The Vision of Judgment
By Quevedo Redivivus
Suggested by the Composition so Entitled by the Author of "Wat Tyler"
Byron, Works, 17 vols. (London: John Murray, 1832-33). PR 4351 M6 1832 ROBA. The Liberal, no. 1. 1822. Facs. edn. (Menston: Scolar, 1973). PR 4370 A1 1973 ROBA. AP 4 L413 MICR mfm.
"A Daniel come to judgment! yea a Daniel!
I thank thee, Jew, for teaching me that word."
Saint Peter sat by the celestial gate:
2 His keys were rusty, and the lock was dull,
3So little trouble had been given of late;
4 Not that the place by any means was full,
5But since the Gallic era "eighty-eight"
6 The devils had ta'en a longer, stronger pull,
7And "a pull altogether," as they say
8At sea--which drew most souls another way.
9 Then Angels all were singing out of tune,
10 And hoarse with having little else to do,
11Excepting to wind up the sun and moon,
12 Or curb a runaway young star or two,
13Or wild colt of a comet, which too soon
14 Broke out of bonds o'er the ethereal blue,
15Splitting some planet with its playful tail,
16As boats are sometimes by a wanton whale.
17 The Guardian Seraphs had retired on high,
18 Finding their charges past all care below;
19Terrestrial business fill'd nought in the sky
20 Save the Recording Angel's black bureau;
21Who found, indeed, the facts to multiply
22 With such rapidity of vice and woe,
23That he had stripp'd off both his wings in quills,
24And yet was in arrear of human ills.
25 His business so augmented of late years,
26 That he was forced, against his will no doubt,
27(Just like those cherubs, earthly ministers,)
28 For some resource to turn himself about,
29And claim the help of his celestial peers,
30 To aid him ere he should be quite worn out
31By the increased demand for his remarks:
32Six Angels and twelve Saints were named his clerks.
33 This was a handsome board--at least for Heaven;
34 And yet they had even then enough to do,
35So many Conquerors' cars were daily driven,
36 So many kingdoms fitted up anew;
37Each day too slew its thousands six or seven,
38 Till at the crowning carnage, Waterloo,
39They threw their pens down in divine disgust--
40The page was so besmear'd with blood and dust.
41 This by the way; 'tis not mine to record
42 What Angels shrink from; even the very Devil
43On this occasion his own work abhorr'd,
44 So surfeited with the infernal revel:
45Though he himself had sharpen'd every sword,
46 It almost quench'd his innate thirst of evil.
47(Here Satan's sole good work deserves insertion--
48'Tis, that he has both Generals in reversion.)
49 Let's skip a few short years of hollow peace,
50 Which peopled earth no better, Hell as wont,
51And heaven none--they form the tyrant's lease,
52 With nothing but new names subscribed upon 't;
53'Twill one day finish: meantime they increase,
54 "With seven heads and ten horns," and all in front,
55Like Saint John's foretold beast; but ours are born
56Less formidable in the head than horn.
57 In the first year of Freedom's second dawn
58 Died George the Third; although no tyrant, one
59Who shielded tyrants, till each sense withdrawn
60 Left him nor mental nor external sun;
61A better farmer ne'er brush'd dew from lawn,
62 A worse king never left a realm undone!
63He died--but left his subjects still behind,
64One half as mad--and t'other no less blind.
65 He died! his death made no great stir on earth:
66 His burial made some pomp; there was profusion
67Of velvet, gilding, brass, and no great dearth
68 Of aught but tears--save those shed by collusion.
69For these things may be bought at their true worth;
70 Of elegy there was the due infusion--
71Bought also; and the torches, cloaks, and banners,
72Heralds, and relics of old Gothic manners,
73 Form'd a sepulchral melodrame. Of all
74 The fools who flock'd to swell or see the show,
75Who cared about the corpse? The funeral
76 Made the attraction, and the black the woe.
77There throbb'd not there a thought which pierced the pall;
78 And when the gorgeous coffin was laid low,
79It seem'd the mockery of hell to fold
80The rottenness of eighty years in gold.
81 So mix his body with the dust! It might
82 Return to what it must far sooner, were
83The natural compound left alone to fight
84 Its way back into earth, and fire, and air;
85But the unnatural balsams merely blight
86 What Nature made him at his birth, as bare
87As the mere million's base unmummied clay--
88Yet all his spices but prolong decay.
