Israel In Egypt. Book Eigth. Poem by Edwin Atherstone

Israel In Egypt. Book Eigth.

``Not with you to take counsel, Powers of heaven,--
For still that title ours,--in so great haste
Hither have I convoked you,''--thus began
The fallen Archangel,--``for rule absolute
Ye grant me still; both as, of right, mine own,
And for the good of all,--with justice used,
And wisdom,--not your counsel to invite,
I call you; but the speedier to make known
A mighty thing, that shall your spirits lift,
By showing progress on our certain way
Toward state of godhead. When Omnipotence,
Omniscience, shall be ours,--as, in due course
Of the eternal ages, they must be,--
Then shall our thrones lofty as His become;
He but our equal be; nay, haply, less;
For possible so I deem it. Then shall war
Of might 'gainst might, prove who for aye shall reign,
Monarch of heaven: and, haply, he, so long
Our tyrant, may our subject god become:
Or, to some perished orb, like this, retired,
Alone through all eternity may mourn,
His power and glory lost,--as now we mourn,
Though for a season only, our lost power
And glory in heaven. Time's cycles numberless
May seem, ere this can come: but every step
Makes less the journey: every slightest thing
Won from our adversary, him of strength
So far deprives; so far makes us more strong.
Time was, when from Omniscience nought was hid:
Nor act of ours, nor even thought most close,
From Him could we conceal; so far his power
Our power surpassed: and, stood we now, as then,
Inferior to him, powerless still were we
His watch to evade. Great, then, hath been our speed
Toward godhead, when, beneath his very eye,
Even in that Egypt, his own battle--field,
Our growing strength his watchfulness hath foiled.
Of his designs for earth, in ages past,
Oft, truly, have we learned; and, by our wiles,
Opposed them; nay, defeated: but, through all,
From mortal tongue alone the tidings came;
Never from habitant of heaven, by Him
Appointed to his work; for, as the grave
Its dead holds from the sight of living man,
So, in the bosom of his angels, close
God's counsel still was hidden. Not their strength,
Or deeper cunning, overmatching ours;
But strength from him, or keener subtlety,
To them imparted. Where they us o'ercame,
Never with their own power, but his, they wrought:
Else, with us equal merely; or, perchance,
Angel 'gainst angel measured, even far less.
With them comparing subtlety, or strength,
With Him, then, we compare: and, mastering them,
Him overcome. Rejoice then; for a day
Of victory is ours. The all--seeing eye
Dimmer hath waxed; or, seeing as before,
By our still growing potence hath been foiled,--
Striving our darkness to pierce. At last, close hid
From even the eye of God, may we expect
Power,--wheresoe'er we will,--to be, or act:
Whether, for our own purposes, to move
Through earth, and sky,--or, in deep secrecy,
Of his to learn; when, in our darkness wrapped,
We list his angels talking;--unto man
His message bearing,--or among themselves
Discoursing: for the ways of God toward men,
Be sure, is oft their theme,--that wretched race,
Which better were it to annihilate,
Foul as it is, and worthless, than, with strife
'Gainst strength like ours, to uphold awhile; then crush,
By deluge, as before; or, it may be,
By world--quake, pestilence, or fire. But thus
Deemeth not he; still resolute man to purge
From evil; and, to all the human race,
Redemption,--whatsoe'er that be,--to send.

