O, silvery moon, fair mistress of the night,
Thou mellow, ever vaccilating orb,
How many eons of unmeasured time
Hast thou, observant from thy astral poise,
Thy ever-changing station in the skies,
Beheld the wastes of earth, of air and space--
Ruling the waters, and the sombre night?
Pale queen of night, fair coquette of the skies,
Thou, who with fickle, sweet inconstancy
Receives the smile from the admiring sun,
And straight transmits it to the sordid earth,--
How many cycles of the silent past
Hast thou beheld the rise and fall of man,
His proud ascendency and swift decline;
His zenith and his pitiful decay;
E'er he emerged from out the dismal cave,
His habitation rude and primitive;
E'er yet the forest trembled at his stroke,
E'er his indenting chisel cleaved the stones
And framed the first crude human domicile?
As time rolled on and human skill advanced
By almost imperceptible degrees
Of slow, experimental tutorage,
Along a nobler, more artistic plane,
He hewed the stones in form of ornament,
Sculptured device of various design,
Embellishment of cunning symmetry,
Man's first attempt to scale the realms of art.
Thou hast beheld him on his suppliant kneel,
Engaged in worship, audible or mute,
Invoking thy protection and thy aid,
Thy gracious favor and beatitude;
With arms outstretched in reverential awe,
Propitiating thee, with fervent prayer
For the remission of thy baleful stroke.
Thou hast beheld his superstitious fear
And heard his curses, and his solemn prayers
As thy dark form eclipsed the smiling sun.
Thou hast beheld him fashion and adorn
The gorgeous altar and the totem pole;
With fervent zeal, and blind simplicity,
From base materials of wood or stone,
Carve out a God, then kneel and worship it.
Thou, too, hast heard the slave-whip's poignant crack,
The sound of avarice and turpitude,
As hands unwilling plied their arduous task,
Creating monuments to iron will,
Human injustice, greed and servitude.
Thou hast beheld him shape the pyramids,
Heap up the mound and build the massive wall,
Create the castle and the towering spire,
The ponderous dome and stately edifice.
From thy observant orbit in the skies,
Did'st thou behold that sacrilegious tower,
Which reared its massive form on Babel's plain,
Built by misguided and presumptuous men,
In vain and ineffectual attempt
To scale the heavens surreptitiously?
E'er the completion of the impious pile,
Thou mayest have heard, with silent nonchalance,
That strange catastrophe of human speech,
That dire confusion of the languages,
Confounding all the tongues and dialects
To unknown chaos of peculiar sounds.
Changing the conversation of the day
To accents strange and unintelligible,
Unlike to common and accepted terms;
To tones mysterious and unnatural,
Conglomerated forms of utterance
Which bore no semblance to the human voice.
Some rent the air with unaccustomed words
Striving in desperation to converse,
With ears which heard, but could not understand.
Some cursed, with oaths unknown to all but them,
While some essayed to frame the words of prayer,
Or to articulate the stern command,
And one, in most supreme authority,
Declaimed a ponderous regal ordinance,
But heard a sea of unfamiliar sounds,
Confused and desultory turbulence, and dissonance of harsh, discordant tones,
Instead of due attention and applause;
Nor were his words and usual forms of speech
Respected by the idle, wondering craft,
Which lately comprehended and obeyed.
Workmen addressed each other, but conveyed
No sense of meaning in their jargonings;
Nor had cognizance from the stammered tones,
Answered in turn, in verbal nothingness;
The crabbed cynic might no longer rail;
Nor those of sober countenance discourse
In melancholy and foreboding strains;
Nor light and frivolous sons of levity
On others perpetrate the humorous jest;
Fathers attempted to correct their sons,
Who, listening with filial reverence,
Heard but unknown and strange garrulity.
Some shrank in terror, as their ears discerned
Their own distorted efforts to converse;
Some ran in aimless frenzy to and fro,
Falling upon the earth with frantic cries;
Some stood in gaping wonder, nor perceived
The dire calamity, which bound them all
In one unbroken chain of misery.
Some beat their breasts in paroxysmal woe;
Some wore the driveling look of idiocy;
Some lost their reason and serenely smiled;
Some stalked with features imperturbable,
Finding no tear nor vent for their distress;
Some groaned, some shrieked, some wept in their despair,
Relaxing all attempts at vocal speech;
Some recognized the face but not the voice
Of some familiar friend, and grasped the hand,
Spoke with the eyes, when words no longer served.
