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 James Gates Percival (1795–1856)

(From Greece, from Mount Helicon)

EVEN as the pilgrim

Goes with his eye fixed on his prophet’s tomb,

Or where his god is laid, so let me on,

Bent to that summit, where retiring day

Kindles its latest fires.
I now have conquered,

And heaven is all above me. Earth below

Spreads infinite, and rolls its mountain waves

Tumultuously around me. Breathless awe

Broods o’er my spirit, and I stand awhile

Rapt and absorbed. The magic vision floats

Dimly before me, and uncertain lights

Flash on my troubled eye, and then a calm,

High and uplifted, like the peace of heaven,

Steals on my heart, and instantly my thoughts

Are fixed and daring. ’T is the land of song,—

The home of heroes. O ye boundless plains,

Ye snowy peaks, ye dusky mountains, heaped

Like ocean billows, far retiring vales,

Blue seas, and gleaming bays, and islands set

Like gems in gold! to you I kneel with awe

Deep and unfeigned. If I have ever felt

The stirring energies of warlike virtue,

The sternness of unbending right, the bliss

Of high and holy dreams, the charm of beauty,

The power of verse and song, only to you

Be all the praise. And now ye are before me,

Rich with the tints of evening. What an arch

Of golden light swells, from the point of setting,

Over the Delphian hills! and how it rolls,

In dazzling waves, round all the mingled heights

That rise between! Yonder my eye can catch

Glimpses from out the far Achaian gulf,

Waving with flame, and seeming through the depths,

That dimly open to them, fiery portals

To brighter worlds. But now to calmer scenes

And shadier skies. I trace the silver stream

Threading its way, now hidden, now revealed,

To the round vale, half up the mountain-side,

Then lost in woods, and then in distant windings

Stealing along the plain. Yon lower ridge

Lies dark in shade; and hidden half in trees,

The whitewashed convent, with its gilded cross

And humble tower, sends upward through the hushed

And vacant air its vesper knoll, by distance

Mellowed to music. This is all the sound

That tells of life. Down through a gloomy gorge,

Walled in by rifted rocks, the vale of Ascra

Lies, like a nook withdrawn beyond the reach

Of violence; and yet the crescent crowns

A minaret, and tells a startling tale

Of woe and fear. Beyond, the Theban plain

Stretches to airy distance, till it seems

lifted in air,—green cornfields, olive groves

Blue as their heaven, and lakes, and winding rivers,

And towns whose white walls catch the amber light,

That burns, then dies away, and leaves them pale

And glimmering, while a floating vapor spreads

From marsh and stream, till all is like a sea,

Rolling to Œta, and the Eubœan chain,

Stretching, in purple dimness, on the verge

Of this unclouded heaven. Far in the east

The Ægean twinkles, and its thousand isles

Hover in mist, and round the dun horizon

Are many floating visions, clouds, or peaks,

Tinted with rose. Before me lies a land

Hallowed with a peculiar sanctity,

The eye of Greece,—a wild of rocks and hills,

Lifted in shadowy cones, and deep between

Mysterious hollows, once the proud abodes

Of genius and of power. Now twilight throws

Around her softest veil, a purple haze

Investing all at hand, and farther on

Skyey and faint and dim. Methinks I catch,

Through the far opening heights, the Parthenon,

And all its circling glories. Salamis

Lies on its dusky wave; and farther out

Islands and capes, and many a flitting sail

White as a sea-bird’s wing. The stars are out,

And all beneath is dark. The lower hills

Float in obscurity, and plain and sea

Are blended in one haze. Cyllene still

Bears on her snowy crown the rosy blush

Of twilight; and thy loftier head, Parnassus,

Has not yet lost the glory and the blaze

That suit the heaven of song. There let me pause;

There fix my latest look. How beautiful,

Sublimely beautiful, thou hoverest

High in the vacant air! Thou seemest uplifted

From all of earth, and like an island floating

Away in heaven. How pure the eternal snows

That crown thee! yet how rich the golden blaze

That flashes from thy peak! how like the rose,

The virgin rose, the tints that fade below,

Till all is sweetly pale!