Lord Byron Poem

The Prophecy of Dante, Canto the Fourth.

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Many are Poets who have never penned
    Their inspiration, and perchance the best:
    They felt, and loved, and died, but would not lend
Their thoughts to meaner beings; they compressed
    The God within them, and rejoined the stars
    Unlaurelled upon earth, but far more blessed
Than those who are degraded by the jars
    Of Passion, and their frailties linked to fame,
    Conquerors of high renown, but full of scars.
Many are Poets but without the name;
    For what is Poesy but to create,
    From overfeeling, Good or Ill, and aim
At an external life beyond our fate,
    And be the new Prometheus of new men,
    Bestowing fire from Heaven, and then, too late,
Finding the pleasure given repaid with pain,
    And vultures to the heart of the bestower,
    Who, having lavished his high gift in vain,
Lies chained to his lone rock by the sea-shore?
    So be it: we can bear. — But thus all they
    Whose Intellect is an o’ermastering Power
Which still recoils from its encumbering clay
    Or lightens it to spirit, whatsoe’er
    The form which their creations may essay,
Are bards; the kindled Marble’s bust may wear
    More poesy upon its speaking brow
    Than aught less than the Homeric page may bear;
One noble stroke with a whole life may glow,
    Or deify the canvass till it shine
    With beauty so surpassing all below,
That they who kneel to Idols so divine
    Break no commandment, for high Heaven is there
    Transfused, transfigurated: and the line
Of Poesy, which peoples but the air
    With Thought and Beings of our thought reflected,
    Can do no more: then let the artist share
The palm, he shares the peril, and dejected
    Faints o’er the labour unapproved — Alas!
    Despair and Genius are too oft connected.
Within the ages which before me pass
    Art shall resume and equal even the sway
    Which with Apelles and old Phidias
She held in Hellas’ unforgotten day.
    Ye shall be taught by Ruin to revive
    The Grecian forms at least from their decay,
And Roman souls at last again shall live
    In Roman works wrought by Italian hands,
    And temples, loftier than the old temples, give
New wonders to the World; and while still stands
    The austere Pantheon, into heaven shall soar
    A Dome, its image, while the base expands
Into a fane surpassing all before,
    Such as all flesh shall flock to kneel in: ne’er
    Such sight hath been unfolded by a door
As this, to which all nations shall repair,
    And lay their sins at this huge gate of Heaven.
    And the bold Architect unto whose care
The daring charge to raise it shall be given,
    Whom all Arts shall acknowledge as their Lord,
    Whether into the marble chaos driven
His chisel bid the Hebrew, at whose word
    Israel left Egypt, stop the waves in stone,
    Or hues of Hell be by his pencil poured
Over the damned before the Judgement-throne,
    Such as I saw them, such as all shall see,
    Or fanes be built of grandeur yet unknown —
The Stream of his great thoughts shall spring from me
    The Ghibelline, who traversed the three realms
    Which form the Empire of Eternity.
Amidst the clash of swords, and clang of helms,
    The age which I anticipate, no less
    Shall be the Age of Beauty, and while whelms
Calamity the nations with distress,
    The Genius of my Country shall arise,
    A Cedar towering o’er the Wilderness,
Lovely in all its branches to all eyes,
    Fragrant as fair, and recognised afar,
    Wafting its native incense through the skies.
Sovereigns shall pause amidst their sport of war,
    Weaned for an hour from blood, to turn and gaze
    On canvass or on stone; and they who mar
All beauty upon earth, compelled to praise,
    Shall feel the power of that which they destroy;
    And Art’s mistaken gratitude shall raise
To tyrants, who but take her for a toy,
    Emblems and monuments, and prostitute
    Her charms to Pontiffs proud, who but employ
The man of Genius as the meanest brute
    To bear a burthen, and to serve a need,
    To sell his labours, and his soul to boot.
Who toils for nations may be poor indeed,
    But free; who sweats for Monarchs is no more
    Than the gilt Chamberlain, who, clothed and feed,
Stands sleek and slavish, bowing at his door.
    Oh, Power that rulest and inspirest! how
    Is it that they on earth, whose earthly power
Is likest thine in heaven in outward show,
    Least like to thee in attributes divine,
    Tread on the universal necks that bow,
And then assure us that their rights are thine?
    And how is it that they, the Sons of Fame,
    Whose inspiration seems to them to shine
From high, they whom the nations oftest name,
    Must pass their days in penury or pain,
    Or step to grandeur through the paths of shame,
And wear a deeper brand and gaudier chain?
    Or if their Destiny be born aloof
    From lowliness, or tempted thence in vain,
In their own souls sustain a harder proof,
    The inner war of Passions deep and fierce?
    Florence! when thy harsh sentence razed my roof,
I loved thee; but the vengeance of my verse,
    The hate of injuries which every year
    Makes greater, and accumulates my curse,
Shall live, outliving all thou holdest dear —
    Thy pride, thy wealth, thy freedom, and even that,
    The most infernal of all evils here,
The sway of petty tyrants in a state;
    For such sway is not limited to Kings,
    And Demagogues yield to them but in date,
As swept off sooner; in all deadly things,
    Which make men hate themselves, and one another,
    In discord, cowardice, cruelty, all that springs
From Death the Sin-born’s incest with his mother,
    In rank oppression in its rudest shape,
    The faction Chief is but the Sultan’s brother,
And the worst Despot’s far less human ape.
    Florence! when this lone spirit, which so long
    Yearned, as the captive toiling at escape,
To fly back to thee in despite of wrong,
    An exile, saddest of all prisoners,
    Who has the whole world for a dungeon strong,
Seas, mountains, and the horizon’s verge for bars,
    Which shut him from the sole small spot of earth
    Where — whatsoe’er his fate — he still were hers,
His Country’s, and might die where he had birth —
    Florence! when this lone Spirit shall return
    To kindred Spirits, thou wilt feel my worth,
And seek to honour with an empty urn
    The ashes thou shalt ne’er obtain — Alas!
    “What have I done to thee, my People?” Stern
Are all thy dealings, but in this they pass
    The limits of Man’s common malice, for
    All that a citizen could be I was —
Raised by thy will, all thine in peace or war —
    And for this thou hast warred with me. — ‘Tis done:
    I may not overleap the eternal bar
Built up between us, and will die alone,
    Beholding with the dark eye of a Seer
    The evil days to gifted souls foreshown,
Foretelling them to those who will not hear;
    As in the old time, till the hour be come
    When Truth shall strike their eyes through many a tear,
And make them own the Prophet in his tomb.

The Morgante Maggiore of Pulci
The Prophecy of Dante, Canto the Third.


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