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Poem by Richard Monckton Milnes

Greek Religion

Could we, though but for an hour, burst through those gates adamantine,
Which, as the children of man pass onward in swift generation,
Time's dark cavern along, are heavily closing behind them!
Could we but breathe the delight of the time when, fresh in his boyhood,
Out of his own exuberant life, Man gave unto Nature,
And new senses awoke, through every nerve of creation!
Waves of the old Ægean!--I listen your musical ebbing;
Smile to my eye, as you will, with smiles clear--crystal as ever,
Bind, in your silvery net, fair capes and embowerèd islands,
But ye can bear no more on your breast that vision of glory,
When in the cool moon--dew went forth the imperial revel,
Dolphins and pearl--shell cars, of the Queen and the People of Ocean;
Whose sweet--undulant murmur the homeless mariner hearkened,
Over the undulant sapphire, and trembled in glad adoration.

How were ye voiced, ye Stars!--how cheerily Castor and Pollux
Spoke to the quivering seaman, amid th' outpouring of tempest!
With what a firm--set gaze on the belt triple--gemmed of Orion
Looked the serene Greek child, as he thought of the suffering giant,
Panting with sightless orbs for the dawn's miraculous healing!
With what a sigh did he pass from the six proud deified sisters,
On to the fate of the fallen, and mourned for the love that dethroned her!
Not by elaborate charts did he read that book of the Heavens,
But to his heart's fine ear it was taught by a heavenly master.

Now from her window perchance may the maiden of desolate Hellas,
When with the woes of her love and her land her spirit is heavy,
Yearn to the white--bright moon, which over the curvèd horizon,
Climbing the air still flushed with the flames of the opposite sunset,
Seems with affectionate eye to regard her, and weep to her weeping;
But it is now not as when, having pined for Endymion's kindness,
She with the mourners of love held personal sympathy ever,
When in the sky's void chasms a wanderer, she to pilgrim,
Over the world's sick plain, was a dear companion in sorrow.
Down through the blue--grey thyme, which roofs their courses with odour,
Rivulets, gentle as words from the lips of Beauty, are flowing;
Still, in the dusky ravine, they deepen and freshen their waters,
Still, in the thick--arched coves, they slumber and dimple delighted,
Catching the full--swell'd fig, and the deep--stained arbutus ruby,--
Still, to the sea's sand--brim, by royally gay oleanders,
And oriental array of reeds, they are ever attended;
But they are all dumb forms, unimpregnate with vital emotion,
Now from the pure fount--head, no Nymph, her bosom expanding,
Dazzles the way--worn wretch with the smile of her bland benediction,
Giving the welcomed draught mysterious virtue and savour;--
Now no curious hind in the noon--tide's magical ardour,
Peeps through the blossomy trellice, that over the pool's dark crystal
Guards the immaculate forms of the awful Olympian bathers;
Now at the wide stream--mouth never one, one amorous Triton
Breathes to the surge and the tall marsh--blooms euphonious passion.

These high Temples around, the religious shade of the olive
Falls on the grass close--wove;--in the redolent valley beneath us,
Stems of the loftiest platain their crowns large--leavèd are spreading,
While the most motley of herds is adorning the calm of their umbrage;--
Yet ye are gone, ye are vanished for ever, ye guardian Beings!
Who in the time--gnarled trunks, broad branches, and summer enchantment
Held an essentiäl life and a power, as over your members,--
Soothing the rage of the storm by your piteous moans of entreaty,
Staying the impious axe in the paralysed hand of the woodman.
Daphne, tremulous nymph, has fled the benignant asylum
Which, in the shape of the laurel, she found from the heat of Apollo;--
Wan Narcissus has languished away from the languishing flower;--
Hyacinth dwells no more in his brilliant abode, and the stranger
Reads the memorial signs he has left, with a curious pleasure.

Thou art become, oh Echo! a voice, an inanimate image;
Where is the palest of maids, dark--tressed, darkwreathèd with ivy,
Who with her lips half--opened, and gazes of beautiful wonder,
Quickly repeated the words that burst on her lonely recesses,
Low in a love--lorn tone, too deep--distracted to answer?

What must have been thy Nature, oh Greece! when marvellous--lovely
As it is now, it is only the tomb of an ancient existence?

Richard Monckton Milnes

Richard Monckton Milnes's other poems:
  1. London Churches
  2. The Subterranean River, At Cong
  3. Switzerland and Italy
  4. To the Moon of the South
  5. Sir Walter Scott at the Tomb of the Stuarts in St Peter's

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