Thy shores are empires, changed in all save thee —
Assyria, Greece, Rome, Carthage, what are they?
Thy waters washed them power while they were free,
And many a tyrant since; their shores obey
The stranger, slave, or savage; their decay
Has dried up realms to deserts: — not so thou,
Unchangeable save to thy wild waves’ play —
Time writes no wrinkle on thine azure brow —
Such as creation’s dawn beheld, thou rollest now.
This stanza is extracted from Lord Byron’s famous poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (Canto the Fourth). This stanza form an apostrophe to the ocean, rolling on and on, and the poet’s unflinching admiration for it. In the present extract, the poet shows the utter helplessness of man against the mighty power of the ocean that despises his selfish, ruthless, destructive designs and deeds. The ocean rolls on continuously, ceaselessly, in its own course. Man, proud of his pomp and power, is quite helpless on it. Numerous man-made ships pass over the deep, dark, blue waves of the ocean, but they fail to mark any impression on its vast, fathomless surface. Man, with all his selfishness and savagery, indulges in mad acts of destruction on this very earth. But the ocean is not least affected by his power or authority that ends with its shore.
The tales of man’s powers and conquests and empires are all unsubstantial. They change and melt in no time. The mighty empires of the past, such as the Babylonion in Assyria, the Athenian in Greece, the Roman in Rome, and the Carthagean in Carthage once stood and flourished on the shores of the ocean. They wielded immense powers and authorities and even were the arbiters of all political issues of their times. All such mighty empires have long ceased to exist, hardly leaving behind any trace to mark. But the ocean has remained. It once served those powers that made the profitable use of its water. Many conquerors and victors, strangers and savages subsequently made terrible inroads on them and turned their territories to utter desolation. The changes that have come over those powerful and populous empires are too pathetic and bring out the nothingness of human powers and glories. But the ocean has remained as unalterable, unshakable, and wild as in the past. This has defied the power of time to bring about any change or decay in it. It has remained as vast, as bluish as ever. In fact, the ocean seems to roll on as ceaselessly as it, perhaps, did on the very first day of creation.
The stanza bears out Byron’s derision of the human shows of pomp and power as also his warm admiration of the unchangeable, invincible ocean. The implied comparison between the ironic ruin of the once-mighty empires and the eternal existence of the ocean is much touching and deeply meaningful. The failure of time to write any wrinkle on the ‘azure brow’ of the ocean is picturesque and pointed.