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Poem by Edwin Arnold

The Alchemist

Evening and morning, midnight and mid noon,
For twice five lustres, this my cell hath been,
My pleasure-house and prison.-I did swear,
Kissing the dear dead lips of Leonore
The morn they stabbed her, that my brain should take
No rest, my withered body no repose,
Mine eye no light, mine ear no melody
Till I had tracked beyond the tread of man
The paths to Wisdom, so that Wisdom's self
Should lift me to the angels, and at last
Throne me in heaven beside the golden throne
Of her whose home is heaven; there with her
To tread the asphodel:-and I have kept
Mine oath, not failing and not faltering,
Till there is nothing left me now to learn:-
The sea's blue bosom is no veil to me
To hide the deep-sea secrets: the round earth
To this my glance hath grown diaphanous
And bares her inner mysteries; the stars
Dance with their silver sisters, but they dance
No pace, nor measure, that I wot not of.
I can bring subtle spirits to my beck,
And bind them to my bidding: I can trace
The quick life flashing through the vibrant nerve,
Even to its inmost hiding-place.-I know
All that there is and hath been:-this my soul
Hath climbed the hill of Knowledge to the clouds;
Now shall it stand and gaze.-

What lies below?
A world whose wonders at this eagle-glance
Melt into cause and consequence, or blend
Like on the dim horizon, distant hills,
Into one common colouring: a world
Whose first law is the law that makes the law
Eternal Need,-Giant Necessity.
A world that teacheth twenty thousand ways
The sophist's last discovery, the child's
Earliest experience, and the idiot's wit,
Things must be-for they are:-and as they are
They must have been:-and worse, and trebly worse,
Making all knowledge but a dead cold thing,
And strength-the unstrung sinews of a babe,
A world that speeds three hundred thousand leagues
Between the sun and sun, and with it whirls
Mankind, the atomies, forsooth its Lords,
Along Infinity.

-And must I hold
That the high longings of the heart of man,
Its mighty love, and strong affections,
Its energies that ever give themselves
Unto the Infinite, and are themselves
Infinite, boundless; that the elastic mind
Whose ken can take the viewless atom in,
And clasp the eternal-must I come to think
That these, like those, are servants to the Law,
And in their highest flying, like a hawk
Who bears her silken fetters to the skies,
Wear yet upon their pinions, even then,
The jesses of necessity?-to me
Such thought were sudden Hell:-

Yet if I doubt
How shall I doubt? like things do follow like,
And no change tells of an external will.
The seed doth spring to stalk, the stalk to tree,
The tree puts forth its store of summer leaves-
Which Autumn strips and buries: so they rot,
And rotting turn again to earth, and feed
The new leaves of another summer-tide
Whose turn to die shall come: life seeming lost
Generates life: the lady who did take
All eyes and hearts along, where'er her feet
In moving made a music, in the grave
Feeds with her rare white body not one life,
But many many vile existences,
The lowest rare as hers:-all things do range
In dreary cycle-nature's miracles
Are segments of a sure circumference,
Whose centre fated, fixed, immutable,
Is still Necessity:-and this bold boast
Wisdom, the vaunted heritage of man,
His only worthy work,-this doth become
A lamp that lights his dungeon for a space,
And shows the dark and narrow prison out
So faithfully, that not to madden there
He tears the life and knowledge from his heart,
And ends as I will end.

Dead Leonore,
I drink this crystal liquor to our love;
And if its strength can part the soul and body,
And if there be a soul, and if the soul
Dieth not disentangled, it may be
That somewhere we shall meet.-I am not vain,
Chiefly I long to learn what baffled me,
If I am baffled; thou shalt teach me that,
If this rare potion works.

[He drinks.]

It should be strong:
The asp's red venom to this draught of mine
Were but a mother's kiss; ay, it goes well!
The life is leaving now!-it leaves my hands,
And now my arms: how slow, slow, very slow
The lazy heart beats!-bravely-gentle juice-
My lids are sinking-it is dark.-I die.
I will die standing-how the body strives
To hold the soul, and how the soul doth grow

Leonore! Leonore!
Let me speak, Leonore, before I come!
-It is not as I thought, yet it is well.
Eureka-oh! Eureka!- 

Edwin Arnold

Edwin Arnold's other poems:
  1. The Division of Poland
  2. The Rhine and The Moselle
  3. With a Bracelet in the Form of a Snake
  4. The Falcon-Feast
  5. The Marriage

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