Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  The Meschianza

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

Middle States: Philadelphia, Pa.

The Meschianza

By Thomas Buchanan Read (1822–1872)

  • (Excerpt)
  • “The Meschianza was chiefly a tilt and tournament, with other entertainments, as the term implies, and was given on Monday, the 18th of May, 1778, at Wharton’s country-seat, in Southwark, by the officers of General Howe’s army, to that officer on his quitting the command to retain to England.”—Watson.

  • O CITY, the beloved of Penn,

    How was your quiet startled when

    Red Mars made your calm harbor glow

    With all the splendors he can show!

    How looked your tranquil founder down

    That day upon his cherished town,—

    That town which in the sylvan wild

    He reared and tended like a child?

    Methinks that patriarch and his peers,

    Who fashioned all your staid retreats,

    Groaned then in their celestial seats

    With sad offended eyes and ears;

    And, had their loving faith allowed,

    That day, in mournful spirit bowed,

    Each had turned his olive-wand

    Into a rod of reprimand.

    The May was there,—the blue-eyed May;

    The sweet south breeze came up the bay,

    Fanning the river where it lay

    Voiceless, with astonished stare,—

    The great sea-drinking Delaware.

    There, in the broad, clear afternoon,

    With myriad oars, and all in tune,

    A swarm of barges moved away,

    In all their grand regatta pride,

    As bright as in a blue lagune,

    When gondolas from shore to shore

    Swam round the golden Bucentaur

    On a Venetian holiday,

    What time the Doge threw in the tide

    The ring which made the sea his bride.

    Mid these were mighty platforms drawn,

    Each crowded like a festal lawn,—

    Great swimming floors, o’er which were rolled

    Cloth of scarlet, green, and gold,

    Like tropic isles of flowery light

    Unmoored by some enchanter’s might,

    O’erflowed with music, floated down

    Before the wharf-assembled town.

    A thousand rowers rocked and sung,

    A thousand light oars flashed and flung

    A fairy rainbow where they sprung.

    Conjoining with the singers’ voice,

    In ecstatic rival trial,

    Every instrument of choice,

    Mellow flute and silver viol,

    Wooed the soft air to rejoice;

    Till on wings of splendor met,

    Clearer, louder, wilder yet,

    Clarion and clarionet,

    And the bugle’s sailing tone,

    As from lips of tempests blown,

    Made the whole wide sky its own,

    Shivering with its festal jar

    The aerial dome afar.

    Thus the music past the town

    Winged the swimming pageant down,

    Till with one loud crash it dropt,

    And the bright flotilla stopt,

    Mooring in the bannered port

    At the flowery wharves of Sport.

    There wide triumphal arches flamed

    With painted trophies, which proclaimed,

    With mottoes wrought in many a line

    Around some brave heraldic sign,

    That all the splendors here displayed

    Were honors to great chieftains paid.

    Pavilions round the field were spread,

    With flying banners overhead,

    Where, on a high and central throne,

    The two commanders reigned alone:

    The admiral, whose powdered hair

    Had oft been fanned by ocean air;

    The general, whose eye oft sped

    O’er fields transfused from green to red,

    As if the very plain should wear

    The hue his army held so dear,—

    Both deeming that the world must bow

    Before the awful name of Howe.

    And there,—O feast for painter’s heart,

    And yet a light to mock his art,

    To kindle all a poet’s fire,

    To waken, madden, and inspire,

    Yet leave him mastered and undone,

    As faints a taper in the sun,—

    Yes, there, in many a beaming row,

    Was lit such beauty as might glow

    Alone in fabled tourney-rings

    Held in those far enchanted scenes

    Where all are princesses and queens

    And all the jousting knights are kings.