Phineas Fletcher (1582 - 1650 / England)
The Apollyonists - Canto 1
Of men, nay beasts; worse, monsters; worst of all,
Incarnate fiends, English Italianate;
Of priests, O no! mass-priests, priests-cannibal,
Who make their Maker, chew, grind, feed, grow fat
With flesh divine; of that great city's fall,
Which born, nursed, grown with blood, the earth's empress sat,
Cleansed, spoused to Christ, yet back to whoredom fell,
None can enough, something I fain would tell.
How black are quenched lights! Fallen heaven's a double hell.
Great Lord, who graspest all creatures in Thy hand,
Who in Thy lap layest down proud Thetis' head,
And bindest her white curled locks in cauls of sand,
Who gatherest in Thy fist and layest in bed
The sturdy winds, who groundest the floating land
On fleeting seas, and over all hast spread
Heaven's brooding wings to foster all below,
Who makest the sun without all fire to glow,
The spring of heat and light, the moon to ebb and flow,
Thou world's sole Pilot, who in this poor isle
(So small a bottom) hast embarked Thy light,
And glorious Self and steerest it safe, the while
Hoarse drumming seas and winds' loud trumpets fight,
Who causest stormy heavens here only smile,
Steer me, poor ship-boy, steer my course aright;
Breathe, gracious Spirit, breathe gently on these lays;
Be Thou my compass, needle to my ways;
Thy glorious work's my freight; my haven is Thy praise.
Thou purple whore, mounted on scarlet beast,
Gorged with the flesh, drunk with the blood of saints,
Whose amorous golden cup and charmed feast
All earthly kings, all earthly men attaints,
See thy live pictures, see thine own, thy best,
Thy dearest sons, and cheer thy heart that faints.
Hark! thou saved island, hark! and never cease
To praise that hand which held thy head in peace;
Else hadst thou swum as deep in blood as now in seas.
The cloudy night came whirling up the sky
And scatt'ring round the dews, which first she drew
From milky poppies, loads and drowsy eye.
The wat'ry moon, cold Vesper, and his crew
Light up their tapers; to the sun they fly
And at his blazing flame their sparks renew.
Oh, why should earthly lights then scorn to tine
Their lamps alone at the first Sun divine?
Hence as false as falling stars, as rotton wood, they shine.
Her sable mantle was embroidered gay
With silver beams, with spangles round beset;
Four steeds her chariot drew: the first was gray,
The second blue, third brown, fourth black as jet.
The hollowing owl, her post, prepares the way;
And winged dreams, as gnat swarms flutt'ring, let
Sad sleep, who fain his eyes in rest would steep.
Why then at death do weary mortals weep?
Sleep's but a shorter death; death's but a longer sleep.
And now the world, and dreams themselves were drowned
In deadly sleep; the laborer snorteth fast,
His brawny arms unbent, his limbs unbound,
As dead, forget all toil to come, or past;
Only sad guilt and troubled greatness, crowned
With heavy gold and care, no rest can taste.
Go then, vain man, go pill the live and dead,
Buy, sell, fawn, flatter, rise, then couch thy head
In proud, but dangerous gold, in silk, but restless bed.
When lo! a sudden noise breaks the empty air:
A dreadful noise, which every creature daunts,
Frights home the blood, shoots up the limber hair;
For through the silent heaven hell's pursuivants,
Cutting their way, command foul spirits repair
With haste to Pluto, who their counsel wants.
Their hoarse bass-horns like fenny bitterns sound;
The earth shakes, dogs howl, and heaven itself, astound,
Shuts all his eyes; the stars in clouds their candles drowned.
Meantime, hell's iron gates by fiends beneath
Are open flung, which framed with wondrous art
To every guilty soul yields entrance eath;
But never wight but He could thence depart,
Who dying once, was death to endless death.
So where the liver's channel to the heart
Pays purple tribute, with their three-forked mace
Three Tritons stand and speed his flowing race,
But stop the ebbing stream if once it back would pace.
