Verse > Harvard Classics > John Milton > Complete Poems
John Milton. (1608–1674).  Complete Poems.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Samson Agonistes: Lines 1250-1499
And with malicious counsel stir them up        1250
Some way or other yet further to afflict thee.
  Sams. He must allege some cause, and offered fight
Will not dare mention, lest a question rise
Whether he durst accept the offer or not;
And that he durst not plain enough appeared.        1255
Much more affliction than already felt
They cannot well impose, nor I sustain,
If they intend advantage of my labours,
The work of many hands, which earns my keeping,
With no small profit daily to my owners.        1260
But come what will; my deadliest foe will prove
My speediest friend, by death to rid me hence;
The worst that he can give to me the best.
Yet so it may fall out, because their end
Is hate, not help to me, it may with mine        1265
Draw their own ruin who attempt the deed.
  Chor. O, how comely it is, and how reviving
To the spirits of just men long oppressed,
When God into the hands of their deliverer
Puts invincible might,        1270
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
The righteous, and all such as honour truth!        1275
He all their ammunition
And feats of war defeats,
With plain heroic magnitude of mind
And celestial vigour armed;
Their armouries and magazins contemns,        1280
Renders them useless, while
With wingèd expedition
Swift as the lightning glance he executes
His errand on the wicked, who, surprised,
Lose their defence, distracted and amazed.        1285
  But patience is more oft the exercise
Of saints, the trial of their fortitude,
Making them each his own deliverer,
And victor over all
That tyranny or fortune can inflict.        1290
Either of these is in thy lot,
Samson, with might endued
Above the sons of men; but sight bereaved
May chance to number thee with those
Whom Patience finally must crown.        1295
  This Idol’s day hath been to thee no day of rest,
Labouring thy mind
More than the working day thy hands.
And yet, perhaps, more trouble is behind;
For I descry this way        1300
Some other tending; in his hand
A sceptre or quaint staff he bears,
Comes on amain, speed in his look.
By his habit I discern him now
A public officer, and now at hand.        1305
His message will be short and voluble.
  Off. Ebrews, the prisoner Samson here I seek.
  Chor. His manacles remark him; there he sits.
  Off. Samson, to thee our Lords thus bid me say:
This day to Dagon is a solemn feast,        1310
With sacrifices, triumph, pomp, and games;
Thy strength they know surpassing human rate,
And now some public proof thereof require
To honour this great feast, and great assembly.
Rise, therefore, with all speed, and come along,        1315
Where I will see thee heartened and fresh clad,
To appear as fits before the illustrious Lords. them]
  Sams. Thou know’st I am an Ebrew; therefore tell
Our law forbids at their religious rites
My presence; for that cause I cannot come.        1320
  Off. This answer, be assured, will not content them.
  Sams. Have they not sword-players, and every sort
Of gymnic artists, wrestlers, riders, runners,
Jugglers and dancers, antics, mummers, mimics,
But they must pick me out, with shackles tired,        1325
And over-laboured at their public mill,
To make them sport with blind activity?
Do they not seek occasion of new quarrels,
On my refusal, to distress me more,
Or make a game of my calamities?        1330
Return the way thou cam’st; I will not come.
  Off. Regard thyself; this will offend them highly.
  Sams. Myself! my conscience, and internal peace.
Can they think me so broken, so debased
With corporal servitude, that my mind ever        1335
Will condescend to such absurd commands?
Although their drudge, to be their fool or jester,
And, in my midst of sorrow and heart-grief,
To shew them feats, and play before their god—
The worst of all indignities, yet on me        1340
Joined with extreme contempt! I will not come.
  Off. My message was imposed on me with speed,
Brooks no delay: is this thy resolution?
  Sams. So take it with what speed thy message needs.
  Off. I am sorry what this stoutness will produce.        1345
  Sams. Perhaps thou shalt have cause to sorrow indeed.
  Chor. Consider, Samson; matters now are strained
Up to the highth, whether to hold or break.
He’s gone and who knows how he may report
Thy words by adding fuel to the flame?        1350
Expect another message, more imperious,
More lordly thundering than thou well wilt bear.
  Sams. Shall I abuse this consecrated gift
Of strength, again returning with my hair
After my great transgression—so requite        1355
Favour renewed, and add a greater sin
By prostituting holy things to idols,
A Nazarite, in place abominable,
Vaunting my strength in honour to their Dagon?
Besides how vile, contemptible, ridiculous,        1360
What act more execrably unclean, profane?
  Chor. Yet with this strength thou serv’st the Philistines,
Idolatrous, uncircumcised, unclean.
  Sams. Not in their idol-worship, but by labour
Honest and lawful to deserve my food        1365
Of those who have me in their civil power.
  Chor. Where the heart joins not, outward acts defile not.
