Page images
PDF
EPUB

Look on the gibbet, with shuddering eye,
As the place where a fellow-man may die;
Think on the felon in dungeon dim,
He is thy brother-go, work for him ;

4. Look on the outcast from virtue's pale,

Pity thy sister, though erring and frail ;
Visit the widow, the orphan, the old,
When the wind blows keen, and the nights are cold;
Think of the poor in their low estate,
The toiling poor who make nations great ;
Think of the sick as they helpless lie;
Think of the maniac's frenzied eye;

5. And remember the grave with its long repose,

Which “no work nor device nor wisdom knows ;'
Let the motive be pure, and the aim be right,
What thy hand finds to do, do with all thy might ;
For from every clime on this earthly ball
Is heard the loud cry, “ There is work for all !”

LXXII.-BEAUTIFUL SIGHTS AT SEA.

JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL.

1. The most beautiful thing I have seen at sea,-all the more so that I had never heard of it,-is the trail of a shoal of fish through the phosphorescent water. It is like a flight of silver rockets, or the streaming of northern lights through that silent nether heaven. I thought nothing could go beyond that rustling star-foam which was churned up by our ship's bows, or those eddies and disks of dreamy flame that rose and wandered out of sight behind us.

2. 'Twas fire our ship was plunging through,

Cold fire that o'er the quarter flew;
And wandering moons of idle flame
Grew full and waned, and went and came,
Dappling with light the huge sea-snake
That slid behind us in the wake.

3. But there was something even more delicately rare in the apparition of the fish, as they turned up in gleaming furrows the latent moonshine which the ocean seemed to have hoarded against these vacant interlunar nights. In the Mediterranean one day, as we were lying becalmed, I observed the water freckled with dingy specks, which at last gathered to a pinkish scum on the surface. The sea had been so phosphorescent for some nights, that when the captain gave me my bath, by dowsing me with buckets from the house on deck, the spray flew off my head and shoulders in sparks.

4. It occurred to me that this dirty-looking scum might be the luminous matter, and I had a pailful dipped up to keep till after dark. When I went to look at it after nightfall, it seemed at first perfectly dead; but when I shook it, the whole broke out into what I can only liken to milky flames, whose lambent silence was strangely beautiful, and startled me almost as actual projection might an alchemist. I could not bear to be the death of so much beauty; so I poured it all over-board again.

5. Another sight worth taking a voyage for is that of the sails by moonlight. Our course was “south and by east, half south," so that we seemed bound for the full moon as she rolled up over our wavering horizon. Then I used to go forward to the bowsprit and look back. Our ship was a clipper, with every rag set, stunsails, sky-scrapers, and all ; nor was it easy to believe that such a wonder could be built of canvas as that white, many-storied pile of cloud that stooped over me, or drew back as we rose and fell with the waves.

6. Were you ever alone with the sun? You think it a very simple question; but I never was, in the full sense of the word, till I was held up to him one cloudless day on the broad buckler of the ocean. I suppose one might have the same feeling in the desert. I remember getting something like it years ago, when I climbed alone to the top of a mountain, and lay face up on the hot gray moss, striving to get a notion of how an Arab might feel. It was my American commentary of the Koran, and not a bad one.

7. In a New England winter, too, when every thing is gagged with snow, as if some gigantic physical geographer were taking a cast of the earth's face in plaster, the bare knob of a hill will introduce you to the sun as a comparative stranger. But at sea you may be alone with him day after day, and almost all day long. I never understood before that nothing short of full day-light can give the supremest sense of solitude.

8. Darkness will not do so, for the imagination peoples it with more shapes than ever were poured from the frozen loins of the populous North. The sun, I sometimes think, is a little grouty at sea, especially at high noon, feeling that he wastes his beams on those fruitless furrows. It is otherwise with the moon. She “comforts the night," as Chapman finely says, and I always found her a companionable creature.

