Robert Browning

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Table of Contents

  1. Paracelsus Aspires
  2. Paracelsus Attains
  3. Paracelsus
  4. Paracelsus Aspires
  5. Paracelsus Attains

Part I

Paracelsus Aspires

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

Festus, Paracelsus, Michal.


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.




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.


In truth we have lived carelessly and well.


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!


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?


                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.


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!


                   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!


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.


    Once more? Alas! As I foretold.


A solitary briar the bank puts forth

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


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!


              When you deign

To hear my purpose . . .


            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.


             Is it so, Festus

He speaks so calmly and kindly: is it so?


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 . . .


                  . . . 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.


              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.


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.


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


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.


        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.


             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.


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.


                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!


                Good: let us hear

No more about your nature, “which first shrank

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


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!


Vex him no further, Festus; it is so!


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.


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?


                      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.


Nay, Festus, when but as the pilgrims faint

Through the drear way, do you expect to see

Their city dawn amid the clouds afar?


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.


And who am I, to challenge and dispute

That clear belief? I will divest all fear.


Then Aureole is God’s commissary! he shall

Be great and grand — and all for us!


                   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.


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!


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!


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.


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!”


              And who but lately

Was to rejoice in my success like you?

Whom should I love but both of you?


                   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 . . .


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?


I do believe!


      I ever did believe!


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!


         We wait you when you rise!

Part II

Paracelsus Attains

Scene. — Constantinople; the house of a Greek Conjurer. 1521.



Over the waters in the vaporous West

The sun goes down as in a sphere of gold

Behind the arm of the city, which between,

With all that length of domes and minarets,

Athwart the splendour, black and crooked runs

Like a Turk verse along a scimitar.

There lie, sullen memorial, and no more

Possess my aching sight! ’T is done at last.

Strange — and the juggles of a sallow cheat

Have won me to this act! ’T is as yon cloud

Should voyage unwrecked o’er many a mountain-top

And break upon a molehill. I have dared

Come to a pause with knowledge; scan for once

The heights already reached, without regard

To the extent above; fairly compute

All I have clearly gained; for once excluding

A brilliant future to supply and perfect

All half-gains and conjectures and crude hopes:

And all because a fortune-teller wills

His credulous seekers should inscribe thus much

Their previous life’s attainment, in his roll,

Before his promised secret, as he vaunts,

Make up the sum: and here amid the scrawled

Uncouth recordings of the dupes of this

Old arch-genethliac, lie my life’s results!

A few blurred characters suffice to note

A stranger wandered long through many lands

And reaped the fruit he coveted in a few

Discoveries, as appended here and there,

The fragmentary produce of much toil,

In a dim heap, fact and surmise together

Confusedly massed as when acquired; he was

Intent on gain to come too much to stay

And scrutinize the little gained: the whole

Slipt in the blank space ’twixt an idiot’s gibber

And a mad lover’s ditty — there it lies.

And yet those blottings chronicle a life —

A whole life, and my life! Nothing to do,

No problem for the fancy, but a life

Spent and decided, wasted past retrieve

Or worthy beyond peer. Stay, what does this

Remembrancer set down concerning “life”?

“‘Time fleets, youth fades, life is an empty dream,’

“It is the echo of time; and he whose heart

“Beat first beneath a human heart, whose speech

“Was copied from a human tongue, can never

“Recall when he was living yet knew not this.

“Nevertheless long seasons pass o’er him

“Till some one hour’s experience shows what nothing,

“It seemed, could clearer show; and ever after,

“An altered brow and eye and gait and speech

“Attest that now he knows the adage true

“‘Time fleets, youth fades, life is an empty dream.’”

Ay, my brave chronicler, and this same hour

As well as any: now, let my time be!

Now! I can go no farther; well or ill,

’T is done. I must desist and take my chance.

I cannot keep on the stretch: ’t is no back-shrinking —

For let but some assurance beam, some close

To my toil grow visible, and I proceed

At any price, though closing it, I die.

Else, here I pause. The old Greek’s prophecy

Is like to turn out true: “I shall not quit

“His chamber till I know what I desire!”

Was it the light wind sang it o’er the sea?

An end, a rest! strange how the notion, once

Encountered, gathers strength by moments! Rest!

Where has it kept so long? this throbbing brow

To cease, this beating heart to cease, all cruel

And gnawing thoughts to cease! To dare let down

My strung, so high-strung brain, to dare unnerve

My harassed o’ertasked frame, to know my place,

My portion, my reward, even my failure,

Assigned, made sure for ever! To lose myself

Among the common creatures of the world,

To draw some gain from having been a man,

Neither to hope nor fear, to live at length!

Even in failure, rest! But rest in truth

And power and recompense . . . I hoped that once!

What, sunk insensibly so deep? Has all

Been undergone for this? This the request

My labour qualified me to present

With no fear of refusal? Had I gone

Slightingly through my task, and so judged fit

To moderate my hopes; nay, were it now

My sole concern to exculpate myself,

End things or mend them — why, I could not choose

A humbler mood to wait for the event!

No, no, there needs not this; no, after all,

At worst I have performed my share of the task

The rest is God’s concern; mine, merely this,

To know that I have obstinately held

By my own work. The mortal whose brave foot

Has trod, unscathed, the temple-court so far

That he descries at length the shrine of shrines,

Must let no sneering of the demons’ eyes,

Whom he could pass unquailing, fasten now

Upon him, fairly past their power; no, no —

He must not stagger, faint, fall down at last,

Having a charm to baffle them; behold,

He bares his front: a mortal ventures thus

Serene amid the echoes, beams and glooms!

If he be priest henceforth, if he wake up

The god of the place to ban and blast him there,

Both well! What’s failure or success to me?

I have subdued my life to the one purpose

Whereto I ordained it; there alone I spy,

No doubt, that way I may be satisfied.

Yes, well have I subdued my life! beyond

The obligation of my strictest vow,

The contemplation of my wildest bond,

Which gave my nature freely up, in truth,

But in its actual state, consenting fully

All passionate impulses its soil was formed

To rear, should wither; but foreseeing not

The tract, doomed to perpetual barrenness,

Would seem one day, remembered as it was,

Beside the parched sand-waste which now it is,

Already strewn with faint blooms, viewless then.

I ne’er engaged to root up loves so frail

I felt them not; yet now, ’t is very plain

Some soft spots had their birth in me at first,

If not love, say, like love: there was a time

When yet this wolfish hunger after knowledge

Set not remorselessly love’s claims aside.

This heart was human once, or why recall

Einsiedeln, now, and Würzburg which the Mayne

Forsakes her course to fold as with an arm?

And Festus — my poor Festus, with his praise

And counsel and grave fears — where is he now

With the sweet maiden, long ago his bride?

I surely loved them — that last night, at least,

When we . . . gone! gone! the better. I am saved

The sad review of an ambitious youth

Choked by vile lusts, unnoticed in their birth,

But let grow up and wind around a will

Till action was destroyed. No, I have gone

Purging my path successively of aught

Wearing the distant likeness of such lusts.

I have made life consist of one idea:

Ere that was master, up till that was born,

I bear a memory of a pleasant life

Whose small events I treasure; till one morn

I ran o’er the seven little grassy fields,

Startling the flocks of nameless birds, to tell

Poor Festus, leaping all the while for joy,

To leave all trouble for my future plans,

Since I had just determined to become

The greatest and most glorious man on earth.

And since that morn all life has been forgotten;

All is one day, one only step between

The outset and the end: one tyrant all-

Absorbing aim fills up the interspace,

One vast unbroken chain of thought, kept up

Through a career apparently adverse

To its existence: life, death, light and shadow,

The shows of the world, were bare receptacles

Or indices of truth to be wrung thence,

Not ministers of sorrow or delight:

A wondrous natural robe in which she went.

For some one truth would dimly beacon me

From mountains rough with pines, and flit and wink

O’er dazzling wastes of frozen snow, and tremble

Into assured light in some branching mine

Where ripens, swathed in fire, the liquid gold —

And all the beauty, all the wonder fell

On either side the truth, as its mere robe;

I see the robe now — then I saw the form.

So far, then, I have voyaged with success,

So much is good, then, in this working sea

Which parts me from that happy strip of land:

But o’er that happy strip a sun shone, too!

And fainter gleams it as the waves grow rough,

And still more faint as the sea widens; last

I sicken on a dead gulf streaked with light

From its own putrefying depths alone.

Then, God was pledged to take me by the hand;

Now, any miserable juggle can bid

My pride depart. All is alike at length:

God may take pleasure in confounding pride

By hiding secrets with the scorned and base —

I am here, in short: so little have I paused

Throughout! I never glanced behind to know

If I had kept my primal light from wane,

And thus insensibly am — what I am!

Oh, bitter; very bitter!

            And more bitter,

To fear a deeper curse, an inner ruin,

Plague beneath plague, the last turning the first

To light beside its darkness. Let me weep

My youth and its brave hopes, all dead and gone,

In tears which burn! Would I were sure to win

Some startling secret in their stead, a tincture

Of force to flush old age with youth, or breed

Gold, or imprison moonbeams till they change

To opal shafts! — only that, hurling it

Indignant back, I might convince myself

My aims remained supreme and pure as ever!

Even now, why not desire, for mankind’s sake,

That if I fail, some fault may be the cause,

That, though I sink, another may succeed?

O God, the despicable heart of us!

Shut out this hideous mockery from my heart!

’T was politic in you, Aureole, to reject

Single rewards, and ask them in the lump;

At all events, once launched, to hold straight on:

For now’ t is all or nothing. Mighty profit

Your gains will bring if they stop short of such

Full consummation! As a man, you had

A certain share of strength; and that is gone

Already in the getting these you boast.

Do not they seem to laugh, as who should say —

“Great master, we are here indeed, dragged forth

“To light; this hast thou done: be glad! Now, seek

“The strength to use which thou hast spent in getting!”

And yet’t is much, surely’t is very much,

Thus to have emptied youth of all its gifts,

To feed a fire meant to hold out till morn

Arrived with inexhaustible light; and lo,

I have heaped up my last, and day dawns not!

And I am left with grey hair, faded hands,

And furrowed brow. Ha, have I, after all,

Mistaken the wild nursling of my breast?

Knowledge it seemed, and power, and recompense!

Was she who glided through my room of nights,

Who laid my head on her soft knees and smoothed

The damp locks — whose sly soothings just began

When my sick spirit craved repose awhile —

God! was I fighting sleep off for death’s sake?

God! Thou art mind! Unto the master-mind

Mind should be precious. Spare my mind alone!

All else I will endure; if, as I stand

Here, with my gains, thy thunder smite me down,

I bow me; ’t is thy will, thy righteous will;

I o’erpass life’s restrictions, and I die;

And if no trace of my career remain

Save a thin corpse at pleasure of the wind

In these bright chambers level with the air,

See thou to it! But if my spirit fail,

My once proud spirit forsake me at the last,

Hast thou done well by me? So do not thou!

Crush not my mind, dear God, though I be crushed!

Hold me before the frequence of thy seraphs

And say —“I crushed him, lest he should disturb

“My law. Men must not know their strength: behold

“Weak and alone, how he had raised himself!”

But if delusions trouble me, and thou,

Not seldom felt with rapture in thy help

Throughout my toils and wanderings, dost intend

To work man’s welfare through my weak endeavour,

To crown my mortal forehead with a beam

From thine own blinding crown, to smile, and guide

This puny hand and let the work so wrought

Be styled my work — hear me! I covet not

An influx of new power, an angel’s soul:

It were no marvel then — but I have reached

Thus far, a man; let me conclude, a man!

Give but one hour of my first energy,

Of that invincible faith, but only one!

That I may cover with an eagle-glance

The truths I have, and spy some certain way

To mould them, and completing them, possess!

Yet God is good: I started sure of that,

And why dispute it now? I’ll not believe

But some undoubted warning long ere this

Had reached me: a fire-labarum was not deemed

Too much for the old founder of these walls.

Then, if my life has not been natural,

It has been monstrous: yet, till late, my course

So ardently engrossed me, that delight,

A pausing and reflecting joy, ’t is plain,

Could find no place in it. True, I am worn;

But who clothes summer, who is life itself?

God, that created all things, can renew!

And then, though after-life to please me now

Must have no likeness to the past, what hinders

Reward from springing out of toil, as changed

As bursts the flower from earth and root and stalk?

What use were punishment, unless some sin

Be first detected? let me know that first!

No man could ever offend as I have done . . .

[A voice from within.]

I hear a voice, perchance I heard

Long ago, but all too low,

So that scarce a care it stirred

If the voice were real or no:

I heard it in my youth when first

The waters of my life outburst:

But, now their stream ebbs faint, I hear

That voice, still low, but fatal-clear —

As if all poets, God ever meant

Should save the world, and therefore lent

Great gifts to, but who, proud, refused

To do his work, or lightly used

Those gifts, or failed through weak endeavour,

So, mourn cast off by him for ever —

As if these leaned in airy ring

To take me; this the song they sing.

“Lost, lost! yet come,

With our wan troop make thy home.

Come, come! for we

Will not breathe, so much as breathe

Reproach to thee,

Knowing what thou sink’st beneath.

So sank we in those old years,

We who bid thee, come! thou last

Who, living yet, hast life o’erpast.

And altogether we, thy peers,

Will pardon crave for thee, the last

Whose trial is done, whose lot is cast

With those who watch but work no more,

Who gaze on life but live no more.

Yet we trusted thou shouldst speak

The message which our lips, too weak,

Refused to utter — shouldst redeem

Our fault: such trust, and all a dream!

Yet we chose thee a birthplace

Where the richness ran to flowers:

Couldst not sing one song for grace?

Not make one blossom man’s and ours?

Must one more recreant to his race

Die with unexerted powers,

And join us, leaving as he found

The world, he was to loosen, bound?

Anguish! ever and for ever;

Still beginning, ending never.

Yet, lost and last one, come!

How couldst understand, alas,

What our pale ghosts strove to say,

As their shades did glance and pass

Before thee night and day?

Thou wast blind as we were dumb:

Once more, therefore, come, O come!

How should we clothe, how arm the spirit

Shall next thy post of life inherit —

How guard him from thy speedy ruin?

Tell us of thy sad undoing

Here, where we sit, ever pursuing

Our weary task, ever renewing

Sharp sorrow, far from God who gave

Our powers, and man they could not save!”

Aprile enters.


Ha, ha! our king that wouldst be, here at last?

Art thou the poet who shall save the world?

Thy hand to mine! Stay, fix thine eyes on mine!

Thou wouldst be king? Still fix thine eyes on mine!


Ha, ha! why crouchest not? Am I not king?

So torture is not wholly unavailing!

Have my fierce spasms compelled thee from thy lair?

Art thou the sage I only seemed to be,

Myself of after-time, my very self

With sight a little clearer, strength more firm,

Who robes him in my robe and grasps my crown

For just a fault, a weakness, a neglect?

I scarcely trusted God with the surmise

That such might come, and thou didst hear the while!


Thine eyes are lustreless to mine; my hair

Is soft, nay silken soft: to talk with thee

Flushes my cheek, and thou art ashy-pale.

Truly, thou hast laboured, hast withstood her lips,

The siren’s! Yes, ’t is like thou hast attained!

Tell me, dear master, wherefore now thou comest?

I thought thy solemn songs would have their meed

In after-time; that I should hear the earth

Exult in thee and echo with thy praise,

While I was laid forgotten in my grave.


Ah fiend, I know thee, I am not thy dupe!

Thou art ordained to follow in my track,

Reaping my sowing, as I scorned to reap

The harvest sown by sages passed away.

Thou art the sober searcher, cautious striver,

As if, except through me, thou hast searched or striven!

Ay, tell the world! Degrade me after all,

To an aspirant after fame, not truth —

To all but envy of thy fate, be sure!


Nay, sing them to me; I shall envy not:

Thou shalt be king! Sing thou, and I will sit

Beside, and call deep silence for thy songs,

And worship thee, as I had ne’er been meant

To fill thy throne: but none shall ever know!

Sing to me; for already thy wild eyes

Unlock my heart-strings, as some crystal-shaft

Reveals by some chance blaze its parent fount

After long time: so thou reveal’st my soul.

All will flash forth at last, with thee to hear!


(His secret! I shall get his secret — fool!)

I am he that aspired to know: and thou?


I would love infinitely, and be loved!


Poor slave! I am thy king indeed.


