Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, HOMER, by WILLIAM EDMONSTOUNE AYTOUN

Poetry Explorer

Classic and Contemporary Poetry

HOMER, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Far in the glass of the aegean sea
Last Line: Come near and pause, -- which choose you of the two?
Alternate Author Name(s): Bon Gaultier (with Theodore Martin)
Subject(s): Homer (10th Century B.c.); Memory; Poetry & Poets; Iliad; Odyssey


FAR in the glass of the aegean sea
There lies a lonely and sequester'd isle,
Where Innocence was queen -- fair queen! whom we
Desire to seek, but cannot; impious guile
Was there unknown. The gentle and the free
Gazed on each other with unclouded smile,
And Beauty, with a hand of melting power,
Tended that garden like a faery bower.


A cottage stood within a shelter's nook,
Where a clear stream ran past with joyous song
Into the bay. Two aged poplars shook
Above the roof their branches leaved and long;
The goats went pilfering flowers beside the brook,
Or wander'd up the scented shrubs among
That clothed a neighbouring hill; the bee flew fast
To gather nectar for his sweet repast.


An aged shepherd dwelt within that hut,
The patriarch of his primitive domain,
Who many a year had watch'd the morning put
Its glowing belt across the azure main,
And seen the glooming gates of evening shut
When the high lands were swathed with drizzling rain;
There was he born -- there had he lived alone
With two young orphans of a perish'd son.


They were dear children; one with eyes as blue
As the rich vault of heaven, and sunny hair,
Whose heart had caught the gay and joyous hue
Of that glad climate and bewitching air;
The hours as swift as moments past him flew,
Sweet moments -- when the spirit knows no care!
He seem'd from every thing some joy to quaff,
And show'd his lightness by a gleesome laugh.


The other was a child of darker mood,
Yet of a temper mild as it was brave;
Often beside the rocky cliffs he stood,
And gazed for hours upon the breaking wave,
And then a quick and hectic flush of blood
Unto his cheek a richer colour gave;
He seem'd to commune with the sea and sky,
And think, or dream of immortality!


There would he wait until the patient night
Came, and the stars were out and glittering;
Some distant from their fellows, pale and white,
Some wheeling in a clear and joyous ring,
And draw from them the visions infinite
Which Nature's glories to a poet bring,
When Silence, like an old mysterious priest,
Unites the earth and sky in holy rest.


He cared not for the airy lays that moved
His brother's heart to gladness, as the swain
Sung on some holiday; but when he proved
The wild enchantment of Amphion's strain,
Or told how Orpheus for his well-beloved,
Unto the Thracian mountains did complain,
He sat and listened all in silent tears,
Mixing most strangely with their hopes and fears.


And then his heart beat ardently, he felt
The charmed power deep sown in poets' lays;
He caught the spell that passion hath to melt
The spirit in its many trancing ways;
And like a new-won proselyte he knelt,
And worship'd beauty in his childish phrase;
And pray'd, and waited for a single glance
Caught from the splendour of her countenance.


And on the winter nights, when by the fire
That aged man told wondrous histories
Of wars, and ancient kings who did conspire
To sack old Thebes, that child between his knees
Gazed on the wither'd features of his sire,
Intent with eager wistfulness to seize
The import of each word, the whilst the other
Laugh'd at the earnest posture of his brother.


So grew they up, and time did not estrange
Their feelings with its cold and noiseless art;
One only hoped through life ungall'd to range,
And meet its fortunes with a merry heart;
The other, too, had felt no turn or change,
He knew he must fulfil a nobler part;
He dared not check the torrent of his mind,
He dared not die and leave no name behind.


Yet were there many found with eyes so blear'd
By gazing on the earth for ugly gold,
Till every thing like worthless toys appear'd,
That in their market was not bought and sold,
Who came to him, and whisper'd what they fear'd,
Then show'd their tale of profits thrice retold,
And urged him to their mean and narrow ways --
Fools! what is wealth to him who covets praise?


Fools! you are nothing even to your earth;
What have you done for honour or for her?
What have you done, but made a dreary dearth
Of love and beauty in her character?
My curse be on his head, who first gave birth
Unto such fantasies as now deter
The good, the great, the gifted, and the just,
From rising over low and sordid dust!


You have your riches, and you ask no more!
Dare not to pity him who scorns your aim;
Live on and smile, and add unto your store,
Ye noble victors in a noble game!
Heap up your riches on your garner floor,
But do not speak to him who seeks for fame;
For he is pledged unto another oath,
And there is nothing common to you both.


He heard them not, or heard them but with scorn.
He fled unto the forest, all alone;
There, couchant 'midst the flowers and grass unshorn,
He framed that lay of rare and wondrous tone,
Which even now upon our lips is borne,
Which men of every tongue have made their own;
That lay which true and tearful passion hath,
That lay which tells of dire Achilles' wrath.


