Verse > Anthologies > Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. > Parnassus: An Anthology of Poetry
Ralph Waldo Emerson, comp. (1803–1882).  Parnassus: An Anthology of Poetry.  1880.
From Samson Agonistes
By John Milton (1608–1674)
(See full text.)

Samson.—O DARK, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon,
Irrecoverably dark, total eclipse
Without all hope of day!
O first created beam, and thou great Word,
“Let there be light, and light was over all;”        5
Why am I thus bereaved thy prime decree?
The sun to me is dark
And silent as the moon,
When she deserts the night,
Hid in her vacant interlunar cave.
*        *        *        *        *
  Chorus.—This, this is he; softly a while,
Let us not break in upon him;
O change beyond report, thought, or belief!
See how he lies at random, carelessly diffused,
With languished head unpropped,        15
As one past hope, abandoned,
And by himself given over;
In slavish habit, ill-fitted weeds
O’er-worn and soiled;
Or do my eyes misrepresent? can this be he,        20
That heroic, that renowned,
Irresistible Samson? whom unarmed
No strength of man or fiercest wild beast could withstand;
Who tore the lion, as the lion tears the kid,
Ran on embattled armies clad in iron,        25
And, weaponless himself,
Made arms ridiculous, useless the forgery
Of brazen shield and spear, the hammered cuirass,
Chalybean tempered steel, and frock of mail
Adamantëan proof;        30
But safest he who stood aloof,
When insupportably his foot advanced,
In scorn of their proud arms and warlike tools,
Spurned them to death by troops. The bold Ascalonite
Fled from his lion ramp; old warriors turned        35
Their plated backs under his heel,
Or, grovelling, soiled their crested helmets in the dust.
Then with what trivial weapon came to hand,
The jaw of a dead ass, his sword of bone,
A thousand foreskins fell, the flower of Palestine        40
In Ramath-lechi, famous to this day:
Then by main force pulled up, and on his shoulders bore
The gates of Azza, post, and massy bar,
Up to the hill by Hebron, seat of giants old,
No journey of a Sabbath day, and loaded so;        45
Like whom the Gentiles feign to bear up heaven.
Which shall I first bewail,
Thy bondage or lost sight,
Prison within prison
Inseparably dark?        50
Thou art become, O worst imprisonment!
The dungeon of thyself; thy soul,
Which men enjoying sight oft without cause complain,
Imprisoned now indeed,
In real darkness of the body dwells,        55
Shut up from outward light,
T’ incorporate with gloomy night.
*        *        *        *        *
Oh, how comely it is, and how reviving
To the spirits of just men long oppressed,
When God into the hands of their deliverer        60
Puts invincible might
To quell the mighty of the earth, the oppressor,
The brute and boisterous force of violent men,
Hardy and industrious to support
Tyrannic power, but raging to pursue        65
The righteous, and all such as honor truth!
He all their ammunition
And feats of war defeats,
With plain heroic magnitude of mind
And celestial vigor armed;        70
Their armories and magazines contemns,
Renders them useless, while
With wingèd expedition,
Swift as the lightning glance, he executes
His errand on the wicked, who surprised        75
Lose their defence, distracted and amazed.
*        *        *        *        *
  Officer.—Samson, to thee our lords thus bid me say;
This day to Dagon is a solemn feast,
With sacrifices, triumph, pomp, and games;
Thy strength they know surpassing human rate,        80
And now some public proof thereof require
To honor this great feast and great assembly;
Rise therefore with all speed and come along,
Where I will see thee heartened and fresh clad
T’ appear as fits before the illustrious lords.        85
  Sams.—Thou know’st I am an Hebrew, therefore tell them,
Our law forbids at their religious rites
My presence; for that cause I cannot come.
*        *        *        *        *
  Chor.—How thou wilt here come off surmounts my reach.
  Sams.—Be of good courage, I begin to feel        90
Some rousing motions in me, which dispose
To something extraordinary my thoughts.
I with this messenger will go along,
Nothing to do, be sure, that may dishonor
Our law, or stain my vow of Nazarite.        95
If there be aught of presage in the mind,
This day will be remarkable in my life
By some great act, or of my days the last.
  Chor.—In time thou hast resolved; the man returns.
