The Misanthrope Reclaimed - Act I
A Dramatic Poem
S. L. Sawtelle.
To you, who have given me friendship in adversity, counsel in perplexity, and hope in despondency, permit me, as an expression of my deep and lasting gratitude, to inscribe the "Misanthrope."
With sentiments of the highest respect,
Your obt. servt.,
George W. Sands.
Frederick City, September 1849.
Werner - Misanthrope.
Manuel - a cottager.
Albert - his son.
Rebecca - wife to Manuel.
Rose - his daughter.
An aerial chorus.
The Misanthrope Reclaimed - ACT I.
A fountain near the summit of a mountain, from which, through a deep glen, a stream descends to the valley below. A city seen in the distance. Time, midnight. Werner standing near the fountain.
Eternal rocks and hills!
Mighty and vast; and you, ye giant oaks,
Whose massy branches have for centuries
Played with the breeze and battled with the storm,
He, who so oft has trod your rugged paths,
And laid him down beneath your shades to rest,
Returns to be your dweller once again.
I sooner far would make your wilds my home,
With nought but your rude eaves to shield me from
The winter's cold or summer's heat, than be
One of the hundred thousand human flies
That swarm within yon filthy city's walls.
Here, I at least may live in solitude,
Free from a forced communion with a race,
Whose presence makes me feel that I am bound,
By nature, to the thing I loathe the most,
Earth's stateliest, proudest, meanest reptile, man!
The beauty of a god adorns his form,
The foulness of a fiend is in his heart;
The viper's, or the scorpion's filthy nest
Nurses a far less deadly, poisonous brood
Than are the hellish lusts, the avarice, -
The pride - the hate - the double-faced deceits -
That make his breast their dwelling.
If he be not beneath hell's wish to damn,
Too lost for even fiends to meddle with,
How must they laugh to hear him, in his pride,
Baptize his vices, virtues; making use
Of holy names to designate his crimes;
Giving his lust the sacred name of love;
Calling his avarice a goodly sin,
Care for his household; naming his deceit
Praiseworthy caution; boasting of his hate,
When he no more can cloak it, as a proof
Of strength of mind and honesty of heart.
For all of goodness that remains on earth,
The name of virtue might be banished from it.
Fathers, who waste in shameful riotings
The bread for which their children cry at home;
Mothers, who put aside th' unconscious babe
That they may wrong its father; children, who
Grow old in crime ere they have spent their youth;
These are its habitants.
I cannot brook the thought, that I belong
To their vile race. My sufferings have been great,
And keen enough to prove my immortality;
For dust could not have borne what I have suffered.
My mind has pierced far, far beyond the length
Of mortal vision, and discovered things
Of which men scarcely dream, and paid in pain,
The price of what it learned and bought with pangs
By which a thousand ages were compressed
Into one hour of agony: a power
Which is a terror to possess, and yet
This one thought only irks me.
Methinks the peaceful earth will scarcely give
My dust a resting-place within its bosom,
But cast it forth as if too vile, to mingle
With clay that ne'er has been the slave of sin.
What! other watchers here at this lone hour?
[An evil spirit enters, singing.]
The world is half hidden,
By midnight's dark shadow;
The filly, witch-ridden,
Skims over the meadow;
The house-dog is barking,
The night-owl is hooting,
The glow-worm is sparkling,
The meteor is shooting;
And forms, which lie
So stiff and still,
In their shrouds so chill,
Through the live-long day,
Now burst their clay,
And flit through the sky,
On their dusky pinions:
Sisters, sisters, wherever your watches
Are kept, fleet hither to me,
Fleet hither, fleet hither, and leave earth's wretches
Alone to their misery.
[A chorus of evil spirits answer as they enter from different parts of the mountain.]
Vice needs no assistance,
She meets no resistance,
Is only in name;
Drinking and eating,
Intriguing and cheating,
Their ruin and shame;
Old age unrepenting,
Youth sighing and winning,
Deceiving and sinning,
All men are the same.
Earth quakes with the weight of the anguish she bears,
Her plains and her valleys are deluged with tears,
And her sighs, if united, were deeper by far,
Than the thunderbolt's peal, when the clouds are at war.
There is, not a bosom, that bears not within
Its chambers, the blot and the burden of sin;
Not a mind, but in many an hour bath felt
The curse of its nature, the pangs of its guilt.
