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{Robert Buchanan - The Poet of Modern Revolt by Archibald Stodart-Walker}





Turning from the ‘unsung city’s streets,’ and leaving for a space the eternal hills, the poet published in 1871, on the very morn almost after the curtain had fallen on the Franco-German struggle, his poetic play, ‘The Drama of Kings.’ It was, as the poet himself said, the first serious attempt ever made to treat great contemporary events in a dramatic form, and very realistically, yet with something of the massive grandeur of style characteristic of the great dramatists of Greece. ‘In minor points of detail, the author is sanguine that it is not all Greek, nor in any sense archaic. The interest is epic rather than tragic; but what the leading character is to a tragedy, France is to “The Drama of Kings,” a wonderful genius, guilty of many sins, terribly overtaken by misfortune, and attaining in the end perhaps to purification.’ It is necessary to notice here the cautious use of the word ‘perhaps,’ as the light of recent events rather points to the historical accuracy of the doubt of any salvation coming to the Gaul, as expressed in the words put by 90 the dramatist into the mouth of the Prussian Chancellor:

On this side Time, there is no hope for France.

     The whole drama deals with the struggle between Teuton and Celt, from the days of the First Napoleon to the fall of Paris. In this, as in the poet’s other work, the one point of view adopted is, not that of the politician, the satirist, or the historian, ‘but that of the realistic Mystic, who, seeking to penetrate deepest of all into the soul, and to represent the soul’s best and finest mood, seizes that moment when the spiritual or emotional nature is most quickened by sorrow or self-sacrifice, by victory or by defeat. In good honest truth, the writer has had far greater difficulty in detecting the spiritual point in these great leaders than in the poor worms at their feet. The utterly personal moods of arbitrary power, the impossibility of self-abnegation for the sake of any other living creature, the frightful indifference to all ties, the diabolic supremacy of the intellect, make the first Emperor a figure more despairing to the Mystic than the coster-girl dying in childbed in a garret, or the defiant woman declaiming over the corpse of her deformed seducer. It is in this sense of the superlatively diabolic that has made the author, in the epilogue, attribute the performance of the three leading characters to Lucifer himself;—only, let it be understood, not to the irreclaimable and Mephistophelean type of utter evil, but to the Mystic’s Devil, a spirit as difficult 91 to fathom individually, but clearly in the Divine service, working for good. Perhaps the supernatural machinery of Prelude and Epilude is a defect, like all allegory, but if it serves to keep before the reader the fact that the whole action of the drama is seen from the spiritual or divine auditorium, he will not regret its  introduction, and in using it without perfect faith, he may plead the example of the greatest poetic sceptic of modern times. No one did fuller justice to mystic truths than the great positivist who wrote the first and second “Fausts.”’
     As for the metrical combinations used in the choruses, most of them are quite new to English poetry.
     The Drama of Evolution, as the poet calls it in his dedication to the Spirit of Auguste Comte, opens with a Prelude before the curtain, in which the Lord, the Archangels, Lucifer, and Celestial Spectators form the ‘preludi personæ,’ Lucifer informing us that he has selected the fairest and the sweetest-voiced cherubs to play the part of Chorus. Following this is the Prologue spoken by Time, cloaked and hooded, leaning on a staff; Time snow’d upon by many winters, but faring westward still, and ever looking backward to the east. Upon his ears strike the cries of ‘Liberty! Liberty!’

                                             God knows and hears
That one word and none other hath been cried
By men from the beginning. I have heard
The sound so long, I smile; but at the same
Kingdoms have fallen like o’er-ripen’d fruit,                                        92
Realms wither’d, heaven rain’d blood and earth yawn’d graves,
The seasons sicken’d changing their due course,
The stars burnt blue for many awful nights,
The corpse-lights of a world that lay as dead.

Upon the stage, he declares, will be presented two mighty nations gathering up their crests against each other, smiting dimly and darkly for the great Idea. ‘Phantoms cloaked by time, struggling in the name of Liberty.’

