Alexander's Feast

Original Text: 
John Dryden, Alexander's Feast; or, The Power of musique (London: J. Tonson, 1697). PR 3415 A39 1697A Robarts Library
2      By Philip's warlike son:
3      Aloft in awful state
4      The godlike hero sate
5      On his imperial throne;
6      His valiant peers were plac'd around;
7Their brows with roses and with myrtles bound:
8      (So should desert in arms be crown'd.)
10Sate like a blooming Eastern bride
11In flow'r of youth and beauty's pride.
12      Happy, happy, happy pair!
13      None but the brave,
14      None but the brave,
15      None but the brave deserves the fair.
        CHORUS
      Happy, happy, happy pair!
      None but the brave,
      None but the brave,
      None but the brave deserves the fair.
II
16  Timotheus, plac'd on high
17    Amid the tuneful choir,
18    With flying fingers touch'd the lyre:
19    The trembling notes ascend the sky,
20       And heav'nly joys inspire.
22Who left his blissful seats above,
23(Such is the pow'r of mighty love.)
24A dragon's fiery form belied the god:
26      When he to fair Olympia press'd;
27      And while he sought her snowy breast:
28Then, round her slender waist he curl'd,
29And stamp'd an image of himself, a sov'reign of the world.
30The list'ning crowd admire the lofty sound,
31"A present deity," they shout around:
32"A present deity," the vaulted roofs rebound.
33       With ravish'd ears
34       The monarch hears,
35       Assumes the god,
36       Affects to nod,
37    And seems to shake the spheres.
        CHORUS
       With ravish'd ears
       The monarch hears,
       Assumes the god,
       Affects to nod,
      And seems to shake the spheres.
III
38  The praise of Bacchus then the sweet musician sung,
39    Of Bacchus ever fair and ever young:
40      The jolly god in triumph comes;
41      Sound the trumpets; beat the drums;
42       Flush'd with a purple grace
44Now give the hautboys breath; he comes, he comes.
45      Bacchus, ever fair and young
46       Drinking joys did first ordain;
47      Bacchus' blessings are a treasure,
48      Drinking is the soldier's pleasure;
49       Rich the treasure,
50       Sweet the pleasure,
51       Sweet is pleasure after pain.
        CHORUS
      Bacchus' blessings are a treasure,
      Drinking is the soldier's pleasure;
       Rich the treasure,
       Sweet the pleasure,
       Sweet is pleasure after pain.
IV
52  Sooth'd with the sound, the king grew vain;
53    Fought all his battles o'er again;
54And thrice he routed all his foes; and thrice he slew the slain.
55The master saw the madness rise,
56His glowing cheeks, his ardent eyes;
57And, while he heav'n and earth defied,
58Chang'd his hand, and check'd his pride.
59      He chose a mournful Muse,
60       Soft pity to infuse;
61He sung Darius great and good,
62       By too severe a fate,
63Fallen, fallen, fallen, fallen,
64       Fallen from his high estate,
65       And welt'ring in his blood;
66Deserted, at his utmost need
67By those his former bounty fed;
68On the bare earth expos'd he lies,
69With not a friend to close his eyes.
70With downcast looks the joyless victor sate,
71    Revolving in his alter'd soul
72      The various turns of chance below;
73    And, now and then, a sigh he stole,
74      And tears began to flow.
        CHORUS
      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.
V
75  The mighty master smil'd to see
76That love was in the next degree;
77'T was but a kindred sound to move,
78For pity melts the mind to love.
80    Soon he sooth'd his soul to pleasures.
81    "War," he sung, "is toil and trouble;
82    Honour, but an empty bubble.
83      Never ending, still beginning,
84    Fighting still, and still destroying:
85      If the world be worth thy winning,
86    Think, O think it worth enjoying.
87      Lovely Thais sits beside thee,
88      Take the good the gods provide thee."
89The many rend the skies with loud applause;
90So Love was crown'd, but Music won the cause.
91    The prince, unable to conceal his pain,
92      Gaz'd on the fair
93      Who caus'd his care,
94      And sigh'd and look'd, sigh'd and look'd,
95Sigh'd and look'd, and sigh'd again:
96At length, with love and wine at once oppress'd,
97The vanquish'd victor sunk upon her breast.
        CHORUS
      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.
VI
98  Now strike the golden lyre again:
99A louder yet, and yet a louder strain.
100Break his bands of sleep asunder,
101And rouse him, like a rattling peal of thunder.
102       Hark, hark, the horrid sound
103       Has rais'd up his head:
104       As wak'd from the dead,
105       And amaz'd, he stares around.
106"Revenge, revenge!" Timotheus cries,
107    "See the Furies arise!
108    See the snakes that they rear,
109    How they hiss in their hair,
110And the sparkles that flash from their eyes!
111    Behold a ghastly band,
112    Each a torch in his hand!
113Those are Grecian ghosts, that in battle were slain,
114       And unburied remain
115       Inglorious on the plain:
116       Give the vengeance due
117       To the valiant crew.
118Behold how they toss their torches on high,
119       How they point to the Persian abodes,
120And glitt'ring temples of their hostile gods!"
121The princes applaud, with a furious joy;
122And the king seiz'd a flambeau with zeal to destroy;
123       Thais led the way,
124       To light him to his prey,
125And, like another Helen, fir'd another Troy.
        CHORUS
  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.
VII
126       Thus long ago,
127      Ere heaving bellows learn'd to blow,
128       While organs yet were mute;
129      Timotheus, to his breathing flute,
130        And sounding lyre,
131Could swell the soul to rage, or kindle soft desire.
132      At last, divine Cecilia came,
133      Inventress of the vocal frame;
134The sweet enthusiast, from her sacred store,
135      Enlarg'd the former narrow bounds,
136      And added length to solemn sounds,
137With nature's mother wit, and arts unknown before.
138    Let old Timotheus yield the prize,
139      Or both divide the crown:
140    He rais'd a mortal to the skies;
141      She drew an angel down.
        GRAND CHORUS
      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.

Notes

1] In 1683 a musical society was formed in London for performing annually on November 22nd, a composition in honour of St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music. Dryden had already written a poem (A Song for St. Cecilia'sDay) for the 1687 festival. Alexander's Feast was written for the festival in 1697, and set to music by Jeremiah Clarke. The poet represents Alexander the Great, after his defeat of Darius in 331 B.C., celebrating the victory by a banquet, at which the famous flute-player, Timotheus, entertains the guests with music. Back to Line
9] Thais: a famous Greek courtesan, mistress of Alexander. Back to Line
21] The references in this stanza are to the story that Alexander, when he visited the shrine of Jupiter Ammon in Egypt, was informed that he was a son of the god. Back to Line
25] spires: coils; cf. "spiral." Back to Line
43] honest: handsome, as Latin honestus. Back to Line
79] Lydian measures: the Greeks speak of three different modes in their music: Dorian, Lydian, and Phrygian; the Lydian was suited to tender themes. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1697
RPO poem Editors: 
N. J. Endicott
RPO Edition: 
2RP 1. 506.
Form: