Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
An Apologue
By James Abraham Hillhouse (1789–1841)
IN early days, when Fancy sheds
Illusive colors round our heads,
Her prism before my wondering eyes
Display’d the world in rainbow dyes,
Fruits like the emerald clusters found        5
In Arab tales, beneath the ground,
Woo’d me to pluck from every tree,
As, ere the dew-drops left the lea,
I climb’d the Hill of Hope that stood
Fast by my native solitude.        10
How fair a prospect met me here!
Of woods, and plains, and rivers clear—
Of neighbor mountains dark and high,
That mix’d, receding, with the sky;
Fields with the waving treasure stored,        15
Whence rustic plenty decks her board;
Valleys within whose sheltering breast
The sons of labor take their rest;—
But fairer far than aught in view
Beneath the cloudless cope of blue,        20
More tempting bright, appear’d to me
The smooth expanse of burnish’d sea;
The sea of life, where thousand sails
Spread their white bosoms to the gales.
How blest, methought, along that tide        25
Of waveless beauty still to glide,
Or ’mid those sea-green isles to stray
Where purer sunbeams seem to play!
Where, as the tales of Poets tell,
The lovely maids of ocean dwell!        30
What rapture, could I steal so near
As once their magic shells to hear!
Or on some coral rock behold
Them sit, and braid their locks of gold!
Others have wish’d, and wish’d in vain,        35
What I, more happy, may attain.
  Impatient o’er life’s sea to roam,
I lightly bade adieu to home.
Pleased with my bark and snowy sail,
I freely gave them to the gale,        40
And saw, with triumph, how I flew
Past many a timid, loitering crew.
Less bright, indeed, the ocean seem’d,
Than view’d at distance, I had deem’d,
And lovelier still, and lovelier grew        45
The softening landscape that withdrew.
When seaward far, I first perceive
The crested billows rougher heave,
And, while a cloud obscures the sun,
Feel the keen gust precursive run        50
Along the main. Alarm’d to find
Such trackless distance left behind,
I turn’d in terror toward the shore
My venturous prow, but, ’midst the roar
Of volleying thunder, hail, and rain,        55
That burst tempestuous, strove in vain.
While by the winds my slender bark
Was hurried o’er the waters dark,
Ah! then, how look’d my native dell!
How sweet to fancy, who can tell!        60
  Dash’d on a lonely isle, at last,
I, haply, by the shock was cast,
Beyond the furious surges’ reach,
Wounded and senseless, on the beach.
Who to relieve me now appears?        65
Some Nymph unruffled ocean hears,
On sunny days and silver nights,
Warble along his rocky heights?
Did those fair daughters of the wave
Transport me to their sparry cave,        70
And singing sweetly in my ear
Recall the spirit to her sphere?
Ah, no! those sirens never rise
But when soft azure clothes the skies,
And all their craggy islets sleep        75
Reflected in the glassy deep,
And gaudy barks with streamers gay
Are lingering to applaud their lay:
When seas are rough and tempests blow,
They keep their coral bowers below.        80
A hospitable matron bore
My drench’d, cold members from the shore,
Whose humble dwelling ever stood
Open to sufferers from the flood.
Each art reviving there she tries,        85
Till life again relumed my eyes.
When from the death-like swoon I woke,
She gently thus the silence broke.
  “I need not, stranger, ask thy tale;
I saw thee court the fav’ring gale;        90
I know the picture fancy drew,
Cheating thy inexperienced view.
When, next, on Hope’s fair hill you stand,
Take Wisdom’s volume in your hand;
Compare the scene, at distance gay,        95
With what those sacred pages say:
They will reveal the hidden snare,
Life’s shoals and quicksands all declare;
They tell of rocks and storms, in seas
That scarcely seem to know a breeze;        100
Of clouds that fatal tempests hold
Beneath their gorgeous skirts of gold;
When sun, nor star, displays its light,
They can direct your feet aright;
They will exalt your quickening eyes        105
From earth’s poor pageant to the skies.”
  Religion thus her thoughts express’d:
I lock’d the counsel in my breast.

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