Book 2

MEANWHILE the new-baptized, who yet remained At Jordan with the Baptist, and had seen Him whom they heard so late expressly called Jesus Messiah, Son of God, declared, And on that high authority had believed, And with him talked, and with him lodged--I mean Andrew and Simon, famous after known, With others, though in Holy Writ not named-- Now missing him, their joy so lately found, So lately found and so abruptly gone, Began to doubt, and doubted many days, And, as the days increased, increased their doubt. Sometimes they thought he might be only shewn, And for a time caught up to God, as once Moses was in the Mount and missing long, And the great Thisbite, who on fiery wheels Rode up to Heaven, yet once again to come. Therefore, as those young prophets then with care Sought lost Eliah, so in each place these Nigh to Bethabara--in Jericho The city of palms, AEnon, and Salem old, Machaerus, and each town or city walled On this side the broad lake Genezaret, Or in Peraea--but returned in vain. Then on the bank of Jordan, by a creek, Where winds with reeds and osiers whispering play, Plain fishermen (no greater men them call), Close in a cottage low together got, Their unexpected loss and plaints outbreathed:-- "Alas, from what high hope to what relapse Unlooked for are we fallen! Our eyes beheld Messiah certainly now come, so long Expected of our fathers; we have heard His words, his wisdom full of grace and truth. 'Now, now, for sure, deliverance is at hand; The kingdom shall to Israel be restored:' Thus we rejoiced, but soon our joy is turned Into perplexity and new amaze. For whither is he gone? what accident Hath rapt him from us? will he now retire After appearance, and again prolong Our expectation? God of Israel, Send thy Messiah forth; the time is come. Behold the kings of the earth, how they oppress Thy Chosen, to what highth their power unjust They have exalted, and behind them cast All fear of Thee; arise, and vindicate Thy glory; free thy people from their yoke! But let us wait; thus far He hath performed-- Sent his Anointed, and to us revealed him By his great Prophet pointed at and shown In public, and with him we have conversed. Let us be glad of this, and all our fears Lay on his providence; He will not fail, Nor will withdraw him now, nor will recall-- Mock us with his blest sight, then snatch him hence: Soon we shall see our hope, our joy, return." Thus they out of their plaints new hope resume To find whom at the first they found unsought. But to his mother Mary, when she saw Others returned from baptism, not her Son, Nor left at Jordan tidings of him none, Within her breast though calm, her breast though pure, Motherly cares and fears got head, and raised Some troubled thoughts, which she in sighs thus clad:-- "Oh, what avails me now that honour high, To have conceived of God, or that salute, 'Hail, highly favoured, among women blest!' While I to sorrows am no less advanced, And fears as eminent above the lot Of other women, by the birth I bore: In such a season born, when scarce a shed Could be obtained to shelter him or me From the bleak air? A stable was our warmth, A manger his; yet soon enforced to fly Thence into Egypt, till the murderous king Were dead, who sought his life, and, missing, filled With infant blood the streets of Bethlehem. From Egypt home returned, in Nazareth Hath been our dwelling many years; his life Private, unactive, calm, contemplative, Little suspicious to any king. But now, Full grown to man, acknowledged, as I hear, By John the Baptist, and in public shewn, Son owned from Heaven by his Father's voice, I looked for some great change. To honour? no; But trouble, as old Simeon plain foretold, That to the fall and rising he should be Of many in Israel, and to a sign Spoken against--that through my very soul A sword shall pierce. This is my favoured lot, My exaltation to afflictions high! Afflicted I may be, it seems, and blest! I will not argue that, nor will repine. But where delays he now? Some great intent Conceals him. When twelve years he scarce had seen, I lost him, but so found as well I saw He could not lose himself, but went about His Father's business. What he meant I mused-- Since understand; much more his absence now Thus long to some great purpose he obscures. But I to wait with patience am inured; My heart hath been a storehouse long of things And sayings laid up, pretending strange events." Thus Mary, pondering oft, and oft to mind Recalling what remarkably had passed Since first her Salutation heard, with thoughts Meekly composed awaited the fulfilling: The while her Son, tracing the desert wild, Sole, but with holiest meditations fed, Into himself descended, and at once All his great work to come before him set-- How to begin, how to accomplish best His end of being on Earth, and mission high. For Satan, with sly preface to return, Had left him vacant, and with speed was gone Up to the middle region of thick air, Where all his Potentates in council sate. There, without sign of boast, or sign of joy, Solicitous and blank, he thus began:-- "Princes, Heaven's ancient Sons, AEthereal Thrones-- Daemonian Spirits now, from the element Each of his reign allotted, rightlier called Powers of Fire, Air, Water, and Earth beneath (So may we hold our place and these mild seats Without new trouble!)