Alexander's Feast

'T was at the royal feast, for Persia won
        By Philip's warlike son:
        Aloft in awful state
        The godlike hero sate
        On his imperial throne;
    His valiant peers were plac'd around;
Their brows with roses and with myrtles bound:
    (So should desert in arms be crown'd.)
    The lovely Thais, by his side,
    Sate like a blooming Eastern bride
    In flow'r of youth and beauty's pride.
    Happy, happy, happy pair!
            None but the brave,
            None but the brave,
    None but the brave deserves the fair.


    Timotheus, plac'd on high
        Amid the tuneful choir,
    With flying fingers touch'd the lyre:
    The trembling notes ascend the sky,
        And heav'nly joys inspire.
        The song began from Jove,
    Who left his blissful seats above,
    (Such is the pow'r of mighty love.)
A dragon's fiery form belied the god:
    Sublime on radiant spires he rode,
    When he to fair Olympia press'd;
    And while he sought her snowy breast:
    Then, round her slender waist he curl'd,
And stamp'd an image of himself, a sov'reign of the world.
The list'ning crowd admire the lofty sound,
"A present deity," they shout around:
"A present deity," the vaulted roofs rebound.
            With ravish'd ears
            The monarch hears,
            Assumes the god,
            Affects to nod,
        And seems to shake the spheres.


The praise of Bacchus then the sweet musician sung,
Of Bacchus ever fair and ever young:
    The jolly god in triumph comes;
    Sound the trumpets; beat the drums;
        Flush'd with a purple grace
        He shews his honest face:
Now give the hautboys breath; he comes, he comes.
    Bacchus, ever fair and young
    Drinking joys did first ordain;
    Bacchus' blessings are a treasure,
    Drinking is the soldier's pleasure;
            Rich the treasure,
            Sweet the pleasure,
    Sweet is pleasure after pain.


Sooth'd with the sound, the king grew vain;
    Fought all his battles o'er again;
And thrice he routed all his foes; and thrice he slew the slain.
    The master saw the madness rise,
    His glowing cheeks, his ardent eyes;
    And, while he heav'n and earth defied,
    Chang'd his hand, and check'd his pride.
        He chose a mournful Muse,
        Soft pity to infuse;
    He sung Darius great and good,
        By too severe a fate,
    Fallen, fallen, fallen, fallen,
    Fallen from his high estate,
        And welt'ring in his blood;
    Deserted, at his utmost need
    By those his former bounty fed;
    On the bare earth expos'd he lies,
    With not a friend to close his eyes.
With downcast looks the joyless victor sate,
    Revolving in his alter'd soul
    The various turns of chance below;
    And, now and then, a sigh he stole,
        And tears began to flow.


    The mighty master smil'd to see
    That love was in the next degree;
    'T was but a kindred sound to move,
    For pity melts the mind to love.
    Softly sweet, in Lydian measures,
    Soon he sooth'd his soul to pleasures.
    "War," he sung, "is toil and trouble;
    Honour, but an empty bubble.
    Never ending, still beginning,
    Fighting still, and still destroying:
    If the world be worth thy winning,
    Think, O think it worth enjoying.
    Lovely Thais sits beside thee,
    Take the good the gods provide thee."
The many rend the skies with loud applause;
So Love was crown'd, but Music won the cause.
    The prince, unable to conceal his pain,
            Gaz'd on the fair
            Who caus'd his care,
    And sigh'd and look'd, sigh'd and look'd,
    Sigh'd and look'd, and sigh'd again:
At length, with love and wine at once oppress'd,
The vanquish'd victor sunk upon her breast.


    Now strike the golden lyre again:
A louder yet, and yet a louder strain.
    Break his bands of sleep asunder,
And rouse him, like a rattling peal of thunder.
        Hark, hark, the horrid sound
            Has rais'd up his head:
            As wak'd from the dead,
        And amaz'd, he stares around.
    "Revenge, revenge!" Timotheus cries,
        "See the Furies arise!
        See the snakes that they rear,
        How they hiss in their hair,
    And the sparkles that flash from their eyes!
        Behold a ghastly band,
            Each a torch in his hand!
Those are Grecian ghosts, that in battle were slain,
            And unburied remain
        Inglorious on the plain:
        Give the vengeance due
            To the valiant crew.
    Behold how they toss their torches on high,
        How they point to the Persian abodes,
And glitt'ring temples of their hostile gods!"
    The princes applaud, with a furious joy;
    And the king seiz'd a flambeau with zeal to destroy;
        Thais led the way,
        To light him to his prey,
And, like another Helen, fir'd another Troy.


            Thus long ago,
    Ere heaving bellows learn'd to blow,
        While organs yet were mute;
    Timotheus, to his breathing flute,
            And sounding lyre,
Could swell the soul to rage, or kindle soft desire.
    At last, divine Cecilia came,
    Inventress of the vocal frame;
The sweet enthusiast, from her sacred store,
    Enlarg'd the former narrow bounds,
    And added length to solemn sounds,
With nature's mother wit, and arts unknown before.
    Let old Timotheus yield the prize,
        Or both divide the crown:
    He rais'd a mortal to the skies;
        She drew an angel down.

John Dryden

    Original Text: John Dryden, Alexander's Feast; or, The Power of musique (London: J. Tonson, 1697). The last few lines of each stanza were to be repeated by the chorus.

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