Philip James Bailey
Festus - Xxxiii - Poem by Philip James Bailey
As in our sky sometimes a vaporous mass
Low down, shows thunder threatening; while by winds
Of happier, if adverse wing fanned, high up,
Unutterably extolled, a cloud--stream clear,
Tinged as with ghostliest silver, spreads, opposed,
Its shadowy waveletage, bespeaking peace
Prospective, genial change; so here; o'er man's
And life's concerns, celestial influences
Shed their serene constraint. Calmed by excess
Of grief, by disillusion purified,
We picture back life's simpler, earlier joys,
Pleased; and contrasting with the sateless greed
Of knowledge, unbelief in love we had nigh
Ourselves discredited, faith in innocence
By passion spurned, self, magnified by eye
Invert, disloyalty to law once deemed
By us divine, it may be, all on earth
We count false, vain; our part is played; to live
We list not. 'Tis the new temptation's hour.
The last lure power is proffered; grasped at. All
Hangs on the last desire.
A Library and Balcony, overhanging a River. Summer Night in the North.
Festus, Guardian Angel, Lucifer.
Festus. The last high upward slant of sun on the trees,
Like a dead soldier's sword upon his pall,
Seems to console earth for the glory gone.
Oh! I could weep to see the day die thus:
The deathbed of a day how beautiful.
Linger ye clouds one moment longer there;
Fan it to slumber with your golden wings,
Like pious prayers ye seem to soothe its end.
It will wake no more, till the all revealing day,
When like a drop of water greatened bright
Into a shadow, it shall show itself
With all its little tyrannous things and deeds,
Unhomed and clear. The day hath gone to God,
Straight, like an infant's spirit, or a mocked
And mourning messenger of grace to man.
Would it had taken me too upon its wing!
Mine end is nigh. Grant heaven, I die outright,
And slip the coil, without waiting it unwind!
Who, lying lonely upon a highmost hill,
In noon's imperious silence, nought about him
But the clear dark sky, like to God's hollowed hand
On earth's head laid, but expects some natural spirit
Should start out of the universal air;
And gathering round him all his cloudy robe,
As one in act to teach mysterious things,
Explain that he must die? that risen as high
As life can lift him up, as far above
The world as flesh can mount, o'er tyrant wind
And clouded lightning, and the rainbow round;
And gained a loftier, more mysterious beauty
Of feeling, something like a starry darkness
Seizing the soul, say he must die, and vanish?
Who hath not at such moments felt, as now
I feel, that to be happy we must die?
And here I rest above the world, and its ways;
The wind, opinion, and the rainbow, beauty,
And the thunder, superstition. I am free
Of all: save death, what want I to be happy?
Hell solves all doubts. Come to me, spirit of evil!
Lucifer. Lo! I am here; and ever prompt when called.
Death's such a favourite now at court, it seems,
He hath but to ask and have. Teaze him not yet.
How speed thy general pleasures?
Festus. Bravely. Joys
Are bubble--like; what makes them, bursts them, too.
And like the milky way, there, dim with stars,
The soul which numbers most, will shine the less.
Lucifer. No matter; mind it not. That joys of earth
Should turn to ruin of spirits is somewhat hard.
What are these, love, hilarity, vanity,
These secondary orblets of man's life,
And satellites of youth's all glowing sphere,
But natural luxuries, few indeed can shun?
They have well nigh unimmortalized myself.
Festus. Yet have they nought, base, impure, ruinous
Heart--harlots, wherewithal to sate the spirit
Which doth enamour immortality.
It may be, as to love, the feeling still
Is adamantine though the splendid thing
Whereon it writes its record, is of all
Frailest; and though earth, lovely mother, shows
To all the same blind kindness, beautiful
To see, she loves her children with, to me
Her beauty she in vain unbosometh.
It lists me not to live; for things may be
Corrupted into beauty; and even love,
Where all the passions blend, as hues in white,
Tires at the last as day would, if all day,
And no night. It may be, forgive me, God!
