Paracelsus, by Robert Browning

Part I

Paracelsus Aspires

Scene. — Würzburg; a garden in the environs. 1512.

Festus, Paracelsus, Michal.

Paracelsus.

Come close to me, dear friends; still closer; thus!

Close to the heart which, though long time roll by

Ere it again beat quicker, pressed to yours,

As now it beats — perchance a long, long time —

At least henceforth your memories shall make

Quiet and fragrant as befits their home.

Nor shall my memory want a home in yours —

Alas, that it requires too well such free

Forgiving love as shall embalm it there!

For if you would remember me aright,

As I was born to be, you must forget

All fitful strange and moody waywardness

Which e’er confused my better spirit, to dwell

Only on moments such as these, dear friends!

— My heart no truer, but my words and ways

More true to it: as Michal, some months hence,

Will say, “this autumn was a pleasant time,”

For some few sunny days; and overlook

Its bleak wind, hankering after pining leaves.

Autumn would fain be sunny; I would look

Liker my nature’s truth: and both are frail,

And both beloved, for all our frailty.

Michal.

                    Aureole!

Paracelsus.

Drop by drop! she is weeping like a child!

Not so! I am content — more than content;

Nay, autumn wins you best by this its mute

Appeal to sympathy for its decay:

Look up, sweet Michal, nor esteem the less

Your stained and drooping vines their grapes bow down,

Nor blame those creaking trees bent with their fruit,

That apple-tree with a rare after-birth

Of peeping blooms sprinkled its wealth among!

Then for the winds — what wind that ever raved

Shall vex that ash which overlooks you both,

So proud it wears its berries? Ah, at length,

The old smile meet for her, the lady of this

Sequestered nest! — this kingdom, limited

Alone by one old populous green wall

Tenanted by the ever-busy flies,

Grey crickets and shy lizards and quick spiders,

Each family of the silver-threaded moss —

Which, look through near, this way, and it appears

A stubble-field or a cane-brake, a marsh

Of bulrush whitening in the sun: laugh now!

Fancy the crickets, each one in his house,

Looking out, wondering at the world — or best,

Yon painted snail with his gay shell of dew,

Travelling to see the glossy balls high up

Hung by the caterpillar, like gold lamps.

Michal.

In truth we have lived carelessly and well.

Paracelsus.

And shall, my perfect pair! — each, trust me, born

For the other; nay, your very hair, when mixed,

Is of one hue. For where save in this nook

Shall you two walk, when I am far away,

And wish me prosperous fortune? Stay: that plant

Shall never wave its tangles lightly and softly,

As a queen’s languid and imperial arm

Which scatters crowns among her lovers, but you

Shall be reminded to predict to me

Some great success! Ah see, the sun sinks broad

Behind Saint Saviour’s: wholly gone, at last!

Festus.

Now, Aureole, stay those wandering eyes awhile!

You are ours to-night, at least; and while you spoke

Of Michal and her tears, I thought that none

Could willing leave what he so seemed to love:

But that last look destroys my dream — that look

As if, where’er you gazed, there stood a star!

How far was Würzburg with its church and spire

And garden-walls and all things they contain,

From that look’s far alighting?

Paracelsus.

                I but spoke

And looked alike from simple joy to see

The beings I love best, shut in so well

From all rude chances like to be my lot,

That, when afar, my weary spirit — disposed

To lose awhile its care in soothing thoughts

Of them, their pleasant features, looks and words —

Needs never hesitate, nor apprehend

Encroaching trouble may have reached them too,

Nor have recourse to fancy’s busy aid

And fashion even a wish in their behalf

Beyond what they possess already here;

But, unobstructed, may at once forget

Itself in them, assured how well they fare.

Beside, this Festus knows he holds me one

Whom quiet and its charms arrest in vain,

One scarce aware of all the joys I quit,

Too filled with airy hopes to make account

Of soft delights his own heart garners up:

Whereas behold how much our sense of all

That’s beauteous proves alike! When Festus learns

That every common pleasure of the world

Affects me as himself; that I have just

As varied appetite for joy derived

From common things; a stake in life, in short,

Like his; a stake which rash pursuit of aims

That life affords not, would as soon destroy; —

He may convince himself that, this in view,

I shall act well advised. And last, because,

Though heaven and earth and all things were at stake,

Sweet Michal must not weep, our parting eve.

