Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
Airs of Palestine
By John Pierpont (1785–1866)
AT the dun cloud that, slowly rising, holds
The Summer tempest in its gloomy folds,
Though, o’er the ridges of its thundering breast,
The King of Terrors rides, and shakes his lightning crest,
Fearless we gaze, when those dark folds we find        5
Fringed with the golden light, that glows behind.
So, when one language bound the human race,
On Shinar’s plain, round Babel’s mighty base,
Gloomily rose the minister of wrath;
Dark was his frown, destructive was his path;        10
That tower was blasted by the touch of heaven;
That bond was burst—that race asunder driven:
Yet, round the Avenger’s brow, that frown’d above,
Play’d Mercy’s beams—the lambent light of Love.
All was not lost, though busy Discord flung        15
Repulsive accents from each jarring tongue;
All was not lost; for Love one tie had twined,
And Mercy dropp’d it, to connect mankind:
One tie, whose airy filaments invest,
Like Beauty’s zone, the calm or stormy breast;        20
Wake that to action, rule of this the strife,
And, through the mazy labyrinths of life,
Supply a faithful clue, to lead the lone
And weary wanderer to his Father’s throne.
  That tie is Music. How supreme her sway!        25
How lovely is the Power that all obey!
Dumb matter trembles at her thrilling shock;
Her voice is echo’d by the desert rock;
For her, the asp withholds the sting of death,
And bares his fangs, but to inhale her breath;        30
The royal lion leaves his desert lair,
And, crouching, listens when she treads the air;
And man, by wilder impulse driven to ill,
Is tamed, and led by this enchantress still.
Who ne’er has felt her hand assuasive steal        35
Along his heart—That heart will never feel.
’T is hers to chain the passions, soothe the soul,
To snatch the dagger, and to dash the bowl
From Murder’s hand; to smooth the couch of Care,
Extract the thorns, and scatter roses there;        40
Of pain’s hot brow, to still the bounding throb,
Despair’s long sigh, and Grief’s convulsive sob.
How vast her empire! Turn through earth, through air,
Your aching eye, you find her subjects there;
Nor is the throne of heaven above her spell,        45
Nor yet beneath it is the host of hell.
  To her, Religion owes her holiest flame:
Her eye looks heaven-ward, for from heaven she came.
And when Religion’s mild and genial ray,
Around the frozen heart begins to play,        50
Music’s soft breath falls on the quivering light;
The fire is kindled, and the flame is bright;
And that cold mass, by either power assail’d,
Is warm’d—made liquid—and to heaven exhaled.
  Here let us pause:—the opening prospect view:—        55
How fresh this mountain air!—how soft the blue,
That throws its mantle o’er the length’ning scene!
Those waving groves—those vales of living green—
Those yellow fields—that lake’s cerulean face,
That meets, with curling smiles, the cool embrace        60
Of roaring torrents, lull’d by her to rest;—
That white cloud, melting on the mountain’s breast:
How the wide landscape laughs upon the sky!
How rich the light that gives it to the eye!
  Where lies our path?—though many a vista call,        65
We may admire, but cannot tread them all.
Where lies our path?—a poet, and inquire
What hills, what vales, what streams become the lyre?
See, there Parnassus lifts his head of snow;
See at his foot the cool Cephissus flow;        70
There Ossa rises; there Olympus towers;
Between them, Tempe breathes in beds of flowers,
For ever verdant: and there Peneus glides
Through laurels, whispering on his shady sides.
Your theme is music:—Yonder rolls the wave,        75
Where dolphins snatch’d Arion from his grave,
Enchanted by his lyre:—Cithæron’s shade
Is yonder seen, where first Amphion play’d
Those potent airs, that, from the yielding earth,
Charm’d stones around him, and gave cities birth.        80
And fast by Hæmus, Thracian Hebrus creeps
O’er golden sands, and still for Orpheus weeps,
Whose gory head, borne by the stream along,
Was still melodious, and expired in song.
There Nereids sing, and Triton winds his shell;        85
There be thy path—for there the muses dwell.
  No, no—a lonelier, lovelier path be mine:
Greece, and her charms, I leave, for Palestine.
There, purer streams through happier valleys flow,
And sweeter flowers on holier mountains blow.        90
I love to breathe where Gilead sheds her balm;
I love to walk on Jordan’s banks of palm;
I love to wet my foot in Hermon’s dews;
I love the promptings of Isaiah’s muse:
In Carmel’s holy grots I ’ll court repose,        95
And deck my mossy couch with Sharon’s deathless rose.