Did'st thou behold that temple which arose
On Mount Moriah's slope, the proud result
Of the endeavors of a noble race,
Whose tireless energy and wondrous skill
In architecture and the various arts
Were famed throughout the world; whose nimble hands
Carved out the pillar and the pedestal,
The column, polished and cylindrical,
The slab and ornamented architrave
From Parian marble of unblemished hue;
With stately cedars from the sloping sides
Of proud but long denuded Lebanon,
Erected that superb and marvelous pile
Whose wondrous grandeur and imposing form,
Correct proportions and true symmetry
And perfect uniformity of shape,
Beauty of contour and embellishment,
Splendor of finish and magnificence,
Excelled the proudest edifice of earth--
A fitting tribute to the Deity?
Thou hast beheld the triumphs of his skill
Touched by the desolating hand of time,
Crumble, disintegrate and pass away--
Resolved to pristine particles of dust.
His strongest castle, bold and insolent,
Of warlike aspect and defiant mien,
With wall and rampart unassailable,
Impregnable to the assaults of man--
Surrender at the mold's insidious tread.
Thou hast beheld
His palace and his most exalted courts
Bestrewn with fragments of the Peristyle;
The broken column, slab and monolith
O'erhung with pendant moss and slimy mold;
Its dismal haunts and gloomy apertures
Become the habitation of the bat,
The hissing serpent and the scorpion,
The basking lizard dull and indolent,
And forms of reptile, foul and venomous.
The throne where ruled the king with iron sway
Is vacant as the empty wastes of air,
Is ruled by desolation and decay.
No more the sceptered voice in stern command
Rings through its halls, nor can the dazzling flash
Of the tiara and the diadem,
The ensign and insignia of power,
The emblazoned crest and jeweled coat of arms,
Or proud escutcheon of illustrious name
Excite with envy or inspire with fear.
The boisterous carousal and the sound
Of wassail mirth, inebriate and loud,
And midnight revelry, is hushed and still.
Time shifts the scenes--
The haughty prince and the most abject slave,
Who cowered and trembled 'neath his austere glance,
The fawning and ignoble sycophant,
The courtier and the basest serf, have met
On equal terms beneath the silent dust.
From thy celestial 'minions thou hast seen
His proudest temples sink into decay,
Grim desolation and desuetude;
The silent hush succeed the plaintive hymn,
The anthem cease to swell in rhythmic praise,
Or vaulted dome re-echo with the sound
Of pipe, of organ, harp and dulcimer;
The voice of sacerdotal eloquence
Become as silent as the unborn thought;
The fragrant perfume of the frankincense,
The scent of swinging censor and of myrrh,
Supplanted by foul odors of decay;
The sacred flame extinguished and forgot,
Its votaries and congregations fled;
The forms who ministered and forms who knelt,
The burnished altar and the hoary priest,
Commingling their atoms in the dust.
Thou, too, hast heard the clash of hostile arms,
The blast of trumpet and the martial tread,
The neigh of charger anxious for the fray,
The din and the confusion of the fight,
The noise and turmoil of contending hosts,
The crunch of breaking bones and shrieks of pain;
The angry challenge and defiant taunt,
The cries of rage and curses of despair,
The dying groan and gnash of clench-ed teeth,
The plea for mercy, with uplifted arms,
As through the bosom plunged the ruthless steel;
The clank of shackles and the captives groan,
As marched the vanquished forth to servitude,
To ceaseless toil rewarded by the scourge;
To stand within the slave marts and endure
The taunts and bear the chains of slavery.
Did'st thou look down with neutral radiance
On that incursion from the Scythian plain,
A surging multitude beyond the power
Of mental computation and which seemed
A seething mass of spears and shapes of war,
A sea of bellicose barbarity,
O'erwhelming helpless and ill-fated Tyre
With a resistless deluge of the sword?
Or when that vast and uncomputed horde
Swept westward from the steppes of Tartary
With stern Atilla riding at its head,
Leaving in ruthless Mongol truculence,
Awake, both red and blackened by the torch;
The scourge, perhaps of God, perhaps of Hell!
