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Clivonim fluerent in littora prona, solutae
ON THE ICE ISLANDS,
SEEN FLOATING IN THE GERMAN OCEAN.
What portents, from what distant region, ride,
Unseen till now in ours, the astonished tide?
In ages past, old Proteus, with his droves
Of sea-calves, sought the mountains and the groves;
But now, descending whence of late they stood,
Themselves the mountains seem to rove the flood;
Dire times were they, full-charged with human woes;
And these, scarce less calamitous than those.
What view we now? More wondrous still! Behold!
Like burnished brass they shine, or beaten gold;
And all around the pearl's pure splendour show,
And all around the ruby's fiery glow.
Come they from India, where the burning earth,
All bounteous, gives her richest treasures birth;
And where the costly gems that beam around
The brows of mightiest potentates are found?
No. Never such a countless dazzling store
Had left, unseen, the Ganges' peopled shore;
Rapacious hands, and ever-watchful eyes,
Should sooner far have marked and seized the prize.
Whence sprang they then? Ejected have they come
From Ves'vius', or from Etna's burning womb?
Thus shine they self-illumed, or but display
The borrowed splendours of a cloudless day?
With borrowed beams they shine. The gales, that breathe
Now landward, and the current's force beneath,
Have borne them nearer; and the nearer sight,
Advantaged more, contemplates them aright.
Their lofty summits crested high, they show,
With mingled sleet, and long-incumbent snow:
The rest is ice. Far hence, where, most severe,
Bleak Winter well-nigh saddens all the year,
Their infant growth began. He bade arise
Their uncouth forms, portentous in our eyes.
Oft as, dissolved by transient suns, the snow
Left the tall cliff to join the flood below,
He caught and curdled with a freezing blast
The current, ere it reached the boundless waste.
By slow degrees uprose the wondrous pile,
And long successive ages rolled the while,
Till, ceaseless in its growth, it claimed to stand
Tall as its rival mountains on the land.
Thus stood, and, unremovable by skill
Or force of man, had stood the structure still;
But that, though firmly fixed, supplanted yet
By pressure of its own enormous weight,
It left the shelving beach,—and with a sound
That shook the bellowing waves and rocks around,
Self-launched, and swiftly, to the briny wave,
As if instinct with strong desire to lave,
Down went the ponderous mass. So bards of old
How Delos swam the .Egcan deep have told.
But not of ice was Delos. Delos bore
Herb, fruit, and flower. She, crowned with laurel, wore,
Even under wintry skies, a summer smile;
And Delos was Apollo's favourite isle.
But, horrid wanderers of the deep, to you
He deems Cimmerian darkness only due.
Your hated birth he deigned not to survey,
But, scornful, turned his glorious eyes away.
Hence! Seek your home, nor longer rashly dare
The darts of Phcebus, and a softer air;
Lest ye regret, too late, your native coast,
In no congenial gulf for ever lost!
March 19, 1799.
ON A MISTAKE IN HIS TRANSLATION OF HOMER.
Cowper had sinned with some excuse,
If, bound in rhyming tethers,
Of changing ewes for wethers.
But male for female is a trope,
A rather bold misnomer,
When he translated Homer.
Obscurest night involved the sky,
When such a destined wretch as I,
Of friends, of hope, of all bereft,
His floating home for ever left.
No braver chief could Albion boast
Nor ever ship left Albion's coast
He loved them both, but both in vain,
Nor him beheld, nor her again.
Not long beneath the whelming brine,
Expert to swim, he lay; Nor soon he felt his strength decline,
Or courage die away; But waged with death a lasting strife, Supported by despair of life.
He shouted: nor his friends had failed
But so the furious blast prevailed,
They left their outcast mate behind,
And scudded still before the wind.
Some succour yet they could afford;
And such as storms allow,
Delayed not to bestow.
Nor, cruel as it seemed, could he Their haste himself condemn,
Alone could rescue them;
He long survives, who lives an hour
In ocean, self-upheld;
His destiny repelled;
At length, his transient respite past,
His comrades, who before
Could catch the sound no more:
No poet wept him; but the page
Of narrative sincere,
Is wet with Anson's tear:
I therefore purpose not, or dream,
Descanting on his fate,
No voice divine the storm allayed,
No light propitious shone, When, snatched from all effectual aid,
We perished, each alone: But I beneath a rougher sea, And whelmed in deeper gulfs than he.