THE RUIN OF A NIGHT

STANZAS SUGGESTED ON VIEWING THE GROUND

OF THE GREAT FIRE IN NEW-YORK

By Grenville Mellen

It was still noon—and Sabbath. The pale air
Hung over the great city like a shroud—
And echo answer'd to a footstep there,
Where late went up the thunder of a crowd!
I wander'd like a pilgrim round the piles
That Ruin heap'd about the wildering way—
And as I pass'd, I saw the withering smiles
That did on faces of dull gazers play,
As they stood round the ashes of that grave
Of all that yesterday rose there, so broad and brave!
I mus'd as I went thro' the shadowy path
Of broken, blacken'd walls, and pillars high,
Which had surviv'd that visiting of wrath,
And now lean'd dim against the lurid sky—
I heard the rude laugh break from ruder hearts,
Those ruffian exclamations of lost souls,
At which a better spirit wakes and starts—
The revelry of demons o'er their bowls—
Until I felt how faint rebuke may fall
Over a people, tho' it come in sword and pall!
There was no lesson in that mighty pyre—
Or, if it rose, it faded with the flame;
And crime, relentless, from that smouldering fire
Would lift, at night, its stealthy arm the same
On the lone wanderer, as, amid the crowd,
It glided oft before, to filch its gold,
When the great voice of rivalry was loud,
And onward the deep tide of commerce roll'd!
I thought how idle was the darkest ban,
Fate, in her fiercest eloquence, can pour on man!
I thought how quick the seal of nothingness
Is set on man's best glory—and how deep!
How soon the Greatest grovels with the Less,
And they who shouted bravest, bow to weep!
How quick the veriest triumph of our years,
Fulfill'd by a dim life of toil and pain,
Is chang'd to one sad festival of tears—
When Time is but a storm—and visions wane!
How quick Destruction can make classical
The crowded, golden ground, where her fell footsteps fall!
The ground that yesterday was consecrate
To the wild spirit-power of Gold and Gain—
Where riches, like some thing of worship sate,
And Worth of Wealth ask'd precedence in vain!
Where the hard hand was busy with the dust
With which it soon must mingle—though it gleam
Often with jewels—splendid, but accurst,
That make the trappings of this Life's poor dream!
And where, too, Bounty, like a fountain, sprung,
In streams, though not unfelt, in shadow, and unsung!
Alas! that pillar'd pile! how, as I gaz'd
Upon the blacken'd shafts, did I recall
The sculptur'd marble there, whose brow was rais'd
So like a god's, within that shadowy hall!
Immortal Hamilton!—though crumbled deep
In the red chaos of that billowy night,
It needs no chisel's memory to keep
Thy spirit's nobler outline vast and bright!
No Time—no element can mar the fame,
Gather'd, like fadeless sunlight, round thy spotless name!