Page images
PDF

Their specious deeds on earth, which glory excites,
Or close ambition, varnished o'er with zeal.
Thus they their doubtful consultations dark
Ended, rejoicing in their matchless chief:
As when from mountain tops the dusky clouds
Ascending, while the northwind sleeps, o'erspread
Heaven's cheerful face, the lowering element
Scowls o'er the darkened landscape snow, or
shower;
If chance the radiant sun with farewell sweet
Extend his evening beam, the fields revive,
The birds their notes renew, and bleating herds
Attest their joy, that hill and valley rings.
O shame to men! devil with devil damned
Firm concord holds; men only disagree
Of creatures rational, though under hope
Of heavenly grace: and, God proclaiming peace,
Yet live in hatred, enmity, and strife
Among themselves, and level cruel wars,
Wasting the earth, each other to destroy:
As if (which might induce us to accord)
Man had not hellish foes enow besides,
That day and night for his destruction wait.
The Stygian council thus dissolved; and forth
In order came the grand infernal peers:
Midst came their mighty Paramount, and seemed
Alone the antagonist of heaven, nor less
Than hell's dread emperor, with pomp supreme,
And godlike imitated state: him round,
A globe of fiery seraphim enclosed
With bright emblazonry, and horrent arms.
Then of their session ended they bid cry
With trumpets regal sound the great result:
Towards the four winds four speedy cherubim
Put to their mouths the sounding alchemy,
By herald's voice explained; the hollow abyss
Heard far and wide, and all the host of hell
With deafening shout returned them loud acclaim.
Thence more at ease their minds, and somewhat
raised
By false presumptuous hope, the ranged powers
Disband, and, wandering each his several way
Pursues, as inclination or sad choice
Leads him perplexed, where he may likeliest find
Truce to his restless thoughts, and entertain
The irksome hours, till his great chief return.
Part on the plain, or in the air sublime,
Upon the wing, or in swift race contend,
As at the Olympian games or Pythian fields:
Part curb their fiery steeds, or shun the goal
With rapid wheels, or fronted brigades form,
As when, to warn proud cities, war appears
Waged in the troubled sky, and armies rush
To battle in the clouds, before each van
Prick forth the airy knights, and couch their
spears
Till thickest legions close; with feats of arms
From either end of heaven the welkin burns.
Others, with vast Typhoean rage more fell,

Rend up both rocks and hills, and ride the air
In whirlwind, hell scarce holds the wild uproar.
As when Alcides, from OEchalia crowned
With conquest, felt th' envenomed robe, and tore
Through pain up by the roots Thessalian pines,
And Lichas from the top of CEta threw
Into th’ Euobic sea. Others, more mild,
Retreated in a silent valley, sing
With notes angelical to many a harp
Their own heroic deed and hapless fall
By doom of battle; and complain that sate
Free virtue should inthral to force or chance.
Their song was partial, but the harmony
(What could it less when spirits immortal sing )
Suspended hell, and took with ravishment
The thronging audience. In discourse more sweet
(For eloquence the soul, song charms the sense)
Others apart sat on a hill retired,
In thoughts more elevate, and reasoned high
Of providence, foreknowledge, will, and fate;
Fixed fate, free will, foreknowledge absolute;
And found no end, in wandering mazes lost.
Of good and evil much they argued then,
Of happiness and final misery,
Passion and apathy, and glory and shame;
Wain wisdom all, and false philosophy!
Yet with a pleasing sorcery could charm
Pain for a while or anguish, and excite
Fallacious hope, or arm the obdured breast
With stubborn patience as with triple steel.
Another part in squadrons and gross bands,
On bold adventure to discover wide
That dismal world, if any clime perhaps
Might yield them easier habitation, bend
Four ways their flying march, along the banks
Of four infernal rivers, that disgorge
Into the burning lake their baleful streams:
Abhorred Styx, the flood of deadly hate;
Sad Acheron, of sorrow, black and deep;
Cocytus, named of lamentation loud
Heard on the rueful stream; fierce Phlegethon,
Whose waves of torrent fire inflame with rage.
Far off from these, a slow and silent stream,
Lethe, the river of oblivion, rolls
Her watery labyrinth, whereof who drinks,
Forthwith his former state and being forgets,
Forgets both joy and grief, pleasure and pain.
Beyond this flood a frozen continent
Lies dark and wild, beat with perpetual storms
Of whirlwind, and dire hail, which on firm land
Thaws not, but gathers heap, and ruin seems
Of ancient pile; all else deep snow and ice,
A gulf profound, as that Serbonian bog
Betwixt Damiata and mount Casius old,
Where armies whole have sunk: the parching an
Burns frore, and cold performs the effect of fire.
Thither, by harpy-footed furies haled,
At certain revolutions, all the damned

