Philip James Bailey Poems >>
Festus - XIII

In one of earth's
Head cities, awaiting this, the effect unknown,
Of evil, not, truly, all--wise, we towerlike rise;
With eminent but indifferent eye survey,
Subdue, in thought, society, now in all
Its greater grades seen. Secret science, since
Divert to aims of power mysterious, schemes
For freedom, wealth, airs; war's surcease; and spread
Of mind--light, social virtue. Here the germ
Of universal sway, sought from the first,
See posited, striking, round an inner world,
Its roots intelligible, but not till the end
Destined to fruit; love, friendship, faith, all things
Ministrant. Plans all feasible, shadowed out,
Of one sublime humanity purified,
Warm even the civic air. And shall not God's
Own peace crown man pacific?

A Metropolis; Public Place.
Festus and Lucifer, Student, and Others.
Festus. My thoughts go, cloudlike, round the world, nor rest.
I am on fire to realize the fate
Which darkly, in the future's depths, thou hast shown;
Or else am with the mightiest folly mocked
E'er imped a soul to madness? How, meanwhile
Our ends defer? Can we for mellowing suns
Wait? When shall earth acknowledge me?

Lucifer. Not now.
Never, till self--compelled. The time will come.
Have patience. It is the blessing of the angels.

Festus. Patience! say slow self--murder.

Lucifer. Wait for what
Is on the wing already, or reach the end
As of an aimless lunge i' the empty air.
Knowledge, love, power, are thrones thy soul shall sit
In order due as promised. Patience, man!
We are as yet but minors, both of us.

Festus. Of pleasure one has hardly had a glimpse.

Lucifer. Each pleasure hastes thee to thine end, and man's.
Each new sought joy, each freshly proven power,
But draws the ends of all things like a hood,
Around thy fated head the closer. Come.
Bethink thee of thy pact.

Festus. I do; a pact
Where abstinence only serves to quicken pain;
Indulgence, shorten pleasure. Which to choose,
To let alone, which, wiser?

Lucifer. In them both
Is reason; but all--wise, man will never be.

Festus. Nay, come then, pretty patience. Sand by sand,
The world is worn away;--the sea hath sapped,
How oft! earth's vaulted base; times countless whelmed,
'Neath his abysmal bowl, the mountain tops.
'Tis but a matter of days. Most greatest things
Are gradual. Star on star, the heavens fulfil
Their issue; and truth quickens here the soul,
Dipped in substantial lightning of the sun
Spiritual, and with the eternal saving saved,
By every breath inspired of God. I yield.
Let us to that near hand: the end, deferred.
Life to enjoy, not only one must conform
To the world's laws, but bye--laws, customs, moods.
What can be done here?

Lucifer. Oh, a thousand things
As well as elsewhere.

Festus. True; it is a place
Where passion, occupation, or reflection,
May find fit food or field.

Lucifer. Take we our ease
Beside this feathery fountain. It is cool,
And pleasant; and the people, passing by,
Fit subjects for twin moralists like us.
Here, we can speculate freely on policy;
On social manners, fashions, and the news.
Now the political aspect of the world
At present, is most cheerful. To begin,
Like charity, at home. Out of all wrongs
The most atrocious; the most righteous ends
Are happiest wrought.

Festus. Ofttimes it chances so.

Lucifer. Take of the blood of martyrs, tears of slaves,
The groans of prisoned patriots, and the sweat
Wrung from the bones of famine, like parts; add
The stifled breath of man's free natural thought;
The tyrant's lies, the curses of the meek;
Vapour of orphan's sigh, and wail of all
Whom war hath spoiled, or law first fanged, then gorged;
The usurpations of the lawful heir,
The common weal, which comes to its own, all done;
The treasonous rebellions of the wise;
The poor man's patient prayers; and let all these
Simmer some centuries, o'er the slow red fire
Of human wrath, and there results at last,
A glorious constitution, and a grand
Totality of nothings; for what's all
Weighed with man's destiny?

