Samson Agonistes

Original Text: 
John Milton, Paradise Regain'd; .... to which is added Samson Agonistes (London: J. M. for J. [Starkey, 1671]). B-10 302 Fisher Rare Book Library
[Samson's Opening Speech]
2To these dark steps, a little further on;
3For yonder bank hath choice of sun or shade,
4There I am wont to sit, when any chance
5Relieves me from my task of servile toil,
6Daily in the common prison else enjoin'd me,
7Where I a prisoner chain'd, scarce freely draw
8The air imprison'd also, close and damp,
9Unwholesome draught: but here I feel amends,
10The breath of Heav'n fresh-blowing, pure and sweet,
11With day-spring born; here leave me to respire.
12This day a solemn feast the people hold
14Laborious works; unwillingly this rest
15Their superstition yields me; hence with leave
16Retiring from the popular noise, I seek
17This unfrequented place to find some ease;
18Ease to the body some, none to the mind
19From restless thoughts, that like a deadly swarm
20Of hornets arm'd, no sooner found alone,
21But rush upon me thronging, and present
22Times past, what once I was, and what am now.
23O wherefore was my birth from Heaven foretold
24Twice by an angel, who at last in sight
25Of both my parents all in flames ascended
26From off the altar, where an off'ring burn'd,
27As in a fiery column charioting
28His godlike presence, and from some great act
29Of benefit reveal'd to Abraham's race?
30Why was my breeding order'd and prescrib'd
31As of a person separate to God,
32Design'd for great exploits; if I must die
33Betray'd, captiv'd, and both my eyes put out,
34Made of my enemies the scorn and gaze;
35To grind in brazen fetters under task
36With this Heav'n-gifted strength? O glorious strength
37Put to the labour of a beast, debas'd
38Lower than bondslave! Promise was that I
39Should Israel from Philistian yoke deliver;
40Ask for this great deliverer now, and find him
41Eyeless in Gaza at the mill with slaves,
42Himself in bonds under Philistian yoke.
43Yet stay, let me not rashly call in doubt
44Divine prediction; what if all foretold
45Had been fulfill'd but through mine own default,
46Whom have I to complain of but myself?
47Who this high gift of strength committed to me,
48In what part lodg'd, how easily bereft me,
49Under the seal of silence could not keep,
50But weakly to a woman must reveal it
51O'ercome with importunity and tears.
52O impotence of mind, in body strong!
53But what is strength without a double share
54Of wisdom? vast, unwieldy, burdensome,
55Proudly secure, yet liable to fall
56By weakest subtleties, not made to rule,
57But to subserve where wisdom bears command.
58God, when he gave me strength, to show withal
59How slight the gift was, hung it in my hair.
60But peace, I must not quarrel with the will
61Of highest dispensation, which herein
62Haply had ends above my reach to know:
63Suffices that to me strength is my bane,
64And proves the source of all my miseries;
65So many, and so huge, that each apart
66Would ask a life to wail, but chief of all,
67O loss of sight, of thee I most complain!
68Blind among enemies, O worse than chains,
69Dungeon, or beggary, or decrepit age!
70Light, the prime work of God, to me is extinct,
71And all her various objects of delight
72Annull'd, which might in part my grief have eas'd,
73Inferior to the vilest now become
74Of man or worm; the vilest here excel me:
75They creep, yet see, I, dark in light, expos'd
76To daily fraud, contempt, abuse, and wrong,
77Within doors, or without, still as a fool,
78In power of others, never in my own;
79Scarce half I seem to live, dead more than half.
80O dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon,
81Irrecoverably dark, total eclipse
82Without all hope of day!
83O first created Beam, and thou great Word,
84"Let there be light, and light was over all,"
85Why am I thus bereav'd thy prime decree?
86The sun to me is dark
87And silent as the moon,
88When she deserts the night,
90Since light so necessary is to life,
91And almost life itself, if it be true
92That light is in the soul,
93She all in every part, why was the sight
94To such a tender ball as th' eye confin'd?
96And not as feeling through all parts diffus'd,
97That she might look at will through every pore?
98Then had I not been thus exil'd from light,
99As in the land of darkness, yet in light,
100To live a life half dead, a living death,
101And buried; but O yet more miserable!
102Myself my sepulchre, a moving grave;
103Buried, yet not exempt
104By privilege of death and burial
105From worst of other evils, pains and wrongs;
107To all the miseries of life,
108Life in captivity
109Among inhuman foes.
110But who are these? for with joint pace I hear
111The tread of many feet steering this way;
112Perhaps my enemies who come to stare
113At my affliction, and perhaps to insult,
114Their daily practice to afflict me more.
[Chorus, Manoah, Samson]
293CHORUS. Just are the ways of God,
294And justifiable to men;
295Unless there be who think not God at all:
296If any be, they walk obscure;
297For of such doctrine never was there school,
298But the heart of the fool,
299And no man therein doctor but himself.
300Yet more there be who doubt his ways not just,
301As to his own edicts found contradicting,
302Then give the reins to wand'ring thought,
303Regardless of his glory's diminution;
304Till by their own perplexities involv'd
305They ravel more, still less resolv'd,
306But never find self-satisfying solution.
307As if they would confine th' interminable,
308And tie him to his own prescript,
309Who made our laws to bind us, not himself,
310And hath full right to exempt
311Whom so it pleases him by choice
313Of sin, or legal debt;
314For with his own laws he can best dispense.
315He would not else, who never wanted means,
316Nor in respect of the enemy just cause
317To set his people free,
319Against his vow of strictest purity,
320To seek in marriage that fallacious bride,
321Unclean, unchaste.
322Down, Reason, then; at least vain reasonings down;
323Though Reason here aver
324That moral verdit quits her of unclean:
325Unchaste was subsequent, her stain, not his.
326But see, here comes thy reverend sire,
327With careful step, locks white as down,
328Old Manoa: advise
329Forthwith how thou ought'st to receive him.
330SAMSON. Ay me, another inward grief awak'd,
331With mention of that name renews th' assault.
