Unmoor the skiff, - unmoor the skiff, -
The night wind's sigh is on the air,
And o'er the highest Alpine cliff,
The pale moon rises, broad and clear.
The murmuring waves are tranquil now,
And on their breast each twinkling star
With which Night gems her dusky brow,
Flings its mild radiance from afar.
Put off upon the deep blue sea,
And leave the banquet and the ball;
For solitude, when shared with thee,
Is dearer than the carnival.
And in my heart are thoughts of love,
Such thoughts as lips should only breathe,
When the bright stars keep watch above,
And the calm waters sleep beneath!
The tale I have for thee, perchance,
May to thine eye anew impart
The long-lost gladness of its glance,
And soothe the sorrows of thy heart;
Come, I will sing for thee again,
The songs which once our mothers sung,
Ere tyranny its galling chain
On them, and those they loved, had hung.
Thou'rt sad; thou say'st that in the halls
Which echoed once our father's tread,
The stranger's idle footstep falls,
With sound that might awake the dead!
The mighty dead! whose dust around
An atmosphere of reverence sheds;
If aught of earthly voice or sound,
Might reach them in their marble beds.
That she to whom the deep gave birth, -
Fair Venice! to whose queenly stores
The wealth and beauty of the earth
Were wafted from an hundred shores!
Now on her wave-girt site, forlorn,
Sits shrouded in affliction's night, -
The object of the tyrant's scorn,
Sad monument of fallen might.
Well, tho' in her deserted halls
The fire on Freedom's shrine is dead,
Tho' o'er her darkened, crumbling walls,
Stern Desolation's pall is spread;
Is not the second better part,
To that which rends the despot's chain,
To wear it with a dauntless heart,
To feel yet shrink not from its pain?
Then let the creeping ivy twine
Its wreaths about each ruined arch,
Till Time shall crush them in the brine,
Beneath its all-triumphant march!
Then let the swelling waters close
Above the sea-child's sinking frame,
And hide for ever from her foes,
Each trace and vestige of her shame.
Shall we at last less calmly sleep,
When in the narrow death-house pent,
Because the bosom of the deep
Shall be our only monument?
No! by the waste of waters bid,
Our tombs as well shall keep their trust,
As tho' a marble pyramid
Were piled above our mangled dust!
Written in the National Gallery, at the city of Washington, on looking at a Mummy, supposed to have belonged to a race extinct before the occupation of the Western Continent by the people in whose possession the Europeans found it.
Sole and mysterious relic of a race
That long has ceased to be, whose very name,
Time, ever bearing on with steady pace,
Has swept away from earth, leaving thy frame,
Darkened by thirty centuries, to claim,
Among the records of the things that were,
Its place, - Tradition has forgot thee - Fame,
If ever fame was thine, has ceased to bear
Her record of thee, - say, what dost thou here?
Three thousand years ago a mother's arms
Were wrapped about that dark and ghastly form,
And all the loveliness of childhood's charms
Glowed on that cheek, with life then flushed and warm;
Say, what preserved thee from the hungry worm
That haunts with gnawing tooth the gloomy bed
Spread for the lifeless? Tell what could disarm
Decay of half its power, and while it fed
On empires - races - make it spare the dead!
How strange to contemplate the wondrous story,
When those deep sunken eyes first saw the light,
Lost Babylon was in her midday glory, -
Upon her pride and power had fall'n no blight;
And Tyre, the ancient mariner's delight,
Whose merchantmen were princes, and whose name
Was theme of praise to all, has left her site
To utter barren nakedness and shame, -
Yet thou, amid all change, art still the same.
And she who, by the "yellow Tiber's" side,
Sits wrapped in her dark veil of widowhood,
With scarce a glimmer of her ancient pride,
To cheer the gloom of that deep solitude
Which o'er the seat of vanquished pow'r doth brood,
Since thou wast born has seen her glories rise,
Burn, and expire! quenched by the streams of blood
Which her slaves drew from her own veins, the price
Of usurpation, proud Ambition's sacrifice!
