Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
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CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
 
Noah, Canto II
By Paul Allen (1775–1826)
 
THE SUN had sunk behind the watery waste,
When night’s pale regent, beautiful and chaste,
With silent footsteps stole upon the sight,
As fearful to awake the dreams of night;
Calmly she mounted up the azure plain,        5
With all her twinkling vassals in her train;
Cloud after cloud, in long fantastic chase,
Sweep in succession o’er her pallid face;
But she still travelling up the blue serene,
Holds her calm course, and lifts her light between,        10
Till, by no intervening shade o’ercast,
She gives a steady settled ray at last:
The treacherous deep, so late by tempests worn,
And storms, as if by human passions torn,
Now like a blessed spirit, once forgiven,        15
Reflects the pure and sacred light of heaven.
  The ark, now gliding under easy sail,
Urged by the pressure of a gentle gale,
While no rude breath of wind the prospect mars,
Moves o’er a liquid firmament of stars.        20
At length she rests—but with a shock so light,
That not a single slumberer of the night
Wakes from his dream. At morn’s returning ray
Shem oped the window to behold the day;
He gazed around, and o’er his head was seen        25
The smiling olive, with its leaf of green.
“Father, come forth!” he cries, with heart elate,
“For now the waters do indeed abate.”
  Strange to relate, in these unthinking times,
The traveller, while exploring distant climes,        30
Leaves thee, O Ararat! and feels no shame,
And scarcely do his lips inquire thy name.
Had not thy towering summit long before
Redeem’d the burden, that the deluge bore,
Thou hadst not worn memorials so unjust,        35
The prints of thoughtless footsteps in thy dust:
And earth until this very hour had run
A silent planet round the golden sun.
’T was Ararat alone preserved from death
The little portion of almighty breath.        40
  When the fierce warfare of the heaven is o’er;
And thunders, answering thunders cease to roar,
How beautiful to see the sun’s bright helm
Shining serene in his recover’d realm!
The victor in his robes of triumph drest,        45
Looks gay and smiling from the rosy west!
The dew drops catch the triumphs of the sky,
And flash a little sun on every eye!
Such joy did in the patriarch’s bosom reign,
When first the arch reposed on earth again.        50
  He cries, “in reverence to this holy place.
Put off your sandals, all of Noah’s race!
It is the hour of mercy, and invites
The bleeding sacrifice and solemn rites.”
  The few survivors of the flood draw near;        55
An altar form’d with pious haste they rear,
And fain would female pity intercede,
The favorite lamb is now condemn’d to bleed;
He, unsuspecting injury, draws nigh,
Nor thinking he is ever doom’d to die,        60
Bounds by the altar, with his merry feet;
The mountain echoes still return his bleat;
When Japheth grasps him by his snowy fleece,
Upward he looks, his eyes betoken peace,
So pure is innocence, so undismay’d!        65
He sees no terror in the lifted blade:
Then faint and dying at the altar’s base,
One look he casts upon the female face,
And while the ruddy drops his vesture stain
He wonders why he feels the sudden pain.        70
The flame ascends, and while the suppliants kneel,
And offer up their prayers with pious zeal,
They start, they listen, for a sudden sound
Disturbs the sacred quiet reigning round;
It calls thee! Noah, and the accent flows,        75
Soft as a zephyr’s whisper to a rose.
  He turn’d, and saw a face that seem’d to wear
A mingled character of joy and care:
It was not joy; for though upon the cheek
A smile appear’d, it was a smile so meek,        80
So coy, so placid, every eye might know
’T was touch’d with memory of former wo;
And though the foreheads yielding ivory wore
The marks that Care’s rude hand had sculptured o’er,
The traces now were fugitive and faint,        85
Smoothed to the resignation of a saint.
He saw an eye, that when it cast a look
Down on the deluge, instantly partook
Of deep anxiety; when on the face
Of Noah, it had found a resting place,        90
Sorrow was banish’d from its orbit quite,
It sparkled with a tender mild delight.
The patriarch gazed, and felt, he knew not why,
Uncommon reverence for that pensive eye;
But when he saw the bow that rose and spread        95
Its mellow’d radiance round the stranger’s head;
When he beheld upon her panting breast
The dove alight, and close his wings to rest;
Doubt was removed, he cried with welcome brow,
Angel of mercy, I behold thee now!        100
  “Thee, Patriarch, I have known,” the vision said;
“From earliest infancy I ’ve watched thy head.
