The Battle of Gaines' Hill
June 27, 1862.
INSCRIBED TO THE GALLANT PENNSYLVANIA RESERVES.
The battle's last, long thunders rolled;
The witness-cloud to heaven was swept;
And night, the ghostly seer and old,
Around our blood-drenched borders crept:
Upon our arms we slept.
We slept: but night, that ancient seer,
Conned o'er us his prophetic lore;
And whispered low in many an ear,
'Thou art, but thou shalt be no more
When next the cannons roar.'
Sleep, that should lift the rugged cross
From staggering souls, but deepened pain,
With conscious sense of coming loss,
That like a wind preceding rain
Blew cold across the brain.
But ah, the rain to come! No noise
Within our guarded limits ran;
But heavy hands shook slumber's poise,
And wearily, in rear and van,
Our dark retreat began.
The stars, with crimson torches, sought
Their darkened pathways through the skies,
When woke our challenge-guns, and brought
From wary foemen's batteries
The boom of quick replies;
As if fresh slaughter to prelude:
The while- by stratagem discreet-
Receding, pausing, scarce pursued,
With no disorder of defeat,
So moved our slow retreat.
But when the sun his sword unsheathed,
And smote us sore, at bay we stood-
To God, the Just, our lives bequeathed;
Planted our guns by vale and wood,
To wait the rain of blood.
It came! Full soon the war-fiend came-
Stern as hell's king, and fiery-browed!
We saw him smite, with hands of flame,
The solemn battle-harp and proud,
Where rose the sulphurous cloud.
Behind our potent guns we stood-
Therefrom the awful war-bolts flew;
Bomb following bomb, full many a rood
They plowed the smoking woodlands through,
And what beside- God knew.
We waited till the hour approved,
To hurl our forces undismayed,
Where Death in all his grandeur moved;
God's cause and Liberty's to aid
By bayonet, ball, or blade.
There, fires that leap when patriots fall,
All startling sights that cowards shun;
All sounds that hurtle and appall-
The bursting shell, the roaring gun-
O'er all, the seething sun!
Full closely swarmed the traitor horde;
Across the hill their bullets sang;
Along our yielding van they poured-
Their shouts like peals of victory rang-
Then, at the word, we sprang.
Sweeping into the front we came;
Awhile along the hill-side bent,
Charged through the deep ravine, to claim
Its walls, for none but heroes meant-
God with us, as we went.
Then did War's crashing music roll!
Then did the fire of battle-wrath
Rush hot through every loyal soul;
And where we swept, o'er all the path,
Was agony and scath.
The leaden hail smote left and right;
The air was like a furnace red;
The sky was dizzy with the sight;
The sun was reeling overhead:
You could not count our dead.
We saw their broken columns swerve;
They shook and faltered at the test;
New vigor shot through every nerve,
And hand to hand and breast to breast,
The glorious charge we pressed.
We drove them from the gory banks-
Through forest-aisles their courses urged;
By field and wood their eddying ranks,
Like storm-tossed billows backward surged,
By Northern valor scourged.
* * * * *
The battle's last, long thunders rolled;
And down the vaulted skies, once more,
Came night, the ghostly seer and old,
To read fulfillment of his lore,
In streams of stiffening gore.
And we, with weak and gasping breath,
With hearts that bled for comrades slain,
Reeled, shuddering, from the hill of death,
And laid us down to sleep again,
The soldier's sleep of pain.
But every step upon the ground,
And every whisper stealing near,
Smote us anew with crashing sound,
As if the cannons rent the ear,
So loud the dead might hear.
The stars their darkest pathways trod,
When we once more, with staggering feet,
Low whispering to ourselves and God,
'Only the sleep of death is sweet!'
Began our long retreat.
If earth's lost youth thou hast revived in dreams,
Hast set swift sails and moored in ports of yore,
Up shining channels traced forgotten streams
Enriched with lilies white from rim to core;
Thou needs must know that strange barbaric shore,
(Nathless unhistoried now and long submerged,)
Where Neptune's sons imperial sceptres bore;
Against whose sparkling borders, blossom-verged,
Their fleet, wave-climbing steeds, the gods of ocean urged.
Unkinged, Atlantis, are thy hapless guests;
They mourn, they wail for thee through ice-wrought caves;
By torrid isles they lift sea-burdened breasts,
They fail with grief, they sink in sobbing waves.
Ah, their rich temples loud with singing slaves-
Their tribute-yielding people prone to kneel!
Ah, their broad realm! the pathless deep it paves;
O'er its bold mountains reef-torn vessels reel:
No minstrels chant its woe and none recite its weal.
Lo! yet our marvel-loving souls have caught
That old belief profanely scoffed as vain,-
'Beyond the heights of Hercules, 't is thought,
Of yore an island gorged the whelming main:
In sooth strange dyes the stagnant waters stain,
And all seafarers of the West aver,
There weedy shoals their urgent barks detain,
And rushes o'er the ruffled surface stir-
That seem of fearful matters always to confer.'
