Home  »  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895  »  From “Orion: An Epic Poem”

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

Richard Henry Horne 1802–84

From “Orion: An Epic Poem”


AFAR the hunt in vales below has sped,

But now behind the wooded mount ascends,

Threading its upward mazes of rough boughs,

Moss’d trunks and thickets, still invisible,

Although its jocund music fills the air

With cries and laughing echoes, mellow’d all

By intervening woods and the deep hills.

The scene in front two sloping mountain-sides

Display’d; in shadow one, and one in light

The loftiest on its summit now sustain’d

The sun-beams, raying like a mighty wheel

Half seen, which left the front-ward surface dark

In its full breadth of shade; the coming sun

Hidden as yet behind: the other mount,

Slanting oppos’d, swept with an eastward face,

Catching the golden light. Now, while the peal

Of the ascending chase told that the rout

Still midway rent the thickets, suddenly

Along the broad and sunny slope appear’d

The shadow of a stag that fled across,

Follow’d by a Giant’s shadow with a spear!

“Hunter of Shadows, thou thyself a Shade,”

Be comforted in this,—that substance holds

No higher attributes; one sovereign law

Alike develops both, and each shall hunt

Its proper object, each in turn commanding

The primal impulse, till gaunt Time become

A Shadow cast on Space—to fluctuate,

Waiting the breath of the Creative Power

To give new types for substance yet unknown:

So from faint nebulæ bright worlds are born;

So worlds return to vapor. Dreams design

Most solid lasting things, and from the eye

That searches life, death evermore retreats.

Substance unseen, pure mythos, or mirage,

The shadowy chase has vanish’d; round the swell

Of the near mountain sweeps a bounding stag;

Round whirls a god-like Giant close behind;

O’er a fallen trunk the stag with slippery hoofs

Stumbles—his sleek knees lightly touch the grass—

Upward he springs—but in his forward leap,

The Giant’s hand hath caught him fast beneath

One shoulder tuft, and, lifted high in air,

Sustains! Now Phoibos’ chariot rising bursts

Over the summits with a circling blaze,

Gilding those frantic antlers, and the head

Of that so glorious Giant in his youth,

Who, as he turns, the form succinct beholds

Of Artemis,—her bow, with points drawn back,

A golden hue on her white rounded breast

Reflecting, while the arrow’s ample barb

Gleams o’er her hand, and at his heart is aim’d.

The Giant lower’d his arm—away the stag

Breast forward plunged into a thicket near;

The Goddess paus’d, and dropp’d her arrow’s point—

Rais’d it again—and then again relax’d

Her tension, and while slow the shaft came gliding

Over the centre of the bow, beside

Her hand, and gently droop’d, so did the knee

Of that heroic shape do reverence

Before the Goddess. Their clear eyes had ceas’d

To flash, and gaz’d with earnest softening light.


O Meropé!

And where art thou, while idly thus I rave?

Runs there no hope—no fever through thy veins,

Like that which leaps and courses round my heart?

Shall I resign thee, passion-perfect maid,

Who in mortality’s most finish’d work

Rank’st highest—and lov’st me, even as I love?

Rather possess thee with a tenfold stress

Of love ungovernable, being denied!

’Gainst fraud what should I cast down in reply?

What but a sword, since force must do me right,

And strength was given unto me with my birth,

In mine own hand, and by ascendancy

Over my giant brethren. Two remain,

Whom prayers to dark Hephaistos and my sire

Poseidon, shall awaken into life;

And we will tear up gates, and scatter towers,

Until I bear off Meropé. Sing on!

Sing on, great tempest! in the darkness sing!

Thy madness is a music that brings calm

Into my central soul; and from its waves

That now with joy begin to heave and gush,

The burning Image of all life’s desire,

Like an absorbing fire-breath’d phantom-god,

Rises and floats!—here touching on the foam,

There hovering over it; ascending swift

Starward, then swooping down the hemisphere

Upon the lengthening javelins of the blast.

Why paus’d I in the palace-groves to dream

Of bliss, with all its substance in my reach?

Why not at once, with thee enfolded, whirl

Deep down the abyss of ecstasy, to melt

All brain and being where no reason is,

Or else the source of reason? But the roar

Of Time’s great wings, which ne’er had driven me

By dread events, nor broken-down old age,

Back on myself, the close experience

Of false mankind, with whispers cold and dry

As snake-songs midst stone hollows, thus has taught me,

The giant hunter, laugh’d at by the world,

Not to forget the substance in the dream

Which breeds it. Both must melt and merge in one.

