Thomas Cooper.

The purgatory of suicides; a prison-rhyme in ten books online

. (page 2 of 20)
Online LibraryThomas CooperThe purgatory of suicides; a prison-rhyme in ten books → online text (page 2 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Had ye thus dreamt, no jest ye would that journey deem.
2 c



A cavern's mouth, browed by a giant mound
N Gave welcome respite to their torturous toil :
For, entering there, the way-worn wand'rers found
The semblance of a subterraneous aisle,
And walked admiringly, yet feared, the while,
Sudden renewal of their suffering plight,
Or deeper woe whelmed 'neath the rocky pile :
But, midst their fears, sense of unearthly light
Dawned, with a thrill of ease, upon their anxious sight.


Above them curved the likeness of a roof
Of woven rock, strange supernatural glare
Diffusing from its tracery, that seemed woof
Of masonry more mystical and rare
Than devotees of proud cathedralled prayer
Witness while worshipping the Nazarene :
Pride lauding lowliness ! And past compare
Of monkish mixtures were the shapes, I ween,
Of shaft and capital, that 'long that vault were seen.

Not, as with fashion of that gloomy age
When Phantasy, in convent bondage bred,
Drew graces from distraction, mingling rage
Grotesque of apes with ire of angels dread,
Aiming all contraries to blend and wed,
Until with hybrids she had filled the mind,
And with wild wonderment its powers misled,
So that, its grasp grown loose and undefined,
The shaven and shorn enchanters might its freedom bind;


Not, as with fashion of that twilight time
When sky-born Truth, by priestly hands arrayed
In vulgar vestments of the motley mime,
Played conjuror in " dim religious" shade,
And peasant thrall, by bell and book dismayed,
Glanced tremblingly on corbel, niche, and pane,
Where imp, saint, angel, knight with battle-blade,
Griffin, bat, owlet, more befooled the swain, [brain ;
Till, when the incense fumed, round swum his w >


Not, after pattern, of old monkish mode;
Not, as by wand of mitred magic hung,
The rocky arch that mystic aisle bestrode,
While clustered shaft, and twisted pillar sprung
Forth from the floor, and floral festoons flung
Their chrystal witchery from base to quoin,
And ever-changing shapes in antics clung
To shaft and capital, festoon and groin,
Seeming all forms of life, all grace of flowers to join j

But unimagined, unconceived, unknown,
Unspeakable, by man, seemed all revealed
To those awed travellers, as they journeyed on
Through that vast aisle, that rather glowed a field
Of caverned wonders, where each shape did yield,
For evermore new changes, till the soul,
Enervate with o'erpiled amazement, reeled
And sank, wishing an end unto her dole
Of wond'ring pining, now, for prospect of her goal.

Anon, we entered where the travellers took
Their silent way, each to some several home.
Light fled ; and dim funereal gloom rewoke
A solemn sadness through my being. Dome,
Or cupola, scooped in mid rock, like tomb
Primeval, high above me stretched its span
Gigantic, vague, appearing to enwomb
A space so vast that there old Death divan
Might hold, in mausoleum metropolitan.

Innumerable aisles their paths diverse
Forth from this sombrous centre led. And now,
I first perceived, from law which did coerce
The vagrant ghosts who reached these realms of woe
My spirit grew exempt. Sad, gloomy, slow,
The forms, of late my fellows, I descried
Journeying along those aisles, deep, lasting throe
To inchoate, for sin of suicide,

In clime apportioned to their gloom, or hate, or pride.

c 2



No words revealed to me the end or cause
For which those spirits hither came or went }
Nor know I if I knew that region's laws
By some strange influences incident
Unto its clime ; or whether, now unblent
With earth's gross mould, deep intuition filled
The regal mind, and thus, plenipotent,
She saw and knew. Suffice it, what she willed [thrilled.
To know, that knowledge swift throughout her essence

Conscious of this her high prerogative,
The soul for mystic travel girt her thews,
Intent on viewing shapes she knew must live
In land where penance rebel thought subdues
Of human worms who venture to refuse
The gift of life probational, and death
Procure by their own hand, daring accuse
The Giver, and defying threatened wrath,
Or worn and wearied with the toil of drawing breath.