Festus.

True: and the eve is deepening, and we sit

As little anxious to begin our talk

As though to-morrow I could hint of it

As we paced arm-in-arm the cheerful town

At sun-dawn; or could whisper it by fits

(Trithemius busied with his class the while)

In that dim chamber where the noon-streaks peer

Half-frightened by the awful tomes around;

Or in some grassy lane unbosom all

From even-blush to midnight: but, to-morrow!

Have I full leave to tell my inmost mind?

We have been brothers, and henceforth the world

Will rise between us:— all my freest mind?

’T is the last night, dear Aureole!

Paracelsus.

                   Oh, say on!

Devise some test of love, some arduous feat

To be performed for you: say on! If night

Be spent the while, the better! Recall how oft

My wondrous plans and dreams and hopes and fears

Have — never wearied you, oh no! — as I

Recall, and never vividly as now,

Your true affection, born when Einsiedeln

And its green hills were all the world to us;

And still increasing to this night which ends

My further stay at Würzburg. Oh, one day

You shall be very proud! Say on, dear friends!

Festus.

In truth? ’T is for my proper peace, indeed,

Rather than yours; for vain all projects seem

To stay your course: I said my latest hope

Is fading even now. A story tells

Of some far embassy despatched to win

The favour of an eastern king, and how

The gifts they offered proved but dazzling dust

Shed from the ore-beds native to his clime.

Just so, the value of repose and love,

I meant should tempt you, better far than I

You seem to comprehend; and yet desist

No whit from projects where repose nor love

Has part.

Paracelsus.

    Once more? Alas! As I foretold.

Festus.

A solitary briar the bank puts forth

To save our swan’s nest floating out to sea.

Paracelsus.

Dear Festus, hear me. What is it you wish?

That I should lay aside my heart’s pursuit,

Abandon the sole ends for which I live,

Reject God’s great commission, and so die!

You bid me listen for your true love’s sake:

Yet how has grown that love? Even in a long

And patient cherishing of the self-same spirit

It now would quell; as though a mother hoped

To stay the lusty manhood of the child

Once weak upon her knees. I was not born

Informed and fearless from the first, but shrank

From aught which marked me out apart from men:

I would have lived their life, and died their death,

Lost in their ranks, eluding destiny:

But you first guided me through doubt and fear,

Taught me to know mankind and know myself;

And now that I am strong and full of hope,

That, from my soul, I can reject all aims

Save those your earnest words made plain to me,

Now that I touch the brink of my design,

When I would have a triumph in their eyes,

A glad cheer in their voices — Michal weeps,

And Festus ponders gravely!

Festus.

              When you deign

To hear my purpose . . .

Paracelsus.

            Hear it? I can say

Beforehand all this evening’s conference!

’T is this way, Michal, that he uses: first,

Or he declares, or I, the leading points

Of our best scheme of life, what is man’s end

And what God’s will; no two faiths e’er agreed

As his with mine. Next, each of us allows

Faith should be acted on as best we may;

Accordingly, I venture to submit

My plan, in lack of better, for pursuing

The path which God’s will seems to authorize.

Well, he discerns much good in it, avows

This motive worthy, that hope plausible,

A danger here to be avoided, there

An oversight to be repaired: in fine

Our two minds go together — all the good

Approved by him, I gladly recognize,

All he counts bad, I thankfully discard,

And nought forbids my looking up at last

For some stray comfort in his cautious brow.

When, lo! I learn that, spite of all, there lurks

Some innate and inexplicable germ

Of failure in my scheme; so that at last

It all amounts to this — the sovereign proof

That we devote ourselves to God, is seen

In living just as though no God there were;

A life which, prompted by the sad and blind

Folly of man, Festus abhors the most;

But which these tenets sanctify at once,

Though to less subtle wits it seems the same,

Consider it how they may.

Michal.

             Is it so, Festus

He speaks so calmly and kindly: is it so?

Paracelsus.

Reject those glorious visions of God’s love

And man’s design; laugh loud that God should send

Vast longings to direct us; say how soon

Power satiates these, or lust, or gold; I know

The world’s cry well, and how to answer it.

But this ambiguous warfare . . .

Festus.

