Abelard and Eloisa flourished in the twelfth century; they were two of the most distinguished persons of their age in learning and beauty, but for nothing more famous than for their unfortunate passion. After a long course of calamities they retired each to a several convent, and consecrated the remainder of their days to religion. It was many years after this separation, that a letter of Abelard to a friend, which contained the history of his misfortunes, fell into the hands of Eloisa: this occasioned those celebrated letters (out of which the following is partly extracted) which give so lively a picture of the struggles of grace and nature, virtue and passion.
ABELARD TO ELOISA.
1 AH, why this boding start? this sudden pain,
2 That wings my pulse, and shoots from vein to vein?
3 What mean, regardless of yon midnight bell,
4 These earth-born visions saddening o'er my cell?
5 What strange disorder prompts these thoughts to glow?
6 These sighs to murmur, and these tears to flow?
7 'Tis she, 'tis Eloisa's form restor'd,
8 Once a pure saint, and more than saints ador'd:
9 She comes in all her killing charms confest,
10 Glares thro' the gloom, and pours upon my breast,[Page 2]
11 Bids heav'n's bright guard from Paraclete remove,
12 And drags me back to misery and love.
13 Enjoy thy triumphs, dear illusion! see
14 This sad apostate from his God to thee;
15 See, at thy call, my guilty warmths return,
16 Flame thro' my blood, and steal me from my urn.
17 Yet, yet, frail Abelard! one effort try,
18 Ere the last lingering spark of virtue die;
19 The deadly charming sorceress controul,
20 And spite of nature tear her from thy soul.
21 Long has that soul in these unsocial woods,
22 Where anguish muses, and where horror broods,
23 From love's wild visionary wishes stray'd,
24 And sought to lose thy beauties in the shade,
25 Faith dropt a smile, devotion lent her fire,
26 Woke the keen pang, and sanctify'd desire;
27 Led me enraptur'd to the blest abode,
28 And taught my heart to glow with all its God.
29 But oh, how weak fair faith and virtue prove!
30 When Eloisa melts away in love!
31 When her fond soul impassion'd, rapt, unveil'd,
32 No joy forgotten, and no wish conceal'd,
33 Flows thro' her pen as infant softness free,
34 And fiercely springs in ecstasies to me.
35 Ye heavens! as walking in yon sacred fane
36 With every seraph warm in every vein,
37 Just as remorse had rous'd an aking sigh,
38 And my torn soul hung trembling in my eye,[Page 3]
39 In that kind hour thy fatal letter came,
40 I saw, I gaz'd, I shiver'd at the name;
41 The conscious lamps at once forgot to shine,
42 Prophetic tremors shook the hallow'd shrine;
43 Priests, censors, altars from thy genius fled,
44 And heaven itself shut on me while I read.
45 Dear smiling mischief! art thou still the same,
46 The still pale victim of too soft a flame?
47 Warm, as when first with more than mortal shine
48 Each melting eye-ball mix'd thy soul with mine?
49 Have not thy tears for ever taught to flow,
50 The glooms of absence, and the pangs of woe,
51 The pomp of sacrifice, the whisper'd tale,
52 The dreadful vow yet hovering o'er thy veil,
53 Drove this bewitching fondness from thy breast?
54 Curb'd the loose wish, and form'd each pulse to rest?
55 And canst thou still, still bend the suppliant knee
56 To love's dread shrine, and weep and sigh for me?
57 Then take me, take me, lock me in thy arms,
58 Spring to my lips, and give me all thy charms:
59 No, fly me, fly me, spread th' impatient sail,
60 Steal the lark's wing, and mount the swiftest gale;
61 Skim the last ocean, freeze beneath the pole;
62 Renounce me, curse me, root me from thy soul;
63 Fly, fly, for justice bares the arm of God,
64 And the grasp'd vengeance only waits his nod.
65 Are these my wishes? can they thus aspire?
66 Does phrenzy form them, or does grace inspire? [Page 4]
67 Can Abelard, in hurricanes of zeal,
68 Betray his heart, and teach thee not to feel?
69 Teach thy enamour'd spirit to disown
70 Each human warmth, and chill thee into stone?
71 Ah, rather let my tenderest accents move
