A Dramatic Sketch. Poem by Edwin Atherstone

A Dramatic Sketch.

Why do ye mock me thus?--
Ye said I should behold my native place,
Immortal Sparta:--mother of the race
Invincible:--the scourge of tyranny,
The dread of mightiest monarchs, and the home
Of persecuted freedom.--I had thought
To see a city, in whose boundless scope
Whole nations might have wander'd;--where the eye
Might vainly stretch to compass at a view
Its mighty bulk: where, strong and bold as gods,
Her sons might lift their foreheads to the sky,
Happy and free,--the wonder of the earth.
Three thousand years almost of aiding time
Must have done this, or more: all Greece perhaps
May now be only Sparta.--Taunting things!
Why do ye mock me thus?-- Spirit. Illustrious shade,
We mock thee not.--Look round again, and mark
If aught recal thy Sparta.-- Leonidas. Scoffing fiend!--
Desist thy lying tale;--nor vex my soul
With unendurable thoughts.--It cannot be.
The glorious city towers above the earth,
Supreme among the nations; and her fame
Sounds through the echoing universe. Her arms
Flash from the furthest regions of the East,
Where the bright sun gets up, to where he sinks,
Quench'd in the bottomless Ocean of the West.--
Her splendour cannot darken, nor her walls
Moulder in endless ages;--nor her sons
Forget their fathers' deeds,--But ye would sport
With mortal weakness;--sneer at patriot's warmth,
And laugh to scorn the pangs of wretched man,
Who dreads his country's ruin.--If not so,
Why place me here, perchance in Afric's wilds,
For all is drear and foreign to my gaze;
Why point with mocking finger to yon piles
Of black and hideous ruins, and pronounce
Th' adored name of Sparta?--Wherefore this?-- Spirit.
Unhappy Greek!--We would not mock thy woe:
Self--moved we come not, but by his command
Who rules the realms beneath.--Where stand'st thou now?--

(A long pause.) Doth nought recal the hill, where proudly rose
Famed Sparta's Citadel?-- (an anxious silence.) Do yon dark walls,
Arch'd like the crescent moon, suggest no trace
Of that vast theatre, where thousands raised
The thunders of applause? 'Tis silent now:
And the grey lizard, its sole tenant, crawls
With noiseless foot from forth the gloomy shade,
To bask in the hot sun. Thou seem'st o'erwhelm'd
With dread, yet unbelieving.--Cast thy look
On yon red distant mountains; there at least
Time hath not brought destruction.-- Know'st thou not
The hills of Menalaion? Winding still
'Tween yonder rising grounds, doth not thine eye
Behold Eurotas?--and, in shapeless heaps,
Choking the stream o'er which it proudly spann'd,
Babyx, the ancient bridge? Leonidas (with agony.) I cannot tell--
This is some cheating vision, and mine eyes
Do look on things that be not.--Ah! forbear--
And torture me no more.-- Spirit. Look once again--
View to the North yon tow'ring hill:--the vale
That meets its base hath not a ruin left;--
No stone that tells of human labours there:
Yet on that naked plain thou must recal
The public place, with all the princely piles
That rear'd their heads to heaven. Leonidas (in despair.) Oh! 'tis too true!
Sparta is gone!--Capricious Jove, thy hand
Hath wrought this matchless misery:--the world
Bringing its force united--from the boy
Who strains his maiden bow--string to the wretch
Whose aged arm can barely lift the sword,
All in one league combined--had not sufficed
For such unequall'd ruin.
(A band of Turks, with martial music and all their military parade, march in the distance.)
What are these?
Is this some holiday?--and can the Greeks
Unfeeling, unabash'd, with dance and song,
And quaint attire, pass Sparta's awful grave,
Nor dread from vengeful Heav'n an equal fate? Spirit. Wretched Leonidas! the arm of Jove
Hath not destroy'd thy city: whom thou see'st
Are Turks, a barbarous race. Greece is no more--
Sparta--and Athens--Argos--Corinth--all
The glorious family of Greece are fallen:--
Her sons are slaves--her very name is rased
From out the book of nations.--Manners--laws--
Customs--and language--all are swept away
In one vast desolation: and yon bands
Of tawdry warriors, whom thine erring eye
Deem'd unrespective jesters--wield the scourge
That bows the Grecian spirit to the dust:--
Sole lords and conquerors they.-- Leonidas
--(after a long pause and in unspeakable agony). Take me to hell again.

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