Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
Battle before the Walls of Ai
By Timothy Dwight (1752–1817)
  NOW near the burning domes, the squadrons stood,
Their breasts impatient for the scenes of blood:
On every face a deathlike glimmer sate,
The unbless’d harbinger of instant fate.
High through the gloom, in pale and dreadful spires,        5
Rose the long terrors of the dark red fires;
Torches, and torrent sparks, by whirlwinds driven,
Stream’d through the smoke, and fired the clouded heaven.
As oft tall turrets sunk with rushing sound,
Broad flames burst forth, and swept the etherial round,        10
The bright expansion lightened all the scene,
And deeper shadows lengthen’d o’er the green.
Loud through the walls that cast a golden gleam,
Crown’d with tall pyramids of bending flame,
As thunders rumble down the darkening vales,        15
Roll’d the deep solemn voice of rushing gales:
The bands admiring gazed the wondrous sight,
And expectation trembled for the fight.
  At once the sounding clarion breath’d alarms;
Wide from the forest burst the flash of arms;        20
Thick gleam’d the helms; and o’er astonish’d fields,
Like thousand meteors, rose the flame-bright shields.
In gloomy pomp, to furious combat roll’d
Ranks sheath’d in mail, and chiefs in glimmering gold;
In floating lustre bounds the dim-seen steed,        25
And cars, unfinish’d, swift to cars succeed;
From all the host ascends a dark red glare,
Here in full blaze, in distant twinklings there;
Slow waves the dreadful light; as round the shore
Night’s solemn blasts with deep concussion roar,        30
So rush the footsteps of the embattled train,
And send an awful murmur o’er the plain.
  Tall in the opposing van, bold Irad stood,
And bade the clarion sound the voice of blood.
Loud blew the trumpet on the sweeping gales,        35
Rock’d the deep groves, and echo’d round the vales:
A ceaseless murmur all the concave fills,
Waves through the quivering camp, and trembles o’er the hills.
  High in the gloomy blaze the standards flew;
The impatient youth his burnish’d falchion drew;        40
Ten thousand swords his eager bands display’d,
And crimson’d terrors danced on every blade.
With equal rage, the bold, Hazorian train
Pour’d a wide deluge o’er the shadowy plain;
Loud rose the song of war; loud clanged the shields;        45
Dread shouts of vengeance shook the shuddering fields;
With mingled din, shrill, martial music rings,
And swift to combat each fierce hero springs.
So broad, and dark, a midnight storm ascends,
Bursts on the main, and trembling nature rends;        50
The red foam burns, the wat’ry mountains rise,
And deep unmeasured thunder heaves the skies;
The bark drives lonely; shivering and forlorn,
The poor, sad sailors wish the lingering morn:
Not with less fury rush’d the vengeful train;        55
Not with less tumult roar’d the embattled plain.
Now in the oak’s black shade they fought conceal’d;
And now they shouted through the open field;
The long, pale splendors of the curling flame
Cast o’er their polish’d arms a livid gleam;        60
An umber’d lustre floated round their way,
And lighted falchions to the fierce affray.
Now the swift chariots ’gainst the stubborn oak
Dash; the dark earth re-echoes to the shock.
From shade to shade the forms tremendous stream,        65
And their arms flash a momentary flame.
Mid hollow tombs, as fleets an airy train,
Lost in the skies, or fading o’er the plain;
So visionary shapes, around the fight,
Shoot through the gloom, and vanish from the sight;        70
Through twilight paths the maddening coursers bound,
The shrill swords crack, the clashing shields resound.
There, lost in grandeur, might the eye behold
The dark red glimmering of the steel and gold,
The chief, the steed, the nimbly rushing car,        75
And all the horrors of the gloomy war.
Here the thick clouds, with purple lustre bright,
Spread o’er the long, long host and gradual sunk in night;
Here half the world was wrapp’d in rolling fires,
And dreadful valleys sunk between the spires.        80
Swift ran black forms across the livid flame,
And oaks waved slowly in the trembling beam:
Loud rose the mingled noise; with hollow sound,
Deep rolling whirlwinds roar, and thundering flames resound.
  As drives a blast along the midnight heath,        85
Rush’d raging Irad on the scenes of death;
High o’er his shoulder gleam’d his brandish’d blade,
And scatter’d ruin round the twilight shade.
Full on a giant hero’s sweeping car
He pour’d the tempest of resistless war;        90
His twinkling lance the heathen raised on high,
And hurl’d it, fruitless, through the gloomy sky;
From the bold youth the maddening coursers wheel,
Gash’d by the vengeance of his slaughtering steel:
’Twixt two tall oaks the helpless chief they drew;        95
The shrill car dash’d; the crack’d wheels rattling flew;
Crush’d in his arms, to rise he strove in vain,
And lay unpitied on the dreary plain.

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