Empedocles on Etna
The Scene of the Poem is on Mount Etna; at first in the forest region, afterwards on the summit of the mountain.
ACT I: SCENE I 
A Pass in the forest region of Etna. Morning
(Alone, resting on a rock by the path)
- The mules, I think, will not be here this hour.
They feel the cool wet turf under their feet
- By the stream-side, after the dusty lanes
In which they have toil’d all night from Catania,
- And scarcely will they budge a yard. O Pan
How gracious is the mountain at this hour!
- A thousand times have I been here alone
Or with the revellers from the mountain towns,
- But never on so fair a morn;—the sun
Is shining on the brilliant mountain crests,
- And on the highest pines: but further down
Here in the valley is in shade; the sward
- Is dark, and on the stream the mist still hangs;
One sees one’s foot-prints crush’d in the wet grass,
- One’s breath curls in the air; and on these pines
That climb from the stream’s edge, the long grey tufts,
- Which the goats love, are jewell’d thick with dew.
Here will I stay till the slow litter comes.
- I have my harp too—that is well.—Apollo!
What mortal could be sick or sorry here?
- I know not in what mind Empedocles,
Whose mules I follow’d, may be coming up,
- But if, as most men say, he is half mad
With exile, and with brooding on his wrongs,
- Pausanias, his sage friend, who mounts with him,
Could scarce have lighted on a lovelier cure.
- The mules must be below, far down. I hear
Their tinkling bells, mix’d with the song of birds,
- Rise faintly to me—now it stops!—Who’s here?
Pausanias! and on foot? alone?
And thou, then?
- I left thee supping with Peisianax,
With thy head full of wine, and thy hair crown’d,
- Touching thy harp as the whim came on thee,
And prais’d and spoil’d by master and by guests
- Almost as much as the new dancing girl.
Why hast thou follow’d us?
The night was hot,
- And the feast past its prime; so we slipp’d out,
Some of us, to the portico to breathe;—
- Peisianax, thou know’st, drinks late;—and then,
As I was lifting my soil’d garland off,
- I saw the mules and litter in the court.
And in the litter sate Empedocles;
- Thou, too, wert with him. Straightway I sped home;
I saddled my white mule, and all night long
- Through the cool lovely country follow’d you,
Pass’d you a little since as morning dawn’d,
- And have this hour sate by the torrent here,
Till the slow mules should climb in sight again.
- And now’?
And now, back to the town with speed
- Crouch in the wood first, till the mules have pass’d;
They do but halt, they will be here anon.
- Thou must be viewless to Empedocles;
Save mine, he must not meet a human eye.
- One of his moods is on him that thou know’st.
I think, thou would’st not vex him.
- I would fain stay and help thee tend him; once
He knew me well, and would oft notice me.
- And still, I know not how, he draws me to him,
And I could watch him with his proud sad face,
- His flowing locks and gold-encircled brow
And kingly gait, for ever; such a spell
- In his severe looks, such a majesty
As drew of old the people after him,
- In Agrigentum and Olympia,
When his star reign’d, before his banishment,
- Is potent still on me in his decline.
But oh, Pausanias, he is changed of late
- There is a settled trouble in his air
Admits no momentary brightening now;
- And when he comes among his friends at feasts,
’Tis as an orphan among prosperous boys.
- Thou know’st of old he loved this harp of mine,
When first he sojourn’d with Peisianax;
- He is now always moody, and I fear him.
But I would serve him, soothe him, if I could,
- Dared one but try.
Thou wert a kind child ever.
- He loves thee, but he must not see thee now.
Thou hast indeed a rare touch on thy harp,
- He loves that in thee, too; there was a time
(But that is pass’d) he would have paid thy strain
- With music to have drawn the stars from heaven.
He has his harp and laurel with him still,
- But he has laid the use of music by,
And all which might relax his settled gloom.
- Yet thou may’st try thy playing if thou wilt,
But thou must keep unseen; follow us on,
- But at a distance; in these solitudes,
In this clear mountain air, a voice will rise,
- Though from afar, distinctly; it may soothe him.
Play when we halt, and, when the evening comes
- And I must leave him (for his pleasure is
To be left musing these soft nights alone
- In the high unfrequented mountain spots),
Then watch him, for he ranges swift and far,
- Sometimes to Etna’s top, and to the cone;
But hide thee in the rocks a great way down.
- And try thy noblest strains, my Callicles,
With the sweet night to help thy harmony.
- Thou wilt earn my thanks sure, and perhaps his.
More than a day and night, Pausanias,
- Of this fair summer weather, on these hills,
Would I bestow to help Empedocles.
- That needs no thanks; one is far better here
Than in the broiling city in these heats.
- But tell me, how hast thou persuaded him
In this his present fierce, man-hating mood,
- To bring thee out with him alone on Etna
- Thou hast heard all men speaking of Pantheia,
The woman who at Agrigentum lay
- Thirty long days in a cold trance of death,
And whom Empedocles call’d back to life.
- Thou art too young to note it, but his power
Swells with the swelling evil of this time,
- And holds men mute to see where it will rise.
He could stay swift diseases in old days,
- Chain madmen by the music of his lyre,
Cleanse to sweet airs the breath of poisonous streams,
- And in the mountain chinks inter the winds.