Are brought; and feel by turns the bitter change

Of fierce extremes, extremes by change more fierce,
From beds of raging fire, to starve in ice
Their soft ethereal warmth, and there to pine
Immoveable, infixed, and frozen round,
Periods of time, thence hurried back to fire.
They ferry over this Lethean sound
Both to and fro, their sorrow to augment,
And wish and struggle, as they pass, to reach
The tempting stream, with one small drop to lose
In sweet forgetfulness all pain and wo,
All in one moment, and so near the brink;
But Fate withstands, and to oppose the attempt
Medusa with Gorgonian terror guards
The ford, and of itself the water flies
All taste of living wight, as once it fled
The lip of Tantalus. Thus roving on
In confused march forlorn, the advent'rous bands,
With shuddering horror pale, and eyes aghast,
Viewed first their lamentable lot, and found
No rest: through many a dark and dreary vale
They passed, and many a region dolorous,
O'er many a frozen, many a fiery Alp,
Rocks, caves, lakes, fens, bogs, dens, and shades
of death,
A universe of death, which God by curse
Created evil, for evil only good,
Where all life dies, death lives, and nature breeds,
Perverse, all monstrous, all prodigious things,
Abominable, inutterable, and worse
Than sables yet have feigned, or fear conceived,
Gorgons, and Hydras, and Chimeras dire.
Meanwhile the adversary of God and man,
Satan, with thoughts inflamed of highest design,
Puts on swift wings, and towards the gates of hell
Explores his solitary flight: sometimes
He scours the right hand coast, sometimes the left.
Now shaves with level wing the deep, then soars
Up to the fiery concave towering high.
As when far off at sea a fleet descried
Hangs in the clouds by equinoctial winds
Close sailing from Bengala, or the isles
Of Ternate and Tidore, whence merchants bring
Their spicy drugs; they, on the trading flood,
Through the wide Ethiopian to the Cape,
Ply stemming nightly towards the pole: so seemed
Far off the flying fiend. At last appear
Hell bounds, high reaching to the horrid roof,
And thrice threefold the gates: three folds were
brass,
Three iron, three of adamantine rock
Impenetrable, impaled with circling fire,
Yet unconsumed. Before the gates there sat
On either side a formidable shape;
The one seemed woman to the waist, and fair,
But ended foul in many a scaly fold
Voluminous and vast, a serpent armed
With mortal sting; about her middle round
A cry of hell-hounds, never ceasing, barked
With wide Cerberean mouths full loud, and rung

