CH. I. Boethius beseeches Philosophy to continue. She promises to lead him to true happiness. — CH. II. Happiness is the one end which all created beings seek. They aim variously at (a) wealth, or (b) rank, or (c) sovereignty, or (d) glory, or (e) pleasure, because they think thereby to attain either (a) contentment, (b) reverence, (c) power, (d) renown, or (e) gladness of heart, in one or other of which they severally imagine happiness to consist. — CH. III. Philosophy proceeds to consider whether happiness can really be secured in any of these ways, (a) So far from bringing contentment, riches only add to men’s wants. — CH. IV. (b) High position cannot of itself win respect. Titles command no reverence in distant and barbarous lands. They even fall into contempt through lapse of time. — CH. V. (c) Sovereignty cannot even bestow safety. History tells of the downfall of kings and their ministers. Tyrants go in fear of their lives. — CH. VI. (d) Fame conferred on the unworthy is but disgrace. The splendour of noble birth is not a man’s own, but his ancestors’. — CH. VII. (e) Pleasure begins in the restlessness of desire, and ends in repentance. Even the pure pleasures of home may turn to gall and bitterness. — CH. VIII. All fail, then, to give what they promise. There is, moreover, some accompanying evil involved in each of these aims. Beauty and bodily strength are likewise of little worth. In strength man is surpassed by the brutes; beauty is but outward show. — CH. IX. The source of men’s error in following these phantoms of good is that they break up and separate that which is in its nature one and indivisible. Contentment, power, reverence, renown, and joy are essentially bound up one with the other, and, if they are to be attained at all, must be attained together. True happiness, if it can be found, will include them all. But it cannot be found among the perishable things hitherto considered. — CH. X. Such a happiness necessarily exists. Its seat is in God. Nay, God is very happiness, and in a manner, therefore, the happy man partakes also of the Divine nature. All other ends are relative to this good, since they are all pursued only for the sake of good; it is good which is the sole ultimate end. And since the sole end is also happiness, it is plain that this good and happiness are in essence the same. — CH. XI. Unity is another aspect of goodness. Now, all things subsist so long only as they preserve the unity of their being; when they lose this unity, they perish. But the bent of nature forces all things (plants and inanimate things, as well as animals) to strive to continue in life. Therefore, all things desire unity, for unity is essential to life. But unity and goodness were shown to be the same. Therefore, good is proved to be the end towards which the whole universe tends.5 — CH. XII. Boethius acknowledges that he is but recollecting truths he once knew. Philosophy goes on to show that it is goodness also by which the whole world is governed.6 Boethius professes compunction for his former folly. But the paradox of evil is introduced, and he is once more perplexed.
She ceased, but I stood fixed by the sweetness of the song in wonderment and eager expectation, my ears still strained to listen. And then after a little I said: ‘Thou sovereign solace of the stricken soul, what refreshment hast thou brought me, no less by the sweetness of thy singing than by the weightiness of thy discourse! Verily, I think not that I shall hereafter be unequal to the blows of Fortune. Wherefore, I no longer dread the remedies which thou saidst were something too severe for my strength; nay, rather, I am eager to hear of them and call for them with all vehemence.’
Then said she: ‘I marked thee fastening upon my words silently and intently, and I expected, or — to speak more truly — I myself brought about in thee, this state of mind. What now remains is of such sort that to the taste indeed it is biting, but when received within it turns to sweetness. But whereas thou dost profess thyself desirous of hearing, with what ardour wouldst thou not burn didst thou but perceive whither it is my task to lead thee!’
‘Whither?’ said I.
‘To true felicity,’ said she, ‘which even now thy spirit sees in dreams, but cannot behold in very truth, while thine eyes are engrossed with semblances.’
Then said I: ‘I beseech thee, do thou show to me her true shape without a moment’s loss.’
‘Gladly will I, for thy sake,’ said she. ‘But first I will try to sketch in words, and describe a cause which is more familiar to thee, that, when thou hast viewed this carefully, thou mayst turn thy eyes the other way, and recognise the beauty of true happiness.’
Who fain would sow the fallow field,
And see the growing corn,
Must first remove the useless weeds,
The bramble and the thorn.
After ill savour, honey’s taste
Is to the mouth more sweet;
After the storm, the twinkling stars
The eyes more cheerly greet.
When night hath past, the bright dawn comes
In car of rosy hue;
So drive the false bliss from thy mind,
And thou shall see the true.
For a little space she remained in a fixed gaze, withdrawn, as it were, into the august chamber of her mind; then she thus began:
‘All mortal creatures in those anxious aims which find employment in so many varied pursuits, though they take many paths, yet strive to reach one goal — the goal of happiness. Now, the good is that which, when a man hath got, he can lack nothing further. This it is which is the supreme good of all, containing within itself all particular good; so that if anything is still wanting thereto, this cannot be the supreme good, since something would be left outside which might be desired. ’Tis clear, then, that happiness is a state perfected by the assembling together of all good things. To this state, as we have said, all men try to attain, but by different paths. For the desire of the true good is naturally implanted in the minds of men; only error leads them aside out of the way in pursuit of the false. Some, deeming it the highest good to want for nothing, spare no pains to attain affluence; others, judging the good to be that to which respect is most worthily paid, strive to win the reverence of their fellow-citizens by the attainment of official dignity. Some there are who fix the chief good in supreme power; these either wish themselves to enjoy sovereignty, or try to attach themselves to those who have it. Those, again, who think renown to be something of supreme excellence are in haste to spread abroad the glory of their name either through the arts of war or of peace. A great many measure the attainment of good by joy and gladness of heart; these think it the height of happiness to give themselves over to pleasure. Others there are, again, who interchange the ends and means one with the other in their aims; for instance, some want riches for the sake of pleasure and power, some covet power either for the sake of money or in order to bring renown to their name. So it is on these ends, then, that the aim of human acts and wishes is centred, and on others like to these — for instance, noble birth and popularity, which seem to compass a certain renown; wife and children, which are sought for the sweetness of their possession; while as for friendship, the most sacred kind indeed is counted in the category of virtue, not of fortune; but other kinds are entered upon for the sake of power or of enjoyment. And as for bodily excellences, it is obvious that they are to be ranged with the above. For strength and stature surely manifest power; beauty and fleetness of foot bring celebrity; health brings pleasure. It is plain, then, that the only object sought for in all these ways is happiness. For that which each seeks in preference to all else, that is in his judgment the supreme good. And we have defined the supreme good to be happiness. Therefore, that state which each wishes in preference to all others is in his judgment happy.