                  . . . Wearies so

That you will grant no last leave to your friend

To urge it? — for his sake, not yours? I wish

To send my soul in good hopes after you;

Never to sorrow that uncertain words

Erringly apprehended, a new creed

Ill understood, begot rash trust in you,

Had share in your undoing.

Paracelsus.

              Choose your side,

Hold or renounce: but meanwhile blame me not

Because I dare to act on your own views,

Nor shrink when they point onward, nor espy

A peril where they most ensure success.

Festus.

Prove that to me — but that! Prove you abide

Within their warrant, nor presumptuous boast

God’s labour laid on you; prove, all you covet

A mortal may expect; and, most of all,

Prove the strange course you now affect, will lead

To its attainment — and I bid you speed,

Nay, count the minutes till you venture forth!

You smile; but I had gathered from slow thought —

Much musing on the fortunes of my friend —

Matter I deemed could not be urged in vain;

But it all leaves me at my need: in shreds

And fragments I must venture what remains.

Michal.

Ask at once, Festus, wherefore he should scorn . . .

Festus.

Stay, Michal: Aureole, I speak guardedly

And gravely, knowing well, whate’er your error,

This is no ill-considered choice of yours,

No sudden fancy of an ardent boy.

Not from your own confiding words alone

Am I aware your passionate heart long since

Gave birth to, nourished and at length matures

This scheme. I will not speak of Einsiedeln,

Where I was born your elder by some years

Only to watch you fully from the first:

In all beside, our mutual tasks were fixed

Even then —’t was mine to have you in my view

As you had your own soul and those intents

Which filled it when, to crown your dearest wish,

With a tumultuous heart, you left with me

Our childhood’s home to join the favoured few

Whom, here, Trithemius condescends to teach

A portion of his lore: and not one youth

Of those so favoured, whom you now despise,

Came earnest as you came, resolved, like you,

To grasp all, and retain all, and deserve

By patient toil a wide renown like his.

Now, this new ardour which supplants the old

I watched, too; ’t was significant and strange,

In one matched to his soul’s content at length

With rivals in the search for wisdom’s prize,

To see the sudden pause, the total change;

From contest, the transition to repose —

From pressing onward as his fellows pressed,

To a blank idleness, yet most unlike

The dull stagnation of a soul, content,

Once foiled, to leave betimes a thriveless quest.

That careless bearing, free from all pretence

Even of contempt for what it ceased to seek —

Smiling humility, praising much, yet waiving

What it professed to praise — though not so well

Maintained but that rare outbreaks, fierce and brief,

Revealed the hidden scorn, as quickly curbed.

That ostentatious show of past defeat,

That ready acquiescence in contempt,

I deemed no other than the letting go

His shivered sword, of one about to spring

Upon his foe’s throat; but it was not thus:

Not that way looked your brooding purpose then.

For after-signs disclosed, what you confirmed,

That you prepared to task to the uttermost

Your strength, in furtherance of a certain aim

Which — while it bore the name your rivals gave

Their own most puny efforts — was so vast

In scope that it included their best flights,

Combined them, and desired to gain one prize

In place of many — the secret of the world,

Of man, and man’s true purpose, path and fate.

— That you, not nursing as a mere vague dream

This purpose, with the sages of the past,

Have struck upon a way to this, if all

You trust be true, which following, heart and soul,

You, if a man may, dare aspire to know:

And that this aim shall differ from a host

Of aims alike in character and kind,

Mostly in this — that in itself alone

Shall its reward be, not an alien end

Blending therewith; no hope nor fear nor joy

Nor woe, to elsewhere move you, but this pure

Devotion to sustain you or betray:

Thus you aspire.

Paracelsus.

        You shall not state it thus:

I should not differ from the dreamy crew

You speak of. I profess no other share

In the selection of my lot, than this

My ready answer to the will of God

Who summons me to be his organ. All

Whose innate strength supports them shall succeed

No better than the sages.

Festus.

             Such the aim, then,

God sets before you; and’t is doubtless need

That he appoint no less the way of praise

Than the desire to praise; for, though I hold

With you, the setting forth such praise to be

The natural end and service of a man,

And hold such praise is best attained when man

Attains the general welfare of his kind —

Yet this, the end, is not the instrument.

