Niblets from Manfred
I read Byron's drama this evening, for the first time, and was moved by (just) a few lines which I shall reproduce here:
Sorrow is knowledge: they who know the most
Must mourn the deepest o'er the fatal truth,
The Tree of Knowledge is not that of Life (I.10-11).
The Preacher's sentiment, well put.
Which had its birthplace in a star condemn'd,
The burning wreck of a demolish'd world,
A wandering hell in the eternal space (I.43-46).
Yet there was one--. . .
She was like me in lineaments-- her eyes
Her hair, her features, all, to the very tone
Even of her voice, they said were like to mine;
But soften'd all, and temper'd into beauty;
She had the same lone thoughts and wanderings,
The quest of hidden knowledge, and a mind
To comprehend the universe: nor these
Alone, but with them gentler powers than mine,
Pity, and smiles, and tears-- which I had not;
And tenderness-- but that I had for her;
Humility-- and that I never had.
Her faults were mine-- her virtues were her own--
I loved her, and destroy'd her! . . .
Not with my hand, but heart-- which broke her heart;
It gazed on mine, and wither'd. I have shed
Blood, but not hers-- and yet her blood was shed--
I saw, and could not stanch it (II.198-215).
Aye, if only the Gretchen we seek were a fellow intellectual. :(
l was detain'd repairing shattered thrones,
Marrying fools, restoring dynasties,
Avenging men upon their enemies,
And making them repent their own revenge;
Goading the wise to madness, from the dull
Shaping out oracles to rule the world
Afresh, for they were waxing out of date,
And mortals dared to ponder for themselves,
To weigh kings in the balance, and to speak
Of freedom, the forbidden fruit. (II.360-369).
Have been beyond the dwellers of the earth,
And they have only taught him what we know--
That knowledge is not happiness, and science
But an exchange of ignorance for that
Which is another kind of ignorance (II.428-433).
Old man! there is no power in holy men,
Nor charm in prayer, nor purifying form
Of penitence, nor outward look, nor fast,
Nor agony, nor, greater than all these,
The innate tortures of that deep despair
Which is remorse without the fear of hell
But all in all sufficient to itself
Would make a hell of heaven,-- can exorcise
From out the unbounded spirit, the quick sense
Of its own sins, wrongs, sufferance, and revenge
Upon itself; there is no future pang
Can deal that justice on the self-condemn'd
He deals on his own soul (III.66-78).
Another Faustian sentiment.
Glorious Orb! the idol
Of early nature, and the vigorous race
Of undiseased mankind the giant sons
Of the embrace of angels, with a sex
More beautiful than they, which did draw down
The erring spirits who can ne'er return (III.174-179).
I linger yet with Nature, for the night
Hath been to me a more familiar face
Than that of man; and in her starry shade
Of dim, and solitary loveliness,
I learn'd the language of another world.
I do remember me, that in my youth,
When I was wandering,-- upon such a night
I stood within the Coloseum's wall,
Midst the chief relics of almighty Rome.
The trees which grew along the broken arches
Waved dark in the blue midnight, and the stars
Shone through the rents of ruin; from afar
The watchdog bay'd beyond the Tiber; and
More near from out the Caesars' palace came
The owl's long cry, and, interruptedly,
Of distant sentinels the fitful song
Begun and died upon the gentle wind.
Some cypresses beyond the time-worn breach
Appear'd to skirt the horizon, yet they stood
Within a bowshot. Where the Caesars dwelt,
And dwell the tuneless birds of night, amidst
A grove which springs through levell'd battlements,
And twines its roots with the imperial hearths,
Ivy usurps the laurel's place of growth;--
But the gladiators' bloody Circus stands,
A noble wreck in ruinous perfection!
While Caesar's chambers, and the Augustan halls
Grovel on earth in indistinct decay.--
And thou didst shine, thou rolling moon, upon
All this, and cast a wide and tender light,
Which soften'd down the hoar austerity
Of rugged desolation, and fill'd up,
As 'twere anew, the gaps of centuries;
Leaving that beautiful which still was so,
And making that which was not, till the place
Became religion, and the heart ran o'er
With silent worship of the great of old,--
The dead, but sceptred sovereigns, who still rule
Our spirits from their urns.(III.263-301)
This long soliloquy seems to me to be the most beautiful part of the poem; in part, because I remember all too well central Rome at night, with its shadows and antique romance. Oh, how it draws one to itself! :)