Vanity of Vanities, All Is Vanity

On Reggio's classic shore I stood,
And looked across the wave below,
And saw the sea, a glassy flood,
In all the hues of morning glow;
Groves waved aloft on sunward hills,
Their leaves were green and tipped with gold,
And all the dazzling pomp that fills
The sunset skies was round them rolled;
Arches on arches, proudly piled,
Seemed towering to the deep-blue sky,
And ruins lay deserted, wild,
And torrents foamed and thundered by;
And flowery meadows soft and green
In living emerald met the light,
And o'er their dewy turf were seen,
In countless gems, the drops of night;
And gardens, full of freshest flowers,
Unfurled the pictured veil of Spring,
And round the gay and perfumed bowers
Sweet-warbling birds were on the wing;
And many a tall and stately spire
Rose to the clouds, that loosely curled,
And, kindled each with solar fire,
Seemed beings of a brighter world;
And mountains reared their giant head,
And lifted high their peak of snow,
And o'er its wide, majestic bed
The ocean seemed to ebb and flow;
And all the wonders of the skies
And earth and sea were thrown around,
And all were stained in deepest dyes,
And vast as Being's utmost bound;
And on the magic scene I gazed,
And as behind the hills arose
The golden sun, awhile it blazed
In brighter tints, and then it closed,
And all the changing pageant passed,
In faint and fainter hues, away,
Until a tender green, at last,
Glassed o'er the still and waveless bay,
And Reggio's towers, Messina's wall,
The hills, the woods, the frequent sail
That trembled on the stream, were all
The relics of the fairy tale.

'T was evening, and the sun went down,
Deep crimsoned in the frowning sky,
And Night, in robe of dusky brown,
Hung out her lurid veil on high;
A mist crept o'er the lonely wild,
That heaved, a sandy ocean, round,
And loosely lay, in billows piled,
To the horizon's farthest bound;
The sun, as if involved in blood,
Shone through the fog with direful beam,
And from behind the hills a flood
Of liquid purple poured its stream,
And o'er the dusty desert flowed,
Until, as kindled by the rays,
The heated plain intensely glowed,
Like some wide forest in a blaze;
And riding o'er the distant waste
The burning sand-spout stalked along,
And as the horrid phantom passed,
The driver keener plied his thong,
And shrieked, as on the Simoom roared,
As if the gathered fiends of hell,
Around in vengeful armies poured,
Had rung the world's decisive knell;
But far away a bright Oase
Shone sweetly in the eastern sky,
As fair as in the magic glass
Groves, lawns, and hills, and waters lie;
A lake in mirrored brightness lay,
Spread like an overflowing Nile,
Its peaceful rippling seemed to play,
And curl in Summer's sweetest smile;
The sunset tinged the surface o'er,
And here it lay in sheeted gold,
And there the ruffled stream, before
The evening breeze, in emerald rolled;
And many a white and platted sail
Dropped softly down the silent tide,
Or as the rising winds prevail,
Careening low was seen to glide;
And there the fisher plied his oar,
And spread his net, and hung his pole,
And drove with palm boughs to the shore,
In crowds, the gayly glittering shoal;
And birds were ever on the wing,
Or lightly plashing in the flood,
And, gorgeous as an Eastern king,
In stately pomp the flammant stood;
And herds of lowing buffaloes,
And light gazelles, came down to drink,
And there the river-horse arose,
And stalked a giant to the brink;
And shepherds drove their pastured flocks
To taste the cool, refreshing wave,
And on the heathy-mantled rocks
The goats their tender bleating gave:
And o'er the green and rice-clad plain;
In coats of crimson, gold, and blue,
The small birds trilled their mellow strain,
And revelled in the falling dew;
And there the palm its pillar heaves,
And spreads its umbelled crown of flowers,
And broad and pointed glossy leaves,
Whose shade the idle camp embowers;
And there the aged sit and tell
Their tales, as high the light smoke curls,
And eye the dance, around the well,
Of fiery youths and black-eyed girls,
Or where in many a leap and curve
They keenly rush around the ring,
And with an aim that cannot swerve,
In eager strife, the jerreed fling;
And there beside the bubbling fount
The date its welcome shadow threw,
And many a child was seen to mount,
And pluck the fruit that on it grew;
And with its broad and pendent boughs,
The thickly tufted sycamore,
The image of profound repose,
Waved silently along the shore;
And mangroves bent their limbs to taste
The wave, that calmly floated by,
And showed beneath, as purely glassed,
A softer image of the sky;
And groves of myrtle sweetly blew,
And hung their boughs with spikes of snow,
And beds of flowering cassia threw
A splendor like the morning glow;
And o'er the wild, that stretched away
To meet the sands, now steeped with rain,
The lilies, in their proud array,
With pictured brightness gemmed the plain
And roses, damask, white, and red,
Stood breathing perfume on the rocks,
And there the dry acacia spread
Its deep, unfading yellow locks;
And gardens brighter bloomed the while
Around the silver-tiled kiosk,
And brighter shone with sacred smile
The gilded crescent on the mosque;
And over all calm evening drew
A tender, softly dimming veil,
And mellowed down each gayer hue
To tints that seemed divinely pale;
It was a lovely resting-place,
The traveller's home, the pilgrim's well,
Where he might sit at ease and trace
His wanderings, and his dangers tell;
It rose at once upon their sight,
Like Paradise from Heaven descending,
And there, with keen and eager light,
Each look, in panting hope, was bending;
An island on the pathless waste,
It caught the weary camel's eye,
And on he flew in wildest haste,
As if to drink the wave, and die;
And there the fainting Bedouin gazed,
As if the cup of life were given,
And then with thankful look he raised
His withered hands in prayer to Heaven;
And as he hurried on his road
O'er burning sand, and flinty rock,
Before his eye the phantom flowed,
A flattering, but delusive mock;
Its brightest tints grew wan and pale,
Its fairer features faded dim,
Till in a dark and lonely vale
A mist alone was seen to swim;
And as the tear in anguish stole,
The last and faintest beam of day
Fled, and the dream was seen to roll
And vanish in the night away;
And cold the wild Harmattan blew,
And rolled the dusty billow by,
But still no welcome rain nor dew
Came down to soothe their misery;
Parched, burnt, in agony they tread
The waste, in hopeless longing, o'er,
A frowning sky above their head,
A shoreless sea of sand before.

