153 Spenserian stanzas in six cantos published in 1836: Richard Polwhele returns to the subject of Greece, which he had treated two decades earlier in Grecian Prospects (1799); here the theme is treated as an event in sacred history. The story told in the Fall of Constantinople is adapted from Gibbon's Decline and Fall and is presented in the manner of romance with verbal allusions to Spenser, Shakspeare, Milton, Collins, and Gray, concluding with a spectacular apocalyptic vision. Nineteen stanzas were published in Polwhele's Traditions and Recollections (1826).
The poem was written to support the emancipation of Greece, though for reasons that are not specified it was not published at the time, appearing belatedly in Polwhele's Reminiscences (1836) lacking, as it seems, final revisions. Perhaps it was a casualty of the the steep decline in sales of poetry in the later 1820s. By the time the Fall of Constantinople saw the light of day the poet was 76 years old and largely forgotten; while the poem is uneven and unfinished, it is a remarkable thing in its way, a sort of Tory counterpart to Shelley's Revolt of Islam.
Richard Polwhele to his son at Oxford: "I am glad, from Gilbert's report, to find the Greeks recovering their former energies, and likely, on the whole I think, to succeed in their projects of emancipation. Much will depend on the secret pecuniary support they may receive from Russia and this country. It is remarkable, that a young Greek, a native of one of the islands, is just now printing a poem on the fall of Constantinople. I will copy for your entertainment some of my stanzas. I have sketched out about 120 — nine lines in a stanza. On a revision, I shall reduce them to about ninety. I shall desire you soon to send me some extracts from original authorities, such as I am sure the Bodleian and other libraries contain: the translation or abstract, which Pontanus made from Phranza, is in the Bodleian. Chalcondylas is in your library, as well as Crusius's 'Historia Politica Constantinopolios'" 20 October 1822; in Traditions and Recollections (1826) 2:762.
The poem begins in media res, with the jubilations in the Moslem camp as they prepare for a final assault on Constantinople; Polwhele imitates the manner of Walter Scott in describing the customs and manners of the camp. The second canto introduces the love interest, as Calirrhoe, disguised as a janissary, attempts to rescue the captured Theon from the enemy camp. The third canto describes the city and the conversation between the emperor Constantine and the patriarch Phranza, father of Calirrhoe; Theron's death. In IV the Greeks prepare for battle and Constantine, wearing sackcloth over his armor, prays in St. Sophia. In the fifth canto Calirrhoe appears before the evil Arab conjurer Alashtar, begging him to return her lovers corpse. He tricks her into revealing a secret passage into the city. In the concluding canto Constantine is smitten by a vision as he marches forth to battle. He beholds the betrayal of the city and the destruction of his army. He beholds the outrages wreaked on the survivors, and in a prophecy witness the condition of Greece in the long years of tyranny. The poem concludes as an angel appears speaking words of religious comfort, and Constantine learns the assistance will eventually come in the form of aid from Russia and Britain.
Richard Nares to Richard Polwhele: "The first canto has some fine description; and so of the rest. But, what is an essential recommendation of the poem, canto after canto still carrying on the story, advances to the catastrophe very naturally. The second canto, containing the story of Theon and Calirrhoe, seems at first sight merely episodical; but its incidents are seen in the progress of the poem to accelerate the fate of the city or to facilitate its fall. In the third canto, the transition from Athens to Byzantium is more happy. It is founded, you say, on a real event in history: — some adventurers from Athens or Attica built the city of Byzantium more than 600 years before Christ. At the close of the fourth canto, I observe that, even through the temple, we are drawing nearer to the catastrophe. The fifth canto, likewise, helps us on by the discovery of the subterranean way to your conjurer Alashtar. Here I was startled at Calirrhoe a second time, rushing in, and obtruding herself on the conjurer or magician, as she had done on the emperor. On reflection, however, I was reconciled to the repetition, as it was natural that she should attempt to move Hell as well as Heaven in her behalf. 'Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo.' To have a right apprehension of your narrative, or rather to see the force and beauty of your various allusions to history, your readers must by all means look into Gibbon. Perhaps you had better quote the passages referred to" 1827; in Nichols, Illustrations (1817-58) 7:668-69.
CANTO THE FIRST.
THE TURKISH CAMP IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD OF THE CITY.
Far off and near, along the tented plain
White banners flap at many an interval,
And here, a richer ensign flaunts amain,
And silk pavilions glisten in the gale;
Whilst now the Moslems, each his comrade, hail;
Some faint from wounds that rued the recent fight;
Others with fond ear listening to the tale
Of prompt adroitness or of stubborn might,
Pursuit by corses check'd, and fear and rapid flight.
Here striding, and in boasting doubly grim,
A Spahi pictured how his arm had flung
The javelin; how he lopp'd off limb from limb;
And bending in full gallop, how he hung
O'er hundreds, hacking out his path, among
Thick squadrons! To his flourish'd scymitar
(Which had been flesh'd in Christian carnage) rung
A brother-soldier's mail with horrid jar:
Grinn'd with half-angry scowl the whisker'd janizar.
And there an Aga — wild his gestures — told,
How (Aslans in the assault) the savage van
Rush'd on; till, headlong amid firebolts roll'd
They were heap'd, Mussulman on Mussulman!
"Yet" (half unsheathed his bickering ataghan)
"Yet," cried he, "the broad trench with craven's blood
E'en to distain the fervid billows ran!
And dastard souls, methought, in wistful mood
Still hover'd o'er the slain, and mourn'd the ensanguined flood."
Here one, (who from a Grecian Prince had fled
Gash'd in the back, nor 'scaped the Sultan's eye,)
Had rather dropp'd unmark'd among the dead,
Then in a dungeon by the death-cord die.
The Sultan and his captains all drew nigh:
Still ooz'd his life — its current scarce was staunch'd.
His stature lank and meagre, hideously
Was palsied, and his face convulsed and blanch'd.
Such thrill hath traveller own'd, whose skull the hyaena cranch'd.
"I durst not (cries a vaunting voice) regret
My fractured helmet, that flew off in twain!
Much — much to me owes mighty Mahomet!
But for this arm the struggle all were vain!
Stunn'd by the stroke yet burns my whirling brain!
Staggering I griped Prince THEON! Pierced with wound
On wound, we both upon the slippery plain
Flounder'd; till Janizars closed firm around:
My conquest, hardly earn'd, his festering shackles crown'd."
To appal the boldest Islamites, how dire
The approaching Sultan in idea rose!
His wrathful visage fiercer than the fire
That bristling in the spotted tigress glows;
When late, to reassure his fainting foes,
When Genoa rode triumphant o'er the tide;
'Twas then (his gallies but as pageant shows)
Spurring his courser with unearthly pride
He cleft the surge's foam, and Alla's self defied!
Yes! 'twas a high-flush'd moment! Half the globe
Seem'd crowding to the spectacle! — But short
Was Genoa's glory. Mahomet's monster-tube
Though, over continents, quaked fane and fort
And distant isles flung back the deep report,
So bade abortive thunders roll around!
The maddening Moslems vision'd thrones transport;
Yet all its brazen voices but rebound
To speak, from rock to rock, the impotence of sound.
And thus, while some act o'er the fight, and shew
How from the stirrups they spring forth, or wheel
In evolutions swift, and deal the blow;
Others unbind the head piece, and reveal
Contusions sore, or link the corslet-steel,
Or whet the sabre, or the cuirass scour;
Or, pointing to the City, boast their zeal,
And, in each street, anticipate the power
To raise up mosque on mosque, though growl the feeble Giaour.
Some lazily, as if their sin or sloth
E'en Zemzem's pure ablution scarce could purge,
Saunter, to sip the wine-cup nothing loath;
And sigh, that cruel Destiny should urge
Dire bombs and bolts along death's dizzy verge,
Nor the lax hour in dews of slumber steep!
O! they had changed for scorpions — for the scourge,
Their days of sluggishness — their nights of sleep,
Where, soothing every sense, oblivion loved to creep.
Its benizon once more if heaven vouchsafe—
The lulling juice — the coffee's fragrant fume;
They vow, eftsoon to pilgrim-cowl and staff
To vail the gleaming shield, the helmet plume,
And load with martial spoils Medina's tomb;
Where, from old Tyre, from Carmel bleak and lone,
From the drear Caspian to Sabaean bloom
With kisses wearing the thrice-hallow'd stone,
Full many a devotee for "sin or sloth" atone.
