Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, JUDICIUM PARIDIS, by EDWARD ROBERT BULWER-LYTTON

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

JUDICIUM PARIDIS, by                 Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography
First Line: I said, when young, 'beauty's the supreme joy'
Last Line: Renders me back a saint unto myself!
Alternate Author Name(s): Meredith, Owen; Lytton, 1st Earl Of; Lytton, Robert
Subject(s): Beauty; Youth; Aging; Wisdom; Courtship; Time; Likes & Dislikes

I SAID, when young, "Beauty 's the supreme joy.
Her I will choose, and in all forms will face her;
Eye to eye, lip to lip, and so embrace her
With my whole heart." I said this being a boy.

"First, I will seek her, -- naked, or clad only
In her own godhead, as I know of yore
Great bards beheld her." So by sea and shore
I sought her, and among the mountains lonely.

"There be great sunsets in the wondrous West;
And marvel in the orbings of the moon;
And glory in the jubilees of June;
And power in the deep ocean. For the rest,

"Green-glaring glaciers; purple clouds of pine
White walls of ever-roaring cataracts;
Blue thunder drifting over thirsty tracts;
The homes of eagles; these, too, are divine,

"And terror shall not daunt me -- so it be
Beautiful -- or in storm or in eclipse:
Rocking pink shells, or wrecking freighted ships,
I shall not shrink to find her in the sea.

"Next, I will seek her -- in all shapes of wood,
Or brass, or marble; or in colors clad;
And sensuous lines, to make my spirit glad.
And she shall change her dress with every mood.

"Rose-latticed casements, lone in summer lands --
Some witch's bower: pale sailors on the marge
Of magic seas, in an enchanted barge
Stranded, at sunset, upon jewelled sands:

"White nymphs among the lilies: shepherd kings:
And pink-hooved Fawns: and mooned Endymions:
From every channel through which Beauty runs
To fertilize the world with lovely things.

"I will draw freely, and be satisfied.
Also, all legends of her apparition
To men, in earliest times, in each condition,
I will inscribe on portraits of my bride.

"Then, that no single sense of her be wanting,
Music; and all voluptuous combinations
Of sound, with their melodious palpitations
To charm the ear, the cells of fancy haunting.

"And in her courts my life shall be outrolled
As one unfurls some gorgeous tapestry,
Wrought o'er with old Olympian heraldry,
All purple-woven stiff with blazing gold.

"And I will choose no sight for tears to flow:
I will not look at sorrow: I will see
Nothing less fair and full of majesty
Than young Apollo leaning on his bow.

"And I will let things come and go: nor range
For knowledge: but from moments pluck delight,
The while the great days ope and shut in light,
And wax and wane about me, rich with change.

"Some cup of dim hills, where a white moon lies,
Dropt out of weary skies without a breath,
In a great pool: a slumbrous vale beneath:
And blue damps prickling into white fire-flies:

"Some sunset vision of an Oread, less
Than half an hour ere moonrise caught asleep
With a flusht cheek, among crusht violets deep, --
A warm half-glimpse of milk-white nakedness,

"On sumptuous summer eves: shall wake for me
Rapture from all the various stops of life:
Making it like some charmed Arcadian fife
Filled by a wood-god with his ecstasy."

These things I said while I was yet a boy,
And the world showed as between dream and waking
A man may see the face he loves. So, breaking
Silence, I cried ... "Thou art the supreme Joy!"

My spirit, as a lark hid near the sun,
Carolled at morning. But ere she had dropt
Half down the rainbow-colored years that propped
Her gold cloud up, and broadly, one by one

The world's great harvest-lands broke on her eye,
She changed her tone, ... "What is it I may keep?
For look here, how the merry reapers reap:
Even children glean: and each puts something by.

"The pomps of morning pass: when evening comes,
What is retained of these which I may show?
If for the hills I leave the fields below
I fear to die an exile from men's homes.

"Though here I see the orient pageants pass,
I am not richer than the merest hind
That toils below, all day, among his kind,
And clinks at eve glad horns in the dry grass."

Then, pondering long, at length I made confession.
"I have erred much, rejecting all that man did:
For all my pains I shall go emptyhanded:
And Beauty, of its nature foils possession."

Thereafter, I said ... "Knowledge is most fair.
Surely to know is better than to see.
To see is loss: to know is gain: and we
Grow old. I will store thriftily, with care."

