Philip James Bailey
Festus - Xiv - Poem by Philip James Bailey
Even while a star
Might twinkle twice, or calm, retiring sea,
Irresolute yet to leave, his moonlit kiss
Shimmering repeat upon the impassive shore,
The arch--fiend and youth, bound skyward, soaring hold
Darkly, commune, like twilight and midnight,
Of being and things to be, 'mid interspace
Of worlds. The angelic fall is touched on. Souls--
Imperfect, mixed, not seeing how deity could,
Pure spirit, by act of will aught earthy, gross
Frame; nor ill's source, end, understand; mistaught
By adulterate truth which poisons more than pure
Falsehood, hears how, of angels made, not God
Who would not with the earthy soil his hand, our orb
Had all its parts constituent cast by palms
Depute, tale told to mislead perchance. Yet who
Heaven granting place and means of penitence,
Irrestorable shall name the angelic race?
Who fiction blame, mother of fairest hope?
The Interstellar Space.
Festus and Lucifer.
Festus. Where, where am I?
Lucifer. We are in space and time, just as we were
Some half a second since; where wouldst thou be?
Festus. I would be in eternity and heaven;
The spirit, and the spirit made blessed, of all
Lucifer. And thou shalt be, and shalt pass
All secondary nature; all the rules
And the results of time. Upon thy spirit
These things shall act no more; their hand shall be
Withered upon thee; in thee they shall cease,
Like lightnings in the deadening sea. Not now.
We have worlds to go through first. But see, just turn
Thy face, see earth.
Festus. How beauteous, brighter thrice
Than e'er our lamp to man; just mean 'twixt sun
And moon, its mighty members, sea and land,
Shining, in revelry of light.
Lucifer. Cleared now,
All atmosphere terrene, and meteor zones,
Into this darkening azure, deeper aye
At every breath, where reigns eternal night,
Haste we; thy longings shall be satiate soon.
Festus. Ah! many have been my longings, many and deep,
To learn the mysteries of creation; things
Not published on earth's surface.
Lucifer. Such as,--say!
Festus. As thou didst promise me to unfold--and now
Our time, and this vast progress, seeming smooth,
Continuous, e'er unsummed, converse invites.
Lucifer. Speak confidently.
Festus. Before man's fall I'd know
How was't the angels fell?
Lucifer. Nor all by one
Revolt, nor one decline.
Festus. Say how.
Lucifer. Time was,
When God, one, sole, in ancientry eterne,
In essence, inconceivable, all extent
A luminous fulness filling, willed to make;
Withdrew a portion of his essence; breathed
The angels into being; and in that space,
Girt by the infinite, the world became;
Near to him, spirit, life; matter, last of all,
And farthest from him; willed, still. With this rose
The evil of life create, all possible sin.
The happy angels, to enlarge God's reign
Thinking, besought his leave to make a world,
From matter's vast residuous mass;--time was,
Earth beamed heaven's youngest orb--which granted, they,
Armed with imputed deity, began
Instant the work orbific; fire and all
The elements freed, the land from sea demarked,
Rock igneous from aquatic, clay from ooze;
The continents made, the isles, the mountains, streams,
Lakes, fountains, plains, tree, herb and flower, all life
Vegetive, in fine, and brutish; all that wings
Air, or swims sea, or treads, four--footed, earth;
Or creeps, or glides. These giants made, these elves,
Apes, pygmies, such, the tall indignant cranes,
Angered by broken treaties, drave and drowned
In sea--pools, first of victories hight marine.
Those, Œmim and Zamzummim of old writ;
And those Hrymthursar called, who norwards held
Frore Jotunheim, fleering oft at gods and men;
Vain rivals of one heaven--planned shape, of man
By God in just majestic medium made.
And this, accepted, they with all gifts decked.
