Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
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Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
 
Crystalina
By John Milton Harney (1789–1825)
 
*      *      *      *
THEN 1 down the vale, the hermit led the way;
The Knight pursued, impatient of delay:
Dark was that vale, of tall gigantic wood,
The grim abode of elves and beasts of blood;
The couchant tiger scream’d as they pass’d by,        5
And on them wildly roll’d his meteor-eye!
The wolf sprang frighted from the crackling brake,
And in their pathway coil’d the hissing snake.
High o’er their heads, umbrageous oaks outspread
Their giant arms, and awful murmurs made.        10
Scarce had they reach’d the centre of the vale,
When lo! black clouds, before a northern gale,
Came sweeping on, and with a dusky veil
Shrouded the moon—the mountain tops, oak crown’d,
Toss’d in the storm, and echoed to the sound        15
Of trees uptorn, and thunders rolling round.
They sat them down beneath an aged oak,
Which, though late riven by a thunder-stroke,
Seem’d tempest-proof, and there the fearless Knight
Waited impatient for returning light.
*      *      *      *
        20
  Tremendous scene! the prowlers of the wood
Stopp’d in mid-chase and spared their victim’s blood,
Fled to their caves, or crouching with alarm,
Howl’d at the passing spirits of the storm!
Eye-blasting spectres and bleach’d skeletons,        25
With snow-white raiment, and disjointed bones,
Before them strode; and meteors, flickering dire,
Around them trail’d their scintillating fire,
Livid and pale as light of funeral pyre.
  Serenely grand, the venerable Sage        30
Beheld the scene and heard the tempest rage,
Then rose abruptly, and with accents dire,
Bade the fierce demons of the storm retire!
The clouds dispersed; again the tranquil moon
Sat in mid sky upon her silver throne,        35
And heaven’s blue vault with stars unnumber’d shone.
No sound was heard, save where the torrent hoar
Down the steep mountain fell with sullen roar,
Or far away, exploding long and loud,
The deep-toned thunder rent the fiery cloud.        40
Then thus, beneath the thunder-riven oak,
The hoary wizard to Rinaldo spoke—
“See’st thou yon glade, where quivering moon-beams play,
Like dancing spectres on a tomb-stone gray?
In that still glade, a fairy-circle lies—        45
When Cynthia, Night’s torch-bearer, lights the skies
There sportive Fairies dance till Phœbus rise;
If so thou dar’st, approach that circle dread,
And thrice three times around it boldly tread.
Then shall the earth beneath thy feet expand,        50
And a dark road disclose to Fairy land.”
The Hermit ceased, and by the dim moon-light,
Rinaldo spied the circle, glistening bright.
Back to his cave the old magician went,
Whilst bold Rinaldo towards the circle bent        55
His desperate course—his temper’d steel he drew,
And thrice around the mystic circle flew.
Then rose from earth deep groans and fearful cries,
And lurid meteors shot along the skies.
When round the ring he hurried thrice again,        60
The earth sent up a blue sulphureous flame,
That burnt and quiver’d like a dying lamp—
But on he press’d with firm and fearless tramp.
Now when nine times the Knight had hasted round,
The hollow earth sent forth a rumbling sound,        65
And, wide and sudden, yawn’d the rocking ground.
Down the dark chasm the desp’rate warrior strode,
With random steps along a viewless road;
Till massy rocks his onward march opposed,
And o’er his head the earth in thunder closed;        70
But soon a passage in the cloven stone
With joy he found, and boldly hurried on.
But slow and cautious, with his pond’rous spear,
Poised his bold march along the labyrinth drear.
Through rayless glooms; through silence deep and dread,        75
Down, downward far the dismal cavern led.
At length beneath him shone a silver light,
Like glow-worm twinkling through the gloom of night,
And tuneful sounds, celestial, high, and clear,
