Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
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Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
 
Shakspeare Ode
By Charles Sprague (1791–1875)
 
        GOD of the glorious Lyre!
    Whose notes of old on lofty Pindus rang,
        While Jove’s exulting quire
    Caught the glad echoes and responsive sang—
      Come! bless the service and the shrine,        5
        We consecrate to thee and thine.
 
        Fierce from the frozen north,
      When havoc led his legions forth,
O’er Learning’s sunny groves the dark destroyer spread:
      In dust the sacred statue slept,        10
      Fair Science round her altars wept,
        And Wisdom cowl’d his head.
 
      At length, Olympian Lord of morn,
      The raven veil of night was torn,
        When, through golden clouds descending,        15
      Thou didst hold thy radiant flight,
        O’er nature’s lovely pageant bending,
      Till Avon roll’d, all-sparkling, to thy sight!
 
There, on its bank, beneath the Mulberry’s shade,
Wrapp’d in young dreams, a wild-eyed Minstrel stray’d.        20
      Lighting there and lingering long,
      Thou didst teach the Bard his song;
        Thy fingers strung his sleeping shell,
    And round his brows a garland curl’d;
        On his lips thy spirit fell,        25
    And bade him wake and warm the world!
 
          Then Shakspeare rose!
        Across the trembling strings
        His daring hand he flings,
      And lo! a new creation glows!        30
    There, clustering round, submissive to his will,
    Fate’s vassal train his high commands fulfil.
 
      Madness, with his frightful scream,
        Vengeance, leaning on his lance,
      Avarice, with his blade and beam,        35
        Hatred, blasting with a glance;
Remorse, that weeps, and Rage, that roars,
And Jealousy, that dotes, but dooms, and murders, yet adores.
 
      Mirth, his face with sunbeams lit,
      Waking laughter’s merry swell,        40
      Arm in arm with fresh-eyed Wit,
That waves his tingling lash, while Folly shakes his bell.
 
    Despair, that haunts the gurgling stream,
    Kiss’d by the virgin moon’s cold beam,
    Where some lost maid wild chaplets wreathes,        45
    And, swan-like, there her own dirge breathes,
    Then, broken-hearted, sinks to rest,
Beneath the bubbling wave, that shrouds her maniac breast.
 
      Young Love, with eye of tender gloom,
      Now drooping o’er the hallow’d tomb,        50
        Where his plighted victims lie,
        Where they met, but met to die:
    And now, when crimson buds are sleeping,
        Through the dewy arbor peeping,
Where beauty’s child, the frowning world forgot,        55
      To youth’s devoted tale is listening,
        Rapture on her dark lash glistening,
While fairies leave their cowslip cells and guard the happy spot.
 
          Thus rise the phantom throng,
        Obedient to their Master’s song,        60
And lead in willing chain the wondering soul along.
For other worlds war’s Great One sigh’d in vain,—
O’er other worlds see Shakspeare rove and reign!
The rapt Magician of his own wild lay,
Earth and her tribes his mystic wand obey.        65
Old ocean trembles, thunder cracks the skies,
Air teems with shapes, and tell-tale spectres rise:
Night’s paltering hags their fearful orgies keep,
And faithless guilt unseals the lip of sleep:
Time yields his trophies up, and death restores        70
The moulder’d victims of his voiceless shores.
The fireside legend, and the faded page,
The crime that cursed, the deed that bless’d an age,
All, all come forth—the good to charm and cheer,
To scourge bold Vice, and start the generous tear;        75
With pictured Folly gazing fools to shame,
And guide young Glory’s foot along the path of fame.
 
          Lo! hand in hand,
        Hell’s juggling sisters stand,
      To greet their victim from the fight;—        80
        Group’d on the blasted heath,
        They tempt him to the work of death,
      Then melt in air and mock his wondering sight.
        In midnight’s hallow’d hour,
        He seeks the fatal tower,        85
      Where the lone raven, perch’d on high,
        Pours to the sullen gale
        Her hoarse prophetic wail,
      And croaks the dreadful moment nigh.
      See, by the phantom dagger led,        90
          Pale, guilty thing,
      Slowly he steals with silent tread,
And grasps his coward steel to smite his sleeping king.
        Hark! ’t is the signal bell,
      Struck by that bold and unsex’d one,        95
      Whose milk is gall, whose heart is stone;
        His ear hath caught the knell—
          ’T is done! ’t is done!
      Behold him from the chamber rushing,
      Where his dead monarch’s blood is gushing!        100
        Look where he trembling stands,
          Sad gazing there,
      Life’s smoking crimson on his hands,
And in his felon heart the worm of wild despair.
 
