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To wear it ever on thy lip and brow,
And spurn the instruments thou wert to use
Till they were turned unto thine overthrow:
'Tis but a worthless world to win or lose;
So hath it proved to thee, and all such lot who choose.
If, like a tower upon a headland rock,
Thou hadst been made to stand or fall alone,
Such scorn of man had helped to brave the shock;
But men's thoughts were the steps which paved thy throne,
Their admiration thy best weapon shone;
The part of Philip's son was thine, not then
(Unless aside thy purple had been thrown)
Like stern Diogenes to mock at men;
For sceptered cynics earth were far too wide a den.2
But quiet to quick bosoms is a hell,
And there hath been thy bane; there is a fire
And motion of the soul which will not dwell
In its own narrow being, but aspire
Beyond the fitting medium of desire;
And, but once kindled, quenchless evermore,
Preys upon high adventure, nor can tire
Of aught but rest; a fever at the core,
Fatal to him who bears, to all who ever bore.
2 “ The great error of Napoleon,” says Byron, was a continued obtrusion on mankind of his want of all community of feeling for or with them.” Diogenes, in his tub, may mock at men, but Alexander, if he wishes to rule the world, cannot afford to be a cynic.
3 This and the two following stanzas form an interesting poetical study of ambition, a passion to which Byron himself was not a stranger. The lines are strong and suggestive.
This makes the madmen who have made men mad
By their contagion: Conquerors and Kings,
Founders of sects and systems, to whom add
Sophists, Bards, Statesmen, all unquiet things
Which stir too strongly the soul's secret springs,
And are themselves the fools to those they fool;
Envied, yet how unenviable! what stings
Are theirs ! One breast laid open were a school
Which would unteach mankind the lust to shine or rule:
Their breath is agitation, and their life
A storm whereon they ride, to sink at last,
And yet so nursed and bigoted to strife,
That should their days, surviving perils past,
Melt to calm twilight, they feel overcast
With sorrow and supineness, and so die;
Even as a flame unfed, which runs to waste
With its own flickering, or a sword laid by,
Which eats into itself, and rusts ingloriously.
He who ascends to mountain tops, shall find
The loftiest peaks most wrapt in clouds and snow;
He who surpasses or subdues mankind,
Must look down on the hate of those below.
Though high above the son of glory glow,
And far beneath the earth and ocean spread,
Round him are icy rocks, and loudly blow
Contending tempests on his naked head,
And thus reward the toils which to those summits led.
i Point out the fallacy in this stanza.
Away with these! true Wisdom's world will be
Within its own creation, or in thine,
Maternal Nature!1 for who teems like thee,
Thus on the banks of thy majestic Rhine? 2
There Harold gazes on a work divine,
A blending of all beauties; streams and dells,
Fruit, foliage, crag, wood, cornfield, mountain, vine,
And chiefless castles breathing stern farewells
From gray but leafy walls, where Ruin greenly dwells.3
And there they stand, as stands a lofty mind,
Worn, but unstooping to the baser crowd,
All tenantless, save to the crannying wind, 4
Or holding dark communion with the crowd.
There was a day when they were young and proud;
Banners on high, and battles passed below;
But they who fought are in a bloody shroud,
And those which waved are shredless dust ere now,
And the bleak battlements shall bear no future blow.
1 “ The transition from the subject of Napoleon to that of the Rhine is made by contrasting ambition with the love of nature” (TOZER). 2 What literature pertaining to the Rhine have you
read ? 3 Observe the force and beauty of the last four lines.
4 Blowing through crannies. Recall Tennyson's Flower in the Crannied Wall.
“ Visto ho Toscana, Lombardia, Romagna,
Quel Monte che divide, e quel che serra
Italia, e un mare e l'altro, che la bagna." 2
ARIOSTO, Satira iii.
I STOOD in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs ;3
A palace and a prison on each hand:
I saw from out the wave her structures rise
As from the stroke of the enchanter's wand:
A thousand years their cloudy wings expand
Around me, and a dying Glory smiles
O'er the far times, when many a subject land
Looked to the wingèd Lion's marble piles,
Where Venice sate in state, throned on her hundred isles !
She looks a sea Cybele,4 fresh from ocean,
Rising with her tiara of proud towers 1 This canto was begun at Venice in June, 1817, and was published early in 1818, with an introductory letter to the poet's friend and traveling companion, Hobhouse, who furnished ample historical notes for it.
2 "I have seen Tuscany, Lombardy, and the Romagna, the mountain ranges which divide and those which border Italy, and the one sea and the other which bathe her.”
3 Across which prisoners were conducted from the palace to the prison. 4 The goddess of the earth.
At airy distance, .with majestic motion,
A ruler of the waters and their powers :
And such she was;- her daughters had their dowers
From spoils of nations, and the exhaustless East
Poured in her lap all gems in sparkling showers.
In purple was she robed, and of her feast
Monarchs partook, and deemed their dignity increased.
In Venice Tasso's echoes are no more,
And silent rows the songless gondolier;
Her palaces are crumbling to the shore,
And music meets not always now the ear:
Those days are gone-but Beauty still is here.
States fall, arts fade—but Nature doth not die,
Nor yet forget how Venice once was dear,
The pleasant place of all festivity,
The revel of the earth, the mask of Italy!
But unto us she hath a spell beyond
Her name in story, and her long array
Of mighty shadows, whose dim forms despond
Above the dogeless city's vanished sway;
Ours is a trophy which will not decay
With the Rialto;1 Shylock and the Moor,
And Pierre, cannot be swept or worn away 2–
The keystones of the arch! though all were o'er,
For us repeopled were the solitary shore.
1 A bridge spanning the Grand Canal, Venice.
2 See Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice and Othello the Moor of Venice; also Otway's Venice Preserved.