Little Florence Gray

A poem by Nathaniel Parker Willis

I was in Greece. It was the hour of noon,
And the Ægean wind had dropped asleep
Upon Hymettus, and the thymy isles
Of Salamis and Ægina lay hung
Like clouds upon the bright and breathless sea.
I had climbed up th’ Acropolis at morn,
And hours had fled as time will in a dream
Amid its deathless ruins, for the air
Is full of spirits in these mighty fanes,
And they walk with you! As it sultrier grew,
I laid me down within a shadow deep
Of a tall column of the Parthenon,
And in an absent idleness of thought
I scrawled upon the smooth and marble base.
Tell me, O memory, what wrote I there?
The name of a sweet child I knew at Rome!

I was in Asia. ’Twas a peerless night
Upon the plains of Sardis, and the moon,
Touching my eyelids through the wind-stirred tent,
Had witched me from my slumber. I arose,
And silently stole forth, and by the brink
Of golden “Pactolus,” where bathe his waters
The bases of Cybele’s columns fair,
I paced away the hours. In wakeful mood
I mused upon the storied past awhile,
Watching the moon, that with the same mild eye
Had looked upon the mighty Lybian kings
Sleeping around me, Crœsus, who had heaped
Within the mouldering portico his gold,
And Gyges, buried with his viewless ring
Beneath you swelling tumulus, and then
I loitered up the valley to a small
And humbler ruin, where the undefiled
Of the Apocalypse their garments kept
Spotless; and crossing with a conscious awe
The broken threshold, to my spirit’s eye
It seemed as if, amid the moonlight, stood
“The angel of the church of Sardis” still!
And I again passed onward, and as dawn
Paled the bright morning star, I lay me down
Weary and sad beside the river’s brink,
And ’twixt the moonlight and the rosy morn,
Wrote with my fingers in the golden “sands.”
Tell me, O memory! what wrote I there?
The name of the sweet child I knew at Rome!

The dust is old upon my “sandal-shoon’”
And still I am a pilgrim; I have roved
From wild America to spicy Ind,
And worshipped at innumerable shrines
Of beauty; and the painter’s art, to me,
And sculpture, speak as with a living tongue,
And of dead kingdoms, I recall the soul,
Sitting amid their ruins. I have stored
My memory with thoughts that can allay
Fever and sadness; and when life gets dim,
And I am overladen in my years,
Minister to me. But when wearily
The mind gives over toiling, and, with eyes
Open but seeing not, and senses all
Lying awake within their chambers fine,
Thought settles like a fountain, clear and calm,
Far in its sleeping depths, as ’twere a gem,
Tell me, O memory what shines so fair?
The face of the sweet child I knew at Rome!

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