  Here arching vines their leafy banner spread,
Shake their green shields, and purple odors shed;
At once repelling Syria’s burning ray,
And breathing freshness on the sultry day,        100
Here the wild bee suspends her murmuring wing,
Pants on the rock, or sips the silver spring;
And here—as musing on my theme divine,
I gather flowers to bloom along my line,
And hang my garland in festoons around,        105
Enwreath’d with clusters, and with tendrils bound;
And fondly, warmly, humbly hope, the Power,
That gave perfumes and beauty to the flower,
Drew living water from this rocky shrine,
Purpled the clustering honors of the vine,        110
And led me, lost in devious mazes, hither,
To weave a garland, will not let it wither:—
Wond’ring, I listen to the strain sublime,
That flows, all freshly down the stream of time,
Wafted in grand simplicity along,        115
The undying breath, the very soul of song.
Down that long vale of years are sweetly roll’d
The mingled voices of the bards of old;
Melodious voices! bards of brightest fire!
Where each is warm, how melting is the quire!        120
Yet, though so blended is the concert blest,
Some master tones are heard above the rest.
  O’er the cleft sea, the storm in fury rides:
Israel is safe, and Egypt tempts the tides:
Her host, descending, meets a wat’ry grave,        125
And o’er her monarch rolls the refluent wave.
The storm is hush’d: the billows foam no more,
But sink in smiles: there ’s Music on the shore.
On the wide waste of waters, dies that air
Unheard; for all is death and coldness there.        130
But see! the robe that brooding Silence throws
O’er Shur reclining in profound repose,
Is rent, and scatter’d, by the bursts of praise,
That swells the song th’ astonish’d Hebrews raise.
The desert waked at that proud anthem, flung        135
From Miriam’s timbrel and from Moses’ tongue:
The first to Liberty that e’er was sung.
  But if, when joy and gratitude inspire,
Such high-toned triumph walks along the lyre,
What are its breathings, when pale sorrow flings        140
Her tearful touches o’er its trembling strings?
  At Nebo’s base, that mighty bard resigns
His life and empire in prophetic lines.—
Heaven, all attention, round the poet bends,
And conscious earth, as when the dew descends,        145
Or showers as gentle, feels her young buds swell,
Her herbs shoot greener, at that fond farewell.
Rich is the song, though mournfully it flows:
And as that harp, which God alone bestows,
Is swept in concert with that sinking breath,        150
Its cold chords shrink, as from the touch of death.
It was the touch of death!—Sweet be thy slumbers,
Harp of the prophet! but those holy numbers,
That death-denoting, monitory moan.
Shall live, till Nature heaves her dying groan,        155
From Pisgah’s top his eye the prophet threw,
O’er Jordan’s wave, where Canaan met his view.
His sunny mantle and his hoary locks
Shone, like the robe of Winter, on the rocks.
Where is that mantle?—Melted into air.        160
Where is the prophet?—God can tell thee where.
  So, on the brow of some romantic height,
A fleecy cloud hangs hovering in the light,
Fit couch for angels; which while yet we view,
’T is lost to earth, and all around is blue.        165
  Who is that Chief, already taught to urge
The battle stream, and roll its darkest surge,
Whose army marches through retiring seas,
Whose gory banner spreading on the breeze,
Unfolds o’er Jericho’s devoted towers,        170
And, like the storm o’er Sodom, redly lowers?
The moon can answer; for she heard his tongue,
And cold and pale o’er Ajalon she hung.
The sun can tell:—O’er Gibeon’s vale of blood,
Curving their beamy necks, his coursers stood,        175
Held by that hero’s arm, to light his wrath,
And roll their glorious eyes upon his crimson path.
What mine, exploding, rends that smoking ground?
What earthquake spreads those smouldering ruins round?
The sons of Levi, round that city, bear        180
The ark of God, their consecrated care,
And, in rude concert, each returning morn,
Blow the long trump, and wind the curling horn.
No blackening thunder smoked along the wall:
No earthquake shook it:—Music wrought its fall.        185
  The reverend hermit, who from earth retires,
Freezes to love’s, to melt in holier fires,
And builds on Libanus his humble shed,
Beneath the waving cedars of his head;—
Year after year, with brighter views revolving,        190
Doubt after doubt, in stronger hopes dissolving;—
Though neither pipe, nor voice, nor organ’s swell,
Disturb the silence of his lonely cell;
Yet hears enough, had nought been heard before,
To wake a holy awe, and teach him to adore.        195
For, ere the day with orisons he closes,
Ere on his flinty couch his head reposes,
A couch more downy in the hermit’s sight,
Than beds of roses to the Sybarite;
As lone he muses on those naked rocks,        200
Heaven’s last light blushing on his silver locks,
Amid the deepening shades of that wild mountain,
He hears the burst of many a mossy fountain,
Whose crystal rills in pure embraces mingle,
And dash, and sparkle down the leafy dingle,        205
There lose their liquid notes:—with grateful glow,
The hermit listens, as the waters flow,
And says there ’s Music in that mountain stream,
The storm beneath him, and the eagle’s scream.