A hideous peal; yet, when they list, would creep, If aught disturbed their noise, into her womb, And kennel there; yet there still barked and howled, Within unseen. Far less abhorred than these Vexed Scylla, bathing in the sea that parts Calabria from the hoarse Trinacrian shore: Nor uglier follow the nighthag, when, called In secret, riding through the air she comes, Lured with the smell of infant blood, to dance With Lapland witches, while the lab’ring moon Eclipses at their charms. The other shape, If shape it might be called that shape had none Distinguishable in member, joint, or limb; Or substance might be called that shadow seemed; For each seemed either; black it stood as night, Fierce as ten furies, terrible as Hell, And shook a dreadful dart; what seemed his head The likeness of a kingly crown had on. Satan was now at hand; and from his seat The monster, moving onward, came as fast With horrid strides; hell trembled as he strode. The undaunted fiend what this might be admired, Admired, not feared: God and his Son except, Created thing naught valued he, nor shunned; And with disdainful look thus first began. “Whence and what art thou, execrable shape! That dares, though grim and terrible, advance Thy miscreated front athwart my way To yonder gates? through them I mean to pass, That be assured, without leave asked of thee: Retire, or taste thy folly; and learn by proof, Hell-born! not to contend with spirits of Heaven.” To whom the goblin, full of wrath, replied, “Art thou that traitor angel, art thou he, Who firstbroke peace in heaven, and faith, till then Unbroken, and in proud rebellious arms Drew after him the third part of Heaven's sons Conjured against the Highest, for which both thou And they, outcast from God, are here condemned To waste eternal days, in wo and pain? And reckonest thou thyself with spirits of heaven, Hell-doomed ! and breathest defiance here and scorn, Where I reign king, and, to enrage thee more, Thy king and lord? Back to thy punishment, False fugitives and to thy speed add wings, Lest with a whip of scorpions I pursue Thy lingering, or with one stroke of this dart Strange horror seize thee, and pangs unfelt before.' So spake the grisly terror, and in shape, So speaking and so threatening, grew tensold More dreadful and deformed: on the other side, Incensed with indignation, Satan stood Unterrified, and like a comet burned, That fires the length of Ophiuchus huge In the arctic sky, and from his horrid hair Shakes pestilence and war. Each at the head Levelled his deadly aim; their fatal hands

No second stroke intend; and such a frown
Each cast at the other, as when two black clouds,
With heaven's artillery fraught, come rattling on
Over the Caspian, then stand front to front
Hovering a space, till winds the signal blow
To join their dark encounter in mid air:
So frowned the mighty combatants, that hell
Grew darker at their frown; so matched they stood;
For never but once more was either like
To meet so great a foe: and now great deeds
Had been achieved, whereof all hell had rung,
Had not the snaky sorceress that sat
Fast by hell gate, and kept the fatal key,
Risen, and with hideous outcry rushed between.
“O father! what intends thy hand,” she cried,
“Against thy only son! What fury, O son!
Possesses thee to bend that mortal dart
Against thy father's head! and knowest for whom?
For him who sits above and laughs the while
At thee ordained his drudge, to execute
Whate'er his wrath, which he calls justice, bids;
His wrath which will one day destroy ye both.”
She spake, and at her words the hellish pest
Forebore; then these to her Satan returned.
“So strange thy outcry, and thy words so
strange
Thou interposest, that my sudden hand,
Prevented, spares to tell thee yet by deeds
What it intends! till first I know of thee,
What thing thou art, thus double-formed, and why,
In this infernal vale first met, thou call'st
Me father, and that phantasm call'st my son;
I know thee not, nor ever saw till now
Sight more detestable than him and thee.'
To whom thus the portress of hell-gate replied:
“Hast thou forgotten me then, and do I seem
Now in thine eyes so foul? once deemed so fair
In Heaven, when at the assembly, and in sight
Of all the seraphim with thee combined
In bold conspiracy against Heaven's King,
All on a sudden miserable pain
Surprised thee, dim thine eyes, and dizzy swam
In darkness, while thy head flames thick and fast
Threw forth, till on the left side opening wide,
Likest to thee in shape and countenance bright,
Then shining heavenly fair, a goddess armed,
Out of thy head I sprung: amazement seized
All the host of Heaven; back they recoiled, afraid
At first, and called me Sin, and for a sign
Portentous held me; but, familiar grown,
I pleased, and with attractive graces won
The most averse, thee chiefly, who full oft,
Thyself in me thy perfect image viewing,
Becam'st enamoured, and such joy thou took'st
With me in secret, that my womb conceived
A growing burden. Meanwhile war arose,
And fields were fought in Heaven; wherein re-
mained
(For what could else?) to our Almighty Foe

