Greenland - Canto First

CANTO FIRST.

The moon is watching in the sky; the stars
Are swiftly wheeling on their golden cars;
Ocean, outstretcht with infinite expanse,
Serenely slumbers in a glorious trance;
The tide o'er which no troubling spirits breathe,
Reflects a cloudless firmament beneath;
Where, poised as in the centre of a sphere,
A ship above and ship below appear;
A double image, pictured on the deep,
The vessel o'er its shadow seems to sleep;
Yet, like the host of heaven, that never rest,
With evanescent motion to the west,
The pageant glides through loneliness and night,
And leaves behind a rippling wake of light.

Hark! through the calm and silence of the scene,
Slow, solemn, sweet, with many a pause between,
Celestial music swells along the air!
— No! — 'tis the evening hymn of praise and prayer
From yonder deck; where, on the stern retired,
Three humble voyagers, with looks inspired,
And hearts enkindled with a holier flame,
Than ever lit to empire or to fame,
Devoutly stand: — their choral accents rise
On wings of harmony beyond the skies;
And 'midst the songs, that Seraph-Minstrels sing,
Day without night, to their immortal King,
These simple strains, — which erst Bohemian hills
Echo'd to pathless woods and desert rills;
Now heard from Shetland's azure bound, — are known
In heaven; and He, who sits upon the throne
In human form, with mediatorial power,
Remembers Calvary, and hails the hour,
When, by the' Almighty Father's high decree,
The utmost north to Him shall bow the knee,
And, won by love, an untamed rebel-race
Kiss the victorious Sceptre of His grace.
Then to His eye, whose instant glance pervades
Heaven's heights, Earth's circle, Hell's profoundest shades,
Is there a group more lovely than those three
Night-watching Pilgrims on the lonely sea?
Or to His ear, that gathers in one sound
The voices of adoring worlds around,
Comes there a breath of more delightful praise
Than the faint notes his poor disciples raise,
Ere on the treacherous main they sink to rest,
Secure as leaning on their Master's breast?

They sleep: but memory wakes; and dreams array
Night in a lively masquerade of day;
The land they seek, the land they leave behind,
Meet on mid-ocean in the plastic mind:
One brings forsaken home and friends so nigh,
That tears in slumber swell the' unconscious eye;
The other opens, with prophetic view,
Perils, which e'en their fathers never knew,
(Though school'd by suffering, long inured to toil,
Outcasts and exiles from their natal soil;)
— Strange scenes, strange men; untold, untried distress;
Pain, hardships, famine, cold, and nakedness,
Diseases; death in every hideous form,
On shore, at sea, by fire, by flood, by storm;
Wild beasts and wilder men; — unmoved with fear,
Health, comfort, safety, life, they count not dear,
May they but hope a Saviour's love to show,
And warn one spirit from eternal woe;
Nor will they faint; nor can they strive in vain,
Since thus — to live is Christ, to die is gain.

'Tis morn: — the bathing moon her lustre shrouds;
Wide o'er the East impends an arch of clouds,
That spans the ocean; — while the infant dawn
Peeps through the portal o'er the liquid lawn,
That ruffled by an April gale appears,
Between the gloom and splendour of the spheres,
Dark-purple as the moorland-heath, when rain
Hangs in low vapours o'er the autumnal plain:
Till the full Sun, resurgent from the flood,
Looks on the waves, and turns them into blood;
But quickly kindling, as his beams aspire,
The lambent billows play in forms of fire.
— Where is the Vessel? — Shining through the light,
Like the white sea-fowl's horizontal flight,
Yonder she wings, and skims, and cleaves her way
Through refluent foam and iridescent spray.

Lo! on the deck, with patriarchal grace,
Heaven in his bosom opening o'er his face,
Stands C HRISTIAN D AVID ; — venerable name!
Bright in the records of celestial fame,
On earth obscure; — like some sequester'd star,
That rolls in its Creator's beams afar,
Unseen by man; till telescopic eye,
Sounding the blue abysses of the sky,
Draws forth its hidden beauty into light,
And adds a jewel to the crown of night.
Though hoary with the multitude of years,
Unshorn of strength, between his young compeers,
He towers; — with faith, whose boundless glance can see
Time's shadows brightening through eternity;
Love, — God's own love in his pure breast enshrined;
Love, — love to man the magnet of his mind;
Sublimer schemes maturing in his thought
Than ever statesman plann'd or warrior wrought;
While, with rejoicing tears, and rapturous sighs,
To heaven ascends their morning sacrifice.