  There lives around that solitary man,        210
The tameless music, that with time began;
Airs of the Power, that bids the tempest roar,
The cedar bow, the royal eagle soar;
The mighty Power, by whom those rocks were piled,
Who moves unseen, and murmurs through the wild.        215
What countless chords does that dread Being strike!
Various their tone, but all divine alike:
There, Mercy whispers in a balmy breath,
Here, Anger thunders, and the note is death;
There, ’t is a string that soothes with slow vibration,        220
And here, a burst that shakes the whole creation.
By heaven forewarn’d, his hunted life to save,
Behold Elijah stands by Horeb’s cave;
Grieved that the God, for whom he’d warmly striven,
Should see his servants into exile driven,        225
His words neglected, by those servants spoken,
His prophets murder’d, and his altars broken.
His bleeding heart a soothing strain requires:
He hears it:—softer than Æolian lyres,
“A still, small voice,” like Zephyr’s dying sighs,        230
Steals on his ear:—he may not lift his eyes,
But o’er his face his flowing mantle flings,
And hears a whisper from the King of kings.
  Yet, from that very cave, from Horeb’s side,
Where spreads a desert prospect, wild and wide,        235
The prophet sees, with reverential dread,
Dark Sinai rear his thunder-blasted head;
Where erst was pour’d on trembling Israel’s ear,
A stormier peal, that Moses quaked to hear.
In what tremendous pomp Jehovah shone,        240
When on that mount he fix’d his burning throne!
Thick, round its base, a shuddering gloom was flung;
Black, on its breast, a thunder-cloud was hung:
Bright, through that blackness, arrowy lightnings came,
Shot from the glowing vail, that wrapp’d its head in flame.        245
And when that quaking mount the Eternal trod,
Scorch’d by the foot of the descending God,
Then blasts of unseen trumpets, long and loud,
Swell’d by the breath of whirlwinds, rent the cloud,
And Death and Terror stalk’d, beneath that smoky shroud.        250
  Seest thou that shepherd boy, of features fair,
Of eye serene, and brightly flowing hair,
That leans, in thoughtful posture, on his crook,
And, statue-like, pores o’er the pebbly brook?
Yes: and why stands he there, in stupor cold?        255
Why not pursue those wanderers from his fold?
Or, ’mid the playful children of his flocks,
Toss his light limbs, and shake his amber locks,
Rather than idly gaze upon the stream?—
That boy is lost in a poetic dream:        260
And, while his eye follows the wave along,
His soul expatiates in the realm of song.
For oft, where yonder grassy hills recede,
I ’ve heard that shepherd tune his rustic reed;
And then such sweetness from his fingers stole,        265
I knew that Music had possess’d his soul.
Oft, in her temple shall the votary bow,
Oft, at her altar breathe his ardent vow,
And oft suspend, along her coral walls,
The proudest trophies that adorn her halls.        270
Even now, the heralds of his monarch tear
The son of Jesse from his fleecy care,
And to the hall the ruddy minstrel bring,
Where sits a being, that was once a king.
Still, on his brow, the crown of Israel gleams,        275
And cringering courtiers still adore its beams,
Though the bright circle throws no light divine,
But rays of hell, that melt it while they shine.
  As the young harper tries each quivering wire,
It leaps and sparkles with prophetic fire,        280
And, with the kindling song, the kindling rays
Around his fingers tremulously blaze,
Till the whole hall, like those bless’d fields above,
Glows with the light of melody and love.
  Soon as the foaming demon hears that psalm,        285
Heaven on his memory bursts, and Eden’s balm;
He sees the dawning of too bright a sky;
Detects the angel in the poet’s eye;
With grasp convulsive, rends his matted hair;
Through his strain’d eye-balls shoots a fiend-like glare;        290
And flies, with shrieks of agony, that hall,
The throne of Israel, and the breast of Saul;
Exiled to roam, or, in infernal pains,
To seek a refuge from that shepherd’s strains.
  The night was moonless:—Judah’s shepherds kept        295
Their starlight watch: their flocks around them slept.
To heaven’s blue fields their wakeful eyes were turn’d,
And to the fires that there eternal burn’d.
