Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Russia: Vol. XX. 1876–79.

Asiatic Russia: Caucasus, the Mountains


By James Russell Lowell (1819–1891)

ONE after one the stars have risen and set,

Sparkling upon the hoarfrost on my chain:

The Bear that prowled all night about the fold

Of the North-star hath shrunk into his den,

Scared by the blithesome footsteps of the Dawn,

Whose blushing smile floods all the Orient;

And now bright Lucifer grows less and less,

Into the heaven’s blue quiet deep-withdrawn.

Sunless and starless all, the desert sky

Arches above me, empty as this heart

For ages hath been empty of all joy,

Except to brood upon its silent hope,

As o’er its hope of day the sky doth now.

All night have I heard voices; deeper yet

The deep low breathing of the silence grew,

While all about, muffled in awe, there stood

Shadows, or forms, or both, clear-felt at heart,

But, when I turned to front them, far along

Only a shudder through the midnight ran,

And the dense stillness walled me closer round.

But still I heard them wander up and down

That solitude, and flappings of dusk wings

Did mingle with them, whether of those hags

Let slip upon me once from Hades deep,

Or of yet direr torments, if such be,

I could but guess; and then toward me came

A shape as of a woman: very pale

It was, and calm; its cold eyes did not move,

And mine moved not, but only stared on them.

Their fixéd awe went through my brain like ice;

A skeleton hand seemed clutching at my heart,

And a sharp chill, as if a dank night fog

Suddenly closed me in, was all I felt:

And then, methought, I heard a freezing sigh,

A long, deep, shivering sigh, as from blue lips

Stiffening in death, close to mine ear. I thought

Some doom was close upon me, and I looked

And saw the red moon through the heavy mist,

Just setting, and it seemed as it were falling,

Or reeling to its fall, so dim and dead

And palsy-struck it looked. Then all sounds merged

Into the rising surges of the pines,

Which, leagues below me, clothing the gaunt loins

Of ancient Caucasus with hairy strength,

Sent up a murmur in the morning wind,

Sad as the wail that from the populous earth

All day and night to high Olympus soars,

Fit incense to thy wicked throne, O Jove!

Thy hated name is tossed once more in scorn

From off my lips, for I will tell thy doom.

And are these tears? Nay, do not triumph, Jove!

They are wrung from me but by the agonies

Of prophecy, like those sparse drops which fall

From clouds in travail of the lightning, when

The great wave of the storm high-curled and black

Rolls steadily onward to its thunderous break.

Why art thou made a god of, thou poor type

Of anger and revenge and cunning force?

True Power was never born of brutish Strength,

Nor sweet Truth suckled at the shaggy dugs

Of that old she-wolf. Are thy thunderbolts,

That quell the darkness for a space, so strong

As the prevailing patience of meek Light,

Who, with the invincible tenderness of peace,

Wins it to be a portion of herself?

Why art thou made a god of, thou, who hast

The never-sleeping terror at thy heart,

That birthright of all tyrants, worse to bear

Than this thy ravening bird on which I smile?

Thou swear’st to free me, if I will unfold

What kind of doom it is whose omen flits

Across thy heart, as o’er a troop of doves

The fearful shadow of the kite. What need

To know that truth whose knowledge cannot save?

Evil its errand hath, as well as Good;

When thine is finished, thou art known no more:

There is a higher purity than thou,

And higher purity is greater strength;

Thy nature is thy doom, at which thy heart

Trembles behind the thick wall of thy might.

Let man but hope, and thou art straightway chilled

With thought of that drear silence and deep night

Which, like a dream, shall swallow thee and thine:

Let man but will, and thou art god no more,

More capable of ruin than the gold

And ivory that image thee on earth.

He who hurled down the monstrous Titan-brood

Blinded with lightnings, with rough thunders stunned,

Is weaker than a simple human thought.

My slender voice can shake thee, as the breeze,

That seems but apt to stir a maiden’s hair,

Sways huge Oceanus from pole to pole;

For I am still Prometheus, and foreknow

In my wise heart the end and doom of all.

Yes, I am still Prometheus, wiser grown

By years of solitude,—that holds apart

The past and future, giving the soul room

To search into itself,—and long commune

With this eternal silence;—more a god,

In my long-suffering and strength to meet

With equal front the direst shafts of fate,

Than thou in thy faint-hearted despotism,

Girt with thy baby-toys of force and wrath.

Yes, I am that Prometheus who brought down

The light to man, which thou, in selfish fear,

Hadst to thyself usurped,—his by sole right,

For Man hath right to all save Tyranny,—

And which shall free him yet from thy frail throne.

Tyrants are but the spawn of Ignorance,

Begotten by the slaves they trample on,

Who, could they win a glimmer of the light,

And see that Tyranny is always weakness,

Or Fear with its own bosom ill at ease,

Would laugh away in scorn the sand-wove chain

Which their own blindness feigned for adamant.

Wrong ever builds on quicksands, but the Right

To the firm centre lays its moveless base.

