Childe Harold's Pilgrimage by Lord Byron: Canto the Second




Come, blue-eyed maid of heaven!—but thou, alas,

Didst never yet one mortal song inspire—

Goddess of Wisdom! here thy temple was,

And is, despite of war and wasting fire,

And years, that bade thy worship to expire:

But worse than steel, and flame, and ages slow,

Is the drear sceptre and dominion dire

Of men who never felt the sacred glow

That thoughts of thee and thine on polished breasts bestow.


Ancient of days! august Athena! where,

Where are thy men of might, thy grand in soul?

Gone—glimmering through the dream of things that were:

First in the race that led to Glory's goal,

They won, and passed away—is this the whole?

A schoolboy's tale, the wonder of an hour!

The warrior's weapon and the sophist's stole

Are sought in vain, and o'er each mouldering tower,

Dim with the mist of years, grey flits the shade of power.


Son of the morning, rise! approach you here!

Come—but molest not yon defenceless urn!

Look on this spot—a nation's sepulchre!

Abode of gods, whose shrines no longer burn.

E'en gods must yield—religions take their turn:

'Twas Jove's—'tis Mahomet's; and other creeds

Will rise with other years, till man shall learn

Vainly his incense soars, his victim bleeds;

Poor child of Doubt and Death, whose hope is built on reeds.


Bound to the earth, he lifts his eyes to heaven—

Is't not enough, unhappy thing, to know

Thou art? Is this a boon so kindly given,

That being, thou wouldst be again, and go,

Thou know'st not, reck'st not to what region, so

On earth no more, but mingled with the skies!

Still wilt thou dream on future joy and woe?

Regard and weigh yon dust before it flies:

That little urn saith more than thousand homilies.


Or burst the vanished hero's lofty mound;

Far on the solitary shore he sleeps;

He fell, and falling nations mourned around;

But now not one of saddening thousands weeps,

Nor warlike worshipper his vigil keeps

Where demi-gods appeared, as records tell.

Remove yon skull from out the scattered heaps:

Is that a temple where a God may dwell?

Why, e'en the worm at last disdains her shattered cell!


Look on its broken arch, its ruined wall,

Its chambers desolate, and portals foul:

Yes, this was once Ambition's airy hall,

The dome of Thought, the Palace of the Soul.

Behold through each lack-lustre, eyeless hole,

The gay recess of Wisdom and of Wit,

And Passion's host, that never brooked control:

Can all saint, sage, or sophist ever writ,

People this lonely tower, this tenement refit?


Well didst thou speak, Athena's wisest son!

'All that we know is, nothing can be known.'

Why should we shrink from what we cannot shun?

Each hath its pang, but feeble sufferers groan

With brain-born dreams of evil all their own.

Pursue what chance or fate proclaimeth best;

Peace waits us on the shores of Acheron:

There no forced banquet claims the sated guest,

But Silence spreads the couch of ever welcome rest.


Yet if, as holiest men have deemed, there be

A land of souls beyond that sable shore,

To shame the doctrine of the Sadducee

And sophists, madly vain of dubious lore;

How sweet it were in concert to adore

With those who made our mortal labours light!

To hear each voice we feared to hear no more!

Behold each mighty shade revealed to sight,

The Bactrian, Samian sage, and all who taught the right!


There, thou!—whose love and life together fled,

Have left me here to love and live in vain—

Twined with my heart, and can I deem thee dead,

When busy memory flashes on my brain?

Well—I will dream that we may meet again,

And woo the vision to my vacant breast:

If aught of young Remembrance then remain,

Be as it may Futurity's behest,

For me 'twere bliss enough to know thy spirit blest!


Here let me sit upon this mossy stone,

The marble column's yet unshaken base!

Here, son of Saturn, was thy favourite throne!

Mightiest of many such! Hence let me trace

The latent grandeur of thy dwelling-place.

It may not be: nor even can Fancy's eye

Restore what time hath laboured to deface.

Yet these proud pillars claim no passing sigh;

Unmoved the Moslem sits, the light Greek carols by.


But who, of all the plunderers of yon fane

On high, where Pallas lingered, loth to flee

The latest relic of her ancient reign—

The last, the worst, dull spoiler, who was he?

