Page images
PDF
EPUB

[ocr errors]

pair with the fruits of their obedience to him. Milton has been charged, and we cannot but think with some degree of truth, with giving too much grandeur, gloomy though it be, and too much nobility of character, to his Satan. The stern resolve, the unbending will, the high-wrought courage, do show too much of the archangel still, though in ruins;" and with some temperaments might operate to lessen their abhorrence of his rebellion, in their admiration of his seeming heroism; and in spite of their wishes, their sympathy they may find at times half with him. But Miss Barrett's portraiture of Satan is open to no such objection as this. The last shade of blackness is added to him when he comes after the curse, and not only exults over the ruin he has accomplished, but after taunting the holy angels of Paradise with his fancied success, he seeks out the wandering exiles, to insult those he has ruined ;to feast himself with the sight of their misery,--to mock at their sufferings,—to scorn their sorrows,-to laugh over their iears. We see here a personification of evil that cannot be darkened. For such a spirit, we can feel nothing but the most intense disgust; no sympathy or pity divides our feelings. Adam well exclaims,

" Ay, mock me! Now I know more than I knew.
Now I know thou art fallen below hope

Of final reascent.
Lucifer.

Because ?
Adam.

Because
A spirit who expected to see God,
Though at the last point of a million years,
Could dare no mockery of a ruined man

Such as this Adam." As Lucifer departs, there is heard the song of his morning star.” The burden of the

song

“Ai, ai, Heosphoros !" The whole lament is full of pathos and sublimity; but we have not room for it. While the sad refrain is sounding over the fallen glory of Lucifer, the pair approach a wild country, over which the shadows of night begin to gather darkly. Eve's heart grows chill with the gloom around, and she declares it better to return and “stand within the sword-glare till we die." Adam replies that they must not "pluck death from the Maker's hand as erst we plucked the apple,” but patiently wait God's will. Surrounded by the darkness, out of it shapes, and images, and awful phantasms appear to rise; and at length from the ground spring up two earth-spirits. They commence reproaching our first parents for the curse the

is ever,

world bears on their account. This reproach is full of terrible power. One of the spirits represents the animals, and the other nature; and from them both there comes a groan of the whole creation," awful in its solemn accusation. It is a most forcible

. conception of the bitter feelings of remorse which Adam and Eve must have experienced, when they looked abroad on the world so lately filled with God's best blessings everywhere, and saw all now cursed; and felt, bitterest of all, that it was for their sake. No fancy picture is this representation of the reproachful voice of the world; deeply must it have entered the soul of the exiles. Miss Barrett's design here is highly poetical, for it has the poetry of truth ; while its execution is powerful. Their wail gradually changes to bitter invective and threats. How eloquent is their voice-here is the eloquence of sorrow : First Spirit. I feel your steps, 0 wandering sinners, strike

A sense of death to me, and undug graves !
The heart of earth, once calm, is trembling, like

The ragged foam along the ocean-waves :
The restless earthquakes rock against each other ;-
The elements moan 'round me—“Mother, mother”.

And I wail !
Second Spirit. I wail, I wail! I shriek in the assault

Of undeserved perdition, sorely wounded !
My nightingales sang sweet without a fault,

My gentle leopards innocently bounded;
We were obedient—what is this convulses
Our blameless life with pangs and fever pulses ?

And I wail !" Now changed into defiance, here is the eloquence of their scorn: First Spirit. And we scorn you!

And the elements shall boldly
All your dust to dust constrain ;

Unresistedly and coldly,
I will smite you with my rain!

From the slowest of my frosts is no receding.
Second Spirit. And my little worm, appointed

To assume a royal part,
He shall reign, crowned and anointed

O'er the noble human heart."
No wonder the agony of such reproaches was terrible; and that
Eve, feeling her“punishment greater than she could bear," should,
after in vain beseeching them to be gentler, exclaim,

“I choose God's thunder and his angels' swords
To die by, Adam, rather than such

words."