Clear victory, to our part loss and rout
Through all the empyrean: down they fell,
Driven headlong from the pitch of Heaven, down
Into this deep, and in the general fall
I also; at which time this powerful key
Into my hand was given, with charge to keep
These gates for ever shut, which none can pass
Without my opening. Pensive here I sat
Alone: but long I sat not, till my womb,
Pregnant by thee, and now excessive grown
Prodigious motion felt, and rueful throes,
At last this odious offspring whom thou seest,
Thine own begotten, breaking violent way,
Tore through my entrails, that with fear and pain
Distorted, all my nether shape thus grew
Transformed; but he my inbred enemy
Forth issued, brandishing his fatal dart,
Made to destroy: I fled, and cried out Death 1
Hell trembled at the hideous name, and sighed
From all her caves, and back resounded Death!
I fled; but he pursued, (though more it seems,
Inflamed with lust than rage,) and swifter far,
Me overtook, his mother, all dismayed,
And, in embraces forcible and foul
Engendering with me, of that rape begot
These yelling monsters, that with ceaseless cry
Surrounded me, as thou sawest, hourly conceived
And hourly born, with sorrow infinite
To me; for when they list, into the womb
That bred them they return, and howl and gnaw
My bowels, their repast; then, bursting forth
Afresh, with conscious terrors vex me round,
That rest or intermission none I find.
Before mine eyes in opposition sits
Grim Death, my son and foe, who sets them on,
And me his parent would full soon devour
For want of other prey, but that he knows
His end with mine involved; and knows that I
Should prove a bitter morsel, and his bane,
Whenever that shall be; so fate pronounced.
But thou, O father! I forewarn thee, shun
His deadly arrow; neither vainly hope
To be invulnerable in those bright arms,
Though tempered heavenly; for that mortal dint,
Save he who reigns above, none can resist.”
She finished, and the subtle fiend his lore
Soon learn'd, now milder, and thus answered
smooth.
“Dear daughter! since thou claim'st me for thy
sire,
And my fair son here show'st me, the dear pledge
Of dalliance, had with thee in Heaven, and joys
Then sweet, now sad to mention, through dire
change
Befallen us, unforeseen, unthought of; know,
I come no enemy, but to set free
From out this dark and dismal house of pain
Both him and thee, and all the heavenly host
Of spirits, that, in our just pretences armed

Fell with us from on high: from them I go
This uncouth errand sole, and one for all
Myself expose, with lonely steps to tread
Th’ unfounded deep, and through the void im-
mense
To search with wandering quest a place foretold
Should be, and, by concurring signs, ere now
Created vast and round, a place of bliss
In the purlieus of Heaven, and therein placed
A race of upstart creatures, to supply
Perhaps our vacant room, though more removed,
Lest Heaven, surcharged with potent multitude,
Might hap to move new broils: be this or aught
Than this more secret now designed, I haste
To know, and this once known, shall soon return,
And bring ye to the place where thou and Death
Shall dwell at ease, and up and down unseen
Wing silently the buxom air, embalmed
With odours; there ye shall be fed and filled
Immeasurably, all things shall be your prey.”
He ceased, for both seemed highly pleased, and
Death
Grinned horribly a ghastly smile, to hear
His famine should be filled, and blest his maw
Destined to that good hour: no less rejoiced
His mother bad, and thus bespake her sire.
“The key of this infernal pit by due,
And by command of Heaven's all powerful King,
I keep, by him forbidden to unlock
These adamantine gates; against all force
Death ready stands to interpose his dart,
Fearless to be o'ermatched by living might.
But what owe I to his commands above
Who hates me, and hath hither thrust me down
Into the gloom of Tartarus profound,
To sit in hateful office here confined,
Inhabitant of heaven, and heavenly born,
Here in perpetual agony and pain,
With terrors and with clamours compassed round
Of mine own brood, that on my bowels feed?
Thou art my father, thou my author, thou
My being gavest me; whom should I obey
But thee, whom follow? thou wilt bring me soon
To that new world of light and bliss, among
The gods who live at ease, where I shall reign
At thy right hand voluptuous, as beseems
Thy daughter and thy darling, without end.”
Thus saying, from her side the fatal key,
Sad instrument of all our wo, she took;
And, towards the gate rolling her bestial train,
Forthwith the huge portcullis high up drew,
Which, but herself, not all the Stygian powers
Could once have moved: then in the keyhole
turns
Th' intricate wards, and every bolt and bar
Of massy iron or solid rock with ease
Unfastens: on a sudden open fly,
With impetuous recoil and jarring sound,
Th’ infernal doors, and on their hinges grate