                 Thou deem’st

That — born a spirit, dowered even as thou,

Born for thy fate — because I could not curb

My yearnings to possess at once the full

Enjoyment, but neglected all the means

Of realizing even the frailest joy,

Gathering no fragments to appease my want,

Yet nursing up that want till thus I die —

Thou deem’st I cannot trace thy safe sure march

O’er perils that o’erwhelm me, triumphing,

Neglecting nought below for aught above,

Despising nothing and ensuring all —

Nor that I could (my time to come again)

Lead thus my spirit securely as thine own.

Listen, and thou shalt see I know thee well.

I would love infinitely . . . Ah, lost! lost!

Oh ye who armed me at such cost,

How shall I look on all of ye

With your gifts even yet on me?


(Ah, ’t is some moonstruck creature after all!

Such fond fools as are like to haunt this den:

They spread contagion, doubtless: yet he seemed

To echo one foreboding of my heart

So truly, that . . . no matter! How he stands

With eve’s last sunbeam staying on his hair

Which turns to it as if they were akin:

And those clear smiling eyes of saddest blue

Nearly set free, so far they rise above

The painful fruitless striving of the brow

And enforced knowledge of the lips, firm-set

In slow despondency’s eternal sigh!

Has he, too, missed life’s end, and learned the cause?)

I charge thee, by thy fealty, be calm!

Tell me what thou wouldst be, and what I am.


I would love infinitely, and be loved.

First: I would carve in stone, or cast in brass,

The forms of earth. No ancient hunter lifted

Up to the gods by his renown, no nymph

Supposed the sweet soul of a woodland tree

Or sapphirine spirit of a twilight star,

Should be too hard for me; no shepherd-king

Regal for his white locks; no youth who stands

Silent and very calm amid the throng,

His right hand ever hid beneath his robe

Until the tyrant pass; no lawgiver,

No swan-soft woman rubbed with lucid oils

Given by a god for love of her — too hard!

Every passion sprung from man, conceived by man,

Would I express and clothe it in its right form,

Or blend with others struggling in one form,

Or show repressed by an ungainly form.

Oh, if you marvelled at some mighty spirit

With a fit frame to execute its will —

Even unconsciously to work its will —

You should be moved no less beside some strong

Rare spirit, fettered to a stubborn body,

Endeavouring to subdue it and inform it

With its own splendour! All this I would do:

And I would say, this done, “His sprites created,

“God grants to each a sphere to be its world,

“Appointed with the various objects needed

“To satisfy its own peculiar want;

“So, I create a world for these my shapes

“Fit to sustain their beauty and their strength!”

And, at the word, I would contrive and paint

Woods, valleys, rocks and plains, dells, sands and wastes,

Lakes which, when morn breaks on their quivering bed,

Blaze like a wyvern flying round the sun,

And ocean isles so small, the dog-fish tracking

A dead whale, who should find them, would swim thrice

Around them, and fare onward — all to hold

The offspring of my brain. Nor these alone:

Bronze labyrinth, palace, pyramid and crypt,

Baths, galleries, courts, temples and terraces,

Marts, theatres and wharfs — all filled with men,

Men everywhere! And this performed in turn,

When those who looked on, pined to hear the hopes

And fears and hates and loves which moved the crowd,

I would throw down the pencil as the chisel,

And I would speak; no thought which ever stirred

A human breast should be untold; all passions,

All soft emotions, from the turbulent stir

Within a heart fed with desires like mine,

To the last comfort shutting the tired lids

Of him who sleeps the sultry noon away

Beneath the tent-tree by the wayside well:

And this in language as the need should be,

Now poured at once forth in a burning flow,

Now piled up in a grand array of words.

This done, to perfect and consummate all,

Even as a luminous haze links star to star,

I would supply all chasms with music, breathing

Mysterious motions of the soul, no way

To be defined save in strange melodies.

Last, having thus revealed all I could love,

Having received all love bestowed on it,

I would die: preserving so throughout my course

God full on me, as I was full on men:

He would approve my prayer, “I have gone through

“The loveliness of life; create for me

“If not for men, or take me to thyself,

“Eternal, infinite love!”

             If thou hast ne’er

Conceived this mighty aim, this full desire,

Thou hast not passed my trial, and thou art

No king of mine.


        Ah me!


           But thou art here!

Thou didst not gaze like me upon that end

Till thine own powers for compassing the bliss

Were blind with glory; nor grow mad to grasp

At once the prize long patient toil should claim,

Nor spurn all granted short of that. And I

Would do as thou, a second time: nay, listen!

Knowing ourselves, our world, our task so great,

Our time so brief, ’t is clear if we refuse

The means so limited, the tools so rude

To execute our purpose, life will fleet,

And we shall fade, and leave our task undone.

We will be wise in time: what though our work

Be fashioned in despite of their ill-service,

Be crippled every way? ’T were little praise

Did full resources wait on our goodwill

At every turn. Let all be as it is.

Some say the earth is even so contrived

That tree and flower, a vesture gay, conceal

A bare and skeleton framework. Had we means

Answering to our mind! But now I seem

Wrecked on a savage isle: how rear thereon

My palace? Branching palms the props shall be,

Fruit glossy mingling; gems are for the East;

Who heeds them? I can pass them. Serpents’ scales,

And painted birds’ down, furs and fishes’ skins

Must help me; and a little here and there

Is all I can aspire to: still my art

Shall show its birth was in a gentler clime.

“Had I green jars of malachite, this way

“I’d range them: where those sea-shells glisten above,

“Cressets should hang, by right: this way we set

“The purple carpets, as these mats are laid,

“Woven of fern and rush and blossoming flag.”

Or if, by fortune, some completer grace

Be spared to me, some fragment, some slight sample

Of the prouder workmanship my own home boasts,

Some trifle little heeded there, but here

The place’s one perfection — with what joy

Would I enshrine the relic, cheerfully

Foregoing all the marvels out of reach!

Could I retain one strain of all the psalm

Of the angels, one word of the fiat of God,

To let my followers know what such things are!

I would adventure nobly for their sakes:

When nights were still, and still the moaning sea

And far away I could descry the land

Whence I departed, whither I return,

I would dispart the waves, and stand once more

At home, and load my bark, and hasten back,

And fling my gains to them, worthless or true.

“Friends,” I would say, “I went far, far for them,

“Past the high rocks the haunt of doves, the mounds

“Of red earth from whose sides strange trees grow out,

“Past tracts of milk-white minute blinding sand,

“Till, by a mighty moon, I tremblingly

“Gathered these magic herbs, berry and bud,

“In haste, not pausing to reject the weeds,

“But happy plucking them at any price.

“To me, who have seen them bloom in their own soil,

“They are scarce lovely: plait and wear them, you!

“And guess, from what they are, the springs that fed them,

“The stars that sparkled o’er them, night by night,

“The snakes that travelled far to sip their dew!”

Thus for my higher loves; and thus even weakness

Would win me honour. But not these alone

Should claim my care; for common life, its wants

And ways, would I set forth in beauteous hues:

The lowest hind should not possess a hope,

A fear, but I’d be by him, saying better

Than he his own heart’s language. I would live

For ever in the thoughts I thus explored,

As a discoverer’s memory is attached

To all he finds; they should be mine henceforth,

Imbued with me, though free to all before:

For clay, once cast into my soul’s rich mine,

Should come up crusted o’er with gems. Nor this

Would need a meaner spirit, than the first;

Nay, ’t would be but the selfsame spirit, clothed

In humbler guise, but still the selfsame spirit:

As one spring wind unbinds the mountain snow

And comforts violets in their hermitage.

But, master, poet, who hast done all this,

How didst thou’scape the ruin whelming me?

Didst thou, when nerving thee to this attempt,

Ne’er range thy mind’s extent, as some wide hall,

Dazzled by shapes that filled its length with light,

Shapes clustered there to rule thee, not obey,

That will not wait thy summons, will not rise

Singly, nor when thy practised eye and hand

Can well transfer their loveliness, but crowd

By thee for ever, bright to thy despair?

Didst thou ne’er gaze on each by turns, and ne’er

Resolve to single out one, though the rest

Should vanish, and to give that one, entire

In beauty, to the world; forgetting, so,

Its peers, whose number baffles mortal power?

And, this determined, wast thou ne’er seduced

By memories and regrets and passionate love,

To glance once more farewell? and did their eyes

Fasten thee, brighter and more bright, until

Thou couldst but stagger back unto their feet,

And laugh that man’s applause or welfare ever

Could tempt thee to forsake them? Or when years

Had passed and still their love possessed thee wholly,

When from without some murmur startled thee

Of darkling mortals famished for one ray

Of thy so-hoarded luxury of light,

Didst thou ne’er strive even yet to break those spells

And prove thou couldst recover and fulfil

Thy early mission, long ago renounced,

And to that end, select some shape once more?

And did not mist-like influences, thick films,

Faint memories of the rest that charmed so long

Thine eyes, float fast, confuse thee, bear thee off,

As whirling snow-drifts blind a man who treads

A mountain ridge, with guiding spear, through storm?

Say, though I fell, I had excuse to fall;

Say, I was tempted sorely: say but this,

Dear lord, Aprile’s lord!


             Clasp me not thus,

Aprile! That the truth should reach me thus!

We are weak dust. Nay, clasp not or I faint!


My king! and envious thoughts could outrage thee?

Lo, I forget my ruin, and rejoice

In thy success, as thou! Let our God’s praise

Go bravely through the world at last! What care

Through me or thee? I feel thy breath. Why, tears?

Tears in the darkness, and from thee to me?


Love me henceforth, Aprile, while I learn

To love; and, merciful God, forgive us both!

We wake at length from weary dreams; but both

Have slept in fairy-land: though dark and drear

Appears the world before us, we no less

Wake with our wrists and ankles jewelled still.

I too have sought to know as thou to love —

Excluding love as thou refusedst knowledge.

Still thou hast beauty and I, power. We wake:

What penance canst devise for both of us?


I hear thee faintly. The thick darkness! Even

Thine eyes are hid. ’T is as I knew: I speak,

And now I die. But I have seen thy face!

O poet, think of me, and sing of me!

But to have seen thee and to die so soon!


Die not, Aprile! We must never part.

Are we not halves of one dissevered world,

Whom this strange chance unites once more? Part? never!

Till thou the lover, know; and I, the knower,

Love — until both are saved. Aprile, hear!

We will accept our gains, and use them — now!

God, he will die upon my breast! Aprile!


To speak but once, and die! yet by his side.

Hush! hush!

     Ha! go you ever girt about

With phantoms, powers? I have created such,

But these seem real as I.


             Whom can you see

Through the accursed darkness?


                Stay; I know,

I know them: who should know them well as I?

White brows, lit up with glory; poets all!


Let him but live, and I have my reward!


Yes; I see now. God is the perfect poet,

Who in his person acts his own creations.

Had you but told me this at first! Hush! hush!


Live! for my sake, because of my great sin,

To help my brain, oppressed by these wild words

And their deep import. Live! ’t is not too late.

I have a quiet home for us, and friends.

Michal shall smile on you. Hear you? Lean thus,

And breathe my breath. I shall not lose one word

Of all your speech, one little word, Aprile!


No, no. Crown me? I am not one of you!

’T is he, the king, you seek. I am not one.


Thy spirit, at least, Aprile! Let me love!

I have attained, and now I may depart.

Part III


Scene. — Basil; a chamber in the house of Paracelsus. 1526.

Paracelsus, Festus.


Heap logs and let the blaze laugh out!


                    True, true!

’T is very fit all, time and chance and change

Have wrought since last we sat thus, face to face

And soul to soul — all cares, far-looking fears,

Vague apprehensions, all vain fancies bred

By your long absence, should be cast away,

Forgotten in this glad unhoped renewal

Of our affections.


         Oh, omit not aught

Which witnesses your own and Michal’s own

Affection: spare not that! Only forget

The honours and the glories and what not,

It pleases you to tell profusely out.


Nay, even your honours, in a sense, I waive:

The wondrous Paracelsus, life’s dispenser,

Fate’s commissary, idol of the schools

And courts, shall be no more than Aureole still,

Still Aureole and my friend as when we parted

Some twenty years ago, and I restrained

As best I could the promptings of my spirit

Which secretly advanced you, from the first,

To the pre-eminent rank which, since, your own

Adventurous ardour, nobly triumphing,

Has won for you.


        Yes, yes. And Michal’s face

Still wears that quiet and peculiar light

Like the dim circlet floating round a pearl?


Just so.


    And yet her calm sweet countenance,

Though saintly, was not sad; for she would sing

Alone. Does she still sing alone, bird-like,

Not dreaming you are near? Her carols dropt

In flakes through that old leafy bower built under

The sunny wall at Würzburg, from her lattice

Among the trees above, while I, unseen,

Sat conning some rare scroll from Tritheim’s shelves

Much wondering notes so simple could divert

My mind from study. Those were happy days.

Respect all such as sing when all alone!


Scarcely alone: her children, you may guess,

Are wild beside her.


          Ah, those children quite

Unsettle the pure picture in my mind:

A girl, she was so perfect, so distinct:

No change, no change! Not but this added grace

May blend and harmonize with its compeers,

And Michal may become her motherhood;

But’t is a change, and I detest all change,

And most a change in aught I loved long since.

So, Michal — you have said she thinks of me?


O very proud will Michal be of you!

Imagine how we sat, long winter-nights,

Scheming and wondering, shaping your presumed

Adventure, or devising its reward;

Shutting out fear with all the strength of hope.

For it was strange how, even when most secure

In our domestic peace, a certain dim

And flitting shade could sadden all; it seemed

A restlessness of heart, a silent yearning,

A sense of something wanting, incomplete —

Not to be put in words, perhaps avoided

By mute consent — but, said or unsaid, felt

To point to one so loved and so long lost.

And then the hopes rose and shut out the fears —

How you would laugh should I recount them now

I still predicted your return at last

With gifts beyond the greatest of them all,

All Tritheim’s wondrous troop; did one of which

Attain renown by any chance, I smiled,

As well aware of who would prove his peer

Michal was sure some woman, long ere this,

As beautiful as you were sage, had loved . . .


Far-seeing, truly, to discern so much

In the fantastic projects and day-dreams

Of a raw restless boy!


           Oh, no: the sunrise

Well warranted our faith in this full noon!

Can I forget the anxious voice which said

“Festus, have thoughts like these ere shaped themselves

“In other brains than mine? have their possessors

“Existed in like circumstance? were they weak

“As I, or ever constant from the first,

“Despising youth’s allurements and rejecting

“As spider-films the shackles I endure?

“Is there hope for me?"— and I answered gravely

As an acknowledged elder, calmer, wiser,

More gifted mortal. O you must remember,

For all your glorious . . .


              Glorious? ay, this hair,

These hands — nay, touch them, they are mine! Recall

With all the said recallings, times when thus

To lay them by your own ne’er turned you pale

As now. Most glorious, are they not?


                   Why — why —

Something must be subtracted from success

So wide, no doubt. He would be scrupulous, truly,

Who should object such drawbacks. Still, still, Aureole,

You are changed, very changed! ’T were losing nothing

To look well to it: you must not be stolen

From the enjoyment of your well-won meed.


My friend! you seek my pleasure, past a doubt:

You will best gain your point, by talking, not

Of me, but of yourself.


            Have I not said

All touching Michal and my children? Sure

You know, by this, full well how Aennchen looks

Gravely, while one disparts her thick brown hair;

And Aureole’s glee when some stray gannet builds

Amid the birch-trees by the lake. Small hope

Have I that he will honour (the wild imp)

His namesake. Sigh not! ’t is too much to ask

That all we love should reach the same proud fate.

But you are very kind to humour me

By showing interest in my quiet life;

You, who of old could never tame yourself

To tranquil pleasures, must at heart despise . . .


Festus, strange secrets are let out by death

Who blabs so oft the follies of this world:

And I am death’s familiar, as you know.

I helped a man to die, some few weeks since,

Warped even from his go-cart to one end —

The living on princes’ smiles, reflected from

A mighty herd of favourites. No mean trick

He left untried, and truly well-nigh wormed

All traces of God’s finger out of him:

Then died, grown old. And just an hour before,

Having lain long with blank and soulless eyes,

He sat up suddenly, and with natural voice

Said that in spite of thick air and closed doors

God told him it was June; and he knew well,

Without such telling, harebells grew in June;

And all that kings could ever give or take

Would not be precious as those blooms to him.