  Off.—Samson, this second message from our lords        100
To thee I am bid say. Art thou our slave,
Our captive, at the public mill our drudge,
And dar’st thou at our sending and command
Dispute thy coming? come without delay;
Or we shall find such engines to assail        105
And hamper thee, as thou shalt come of force,
Though thou wert firmlier fastened than a rock.
  Sams.—I could be well content to try their art,
Which to no few of them would prove pernicious;
Yet knowing their advantages too many,        110
Because they shall not trail me through their streets
Like a wild beast, I am content to go.
*        *        *        *        *
  Manoah.—O what noise!
Mercy of heaven, what hideous noise was that!
Horribly loud, unlike the former shout.        115
  Chor.—To our wish I see one hither speeding,
An Hebrew, as I guess, and of our tribe.
  Messenger.—Gaza yet stands, but all her sons are fallen,
All in a moment overwhelmed and fallen.
*        *        *        *        *
Occasions drew me early to this city,        120
And as the gates I entered with sunrise,
The morning trumpets festival proclaimed
Through each high-street. Little I had despatched
When all abroad was rumored, that this day
Samson should be brought forth to show the people        125
Proof of his mighty strength in feats and games;
I sorrowed at his captive state, but minded
Not to be absent at that spectacle.
The building was a spacious theatre,
Half-round, on two main pillars vaulted high,        130
With seats, where all the lords and each degree
Of sort might sit in order to behold;
The other side was open, where the throng
On banks and scaffolds under sky might stand;
I among these aloof obscurely stood.        135
The feast and noon grew high, and sacrifice
Had filled their hearts with mirth, high cheer, and wine,
When to their sports they turned. Immediately
Was Samson as a public servant brought,
In their state livery clad; before him pipes        140
And timbrels, on each side went armèd guards,
Both horse and foot, before him and behind
Archers, and slingers, cataphracts, and spears.
At sight of him the people with a shout
Rifted the air, clamoring their God with praise,        145
Who had made their dreadful enemy their thrall.
He patient, but undaunted, where they led him,
Came to the place, and what was set before him,
Which without help of eye might be assayed,
To heave, pull, draw, or break, he still performed        150
All with incredible stupendous force,
None daring to appear antagonist.
At length for intermission sake they led him
Between the pillars; he his guide requested,
For so from such as nearer stood we heard,        155
As over-tired to let him lean awhile
With both his arms on those two massy pillars,
That to the archèd roof gave main support.
He unsuspicious led him; which when Samson
Felt in his arms, with head awhile inclined,        160
And eyes fast fixt he stood, as one who prayed,
Or some great matter in his mind revolved:
At last with head erect thus cried aloud,
“Hitherto, lords, what your commands imposed
I have performed, as reason was, obeying,        165
Not without wonder or delight beheld:
Now of my own accord such other trial
I mean to show you of my strength, yet greater,
As with amaze shall strike all who behold.”
This uttered, straining all his nerves he bowed;        170
As with the force of winds and waters pent,
When mountains tremble, those two massy pillars
With horrible convulsion to and fro
He tugged, he shook, till down they came, and drew
The whole roof after them, with burst of thunder        175
Upon the heads of all who sat beneath,
Lords, ladies, captains, counsellors, or priests,
Their choice nobility and flower, not only
Of this, but each Philistian city round,
Met from all parts to solemnize this feast.        180
Samson, with these immixt, inevitably
Pulled down the same destruction on himself;
The vulgar only ’scaped who stood without.
*        *        *        *        *
  2. Semi-chorus.—But he, though blind of sight,
Despised and thought extinguished quite,        185
With inward eyes illuminated,
His fiery virtue roused
From under ashes into sudden flame,
Not as an evening dragon came,
Assailant on the perchèd roosts        190
And nests in order ranged
Of tame villatic fowl; but as an eagle
His cloudless thunder bolted on their heads.
So virtue given for lost,
Depressed, and overthrown, as seemed,        195
Like that self-begotten bird
In the Arabian woods imbost,
That no second knows nor third,
And lay ere while a holocaust,
From out her ashy womb now teemed,        200
Revives, reflourishes, then vigorous most
When most unactive deemed;
And though her body die, her fame survives,
A secular bird, ages of lives.
  Man.—Come, come, no time for lamentation now,        205
Nor much more cause: Samson hath quit himself
Like Samson, and heroically hath finished
A life heroic, on his enemies
Fully revenged.

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