Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
A Vision of the Alps
By Lydia H. Sigourney (1791–1865)
ITALIA’S vales in verdure slept,
While spring her humid odors wept,
With wreaths the breathing statue bound,
The fallen dome with ivy crown’d,
And bade old Tiber’s yellow wave        5
With fuller flow its margin lave.
  Low at the base of Alps sublime,
  Where the columbar cypress grows,
And falling streams with tuneful chime
To slumber lull the ear of time,        10
  His cell a hermit chose.
Once at his peaceful door reclined,
While lonely musings soothed his mind,
Soft mists involved his favorite tree,
In fainter murmurs humm’d the bee,        15
And in bright tints gay fancy drew
A vision o’er his cheated view.
  A lovely form, in robes of light,
Came gliding o’er his raptured sight;
Fresh garlands ’mid her tresses glow’d,        20
Around her steps strange beauty flow’d,
Attendant birds pour’d forth their lays,
And prank’d their plumage in her praise,
The fawn came bounding o’er the earth,
The tufted violets sprang to birth,        25
The olive donn’d its vesture pale,
And fragrance floated on the gale.
Then, bold o’er Alpine cliffs she sped,
The snow-wreath vanish’d at her tread,
The singing rills went leaping down,        30
The forest caught its graceful crown,
And warblers cheer’d with carols loud,
The cottage cradled on the cloud.
  Still, by the hermit’s anxious eye
Her form was traced ascending high,        35
Where the last tints of verdure die.
Even there, amid that dreary bound,
Some hardy, slumbering flowers she found,
Touch’d their chill lids, and kiss’d the tear
That dimm’d their eye of azure clear,        40
As leaning on their frosted bed,
Their petals to the storm they spread.
  With graceful step, yet half afraid,
Toil’d onward the celestial maid,
And long and vainly strove with fate,        45
The imprison’d streams to liberate;
The blushing snows her wand confest,
Yet held the vassals to their breast,
And soften’d by her aspect sweet,
The ice threw diamonds at her feet.        50
Yet save the eagle-king, whose cry
Came hoarsely from the blacken’d sky,
Motion nor sound was lingering there,
Amid that realm of chill despair.
It seem’d throughout the drear domain        55
  That Life, too fiercely tried,
Contending with the blast in vain,
  Had like the taper died.
She paused—for towering bold and high,
A splendid fabric met her eye.        60
Of thick ribb’d ice, in arches pure,
With battlement and embrasure,
And cluster’d columns, tall and white:
And frost-work tracery, dazzling bright,
And turrets frowning at the cloud,        65
Gleam’d forth its architecture proud.
Here, age on age, with painful thought,
The troubled elements had wrought,
To stretch the rampart’s massy line,
With wreaths the pillar’d halls to twine,        70
And ’neath the lash of tempests rude,
Had oft their bitter task pursued,
Arranging Winter’s glittering spoil,
With slow and aggregated toil.
  The admiring fair, with wonder fraught,        75
An entrance to the structure sought;
But a grim form her course withstood,
Whose frigid eye congeal’d her blood.
  Aged, yet strong at heart he seem’d,
His reverend beard like silver stream’d,        80
Of polish’d ice, the sparkling gem
Adorn’d his kingly diadem,
And closer, as he spoke, he prest
His ermine mantle o’er his breast.
“Say! who art thou, intruder bold,        85
  Who near this lofty throne,
Would with its monarch audience hold,
  Unbidden and alone?
Why com’st thou thus with footstep free,
Unnamed, unheralded, to me?”        90
  Recoiling from his brilliant cell,
  Whose breath in freezing tide,
Congeal’d to sudden ice-drops fell,
  The undaunted maid replied;
“I come, on Nature’s mission kind,        95
Oppression’s victims to unbind,
To bid the sceptred tyrant bow,
And wake a smile on Misery’s brow.
The realm of bliss my care extends,
Man, beast and insect are my friends.        100
Each nursling of the nested grove,
Each plant, and flower, and leaf, I love.”
  With kindling eye, and front of pride,
The scornful monarch stern replied;
“Nature and thou, are wise to give        105
Wild Freedom’s boon to all who live!
The maddening flame promiscuous hurl’d,
Would wrap in anarchy the world.
Go! haste the hour when none shall view
The million meekly serve the few;        110
O’erturn the thrones which, fix’d as fate,
By Time’s strong oath are consecrate,
Then lift your wonder-working rod,
And Earth enfranchised, war with God!
Bold and puissant must ye be,        115
To rend this guarded dome from me!”
  His hand he raised in gestures strong,
And angry blasts shriek’d wild and long.
Vindictive Hail, with frozen eye,
Pour’d forth his keen artillery,        120
And Snow unlock’d, with threatening mien,
A bleak and boundless magazine.
With blanching lip and bloodless cheek
The stricken stranger strove to speak.
Though from her brow the garland fell        125
Scentless and pale, yet, strange to tell,
Reviving courage warm’d her breast,
And firmer tones the might confest
  That may with woman dwell.
“If from thy cold, unenvied state,        130
Thy palace proud as desolate,
  Where fetters bind the free,
One glance thy kingly eye would deign
To mark the blessings of my reign,
  Disarm’d thy rage might be.        135
The chainless rill, the new-born flower,
The carol from the leafy bower,
The strains that from creation roll,
When on my harp she breathes her soul,
Are emblems of the joy that springs,        140
  Deep, measureless, unspoken,
When the dark chain of despot kings
  Is from the spirit broken.
Hear’st thou such music in thy hall
When warring blasts hold festival?”        145
  “Thou, who t’ annul the law dost seek
By which the strong control the weak,
Wouldst thou in frantic madness sweep
This glorious structure to the deep?
Whelm in the dust yon turrets proud        150
Which hurl their gauntlet ’gainst the cloud?
And make these gem-encrusted plains
A vulgar haunt for piping swains,
And brawling brooks, and baby bowers,
And nameless troops of vagrant flowers?        155
Usurper, hence!” he rudely said,
And trembling from his realm she fled;
For thundering o’er the rocky crown,
An avalanche rush’d fiercely down,
And in its wide and wrecking storm        160
Perchance had whelm’d her shrinking form.
But a bright cloud its tissued fold
Unclasp’d, of crimson blent with gold,
And soaring on its wing she rose
Homeward to heaven, to find repose        165
Upon her couch of fadeless rose.
  The waking hermit, o’er whose head
The lustre of this pageant fled,
Retraced its scenes with wonder new,
And musing thus the moral drew.        170
  “The genial gifts of Spring to earth,
Methinks, are types of Freedom’s birth,
And the dark winter of my dream
Oppression’s emblem well may seem;
For many a clime that meets our view,        175
Will prove these varying symbols true.”

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