Those azure regions had been peopled long,
With Fancy’s children, by the sons of song:        300
And there, the simple shepherd, conning o’er
His humble pittance of Chaldean lore,
Saw, in the stillness of a starry night,
The Swan and Eagle wing their silent flight;
And, from their spangled pinions, as they flew,        305
On Israel’s vales of verdure shower the dew:
Saw there, the brilliant gems, that nightly flare,
In the thin mist of Berenice’s hair;
And there, Boötes roll his lucid wain,
On sparkling wheels, along the etherial plain;        310
And there, the Pleiades, in tuneful gyre,
Pursue for ever the star-studded Lyre;
And there, with bickering lash, heaven’s Charioteer
Urge round the Cynosure his bright career.
  While thus the shepherds watch’d the host of night,        315
O’er heaven’s blue concave flash’d a sudden light.
The unrolling glory spread its folds divine,
O’er the green hills and vales of Palestine;
And lo! descending angels, hovering there,
Stretch’d their loose wings, and in the purple air,        320
Hung o’er the sleepless guardians of the fold:—
When that high anthem, clear, and strong, and bold
On wavy paths of trembling ether ran:
“Glory to God;—Benevolence to man;—
Peace to the world:”—and in full concert came,        325
From silver tubes, and harps of golden frame,
The loud and sweet response, whose choral strains
Linger’d and languish’d on Judea’s plains.
Yon living lamps, charm’d from their chambers blue,
By airs so heavenly, from the skies withdrew:        330
All?—all, but one, that hung and burn’d alone,
And with mild lustre over Bethlehem shone.
Chaldea’s sages saw that orb afar,
Glow unextinguish’d;—’t was Salvation’s Star.
  Hear’st thou that solemn symphony, that swells        335
And echoes through Philippi’s gloomy cells?
From vault to vault the heavy notes rebound,
And granite rocks reverberate the sound.
The wretch, who long, in dungeons cold and dank,
Had shook his fetters, that their iron clank        340
Might break the grave-like silence of that prison,
On which the Star of Hope had never risen;
Then sunk in slumbers, by despair oppress’d,
And dream’d of freedom in his broken rest;
Wakes at the music of those mellow strains,        345
Thinks it some spirit, and his chains.
’T is Paul and Silas; who, at midnight, pay
To him of Nazareth a grateful lay.
Soon is that anthem wasted to the skies:
An angel bears it, and a God replies.        350
At that reply, a pale, portentous light
Plays through the air,—then leaves a gloomier night.
The darkly tottering towers,—the trembling arch,—
The rocking walls confess an earthquake’s march,—
The stars look dimly through the roof:—behold,        355
From saffron dews and melting clouds of gold,
Brightly uncurling on the dungeon’s air,
Freedom walks forth serene:—from her loose hair,
And every glistening feather of her wings,
Perfumes that breathe of more than earth she flings,        360
And with a touch dissolves the prisoner’s chains,
Whose song had charm’d her from celestial plains.
  ’T is night again: for Music loves to steal
Abroad at night; when all her subjects kneel,
In more profound devotion, at her throne:        365
And, at that sober hour, she ’ll sit alone,
Upon a bank, by her sequester’d cell,
And breathe her sorrows through her wreathed shell.
Again ’t is night—the diamond lights on high,
Burn bright, and dance harmonious through the sky:        370
And Silence leads her downy-footed hours,
Round Sion’s hill, and Salem’s holy towers.
The Lord of Life, with his few faithful friends,
Drown’d in mute sorrow, down that hill descends.
They cross the stream that bathes its foot, and dashes        375
Around the tomb, where sleep a monarch’s ashes;
And climb the steep, where oft the midnight air
Received the Sufferer’s solitary prayer.
There, in dark bowers imbosom’d, Jesus flings
His hand celestial o’er prophetic strings;        380
Displays his purple robe, his bosom gory,
His crown of thorns, his cross, his future glory:—
And, while the group, each hallow’d accent gleaming,
On pilgrim’s staff, in pensive posture leaning—
Their reverend beards, that sweep their bosoms, wet        385
With the chill dews of shady Olivet—
Wonder and weep, they pour the song of sorrow,
With their loved Lord, whose death shall shroud the morrow.
Heavens! what a strain was that! those matchless tones,
That ravish “Princedoms, Dominations, Thrones;”        390
That, heard on high, had hush’d those peals of praise,
That seraphs swell, and harping angels raise,
Soft, as the wave from Siloa’s fount that flows,
Through the drear silence of the mountain rose.
How sad the Saviour’s song! how sweet! how holy!        395
The last he sung on earth:—how melancholy!
Along the valley sweep the expiring notes:
On Kedron’s wave the melting music floats:
From her blue arch, the lamp of evening flings
Her mellow lustre, as the Saviour sings:        400
The moon above, the wave beneath is still,
And light and music mingle on the hill.