This he could do of old; but now, since all
- Clouds and grows daily worse in Sicily,
Since broils tear us in twain, since this new swarm
- Of sophists has got empire in our schools
Where he was paramount, since he is banish’d,
- And lives a lonely man in triple gloom,
He grasps the very reins of life and death.
- I ask’d him of Pantheia yesterday,
When we were gather’d with Peisianax,
- And he made answer, I should come at night
On Etna here, and be alone with him,
- And he would tell me, as his old, tried friend,
Who still was faithful, what might profit me;
- That is, the secret of this miracle.
Bah! Thou a doctor? Thou art superstitious.
- Simple Pausanias, ’twas no miracle!
Pantheia, for I know her kinsmen well,
- Was subject to these trances from a girl.
Empedocles would say so, did he deign;
- But he still lets the people, whom he scorns,
Gape and cry wizard at him, if they list.
- But thou, thou art no company for him;
Thou art as cross, as soured as himself.
- Thou hast some wrong from thine own citizens,
And then thy friend is banish’d, and on that,
- Straightway thou fallest to arraign the times,
As if the sky was impious not to fall.
- The sophists are no enemies of his;
I hear, Gorgias, their chief, speaks nobly of him,
- As of his gifted master and once friend.
He is too scornful, too high-wrought, too bitter.
- ’Tis not the times, ’tis not the sophists vex him;
There is some root of suffering in himself,
- Some secret and unfollow’d vein of woe,
Which makes the time look black and sad to him.
- Pester him not in this his sombre mood
With questionings about an idle tale,
- But lead him through the lovely mountain paths,
And keep his mind from preying on itself,
- And talk to him of things at hand and common,
Not miracles; thou art a learned man,
- But credulous of fables as a girl.
And thou, a boy whose tongue outruns his knowledge,
- And on whose lightness blame is thrown away.
Enough of this! I see the litter wind
- Up by the torrent-side, under the pines.
I must rejoin Empedocles. Do thou
- Crouch in the brush-wood till the mules have pass’d;
Then play thy kind part well. Farewell till night!
SCENE II 
Noon. A Glen on the highest skirts of the woody region of Etna
The noon is hot; when we have cross’d the stream
- We shall have left the woody tract, and come
Upon the open shoulder of the hill.
- See how the giant spires of yellow bloom
Of the sun-loving gentian, in the heat,
- Are shining on those naked slopes like flame!
Let us rest here; and now, Empedocles,
- Pantheia’s history.
A harp-note below is heard.
Hark! what sound was that
- Rose from below? If it were possible,
And we were not so far from human haunt,
- I should have said that some one touch’d a harp.
Hark! there again!
’Tis the boy Callicles,
- The sweetest harp-player in Catana,
He is for ever coming on these hills,
- In summer, to all country festivals,
With a gay revelling band; he breaks from them
- Sometimes, and wanders far among the glens.
But heed him not, he will not mount to us;
- I spoke with him this morning. Once more, therefore,
Instruct me of Pantheia’s story, Master,
- As I have pray’d thee.
That? and to what end?
It is enough that all men speak of it.
- But I will also say, that when the Gods
Visit us as they do with sign and plague,
- To know those spells of time that stay their hand
Were to live free from terror.
Spells? Mistrust them.
- Mind is the spell which governs earth and heaven.
Man has a mind with which to plan his safety;
- Know that, and help thyself.
But thy own words?
- ‘The wit and counsel of man was never clear,
Troubles confuse the little wit he has.’
- Mind is a light which the Gods mock us with,
To lead those false who trust it.
The harp sounds again.
Hist! once more!
- Listen, Pausanias!—Aye, ’tis Callicles!
I know those notes among a thousand. Hark!
Sings unseen, from below.
- The track winds down to the clear stream,
To cross the sparkling shallows; there
- The, cattle love to gather, on their way
To the high mountain pastures, and to stay,
- Till the rough cow-herds drive them past,
Knee-deep in the cool ford; for ’tis the last
- Of all the woody, high, well-water’d dells
On Etna; and the beam
- Of noon is broken there by chestnut boughs
Down its steep verdant sides; the air
- Is freshen’d by the leaping stream, which throws
Eternal showers of spray on the moss’d roots
- Of trees, and veins of turf, and long dark shoots
Of ivy-plants, and fragrant hanging bells
- Of hyacinths, and on late anemonies,
That muffle its wet banks; but glade,
- And stream, and sward, and chestnut trees,
End here; Etna beyond, in the broad glare
- Of the hot noon, without a shade,
Slope behind slope, up to the peak, lies bare;
- The peak, round which the white clouds play.
- In such a glen, on such a day,
- On Pelion, on the grassy ground,
- Chiron, the aged Centaur, lay,
- The young Achilles standing by.
- The Centaur taught him to explore
- The mountains; where the glens are dry,
- And the tired Centaurs come to rest,
- And where the soaking springs abound,
- And the straight ashes grow for spears,
- And where the hill-goats come to feed,
- And the sea-eagles build their nest.
- He show’d him Phthia far away,
- And said: O boy, I taught this lore
- To Peleus, in long distant years!
- He told him of the Gods, the stars,
- The tides;—and then of mortal wars,
- And of the life which heroes lead
- Before they reach the Elysian place
- And rest in the immortal mead;
- And all the wisdom of his race.