Methought I sped across the gloomy space
From whence diverged each subterranean aisle,
Thinking the dome vast porch unto some place
Of emblem'd sovereignty, or typic pile
Where sceptred suicides in kingly style
Might sit, as in some high imperial hall,
And there eternity itself beguile
With pregnant descant on their earthly fall,
On fate, and mortal change, and being spiritual.

When lo ! as if these new imaginings
Flowed from the soul with architectural power,
Or talisman of magic Esterlings
Were there the unbound mind's mysterious dower
Forthwith disclosed, in high investiture
Of purple, sceptres, thrones, and diadems,
A hall of kings assembled, gleamed, obscure,
Fair, and then bright, until refulgent streams
Of splendour issued 1 fuun their Jbrows begirt with gems.



Mingled with these sat ancient forms unnamed
Monarchal, but by badge or cognizance
Vice-regal known, or whose sage look proclaimed
The godlike legislator, or proud glance
Betokened bold ambition's heritance
On earth of sway despotic. Deeply fraught
With wisdom's lessoning the soul her trance
Perceived to be, 'mid thrones with sculptures wrought
Mythic or parabolic, from earth's legends caught.


By beam or rafter architectonic
UndarkenM, with a roof of rainbows graced,
Smiled that wide palace-hall : yet, upward, quick
And tim'rous looks old shapes columnar cast,
That stretched their sinews, as with effort vast,
To prop the heavenly arch whose fall they feared.
Distorted things abortions of the Past
They were: Satyrs, with wild-goats' legs and beard,
And one-eyed Arimasp and Cyclops, there appeared ;


Scythians, with heel in front, and toes behind, [2]
On old Imaus known ; and Ethiops dark
And headless, wearing mouth and eyes enshrined
In their huge breasts ; and countless monsters stark
And staring, hymn'd divine by hierarch
Of Ganges and old Nile, with heads, tails, arms,
Tusks, horns, confused, of elephant, ape, shark,
Serpent, dog, crocodile, or ox : vile swarms
Of hideous phantasies, half-sharing human forms.


In triple colonnade around th' immense
Ellipsis of that hall these creatures stood,
Colossal images of ache intense
And apprehensive dread ; while o'er them bowed
The arch that still in jewelled beauty glowed.
Such horror, blent with grace, Apollo's priest.
'Mid strangling folds of Neptune's serpents shewed,
And still doth shew enmarbled, undeceased,
That breathing stone the Past to gem the Future leased. [3]



Area within, enclosed, of amplitude
More spacious stretched than wide circumference
Of sculptured temple, by far traveller viewed
In Hindoo cave,[4] or where wild audience
The Arab gives to hoar Magnificence
Defying Ruin, and in some huge tomb,
Hewed for a monarch, nightly sleeps, from whence,
I' th' morn, he blesses Mecca's seer, while gloom
Eterne veilsMemnon's brow beholdingThebes' sad doom. [5]


Throughout this column-girt enclosure rose
Thrones, some with fashion of a fortalice
Or tower ; some, like cathedralled shrine where vows
Are paid to saintly heritor of bliss,
Shewed niche, and pinnacle, and quaint device
Of carven wonder-work ; while some parade
Outvied of old renowned Acropolis
Or Parthenon, where graceful shaft o'erlaid
With bossed entablature Man's noblest skill displayed.


Significant depicturings of fraud
Conjunct with force, chimaeras blending grim
Fierce forms with fascinations, shapes that awed
Pelasgic men in ages old and dim,
For metope, along the freize' broad rim,
'Tween gem-dropp'd triglyphs, wore each classic throne :
Rapine of harpy, smile of siren prim,
Lewd lure of lamia, wile of sphinx, and frown
Of minotaur and archer-centaur there were shewn.


