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A POEM WHICH OBTAINED THE CHANCELLOR'S MEDAL AT THE CAMBRIDGE COMMENCEMENT, JULY, 1819.
OH! land to Memory and to Freedom dear,
Land of the melting lyre and conquering spear,
Land of the vine-clad hill, the fragant grove,
Of arts and arms, of Genius and of Love,
Hear, fairest Italy. Though now no more
The glittering eagles awe the Atlantic shore,
Nor at thy feet the gorgeous Orient flings
The blood-bought treasures of her tawny kings,
Though vanished all that formed thine old renown,
The laurel garland, and the jewelled crown,
The avenging poniard, the victorious sword,
Which reared thine empire, or thy rights restored,
Yet still the constant Muses haunt thy shore,
And love to linger where they dwelt of yore.
If e'er of old they deigned, with favouring smile,
To tread the sea-girt shores of Albion's isle,
To smooth with classic arts our rugged tongue,
And warm with classic glow the British song,
Oh! bid them snatch their silent hearts which wave
On the lone oak that shades thy Maro's grave,*
* See Eustace's description of the tomb of Virgil, on the Nea politan coast.
And sweep with magic hand the slumbering strings,
To fire the poet.-For thy clime he sings,
Thy scenes of gay delight and wild despair,
Thy varied forms of awful and of fair.
How rich that climate's sweets, how wild its storms,
What charms array it, and what rage deforms,
Well have thy mouldering walls, Pompeii, known,
Decked in those charms, and by that rage o'erthrown
Sad city, gaily dawned thy latest day,
And poured its radiance on a scene as gay.
The leaves scarce rustled in the sighing breeze;
In azure dimples curled the sparkling seas,
And as the golden tide of light they quaffed,
Campania's sunny meads and vineyards laughed,
While gleamed each lichened oak and giant pine
On the far sides of swarthy Apennine.
Then mirth and music through Pompeii rung;
Then verdant wreaths on all her portals hung;
Her sons, with solemn rite and jocund lay,
Hailed the glad splendours of that festal day.
With fillets bound the hoary priests advance,
And rosy virgins braid the choral dance.
The rugged warrior here unbends awhile
His iron front, and deigns a transient smile;
There, frantic with delight, the ruddy boy
Scarce treads on earth, and bounds and laughs with joy
From every crowded altar perfumes rise
In billowy clouds of fragrance to the skies.
The milk-white monarch of the herd they lead,
With gilded horns, at yonder shrine to bleed;
And while the victim crops the broidered plain,
And frisks and gambols towards the destined fane,
They little deem that like himself they stray
To death, unconscious, o'er a flowery way;
Heedless, like him, the impending stroke await,
And sport and wanton on the brink of fate.
What 'vails it that where yonder heights aspire,
With ashes piled, and scathed with rills of fire,
Gigantic phantoms dimly seem to glide,
In misty files, along the mountain's side,
To view with threatening scowl your fated lands,
And toward your city point their shadowy hands ?*
In vain celestial omens prompted fear,
And nature's signal spoke the ruin near.
In vain through many a night ye viewed from far
The meteor flag of elemental war
Unroll its blazing folds from yonder height,
In fearful sign of earth's intestine fight.
In vain Vesuvius groaned with wrath supprest,
And muttered thunder in his burning breast.
Long since the Eagle from that flaming peak
Hath soared with screams a safer nest to seek.
Awed by the infernal beacon's fitful glare,
The howling fox hath left his wonted lair;
Nor dares the browzing goat in venturous leap
To spring, as erst, from dizzy steep to steep.-
Man only mocks the peril. Man alone
Defies the sulphurous flame, the warning groan.
While instinct, humbler guardian, wakes and saves,
Proud reason sleeps, nor knows the doom it braves.
But see, the opening theatre invites
The fated myriads to its gay delights.
In, in they swarm, tumultuous as the roar
Of foaming breakers on a rocky shore.
Th' enraptured throng in breathless transport views
The gorgeous temple of the Tragic Muse.