Festus. Of recipes
Enough. That man's a warful animal,
Soldiers pass; music.
Glories in gunpowder, and loves parade,
Prefers them to all things, see present proof.
Life's but a sword's length at the best.

Lucifer. Past doubt.
Bar--iron, duly smelted, rules the world.

Festus. How many things want remedying. What next?

Lucifer. Well, in this seat of empire, by this head,
And nucleus of a nation world--famed, sit
And name your remedies; for, sick to death
Well--nigh, and perishing of rank rotting sores,
That gilded plasters hide, are all these burghs;
Huge populous solitudes, where penury pines
Mid havoc of excess; while guileful wealth
Serves, tremblingly, behind the public board,
Pale want, his stomach stiff from sheer default
Of exercise, is pressed to join, and thank
Compulsory charity, interested to give;
Or, back to shadowy feasts where all things lack;
Save appetite to destroy. What's wanted here?

Festus. Nought but a total change; true, honest, life,
Holy and simple; peace; a cheerful faith
In God; and nothing spent not purely earned.

Lucifer. Utopian, I much fear. But look here comes
A man thou knowest.

Festus. I do. Stop, friend, of late
I have not seen thee. Whither goest thou now?

Student. I am upon my business, and in haste.

Festus. Business! I thought thou wast a simple schemer;
A theorist of most nebulous mark and views;
Founder of many imaginary states;
And student of all arts impracticable.

Student. Mayhap, I am. There is a visionary
Business, as well as visionary faith.
My nature is more to sympathize with men,
Than in their actual aims participate.
What these by traffic strive to attain for themselves,
I seek, by the hidden mastery, to achieve
For others. Let but fruit my next thought,--then,
Bid me compete with states, and watch who wins.

Festus. And holdst thou faith in the art alchemic still?
Still seekst secluded in the ravenous search
For gold to verify thine earlier hopes?

Student. Though mingling more with men, my mind is yet
Leased to the great invention. I, in sooth,
Have all my life been living in a mine,
Lancing the world for gold. I have not yet
Fingered the right vein. Oh! how oft I wish
The time might come again, pert science prates of,
When earth's bright veins ran ruddy virgin gold.

Lucifer. When next the world's gold melts 'twill run, I fear,
A pretty steep course towards its natural end.

Student. Oh! I am not without my moderate hopes.
When in earth's first foundation as an orb,
Her giant elements held, like god--kings, sway
Free, and successive heritage, each his gift
Made earth, to mark his long illustrious reign.
Air, water, with prolific forms and fair,
Their realms made vital; with grain, herb, the mould;
With tall trees towering cloudwards, thousand yeared;
Fire, with all ore, gem, marble, stained with dyes
Stolen from the infant sun, when feeble he lay,
In the orient cradled; and that earth might not,
Mid the first passion of her golden prime,
Exhaust all joy, each power some art arcane
Penned for the cherished future; and to Time,
Earth's scribe and heaven's remembrancer, consigned
The opening of their treasured archives. These,
We, who now hold the keys of wisdom, read;
Translate the fiery tongues of obelisks;
Revive the blackened brain--craft of old scrolls,
A score of centuries tombed; light's radiant chords
Peel naked to the stars; weigh air, theirs, ours;
Count off the sun's vast rudiments, and his brow;
With vaporous iron crown; apt compliment
To our own stern age. One secret only, still,
Of moment, lacks; and this found, earth may rest,
And reap unusual joy. It is my main hope.

Festus. Were all rich, nothing left but gems and gold,
All things less pure, less precious, all beside
Were worthless, penniless. But what crowds of things
Life hath, more worth than wealth! When, viewed the world,
We mark the mighty ignorance of the mass,
In all lands, their huge servitude of mind,
And think, what sometime it would be, to see
Freedom and wisdom substituted, thought
Fails; and the heart faints at the vast conceipt.

