Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
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CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
 
The Grave of Byron
By George Lunt (1803–1885)
 
  I KNEW 1 young Julian well;—that gentle youth,
  Whose heart was as a maiden’s;—by my side
  He grew together with me, and in truth
  His boyish sports were mine, whether we plied
  The evening smoothness of the summer tide,        5
  Or met the sunbeam on the mountain’s brow;
  I loved him well;—alas, for me! he died,
  When the first Autumn winds began to blow
Foliage whose bright tints mock’d the soft-hued sunset glow.
 
  He was indeed a strange and dreamy boy,        10
  Wild as an Indian huntress, and as proud
  As his young country’s eagles; and his joy
  Was even like theirs to listen to the loud
  Clang of the tempest or the rattling cloud;
  Yet loved all human kind, he was so mild:        15
  What here is writ he gave me ere he bow’d
  His head upon my bosom, as he smiled
His lingering life away, most like a slumbering child.
 
  Free as the untamed thunder-levin rolling
  Athwart the blackness of this drooping sky;—        20
  Free as the winds controll’d not, yet controlling,
  Free as the martyr’s last prayer when to die
  Is glorious gain;—free as despair’s deep sigh,
  Or as the waters when their chainless surge,
  Lash’d to wild wrath, speaks to the storm on high,        25
  Rise up, my soul, while proud hopes onward urge,
And perish in the whelming tempest, or emerge
 
  To high and perilous emprise;—throw off
  The bondage of all such as war with thought,
  And trample on the fool’s unmeaning scoff;        30
  Why should’st thou bow to wealth, who art unbought?
  What carest thou for forms, who art untaught
  To smile when thou should’st frown?—thou wilt not sell
  The holy birthright of thy race for aught;—
  Rise, then, my slumbering spirit, rise and dwell        35
Enshrined in quenchless thought, fearless of earth or hell.
 
  The idols of my heart are fading fast,
  And my own fragile being will not long
  Endure the fatal memory of the past,
  Still less the gathering ills of present wrong,        40
  And unforgetful sighs, a tireless throng,
  Which day by day sink deeper than before;—
  Weak sighs, which still are mightier than the strong,
  Soon—soon—oh, when shall the vain strife be o’er,
And I repose in peace, and ye torment no more?        45
 
  Yet will I hush this voice of weak lament;—
  Yet will I conquer this unmanly grief;—
  But the strong pain of passion first must vent
  Its throbbing woes in words for sad relief:
  ’T is done,—my waning pilgrimage be brief,—        50
  Though young and dying, scarcely can I mourn;—
  Time cannot bind my feelings’ shatter’d sheaf,
  Nor bid the loved, the long, long lost return,—
Then welcome be my journey towards the perilous bourne.
 
  Methinks it scarcely matters when we tread        55
  The road which all must tread who have not trod,
  Though the dark journey be replete with dread;—
  Firm by the mercy of a pitying God,
  And humbled at the chastening of his rod,
  How sweet, this aching heart and painful head        60
  Slumbering in peace beneath the grass-green sod,
  To join those ancient worthies who have fled,
And meet the mightier spirits of the mighty dead!
 
  With them and such as them I have conversed
  More than with men, and thus the fruit has been        65
  That they and their old mouldering tomes have nursed
  Feelings and thoughts and hopes which do not win
  Men’s charity, though haply not of sin:
  For Roman, Grecian lore has been to me
  The mistress of my love;—’mid cities’ din        70
  I ’ve loved all Rome while yet she was the free,
And wander’d, lost in mists, through sage Philosophy.
 
  Perchance it did not profit me;—at least,
  I learnt that knowledge doth not always bring
  The fabled pleasures of the mental feast;—        75
  That intellectual streams might own a spring
  Of bitter wave, whose sun-bright vapors fling
  An arch of promise o’er the cheating source,
  Lit by the ray of man’s own hopes, which cling
  To all delusion with a desperate force,        80
Till doubts and darkness soon obstruct their stumbling course.
 
  Perchance my draught was shallow, and confused
  The brain it did not sober—let it pass:
  Even from my childhood upward I have used
  To search into my being—but alas!        85
  The scrutiny was fruitless;—that I was
  Wretched I knew—but why I could not tell,—
  Born but to perish as a blade of grass;—
  One fate awaited all, I saw full well,—
Alike the sage and fool—the vile and virtuous fell.        90
 
  For one grew ripe in honorable age,
  And others at his voice all lowly bow’d
  While he discoursed as from a pictured page
  Most eloquent music to a listening crowd,
  Who ever and anon fell shouting loud;—        95
  Till with a golden circlet (save this crown
  No other virtue had he,) terror-brow’d,
  Came one they call’d a king, and at his frown
Blood from the old man’s silvery locks went running down.
 
  Another fell in manhood’s ripen’d day,        100
  In the full flow of his warm bosom’s tide;—
  His wasted strength like weakness pass’d away,
  And his heart’s lingering streams of life were dried
  By the enduring shame of humbled pride,
  Or rankling poison left by passion’s sting,        105
  Or foul disease ungorged, and gaping wide;—
  For each hath plumed his shaft from Horror’s wing,
And each ten thousand shapes of varying fate can bring.
 
  And there was one who, by the kindling flush
  And happiness which beauty round her shed,        110
  Seem’d ’mid her pure hours, lit by that soft blush,
  Some stray grace tripping o’er a violet bed,
  In spring,—but ere the lingering aster fled,
  They laid her ringlets ’neath the early snow;—
  Men marvell’d that so fair a thing was dead,        115
  And when flowers blossom, blue-eyed maidens go,
With memory’s garland-gifts for her who sleeps below.
 