                                               My name
Is also Death; and I am deathless. I
Am Time and most eternal. I am he,
God’s Usher, and my duty it is to lead
The actors one by one upon the scene,
And afterwards to guide them quietly
Through that dark postern when their parts are played.
They come and go, alas! but I abide,
And I am weary of the garish stage.

The first part of the drama has for its title, ‘Buonaparte, or France against the Teuton,’ the speakers being Napoleon Buonaparte, Alexander I. of Russia, Jerome, King of Westphalia, Louisa, Queen of Prussia, the King of Saxony, Baron von Stein, Professor Jahn, the poet Arndt, and others, the time October 1808, during the great Congress of Powers, and the scene Erfurt, in the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg Gotha. A long and fierce storm of words are uttered, first by Stein, Arndt, and Jahn, all pouring out the agony of their souls at the bloodthirsty, tyrannical ambition of the Little Corporal of France; Stein asking in despair if all the ghosts of the Teutons are laid for evermore, if Karl and Fritz are 93 forgotten, everybody in Germany dumb, fetter’d, broke, miserable, dead?

Are this man’s functions supernatural,
Divine above all life, all love, all law,
That he should walk upon the waves of earth
Casting his bloody shade as on a sea,
And they should hush themselves around his feet
Lightly as ripples on a summer pond?
Earth, water, air—the clouds, the waves, the winds,
The stars in their pale courses,—day and night
Forgetful of their natural equipoise,
Shape their mysterious functions to his will;
Kings lick his feet like dogs; he lifts his finger
And epileptic in his chair the Pope
Foams speechless at the mouth;—body and soul
Obey him as an impulse and a law;—
The eyes, the ears, the tongues, of all the world
Are blown one way like all a forest’s leaves
To see, hear, and entreat him;—by his smile
The earth is brighten’d,—and ‘tis straight fine weather!
Let him but frown, all darkens, and the sun
Uprises bloody as a vulture’s crest!
Like hawks obedient to the falconer
The Kings of Europe wait, and at a sign
Soar, while he sits and smiles, in fierce pursuit
Of any wretched quarry he would slay;
But let him whistle, and with bloody beaks
They turn, and preen their plumage, and are fed.
Cry? I will cry to God with all my soul!
Can God keep calm, and look upon these things?

Whilst a Chorus of Spirits sings of the rise and fall of kings:

After each reaping
We see upcreeping
Another master!
     Another chain!—

Stein and Jahn burst in with maledictions on the destroyers of liberty—Liberty now ‘no more a living shape supremely fair, but a mere ghost, unpleasant to the thoughts of foolish kings at 94 bedtime ‘—and moan that every wind is tainted by this pestilence of France. The skeleton of Law tyrannises everywhere; France is law, fate, and death, and

All men of noble birth must flock perforce
To spend three months of every year at court,
There to be taught to play this mad French tune
Upon the one-string’d fiddle of despair.

Stein cries ‘Courage!’ and swears all this shall cease when a new Teuton soul is created; and picturing the greatness of Napoleon, declares ‘the life of every man is a wave, and having risen its appointed height, it must descend, and then shall rise the Teuton, an Iris on the Death-cloud, springing out of the proud Imperial Austrian ruin, not a delusion and a patrician lie, a pasteboard Crown and an unholy Sword, but a living man, lord of all, and then the heart of Europe will be watered by the Rhine.’ In the meantime, this crowned Shape knocks like Death at every door, and enters every kingly chamber as sleep doth, bringing, instead of sleep, sleepless Despair and Fear.

And within the night’s dark core where the sad Cross gleam’d before
Sits the Shape that Kings adore, upon a Throne;
And the nations desolate crawl beneath and curse their fate,
And the wind goes by and bites them to the bone.