  Sams. Where outward force constrains, the sentence holds:
But who constrains me to the temple of Dagon,
Not dragging? The Philistian Lords command:        1370
Commands are no constraints. If I obey them,
I do it freely, venturing to displease
God for the fear of Man, and Man prefer,
Set God behind; which, in his jealousy,
Shall never, unrepented, find forgiveness.        1375
Yet that he may dispense with me, or thee,
Present in temples at idolatrous rites
For some important cause, thou need’st not doubt.
  Chor. How thou wilt here come off surmounts my reach.
  Sams. Be of good courage; I begin to feel        1380
Some rousing motions in me, which dispose
To something extraordinary in my thoughts.
I with this messenger will go along—
Nothing to do, be sure, that may dishonour
Our Law, or stain my vow of Nazarite.        1385
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        1390
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        1395
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,        1400
Because they shall not trail me through their streets
Like a wild beast, I am content to go.
Masters’ commands come with a power resistless
To such as owe them absolute subjection;
And for a life who will not change his purpose?        1405
(So mutable are all the ways of men!)
Yet this be sure, in nothing to comply
Scandalous or forbidden in our Law.
  Off. I praise thy resolution. Doff these links:
By this compliance thou wilt win the Lords        1410
To favour, and perhaps to set thee free.
  Sams. Brethren, farewell. Your company along
I will not wish, lest it perhaps offend them
To see me girt with friends; and h w the sight
Of me, as of a common enemy,        1415
So dreaded once, may now exasperate them
I know not. Lords are lordliest in their wine;
And the well-feasted priest then soonest fired
With zeal, if aught religion seem concerned;
No less the people, on their holy days,        1420
Impetuous, insolent, unquenchable.
Happen what may, of me expect to hear
Nothing dishonourable, impure, unworthy
Our God, our Law, my nation, or myself;
The last of me or no I cannot warrant.        1425
  Chor. Go, and the Holy One
Of Israel be thy guide
To what may serve his glory best, and spread his name
Great among the Heathen round;
Send thee the Angel of thy birth, to stand        1430
Fast by thy side, who from thy father’s field
Rode up in flames after his message told
Of thy conception, and be now a shield
Of fire; that Spirit that first rushed on thee
In the camp of Dan,        1435
Be efficacious in thee now at need!
For never was from Heaven imparted
Measure of strength so great to mortal seed,
As in thy wondrous actions hath been seen.
But wherefore comes old Manoa in such haste        1440
With youthful steps? Much livelier than erewhile
He seems: supposing here to find his son,
Or of him bringing to us some glad news?
  Man. Peace with you, brethren! My inducement hither
Was not at present here to find my son,        1445
By order of the Lords new parted hence
To come and play before them at their feast.
I heard all as I came; the city rings,
And numbers thither flock: I had no will,
Lest I should see him forced to things unseemly.        1450
But that which moved my coming now was chiefly
To give ye part with me what hope I have
With good success to work his liberty.
  Chor. That hope would much rejoice us to partake
With thee. Say, reverend sire; we thirst to hear.        1455
  Man. I have attempted, one by one, the Lords,
Either at home, or through the high street passing,
With supplication prone and father’s tears,
To accept of ransom for my son, their prisoner.
Some much averse I found, and wondrous harsh,        1460
Contemptuous, proud, set on revenge and spite;
That part most reverenced Dagon and his priests:
Others more moderate seeming, but their aim
Private reward, for which both God and State
They easily would set to sale: a third        1465
More generous far and civil, who confessed
They had enough revenged, having reduced
Their foe to misery beneath their fears;
The rest was magnanimity to remit,
If some convenient ranson were proposed.        1470
What noise or shout was that? It tore the sky.
  Chor. Doubtless the people shouting to behold
Their once great dread, captive and blind before them,
Or at some proof of strength before them shown.
  Man. His ransom, if my whole inheritance        1475
May compass it, shall willingly be paid
And numbered down. Much rather I shall choose
To live the poorest in my tribe, than richest
And he in that calamitous prison left.
No, I am fixed not to part hence without him.        1480
For his redemption all my patrimony,
If need be, I am ready to forgo
And quit. Not wanting him, I shall want nothing.
  Chor. Fathers are wont to lay up for their sons;
Thou for thy son art bent to lay out all:        1485
Sons wont to nurse their parents in old age;
Thou in old age car’st how to nurse thy son,
Made older than thy age through eye-sight lost.
  Man. It shall be my delight to tend his eyes,
And view him sitting in his house, ennobled        1490
With all those high exploits by him achieved,
And on his shoulders waving down those locks
That of a nation armed the strength contained.
And I persuade me God hath not permitted
His strength again to grow up with his hair        1495
Garrisoned round about him like a camp
Of faithful soldiery, were not his purpose
To use him further yet in some great service—
Not to sit idle with so great a gift


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