Or, where a shrine-shaped throne, o'ercanopied
With perforated carvery, rose, a pile
Of frail aerial wonder, typified

Were Fright and Mischief mixt with Stealth and Guile :
Hag rode her broomstaff, flankt with bugbear vile
And goggle-eyed hobgoblin, while a host
Led by Puck-Hairy mocked with infantile
And puny trick the snake that wreathed and tossed
His trail around the skull and cross-bones of grim '



Mute, wonder-stricken, long, methought, I gazed,
And, pond'ring, did my vision's meaning read ;
Until the tenants of the thrones sense raised
Within me of their presence there, flesh-freed.
No sage interpreter I seemed to need
From whom to learn their names : without a veil
Unto the soul, the pride, pain, thought, or deed
That rent them from earth's tabernacles frail,
Lay opened by some fiat supernatural.


Silver tiara, decked with amethysts
And sapphires, piling gorgeously above
His brow, pearl-studded circlets round his wrists,
Gold sceptre mounted by an emerald dove,
And dazzling gems of myriad hues enwove
Throughout his robes wherein the peerless dye
Of rarest murex with the ruby strove
For richness, showed that soft Assyrian nigh
Who closed his life of lust a self -incendiary.

On either side Sardanapalus sat,
On thrones ornate of ivory and gold,
Cloud wrapt, that gray Cathaian autocrat,
With uneuphonic name [6] in records old
Of Orient writ, who did his life enfold
With deathly flames ; and that foul glutton, who
As sages tell, his maw's capacious hold
To satisfy, worried his spouse, although
Full-supper'd, Cambes, lord of Lydia's pampered crew. [7


Next these, three mystic thrones : the Theban chief
Who solved the Sphinx's riddle, son and spouse
Of Creon's daughter, suicide of grief,
Horror, and madness, joined: sad Nauplius,
The sire of Palamedes, v/ho his house
Brought low by guileful Itliacus deplored ;
And that Athenian exarch, old Jgeus,
Who, of his death, fearing his son devoured,
Left, in the Hellene island-wave a dim record. [8]



Illustrious less by sheen and garniture
Of gold and gems, than by his kingly height
Colossal, sat the Hebrew, who a cure
For fallen fortunes, in his grievous plight,
At Endor sought, but, from the hoary sprite
Of Israel's seer no health or help derived.
On demi-throne, next, that disastrous wight
Who Baasha's son of sovereignty deprived,
In Tirzah, and himself a seven days' king survived. [91


Of Ilion's foes, when stern Pelides fell,
The boldest, but of honour shorn, and driven
By pride to madness, with enduring hell
Of hate upon his girded brow, though riven
From earth, sat Telamon. A haloed heaven
Of splendour dawned where crownless Codrus, throned
By frowning Ajax, smiled : his soul's look leaven
Of low self-love disdained, and, still, profound
Regard for fatherland seemed in its essence wound. [10]


Fraternal spirits, each with civic palm
Invested, sceptreless, o'er deepest thought
Brooding of things to come, Lycurgus, calm
And dignified and peaceful, sat, and caught
With friendly grasp the hand unto him raught
Of brave Charondas : these, enthroned 'mid blaze
Of kindred light, looked as they would devote
Their souls once more to Hades, if the days
Returned when men would die their fellow-man to raise, i U 1


Traitor to Freedom when the Alban sires
Had smitten kings with rout, and made their name
A stench, sat Appius, he whose lewdling fires
The spotless maid had scathed with deathful shame,
But that a father's knife preserved her fame,
Giving to deathless life his Virgin child. [12]
On more than regal throne, wim amorous flame
Still glowing in his eyes, next the defiled
Decemvir, sat another lust-slave, self-exiled



From his old riot-field, for such he made
The earth, that, by strange turns, is cursed with feud
And sport of monsters. Neighbour to this shade
Of Antony, and chief of Rome's huge brood
Of tyrants, sat'the matricide whom mood
Of insane merriment to minstrelsy
Impelled, when, wearied with his game of blood,
He loosed the fiends of havoc, that, with glee,
Lit up Rome's flames, and howled to swell his jubilee. [13]