334As I suppose, towards your once gloried friend,
336Your younger feet, while mine cast back with age
337Came lagging after; say if he be here.
338CHORUS. As signal now in low dejected state,
339As erst in highest, behold him where he lies.
340MANOA. O miserable change! is this the man,
341That invincible Samson, far renown'd,
342The dread of Israel's foes, who with a strength
343Equivalent to angels' walk'd their streets,
345Duell'd their armies rank'd in proud array,
346Himself an army, now unequal match
347To save himself against a coward arm'd
348At one spear's length. O ever failing trust
349In mortal strength! and oh, what not in man
350Deceivable and vain! Nay what thing good
351Pray'd for, but often proves our woe, our bane?
352I pray'd for children, and thought barrenness
353In wedlock a reproach; I gain'd a son,
354And such a son as all men hail'd me happy;
355Who would be now a father in my stead?
356O wherefore did God grant me my request,
357And as a blessing with such pomp adorn'd?
358Why are his gifts desirable, to tempt
359Our earnest prayers, then giv'n with solemn hand
361For this did the Angel twice descend? for this
362Ordain'd thy nurture holy, as of a plant;
364The miracle of men: then in an hour
365Ensnar'd, assaulted, overcome, led bound,
366Thy foes' derision, captive, poor, and blind,
367Into a dungeon thrust, to work with slaves?
368Alas! methinks whom God hath chosen once
369To worthiest deeds, if he through frailty err
370He should not so o'erwhelm, and as a thrall
371Subject him to so foul indignities,
372Be it but for honour's sake of former deeds.
[Chorus, Manoh, Samson, Dalilah]
521SAMSON. His pardon I implore; but as for life,
522To what end should I seek it? when in strength
523All mortals I excell'd, and great in hopes
524With youthful courage and magnanimous thoughts
525Of birth from Heav'n foretold and high exploits,
526Full of divine instinct, after some proof
527Of acts indeed heroic, far beyond
529Fearless of danger, like a petty god
530I walk'd about, admir'd of all, and dreaded
532Then swoll'n with pride into the snare I fell
534Softn'd with pleasure and voluptuous life;
535At length to lay my head and hallow'd pledge
536Of all my strength in the lascivious lap
537Of a deceitful concubine who shore me
538Like a tame wether, all my precious fleece,
539Then turn'd me out ridiculous, despoil'd,
540Shav'n, and disarm'd among my enemies.
541CHORUS. Desire of wine and all delicious drinks,
542Which many a famous warrior overturns,
544Sparkling out-pour'd, the flavour, or the smell,
545Or taste that cheers the heart of gods and men,
546Allure thee from the cool crystalline stream.
547SAMSON. Wherever fountain or fresh current flow'd
549With touch ætherial of Heav'n's fiery rod
550I drank, from the clear milky juice allaying
551Thirst, and refresh'd; nor envied them the grape
552Whose heads that turbulent liquor fills with fumes.
553CHORUS. O madness, to think use of strongest wines
554And strongest drinks our chief support of health,
555When God with these forbidd'n made choice to rear
556His mighty champion, strong above compare,
558SAMSON. But what avail'd this temperance, not complete
559Against another object more enticing?
560What boots it at one gate to make defence,
561And at another to let in the foe,
562Effeminately vanquish'd? by which means,
563Now blind, disheartn'd, sham'd, dishonour'd, quell'd,
564To what can I be useful, wherein serve
565My nation, and the work from Heav'n impos'd,
566But to sit idle on the household hearth,
567A burdenous drone; to visitants a gaze,
569Robustious to no purpose clust'ring down,
570Vain monument of strength; till length of years
572To a contemptible old age obscure?
573Here rather let me drudge and earn my bread,
575Consume me, and oft-invocated death
576Hast'n the welcome end of all my pains.
577MANOA. Wilt thou then serve the Philistines with that gift
578Which was expressly giv'n thee to annoy them?
579Better at home lie bed-rid, not only idle,
580Inglorious, unemploy'd, with age out-worn.
581But God, who caus'd a fountain at thy prayer
582From the dry ground to spring, thy thirst to allay
583After the brunt of battle, can as easy
584Cause light again within thy eyes to spring,
585Wherewith to serve him better than thou hast;
586And I persuade me so; why else this strength
587Miraculous yet remaining in those locks?
588His might continues in thee not for naught,
589Nor shall his wondrous gifts be frustrate thus.
590SAMSON. All otherwise to me my thoughts portend,
591That these dark orbs no more shall treat with light,
592Nor th' other light of life continue long,
593But yield to double darkness nigh at hand:
595My hopes all flat; Nature within me seems
596In all her functions weary of herself;
597My race of glory run, and race of shame,
598And I shall shortly be with them that rest.
599MANOA. Believe not these suggestions which proceed
601That mingle with thy fancy. I however
602Must not omit a father's timely care
603To prosecute the means of thy deliverance
604By ransom or how else: meanwhile be calm,
605And healing words from these thy friends admit.
606SAMSON. O that torment should not be confin'd
607To the body's wounds and sores,
608With maladies innumerable
609In heart, head, breast, and reins;
610But must secret passage find
611To th' inmost mind,
613And on her purest spirits prey,
614As on entrails, joints, and limbs,
615With answerable pains, but more intense,
616Though void of corporal sense.
617My griefs not only pain me
618As a ling'ring disease,
619But finding no redress, ferment and rage,
620Nor less than wounds immedicable
621Rankle, and fester, and gangrene,
622To black mortification.
623Thoughts, my tormentors, arm'd with deadly stings
625Exasperate, exulcerate, and raise
626Dire inflammation which no cooling herb
627Or med'cinal liquor can assuage,
628Nor breath of vernal air from snowy Alp.
629Sleep hath forsook and giv'n me o'er
630To death's benumbing opium as my only cure;
631Thence faintings, swoonings of despair,
632And sense of Heav'n's desertion.