     We are next brought to face a scene in which Buonaparte and the Kings are the leading ‘personæ’; Buonaparte being without the help of sullen Austria, who sits like some poor cudgel-player with cracked crown, scowling upon the 95 victor in the game, mending the tattered realm, and tonicking the sick stomach of the time. To them enters Louisa of Prussia, who on bended knee supplicates the ‘firebrand of the Earth.’ Her supplication failing, she thus pours forth the agony of her soul:

Pitiless! pitiless! pitiless! pitiless!
‘Earth’s masters?’—O thrice miserable Earth
If these are masters of thy continents!
Bodies without a heart! tyrants whose thrones
Are based upon unutterable pain,
One on the frozen ice of the East’s despair,
One on the bloody lava hard and black
Scatter’d by the volcano of the West!
What hope for the poor world if these join hands,
Murder with Avarice, Poison with the Sword,
Cunning with Hatred, Pride with Cruelty,
The heir of Despots with the Parvenu,
Moloch, whose cold and leaden eyeballs gloat
On old familiar woes deep as the grave,
With the quick soul of subtler Lucifer
Ever devising novel agonies!
O Spirit of God, who with mysterious breath
Dost fashion e’en the will of men-like fiends
And fiend-like men to obey thee and to work
Thy strange dim ends, thy doom, thy deep revenge,
Penetrate this day into very Hell,—
Into the heart of Earth that is as Hell,—
Work in the council-chamber, in the ears
Of these arch-tyrants whisper doubts and fears,
Disturb their privy-councils, let them mark
The viper on each other’s smiling lips,
And while they seek to cheat humanity
And portion Europe’s bleeding body in twain,
Let each outwit the other,—like two thieves
Fall at each other’s throats,—fiery with greed
Strike in new hatred at each other’s hearts,—
And struggle, to the laughter of the world,
Till one or both fall impotent and dead!

Here follows a dialogue between Stein and the Queen, in which the sorrow and agony of the time are reflected, and again the Chorus is heard 96 singing of the rise of Napoleon and the fall of Liberty. A scene of high passion between Napoleon and the Pope’s Cardinal is to be noted, in which the Tyrant bursts forth:

                                       Is the man mad,
That he should howl in our imperial ear
The flat old thunders that so long have turned
The small-beer kingdoms sour with jeopardy?

and warns the Cardinal of the danger to the Pope, whom he had set up, whose ‘stale scarecrow of a creed he had propt up in the Vatican’:

                             Let him look to it,
Or by St. Peter and his rusty Key,
That turns so slowly in the lock of Heaven,
This hand shall set the foolscap on his head
And fix a scarecrow on the heights of Rome
For all the world to point at passing by!

There is much dialectical abuse of the Romish Church in this scene, at whose end the Chorus sings of the glory of God, who is ‘deep and still, subtle as Love, and sure of foot as Fate,’ and conveys a warning note to those who stand paralysed under the tyranny of the Emperor:

God gave ye living wills for other aim,
Voices for other sounds than moans of blame,
Hands for more use than folding on the breast;
Daily the sun goes down into the west—
How long shall it go down upon your shame?

We are then plunged into the whirlpool of a Napoleonic soliloquy:

The cup is overflowing. Pour, pour yet,
My Famulus—pour with free arm-sweep still,
And when the wine is running o’er the brim,
Sparkling with golden bubbles in the sun,
I will stoop down and drink the full great draught
Of glory, and as did those heroes old                                                  97
Drinking ambrosia in the happy isles,
Dilate at once to perfect demigod.
Meantime, I feast my eyes as the wine runs
And the cup fills. Fill up, my Famulus!
Pour out the precious juice of all the earth,
Pour with great arm-sweep, that the world may see.

O Famulus—O Spirit—O good Soul,
Come close to me and listen—curl thyself
Up in my breast—let us drink ecstasy
Together; for the charm thou taughtest me
Is working like slow poison in the veins
Of the great nations: each, a wild-beast tamed,
Looks mildly in mine eyes and from my hand
Eats gently.

Proceeding in the grandly heroic strain of an egoist who is conscious of his power, he draws, for his soul to gloat over, the turgid picture of his blood-clouded horizon, and conceives, with diabolic chuckle, the possibility of his becoming the Regent of the World.

