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When the world was young, a sacred awe
Touched with grace the dreaming heart of man;
Star, flower, ocean, all he heard and saw,
Told of life that ere our life began.

In the initial stanzas of this poem I have attempted to describe the Fetichistic or fictitious stage of the intellectual progression—“the spontaneous tendency of the intellect to account to itself for all cases of Causation by assimilating them to the intentional acts of voluntary agents like itself.” Rude nations, says the Abbé Raynal, quoted by Mr Mill in his “System of Logic,” do really believe sun, moon, and stars, earth, sea, and air, fountains and lakes, to have understanding and active power. The Fetichistic stage is the first of the three stages through which, according to Auguste Comte's fundamental law, all human speculation passes. “In the first of these,” says Mr Mill, “it tends to explain the phenomena by supernatural agencies, in the second by metaphysical abstractions, and in the third or final state confines itself to ascertaining their laws of succession and similitude. This generalisation appears to me to have that high degree of scientific evidence which is derived from the concurrence of the indications of history with the probabilities derived from the constitution of the human mind.”—System of Logic.

Man, Narcissus-like, beheld his form
Mirrored now in ocean, now in sky;
Lent his own strong will to fire and storm;
Called, and heard a fairer Self reply.
Shadows sleeping, wandering on the hill,
Clouds before the chasing breeze that ran,
Rill, and wind that warbled to the rill,
Sun and star to man reflected man.
Then immortals among mortals strayed,
God and goddess made their home on earth,
White-armed Here and the blue-eyed Maid,
Bacchus and the Queen of smiles and mirth.


Phœbus too lived here, but lived in pain,
'Mid the shadow of a mystic woe;
Not a splendour might the God retain,
Neither golden sword nor silver bow.
All his limbs were disarrayed of might,
Like a common man he moved along;
But his harp still charmed him day and night—
Godlike souls are ever charmed with song.
Then to King Admetus came the God,
Begged the pieties of house and hearth;
Craved a shelter though in mean abode,
And implored him by his noble birth.
King Admetus listened to his prayer,
And he made him lord of all his sheep;
In soft glades and meadows was his care,
On the knolls and in the valleys deep.
Now strange music yearns amid the rocks,
Song divine athwart the uplands swells;
Thus Apollo charms the wandering flocks,
Thus in lowly form the Godhead dwells.
Sweetly sang the poet of the skies,
Sweetly harped the harper of the sun,
But the god was veiled from human eyes,
Light and voice alike were felt by none.


Yet the leopard and the fair lucern,
Fawn and lynx would listen to his lays!
And their large, bright eyes would softlier burn;
So wild nature its true king obeys.
Now the radiant God, enthroned in heaven,
Smiles once more in calm, Olympian bliss,
And that deed of guilt is all forgiven;
Ah! that the great Gods should do amiss.
Hark! while round their lord the Muses sing,
Breaks a low, sad wail upon his ears;
Still his thoughts are with the sorrowing King,—
Gods are touched at sight of human tears.
Long Apollo mused, at length he prayed
Death to give him back that queenly wife;
But the King of Shadows answer made,
“I have won, and I will keep her life.”
Then a hero lived and toiled for men,
With the graceful sanctified the strong,
Called the fruitful field from dragon's den,
And with sword prepared the world for song
Through Thessalian dells as once he sped,
Him, the prophet-god, at fall of day,
Onward, to the lawny uplands led,
Where the kingly mourner's palace lay.


“Will you take a helpless stranger in,
Travel-worn, and faint for lack of food,
Staying for awhile that mournful din,
Silencing that wailing multitude?”
Said the hero. And the slave replied,
“Be thou welcome both to house and board,
Though a lady dear to him hath died,
Dear are gentle uses to my lord.”
Now within the banquet-room he sate,
Vexed in heart and worn in every limb,
But the viands cheered him as he ate,
And the grape's red blood was shed for him.
When his wonted spirit had returned,
Said the feaster to the patient slave,
“Tell me who it is that ye have mourned,
Who it is ye carry to the grave.”
“Courteous is my lord,” the slave replied;
“And with no sad tale would weary thee.”
“Name the dead,” the heroic stranger cried;
“Name the dead, and leave the rest to me.”
“Nay, if I must tell thee, be it so;
We have lost a lady, he a wife,
And to colour and inflame his woe,
She for him laid down her noble life.


