Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, ADDRESS TO THE ALABASTER SARCOPHAGUS, by HORACE SMITH



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ADDRESS TO THE ALABASTER SARCOPHAGUS, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Thou alabaster relic! While I hold
Last Line: But build a lasting mansion for thy soul.
Alternate Author Name(s): Smith, Horatio
Subject(s): Courts & Courtiers; Creation; Death; God; Soul; Dead, The


THOU alabaster relic! while I hold
My hand upon thy sculptured margin thrown,
Let me recall the scenes thou couldst unfold,
Mightst thou relate the changes thou hast known,
For thou wert primitive in thy formation,
Launched from th' Almighty's hand at the Creation.

Yes -- Thou wert present when the stars and skies
And worlds unnumbered rolled into their places;
When God from Chaos bade the spheres arise,
And fixed the blazing sun upon its basis,
And with his finger on the bounds of space
Marked out each planet's everlasting race.

How many thousand ages from thy birth
Thou sleptst in darkness, it were vain to ask,
Till Egypt's sons upheaved thee from the earth,
And year by year pursued their patient task;
Till thou wert carved and decorated thus,
Worthy to be a King's Sarcophagus.

What time Elijah to the skies ascended,
Or David reigned in holy Palestine,
Some ancient Theban monarch was extended
Beneath the lid of this emblazoned shrine,
And to that subterranean palace borne
Which toiling ages in the rock had worn.

Thebes from her hundred portals filled the plain
To see the car on which thou wert upheld: --
What funeral pomps extended in thy train,
What banners waved, what mighty music swelled,
As armies, priests, and crowds, bewailed in chorus
Their King -- their God -- their Serapis -- their Orus!

Thus to thy second quarry did they trust
Thee and the Lord of all the nations round.
Grim King of Silence! Monarch of the dust!
Embalmed -- anointed -- jeweled -- sceptered -- crowned,
Here did he lie in state, cold, stiff, and stark,
A leathern Pharaoh grinning in the dark.

Thus ages rolled -- but their dissolving breath
Could only blacken that imprisoned thing
Which wore a ghastly royalty in death,
As if it struggled still to be a King;
And each revolving century, like the last,
Just dropped its dust upon thy lid -- and passed.

The Persian conqueror o'er Egypt poured
His devastating host -- a motley crew;
The steel-clad horsemen -- the barbarian horde --
Music and men of every sound and hue --
Priests, archers, eunuchs, concubines and brutes --
Gongs, trumpets, cymbals, dulcimers, and lutes.

Then did the fierce Cambyses tear away
The ponderous rock that sealed the sacred tomb;
Then did the slowly penetrating ray
Redeem thee from long centuries of gloom,
And lowered torches flashed against thy side
As Asia's king thy blazoned trophies eyed.

Plucked from his grave, with sacrilegious taunt,
The features of the royal corpse they scanned: --
Dashing the diadem from his temple gaunt,
They tore the sceptre from his graspless hand,
And on those fields, where once his will was law,
Left him for winds to waste and beasts to gnaw.

Some pious Thebans, when the storm was past,
Unclosed the sepulchre with cunning skill,
And nature, aiding their devotion, cast
Over its entrance a concealing rill.
Then thy third darkness came, and thou didst sleep
Twenty-three centuries in silence deep.

But he from whom nor pyramid nor sphinx
Can hide its secrecies, Belzoni, came;
From the tomb's mouth unloosed the granite links,
Gave thee again to light, and life, and fame,
And brought thee from the sands and desert forth
To charm the pallid children of the North.

Thou art in London, which, when thou wert new,
Was, what Thebes is, a wilderness and waste,
Where savage beasts more savage men pursue --
A scene by nature cursed -- by man disgraced.
Now -- 'tis the world's metropolis -- the high
Queen of arms, learning, arts, and luxury.

Here, where I hold my hand, 'tis strange to think
What other hands perchance preceded mine;
Others have also stood beside thy brink,
And vainly conned the moralizing line.
Kings, sages, chiefs, that touched this stone, like me,
Where are ye now? -- where all must shortly be!

All is mutation; -- he within this stone
Was once the greatest monarch of the hour: --
His bones are dust -- his very name unknown.
Go -- learn from him the vanity of power:
Seek not the frame's corruption to control,
But build a lasting mansion for thy soul.





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