Just so, allowing I am passing sage,

It seems to me much worthier argument

Why pansies, eyes that laugh, bear beauty’s prize

From violets, eyes that dream —(your Michal’s choice)—

Than all fools find to wonder at in me

Or in my fortunes. And be very sure

I say this from no prurient restlessness,

No self-complacency, itching to turn,

Vary and view its pleasure from all points,

And, in this instance, willing other men

May be at pains, demonstrate to itself

The realness of the very joy it tastes.

What should delight me like the news of friends

Whose memories were a solace to me oft,

As mountain-baths to wild fowls in their flight?

Ofter than you had wasted thought on me

Had you been wise, and rightly valued bliss.

But there’s no taming nor repressing hearts:

God knows I need such! — So, you heard me speak?


Speak? when?


      When but this morning at my class?

There was noise and crowd enough. I saw you not.

Surely you know I am engaged to fill

The chair here? — that’t is part of my proud fate

To lecture to as many thick-skulled youths

As please, each day, to throng the theatre,

To my great reputation, and no small

Danger of Basil’s benches long unused

To crack beneath such honour?


               I was there;

I mingled with the throng: shall I avow

Small care was mine to listen? — too intent

On gathering from the murmurs of the crowd

A full corroboration of my hopes!

What can I learn about your powers? but they

Know, care for nought beyond your actual state,

Your actual value; yet they worship you,

Those various natures whom you sway as one!

But ere I go, be sure I shall attend . . .


Stop, o’ God’s name: the thing’s by no means yet

Past remedy! Shall I read this morning’s labour

— At least in substance? Nought so worth the gaining

As an apt scholar! Thus then, with all due

Precision and emphasis — you, beside, are clearly

Guiltless of understanding more, a whit,

The subject than your stool — allowed to be

A notable advantage.


          Surely, Aureole,

You laugh at me!


        I laugh? Ha, ha! thank heaven,

I charge you, if’t be so! for I forget

Much, and what laughter should be like. No less,

However, I forego that luxury

Since it alarms the friend who brings it back.

True, laughter like my own must echo strangely

To thinking men; a smile were better far;

So, make me smile! If the exulting look

You wore but now be smiling, ’t is so long

Since I have smiled! Alas, such smiles are born

Alone of hearts like yours, or herdsmen’s souls

Of ancient time, whose eyes, calm as their flocks,

Saw in the stars mere garnishry of heaven,

And in the earth a stage for altars only.

Never change, Festus: I say, never change!


My God, if he be wretched after all


When last we parted, Festus, you declared,

— Or Michal, yes, her soft lips whispered words

I have preserved. She told me she believed

I should succeed (meaning, that in the search

I then engaged in, I should meet success)

And yet be wretched: now, she augured false.


Thank heaven! but you spoke strangely: could I venture

To think bare apprehension lest your friend,

Dazzled by your resplendent course, might find

Henceforth less sweetness in his own, could move

Such earnest mood in you? Fear not, dear friend,

That I shall leave you, inwardly repining

Your lot was not my own!


            And this for ever!

For ever! gull who may, they will be gulled!

They will not look nor think; ’t is nothing new

In them: but surely he is not of them!

My Festus, do you know, I reckoned, you —

Though all beside were sand-blind — you, my friend,

Would look at me, once close, with piercing eye

Untroubled by the false glare that confounds

A weaker vision: would remain serene,

Though singular amid a gaping throng.

I feared you, or I had come, sure, long ere this,

To Einsiedeln. Well, error has no end,

And Rhasis is a sage, and Basil boasts

A tribe of wits, and I am wise and blest

Past all dispute! ’T is vain to fret at it.

I have vowed long ago my worshippers

Shall owe to their own deep sagacity

All further information, good or bad.

Small risk indeed my reputation runs,

Unless perchance the glance now searching me

Be fixed much longer; for it seems to spell

Dimly the characters a simpler man

Might read distinct enough. Old Eastern books

Say, the fallen prince of morning some short space

Remained unchanged in semblance; nay, his brow

Was hued with triumph: every spirit then

Praising, his heart on flame the while:— a tale!

Well, Festus, what discover you, I pray?


Some foul deed sullies then a life which else

Were raised supreme?


          Good: I do well, most well

Why strive to make men hear, feel, fret themselves

With what is past their power to comprehend?

I should not strive now: only, having nursed

The faint surmise that one yet walked the earth,

One, at least, not the utter fool of show,

Not absolutely formed to be the dupe

Of shallow plausibilities alone:

One who, in youth, found wise enough to choose

The happiness his riper years approve,

Was yet so anxious for another’s sake,

That, ere his friend could rush upon a mad

And ruinous course, the converse of his own,

His gentle spirit essayed, prejudged for him

The perilous path, foresaw its destiny,

And warned the weak one in such tender words,

Such accents — his whole heart in every tone —

That oft their memory comforted that friend

When it by right should have increased despair:

— Having believed, I say, that this one man

Could never lose the light thus from the first

His portion — how should I refuse to grieve

At even my gain if it disturb our old

Relation, if it make me out more wise?

Therefore, once more reminding him how well

He prophesied, I note the single flaw

That spoils his prophet’s title. In plain words,

You were deceived, and thus were you deceived —

I have not been successful, and yet am

Most miserable; ’t is said at last; nor you

Give credit, lest you force me to concede

That common sense yet lives upon the world!


You surely do not mean to banter me?


You know, or — if you have been wise enough

To cleanse your memory of such matters — knew,

As far as words of mine could make it clear,

That’t was my purpose to find joy or grief

Solely in the fulfilment of my plan

Or plot or whatsoe’er it was; rejoicing

Alone as it proceeded prosperously,

Sorrowing then only when mischance retarded

Its progress. That was in those Würzburg days!

Not to prolong a theme I thoroughly hate,

I have pursued this plan with all my strength;

And having failed therein most signally,

Cannot object to ruin utter and drear

As all-excelling would have been the prize

Had fortune favoured me. I scarce have right

To vex your frank good spirit late so glad

In my supposed prosperity, I know,

And, were I lucky in a glut of friends,

Would well agree to let your error live,

Nay, strengthen it with fables of success.

But mine is no condition to refuse

The transient solace of so rare a godsend,

My solitary luxury, my one friend:

Accordingly I venture to put off

The wearisome vest of falsehood galling me,

Secure when he is by. I lay me bare

Prone at his mercy — but he is my friend!

Not that he needs retain his aspect grave;

That answers not my purpose; for’t is like,

Some sunny morning — Basil being drained

Of its wise population, every corner

Of the amphitheatre crammed with learned clerks,

Here OEcolampadius, looking worlds of wit,

Here Castellanus, as profound as he,

Munsterus here, Frobenius there, all squeezed

And staring — that the zany of the show,

Even Paracelsus, shall put off before them

His trappings with a grace but seldom judged

Expedient in such cases:— the grim smile

That will go round! Is it not therefore best

To venture a rehearsal like the present

In a small way? Where are the signs I seek,

The first-fruits and fair sample of the scorn

Due to all quacks? Why, this will never do!


These are foul vapours, Aureole; nought beside!

The effect of watching, study, weariness.

Were there a spark of truth in the confusion

Of these wild words, you would not outrage thus

Your youth’s companion. I shall ne’er regard

These wanderings, bred of faintness and much study.

’T is not thus you would trust a trouble to me,

To Michal’s friend.


          I have said it, dearest Festus!

For the manner, ’t is ungracious probably;

You may have it told in broken sobs, one day,

And scalding tears, ere long: but I thought best

To keep that off as long as possible.

Do you wonder still?


          No; it must oft fall out

That one whose labour perfects any work,

Shall rise from it with eye so worn that he

Of all men least can measure the extent

Of what he has accomplished. He alone

Who, nothing tasked, is nothing weary too,

May clearly scan the little he effects:

But we, the bystanders, untouched by toil,

Estimate each aright.


           This worthy Festus

Is one of them, at last! ’T is so with all!

First, they set down all progress as a dream;

And next, when he whose quick discomfiture

Was counted on, accomplishes some few

And doubtful steps in his career — behold,

They look for every inch of ground to vanish

Beneath his tread, so sure they spy success!


Few doubtful steps? when death retires before

Your presence — when the noblest of mankind,

Broken in body or subdued in soul,

May through your skill renew their vigour, raise

The shattered frame to pristine stateliness?

When men in racking pain may purchase dreams

Of what delights them most, swooning at once

Into a sea of bliss or rapt along

As in a flying sphere of turbulent light?

When we may look to you as one ordained

To free the flesh from fell disease, as frees

Our Luther’s burning tongue the fettered soul?

When . . .


     When and where, the devil, did you get

This notable news?


         Even from the common voice;

From those whose envy, daring not dispute

The wonders it decries, attributes them

To magic and such folly.


            Folly? Why not

To magic, pray? You find a comfort doubtless

In holding, God ne’er troubles him about

Us or our doings: once we were judged worth

The devil’s tempting . . . I offend: forgive me,

And rest content. Your prophecy on the whole

Was fair enough as prophesyings go;

At fault a little in detail, but quite

Precise enough in the main; and hereupon

I pay due homage: you guessed long ago

(The prophet!) I should fail — and I have failed.


You mean to tell me, then, the hopes which fed

Your youth have not been realized as yet?

Some obstacle has barred them hitherto?

Or that their innate . . .


              As I said but now,

You have a very decent prophet’s fame,

So you but shun details here. Little matter

Whether those hopes were mad — the aims they sought,

Safe and secure from all ambitious fools;

Or whether my weak wits are overcome

By what a better spirit would scorn: I fail.

And now methinks’t were best to change a theme

I am a sad fool to have stumbled on.

I say confusedly what comes uppermost;

But there are times when patience proves at fault,

As now: this morning’s strange encounter — you

Beside me once again! you, whom I guessed

Alive, since hitherto (with Luther’s leave)

No friend have I among the saints at peace,

To judge by any good their prayers effect.

I knew you would have helped me — why not he,

My strange competitor in enterprise,

Bound for the same end by another path,

Arrived, or ill or well, before the time,

At our disastrous journey’s doubtful close?

How goes it with Aprile? Ah, they miss

Your lone sad sunny idleness of heaven,

Our martyrs for the world’s sake; heaven shuts fast:

The poor mad poet is howling by this time!

Since you are my sole friend then, here or there,

I could not quite repress the varied feelings

This meeting wakens; they have had their vent,

And now forget them. Do the rear-mice still

Hang like a fretwork on the gate (or what

In my time was a gate) fronting the road

From Einsiedeln to Lachen?


              Trifle not:

Answer me, for my sake alone! You smiled

Just now, when I supposed some deed, unworthy

Yourself, might blot the else so bright result;

Yet if your motives have continued pure,

Your will unfaltering, and in spite of this,

You have experienced a defeat, why then

I say not you would cheerfully withdraw

From contest — mortal hearts are not so fashioned —

But surely you would ne’ertheless withdraw.

You sought not fame nor gain nor even love,

No end distinct from knowledge — I repeat

Your very words: once satisfied that knowledge

Is a mere dream, you would announce as much,

Yourself the first. But how is the event?

You are defeated — and I find you here!


As though “here” did not signify defeat!

I spoke not of my little labours here,

But of the break-down of my general aims:

For you, aware of their extent and scope,

To look on these sage lecturings, approved

By beardless boys, and bearded dotards worse,

As a fit consummation of such aims,

Is worthy notice. A professorship

At Basil! Since you see so much in it,

And think my life was reasonably drained

Of life’s delights to render me a match

For duties arduous as such post demands —

Be it far from me to deny my power

To fill the petty circle lotted out

Of infinite space, or justify the host

Of honours thence accruing. So, take notice,

This jewel dangling from my neck preserves

The features of a prince, my skill restored

To plague his people some few years to come:

And all through a pure whim. He had eased the earth

For me, but that the droll despair which seized

The vermin of his household, tickled me.

I came to see. Here, drivelled the physician,

Whose most infallible nostrum was at fault;

There quaked the astrologer, whose horoscope

Had promised him interminable years;

Here a monk fumbled at the sick man’s mouth

With some undoubted relic — a sudary

Of the Virgin; while another piebald knave

Of the same brotherhood (he loved them ever)

Was actively preparing ’neath his nose

Such a suffumigation as, once fired,

Had stunk the patient dead ere he could groan.

I cursed the doctor and upset the brother,

Brushed past the conjurer, vowed that the first gust

Of stench from the ingredients just alight

Would raise a cross-grained devil in my sword,

Not easily laid: and ere an hour the prince

Slept as he never slept since prince he was.

A day — and I was posting for my life,

Placarded through the town as one whose spite

Had near availed to stop the blessed effects

Of the doctor’s nostrum which, well seconded

By the sudary, and most by the costly smoke —

Not leaving out the strenuous prayers sent up

Hard by in the abbey — raised the prince to life:

To the great reputation of the seer

Who, confident, expected all along

The glad event — the doctor’s recompense —

Much largess from his highness to the monks —

And the vast solace of his loving people,

Whose general satisfaction to increase,

The prince was pleased no longer to defer

The burning of some dozen heretics

Remanded till God’s mercy should be shown

Touching his sickness: last of all were joined

Ample directions to all loyal folk

To swell the complement by seizing me

Who — doubtless some rank sorcerer — endeavoured

To thwart these pious offices, obstruct

The prince’s cure, and frustrate heaven by help

Of certain devils dwelling in his sword.

By luck, the prince in his first fit of thanks

Had forced this bauble on me as an earnest

Of further favours. This one case may serve

To give sufficient taste of many such,

So, let them pass. Those shelves support a pile

Of patents, licences, diplomas, titles

From Germany, France, Spain, and Italy;

They authorize some honour; ne’ertheless,

I set more store by this Erasmus sent;

He trusts me; our Frobenius is his friend,

And him “I raised” (nay, read it) “from the dead.”

I weary you, I see. I merely sought

To show, there’s no great wonder after all

That, while I fill the class-room and attract

A crowd to Basil, I get leave to stay,

And therefore need not scruple to accept

The utmost they can offer, if I please:

For’t is but right the world should be prepared

To treat with favour e’en fantastic wants

Of one like me, used up in serving her.

Just as the mortal, whom the gods in part

Devoured, received in place of his lost limb

Some virtue or other — cured disease, I think;

You mind the fables we have read together.


You do not think I comprehend a word.

The time was, Aureole, you were apt enough

To clothe the airiest thoughts in specious breath;

But surely you must feel how vague and strange

These speeches sound.


           Well, then: you know my hopes;

I am assured, at length, those hopes were vain;

That truth is just as far from me as ever;

That I have thrown my life away; that sorrow

On that account is idle, and further effort

To mend and patch what’s marred beyond repairing,

As useless: and all this was taught your friend

By the convincing good old-fashioned method

Of force — by sheer compulsion. Is that plain?


Dear Aureole, can it be my fears were just?

God wills not . . .


          Now, ’t is this I most admire —

The constant talk men of your stamp keep up

Of God’s will, as they style it; one would swear

Man had but merely to uplift his eye,

And see the will in question charactered

On the heaven’s vault. ’T is hardly wise to moot

Such topics: doubts are many and faith is weak.

I know as much of any will of God

As knows some dumb and tortured brute what Man,

His stern lord, wills from the perplexing blows

That plague him every way; but there, of course,

Where least he suffers, longest he remains —

My case; and for such reasons I plod on,

Subdued but not convinced. I know as little

Why I deserve to fail, as why I hoped

Better things in my youth. I simply know

I am no master here, but trained and beaten

Into the path I tread; and here I stay,

Until some further intimation reach me,

Like an obedient drudge. Though I prefer

To view the whole thing as a task imposed

Which, whether dull or pleasant, must be done —

Yet, I deny not, there is made provision

Of joys which tastes less jaded might affect;

Nay, some which please me too, for all my pride —

Pleasures that once were pains: the iron ring

Festering about a slave’s neck grows at length

Into the flesh it eats. I hate no longer

A host of petty vile delights, undreamed of

Or spurned before; such now supply the place

Of my dead aims: as in the autumn woods

Where tall trees used to flourish, from their roots

Springs up a fungous brood sickly and pale,

Chill mushrooms coloured like a corpse’s cheek.


If I interpret well your words, I own

It troubles me but little that your aims,

Vast in their dawning and most likely grown

Extravagantly since, have baffled you.