Whence are the pilgrims? whither would they roam?
Greenland their port; — Moravia was their home.
Sprung from a race of martyrs; men who bore
The cross on many a Golgotha, of yore;
When first Sclavonian tribes the truth received,
And princes at the price of thrones believed;
— When W ALDO , flying from the' apostate west,
In German wilds his righteous cause confess'd;
— When W ICKLIFFE , like a rescuing Angel, found
The dungeon where the word of God lay bound,
Unloosed its chains, and led it by the hand,
In its own sunshine, through his native land:
— When H USS , the victim of perfidious foes,
To heaven upon a fiery chariot rose;
And ere he vanish'd, with a prophet's breath,
Foretold the' immortal triumphs of his death.
— When Z ISKA , burning with fanatic zeal,
Exchanged the Spirit's sword for patriot steel,
And through the heart of Austria's thick array
To Tabor's summit stabb'd resistless way;
But there (as if transfigured on the spot
The world's Redeemer stood) his rage forgot;
Deposed his arms and trophies in the dust,
Wept like a babe, and placed in God his trust,
While prostrate warriors kiss'd the hallow'd ground,
And lay, like slain, in silent ranks around:
— When mild G REGORIUS , in a lowlier field,
As brave a witness, as unwont to yield
As Z ISKA 's self, with patient footsteps trod
A path of suffering, like the Son of God,
And nobler palms, by meek endurance won,
Than if his sword had blazed from sun to sun:
Though nature fail'd him on the racking wheel,
He felt the joys which parted spirits feel;
Rapt into bliss from ecstasy of pain,
Imagination wander'd o'er a plain:
Fair in the midst, beneath a morning sky,
A tree its ample branches bore on high.
With fragrant bloom, and fruit delicious hung,
While birds beneath the foliage fed and sung;
All glittering to the sun with diamond dew,
O'er sheep and kine a breezy shade it threw;
A lovely boy, the child of hope and prayer,
With crook and shepherd's pipe, was watching there;
At hand three venerable forms were seen,
In simple garb, with apostolic mien,
Who mark'd the distant fields convulsed with strife,
— The guardian Cherubs of that Tree of Life;
Not armed like Eden's host, with flaming brands,
Alike to friends and foes they stretch their hands,
In sign of peace, and while Destruction spread
His path with carnage, welcomed all who fled:
— When poor C OMENIUS , with his little flock,
Escaped the wolves, and from the boundary rock,
Cast o'er Moravian hills a look of woe,
Saw the green vales expand, the waters flow,
And happier years revolving in his mind,
Caught every sound that murmur'd on the wind;
As if his eye could never thence depart,
As if his ear were seated in his heart.
And his full soul would thence a passage break,
To leave the body, for his country's sake;
While on his knees he pour'd the fervent prayer,
That God would make that martyr-land his care,
And nourish in its ravaged soil a root
Of G REGOR 's Tree, to bear perennial fruit.

His prayer was heard: — that Church, through ages past,
Assail'd and rent by persecution's blast;
Whose sons no yoke could crush, no burden tire,
Unawed by dungeons, tortures, sword, and fire,
(Less proof against the world's alluring wiles,
Whose frowns have weaker terrors than its smiles;)
— That Church o'erthrown, dispersed, unpeopled, dead,
Oft from the dust of ruin raised her head,
And rallying round her feet, as from their graves,
Her exiled orphans, hid in forest-caves;
Where, 'midst the fastnesses of rocks and glens,
Banded like robbers, stealing from their dens,
By night they met, their holiest vows to pay,
As if their deeds were dark, and shunn'd the day;
While Christ's revilers, in his seamless robe,
And parted garments, flaunted round the globe;
From east to west while priestcraft's banners flew,
And harness'd kings his iron chariot drew:
— That Church advanced triumphant, o'er the ground,
Where all her conquering martyrs had been crown'd,
Fearless her foe's whole malice to defy,
And worship God in liberty, — or die:
For truth and conscience oft she pour'd her blood,
And firmest in the fiercest conflicts stood,
Wresting from bigotry the proud control
Claim'd o'er the sacred empire of the soul,
Where God, the judge of all, should fill the throne,
And reign, as in his universe, alone.

'Twas thus through centuries she rose and fell;
At length victorious seem'd the gates of hell;
But founded on a rock, which cannot move —
The eternal rock of her Redeemer's love —
That Church, which Satan's legions thought destroy'd,
Her name extinct, her place for ever void,
Alive once more, respired her native air,
But found no freedom for the voice of prayer:
Again the cowl'd oppressor clank'd his chains,
Flourish'd his scourge, and threaten'd bonds and pains,
(His arm enfeebled could no longer kill,
But in his hearThe was a murderer still:)
Then C HRISTIAN D AVID , strengthen'd from above,
Wise as the serpent, harmless as the dove;
Bold as a lion on his Master's part,
In zeal a seraph, and a child in heart:
Pluck'd from the gripe of antiquated laws,
( — Even as a mother from the felon jaws
Of a lean wolf, that bears her babe away,
With courage beyond nature, rends the prey,)
The little remnant of that ancient race:
— Far in Lusatian woods they found a place;
There — where the sparrow builds her busy nest,
And the clime-changing swallow loves to rest,
Thine altar, God of Hosts! — there still appear
The tribes to worship, unassail'd by fear;
Not like their fathers, vex'd from age to age
By blatant Bigotry's insensate rage,
Abroad in every place, — in every hour
Awake, alert, and ramping to devour.
No; peaceful as the spot where Jacob slept,
And guard all night the journeying angels kept,
Herrnhut yet stands amidsTher shelter'd bowers;
— The Lord hath set his watch upon her towers.

