Fiction > Harvard Classics > Lord Byron > Manfred
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Lord Byron (1788–1824).  Manfred.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
Act III
 
Scene I
 
 
A Hall in the Castle of MANFRED.
 
MANFRED and HERMAN.
 
  Man.  What is the hour?
  Her.                It wants but one till sunset,
And promises a lovely twilight.        5
  Man.                Say,
Are all things so disposed of in the tower
As I directed?
  Her.                All, my lord, are ready:
Here is the key and casket.        10
  Man.                It is well:
Thou may’st retire.  [Exit HERMAN.
  Man.  (alone). There is a calm upon me—
Inexplicable stillness! which till now
Did not belong to what I knew of life.        15
If that I did not know philosophy
To be of all our vanities the motliest,
The merest word that ever fool’d the ear
From out the schoolman’s jargon, I should deem
The golden secret, the sought “Kalon,” found,        20
And seated in my soul. It will not last,
But it is well to have known it, though but once:
It hath enlarged my thoughts with a new sense,
And I within my tablets would note down
That there is such a feeling. Who is there?        25
 
Re-enter HERMAN
  Her. My lord, the abbot of St. Maurice craves
To greet your presence.
 
Enter the ABBOT OF ST. MAURICE
  Abbot.                Peace be with Count Manfred!        30
  Man.  Thanks, holy father! welcome to these walls;
Thy presence honours them, and blesseth those
Who dwell within them.
  Abbot.                Would it were so, Count!—
But I would fain confer with thee alone.        35
  Man.  Herman, retire—What would my reverend guest?
  Abbot.  Thus, without prelude:—Age and zeal, my office,
And good intent, must plead my privilege;
Our near, though not acquainted neighbourhood,
May also be my herald. Rumours strange,        40
And of unholy nature, are abroad,
And busy with thy name; a noble name
For centuries: may he who bears it now
Transmit it unimpair’d!
  Man.                Proceed, I listen.        45
  Abbot.  ’Tis said thou holdest converse with the things
Which are forbidden to the search of man;
That with the dwellers of the dark abodes,
The many evil and unheavenly spirits
Which walk the valley of the shade of death,        50
Thou communest. I know that with mankind.
Thy fellows in creation, thou dost rarely
Exchange thy thoughts, and that thy solitude
Is as an anchorite’s, were it but holy.
  Man.  And what are they who do avouch these things?        55
  Abbot.  My pious brethren, the scared peasantry,
Even thy own vassals, who do look on thee
With most unquiet eyes. Thy life’s in peril.
  Man.  Take it.
  Abbot.          I come to save, and not destroy.        60
I would not pry into thy secret soul;
But if these things be sooth, there still is time
For penitence and pity: reconcile thee
With the true church, and through the church to heaven.
  Man.  I hear thee. This is my reply: whate’er        65
I may have been, or am, doth rest between
Heaven and myself; I shall not choose a mortal
To be my mediator. Have I sinn’d
Against your ordinances? prove and punish!
  Abbot.  My son! I did not speak of punishment,        70
But penitence and pardon; with thyself
The choice of such remains—and for the last,
Our institutions and our strong belief
Have given me power to smooth the path from sin
To higher hope and better thoughts; the first        75
I leave to heaven,—“Vengeance is mine alone!”
So saith the Lord, and with all humbleness
His servant echoes back the awful word.
  Man.  Old man! there is no power in holy men,
Nor charm in prayer, nor purifying form        80
Of penitence, nor outward look, nor fast,
Nor agony, nor, greater than all these,
The innate tortures of that deep despair,
Which is remorse without the fear of hell
But all in all sufficient to itself        85
Would make a hell of heaven,—can exorcise
From out the unbounded spirit the quick sense
Of its own sins, wrongs, sufferance, and revenge
Upon itself; there is no future pang
Can deal that justice on the self—condemn’d        90
He deals on his own soul.
  Abbot.                All this is well;
For this will pass away, and be succeeded
By an auspicious hope, which shall look up
With calm assurance to that blessed place        95
