Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Italy
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Italy: Vols. XI–XIII.  1876–79.
 
Introductory
The Chronicle of the Boot
Giuseppe Giusti (1809–1850)
 
Anonymous translation

I WAS not made of common calf,
  Nor ever meant for country loon;
If with an axe I seem cut out,
  The workman was no cobbling clown;
A good jack-boot with double sole he made,        5
To roam the woods, or through the rivers wade.
 
Down from the thigh unto the heel
  I ’m ever wet, and stand it well;
Good for the chase, or spurring hard,
  As many jackasses can tell.        10
Sewn strong with solid stitching, you must know,
At top a hem, all down a seam I show.
 
But then, to don I ’m rather hard;
  Unfit for wear of hucksters small,
I tire and gall a feeble foot,        15
  And most men’s legs don’t fit at all.
To wear me long has been the lot of none;
A little while has satisfied each one.
 
I ’ll give you here no catalogue
  Of all who wished to try their foot;        20
But here and there, merely for fun,
  The most illustrious I ’ll quote.
How torn and maimed I ’ve been I ’ll tell in brief,
And then how passed along from thief to thief.
 
’T will seem incredible; but once        25
  I set off at a gallop round,
And traversed all the world full speed;
  But, running over too much ground,
I lost my balance, and I fell down smack
By my own weight, full-length upon my back.        30
 
Then was a rumpus and a row;
  Men of all nations, greatest, least,
Poured down some thousand thousand miles,
  Led by the Devil and a priest:
Some caught the leg, some held the tasselled tie;        35
And “Touch and take!” was on all sides the cry.
 
A priest, regardless of the faith,
  Helped or unhelped would put me on,
Then found I did not fit his foot,
  So let me out to any one;        40
And thus at last in the first comer’s hands
He leaves me, and for boot-hook only stands.
 
A German braggart with the priest
  Played pikes to put his heel in me;
But homewards on St. Francis’ nag        45
  Full many a time I ’ve seen him flee.
Again he hither came, but sore of foot;
Nor has he ever yet quite donned the Boot.
 
Unworn for one whole age or more,
  Then pulled on by a merchant plain,        50
He greased me fresh, and made me trot
  To the Levant and back again.
Unpolished, true; but not one jot I failed,
With rare good hobs and sparables well nailed.
 
The merchant throve; then thought it right        55
  To polish up and smarten me;
I wore the spur, the fleece of gold,
  But lost my old consistency.
Change followed change, that now I plainly see
That my first nails were far the best for me.        60
 
I had nor rip nor wrinkle then;
  When from the west a pilfering oaf
Jumped from his galley on my heel,
  Tried even to insert his hoof.
But comfortably there he could not stay;        65
And at Palermo him I lamed one day.
 
’Mongst ultramontane amateurs
  A certain King of Spades essayed,
With feet and hands to put me on;
  But like Berlicche there he stayed,        70
When jealous of the roost a Capon crowing,
Just threatened him to set the bells a-going.
 
My ruin to complete just then,
  Or maybe later, an M. D.,
Leaving his drugs and shop, rushed forth;        75
  Upon my upper-leathers he
To help my case devised intrigues and lies,
Whose web was woven for three centuries.
 
He polished, gimcracked me all o’er,
  And with emollients, glosses rare,        80
He rubbed me till I lost my skin;
  And he who had me next in care
Still doctored me according to the rule
Of that iniquitious and cursed school.
 
Thus tossed about from hand to hand,        85
  I every harpy’s mark became.
Both Frank and Spaniard I endured,
  Who played the “Devil and Baker’s” game.
Don Quixote proved at length the lucky wight;
But rent and ridiculed he held me tight.        90
 
Who saw me on the Spaniard’s foot
  Say that I sat “malissimo,”
Though greased and varnish-daubed, and styled,
  “Chiarissimo,” “Illustrissimo.”
But on the sly he used the file so sore,        95
That I was left more ragged than before.
 
Thenceforth each one at his own will
  Using the pincers and the awl
From frying-pan to fire I fell.
  Rogues, bullies, barons, great and small,        100
To torture me had each a new idea,
“Et diviserunt vestimenta mea.”
 
Thus shuffled on from hoof to hoof
  Of each untutored clownish brute,
I ’ve come to lose the olden print        105
  Of that upright, well-planted foot,
On which, without one single crooked tread,
The circuit of the Universe I made.
 
O wretched boot! I must confess
  One foolish plan has me undone;        110
Of walking with another’s legs
  When it was time to use my own;
And more than this, the madness most unmeet,
Of hoping change of luck from change of feet.
 
With tears I say it; for I feel        115
  Myself all shattered and awry;
Earth seems to shake beneath my tread
  If but one single step I try.
By dint of letting bad guides lead me so,
I ’ve lost the habit and the power to go.        120
 
But my worst foes have been the priests,
  Unconscionable grasping race!
I ’d have at certain poets too
  Who count their bead-roll nowadays,
Christ goes for nothing; the Decretal puts        125
A veto ’gainst the priesthood wearing “boots.”
 
Torn and neglected now I lie,
  And pawed by every dirty hand,
Long have I waited for some leg
  To fill my wrinkles, make me stand;        130
No German leg or Frenchman’s be it known,
But one within my native country grown.
 
A certain great man’s once I tried,
  Who, had he not gone strolling forth,
Might well have boasted he possessed        135
  In me the strongest boot on earth.
But snow-storms, on his crooked course one day,
Froze both his legs just as he got half-way.
 
Refitted on the ancient last
  And subject to the knife again,        140
Though once of mighty worth and weight,
  My under-leathers scarce remain;
And as for patching holes both new and old,
It is not thread nor pegs will make them hold.
 
The cost is dear, the labor long;        145
  You must patch over piece by piece;
Brush off the dirt in ancient mode,
  Drive nails and brads; then by degrees
The calf and upper-leathers all remake:
But to the cobbler go, for Heaven’s sake!        150
 
Find me but out some man; he ’ll do,
  If only not a coward: when
I find myself upon his foot,
  Should some kind sir, like former men,
Presume with me in the old way to treat,        155
We ’ll give him a sound kick on honor’s seat.
 
 
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