Scene I. Near the place of the damned. Enter Werner and Spirit.
What piercing, stunning sounds assail my ear!
Wild shrieks and wrathful curses, groans and prayers,
A chaos of all cries! making the space
Through which they penetrate to flutter like
The heart of a trapped hare, - are revelling round us.
Unlike the gloomy realm we just have quitted,
Silent and solemn, all is restless here,
All wears the ashy hue of agony.
Above us bends a black and starless vault,
Which ever echoes back the fearful voices
That rise from the abodes of wo beneath.
Around us grim-browed desolation broods,
While, far below, a sea of pale gray clouds,
Like to an ocean tempest beaten, boils.
Whither shall we direct our journey now?
Right down through yon abyss of boiling clouds,
If though hast courage to attempt the plunge,
Our pathless way must be. A moment more
And we shall stand where angels seldom stand,
And devils almost pity when they stand, -
Whose being, is of love, whose band is pow'r,
Whose breath is life, whose noblest attribute, -
The one most worthy of thyself~-is mercy!
Were these of thine immortal will conceived?
Has thy hand shaped them out the forms they wear?
Has thy breath made them quick with, breathing life?
And is thy mercy to their wailings deaf?
Poor creatures! I bad deemed that in my breast
Grief had congealed the hidden fount of tears,
But ye have drawn them from their frozen source
And I do weep for you!
What moves thee thus?
I thought thy heart so steeled in hardihood
Of universal hate, and pride, and scorn,
That even were the woes, which thou dost here
Behold endured by others, heaped on thee,
Thy haughty soul unmoved would feel them all;
Accounting its development of strength
To bear the worst decrees of ruthless fate,
Misdeem me not,
If I have wept involuntary tears
O'er pangs beyond my pow'r to mitigate,
Believe me, 'twas in pity, not in fear.
But tell me, Spirit! is all hope extinct
In those who here sojourn, or do they look
Yet forward to some blest millennial day,
Which shall redeem them from this horrid place.
Best ask your theologians that question.
Some say that there are places purgatorial,
Where Error pays the price of her transgressions
In sufferings that efface the effects of sin.
And other some declare that when the soul
And clay are parted, heaven seals the doom
Of both, beyond repeal. Let thy own mind
Sit arbiter 'twixt these, and choose the truth.
Mark what approaches us, and mark it well.
I cannot turn my gaze from it, and yet
It makes the warm blood curdle in my veins.
Than it, hell cannot hold a fouler form -
A thing of more unholy loathsomeness!
Its heavy eyes are dim and bleared with blood,
Its jaws, by strong convulsions fiercely worked,
Are clogged and clotted with mixed gore and foam!
A nauseous stench its filthy shape exhales,
And through its heaving bosom you may mark
The constant preying of a quenchless flame
That gnaws its heartstrings! while a harsh quick moan
Of mingled wrath, and madness, and despair,
Perpetually issues from its lips; -
And with unequal but unceasing steps,
It chases through the hot, sulphureous gloom,
A mocking phantom, - fair as it is foul!
With naked arms, white breast, and ebon locks,
And big black eyes that dart the humid flame
Which sets the heart ablaze; and red moist lips,
And checks as spotless as the falling flake
Ere it has touched the earth, and supple form
Wherein is knit each grace of womanhood
In its perfection! and with wanton looks
That speak the burning language of desire,
It seems to woo its loathsome follower, -
Yet ever from his foul embraces flies.
And on his brow his name is written, "Lust!"
Dismiss the spectre, for it blasts my sight,
And sears my brain with its dark hideousness!
'Tis gone; look up and see what next appears.
A frame which may be that of Hercules,
It hath such giant members! and its port
Is martial as e'er marked a Caesar's moving.
Its sandals are of brass, its massive brow
Is helmeted in steel, and in its hand
It bears a sword with which, in idle strokes,
It vainly beats the unresisting air,
As if in battle with some phantom foe;
And at each blow it deals, a strong fatality
Turns back its sword's keen point on its own breast,
Which deep it gashes, - then in mournful tone,
It mutters o'er and o'er again these words, -
"I fought for fame and won unending wo."
His agonies seem like himself, immortal.