And there the peaceful path grave Imaums shape,
And strutting Cadhis in the camp are seen,
The caftan, the furr'd robe, the Tartar cap
The muslin's broad folds, the fine emir-green,
And airy vestures soft of silken sheen,
And scarlet cinctures that as flambeaux glared!
And they too walk'd the spacious tents between,
Seers, who had mark'd the moment golden-starr'd,
Announcing to bold deeds the Koran's bright award.
Others, as odours round rich spicery sheds,
Unlade the bunches of the burden'd beast:
Towering, the camels lift their tawny heads;
Some sacred, and from toil for age releast,
The ministers of Islam, from the East:
Still patient to their master's nod they kneel,
How mild amid the scowls the Moslems cast!
Immoveable midst tribes that rave and reel,—
Midst strepent clarions calm, and fire and flashing steel!
And nigh yon gaudier tent what forms grotesque,
Gray-mantled — their eyes fasten'd to the ground?
They start as by one impulse, circling frisk,
Leap upwards wing'd in air, and whirling round
The dance urge maddening to a burst of sound!
Still giddily they thread the mystic maze;
The timbrels give new force to every bound:
Their horse-tail lances whilst the pachas raise,
From all the motley camp assembling nations gaze!
Down drop as from the sudden dart of death,
Down drop the maniacs, and along the sod
Lie motionless, one body without breath!
What mute attention waits "the inspired of God"!
They rise! — as if returning they had trod
Heaven's sapphire floor! They stretch their arms, their eyes,
To where, from that unperishing abode
The Immortals had reveal'd high mysteries!
And hark! I hear, I hear the tidings from the skies!
"Othmans! who to diffuse the holy faith
That beams immutable from Mecca's shrine,
Ye, who have traced through wilds your burning path,
Scoop'd hills of ice, and brav'd the stormy brine;
Who soon, with Stamboul though the West combine,
Shall slay your millions, as ye whilom slew;
To heralds from above your ears incline!
Angels have open'd victory to your view!
(The Arch-Dervise thus exclaim'd) the glorious track pursue!
"Ere long o'er yon black battlements shall float
Our ensigns! See to Othman Caesar bend!
Then dread nor bulwark, turret, trench, nor moat,
Nor sainted bell! Such terror heaven forfend!
See, Moslemahs! your Mahomet ascend
That shivering fortress! See your Prophet scale
The palace, and its cross asunder rend!
And, if his arm the astonied Greeks assail,
Say, shall their Virgin's threats — their Virgin's tears avail?
"Midst yonder towers shall shine the sofa'd-cirque,
The pictured ceiling, and the embroider'd crest;
And on your hallow'd roofs shall light the stork,
Sleek her jet wings, and weave her quiet nest,
And (sent from where the sacred relics rest)
Sweet harbinger of mercy, safely shut
Your dwellings from the fire, the putrid pest,
And scatter blessings o'er the lowliest hut
As Aden's cassia-breeze, or gums from Hadramut!
"Yet know, to each resistless Destiny
Decrees or life or death, o'erruling all;
And to the soldier, if foredoom'd to die,
Suits his own shaft, or sends his certain ball;
And they, who grappling with the foeman fall,
Shall to new life, sustain'd by angels, rise!
Then mount, my sons! then mount the mouldering wall,
And, if ye win no transient earthly prize,
Yours be the eternal bowers, the blooms of Paradise.
"There bubbling founts from rocks of crystal play,
And cool in tinkling rills, refresh the glade:
To her own rose the bulbul swells the lay,
And spring's young colours blush through every shade:
There, to no asp, no tusky boar betray'd
The cave, far opening to its roof, allures
Voluptuous pairs; and many a black-ey'd maid
The sweet sigh mingles with her paramour's:
Such is the promis'd bliss — such, Moslems! such be yours!
"Yes! from the serpent safe, the ravenous tusk,
Shall fleet your rapturous moments. Yours the girls
Sprung to immortal youth from purest musk!
Lo, from pavilions hollowed out in pearls
They come! And each o'er his green couch unfurls
The rosy silk, to veil love's joys intense!
And, at each trembling pause, as pleasure whirls
Lap'd in delirious trance, the unsated sense,
Gay boys to every couch their sparkling cups dispense."
He ceas'd. The minstrels with impetuous air
As if to fan the soothsayer's flagging fires,
Each brandishing his dissonant guitar,
Hurried with rude hand through the crashing wires.
And some, as to their paradise aspires
The fever'd thought, by many a random stroke
(Meet symptom of importunate desires)
Bade the harsh timbrel from their grots evoke
Along the Pontic shore, the spirits of the rock.
II. There is a sudden silence in the camp!
The breezes faint and fainter sympathize
With passion's breathlessness. A hollow tramp—
And echo indistinctly falls and dies
Upon the doubtful sense. The dread emprise
Awakens every hope and every fear!
And now, as billows upon billows rise,
Heard ye not hoarser sounds — yet — yet more near,
Gathering as in the van — remurmur'd in the rear?
And now pale expectation all aloof
The din of horsemen from the deep defile,
Hark! — near and nearer still the rampant hoof!
Now rapid through the ruins of yon pile,
What sparkled, like illusion, sinks awhile!
Now rising, flashes all the embattled force,
Round yon green knoll unwinding coil on coil;
Oh, hear ye not the whirlwind of their course?
Breaking from out the cloud, behold each warrior-horse!
And, mark ye that imperious steed? He paws
The smoking turf — his mane the boreal stream!
Prancing, he seems to swallow up applause
To swallow as his own his master's fame.
Distinct the mailplates of the Sovereign gleam,
As o'er his head the crimson banners fly:
The diamonds of his deadly dagger flame!
To the shrill trumpets, lo! the troops draw nigh,
And armies lick the dust before his withering eye.
Stern was his visage; and his falcon glance
Around upon a herd of slaves he cast;
And with so fierce an air he shook the lance,
That princedoms, pachalates fell back aghast!
"Chiefs! Janizaries! bid my heralds haste,
And through the camp their Soldan's will proclaim!
Yon spires, yon fanes, to solemnize your fast,
Shall bow their pinnacles to Islam's name!
High glory to the brave — to traitors deadly shame!
"Ye, who have witness'd where the battle rang,
The firebolts, the keen arrows' mingling flight,
Where acclamations drown'd the mortal clang—
Ye tribes, that shudder to Medina's might;—
Know, Greece hath sunk, unsceptred, in the night
That knows no boundary! By Mohammed's fount!
We shall lay low the crafty Nazarite!
Soon o'er the neck of Europe shall we mount,
Fair brothers of the sun! You pass'd the Hellespont!
"I have discomfited the great, the proud!
I have asunder snapp'd the strength of war;
O'er all the city on its heavy cloud
Hangs, in pale guise, the spectre of Despair!
Behold! my captive Theon was a star
Refulgent through the Grecian firmament:
Cheer'd by his beams I saw e'en dastards dare.
But well nigh is the princely splendour spent;
To light a glimmering cell — a loathsome dungeon lent.
"Fly not — though liquid fire its cataracts pour—
That inextinguishable fire! I wield
To seal the vengeance of the destined hour,
The magic lance that won so many a field,
And lo! to my all-conquering prowess yield
Earth, air, and seas! My barks that plough'd the deep,
(With echoes not their own whilst rapture fill'd
Scaur and dark dale) I plunged down yonder steep,
And shaped their boiling track with necromantic sweep.
"Then know, if any wretch from shot or shaft
Run trembling, by the vault of heaven I swear,
I will arrest him, though an eagle waft
The recreant's body through the realms of air!
Yes! may their rage my reeking heartstrings tear,
If demons give not to the burning knife
New venom! — if where whips of scorpions glare,
I bid not fiends, with human joy at strife,
By hell's own agonies protract the pangs of life.
"See, flushing up again its faded ray,
See Gabriel's self in yon descending orb,
Sure messenger! — Once more the parting day
Once only shall the 'golden horn' absorb
Ere victory shall lift up her voice! — Then curb
Your daring, till arise that dazzling morn!
And him, whom no false fears of fate disturb,
Who overtops yon rampires, foremost borne,
Him shall the robe of power — the sabled robe adorn.
"Yon towers — yon splendid structures all are mine!
But to my valiant troops the uncounted spoil,
The treasures of the city I resign—
Right meed of warlike worth — of pearls a pile!
Luxurious baths, and love's consenting smile!
To each, a province! There, if woods have charms—
If lawns — if glens — shall sports his day beguile;
His only war, the hunter's brisk alarms—
His pleasure after toil, enamour'd beauty's arms!"
