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A streak of light before him lay,
Fallen through a half-shut stable-door
Across his path. He passed — for naught
Told what was going on within ;
How keen the stars, his only thought;
The air how calm and cold and thin,
In the solemn midnight,

Centuries ago!

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Oh, strange indifference! low and high
Drowsed over common joys and cares;
The earth was still — but knew not why;
The world was listening, unawares.
How calm a moment may precede
One that shall thrill the world for ever!
To that still moment none would heed,
Man's doom was linked no more to sever
In the solemn midnight,

Centuries ago!

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It is the calm and solemn night!
A thousand bells ring out, and throw
Their joyous peals abroad, and smite
The darkness - charmed and holy now!
The night that erst no name had worn,
To it a happy name is given;
For in that stable lay, new-born,
The peaceful Prince of Earth and Heaven,
In the solemn midnight,

Centuries ago!

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HOME-THOUGHTS FROM ABROAD

57

ROBERT BROWNING

ENGLAND, 1812–1889

Home-Thoughts from Abroad

Oh, to be in England
Now that April's there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England - now!

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And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds and all the swallows !
Hark, where my blossomed pear tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops, at the bent spray's edge
That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children's dower —
Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower !

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Pheidippides

First I salute this soil of the blessed, river and rock! Gods of my birthplace, dæmons and heroes, honor

to all! Then I name thee, claim thee for our patron, co-equal

in praise - Ay, with Zeus the Defender, with Her of the ægis

and spear! 5 Also ye of the bow and the buskin, praised be your peer, Now, henceforth and forever, O latest to whom

I upraise Hand and heart and voice! For Athens, leave pas

ture and flock ! Present to help, potent to save, Pan — patron I call !

10

Archons of Athens, topped by the tettix, see, I return! See, 'tis myself here standing alive, no specter that

speaks! Crowned with the myrtle, did you command me,

Athens and you, “Run, Pheidippides, run and race, reach Sparta for

aid ! Persia has come, we are here, where is She?” Your

command I obeyed, Ran and raced: like stubble, some field which a fire

runs through Was the space between city and city; two days, two

nights did I burn

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Over the hills, under the dales, down pits and up

peaks. Into their midst I broke: breath served but for

“Persia has come ! Persia bids Athens proffer slaves’-tribute, water and

earth; Razed to the ground is Eretria — but Athens, shall

Athens sink, Drop into dust and die — the flower of Hellas utterly

die, Die with the wide world spitting at Sparta, the stupid,

the stander-by? Answer me quick, what help, what hand do you

stretch o'er destruction's brink? How — when? No care for my limbs ! — there's

lightning in all and some — Fresh and fit your message to bear, once lips give it

birth!”

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O my Athens - Sparta love thee? Did Sparta re

spond? Every face of her leered in a furrow of envy, mistrust, Malice, - each eye of her gave me its glitter of grati

fied hate! Gravely they turned to take counsel, to cast for

I stood Quivering, the limbs of me fretting as fire frets,

an inch from dry wood:

excuses.

Persia has come, Athens asks aid, and still they

debate ? Thunder, thou Zeus! Athene, are Spartans a quarry

beyond Swing of thy spear ? Phoibos and Artemis, clang

them' Ye must'!”

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No bolt launched from Olumpos! Lo, their answer

at last! “Has Persia come, – does Athens ask aid, — may

Sparta befriend? Nowise precipitate judgment — too weighty the

issue at stake! Count we no time lost time which lags thro' respect

to the Gods ! Ponder that precept of old, ‘No warfare, whatever

the odds In your favor, so long as the moon, half-orbed, is

unable to take Full-circle her state in the sky!' Already she rounds

to it fast: Athens must wait, patient as we — who judgment

suspend."

10

Athens, - except for that sparkle, - thy name, I

had moldered to ash! That sent a blaze thro' my blood; off, off and away

was I back,

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