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Earthquake Poems

Table of Contents

  1. Attraction by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
  2. The Last Days of Herculaneum by Edwin Atherstone

  1. Attraction

    by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

    The meadow and the mountain with desire
    Gazed on each other, till a fierce unrest
    Surged 'neath the meadow's seemingly calm breast,
    And all the mountain's fissures ran with fire.

    A mighty river rolled between them there.
    What could the mountain do but gaze and burn?
    What could the meadow do but look and yearn,
    And gem its bosom to conceal despair?

    Their seething passion agitated space,
    Till, lo! the lands a sudden earthquake shook,
    The river fled: the meadow leaped, and took
    The leaning mountain in a close embrace.

  2. The Last Days of Herculaneum

    Edwin Atherstone

    There was a man,
    A Roman soldier, for some daring deed
    That trespassed on the laws, in dungeon low
    Chained down. His was a noble spirit, rough,
    But generous, and brave, and kind.
    He had a son; it was a rosy boy,
    A little faithful copy of his sire,
    In face and gesture. From infancy, the child
    Had been his father's solace and his care.

    Every sport
    The father shared and heightened. But at length,
    The rigorous law had grasped him, and condemned
    To fetters and to darkness.

    The captive's lot,
    He felt in all its bitterness: the walls
    Of his deep dungeon answered many a sigh
    And heart-heaved groan. His tale was known, and touched
    His jailer with compassion; and the boy,
    Thenceforth a frequent visitor, beguiled
    His father's lingering hours, and brought a balm
    With his loved presence, that in every wound
    Dropped healing. But, in this terrific hour,
    He was a poisoned arrow in the breast
    Where he had been a cure.

    With earliest morn
    Of that first day of darkness and amaze,
    He came. The iron door was closed—for them
    Never to open more! The day, the night
    Dragged slowly by; nor did they know the fate
    Impending o'er the city. Well they heard
    The pent-up thunders in the earth beneath,
    And felt its giddy rocking; and the air
    Grew hot at length, and thick; but in his straw
    The boy was sleeping: and the father hoped
    The earthquake might pass by: nor would he wake
    From his sound rest the unfearing child, nor tell
    The dangers of their state.

    On his low couch
    The fettered soldier sank, and, with deep awe,
    Listened the fearful sounds: with upturned eye,
    To the great gods he breathed a prayer; then, strove
    To calm himself, and lose in sleep awhile
    His useless terrors. But he could not sleep:
    His body burned with feverish heat; his chains
    Clanked loud, although he moved not; deep in earth
    Groaned unimaginable thunders; sounds,
    Fearful and ominous, arose and died,
    Like the sad mornings of November's wind,
    In the blank midnight. Deepest horror chilled
    His blood that burned before; cold, clammy sweats
    Came o'er him; then anon, a fiery thrill
    Shot through his veins. Now, on his couch he shrunk
    And shivered as in fear; now, upright leaped,
    As though he heard the battle trumpet sound,
    And longed to cope with death.

    He slept, at last,
    A troubled, dreamy sleep. Well had he slept
    Never to waken more! His hours are few,
    But terrible his agony.

    Soon the storm
    Burst forth; the lightnings glanced; the air
    Shook with the thunders. They awoke; they sprung
    Amazed upon their feet. The dungeon glowed
    A moment as in sunshine—and was dark:
    Again, a flood of white flame fills the cell,
    Dying away upon the dazzled eye
    In darkening, quivering tints, as stunning sound
    Dies throbbing, ringing in the ear.

    With intensest awe,
    The soldier's frame was filled; and many a thought
    Of strange foreboding hurried through his mind,
    As underneath he felt the fevered earth
    Jarring and lifting; and the massive walls,
    Heard harshly grate and strain: yet knew he not,
    While evils undefined and yet to come
    Glanced through his thoughts, what deep and cureless wound
    Fate had already given.—Where, man of woe
    Where, wretched father! is thy boy? Thou call'st
    His name in vain:—he can not answer thee.

    Loudly the father called upon his child:
    No voice replied. Trembling and anxiously
    He searched their couch of straw; with headlong haste
    Trod round his stinted limits, and, low bent,
    Groped darkling on the earth:—no child was there.
    Again he called: again, at farthest stretch
    Of his accursed fetters, till the blood
    Seemed bursting from his ears, and from his eyes
    Fire flashed, he strained with arm extended far,
    And fingers widely spread, greedy to touch
    Though but his idol's garment. Useless toil!
    Yet still renewed: still round and round he goes,
    And strains, and snatches, and with dreadful cries
    Calls on his boy.

    Mad frenzy fires him now.
    He plants against the wall his feet; his chain
    Grasps; tugs with giant strength to force away
    The deep-driven staple; yells and shrieks with rage:
    And, like a desert lion in the snare,
    Raging to break his toils,—to and fro bounds.
    But see! the ground is opening;—a blue light
    Mounts, gently waving,—noiseless;—thin and cold
    It seems, and like a rainbow tint, not flame;
    But by its luster, on the earth outstretched,
    Behold the lifeless child! his dress is singed,
    And, o'er his face serene, a darkened line
    Points out the lightning's track.

    The father saw,
    And all his fury fled:—a dead calm fell
    That instant on him:—speechless—fixed—he stood,
    And with a look that never wandered, gazed
    Intensely on the corse. Those laughing eyes
    Were not yet closed,—and round those ruby lips
    The wonted smile returned.

    Silent and pale
    The father stands:—no tear is in his eye:—
    The thunders bellow;—but he hears them not:—
    The ground lifts like a sea;—he knows it not:—
    The strong walls grind and gape:—the vaulted roof
    Takes shape like bubble tossing in the wind;
    See! he looks up and smiles; for death to him
    Is happiness. Yet could one last embrace
    Be given, 't were still a sweeter thing to die.

    It will be given. Look! how the rolling ground,
    At every swell, nearer and still more near
    Moves toward the father's outstretched arm his boy.
    Once he has touched his garment:—how his eye
    Lightens with love, and hope, and anxious fears!
    Ha, see! he has him now!—he clasps him round;
    Kisses his face; puts back the curling locks,
    That shaded his fine brow; looks in his eyes;
    Grasps in his own those little dimpled hands;
    Then folds him to his breast, as he was wont
    To lie when sleeping; and resigned, awaits
    Undreaded death.

    And death came soon and swift
    And pangless. The huge pile sank down at once
    Into the opening earth. Walls—arches—roof—
    And deep foundation stones—all—mingling—fell!

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