Gebir - Book 3

Ofor the spirit of that matchless man
Whom Nature led throughout her whole domain,
While he, embodied, breath'd etherial air!
Though panting in the play-hour of my youth,
I drank of Avon, too, a dang'rous draught,
That rous'd within the fev'rish thirst of song —
Yet, never may I trespass o'er the stream
Of jealous Acheron, nor alive descend
The silent and unsearchable abodes
Of Erebus and Night, nor unchastized
Lead up long absent heroes into day.
When on the pausing theatre of earth
Eve's shadowy curtain falls, can any man
Bring back the far-off intercepted hills,
Grasp the round rock-built turret, or arrest
The glittering spires that pierce the brow of Heav'n?
Rather, can any, with outstripping voice,
The parting Sun's gigantic strides recall?
Twice heard was Gebir; twice th' Iberian king
Thought it the strong vibration of the brain
That struck upon his ear; but now descried
A form, a man come nearer; as he came
His unshorn hair, grown soft in these abodes,
Waved back, and scatter'd thin and hoary light.
Living, men call'd him Aroar: but no more
In celebration, or recording verse,
His name is heard, no more by Arnon's side
The well-wall'd city, which he rear'd, remains.
Gebir was now undaunted, for the brave
When they no longer doubt, no longer fear,
And would have spoken, but the shade began.
" Brave son of Hesperus! no mortal hand
Has led thee hither, nor without the Gods
Penetrate thy firm feet the vast profound.
Thou knowest not that here thy fathers lie,
The race of Sidad: their's was loud acclaim
When living; but their pleasure was in war:
Triumphs and hatred followed: I myself
Bore, men imagin'd, no inglorious part;
The Gods thought otherwise! by whose decree
Depriv'd of life, and more, of death depriv'd,
I still hear shrieking, through the moonless night,
Their discontented and deserted shades.
Observe these horrid walls, this rueful waste!
Here some refresh the vigor of the mind
With contemplation and cold penitence:
Nor wonder, while thou hearest, that the soul
Thus purified, hereafter may ascend
Surmounting all obstruction, nor ascribe
The sentence to indulgence: each extreme
Has tortures for ambition; to dissolve
In everlasting languor, to resist
Its impulse, but in vain; to hear, frequent,
Nay, to take counsel from, and seek resource,
Be sooth'd by, or be scoft at by, (O Heaven!)
The vilest of mankind: to be enclosed
Within a limit, and that limit fire:
Sever'd from happiness, from eminence,
And flying, but hell bars us, from ourselves.
Yet rather all these torments most endure
Than solitary pain, and sad remorse,
And tow'ring thoughts on their own breast o'erturn'd,
And piercing to the heart: such penitence,
Such contemplation, theirs! thy ancestors
Bear up against them, nor will they submit
To conquering Time th' asperities of Fate:
Yet, could they but revisit earth once more,
How gladly would they Poverty embrace,
How labour, even for their deadliest foe!
It little now avails them to have rais'd
Beyond the Syrian regions, and beyond
Phaenicia, trophies, tributes, colonies:
Follow thou me: mark what it all avails."
Him Gebir followed, and a roar confused
Rose from a river, rolling in its bed,
Not rapid — that would rouse the wretched souls —
Nor calmly — that might lull them to repose.
But with dull weary lapses it still heaved
Billows of bale, heard low, but heard afar;
For when hell's iron portals let out Night,
Often men start, and shiver at the sound,
And lie so silent on the restless couch
They hear their own hearts beat. Now Gebir breath'd
Another air, another sky beheld.
Twilight broods here, lull'd by no nightingale,
Nor waken'd by the shrill lark dewy-winged,
But glowing with one sullen sunless heat.
Beneath his foot nor sprouted flower nor herb,
Nor chirp'd a grasshopper; above his head
Phlegethon form'd a fiery firmament:
Part were sulphurous clouds involving, part
Shining like solid ribs of moulten brass:
For the fierce element which else aspires
Higher and higher, and lessens to the sky,
Below, Earth's adamantine arch rebuffed.
Gebir, though now such languor held his limbs,
Scarce aught admir'd he, yet he this admir'd;
And thus address'd him then the conscious guide.
" Beyond that river lie the happy fields.
From them fly gentle breezes, which, when drawn
Against yon crescent convex, but unite
Stronger with what they could not overcome.
Thus they that scatter freshness thro' the groves
And meadows of the fortunate, and fill
With liquid light the marble bowl of Earth,
And give her blooming health and sprightly force —
Their fire no more diluted, nor its darts
Blunted by passing through thick myrtle bowers,
Neither from odors rising half dissolved,
Point forward Phlegethon's eternal flame:
And this horizon is the spacious bow
Whence each ray reaches to the world above.