I am getting too forlorn to live, too waste;
Aught that I can, or do love, shoots by me,
Like a train upon an iron road. And yet
I need not now reproach mine arm nor aim.
For I have winged each pleasure as it flew,
How swift or high soever in its flight.
We cannot live alone. The heart must have
A prop without, or it will fall and break.
But nature's common joys are common cheats.
As he who sails southwards, beholds, each night,
New constellations rise, all clear, and fair;
So, o'er the waters of the world, as we
Reach the mid zone of life, or go beyond,
Beauty and bounty still beset our course;
New beauties wait upon us everywhere;
New lights enlighten, and new worlds attract.
But I have seen and I have done with all.
Friendship hath passed me like a ship at sea;
And I have seen no more of it. A friend
I had with whom, in youthhood. I was wont
To learn, think, laugh, weep, strive, and love, together;
For we were always rivals in all things;
Together up high springy hills, to trace
A runnel to its birthplace--to pursue
A river--to search, haunt old ruined towers,
And muse in them--to scale the cloud--clad hills,
While thunders murmured in our very ear;
To leap the lair of the live cataract,
And pray its foaming pardon for the insult;
To dare the broken tree--bridge across the stream;
To crouch behind the broad white waterfall,
Tongue of the glen, like to a hidden thought--
Dazzled, and deafened, yet the more delighted;
To reach the rock which makes the fall and pool;
There to feel safe or not to care if not;
To fling the free foot over our native hills,
Which seemed to breathe the bracing breeze we loved
The more it lifted up our loosened locks,
That nought might be between us and the heavens;
Or, hand in hand, leap, laughing, with closed eyes,
In Trent's death--loving deeps; yet was he kind
Ever to us; and bare us buoyant up,
And followed our young strokes, and cheered us on--
As quick we dashed, in reckless rivalry,
To reach, perchance, some long green floating flag--
Just when the sun's hot lip first touched the stream,
Reddening to be so kissed; and we rejoiced,
As breasting it on we went over depth and death,
Strong in the naked strife of elements,
Toying with danger in as little fear
As with a maiden's ringlets. And oft, at night
Bewildered and bewitched by favourite stars,
We would breathe ourselves amid unfooted snows;
For there is poetry where aught is pure;
Or over the still dark heath, leap along, like harts,
Through the broad moonlight; for we felt where'er
We leapt the golden gorse, or lowly ling,
We could not be from home.--That friend is gone,
There's the whole universe before our souls.
Where shall we meet next? Shall we meet again?
Oh! might it be in some far happy world,
That I may light upon his lonely soul,
Hard by some broad blue stream, where high the hills,
Wood--bearded, sweep to its brink--musing, as wont,
With love--like sadness, upon sacred things;
For much in youth we loved and mused on them.
To say what ought to be to human wills,
And measure morals sternly; to explore
The bearings of men's duties and desires;
To note the nature and the laws of mind;
To balance good with evil; and compare
The nature and necessity of each;
To long to see the ends and end of things;
Or if no end there be, the endless, then,
As suns look into space; these were our joys--
Our hopes--our meditations--our attempts.
One thing he missed 'twas faith in man; he loved
Knowledge to please and greaten himself, not men.
Yes, he is gone, and what remains but woe?
And if I have enjoyed more love than others,
Love's but superior suffering, and is more
Than balanced by the loss of one we love.
And love, itself, hath passed. One fond fair girl
Remains, who loves me still. But is it love
I feel? or but pure kindness? Let fate prove.
How shall I find another like my last?
Even as I had for her relinquished all,
Herself, that more than all, to me was lost;
And Death cast down the tower of my intent.
Though thou and he o'erthrew, yet heaven, I know,
Her soul received; and the Eternal beauty
Embayed within its arms the mortal fair.
The golden and the gorgeous loveliness,
A sunset beauty! Ah! I saw it set.
My heart, alas! set with it. I have drained
Life of all love, as doth an iron rod
The heavens of lightning; I have done with it;
And all its waking woes, and dreamed--of joys.
No more shall beauty star the air I live in;
And no more will I wake at dead of night,
And hearken to the roaring of the wind,
As though it came to carry one away--
Claiming for sin. Fear lost, I am lost for ever.
