Saturday, October 23, 2010

For the Feast of Saint Boethius

SOME POEMS, from the Consolation of Philosophy, by Saint Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (480—ca. 525), sometimes called “the last of the Romans”, but who also saved the best of antiquity for Christendom. The Consolation was written while he was in prison awaiting execution.

Nothing can subdue Virtue.

Whoso calm, serene, sedate,Sets his foot on haughty fate;Firm and steadfast, come what will,Keeps his mien unconquered still;Him the rage of furious seas,Tossing high wild menaces,Nor the flames from smoky forgesThat Vesuvius disgorges,Nor the bolt that from the skySmites the tower, can terrify.Why, then, shouldst thou feel affrightAt the tyrant's weakling might?Dread him not, nor fear no harm,And thou shall his rage disarm;But who to hope or fear gives way—Lost his bosom's rightful sway—He hath cast away his shield,Like a coward fled the field;He hath forged all unawareFetters his own neck must bear!

Boethius' Prayer.

'Builder of yon starry dome,Thou that whirlest, throned eternal,Heaven's swift globe, and, as they roam,Guid'st the stars by laws supernal:So in full-sphered splendour dightCynthia dims the lamps of night,But unto the orb fraternalCloser drawn, doth lose her light.
'Who at fall of eventide,Hesper, his cold radiance showeth,Lucifer his beams doth hide,Paling as the sun's light groweth,Brief, while winter's frost holds sway,By thy will the space of day;Swift, when summer's fervour gloweth,Speed the hours of night away.
'Thou dost rule the changing year:When rude Boreas oppresses,Fall the leaves; they reappear,Wooed by Zephyr's soft caresses.Fields that Sirius burns deep grownBy Arcturus' watch were sown:Each the reign of law confesses,Keeps the place that is his own.
'Sovereign Ruler, Lord of all!Can it be that Thou disdainestOnly man? 'Gainst him, poor thrall,Wanton Fortune plays her vainest.Guilt's deserved punishmentFalleth on the innocent;High uplifted, the profanestOn the just their malice vent.

'Virtue cowers in dark retreats,Crime's foul stain the righteous beareth,Perjury and false deceitsHurt not him the wrong who dareth;But whene'er the wicked trustIn ill strength to work their lust,Kings, whom nations' awe declarethMighty, grovel in the dust.
'Look, oh look upon this earth,Thou who on law's sure foundationFramedst all! Have we no worth,We poor men, of all creation?Sore we toss on fortune's tide;Master, bid the waves subside!And earth's ways with consummationOf Thy heaven's order guide!'

Fortune's Malice.

Mad Fortune sweeps along in wanton pride,Uncertain as Euripus' surging tide;Now tramples mighty kings beneath her feet;Now sets the conquered in the victor's seat.She heedeth not the wail of hapless woe,But mocks the griefs that from her mischief flow.Such is her sport; so proveth she her power;And great the marvel, when in one brief hourShe shows her darling lifted high in bliss,Then headlong plunged in misery's abyss.

True Nobility.

All men are of one kindred stock, though scattered far and wide;For one is Father of us all—one doth for all provide.He gave the sun his golden beams, the moon her silver horn;He set mankind upon the earth, as stars the heavens adorn.He shut a soul—a heaven-born soul—within the body's frame;The noble origin he gave each mortal wight may claim.Why boast ye, then, so loud of race and high ancestral line?If ye behold your being's source, and God's supreme design,None is degenerate, none base, unless by taint of sinAnd cherished vice he foully stain his heavenly origin.

The Bondage of Passion.

When high-enthroned the monarch sits, resplendent in the prideOf purple robes, while flashing steel guards him on every side;When baleful terrors on his brow with frowning menace lower,And Passion shakes his labouring breast—how dreadful seems his power!But if the vesture of his state from such a one thou tear,Thou'lt see what load of secret bonds this lord of earth doth wear.Lust's poison rankles; o'er his mind rage sweeps in tempest rude;Sorrow his spirit vexes sore, and empty hopes delude.Then thou'lt confess: one hapless wretch, whom many lords oppress,Does never what he would, but lives in thraldom's helplessness.

The Unreasonableness of Hatred.

Why all this furious strife? Oh, whyWith rash and willful hand provoke death's destined day?If death ye seek—lo! Death is nigh,Not of their master's will those coursers swift delay!
The wild beasts vent on man their rage,Yet 'gainst their brothers' lives men point the murderous steel;Unjust and cruel wars they wage,And haste with flying darts the death to meet or deal.
No right nor reason can they show;'Tis but because their lands and laws are not the same.Wouldst thou give each his due; then knowThy love the good must have, the bad thy pity claim.

The True Sun.

Homer with mellifluous tonguePhœbus' glorious light hath sung,Hymning high his praise;Yet his feeble raysOcean's hollows may not brighten,Nor earth's central gloom enlighten.
But the might of Him, who skilledThis great universe to build,Is not thus confined;Not earth's solid rind,Nor night's blackest canopy,Baffle His all-seeing eye.
All that is, hath been, shall be,In one glance's compass, HeLimitless descries;And, save His, no eyesAll the world survey—no, none!Him, then, truly name the Sun.

A Psychological Fallacy.

From the Porch's murky depthsComes a doctrine sage,That doth liken living mindTo a written page;Since all knowledge comes throughSense,Graven by Experience.
'As,' say they, 'the pen its marksCuriously doth traceOn the smooth unsullied whiteOf the paper's face,So do outer things impressImages on consciousness.'
But if verily the mindThus all passive lies;If no living power withinIts own force supplies;If it but reflect again,Like a glass, things false and vain—

Whence the wondrous facultyThat perceives and knows,That in one fair ordered schemeDoth the world dispose;Grasps each whole that Sense presents,Or breaks into elements?
So divides and recombines,And in changeful wiseNow to low descends, and nowTo the height doth rise;Last in inward swift reviewStrictly sifts the false and true?
Of these ample potenciesFitter cause, I ween,Were Mind's self than marks impressedBy the outer scene.Yet the body through the senseStirs the soul's intelligence.
When light flashes on the eye,Or sound strikes the ear,Mind aroused to due responseMakes the message clear;And the dumb external signsWith the hidden forms combines.

The Upward Look.

In what divers shapes and fashions do the creatures great and smallOver wide earth's teeming surface skim, or scud, or walk, or crawl!Some with elongated body sweep the ground, and, as they move,Trail perforce with writhing belly in the dust a sinuous groove;Some, on light wing upward soaring, swiftly do the winds divide,And through heaven's ample spaces in free motion smoothly glide;These earth's solid surface pressing, with firm paces onward rove,Ranging through the verdant meadows, crouching in the woodland grove.Great and wondrous is their variance! Yet in all the head low-bentDulls the soul and blunts the senses, though their forms be different.Man alone, erect, aspiring, lifts his forehead to the skies,And in upright posture steadfast seems earth's baseness to despise.If with earth not all besotted, to this parable give ear,Thou whose gaze is fixed on heaven, who thy face on high dost rear:Lift thy soul, too, heavenward; haply lest it stain its heavenly worth,And thine eyes alone look upward, while thy mind cleaves to the earth!

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