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Not lovely Ida might with this compare,
Nor ithodope, nor Tempe's flowery plain:
Adonis' garden was to this but vain,
The garden like a lady fair was cut,
That lay as if she slumbered in delight,
And to the open skies her eyes did shut;
The azure fields of heaven were sembled right
In a large round, set with the flowers of light:
The flowers-de-luce, and the round sparks of dew,
Like twinkling stars, that sparkle in the ev'ning blue.
The allegorical figures of Ambition and Vain-glory are vividly painted.
Therefore above the rest Ambition sate:
High over all Vainglories blazing throne,
A silver wand the sorceress did sway,
This allegory is in the manner of Spenser; but Milton, by keeping closer to the inspired narrative, has produced a sublimer effect. The "specular mount," from whence are beheld all the cities and empires of the East, Nineveh, and Babylon, Ecbatana, and the City of the hundred gates, presents a magnificent picture.
The third book, entitled Christ's Triumph over Death, commemorates the Crucifixion. It is the least harmonious and powerful portion of the poem; but the portrait of the traitor Judas, suffering under the horrors of an accusing conscience, is delineated with surprising sublimity and force of imagination:—
For him a waking blood-hound, yelling loud,
Oft changed the place, in hope away to wind;
But change of place could never change his mind:
With that a flaming brand a Fury catched,
At this moment the Tempter appears to the apostate disciple, and reviles him for his ingratitude to his Divine Master. His soul is overwhelmed with fear and madness :—
As when wild Pentheus, grown mad with fear,
With eyes flung back upon his mother's ghost,
Such horrid gorgons, and misformed forms
So down into his Torturer's arms he fell
Yet oft he snatcht, and started as he hung :—
So when the senses half enslumbered lie,
The headlong body, ready to be flung
By the deluding fancy from some high
And craggy rock, recovers greedily,
And clasps the yielding pillow, half asleep,
Feels a cold sweat through every member creep.
Euripides might have written these stanzas in the season of his solemn inspiration. In the "staring Orestes," ■we seem to behold the wretched mourner bursting from the enfolding arms of the weeping Electra, and fleeing in horror from the Furies surrounding his couch*.
The poet describes Joseph of Arimathea at the cross. The still grief of the humble and affectionate mourner is described with some quaintness:—
But long he stood in his faint arms upholding
The departure of Joseph and his companions from the sepulchre is in a purer vein:—
* Tas aiparamovs ftai SpaKovraSeis Kopas.—Kuripid. Ores1.1.250.
Thus spend we tears, that never can be spent
• * • * •
Here bury we
The fourth canto, Christ's Triumph after Death, commences with a morning-landscape, not free from affectation, but displaying a poetical selection of circumstances, and in one or two passages recalling Milton.
But now the second morning from her bower,
Began to glister in her beams; and now
The roses of the day began to flower
In the eastern garden; for heaven's silent brow
Half insolent for joy began to show:
The early sun came lively dancing out
That heaven and earth might seem in triumph both to
The engladdened Spring, forgetful now to weep,
Began t' eblazon from her leavie bed;
The waking swallow broke her half-year's sleep,
And every bush lay deeply perfumed
He illustrates the glorious unclouding of the Godhead, when it had put off the tabernacle of flesh, by an exquisite image:—
So fairest Phosphor, the bright morning star,
And the bright drove, fleeced in gold, he chases
The entrance into heaven, the triumph of the angelic host, the everlasting happiness of the saints of God, these form the sacred subjects of the poet's pen in the concluding book of his poem: Christ will be the light of the Christian Paradise
And if a sullen cloud, as sad as night,
In which the sun may seem embodied,
Depriv'd of all his dross, we see so white,
Burning in melted gold his wat'ry head,
Or round with ivory edges silvered,
What lustre super-excellent will He
In that all-glorious court, in which all glories be?
There every tear is wiped away from the eyes of those who, having fought a good fight, have entered into the joy of their Lord:—
No sorrow now hangs clouding on their brow,
The impersonation of the Deity is in the loftiest spirit of Hebrew poetry, although, towards the conclusion, it partakes of that beautiful mysticism of which Bishop Taylor, in his majestic prose, has furnished so many splendid examples :—
In midst of this city celestial,
Changer of all things, yet immutable,
Before and after all, the first, and last,
That moving all, is yet immoveable,
Great without quantity, in whose forecast
Things past are present, things to come are past;
At once absent and present to them, far and nigh.