« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
amidst the gloomy prospects of a threatening eternity, with no other support but innate energy and hardened pride. These men have leşired too much, too impetuously, with a senseless swing, like a horse which does not feel the bit, and thenceforth their inner doom drives them to the abyss which they see, and cannot escape from. What a night was that of Alp before Corinth! He is a renegade, and comes with the Mussulmans to besiege the Christians, his old friends-Minotti, the father of the girl he loves Next day he is to lead the assault, and he thinks of his death, which he forebodes, the carnage of his own soldiers, which he is preparing. There is no inner support, but rooted resentment and a firm and stern will. The Mussulmans despise him, the Christians execrate him, and his glory only publishes his treason. Dejected and fevered, he passes through the sleeping camp, and wanders on the shore:
""Tis midnight: on the mountains brown
The cold, round moon shines deeply down;
And the wide hum of that wild host
How the heart sickens before such spectacles! What a contrast between his agony and the peace of immortal nature! How man stretches then his arms towards ideal beauty, and how impotently they fall back at the contact of our clay and mortality Alp advances over the sandy shore to the foot of the bastion, exposed to the fire of the sentinels; and he hardly thinks of it:
"And he saw the lean dogs beneath the wall Hold o'er the dead their carnival,
Gorging and growling o'er carcase and limb;
They were too busy to bark at him!
* Byron's Werks, . The Siege of Corinth, G. x. 116.
From a Tartar's skull they had stripped the flesh,
As ye peel the fig when its fruit is fresh; And their white tusks crunched o'er the whiter skull,
As it slipp'd through their jaws, when their edge grew dull.
As they lazily mumbled the bones of the dead,
When they scarce could rise from the spot where they fed;
So well had they broken a lingering fast With those who had fallen for that night's ra
And Alp knew, by the turbans that roll'd on the sand,
The foremost of these were the best of his band:
Crimson and green were the shawls of their
And each scalp had a single long tuft of hair,
There sat a vulture flapping a wolf,
Who had stolen from the hills, but kept away,
Scared by the dogs, from the human prey; But he seized on his share of a steed that lay,
Pick'd by the birds, on the sands of the bay."
Such is the goal of man; the hot frenzy of life ends here; buried or not, it matters little: vultures or jackals, one gravedigger is as good as another. The storm of his rages and his efforts I have but served to cast him to these animals for their food, and to their beaks and jaws he comes only with the sentiment of frustrated hopes and insatiable desires. Could any of us forget the death of Lara after once reading it? Has any one elsewhere seen, save in Shakspeare, a sadder picture of the destiny of a man vainly rearing against inevitable fate? Though generous, like Macbeth, he has, like Macbeth, dared every thing against law and conscience, even against pity and the most ordinary feelings of honor. Crimes committed have forced him into other crimes, and blood poured out has made him glide into a pool of blood. As a corsair, he has slain; as a cut-throat, he assassi nates; and his former murders which haunt his dreams come with their bat'swings beating against the portals of his brain. He does not drive them away, these black visitors; though the mouth remains silent, the pallid hrow * Ibid. c. xvi. 133
and strange smile bear witness to their | under an inclement sky, on the shores approach. And yet it is a noble spec- of a stormy ocean,--the work of a too tacle to see man standing with calm wilful, too strong, too sombre race,countenance even under their touch. and which, after lavishing its images The last day comes, and six inches of of desolation and heroism, ends by iron suffice for all this energy and fury, stretching like a black veil over the Lara is lying beneath a lime tree, and whole of living nature the dream of his wound is bleeding fast from life universal destruction; this dream is away. With each convulsion the here, as in the Edda, almost equally stream gushes blacker, then stops; the grand: blood flows now only drop by drop, and his brow is already moist, his eyes" dim. The victors arrive-he does not deign to answer them; the priest brings near the absolving cross, "but he look'd upon it with an eye profane." What remains to him of life is for his poor page, the only being who loved him, who has followed him to the end, and who now tries to stanch the blood from his wound:
As if his heart abhorr'd that coming day, And shrunk his glance before that morning light,
To look on Lara's brow-where all grew night.
But from his visage little could we guess,
And dull the film along his dim eye grew;
All is over, and of this haughty spirit there remains but a poor piece of clay After all, it is the desirable lot of such hearts; they have spent life amiss, and only rest well in the tomb.
A strange and altogether northern poetry, with its root in the Edda and its flower in Shakspeare, born long ago
Byron' Works, x.; Lava, c. 2, st. 17-20,
I had a dream, which was not all a iream.
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Morn came and went-and came, and brought no day.
Forests were set on fire--but hour by hour They fell and faded-and the crackling trunks
Extinguish'd with a crash-and all was black.
And they did live by watchfires-and the
The palaces of crowned kings-the huts,
And men were gathered round their blazing
To look once more into each other's face...
Zured their lank jaws; himself sought out no
But with a piteous and perpetual moan,
Of an enormous city did survive,
And they were enemies: they met beside
And shivering scraped with their cold skeleton
The feeble ashes, and their feeble breath
Even of their mutual hideousness they
of it, ther, quite freely: the subject of Manfred is the dominant idea of the age, expressed so as to display the contrast of two masters, and of two na tions.