- In such a glen, on such a day,
The music below ceases, and EMPEDOCLES speaks, accompanying himself in a solemn manner on his harp.
- The out-spread world to span
A cord the Gods first slung,
- And then the soul of man
There, like a mirror, hung,
- And bade the winds through space impel the gusty toy.
Hither and thither spins
- The wind-borne mirroring soul,
A thousand glimpses wins,
- And never sees a whole;
Looks once, and drives elsewhere, and leaves its last employ.
- The Gods laugh in their sleeve
- To watch man doubt and fear,
- Who knows not what to believe
- Since he sees nothing clear,
And dares stamp nothing false where he finds nothing sure.
- Is this, Pausanias, so?
- And can our souls not strive,
- But with the winds must go,
- And hurry where they drive?
Is Fate indeed so strong, man’s strength indeed so poor?
- I will not judge! that man,
- Howbeit, I judge as lost,
- Whose mind allows a plan
- Which would degrade it most;
And he treats doubt the best who tries to see least ill.
- Be not, then, fear’s blind slave!
- Thou art my friend; to thee,
- All knowledge that I have.
- All skill I wield, are free;
Ask not the latest news of the last miracle,
- Ask not what days and nights
- In trance Pantheia lay,
- But ask how thou such sights
- May’st see without dismay;
Ask what most helps when known, thou son of Anchitus!
- What? hate, and awe, and shame
- Fill thee to see our world;
- Thou feelest thy soul’s frame
- Shaken and rudely hurl’d.
What? life and time go hard with thee too, as with us;
- Thy citizens, ’tis said,
- Envy thee and oppress,
- Thy goodness no men aid,
- All strive to make it less;
Tyranny, pride, and lust fill Sicily’s abodes;
- Heaven is with earth at strife,
- Signs make thy soul afraid,
- The dead return to life,
- Rivers are dried, winds stay’d;
Scarce can one think in calm, so threatening are the Gods;
- And we feel, day and night,
- The burden of ourselves—
- Well, then, the wiser wight
- In his own bosom delves,
And asks what ails him so, and gets what cure he can.
- The sophist sneers: Fool, take
- Thy pleasure, right or wrong!
- The pious wail: Forsake
- A world these sophists throng!
Be neither saint nor sophist-led, but be a man.
- These hundred doctors try
- To preach thee to their school.
- We have the truth! they cry.
- And yet their oracle.
Trumpet it as they will, is but the same as thine.
- Once read thy own breast right,
- And thou hast done with fears!
- Man gets no other light,
- Search he a thousand years.
Sink in thyself! there ask what ails thee, at that shrine!
- What makes thee struggle and rave?
- Why are men ill at ease?—
- ’Tis that the lot they have
- Fails their own will to please;
For man would make no murmuring, were his will obey’d.
- And why is it, that still
- Man with his lot thus fights?—
- ’Tis that he makes this will
- The measure of his rights,
And believes Nature outraged if his will’s gainsaid.
- Couldst thou, Pausanias, learn
- How deep a fault is this!
- Couldst thou but once discern
- Thou hast no right to bliss,
No title from the Gods to welfare and repose;
- Then thou wouldst look less mazed
- Whene’er from bliss debarr’d,
- Nor think the Gods were crazed
- When thy own lot went hard.
But we are all the same—the fools of our own woes!
- For, from the first faint morn
- Of life, the thirst for bliss
- Deep in man’s heart is born;
- And, sceptic as he is,
He fails not to judge clear if this be quench’d or no.
- Nor is that thirst to blame!
- Man errs not that he deems
- His welfare his true aim,
- He errs because he dreams
The world does but exist that welfare to bestow.
- We mortals are no kings
- For each of whom to sway
- A new-made world up-springs
- Meant merely for his play;
No, we are strangers here; the world is from of old.
- In vain our pent wills fret,
- And would the world subdue.
- Limits we did not set
- Condition all we do;
Born into life we are, and life must be our mould.
- Born into life—man grows
- Forth from his parents’ stem,
- And blends their bloods, as those
- Of theirs are blent in them;
So each new man strikes root into a far fore-time.
- Born into life—we bring
- A bias with us here,
- And, when here, each new thing
- Affects us we come near;
To tunes we did not call our being must keep chime.
- Born into life—in vain,
- Opinions, those or these,
- Unalter’d to retain
- The obstinate mind decrees;
Experience, like a sea, soaks all effacing in.
- Born into life—who lists
- May what is false hold dear,
- And for himself make mists
- Through which to see less clear;
The world is what it is, for all our dust and din.
- Born into life—’tis we,
- And not the world, are new.
- Our cry for bliss, our plea,
- Others have urged it too;
Our wants have all been felt, our errors made before.
- No eye could be too sound
- To observe a world so vast,
- No patience too profound
- To sort what’s here amass’d;
How man may here best live no care too great to explore.
- But we—as some rude guest
- Would change, where’er he roam,
- The manners there profess’d
- To those he brings from home—
We mark not the world’s course, but would have it take ours.
- The world’s course proves the terms
- On which man wins content;
- Reason the proof confirms;
- We spurn it, and invent
A false course for the world, and for ourselves, false powers.