These earth-worms! whose sire would have had us to bow
To his dust-moulded Godship! what - what are they now?
In the scale of true goodness, they sink far below
The poor, patient ox, that they yoke to the plough.
Let them revel awhile, in the false glaring light
Of deception, that blindness but seems to make bright;
Let them gather awhile of time's perishing flowers;
The revenge of eternity! This shall be ours!
[They settle near the fountain. The first Spirit addresses them.]
The night is advancing,
Come, let us, dancing
In dewy circles deftly tread;
And while we dance round,
New schemes shall be found,
To ruin the living, and trouble the dead.
[They form a circle on the margin of the stream, and dance round singing.]
Life is but a fleeting day,
Half of which man dreams away;
Night! we follow in thy train -
Sleep! supreme o'er thee we reign;
Ours the dreams that come when thou
Sit'st upon the unconscious brow;
Reason then deserts her throne,
We then reign, and we alone.
Then seek we, for the maiden's pillow,
Far beyond the Atlantic's billow,
Love's apple, and when we have found it,
Draw the magic circle round it;
Fearless pluck it, then no charm
That it bears may do us harm;
Place it near the sleeper's head,
It will bring love's visions nigh,
And when the pleasing, dreams are fled,
The waking, pensive maid will sigh,
Till her bosom has possessed,
The form that made her dreams so blest.
And when a maiden finds a lover,
Her happy days are nearly over:
Nature hath unchaste desires,
Love awakes her slumbering fires,
And the bosom that is true in
Love is ever near its ruin;
Passion's pleading melts the frost
Of chilliest hearts, and all is lost:
For, once vice blots a maiden's name,
She soon forgets her maiden shame.
Haunt the debauchee with dreams,
Of the victim of his schemes;
Paint her with dishevelled hair,
Streaming eyes, and bosom bare,
And with aspect pale and sad,
As a spectre's from the dead,
Weeping o'er her new-born, child,
Her name reproached, her fame despoiled:
Let her groanings reach his ear,
Pierce his heart, and rouse his fear
Of the retribution given,
To such deeds as his, by Heaven.
Around the drunkard's tattered couch,
Let pale-faced want and misery crouch,
His children shivering o'er the hearth,
Cheered by no sound of social mirth,
Upbraiding, with their timid glances,
The author of their sad mischances;
And she to whom the holy vow
Of the altar bound him, now
With sunken eye, and beauty faded,
Tresses silvered, brow o'ershaded,
Clinging to him fondly still,
With a love that mocks each ill,
Which would vainly strive to tear
Her soul from one who once was dear.
Now haste we, each our task to do,
Ere the starry hours wane through!
[They fly off, singing as they disappear.]
Ere the Morning's rosy wing,
Has brushed the damp night-shades away,
Ere the birds their matins sing,
Choiring to the new-born day,
Though its bright birth-hour be near,
Many a sigh, and many a tear,
Shall attest the mystic might,
Of those who walk the world by night.
The ruin of the living! if that be
Your only task, you have a poor employ.
Give man his three score years, and he will make
A wreck, the skill of hell might show forth as
A sample of its handiwork, and then,
Exult at the completeness of its ruin.
The troubling of the dead! - if memory lives
In that far world, to which the spirit hastens,
When she casts off the clay that clogs her wings,
E'en there ye are forestalled, for man will need
No curse, to make his second life a hell,
If be retains the memory of his first.
Had the clear waters of this gurgling brook,
The pow'r to wash time's blots from th' mind's page,
And all earth's mountains were compact of gold,
Her rivers nectar, and her oceans wine,
Her hills all fruitful, and her valleys fresh,
And full of loveliness as Eden was,
Ere sin's sad blight fell on its living bow'rs,
And all were mine, I'd give them but to lay
My weary limbs along this streamlet's bed,
And sleep in full forgetfulness awhile.
But, I forget my task - now let me to it!
[He takes a vial from his bosom, and flings its contents into the air, chanting,]
Wherever be thy home,
In earth or air,
My message hear,
And fear it.
By the power which I have earned,
To which thy knee has knelt,
By the spell which I have learned,
A spell which thou, hast felt,
I bid thee hither come!