Blush, Caledonia! such thy son could be!

England! I joy no child he was of thine:

Thy free-born men should spare what once was free;

Yet they could violate each saddening shrine,

And bear these altars o'er the long reluctant brine.


But most the modern Pict's ignoble boast,

To rive what Goth, and Turk, and Time hath spared:

Cold as the crags upon his native coast,

His mind as barren and his heart as hard,

Is he whose head conceived, whose hand prepared,

Aught to displace Athena's poor remains:

Her sons too weak the sacred shrine to guard,

Yet felt some portion of their mother's pains,

And never knew, till then, the weight of Despot's chains.


What! shall it e'er be said by British tongue

Albion was happy in Athena's tears?

Though in thy name the slaves her bosom wrung,

Tell not the deed to blushing Europe's ears;

The ocean queen, the free Britannia, bears

The last poor plunder from a bleeding land:

Yes, she, whose generous aid her name endears,

Tore down those remnants with a harpy's hand.

Which envious eld forbore, and tyrants left to stand.


Where was thine aegis, Pallas, that appalled

Stern Alaric and Havoc on their way?

Where Peleus' son? whom Hell in vain enthralled,

His shade from Hades upon that dread day

Bursting to light in terrible array!

What! could not Pluto spare the chief once more,

To scare a second robber from his prey?

Idly he wandered on the Stygian shore,

Nor now preserved the walls he loved to shield before.


Cold is the heart, fair Greece, that looks on thee,

Nor feels as lovers o'er the dust they loved;

Dull is the eye that will not weep to see

Thy walls defaced, thy mouldering shrines removed

By British hands, which it had best behoved

To guard those relics ne'er to be restored.

Curst be the hour when from their isle they roved,

And once again thy hapless bosom gored,

And snatched thy shrinking gods to northern climes abhorred!


But where is Harold? shall I then forget

To urge the gloomy wanderer o'er the wave?

Little recked he of all that men regret;

No loved one now in feigned lament could rave;

No friend the parting hand extended gave,

Ere the cold stranger passed to other climes.

Hard is his heart whom charms may not enslave;

But Harold felt not as in other times,

And left without a sigh the land of war and crimes.


He that has sailed upon the dark blue sea,

Has viewed at times, I ween, a full fair sight;

When the fresh breeze is fair as breeze may be,

The white sails set, the gallant frigate tight,

Masts, spires, and strand retiring to the right,

The glorious main expanding o'er the bow,

The convoy spread like wild swans in their flight,

The dullest sailer wearing bravely now,

So gaily curl the waves before each dashing prow.


And oh, the little warlike world within!

The well-reeved guns, the netted canopy,

The hoarse command, the busy humming din,

When, at a word, the tops are manned on high:

Hark to the boatswain's call, the cheering cry,

While through the seaman's hand the tackle glides

Or schoolboy midshipman that, standing by,

Strains his shrill pipe, as good or ill betides,

And well the docile crew that skilful urchin guides.


White is the glassy deck, without a stain,

Where on the watch the staid lieutenant walks:

Look on that part which sacred doth remain

For the lone chieftain, who majestic stalks,

Silent and feared by all: not oft he talks

With aught beneath him, if he would preserve

That strict restraint, which broken, ever baulks

Conquest and Fame: but Britons rarely swerve

From law, however stern, which tends their strength to nerve.


Blow, swiftly blow, thou keel-compelling gale,

Till the broad sun withdraws his lessening ray;

Then must the pennant-bearer slacken sail,

That lagging barks may make their lazy way.

Ah! grievance sore, and listless dull delay,

To waste on sluggish hulks the sweetest breeze!

What leagues are lost before the dawn of day,

Thus loitering pensive on the willing seas,

The flapping sails hauled down to halt for logs like these!


The moon is up; by Heaven, a lovely eve!

Long streams of light o'er dancing waves expand!

Now lads on shore may sigh, and maids believe:

Such be our fate when we return to land!

Meantime some rude Arion's restless hand

Wakes the brisk harmony that sailors love:

A circle there of merry listeners stand,

Or to some well-known measure featly move,

Thoughtless, as if on shore they still were free to rove.


