Ode to the Moon Under Total Eclipse by William Rowan Hamilton

(July, 1823)

[The Moon under total eclipse is not invisible, but appears of a dark red colour.]

O queen of yon ethereal plain,
With slow majestic step advancing,
‘Mid thy attendant starry train,
Thy subject waves beneath thee dancing;
As Dian moves through Delian shades
Above her circling Oread maids:
Why hath that crimson red
Thy lovely brow o’erspread —
Oh! wherefore that portentous gloom,
Eclipse, and shadow of the tomb?

II.— 1.
Say, is it but a passing cloud,
Far in some higher sphere,
Which thus around thee winds its shroud,
While all the heavens are clear;
While not a vapour nigh
Sullies the midnight sky;
While all the stars are brightly burning,
Each in his wonted orbit turning?

II.— 2.
Or wizard from his murky cell
Who bows thee to his power,
By magic word and mutter’d spell
In this, night’s witching hour?

II.— 3.
Or is it, as the sages say,
Versed in celestial lore,
Our earth, athwart light’s pathless way,
Which bars it from thy shore:
Whose shadowy cone, with noiseless pace
Through the infinity of space,
Hath darkly crossed thine orb on high,
And dimmed it to our wondering eye?

Ill.— 1.
On thee the nations gaze
With looks of wild amaze,
And anxious ask, what means the sign?
What dread disaster nigh,
Is boded by thine eye,
Low’ring with aspect thus malign?

Ill.— 2.
For ancient tales of terror say,
That still before some fatal day
Thou veilest thus thy blushing face;
Earthquake or famine, sword or fire,
Is menaced by that look of ire;
Ruin prepares to run his race:
Lo! in his widely whelming car,
He comes, the demon from afar,
Rushing with a whirlwind’s noise,
Trampling o’er prostrate hopes and joys
While, at his side, the ministers of fate
In silence seem his signal to await.

III.— 3.
‘Twas thus, O Moon! thy failing light,
When Athens’ army thought of flight
From that dark Sicilian shore,
To their distant country bore
The omen of her slaughter’d host,
Of coming woe and glory lost.

Such augury is in thy looks to-night:
And with awe mingled with a stern delight,
The warrior or the poet now
May gaze on thine ensanguined brow; —
But not the lover! all too rude,
It suits not with his milder mood;
Better he loves to look on thee
When shining in thy purity;
Clad in thy robe of virgin snow,
As thou wert an hour ago,
Or hid by fleecy clouds alone
That canopy yon azure throne.
And yet, to him all nature seems
Tinged with soft hues by fancy’s beams,
As distant rainbows beauty shed
On the rugged mountain head:
Then, though thy right be like the torch of war,
Still will I hail thee as the lover’s star!

From: The National Magazine and Dublin Literary Gazette, July to December, 1830, Volume 1, 1830, William Frederick Wakeman: Dublin, pp. 387-388.

Date: 1823

By: William Rowan Hamilton (1805-1865)

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