Blind Old Milton

Yet I am weak — oh! how entirely weak,
For one who may not love nor suffer more!
Sometimes unbidden tears will wet my cheek,
And my heart bound as keenly as of yore.
Responsive to a voice, now hushed to rest,
Which made the beautiful Italian shore,
In all its pomp of summer vineyards drest,
And Eden and a Paradise to me.
Do the sweet breezes from the balmy west
Still murmur through thy groves, Parthenope,
In search of odors from the orange bowers?
Still, on thy slopes of verdure, does the bee
Cull her rare honey from the virgin flowers?
And Philomel her plaintive chaunt prolong
‘Neath skies more calm and more serene than ours,
Making the summer one perpetual song?
Art thou the same as when in manhood’s pride
I walked in joy thy grassy meads among,
With that fair youthful vision by my side,
In whose bright eyes I looked — and not in vain?
O my adorèd angel! O my bride!
Despite of years, and woe, and want, and pain,
My soul yearns back towards thee, and I seem
To wander with thee, hand in hand, again,
By the bright margins of that flowing stream.
I hear again thy voice, more silver-sweet
Than fancied music floating in a dream,
Possess my being; from afar I greet
The waving of thy garments in the glade,
And the light rustling of thy fairy feet —
What time as one half eager, half afraid,
Love’s burning secret faltered on my tongue,
And tremulous looks and broken words betrayed
The secret of the heart from whence they sprung.
Ah me! the earth that rendered thee to heaven
Gave up an angel beautiful and young,
Spotless and pure as snow when freshly driven;
A bright Aurora for the starry sphere
Where all is love, and even life forgiven.
Bride of immortal beauty — ever dear!
Dost thou await me in thy blest abode!
While I, Tithonus-like, must linger here,
And count each step along the rugged road;
A phantom, tottering to a long-made grave.
And eager to lay down my weary load.

I who was fancy’s lord, am fancy’s slave.
Like the low murmurs of the Indian shell
Ta’en from its coral bed beneath the wave,
Which, unforgetful of the ocean’s swell,
Retains within its mystic urn the hum
Heard in the sea-grots where Nereids dwell —
Old thoughts still haunt me — unawares they come
Between me and my rest, nor can I make
Those aged visitors of sorrow dumb.
Oh, yet awhile, my feeble soul, awake!
Nor wander back with sullen steps again;
For neither pleasant pastime canst thou take
In such a journey, nor endure the pain.
The phantoms of the past are dead for thee;
So let them ever uninvoked remain,
And be thou calm, till death shall set thee free.
Thy flowers of hope expanded long ago,
Long since their blossoms withered on the tree:
No second spring can come to make them blow,
But in the silent winter of the grave
They lie with blighted love and buried woe.

I did not waste the gifts which nature gave,
Nor slothful lay in the Circean bower;
Nor did I yield myself the willing slave
Of lust for pride, for riches, or for power.
No! in my heart a nobler spirit dwelt;
For constant was my faith in manhood’s dower;
Man — made in God’s own image — and I felt
How of our own accord we courted shame,
Until to idols like ourselves we knelt,
And so renounced the great and glorious claim
Of freedom, our immortal heritage.
I saw how bigotry, with spiteful aim,
Smote at the searching eyesight of the sage;
How Error stole behind the steps of Truth,
And cast delusion on the sacred page.
So, as a champion, even in early youth
I waged by battle with a purpose keen:
Nor feared the hand of terror, nor the tooth
Of serpent jealousy. And I have been
With starry Galileo in his cell —
That wise magician with the brow serene,
Who fathomed space; and I have seen him tell
The wonders of the planetary sphere,
And trace the ramparts of heaven’s citadel
On the cold flag-stones of his dungeon drear.

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