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

Greece: Ionian Islands

Ionian Islands

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


THOU pleasant island, whose rich garden-shores

Have had a long-lived fame of loveliness,

Recorded in the historic song, that framed

The unknown poet of an unknown time,

Illustrating his native Ithaca,

And all her bright society of isles,—

Most pleasant land! To us, who journeying come

From the far west, and fall upon thy charms,

Our earliest welcome to Ionian seas,

Thou art a wonder and a deep delight,

Thy usual habitants can never know.

Thou art a portal, whence the Orient,

The long-desired, long-dreamt-of Orient,

Opens upon us, with its stranger forms,

Outlines immense and gleaming distances,

And all the circumstance of fairyland.

Not only with a present happiness,

But taking from anticipated joys

An added sense of actual bliss, we stand

Upon thy cliffs, or tread the slopes that leave

No interval of shingle, rock, or sand,

Between their verdure and the ocean’s brow,—

Whose olive-groves (unlike the darkling growth,

That earns on western shores the traveller’s scorn)

Can wear the gray that on their foliage lies,

As but the natural hoar of lengthened days,—

Making, with their thick-bossed and fissured trunks,

Bases far-spread and branches serpentine,

Sylvan cathedrals, such as in old times

Gave the first life to Gothic art, and led

Imagination so sublime a way.

Then forth advancing, to our novice eyes

How beautiful appears the concourse clad

In that which, of all garbs, may best befit

The grace and dignity of manly form:

The bright red open vest, falling upon

The white thick-folded kirtle, and low cap

Above the high-shorn brow.
Nor less than these,

With earnest joy, and not injurious pride,

We recognize of Britain and her force

The wonted ensigns and far-known array;

And feel how now the everlasting sea,

Leaving his old and once imperious spouse,

To faint, in all the beauty of her tears,

On the dank footsteps of a mouldering throne,

Has taken to himself another mate,

Whom his uxorious passion has endowed,

Not only with her ancient properties,

But with all other gifts and privilege,

Within the circle of his regal hand.

Now forward,—forward on a beaming path,

But be each step as fair as hope has feigned it,

For me, the memory of the little while,

That here I rested happily, within

The close-drawn pale of English sympathies,

Will bear the fruit of many an afterthought,

Bright in the dubious track of after years.