633I was his nursling once and choice delight,
634His destin'd from the womb,
636Under his special eye
637Abstemious I grew up and thriv'd amain;
638He led me on to mightiest deeds
640Against the uncircumcis'd, our enemies;
641But now hath cast me off as never known,
642And to those cruel enemies,
643Whom I by his appointment had provok'd,
644Left me all helpless with th' irreparable loss
646The subject of their cruelty, or scorn.
647Nor am I in the list of them that hope;
648Hopeless are all my evils, all remediless;
649This one prayer yet remains, might I be heard,
650No long petition, speedy death,
651The close of all my miseries, and the balm.
652CHORUS. Many are the sayings of the wise
653In ancient and in modern books enroll'd,
654Extolling patience as the truest fortitude;
655And to the bearing well of all calamities,
656All chances incident to man's frail life
657Consolatories writ
658With studied argument, and much persuasion sought,
660But with th' afflicted in his pangs their sound
661Little prevails, or rather seems a tune
662Harsh, and of dissonant mood from his complaint,
663Unless he feel within
664Some source of consolation from above;
665Secret refreshings, that repair his strength,
666And fainting spirits uphold.
667God of our Fathers, what is man!
668That thou towards him with hand so various,
669Or might I say contrarious,
670Temper'st thy providence through his short course:
671Not evenly, as thou rul'st
673Irrational and brute.
674Nor do I name of men the common rout,
675That wand'ring loose about
676Grow up and perish, as the summer fly,
677Heads without name no more remember'd;
678But such as thou has solemnly elected,
679With gifts and graces eminently adorn'd
680To some great work, thy glory,
681And people's safety, which in part they effect:
682Yet toward these thus dignifi'd, thou oft
683Amidst their highth of noon,
684Changest thy countenance, and thy hand with no regard
685Of highest favours past
686From thee on them, or them to thee of service.
688To life obscur'd, which were a fair dismission,
689But throw'st them lower than thou didst exalt them high,
690Unseemly falls in human eye,
691Too grievous for the trespass or omission,
693Of heathen and profane, their carcasses
694To dogs and fowls a prey, or else captiv'd:
695Or to the unjust tribunals, under change of times,
696And condemnation of the ingrateful multitude.
697If these they scape, perhaps in poverty
698With sickness and disease thou bow'st them down,
699Painful diseases and deform'd,
702The punishment of dissolute days: in fine,
703Just or unjust, alike seem miserable,
704For oft alike both come to evil end.
705So deal not with this once thy glorious champion,
706The image of thy strength, and mighty minister.
707What do I beg? how hast thou dealt already?
708Behold him in this state calamitous, and turn
709His labours, for thou canst, to peaceful end.
710But who is this, what thing of sea or land?
711Female of sex it seems,
712That so bedeck'd, ornate, and gay,
713Comes this way sailing
714Like a stately ship
718Sails fill'd, and streamers waving,
719Courted by all the winds that hold them play,
720An amber scent of odorous perfume
722Some rich Philistian matron she may seem,
723And now at nearer view, no other certain
724Than Dalila thy wife.
725SAMSON. My wife! my traitress! let her not come near me.
726CHORUS. Yet on she moves, now stands and eyes thee fix'd,
727About t' have spoke, but now, with head declin'd
728Like a fair flower surcharg'd with dew, she weeps,
729And words address'd seem into tears dissolv'd,
730Wetting the borders of her silk'n veil;
731But now again she makes address to speak.
732DALILAH. With doubtful feet and wavering resolution
733I came, still dreading thy displeasure, Samson,
734Which to have merited, without excuse,
735I cannot but acknowledge; yet if tears
736May expiate (though the fact more evil drew
737In the perverse event than I foresaw)
738My penance hath not slack'n'd, though my pardon
739No way assur'd. But conjugal affection
740Prevailing over fear, and timorous doubt
741Hath led me on desirous to behold
742Once more thy face, and know of thy estate.
743If aught in my ability may serve
744To light'n what thou suffer'st, and appease
745Thy mind with what amends is in my power,
746Though late, yet in some part to recompense
747My rash but more unfortunate misdeed.
749And arts of every woman false like thee,
750To break all faith, all vows, deceive, betray,
751Then as repentant to submit, beseech,
752And reconcilement move with feign'd remorse,
753Confess, and promise wonders in her change,
754Not truly penitent, but chief to try
755Her husband, how far urg'd his patience bears,
756His virtue or weakness which way to assail:
757Then with more cautious and instructed skill
758Again transgresses, and again submits;
759That wisest and best men, full oft beguil'd,
760With goodness principl'd not to reject
761The penitent, but ever to forgive,
762Are drawn to wear out miserable days,
763Entangl'd with a pois'nous bosom-snake,
764If not by quick destruction soon cut off
765As I by thee, to ages an example.
[Chorus, Harapha, Samson]
1065CHORUS. Look now for no enchanting voice, nor fear
1066The bait of honied words; a rougher tongue
1067Draws hitherward, I know him by his stride,
1068The giant Harapha of Gath, his look
1070Comes he in peace? What wind hath blown him hither
1071I less conjecture than when first I saw
1072The sumptuous Dalila floating this way:
1073His habit carries peace, his brow defiance.
1074SAMSON. Or peace or not, alike to me he comes.
1077As these perhaps, yet wish it had not been,
1078Though for no friendly intent. I am of Gath;
1079Men call me Harapha, of stock renown'd
1081That Kiriathaim held: thou knowst me now
1082If thou at all art known. Much I have heard
1083Of thy prodigious might and feats perform'd
1084Incredible to me, in this displeas'd,
1085That I was never present on the place
1086Of those encounters, where we might have tri'd
1087Each other's force in camp or listed field;
1088And now am come to see of whom such noise
1089Hath walk'd about, and each limb to survey,
1090If thy appearance answer loud report.
1091SAMSON. The way to know were not to see but taste.