So they- the careful scribes of ancient lore:
Thereat no visionist waves the doubting head;
For while rare dreams their precious chrisms outpour,
Our souls perceive the light of cycles fled,-
Breathe alien airs and traffic with the dead;
Drink of deep founts that erst in coolness welled;
Aye! with thine awful rulers, reverent tread
Across thy very meads, thou isle of Eld!
Thy name we have not scorned, nor faith therein withheld.
When first Athena's wind-borne arrows sang
Through Acta's clouds and down its ranges grand,
At once to life her symbol olive sprang,
And Terra hailed her goddess of the land:
But mighty Neptune rushed upon the strand,
(Far-off the firm hills, trembling, felt the shock!)
His whirling trident left the sinewy hand,
It struck and tarried, vibrant in the rock,
And crested billows there did rise and round it flock.
'Behold!' he cried, 'mine are the rugged vales;
The fearful cliffs my dread approach attend;
Up the green slopes my foam-white sea-bird sails;
And briny founts these roofs of granite rend!'
Straight did her bow the maiden-goddess bend,-
'Mine are the plains,' she echoed, 'mine the shores!
For me their songs the light cicadæ blend;
I call- from sun-dried chasms the torrent pours,
While fruitful groves make haste to drop their bloomy stores.'
Far flew the shaft through Acta's morning air-
The bucklered breast of Neptune felt the stroke:
Then burst such war as only gods may dare!
Then giants rose, then sluggish Triton woke;
His wonted bound the reeking ocean broke,
And, mad with tides, went plunging down the dales;
Wide rolled o'er all the crater's jetty smoke,
The hissing lava chased the valeward gales,
And through the seething floods did wreathe its ruddy scales.
Strong were the wrathful gods- the strife was dire:
From glittering shield and helm and baldrick brave,
Their clashing javelins strewed the winds with fire;
In onset swift they trode the frothing wave-
Till highest heaven an echoing clamor gave,
And Zeus, monarch of the gods, arose:
Down darkened steeps his dreadful bolts he drave-
They shook the brooding mists with sundering throes,
And, crashing, smote apart the fierce, unvanquished foes.
From pale recoil immortal brows they reared,
In all the pride of majesty divine:
Howbeit their Titan minions fled afeared-
Deep caves received them and the boundless brine,
Whose tides, receding, sought their past confine;
Volcano-springs their fiery rivers stayed;
The whirlwind died along its scathful line;
The tempest-herded clouds did shrink and fade,
And rolling seas of light pursued the fleeting shade.
Lo, the sheen azure of the crystal vault
Rose, arch on arch, beyond the ravished sight!
Effulgent hues noon's glory did exalt
Of sapphire, ruby, and fair chrysolite,
Opal and pearl, and chalcedony white,
And pure, pellucid beryl; soft did blaze
Their sevenfold splendors: while from infinite height,
As one whose voice the skyey realm obeys,
Descended all serene the god of countless days.
Supernal radiance sphered his sovran head:
The lustrous sun before him paled and pined;
In golden rest the seas unbillowed spread,
And whelming light entranced the songless wind.
Worldward the Sire his awful eyes declined,
Where knelt the strivers, pale as snow-fed flowers:
'No more,' he said, 'the blasts of War unbind!
Still for Athena flourish Acta's bowers;
All else be thine, thou lord of sea-abiding powers!'
He spake, and up receiving heavens he passed;
Beneath his feet there rolled a luminous brede
Of stars, whose vivid nebulæ, white and vast,
The swift-pursuing vision did impede.
Slowly the fading day, from shore and mead,
Soared zenithward, and, glimmering, died on high:
As saintly souls, so did from earth recede
Its tremulous flames, and night began to sigh
Along the desert wave and through the sunless sky.
Uprose the whilom warriors: free of use,
Helmet and shield and javelin cast aside,
Gleamed on the dusky strand in silent truce:
Nor might the darkness which did there reside
Those glowing shapes of beauteous godship hide:
But brow and breast and limb of ivory shone
Fair as the milk-white moons that rise and glide
O'er distant Herschel's night-involvèd zone,
And bid admiring spheres their veiling shades disown.
Now grows the dim world voluble: the dells
With choral ranks of forest-dwellers gleam;
And fountain-nymphs, who peal their silver bells,
That make the sleeping hills of echoes dream.
Sweetly the hours from silence they redeem-
They cry 'Athena comes! Behold, behold
The silver stars that o'er her break and beam!
Green olives high their singing boughs uphold;
They hail her Acta's queen with voices manifold.'
Slow-waving flowers arise, as if the Spring
Had blown his reedy music far and wide-
And nightingales begin to wave the wing
And pant and thrill in ecstasies of pride;
Their welling raptures ripple and subside,
Till all the passing zephyrs swoon with song:
'Athena comes! more fair than crownèd bride!
With blast nor sleet, ye mounts, her presence wrong:
Breathe softly-loud her praise, afar the chant prolong!'
Now swells the sea its coming lord to greet:
From isle to isle full fast the tidings drift;
The speedy billows roll around his feet;
A crescent-shapen chariot high they lift;
They urge the steed from out the watery rift,
While foamy hands make haste to fling the rein;
Ascends the god- the dripping wheels are swift,
The glittering hoofs fast beat the charmèd main,
Whose surges crouch before and all their waves restrain!