Perchance I am glad; you merit greater praise;

Because they are too glorious to be gained,

You do not blindly cling to them and die;

You fell, but have not sullenly refused

To rise, because an angel worsted you

In wrestling, though the world holds not your peer;

And though too harsh and sudden is the change

To yield content as yet, still you pursue

The ungracious path as though’t were rosv-strewn.

’T is well: and your reward, or soon or late,

Will come from him whom no man serves in vain.


Ah, very fine! For my part, I conceive

The very pausing from all further toil,

Which you find heinous, would become a seal

To the sincerity of all my deeds.

To be consistent I should die at once;

I calculated on no after-life;

Yet (how crept in, how fostered, I know not)

Here am I with as passionate regret

For youth and health and love so vainly lavished,

As if their preservation had been first

And foremost in my thoughts; and this strange fact

Humbled me wondrously, and had due force

In rendering me the less averse to follow

A certain counsel, a mysterious warning —

You will not understand — but’t was a man

With aims not mine and yet pursued like mine,

With the same fervour and no more success,

Perishing in my sight; who summoned me

As I would shun the ghastly fate I saw,

To serve my race at once; to wait no longer

That God should interfere in my behalf,

But to distrust myself, put pride away,

And give my gains, imperfect as they were,

To men. I have not leisure to explain

How, since, a singular series of events

Has raised me to the station you behold,

Wherein I seem to turn to most account

The mere wreck of the past — perhaps receive

Some feeble glimmering token that God views

And may approve my penance: therefore here

You find me, doing most good or least harm.

And if folks wonder much and profit little

’T is not my fault; only, I shall rejoice

When my part in the farce is shuffled through,

And the curtain falls: I must hold out till then.


Till when, dear Aureole?


            Till I’m fairly thrust

From my proud eminence. Fortune is fickle

And even professors fall: should that arrive,

I see no sin in ceding to my bent.

You little fancy what rude shocks apprise us

We sin; God’s intimations rather fail

In clearness than in energy: ’t were well

Did they but indicate the course to take

Like that to be forsaken. I would fain

Be spared a further sample. Here I stand,

And here I stay, be sure, till forced to flit.


Be you but firm on that head! long ere then

All I expect will come to pass, I trust:

The cloud that wraps you will have disappeared.

Meantime, I see small chance of such event:

They praise you here as one whose lore, already

Divulged, eclipses all the past can show,

But whose achievements, marvellous as they be,

Are faint anticipations of a glory

About to be revealed. When Basil’s crowds

Dismiss their teacher, I shall be content

That he depart.


        This favour at their hands

I look for earlier than your view of things

Would warrant. Of the crowd you saw to-day,

Remove the full half sheer amazement draws,

Mere novelty, nought else; and next, the tribe

Whose innate blockish dulness just perceives

That unless miracles (as seem my works)

Be wrought in their behalf, their chance is slight

To puzzle the devil; next, the numerous set

Who bitterly hate established schools, and help

The teacher that oppugns them, till he once

Have planted his own doctrine, when the teacher

May reckon on their rancour in his turn;

Take, too, the sprinkling of sagacious knaves

Whose cunning runs not counter to the vogue

But seeks, by flattery and crafty nursing,

To force my system to a premature

Short-lived development. Why swell the list?

Each has his end to serve, and his best way

Of serving it: remove all these, remains

A scantling, a poor dozen at the best,

Worthy to look for sympathy and service,

And likely to draw profit from my pains.


’T is no encouraging picture: still these few

Redeem their fellows. Once the germ implanted,

Its growth, if slow, is sure.


               God grant it so!

I would make some amends: but if I fail,

The luckless rogues have this excuse to urge,

That much is in my method and my manner,

My uncouth habits, my impatient spirit,

Which hinders of reception and result

My doctrine: much to say, small skill to speak!

These old aims suffered not a looking-off

Though for an instant; therefore, only when

I thus renounced them and resolved to reap

Some present fruit — to teach mankind some truth

So dearly purchased — only then I found

Such teaching was an art requiring cares

And qualities peculiar to itself:

That to possess was one thing — to display

Another. With renown first in my thoughts,

Or popular praise, I had soon discovered it:

One grows but little apt to learn these things.


If it be so, which nowise I believe,

There needs no waiting fuller dispensation

To leave a labour of so little use.

Why not throw up the irksome charge at once?


A task, a task!

        But wherefore hide the whole

Extent of degradation, once engaged

In the confessing vein? Despite of all

My fine talk of obedience and repugnance,

Docility and what not, ’t is yet to learn

If when the task shall really be performed,

My inclination free to choose once more,

I shall do aught but slightly modify

The nature of the hated task I quit.

In plain words, I am spoiled; my life still tends

As first it tended; I am broken and trained

To my old habits: they are part of me.

I know, and none so well, my darling ends

Are proved impossible: no less, no less,

Even now what humours me, fond fool, as when

Their faint ghosts sit with me and flatter me

And send me back content to my dull round?

How can I change this soul? — this apparatus

Constructed solely for their purposes,

So well adapted to their every want,

To search out and discover, prove and perfect;

This intricate machine whose most minute

And meanest motions have their charm to me

Though to none else — an aptitude I seize,

An object I perceive, a use, a meaning,

A property, a fitness, I explain

And I alone:— how can I change my soul?

And this wronged body, worthless save when tasked

Under that soul’s dominion — used to care

For its bright master’s cares and quite subdue

Its proper cravings — not to ail nor pine

So he but prosper — whither drag this poor

Tried patient body? God! how I essayed

To live like that mad poet, for a while,

To love alone; and how I felt too warped

And twisted and deformed! What should I do,

Even tho’released from drudgery, but return

Faint, as you see, and halting, blind and sore,

To my old life and die as I began?

I cannot feed on beauty for the sake

Of beauty only, nor can drink in balm

From lovely objects for their loveliness;

My nature cannot lose her first imprint;

I still must hoard and heap and class all truths

With one ulterior purpose: I must know!

Would God translate me to his throne, believe

That I should only listen to his word

To further my own aim! For other men,

Beauty is prodigally strewn around,

And I were happy could I quench as they

This mad and thriveless longing, and content me

With beauty for itself alone: alas,

I have addressed a frock of heavy mail

Yet may not join the troop of sacred knights;

And now the forest-creatures fly from me,

The grass-banks cool, the sunbeams warm no more.

Best follow, dreaming that ere night arrive,

I shall o’ertake the company and ride

Glittering as they!


          I think I apprehend

What you would say: if you, in truth, design

To enter once more on the life thus left,

Seek not to hide that all this consciousness

Of failure is assumed!


           My friend, my friend,

I toil, you listen; I explain, perhaps

You understand: there our communion ends.

Have you learnt nothing from to-day’s discourse?

When we would thoroughly know the sick man’s state

We feel awhile the fluttering pulse, press soft

The hot brow, look upon the languid eye,

And thence divine the rest. Must I lay bare

My heart, hideous and beating, or tear up

My vitals for your gaze, ere you will deem

Enough made known? You! who are you, forsooth?

That is the crowning operation claimed

By the arch-demonstrator — heaven the hall,

And earth the audience. Let Aprile and you

Secure good places: ’t will be worth the while.


Are you mad, Aureole? What can I have said

To call for this? I judged from your own words.


Oh, doubtless! A sick wretch describes the ape

That mocks him from the bed-foot, and all gravely

You thither turn at once: or he recounts

The perilous journey he has late performed,

And you are puzzled much how that could be!

You find me here, half stupid and half mad;

It makes no part of my delight to search

Into these matters, much less undergo

Another’s scrutiny; but so it chances

That I am led to trust my state to you:

And the event is, you combine, contrast

And ponder on my foolish words as though

They thoroughly conveyed all hidden here —

Here, loathsome with despair and hate and rage!

Is there no fear, no shrinking and no shame?

Will you guess nothing? will you spare me nothing?

Must I go deeper? Ay or no?


              Dear friend . . .


True: I am brutal —’t is a part of it;

The plague’s sign — you are not a lazar-haunter,

How should you know? Well then, you think it strange

I should profess to have failed utterly,

And yet propose an ultimate return

To courses void of hope: and this, because

You know not what temptation is, nor how

’T is like to ply men in the sickliest part.

You are to understand that we who make

Sport for the gods, are hunted to the end:

There is not one sharp volley shot at us,

Which ’scaped with life, though hurt, we slacken pace

And gather by the wayside herbs and roots

To staunch our wounds, secure from further harm:

We are assailed to life’s extremest verge.

It will be well indeed if I return,

A harmless busy fool, to my old ways!

I would forget hints of another fate,

Significant enough, which silent hours

Have lately scared me with.


              Another! and what?


After all, Festus, you say well: I am

A man yet: I need never humble me.

I would have been — something, I know not what;

But though I cannot soar, I do not crawl.

There are worse portions than this one of mine.

You say well!




        And deeper degradation!

If the mean stimulants of vulgar praise,

If vanity should become the chosen food

Of a sunk mind, should stifle even the wish

To find its early aspirations true,

Should teach it to breathe falsehood like life-breath —

An atmosphere of craft and trick and lies;

Should make it proud to emulate, surpass

Base natures in the practices which woke

Its most indignant loathing once . . . No, no!

Utter damnation is reserved for hell!

I had immortal feelings; such shall never

Be wholly quenched: no, no!

              My friend, you wear

A melancholy face, and certain’t is

There’s little cheer in all this dismal work.

But was it my desire to set abroach

Such memories and forebodings? I foresaw

Where they would drive. ’T were better we discuss

News from Lucerne or Zurich; ask and tell

Of Egypt’s flaring sky or Spain’s cork-groves.


I have thought: trust me, this mood will pass away!

I know you and the lofty spirit you bear,

And easily ravel out a clue to all.

These are the trials meet for such as you,

Nor must you hope exemption: to be mortal

Is to be plied with trials manifold.

Look round! The obstacles which kept the rest

From your ambition, have been spurned by you;

Their fears, their doubts, the chains that bind themall,

Were flax before your resolute soul, which nought

Avails to awe save these delusions bred

From its own strength, its selfsame strength disguised,

Mocking itself. Be brave, dear Aureole! Since

The rabbit has his shade to frighten him,

The fawn a rustling bough, mortals their cares,

And higher natures yet would slight and laugh

At these entangling fantasies, as you

At trammels of a weaker intellect —

Measure your mind’s height by the shade it casts!

I know you.


     And I know you, dearest Festus!

And how you love unworthily; and how

All admiration renders blind.


               You hold

That admiration blinds?


            Ay and alas!


Nought blinds you less than admiration, friend!

Whether it be that all love renders wise

In its degree; from love which blends with love —

Heart answering heart — to love which spends itself

In silent mad idolatry of some

Pre-eminent mortal, some great soul of souls,

Which ne’er will know how well it is adored.

I say, such love is never blind; but rather

Alive to every the minutest spot

Which mars its object, and which hate (supposed

So vigilant and searching) dreams not of.

Love broods on such: what then? When first perceived

Is there no sweet strife to forget, to change,

To overflush those blemishes with all

The glow of general goodness they disturb?

— To make those very defects an endless source

Of new affection grown from hopes and fears?

And, when all fails, is there no gallant stand

Made even for much proved weak? no shrinking-back

Lest, since all love assimilates the soul

To what it loves, it should at length become

Almost a rival of its idol? Trust me,

If there be fiends who seek to work our hurt,

To ruin and drag down earth’s mightiest spirits

Even at God’s foot, ’t will be from such as love,

Their zeal will gather most to serve their cause;

And least from those who hate, who most essay

By contumely and scorn to blot the light

Which forces entrance even to their hearts:

For thence will our defender tear the veil

And show within each heart, as in a shrine,

The giant image of perfection, grown

In hate’s despite, whose calumnies were spawned

In the untroubled presence of its eyes.

True admiration blinds not; nor am I

So blind. I call your sin exceptional;

It springs from one whose life has passed the bounds

Prescribed to life. Compound that fault with God!

I speak of men; to common men like me

The weakness you reveal endears you more,

Like the far traces of decay in suns.

I bid you have good cheer!


              Proeclare! Optime!

Think of a quiet mountain-cloistered priest

Instructing Paracelsus! yet’t is so.

Come, I will show you where my merit lies.

’T is in the advance of individual minds

That the slow crowd should ground their expectation

Eventually to follow; as the sea

Waits ages in its bed till some one wave

Out of the multitudinous mass, extends

The empire of the whole, some feet perhaps,

Over the strip of sand which could confine

Its fellows so long time: thenceforth the rest,

Even to the meanest, hurry in at once,

And so much is clear gained. I shall be glad

If all my labours, failing of aught else,

Suffice to make such inroad and procure

A wider range for thought: nay, they do this;

For, whatsoe’er my notions of true knowledge

And a legitimate success, may be,

I am not blind to my undoubted rank

When classed with others: I precede my age:

And whoso wills is very free to mount

These labours as a platform whence his own

May have a prosperous outset. But, alas!

My followers — they are noisy as you heard;

But, for intelligence, the best of them

So clumsily wield the weapons I supply

And they extol, that I begin to doubt

Whether their own rude clubs and pebble-stones

Would not do better service than my arms

Thus vilely swayed — if error will not fall

Sooner before the old awkward batterings

Than my more subtle warfare, not half learned.


I would supply that art, then, or withhold

New arms until you teach their mystery.


Content you, ’t is my wish; I have recourse

To the simplest training. Day by day I seek

To wake the mood, the spirit which alone

Can make those arms of any use to men.

Of course they are for swaggering forth at once

Graced with Ulysses’ bow, Achilles’ shield —

Flash on us, all in armour, thou Achilles!

Make our hearts dance to thy resounding step!

A proper sight to scare the crows away!


Pity you choose not then some other method

Of coming at your point. The marvellous art

At length established in the world bids fair

To remedy all hindrances like these:

Trust to Frobenius’ press the precious lore

Obscured by uncouth manner, or unfit

For raw beginners; let his types secure

A deathless monument to after-time;

Meanwhile wait confidently and enjoy

The ultimate effect: sooner or later

You shall be all-revealed.


              The old dull question

In a new form; no more. Thus: I possess

Two sorts of knowledge; one — vast, shadowy,

Hints of the unbounded aim I once pursued:

The other consists of many secrets, caught

While bent on nobler prize — perhaps a few

Prime principles which may conduct to much:

These last I offer to my followers here.

Now, bid me chronicle the first of these,

My ancient study, and in effect you bid

Revert to the wild courses just abjured:

I must go find them scattered through the world.

Then, for the principles, they are so simple

(Being chiefly of the overturning sort),

That one time is as proper to propound them

As any other — to-morrow at my class,

Or half a century hence embalmed in print.

For if mankind intend to learn at all,

They must begin by giving faith to them

And acting on them: and I do not see

But that my lectures serve indifferent well:

No doubt these dogmas fall not to the earth,

For all their novelty and rugged setting.

I think my class will not forget the day

I let them know the gods of Israel,

Aëtius, Oribasius, Galen, Rhasis,

Serapion, Avicenna, Averröes,

Were blocks!


      And that reminds me, I heard something

About your waywardness: you burned their books,

It seems, instead of answering those sages.


And who said that?


         Some I met yesternight

With OEcolampadius. As you know, the purpose

Of this short stay at Basil was to learn

His pleasure touching certain missives sent

For our Zuinglius and himself. ’T was he

Apprised me that the famous teacher here

Was my old friend.


         Ah, I forgot: you went . . .


From Zurich with advices for the ear

Of Luther, now at Wittenberg —(you know,

I make no doubt, the differences of late

With Carolostadius)— and returning sought

Basil and . . .


        I remember. Here’s a case, now,

Will teach you why I answer not, but burn

The books you mention. Pray, does Luther dream

His arguments convince by their own force

The crowds that own his doctrine? No, indeed!

His plain denial of established points

Ages had sanctified and men supposed

Could never be oppugned while earth was under

And heaven above them — points which chance or time

Affected not — did more than the array

Of argument which followed. Boldly deny!

There is much breath-stopping, hair-stiffening

Awhile; then, amazed glances, mute awaiting

The thunderbolt which does not come: and next,

Reproachful wonder and inquiry: those

Who else had never stirred, are able now

To find the rest out for themselves, perhaps

To outstrip him who set the whole at work,

— As never will my wise class its instructor.

And you saw Luther?


          ’T is a wondrous soul!


True: the so-heavy chain which galled mankind

Is shattered, and the noblest of us all

Must bow to the deliverer — nay, the worker

Of our own project — we who long before

Had burst our trammels, but forgot the crowd,

We should have taught, still groaned beneath the load:

This he has done and nobly. Speed that may!