1093Gyves and the mill had tam'd thee? O that fortune
1094Had brought me to the field where thou art fam'd
1095To have wrought such wonders with an ass's jaw;
1096I should have forc'd thee soon wish other arms,
1097Or left thy carcase where the ass lay thrown:
1098So had the glory of prowess been recover'd
1099To Palestine, won by a Philistine
1101The highest name for valiant acts; that honour
1102Certain to have won by mortal duel from thee,
1103I lose, prevented by thy eyes put out.
1104SAMSON. Boast not of what thou would'st have done, but do
1105What then thou would'st, thou seest it in thy hand.
1106HARAPHA. To combat with a blind man I disdain,
1107And thou hast need much washing to be touch'd.
1108SAMSON. Such usage as your honourable lords
1110Who durst not with their whole united powers
1111In fight withstand me single and unarm'd,
1112Nor in the house with chamber ambushes
1113Close-banded durst attack me, no not sleeping,
1114Till they had hir'd a woman with their gold,
1115Breaking her marriage faith to circumvent me.
1117Some narrow place enclos'd, where sight may give thee,
1118Or rather flight, no great advantage on me;
1122A weaver's beam, and seven-times-folded shield:
1123I only with an oak'n staff will meet thee,
1124And raise such outcries on thy clatter'd iron,
1125Which long shall not withhold me from thy head,
1126That in a little time, while breath remains thee,
1127Thou oft shalt wish thyself at Gath to boast
1128Again in safety what thou would'st have done
1129To Samson, but shalt never see Gath more.
1130HARAPHA. Thou durst not thus disparage glorious arms
1131Which greatest heroes have in battle worn,
1132Their ornament and safety, had not spells
1133And black enchantments, some magician's art
1134Arm'd thee or charm'd thee strong, which thou from Heaven
1135Feign'dst at thy birth was giv'n thee in thy hair,
1136Where strength can least abide, though all thy hairs
1137Were bristles rang'd like those that ridge the back
1138Of chaf'd wild boars, or ruffl'd porcupines.
1139SAMSON. I know no spells, use no forbidden arts;
1140My trust is in the living God who gave me
1141At my nativity this strength, diffus'd
1142No less through all my sinews, joints and bones,
1143Than thine, while I preserv'd these locks unshorn,
1144The pledge of my unviolated vow.
1145For proof hereof, if Dagon be thy god,
1146Go to his temple, invocate his aid
1147With solemnest devotion, spread before him
1148How highly it concerns his glory now
1149To frustrate and dissolve these magic spells,
1150Which I to be the power of Israel's God
1151Avow, and challenge Dagon to the test,
1152Offering to combat thee his champion bold,
1153With th' utmost of his godhead seconded:
1154Then thou shalt see, or rather to thy sorrow
1155Soon feel, whose God is strongest, thine or mine.
1156HARAPHA. Presume not on thy God, whate'er he be,
1157Thee he regards not, owns not, hath cut off
1158Quite from his people, and delivered up
1159Into thy enemies' hand, permitted them
1160To put out both thine eyes, and fetter'd send thee
1161Into the common prison, there to grind
1162Among the slaves and asses thy comrades,
1163As good for nothing else, no better service
1164With those thy boist'rous locks, no worthy match
1165For valour to assail, nor by the sword
1166Of noble warrior, so to stain his honour,
1167But by the barber's razor best subdu'd.
1168SAMSON. All these indignities, for such they are
1169From thine, these evils I deserve and more,
1170Acknowledge them from God inflicted on me
1171Justly, yet despair not of his final pardon
1172Whose ear is ever open; and his eye
1173Gracious to re-admit the suppliant;
1174In confidence whereof I once again
1175Defy thee to the trial of mortal fight,
1176By combat to decide whose god is God,
1177Thine or whom I with Israel's sons adore.
1178HARAPHA. Fair honour that thou dost thy God, in trusting
1179He will accept thee to defend his cause,
1180A murtherer, a revolter, and a robber.
1181SAMSON. Tongue-doughty giant, how dost thou prove me
1182HARAPHA. Is not thy nation subject to our lords?
1183Their magistrates confess'd it, when they took thee
1184As a league-breaker and deliver'd bound
1185Into our hands: for had'st thou not committed
1186Notorious murder on those thirty men
1187At Askalon, who never did thee harm,
1188Then like a robber stripp'dst them of their robes?
1189The Philistines, when thou hadst broke the league,
1190Went up with armed powers thee only seeking,
1191To others did no violence nor spoil.
1192SAMSON. Among the daughters of the Philistines
1193I chose a wife, which argu'd me no foe;
1194And in your city held my nuptial feast:
1195But your ill-meaning politician lords,
1196Under pretence of bridal friends and guests,
1197Appointed to await me thirty spies,
1198Who threat'ning cruel death, constrain'd the bride
1199To wring from me and tell to them my secret,
1200That solv'd the riddle which I had propos'd.
1201When I perceiv'd all set on enmity,
1202As on my enemies, wherever chanc'd,
1203I us'd hostility, and took their spoil
1204To pay my underminers in their coin.
1205My nation was subjected to your lords?
1206It was the force of conquest; force with force
1207Is well ejected when the conquer'd can.
1208But I a private person, whom my country
1209As a league-breaker gave up bound, presum'd
1210Single rebellion and did hostile acts.
1211I was no private but a person rais'd
1212With strength sufficient and command from Heav'n
1213To free my country; if their servile minds
1214Me their deliverer sent would not receive,
1215But to their masters gave me up for nought,
1216Th' unworthier they; whence to this day they serve.
1217I was to do my part from Heav'n assign'd,
1218And had perform'd it if my known offence
1220These shifts refuted, answer thy appellant,
1221Though by his blindness maim'd for high attempts,
1223As a petty enterprise of small enforce.
1224HARAPHA. With thee, a man condemn'd, a slave enroll'd,
1225Due by the law to capital punishment?
1226To fight with thee no man of arms will deign.
1228To descant on my strength, and give thy verdit?
1229Come nearer, part not hence so slight inform'd;
1231HARAPHA. O Baal-zebub! can my ears unus'd
1232Hear these dishonours, and not render death?