How summer-fair, in central ocean, rose
Thy shore, Atlantis, wrought with fret and bay;
What time the orient banners might disclose
The azure-staining gules of dawning day!
How frail thy scarf of zephyr-wafted spray,
That glimmered while the sunshine yet was scant!
How green thy paths, where glancing lights did play
And softly sweep the forest-shades aslant!
How blest the soul were such its everlasting haunt!
There grew all flowers the brightness to enhance;
There lyre-like winds did chime in every glade;
A thousand heights did shining streams elance,
From sun-lit crags to valley steeped in shade;
A thousand lucent, winding rivers strayed
By fragrant mounds, where flights of golden bees
The leaf-enshielded chalices o'erweighed,
Spilling the dew to reach the honey-lees;
And there were verdant palms and many stately trees.
There shells of crimson strewed the shadowy sands,
As sunset clouds on ashen skies afloat;
And there all birds that dwell in lightsome lands
Shook wings of flame, and sang and soared remote,
Till fain the senses ceased thereon to dote,
And but the happy heart with song was sweet;
And ah, the deepening floods of light that smote
The leafy gates of every dim retreat,
And on the waveless lakes made white each flower fleet!
There ruddy fruits on lowly tendril clung,
Spicing each breeze o'er field and fertile cape;
All tropic drupes from rustling branches hung,
Sun-steeped, delicious, fair of hue and shape;
And vines far-climbing, such as greenly drape
Unsightly rocks, o'er every boulder grew;
Dark waxed the crowded clusters of the grape,
Their swelling globes earth's rarest sweetness drew,
Till warm and rich they swung, a-drip with purple dew.
Peace smoothed the velvet sward of every slope;
Earthquake nor avalanche dared the stillness shock;
By swift cascades the lithe-limbed antelope,
As fleetly vaulting, leaped from rock to rock;
Each glen did some pure fountain-source unlock,
Where panther, ounce, and tawny lion drank
Beside the antlered herd and fleecy flock;
No scarlet death might stain or wave or bank,
For none his fellow vexed- no menaced weakling shrank.
There human voices, ever soft and clear,
Framed murmuring speech or rose in wafts of song;
And tremulous laughters, light and sweet to hear,
Echo's fine bugles faintly did prolong:
Gentle and free the race, and brave and strong;
As blithe and kindly as the showers of Spring.
Its graceful youth the blossomed ways did throng,
With smiles and blushes bright as Love may bring:
In beauty bloomed they all, and none went sorrowing.
Sea-green of Eld, while thus the cymbals clash,
The lips unskilled assay the stately theme-
How all thy greatness did the world abash;
Thy rule, adoring kings account supreme;
How, for thy hurt, dared priest nor monarch scheme,
Till thine own deed the grievous ruin dealt-
Oh, may the rugged strain some sweetness seem
To gather, as the breezy echoes melt;
And grander bards forgive, who at thy grave have knelt!
No murky cloud his spotless disk to hide,
The sun, through surges vast his way had cleft,
And all the crisping, restive waters wide,
Of twilight's wave-encumbering shades bereft,
Did glister as a snowy-threaden weft,
With flickering gems afloat in every fold,
And soft sea-colors interwoven deft:
I wis nor daisied path nor street of gold,
E'er shone as this whereon great Neptune's chariot rolled.
All night its gleaming wheels had tracked the waste;
Like serpents ran the ripples in their wake;
Their beamy coils the quivering furrows traced,
As moonbeams, over crested billows, break
Through undulating shade and frothen flake:
All night the ocean-steed, with tossing head
And speedful limbs no bird might overtake,
With streaming mane on buoyant winds outspread,
From Acta's coast, full far, his westward course had sped.
Across the wild Ionian floods that pour
Libations low at burning Ætna's feet,
Where grand Charybdis breathes his sullen roar,
Where Tyrrhene gulfs their Alpine boundaries beat,
Through pillar-guarded straits that roll to meet
The deep Atlantic- cool with Arctic streams,
And sounding airs too swift for summer-heat,
Yet fresh and pure as childhood's morning dreams-
He came, the god, for whom with life old ocean teems.
Around the reverent water-creatures trooped,
Nereid or nymph or siren, each unveiled
Her wondrous eyes, whose teary lashes drooped
O'er lovely cheeks with cavern-slumbers paled;
Down lapsing waves their filmy raiment sailed,
Nor scarce their half-emergent forms might screen;
Along the surf their white arms lightly trailed,
Or lifted high the sea-weed garland green:
They swam on either hand- the chariot rolled between.
And every naiad-voice at whiles out-breaking,
In bursts of songful sweetness pealed around;
Thereafter valley-groves and uplands, waking,
All resonant, air-enriching murmurs found.
No passing breath but bore its freight of sound,
And by unrifled roses, dying, sang;
Nor jarring note the eager ear might wound,
But clear and loud the choral pæans rang,
As up the pebbled beach the steed, unweary, sprang.
