Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Germany: Vols. XVII–XVIII. 1876–79.

Rhine, the River

The Rhine

By Lord Byron (1788–1824)

(From Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage)

AWAY with these! true Wisdom’s world will be

Within its own creation, or in thine,

Maternal Nature! for who teems like thee,

Thus on the banks of thy majestic Rhine?

There Harold gazes on a work divine,

A blending of all beauties; streams and dells,

Fruit, foliage, crag, wood, cornfield, mountain, vine,

And chiefless castles breathing stern farewells

From gray but leafy walls, where Ruin greenly dwells.

And there they stand, as stands a lofty mind,

Worn, but unstooping to the baser crowd,

All tenantless, save to the crannying wind,

Or holding dark communion with the cloud.

There was a day when they were young and proud,

Banners on high, and battles passed below;

But they who fought are in a bloody shroud,

And those which waved are shredless dust ere now,

And the bleak battlements shall bear no future blow.

Beneath these battlements, within those walls,

Power dwelt amidst her passions; in proud state

Each robber chief upheld his armed halls,

Doing his evil will, nor less elate

Than mightier heroes of a longer date.

What want these outlaws conquerors should have

But history’s purchased page to call them great?

A wider space, an ornamented grave?

Their hopes were not less warm, their souls were full as brave.

In their baronial feuds and single fields,

What deeds of prowess unrecorded died!

And Love, which lent a blazon to their shields

With emblems well devised by amorous pride,

Through all the mail of iron hearts would glide;

But still their flame was fierceness, and drew on

Keen contest and destruction near allied,

And many a tower for some fair mischief won,

Saw the discolored Rhine beneath its ruin run.

But thou, exulting and abounding river!

Making thy waves a blessing as they flow

Through banks whose beauty would endure forever,

Could man but leave thy bright creation so,

Nor its fair promise from the surface mow

With the sharp scythe of conflict,—then to see

Thy valley of sweet waters were to know

Earth paved like heaven; and to seem such to me

Even now what wants thy stream?—that it should Lethe be.

A thousand battles have assailed thy banks,

But these and half their fame have passed away,

And slaughter heaped on high his weltering ranks;

Their very graves are gone, and what are they?

Thy tide washed down the blood of yesterday,

And all was stainless, and on thy clear stream

Glassed with its dancing light the sunny ray;

But o’er the blackened memory’s blighting dream

Thy waves would vainly roll, all sweeping as they seem.