Saturday, August 7, 2010

''The Destruction of Sennacherib''

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Lord Byron

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.

For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!

And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.

And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.

And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!


(Illustration is John Martin, The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, 1852.)

Friday, August 6, 2010

''A stranger to his own century''

From Schiller, On the Aesthetic Education of Man, Letter IX (1794):
The artist is indeed the child of his age; but woe to him if he is at the same time its ward or, worse still, its minion! Let some beneficent deity snatch the suckling betimes from his mother’s breast, nourish him with the milk of a better age, and suffer him to come to maturity under a distant Grecian sky. Then, when he has become a man, let him return, a stranger, to his own century; not, however, to gladden it by his appearance, but rather, terrible like Agamemnon’s son, to cleanse and to purify it. His theme he will, indeed, take from the present; but his form he will borrow from a nobler time, nay, from beyond time altogether, from the absolute, unchanging unity of his being. Here, from the pure ether of his genius, the living source of beauty flows down, untainted by the corruption of the generations and ages wallowing in the dark eddies below.

The theme of his work may be degraded by vagaries of the public mood, even as this has been known to ennoble it; but its form, inviolate, will remain immune from such vicissitudes. The Roman of the first century had long been bowing the knee before his emperors when statues still portrayed him erect; temples continued to be sacred to the eye long after the gods had become objects of derision; and the infamous crimes of a Nero or a Commodus were put to shame by the noble style of the building whose frame lent them cover.

Humanity has lost its dignity; but art has rescued it and preserved it in significant stone. Truth lives on in the illusion of art, and it is from this copy, or afterimage, that the original image will once again be restored. Just as the nobility of art survived the nobility of nature, so now art goes before her, a voice rousing from slumber and preparing the shape of things to come. Even before truth’s triumphant light can penetrate the recesses of the human heart, the poet’s imagination will intercept its rays, and the peaks of humanity will be radiant while the dews of night still linger in the valley.

But how is the artist to protect himself against the corruption of the age that besets him on all sides? By disdaining its opinion. Let him direct his gaze upwards, to the dignity of his calling and the universal law, not downwards toward fortune and the needs of daily life.

Work for your contemporaries; but create what they need, not what they praise. . . . Banish from their pleasures caprice, frivolity, and coarseness, and imperceptibly you will banish these from their actions and, eventually, from their inclinations too. Surround them, wherever you meet them, with the great and noble forms of genius, and encompass them about with the symbols of perfection, until semblance conquer reality, and art triumph over nature.

(Illustration is Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, 1818.)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Satan and Eve (Eve's Dream)

From Milton, Paradise Lost (1674). Satan addresses Eve:
"Here, happy creature, fair angelick Eve!
Partake thou also; happy though thou art,
Happier thou mayest be, worthier canst not be:
Taste this, and be henceforth among the Gods
Thyself a Goddess, not to earth confined,
But sometimes in the air, as we, sometimes
Ascend to Heaven, by merit thine, and see
What life the Gods live there, and such live thou!"
So saying, he drew nigh, and to me held,
Even to my mouth of that same fruit held part
Which he had plucked; the pleasant savoury smell
So quickened appetite, that I, methought,
Could not but taste. Forthwith up to the clouds
With him I flew, and underneath beheld
The earth outstretched immense, a prospect wide
And various: Wondering at my flight and change
To this high exaltation; suddenly
My guide was gone, and I, methought, sunk down... (V.74-91)

(Illustration is from Gustave Doré, Paradise Lost, 1866.)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


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Lord Byron

Titan! to whose immortal eyes
The sufferings of mortality,
Seen in their sad reality,
Were not as things that gods despise;
What was thy pity's recompense?
A silent suffering, and intense;
The rock, the vulture, and the chain,
All that the proud can feel of pain,
The agony they do not show,
The suffocating sense of woe,
Which speaks but in its loneliness,
And then is jealous lest the sky
Should have a listener, nor will sigh
Until its voice is echoless.

Titan! to thee the strife was given
Between the suffering and the will,
Which torture where they cannot kill;
And the inexorable Heaven,
And the deaf tyranny of Fate,
The ruling principle of Hate,
Which for its pleasure doth create
The things it may annihilate,
Refus'd thee even the boon to die:
The wretched gift Eternity
Was thine--and thou hast borne it well.
All that the Thunderer wrung from thee
Was but the menace which flung back
On him the torments of thy rack;
The fate thou didst so well foresee,
But would not to appease him tell;
And in thy Silence was his Sentence,
And in his Soul a vain repentance,
And evil dread so ill dissembled,
That in his hand the lightnings trembled.