Shall this be so, O Spirit? Pour, O pour—
Yea, let me feast mine eyes upon the wine,
Albeit I drink not. See!—Napoleon,
Waif from the island in the southern sea,
Sun to whom all the Kings of the earth are stars,
Sword before which all earthly swords are straws,
Child of the Revolution, crown and head,
Heart, soul, arm, King, of all Humanity.

It shall be a world without priests or idols in dark sacrifice, governed not by twenty thousand kings of Lilliput—little kings which he has held like insects in his hand while he inspected them—but by the one conquering heaven or hell sent Buonaparte. Yet he knows that the Spirit of mankind continually moves on:

The mighty Spirit of mankind
Has stagger’d from the sick-bed to his feet,
And feebly totters, picking darken’d steps,                                          98
And while I lead him on scarce sees the sun,
But questions feebly ‘whither?’ Whither? Indeed
I am dumb, and all earth’s voices are as dumb—
God is not dumber on His throne. In vain
I would peer forward, but the path is black.

Before him he sees the grim Titan of Liberty, who may arise one bloody morning from his torpor, and bring down the roof of Empire on his head. Has he, he asks himself, ‘been lulling the Titan with a lie’? Yes, he knows that the promise to lead him to the trysting-place where waits his constant love and most immortal bride—Peace—is a vague dream, and he sees how, when the awakening comes, he will be cast with the Titan’s last fierce breath ‘down through the gate into the pit of doom.’

Yet is this Titan old so weak of wit,
So senile-minded though so huge of frame,
So deaf to warning voices when they cry,
That, should no angel light from heaven and speak
The mad truth in his ear, he will proceed
Patiently as a lamb. He counteth not
The weary years; his eyes are shut indeed
With a half smile, to see the mystic face
Pictured upon his brain; only at times
He lifteth lids and gazeth wildly round,
Clutching at the cold hand of him that guides,
But with a whisper he is calm’d again,
Relapsing back into his gentle dream.
O he is patient, and he will await
Century after century in peace,
So that he hears sweet songs of her he seeks,
So that his guides do speak to him of her,
So that he thinks to clasp her in the end.

And as it must come, even to Napoleon, there sounds the footfall of the dread spectre itself.

                                                 O for a spell                                      99
Wherewith to cheat old Death, whose feet I hear
Afar off, for I hate the bony touch
Of hands that change the purple for the shroud!

The Chorus follows, and the curtain drops on the first part.
     A Choric Interlude, in which the Titan Liberty is heard bewailing the perfidy of the Emperor, now meets our attention, the Interlude finally picturing for us the fall and death of the betrayer. The voice of Liberty sings:

All shall forget thee. Thou shalt hear the nations
Flocking with music, light and acclamations
     To kiss his royal feet
     Who sitteth in thy Seat,
Surrounded by the slaves of lofty stations.

A rock in the lone sea shall be thy pillow.
In the wide waste of grey wave and green billow,
     The days shall rise and set
     In silence, and forget
To sun thee,—a black shape beneath a willow

Watching the weary waters with heart bleeding;
Or dreaming cheek upon thy hand; or reading
     The book upon thy knee;
     And ever as the sea
Moans, raising eyes to the still heaven, and pleading;

Till like a wave worn out with silent breaking;
Or like a wind blown weary; thou, forsaking
     Thy tenement of clay,
     Shalt wear and waste away,
And grow a portion of the ever-waking

Tumult of cloud and sea. Feature by feature
Losing the likeness of the living creature,
     Returning back thy form
     To its elements of storm,
Thou shalt dissolve in the great wreck of Nature.

100 Part II. of the drama is ‘Napoleon Fallen.’ We are carried forward seventy-two years, to the year 1870, shortly after the surrender of Sedan; the scene being drawn at the Chateau of Wilhelmshöhe in Cassel. Our ears are first greeted by the Chorus:

Ah, to grow old, grow old,
Upon a throne of gold—
Ah, on a throne, so lone,
     To wear a crown;
To watch the clouds, the air,
Lest storm be breeding there—
Pale, lest some blast may cast
     Thy glory down.