Whatever be my chance or my mischance,

What benefits mankind must glad me too;

And men seem made, though not as I believed,

For something better than the times produce.

Witness these gangs of peasants your new lights

From Suabia have possessed, whom Münzer leads,

And whom the duke, the landgrave and the elector

Will calm in blood! Well, well; ’t is not my world!




  ’T is the melancholy wind astir

Within the trees; the embers too are grey:

Morn must be near.


         Best ope the casement: see,

The night, late strewn with clouds and flying stars,

Is blank and motionless: how peaceful sleep

The tree-tops altogether! Like an asp,

The wind slips whispering from bough to bough.


Ay; you would gaze on a wind-shaken tree

By the hour, nor count time lost.


                 So you shall gaze:

Those happy times will come again.


                  Gone, gone,

Those pleasant times! Does not the moaning wind

Seem to bewail that we have gained such gains

And bartered sleep for them?


               It is our trust

That there is yet another world to mend

All error and mischance.


            Another world!

And why this world, this common world, to be

A make-shift, a mere foil, how fair soever,

To some fine life to come? Man must be fed

With angels’ food, forsooth; and some few traces

Of a diviner nature which look out

Through his corporeal baseness, warrant him

In a supreme contempt of all provision

For his inferior tastes — some straggling marks

Which constitute his essence, just as truly

As here and there a gem would constitute

The rock, their barren bed, one diamond.

But were it so — were man all mind — he gains

A station little enviable. From God

Down to the lowest spirit ministrant,

Intelligence exists which casts our mind

Into immeasurable shade. No, no:

Love, hope, fear, faith — these make humanity;

These are its sign and note and character,

And these I have lost! — gone, shut from me for ever,

Like a dead friend safe from unkindness more!

See, morn at length. The heavy darkness seems

Diluted, grey and clear without the stars;

The shrubs bestir and rouse themselves as if

Some snake, that weighed them down all night, let go

His hold; and from the East, fuller and fuller

Day, like a mighty river, flowing in;

But clouded, wintry, desolate and cold.

Yet see how that broad prickly star-shaped plant,

Half-down in the crevice, spreads its woolly leaves

All thick and glistering with diamond dew.

And you depart for Einsiedeln this day,

And we have spent all night in talk like this!

If you would have me better for your love,

Revert no more to these sad themes.


                   One favour,

And I have done. I leave you, deeply moved;

Unwilling to have fared so well, the while

My friend has changed so sorely. If this mood

Shall pass away, if light once more arise

Where all is darkness now, if you see fit

To hope and trust again, and strive again,

You will remember — not our love alone —

But that my faith in God’s desire that man

Should trust on his support, (as I must think

You trusted) is obscured and dim through you:

For you are thus, and this is no reward.

Will you not call me to your side, dear Aureole?

Part IV

Paracelsus Aspires

Scene. — Colmar in Alsatia: an Inn. 1528.

Paracelsus, Festus.

Paracelsus [to Johannes Oporinus, his Secretary].

Sic itur ad astra! Dear Von Visenburg

Is scandalized, and poor Torinus paralysed,

And every honest soul that Basil holds

Aghast; and yet we live, as one may say,

Just as though Liechtenfels had never set

So true a value on his sorry carcass,

And learned Pütter had not frowned us dumb.

We live; and shall as surely start to morrow

For Nuremberg, as we drink speedy scathe

To Basil in this mantling wine, suffused

A delicate blush, no fainter tinge is born

I’ the shut heart of a bud. Pledge me, good John —

“Basil; a hot plague ravage it, and Pütter

“Oppose the plague!” Even so? Do you too share

Their panic, the reptiles? Ha, ha; faint through these,

Desist for these! They manage matters so

At Basil, ’t is like: but others may find means

To bring the stoutest braggart of the tribe

Once more to crouch in silence — means to breed

A stupid wonder in each fool again,

Now big with admiration at the skill

Which stript a vain pretender of his plumes:

And, that done — means to brand each slavish brow

So deeply, surely, ineffaceably,

That henceforth flattery shall not pucker it

Out of the furrow; there that stamp shall stay

To show the next they fawn on, what they are,

This Basil with its magnates — fill my cup —

Whom I curse soul and limb. And now despatch,

Despatch, my trusty John; and what remains

To do, whate’er arrangements for our trip

Are yet to be completed, see you hasten

This night; we’ll weather the storm at least: to-morrow

For Nuremberg! Now leave us; this grave clerk

Has divers weighty matters for my ear:

[Oporinus goes out.

And spare my lungs. At last, my gallant Festus,

I am rid of this arch-knave that dogs my heels

As a gaunt crow a gasping sheep; at last

May give a loose to my delight. How kind,

How very kind, my first best only friend!

Why, this looks like fidelity. Embrace me!

Not a hair silvered yet? Right! you shall live

Till I am worth your love; you shall be pround,

And I— but let time show! Did you not wonder?

I sent to you because our compact weighed

Upon my conscience —(you recall the night

At Basil, which the gods confound!)— because

Once more I aspire. I call you to my side:

You come. You thought my message strange?


                      So strange

That I must hope, indeed, your messenger

Has mingled his own fancies with the words

Purporting to be yours.


            He said no more,

’T is probable, than the precious folk I leave

Said fiftyfold more roughly. Well-a-day,

’T is true! poor Paracelsus is exposed

At last; a most egregious quack he proves:

And those he overreached must spit their hate

On one who, utterly beneath contempt,

Could yet deceive their topping wits. You heard

Bare truth; and at my bidding you come here

To speed me on my enterprise, as once

Your lavish wishes sped me, my own friend!


What is your purpose, Aureole?


                Oh, for purpose,

There is no lack of precedents in a case

Like mine; at least, if not precisely mine,

The case of men cast off by those they sought

To benefit.


     They really cast you off?

I only heard a vague tale of some priest,

Cured by your skill, who wrangled at your claim,

Knowing his life’s worth best; and how the judge

The matter was referred to, saw no cause

To interfere, nor you to hide your full

Contempt of him; nor he, again, to smother

His wrath thereat, which raised so fierce a flame

That Basil soon was made no place for you.


The affair of Liechtenfels? the shallowest fable,

The last and silliest outrage — mere pretence!

I knew it, I foretold it from the first,

How soon the stupid wonder you mistook

For genuine loyalty — a cheering promise

Of better things to come — would pall and pass;

And every word comes true. Saul is among

The prophets! Just so long as I was pleased

To play off the mere antics of my art,

Fantastic gambols leading to no end,

I got huge praise: but one can ne’er keep down

Our foolish nature’s weakness. There they flocked,

Poor devils, jostling, swearing and perspiring,

Till the walls rang again; and all for me!

I had a kindness for them, which was right;

But then I stopped not till I tacked to that

A trust in them and a respect — a sort

Of sympathy for them; I must needs begin

To teach them, not amaze them, “to impart

“The spirit which should instigate the search

“Of truth,” just what you bade me! I spoke out.

Forthwith a mighty squadron, in disgust,

Filed off —“the sifted chaff of the sack,” I said,

Redoubling my endeavours to secure

The rest. When lo! one man had tarried so long

Only to ascertain if I supported

This tenet of his, or that; another loved

To hear impartially before he judged,

And having heard, now judged; this bland disciple

Passed for my dupe, but all along, it seems,

Spied error where his neighbours marvelled most;

That fiery doctor who had hailed me friend,

Did it because my by-paths, once proved wrong

And beaconed properly, would commend again

The good old ways our sires jogged safely o’er,

Though not their squeamish sons; the other worthy

Discovered divers verses of St. John,

Which, read successively, refreshed the soul,

But, muttered backwards, cured the gout, the stone,

The colic and what not. Quid multa? The end

Was a clear class-room, and a quiet leer

From grave folk, and a sour reproachful glance

From those in chief who, cap in hand, installed

The new professor scarce a year before;

And a vast flourish about patient merit

Obscured awhile by flashy tricks, but sure

Sooner or later to emerge in splendour —

Of which the example was some luckless wight

Whom my arrival had discomfited,

But now, it seems, the general voice recalled

To fill my chair and so efface the stain

Basil had long incurred. I sought no better,

Only a quiet dismissal from my post,

And from my heart I wished them better suited

And better served. Good night to Basil, then!

But fast as I proposed to rid the tribe

Of my obnoxious back, I could not spare them

The pleasure of a parting kick.


                You smile:

Despise them as they merit!


              If I smile,

’T is with as very contempt as ever turned

Flesh into stone. This courteous recompense,

This grateful . . . Festus, were your nature fit

To be defiled, your eyes the eyes to ache

At gangrene-blotches, eating poison-blains,

The ulcerous barky scurf of leprosy

Which finds — a man, and leaves — a hideous thing

That cannot but be mended by hell fire,

— I would lay bare to you the human heart

Which God cursed long ago, and devils make since

Their pet nest and their never-tiring home.

Oh, sages have discovered we are born

For various ends — to love, to know: has ever

One stumbled, in his search, on any signs

Of a nature in us formed to hate? To hate?

If that be our true object which evokes

Our powers in fullest strength, be sure ’t is hate!

Yet men have doubted if the best and bravest

Of spirits can nourish him with hate alone.

I had not the monopoly of fools,

It seems, at Basil.


          But your plans, your plans!

I have yet to learn your purpose, Aureole!


Whether to sink beneath such ponderous shame,

To shrink up like a crushed snail, undergo

In silence and desist from further toil,

and so subside into a monument

Of one their censure blasted? or to bow

Cheerfully as submissively, to lower

My old pretensions even as Basil dictates,

To drop into the rank her wits assign me

And live as they prescribe, and make that use

Of my poor knowledge which their rules allow,

Proud to be patted now and then, and careful

To practise the true posture for receiving

The amplest benefit from their hoofs’ appliance

When they shall condescend to tutor me?

Then, one may feel resentment like a flame

Within, and deck false systems in truth’s garb,

And tangle and entwine mankind with error,

And give them darkness for a dower and falsehood

For a possession, ages: or one may mope

Into a shade through thinking, or else drowse

Into a dreamless sleep and so die off.

But I— now Festus shall divine! — but I

Am merely setting out once more, embracing

My earliest aims again! What thinks he now?


Your aims? the aims? — to Know? and where is found

The early trust . . .


           Nay, not so fast; I say,

The aims — not the old means. You know they made me

A laughing-stock; I was a fool; you know

The when and the how: hardly those means again!

Not but they had their beauty; who should know

Their passing beauty, if not I? Still, dreams

They were, so let them vanish, yet in beauty

If that may be. Stay: thus they pass in song!

[He sings.

Heap cassia, sandal-buds and stripes

Of labdanum, and aloe-balls,

Smeared with dull nard an Indian wipes

From out her hair: such balsam falls

Down sea-side mountain pedestals,

From tree-tops where tired winds are fain,

Spent with the vast and howling main,

To treasure half their island-gain.

And strew faint sweetness from some old

Egyptian’s fine worm-eaten shroud

Which breaks to dust when once unrolled;

Or shredded perfume, like a cloud

From closet long to quiet vowed,

With mothed and dropping arras hung,

Mouldering her lute and books among,

As when a queen, long dead, was young.

Mine, every word! And on such pile shall die

My lovely fancies, with fair perished things,

Themselves fair and forgotten; yes, forgotten,

Or why abjure them? So, I made this rhyme

That fitting dignity might be preserved;

No little proud was I; though the list of drugs

Smacks of my old vocation, and the verse

Halts like the best of Luther’s psalms.


                     But, Aureole,

Talk not thus wildly and madly. I am here —

Did you know all! I have travelled far, indeed,

To learn your wishes. Be yourself again!

For in this mood I recognize you less

Than in the horrible despondency

I witnessed last. You may account this, joy;

But rather let me gaze on that despair

Than hear these incoherent words and see

This flushed cheek and intensely-sparkling eye.


Why, man, I was light-hearted in my prime

I am light-hearted now; what would you have?

Aprile was a poet, I make songs —

’T is the very augury of success I want!

Why should I not be joyous now as then?


Joyous! and how? and what remains for joy?

You have declared the ends (which I am sick

Of naming) are impracticable.



Pursued as I pursued them — the arch-fool!

Listen: my plan will please you not, ’t is like,

But you are little versed in the world’s ways.

This is my plan —(first drinking its good luck)—

I will accept all helps; all I despised

So rashly at the outset, equally

With early impulses, late years have quenched:

I have tried each way singly: now for both!

All helps! no one sort shall exclude the rest.

I seek to know and to enjoy at once,

Not one without the other as before.

Suppose my labour should seem God’s own cause

Once more, as first I dreamed — it shall not baulk me

Of the meanest earthliest sensualest delight

That may be snatched; for every joy is gain,

And gain is gain, however small. My soul

Can die then, nor be taunted —“what was gained?”

Nor, on the other hand, should pleasure follow

As though I had not spurned her hitherto,

Shall she o’ercloud my spirit’s rapt communion

With the tumultuous past, the teeming future,

Glorious with visions of a full success.




    And wherefore not? Why not prefer

Results obtained in my best state of being,

To those derived alone from seasons dark

As the thoughts they bred? When I was best, my youth

Unwasted, seemed success not surest too?

It is the nature of darkness to obscure.

I am a wanderer: I remember well

One journey, how I feared the track was missed,

So long the city I desired to reach

Lay hid; when suddenly its spires afar

Flashed through the circling clouds; you may conceive

My transport. Soon the vapours closed again,

But I had seen the city, and one such glance

No darkness could obscure: nor shall the present —

A few dull hours, a passing shame or two,

Destroy the vivid memories of the past.

I will fight the battle out; a little spent

Perhaps, but still an able combatant.

You look at my grey hair and furrowed brow?

But I can turn even weakness to account:

Of many tricks I know, ’t is not the least

To push the ruins of my frame, whereon

The fire of vigour trembles scarce alive,

Into a heap, and send the flame aloft.

What should I do with age? So, sickness lends

An aid; it being, I fear, the source of all

We boast of: mind is nothing but disease,

And natural health is ignorance.


                 I see

But one good symptom in this notable scheme.

I feared your sudden journey had in view

To wreak immediate vengeance on your foes

’T is not so: I am glad.


            And if I please

To spit on them, to trample them, what then?

’T is sorry warfare truly, but the fools

Provoke it. I would spare their self-conceit

But if they must provoke me, cannot suffer

Forbearance on my part, if I may keep

No quality in the shade, must needs put forth

Power to match power, my strength against their strength,

And teach them their own game with their own arms —

Why, be it so and let them take their chance!

I am above them like a god, there’s no

Hiding the fact: what idle scruples, then,

Were those that ever bade me soften it,

Communicate it gently to the world,

Instead of proving my supremacy,

Taking my natural station o’er their head,

Then owning all the glory was a man’s!

— And in my elevation man’s would be.

But live and learn, though life’s short, learning, hard!

And therefore, though the wreck of my past self,

I fear, dear Pütter, that your lecture-room

Must wait awhile for its best ornament,

The penitent empiric, who set up

For somebody, but soon was taught his place;

Now, but too happy to be let confess

His error, snuff the candles, and illustrate

(Fiat experientia corpore vili)

Your medicine’s soundness in his person. Wait,

Good Pütter!


      He who sneers thus, is a god!


Ay, ay, laugh at me! I am very glad

You are not gulled by all this swaggering; you

Can see the root of the matter! — how I strive

To put a good face on the overthrow

I have experienced, and to bury and hide

My degradation in its length and breadth;

How the mean motives I would make you think

Just mingle as is due with nobler aims,

The appetites I modestly allow

May influence me as being mortal still —

Do goad me, drive me on, and fast supplant

My youth’s desires. You are no stupid dupe:

You find me out! Yes, I had sent for you

To palm these childish lies upon you, Festus!

Laugh — you shall laugh at me!


               The past, then, Aureole,

Proves nothing? Is our interchange of love

Yet to begin? Have I to swear I mean

No flattery in this speech or that? For you,

Whate’er you say, there is no degradation;

These low thoughts are no inmates of your mind,

Or wherefore this disorder? You are vexed

As much by the intrusion of base views,

Familiar to your adversaries, as they

Were troubled should your qualities alight

Amid their murky souls; not otherwise,

A stray wolf which the winter forces down

From our bleak hills, suffices to affright

A village in the vales — while foresters

Sleep calm, though all night long the famished troop

Snuff round and scratch against their crazy huts.