‘Thou hast, then, set before thine eyes something like a scheme of human happiness — wealth, rank, power, glory, pleasure. Now Epicurus, from a sole regard to these considerations, with some consistency concluded the highest good to be pleasure, because all the other objects seem to bring some delight to the soul. But to return to human pursuits and aims: man’s mind seeks to recover its proper good, in spite of the mistiness of its recollection, but, like a drunken man, knows not by what path to return home. Think you they are wrong who strive to escape want? Nay, truly there is nothing which can so well complete happiness as a state abounding in all good things, needing nothing from outside, but wholly self-sufficing. Do they fall into error who deem that which is best to be also best deserving to receive the homage of reverence? Not at all. That cannot possibly be vile and contemptible, to attain which the endeavours of nearly all mankind are directed. Then, is power not to be reckoned in the category of good? Why, can that which is plainly more efficacious than anything else be esteemed a thing feeble and void of strength? Or is renown to be thought of no account? Nay, it cannot be ignored that the highest renown is constantly associated with the highest excellence. And what need is there to say that happiness is not haunted by care and gloom, nor exposed to trouble and vexation, since that is a condition we ask of the very least of things, from the possession and enjoyment of which we expect delight? So, then, these are the blessings men wish to win; they want riches, rank, sovereignty, glory, pleasure, because they believe that by these means they will secure independence, reverence, power, renown, and joy of heart. Therefore, it is the good which men seek by such divers courses; and herein is easily shown the might of Nature’s power, since, although opinions are so various and discordant, yet they agree in cherishing good as the end.’
How the might of Nature sways
All the world in ordered ways,
How resistless laws control
Each least portion of the whole —
Fain would I in sounding verse
On my pliant strings rehearse.
Lo, the lion captive ta’en
Meekly wears his gilded chain;
Yet though he by hand be fed,
Though a master’s whip he dread,
If but once the taste of gore
Whet his cruel lips once more,
Straight his slumbering fierceness wakes,
With one roar his bonds he breaks,
And first wreaks his vengeful force
On his trainer’s mangled corse.
And the woodland songster, pent
In forlorn imprisonment,
Though a mistress’ lavish care
Store of honeyed sweets prepare;
Yet, if in his narrow cage,
As he hops from bar to bar,
He should spy the woods afar,
Cool with sheltering foliage,
All these dainties he will spurn,
To the woods his heart will turn;
Only for the woods he longs,
Pipes the woods in all his songs.
To rude force the sapling bends,
While the hand its pressure lends;
If the hand its pressure slack,
Straight the supple wood springs back.
Phoebus in the western main
Sinks; but swift his car again
By a secret path is borne
To the wonted gates of morn.
Thus are all things seen to yearn
In due time for due return;
And no order fixed may stay,
Save which in th’ appointed way
Joins the end to the beginning
In a steady cycle spinning.
‘Ye, too, creatures of earth, have some glimmering of your origin, however faint, and though in a vision dim and clouded, yet in some wise, notwithstanding, ye discern the true end of happiness, and so the aim of nature leads you thither — to that true good — while error in many forms leads you astray therefrom. For reflect whether men are able to win happiness by those means through which they think to reach the proposed end. Truly, if either wealth, rank, or any of the rest, bring with them anything of such sort as seems to have nothing wanting to it that is good, we, too, acknowledge that some are made happy by the acquisition of these things. But if they are not able to fulfil their promises, and, moreover, lack many good things, is not the happiness men seek in them clearly discovered to be a false show? Therefore do I first ask thee thyself, who but lately wert living in affluence, amid all that abundance of wealth, was thy mind never troubled in consequence of some wrong done to thee?’
‘Nay,’ said I, ‘I cannot ever remember a time when my mind was so completely at peace as not to feel the pang of some uneasiness.’
‘Was it not because either something was absent which thou wouldst not have absent, or present which thou wouldst have away?’
‘Yes,’ said I.
‘Then, thou didst want the presence of the one, the absence of the other?’
‘But a man lacks that of which he is in want?’
‘And he who lacks something is not in all points self-sufficing?’
‘No; certainly not,’ said I.
‘So wert thou, then, in the plenitude of thy wealth, supporting this insufficiency?’
‘I must have been.’
‘Wealth, then, cannot make its possessor independent and free from all want, yet this was what it seemed to promise. Moreover, I think this also well deserves to be considered — that there is nothing in the special nature of money to hinder its being taken away from those who possess it against their will.’
‘I admit it.’
‘Why, of course, when every day the stronger wrests it from the weaker without his consent. Else, whence come lawsuits, except in seeking to recover moneys which have been taken away against their owner’s will by force or fraud?’
‘True,’ said I.
‘Then, everyone will need some extraneous means of protection to keep his money safe.’
‘Who can venture to deny it?’
‘Yet he would not, unless he possessed the money which it is possible to lose.’
‘No; he certainly would not.’
‘Then, we have worked round to an opposite conclusion: the wealth which was thought to make a man independent rather puts him in need of further protection. How in the world, then, can want be driven away by riches? Cannot the rich feel hunger? Cannot they thirst? Are not the limbs of the wealthy sensitive to the winter’s cold? “But,” thou wilt say, “the rich have the wherewithal to sate their hunger, the means to get rid of thirst and cold.” True enough; want can thus be soothed by riches, wholly removed it cannot be. For if this ever-gaping, ever-craving want is glutted by wealth, it needs must be that the want itself which can be so glutted still remains. I do not speak of how very little suffices for nature, and how for avarice nothing is enough. Wherefore, if wealth cannot get rid of want, and makes new wants of its own, how can ye believe that it bestows independence?’
Though the covetous grown wealthy
See his piles of gold rise high;
Though he gather store of treasure
That can never satisfy;
Though with pearls his gorget blazes,
Rarest that the ocean yields;
Though a hundred head of oxen
Travail in his ample fields;
Ne’er shall carking care forsake him
While he draws this vital breath,
And his riches go not with him,
When his eyes are closed in death.
‘Well, but official dignity clothes him to whom it comes with honour and reverence! Have, then, offices of state such power as to plant virtue in the minds of their possessors, and drive out vice? Nay, they are rather wont to signalize iniquity than to chase it away, and hence arises our indignation that honours so often fall to the most iniquitous of men. Accordingly, Catullus calls Nonius an “ulcer-spot,” though “sitting in the curule chair.” Dost not see what infamy high position brings upon the bad? Surely their unworthiness will be less conspicuous if their rank does not draw upon them the public notice! In thy own case, wouldst thou ever have been induced by all these perils to think of sharing office with Decoratus, since thou hast discerned in him the spirit of a rascally parasite and informer? No; we cannot deem men worthy of reverence on account of their office, whom we deem unworthy of the office itself. But didst thou see a man endued with wisdom, couldst thou suppose him not worthy of reverence, nor of that wisdom with which he was endued?’
