Shared History

"Among the Ruins"

William GIlmore Simms, 1867


That they should come, though o’er a waste of tares,
These fresh and delicate airs!
Come, plaining, 0! how sweetly, through these towers,
Dismantled—in their ruins—shorn of flowers,
Once beautiful with every loving twine;—
Come, like fond memories of departed cares,
Born of true loves, dear hopes, and earnest powers,
Devote to best affections! They bewail
The mournful issue of the sweetest tale
Begun, with such a sunburst on each shrine,
As if it had best guaranty from Fate
To end in ruin—this old house of mine,
All ashes and wreck—yet not the less divine,
Because, to Memory only, consecrate!

Oh! saddest of sweet winds! To heart of sorrow—
Heart buried in its ruined shrines—ye bring,
Perchance, a better dawning of the morrow,
With angel hope and healing on your wing!
So must the heart believe, and so they sing,
The pious minstrels of each early clime,
From the glad inspiration of a time
When faith in God some faith in man still wrought,
And love was in each lesson that they taught:
Alas! alas! that all should end in nought!

Yet the sad chaunt, that, through these ruined towers
Goes fitfully, like plainings of a ghost,
Doom’d still to wander through forbidden hours,
And grieve o’er scenes that once had gladden’d most,
Hath yet a soothing speech for the sad heart
That long hath listen’d to the dread decree
Which bade each hope, that made its life, depart,
And shook each precious blossom from its tree!
Alas! the dreary solace left to me!—
To love the ruin still, despite the woe,
When nought but Ruin’s left for me to know!

How suited is the wailing through these walls,
Piercing the rifts of ruin, to the shrine
Which hath no better minister!—these halls,
Now desolate, once flowing with red wine,
And swelling with dilating bursts of joy,
From minstrels made inebriate with delight!
Ye mock me not, ye winds, with hope of bright
Music, or bloom, or flowers;
Promise no more the dawn of better hours,
Nor hush the doom that bade the Fiends destroy!
Oh! as each loveliest hope of home takes flight,
Come forth the dreaded heritor of the place,
And Gloom usurps the sweet domain of Grace!

The sweetness, in the sadness of your chaunt,
Oh! saddest of sweet singers, brings to me
Nothing of promise; yet your memories haunt
Each vacant cell and shrine of memory;
And, with the wine and song of life denied,
Your wail becomes the fitting voice for all:
Thus, soughing sadly through the broken wall,
Swelling in burden through the desolate hall,
Thence on, through dreary avenue to guide,
Across the brooklet, and adown the hill,
Away to cypress thicket, where your surge,
With ever-ascending volume, grows in might,
Till, in the diapason of your dirge,
Among the sacred thickets on the height,
The graves of my sweet sleepers rise in sight—
One, two—alas! how many!—I would count,
But the tears, gushing, overflow the fount!
Enough!—They are all mine! Oh! happier they,
Thus sleeping, than if conscious now, they stood,
“Feeling my ruins!”—Conscious of the prey
Made by the Fiend of all their famishing brood:
The shame that wraps us as a cloud by day,
The doubt that threats us with long nights of blood!
Ah! happier far, escaping from the wo,
Than these most wretched ones that wist not where to go!

The bitter road of exile must be ours,
Oh! desolate children!—We must leave the home—
These grand old woods, these venerable towers,
These shrines of best affections—the sweet flowers,
That won all birds of beauty to their bloom:—
The world of pleasant suns and starlight hours—
And wait on wo, to guide us where to roam!
We were content with this !—to forfeit all—
The shrines, the blooms, the consecrated hall,
And all the uncounted attributes of years,
And memories sainted in affection’s tears,
Link’d with material things—that grew to things
Of soul, and put on spiritual wings!—
Yield all of wealth’s possessions to our slaves,
Nor murmur at the fate;
Nor pass away in hate;
Nor yield of heart and hope, with both in thrall:
But how to yield our graves!—
To know that jackall footsteps will pollute
These sacred hillocks, and the reptiles crawl
Where we have laid the best-beloved—the ALL!—
And, with foul presence, and irreverent foot,
Trample the breast and brow!—White breast, white brow,—
Bloom, beauty, tenderest love, and innocent truth,
Which fix’d our heart’s existence in one vow,
Blending all being—life, hope, love, and ruth,
In one soul-consciousness—that still must be
Our welcoming presence in Eternity!
Ah! God, that, for the pure Christ, we should see
The Fetisch in his brutal revelry;
And to the obscene rites of despots and slaves,
Yield these, our graves! our graves!

Oh! saddest of sweet winds, ye have your powers;
Wind hither noon and night:
And though ye nurse no flowers,
Bring pleasant airs and odours on your flight—
Keep, what we cannot, these dear graves of ours!

 

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