These evil thoughts are monsters, and will flee.


May you be happy, Festus, my own friend!


Nay, further; the delights you fain would think

The superseders of your nobler aims,

Though ordinary and harmless stimulants,

Will ne’er content you. . . .


               Hush! I once despised them,

But that soon passes. We are high at first

In our demand, nor will abate a jot

Of toil’s strict value; but time passes o’er,

And humbler spirits accept what we refuse:

In short, when some such comfort is doled out

As these delights, we cannot long retain

Bitter contempt which urges us at first

To hurl it back, but hug it to our breast

And thankfully retire. This life of mine

Must be lived out and a grave thoroughly earned:

I am just fit for that and nought beside.

I told you once, I cannot now enjoy,

Unless I deem my knowledge gains through joy;

Nor can I know, but straight warm tears reveal

My need of linking also joy to knowledge:

So, on I drive, enjoying all I can,

And knowing all I can. I speak, of course,

Confusedly; this will better explain — feel here!

Quick beating, is it not? — a fire of the heart

To work off some way, this as well as any.

So, Festus sees me fairly launched; his calm

Compassionate look might have disturbed me once,

But now, far from rejecting, I invite

What bids me press the closer, lay myself

Open before him, and be soothed with pity;

I hope, if he command hope, and believe

As he directs me — satiating myself

With his enduring love. And Festus quits me

To give place to some credulous disciple

Who holds that God is wise, but Paracelsus

Has his peculiar merits: I suck in

That homage, chuckle o’er that admiration,

And then dismiss the fool; for night is come.

And I betake myself to study again,

Till patient searchings after hidden lore

Half wring some bright truth from its prison; my frame

Trembles, my forehead’s veins swell out, my hair

Tingles for triumph. Slow and sure the morn

Shall break on my pent room and dwindling lamp

And furnace dead, and scattered earths and ores;

When, with a failing heart and throbbing brow,

I must review my captured truth, sum up

Its value, trace what ends to what begins,

Its present power with its eventual bearings,

Latent affinities, the views it opens,

And its full length in perfecting my scheme.

I view it sternly circumscribed, cast down

From the high place my fond hopes yielded it,

Proved worthless — which, in getting, yet had cost

Another wrench to this fast-falling frame.

Then, quick, the cup to quaff, that chases sorrow!

I lapse back into youth, and take again

My fluttering pulse for evidence that God

Means good to me, will make my cause his own.

See! I have cast off this remorseless care

Which clogged a spirit born to soar so free,

And my dim chamber has become a tent,

Festus is sitting by me, and his Michal . . .

Why do you start? I say, she listening here,

(For yonder — Würzburg through the orchard-bough!)

Motions as though such ardent words should find

No echo in a maiden’s quiet soul,

But her pure bosom heaves, her eyes fill fast

With tears, her sweet lips tremble all the while!

Ha, ha!


   It seems, then, you expect to reap

No unreal joy from this your present course,

But rather . . .


        Death! To die! I owe that much

To what, at least, I was. I should be sad

To live contented after such a fall,

To thrive and fatten after such reverse!

The whole plan is a makeshift, but will last

My time.


    And you have never mused and said,

“I had a noble purpose, and the strength

“To compass it; but I have stopped half-way,

“And wrongly given the first-fruits of my toil

“To objects little worthy of the gift.

“Why linger round them still? why clench my fault?

“Why seek for consolation in defeat,

“In vain endeavours to derive a beauty

“From ugliness? why seek to make the most

“Of what no power can change, nor strive instead

“With mighty effort to redeem the past

“And, gathering up the treasures thus cast down,

“To hold a steadfast course till I arrive

“At their fit destination and my own?”

You have never pondered thus?


               Have I, you ask?

Often at midnight, when most fancies come,

Would some such airy project visit me:

But ever at the end . . . or will you hear

The same thing in a tale, a parable?

You and I, wandering over the world wide,

Chance to set foot upon a desert coast.

Just as we cry, “No human voice before

“Broke the inveterate silence of these rocks!”

— Their querulous echo startles us; we turn:

What ravaged structure still looks o’er the sea?

Some characters remain, too! While we read,

The sharp salt wind, impatient for the last

Of even this record, wistfully comes and goes,

Or sings what we recover, mocking it.

This is the record; and my voice, the wind’s.

[He sings.

Over the sea our galleys went,

With cleaving prows in order brave

To a speeding wind and a bounding wave,

A gallant armament:

Each bark built out of a forest-tree

Left leafy and rough as first it grew,

And nailed all over the gaping sides,

Within and without, with black bull-hides,

Seethed in fat and suppled in flame,

To bear the playful billows’ game:

So, each good ship was rude to see,

Rude and bare to the outward view,

But each upbore a stately tent

Where cedar pales in scented row

Kept out the flakes of the dancing brine,

And an awning drooped the mast below,

In fold on fold of the purple fine,

That neither noontide nor starshine

Nor moonlight cold which maketh mad,

Might pierce the regal tenement.

When the sun dawned, oh, gay and glad

We set the sail and plied the oar;

But when the night-wind blew like breath,

For joy of one day’s voyage more,

We sang together on the wide sea,

Like men at peace on a peaceful shore;

Each sail was loosed to the wind so free,

Each helm made sure by the twilight star,

And in a sleep as calm as death,

We, the voyagers from afar,

Lay stretched along, each weary crew

In a circle round its wondrous tent

Whence gleamed soft light and curled rich scent,

And with light and perfume, music too:

So the stars wheeled round, and the darkness past,

And at morn we started beside the mast,

And still each ship was sailing fast.

Now, one morn, land appeared — a speck

Dim trembling betwixt sea and sky:

“Avoid it,” cried our pilot, “check

“The shout, restrain the eager eye!”

But the heaving sea was black behind

For many a night and many a day,

And land, though but a rock, drew nigh;

So, we broke the cedar pales away,

Let the purple awning flap in the wind,

And a statute bright was on every deck!

We shouted, every man of us,

And steered right into the harbour thus,

With pomp and pæan glorious.

A hundred shapes of lucid stone!

All day we built its shrine for each,

A shrine of rock for every one,

Nor paused till in the westering sun

We sat together on the beach

To sing because our task was done.

When lo! what shouts and merry songs!

What laughter all the distance stirs!

A loaded raft with happy throngs

Of gentle islanders!

“Our isles are just at hand,” they cried,

“Like cloudlets faint in even sleeping

“Our temple-gates are opened wide,

“Our olive-groves thick shade are keeping

“For these majestic forms”— they cried.

Oh, then we awoke with sudden start

From our deep dream, and knew, too late,

How bare the rock, how desolate,

Which had received our precious freight:

Yet we called out —“Depart!

“Our gifts, once given, must here abide.

“Our work is done; we have no heart

“To mar our work,"— we cried.


In truth?


    Nay, wait: all this in tracings faint

On rugged stones strewn here and there, but piled

In order once: then follows — mark what follows!

“The sad rhyme of the men who proudly clung

“To their first fault, and withered in their pride.”


Come back then, Aureole; as you fear God, come!

This is foul sin; come back! Renounce the past,

Forswear the future; look for joy no more,

But wait death’s summons amid holy sights,

And trust me for the event — peace, if not joy.

Return with me to Einsiedeln, dear Aureole!


No way, no way! it would not turn to good.

A spotless child sleeps on the flowering moss —

’T is well for him; but when a sinful man,

Envying such slumber, may desire to put

His guilt away, shall he return at once

To rest by lying there? Our sires knew well

(Spite of the grave discoveries of their sons)

The fitting course for such: dark cells, dim lamps,

A stone floor one may writhe on like a worm:

No mossy pillow blue with violets!


I see no symptom of these absolute

And tyrannous passions. You are calmer now.

This verse-making can purge you well enough

Without the terrible penance you describe.

You love me still: the lusts you fear will never

Outrage your friend. To Einsiedeln, once more!

Say but the word!


         No, no; those lusts forbid:

They crouch, I know, cowering with half-shut eye

Beside you; ’t is their nature. Thrust yourself

Between them and their prey; let some fool style me

Or king or quack, it matters not — then try

Your wisdom, urge them to forego their treat!

No, no; learn better and look deeper, Festus!

If you knew how a devil sneers within me

While you are talking now of this, now that,

As though we differed scarcely save in trifles!


Do we so differ? True, change must proceed,

Whether for good or ill; keep from me, which!

Do not confide all secrets: I was born

To hope, and you . . .


           To trust: you know the fruits!


Listen: I do believe, what you call trust

Was self-delusion at the best: for, see!

So long as God would kindly pioneer

A path for you, and screen you from the world,

Procure you full exemption from man’s lot,

Man’s common hopes and fears, on the mere pretext

Of your engagement in his service — yield you

A limitless licence, make you God, in fact,

And turn your slave — you were content to say

Most courtly praises! What is it, at last,

But selfishness without example? None

Could trace God’s will so plain as you, while yours

Remained implied in it; but now you fail,

And we, who prate about that will, are fools!

In short, God’s service is established here

As he determines fit, and not your way,

And this you cannot brook. Such discontent

Is weak. Renounce all creatureship at once!

Affirm an absolute right to have and use

Your energies; as though the rivers should say —

“We rush to the ocean; what have we to do

“With feeding streamlets, lingering in the vales,

“Sleeping in lazy pools?” Set up that plea,

That will be bold at least!


              ’T is like enough.

The serviceable spirits are those, no doubt,

The East produces: lo, the master bids —

They wake, raise terraces and garden-grounds

In one night’s space; and, this done, straight begin

Another century’s sleep, to the great praise

Of him that framed them wise and beautiful,

Till a lamp’s rubbing, or some chance akin,

Wake them again. I am of different mould.

I would have soothed my lord, and slaved for him

And done him service past my narrow bond,

And thus I get rewarded for my pains!

Beside, ’t is vain to talk of forwarding

God’s glory otherwise; this is alone

The sphere of its increase, as far as men

Increase it; why, then, look beyond this sphere?

We are his glory; and if we be glorious,

Is not the thing achieved?


              Shall one like me

Judge hearts like yours? Though years have changed you much,

And you have left your first love, and retain

Its empty shade to veil your crooked ways,

Yet I still hold that you have honoured God.

And who shall call your course without reward?

For, wherefore this repining at defeat

Had triumph ne’er inured you to high hopes?

I urge you to forsake the life you curse,

And what success attends me? — simply talk

Of passion, weakness and remorse; in short,

Anything but the naked truth — you choose

This so-despised career, and cheaply hold

My happiness, or rather other men’s.

Once more, return!


         And quickly. John the thief

Has pilfered half my secrets by this time:

And we depart by daybreak. I am weary,

I know not how; not even the wine-cup soothes

My brain to-night . . .

Do you not thoroughly despise me, Festus?

No flattery! One like you needs not be told

We live and breathe deceiving and deceived.

Do you not scorn me from your heart of hearts,

Me and my cant, each petty subterfuge,

My rhymes and all this frothy shower of words,

My glozing self-deceit, my outward crust

Of lies which wrap, as tetter, morphew, furfair

Wrapt the sound flesh? — so, see you flatter not!

Even God flatters: but my friend, at least,

Is true. I would depart, secure henceforth

Against all further insult, hate and wrong

From puny foes; my one friend’s scorn shall brand me:

No fear of sinking deeper!


              No, dear Aureole!

No, no; I came to counsel faithfully.

There are old rules, made long ere we were born,

By which I judge you. I, so fallible,

So infinitely low beside your mighty

Majestic spirit! — even I can see

You own some higher law than ours which call

Sin, what is no sin — weakness, what is strength.

But I have only these, such as they are,

To guide me; and I blame you where they bid,

Only so long as blaming promises

To win peace for your soul: the more, that sorrow

Has fallen on me of late, and they have helped me

So that I faint not under my distress.

But wherefore should I scruple to avow

In spite of all, as brother judging brother,

Your fate is most inexplicable to me?

And should you perish without recompense

And satisfaction yet — too hastily

I have relied on love: you may have sinned,

But you have loved. As a mere human matter —

As I would have God deal with fragile men

In the end — I say that you will triumph yet!


Have you felt sorrow, Festus? —’t is because

You love me. Sorrow, and sweet Michal yours!

Well thought on: never let her know this last

Dull winding-up of all: these miscreants dared

Insult me — me she loved:— so, grieve her not!


Your ill success can little grieve her now.


Michal is dead! pray Christ we do not craze!


Aureole, dear Aureole, look not on me thus!

Fool, fool! this is the heart grown sorrow-proof —

I cannot bear those eyes.


             Nay, really dead?


’T is scarce a month.


           Stone dead! — then you have laid her

Among the flowers ere this. Now, do you know,

I can reveal a secret which shall comfort

Even you. I have no julep, as men think,

To cheat the grave; but a far better secret.

Know, then, you did not ill to trust your love

To the cold earth: I have thought much of it:

For I believe we do not wholly die.




    Nay, do not laugh; there is a reason

For what I say: I think the soul can never

Taste death. I am, just now, as you may see,

Very unfit to put so strange a thought

In an intelligible dress of words;

But take it as my trust, she is not dead.


But not on this account alone? you surely,

— Aureole, you have believed this all along?


And Michal sleeps among the roots and dews,

While I am moved at Basil, and full of schemes

For Nuremberg, and hoping and despairing,

As though it mattered how the farce plays out,

So it be quickly played. Away, away!

Have your will, rabble! while we fight the prize,

Troop you in safety to the snug back-seats

And leave a clear arena for the brave

About to perish for your sport! — Behold!

Part V

Paracelsus Attains

Scene. — Salzburg; a cell in the Hospital of St. Sebastian. 1541.

Festus, Paracelsus.


No change! The weary night is well-nigh spent,

The lamp burns low, and through the casement-bars

Grey morning glimmers feebly: yet no change!

Another night, and still no sigh has stirred

That fallen discoloured mouth, no pang relit

Those fixed eyes, quenched by the decaying body,

Like torch-flame choked in dust. While all beside

Was breaking, to the last they held out bright,

As a stronghold where life intrenched itself;

But they are dead now — very blind and dead:

He will drowse into death without a groan.

My Aureole — my forgotten, ruined Aureole!

The days are gone, are gone! How grand thou wast!

And now not one of those who struck thee down —

Poor glorious spirit — concerns him even to stay

And satisfy himself his little hand

Could turn God’s image to a livid thing.

Another night, and yet no change! ’T is much

That I should sit by him, and bathe his brow,

And chafe his hands; ’t is much: but he will sure

Know me, and look on me, and speak to me

Once more — but only once! His hollow cheek

Looked all night long as though a creeping laugh

At his own state were just about to break

From the dying man: my brain swam, my throat swelled,

And yet I could not turn away. In truth,

They told me how, when first brought here, he seemed

Resolved to live, to lose no faculty;

Thus striving to keep up his shattered strength,

Until they bore him to this stifling cell:

When straight his features fell, an hour made white

The flushed face, and relaxed the quivering limb,

Only the eye remained intense awhile

As though it recognized the tomb-like place,

And then he lay as here he lies.

                 Ay, here!

Here is earth’s noblest, nobly garlanded —

Her bravest champion with his well-won prize —

Her best achievement, her sublime amends

For countless generations fleeting fast

And followed by no trace; — the creature-god

She instances when angels would dispute

The title of her brood to rank with them.

Angels, this is our angel! Those bright forms

We clothe with purple, crown and call to thrones,

Are human, but not his; those are but men

Whom other men press round and kneel before;

Those palaces are dwelt in by mankind;

Higher provision is for him you seek

Amid our pomps and glories: see it here!

Behold earth’s paragon! Now, raise thee, clay!

God! Thou art love! I build my faith on that

Even as I watch beside thy tortured child

Unconscious whose hot tears fall fast by him,

So doth thy right hand guide us through the world

Wherein we stumble. God! what shall we say?

How has he sinned? How else should he have done?

Surely he sought thy praise — thy praise, for all

He might be busied by the task so much

As half forget awhile its proper end.

Dost thou well, Lord? Thou canst not but prefer

That I should range myself upon his side —

How could he stop at every step to set

Thy glory forth? Hadst thou but granted him

Success, thy honour would have crowned success,

A halo round a star. Or, say he erred —

Save him, dear God; it will be like thee: bathe him

In light and life! Thou art not made like us;

We should be wroth in such a case; but thou

Forgivest — so, forgive these passionate thoughts

Which come unsought and will not pass away!

