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Such solitude before choicest society.
Full forty days He passed—whether on hill
Sometimes, anon in shady vale, each night
Under the covert of some ancient oak
Or cedar to defend Him from the dew,
Or harboured in one cave, is not revealed ;
Nor tasted human food, nor hunger felt,
Till those days ended; hungered then at last
Among wild beasts. They at His sight grew mild, 310
Nor sleeping Him nor waking harmed; His walk
The fiery serpent fled and noxious worm ;
The lion and fierce tiger glared aloof.
But now an aged man in rural weeds,
Following, as seemed, the quest of some stray ewe
Or withered sticks to gather, which might serve
Against a winter's day, when winds blow keen,
To warm him wet returned from field at eve,
He saw approach ; who first with curious eye
Perused him, then with words thus uttered spake :- 320
“Sir, what ill chance hath brought thee to this place,
So far from path or road of men, who pass
In troop or caravan? for single none
Durst ever, who returned, and dropped not here
His carcass, pined with hunger and with drought.
I ask the rather, and the more admire,
For that to me thou seem'st the Man whom late
Our new baptizing prophet at the ford
Of Jordan honoured so, and called thee Son
Of God. I saw and heard, for we sometimes
Who dwell this wild, constrained by want, come forth
To town or village nigh (nighest is far),
Where aught we hear, and curious are to hear,
What happens new ; fame also finds us out."
To whom the Son of God :-“Who brought Me hither Will bring Me hence; no other guide I seek."
“By miracle He may,” replied the swain ; “What other way I see not; for we here
Live on tough roots and stubs, to thirst inured
More than the camel, and to drink go far-
Men to much misery and hardship born.
But, if Thou be the Son of God, command
That out of these hard stones be made Thee bread;
So shalt Thou save Thyself, and us relieve
With food, whereof we wretched seldom taste.”
He ended, and the Son of God replied :“Think'st thou such force in bread? Is it not written (For I discern thee other than thou seem'st), Man lives not by bread only, but each word Proceeding from the mouth of God, who fed
350 Our fathers here with manna? In the mount Moses was forty days, nor eat nor drank; And forty days Elijah without food Wandered this barren waste; the same I now. Why dost thou, then, suggest to Me distrust, Knowing who I am, as I know who thou art ?"
Whom thus answered the arch-fiend, now undisguised :-“ 'Tis true, I am that spirit unfortunate Who, leagued with millions more in rash revolt, Kept not my happy station, but was driven With them from bliss to the bottomless deep Yet to that hideous place not so confined By rigour unconniving but that oft, Leaving my dolorous prison, I enjoy Large liberty to round this globe of earth, Or range in the air; nor from the Heaven of heavens Hath He excluded my resort sometimes. I came, among the sons of God, when He Gave up into my hands Uzzean Job, To prove him, and illustrate his high worth;
370 And, when to all His angels He proposed To draw the proud king Ahab into fraud, That he might fall in Ramoth, they demurring, I undertook that office, and the tongues Of all his flattering prophets glibbed with lies
To his destruction, as I had in charge :
For what He bids I do. Though I have lost
Much lustre of my native brightness, lost
To be beloved of God, I have not lost
To love, at least contemplate and admire,
What I see excellent in good, or fair,
Or virtuous; I should so have lost all sense.
What can be then less in me than desire
To see Thee and approach Thee, whom I know
Declared the Son of God, to hear attent
Thy wisdom, and behold Thy Godlike deeds ?
Men generally think me much a foe
To all mankind. Why should I? they to me
Never did wrong or violence. By them
I lost not what I lost; rather by them
I gained what I have gained, and with them dwell
Copartner in these regions of the world,
If not disposer—lend them oft my aid,
Oft my advice by presages and signs,
And answers, oracles, portents, and dreams,
Whereby they may direct their future life.
Envy, they say, excites me, thus to gain
Companions of my misery and woe!
At first it may be ; but, long since with woe
Nearer acquainted, now I feel by proof
That fellowship in pain divides not smart,
Nor lightens aught each man's peculiar load ;
Small consolation, then, were man adjoined.
This wounds me most (what can it less ?), that man,
Man fallen, shall be restored, I never more.”
To whom our Saviour sternly thus replied :-
“Deservedly thou griev'st, composed of lies
From the beginning, and in lies wilt end,
Who boast'st release from Hell, and leave to come
Into the Heaven of heavens. Thou com'st, indeed,
As a poor miserable captive thrall
Comes to the place where he before had sat
Among the prime in splendour, now deposed,
Ejected, emptied, gazed, unpitied, shunned,
A spectacle of ruin, or of scorn,
To all the host of Heaven. The happy place
Imparts to thee no happiness, no joy-
Rather inflames thy torment, representing
Lost bliss, to thee no more communicable;
So never more in Hell than when in Heaven.
But thou art serviceable to Heaven's King !
Wilt thou impute to obedience what thy fear
Extorts, or pleasure to do ill excites?
What but thy malice moved thee to misdeem
Of righteous Job, then cruelly to afflict him
With all inflictions? but his patience won.
The other service was thy chosen task,
To be a liar in four hundred mouths;
For lying is thy sustenance, thy food.
Yet thou pretend'st to truth! All oracles
By thee are given, and what confessed more true
Among the nations ? That hath been thy craft,
By mixing somewhat true to vent more lies.
But what have been thy answers ? what but dark,
Ambiguous, and with double sense deluding,
Which they who asked have seldom understood,
And, not well understood, as good not known?
Who ever, by consulting at thy shrine,
Returned the wiser, or the more instruct
To fly or follow what concerned him most,
And run not sooner to his fatal snare ?
For God hath justly given the nations up
To thy delusions ; justly, since they fell
Idolatrous. But, when His purpose is
Among them to declare His providence,
Tɔ thee not known, whence hast thou then thy truth,
But from Him, or His angels president
In every province, who, themselves disdaining
To approach thy temples, give thee in command
What, to the smallest tittle, thou shalt say
To thy adorers? Thou, with trembling fear,
Or like a fawning parasite, obey'st ;
Then to thyself ascrib'st the truth foretold.
But this thy glory shall be soon retrenched ;
No more shalt thou by oracling abuse
The Gentiles; henceforth oracles are ceased,
And thou no more with pomp and sacrifice
Shalt be inquired at Delphos or elsewhere-
At least in vain, for they shall find thee mute.
God hath now sent His living Oracle
Into the world to teach His final will,
And sends His Spirit of Truth henceforth to dwell
In pious hearts, an inward oracle
To all truth requisite for men to know.”
So spake our Saviour ; but the subtle fiend,
Though inly stung with anger and disdain,
Dissembled, and this answer smooth returned :-
Sharply Thou hast insisted on rebuke,
And urged me hard with doings which not will,
But misery, hath wrested from me. Where
Easily canst Thou find one miserable,
And not enforced oft-times to part from truth,
If it may stand him more in stead to lie,
Say and unsay, feign, flatter, or abjure?
But Thou art placed above me; Thou art Lord ;
From Thee I can, and must, submiss, endure
Check or reproof, and glad to 'scape so quit.
Hard are the ways of truth, and rough to walk,
Smooth on the tongue discoursed, pleasing to the ear
And tunable as sylvan pipe or song;
What wonder, then, if I delight to hear
Her dictates from Thy mouth? most men admire
Virtue who follow not her lore. Permit me
To hear Thee when I come (since no man comes),
And talk at least, though I despair to attain.
Thy Father, who is holy, wise, and pure,