I knew thee in that season, when the toy
Of merry childhood could afford thee joy:
Saw thee, when truant from a parent’s care        105
With spirits high, and heart as light as air,
Thy infant eye had caught in summer hour
The insect plunderer of the fragrant flower,
Loading his little thighs with waxen spoil
And humming like a laborer o’er his toil.        110
Beheld thy hand that could not then forbear
To seize the poor mechanic seated there,
The little captive look’d, and saw with dread
The infant blossom closing o’er his head;
Disconsolate, he roam’d his narrow cell,        115
The petty prisoner of a floweret bell.
Be it my present office to display
Some great events that time’s unfolding ray
In long futurity shall bring to light,
Though now deep buried in the shades of night.        120
  No more the thorns and thistles in thy ground,
Shall raise their martial points to fence thee round;
That sad and mournful family, that shun
All vegetation and the cheering sun,
And seem in some secluded spot to tell,        125
In whispers to the wind, that Adam fell.
Thy spot of ground no ruffian weed shall taunt,
But in its stead, thy hand the vine shall plant,
The fruitful vine, and, while thou joy’st to know
How full and dark its clustering honors grow,        130
More shalt thou joy to hear what God enjoins:—
Thy progeny shall far exceed the vine’s.
  But ah! thou little know’st what depth of sin,
What idiot frenzy dwells the grape within;
Reason no longer holds her balance true,        135
With eyes once bathed in this bewildering dew;
He tastes;—the victim knows not when to stop,
Though frantic demons poison every drop.
Down, down, he sinks in ruin and despair;
In vain may sacred friendship, weeping there,        140
In vain may fathers, brothers intercede,
In vain may honor execrate the deed.
Still does the charm, the infernal spell allure,
The demon laughs, his prey is now secure.
  The solid earth presents too small a space        145
To bound the enterprise of Adam’s race;
A hardy race of men shall spring from thee
Whose only residence an ark shall be.
For lo! astonish’d ocean shall survey,
In future times, though distant now the day,        150
Such wonders as have never reach’d his ken.
His empire humbled by the sons of men.
Arks beyond number, borne by heavenly breath,
Shall dare the surface of the roaring death.
Vain does he fret and climb the heights of air,        155
Like some proud steed that scorns his lord to bear.
In vain he foams and rears, for human skill
Has conquer’d, and he feels the bridle still.
  Ocean’s proud giant sees the roaring main
Usurp’d by man, and flies, but flies in vain,        160
O’er liquid mountains, horrible to name,
Intent on death, man seeks the timorous game—
In vain the monster trembles, and retreats
To his dark caverns, and his coral seats,
The persecutor, anxious for his prey,        165
Waits his return unto the beams of day;
There struck—he flies and flounders with the pain,
And seeks the dark recesses of the main;
Vain is his flight opposed to human skill,
For there, the barb of death pursues him still;        170
Again he rises to the upper air,
In vain, for hostile vengeance follows there;
Now see! the monster spouts away his breath,
Lashes the foaming surge, then sinks to death,
His native element is no retreat,        175
He pours his life-blood at his conquerer’s feet.
  Would that his life alone might ocean stain!
Ah no, the spirit of departed Cain
Henceforth shall rise and walk the earth again.
In vain may suppliant mercy intercede,        180
How many Abels shall be doom’d to bleed!
More wonders still!—thy race, by vengeance driven,
Shall seize and hurl the thunderbolt of heaven!
Yea, the dread lightning by divine command,
Shall flash hereafter in a human hand.        185
O while ye grasp the bolts of heaven—forbear!
The life of brother! man, in pity spare!
O cherish still the transitory breath,
Nor call these agents to the aid of death!
  Vain is the wish, the man in future days        190
Shall claim the high reward, his country’s praise!
For all the varied misery that appears
In father’s, brother’s, widow’s, orphan’s tears;
For lives so dear—thus butcher’d day by day,
A leaf of paltry laurel shall repay;        195
Detested plant! see all its verdant veins
Are running now with deep and scarlet stains!
Fann’d by, O innocence! thy sacred sighs,
The floweret smells and blossoms to the skies!
How horrible to tell! and yet how true!        200
The plant is nourish’d by a bloody dew.
  I hear the thunder roar,—the dying shriek—
The raven flap—the terrors of his beak!