Hast thou a hard straw bed?
Hast thou thy crust of bread?
And hast thou quaff’d thy draught
     Of water clear?
And canst thou dance and sing?—
O blesseder than a King!
O happy one whom none
     Doth hate or fear!

following which we are confronted with a dialogue between the third Napoleon and a Physician. The physical and mental condition of the Emperor is drawn for us in detail, ‘not dying—only sick, as all are sick who feel the mortal prison-house too weak for the play of the soul.’ His hatred of war, his hesitation, and his feebleness at the moment of resolve, are all presented. A chorus follows, in which is indicated the fatality of building too near the Sea of Life:

How for long intervals and vast
     Strange secrets hide from day,
Till Nature’s womb upheaves to cast
     The gather’d load away;
How deep the very laws of life
Deposit elements of strife.

O many a year in sun and shower                                                          101
     The quiet waters creep!—
But suddenly on some dark hour
     Strange trouble shakes the deep:
Silent and monstrous thro’ the gloom
Rises the Tidal Wave for doom.

Then woe for all who, like this Man,
     Have built so near the Sea,
For what avails the human plan
     When the new force flows free?
Over their bounds the waters stream,
And Empires crash and despots scream.

A Bishop enters on the scene and holds parley with the Emperor, and the agony is gradually piled by the news of the cataclysm which is sweeping on the broken-hearted monarch. Ungenerous France, pitiless as a sated harlot is, when ruin overtaketh him whose hand hath loaded her with gems, France, like Delilah, now betrays her lord. Many- tongued, wild- hair’d, mad, with fiery eyes and naked crimson limbs, upriseth the old Spectre of the Red to stab unhappy France; the Chorus singing the fall of Paris. The bravery of the Parisians, the fearlessness of death, the hatred of capitulation, the heroism of the women, and the whole terrible struggle of a wounded and fallen but not ignoble foe, are told in fiery, inspiriting language.
     And Napoleon soliloquises thus:

                                     O those dark years
Of Empire! He who tames the tiger, and lies
Pillow’d upon his neck in a lone cave,
Is safer. Who could sleep on such a bed?
Mine eyes were ever dry of the pure dew
God scatters on the lids of happy men;
Watching with fascinated gaze the orbs,
Ring within ring of blank and bestial light,
Where the wild fury slept: seeking all arts                                                102
To soothe the savage instinct in its throes
Of passionate unrest. One cold hand held
Sweet morsels for the furious thing to lap,
And with the other, held behind my back,
I clutch’d the secret steel: oft, lest its teeth
Should fasten on its master, cunningly
Turning its wrath against the shapes that moved
Outside its splendid lair; until at last,
Let forth to the mad light of War, it sprang
Shrieking and sought to rend me. O thou beast!
Art thou so wild this day? and dost thou thirst
To fix on thine imperial ruler’s throat?
Why, have I bidden thee ‘down,’ and thou hast crouch’d
Tamely as any hound! Thou shalt crouch yet,
And bleed with shamefuller stripes!

And again:

O had I held the scourge in my right hand,
Tighten’d the yoke instead of loosening,
It had not been so ill with me as now!
But Pity found me with her sister Fear,
And lured me. He who sitteth on a throne
Should have no counsellors who come in tears;
But rather that still voice within his brain,
Imperturbable as his own cold eyes
And viewless as his coldly flowing blood;
Rather a heart as strong as the great heart
Driving the hot life through a lion’s thews;
Rather a will that moves to its desire
As steadfast as the silent-footed cloud.
What peevish humour did my mother mix
With that immortal ichor of our race
Which unpolluted fill’d mine uncle’s veins?
He lash’d the world’s Kings to his triumph-car
And sat like marble while the fiery wheels
Dript blood beneath him: tho’ the live earth shriek’d
Below him, he was calm, and like a god
Cold to the eloquence of human tears,
Cold to the quick, cold as the light of stars,
Cold as the hand of Death on the damp brow,
Cold as Death brooding on a battlefield
In the white after-dawn,—from west to east
Royal he moved as the red wintry sun.
He never flatter’d Folly at his feet;
He never sought to syrup Infamy;                                                         103
He, when the martyrs curst him, drew around him
The purple of his glory and passed on
Indifferently like Olympian Jove.