1233SAMSON. No man withholds thee, nothing from thy hand
1234Fear I incurable; bring up thy van,
1235My heels are fetter'd, but my fist is free.
1236HARAPHA. This insolence other kind of answer fits.
1237SAMSON. Go baffl'd coward, lest I run upon thee,
1238Though in these chains, bulk without spirit vast,
1239And with one buffet lay thy structure low,
1240Or swing thee in the air, then dash thee down
1242HARAPHA. By Astaroth, ere long thou shalt lament
1243These braveries, in irons loaden on thee.
1246And lower looks, but in a sultry chafe.
1248Though fame divulge him father of five sons
1249All of gigantic size, Goliah chief.
1250CHORUS. He will directly to the lords, I fear,
1251And with malicious counsel stir them up
1252Some way or other yet further to afflict thee.
1253SAMSON. He must allege some cause, and offer'd fight
1254Will not dare mention, lest a question rise
1255Whether he durst accept the offer or not,
1256And that he durst not plain enough appear'd.
1257Much more affliction than already felt
1258They cannot well impose, nor I sustain;
1259If they intend advantage of my labours,
1260The work of many hands, which earns my keeping
1261With no small profit daily to my owners.
1262But come what will, my deadliest foe will prove
1263My speediest friend, by death to rid me hence,
1264The worst that he can give, to me the best.
1265Yet so it may fall out, because their end
1266Is hate, not help to me, it may with mine
1267Draw their own ruin who attempt the deed.
1268CHORUS. Oh how comely it is and how reviving
1269To the spirits of just men long oppress'd,
1270When God into the hands of their deliverer
1271Puts invincible might
1272To quell the mighty of the Earth, th' oppressor,
1273The brute and boist'rous force of violent men,
1274Hardy and industrious to support
1275Tyrannic power, but raging to pursue
1276The righteous and all such as honour truth;
1277He all their ammunition
1278And feats of war defeats
1279With plain heroic magnitude of mind
1280And celestial vigour arm'd;
1281Their armouries and magazines contemns,
1283With winged expedition
1284Swift as the lightning glance he executes
1285His errand on the wicked, who surpris'd
1286Lose their defence distracted and amaz'd.
1287But patience is more oft the exercise
1288Of saints, the trial of their fortitude,
1289Making them each his own deliverer,
1290And victor over all
1291That tyranny or fortune can inflict.
1292Either of these is in thy lot,
1293Samson, with might endu'd
1294Above the sons of men; but sight bereav'd
1295May chance to number thee with those
1296Whom patience finally must crown.
1297This idol's day hath been to thee no day of rest,
1298Labouring thy mind
1299More than the working day thy hands;
1300And yet perhaps more trouble is behind,
1301For I descry this way
1302Some other tending; in his hand
1303A sceptre or quaint staff he bears,
1304Comes on amain, speed in his look.
1305By his habit I discern him now
1306A public officer, and now at hand.
1307His message will be short and voluble.
1309CHORUS. His manacles remark him, there he sits.
1310OFFICER. Samson, to thee our lords thus bid me say;
1311This day to Dagon is a solemn feast,
1312With sacrifices, triumph, pomp, and games;
1313Thy strength they know surpassing human rate,
1314And now some public proof thereof require
1315To honour this great feast, and great assembly;
1316Rise therefore with all speed and come along,
1317Where I will see thee heart'n'd and fresh clad
1318To appear as fits before th' illustrious lords.
1319SAMSON. Thou knowst I am an Ebrew, therefore tell them,
1320Our law forbids at their religious rites
1321My presence; for that cause I cannot come.
1322OFFICER. This answer, be assur'd, will not content them.
1323SAMSON. Have they not sword-players, and ev'ry sort
1325Jugglers and dancers, antics, mummers, mimics,
1326But they must pick me out with shackles tir'd,
1327And over-labour'd at their public mill,
1328To make them sport with blind activity?
1329Do they not seek occasion of new quarrels
1330On my refusal to distress me more,
1331Or make a game of my calamities?
1332Return the way thou cam'st; I will not come.
1333OFFICER. Regard thyself, this will offend them highly.
1334SAMSON. Myself? my conscience and internal peace.
1335Can they think me so broken, so debas'd
1336With corporal servitude, that my mind ever
1337Will condescend to such absurd commands?
1338Although their drudge, to be their fool or jester,
1339And in my midst of sorrow and heart-grief
1340To shew them feats, and play before their god
1341The worst of all indignities, yet on me
1342Join'd with extreme contempt? I will not come.
1343OFFICER. My message was impos'd on me with speed,
1344Brooks no delay: is this thy resolution?
1345SAMSON. So take it with what speed thy message needs.
1346OFFICER. I am sorry what this stoutness will produce.
1347SAMSON. Perhaps thou shalt have cause to sorrow indeed.
1348CHORUS. Consider, Samson; matters now are strain'd
1349Up to the highth, whether to hold or break;
1350He's gone, and who knows how he may report
1351Thy words by adding fuel to the flame?
1352Expect another message more imperious,
1353More lordly thund'ring than thou well wilt bear.
1354SAMSON. Shall I abuse this consecrated gift
1355Of strength, again returning with my hair
1356After my great transgression, so requite
1357Favour renew'd, and add a greater sin
1358By prostituting holy things to idols;
1359A Nazarite in place abominable
1360Vaunting my strength in honour to their Dagon?
1361Besides, how vile, contemptible, ridiculous,
1362What act more execrably unclean, profane?
1363CHORUS. Yet with this strength thou serv'st the Philistines,
1364Idolatrous, uncircumcis'd, unclean.
1365SAMSON. Not in their idol worship, but by labour
1366Honest and lawful to deserve my food
1367Of those who have me in their civil power.
1369SAMSON. Where outward force constrains, the sentence holds;
1370But who constrains me to the temple of Dagon,
1371Not dragging? the Philistian lords command.
1372Commands are no constraints. If I obey them,
1373I do it freely; venturing to displease
1374God for the fear of man, and man prefer,
1375Set God behind: which in his jealousy
1376Shall never, unrepented, find forgiveness.