God taking thought, himself, of sun and star,--
With whom to think indeed is to create,--
He, to the formative angels gave the world
They had thus wrought out of chaos, and adorned
With every living miracle, and man
As head and end of all its dignities,
In delegate royalty to rule. Thus earth,
Thine earth, embraced of heaven, and core of space,
Was plenished, furnished, finished. The angels now
Longing to instruct man's mind, a chosen band,
Out of their fair fraternity, depute
Who straight ascending, quit for heaven. So all,
Bright and more bright, while starward they progressed,
And touched the invisible threshold of the skies,
These angels grew; till as they neared the seat
Where, close below the throne, bright Nature sits,
Perpetual maid, perpetual mother--bride;
Sits, gladdening in her splendid offspring, spread
Through space, star--spirits of seed divine, blessed heirs
Of deity; sits, serene;--they, pondering, paused,
Who seemed a constellation, all of suns,
Tempting the zenith. Here, their quest resigned
To God's sole will, 'twas here, accordant Fate
The predetermined boon they asked, conveyed,
Due powers of God to perfect, that they loved;
And more, he, hearkening to such fervent prayer,
Grants; but ere yet dismissed, to them, to all
In heaven assembled, speaks thus: `Spirits divine,
Immortals, hear; go rule each one his lot,
Self--sought, of grace appointed. To all tribes
Of men shall prophets speak, and holiest souls
Heaven--seeking; heed they be of you truth taught.
So teach them, that however with faith and truth
Inspired, they serve God only; reverence due
Pay you, pay all; but adoration sole
To him who all things made and sole, can save.'
Angels and spirit--hosts of prehuman strain,
Levies of light divine innumerous, rapt
All, sate in still assent, until one soul,
Interpretant of heaven, and mind create,
Tuneful and luminous as a singing star,
Stepped into light, and in the immarbled ear
Of the convergent infinite, sang to God
Larklike, his lone lay, gratulant, worshipful
Of him All--Wise. A cherub--choir the same
In stateliest revolution, traced, truth--taught,
Of power project through all effluxive spheres,
Returning fined, exalted, perfected,
In a perduring emblem all the heavens
Still study, and with their centre--searching eyes.
These things, though wholly comprehending not,
Things passed, things coming, God the angels showed;
Whereat they trembled, and were troubled. Some,
In place of proffering lowliest praise to God,
And holiest thanks for leave to do his will,
In those harmonious lauds the hosts had sung,
Pleased with their works, cried, These created we.
Sudden, the stars stood silent. Every sphere
Ceased its divine accord. The sun paled. All,
That proud presumptuous vaunt, shuddered to hear.
Divisions reigned. There were, who Godwards kept
Due loyalty; and these withdrew to heaven,
The Angel of Salvation, Phanuel pure;
Sun--ruling Ouriel, Luniel, and the rest,
Peers of the fallen, once, and holy seven,
Supplanted, round the throne, their brethren. These,
For some were more sin--tainted, others less;
Earthwards rewinging, in prospective pride
Enriched it thousand--fold with all delights.
For men they sowed herb, spice, grain; planted flower;
Fruits luscious graffed on trees; silver and gold
Dight earth with, ore, and marble, and every gem;
Gems larger lovelier these, than all now known;
And that smaragdine mirror, their chief toy,
Which all the angels wrought, each gifting it
With some unique perfection, after owned
By Israel's wisest, who the tongues of bird,
Brute, angel, men, all, knew; and who therein
Looking, the wished--for passed, of any age,
Beheld apparent, as in the instant fact;--
And when, solicitous of the future, he
Had breathed thereon, with the evanishing reek
From its talismanic disk, limned clear, he saw,
And all the coming, conned. For men they chose
The sites of cities, after, seats of power,
Wealth, law, religion, learning, freedom; one,
The city of the dead, men for themselves
Founded in ominous haste, and fast bestrewed
With skeleton foliage of the tree of life.
God made man free. He fell. His freedom seen,
The angels asked allegiance of man's race.
And while some mixed with carnal follies drift
Hellwards, on storms of passionate covetise;
By rank and vile inventions, to man's ill,
Earn othersome God's wrath; no few through pride
In their first formative privileges; in thought
Reigning triumphant, independent gods,
O'er men, shared sept and tribe among them; each,
Launched on his own wild will; and thus they ceased,
Those once most virtuous angels, that pure choice,
And grateful excellence they first had, to own;
Seeking at first their names, each to his clan
To magnify, and so become, by aid
Of mean, or monstrous, miracle, their gods;
In lieu of teaching men, the One Supreme
To worship, God. Fell many an angel thus.
