Dante, Shakespeare, Milton - From
Doctor. Ah! thou, too,
Sad Alighieri, like a waning moon
Setting in storm behind a grove of bays!
Balder. Yes, the great Florentine, who wove his web
And thrust it into hell, and drew it forth
Immortal, having burn’d all that could burn,
And leaving only what shall still be found
Untouch’d, nor with the small of fire upon it,
Under the final ashes of this world.
Doctor. Shakespeare and Milton!
Balder. Switzerland and home.
I ne’er see Milton, but I see the Alps,
As once, sole standing on a peak supreme,
To the extremest verge summit and gulf
I saw, height after depth, Alp beyond Alp,
O’er which the rising and the sinking soul
Sails into distance, heaving as a ship
O’er a great sea that sets to strands unseen.
And as the mounting and descending bark,
Borne on exulting by the under deep,
Gains of the wild wave something not the wave,
Catches a joy of going, and a will
Resistless, and upon the last lee foam
Leaps into air beyond it, so the soul
upon the Alpine ocean mountain-toss’d,
Incessant carried up to heaven, and plunged
To darkness, and still wet with drops of death
Held into light eternal, and again
Cast down, to be again uplift in vast
And infinite succession, cannot stay
The mad momentum, but in frenzied sight
Of horizontal clouds and mists and skies
And the untried Inane, springs on the surge
Of things, and passing matter by a force
Material, thro’ vacuity careers,
Rising and falling.
Doctor. And my Shakespeare! Call
Milton your Alps, and which is he among
The tops of Andes? Keep your Paradise,
And Eves, and Adams, but give me the Earth
That Shakespeare drew, and make it grave and gay
With Shakespeare’s men and women; let me laugh
Or weep with them, and you—a wager,—aye,
A wager by my faith—either his muse
Was the recording angel, or that hand
Cherubic, which fills up the Book of Life,
Caught what the last relaxing gripe let fall
By a death-bed at Stratford, and hence-forth
Holds Shakespeare’s pen. Now strain your sinews, poet,
And top your Pelion,—Milton Switzerland,
And English Shakespeare—
Balder. This dear English land!
This happy England, loud with brooks and birds,
Shining with harvests, cool with dewy trees,
And bloom’d from hill to dell; but whose best flowers
Are daughters, and Ophelia still more fair
Than any rose she weaves; whose noblest floods
The pulsing torrent of a nation’s heart:
Whose forests stronger than her native oaks
Are living men; and whose unfathom’d lakes
Forever calm the unforgotten dead
In quiet graveyards willow’d seemly round,
O’er which To-day bends sad, and sees his face.
Whose rocks are rights, consolidate of old
Thro’ unremember’d years, around whose base
The ever-surging peoples roll and roar
Perpetual, as around her cliffs the seas
That only wash them whiter; and whose mountains,
Souls that from this mere footing of the earth
Lift their great virtues thro’ all clouds of Fate
Up to the very heavens, and make them rise
To keep the gods above us!
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