In which mood I endured for many years,
Valuing all things for their further uses:
And seeking knowledge at all open sluices:
Though oft the stream turned brackish with my tears.

Yet not the less, for years in this same mood
I rested: nor from any object turned
That had its secret to be spelled and learned,
Murmuring ever, "Knowledge is most good."

Unto which end I shunned the revelling
And ignorant crowd, that eat the fruits and die:
And called out Plato from his century
To be my helpmate: and made Homer sing.

Until the awful Past in gathered heaps
Weighed on my brain, and sunk into my soul,
And saddened through my nature, till the whole
Of life was darkened downward to the deeps.

And, wave on wave, the melancholy ages
Crept o'er my spirit: and the years displaced
The landmarks of the days: life waned, effaced
From action by the sorrows of the sages:

And my identity became at last
The record of those others: or, if more,
A hollow shell the sea sung in: a shore
Of footprints which the waves washed from it fast.

And all was as a dream whence, holding breath,
It seemed, at times, just possible to break
By some wild nervous effort, with a shriek,
Into the real world of life and death.

But that thought saved me. Through the dark I screamed
Against the darkness, and the darkness broke,
And broke that nightmare: back to life I woke,
Though weary with the dream which I had dreamed.

O life! life! life! With laughter and with tears
I tried myself: I knew that I had need
Of pain to prove that this was life indeed,
With its warm privilege of hopes and fears.

O Love of man made Life of man, that saves!
O man, that standest looking on the light:
That standest on the forces of the night:
That standest up between the stars and graves!

O man! by man's dread privilege of pain,
Dare not to scorn thine own soul nor thy brother's:
Though thou be more or less than all the others.
Man's life is all too sad for man's disdain.

The smiles of seraphs are less awful far
Than are the tears of this humanity,
That sound, in dropping, through Eternity,
Heard in God's ear beyond the furthest star.

If that be true, -- the hereditary hate
Of Love's lost Rebel, since the worlds began, --
The very Fiend, in hating, honors Man:
Flattering with Devil-homage Man's estate.

If two Eternities, at strife for us,
Around each human soul wage silent war,
Dare we disdain ourselves, though fall'n we are,
With Hell and Heaven looking on us thus!

Whom God hath loved, whom Devils dare not scorn,
Despise not thou, -- the meanest human creature.
Climb, if thou canst, the heights of thine own nature,
And look toward Paradise where each was born.

So I spread sackcloth on my former pride:
And sat down, clothed and covered up with shame:
And cried to God to take away my blame
Among my brethren: and to these I cried

To come between my crime and my despair,
That they might help my heart up, when God sent
Upon my soul its proper punishment,
Lest that should be too great for me to bear.

And so I made my choice: and learned to live
Again, and worship, as my spirit yearned:
So much had been admired -- so much been learned --
So much been given me -- O, how much to give!

Here is the choice, and now the time, O chooser!
Endless the consequence though brief the choice.
Echoes are waked down ages by thy voice:
Speak: and be thou the gainer or the loser.

And I bethought me long ... "Though garners split,
If none but thou be fed art thou more full?"
For surely Knowledge and the Beautiful
Are human; must have love, or die for it!

To Give is better than to Know or See:
And both are means: and neither is the end:
Knowing and seeing, if none call thee friend,
Beauty and knowledge have done naught for thee.

Though I at Aphrodite all day long
Gaze until sunset with a thirsty eye,
I shall not drain her boundless beauty dry
By that wild gaze: nor do her fair face wrong.

For who gives, giving, doth win back his gift:
And knowledge by division grows to more:
Who hides the Master's talent shall die poor,
And starve at last of his own thankless thrift.

I did this for another: and, behold!
My work hath blood in it: but thine hath none:
Done for thyself, it dies in being done:
To what thou buyest thou thyself art sold.

Give thyself utterly away. Be lost.
Choose some one, something: not thyself, thine own:
Thou canst not perish: but, thrice greater grown, --
Thy gain the greatest where thy loss was most, --

Thou in another shalt thyself new-find.
The single globule, lost in the wide sea,
Becomes an ocean. Each identity
Is greatest in the greatness of its kind.

Who serves for gain, a slave, by thankless pelf
Is paid: who gives himself is priceless, free.
I give myself, a man, to God: lo, He
Renders me back a saint unto myself!

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