Oliver Goldsmith Poems >>
The Captivity

AN ORATORIO



THE PERSONS.

FIRST ISRAELITISH PROPHET.
SECOND ISRAELITISH PROPHET.
ISRAELITISH WOMAN.
FIRST CHALDEAN PRIEST.
SECOND CHALDEAN PRIEST.
CHALDEAN WOMAN.
CHORUS OF YOUTHS AND VIRGINS.

SCENE - The Banks of the River Euphrates, near Babylon.


THE CAPTIVITY

ACT I -- SCENE I.

'Israelites sitting on the Banks of the Euphrates'.

FIRST PROPHET.
RECITATIVE.
YE captive tribes, that hourly work and weep
Where flows Euphrates murmuring to the deep,
Suspend awhile the task, the tear suspend,
And turn to God, your Father and your Friend.
Insulted, chain'd, and all the world a foe,           
Our God alone is all we boast below.

FIRST PROPHET.
AIR.
Our God is all we boast below,
To him we turn our eyes;
And every added weight of woe
Shall make our homage rise.                   

SECOND PROPHET.
And though no temple richly drest,
Nor sacrifice is here;
We'll make his temple in our breast,
And offer up a tear.
     'The first stanza repeated by the Chorus.

SECOND PROPHET.
RECITATIVE.
That strain once more; it bids remembrance rise,
And brings my long-lost country to mine eyes.          
Ye fields of Sharon, dress'd in flow'ry pride,
Ye plains where Jordan rolls its glassy tide,
Ye hills of Lebanon, with cedars crown'd,
Ye Gilead groves, that fling perfumes around,          
These hills how sweet! Those plains how wond'rous fair,
But sweeter still, when Heaven was with us there!

AIR.
O Memory, thou fond deceiver,
Still importunate and vain;
To former joys recurring ever,                 
And turning all the past to pain;

Hence intruder, most distressing,
Seek the happy and the free:
The wretch who wants each other blessing,
Ever wants a friend in thee.                  

FIRST PROPHET.
RECITATIVE.
Yet, why complain? What, though by bonds confin'd,
Should bonds repress the vigour of the mind?
Have we not cause for triumph when we see
Ourselves alone from idol-worship free?
Are not this very morn those feasts begun?           
Where prostrate error hails the rising sun?
Do not our tyrant lords this day ordain
For superstitious rites and mirth profane?

And should we mourn? Should coward virtue fly,
When impious folly rears her front on high?           
No; rather let us triumph still the more,
And as our fortune sinks, our wishes soar.

AIR.
The triumphs that on vice attend
Shall ever in confusion end;
The good man suffers but to gain,                
And every virtue springs from pain:

As aromatic plants bestow
No spicy fragrance while they grow;
But crush'd, or trodden to the ground,
Diffuse their balmy sweets around.               

SECOND PROPHET.
RECITATIVE.
But hush, my sons, our tyrant lords are near;
The sounds of barb'rous pleasure strike mine ear;
Triumphant music floats along the vale;
Near, nearer still, it gathers on the gale;
The growing sound their swift approach declares; --
Desist, my sons, nor mix the strain with theirs.        

'Enter' CHALDEAN PRIESTS 'attended'.

FIRST PRIEST.
AIR.
Come on, my companions, the triumph display;
Let rapture the minutes employ;
The sun calls us out on this festival day,
And our monarch partakes in the joy.              

SECOND PRIEST.
Like the sun, our great monarch all rapture supplies,
Both similar blessings bestow;
The sun with his splendour illumines the skies,
And our monarch enlivens below.

A CHALDEAN WOMAN.
AIR.
Haste, ye sprightly sons of pleasure;              
Love presents the fairest treasure,
Leave all other joys for me.

A CHALDEAN ATTENDANT.
Or rather, Love's delights despising,
Haste to raptures ever rising
Wine shall bless the brave and free.              

FIRST PRIEST.
Wind and beauty thus inviting,
Each to different joys exciting,
Whither shall my choice incline?

SECOND PRIEST.
I'll waste no longer thought in choosing;
But, neither this nor that refusing,              
I'll make them both together mine.

RECITATIVE.
But whence, when joy should brighten o'er the land,
This sullen gloom in Judah's captive band?
Ye sons of Judah, why the lute unstrung?
Or why those harps on yonder willows hung?           
Come, take the lyre, and pour the strain along,
The day demands it; sing us Sion's song.
Dismiss your griefs, and join our warbling choir,
For who like you can wake the sleeping lyre?

SECOND PROPHET.
Bow'd down with chains, the scorn of all mankind,
To want, to toil, and every ill consign'd,           
Is this a time to bid us raise the strain,
Or mix in rites that Heaven regards with pain?
No, never! May this hand forget each art
That speeds the power of music to the heart,          
Ere I forget the land that gave me birth,
Or join with sounds profane its sacred mirth!