I know thee, who hast kept my path, and made

Light for me in the darkness, tempering sorrow

So that it reached me like a solemn joy;

It were too strange that I should doubt thy love.

But what am I? Thou madest him and knowest

How he was fashioned. I could never err

That way: the quiet place beside thy feet,

Reserved for me, was ever in my thoughts:

But he — thou shouldst have favoured him as well!

Ah! he wakens! Aureole, I am here! ’t is Festus!

I cast away all wishes save one wish —

Let him but know me, only speak to me!

He mutters; louder and louder; any other

Than I, with brain less laden, could collect

What he pours forth. Dear Aureole, do but look!

Is it talking or singing, this he utters fast?

Misery that he should fix me with his eye,

Quick talking to some other all the while!

If he would husband this wild vehemence

Which frustrates its intent! — I heard, I know

I heard my name amid those rapid words.

Oh, he will know me yet! Could I divert

This current, lead it somehow gently back

Into the channels of the past! — His eye

Brighter than ever! It must recognize me!

I am Erasmus: I am here to pray

That Paracelsus use his skill for me.

The schools of Paris and of Padua send

These questions for your learning to resolve.

We are your students, noble master: leave

This wretched cell, what business have you here?

Our class awaits you; come to us once more!

(O agony! the utmost I can do

Touches him not; how else arrest his ear?)

I am commissioned . . . I shall craze like him.

Better be mute and see what God shall send.


Stay, stay with me!


          I will; I am come here

To stay with you — Festus, you loved of old;

Festus, you know, you must know!


                 Festus! Where’s

Aprile, then? Has he not chanted softly

The melodies I heard all night? I could not

Get to him for a cold hand on my breast,

But I made out his music well enough,

O well enough! If they have filled him full

With magical music, as they freight a star

With light, and have remitted all his sin,

They will forgive me too, I too shall know!


Festus, your Festus!


          Ask him if Aprile

Knows as he Loves — if I shall Love and Know?

I try; but that cold hand, like lead — so cold!


My hand, see!


      Ah, the curse, Aprile, Aprile!

We get so near — so very, very near!

’T is an old tale: Jove strikes the Titans down,

Not when they set about their mountain-piling

But when another rock would crown the work.

And Phaeton — doubtless his first radiant plunge

Astonished mortals, though the gods were calm,

And Jove prepared his thunder: all old tales!


And what are these to you?


              Ay, fiends must laugh

So cruelly, so well! most like I never

Could tread a single pleasure underfoot,

But they were grinning by my side, were chuckling

To see me toil and drop away by flakes!

Hell-spawn! I am glad, most glad, that thus I fail!

Your cunning has o’ershot its aim. One year,

One month, perhaps, and I had served your turn!

You should have curbed your spite awhile. But now,

Who will believe ’t was you that held me back?

Listen: there’s shame and hissing and contempt,

And none but laughs who names me, none but spits

Measureless scorn upon me, me alone,

The quack, the cheat, the liar — all on me!

And thus your famous plan to sink mankind

In silence and despair, by teaching them

One of their race had probed the inmost truth,

Had done all man could do, yet failed no less —

Your wise plan proves abortive. Men despair?

Ha, ha! why, they are hooting the empiric,

The ignorant and incapable fool who rushed

Madly upon a work beyond his wits;

Nor doubt they but the simplest of themselves

Could bring the matter to triumphant issue.

So, pick and choose among them all, accursed!

Try now, persuade some other to slave for you,

To ruin body and soul to work your ends!

No, no; I am the first and last, I think.


Dear friend, who are accursed? who has done…


What have I done? Fiends dare ask that? or you,

Brave men? Oh, you can chime in boldly, backed

By the others! What had you to do, sage peers?

Here stand my rivals; Latin, Arab, Jew,

Greek, join dead hands against me: all I ask

Is, that the world enrol my name with theirs,

And even this poor privilege, it seems,

They range themselves, prepared to disallow.

Only observe! why, fiends may learn from them!

How they talk calmly of my throes, my fierce

Aspirings, terrible watchings, each one claiming

Its price of blood and brain; how they dissect

And sneeringly disparage the few truths

Got at a life’s cost; they too hanging the while

About my neck, their lies misleading me

And their dead names browbeating me! Grey crew,

Yet steeped in fresh malevolence from hell,

Is there a reason for your hate? My truths

Have shaken a little the palm about each prince?

Just think, Aprile, all these leering dotards

Were bent on nothing less than to be crowned

As we! That yellow blear-eyed wretch in chief

To whom the rest cringe low with feigned respect,

Galen of Pergamos and hell — nay speak

The tale, old man! We met there face to face:

I said the crown should fall from thee. Once more

We meet as in that ghastly vestibule:

Look to my brow! Have I redeemed my pledge?


Peace, peace; ah, see!


           Oh, emptiness of fame!

Oh Persic Zoroaster, lord of stars!

— Who said these old renowns, dead long ago,

Could make me overlook the living world

To gaze through gloom at where they stood, indeed,

But stand no longer? What a warm light life

After the shade! In truth, my delicate witch,

My serpent-queen, you did but well to hide

The juggles I had else detected. Fire

May well run harmless o’er a breast like yours!

The cave was not so darkened by the smoke

But that your white limbs dazzled me: oh, white,

And panting as they twinkled, wildly dancing!

I cared not for your passionate gestures then,

But now I have forgotten the charm of charms,

The foolish knowledge which I came to seek,

While I remember that quaint dance; and thus

I am come back, not for those mummeries,

But to love you, and to kiss your little feet

Soft as an ermine’s winter coat!


                 A light

Will struggle through these thronging words at last.

As in the angry and tumultuous West

A soft star trembles through the drifting clouds.

These are the strivings of a spirit which hates

So sad a vault should coop it, and calls up

The past to stand between it and its fate.

Were he at Einsiedeln — or Michal here!


Cruel! I seek her now — I kneel — I shriek —

I clasp her vesture — but she fades, still fades;

And she is gone; sweet human love is gone!

’T is only when they spring to heaven that angels

Reveal themselves to you; they sit all day

Beside you, and lie down at night by you

Who care not for their presence, muse or sleep,

And all at once they leave you, and you know them!

We are so fooled, so cheated! Why, even now

I am not too secure against foul play;

The shadows deepen and the walls contract:

No doubt some treachery is going on.

’T is very dusk. Where are we put, Aprile?

Have they left us in the lurch? This murky loathsome

Death-trap, this slaughter-house, is not the hall

In the golden city! Keep by me, Aprile!

There is a hand groping amid the blackness

To catch us. Have the spider-fingers got you,

Poet? Hold on me for your life! If once

They pull you! — Hold!

           ’Tis but a dream — no more!

I have you still; the sun comes out again;

Let us be happy: all will yet go well!

Let us confer: is it not like, Aprile,

That spite of trouble, this ordeal passed,

The value of my labours ascertained,

Just as some stream foams long among the rocks

But after glideth glassy to the sea,

So, full content shall henceforth be my lot?

What think you, poet? Louder! Your clear voice

Vibrates too like a harp-string. Do you ask

How could I still remain on earth, should God

Grant me the great approval which I seek?

I, you, and God can comprehend each other,

But men would murmur, and with cause enough;

For when they saw me, stainless of all sin,

Preserved and sanctified by inward light,

They would complain that comfort, shut from them,

I drank thus unespied; that they live on,

Nor taste the quiet of a constant joy,

For ache and care and doubt and weariness,

While I am calm; help being vouchsafed to me,

And hid from them. —’T were best consider that!

You reason well, Aprile; but at least

Let me know this, and die! Is this too much?

I will learn this, if God so please, and die!

If thou shalt please, dear God, if thou shalt please!

We are so weak, we know our motives least

In their confused beginning. If at first

I sought . . . but wherefore bare my heart to thee?

I know thy mercy; and already thoughts

Flock fast about my soul to comfort it,

And intimate I cannot wholly fail,

For love and praise would clasp me willingly

Could I resolve to seek them. Thou art good,

And I should be content. Yet — yet first show

I have done wrong in daring! Rather give

The supernatural consciousness of strength

Which fed my youth! Only one hour of that

With thee to help — O what should bar me then!

Lost, lost! Thus things are ordered here! God’s creatures,

And yet he takes no pride in us! — none, none!

Truly there needs another life to come!

If this be all —(I must tell Festus that)

And other life await us not — for one,

I say ’t is a poor cheat, a stupid bungle,

A wretched failure. I, for one, protest

Against it, and I hurl it back with scorn.

Well, onward though alone! Small time remains,

And much to do: I must have fruit, must reap

Some profit from my toils. I doubt my body

Will hardly serve me through; while I have laboured

It has decayed; and now that I demand

Its best assistance, it will crumble fast:

A sad thought, a sad fate! How very full

Of wormwood ’t is, that just at altar-service,

The rapt hymn rising with the rolling smoke,

When glory dawns and all is at the best,

The sacred fire may flicker and grow faint

And die for want of a wood-piler’s help!

Thus fades the flagging body, and the soul

Is pulled down in the overthrow. Well, well —

Let men catch every word, let them lose nought

Of what I say; something may yet be done.

They are ruins! Trust me who am one of you!

All ruins, glorious once, but lonely now.

It makes my heart sick to behold you crouch

Beside your desolate fane: the arches dim,

The crumbling columns grand against the moon,

Could I but rear them up once more — but that

May never be, so leave them! Trust me, friends,

Why should you linger here when I have built

A far resplendent temple, all your own?

Trust me, they are but ruins! See, Aprile,

Men will not heed! Yet were I not prepared

With better refuge for them, tongue of mine

Should ne’er reveal how blank their dwelling is:

I would sit down in silence with the rest.

Ha, what? you spit at me, you grin and shriek

Contempt into my ear — my ear which drank

God’s accents once? you curse me? Why men, men,

I am not formed for it! Those hideous eyes

Will be before me sleeping, waking, praying,

They will not let me even die. Spare, spare me,

Sinning or no, forget that, only spare me

The horrible scorn! You thought I could support it.

But now you see what silly fragile creature

Cowers thus. I am not good nor bad enough,

Not Christ nor Cain, yet even Cain was saved

From Hate like this. Let me but totter back!

Perhaps I shall elude those jeers which creep

Into my very brain, and shut these scorched

Eyelids and keep those mocking faces out.

Listen, Aprile! I am very calm:

Be not deceived, there is no passion here

Where the blood leaps like an imprisoned thing:

I am calm: I will exterminate the race!

Enough of that: ’t is said and it shall be.

And now be merry: safe and sound am I

Who broke through their best ranks to get at you.

And such a havoc, such a rout, Aprile!


Have you no thought, no memory for me,

Aureole? I am so wretched — my pure Michal

Is gone, and you alone are left me now,

And even you forget me. Take my hand —

Lean on me thus. Do you not know me, Aureole?


Festus, my own friend, you are come at last?

As you say, ’t is an awful enterprise;

But you believe I shall go through with it:

’T is like you, and I thank you. Thank him for me,

Dear Michal! See how bright St. Saviour’s spire

Flames in the sunset; all its figures quaint

Gay in the glancing light: you might conceive them

A troop of yellow-vested white-haired Jews

Bound for their own land where redemption dawns.


Not that blest time — not our youth’s time, dear God!


Ha — stay! true, I forget — all is done since,

And he is come to judge me. How he speaks,

How calm, how well! yes, it is true, all true;

All quackery; all deceit; myself can laugh

The first at it, if you desire: but still

You know the obstacles which taught me tricks

So foreign to my nature — envy and hate,

Blind opposition, brutal prejudice,

Bald ignorance — what wonder if I sunk

To humour men the way they most approved?

My cheats were never palmed on such as you,

Dear Festus! I will kneel if you require me,

Impart the meagre knowledge I possess,

Explain its bounded nature, and avow

My insufficiency — whate’er you will:

I give the fight up: let there be an end,

A privacy, an obscure nook for me.

I want to be forgotten even by God.

But if that cannot be, dear Festus, lay me,

When I shall die, within some narrow grave,

Not by itself — for that would be too proud —

But where such graves are thickest; let it look

Nowise distinguished from the hillocks round,

So that the peasant at his brother’s bed

May tread upon my own and know it not;

And we shall all be equal at the last,

Or classed according to life’s natural ranks,

Fathers, sons, brothers, friends — not rich, nor wise,

Nor gifted: lay me thus, then say, “He lived

“Too much advanced before his brother men;

“They kept him still in front: ’t was for their good

“But yet a dangerous station. It were strange

“That he should tell God he had never ranked

“With men: so, here at least he is a man.”


That God shall take thee to his breast, dear spirit,

Unto his breast, be sure! and here on earth

Shall splendour sit upon thy name for ever.

Sun! all the heaven is glad for thee: what care

If lower mountains light their snowy phares

At thine effulgence, yet acknowledge not

The source of day? Their theft shall be their bale:

For after-ages shall retrack thy beams,

And put aside the crowd of busy ones

And worship thee alone — the master-mind,

The thinker, the explorer, the creator!

Then, who should sneer at the convulsive throes

With which thy deeds were born, would scorn as well

The sheet of winding subterraneous fire

Which, pent and writhing, sends no less at last

Huge islands up amid the simmering sea.

Behold thy might in me! thou hast infused

Thy soul in mine; and I am grand as thou,

Seeing I comprehend thee — I so simple,

Thou so august. I recognize thee first;

I saw thee rise, I watched thee early and late,

And though no glance reveal thou dost accept

My homage — thus no less I proffer it,

And bid thee enter gloriously thy rest.




   I am for noble Aureole, God!

I am upon his side, come weal or woe.

His portion shall be mine. He has done well.

I would have sinned, had I been strong enough,

As he has sinned. Reward him or I waive

Reward! If thou canst find no place for him,

He shall be king elsewhere, and I will be

His slave for ever. There are two of us.


Dear Festus!


      Here, dear Aureole! ever by you!


Nay, speak on, or I dream again. Speak on!

Some story, anything — only your voice.

I shall dream else. Speak on! ay, leaning so!


                        Thus the Mayne glideth

Where my Love abideth.

Sleep’s no softer: it proceeds

On through lawns, on through meads,

On and on, whate’er befall,

Meandering and musical,

Though the niggard pasturage

Bears not on its shaven ledge

Aught but weeds and waving grasses

To view the river as it passes,

Save here and there a scanty patch

Of primroses too faint to catch

A weary bee.


More, more; say on!


          And scarce it pushes

Its gentle way through strangling rushes

Where the glossy kingfisher

Flutters when noon-heats are near,

Glad the shelving banks to shun,

Red and steaming in the sun,

Where the shrew-mouse with pale throat

Burrows, and the speckled stoat;

Where the quick sandpipers flit

In and out the marl and grit

That seems to breed them, brown as they:

Nought disturbs its quiet way,

Save some lazy stork that springs,

Trailing it with legs and wings,

Whom the shy fox from the hill

Rouses, creep he ne’er so still.


My heart! they loose my heart, those simple words;

Its darkness passes, which nought else could touch:

Like some dark snake that force may not expel,

Which glideth out to music sweet and low.

What were you doing when your voice broke through

A chaos of ugly images? You, indeed!

Are you alone here?


          All alone: you know me?

This cell?


     An unexceptionable vault:

Good brick and stone: the bats kept out, the rats

Kept in: a snug nook: how should I mistake it?


But wherefore am I here?


            Ah, well remembered!

Why, for a purpose — for a purpose, Festus!

’T is like me: here I trifle while time fleets,

And this occasion, lost, will ne’er return.

You are here to be instructed. I will tell

God’s message; but I have so much to say,

I fear to leave half out. All is confused

No doubt; but doubtless you will learn in time.

He would not else have brought you here: no doubt

I shall see clearer soon.


             Tell me but this —

You are not in despair?


            I? and for what?


Alas, alas! he knows not, as I feared!


What is it you would ask me with that earnest

Dear searching face?


          How feel you, Aureole?



Well. ’T is a strange thing: I am dying, Festus,

And now that fast the storm of life subsides,

I first perceive how great the whirl has been.

I was calm then, who am so dizzy now —

Calm in the thick of the tempest, but no less

A partner of its motion and mixed up

With its career. The hurricane is spent,

And the good boat speeds through the brightening weather;

But is it earth or sea that heaves below?

