1824 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Lord Byron

Thomas Charleton Smith, "Monody on the Death of Lord Byron" Bay Leaves (1824) 1-11.



Strange murmurs breathe through Missolonghi's halls—
Her fanes resound with requiem and with prayer,
And grief's o'ermastering agony, which falls
In mournful plaints upon the midnight air.
Whence are these frantic accents of despair,
Thus mingling with devotion's holier strains?
Hath the destroyer of her fame been there?
Bends she beneath a race her soul disdains,
The Moslem robber's prey? — Is Greece once more in chains?

No — still on high doth Freedom's banner float,
And Freedom's sons the storm of battle dare!—
Proud animating sight! — Then why that note
Of deep-felt sorrow — of profound despair?
Death, unrelenting tyrant! hath been there,
And smote her mightiest champion — he, whose song
Came on her slumbers like the mountain air,
Rousing the torpid spirit, which too long
Had slept in dull repose beneath th' oppressor's wrong.

Who now shall sound the trump in Freedom's cause,
And bid her hurl the tyrant from his rock?
Who rouse her slumbering courage should she pause,
And nerve her bosom for the battle's shock?
Lo! her impetuous call the nations mock,
Or gaze inactive as she lifts her chain:
Yea, at the despot's cry, tumultuous flock
To rivet links they may not break again—
Witness, indignant world! oppress'd, insulted Spain!

Well may'st thou weep, fair Greece! — That heart is still'd,
Whose whole collected energies were thine:
That mighty spirit gone, whose influence thrill'd
Upon the soul, like breathings from a shrine!
And silent now that harp, whose notes divine
Were living things, instinct with heaven's own light!
The intermingled radiance of the mine,
Bursting with splendour from a thousand bright
And many-colour'd gems, upon the dazzled sight!

Proud Wizard of the mind! — On Delphi's hill,
Lo! where he sits and waves his magic wand;
Bright shapes arising at his call, which still
Vary their forms, like clouds by zephyrs fann'd:
Visions of glowing beauty, soft and bland,
Spring forth, like sunbeams on the evening sky;
Then darker shapes their shadowy wings expand,
And stalk with solemn port majestic by,
While midnight broods around, and mournful breezes sigh.

Long o'er the magic breathings of that lyre,
Wrapt in the trance of grief, shall Genius sigh:
Long shall we mourn the Bard, whose thoughts of fire
Were storm-clouds rushing o'er th' autumnal sky!
Vain tribute to his fame! — Th' etherial eye
Whose piercing glances could the heart unveil,
(That darksome cavern where the passions lie
Coil'd up like serpents in their shining mail,)
Is now for ever quench'd — those speaking features pale!

At thy behest great Bard! the spectral band
Of human passions rose in grim array;
Dark shadows! which required a mighty hand
Like thine, their changing features to pourtray:
Emotions that o'erwhelm the mind, and prey
Like worms upon the form which gave them birth,
Wearing, by slow degrees, its strength away.
(Thus strangely art thou made, frail child of earth,
Even to thy very thoughts, a mockery and a mirth.)

Thine the immortal song — the powerful spell,
That o'er the feelings held a stern control;
Now, like the ocean's solemn voice, it fell
With deep and awful grandeur on the soul!
Then softer sounds upon the sense stole,
Like far off music's melancholy strain.
Anon — thou bad'st the patriot thunders roll
The battle song of Greece! and pour'd again
The crimson tide of life, through Freedom's throbbing vein.

Behold! she starts from slumber's trance profound,
An angry phantom bursting from the grave;
And casts a dark indignant glance around,
On realms her slothful children fail'd to save.
Fall'n Greece awakes! — again her banners wave—
Burst are her fetters, and her chains unbound!
Yet still there comes no succour to the brave—
Among the torpid nations, none are found
To aid her struggling bands, and war's alarum sound!

Forth as a lion bounding on his prey,
Lo! where she rushes on the Moslem band!
But England's gallant warriors, where are they,
To fan that sacred fire, and nerve her hand?
Is Freedom's spirit dead within the land?
Shall we, once proud to aid a cause like thine,
Brave, yet neglected Greece! now tamely stand,
And see the spoiler wrong each deathless shrine,
Stride o'er each sacred fane and cenotaph divine?

