1825 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Lord Byron

Anonymous, "Harold's Last Pilgrimage" Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany NS 16 (June 1825) 713-17.



"Ye who have traced the Pilgrim to the scene,
Which is his last!" — So spoke the Bard renown'd:
And yet belov'd Italia hath not been
His last; he perish'd on e'en holier ground:
One other scene his matchless spirit found,
Even that resplendent scene, where th' heav'nly flame
Caught his first muse — and now his bust is crown'd—
Hellas! — which boasts the glory of his fame,
And 'mid her godlike sons enrolls our BYRON's name!

Yet in the sunny and the pleasant land,
Where last his "sandal-shoon" and "scallop-shell"
Were worn, the Pilgrim linger'd; and his hand
Wander'd o'er a new lyre, whose rapturous swell
Charm'd the wide-listening world; and Tasso's cell
Grew vocal in Ferrara once again;
And Dante's shade breath'd woe beneath his spell:
And Venice and Ravenna not in vain
His sojourn woo'd — Hark, hark! they echo to his strain.

And if, amid the luxury of the clime,
Amid all sweets that charm the soul and sense,
Enticing pleasures witch'd (but for a time)
His heart from its high sympathies intense,
And held in dalliance soft that mind immense,—
What marvel? Did he not break proud away,
Finding therein no fitting recompence,
And to the world long again display
The unconquerable soul, that spurn'd the bounds of clay?

There was a cry of war; the worm had turn'd
In Greece upon the foot that crush'd it down;
And the old, bright, heroic flame, that burn'd
At Marathon, 'gainst Persia's threatening crown,
Had burst to life once more; and Othman's frown
Was answer'd proudly; and each native chief
Felt stirr'd and stung by that bequeath'd renown,
Which was so long forgotten in the grief
Of slavery — but now prompts war's final, dire relief.

There was a cry of war — of war in Greece;
And Harold, whose high muse had sung her woes,
And pointed her revenge, when coward Peace
Skulk'd through the land, in generous zeal arose,
Shook off the soothing pleasures of repose,
And, all mindful of himself, essay'd
To join the fight against her ruthless foes—
Resolv'd that all his fortunes should be laid
Upon her shrine, whose cause he gloried thus to aid.

Lo, he is on the blue sea once again!
And once again, "with the Ionian blast,"
That swiftly urges o'er the tideless main,
He seeks fair Greece — still breathing of the past—
By his own muse re-consecrated last.
He near'd high Stromboli's volcanic isle,
Awaiting night — whose curtain might contrast
Its shade with Vulcan's fires; but none the while,
Though customary, glared from that steep furnace-pile.

Yet did he watch throughout the livelong night;
And, when pale streaks of morn suffus'd the sky,
He turn'd in disappointment from the light—
Then pass'd the fabled god's dark islet by.
Greece spread her classic chart before his eye:
But whither steer? and where assume his post?
Faction among the patriot chiefs was high—
And Faction's tangling web he dreaded most:
Awhile in doubt he lay, on Cephalonia's coast.

Thence, O o'erjoy'd Metaxata! 'twas thine
The Philhellenic hero to receive;
And charities, as from a spring divine,
Flow'd o'er thee from his heart and hand! — to give
Redress when needed — freely to relieve
The destitute — to succour the distrest—
These are the impulses that half retrieve
Our nature from its curse; and these possess'd
The noble, generous heart, that warm'd Childe Harold's breast.

And now he sends his emissaries forth
To gather tidings. Civil discord reign'd
Among the chiefs, alas! whose patriot worth
Had shone conspicuously, and bravely gain'd
Freedom for their Morea, erst enchain'd.
Yet Spartan virtue glows in every soul—
The jealousy of stratagem unfeign'd;
And though dissensions mar their just control,
One heart, to freedom staunch, still animates the whole.

Young dauntless Botzaris — immortal chief!—
Was up in glory's van — a rallying name;
Speeding on his career, alas! how brief!
Urging his reckless Suliotes on to fame.
Greetings he sent to Harold — as became
His own, and the renown of Albion's bard—
Well pleased that this Tyrtoeus, whose soul'd flame
Flash'd hope o'er all the expectant land, that warr'd
For liberty long lost — had chos'n a Suliote guard.

Ah! these brave spirits ne'er met! On glory's field,
Early, yet full of fame, Botzaris fell,
Charging his gallant comrades not to yield,
By their deep vow, against the Infidel!
And now, in Cephalonia, rumours tell
Of danger in the West: the Moslem fleet
Menaces Missolonghi — whose appeal
For aid was heard; and Harold proffers meet
Supplies — whereby repulsed, Mustapha's powers retreat.

Urged now by the Albanian, Harold sails
Flutter for Missolonghi's haven — where
A burst of grateful joy his advent hails:
Hark! as his galleys pass the fortress fair,
Quick thunderings of cannon storm the air!
Him, disembarked, a motley crowd attend,
Civil and military, greeting there:
Mavrocordatos hails his country's friend,
And shouts of loud acclaim the heaven's rejoicing rend.