89 He's dead--and upper earth with him has done;
90 He's buried; save the undertaker's bill,
91Or lapidary scrawl, the world is gone
92 For him, unless he left a German will;
93But where's the proctor who will ask his son?
94 In whom his qualities are reigning still,
95Except that household virtue, most uncommon,
96Of constancy to a bad, ugly woman.
97 "God save the king!" It is a large economy
98 In God to save the like; but if he will
99Be saving, all the better; for not one am I
100 Of those who think damnation better still:
101I hardly know too if not quite alone am I
102 In this small hope of bettering future ill
103By circumscribing, with some slight restriction,
104The eternity of Hell's hot jurisdiction.
At length with jostling, elbowing, and the aid
674 Of cherubim appointed to that post,
675The devil Asmodeus to the circle made
676 His way, and look'd as if his journey cost
677Some trouble. When his burden down he laid,
678 "What's this?" cried Michael; "why, 'tis not a ghost?--'
679"I know it," quoth the Incubus; "but he
680Shall be one, if you leave the affair to me.
681 "Confound the renegado! I have sprain'd
682 My left wing, he's so heavy; one would think
683Some of his works about his neck were chain'd.
684 But to the point; while hovering o'er the brink
685Of Skiddaw (where as usual it still rain'd)
686 I saw a taper, far below me, wink,
687And stooping, caught this fellow at a libel--
688No less on History than the Holy Bible.
689 "The former is the Devil's scripture, and
690 The latter yours, good Michael: so the affair
691Belongs to all of us, you understand.
692 I snatch'd him up just as you see him there,
693And brought him off for sentence out of hand:
694 I've scarcely been ten minutes in the air--
695At least a quarter it can hardly be:
696I dare say that his wife is still at tea."
697 Here Satan said, "I know this man of old,
698 And have expected him for some time here;
699A sillier fellow you will scarce behold,
700 Or more conceited in his petty sphere:
701But surely it was not worth while to fold
702 Such trash below your wing, Asmodeus dear:
703We had the poor wretch safe (without being bored
704With carriage) coming of his own accord.
705 "But since he's here, let's see what he has done."
706 "Done!" cried Asmodeus, "he anticipates
707The very business you are now upon,
708 And scribbles as if head clerk to the Fates.
709Who knows to what his ribaldry may run,
710 When such an ass as this, like Balaam's prates?"
711"Let's hear," quoth Michael, "what he has to say:
712You know we're bound to that in every way."
713 Now the bard, glad to get an audience, which
714 By no means often was his case below,
715Began to cough, and hawk, and hem, and pitch
716 His voice into that awful note of woe
717To all unhappy hearers within reach
718 Of poets when the tide of rhyme's in flow;
719But stuck fast with his first hexameter,
720Not one of all whose gouty feet would stir.
721 But ere the spavin'd dactyls could be spurr'd
722 Into recitative, in great dismay
723Both Cherubim and Seraphim were heard
724 To murmur loudly through their long array;
725And Michael rose ere he could get a word
726 Of all his founder'd verses under way,
727And cried, "For God's sake stop, my friend! 'twere best--
728Non Di, non homines--you know the rest."
729 A general bustle spread throughout the throng,
730 Which seem'd to hold all verse in detestation:
731The Angels had of course enough of song
732 When upon service; and the generation
733Of ghosts had heard too much in life, not long
734 Before, to profit by a new occasion:
735The monarch, mute till then, exclaim'd, "What! what!
736Pye come again? No more--no more of that!"
737 The tumult grew; an universal cough
738 Convulsed the skies, as during a debate,
739When Castlereagh has been up long enough
740 (Before he was first minister of state,
741I mean--the slaves hear now); some cried "Off, off!"
742 As at a farce; till, grown quite desperate,
743The Bard Saint Peter pray'd to interpose
744(Himself an author) only for his prose.
745 The varlet was not an ill-favour'd knave;
746 A good deal like a vulture in the face,
747With a hook nose and a hawk's eye, which gave
748 A smart and sharper-looking sort of grace
749To his whole aspect, which, though rather grave,
750 Was by no means so ugly as his case;
751But that, indeed, was hopeless as can be,
752Quite a poetic felony "de se."