‘No; certainly not.’
‘There is in Virtue a dignity of her own which she forthwith passes over to those to whom she is united. And since public honours cannot do this, it is clear that they do not possess the true beauty of dignity. And here this well deserves to be noticed — that if a man is the more scorned in proportion as he is despised by a greater number, high position not only fails to win reverence for the wicked, but even loads them the more with contempt by drawing more attention to them. But not without retribution; for the wicked pay back a return in kind to the dignities they put on by the pollution of their touch. Perhaps, too, another consideration may teach thee to confess that true reverence cannot come through these counterfeit dignities. It is this: If one who had been many times consul chanced to visit barbaric lands, would his office win him the reverence of the barbarians? And yet if reverence were the natural effect of dignities, they would not forego their proper function in any part of the world, even as fire never anywhere fails to give forth heat. But since this effect is not due to their own efficacy, but is attached to them by the mistaken opinion of mankind, they disappear straightway when they are set before those who do not esteem them dignities. Thus the case stands with foreign peoples. But does their repute last for ever, even in the land of their origin? Why, the prefecture, which was once a great power, is now an empty name — a burden merely on the senator’s fortune; the commissioner of the public corn supply was once a personage — now what is more contemptible than this office? For, as we said just now, that which hath no true comeliness of its own now receives, now loses, lustre at the caprice of those who have to do with it. So, then, if dignities cannot win men reverence, if they are actually sullied by the contamination of the wicked, if they lose their splendour through time’s changes, if they come into contempt merely for lack of public estimation, what precious beauty have they in themselves, much less to give to others?’
Though royal purple soothes his pride,
And snowy pearls his neck adorn,
Nero in all his riot lives
The mark of universal scorn.
Yet he on reverend heads conferred
Th’ inglorious honours of the state.
Shall we, then, deem them truly blessed
Whom such preferment hath made great?
‘Well, then, does sovereignty and the intimacy of kings prove able to confer power? Why, surely does not the happiness of kings endure for ever? And yet antiquity is full of examples, and these days also, of kings whose happiness has turned into calamity. How glorious a power, which is not even found effectual for its own preservation! But if happiness has its source in sovereign power, is not happiness diminished, and misery inflicted in its stead, in so far as that power falls short of completeness? Yet, however widely human sovereignty be extended, there must still be more peoples left, over whom each several king holds no sway. Now, at whatever point the power on which happiness depends ceases, here powerlessness steals in and makes wretchedness; so, by this way of reckoning, there must needs be a balance of wretchedness in the lot of the king. The tyrant who had made trial of the perils of his condition figured the fears that haunt a throne under the image of a sword hanging over a man’s head.7 What sort of power, then, is this which cannot drive away the gnawings of anxiety, or shun the stings of terror? Fain would they themselves have lived secure, but they cannot; then they boast about their power! Dost thou count him to possess power whom thou seest to wish what he cannot bring to pass? Dost thou count him to possess power who encompasses himself with a body-guard, who fears those he terrifies more than they fear him, who, to keep up the semblance of power, is himself at the mercy of his slaves? Need I say anything of the friends of kings, when I show royal dominion itself so utterly and miserably weak — why ofttimes the royal power in its plenitude brings them low, ofttimes involves them in its fall? Nero drove his friend and preceptor, Seneca, to the choice of the manner of his death. Antoninus exposed Papinianus, who was long powerful at court, to the swords of the soldiery. Yet each of these was willing to renounce his power. Seneca tried to surrender his wealth also to Nero, and go into retirement; but neither achieved his purpose. When they tottered, their very greatness dragged them down. What manner of thing, then, is this power which keeps men in fear while they possess it — which when thou art fain to keep, thou art not safe, and when thou desirest to lay it aside thou canst not rid thyself of? Are friends any protection who have been attached by fortune, not by virtue? Nay; him whom good fortune has made a friend, ill fortune will make an enemy. And what plague is more effectual to do hurt than a foe of one’s own household?’
7 The sword of Damocles.
Who on power sets his aim,
First must his own spirit tame;
He must shun his neck to thrust
‘Neath th’ unholy yoke of lust.
For, though India’s far-off land
Bow before his wide command,
Utmost Thule homage pay —
If he cannot drive away
Haunting care and black distress,
In his power, he’s powerless.
‘Again, how misleading, how base, a thing ofttimes is glory! Well does the tragic poet exclaim:
‘“Oh, fond Repute, how many a time and oft
Hast them raised high in pride the base-born churl!”
For many have won a great name through the mistaken beliefs of the multitude — and what can be imagined more shameful than that? Nay, they who are praised falsely must needs themselves blush at their own praises! And even when praise is won by merit, still, how does it add to the good conscience of the wise man who measures his good not by popular repute, but by the truth of inner conviction? And if at all it does seem a fair thing to get this same renown spread abroad, it follows that any failure so to spread it is held foul. But if, as I set forth but now, there must needs be many tribes and peoples whom the fame of any single man cannot reach, it follows that he whom thou esteemest glorious seems all inglorious in a neighbouring quarter of the globe. As to popular favour, I do not think it even worthy of mention in this place, since it never cometh of judgment, and never lasteth steadily.
‘Then, again, who does not see how empty, how foolish, is the fame of noble birth? Why, if the nobility is based on renown, the renown is another’s! For, truly, nobility seems to be a sort of reputation coming from the merits of ancestors. But if it is the praise which brings renown, of necessity it is they who are praised that are famous. Wherefore, the fame of another clothes thee not with splendour if thou hast none of thine own. So, if there is any excellence in nobility of birth, methinks it is this alone — that it would seem to impose upon the nobly born the obligation not to degenerate from the virtue of their ancestors.’
All men are of one kindred stock, though scattered far and wide;
For one is Father of us all — one doth for all provide.
He gave the sun his golden beams, the moon her silver horn;
He set mankind upon the earth, as stars the heavens adorn.
He shut a soul — a heaven-born soul — within the body’s frame;
The noble origin he gave each mortal wight may claim.
Why boast ye, then, so loud of race and high ancestral line?
If ye behold your being’s source, and God’s supreme design,
None is degenerate, none base, unless by taint of sin
And cherished vice he foully stain his heavenly origin.