[A white cloud appears in the distance, floating up the glen, and a voice is heard, singing as it approaches,]
I saw from port a vessel steer,
The skies were clear, the winds were fair,
More swiftly than the hunted deer,
Upon her snowy wings of air,
She flew along the silv'ry water,
As fearlessly as if some sprite,
Familiar with the deep, had taught her,
A spell by which to rule the might
Of winds and waves, when met to try
Their strength, up midway in the sky.
Along her trackless watery way,
With unabated speed she flew,
Still gay and careless, till the day
Waned past: night came: the heavens grew
Black, dread and threat'ning. Then the storm
Came forth in its devouring wrath;
Before it fled Fear's pallid form;
Destruction followed in its path;
It passed: the morning came: in vain,
I look for that lost bark again.
Far down beneath the deep blue waves,
Within some merman's coral hall,
Her fated crew have found their graves;
Above them, for their burial pall,
The mermaids spread their flowing tresses;
The waters chant their requiem;
From many an eyelid, Pity presses
Her tender, dewy tears for them:
The natives of the ocean weep,
To view them sleeping death's pale sleep.
Thou, mortal, wast the bark I saw;
The waters, were the sea of life;
And thou, alas! too well dost know,
What storms were imaged in the strife
Of winds and waves. The hopes of youth,
Thou, in that bark's lost crew, may'st see, -
All buried now within that smooth,
Vast, boundless deep, - eternity: -
And I, a spirit though I be,
Can pity still, and weep for thee.
[The cloud settles near the fountain, and, unclosing, discovers a beautiful form looking steadily at Werner.]
WERNER [addressing it].
If intercourse between all living worlds,
Had not been barr'd by Him who gave them life,
I should believe thou wert the guardian spirit,
Of that which men have named the Queen of Night.
Like her, thou art majestic, pale and sad,
And of a tender beauty: those bright curls
That press thy brow, and cling about thy neck,
Seem made of sunbeams, caught upon their way
To earth, by some creative hand, and woven
Into a fairy web, of light and life,
Conscious of its high source, and proud to be
A part of aught so beautiful as thou.
I have seen many full, bright mortal eyes,
That were a labyrinth of witching charms,
In which the heart of him who looked was lost;
But none like thine; their light is not of earth;
Their loveliness not like what man calls lovely.
Beside the smoothness of thy brow and cheek,
The lily's lip were rough; each of thy limbs,
Is, in itself, a being and a beauty.
If that the orb thou didst inhabit, ere
Thou wert a portion of eternity,
Was worthy of such dwellers, oh! how fair
And glorious, must have been its fields and bow'rs!
How clear its streams! how pure and fresh its airs!
How mellow were its fruits! how bright its flow'rs!
How strong and brave the beings, fit to share
It with thee! 'Tis most strange that He, whose hand
Fashions such wondrous things, should take delight
In striking them to nothingness again!
Perchance the author of all evil had
Invaded it, and made it quite unfit
To be a part of God's great universe.
And yet thou lookest as if thou wert beyond
The power of temptation to assail.
Hast thou too sinned?
I have lived as thou livest, died as thou
Wilt have to die, and am what thou shalt be.
I have not questioned thee of life or death,
Nor of the state which shall succeed them both;
I care not for the first, nor fear the second;
The last I leave to Him who gave to man
Eternity for his inheritance.
But I would know if the unceasing war,
Which good and evil wage upon the earth,
Has reached beyond, its confines.
Have I not answered thee?
The Begetter of worlds, stars, suns, and systems!
The Father of Creation! the Bridegroom
Of the Spirit! hath He not written that
Death has dominion only over sin?
And thou would'st know if other worlds have felt
The curse that fell upon, and blighted thine.
Poor simple child of clay! no doubt thou know'st
The story of the Eden of thy sire,
And think'st that there, in its fresh, stainless breast,
The baleful seeds of evil first were sown,
Which since have spread so fearfully abroad, -
When the sad doom, that came on him and his,
Was but the spray, cast from the wave of fate,
Which just then reached thy newly finished orb.
Where it first started - whither tends its course -
Where it shall stop - how many wrecks of worlds -
Once fairer far than thine was at its birth -
Shall strew its desolate way, - is not for things
Brought forth from dust to know.
What wouldst thou of me?
