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Lord Byron (1788–1824). Manfred.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Act I

Scene I

MANFRED alone.Scene, a Gothic Gallery. Time, Midnight.

THE LAMP must be replenish’d, but even then

It will not burn so long as I must watch.

My slumbers—if I slumber—are not sleep,

But a continuance of enduring thought,

Which then I can resist not: in my heart

There is a vigil, and these eyes but close

To look within; and yet I live, and bear

The aspect and the form of breathing men.

But grief should be the instructor of the wise;

Sorrow is knowledge: they who know the most

Must mourn the deepest o’er the fatal truth,

The Tree of Knowledge is not that of Life.

Philosophy and science, and the springs

Of wonder, and the wisdom of the world,

I have essay’d, and in my mind there is

A power to make these subject to itself—

But they avail not: I have done men good,

And I have met with good even among men—

But this avail’d not: I have had my foes,

And none have baffled, many fallen before me—

But this avail’d not:—Good, or evil, life,

Powers, passions, all I see in other beings,

Have been to me as rain unto the sands,

Since that all—nameless hour. I have no dread,

And feel the curse to have no natural fear,

Nor fluttering throb, that beats with hopes or wishes,

Or lurking love of something on the earth.

Now to my task.—

Mysterious Agency!

Ye spirits of the unbounded Universe,

Whom I have sought in darkness and in light!

Ye, who do compass earth about, and dwell

In subtler essence! ye, to whom the tops

Of mountains inaccessible are haunts,

And earth’s and ocean’s caves familiar things—

I call upon ye by the written charm

Which gives me power upon you—Rise! appear![A pause.

They come not yet.—Now by the voice of him

Who is the first among you; by this sign,

Which makes you tremble; by the claims of him

Who is undying,—Rise! appear!—Appear![A pause.

If it be so.—Spirits of earth and air,

Ye shall not thus elude me: by a power,

Deeper than all yet urged, a tyrant—spell,

Which had its birthplace in a star condemn’d,

The burning wreck of a demolish’d world,

A wandering hell in the eternal space;

By the strong curse which is upon my soul,

The thought which is within me and around me,

I do compel ye to my will. Appear! [A star is seen at the darker end of the gallery: it is stationary; and a voice is heard singing.


Mortal! to thy bidding bow’d

From my mansion in the cloud,

Which the breath of twilight builds,

And the summer’s sunset gilds

With the azure and vermilion

Which is mix’d for my pavilion;

Though thy quest may be forbidden,

On a star—beam I have ridden,

To thine adjuration bow’d;

Mortal—be thy wish avow’d!

Voice of the SECOND SPIRIT

Mont Blanc is the monarch of mountains;

They crown’d him long ago

On a throne of rocks, in a robe of clouds,

With a diadem of snow.

Around his waist are forests braced,

The Avalanche in his hand;

But ere it fall, that thundering ball

Must pause for my command.

The Glacier’s cold and restless mass

Moves onward day by day;

But I am he who bids it pass,

Or with its ice delay.

I am the spirit of the place,

Could make the mountain bow

And quiver to his cavern’d base—

And what with me wouldst Thou?

Voice of the THIRD SPIRIT

In the blue depth of the waters,

Where the wave hath no strife,

Where the wind is a stranger,

And the sea-snake hath life,

Where the Mermaid is decking

Her green hair with shells;

Like the storm on the surface

Came the sound of thy spells;

O’er my calm Hall of Coral

The deep echo roll’d—

To the Spirit of Ocean

Thy wishes unfold!


Where the slumbering earthquake

Lies pillow’d on fire,

And the lakes of bitumen

Rise boilingly higher;

Where the roots of the Andes

Strike deep in the earth,

As their summits to heaven

Shoot soaringly forth;

I have quitted my birthplace,

Thy bidding to bide—

Thy spell hath subdued me,

Thy will be my guide!


I am the Rider of the wind,

The Stirrer of the storm;

The hurricane I left behind

Is yet with lightning warm;

To speed to thee, o’er shore and sea

I swept upon the blast:

The fleet I met sail’d well, and yet

’Twill sink ere night be past.


My dwelling is the shadow of the night,

Why doth thy magic torture me with light?


The star which rules thy destiny

Was ruled, ere earth began, by me:

It was a world as fresh and fair

As e’er revolved round sun in air;

Its course was free and regular,

Space bosom’d not a lovelier star.

The hour arrived—and it became

A wandering mass of shapeless flame,

A pathless comet, and a curse,

The menace of the universe;

Still rolling on with innate force,

Without a sphere, without a course,

A bright deformity on high,

The monster of the upper sky!

And thou! beneath its influence born—

Thou worm! whom I obey and scorn—

Forced by a power (which is not thine,

And lent thee but to make thee mine)

For this brief moment to descend,

Where these weak spirits round thee bend

And parley with a thing like thee—

What wouldst thou, Child of Clay, with me?


Earth, ocean, air, night, mountains, winds, thy star,

Are at thy beck and bidding, Child of Clay!