The' imperial patriot, Otho, that to save
The blood of thousands shed his own, and quench'd
The rage of war, but vainly, since he gave
Earth to a tyrant, sat next one who drench'd
The soil less than he willed with gore, nor blench'd
At broken oaths in age, Maximian, thrall
Of power, though throned. Divided sceptre clench'd
Bonosus vile, the drunkard, of whose fall
They said his carcase was ' a jug hung by the wall !' [14]


And other revellers in bloody mirth, [15]
Italian, or Byzantine, arrogant
And pride-blown, sat, as when the slavish earth
They shared ; save when on that great combatant
Whom Pontic Orient and the rich Levant
Owned lord, proud Mithridates, timid look
They cast: for, as they glanced at him, ascaunt,
His eye of fire told how he ill could brook [I6j

The dwarfs so near ; whereat their fear-smit spirits shook.


Neighb'ring stood Juba's gold and ivory throne, [17]
The Mauritanian : next, with shorn display,
Sat Nicocles, the Paphian who alone
Fled not dishonour when the conqu'ring sway
Of Ptolemy fair Cyprus owned : the way
He took his bosom's queen and daughters fair
Took also, and now shared the chastened ray
That clad their chief: a group of Love they were,
Among fierce shapes of pride that haughtily sat there.



Nor was the suicide of softer sex
By these shewn only. Near the ancient seat
Of CEdipus, the mystical reflex
Appeared of her who hasted to complete
The Fates' decree, when Meleager's ftat
Was known, burning the billet she had kept
To save the life, that thence, she loathed.[18] A meet
Sisterhood, numerous, by Althaea slept,
Or stonily gazed : eld forms by Mythic names yclept.


Radiant in widowed beauty, next to these
Sat she who loved her wandering Teucrian guest,
And raved to find the faithless one rude seas
Had borne away, till, for her grief-worn breast
Within the wave she sought a deathful rest. [19]
Near Dido sat that mournful mother-queen,
Meek Sisygambis, who fled life distrest
By death of Philip's son, still more than teen [20]
That she the slaughter of her discrowned son had seen.


With ardent glance on her old paramour,
The soft Triumvir, bending, amid waste
Of grandeur throned, outvieing, as of yore,
Earth's kings in pride, earth's harlots in unchaste
And wanton thought, sat she from Greek dynast
Of Nile descended, asp-stung heri tress
Of fame for lavish wealth with lavish haste
Consumed upon her beauty's slaves : excess
Transcended only by her false heart's fickleness. [21]

Apart, in lonely loftiness of soul,

Sat Boadicea, simple, unadorned, [22]

Yet seeming with stern virtue to control

The scoffing spirit which my thought discerned

Within a frivolous crowd that there sojourned

In visioned queenly state.

But now my trance

Teemed with more wonder, for, enrapt, I learned
These spirits' thoughts : no vocal resonance
There was : yet soul to soul made mystic utterance.



Thy prophecy, sage Spartan, proudly gibed,
Amid his pomp, the Chaldee's glistering shade, [23]
Thy prophecy grows old : still monarch-tribed
And rainbow-vaulted is this hall : they fade
Not yet these regal splendours! Disarrayed
We are, by turns ; to periodic pain,
On joyless wand'rings sent, through bog and glade,
O'er crag and rock, or burnt or frore, our stain
To purge : yet, in due season, thus restored, we reign !


Err'st thou not here, presaging utter change
To kingly spirits, as thou err'dst in land
Of Lacedsemon old, when system strange
By thy fantastic brain was hotly planned,
To train rude rabble Greeks in self-command,
And mould their minds to virtue ? Foolish dream
Long dissipated ! Spartan, thus di vanned,
Crowned, sceptred, and enthroned, the changeful stream
Of ceaseless "being shall find our Essences supreme.

Such is my sentence, from the pregnant past
Arguing the future : and in vain they prate
Of inborn might up in all minds amassed
Who say, of Hades this unequal state,
And Earth's, shall end by the decree of Fate.
Where are the virtues by thy statutes bred ?
Our Asia's conqu'ring hosts effeminate
Esteemed by the rude sires thy black broth fed
Brandish the scymitar o'er their tame children's head.