- Riches we wish to get,
- Yet remain spendthrifts still;
- We would have health, and yet
- Still use our bodies ill;
Bafflers of our own prayers, from youth to life’s last scenes.
- We would have inward peace,
- Yet will not look within;
- We would have misery cease,
- Yet will not cease from sin;
We want all pleasant ends, but will use no harsh means;
- We do not what we ought,
- What we ought not, we do,
- And loan upon the thought
- That chance will bring us through;
But our own acts, for good or ill, are mightier powers.
- Yet, even when man forsakes
- All sin,—is just, is pure,
- Abandons all which makes
- His welfare insecure—
Other existences there are, that clash with ours.
- Like us, the lightning fires
- Love to have scope and play;
- The stream, like us, desires
- An unimpeded way;
Like us, the Libyan wind delights to roam at large.
- Streams will not curb their pride
- The just man not to entomb,
- Nor lightnings go aside
- To leave his virtues room;
Nor is that wind less rough which blows a good man’s barge.
- Nature, with equal mind,
- Sees all her sons at play
- Sees man control the wind,
- The wind sweep man away;
Allows the proudly-riding and the founder’d bark.
- And, lastly, though of ours
- No weakness spoil our lot,
- Though the non-human powers
- Of Nature harm us not.
The ill-deeds of other men make often our life dark.
- What were the wise man’s plan?—
- Through this sharp, toil-set life,
- To fight as best he can.
- And win what’s won by strife.
But we an easier way to cheat our pains have found.
- Scratch’d by a fall, with moans
- As children of weak age
- Lend life to the dumb stones
- Whereon to vent their rage.
And bend their little fists, and rate the senseless ground;
- So, loath to suffer mute.
- We, peopling the void air,
- Make Gods to whom to impute
- The ills we ought to bear;
With God and Fate to rail at, suffering easily.
- Yet grant—as sense long miss’d
- Things that are now perceiv’d,
- And much may still exist
- Which is not yet believ’d—
Grant that the world were full of Gods we cannot see;
- All things the world which fill
- Of but one stuff are spun,
- That we who rail are still,
- With what we rail at, one;
One with the o’er-labour’d Power that through the breadth and length
- Of earth, and air, and sea,
- In men, and plants, and stones,
- Hath toil perpetually,
- And struggles, pants, and moans
Fain would do all things well, but sometimes fails in strength.
- And patiently exact
- This universal God
- Alike to any act
- Proceeds at any nod,
And quietly declaims the cursings of himself.
- This is not what man hates,
- Yet he can curse but this.
- Harsh Gods and hostile Fates
- Are dreams! this only is;
Is everywhere; sustains the wise, the foolish elf.
- Nor only, in the intent
- To attach blame elsewhere,
- Do we at will invent
- Stern Powers who make their care
To embitter human life, malignant Deities;
- But, next, we would reverse
- The scheme ourselves have spun,
- And what we made to curse
- We now would lean upon,
And feign kind Gods who perfect what man vainly tries.
- Look, the world tempts our eye,
- And we would know it all!
- We map the starry sky,
- We mine this earthen ball,
We measure the sea-tides, we number the sea-sands;
- We scrutinize the dates
- Of long-past human things,
- The bounds of effac’d states,
- The lines of deceas’d kings;
We search out dead men’s words, and works of dead men’s hands;
- We shut our eyes, and amuse
- How our own minds are made,
- What springs of thought they use,
- How righten’d, how betray’d;
And spend our wit to name what most employ unnam’d;
- But still, as we proceed.
- The mass swells more and more
- Of volumes yet to read,
- Of secrets yet to explore.
Our hair grows grey, our eyes are dimm’d, our heat is tamed.
- We rest our faculties,
- And thus address the Gods
- ‘True science if there is,
- It stays in your abodes;
Man’s measures cannot mete the immeasurable All;
- ‘You only can take in
- The world’s immense design,
- Our desperate search was sin,
- Which henceforth we resign,
Sure only that your mind sees all things which befall!’
- Fools! that in man’s brief term
- He cannot all things view.
- Affords no ground to affirm
- That there are Gods who do!
Nor does being weary prove that he has where to rest!
- Again: our youthful blood
- Claims rapture as its right;
- The world, a rolling flood
- Of newness and delight,
Draws in the enamour’d gazer to its shining breast;
- Pleasure to our hot grasp
- Gives flowers after flowers,
- With passionate warmth we clasp
- Hand after hand in ours;
Nor do we soon perceive how fast our youth is spent.
- At once our eyes grow clear;
- We see in blank dismay
- Year posting after year,
- Sense after sense decay;
Our shivering heart is mined by secret discontent;
- Yet still, in spite of truth,
- In spite of hopes entomb’d,
- That longing of our youth
- Burns ever unconsum’d,
Still hungrier for delight as delights grow more rare.
- We pause; we hush our heart,
- And then address the Gods:
- ‘The world hath fail’d to impart
- The joy our youth forbodes,
Fail’d to fill up the void which in our breasts we bear.
- ‘Changeful till now, we still
- Look’d on to something new;
- Let us, with changeless will,
- Henceforth look on to you,
To find with you the joy we in vain here require!’
- Fools! that so often here
- Happiness mock’d our prayer,
- I think, might make us fear
- A like event elsewhere!
Make us, not fly to dreams, but moderate desire!
