by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Sung at the Completion of the Battle Monument, July 4, 1837
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.
The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.
On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.
Spirit, that made those heroes dare,
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.
A possibly accidental shot, fired without authority or maybe even intent, ignited a powder keg of tension and set of an explosion the reverberations of which are still felt today. How accidental human history is! A cursory review of humankind’s most important events disproves Hegelian dialectics outright. One must hope we have not left too many other powder kegs exposed to the sparks thrown off by everyday affairs, particularly in times (like the present) when we walk swinging swords among people made of flint.
Greenough’s Statue of Medora
by Richard Henry Dana
Medora, wake!—nay, do not wake!
I would not stir that placid brow,
Nor lift those lids, though light should break
Warm from the twin blue heavens that lie below.
Sleep falls on thee, as on the streams
The summer moon. Touched by its might,
The soul comes out in loving dreams,
And wraps thy delicate form in living light.
Thou art not dead!—These flowers say
That thou, though more thou heed’st them not,
Didst rear them once for him away,
Then loose them in thy hold like things forgot,
And lay thee here where thou might’st weep,—
That Death but hushed thee to repose,
As mothers tend their infants’ sleep,
And watch their eyelids falter, open, close,—
That here thy heart hath found release,
Thy sorrows all are gone away,
Or touched by something almost peace,
Like night’s last shadows by the gleaming day.
When he who gave thee form is gone,
And I within the earth shall lie,
Thou still shalt slumber softly on,
Too fair to live, too beautiful to die.
Greenough’s Medora has long been one of my favorite sculptures. The piece is based on a character from Byron’s ridiculous verse tale The Corsair, which tells the story of a pirate named Conrad who arrives home to see his love Medora after a long absence, only to depart an hour later, despite Medora’s impassioned entreaties, to lead an attack on the Turkish Pacha Seyd. During the raid, Conrad disguises himself as a Dervish and confronts the Pacha. Seyd sees through the disguise, orders Conrad captured and put to death, and a fight ensues. The pirates have the upper hand for a bit, and decide whimsically to set the city ablaze. Conrad, however, perhaps feeling a pang of conscience, decides that the pirates must attempt to free the Pacha’s harem, who are now threatened by the pirates’ pyre. Conrad rescues the Pacha’s favorite odalisque, Gulnare, but is subsequently captured and again sentenced to death, this time by impalement. Gulnare, now enamored with Conrad, attempts to intercede on his behalf, and provides Conrad an opportunity to kill Seyd and escape—whereupon Conrad commences much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the idea he might stoop to something so low. Gulnare then kills the Pacha herself and frees Conrad, who is horrified at her conduct. Conrad then returns home to find that Medora has died of grief, thinking Conrad dead himself.
Byron’s poem, which is far too long to post here, was a bit of a sensation, selling all 10,000 copies of the first printing on the first day it was offered for sale. It was also soundly criticized for its grossest contradictions, e.g.,:
Excerpt from Adam’s Curse
by William Butler Yeats
We sat together at one summer’s end,
That beautiful mild woman, your close friend,
And you and I, and talked of poetry.
I said, ‘A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world.’ …
Let us articulate sweet sounds together! It is not now the summer’s end, but come, meet for an old-fashioned talk of poetry. We can talk over brunch, we can talk over mimosas, we can talk over the internet, we can talk over each other. Unstitch a verse with me, then sticth it back together. If you are interested, please send me an email to register for the site.