To earn the world's delights by equal sins,
Seems the great aim of life--the aim succeeds.
Here it is madness, and perdition there.
And but for thee I might have now been happy!
Lucifer. Why charge, why wrong me thus? When first I knew thee,
I deemed it thine ambition to be damned.
Thine every thought, almost, had gone from good,
As far as finite is from infinite;
And then thou wast as near to me as now.
Thou hadst declined in worship, and in wish
To please thy God; nor wouldst thou e'er repent.
What more need I, to justify attempt?
Have I shrunk back from granting aught I promised?
Thy love of knowledge--is that satisfied?
Festus. It is. Yet knowledge is a doubtful boon--
Root of all good, and fruit of all that's bad.
I have talked with elements, here unknown, of worlds;
Learned the majestic language of the sons
Of light, and heaven's angelic kin; and taught
By spheres impetuous hearted, mountain maned,
And wisest stars which speak themselves in signs
Too sacred to be explicable here,
The bright articulations of their spheres,
Have summed the mysteries of all worlds with earth's,
And found in all one same and master truth.
And now what better am I? Nearer God?
When the void finds a voice, mine answer know.
Lucifer. What better or what worse thou canst not tell.
For good and evil, wherein differ they?
Accrue not both from the same parent force,
As ripeness and decay? Light, light alone,
Of hues how contrary soe'er is cause
Common and one.
Festus. Distracter of God's truth!
Shall not God's word, all separative, suffice?
Lucifer. Thou canst not have lacked joys.
Festus. We seek them oft
Among our own delusions, follies, pains;
Joys half accursed my soul hath writhed 'mong oft,
Like to some day--lifed creature in the heart
Of a rose, to him death odorous from excess.
Lucifer. Hath not care perished from thy heart, as, flung
From the apostle's hand, the viper?
Festus. Just like that:
All care shall cease in fire.
Lucifer. Infatuate, cease.
Festus. Were act mind's mate, man had a firm hold now
On the immortal future; but we turn
From either skiey end, star--garlanded,
Teeming with light, and from the spirit truths
Which crown all thought, to gauds and lures of life
All--formed, and beauty's eyes inspired with tears,
Or fired with mirth conclusive; and so lose
Count of those heavenly spheres we meant at first
To reckon unto the last atomic light.
But how shall these, the joys and cares of earth,
And life's vain schemes, appear to the great soul,
Which hath no friend, no equal save the world,
When all these constellated systems known
To the keen ken of science, space's depths,
And the whole mighty heavens that bind our reach,
Hang like a pale speck doubtful to the eye,
In unimagined distance? Is it thus
Ordered of God lest man's weak powers should fail,
And the round wall of madness pound us in?
Eternity! thou holdest in thine own hand
The casket of all secrets, death the key.
And now what seem I even unto myself?
Life's impulse ceased, we live on being's rebound;
As some vain wind, which having wasted life
In rounding mountains and their shadowy woods
Made lyrelike vocal, dies at last at sea
The sun sole witness, where deep--brooding spreads
The uttermost circumference of a calm;
So the soul struggling through life's death--clouds, ends
In the serene eternal.
Lucifer. It may be,
No life is waste in the great worker's hand:
The gem too poor to polish in itself,
We grind to brighten others. Courage, friend!
Hast thou not had thine every quest?
Festus. Save one.
Lucifer. Why not then rest at last, and life enjoy?
Festus. How can I rest while aught remains not tried?
Lucifer. Not tried? I proffer now the power thou long'st for.
Festus. I have beheld my name writ in the book
Of life eterne; wherefore then tempt'st thou me?
What were a seat among the sons of kings
To him whose seat is with the sons of God?
Lucifer. Fate's scheme must be fulfilled. Salvation though
Promised, is not achieved; and if achieved
Is still not life accomplished. Never known
To being create may fate's most holy law,
Till the day dawn of all fulfilments, be.
Festus. When God once speaks, his word for ever stands.
Still let me well consider.
