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MEMORIALS OF A TOUR ON THE CONTINENT, 1820

XXVI. THE ECLIPSE OF THE SUN, 1820

          HIGH on her speculative tower
          Stood Science waiting for the hour
          When Sol was destined to endure
          'That' darkening of his radiant face
          Which Superstition strove to chase,
          Erewhile, with rites impure.

          Afloat beneath Italian skies,
          Through regions fair as Paradise
          We gaily passed,--till Nature wrought
          A silent and unlooked-for change,                           10
          That checked the desultory range
          Of joy and sprightly thought.

          Where'er was dipped the toiling oar,
          The waves danced round us as before,
          As lightly, though of altered hue,
          'Mid recent coolness, such as falls
          At noontide from umbrageous walls
          That screen the morning dew.

          No vapour stretched its wings; no cloud
          Cast far or near a murky shroud;                            20
          The sky an azure field displayed;
          'Twas sunlight sheathed and gently charmed,
          Of all its sparkling rays disarmed,
          And as in slumber laid,--

          Or something night and day between,
          Like moonshine--but the hue was green;
          Still moonshine, without shadow, spread
          On jutting rock, and curved shore,
          Where gazed the peasant from his door
          And on the mountain's head.                                 30

          It tinged the Julian steeps--it lay,
          Lugano! on thy ample bay;
          The solemnizing veil was drawn
          O'er villas, terraces, and towers;
          To Albogasio's olive bowers,
          Porlezza's verdant lawn.

          But Fancy with the speed of fire
          Hath passed to Milan's loftiest spire,
          And there alights 'mid that aerial host
          Of Figures human and divine,                                40
          White as the snows of Apennine
          Indurated by frost.

          Awe-stricken she beholds the array
          That guards the Temple night and day;
          Angels she sees--that might from heaven have flown,
          And Virgin-saints, who not in vain
          Have striven by purity to gain
          The beatific crown--

          Sees long-drawn files, concentric rings
          Each narrowing above each;--the wings,                      50
          The uplifted palms, the silent marble lips
          The starry zone of sovereign height--
          All steeped in this portentous light!
          All suffering dim eclipse!

          Thus after Man had fallen (if aught
          These perishable spheres have wrought
          May with that issue be compared)
          Throngs of celestial visages,
          Darkening like water in the breeze,
          A holy sadness shared.                                      60

          Lo! while I speak, the labouring Sun
          His glad deliverance has begun:
          The cypress waves her sombre plume
          More cheerily; and town and tower,
          The vineyard and the olive-bower,
          Their lustre re-assume!

          O Ye, who guard and grace my home
          While in far-distant lands we roam,
          What countenance hath this Day put on for you?
          While we looked round with favoured eyes,                   70
          Did sullen mists hide lake and skies
          And mountains from your view?

          Or was it given you to behold
          Like vision, pensive though not cold,
          From the smooth breast of gay Winandermere?
          Saw ye the soft yet awful veil
          Spread over Grasmere's lovely dale,
          Helvellyn's brow severe?

          I ask in vain--and know far less
          If sickness, sorrow, or distress                            80
          Have spared my Dwelling to this hour;
          Sad blindness! but ordained to prove
          Our faith in Heaven's unfailing love
          And all-controlling power.


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