‘Then, what shall I say of the pleasures of the body? The lust thereof is full of uneasiness; the sating, of repentance. What sicknesses, what intolerable pains, are they wont to bring on the bodies of those who enjoy them — the fruits of iniquity, as it were! Now, what sweetness the stimulus of pleasure may have I do not know. But that the issues of pleasure are painful everyone may understand who chooses to recall the memory of his own fleshly lusts. Nay, if these can make happiness, there is no reason why the beasts also should not be happy, since all their efforts are eagerly set upon satisfying the bodily wants. I know, indeed, that the sweetness of wife and children should be right comely, yet only too true to nature is what was said of one — that he found in his sons his tormentors. And how galling such a contingency would be, I must needs put thee in mind, since thou hast never in any wise suffered such experiences, nor art thou now under any uneasiness. In such a case, I agree with my servant Euripides, who said that a man without children was fortunate in his misfortune.’8
8 Paley translates the lines in Euripides’ ‘Andromache’: ‘They [the childless] are indeed spared from much pain and sorrow, but their supposed happiness is after all but wretchedness.’ Euripides’ meaning is therefore really just the reverse of that which Boethius makes it. See Euripides, ‘Andromache,’ Il. 418–420.
—— This is the way of Pleasure:
She stings them that despoil her;
And, like the wingéd toiler
Who’s lost her honeyed treasure,
She flies, but leaves her smart
Deep-rankling in the heart.
‘It is beyond doubt, then, that these paths do not lead to happiness; they cannot guide anyone to the promised goal. Now, I will very briefly show what serious evils are involved in following them. Just consider. Is it thy endeavour to heap up money? Why, thou must wrest it from its present possessor! Art thou minded to put on the splendour of official dignity? Thou must beg from those who have the giving of it; thou who covetest to outvie others in honour must lower thyself to the humble posture of petition. Dost thou long for power? Thou must face perils, for thou wilt be at the mercy of thy subjects’ plots. Is glory thy aim? Thou art lured on through all manner of hardships, and there is an end to thy peace of mind. Art fain to lead a life of pleasure? Yet who does not scorn and contemn one who is the slave of the weakest and vilest of things — the body? Again, on how slight and perishable a possession do they rely who set before themselves bodily excellences! Can ye ever surpass the elephant in bulk or the bull in strength? Can ye excel the tiger in swiftness? Look upon the infinitude, the solidity, the swift motion, of the heavens, and for once cease to admire things mean and worthless. And yet the heavens are not so much to be admired on this account as for the reason which guides them. Then, how transient is the lustre of beauty! how soon gone! — more fleeting than the fading bloom of spring flowers. And yet if, as Aristotle says, men should see with the eyes of Lynceus, so that their sight might pierce through obstructions, would not that body of Alcibiades, so gloriously fair in outward seeming, appear altogether loathsome when all its inward parts lay open to the view? Therefore, it is not thy own nature that makes thee seem beautiful, but the weakness of the eyes that see thee. Yet prize as unduly as ye will that body’s excellences; so long as ye know that this that ye admire, whatever its worth, can be dissolved away by the feeble flame of a three days’ fever. From all which considerations we may conclude as a whole, that these things which cannot make good the advantages they promise, which are never made perfect by the assemblage of all good things — these neither lead as by-ways to happiness, nor themselves make men completely happy.’
— Alas! how wide astray
Doth Ignorance these wretched mortals lead
From Truth’s own way!
For not on leafy stems
Do ye within the green wood look for gold,
Nor strip the vine for gems;
— Your nets ye do not spread
Upon the hill-tops, that the groaning board
With fish be furnishèd;
If ye are fain to chase
The bounding goat, ye sweep not in vain search
The ocean’s ruffled face.
— The sea’s far depths they know,
Each hidden nook, wherein the waves o’erwash
The pearl as white as snow;
Where lurks the Tyrian shell,
Where fish and prickly urchins do abound,
All this they know full well.
— But not to know or care
Where hidden lies the good all hearts desire —
This blindness they can bear;
With gaze on earth low-bent,
They seek for that which reacheth far beyond
The starry firmament.
— What curse shall I call down
On hearts so dull? May they the race still run
For wealth and high renown!
And when with much ado
The false good they have grasped — ah, then too late! —
May they discern the true!
‘This much may well suffice to set forth the form of false happiness; if this is now clear to thine eyes, the next step is to show what true happiness is.’
‘Indeed,’ said I, ‘I see clearly enough that neither is independence to be found in wealth, nor power in sovereignty, nor reverence in dignities, nor fame in glory, nor true joy in pleasures.’
‘Hast thou discerned also the causes why this is so?’
‘I seem to have some inkling, but I should like to learn more at large from thee.’
‘Why, truly the reason is hard at hand. That which is simple and indivisible by nature human error separates, and transforms from the true and perfect to the false and imperfect. Dost thou imagine that which lacketh nothing can want power?’
‘Right; for if there is any feebleness of strength in anything, in this there must necessarily be need of external protection.’
‘That is so.’
‘Accordingly, the nature of independence and power is one and the same.’
‘It seems so.’
‘Well, but dost think that anything of such a nature as this can be looked upon with contempt, or is it rather of all things most worthy of veneration?’
‘Nay; there can be no doubt as to that.’
‘Let us, then, add reverence to independence and power, and conclude these three to be one.’
‘We must if we will acknowledge the truth.’
‘Thinkest thou, then, this combination of qualities to be obscure and without distinction, or rather famous in all renown? Just consider: can that want renown which has been agreed to be lacking in nothing, to be supreme in power, and right worthy of honour, for the reason that it cannot bestow this upon itself, and so comes to appear somewhat poor in esteem?’
‘I cannot but acknowledge that, being what it is, this union of qualities is also right famous.’
‘It follows, then, that we must admit that renown is not different from the other three.’
‘It does,’ said I.
‘That, then, which needs nothing outside itself, which can accomplish all things in its own strength, which enjoys fame and compels reverence, must not this evidently be also fully crowned with joy?’
‘In sooth, I cannot conceive,’ said I, ‘how any sadness can find entrance into such a state; wherefore I must needs acknowledge it full of joy — at least, if our former conclusions are to hold.’
‘Then, for the same reasons, this also is necessary — that independence, power, renown, reverence, and sweetness of delight, are different only in name, but in substance differ no wise one from the other.’
‘It is,’ said I.
‘This, then, which is one, and simple by nature, human perversity separates, and, in trying to win a part of that which has no parts, fails to attain not only that portion (since there are no portions), but also the whole, to which it does not dream of aspiring.’