1377Yet that he may dispense with me or thee
1378Present in temples at idolatrous rites
1379For some important cause, thou needst not doubt.
1380CHORUS. How thou wilt here come off surmounts my reach.
1381SAMSON. Be of good courage, I begin to feel
1382Some rousing motions in me which dispose
1383To something extraordinary my thoughts.
1384I with this messenger will go along,
1385Nothing to do, be sure, that may dishonour
1386Our law, or stain my vow of Nazarite.
1387If there be aught of presage in the mind,
1388This day will be remarkable in my life
1389By some great act, or of my days the last.
1390CHORUS. In time thou hast resolv'd, the man returns.
1391OFFICER. Samson, this second message from our lords
1392To thee I am bid say. Art thou our slave,
1393Our captive, at the public mill our drudge,
1394And dar'st thou at our sending and command
1396Or we shall find such engines to assail
1397And hamper thee, as thou shalt come of force,
1398Though thou wert firmlier fast'nd than a rock.
1400Which to no few of them would prove pernicious;
1402Because they shall not trail me through their streets
1403Like a wild beast, I am content to go.
1404Masters' commands come with a power resistless
1405To such as owe them absolute subjection;
1406And for a life who will not change his purpose?
1407(So mutable are all the ways of men)
1408Yet this be sure, in nothing to comply
1409Scandalous or forbidden in our law.
1410OFFICER. I praise thy resolution, doff these links:
1411By this compiance thou wilt win the lords
1412To favour, and perhaps to set thee free.
1413SAMSON. Brethren farewell, your company along
1414I will not wish, lest it perhaps offend them
1415To see me girt with friends; and how the sight
1416Of me as of a common enemy,
1417So dreaded once, may now exasperate them
1418I know not. Lords are lordliest in their wine;
1419And the well-feasted priest then soonest fir'd
1420With zeal, if aught religion seem concern'd:
1421No less the people on their holy-days
1422Impetuous, insolent, unquenchable;
1423Happ'n what may, of me expect to hear
1424Nothing dishonourable, impure, unworthy
1426The last of me or no I cannot warrant.
[Messenger, Manoah, Chorus]
1597And as the gates I enter'd with sun-rise,
1598The morning trumpets festival proclaim'd
1599Through each high street: little I had dispatch'd
1600When all abroad was rumour'd that this day
1601Samson should be brought forth to shew the people
1602Proof of his mighty strength in feats and games;
1604Not to be absent at that spectacle.
1605The building was a spacious theatre
1606Half round on two main pillars vaulted high,
1608Of sort, might sit in order to behold,
1609The other side was op'n, where the throng
1611I among these aloof obscurely stood.
1612The feast and noon grew high, and sacrifice
1613Had fill'd their hearts with mirth, high cheer, and wine,
1614When to their sports they turn'd. Immediately
1615Was Samson as a public servant brought,
1616In their state livery clad; before him pipes
1617And timbrels, on each side went armed guards,
1618Both horse and foot before him and behind,
1620At sight of him the people with a shout
1622Who had made their dreadful enemy their thrall.
1623He patient but undaunted, where they led him
1624Came to the place, and what was set before him
1625Which without help of eye, might be assay'd,
1626To heave, pull, draw, or break, he still perform'd
1627All with incredible, stupendous force,
1628None daring to appear antagonist.
1629At length for intermission sake they led him
1630Between the pillars; he his guide requested
1631(For so from such as nearer stood we heard)
1632As over-tir'd to let him lean a while
1633With both his arms on those two massy pillars
1634That to the arched roof gave main support.
1635He unsuspicious led him; which when Samson
1636Felt in his arms, with head a while inclin'd,
1637And eyes fast fix'd he stood, as one who pray'd,
1638Or some great matter in his mind revolv'd.
1639At last with head erect thus cried aloud,
1640"Hitherto, Lords, what your commands impos'd
1641I have perform'd, as reason was, obeying,
1642Not without wonder or delight beheld.
1643Now of my own accord such other trial
1644I mean to show you of my strength, yet greater,
1645As with amaze shall strike all who behold."
1646This utter'd, straining all his nerves he bow'd,
1647As with the force of winds and waters pent,
1648When mountains tremble, those two massy pillars
1649With horrible convulsion to and fro;
1650He tugg'd, he shook, till down they came and drew
1651The whole roof after them, with burst of thunder
1652Upon the heads of all who sate beneath,
1653Lords, ladies, captains, counsellors, or priests,
1654Their choice nobility and flower, not only
1655Of this but each Philistian city round,
1656Met from all parts to solemnize this feast.
1657Samson with these immix'd, inevitably
1658Pull'd down the same destruction on himself;
1659The vulgar only scap'd who stood without.
1660CHORUS. O dearly-bought revenge, yet glorious!
1661Living or dying thou hast fulfill'd
1662The work for which thou wast foretold
1663To Israel, and now ly'st victorious
1664Among thy slain self-kill'd,
1665Not willingly, but tangl'd in the fold
1666Of dire necessity, whose law in death conjoin'd
1667Thee with thy slaughter'd foes in number more
1668Than all thy life had slain before.
1670Drunk with idolatry, drunk with wine,
1671And fat regorg'd of bulls and goats,
1672Chaunting their idol, and preferring
1673Before our living Dread who dwells
1676Who hurt their minds,
1677And urg'd them on with mad desire
1678To call in haste for their destroyer;
1679They only set on sport and play
1681Their own destruction to come speedy upon them.
1683Fall'n into wrath divine,
1684As their own ruin on themselves to invite,
1685Insensate left, or to sense reprobate,
1686And with blindness internal struck.