The fall is universal in all spheres.
For finite spirit, wherever tasked to keep
The counsels of divine perfection fails.
The starry story of one primal pair,
Twin pillars to the portals of life's fane,
Or free--born deities, free as stars are fixed,
And the celestial serpent, sun--conceived,
Invader of heaven's annual paradise,
Wants not, where'er is life; but graved in rocks,
Rude missals of millennial patriarchs,
Incised in arrowy Zend, on tabled clay--
On palm foil penned, or purple pulp of flowers
Illumed with every literal grace, or writ
On virgin vellum rose--gilded and perfumed,
Shrined in the bosom of some cloistered saint,
The same sad tale perpetually commands
The astral annals of the universe.
A separate interest 'twixt themselves and God
Insinuate once, like conflicts 'mong themselves,
And schemes of empire basely politic, sprang.
One name of God each took, or masculine
Or feminine, deity having justly both
Who Father is, and bringer--forth of all;
Some title of divinity, none save God
Could equitably assume, that so they, vain,
Might, as lords substitute, the rights receive
Due to the alone Eternal, and his name
Blot from the hearts and memories of mankind.
Such were Baal Semim, Lord of heaven, whom old
Phoenicia worshipped; such too, league--invoked
In Syria as the lord of waters, he
Whose covenant witness was the e'erlasting well;
He, such, by Nile, Hephaistos, father of fire;
Aurmazd or Ilus, such; who when he had bade
The Persian bow before his so--called throne,
The sun, and claimed, phantastic, to have made
Espendermad, earth's fair tutelar, bright Khourdad,
And all the seven great angels, lit the stars,
Father himself of light; his strength reserved,
So feigned he to his prophet, for that strife
Final and all composing, 'gainst his power
I name not, lord of evil, but in Yezd
Prudentially still worshipped, from the world
Routed, to be, with three--fold thunder fires,
As chiselled glorious on the Assyrian slab;
Vain boasters all these mock divinities; such
Whom Asian tribes hailed, dove--born, mother of heaven,
And 'mong their mingled gods the Nasairÿ claimed,
Lady of light; those who in sequent years
In the holy and lovely island of the west,
As lords of light, of fate, of wealth, of power,
Gifts, glories were adored; such, latelier known,
Mid deeps Pacific, isled, Möooi, stretched
Full length, gigantic shorer--up of earth;
High title his, Sustainer of the world.
But soon in angel breasts, ill passions bred,
And multiplied to wrongs; developed ill
Evolved more perfect sin, till, frantic stricken,
Men cursed their benefactors, cursed and scorned.
These, fabling of the future, bade their seers
Read signs in moving spheres, coin chanted lies
Which, doubly feigned, deceivers self--deceived,
From tripod trolled, or maundered from dim shrines,
And brazen idols, inwardly excavate,
Whereby false faith, or rich voluptuous fraud,
Might in the murk of night be satiate. Thus,
Contentious 'mong themselves who most should reap
From man's credulity, all where triumphed wrong.
Oppression followed rivalry; full soon
Symbols and signs of terror were, in place
Of love, God's own and holiest title, ta'en;
And the divine to finite passion changed.
Then first the primal lamb whom spring's warm breeze,
Its pearly flowers and brooklets bubbling clear,
Welcome, newborn, 'neath sign connate in heaven;
Next, human victims bled; and passed the babe
Through baptistry of blood or fire, to peace.
Such offerings, loathed by heaven; while stormiest wars,--
Each striving most to widen his domain,
Propelling his adorers to invade,
Root out, and ruin all of faith opposed,--
Angel with angel waged, and god 'gainst god.
The heavens were rent with lightnings, and the fields
Of interjacent space, as the high powers,
Now heated to malignity, oft closed
In thunderous conflict, till the fire breath'd hills
Grew iced with fear; and quaking earth beneath
Reeked with the gore of brethren, brethren slain.
So, while 'gainst heathen, heathen, kin 'gainst kin
Streamed foe--wise in embattled war--waves; mowed,
With scythed cars, earth's man--eared crops; of wealth,
Peace, culture, states despoiled; while every land
Red rapine reaped, and idiot famine fed;
While maid and mother, eld and childhood, ate
Grief's heart, and drank the tears of woe, hell, know,
Agape for pitiless spirits, and o'er men's wrongs
Retaliative, content, groaned deep delight.
