Ixion (Browning)

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For works with similar titles, see Ixion.
Ixion  (1883) 
by Robert Browning



High in the dome, suspended, of Hell, sad triumph, behold us!
     Here the revenge of a God, there the amends of a Man.
Whirling forever in torment, flesh once mortal, immortal
     Made — for a purpose of hate — able to die and revive,
Pays to the uttermost pang, then, newly for payment replenished,
     Doles out — old yet young — agonies ever afresh;
Whence the result above me: torment is bridged by a rainbow, —
     Tears, sweat, blood, — each spasm, ghastly once, glorified now.
Wrung, by the rush of the wheel ordained my place of reposing,
     Off in a sparklike spray, — flesh become vapour thro' pain, —  10
Flies the bestowment of Zeus, soul's vaunted bodily vesture,
     Made that his feats observed gain the approval of Man, —
Flesh that he fashioned with sense of the earth and the sky and the ocean,
     Framed should pierce to the star, fitted to pore on the plant, —
All, for a purpose of hate, re-framed, re-fashioned, refitted
     Till, consummate at length, — lo, the employment of sense!
Pain's mere minister now to the soul, once pledged to her pleasure —
     Soul, if untrammeled by flesh, unapprehensive of pain!
Body, professed soul's slave, which serving beguiled and betrayed her,
     Made things false seem true, cheated thro' eye and thro' ear,  20
Lured thus heart and brain to believe in the lying reported, —
     Spurn but the traitrous slave, uttermost atom, away,
What should obstruct soul's rush on the real, the only apparent?
     Say I have erred, — how else? Was I Ixion or Zeus?
Foiled by my senses I dreamed; I doubtless awaken in wonder:
     This proves shine, that — shade? Good was the evil that seemed?
Shall I, with sight thus gained, by torture be taught I was blind once?
     Sisuphos, teaches thy stone — Tantalos, teaches thy thirst
Aught which unaided sense, purged pure, less plainly demonstrates?
     No, for the past was dream: now that the dreamers awake,  30
Sisuphos scouts low fraud, and to Tantalos treason is folly.
     Ask of myself, whose form melts on the murderous wheel,
What is the sin which throe and throe prove sin to the sinner!
     Say the false charge was true, — thus do I expiate, say,
Arrogant thought, word, deed, — mere man who conceited me godlike,
     Sat beside Zeus, my friend — knelt before Heré, my love!
What were the need but of pitying power to touch and disperse it,
     Film-work — eye's and ear's — all the distraction of sense?
How should the soul not see, not hear, — perceive and as plainly
     Render, in thought, word, deed, back again truth — not a lie?  40
"Ay, but the pain is to punish thee!" Zeus, once more, for a pastime,
     Play the familiar, the frank! Speak and have speech in return!
I was of Thessaly king, there ruled and a people obeyed me:
     Mine to establish the law, theirs to obey it or die:
Wherefore? Because of the good to the people, because of the honour
     Thence accruing to me, king, the king's law was supreme.
What of the weakling, the ignorant criminal? Not who, excuseless,
     Breaking my law braved death, knowing his deed and its due —
Nay, but the feeble and foolish, the poor transgressor, of purpose
     No whit more than a tree, born to erectness of bole,  50
Palm or plane or pine, we laud if lofty, columnar —
     Loathe if athwart, askew, — leave to the axe and the flame!
Where is the vision may penetrate earth and beholding acknowledge
     Just one pebble at root ruined the straightness of stem?
Whose fine vigilance follows the sapling, accounts for the failure,
     — Here blew wind, so it bent: there the snow lodged, so it broke?
Also the tooth of the beast, bird's bill, mere bite of the insect
     Gnawed, gnarled, warped their worst: passive it lay to offence.
King — I was man, no more: what I recognized faulty I punished.
