Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
The Fairy of the Wengern-Alp
By George Bancroft (1800–1891)
ON 1 Wenger’s verdant height I stood;
Rapt in delight I gazed around
O’er mountain, glacier, valley, wood,
The “Virgin’s” own enchanted ground.
By Fancy’s strangest phantoms led,        5
My spirit wander’d far and high;
I long’d on hills of snow to tread,
And o’er the seas of ice to fly.
Hope whisper’d, Nature could unbind
The heavy chains of earth, and give        10
Wings to the ransom’d soul that pined
With beings of the air to live,
Who rule each mighty element,
(As well is sung by bards of old)
And oft, by mightier spirit sent,        15
Earth’s mysteries to man unfold.
Or are the days of marvel past?
Does Magic wave no more her wand?
Has wondering Faith retired at last?
And leads no path to fairy land?        20
But if e’en now as bards believe,
Still roams and rules the fairy race,
Then, Spirits, bid me cease to grieve,
And soar the Genius of the place.
I turned to where the Virgin rose        25
In still communion with the sky;
Eternity hath heap’d its snows
Round her in unstain’d purity.
O’er her fair features gently hung
The morning’s thin transparent cloud;        30
While round her breast was rudely flung
The vapors’ denser, darker shroud.
But near the “Silver Peak” was seen
With his fair snow-heaps, like a gay
And gallant page beside a queen,        35
That frowns in armor’s stern array.
His sides, that like the cygnet’s breast
Were white and crisped, beam’d afar;
The sun but touch’d his topmost crest,
That sparkled like the evening star.        40
Right glad such beauty to behold,
Plead thou for me, sweet star, I cried;
For ’t is thy light that makes me bold;
Oh loveliest star! be thou my guide.
Then toward the Virgin’s form I knelt;        45
“O spotless Virgin! hear my prayer;
Command this earthly flesh to melt;
My soul would wander free in air.”
And as I still admiring bow’d,
And hoped a kind reply to hear,        50
From the deep bosom of the cloud,
A gentle voice fell on my ear.
“Like mountain air would’st thou be free,
Be pure as is the mountain air;
Mortal! from vice and pleasure flee,        55
And gladly will I grant thy prayer.”
“Then, Virgin, deign my wish to grant;
Though but the meanest of thy train.
This lovely spot I ’d rather haunt,
Than o’er the world beside to reign.        60
My heart like thine is pure and chaste,
On nature’s bosom oft I ’ve leant,
And oft the morning wind embraced;
But ne’er my neck hath pleasure bent.
To thee a virgin heart would bear        65
Its earliest fruits. Unveil thy brow;
Thy holy love I long to share,
O! take me to thy bosom now.”
See, the dark clouds asunder roll,
And yon tall form sublimely gleams        70
In dazzling beauty; on the soul
Burst life and rapture with its beams.
Is it the sun, that gently checks
His fiery steeds o’er Alps’ fair child,
Gilding with glory all her peaks?        75
No! ’t was the Virgin queen that smiled.
O’er me her hallow’d light she throws;
She blends with majesty divine
Mildness, and whispers from her snows;
“Come thou to me, for thou art mine.”        80
Farewell, thou lower earth, farewell!
I haste to rush in foaming floods,
Where elves and fairies roam to dwell,
To woo the nymphs of tannen woods,
With Iris watch the waterfall,        85
And smile and shine in glittering spray,
To heed the Virgin’s beckoning call,
And haste o’er earth her will to obey.
An eagle pass’d; I cried aloud,
Away swift bird, I ’ll soar with thee.        90
Rushing we pierced the lofty cloud,
Beneath us waved the tannen tree;
Even to the glacier’s tallest height,
We soar’d o’er fields of icy blue;
Long round its gay transparent light,        95
Pleased with the novel scene, I flew.
“Blue is the light of beauty’s eye;
And blue the waves where swells the sea;
And blue at noon my native sky;
But nought is fair and blue like thee,        100
Thou lovely pyramid of light!
Thou graceful daughter of the snows
Thy sire the sun is ne’er so bright,
As when his beams on thee repose.”
