Thomas Love Peacock


(2nd edition)

     ---anankta ton pantôn huperbal-
     lonta chronon makarôn.

                         Pind[ar. Hymn. frag. 33].


An address to the spirit of ancient times introduces an evening contemplation on the ruined magnificence of Palmyra, on the obscurity that involves its history, its monuments, its inscriptions in a language now unknown. 'Fancy calls up the forms of its monarchs, chiefs, and philosophers; few of whose names, in addition to those of odenathus, Zenobia, and Longinus, have survived the lapse of years. Time asserts his empire over the ruins, and dissipates the phantoms of fancy. The silence and solitude of the evening twilight, in these scenes of desolated splendor, present an impressive contrast to the days of their past prosperity. Human passions, and the actions that result from them, are nearly the same in all ages and nations. All the works of man are subject to the same decay. Even these ruins will disappear from the desert. Time and change have absolute dominion over every thing terrestrial but virtue and the mind.


         Spirit of the days of yore!
           Thou! who, in thy haunted cave,
         By the torrent's sounding shore,
           Mark'st the autumnal tempest rave:
   05    Or, where on some ivied wall
         Twilight-mingled moonbeams fall,
         Deep in aisles and cloisters dim,
         Hear'st the grey monks' verpser hymn:
         Or, beneath the cypress shade,
   10    Where forgotten chiefs are laid,
         Pacing slow with solemn tread,
         Breathest the verse that wakes the dead---
         By the ivied convent lone,
         By the Runic warrior's stone,
   15    By the mountain-cataract's roar,
         Spirit! thee I seek no more.
         Let me, remote from earthly care,
         Thy philosophic vigils share,
         Amid the wrecks of ancient time,
   20    More sad, more solemn, more sublime,
         Where, half-sunk in seas of sand,
         Thedmor's marble wastes expand.
       These silent wrecks, more eloquent than speech,
         Full many a tale of awful note impart:
   25  Truths more severe than bard or sage can teach
         This pomp of ruin presses on the heart
       Sad through the palm the evening breezes-sigh:
         No sound of man the solitude pervades,
       Where shattered forms of ancient monarchs lie,
   30    Mid grass-grown halls, and falling colonnades.
       Beneath the drifting sand, the clustering weed,
         Rest the proud relics of departed power.
       None may the trophy-cinctured tablet read,
         On votive urn, or monumental tower,
   35Nor tell whose wasted forms the mouldering tombs embower.
         Enthusiast fancy, robed in light,
         Dispels oblivion's deepening night.
         Her charms a solemn train unfold,
         Sublime on evening clouds of gold,
   40    Of sceptred kings, in proud array,
         And laurelled chiefs, and sages grey.
         But whose the forms, oh fame! declare,
         That crowd majestic on the air?
         Pour from thy deathless roll the praise
   45    Of kings renowned in elder days.
         I call in vain! The welcome strain
           Of praise to them no more shall sound:
         Their actions bright must sleep in night,
           Till time shall cease his mystic round.
   50    The glories of their ancient sway
         The stream of years has swept away:
         Their names, that nations heard with fear,
         Shall ring no more on mortal ear.
         Yet still the muse's eye may trace
   55    The noblest chief of Thedmor's race,
         Who, by Euphrates' startling waves,
     Bade outraged Rome her prostrate might unfold,
         Tore from the brow of Persia's pride
         The wreath in crimson victory dyed,
   60         And o'er his flying slaves
              Tumultuous ruin rolled.
         Throned by his side, a lovely form,
           In youthful majesty sublime,
         Like sun-beams through the scattering storm,
   65      Shines through the floating mists of time:
         Even as in other years she shone,
         When here she fixed her desert-throne,
     Triumphant in the transient smiles of fate;
         When Zabdas led her conquering bands
   70    O'er Asia's many-peopled lands,
     And subject monarchs thronged her palace-gate:
         Ere yet stern war's avenging storm,
         Captivity's dejected form,
       And death, in solitude and darkness furled,
   75Closed round the setting star, that ruled the eastern world.
         Dim shades around her move again,
       From memory blotted by the lapse of years:
         Yet, foremost in the sacred train,
           The venerable sage appears,
   80    Who once, these desolate arcades
           And time-worn porticoes among,
       Disclosed to princely youths and high-born maids
         The secret fountains of Mæonian song,
       And traced the mazy warblings of the lyre,