Presume not to serve God apart from such

Appointed channel as he wills shall gather

Imperfect tributes, for that sole obedience

Valued perchance! He seeks not that his altars

Blaze, careless how, so that they do but blaze.

Suppose this, then; that God selected you

To know (heed well your answers, for my faith

Shall meet implicitly what they affirm)

I cannot think you dare annex to such

Selection aught beyond a steadfast will,

An intense hope; nor let your gifts create

Scorn or neglect of ordinary means

Conducive to success, make destiny

Dispense with man’s endeavour. Now, dare you search

Your inmost heart, and candidly avow

Whether you have not rather wild desire

For this distinction than security

Of its existence? whether you discern

The path to the fulfilment of your purpose

Clear as that purpose — and again, that purpose

Clear as your yearning to be singled out

For its pursuer. Dare you answer this?

Paracelsus [after a pause].

No, I have nought to fear! Who will may know

The secret’st workings of my soul. What though

It be so? — if indeed the strong desire

Eclipse the aim in me? — if splendour break

Upon the outset of my path alone,

And duskest shade succeed? What fairer seal

Shall I require to my authentic mission

Than this fierce energy? — this instinct striving

Because its nature is to strive? — enticed

By the security of no broad course,

Without success forever in its eyes!

How know I else such glorious fate my own,

But in the restless irresistible force

That works within me? Is it for human will

To institute such impulses? — still less,

To disregard their promptings! What should I

Do, kept among you all; your loves, your cares,

Your life — all to be mine? Be sure that God

Ne’er dooms to waste the strength he deigns impart!

Ask the geier-eagle why she stoops at once

Into the vast and unexplored abyss,

What full-grown power informs her from the first,

Why she not marvels, strenuously beating

The silent boundless regions of the sky!

Be sure they sleep not whom God needs! Nor fear

Their holding light his charge, when every hour

That finds that charge delayed, is a new death.

This for the faith in which I trust; and hence

I can abjure so well the idle arts

These pedants strive to learn and teach; Black Arts,

Great Works, the Secret and Sublime, forsooth —

Let others prize: too intimate a tie

Connects me with our God! A sullen fiend

To do my bidding, fallen and hateful sprites

To help me — what are these, at best, beside

God helping, God directing everywhere,

So that the earth shall yield her secrets up,

And every object there be charged to strike,

Teach, gratify her master God appoints?

And I am young, my Festus, happy and free!

I can devote myself; I have a life

To give; I, singled out for this, the One!

Think, think! the wide East, where all Wisdom sprung;

The bright South, where she dwelt; the hopeful North,

All are passed o’er — it lights on me! ’T is time

New hopes should animate the world, new light

Should dawn from new revealings to a race

Weighed down so long, forgotten so long; thus shall

The heaven reserved for us at last receive

Creatures whom no unwonted splendours blind,

But ardent to confront the unclouded blaze.

Whose beams not seldom blessed their pilgrimage,

Not seldom glorified their life below.

Festus.

My words have their old fate and make faint stand

Against your glowing periods. Call this, truth —

Why not pursue it in a fast retreat,

Some one of Learning’s many palaces,

After approved example? — seeking there

Calm converse with the great dead, soul to soul,

Who laid up treasure with the like intent

— So lift yourself into their airy place,

And fill out full their unfulfilled careers,

Unravelling the knots their baffled skill

Pronounced inextricable, true! — but left

Far less confused. A fresh eye, a fresh hand,

Might do much at their vigour’s waning-point;

Succeeding with new-breathed new-hearted force,

As at old games the runner snatched the torch

From runner still: this way success might be.

But you have coupled with your enterprise,

An arbitrary self-repugnant scheme

Of seeking it in strange and untried paths.

What books are in the desert? Writes the sea

The secret of her yearning in vast caves

Where yours will fall the first of human feet?

Has wisdom sat there and recorded aught

You press to read? Why turn aside from her

To visit, where her vesture never glanced,

Now — solitudes consigned to barrenness

By God’s decree, which who shall dare impugn?

Now — ruins where she paused but would not stay,

Old ravaged cities that, renouncing her,

She called an endless curse on, so it came:

Or worst of all, now — men you visit, men,

Ignoblest troops who never heard her voice

Or hate it, men without one gift from Rome

Or Athens — these shall Aureole’s teachers be!

