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.
 
Vesuvius, the Mountain
Vesuvius
Christopher Pearse Cranch (1813–1892)
 
DREAD, desolate Mount! when first I gazed at thee
Lifting thy shadowy cone across the sea,
Thou seemedst a remembered picture drawn
By boyhood’s vision in some Southern dawn,
Twin spirit with the purple clouds that rest        5
In hazy light above thy towering crest.
But when I climbed thy bare and burning side,
And felt the scorching of that fiery tide
Bubbling from thy hot lips, and saw the blight
Of thy dread power spread through the dusky night,        10
Far down the black slopes to the ocean skiffs,—
When I beheld the drear and savage cliffs
Towering around me black and sulphur-drenched,
The burning cracks whose heat is never quenched,
I knew thou wast that desolating fount        15
Whose fearful flowing centuries might recount,
Whose fiery surge beat down the marble pride
Of stainless fanes that slept too near thy side,
When fated cities of renownéd fame
Fluttered like moths toward thy devouring flame.        20
 
Motionless Victor! Lord of fiery doom!
On thy dark helmet waves thy smoky plume;
Wrapt in thy purple like a Syrian king,
While crouches at thy feet the shrinking Spring,
Thy fallen archangel’s throne befits thee,—thou        25
Who canst not bless, but curse. Thy blasted brow
Scowls with dull eye of hate that nightly broods
On dire events in thy drear solitudes.
Tireless thou burnest on from age to age.
No winter’s rains, though yearly they assuage        30
Thy hot cheeks, where the lava tear-drops run
Down the black furrows,—no joy-giving sun
Of balmy spring clothing thy ruggedness
With colors of all depth and tenderness,—
No clouds of summer smiling on thy sleep,—        35
No autumn vintage round thy fire-cloven steep,—
Have charmed away the awful mystery
That burns within a heart no eye can see.
In the bright day thou mak’st the blue heavens dun,
Blotting with blasphemous smoke the blessed sun.        40
No calmest starlit night can still thy curse
Breathed upward through the silent universe.
 
Last night we saw thee shrouded in a cloak
Of dull gray rain-clouds. From thy crater broke
Swift blazing spasms of flame that glimmered through        45
The awful gloom of mist whose pallid hue
Half hid thy form, now dark, and flashing now
Like the dread oracles on Sinai’s brow.
Prophetic mount! Thou seemedst then to be
Wrapt in a vision of futurity,        50
Fearfully whispering words of joy or moan,
Whose sense was hidden in thy heart alone.
 
Nor seer alone of future days o’ercast,
But true historian of the blighted past,
Buried beneath thy feet thou chainest deep        55
Treasures of beauty in enchanted sleep:
Temples and streets and quaintly painted halls,
Vases and cups for antique festivals,
Fair statues in whose undulating line
The Grecian artist lavished dreams divine;        60
Altars that burned to gods of mighty name,
Until thy greater sacrificial flame
Swallowed the lesser. Princely art and power
Sank blood-warm to its grave in that dark hour
When thou, wild despot, even to the sea        65
Whose fevered waves shrank from the fear of thee
Meeting thy fire-kiss, didst send forth thy hosts,
Cloud-myrmidons of death, flooding the coasts
That smiled around thy blue enamelled bay.
 
Years rolled. The cities in their dungeons lay        70
Embalmed in lovely death. Long ages crept.
Flowers and luxuriant vines above them slept,
And still not half the wealth beneath that lies
Revisits the sweet light of summer skies.
So thou, stern chronicler, dialest thy dates,        75
Not by the ephemeral growth and change of states,
But thunderous blasts upheaving from below,
That melt to mist the winter’s hoarded snow,
By thy deep beds of fire, thy strata old,
And the slow creep of vegetable mould.        80
 
Yet fearful as thou towerest, seen so near,
In thy environment of blight and fear,
Beautiful art thou burning from afar
In liquid fire,—as though a melting star
Had fallen upon thee from the sky profound,        85
And streamed adown thy sides which, gemmed around,
Sparkle like some dark Abyssinian queen
Robed in her amethyst and ruby sheen.
E’en now I see thee nightly from this bower
Where the red rose and the white orange-flower        90
Mingle their odors. Looking o’er the sea,
Thy shadowy cone of solemn mystery
Shoots downward in the waves a softened gleam,
Until, by beauty lulled, I can but dream
Of thee as of each gentle lovely thing        95
That in my path lies daily blossoming.
 
 
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