  The glittering guard, whose viewless ranks invest
The brook’s green margin, and the mountain’s crest,
Catch that unearthly song, and soar away,        405
Leave this dark orb, for fields of endless day,
And round the Eternal’s throne on buoyant pinions play.
  Ye glowing seraphs, that enchanted swim,
In seas of rapture, as ye tune the hymn
Ye bore from earth—O say, ye choral quires,        410
Why in such haste to wake your golden lyres?
Why, like a flattering, like a fleeting dream,
Leave that lone mountain, and that silent stream?
Say, could not then the “Man of Sorrows” claim
Your shield of adamant, your sword of flame?—        415
Hell forced a smile, at your retiring wing,
And man was left—to crucify your King.
  But must no other sweets perfume my wreath,
Than Carmel’s hill and Sharon’s valley breathe?
Are holy airs borne only through the skies,        420
Where Sinai thunders, and where Horeb sighs?
And move they only o’er Arabia’s sea,
Bethesda’s pool, the lake of Galilee?
And does the hand that bids Judea bloom,
Deny its blossoms to the desert’s gloom?        425
No:—turn thine eye, in visionary glance,
To scene’s beyond old ocean’s blue expanse,
Where vast La Plata rolls his weight along,
Through worlds unknown to science and to song,
And, sweeping proudly o’er his boundless plain,        430
Repels the foaming billows of the main.
Let Fancy lap thee in Paraguay’s bowers,
And scatter round thee Nature’s wildest flowers:
For Nature there, since first her opening eye
Hail’d the bright orb her Father hung on high,        435
Still, on her bosom wears the enamel’d vest,
That bloom’d and budded on her infant breast;
Still, to the sportive breeze that round her blows,
Turns her warm cheek, her unshorn tresses throws;
With grateful hand her treasured balm bequeaths,        440
For every sigh the enamor’d rover breathes,
And even smiles to feel the flutterer sip
The virgin dew that cools her rosy lip.
There, through the clouds, stupendous mountains rise,
And lift their icy foreheads to the skies;        445
There, blooming valleys and secure retreats
Bathe all thy senses in voluptuous sweets:
Reclining there, beneath a bending tree,
Fraught with the fragrant labors of the bee,
Admire, with me, the birds of varied hue,        450
That hang, like flowers of orange and of blue,
Among the broad magnolia’s cups of snow,
Quaffing the perfumes, from those cups that flow.
  But, is all peace, beneath the mountain shade?
Do Love and Mercy haunt that sunny glade,        455
And sweetly rest upon that lovely shore,
When light retires, and nature smiles no more?
No:—there, at midnight, the hoarse tiger growls:
There, the gaunt wolf sits on his rock and howls:
And there, in painted pomp, the yelling Indian prowls.        460
  Round the bold front of yon projecting cliff,
Shoots, on white wings, the missionary’s skiff,
And, walking steadily along the tide,
Seems, like a phantom, o’er the wave to glide,
Her light cymar unfolded to the breeze,        465
That breaks not, though it moves, the mirror of the seas.
  Lo, at the stern, the priest of Jesus rears
His reverend front, plough’d by the share of years.
He takes his harp:—the spirits of the air
Breathe on his brow, and interweave his hair,        470
In silky flexure, with the sounding strings:—
And hark!—the holy missionary sings.
’T is the Gregorian chant:—with him unites,
On either hand, his quire of neophytes,
While the boat cleaves its liquid path along,        475
And waters, woods, and winds protract the song.
  Those unknown strains the forest war-whoop hush:
Huntsmen and warriors from their cabins rush,
Heed not the foe, that yells defiance nigh,
See not the deer that dashes wildly by,        480
Drop from their hand the bow and rattling quiver,
Crowd to the shore, and plunge into the river,
Breast the green waves, the enchanted bark that toss,
Leap o’er her sides, and kneel before the cross.
  Hear yon poetic pilgrim of the west,        485
Chant Music’s praise, and to her power attest.
Who now, in Florida’s untrodden woods,
Bedecks, with vines of jessamine, her floods,
And flowery bridges o’er them loosely throws;—
Who hangs the canvas where Atala glows,        490
On the live oak, in floating drapery shrouded,
That like a mountain rises, lightly clouded;—
Who, for the son of Outalissa, twines,
Beneath the shade of ever whispering pines,
A funeral wreath, to bloom upon the moss,        495
That time already sprinkles on the cross,
Raised o’er the grave, where his young virgin sleeps,
And Superstition o’er her victim weeps;—
Whom now, the silence of the dead surrounds,
Among Scioto’s monumental mounds;        500
Save that, at times, the musing pilgrim hears
A crumbling oak fall with the weight of years,
To swell the mass that Time and Ruin throw,
O’er chalky bones, that mouldering lie below,
By virtues unembalm’d, unstain’d by crimes,        505
Lost in those towering tombs of other times;
For where no bard has cherish’d Virtue’s flame,
No ashes sleep in the warm sun of Fame.—
With sacred lore this traveller beguiles
His weary way, while o’er him Fancy smiles.        510
Whether he kneels in venerable groves,
Or through the wide and green savanna roves,
His heart leaps lightly on each breeze, that bears
The faintest cadence of Idumea’s airs.