Through Calpe's straits survey the steepy shore;

Europe and Afric, on each other gaze!

Lands of the dark-eyed maid and dusky Moor,

Alike beheld beneath pale Hecate's blaze:

How softly on the Spanish shore she plays,

Disclosing rock, and slope, and forest brown,

Distinct, though darkening with her waning phase:

But Mauritania's giant-shadows frown,

From mountain-cliff to coast descending sombre down.


'Tis night, when Meditation bids us feel

We once have loved, though love is at an end:

The heart, lone mourner of its baffled zeal,

Though friendless now, will dream it had a friend.

Who with the weight of years would wish to bend,

When Youth itself survives young Love and Joy?

Alas! when mingling souls forget to blend,

Death hath but little left him to destroy!

Ah, happy years! once more who would not be a boy?


Thus bending o'er the vessel's laving side,

To gaze on Dian's wave-reflected sphere,

The soul forgets her schemes of Hope and Pride,

And flies unconscious o'er each backward year.

None are so desolate but something dear,

Dearer than self, possesses or possessed

A thought, and claims the homage of a tear;

A flashing pang! of which the weary breast

Would still, albeit in vain, the heavy heart divest.


To sit on rocks, to muse o'er flood and fell,

To slowly trace the forest's shady scene,

Where things that own not man's dominion dwell,

And mortal foot hath ne'er or rarely been;

To climb the trackless mountain all unseen,

With the wild flock that never needs a fold;

Alone o'er steeps and foaming falls to lean:

This is not solitude; 'tis but to hold

Converse with Nature's charms, and view her stores unrolled.


But midst the crowd, the hum, the shock of men,

To hear, to see, to feel, and to possess,

And roam along, the world's tired denizen,

With none who bless us, none whom we can bless;

Minions of splendour shrinking from distress!

None that, with kindred consciousness endued,

If we were not, would seem to smile the less

Of all that flattered, followed, sought, and sued:

This is to be alone; this, this is solitude!


More blest the life of godly eremite,

Such as on lonely Athos may be seen,

Watching at eve upon the giant height,

Which looks o'er waves so blue, skies so serene,

That he who there at such an hour hath been,

Will wistful linger on that hallowed spot;

Then slowly tear him from the witching scene,

Sigh forth one wish that such had been his lot,

Then turn to hate a world he had almost forgot.


Pass we the long, unvarying course, the track

Oft trod, that never leaves a trace behind;

Pass we the calm, the gale, the change, the tack,

And each well-known caprice of wave and wind;

Pass we the joys and sorrows sailors find,

Cooped in their winged sea-girt citadel;

The foul, the fair, the contrary, the kind,

As breezes rise and fall, and billows swell,

Till on some jocund morn—lo, land! and all is well.


But not in silence pass Calypso's isles,

The sister tenants of the middle deep;

There for the weary still a haven smiles,

Though the fair goddess long has ceased to weep,

And o'er her cliffs a fruitless watch to keep

For him who dared prefer a mortal bride:

Here, too, his boy essayed the dreadful leap

Stern Mentor urged from high to yonder tide;

While thus of both bereft, the nymph-queen doubly sighed.


Her reign is past, her gentle glories gone:

But trust not this; too easy youth, beware!

A mortal sovereign holds her dangerous throne,

And thou mayst find a new Calypso there.

Sweet Florence! could another ever share

This wayward, loveless heart, it would be thine:

But checked by every tie, I may not dare

To cast a worthless offering at thy shrine,

Nor ask so dear a breast to feel one pang for mine.


Thus Harold deemed, as on that lady's eye

He looked, and met its beam without a thought,

Save Admiration glancing harmless by:

Love kept aloof, albeit not far remote,

Who knew his votary often lost and caught,

But knew him as his worshipper no more,

And ne'er again the boy his bosom sought:

Since now he vainly urged him to adore,

Well deemed the little god his ancient sway was o'er.