Soon, homes of humble form, and structure rude,
Raised sweet society in solitude:
And the lorn traveller there, at fall of night,
Could trace from distant hills the spangled light,
Which now from many a cottage window stream'd,
Or in full glory round the chapel beam'd;
While hymning voices, in the silent shade,
Music of all his soul's affections made;
Where through the trackless wilderness erewhile,
No hospitable ray was known to smile;
Or if a sudden splendour kindled joy,
'Twas but a meteor dazzling to destroy:
While the wood echoed to the hollow owl,
The fox's cry, or wolf's lugubrious howl.

Unwearied as the camel, day by day,
Tracks through unwater'd wilds his doleful way,
Yet in his breast a cherish'd draught retains,
To cool the fervid current in his veins,
While from the sun's meridian realms he brings
The gold and gems of Ethiopian kings:
So C HRISTIAN D AVID , spending yet unspent,
On many a pilgrimage of mercy went;
Through all their haunts his suffering brethren sought,
And safely to that land of promise brought;
While in his bosom, on the toilsome road,
A secret well of consolation flow'd,
Fed from the fountain near the' eternal throne,
— Bliss to the world unyielded and unknown.

In stillness thus the little Zion rose;
But scarcely found those fugitives repose,
Ere to the West with pitying eyes they turn'd;
Their love to Christ beyond the' Atlantic burn'd.
Forth sped their messengers, content to be
Captives themselves, to cheer captivity;
Soothe the poor Negro with fraternal smiles,
And preach deliverance in those prison-isles,
Where man's most hateful forms of being meet,
— The tyrant and the slave that licks his feet.

O'er Greenland next two youths in secret wept:
And where the sabbath of the dead was kept,
With pious forethought, while their hands prepare
Beds which the living and unborn shall share,
(For man so surely to the dust is brought,
His grave before his cradle may be wrought,)
They told their purpose, each o'erjoyed to find
His own idea in his brother's mind.
For counsel in simplicity they pray'd,
And vows of ardent consecration made:
— Vows heard in heaven; from that accepted hour,
Their souls were clothed with confidence and power
Nor hope deferr'd could quell their hearts desire;
The bush once kindled grew amidst' the fire;
But ere its shoots a tree of life became,
Congenial spirits caught the' electric flame;
And for that holy service, young and old,
Their plighted faith and willing names enroll'd;
Eager to change the rest, so lately found,
For life-long labours on barbarian ground;
To break, through barriers of eternal ice,
A vista to the gates of Paradise;
And light beneath the shadow of the pole
The tenfold darkness of the human soul;
To man, — a task more hopeless than to bless
With Indian fruits that arctic wilderness;
With God, — as possible when unbegun
As though the destined miracle were done.

Three chosen candidates at length went forth,
Heralds of mercy to the frozen north;
Like mariners with seal'd instructions sent,
They went in faith, (as childless Abram went
To dwell by sufferance in a land, decreed
The future birthright of his promised seed,)
Unknowing whither; — uninquiring why
Their lot was cast beneath so strange a sky,
Where cloud nor star appear'd, to mortal sense
Pointing the hidden path of Providence,
And all around was darkness to be felt;
— Yet in that darkness light eternal dwelt:
They knew, — and 'twas enough for them to know,
The still small voice that whisper'd them to go;
For He, who spake by that mysterious voice,
Inspired their will, and made His call their choice.

See the swift vessel bounding o'er the tide,
That wafts with C HRISTIAN D AVID for their guide,
Two young Apostles on their joyful way
To regions in the twilight verge of day:
Freely they quit the clime that gave them birth,
Home, kindred, friendship, all they loved on earth;
What things were gain before, accounting loss,
And glorying in the shame, they bear the cross;
— Not as the Spaniard, on his flag unfurl'd,
A bloody omen through a Pagan world:
— Not the vain image, which the Devotee
Clasps as the God of his idolatry;
But in their hearts, to Greenland's western shore,
That dear memorial of their Lord they bore;
Amidst the wilderness to lift the sign
Of wrath appeased by sacrifice divine;
And bid a serpent-stung and dying race
Look on their Healer, and be saved by grace.
Rate this poem: 

Reviews

No reviews yet.