Nicholas Michell

O LAND of Solon, Plato, and of men
Whose glorious like earth ne’er shall see again!
Thou art not dead,—thy every plain and hill
Sends forth a voice, and teems with spirits still!
What though no more they teach, with valor burn?
Thy sage and warrior breathe from out the urn,
And each lone wreck that moss and ivies bind
Points to bright days, and speaks of godlike mind.
But rock-crowned Athens calls our thoughts away,
There sits she, lovely in her calm decay,
The eye of Greece, Fame’s daughter sad and lone,
The queen of Wisdom on her mouldering throne.
How thrill we, entering slow the western gate,
To climb yon mount where mightiest sages sate!
The rostrum, carved from stone, is seen this hour,
Where Eloquence distilled her silver shower.
There on Mars Hill stood Paul with flashing eye,
Like some bright form just lighted from the sky,
Marvelled so blind learned Athens still should be,
Admired but mourned her Pagan brilliancy.

*        *        *        *        *

What lofty columns near Ilissus’ stream
Tower o’er each wreck, and glitter in the beam?
Temple of Jove! around thy ruined site
Dogs lurk by day, the owlet hoots by night;
Where kings and heroes wont deep awe to feel,
Not one poor trembler now is found to kneel.
But pass we other scenes, where living men
Have reared their homes,—yes, Athens lives again,
Called from the gloom of strong Oppression’s grave,
No more the Moslem’s scorn, the tyrant’s slave;
Onward the pilgrim wends, and lifts his eyes
Where the proud rock of Cecrops courts the skies,
Bearing the pile, whose beauty well may claim
Homage from taste, and challenge endless fame.
We climb the ancient steep, which chief and sage
Mounted before, through many a changeful age;
Where Cimon blessed the gods that Greece was free,
And Thrasybulus shouted “Victory!”—
From Alpine mountains view the world below,
Towns, waving woods, and streams meandering slow;
Dim is the scene to that which greets thee here,
Prompting to worship, waking rapture’s tear.
Yes, rise, fair mount! the bright blue heavens to kiss,
Stoop not thy pride, august Acropolis!
Thy brow still wears its crown of columns gray,
Beauteous in ruin, stately in decay.
Two thousand years o’er earth have spread their pall,
Not yet, thy boast, Minerva’s shrine shall fall:
In spite of rapine, fire, and War’s red arm,
Enough remains to awe us, and to charm;
Glory and Phidias’ shade the relic keep,
Shield as they watch, and strengthen as they weep.
The Doric columns, wrought from fairest stone,
Severe but graceful, round the cella thrown,
The lofty front, the frieze where sculptures shine,
The long, long architrave’s majestic line,
Dazzle the eye with beauty’s rich excess,
O’erpower the mind by too much loveliness.

*        *        *        *        *

  Athens! thou birthplace of the great, the free!
Though bowed thy power, and dimmed thy name may be,
Though old Renown’s once dazzling sun hath set,
Fair beams the star of Memory o’er thee yet.
City! where sang the bard, and taught the sage,
Thy shrines may fall, thou ne’er wilt know old age;
Fresh shall thy image glow in every heart,
And but with Time’s last hour thy fame depart.

[Extract from Ruins of Many Lands]

Main Location:

Athens, Greece

Other locations:

The Parthenon in Athens, at night