   85With all a critic's art, and all a poet's fire.
        What mystic form, uncouth and dread,
        With withered cheek, and hoary head,
        Swift as the death-fire cleaves the sky,
        Swept on sounding pinions by?
   90   'Twas Time. I know the foe of kings,
        His scythe, and sand, and eagle-wings:
        He cast a burning look around,
        And waved his bony hand, and frowned.
        Far from the spectre's scowl of fire,
   95   Fancy's feeble forms retire:
        Her air-born phantoms melt away,
        Like stars before the rising day.
        One shadowy tint enwraps the plain:
           No form is near, no steps intrude,
  100   To break the melancholy reign
           Of silence and of solitude.
        Ah! little thought the wealthy proud,
        When rosy pleasure laughed aloud,
        And music, with symphonious swell,
  105   Attuned to joy her festal shell,
        That here, amid their ancient land,
          The wanderer of the distant days
          Should mark, with sorrow-clouded gaze,
        The mighty wilderness of sand,
  110   While not a sound should meet his ear,
          Save of the desert-gales, that sweep,
          In modulated murmurs deep,
             The wasted graves above
        Of those, who once had revelled here
  115      In happiness and love.
        Short is the space to man assigned,
          His earthly vale to tread.
        He wanders, erring, weak, and blind,
          By adverse passions led:
  120Love, that with feeling's tenderest flow
     To rapture turns divided woe,
     And brightens every smile of fate
     That kindred souls participate:
     Jealousy, whose poisonous breath
  125   Blasts affection's opening bud:
     Wild despair, that laughs in death:
        Stern revenge, that bathes in blood:
     Fear, that his form in darkness shrouds,
        And trembles at the whispering air:
  130And hope, that pictures on the clouds
        Celestial visions, false, but fair.
       From the earliest twilight-ray,
       That marked creation's natal day,
            Till yesterday's declining fire,
  135  Thus still have rolled, perplexed by strife,
       he many-mingling wheels of life,
     And still shall roll, till time's last beams expire.
     And thus, in every age, in every clime,
            While years swift-circling fly,
  140The varying deeds, that mark the present time,
     Will be but shadows of the days gone by.
     Swift as the meteor's midnight course,
     Swift as the cataract's headlong force,
     Swift as the clouds, whose changeful forms
  145Hang on the rear of flying storms,
     So swift is Time's colossal stride
     Above the wrecks of human pride.
     These temples, awful in decay,
       Whose ancient splendor half endures,
  150These arches, dim in parting day,
       These dust-defiled entablatures,
     These shafts, whose prostrate pride around
       The desert-weed entwines its wreath,
     These capitals, that strew the ground,
  155  Their shattered colonnades beneath,
     These pillars, white in lengthening files,
     Grey tombs, and broken peristyles,
     May yet, through many an age, retain
     The pomp of Thedmor's wasted reign:
  160But Time still shakes, with giant-tread,
     The marble city of the dead,
     That crushed at last, a shapeless heap,
     Beneath the drifted sands shall sleep.
         The flower, that drinks the morning-dew,
  165      Far on the evening gale shall fly:
         The bark, that glides o'er ocean blue,
           Dashed on the distant rocks shall lie:
         The tower, that frowns in martial pride,
           Shall by the lightning-brand be riven:
  170    The arch, that spans the summer tide,
           Shall down the wintry floods be driven:
         The tomb, that guards the great one's name,
           Shall yield to time its sacred trust:
         The laurel of imperial fame
  175      Shall wither in unwatered dust.
         His mantle dark oblivion flings
         Around the monuments of kings,
       Who once to conquest shouting myriads bore.
       Fame's trumpet-blast, and victory's clarion shrill,
  180      Pass, like an echo of the hill,
     That breathes one wild response, and then is heard no more.
       But ne'er shall earthly time throw down
         The immortal pile that virtue rears:
       Her golden throne, and starry crown,
  185    Decay not with revolving years:
       For He, whose solemn voice controlled
         Necessity's mysterious sway,
       And yon vast orbs from chaos rolled
         Along the elliptic paths of day,
  190  Has fixed her empire, vast and high,
       Where primogenial harmony
       Unites, in ever-cloudless skies,
       Affection's death-divided ties;
       Where wisdom, with unwearying gaze,
  195  The universal scheme surveys,
       And truth, in central light enshrined,
     Leads to its source sublime the indissoluble mind.