Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Feb. 27, 1807 - Mar. 24, 1882


Apostrophe To Time

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

"I speak to Time." -- Byron.

Thou of the Glass and Scythe! the fallen fane
And crumbling dome bear witness to thy might;
The will of lordly man cannot detain
Or vex thee in thy swift triumphant flight.
The chain of slumber, when approacheth night,
And roving winds and waters are at rest,
Cannot bind thee. Until the dawn of light
The mountain eagle sleepeth in his nest,
But thy strong wings by toil are ever unoppressed.

Unwearied Time! since God gave birth to thee,
The hill hath left its broad primeval base,
While isles have sunk beneath the moaning sea,
And left of their frail habitants no trace.
Majestic cities, in thine awful race,
By floods of lava have been overspread;
And one bright star hath left its radiant place
In the blue sky. My soul recoils with dread,
As thy destructive course I hastily retread!

Where is the haughty Daughter of the East,
Her gates of solid brass and massive walls,--
Her line of potent kings, and crafty priests?
The desert serpent unmolested crawls,
And darts his "arrowy tongue" within her halls
The winds her lost magnificence bemoan,--
With brow begirt with ivied coronals,
And idly seated on a dusky throne,
Oblivion reigneth there, triumphant and alone!

Builder of Tombs! no feudal ruins crest
The rocks that rise beneath my native sky,
But the vast, fertile prairies of the West,
Are strown with fragments of a world gone by.
Within the caverns of my country lie1
The strangely fashioned implements of old,
And awful wrecks of frail humanity:
Perchance the relics of the wise and bold,
Nor habited in shroud, nor mingled with the mould.

Wide meads, through which the dark Muskingum flows,
With trophies of thy prowess are bespread;
The bones of long-forgotten tribes repose
In mounds whereon the red oak lifts its head,
Like some unmoving guardian of the dead!
Hath science pierced the deep Lethean gloom
That wraps those remnants of old days, or shed
Dim light upon each antiquated tomb?
No beams of her keen eye the mystery illume!

The human victor, in his mad career
Of conquests, often pauses to survey,
While sternly leaning on his gory spear,
The wrecks of his own making, with dismay,--
Relentless Time proceedeth on his way,
While change is written on the face of earth,
Throwing no backward glance upon his prey:
He darkly frowns, and weeds conceal the hearth,
Once circled by the sons of luxury and mirth.

Stern Lord of Desolation! nations rise
And melt away, in thy career, like dew;
The lofty pyramid, that still defies
Thy wasting tooth, will crumble in a few
Revolving years, and banish from the view.
Who can recount thy deeds? The level plain,
Whereon the herb and graceful palm once grew,
Is now a barren waste. The yellow grain
Once rustled in the breeze, where rolleth now the main.

Notes to the poem:

Avon, May 1835.
1Cave of Kentucky, in which mummies were found.


Longfellow's Poetical Works
Copyright 1893
Henry Frowde, London