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& Epncal Drama.
IN POUR ACTS.
Audi me haec Amphiarae, sub terrain abditc?
The Greek tragic writers, in selecting as their subject any portion of their national history or mythology, employed in their treatment of it a certain arbitrary discretion. They by no means conceived themselves bound to adhere to the common interpretation, or to imitate in story, as in title, their rivals and predecessors. Such a system would have amounted to a resignation of those claims to preference over their competitors -which incited the composition. The Agamcmnonian story was exhibited on the Athenian theatre with as many variations as dramas.
I have presumed to employ a similar license. The "Prometheus Unbound" of /Eschylus supposed the reconciliation of Jupiter with his victim as the price of the disclosure of the danger threatened to his empire by the consummation of his marriage with Thetis. Thetis, according to this view of the subject, was given in marriage to Peleus, and Prometheus, by the permission of Jupiter, delivered from hiscaptivity by Hercules. Had I framed my story on this model, I should have done no more than have attempted to restore the lost drama of JEschylus; an ambition, which, if my preference to this mode of treating the subject had incited me to cherish, the recollection of the high comparison such an attempt would challenge might well abate. But, in truth, I was averse from a catastrophe so feeble as that of reconciling tbe Champion with the Oppressor of mankind. The moral interest of the fable, which, is so powerfully sustained by the Bufferings and endurance of Prometheus, would be annihilated if we could conceive of him as unsaying his high language and quailing before his successful and perfidious adversary. The only imaginary being resembling in any degree Prometheus, is Satan: and Prometheus is, in my judgment, a more poetical character than Satan, because, in addition to courage, and majesty, and firm and patient opposition to omnipotent forco, he is susceptible of being described as exempt from the taints of ambition, envy, revenge, and a desire for personal aggrandisement, which, in the Hero of Paradise Lost, interfere with the interest. The character of Satan engenders in the mind a pernicious casuistry which leads us to weigh his faults with his wrongs, and to excuse the former because the latter exceed all measure. In the minds of those who consider that magnificent fiction with a religious feeling, it engenders something worse. But Prometheus is, as it were, the type of the highest perfection of moral and intellectual nature, impelled
by the purest and the truest motives to the best and nohlcBt ends.
This Poem was chiefly written upon the mountainous ruins of the Baths of Caracalla, among the flowery glades, and thickets of odoriferous blossoming tree?, which are extended in ever-winding labyrinths upon its immense platforms and dizzy arches suspended in the air. The bright blue sky of Rome, and the effect of the vigorous awakening of spring in that divinest climate, and the new life with which it drenches the spirits even to intoxication, were the inspiration of thin drama.
The imagery which I have employed will be found, in many instances, to have been drawn from the operations of the human mind, or from those external actions by which they are expressed. This is unusual in modern poetry, although Dante and Shakspeare are frill of instances of the same kind: Dante indeed more than any other poet, and with greater success. But the Greek poets, as writers to whom no resource of awakeoing the sympathy of their contemporaries was unknown, were in the habitual use of this power; and it is the study of their works (since a higher merit would probably be denied me), to which I am willing that my readers should impute this singularity.
One word is due in candour to the degree in which the study of contemporary writings may have tinged my composition, for such has been a topic of censure with regard to poems far more popular, and, indeed, more deservedly popular, than mine. It is impossible that any one who inhabits the same age with such writers as those who stand in the foremost ranks of our own, can conscientiously assure himself that his language and tone of thought may not have been modified by the study of the productions of those extraordinary intellects. It is true, that, not the spirit of their genius, but the forms in which it has manifested itself, are due less to the peculiarities of their own minds than to the peculiarity of the moral and intellectual condition of the minds among which they have been produced. Thus a number of writers possess the form, whilst they want the spirit of those whom, it is alleged, they imitate; because the former is the endowment of the age in which they live, and the latter must be the uncommunicated lightning of their own mind.
The peculiar style of intense and comprehensive imagery which distinguishes the modern literature ot England, has not been, as a general power, the product of the imitation of any particular writer. The mass of capabilities remains at every period materially the same; the circumstances which awaken it to action perpetually change. If England were divided into forty republics, each equal in population and extent to Athens, there a so reason to suppose but that, under institutions not more perfect than those of Athens, each would produce philosophers and poets equal to those who (if we except Seakspeare) have never been surpassed. We owe the great writers of the golden age of our literature to that fervid awakening of the public mind which shook to dost the oldest and most oppressive form of the Christian religion. We owe Milton to the progress and development of the same spirit: the sacred Milton was, lot it ever be remembered, a republican, and a bold inquirer into morals and religion. The great writers of our own age are, we have reason to suppose, the companions and forerunners of some unimagined change in our social condition, or the opinions which cement it. The cloud of mind is discharging its collected lightning, and the equilibrium between institutions and opinions is now restoring, or is about to be restored.
