Gateway to the Classics: Historic Poems and Ballads by Rupert S. Holland
Historic Poems and Ballads by  Rupert S. Holland

Marco Bozzaris

A T the beginning of the nineteenth century Greece, which had once been one of the greatest countries in the world, was subject to the rule of her powerful neighbor, Turkey. But in 1821 the fire of patriotism was rekindled, and the Greeks began a war of independence. One of the most heroic of the Greek leaders was Marco Bozzaris. He was in command of a small band of his countrymen, and planned to surprise a much larger Turkish force after nightfall. In this poem, written by Fitz-Greene Halleck, an American author, the story of the attack is told.

The Turkish commander and his men were sleeping in their camps, dreaming of victory over the Greeks, while at the same hour of midnight Marco Bozzaris was making ready his band of Suliotes, or men whose homes were near the Suli mountains and river in the northwestern part of Greece. The Turkish camp was not far distant from Missilonghi, which is near the entrance to the Gulf of Corinth, near the head of which gulf the earlier Greeks, in 479 B.C., had defeated a great invading army of Persians at the battle of Platæa.

Bozzaris attacked the Turks, and small though his band was, they took the enemy so completely by surprise that they won a very decisive victory. But the gallant leader himself was killed. The poem tells how he won glory, and how death is welcomed by the victorious warrior, as was the cry of land to Columbus of Genoa when his lookout caught the fragrance of the palms and groves of Hayti, mistaking them for India. Pilgrims from foreign lands shall seek the home of Bozzaris to hear again the story of his victory and of his country's independence.

His cause was successful, and six years after this battle near Missilonghi, Turkey was forced to grant Greece her freedom, and that country, which had been in subjection for almost four centuries, became an independent nation. It was in this war that the poet Byron and other Englishmen who loved the history of ancient Greece and the cause of liberty fought by the side of Marco Bozzaris.

Marco Bozzaris

by Fitz-Greene Halleck

At midnight, in his guarded tent,

The Turk was dreaming of the hour

When Greece, her knee in suppliance bent,

Should tremble at his power;

In dreams, through camp and court he bore

The trophies of a conqueror;

In dreams, his song of triumph heard;

Then wore his monarch's signet-ring;

Then press'd that monarch's throne—a king:

As wild his thoughts, and gay of wing,

As Eden's garden bird.

At midnight, in the forest shades,

Bozzaris ranged his Suliote band,

True as the steel of their tried blades,

Heroes in heart and hand.

There had the Persian's thousands stood,

There had the glad earth drunk their blood,

On old Platæa's day;

And now there breathed that haunted air,

The sons of sires who conquer'd there,

With arm to strike, and soul to dare,

As quick, as far, as they.

An hour pass'd on: the Turk awoke:

That bright dream was his last.

He woke to hear his sentries shriek,

"To arms! they come! the Greek! the Greek!"

He woke, to die 'midst flame and smoke,

And shout, and groan, and sabre-stroke,

And death-shots falling thick and fast

As lightnings from the mountain cloud,

And heard, with voice as trumpet loud,

Bozzaris cheer his band:

"Strike!—till the last arm'd foe expires;

Strike!—for your altars and your fires;

Strike!—for the green graves of your sires;

God, and your native land!"

They fought like brave men, long and well;

They piled that ground with Moslem slain;

They conquer'd;—but Bozzaris fell,

Bleeding at every vein.

His few surviving comrades saw

His smile when rang their loud hurrah,

And the red field was won;

Then saw in death his eyelids close,

Calmly as to a night's repose,—

Like flowers at set of sun.

Come to the bridal chamber, Death,

Come to the mother's, when she feels,

For the first time, her first-born's breath;

Come, when the blessed seals

That close the pestilence are broke,

And crowded cities wail its stroke:

Come in consumption's ghastly form,

The earthquake shock, the ocean storm;

Come when the heart beats high and warm

With banquet song and dance and wine;

And thou art terrible:—the tear,

The groan, the knell, the pall, the bier,

And all we know, or dream, or fear,

Of agony, are thine.

But to the hero, when his sword

Has won the battle for the free,

Thy voice sounds like a prophet's word,

And in its hollow tones are heard

The thanks of millions yet to be.

Come when his task of fame is wrought;

Come, with her laurel-leaf, blood-bought;

Come in her crowning hour,—and then

Thy sunken eye's unearthly light

To him is welcome as the sight

Of sky and stars to prison'd men;

Thy grasp is welcome as the hand

Of brother in a foreign land;

Thy summons welcome as the cry

That told the Indian isles were nigh

To the world-seeking Genoese,

When the land-wind, from woods of palm,

And orange groves, and fields of balm,

Blew o'er the Haytien seas.

Bozzaris! with the storied brave

Greece nurtured in her glory's time,

Rest thee: there is no prouder grave,

Even in her own proud clime.

She wore no funeral weeds for thee,

Nor bade the dark hearse wave its plume,

Like torn branch from death's leafless tree,

In sorrow's pomp and pageantry,

The heartless luxury of the tomb;

But she remembers thee as one

Long loved, and for a season gone;

For thee her poet's lyre is wreathed,

Her marble wrought, her music breathed;

For thee she rings the birthday bells;

Of thee her babes' first lisping tells;

For thine her evening prayer is said,

At palace couch and cottage bed:

Her soldier, closing with the foe,

Gives for thy sake a deadlier blow;

His plighted maiden, when she fears

For him, the joy of her young years,

Thinks of thy fate, and checks her tears;

And she, the mother of thy boys,

Though in her eye and faded cheek

Is read the grief she will not speak,

The memory of her buried joys,—

And even she who gave thee birth

Will, by their pilgrim-circled hearth,

Talk of thy doom without a sigh;

For thou art Freedom's now, and Fame's,

One of the few, th' immortal name,

That were not born to die.

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