Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
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Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
 
The Sicilian Vespers
By J. G. Whittier
 
SILENCE 1 o’er sea and earth
  With the veil of evening fell,
Till the convent tower sent deeply forth
  The chime of its vesper bell.
One moment—and that solemn sound        5
  Fell heavy on the ear;
But a sterner echo pass’d around;
  And the boldest shook to hear.
 
The startled monks throng’d up,
  In the torch-light cold and dim;        10
And the priest let fall his incense-cup,
  And the virgin hush’d her hymn;
For a boding clash, and a clanging tramp,
  And a summoning voice were heard,
And fretted wall, and tombstone damp,        15
  To the fearful echo stirr’d.
 
The peasant heard the sound,
  As he sat beside his hearth;
And the song and the dance were hush’d around,
  With the fireside tale of mirth.        20
The chieftain shook in his banner’d hall,
  As the sound of fear drew nigh;
And the warder shrank from the castle wall,
  As the gleam of spears went by.
 
Wo—wo—to the stranger then;        25
  At the feast and flow of wine,
In the red array of mailed men,
  Or bow’d at the holy shrine;
For the waken’d pride of an injured land
  Had burst its iron thrall;        30
From the plumed chief to the pilgrim band;
  Wo!—wo!—to the sons of Gaul!
 
Proud beings fell that hour,
  With the young and passing fair,
And the flame went up from dome and tower;        35
  The avenger’s arm was there!
The stranger priest at the altar stood,
  And clasped his beads in prayer,
But the holy shrine grew dim with blood;
  The avenger found him there!        40
 
Wo!—wo! to the sons of Gaul;
  To the serf and mailed lord;
They were gather’d darkly, one and all,
  To the harvest of the sword;
And the morning sun, with a quiet smile,        45
  Shone out o’er hill and glen,
On ruin’d temple and mouldering pile,
  And the ghastly forms of men.
 
Ay, the sunshine sweetly smiled,
  As its early glance came forth;        50
It had no sympathy with the wild
  And terrible things of earth;
And the man of blood that day might read,
  In a language freely given,
How ill his dark and midnight deed        55
  Became the calm of heaven.
 
Note 1. Editor of the American Manufacturer, a newspaper of Boston, he is one of the most youthful of our poets, but his verses show a more than common maturity of powers. [back]
 
 
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