Sudden, the tambour's swell, and cymbal's clank
And sulph'rous volley shook the camp, the strand,
And died among the mountains. Rank on rank,
Waved into being as by sorcerer's wand,
Already had in thought a bristling band,
Pour'd thro' the shatter'd gate midst arrowy showers,
And vengeance triumph'd in the flaming brand;
In thought already had they scal'd the towers;
Already had they seiz'd the Harem's sacred bowers.
"High Alla! the one Alla!" — flew from tent
To tent, amid the frantic uproar, flew;
And with Mohammed's name the air was rent!
And, now its veil o'er all as darkness threw,
On the night-centinels a sanguine hue
Was cast from many a window's kindling light,
And, far illumed the Euxine's deepening blue,
A long reflexion flash'd from height to height,
And dim Byzantium rose, and quiver'd on the sight.
CANTO THE SECOND.
PRINCE THEON AND CALIRRHOE.
Now fleeted was the hour of pale midnight;
The fires were fainting; and lamp after lamp
Shot up and languish'd in a flickering light;
In momentary blazes shone the camp,
The greensward, the dark wave, the distant swamp,
And hush'd was all the immeasurable shade;
Save that frogs croaking through the dim-blue damp,
From marsh remote, the incessant murmur made,
Save that the wolf's dire bowl, the wild dog answering bay'd.
Here shapes, like steeples, trembled and were gone,
Then wavering re-appear'd with steady pace;
Yet, less and less, as wasted, one by one,
The lamps to blackness left a broader space
When lo! two forms their shadows seem'd to chase,
(Not like the gait of warder, sturdy, slow)
And vanish'd in the gloom a fiery trace
Of sabres! 'Twas the transitory glow
Of steel that might descend in death's avenging blow.
But the two gliding forms uninjured pass'd
The centinels; — each, like a Janizar
In armour. Yet suspicion haply cast
A squinting eyeshot on the timorous air,
The softer gestures, that ill-suiting war,
Now mimick'd boldness and now shrank from view;
Though, to elude the search of sleepless care,
Was utter'd (through the camp a ready clue),
Perchance with faltering voice, the watchword "Alla, dhu!"
In the night-vapour of a murky cell
Doom'd to the bowstring, lay a captive chief:
The Grecian prince foreknew his sentence well,
And hail'd in friendly death the durance brief.
Yet sometimes in an agony of grief,
As mantled the life-stream, his hands he clasp'd;
Then caught, from fancy caught, a short relief;
Then, in a fit of desperation gasp'd
For breath, as he no wore the illusive phantom grasp'd.
Yet calmer — see against a column's plinth
That moulder'd in decay, reclines the prince.
Clustering his locks were like the hyacinth:
His umber'd brow the soldier would evince;
The bard, his eyes of bright intelligence—
Though pensive thought had sober'd Fancy's Fire.
Such Theon was. The purple's proud pretence
He scorn'd, nor would to royal maids aspire;
But on his love-sighs frown'd a supercilious sire.
Stream'd a quick lustre on the dungeon dank—
"Dauntless but for Calirrhoe had I died—
With her" — (clank'd all his chains with ominous clank)
"Life were yet dear!" — "Then life be thine!" she cried—
Her janizary-headpiece flung aside,
And fluttering into view the female dress.
"Lo! in Calirrhoe thy devoted bride!"
Impassion'd airs her hopes, her fears confess;
And o'er her slender neck the started wandering tress.
"Rise, rise my Theon! To thine aid I flew,
Where to the brazen door the dark vaults wind.
In secret to 'the golden gate' I drew,
The boy Abdalla to our wishes kind.
Haste, my own Theon! haste: Leave death behind!
And may thy valour from the Tyrant rend
His trophies — him, whom faith nor treaties bind:
Oh! to the noblest of the Caesars lend
Thy help — at this sad hour assist thy royal friend."
Now reaching the pavilion's utmost skirts
They pause; and darting down a narrow dell
Turn backwards, as the dubious path reverts,
Then hurry round a hillock's tufted swell;
And now at distance from the prison-cell
Press on, beneath the janizary-guise.
Sweet, at each light step, was the floral smell,
Ere the young May-flowers had unclosed their eyes,
Or yet the chilling dawn had streak'd the dusky skies.
Their curtain in 'the dusky skies' they hail'd:
But ah! they heeded with a cold regard
(For well their bosoms apprehension quail'd)
The first fine fragrance of the velvet sward.
There, when her beauteous fabric fancy rear'd,
How oft they saunter'd ere the day's dim peep:
How oft from open intercourse debarr'd,
(While spies they fondly hop'd were still asleep)
They watch'd the welcome tint distaining lawn and deep.
Huddled amidst the copses of the dales
Dear to the lover's heart the dying rills,
The voices of the hundred nightingales,
And all their whisperings, all their dulcet trills,
When scarce a morn-tint tip'd the extremer hills!
Ah! to new terror breaks the lurid light:
Not a bird flutters, not a leaf but thrills!
Hark, — 'tis the horses of the camp! The night
Was long! They neigh — they neigh, and snuff the coming fight.
And — what a sound was that? The camp-neigh? No—
A tramping, as of steps? — a thickening clash!
And what a death-pause? — Now as nimble roe
The tripping, and now heavy is the splash
As labouring all through fenreeds. But that flash
The long vale bellows to the carabine!
Down the long vale the dread pursuers dash!
Still to the gloom, where but a faint gray line
Yet glimmers, their poor hope the flying pair consign.
And well nigh have they reach'd 'the Golden Gate'
And they have reached it! Hath Calirrhoe's sway
Unlock'd the brazen door — the door of fate,
Where secret runs the subterraneous way?
The breath of the pursuers on their prey—
The poison of a pestilence — breathes hot
Upon her panting bosom! Heard ye — say,
O heard ye — that swift whistling? One is not!
Yes! death was in that burst — in that swift-whistling shot!
Yes! Theon had dispatch'd a Georgian slave
That breathed upon her bosom. But, alas!
One fell pursuer only found a grave.
Yet undiscovered was the hollow pass
Where rush'd Calirrhoe, and the door of brass
Clos'd after her. Her scattering senses fled!
The maiden wist not where her Theon was,
Nor heard the cold groan where the dagger bled,
Nor each low cavern-sound, the voice as from the dead.
CANTO THE THIRD.
MORNING — VIEW OF BYZANTIUM — OF GREECE — THE PALACE AT BYZANTIUM — THE EMPEROR PALEOLOGUS — THE HALL OF AUDIENCE — MARCIAN — THE PATRIARCH PHRANZA — CALIRRHOE, PHRANZAS DAUGHTER — THE HEAD OF HER LOVER PRINCE THEON EXPOSED ON THE TURKISH BATTERIES.
Emerging through the darkness, indistinct
Look'd forth Byzantium's loftier turrets; cold
And faint, the tremulous lattices now wink'd
In the eastward palaces, ere long to unfold
In gradual glimpses, all their burnish'd gold.
Still hover'd the night-shadows, to enshroud
The calm Propontis as it rippling roll'd;
And by the bulwarks the black wave o'erbrow'd,
Seem'd to its crimsoning edge to attract the morning cloud.
Far off along the Isles and over Greece
Twilight scarce peep'd. Yet neither land nor shore
Nor seas had sleep's oblivion hush'd in peace.
Here, as if fate from friends the wanderer tore,
To covert glen, alas! to meet no more,
A desultory step, a sigh was heard:
There the lorn mariner his dashing oar
Suspended. Each as if he mus'd and fear'd
The dayspring, lurk'd unseen, by May's sweet blush uncheer'd.
It was a beautiful — delicious blush
That to fair Athens stealing, touch'd that fane
The pride of her Acropolis. The flush
Through all its shadowy pomp of columns (vain
Illumination!) — kindles. To distain
Each wreath, each shaft, how rich Aurora's glow!
And lo, from walk to walk, from plane to plane,
Her tenderest colours fain would pity throw
Where streams, to fancy dear, in lingering lapses flow.
Yes! they were lingering lapses — to call back
Minds that once soar'd in philosophic thought!
Yes! they were lingering lapses — to awake
The Poet's song, with fire from Phoebus fraught!
And they might tell of times, ere Plato taught,
When from thy harbour through the flashing spray
Athens! thy venturous sons of commerce, sought
The central station, the colonial bay;
And rear'd Byzantium's towers, to rule the watery way.
