Part 1

There was a youth, who, as with toil and travel,
Had grown quite weak and gray before his time;
Nor any could the restless griefs unravel
Which burned within him, withering up his prime
And goading him, like fiends, from land to land.
Not his the load of any secret crime,
For nought of ill his heart could understand,
But pity and wild sorrow for the same;—
Not his the thirst for glory or command,
Baffled with blast of hope-consuming shame;
Nor evil joys which fire the vulgar breast,
And quench in speedy smoke its feeble flame,
Had left within his soul their dark unrest:
Nor what religion fables of the grave
Feared he,—Philosophy's accepted guest.
For none than he a purer heart could have,
Or that loved good more for itself alone;
Of nought in heaven or earth was he the slave.
What sorrow, strange, and shadowy, and unknown,
Sent him, a hopeless wanderer, through mankind?—
If with a human sadness he did groan,
He had a gentle yet aspiring mind;
Just, innocent, with varied learning fed;
And such a glorious consolation find
In others' joy, when all their own is dead:
He loved, and laboured for his kind in grief,
And yet, unlike all others, it is said
That from such toil he never found relief.
Although a child of fortune and of power,
Of an ancestral name the orphan chief,
His soul had wedded Wisdom, and her dower
Is love and justice, clothed in which he sate
Apart from men, as in a lonely tower,
Pitying the tumult of their dark estate.—
Yet even in youth did he not e'er abuse
The strength of wealth or thought, to consecrate
Those false opinions which the harsh rich use
To blind the world they famish for their pride;
Nor did he hold from any man his dues,
But, like a steward in honest dealings tried,
With those who toiled and wept, the poor and wise,
His riches and his cares he did divide.
Fearless he was, and scorning all disguise,
What he dared do or think, though men might start,
He spoke with mild yet unaverted eyes;
Liberal he was of soul, and frank of heart,
And to his many friends—all loved him well—
Whate'er he knew or felt he would impart,
If words he found those inmost thoughts to tell;
If not, he smiled or wept; and his weak foes
He neither spurned nor hated—though with fell
And mortal hate their thousand voices rose,
They passed like aimless arrows from his ear—
Nor did his heart or mind its portal close
To those, or them, or any, whom life's sphere
May comprehend within its wide array.
What sadness made that vernal spirit sere?—
He knew not. Though his life, day after day,
Was failing like an unreplenished stream,
Though in his eyes a cloud and burthen lay,
Through which his soul, like Vesper's serene beam
Piercing the chasms of ever rising clouds,
Shone, softly burning; though his lips did seem
Like reeds which quiver in impetuous floods;
And through his sleep, and o'er each waking hour,
Thoughts after thoughts, unresting multitudes,
Were driven within him by some secret power,
Which bade them blaze, and live, and roll afar,
Like lights and sounds, from haunted tower to tower
O'er castled mountains borne, when tempest's war
Is levied by the night-contending winds,
And the pale dalesmen watch with eager ear;—
Though such were in his spirit, as the fiends
Which wake and feed an everliving woe,—[1]
What was this grief, which ne'er in other minds
A mirror found,—he knew not—none could know;
But on whoe'er might question him he turned
The light of his frank eyes, as if to show
He knew not of the grief within that burned,
But asked forbearance with a mournful look;
Or spoke in words from which none ever learned
The cause of his disquietude; or shook
With spasms of silent passion; or turned pale:
So that his friends soon rarely undertook
To stir his secret pain without avail;—
For all who knew and loved him then perceived
That there was drawn an adamantine veil
Between his heart and mind,—both unrelieved
Wrought in his brain and bosom separate strife.
Some said that he was mad, others believed
That memories of an antenatal life
Made this, where now he dwelt, a penal hell;
And others said that such mysterious grief
From God's displeasure, like a darkness, fell
On souls like his, which owned no higher law
Than love; love calm, steadfast, invincible
By mortal fear or supernatural awe;
And others,—''Tis the shadow of a dream
Which the veiled eye of Memory never saw,
'But through the soul's abyss, like some dark stream
Through shattered mines and caverns underground,
Rolls, shaking its foundations; and no beam
'Of joy may rise, but it is quenched and drowned
In the dim whirlpools of this dream obscure;
Soon its exhausted waters will have found
'A lair of rest beneath thy spirit pure,
O Athanase!—in one so good and great,
Evil or tumult cannot long endure.
So spake they: idly of another's state
Babbling vain words and fond philosophy;
This was their consolation; such debate
Men held with one another; nor did he,
Like one who labours with a human woe,
Decline this talk: as if its theme might be
Another, not himself, he to and fro
Questioned and canvassed it with subtlest wit;
And none but those who loved him best could know
That which he knew not, how it galled and bit
His weary mind, this converse vain and cold;
For like an eyeless nightmare grief did sit
Upon his being; a snake which fold by fold
Pressed out the life of life, a clinging fiend
Which clenched him if he stirred with deadlier hold;—
And so his grief remained—let it remain—untold.[2]

"feed an" [Bodleian manuscript]; "feed on" [editions 1824, 1839].


The Author was pursuing a fuller development of the ideal character of Athanase, when it struck him that in an attempt at extreme refinement and analysis, his conceptions might be betrayed into the assuming a morbid character. The reader will judge whether he is a loser or gainer by this diffidence.[Shelley's Note.] ("diffidence" [cj. Rossetti (1878)]; "difference" [editions 1824, 1839].)