Justice is blameless of his sufferings:
For many years his busy, plotting brain,
Made discord out of union, strife from peace,
And set the nations warring till the earth
Was crimson with the blood poured out for him!
He bears what he inflicted, - let him pass
And mark what follows him.
A goodly shape,
More fit to string and strike Apollo's lyre,
Than bear the shield or wield the sword of Mars!
A broken harp, suspended at his side,
A faded garland, wreathed about his brow,
Tell what he was, and still employ his care.
With thin white hand, that trembles at its task,
In vain he strives to bind the broken chords,
And to their primal melody attune them; -
In vain, - for to his efforts still replies
A boding strain of harsh, discordant sound.
And then, with hot tears coursing down his cheeks,
He lifts his faded wreath from his pale brow,
And gazing on its withered leaves, exclaims, -
"For earthly fame I sung the songs of earth,
Forgetful of all higher, holier themes, -
'Tis meet the meed I won should perish thus."
Is not the justice which confines him here
Akin to cruelty? for his sad heart
Seems, as his earthly strains were, full of softness.
Each thought, and word, and deed of mortal man,
Is but a moral seed, which, in due season,
Must bring forth fruit according to its kind.
The soil wherein those seeds are sown is Time, -
Death is the reaper of the ripened harvest, -
The fruits are garnered in Eternity,
To be, or good or bad, the spirit's food!
If then our thoughts, and words, and deeds have been
Of corrupt tendency, or evil nature, -
What marvel if we feed on bitterness? -
What shadow next appears?
An aged man,
Lean-framed and haggard-visaged, bowed beneath
The weight of years, or worldly cares that press
Still heavier than the iron hand of time.
His tottering form is fearful to behold!
If the fierce scourge which men on earth call famine,
Could incarnate itself, methinks 'twould choose
Just such a shape, so worn and grim and gaunt,
And wo-begone of aspect. Groping round
He gathers from the burning floor of hell
Some shining pebbles, which his fond conceit
Transmutes to gold, and these with constant care
He watches, counting and recounting them,
Till suddenly a whirlwind, sweeping by,
Bears with it all his fancied hoards away,
Leaving him to renew his bootless task,
Which ever he renews with this complaint, -
"Alas! how speedily may wealth take wing."
And on his front his name is written, "Avarice."
There yet is, in this shadowy land of shades,
One form which I would have thee look upon.
Behold it cometh! mark and scan it well.
Never before in all my wanderings
Through earth, or other regions, where abide
Things now no more of earth, have I beheld
Aught so profoundly mournful or so lone!
So dark a cloud o'erhangs his haggard brow,
That where he turns a dunner, murkier gloom
Prevails along hell's blasting atmosphere!
Surrounded by some goodly forms he moves,
Forms bright as his is dark, who each in turn
Woo his acceptance of the gifts they proffer.
Love stretches out his dimpled band, wherein
He holds his emblematic rose, and Hope,
Bright Hope, that might renew again the pulse
Of life within the frozen veins of Death!
Beckons him to the future, - and calm Faith
Kindles beneath his eye her beacon blaze;
Yet, with such anguish as hell only holds,
He turns him from all these, and will not take
Love's proffered rose, lest 'neath its blushing leaves
Should lurk the stinging thorn of sly deceit.
Hope's smile to him is disappointment's signal, -
And the bright beacon Faith so kindly lights
To guide us o'er the treacherous sea of life,
To him is but a cheat, a mockery,
An ignis fatuus, kindled to mislead.
And yet he seems as one who in his life
Had nursed bright dreams, and cherished lofty aims, -
Had dreamed of love, or wooed Ambition's smiles,
Or to the sway of empires had aspired,
Or, higher still, the sway of human hearts!
Why gazest thou on me and not on him?
To mark if in thine aspect I might not
Detect a consciousness that I thy own soul
Claimed brotherhood with his! Thou too hast scoffed
At human love, and hope, and faith, and truth,
Nursing within thy bosom pride, and scorn,
And rankling hate, I till these at length became
Fiends which thou could'st not master! Thou art warned,
Be wise and heed the warning. Let us now
Return unto thy far off, native orb,
O'er which the rosy smile of morn is breaking,
Waking its teeming millions to renew
Their daily rounds of toil and strife and crime.