The tyrant trembles, if the air but stirs

The innocent ringlets of a child’s free hair,

And crouches, when the thought of some great spirit,

With world-wide murmur, like a rising gale,

Over men’s hearts, as over standing corn,

Rushes, and bends them to its own strong will.

So shall some thought of mine yet circle earth,

And puff away thy crumbling altars, Jove!

And, wouldst thou know of my supreme revenge,

Poor tyrant, even now dethroned in heart,

Realmless in soul, as tyrants ever are,

Listen! and tell me if this bitter peak,

This never-glutted vulture, and these chains

Shrink not before it; for it shall befit

A sorrow-taught, unconquered Titan-heart.

Men, when their death is on them, seem to stand

On a precipitous crag that overhangs

The abyss of doom, and in that depth to see,

As in a glass, the features dim and vast

Of things to come, the shadows, as it seems,

Of what have been. Death ever fronts the wise;

Not fearfully, but with clear promises

Of larger life, on whose broad vans upborne,

Their outlook widens, and they see beyond

The horizon of the Present and the Past,

Even to the very source and end of things.

Such am I now: immortal woe hath made

My heart a seer, and my soul a judge

Between the substance and the shadow of Truth.

The sure supremeness of the Beautiful,

By all the martyrdoms made doubly sure

Of such as I am, this is my revenge,

Which of my wrongs builds a triumphal arch,

Through which I see a sceptre and a throne.

The pipings of glad shepherds on the hills,

Tending the flocks no more to bleed for thee,—

The songs of maidens pressing with white feet

The vintage on thine altars poured no more,—

The murmurous bliss of lovers, underneath

Dim grapevine bowers, whose rosy bunches press

Not half so closely their warm cheeks, unpaled

By thoughts of thy brute lust,—the hive-like hum

Of peaceful commonwealths, where sunburnt Toil

Reaps for itself the rich earth made its own

By its own labor, lightened with glad hymns

To an omnipotence which thy mad bolts

Would cope with as a spark with the vast sea,—

Even the spirit of free love and peace,

Duty’s sure recompense through life and death,—

These are such harvests as all master-spirits

Reap, haply not on earth, but reap no less

Because the sheaves are bound by hands not theirs;

These are the bloodless daggers wherewithal

They stab fallen tyrants, this their high revenge:

For their best part of life on earth is when,

Long after death, prisoned and pent no more,

Their thoughts, their wild dreams even, have become

Part of the necessary air men breathe:

When, like the moon, herself behind a cloud,

They shed down light before us on life’s sea,

That cheers us to steer onward still in hope.

Earth with her twining memories ivies o’er

Their holy sepulchres; the chainless sea,

In tempest or wide calm, repeats their thoughts;

The lightning and the thunder, all free things,

Have legends of them for the ears of men.

All other glories are as falling stars,

But universal Nature watches theirs:

Such strength is won by love of human kind.

Not that I feel that hunger after fame,

Which souls of a half-greatness are beset with;

But that the memory of noble deeds

Cries shame upon the idle and the vile,

And keeps the heart of Man forever up

To the heroic level of old time.

To be forgot at first is little pain

To a heart conscious of such high intent

As must be deathless on the lips of men;

But, having been a name, to sink and be

A something which the world can do without,

Which, having been or not, would never change

The lightest pulse of fate,—this is indeed

A cup of bitterness the worst to taste,

And this thy heart shall empty to the dregs.

Endless despair shall be thy Caucasus,

And memory thy vulture; thou wilt find

Oblivion far lonelier than this peak,—

Behold thy destiny! Thou think’st it much

That I should brave thee, miserable god!

But I have braved a mightier than thou,

Even the tempting of this soaring heart,

Which might have made me, scarcely less than thou,

A god among my brethren weak and blind,—

Scarce less than thou, a pitiable thing

To be down-trodden into darkness soon.

But now I am above thee, for thou art

The bungling workmanship of fear, the block

That awes the swart Barbarian; but I

Am what myself have made,—a nature wise

With finding in itself the types of all,—

With watching from the dim verge of the time

What things to be are visible in the gleams

Thrown forward on them from the luminous past,—

Wise with the history of its own frail heart,

With reverence and with sorrow, and with love,

Broad as the world, for freedom and for man.

Thou and all strength shall crumble, except Love,

By whom, and for whose glory, ye shall cease:

And, when thou art but a dim moaning heard

From out the pitiless gloom of Chaos, I

Shall be a power and a memory,

A name to fright all tyrants with, a light

Unsetting as the pole-star, a great voice

Heard in the breathless pauses of the fight

By truth and freedom ever waged with wrong,

Clear as a silver trumpet, to awake

Huge echoes that from age to age live on

In kindred spirits, giving them a sense

Of boundless power from boundless suffering wrung:

And many a glazing eye shall smile to see

The memory of my triumph (for to meet

Wrong with endurance, and to overcome

The present with a heart that looks beyond,

Are triumph), like a prophet eagle, perch

Upon the sacred banner of the Right.

