Lord Byron

George Gordon Lord Byron (1788-1824)

Ode on Venice

I.
Oh Venice! Venice! when thy marble walls
Are level with the waters, there shall be
A cry of nations o’er thy sunken halls,
A loud lament along the sweeping sea!
If I, a northern wanderer, weep for thee,

What should thy sons do?–anything but weep
And yet they only murmur in their sleep.
In contrast with their fathers–as the slime,
The dull green ooze of the receding deep,
Is with the dashing of the spring-tide foam
That drives the sailor shipless to his home,
Are they to those that were; and thus they creep,
Crouching and crab-like, through their sapping streets.
Oh! Agony-that centuries should reap
No mellower harvest! Thirteen hundred years
Of wealth and glory turn’d to dust and tears;
And every monument the stranger meets,
Church, palace, pillar, as a mourner greets;
And even the Lion all subdued appears,
And the harsh sound of the barbarian
With dull and daily dissonance, repeats
The echo of thy tyrant’s voice along
The soft waves, once all musical to song,
That heaved beneath the moonlight with the throng
Of gondolas–and to the busy hum
Of cheerful creatures, whose most sinful deeds
Were but the overbeating of the heart,
And flow of too much happiness, which needs
The aid of age to turn its course apart
From the luxuriant and voluptuous flood

Of sweet sensations, battling with the blood.
But these are better than the gloomy errors,
The weeds of nations in their last decay,
When Vice walks forth with her unsoften’d terrors,
And Mirth is madness, and but smiles to slay;
And Hope is nothing but a false delay,
The sick man’s lightning half an hour ere death,
When Faintness, the last mortal birth of Pain,
And apathy of limb, the dull beginning
Of the cold staggering race which Death is winning,
Steals vein by vein and pulse by pulse away;
Yet so relieving the o’er-tortured clay,
To him appears renewal of his breath,
And freedom the mere numbness of his chain;
And then he talks of life, and how again
He feels his spirit soaring–albeit weak,
And of the fresher air, which he would seek:
And as he whispers knows not that he gasps,
That his thin finger feels not what it clasps,
And so the film comes o’er him, and the dizzy
Chamber swims round and round, and shadows busy,
At which he vainly catches, flit and gleam,
Till the last rattle chokes the strangled scream,
And all is ice and blackness,–and the earth
That which it was the moment ere our birth.

II.
There is no hope for nations!–Search the page
Of many thousand years–the daily scene,
The flow and ebb of each recurring age,
The everlasting to be which hath been
Hath taught us nought, or little: still we lean
On things that rot beneath our weight, and wear

Our strength away in wrestling with the air:

For ’tis our nature strikes us down: the beasts
Slaughter ‘d in hourly hecatombs for feasts
Are of as high an order–they must go
Even where their driver goads them though to slaughter.
Ye men, who pour your blood for kings as water,
What have they given your children in return?
A heritage of servitude and woes,
A blindfold bondage, where your hire is blows.
What! do not yet the red-hot ploughshares burn,
O’er which you stumble in a false ordeal,
And deem this proof of loyalty the real;
Kissing the hand that guides you to your scars,
And glorying as you tread the glowing bars?
All that your sires have left you, all that Time
Bequeaths of free, and History of sublime,
Spring from a different theme! Ye see and read,
Admire and sigh, and then succumb and bleed!
Save the few spirits who, despite of all,
And worse than all, the sudden crimes engender’d
By the down-thundering of the prison­ wall,
And thirst to swallow the sweet waters tender’d,
Gushing from Freedom’s fountains, when the crowd,
Madden’d with centuries of drought, are loud,
And trample on each other to obtain
The cup which brings oblivion of a chain
Heavy and sore, in which long yoked they plough’d
The sand,–or if there sprung the yellow grain,
‘Twos not for them, their necks were too much how’d,
And their dead palates chew’d the cud of pain:
Yes! the few spirits, who, despite of deeds

Which they abhor, confound not with the cause
Those momentary starts from Nature’s laws,
Which, like the pestilence and earthquake, smite
But for a term, then pass, and leave the earth
With all her seasons to repair the blight
With a few summers, and again put forth
Cities and generations–fair, when free
For, Tyranny, there blooms no bud for thee!

III.
Glory and Empire! once upon these towers
With Freedom–godlike Triad! how ye sate!
The league of mightiest nations, in those hours
When Venice was an envy, might abate,
But did not quench her spirit, in her fate
All were enwrapp’d: the feasted monarchs knew
And loved their hostess, nor could learn to hate,
Although they humbled – with the kingly few
The many felt, for from all days and climes
She was the voyager’s worship; even her crimes
Were of the softer order–born of Love,
She drank no blood, nor fatten’d on the dead,
But gladden’d where her harmless conquests spread;
For these restored the Cross, that from above
Hallow’d her sheltering banners, which incessant
Flew between earth and the unholy Crescent,
Which, if it waned and dwindled, Earth may thank
The city it has clothed in chains, which clank
Now, creaking in the ears of those who owe
The name of Freedom to her glorious struggles;
Yet she but shares with them a common woe,
And call’d the ‘kingdom’ of a conquering foe,

But knows what all–and, most of all, we know–
With what set gilded terms a tyrant juggles!
The name of Commonwealth is past and gone
O’er the three fractions of the groaning globe;
Venice is crush’d, and Holland deigns to own
A sceptre, and endures the purple robe;
If the free Switzer yet bestrides alone
His chainless mountains, ’tis but for a time,
For tyranny of late is cunning grown,
And in its own good season tramples down
The sparkles of our ashes. One great clime,
Whose vigorous offspring by dividing ocean
Are kept apart and nursed in the devotion
Of Freedom, which their fathers fought for, and
Bequeath’d–a heritage of heart and hand,
And proud distinction from each other land,
Whose sons must bow them at a monarch’s motion,
As if his senseless sceptre were a wand
Full of the magic of exploded science–
Still one great clime, in full and free de­fiance,
Yet rears her crest, unconquer’d and sublime,
Above the far Atlantic! – She has taught
Her Esau–brethren that the haughty flag,
The floating fence of Albion’s feebler crag,
May strike to those whose red right hands have bought
Rights cheaply earn’d with blood. Stilt, still, for ever,
Better, though each man’s life–blood were a river,
That it should flow, and overflow, than creep
Through thousand lazy channels in our veins
Damm’d like the dull canal with locks and chains,
And moving, as a sick man in his sleep,
Three paces, and then faltering: better be

Where the extinguish’d Spartans still are free,
In their proud charnel of Thermopylae,
Than stagnate in our marsh,–or o’er the deep
Fly, and one current to the ocean add,
One spirit to the souls our fathers had,
One freeman more, America, to thee!

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