  And dreamy boys in the rathe bloom of youth,
  Ere frozen years had bid them cease to lave
  Their glowing cheeks with tears of joy or ruth,        120
  Went down in silence to the marble grave,
  Scorch’d by the flame of passions which they crave;—
  Or else embarking all their hope upon
  Some voyage of love;—and on the fickle wave
  Of that false sea perchance the worshipp’d one        125
Made shipwreck of their hopes, and so they were undone.
 
  And some, dishearten’d at the world’s cold frown
  And chilly aspect of its frozen eye,
  Weep like the clouds, until they seem to drown
  The life of their young ears, and sigh on sigh        130
  Exhausts their being’s source, and so they lie
  Down in the loveliness of innocent youth
  And welcome the Deliverer, as they die
  Smiling for joy; yet do we feel, in sooth,
How wild the loss to us—how dark the frantic truth.        135
 
  I know not if they sleep without the dreams
  Which grim delusion wraps around the core
  Of hearts which were not made to feel their streams
  Mix with unfathom’d lakes of guilty lore;—
  I know not if their pure souls upward soar,        140
  Or in the green earth’s ample breast abide;—
  But he who wanders by the twilight shore
  When long slow curls climb up its silent side,
May hear strange flitting notes die on the solemn tide.
 
  But when in quick wild wrath the wave of fears,        145
  Lash’d by careering winds from the fierce sleep
  Where heavily groaning late he lay, uprears
  The crested horror of his mountain heap;—
  Ah, then go stand by the tumultuous deep
  Alone, and if thou darest, try to cast        150
  Away the mortal dread which then shall creep
  Into thy soul, as on the shrieking blast
Mad mirth and devilish shouts peal round thee loud and fast.
*      *      *      *
  Away, ye pleasant fancies;—let me now
  Recall my vision,—and methought I stood        155
  On a precipitous seashore’s craggy brow;—
  It was at evening,—and the level flood
  Where the fledged younglings of the tempest brood
  Sported of late, lay fair and placid, save,
  As thoughts of their glad play would oft intrude,        160
  They now reposing in their azure cave,
Sent pealing laughter upward on the curling wave.
 
  Fold after fold of that long line of water
  Unfurl’d its sullen length,—and like the stride
  Of a strong phalanx ripe for battle-slaughter,        165
  Came the firm slow march of the solemn tide
  Towards the broad beach, whose huge rocks, high and wide,
  Death-black as if the lightning of the thunder
  Had spent its wrath upon some mountain side,
  And half its monstrous bulk and riven asunder,—        170
There smiled on time and chance a mockery and a wonder.
 
  Then as I stood by the bleak barren beach,
  And gazed upon its vast magnificence,
  While the proud waters vainly strove to reach
  The bulwark’d summit of that rocky fence,—        175
  Came on my soul some feelings so intense.
  Roused by the glory of that mighty swell,
  The exultation of my quivering sense
  Joy’d in the power of some o’ermastering spell,
While from my unclosed lips these prompted accents fell:        180
 
  Thou who hast grovell’d ’mid the things accursed
  Which the world’s dross hath spread about thy soul,
  And thou, whose wayward bosom hath been nursed
  ’Mid frantic doubts which scorn Heaven’s just control,—
  Oh that ye heard with me the wondrous whole        185
  Of these majestic waves’ tumultuous din;
  For standing where their starry summits roll,
  Some overwhelming feeling must rush in
To blot for one blest moment each vile thought of sin.
 
  Oh that the monarchs of the world were here,—        190
  The demi-gods of fawning slaves who pour
  The heartless tribute of their guilty fear
  At the false shrines they hate while they adore;—
  For musing by this moralizing shore,
  Its beautifully grand array in sight,        195
  Methinks one little hour would teach them more
  How weakly faltering is their boasted height,
Than philosophic texts preach’d on for ages might.
 
  O that the full-swoln monsters of the world,—
  The rich in groaning wretches’ sighs, might stand,        200
  And see these glittering ocean treasures hurl’d
  In proud profusion towards the golden sand;—
  Might see the far deep, venerably bland,
  In silver hoary, and the lavish shore
  Mock the free offering of its wasteful hand,—        205
  Might feel some generous glow unfelt before,
Or pious line sublime of gentle pity’s lore.
 
  O that the trampled world’s nobility,
  Proud of dull currents of degenerate blood,
  And boastful of the antique pedigree        210
  Which makes them worth contemptuous scorn, now stood
  Where the slow marching waters of the flood
  In solemn state majestic dash below,—
  Then might they see each of that graceful brood
  On the lone rock its destined being throw,        215
Though old Eternity saw its ancestral flow.
 
  O thou illimitable ocean,—thou
  Shadowest the image of eternity;—
  Thy many-sparkling waves are wanton now
  Like reckless voyagers on that gloomy sea:        220
  Ten thousand of thy billows momently
  Ripple to being, then upon the shore
  Shrink back to death and nothingness,—so we
  Wake to the energies of life and pour
Our few sad sighs,—one gasp,—and then are heard no more.        225
 
Note 1. Lunt is a native of Newburyport, and was graduated at Cambridge in 1824. He published in 1826 a volume entitled “The Grave of Byron and Other Poems.” He has evidently high powers as a poet, which require only the developement that study and a mature taste will afford, to be duly appreciated. He shows deep sentiment, reminding us occasionally of Percival. [back]
 
 
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