Thy Godlike crime was to be kind,
To render with thy precepts less
The sum of human wretchedness,
And strengthen Man with his own mind;
But baffled as thou wert from high,
Still in thy patient energy,
In the endurance, and repulse
Of thine impenetrable Spirit,
Which Earth and Heaven could not convulse,
A mighty lesson we inherit:
Thou art a symbol and a sign
To Mortals of their fate and force;
Like thee, Man is in part divine,
A troubled stream from a pure source;
And Man in portions can foresee
His own funereal destiny;
His wretchedness, and his resistance,
And his sad unallied existence:
To which his Spirit may oppose
Itself--and equal to all woes,
And a firm will, and a deep sense,
Which even in torture can descry
Its own concenter'd recompense,
Triumphant where it dares defy,
And making Death a Victory.

(Illustration is Arnold Böcklin, Promethus, 1883. Note the presence of the Titan bound atop the mountain.)


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Friedrich von Schiller

Sail on, oh captain! Though the mockers grin
And though the helm slip from a heedless hand,
Forever westward! There is a land
Which shall receive you. You have seen
Its shore before your eyes. Trust your skills.
Though oceans may be empty on their verge--
You willed a land. It shall rise from the surge.
For nature always yields what human spirit wills.


(Image is Dioscoro Teofila de la Puebla Tolin, The First Landing of Christopher Columbus in America, 1862.)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

''Alonzo the Brave, and Fair Imogine''


M.G. Lewis

A Warrior so bold, and a Virgin so bright
Conversed, as They sat on the green:
They gazed on each other with tender delight;
Alonzo the Brave was the name of the Knight,
The Maid's was the Fair Imogine.

"And Oh!" said the Youth, "since to-morrow I go
To fight in a far distant land,
Your tears for my absence soon leaving to flow,
Some Other will court you, and you will bestow
On a wealthier Suitor your hand."

"Oh! hush these suspicions," Fair Imogine said,
"Offensive to Love and to me!
For if ye be living, or if ye be dead,
I swear by the Virgin, that none in your stead
Shall Husband of Imogine be.

"If e'er I by lust or by wealth led aside
Forget my Alonzo the Brave,
God grant, that to punish my falsehood and pride
Your Ghost at the Marriage may sit by my side,
May tax me with perjury, claim me as Bride,
And bear me away to the Grave!"

To Palestine hastened the Hero so bold;
His Love, She lamented him sore:
But scarce had a twelve-month elapsed, when behold,
A Baron all covered with jewels and gold
Arrived at Fair Imogine's door.

His treasure, his presents, his spacious domain
Soon made her untrue to her vows:
He dazzled her eyes; He bewildered her brain;
He caught her affections so light and so vain,
And carried her home as his Spouse.

And now had the Marriage been blest by the Priest;
The revelry now was begun:
The Tables, they groaned with the weight of the Feast;
Nor yet had the laughter and merriment ceased,
When the Bell of the Castle told,—"One!"

Then first with amazement Fair Imogine found
That a Stranger was placed by her side: His air was terrific;
He uttered no sound; He spoke not, He moved not,
He looked not around,
But earnestly gazed on the Bride.

His vizor was closed, and gigantic his height;
His armour was sable to view:
All pleasure and laughter were hushed at his sight;
The Dogs as They eyed him drew back in affright,
The Lights in the chamber burned blue!

His presence all bosoms appeared to dismay;
The Guests sat in silence and fear.
At length spoke the Bride, while She trembled, "I pray,
Sir Knight, that your Helmet aside you would lay,
And deign to partake of our chear."

The Lady is silent: The Stranger complies.
His vizor He slowly unclosed:
Oh! God! what a sight met Fair Imogine's eyes!
What words can express her dismay and surprize,
When a Skeleton's head was exposed.

All present then uttered a terrified shout;
All turned with disgust from the scene.
The worms, They crept in, and the worms, They crept out,
And sported his eyes and his temples about,
While the Spectre addressed Imogine.

"Behold me, Thou false one! Behold me!" He cried;
"Remember Alonzo the Brave!
God grants, that to punish thy falsehood and pride
My Ghost at thy marriage should sit by thy side,
Should tax thee with perjury, claim thee as Bride
And bear thee away to the Grave!"

Thus saying, his arms round the Lady He wound,
While loudly She shrieked in dismay;
Then sank with his prey through the wide-yawning ground:
Nor ever again was Fair Imogine found,
Or the Spectre who bore her away.

Not long lived the Baron; and none since that time
To inhabit the Castle presume:
For Chronicles tell, that by order sublime
There Imogine suffers the pain of her crime,
And mourns her deplorable doom.

