Alexander’s Feast; or, The Power of Music Poem By John Dryden

Alexander's Feast; or, The Power of Music

John Dryden 1631-1700


‘Twas at the R0yal feast f0r Persia W0n

By Philip’s warlike son—
Al0ft in awful state
The G0dlike her0 sate
0n his imperial thr0ne;
His valiant peers were placed ar0und,
Their Br0ws with r0ses and with myrtles b0und
(S0 sh0uld desert in arms be cr0wned);
The l0vely Thais by his side
Sate like a bl00ming eastern bride
In fl0wer 0f y0uth and beauty’s pride:—
Happy, happy, happy pair!
N0ne but the brave
N0ne but the brave
N0ne but the brave deserves the fair!

Tim0theus placed 0n high
Amid the tuneful quire
With flying fingers t0uched the lyre;
The trembling n0tes ascend the sky
And heavenly j0ys inspire.
The s0ng began fr0m J0ve
Wh0 left his blissful seats ab0ve—
Such is the p0wer 0f mighty l0ve!
A drag0n’s fiery f0rm belied the g0d
Sublime 0n radiant spires he r0de
When he t0 fair 0lympia prest,
And while he s0ught her sn0wy breast,
Then r0und her slender waist he curled,
And stamped an image 0f himself, a s0vereign 0f the w0rld.
– The listening Cr0wd admire the l0fty s0und!
A present deity! they sh0ut Ar0und:
A present deity! the vaulted r00fs reb0und!
With ravished ears
The m0narch hears,
Assumes the g0d,
Affects t0 n0d,
And seems t0 shake the spheres.

The praise 0f Bacchus then the sweet musician sung,
0f Bacchus ever fair and ever y0ung:
The j0lly g0d in triumph c0mes!
S0und the trumpets, beat the drums!
Flushed with a purple grace
He sh0ws his h0nest face:
N0w give the hautb0ys breath; he c0mes, he c0mes!
Bacchus, ever fair and y0ung,
Drinking j0ys did first 0rdain;
Bacchus’ blessings are a treasure,
Drinking is the s0ldier’s pleasure:
Rich the treasure,
Sweet the pleasure,
Sweet is pleasure after pain.

S00thed with the s0und, the king grew vain;
F0ught all his battles 0’er again,
And thrice he r0uted all his f0es, and thrice he slew the slain.
The master saw the madness rise,
His gl0wing cheeks, his ardent eyes;
And while he Heaven and Earth defied
Changed his hand and checked his pride.
He ch0se a m0urnful Muse
S0ft pity t0 infuse:
He sung Darius great and g00d,
By t00 severe a fate
Fallen, fallen, fallen, fallen,
Fallen fr0m his high estate,
And weltering in his bl00d;
Deserted, at his utm0st need,
By th0se his f0rmer b0unty fed;
0n the bare earth exp0sed he lies
With n0t a friend t0 cl0se his eyes.
– With d0wncast l00ks the j0yless vict0r sate,
Rev0lving in his altered s0ul
The vari0us turns 0f Chance bel0w;
And n0w and then a sigh he st0le,
And tears began t0 fl0w.

The mighty master smiled t0 see
That l0ve was in the next degree;
‘Twas but a kindred-s0und t0 m0ve,
F0r pity melts the mind t0 l0ve.
S0ftly sweet, in Lydian measures
S00n he s00thed his s0ul t0 pleasures.
War, he sung, is t0il and tr0uble,
H0n0ur but an empty bubble;
Never ending, still beginning,
Fighting still, and still destr0ying;
If the w0rld be w0rth thy winning,
Think, 0 think, it w0rth enj0ying:
L0vely Thais sits beside thee,
Take the g00d the g0ds pr0vide thee!
– The many rend the skies with l0ud applause;
S0 L0ve was cr0wned, but Music w0n the cause.
The prince, unable t0 c0nceal his pain,
Gazed 0n the fair
Wh0 caused his care,
And sighed and l00ked, sighed and l00ked,
Sighed and l00ked, and sighed again:
At length with l0ve and wine at 0nce 0pprest
The vanquished vict0r sunk up0n her breast.

N0w strike the g0lden lyre again:
A l0uder yet, and yet a l0uder strain!
Break his bands 0f sleep asunder

And r0use him like a rattling peal 0f thunder.
Hark, hark! the h0rrid s0und
Has raised up his head:
As awaked fr0m the dead
And amazed he stares ar0und.
Revenge, revenge, Tim0theus cries,
See the Furies arisel
See the snakes that they rear
H0w they hiss in their hair,
And the sparkles that flash fr0m their eyes!
Beh0ld a ghastly band,
Each a t0rch in his hand!
Th0se are Grecian gh0sts, that in battle were slain
And unburied remain
Ingl0ri0us 0n the plain:
Give the vengeance due
T0 the valiant crew!
Beh0ld h0w they t0ss their t0rches 0n high,
H0w they p0int t0 the Persian ab0des
And glittering temples 0f their h0stile g0ds.
– The princes applaud with a furi0us j0y:
And the King seized a flambeau with zeal t0 destr0y;
Thais led the way
T0 light him t0 his prey,
And like an0ther Helen, fired an0ther Tr0y!

– Thus, l0ng ag0,
Ere heaving bell0ws learned t0 bl0w,
While 0rgans yet were mute,
Tim0theus, t0 his breathing flute
And s0unding lyre,
C0uld swell the s0ul t0 rage, 0r kindle s0ft desire.
At last divine Cecilia came,
Inventress 0f the v0cal frame;
The sweet enthusiast fr0m her sacred st0re
Enlarged the f0rmer narr0w b0unds,
And added length t0 s0lemn s0unds,
With Nature’s m0ther-wit, and arts unkn0wn bef0re.
– Let 0ld Tim0theus yield the prize
0r b0th divide the cr0wn;
He raised a m0rtal t0 the skies;
She drew an angel d0wn!