9. In the ocean-horizon I took untiring delight. It is the true magic-circle of expectation and conjecture,-almost as good as a wishing-ring. What will rise over that edge we sail toward daily and never overtake? A sail? an island? the new shore of the Old World ? Something rose every day, which I need not have gone so far to see, but at whose levee I was a much more faithful courtier than on shore.

10. A cloudless sunrise in mid-ocean is beyond comparison for simple grandeur. It is like Dante's style, bare and perfect. Naked sun meets naked sea, the true classic of nature. There may be more sentiment in morning on shore,—the shivering fairy-jewelry of dew, the silver point. lace of sparkling hoar-frost,—but there is also more complexity, more of the romantic.

LXXIII.—THE SNOW-SHOWER.

WILLIAM C. BRYANT.
1. Stand here by my side and turn, I pray,

On the lake below, thy gentleeyes;
The clouds hang over it, heavy and gray,

And dark and silent the water lies;
And out of that frozen mist the snow
In wavering flakes begins to flow;

Flake after flake,
They sink in the dark and silent lake.

2. See how in a living swarm they come

From the chambers beyond that misty veil.
Some hover awhile in air, and some

Rush prone from the sky like summer hail.
All, dropping swiftly or settling slow,
Meet and are still in the depth below-

Flake after flake.
Dissolved in the dark and silent lake.

omhan

3. Here delicate snow-stars, out of the cloud

Come floating downward in airy play,
Like spangles dropped from the glistening crowd,

That whiten by night the milky way;
There broader and burlier masses fall; !
The sullen water buries them all-

Flake after flake,
All drowned in the dark and silent lake.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

4. And some, as on tender wings they glide

From their chilly birth-cloud, dim and gray,
Are joined in their fall, and, side by side,

Come clinging along their unsteady way,
As friend with friend or husband with wife
Makes, hand ni hand, the passage of life;

Each mated flake
Soon sinks in the dark and silent lake.

5. Lo! while we are gazing, in swifter haste

Stream down the snows, till the air is white,
As, myriads by myriads madly chased,
· They fling themselves from their shadowy height.
The fair, frail creatures of middle sky!
What speed they make with their grave so nigh,-

Flake after flake
To lie in the dark and silent lake.

6. I see in thy gentle eyes a tear ;

They turn to me in sorrowful thought;
Thou thinkest of friends, the good and dear,

Who were for a time and now are not ;

Like these fair children of cloud and frost,
That glisten a moment, and then are lost,

Flake after flake,-
All lost in the dark and silent lake.

7. Yet look again, for the clouds divide ;

A gleam of blue on the water lies;
And, far away on the mountain side,

A sunbeam falls from the opening skies.
But the hurrying host that flew between
The cloud and the water no more is seen-

Flake after flake,
At rest in the dark and silent lake.

LXXIV.-PECULIARITIES OF LORD BYRON.

T. B. MACAULAY. 1. It was in description and meditation that he excelled, “Description," as he said in Don Juan, “was his forte." His manner is indeed peculiar, and is almost unequaledrapid, sketchy, full of vigor; the selection happy ; the strokes few and bold. He has accustomed himself to gaze on nature with the eye of a lover—to dwell on every feature, and to mark every change of aspect. Those beauties which strike the most negligent observer, and those which only a close attention discovers, are equally familiar to him, and are equally prominent in his poetry. The proverb of old Hesiod. that half is often more than the whole, is eminently applicable to description. The policy of the Dutch, who cut down most of the precious trees in the Spice Islands, in order to raise the value of what remained, was a policy which poets would do well to imitate. It was a policy which no poet understood better than Lord Byron. Whatever his faults might be, he was never, while his mind retained its vigor, accused of prolixity. .

2. His descriptions, great as was their intrinsic merit, derived their principal interest from the feeling which always mingled with them. He was himself the beginning, the middle, and the end of all his own poetry, the hero of every tale,

« PreviousContinue »