At midnight four times in each year does her Spright
When Mortals in slumber are bound,
Arrayed in her bridal apparel of white,
Appear in the Hall with the Skeleton-Knight,
And shriek, as He whirls her around.

While They drink out of skulls newly torn from the grave,
Dancing round them the Spectres are seen:
Their liquor is blood, and this horrible Stave
They howl.—"To the health of Alonzo the Brave,
And his Consort, the False Imogine!"


Originally published in Lewis's masterpiece The Monk (arguably the finest novel in the Gothic horror genre), this ballad on the theme of the spectre bridegroom clearly shows the influence of Gottfried August Bürger's "Leonore."

The Sublime and the Beautiful

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From Kant, Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime (1764):
Finer feeling, which we now wish to consider, is chiefly of two kinds: the feeling of the sublime and that of the beautiful. The stirring of each is pleasant, but in different ways.

The sight of a mountain whose snow-covered peak rises above the clouds, the description of a raging storm, or Milton's portrayal of the infernal kingdom, arouse enjoyment but with horror; on the other hand, the sight of flower-strewn meadows, valleys with winding brooks and covered with grazing flocks, the description of Elysium, or Homer’s portrayal of the girdle of Venus, also occasion a pleasant sensation but one that is joyous and smiling. In order that the former impression could occur to us in due strength, we must have a feeling of the sublime, and, in order to enjoy the latter well, a feeling of the beautiful.

Tall oaks and lonely shadows in a sacred grove are sublime; flower beds, low hedges and trees trimmed in hedges are beautiful. Night is sublime, day is beautiful.

The sublime moves, the beautiful charms.

The mien of a man who is undergoing the full feeling of the sublime is earnest, sometimes rigid and astonished. On the other hand the lively sensation of the beautiful proclaims itself through shining cheerfulness in the eyes, through smiling features, and often through audible mirth.

Deep loneliness is sublime, but in a way that stirs terror. Hence great far-reaching solitudes, like the colossal Komul Desert in Tartary, have always given us occasion for peopling them with fearsome spirits, goblins, and ghouls.

The sublime must always be great; the beautiful can also be small.

Open bold revenge, following a great offense, bears something of the great about it; and as unlawful as it may be, nevertheless its telling moves one with both horror and gratification....

Resolute audacity in a rogue is of the greatest danger, but it moves in the telling, and even if he is dragged to a disgraceful death he nevertheless ennobles it to some extent by going to it defiantly and with disdain.

-German title: Beobachtungen über das Gefühl des Schönen und Erhabenen.

(Illustrations are John Martin, The Great Day of His Wrath, 1851-53; and The Celestial City and the River of Bliss, 1841.)

Monday, August 2, 2010

''Evil be thou my good''

From Milton, Paradise Lost (1674):
So farewell hope, and with hope farewell fear,
Farewell remorse: all good to me is lost;
Evil be thou my good; by thee at least
Divided empire with heaven's king I hold
By thee, and more then half perhaps will reign;
As man ere long, and this new world shall know. (V.108-113)

(Illustration is from Gustave Doré, Paradise Lost, 1866.)

Burg Eltz

This brief video features several lovely sights along the Mosel River in Germany, including the Reichsburg Cochem (which was highlighted in a previous post), but particularly focusses on mighty Burg Eltz, one of the greatest of all German castles, and certainly the greatest that is an authentic medieval Gothic structure rather than a Neo-Gothic rebuild.

Still in the possession of the von Eltz family, the castle lies deep within the German Urwald, just like in a fairy-tale, yet its fortress-like towers and turrets, built for practical defensive purposes, give it a distinctively masculine character.

Burg Eltz: Official Site

''Song of the Mountain Boy''

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Ludwig Uhland

The mountain shepherd-boy am I;
The castles all below me spy.
The sun sends me his earliest beam,
Leaves me his latest, lingering gleam.
      I am the boy of the mountain!

The mountain torrent's home is here,
Fresh from the rock I drink it clear;
As out it leaps with furious force,
I stretch my arms and stop its course.
      I am the boy of the mountain!

I claim the mountain for my own;
In vain the winds around me moan;
From north to south let tempests brawl--
My song shall swell above them all.
      I am the boy of the mountain!

Thunder and lightning below me lie,
Yet here I stand in upper sky;
I know them well, and cry, "Harm not
My father's lowly, peaceful cot."
      I am the boy of the mountain!

But when I hear the alarm-bell sound,
When watch-fires gleam from the mountains round,
Then down I go and march along,
And swing my sword, and sing my song.
      I am the boy of the mountain!


-trans. C.T. Brooks
-German title: Des knaben Berglied.

(Illustration is Carl Gustav Carus, Montblanc, 1824.)