     Laying it prone: be sure, more than a man had I proved,  60
Watch and ward o'er the sapling at birthtime had saved it, nor simply
     Owned the distortion's excuse, — hindered it wholly: nay, more —
Even a man, as I sat in my place to do judgment, and pallid
     Criminals passing to doom shuddered away at my foot,
Could I have probed thro' the face to the heart, read plain a repentance,
     Crime confessed fools' play, virtue ascribed to the wise,
Had I not stayed the consignment to doom, not dealt the renewed ones
     Life to retraverse the past, light to retrieve the misdeed?
Thus had I done, and thus to have done much more it behoves thee,
     Zeus who madest man — flawless or faulty, thy work!  70
What if the charge were true, as thou mouthest, — Ixion the cherished
     Minion of Zeus grew vain, vied with the godships and fell,
Forfeit thro' arrogance? Stranger! I clothed, with the grace of our human,
     Inhumanity — gods, natures I likened to ours.
Man among men I had borne me till gods forsooth must regard me]
     — Nay, must approve, applaud, claim as a comrade at last.
Summoned to enter their circle, I sat — their equal, how other?
     Love should be absolute love, faith is in fulness or nought.
"I am thy friend, be mine!" smiled Zeus: "If Heré attract thee,"
     Blushed the imperial cheek, "then — as thy heart may suggest!"  80
Faith in me sprang to the faith, my love hailed love as its fellow,
     "Zeus, we are friends — how fast! Heré, my heart for thy heart!"
Then broke smile into fury of frown, and the thunder of "Hence, fool!"
     Then thro' the kiss laughed scorn "Limbs or a cloud was to clasp?"
Then from Olumpos to Erebos, then from the rapture to torment,
     Then from the fellow of gods — misery's mate, to the man!
— Man henceforth and forever, who lent from the glow of his nature
     Warmth to the cold, with light coloured the black and the blank.
So did a man conceive of your passion, you passion-protesters!
     So did he trust, so love — being the truth of your lie!  90
You to aspire to be Man! Man made you who vainly would ape him:
     You are the hoUowness, he — filling you, falsifies void.
Even as — witness the emblem, Hell's sad triumph suspended,
     Born of my tears, sweat, blood — bursting to vapour above —
Arching my torment, an iris ghostlike startles the darkness,
     Cold white — jewelry quenched — justifies, glorifies pain.
Strive, my kind, though strife endure thro' endless obstruction,
     Stage after stage, each rise marred by as certain a fall!
Baffled forever — yet never so baffled but, e'en in the baffling,
     When Man's strength proves weak, checked in the body or soul —  100
Whatsoever the medium, flesh or essence, — Ixion's
     Made for a purpose of hate, — clothing the entity Thou,
— Medium whence that entity strives for the Not-Thou beyond it,
     Fire elemental, free, frame unencumbered, the All, —
Never so baffled but — when, on the verge of an alien existence,
     Heartened to press, by pangs burst to the infinite Pure,
Nothing is reached but the ancient weakness still that arrests strength,
     Circumambient still, still the poor human array,
Pride and revenge and hate and cruelty — all it has burst through,
     Thought to escape, — fresh formed, found in the fashion it fled, —  110
Never so baffled but — when Man pays the price of endeavour,
     Thunderstruck, downthrust, Tartaros-doomed to the wheel, —
Then, ay, then, from the tears and sweat and blood of his torment,
     E'en from the triumph of Hell, up let him look and rejoice!
What is the influence, high o'er Hell, that turns to a rapture
     Pain — and despair's murk mists blends in a rainbow of hope?
What is beyond the obstruction, stage by stage tho' it baffle?
     Back must I fall, confess "Ever the weakness I fled"?
No, for beyond, far, far is a Purity all-unobstructed!
     Zeus was Zeus — not Man: wrecked by his weakness, I whirl.  120
Out of the wreck I rise — past Zeus to the Potency o'er him!
     I — to have hailed him my friend! I — to have clasped her — my love!
Pallid birth of my pain, — where light, where light is, aspiring
     Thither I rise, whilst thou — Zeus, keep the godship and sink!