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.
 
Sorrento
Piano di Sorrento
Robert Browning (1812–1889)
 
FORTÙ, Fortù, my beloved one,
  Sit here by my side,
On my knees put up both little feet!
  I was sure, if I tried,
I could make you laugh spite of Scirocco:        5
  Now, open your eyes,—
Let me keep you amused till he vanish
  In black from the skies,
With telling my memories over
  As you tell your beads;        10
All the memories plucked at Sorrento,—
  The flowers, or the weeds.
 
Time for rain! for your long hot dry Autumn
  Had networked with brown
The white skin of each grape on the bunches,        15
  Marked like a quail’s crown,
Those creatures you make such account of,
  Whose heads—specked with white
Over brown like a great spider’s back,
  As I told you last night—        20
Your mother bites off for her supper;
  Red-ripe as could be.
Pomegranates were chapping and splitting
  In halves on the tree:
And betwixt the loose walls of great flintstone,        25
  Or in the thick dust
On the path, or straight out of the rock-side,
  Wherever could thrust
Some burnt sprig of bold, hardy rock-flower,
  Its yellow face up,        30
For the prize were great butterflies fighting,
  Some five for one cup.
So I guessed, ere I got up this morning,
  What change was in store,
By the quick rustle-down of the quail-nets        35
  Which woke me before
I could open my shutter, made fast
  With a bough and a stone,
And look through the twisted dead vine-twigs,
  Sole lattice that ’s known!        40
Quick and sharp rang the rings down the net-poles,
  While, busy beneath,
Your priest and his brother tugged at them,
  The rain in their teeth;
And out upon all the flat house-roofs        45
  Where split figs lay drying,
The girls took the frails under cover:
  Nor use seemed in trying
To get out the boats and go fishing,
  For, under the cliff,        50
Fierce the black water frothed o’er the blind-rock.
  No seeing our skiff
Arrive about noon from Amalfi,—
  Our fisher arrive,
And pitch down his basket before us,        55
  All trembling alive
With pink and gray jellies, your sea-fruit,—
  You touch the strange lumps,
And mouths gape there, eyes open, all manner
  Of horns and of humps,        60
Which only the fisher looks grave at,
  While round him like imps
Cling screaming the children as naked
  And brown as his shrimps:
Himself, too, as bare to the middle,—        65
  You see round his neck
The string and its brass coin suspended,
  That saves him from wreck.
But to-day not a boat reached Salerno,
  So back to a man        70
Came our friends, with whose help in the vineyards
  Grape-harvest began:
In the vat, half-way up in our house-side,
  Like blood the juice spins,
While your brother all bare-legged is dancing        75
  Till breathless he grins
Dead-beaten, in effort on effort
  To keep the grapes under,
Since still when he seems all but master,
  In pours the fresh plunder        80
From girls who keep coming and going
  With basket on shoulder,
And eyes shut against the rain’s driving,
  Your girls that are older,—
For under the hedges of aloe,        85
  And where, on its bed
Of the orchard’s black mould, the love-apple
  Lies pulpy and red,
All the young ones are kneeling and filling
  Their laps with the snails        90
Tempted out by this first rainy weather,—
  Your best of regales.
As to-night will be proved to my sorrow,
  When, supping in state,
We shall feast our grape-gleaners (two dozen,        95
  Three over one plate)
With lasagne so tempting to swallow
  In slippery ropes,
And gourds fried in great purple slices,
  That color of popes.        100
Meantime, see the grape-bunch they ’ve brought you,—
  The rain-water slips
O’er the heavy blue bloom on each globe
  Which the wasp to your lips
Still follows with fretful persistence,—        105
  Nay, taste, while awake,
This half of a curd-white smooth cheese-ball,
  That peels, flake by flake,
Like an onion’s, each smoother and whiter;
  Next, sip this weak wine        110
From the thin green glass flask, with its stopper,
  A leaf of the vine,—
And end with the prickly-pear’s red flesh
  That leaves through its juice
The stony black seeds on your pearl-teeth.        115
  … Scirocco is loose!
Hark! the quick, whistling pelt of the olives
  Which, thick in one’s track,
Tempt the stranger to pick up and bite them,
  Though not yet half black!        120
How the old twisted olive-trunks shudder!
  The medlars let fall
Their hard fruit, and the brittle great fig-trees
  Snap off, figs and all,—
For here comes the whole of the tempest!        125
  No refuge, but creep
Back again to my side and my shoulder,
  And listen or sleep.
 
