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Alexander Pope (1688–1744). Complete Poetical Works. 1903.

Poems: 1718–27

Two Choruses to the Tragedy of Brutus. I. Chorus of Athenians

  • Brutus, says Pope, was a play ‘altered from Shakespeare by the Duke of Buckingham, at whose desire these choruses were composed to supply as many wanting in his play.’ Marcus Brutus was one of two plays (the other retaining Shakespeare’s title) manufactured by John Sheffield, Duke of Buckinghamshire, out of Julius Cœsar. Both were published in 1722. Pope’s choruses stand after the first and second acts of Brutus. The plays have no literary merit.

  • Chorus of Athenians

    YE shades, where sacred truth is sought,

    Groves, where immortal sages taught,

    Where heav’nly visions Plato fired,

    And Epicurus lay inspired!

    In vain your guiltless laurels stood

    Unspotted long with human blood.

    War, horrid war, your thoughtful walks invades,

    And steel now glitters in the Muses’ shades.

    O Heav’n-born sisters! source of Art!

    Who charm the sense, or mend the heart;

    Who lead fair Virtue’s train along,

    Moral Truth and mystic Song!

    To what new clime, what distant sky,

    Forsaken, friendless, shall ye fly?

    Say, will ye bless the bleak Atlantic shore?

    Or bid the furious Gaul be rude no more?

    When Athens sinks by fates unjust,

    When wild Barbarians spurn her dust;

    Perhaps ev’n Britain’s utmost shore

    Shall cease to blush with strangers’ gore,

    See Arts her savage sons control,

    And Athens rising near the pole!

    Till some new tyrant lifts his purple hand,

    And civil madness tears them from the land.

    Ye Gods! what justice rules the ball?

    Freedom and Arts together fall;

    Fools grant whate’er Ambition craves,

    And men, once ignorant, are slaves.

    O curs’d effects of civil hate,

    In ev’ry age, in ev’ry state!

    Still, when the lust of tyrant Power succeeds,

    Some Athens perishes, some Tully bleeds.