Before thee at thy quest their spirits are—

What wouldst thou with us, son of mortals—say?


First Spirit.Of what—of whom—and why?

Man.Of that which is within me; read it there—

Ye know it, and I cannot utter it.

Spirit.We can but give thee that which we possess:

Ask of us subjects, sovereignty, the power

O’er earth, the whole, or portion, or a sign

Which shall control the elements, whereof

We are the dominators,—each and all,

These shall be thine.

Man.Oblivion, self—oblivion—

Can ye not wring from out the hidden realms

Ye offer so profusely what I ask?

Spirit.It is not in our essence, in our skill;

But—thou mayst die.

Man.Will death bestow it on me?

Spirit.We are immortal, and do not forget;

We are eternal; and to us the past

Is as the future, present. Art thou answer’d?

Man.Ye mock me—but the power which brought ye here

Hath made you mine. Slaves, scoff not at my will!

The mind, the spirit, the Promethean spark,

The lightning of my being, is as bright,

Pervading, and far darting as your own,

And shall not yield to yours, though coop’d in clay!

Answer, or I will teach you what I am.

Spirit.We answer as we answer’d; our reply

Is even in thine own words.

Man.Why say ye so?

Spirit.If, as thou say’st, thine essence be as ours,

We have replied in telling thee, the thing

Mortals call death hath nought to do with us.

Man.I then have call’d ye from your realms in vain;

Ye cannot, or ye will not, aid me.


What we possess we offer; it is thine:

Bethink ere thou dismiss us, ask again—

Kingdom, and sway, and strength, and length of days—

Man.Accursèd! What have I to do with days?

They are too long already.—Hence—begone!

Spirit.Yet pause: being here, our will would do thee service;

Bethink thee, is there then no other gift

Which ye can make not worthless in thine eyes?

Man.No, none: yet stay—one moment, ere we part—

I would behold ye face to face. I hear

Your voices, sweet and melancholy sounds,

As music on the waters; and I see

The steady aspect of a clear large star;

But nothing more. Approach me as ye are,

Or one, or all, in your accustom’d forms.

Spirit.We have no forms, beyond the elements

Of which we are the mind and principle:

But choose a form—in that we will appear.

Man.I have no choice; there is no form on earth

Hideous or beautiful to me. Let him,

Who is most powerful of ye, take such aspect

As unto him may seem most fitting—Come!

Seventh Spirit(appearing in the shape of a beautiful female figure). Behold!

Man.Oh God! if it be thus, and thou

Art not a madness and a mockery,

I yet might be most happy. I will clasp thee,

And we again will be—[The figure vanishes.

My heart is crush’d![MANFRED falls senseless.

(A Voice is heard in the Incantation which follows.)

When the moon is on the wave,

And the glow—worm in the grass,

And the meteor on the grave,

And the wisp on the morass;

When the falling stars are shooting,

And the answer’d owls are hooting,

And the silent leaves are still

In the shadow of the hill,

Shall my soul be upon thine,

With a power and with a sign.

Though thy slumber may be deep,

Yet thy spirit shall not sleep;

There are shades which will not vanish,

There are thoughts thou canst not banish;

By a power to thee unknown,

Thou canst never be alone;

Thou art wrapt as with a shroud,

Thou art gather’d in a cloud;

And for ever shalt thou dwell

In the spirit of this spell.

Though thou seest me not pass by,

Thou shalt feel me with thine eye

As a thing that, though unseen,

Must be near thee, and hath been;

And when in that secret dread

Thou hast turn’d around thy head,

Thou shalt marvel I am not

As thy shadow on the spot,

And the power which thou dost feel

Shall be what thou must conceal.

And a magic voice and verse

Hath baptized thee with a curse;

And a spirit of the air

Hath begirt thee with a snare;

In the wind there is a voice

Shall forbid thee to rejoice;

And to thee shall Night deny

All the quiet of her sky;

And the day shall have a sun,

Which shall make thee wish it done.

From thy false tears I did distil

An essence which hath strength to kill;

From thy own heart I then did wring

The black blood in its blackest spring;

From thy own smile I snatch’d the snake,

For there it coil’d as in a brake;

From thy own lip I drew the charm

Which gave all these their chiefest harm;

In proving every poison known,

I found the strongest was thine own.

By thy cold breast and serpent smile,

By thy unfathom’d gulfs of guile,

By that most seeming virtuous eye,

By thy shut soul’s hypocrisy;

By the perfection of thine art

Which pass’d for human thine own heart;

By thy delight in others’ pain,

And by thy brotherhood of Cain,

I call upon thee! and compel

Thyself to be thy proper Hell!

And on thy head I pour the vial

Which doth devote thee to this trial;

Nor to slumber, nor to die,

Shall be in thy destiny;

Though thy death shall still seem near

To thy wish, but as a fear;

Lo! the spell now works around thee,

And the clankless chain hath bound thee;

O’er thy heart and brain together

Hath the word been pass’d—now wither!