Alexander's Feast; or, the Power of Music

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Alexander's Feast; or, the Power of Music
by John Dryden
From: Francis T. Palgrave, ed. (1824–1897). The Golden Treasury. 1875, # CXVI


Alexander's Feast; or, the Power of Music

  
  'TWAS at the royal feast for Persia won
    By Philip's warlike son—
    Aloft in awful state
    The godlike hero sate
    On his imperial throne;        5
    His valiant peers were placed around,
    Their brows with roses and with myrtles bound
    (So should desert in arms be crown'd);
    The lovely Thais by his side
    Sate like a blooming Eastern bride        10
    In flower of youth and beauty's pride:—
    Happy, happy, happy pair!
    None but the brave
    None but the brave
    None but the brave deserves the fair!        15
   
  Timotheus placed on high
Amid the tuneful quire
With flying fingers touch'd the lyre:
The trembling notes ascend the sky
And heavenly joys inspire.        20
The song began from Jove
Who left his blissful seats above
Such is the power of mighty love!
A dragon's fiery form belied the god;
Sublime on radiant spires he rode        25
When he to fair Olympia prest,
And while he sought her snowy breast,
Then round her slender waist he curl'd,
And stamp'd an image of himself, a sovereign of the world.
—The listening crowd admire the lofty sound;        30
A present deity! they shout around:
A present deity! the vaulted roofs rebound:
With ravish'd ears
The monarch hears,
Assumes the god;        35
Affects to nod
And seems to shake the spheres.
   
  The praise of Bacchus then the sweet musician sung,
Of Bacchus ever fair and ever young:
The jolly god in triumph comes;        40
Sound the trumpets, beat the drums!
Flush'd with a purple grace
He shows his honest face:
Now give the hautboys breath; he comes, he comes!
Bacchus, ever fair and young,        45
Drinking joys did first ordain;
Bacchus' blessings are a treasure,
Drinking is the soldier's pleasure:
Rich the treasure,
Sweet the pleasure,        50
Sweet is pleasure after pain.
   
  Soothed with the sound, the king grew vain;
Fought all his battles o'er again,
And thrice he routed all his foes, and thrice he slew the slain!
The master saw the madness rise,        55
His glowing cheeks, his ardent eyes;
And while he Heaven and Earth defied
Changed his hand and check'd his pride.
He chose a mournful Muse
Soft pity to infuse:        60
He sung Darius great and good,
By too severe a fate
Fallen, fallen, fallen, fallen,
Fallen from his high estate.
And weltering in his blood;        65
Deserted at his utmost need
By those his former bounty fed;
On the bare earth exposed he lies
With not a friend to close his eyes.
—With downcast looks the joyless victor sate,        70
Revolving in his alter'd soul
The various turns of chance below;
And now and then a sigh he stole,
And tears began to flow.
   
  The mighty master smiled to see        75
That love was in the next degree;
'Twas but a kindred sound to move,
For pity melts the mind to love.
Softly sweet, in Lydian measures
Soon he soothed his soul to pleasures.        80
War, he sung, is toil and trouble,
Honour but an empty bubble;
Never ending, still beginning,
Fighting still, and still destroying;
If the world be worth thy winning,        85
Think, O think, it worth enjoying:
Lovely Thais sits beside thee,
Take the good the gods provide thee!
—The many rend the skies with loud applause;
So Love was crown'd, but Music won the cause.        90
The prince, unable to conceal his pain,
Gazed on the fair
Who caused his care,
And sigh'd and look'd, sigh'd and look'd,
Sigh'd and look'd, and sigh'd again:        95
At length with love and wine at once opprest
The vanquish'd victor sunk upon her breast.
   
  Now strike the golden lyre again:
A louder yet, and yet a louder strain!
Break his bands of sleep asunder        100
And rouse him like a rattling peal of thunder.
Hark, hark! the horrid sound
Has raised up his head:
As awaked from the dead
And amazed he stares around.        105
Revenge, revenge, Timotheus cries,
See the Furies arise!
See the snakes that they rear
How they hiss in their hair,
And the sparkles that flash from their eyes!        110
Behold a ghastly band,
Each a torch in his hand!
Those are Grecian ghosts, that in battle were slain
And unburied remain
Inglorious on the plain:        115
Give the vengeance due
To the valiant crew!
Behold how they toss their torches on high,
How they point to the Persian abodes
And glittering temples of their hostile gods.        120
—The princes applaud with a furious joy:
And the king seized a flambeau with zeal to destroy;
Thais led the way
To light him to his prey,
And like another Helen, fired another Troy!        125
   
  Thus, long ago,
Ere heaving bellows learn'd to blow,
While organs yet were mute,
Timotheus, to his breathing flute
And sounding lyre        130
Could swell the soul to rage, or kindle soft desire.
At last divine Cecilia came.
Inventress of the vocal frame;
The sweet enthusiast from her sacred store
Enlarged the former narrow bounds,        135
And added length to solemn sounds,
With Nature's mother-wit, and arts unknown before.
—Let old Timotheus yield the prize,
Or both divide the crown;
He raised a mortal to the skies,        140
She drew an angel down!

<1697>

This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.