Lucifer. Justly weigh
All things. I have need to ponder even as thou.
Say he casts back mine offer. Still is due,
By thought or deed, the unknotting of the tale,
Some day. Accepts? Still well; the peace he harps on,
Be his, though not for long would earth's endure,
Without; and for within, I'll look to that.
Meanwhile, as on some stern and strifeful day,
An age smote hot into an hour, that sends
Kings crownless begging, or an empire hurls
To popular deperdition, and its lord,
Rude dominator of nations, to his doom,
Comes night with limpening dews; and drives the crowd
Home, self--distraught with pale and panic fears,
Lest law lift up her ghastly head as stunned,
Not slain, or power imperial drown the roar
Of brute success, with muffled tramp of troops,
Stealthy, retributive; so be it mine, time due,
To enfeeble his spirit's triumphant temperament
With nature's sick forebodings, vain and vague
And vacillating emotions, which undo
All reason hath yet pronounced most stable. I hear!
Say but the word, and thou shalt press a throne
But less than mine, scarce less than heaven's; before
Whose feet earth's puny potentates may sue
For choice of slavedoms, and be all satisfied.
Festus. The paltry pittance of a world like this
Were not a bribe for me, nor all its crowns
Crushed into one tiara, but that thus,
By supersession of all earthly sway,
Autocrasie divine were mine; and man,
Knowing the power of truth and faith, might see
Fate, highest of all laws, and recognize
In mine direct complicity with heaven:
My will, my fate, God's fate.
Lucifer. So let it be.
Festus. I have had enough of the infinities:
I am moderate now. I will have the throne of earth.
Lucifer. Thou shalt. Yet mind!--with that the world must end.
Festus. I can survive.
Lucifer. Nay, die with it must thou.
Festus. Why should I die? I am egg--full of life:
Earth's in her first young crescent quarter, yet.
I dare not, cannot credit it shall die.
I will not have it, then.
Lucifer. It matters not;
I know thou never wilt have ease at heart,
Until thou hast thy soul's whole, full desire;
Whenever that may happen, all is done.
Once again therefore search the scroll of life;
Mark what is done, what undone. Lo! in love,
Already twice hath judgment passed upon thee.
Say hath not evil wrought its own revenge,
And death the only guerdon thou hast gained?
Let then mere self--life cease. The heart's career
Is ended. With the world thy part is now.
The depths of feeling, passion, pleasure, woe,
The mysteries and dread delights of spirit,
All, thou hast sounded. Now behoves to live
The worldlife of the future--last the same
One instant or for ever. Bury love.
The steedlike world stands ready. Mount for life.
Festus. Well, then--be it now! I live but for myself--
The whole world but for me. Friends, loves, and all
I sought, abandon me. It is time to die.
I am yet young; yet have I been deserted,
And wronged, by those whom most I have loved and served.
Sun, moon, and stars! may they all fall on me,
When next I trust another--man or woman.
Earth rivals hell too often, at the best.
All hearts are stronger for the being hollow.
And that was why mine was no match for theirs.
The pith is out of it now.--Lord of the world--
It will not directly perish?
Lucifer. Not perhaps.
Thou wilt have all fame, while thou livest, now.
Festus. I care not; fame is folly: for it is, sure,
Far more to be well known of God than man.
With all my sins I think I feel I am God's.
Lucifer. Farewell, then, for a time.
Festus. I am alone.
Alone? He clings around me like the clouds
Upon a hill. When will the clouds roll off?
When will sun visit me? O thou great God!
In whose right hand the elements are atoms;
In whose eye, light and darkness but a wink;
Who, in thine anger, like a blast of cold,
Dost make the mountains shake like chattering teeth;
Have mercy! pity me! for it is thou
Who hast fixed me to this test. Wilt thou not save?
Forgive me, Father! but I long to die;
I long to live to thee, a pure, free mind.
Take again, God! and thou, fair earth, the form
And spirit which, at first, ye lent to me.
Such as they were, I have used them. Let them part.
