He was delicately discreet in saying “some years ago,” for this poem was written in 1827 as the result of a wager between Morse and his young cousin, he having asserted that he could write poetry as well as paint pictures, and requesting her to give him a theme. It seems that the young lady had been paid the compliment of a serenade a few nights previously, but she had, most unromantically, slept through it all, so she gave as her theme “The Serenade,” and the next day Morse produced the following poem:—
Haste! ’t is the stillest hour of night,
The Moon sheds down her palest light,
And sleep has chained the lake and hill,
The wood, the plain, the babbling rill;
And where yon ivied lattice shows
My fair one slumbers in repose.
Come, ye that know the lovely maid,
And help prepare the serenade.
Hither, before the night is flown,
Bring instruments of every tone.
But lest with noise ye wake, not lull,
Her dreaming fancy, ye must cull
Such only as shall soothe the mind
And leave the harshest all behind.
Bring not the thundering drum, nor yet
The harshly-shrieking clarionet,
Nor screaming hautboy, trumpet shrill,
Nor clanging cymbals; but, with skill,
Exclude each one that would disturb
The fairy architects, or curb
The wild creations of their mirth,
All that would wake the soul to earth.
Choose ye the softly-breathing-flute,
The mellow horn, the loving lute;
The viol you must not forget,
And take the sprightly flageolet
And grave bassoon; choose too the fife,
Whose warblings in the tuneful strife,
Mingling in mystery with the words,
May seem like notes of blithest birds.
Are ye prepared? Now lightly tread
As if by elfin minstrels led,
And fling no sound upon the air
Shall rudely wake my slumbering fair.
Softly! Now breathe the symphony,
So gently breathe the tones may vie
In softness with the magic notes
In visions heard; music that floats
So buoyant that it well may seem,
With strains ethereal in her dream,
One song of such mysterious birth
She doubts it comes from heaven or earth.
Play on! My loved one slumbers still.
Play on! She wakes not with the thrill
Of joy produced by strains so mild,
But fancy moulds them gay and wild.
Now, as the music low declines,
’T is sighing of the forest pines;
Or ’t is the fitful, varied war
Of distant falls or troubled shore.
Now, as the tone grows full or sharp,
’T is whispering of the AEolian harp.
The viol swells, now low, now loud,
’T is spirits chanting on a cloud
That passes by. It dies away;
So gently dies she scarce can say
’T is gone; listens; ’t is lost she fears;
Listens, and thinks again she hears.
As dew drops mingling in a stream
To her ’t is all one blissful dream,
A song of angels throned in light.
Softly! Away! Fair one, good-night.