1687SEMICHORUS. But he, though blind of sight,
1688Despis'd and thought extinguish'd quite,
1689With inward eyes illuminated
1690His fiery virtue rous'd
1691From under ashes into sudden flame,
1693Assailant on the perched roosts,
1694And nests in order rang'd
1697So virtue giv'n for lost,
1698Depress'd, and overthrown, as seem'd,
1701That no second knows nor third,
1702And lay erewhile a holocaust,
1703From out her ashy womb now teem'd,
1704Revives, reflourishes, then vigorous most
1705When most unactive deem'd,
1706And though her body die, her fame survives,
1708MANOA. Come, come, no time for lamentation now,
1709Nor much more cause: Samson hath quit himself
1710Like Samson, and heroicly hath finish'd
1711A life heroic, on his enemies
1712Fully reveng'd; hath left them years of mourning,
1714Through all Philistian bounds; to Israel
1715Honour hath left, and freedom, let but them
1716Find courage to lay hold on this occasion;
1717To himself and father's house eternal fame;
1718And which is best and happiest yet, all this
1719With God not parted from him, as was fear'd,
1720But favouring and assisting to the end.
1721Nothing is here for tears, nothing to wail
1722Or knock the breast, no weakness, no contempt,
1723Dispraise, or blame, nothing but well and fair,
1724And what may quiet us in a death so noble.
1725Let us go find the body where it lies
1726Soak'd in his enemies' blood, and from the stream
1728The clotted gore. I with what speed the while
1729(Gaza is not in plight to say us nay)
1730Will send for all my kindred, all my friends
1731To fetch him hence and solemnly attend
1732With silent obsequy and funeral train
1733Home to his father's house. There will I build him
1734A monument, and plant it round with shade
1735Of laurel ever green, and branching palm,
1736With all his trophies hung, and acts enroll'd
1737In copious legend, or sweet lyric song.
1738Thither shall all the valiant youth resort,
1739And from his memory inflame their breasts
1740To matchless valour, and adventures high;
1741The virgins also shall on feastful days
1742Visit his tomb with flowers, only bewailing
1743His lot unfortunate in nuptial choice,
1744From whence captivity and loss of eyes.
1745CHORUS. All is best, though we oft doubt,
1746What th' unsearchable dispose
1747Of Highest Wisdom brings about,
1748And ever best found in the close.
1749Oft he seems to hide his face,
1750But unexpectedly returns
1751And to his faithful champion hath in place
1752Bore witness gloriously; whence Gaza mourns
1753And all that band them to resist
1754His uncontrollable intent.
1755His servants he with new acquist
1756Of true experience from this great event
1757With peace and consolation hath dismist,
1758And calm of mind, all passion spent.


1] Milton had included the story of Samson in a list of subjects suitable for dramatic treatment, made after his return from Italy. Five themes were considered, but none of these was to be adopted exactly. Samson Agonistes was probably written after 1667 and was published in 1671, in the same volume with Paradise Regained. For the source of the story, see Judges, xiii-xvi. Milton says in his Preface: "In the modeling therefore of this poem, with good reason, the ancients and Italians are rather followed, as of much more authority and fame. The measure of verse used in the chorus is of all sorts, called by the Greeks Monostrophic, or rather Apolelymenon, without regard had to Strophe, Antistrophe, or Epode, which were a kind of stanzas framed only for the music, then used with the chorus that sung; not essential to the poem, and therefore not material; or being divided into stanzas or pauses, they may be called Alloeostropha. Division into act and scene referring chiefly to the stage, to which this work never was intended, is here omitted .... The circumscription of time, wherein the whole drama begins and ends is, according to ancient rule and best example, within the space of twenty-four hours."
The Argument.
"Samson, made captive, blind, and now in the prison at Gaza, there to labour as in a common workhouse, on a festival day, in the general cessation from labour, comes forth into the open air, to a place nigh, somewhat retired, there to sit a while and bemoan his condition. Where he happens at length to be visited by certain friends and equals of his tribe, which make the Chorus, who seek to comfort him what they can; then by his old father, Manoa, who endeavours the like, and withal tells him his purpose to procure his liberty by ransom; lastly, that this feast was proclaimed by the Philistines as a day of thanksgiving for their deliverance from the hands of Samson -- which yet more troubles him. Manoa then departs to prosecute his endeavour with the Philistian lords for Samson's redemption: who, in the meanwhile, is visited by other persons, and, lastly, by a public officer to require his coming to the feast before the lords and people, to play or show his strength in their presence. He at first refuses, dismissing the public officer with absolute denial to come; at length, persuaded inwardly that this was from God, he yields to go along with him, who came now the second time with great threatenings to fetch him. The Chorus yet remaining on the place, Manoa returns full of joyful hope to procure ere long his son's deliverance; in the midst of which discourse an Ebrew comes in haste, confusedly at first, and afterwards more distinctly, relating the catastrophe -- what Samson had done to the Philistines, and by accident to himself, wherewith the Tragedy ends." Back to Line
13] Dagon. The god of the Philistines, commonly believed to have been a fish-god. Back to Line
89] The time between the old and the new moons, when the moon was "silent" (not shining). Back to Line
95] obvious. Exposed; literally, in the way. Back to Line
106] obnoxious. Exposed. Back to Line
312] national obstriction. The obligation binding Samson as a Jew, not to marry a Gentile. Back to Line
318] heroic Nazarite. Cf. Numbers, vi, 1-17. 321-325. Moody explains: "Dalila, being a heathen woman, is unclean, under the Mosaic law, and is to be held so in spite of reason, which sees no moral force in the judgment; her unchastity, which was subsequent to her marriage, Samson could not foresee, hence that forms no part of his venal stain in marrying her." Back to Line
332] The Chorus was composed of friends and neighbours of Samson, belonging to the tribe of Dan. Back to Line
333] uncouth. Unfamiliar. Back to Line
335] inform'd. Directed. Back to Line
344] dueled. Fought with. Back to Line
360] graces. Favours. Back to Line
363] sacred. Devoted. Back to Line
528] sons of Anak. A race of giants found by the Israelites in Canaan. See Numbers, xiii, 33.