--such an enemy Is risen to invade us, who no less Threatens than our expulsion down to Hell. I, as I undertook, and with the vote Consenting in full frequence was impowered, Have found him, viewed him, tasted him; but find Far other labour to be undergone Than when I dealt with Adam, first of men, Though Adam by his wife's allurement fell, However to this Man inferior far-- If he be Man by mother's side, at least With more than human gifts from Heaven adorned, Perfections absolute, graces divine, And amplitude of mind to greatest deeds. Therefore I am returned, lest confidence Of my success with Eve in Paradise Deceive ye to persuasion over-sure Of like succeeding here. I summon all Rather to be in readiness with hand Or counsel to assist, lest I, who erst Thought none my equal, now be overmatched." So spake the old Serpent, doubting, and from all With clamour was assured their utmost aid At his command; when from amidst them rose Belial, the dissolutest Spirit that fell, The sensualest, and, after Asmodai, The fleshliest Incubus, and thus advised:-- "Set women in his eye and in his walk, Among daughters of men the fairest found. Many are in each region passing fair As the noon sky, more like to goddesses Than mortal creatures, graceful and discreet, Expert in amorous arts, enchanting tongues Persuasive, virgin majesty with mild And sweet allayed, yet terrible to approach, Skilled to retire, and in retiring draw Hearts after them tangled in amorous nets. Such object hath the power to soften and tame Severest temper, smooth the rugged'st brow, Enerve, and with voluptuous hope dissolve, Draw out with credulous desire, and lead At will the manliest, resolutest breast, As the magnetic hardest iron draws. Women, when nothing else, beguiled the heart Of wisest Solomon, and made him build, And made him bow, to the gods of his wives." To whom quick answer Satan thus returned:-- "Belial, in much uneven scale thou weigh'st All others by thyself. Because of old Thou thyself doat'st on womankind, admiring Their shape, their colour, and attractive grace, None are, thou think'st, but taken with such toys. Before the Flood, thou, with thy lusty crew, False titled Sons of God, roaming the Earth, Cast wanton eyes on the daughters of men, And coupled with them, and begot a race. Have we not seen, or by relation heard, In courts and regal chambers how thou lurk'st, In wood or grove, by mossy fountain-side, In valley or green meadow, to waylay Some beauty rare, Calisto, Clymene, Daphne, or Semele, Antiopa, Or Amymone, Syrinx, many more Too long--then lay'st thy scapes on names adored, Apollo, Neptune, Jupiter, or Pan, Satyr, or Faun, or Silvan? But these haunts Delight not all. Among the sons of men How many have with a smile made small account Of beauty and her lures, easily scorned All her assaults, on worthier things intent! Remember that Pellean conqueror, A youth, how all the beauties of the East He slightly viewed, and slightly overpassed; How he surnamed of Africa dismissed, In his prime youth, the fair Iberian maid. For Solomon, he lived at ease, and, full Of honour, wealth, high fare, aimed not beyond Higher design than to enjoy his state; Thence to the bait of women lay exposed. But he whom we attempt is wiser far Than Solomon, of more exalted mind, Made and set wholly on the accomplishment Of greatest things. What woman will you find, Though of this age the wonder and the fame, On whom his leisure will voutsafe an eye Of fond desire? Or should she, confident, As sitting queen adored on Beauty's throne, Descend with all her winning charms begirt To enamour, as the zone of Venus once Wrought that effect on Jove (so fables tell), How would one look from his majestic brow, Seated as on the top of Virtue's hill, Discountenance her despised, and put to rout All her array, her female pride deject, Or turn to reverent awe! For Beauty stands In the admiration only of weak minds Led captive; cease to admire, and all her plumes Fall flat, and shrink into a trivial toy, At every sudden slighting quite abashed. Therefore with manlier objects we must try His constancy--with such as have more shew Of worth, of honour, glory, and popular praise (Rocks whereon greatest men have oftest wrecked); Or that which only seems to satisfy Lawful desires of nature, not beyond. And now I know he hungers, where no food Is to be found, in the wide Wilderness: The rest commit to me; I shall let pass No advantage, and his strength as oft assay." He ceased, and heard their grant in loud acclaim; Then forthwith to him takes a chosen band Of Spirits likest to himself in guile, To be at hand and at his beck appear, If cause were to unfold some active scene Of various persons, each to know his part; Then to the desert takes with these his flight, Where still, from shade to shade, the Son of God, After forty days' fasting, had remained, Now hungering first, and to himself thus said:-- "Where will this end? Four times ten days I have passed