And now those towers in morn's full splendour shone,
And from its grove the top of every dome
Rose in new radiance to the unclouded sun;
And May's clear lights seem'd emulous to illume
St. Sophia's galleries, and the garden-bloom,
The palace-roofs, and all the glittering sea;
And sportive thro' the unblemish'd Hippodrome,
Chequer'd with orange-tints each greener tree,
As if not long so gay such dancing lights must be!
From odorous slopes to arbours zephyrs stole—
From mossy margins to the cool cascade,
Wafting their early freshness to the soul;
Whilst a thin cloud that o'er the city stray'd,
Robed in its snowy fleeciness of shade
Turret and spire and cypress, pine and palm:
Ah! deep had trouble its impression made,
If vain the power of that voluptuous calm,
Where every ray was gold, and every breeze was balm.
Slanting along the palace-walls, a line
Of light into the portico had pass'd,
And bade its colonnade far sparkling shine,
And statues of renown yet undefaced
Hoar in each nich, with various lustre graced;
And, midst the interior chambers a rich stream
On saffron cushions a reflexion cast,
And as it play'd o'er ermine, jasper, gem,
A coruscation broke, to deck the diadem.
There was an eye upon that orient crown,
An eye of pensive sorrow. 'Twas a look
Which imaged grandeur, destined to go down,
Mourning 'a coruscation,' that so broke
To sink in shade! There was no tongue that spoke.
More eloquent expression seem'd to say:
"O! in the effulgence brightening yonder nook,
I see my specious greatness, like the day,
Still beaming whilst it flits, but flitting fast away."
Musing upon the menacing host, he stood—
His people veering like the winds — from fate
That shrank in terror. Yet his attitude
How noble — not from proud state—
Not from the gauds that sceptred power await!
The mien majestic from the inspiring mind,
The conscious virtue, in itself elate,
Were his; and to its righteous will resign'd,
High confidence in heaven, and mercy to mankind.
Unwearied had he seen the breaches yawn,
And prompt repair'd. The assailants were not nigh—
But tubes must roar, and daggers must be drawn!
It was a grim repose. Gleams the red sky
To horizontal clouds, that dreadfully
Surge upwards, billows with no breath of air!
But soon is heard the elemental sigh,
The hiss — full soon is seen the azure glare!
So sleep the Moslem flags, so fierce defiance flare.
His brows the monarch from the ponderous casque
Had now reliev'd — his hauberk had unbrac'd.
'Twas a poor respite from a painful task
Where thought fast follow'd toil! And now he paced
The room of audience, but as one in haste
A last resource how anxious to explore,
A little strength lest ill-aim'd efforts waste;
When garments trail'd along the marble floor,
And war's accoutrements shook round the corridor!
There was no stealthy step — no daring stride—
"Welcome! the first thy pleasures to foregoe,
Welcome, my honest Marcian! thou, the pride
Of patriots, to thy country's foes a foe!
If richer in thine eyes the purple flow,
O! for thy sake may heaven still shield the throne!"
When cried the rough old chief — a conscious glow
Flush'd his high brow — "'Tis generous love alone
That in our Christian race, can crying sins atone.
"Say, is it not enough to seal our doom,
That jealousy disdains a sister's aid,
That hate unchristian spurns the help of Rome?
And deprecates as all in ambuscade,
With dark suspicion, the tiara's shade?
Yes! hierarchal spleen would hail the flash,
The flash of crescents on our spires display'd,
And bid the insulting Othmans midst the crash
Of churches, on each shrine the cross and crosier dash."
Scarce had he said — the Patriarch's self appear'd,
And his own angel hail'd him where he went!
Descending o'er his girdle flow'd his beard,
His lofty stature by age downwards bent,
But ruddy was his countenance; besprent
His wrinkled brow with some few silver hairs.
There energetic zeal, with sorrow rent,
Shew'd one, who the pure light celestial shares,
Yet for the love of man dismiss'd not earthly cares.
The eventful hour had kindled up again
His youthful passion — his heroic flame:
And with a warrior-spirit, he burnt to arraign
The wretch well meriting reproach and shame
Who skulk'd unmindful of the Grecian fame!
Yet to a deeper, holier confidence
Than could arise from any worldly name,
He loved to excite his people, and dispense
Of God's protecting care the reverential sense.
"Ah! shall those infidels have power to seize
Our seven-hill'd city? Though they quick devour,
Far as the eye flings round its wondering gaze,
Pernicious, every plant and every flower
Yet do we dread the locusts of an hour?
Have we not seen but erst the gathering swarm
(Their noise like chariots on the mountains) pour?
Were they not brush'd away? How vain the alarm!
The besom we beheld — we view'd the almighty arm!
"Whilst over Asia and pale Greece he pass'd,
Though ruin mark'd his pestilential wrath,
And ancient fanes were sunder'd at the blast;
(Thus instant lightnings here, the cypress scath
There shiver as to reeds) — could Amurath
Within this tabernacle his vengeance wreak?
Did not the beauteous Virgin ward off death
From every door? Our peace her presence speak?
Not on yon battlements so mild was morning-break!
"From such a savage shall not heaven revolt,
His secret chamber's but the lion's lair—
His sceptre but the blazing of a bolt;
The sunshine of his smile, a meteor-glare?
And say, if public faith, if virtue share
An earthly boon — if truth the guerdon claim;
Say, shall an equal God the tyrant spare?
Shall Yathred vindicate the impostor's aim,
And urge libidinous creeds through hurricane and flame?
"Shall the dominion whose supernal birth
Was in the song of God's own seers foretold,
Whose glories (that had well-nigh filled the earth
Ere time its page was destined to unfold)
Stood in the volume of our faith enroll'd,
Shall it dissolve before a robber-horde?
Shall Caesar's hand Messiah's sceptre hold
(Here, here first wielded by an earthly lord)
To shake in palsy-guise, unnerv'd by paynim-sword?"
"No! not ignobly shall the Caesar fall!"
(Cried Phranza) "No! of coetaneous growth
E'en with the world, and overshadowing all,
Fear we the race of rapine, guile and sloth?
The Turcoman, that heeds nor faith, nor oath?
And thou the noblest of the Caesars! — Dire
As tigers will we rally, by my troth,
Around thee! spurning sabre, smoke, and fire—
And every lewd device, that panders to desire.
"Though reconnoitering, in his garish garb,
Yon Aga may in scorn these bastions spy,
As bounds along the plain his holster'd barb,—
Though here he build in thought the soft Serai,—
Eftsoons, before our fury shall he fly!
Hurl'd, hurl'd away its scabbard, lo! the work
Of heaven shall every sword relentless ply,
And, rooting up his beard, the caitiff Turk
Hide in the rocks his shame, with beasts where outlaws lurk.
"Though soft o'er Adrian's city whisper pines;
To myrtles though its stars the jasmine flaunt;
Though round the rich balconies purpling vines;
Though clustering grapes the prophet's eye affront;
To luxury steaming through the oblivious haunt,
Though alabaster baths their odours waft;
Its dashing springs though jasper basin vaunt,
And gilding glitter from each agate shaft;
And mirrors lust inflame, her bowls where pleasure quaff'd;
"Though wanton harems — silk seraglios fold
Love without sighs, and beauty without bloom;
Though velvet canopies inwrought with gold,
Hang o'er the sofas of the pillar'd room,
To shadow the proud turban's diamond-plume;
Say, though Bassora — furtherest India — dress
Magnificence in all its sullen gloom,
And slaves its footstool, cringing slaves caress,—
Yet midst, profusion frowns a parching wilderness!
"And what, though turning from the gay kiosk
All in the lightsome robe of summer drest,
We note the statelier grandeur of the mosque,
Where ragged fakirs shame the Mufti's vest;
Though as the solar beams sank down the west,
Have canting Imaums with sly reverence met
The effulgencies that fired the Bairam-feast,
Hail'd them as hallow'd suns no more to set,
And pour'd their floods of sound from galleried minaret:
"Avaunt! — ye minions of a throne; avaunt,
Ye despots, that rejoice in sabred heads!
The Pacha's menaces, the Santon's rant,
Far hence! — Nor here where Truth her radiance sheds,
Nor here where innocence with honour weds,
Shall the dark Othman riot all unchaste!
Ye dissolute eunuchs! guard far other beds!
With bridal smiles I see this palace graced!
I see the exalted pair embracing and embraced!"