  Now, he recalls the lamentable wail,        515
That pierced the shades of Rama’s palmy vale
When Murder struck, throned on an infant’s bier,
A note, for Satan’s, and for Herod’s ear.
Now, on a bank, o’erhung with waving wood,
Whose falling leaves flit o’er Ohio’s flood,        520
The pilgrim stands; and o’er his memory rushes
The mingled tide of tears, and blood, that gushes
Along the valleys, where his childhood stray’d,
And round the temples where his father pray’d.
How fondly then, from all but Hope exiled,        525
To Zion’s wo recurs Religion’s child!
He sees the tear of Judah’s captive daughters
Mingle, in silent flow, with Babel’s waters;
While Salem’s harp, by patriot pride unstrung,
Wrapp’d in the mist, that o’er the river hung,        530
Felt but the breeze, that wanton’d o’er the billow,
And the long, sweeping fingers of the willow.
  And could not Music soothe the captive’s wo?
But should that harp be strung for Judah’s foe?
  While thus the enthusiast roams along the stream,        535
Balanced between a revery and a dream,
Backward he springs: and, through his bounding heart,
The cold and curdling poison seems to dart.
For, in the leaves, beneath a quivering brake,
Spinning his death-note, lies a coiling snake,        540
Just in the act, with greenly venom’d fangs,
To strike the foot, that heedless o’er him hangs.
Bloated with rage, on spiral folds he rides;
His rough scales shiver on his spreading sides;
Dusky and dim his glossy neck becomes,        545
And freezing poisons thicken on his gums;
His parch’d and hissing throat breathes hot and dry;
A spark of hell lies burning on his eye:
While, like a vapor, o’er his writhing rings,
Whirls his light tail, that threatens while it sings.        550
  Soon as dumb Fear removes her icy fingers
From off his heart, where gazing wonder lingers,
The pilgrim, shrinking from a doubtful fight,
Aware of danger, too, in sudden flight,
From his soft flute throws Music’s air around,        555
And meets his foe, upon enchanted ground.
See! as the plaintive melody is flung,
The lightning flash fades on the serpent’s tongue;
The uncoiling reptile o’er each shining fold
Throws changeful clouds of azure, green and gold;        560
A softer lustre twinkles in his eye;
His neck is burnish’d with a glossier dye;
His slippery scales grow smoother to the sight,
And his relaxing circles roll in light.
Slowly the charm retires:—with waving sides,        565
Along its tract the graceful listener glides;
While Music throws her silver cloud around,
And bears her votary off, in magic folds of sound.
  On Arno’s bosom, as he calmly flows,
And his cool arms round Vallombrosa throws,        570
Rolling his crystal tide through classic vales,
Alone,—at night,—the Italian boatman sails.
High o’er Mont Alto walks, in maiden pride,
Night’s queen:—he sees her image on that tide,
Now, ride the wave that curls its infant crest,        575
Around his brow, then rippling sinks to rest;
Now, glittering dance around his eddying oar,
Whose every sweep is echoed from the shore;
Now, far before him, on a liquid bed
Of waveless water, rests her radiant head.        580
How mild the empire of that virgin queen!
How dark the mountain’s shade! how still the scene!
Hush’d by her silver sceptre, zephyrs sleep
On dewy leaves, that overhang the deep,
Nor dare to whisper through the boughs, nor stir        585
The valley’s willow, nor the mountain’s fir,
Nor make the pale and breathless aspen quiver,
Nor brush, with ruffling wing, that glassy river.
  Hark!—’t is a convent’s bell:—its midnight chime.
For music measures even the march of Time:—        590
O’er bending trees, that fringe the distant shore,
Gray turrets rise:—the eye can catch no more.
The boatman, listening to the tolling bell,
Suspends his oar;—a low and solemn swell,
From the deep shade, that round the cloister lies,        595
Rolls through the air, and on the water dies.
What melting song wakes the cold ear of night?
