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Nondum amabam, et amare amabam, quaerebam quid amarem amans amare.
The poem entitled “Alastor,” may be considered as allegorical of one of the most interesting situations of the human mind. It represents a youth of uncorrupted feelings and adventurous genius, led forth by an imagination inflamed and purified through familiarity with all that is excellent and majestic, to the contemplation of the universe. He drinks deep of the fountains of knowledge, and is still insatiate. The magnificence and beauty of the external world sinks profoundly into the frame of his conceptions, and affords to their modifications a variety not to be exhausted. So long as it is possible for his desires to point towards objects thus infinite and unmeasured, he is joyous, and tranquil, and self-possessed. But the period arrives when these objects cease to suffice. His mind is at length suddenly awakened, and thirsts for intercourse with an intelligence similar to itself. He images to himself the Being whom he loves. Conversant with speculations of the sublimest and most perfect natures, the vision in which he embodies his own imaginations, unites all of wonderful, or wise, or beautiful, which the poet, the philosopher, or the lover, could depicture. The intellectual faculties, the imagination, the functions of sense, have their respective requisitions on the sympathy of corresponding powers in other human beings. The Poet is represented as uniting these requisitions, and attaching them to a single image. He seeks in vain for a prototype of his conception. Blasted by his disappointment, he descends to an untimely grave.
The picture is not barren of instruction to actual men. The Poet's self-centred seclusion was avenged by the furies of an irresistible passion pursuing him to speedy ruin. But that Power which strikes the luminaries of the world with sudden darkness and extinction, by awakening them to too exquisite a perception of its influences, dooms to a slow and poisonous decay those meaner spirits that dare to abjure its dominion. Their destiny is more abject and inglorious, as their delinquency is more contemptible and pernicious. They who, deluded by no generous error, instigated by no sacred thirst of doubtful knowledge, duped by no illustrious superstition, loving nothing on this earth, and cherishing no hopes beyond, yet keep aloof from sympathies with their kind, rejoicing neither in human joy nor mourning with human grief; these, and such as they, have their apportioned curse. They languish, because none feel with them their common nature. They are morally dead. They are neither friends, nor lovers, nor fathers, nor citizens of the world, nor bene
Confess. St. August.
factors of their country. Among those who attempt to exist without human sympathy, the pure and tenderhearted perish through the intensity and passion of their search after its communities, when the vacancy of their spiritsuddenly makes itself felt. All else, selfish, blind, and torpid, are those unforeseeing multitudes who constitute, together with their own, the lasting misery and loneliness of the world. Those who love not their fellow-beings, live unfruitful lives, and prepare for their old age a miserable grave. The good die first, And those whose hearts are dry as summer's dust Burn to the socket !
December 14, 1815.
EARTH, ocean, air, beloved brotherhood |
Mother of this unfathomable world! Favour my solemn song, for I have loved Thee ever, and thee only; I have watched Thy shadow, and the darkness of thy steps, And my heart ever gazes on the depth Of thy deep mysteries. I have made my bed In charnels and on coffins, where black death Keeps record of the trophies won from thee, Hoping to still these obstinate questionings Of thee and thine, by forcing some lone ghost, Thy messenger, to render up the tale Of what we are. In lone and silent hours, When nightmakesa weird sound of its own stillness, Like an inspired and desperate alchymist Staking his very life on some dark hope, Have I mixed awful talk and asking looks With my most innocent love, until strange tears, Uniting with those breathless kisses, made
Such magic as compels the charmed night
There was a Poet whose untimely tomb No human hands with pious reverence reared, But the charmed eddies of autumnal winds Built o'er his mouldering bones a pyramid Of mouldering leaves in the waste wilderness; A lovely youth, no mourning maiden decked With weeping flowers, or votive cypress wreath, The lone couch of his everlasting sleep : Gentle, and brave, and generous, no lorn bard Breathed o'er his dark fate one melodious sigh : He lived, he died, he sang in solitude. Strangers have wept to hear his passionate notes, And virgins, as unknown he passed, have pined And wasted for fond love of his wild eyes. The fire of those soft orbs has ceased to burn, And Silence too, enamoured of that voice, Locks its mute music in her rugged cell.
