The Misanthrope Reclaimed - ACT II.

A poem by George W. Sands

The verge of Creation. Enter Werner and Spirit.

Werner.

We have outtravelled light and sound:
The harmonies that pealed around us, as
Through yon array of dim and distant worlds
We winged our flight, have wholly died away,
Or come to us so faintly echoed, that
Our ears must watch and wait to catch them.
Those stars are now like watch-fires, which though seen
Blazing afar, send not their light to make
The path of the benighted wanderer
More plain and cheerful.
Before us stretches one vast field of gloom,
So dense as to appear impenetrable: -
Darkness, that has a body and a form,
Both palpable to touch and sight, across
Our path a barrier rears that seems to bar
Our farther progress. If there be, beyond
This wall of blackness, aught of mystery,
What power shall guide us to it?

Spirit.

Thy mind
Which, from the influence of matter, free
As it is now and shall be till again
Though art returned unto thy native orb,
Is its own master, and its will is now
Its only needed guide.
Strange things are hidden by that ebon veil,
To which a single wish of thine may bear us.

Werner.

Then let us on:
Since we our search for knowledge have begun,
Wherever there is aught that Power has made,
Which Time has ruined, or which Fate has damned,
There let us go, that we may look on it,
And learn its history. What intense glooms
We now are passing through! I feel them part
Before, and close behind us, as we fly,
As plainly as the swimmer feels the waves
That lave his gliding limbs. This sure must be
The home of Death - no voice, no sound, no sigh,
Not ev'n so much of breath as would suffice
To make a lily tremble!

Spirt.

Though say'st true,
This is indeed the realm of Death, - at least
It has no more of life than what though hast
Brought here with thee, - I speak of mortal life:
We now are near the Hades of past worlds,
Whose spirits have a life which cannot die.
You laugh! and show the haughty arrogance
Which in your mortal brethren you cotemn.
Think you that he who gave to man his mind,
The undying spark that quickens his clay frame,
Would fashion from the same material
Such mighty wonders as the spheres which go
Hymning around his everlasting throne!
Giving to them a beauty which alone
Could be conceived by him, which has great hand
Alone could mould into reality,
And yet deny them what he gave to thee,
Intelligence! a thing that knows not death?
Hast though not seen thine earth put forth her leaves,
Clothing her rugged mountain tops and sides,
Her forests in the vale, each tree and shrub,
With a fair foliage? hast though not beheld
Her weaving, in the sunny springtide hours,
A fairy web of emerald-bladed grass
To robe her valleys in? With every flow'r
Of graceful form, and soft and downy leaf,
And tender hue, and tint, that Beauty owns,
To deck her gentle breast? When Autumn came,
With its rich gifts of pleasant, mellow fruits,
Hast though not seen her wipe her sunburnt brow,
And shake her yellow locks from every hill?
Hast though not heard her holy songs of peace
And plenty warbled from each vocal grove,
And murmured by her myriads of streams?
Hast though not seen her, when the hollow winds,
Which moan the requiem of the dying year,
Raved through her leafless bowers, wrap about
Her breast a mantle, wherewith to protect
And nurse the seed, the trusting husbandman
Hath given to her keeping? Are thine acts
As full of wisdom, and as free from blame?
If not, then why deny to her the life
And spirit you possess?

Werner.

I did not laugh
In disbelief of what thy words declare,
But they stir such strange thoughts within my mind,
That, as I will not weep, I can but smile.
Methinks the darkness has grown less profound, -
A heavy, dim, and shadowy light, like that
Which, when the storm has chosen midnight's hour
Of stilly gloom, to hold its revel in,
First glimmers through the clouds which have been rent,
And torn by their own fierceness, hands about us.
The light increases still, and in the distance,
Enormous shadows, wearing distinct shapes,
Since seemingly immovable, and others
Like mighty, mastless, sailless, vessels, moved
By magic o'er a tideless, waveless ocean,
In calm, majestic silence float along!

Spirit.
Let us go nearer,
Now what seest though?

Werner.