And life is but a fairy tale:
Its fondest and its brightest hours
Are transient as the passing gale,
Or drops of dew that melt in flowers;
And life is but a fleeting dream,
A shadow of a pictured sky,
The airy phantom of a stream,
That flattering smiles, and hurries by;
The mists that hover o'er the deep,
And seem the storm-beat sailor's home,
And, still retiring, always keep
Their station on the farthest foam;
Till imaged out, his woods and hills,
His father's cot, the village spire,
And all his heated fancy wills,
And all his eager hopes desire,
The white chalk coast that fronts the billow,
The boat that trimly scuds below,
The brook that glides beneath the willow,
With lulling chime and quiet flow;
Till all he loves, and all he longs
To meet and fold his arms around,
Come crowding in alluring throngs,
And every charm of home is found;
And round the ship the meadow lies,
That filled his hand with flowers in May,
And as the billows onward rise,
They spread and blossom green and gay;
But if he stoop to pluck the grass,
That waves in frolic mimicry,
Away the darling phantoms pass,
And leave alone the bitter sea:
And life is but a painted bow,
That crowns our days to come with smiles,
The mingled tints of Heaven, that throw
Their pomp on glory's airy piles;
But when we run to catch the gay
And glittering pageant, all is o'er,
And all its bright and rich array
Can draw us fondly on no more;
'T is like the moon who shines so clear
Above the mountains and the groves,
And seems to float along so near
The boy, he grasps the moon he loves,
And dreams it is some sweet, bright face,
Who smiles in such a pleasant sky,
And he would think it heaven to pass
His still, soft nights that maiden by;
He sits upon the grassy bank,
And rests his face upon his hand,
And looks intent, as if he drank
The light that silvers sea and land;
And though she smiles so sweetly on
Her fond and loving shepherd boy,
The same bright face is ever won
By those who make the night their joy.
O, life and all its charms decay!
Alluring, cheating, on they go;
The stream for ever steals away
In one irrevocable flow;
Its dearest charms, the charms of love,
Are fairest in their bud, and die
Whene'er their tender bloom we move;
We touch the leaves, they withered lie.
At distance all how gay, how sweet,
A very land of fairy blisses,
Where smiles, and tears, and soft words meet,
And willing lips unite in kisses;
But when we touch the magic shore,
The glow is gone, the charm is fled;
We find the dearest hues it wore
Are but the light around the dead,
And cold the hymeneal chain
That binds their cheated hearts in one,
And on, with many a step of pain,
Their weary race is sadly run;
And still, as on they plod their way,
They find, as life's gay dreams depart,
To close their being's toilsome day,
Naught left them but a broken heart.
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