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.
 
Cuma (Cumæ)
Sibylla Cumana
William Gibson (1826–1887)
 
MOON-CURVES of shore, and promontories and isles;
A many-purpled sea flowing in and round;
Wrecks of antiquity and yet elder myth;
A rubbish, half on land and half in sea,
Of Rome’s once sumptuous seaside luxury;        5
Phlegræan fields, where Titan force still heaves
The uncertain bases of the vernal hills;
Volcanic bowls, smouldering and boiling yet,
Or brimmed with cool oblivion of the wave;
A ghastly tunnel in the sunny cliff        10
Of one fair lake that bears Avernus’ name;
A narrow chamber of Cimmerian gloom
And Phlegethonic steam (the Sibyl’s grot);
A green hill, crowned with venerable walls
Of an Acropolis, and a lonely shaft        15
Of fluted Doric, where Apollo’s fane
(The Sibyl’s lover erst and tutelar god)
Was reared by Dædalus, hither voyaging
With wings, as fabled, or invented sails;
And the hill honey-combed with labyrinths        20
Of caverns, opening on the sunset sea
(The hundred mouths of Sibylline oracles);
The Acherusian lake; the Elysian fields,
Clothed in the delicate atmosphere of spring,
Sprouting with young vines, redolent of the fruit        25
And flower of orange, true Hesperian gold,
And the wide whisper of the violet;
A round and vaulted ruin, temple or bath
In times imperial, where two women danced
The tarantella to a tambourine,        30
That echo made orchestral,—one a girl,
Like a Bacchante in abandonment
To her own grace, with pure Hellenic face,
And plash of blue-black hair, and flashing eyes;
And one a weird sexagenarian crone,—        35
Types of the Sibyl in her youth and age;—
These reminiscences of a long day
By Baiæ’s and more ancient Cumæ’s shore
Set me to dreaming of the mystic maid
That sold the books to Tarquin. Me she led        40
To no ancestral and prophetic shades,
But through the gates of Sleep, ivory or horn,
She brought me, with the scent of roses dead,
One Sibylline leaf,—a poem of her youth,
Set to love-music by the Lyric god.        45
 
 
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