Verse > Anthologies > Robert Bridges, ed. > The Spirit of Man: An Anthology
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Robert Bridges, ed. (1844–1930).  The Spirit of Man: An Anthology.  1916.
 
From The Ænead

Virgil (70–19 B.C.)
 
.. THEY 1 came out on a lovely pleasance, that dream’d of oasis,
Fortunat isle, the abode o’ the blest, their fair Happy Woodland.
Here is an ampler sky, those meads ar’ azur’d by a gentler
Sun than th’ Earth, an’ a new starworld their darkness adorneth.
  Some were matching afoot their speed on a grassy arena,        5
In playful combat some wrestling upon the yellow sand,
Part in a dance-rhythm or poetry’s fine phantasy engage;
While full-toga’d anear their high-priest musical Orpheus
Bade his prime sev’n tones in varied harmony discourse,
Now with finger, anon sounding with an ivory plectrum.        10
And here Æneas met Teucer’s fortunate offspring,
High-spirited heroes, fair-favor’d sons o’ the morning,
Assarac and Ilos, and Dardan founder of Ilium:
Their radiant chariots he espied rank’t empty afar off,
Their spears planted afield, their horses wandering at large,        15
Grazing around:—as on earth their joy had been, whether armour
Or chariot had charm’d them, or if ’twere good manage and care
Of the gallant warhorse, the delight liv’d here unabated:
Lo! then others, that about the meadow sat feasting in idless,
And chanting for joy a familiar pæan of old earth,        20
By fragrant laurel o’ercanopied, where ’twixt enamel’d banks
Bountiful Eridanus glides throu’ their bosky retirement.
Here were men who bled for honour, their country defending;
Priests, whose lives wer’ a flame of chastity on God’s altar;
Holy poets, content to await their crown of Apollo;        25
Discoverers, whose labour had aided life or ennobled;
Or who fair memories had left through kindly deserving.
On their brow a fillet pearl-white distinguisheth all these:
Whom the Sibyl, for they drew round, in question accosted,
And most Musæus, who tower’d noble among them,        30
Center of all that sea of bright faces looking upward.
‘Tell, happy souls, and thou poet and high mystic illustrious,
Where dwelleth Anchises? what home hath he? for ’tis in his quest
We hither have made journey across Hell’s watery marches.’
  Thereto with brief parley rejoin’d that mystic of old-time.        35
‘In no certain abode we remain: by turn the forest glade
Haunt we, lilied stream-bank, sunny mead; and o’er valley and rock
At will rove we: but if ye aright your purpose arede me,
Mount ye the hill: myself will prove how easy the pathway.’
Speaking he led: and come to the upland, sheweth a fair plain        40
Gleaming aneath; and they, with grateful adieu, the descent made.
  Now lord Anchises was down i’ the green valley musing,
Where the spirits confin’d that await mortal resurrection
While diligently he mark’d, his thought had turn’d to his own kin,
Whose numbers he reckon’d, an’ of all their progeny foretold        45
Their fate and fortune, their ripen’d temper an’ action.
He then, when he espied Æneas t’ward him approaching
O’er the meadow, both hands uprais’d and ran to receive him,
Tears in his eyes, while thus his voice in high passion outbrake.
‘Ah, thou’rt come, thou’rt come! at length thy dearly belov’d grace        50
Conquering all hath won thee the way. ’Tis allow’d to behold thee,
O my son,—yea again the familiar raptur’ of our speech.
Nay, I look’t for ’t thus, counting patiently the moments,
And ever expected; nor did fond fancy betray me.
From what lands, my son, from what life-dangering ocean        55
Art thou arrived? full mighty perils thy path hav’ opposèd:
And how nearly the dark Libyan thy destiny oerthrew!’
Then he, ‘Thy spirit, O my sire, ’twas thy spirit often
Sadly appearing aroused me to seek thy far habitation.
My fleet moors i’ the blue Tyrrhene: all with me goeth well.        60
Grant me to touch thy hand as of old, and thy body embrace.’
Speaking, awhile in tears his feeling mutinied, and when
For the longing contact of mortal affection, he out-held
His strong arms, the figure sustain’d them not: ’twas as empty
E’en as a windworn cloud, or a phantom of irrelevant sleep.        65