By solemn vision and bright silver dream, His infancy was nurtured. Every sight And sound from the vast earth and ambient air, Sent to his heart its choicest impulses. The fountains of divine philosophy Fled not his thirsting lips; and all of great, Or good, or lovely, which the sacred past In truth or fable consecrates, he felt And knew. When early youth had past, he left His cold fireside and alienated home, To seek strange truths in undiscovered lands. Many a wide waste and tangled wilderness Has lured his fearless steps; and he has bought With his sweet voice and eyes, from savage men, His rest and food. Nature's most secret steps He, like her shadow, has pursued, where'er The red volcano overcanopies Its fields of snow and pinnacles of ice With burning smoke: or where bitumen lakes, On black bare pointed islets ever beat With sluggish surge, or where the secret caves, Rugged and dark, winding among the springs, Of fire and poison, inaccessible To avarice or pride, their starry domes Of diamond and of gold expand above Numberless and immeasurable halls, Frequent with crystal column, and clear shrines Of pearl, and thrones radiant with chrysolite. Nor had that scene of ampler majesty Than gems or gold, the varying roof of heaven And the green earth, lost in his heart its claims To love and wonder; he would linger long In lonesome vales, making the wild his home, Until the doves and squirrels would partake From his innocuous hand his bloodless food, Lured by the gentle meaning of his looks, And the wild antelope, that starts whene'er
The dry leaf rustles in the brake, suspend Her timid steps, to gaze upon a form More graceful than her own.
His wandering step, Obedient to high thoughts, has visited The awful ruins of the days of old : Athens, and Tyre, and Balbec, and the waste Where stood Jerusalem, the fallen towers Of Babylon, the eternal pyramids, Memphis and Thebes, and whatsoe'er of strange Sculptured on alabaster obelisk, Or jasper tomb, or mutilated sphinx, Dark Ethiopia on her desert hills Conceals. Among the ruined temples there, Stupendous columns, and wild images Of more than man, where marble demons watch The Zodiac's brazen mystery, and dead men Hang their mute thoughtson themute walls around, He lingered, poring on memorials Of the world's youth, through the long burning day Gazed on those speechless shapes, nor, when the
Filled the mysterious halls with floating shades
Meanwhile an Arab maiden brought his food, Her daily portion, from her father's tent, And spread her matting for his couch, and stole From duties and repose to tend his steps:— Enamoured, yet not daring for deep awe To speak her love:-and watched his nightly sleep, Sleepless herself, to gaze upon his lips Parted in slumber, whence the regular breath Of innocent dreams arose : then, when red morn Made paler the pale moon, to her cold home, Wildered, and wan, and panting, she returned.
The Poet wandering on, through Arabie And Persia, and the wild Carmanian waste, And o'er the aërial mountains which pour down Indus and Oxus from their icy caves, In joy and exultation held his way; Till in the vale of Cachmire, far within Its loneliest dell, where odorous plants entwine Beneath the hollow rocks a natural bower, Beside a sparkling rivulet he stretched His languid limbs. A vision on his sleep There came, a dream of hopes that never yet Had flushed his cheek. He dreamed a veiled maid Sate near him, talking in low solemn tones. Her voice was like the voice of his own soul Heard in the calm of thought; its music long, Like woven sounds of streams and breezes, held His inmost sense suspended in its web Of many-coloured woof and shifting hues. Knowledge and truth and virtue were her theme, And lofty hopes of divine liberty, Thoughts the most dear to him, and poesy, Herself a poet. Soon the solemn mood Of her pure mind kindled through all her frame A permeating fire: wild numbers then She raised, with voice stifled in tremulous sobs Subdued by its own pathos: her fair hands Were bare alone, sweeping from some strange harp Strange symphony, and in their branching veins The eloquent blood told an ineffable tale.