But the violence of the earth-spirits at length rouses up the human passions of Adam, and he says to them,

“ Do ye scorn us? Back your scorn
Toward your

and lorn
As the wind drives back the rain,
Thus I drive with passion strife,

faces gray

[ocr errors]

By my free will that chose sin,
By mine agony

within
Round the passage of the fire;
By the pinings which disclose
That my native soul is higher

Than what it chose,

We are yet too high, 0 spirits, for your disdain.”
Still the spirits claim their triumph :

“ We triumph-triumph greatly,
When

ye

lie beneath the sward ! There my lily shall grow stately,

Though ye answer not a word.” Adam at length charges them into silence :

“ Down to obedience-I am king of you!" But the spirits laugh him to scorn, and mock him yet more bitterly :

“ Ha, ha! Thou art king!
With a sin for a crown,

And a soul undone."At last, wearied and exhausted with these reproaches, and with the words of Lucifer, who, while the spirits were speaking, comes again and adds another pang to their suffering, scorning their "petty griefs," Adam makes his appeal to God and his power. Eve appeals to his pity; and prays for a token of the promised seed;

a

for now

“My soul is bruised before the serpent's head." Soon Christ appears in a vision, and stills the rebellious voice of creation. He shows the earth-spirits man's supremacy though fallen, and bids them serve him yet:

“Be ye to man as angels be to God,

Servants in pleasure, singers of delight,
Suggesters to his soul of higher things
Than any of your highest. So at last,
He shall look round on you, with lids too straight
To hold the grateful tears, and thank you well.

Go serve him for such price."

Christ then commands Adam “to bless the woman, for it is thine office.” Thus commissioned, Adam foretells to her the future, with its sufferings, its joys, and its promises; and exclaims,

"-Henceforward, woman, rise
To thy peculiar and best altitudes
Of doing good and of enduring ill,
Of comforting for ill, and teaching good,
And reconciling all that ill and good
Unto the patience of a constant hope,-
Rise with thy daughters! If sin came by thee,
And by sin, death, -the ransom-righteousness,
The heavenly life and compensative rest
Shall come by means of thee. If wo by thee
Had issue to the world, thou shalt go forth
An angel of the wo thou didst achieve;
Found acceptable to the world instead
Of others of that name, of whose bright steps
Thy deed stripped bare the hills. Be satisfied;
Something thou hast to bear through womanhood
Peculiar suffering answering to the sin;
Some pang paid down for each new human life;
Some weariness in guarding such a life-
Some coldness from the guarded; some mistrust
From those thou hast too well served; from those beloved
Too loyally, some treason ; feebleness
Within thy heart, and cruelty without;
And pressures of an alien tyranny,
With its dynastic reasons of larger bones
And stronger sinews. But, go to thy love
Shall chant itself its own beatitudes,
After its own life-working. A child's kiss,
Set on thy sighing lips, shall make thee glad :
A poor man, served by thee, shall make thee rich;
An old man, helped by thee, shall make thee strong ;
Thou shalt be served thyself by every sense
Of service which thou renderest. Such a crown
I set upon thy head,—Christ witnessing
With looks of prompting love—to keep thee clear
Of all reproach against the sin foregone

From all the generations which succeed.” This is a most vivid and affecting picture of woman's mission on earth. Though given here by Adam, none but a woman could have been its author ;--from the deep experiences and the inmost records of her heart, alone, could it have proceeded Eve's reply is full of angelic, patient submission :

“ I accept For me and my daughters this high part

[ocr errors]

Which lowly shall be counted. Noble work
Shall hold me in the place of garden rest :
And in the place of Eden's lost delight,
Worthy endurance of permitted pain;
While on my longest patience there shall wait
Death's speechless angel, smiling in the east
Whence cometh the cold wind. I bow myself
Humbly henceforward on the ill I did,
That humbleness may keep it in the shade."

Christ is now gradually transfigured before them into humanity, and gives them the promise of his future coming as their Saviour, and of his suffering for their sake on earth. As he leaves them he gives a parting blessing for their support :

"-Henceforth in my name
Take courage, O thou woman,—man, take hope !
Your graves shall be as smooth as Eden's sward,
Beneath the steps of your prospective thoughts ;
And one step past them, a new Eden-gate
Shall open on a hinge of harmony,
And let you through to mercy. Ye shall fall
No more, within that Eden, nor pass out
Any more from it. In which hope, move on,
First sinners and first mourners. Live and love,
Doing both nobly, because lowlily;
Live and work, strongly,-because patiently !"

The earth-spirits now, obeying the Saviour's voice, renew to man their "homage-oath once broken,” and ask his forgiveness ; promising instead of scorn and injury, gentleness, kindness, and solace :

- Ye shall find us tender nurses

To your weariness of nature;
And our hands shall stroke the curses

Dreary furrows from the creature.” There is then a final vision of the last taming and conquering of the “wild horse of death," by the Saviour; it is full of terrible strength and of glorious triumph: but we have no room for extracts.

Thus soothed by nature s influences and harmony again, and sustained by the holy promises of Christ, the agony of sorrow is lifted from the exiles' hearts; and with “ sadness that is calm, not gloom," they commence their life-pilgrimage. The chorus of the "invisible angels” attends them, and the last strain cheers them with sweet consolation :

a

« PreviousContinue »