Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
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Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
 
The Sleeper
By John Neal (1793–1876)
 
Written the Day after the Funeral of Byron.

I STOOD above the sea. I heard the roar
Of waters far below me. On the shore
A warrior-ship, with all her banners torn,
Her broad sails flying loose, lay overborne
By tumbling surges. She had swept the main,        5
Braved the loud thunder—stood the hurricane;
To be, when all her danger was o’erpast,
Upon her native shore, in wreck and ruin cast.
 
I thought of Greece—the proud one dead;
  Struck—with his heart in flower;        10
Wreck’d—with his bright wings all outspread,
    In his descent,
From that forbidden firmament,
    O’er which he went,
Like some Archangel in his power:        15
 
The everlasting ocean lay
  Below my weary eyes;
While overhead there roll’d away
  The everlasting skies:
 
A thousand birds around me flew,        20
Emerging from the distant blue,
  Like spirits from the summer deep,—
Then, wheeling slowly, one by one,
All disappearing in the sun,
  They left me—and I fell asleep:        25
 
But soon a loud, strong trumpet blew,
  And by, an armed angel flew,
With tresses all on fire, and wings of color’d flame:
    And then the thunder broke
    About me, and I woke—        30
  And heard a voice above proclaim
    The warrior-poet’s name!
  The island bard! that came
    Far from his home, to die
    In martyrdom to Liberty:        35
 
I started—wonder’d—where was I?—
Above me roll’d a Grecian sky;
Around me Grecian isles were spread,
O’erpeopled with great shadowy dead,
    Assembled there to celebrate        40
        Some awful rite:
Again the iron trump was blown
    With overpowering might;
  And lo! upon a rocky throne,
  Appear’d a dead man that I knew;        45
His hair unbound, his forehead wet with dew,
  And then the angel, standing o’er him, said
  This incantation, with her wings outspread.
 
INCANTATION.

    Bard of the ocean, wake!
      The midnight skies        50
          Of solid blue,
    That roll away above thee, shed
    O’er thy unshelter’d head
      A most untimely dew!
      Wake, Sleeper, wake!        55
          Arise!
  And from thy marble forehead shake
    The shadow of the dead!
      Arise! Arise!
Thou last of all the Giants! Tear        60
    Thy silken robes away—
Shake off the wine-dew from thy hair—
The crush’d and faded roses there,
      And let it play,
A glittering shadow on the air,—        65
  Like the young Spartan’s when he set
      His foot—and met
    The Persian in array:
 
      Byron, awake!
    Stand up and take        70
Thy natural shape upon thee! bare
  Thy bosom to the winds that blow—
    Not over bowers,
  Heavy with scented flowers—
    But over drifted snow;        75
  Not o’er the perfumed earth,
    Sweltering in moonlight rain,
  Where even the blossoms that have birth.
  Breathe on the heavens a stain—
    But o’er the rude,        80
  Cold Grecian solitude:
 
    Up, Byron, up! with eyes
    Dark as Egyptian skies,
  Where men may read their destinies!
Up! in thy golden panoply complete        85
Transfigured—all prepared to meet
      The Moslem foe!
 
What! still unmoved, thou Sleeper! still
  Untroubled by the sounds that fill
    Thy agitated air!        90
      Thy forehead set—
      Thy bosom wet—
      Still undisturbed!
      Thy proud lip curb’d—
    The death-dew on thy hair!        95
 
Awake thee, Byron! Thou art call’d,
  Thou man of power! to break
    The thraldom of the nations—wake!
          Arise!
The heathen are upon thee! Lo, they come        100
Without a flute, or bell, or drum,
      Silent as death,
      Holding their breath;
          Appall’d—
  Like them of old, that crept        105
  On the shorn Samson, while he slept,
In their barbarian power afraid
Of one—a woman had betray’d!
    Or, like the pirate-band that stole
      The sleeping God of wine;        110
    Each, as he came, through all his soul,
      Thrilling with awe divine,—
    An armed multitude, to take
      A giant by surprise:
 
      Awake, anointed one, awake!        115
        The awful sky
    Is full of lamentation—all the air
      With sweet, remote,
      Low sounds, afloat—
      And solemn trumpeting and prayer.        120
          And lo!
  The waters of the mountain lake
    O’ershadow’d by the flowery wood,
      Tremble and shake—
    And change their hue        125
    Of quiet blue,
    As if they felt a spirit go
    O’er their transparent solitude:
 
The great hills darken—all the valleys quake
      With one continual throe,—        130
    The green earth is wet
    With a fragrant sweat,
      Like the fine small dew,
      That filters through
    Rich moss, by the foot subdued;        135
    And the olive trees there
      Their blossoms throw
    On the motionless air,
      Like a shower of snow,
          Perpetually—        140
    Trembling as if they felt the tread
      Of the stout invisible dead—
    The buried nations of all the earth—
    All struggling upward into birth,
      To subterranean melody:        145
 
    And see! another band appear,
    Unarm’d with helm, or sword, or spear,
      Or buckler, guard, or shield;
    A band of giants! on they go,
    Each—by himself—to meet the foe,        150
      Alone in yonder field:
    Three hundred Spartan shadows they
      I know them by their flying hair,
    Rejoicing as it floats away,
      A lustre on the troubled air:        155
    Behold! they gather round
      The marble Sleeper, where he lies
    Reposing on the scented ground,—
    His head with dripping roses bound—
      A shadow in his eyes:        160
 
    Behold them slowly trace,
    With sorrow in each noble face,
The print of naked feet about the holy place:
        Awake! awake!
  Thou sleeping warrior-Bard! O break        165
      Thy trance profound!
      The Spartans are about thee—
      They will not go without thee—
          Awake!
    They claim thee for the last        170
      Of all that valiant race;
    The Grecians of the past,—
    To whom the battle and the chase,
    The war-ship tumbling to the blast,
        The stormy night,        175
      The thunder and the fight,
        Were pastime and repose?
      Up, then, and take thy stand
      Amid the shadowy band!
    Outspread thy banner o’er them,        180
    Go, as thou should’st, before them;
      Hear thou their call,
      Awake! and fall
    Like the bright thunder on their foes!
 
