Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
America: Vols. XXV–XXIX. 1876–79.

Southern States: Mount Vernon, Va.

Mount Vernon

By Grenville Mellen (1799–1841)


O TIME! whose wing untiring sweeps the world!

Still sounding onward in that stayless flight,—

Unseen, yet mightily, as when first unfurled,

In the young morning of creation’s light,—

How hast thou shaken from thy pinion here,

Over the work of man thy storm of change!

Where a whole people bends in prayer and tear,

O’er memories beyond words,—so deep!—so strange!

Where, as around some hallowed altar-place,

We gather, to call back the glory of our days!

Years, ye are reckless, as in pomp ye pass,

With your dim company of Death and Woe,—

Bowing a generation as the grass,

Whose ranks scarce blossom ere they meet the blow

That levels them to earth!—How stern ye tread

On your long pilgrimage to that far land,

Where ye, in turn, bow with the shadowy dead,—

Of things that joy us not the voiceless band!

Yet as ye pass, how marked your footsteps fall

On all that circles us,—from cradle to the pall!

The hovel and the palace,—the loud hall,

Where wealth holds holiday, in feast and song;

And the gray cloister, with its echoes,—all

Sound to thy pinions, as they swoop along,

Insatiate Time!—Alike on mount and vale,

On the low cottage, and the cloudy tower,

Is written still the melancholy tale

Of thy unfaltering progress and thy power!—

That power that owns not mercy or appeal,

Stamping mortality with its eraseless seal.

And here, where, hadst thou felt one thought of earth,

Thy footsteps had fallen lightly, and thy hand

Had lain with holier touch than marks the mirth

With which it scars the pride of every land,—

Here, where—as round arches of some fane

Virtue has made immortal—dull decay

Has struggled yet with memory in vain,

While lesser things of earth have passed away,—

Here, as o’er temples of some heathen sky,

Hast thou cast wide the shadow of thy revelry!

Ruin is written on these sacred walls!

It sounds with every footfall, and its tone,

Like melancholy music, through these halls

Echoes to every whisper, low, and lone!

The voice of other years uplifts around,

And to our pilgrim spirit, as we tread,

It comes like some remembered dream of sound

From the unfathomed mansions of the dead!

Ruin!—no other accent meets the ear!

Time! frown no more on earth,—thy empirage is here!

But thou rememberest while a world forgets,—

Thy seal is stamped upon the hallowed place,

Where, though a light is round that never sets,

And memory lingers, measured by no days,

With Freedom’s children,—hearts that cannot die!—

Yet does a people from its capitol

Look with unstartled pulse on that decay!

Hear the unheeded fragments as they fall,

Nor ask what glory there may be to save

The shrine to which it bows, from darkness and the grave!

Great Father of thy country!—if ’t is given,

Over its picture with an angel’s eye

To gaze from the broad watch-towers of thy heaven,—

How shall these blackening lines of apathy

Strike on thy vision! Shall ingratitude

To one whose life a people did redeem,

First strike thy spirit? While o’er wrongs they brood,

Like hoarding misers o’er some golden dream,

Sparing that noble justice, which no shame

Can summon to obey,—and give the land to Fame?

O look not,—look not from thy throne of stars

Upon thy purchased world!—so bravely won!

There is a shadow that its radiance mars,

Deeper than the eclipse that drowns the sun!

Look not upon thy country!—she has bowed

From that great pinnacle of glory down,

Where thou didst place her, and a voice aloud

Proclaims her loftier pride and beauty flown,—

Look not upon thy country! until she

Recalls, with kindling thought, her destiny and thee!

I stood upon the threshold of that home

Where he was gathered to his dreamless sleep!

Above me rose no tower or sculptured dome,

But a strange quietness that makes you weep

Was round me like an atmosphere. I heard

That mocking of my footsteps through the hall,

And faint returnings of each whispered word,

Which on the listener like a trump will fall,

Though humble be the home and hearth he tread,

O’er which the desolating wings of Time have sped!

I stood upon that threshold. The far voice

Of the low, chanting winds was in my ear,

And my heart leaped within me, as with joys,

When I bethought me of past glories here,

And seemed to read its story in that sound,

As syllabled by beings of the air,

Who swept unseen on silent wings around,

And held their ceaseless court of memory there!

Spirits that sentinelled that quiet mount,

And lingered as about some lone and magic fount.