It grew upon his fancy day by day,
As love upon a fervid spirit grows;
Even when he slept, the music rang alway,
And conjured pictures to his blank repose.
The darkness was an echo of the day,
Wherein some dream new visions did disclose;
He woke in kindled hope, and strove to write
In words the speechless magic of the night.


It was to him a bright and holy thing,
His own creation ever in his eyes;
A spell that from its deep and secret spring
Called up his strange and wondrous energies.
The heavens alone behold him sit and sing
How Ajax combats, and how Hector dies!
And every chant by love or passion rung,
Seems like a murmur from a Dryad's tongue.


The heavens beheld him, and the earth was still.
There was no calling voice or whisper'd word
Murmured, save where, far up the wooded hill,
Trilled the low twitter of some plaining bird,
Or where within the vale, the screened rill
Spoke out, at times by swooning fits unheard;
Untrod by foot, unknown by other face,
Was this most beautiful and lonely place.


And even as a limner's easy hand
Portrays upon the white and formless page,
A haunted scene within some faery land,
Or youthful form that never smiled at age;
So did his rich and strong creations stand
Thought-raised, and mingled on that silent stage,
Until the very wilderness had life,
And seem'd to blaze with arms, and ring with strife.


At length his task was ended and complete,
But then he felt as if a friend were gone:
The very labour was a thing more sweet
Than reaping of the harvest he had sown;
And 'twas a work of pity to unseat
The queen, fair Fancy, from her royal throne, --
To turn his eyes from her enchanting look,
And fix them on life's dull and vulgar book.


Again he went unto his old abode,
But felt like one who leaves a pleasant dream
Of wandering through some region all untrod
By mortal step, or floating down a stream
Elysian, underneath the shadows broad
Of ancient trees, that screen the sultry beam
From off his boat, and waking up to pain,
Would fain return unto his sleep again!


O, 'twere a pleasant thing to rear a bower
Within the mazes of the human heart,
To be a shelter from the chilling shower
Rain'd upon nature by the storm of art;
Where grief might have no entrance, sin no power,
Where memory might find refuge from the smart
Of all the many wounds that man has known,
Since first he wedded sorrow as his own!


It were a pleasant thing to live and die
In company with such sweet solitude,
To bar the door on sad reality,
And shun the world with its intrusive brood;
Alas! we cannot 'scape its piercing eye,
It is a foe that ever will intrude;
For we are bound unto its constant sway,
So let us even face it as we may.


He bow'd unto the whisper of his soul
That urged him not to rest or tarry there,
For such a mind as his, the hard control
Was all too narrow of that island air;
Fame is too proud to see or mark a goal
Within the boundary of an atmosphere;
And he who enters on the lists of pride,
Must fling his scruples and their ties aside.


Then did he visit each familiar place
Which as a child and as a boy he knew,
He went to gaze on each remember'd face,
To hear each voice, the tender and the true,
To fold within a last and sad embrace
Those that he loved so deeply; and there grew
Upon his heart a sick and bursting weight,
The very grief of parting was so great.


At length he cross'd the broad and prison sea --
He was a stranger in a foreign land;
He had no friend to ask for sympathy,
No brother with a fond and helping hand;
As nameless as some wondrous Indian tree
Cast by the waters on a northern strand,
He stood amidst the cold and busy crowd,
Then lifted up his voice, and sang aloud.


He sang how Paris left his native Troy,
To win fair Helen from her absent lord,
And how she fled with that deceitful boy,
Lured by his winning form and melting word;
How monarchs swore to work him dire annoy,
And half the world girt on the vengeful sword;
How Agamemnon led the Grecian powers,
And pour'd their battle round the Phrygian towers.


He told how from the star-inwoven realm
The gods descended to the earthly fray,
How Mars put on his adamantine helm
To head the Trojans in their stern array;
How dark Minerva strove to overwhelm
His boiling pride; how darkness conquer'd day,
When Jove arose in all his kingly wrath,
And drove his thunder to its scorching path!


Then fiercer grew the spirit on his tongue,
When red Sarpedon urged his furious car;
The lances splinter'd, and the corslets rung,
As Ajax crush'd into the bristling war!
Above whose din the shout of terror sprung,
When Hector's spear shot, like a falling star
That hath a power to slay, but not to wound,
And dashed Patroclus on the gory ground.


Forth rush'd Achilles in his quenchless rage,
With heart as ardent as a forger's flame!
And Troy gave back, for no one durst engage
Or cope with him who ever overcame;
Even as a lion leaps from out his cage,
When men have deem'd his tameless spirit tame,
And gluts his vengeance in unmeasured blood,
So legions shudder'd when he rush'd abroad.