To earth light leaped the god, while dale and plain,
And ledge-built cave where falling waters hide,
Thrilled with his lifted voice that rang amain,
And 'Amphitrite! Amphitrite!'- wide
The bruiting winds his ardent summons cried,
With 'Amphitrite!' startling all the strand:
Her name the dewy breeze, far-floating, sighed,
The crimson trouble of her cheek it fanned,
While, slow and love-constrained, she crossed the bounteous land.
Majestic was her mien; her stately head
Enwreathed with silver flowers of lake and lea,
Wherefrom the fragrance-loaden drops were shed
Down all her hair that, circling, floated free;
It seemed as light and shade did there agree,
And, dimly-lustrous, blend and interlace:
Deep were her eyes and colored like the sea;
As wind-brought wave she moved with undulate grace,
And all the goddess shone resplendent in her face!
And wheresoe'er her feet did press the vales,
There snow-excelling asphodels did spring;
Her smile beholding, mild as are the gales
Of slumberous Iran grew the wreakful king;
Trident nor warring javelin might he fling,
But tuneful as celestial marriage-lyres
His rapturous song made all the æther ring,
Through azure spaces- far as Love aspires!
Abashed the ocean shrank and hushed its trembling choirs.
'My bride,' he sang, 'the golden isle be ours!
From verge to verge its splendor shall exceed;
Its founts shall rise in youth-renewing showers,
Its blushful fruit undying lips shall feed.
Here Pan all day shall blow his river-reed,
All night shall oreads breathe their roundels sweet;
Their flitting shapes, from whispering cedars freed,
Shall haunt as dreams our shadow-veiled retreat,
Where slumber-silenced hours shall move with slothful feet.
'Here while the cycles blissfully appear,
Our kingly sons their steadfast thrones shall climb:
Swift hands shall toil their templed halls to rear,
Whose cloud-hung bells on soaring winds shall chime;
No mystic scripture there shall threat of time,
No voice of prophet utter woes abroad:
But clang of harp and chant of lore sublime,
Shall heaven's high-vaulted roofs of peace defraud:
For always minstrels proud the island gods shall laud!
'Here shall the sphere-descended powers recline,
Their half-furled wings yet tremulous with flight;
Their rose-like cheeks aflush with nectarous wine,
Their locks afloat on aëry billows bright;
While mossy couches soft to rest invite,
By rills, whose brinks with crystal overflow,
Their love celestial shall the land requite,
Bid vaunting Death the beauteous clime forego,
And on its blooming race immortal life bestow.
'And there shall be no darkness of despair,
No voice of wailing grief, no briny tear;
The flower, today half-budded, shall be fair
Tomorrow, nor tomorrow disappear;
The strain melodious, willing ears shall hear
Unsated day by day; the laughing eye
Shall lose no light, through fleet year follow year;
There shall no beauty fade, no friendship die,
And ever sweetly kind shall Love to Love reply.'
Mystic realm where ruled the deathless kings,
While times unmeasured rolled in light away!
Serene wert thou with oft-recurring springs,
And soft reflections of transplendent day.
Celestial heralds waved their bright array
Upon thy sunbeat mountain-peaks, aglow
With wandering clouds and drifts of shining spray;
Far soaring skyward, or descending slow,
Their silver-plumèd wings swept ever to and fro.
Along thy rills there crept no boreal breath;
No sounding storm o'er tranquil valleys whirled;
Far-fleeting thence, that silent warrior Death,
O'er sunless snows his conquering banners furled,
Nor darkened noon nor crossed a withering world.
Oft through thy skies, with pomp imperial riven,
Great Zeus rode, his hissing bolts unhurled:
Down jasper ways his flying steeds were driven,
And all the isle was sweet with effluent airs of heaven.
Alas, the sons of Neptune! proud were they,
Of princely step and beauty all divine;
Their word the fleet, capricious wind did sway,
Of rushing streams the boundaries did assign,
Nor less compelled the ever-moving brine:
Low at their feet the reverent people knelt,
With all translucent gifts of wave and mine:
'Neath pillared domes of wroughten ore they dwelt,
And tribute-burdened fleets their shelly coasts did belt.
For them the West its riches did unbar;
Kingdoms obeyed them from their island-throne:
Nathless, in Acta's glowing land afar,
Loved of the gods, Athena ruled alone!
Against her cliffs the fettered floods did moan;
Her opulent olives drooped with tawny fruit;
Her thousand fields with crystal torrents shone,
Where sylvan sirens smote the lightsome lute,
And held, with dulcet song, all wrackful tempests mute.
Through groves where lentisk-boughs their fragrance breathed,
Like flitting birds abroad her arrows flew;
The whirring barbs in many a dell were sheathed,
Whose secret waters well the summons knew;
Elate they tossed their gemmy founts of dew-
Whereby the turf its sweetest flowers released:
Spray-cooled and fleet the delicate breezes blew,
Nor soft-blown pipes their light responding ceased,
While loitering nymph or goddess spread her fruity feast.
And all was rest! the deer unhunted ranged,
The archer's aim no circling wing assailed;
From bloom to bloom the dreamful seasons changed;
The moony nights but rarer sight unveiled,
Of blossom vapor-white, or rainbow paled,
Or faint and fleecy citadel of cloud,
Whose glimmering spires in ruddy flame exhaled,
What time to greet the sun mid harpings loud,
At once the glacial heights with beacon-fires grew proud.