The porter to the infernal gate is Sin,
A shapeless shape, a foul deformed thing,
Nor nothing, nor a substance, as those thin
And empty forms which through the air fling
Their wandering shapes, at length they're fastened in
The crystal sight. It serves, yet reigns as king;
It lives, yet's death; it pleases, full of pain;
Monster! ah, who, who can thy being feign?
Thou shapeless shape, live death, pain pleasing, servile reign!
Of that first woman and the old serpent bred,
By lust and custom nursed, whom when her mother
Saw so deformed, how fain would she have fled
Her birth, and self! But she her dam would smother,
And all her brood, had not He rescued
Who was His mother's sire, His children's brother:
Eternity, who yet was born and died;
His own creator, earth's scorn, heaven's pride,
Who the Deity infleshed, and man's flesh deified.
Her former parts her mother seems resemble,
Yet only seems to flesh and weaker sight,
For she with art and paint could fine dissemble
Her loathsome face. Her back parts, black as night,
Like to her horrid sire, would force to tremble
The boldest heart. To the eye that meets her right
She seems a lovely sweet, of beauty rare;
But at the parting, he that shall compare,
Hell will more lovely deem, the devil's self more fair.
Her rosy cheek, quick eye, her naked breast,
And whatsoe'er loose fancy might entice,
She bare exposed to sight, all lovely dressed
In beauty's livery and quaint device.
Thus she bewitches many a boy unblest,
Who drenched in hell, dreams of all paradise:
Her breasts, his spheres; her arms, his circling sky;
Her pleasures, heaven; her love, eternity.
For her he longs to live; with her he longs to die.
But He that gave a stone power to descry
'Twixt natures hid, and check that metal's pride
That dares aspire to gold's fair purity,
Hath left a touchstone erring eyes to guide,
Which clears their sight and strips hypocrisy.
They see, they loathe, they curse her painted hide;
Her as a crawling carrion they esteem;
Her worst of ills, and worse than that, they deem,
Yet know her worse than they can think, or she can seem.
Close by her sat Despair, sad ghastly sprite,
With staring looks, unmoved, fast nailed to Sin;
Her body all of earth, her soul of fright,
About her thousand deaths, but more within;
Pale, pined cheeks, black hair, torn, rudely dight,
Short breath, long nails, dull eyes, sharp-pointed chin;
Light, life, heaven, earth, herself, and all she fled.
Fain would she die, but could not; yet half dead,
A breathing corse she seemed, wrapped up in living lead.
In the entrance Sickness and faint Languor dwelt,
Who with sad groans toll out their passing knell,
Late fear, fright, horror that already felt
The torturer's claws, preventing death and hell.
Within loud Grief and roaring Pangs that swelt
In sulphur flames, did weep and howl and yell.
A thousand souls in endless dolors lie,
Who burn, fry, hiss, and never cease to cry,
'Oh, that I ne'er had lived; oh, that I once could die!'
And now the infernal powers through the air driving,
For speed their leather pinions broad display;
Now at eternal death's wide gate arriving,
Sin gives them passage; still they cut their way
Till to the bottom of hell's palace diving,
They enter Dis' deep conclave. There they stay,
Waiting the rest, and now they all are set,
The horrid court, big swoll'n with the hideous council sweat.
The midst, but lowest (in hell's heraldry
The deepest is the highest room) in state
Sat lordly Lucifer; his fiery eye,
Much swoll'n with pride, but more with rage and hate,
As censor mustered all his company,
Who round about with awful silence sate.
This do, this let rebellious spirits gain,
Change God for Satan, heaven's for hell's sovereign:
O let him serve in hell, who scorns in heaven to reign!
Ah, wretch! who with ambitious cares oppressed,
Longest still for future, feelest no present good;
Despising to be better, wouldst be best,
Good never; who wilt serve thy lusting mood,
Yet all command : not he who raised his crest,
But pulled it down, hath high and formly stood.
Fool! serve thy towering lusts, grow still, still, crave,
Rule, reign; this comfort from thy greatness have,
Now at thy top thou art a great commanding slave.
Thus fell this Prince of Darkness, once a bright
And glorious star; he willful turned away
His borrowed glove from that eternal light;
Himself he sought, so lost himself: his ray
Vanished to smoke, his morning sunk in night,
And never more shall see the springing day.