'Tis not for me, who, sorrowing, strike the lyre,
E'en while I sing of joy — it is not mine
To follow all that History will require
Of Harold's enterprise, — his brave design
Against Lepanto; how pure thoughts divine
Of mercy ruled his counsels; how the powers
Discordant still he laboured to combine:
Ah! my muse drops unwreath'd th' heroic flowers,
And paints the last sad scene — where Death untimely lowers.

In Missolonghi centers Pleasure's voice,
The season smiles, and Easter is the tide;
Singing is heard — and merry hearts rejoice
O'er Samian cups, crown'd high in freedom's pride—
And care by young and old is well defied:
But, ah! what shades of woe the scene o'er cloud!
From the dark chamber, where their hopes reside,
Issue sad tidings, scarcely breath'd aloud,
And every list'ning heart with anxious grief is bow'd!

Oh! shall he die — the fam'd, the brave, the young—
The darling pride of Greece? Shall he expire?
Hush'd is the song of mirth, and every tongue
Dwells on his name belov'd, whose warlike fire
Equall'd the living fervour of his lyre!
The temples of the God are throng'd in prayer;
Soft eyes are wt, and tremulous lips enquire
Of him who all hearts lov'd; the prospect fair
Was cross'd with clouds, and Joy fled, exiled by Despair!

Delirium sways that mind, whose flame divine
Had pierced all climes, from charmed pole to pole;
And incoherent words alone assign
Import to feelings that surpass control:
Ah! 'tis the contest of a parting soul!
The eyes are closed — anon their glance is wild—
And now sleep soothes the sufferer at life's goal;
And now he wakes, as one of pain beguil'd:
Hark! he speaks — "Oh, my wife, my sister! oh, my child!"

Vainly to Heaven the prayers of Greece are pour'd—
Pass'd is the dark, th' inscrutable decree.
The warrior bard — so glorious, so ador'd—
Who would have died ten thousand deaths for thee,
Oh, Greece! and crown'd thy struggle to be free,
With his whole means and might — he, he expires!
'Tis o'er — the mighty spirit's at liberty—
Sink quench'd those orbs, with all their vital fires:
'Tis o'er — yet, Hellas! yet his deathless name inspires!

Who can forget, to the last hour of time,
That he — the brightness of whose glory throws
All other names in shadow, though sublime—
For thee, O Greece! the sword of freedom drew?
The voice of song was heard in thee anew,
Urging to glorious war; and, as of old,
The inspiring bard would act the hero too.
O Greece! once kindled, can'st thou e'er grow cold,
In chains henceforth, while this heroic tale is told?

But concentrate thy powers, a common foe
Preys on thy vitals; concentrate thy might;
Give jealousies to the four winds, and so
Fulfil the bard's incessant prayer — "unite!"
And, oh! let mercy gleam through freedom's flight—
There let not Harold's counsel perish vain;
In firm and brave resolve, pursue the right—
Thy glorious part inflexible maintain,
But let not savage rites a Christian contest stain!

How fondly hope anticipates the day,
When Athens shall grow famous, as before,—
When Tyranny shall wither in the ray
Of rising Liberty, and be no more!
When Greece again shall dictate classic lore,
And her Parnassian heights exult in song,
Inspiring thoughts heroic, as of yore!
'Tis a bright dream; but 'twill be felt ere long
That sunshine fills this world — and right must vanquish wrong.

Lo, the great South! to darkness damn'd so long,
Wither'd in chains, by bigot powers debas'd—
Behold, as from the tomb of ages wrung,
To life it starts, with freedom's first-fruits grac'd!
Tyrants, your reign is out! The sweet, sweet taste
Of infant liberty is at the core—
And flowers spring beauteous o'er the mighty waste;
Centuries of shame, and sleep, and death, are o'er—
Now, now that world's awake! That world shall sleep no more!

No! the great moral energies roll on,
Even as the floods of the vast seas, sublime!
While the young beams of freedom's conquering sun
Stream glorious forth, prevailing over crime—
Brightening the Tropics — pouting o'er each clime
The day-spring of regenerating fire—
Purging the stains of immemorial time,
Kindling the new world, with a new desire—
Implanting lofty hopes, enkindling freedom's fire!

What boots it now to sing, how o'er the wave,
In gloom and grief, Childe Harold's dust was borne—
How in his native land he found a grave,
Whereat true hearts in speechless anguish mourn?
Early from Greece and glory was he torn;
Early — but oh! how crown'd with every wreath
That can the brows of mortal man adorn!
Early — yet proudly waiting to bequeath
The unvalued wealth of mind that triumphs over death.

Yes! while love's hapless tale shall stir the heart,
So long shall Leila and Medora live;
While Nature's varying forms a charm impart,
Or passing hours and scenes a moral give,
Or classic climes bewitching dreams revive;
So long shall Harold's page each soul command,
So long the thoughts, that in all bosoms strive
For utterance, or development, expand,
In ecstasy of life, beneath the Magian's wand!