Page images
PDF
EPUB

Twilight upon the earth, short arbiter
'Twixt day and night, and now, from end to end,
Night's hemisphere had veiled the horizon round:
When Satan, who late fled before the threats
Of Gabriel out of Eden, now improved
In meditated fraud and malice, bent
On Man's destruction, maugre what might hap
Of heavier on himself, fearless returned.
By night he fled, and at midnight returned
From compassing the earth; cautious of day,
Since Uriel, regent of the sun, descried
His entrance, and forewarned the Cherubim
That kept their watch: thence full of anguish

driven,
The space of seven continued nights he rode
With darkness; thrice the equinoctial line
He circled; four times crossed the car of night
From pole to pole, travérsing each colure;
On the eighth returned ; and, on the coast averse
From entrance or Cherubick watch, by stealth
Found unsuspected way. There was a place,
Now not (though sin, not time, first wrought the

change) Where Tigris, at the foot of Paradise, Into a gulf shot under-ground, till part Rose up a fountain by the tree of life: In with the river sunk, and with it rose Satan, involved in rising mist; then sought Where to lie hid : sea he had searched, and land, From Eden over Pontus, and the pool Mæotis, up beyond the river Ob;

Downward as far antarctick; and in length,
West from Orontes, to the ocean barred
At Darien ; thence to the land where flows
Ganges and Indus: thus the orb he roamed
With narrow search ; and with inspection deep
Considered every creature, which of all
Most opportune might serve his wiles; and found
The Serpent, subtlest beast of all the field.
Him, after long debate, (irresolute
Of thoughts revolved) his final sentence chose
Fit vessel, fittest imp of fraud, in whom
To enter, and his dark suggestions hide
From sharpest sight: for, in the wily snake
Whatever sleights, none would suspicious mark,
As from his wit and native subtlety
Proceeding; which, in other beasts observed,
Doubt might beget of diabolick power
Active within, beyond the sense of brute.
Thus he resolved, but first from inward grief
His bursting passion into plaints thus poured.

O Earth, how like to Heaven, if not preferred
More justly, seat worthier of Gods, as built
With second thoughts, reforming what was old !
For what God, after better, worse would build ?
Terrestrial Heaven, danced round by other Heavens
That shine, yet bear their bright officious lamps,
Light above light, for thee alone, as seems,
In thee concentring all their precious beams
Of sacred influence! As God in Heaven
Is centre, yet extends to all; so thou,
Centring, receiv’st from all those orbs : in thee,

Not in themselves, all their known virtue appears
Productive in herb, plant, and nobler birth
Of creatures animate with gradual life,
Of growth, sense, reason, all summed up in Man.
With what delight could I have walked thee round,
If I could joy in aught; sweet interchange
Of hill, and valley, rivers, woods, and plains !
Now land, now sea, and shores with forests crowned,
Rocks, dens, and caves ! But I in none of these
Find place or refuge; and the more I see
Pleasures about me, so much more I feel
Torment within me, as from the hateful siege
Of contraries : all good to me becomes
Bane, and in Heaven much worse would be my state.
But neither here seek I, no nor in Heaven
To dwell, unless by mastering Heaven's Supreme;
Nor hope to be myself less miserable
By what I seek, but others to make such
As I, though thereby worse to me redound:
For only in destroying I find ease
To my relentless thoughts; and, him destroyed,
Or won to what may work his utter loss,
For whom all this was made; all this will soon
Follow, as to him linked in weal or woe:
In woe then ! that destruction wide may range:
To me shall be the glory sole among
The infernal Powers, in one day to have marred
What he, Almighty styled, six nights and days
Continued making; and who knows how long
Before had been contriving? though perhaps
Not longer than since I, in one night, freed

From servitude inglorious well nigh half
The angelick name, and thinner left the throng
Of His adorers : He, to be avenged,
And to repair his numbers thus impaired,
Whether such virtue spent of old now failed
More Angels to create, if they at least
Are his created, or, to spite us more,
Determined to advance into our room
A creature formed of earth, and him endow,
(Exalted from so base original)
With heavenly spoils, our spoils : what he decreed,
He effected ; Man he made, and for him built
Magnificent this world, and earth his seat,
Him lord pronounced ; and, O indignity!
Subjected to his service angel-wings,
And flaming ministers, to watch and tend
Their earthy charge : of these the vigilance
I dread ; and, to elude, thus wrapt in mist
Of midnight vapour glide obscure, and pry
In every bush and brake, where hap may find
The serpent sleeping ; in whose mazy folds
To hide me, and the dark intent I bring.
O foul descent! that I, who erst contended
With Gods to sit the highest, am now constrained
Into a beast; and, mixed with bestial slime,
This essence to incarnate and imbrute,
That to the heighth of Deity aspired!
But what will not ambition and revenge
Descend to? Who aspires, must down as low
As high he soared; obnoxious, first or last,
To basest things. Revenge, at first though sweet,
Bitter ere long, back on itself recoils :
Let it ; I reck not, so it light well aimed ;
Since higher I fall short, on him who next
Provokes my envy, this new favourite
Of Heaven, this man of clay, son of despite,
Whom, us the more to spite, his Maker raised
From dust : spite then with spite is best repaid.

So saying, through each thicket, dank or dry,
Like a black mist low-creeping, he held on
His midnight search, where soonest he might find
The serpent : him fast-sleeping soon he found
In labyrinth of many a round self-rolled;
His head the mist, well stored with subtle wiles :
Not yet in horrid shade or dismal den,
Nor nocent yet; but, on the grassy herb,
Fearless unfeared he slept : in at his mouth
The Devil entered; and his brutal sense,
In heart or head, possessing, soon inspired
With act intelligential; but his sleep
Disturbed not, waiting close the approach of morn.

Now, when as sacred light began to dawn In Eden on the humid flowers, that breathed Their morning incense, when all things that breathe, From the Earth's great altar send up silent praise To the Creator, and his nostrils fill With grateful smell, forth came the human pair, And joined their vocal worship to the quire Of creatures wanting voice; that done, partake The season, prime for sweetest scents and airs : Then commune, how that day they best may ply: Their growing work : for much their work outgrew

« PreviousContinue »