;   
So Love was crown'd, but Music won the cause.  
    The prince, unable to conceal his pain,   
            Gazed on the fair   
            Who caused his care,   
    And sigh'd and look'd, sigh'd and look'd,   
    Sigh'd and look'd, and sigh'd again:   
  At length with love and wine at once opprest   
  The vanquish'd victor sunk upon her breast.   
   
Now strike the golden lyre again:   
A louder yet, and yet a louder strain!   
Break his bands of sleep asunder 
And rouse him like a rattling peal of thunder.   
        Hark, hark! the horrid sound   
            Has raised up his head:   
            As awaked from the dead   
        And amazed he stares around. 
    Revenge, revenge, Timotheus cries,   
        See the Furies arise!   
        See the snakes that they rear   
        How they hiss in their hair,   
    And the sparkles that flash from their eyes! 
        Behold a ghastly band,   
        Each a torch in his hand!   
  Those are Grecian ghosts, that in battle were slain   
            And unburied remain   
            Inglorious on the plain: 
            Give the vengeance due   
            To the valiant crew!   
  Behold how they toss their torches on high,   
      How they point to the Persian abodes   
  And glittering temples of their hostile gods. 
  The princes applaud with a furious joy:   
  And the king seized a flambeau with zeal to destroy;   
        Thais led the way   
        To light him to his prey,   
  And like another Helen, fired another Troy! 
   
            Thus, long ago,   
    Ere heaving bellows learn'd to blow,   
        While organs yet were mute,   
        Timotheus, to his breathing flute   
            And sounding lyre 
Could swell the soul to rage, or kindle soft desire.   
    At last divine Cecilia came.   
    Inventress of the vocal frame;   
The sweet enthusiast from her sacred store   
    Enlarged the former narrow bounds, 
    And added length to solemn sounds,   
With Nature's mother-wit, and arts unknown before.   
    Let old Timotheus yield the prize,   
        Or both divide the crown;   
    He raised a mortal to the skies, 
        She drew an angel down!

Credit


This poem is in the public domain.

Author


John Dryden

Born on August 9, 1631, John Dryden was the leading poet and literary critic of his day and he served as the first official Poet Laureate of England

Date Published: 1697-01-01

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/alexanders-feast-or-power-music