Fire rules the realms of pleasure and of pain.
Parent and element of elements,
Changing, and yet unchanged, pervading heaven
Purest, and then reviewing all the stars:
All croud around him in their orbits, all
In legions for that radiant robe contend
Allotted them, unseam'd and undefiled:
Then, saturate with what their nature craves,
Unite the grateful symphony of guests,
Take short repose, and with slow pace return.
And not the glowing oceans of the sun
Fire fills alone, and draws there smaller streams,
And dashes them on crystal cliffs of hail,
And filters through black clouds and fleecy snows —
But penetrates each cold and blue abyss
Of trackless waves, and each white glimmering gem
That crowns the victim's immolated brow."
The hero pausing, Gebir then besought
What region held his ancestors, what clouds,
What waters, or what Gods, from his embrace.
" Young man," said Aroar, " some indeed declare
That they the spirit, when it is itself,
Have wakened on; and with fixt eyes beheld
Fixt eyes; both stricken speechless, both would speak;
Both stretch'd their kindred arms and would embrace.
That spirit, which thus struggles in its flight
To some one dearest object, with a will
Omnipotent, ne'er, after this returns:
Neither can mortal see departed friends,
Or they see mortal: if indeed they could,
How care would furrow up their flow'ry fields,
What asps and adders bask in every beam!
Then oft might faithful fondness from the shades
See its beloved in another's arms,
And curse immoral laws, immodest vows,
Elysium, and the vanity of soul.
She who, evading Modesty, dares take
— With sacrilegious incest most accurst —
The lamp of marriage from a husband's tomb,
And beckon up another, to defile
A bed new-litter'd, a mere tavern-stall,
Biting her chain, bays body; and despair
Awakes the furies of insatiate lust.
Others, if worse be any, float immerst
In prisons blackly green with ropy slime,
Where toughens the brown fungus, brittle-stalk'd:
Their grosser spirits with the putrid air
Amalgamate, and, in due time, ferment
Seed heretofore inert; hence crawls gay-wing'd
The gadfly, hence trails forth the fulsome snake.
Living, they never own'd that Nature's face
Was lovely, never with fond awe beheld
On her parental bosom, Truth repose!"
He paus'd; then sudden, as if rous'd, renew'd.
" But come, if ardor urges thee, and force
Suffices — mark me, Gebir, I unfold
No fable to allure thee — rise, behold
Thy ancestors!" and lo! with horrid gasp,
The panting flame above his head recoil'd,
And thunder thro' his heart and life-blood throb'd.
Such sound could human organs once conceive,
Cold, speechless, palsied, not the soothing voice
Of friendship, or almost of Deity,
Could raise the wretched mortal from the dust;
Beyond man's home condition they! with eyes
Intent, and voice desponding, and unheard
By Aroar, tho' he tarried at his side.
" They know me not," cried Gebir, " O my sires,
Ye know me not! — They answer not, nor hear.
How distant are they still! what sad extent
Of desolation must we overcome!
Aroar, what wretch that nearest us? what wretch
Is that with eyebrows white, and slanting brow?
Listen! him yonder, who, bound down supine,
Shrinks, yelling, from that sword there, engine-hung;
He too amongst my ancestors? I hate
The despot, but the dastard I despise.
Was he our countryman?"
" Alas, O King!
Iberia bore him, but the breed accurst
Inclement winds blew blighting from north-east."
" He was a warrior, then, nor fear'd the Gods?"
" Gebir, he fear'd the Demons, not the Gods;
Tho' them, indeed, his daily face adored,
And was no warrior, yet the thousand lives
Squander'd, as stones to exercise a sling!
And the tame cruelty, and cold caprice —
Oh madness of mankind! addrest, adored!
O Gebir! what are men, or where are Gods!
Behold the giant next him: how his feet
Plunge flound'ring mid the marshes, yellow-flower'd.
His restless head just reaching to the rocks,
His bosom tossing with black weeds besmear'd,
How writhes he 'twixt the continent and isle!
What tyrant with more insolence e'er claim'd
Dominion? when, from th' heart of Usury
Rose more intense the pale-flamed thirst for gold?
And call'd, forsooth, Deliverer! False or fools!
Who prais'd the dull-ear'd miscreant, or who hoped
To soothe your folly and disgrace with praise.
Hearest thou not the harp's gay simpering air,
And merriment afar! Then come, advance —
And now behold him! mark the wretch accurst,
Who sold his people to a rival king.
Self-yoked they stood, two ages unredeem'd."
" O horror! what pale visage rises there!