In vain they fled, they stood and fought in vain,
For death had cast a charm upon his spear;
Some foot by foot went back, and turn'd again,
Some sternly died, some shriek'd, but none might hear.
The warders look'd upon the shifting plain,
And trembled when they saw the foe so near;
And even at the gates, the fugitive
Look'd round and wonder'd how he chanced to live!


Alone the princely captain shunn'd the wall,
To meet this victor of all human kind;
In vain he heard his wife, his parents call --
He could not leave so lost a field behind.
They saw them meet, they saw their champion fall --
They shriek'd, and wept, and wish'd that they were blind!
They saw the thongs thrust through his pierced heels,
And bought his body from the chariot wheels.


Then ceased the strain. As when a solemn tone
Hath fallen from some ancient oracle,
Men stand and listen, though the voice is gone,
As if they thought once more to catch the spell;
So when the passion of that tale was done,
No word, no whisper from the hearers fell;
They stood in wonder for a little space,
Then read their feelings on each other's face.


They gave him all he sought: around his head
They placed the Delphic laurel's sacred wreath.
O never shall a leaf from thence be shed,
While bards have honour, or whilst man has breath!
There power and glory were together wed,
To live the second life that knows no death;
There shall they be, till earth has past away,
Till darkness wins dominion from the day.


Even as the beacon fires glare fast along,
When armies land upon a hostile shore;
So throughout Greece the passion of his song
Was hurried, and men's wonder grew the more:
Round every wandering minstrel did they throng,
To bid him sing that story o'er and o'er;
And caught again a sparkle of the fires
That blazed within the bosoms of their sires.


And those of other lands were thrill'd with joy
And wonder at the magic songs he gave.
Within the lone and silent plain of Troy,
Where swift Scamander leaps through Helle's wave,
His lays were chanted by the shepherd boy,
Who drove his flock from many a hero's grave,
And tore the plants of harsh and rank perfume
That grew and blossom'd on Achilles' tomb.


And if a poet had no higher meed
Than this, it were enough; enough, to make
A name forgotten as a trampled weed,
Bloom into memory even for his sake;
To clothe the earth with his exalted creed;
To see the spirit of the nations shake,
At the bare word that leaves his kindled lips,
As the rude savage gazes at the ships!


What tells of Priam save the ancient strain?
Speaks not Orestes from the Grecian stage?
Ilion had blazed, and Dido bled in vain,
But that the story lives in Virgil's page:
Touched by a single note, they now remain
Above the wrecks of many a faded age,
Like columns in a desert, bare and wide;
And this is fame! now what is earthly pride?


O happy days! when there were none to mar
The gush of feeling in its sunny morn;
When no invidious lips waged rancorous war,
Or struck down genius with the blow of scorn;
On every forehead now some graven scar,
Cut in by secret jealousy, is borne;
No heart can open but 'tis chill'd or crost,
As buds are smitten by the nightly frost.


Why is a poet now so poor a thing,
That every common hand may hunt him down?
Why must his fancies perish in their spring,
Why must he bend to each ignoble frown?
Is it that we have lost the eagle wing,
And dare not venture for the laurel crown,
That hangs too high for every bard to reach,
And is not to be won by vulgar speech?


Or is it, that because the world is old,
The hearts of men are waxing older too;
So that each lay, however sweetly told,
Dies in its birth, because it is not new?
Why then to them the very sun is cold,
And the mere sky has lost its glorious hue --
Ay, and their dull philosophy can see
No wonder in the strangest mystery!


In the dark oven of their minds they parch
All nature's brilliant colours into one;
They marvel nothing at the seasons' march,
They speak not of the rise or set of sun;
They can dissolve the rainbow's glorious arch,
They count the stars within their garrison;
They drag to day the secrets of the tomb,
And call it light where it is deepest gloom!


But we shall not despair; yet, even yet,
The light of song is lingering on our sky;
And there are planets when the sun is set,
And after them comes morning fresh and free:
Some daring spirits on the shore have met,
To launch their bark upon the rolling sea.
And there are golden islands far away,
That bask and gladden in eternal day.


Ungathered blow the lilies by the foot
Of old Parnassus, in the meadows green;
The answer of its echoes is not mute,
And there are waters still in Hippocrene;
And we shall hear once more the modern lute
Bring its enchantment to the ancient scene,
And utter music to the hills again,
With the wild plainings of a lonely strain.


Why flags my tale? Alas, 'tis hard to turn,
And chronicle again the faded past!
To see alone the starry lights that burn
Within the old empyrean, and to cast
Vain looks upon the future; in their urn
Sleep things that shall be seen and sung at last,
When we have past away, and children then
Shall read of us, as we of ancient men.