The angel of the ocean--flowing Nile,
And he who Hermon's heights and Lebanon held;
These, who the honours of the plains, and those
Who river, sea, or several planet claimed;
And he who, where Hiddekel gulphward darts,
Ruled with an absolute crown, for ages, strove,
With changeablest success, but changeless woe.
So, too, the Median angel and the Greek,
Contending, fanes and altars were o'erthrown,
Defiled; and myriads, militant devotees,
Through vain ambition of immortals, slain.
One thing was common to all nations, woe.
Sin, vice and luxury, with their flower--wreathed rods,
Ruled and chastised the nations; race by race,
Slaughtered, made, like that cruel tower Shirauz
Once held, of bodies breathful, limed with blood,
Time's generations, layers of death.
Festus. Not all:--
Or vainly read I earth's recorded passed,
Was surely bale, nor with life blight; to man
One sweet exemption, by God's grace, pertained;
One gift diviner than the angels gave,
Or took away, by them o'erlooked, but given
From heaven's own treasury, all their mutual ire
Could ruin not, nor pervert; love, nought but love;
Parental, filial, conjugal, and divine.
Life's armies were recruited still by love;
Fond hearts still grew affection, as fields grain;
Still bloomed and fruited with an inward life,
And vintage of delight; still youthful breasts,
Reciprocally fired, imparted joy,
Imported rapture; tenderest converse, still,
Sweet as the whisperings of imblossomed trees,
Or the low lispings of night's silvery main,
Lived on the lips of lovers, then as now,
By fount or mead, or wandering, moon beguiled,
'Neath tall white cliffs, along the unshadowed shore.
Lucifer. In sooth not all was sorrow, nor all sin;
Many too reckless lived to grieve; who died
Early, died guiltless of much crime; not all
Was ill, then. Not the less, priest, bard, nor mage,
From oracles, nor from mystic orgies; none
From secret source, nor patent; ghostliest runes,
Nor rolls of birchen bark, with mighty lay
Of divination, graven in branchèd signs,
Ere dim tradition; not from tablets rich
With Auscan god--lore, and augurial rites
Of volant fowl; from cane, nor palm--leaf, drenched
With sacred scents, in gilded Pali penned,
Could whisper to the world one saving spell;
One sacred secret snatched from jealous heaven;
That might the house of death illume; nor aught
From oracles Sibylline, or of Klarian fane,
Delphic, of holiest ambiguity, sought;
Not Rabbin versed in Kabalistic lore,
Nor echoing daughter of the spirit voice;
Nor spheral talismans, nor star--graved seals,
Whose influences, worlds, elements, all pervade
Could raise in life one soul to peaceful hope,
Death--passed, of ultimate union with the Light
Intelligible, of being. Nought hence could save.
Retrack their steps the angels scorned; nor deigned,
From holiest truths eliminating all false,
To help reharmonize with God, man's mind;
But, as misplaced of purpose, blent their rites,
That so from mystery mystery still might come,
And no solution, no salvation, soul
Sufficing, issue. Virtue, without end
Was preached of, taught, discussed, belauded, sung;
But as in theories of best life, men grew
More skilled and perfect, so in practice worse.
Nor all philosophies, nor their devotees,
'Vailed aught; not his, who held the all was God;
Not his who first from heaven to earth deduced
Philosophy, and then from earth to heaven
Retraced the soul's path by immortality;
Nor his, the sometime slave's, surnamed divine,
Rich in Egyptian wisdom, and all lore
Hellenic, who in Academe taught, well pleased,
The teacher of earth's conqueror, and the hearts
Of tyrant kings softened by gratitude;
Not they who, in the Porch, oft dreamed aloud
Their passionless figment of humanity;
Nor he who, in the Garden, vainly taught
Pure pleasure as man's truest mark and end;
The pleasure of just virtue, one with God's;
Whose words the hearts corrupt corrupted they
Aimed but to purify; not he who scorned
All things, nor he, all doubting; not even they,
Manly and moderate, honest friends of truth,
Who all the tenable points of others chose,
And in one system starred. Nor better fared
The dubious mind, elsewhere, intent on truth.