The sea-born rulers murmured in their towers-
'Shall isles revere, shall North and South obey,
Shall heaven be red with gold of falling showers,
But Acta's clime no costly tribute pay?
Behold, afar, her haughty hills array
Their slopes in summer verdure: fair below
Sleep spicy groves and rivers warm with day,
Whose beds are gems, whose waters pure and slow,
Seem stained with yellow dates, where palms their shadows throw.
'And lo, the stealthy leopard o'er her plains
Basks in the sun his lustrous black and gold;
And scarlet plumes and snow of feathery trains
Flicker among the grasses of the mold;
With many a graceful coil and flexible fold
Do gayly glittering serpents charm the sight;
Unstinted there are fadeless hues outrolled
Of amber, blushing rose, and lucid white-
So fair is Acta's land, so blooming-rich and bright!'
They murmured in their halls, and near and far,
From lip to lip in haste the tale was told,
With voice of rising wrath and vaunt of war,
Fast-gathering ranks and counsels manifold.
The laughing children at their games grew bold,
commanding 'Give us arrows, sharp and strong!
No more shall Acta's sons their wealth withhold.'
And lance was wrought, with halberd, shield and thong,
Mid clang of steel and brass and burst of battlesong.
In turbulent haste the caverned hills were rent,
Their marble pillars cleft and overturned,
Their firm rocks torn from gorge and deep descent,
Till all revealed their golden bases burned.
Vainly the lofty oak his fellows spurned-
Rived, from his lordly height, he, shrieking, fell;
Full soon the strong-built ships for ocean yearned,
With flashing prows that did the surf repel,
And wavering sails wherein the fair winds sought to dwell.
Dawned there a morn, and all with one accord
Their peaceful garb aside the people cast;
Their voiceful legions trod the lilied sward,
Loud as the floods where hurricanes have passed;
At Neptune's shrine 'neath echoing arches vast,
Thronging they bade the ivory gates divide:
'O thou whose arm withholds the winnowing blast,
Be ours thy strength, great king of seas!' they cried-
'Thee shall nor mortals mock nor scornful gods deride.'
At once within the temple's sacred gloom,
O'er opalescent shrine and coral stair,
Swift-spreading flames brake forth in crimson bloom,
And flushed their light along the dusky air.
The fragrant floors of sandal-wood did wear
The hue of roses; arch and pictured wall,
Embossment, frieze, and wreathen column rare,
Entablature and snowy statue, all
Shone fair as rifted clouds when suns of summer fall.
And, faint and soft, a rippling sound began
Along the glowing corridors to steal:
Onward the ear-enchanting numbers ran,
Far-flowing, throbbing, swelling, peal on peal,
Till, music-whelmed, the floating sense did reel:
'He hears!' the people shouted, all attent;
'The grateful god approves our holy zeal:
With affluent glory lo, he smiles assent;
Thereat the surge-like din to silence fell:
But snatched on brazen clarions burst anew;
While reed and light bandore with gentle swell,
Did softly beat and harsher strains subdue.
Their seaward ways did rapturous throngs pursue:
The foam of striving waters at their feet
One long and glittering thread of silver threw;
And viewless aëry spirits, wild and fleet,
All merrily and loud their wings began to beat.
I ween it was a fair and goodly sight-
A thousand vessels rocking on the tide,
Like white swans half-afloat, half-poised for flight,
That not in wave nor yet in air abide;
And with the winds, that seemed their stay to chide,
Went streaming scarlet pennons, and the stir
Of yellow flag and silken awning wide,
And cleaving oar of hurrying Islander,
Did all with music soft the lingering morn deter.
Followed the Noon, her white hand dipping low
to fret the goldened waters; sweet as sleep
Breathed parting songs that, trembling, drifted slow
From shores receded: eyes there were did weep,
In bowery haunts, to see the far sails sweep
Their snow against the azure of the East;
But well the proud ships rode the sunny deep,
Full well thereon the mirthful din increased,
And lofty-minded youth no vaunt of victory ceased.
The skies were fair, the light mist swam above;
Under the lee the trooping billows laughed;
The breeze was gentle as the voice of love;
On dimpled waves the white crest waltzed abaft;
The seas, inebriate, still the sunlight quaffed,
And sank and sighed with luxury of wine:
Idle the seaman on their rocking craft,
That orientward did constantly incline,
And ever fleetly rode the unresisting brine.
Cuirass and graven helmet caught the sun,
Canopied throne and flashing crown were there;
Brave webs whose thread was of the fine gold spun,
And kingly forms adorned beyond compare.
Lightly they rode, nor did their speed forbear:
Ah, goodly was the sight, but first that day,
Death, in thy vales, Atlantis, spread the snare;
Hid under dewy flowers the sure dismay;
Drew his unfailing bow and set the shafts that slay.