753 Then Michael blew his trump, and still'd the noise
754 With one still greater, as is yet the mode
755On earth besides; except some grumbling voice,
756 Which now and then will make a slight inroad
757Upon decorous silence, few will twice
758 Lift up their lungs when fairly overcrow'd;
759And now the Bard could plead his own bad cause,
760With all the attitudes of self-applause.
761 He said--(I only give the heads)--he said,
762 He meant no harm in scribbling; 'twas his way
763Upon all topics; 'twas, besides, his bread,
764 Of which he butter'd both sides; 'twould delay
765Too long the assembly (he was pleased to dread),
766 And take up rather more time than a day,
767To name his works--he would but cite a few--
768"Wat Tyler"--"Rhymes on Blenheim"--"Waterloo."
769 He had written praises of a Regicide;
770 He had written praises of all kings whatever;
771He had written for republics far and wide,
772 And then against them bitterer than ever;
773For pantisocracy he once had cried
774 Aloud, a scheme less moral than 'twas clever;
775Then grew a hearty anti-Jacobin--
776Had turn'd his coat--and would have turn'd his skin.
777 He had sung against all battles, and again
778 In their high praise and glory; he had call'd
779Reviewing "the ungentle craft," and then
780 Become as base a critic as e'er crawl'd--
781Fed, paid, and pamper'd by the very men
782 By whom his muse and morals had been maul'd:
783He had written much blank verse, and blanker prose,
784And more of both than anybody knows.
785 He had written Wesley's life: here turning round
786 To Satan, "Sir, I'm ready to write yours,
787In two octavo volumes, nicely bound,
788 With notes and preface, all that most allures
789The pious purchaser; and there's no ground
790 For fear, for I can choose my own reviewers:
791So let me have the proper documents,
792That I may add you to my other saints."
793 Satan bow'd, and was silent. "Well, if you,
794 With amiable modesty, decline
795My offer, what says Michael? There are few
796 Whose memoirs could be render'd more divine.
797Mine is a pen of all work; not so new
798 As it was once, but I would make you shine
799Like your own trumpet. By the way, my own
800Has more of brass in it, and is as well blown.
801 "But talking about trumpets, here's my "Vision"!
802 Now you shall judge, all people; yes, you shall
803Judge with my judgment, and by my decision
804 Be guided who shall enter heaven or fall.
805I settle all these things by intuition,
806 Times present, past, to come, Heaven, Hell, and all,
807Like King Alfonso. When I thus see double,
808I save the Deity some worlds of trouble."
809 He ceased, and drew forth an MS.; and no
810 Persuasion on the part of Devils, Saints,
811Or Angels, now could stop the torrent; so
812 He read the first three lines of the contents;
813But at the fourth, the whole spiritual show
814 Had vanish'd, with variety of scents,
815Ambrosial and sulphureous, as they sprang,
816Like lightning, off from his "melodious twang."
817 Those grand heroics acted as a spell:
818 The Angels stopp'd their ears and plied their pinions;
819The Devils ran howling, deafen'd, down to Hell;
820 The ghosts fled, gibbering, for their own dominions--
821(For 'tis not yet decided where they dwell,
822 And I leave every man to his opinions);
823Michael took refuge in his trump--but, lo!
824His teeth were set on edge, he could not blow!
825 Saint Peter, who has hitherto been known
826 For an impetuous saint, upraised his keys,
827And at the fifth line knock'd the poet down;
828 Who fell like Phaëton, but more at ease,
829Into his lake, for there he did not drown;
830 A different web being by the Destinies
831Woven for the Laureate's final wreath, whene'er
832Reform shall happen either here or there.
833 He first sank to the bottom--like his works,
834 But soon rose to the surface--like himself:
835For all corrupted things are buoy'd like corks,
836 By their own rottenness, like as an elf,
837Or wisp that flits o'er a morass: he lurks
838 It may be, still, like dull books on a shelf,
839In his own den, to scrawl some "Life" or "Vision,"
840As Welborn says--"the Devil turn'd precisian."
841 As for the rest, to come to the conclusion
842 Of this true dream, the telescope is gone
843Which kept my optics free from all delusion,
844 And show'd me what I in my turn have shown;
845All I saw farther, in the last confusion,
846 Was, that King George slipp'd into Heaven for one;
847And when the tumult dwindled to a calm,
848I left him practising the hundredth psalm.
Publication Start Year:
RPO poem Editors:
J. D. Robins