Verse > Harvard Classics > John Milton > Complete Poems
John Milton. (1608–1674).  Complete Poems.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Samson Agonistes: Lines 1500-1761
Useless, and thence ridiculous, about him.        1500
And, since his strength with eye-sight was not lost,
God will restore him eye-sight to his strength.
  Chor. Thy hopes are not ill founded, nor seem vain,
Of his delivery, and thy joy thereon
Conceived, agreeable to a father’s love;        1505
In both which we, as next, participate.
  Man. I know your friendly minds, and .. O, what noise!
Mercy of Heaven! what hideous noise was that?
Horribly loud, unlike the former shout.
  Chor. Noise call you it, or universal groan,        1510
As if the whole inhabitation perished?
Blood, death, and deathful deeds, are in that noise,
Ruin, destruction at the utmost point.
  Man. Of ruin indeed methought I heard the noise.
Oh! it continues; they have slain my son.        1515
  Chor. Thy son is rather slaying them: that outcry
From slaughter of one foe could not ascend.
  Man. Some dismal accident it needs must be.
What shall we do—stay here, or run and see?
  Chor. Best keep together here, lest, running thither,        1520
We unawares, run into danger’s mouth.
This evil on the Philistines is fallen:
From whom could else a general cry be heard?
The sufferers, then, will scarce molest us here;
From other hands we need not much to fear.        1525
What if, his eye-sight (for to Israel’s God
Nothing is hard) by miracle restored,
He now be dealing dole among his foes,
And over heaps of slaughtered walk his way?
  Man. That were a joy presumptuous to be thought.        1530
  Chor. Yet God hath wrought things as incredible
For his people of old; what hinders now?
  Man. He can, I know, but doubt to think he will;
Yet hope would fain subscribe, and tempts belief.
A little stay will bring some notice hither.        1535
  Chor. Of good or bad so great, of bad the sooner;
For evil news rides post, while good news baits.
And to our wish I see one hither speeding—
An Ebrew, as I guess, and of our tribe.
  Messenger. O, whither shall I run, or which way fly        1540
The sight of this so horrid spectacle,
Which erst my eyes beheld, and yet behold?
For dire imagination still, pursues me.
But providence or instinct of nature seems,
Or reason, though disturbed and scarce consulted,        1545
To have guided me aright, I know not how,
To thee first, reverend Manoa, and to these
My countrymen, whom here I knew remaining,
As at some distance from the place of horror,
So in the sad event too much concerned.        1550
  Man. The accident was loud, and here before thee
With rueful cry; yet what it was we hear not.
No preface needs; thou seest we long to know.
  Mess. It would burst forth; but I recover breath,
And sense distract, to know well what I utter.        1555
  Man. Tell us the sum; the circumstance defer.
  Mess. Gaza yet stands; but all her sons are fallen,
All in a moment overwhelmed and fallen.
  Man. Sad! but thou know’st to Israelites not saddest
The desolation of a hostile city.        1560
  Mess. Feed on that first; there may in grief be surfeit.
  Man. Relate to whom.
  Mess.    By Samson.
  Man.        That still lessens
The sorrow, and converts it nigh to joy.        1565
  Mess. Ah! Manoa, I refrain too suddenly
To utter what will come at last too soon,
Lest evil tidings, with too rude irruption
Hitting thy aged ear, should pierce too deep.
  Man. Suspense in news is torture; speak them out.        1570
  Mess. Then take the worst in brief: Samson is dead.
  Man. The worst indeed! O, all my hope’s defeated
To free him hence! but Death, who sets all free,
Hath paid his ransom now and full discharge.
What windy joy this day had I conceived,        1575
Hopeful of his delivery, which now proves
Abortive as the first-born bloom of spring
Nipt with the lagging rear of winter’s frost!
Yet, ere I give the reins to grief, say first
How died he; death to life is crown or shame.        1580
All by him fell, thou say’st; by whom fell he?
What glorious hand gave Samson his death’s wound?
  Mess. Unwounded of his enemies he fell.
  Man. Wearied with slaughter, then, or how? explain.
  Mess. By his own hands.        1585
  Man.    Self-violence! What cause
Brought him so soon at variance with himself
Among his foes?
  Mess.    Inevitable cause—
At once both to destroy and be destroyed.        1590
The edifice, where all were met to see him,
Upon their heads and on his own he pulled.
  Man. O lastly over-strong against thyself!
A dreadful way thou took’st to thy revenge.
More than enough we know; but, while things yet        1595
Are in confusion, give us, if thou canst,
Eye-witness of what first or last was done,
Relation more particular and distinct.