                       Yet, early or late, all fall.
No fruit can hang for ever on the tree.
Daily the tyrant and the martyr meet
Naked at Death’s door, with the fatal mark
Both brows being branded. Doth the world then slay
Only its anarchs? Doth the lightning flash
Smite Cæsar and spare Brutus? Nay, by heaven!
Rather the world keeps for its paracletes
Torture more subtle and more piteous doom
Than it dispenses to its torturers.
Tiberius, with his foot on the world’s neck,
Smileth his cruel smile and groweth grey,
Half dead already with the weight of years
Drinketh the death he is too frail to feel,
While in his noon of life the Man Divine
Hath died in anguish at Jerusalem.
     .         .          .         .          .         .          .

Ah, old Theology, thou strikest home!
‘Evil must suffer—Good ordains to suffer’—
Sayst thou? Did He then quaff His cup of tears
Freely, who might have dash’d it down, and ruled?
The world was ready with an earthly crown,
And yet He wore it not. Ah, He was wise!
Had He but sat upon a human throne,
With all the kingdom’s beggars at His feet,
And all its coffers open at His side,
He had died more shameful death, yea, He had fallen
Even as the Cæsars. Rule the world with Love?
Tame savage human nature with a kiss?
Turn royal cheeks for the brute mob to smite?
He knew men better, and He drew aside,
Ordain’d to do and suffer, not to reign.

     After a Choric Interlude, in which the spirits call upon the Nations to cry ‘Hold, enough!’ to the Teuton who stands with his spiked heel on the neck of France, and in which Interlude The Perfect State is painted, the scene is shifted to the camp outside Paris, in which the Kaiser, the Chancellor, 104 and others play a leading part. A prolonged monologue of Bismarck is the leading force in this scene—a monologue in which is pictured the history of France and its conquest by the Teuton:

Let France walk forth in sackcloth, let her wrists
Wear gyves; set, too, a fool’s-cap on her head,
With ‘Glory’ for a label writ in blood;
Then let a trumpeter before her go,
And let him sound, and between whiles aloud
Read the long record of enormities,
And ending each, strike sharply with the scourge
On the bare shoulders of the penitent;
And let the little children of the earth
Follow and point, while good wives raise their hands,
And honest burghers nodding pipe in mouth,
Standing at doors with broad good-humour’d stare,
Mutter aloud, ‘Thank God! the world is free!’

The hatred of the country of the Gaul, the Messalina of the nations, ‘a thing of many lovers, luring all, constant to none, adulterous with all, constant to nothing but inconstancy,’ is made apparent in every line of the Chancellor’s harangue; and in contrast to the bitterness of his hatred-stenched words, is heard the Chorus:

Blessed is the Light in his hand swinging,
     Waving bright white pinions like a dove;
Blessed is the Sword that he is bringing,
     Such as holy spirits wield above;
Such another brand arose in beauty
O’er the Gate of Paradise up-springing.
Mother, hearken—it is the Sword of Duty;
     Mother, hearken—it is the Light of Love!

Awakening, in one strong hand, O mother,
     Take the shining weapon of the free,
And the sweet Lamp grasping in the other,
     Lift it high that all the world may see.
Bought with bloody tears and bitterest sorrow,                                     105
They are thine for ever, martyr-mother!
Thou shalt wear them on some golden morrow,
     Dawn shall come, the storm of God shall flee.

