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SONG OF THE GREEK BARD


(From "Don Juan," Canto-III.)

LORD BYRON
    The isles of Greece, the isles of Greece!
        Where burning Sappho loved and sung,
    Where grew the arts of war and peace,
        Where Delos rose and Phoebus sprung!
    Eternal summer gilds them yet,
    But all, except their sun, is set.
    The Scian and the Teian muse,
        The hero's harp, the lover's lute,
    Have found the fame your shores refuse;
        Their place of birth alone is mute
    To sounds which echo further west
    Than your sires' "Islands of the Blest."
    The mountains look on Marathon--
        And Marathon looks on the sea;
    And musing there an hour alone,
        I dreamed that Greece might still be free:
    For, standing on the Persian's grave,
    I could not deem myself a slave.
    A king sat on the rocky brow
        Which looks o'er sea-born Salamis;
    And ships by thousands lay below,
      And men in nations;--all were his!
    He counted them at break of day--
    And when the sun set, where were they?
    And where are they? and where art thou
        My country? On thy voiceless shore
    The heroic lay is tuneless now--
        The heroic bosom beats no more.
    And must thy lyre, so long divine,
        Degenerate into hands like mine?
    'Tis something in the dearth of fame,
        Though linked among a fettered race,
    To feel at least a patriot's shame,
        Even as I sing, suffuse my face;
    For what is left the poet here?
        For Greeks a blush--for Greece a tear.
    Must we but weep o'er days more blest?
        Must we but blush?--Our fathers bled.
    Earth, render back from out thy breast
        A remnant of our Spartan dead!
    Of the three hundred grant but three,
    To make a new Thermopylæ!
    What, silent still? and silent all?
        Ah, no; the voices of the dead
    Sound like a distant torrent's fall,
        And answer, "Let one living head,
    But one, arise--we come, we come!"
    'Tis but the living who are dumb.
    In vain--in vain: strike other chords;
        Fill high the cup with Samian wine!
    Leave battles to the Turkish hordes,
        And shed the blood of Scio's vine!
    Hark! rising to the ignoble call--
    How answers each bold bacchanal!
    You have the Pyrrhic dance as yet--
        Where is the Pyrrhic phalanx gone?
    Of two such lessons, why forget
        The nobler and the manlier one?
    You have the letters Cadmus gave--
    Think you he meant them for a slave?
    The tyrant of the Chersonese
        Was freedom's best and bravest friend;
    That tyrant was Miltiades!
        O that the present hour would lend
    Another despot of the kind!
    Such chains as his were sure to bind.
    Trust not for freedom to the Franks--
        They have a king who buys and sells--
    In native swords and native ranks
        The only hope of courage dwells;
    But Turkish force and Latin fraud
    Would break your shield, however broad.
    Place me on Sunium's marbled steep,
        Where nothing, save the waves and I
    May hear our mutual murmurs sweep;
        There, swan-like, let me sing and die;
    A land of slaves shall ne'er be mine--
    Dash down yon cup of Samian wine!

Historical: The decline of Greece is the theme of this poem. Byron represents a Greek poet as contrasting ancient and modern Greece, showing that, in modern Greece, "all except their sun is set."