Poems (Botta)/Byron Among the Ruins of Greece


[A school composition.]

On that sweet shore the blue Agean laves, Where loveliness is wedded to decay,— Beauty to desolation,—’mid the graves Of an immortal race, and ruins, gray With the dim veil of years, a sleeper lay;— And in his dream, Time’s never-ebbing tide Rolled back, and bore him to that earlier day, When Greece was decked in beauty, like a bride, Glory upon her path and freedom by her side.

Against the radiance of her azure sky, Rose many a pillared fane, divinely wrought, Whose marble forms defied mortality;— There pale Philosophy unveiled, and taught Her mystic lore, and waged her war of thought, And all her bright and baseless visions wove;— There Art her never-dying treasures brought: He saw Apelles’ glowing canvas move, And at Pygmalion’s prayer the statue wake to love.

Then came her bards, her orators and sages;— Once more he heard those voices that had rung Down through the vista of succeeding ages: “The blind old bard of Scio’s isle” there strung His matchless lyre, and breathed the earliest song: And now Demosthenes before him stood, Pouring his tide of eloquence, that strong, Deep and o’erwhelming, swayed the multitude, As the invisible wind sways the wild ocean’s flood.

Armed warriors too were there, their helmets gleaming On deathless Marathon’s green, sea-girt plain, That now with Persia’s choicest blood was streaming: Thermopyle’s “three hundred” fought again; Again its pass was piled with countless slain, From the invader’s host, as on that day When Sparta’s bravest sons had vowed to drain Their heart’s best blood for her. There, as he lay, These glorious visions passed, in beautiful array.

The dreamer woke,—he rested there alone, By that high temple whence had Pallas fled: Where once she lingered, now the crescent shone, And round him wandered many a turbanned head, Treading in mockery o’er the immortal dead; And conscious Nature there, as if to screen The nakedness of Ruin, had outspread Her gayest flowers to deck her saddest scene, And hung, o’er mouldering walls, her tapestry of green.

And many a Grecian slave to Turkish foe In hopeless bondage bowed the unwilling knee, And, all too weak to strike the avenging blow, To rend the galling chains of slavery, And write their names once more among the free, But humbled in despair, unmoved behold Their shrine defaced, their altars borne away, By every plunderer, even the hallowed mould Of Marathon itself, exchanged for foreign gold.

And as he mused upon her buried worth, ’Mid her fallen columns and her ruined fanes,— That none were there to lead her children forth; To strike with them, and burst their servile chains, And with their blood to wash away the stains That their great name on Freedom’s record dyed,— He touched his harp, and the enchanting strains, The world was hushed to hear—and then aside Bade Poesy retire, and made sad Greece his bride.

A fitting bride for one like him, who stood On that high steep, where few have dared their flight; Against whose name Time’s all resistless flood Shall dash in vain; who, through decay and blight And desolation, dazzled with the light That fast consumed him, where he stood on high, Like a lone star on the dark brow of night:— He sleeps upon that shore—a Grecian sky, For a high soul like his, were fitting canopy.

Rest, warrior bard! Above thy head shall bloom The greenest laurel of Peneus’ tide;— Genius shall come a pilgrim to thy tomb, And for her champion Freedom turn aside, To weep the bitter tears she may not hide; And thy young handmaid, Poesy, shall shed Her brightest halo there; and Greece, thy bride, Shall give to thee (and oh, can more be said!) A name to live with hers—a home among her Dead.

Poems (1853), facing p. 156.jpg