- And yet, for those who know
- Themselves, who wisely take
- Their way through life, and bow
- To what they cannot break,
Why should I say that life need yield but moderate bliss?
- Shall we, with temper spoil’d,
- Health sapp’d by living ill,
- And judgement all embroil’d
- By sadness and self-will,
Shall we judge what for man is not true bliss or is?
- Is it so small a thing
- To have enjoy’d the sun,
- To have lived light in the spring,
- To have loved, to have thought, to have done;
To have advanc’d true friends, and beat down baffling foes;
- That we must feign a bliss
- Of doubtful future date,
- And, while we dream on this,
- Lose all our present state,
And relegate to worlds yet distant our repose?
- Not much, I know, you prize
- What pleasures may be had,
- Who look on life with eyes
- Estrang’d, like mine, and sad;
And yet the village churl feels the truth more than you,
- Who’s loath to leave this life
- Which to him little yields;
- His hard-task’d sunburnt wife,
- His often-labour’d fields,
The boors with whom he talk’d, the country spots he knew.
- But thou, because thou hear’st
- Men scoff at Heaven and Fate,
- Because the Gods thou fear’st
- Fail to make blest thy state,
Tremblest, and wilt not dare to trust the joys there are.
- I say: Fear not! Life still
- Leaves human effort scope.
- But, since life teems with ill,
- Nurse no extravagant hope;
Because thou must not dream, thou need’st not then despair!
A long pause. At the end of it the notes of a harp below are again heard, and CALLICLES sings:
- Far, far from here,
The Adriatic breaks in a warm bay
- Among the green Illyrian hills; and there
The sunshine in the happy glens is fair,
- And by the sea, and in the brakes.
The grass is cool, the sea-side air
- Buoyant and fresh, the mountain flowers
As virginal and sweet as ours.
- And there, they say, two bright and aged snakes,
Who once were Cadmus and Harmonia,
- Bask in the glens or on the warm sea-shore,
In breathless quiet, after all their ills.
- Nor do they see their country, nor the place
Where the Sphinx lived among the frowning hills,
- Nor the unhappy palace of their race,
Nor Thebes, nor the Ismenus, any more.
- There those two live, far in the Illyrian brakes.
They had stay’d long enough to see,
- In Thebes. the billow of calamity
Over their own dear children roll’d,
- Curse upon curse, pang upon pang,
For years. they sitting helpless in their home,
- A grey old man and woman; yet of old
The Gods had to their marriage come,
- And at the banquet all the Muses sang.
Therefore they did not end their days
- In sight of blood; but were rapt, far away,
To where the west wind plays,
- And murmurs of the Adriatic come
To those untrodden mountain lawns; and there
- Placed safely in changed forms, the Pair
Wholly forget their first sad life, and home,
- And all that Theban woe, and stray
For ever through the glens, placid and dumb.
That was my harp-player again!—where is he?
- Down by the stream
Yes, Master, in the wood.
He ever loved the Theban story well!
- But the day wears. Go now, Pausanias,
For I must be alone. Leave me one mule;
- Take down with thee the rest to Catana.
And for young Callicles, thank him from me;
- Tell him I never fail’d to love his lyre
But he must follow me no more tonight.
Thou wilt return to-morrow to the city?
Either to-morrow or some other day,
- In the sure revolutions of the world,
Good friend, I shall revisit Catana.
- I have seen many cities in my time
Till my eyes ache with the long spectacle,
- And I shall doubtless see them all again;
Thou know’st me for a wanderer from of old.
- Meanwhile, stay me not now. Farewell, Pausanias!
He departs on his way up the mountain.
PAUSANIAS (alone) 
I dare not urge him further; he must go.
- But he is strangely wrought!—I will speed back
And bring Peisianax to him from the city;
- His counsel could once soothe him. But, Apollo!
How his brow lighten’d as the music rose!
- Callicles must wait here, and play to him;
I saw him through the chestnuts far below,
- Just since, down at the stream.—Ho! Callicles!
He descends, calling.
ACT II 
Evening. The Summit of Etna
- On this charr’d, blacken’d, melancholy waste,
Crown’d by the awful peak, Etna’s great mouth,
- Round which the sullen vapour rolls—alone
Pausanias is far hence, and that is well,
- For I must henceforth speak no more with man.
He has his lesson too, and that debt’s paid;
- And the good, learned, friendly, quiet man,
May bravelier front his life, and in himself
- Find henceforth energy and heart; but I,
The weary man, the banish’d citizen—
- Whose banishment is not his greatest ill,
Whose weariness no energy can reach,
- And for whose hurt courage is not the cure—
What should I do with life and living more?
- No, thou art come too late, Empedocles!
And the world hath the day, and must break thee,
- Not thou the world. With men thou canst not live,
Their thoughts, their ways, their wishes, are not thine;
- And being lonely thou art miserable,
For something has impair’d thy spirit’s strength,
- And dried its self-sufficing fount of joy.
Thou canst not live with men nor with thyself—
- Oh sage! oh sage!—Take then the one way left;
And turn thee to the elements, thy friends,
- Thy well-tried friends, thy willing ministers,
And say:—Ye servants, hear Empedocles,
- Who asks this final service at your hands!