``But, from the subtle Power who this hath learned,
Fittest it were ye learn it. Come thou, then,
Mightiest of all, save one, amid the hosts
That strive 'gainst Heaven; at my right hand come thou,
Beelzebub; and, of thy victory,
And of our enemy's purpose unto man,
To all aloud declare: so shall the voice
Of universal hell give honor and praise,
To him who first, beneath the all--seeing eye,
Unseen hath stood; and of his secrets heard,--
Himself all secret.'' Ere the word was done,
At the right hand of Satan,--suddenly
As bursts a flame volcanic,--stood the shape
High towering of the demon! As, through fumes,
Sulphurous, and pestilential,--the foul reek
From bed of smouldering earthquake;--or through clouds
Of fiery sand--storm, whirlwind--rapt, that sweep
O'er wastes of Afric, and whole caravans
'Neath a dry deluge bury,--the great sun,--
Though dimmed, and westering low,--still gloriously,--
Firing all round the dusky canopy,--
Flames on his throne sublime,--so, though by sin
Clouded and fouled, with half heaven's brightness yet
Lingering about him, the proud angel shone.
But, in his bowing form,--as greeted him
A loud acclaim which all the concave shook,--
Humble he seemed; or as by praise oppressed,
Conscious of undeserving; though, the while,
Worthy of all, self--deemed. Long time he paused,
Like one who diffident feels; of words unsure;
Or fearful, when a vast assembly waits,
Lest he should fail: with downcast eyes he stood:
And in deep silence all the myriads gazed,
Great things expecting. His huge form, at length,
Proudly he lifted; and his mighty voice
So loud sent forth, that past even farthest rank
Of listening spirits it rolled. ``Gods yet to be,--
Nay, gods already,--even as earth's small seed,
A flower, or even, perchance, a stately tree,
Essentially is,--the future in the now
Existent, though unseen,--would that my words,
To your expectance equal all might be!
But our great leader,--ever, as ye know,
Just, nay, o'er generous, merit to applaud,--
My humble triumph, with praise undeserved
So hath exalted, that the petty truth,
Seen in its nakedness,--like a poor stem,
Of branch, and leaf, and flower bereft,--may show
Mean, and unworthy. Ne'ertheless, my speech
The truth shall fit: with words I will not gild,--
Like yonder miserable race of man,--
Mere lead, to show like gold. Perchance, 'gainst Heaven
A great stroke hath been stricken; or, perchance,
Against a shadow: we from God have won;
Or have by him been mocked:--his watchful eye
We have evaded,--or, with cunning deep,
Seeing, he blind hath seemed; in hope, may be,
So to deceive, and harm us. But, of this,
Judge ye when ye shall hear. ``My task on earth,--
As well ye know,--is, evermore to keep
Espial on that Moses, chosen by God
For the deliverance speedy of the race,
Whom, ages long, content he hath beheld,
Groaning in bondage;--such the government,
Incomprehensible, of him, All Wise,
By fawning angels named! Nigh that strange man,
No moment intermitted, have I watched;
Striving his thoughts to sway, his passions fire;
That, thus, from strict obedience to our foe,
Might he be lured; and, thence, unworthy found,
Might be cast off; and, falling, God's whole scheme
For Israel's freedom, through him to be wrought,
Might bring to nothing. Haply, not all vain
Hath been my striving; though, as yet, to the eye,
Unmoved he stands. 'Tis not the first storm--breath
That fells the oak; nor have temptations first,
Though strong, him shaken. But, by blast on blast,
The great tree is torn up; and wile on wile
Him luring evermore,--from God, at length,
In God's despite, may draw him. Victory great,
So we can win it! Meantime, other stroke,
And greater far, invites us. ``Through all earth,
Ye know how loathsome, in the sight of heaven,
This dust--race hath become: and some great burst
Of anger from their irritated God,
Long have ye looked for: second flood, perchance,
Or pestilence, or world--consuming fire;
Or other stroke, destruction absolute
Bringing on earth, and all that in it is.
So in our folly deemed we: but, behold!
For wrath, expected; and for vengeance, due,--
Love, and forgiveness, to the whole bad race,
God willeth; and Redemption unto all!
What that redemption is, and how to come,
As yet we know not; but, of this be sure,--
Man's fall forgiven,--and man unto his God
Reconciled wholly,--by what means soe'er,--
To us will be defeat, and endless shame;
To our great foe, triumph for evermore;
And, even to that poor earth--seed, victory
O'er us, the sons of heaven! All conquests past,
'Neath this foul shame would be obliterate:
Hell's glories would go out, like trodden fire;
And that poor clod the trampler! To the last,
With all our strength, wisdom, and diligence,
'Gainst this new scheme, Redemption, must we fight.
Successful, it o'erwhelms us; baffled, lifts
Toward godhead, farther than in ages, else,
By due course, had we risen. Foreknowing then,
Better our hope to cross it. ``But, ye ask,
`Who knows? and how? and what the thing foreknown?
Plain words shall answer. ``Constant at my task,
O'er Moses to keep watch,--from Pharaoh's court,
To Goshen, like his shadow followed I.
A house he entered; and therein beheld
A damsel, beautiful beyond compare
Of mortal beauty, else. Such charms, methought,
Might even an angel snare;--how, then, could he,
A thing of flesh, resist? Well as I might,--
For still some Spiritual armour fences him;
Its weak points viewless yet,--into his soul
Strove I hot love to shoot; but failed: for, lo!
As if in presence of a Being divine,
All holy rapture seemed he,--woman's charms
Unfelt, unlooked on,--so all thought and sense,
In feeling of some mystery seemed lost,
Touching that maiden, and design of God,
Through her to be accomplished. Well I guessed
The working of his spirit; and, erelong,
His voice, and act proclaimed it; for he went,
And, reverently bending, took her hand,
And to his forehead pressed it: rising then,
On her bowed head he laid his palm, and spake.
`Blessëd art thou, fair virgin! and, of God,
Above all women favored! Whatsoe'er
The end unknown designed,--through thee will come
Good unto thousands: to our people all,
Perchance, unspeakable blessing: for a voice,
Though wordless, telleth, that the present hand
Of the Most High is on thee; some great thing
Through thee to accomplish.' ``Other words he spake,
And she made answer,--needless to tell now.
Anon appeared a youth; in form and face,
Beauty of man exceeding, even as she
Exceeded all of woman. At the door
He stood, fearing to enter: but she went,
And took him by the hand, and led him in:
And, when to Moses she had brought him, said,
That he it was who, as already told;
In the due time, her husband would become.
Ev'n as on her with rapture he had looked,
So now on him gazed Moses, standing mute,
Again in wonder lost. But, on their knees,
His blessing craving, sank the twain; and thus
A blessing prayed he. ```On these chosen ones,
Oh, God of Israel, look! I feel, I feel,
That Thine alone they are; in all their ways;
In life, in death! These Temples pure, Oh God,
Hallow for ever: let no breath of sin
Enter within them; that,--thy purpose high
Through them accomplished here,--in robes of light
At Thy right hand in glory may they sit,
Thee praising and adoring evermore!'

