On The Ice Islands Seen Floating In The German Ocean.

A poem by William Cowper

What portents, from what distant region, ride,
Unseen till now in ours, the astonish’d tide?
In ages past, old Proteus, with his droves
Of sea-calves, sought the mountains and the groves.
But now, descending whence of late they stood,
Themselves the mountains seem to rove the flood.
Dire times were they, full charged with human woes;
And these, scarce less calamitous than those.
What view we now? More wondrous still! Behold!
Like burnish’d brass they shine, or beaten gold;
And all around the pearl’s pure splendour show,
And all around the ruby’s fiery glow.
Come they from India, where the burning earth,
All bounteous, gives her richest treasures birth;
And where the costly gems, that beam around
The brows of mightiest potentates, are found?
No. Never such a countless dazzling store
Had left unseen the Ganges’ peopled shore.
Rapacious hands, and ever watchful eyes,
Should sooner far have mark’d and seized the prize.
Whence sprang they then? Ejected have they come
From Vesuvius’, or from Ætna’s burning womb?
Thus shine they self-illumed, or but display
The borrow’d splendours of a cloudless day?
With borrow’d beams they shine. The gales that breathe
Now landward, and the current’s force beneath,
Have borne them nearer: and the nearer sight,
Advantaged more, contemplates them aright.
Their lofty summits crested high they show,
With mingled sleet, and long-incumbent snow.
The rest is ice. Far hence, where, most severe,
Bleak winter well nigh saddens all the year,
Their infant growth began. He bade arise
Their uncouth forms, portentous in our eyes.
Oft as dissolved by transient suns, the snow
Left the tall cliff, to join the flood below;
He caught, and curdled with a freezing blast
The current, ere it reach’d the boundless waste.
By slow degrees uprose the wondrous pile,
And long successive ages roll’d the while;
Till, ceaseless in its growth, it claim’d to stand
Tall as its rival mountains on the land.
Thus stood, and, unremovable by skill
Or force of man, had stood the structure still,
But that, though firmly fix’d, supplanted yet
By pressure of its own enormous weight,
It left the shelving beach—and, with a sound
That shook the bellowing waves and rocks around,
Self-launch’d, and swiftly, to the briny wave,
As if instinct with strong desire to lave,
Down went the ponderous mass. So bards of old
How Delos swam the Ægean deep have told.
But not of ice was Delos. Delos bore
Herb, fruit, and flower. She, crown’d with laurel, wore,
E’en under wintry skies, a summer smile;
And Delos was Apollo’s favourite isle.
But, horrid wanderers of the deep, to you
He deems Cimmerian darkness only due.
Your hated birth he deign’d not to survey,
But, scornful, turn’d his glorious eyes away.
Hence, seek your home, nor longer rashly dare
The darts of Phœbus and a softer air;
Lest ye regret, too late, your native coast,
In no congenial gulf for ever lost!

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