blaz'd. Much spoken of. Back to Line
531] my affront. To meet me. Back to Line
533] venereal trains. Snares of love. Back to Line
543] dancing ruby. The flashing redness of the wine. Back to Line
548] Against the eastern ray. Eastward. Waters flowing towards the east were believed to be especially pure. Back to Line
557] liquid. Clear (Latin liquidus). Back to Line
568] redundant. Flowing, the literal use. Back to Line
571] craze. Make infirm. Back to Line
574] draff. Dregs, refuse. Back to Line
594] genial spirits. Belonging to one's nature or inclination. Back to Line
600] humours black. Literally, melancholy. Back to Line
612] accidents. Unfavourable symptoms; a medical term. Here, pains or sufferings. Back to Line
624] apprehensive. Sensitive. Back to Line
635] message. Messenger. Back to Line
639] nerve. Strength. Back to Line
645] repeated. To become repeatedly. Back to Line
659] lenient. Alleviating. Back to Line
672] Cf. Paradise Lost, I, 737 and note. Back to Line
687] remit. Put back. Back to Line
692] Throughout the poem Milton seems to have in mind parallel personal and contemporary situations; this passage has been taken as referring to the trials and executions of the regicides and other important Commonwealth leaders, and the indignities to which the bodies of Cromwell and others were subjected. Back to Line
700] crude. Premature; cf. Lycidas, 3. Back to Line
701] Though not intemperate, yet suffering (without cause) the punishment of the dissolute. Back to Line
715] Tarsus. Capital of the Roman province of Cilicia, and birthplace of St. Paul. Milton apparently identifies it with the unlocated Tarshish of the Old Testament, often mentioned for its great ships. Back to Line
716] Javan. Greece.
Gadire. Cadiz. Back to Line
717] bravery. Finery. Back to Line
721] harbinger. Fore-runner. Back to Line
748] hyena. Editors compare Gosson's Schoole of Abuse: "Hyena speakes like a friend, and devoures like a foe." Back to Line
1069] pile. Tall body. Back to Line
1075] fraught. Freight, i.e. the message he bears. Back to Line
1076] chance. Ill luck. Back to Line
1080] Og. See Deuteronomy, iii, 11.
Anak. See note to 1. 528.
Emims. Giants dwelling cast of the Dead Sea; defeated at Kiriathaim. See Genesis, xiv, 5 and Deuteronomy, ii, 10-11. Back to Line
1092] single. Challenge. Back to Line
1100] unforeskinn'd. Circumcised; see Gen., xvii, 10-14. Back to Line
1109] assassinated. Treacherously harmed. Back to Line
1116] shifts. Pretexts. Back to Line
1119] Cf. description of Goliath's armour, I Sam., xvii, 5-7. Back to Line
1120] brigandine. Coat of mail.
habergeon. Neck armour. Back to Line
1121] vant-brass, greaves, and gauntlet. Armour for the arms, legs and hands. Back to Line
1219] appellant. Challenger. Back to Line
1222] enforce. Difficulty. Back to Line
1227] descant. Extemporary variation, a musical term; here means "to enlarge upon". Back to Line
1230] Baal-zebub. "Lord of flies"; a god of the Philistines. Back to Line
1241] Astaroth. A Phoenician goddess. Cf. Nativity Ode, 200 and Paradise Lost, I, 438 ff. Back to Line
1244] unconscionable. Exaggerated. Back to Line
1245] chafe. Passion. Back to Line
1247] Cf. II Sam., xxi, 16 if. Back to Line
1282] expedition. Speed. Back to Line
1308] remark. Distinguish. Back to Line
1324] antics. Grotesquely attired buffoons.
Mummers. Maskers. Back to Line
1368] sentence. Maxim. Back to Line
1395] engines. Instruments. Back to Line
1399] pernicious. Fatal. Back to Line
1401] Because. So that. Back to Line
1425] Whether you see the last of me, or not, I cannot tell. Back to Line
1596] occasions. Business. Back to Line
1603] minded. Resolved. Back to Line
1607] sort. Class. Back to Line
1610] banks. Benches. Back to Line
1619] calaphracts. Cavalry with man and horse in coats of mail. Back to Line
1621] rifted. Rent. Back to Line
1669] sublime. Uplifted. Back to Line
1674] Silo. Shiloh where the ark of the covenant was established. See Joshua, xviii, 1. Back to Line
1675] Alluding to the observation that "whom the gods would destroy they first make mad." Back to Line
1680] unweetingly. Unknowingly. Back to Line
1682] fond. Foolish. Back to Line
1692] Samson's coming was like that of a snake his sudden onslaught like an eagle's swoop. Back to Line
1695] villatic. Domesticated. Back to Line
1696] Cf. Sir Thomas Browne: "It is prodigious to have thunder in a clear sky." (Vulgar Errors, II, v). 1699 ff.
Cf. Holland's translation of Pliny, X, 2: "when hee (the bird) groweth old, and begins to decay, he builds himselfe a nest with the twigs and branches of the Canell or Cinamon, and Frankincense trees: and when hee hath filled it with all sort of sweet aromaticall spices, yieldeth up his life thereupon ... of his bones and marrow there breedeth at first as it were a little worme: which afterwards proveth to be a pretie bird."Also Lyly, Euphues: "as there is but one Phoenix in the world,so there is but one tree in Arabia, wherein she buyldeth." Back to Line
1699] Cf. Holland's translation of Pliny, X, 2: "when hee (the bird) groweth old, and begins to decay, he builds himselfe a nest with the twigs and branches of the Canell or Cinamon, and Frankincense trees: and when hee hath filled it with all sort of sweet aromaticall spices, yieldeth up his life thereupon ... of his bones and marrow there breedeth at first as it were a little worme: which afterwards proveth to be a pretie bird."Also Lyly, Euphues: "as there is but one Phoenix in the world,so there is but one tree in Arabia, wherein she buyldeth." Back to Line
1700] imbost: hidden. Back to Line
1707] secular: living for centuries. Back to Line
1713] sons of Caphtor: the Philistines, who came from Caphtor or Crete. Back to Line
1727] lavers: vessels for washing. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
N. J. Endicott
RPO Edition: 
2RP.1.419; RPO 1996-2000.