A Vision Of The Argonauts

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It is a privilege of great price to walk
With that old sorcerer Fable, hand in hand,
Adown the shadowy vale of History:
There is no other wand potent as his,
Out of that scene of gloomy pilgrimage,
Where prostrate splendors and unsated graves
Are ever rained upon by human tears,
To make a Paradise of noblest art,
A gallery of bright thoughts, serene ideas,
Pictorial graces, everlasting tints,
To the heart's eye delicious,--pure delight
Of Beauty and calm Joy alternating
With exercise of those high attributes,
Which make the will of man indomitable,--
Justice, and enterprise, and patriot--love.

That Peasant's simple question to my thoughts
Became a mystic thread,--a golden clue;
For when I drew it towards me, all the veil
Of the deep past shrunk up, and light profuse
Fell round me from time--clouded memories;
The full--noon--day, it seemed to me, went back,
And passed into the pearly grey of morn,
From which, in outline dim, slowly came forth
Pelion,--his lower steeps (now populous
With village voices) desolate and bare;
And the now naked range of loftier rock,
Thick--vested with a mantle of warm pine.
Along the shore, the turreted serail,
And bright--adorned kiosks, and low bazaar,
Into a city strange, of ancient form,
But to my spirit's sight faintly defined,
Was changed;--yet I could palpably discern
A crowd that stood before a portico,
And a thin smoke that from the midst arose,
As of a sacrifice; and close beside,
The waters rested in inviolate calm.

Upon their edge, yet clinging to the sand,
There was a shape, of other frame and kind
Than I had ever seen the wave embrace;
A burden of full--armèd men it bore,
And from its centre the aspiring stem
Of a straight oak, Dodona's holy growth,
Upsprung, with leafy coronal unshorn.
The joy of prosperous omens on the land
Awoke the silence of that solemn dawn;
And as it ceased, a clear and manly voice
Out of the shape responded musical,
And thus its meaning sunk into my soul.
``Not with the rapid foot and panting breast,
With which, be Pelion's dark--haired front
And mountain--thickets far away
Our witnesses, the eager heart was wont
To lead us to the boar's absconded rest
Unwearied, while before us lay
The hope of an illustrious prey,--
Nor, by the impulse of Pheraean steeds,
Bearing the warrior and the car
Into the central depths of war,
While he, thus, wingèd, hardly heeds
The presence of opposing spears,
More than the north wind fears
The grove whose mass he can crush down like reeds;
--Not thus the work is to be done,
Which this fleet--passing hour will see begun.

``For these are means, whose excellence can lead
To victory in the practised chase
Or common usage of heroic arms:--
Our thought is now to do a hardier deed;
Sublimer energy our spirit warms
Than bard has ever sung in Grecian halls;--
Where to succeed will place
Our name 'mid nations' festivals,
And where to fail itself will be
A glory for eternity.

``Over a wider and more dreary plain,
Than curious mortals know,
Trackless and markless as fresh--fallen snow,--
An awful space, on which the stain
Of human foot has never lain,--
Uncrossed by cheerful bird,--
Where never sound is heard,
But the unpausing din,
Half laughter and half groan,
Of the Divinity that stirs within,
And answers all the winds that blow
In thunder--tone;--
Over this mystic plain,--
The earth--enclosing Ocean--plain,
We are about to go.

``And let no holy fear restrain
The hearts, that know no fear beside;
For, not in impious disdain
Of the eternal rules, that bind
The destinies of human kind
Within sage limits, and wild pride,
But with the free obedience
Of a most perfect reverence,
Dare we the untamèd billow to bestride.

``For had it been in truth the imperial will
Of Mother Nature, when her plastic hand
Did the vast depths with buoyant liquid fill,
To plant a barrier betwixt land and land,
And keep each portion separate,
Encircled by a special fate;
How could the Gods, the everwise,
Have urged us to our enterprise
With favouring voices and protecting eyes?
How could our rude sea--chariot be
Made instinct with applauding Deity?

``A just and noble aim,
The Gods with love regard,--
But the self--glorious, the bold
Who honour not the laws of old,
A jealous justice will reward,
With woe and bitter shame;
We have not forgot
The miserable lot
Of Tantalus, ambrosia--fed,
Tantalus, whose kingly head
Deep in deepest Hades lies,
Eminent in agonies;
Even where our journey leads,
In that Eastern distance, bound
To an ice--peak, ever bleeds
He of the unclosed heart--wound,
The unsubdued and godlike one,
Who robbed the treasury of the sun;
But he such warnings little heeds,
Whose soul is fixed upon an honest end,--
Him must the Gods befriend.

``And is it not a virtuous aim,
Even to the earth's extremest shore,
By means no mortal force essayed before,
To bear the glory of the Grecian name?
To spoil the spoiler, wash away the stain
Of foully--slaughtered parentage, restore
To Greece the precious gift of yore,
Kind Gods to Helle and her brother gave,
Though Destiny restrained the power to save.

``Thus hasting to a sacred war,
With Paean and delighted song,
We feel our feet upon the Car,
Which the broad--wingèd Winds shall bear along;
No strength of ours their turbulence restrains,
No will of ours their vagrant course commands,
But ye who love us, fear not, for the reins
Are in almighty and benignant hands.--
And if the blindly--falling brand
Of Fate, that neither spares the wise or brave,
Far from his loved paternal land,
Should lay some Hero under the dark wave;
Yet let him not be deeply mourned,
As dead inglorious, or cast out unurned:
For the fond--pitying Nymphs below,
Will cover him with golden sand,
And sing above him songs of woe,
Sweeter than we can understand;
The grace of song shall breathe upon his name,
And his Elysian bliss be endless as his fame.''

There was a moment's pause, and then, methought,
The exuberant shout, that to the warriors' strain
Had made tumultuous prelude, came again,
But with still loftier passion; to the cause
I gave a quick attention, and beheld
Above the low Magnesian promontory,
A small and solitary flaccid cloud
Lowly suspended, by the clear round sun
(Which seemed to halt behind it as he rose)
Gorgeously glorified; to this all eyes
Were turned, and every voice a homage paid:
``The Fleece, the Golden Fleece, our Golden Fleece,''
Rose in a storm of sound, and instantly,
Though with no visible wind or ruffled tide,
But as impregnate with propelling power,
The Shape, no more dependent on the sand,
Into the open waters past, serene.
Then as the Vision fainted, self--dispersed
In the full--flaring light, a melody,
Whose sense I could not justly apprehend,
But that it was of blessing and delight,
Emitted from th' oracular central tree,
Caught up my heart, and bore it swift along
With that strange shape, into mysterious depths
Of placid darkness and undreaming sleep.

© Richard Monckton Milnes