Rejecting past example, practice, precept,

Aidless’mid these he thinks to stand alone:

Thick like a glory round the Stagirite

Your rivals throng, the sages: here stand you!

Whatever you may protest, knowledge is not

Paramount in your love; or for her sake

You would collect all help from every source —

Rival, assistant, friend, foe, all would merge

In the broad class of those who showed her haunts,

And those who showed them not.

Paracelsus.

                What shall I say?

Festus, from childhood I have been possessed

By a fire — by a true fire, or faint or fierce,

As from without some master, so it seemed,

Repressed or urged its current: this but ill

Expresses what would I convey: but rather

I will believe an angel ruled me thus,

Than that my soul’s own workings, own high nature,

So became manifest. I knew not then

What whispered in the evening, and spoke out

At midnight. If some mortal, born too soon,

Were laid away in some great trance — the ages

Coming and going all the while — till dawned

His true time’s advent; and could then record

The words they spoke who kept watch by his bed —

Then I might tell more of the breath so light

Upon my eyelids, and the fingers light

Among my hair. Youth is confused; yet never

So dull was I but, when that spirit passed,

I turned to him, scarce consciously, as turns

A water-snake when fairies cross his sleep.

And having this within me and about me

While Einsiedeln, its mountains, lakes and woods

Confined me — what oppressive joy was mine

When life grew plain, and I first viewed the thronged,

The everlasting concourse of mankind!

Believe that ere I joined them, ere I knew

The purpose of the pageant, or the place

Consigned me in its ranks — while, just awake,

Wonder was freshest and delight most pure —

’T was then that least supportable appeared

A station with the brightest of the crowd,

A portion with the proudest of them all.

And from the tumult in my breast, this only

Could I collect, that I must thenceforth die

Or elevate myself far, far above

The gorgeous spectacle. I seemed to long

At once to trample on, yet save mankind,

To make some unexampled sacrifice

In their behalf, to wring some wondrous good

From heaven or earth for them, to perish, winning

Eternal weal in the act: as who should dare

Pluck out the angry thunder from its cloud,

That, all its gathered flame discharged on him,

No storm might threaten summer’s azure sleep:

Yet never to be mixed with men so much

As to have part even in my own work, share

In my own largess. Once the feat achieved,

I would withdraw from their officious praise,

Would gently put aside their profuse thanks.

Like some knight traversing a wilderness,

Who, on his way, may chance to free a tribe

Of desert-people from their dragon-foe;

When all the swarthy race press round to kiss

His feet, and choose him for their king, and yield

Their poor tents, pitched among the sand-hills, for

His realm: and he points, smiling, to his scarf

Heavy with riveled gold, his burgonet

Gay set with twinkling stones — and to the East,

Where these must be displayed!

Festus.

                Good: let us hear

No more about your nature, “which first shrank

“From all that marked you out apart from men!”

Paracelsus.

I touch on that; these words but analyse

The first mad impulse: ’t was as brief as fond,

For as I gazed again upon the show,

I soon distinguished here and there a shape

Palm-wreathed and radiant, forehead and full eye.

Well pleased was I their state should thus at once

Interpret my own thoughts:—“Behold the clue

“To all,” I rashly said, “and what I pine

“To do, these have accomplished: we are peers.

“They know and therefore rule: I, too, will know!”

You were beside me, Festus, as you say;

You saw me plunge in their pursuits whom fame

Is lavish to attest the lords of mind,

Not pausing to make sure the prize in view

Would satiate my cravings when obtained,

But since they strove I strove. Then came a slow

And strangling failure. We aspired alike,

Yet not the meanest plodder, Tritheim counts

A marvel, but was all-sufficient, strong,

Or staggered only at his own vast wits;

While I was restless, nothing satisfied,

Distrustful, most perplexed. I would slur over

That struggle; suffice it, that I loathed myself

As weak compared with them, yet felt somehow

A mighty power was brooding, taking shape

Within me; and this lasted till one night

When, as I sat revolving it and more,

A still voice from without said —“Seest thou not,

“Desponding child, whence spring defeat and loss?