The beating of her heart was heard to fill
| Involved and swallowed up the vision; sleep,
Like a dark flood suspended in its course,
| Her choicest gifts. He eagerly pursues
Beyond the realms of dream that fleeting shade;
While daylight held The sky, the Poet kept mute conference With his still soul. At night the passion came, Like the fierce fiend of a distempered dream, And shook him from his rest, and led him forth Into the darkness-As an eagle grasped In folds of the green serpent, feels her breast Burn with the poison, and precipitates [cloud, Through night and day, tempest, and calm and Frantic with dizzying anguish, her blind flight O'er the wide aéry wilderness: thus driven By the bright shadow of that lovely dream, Beneath the cold glare of the desolate night,
Through tangled swamps and deep precipitous dells,
At length upon the lone Chorasmian shore He paused, a wide and melancholy waste Of putrid marshes. A strong impulse urged His steps to the sea-shore. A swan was there, Beside a sluggish stream among the reeds. It rose as he approached, and with strong wings Scaling the upward sky, bent its bright course High over the immeasurable main. His eyes pursued its flight:—“Thou hast a home, Beautiful bird! thou voyagest to thine home, Where thy sweet mate will twine her downy neck With thine, and welcome thy return with eyes Bright in the lustre of their own fond joy. And what am I that I should linger here, With voice far sweeter than thy dying notes, Spirit more vast than thine, frame more attuned To beauty, wasting these surpassing powers In the deaf air, to the blind earth, and heaven That echoes not my thoughts?” A gloomy smile Of desperate hope wrinkled his quivering lips. For sleep, he knew, kept most relentlessly Its precious charge, and silent death exposed, Faithless perhaps as sleep, a shadowy lure, With doubtful smile mocking its ownstrange charms.
Startled by his own thoughts, he looked around: There was no fair fiend near him, not a sight Or sound of awe but in his own deep mind. A little shallop floating near the shore Caught the impatient wandering of his gaze. It had been long abandoned, for its sides Gaped wide with many a rift, and its frail joints
Swayed with the undulations of the tide.
The day was fair and sunny: sea and sky
As one that in a silver vision floats
At midnight The moon arose: and lo! the ethereal cliffs Of Caucasus, whose icy summits shone Among the stars like sunlight, and around Whose caverned base the whirlpools and the waves, Bursting and eddying irresistibly, Rage and resound for ever.—Who shall save?— The boat fled on, the boiling torrent drove, The crags closed round with black and jagged arms, The shattered mountain overhung the sea, And faster still, beyond all human speed, Suspended on the sweep of the smooth wave, The little boat was driven. A cavern there Yawned, and amid its slant and winding depths Ingulfed the rushing sea. The boat fled on With unrelaxing speed. “Vision and Love 1°
The path of thy departure. Sleep and death Shall not divide us long.”
The boat pursued The windings of the cavern. Day-light shone At length upon that gloomy river's flow ; Now, where the fiercest war among the waves Is calm, on the unfathomable stream [riven, The boat moved slowly. Where the mountain, Exposed those black depths to the azure sky, Ere yet the flood's enormous volume fell Even to the base of Caucasus, with sound That shook the everlasting rocks, the mass Filled with one whirlpool all that ample chasm; Stair above stair the eddying waters rose, Circling immeasurably fast, and laved With alternating dash the gnarled roots Of mighty trees, that stretched their giant arms In darkness over it. I’ the midst was left, Reflecting, yet distorting every cloud, A pool of treacherous and tremendous calm, Seized by the sway of the ascending stream, With dizzy swiftness, round, and round, and round, Ridge after ridge the straining boat arose, Till on the verge of the extremest curve, Where, through an opening of the rocky bank, The waters overflow, and a smooth spot Of glassy quiet 'mid those battling tides Is left, the boat paused shuddering. Shall it sink Down the abyss Shall the reverting stress Of that resistless gulf embosom it ! Now shall it fall A wandering stream of wind, Breathed from the west, has caught the expanded And, lo l with gentle motion between banks [sail, Of mossy slope, and on a placid stream, Beneath a woven grove, it sails, and, hark 1 The ghastly torrent mingles its far roar, With the breeze murmuring in the musical woods. Where the embowering trees recede, and leave A little space of green expanse, the cove Is closed by meeting banks, whose yellow flowers For ever gaze on their own drooping eyes, Reflected in the crystal calm. The wave Of the boat's motion marred their pensive task, Which nought but vagrant bird, or wanton wind, Or falling spear-grass, or their own decay Had e'er disturbed before. The Poet longed To deck with their bright hues his withered hair, But on his heart its solitude returned, And he forbore. Not the strong impulse hid In those flushed cheeks, bent eyes, and shadowy Had yet performed its ministry: it hung [frame, Upon his life, as lightning in a cloud Gleams, hovering ere it vanish, ere the floods Of night close over it.
