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

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A tempest, aided by the raging blast
Of passion, and the yielding soul is whirled
Helplessly into guilt's black gulf, or cast
On death's sharp breakers ? What hath hither hurled
Thy bark and mine ? Our senses' sails upfurled
We did esteem, by sage Philosophy,
Yet was our vessel caught where fiercest curled
The furious billows, and poor shipwrecks we
Were left even while we boasted our dexterity !

Thou, whilst aspiring after fuller bliss
Than earth affords, wert maddened with desire
To realize some pure hypostasis
Platonic dreamers fable from their sire,
The Academian : I, consuming fire
Felt daily in my veins to see my race
Emerge from out the foul defiling mire
Of animal enjoyments that debase
Their nature, and well-nigh its lineaments efface.



1 burned to see my species proudly count
Themselves for more than brutes ; and toiled to draw
Them on to drink at Virtue's living fount,
Whence purest pleasures flow. Alas ! I saw
Old vice had them besotted till some awe,
Some tinge of mystery, must be allied
With moral lessons ; or, a futile law
My scholars would esteem them. Not in pride
To Etna's yawning gulph the Agrigentine hied :

I loved my kind ; and, eager to exalt
Them into gods, to be esteemed a god
I coveted : thinking none would revolt
From godlike virtue when the awful nod
Divine affirmed its precepts. Thus, to fraud
Strong zeal for virtue led me ! Canst thou blame
My course ? I tell thee, thirst for human laud
Impelled me not : 'twas my sole-thoughted aim
To render Man, my brother, worthy his high name !-


So spake Empedocles ; and him the youth
Thus answered : Mystery, that ever grows
More complex as we, ardent, seek for truth,
Doth still encompass us ! Thy words disclose
A tide of thoughts ; and o'er my spirit flows
Wave after wave, bearing me, nerveless, from
My fancied height : as when, by acheful throes,
Self-castaway, the shelving rock I clomb,
The sea asserted o'er my limbs its masterdom.

My chiefest marvel is that Wisdom's son,
Thyself, should, after ages have gone o'er
Him, and his race unto the tomb is run,
Still feel anxieties which earth's old shore
Convert to hell. Empedocles, no more
Mix palliation with confession, guise
Of fraud with truth ! If, in thy heart's deep core,
Thou hadst not erred, why, by the grand assize
Of the soul's Judge, dost thou in Hades agonize ?


No longer from thy judgment seek to hide
The truth indisputable that thy heart
Was moved, like every human heart, by pride
That subtle poison which with fatal smart,
Man's spirit penetrates, and doth impart
Its hateful tinct even to his pearliest deeds.
Whence rise the spectrous forms that flit athwart
Thy mental vision here ? Thy thought why breeds
It still Pride's haughty plant, unless from earth-sown seeds ?


I question not the truth of thy deep love
For virtue, for man's happiness thy zeal. [11]
Empedocles, thou knowest my soul hath clove
To thine for ages, in these shades : we feel
Our heart congenial while we thus reveal
Its spiritual throbbings, Not in hate
Or mockery do I once again appeal
Unto thy nobler thought : though sad our state,
Let us from self-deceit the soul emancipate !

He ceased ; and thus the Agrigentine sage
Replied : Cleombrotus, in me, again,
Thou call'st forth gratitude : self-cozenage,
How low, how mean, how imbecile and vain !
Yet, humbled, I discern its hateful stain
Within my essence, still : Would thou hadst torn
My last disguise away, and bruised the reign
Of my deceits, eternally ! Upborne [sojourn.

From hence, then would the soul find some more blest

And why cannot the soul her strength exert
Even now ? Age after age this irksome feud
With frailty we sustain, or, all inert,
Droop o'er our woe, and, passive mourn ! Endu'd
With power our being is : this torpitude
Let us shake off! We loathe the stain we see
Still cleaving to us : let the will denude
The soul of frailty ! Now for victory
Let essence dare, and scale this Mount of Vanity ! -
5 r



With wild fanatic light his visage glowed
And kindred fire began, forthwith, to gleam
In the youth's eyes : With mystic might endowed
I feel we are ! he cried : with might supreme !
The soul shall sun herself amid the beam
Extatic, where Elysian flowers bloom
In fields of ceaseless verdure, and where stream
The waters of rejuvenescence ! Gloom
Shall cease ! these shades are not the soul's perpetual doom!