Speak Aroar — me, perhaps, mine eyes deceive,
Inured not, yet methinks they there descry
Such crimson haze as sometimes drowns the moon.
What is yon awful sight? why thus appears
That space between the purple and the crown?"
" I will relate their stories when we reach
Our confines," said the guide; " for thou, O king,
Differing in both from all thy countrymen —
Seest not their stories, and hast seen their fates.
But while we tarry, lo again the flame
Riseth, and, murmuring hoarse, points straiter; haste!
'Tis urgent; we must on."
" Then, O, adieu,"
Cried Gebir, and groan'd loud; at last a tear
Burst from his eyes, turn'd back, and he exclaim'd
" Am I deluded? O ye powers of hell!
Suffer me — O my fathers! — am I torne" —
He spake, and would have spoken more, but flames
Enwrapt him, round and round, intense; he turn'd —
And stood held breathless in a ghost's embrace.
" Gebir, my son, desert me not, I heard
Thy calling voice, nor fate witheld me more.
One moment yet remains: enough to know
Soon will my torments, soon will thine, expire.
O that I e'er exacted such a vow!
When dipping in the victim's blood thy hand,
First thou withdrew'st it, looking in my face
Wondering; but when the priest my will explain'd,
Then swarest thou, repeating what he said,
How against Egypt thou wouldst raise that hand
And bruise the seed first risen from our line.
Therefor, in death what pangs have I endured!
Rackt on the fiery centre of the sun,
Twelve years I saw the ruin'd world roll round.
Shudder not; I have borne it; I deserved
My wretched fate; be better thine; farewell."
" O stay, my father! stay one moment more.
Let me return thee that embrace — 'tis past —
Aroar! how could I quit it unreturn'd!
And now the gulph divides us, and the waves
Of sulphur bellow through the blue abyss.
And is he gone for ever! and I come
In vain?" Then sternly said the guide, " In vain!
Sayst thou; what wouldst thou more? alas, O prince
None come for pastime here! but is it nought
To turn thy feet from evil — is it nought
Of pleasure to that shade if they are turn'd?
For this thou camest hither: he who dares
To penetrate this darkness, nor regards
The dangers of the way, shall reascend
In glory, nor the gates of hell retard
That man, nor demon's nor man's art prevail.
Once in each hundred years, and only once,
Whether by some rotation of the world,
Or whether will'd so by some pow'r above,
This flaming arch starts back: each realm descries
Its opposite; and Bliss from her repose
Freshens, and feels her own security."
" Security!" cried out the Gadite king,
" And feel they not compassion?"
" Child of Earth,"
Calmly said Aroar at his guest's surprize,
" Some so disfigur'd by habitual crimes,
Others are so exalted, so refined,
So permiated by heaven, no trace remains
Graven on earth: here Justice is supreme;
Compassion can be but where passions are.
Here are discover'd those who tortured Law
To silence or to speech, as pleas'd themselves;
Here also those who boasted of their zeal,
And lov'd their country for the spoils it gave.
Hundreds, whose glitt'ring merchandize the lyre
Dazzled vain wretches, drunk with flattery,
And wafted them in softest airs to Heav'n,
Doom'd to be still deceiv'd, here still attune
The wonted strings and fondly woo applause;
The wish half granted, they retain their own,
But madden at the mockry of the shades.
While on the river's other side there grow
Deep olive groves: there, other ghosts abide:
Blest indeed they; but not supremely blest.
We cannot see beyond: we cannot see
Aught but our opposite, and here are fates
How opposite to our's! here some observ'd
Religious rites, some hospitality:
Strangers, who from the good old men retired,
Closed the gate gently, lest from generous use
Shutting and opening of it's own accord,
It shake unsettled slumbers off their couch:
Some stopt revenge athirst for slaughter, some
Sow'd the slow olive for a race unborn.
These had no wishes; therefor none are crown'd:
But their's are tufted banks, their's umbrage, their's
Enough of sun-shine to enjoy the shade,
And breeze enough to lull them to repose."
Then Gebir cried, " Illustrious host, proceed.
Bring me among the wonders of a realm
Admired by all, but like a tale admired.
We take our children from their cradled sleep,
And on their fancy, from our own, impress
Etherial forms and adulating fates:
But, ere departing for such scenes ourselves,
We seize their hands, we hang upon their neck,
Our beds cling heavy round us with our tears,
Agony strives with agony. Just Gods!
Wherefor should wretched mortals thus believe,
Or wherefor should they hesitate to die?"
Thus while he question'd, all his strength dissolv'd
Within him, thunder shook his troubled brain;
He started; and the cavern's mouth survey'd
Near; and beyond, his people; he arose,
And bent towards them his bewilder'd way.
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