Student. Truly; but not for gold, as ore, I slave.
As means subservient only to some end,
Great and beneficent, world--wide; end I scarce
Thus casually can name, but holy, high,
And in the face of all earth's worn--out frames
Of civil power, dynastic, popular, all
Alike effete, right justified.

Festus. So? I hear.

Lucifer. For this end, gold is needed.

Festus. I perceive.

Student. For universal liberty, gold, and more,
Wrongs must be rectified, rights established.

Festus. True;
Where'er a wrong exists, a right is quelled;
And wrongs seem everywhere. Serfs I despise,
For nations, if so, must so be, by choice.
Tyrants, or many or one, elect or born,
I hate. But how will justice--loving time
Reckon with all the despots, many and mean,
Who falsify, by weight of brands and chains,
The balance civil hath over savage life;
Who knows? That Mercy may be satisfied
By so much Justice sweeps, with level hand,
From off the measure's head, we'll hope.

Lucifer. Yes, hope.

Festus. Hope retributive Mercy may succeed
Her sterner sister Justice, and aye reign
In parity with love. For know, while God
Sits, judging 'mid the heavens, and all things made
Governs by infinite laws, each several sphere
Owns yet his special equity. Even on earth,
A vast invisible seat he hath, like aged
With the unwandering hills. In every soul's
Instinct of right; in all just sympathies;
In every conscience, sensitive to the truth,
As skies to light; in every innocent heart,
Whose strings, like angel lyres, are tuned in heaven;
Built into being, as though its corner--stone,
Towers, core of rule, this seat; and when, crushed down
By popular wrong of kings, or tyrannous crime
Of crowds, man's prayer, to him appealing, steals
Skywards, a shock convictive through all hearts
Shoots: and men's eyes, disfilmed, strange sense receive,
Undreamed of: view, there, in their veriest midst,
The eternal Presence, throned. His judgments, there,
Be very sure are executed. His fines
To the last blood drop paid. Oh may at last
Earth's Lord to all be merciful; but now,
Let God be just; 'tis all we need. I hear,
As faith his gifts recounts, by man misused,
Heaven's reasonable demands withstood, the groans,
Like to an earthquake thundering underground,
That shake, tempestuous, Time's repentant breast.

Student. Wait, wait; not long. The Rectifier will rise;
A purer and more righteous aera come.
Deep in earth's caverned heart, self--hidden, I see,
Her loins with wisdom's silver serpents girt,
The Nemesis of nations. Stern she sits
Her monumental throne. The hush of death
Spreads round her, halo--like. Even Hope, her friend,
Oft deems her dead. Yet lives she; live she will.
She hath a vital secret in her breast,
As though she nursed a god which scarcely breathes,
The freedom of the future. To all else
Superior, in that secret, nought beside
Heeds she: but hears indifferent o'er her head,
The ebb, or flow, of empire, and the march
Of militant generations; and but smiles,
And rocks her foot, contemptuous. Not for these
Moves she, nor is she moved; nor cares she watch.
Wordless of joy or woe, say why is she
Incarcerate? why abandoned? why suspect
Even of the pure? why in her cell by all
Her lover kings forgot,--could one who hath eyed
Her pale and dominant brow, and mounded breast
Elate with life, nor shuddering shrunk to meet
That stately stare, ever forget? Away!
Name not old wrongs. If wrongs have been, be sure
Some day will right them. Know, she hath never been
Save by her own serene assent, exiled
From the upper earth's face. What then doth she there,
Darkling in central solitudes? Alas!
Of her divine prevision all devoid,
Unwelcome and unworthy suitors she
Hath, many an one, who her to rash attempt
Of empery would entice, and so secure
Her forfeit royalty; wicked these nor reck
God's patience, or her own, prayer--wrung, to abide
The hour of destiny, and the award of love,
The liberator, fore--chosen. For when the dew
Now wet, hath ripened into the thunder--cloud,
And man's breath made God's lightning, one shall come
Who, of things passed intolerant, but divine
In mercifulness, and prompt ere all to free
The captive, and, to the exiled, home restore,
Shall ope her seal