``That done, he paused; and silently, awhile,
Stood, as in prayer; then said; `My children, rise;
God's blessing is upon you; in you poured,
Even as your breath of life. By death alone,
The life--breath can ye lose: by sin, alone,
The holier breath of blessing. Stand ye, then,
'Gainst sin for ever, as, against the winds,
Rocks stand unshaken: for, God's instruments,
Some gracious work to do, be sure ye are:
And pure as dropping snow your souls must keep;
Or from your high place fall: fall worse than death!'

``So Moses, little dreaming what ear heard.
Now, knowing the deep wisdom of that man;
And how, at times, by heavenly ministers,
Through dreams, nay, waking visions, secret things
Had been revealed to him,--some such, erelong,
Methought might come, of that great wonderment
Instructing him. In what profoundest night,
From eye of angel might I wrap me, then;
So that, myself unseen, all might I see,
All hear,--the thought perplexed me,--of new power
Within me risen, unconscious,--and I paused,
Dubious to stay, or go: for, not far off,
The coming of some heavenly thing I felt,
And his keen vision dreaded. But, behold!
While thus I stood,--thicker and thicker still
Heaping around me darkness,--suddenly,
Shining in heaven's full splendor he came in,
And stood before me! Well that Spirit ye know,
Zophiel, the sunbeam--eyed,--keen--sighted most
Of all God's spies; yet, with deep--volumed night
So had I girded me, that even he
The blackness pierced not. With the outstretched hand
Might he have touched me; yet he stood, and looked,
And saw me not! In all the glory of heaven
To Moses he appeared; so that to earth,
Covering his eyes, as blinded, fell the man,
And motionless lay, as dead. But, by the hand,
Zophiel upraised him, and thus spake. His words
Mark, and remember. `Servant of God,' he said,
`Be thy heart strong: look on me; hear my words.
Chosen of Heaven art thou; and mighty things
For Israel wilt thou do. But, after thee,
In due time, will arise one greater far;
Born of a woman,--yet the Son of God;
Messiah to be named; through whom shall be
Redemption universal to man's race.
From tribe of Levi, hath it been ordained,
Shall come the virgin mother of that Son:
Yea, even from these shall spring,--the maid and youth
Before thee standing,--so with upright heart,
Pure from all sin, in sight of God they live,
And pure they die. But, sinning, will they fall,
And Heaven's high favor forfeit! Look thou, then,
Heedfully on them. Dangerous is their path,
And narrow. One false step--and they are lost!'
Thus having spoken, over that fair twain,--
Unconscious of his presence,--with spread hands,
As blessing them, he bent; then heavenward flew:
And I, as quickly, to our leader hied,
Those wondrous things to tell. Now know ye all.''