What constitutes Goethe's glory is, that in the nineteenth century he did produce an epic poem-I mean a poem in which genuine gods act and speak. This appeared impossible in the nine teenth century, since the special work of our age is the refined consideration of creative ideas, and the suppression of the poetic characters by which other ages have never failed to represent them. Of the two divine families, the Greek and the Christian, neither seemed capable of re-entering the epic world. Classic literature dragged down in its fall the mythological puppets, and the ancient gods slept on their old Olympus, whither history and archæology alone might go to arouse them Amongst these unrestrained and The angels and saints of the middle gloomy poems, which incessantly re- ages, as strange and almost as far from turn and dwell on the same subject, our thoughts, slept on the vellum of there is one more imposing and lofty their missals and in the niches of their than the rest, Manfred, twin-brother of cathedrals; and if a poet like Chateauthe greatest poem of the age, Goethe's briand, tried to make them enter the Faust. Goethe says of Byron: "This modern world,* he succeeded only in singular intellectual poet has taken my degrading them, and in making of them Faustus to himself, and extracted from vestry decorations and operatic mait the strongest nourishment for his chinery. The mythic credulity disaphypochondriac humor. He has made peared amid the growth of experience, use of the impelling principles in his the mystic amid the growth of prosperown way, for his own purposes, so that ity. Paganism, at the contact of no one of them remains the same; and science, was reduced to the recognition it is particularly on this account that I of natural forces; Christianity at the cannot enough admire his genius." contact of morality, was reduced to the The play is indeed original. Byron adoration of the ideal. In order again writes: 'His (Goethe's) Faust I never to deify physical powers, man should read, for I don't know German; but have become once more a healthy Matthew Monk Lewis, in 1816, at Co-child, as in Homer's time. In order ligny, translated most of it to me vivd voce, and I was naturally much struck with it; but it was the Steinbach and the Jungfrau and something else, much more than Faustus, that made me write Manfred." + Goethe adds: "The whole is so completely formed anew, that it would be an interesting task for the critic to point out not only the alterations he (Byron) has made, but their degree of resemblance or dissimilarity to the original." Let us peak
* Byron's Works, x.; Darkness 283. Ibid. iv. 320; Letter to Mr. Muray Ravenna, June 7, 1820.
again o deify spiritual powers, man should have become once more a sickly child, as in Dante's time. But he was an adult, and could not ascend again to civilizations or epics, from which the current of his thought and of his life had withdrawn him forever. How was he to be show his gods, the modern gods? how could he reclothe them in a personal and visible form, since he had toiled to strip them precisely of all personal and sensible form,
*The angel of holy loves, the angel of the ocean, the choirs of happy spirits. See this as length in the Martyrs.
and had succeeded in this. Instead of | And the creative essence which surrounds, And lives in all, and worketh ever more, rejecting legend, Goethe took it up Encompass within love's gracious bounds again. He chose a mediæval story for And all the world of things, which flit before his theme. Carefully, scrupulously, The gaze in seeming fitful and obscure, ne tracked old manners and old be- De in lasting thoughts embody and se liefs; an alchemist's laboratory, a sor cerer's conjuring-book, coarse villagers students' or drunkards' gayety, a witch. es' meeting on the Brocken, a mass in church; we might fancy we saw an engraving of Luther's time, conscienus and minute: nothing is omitted. Heavenly characters appear in conserrated attitudes after the text of Scrip: ture like the old mysteries: the Lord with his angels, then with the devil, who comes to ask permission to tempt Faust, as formerly he tempted Job; heaven, as St. Francis imagined it and Van Eyck painted it, with anchorites, holy women and doctors some in a landscape with bluish rocks, others above in the sublime air, hovering in choirs about the Virgin in glory, one tier above another. Goethe affects even to be so orthodox as to write under each her Latin name, and her due niche in the Vulgate. And this very fidelity proclaims him a skeptic. We see that if he resuscitates the ancient world, it is as a historian, not as a believer. He is only a Christian through remembrance and poetic feeling. In him the modern spirit overflows designedly the narrow vessel in which he designedly seems to enclose it. The thinker percolates through the narrator. Every instant a calculated word, which seems involuntary, opens up glimpses of philosophy, beyond the veils of tradition. Who are they, these supernatural personages, this god, this Mephistopheles, these angels? Their substance incessantly dissolves and re-forms, to show or hide alternately the idea which fills it. Are they abstractions or characters? Mephistopheles, a revolutionary and a philosopher, who has read Candide, and cynically jeers at the Powers,-is he anything but "the spirit of negation ? " The angels
Rejoice to share
* Magna peccatrix, S. Lucæ, vii. 36; Mulier Samaritana, S. Johannis, iv.; Maria Ægyp tiaca (Acta Sanctorum), etc.
