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CONTEMPLATION OF VIOLENCE.
I am as one lost in a midnight wood,
Who dares not ask some harmless passenger
The path across the wilderness, lest he,
As my thoughts are, should be a murderer
Two miles on this side of the fort, the road
Crosses a deep ravine: 't is rough and narrow,
And winds with short turns down the precipice;
And in its depth there is a mighty rock,
Which has, from unimaginable years,
Sustain'd itself with terror and with toil
Over a gulf, and with the agony
With which it clings seems slowly coming down;
Even as a wretched soul, hour after hour,
Clings to the mass of life; yet clinging, leans,
And, leaning, makes more dark the dread abyss
In which it fears to fall. Beneath this crag,
Huge as despair, as if in weariness,
The melancholy mountain yawns. Below
You hear, but see not, an impetuous torrent
Raging among the caverns: and a bridge
Crosses the chasm; and high above these grow,
With intersecting trunks, from crag to crag,
Cedars, and yews, and pines; whose tangled hair
Is matted in one solid roof of shade
By the dark ivy's twine. At noon-day here
'Tis twilight, and at sunset blackest night.
Sweet lamp! my moth-like muse has burnt its wings;
Or, like a dying swan who soars and sings,
Young Love should teach Time in his own grey style
All that thou art. Art thou not void of guile?
A lovely soul form'd to be blest and bless ?
A well of seal'd and secret happiness,
Whose waters like blithe light and music are,
Vanquishing dissonance and gloom ?—a star
Which moves not in the moving heavens, alone?
A smile amid dark frowns?-a gentle tone
Amid rude voices?—a beloved sight?
A Solitude, a Refuge, a Delight?
A lute, which those whom love has taught to play,
Make music on, to soothe the roughest day,
And lull fond grief asleep?-a buried treasure?
A cradle of young thoughts of wingless pleasure?
A violet-shrouded grave of wo? I measure
The world of fancies, seeking one like thee,
And find-alas! mine own infirmity.
Life, like a dome of many-colored glass,
Stains the white radiance of eternity.
One word is too often profaned
For me to profane it;
One feeling too falsely disdain'd
For thee to disdain it.
One hope is too like despair
For prudence to smother,
Ariel to Miranda :-Take
This slave of music, for the sake
Of him who is the slave of thee;
And teach it all the harmony
In which thou canst, and only thou,
Make the delighted spirit glow,
Till joy denies itself again,
And, too intense, is turned to pain.
For by permission and command
Of thine own Prince Ferdinand,
Poor Ariel sends this silent token
Of more than ever can be spoken:
Your guadian spirit, Ariel, who
From life to life must still pursue
Your happiness, for thus alone
Can Ariel ever find his own:
From Prospero's enchanted cell,
As the mighty verses tell,
To the throne of Naples he
Lit you o'er the trackless sea,
Flitting on, your prow before,
Like a living meteor:
When you die, the silent moon
In her interlunar swoon,
Is not sadder in her cell
Than deserted Ariel :
When you live again on earth,
Like an unseen star of birth,
Ariel guides you o'er the sea
Of life from your nativity.
Many changes have been run,
Since Ferdinand and you begun
Your course of love, and Ariel still
Has track'd your steps and serv'd your will. Now in humbler, happier lot,
This is all remember d not;
And now, alas! the poor sprite is
Imprisoned for some fault of his
In a body like a grave.
From you, he only dares to crave,
For his service and his sorrow,
A smile to-day-a song to-morrow.
The artist who this idol wrought,
To echo all harmonious thought,
Fell'd a tree, while on the steep
The woods were in their winter sleep,
Rock'd in that repose divine
On the wind-swept Appenine:
And dreaming, some of autumn past,
And some of spring approaching fast,
And some of April buds and showers,
And some of songs in July bowers,
And all of love: and so this tree-
O that such our death may be !-
Died in sleep, and felt no pain,
To live in happier form again:
From which, beneath Heaven's fairest star,
The artist wrought this lov'd Guitar,
And taught it justly to reply
To all who question skilfully,
In language gentle as thine own;
Whispering in enamor❜d tone
Sweet oracles of woods and dells,
And summer winds in sylvan cells;
For it had learnt all harmonies
Of the plains and of the skies,
Of the forest and the mountains,
And the many-voiced fountains,
The clearest echoes of the hills,
The softest notes of falling rills,
The melodies of birds and bees,
The murmuring of summer seas,
And pattering rain, and breathing dew,
And airs of evening; and it knew
That seldom-heard mysterious sound,
Which, driven on its diurnal round,
As it floats through boundless day,
Our world enkindles on its way :-
All this it knows, but will not tell
To those who cannot question well
The spirit that inhabits it;
It talks according to the wit
Of its companions: and no more
Is heard than has been felt before,
By those who tempt it to betray
These secrets of an elder day.
But, sweetly as its answers will
Flatter hands of perfect skill,
It keeps its highest, holiest tone
For our beloved friend alone.
This is a Catullian melody of the first water. The transformation of the dreaming wood of the tree into a guitar was probably suggested by Catullus's Dedication of the Galley, a poem with which I know he was conversant, and which was particularly calculated to please him; for it records the consecration of a favorite old sea-boat to the Dioscuri. The modern poet's imagination beats the ancient; but Catullus equals him in graceful flow; and there is one very Shelleian passage in the original :
Ubi iste, post phaselus, antea fuit
Comata silva: nam Cytorio in jugo
Loquente sæpe sibilum edidit comå.
For of old, what now you see
A galley, was a leafy tree
On the Cytorian heights, and there
Talk'd to the wind with whistling hair.