Back to Index

Manfred’s End

by George Gordon Byron, 1881

(Manfred, Act iii. .)

Interior of a Tower. MANFRED alone.

THE STARS are forth, the moon above the tops
Of the snow-shining mountains.—Beautiful!
I linger yet with Nature, for the night
Hath been to me a more familiar face
Than that of man; and in her starry shade
Of dim and solitary loveliness,
I learn’d the language of another world.
I do remember me, that in my youth,
When I was wandering,—upon such a night
I stood within the Coliseum’s wall,
Midst the chief relics of almighty Rome;
The trees which grew along the broken arches
Waved dark in the blue midnight, and the stars
Shone through the rents of ruin; from afar
The watchdog bay’d beyond the Tiber; and
More near from out the Cæsars’ palace came
The owl’s long cry, and, interruptedly,
Of distant sentinels the fitful song
Begun and died upon the gentle wind.
Some cypresses beyond the time-worn breach
Appear’d to skirt the horizon, yet they stood
Within a bowshot.—Where the Cæsars dwelt,
And dwell the tuneless birds of night, amidst
A grove which springs through levell’d battlements,
And twines its roots with the imperial hearths,
Ivy usurps the laurel’s place of growth;—
But the gladiators’ bloody Circus stands,
A noble wreck in ruinous perfection!
While Cæsar’s chambers, and the Augustan halls,
Grovel on earth in indistinct decay.
—And thou didst shine, thou rolling moon, upon
All this, and cast a wide and tender light,
Which soften’d down the hoar austerity
Of rugged desolation, and fill’d up,
As ’twere anew, the gaps of centuries;
Leaving that beautiful which still was so,
And making that which was not, till the place
Became religion, and the heart ran o’er
With silent worship of the great of old!—
The dead, but sceptred sovereigns, who still rule
Our spirits from their urns.—
                            ’Twas such a night!
’Tis strange that I recall it at this time;
But I have found our thoughts take wildest flight
Even at the moment when they should array
Themselves in pensive order.

Enter the ABBOT.
  Abbot.                            My good lord!
I crave a second grace for this approach;
But yet let not my humble zeal offend
By its abruptness—all it hath of ill
Recoils on me; its good in the effect
May light upon your head—could I say heart—
Could I touch that, with words or prayers, I should
Recall a noble spirit which hath wander’d,
But is not yet all lost.
  Man.                        Thou know’st me not;
My days are number’d, and my deeds recorded:
Retire, or ’twill be dangerous—Away!
  Abbot.  Thou dost not mean to menace me?
  Man.                            Not I;
I simply tell thee peril is at hand,
And would preserve thee.
  Abbot.                    What dost thou mean?
  Man.                                Look there!
What dost thou see?
  Abbot.                Nothing.
  Man.                                Look there, I say,
And steadfastly;—now tell me what thou seest?
  Abbot.  That which should shake me,—but I fear it not—
I see a dusk and awful figure rise,
Like an infernal god, from out the earth;
His face wrapt in a mantle, and his form
Robed as with angry clouds; he stands between
Thyself and me—but I do fear him not.
  Man.  Thou hast no cause—he shall not harm thee—but
His sight may shock thine old limbs into palsy.
I say to thee—Retire!
  Abbot.                    And I reply—
Never—till I have battled with this fiend:—
What doth he here?
  Man.                Why—ay—what doth he here?—
I did not send for him,—he is unbidden.
  Abbot.  Alas! lost mortal! what with guests like these
Hast thou to do? I tremble for thy sake:
Why doth he gaze on thee, and thou on him?
Ah! he unveils his aspect: on his brow
The thunder-scars are graven; from his eye
Glares forth the immortality of hell—
  Man.  Pronounce—what is thy mission?
  Spirit.                                Come!
  Abbot.  What art thou, unknown being? answer!—speak!
  Spirit.  The genius of this mortal.—Come! ’tis time.
  Man.  I am prepared for all things, but deny
The power which summons me. Who sent thee here?
  Spirit.  Thou’lt know anon—Come! come!
  Man.                        I have commanded
Things of an essence greater far than thine,
And striven with thy masters. Get thee hence!
  Spirit.  Mortal! thine hour is come—Away! I say.
  Man.  I knew, and know my hour is come, but not
To render up my soul to such as thee:
Away! I’ll die as I have lived—alone.
  Spirit.  Then I must summon up my brethren.—Rise!
[Other spirits rise up.

  Abbot.  Avaunt! ye evil ones!—Avaunt! I say,—
Ye have no power where piety hath power,
And I do charge ye in the name——
  Spirit.                            Old man!
We know ourselves, our mission, and thine order;
Waste not thy holy words on idle uses,
It were in vain: this man is forfeited.
Once more I summon him—Away! away!
  Man.  I do defy ye,—though I feel my soul
Is ebbing from me, yet I do defy ye;
Nor will I hence, while I have earthly breath
To breathe my scorn upon ye—earthly strength
To wrestle, though with spirits; what ye take
Shall be ta’en limb by limb.
  Spirit.                            Reluctant mortal!
Is this the Magian who would so pervade
The world invisible, and make himself
Almost our equal?—Can it be that thou
Art thus in love with life? the very life
Which made thee wretched!
  Man.                Thou false fiend, thou liest!
My life is in its last hour,—that I know,
Nor would redeem a moment of that hour;
I do not combat against death, but thee
And thy surrounding angels; my past power
Was purchased by no compact with thy crew,
But by superior science—penance—daring—
And length of watching—strength of mind—and skill
In knowledge of our fathers—when the earth
Saw men and spirits walking side by side,
And gave ye no supremacy: I stand
Upon my strength—I do defy—deny—
Spurn back, and scorn ye!—
  Spirit.                            But thy many crimes
Have made thee——
  Man.                What are they to such as thee?
Must crimes be punish’d but by other crimes,
And greater criminals?—Back to thy hell!
Thou hast no power upon me, that I feel;
Thou never shalt possess me, that I know:
What I have done is done; I bear within
A torture which could nothing gain from thine:
The mind which is immortal makes itself
Requital for its good or evil thoughts—
Is its own origin of ill and end—
And its own place and time—its innate sense,
When stripp’d of this mortality, derives
No colour from the fleeting things without;
But is absorb’d in sufferance or in joy,
Born from the knowledge of its own desert.
Thou didst not tempt me, and thou couldst not tempt me;
I have not been thy dupe, nor am thy prey—
But was my own destroyer, and will be
My own hereafter.—Back, ye baffled fiends!
The hand of death is on me—but not yours!
[The Demons disappear.

  Abbot.  Alas! how pale thou art—thy lips are white—
And thy breast heaves—and in thy gasping throat
The accents rattle.—Give thy prayers to Heaven—
Pray—albeit but in thought,—but die not thus.
  Man.  ’Tis over—my dull eyes can fix thee not;
But all things swim around me, and the earth
Heaves as it were beneath me. Fare thee well—
Give me thy hand.
  Abbot.                Cold—cold—even to the heart—
But yet one prayer—Alas! how fares it with thee?
  Man.  Old man! ’tis not so difficult to die.
[MANFRED expires.

Published in Poetry of Byron

Any corrections or public domain poems I should have here? Email me at poems (at) this domain.