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

Introductory to Greece


By Lord Byron (1788–1824)

(From The Giaour)

NO breath of air to break the wave

That rolls below the Athenian’s grave,

That tomb which, gleaming o’er the cliff,

First greets the homeward-veering skiff,

High o’er the land he saved in vain;

When shall such hero live again?


Fair clime! where every season smiles

Benignant o’er those blessed isles,

Which, seen from far Colonna’s height,

Make glad the heart that hails the sight,

And lend to loneliness delight.

There, mildly dimpling, Ocean’s cheek

Reflects the tints of many a peak

Caught by the laughing tides that lave

These Edens of the Eastern wave:

And if at times a transient breeze

Break the blue crystal of the seas,

Or sweep one blossom from the trees,

How welcome is each gentle air

That wakes and wafts the odors there!

For there—the rose o’er crag or vale,

Sultana of the nightingale,

The maid for whom his melody,

His thousand songs are heard on high,

Blooms blushing to her lover’s tale:

His queen, the garden queen, his rose,

Unbent by winds, unchilled by snows,

Far from the winters of the West,

By every breeze and season blest,

Returns the sweets by nature given

In softest incense back to heaven;

And grateful yields that smiling sky

Her fairest hue and fragrant sigh.

And many a summer flower is there,

And many a shade that love might share,

And many a grotto meant for rest,

That holds the pirate for a guest;

Whose bark in sheltering cove below

Lurks for the passing peaceful prow,

Till the gay mariner’s guitar

Is heard, and seen the evening star;

Then stealing with the muffled oar,

Far shaded by the rocky shore,

Rush the night-prowlers on the prey,

And turn to groans his roundelay.

Strange, that where Nature loved to trace,

As if for gods, a dwelling-place,

And every charm and grace hath mixed

Within the paradise she fixed,

There man, enamored of distress,

Should mar it into wilderness,

And trample, brute-like, o’er each flower

That tasks not one laborious hour;

Nor claims the culture of his hand

To bloom along the fairy land,

But springs as to preclude his care,

And sweetly wooes him—but to spare.

Strange, that where all is peace beside,

There passion riots in her pride,

And lust and rapine wildly reign

To darken o’er the fair domain.

It is as though the fiends prevailed

Against the seraphs they assailed,

And, fixed on heavenly thrones, should dwell

The freed inheritors of hell;

So soft the scene, so formed for joy,

So curst the tyrants that destroy!

He who hath bent him o’er the dead

Ere the first day of death is fled,

The first dark day of nothingness,

The last of danger and distress

(Before Decay’s effacing fingers

Have swept the lines where beauty lingers),

And marked the mild, angelic air,

The rapture of repose that ’s there,

The fixed yet tender traits that streak

The languor of the placid cheek,

And—but for that sad shrouded eye,

That fires not, wins not, weeps not now,

And but for that chill, changeless brow,

Where cold Obstruction’s apathy

Appalls the gazing mourner’s heart,

As if to him it could impart

The doom he dreads, yet dwells upon;

Yes, but for these and these alone,

Some moments, ay, one treacherous hour,

He still might doubt the tyrant’s power;

So fair, so calm, so softly sealed,

The first, last look by death revealed!

Such is the aspect of this shore;

’T is Greece, but living Greece no more!

So coldly sweet, so deadly fair,

We start, for soul is wanting there.

Hers is the loveliness in death,

That parts not quite with parting breath;

But beauty with that fearful bloom,

That hue which haunts it to the tomb,

Expression’s last receding ray,

A gilded halo hovering round decay,

The farewell beam of Feeling passed away!

Spark of that flame, perchance of heavenly birth,

Which gleams, but warms no more its cherished earth!