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Lord Byron (1788–1824). Poetry of Byron. 1881.

III. Dramatic

Manfred on the Cliffs

(Manfred, Act i. Scene 2.)

The Mountain of the Fungfrau.—Time, Morning.—MANFRED alone upon the Cliffs.

Man.THE SPIRITS I have raised abandon me—

The spells which I have studied baffle me—

The remedy I reck’d of tortured me.

I lean no more no super-human aid;

It hath no power upon the past, and for

The future, till the past be gulf’d in darkness,

It is not of my search.—My mother Earth!

And thou fresh breaking Day, and you, ye Mountains,

Why are ye beautiful? I cannot love ye.

And thou, the bright eye of the universe,

That openest over all, and unto all

Art a delight—thou shin’st not on my heart.

And you, ye crags, upon whose extreme edge

I stand, and on the torrent’s brink beneath

Behold the tall pines dwindled as to shrubs

In dizziness of distance; when a leap,

A stir, a motion, even a breath, would bring

My breast upon its rocky bosom’s bed

To rest for ever—wherefore do I pause?

I feel the impulse—yet I do not plunge;

I see the peril—yet do not recede;

And my brain reels—and yet my foot is firm:

There is a power upon me which withholds,

And makes it my fatality to live;

If it be life to wear within myself

This barrenness of spirit, and to be

My own soul’s sepulchre, for I have ceased

To justify my deeds unto myself—

The last infirmity of evil. Ay,

Thou winged and cloud-cleaving minister,

[An eagle passes.

Whose happy flight is highest into heaven,

Well may’st thou swoop so near me—I should be

Thy prey, and gorge thine eaglets; thou art gone

Where the eye cannot follow thee; but thine

Yet pierces downward, onward, or above,

With a pervading vision.—Beautiful!

How beautiful is all this visible world!

How glorious in its action and itself!

But we, who name ourselves its sovereigns, we,

Half dust, half deity, alike unfit

To sink or soar, with our mix’d essence make

A conflict of its elements, and breathe

The breath of degradation and of pride,

Contending with low wants and lofty will,

Till our mortality predominates,

And men are—what they name not to themselves,

And trust not to each other. Hark! the note,

[The Shepherd’s pipe in the distance is heard.

The natural music of the mountain reed—

For here the patriarchal days are not

A pastoral fable—pipes in the liberal air,

Mix’d with the sweet bells of the sauntering herd;

My soul would drink those echoes.—Oh, that I were

The viewless spirit of a lovely sound.

A living voice, a breathing harmony,

A bodiless enjoyment—born and dying

With the blest tone which made me!

Enter from below a CHAMOIS HUNTER.

Chamois Hunter.Even so

This way the chamois leapt: her nimble feet

Have baffled me; my gains to-day will scarce

Repay my break-neck travail.—What is here?

Who seems not of my trade, and yet hath reach’d

A height which none even of our mountaineers,

Save our best hunters, may attain: his garb

Is goodly, his mien manly, and his air

Proud as a free-born peasant’s, at this distance—

I will approach him nearer.

Man. (not perceiving the other.)To be thus—

Grey-hair’d with anguish, like these blasted pines,

Wrecks of a single winter, barkless, branchless,

A blighted trunk upon a cursed root,

Which but supplies a feeling to decay—

And to be thus, eternally but thus,

Having been otherwise! Now furrow’d o’er

With wrinkles, plough’d by moments, not by years

And hours—all tortured into ages—hours

Which I outlive!—Ye toppling crags of ice!

Ye avalanches, whom a breath draws down

In mountainous o’erwhelming, come and crush me!

I hear ye momently above, beneath,

Crash with a frequent conflict; but ye pass,

And only fall on things that still would live;

On the young flourishing forest, or the hut

And hamlet of the harmless villager.

C. Hun.The mists begin to rise from up the valley;

I’ll warn him to descend, or he may chance

To lose at once his way and life together.

Man.The mists boil up around the glaciers; clouds

Rise curling fast beneath me, white and sulphury,

Like foam from the roused ocean of deep Hell,

Whose every wave breaks on a living shore,

Heap’d with the damn’d like pebbles.—I am giddy.

C. Hun.I must approach him cautiously; if near,

A sudden step will startle him, and he

Seems tottering already.
Man.Mountains have fallen,

Leaving a gap in the clouds, and with the shock

Rocking their Alpine brethren; filling up

The ripe green valleys with destruction’s splinters;

Damming the rivers with a sudden dash,

Which crush’d the waters into mist, and made

Their fountains find another channel—thus,

Thus, in its old age, did Mount Rosenberg—

Why stood I not beneath it?
C. Hun.Friend! have a care,

Your next step may be fatal!—for the love

Of Him who made you, stand not on that brink!

Man. (not hearing him.)Such would have been for me a fitting tomb;

My bones had then been quiet in their depth;

They had not then been strewn upon the rocks

For the wind’s pastime—as thus—thus they shall be—

In this one plunge.—Farewell, ye opening heavens!

Look not upon me thus reproachfully—

Ye were not meant for me—Earth! take these atoms!

[As MANFRED is in act to spring from the cliff, the CHAMOIS HUNTER seizes and retains him with a sudden grasp.

C. Hun.Hold, madman!—though aweary of thy life,

Stain not our pure vales with thy guilty blood.

Away with me—I will not quit my hold.

Man.I am most sick at heart—nay, grasp me not—

I am all feebleness—the mountains whirl

Spinning around me—I grow blind—What art thou?

C. Hun.I’ll answer that anon.—Away with me—

The clouds grow thicker—there—now lean on me—

Place your foot here—here, take this staff, and cling

A moment to that shrub—now give me your hand,

And hold fast by my girdle—softly—well—

The Chalet will be gain’d within an hour—

Come on, we’ll quickly find a surer footing,

And something like a pathway, which the torrent

Hath wash’d since winter.—Come, ’tis bravely done—

You should have been a hunter.—Follow me.

[They descend the rocks.