Lord Byron Poem

The Prophecy of Dante, Canto the Third.

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From out the mass of never-dying ill,
    The Plague, the Prince, the Stranger, and the Sword,
    Vials of wrath but emptied to refill
And flow again, I cannot all record
    That crowds on my prophetic eye: the Earth
    And Ocean written o’er would not afford
Space for the annal, yet it shall go forth;
    Yes, all, though not by human pen, is graven,
    There where the farthest suns and stars have birth,
Spread like a banner at the gate of Heaven,
    The bloody scroll of our millennial wrongs
    Waves, and the echo of our groans is driven
Athwart the sound of archangelic songs,
    And Italy, the martyred nation’s gore,
    Will not in vain arise to where belongs
Omnipotence and Mercy evermore:
    Like to a harpstring stricken by the wind,
    The sound of her lament shall, rising o’er
The Seraph voices, touch the Almighty Mind.
    Meantime I, humblest of thy sons, and of
    Earth’s dust by immortality refined
To Sense and Suffering, though the vain may scoff,
    And tyrants threat, and meeker victims bow
    Before the storm because its breath is rough,
To thee, my Country! whom before, as now,
    I loved and love, devote the mournful lyre
    And melancholy gift high Powers allow
To read the future: and if now my fire
    Is not as once it shone o’er thee, forgive!
    I but foretell thy fortunes — then expire;
Think not that I would look on them and live.
    A Spirit forces me to see and speak,
    And for my guerdon grants not to survive;
My Heart shall be poured over thee and break:
    Yet for a moment, ere I must resume
    Thy sable web of Sorrow, let me take
Over the gleams that flash athwart thy gloom
    A softer glimpse; some stars shine through thy night,
    And many meteors, and above thy tomb
Leans sculptured Beauty, which Death cannot blight:
    And from thine ashes boundless Spirits rise
To give thee honour, and the earth delight;
    Thy soil shall still be pregnant with the wise,
    The gay, the learned, the generous, and the brave,
Native to thee as Summer to thy skies,
    Conquerors on foreign shores, and the far wave,
    Discoverers of new worlds, which take their name;
    For thee alone they have no arm to save,
And all thy recompense is in their fame,
    A noble one to them, but not to thee —
    Shall they be glorious, and thou still the same?
Oh! more than these illustrious far shall be
    The Being — and even yet he may be born —
    The mortal Saviour who shall set thee free,
And see thy diadem, so changed and worn
    By fresh barbarians, on thy brow replaced;
    And the sweet Sun replenishing thy morn,
Thy moral morn, too long with clouds defaced,
    And noxious vapours from Avernus risen,
    Such as all they must breathe who are debased
By Servitude, and have the mind in prison.
    Yet through this centuried eclipse of woe
    Some voices shall be heard, and Earth shall listen;
Poets shall follow in the path I show,
    And make it broader: the same brilliant sky
    Which cheers the birds to song shall bid them glow,
And raise their notes as natural and high;
    Tuneful shall be their numbers; they shall sing
    Many of Love, and some of Liberty,
But few shall soar upon that Eagle’s wing,
    And look in the Sun’s face, with Eagle’s gaze,
    All free and fearless as the feathered King,
But fly more near the earth; how many a phrase
    Sublime shall lavished be on some small prince
    In all the prodigality of Praise!
And language, eloquently false, evince
    The harlotry of Genius, which, like Beauty,
    Too oft forgets its own self-reverence,
And looks on prostitution as a duty.
    He who once enters in a Tyrant’s hall
    As guest is slave — his thoughts become a booty,
And the first day which sees the chain enthral
    A captive, sees his half of Manhood gone —
    The Soul’s emasculation saddens all
His spirit; thus the Bard too near the throne
    Quails from his inspiration, bound to please, —
    How servile is the task to please alone!
To smooth the verse to suit his Sovereign’s ease
    And royal leisure, nor too much prolong
    Aught save his eulogy, and find, and seize,
Or force, or forge fit argument of Song!
    Thus trammelled, thus condemned to Flattery’s trebles,
    He toils through all, still trembling to be wrong:
For fear some noble thoughts, like heavenly rebels,
    Should rise up in high treason to his brain,
    He sings, as the Athenian spoke, with pebbles
In’s mouth, lest Truth should stammer through his strain.
