I, too, at length discerned great Hercules' energy mighty,--
Saw his shade. He himself was not, alas, to be seen.
Round him were heard, like the screaming of birds,
the screams of tragedians,
And, with the baying of dogs, barked dramaturgists around.
There stood the giant in all his terrors; his bow was extended,
And the bolt, fixed on the string, steadily aimed at the heart.
"What still hardier action, unhappy one, dost thou now venture,
Thus to descend to the grave of the departed souls here?"--
"'Tis to see Tiresias I come, to ask of the prophet
Where I the buskin of old, that now has vanished, may find?"
"If they believe not in Nature, nor the old Grecian, but vainly
Wilt thou convey up from hence that dramaturgy to them."
"Oh, as for Nature, once more to tread our stage she has ventured,
Ay, and stark-naked beside, so that each rib we count."
"What? Is the buskin of old to be seen in truth on your stage, then,
Which even I came to fetch, out of mid-Tartarus' gloom?"--
"There is now no more of that tragic bustle, for scarcely
Once in a year on the boards moves thy great soul, harness-clad."
"Doubtless 'tis well! Philosophy now has refined your sensations,
And from the humor so bright fly the affections so black."--
"Ay, there is nothing that beats a jest that is stolid and barren,
But then e'en sorrow can please, if 'tis sufficiently moist."
"But do ye also exhibit the graceful dance of Thalia,
Joined to the solemn step with which Melpomene moves?"--
"Neither! For naught we love but what is Christian and moral;
And what is popular, too, homely, domestic, and plain."
"What? Does no Caesar, does no Achilles, appear on your stage now,
Not an Andromache e'en, not an Orestes, my friend?"
"No! there is naught to be seen there but parsons,
and syndics of commerce,
Secretaries perchance, ensigns, and majors of horse."
"But, my good friend, pray tell me, what can such people e'er meet with
That can be truly called great?--what that is great can they do?"
"What? Why they form cabals, they lend upon mortgage, they pocket
Silver spoons, and fear not e'en in the stocks to be placed."
"Whence do ye, then, derive the destiny, great and gigantic,
Which raises man up on high, e'en when it grinds him to dust?"--
"All mere nonsense! Ourselves, our worthy acquaintances also,
And our sorrows and wants, seek we, and find we, too, here."
"But all this ye possess at home both apter and better,--
Wherefore, then, fly from yourselves, if 'tis yourselves that ye seek?"
"Be not offended, great hero, for that is a different question;
Ever is destiny blind,--ever is righteous the bard."
"Then one meets on your stage your own contemptible nature,
While 'tis in vain one seeks there nature enduring and great?"
"There the poet is host, and act the fifth is the reckoning;
And, when crime becomes sick, virtue sits down to the feast!"