Rose from beneath and charm’d his wondering ear.        80
Thither he sped, and from the narrow way
Sprang with delight into a realm of day,
And upright stood upon the radiant plain
Of Fairy land, a heavenly domain.
O! ’twas a valley of enchanting view,        85
Where all things lovely and delightful grew;
Where groves of orange, cinnamon, and myrrh,
Trees that bled frankincense and balsams rare,
With grateful odors fill’d the breezy air—
Elysian groves of harmony and flowers,        90
Leafy pavilions and ambrosial bowers;
With many a mead, and many a winding stream,
Glade flowering fair, and glittering lake between.
Not the spiced breeze, from Ceylon’s groves that springs,
Or shakes Arabian odors from its wings;        95
Not shining gardens of Hesperides,
Whose golden rivers and auriferous trees,
The setting sun from his prone chariot sees,
Nor aught on earth for fragrance could compare,
Nor yet for beauty with this valley fair.        100
This gay, celestial valley to enclose,
Mountains sublime in even circle rose,
And towering high, on tip-toe seem’d to stand,
To gaze enchanted on the radiant land.
Glowing aloft a golden cloud was spread,        105
Whose splendid vault a rich effulgence shed
On all below—for sun, nor moon, nor star
Was ever seen, or ever needed there.
Like a vast amphitheatre it seem’d,
With mountain-walls; from storm and sunshine screen’d        110
By costly canopy of sheeted gold—
But greater far and fairer to behold.
In sweet amaze and exultation high,
O’er all the scene the youth directs his eye—
His wilder’d thoughts in floods of rapture float,        115
And time, and place, and being are forgot—
“Celestial visions!” cried th’ astonish’d Knight—
“Ye golden prospects that enchant my sight!
Are ye indeed substantial? or but vain,
And wild illusions of a love-sick brain?        120
Methinks I dream!” When thus Rinaldo said,
His well-known self, he doubtfully survey’d,
And waved his arm and shook his plumed head.
But soon the memory of his captive love
The sweet amazement from his senses drove.        125
“Fair land!” he cried—“and dangerous as fair,
A foe to thy prosperity is near;
Darkness shall soon thy saffron skies o’erwhelm—
I come to spoil thee of thy richest gem—
But where, where fly to find my captive fair?        130
No cities, fields, or cottages appear.
’T is desert all—th’ unnumber’d flow’rets sweet
Lift their gay heads unbruised by living feet;
Even at my hand the fearless songsters sing,
And round me flutter with familiar wing;        135
Or ’mid the flowers, like sunbeams, glance about,
Sipping with slender tongues the dainty nectar out.
*      *      *      *
  He ceased, and now a glittering palace sees,
Deep in the vale amid embowering trees!
A splendid pile of precious gems it seems,        140
Wrapt in a blaze of variegated beams—
With cautious steps he thither bent his way,
Whilst all around, irradiations gay
Full on his pathway beam’d celestial day.
He trode on carpets, gorgeously display’d,        145
Of woven flowers and grassy verdure made.
From all the waving trees, the plumy throngs,
Welcomed the warlike stranger with their songs
And lo! from bowers of myrtle, fair and green,
A choir of damsels dance with smiling mien!        150
Their silken robes the playful zephyrs throw
From side to side, and wantonly bestow
Delightful glimpses of their limbs of snow.
With lily-hands they strike the trembling strings
Of golden lyres—the grove responsive rings,        155
Soothing his soul with endless echoings.
*      *      *      *
  Towards the palace, silent and alone
The hero moved—afar the fabric shone
Like gorgeous clouds that throng the setting sun:
But ere he reach’d that palace, huge and bright,        160
A glorious scene detain’d the wondering Knight—
A pearly river! whose melodious tide
Laved golden shores! whose banks were beautified
With trees wide-waving, paridisian bowers
And all the gaudy multitude of flowers        165
That on spring’s lap the liberal Flora showers.
