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William Edmondstoune Aytoun

(1813 - 1865 / Scotland)

Blind Old Milton


Place me once more, my daughter, where the sun
May shine upon my old and time-worn head,
For the last time, perchance. My race is run;
And soon amidst the ever-silent dead
I must repose, it may be, half forgot.
Yes! I have broke the hard and bitter bread
For many a year, and with those who trembled not
To buckle on their armor for the fight,
And set themselves against the tyrant's lot;
And I have never bowed me to his might,
Nor knelt before him -- for I bear within
My heart the sternest consciousness of right,
And that perpetual hate of gilded sin
Which made me what I am; and though the stain
Of poverty be on me, yet I win
More honor by it, than the blinded train
Who hug their willing servitude, and bow
Unto the weakest and the most profane.
Therefore, with unencumbered soul I go
Before the footstool of my Maker, where
I hope to stand as undebased as now!

Child! is the sun abroad? I feel my hair
Borne up and wafted by the gentle wind,
I feel the odors that perfume the air,
And hear the rustling of the leaves behind.
Within my heart I picture them, and then
I almost can forget that I am blind,
And old, and hated by my fellow-men.
Yet would I fain once more behold the grace
Of nature ere I die, and gaze again
Upon her living and rejoicing face --
Fain would I see thy countenance, my child,
My comforter! I feel thy dear embrace --
I hear thy voice, so musical and mild,
The patient sole interpreter, by whom
So many years of sadness are beguiled;
For it hath made my small and scanty room
Peopled with glowing visions of the past.
But I will calmly bend me to my doom,
And wait the hour which is approaching fast,
When triple light shall stream upon mine eyes,
And heaven itself be opened up at last
To him who dared foretell its mysteries.
I have had visions in this drear eclipse
Of outward consciousness, and clomb the skies,
Striving to utter with my earthly lips
What the diviner soul had half divined,
Even as the Saint in his Apocalypse
Who saw the inmost glory, where enshrined
Sat He who fashioned glory. This hath driven
All outward strife and tumult from my mind,
And humbled me, until I have forgiven
My bitter enemies, and only seek
To find the straight and narrow path to heaven.

Yet I am weak -- oh! how entirely weak,
For one who may not love nor suffer more!
Sometimes unbidden tears will wet my cheek,
And my heart bound as keenly as of yore.
Responsive to a voice, now hushed to rest,
Which made the beautiful Italian shore,
In all its pomp of summer vineyards drest,
And Eden and a Paradise to me.
Do the sweet breezes from the balmy west
Still murmur through thy groves, Parthenope,
In search of odors from the orange bowers?
Still, on thy slopes of verdure, does the bee
Cull her rare honey from the virgin flowers?
And Philomel her plaintive chaunt prolong
'Neath skies more calm and more serene than ours,
Making the summer one perpetual song?
Art thou the same as when in manhood's pride
I walked in joy thy grassy meads among,
With that fair youthful vision by my side,
In whose bright eyes I looked -- and not in vain?
O my adorèd angel! O my bride!
Despite of years, and woe, and want, and pain,
My soul yearns back towards thee, and I seem
To wander with thee, hand in hand, again,
By the bright margins of that flowing stream.
I hear again thy voice, more silver-sweet
Than fancied music floating in a dream,
Possess my being; from afar I greet
The waving of thy garments in the glade,
And the light rustling of thy fairy feet --
What time as one half eager, half afraid,
Love's burning secret faltered on my tongue,
And tremulous looks and broken words betrayed
The secret of the heart from whence they sprung.
Ah me! the earth that rendered thee to heaven
Gave up an angel beautiful and young,
Spotless and pure as snow when freshly driven;
A bright Aurora for the starry sphere
Where all is love, and even life forgiven.
Bride of immortal beauty -- ever dear!
Dost thou await me in thy blest abode!
While I, Tithonus-like, must linger here,
And count each step along the rugged road;
A phantom, tottering to a long-made grave.
And eager to lay down my weary load.

I who was fancy's lord, am fancy's slave.
Like the low murmurs of the Indian shell
Ta'en from its coral bed beneath the wave,
Which, unforgetful of the ocean's swell,
Retains within its mystic urn the hum
Heard in the sea-grots where Nereids dwell --
Old thoughts still haunt me -- unawares they come
Between me and my rest, nor can I make
Those aged visitors of sorrow dumb.
Oh, yet awhile, my feeble soul, awake!
Nor wander back with sullen steps again;
For neither pleasant pastime canst thou take
In such a journey, nor endure the pain.
The phantoms of the past are dead for thee;
So let them ever uninvoked remain,
And be thou calm, till death shall set thee free.
Thy flowers of hope expanded long ago,
Long since their blossoms withered on the tree:
No second spring can come to make them blow,
But in the silent winter of the grave
They lie with blighted love and buried woe.

I did not waste the gifts which nature gave,
Nor slothful lay in the Circean bower;
Nor did I yield myself the willing slave
Of lust for pride, for riches, or for power.
No! in my heart a nobler spirit dwelt;
For constant was my faith in manhood's dower;
Man -- made in God's own image -- and I felt
How of our own accord we courted shame,
Until to idols like ourselves we knelt,
And so renounced the great and glorious claim
Of freedom, our immortal heritage.
I saw how bigotry, with spiteful aim,
Smote at the searching eyesight of the sage;
How Error stole behind the steps of Truth,
And cast delusion on the sacred page.
So, as a champion, even in early youth
I waged by battle with a purpose keen:
Nor feared the hand of terror, nor the tooth
Of serpent jealousy. And I have been
With starry Galileo in his cell --
That wise magician with the brow serene,
Who fathomed space; and I have seen him tell
The wonders of the planetary sphere,
And trace the ramparts of heaven's citadel
On the cold flag-stones of his dungeon drear.
And I have walked with Hampden and with Vane --
Names once so gracious to an English ear --
In days that never may return again.
My voice, though not the loudest, hath been heard
Whenever freedom raised her cry of pain,
And the faint effort of the humble bard
Hath roused up thousands from their lethargy,
To speak in words of thunder. What reward
Was mine, or theirs? It matters not; for I
am but a leaf cast on the whirling tide,
Without a hope or wish, except to die.
But truth, asserted once, must still abide,
Unquenchable, as are those fiery springs
Which day and night gush from the mountain-side,
Perpetual meteors girt with lambent wings,
Which the wild tempest tosses to and fro,
But cannot conquer with the force it brings.

Yet I, who ever felt another's woe
More keenly than my own untold distress;
I, who have battled with the common foe,
And broke for years the bread of bitterness;
Who never yet abandoned or betrayed
The trust vouchsafed me, nor have ceased to bless,
Am left alone to wither in the shade,
A weak old man, deserted by his kind --
Whom none will comfort in his age, nor aid!

Oh, let me not repine! A quiet mind
Conscious and upright, needs no other stay;
Nor can I grieve for what I leave behind,
In the rich promise of eternal day.
Henceforth to me the world is dead and gone,
Its thorns unfelt, its roses cast away:
And the old pilgrim, weary and alone,
Bowed down with travel, at his Master's gate
Now sits, his task of life-long labor done,
Thankful for rest, although it comes so late,
After sore journey through the world of sin,
In hope, and prayer, and wistfulness to wait,
Until the door shall ope, and let him in.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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