Which all who seek may win, whatever be
Their earthly errors, so they be atoned:
And the commencement of atonement is
The sense of its necessity.—Say on—
And all our church can teach thee shall be taught;        100
And all we can absolve thee shall be pardon’d.
  Man.  When Rome’s sixth emperor was near his last
The victim of a self—inflicted wound,
To shun the torments of a public death
From senates once his slaves, a certain soldier,        105
With show of loyal pity, would have stanch’d
The gushing throat with his officious robe;
The dying Roman thrust him back, and said—
Some empire still in his expiring glance—
“It is too late—is this fidelity?”        110
  Abbot.  And what of this?
  Man.                I answer with the Roman,
“It is too late!”
  Abbot.                It never can be so,
To reconcile thyself with thy own soul,        115
And thy own soul with heaven. Hast thou no hope?
’Tis strange—even those who do despair above,
Yet shape themselves some fantasy on earth,
To which frail twig they cling like drowning men.
  Man.  Ay—father! I have had those earthly visions        120
And noble aspirations in my youth,
To make my own the mind of other men,
The enlightener of nations; and to rise
I knew not whither—it might be to fall;
But fall, even as the mountain-cataract,        125
Which, having leapt from its more dazzling height,
Even in the foaming strength of its abyss
(Which casts up misty columns that become
Clouds raining from the reascended skies)
Lies low but mighty still.—But this is past,        130
My thoughts mistook themselves.
  Abbot.                And wherefore so?
  Man.  I could not tame my nature down; for he
Must serve who fain would sway—and soothe, and sue,
And watch all time, and pry into all place,        135
And be a living lie, who would become
A mighty thing amongst the mean, and such
The mass are; I disdain’d to mingle with
A herd, though to be leader—and of wolves.
The lion is alone, and so am I.        140
  Abbot.  And why not live and act with other men?
  Man.  Because my nature was averse from life;
And yet not cruel; for I would not make,
But find a desolation. Like the wind,
The red-hot breath of the most lone Simoom,        145
Which dwells but in the desert and sweeps o’er
The barren sands which bear no shrubs to blast,
And revels o’er their wild and arid waves,
And seeketh not, so that it is not sought,
But being met is deadly,—such hath been        150
The course of my existence; but there came
Things in my path which are no more.
  Abbot.                Alas!
I ’gin to fear that thou art past all aid
From me and from my calling; yet so young,        155
I still would—
  Man.                Look on me! there is an order
Of mortals on the earth, who do become
Old in their youth, and die ere middle age,
Without the violence of warlike death;        160
Some perishing of pleasure, some of study,
Some worn with toil, some of mere weariness,
Some of disease, and some insanity,
And some of wither’d or of broken hearts;
For this last is a malady which slays        165
More than are number’d in the lists of Fate,
Taking all shapes and bearing many names.
Look upon me! for even of all these things
Have I partaken; and of all these things,
One were enough; then wonder not that I        170
Am what I am, but that I ever was,
Or having been, that I am still on earth.
  Abbot.  Yet, hear me still—
  Man.                Old man! I do respect
Thine order, and revere thine years; I deem        175
Thy purpose pious, but it is in vain.
Think me not churlish; I would spare thyself,
Far more than me, in shunning at this time
All further colloquy; and so—farewell.  [Exit MANFRED.
  Abbot.  This should have been a noble creature: he        180
Hath all the energy which would have made
A goodly frame of glorious elements,
Had they been wisely mingled; as it is,
It is an awful chaos—light and darkness,
And mind and dust, and passions and pure thoughts,        185
Mix’d, and contending without end or order,
All dormant or destructive. He will perish,
And yet he must not; I will try once more,
For such are worth redemption; and my duty
Is to dare all things for a righteous end.        190
I’ll follow him—but cautiously, though surely.  [Exit ABBOT.
 

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