FIRST PRIEST.
Insulting slaves! If gentler methods fail,
The whips and angry tortures shall prevail.
     'Exeunt Chaldeans'

FIRST PROPHET.
Why, let them come, one good remains to cheer;
We fear the Lord, and know no other fear.            

CHORUS.
Can whips or tortures hurt the mind
On God's supporting breast reclin'd?
Stand fast, and let our tyrants see
That fortitude is victory.
     'Exeunt'.


ACT II.

'Scene as before'.

CHORUS OF ISRAELITES.
O PEACE of mind, angelic guest!
Thou soft companion of the breast!
Dispense thy balmy store.
Wing all our thoughts to reach the skies,
Till earth, receding from our eyes,               
Shall vanish as we soar.

FIRST PRIEST.
RECITATIVE.
No more! Too long has justice been delay'd,
The king's commands must fully be obey'd;
Compliance with his will your peace secures,
Praise but our gods, and every good is yours.          
But if, rebellious to his high command,
You spurn the favours offer'd from his hand,
Think, timely think, what terrors are behind;
Reflect, nor tempt to rage the royal mind.

SECOND PRIEST.
AIR.
Fierce is the whirlwind howling                 
O'er Afric's sandy plain,
And fierce the tempest rolling
Along the furrow'd main:
But storms that fly,
To rend the sky,                        
Every ill presaging,
Less dreadful show
To worlds below
Than angry monarch's raging.

ISRAELITISH WOMAN.
RECITATIVE.
Ah, me! What angry terrors round us grow;            
How shrinks my soul to meet the threaten'd blow!
Ye prophets, skill'd in Heaven's eternal truth,
Forgive my sex's fears, forgive my youth!
If, shrinking thus, when frowning power appears,
I wish for life, and yield me to my fears.           
Let us one hour, one little hour obey;
To-morrow's tears may wash our stains away.

AIR.
To the last moment of his breath
On hope the wretch relies;
And e'en the pang preceding death                
Bids expectation rise.

Hope, like the gleaming taper's light,
Adorns and cheers our way;
And still, as darker grows the night,
Emits a brighter ray.                      

SECOND PRIEST.
RECITATIVE.
Why this delay? At length for joy prepare;
I read your looks, and see compliance there.
Come on, and bid the warbling rapture rise,
Our monarch's fame the noblest theme supplies.
Begin, ye captive bands, and strike the lyre,          
The time, the theme, the place, and all conspire.

CHALDEAN WOMAN.
AIR.
See the ruddy morning smiling,
Hear the grove to bliss beguiling;
Zephyrs through the woodland playing,
Streams along the valley straying.               

FIRST PRIEST.
While these a constant revel keep,
Shall Reason only teach to weep?
Hence, intruder! We'll pursue
Nature, a better guide than you.

SECOND PRIEST.
Every moment, as it flows,                   
Some peculiar pleasure owes;
Then let us, providently wise,
Seize the debtor as it flies.

Think not to-morrow can repay
The pleasures that we lose to-day;               
To-morrow's most unbounded store
Can but pay its proper score.

FIRST PRIEST.
RECITATIVE.
But hush! See, foremost of the captive choir,
The master-prophet grasps his full-ton'd lyre.
Mark where he sits, with executing art,             
Feels for each tone, and speeds it to the heart;
See how prophetic rapture fills his form,
Awful as clouds that nurse the growing storm;
And now his voice, accordant to the string,
Prepares our monarch's victories to sing.            

FIRST PROPHET.
AIR.
From north, from south, from east, from west,
Conspiring nations come;
Tremble thou vice-polluted breast;
Blasphemers, all be dumb.

The tempest gathers all around,                 
On Babylon it lies;
Down with her! down -- down to the ground;
She sinks, she groans, she dies.

SECOND PROPHET.
Down with her, Lord, to lick the dust,
Ere yonder setting sun;                     
Serve her as she hath served the just!
'Tis fixed -- it shall be done.

FIRST PRIEST.
RECITATIVE.
No more! When slaves thus insolent presume,
The king himself shall judge, and fix their doom.
Unthinking wretches! have not you, and all,           
Beheld our power in Zedekiah's fall?
To yonder gloomy dungeon turn your eyes;
See where dethron'd your captive monarch lies,
Depriv'd of sight and rankling in his chain;          
See where he mourns his friends and children slain.
Yet know, ye slaves, that still remain behind
More ponderous chains, and dungeons more confin'd.

CHORUS OF ALL.
Arise, all potent ruler, rise,
And vindicate thy people's cause;
Till every tongue in every land                 
Shall offer up unfeign'd applause.
     'Exeunt'.