To some, in every land, of soul reborn,
The gifts pertained of wisdom, life and peace;
But who the multitudinous mass should teach;
What truths unfold, and what more shrewd reserve,
The wisest men were doubtfullest, and believed
The ultimate indifference of all deeds,
All thoughts, all motives, all intents; the best
Were erring guides; to most man's life but showed
A bridge of groans across a stream of tears.
Again the giant world--sphinx, winged with air,
Sun--faced, star--maned, tailed with the rolling sea,
And breasted as beseems the dam of all;
Who nourisheth men and beasts; her riddle reads.
And this time, she the knot divine propounds,
Of how may man with God be reconciled?
Who solves, earns well the purple; and thenceforth,
With ominous and curse--worthiest glory, wears
His gold--spiked crown. But ah! his end is woe.
He to his fate uneyes himself in vain;
His tomb is in Time's chasm; and all along,
Oracular thunders further quest forefend.
In every generation of his kind,
Hero, or priest, or bard, or sage, or king,
There lives but one can solve.
Festus. And all were dumb!
Lucifer. But now that times, of old foretold, drew nigh,
God, the most highest, compassionating the plight
Of wretched mortals, thus with reason blessed
But with material nature cursed, devoid
Of guide infallible, or of standard pure,
And ground beneath the crushing rivalries
Of disobedient angels, sent on earth
His spirit--anointed prophet, soul heaven--born,
To preach true knowledge of heaven's Lord, that faith
In him alone supreme, he might retrieve
To earth's bewildered nations, and the reign
O'erthrow of angel--kings who thralled the world
With their most false misrule; and, in their front,
The haughty and presumptuous spirit--chief,
Who, one stern family of Semitic seed
Choosing, inhibiting brotherhood from the hour
When out of Nembrod's wrath, and Assur's land,
The idolatrous Chaldees' demoniac fires,
And city, itself a realm, of Nin--Evech,
He brought the father of the faithful; ruled
His wayward chosen in all their wanderings,
Rebellions, servitudes; and, by him led forth
Lateliest from Goschen, in K'naan now 'bode:
He, boasting God to teach, the sole, most high,
But elsewhere with the unequal angels linked,
Confused of doctrine:--tremble not, but hear.
Men cried aloud to God, God, pitying man,
Eyes, in sublime compassion, man below;
And mercy, unto the semi--angel, man,
Flows from the vision. God, long--suffering, acts.
Festus. At length we touch the hem of history's robe.
Lucifer. This chosen, and all the gentile tribes, like gusts
Blew rivalrous from their lips of prophecy.
What, then was so predicted, could but come.
Comes now the liberator of soul, the saint
Of saints; the preacher of forgiven sin;
The great Pacificator.
Festus. Went not wild
The world with joy?
Lucifer. Indeed not.
Festus. Was no clash
Of sword on shield, hence useless but for hive
Of swarmful bees? No bruit of brazen trump,
Pealing its joyous requiem o'er dead war?
No world--wide murmurs of expectant joy,
Too mighty to be uttered, or repressed,
From myriads heard? No arch triumphal reared?
Earth's cities showed no revelry? No domes,
Nor Parian pillars chapiter'd with flame
Of flower--wreathed lamps, respiring odorous oils?
No festal halls with floral rainbows spanned,
And bannered silks with silvery ciphers wrought?
No gilded car? No team of creamwhite steeds,
In housings pranked of purple and pearl? Came forth
No mitred priest, his path of peace to charm
With benedictions, pouring at his feet
Long--templed treasures, ransom of a race?
Their trenchant trade nor smith, nor armourer, ceased?
Seemed there no universal pause from pain;
War; now of heaven discountenanced, and God's truce
Of promise, made perpetual?
Lucifer. Since that day
The world hath made more war than e'en before;
And this man's followers, mad to prove him prince
Of peace, have soaked, and still steep, earth in blood.
Festus. In grace of such high advent, figured forth,
By sagest seer, in sacred dance and game,
Showed not the sphered skies their mysteries, then,
In honour of God's fatherhood first preached
Of all men, and man's brotherhood?