Land of my fathers! fall'n indeed art thou,
Thy glory tarnish'd, and eclipsed thy fame;
Once Freedom's birth-place and her boast, but now
From history's glowing page what can'st thou claim?
Arouse thee from thy slumbers — be thy name
Once more a watch-word to the free and brave.
Can England breathe the atmosphere of shame?
Greece calls! — go bid thy warriors cross the wave,
And kindle at the strains thy patriot poet gave.

Whate'er her fate, let Hellas stand or fall,
Her zenith brighten, or her star decline;
Achieve her freedom, or become the thrall
Of Moslem slaves, while Europe stands supine;
As the dark ivy round some lofty shrine,
With melancholy grace its foliage flings,
Thus will she wreathe, great Bard! her name with thine:
Far prouder of that boast than Rome's stern kings
Were, when to distant realms their eagle spread its wings.

Oft will the stranger seek thy hallow'd tomb—
There th' enfranchised slave a requiem breathe,
And mourn, with sadden'd heart, the early doom
Of him whose beauteous corse reclines beneath.
And long will Greece that sepulchre enwreath
With brighter flow'rs than Slavery's hand can braid;
Since his the voice that bade her first unsheath
In Liberty's proud, cause her shining blade,
And his th' inspiring song her blushing sons obey'd.

But from my sight the glorious scene hath faded—
The pride — the pomp of battle pass'd away.
I mourn that brilliant orb, too soon o'ershaded,
The sudden quenching of its fervid ray!
"Grim-visaged" Death! thine is no common prey—
That lofty being, whose aspiring mind
No mortal force could move, or power affray;
Even as the willow bendeth in the wind,
Hath yielded to thy might, stern ruler of mankind!

Vain triumph! — o'er the dull and plodding knave
Thy wand has touch'd — Oblivion's tide may roll;
Proud Genius scorns the bondage of the grave,
And mocks, fell tyrant! even thy control.
Its frame may perish, but the spark it stole
From heav'n, thy hand can never quench in night:
Bring plague or famine, dart or poison'd bowl—
Bid life in ling'ring tortures take its flight—
Still doth it rise from earth, and scorn thy boasted might.

Kings may neglected moulder in the dust,
Like nodding ruins on the lonely shore;
Their trophies crumble from the marble bust,
Their proud mausoleums sink, and be no more!
Yea, cities may depart, and surges roar,
Exulting, o'er the works by time defaced;
Fair realms become deserted, where of yore
Mirth's voice resounded; now in silence traced
By Desolation's foot — a wild, a dreary waste!

Surviving all, the Poet's deathless name,
While ages glide with silent lapse away,
Shall kindle like the everlasting flame
On Vesta's altar, with a quenchless ray.
Bright atoms of immortal mind are they,
The blooms which cling to glory's fadeless stein,
And perish not, when meaner flowers decay;
Blest heritors of fame, more prized by them
Than life and light itself, their being's brightest gem.

Yes, glorious Bard! in every age and clime,
Thy fame's imperishable wreath shall bloom;
A bright star shining through the depths of time,
A ray of splendour bursting on its gloom.
And can we view unmoved thy early doom—
Thy genius in its fairest hour dispell'd?
Oh no! — Grief's tribute falls upon thy tomb;
And hearts, thy lofty mind in bondage held,
Now mourn in silent woe that ardent spirit quell'd.

Ill-fated Greece! again would'st thou behold
A mind thus form'd thy glory to redeem;
First render up from out thy hallow'd mould
Earth's demigods, if such be not a dream.—
Proud Queen of Islands! mourn the vanish'd beam
Of him thy shores gave birth to, for he spread
A light around thee. Friends, whose heart's esteem
He prized on earth, (and ye were many,) shed
Grief's agonizing tear for him, whose spirit's fled.

Yet faint are all the sorrows they can feel,
Compared to thine, fair daughter of his heart!
O'er that young brow full many a year must steal,
Ere the dull throb of woe can cease to start.
Twined to thy father's memory thou art;
Thy breast embalms his image in its shrine;
And never from that bosom can depart
The plaint his wounded spirit pour'd to thine,
Thou seraph of his Heaven! love's late-rekindled sign!

Farewell, immortal Byron! — thou hast been
The star on which I bent my ardent gaze;
The living fire o'er which I loved to lean,
And bask my youthful spirit in the blaze.
I dwelt upon thy genius, till its rays
Came o'er my senses like enchantment's spell,
Wrapping their wilder'd powers in magic's maze.—
But thou art gone! — all language fails to tell
How much I feel thy loss, — departed Bard, farewell