"Think not (he cried) I fear. I have unsheathed
The flaming sword of Caesar! Nor hath rust
Sullied its splendour. Lo! to me bequeath'd
A crown I prize, to Rome and Valour just:
Yet, as the fen-born vapour is discuss'd
By the warm sun, the shadowy thing should flee
Before a brighter crown — a nobler trust!
Great, Caesar was; and great may Caesar be!
—The Christian stands or falls! alike 'tis victory!
"The hour of trial surely comes. How nigh
We know not; nor the assault how sagely plann'd.
The breath of rumour is, perchance, a lie.
With matchless warriors are our rampires mann'd.
Warriors, that to their unblench'd eagle, stand
Firm-rooted. But erelong, while evening lends
Its light serene, we breathe, my little band!
A prayer to him, who death or triumph sends:
St. Sophia shall behold my soldiers, Christian friends.
'Twas thus 'his little band' the Chief address'd;
When, as the rose without its freshness fair,
The valorous Phranza's daughter seiz'd his vest,
Low bending. Wonder, terror mark'd her there!
Her veil thrown backwards, and her chesnut hair
Burst from its silken tie. She thrice essay'd
To speak. By anguish torn, that well might tear
The hardiest, her half-utter'd words betray'd
To sympathy, to grief, the poor disorder'd maid.
Hear me, my sovereign! hear. No rumour sprung
From error or affright, be mine to spread.
The boy Abdalla from that Othman's tongue
Caught these sure words — 'In secret' thus he said—
(A roof of pearl pavilioning his head)—
'With the first dawn steal on! targe close to targe!
The Georgians in the van! Their heaps of dead
Shall fill the trenches to the rampire's marge!
Then mount the corpses — mount, impetuous to the charge.'
"To generous Theon by some charm attach'd,
(To save that Prince how weak was many a shield)
The boy Abdalla the meet moment watch'd,
And stole a signet to which nations kneel'd,
With the unchain'd prisoner cross'd the tented field,
And by the darkness, by disguise conceal'd,
'Still mock'd the vain pursuit.'" — The blush that dyed
Her face, the quivering voice her flame reveal'd!
"Seek, seek, if not too late!" — the virgin cried,
Tears on that burning blush fast as they dropp'd were dried.
Hurried away, her wild glance to the walls
Calirrhoe, all involuntary threw:
Ah! what beyond the bastion, what appals?
O say, if there be heart to passion true,
Is not to her the tenderest pity due?
High on the Moslem-tower those locks that reek—
Stiffening in gore their hyacinthine hue!
The sun-fire fierce upon the blackened cheek!
She saw, and did not swoon — She saw, and did not shriek!
CANTO THE FOURTH.
PROCESSION TO ST. SOPHIA — DESCRIPTION OF THE TEMPLE — PROSTRATION BEFORE THE ALTAR.
The expanding portals of the Palace creak;
And 'the small ministering band' come silent, slow
As on the sight the imperial banners break,
Friends, that had walk'd in God's own house, they go
Circling their sire: yet not the sable show,
The minute-march of death was theirs! The mood
Of patient virtue brooks not measured woe!
In those calm features no misgivings brood,
But resignation blends with manly fortitude.
Yet, Queen of Cities, yet thy marble fanes,
Thine ivory palaces, alas! they mourn
As to the imaginings of fear, their vanes—
Their pinnacles each seems a funeral urn!
Thy streets — some spectre, sure, at every turn
Hath scared them into stillness! But that haze—
'Tis the soft evening-mist of Maia born—
The dewy wreath which glistening to the gaze,
With amber is now rich, and now with rosy rays.
The damsel look'd out from her window, lone,
In grief, and sigh'd. 'Twas not Callirrhoe's sigh!
And (as the lattice here to Hesper shone)
Amongst a woe-worn groupe, might you descry
In asking innocence the troubled eye.
To 'the great porch' 'the ministering band' advance:
And on the Patriarch's gray beard, fitfully,
The crescent-noon flung quick like lightning, glance
On glance! Foreboding shades pass'd o'er each countenance!
Alas! but erst how dazzling was the pomp!
From Galata to Pera, thrill'd the sound
Of dulcimer and tabret, harp and trump!
And each obsequious forehead grazed the ground;
From pawing barbs, the prancings and the bound,
The crowd flew backward, as the shadow fleets,
Whirl'd with the rack of Heaven! And brandish'd round
Flash'd falchions, helmets blazed! The garnish'd streets
From censers of pure gold effused Arabia's sweets.
From all the embellish'd lattices, were flowers
Of every tincture, every smell, rain'd down
(As young-ey'd maidens laugh'd) in gentle showers!
The gilt balcony had the victor's crown,
And was with costliest hangings, silken-brown
Or silvery white, in gay assemblage hung:
And the priest's purple, and the sable gown
In low obeisance bow'd. The sons of song
Their prince and patriarch hail'd, and the high galleries rung.
But hark! — upon the waves of air, it bore
Its burden, "swinging-slow"! St. Sophia's bell
Heavily knolling — "its long sullen roar"
Reverberates, loud and lingering! Now it fell,
As if from overhead with stunning swell!
Now more subdued, a melancholy tone
Speaks as of parted visions! 'Tis the knell
Of other times, of generations gone!
'Tis past — for aye 'tis past — a deep heart-rending moan.
Yes! 'twas a deep moan — past, for ever past!
And yet it floating murmur seems to meet
The sense. 'Tis like a warble o'er the waste,
The gurgling as of distant waters — sweet
In dying cadence! Shall the Christian greet
The warning sound so pleasant to the ear,
No more? How many an age have bosoms beat
In holy transport, whilst assembled here
These courts the pious trod — to saints and martyrs dear!
O bathed in purest Heaven, as if the pledge
Of grace to man! empyreal dome, thy base
Pillar'd above the clouds! — shall sacrilege
Break up the pavement of thy holy place,
Thy sculptured thrones, thy pictured saints deface,
And from thy sick-lamps dash the hallow'd oil—
Snatch from thy fretted altars, snatch the vase,
And with the phrenetic Omar's rites defile
The sanctuary of God, where rests the Virgin's smile?
Hear, hear the Bosphorus all its echoes rouse!
For thee sweats Afric 'midst her swarthy toil;
And to thy marble-grandeur Asia bows.
Thy starry porphyry sparkled down the Nile:
And to support thy venerable pile
Laconia triumphs in her emerald stores.
Lo! stretch'd beyond the ken thine awful aisle,
Thy hundred columns, and thy jasper floors,
And lifted up on high thy everlasting doors!
Ah! now their gilding and their colours lost,
Scarce were the columns visible, all black
In night — all — save a pillar that was cross'd
By the cold moonbeam. 'Twas a mournful streak:
On the nave-floor it slumbered like a flake
Of snow. Upon the chancel-balustrade
There was a planet's glow-worm lustre weak;
And from a solitary taper, ray'd
A ray too faint to pierce the vast cathedral shade.
To suit that moment's humble mood, was dim
And hush'd the temple-scene. The fiery bronze
Erst kindled on each column! Loud the hymn
Did from a thousand voices swell at once
Its raptures, and a thousand gems ensconce
The burning brilliance! Now to every tread
Is mutter'd a scarce audible response;
And a sepulchral gleaminess is shed
O'er every form and face through shadows dusky-red.
To the lone taper beam'd an altar-vase;—
All else in pallid indistinctness gloom'd
To the strain'd eye interminable space:
What whilom was through all its length illum'd,
A line of lessening columns was entomb'd
In masses dense and shapeless. Not alone
In faith (though to a few weak followers doom'd)
Did Constantine his prayers to God make known:
A tear he could not cheek — it glisten'd, and was gone.
Is there a sight among the sons of men—
A spectacle to move a holier sigh,
Than human greatness midst the trying scene
Of sorrow, at thy footstool, O Most High—
Prostrate before the eternal Majesty?
Perchance archangels might have joy'd to hail
A prince, the first beneath heaven's canopy
Humbled before his God — a reptile frail—
Covering with sackcloth coarse the soldier's polish'd mail.
"O thou, in whom the spirits of the just
Rejoice! O pardon me, Almighty Lord,
Whose buckler shields me — in whose strength I trust!
If I had injured, or in deed or word,
The lowliest fed with crumbs beneath my board,
I ask'd forgiveness! Lo, thy blessed Son
In his dread chalice have my lips adored!
And if my race of life, if I have run—
If quiver my last sand — O God! thy will be done!
"But to my suffering children — though bereft
Of earthly sire, a Father mayst thou be!
Have mercy on the remnant that is left!