Now shall I overcome thee, body and soul,

And like a new-made element brood o’er thee

With all devouring murmurs! Come, my love!

Come, life’s blood-tempest!—come, thou blinding storm,

And clasp the rigid pine—this mortal frame

Wrap with thy whirlwinds, rend and wrestle down,

And let my being solve its destiny,

Defying, seeking, thine extremest power;

Famish’d and thirsty for the absorbing doom

Of that immortal death which leads to life,

And gives a glimpse of Heaven’s parental scheme.


Within the isle, far from the walks of men,

Where jocund chase was never heard, nor hoof

Of Satyr broke the moss, nor any bird

Sang, save at times the nightingale—but only

In his prolong’d and swelling tones, nor e’er

With wild joy and hoarse laughing melody,

Closing the ecstasy, as is his wont,—

A forest, separate and far withdrawn

From all the rest, there grew. Old as the earth,

Of cedar was it, lofty in its glooms

When the sun hung o’erhead, and, in its darkness,

Like Night when giving birth to Time’s first pulse.

Silence had ever dwelt there; but of late

Came faint sounds, with a cadence droning low,

From the far depths, as of a cataract

Whose echoes midst incumbent foliage died.

From one high mountain gush’d a flowing stream,

Which through the forest pass’d, and found a fall

Within, none knew where, then roll’d tow’rds the sea.

There, underneath the boughs, mark where the gleam

Of sunrise through the roofing’s chasm is thrown

Upon a grassy plot below, whereon

The shadow of a stag stoops to the stream

Swift rolling tow’rds the cataract, and drinks deeply.

Throughout the day unceasingly it drinks,

While ever and anon the nightingale,

Not waiting for the evening, swells his hymn—

His one sustain’d and heaven-aspiring tone—

And when the sun hath vanish’d utterly,

Arm over arm the cedars spread their shade,

With arching wrist and long extended hands,

And graveward fingers lengthening in the moon,

Above that shadowy stag whose antlers still

Hang o’er the stream. Now came a richton’d voice

Out of the forest depths, and sang this lay,

With deep speech intervall’d and tender pause.

“If we have lost the world what gain is ours!

Hast thou not built a palace of more grace

Than marble towers? These trunks are pillars rare,

Whose roof embowers with far more grandeur. Say,

Hast thou not found a bliss with Meropé,

As full of rapture as existence new?

’T is thus with me. I know that thou art bless’d.

Our inmost powers, fresh wing’d, shall soar and dream

In realms of Elysian gleam, whose air—light—flowers,

Will ever be, though vague, most fair, most sweet,

Better than memory.—Look yonder, love!

What solemn image through the trunks is straying?

And now he doth not move, yet never turns

On us his visage of rapt vacancy!

It is Oblivion. In his hand—though nought

Knows he of this—a dusky purple flower

Droops over its tall stem. Again, ah see!

He wanders into mist, and now is lost.

Within his brain what lovely realms of death

Are pictur’d, and what knowledge through the doors

Of his forgetfulness of all the earth

A path may gain? Then turn thee, love, to me:

Was I not worth thy winning, and thy toil,

O earth-born son of Ocean? Melt to rain.”


Level with the summit of that eastern mount,

By slow approach, and like a promontory

Which seems to glide and meet a coming ship,

The pale-gold platform of the morning came

Towards the gliding mount. Against a sky

Of delicate purple, snow-bright courts and halls,

Touch’d with light silvery green, gleaming across,

Fronted by pillars vast, cloud-capitall’d,

With shafts of changeful pearl, all rear’d upon

An isle of clear aerial gold, came floating;

And in the centre, clad in fleecy white,

With lucid lilies in her golden hair,

Eos, sweet Goddess of the Morning, stood.

From the bright peak of that surrounded mount,

One step sufficed to gain the tremulous floor

Whereon the palace of the Morning shone,

Scarcely a bow-shot distant; but that step,

Orion’s humbled and still mortal feet

Dared not adventure. In the Goddess’ face

Imploringly he gaz’d. “Advance!” she said,

In tones more sweet than when some heavenly bird,

Hid in a rosy cloud, its morning hymn

Warbles unseen, wet with delicious dews,

And to earth’s flowers, all looking up in prayer,

Tells of the coming bliss. “Believe—advance!

Or, as the spheres move onward with their song

That calls me to awaken other lands,

That moment will escape which ne’er returns.”

Forward Orion stepp’d: the platform bright

Shook like the reflex of a star in water

Mov’d by the breeze, throughout its whole expanse;

And even the palace glisten’d fitfully,

As with electric shiver it sent forth

Odors of flowers divine and all fresh life.