Are these angels, for an instant at least any thing else than the ideal intelligence which comes, through sympathy, love all, and through ideas, to compre hend all? What shall we say of this Deity, at first biblical and individual, who little by little is unshaped, van ishes and, sinking to the depths, be hind the splendors of living nature and mystic reverie, is confused with the inaccessible absolute? Thus is the whole poem unfolded, action and characters, men and gods, antiquity and middle ages, aggregate and details, always on the confines of two worlds -one visible and figurative, the other intelligible and formless; one compre hending the moving externals of his tory or of life, and all that hued and perfumed bloom which nature lavishes on the surface of existence, the other containing the profound generative powers and invisible fixed laws by which all these living beings come to the light of day. At last we see ow gods: we no longer parody them, like our ancestors, by idols or persons; we perceive them as they are in themselves, and we have no need, in order to see them, to renounce poetry, nor break with the past. We remain on our knees before the shrines where men have prayed for three thousand years; we do not tear a single rose from the chaplets with which they have crowned their divine Madonnas; we do not extinguish a single candle which they have crowded on the altar steps; we behold with an artist's pleasure the precious shrines where, amidst the wrought candlesticks, the suns o diamonds, the gorgeous copes, they have scattered the purest treasures of their genius and their heart. But our thoughts pierce further than ɔur eyes. For us, at certain moments, these dra.
Goethe's Faust, translated by Theodore Martin. Prologue in Heaven. ↑ Goethe sings:
"Wer ruft das Einselne zur allgemeinen Weihe
Wo es in herrlichen Accorden schlägt *
peries, this marble, all this pomp vacillates; it is no longer aught but beautiful phantoms; it vanishes in the smoke, and we discover through it and behind it the impalpable ideal which has set up these pillars, lighted these roofs, and hovered for centuries over the kneeling multitude.
or accent; his whole care is to keep it intact and pure. Thus is his work produced, an echo of universal nature a vast chorus in which gods, men, past, present, all periods of history, all conditions of life, all orders of existence agree without confusion, and in which the flexible genius of the mus.cian, who is alternately transformed into each one of them in order tc interpret and comprenend them, only bears witness to his own thought in giving an insight, beyond this immense harmony, into the group of ideal laws whence it is derived, and the inner reason which sustains it.
Beside this lofty conception, what is the supernatural part of Manfred? Doubtless Byron is moved by the great things of nature; he has just left the Alps; he has seen those glaciers which are like a frozen hurricane,"-those "torrents which roll the sheeted silver's waving column o'er the crag's headlong perpendicular, like the pale courser's tale, as told in the Apocalypse,' but he has brought nothing from them but images. His witch, his spirits, his Arimanes, are but stage gods. He be lieves in them no more than we do. Genuine gods are created with much greater difficulty; we must believe in them; we must, like Goethe, have assisted long at their birth, like philoso
To understand the legend and also to understand life, is the object of this work, and of the whole work of Goethe. Every thing, brutish or rational, vile or sublime, fantastic or tangible, is a group of powers, of which our mind, through study and sympathy, may reproduce in itself the elements and the disposition. Let us reproduce it, and give it in our thought a new existence. Is a gossip like Martha, babbling and foolish-a drunkard like Frosch, brawling and dirty, and the other Dutch boors-unworthy to enter a picture? Even the female apes, and the apes who sit beside the cauldron, watching that it does not boil over, with their hoarse cries and disordered fancies, may repay the trouble of art in restoring them. Wherever there is life, even bestial or maniacal, there is beauty. The more we look upon nature, the more we find it divine-divine even in rocks and plants. Consider these forests, they seem motionless; but the leaves breathe, and the sap mounts insensibly through the massive trunks and branch-phers and scholars; we must have seen es, to the slender shoots, stretched like fingers at the end of the twigs; it fills the swollen ducts, leaks out in living forms, loads the frail aments with fecundating dust, spreads profusely through the fermenting air the vapors and odors: this luminous air, this dome of verdure, this long colonnade of trees, this silent soil, labor and are transformed; they accomplish a work, and the poet's heart has but to listen to them to find a voice for their obscure instincts. They speak in his heart; still better, they sing, and other beings d the same; each, by its distinct melody, short or long, strange or simple, solely adapted to its nature, capable of manifesting it fully, in the same manner as a sound, by its pitch, its height, its force, manifests the inner structure of the body which has produced it. This melody the poet respects; he avoids altering it by confusing its ideas
of them more than their externals. He who, whilst continuing a poet, becomes a naturalist and geologist, who has followed in the fissures of the rocks the tortuous waters slowly distilled, and driven at length by their own weight to the light, may ask himself, as the Greeks did formerly, when they saw them roll and sparkle in their emerald tints, what these waters might be think. ing, whether they thought. What a strar ge life is theirs, alternately at res! and in violent motion! How far re moved from ours! With what effort must we tear ourselves from our worn and complicated passions, to compre hend the youth and divine simplicity of a being without reflection and form! How difficult is such a work for a modern man! How impossible for an Englishman! Shelley, Keats approach. ed it, thanks to the nervous delicacy of their sickly or overflowing imagina