Paracelsus, by Robert Browning

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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The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50