“Even from thy strength. Consider: hast thou gazed

“Presumptuously on wisdom’s countenance,

“No veil between; and can thy faltering hands,

“Unguided by the brain the sight absorbs,

“Pursue their task as earnest blinkers do

“Whom radiance ne’er distracted? Live their life

“If thou wouldst share their fortune, choose their eyes

“Unfed by splendour. Let each task present

“Its petty good to thee. Waste not thy gifts

“In profitless waiting for the gods’ descent,

“But have some idol of thine own to dress

“With their array. Know, not for knowing’s sake,

“But to become a star to men for ever;

“Know, for the gain it gets, the praise it brings,

“The wonder it inspires, the love it breeds:

“Look one step onward, and secure that step!”

And I smiled as one never smiles but once,

Then first discovering my own aim’s extent,

Which sought to comprehend the works of God,

And God himself, and all God’s intercourse

With the human mind; I understood, no less,

My fellows’ studies, whose true worth I saw,

But smiled not, well aware who stood by me.

And softer came the voice —“There is a way:

“’T is hard for flesh to tread therein, imbued

“With frailty — hopeless, if indulgence first

“Have ripened inborn germs of sin to strength:

“Wilt thou adventure for my sake and man’s,

“Apart from all reward?” And last it breathed —

“Be happy, my good soldier; I am by thee,

“Be sure, even to the end!"— I answered not,

Knowing him. As he spoke, I was endued

With comprehension and a steadfast will;

And when he ceased, my brow was sealed his own.

If there took place no special change in me,

How comes it all things wore a different hue

Thenceforward? — pregnant with vast consequence,

Teeming with grand result, loaded with fate?

So that when, quailing at the mighty range

Of secret truths which yearn for birth, I haste

To contemplate undazzled some one truth,

Its bearings and effects alone — at once

What was a speck expands into a star,

Asking a life to pass exploring thus,

Till I near craze. I go to prove my soul!

I see my way as birds their trackless way.

I shall arrive! what time, what circuit first,

I ask not: but unless God send his hail

Or blinding fireballs, sleet or stifling snow,

In some time, his good time, I shall arrive:

He guides me and the bird. In his good time!

Michal.

Vex him no further, Festus; it is so!

Festus.

Just thus you help me ever. This would hold

Were it the trackless air, and not a path

Inviting you, distinct with footprints yet

Of many a mighty marcher gone that way.

You may have purer views than theirs, perhaps,

But they were famous in their day — the proofs

Remain. At least accept the light they lend.

Paracelsus.

Their light! the sum of all is briefly this:

They laboured and grew famous, and the fruits

Are best seen in a dark and groaning earth

Given over to a blind and endless strife

With evils, what of all their lore abates?

No; I reject and spurn them utterly

And all they teach. Shall I still sit beside

Their dry wells, with a white lip and filmed eye,

While in the distance heaven is blue above

Mountains where sleep the unsunned tarns?

Festus.

                      And yet

As strong delusions have prevailed ere now.

Men have set out as gallantly to seek

Their ruin. I have heard of such: yourself

Avow all hitherto have failed and fallen.

Michal.

Nay, Festus, when but as the pilgrims faint

Through the drear way, do you expect to see

Their city dawn amid the clouds afar?

Paracelsus.

Ay, sounds it not like some old well-known tale?

For me, I estimate their works and them

So rightly, that at times I almost dream

I too have spent a life the sages’ way,

And tread once more familiar paths. Perchance

I perished in an arrogant self-reliance

Ages ago; and in that act, a prayer

For one more chance went up so earnest, so

Instinct with better light let in by death,

That life was blotted out — not so completely

But scattered wrecks enough of it remain,

Dim memories, as now, when once more seems

The goal in sight again. All which, indeed,

Is foolish, and only means — the flesh I wear,

The earth I tread, are not more clear to me

Than my belief, explained to you or no.

Festus.

And who am I, to challenge and dispute

That clear belief? I will divest all fear.

Michal.

Then Aureole is God’s commissary! he shall

Be great and grand — and all for us!

Paracelsus.

                   No, sweet!

Not great and grand. If I can serve mankind

’T is well; but there our intercourse must end:

I never will be served by those I serve.

Festus.

Look well to this; here is a plague-spot, here,

Disguise it how you may! ’T is true, you utter

This scorn while by our side and loving us;

’T is but a spot as yet: but it will break

Into a hideous blotch if overlooked.

How can that course be safe which from the first

Produces carelessness to human love?