And though to other cities — though they flee,
Or wander midst the islands of the sea,
The cruel enemy, the avenger still!
Yet, if thy judgments here fall heavily,
Thy law if famine or the sword fulfil,
Silent, I dare not search the mysteries of thy will!"
"And thou!" (the archpriest cried) "whose constant love
For ages hath commission'd seraphim
And cherubim descending from above,
To guard thy church from robbers that blaspheme
(Scaled in their dragon-scales) thy holy name;
Who, in thy city, for a thousand years,
Hast bid thy frankincense of mercy flame
To patriarchs and to saints, O hear our prayers,
And listen to our plaints, and look upon our tears!
"Hear from thy blessed altar, Lord of Hosts!
Hear from the courts so oft these feet have trod,
Thine imprecating enemy that boasts
A language to defy 'the living God;'
That ruthless devastation spreads abroad,
Polluting each hoar fabric ere it fall
Now thirsting to profane this pure abode!
Accept my vows — regard thy suppliant's call,
Thou, thou, the Great Supreme, who reignest over all.
"E'en as the chaff before the wind, thine ire
Shall scatter them — the foes that circumvent
Thy race, — like stubble to consuming fire:
Root up their standard; smite the Moslem-tent,
And rend it, as a vesture that is rent!
So, whilst our trust is in the King of kings,
Thy banners shall we hail our battlement:
So, as thy favour sure salvation brings,
Shall peace repose beneath the shadow of thy wings."
Scarce had the Patriarch ceased, when from beneath,
A sound as of the wretched seem'd to come,
'Twas like the gnashing of a captive's teeth:
And the tall taper, like the blue simoom,
Wax'd pale, enough to seal Byzantium's doom!
Signs that, inspiring superstitious fear,
Flung o'er credulity a lurid gloom,
Sent e'en the valiant to the boding seer,
Enfeebled many an arm, and blunted many a spear.
CANTO THE FIFTH.
Far other was a low-arch'd length of room
All in a sweltering street, obscure and dun,
Where a small cresset redden'd through the gloom,
And signs and rites unholy saw no sun.
Yet in this nook were battles lost and won,
Its startling tale as conjuration told;
Yet deeds of horror might the stoutest stun,
As sinful souls were to the assassin sold,
And honour, truth and peace, confess'd the power of gold.
With curtains as of vapour hung, a gleam
Asphaltic, shewed — and only served to shew,—
How sombrous was the haunt of stratagem,
And twinkled ghastlier on a tawny brow;
As if some fiend aim'd from the moon to throw
A livid sparkle — half-eclips'd her disk!
And from deep sockets fill'd with fire, the glow
(Which e'en to meet a moment, were to risk
Perhaps a mortal stroke) was like the basilisk!
Such was the announcer of man's dole or doom,
Born where the Siroc with young pleasure wars
Waving o'er Yemen's sweets the poison'd plume.
His azure mantle spangled o'er with stars,
'Twas his to open tracts where heaven debars
Access. And scorn, half-smother'd up by guile,
Scoff'd at the fever'd flight of human fears;
And on his wan lip, darken'd o'er the while
From ruthless eyebrows, lurk'd the malice of a smile.
'Twas he, who to the impetuous Sultan's youth,
Unravelling oft his planetary lore,
Traced (flaming as the characters of truth)
Trophies so reap'd in vision long before,
And sped the vollied rage from shore to shore;
Till now, to finish what the Fates decreed,
Perdition's bolts to Istambol he bore,
And in his cell presaged the murderous deed,
And stamping all as done, spread out the attractive meed.
Before an ebon board the old Arab stood,
His eyes on some far object fixing fast,
And with a start to arrest the circling blood,
Recoil'd, and, straight some viewless form embrac'd:
When turning from a craven throng, he cast
A look of shrewd intelligence on one,
A treachor, who himself in plots surpass'd,
And mumbled mystic words in mystic tone
To a stern chief who wav'd a sable gonfalon.
With short quick breath, as if Alp over Alp
He climb'd, the treachor grin exchanged for grin,
Base were his figure, features — base his scalp,
And toadlike venom swell'd his yellow skin;
And sneaking was he prompt for secret sin.
The other, once a courtier, curs'd the court,
As, in his aims repuls'd, on Constantine
The imagined wrong he thirsted to retort—
And bitter was his spleen, imperious was his port.
The throng, retreating from Alashtar's rod
Saw, in each curve, a wondrous power display'd:
'Twas thus the Memphian worshipp'd his horn'd God
By hideous tales and miracles dismay'd.
Yet oft a dastard look their doubts betray'd,
When (cried he) — "Visions in long order break
Upon me! — at my feet that eagle laid;
Ruffled his plumes — his flagging wing how weak;
Extinguish'd his dread eye, and pale his bloodless beak.
"Beneath that banner nursing dream on dream,
All in church-panoply though saints enlist;
Say, shall the Virgin of Jerusalem
Protect the puling layman or the priest?
Their altar, though the violet amethyst,
Or topaz bright in yellow beams, adorns;
Shall violet stones or vows their cause assist?
Their jewels and their vows the Prophet scorns!
In vain they crowd the shrine — in vain they grasp its horns!
"Some are there, whom the red-cross zeal hath swell'd
To heroes — others, with court-favours drunk!
But soon their spirits, or by earth impell'd
Or heaven, shall pass away — a headless trunk
Each body! Sinking — with the city sunk,
Ere one shall re-assert his heritage,
The warrior shall wax wanton in the monk,
The sluggard prelate in the soldier rage,
And hermits hail bazars, and sceptre grace the sage.
"Emblem of patience, the meek Nazarene
May mete out time in penitential shrift,
Whilst on his quiet countenance are seen
Pardon and Peace! Our bloodhot blades we lift—
In gasps no sparing, and in groans no thrift,
After the last groan, peace — if death be such!
From stage to stage of dying may ye shift—
The fiery thirst, the ice with instant touch
That curdles up the heart, and Azrael's ireful clutch!"
Ere twice ten hours — CALIRRHOE, unabash'd
Ran through the severing audience — yet with stem
Half-snapp'd, a lily by the winter wash'd!
"Alashtar! to whose power compared, we deem
Of mean account Golconda's choicest gem,
Theon's poor relics may thy pity save!
Obeisant do I kiss thy garment's hem
O snatch from dire pollution — snatch the brave!
Alas! I ask not life — I only ask a grave!
"Upon the brink of desperation's gulf
Tottering, I turn me to my last resource
From the fell raven — from the mangling wolf,
O rescue — rescue that uncoffin'd corse!
May the keen anguish of thy suppliant force
A way into thine heart — that I may lie
Pillow'd on his pale turf — (in murmurs hoarse
The cold winds chaunting his drear lullaby)
And with expiring flowers breathe out my latest sigh!"
"Yes! — Can the Sultan tears like thine resist?
Go — he will give thee all thy prayers can ask—
But not the dead Greek's withering turf, I wist!
Go — in the sun of royal favour bask.
Sure, thou hast charms to spare the conjurer's task!—
Charms to which sovereigns of the earth may crouch!
And shall pretence of sorrow pleasure mask,
And such affection for a grave avouch?
Thy lord, luxurious girl, provides a softer couch!
"Those eyes that wander through their silky fringe
In timid fawnlike wildness — (with fleet light
So have I seen the moon her halo tinge)
And like the blanch'd egg which the sands from sight
Half-hide, that bosom's palpitating white—
Tresses, like dates that cluster in the shade
Of their own palms — O say, could thrones requite
One smile amid such beauties (slily said
The sorcerer) one coy glance from so divine a maid?
"Yet I will aid thee. Shew his last left track—
Tell me, where last his accents to thine ear
Made music; and my art shall conjure back
Thy lover's corse! And sweet upon his bier
Shall drop the living balsam of thy tear!"
The maiden look'd affiance through her woe,
Too credulous, nor mark'd Alashtar's leer;
Ah! little heeding, that she dealt a blow
To hasten Caesar's doom, and lay Byzantium low!
CANTO THE SIXTH.
THE FALL OF CONSTANTINOPLE REPRESENTED IN VISION TO CONSTANTINE, AND THE RESTORATION OF THE CITY AND OF ALL GREECE TO THE CHRISTIANS.
"O massacre! thy work the demon Islam speeds!
White all the plain, with Islam turbans white!
The foam see scattering from a thousand steeds!"