Before the sophist brood hath overlaid
- The last spark of man’s consciousness with words—
Ere quite the being of man, ere quite the world
- Be disarray’d of their divinity—
Before the soul lose all her solemn joys,
- And awe be dead, and hope impossible,
And the soul’s deep eternal night come on,
- Receive me, hide me, quench me, take me home!
He advances to the edge of the crater. Smoke and fire break forth with a loud noise, and CALLICLES is heard below singing:
- The lyre’s voice is lovely everywhere!
In the court of Gods, in the city of men,
- And in the lonely rock-strewn mountain glen.
In the still mountain air.
- Only to Typho it sounds hatefully!
To Typho only, the rebel o’erthrown,
- Through whose heart Etna drives her roots of stone,
To imbed them in the sea.
- Wherefore dost thou groan so loud?
Wherefore do thy nostrils flash,
- Through the dark night, suddenly,
Typho, such red jets of flame?—
- Is thy tortur’d heart still proud?
Is thy fire-scath’d arm still rash?
- Still alert thy stone-crush’d frame?
Doth thy fierce soul still deplore
- The ancient rout by the Cilician hills,
And that curst treachery on the Mount of Gore?
- Do thy bloodshot eyes still see
The fight that crown’d thy ills,
- Thy last defeat in this Sicilian sea?
Hast thou sworn, in thy sad lair,
- Where east the strong sea-currents suck’d thee down,
Never to cease to writhe, and try to sleep,
- Letting the sea-stream wander through thy hair?
That thy groans, like thunder deep,
- Begin to roll, and almost drown
The sweet notes, whose lulling spell
- Gods and the race of mortals love so well,
When through thy eaves thou hearest music swell?
- But an awful pleasure bland
Spreading o’er the Thunderer’s face,
- When the sound climbs near his seat,
The Olympian council sees;
- As he lets his lax right hand,
Which the lightnings doth embrace,
- Sink upon his mighty knees.
And the eagle, at the beck
- Of the appeasing gracious harmony,
Droops all his sheeny, brown, deep-feather’d neck,
- Nestling nearer to Jove’s feet;
While o’er his sovereign eye
- The curtains of the blue films slowly meet,
And the white Olympus peaks
- Rosily brighten, and the sooth’d Gods smile
At one another from their golden chairs,
- And no one round the charmèd circle speaks.
Only the loved Hebe bears
- The cup about, whose draughts beguile
Pain and care, with a dark store
- Of fresh-pull’d violets wreath’d and nodding o’er;
And her flush’d feet glow on the marble floor.
He fables, yet speaks truth.
- The brave impetuous heart yields everywhere
To the subtle, contriving head;
- Great qualities are trodden down,
And littleness united
- Is become invincible.
These rumblings are not Typho’s groans, I know!
- These angry smoke-bursts
Are not the passionate breath
- Of the mountain-crush’d, tortur’d, intractable Titan king!
But overall the world
- What suffering is there not seen
Of plainness oppress’d by cunning,
- As the well-counsell’d Zeus oppress’d
The self-helping son of earth!
- What anguish of greatness
Rail’d and hunted from the world,
- Because its simplicity rebukes
This envious, miserable age!
- I am weary of it!—
Lie there, ye ensigns
- Of my unloved pre-eminence
In an age like this!
- Among a people of children,
Who throng’d me in their cities,
- Who worshipp’d me in their houses,
And ask’d, not wisdom,
- But drugs to charm with,
But spells to mutter—
- All the fool’s-armoury of magic!—Lie there,
My golden circlet!
- My purple robe!
CALLICLES (from below) 
As the sky-brightening south-wind clears the day,
- And makes the mass’d clouds roll,
The music of the lyre blows away
- The clouds that wrap the soul.
Oh, that Fate had let me see
- That triumph of the sweet persuasive lyre!
That famous, final victory
- When jealous Pan with Marsyas did conspire!
When, from far Parnassus’ side,
- Young Apollo, all the pride
Of the Phrygian flutes to tame,
- To the Phrygian highlands came!
Where the long green reed-beds sway
- In the rippled waters grey
Of that solitary lake
- Where Maeander’s springs are born;
Where the ridg’d pine-wooded roots
- Of Messogis westward break,
Mounting westward, high and higher.
- There was held the famous strife;
There the Phrygian brought his flutes,
- And Apollo brought his lyre;
And, when now the westering sun
- Touch’d the hills, the strife was done,
And the attentive Muses said
- ‘Marsyas! thou art vanquishèd.’
Then Apollo’s minister
- Hang’d upon a branching fir
Marsyas, that unhappy Faun,
- And began to whet his knife.
But the Maenads, who were there,
- Left their friend, and with robes flowing
In the wind, and loose dark hair
- O’er their polish’d bosoms blowing,
Each her ribbon’d tambourine
- Flinging on the mountain sod,
With a lovely frighten’d mien
- Came about the youthful God.
But he turn’d his beauteous face
- Haughtily another way,
From the grassy sun-warm’d place,
- Where in proud repose he lay,
With one arm over his head,
- Watching how the whetting sped.
But aloof on the lake strand,
- Did the young Olympus stand,
Weeping at his master’s end;
- For the Faun had been his friend.
For he taught him how to sing.
- And he taught him flute-playing.