Evil springs up, and flowers, and bears no seed,

And feeds the green earth with its swift decay,

Leaving it richer for the growth of truth;

But Good, once put in action or in thought,

Like a strong oak, doth from its boughs shed down

The ripe germs of a forest. Thou, weak god,

Shalt fade and be forgotten! but this soul,

Fresh-living still in the serene abyss,

In every heaving shall partake, that grows

From heart to heart among the sons of men,—

As the ominous hum before the earthquake runs

Far through the Ægean from roused isle to isle,—

Foreboding wreck to palaces and shrines,

And mighty rents in many a cavernous error

That darkens the free light to man:—This heart,

Unscarred by thy grim vulture, as the truth

Grows but more lovely ’neath the beaks and claws

Of Harpies blind that fain would soil it, shall

In all the throbbing exultations share

That wait on freedom’s triumphs, and in all

The glorious agonies of martyr-spirits,—

Sharp lightning-throes to split the jagged clouds

That veil the future, showing them the end,—

Pain’s thorny crown for constancy and truth,

Girding the temples like a wreath of stars.

This is a thought, that, like the fabled laurel,

Makes my faith thunder-proof; and thy dread bolts

Fall on me like the silent flakes of snow

On the hoar brows of aged Caucasus:

But, O thought far more blissful, they can rend

This cloud of flesh, and make my soul a star!

Unleash thy crouching thunders now, O Jove!

Free this high heart, which, a poor captive long,

Doth knock to be let forth,—this heart which still

In its invincible manhood overtops

Thy puny godship as this mountain doth

The pines that moss its roots. O, even now,

While from my peak of suffering I look down,

Beholding with a far-spread gush of hope

The sunrise of that Beauty, in whose face,

Shone all around with love, no man shall look

But straightway like a god he is uplift

Unto the throne long empty for his sake,

And clearly oft foreshadowed in wide dreams

By his free inward nature, which nor thou

Nor any anarch after thee can bind

From working its great doom,—now, now set free

This essence, not to die, but to become

Part of that awful Presence which doth haunt

The palaces of tyrants, to hunt off,

With its grim eyes and fearful whisperings

And hideous sense of utter loneliness,

All hope of safety, all desire of peace,

All but the loathed forefeeling of blank death,—

Part of that spirit which doth ever brood

In patient calm on the unpilfered nest

Of man’s deep heart, till mighty thoughts grow fledged

To sail with darkening shadow o’er the world,

Filling with dread such souls as dare not trust

In the unfailing energy of Good,

Until they swoop, and their pale quarry make

Of some o’er-bloated wrong,—that spirit which

Scatters great hopes in the seed-field of man,

Like acorns among grain, to grow and be

A roof for freedom in all coming time!

But no, this cannot be; for ages yet,

In solitude unbroken, shall I hear

The angry Caspian to the Euxine shout,

And Euxine answer with a muffled roar,

On either side storming the giant walls

Of Caucasus with leagues of climbing foam

(Less, from my height, than flakes of downy snow),

That draw back baffled but to hurl again,

Snatched up in wrath and horrible turmoil,

Mountain on mountain, as the Titans erst,

My brethren, scaling the high seat of Jove,

Heaved Pelion upon Ossa’s shoulders broad

In vain emprise. The moon will come and go

With her monotonous vicissitude;

Once beautiful, when I was free to walk

Among my fellows, and to interchange

The influence benign of loving eyes,

But now by aged use grown wearisome;—

False thought! most false! for how could I endure

These crawling centuries of lonely woe

Unshamed by weak complaining, but for thee,

Loneliest, save me, of all created things,

Mild-eyed Astarte, my best comforter,

With thy pale smile of sad benignity?

Year after year will pass away and seem

To me, in mine eternal agony,

But as the shadows of dumb summer clouds,

Which I have watched so often darkening o’er

The vast Sarmatian plain, league-wide at first,

But, with still swiftness, lessening on and on

Till cloud and shadow meet and mingle where

The gray horizon fades into the sky,

Far, far to northward. Yes, for ages yet

Must I lie here upon my altar huge,

A sacrifice for man. Sorrow will be,

As it hath been, his portion; endless doom,

While the immortal with the mortal linked

Dreams of its wings and pines for what it dreams,

With upward yearn unceasing. Better so:

For wisdom is meek sorrow’s patient child,

And empire over self, and all the deep

Strong charities that make men seem like gods;

And love, that makes them be gods, from her breasts

Sucks in the milk that makes mankind one blood.

Good never comes unmixed, or so it seems,

Having two faces, as some images

Are carved, of foolish gods; one face is ill;

But one heart lies beneath, and that is good,

As are all hearts, when we explore their depths.

Therefore, great heart, bear up! thou art but type

Of what all lofty spirits endure, that fain

Would win men back to strength and peace through love:

Each hath his lonely peak, and on each heart

Envy, or scorn, or hatred, tears lifelong

With vulture beak; yet the high soul is left;

And faith, which is but hope grown wise; and love

And patience, which at last shall overcome.