There must be conqu'ring lords, and slaves that yield :
There hath been, and there will be. Thou may'st stroke
Thy beard, grave scorner, slighting truth revealed
By eld experience ! Wherefore bear their yoke
Earth's mortal millions ? Why, in one age shook
From their sire's shoulders, do the sons upheave
And wear it, in the next ? Hath a realm broke
Its golden sceptre? 'Twas but to receive
A stranger's iron rod, beneath its bruise to grieve.


Danaian,[24] Monarchs rule by Nature's law ;
And all who seek Her statutes to disturb,
Teaching kings' solemn titles have foul flaw
In reason, and the general mind should curb
Their sovereign will, or sweep from earth's wide orb
Their honoured name, know thou, he would uproot
All happiness from human hearts, perturb
All peace, and fill the world with dissolute
And lawless beings tending downwards to the brute.

What mean, I ask thee, these thronged typic forms,
These images of allegoric shape ?
Thou say'st, false-seeing prophet, that dire storms
Will burst on Thrones and leave us no escape
But yawn of fabled Chaos ! Ha ! a jape
It is such as thou told'st, in olden time,
When Greeks from Delphi thy return, agape,
Expected. Spartan, know, a truth sublime
These portraitures set forth, in this mysterious clime.


This sky of promise- woof, these shapes of strength,
These sceptred pomps and blazonries, combine
With this vast palace-hall's imperial length
And architectural splendour, by divine"
Working of Nature, Her superb design
To manifest that She hath firmly set
The frame of things the frame of things benign !
Kings reign by Nature's law ! I at thy threat
Of dissolution laugh ! 'Tis like thyself a cheat !


By hybrid forms, like these, the sage or bard
Of old pictured deep thoughts : he, prescient
Of mortal things, not dimly Mind's award
In after-life foresaw: and thus hath lent
Wise Nature, here, familiar emblems, meant '
T' infix our spirits' rev'rence of Her high
Unchangeable decrees. Other intent
Wombed in the soul o' th' world, if thou descry,
Lacon.[25] these Potencies, with me, thy proof defy I




He ceased, but the Laconian answered not,
Save with a smile ; whereat, in subtle guise,
The spirit of pale Chow the theme upcaught,
Echoing the proud Assyrian's prophecies
Of endless royalty.

To mysterize

I scorn, he said : the sage of great Cathay[26]
By allegory taught, the teacher wise
Before all mortals; but, now freed from clay,
Truth's visage all unveiled Mind may to Mind displaj


The sacred sage who aims with sanctions strong
Of faith and fear, fable and prodigy,
To fence the throne, humanely to prolong
Peace, order, seeks : for peace and order flee
That state disrupt by anarch Liberty
The wild destructive demon ! And when peace
And order fade, fades every good : while free
Confusion's vot'ries call a realm, decrease,
Therein, all polished forms and winning courtesies :


These constitute the sweets of human life,
Rend'ring its gall less mortal, as renews
Our vigour this resplendent vision rife
With promise, this bright pomp that, swift subdues
All sense of pain, doubt, fear, which us pursues
In mystic seasons when high Powers exact
Their penalties, high Powers unseen that use
Their creature Man according to some pact
Beyond our scope but held eternally infract.


To mysterize I scorn yet own the task
Of labouring sages guerdon doth deserve
Of thanks from Kings: they clothe with prudent mask
The image from whose worship Man might swerve
If nuded : they contribute to conserve
Homage of monarchs, awe of gods, restraint
Of wholesome reverence for law; and nerve
The arm of Power, when it grows old and faint
And impious men deride its ceremonies quaint.


But I disdain to mysterize : let pass
The fables of old bards, and thy far view
Truthful experience guiding, scorning glass
Of types and stale conjectures, Spartan, due
Observance take that novelties congrue
But ill with social weal : while bloom and thrive,
Through endless ages, lands whose tribes eschew
Disloyalty, where sons meek sires survive
Preserving, piously, their customs primitive.