72 The last wild tumults of unholy love!
73 On that dear bosom trembling let me lie,
74 Pour out my soul, and in fierce raptures die,
75 Rouze all my passions, act my joys anew,
76 Farewell, ye cells! ye martyr'd saints! adieu:
77 Sleep, conscience, sleep! each awful thought be drown'd,
78 And seven-fold darkness veil the scene around.
79 What means this pause, this agonizing start?
80 This glimpse of heaven quick-rushing thro' my heart?
81 Methinks I see a radiant cross display'd,
82 A wounded Saviour bl eds along the shade;
83 Around th' expiring God bright angels fly,
84 Swell the loud hymn, and open all the sky:
85 O save me, save me, ere the thunders roll,
86 And hell's black caverns swallow up my soul.
87 Return, ye hours! when guiltless of a stain,
88 My strong-plum'd genius throbb'd in every vein,
89 When warm'd with all th' Aegyptian fanes inspir'd,
90 All Athens boasted, and all Rome admir'd;
91 My merit in its full meridian shone,
92 Each rival blushing, and each heart my own.
93 Return, ye scenes! ah no, from fancy fly,
94 On time's stretch'd wing, till each idea die,[Page 5]
95 Eternal fly, since all that learning gave
96 Too weak to conquer, and too fond to save,
97 To love's soft empire every wish betray'd,
98 And left my laurels withering in the shade.
99 Let me forget, that while deceitful fame
100 Grasp'd her shrill trump, and fill'd it with my name,
101 Thy stronger charms, impower'd by heav'n to move
102 Each saint, each blest insensible to love,
103 At once my soul from bright ambition won,
104 I hugg'd the dart, I wish'd to be undone;
105 No more pale science durst my thoughts engage,
106 Insipid dulness hung on every page;
107 The midnight lamp no more enjoy'd its blaze,
108 No more my spirit flew from maze to maze:
109 Thy glances bade philosophy resign
110 Her throne to thee, and every sense was thine.
111 But what could all the frosts of wisdom do,
112 Oppos'd to beauty, when it melts in you?
113 Since these dark, cheerless, solitary caves,
114 Death-breathing woods, and daily-opening graves,
115 Mis-shapen rocks, wild images of woe,
116 For ever howling to the deeps below;
117 Ungenial desarts, where no vernal shower
118 Wakes the green herb, or paints th' unfolding flower;
119 Th' imbrowning glooms these holy mansions shed,
120 The night-born horrors brooding o'er my bed,
121 The dismal scenes black melancholy pours
122 O'er the sad visions of enanguish'd hours;[Page 6]
123 Lean abstinence, wan grief, low-thoughted care,
124 Distracting guilt, and hell's worst fiend, despair,
125 Conspire, in vain, with all the aids of art,
126 To blot thy dear idea from my heart.
127 Delusive, sightless god of warm desire!
128 Why would'st thou wish to set a wretch on fire?
129 Why lives thy soft divinity where woe
130 Heaves the pale sigh, and anguish loves to glow?
131 Fly to the mead, the daisy-painted vale,
132 Breathe in its sweets, and melt along the gale;
133 Fly where gay scenes luxurious youths employ,
134 Where every moment steals the wing of joy;
135 There may'st thou see, low prostrate at thy throne,
136 Devoted slaves and victims all thy own:
137 Each village-swain the turf-built shrine shall raise,
138 And kings command whole hecatombs to blaze.
139 O memory! ingenious to revive
140 Each fleeting hour, and teach the past to live,
141 Witness what conflicts this frail bosom tore!
142 What griefs I suffer'd! and what pangs I bore!
143 How long I struggled, labour'd, strove to save
144 An heart that panted to be still a slave!
145 When youth, warmth, rapture, spirit, love, and flame,
146 Seiz'd every sense, and burnt thro' all my frame;
147 From youth, warmth, rapture, to these wilds I fled,
148 My food the herbage, and the rock my bed.
149 There, while these venerable cloisters rise
150 O'er the bleak surge, and gain upon the skies,[Page 7]
151 My wounded soul indulg'd the tear to flow
152 O'er all her sad vicissitudes of woe;
153 Profuse of life, and yet afraid to die,
154 Guilt in my heart, and horror in my eye,
155 With ceaseless prayers, the whole artillery given