  Mess. Occasions drew me early to this city;
And, as the gates I entered with sun-rise,        1600
The morning trumpets festival proclaimed
Through each high street. Little I had dispatched,
When all abroad was rumoured that this day
Samson should be brought forth, to shew the people
Proof of his mighty strength in feats and games.        1605
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,
With seats where all the Lords, and each degree        1610
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.
The feast and noon grew high, and sacrifice        1615
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
And timbrels; on each side went armed guards;        1620
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, clamouring their god with praise,
Who had made their dreadful enemy, their thrall.        1625
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
All with incredible, stupendious force,        1630
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),
As over-tired, to let him lean a while        1635
With both his arms on those two massy pillars,
That to the arched roof gave main support.
He unsuspicious led him; which when Samson
Felt in his arms, with head a while enclined,
And eyes fast fixed, he stood, as one who prayed,        1640
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,
Not without wonder or delight beheld;        1645
Now, of my own accord, such other trial
I mean to shew you of my strength yet greater
As with amaze shall strike all who behold.”
This uttered, straining all his nerves, he bowed;
As with the force of winds and waters pent        1650
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
Upon the heads of all who sat beneath,        1655
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.
Samson, with these immixed, inevitably        1660
Pulled down the same destruction on himself;
The vulgar only scaped, who stood without.
  Chor. O dearly bought revenge, yet glorious!
Living or dying thou has fulfilled
The work for which thou wast foretold        1665
To Israel, and now liest victorious
Among thy slain self-killed;
Not willingly, but tangled in the fold
Of dire Necessity, whose law in death conjoined
Thee with thy slaughtered foes, in number more        1670
Than all thy life had slain before.
  Semichor. While their hearts were jocund and sublime,
Drunk with idolatry, drunk with wine
And fat regorged of bulls and goats,
Chaunting their idol, and preferring        1675
Before our Living Dread, who dwells
In Silo, his bright sanctuary,
Among them he a spirit of phrenzy sent,
Who hurt their minds,
And urged them on with mad desire        1680
To call in haste for their destroyer.
They, only set on sport and play,
Unweetingly importuned
Their own destruction to come speedy upon them.
So fond are mortal men,        1685
Fallen into wrath divine,
As their own ruin on themselves to invite,
Insensate left, or to sense reprobate,
And with blindness internal struck.
  Semichor. But he, though blind of sight,        1690
Despised, and thought extinguished quite,
With inward eyes illuminated,
His fiery virtue roused
From under ashes into sudden flame,
And as an evening Dragon came,        1695
Assailant on the perched roosts
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,        1700
Depressed and overthrown, as seemed,
Like that self-begotten bird
In the Arabian woods embost,
That no second knows nor third,
And lay erewhile a holocaust,        1705
From out her ashy womb now teemed,
Revives, reflourishes, then vigorous most
When most unactive deemed;
And, though her body die, her fame survives,
A secular bird, ages of lives.        1710
  Man. Come, come; no time for lamentation now,
Nor much more cause. Samson hath quit himself
Like Samson, and heroicly hath finished
A life heroic, on his enemies
Fully revenged—hath left them years of mourning,        1715
And lamentation to the sons of Caphtor
Through all Philistian bounds; to Israel
Honour hath left and freedom, let but them
Find courage to lay hold on this occasion;
To himself and father’s house eternal fame;        1720
And, which is best and happiest yet, all this
With God not parted from him, as was feared,
But favouring and assisting to the end.
Nothing is here for tears, nothing to wail
Or knock the breast; no weakness, no contempt,        1725
Dispraise, or blame; nothing but well and fair,
And what may quiet us in a death so noble.
Let us go find the body where it lies
Soaked in his enemies’ blood, and from the stream
With lavers pure, and cleansing herbs, wash off        1730
The clotted gore. I, with what speed the while
(Gaza is not in plight to say us nay),
Will send for all my kindred, all my friends,
To fetch him hence, and solemnly attend,
With silent obsequy and funeral train,        1735
Home to his father’s house. There will I build him
A monument, and plant it round with shade
Of laurel ever green and branching palm,
With all his trophies hung, and acts enrolled
In copious legend, or sweet lyric song.        1740
Thither shall all the valiant youth resort,
And from his memory inflame their breasts
To matchless valour and adventures high;
The virgins also shall, on feastful days,
Visit his tomb with flowers, only bewailing        1745
His lot unfortunate in nuptial choice,
From whence captivity and loss of eyes.
  Chor. All is best, though we oft doubt
What the unsearchable dispose
Of Highest Wisdom brings about,        1750
And ever best found in the close.
Oft He seems to hide his face,
But unexpectedly returns,
And to his faithful Champion hath in place
Bore witness gloriously; whence Gaza mourns,        1755
And all that band them to resist
His uncontrollable intent.
His servants He, with new acquist
Of true experience from this great event,
With peace and consolation hath dismissed,        1760
And calm of mind, all passion spent.


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