‘How so?’ said I.
‘He who, to escape want, seeks riches, gives himself no concern about power; he prefers a mean and low estate, and also denies himself many pleasures dear to nature to avoid losing the money which he has gained. But at this rate he does not even attain to independence — a weakling void of strength, vexed by distresses, mean and despised, and buried in obscurity. He, again, who thirsts alone for power squanders his wealth, despises pleasure, and thinks fame and rank alike worthless without power. But thou seest in how many ways his state also is defective. Sometimes it happens that he lacks necessaries, that he is gnawed by anxieties, and, since he cannot rid himself of these inconveniences, even ceases to have that power which was his whole end and aim. In like manner may we cast up the reckoning in case of rank, of glory, or of pleasure. For since each one of these severally is identical with the rest, whosoever seeks any one of them without the others does not even lay hold of that one which he makes his aim.’
‘Well,’ said I, ‘what then?’
‘Suppose anyone desire to obtain them together, he does indeed wish for happiness as a whole; but will he find it in these things which, as we have proved, are unable to bestow what they promise?’
‘Nay; by no means,’ said I.
‘Then, happiness must certainly not be sought in these things which severally are believed to afford some one of the blessings most to be desired.’
‘They must not, I admit. No conclusion could be more true.’
‘So, then, the form and the causes of false happiness are set before thine eyes. Now turn thy gaze to the other side; there thou wilt straightway see the true happiness I promised.’
‘Yea, indeed, ’tis plain to the blind.’ said I. ‘Thou didst point it out even now in seeking to unfold the causes of the false. For, unless I am mistaken, that is true and perfect happiness which crowns one with the union of independence, power, reverence, renown, and joy. And to prove to thee with how deep an insight I have listened — since all these are the same — that which can truly bestow one of them I know to be without doubt full and complete happiness.’
‘Happy art thou, my scholar, in this thy conviction; only one thing shouldst thou add.’
‘What is that?’ said I.
‘Is there aught, thinkest thou, amid these mortal and perishable things which can produce a state such as this?’
‘Nay, surely not; and this thou hast so amply demonstrated that no word more is needed.’
‘Well, then, these things seem to give to mortals shadows of the true good, or some kind of imperfect good; but the true and perfect good they cannot bestow.’
‘Even so,’ said I.
‘Since, then, thou hast learnt what that true happiness is, and what men falsely call happiness, it now remains that thou shouldst learn from what source to seek this.’
‘Yes; to this I have long been eagerly looking forward.’
‘Well, since, as Plato maintains in the “Timæus,” we ought even in the most trivial matters to implore the Divine protection, what thinkest thou should we now do in order to deserve to find the seat of that highest good?’
‘We must invoke the Father of all things,’ said I; ‘for without this no enterprise sets out from a right beginning.’
‘Thou sayest well,’ said she; and forthwith lifted up her voice and sang:
Maker of earth and sky, from age to age
Who rul’st the world by reason; at whose word
Time issues from Eternity’s abyss:
To all that moves the source of movement, fixed
Thyself and moveless. Thee no cause impelled
Extrinsic this proportioned frame to shape
From shapeless matter; but, deep-set within
Thy inmost being, the form of perfect good,
From envy free; and Thou didst mould the whole
To that supernal pattern. Beauteous
The world in Thee thus imaged, being Thyself
Most beautiful. So Thou the work didst fashion
In that fair likeness, bidding it put on
Perfection through the exquisite perfectness
Of every part’s contrivance. Thou dost bind
The elements in balanced harmony,
So that the hot and cold, the moist and dry,
Contend not; nor the pure fire leaping up
Escape, or weight of waters whelm the earth.
Thou joinest and diffusest through the whole,
Linking accordantly its several parts,
A soul of threefold nature, moving all.
This, cleft in twain, and in two circles gathered,
Speeds in a path that on itself returns,
Encompassing mind’s limits, and conforms
The heavens to her true semblance. Lesser souls
And lesser lives by a like ordinance
Thou sendest forth, each to its starry car
Affixing, and dost strew them far and wide
O’er earth and heaven. These by a law benign
Thou biddest turn again, and render back
To thee their fires. Oh, grant, almighty Father,
Grant us on reason’s wing to soar aloft
To heaven’s exalted height; grant us to see
The fount of good; grant us, the true light found,
To fix our steadfast eyes in vision clear
On Thee. Disperse the heavy mists of earth,
And shine in Thine own splendour. For Thou art
The true serenity and perfect rest
Of every pious soul — to see Thy face,
The end and the beginning — One the guide,
The traveller, the pathway, and the goal.
9 The substance of this poem is taken from Plato’s ‘Timæus,’ 29–42. See Jowett, vol. iii., pp. 448–462 (third edition).
‘Since now thou hast seen what is the form of the imperfect good, and what the form of the perfect also, methinks I should next show in what manner this perfection of felicity is built up. And here I conceive it proper to inquire, first, whether any excellence, such as thou hast lately defined, can exist in the nature of things, lest we be deceived by an empty fiction of thought to which no true reality answers. But it cannot be denied that such does exist, and is, as it were, the source of all things good. For everything which is called imperfect is spoken of as imperfect by reason of the privation of some perfection; so it comes to pass that, whenever imperfection is found in any particular, there must necessarily be a perfection in respect of that particular also. For were there no such perfection, it is utterly inconceivable how that so-called im_perfection should come into existence. Nature does not make a beginning with things mutilated and imperfect; she starts with what is whole and perfect, and falls away later to these feeble and inferior productions. So if there is, as we showed before, a happiness of a frail and imperfect kind, it cannot be doubted but there is also a happiness substantial and perfect.’
‘Most true is thy conclusion, and most sure,’ said I.
‘Next to consider where the dwelling-place of this happiness may be. The common belief of all mankind agrees that God, the supreme of all things, is good. For since nothing can be imagined better than God, how can we doubt Him to be good than whom there is nothing better? Now, reason shows God to be good in such wise as to prove that in Him is perfect good. For were it not so, He would not be supreme of all things; for there would be something else more excellent, possessed of perfect good, which would seem to have the advantage in priority and dignity, since it has clearly appeared that all perfect things are prior to those less complete. Wherefore, lest we fall into an infinite regression, we must acknowledge the supreme God to be full of supreme and perfect good. But we have determined that true happiness is the perfect good; therefore true happiness must dwell in the supreme Deity.’
‘I accept thy reasonings,’ said I; ‘they cannot in any wise be disputed.’