And darker in her fate, and sadder still,
The sacred city of the minstrel king,
That proudly sat on Zion's holy hill,
The wonder of the world! Destruction's wing
Hath from her swept each fair and goodly thing;
Her palaces and temples! where are they?
Her walls and marble tow'rs lie mouldering,
Her glory to the spoiler's hand a prey, -
And yet time spares a portion of thy clay!
And thou art here amid a stranger race,
To whom these shores four centuries ago,
Tho' now proud Freedom's boasted dwelling-place,
Were all unknown; the wide streams that now flow
Where Cultivation's hand has steered her plough,
Had then but seen the forest huntsman guide
His light canoe across the waves which now
Reflect the snowy sails that waft in pride
The stately ship along their rippling tide.
Thou art the silent messenger of ages,
Sent back to tread with Time his constant way,
To shame the wisdom of conceited sages,
Whose lore is but a thing of yesterday;
What would their best, their brightest visions weigh
Beside the fearful truths thou couldst reveal?
The secrets of eternity now lay
Unveiled before thee, and for we or weal,
Thy doom is fixed beyond ev'n heaven's repeal.
I will not ask thee of the mysteries
That lie beyond Death's shadowy vale; but thou
Mayst tell us of the fate the Destinies
Wove for thine earthly sojourn. Was thy brow
Graced with the poet's, hero's garland? How
Dealt Fortune with thee? Did she curse or bless
Thee with her frown or smile? Speak! thou art now
Among the living, - they around thee press.
Still silent? Then thy lot we can but guess.
Perhaps thou wast a monarch, and hast worn
The sceptre of some real El Dorado!
Perhaps a warrior, and those arms have borne
The foremost shield, and dealt the deadliest blow
That drew the life-blood of a warring foe!
Perhaps thou wor'st the courtier's gilded thrall, -
Some glittering court's gay, proud papilio!
Perchance a clown, the jester of some hall,
The slave of one man, and the fool of all!
Oh life! and pride! and honour! come and see
To what a depth your visions tumble down!
Behold your wearer, - who shall say if he
Were monarch, warrior, parasite, or clown!
And ye, who talk of glory and renown,
And call them bright and deathless! and who break
Each dearer tie to grasp fame's gilded crown,
Come, hear instruction from this shadow speak,
And learn how valueless the prize ye seek!
See where ambition's loftiest flight doth tend,
Behold the doom perhaps of blood-bought fame,
And know that all which earth can give must end,
In dust and ashes, and an empty name!
Ye passions! which defy our pow'r to tame
Or curb your headlong tides, behold your home!
Love! see the breast where thou didst light thy flame!
Immortal spirit! see thy shattered dome!
When shall its hour of renovation come?
Shall life possess, and beauty deck again
That withered form, and foul and dusky cheek?
Will Death resign his dull and frozen reign,
And the immortal soul return to seek
Her long-deserted dwelling, and to break
The bondage which has held in icy chains
All that was mortal of thee? will she make
Her home in thee, and shall these poor remains
Share with her heaven's pleasures or hell's pains?
Wonder of wonders! who could look on thee
And afterward survey with curious eye
The mouldering shrines where dupes have bent the knee,
Where superstition, by hypocrisy
Nurtured and fed with tales of mystery,
Has oft with timid footstep trembling trod, -
All these are worse than nothing; come and see
Where once a deathless soul held its abode, -
The wrecked and ruined palace of a God!
Farewell! Not idly has this hour been spent.
Thy silent teachings I may not forget, -
More deeply, strangely, truly eloquent,
Than all the babbled words which ever yet
Have fall'n from living lips, - they shall be set
With the bright gems which Wisdom loves to keep;
And when my spirit against fate would fret,
My eyes shall turn to thee and cease to weep,
Till I too sleep death's deep and dreamless sleep!