Prometheus Unbound

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50

HERCULES
Most glorious among spirits! thus doth strength

To wisdom, courage, and long-suffering love,

And thee, who art the form they animate,

Minister like a slave.

PROMETHEUS
Thy gentle words

Are sweeter even than freedom long desired

And long delayed.

Asia, thou light of life,

Shadow of beauty unbeheld; and ye,

Fair sister nymphs, who made long years of pain

Sweet to remember, through your love and care;

Henceforth we will not part. There is a cave,

All overgrown with trailing odorous plants,

Which curtain out the day with leaves and flowers,

And paved with veinèd emerald; and a fountain

Leaps in the midst with an awakening sound.

From its curved roof the mountain's frozen tears,

Like snow, or silver, or long diamond spires,

Hang downward, raining forth a doubtful light;

And there is heard the ever-moving air

Whispering without from tree to tree, and birds,

And bees; and all around are mossy seats,

And the rough walls are clothed with long soft grass;

A simple dwelling, which shall be our own;

Where we will sit and talk of time and change,

As the world ebbs and flows, ourselves unchanged.

What can hide man from mutability?

And if ye sigh, then I will smile; and thou,

Ione, shalt chant fragments of sea-music,

Until I weep, when ye shall smile away

The tears she brought, which yet were sweet to shed.

We will entangle buds and flowers and beams

Which twinkle on the fountain's brim, and make

Strange combinations out of common things,

Like human babes in their brief innocence;

And we will search, with looks and words of love,

For hidden thoughts, each lovelier than the last,

Our unexhausted spirits; and, like lutes

Touched by the skill of the enamoured wind,

Weave harmonies divine, yet ever new,

From difference sweet where discord cannot be;

And hither come, sped on the charmèd winds,

Which meet from all the points of heaven--as bees

From every flower aërial Enna feeds

At their known island-homes in Himera--

The echoes of the human world, which tell

Of the low voice of love, almost unheard,

And dove-eyed pity's murmured pain, and music,

Itself the echo of the heart, and all

That tempers or improves man's life, now free;

And lovely apparitions,--dim at first,

Then radiant, as the mind arising bright

From the embrace of beauty (whence the forms

Of which these are the phantoms) casts on them

The gathered rays which are reality--

Shall visit us the progeny immortal

Of Painting, Sculpture, and rapt Poesy,

And arts, though unimagined, yet to be;

The wandering voices and the shadows these

Of all that man becomes, the mediators

Of that best worship, love, by him and us

Given and returned; swift shapes and sounds, which grow

More fair and soft as man grows wise and kind,

And, veil by veil, evil and error fall.

Such virtue has the cave and place around.

[Turning to the SPIRIT OF THE HOUR.

For thee, fair Spirit, one toil remains. Ione,

Give her that curvèd shell, which Proteus old

Made Asia's nuptial boon, breathing within it

A voice to be accomplished, and which thou

Didst hide in grass under the hollow rock.

51

IONE
Thou most desired Hour, more loved and lovely

Than all thy sisters, this is the mystic shell.

See the pale azure fading into silver

Lining it with a soft yet glowing light.

Looks it not like lulled music sleeping there?

SPIRIT
It seems in truth the fairest shell of Ocean:

Its sound must be at once both sweet and strange.

PROMETHEUS
Go, borne over the cities of mankind

On whirlwind-footed coursers; once again

Outspeed the sun around the orbèd world;

And as thy chariot cleaves the kindling air,

Thou breathe into the many-folded shell,

Loosening its mighty music; it shall be

As thunder mingled with clear echoes; then

Return; and thou shalt dwell beside our cave.

And thou, O Mother Earth!--

THE EARTH
I hear, I feel;

Thy lips are on me, and thy touch runs down

Even to the adamantine central gloom

Along these marble nerves; 't is life, 't is joy,

And, through my withered, old, and icy frame

The warmth of an immortal youth shoots down

Circling. Henceforth the many children fair

Folded in my sustaining arms; all plants,

And creeping forms, and insects rainbow-winged,

And birds, and beasts, and fish, and human shapes,

Which drew disease and pain from my wan bosom,

Draining the poison of despair, shall take

And interchange sweet nutriment; to me

Shall they become like sister-antelopes

By one fair dam, snow-white, and swift as wind,

Nursed among lilies near a brimming stream.

The dew-mists of my sunless sleep shall float

Under the stars like balm; night-folded flowers

Shall suck unwithering hues in their repose;

And men and beasts in happy dreams shall gather

Strength for the coming day, and all its joy;

And death shall be the last embrace of her

Who takes the life she gave, even as a mother,

Folding her child, says, 'Leave me not again.'

52

ASIA
Oh, mother! wherefore speak the name of death?

Cease they to love, and move, and breathe, and speak,

Who die?

THE EARTH
It would avail not to reply;

Thou art immortal and this tongue is known

But to the uncommunicating dead.

Death is the veil which those who live call life;

They sleep, and it is lifted; and meanwhile

In mild variety the seasons mild

With rainbow-skirted showers, and odorous winds,

And long blue meteors cleansing the dull night,

And the life-kindling shafts of the keen sun's

All-piercing bow, and the dew-mingled rain

Of the calm moonbeams, a soft influence mild,

Shall clothe the forests and the fields, ay, even

The crag-built deserts of the barren deep,

With ever-living leaves, and fruits, and flowers.

And thou! there is a cavern where my spirit

Was panted forth in anguish whilst thy pain

Made my heart mad, and those who did inhale it

Became mad too, and built a temple there,

And spoke, and were oracular, and lured

The erring nations round to mutual war,

And faithless faith, such as Jove kept with thee;

Which breath now rises as amongst tall weeds

A violet's exhalation, and it fills

With a serener light and crimson air

Intense, yet soft, the rocks and woods around;

It feeds the quick growth of the serpent vine,

And the dark linkèd ivy tangling wild,

And budding, blown, or odor-faded blooms

Which star the winds with points of colored light

As they rain through them, and bright golden globes

Of fruit suspended in their own green heaven,

And through their veinèd leaves and amber stems

The flowers whose purple and translucid bowls

Stand ever mantling with aërial dew,

The drink of spirits; and it circles round,

Like the soft waving wings of noonday dreams,

Inspiring calm and happy thoughts, like mine,

Now thou art thus restored. This cave is thine.

Arise! Appear!

[A SPIRIT rises in the likeness of a winged child.

This is my torch-bearer;

Who let his lamp out in old time with gazing

On eyes from which he kindled it anew

With love, which is as fire, sweet daughter mine,

For such is that within thine own. Run, wayward,

And guide this company beyond the peak

Of Bacchic Nysa, Mænad-haunted mountain,

And beyond Indus and its tribute rivers,

Trampling the torrent streams and glassy lakes

With feet unwet, unwearied, undelaying,

And up the green ravine, across the vale,

Beside the windless and crystalline pool,

Where ever lies, on unerasing waves,

The image of a temple, built above,

Distinct with column, arch, and architrave,

And palm-like capital, and overwrought,

And populous most with living imagery,

Praxitelean shapes, whose marble smiles

Fill the hushed air with everlasting love.

It is deserted now, but once it bore

Thy name, Prometheus; there the emulous youths

Bore to thy honor through the divine gloom

The lamp which was thine emblem; even as those

Who bear the untransmitted torch of hope

Into the grave, across the night of life,

As thou hast borne it most triumphantly

To this far goal of Time. Depart, farewell!

Beside that temple is the destined cave.