To be in heaven the second he disdains;
So now the first in hell and flames he reigns,
Crowned once with joy and light, crowned now with fire and pains.
As where the warlike Dane the scepter sways,
They crown usurpers with a wreath of lead,
And with hot steel, while loud the traitor brays,
They melt and drop it down into his head,-
Crowned he would live, and crowned he ends his days;
All so in heaven's courts his traitor sped,
Who now, when he had overlooked his train,
Rising upon his throne, with bitter strain
Thus 'gan to whet their rage and chide their frustrate pain.
'See, see, you Spirits (I know not whether more
Hated, or hating heaven) ah! see the earth
Smiling in quiet peace and plenteous store.
Men fearless live in ease, in love, and mirth;
Where arms did rage, the drum and cannon roar;
Where hate, strife, envy reigned, and meager dearth,
Now lutes and viols charm the ravished ear;
Men plow with swords; horse-heels their armors wear;
Ah! shortly scarce they'll know what war and armors were.
'Under their sprouting vines they sporting sit.
The old tell of evils past; youth laugh and play
And to their wanton heads sweet garlands fit,
Roses with lilies, myrtles weaved with bay.
The world's at rest; Erinny's, forced to quit
Her strongest holds, from earth is driven away.
Even Turks forget their empire to increase;
War's self is slain and whips of Furies cease.
We, we ourselves, I fear, will shortly live in peace.
'Meantime (I burn, I broil, I burst with spite)
In midst of peace that sharp two-edged sword
Cuts through our darkness, cleaves the misty night,
Discovers all our snares; that sacred word,
Locked up by Rome, breaks prison, spreads the light,
Speaks every tongue, paints, and points out the Lord,
His birth, life, death, and cross; our gilded stocks,
Our laymen's books, the boy and woman mocks;
They laugh, they fleer, and say, 'Blocks teach and worship blocks.'
'Springtides of light divine the air surround
And bring down heaven to earth; deaf Ignorance,
Vexed with the day, her head in hell hath drowned;
Fond Superstition, frighted with the glance
Of sudden beams, in vain hath crossed her round;
Truth and Religion everywhere advance
Their conquering standards; Error's lost and fled;
Earth burns in love to Heaven; Heaven yields her bed
To earth, and common grown, smiles to be ravished.
'That little swimming isle above the rest,
Spite of our spite and all our plots, remains
And grows in happiness: but late our nest,
Where we and Rome, and blood, and all our trains,
Monks, nuns, dead and alive idols, safe did rest.
Now there, next the oath of God, that wrestler reigns,
Who fills the land and world with peace; his spear
Is but a pen, with which he down doth bear
Blind ignorance, false gods, and superstitious fear.
'There God hath framed another paradise,
Fat olives dropping peace, victorious palms;
Nor in the midst, but everywhere doth rise
That hated tree of life, whose precious balms
Cure every sinful wound, give light to the eyes,
Unlock the ear, recover fainting qualms.
There richly grows what makes a people blest,
A garden planted by Himself and dressed,
Where He Himself doth walk, where He Himself doth rest.
'There every star sheds his sweet influence
And radiant beams; great, little, old, and new,
Their glittering rays and frequent confluence
The milky path to God's high palace strew;
The unwearied pastors with steeled confidence,
Conquered and conquering, fresh their fight renew.
Our strongest holds that thundering ordinance
Beats down and makes our proudest turrets dance,
Yoking men's iron necks in His sweet governance.
'Nor can the old world content ambitious light;
Virginia, our soil, our seat, and throne,
(To which so long possessions gives us right,
As long as hell's) Virginia's self is gone;
That stormy isle, which the Isle of Devils hight,
Peopled with faith, truth, grace religion.
What's next but hell? That now alone remains,
And that subdued, even here He rules and reigns,
And mortals 'gin to dream of long, but endless pains.
'While we, good harmless creatures, sleep or play,
Forget our former loss and following pain,
Earth sweats for heaven, but hell keeps holiday.
Shall we repent, good souls, or shall we plain?
Shall we groan, sigh, weep, mourn, for mercy pray?
Lay down our spite, wash out our sinful stain?