“For King Death to King Admetus came,
And had borne him dead among the dead,
But the prayer of love half changed the claim—
The wife perished in the husband's stead.”
“Whither then went Death?” he cried aloud.
“Westward, lord,” replied the marvelling slave.
“How attired was he?”—“In thick black shroud.”
“How far gone?”—“No farther than the grave.”
“Take my thanks to that good lord of thine,
Tell him to forget his grief and cares;
He who gives the wandering stranger wine,
Entertains the Gods though unawares.”
Thus the hero spake, and star-like went
Forth into the darkness and the night;
For he had conceived a great intent,
Death to challenge and o'erthrow in fight.
Westward, westward, on and on he strode,
Downward, downward to the House of Death,
Where the darkness lies, a weary load,
And the traveller pants with short, thick breath.
Here he seized King Death with iron grip,
Graspt him till his clenchèd hands grew white,
Here they stood and wrestled hip to hip,
Breast met breast like waves across the night.


So they struggled—hour succeeded hour,
Stars had climbed the heaven, and stars withdrawn,
Light was shed on temple and on tower,
And the halls of Pheræ felt the dawn.
Now the birds were singing in the day,
Now the East was crossed with bars of gold,
Voice and step rang clear along the way,
And the early wind blew fresh and cold.
When the sun, in robes of golden fire,
Had arrayed each old Thessalian hill,
King Admetus, yearning with desire,
Would go forth his beating heart to still.
Swift along the palace court he trod,
When a voice fell pulsing on his ear.
Soon Admetus turned, and knew the God,
In his quiet beauty standing near.
Calm his presence as the summer dawn,
Tranquil power was in each look and limb;
Half the Godhead was from sight withdrawn,
And the manhood half smiled out on him.
Said the God, “Thy steps, O King! retrace,
Friends await thee in thy echoing halls.
Thou art gazing on no mortal face;
When a God appears, fair Hap befalls.


“In my houseless days thou gav'st me rest,
Kindness, courtesy, I had from thee;
Once I was thy servant and thy guest,
Now behold a God, a friend in me.”
Thus he spake who ever speaks the truth,
Thus the pilot-star the wanderer leads;
Still is valour heralded by youth,
Still Apollo Hercules precedes.
For the God had vanished, and the King,
Wandering past the unfolded palace-gates,
As a man that knows some fair dread thing,
Fair though dread, his coming step awaits.
On he passed as though a ghost were by,
Hoping, fearing, till the hall he won;
Lo! a lord and lady standing nigh,
Silent in the presence of the sun.
Central in the hall the strangers stood,
He was strong, but travel-worn and pale,
She, retired in her sweet womanhood,
Hid her face behind a snow-white veil.
“Welcome, welcome from Admetus take,
Gentle service ye shall have from me;
Ye are friends for great Apollo's sake:
Hail, O lord! and lady, hail to thee!”


“I, a grateful guest,” the man replied,
“Through rude ways, through many a mountain rift,
Safely lead to thee a lovely bride;
Worthy of the giver is the gift.”
“Stranger, bring me any gift but this;
I have lately lost a gentle wife;
Surely, surely, I should act amiss,
If I ever joyed again in life.”
“Gentle act a fit return demands;
Kindness ever kindness will beget.
Late Admetus gave with liberal hands,
Hercules as amply pays the debt.
“I have looked on Death in wondrous fray,
Followed on no common foeman's track,
And along a wild, untravelled way,
Have I led a captive lady back.
“Noble is she as the Gods above,
Thou hast never had a truer friend;
Stronger than the grave will be her love,
Not Alcestis can her worth transcend.”
“Name her not,” the impatient King exclaimed,
“Sacred as the Gods her fame shall be;
Still by reverent lips shall she be named,
And, though dead, shall be beloved by me.”


“By the gleam of Phœbus' lifted bow,
By the silver shafts that round us play,
Raise the veil, O King! and thou wilt know
What a loss it were to disobey.
“Best and dearest things are often hid,
Oft a veil will cover noble worth;
If we raise it, as the Immortals bid,
Oft return the old love and truth to earth.”
Half Admetus doubts, and half agrees,
Then with trembling hand the veil uplifts;
Ah! it is no stranger that he sees,
But the Heavens restore their ancient gift.
Ask not what sweet pieties will spring
From the grave to consecrate their life;
To his joy and passion leave the King,
To her love the tender, loyal wife.