  On the level bosom of this vale more thickly the tall trees
Grow, an’ aneath quivering poplars and whispering alders
Lethe’s dreamy river throu’ peaceful scenery windeth.
Whereby now flitted in vast swarms many people of all lands,
As when in early summer honey-bees on a flowery pasture        70
Pill the blossoms, hurrying to an’ fro,—innumerous are they,
Revisiting the ravish’d lily cups, while all the meadow hums.
  Æneas was turn’d to the sight, and marvelling inquired,
‘Say, sir, what the river that there i’ the vale-bottom I see?
And who they that thickly along its bank have assembled?’        75
  Then Lord Anchises, ‘The spirits for whom a second life
And body are destin’d ar’ arriving thirsty to Lethe,
And here drink th’ unmindful draught from wells of oblivion.
My heart greatly desired of this very thing to acquaint thee,
Yea, and show thee the men to be born, our glory her’after,        80
So to gladden thine heart where now thy voyaging endeth.’
‘Must it then be believed, my sire, that a soul which attaineth
Elysium will again submit to her old body-burden?
Is this well? what hap can awake such dire longing in them?’
‘I will tell thee, O son, nor keep thy wonder awaiting,’        85
Answereth Anchises, and all expoundeth in order.
‘Know first that the heavens, & th’ Earth, & space fluid or void,
Night’s pallid orb, day’s Sun, and all his starry coævals,
Are by one spirit inly quickened, and, mingling in each part,
Mind informs the matter, nature’s complexity ruling.        90
Thence the living creatures, man, brute, & ev’ry feather’d fowl,
And what breedeth in Ocean aneath her surface of argent:
Their seed knoweth a fiery vigour, ’tis of airy divine birth,
In so far as unimpeded by an alien evil,
Nor dull’d by the body’s framework condemn’d to corruption.        95
Hence the desires and vain tremblings that assail them, unable
Darkly prison’d to arise to celestial exaltation;
Nor when death summoneth them anon earth-life to relinquish,
Can they in all discard their stain, nor wholly away with
Mortality’s plaguespots. It must be that, O, many wild graffs        100
Deeply at heart engrain’d have rooted strangely upon them
Wherefore must suffering purge them, yea, Justice atone them
With penalties heavy as their guilt: some purify exposed
Hung to the viewless winds, or others long watery searchings,
Low i’ the deep, wash clean; some bathe in fiery renewal:        105
Each cometh unto his own retribution,—if after in ample
Elysium we attain, but a few, to the fair Happy Woodland,
Yet slow time still worketh on us to remove the defilement,
Till it hath eaten away the acquir’d dross, leaving again free
That first fiery vigour, the celestial virtue of our life.        110
All whom here thou seest, hav’ accomplished purification:
Unto the stream of Lethe a god their company calleth,
That, forgetful of old failure, pain & disappointment,
They may again into earthly bodies with glad courage enter.’
*      *      *      *      *      *      *
Twin be the gates o’ the house of sleep: as fable opineth        115
One is of horn, and thence for a true dream outlet is easy:
Fair the other, shining perfected of ivory carven;
But false are the visions that thereby find passage upward.
Soon then as Anchises had spok’n, he led the Sibyl forth
And his son, and both dismisst from th’ ivory portal.        120
 
Note 1. Virgil. Æn. vi. 638–751, and 893–8. Æneas, after landing in Italy, obtained leave of the Cumaean Sibyl to visit his father in Hades. After magical preparation and sacrifice, he, in a trance, makes the journey, which is the foundation of Dante’s Commedia. The section here given tells his vision of the Elysian fields, and his meeting with Anchises; whose account of the mysteries of life and death may be held to represent some accepted beliefs: But the passage about the gates of Sleep, with which Virgil closes his ‘fine venture’, corresponds with the warning of Socrates (in 377) that the myth of his own telling should not be taken too literally. The English is a line-for-line paraphrase of the Latin, in the original metre. From Poems, R. Bridges, p. 460. [Trans. R. Bridges.] [back]
 
 
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