The sole remaining good, if good it be,
That yet is mine to share. I have tried all
That earthly hope holds out to satisfy
The longings of man's nature. I have loved,
And made an idol of the thing I loved,
And worshipped it with all my soul's intensity;
And, for awhile, the frenzy of my dream
Shut out all other thoughts. But it was short;
Death plucked my lovely flower from my grasp,
And then, the icy chill of desolation
Came, like a snowy avalanche, upon
My heart, and froze the fountains of its feeling.
I was ambitious. I have striven for,
And worn, the gaudiest wreath of fame, and when
I would have placed it on my brow, it grew
A mountain in its weight. I courted much
The notice of the world, and when men praised,
The very breath that bore their praise to me,
Seemed clogged with pestilence.
Wealth, too, I coveted,
And heaped its shining dust in hoards around me,
And yet it was but dust, as barren of
Enjoyment as the ground we tread upon.
I clad myself in purple - heaped my board
With all the fairest, sweetest fruits of earth,
And filled my golden goblets with bright juice,
Pressed from the goodliest grapes, and made my couch
Of down, and yet, I was most wretched still.
My garments were but cumbersome; my couch
Could give no rest, and e'en my generous wines
Could not remove the crushing weight that sat,
Nightmare-like, on my heart, until it grew
A palpable and keenly aching pang.
There is, one path which yet remains untrod;
To be my guide in it, I called thee hither, -
'Tis that of knowledge.
In which the mother of thy race was lost,
With e'en a wiser, mightier guide than I.
She thirsted, too, for knowledge, and she gave
Her innocence - her home in Paradise -
The happiness of him - who shared her lot -
To know - what? That her own rebellious hand
Had raised the flood-gates of a sea of crime,
Which would for ever pour its bitter waves
Upon the helpless unprotected race,
Which her rash deed had ruined.
Think of the sighs - the groans - the floods of tears -
The woes - too deep for these - which have no end,
Save but in heart-breaks! Think upon the toil -
The sweat - the pain - the strife - the crime - the blood -
The myriads of souls with which this one
Sad lesson was obtained! whose price is yet
Not fully paid, nor shall be so, until
The last poor son of earth mingles with dust!
Dost thou not fear to tread a path like this?
I have no fear;
It is so long since I have felt its thrill
That 'twere a pleasure now to feel it.
What wouldst thou know?
Thou art familiar with all earthly lore.
More: Thou hast gained, and wield'st a power, to which
The rulers of the elements do bow;
The hurricane, at thy command goes forth,
Walking where'er thou bid'st it, and the storm
Ceases to howl when thou hast said, - "Be still!"
Thine anger stirs the ocean, and thy wrath
Finds out the deep foundations of the mountains,
And shakes them with its strength; the subtle fire,
That lights the tempest on its gloomy way,
Starts from its cloud-rocked slumber, at thy call,
To be thy messenger.
Canst thou not be content when thou art feared
By those who rule a world? What is there yet
Which thy insatiate mind desires to know?
Would'st learn immortal mysteries? Reflect
Thou art but mortal.
Spirit, why dost thou
Taunt me with my mortality? "Weak things,
Brought forth from earth," - "Poor simple child of clay," -
These are thy words, when well thou knows't that I,
Though bound to earth by bonds made of its mire,
Am mightier than thou. Were it not so,
Thou would'st not now be face to face with one
Of mortal birth. Thou, too, canst feel revenge,
And knowest how to wreak it; but, take heed, -
The power which brought thee hither, can, and may
Deal harshly with thee. If thou knowest aught
Worthy of an immortal mind to know,
To which I have not pierced, reveal thy knowledge.
We may not tell the secrets of eternity;
But I can show thee things thou hast not seen,
And they may profit thee, although 'twill shake
Even thy proud heart to look upon them.
Would'st see them?
It is my wish.
Although thy path be through hell's gloomy gate,
I too will pass its portals at thy back.
Thou canst not enter where I dare not pass.
[The cloud closes around them, and moves away, and a voice sings as it disappears.]
To the region of shadow,
The region of death,
Where dust is a stranger,
And life has no breath;
Where darkness and silence
Their dim shrouds have cast
Round the phantoms of worlds
That belong to the past;
Spirits who sit on
The thrones of the air,
Guide ye our chariot,
Waft ye us there.
George W. Sands
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