The cry was from illusion or affright:
The alarmist Fancy had deceiv'd the sight;
To terror's ear the hostile bucklers ring,
And summon up the phantoms of the night,
As to the mother's breast scared infants cling,
And rustles to the wife the wild-eyed vulture's wing.
Their Caesar's will the impatient Greeks await,
The close battalion and the prancing troop,
Their long spears bristling at the palace-gate;
The presence of the Prince, their surest prop;
The awakening watchword — "In yon cross our hope!"
And priests and matrons had the portals pass'd;
And midst the imperial Court a various groupe
Their glances to the high balcony cast,
And, as life's flitting breath, each trembling shadow chased.
Ah! what a spectacle! the mute amaze
The dubious look; the half-confiding air
Of stripling feebleness; the haggard gaze
As from a frenzied soul; the stony stare;
The arrested step; the statue of despair;
The laugh delirious, and the sudden start;
And, flinging self aside, compassion's care;
And the cold tremour creeping to the heart,
Whilst meeting eyes would say: "We part, for ever part!"
Their chief some moments to unruffled thought
(Now that St. Sophia to the menaced blow
Had reconciled his spirit) would fain devote.
Yet for the fight his charger neigh'd below,
Caparison'd and sleek and like the snow,
High Safad: Nor Arabia boasts a fire
More fierce — a mane of more exuberant flow:
But Heaven's own lightnings perish in their ire,
And in their loftiest flights the intrepid oft expire.
Harrass'd by all the many-featured day
(Firm as he was) into the unconscious trance
He sinks. As powers invisible portray,
Before him, mimic fleets and armies dance
Till now more clear, lance quivers after lance,
And whizzes many a visionary ball,
And turbans glimmer round, and corselets glance,
Till now distincter quakes the city-wall,
And breaches wider yawn, and smouldering fragments fall.
Dire was the conflict. Torrents from the foss,—
Blood-torrents from a struggling, shivering heap—
Ran from the slaughter'd Moslems! And across
Their corses, like the surges of the deep,
A Janissary band appear'd to sweep,
Flying before an Othman's darkling face!
He, mighty warrior! kenn'd the rampire steep;
And, as he seem'd to scorn the towers of Thrace,
Scowl'd on each feeble fort, and grasp'd his iron mace.
And then a swart gigantic figure seiz'd
A fractured parapet, and backwards fell—
(The sovereign's veins a chill of horror freezed)
And countless squadrons with a deafening yell
(For sound is heard where Fancy weaves her spell)
After the pause of one terrific halt,
Rush on, the vacillating Greeks repel,
And, (all as up the ascent the hot assault
They press) through sulphured chasms — o'er blazing bastions vault.
The fiercest sank; the haughtiest were unhelm'd;
The assailer and the assail'd promiscuous lay.
Slacken'd the turban-strength was half o'erwhelm'd,
When springing from the 'subterraneous way,'
The gaunt Alashtar waked the battle-bray;
And fiends poured forth, as if her spawn of guilt
Earth's central caverns had cast up to day!
He stamps the blood of faith and valour spilt:
His fired eye-sockets glare, and drips his poniard-hilt.
Hard by a chief in chalybs cased, opposed
The foe's irruption from a recent breach,
But fled in agony, ere round him closed
The assailants, writhing as if caldron-pitch
Flamed through his entrails. Plausible in speech
Oft had he rail'd at dastards, scoff'd and sneer'd,
Yet, like a stricken stag, he sought the beach;
And, though the Monarch's warning voice he heard,
Flew recreant from the walls, and shrieking disappear'd.
And now a royal Greek, with hands outstretch'd,
His men essay'd to rally, left alone;
Now for a moment menaced; now beseech'd
The gathering troops with supplicating tone.
"O Safad!" cried the Sovereign, woe-begone!
Snorting, his lord through broken ranks he bore,
And staggering from a death-shot, heaved a groan!
The phantom king, dispurpled, smear'd with gore,
Forsaken, sank away — sank to be seen no more.
Then through razed streets, as floods foam over flax
Or shepherd-fold, the Moslems dash'd amain;
And the sword shiver'd, smoked the battle-axe,
Smok'd far and near, as glutted with the slain.
Then rose St. Sophia's violated fane;
And husbands, sires, and sons of every age,
And lovely damsels, link'd in one long chain,
And ermined nobles, and the prelate sage,
Down the broad aisle bewail'd the heartless vassalage.
Yet, though their 'souls the iron enter'd,' moans
From captive kings were not enough to sate
Barbaric vengeance. Stain'd the pavement-stones
E'en with the blood of sucklings, — early, late,
At midday, at midnight, could nought abate
The sabre-fury! Thrice the sun arose,
And setting saw the ruthless work of Fate!—
The dying shrieks that scared the evening-close,
Play'd round the Sultan's ear, and lull'd him to repose.
Yes! from the city all the mingled cries
To the camp wafted, minister'd delight,
More soothing than the zephyr's gentlest sighs!
And startled by the desultory flight
Of birds that flew above in wild affright,
He rose, and strait his pillow wooed again,
And hail'd the sympathies of such a night!
The dogs, compassionating human pain,
In troops howl'd o'er the fields, and headlong sought the main!
Then floated the wide palace full in view:—
But where the features of one faithful Greek?
The Hall of Audience had a charnel hue—
And a low sound, from wasting sorrow weak,
(Was it from lost Calirrhoe?) seem'd to break!
Methought, already had the spider hung,
(Safety in such a solitude to seek)
Its dark webs, the deserted walls along,
And in the desolate towers the owl her watchsong sung!
And hark! thro' hall and gallery, chamber, court,
A rush of trepidation! — Who is He?—
The proud plumes, as to kiss the turrets, sport
In air! And lo! he rides full royally!
The bearers of the armorial ensignry,
All horror-struck, unsteady in their tread,
Reel to and fro amidst a purple sea!
And is it not enough that seas are shed,
And conquest roots her flags in mountains of the dead?
Ah no! St. Sophia swims again to sight—
The sultan, in carousal, far within,
Here gives a young Greek to his fair one, bright
In maiden beauty, whilst her blushes win
From grisly Pashas round, the gaze, the grin!
Stabb'd — in an instant stabb'd, the victims fall!
The banquets end in blood, as they begin!
And couples are dragg'd forth, 'till over all,
E'en where the viands fume, is cast the trembling pall.
Then, in its torporific folding blank,
As Chaos did Oblivion wrapp the whole;
Till, after years had lapsed, a prospect dank
Dilated; like a spectre's sombre-stole,
A huge mass, with no animating soul!
The dense dull mist from off the tide of time,
The cloudy volume, that appear'd to roll,
Whilst thraldom quench'd the fire-clad thought sublime,
Disclosed a store of grief, disclosed a store of crime.
And Constantine now saw the scene expand
As into time and space shot rapid light!
Long ages were unlock'd at his command!
And Greece, from Haemus beyond Taurus height—
All Greece — all Asia swam before his sight!
And emerald seas with sunny isles embost;
Here craggs from thunder molten; caverns white;
And spiry groves, and mountains glazed with frost;
And there receding cliffs, in purpled azure lost.
Far o'er the riches of the imperial realm,
Tho' meads and warbling woods with sweet accord
Breathed airs of dalliance, yet did slavery whelm
Its habitants with horrors of their lord!
In each soft scene though Pleasure had her board;
Yet, not so cheerless was the untravel'd waste,
Or torrent that whirl'd down the glenrock roar'd.
And say, where, where the monuments that graced
The sculptor's peerless art, the architect's pure taste?
Ah! marking tyranny's remorseless march,
Erst each fair work where Taste and Genius view'd
Each brilliant frieze, each finely-chisel'd arch,
Each statue (from the mass her artists hew'd)
Shaped into life — were all their glories strew'd
Around; and died away in every gale
Voices, that utter'd in desponding mood;—
"Fall'n Athens! shall not Marathon avail
To rouse thy drooping soul — to link the warrior-mail?"
Still through its blooms the silver olive spread,
Still flourishing beneath Minerva's towers;
Unfading though Hymettus rear'd his head,
Pouring wild fragrance from spontaneous bowers;
Though murmuring from his aromatic flowers
The honey-bee still bore the precious spoil;
Yet there, where lagg'd the despot's lurid hours,
Lethargic Plenty gleam'd a languid smile,
And eyed the suffering slave, and triumph'd in his toil.
Though some, where lorn llyssus ceas'd to glide,
The tribute of a sigh to Plato paid;
Though some still cherish'd the supernal pride
That screen'd from vulgar gaze Lyceum's shade,
And rov'd where once with Epicurus play'd
The blue-ey'd Pleasures and their melting queen;
Or bade the Porch their aspirations aid;—
How soon, to demons muttering, intervene
Murder and midnight lust and ignorance obscene.
