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Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

Sydney Dobell 1824–74

Dante, Shakespeare, Milton


Doctor.Ah! thou, too,

Sad Alighieri, like a waning moon

Setting in storm behind a grove of bays!

Balder.Yes, the great Florentine, who wove his web

And thrust it into hell, and drew it forth

Immortal, having burn’d all that could burn,

And leaving only what shall still be found

Untouch’d, nor with the small of fire upon it,

Under the final ashes of this world.

Doctor.Shakespeare and Milton!

Balder.Switzerland and home.

I ne’er see Milton, but I see the Alps,

As once, sole standing on a peak supreme,

To the extremest verge summit and gulf

I saw, height after depth, Alp beyond Alp,

O’er which the rising and the sinking soul

Sails into distance, heaving as a ship

O’er a great sea that sets to strands unseen.

And as the mounting and descending bark,

Borne on exulting by the under deep,

Gains of the wild wave something not the wave,

Catches a joy of going, and a will

Resistless, and upon the last lee foam

Leaps into air beyond it, so the soul

upon the Alpine ocean mountain-toss’d,

Incessant carried up to heaven, and plunged

To darkness, and still wet with drops of death

Held into light eternal, and again

Cast down, to be again uplift in vast

And infinite succession, cannot stay

The mad momentum, but in frenzied sight

Of horizontal clouds and mists and skies

And the untried Inane, springs on the surge

Of things, and passing matter by a force

Material, thro’ vacuity careers,

Rising and falling.

Doctor.And my Shakespeare! Call

Milton your Alps, and which is he among

The tops of Andes? Keep your Paradise,

And Eves, and Adams, but give me the Earth

That Shakespeare drew, and make it grave and gay

With Shakespeare’s men and women; let me laugh

Or weep with them, and you—a wager,—aye,

A wager by my faith—either his muse

Was the recording angel, or that hand

Cherubic, which fills up the Book of Life,

Caught what the last relaxing gripe let fall

By a death-bed at Stratford, and hence-forth

Holds Shakespeare’s pen. Now strain your sinews, poet,

And top your Pelion,—Milton Switzerland,

And English Shakespeare—

Balder.This dear English land!

This happy England, loud with brooks and birds,

Shining with harvests, cool with dewy trees,

And bloom’d from hill to dell; but whose best flowers

Are daughters, and Ophelia still more fair

Than any rose she weaves; whose noblest floods

The pulsing torrent of a nation’s heart:

Whose forests stronger than her native oaks

Are living men; and whose unfathom’d lakes

Forever calm the unforgotten dead

In quiet graveyards willow’d seemly round,

O’er which To-day bends sad, and sees his face.

Whose rocks are rights, consolidate of old

Thro’ unremember’d years, around whose base

The ever-surging peoples roll and roar

Perpetual, as around her cliffs the seas

That only wash them whiter; and whose mountains,

Souls that from this mere footing of the earth

Lift their great virtues thro’ all clouds of Fate

Up to the very heavens, and make them rise

To keep the gods above us!