‘But, come, see how strictly and incontrovertibly thou mayst prove this our assertion that the supreme Godhead hath fullest possession of the highest good.’
‘In what way, pray?’ said I.
‘Do not rashly suppose that He who is the Father of all things hath received that highest good of which He is said to be possessed either from some external source, or hath it as a natural endowment in such sort that thou mightest consider the essence of the happiness possessed, and of the God who possesses it, distinct and different. For if thou deemest it received from without, thou mayst esteem that which gives more excellent than that which has received. But Him we most worthily acknowledge to be the most supremely excellent of all things. If, however, it is in Him by nature, yet is logically distinct, the thought is inconceivable, since we are speaking of God, who is supreme of all things. Who was there to join these distinct essences? Finally, when one thing is different from another, the things so conceived as distinct cannot be identical. Therefore that which of its own nature is distinct from the highest good is not itself the highest good — an impious thought of Him than whom, ’tis plain, nothing can be more excellent. For universally nothing can be better in nature than the source from which it has come; therefore on most true grounds of reason would I conclude that which is the source of all things to be in its own essence the highest good.’
‘And most justly,’ said I.
‘But the highest good has been admitted to be happiness.’
‘Then,’ said she, ‘it is necessary to acknowledge that God is very happiness.’
‘Yes,’ said I; ‘I cannot gainsay my former admissions, and I see clearly that this is a necessary inference therefrom.’
‘Reflect, also,’ said she, ‘whether the same conclusion is not further confirmed by considering that there cannot be two supreme goods distinct one from the other. For the goods which are different clearly cannot be severally each what the other is: wherefore neither of the two can be perfect, since to either the other is wanting; but since it is not perfect, it cannot manifestly be the supreme good. By no means, then, can goods which are supreme be different one from the other. But we have concluded that both happiness and God are the supreme good; wherefore that which is highest Divinity must also itself necessarily be supreme happiness.’
‘No conclusion,’ said I, ‘could be truer to fact, nor more soundly reasoned out, nor more worthy of God.’
‘Then, further,’ said she, ‘just as geometricians are wont to draw inferences from their demonstrations to which they give the name “deductions,” so will I add here a sort of corollary. For since men become happy by the acquisition of happiness, while happiness is very Godship, it is manifest that they become happy by the acquisition of Godship. But as by the acquisition of justice men become just, and wise by the acquisition of wisdom, so by parity of reasoning by acquiring Godship they must of necessity become gods. So every man who is happy is a god; and though in nature God is One only, yet there is nothing to hinder that very many should be gods by participation in that nature.’
‘A fair conclusion, and a precious,’ said I, ‘deduction or corollary, by whichever name thou wilt call it.’
‘And yet,’ said she, ‘not one whit fairer than this which reason persuades us to add.’
‘Why, what?’ said I.
‘Why, seeing happiness has many particulars included under it, should all these be regarded as forming one body of happiness, as it were, made up of various parts, or is there some one of them which forms the full essence of happiness, while all the rest are relative to this?’
‘I would thou wouldst unfold the whole matter to me at large.’
‘We judge happiness to be good, do we not?’
‘Yea, the supreme good.’
‘And this superlative applies to all; for this same happiness is adjudged to be the completest independence, the highest power, reverence, renown, and pleasure.’
‘Are all these goods — independence, power, and the rest — to be deemed members of happiness, as it were, or are they all relative to good as to their summit and crown?’
‘I understand the problem, but I desire to hear how thou wouldst solve it.’
‘Well, then, listen to the determination of the matter. Were all these members composing happiness, they would differ severally one from the other. For this is the nature of parts — that by their difference they compose one body. All these, however, have been proved to be the same; therefore they cannot possibly be members, otherwise happiness will seem to be built up out of one member, which cannot be.’
‘There can be no doubt as to that,’ said I; ‘but I am impatient to hear what remains.’
‘Why, it is manifest that all the others are relative to the good. For the very reason why independence is sought is that it is judged good, and so power also, because it is believed to be good. The same, too, may be supposed of reverence, of renown, and of pleasant delight. Good, then, is the sum and source of all desirable things. That which has not in itself any good, either in reality or in semblance, can in no wise be desired. Contrariwise, even things which by nature are not good are desired as if they were truly good, if they seem to be so. Whereby it comes to pass that goodness is rightly believed to be the sum and hinge and cause of all things desirable. Now, that for the sake of which anything is desired itself seems to be most wished for. For instance, if anyone wishes to ride for the sake of health, he does not so much wish for the exercise of riding as the benefit of his health. Since, then, all things are sought for the sake of the good, it is not these so much as good itself that is sought by all. But that on account of which all other things are wished for was, we agreed, happiness; wherefore thus also it appears that it is happiness alone which is sought. From all which it is transparently clear that the essence of absolute good and of happiness is one and the same.’
‘I cannot see how anyone can dissent from these conclusions.’
‘But we have also proved that God and true happiness are one and the same.’
‘Yes,’ said I.
‘Then we can safely conclude, also, that God’s essence is seated in absolute good, and nowhere else.’
Hither come, all ye whose minds
Lust with rosy fetters binds —
Lust to bondage hard compelling
Th’ earthy souls that are his dwelling —
Here shall be your labour’s close;
Here your haven of repose.
Come, to your one refuge press;
Wide it stands to all distress!
Not the glint of yellow gold
Down bright Hermus’ current rolled;
Not the Tagus’ precious sands,
Nor in far-off scorching lands
All the radiant gems that hide
Under Indus’ storied tide —
Emerald green and glistering white —
Can illume our feeble sight;
But they rather leave the mind
In its native darkness blind.
For the fairest beams they shed
In earth’s lowest depths were fed;
But the splendour that supplies
Strength and vigour to the skies,
And the universe controls,
Shunneth dark and ruined souls.
He who once hath seen this light
Will not call the sunbeam bright.
‘I quite agree,’ said I, ‘truly all thy reasonings hold admirably together.’
Then said she: ‘What value wouldst thou put upon the boon shouldst thou come to the knowledge of the absolute good?’
‘Oh, an infinite,’ said I, ‘if only I were so blest as to learn to know God also who is the good.’
‘Yet this will I make clear to thee on truest grounds of reason, if only our recent conclusions stand fast.’
‘Have we not shown that those things which most men desire are not true and perfect good precisely for this cause — that they differ severally one from another, and, seeing that one is wanting to another, they cannot bestow full and absolute good; but that they become the true good when they are gathered, as it were, into one form and agency, so that that which is independence is likewise power, reverence, renown, and pleasant delight, and unless they are all one and the same, they have no claim to be counted among things desirable?’