Fair Florence found, in sooth with some amaze,

One who, 'twas said, still sighed to all he saw,

Withstand, unmoved, the lustre of her gaze,

Which others hailed with real or mimic awe,

Their hope, their doom, their punishment, their law:

All that gay Beauty from her bondsmen claims:

And much she marvelled that a youth so raw

Nor felt, nor feigned at least, the oft-told flames,

Which, though sometimes they frown, yet rarely anger dames.


Little knew she that seeming marble heart,

Now masked by silence or withheld by pride,

Was not unskilful in the spoiler's art,

And spread its snares licentious far and wide;

Nor from the base pursuit had turned aside,

As long as aught was worthy to pursue:

But Harold on such arts no more relied;

And had he doted on those eyes so blue,

Yet never would he join the lover's whining crew.


Not much he kens, I ween, of woman's breast,

Who thinks that wanton thing is won by sighs;

What careth she for hearts when once possessed?

Do proper homage to thine idol's eyes,

But not too humbly, or she will despise

Thee and thy suit, though told in moving tropes;

Disguise e'en tenderness, if thou art wise;

Brisk Confidence still best with woman copes;

Pique her and soothe in turn, soon Passion crowns thy hopes.


'Tis an old lesson: Time approves it true,

And those who know it best deplore it most;

When all is won that all desire to woo,

The paltry prize is hardly worth the cost:

Youth wasted, minds degraded, honour lost,

These are thy fruits, successful Passion! these!

If, kindly cruel, early hope is crossed,

Still to the last it rankles, a disease,

Not to be cured when Love itself forgets to please.


Away! nor let me loiter in my song,

For we have many a mountain path to tread,

And many a varied shore to sail along,

By pensive Sadness, not by Fiction, led—

Climes, fair withal as ever mortal head

Imagined in its little schemes of thought;

Or e'er in new Utopias were read:

To teach man what he might be, or he ought;

If that corrupted thing could ever such be taught.


Dear Nature is the kindest mother still;

Though always changing, in her aspect mild:

From her bare bosom let me take my fill,

Her never-weaned, though not her favoured child.

Oh! she is fairest in her features wild,

Where nothing polished dares pollute her path:

To me by day or night she ever smiled,

Though I have marked her when none other hath,

And sought her more and more, and loved her best in wrath.


Land of Albania! where Iskander rose;

Theme of the young, and beacon of the wise,

And he his namesake, whose oft-baffled foes,

Shrunk from his deeds of chivalrous emprise:

Land of Albania! let me bend mine eyes

On thee, thou rugged nurse of savage men!

The cross descends, thy minarets arise,

And the pale crescent sparkles in the glen,

Through many a cypress grove within each city's ken.


Childe Harold sailed, and passed the barren spot

Where sad Penelope o'erlooked the wave;

And onward viewed the mount, not yet forgot,

The lover's refuge, and the Lesbian's grave.

Dark Sappho! could not verse immortal save

That breast imbued with such immortal fire?

Could she not live who life eternal gave?

If life eternal may await the lyre,

That only Heaven to which Earth's children may aspire.


'Twas on a Grecian autumn's gentle eve,

Childe Harold hailed Leucadia's cape afar;

A spot he longed to see, nor cared to leave:

Oft did he mark the scenes of vanished war,

Actium, Lepanto, fatal Trafalgar:

Mark them unmoved, for he would not delight

(Born beneath some remote inglorious star)

In themes of bloody fray, or gallant fight,

But loathed the bravo's trade, and laughed at martial wight.


But when he saw the evening star above

Leucadia's far-projecting rock of woe,

And hailed the last resort of fruitless love,

He felt, or deemed he felt, no common glow:

And as the stately vessel glided slow

Beneath the shadow of that ancient mount,

He watched the billows' melancholy flow,

And, sunk albeit in thought as he was wont,

More placid seemed his eye, and smooth his pallid front.


Morn dawns; and with it stern Albania's hills,

Dark Suli's rocks, and Pindus' inland peak,

Robed half in mist, bedewed with snowy rills,

Arrayed in many a dun and purple streak,

Arise; and, as the clouds along them break,

Disclose the dwelling of the mountaineer;

Here roams the wolf, the eagle whets his beak,

Birds, beasts of prey, and wilder men appear,

And gathering storms around convulse the closing year.