Alciphron: A Fragment. Letter I.

Alciphron: A Fragment. Letter I.

By Thomas Moore


Well may you wonder at my flight
From those fair Gardens in whose bowers
Lingers whate'er of wise and bright,
Of Beauty's smile or Wisdom's light,
Is left to grace this world of ours.
Well may my comrades as they roam
On such sweet eyes as this inquire
Why I have left that happy home
Where all is found that all desire,
And Time hath wings that never tire:
Where bliss in all the countless shapes
That Fancy's self to bliss hath given
Comes clustering round like roadside grapes
That woo the traveller's lip at even;
Where Wisdom flings not joy away--
As Pallas in the stream they say
Once flung her flute--but smiling owns
That woman's lip can send forth tones
Worth all the music of those spheres
So many dream of but none hears;
Where Virtue's self puts on so well
Her sister Pleasure's smile that, loath
From either nymph apart to dwell,
We finish by embracing both.
Yes, such the place of bliss, I own
From all whose charms I just have flown;
And even while thus to thee I write,
And by the Nile's dark flood recline,
Fondly, in thought I wing my flight
Back to those groves and gardens bright,
And often think by this sweet light
How lovelily they all must shine;
Can see that graceful temple throw
Down the green slope its lengthened shade,
While on the marble steps below
There sits some fair Athenian maid,
Over some favorite volume bending;
And by her side a youthful sage
Holds back the ringlets that descending
Would else o'ershadow all the page.
But hence such thoughts!--nor let me grieve
O'er scenes of joy that I but leave,
As the bird quits awhile its nest
To come again with livelier zest.

And now to tell thee--what I fear
Thou'lt gravely smile at--why I'm here
Tho' thro' my life's short, sunny dream,
I've floated without pain or care
Like a light leaf down pleasure's stream,
Caught in each sparkling eddy there;
Tho' never Mirth awaked a strain
That my heart echoed not again;
Yet have I felt, when even most gay,
Sad thoughts--I knew not whence or why--
Suddenly o'er my spirit fly,
Like clouds that ere we've time to say
"How bright the sky is!" shade the sky.
Sometimes so vague, so undefined
Were these strange darkenings of my mind--
"While naught but joy around me beamed
So causelessly they've come and flown,
That not of life or earth they seemed,
But shadows from some world unknown.
More oft, however, 'twas the thought
How soon that scene with all its play
Of life and gladness must decay--
Those lips I prest, the hands I caught--
Myself--the crowd that mirth had brought
Around me--swept like weeds away!

This thought it was that came to shed
O'er rapture's hour its worst alloys;
And close as shade with sunshine wed
Its sadness with my happiest joys.
Oh, but for this disheartening voice
Stealing amid our mirth to say
That all in which we most rejoice
Ere night may be the earthworm's prey--
But for this bitter--only this--
Full as the world is brimmed with bliss,
And capable as feels my soul
Of draining to its dregs the whole,
I should turn earth to heaven and be,
If bliss made Gods, a Deity?

Thou know'st that night--the very last
That 'mong my Garden friends I past--
When the School held its feast of mirth
To celebrate our founder's birth.
And all that He in dreams but saw
When he set Pleasure on the throne
Of this bright world and wrote her law
In human hearts was felt and known--
Not in unreal dreams but true,
Substantial joy as pulse e'er knew--
By hearts and bosoms, that each felt
Itself the realm where Pleasure dwelt.

That night when all our mirth was o'er,
The minstrels silent, and the feet
Of the young maidens heard no more--
So stilly was the time, so sweet,
And such a calm came o'er that scene,
Where life and revel late had been--
Lone as the quiet of some bay
From which the sea hath ebbed away--
That still I lingered, lost in thought,
Gazing upon the stars of night,
Sad and intent as if I sought
Some mournful secret in their light;
And asked them mid that silence why
Man, glorious man, alone must die
While they, less wonderful than he,
Shine on thro' all eternity.