156 To win the mercies of offended heaven,
157 Each hill, made vocal, eccho'd all around,
158 While my torn breast knock'd bleeding on the ground.
159 Yet, yet, alas! tho' all my moments fly
160 Stain'd by a tear, and darken'd in a sigh;
161 Tho' meagre fasts have on my cheek display'd
162 The dusk of death, and sunk me to a shade,
163 Spite of myself the still-impoisoning dart
164 Shoots thro' my blood, and drinks up all my heart;
165 My vows and wishes wildly disagree,
166 And grace itself mistakes my God for thee.
167 Athwart the glooms, that wrap the midnight sky,
168 My Eloisa steals upon my eye;
169 For ever rises in the solar ray,
170 A phantom brighter than the blaze of day:
171 Where-e'er I go, the visionary guest
172 Pants on my lip, or sinks upon my breast;
173 Unfolds her sweets, and, throbbing to destroy,
174 Winds round my heart in luxury of joy;
175 While loud hosannas shake the shrines around,
176 I hear her softer accents in the sound;
177 Her idol-beauties on each altar glare,
178 And heaven much-injur'd has but half my prayer:[Page 8]
179 No tears can drive her hence, no pangs controul,
180 For every object brings her to my soul.
181 Last night, reclining on yon airy steep,
182 My busy eyes hung brooding o'er the deep;
183 The breathless whirlwinds slept in every cave,
184 And the soft moon-beam danc'd from wave to wave;
185 Each former bliss in this bright mirror seen,
186 With all my glories, dawn'd upon the scene,
187 Recall'd the dear auspicious hour anew,
188 When my fond soul to Eloisa flew:
189 When, with keen speechless ecstasies opprest,
190 Thy frantic lover snatch'd thee to his breast,
191 Gaz'd on thy blushes arm'd with every grace,
192 And saw the goddess beaming in thy face;
193 Saw thy wild, trembling, ardent wishes move
194 Each pulse to rapture, and each glance to love.
195 But lo! the winds descend, the billows roar,
196 Foam to the clouds, and burst upon the shore,
197 Vast peals of thunder o'er the ocean roll,
198 The flame-wing'd lightning gleams from pole to pole.
199 At once the pleasing images withdrew,
200 And more than horrors crouded on my view;
201 Thy uncle's form, in all his ire array'd,
202 Serenely dreadful stalk'd along the shade,
203 Pierc'd by his sword, I sunk upon the ground,
204 The spectre ghastly smil'd upon the wound;
205 A group of black infernals round me hung,
206 And toss'd my infamy from tongue to tongue.
207 Detested wretch! how impotent thy age!
208 How weak'thy malice! and how kind thy rage!
209 Spite of thyself, inhuman as thou art,
210 Thy murdering hand has left me all my heart;
211 Left me each tender, fond affection, warm,
212 A nerve to tremble, and an eye to charm.
213 No, cruel, cruel, exquisite in ill,
214 Thou thought'st it dull barbarity to kill;
215 My death had robb'd lost vengeance of her toil,
216 And scarcely warm'd a Scythian to a smile:
217 Sublimer furies taught thy soul to glow
218 With all their savage mysteries of woe;
219 Taught thy unfeeling poniard to destroy
220 The powers of nature, and the source of joy;
221 To stretch me on the racks of vain desire,
222 Each passion throbbing, and each wish on fire;
223 Mad to enjoy, unable to be blest,
224 Fiends in my veins, and hell within my breast.
225 Aid me, fair faith! assist me, grace divine!
226 Ye martyrs! bless me, and ye saints! refine,
227 Ye sacred groves! ye heaven-devoted walls!
228 Where folly sickens, and where virtue calls;
229 Ye vows! ye altars! from this bosom tear
230 Voluptuous love, and leave no anguish there:
231 Oblivion! be thy blackest plume display'd
232 O'er all my griefs, and hide me in the shade;
233 And thou, too fondly idoliz'd! attend,
234 While awful reason whispers in the friend;[Page 10]
235 Friend, did I say? immortals! what a name?
236 Can dull, cold friendship, own so wild a flame?
237 No; let thy lover, whose enkindling eye
238 Shot all his soul between thee and the sky,
239 Whose warmths bewitch'd thee, whose unhallow'd song
240 Call'd thy rapt ear to die upon his tongue,
241 Now strongly rouze, while heaven his zeal inspires
