The subject matter, the Redemption, presented serious difficulties to adequate epic treatment. The Gospel story was too scanty, and what might have been imported from without and interwoven with it was rejected by the author as profane. He had accordingly to resort to Christian mythology; and here again, circumscribed by the dogmas of the Church, he was in danger of trespassing on the fundamental truths of the Christian faith. The personality of Christ could scarcely be treated in an individual form, still less could angels and devils; and in the case of God Himself it was impossible. The result was that, despite the groundwork — the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the Revelation of St John, and the model ready to hand in Milton's Paradise Lost — material elements are largely wanting and the actors in the poem, divine and human, lack plastic form. That the poem took twenty-five years to complete could not but be detrimental to its unity of design; the original enthusiasm was not sustained until the end, and the earlier cantos are far superior to the late ones. Thus the intense public interest the work aroused in its commencement had almost vanished before its completion. It was translated into seventeen languages and led to numerous imitations.I love the non sequitur of that last sentence. Here's how the 1821 English translation of the poem (by the beautifully-named G H C Egestorff) begins:
My Soul, degenerate man's redemption sing,I break off there, depressed that Egestorff perpetrates the 'its/it's' error I spend so much time correcting in students' essays. Otherwise -- well, this is HEROICALLY dull stuff.
Which the Messiah in his human state
On earth accomplished, by which, suffering, slain
And glorify'd, unto the Love of God
The progeny of Adam he restor'd.
Such was the everlasting Will divine.
Th' infernal Fiend opposed him, Judah stood
In opposition proud; but vain their rage:
He did the deed, he wrought out man's salvation.
Yet, Wondrous Deed, which th' all-compassionate
Jehovah alone completely comprehends,
May Poesy presume from her remote
Obscurity to venture on thy theme ? —
Creative Spirit, in whose presence here
I humbly' adore, her efforts consecrate,
Conduct her steps and lead her, me to meet,
Of transport full, with glorious charms endow'd
And power immortal, imitating Thee.
Invest her with thy fire, Thou who the depth
Of deity discernst, and dost erect
Thy sanctuary in the breast of mortal man!
Pure be the heart, devoid of all offence,
Then I, though with a mortal's feeble voice,
May venture the Incarnate Son to sing, —
May venture on the awful path, forgiv'n
If ever with unsteady pace I move.
Ye Sons of earth, can ye the dignity
Appreciate to which ye were exalted,
When the Creator of the universe
Your state assumed, the Saviour to become
Of his appostate creatures? Listen then,
And heed my song, hut more especially ye,
Ye noble few, ye dear unfeigned friends
Of the Messiah, who with pious hope
And confidence dare the tremendous day
Of awful retribution humbly meet;
Regard it and e'er by a life devout
Sing grateful praises to th' Eternal Son.
Not from the holy city far remote,
That now through blindness ignorantly spurn'd
The crown of high election, rendering thus
Herself unhallowed; wont to be the plane
Of the Eternal's Glory, of the prophets
The succouring abode, an altar now
Of blood, by hands of heinous murderers shed;
There' the divine Messiah now withdrew,
And separated from a people who
External honours oft on him conferr'd,
But these of that pure feeling were devoid,
Which faultless in the sight of God remains.
The Son divine concealed himself from them.
They strewed his path with palm, they filled the air
With shouts and loud hosannas; but the loud
Acclaims of their unholy joy were vain,
They knew not him whom they saluted — King!
Their eyes discerned not the Lord's Anointed.
God from the heavens came down. The powerful voice:
Behold, I glorified mine only Son,
And I will glorify him yet again! —
The presence of the deity proclaim'd.
But they had been by aggravated crime
Too much debased , his words to comprehend.
Jesus mean while, yet once more solemnly
The purport of the covenant to avow,
That he would rescue man from death and sin;
Approach'd the awful presence of the Father,
Who had in anger turned his countenance
From th' earth, and reascended to the heav'ns,
Because man, obdurate, regarded not
The gracious call in the propitious hour.
East of Jerusalem a mountain rears
It's hoary brow, whose lofty summit oft
E'en as the sanctuary of the Most High,
The Saviour in it's lonely haunts receiv'd
When he devoted nights to close communion
With his Eternal Father.