Then first within the bud the slow worm crawled;
Then vipers first were found and reptiles foul;
Then first the linnet's downy brood, appalled,
Shrank from the murdering talons of the owl:
Then beasts, grown terrible, began to prowl
Within the wood; then children learned to wail,
Maidens to sigh and vengeful youths to scowl.
Woe, woe, Atlantis, thou who didst prevail!
Where shall thy refuge be, when angry gods assail?
In Acta's realm a cry of fear was heard,
'What means these troublous voices of the sea?
Wilder than shriek of battling ocean-bird
They utter prophecies of woes to be;
They call, they answer- 'Who shall help decree?
Behold the wings of swift despair outspread!
Sleep shall make bond the souls that yet are free:
Deep sighs there be, low-breathed among the dead,
With whisperings faint they rise, the dewless winds they tread!''
And pale were Acta's children: 'Lo,' they cried,
'The sun, at noon, has worn the veil of night!
Nor now in steadfast state the stars abide,
They break from bound, they cleave the skies in flight.
Drawn on the vaporous heaven are visions white
Of mighty ships with mimic sails, that dare
Aërial deeps, and loud on every height
Mysterious tidings sound, 'Prepare, prepare!
The ravening eagle flies, the lion leaves his lair!'
'And fateful clouds that guard the Delphic shrine
Are quick with flames that threaten to devour;
And dismal cries and chanting sibylline,
Make terrible the midnight's moonless hour.
In haste, through every naiad-haunted bower,
Some herald, terror-pale, in shadow fleets:
'How dread,' they cry, 'how dread great Neptune's power!
With wanton speed he rides the billowy streets:
Prepare! Athena's voice the slumbering land entreats!''
Straight flashed the steely barb; with borrowed fire
Shone burnished mail and golden-hilted glaive:
Slept on the sunny turf the fallen lyre;
And tocsin-peal, and blare of cornet brave,
And beaten tabret did the winds enslave:
Up from their homes the hurrying people pressed,
With wandering eyes that scanned the rolling wave,
Or pierced the vaulty azure of the West,
And sought, they knew not what, or, trembling, dimly guessed.
Perchance no more than darkness of eclipse,
Or silver star beyond his fellow whirled;
Or far fantastic forms of mimic ships,
With frail, ethereal sails in air unfurled:
Or if Destruction o'er a darkening world,
Sped by the angry gods should whet his blade,
Ere yet the dire-impending wrath were hurled,
Might fair Athena, swift her sons to aid,
Arrest his crimson arm and bid their doom be stayed.
Such heavenly help the kneeling people sought;
At every shrine they breathed their reverent vows:
When, borne from far, on rising blasts, they caught
The noise of swelling floods and cleaving prows.
Uplifted they their earth-abasèd brows,
With breath that scarce, for wonder, heaved the breast;
As when his path the sparry iceberg plows
Through drifting deeps, fast rending crest from crest,
So that far-voyaged fleet the waters did molest.
And scarlet pennons floated on the gales,
And yellow flags were waving in the sun;
On glittering yards full whitely swung the sails-
Bay-wreathed were they, as Victory, lightly won,
Already smiled and told of battles done;
Loud were the singing crews, the dense array
Of armèd men, proud sire and princely son:
Their lances poised, their arrows winged for fray,
Bright-panoplied they stood, alert and strong to slay.
On tides that did the verdant headlands threat
Their bounding ships rode up the whelmèd shore;
For rushing winds did rushing waves abet-
Those struck the mast, these at the helm did roar,
Till, cast on verdant meads, the keels forbore,
And eddying surges, sinking, swept the beach.
Not then did kneeling crowds their gods implore;
None made assay to daunten or beseech:
But swift as hurtling clouds each launched his bolts on each.
Then was there din that shook the crag-built land,
Upstartling every harp-lulled mountainblast;
Then cavern-spirits shrieked from strand to strand,
While oreads fled, and giants stood aghast!
Front hurled on front with tramp of legions vast,
Clashing of shields and clang of flying spear;
With flame of far-flung missiles foeward cast;
With neigh of steed, wild shout of charioteer,
And rush of wheels on-rolled in battle's mad career.
Ah, fair Atlantis, island of the blest,
What crystal fountain fed these fiery veins?
What sounding lyre of star-descended guest,
Chimed prelude soft to rouse these warring strains?
What purple bloom outbreathed in summer rains,
Foretold the hue of Acta's blushing soil,
When these, thy sons, should tread her lovely plains,
With fearful onslaught urging dire recoil,
Till flight and swift pursuit should Acta's strength despoil?
Against her hills the waning battle rolled,
Through shadowy grove, green glade, and dewy strath;
And tossing plumes and gleams of ruddy gold,
And flaunting banners flashed along its path.
The drowsy caverns caught the voice of wrath,
That shrieked from rank to rank, the fierce harangue,
The cheer, the dying wail on fields of scath,
The din of falling blades, the trumpet-clang,
That, grandly pealing forth, of certain victory sang.
Athena heard and snatched her ancient bow,
Whose shafts had cleft the round of many a shield;
Far down the heights of everlasting snow
The wingèd steeds her silver chariot wheeled.