    On with thy helmet! set thy foot        185
      Where’er thou art—
Strike down the infidel, and put
Thy mailed hand upon thy slumbering heart,
    Or on the nearest altar, where,
    Unstain’d with revel, blood, or wine,        190
    Stands many an everlasting shrine,
      Wrapp’d in perpetual cloud,
      For ever echoing loud,
    And sounding to the mountain air,
      With voices wild, remote, and high,        195
      Like fanes of ancient prophecy—
    Built by the cherubim, of solid rock,
    Into the broad blue heaven—to mock
    The thunder and the Moslem shock—
      The armies of the earth and sky!        200
 
              O Thou!
          Of steadfast eye,
        And cold, intrepid brow,
          Whose marble amplitude
              Is frightful now,        205
      There is thy place of worship—there!
          And this the hour!
    Go up, thou Sleeper! go with loosen’d hair;
    Go up into the cloud, and then forbear
        To join the awful interlude,        210
          The wild and solemn harmony
        Of that afflicted solitude,
Bard of the Ocean, if thou canst, in one eternal prayer!
              What!
        Still changing not,        215
      Still motionless and pale,
        And damp, and cold,
    Unmoved by trumpet, prayer, or song,
        The stirring gale,
      Or noise of coming strife,        220
      Or thunder near thee roll’d:
    The nations that have known thee long
      Unheeded marching by,
        Where thou art lying;
  The Spartan wise—the Spartan strong,        225
Scared women with their garments flying,
        As if pursued
    By some great multitude—
  Young children all about thee crying,
        And thou, alone,        230
Immoveable as if—thy blood were turn’d to stone!
        Why! what art thou,
        Man of the solid brow;
            O what!
            To alter not,        235
  Nor change, nor stir thyself, nor wake,
    Though all the nations try to break
        Thy trance profound!
  Nay, though they altogether take
    The place of supplication round        240
        The silent spot,
  The cold extinguished ground,
        Where thou art now,
            Until
          They overcast        245
    Thy spirit, Sleeper, with a last
      And most awakening spell—
    A spell of power and sorcery
      For all that dwell
    Beneath the water or the sky        250
            Or fill
      The vaulted mystery,
        That silent flies
  For ever o’er our upturn’d eyes—
      Showering the dew        255
    Like a shower of light
    From the beautiful blue
      Of a beautiful night:
      Up, then, awake!
  Up from thy charmed slumber! break        260
    Thy long and sorrowful trance!
            Now! Now!
              Advance!
          Ye of the snowy brow,
  Each in her overpowering splendor!        265
        The young and great,
        Superb and desolate,
    The beautiful and tender!
              Advance!
  Ye shadows of his child and wife,        270
  And thrill the sleeper into life!
*      *      *
  Now heaven be thanked! he lies
      Regardless of our cries.
        Rejoice! Rejoice!
    Children of Greece, rejoice!        275
  No change nor trouble shall come again
  To the island-bard of the deep blue main;
        Nor blight nor blast
            To overcast
      The brightness of his name;        280
        Rejoice! Rejoice!
  All ye that have loved the man, rejoice,
        Throughout the world!
        He cannot, now,
        From the precipice brow        285
      Of Glory’s hill be hurl’d?
        And you, ye men of Greece,
      For his heart is yours
      While time endures—
            A flame        290
      That will burn eternally—
    And sound that will never cease!
      And ye that have loved him, where
      There ’s freedom in the air,
            O peace!        295
      For his beautiful eyes,
      Under Grecian skies,
Were shut by the hands of Grecian men
      And the voice of his heart
      Will never depart        300
Away from the land of the brave again:
            O peace!
      For he lifted his head,
        With a sorrowful look,
      When the spirit fled,        305
        And the temple shook,
    Forgetful of all that were nearest;
      And he thought of his home
      O’er the ocean foam;
And call’d upon them that were dearest;        310
  The mother and the blue-eyed child, 1
          Far, far away,
  And all that in his morning smiled
    When he was innocent as they—
            O peace!        315
For his loving voice will haunt the place
      Of their green repose,
    Where’er they may lie interr’d,
    Like his own sweet, unseen bird,
      That pale and blighted rose: 2        320
But where the warriors of the household lie,
  And they that dwelt in minstrelsy,
  His voice will sound with a warlike tone,
      Like the distant cry
  Of trumpets when the wind is high:        325
            O peace!
    Peace to the ancient halls!
  Peace to the darken’d walls!
  And peace to the troubled family,
    For never again shall one of them be        330
      A moment on earth alone,
    A spirit, wherever they go,
      Shall go for ever before them;
    A shelter from every foe,
      A guardian hovering o’er them;        335
            O peace!
          For every trace
        Of his glorious face
Shall be preserved in the sculptured stone!
    Embalm’d by Greece,        340
      And multiplied
    On every side,
    Instinct with immortality—
His rest for aye in the warrior-grave—
His heart in the tomb of the Grecian brave;        345
    His marble head
  Enthroned on high, to be
Like the best of her ancient dead,
    A sculptured thought of liberty—
    A boding forth of Poesy        350
  To wake the youthful ages hence,—
    The gifted of Omnipotence.
 
Note 1. The last words of Byron related to his wife and child. [back]
Note 2. In the Giaour. [back]
 
 
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