The Perpetual Youth of Nature


With what a hollow voice these broken ruins
Tell of the vanished past. Here they are thrown
Too rudely for the most inquiring eye
To read one legend of the men who reared them,
Or even form a guess of those who made
These walls their home. It is a beautiful clime,
And all the year is lovely on these shores;
For there is neither winter here to blight,
Nor the hot sun to dry the fountains up,
And make the plains a desert. Nature here
Has built her bower of evergreens: and flowers
Are never wanting for her festivals,
And these are every day, and there is in them
Such a perpetual variety
Of bright and fair, the heart is never weary
Of the soft revelry; — and yet no trace
Of human footsteps on the bordering sands
Of the calm ocean gives a sign that man
Has found his way before me to this haunt
Of silence and repose. Well, be it so,
And I will hold myself the rightful lord
Of all this fair domain, by the strong claim
Of first discovery. No inheritance
Of gilded palaces, or loaded fields
Bent with a thousand harvests, could so fill
My spirit with the stirring health of joy,
As thus to hold myself the sole possessor
Of such a solitude, — so full of life,
And yet so mute, — so bright and beautiful,
And yet so darkly shadowed with the pall
Of buried ages. How the merry vines
Go gadding in the brisk and spirited air,
That even calls from out the barren rocks
A welcoming smile. The wind is very low, —
It hardly wags the shrinking violet,
Or sends a quiver to the aspen-leaf,
Or curls the green wave on the pebbled shore,
Or gives a wrinkle to the quiet sea,
That, like a giant resting from his toil,
Sleeps in the morning sun. That flowery palm
Has a most glorious aspect as he bows
In silent worship to his rising god;
And from his station on the tallest pile
Of these mysterious ruins, once the shrine,
It may be, of the living Sun himself,
How like a most majestic sovereign
He keeps his lofty seat, and yet adores
The Lord that made him! It is wonderful
That man should hold himself so haughtily,
And talk of an immortal name, and feed
His proud ambition with such daring hopes
As creatures of a more eternal nature
Alone should form. Why, 't is a mockery
Too poor for tears, and yet too sad for smiles,
To think how much of glitter and of pride
Has flaunted in the sun, and sent him back
His fullest beams. These rude, disjointed heaps,
That seem the chaos of a broken world,
And hardly give us signs enough to show
They were not thrown from out the central earth
By an upheaving earthquake, — these were bright
With such barbaric pomp, as made the sun
Muffle his head, and hide himself at noon
To shun the poor encounter. So they sung,
The sycophants, who told the gorgeous tyrant
Of these once peopled shores, he was a god,
And with the port and bearing of a god
Sat on his throne, or in his chariot
Went sounding on his long triumphal way.
Fools! and where are they? Not a mark to tell
The shadows of their names. The tooth of Time
Has ground the marble sculptures to rude forms,
Such as the falling waters eat from rocks
In the deep gloom of caves! — and yet, as if
They meant to show their scorn of him who calls
Himself their lord, the beasts and creeping things
Have come from out their deserts and their holes,
And made their dens in the crushed palaces,
And round the buried altars hollowed out
Their lurking-places. O, how fresh and fair
Grows the young grass, and how the wild vines clasp
The rifted columns, with as bright a foliage
As when from out the bosom of the earth
First rose the rampant Spring, and the glad Sun
Laughed from his azure throne to see the buds
Put out their tender leaves, and the soft green
Spread like a carpet to the tented sky.
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