Many a morning had they gone
- To the glimmering mountain lakes,
And had torn up by the roots
- The tall crested water-reeds
With long plumes, and soft brown seeds,
- And had carved them into flutes,
Sitting on a tabled stone
- Where the shoreward ripple breaks.
And he taught him how to please
- The red-snooded Phrygian girls,
Whom the summer evening sees
- Flashing in the dance’s whirls
Underneath the starlit trees
- In the mountain villages.
Therefore now Olympus stands,
- At his master’s piteous cries
Pressing fast with both his hands
- His white garment to his eyes,
Not to see Apollo’s scorn;
- Ah, poor Faun, poor Faun! ah, poor Faun!
And lie thou there,
- My laurel bough!
Scornful Apollo’s ensign, lie thou there!
- Though thou hast been my shade in the world’s heat—
Though I have loved thee, lived in honouring thee—
- Yet lie thou there,
My laurel bough!
- I am weary of thee!
I am weary of the solitude
- Where he who bears thee must abide!
Of the rocks of Parnassus,
- Of the gorge of Delphi,
Of the moonlit peaks, and the caves.
- Thou guardest them, Apollo!
Over the grave of the slain Pytho,
- Though young, intolerably severe;
Thou keepest aloof the profane,
- But the solitude oppresses thy votary!
The jars of men reach him not in thy valley—
- But can life reach him?
Thou fencest him from the multitude—
- Who will fence him from himself?
He hears nothing but the cry of the torrents
- And the beating of his own heart.
The air is thin, the veins swell—
- The temples tighten and throb there—
- Take thy bough; set me free from my solitude!
I have been enough alone!
- Where shall thy votary fly then? back to men?—
But they will gladly welcome him once more,
- And help him to unbend his too tense thought,
And rid him of the presence of himself,
- And keep their friendly chatter at his ear,
And haunt him, till the absence from himself,
- That other torment, grow unbearable;
And he will fly to solitude again,
- And he will find its air too keen for him,
And so change back; and many thousand times
- Be miserably bandied to and fro
Like a sea-wave, betwixt the world and thee,
- Thou young, implacable God! and only death
Shall cut his oscillations short, and so
- Bring him to poise. There is no other way.
And yet what days were those, Parmenides!
- When we were young, when we could number friends
In all the Italian cities like ourselves,
- When with elated hearts we join’d your train,
Ye Sun-born Virgins! on the road of truth.
- Then we could still enjoy, then neither thought
Nor outward things were clos’d and dead to us,
- But we receiv’d the shock of mighty thoughts
On simple minds with a pure natural joy;
- And if the sacred load oppress’d our brain,
We had the power to feel the pressure eased,
- The brow unbound, the thoughts flow free again,
In the delightful commerce of the world.
- We had not lost our balance then, nor grown
Thought’s slaves, and dead to every natural joy!
- The smallest thing could give us pleasure then!
The sports of the country people,
- A flute-note from the woods
Sunset over the sea;
- Seed-time and harvest,
The reapers in the corn,
- The vinedresser in his vineyard,
The village-girl at her wheel!
- Fullness of life and power of feeling, ye
Are for the happy, for the souls at ease,
- Who dwell on a firm basis of content!—
But he, who has outliv’d his prosperous days,
- But he, whose youth fell on a different world
From that on which his exiled age is thrown,
- Whose mind was fed on other food, was train’d
By other rules than are in vogue to-day,
- Whose habit of thought is fix’d, who will not change,
But in a world he loves not must subsist
- In ceaseless opposition, be the guard
Of his own breast, fetterd to what he guards,
- That the world win no mastery over him;
Who has no friend, no fellow left, not one;
- Who has no minute’s breathing space allow’d
To nurse his dwindling faculty of joy—
- Joy and the outward world must die to him,
As they are dead to me!
A long pause, during which EMPEDOCLES remains motionless, plunged in thought. The night deepens. He moves forward and gazes round him, and proceeds:
- And you, ye stars,
Who slowly begin to marshal,
- As of old, in the fields of heaven,
Your distant, melancholy lines!
- Have you, too, survived yourselves?
Are you, too, what I fear to become?
- You, too, once lived!
You too moved joyfully
- Among august companions
In an older world, peopled by Gods,
- In a mightier order,
The radiant, rejoicing, intelligent Sons of Heaven
- But now, you kindle
Your lonely, cold-shining lights,
- Unwilling lingerers
In the heavenly wilderness,
- For a younger, ignoble world;
And renew, by necessity,
- Night after night your courses,
In echoing unnear’d silence,
- Above a race you know not.
Uncaring and undelighted.
- Without friend and without home;
Weary like us, though not
- Weary with our weariness.
No, no, ye stars! there is no death with you,
- No languor, no decay! Languor and death,
They are with me, not you! ye are alive!
- Ye and the pure dark ether where ye ride
Brilliant above me! And thou, fiery world,
- That sapp’st the vitals of this terrible mount
Upon whose charr’d and quaking crust I stand,
- Thou, too, brimmest with life!—the sea of cloud
That heaves its white and billowy vapours up
- To moat this isle of ashes from the world,
Lives!—and that other fainter sea, far down,
- O’er whose lit floor a road of moonbeams leads
To Etna’s Liparëan sister-fires
- And the long dusky line of Italy—
That mild and luminous floor of waters lives,
- With held-in joy swelling its heart!—I only,
Whose spring of hope is dried, whose spirit has fail’d—
- I, who have not, like these, in solitude
Maintain’d courage and force, and in myself
- Nursed an immortal vigour—I alone
Am dead to life and joy; therefore I read
- In all things my own deadness.