      Mark the sceptred traitor slumbering!        105
      There flit the slaves of conscience round,
      With boding tongue foul murders numbering;
      Sleep’s leaden portals catch the sound.
    In his dream of blood for mercy quaking,
    At his own dull scream behold him waking!        110
      Soon that dream to fate shall turn,
      For him the living furies burn;
For him the vulture sits on yonder misty peak,
And chides the lagging night, and whets her hungry beak.
      Hark! the trumpet’s warning breath        115
      Echoes round the vale of death.
      Unhorsed, unhelmed, disdaining shield,
      The panting tyrant scours the field.
        Vengeance! he meets thy dooming blade!
      The scourge of earth, the scorn of heaven,        120
      He falls! unwept and unforgiven,
        And all his guilty glories fade.
Like a crush’d reptile in the dust he lies,
And Hate’s last lightning quivers from his eyes!
 
        Behold yon crownless king—        125
        Yon white-lock’d, weeping sire:—
      Where heaven’s unpillar’d chambers ring,
      And burst their streams of flood and fire!
He gave them all—the daughters of his love;—
That recreant pair!—they drive him forth to rove;        130
        In such a night of wo,
      The cubless regent of the wood
      Forgets to bathe her fangs in blood,
        And caverns with her foe!
        Yet one was ever kind,—        135
        Why lingers she behind?
O pity!—view him by her dead form kneeling,
Even in wild frenzy holy nature feeling.
        His aching eyeballs strain
      To see those curtain’d orbs unfold,        140
      That beauteous bosom heave again,—
        But all is dark and cold.
      In agony the father shakes;
        Grief’s choking note
        Swells in his throat,        145
      Each wither’d heart-string tugs and breaks!
Round her pale neck his dying arms he wreathes,
And on her marble lips his last, his death-kiss breathes.
 
Down! trembling wing—shall insect weakness keep
      The sun-defying eagle’s sweep?        150
      A mortal strike celestial strings,
And feebly echo what a seraph sings?
      Who now shall grace the glowing throne,
      Where, all unrivall’d, all alone,
Bold Shakspeare sat, and look’d creation through,        155
The Minstrel Monarch of the worlds he drew?
  That throne is cold—that lyre in death unstrung,
On whose proud note delighted Wonder hung.
Yet old Oblivion, as in wrath he sweeps,
One spot shall spare—the grave where Shakspeare sleeps.        160
Rulers and ruled in common gloom may lie,
But Nature’s laureate bards shall never die.
Art’s chisell’d boast, and Glory’s trophied shore,
Must live in numbers, or can live no more.
While sculptured Jove some nameless waste may claim,        165
Still rolls th’ Olympic car in Pindar’s fame:
Troy’s doubtful walls, in ashes past away,
Yet frown on Greece in Homer’s deathless lay:
Rome, slowly sinking in her crumbling fanes,
Stands all immortal in her Maro’s strains:—        170
So, too, yon giant empress of the isles,
On whose broad sway the sun for ever smiles,
To Time’s unsparing rage one day must bend,
And all her triumphs in her Shakspeare end!
 
  O Thou! to whose creative power        175
  We dedicate the festal hour,
While Grace and Goodness round the altar stand,
Learning’s anointed train, and Beauty’s rose-lipp’d band—
Realms yet unborn, in accents now unknown,
Thy song shall learn, and bless it for their own.        180
Deep in the West, as Independence roves,
His banners planting round the land he loves,
Where nature sleeps in Eden’s infant grace,
In time’s full hour shall spring a glorious race:—
Thy name, thy verse, thy language shall they bear,        185
And deck for thee the vaulted temple there.
      Our Roman-hearted fathers broke
      Thy parent empire’s galling yoke,
But thou, harmonious ruler of the mind,
Around their sons a gentler chain shalt bind;—        190
In thee shall Albion’s sceptre wave once more,
And what her monarch lost her monarch-bard restore.
 
 
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