Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Greece and Turkey in Europe: Vol. XIX. 1876–79.

Greece: Delphi (Castri)


By Richard Monckton Milnes, Lord Houghton (1809–1885)

BENEATH the vintage moon’s uncertain light,

And some faint stars that pierced the film of cloud,

Stood those Parnassian peaks before my sight,

Whose fame throughout the ancient world was loud.

Still could I dimly trace the terraced lines

Diverging from the cliffs on either side;

A theatre whose steps were filled with shrines

And rich devices of Hellenic pride;

Though brightest daylight would have lit in vain

The place whence gods and worshippers had fled;

Only, and they too tenantless, remain

The hallowed chambers of the pious dead.

Yet those wise architects an ample part

To Nature gave in their religious shows,

And thus, amid the sepultures of art,

Still rise the Rocks and still the Fountain flows.

Desolate Delphi! pure Castalian spring!

Hear me avow that I am not as they,

Who deem that all about you ministering

Were base impostors, and mankind their prey:

That the high names they seemed to love and laud

Were but the tools their paltry trade to ply;

This pomp of Faith a mere gigantic fraud,

The apparatus of a mighty lie!

Let those that will believe it; I, for one,

Cannot thus read the history of my kind;

Remembering all this little Greece has done

To raise the universal human mind:

I know that hierarchs of that wondrous race,

By their own faith alone, could keep alive

Mysterious rites and sanctity of place,—

Believing in whate’er they might contrive.

It may be that these influences, combined

With such rare nature as the priestess bore,

Brought to the surface of her stormy mind

Distracted fragments of prophetic lore;

For, howsoe’er to mortals’ probing view

Creation is revealed, yet must we pause,

Weak to dissect the futile from the true,

Where’er imagination spreads her laws.

So now that dimmer grows the watery light,

And things each moment more fantastic seem,

I fain would seek if still the gods have might

Over the undissembling world of dream:

I ask not that for me aside be cast

The solemn veil that hides what is decreed;

I crave the resurrection of the past,

That I may know what Delphi was indeed!