Wandering this woody maze, and human food Nor tasted, nor had appetite. That fast To virtue I impute not, or count part Of what I suffer here. If nature need not, Or God support nature without repast, Though needing, what praise is it to endure? But now I feel I hunger; which declares Nature hath need of what she asks. Yet God Can satisfy that need some other way, Though hunger still remain. So it remain Without this body's wasting, I content me, And from the sting of famine fear no harm; Nor mind it, fed with better thoughts, that feed Me hungering more to do my Father's will." It was the hour of night, when thus the Son Communed in silent walk, then laid him down Under the hospitable covert nigh Of trees thick interwoven. There he slept, And dreamed, as appetite is wont to dream, Of meats and drinks, nature's refreshment sweet. Him thought he by the brook of Cherith stood, And saw the ravens with their horny beaks Food to Elijah bringing even and morn-- Though ravenous, taught to abstain from what they brought; He saw the Prophet also, how he fled Into the desert, and how there he slept Under a juniper--then how, awaked, He found his supper on the coals prepared, And by the Angel was bid rise and eat, And eat the second time after repose, The strength whereof sufficed him forty days: Sometimes that with Elijah he partook, Or as a guest with Daniel at his pulse. Thus wore out night; and now the harald Lark Left his ground-nest, high towering to descry The Morn's approach, and greet her with his song. As lightly from his grassy couch up rose Our Saviour, and found all was but a dream; Fasting he went to sleep, and fasting waked. Up to a hill anon his steps he reared, From whose high top to ken the prospect round, If cottage were in view, sheep-cote, or herd; But cottage, herd, or sheep-cote, none he saw-- Only in a bottom saw a pleasant grove, With chaunt of tuneful birds resounding loud. Thither he bent his way, determined there To rest at noon, and entered soon the shade High-roofed, and walks beneath, and alleys brown, That opened in the midst a woody scene; Nature's own work it seemed (Nature taught Art), And, to a superstitious eye, the haunt Of wood-gods and wood-nymphs. He viewed it round; When suddenly a man before him stood, Not rustic as before, but seemlier clad, As one in city or court or palace bred, And with fair speech these words to him addressed:-- "With granted leave officious I return, But much more wonder that the Son of God In this wild solitude so long should bide, Of all things destitute, and, well I know, Not without hunger. Others of some note, As story tells, have trod this wilderness: The fugitive Bond-woman, with her son, Outcast Nebaioth, yet found here relief By a providing Angel; all the race Of Israel here had famished, had not God Rained from heaven manna; and that Prophet bold, Native of Thebez, wandering here, was fed Twice by a voice inviting him to eat. Of thee those forty days none hath regard, Forty and more deserted here indeed." To whom thus Jesus:--"What conclud'st thou hence? They all had need; I, as thou seest, have none." "How hast thou hunger then?" Satan replied. "Tell me, if food were now before thee set, Wouldst thou not eat?" "Thereafter as I like the giver," answered Jesus. "Why should that Cause thy refusal?" said the subtle Fiend. "Hast thou not right to all created things? Owe not all creatures, by just right, to thee Duty and service, nor to stay till bid, But tender all their power? Nor mention I Meats by the law unclean, or offered first To idols--those young Daniel could refuse; Nor proffered by an enemy--though who Would scruple that, with want oppressed? Behold, Nature ashamed, or, better to express, Troubled, that thou shouldst hunger, hath purveyed From all the elements her choicest store, To treat thee as beseems, and as her Lord With honour. Only deign to sit and eat." He spake no dream; for, as his words had end, Our Saviour, lifting up his eyes, beheld, In ample space under the broadest shade, A table richly spread in regal mode, With dishes piled and meats of noblest sort And savour--beasts of chase, or fowl of game, In pastry built, or from the spit, or boiled, Grisamber-steamed; all fish, from sea or shore, Freshet or purling brook, of shell or fin, And exquisitest name, for which was drained Pontus, and Lucrine bay, and Afric coast. Alas! how simple, to these cates compared, Was that crude Apple that diverted Eve! And at a stately sideboard, by the wine, That fragrant smell diffused, in order stood Tall stripling youths rich-clad, of fairer hue Than Ganymed or Hylas; distant more, Under the trees now tripped, now solemn stood, Nymphs of Diana's train, and Naiades With fruits and flowers from Amalthea's horn, And ladies of the Hesperides, that seemed Fairer than feigned of old, or fabled since Of faery damsels met in forest wide By knights of Logres, or of Lyones, Lancelot, or Pelleas, or Pellenore. And all the while harmonious airs were heard Of chiming strings or charming pipes; and winds Of gentlest gale Arabian odours fanned From their soft wings, and Flora's earliest smells. Such was the splendour; and