Harsh thunder; that the lowest bottom shook
Of Erebus. She opened, but to shut
Excelled her power; the gates wide open stood,
That with extended wings a bannered host,
Under spread ensigns marching, might pass
through
With horse and chariots ranked in loose array;
So wide they stood, and like a furnace mouth
Cast forth redounding smoke and ruddy flame.
Before their eyes in sudden view appear
The secrets of the hoary deep, a dark
Illimitable ocean, without bound,
Without dimension; where length, breadth, and
heighth,
And time, and place are lost; where eldest Night
And Chaos, ancestors of Nature, hold
Eternal anarchy, amidst the noise
Of endless wars, and by confusion stand.
For hot, cold, moist, and dry, four champions
fierce,
Strive here for mastery, and to battle bring
Their embryon atoms; they around the flag
Of each his faction, in their several clans,
Light armed or heavy, sharp, smooth, swift, or
slow,
Swarm populous, unnumbered as the sands
Of Barca or Cyrene's torrid soil,
Levied to side with warring winds, and poise
Their lighter wings. To whom these most adhere,
He rules a moment: Chaos umpire sits,
And by decision more embroils the fray,
By which he reigns; next him high arbiter
Chance governs all. Into this wild abyss,
The womb of nature, and perhaps her grave,
Of neither sea, nor shore, nor air, nor fire,
But all these in their pregnant causes mixed
Confusedly, and which thus must ever fight,
Unless the almighty Maker them ordain
His dark materials to create more worlds;
Into this wild abyss the wary fiend
Stood on the brink of hell, and looked a while,
Pondering his voyage; for no narrow frith
He had to cross. Nor was his ear less pealed
With noises loud and ruinous (to compare
Great things with small) than when Bellona
storms,
With all her battering engines bent to raze
Some capital city; or less than if this frame
Of Heaven were falling, and these elements
In mutiny had from her axle torn
The steadfast earth. At last his sail-broad vans
He spreads for flight, and in the surging smoke
Uplifted spurns the ground; thence many a league
As in a cloudy chair, ascending rides
Audacious; but, that seat soon falling, meets
A vast vacuity: all unawares,
Fluttering his pennons vain, plump down he drops
Ten thousand fathom deep; and to this hour
Down had been falling, had not by ill chance

[ocr errors]