Did'st thou not flinch when t'ward the Christian west
The fell invasion of the Saracen
Headed its course with crimson scimitar;
Supplanting the mild precepts of the Cross
With those of lust, of hate and bigotry?
Did'st thou not weep when proud Atlantis sunk
Beneath the surging and engulfing waves,
The aftermath of Earth's most tragic shock;
Or when the ark, upon that greatest flood,
Which from the black and pregnant heavens fell.
For forty days and forty weary nights,
Above the ruins of a deluged world,
Floated in safety with its living freight?
Did'st Thou look down in idle apathy,
When grim Vesuvius, from his dormant rest
Awoke, in molten fury, and o'ercame
With liquid flood and scoriaceous hail
The sleeping cities which beneath him lay;
Interring with such fiery burial
That neither remnant nor inhabitant
Escaped from that both grave and funeral pyre;
Nor vestige of their proud magnificence
Rose from the scene with charred and blackened form;
And rolling centuries, in passing, left
But dim remembrance in the minds of men?
Did'st thou, in age more ancient and remote,
Gaze from thy poise with cold complacency
Upon the guilty cities of the plain,
Surcharged with lust and the extremes of sin,
Which Holy Writ avers, when 'neath the shower
Of well deserved combustion from the skies,
They sunk in conflagration with their vice;
And perishing, to ages yet to come
Bequeathed a foul and blasted heritage,
An infamous and execrated name?
Art thou to human anguish so inured
That thou hast neither sentiment of grief
Nor sense of pity for terrestrial ills?
Can agonizing and heart-rending scenes
Relax thy obdurate and placid face
To semblance of emotion? Can man's woes
Excite thy tranquil immobility
To the pathetic look of tenderness,
Or touch thy bosom's calm indifference
With profuse throbs of sympathetic ruth?
Can'st thou unmoved behold the widow's tears,
Or those of orphaned childish innocence,
Or those which wondering infant eyes have shed
On unresponsive breasts, which nevermore
Throb with maternal warmth and suckle them?
Can'st thou with cold, unsympathizing light
Illuminate the ruined maid's despair
Without the echo of a lunar groan?
Hast thou no pang of sorrow or regret
For guilty man, nor tear for his distress,
Or are the tides within thy moist control
The copious weepings of thy mellow lids--
Thy sea of teardrops shed for human woes?
Did'st thou behold, when that most favored star,
Transcending in refulgence all the orbs
Of boundless and bejewelled firmament,
With flash of overwhelming brilliancy
Plunged through the wondering heavens, whose pale spheres
In contrast dimmed to insignificance,
And gliding through the twinkling realms of space,
Burst with such splendor as the envious stars
Had never witnessed since the heavens stood;
Halting in glory o'er Judea's plain?
Halted and burned in stellar reverence,
Above a fold where wrapped in swaddling clothes
A new-born infant in a manger lay;
In humble contrast to the throne of light,
He left to tread the thorny paths of earth;
In undefiled and stainless innocence,
Which earth with all her foul iniquities
Might never tarnish nor pollute with sin.
Perhaps upon that sage triumvirate
Which journeyed from the famed and affluent East,
In regal pomp and rich munificence,
To lay their costly presents at His feet
And worship at that new-born infant's shrine,
Thou shed'st thy mellow rays and lit the way
O'er deserts to the hills of Bethlehem;
Dividing honors with that prince of stars.
Wert thou a witness on that selfsame night
When humble shepherds on Judea's hills,
Watching their flocks with all attentive care,
Beheld unwonted grandeur in the skies?
The ordinary stars were glittering
In unaccustomed glory, and the orbs
Which twinkle in that pale celestial train
Which cleaves in twain the ambient universe,
Had changed their milky hue to that of gold;
But all the forms of stellar brilliancy
Made way for that most bright and luminous
Which glowed with holy radiance, which might
Not emanate from aught but sacred star;
Dispensing such serene magnificence
That e'en the admiring heavens stood abashed.
At such a sight,
Though savoring more of blessing than of curse,
Small marvel 'twas their unenlightened minds
Were seized with sudden and peculiar fear,
So that their trembling knees together smote.
And as they stood
In awestruck trepidation and alarm
The heavens as the bifurcated door
Of some familiar, hospitable tent,
Parted their gorgeous curtains and disclosed
A multitude of the celestial host,
Numerous beyond all efforts to compute,
Solemn of countenance, yet beautiful
Beyond the comprehension of the eye,
Surging in such immaculate array
Of various raiment as the stainless white
Of snows which countless centuries have placed
On rugged Ararat's tremendous heights,
Were blended in an essence!