It seems you have abjured the helps which men

Who overpass their kind, as you would do,

Have humbly sought; I dare not thoroughly probe

This matter, lest I learn too much. Let be

That popular praise would little instigate

Your efforts, nor particular approval

Reward you; put reward aside; alone

You shall go forth upon your arduous task,

None shall assist you, none partake your toil,

None share your triumph: still you must retain

Some one to cast your glory on, to share

Your rapture with. Were I elect like you,

I would encircle me with love, and raise

A rampart of my fellows; it should seem

Impossible for me to fail, so watched

By gentle friends who made my cause their own.

They should ward off fate’s envy — the great gift,

Extravagant when claimed by me alone,

Being so a gift to them as well as me.

If danger daunted me or ease seduced,

How calmly their sad eyes should gaze reproach!

Michal.

O Aureole, can I sing when all alone,

Without first calling, in my fancy, both

To listen by my side — even I! And you?

Do you not feel this? Say that you feel this!

Paracelsus.

I feel’t is pleasant that my aims, at length

Allowed their weight, should be supposed to need

A further strengthening in these goodly helps!

My course allures for its own sake, its sole

Intrinsic worth; and ne’er shall boat of mine

Adventure forth for gold and apes at once.

Your sages say, “if human, therefore weak:”

If weak, more need to give myself entire

To my pursuit; and by its side, all else . . .

No matter! I deny myself but little

In waiving all assistance save its own.

Would there were some real sacrifice to make!

Your friends the sages threw their joys away,

While I must be content with keeping mine.

Festus.

But do not cut yourself from human weal!

You cannot thrive — a man that dares affect

To spend his life in service to his kind

For no reward of theirs, unbound to them

By any tie; nor do so, Aureole! No —

There are strange punishments for such. Give up

(Although no visible good flow thence) some part

Of the glory to another; hiding thus,

Even from yourself, that all is for yourself.

Say, say almost to God —“I have done all

“For her, not for myself!”

Paracelsus.

              And who but lately

Was to rejoice in my success like you?

Whom should I love but both of you?

Festus.

                   I know not:

But know this, you, that’t is no will of mine

You should abjure the lofty claims you make;

And this the cause — I can no longer seek

To overlook the truth, that there would be

A monstrous spectacle upon the earth,

Beneath the pleasant sun, among the trees:

— A being knowing not what love is. Hear me!

You are endowed with faculties which bear

Annexed to them as’t were a dispensation

To summon meaner spirits to do their will

And gather round them at their need; inspiring

Such with a love themselves can never feel,

Passionless’mid their passionate votaries.

I know not if you joy in this or no,

Or ever dream that common men can live

On objects you prize lightly, but which make

Their heart’s sole treasure: the affections seem

Beauteous at most to you, which we must taste

Or die: and this strange quality accords,

I know not how, with you; sits well upon

That luminous brow, though in another it scowls

An eating brand, a shame. I dare not judge you.

The rules of right and wrong thus set aside,

There’s no alternative — I own you one

Of higher order, under other laws

Than bind us; therefore, curb not one bold glance!

’T is best aspire. Once mingled with us all . . .

Michal.

Stay with us, Aureole! cast those hopes away,

And stay with us! An angel warns me, too,

Man should be humble; you are very proud:

And God, dethroned, has doleful plagues for such!

— Warns me to have in dread no quick repulse,

No slow defeat, but a complete success:

You will find all you seek, and perish so!

Paracelsus [after a pause].

Are these the barren firstfruits of my quest?

Is love like this the natural lot of all?

How many years of pain might one such hour

O’erbalance? Dearest Michal, dearest Festus,

What shall I say, if not that I desire

To justify your love; and will, dear friends,

In swerving nothing from my first resolves.

See, the great moon! and ere the mottled owls

Were wide awake, I was to go. It seems

You acquiesce at last in all save this —

If I am like to compass what I seek

By the untried career I choose; and then,

If that career, making but small account

Of much of life’s delight, will yet retain

Sufficient to sustain my soul: for thus

I understand these fond fears just expressed.

And first; the lore you praise and I neglect,

The labours and the precepts of old time,

I have not lightly disesteemed. But, friends,

Truth is within ourselves; it takes no rise

From outward things, whate’er you may believe.

