Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. VIII. National Spirit
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume VIII. National Spirit.  1904.
 
III. War
The Death of Leonidas
George Croly (1780–1860)
 
IT was the wild midnight,—
  A storm was on the sky;
The lightning gave its light,
  And the thunder echoed by.
 
The torrent swept the glen,        5
  The ocean lashed the shore;
Then rose the Spartan men,
  To make their bed in gore!
 
Swift from the deluge ground
  Three hundred took the shield;        10
Then, silent, gathered round
  The leader of the field!
 
He spake no warrior word,
  He bade no trumpet blow,
But the signal thunder roared,        15
  And they rushed upon the foe.
 
The fiery element
  Showed, with one mighty gleam,
Rampart, and flag, and tent,
  Like the spectres of a dream.        20
 
All up the mountain’s side,
  All down the woody vale,
All by the rolling tide
  Waved the Persian banners pale.
 
And foremost from the pass,        25
  Among the slumbering band,
Sprang King Leonidas,
  Like the lightning’s living brand.
 
Then double darkness fell,
  And the forest ceased its moan;        30
But there came a clash of steel,
  And a distant dying groan.
 
Anon, a trumpet blew,
  And a fiery sheet burst high,
That o’er the midnight threw        35
  A blood-red canopy.
 
A host glared on the hill;
  A host glared by the bay;
But the Greeks rushed onward still,
  Like leopards in their play.        40
 
The air was all a yell,
  And the earth was all a flame,
Where the Spartan’s bloody steel
  On the silken turbans came;
 
And still the Greek rushed on        45
  Where the fiery torrent rolled,
Till like a rising sun
  Shone Xerxes’ tent of gold.
 
They found a royal feast,
  His midnight banquet, there;        50
And the treasures of the East
  Lay beneath the Doric spear.
 
Then sat to the repast
  The bravest of the brave!
That feast must be their last,        55
  That spot must be their grave.
 
They pledged old Sparta’s name
  In cups of Syrian wine,
And the warrior’s deathless fame
  Was sung in strains divine.        60
 
They took the rose-wreathed lyres
  From eunuch and from slave,
And taught the languid wires,
  The sounds that Freedom gave.
 
But now the morning star        65
  Crowned Œta’s twilight brow;
And the Persian horn of war
  From the hills began to blow.
 
Up rose the glorious rank,
  To Greece one cup poured high,        70
Then hand in hand they drank,
  “To immortality!”
 
Fear on King Xerxes fell,
  When, like spirits from the tomb,
With shout and trumpet knell,        75
  He saw the warriors come.
 
But down swept all his power,
  With chariot and with charge;
Down poured the arrows’ shower,
  Till sank the Dorian’s targe.        80
 
They gathered round the tent,
  With all their strength unstrung;
To Greece one look they sent,
  Then on high their torches flung.
 
The king sat on the throne,        85
  His captains by his side,
While the flame rushed roaring on,
  And their Pæan loud replied.
 
Thus fought the Greek of old!
  Thus will he fight again!        90
Shall not the self-same mould
  Bring forth the self-same men?
 
 
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