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MEMORIALS OF A TOUR IN ITALY, 1837

XIV. THE CUCKOO AT LAVERNA

MAY 25, 1837

          LIST--'twas the Cuckoo.--O with what delight
          Heard I that voice! and catch it now, though faint,
          Far off and faint, and melting into air,
          Yet not to be mistaken. Hark again!
          Those louder cries give notice that the Bird,
          Although invisible as Echo's self,
          Is wheeling hitherward. Thanks, happy Creature,
          For this unthought-of greeting!
                                           While allured
          From vale to hill, from hill to vale led on,
          We have pursued, through various lands, a long              10
          And pleasant course; flower after flower has blown,
          Embellishing the ground that gave them birth
          With aspects novel to my sight; but still
          Most fair, most welcome, when they drank the dew
          In a sweet fellowship with kinds beloved,
          For old remembrance sake. And oft--where Spring
          Displayed her richest blossoms among files
          Of orange-trees bedecked with glowing fruit
          Ripe for the hand, or under a thick shade
          Of Ilex, or, if better suited to the hour,                  20
          The lightsome Olive's twinkling canopy--
          Oft have I heard the Nightingale and Thrush
          Blending as in a common English grove
          Their love-songs; but, where'er my feet might roam,
          Whate'er assemblages of new and old,
          Strange and familiar, might beguile the way,
          A gratulation from that vagrant Voice
          Was wanting,--and most happily till now.
            For see, Laverna! mark the far-famed Pile,
          High on the brink of that precipitous rock,                 30
          Implanted like a Fortress, as in truth
          It is, a Christian Fortress, garrisoned
          In faith and hope, and dutiful obedience,
          By a few Monks, a stern society,
          Dead to the world and scorning earth-born joys.
          Nay--though the hopes that drew, the fears that drove,
          St. Francis, far from Man's resort, to abide
          Among these sterile heights of Apennine,
          Bound him, nor, since he raised yon House, have ceased
          To bind his spiritual Progeny, with rules                   40
          Stringent as flesh can tolerate and live;
          His milder Genius (thanks to the good God
          That made us) over those severe restraints
          Of mind, that dread heart-freezing discipline,
          Doth sometimes here predominate, and works
          By unsought means for gracious purposes;
          For earth through heaven, for heaven, by changeful earth,
          Illustrated, and mutually endeared.
            Rapt though He were above the power of sense,
          Familiarly, yet out of the cleansed heart                   50
          Of that once sinful Being overflowed
          On sun, moon, stars, the nether elements,
          And every shape of creature they sustain,
          Divine affections; and with beast and bird
          (Stilled from afar--such marvel story tells--
          By casual outbreak of his passionate words,
          And from their own pursuits in field or grove
          Drawn to his side by look or act of love
          Humane, and virtue of his innocent life)
          He wont to hold companionship so free,                      60
          So pure, so fraught with knowledge and delight,
          As to be likened in his Followers' minds
          To that which our first Parents, ere the fall
          From their high state darkened the Earth with fear,
          Held with all kinds in Eden's blissful bowers.
            Then question not that, 'mid the austere Band,
          Who breathe the air he breathed, tread where he trod,
          Some true Partakers of his loving spirit
          Do still survive, and, with those gentle hearts
          Consorted, Others, in the power, the faith,                 70
          Of a baptized imagination, prompt
          To catch from Nature's humblest monitors
          Whate'er they bring of impulses sublime.
            Thus sensitive must be the Monk, though pale
          With fasts, with vigils worn, depressed by years,
          Whom in a sunny glade I chanced to see,
          Upon a pine-tree's storm-uprooted trunk,
          Seated alone, with forehead sky-ward raised,
          Hands clasped above the crucifix he wore
          Appended to his bosom, and lips closed                      80
          By the joint pressure of his musing mood
          And habit of his vow. That ancient Man--
          Nor haply less the Brother whom I marked,
          As we approached the Convent gate aloft
          Looking far forth from his aerial cell,
          A young Ascetic--Poet, Hero, Sage,
          He might have been, Lover belike he was--
          If they received into a conscious ear
          The notes whose first faint greeting startled me,
          Whose sedulous iteration thrilled with joy                  90
          My heart--may have been moved like me to think,
          Ah! not like me who walk in the world's ways,
          On the great Prophet, styled 'the Voice of One
          Crying amid the wilderness', and given,
          Now that their snows must melt, their herbs and flowers
          Revive, their obstinate winter pass away,
          That awful name to Thee, thee, simple Cuckoo,
          Wandering in solitude, and evermore
          Foretelling and proclaiming, ere thou leave
          This thy last haunt beneath Italian skies                  100
          To carry thy glad tidings over heights
          Still loftier, and to climes more near the Pole.
            Voice of the Desert, fare-thee-well; sweet Bird!
          If that substantial title please thee more,
          Farewell!--but go thy way, no need hast thou
          Of a good wish sent after thee; from bower
          To bower as green, from sky to sky as clear,
          Thee gentle breezes waft--or airs, that meet
          Thy course and sport around thee, softly fan--
          Till Night, descending upon hill and vale,                 110
          Grants to thy mission a brief term of silence,
          And folds thy pinions up in blest repose.


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