He ceased; and bowed the head. As when, on earth,
From deep foundation to its topmost tower,
Some mighty fortress, by the miner's fire,
Cloud--ward is blown,--the mighty thundering
Leagues round shakes air,--so, when the archangel ceased,
From the long silent, listening millions burst
Uproar of acclamation,--peal on peal
Rolling, like wave on wave, when ocean writhes,
Lashed by the hurricane. Silent once again,
All stood expectant: for the countenance
Of their dread leader, as around he looked,
'Tokened that he would speak. With hand outstretched,
Toward his great comrade,--now somes pace withdrawn,--
He pointed; and, in proud tone, thus began.

``Worthy, indeed, all honor and all praise
Is he, who first hath proved to us new power,
Godlike, arisen within us: for, as his,
So, doubtless, too, already, though untried,
The strength of each compeer: and such will be,--
Due time o'erpast,--the strength of even those,
Weakest among you now; such the sure growth
Of Spirit unto Godhead. 'Vantage great
Henceforth we have, into the hidden ways
Of God to pierce; and even his surest aim
To arrest, or turn aside. But ne'er, methinks,
Shall be, or can be, vantage such as now.
All, indeed, know we not; but yet enough
Our course to point. What this Redemption is;
How to be wrought; and when; and what its power
'Twixt man and God,--as yet, lies all in night.
Then, this strange thing, Messiah--Son of God,
Yet born of woman,--of a virgin, too!
What monster that may prove, we guess not yet.
But this we know,--and, knowing this, know all
Of instant moment,--on the gossamer thread
Of woman's life--long abstinence from sin,--
Her perfect holiness, both in act and thought;
From her now tender spring, throughout the years
Of glowing summer, and the ripening heat
Of autumn; when oft drops the fruit, that long
Had stood 'gainst roughest blast,--on such frail thread;
And on a second, scarce more strong perchance,--
The life--long holiness of man,--from youth,
Through headlong, scorching manhood, and old age;
Cold, but yet sensual oft, and prone to gripe
At riches, power, and honor; and all else
That in his stiffening clay may stir up life,--
On gossamer threads like these, on lines of mist,
Hangs this grand scheme, Redemption! Did we see
Man scheming, on the rainbow's arch to build
A tower to scale the Heavens,--less might we laugh,
At mortal folly, than at wisdom, now,
Of heaven's All Wise. Meantime, ye growing gods!
This aye remember. Never be the word
By Spirit uttered, which, of this great good,
This knowledge priceless,--may the secret tell,
To man, or aught of Heaven: else, down at once,
By our great enemy cast, our hopes will go:
And some new scheme, even from his angels hid,
Will be conceived, to baffle us; and work,--
As, unopposed, it will,--his end designed.

