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Off Mesolongi

Alfred Austin 1835 (Leeds) – 1913 (Ashford)



The lights of Mesolongi gleam
Before me, now the day is gone;
And vague as leaf on drifting stream,
My keel glides on.

No mellow moon, no stars arise;
In other lands they shine and roam:
All I discern are darkening skies
And whitening foam.

So on those lights I gaze that seem
Ghosts of the beacons of my youth,
Ere, rescued from their treacherous gleam,
I steered towards truth.

And you, too, Byron, did awake,
And ransomed from the cheating breath
Of living adulation, stake
Greatness on death!

Alas! the choice was made too late.
You treated Fame as one that begs,
And, having drained the joys that sate,
Offered the dregs.

The lees of life you scornful brought,
Scornful she poured upon the ground:
The honoured doom in shame you sought,
You never found.

``The Spartan borne upon his shield''
Is not the meed of jaded lust;
And, ere your feet could reach the field,
Death claimed your dust.

Upon the pillow, not the rock,
Like meaner things you ebbed away,
Yearning in vain for instant shock
Of mortal fray.

The futile prayer, the feeble tear,
All that deforms the face of death,
You had to bear, whilst in your ear
Hummed battle's breath.

You begged the vulture, not the worm,
Might feed upon your empty corse.
In vain! Just Nemesis was firm
'Gainst late remorse.

Too much you asked, too little gave,
The crown without the cross of strife.
What is it earns a soldier's grave?
A soldier's life.

Think not I come to taunt the dead.
My earliest master still is dear;
And what few tears I have to shed,
Are gathering here.

Behind me lies Ulysses' isle,
The wanderer wise who pined for home.
But Byron! Neither tear nor smile
Forbade you roam.

Yours was that bitterest mortal fate,
No choice save thirst or swinish trough:
Love's self but offered sensuous bait,
Or virtuous scoff.

Yet was it well to wince, and cry
For anguish, and at wrong to gird?
Best,-like your gladiator, die
Without a word!

There be, who in that fault rejoice,
Since sobs survive as sweetest lays,
And yours remains the strongest voice
Of later days.

For me, I think of you as One
Who vaguely pined for worthier lot
Than to be blinked at like the sun,
But found it not.

Who blindly fought his way from birth,
Nor learned, till 'twas too late to heed,
Not all the noblest songs are worth
One noble deed:

Who, with the doom of glory cursed,
Still played the athlete's hollow part,
And 'neath his bay-green temples nursed
A withered heart.

On, silent keel, through silent sea.
I will not land where He, alas!
Just missed Fame's crown. Enough for me
To gaze, and pass.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

2:21 min read
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Alfred Austin

Alfred Austin DL was an English poet who was appointed Poet Laureate in 1896 upon the death of Alfred, Lord Tennyson. more…

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