And because thy queenly robe is riven,
     Thou shalt win a raiment star-enwrought—
Under the new dawn and the blue heaven
     Thou shalt wear this raiment blood hath bought;
Further, since thy heart hath cast off weakness,
For thy forehead shall a crown be given.
Mother, hearken—it is the Robe of Meekness;
     Mother, hearken—it is the Crown of Thought!

Bismarck, too, faces the thought of how quick events fly and how rapidly the God of to-day may lie in the dust to- morrow:

                                             ’Tis so easy
To cast down Idols! The tide so pitilessly
Washes each name from the waste sands of time!
‘Twas yestermorn the Man of Mysteries fell—
Whose turn comes next?

There are many other scenes which it is impossible even to hint at here. The drama contains a whole system of political ethics, and a fairly complete dramatic and poetic representation of the various events of that time, when the hearts of nations were rent, and the hatred of nations blackened the face of Europe. Nowhere has the poet caught the spirit of battle better than in the description of the fighting round Paris, conveyed through the medium of the Chorus in variable metre. The movement in this part of the drama is irresistible, and, in more ways than one, this is the most essentially dramatic part of it, and approaches nearest to our conception of the choruses in the Greek 106 tragedies. Here are one or two passages which suggest the spirit of action and change as depicted by the Chorus:

Onward, still nearing
     The eyes that flash on them;
Onward unfearing,
     Tho’ the death-bolts crash on them,
Torn asunder
By lightning and thunder,
Though the black shells thicken
     And rain red death on them,
Rent and stricken,
     With Fire’s fierce breath on them,
Still forward winning,
But ever thinning,
Onward they go,
     Over dying and dead,
Leaving the snow
     Not white but red.
     And now like a torrent,
     Furious, horrent,
     From his lair in the dark
     Springs the foe; and hark!
Like the waters meeting
     They gather and scream,
While drums are beating
     And the death’s-eyes gleam!—
Like trees of the forest
When the storm-wind is sorest,
Like waves of the ocean
They meet in wild motion,
They reel, they advance,
     They gather—they stand;
Their wild weapons glance,
     They are scattered like sand.
.          .         .          .         .

The light is glowing
     Around blood-red,
The winds are blowing,
And the clouds are snowing
     On the heaps of dead.
The white snows cover them,
The swords flash over them,
Death waits each way for them,—                                                        107
O bless them, pray for them!
They are mingled like water,
They are grappled in slaughter,
Face to face like wolves glaring,
With eyes fiercely staring,
Grappled and crying,
     Rank within rank,
Dead, living, and dying,
     Teuton and Frank:
Like a cloud struck by lightning
     And rent into rain,
Darkening and brightening
     They cover the plain.

And let us not omit this picture of France in her downfall:

     Who passeth there
     Naked and bare,
A bloody sword upraising?
     Who with their moan
     Glides past alone,
At the black heaven gazing?
     Limbs thin and stark,
     Eyes sunken and dark,
The lightning round her leaping?
     What shape floats past
     Upon the blast,
Crouching in pain and creeping?
     Behold! her eyes to heaven are cast,
And they are red with weeping.

     Say a prayer thrice
     With lips of ice:
‘Tis she—yea, and no other;
     Look not at me
     So piteously,
O France—O martyr mother!
     O whither now,
     With branded brow
And bleeding heart, art flying?
     Whither away?
     O stand! O stay!
Tho’ winds, waves, clouds are crying—
     Dawn cometh swift—’twill soon be day—
The Storm of God is dying.

     She will not speak,                                                                         108
     But, spent and weak,
Droops her proud head and goeth;
     She! she crawls past,
     Upon the blast,
Whither no mortal knoweth—
     O’er fields of fight,
     Where glimmer white
Death’s steed and its gaunt rider—
     Thro’ storm and snow,
     Behold her go,
With never a friend beside her—
     O Shepherd of all winds that blow,
To Quiet Waters guide her!

     There, for a space,
     Let her sad face
Fall in a tranquil mirror—
     There spirit-sore
     May she count o’er
Her sin, her shame, her error,—
     And read with eyes
     Made sweet and wise
What her strong God hath taught her,
     With face grown fair
     And bosom bare
And hands made clean from slaughter—
     O Shepherd, seek and find her there,
Beside some Quiet Water!

