Henry Timrod

(8 December 1828 - 7 October 1867 / Charleston, South Carolina)

A Prize Poem


A fairy ring
Drawn in the crimson of a battle-plain --
From whose weird circle every loathsome thing
And sight and sound of pain
Are banished, while about it in the air,
And from the ground, and from the low-hung skies,
Throng, in a vision fair
As ever lit a prophet's dying eyes,
Gleams of that unseen world
That lies about us, rainbow-tinted shapes
With starry wings unfurled,
Poised for a moment on such airy capes
As pierce the golden foam
Of sunset's silent main --
Would image what in this enchanted dome,
Amid the night of war and death
In which the arm|\ed city draws its breath,
We have built up!
For though no wizard wand or magic cup
The spell hath wrought,
Within this charm|"ed fane, we ope the gates
Of that divinest Fairy-land,
Where under loftier fates
Than rule the vulgar earth on which we stand,
Move the bright creatures of the realm of thought.
Shut for one happy evening from the flood
That roars around us, here you may behold --
As if a desert way
Could blossom and unfold
A garden fresh with May --
Substantialized in breathing flesh and blood,
Souls that upon the poet's page
Have lived from age to age,
And yet have never donned this mortal clay.
A golden strand
Shall sometimes spread before you like the isle
Where fair Miranda's smile
Met the sweet stranger whom the father's art
Had led unto her heart,
Which, like a bud that waited for the light,
Burst into bloom at sight!
Love shall grow softer in each maiden's eyes
As Juliet leans her cheek upon her hand,
And prattles to the night.
Anon, a reverend form,
With tattered robe and forehead bare,
That challenge all the torments of the air,
Goes by!
And the pent feelings choke in one long sigh,
While, as the mimic thunder rolls, you hear
The noble wreck of Lear
Reproach like things of life the ancient skies,
And commune with the storm!
Lo! next a dim and silent chamber where,
Wrapt in glad dreams in which, perchance, the Moor
Tells his strange story o'er,
The gentle Desdemona chastely lies,
Unconscious of the loving murderer nigh.
Then through a hush like death
Stalks Denmark's mail|"ed ghost!
And Hamlet enters with that thoughtful breath
Which is the trumpet to a countless host
Of reasons, but which wakes no deed from sleep;
For while it calls to strife,
He pauses on the very brink of fact
To toy as with the shadow of an act,
And utter those wise saws that cut so deep
Into the core of life!

Nor shall be wanting many a scene
Where forms of more familiar mien,
Moving through lowlier pathways, shall present
The world of every day,
Such as it whirls along the busy quay,
Or sits beneath a rustic orchard wall,
Or floats about a fashion-freighted hall,
Or toils in attics dark the night away.
Love, hate, grief, joy, gain, glory, shame, shall meet,
As in the round wherein our lives are pent;
Chance for a while shall seem to reign,
While Goodness roves like Guilt about the street,
And Guilt looks innocent.
But all at last shall vindicate the right,
Crime shall be meted with its proper pain,
Motes shall be taken from the doubter's sight,
And Fortune's general justice rendered plain.
Of honest laughter there shall be no dearth,
Wit shall shake hands with humor grave and sweet,
Our wisdom shall not be too wise for mirth,
Nor kindred follies want a fool to greet.
As sometimes from the meanest spot of earth
A sudden beauty unexpected starts,
So you shall find some germs of hidden worth
Within the vilest hearts;
And now and then, when in those moods that turn
To the cold Muse that whips a fault with sneers,
You shall, perchance, be strangely touched to learn
You've struck a spring of tears!

But while we lead you thus from change to change,
Shall we not find within our ample range
Some type to elevate a people's heart --
Some hero who shall teach a hero's part
In this distracted time?
Rise from thy sleep of ages, noble Tell!
And, with the Alpine thunders of thy voice,
As if across the billows unenthralled
Thy Alps unto the Alleghanies called,
Bid Liberty rejoice!
Proclaim upon this trans-Atlantic strand
The deeds which, more than their own awful mien,
Make every crag of Switzerland sublime!
And say to those whose feeble souls would lean,
Not on themselves, but on some outstretched hand,
That once a single mind sufficed to quell
The malice of a tyrant; let them know
That each may crowd in every well-aimed blow,
Not the poor strength alone of arm and brand,
But the whole spirit of a mighty land!

Bid Liberty rejoice! Aye, though its day
Be far or near, these clouds shall yet be red
With the large promise of the coming ray.
Meanwhile, with that calm courage which can smile
Amid the terrors of the wildest fray,
Let us among the charms of Art awhile
Fleet the deep gloom away;
Nor yet forget that on each hand and head
Rest the dear rights for which we fight and pray.

Submitted: Thursday, January 01, 2004

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