THE SERENADE – PERCIVAL

7 November 2004

Now, it has to be said that Percival is not widely thought-of as a “top poet”.  I “got his” served to me during a poetry course because he was American and because he was excellently sentimental.  He had talent; he was renowned for his ability to write in any style and meter.

Anyway, I do not mind sentimentality and innocent romance; this is the stuff of poetry, everyday poetry — as opposed to epic or important pieces.  This is simple, enjoyable, and I just like it. I would be fairly pleased with myself had I written it.

Softly the moonlight
Is shed on the lake,
Cool is the summer night,—
Wake! O awake!
Faintly the curfew
Is heard from afar,
List ye! O list!
To the lively guitar.

Trees cast a mellow shade
Over the vale,
Sweetly the serenade
Breathes in the gale,
Softly and tenderly
Over the lake,
Gayly and cheerily,—
Wake! O awake!

See the light pinnace
Draws nigh to the shore,
Swiftly it glides
At the heave of the oar,
Cheerily plays
On its buoyant car,
Nearer and nearer,
The lively guitar.

Now the wind rises
And ruffles the pine,
Ripples foam-crested
Like diamonds shine,
They flash, where the waters
The white pebbles lave,
In the wake of the moon,
As it crosses the wave.

Bounding from billow
To billow, the boat
Like a wild swan is seen
On the waters to float;
And the light dripping oars
Bear it smoothly along
In time to the air
Of the gondolier’s song.

And high on the stern
Stands the young and the brave,
As love-led he crosses
The star-spangled wave,
And blends with the murmur
Of water and grove
The tones of the night,
That are sacred to love.

His gold-hilted sword
At his bright belt is hung,
His mantle of silk
On his shoulder is flung,
And high waves the feather,
That dances and plays
On his cap where the buckle
And rosary blaze.

The maid from her lattice
Looks down on the lake,
To see the foam sparkle,
The bright billow break,
And to hear in his boat,
Where he shines like a star,
Her lover so tenderly
Touch his guitar.

She opens her lattice,
And sits in the glow
Of the moonlight and starlight,
A statue of snow;
And she sings in a voice
That is broken with sighs,
And she darts on her lover
The light of her eyes.

His love-speaking pantomime
Tells her his soul,—
How wild in that sunny clime
Hearts and eyes roll.
She waves with her white hand
Her white fazzolet,
And her burning thoughts flash
From her eyes’ living jet.

The moonlight is hid
In a vapor of snow;
Her voice and his rebeck
Alternately flow;
Re-echoed they swell
From the rock on the hill;
They sing their farewell,
And the music is still.

‘The Serenade’ James Gates Percival, 1859

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