Samson Agonistes

From Out of the Strong Came Forth Sweetness

Samson Agonistes by John Milton, 373-576

Sam. Appoint not heavenly disposition, Father,
Nothing of all these evils hath befall’n me
But justly; I my self have brought them on,
Sole Author I, sole cause: if aught seem vile,
As vile hath been my folly, who have profan’d
The mystery of God givn me under pledge
Of vow, and have betray’d it to a woman,
A Canaanite, my faithless enemy.
This well I knew, nor was at all surpris’d,
But warn’d by oft experience: did not she
Of Timna first betray me, and reveal
The secret wrested from me in her highth
Of Nuptial Love profest, carrying it strait
To them who had corrupted her, my Spies,
And Rivals? In this other was there found
More Faith? who also in her prime of love,
Spousal embraces, vitiated with Gold,
Though offer’d only, by the sent conceiv’d
Her spurious first-born; Treason against me?
Thrice she assay’d with flattering prayers and sighs,
And amorous reproaches to win from me
My capital secret, in what part my strength
Lay stor’d, in what part summ’d, that she might know:
Thrice I deluded her, and turn’d to sport
Her importunity, each time perceiving
How openly, and with what impudence
She purpos’d to betray me, and (which was worse
Then undissembl’d hate) with what contempt
She sought to make me Traytor to my self;
Yet the fourth time, when mustring all her wiles,
With blandisht parlies, feminine assaults,
Tongue-batteries, she surceas’d not day nor night
To storm me over-watch’t, and wearied out.
At times when men seek most repose and rest,
I yielded, and unlock’d her all my heart,
Who with a grain of manhood well resolv’d
Might easily have shook off all her snares:
But foul effeminacy held me yok’t
Her Bond-slave; O indignity, O blot
To Honour and Religion! servil mind
Rewarded well with servil punishment!
The base degree to which I now am fall’n,
These rags, this grinding, is not yet so base
As was my former servitude, ignoble,
Unmanly, ignominious, infamous,
True slavery, and that blindness worse then this,
That saw not how degeneratly I serv’d.

Man. I cannot praise thy Marriage choises, Son,
Rather approv’d them not; but thou didst plead
Divine impulsion prompting how thou might’st
Find some occasion to infest our Foes.
I state not that; this I am sure; our Foes
Found soon occasion thereby to make thee
Thir Captive, and thir triumph; thou the sooner
Temptation found’st, or over-potent charms
To violate the sacred trust of silence
Deposited within thee; which to have kept
Tacit, was in thy power; true; and thou bear’st
Enough, and more the burden of that fault;
Bitterly hast thou paid, and still art paying
That rigid score. A worse thing yet remains,
This day the Philistines a popular Feast
Here celebrate in Gaza; and proclaim
Great Pomp, and Sacrifice, and Praises loud
To Dagon, as their God who hath deliver’d
Thee Samson bound and blind into thir hands,
Them out of thine, who slew’st them many a slain.
So Dagon shall be magnifi’d, and God,
Besides whom is no God, compar’d with Idols,
Disglorifi’d, blasphem’d, and had in scorn
By th’ Idolatrous rout amidst thir wine;
Which to have come to pass by means of thee,
Samson, of all thy sufferings think the heaviest,
Of all reproach the most with shame that ever
Could have befall’n thee and thy Fathers house.

Sam. Father, I do acknowledge and confess
That I this honour, I this pomp have brought
To Dagon, and advanc’d his praises high
Among the Heathen round; to God have brought
Dishonour, obloquie, and op’t the mouths
Of Idolists, and Atheists; have brought scandal
To Israel, diffidence of God, and doubt
In feeble hearts, propense anough before
To waver, or fall off and join with Idols;
Which is my chief affliction, shame and sorrow,
The anguish of my Soul, that suffers not
Mine eie to harbour sleep, or thoughts to rest.
This only hope relieves me, that the strife
With me hath end; all the contest is now
Twixt God and Dagon; Dagon hath presum’d,
Me overthrown, to enter lists with God,
His Deity comparing and preferring
Before the God of Abraham. He, be sure,
Will not connive, or linger, thus provok’d,
But will arise and his great name assert:
Dagon must stoop, and shall e’re long receive
Such a discomfit, as shall quite despoil him
Of all these boasted Trophies won on me,
And with confusion blank his Worshippers.

