Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
By Albert G. Greene (1802–1868)
          My object was to describe in some slight degree, the effects of that propensity of the mind to be discontent with the real allotment of its situation, which is continually prompting it to dream of, and to seek for, more perfect fruition of the real joys of life, or of the imaginary ones of its waking dreams; and to show, that this feeling has been the cause of many proud and noble achievements; the spring of many of the highest and most daring efforts of the imagination; and what is of far more importance, the source of religious hope and faith, so far as these are not founded on Revelation itself.      Preface of the Author.

HOW 1 many wearied spirits have forgot
The pain and sorrow of their earthly lot,
Through Fancy’s bright creations, tracing o’er
Some path of light, by Genius trod before;
While o’er the lyre, some gifted minstrel flings        5
A master’s hand to wake its living strings,
Whose notes a bright and cheering spell can throw
Around the spirit in its hour of wo;
Can bid long vanish’d hope to life return,
And teach e’en rankling hate less deep to burn;        10
Until the latent virtue wakes, within
The heart long burden’d with accusing sin;
O’er its crush’d pride a healing influence pour,
And call up feelings never known before;
And come, with power assuasive of its pain;        15
Like Jubal’s music o’er the soul of Cain.
  Though mazed in error, and defiled by sin,
The human soul still bears a light within,
Unquench’d, unquenchable, of heavenly birth,
Which, when refined from all the dross of earth,        20
Will not less brightly shine, than that, which now
Sheds glory round the burning seraph’s brow.
And was this spark, from heaven’s own altar caught,
Shrined in the human spirit then, for nought?
It is not so:—far be the thought profane;—        25
God never gave so rich a gift in vain.
’T is this which yields all true poetic fire;
Which gives its soul of music to the lyre:
And, when from raptured thought, its numbers swell,
Makes its deep tones a mystery and a spell.        30
The gifted bard, to faith’s extatic gaze,
Her shadowy worlds with brighter forms arrays;
Prompts each fond hope, for happier scenes, to rise
Beyond this earth and all its transient ties,
In scenes of more enduring joy to live,        35
Than all its transient wealth and pomp can give.
For this, how rich the bright returns, which pour
On the rapt bard from faith’s unbounded store;
She throws a deeper spell around his dreams,
And gives his thrilling song its noblest themes.        40
Though oft the Bard’s high gift may be misused;
And faith deceived, insulted and abused;
That light within the soul, though misemploy’d,
May long be dimm’d, but cannot be destroy’d;
For higher good, it still will prompt desire;        45
Fix’d in its laws, as earth’s material fire;
Which, though on every side extends its rays,
Still upward ever points the unchanging blaze.
  Proud are the treasures of enduring worth
The sons of Genius have bequeathed to earth;        50
Rich are the themes which many a teeming mind,
Freed from its earthly cares, hath left behind.
But still of deeper power, and brighter far
Than all these trophies, glorious as they are,
Than all the proudest offerings, ever placed        55
By art and genius on the shrine of taste;
Have been those high conceptions, deep and vast,
Which, unembodied, from the soul have past;
Have left below no memory and no trace,
And found on earth, no fix’d abiding place;        60
Untold, unwritten, unimpress’d on aught
Which can transmit or hold embodied thought,
Have lighted up some gifted spirit’s way,
And with that spirit’s hour, have pass’d away;
The fleeting glories of whose vanish’d dream        65
Have gone, like sunlight o’er a shadow’d stream.
  Thus will the soul for ever seek relief,
In fancy’s visions, from the pangs of grief;
When worn with pain, with wasting sorrow tried,
And wounded hope and lacerated pride.—        70
This fix’d, unconquer’d impulse still is found
In every spot to earth’s remotest bound.
No earthly good its deep desires can fill,
No earthly power its high aspirings still.
It seeks communion with some higher power,        75
On which to call in sorrow’s boding hour.—
For this, the famed, the noble and the brave
Have, trembling, sought the Hermit’s lonely cave:
For this, hath guilt unholy aid implored;
Her charms awoke, her incantations pour'd;—        80
The strong have quail’d, the mighty thrill’d with fear
At the dim visions of the aged Seer:—
For this, the blood of sacrifice hath flow’d,
The incense burn’d, the votive altar glow’d:
From this, arose the spirit-stirring deeds,        85
The deep- toned song, the strange, unearthly creeds,
The wild, the dark, the fearful and sublime,
That fill the annals of the olden time.
  When mild refinement first begins to pour
Her faintest rays o’er some benighted shore,        90
E’en then, within the rude untutor’d breast,
Will thoughts arise which cannot be repress’d.
Impatient, then, it strives to rend away
The shadowy veil which shrouds its future way;
And at each step, its aspirations rise        95
For brighter scenes and higher destinies;
And hopes are felt, unwearied and intense,
For scenes of joy beyond the bounds of sense;
Till led by these, the long excited mind
Is wrapt in visions, dim and undefined;        100
Till from the scenes of many a cherish’d dream,
It rears some wild and visionary scheme;
To which, at length, the wearied mind adheres,
To calm its doubts and soothe its varied fears.