Amongst other scenes, the crowning of the Kaiser in the Hall of Mirrors as Emperor of a United Germany may be noted for the vigorous and picturesque Song of the Sword, and for the oration of the Kaiser on the future prosperity of his country and of the peace of Europe; the scene concluding with the voices of the Chorus singing:

O God who leadest on the mortal race,
     Whither they know not, through the wondrous years,
Thou mystery whose sad meaning none may trace,
     Light on our eyes and Music in our ears,
Spirit that punishest and scatterest grace,
     Lord of all losses and all doubts and fears,
Shedding upon the self-same hour and place                                         109
The doubt that maddens and the faith that cheers,—
Is there ever a smile upon a living face
     That doth not mean some living face’s tears?

     The Epilogue is spoken by Time, who rehearses the actions of the play, and draws the moral:

‘O foolish mortal race,’ I hear ye cry,
‘Who will, yet will not learn, and live, and take
Their birthright, and be free!’ Ay, friends, indeed,
Man is a scholar eager indeed to learn,
But most forgetful having learn’d. His wits
Go wandering, his vacant eyes are caught
By foolish pictures and by idle gleams,
Glibly he learns and instantly forgets.
Again, again, and o’er and o’er again,
He tries the same old lesson, utters it
So loud and well that out of every star
Angels look out with gleaming eyes and hope;—
But in a moment his bewildered brain
Shuts like a lantern; and is dark as night.

And perorates thus:

Ay, but I weary. O I weary. Sleep
Were better. Would the mighty play were o’er!
Again and yet again the same old scenes,
The same set speeches, the same blind despairs
And miserable hopes, the same sick fear
Of quitting the poor stage; so that I lose
All count of act and scene and speech, confuse
Scenes present and scenes past, actors long still
With actors flaunting now their little hour.
How like each other all the players speak
Who play the tyrants! how the kings and queens
Each follow each like bees from out a hive!
Still the old speeches, the old scenes, despite
The surface-change of costume and the trick
Of posture. Ay, I weary! O to see
The great black Curtain fall, the music cease,
All darken, the House empty of its host
Of strange intelligences who behold
Our Drama, till the great Hand, creeping forth
In silence, one by one puts out the lights.

110 The Epilude contains the following:

     The Soul shall arise.
Power and its vanity,
Pride’s black insanity,
Lust and its revelry
Shall with war’s devilry
Pass from humanity.
     The Soul shall arise.

     The Soul shall arise.
Sweetness and sanity,
Slaying all vanity,
Shall to love’s holiness,
Meekness and lowliness,
Shepherd humanity.
     The Soul shall arise.

     A drama of some four hundred and fifty pages is difficult to condense for the purpose before us, but perhaps some glimpse has been obtained of the ‘motif’ and general type of action of this play—not written, it need not be explained, for the purposes of the stage. In nearly every instance the various characters are made the mouthpiece of a fiery rhetoric, the tempering and the refining influences of the whole lying in the hands of the Chorus, which breathes the essence of the eternal law, in contrast to the dramatic representation of points of view by the various characters of the drama. As for its historical accuracy, it is difficult to judge, for the flight of less than thirty years seems to us to be insufficient for the assumption of the rôle of the estimating historian. It is only fair, however, to the poet to add that, in a note to the ‘Songs of the Terrible Year,’ republished in the collected edition of his poems, he says: ‘The “Songs,” 111 inasmuch as they formed a portion of “The Drama of Kings,” preceded by a long period the publication of Victor Hugo’s series under the same admirable title. “The Drama of Kings” was written under a false conception, which no one discarded sooner than the author; but portions of it are preserved in the present collection, because, although written during the same feverish and evanescent excitement, they are the distinct lyrical products of the author’s mind, and perfectly complete in themselves.’




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The Fleshly School Controversy
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