‘Yes; this was clearly proved, and cannot in any wise be doubted.’
‘Now, when things are far from being good while they are different, but become good as soon as they are one, is it not true that these become good by acquiring unity?’
‘It seems so,’ said I.
‘But dost not thou allow that all which is good is good by participation in goodness?’
‘Then, thou must on similar grounds admit that unity and goodness are the same; for when the effects of things in their natural working differ not, their essence is one and the same.’
‘There is no denying it.’
‘Now, dost thou know,’ said she, ‘that all which is abides and subsists so long as it continues one, but so soon as it ceases to be one it perishes and falls to pieces?’
‘In what way?’
‘Why, take animals, for example. When soul and body come together, and continue in one, this is, we say, a living creature; but when this unity is broken by the separation of these two, the creature dies, and is clearly no longer living. The body also, while it remains in one form by the joining together of its members, presents a human appearance; but if the separation and dispersal of the parts break up the body’s unity, it ceases to be what it was. And if we extend our survey to all other things, without doubt it will manifestly appear that each several thing subsists while it is one, but when it ceases to be one perishes.’
‘Yes; when I consider further, I see it to be even as thou sayest.’
‘Well, is there aught,’ said she, ‘which, in so far as it acts conformably to nature, abandons the wish for life, and desires to come to death and corruption?’
‘Looking to living creatures, which have some faults of choice, I find none that, without external compulsion, forego the will to live, and of their own accord hasten to destruction. For every creature diligently pursues the end of self-preservation, and shuns death and destruction! As to herbs and trees, and inanimate things generally, I am altogether in doubt what to think.’
‘And yet there is no possibility of question about this either, since thou seest how herbs and trees grow in places suitable for them, where, as far as their nature admits, they cannot quickly wither and die. Some spring up in the plains, others in the mountains; some grow in marshes, others cling to rocks; and others, again, find a fertile soil in the barren sands; and if you try to transplant these elsewhere, they wither away. Nature gives to each the soil that suits it, and uses her diligence to prevent any of them dying, so long as it is possible for them to continue alive. Why do they all draw their nourishment from roots as from a mouth dipped into the earth, and distribute the strong bark over the pith? Why are all the softer parts like the pith deeply encased within, while the external parts have the strong texture of wood, and outside of all is the bark to resist the weather’s inclemency, like a champion stout in endurance? Again, how great is nature’s diligence to secure universal propagation by multiplying seed! Who does not know all these to be contrivances, not only for the present maintenance of a species, but for its lasting continuance, generation after generation, for ever? And do not also the things believed inanimate on like grounds of reason seek each what is proper to itself? Why do the flames shoot lightly upward, while the earth presses downward with its weight, if it is not that these motions and situations are suitable to their respective natures? Moreover, each several thing is preserved by that which is agreeable to its nature, even as it is destroyed by things inimical. Things solid like stones resist disintegration by the close adhesion of their parts. Things fluid like air and water yield easily to what divides them, but swiftly flow back and mingle with those parts from which they have been severed, while fire, again, refuses to be cut at all. And we are not now treating of the voluntary motions of an intelligent soul, but of the drift of nature. Even so is it that we digest our food without thinking about it, and draw our breath unconsciously in sleep; nay, even in living creatures the love of life cometh not of conscious will, but from the principles of nature. For oftentimes in the stress of circumstances will chooses the death which nature shrinks from; and contrarily, in spite of natural appetite, will restrains that work of reproduction by which alone the persistence of perishable creatures is maintained. So entirely does this love of self come from drift of nature, not from animal impulse. Providence has furnished things with this most cogent reason for continuance: they must desire life, so long as it is naturally possible for them to continue living. Wherefore in no way mayst thou doubt but that things naturally aim at continuance of existence, and shun destruction.’
‘I confess,’ said I, ‘that what I lately thought uncertain, I now perceive to be indubitably clear.’
‘Now, that which seeks to subsist and continue desires to be one; for if its oneness be gone, its very existence cannot continue.’
‘True,’ said I.
‘All things, then, desire to be one.’
‘But we have proved that one is the very same thing as good.’
‘All things, then, seek the good; indeed, you may express the fact by defining good as that which all desire.’
‘Nothing could be more truly thought out. Either there is no single end to which all things are relative, or else the end to which all things universally hasten must be the highest good of all.’
Then she: ‘Exceedingly do I rejoice, dear pupil; thine eye is now fixed on the very central mark of truth. Moreover, herein is revealed that of which thou didst erstwhile profess thyself ignorant.’
‘What is that?’ said I.
‘The end and aim of the whole universe. Surely it is that which is desired of all; and, since we have concluded the good to be such, we ought to acknowledge the end and aim of the whole universe to be “the good.”’
Who truth pursues, who from false ways
His heedful steps would keep,
By inward light must search within
In meditation deep;
All outward bent he must repress
His soul’s true treasure to possess.
Then all that error’s mists obscured
Shall shine more clear than light,
This fleshly frame’s oblivious weight
Hath quenched not reason quite;
The germs of truth still lie within,
Whence we by learning all may win.
Else how could ye the answer due
Untaught to questions give,
Were’t not that deep within the soul
Truth’s secret sparks do live?
If Plato’s teaching erreth not,
We learn but that we have forgot.
10 The doctrine of Reminiscence — i.e., that all learning is really recollection — is set forth at length by Plato in the ‘Meno,’ 81–86, and the ‘Phædo,’ 72–76. See Jowett, vol. ii., pp. 40–47 and 213–218.
Then said I: ‘With all my heart I agree with Plato; indeed, this is now the second time that these things have been brought back to my mind — first I lost them through the clogging contact of the body; then after through the stress of heavy grief.’
Then she continued: ‘If thou wilt reflect upon thy former admissions, it will not be long before thou dost also recollect that of which erstwhile thou didst confess thyself ignorant.’
‘What is that?’ said I.
‘The principles of the world’s government,’ said she.
‘Yes; I remember my confession, and, although I now anticipate what thou intendest, I have a desire to hear the argument plainly set forth.’
‘Awhile ago thou deemedst it beyond all doubt that God doth govern the world.’
‘I do not think it doubtful now, nor shall I ever; and by what reasons I am brought to this assurance I will briefly set forth. This world could never have taken shape as a single system out of parts so diverse and opposite were it not that there is One who joins together these so diverse things. And when it had once come together, the very diversity of natures would have dissevered it and torn it asunder in universal discord were there not One who keeps together what He has joined. Nor would the order of nature proceed so regularly, nor could its course exhibit motions so fixed in respect of position, time, range, efficacy, and character, unless there were One who, Himself abiding, disposed these various vicissitudes of change. This power, whatsoever it be, whereby they remain as they were created, and are kept in motion, I call by the name which all recognise — God.’
