Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  Greek Mythology

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

Introductory to Greece

Greek Mythology

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

COULD we, though but for an hour, burst through, those gates adamantine,

Which, as the children of men pass onward in swift generation,

Time’s dark cavern along, are heavily closing behind them!

Could we but breathe the delight of the time when, fresh in his boyhood,

Out of his own exuberant life, man gave unto nature,

And new senses awoke, through every nerve of creation!

Waves of the old Ægean!—I listen your musical ebbing;

Smile to my eye, as you will, with smiles clear-crystal as ever,

Bind, in your silvery net, fair capes and emboweréd islands,

But ye can bear no more on your breast that vision of glory,

When in the cool moon-dew went forth the imperial revel,

Dolphins and pearl-shell cars, of the queen and the people of ocean;

Whose sweet-undulant murmur the homeless mariner hearkened,

Over the undulant sapphire, and trembled in glad adoration.

How were ye voiced, ye stars,—how cheerily Castor and Pollux

Spoke to the quivering seaman, amid the outpouring of tempest:

With what a firm-set gaze on the belt triple-gemmed of Orion

Looked the serene Greek child, as he thought of the suffering giant,

Panting with sightless orbs for the dawn’s miraculous healing;

With what a sigh did he pass from the six proud deified sisters,

On to the fate of the fallen, and mourned for the love that dethroned her;

Not by elaborate charts did he read that book of the heavens,

For to his heart’s fine ear it was taught by a heavenly master.

Now from her window perchance may the maiden of desolate Hellas,

When with the woes of her love and her land her spirit is heavy,

Yearn to the white-bright moon, which over the curvéd horizon,

Climbing the air still flushed with the flames of the opposite sunset,

Seems with affectionate eye to regard her, and weep to her weeping;

But it is now not as when, having pined for Endymion’s kindness,

She with the mourners of love held personal sympathy ever,

When in the sky’s void chasms a wanderer, she to the pilgrim,

Over the world’s sick plain, was a dear companion in sorrow.

Down through the blue-gray thyme, which roofs their courses with odor,

Rivulets, gentle as words from the lips of beauty, are flowing;

Still in the dusky ravine they deepen and freshen their waters,—

Still in the thick-arched coves they slumber and dimple delighted,

Catching the full-swelled fig, and the deep-stained arbutus ruby,—

Still to the sea’s sand-brim, by royally gay oleanders,

And oriental array of reeds, they are ever attended;

But they are all dumb forms, unimpregnate with vital emotion,

Now from the pure fount-head, no nymph, her bosom expanding,

Dazzles the wayworn wretch with a smile of bland benediction,

Giving the welcomed draught mysterious virtue and savor;

Now no curious hind in the noontide’s magical ardor,

Peeps through the blossomy trellis, that over the pool’s dark crystal

Guards the immaculate forms of the awful Olympian bathers;

Now at the wide stream-mouth never one, one amorous Triton

Breathes to the surge and the tall marsh-blooms euphonious passion.

These high temples around, the religious shade of the olive

Falls on the grass close-wove; in the redolent valley beneath us

Stems of the loftiest platan their crowns large-leaved are spreading,

And the most motley of herds is adorning the calm of their umbrage;

Yet ye are gone, ye are vanished forever, ye guardian beings!

Who in the time-gnarled trunks, broad branches, and summer enchantment

Held an essentiäl life, and a power, as over your members,—

Soothing the rage of the storm by your piteous moans of entreaty,

Staying the impious axe in the paralyzed hand of the woodman.

Daphne, tremulous nymph, has fled the benignant asylum

Which, in the shape of the laurel, she found from the heat of Apollo;

Wan Narcissus has languished away from the languishing flower;

Hyacinth dwells no more in his brilliant abode, and the stranger

Reads the memorial signs he has left with a stolid amazement.

Thou art become, O Echo! a voice, an inanimate image;

Where is the palest of maids, dark-tressed, dark-wreathéd with ivy,

Who with her lips half opened, and gazes of beautiful wonder,

Quickly repeated the words that burst on her lonely recesses,

In a sad lovelorn voice, too deep-distracted to answer?

What must have been thy nature, O Greece! when marvellous-lovely

As it now is, it is only the tomb of an ancient existence?