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Greece, II

by George Gordon Byron, 1881

(From The Giaour)

    FAIR clime! where every season smiles
  Benignant o’er those blessed isles,
  Which, seen from far Colonna’s height,
  Make glad the heart that hails the sight,
  And lend to loneliness delight.
  There mildly dimpling, Ocean’s cheek
  Reflects the tints of many a peak
  Caught by the laughing tides that lave
  These Edens of the eastern wave:
  And if at times a transient breeze
  Break the blue crystal of the seas,
  Or sweep one blossom from the trees,
  How welcome is each gentle air
  That wakes and wafts the odours there!
  For there—the Rose o’er crag or vale,
  Sultana of the Nightingale,
    The maid for whom his melody,
    His thousand songs are heard on high,
  Blooms blushing to her lover’s tale:
  His queen, the garden queen, his Rose,
  Unbent by winds, unchill’d by snows,
  Far from the winters of the west,
  By every breeze and season blest,
  Returns the sweets by nature given
  In softest incense back to heaven;
  And grateful yields that smiling sky
  Her fairest hue and fragrant sigh.
  And many a summer flower is there,
  And many a shade that love might share,
  And many a grotto, meant for rest,
  That holds the pirate for a guest;
  Whose bark in sheltering cove below
  Lurks for the passing peaceful prow,
  Till the gay mariner’s guitar
  Is heard, and seen the evening star;
  Then stealing with the muffled oar
  Far shaded by the rocky shore,
  Rush the night-prowlers on the prey,
  And turn to groans his roundelay.
  Strange—that where Nature loved to trace,
  As if for Gods, a dwelling place,
  And every charm and grace hath mix’d
  Within the paradise she fix’d,
  There man, enamour’d of distress,
  Should mar it into wilderness,
  And trample, brute-like, o’er each flower
  That tasks not one laborious hour;
  Nor claims the culture of his hand
  To bloom along the fairy land,
  But springs as to preclude his care,
  And sweetly woos him—but to spare!
  Strange—that where all is peace beside,
  There passion riots in her pride,
  And lust and rapine wildly reign
  To darken o’er the fair domain.
  It is as though the fiends prevail’d
  Against the seraphs they assail’d,
  And, fix’d on heavenly thrones, should dwell
  The freed inheritors of hell;
  So soft the scene, so form’d for joy,
  So curst the tyrants that destroy!

    He who hath bent him o’er the dead
  Ere the first day of death is fled,
  The first dark day of nothingness,
  The last of danger and distress
  (Before Decay’s effacing fingers
  Have swept the lines where beauty lingers,)
  And mark’d the mild angelic air,
  The rapture of repose that’s there,
  The fix’d yet tender traits that streak
  The languor of the placid cheek,
  And—but for that sad shrouded eye,
    That fires not, wins not, weeps not, now,
    And but for that chill, changeless brow,
  Where cold Obstruction’s apathy
  Appals the gazing mourner’s heart,
  As if to him it could impart
  The doom he dreads, yet dwells upon;
  Yes, but for these and these alone,
  Some moments, ay, one treacherous hour,
  He still might doubt the tyrant’s power;
  So fair, so calm, so softly seal’d,
  The first, last look by death reveal’d!
  Such is the aspect of this shore;
  ’Tis Greece, but living Greece no more!
  So coldly sweet, so deadly fair,
  We start, for soul is wanting there.
  Hers is the loveliness in death,
  That parts not quite with parting breath;
  But beauty with that fearful bloom,
  That hue which haunts it to the tomb,
  Expression’s last receding ray,
  A gilded halo hovering round decay,
  The farewell beam of Feeling past away!
Spark of that flame, perchance of heavenly birth,
Which gleams, but warms no more its cherish’d earth!

    Clime of the unforgotten brave!
  Whose land from plain to mountain-cave
  Was Freedom’s home or Glory’s grave!
  Shrine of the mighty! can it be,
  That this is all remains of thee?
  Approach, thou craven crouching slave:
    Say, is not this Thermopylæ?
  These waters blue that round you lave,
    Oh servile offspring of the free—
  Pronounce what sea, what shore is this?
  The gulf, the rock of Salamis!
  These scenes, their story not unknown,
  Arise, and make again your own;
  Snatch from the ashes of your sires
  The embers of their former fires;
  And he who in the strife expires
  Will add to theirs a name of fear
  That Tyranny shall quake to hear,
  And leave his sons a hope, a fame,
  They too will rather die than shame:
  For Freedom’s battle once begun,
  Bequeath’d by bleeding Sire to Son,
  Though baffled oft, is ever won.
  Bear witness, Greece, thy living page,
  Attest it many a deathless age!
  While kings, in dusty darkness hid,
  Have left a nameless pyramid,
  Thy heroes, though the general doom
  Hath swept the column from their tomb,
  A mightier monument command,
  The mountains of their native land!
  There points thy Muse to stranger’s eye
  The graves of those that cannot die!
  ’Twere long to tell and sad to trace,
  Each step from splendour to disgrace;
  Enough—no foreign foe could quell
  Thy soul, till from itself it fell;
  Yes! Self-abasement paved the way
  To villain bonds and despot sway.

Published in Poetry of Byron

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