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The Ideal And The Actual Life
by [?]

But onward to the sphere of beauty–go
Onward, O child of art! and, lo!
Out of the matter which thy pains control
The statue springs!–not as with labor wrung
From the hard block, but as from nothing sprung–
Airy and light–the offspring of the soul!
The pangs, the cares, the weary toils it cost
Leave not a trace when once the work is done–
The Artist’s human frailty merged and lost
In art’s great victory won! [2]

If human sin confronts the rigid law
Of perfect truth and virtue [3], awe
Seizes and saddens thee to see how far
Beyond thy reach, perfection;–if we test
By the ideal of the good, the best,
How mean our efforts and our actions are!
This space between the ideal of man’s soul
And man’s achievement, who hath ever past?
An ocean spreads between us and that goal,
Where anchor ne’er was cast!

But fly the boundary of the senses–live
The ideal life free thought can give;
And, lo, the gulf shall vanish, and the chill
Of the soul’s impotent despair be gone!
And with divinity thou sharest the throne,
Let but divinity become thy will!
Scorn not the law–permit its iron band
The sense (it cannot chain the soul) to thrall.
Let man no more the will of Jove withstand [4],
And Jove the bolt lets fall!

If, in the woes of actual human life–
If thou could’st see the serpent strife
Which the Greek art has made divine in stone–
Could’st see the writhing limbs, the livid cheek,
Note every pang, and hearken every shriek,
Of some despairing lost Laocoon,
The human nature would thyself subdue
To share the human woe before thine eye–
Thy cheek would pale, and all thy soul be true
To man’s great sympathy.

But in the ideal realm, aloof and far,
Where the calm art’s pure dwellers are,
Lo, the Laocoon writhes, but does not groan.
Here, no sharp grief the high emotion knows–
Here, suffering’s self is made divine, and shows
The brave resolve of the firm soul alone:
Here, lovely as the rainbow on the dew
Of the spent thunder-cloud, to art is given,
Gleaming through grief’s dark veil, the peaceful blue
Of the sweet moral heaven.

So, in the glorious parable, behold
How, bowed to mortal bonds, of old
Life’s dreary path divine Alcides trod:
The hydra and the lion were his prey,
And to restore the friend he loved to-day,
He went undaunted to the black-browed god;
And all the torments and the labors sore
Wroth Juno sent–the meek majestic one,
With patient spirit and unquailing, bore,
Until the course was run–

Until the god cast down his garb of clay,
And rent in hallowing flame away
The mortal part from the divine–to soar
To the empyreal air! Behold him spring
Blithe in the pride of the unwonted wing,
And the dull matter that confined before
Sinks downward, downward, downward as a dream!
Olympian hymns receive the escaping soul,
And smiling Hebe, from the ambrosial stream,
Fills for a god the bowl!

[1] “Die Gestalt”–Form, the Platonic Archetype.

[2] More literally translated thus by the author of the article on Schiller in the Foreign and Colonial Review, July, 1843–

“Thence all witnesses forever banished
Of poor human nakedness.”

[3] The law, i. e., the Kantian ideal of truth and virtue. This stanza and the next embody, perhaps with some exaggeration, the Kantian doctrine of morality.

[4] “But in God’s sight submission is command.” “Jonah,” by the Rev. F. Hodgson. Quoted in Foreign and Colonial Review, July, 1843: Art. Schiller, p. 21.