This stream, dividing, roll’d its branches twain,
In circling sweep around a flowery plain,
Through vocal groves, then fondly met again.
The Islet fair, so form’d, arose between,        170
With dome-like swell, array’d in richest green.
So fair it was, so smooth, so heavenly sweet,
It seem’d made only for angelic feet.
  On this green isle the splendid palace stood,
And rainbow bridges arch’d the pearly flood—        175
A fairer bow fair Juno ne’er display’d
In vernal skies, though not, like Juno’s, made
Of subtle sun-beams, but of solid gems,
Such as adorn imperial diadems.
Its blue was solid sapphire. Its gay green        180
Was massy emerald. The ruby sheen
Form’d its bright curve of rich and rosy red;
Its yellow hue the golden topaz shed.
Seem’d either end on snow-white clouds to lie—
They were not clouds, but sculptured ivory!        185
And now a bugle breathed a silver sound,
Whose notes with soft reverberations, round
Rang sweet and long; now silently unfold
The diamond gates on hinge of polish’d gold;
And now rode out a fairy cavalcade        190
In order’d march; with banners bright display’d,
With diamond lances and with golden helms,
And shields of gold emboss’d with sparkling gems,
Advanced the pageant; proud beneath each knight,
O’er grassy levels pranced their steeds milk-white,        195
Whose ivory hoofs in glittering silver shod,
With nimble grace on blushing flow’rets trod.
Prancing they came, and as the trumpets blew,
They neigh’d for pride, and arch’d their necks of snow;
Toss’d their proud heads indignant of the rein,        200
Champ’d their foam’d bits and paw’d the trembling plain.
Warrior and steed array’d for battle shone,
Whose burnish’d mail and bright caparison
Illumed, far round, the flower-enwoven field,
And restless splendors flash’d from shield to shield.        205
Loud in the van the wreathed bugle spoke,
Till woods and floods with martial clamors shook.
*      *      *      *
  Now sad, amid a shady solitude,
On the green margin of a prattling flood,
Rinaldo paused—as there forlorn he stood,        210
The swell of distant melody he heard;
Anon, a golden chariot appear’d,
Proudly advancing, drawn by peacocks fair,
With gorgeous plumery, dancing in the air.
On that bright chariot, in imperial state,        215
The queen of Oberon, fair Titania, sate:
On downy cushion, rich with gold and green,
Aloft she sat, like Jove’s celestial queen,
When, through the skies, she drives her glowing car,
And gazing gods adore her from afar.        220
  Around Titania, youths and damsels throng,
Warbling, with dulcet breath, a magic song,
Whose mazy tide intoxicates the soul—
From neighboring rocks a thousand echoes roll
The refluent sounds, and fondly multiply,        225
With busy tongues, th’ angelic harmony.
  In robes of green, fresh youths the concert led,
Measuring, the while, with nice, emphatic tread
Of tinkling sandals, the melodious sound
Of smitten timbrels; some, with myrtles crown’d,        230
Pour the smooth current of sweet melody,
Through ivory tubes; some blow the bugle free,
And some, at happy intervals, around,
With trumps sonorous swell the tide of sound;
Some, bending raptured o’er their golden lyres,        235
With cunning fingers fret the tuneful wires;
With rosy lips, some press the syren shell,
And through its crimson labyrinths, impel
Mellifluous breath, with artful sink and swell.
Some blow the mellow, melancholy horn,        240
Which, save the Knight, no man of woman born,
E’er heard and fell not senseless to the ground,
With viewless fetters of enchantment bound.
The nodding trees its magic influence own,
And, spell-struck, drop their golden clusters down;        245
The forests quaver, and elysian bowers,
With pleasing tremors shed their fragrant flowers.
An awful silence, winds and waters keep;
And spell-chain’d brooks, that bound from steep to steep,
On jutting rocks, delay their headlong leap.        250
The cross alone, the holy cross disarms
The Fairy fiends, and baffles all their charms.
 
