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.
 
Venice
In My Gondola
Walter Thornbury (1828–1876)
 
WHERE high above the silent street
  The Campanile springs,
Where round St. Mark’s the angels still
  Poise their unfaded wings,
I in my floating hearse dream on        5
  While my old boatman sings.
 
Quick to that lonely Jesuit church
  Where the bronze charger stands;
To that old house,—a palace once,
  Now spoiled by Austrian hands,—        10
Its marbles rent by heat and cold,
  Ill clamped with rusty bands.
 
O, not to-day the painting-school,
  Where dusky Titians glow,
And where Bellini’s jewelled saints        15
  All congregate below.
No, not to-day the chapel dim,
  Half lit by silver lamps,
Nor that old Doge’s nameless tomb,
  Defaced by carking damps.        20
 
I go to muse away an hour
  O’er glories dead and past,
O’er pride dethroned by cruel Time,
  That rude Iconoclast.
O, how this city, Ocean’s Queen,        25
  Is beggared now at last!
 
I pace the rooms where tapestry
  Still boasts its faded kings;
Where, quaint and querulous with age,
  The old custode sings,        30
And feebly tries to reach the web
  Where the lean spider clings.
 
I seek the Council-room, whose walls
  Are stamped with globes and stars,
And where above the throne of state,        35
  Still glowers a painted Mars.
Out on that curséd Austrian drum,
  Beneath the window-bars!
 
I love the chapel, though no priest
  Bends at the shrine, now bare,        40
No starry candles glimmer bright
  Through the dim, balmy air;
And yet a halo seems to shine
  Round the one picture there.
 
Here once the Mocenigo lived,        45
  Aping a royal pride,
His golden wealth flashed lustre down
  Upon the passing tide,
His purple gondolas long since
  A Tyrian glory dyed.        50
 
The fount still plashes day by day
  Upon the old stained floor,
Where stones turn emerald in the beams
  That through the vine-leaves pour;
It ever falls, yet can’t efface        55
  One blot of human gore.
 
There ’s blood upon the agate steps
  And on the marble stair,
Where the quick lizard flits across,
  Fearing the very air.        60
A bad man’s conscience knew such fears,
  Long centuries since, just there.
 
It was a day of proud content:
  The Adriatic’s tide
Had just received the ring that joined        65
  The bridegroom to the bride;
The golden barge with sails of silk
  Moved homeward o’er the tide;
 
The streets were full of silken cloaks,
  With gems the windows shone;        70
The poorest fishing-girl that day
  Her bridal dress had on;
Flags shook from every roof,—the bells
  All day had madly gone.
 
Fresh from his prayers beneath the dome,        75
  The perfumes on his cloak,
Here the Doge sat, and heard the wave
  Moan as if one had spoke;
And thought of how the gory rack
  Those pale lean limbs had broke.        80
 
Thought of the Giant Stairs, where one
  Knelt down awhile to pray,
Then stood erect and eyed the crowd
  Like a royal stag at bay,
And smiled on doves that o’er him flew        85
  To some isle far away.
 
He thought of that well-chamber, where
  A groaning man did lie,
And of the burning roof, where one
  Prepared himself to die;        90
And e’en the strangler’s burly knave
  Had tear-drops in his eye;
 
Or dreamt of the Great Chamber where
  The Forty bend and write,
Smiling so grimly when they hear        95
  The brawny headsman smite.—
His dream was broken by a star,
  That flashed across the night.
 
Slow past the marble stairs he saw
  A roll of paper float,        100
Dropped by that sable gondolier
  That turns yon corner,—note
How pale his face turns,—“Doge, beware!”
  Upon his vision smote.
 
That night a deep and stifled cry        105
  Rose to a window grate.
The morning came; they found a plume
  Beside the water-gate;
A letter torn, some drops of blood.
  The Doge had fled,—too late!        110
 
Now back, old sturdy gondolier,
  My dream has passed away;
Back with my floating hearse, and quick,
  Before that dying ray
Leave the last roof, and darkness pall        115
  The dead corse of the day.
 
The doves upon the copper dome
  Flutter at my wild cry,
Now that I see yon saints look up
  Devoutly to the sky;        120
Where Christ upon a golden throne
  Is robed and crowned on high.
 
Yon pillars brave old Dandolo
  Brought from the Asian shore;
Those are the brazen steeds the Greeks        125
  Bridled in days of yore;
Yonder the wingéd lion tries
  From his stone chains to soar.
 
But slaves sleep on the church’s steps;
  Slaves snore in every boat;        130
Slaves’ songs at night along the tide
  On these free breezes float;
Slaves stab and gamble in the square,
  And tear poor Freedom’s throat.
 
The dead were great; their puny sons,        135
  Unworthy such a home,
Laugh, sing, and sleep beneath the shade
  Cast by their giant dome,
Slaves of the butcher and the priest,—
  Of Austria and of Rome.        140
 
Hark! now the brutal German drum
  Leads on the bayonets. See
Insolent soldiers pacing round
  A city once so free.
Rise, hero of yon lonely isle,        145
  And give them liberty.
 
 
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