Sagas of Vaster Britain: Poems of the Race, the Empire and the Divinity of Man

by William Wilfred Campbell


 

ODE

TO A ROMAN ALTAR IN THE GROUNDS AT ALDBOROUGH MANOR, BOROUGHBRIDGE, YORKSHIRE


 

TO what strange sylvan god wast thou set up?
What ancient piety evolved thy form
And gave thee being? What influence, divine,
Taught heavenward uses symbolised in stone,
And made the Fear's first shrine?
                                                     By what far shore
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Of dream, Atlantean, Noachan remorse,
Didst thou become a part of man's first worship,
In sad, dim gropings toward the dread unknown?

Thou, older far than oldest, earliest Rome,
Spartan glory, exquisite Attic taste;

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Ere Nineveh and Edom thou wert dreamed!
On such as thee were olden gods invoked,
And loves and hatreds, hopes and longings blessed,
By those lorn children, half divine, half earth,
Remote, Erythean, of the early world.
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And thou, so old, yet ever eternally young,
In Art's pure dream austere, Corinthian; —
What centuried memories cling about thee yet?
What rites Elusian, orgies Bacchanal?
What sacrificial pomps and adorations?
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What longings, sorrows, what dim old-world woes,
Human despairs and miseries, dread and gone,
Have beat against thy dumb, unanswering heart?

On thy smooth scrolls did some shy Roman maid
Place her heart's vows, her secret offerings?

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Did Intrigue hideous desecrate thy beauty?
And was mailed War at thy side consecrate?
Did reeking Victory, in bronzed helm,
And boastful Triumph before thee chant rude pæans
To some grim god? or Roman matron fair
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Thy slim zone bind with garlands to some dim,
Benign, shy goddess of old woods and streams?

Now, late, thou lingerest in this English garden,
Lorn, forsaken, centuries since that age,
Ancient and gone, which gave thee being, passed;

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A dream in stone of some bygone belief,
Some olden, dead, exquisite superstition,
Some primal effort to appease the dark,
And lay that ghost of fear which haunts us yet
In this late twilight of a jaded world.

Mute, holy symbol of earth’s greatness gone!

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All Art’s divine, austere simplicity!
Thou monument of mystery and power,
Dead beauty, and imagination rare
Of classic Greece and mighty martial Rome!
Here in thy precincts drenched with honey dew
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Of ancientness and poesy’s elfin dream,
Once more from out thy shady coverts creep
Shy sylphs and fauns; creatures secret, strange;
Cruel and lewd or gentle; rude, refined,
Lorn, furtive dieties of the early world.
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Here Bacchus and his pards; pale river nymphs;
Satyrs and shy dryads; children, wild,
Of stream and mountain: last of all, great Pan,
Long banished, myrtle-crowned, to view once more,
As in those pristine ages dim, remote,
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Ere Greece knew Homer or the Tiber Rome,
His ancient island’s haunted woods and fields.