SONGS OF THE SEER.On sweet May-eve, when groves were green,
And wild birds chanted merrily,
When the air was calm, the sky serene,        255
It was a lady of high degree,
And she sat under a green-wood tree,
 
O! she waited there for her dear knight,
But the sun had set, the birds were mute,
The dark wolf howl’d on the mountain height;        260
The raven croak’d, the owl did hoot,
And pale-red meteors round her shoot.
 
O! oft she gazed, and oft she sigh’d;
Oft listened for Alonzo’s tread—
“Why tarries thus my love?” she cried—        265
“The hour, the appointed hour has fled,
The night-dew chills my houseless head.
 
“Ah! why did I believe his tale,
And leave my father’s castle gay,
To meet him in this secret vale?        270
Or why, ah! why does Alonzo stay?
’T is night, and the castle is far away!
 
“But hark! a distant voice I hear!—
’T is not my love, but the night owl’s cry”—
Thus wails Syrenna, wild with fear;        275
Her raven-locks on the night-winds fly,
Her breath is quick and her heart beats high.
 
Now the sky grew black, the winds blew loud,
The lightning gleam’d on the dusky vale
And thunder spoke from his deep-blue cloud—        280
Up rose Syrenna, wild and pale,
And shriek’d and fled through the stormy gale—
 
But when she reach’d a lonely glade,
Where wild-briars rude and thistles stood,
A ghastly fiend her eyes survey’d!        285
It beckon’d her to a gloomy wood—
“’T is my love!” she cried—and swift pursued.
 
It led the maid to a cavern deep!
But on the gulf the lightning glared,
Before she took the fatal leap!        290
The spectre laugh’d and disappear’d—
But the Benshie’s fatal scream she heard.
 
And she heard, in her ear, a death-bell toll,
And the raven croak on a blasted tree—
The Lord have mercy on her soul!        295
It was a piteous sight to see
The sorrows of that sweet lady.
 
And now a-down that dusky glen
She saw, she chased the fell rush-light—
It led her to a watery fen,        300
Then shriek’d, and quench’d its taper bright—
And all was horror, all was night.
 
And now strange voices fill the air,
And yells, and shouts both loud and long—
Ah fly! ah fly! distracted fair,        305
For fierce and fast the fiends come on,
And see! grim phantoms round thee throng.
 
Syrenna fled, in vain fled she;
For the ghastly crew met her blasted view,
And a black fiend spoke, and fierce spoke he,        310
As his arms round her snow-white neck he threw,
“We, lady fair! are the Elfin crew!
 
“Thrice welcome to our merry glen!
And thou shalt be our mistress bright,
And dance with us on the quaking fen,        315
To the rush-light’s red and glimmering light,
When tempests howl at dead of night.”
 
They grasp’d her hard by her tender hand,
They dragg’d her away by her raven hair;
Her shrieks were loud, but the ghastly band        320
To a stormy heath led the lady fair,
And bared her breast to the driving air.
 
On the stormy heath a ring they form;
They place therein the fearful maid,
And round her dance in the howling storm—        325
The winds beat hard on her lovely head;
But she clasp’d her hands and nothing said.
 
O! ’twas, I ween, a ghastly sight,
To see their uncouth revelry;
The lightning was the taper bright,        330
The thunder was the melody,
To which they danced with horrid glee!
 
The fierce-eyed owl did on them scowl;
The bat play’d round on leathern wing;
The coal-black wolf did at them howl,        335
The coal-black raven did croak and sing
And o’er them flap his dusky wing.
 
An earthquake heaved beneath their feet;
Pale meteors revel’d in the sky;
The clouds sail’d by like a routed fleet,        340
The night-winds shriek’d as they pass’d by,
The dark-red moon was eclipsed on high—
 
But hark! what voice, as thunder loud,
Now shakes the wilderness profound?
Whose form appears so tall and proud?        345
Beneath whose foot-step quakes the ground,
And whose bright armor gleams around?
 
O! ’t is Alonzo true and brave,
And loud he calls on his true-love’s name—
He comes! he comes the maid to save,        350
Through thunder, lightning, wind and rain,
With buckler broad and sword of flame.
 
Alonzo spied his lady fair,
He spied her amid that ghastly crew,
And he spurr’d his steed and couch’d his spear—        355
But the holy cross on his breast they knew,
And shriek’d, and away like lightning flew.
 
“And hast thou come?” cried the lady bright—
“Alonzo comes!”—the knight replied,
“To keep his promise with thee to-night;        360
For spite of thy father’s cruel pride,
Sweet lady! thou shalt be my bride.”
 
He spoke, and mounted his foamy steed,
He took his lady fair, behind,
And away he rode to their bridal bed,        365
More swiftly than the mountain-hind
When the hunter’s cry is on the wind.
 
But all that night raved the tempest dire;
A thunder shaft on the castle fell,
Of dark Almanzor, the lady’s sire,        370
And the winds all night rung his castle-bell—
They rung it loud for Almanzor’s knell!
 
Note 1. “Crystalina, a Fairy Tale, by an American,” was published at New York in 1816. We have not been able to learn the name of the author, but the high merit of the poem will not allow us to pass it without notice. It is a tale of wild and wondrous adventure, replete with all the marvels of Fairy Land, and the potent and wonder-working machinery of magic and incantation. The execution is very unequal, but a great portion of the work shows extraordinary power of imagination, and command of poetical language. It would be difficult to produce from the whole body of English literature, anything of the same kind superior to the passages of bold and magnificent description with which this anonymous production abounds. [back]
 
 
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