    But out of the long file of sonneteers
    There shall be some who will not sing in vain,
And he, their Prince, shall rank among my peers,
    And Love shall he his torment; but his grief
    Shall make an immortality of tears,
And Italy shall hail him as the Chief
    Of Poet-lovers, and his higher song
    Of Freedom wreathe him with as green a leaf.
But in a farther age shall rise along
    The banks of Po two greater still than he;
    The World which smiled on him shall do them wrong
Till they are ashes, and repose with me.
    The first will make an epoch with his lyre,
    And fill the earth with feats of Chivalry:
His Fancy like a rainbow, and his Fire,
    Like that of Heaven, immortal, and his Thought
    Borne onward with a wing that cannot tire;
Pleasure shall, like a butterfly new caught,
    Flutter her lovely pinions o’er his theme,
    And Art itself seem into Nature wrought
By the transparency of his bright dream. —
    The second, of a tenderer, sadder mood,
    Shall pour his soul out o’er Jerusalem;
He, too, shall sing of Arms, and Christian blood
    Shed where Christ bled for man; and his high harp
    Shall, by the willow over Jordan’s flood,
Revive a song of Sion, and the sharp
    Conflict, and final triumph of the brave
    And pious, and the strife of Hell to warp
Their hearts from their great purpose, until wave
    The red-cross banners where the first red Cross
    Was crimsoned from His veins who died to save,
Shall be his sacred argument; the loss
    Of years, of favour, freedom, even of fame
    Contested for a time, while the smooth gloss
Of Courts would slide o’er his forgotten name
    And call Captivity a kindness — meant
    To shield him from insanity or shame —
Such shall be his meek guerdon! who was sent
    To be Christ’s Laureate — they reward him well!
    Florence dooms me but death or banishment,
Ferrara him a pittance and a cell,
    Harder to bear and less deserved, for I
    Had stung the factions which I strove to quell;
But this meek man who with a lover’s eye
    Will look on Earth and Heaven, and who will deign
    To embalm with his celestial flattery,
As poor a thing as e’er was spawned to reign,
    What will he do to merit such a doom?
    Perhaps he’ll love — and is not Love in vain
Torture enough without a living tomb?
    Yet it will be so — he and his compeer,
    The Bard of Chivalry, will both consume
In penury and pain too many a year,
    And, dying in despondency, bequeath
    To the kind World, which scarce will yield a tear,
A heritage enriching all who breathe
    With the wealth of a genuine Poet’s soul,
    And to their country a redoubled wreath,
Unmatched by time; not Hellas can unroll
    Through her Olympiads two such names, though one
    Of hers be mighty; — and is this the whole
Of such men’s destiny beneath the Sun?
    Must all the finer thoughts, the thrilling sense,
    The electric blood with which their arteries run,
Their body’s self turned soul with the intense
    Feeling of that which is, and fancy of
    That which should be, to such a recompense
Conduct? shall their bright plumage on the rough
    Storm be still scattered? Yes, and it must be;
    For, formed of far too penetrable stuff,
These birds of Paradise but long to flee
    Back to their native mansion, soon they find
    Earth’s mist with their pure pinions not agree,
And die or are degraded; for the mind
    Succumbs to long infection, and despair,
    And vulture Passions flying close behind,
Await the moment to assail and tear;
    And when, at length, the wingéd wanderers stoop,
    Then is the Prey-birds’ triumph, then they share
The spoil, o’erpowered at length by one fell swoop.
    Yet some have been untouched who learned to bear,
    Some whom no Power could ever force to droop,
Who could resist themselves even, hardest care!
    And task most hopeless; but some such have been,
    And if my name amongst the number were,
That Destiny austere, and yet serene,
    Were prouder than more dazzling fame unblessed;
    The Alp’s snow summit nearer heaven is seen
Than the Volcano’s fierce eruptive crest,
    Whose splendour from the black abyss is flung,
    While the scorched mountain, from whose burning breast
A temporary torturing flame is wrung,
    Shines for a night of terror, then repels
    Its fire back to the Hell from whence it sprung,
The Hell which in its entrails ever dwells.

The Prophecy of Dante, Canto the Fourth.
The Prophecy of Dante, Canto the Second.


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