O, how will your country show next week,
  When all the vine-boughs        130
Have been stripped of their foliage to pasture
  The mules and the cows?
Last eve, I rode over the mountains;
  Your brother, my guide,
Soon left me, to feast on the myrtles        135
  That offered, each side,
Their fruit-balls, black, glossy, and luscious,—
  Or strip from the sorbs
A treasure, so rosy and wondrous,
  Of hairy gold orbs!        140
But my mule picked his sure, sober path out,
  Just stopping to neigh
When he recognized down in the valley
  His mates on their way
With the fagots, and barrels of water;        145
  And soon we emerged
From the plain, where the woods could scarce follow;
  And still as we urged
Our way, the woods wondered, and left us,
  As up still we trudged        150
Though the wild path grew wilder each instant,
  And place was e’en grudged
Mid the rock-chasms, and piles of loose stones
  (Like the loose broken teeth
Of some monster, which climbed there to die        155
  From the ocean beneath),
Place was grudged to the silver-gray fume-weed
  That clung to the path,
And dark rosemary, ever a-dying,
  That, ’spite the wind’s wrath,        160
So loves the salt rock’s face to seaward,—
  And lentisks as stanch
To the stone where they root and bear berries,—
  And … what shows a branch
Coral-colored, transparent, with circlets        165
  Of pale sea-green leaves,—
Over all trod my mule with the caution
  Of gleaners o’er sheaves,
Still, foot after foot like a lady,—
  So, round after round,        170
He climbed to the top of Calvano,
  And God’s own profound
Was above me, and round me the mountains,
  And under, the sea,
And within me, my heart to bear witness        175
  What was and shall be!
O heaven, and the terrible crystal!
  No rampart excludes
Your eye from the life to be lived
  In the blue solitudes!        180
O, those mountains, their infinite movement!
  Still moving with you,—
For, ever some new head and breast of them
  Thrusts into view
To observe the intruder,—you see it        185
  If quickly you turn
And, before they escape you, surprise them,—
  They grudge you should learn
How the soft plains they look on, lean over,
  And love (they pretend)—        190
Cower beneath them; the flat sea-pine crouches,
  The wild fruit-trees bend,
E’en the myrtle-leaves curl, shrink, and shut,—
  All is silent and grave,—
’T is a sensual and timorous beauty,—        195
  How fair, but a slave!
So I turned to the sea,—and there slumbered
  As greenly as ever
Those isles of the siren, your Galli;
  No ages can sever        200
The Three, nor enable their sister
  To join them,—half-way
On the voyage, she looked at Ulysses,—
  No farther to-day;
Though the small one, just launched in the wave,        205
  Watches breast-high and steady
From under the rock, her bold sister
  Swum half-way already.
Fortù, shall we sail there together
  And see from the sides        210
Quite new rocks show their faces,—new haunts
  Where the siren abides?
Shall we sail round and round them, close over
  The rocks, though unseen,
That ruffle the gray glassy water        215
  To glorious green?
Then scramble from splinter to splinter,
  Reach land and explore,
On the largest, the strange square black turret
  With never a door,        220
Just a loop to admit the quick lizards;
  Then stand there and hear
The birds’ quiet singing, that tells us
  What life is, so clear!
The secret they sang to Ulysses,        225
  When, ages ago,
He heard and he knew this life’s secret,
  I hear and I know!
 
Ah, see! The sun breaks o’er Calvano—
  He strikes the great gloom        230
And flutters it o’er the mount’s summit
  In airy gold fume!
All is over! Look out, see the gypsy,
  Our tinker and smith,
Has arrived, set up bellows and forge,        235
  And down-squatted forthwith
To his hammering, under the wall there;
  One eye keeps aloof
The urchins that itch to be putting
  His jews-harps to proof,        240
While the other, through locks of curled wire,
  Is watching how sleek
Shines the hog, come to share in the windfalls—
  An abbot’s own cheek!
All is over! Wake up and come out now,        245
  And down let us go,
And see the fine things got in order
  At Church for the show
Of the Sacrament, set forth this evening;
  To-morrow ’s the Feast        250
Of the Rosary’s Virgin, by no means
  Of Virgins the least,—
As you ’ll hear in the off-hand discourse
  Which (all nature, no art)
The Dominican brother, these three weeks,        255
  Was getting by heart.
Not a post nor a pillar but ’s dizened
  With red and blue papers;
All the roof waves with ribbons, each altar
  Ablaze with long tapers;        260
But the great masterpiece is the scaffold
  Rigged glorious to hold
All the fiddlers and fifers and drummers,
  And trumpeters bold,
Not afraid of Bellini nor Auber,        265
  Who, when the priest’s hoarse,
Will strike us up something that ’s brisk
  For the feast’s second course.
And then will the flaxen-wigged Image
  Be carried in pomp        270
Through the plain, while in gallant procession
  The priests mean to stomp.
And all round the glad church lie old bottles
  With gunpowder stopped,
Which will be, when the Image re-enters,        275
  Religiously popped.
And at night, from the crest of Calvano
  Great bonfires will hang,
On the plain will the trumpets join chorus,
  And more poppers bang!        280
At all events, come—to the garden,
  As far as the wall,
See me tap with a hoe on the plaster
  Till out there shall fall
A scorpion with wide angry nippers!        285
 
  … “Such trifles,”—you say?
Fortù, in my England at home,
  Men meet gravely to-day
And debate, if abolishing Corn-laws
  Is righteous and wise,—        290
If ’t is proper, Scirocco should vanish
  In black from the skies!
 
 
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