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.
 
Torcello, the Island
Torcello
Joaquin Miller (1837–1913)
 
(From The Ship in the Desert)

I DO recall some sad days spent,
By borders of the Orient,
Days sweet as sad to memory—
’T would make a tale. It matters not—
I sought the loneliest seas; I sought        5
The solitude of ruins, and forgot
Mine own lone life and littleness
Before this fair land’s mute distress,
That sat within this changeful sea.
 
Slow sailing through the reedy isles,        10
By unknown banks, through unknown bays,
Some sunny summer yesterdays,
Where Nature’s beauty still beguiles,
I saw the storied yellow sail
And lifted prow of steely mail.        15
’T is all that ’s left Torcello now,—
A pirate’s yellow sail, a prow.
 
Below the far, faint peaks of snow,
And grass-grown causeways well below,
I touched Torcello.
                    Once a-land,
        20
I took a sea-shell in my hand,
And blew like any trumpeter.
I felt the fig-leaves lift and stir
On trees that reached from ruined wall
Above my head, but that was all.        25
Back from the farther island shore
Came echoes trooping; nothing more.
 
  Lo! here stood Adria once, and here
Attila came with sword and flame,
And set his throne of hollowed stone        30
In her high mart.
                    And it remains
Still lord o’er all. Where once the tears
Of mute petition fell, the rains
Of heaven fall. Lo! all alone
There lifts this massive empty throne!        35
The sea has changed his meed, his mood,
And made this sedgy solitude.
 
  By cattle-paths grass-grown and worn,
Through marbled streets all stained and torn
By time and battle, there I walked.        40
A bent old beggar, white as one
For better fruitage blossoming,
Came on. And as he came he talked
Unto himself; for there are none
In all his island, old and dim,        45
To answer back or question him.
 
  I turned, retraced my steps once more.
The hot miasma steamed and rose
In deadly vapor from the reeds
That grew from out the shallow shore,        50
Where peasants say the sea-horse feeds,
And Neptune shapes his horn and blows.
 
  I climbed and sat that throne of stone
To contemplate, to dream, to reign,
Ay, reign above myself; to call        55
The people of the past again
Before me as I sat alone
In all my kingdom.
                    There were kine
That browsed along the reedy brine,
And now and then a tusky boar        60
Would shake the high reeds of the shore,
A bird blows by—but that was all.
 
  I watched the lonesome sea-gull pass.
I did remember and forget;
The past rolled by; I stood alone.        65
I sat the shapely chiselled stone
That stands in tall sweet grasses set;
Ay, girdle deep in long strong grass,
And green Alfalfa.
                    Very fair
The heavens were, and still and blue,        70
For Nature knows no changes there.
The Alps of Venice, far away
Like some half-risen half-moon lay.
 
  How sweet the grasses at my feet!
The smell of clover over sweet.        75
I heard the hum of bees. The bloom
Of clover-tops and cherry-trees
Were being rifled by the bees,
And these were building in a tomb.
 
  The fair Alfalfa; such as has        80
Usurped the Occident, and grows
With all the sweetness of the rose
On Sacramento’s sundown hills,
Is there, and that mid island fills
With fragrance. Yet the smell of death        85
Comes riding in on every breath.
 
  Lo! death that is not death, but rest:
To step aside, to watch and wait
Beside the wave, outside the gate,
With all life’s pulses in your breast;        90
To absolutely rest, to pray
In some lone mountain while you may.
 
  That sad, sweet fragrance. It had sense
And sound and voice. It was a part
Of that which had possessed my heart,        95
And would not of my will go hence.
’T was Autumn’s breath; ’t was dear as kiss
Of any worshipped woman is.
 
  Some snails have climbed the throne and writ
Their silver monograms on it        100
In unknown tongues.
                    I sat thereon,
I dreamed until the day was gone;
I blew again my pearly shell,—
Blew long and strong, and loud and well;
I puffed my cheeks, I blew, as when        105
Horned satyrs danced the delight of men.
 
  Some mouse-brown cows that fed within
Looked up. A cowherd rose hard by,
My single subject, clad in skin,
Nor yet half clad. I caught his eye,        110
He stared at me, then turned and fled.
He frightened fled, and as he ran,
Like wild beast from the face of man,
Across his shoulder threw his head.
He gathered up his skin of goat        115
About his breast and hairy throat.
He stopped, and then this subject true,
Mine only one in hands like these
Made desolate by changeful seas,
Came back and asked me for a sou.        120
 
 
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