From rock to rock the ice to dash,        105
That totter’d on its base, I sprung;
Now tumbling with a fearful crash,
To every peak it lends a tongue;
’T is dash’d to dust; the frozen spray
Sweeps onward o’er the precipice,        110
Resplendent in the eye of day,
A sparkling cataract of ice.
And where it stood there open’d wide
A chasm of azure, dark and deep;
’T is there the mountain spirits glide,        115
To where their court the fairies keep.
I did not fear, but ventured too
Along the glittering icy walls,
Full many a fathom downwards flew,
And came to Nature’s inmost halls.        120
A Paradise of light I found,
Where Nature builds of vilest earth
Her crystal home, and under ground
Brings all that’s beautiful to birth.
And o’er her ever youthful face        125
Wisdom hath spread a light serene;
While round her throne the fairy race
Are floating in unearthly sheen.
Some hearken’d to their mistress’ call;
Some sported ’mid the heaps of snow;        130
Some glided with the waterfall;
Some sat above its glittering bow,
Seeming o’er Nature’s works to muse;
And some their little limbs array’d;
These dew-drops for their mirror use;        135
Of light and air their robes are made.
And others bent with serious look
To prove the new made crystals’ light;
While earth’s dark substance others took,
And changed the mass to diamonds bright.        140
But as I gain’d the fairy ground,
They ceased awhile from toil and sport,
And the young stranger gathering round,
Cried—“Welcome, youth, to Nature’s court.”
A fairy then with accents bland        145
Gently, as fairies wont to do,
Came near and said, “This wondrous land
Of airy sprites I ’ll lead thee through.”
Guided by her I dared to gaze
Where Nature’s servants restless toil        150
The rocks of sand and chalk to raise,
The granite’s tall unyielding pile.
And oft a narrow space they leave,
Where vitriol’s azure drops to pour,
Or thinnest threads of silver weave        155
In baser metals’ glittering ore.
And when they mingle air and light
With iron black or sluggish lead,
Eye hath not seen so fair a sight,
Such brilliant hues, green, white, and red.        160
I saw the home of every wind;
And where the ocean’s base is laid;
And where the earthquake sleeps confined,
Till Destiny demands its aid;
And where from magazines of snow        165
The mighty rivers foaming well;
And more than mortals e’er can know,
And more than fairy’s tongue can tell.
Long did I stand enraptured there,
Nor ceased to gaze in full delight.        170
Mother of beauty, thou art fair!
O Nature, lovely is thy might.
For ever would I dwell with thee!
For ever to thy train belong.
Then she that led me, smiled to see        175
My admiration deep and strong,
And thus in kindest mood began;
“O! wouldst thou Nature’s love return,
Remember that thou once wast man,
Young elf; to heal man’s sorrows learn;        180
Spread calmness round the couch of pain;
Comfort the mourning; soothe disease;
Support the wavering; and sustain
The form that shrinks at winter’s breeze;
A guardian power, o’er virtue bend;        185
Shed round the young sweet influence;
To the lone wanderer vigor lend;
And anxious watch o’er innocence;
From pleasure’s wiles preserve the fair;
Then shall the Virgin love thee well,        190
And haply trust to thee the care
Of vales, where peace and virtue dwell.
And now thou ’rt one of us; canst roam
In fire, earth, air, o’er ocean’s wave;
Canst fly to bless thy ancient home,        195
From age and pain thy parents save;
And rest awhile delighted where
Thy youthful sisters harmless play,
Nor deem their brother hovering near,
To drive each guilty thought away.        200
For know, we bless the infant’s head;
We guard the fair; the good we shield;
We teach the young, to virtue bred,
Her arms victoriously to wield;
We paint with light the opening flowers;        205
Of every herb we know the name;
The sea is ours; the earth is ours;
We rule the air; we rule the flame.”
The social fairy ceased to speak.
There ’s many a joy, that mortals know;        210
But oft when pleasure’s flower they seek,
The leaves conceal the worm of wo;
’T is sweet to watch the kindling eye
Of parents, kin, or friends, or wife;
But sweeter ’t is in air to fly,        215
And happiest is the fairy’s life.
Note 1. Bancroft, principal of the seminary at Round Hill, Northampton, in Massachusetts. A small volume of poems written principally during a tour in Europe, was published by him in 1823. [back]

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