Their fleet hoofs struck the gashed and bleeding field,-
O'er all the land celestial splendors ran,-
'Arouse!' she cried; 'your idle javelins wield:
No coward foe shall smiling Neptune scan!'
And waved her standard white and led the whirling van.
As when some strong wind smites an ocean's verge,
And buffets back the rage of rising tides,
And haling swell o'er swell and surge o'er surge,
(Afleck with foam down all their reeking sides;)
On vaulting waves majestically rides-
So swept Athena's hosts, their strength unshorn,
Wild with the call of clarion-sounding guides:
So hurled her foes in headlong flight forlorn,
Triumphant o'er them rode and laughed their power to scorn!
So perished all their glory! in the vales,
Like new-mown flowers, the fallen heroes lay;
Gules on the breast and down their shining mails,
As each his beauteous being gasped away:
Nor trampling steed nor legion might affray
Their dying eyes, slow-turning toward the West;
Somewhat they seemed to see of isle and bay;
Green forest, silvery fount, and sun-bright guest,
Whereat in smiles they sank, with healing slumbers blest.
Not fairer are the lilies; every brow
In smooth repose seemed sculptured of the snow;
And many a palm-tree's victor-loving bough
Thereon did soft and wreathèd shadows throw.
Rolled Acta's pæans o'er her fallen foe,
Yet calm as restful conquerors were these,
Who, pale and battle-worn, their spoils forego,
Content with silence and with balmy ease,
Lulled by the rustling winds, and stir of whispering seas.
White lip to lip the cavern-spirits sighed-
'And shall their morning songs resound no more,
Their laughter sweet the mourning zephyrs chide,
When ghostly Evening flits from shore to shore?'
Each sobbing wave the grievous burden bore,-
'And shall they perish, they who long did reign?
Shall ocean-kings nor heavenly powers restore?
Lo! where Athena triumphs o'er the slain-
'Their god shall aid them not- herein his might is vain!'
'And hark! the people answer,- 'Who shall save?
From Acta's fields up-gather ye the dead;
Let proud Atlantis haste to build their grave,
And weave her linens white to deck their bed.
How is her hope despoiled, her greatness fled,
Her beauty faded, and her strength waxed old!
How are her vessels freighted- in the stead
Of silks and precious things, and slaves and gold!
They shall return, nor long their merchandise withhold.''
O'er Acta's strand are tidal surges tossed;
The keel-rent swards each golden frigate spurn:
Woe, woe for those who wait the bannered host,
And dream of sails and prate of sweet return!
It skills not now that blushing love should yearn,
Or spread the feast, or honeyed nectar pour:
Full fair in heaven the sunset glories burn,
Against a scarlet west the white sails soar,
But from the prow no voice shall hail the rising shore.
Yet happy eyes are watching while the spray,
Like filmy gossamer wavers in the air;
Where drive the ships along their homeward way,
As every silently to land they fare.
Jocund are throbbing hearts and debonair
The rippling laugh, the lightly lifted face:
What soul the starless night of swift despair,
Beyond such soft and lustrous eve could trace-
Or, trembling, feel the doom whose terror comes apace?
Idly the fleet lay rocking in the bay-
None trimmed the mast or furled the silken sail;
There blazed no sun-lit shield, no gemmed array
Of armèd princes, mighty to prevail:
They slept, who erst made mirthful every gale-
Their death-drawn lids full heavy were with rest!
Then who for fear and wonder waxed not pale,
Nor shrieked with grief, nor beat the sobbing breast?
But hate nor weeping love the slumberers might molest.
Alas, the pallid dead! they mutely slept,
Forever unaware of foe and friend:
If roses bloomed, if skies their grandeur kept,
If whirlwinds made the writhing seas contend,
If earthquakes all the panting hills did rend,
They recked not: Peace, to them, her quiet gave,
Wail, wail, Atlantis! since if Love must end,
No bounding heart shall wintry grief outbrave:
When fall the bolts of wrath, no god enthroned shall save.
And soon shall Heaven its fiery vengeance wreak;
Destruction hastes, and none shall help decree,
Vainly the guilty people, kneeling, shriek-
Powerless the arm to thwart, the foot to flee.
O stricken island, dread thy doom shall be!
From verge to verge, lo, sudden darkness falls,
And utter silence, sealing land and sea.
An awful solitude the soul appalls-
No night-bewildered bird, or beast, his fellow calls.
Then through the desert spheres, one, soaring, sped,
Whose far-heard voice of wrath did prophesy:
'Shall proud Atlantis yet exalt her head,
Uprear her puny arm, the heavens defy,
Make mock afar and snatch what gods deny?
Behold the veilèd stars her judgment wait,
The unleashed thunders crouch within the sky!
Who shall the rage of whelming tides abate?
She shall be fallen, fallen, fallen, who was great!'
What dying prayers avail when gods revile?
Burst then the terrors of the hour of doom!
Ah, then how shook the river-nurtured isle,
Through all its dewy vales of summer bloom!
Hurled o'er its cliffs did briny surges loom,
Up-gathered from the valleys of the deep;
Yawned underneath the hills their weltering tomb,
And waves therefrom did cedarn harvests reap;
Sank glade and toppling dome, tall palm and cloven steep.