Now, let us mount ! Haste, haste, Empedocles !
My brother, haste ! Our spirits' law delay
Brooks not : let us the favouring current seize
That now the soul bears onward !

Swift away,

I saw them, as I dreamed, sanguine and gay
Of heart as children, join the toiling crew
Of motley shapes and guises, that for 3ye,
Clomb up to gain some peak, winning no view,
They sought, but seeming, still, their struggle to renew.


And, as I dreamed, methonght, the motley mob
Babbled of names that every eavthly clime
Have filled with strife until the feverous throb
Issued in darkest, deadliest deeds of crime
Each deed still hallowed by the things of slime,
The vermin priests. Amid the hubbub wild
1 Cross,' 'crescent,' ' hell' and heaven made strange chime
With ' Tartarus' ' Elysium' ; and some smiled,
While others gnashed th eir teeth : but all still upward toiled.


My spirit, with a vague, wild ardour rapt,
Seemed speedily to mingle with this host.
And, as I gazed, sleek, supple forms that aped
Deep sanctity, sighing, trudged on, and crossed
Themselves. Of sable hue, full many a ghost
Was there that called on Boodh, and Juggernaut,
Veeshnu, and Seeva, and Kalee : these tossed
Their frantic forms, and writhed, and wildly smote
Upon their breasts seeming with extasy distraught.



And turbann'd shapes were there that proudly frowned
On all around them, and ' Allah akbar !'
Proclaimed : whereat ' Christ shield us from Mahound !'
A band exclaimed that signs of antique war
Displayed, their zeal and guise alike bizarre,
Shifted in steel and visored, while loud rung
The spiritual air with holy jar
Of chivalrous chartel they fiercely flung
At their grim Paynim foemen, with obstrep'rous tongue.

Nor shrunk from challenge to renew earth's strife
The scowling Moslems, but with bitter jeer
And scoff retorted. Soon the tumult rife
And fiery grew : the lank Jew hurled his sneer
Alike at knightly pilgrim and austere
Follower of Islam ; Budhist and Bramin crazed ;
And minglilvgvfcfcirse of Turk, Jew, bonze, fakir,
Templar, moiik, palmer, santon, hermit raised
A din so dread that ev'n its utt'rers stared, amazed.

Anon, came on a crew that swift outsped,
And soon outdinned with more relentless curse,
This bitter cursing crowd. High overhead
The bannered Lamb and Dove did misrehearse
The spite with which their vot'ries sought to nurse
Fiend passions in each other. Paradox
And Mystery hurling with malicious force,
These fight along, and each his brother mocks
With taunt of ' schism !' while dealing round him sturdy


Anathemas and hells eternal waged
They next against each other, losing sense
Of their strange afterstate, so madly raged
Each bigot at his fellow's difference
Of madness. Memory of their woes intense
Returning, each marie halt and turned to scorn
His neighbour's cowardice, with spite prepense,
For blighted self-destroyer that must mourn
In endless pain, with torturous hope of end still torn.

F 2



And now gave o'er their lunatic pursuit
The Graian sage and youth I first perceived
Upon the mount. Amid the mad dispute
Of million zealots they seemed each bereaved
Of self-possession, till, anon they cleaved
A way from out the crowd, and sat them down,
Wearied and strife-worn, while their spirits grieved
With more than mortal agony : all flown [zone !