As to imitation, poetry is a mimetic art. It creates, but it creates by combination and representation. Poetical abstractions are beautiful and new, not the portions of which they are composed had i existence in the mind of man, or in nature, bat because the whole produced by their combination has tome intelligible and beautiful analogy with those sources of emotion and thought, and with the contemporary condition of them: ono great poet is a masterpiece of nature, which another not only ought to study but must study. He might as wisely and as easily determine that his mind should no longer be the mirror of all that is lovely in the visible universe, as exclude from his contemplation the beautiful which exists in the writings of a great contemporary. The pretence of doing it would be a presumption in any but the greatest; the effect, even in him, would he strained, unnatural, and ineffectual. A poet is the combined product of such internal powers as modify the nature of others; and of such external influences as excite and sustain these powers; he is not anc, but both. Every man's mind is, in this respect, modified by all the objects of nature and art; by every word and every suggestion which he ever admitted to act upon his consciousness; it is the mirror upon which all forms are reflected, and in which they compose one form. Poets, sot otherwise than philosophers, painters, sculptors, and musicians, are, in one sense, the creators, and, in
another, the creations, of their age. From this subjection the loftiest do not escape. There is a similarity between Homer and Hesiod, between ./Eschylus and Euripides, between Virgil and Horace, between Dante and Petrarch, between Shakspeare and Fletcher, between Dry den and Pope; each has a generic resemblance under which their specific distinctions are arranged. If this similarity be tho result of imitation, I am willing to confess that I have imitated.
Let this opportunity bo conceded to me of acknowledging that I have, what a Scotch philosopher characteristically terms, "a passion for reforming the world:** what passion incited him to write and publish his book, he omits to explain. For my part, I had rather be damned with Plato and Lord Bacon, than go to heaven with Paley and Malthus. But it is a mistake to suppose that I dedicate my poetical compositions solely to the direct enforcement of reform, or that I consider them in any degree as containing a reasoned system on the theory of human life. Didactic poetry is my abhorrence; nothing can be equally well expressed in prose that is not tedious and supererogatory in verse. My purpose has hitherto been simply to familiarise the highly refined imagination of the more select classes of poetical readers with beautiful idealisms of moral excellence; aware that until the mind can love, and admire, and trust, and hope, and endure, reasoned principles of moral conduct are seeds cast upon the highway of life, which the unconscious passenger tramples into dust, although they would bear the harvest of his happiness. Should I live to accomplish what I purpose, that is, produce a systematical history of what appear to me to be the genuine elements of human society, let not the advocates of injustice and superstition flatter themselves that I should take JEschylus rather than Plato as my model.
The having spoken of myself with unaffected freedom will need little apology with the candid; and let the uncandid consider that they injure me less than their own hearts and minds by misrepresentation. Whatever talents a person may possess to amuse and instruct others, be they ever so inconsiderable, he is yet bound to exert them : if his attempt be ineffectual, let the punishment of an unaccomplished purpose have been sufficient; let none trouble themselves to heap the dust of oblivion upon his efforts; the pile they raise will betray his grave, which might otherwise have been unknown.
Panthba , L OcMtnitUi.
The Phantasm Of Jupiter.
The Spirit Op The Earth.
The Spirit Op The Moon.
Spirits Op The Hours.
Spirits. Echoes. Fauws.
Scknb, a Ravine of Icy Rocks in the Indian Caucasus. Promkthki'8 is discovered bound to the Precipice. PanThea and loss are seated at his feet. Time, Night. During the Scene, Morning slowly breaks.
Monarch of Gods and Dcemons, and all Spirits
No change, no pause, no hope! Yet I endure.
The crawling glaciers pierce me with the spears
Not exultation, for I hate no more,
As then ere misery made me wise. The i
Once breathed on thee I would recall. Ye
Mountains, Whose many-voiced Echoes, through the mist Of cataracts, flung the thunder of that spell! Ye icy Springs, stagnant with wrinkling frost, Which vibrated to hear me, and then crept Shuddering through India! Thou serenest Air, Through which the Sun walks burning without
beams! And ye swift Whirlwinds, who on poised wings Hung mute and moveless o'er yon bushed abyss, As thunder, louder than your own, made rock The orbed world! If then my words had power. Though I am changed so that aught evil wish Is dead within; although no memory be Of what is hate, let them not lose it now! What was that curse! for ye all heard me spca.k.
First Voice: (from the mountain*.) Thrice three hundred thousand years
O'er the Earthquake's couch we stood: Oft, as men convulsed with fears,
We trembled in our multitude.
SECOND VOICE: (from the springs.) Thunderbolts had parched our water,
We had been stained with bitter blood. And had run mute, 'mid shrieks of slaughter,
Through a city and a solitude.
Third Voice: (from the air.) I had clothed, since Earth uprose,
Its wastes in colours not their own; And oft had my serene repose
Been cloven by many a rending groan.
Fourth Voice: (from the whirlwinds.) We had soared beneath these mountains
Unresting ages; nor had thunder, Nor yon volcano's flaming fountains,
Nor any power above or under
Ever made us mute with wonder.
And we shrank back: for dreams of ruin
The tongneless Caverns of the craggy hilla
1 hear a sound of voices: not the voice
They dare not.
Who dares T for I would hear that curse again.
Ha! what an awful whisper rises up!