``Ye all have seen, in heart of earth's great rocks,
Firm--bedded shell, or reptile,--there encased
Myriads of ages past;--and there to lie
Prisoned through all the myriads yet to come,--
Even as those, in the rock's iron heart
Fast locked, be this great secret in you locked.
Whate'er may be the cause,--his dimmer sight,
Or slacker watchfulness,--or our new power
His eye to evade,--alike our victory.
But rather in our godhead--growing strength,
True cause I see: for, ne'er before hath slept
His vigilance; every act of ours, and thought,
Till now, plain shown, as, to inferior eye,
Mountains in sunshine: and still plain had been,
Not to Him only, but to that keen Power,
His messenger, that such a foe was nigh,
His secret listening,--had not new--born strength
Of hell's archangel baffled their sharp glance,
As mail of proof the sword--point. ``What saidst thou,
Beelzebub, as doubtful?--`perhaps, 'gainst Heaven
A great stroke hath been stricken; or, perhaps,
Against a shadow? we from God have won;
Or have by him been mocked? his watchful eye
We have evaded;--or, with cunning deep,
Seeing, he blind hath seemed; in hope, may be,
So to deceive, and harm us?'....Yea, even thus,
Saidst thou, thy triumph questioning: but I say,
'Gainst heaven a great stroke hath been stricken: we
From God have won: his watchful eye have mocked:
Nor fear that, seeing, he hath blindness feigned,
So to deceive, and harm us. Be thou sure,
His thunder would he put within our power,
Freely as such great secret. Better guard
Than his, be ours; else, all that we have won,
And more, will soon be lost. What now remains,
Is, of this secret such wise use to make,
As surest, swiftest, will to ruin bring
This folly of Omniscience: topple down
That wondrous structure of Redemption,--based
On less than moonbeam's shadow, or the sound
Of a past wind,--on mortal's holiness!
Why, even at first,--in utmost purity
To their flesh--nature possible,--slight the bait,
Simple the words that led them to their fall.
A savoury apple the first woman lured
To disobedience; and that woman's tears
Moved man to share her sin! Such appetite,
Such puny love--qualm, 'gainst command of God,
Resistless proved,--even when his very voice
The word had spoken; solemn warning given,
And Death pronounced as punishment,--what hope
Can veriest folly hold, that, 'gainst the storm
Of those fierce appetites, the heritage
Of all from woman born, they can make stand;
No special warning given; no punishment
By voice of God announced,--but moral law,
Solely, from sin restraining;--barrier slight,
'Gainst passion's gush, as, 'gainst the bursting spring,
Weak hand of childhood. What, when all those lusts,
Love, pride, ambition, avarice, thirst of power,--
In their young years perchance now sleeping,--come
Like ravenous lions on them,--what will then
Cold moral law avail? or love of good,
Taught to their infancy? or wisest word
Of Moses, them admonishing? As well
Might the dry stubble stand against the fire,
As flesh 'gainst such assault. And ours must be,
The passions to arouse; the sparks to strike:
Gently, at first, to fan; then, more and more,
Blow into fury; till the flames go up,
And utterly consume them! So shall God
His wisdom find but folly; and our might,
On his feel pressing; toward equality
Aye mounting; and, by sure procéss, ordained
As high, at length, to stand. Proud hope, perchance,
Deemed by the feeble; but, by Spirits strong,
Sure destiny felt; the necessary end,
By law of Nature. What, at first, were suns?
Think ye that all at once,--like sparks shot out
From the fire--saturate ether,--they appeared,
In blaze of their full glory? Them, indeed,
We saw not at their birth; but well may judge,
From growth of later orbs,--yon earth, and moon,
And other worlds,--how, from beginnings small;
From matter orderless, unshaped, and cold,--
Through cycles of the ages numberless,
Slowly progressing,--form, law, order, light,
They by degrees took on: till, finally,
As we behold them now, at point supreme
Of splendor stood they. These, indeed, will fade,--
Or may,--as this hath; such the law appears
For all material: but, as well ye know,
To Spirits is no decay; still on they speed,
Higher and mightier waxing, till,--like suns
To fullest glory attained,--at the last height
Of Godhead they arrive,--Omnipotent,
Omniscient, Omnipresent, evermore!
Such, be ye sure, our final destiny.
Meantime, a Spirit elder far than we,
God now; and, therefore, beyond all compare,
Our mightier,--stands against us; and long time
Subdued hath held us; and long time will hold,
If we occasion lose, by which to gain
Advantage, whatsoe'er. That youth, and maid,
Far more than Moses, and the Egyptian king,
Our mark, henceforth, must be: for, greater far,
God's scheme, the race entire of man to save,
Than, from his bondage, Israel: far more great
Our triumph, then, if we his purpose balk.
And, haply, may we. Yet too young, perchance,
By riches, rank, or power, to be seduced,--
Though these, too, may be tried,--that mortal snare
To all of flesh,--and chiefly in life's spring,--
The carnal appetite, must be awaked;
Stirred into warmth; blown then into a flame;
And, that accomplished, up in smoke will fly
Their simple holiness: and God's great hope
From them to bring Messiah, will lie dead
In the dry ashes. But, for task like this,
Not Powers the mightiest need we,--though the aim
Greatest, and final end momentous most,--
Spirits of gentle nature, in such war,
More potent than the powerful; for, soft word,
The melting eye, the amorous look and tone,
The form of beauty, and the air of grace,--
Weapons more potent far, in passion's storm,
Than wisdom most profound; or argument,
Though voiced with thunder. Come ye then, ye twain,
Gentlest of all meek Spirits erst in heaven,
Aziel, and Zuriel.'' Instantly there stood,
At the right hand of Satan, two fair shapes,
Before him bending. Smiling, on them looked
The Majesty of Hell; then, in soft tone,
And condescending, thus. ``To you we give,
Task not unpleasant, those young hearts to snare
With love's soft witchery: the beauteous maid
Thou, Aziel, take; thou, Zuriel, the youth.
By day and night your utmost cunning try
Their souls to enter; all their thoughts to sway;
Their blood to fire; their reason to confuse.
Beauty of form and face, beyond compare
Of mortal loveliness, may ye put on;
With voices may ye speak, so musical,
That sweetest tones of woman,--following them,
Would grate man's ear: with so rich eloquence
May ye assail them, that the choicest strains
Of earthly orator, or loftiest bard,
Were, after it, dull babble. Soul, and sense,
Assault ye then: with amorous thoughts, the soul;
With all can please the eye, and charm the ear,
And stir up passion, war upon the sense.