242 Diviner transports, and more holy fires;
243 Calm all thy passions, all thy peace restore,
244 And teach that snowy breast to heave no more.
245 Torn from the world, within dark cells immur'd,
246 By angels guarded, and by vows secur'd,
247 To all that once awoke thy fondness dead,
248 And hope, pale sorrow's last sad refuge, fled;
249 Why wilt thou weep, and sigh, and melt in vain,
250 Brood o'er false joys, and hug th'ideal chain?
251 Say, canst thou wish, that, madly wild to fly
252 From yon bright portal opening in the sky,
253 Thy Abelard should bid his God adieu,
254 Pant at thy feet, and taste thy charms anew?
255 Ye heavens! if to this tender bosom woo'd,
256 Thy mere idea harrows up my blood;
257 If one faint glimpse of Eloise can move
258 The fiercest, wildest agonies of love;
259 What shall I be, when, dazzling as the light,
260 Thy whole effulgence flows upon my sight?
261 Look on thyself, consider who thou art,
262 And learn to be an abbess in thy heart;[Page 11]
263 See, while devotion's ever-melting strain
264 Pours the loud organ thro' the trembling fane,
265 Yon pious maids each earthly wish disown,
266 Kiss the dread cross, and croud upon the throne:
267 O let thy soul the sacred charge attend,
268 Their warmths inspirit, and their virtues mend;
269 Teach every breast from every hymn to steal
270 The seraph's meekness, and the seraph's zeal;
271 To rise to rapture, to dissolve away
272 In dreams of heaven, and lead thyself the way,
273 Till all the glories of the blest abode
274 Blaze on the scene, and every thought is God!
275 While thus thy exemplary cares prevail,
276 And make each vestal spotless as her veil,
277 Th' eternal spirit o'er thy cell shall move
278 In the soft image of the mystic dove;
279 The long-lost gleams of heavenly comfort bring
280 Peace in his smile, and healing on his wing;
281 At once remove affliction from thy breast,
282 Melt o'er thy soul, and hush her pangs to rest.
283 O that my soul, from love's curst bondage free,
284 Could catch the transports that I urge to thee!
285 O that some angel's more than magic art
286 Would kindly tear the hermit from his heart!
287 Extinguish every guilty sense, and leave
288 No pulse to riot, and no sigh to heave.
289 Vain fruitless wish! still, still, the vigorous flame
290 Bursts, like an earthquake, thro' my shatter'd frame;[Page 12]
291 Spite of the joys that truth and virtue prove,
292 I feel but thee, and breathe not but to love;
293 Repent in vain, scarce wish to be forgiven;
294 Thy form my idol, and thy charms my heaven.
295 Yet, yet, my fair! thy nobler efforts try,
296 Lift me from earth, and give me to the sky;
297 Let my lost soul thy brighter virtues feel,
298 Warm'd with thy hopes, and wing'd with all thy zeal.
299 And when, low bending at the hallow'd shrine,
300 Thy contrite heart shall Abelard resign;
301 When pitying heaven, impatient to forgive,
302 Unbars the gates of light, and bids thee live;
303 Seize on th'auspicious moment ere it flee,
304 And ask the same immortal boon for me.
305 Then when these black terrific scenes are o'er,
306 And rebel nature chills the soul no more;
307 When on thy cheek th' expiring roses fade,
308 And thy last lustres darken in the shade;
309 When arm'd with quick varieties of pain,
310 Or creeping dully slow from vein to vein,
311 Pale death shall set my kindred spirit free,
312 And these dead orbs forget to doat on thee;
313 Some pious friend, whose wild affections glow
314 Like ours, in sad similitude of woe,
315 Shall drop one tender, sympathizing tear,
316 Prepare the garland, and adorn the bier;
317 Our lifeless reliques in one tomb enshrine,
318 And teach thy genial dust to mix with mine.
319 Mean while, divinely purg'd from every stain,
320 Our active souls shall climb th' etherial plain,
321 To each bright cherub's purity aspire,
322 Catch ali his zeal, and pant with all his fire;
323 There, where no face the glooms of anguish wears,
324 No uncle murders, and no passion tears,
325 Enjoy with heaven eternity of rest,
326 For ever blessing, and for ever blest.