On Helle's sea the light grew dim

On Helle's sea the light grew dim
As the last sounds of that sweet hymn
Floated along its azure tide —
Floated in light as if the lay
Had mixt with sunset's fading ray
And light and song together died.
So soft thro' evening's air had breathed
That choir of youthful voices wreathed
In many-linked harmony,
That boats then hurrying o'er the sea
Paused when they reached this fairy shore,
And lingered till the strain was o'er.

Of those young maids who 've met to fleet
In song and dance this evening's hours,
Far happier now the bosoms beat
Than when they last adorned these bowers;
For tidings of glad sound had come,
At break of day from the far isles —
Tidings like breath of life to some —
That Zea's sons would soon wing home,
Crowded with the light of Victory's smiles
To meet that brightest of all meeds
That wait on high, heroic deeds,
When gentle eyes that scarce for tears
Could trace the warrior's parting track,
Shall like a misty morn that clears
When the long-absent sun appears
Shine out all bliss to hail him back.

How fickle still the youthful breast! —
More fond of change than a young moon,
No joy so new was e'er possest
But Youth would leave for newer soon.
These Zean nymphs tho' bright the spot
Where first they held their evening play
As ever fell to fairy's lot
To wanton o'er by midnight's ray,
Had now exchanged that sheltered scene
For a wide glade beside the sea —
A lawn whose soft expanse of green
Turned to the west sun smilingly
As tho' in conscious beauty bright
It joyed to give him light for light.

And ne'er did evening more serene
Look down from heaven on lovelier scene.
Calm lay the flood around while fleet
O'er the blue shining element
Light barks as if with fairy feet
That stirred not the husht waters went;
Some, that ere rosy eve fell o'er
The blushing wave, with mainsail free,
Had put forth from the Attic shore,
Or the near Isle of Ebony: —
Some, Hydriot barks that deep in caves
Beneath Colonna's pillared cliffs,
Had all day lurked and o'er the waves
Now shot their long and dart-like skiffs.
Woe to the craft however fleet
These sea-hawks in their course shall meet,
Laden with juice of Lesbian vines,
Or rich from Naxos' emery mines;
For not more sure, when owlets flee
O'er the dark crags of Pendelee,
Doth the night-falcon mark his prey,
Or pounce on it more fleet than they.

And what a moon now lights the glade
Where these young island nymphs are met!
Full-orbed yet pure as if no shade
Had touched its virgin lustre yet;
And freshly bright as if just made
By Love's own hands of new-born light
Stolen from his mother's star tonight.

On a bold rock that o'er the flood
Jutted from that soft glade there stood
A Chapel, fronting towards the sea, —
Built in some by-gone century, —
Where nightly as the seaman's mark
When waves rose high or clouds were dark,
A lamp bequeathed by some kind Saint
Shed o'er the wave its glimmer faint,
Waking in way-worn men a sigh
And prayer to heaven as they went by.
'T was there, around that rock-built shrine
A group of maidens and their sires
Had stood to watch the day's decline,
And as the light fell o'er their lyres
Sung to the Queen-Star of the Sea
That soft and holy melody.

But lighter thoughts and lighter song
Now woo the coming hours along.
For mark, where smooth the herbage lies,
Yon gay pavilion curtained deep
With silken folds thro' which bright eyes
From time to time are seen to peep;
While twinkling lights that to and fro
Beneath those veils like meteors go,
Tell of some spells at work and keep
Young fancies chained in mute suspense,
Watching what next may shine from thence,
Nor long the pause ere hands unseen
That mystic curtain backward drew,
And all that late but shone between
In half-caught gleams now burst to view.

A picture 't was of the early days
Of glorious Greece ere yet those rays
Of rich, immortal Mind were hers
That made mankind her worshippers;
While yet unsung her landscapes shone
With glory lent by heaven alone;
Nor temples crowned her nameless hills,
Nor Muse immortalized her rills;
Nor aught but the mute poesy
Of sun and stars and shining sea
Illumed that land of bards to be.
While prescient of the gifted race
That yet would realm so blest adorn,
Nature took pains to deck the place
Where glorious Art was to be born.

Such was the scene that mimic stage
Of Athens and her hills portrayed;
Athens in her first, youthful age,
Ere yet the simple violet braid,
Which then adorned her had shone down
The glory of earth's loftiest crown.
While yet undreamed, her seeds of Art
Lay sleeping in the marble mine —
Sleeping till Genius bade them start
To all but life in shapes divine;
Till deified the quarry shone
And all Olympus stood in stone!

There in the foreground of that scene,
On a soft bank of living green
Sate a young nymph with her lap full
Of the newly gathered flowers, o'er which
She graceful leaned intent to cull
All that was there of hue most rich,
To form a wreath such as the eye
Of her young lover who stood by,
With pallet mingled fresh might choose
To fix by Painting's rainbow hues.

The wreath was formed; the maiden raised
Her speaking eyes to his, while he —
Oh not upon the flowers now gazed,
But on that bright look's witchery.
While, quick as if but then the thought
Like light had reached his soul, he caught
His pencil up and warm and true
As life itself that love-look drew:
And, as his raptured task went on,
And forth each kindling feature shone,
Sweet voices thro' the moonlight air
From lips as moonlight fresh and pure
Thus hailed the bright dream passing there,
And sung the Birth of Portraiture.
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