Man. With cause this hope relieves thee, and these words
I as a Prophecy receive: for God,
Nothing more certain, will not long defer
To vindicate the glory of his name
Against all competition, nor will long
Endure it, doubtful whether God be Lord,
Or Dagon. But for thee what shall be done?
Thou must not in the mean while here forgot
Lie in this miserable loathsom plight
Neglected. I already have made way
To some Philistian Lords, with whom to treat
About thy ransom: well they may by this
Have satisfi’d thir utmost of revenge
By pains and slaveries, worse then death inflicted
On thee, who now no more canst do them harm.

Sam. Spare that proposal, Father, spare the trouble
Of that sollicitation; let me here,
As I deserve, pay on my punishment;
And expiate, if possible, my crime,
Shameful garrulity. To have reveal’d
Secrets of men, the secrets of a friend,
How heinous had the fact been, how deserving
Contempt, and scorn of all, to be excluded
All friendship, and avoided as a blab,
The mark of fool set on his front?
But I Gods counsel have not kept, his holy secret
Presumptuously have publish’d, impiously,
Weakly at least, and shamefully: A sin
That Gentiles in thir Parables condemn
To thir abyss and horrid pains confin’d.

Man. Be penitent and for thy fault contrite,
But act not in thy own affliction, Son,
Repent the sin, but if the punishment
Thou canst avoid, self-preservation bids;
Or th’ execution leave to high disposal,
And let another hand, not thine, exact
Thy penal forfeit from thy self; perhaps
God will relent, and quit thee all his debt;
Who evermore approves and more accepts
(Best pleas’d with humble and filial submission)
Him who imploring mercy sues for life,
Then who self-rigorous chooses death as due;
Which argues over-just, and self-displeas’d
For self-offence, more then for God offended.
Reject not then what offerd means, who knows
But God hath set before us, to return thee
Home to thy countrey and his sacred house,
Where thou may’st bring thy off’rings, to avert
His further ire, with praiers and vows renew’d.

Sam. His pardon I implore; but as for life,
To what end should I seek it? when in strength
All mortals I excell’d, and great in hopes
With youthful courage and magnanimous thoughts
Of birth from Heav’n foretold and high exploits,
Full of divine instinct, after some proof
Of acts indeed heroic, far beyond
The Sons of Anac, famous now and blaz’d,
Fearless of danger, like a petty God
I walk’d about admir’d of all and dreaded
On hostile ground, none daring my affront.
Then swoll’n with pride into the snare I fell
Of fair fallacious looks, venereal trains,
Softn’d with pleasure and voluptuous life;
At length to lay my head and hallow’d pledge
Of all my strength in the lascivious lap
Of a deceitful Concubine who shore me
Like a tame Weather, all my precious fleece,
Then turn’d me out ridiculous, despoil’d,
Shav’n, and disarm’d among my enemies.

Chor. Desire of wine and all delicious drinks,
Which many a famous Warriour overturns,
Thou could’st repress, nor did the dancing Rubie
Sparkling, out-pow’red, the flavor, or the smell,
Or taste that cheers the heart of Gods and men,
Allure thee from the cool Crystalline stream.

Sam. Where ever fountain or fresh current flow’d
Against the Eastern ray, translucent, pure,
With touch ætherial of Heav’ns fiery rod
I drank, from the clear milkie juice allaying
Thirst, and refresht; nor envy’d them the grape
Whose heads that turbulent liquor fills with fumes.

Chor. O madness, to think use of strongest wines
And strongest drinks our chief support of health,
When God with these forbid’n made choice to rear
His mighty Champion, strong above compare,
Whose drink was only from the liquid brook.

Sam. But what avail’d this temperance, not compleat
Against another object more enticing?
What boots it at one gate to make defence,
And at another to let in the foe
Effeminatly vanquish’t? by which means,
Now blind, dishearten’d, sham’d, dishonour’d, quell’d,
To what can I be useful, wherein serve
My Nation, and the work from Heav’n impos’d,
But to sit idle on the houshold hearth,
A burdenous drone; to visitants a gaze,
Or pitied object, these redundant locks
Robustious to no purpose clustring down,
Vain monument of strength; till length of years
And sedentary numness craze my limbs
To a contemptible old age obscure.
Here rather let me drudge and earn my bread,
Till vermin or the draff of servil food
Consume me, and oft-invocated death
Hast’n the welcom end of all my pains.

The complete text of Samson Agonistes from The Milton Reading Room (with helpful imbedded notes)

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