I weary of this world; and like the dove,
Urged o'er life's barren flood, sweep, tired, back
To thee who sent'st me forth. Bear with me, God!
I am not worthy of thy wrath, nor love!--
Oh! that the things which have been were not now
In memory's resurrection! But the past
Bears in her arms the present and the future:
And what can perish while perdition is?
From the hot, angry, crowding courts of doubt
Within the breast, it is sweet to escape, and soothe
The soul in looking upon natural beauty.
Oh! earth, like man her son, is half divine.
There is not a leaf within this quiet spot,
But which I seem to know; should miss, if gone.
I could run over its features, hour by hour,
The quaintly figured beds--the various flowers--
The mazy paths all cunningly converged--
The black yew hedge, like a beleaguering host,
Round some fair garden province--here and there,
The cloudlike laurel clumps sleep, soft and fast,
Pillowed by their own shadows--and beyond,
The ripe and ruddy fruitage--the sharp firs'
Fringe, like an eyelash, on the faint blue west--
The grey old church, its age--peeled pinnacles,
And tufted top, whence, now, the white owl wheels;
The oaks, which spread their broad arms in the blast,
And bid storms come, and welcome; there they stand
To whom a summer passes like a smile:
And the proud peacock towers himself there, and screams,
Ruffling the imperial purples of his neck;
O'er all, the shadowy groves which crest the hills,
And with descending clouds equality claim
Of gloom; whisper with winds nought else knows nigh,
And bow to angels as they wing by them;
The lonely, bowery, woodland view before--
And, making all more beautiful, thou, sweet moon,
Leading slow pomp, as triumphing o'er heaven!
High riding in thy loveless, deathless brightness,
And in thy cold, unconquerable beauty,
As though there were nothing worthy in the world
Even to lie below thee, face to God.
And Night, in her own name, and God's again,
Hath dipped the earth in dew;--and there she lies,
Even like a heart all trembling with delight,
Till passion murder power to speak--so mute.
Young maiden moon! just looming into light--
I would that aspect never might be changed;
Nor that fine form, so spirit--like, be spoiled
With fuller light. Oh! keep that brilliant shape,
Keep the delicious honour of thy youth,
Sweet sister of the sun, more beauteous thou
Than he sublime. Shine on, nor dread decay.
It may take meaner things: but thy bright look,
Smiling away an immortality,
Assures it us--nay, it seems, half, to give.
Earth may decease. God will not part with thee,
Fair ark of light, and every blessedness!
Yes, earth, this earth, may foul the face of life,
Like some swart mole on beauty's breast--or dead
Stiff, mangled reptile some clear well--while thou,
Like to a diamond on a dead man's hand,
Shalt shine, aye brilliant, on creation's corse;
Whence God shall pluck thee to his breast, or bid
Beam mid his lightning locks. What are earth's joys
To watching thee, tending thy bright flock over
Yon fields celestial? Mother, and maid of light!
That, like a god, redeems the world to heaven--
Making us one with thee, and with the sun,
And with the stars in glory--lovely moon!
I am immortal as thyself; and we
Shall look upon each other yet in heaven
Often--but never, never more on earth.
Am I to die so soon? This death!--the thought
Comes on my heart as through a burning glass.
I cannot bend mine eyes to earth, but thence
It riseth, spectrelike, to mock--nor towards
The west, where sunset is, whose long bright pomp
Makes men in love with change--but there it lowers
Eve's last still lingering, darkening cloud; and on
The escutcheon of the morn, it is there--it is there!
But fears will steal upon the bravest mind,
Like the white moon upon the crimson west.
I have attractions for all miseries:
And every course of thought, within my heart
Leaves a new layer of woe. But it must end.
It will all be one, hereafter. Let it be;
My bosom, like the grave, holds all quenched passions.
It is not that I have not found what I sought--
But, that the world--tush! I shall see it die.
I hate, and shall outlive the hypocrite.
Stealthily, slowly, like the polar sun,
Who peeps by fits above the air--walled world--
The heavenly fief he knows and feels his own,
My heart o'erlooks the paradise of life
Which it hath lost, in cold, reluctant joy.