the Tempter now His invitation earnestly renewed:-- "What doubts the Son of God to sit and eat? These are not fruits forbidden; no interdict Defends the touching of these viands pure; Their taste no knowledge works, at least of evil, But life preserves, destroys life's enemy, Hunger, with sweet restorative delight. All these are Spirits of air, and woods, and springs, Thy gentle ministers, who come to pay Thee homage, and acknowledge thee their Lord. What doubt'st thou, Son of God? Sit down and eat." To whom thus Jesus temperately replied:-- "Said'st thou not that to all things I had right? And who withholds my power that right to use? Shall I receive by gift what of my own, When and where likes me best, I can command? I can at will, doubt not, as soon as thou, Command a table in this wilderness, And call swift flights of Angels ministrant, Arrayed in glory, on my cup to attend: Why shouldst thou, then, obtrude this diligence In vain, where no acceptance it can find? And with my hunger what hast thou to do? Thy pompous delicacies I contemn, And count thy specious gifts no gifts, but guiles." To whom thus answered Satan, male-content:-- "That I have also power to give thou seest; If of that power I bring thee voluntary What I might have bestowed on whom I pleased, And rather opportunely in this place Chose to impart to thy apparent need, Why shouldst thou not accept it? But I see What I can do or offer is suspect. Of these things others quickly will dispose, Whose pains have earned the far-fet spoil." With that Both table and provision vanished quite, With sound of harpies' wings and talons heard; Only the importune Tempter still remained, And with these words his temptation pursued:-- "By hunger, that each other creature tames, Thou art not to be harmed, therefore not moved; Thy temperance, invincible besides, For no allurement yields to appetite; And all thy heart is set on high designs, High actions. But wherewith to be achieved? Great acts require great means of enterprise; Thou art unknown, unfriended, low of birth, A carpenter thy father known, thyself Bred up in poverty and straits at home, Lost in a desert here and hunger-bit. Which way, or from what hope, dost thou aspire To greatness? whence authority deriv'st? What followers, what retinue canst thou gain, Or at thy heels the dizzy multitude, Longer than thou canst feed them on thy cost? Money brings honour, friends, conquest, and realms. What raised Antipater the Edomite, And his son Herod placed on Juda's throne, Thy throne, but gold, that got him puissant friends? Therefore, if at great things thou wouldst arrive, Get riches first, get wealth, and treasure heap-- Not difficult, if thou hearken to me. Riches are mine, fortune is in my hand; They whom I favour thrive in wealth amain, While virtue, valour, wisdom, sit in want." To whom thus Jesus patiently replied:-- "Yet wealth without these three is impotent To gain dominion, or to keep it gained-- Witness those ancient empires of the earth, In highth of all their flowing wealth dissolved; But men endued with these have oft attained, In lowest poverty, to highest deeds-- Gideon, and Jephtha, and the shepherd lad Whose offspring on the throne of Juda sate So many ages, and shall yet regain That seat, and reign in Israel without end. Among the Heathen (for throughout the world To me is not unknown what hath been done Worthy of memorial) canst thou not remember Quintius, Fabricius, Curius, Regulus? For I esteem those names of men so poor, Who could do mighty things, and could contemn Riches, though offered from the hand of kings. And what in me seems wanting but that I May also in this poverty as soon Accomplish what they did, perhaps and more? Extol not riches, then, the toil of fools, The wise man's cumbrance, if not snare; more apt To slacken virtue and abate her edge Than prompt her to do aught may merit praise. What if with like aversion I reject Riches and realms! Yet not for that a crown, Golden in shew, is but a wreath of thorns, Brings dangers, troubles, cares, and sleepless nights, To him who wears the regal diadem, When on his shoulders each man's burden lies; For therein stands the office of a king, His honour, virtue, merit, and chief praise, That for the public all this weight he bears. Yet he who reigns within himself, and rules Passions, desires, and fears, is more a king-- Which every wise and virtuous man attains; And who attains not, ill aspires to rule Cities of men, or headstrong multitudes, Subject himself to anarchy within, Or lawless passions in him, which he serves. But to guide nations in the way of truth By saving doctrine, and from error lead To know, and, knowing, worship God aright, Is yet more kingly. This attracts the soul, Governs the inner man, the nobler part; That other o'er the body only reigns, And oft by force--which to a generous mind So reigning can be no sincere delight. Besides, to give a kingdom hath been thought Greater and nobler done, and to lay down Far more magnanimous, than to assume. Riches are needless, then, both for themselves, And for thy reason why they should be sought-- To gain a sceptre, oftest better missed."