The Wreaths

Whom do we crown with the laurel leaf?
The hero god, the soldier chief,
But we dream of the crushing cannon-wheel,
Of the flying shot and the reeking steel,
Of the crimson plain where warm blood smokes,
Where clangor deafens and sulphur chokes:
Oh, who can love the laurel wreath,
Plucked from the gory field of death?

Whom do we crown with summer flowers?
The young and fair in their happiest hours.
But the buds will only live in the light
Of a festive day or a glittering night;
We know the vermil tints will fade —
That pleasure dies with the bloomy braid:
And who can prize the coronal
That's formed to dazzle, wither, and fall?

Who wears the cypress, dark and drear?
The one who is shedding the mourner's tear:
The gloomy branch for ever twines
Round foreheads graved with sorrow's lines.
'Tis the type of a sad and lonely heart,
That hath seen its dearest hopes depart.
Oh, who can like the chaplet band
That is wove by Melancholy's hand?

Where is the ivy circlet found?
On the one whose brain and lips are drowned
In the purple stream — who drinks and laughs
Till his cheeks outflush the wine he quaffs.
Oh, glossy and rich is the ivy crown,
With its gems of grape-juice trickling down;
But, bright as it seems o'er the glass and bow
It has stain for the heart and shade for the sou.

But there's a green and fragrant leaf
Betokens nor revelry, blood, nor grief:
'Tis the purest amaranth springing below,
And rests on the calmest, noblest brow:
It is not the right of the monarch or lord,
Nor purchased by gold, nor won by the sword;
For the lowliest temples gather a ray
Of quenchless light from the palm of bay.

Oh, beautiful bay! I worship thee —
I homage thy wreath — I cherish thy tree;
And of all the chaplets Fame may deal,
'Tis only to this one I would kneel;
For as Indians fly to the banian branch,
When tempests lower and thunders launch,
So the spirit may turn from crowds and strife.
And seek from the bay-wreath joy and life.
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