The gulf rolls like a meadow-swell, o’erstrewn

With ravaged boughs and remnants of the shore;

And now some slet, loosened from the land,

Swims past with all its trees, sailing to ocean;

And now the air is full of uptorn canes,

Light strippings from the fan-trees, tamarisks

Unrooted, with their birds still clinging to them,

All high in the wind. Even so my varied life

Drifts by me; I am young, old, happy, sad,

Hoping, desponding, acting, taking rest,

And all at once: that is, those past conditions

Float back at once on me. If I select

Some special epoch from the crowd, ’t is but

To will, and straight the rest dissolve away,

And only that particular state is present

With all its long-forgotten circumstance

Distinct and vivid as at first — myself

A careless looker-on and nothing more,

Indifferent and amused, but nothing more.

And this is death: I understand it all.

New being waits me; new perceptions must

Be born in me before I plunge therein;

Which last is Death’s affair; and while I speak,

Minute by minute he is filling me

With power; and while my foot is on the threshold

Of boundless life — the doors unopened yet,

All preparations not complete within —

I turn new knowledge upon old events,

And the effect is . . . but I must not tell;

It is not lawful. Your own turn will come

One day. Wait, Festus! You will die like me.


’T is of that past life that I burn to hear.


You wonder it engages me just now?

In truth, I wonder too. What’s life to me?

Where’er I look is fire, where’er I listen

Music, and where I tend bliss evermore.

Yet how can I refrain? ’T is a refined

Delight to view those chances — one last view.

I am so near the perils I escape,

That I must play with them and turn them over,

To feel how fully they are past and gone.

Still, it is like, some further cause exists

For this peculiar mood — some hidden purpose;

Did I not tell you something of it, Festus?

I had it fast, but it has somehow slipt

Away from me; it will return anon.


(Indeed his cheek seems young again, his voice

Complete with its old tones: that little laugh

Concluding every phrase, with upturned eye,

As though one stooped above his head to whom

He looked for confirmation and approval,

Where was it gone so long, so well preserved?

Then, the fore-finger pointing as he speaks,

Like one who traces in an open book

The matter he declares; ’t is many a year

Since I remarked it last: and this in him,

But now a ghastly wreck!)

             And can it be,

Dear Aureole, you have then found out at last

That worldly things are utter vanity?

That man is made for weakness, and should wait

In patient ignorance, till God appoint . . .


Ha, the purpose: the true purpose: that is it!

How could I fail to apprehend! You here,

I thus! But no more trifling: I see all,

I know all: my last mission shall be done

If strength suffice. No trifling! Stay; this posture

Hardly befits one thus about to speak:

I will arise.


      Nay, Aureole, are you wild?

You cannot leave your couch.


               No help; no help;

Not even your hand. So! there, I stand once more!

Speak from a couch? I never lectured thus.

My gown — the scarlet lined with fur; now put

The chain about my neck; my signet-ring

Is still upon my hand, I think — even so;

Last, my good sword; ah, trusty Azoth, leapest

Beneath thy master’s grasp for the last time?

This couch shall be my throne: I bid these walls

Be consecrate, this wretched cell become

A shrine, for here God speaks to men through me.

Now, Festus, I am ready to begin.


I am dumb with wonder.


           Listen, therefore, Festus!

There will be time enough, but none to spare.

I must content myself with telling only

The most important points. You doubtless feel

That I am happy, Festus; very happy.


’T is no delusion which uplifts him thus!

Then you are pardoned, Aureole, all your sin?


Ay, pardoned: yet why pardoned?


                ’T is God’s praise

That man is bound to seek, and you . . .


                     Have lived!

We have to live alone to set forth well

God’s praise. ’T is true, I sinned much, as I thought,

And in effect need mercy, for I strove

To do that very thing; but, do your best

Or worst, praise rises, and will rise for ever

Pardon from him, because of praise denied —

Who calls me to himself to exalt himself?

He might laugh as I laugh!


              But all comes

To the same thing. ’T is fruitless for mankind

To fret themselves with what concerns them not;

They are no use that way: they should lie down

Content as God has made them, nor go mad

In thriveless cares to better what is ill.


No, no; mistake me not; let me not work

More harm than I have worked! This is my case:

If I go joyous back to God, yet bring

No offering, if I render up my soul

Without the fruits it was ordained to bear,

If I appear the better to love God

For sin, as one who has no claim on him,-

Be not deceived! It may be surely thus

With me, while higher prizes still await

The mortal persevering to the end.

Beside I am not all so valueless:

I have been something, though too soon I left

Following the instincts of that happy time.


What happy time? For God’s sake, for man’s sake,

What time was happy? All I hope to know

That answer will decide. What happy time?


When but the time I vowed myself to man?


Great God, thy judgments are inscrutable!


Yes, it was in me; I was born for it —

I, Paracelsus: it was mine by right.

Doubtless a searching and impetuous soul

Might learn from its own motions that some task

Like this awaited it about the world;

Might seek somewhere in this blank life of ours

For fit delights to stay its longings vast;

And, grappling Nature, so prevail on her

To fill the creature full she dared thus frame

Hungry for joy; and, bravely tyrannous,

Grow in demand, still craving more and more,

And make each joy conceded prove a pledge

Of other joy to follow — bating nought

Of its desires, still seizing fresh pretence

To turn the knowledge and the rapture wrung

As an extreme, last boon, from destiny,

Into occasion for new coyetings,

New strifes, new triumphs:— doubtless a strong soul,

Alone, unaided might attain to this,

So glorious is our nature, so august

Man’s inborn uninstructed impulses,

His naked spirit so majestical!

But this was born in me; I was made so;

Thus much time saved: the feverish appeties,

The tumult of unproved desire, the unaimed

Uncertain yearnings, aspirations blind,

Distrust, mistake, and all that ends in tears

Were saved me; thus I entered on my course.

You may be sure I was not all exempt

From human trouble; just so much of doubt

As bade me plant a surer foot upon

The sun-road, kept my eye unruined ’mid

The fierce and flashing splendour, set my heart

Trembling so much as warned me I stood there

On sufferance — not to idly gaze, but cast

Light on a darkling race; save for that doubt,

I stood at first where all aspire at last

To stand: the secret of the world was mine.

I knew, I felt, (perception unexpressed,

Uncomprehended by our narrow thought,

But somehow felt and known in every shift

And change in the spirit — nay, in every pore

Of the body, even,)— what God is, what we are,

What life is — how God tastes an infinite joy

In infinite ways — one everlasting bliss,

From whom all being emanates, all power

Proceeds; in whom is life for evermore,

Yet whom existence in its lowest form

Includes; where dwells enjoyment there is he;

With still a flying point of bliss remote,

A happiness in store afar, a sphere

Of distant glory in full view; thus climbs

Pleasure its heights for ever and for ever.

The centre-fire heaves underneath the earth,

And the earth changes like a human face;

The molten ore bursts up among the rocks,

Winds into the stone’s heart, outbranches bright

In hidden mines, spots barren river-beds,

Crumbles into fine sand where sunbeams bask —

God joys therein. The wroth sea’s waves are edged

With foam, white as the bitten lip of hate,

When, in the solitary waste, strange groups

Of young volcanos come up, cyclops-like,

Staring together with their eyes on flame —

God tastes a pleasure in their uncouth pride.

Then all is still; earth is a wintry clod:

But spring-wind, like a dancing psaltress, passes

Over its breast to waken it, rare verdure

Buds tenderly upon rough banks, between

The withered tree-roots and the cracks of frost,

Like a smile striving with a wrinkled face;

The grass grows bright, the boughs are swoln with blooms

Like chrysalids impatient for the air,

The shining dorrs are busy, beetles run

Along the furrows, ants make their ado;

Above, birds fly in merry flocks, the lark

Soars up and up, shivering for very joy;

Afar the ocean sleeps; white fishing-gulls

Flit where the strand is purple with its tribe

Of nested limpets; savage creatures seek

Their loves in wood and plain — and God renews

His ancient rapture. Thus he dwells in all,

From life’s minute beginnings, up at last

To man — the consummation of this scheme

Of being, the completion of this sphere

Of life: whose attributes had here and there

Been scattered o’er the visible world before,

Asking to be combined, dim fragments meant

To be united in some wondrous whole,

Imperfect qualities throughout creation,

Suggesting some one creature yet to make,

Some point where all those scattered rays should meet

Convergent in the faculties of man.

Power — neither put forth blindly, nor controlled

Calmly by perfect knowledge; to be used

At risk, inspired or checked by hope and fear:

Knowledge — not intuition, but the slow

Uncertain fruit of an enhancing toil,

Strengthened by love: love — not serenely pure,

But strong from weakness, like a chance-sown plant

Which, cast on stubborn soil, puts forth changed buds

And softer stains, unknown in happier climes;

Love which endures and doubts and is oppressed

And cherished, suffering much and much sustained,

And blind, oft-failing, yet believing love,

A half-enlightened, often-chequered trust:—

Hints and previsions of which faculties,

Are strewn confusedly everywhere about

The inferior natures, and all lead up higher,

All shape out dimly the superior race,

The heir of hopes too fair to turn out false,

And man appears at last. So far the seal

Is put on life; one stage of being complete,

One scheme wound up: and from the grand result

A supplementary reflux of light,

Illustrates all the inferior grades, explains

Each back step in the circle. Not alone

For their possessor dawn those qualities,

But the new glory mixes with the heaven

And earth; man, once descried, imprints for ever

His presence on all lifeless things: the winds

Are henceforth voices, wailing or a shout,

A querulous mutter or a quick gay laugh,

Never a senseless gust now man is born.

The herded pines commune and have deep thoughts

A secret they assemble to discuss

When the sun drops behind their trunks which glare

Like grates of hell: the peerless cup afloat

Of the lake-lily is an urn, some nymph

Swims bearing high above her head: no bird

Whistles unseen, but through the gaps above

That let light in upon the gloomy woods,

A shape peeps from the breezy forest-top,

Arch with small puckered mouth and mocking eye.

The morn has enterprise, deep quiet droops

With evening, triumph takes the sunset hour,

Voluptuous transport ripens with the corn

Beneath a warm moon like a happy face:

— And this to fill us with regard for man.

With apprehension of his passing worth,

Desire to work his proper nature out,

And ascertain his rank and final place,

For these things tend still upward, progress is

The law of life, man is not Man as yet.

Nor shall I deem his object served, his end

Attained, his genuine strength put fairly forth,

While only here and there a star dispels

The darkness, here and there a towering mind

O’erlooks its prostrate fellows: when the host

Is out at once to the despair of night,

When all mankind alike is perfected,

Equal in full-blown powers — then, not till then,

I say, begins man’s general infancy.

For wherefore make account of feverish starts

Of restless members of a dormant whole,

Impatient nerves which quiver while the body

Slumbers as in a grave? Oh long ago

The brow was twitched, the tremulous lids astir,

The peaceful mouth disturbed; half-uttered speech

Ruffled the lip, and then the teeth were set,

The breath drawn sharp, the strong right-hand clenched stronger,

As it would pluck a lion by the jaw;

The glorious creature laughed out even in sleep!

But when full roused, each giant-limb awake,

Each sinew strung, the great heart pulsing fast,

He shall start up and stand on his own earth,

Then shall his long triumphant march begin,

Thence shall his being date — thus wholly roused,

What he achieves shall be set down to him.

When all the race is perfected alike

As man, that is; all tended to mankind,

And, man produced, all has its end thus far:

But in completed man begins anew

A tendency to God. Prognostics told

Man’s near approach; so in man’s self arise

August anticipations, symbols, types

Of a dim splendour ever on before

In that eternal circle life pursues.

For men begin to pass their nature’s bound,

And find new hopes and cares which fast supplant

Their proper joys and griefs; they grow too great

For narrow creeds of right and wrong, which fade

Before the unmeasured thirst for good: while peace

Rises within them ever more and more.

Such men are even now upon the earth,

Serene amid the half-formed creatures round

Who should be saved by them and joined with them.

Such was my task, and I was born to it —

Free, as I said but now, from much that chains

Spirits, high-dowered but limited and vexed

By a divided and delusive aim,

A shadow mocking a reality

Whose truth avails not wholly to disperse

The flitting mimic called up by itself,

And so remains perplexed and nigh put out

By its fantastic fellow’s wavering gleam.

I, from the first, was never cheated thus;

I never fashioned out a fancied good

Distinct from man’s; a service to be done,

A glory to be ministered unto

With powers put forth at man’s expense, withdrawn

From labouring in his behalf; a strength

Denied that might avail him. I cared not

Lest his success ran counter to success

Elsewhere: for God is glorified in man,

And to man’s glory vowed I soul and limb.

Yet, constituted thus, and thus endowed,

I failed: I gazed on power till I grew blind.

Power; I could not take my eyes from that:

That only, I thought, should be preserved, increased

At any risk, displayed, struck out at once-

The sign and note and character of man.

I saw no use in the past: only a scene

Of degradation, ugliness and tears,

The record of disgraces best forgotten,

A sullen page in human chronicles

Fit to erase. I saw no cause why man

Should not stand all-sufficient even now,

Or why his annals should be forced to tell

That once the tide of light, about to break

Upon the world, was sealed within its spring:

I would have had one day, one moment’s space,

Change man’s condition, push each slumbering claim

Of mastery o’er the elemental world

At once to full maturity, then roll

Oblivion o’er the work, and hide from man

What night had ushered morn. Not so, dear child

Of after-days, wilt thou reject the past

Big with deep warnings of the proper tenure

By which thou hast the earth: for thee the present

Shall have distinct and trembling beauty, seen

Beside that past’s own shade when, in relief,

Its brightness shall stand out: nor yet on thee

Shall burst the future, as successive zones

Of several wonder open on some spirit

Flying secure and glad from heaven to heaven:

But thou shalt painfully attain to joy,

While hope and fear and love shall keep thee man!

All this was hid from me: as one by one

My dreams grew dim, my wide aims circumscribed,

As actual good within my reach decreased,

While obstacles sprung up this way and that

To keep me from effecting half the sum,

Small as it proved; as objects, mean within

The primal aggregate, seemed, even the least,

Itself a match for my concentred strength —

What wonder if I saw no way to shun

Despair? The power I sought for man, seemed God’s.

In this conjuncture, as I prayed to die,

A strange adventure made me know, one sin

Had spotted my career from its uprise;

I saw Aprile — my Aprile there!

And as the poor melodious wretch disburthened

His heart, and moaned his weakness in my ear,

I learned my own deep error; love’s undoing

Taught me the worth of love in man’s estate,

And what proportion love should hold with power

In his right constitution; love preceding

Power, and with much power, always much more love;

Love still too straitened in his present means,

And earnest for new power to set love free.

I learned this, and supposed the whole was learned:

And thus, when men received with stupid wonder

My first revealings, would have worshipped me,

And I despised and loathed their proffered praise —

When, with awakened eyes, they took revenge

For past credulity in casting shame

On my real knowledge, and I hated them —

It was not strange I saw no good in man,

To overbalance all the wear and waste

Of faculties, displayed in vain, but born

To prosper in some better sphere: and why?

In my own heart love had not been made wise

To trace love’s faint beginnings in mankind,

To know even hate is but a mask of love’s,

To see a good in evil, and a hope

In ill-success; to sympathize, be proud

Of their half-reasons, faint aspirings, dim

Struggles for truth, their poorest fallacies,

Their prejudice and fears and cares and doubts;

All with a touch of nobleness, despite

Their error, upward tending all though weak,

Like plants in mines which never saw the sun,

But dream of him, and guess where he may be,

And do their best to climb and get to him.

All this I knew not, and I failed. Let men

Regard me, and the poet dead long ago

Who loved too rashly; and shape forth a third

And better-tempered spirit, warned by both:

As from the over-radiant star too mad

To drink the life-springs, beamless thence itself —

And the dark orb which borders the abyss,

Ingulfed in icy night — might have its course

A temperate and equidistant world.

Meanwhile, I have done well, though not all well.

As yet men cannot do without contempt;

’T is for their good, and therefore fit awhile

That they reject the weak, and scorn the false,

Rather than praise the strong and true, in me:

But after, they will know me. If I stoop

Into a dark tremendous sea of cloud,

It is but for a time; I press God’s lamp

Close to my breast; its splendour, soon or late,

Will pierce the gloom: I shall emerge one day.

You understand me? I have said enough?


Now die, dear Aureole!


           Festus, let my hand —

This hand, lie in your own, my own true friend!

Aprile! Hand in hand with you, Aprile!


And this was Paracelsus!

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