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MEMORIALS OF A TOUR ON THE CONTINENT, 1820

XXXI. PROCESSIONS

SUGGESTED ON A SABBATH MORNING IN THE VALE OF CHAMOUNY

          TO appease the Gods; or public thanks to yield;
          Or to solicit knowledge of events,
          Which in her breast Futurity concealed;
          And that the past might have its true intents
          Feelingly told by living monuments--
          Mankind of yore were prompted to devise
          Rites such as yet Persepolis presents
          Graven on her cankered walls, solemnities
          That moved in long array before admiring eyes.

          The Hebrews thus, carrying in joyful state                  10
          Thick boughs of palm, and willows from the brook,
          Marched round the altar--to commemorate
          How, when their course they through the desert took,
          Guided by signs which ne'er the sky forsook,
          They lodged in leafy tents and cabins low;
          Green boughs were borne, while, for the blast that shook
          Down to the earth the walls of Jericho,
          Shouts rise, and storms of sound from lifted trumpets blow!

          And thus, in order, 'mid the sacred grove
          Fed in the Libyan waste by gushing wells,                   20
          The priests and damsels of Ammonian Jove
          Provoked responses with shrill canticles;
          While, in a ship begirt with silver bells,
          They round his altar bore the horned God,
          Old Cham, the solar Deity, who dwells
          Aloft, yet in a tilting vessel rode,
          When universal sea the mountains overflowed.

          Why speak of Roman Pomps? the haughty claims
          Of Chiefs triumphant after ruthless wars;
          The feast of Neptune--and the Cereal Games,                 30
          With images, and crowns, and empty cars;
          The dancing Salii--on the shields of Mars
          Smiting with fury; and a deeper dread
          Scattered on all sides by the hideous jars
          Of Corybantian cymbals, while the head
          Of Cybele was seen, sublimely turreted!

          At length a Spirit more subdued and soft
          Appeared--to govern Christian pageantries:
          The Cross, in calm procession, borne aloft
          Moved to the chant of sober litanies.                       40
          Even such, this day, came wafted on the breeze
          From a long train--in hooded vestments fair
          Enwrapt--and winding, between Alpine trees
          Spiry and dark, around their House of prayer,
          Below the icy bed of bright ARGENTIERE.

          Still in the vivid freshness of a dream,
          The pageant haunts me as it met our eyes!
          Still, with those white-robed Shapes--a living Stream,
          The glacier Pillars join in solemn guise
          For the same service, by mysterious ties;                   50
          Numbers exceeding credible account
          Of number, pure and silent Votaries
          Issuing or issued from a wintry fount;
          The impenetrable heart of that exalted Mount!

          They, too, who send so far a holy gleam
          While they the Church engird with motion slow,
          A product of that awful Mountain seem,
          Poured from his vaults of everlasting snow;
          Not virgin lilies marshalled in bright row,
          Not swans descending with the stealthy tide,                60
          A livelier sisterly resemblance show
          Than the fair Forms, that in long order glide,
          Bear to the glacier band--those Shapes aloft descried.
          Trembling, I look upon the secret springs
          Of that licentious craving in the mind
          To act the God among external things,
          To bind, on apt suggestion, or unbind;
          And marvel not that antique Faith inclined
          To crowd the world with metamorphosis,
          Vouchsafed in pity or in wrath assigned;                    70
          Such insolent temptations wouldst thou miss,
          Avoid these sights; nor brood o'er Fable's dark abyss!


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