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Poem by Emma Lazarus
On the Proposal to Erect a Monument in England to Lord Byron
The grass of fifty Aprils hath waved green Above the spent heart, the Olympian head, The hands crost idly, the shut eyes unseen, Unseeing, the locked lips whose song hath fled; Yet mystic-lived, like some rich, tropic flower, His fame puts forth fresh blossoms hour by hour; Wide spread the laden branches dropping dew On the low, laureled brow misunderstood, That bent not, neither bowed, until subdued By the last foe who crowned while he o'erthrew. Fair was the Easter Sabbath morn when first Men heard he had not wakened to its light: The end had come, and time had done its worst, For the black cloud had fallen of endless night. Then in the town, as Greek accosted Greek, 'T was not the wonted festal words to speak, "Christ is arisen," but "Our chief is gone," With such wan aspect and grief-smitten head As when the awful cry of "Pan is dead!" Filled echoing hill and valley with its moan. "I am more fit for death than the world deems," So spake he as life's light was growing dim, And turned to sleep as unto soothing dreams. What terrors could its darkness hold for him, Familiar with all anguish, but with fear Still unacquainted? On his martial bier They laid a sword, a helmet, and a crown— Meed of the warrior, but not these among His voiceless lyre, whose silent chords unstrung Shall wait—how long?—for touches like his own. An alien country mourned him as her son, And hailed him hero: his sole, fitting tomb Were Theseus' temple or the Parthenon, Fondly she deemed. His brethren bare him home, Their exiled glory, past the guarded gate Where England's Abbey shelters England's great. Afar he rests whose very name hath shed New lustre on her with the song he sings. So Shakespeare rests who scorned to lie with kings, Sleeping at peace midst the unhonored dead. And fifty years suffice to overgrow With gentle memories the foul weeds of hate That shamed his grave. The world begins to know Her loss, and view with other eyes his fate. Even as the cunning workman brings to pass The sculptor's thought from out the unwieldy mass Of shapeless marble, so Time lops away The stony crust of falsehood that concealed His just proportions, and, at last revealed, The statue issues to the light of day, Most beautiful, most human. Let them fling The first stone who are tempted even as he, And have not swerved. When did that rare soul sing The victim's shame, the tyrant's eulogy, The great belittle, or exalt the small, Or grudge his gift, his blood, to disenthrall The slaves of tyranny or ignorance? Stung by fierce tongues himself, whose rightful fame Hath he reviled? Upon what noble name Did the winged arrows of the barbed wit glance? The years' thick, clinging curtains backward pull, And show him as he is, crowned with bright beams, "Beauteous, and yet not all as beautiful As he hath been or might be; Sorrow seems Half of his immortality."* He needs No monument whose name and song and deeds Are graven in all foreign hearts; but she His mother, England, slow and last to wake, Needs raise the votive shaft for her fame's sake: Hers is the shame if such forgotten be! May, 1875. *"Cain," Act I. Scene 1.
Emma Lazarus's other poems:
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