Then said she: ‘Seeing that such is thy belief, it will cost me little trouble, I think, to enable thee to win happiness, and return in safety to thy own country. But let us give our attention to the task that we have set before ourselves. Have we not counted independence in the category of happiness, and agreed that God is absolute happiness?’
‘Truly, we have.’
‘Then, He will need no external assistance for the ruling of the world. Otherwise, if He stands in need of aught, He will not possess complete independence.’
‘That is necessarily so,’ said I.
‘Then, by His own power alone He disposes all things.’
‘It cannot be denied.’
‘Now, God was proved to be absolute good.’
‘Yes; I remember.’
‘Then, He disposes all things by the agency of good, if it be true that He rules all things by His own power whom we have agreed to be good; and He is, as it were, the rudder and helm by which the world’s mechanism is kept steady and in order.’
‘Heartily do I agree; and, indeed, I anticipated what thou wouldst say, though it may be in feeble surmise only.’
‘I well believe it,’ said she; ‘for, as I think, thou now bringest to the search eyes quicker in discerning truth; but what I shall say next is no less plain and easy to see.’
‘What is it?’ said I.
‘Why,’ said she, ‘since God is rightly believed to govern all things with the rudder of goodness, and since all things do likewise, as I have taught, haste towards good by the very aim of nature, can it be doubted that His governance is willingly accepted, and that all submit themselves to the sway of the Disposer as conformed and attempered to His rule?’
‘Necessarily so,’ said I; ‘no rule would seem happy if it were a yoke imposed on reluctant wills, and not the safe-keeping of obedient subjects.’
‘There is nothing, then, which, while it follows nature, endeavours to resist good.’
‘But if anything should, will it have the least success against Him whom we rightly agreed to be supreme Lord of happiness?’
‘It would be utterly impotent.’
‘There is nothing, then, which has either the will or the power to oppose this supreme good.’
‘No; I think not.’
‘So, then,’ said she, ‘it is the supreme good which rules in strength, and graciously disposes all things.’
Then said I: ‘How delighted am I at thy reasonings, and the conclusion to which thou hast brought them, but most of all at these very words which thou usest! I am now at last ashamed of the folly that so sorely vexed me.’
‘Thou hast heard the story of the giants assailing heaven; but a beneficent strength disposed of them also, as they deserved. But shall we submit our arguments to the shock of mutual collision? — it may be from the impact some fair spark of truth may be struck out.’
‘If it be thy good pleasure,’ said I.
‘No one can doubt that God is all-powerful.’
‘No one at all can question it who thinks consistently.’
‘Now, there is nothing which One who is all-powerful cannot do.’
‘But can God do evil, then?’
‘Nay; by no means.’
‘Then, evil is nothing,’ said she, ‘since He to whom nothing is impossible is unable to do evil.’
‘Art thou mocking me,’ said I, ‘weaving a labyrinth of tangled arguments, now seeming to begin where thou didst end, and now to end where thou didst begin, or dost thou build up some wondrous circle of Divine simplicity? For, truly, a little before thou didst begin with happiness, and say it was the supreme good, and didst declare it to be seated in the supreme Godhead. God Himself, too, thou didst affirm to be supreme good and all-complete happiness; and from this thou didst go on to add, as by the way, the proof that no one would be happy unless he were likewise God. Again, thou didst say that the very form of good was the essence both of God and of happiness, and didst teach that the absolute One was the absolute good which was sought by universal nature. Thou didst maintain, also, that God rules the universe by the governance of goodness, that all things obey Him willingly, and that evil has no existence in nature. And all this thou didst unfold without the help of assumptions from without, but by inherent and proper proofs, drawing credence one from the other.’
Then answered she: ‘Far is it from me to mock thee; nay, by the blessing of God, whom we lately addressed in prayer, we have achieved the most important of all objects. For such is the form of the Divine essence, that neither can it pass into things external, nor take up anything external into itself; but, as Parmenides says of it,
‘“In body like to a sphere on all sides perfectly rounded,”
it rolls the restless orb of the universe, keeping itself motionless the while. And if I have also employed reasonings not drawn from without, but lying within the compass of our subject, there is no cause for thee to marvel, since thou hast learnt on Plato’s authority that words ought to be akin to the matter of which they treat.’
Blest he whose feet have stood
Beside the fount of good;
Blest he whose will could break
Earth’s chains for wisdom’s sake!
The Thracian bard, ’tis said,
Mourned his dear consort dead;
To hear the plaintive strain
The woods moved in his train,
And the stream ceased to flow,
Held by so soft a woe;
The deer without dismay
Beside the lion lay;
The hound, by song subdued,
No more the hare pursued,
But the pang unassuaged
In his own bosom raged.
The music that could calm
All else brought him no balm.
Chiding the powers immortal,
He came unto Hell’s portal;
There breathed all tender things
Upon his sounding strings,
Each rhapsody high-wrought
His goddess-mother taught —
All he from grief could borrow
And love redoubling sorrow,
Till, as the echoes waken,
All Tænarus is shaken;
Whilst he to ruth persuades
The monarch of the shades
With dulcet prayer. Spell-bound,
The triple-headed hound
At sounds so strangely sweet
Falls crouching at his feet.
The dread Avengers, too,
That guilty minds pursue
With ever-haunting fears,
Are all dissolved in tears.
Ixion, on his wheel,
A respite brief doth feel;
For, lo! the wheel stands still.
And, while those sad notes thrill,
Of the stream’s mockery
And his long agony.
The vulture, too, doth spare
Some little while to tear
At Tityus’ rent side,
Sated and pacified.
At length the shadowy king,
His sorrows pitying,
‘He hath prevailèd!’ cried;
‘We give him back his bride!
To him she shall belong,
As guerdon of his song.
One sole condition yet
Upon the boon is set:
Let him not turn his eyes
To view his hard-won prize,
Till they securely pass
The gates of Hell.’ Alas!
What law can lovers move?
A higher law is love!
For Orpheus — woe is me! —
On his Eurydice —
Day’s threshold all but won —
Looked, lost, and was undone!
Ye who the light pursue,
This story is for you,
Who seek to find a way
Unto the clearer day.
If on the darkness past
One backward look ye cast,
Your weak and wandering eyes
Have lost the matchless prize.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:48