That night--thou haply may'st forget
Its loveliness--but 'twas a night
To make earth's meanest slave regret
Leaving a world so soft and bright.
On one side in the dark blue sky
Lonely and radiant was the eye
Of Jove himself, while on the other,
'Mong stars that came out one by one,
The young moon--like the Roman mother
Among her living jewels--shone.
"Oh that from yonder orbs," I thought,
"Pure and eternal as they are,
"There could to earth some power be brought,
"Some charm with their own essence fraught
"To make man deathless as a star,
"And open to his vast desires
"A course, as boundless and sublime
"As that which waits those comet-fires,
"That burn and roam throughout all time!"

While thoughts like these absorbed my mind,
That weariness which earthly bliss
However sweet still leaves behind,
As if to show how earthly 'tis,
Came lulling o'er me and I laid
My limbs at that fair statue's base--
That miracle, which Art hath made
Of all the choice of Nature's grace--
To which so oft I've knelt and sworn.
That could a living maid like her
Unto this wondering world be born,
I would myself turn worshipper.

Sleep came then o'er me--and I seemed
To be transported far away
To a bleak desert plain where gleamed
One single, melancholy ray.
Throughout that darkness dimly shed
From a small taper in the hand
Of one who pale as are the dead
Before me took his spectral stand,
And said while awfully a smile
Came o'er the wanness of his cheek--
"Go and beside the sacred Nile
"You'll find the Eternal Life you seek."

Soon as he spoke these words the hue
Of death o'er all his features grew
Like the pale morning when o'er night
She gains the victory full of light;
While the small torch he held became
A glory in his hand whose flame
Brightened the desert suddenly,
Even to the far horizon's line--
Along whose level I could see
Gardens and groves that seemed to shine
As if then o'er them freshly played
A vernal rainbow's rich cascade;
And music floated every where,
Circling, as 'twere itself the air,
And spirits on whose wings the hue
Of heaven still lingered round me flew,
Till from all sides such splendors broke,
That with the excess of light I woke!

Such was my dream;--and I confess
Tho' none of all our creedless school
E'er conned, believed, or reverenced less
The fables of the priest-led fool
Who tells us of a soul, a mind,
Separate and pure within us shrined,
Which is to live--ah, hope too bright!--
For ever in yon fields of light;
Who fondly thinks the guardian eyes
Of Gods are on him--as if blest
And blooming in their own blue skies
The eternal Gods were not too wise
To let weak man disturb their rest!--
Tho' thinking of such creeds as thou
And all our Garden sages think,
Yet is there something, I allow,
In dreams like this--a sort of link
With worlds unseen which from the hour
I first could lisp my thoughts till now
Hath mastered me with spell-like power.

And who can tell, as we're combined
Of various atoms--some refined,
Like those that scintillate and play
In the fixt stars--some gross as they
That frown in clouds or sleep in clay--
Who can be sure but 'tis the best
And brightest atoms of our frame,
Those most akin to stellar flame,
That shine out thus, when we're at rest;--
Even as the stars themselves whose light
Comes out but in the silent night.
Or is it that there lurks indeed
Some truth in Man's prevailing creed
And that our Guardians from on high
Come in that pause from toil and sin
To put the senses' curtain by
And on the wakeful soul look in!

Vain thought!--but yet, howe'er it be,
Dreams more than once have proved to me
Oracles, truer far than Oak
Or Dove or Tripod ever spoke.
And 'twas the words--thou'lt hear and smile--
The words that phantom seemed to speak--
"Go and beside the sacred Nile
"You'll find the Eternal Life you seek"--
That haunting me by night, by day,
At length as with the unseen hand
Of Fate itself urged me away
From Athens to this Holy Land;
Where 'mong the secrets still untaught,
The mysteries that as yet nor sun
Nor eye hath reached--oh, blessed thought!--
May sleep this everlasting one.

Farewell--when to our Garden friends
Thou talk'st of the wild dream that sends
The gayest of their school thus far,
Wandering beneath Canopus' star,
Tell them that wander where he will
Or howsoe'er they now condemn
His vague and vain pursuit he still
Is worthy of the School and them;--
Still all their own--nor e'er forgets
Even while his heart and soul pursue
The Eternal Light which never sets,
The many meteor joys that do,
But seeks them, hails them with delight
Where'er they meet his longing sight.
And if his life must wane away
Like other lives at least the day,
The hour it lasts shall like a fire
With incense fed in sweets expire.