Worlds like to that I live on, save that these
Seem made of living shades instead of dust;
Vast mountains, with tall trees and mighty rocks,
And fountains, gushing from their very summits;
Huge, towering cliffs, and deep and lonely glens,
And wide-mouthed caves that hold a deeper gloom, -
With precipices from whose edges soft
And silvery cataracts are leaping down;
Swift streams, that rush adown their rugged sides,
And quiet lakelets, that appear to sleep
In the embrace of the surrounding hills;
The cottage of the hardy hunter, perched
High on the rocks, like to an eagle's nest:
The shepherd's humble shieling, and his fold,
And, half-way up, broad vineyards, with their vines
Bending with purple clusters of ripe fruit; -
Wide valleys, with green meadows, and pure streams,
And gentle hills, where ripening harvests stand;
Majestic rivers, with their verdant banks
Studded with towns, and rural villages;
Motionless lakes, and seas without a wave,
And oceans pulseless as a dead man's heart!
And mighty cities, standing on their coasts,
With vasty walls and gilded palaces,
And giant tow'rs, and tapering spires, that seem
The guardians of all they overlook.
Churchyards, with their pale gravestones, that appear
Like watchers of the dead whose names they bear!
All these are there, but not a sign of life,
No living thing that creeps along the ground,
Or flies the air, or swims the wave, is seen.
It seems as if on all things some strong spell
Had in the twinkling of a star came down
And rocked them to an everlasting sleep!
Spirit! tell me if what I see is more
Than a delusion; if it be, whence came
These shades?

Spirit.

And have I not already said
That these things are, that they are quick with life, -
Such life as disembodied spirits have, -
That they are deathless? Thou need'st not inquire
Of me whence they are come, for thou hast seen
One of their number on its journey hither.
The period may not be far remote
When thine own planet, starting from its sphere,
Shall fright the dwellers of the stars that skirt
Its destined pathway to these silent realms!
Thou'st seen the comet rushing through the sky,
And, gazing on the glowing track which it
Had branded on the azure breast of space,
Thinking thy words were wisdom, thou hast said,
"When its full term of years has been fulfilled,
It shall return again." Not knowing that
The light thou sawest was reflected from
That sacred fire, which, in the end, shall purge
The spirit essence which pervades creation,
From the dull dust with which a wayward fate
Has clogged its being! Question me no more -
Remember what I said - I dare not tell
The secrets of Eternity. Look on
And learn whate'er thou canst.

Werner.

There is one thing which I at last have learned, -
To feel that with the increase of our knowledge
Our sorrows must increase. I oft have heard,
But never before have felt the truth of this.
To know that were it not for this clay mask,
I even now might pierce the shadowy veil
That wraps in mystery the things I see,
And comprehend their secret principle,
Will make life doubly hard to bear, and tempt
Me much to shake it prematurely off,
And snatch wings for my spirit ere its time.
A total ignorance were better than
The flash which from its slumber wakes the mind,
And then, departing, leaves it to itself,
In the wide maze of error, darkly groping.
Wisdom is not the medicine to heal
A discontented mind. I now know more
Than when I left the earth, but feel that I
Have bought my knowledge with increase of sorrow.

Spirit.

Did I not tell thee that its path were steep,
And hard to climb, and thick beset with thorns, -
And that its tempting, longed-for fruit, tho' bought
With a great price, is full of bitterness?
If though art satisfied, let us retrace
Our way to earth again; wert thou to go
Yet farther on, thou might'st regret the more
Our coming hither.

Werner.

What! is there aught still more remote than these
From the great centre of the universe, -
The fair domain of life and living things?

Spirit.

There is, -
A kingdom tenanted with such dark shapes,
That angels shudder when they look on them!
Thou surely dost not wish to visit it.

Werner.

Why not? There is within my mind a void
Whose vacant weight is harder to be borne
Than the keen stingings of more active pangs;
When it has traced the mystic chain of being
To its last link, it may perchance shake off
The misery of restless discontent, -
Its fulness then may sink it into rest.

Spirit.

I have no power to disobey thy word;
If thou wilt on, I must proceed with thee,
Even though in looking on I share the pangs
Of those who suffer.

Werner.

Come, then, I too must see them, tho' it cost
Me years of pain to gaze but for a moment.

Spirit.

'Twere harder now to find Eve's' buried dust,
Than to declare who has inherited
The largest portion of her prying spirit.

[Sings.]

Where Pain keepeth vigil
With Sorrow and Care,
And Horror sits watching
By dull-eyed Despair, -
Where the Spirit accurst
Maketh moan in its wo,
Thy wishes direct us,
And thither we go.

[Exeunt.]

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