There knowledge grows ; hale labour fills the realm
With teeming plenty ; life doth, vig'rous, strike
Its roots into the soil ; and swarms, that whelm
With ruin lands more changeful where dislike
To rev'rend custom lifts the rebel pike
Or traitor dagger, drain deep bog and swamp,
Delve the stiff marl, yea, on the bald cliff, like
The eagle nestle, strewing mould, with tramp
Industrious, on the rock : their zeal what toil can damp ?


There arts that rise in the far mist of ages
Are cherished and preserved with sacred care ;
And, if aught nobler lore of later sages
Evolves, no sacrilegious hands uptear
The roots of ancient wisdom, but, by rare
And tender husbandry, the late-found flower
Is with the old engraffed, and, thenceforth, bear
Their wedded branches fruits that richer shower [dower.
Wide o'er the blest, peace-nurtured land their bounteous

Proud Greek, 1 ask thee, where is now the boast
Of gay and changeful Hellas ?[27] Where the pride
Of wisdom, valour, song, your wave-washed coast,
Ye said, would wear for aye? Doth it abide
Where sage Minerva's owl still sits to chide
Old Echo, when some lingering column falls
On grey Athene's waste, at eventide ?
Or glows it from the brows of Theban thralls
And Spartan cowards a barbarian's frown appals ?


Graian, behold, from China's terraced mountains,
Meek, peaceful myriads to the valleys wend,
And, with their brethren by the silver fountains
Reclining, to some hoary teacher lend
Enraptured audience, while his lips commend
The lessons of the ever-honoured seer
Whose wisdom's lustre doth as far transcend
The glimmering lights your westerlings revere,
As doth the orient sun outvie each smaller sphere.


Behold the greatness of the Flowery Nation
Attracting wondering eyes from all the earth,
While countless tongues rehearse loud commendation
Of vast Cathay : how science had her birth,
In peaceful secret, there ; and glided forth
From her pure cradle, like a godlike thing,
Blessing unboastfully ! pounng her worth
Of wisdom on the world ; but of her spring
Primeval to the infant isles ne'er whispering.

Behold how earth's united sages crowd
To pay their homage at the shrine maternal
To which old Northmen wild the mute guide owed
That led them o'er the deeps where regions vernal
Breathed their rich balm, when light of stars supernal
Was hid the mystic needle to the pole
Leal ever, as, to Wisdom's truths eternal,
By sage Confucius opened, ages roll
And still find China's children cleaving with one soul.


Or art, held magic once, that spreads the glory
Of thought with speed, by which the peasant hind,
Familiar as the prince, talks with bard hoary
Whose bones are wind-spread atoms, but whose mind
Still lives, converses, fulinines, splendour-shrined
Upon the lettered page; while pyramid
And column, arch and dome, taunt human kind
AVjth ; uin, \\here the founders' names are hid,
And dust becomes of Death a mirror pellucid.


Or delicatest skill, by which the worm
Yields up the riches of her soft cocoon
Where bounteous nature teacheth her to forn.
For royalty and beauty, lustrous boon !
The fabric for their robes, or proud festoon
That decks their palaces : or various art
Pictorial, that by tapestry, cartoon,
Canvass, or marble, where dead forms upstart
To life sublime instruction doth to man impart.


All the wide world inherits of the wealth
Of wisdom, Genius, skill, attribute now,
The truly wise unto those steps of stealth
With which the Genius of the land of Foh
Clomb Himaleh's tall barriers of snow
To kindle light celestial on the strand
Of infant India, whence, as sages shew,
The Chaldee, Mitzraim,[28] and thy later land,
Achaian, lit their lamps with an ungenerous hand.


The borrowed lights are quenched : the parent flame
Glows with undimmed and steady lustre, still !
Babel [29] and Thebes, and Athens, have a name
With things that were ; or claim from infantile
Far-islet harps and voices strains that chill

2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryThomas CooperThe purgatory of suicides; a prison-rhyme in ten books → online text (page 2 of 20)