A funeral dirge, that pale nuns, robed in white,
Chant round a sister’s dark and narrow bed,
To charm the parting spirit of the dead.        600
Triumphant is the spell! with raptured ear,
That uncaged spirit hovering lingers near;—
Why should she mount? why pant for brighter bliss,
A lovelier scene, a sweeter song, than this?
  On Caledonia’s hills, the ruddy morn        605
Breathes fresh:—the huntsman winds his clamorous horn.
The youthful minstrel from his pallet springs,
Seizes his harp, and tunes its slumbering strings.
Lark-like he mounts o’er gray rocks, thunder-riven,
Lark-like he cleaves the white mist, tempest-driven,        610
And lark-like carols, as the cliff he climbs,
Whose oaks were vocal with his earliest rhymes.
With airy foot he treads the giddy height;
His heart all rapture, and his eye all light;
His voice all melody, his yellow hair        615
Floating and dancing on the mountain air,
Shaking from its loose folds the liquid pearls,
That gather clustering on his golden curls;—
And, for a moment, gazes on a scene,
Tinged with deep shade, dim gold, and brightening green;        620
Then plays a mournful prelude, while the star
Of morning fades:—but when heaven’s gates unbar,
And on the world a tide of glory rushes,
Burns on the hill, and down the valley blushes;
The mountain bard in livelier numbers sings,        625
While sunbeams warm and gild the conscious strings,
And his young bosom feels the enchantment strong,
Of light, and joy, and minstrelsy, and song.
  From rising morn, the tuneful stripling roves,
Through smiling valleys and religious groves;        630
Hears there, the flickering blackbird strain his throat,
Here, the lone turtle pour her mournful note,
Till night descends, and round the wanderer flings
The dew drops dripping from her dusky wings.
Far from his native vale, and humble shed,        635
By nature’s smiles, and nature’s music led,
This child of melody has thoughtless stray’d,
Till darkness wraps him in her deepening shade.
The scene he smiled on, when array’d in light,
Now lowers around him with the frown of night.        640
  With weary foot the nearest height he climbs,
Crown’d with huge oaks, giants of other times;
Who feel, but fear not autumn’s breath, and cast
Their summer robes upon the roaring blast,
And glorying in their majesty of form,        645
Toss their old arms, and challenge every storm.
Below him, ocean rolls:—deep in a wood,
Built on a rock, and frowning o’er the flood,
Like the dark Cyclops of Trinacria’s isle,
Rises an old and venerable pile:        650
Gothic its structure; once a cross it bore,
And pilgrims throng’d to hail it and adore.
Mitres and crosiers awed the trembling friar,
The solemn organ led the chanting quire,
When in those vaults the midnight dirge was sung,        655
And o’er the dead, a requiescat rung.—
Now, all is still:—the midnight anthem hush’d:—
The cross is crumbled, and the crosier crush’d.
And is all still?—No: round those ruin’d altars,
With feeble foot as our musician falters,        660
Faint, weary, lost, benighted, and alone,
He sinks, all trembling, on the threshold stone.
Here nameless fears the young enthusiast chill:
They’re superstitious, but religious still,
He hears the sullen murmur of the seas,        665
That tumble round the stormy Orcades,
Or, deep beneath him, heave with boundless roar,
Their sparkling surges to that savage shore;
And thinks a spirit rolls the weltering waves
Through rifted rocks, and hollow rumbling caves.        670
  Round the dark windows clasping ivy clings,
Twines round the porch, and in the sea-breeze swings;
Its green leaves rustle:—heavy winds arise:
The low cells echo, and the dark hall sighs.
Now Fancy sees th’ ideal canvas stretch’d,        675
And o’er the lines that Truth has dimly sketch’d,
Dashes with hurried hand the shapes that fly
Hurtled along before her frenzied eye.
The scudding cloud that drives along the coast,
Becomes the drapery of a warrior’s ghost,        680
Who sails serenely in his gloomy pall,
O’er Morven’s woods and Tura’s mouldering wall,
To join the feast of shells, in Odin’s misty hall.
Is that some demon’s shriek, so loud and shrill,
Whose flapping robes sweep o’er the stormy hill?        685
No—’t is the mountain blast, that nightly rages,
Around those walls, gray with the moss of ages.
Is that a lamp sepulchral, whose pale light
Shines in yon vault, before a spectre white?
No:—’t is a glow-worm, burning greenly there,        690
Or meteor, swimming slowly on the air.
What mighty organ swells its deepest tone,
And sighing heaves a low, funereal moan,
That murmurs through the cemetery’s glooms,
And throws a deadlier horror round its tombs?        695
Sure, some dread spirit o’er the keys presides!
The same that lifts these darkly thundering tides;
Or, homeless, shivers o’er an unclosed grave;
Or shrieking, off at sea, bestrides the white-maned wave.