Then for a moment's time
The heavens were silent as those forms were fair;
Then instantly throughout the realms of light
Was heard a crash in sacred unison,
As all the trumpets and the harps of heaven
And all the varied instruments of earth
Had burst in one grand, detonating chord;
Now rose the quavering, vibratory tones
Of flageolet and solitary reed;
Now as a blending of all instruments
In echoing harmonics, sweet and low,
In soft reverberating resonance;
The voice of cornet and sonorous horn
Blent with the warbling accents of the flute
And chime of mellow bells, unknown to earth;
Pæan of dulcimer and harpsichord
In combination of concordant tone,
Melting the stars with dulcet symphony.
But sweeter than those instruments of joy,
Tuned by angelic fingers, rose the strains
Of vocal concord and mellifluence,
As swelled in chorus those seraphic throats
In falling cadence and ecstatic flight,
Surpassing heaven's grandest melody
In all that appertains to choral song!
The acme of celestial harmony
Which angel ears discerned with glad surprise;
But sweeter than that song, the glad refrain
Wafted from angel tongues innumerable,
To earth and the inhabitants thereof,
"Peace! Peace on Earth, the Deity's Good Will!"
Didst thou not shrink, when on Golgotha's crest
Three crosses as three grizzly spectres rose,
Spreading their ghastly arms protestingly,
In silent malediction o'er the scene,
And even nature paused and stood aghast
In shuddering horror at the awful sight,
Relaxing with the trembling earthquake shock
Her sympathetic tension?
And when the lightning rent the canopy
Of black sepulchral clouds, which like a shroud
Enveloped earth on that terrific night,
They lit a face compassionate and pure,
E'en from beneath the cruel crown of thorns
Glancing in pity, kindled not with wrath
At his tormentors, those who loved him not--
The multitude which surged about the cross
Cursing with accents vile and crying loud,
Crucify Him! Crucify Him!
"Rejected and despised of men--"
Earth, which hath ever slain her noblest sons,
Slays also her Redeemer!
Creation is but systematized decay,
And Change is blazoned on the very skies,
As in ephemeral telluric scenes,
And through the whole cosmogony of worlds,
Is written and rewritten!
Thou who hast seen the stately mastodon
Roam at his will o'er earth's prolific plains,
And the unwieldy megatherium
Dragging his cumbrous, disproportioned weight
Through quaternary marsh and stagnant fen;
Or watched the ichthyosaurus plow the seas,
Churning the waters till the glistening foam
Rode on the greenish undulating waves;
And huge saurian and reptilian shapes
Amphibious and pelagic, swim and crawl,
Cleaving the waters with tremendous strokes,
Writhing with foul contortions in disport,
Splashing and laving in the thermal seas
Of the remote and prehistoric past;
Thou who hast seen them fail and pass away
Shalt also shine when man has disappeared.
Thou who hast seen the rank luxuriance
Of vegetation flourish and decay,
Vanish and pass away insensibly,
Perish from off the earth which nourished it,
And time supplant its rich exuberance
With arid wastes of bleak sterility;
Wilt thou look down in silent unconcern
When countless eons of denuding time
Have rendered earth as barren as thyself,
Bereft of verdure's last habiliment;
When men, with all their passions and desires,
Their strange combines of evil and of good,
Their proud achievements and exalted aims
Have passed away forever?
The universe is but a sepulcher
For worlds defunct, as earth for living forms!
And thou, O Moon, who hast surveyed all this
Thyself shalt be consumed with fervent heat,
For e'en the firmament shall pass away.
Thou who createst worlds and satellites,
(And Who canst estimate the universe)
Weighing the heavens in Thy balances,
Who hast ordained the laws of cosmic space
To guide aright the planetary spheres;
Thou Ruler of the infinite and great,
Alike of vast and infinitesimal;
Thou fundamental cause of all that is,
In process of creation and decay,
In the mutation and the ravages
Sequent of constant lapse and flight of time
Reveal Thy laws that we may follow them:
Help us to recognize in all Thy works,
Whether of atom or stupendous mass,
The hand of Deity.