``But, ever this remember;--the keen eye
Of angel shun, as ye would thunderbolt.
Nor ever, or on earth, or other sphere
Within Heaven's ken,--to us, the higher Powers,
Or to your own compeers, one word breathe out,
Touching your mystery. If aught of new,
Or import great, ye have to tell,--the sign
To me give secretly; and hither soon
Together all repairing,--safe from eye,
And ear of hostile Power,--the general host
Will audience give; and of your future course
Will ye be taught. A pleasant task ye have,
And easy, if I err not: ne'ertheless,
Toward the same end, yet other means shall move.
Ye, of necessity, in close disguise
Must ever work; for, once by angel's ken,
Near that fair maiden, or that youth, espied,--
Full blazoned to the sight of all in heaven
Would be our purpose; and a Spirit--guard
Around them would be placed, that all attempt
Of ours would render vain. Nor, though ye soil
The souls of mortals, 'gendering therein thoughts
Of fleshly pleasure,--may ye with them mix
In actual dalliance; final seal of sin:
But, soul by you seduced, easy their fall,
When man, or woman, lures them to the joy,
In spirit imaged first. By mortals, then,
Also, shall these be tried. That headlong youth,
Sethos, the king's first--born, and his throne's heir,
The maid shall tempt: for Spirits, subtle most,
His heart shall enter; and to furnace heat
His passions fire: nor by night--dreams alone,
But shows to the waking eye,--even in mid--day,
Feigning her form, and feature, motion, mien,
And all her wondrous loveliness,--that he
To very madness shall be urged, her charms
In lawless way to enjoy: for not even word
Of wedlock, 'twixt an Israelite, and prince
Of Egypt, may be spoken: so that he,
Suing, will ask for sin; and, yielding, she,
Clear--eyed, to sin consent. But, more than this
Shall his mad passion dare: for, if he lose
Hope to seduce,--with violence shall he seize,
And, haply, that way triumph; if no power
Of Heaven come in to arrest him. So, for her,
Easy, methinks, our task. For that soft youth,
Not difficult; and by like resistless lure.
For, fired to the height in dreams of sensual love,
Woman shall come before him; beautiful,
Beyond all mortal beauty,--thus by power
Of ours perfected,--and with eye, and look,
And word, and tone, and gesture, passion--filled,--
With all that woman, over carnal man,
Omnipotent makes, shall force him into sin.

``And now, ye Powers, well understand ye all
How, 'twixt ourselves, and our great adversary,
Stands the momentous strife. Israel to free,--
In the due time Messiah to bring forth,
And, through him, man's Redemption,--such the schemes
'Gainst which, to uttermost of our strength, must we
Battle unceasingly. To each of you
Will task be given: let each o'er others strive
Glory to win, by diligence more, and zeal,
Courage, and wisdom, and keen watchfulness,--
So that the speedier to our foe may come
Defeat and shame; to us great victory;
Godhead the sooner ours. ``If any now
Among you all,--though even the least in power,--
Aught toward the general good be moved to speak,
Let him stand forth.'' He paused; but all were mute,
All motionless. The signal then he gave;
And, in that moment, vanished the vast host;
The great sun's heart again was void, and still!

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