The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero)/Poetry/Volume 4/Prometheus

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The Works of Lord Byron by George Gordon Byron
Prometheus

PROMETHEUS.[1]

I.

Titan! to whose immortal eyes
 The sufferings of mortality,
 Seen in their sad reality,
Were not as things that gods despise;
What was thy pity's recompense?[2]
A silent suffering, and intense;
The rock, the vulture, and the chain,
All that the proud can feel of pain,
The agony they do not show,
The suffocating sense of woe, 10
 Which speaks but in its loneliness,
And then is jealous lest the sky
Should have a listener, nor will sigh
Until its voice is echoless.


II.

Titan! to thee the strife was given
 Between the suffering and the will,
 Which torture where they cannot kill;
And the inexorable Heaven,[3]
And the deaf tyranny of Fate,
The ruling principle of Hate, 20
Which for its pleasure doth create[4]
The things it may annihilate,
Refused thee even the boon to die:[5]
The wretched gift Eternity
Was thine—and thou hast borne it well.
All that the Thunderer wrung from thee
Was but the menace which flung back
On him the torments of thy rack;
The fate thou didst so well foresee,[6]
But would not to appease him tell; 30
And in thy Silence was his Sentence,
And in his Soul a vain repentance,
And evil dread so ill dissembled,
That in his hand the lightnings trembled.


III.

Thy Godlike crime was to be kind,[7]
 To render with thy precepts less
 The sum of human wretchedness,
And strengthen Man with his own mind;
But baffled as thou wert from high,
Still in thy patient energy, 40
In the endurance, and repulse
 Of thine impenetrable Spirit,
Which Earth and Heaven could not convulse,
 A mighty lesson we inherit:
Thou art a symbol and a sign
 To Mortals of their fate and force;
Like thee, Man is in part divine,[8]
 A troubled stream from a pure source;
And Man in portions can foresee
His own funereal destiny; 50
His wretchedness, and his resistance,
And his sad unallied existence:
To which his Spirit may oppose
Itself—an equal to all woes—[9][10]
 And a firm will, and a deep sense,
Which even in torture can descry
 Its own concentered recompense,
Triumphant where it dares defy,
And making Death a Victory.

Diodati, July, 1816.
[First published, Prisoner of Chillon, etc., 1816.]


  1. [Byron was a lover and worshipper of Prometheus as a boy. His first English exercise at Harrow was a paraphrase of a chorus of the Prometheus Vinctus of Æschylus, line 528, sq., (see Poetical Works, 1898, i. 14). Referring to a criticism on Manfred (Edinburgh Review, vol. xxviii p. 431), he writes (October 12, 1817, Letters, 1900, iv. 174): "The Prometheus, if not exactly in my plan, has always been so much in my head, that I can easily conceive its influence over all or any thing that I have written." The conception of an immortal sufferer at once beneficent and defiant, appealed alike to his passions and his convictions, and awoke a peculiar enthusiasm. His poems abound with allusions to the hero and the legend. Compare the first draft of stanza xvi. of the Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte [Poetical Works, 1900, iii. 312, var. ii.); The Prophecy of Dante, iv. 10, seq.; the Irish Avatar, stanza xii. line 2, etc.]
  2. [Compare—

    Τοιαῦτ' ἐπηύρου τοῦ φιλανθρώπου τρόπου.

    P. V., line 28.

    Compare, too—

    Θνητὸυς δ' ἐν οἴκτῳ προθέμενος, τούτου τυχεῖν
    Οὐκ ἠξιώθην αὐτὸς.

    Ibid., lines 241, 242.]

  3. [Compare—

    Διὸς γὰρ δυσπαραίτητοι φρένες.

    Ibid., line 34.

    Compare, too—

     ...γιγνώσκονθ' ὅτι
    Τὸ τῆς ἀνάγκης ἐστ' ἀδήριτον σθένος.

    Ibid., line 105.]

  4. [Compare—

     "The maker—call him
    Which name thou wilt; he makes but to destroy."

    Cain, act i. sc. 1.

    Compare, too—

    "And the Omnipotent, who makes and crushes."

    Heaven and Earth, Part I. sc 3.]

  5. [Compare—

    Ὅτῳ θανεῖν μέν ἐστιν οὐ πεπρωμένον.

    P. V., line 754.]

  6. [Compare—

    ...πάντα προὐξεπίσταμαι
    Σκεθρῶς τά μέλλοντα.

    Ibid., lines 101, 102.]

  7. [Compare—

    Θνητοῖς δ' ἀρήγων αὐτὸς εὑρόμην πόνους.

    Ibid., line 269.]

  8. [Compare—

    "But we, who name ourselves its sovereigns, we,
    Half dust, half deity."

    Manfred, act i. sc. 2, lines 39, 40, vide post, p. 95.]

  9. —— and equal to all woes.—[Editions 1832, etc.]
  10. [The edition of 1833 and subsequent issues read "and equal." It is clear that the earlier reading, "an equal," is correct. The spirit opposed by the spirit is an equal, etc. The spirit can also oppose to "its own funereal destiny" a firm will, etc.]