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


Scene I

A Hall in the Castle of MANFRED.


Man.What is the hour?

Her.It wants but one till sunset,

And promises a lovely twilight.


Are all things so disposed of in the tower

As I directed?

Her.All, my lord, are ready:

Here is the key and casket.

Man.It is well:

Thou may’st retire.[Exit HERMAN.

Man.(alone). There is a calm upon me—

Inexplicable stillness! which till now

Did not belong to what I knew of life.

If that I did not know philosophy

To be of all our vanities the motliest,

The merest word that ever fool’d the ear

From out the schoolman’s jargon, I should deem

The golden secret, the sought “Kalon,” found,

And seated in my soul. It will not last,

But it is well to have known it, though but once:

It hath enlarged my thoughts with a new sense,

And I within my tablets would note down

That there is such a feeling. Who is there?

Re-enter HERMAN

Her. My lord, the abbot of St. Maurice craves

To greet your presence.


Abbot.Peace be with Count Manfred!

Man.Thanks, holy father! welcome to these walls;

Thy presence honours them, and blesseth those

Who dwell within them.

Abbot.Would it were so, Count!—

But I would fain confer with thee alone.

Man.Herman, retire—What would my reverend guest?

Abbot.Thus, without prelude:—Age and zeal, my office,

And good intent, must plead my privilege;

Our near, though not acquainted neighbourhood,

May also be my herald. Rumours strange,

And of unholy nature, are abroad,

And busy with thy name; a noble name

For centuries: may he who bears it now

Transmit it unimpair’d!

Man.Proceed, I listen.

Abbot.’Tis said thou holdest converse with the things

Which are forbidden to the search of man;

That with the dwellers of the dark abodes,

The many evil and unheavenly spirits

Which walk the valley of the shade of death,

Thou communest. I know that with mankind.

Thy fellows in creation, thou dost rarely

Exchange thy thoughts, and that thy solitude

Is as an anchorite’s, were it but holy.

Man.And what are they who do avouch these things?

Abbot.My pious brethren, the scared peasantry,

Even thy own vassals, who do look on thee

With most unquiet eyes. Thy life’s in peril.

Man.Take it.

Abbot.I come to save, and not destroy.

I would not pry into thy secret soul;

But if these things be sooth, there still is time

For penitence and pity: reconcile thee

With the true church, and through the church to heaven.

Man.I hear thee. This is my reply: whate’er

I may have been, or am, doth rest between

Heaven and myself; I shall not choose a mortal

To be my mediator. Have I sinn’d

Against your ordinances? prove and punish!

Abbot.My son! I did not speak of punishment,

But penitence and pardon; with thyself

The choice of such remains—and for the last,

Our institutions and our strong belief

Have given me power to smooth the path from sin

To higher hope and better thoughts; the first

I leave to heaven,—“Vengeance is mine alone!”

So saith the Lord, and with all humbleness

His servant echoes back the awful word.

Man.Old man! there is no power in holy men,

Nor charm in prayer, nor purifying form

Of penitence, nor outward look, nor fast,

Nor agony, nor, greater than all these,

The innate tortures of that deep despair,

Which is remorse without the fear of hell

But all in all sufficient to itself

Would make a hell of heaven,—can exorcise

From out the unbounded spirit the quick sense

Of its own sins, wrongs, sufferance, and revenge

Upon itself; there is no future pang

Can deal that justice on the self—condemn’d

He deals on his own soul.

Abbot.All this is well;

For this will pass away, and be succeeded

By an auspicious hope, which shall look up

With calm assurance to that blessed place

Which all who seek may win, whatever be

Their earthly errors, so they be atoned:

And the commencement of atonement is

The sense of its necessity.—Say on—

And all our church can teach thee shall be taught;

And all we can absolve thee shall be pardon’d.

Man.When Rome’s sixth emperor was near his last

The victim of a self—inflicted wound,

To shun the torments of a public death

From senates once his slaves, a certain soldier,

With show of loyal pity, would have stanch’d

The gushing throat with his officious robe;

The dying Roman thrust him back, and said—

Some empire still in his expiring glance—

“It is too late—is this fidelity?”

Abbot.And what of this?

Man.I answer with the Roman,

“It is too late!”

Abbot.It never can be so,

To reconcile thyself with thy own soul,

And thy own soul with heaven. Hast thou no hope?

’Tis strange—even those who do despair above,

Yet shape themselves some fantasy on earth,

To which frail twig they cling like drowning men.

Man.Ay—father! I have had those earthly visions

And noble aspirations in my youth,

To make my own the mind of other men,

The enlightener of nations; and to rise

I knew not whither—it might be to fall;

But fall, even as the mountain-cataract,

Which, having leapt from its more dazzling height,

Even in the foaming strength of its abyss

(Which casts up misty columns that become

Clouds raining from the reascended skies)

Lies low but mighty still.—But this is past,

My thoughts mistook themselves.

Abbot.And wherefore so?

Man.I could not tame my nature down; for he

Must serve who fain would sway—and soothe, and sue,

And watch all time, and pry into all place,

And be a living lie, who would become

A mighty thing amongst the mean, and such

The mass are; I disdain’d to mingle with

A herd, though to be leader—and of wolves.

The lion is alone, and so am I.

Abbot.And why not live and act with other men?

Man.Because my nature was averse from life;

And yet not cruel; for I would not make,

But find a desolation. Like the wind,

The red-hot breath of the most lone Simoom,

Which dwells but in the desert and sweeps o’er

The barren sands which bear no shrubs to blast,

And revels o’er their wild and arid waves,

And seeketh not, so that it is not sought,

But being met is deadly,—such hath been

The course of my existence; but there came

Things in my path which are no more.


I ’gin to fear that thou art past all aid

From me and from my calling; yet so young,

I still would—

Man.Look on me! there is an order

Of mortals on the earth, who do become

Old in their youth, and die ere middle age,

Without the violence of warlike death;

Some perishing of pleasure, some of study,

Some worn with toil, some of mere weariness,

Some of disease, and some insanity,

And some of wither’d or of broken hearts;

For this last is a malady which slays

More than are number’d in the lists of Fate,

Taking all shapes and bearing many names.

Look upon me! for even of all these things

Have I partaken; and of all these things,

One were enough; then wonder not that I

Am what I am, but that I ever was,

Or having been, that I am still on earth.

Abbot.Yet, hear me still—

Man.Old man! I do respect

Thine order, and revere thine years; I deem

Thy purpose pious, but it is in vain.

Think me not churlish; I would spare thyself,

Far more than me, in shunning at this time

All further colloquy; and so—farewell.[Exit MANFRED.

Abbot.This should have been a noble creature: he

Hath all the energy which would have made

A goodly frame of glorious elements,

Had they been wisely mingled; as it is,

It is an awful chaos—light and darkness,

And mind and dust, and passions and pure thoughts,

Mix’d, and contending without end or order,

All dormant or destructive. He will perish,

And yet he must not; I will try once more,

For such are worth redemption; and my duty

Is to dare all things for a righteous end.

I’ll follow him—but cautiously, though surely.[Exit ABBOT.