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Tyre -- Bayard Taylor

(Poem #1333) Tyre
 The wild and windy morning is lit with lurid fire;
 The thundering surf of ocean beats on the rocks of Tyre, --
 Beats on the fallen columns and round the headland roars,
 And hurls its foamy volume along the hollow shores,
 And calls with hungry clamor, that speaks its long desire:
 "Where are the ships of Tarshish, the mighty ships of Tyre?"

 Within her cunning harbor, choked with invading sand,
 No galleys bring their freightage, the spoils of every land,
 And like a prostrate forest, when autumn gales have blown,
 Her colonnades of granite lie shattered and o'erthrown;
 And from the reef the pharos no longer flings its fire,
 To beacon home from Tarshish the lordly ships of Tyre.

 Where is thy rod of empire, once mighty on the waves, --
 Thou that thyself exalted, till Kings became thy slaves?
 Thou that didst speak to nations, and saw thy will obeyed, --
 Whose favor made them joyful, whose anger sore afraid, --
 Who laid'st thy deep foundations, and thought them strong and sure,
 And boasted midst the waters, Shall I not aye endure?

 Where is the wealth of ages that heaped thy princely mart?
 The pomp of purple trappings; the gems of Syrian art;
 The silken goats of Kedar; Sab├Ža's spicy store;
 The tributes of the islands thy squadrons homeward bore,
 When in thy gates triumphant they entered from the sea
 With sound of horn and sackbut, of harp and psaltery?

 Howl, howl, ye ships of Tarshish! the glory is laid waste:
 There is no habitation; the mansions are defaced.
 No mariners of Sidon unfurl your mighty sails;
 No workmen fell the fir-trees that grow in Shenir's vales
 And Bashan's oaks that boasted a thousand years of sun,
 Or hew the masts of cedar on frosty Lebanon.

 Rise, thou forgotten harlot! take up thy harp and sing:
 Call the rebellious islands to own their ancient king:
 Bare to the spray thy bosom, and with thy hair unbound,
 Sit on the piles of ruins, thou throneless and discrowned!
 There mix thy voice of wailing with the thunders of the sea,
 And sing thy songs of sorrow, that thou remembered be!

 Though silent and forgotten, yet Nature still laments
 The pomp and power departed, the lost magnificence:
 The hills were proud to see thee, and they are sadder now;
 The sea was proud to bear thee, and wears a troubled brow,
 And evermore the surges chant forth their vain desire:
 "Where are the ships of Tarshish, the mighty ships of Tyre?"
-- Bayard Taylor

The fascination of ancient civilisations is hard to resist; the tales and
legends of vanished glory have left an indelible mark on mankind's
collective imagination.  Samarkand, Damascus, Babylon, Carthage - the
names are richly evocative, conjuring up entire chains of association by
their mere mention. We've explored this before - the Lays of Ancient Rome
theme, and the poetic journey along the Silk Road both rank among my
favuorite Minstrels themes, and today's poem is a worthy addition to their

Tyre, for me, shall ever be associated with Kipling's magnificent lines

   Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
   Is one with Nineveh and Tyre

and Taylor has appealed to the same image, the same sense of loss for a
vanished greatness. I was particularly gratified by the fact that he has
not shied away from a certain extravagance of imagery - I feel that the
poem's subject calls for it, and a more restrained approach would not have
done it justice.



  A brief history of Tyre:

  The Ancient Roman theme:
    Poem #489, Poem #491, Poem #493, Poem #494

  And the Silk Road theme:
    Poem #526 (rest of the theme summarised in the commentary)


33 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Roberts Linda said...

This stirs echos of "Ozymandias", with the line "Look on my works, ye mighty
and despair!" I think the Romantics and the Victorians were both fond of the
device of fallen ancient civilizations to illustrate the ephemeral nature of
life and glory.

Martin DeMello said...

"What is your desire? Would you have a tale of the Caliph of Bagdad? Or
from the siege of Troy? A reading from Aristophanes? From Firdausi? Or
would you hear of far seas and lands unknown to the Byzantines?

"Can there be such?" He lifted a supercilious eyebrow. "Byzantium is the
center of the world!"


"You doubt it, vagabond?"

"I was remembering Rome, Carthage, Babylon, Nineveh... each in its own time
the center of the world, all ruins now."

He was amused. "Do you imagine this city will be as those? You jest."

"Had I asked in any of those cities, would anyone have believed they
someday would lie in ruins? Each age is an age that is passing, and cities,
my friend, are transitory things. Each is born from the dust; each matures,
grows older, then it fades and dies. A passing traveler looks at a mound of
sand and broken stones and asks 'What was here?' and his answer is only an
echo or a wind drifting sand."

-- Louis L'Amour, "Walking Drum"
(as posted by dougk to alt.quotations)

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