Lucifer. Nay, thou dreamest.
Festus. Glared not the hills with joy--fires? Made the kings
No feast imperial? Bled not fountains wine,
With gush luxurious into marble meres?
Nor prince nor kingling largesse gave to churl,
Nor freedom to those bond? No? Loosed not heaven,
When, masked in manhood, earth he dignified
By touching with his feet, as once the wave
While he to faith a golden pathway showed,--
Self--interested, from out its depths, some noon
Eclipsing orb, that missioned thus of God
Man's spirit to purify, and exalt with proof
Of immortality, all earth's souls might learn
His entrance into life?
Lucifer. Thou knowst the tale.
So it was not.
Festus. No; thus. Like that lone star
Which on the thronèd lady's lap, fresh coined
Of God, leapt forth for later worlds, one pure
Pale starlet, marked of none but three, through air
Glode slowly, and towards a newborn babe that night
Of wintry snows, by her who bare, cave--cribbed,
'Mid lowing oxen, and adoring herds,
Pointed with rayonnant finger, and retired.
Lucifer. Foretold or not by stars, or wingèd suns,
This seer of seers who humbliest lived, his words
Well--like profoundly clear, and, deeplier drawn,
The purer showing, his entire life one long
Perpetual miracle, who to preach the truth
And men buy back to true faith in one God,
Lived solely, was by treachery base,--inspired
Of th' apostate angels colleagued--seized and slain.
Thousands revered and loved him; one betrayed.
For this, for man's own sake, and for the ills
Strife rivalrous 'mong these celestial powers,
Caused, God deposed the angels; and, their seals
Of sovereignty annulled, they cast, as bidden,
All, into black oblivion; even as since
In mountain tarn volcanic, throne and crown,
Sceptre, and all regalia, golden gauds,
The imperial pagan of the west,--though he
Justly, to baulk his conquerors base,--implunged;
In time to come, some needy fisherman,
At close of day, with his last throw, perchance,
Shall joyful net, a mass,--if weed--webbed, foul,
And once a despot's diadem,--may yet
Burnish to brightness fit for holiest shrines.
Festus. Thus, too, may it be with the angels, once consigned
To purifying penance, loth henceforth
Even in thought, God's unity, like intense,
Like infinite with this onemost heaven, to break.
Is there for such no hope? None? Nay, I see
Hope's dawn in far--off skies.
Lucifer. Keen--eyed one, cease.
When spirit that springs from Being's eternal fount
Led down through all life's elements, lapse of time
And tact of sense concurring, hath at last
Its earthlier dross precipitated, and again
Bound lightwards, in its course self--clarified,
Reflecting God, as ocean in his breast,
Booklike, the starry transcript of the skies,
Holds, so all virtuous and celestial powers
May look for like communion; but so long
As separateness of self, and turbid touch
Of world--love or of passion, dim the soul,
Never; be it theirs or thine. But thine, even now,
Bears the design of earthliest discontent,
Not sacred satisfaction. Now to him
Whose soul is saved all things are clear as stars,
And to the chosen is sense of safety: this
None else, nor cold insurgent heart, nor mind
Menial, can compass. It is the way of God,
The starry path none tread but spirits heaven--high,
Who were of him before all worlds, and are
Beloved and saved for ever, while they live.
Thou of the world art yet, with motives, means,
And ends, as others.
Festus. I will no more of it.
Lucifer. Oh dream not that. Thou knowest not the depth
Of nature's dark abyss, thyself, nor God.
Thou mayst yet rise and fall oft as the sea.
Festus. And those thou tell'st of?
Lucifer. Darkness overlong
With them, as light with thee o'er strong, may blind
Alike the eye.
Festus. But I foresee.
Festus. How comes it then, being spirit, I see not all
As spirit should?
Lucifer. Thou lackest both life and death;
Earth's death, heaven's life. Then wouldst thou see with God,
And know creation's strife in harmony
With him, and 'mong its separate parts, how raised,
And ordered why.
Festus. Death alters not the spirit.
Lucifer. Death must be undergone ere understood.
Festus. One world is as another. Rest we here.
Lucifer. See, thus men compt of destiny. All is chance.
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