There, while her wand in shadowy pomp arrays
Ideal scenes, and forms of other days
Fair as the hopes of youth, a radiant band,
The sister arts around her footstool stand,
To deck their Queen, and lend a milder grace
To the stern beauty of that awful face.
Far, far around the ravished eye surveys
The sculptured forms of gods and heroes blaze.
* Dio Cassius relates that figures of gigantic size appeared, for some time previous to the destruction of Pompeii, on the summits of Vesuvius. This appearance was probably occasioned by the fantastic forms which the smoke from the crater of the volcano assumed.
Above, the echoing roofs the peal prolong
Of lofty converse, or melodious song,
While, as the tones of passion sink or swell,
Admiring thousands own the moral spell,
Melt with the melting strains of fancied wo,
With terror stricken, or with transport glow.
Oh! for a voice like that which pealed of old
Through Salem's cedar courts and shrines of gold,
And in wild accents round the trembling dome
Proclaimed the havoc of avenging Rome;
While every palmy arch and sculptured tower
Shook with the footsteps of the parting power.
Such voice might check your tears, which idly stream
For the vain phantoms of the poet's dream;
Might bid those terrors rise, those sorrows flow,
For other perils, and for nearer wo.
The hour is come. Even now the sulphurous cloud
Involves the city in its funeral shroud,
And far along Campania's azure sky
Expands its dark and boundless canopy.
The Sun, though throned on heaven's meridian height
Burns red and rayless through that sickly night.
Each bosom felt at once the shuddering thrill,
At once the music stopped. The song was still.
None in that cloud's portentous shade might trace
The fearful changes of another's face.
But through that horrid stillness each could hear
His neighbour's throbbing heart beat high with fear.
A moment's pause succeeds. Then wildly rise
Grief's sobbing plaints and terror's frantic cries.
The gates recoil; and towards the narrow pass
In wild confusion rolls the living mass.
Death-when thy shadow sceptre waves away
From his sad couch the prisoner of decay,
Though friendship view the close with glistening eye,
And love's fond lips imbibe the parting sigh,
By torture racked, by kindness soothed in vain,
The soul still clings to being and to pain.
But when have wider terrors clothed thy brow,
Or keener torments edged thy dart than now,
When with thy regal horrors vainly strove
The law of nature and the power of Love?
On mothers babes in vain for mercy call,
Beneath the feet of brothers brothers fall.
Behold the dying wretch in vain upraise
Towards yonder well-known face the accusing gaze;
See trampled to the earth the expiring maid
Clings round her lover's feet, and shrieks for aid.
Vain is the imploring glance, the frenzied cry;
All, all is fear; to succour is to die.—
Saw ye how wild, how red, how broad a light
Burst on the darkness of that mid-day night,
As fierce Vesuvius scattered o'er the vale
Her drifted flames and sheets of burning hail,
Shook hell's wan lightnings from his blazing cone,
And gilded heaven with meteors not its own?
The morn all blushing rose; but sought in vain
The snowy villas and the flowery plain,
The purpled hills with marshalled vineyards gay,
The domes that sparkled in the sunny ray.
Where art or nature late hath deck'd the scene
With blazing marble or with spangled green,
There, streaked by many a fiery torrent's bed,
A boundless waste of hoary ashes spread.
Along that dreary waste where lately rung
The festal lay which smiling virgins sung,
Where rapture echoed from the warbling lute,
And the gay dance resounded, all is mute.-
Mute!-Is it Fancy shapes that wailing sound
Which faintly murmurs from the blasted ground,
Or live there still, who breathing in the tomb,
Curse the dark refuge which delays their doom,
In massive vaults, on which the incumbent plain
And ruined city heap their weight in vain?
Oh! who may sing that hour of mortal strife, When nature calls on Death, yet clings to life? Who paint the wretch that draws sepulchral breath A living prisoner in the house of Death?
Pale as the corpse which loads the funeral pile, With face convulsed that writhes a ghastly smile, VOL I.-32