Their dreams, and their wild hopes brought back to Hades'


Long space, and gloomy, of existence past,
In which, with silent grief, the spirits twain
Seemed overwhelmed, and each enthusiast
His face averted from his brother, fain
To hide his shame, and struggling to sustain
His own peculiar woe. At length outburst
Cleombrotus, unable to restrain
His swelling sorrow : Evermore accurst
He cried, be memory of him who kindled thirst


Within me for some vaguely' imagined good,
Unproven by the soul, and whether ill
Or good unknown ; since oft false likelihood
Befools the mind, oft she impels the will
To grasp a hemlock where she thought to fill
Her embrace with the rose. My mortal state
Why did I scorn ? Not seldom, sweetest thrill
Of pleasure follows pain : joys mitigate
Worst woe : Men share no irremediable fate :

Sorrow, on earth, hath uses: nuttitive
Of joy griefs often prove ; and power to find
Pleasures unfound before pains, friendly, give.
O state beyond compare ! and for the mind
And body framed benignly ! Weak and blind
And thoughtless was my wish for unmixt joy
Perpetual, since alternate pain designed
Satiety of pleasure to destroy
I now discern. Could ceaseless pleasure fail to cloy ?



Alas! in vain I reason ! vainly charge
My tortured spirit with her last foul leap
Her darkest deepest stain ! While on the marge
Of jeopardy this lessoning might keep
The soul from error; but when once the steep
She clears, sage counsels no deliverance bring.
Yet, why do 1 permit despair to sweep
Away all hope ? Unto the weakest thing,
For help, the seaman 'midst the strife of death will cling:

To weeds to quicksands to the cresting foam
Of the wild waves themselves ! And shall she sink,
The deathless spirit, in self-exiled home,
Where yet remains her boundless power to think ?
O luxury ineffable, since link
To link the spiritual Cyclops swift
And strong may forge, till to the very brink
Of space her tether reach ! This matchless gift
Is still her portion : shall she not of it make thrift ?

Empedocles, my brother, once more tell
To me thy spirit's woes or joys : once more
Let us together struggle to expel
Our sense of pain, and the wide realm explore
Of deepest cogitation : that vast shore
We can, unfettered, visit, and still glean
Its metaphysic splendours, as of yore :
Let us our travel to the fair demesne
Of Mind essay, the land of truest evergreen !

Cleombrotus, my spirit doth respond
To thine, with joy ! replied Empedocles :
The soul her winged steed, caparison'd
For venturous travel, mounts, and on the breeze
Discursive pants to ride : from far she sees
Her promised conquests ; for thou well hast told,
And truly, intellective pleasures please
When other joys are joyless. But, behold !
Where comes to share our converse the wise Indian old



He whom Emathian Philip's son beheld
Amazed, while pealing trumpets cleaved the sky,
And warrior host's the wondering tumult swelled
Ride, on his goaded steed, undauntedly,
Into the funeral flame, scorning to die
By nature's gradual law ! Hail Calanus ! [12]
The sage spake on for, now, the Indian nigh
Appeared ; full timely comest thou with us
To share, as often, erst the descant emulous.


The theme of mystery, What being is,

Begin ! Whence Pain and Pleasure, Hope, Despair ?

Why Truth in endless metamorphosis

Doth shroud herself. How Wisdom may declare '

Her precepts best ; and how she best may snare

The vulgar crowd her lessons to observe,

Thereby to elevate and bless

Forbear !

The Indian cried, with intellectual nerve
Throned in his glance Blindly thou dost from wisdom



Empedocles, in sooth I say thou err'st,
As when on earth. Yet, thy clay trammels thou,
By long sojourn in Hades, shouldst have burst.
Falsehood and ignorance will ever bow
The human soul ; and urge it, base and low,
To grovel in the dust. Falsehood and sooth
Breed no amalgam. Flame from flood shall flow,
The summer's sun shed drops congealed, and Youth
Be sire unto Old Age. ere Lies shall nurture Truth !


O Greek, called wise, think how old earth hath mourned
And bled, through ages, by the mixture foul
Of fraud with truth ! Would that thy heart suborned
Had never been by pride, a false control
To forge for Virtue o'er the human soul I
How would the universal race of man
Have joined thy lofty labour to extol,
Thy high emprise of goodness, if the ban
Of evil myslery had not obscured thy plan !



