Nonfiction > Lionel Strachey, et al., eds. > The World’s Wit and Humor > British
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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes.  1906.
Vols. VI–IX: British
 
Michael’s Call for Witnesses
By Lord Byron (1788–1824)
 
From “The Vision of Judgment”

NOW Satan turned and waved his swarthy hand,
  Which stirred with its electric qualities
Clouds farther off than we can understand,
  Although we find them sometimes in our skies;
Infernal thunder shook both sea and land        5
  In all the planets, and hell’s batteries
Let off the artillery, which Milton mentions
As one of Satan’s most sublime inventions.
 
This was a signal unto such damned souls
  As have the privilege of their damnation        10
Extended far beyond the mere controls
  Of worlds past, present, or to come; no station
Is theirs particularly in the rolls
  Of hell assigned; but where their inclination
Or business carries them in search of game,        15
They may range freely—being damned the same.
 
They’re proud of this—as very well they may,
  It being a sort of knighthood, or gilt key
Stuck in their loins; or like to an entrée
  Up the back stairs, or such freemasonry.        20
I borrow my comparisons from clay,
  Being clay myself. Let not those spirits be
Offended with such base low likenesses;
We know their posts are nobler far than these.
 
When the great signal ran from heaven to hell—        25
  About ten million times the distance reckoned
From our sun to its earth, as we can tell
  How much time it takes up, even to a second,
For every ray that travels to dispel
  The fogs of London, through which, dimly beaconed,        30
The weather-cocks are gilt some thrice a year,
If that the summer is not too severe—
 
I say that I can tell—’twas half a minute:
  I know the solar beams take up more time
Ere, packed up for their journey, they begin it;        35
  But then their telegraph is less sublime,
And if they ran a race, they would not win it
  ’Gainst Satan’s couriers bound for their own clime.
The sun takes up some years for every ray
To reach its goal—the devil not half a day.        40
 
Upon the verge of space, about the size
  Of half-a-crown, a little speck appeared
(I’ve seen a something like it in the skies
  In the Ægean, ere a squall); it neared
And growing bigger, took another guise;        45
  Like an aerial ship it tacked, and steered,
Or was steered (I am doubtful of the grammar
Of the last phrase, which makes the stanza stammer—
 
But take your choice); and then it grew a cloud;
  And so it was—a cloud of witnesses.        50
But such a cloud! No land e’er saw a crowd
  Of locusts numerous as the heavens saw these;
They shadowed with their myriads space; their loud
  And varied cries were like those of wild geese
(If nations may be likened to a goose),        55
And realised the phrase of “Hell broke loose.”
 
Here crashed a sturdy oath of stout John Bull,
  Who damned away his eyes as heretofore.
There Paddy brogued “By Jasus!” “What’s your wull?”
  The temperate Scot exclaimed. The French ghost swore        60
In certain terms I sha’n’t translate in full,
  As the first coachman will. And ’midst the war,
The voice of Jonathan was heard to express,
“Our president is going to war, I guess.”
 
Besides there were the Spaniard, Dutch, and Dane—        65
  In short, an universal shoal of shades,
From Otahiti’s isle to Salisbury Plain,
  Of all climes and professions, years and trades,
Ready to swear against the good king’s reign,
  Bitter as clubs in cards are against spades:        70
All summoned by this grand “subpœna,” to
Try if kings mayn’t be damned like me or you.
 
When Michael saw this host, he first grew pale,
  As angels can; next, like Italian twilight,
He turned all colours—as a peacock’s tail,        75
  Or sunset streaming through a Gothic sky-light
In some old abbey, or a trout not stale,
  Or distant lightning on the horizon by night,
Or a fresh rainbow, or a grand review
Of thirty regiments in red, green, and blue.        80
 
Then he addressed himself to Satan: “Why—
  My good old friend, for such I deem you, though
Our different parties make us fight so shy,
  I ne’er mistake you for a personal foe;
Our difference is political, and I        85
  Trust that, whatever may occur below,
You know my great respect for you; and this
Makes me regret whate’er you do amiss—
 
“Why, my dear Lucifer, would you abuse
  My call for witnesses? I did not mean        90
That you should half of earth and hell produce;
  ’Tis even superfluous, since two honest, clean,
True testimonies are enough: we lose
  Our time, nay, our eternity, between
The accusation and defence; if we        95
Hear both, ’twill stretch our immortality.”
 
Satan replied, “To me the matter is
  Indifferent, in a personal point of view;
I can have fifty better souls than this
  With far less trouble than we have gone through        100
Already; and I merely argued his
  Late Majesty of Britain’s case with you
Upon a point of form: you may dispose
Of him; I’ve kings enough below, God knows!”
 
 
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