Then promised joys will haunt the mental view;        105
And fancy dream, till faith believes then true;
Whose power, in bright perspective, then reveals
Her blissful bowers and fair elysian fields;
Some gorgeous paradise of future rest,
Some verdant, cloudless island of the blest;        110
Where the freed soul will find its destined meed
For high endurance, or for dauntless deed;
For which the heart, in full confiding trust,
Will smile at fate, and calmly dare its worst;
The full fruition of those joys to gain,        115
For which, on earth, it pines and strives in vain;
Can spurn at savage torture, and can brave
The shafts of death, the darkness of the grave.
  Such was the faith, whose all absorbing sway
Was deeply felt in Europe’s early day;        120
When by the watchfires of the battle plain,
The Runic bard pour’d forth his thrilling strain;
And roused the bosoms of the warrior throng,
With the wild themes of Scandinavian song:—
Told, that whene’er their closing battle cry        125
O’er the red field rose pealing to the sky,
From the dark regions of the stormy North,
The spirits of their sires were issuing forth;
The stern bold warriors of the olden time,
Whose names still lived in many a martial rhyme;        130
All, whose proud deeds were consecrate to fame,
Like eagles o’er the field of slaughter came,
In legions hovering in the viewless air,
The parting spirits of the slain to bear
To the vast hall of Odin; there to see        135
The joyous banquet spread eternally;
To hear the war-songs of their fathers, pour’d
From unseen harps, around the festive board;
While crown’d with joy, the sateless wassail cup,
With its bright mead for ever sparkling up,        140
Still, round the throng, should pass, with ceaseless flow,
To drown remembrance of all earthly wo.
  Thus, when amid our western forests’ gloom,
The captive warrior hears the words of doom;
His daring heart, to high endurance wrought,        145
Is fill’d with all his father’s faith have taught;
And all his own long cherish’d dreams, once more
O’er his rapt soul, their strengthening influence pour;
’Till nature sinks exhausted with her strife,
Beneath the glowing fire, the torturing knife.        150
E’en when the throe of mortal agony
Thrills through his heart and flashes from his eye,
One word of pride upon his foes is cast,
One glance of scorn the fiercest and the last.
Have not his fathers taught, that death like this        155
Is but the herald to a world of bliss;—
That ’t is but pain’s last trial; whence, the soul
Shall pass, no more to feel its stern control:
A dreamless sleep, from which it soon will wake,
By the blue waters of the sunny lake;        160
To range for ever round its peaceful shore,
Where pain and torture can be felt no more.
  ’T is faith thus wrought, whose fearful mysteries
Yield e’en weak woman strength for deeds like these;
And bid, by Ganges’ sacred stream, arise        165
The fires of self-devoting sacrifice:
While comes, for death array’d, without a tear,
The Indian widow, with her husband’s bier.
Whate’er the gifts, rank, beauty, wealth, confer,
She feels, this world hath nothing more for her.        170
Through life, through death, indissolubly wed,
They must not part:—her place is by the dead.
And by that bier, with music and with song,
Behind the bright-robed priests, she moves along,
Amid the scenes of this terrific hour,        175
To seal the pledges of her bridal bower.
And there is shrined within that troubled breast,
By all its boding terrors unrepress’d,
Power to defy the fire’s consuming pain;
And feel that it doth not defy in vain.        180
Why stands she now, amid the circling dance,
Nor gives to aught around, one heeding glance?
Why doth she gaze upon the viewless air,
As if some guardian spirit hover’d there?
’T is not the priest’s slow death-chaunt that she hears;—        185
A holier music strikes her listening ears.
’T is not his thrilling exhortation now
That gives its life to her uplifted brow.
Hands, voices, urge her to the fatal spot;
And chide her lingering: but she heeds them not.        190
No; there are strains of more etherial tone,
Unearthly music, heard by her alone.
Her country’s deities are circling nigh;
She hears ten thousand voices in the sky.
“We have prepared for her the bridal wreath,        195
  Who keeps her faith triumphant over death.
  Oh, haste to meet, once more, the approving smile
  Of him thou mournest, lost to thee awhile.
  There are fair isles beyond the dark blue sea,
  For those who keep their plighted faith like thee;        200
  Where the blest spirits of the faithful rove
  In one unchanging round of joy and love;
  By sunny waters and unfading bowers,
  And golden fruits, and ever blooming flowers.
  Oh, what is there, that world of wo within,        205
  Like those high joys which thou so soon may’st win?”
With step elate, she gains her destined seat;
And sees the red torch waving at her feet.
By him the loved one, hand in hand the while,
She proudly sits amid the blazing pile;        210
And as the flames enwrap each quivering limb,
Raises aloft her wild funereal hymn:—
Swan-like, pours forth her last departing breath,
Amidst the anguish of the fires of death.
Note 1. Greene, of Providence, is the editor of the Rhode Island American. He has lately published a poem delivered before the Philermenian Society, at Providence, from which we extract the following. [back]

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