Tess is a fine poem, beautiful in detail, powerful as a whole ; leaving the same sort of impression of sad majesty upon us as many of the finest Greek dramas themselves ; combining the self- restrained and subdued passion of the antique style, with here and
there a touch of that luxuriance of conception, and everywhere that wider range of emotions and deeper love of natural beauty, charac- teristic of the modern. To whose pen we owe it does not appear to be known. It might have been taken for Mr. Matthew Arnold's, but for a less supremely intellectual, a profounder ethical and moral essence than it usually pleases him to embody ; and Philoctetes is certainly as far above Merope in success of execution as Mr. Arnold's finest poems are above his lioorest. The author has taken occasionfrom the icing suffering Of Philoctetes in the island of Lemnos to make suffering, in its relation to the actual government of the world, the subject of his poem. He gives us two mottoes from the Philoctetes of Sophocles which taken together indicate his treatment of the subject,—the one the expression of the perplexity that his hero feels when, "while praising the god-like, I find the gods evil ;" the other, expressing the clear conviction of the purifying power of pain, of its being good to have suffered, and certain to yield a glory through the suffering. These two phases of feeling,—that suffering is an injustice in the gods who enforce it, a sign of divine malignity in the inflicters, and yet a sonree of triumphant glory to the endurers, if they endure it well, are in no degree reconciled. They are left side by side in all their apparent contradiction. The hard, new gods who torment man. are contrasted with the easy, kindly old Saturnian race of nature-gods, altogether to the former's disad- vantage. Zeus and hiscolleagues, who are supposed to decree these evils to man out of pure jealousy of man's greatness, or purely cruel delight in his pain, are the subjects of the bitterest invective ; and yet the anguish which they are supposed to inflict from the petty motives leads—how there is no sort of explanation, or even guess—to a glory unattainable by any other path. Very finely in the following passage is the supernatural impression belonging to long-enduring pain delineated, —the impression that it must be kept alive by some express divine volition,—as if nature's ordinary processes would either heal, or, if powerless to heal, succumb to pain, and bring "the assuager death" in a short time, and the fierce agony could only be prolonged through the direct power of a god :—
" I tell thee, Zeus, and thy new brood with thee, Blind rulers, that dishonoured as I am,
I most would scorn, whom all men scorn, a man
* Milectetes. A metrical Dratna—onor the Antique. Landon Alfrod W. Botutatt. 1860.
To be malignant as ye gods can be. For time had healed my evil long ago But ye withheld its healing. Nature loves And will not leave in pain her children long: No poison may endure her affluent year, Filling the brain with the light health of fields. So did the ancient gods ; but thou, 0 Zeus!
Bringest a bitter mist on the sweet day: Thou settest night with all her orbs to watch The pulses of my torment's tidal pain. Thou hart bound my brow with fire, and nerve by nerve Hast drawn the long fierce poison like a thread, For years unwasting, ample to destroy. And yet then never gayest me to end My life beneath thine anger. Is it much To pray to be as nothing since my breath So utterly offends thee ? gentle and mild, - I covet death the assuager, but thou sayest 'His finger shall not heal thee.' 0 sick heart,- And very painful limbs, and feeble soul!
Is it worth while for this great lord above To vex you thus ? What pastime can it be If giants ruin ant-hills? Strong art thou, Jealous and most resentful; the calm years Flow, and thy vengeancelivelier burns always.
But I, a man, would pity on my spear To keep a foeman writhing, tho' he had made My home a silence, and had given my son To the gray earth a soulless shadow of sleep."
And there is nothing in Goethe's lphigenia at once so Greek and so bitter, so penetrated by that piercing note which tells at once both the anguish and the self-restraint, as the following, from one of the choruses :—
" Mighty our masters and Very revengeful, Throned in the eminent Ambers of twilight, Helming the seasons in Pastime they sit ; Tossing a plague on some Fortunate island, Carelessly tossing it,
Nor has the conception of Fate been ever more finely embodied than in the following dialogue, though the turn of the language distinguishing between that which is "to the archer chance," and to the victim " necessity " has some trace in it perhaps of meta- physical discussions more modern than Plato's ; but the concep- tion of necessity as having more to do with suffering than joy, as being especially concerned in calamity, and having long lain in wait for the beast "sobbing and bleeding with the barb of steel that breeds the darkness," is, we believe, truly antique, and truly characteristic of an age which had just begun to grapple in- tellectually with calamity and death, and to regard them as suggesting, though not as yet receiving, a higher kind of explana- tion than even happiness and life :— " Panssares.
"Fate ore thy mother's mother drew her milk Decreed this anguish on thee : bear it thou.
"Why single me for agony from the herd ?
"The hunter draws his arrow to the head And looses on a thickly feeding drove, And lets the arrow have its choice and way ; He cares not which he strikes, so he strike well.
"But this is chance, and not necessity.
"Ay, to the archer chance, bet to the beast Sobbing and bleeding, with the barb of steel That breeds the darkness, 'tis necessity. Fate sowed the seed : the appointel hours it lay Sleeping, then ripened; lo ! the fruit is death."