ACT III.

'Scene as before'.

FIRST PRIEST.
RECITATIVE.
YES, my companions, Heaven's decrees are past,
And our fix'd empire shall for ever last;
In vain the madd'ning prophet threatens woe,
In vain rebellion aims her secret blow;
Still shall our fame and growing power be spread,
And still our vengeance crush the traitor's head.        

AIR.
Coeval with man
Our empire began,
And never shall fail
Till ruin shakes all;                      
When ruin shakes all,
Then shall Babylon fall.

FIRST PROPHET.
RECITATIVE.
'Tis thus that pride triumphant rears the head,
A little while, and all their power is fled;
But ha! what means yon sadly plaintive train,          
That this way slowly bend along the plain?
And now, methinks, to yonder bank they bear
A palled corse, and rest the body there.
Alas! too well mine eyes indignant trace
The last remains of Judah's royal race:             
Our monarch falls, and now our fears are o'er,
Unhappy Zedekiah is no more!

AIR.
Ye wretches who, by fortune's hate,
In want and sorrow groan;
Come ponder his severer fate,                  
And learn to bless your own.

You vain, whom youth and pleasure guide,
Awhile the bliss suspend;
Like yours, his life began in pride,
Like his, your lives shall end.                 

SECOND PROPHET.
RECITATIVE.
Behold his wretched corse with sorrow worn,
His squalid limbs with pond'rous fetters torn;
Those eyeless orbs that shock with ghastly glare,
Those ill-becoming rags -- that matted hair!
And shall not Heaven for this its terrors show,         
Grasp the red bolt, and lay the guilty low?
How long, how long, Almighty God of all,
Shall wrath vindictive threaten ere it fall!

ISRAELITISH WOMAN.
AIR.
As panting flies the hunted hind,
Where brooks refreshing stray;                 
And rivers through the valley wind,
That stop the hunter's way:

Thus we, O Lord, alike distrest,
For streams of mercy long;
Those streams which cheer the sore opprest,
And overwhelm the strong.                    

FIRST PROPHET.
RECITATIVE.
But, whence that shout? Good heavens! amazement all!
See yonder tower just nodding to the fall:
See where an army covers all the ground,
Saps the strong wall, and pours destruction round;
The ruin smokes, destruction pours along;            
How low the great, how feeble are the strong!
The foe prevails, the lofty walls recline --
O God of hosts, the victory is thine!

CHORUS OF ISRAELITES.
Down with them, Lord, to lick the dust;             
Thy vengeance be begun:
Serve them as they have serv'd the just,
And let thy will be done.

FIRST PRIEST.
RECITATIVE.
All, all is lost. The Syrian army fails,
Cyrus, the conqueror of the world, prevails,          
The ruin smokes, the torrent pours along;
How low the proud, how feeble are the strong!
Save us, O Lord! to thee, though late, we pray,
And give repentance but an hour's delay.

FIRST AND SECOND PRIEST.
AIR.
Thrice happy, who in happy hour                 
To Heaven their praise bestow,
And own his all-consuming power
Before they feel the blow!

FIRST PROPHET.
RECITATIVE.
Now, now's our time! ye wretches bold and blind,
Brave but to God, and cowards to mankind,            
Too late you seek that power unsought before,
Your wealth, your pride, your kingdom, are no more.

AIR.
O Lucifer, thou son of morn,
Alike of Heaven and man the foe;
Heaven, men, and all,                      
Now press thy fall,
And sink thee lowest of the low.

FIRST PROPHET.
O Babylon, how art thou fallen!
Thy fall more dreadful from delay!
Thy streets forlorn                       
To wilds shall turn,
Where toads shall pant, and vultures prey.

SECOND PROPHET.
RECITATIVE.
Such be her fate. But listen! from afar
The clarion's note proclaims the finish'd war!
Cyrus, our great restorer, is at hand,             
And this way leads his formidable band.
Give, give your songs of Sion to the wind,
And hail the benefactor of mankind:
He comes pursuant to divine decree,
To chain the strong, and set the captive free.         

CHORUS OF YOUTHS.
Rise to transports past expressing,
Sweeter from remember'd woes;
Cyrus comes, our wrongs redressing,
Comes to give the world repose.

CHORUS OF VIRGINS.
Cyrus comes, the world redressing,               
Love and pleasure in his train;
Comes to heighten every blessing,
Comes to soften every pain.

SEMI-CHORUS.
Hail to him with mercy reigning,
Skilled in every peaceful art;                 
Who from bonds our limbs unchaining,
Only binds the willing heart.

THE LAST CHORUS.
But chief to Thee, our God, defender, friend,
Let praise be given to all eternity;
O Thou, without beginning, without end,             
Let us, and all, begin and end, in Thee!