The strong rebuff of some tumultuous cloud,
Instinct with fire and nitre, hurried him
As many miles aloft: that fury stayed,
Quenched in a boggy Syrtis, neither sea
Nor good dry land: nigh foundered, on he fares,
Treading the crude consistence, half on foot,
Half flying; behuoves him now both oar and sail.
As when a gryphon, through the wilderness
With winged course, o'er hill or moory dale,
Pursues the Arimaspian, who by stealth
Had from his wakeful custody purloined
The guarded gold: so eagerly the fiend
O'er bog, or steep, through strait, rough, dense, or
rare,
With head, hands, wings, or feet pursues his way,
And swims, or sinks, or wades, or creeps, or flies:
At length a universal hubbub wild
Of stunning sounds, and voices all confused,
Borne through the hollow dark, assaults his ear
With loudest vehemence: thither he plies,
Undaunted to meet there whatever power
Or spirit of the nethermost abyss
Might in that noise reside, of whom to ask
Which way the nearest coast of darkness lies
Bordering on light; when straight behold the
throne
Of Chaos, and his dark pavilion spread
Wide on the wasteful deep; with him enthroned
Sat sable vested Night, eldest of things,
The consort of his reign; and by them stood
Orcus and Ades, and the dreaded name
Of Demogorgon; Rumour next, and Chance,
And Tumult, and Confusion, all embroiled,
And Discord with a thousand various mouths.
To whom Satan, turning boldly, thus, “Ye powers
And spirits of this nethermost abyss,
Chaos and ancient night! I come no spy,
With purpose to explore or to disturb
The secrets of your realm; but, by constraint
Wandering this darksome desert, as my way
Lies through your spacious empire up to light,
Alone, and without guide, half lost, I seek
What readiest path leads where your gloomy
bounds
Confine with Heaven; or if some other place,
From your dominion won, th’ethereal King
Possesses lately, thither to arrive
I travel this profound: direct my course;
Directed, no mean recompense it brings
To your behoof, if I that region lost,
All usurpation thence expelled reduce,
To her original darkness, and your sway,
(Which is my present journey,) and once more
Erect the standard there of ancient night:
Yours be th' advantage all, mine the revenge.”
Thus Satan; and him thus the Anarch old,
With faltering speech and visage incomposed
Answered, “I know thee, stranger! who thou art,
That mighty fins angel, who # late

Made head against Heaven's King, though over-
thrown.
I saw and heard; for such a numerous host
Fled not in silence through the frighted deep,
With ruin upon ruin, rout on rout,
Confusion worse confounded; and Heaven gates

Poured out by millions her victorious bands

Pursuing. I upon my frontiers here
Keep residence; if all I can will serve
That little which is left so to defend,
Encroached on still through your intestine broils,
Weakening the sceptre of old Night: first hell,
Your dungeon, stretching far and wide beneath;
Now lately Heaven and Earth, another world,
Hung o'er my realm, linked in a golden chain
To that side Heaven from whence your legions fell:
If that way be your walk, you have not far;
So much the nearer danger; go, and speed!
Havoc, and spoil, and ruin are my gain.”
He ceased; and Satan stayed not to reply,
But, glad that now his sea should find a shore,
With fresh alacrity and force renewed,
Springs upward, like a pyramid of fire,
Into the wild expanse, and through the shock
Of fighting elements, on all sides round
Environed, wins his way; harder beset,
And more endangered, than when Argo passed
Through Bosphorus, betwixt the justling rocks;
Or when Ulysses on the larboard shunned
Charybdis, and by the other whirlpool steered.
So he with difficulty and labour hard
Moved on, with difficulty and labour he:
But, he once past, soon after, when man fell,
Strange alteration Sin and Death amain
Following his track, such was the will of Heaven,
Paved after him a broad and beaten way
Over the dark abyss, whose boiling gulf
Tamely endured a bridge of wondrous length,
From hell continued, reaching the utmost orb
Of this frail world; by which the spirits perverse
With easy intercourse pass to and fro
To tempt or punish mortals, except whom
God and good angels guard by special grace.
But now at last the sacred influence
Of light appears, and from the walls of Heaven
Shoots far into the bosom of dim night
A glimmering dawn: here Nature first begins
Her farthest verge, and Chaos to retire,
As from her outmost works a broken foe,
With tumult less, and with less hostile din:
That Satan with less toil, and now with ease,
Wasts on the calmer wave by dubious light,
And, like a weatherbeaten vessel, holds
Gladly the port; though shrouds and tackle torn;
Or in the emptier waste, resembling air,
weighs his spread wings, at leisure to behold
Far off the empyreal Heaven, extended wide
In circuit, undetermined square or round,

With opal towers and battlements adorned

« PreviousContinue »