The noonday sun Now shone upon the forest, one vast mass Of mingling shade, whose brown magnificence A narrow vale embosoms. There, huge caves, Scooped in the dark base of those airy rocks Mocking its moans, respond and roar for ever. The meeting boughs and implicated leaves Wove twilight o'er the Poet's path, as led By love, or dream, or god, or mightier Death, He sought in Nature's dearest haunt, some bank, Her cradle, and his sepulchre. More dark And dark the shades accumulate—the oak, Expanding its immense and knotty arms, Embraces the light beech. The pyramids
The Poet cried aloud, “I have beheld
Of the tall cedar overarching, frame
Most solemn domes within, and far below,
Or painted bird, sleeping beneath the moon,
Or gorgeous insect, floating motionless, Unconscious of the day, ere yet his wings Have spread their glories to the gaze of noon.
That overhung its quietness.-" O stream
Beside the grassy shore Of the small stream he went ; he did impress On the green moss his tremulous step, that caught Strong shuddering from his burning limbs. As one Roused by some joyous madness from the couch Of fever, he did move ; yet, not like him, Forgetful of the grave, where, when the flame Of his frail exultation shall be spent, He must descend. With rapid steps he went Beneath the shade of trees, beside the flow Of the wild babbling rivulet; and now The forest's solemn canopies were changed For the uniform and lightsome evening sky.
Grey rocks did peep from the spare moss, and
stemmed The struggling brook: tall spires of windlestrae Threw their thin shadows down the rugged slope, And nought but gnarled roots of ancient pines Branchlessandblasted, clenched with grasping roots The unwilling soil. A gradual change was here, Yet ghastly. For, as fast years flow away, The smooth brow gathers, and the hair grows thin And white; and where irradiate dewy eyes Had shone, gleam stony orbs: so from his steps Bright flowers departed, and the beautiful shade Of the green groves, with all their odorous winds And musical motions. Calm, he still pursued The stream, that with a larger volume now Rolled through the labyrinthine dell; and there Fretted a path through its descending curves With its wintry speed. On every side now rose Rocks, which, in unimaginable forms, Lifted their black and barren pinnacles In the light of evening, and its precipice Obscuring the ravine, disclosed above, "Mid toppling stones, black gulfs,and yawning caves, Whose windings gave ten thousand various tongues To the loud stream. Lo! where the pass expands Its stony jaws, the abrupt mountain breaks, And seems, with its accumulated crags, To overhang the world: for wide expand Beneath the wan stars and descending moon Islanded seas, blue mountains, mighty streams, Dim tracks and vast, robed in the lustrous gloom Of leaden-coloured even, and fiery hills Mingling their flames with twilight, on the verge Of the remote horizon. The near scene, In naked and severe simplicity, Made contrast with the universe. A pine, Rock-rooted, stretched athwart the vacancy Its swinging boughs, to each inconstant blast Yielding one only response, at each pause, In most familiar cadence, with the howl The thunder and the hiss of homeless streams Mingling its solemn song, whilst the broad river, Foaming and hurrying o'er its rugged path,