I speak not here to wound thee ; but I joy
That Vulcan's fabled forge cast out, in scorn,
Thy sandal's brazen soles, for base alloy, [13]
And thus the flimsy veil in twain was torn
That hid thy apish godhead. Hadst thou worn
The false divinity thou sought'st, thy shrine
Had only swelled the slavish burthen borne
By sottish man of priestly craft malign :
Th' enwoven fraud had frustrated thy scheme benign !


Eager response unto the Indian gave

The Agrigentine bard : If not by aid '

Of harmless fraud, he said, how could'st thou save

The sons of degradation that have strayed

In Folly's paths until the comely maid,

Fair Virtue, seems, from her uncomely dress,


Call not fraud harmless ! said the Shade
With sable visage : Shadow bodiless
Of Fraud would curse a world with its flagitiousness :


Tinct, grain of falsehood, would a cureless plague,
A leprosy o' th' heart, in mankind breed !
Empedocles, thy wisdom still is vague,
Miscalculating, blind ; and still succeed
To thee, on earth, they who mankind mislead,
Without thy real philanthropy engrafted
Within their hearts, but mixing with their greed
For praise or gold, a larger share of craft : [laughed !
ow long and loud the fablers at the easy world have


And still sleek fablers thrive ; whilst thou to flame
Gav'st thy frail life, and for thyself hast won
What? Folly's laurels and a madman's fame !
The time will come, Hellene ! when the sun
Shall look upon a world no more o'errun
With slaves to sensualism ; when haggard Spite,
And frowning Pride, and Envy pale shall shun
Truth's glorious beams, and Love's celestial light
They twain that shall be one, by hymeneals bright !


Glad Earth shall wed them : to the nuptial- feast,
The banquet sempiternal, new-born Faith
Shall call the nations: fairest Peace, sweet Rest,
And holy Joy, shall minister with breath
Ambrosial at the bridal : demon wrath
Against their brethren, cruelty through lure
Of gold, strife for the conqu'ror's wreath of death,
The strong shall loathe : the weak shall wear, secure,
Their stronger brethren's love that heaven-wrought

[armature !

How blest that nuptial reign ! The strong shall seek
Their strength to nurture, hourly, with the dews
Of Pity' and Mercy ; visiting, with meek
Yet fervid zeal, Pain's couch, and Want's purlieus;
Creating health for sickness, hopeful views
Of life for dark despondence ; breaking bread
To weeping orphans ; and the withered thews
Of age cheering with raiment ; till, outspread [tread!
In smiles, Earth is one mother's hearth where brethren

The time will come ! But, ere that bridal-day
Dawn on our ancient home, Knowledge must win,
By toilsome steps and slow, her widening way :
Knowledge, the new-born world's great heroine
That shall be when, of knight and paladin,
Tartar and Mameluke, legion and cohort
.And phalanx, fame hath fled; when War's huge sin
Hath ceased ; and 'Glory' ravening kings' fell sport,
Is chronicled with tales of murderous report.


O Greek, hadst thou a lowly pioneer
Aspired to be of Knowledge, and disdained
To be esteemed, by Greeks, a fit compeer
Of myriad mongrel gods, mankind had gained
By thee, perchance, a gift worth thanks unfeigned ;
And lasting honours to thy memory
Exultant lands had rendered, diseiichaiul
From ignorance, and craft, and tyranny :
VM il -,vill i-ome thai trump of world-spmul jubilee!


The time will come ! Young Knowledge on her march
Already speeds ! Her march of suffering toil,
And peaceful hardihood, of patient search
And tireless zeal : forth from his snaky coil
Old Superstition springs, and Power his foil
Of sword and chain opposeth to her steps
But all in vain ! She counts them for a spoil !
And conquering and to conquer, forth she sweeps
O'er alp, and vale, and strand ; and bounds across the deeps !

