My Fatherland: An Incident From the Retreat of the Ten Thousand

THE imperial boy had fallen in his pride
Before the walls of golden Babylon.
The host who deemed that priceless treasure won
For many a day since then had wandered wide,
By famine thinned, by savage hordes defied.
In a deep vale, beneath the setting sun,
They saw at last a swift black river run,
While shouting spearmen thronged the farther side.
Then eagerly, with startled, joyous eyes,
Toward the despondent chief a soldier flew:
“ I was a slave in Athens : never knew
My native country: but I understand
The meaning of yon wild barbarian cries,
And I believe this is my fatherland! ”
This glimpse have we, no more. Did parents fond,
Brothers, and kinsmen, hail his late return ?
Or did he, doubly exiled, only yearn
To greet the Euxine’s waves at Trebizond,
The blue Ægean, and Pallas’ towers beyond ?
Mute is the record : we shall never learn.
But when once more the well-worn page I turn,
Forever by reluctant schoolboys conned,
A parable the tale to me appears,
Of blacker waters in a drearier vale.
Ah me! when on that brink we exiles stand,
As earthly lights and mortal accents fail,
Shall voices long-forgotten reach our ears
To tell us we have found our fatherland ?
William Cranston Lawton.