A long silence. He continues:
- Oh that I could glow like this mountain!
Oh that my heart bounded with the swell of the sea!
- Oh that my soul were full of light as the stars!
Oh that it brooded over the world like the air!
- But no, this heart will glow no more! thou art
A living man no more, Empedocles!
- Nothing but a devouring flame of thought—
But a naked, eternally restless mind!
After a pause:
- To the elements it came from
Everything will return.
- Our bodies to earth,
Our blood to water,
- Heat to fire,
Breath to air.
- They were well born, they will be well entomb’d!
But mind?. . .
- And we might gladly share the fruitful stir
Down in our mother earth’s miraculous womb!
- Well might it be
With what roll’d of us in the stormy main!
- We might have joy, blent with the all-bathing air,
Or with the nimble radiant life of fire!
- But mind—but thought—
If these have been the master part of us—
- Where will they find their parent element?
What will receive them, who will call them home?
- But we shall still be in them, and they in us.
And we shall be the strangers of the world,
- And they will be our lords, as they are now;
And keep us prisoners of our consciousness.
- And never let us clasp and feel the All
But through their forms, and modes, and stifling veils.
- And we shall be unsatisfied as now,
And we shall feel the agony of thirst,
- The ineffable longing for the life of life
Baffled for ever: and still thought and mind
- Will hurry us with them on their homeless march,
Over the unallied unopening earth,
- Over the unrecognizing sea; while air
Will blow us fiercely back to sea and earth,
- And fire repel us from its living waves.
And then we shall unwillingly return
- Back to this meadow of calamity,
This uncongenial place, this human life;
- And in our individual human state
Go through the sad probation all again,
- To see if we will poise our life at last,
To see if we will now at last be true
- To our own only true, deep-buried selves,
Being one with which we are one with the whole world;
- Or whether we will once more fall away
Into some bondage of the flesh or mind,
- Some slough of sense, or some fantastic maze
Forg’d by the imperious lonely thinking-power.
- And each succeeding age in which we are born
Will have more peril for us than the last;
- Will goad our senses with a sharper spur,
Will fret our minds to an intenser play,
- Will make ourselves harder to be discern’d.
And we shall struggle awhile, gasp and rebel;
- And we shall fly for refuge to past times,
Their soul of unworn youth, their breath of greatness;
- And the reality will pluck us back,
Knead us in its hot hand, and change our nature.
- And we shall feel our powers of effort flag,
And rally them for one last fight, and fail;
- And we shall sink in the impossible strife,
And be astray for ever.
- Slave of sense
I have in no wise been; but slave of thought?—
- And who can say:—I have been always free,
Lived ever in the light of my own soul?—
- I cannot! I have lived in wrath and gloom,
Fierce, disputatious, ever at war with man,
- Far from my own soul, far from warmth and light.
But I have not grown easy in these bonds—
- But I have not denied what bonds these were!
Yea, I take myself to witness,
- That I have loved no darkness,
Sophisticated no truth,
- Nursed no delusion,
Allow’d no fear!
- And therefore, O ye elements, I know—
Ye know it too—it hath been granted me
- Not to die wholly, not to be all enslav’d.
I feel it in this hour! The numbing cloud
- Mounts off my soul; I feel it, I breathe free!
Is it but for a moment?
- Ah! boil up, ye vapours!
Leap and roar, thou sea of fire!
- My soul glows to meet you.
Ere it flag, ere the mists
- Of despondency and gloom
Rush over it again,
- Receive me! Save me!
He plunges into the crater.
CALLICLES (from below) 
Through the black, rushing smoke-bursts,
- Thick breaks the red flame;
All Etna heaves fiercely
- Her forest-cloth’d frame.
Not here, O Apollo
- Are haunts meet for thee.
But, where Helicon breaks down
- In cliff to the sea,
Where the moon-silver’d inlets
- Send far their light voice
Up the still vale of Thisbe,
- O speed, and rejoice!
On the sward at the cliff-top
- Lie strewn the white flocks;
On the cliff-side the pigeons
- Roost deep in the rocks.
In the moonlight the shepherds,
- Soft lull’d by the rills,
Lie wrapt in their blankets,
- Asleep on the hills.
—What forms are these coming
- So white through the gloom:’
What garments out-glistening
- The gold-flower’d broom?
What sweet-breathing presence
- Out-perfumes the thyme?
What voices enrapture
- The night’s balmy prime?—
’Tis Apollo comes leading
- His choir, the Nine.
—The leader is fairest,
- But all are divine.
They are lost in the hollows!
- They stream up again!
What seeks on this mountain
- The glorified train?—
They bathe on this mountain,
- In the spring by their road;
Then on to Olympus,
- Their endless abode!
—Whose praise do they mention
- Of what is it told?—
What will be for ever;
- What was from of old.
First hymn they the Father
- Of all things; and then
The rest of immortals,
- The action of men.
The day in his hotness,
- The strife with the palm;
The night in her silence,
- The stars in their calm.