There is an inmost centre in us all,

Where truth abides in fulness; and around,

Wall upon wall, the gross flesh hems it in,

This perfect, clear perception — which is truth.

A baffling and perverting carnal mesh

Binds it, and makes all error: and to know

Rather consists in opening out a way

Whence the imprisoned splendour may escape,

Than in effecting entry for a light

Supposed to be without. Watch narrowly

The demonstration of a truth, its birth,

And you trace back the effluence to its spring

And source within us; where broods radiance vast,

To be elicited ray by ray, as chance

Shall favour: chance — for hitherto, your sage

Even as he knows not how those beams are born,

As little knows he what unlocks their fount:

And men have oft grown old among their books

To die case-hardened in their ignorance,

Whose careless youth had promised what long years

Of unremitted labour ne’er performed:

While, contrary, it has chanced some idle day,

To autumn loiterers just as fancy-free

As the midges in the sun, gives birth at last

To truth — produced mysteriously as cape

Of cloud grown out of the invisible air.

Hence, may not truth be lodged alike in all,

The lowest as the highest? some slight film

The interposing bar which binds a soul

And makes the idiot, just as makes the sage

Some film removed, the happy outlet whence

Truth issues proudly? See this soul of ours!

How it strives weakly in the child, is loosed

In manhood, clogged by sickness, back compelled

By age and waste, set free at last by death:

Why is it, flesh enthrals it or enthrones?

What is this flesh we have to penetrate?

Oh, not alone when life flows still, do truth

And power emerge, but also when strange chance

Ruffles its current; in unused conjuncture,

When sickness breaks the body — hunger, watching,

Excess or languor — oftenest death’s approach,

Peril, deep joy or woe. One man shall crawl

Through life surrounded with all stirring things,

Unmoved; and he goes mad: and from the wreck

Of what he was, by his wild talk alone,

You first collect how great a spirit he hid.

Therefore, set free the soul alike in all,

Discovering the true laws by which the flesh

Accloys the spirit! We may not be doomed

To cope with seraphs, but at least the rest

Shall cope with us. Make no more giants, God,

But elevate the race at once! We ask

To put forth just our strength, our human strength,

All starting fairly, all equipped alike,

Gifted alike, all eagle-eyed, true-hearted —

See if we cannot beat thine angels yet!

Such is my task. I go to gather this

The sacred knowledge, here and there dispersed

About the world, long lost or never found.

And why should I be sad or lorn of hope?

Why ever make man’s good distinct from God’s,

Or, finding they are one, why dare mistrust?

Who shall succeed if not one pledged like me?

Mine is no mad attempt to build a world

Apart from his, like those who set themselves

To find the nature of the spirit they bore,

And, taught betimes that all their gorgeous dreams

Were only born to vanish in this life,

Refused to fit them to its narrow sphere,

But chose to figure forth another world

And other frames meet for their vast desires —

And all a dream! Thus was life scorned; but life

Shall yet be crowned: twine amaranth! I am priest!

And all for yielding with a lively spirit

A poor existence, parting with a youth

Like those who squander every energy

Convertible to good, on painted toys,

Breath-bubbles, gilded dust! And though I spurn

All adventitious aims, from empty praise

To love’s award, yet whoso deems such helps

Important, and concerns himself for me,

May know even these will follow with the rest —

As in the steady rolling Mayne, asleep

Yonder, is mixed its mass of schistous ore.

My own affections laid to rest awhile,

Will waken purified, subdued alone

By all I have achieved. Till then — till then . . .

Ah, the time-wiling loitering of a page

Through bower and over lawn, till eve shall bring

The stately lady’s presence whom he loves —

The broken sleep of the fisher whose rough coat

Enwraps the queenly pearl — these are faint types!

See, see, they look on me: I triumph now!

But one thing, Festus, Michal! I have told

All I shall e’er disclose to mortal: say —

Do you believe I shall accomplish this?

Festus.

I do believe!

Michal.

      I ever did believe!

Paracelsus.

Those words shall never fade from out my brain!

This earnest of the end shall never fade!

Are there not, Festus, are there not, dear Michal,

Two points in the adventure of the diver,

One — when, a beggar, he prepares to plunge,

One — when, a prince, he rises with his pearl?

Festus, I plunge!

Festus.

         We wait you when you rise!

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/browning/robert/paracelsus/part1.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32