Still stood he where he stepp’d, nor to return

Attempted. To essay one pace beyond

He felt no power—yet onward he advanced

Safe to the Goddess, who, with hand outstretch’d,

Into the palace led him. Grace and strength,

With sense of happy change to finer earth,

Freshness of nature, and belief in good,

Came flowing o’er his soul, and he was bless’d.

’T is always morning somewhere in the world,

And Eos rises, circling constantly

The varied regions of mankind. No pause

Of renovation and of freshening rays

She knows, but evermore her love breathes forth

On field and forest, as on human hope,

Health, beauty, power, thought, action, and advance.

All this Orion witness’d, and rejoiced.


’T was eve, and Time, his vigorous course pursuing,

Met Akinetos walking by the sea.

At sight of him the Father of the Hours

Paus’d on the sand,—which shrank, grew moist, and trembled

At that unwonted pressure of the God.

And thus with look and accent stern, he spake:

“Thou art the mortal who, with hand unmov’d,

Eastest the fruit of others’ toil; whose heart

Is but a vital engine that conveys

Blood, to no purpose, up and down thy frame;

Whose forehead is a large stone sepulchre

Of knowledge! and whose life but turns to waste

My measur’d hours, and earth’s material mass!”


Whereto the Great Unmov’d no answer made,—

And Time continued, sterner than before:

“O not-to-be-approv’d! thou Apathy,

Who gazest downward on that empty shell,—

Is it for thee, who bear’st the common lot

Of man, and art his brother in the fields,

From birth to funeral pyre; is it for thee,

Who didst derive from thy long-living sire

More knowledge than endows far better sons,

Thy lamp to burn within, and turn aside

Thy face from all humanity, or behold it

Without emotion, like some sea-shell’d thing

Staring around from a green hollow’d rock,

Not aiding, loving, caring—hoping aught—

Forgetting Nature, and by her forgot?”

Whereto, with mildness, Akinetos said,

“Hast thou consider’d of Eternity?”

“Profoundly have I done so, in my youth,”

Chronos replied, and bow’d his furrow’d head;

“Most, when my tender feet from Chaos trod

Stumbling,—and, doubtful of my eyes, my hands

The dazzling air explor’d. But, since that date,

So many ages have I told; so many,

Fleet after fleet on newly opening seas,

Descry before me, that of late my thoughts

Have rather dwelt on all around my path,

With anxious care. Well were it thus with thee.”

Then Akinetos calmly spake once more,

With eyes still bent upon the tide-ribb’d sands:

“And dost thou of To-morrow also think?”

Whereat, as one dismay’d by sudden thought

Of many crowding things that call him thence,

Time, with bent brows, went hurrying on his way.

Slow tow’rds his cave the Great Unmov’d repair’d,

And, with his back against the rock, sat down

Outside, half smiling in the pleasant air;

And in the lonely silence of the place

He thus, at length, discours’d unto himself:

“Orion, ever active and at work,

Honest and skilful, not to be surpass’d,

Drew misery on himself and those he lov’d;

Wrought his companions’ death,—and now hath found,

At Artemis’ hand, his own. So fares it ever

With the world’s builder. He, from wall to beam,

From pillar to roof, from shade to corporal form,

From the first vague Thought to the Temple vast,

A ceaseless contest with the crowd endures,

For whom he labors. Why then should we move?

Our wisdom cannot change whate’er’s decreed,

Nor e’en the acts or thoughts of brainless men:

Why then be mov’d? Best reason is most vain.

He who will do and suffer, must—and end.

Hence, death is not an evil, since it leads

To somewhat permanent, beyond the noise

Man maketh on the tabor of his will,

Until the small round burst, and pale he falls.

His ear is stuff’d with the grave’s earth, yet feels

The inaudible whispers of Eternity,

While Time runs shouting to Oblivion

In the upper fields! I would not swell that cry.”

Thus Akinetos sat from day to day,

Absorb’d in indolent sublimity,

Reviewing thoughts and knowledge o’er and o’er;

And now he spake, now sang unto himself,

Now sank to brooding silence. From above,

While passing, Time the rock touch’d!—and it ooz’d

Petrific drops—gently at first—and slow.

Reclining lonely in his fix’d repose,

The Great Unmov’d unconsciously became

Attach’d to that he press’d,—and gradually—

While his thoughts drifted to no shore—a part

O’ the rock. There clung the dead excrescence, till

Strong hands, descended from Orion, made

Large roads, built markets, granaries, and steep walls,—

Squaring down rocks for use, and common good.