Now beams on Thule's shore her genial torch :
Yea, there her central temple proudly stands :
And lo ! who greets her at the stately porch
An awful-fronted sage, from whom her hands
Receive an ensign which on high expands
Amid the breeze : that peerless gonfalon
Monarchs and Priests behold, and think their sands
Are numbered; for aghast, they read upon [undone!
Its scroll 'Knowledge is Power!' They fear their craft


They quake they bow and soon shall disappear
Their twin theurgies for the nations wake !
Knowledge, the great Enfranchiser, is near!
Yet, though their bonds the wide world's helots break,
They seek not in their tyrants' blood to slake
A thirst for vengeance : Knowledge desolates
No mother's hearth no brother's home : they take
Revenge in mercy, whom she' emancipates :
His carrion maw, tracking her steps, no vulture sates :


The dogs of carnage prowl not where she treads :
Beneath her steps the sterile desart smiles ;
And o'er the wintry waste its perfume sheds
The vernal rose : along the forest aisles
Earth's seraphim awake : her breath beguiles
Old Nature's self! I see their rays appear
The beauteous bridal pair! Through islet piles
1 hear the shout that Truth and Love are near:
For Knowledge wins her WHY their radiant harbing< ; .'



So spake the Indian sage, and stood enrapt
In ecstasy prophetic, as, of old,
The Pythoness afflate who, struggling, shaped
To mortal sounds what the Immortal told.
Silence applausive, that with mystic mould
Of fleshless forms consorts, followed. His trance
Of admiration first the youth controlled :
I burn with wish, he said, that Fate or Chance
Had granted us of clay a later beritance :


What raptures then had been our portion ! Now
We wrestle with our lot in hope : for yet
Hope unto us remains ; and on thy brow,
O Calanus, methinks, are brightly met
Rays of a hope for Hades. Shall thy debt
And ours to anger'd Providence be purged
By ages of endurance, here, beset
With strange alternate woes ? For either urged
By hope we strive ; or, in despair all strife is merged


In wretchedness of dull, grave-cold despair.
Say, sable spirit, what thou know'st of rest
That shall be ours !

With look of anxious care,
He ceased, impatient for reply. Unblest,
Humbled, regretful, thought and speech confest
Empedocles; and, ere his deeper guage
Of thought the Indian took, thus urged his quest :
Some glimpse of joy, he said, my thoughts presage:
This shall not be the soul's eternal heritage :


The spirit shall escape her prison-house:
But thou, O Sage, to whom pow'rs more intense
Hath brought deep knowledge, who with luminous
Perceptions art endowed, and opulence
Of reasoning power, like to the prescience
Of gods, tell forth what hope of blissful end
To these our changeful woes, or what suspense
Of agony, thou dost foreknow. Could we amend
Thepast, my soul should truth no more with foul fraud blend :


Bright truth with grovelling fraud. Too late I see
Wide wanderings with my fancied rectitude
Enmixt. But why this Mount of Vanity,
So called by souls that have, for aye, renewed
Their strife to win its peak, still unsubdued
Their sanguine zeal, though fruitless, why assign
The gods our portion here ? Torturous soul-feud
Of myriad forms hath Hades, but divine,
If that thou canst, why hold we this abhorr'd confine ?


What Power appoints to us, with minds at large,
This mountain -prison? Why, in this duresse,
Deemed we, but now, our spirits on the marge,
Of extasy's eternal boundlessness,
And then, again, surged, wrecked, and shelterless,
On agony's shore, ourselves imagined ? Though
Mysterious agencies on us impress
Their purposes, thou, Calanus, mayst know
What these, the wondering soul's perplexities, foreshow.


Perplexed I am for answer, in my dream
The Indian seemed to say : Here banishment
From earth is self-inflicted ; and I deem
Some mystic law consociates spirits pent
In this strange realm of penance. They who rent
Themselves from earth, impelled by painful force
Of ill-requited passion, live unblent
With spirits who through torturous remorse
Fled hither to embrace the self-destroyer's curse.


