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ON THE PLATONIC IDEA AS IT WAS UNDER
STOOD BY ARISTOTLE.
Ye sister powers, who o'er the sacred groves
Preside, and thou, fair mother of them all,
Mnemosyne ! and thou who, in thy grot
Immense, reclined at leisure, hast in charge
The archives and the ordinances of Jove,
And dost record the festivals of heaven,
Eternity !-inform us who is He,
That great original by nature chosen
To be the archetype of human kind,
Unchangeable, immortal, with the poles
Themselves coeval, one, yet every where,
An image of the God who gave him being ?
Twin-brother of the goddess born from Jove,
He dwells not in his father's mind, but, though
Of common nature with ourselves, exists
Apart, and occupies a local home.
Whether, companion of the stars, he spend
Eternal ages, roaming at his will
From sphere to sphere the tenfold heavens, or dwell
On the moon's side that nearest neighbours earth,
Or torpid on the banks of Lethe sit
Among the multitude of souls ordain'd
To flesh and blood; or whether (as may chance)
That vast and giant model of our kind
In some far distant region of this globe
Sequester'd stalk, with lifted head on high
O'ertowering Atlas, on whose shoulders rest
The stars, terrific even to the gods.
Never the Theban seer, whose blindness proved
His best illumination, him beheld
In secret vision; never him the son
Of Pleione, amid the noiseless night
Descending, to the prophet-choir reveal'd;
Him never knew the Assyrian priest, who yet
The ancestry of Ninus' chronicles,
And Belus, and Osiris, far renown'd;
Nor even thrice great Hermes, although skill'd
So deep in mystery, to the worshippers
Of Isis show'd a prodigy like him.
And thou, who hast immortalized the shades
Of Academus, if the schools received
This monster of the fancy first from tree,
Either recall at once the banish'd bards
To thy republic, or thyself, evinced
A wilder fabulist, go also forth.
Oh that Pieria's spring would through my breast
Pour its inspiring influence, and rush
No rill, but rather an o'erflowing flood !
That, for my venerable father's sake
All meaner themes renounced, my muse, on wings
Of duty borne, might reach a loftier strain.
For thee, my father! howsoe'er it please,
She frames this slender work; nor know I aught
That may thy gifts more suitably requite;
Though to requite them suitably would ask
Returns much nobler, and surpassing far
The meagre stores of verbal gratitude :
But, such as I possess, I send thee all,
This page presents thee in their full amount
With thy son's treasures, and the sum is nought;
Nought, save the riches that from airy dream
In secret grottos and in laurel bowers,
I have, by golden Clio's gift, acquired.
Verse is a work divine; despise not thou
Verse therefore, which evinces (nothing more)
Man's heavenly source, and which, retaining still
Some scintillations of Promethean fire,
Bespeaks him animated from above.
The gods love verse; the infernal powers themselves
Confess the influence of verse, which stirs
The lowest deep, and binds in triple chains
Of adamant both Pluto and the shades.
In verse the Delphic priestess and the pale
Tremulous sybil make the future known;
And he who sacrifices, on the shrine [bull
Hangs verse, both when he smites the threatening
And when he spreads his reeking entrails wide
To scrutinize the fates enveloped there.
We too, ourselves, what time we seek again
Our native skies, and one eternal now
Shall be the only measure of our being,
Crown'd all with gold, and chanting to the lyre
Harmonious verse, shall range the courts above,
And make the starry firmament resound.
And, even now, the fiery spirit pure
That wheels yon circling orbs, directs himself
Their mazy dance with melody of verse
Unutterable, immortal, hearing which
Huge Ophiuchus holds his hiss suppress'd;
Orion, soften'd, drops his ardent blade,
And Atlas stands unconscious of his load.
Verse graced of old the feasts of kings, ere yet
Luxurious dainties, destined to the gulf
Immense of gluttony, were known, and ere
Lyæus deluged yet the temperate board.
Then sat the bard a customary guest
To share the banquet, and, his length of locks
With beechen honours bound, proposed in verse
The characters of heroes and their deeds,
To imitation, sang of chaos old,
Of nature's birth, of gods that crept in search
Of acorns fallen, and of the thunderbolt
Not yet produced from Ætna's fiery cave.
And what avails, at last, tune without voice,
Devoid of matter? Such
suit perhaps The rural dance, but such was ne'er the song Of Orpheus, whom the streams stood still to hear, And the oaks follow'd. Not by chords alone Well touch’d, but by resistless accents more To sympathetic tears the ghosts themselves He moved ; these praises to his verse he owes.
Nor thou persist, I pray thee, still to slight The sacred Nine, and to imagine vain And useless powers, by whom inspired, thyself Art skilful to associate verse with airs Harmonious, and to give the human voice A thousand modulations, heir by right Indisputable of Arion's fame. Now say, what wonder is it, if a son Of thine delight in verse, if, so conjoin'd In close affinity, we sympathize In social arts and kindred studies sweet? Such distribution of himself to us Was Phæbus' choice; thou hast thy gift, and I Mine also, and between us we receive, Father and son, the whole inspiring God.
No! howsoe'er the semblance thou assume Of hate, thou hatest not the gentle muse, My father! for thou never badest me tread The beaten path, and broad, that leads right on To opulence, nor didst condemn thy son To the insipid clamours of the bar, To laws voluminous, and ill observed ; But, wishing to enrich me more, to fill My mind with treasure, ledst me far away From city din to deep retreats, to banks And streams Aonian, and, with free consent, Didst place me happy at Apollo's side. I speak not now, on more important themes Intent, of common benefits, and such As nature bids, but of thy larger gifts,