Maybe He'll yield, forget, and use us well,
Forgive, join hands, restore us whence we fell;
Maybe He'll yield us heaven and fall Himself to hell.
'But me, O never let me, Spirits, forget
That glorious day when I your standard bore,
And scorning in the second place to sit,
With you assaulted heaven, His yoke forswore!
My dauntless heart yet longs to bleed and sweat
In such a fray; the more I burn, the more
I hate: should He yet offer grace and ease,
If subject we our arms and spite surcease,
Such offer should I hate, and scorn so base a peace.
'Where are those Spirits? Where that haughty rage
That durst with me invade eternal light?
What! Are our hearts fallen too? Droop we with age?
Can we yet fall from hell and hellish spite?
Can smart our wrath, can grief out hate assuage?
Dare we with heaven, and not with earth to fight?
Your arms, allies, yourselves as strong as ever;
Your foes, their weapons, numbers, weaker never.
For shame, tread down this earth! What wants but your endeavour?
'Now by yourselves and thunder-daunted arms,
But never-daunted hate, I you implore,
Command, adjure, reinforce your fierce alarms;
Kindle, I pray, who never prayed before,
Kindle your darts, treble repay our harms.
Oh, our short time, too short, stands at the door!
Double your rage; if now we do not ply
We lone in hell, without due company,
And worse, without desert, without revenge shall lie.
'He, Spirits, (ah, that, that's our main torment!) He
Can feel no wounds, laughs at the sword and dart,
Himself from grief, from suffering wholly free;
His simple nature cannot taste of smart,
Yet in His members we Him grieved see;
For, and in them, He suffers; where His heart
Lies bare and naked, there dart your fiery steel,
Cut, wound, burn, sear, if not the head, the heel.
Let him in every part some pain and torment feel.
'That light comes posting on, that cursed light,
When they as He, all glorious, all divine,
(Their flesh clothed with the sun, and much more bright,
Yet brighter spirits) shall in His image shine,
And see Him as He is; there no despite,
No force, no art their state can undermine:
Full of unmeasured bliss, yet still receiving,
Their souls still childing joy, yet still conceiving,
Delights beyond the wish, beyond quick thoughts perceiving.
'But we fast pinioned with dark fiery chains,
Shall suffer every ill, but do no more;
The guilty spirit there feels extremest pains,
Yet fears worse than it feels; and finding store
Of present deaths, death's absense sore complains:
Oceans of ills without or ebb, or shore,
A life that ever dies, a death that lives,
And, worst of all, God's absent presence gives
A thousand living woes, a thousand dying griefs.
'But when he sums his time and turns his eye
First to the past, then future pangs, past days
(And every day's an age of misery)
In torment spent, by thousands down he lays,
Future by millions, yet eternity
Grows nothing less, nor past to come allays.
Through every pang and grief he wild doth run,
And challenge coward death; doth nothing shun
That he may nothing be, does all to be undone.
'Oh, let our work equal our wages, let
Our Judge fall short, and when His plagues are spent,
Owe more than He hath paid, live in our debt;
Let heaven want vengeance, hell want punishment
To give our dues; when we with flames beset,
Still dying, live in endless languishment,
This be our comfort: we did get and win
The fires and tortures we are whelmed in;
We have kept pace, outrun His justice with our sin.
'And now you States of Hell, give your advice,
And to these ruins lend your helping hand.'
This said and ceased; straight humming murmurs rise:
Some chafe, some fret, some sad and thoughtful stand,
Some chat, and some new stratagems devise;
And everyone heaven's stronger powers banned,
And tear for madness their uncombed snakes;
And everyone his fiery weapon shakes,
And everyone expects who first the answer makes.
So when the falling sun hangs o'er the main,
Ready to drop into the western wave
By yellow Cam, where all the Muses reign,
And with their towers his reedy head embrave,
The warlike gnat their flutt'ring armies train;
All have sharp spears, and all shrill trumpets have;
Their files they double, loud their cornets sound,
Now march at length, their troops now gather round;
The banks, the broken noise, and turrets fair rebound.
Comments about this poem (The Apollyonists - Canto 1 by Phineas Fletcher )
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