  Yes!—’t is some Spirit that those skies deforms,        700
And wraps in billowy clouds that hill of storms.
Yes:—’t is a Spirit in those vaults that dwells,
Illumes that hall, and murmurs in those cells.
Yes:—’t is some Spirit on the blast that rides,
And wakes the eternal tumults of the tides.        705
That Spirit broke the poet’s morning dream,
Led him o’er woody hill and babbling stream,
Lured his young foot to every vale that rung,
And charm’d his ear in every bird that sung;
With various concerts cheer’d his hours of light,        710
But kept the mightiest in reserve till night;
Then, throned in darkness, peal’d that wildest air,
Froze his whole soul, and chain’d the listener there.
  That mighty spirit once from Teman came:
Clouds were his chariot, and his coursers flame.        715
Bow’d the perpetual hills:—the rivers fled:—
Green ocean trembled to his deepest bed:—
Earth shrunk aghast,—eternal mountains burn’d,
And his red axle thunder’d as it turn’d.
  O! thou dread Spirit! Being’s End and Source!        720
O! check thy chariot in its fervid course.
Bend from thy throne of darkness and of fire,
And with one smile immortalize our lyre.
Amid the cloudy lustre of thy throne,
Though wreathy tubes, unheard on earth, are blown,        725
Swelling one ceaseless song of praise to thee,
Eternal Author of Eternity!
Still hast thou stoop’d to hear a shepherd play,
To prompt his measures, and approve his lay.
Hast thou grown old, Thou, who for ever livest!        730
Hast thou forgotten, Thou, who memory givest!
How, on the day thine ark, with loud acclaim,
From Zion’s hill to mount Moriah came,
Beneath the wings of cherubim to rest,
In a rich vail of Tyrian purple drest;        735
When harps and cymbals join’d in echoing clang,
When psalteries tinkled, and when trumpets rang,
And white-robed Levites round thine altar sang!
Thou didst descend, and, rolling through the crowd,
Inshrine thine ark and altar in thy shroud,        740
And fill the temple with thy mantling cloud.
And now, Almighty Father, well we know,
When humble strains from grateful bosoms flow,
Those humble strains grow richer as they rise,
And shed a balmier freshness on the skies.        745
  What though no cherubim are here display’d,
No gilded walls, no cedar colonnade,
No crimson curtains hang around our quire,
Wrought by the ingenious artisan of Tyre;
No doors of fir on golden hinges turn;        750
No spicy gums in golden censers burn;
No frankincense, in rising volumes, shrouds
The fretted roof in aromatic clouds;
No royal minstrel, from his ivory throne,
Gives thee his father’s numbers or his own;—        755
If humble love, if gratitude inspire,
Our strain shall silence even the temple’s quire,
And rival Michael’s trump, nor yield to Gabriel’s lyre
In what rich harmony, what polish’d lays,
Should man address thy throne, when nature pays        760
Her wild, her tuneful tribute to the sky!
Yes, Lord, she sings thee, but she knows not why.
The fountain’s gush, the long resounding shore,
The zephyr’s whisper, and the tempest’s roar,
The rustling leaf, in autumn’s fading woods,        765
The wintry storm, the rush of vernal floods,
The summer bower, by cooling breezes fann’d,
The torrent’s fall, by dancing rainbows spann’d,
The streamlet, gurgling through its rocky glen,
The long grass, sighing o’er the graves of men,        770
The bird that crests yon dew-bespangled tree,
Shakes his bright plumes, and trills his descant free.
The scorching bolt, that from thine armory hurl’d,
Burns its red path, and cleaves a shrinking world;
All these are music to Religion’s ear:—        775
Music, thy hand awakes, for man to hear.
Thy hand invested in their azure robes,
Thy breath made buoyant yonder circling globes,
That bound and blaze along the elastic wires,
That viewless vibrate on celestial lyres,        780
And in that high and radiant concave tremble,
Beneath whose dome adoring hosts assemble,
To catch the notes, from those bright spheres that flow,
Which mortals dream of, but which angels know.
  Before thy throne, three sister Graces kneel;        785
Their holy influence let our bosoms feel!
Faith, that with smiles light up our dying eyes;
Hope, that directs them to the opening skies;
And Charity, the loveliest of the three,
That can assimilate a worm to thee.        790
For her our organ breathes; to her we pay
The heart-felt homage of an humble lay;
And while to her symphonious chords we string,
And Silence listens while to her we sing,
While round thine altar swells our evening song,        795
And vaulted roofs the dying notes prolong,
The strain we pour to her, wilt thou approve,
For Love is Charity, and Thou art Love.

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