He sees the tumult in his airy way,
He scents the carnage, and he stoops for prey.        205
O righteous heaven! why is Almighty love
So long delay’d, why lingers yet my dove?
The earth shall mourn, and desolate with grief,
And rue the absence of the olive leaf—
Refrain, my sons—this dreadful deed refrain        210
Let not the tears of mercy plead in vain!
  The eagle towering in his pride of place,
Shall see some venturous son of Adam’s race,
Mounted on wings, with balance just and true,
Scouring with him the firmament of blue;        215
Such wonders shall be known in future times;
Unterrified from cloud to cloud, he climbs,
Till from the height of his celestial seat,
Rivers shall vanish underneath his feet.
And even Ararat that towers so grand,        220
Shall seem diminish’d to a grain of sand.
Behold him where the ærial tribes are seen
Supported by a bubble, sail serene,
And though the sport of all the winds that blow,
He sees a subjugated world below.        225
Now, in a cloud the glittering wonder hides,
Anon, it skims along the clear blue tides,
While shouting thousands with admiring gaze,
Pursue this sailor of the solar blaze.
  The time shall come, so speaks Almighty doom,        230
When human art shall triumph o’er the tomb;
The body form’d with such transcendant art,
Such nicety of skill in every part,
Shall, though the seat of an immortal mind,
Vanish from earth, and leave its shade behind.        235
Thy tame, obsequious shadow in thy way,
That humble offspring of the solar ray,
Lives to proclaim this truth to all thy line,
A sunbeam boasts a longer date than thine.
Go worship at ambition’s bloody fane,        240
Till even rapine would its rage restrain;
Go climb the fields of air, the heights explore,
Beyond where even eagles dare to soar;
Go set thy footstep on the roaring wave,
Defy the ocean’s depth, his coral cave;        245
Go snatch the lightning from the azure field,
And teach thy hand the bolt of heaven to wield;
Then, son of Adam, count thy mighty gains,
Of all thy glory, but the corpse remains;
Poor heir of sickness, sorrow, and decay,        250
Thou wretched tenant of a little day,
One moment moving, like a god august,
The next—a mass of silent mouldering dust;
Though death with such remorseless vengeance drives,
Thy cold insensate shadow still survives.        255
It lives to tell how small the human span
What frail materials constitute a man;
It lives a satire on the very name
Of human grandeur, and thy hopes of fame.
  Still art shall triumph with the conqueror’s wreath,        260
And teach the rugged marble how to breathe;
The human form beneath her magic shock
Breaks from the rude recesses of the rock;
The frowning quarry that no tempest fears,
That bears the brunt of heaven for endless years,        265
When touch’d by art, and fashion’d by her skill,
Dissolves in female beauty at her will.
Behold, enrapturing every heart and hand,
Cold and serene the marble virgin stand!
What harmony, what symmetry, what grace,        270
Move o’er each limb and languish on the face!
How loose, how lovely all the tresses flow
Upon that bosom’s pure and lustrous snow;
She frowns, each bold intruder to reprove,
Ah! why does not the lovely vision move?        275
Wherefore this silence, why this steadfast air?
Rouse from thy slumber, speak, thou lovely fair!
Alas! how vain is all this blaze of skill,
The breath, the Almighty breath is wanting still;
Stay, and this lovely prodigy behold,        280
How beautiful to view, and yet how cold.
What idle industry, what fruitless pain—
The virgin steps into the block again.
Monarchs shall strive amidst an empire’s shock
To gain possession of this beauteous block:        285
Poets shall sing its praise in strains so sweet,
That even listening angels might repeat;
From distant nations, pilgrims still shall come,
And gaze till admiration’s self be dumb;
’T is still bereft of an Almighty breath,        290
And stands a steadfast monument of death.
  Unconquer’d man, by science guided far,
Shall boldly measure every brilliant star,
Till all these orbs in glory so replete
Shall roll in silent homage at his feet.        295
Here is a triumph for thy honor’d brow:
Is man encircled with the laurel now?
  This conquest, purchased by no bloody stains,
Among thy kindred no distinction gains,
In vain the lights of yonder heaven may plead        300
If carnage does not consecrate the deed!’
The angel paused; her face so fair to view
Look’d lovelier in the drops of sorrowing dew;
The patriarch gazed, the vision sunk in air,
But Mercy’s tears were still remaining there.        305
 
 
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