'Tis scarce like sound: it tingles through the frame
As lightning tingles, hovering ere it strike.
Speak, Spirit! from thine inorganic voice
I only know that thou art moving near
And love. How cursed I him 1
How canst thou hear, Who knowest not the language of the dead?
Thou art a living spirit; speak as they.
I dare not speak like life, lest Heaven's fell King Should hear, and link me to some wheel of pain More torturing than the one whereon I roll. Subtle thou art and good; and though the Gods Hear not this voice, yet thou art more than God Being wise and kind: earnestly hearken now.
Obscurely through my brain, like shadows dim,
No, thou canst not hear: Thou art immortal, and this tongue is known Only to those who die. .
And what art thou, 0 melancholy Voice!
I am the Earth, Thy mother; she within whose stony veins, To the last fibre of the loftiest tree Whose thin leaves trembled in the frozen air, Joy ran, as blood within a living frame, When thou didst from her bosom, like a cloud Of glory, arise, a spirit of keen joy! And at thy voice her pining sons uplifted Their prostrate brows from the polluting dust, And our almighty Tyrant with fierce dread Grew pale, until his thunder chained thee here. Then, see those million worlds which burn and roll Around us: their inhabitants beheld My sphered light wane in wide Heaven; the sea Was lifted by strange tempest, and new fire From earthquake-rifted mountains of bright snow Shook its portentous hair beneath Heaven's frown; Lightning and Inundation vexed the plains; Blue thistles bloomed in cities; foodless toads Within voluptuous chambers panting crawled; When Plague had fallen on man, and beast, and
worm, And Famine; and black blight on herb and tree; And in the corn, and vines, and meadow-grass, Teemed ineradicable poisonous weeds Draining their growth, for my wan breast was dry With grief; and the thin air, my breath, was stained With the contagion of a mother's hate Breathed on her child's destroyer; aye, I heard Thy curse, the which, if thou rememberest not, Yet my innumerable seas and streams, Mountains, and caves, and winds, and yon wide air, And the inarticulate people of the dead, Preserve, a treasured spell. We meditate In secret joy and hope those dreadful words But dare not speak them.
Venerable mother! All else who live and suffer take from thee Some comfort; flowers, and fruits, and happy sounds, And love, though fleeting; these may not be mine. But mine own words, I pray, deny me not.
They shall be told. Ere Babylon was dust,
The curse which all remember. Call at will
Thine own ghost, or the ghost of Jupiter,
Hades or Typhon, or what mightier Gods
From all-prolific Evil, since thy ruin
Have sprung, and trampled on my prostrate sons.
Ask, and they must reply: so the revenge
Of the Supreme may sweep through vacant shades,
As rainy wind through the abandoned gate
Of a fallen palace.
Mother, let not aught
My wings are crossed o'er mine eyes:
And through their lulling plumes arise,
May it be no ill to thee
The sound is of whirlwind underground,
Earthquake, and tire, and mountains cloven; The shape is awful like the sound,
Clothed in dark purple, star-inwoven.
To stay steps proud, o'er the slow cloud
PHANTASM OP JUPITER.
Why have the secret powers of this strange world
Tremendous Image ! as thou art must be
Listen! And though your echoes must be mute, Grey mountains, and old woods, and haunted springs, Prophetic caves, and isle-surrounding streams, Rejoice to hear what yet ye cannot speak.
A spirit seizes mo and speaks within:
See, how he lifts his mighty looks, the Heaven
I see the curse on gestures proud and cold,
Fiend, I defy thee ! with a calm, fixed mind,
Foul Tyrant both of Gods and Human-kind,
Rain then thy plagues upon me here,
Ghastly disease and frenzying fear;
And let alternate frost and fire
Eat into me, and be thine ire Lightning, and cutting hail, and legioned forms Of furies, driving by upon the wounding stormsAy, do thy worst. Thou art omnipotent.
O'er all things but thyself I gave thee power.
And my own will. Be thy swift mischiefs seut To blast mankind, from yon ethereal tower.
Let thy malignant spirit move
In darkness over those I love:
On me and mine I imprecate
The utmost torture of thy hate; And thus devote to sleepless agony, This uudeclining head while thou must reign on high.
Bnt thon, who art the God and Lord: O, thou Who fiUest with thy soul this world of woe,
To whom all things of Earth and Heaven do bow In fear and worship: all-prevailing foe!
I curse thee! let a sufferer's curse
Clasp thee, his torturer, like remorse!
Till thine Infinity shall be
A robe of envenomed agony; And thine Omnipotence a crown of pain, To cling like burninggoldroundthydissolving brain.
Heap on thy soul, by virtue of this curse,
111 deeds, then be thou damned, beholding good; Both infinite as is the universe,
And thon, and thy self-torturing solitude. An awful image of calm power Though now thou sittest, let the hour Come, when thou must appear to be That which thou art internally. And after many a false and fruitless crime. Scorn track thy lagging fall through boundless space and time.
Were these my words, 0 Parent!
They were thine.
Misery, Oh misery to me,
Lies fallen and vanquished?
Fallen and vanquished!