Life is too short: -- the child becomes a man,
Before he knows how happy childhood is;
We hurry swiftly thro' our little span,
Our sorrows soon forgot, our cup of bliss
Almost untasted. Hope, that ever ran
Before us, sinks at last, and then we miss
The moments that have faded long ago,
And weep that aught should have deceived us so.


O! few are they who know this ancient truth,
And live like misers hoarding up their time;
Age has its gewgaws, and fantastic youth
Seeks for a memory in feeble rhyme,
Gathering some golden ears of fame, as Ruth
Gleaned her scant harvest in the autumn prime,
That live perhaps to show the world alone
How immortality has lost a son!


Time had not marr'd the beauty of the isle,
But left its aspect ever fair and new;
Still bloomed the shrubs upon the wooded hill,
Beside the cottage still the poplars grew;
And, even as before, the leaping rill
Went murmuring by, and nature kept its hue
So well, that human eye could hardly trace
The hand of time upon its smiling face.


An aged man sat in the evening mild,
And watch'd some young Icarian infants fling
Flowers on each other in their play; he smiled
Like dying winter on the buds of spring.
They were the children of his youngest child,
Yet to his eye that sight a tear did bring;
Perchance he thought upon the bygone day
When he was mirthful and as young as they.


Athwart the bright and quivering path of gold,
Paved from the setting sun unto the shore,
Landward there moved a boat, with sail unroll'd,
And flapping by the mast; when the broad oar
Struck on the beach, a feeble man and old
Stepp'd slowly down upon the shell-strewn floor,
And a fair boy descending took his hand,
And led his footsteps up the sloping strand.


Blind seem'd the stranger, and around his brows
The snow-white hair waved thin as winds went by;
The burden almost of a century's woes
Had bowed his head, and marred his majesty.
They near'd the cottage, and the shepherd rose
And looked upon him with a pitying eye,
Scanning his faded form, then with a low
And gentle voice asked, 'Stranger, who art thou?'


'Then am I quite forgot!' with feeble cry
The stranger answered, 'Then I am forgot!
That voice was speaking to my memory,
And now I hear it!' -- Still he answered not.
'O take me by the hand before I die!
Methinks we parted on this very spot,
And I have come to ask a little room
Within my native island for my tomb.


'O misery! I cannot see thy face,
And thou like me art old, and haply blind;
I am thy brother!' -- With a piteous gaze
The old man look'd, as if he thought to find
In those worn features some remember'd trace,
Then fell upon his neck -- 'Within my mind
There is an image, yet I scarce can see
Wherein that image doth resemble thee!


'O! 'tis a long, long time since we have met,
And thou, my brother, thou art changed indeed;
Thy face is as a stranger's face, and yet
My heart is shaking in me like a reed!
It asks me how I ever could forget
A voice like thine; alas! I feel it bleed
With a strange double wound of love and pain,
To see thee thus, yet see thee once again!


'Thou speakest not!' -- He raised his head; there hung
Upon his lips a smile, as o'er a grave
Hangs one deserted blossom; on his tongue
Some accents falter'd, but they died, and gave
No utterance, his heart was all unstrung --
His mind was wandering darkly in its cave.
They led him from the damp and chilly air,
They brought him to the hut, and placed him there.


They took a lute and touch'd it to his ear,
They sang an ancient, now forgotten, lay,
To rouse him from his trance. A single tear,
Forced by the memory of another day,
Stole down his cheek; the aged man drew near,
And whisper'd, but the whisper pass'd away
Unnoticed and unheard -- he spoke again,
And took one hand -- it fell -- 'twas all in vain!


The string was snapt across, the harp had shed
Unto the wandering winds its latest tone;
The lamp was broken, and the light was dead,
The fuel of his life was spent and gone;
Unto the heaven of heavens the soul had fled,
And left the mansion empty and alone!
They laid him underneath the poplar trees,
When the lone moonbeam slept upon the seas.


There in a humble grave he lies unknown,
Pass'd daily over by the shepherd's tread.
The wild-flowers wave around; one simple stone,
Long since moss-buried, is above his head!
And many a little mound through Greece is shown
Where legends fable that his dust is laid. --
What doth it matter where the casket lies,
When the great jewel sparkles in our eyes?


There is a moral in my tale -- Behold!
The children and the men, they were the same:
One was a beggar, poor, and blind, and old,
A wretched wanderer -- HOMER was his name!
Ask you the other's? More than I have told
Lives not his memory on the lips of fame.
Ye to whom life, and youth, and hope are new,
Come near and pause, -- which choose you of the two?

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