In very fine contrast to all this painful intellectual grappling with pain, is a description of the stirrings of the nature-god Pan, "the bud-expander," in all the growths of fields and woods and flowers, which might well remind any critic of Mr. Arnold's Scholar Gipsy, or his recent poem in remembrance of Mr. Clough, called Thyrsis:— " Till Themis came, the golden-locked one,
And taught them ritual, justice, mercy, And many an old forgotten phrasing Of orphic hymn, And choral flutings and cakes well kneaded To Pan the bud-expander ; Which is a god seated in Nature's core ; Abiding with us, No cloudy ruler in the delicate air-belts; But in the ripening slips and tangles Of cork woods in the bull-rush pits where oxen Lie soaking chin-deep; In the mulberry orchard, With milky kexes and marrowy hemlocks.
Among the floating silken under-darnels.
Watching it go Strike and exterminate— Sweet is the cry to them— As when some hunter Exultingly hears The scream of the hare as His arrow bites under The fur to the vitals." He is a god this Pan Content to dwell among us, nor disdains The damp hot wood-smell.
He loves the flakey pine-boles sand-brown ; And, when the first few crisping leaf-falls herald The year at wasting, he feels the ivies Against the seamy beech-sides Push up their stem feet, And broaden downwards, rounded bndward Into their orbed tops of mealy whits-green. Pan too will watch in the open glaring Shadeless quarry quiet locusts Seething in the blaze on vine-leaves.
He will hear the sour sharp yelping Of the dog-troop on the sea-marge Tearing at some stranded carcase, Flushing up the cranes and herons."
One of the finest passages of the book, and of a kind very different in its beauty to the one we have just quoted, is that in which Philoctetes recounts his vision of his master Hercules, as he was taking the arrows bequeathed to him by Hercules from under the altar in the cave. There are touches in it rising above the highest ethics of ancient Greece, and touches, too, of natural description rather in the imaginative style of Tennyson than of the severe Greek classics,—but still, though it is a romantic and almost Christian form of a classical vision, the mould of the whole does not deviate far from that of the supernatural appearances con- nected with the death of (Edipus, and has just the same tone of blended awe and hope,—deepest awe and vaguest hope,—rising above mere marvel, and falling below the insight of faith :—
" Therefore I, kneeling, drew with reverent hand
These arrows from the altar, naming him, Thrice, Heracles, and rising to be gone Felt more than saw an excellent great light Rise from the altar, shape itself, and beat In on my brain like music ; giving glare And terror, woven with strange breathing sense Of joy in pain, and pain fused back in joy.
It held me very dumb and very still.
All eye and ear, my lips were baked to the teeth: And then the gradual feature line by line Moulded itself upon the screen of light.
And, as the Iris marks its bounds and bands From merest haze to her sharp-chorded seven, He came above it there complete at list.
So that the casual stranger who had seen Him once would say 'the same,' and yet great change Was on him like a god. The old look of pain So rolled away in radiances. White jets And little spikes of flame shot in and out The crispy locks immortal, interlaced
• With rosy shuddering shocks and sheets of light.
And yet I saw the glories of his eyes Were human yet and loved me, as a soft Suffusion veiled their immortality.
Then his lips trembled, and I heard a sound As of a single bird in a great wood, With sunlight blinding down thro' every branch, And utter silence else over and round.
'Comrade, well done : not vainly hast thou borne Pain hand in hand with greatness. My old robe Of agony bath even effect in thee.
But be thou comforted beholding me, And know that it is noblest to endure: So ehalt thou reach my brightness. And now hear And do this thing I tell thee. Go not thou Homewards, return thou to the host with these. It must be that my arrows shall take Troy. Learn to forgive, tho' these deserve it not. Go thou and prosper, so shalt thou ascend To some fair throne besides me, lord of pain, Fed with full peace and reaping grand reward.'
And darkness rushed between us."
The whole poem is one of sustained beauty and simplicity. The dragging pain of the poisoned wound of Philoctetes, the gangrene to his pride and his self-respect caused by the conduct of his old companions in arms in leaving him to die which had rendered that pain still more intolerable, the sense of slowly lapsed years and faint dreamy memories of earlier times which the langbage of the sufferer conveys, the tenderness and devotion of 2Egle forgetting everything in her delight in the prospect of his glory, the cold and callous craft of Ulysses when he comes to claim the aid he had neglected nine years before, the finely mixed emotions with which Philoctetes seizes his "mellow great revenge," and abandons it again at the command of his master's spirit seen in vision, the
) ...confused sense of something greater than the old natural life in the life of suffering, and yet the deep resentment towards those who inflict this destiny of greatness,—all these elements form together a poem of the noblest kind, in which a subject truly Greek is just illuminated with the dawn of that which still lay below the horizon of Sophocles. It is not that the poet assumes any thoughts absolutely invisible to the great poets of the great age of Greece, but that knowing as he does the clear and
brighter faith to which those thoughts were tending, he gives them a greater emphasis and a richer glow than was possible to the great Greek poet. The Philoctetes of Sophocles is a very dif- ferent poem from the Philoctetes now before us, and was certainly by no means his greatest work. Could Sophocles criticize the drama now before us, he might perhaps object that in style it deviates widely from his own severely statuesque productions, or resembles them only as Gibson's tinted sculpture resembles the great statues of antiquity; but he would scarcely, we think, hesitate to honour the mind which could in a different age produce so fine a modern study of the blind struggle of Greek fortitude with anguish both of mind and body, and the blind gropings of Greek conscience amidst the problems which that anguish could not but call up before the mind of the sufferer, but could not as yet resolve.