And they whom slights and treacheries have pierced
With thousand arrows ; or, whom children's hate
Hath heart-galled; or whose actions misrehearsed,
The pitiless world hath phrensied; or, whom Fate
Or circumstance hath failed to elevate
Above their fellows, till by their own hand
They severed life's frail bonds, a various state
Hold here. From these the Poet and the Patriot band,
Self-exiles, dwell apart, in this mysterious laud.



Nor seems it purposeless that we who reft
Ourselves of earth's mixt joys through thirst to drink
Of extasy untnixt, should thus be left
At large, as heretofore, to dream and think ;
And, while imagining we reach the brink
Of purest joy, should feel ourselves still tossed
On hope's conflicting wave, then feebly sink
Desponding. If, upon this mystic coast,
Each wandering soul with dreams and visions be engrossed

Analogous to dreams and visions which
In mortal life engrossed her, 'midst the crowd
Of stern realities, if glozing speech
Mislead her, as on earth, and mists enshroud
Her vision till all being with a cloud
Is wrapt, and doubt asks whether she exists
Or not, why, let our struggling will be bowed !
It is our spirits' law, and, as Fate lists
We live : in vain this law our rebel will resists.


Shall we live thus for ever, or hath hope
Foundation firm for joys pure joys to come?
Perplexed 1 answer : We but guess and grope
For this the jewel of our search : unwomb
Herself Truth may : but, in the heart of gloom
She still hides this her gem of gems. The mind
Oft asks how gods their progeny can doom
To endless, hopeless woe : but what, if blind
Necessity grasps all ! Who shall her grasp unbind ?

Oft speak we of deep sympathies enwove
In flesh-freed Essences with men on earth,
Foretelling that when Truth shall wed with Lo\.
'Mong mortals, spirits in Hades shall, thence forth,
Experience wondrous change, the soul new birth
Shall have of wisdom, false distinctions cease.
Or they have highest honour who in worth
Of virtue most excel, penance to peace
For ever shall be changed, and ever know increase !



With ye not seldom, Hellenes sage, I share
These sanguine thoughts; but souls of Kingsask whence
Derive we our bright hope. Summons I bear
Unto our mountain realm that high souls hence
Betake them where, in pictured affluence
Of power, Monarchs hold thrones, when lapse of pain
To them, with us, Nature's behests dispense.
Since Kings yield parley, think ye that in vain [tain?
Truth's devotees 'fore thrones shall themes of Truth main-


Spirits, ye beam with thoughts that antedate
Triumph of Truth and Right; and I partake
Your deep prophetic joy. What though dark hate
Bosoms of kings usurps ? Love shall awake
In gentleness omnipotent, and make
Her meekest throne within their souls, for they
Are human, and all human souls shall break
Their vassalage to Wrong. Alas! dismay
Of doubt begins, anew, to seek me for its prey !


Empedocles ! Cleombrotus ! our life
In Hades, as on earth, is mystery :
Our being is a contest and a strife
With its own essence : struggling to be free
We add unto our fetters : while we flee
Or think we flee from folly, we are more '
Than ever fools ! The soul, a refugee
In Hades from Earth's woes, her woes deplore
In deeper woe may, endlessly ; or with new power


Endowed, may yet launch out her fragile bark
Adventurously, and find some sea of bliss,
Some unknown flood of light, and, far from dark
And dismal storms of doubt, emparadise

Anon, from vague hypothesis
The Indian fell again to doublings void,
Till like his speech, his form itself, I wis,
Grew dim ; and with its brother forms did glide
Into the womb of Nought : the vision was destroyed.


[1] Stanza 4. It may be necessary, for some readers, to
say that the apostrophe, in this stanza, is to Chaucer ; and, in
the few succeeding stanzas, to Spenser, Shakspere, Byron
and Shelley, and Milton.

[2] Stanza 5. " Nouriture." The critics again affirm that

1 2 3 5 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 5 of 20)