Sank- while on high the sheeted lightnings burned,
And wasting clouds were white with billowy fire-
Arose and sank, as yet the sea-queen yearned
For empire lost; with strife of strong desire
Lifting from midnight gulfs the shattered spire,
The city overthrown, the fallen height;
Till all revealed and shamed with ruin dire
The wrath-doomed realm, slow-sinking, vanished quite,
With all her pride and pomp, her beauty and her might!
Rolled over all the devastating floods:
No more shall lovers haunt the babbling rills;
No more shall Summer dress her golden buds,
Or wind her misty wreaths among the hills;
No more shall breezy night be sweet with trills,
In light, delicious, music-morsels tossed:
But still the sea-born kings recount their ills,
Nor evermore their mournful theme exhaust,
Of all thine ancient worth, thou island loved and lost!
By torrid shores they breathe their constant plea-
'Arise, O thou of majesty serene!
Break from the prison-chambers of the sea,
Come forth in all thy jeweled garments green!'
And where, full far, the arctic ships careen,
Through ice-wrought caves their wailing sorrows swell:
'Where are thy templed hills, O fallen queen?
Arise, Atlantis, thou who didst excel!'
Light winds their voices waste:- proud isle of Eld, farewell.
O loved, my Country! there was one of old,
Whose chariot o'er the peace-charmed surges rode;
The morning sun was in his locks of gold,
And on his cheek rose-ruddy youth abode;
His ocean-steed thy sparkling borders trode;
The while his voice he reared, and rock and lea
On bruiting winds abroad their echoes strowed:
'Awake,' he cried, 'O goddess of the Free!
Reach forth thy sceptred hand, and rule from sea to sea.'
Uprose fair Liberty: her stately head
Enwreathed with snow-excelling fountain-flowers,
That lightly down her savage vesture shed
In honey-heavy drops their silver showers.
'My bride,' he sang, 'the golden land be ours!
Aflush with fruit its vines shall sunward climb:
Herein shall swift hands build our glittering towers,
Where bards shall chant their heaven-taught lore sublime;
Nor hand along the wall nor scripture threat of Time.
'While blissful cycles rise and disappear,
Shall vaunting Death the beauteous realm forego:
Its stars shall shine though fleet year follow year,
Through bounteous vales its crystal rivers flow.
On all its dazzling mountain-peaks of snow
Shall blaze the beacons of celestial day;
From verge to verge their sun-lit fires shall glow,
Pierce the dun mists and burn the shades away:
Therewith shall field and flood themselves in light array.'
My Country, thus with Truth and Freedom blest,
Who for thy hurt had dared to barb the dart,
Save that thine arm, far-reaching from the West,
Had plunged the knife in Afric's bleeding heart.
O guilty nation, jeering at the mart
Where men were scourged, and swarthy maidens sold,
When Vengeance rose what arm his bolts could thwart?
Unstayed the blood-dyed billows o'er thee rolled-
Down dropped the night of Death! Ah then what heart was bold?
While yawned amid the deeps thy weltering tomb,
Lo, yet, thy late repentance winged the prayer;
Heaven smiling heard, blue skies begain to bloom,
Dawn touched thy hills and wrapped thy valleys fair;
Woke all thy seers, of deepening light aware;
Swift-falling flames thy crimson altars caught;
Day crowned thy Ruler: he who, strong to dare,
Had long with hell-born Slavery, grappling, fought,
And hurled him down the pit, and thy salvation wrought.
On Freedom's golden threshold mute he stood,
And bore aloft the star-embroidered sign-
His drooping brow bedewed with sweat of blood,
His sad eyes steeped in tears of love divine;
And sighing yet, 'Thy will, O God, not mine,'
His clinging crown of thorns half-snatched away,
His wan lips wet with crucifixion-wine-
He stood- pale herald of millenial day,
While Judas paused afar and whispered,
'Slay him- slay!'
O people wailing for the first-born, dead!
O morn transplendent, quenched in utter night!
O graves from which the sheeted sleepers fled!
O martyr, heavenward caught from Olive's height!
Yet in the book shall listening prophets write;
yet through the heavens the seven swift angels soar;
Vials shall yet be given and swords shall smite;
On sea and land red Wrath his plagues shall pour:
Lo, Babylon the Great shall fall to rise to more!
Come out of her, my Country- stand afar!
To heaven her smoke of torment shall be rolled;
Her thousand streets shall feel the earthquake's jar;
Her strong-built temples crumble, waxing old.
Woe for her fruits, her merchandise unsold,
Her precious wood, her pearls and linen fine,
Her slaves and souls of men, her silks and gold!
The kings of earth are drunken with her wine:
Partake not of her sins nor make her judgments thine.
Come forth! for thee the golden city waits,
Within whose guarded wall is found no night:
Of lucid pearl are all its shining gates;
Lo, its foundations garnished are and bright
With sardonyx and chalcedony white,
Topaz and crystal, jasper past compare,
Sapphire and sardius and chrysolite,
Jacinth and amethyst and beryl fair:
Who shall the length and breadth and height thereof declare?