I live and see all beauteous things about me,
But feel no nature prompting from within
To meet and profit by them. I am like
That fabled forest of the Alp Pennine,
Which leafless lives; whereto the spring's bright showers,
Summer's heat breathless, autumn's fruitful juice,
Nothing avail;--nor winter's killing cold.
Yet have I done, said, thought, in time now passed,
What, rather than remember, I would die,
Or do again. It is the thinking on't,
And the repentance, maddens. I have thought
Upon such things so long and grievously,
My lips have grown like to a cliff--chafed sea,
Pale with a tidal passion: and my soul,
Once high and bright and self--sustained as heaven,
Unsettled now for life or death, feels like
The gray gull balanced on her bowlike wings,
Between two black waves seeking where to dive.
Long we live thinking nothing of our fate;
For in the morn of life we mark it not--
It falls behind: but as our day goes down
We catch it lengthening with a giant's stride,
And ushering us unto the feet of night.
Dark thoughts, like spots upon the sun, revolve
In troops for days together round my soul,
Disfiguring and dimming. Death! O death!
The past, the present, and the future, like
The dog three--headed, by the gates of woe
Sitting, seem ready to devour me each.
I dare not look on them. I dare not think.
The very best deeds I have ever done
Seem worthy reprobation, have to be
Repented of. But have I done aught good?
Oh that my soul were calmer! Grant me, God!
Thy peace; that added, I can smile and die.
Thy spirit only is reality:
All things beside are folly, falsehood, shame.
Guardian Angel. Elect of spirits, of sinners God forgiven,
Soul of my watching, not in all things thou
Hast pleased God, nor responded to my care;
But lone and comfortless nor I, nor heaven
Would have thee.
Festus. Well I know I both have grieved.
But not thou knowest all things. 'Tween my soul
And God are secrets not consigned to thee.
Until I have assurance from his word,
Which maybe I shall never have in life,
I dare not deem me safe, nor sealed in bliss.
Guardian Angel. More, then, than this beseems me not to say.
One lives who loves thee still, by thee estranged.
Give pure fidelity due meed.
Festus. Her soul
Walks but with God.
Guardian Angel. Nay, she forgets not thee.
But as when by morning moonlight, while round dews
Bead still the impleachèd paths, some thoughtful nun,
Whose very life would wither 'neath a name
Of secular cast, culls, with cold paly hand,
Buds delicatest, that these the shrine may deck
Of patron saint who hallows from his niche
The bosky pleasance, and at his marble feet
Breathe forth their premier odours; bent to joy
The just on high, she guileless thinks, with gifts
Of earth least gross, most savouring innocence;
And posing reverently the offering, lo!
She kneels! Heaven's hosts thrill stilly; and while heard
The heart--breathed prayer, transcending reason, in doubt,
God's watchful eye watch. He, saint, votary, shrine,
Oblation marks: and, all seen, each in kind
Pure, not reproves; but, pleased with patiently,
Smiles, inostensive:--so, this soul who yields
Her life--flower to memorial love, and lives
Elsewise in active virtue, known to heaven
May, though beclouded seemingly, abide
In secret sunshine all her days, and bear
A strengthening weight of blessing, not alone
For herself, but others, hope.
Festus. I hope. Thy words
Too kind are to deceive. Yet still I would
I knew my destiny. I may hope, not love.
Guardian Angel. But love's more mild reflection, such as that
Tempered with love divine was always hers,
She feels, thy saintly Clara, and with thee
Fate sharing, such as life hath still to give,
Might yet communicate. This is the love
The heavens approve; this sole.
Festus. I doubt it not.
We may be reconciled;--united, never.
The end we aim at, her more sensitive soul,
Filled with the love of lowliest loneliness,
Will suit not, I foresee.
Guardian Angel. To her thou owest
Essayed reunion; and if there it end,
Her pure thought will thine own refine; perchance,
May sanctify the sacrifice both make.
Festus. Thou sayst what ought to be. Be it mine to make
Guardian Angel. Prosper.
Guardian Angel. Farewell.
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