But wider to the Sovereign's fancy spreads
His favourite terrace; cradling woods embrown
The bourne, and hills familiar lift their heads;
Where late (for others welfare, not his own)
With no bold grasp he spann'd the proffer'd crown.
Nigh Sparta's walls the Monarch seemd to stray,
Picturing, Leonidas! thy rugged frown,
There, where Eurotas flash'd the indignant spray,
To blades before unknown, and urged her moaning way.
What though Arcadia blush to every breeze,
And Maenalus weave the luxury of its shades,
As if old Pan beneath his noonday trees
Yet slumber'd; though Cyllene o'er the glades
Her oak-glooms deepen, where the choral maids
Hail'd the wing'd god of laughing Maia born?
Who now with rose-hues wreathes the bowl? Who braids
His sword with myrtles? Pipes to cheerful morn
The shepherd? Is not joy of all its sunbeams shorn?
Still in the genial Isles was nurs'd the fire,
The fire of enterprise, to illumine Greece;
Those ancient Isles, where fancy would inspire
Songs of palestral palms and letter'd peace,
And bid the sufferer's griefs a moment cease,
Still shadowing out her Hector and her Troy,
Her godlike Theseus, and her Golden Fleece—
A Hector every sire! and every boy
Blithe as Iulus tripp'd — all snatch'd 'a fearful joy.'
O! if a new Anacreon seize the lyre,
Eliciting from every living string
The music of young Bacchus, and Desire,
To thrill the revellers with a rapturous sting,
Now ceasing to his neighbours of the ring
Resign the mastery o'er extatic sound;—
Stol'n are the festive moments that may wing
Their airy flight! To sabres clashing round,
The death-cord and the drug, shall Love or Pleasure bound?
Changed is the vision'd scene. A radiance streams,
As its roof opens, o'er a cedar'd room;
Lo, a fair groupe conspicuous in the beams:
Their silver distaffs glitter through the dome
Unveil'd the clustering locks, the virgin-bloom,
Uncheck'd the pantings of the living snow:
They laugh, they languish o'er the fervid loom—
Alas! how reckless of the coming blow,
The homage hiding shame, the smile that heralds woe!
Lord of that mansion, if some liberal Greek,
Heaven's blessings round him unsuspecting pour;
With muffled oars glides by the dark caique,
And ruffians, springing on the hapless Giaour,
Chase joy and hope, and rifle all the bower!
Soft with her velvet paw so steals unheard
Where smiles the treachery of the sensual hour,
Midst hills of cinnamon, through groves of nard,
So strikes her victim dead, so strikes the prowling pard.
O Scio! midst the desolating sweep
Of massacre and flame, alas! 'tis thine
The tears of very bitterness to weep!
O Scio, whilst the dressers of thy vine
Yet linger, midst luxuriance doom'd to pine,
A sorer scourge than death 'tis theirs to bear!
Thy mastics bloom; thy presses burst with wine!
Thy breeze is incense! — Shall the roseate air
Still fan thee? What art thou? What, but one sepulchre?
But, whilst in vision raged the turban'd host,
Was there no knee in fond devotion bent,
No eye, to mourn the mitre well nigh lost?
Had ravaged Greece no Patriarch, to lament
The veil of heavenly hope asunder rent
In listless slumbers did the priest recline?
Whilst from the classic fane were sighings sent,—
Alas! to deprecate the wrath divine,
Did no lone orison ascend from sainted shrine?
Yes! there were those in sacred wisdom wise
Yes! there were holy men of high desert,
Whose morning vows, whose evening sacrifice
Went up, the breathings of a contrite heart!
But, where so deep was hypocritic art
Where with the mass contention mingled leaven,
The just award could some few prayers avert?
Was it to some few stedfast spirits given,
(Though palms their meed might be) to appease offended Heaven?
Smitten before their shatter'd altars — curst
By Moslems, where they call'd on death, to close
Their mortal pilgrimage, as all athirst
For those eternal palms their Spirits arose;—
Yon hallow'd men despising earthly woes
To rank with Antioch's martyrs calmly died!
Yet e'en that little boon (the pale repose
Beneath the green sod) were their trunks denied,
Cast forth to the nightwinds, that cleave the troubled tide.
Fierce as his brands pursue the parted soul,
Whilst Azrael all the landscape seem'd to scorch,
And from old Ephesus to Istambol
Fire, from Al-Sirat's flood, each crackling church;
An angel-Spirit seem'd to snatch the torch
Of ruin from the fiend! — Serene and soft
A heavenly splendour fill'd St. Sophia's porch!
A Mufti, as the crescent waver'd oft,
Now sad to Mecca look'd, now rais'd his eyes aloft!
Then from Epirus (which nor sourge could tame,
Nor scymitar) to Antioch once its own,
Was peal'd in solemn notes the Christian's name;
And, from Thermopylae to Macedon,
Fields of proud worth a new Ulysses won;
Whilst Islam temples were on temples heap'd:
E'en from the tombs was torn the turban-stone,
And the Lord's wrath, which had for ages slept,
Whole cities with the scythe of desolation swept.
From falling empires to fanatic reigns
Was Constantine thus trembling, fluttering whirl'd;
And hope or anguish hung o'er thrilling scenes,
Soothed by a sun-gleam or thro' tempests hurl'd;
When from an island glen, as blue waves curl'd
Around the aerial form, he saw emerge
A Spirit with lambent rainbows all impearl'd,
And stand on tiptoe on a cliff's dim verge,
And gild from glittering plumes, far gild the placid surge.
The angel on a wreath of mist drew nigh,
Look'd heavenly love, and said or seem'd to say:
"Mourn not, O Prince, thy earthly destiny,
With martyrs to thy glory snatch'd away!
Thou shalt not witness the disastrous sway
Of those whose paths are darkness. Pride and strife
Shut from thy froward race, shut out the day:
Feuds, rancorous feuds, among thy people rife
Poison the etherial fount whence flow the streams of life.
"Thou shalt not witness those portentous storms—
The havoc ravaging thy towns — the stroke
Disfeaturing the Creator's fairest forms:
Thou shalt not witness that infernal smoke!
Call'd by the Omnipotent (the Angel spoke,
Shuddering) His four sore judgments from the abyss
To smite a guilty generation broke!
And Peace greets Righteousness with holy kiss
No more — where Hatred scowls, and Fraud and Faction hiss!
"Woe — woe on earth! I hear the trumpet sound,
Woe, woe! I see the shedding of men's blood!
Let loose are the four angels which lay bound
In that great river — in Euphrates' flood!
And horsemen — who shall count the multitude?
Their breastplates brimstone! Every horse — his head
The lion's! Writhing like the viperous brood
His scaly tail, and spreading — far to spread—
Flame issues from each mouth — with Heaven's own vengeance red.
"Thy suffering city — they shall eat the bread
Of tears — and at the hand of God, the cup
Of trembling — they shall drink the cup they dread—
The very dregs — the dregs shall they drink up!
Nor shall the fury that is gone forth, stop,
Till all thy judges — all thy princes faint
In every street — till all thy nobles drop!
Till rise from each lone house the widow's plaint;
Nor indignation spare the Apostle nor the Saint!
"Lo! for a little season must it be!
Saith thy Redeemer — saith the Lord! My face
Yet a short moment have I hid from thee,
Land of my people — of my chosen race!
O wait awhile, my goodness shall not cease:
The adamantine mountains shall decay,
And the hills melt, and none shall know their place;
Though never shall my mercies fade away,
But shine, the light of life, to everlasting day.
"Lo! wafted from the islands of the blest,
The tidings of salvation shall come forth,
Like Gilead's balm my healing from the West,
And faithfulness — my buckler — from the North!
Then, midst the lying wonders of the earth,
Then shall in shame Mohammed hide his head,
And all shall curse the base impostor's birth;
As He, by whose right arm the dragon bled,
Shall slay the murderous beast in Yathreb's venom bred.
"Then ringing shall the voice of melody
Echo from bower to bower, from vale to vale;
From every habitation sorrow flee,
And Health and Peace and Joy the righteous hail;
And springs of living waters never fail,
And the lign-aloes fling their shadows there!
Then Sharon's rose shall incense every gale;
And the great Shepherd in his arms shall bear
The lambs of Israel's flock, his own peculiar care!"