Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. IV. Wordsworth to Rossetti
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. IV. The Nineteenth Century: Wordsworth to Rossetti
 
Extract from Italy
By Samuel Rogers (1763–1855)
 
                        BUT who comes,
Brushing the floor with what was once, methinks,
A hat of ceremony? On he glides,
Slip-shod, ungartered; his long suit of black
Dingy, thread-bare, tho’, patch by patch, renewed        5
Till it has almost ceased to be the same.
At length arrived, and with a shrug that pleads
‘’Tis my necessity!’ he stops and speaks,
Screwing a smile into his dinnerless face.
‘Blame not a Poet, Signor, for his zeal—        10
When all are on the wing, who would be last?
The splendour of thy name has gone before thee;
And Italy from sea to sea exults,
As well indeed she may! But I transgress.
He, who has known the weight of praise himself,        15
Should spare another.’ Saying so, he laid
His sonnet, an impromptu, at my feet,
(If his, then Petrarch must have stolen it from him)
And bowed and left me; in his hollow hand
Receiving my small tribute, a zecchine,        20
Unconsciously, as doctors do their fees.
  My omelet, and a flagon of hill-wine,
Pure as the virgin-spring, had happily
Fled from all eyes; or, in a waking dream,
I might have sat as many a great man has,        25
And many a small, like him of Santillane,
Bartering my bread and salt for empty praise.
 
  Am I in Italy? Is this the Mincius?
Are those the distant turrets of Verona?
And shall I sup where Juliet at the Masque        30
Saw her loved Montague, and now sleeps by him?
Such questions hourly do I ask myself;
And not a stone, in a cross-way, inscribed
‘To Mantua’—‘To Ferrara’—but excites
Surprise, and doubt, and self-congratulation.        35
  O Italy, how beautiful thou art!
Yet I could weep—for thou art lying, alas,
Low in the dust; and we admire thee now
As we admire the beautiful in death.
Thine was a dangerous gift, when thou wast born,        40
The gift of Beauty. Would thou hadst it not;
Or wert as once, awing the caitiffs vile
That now beset thee, making thee their slave!
Would they had loved thee less, or feared thee more!
——But why despair? Twice hast thou lived already;        45
Twice shone among the nations of the world,
As the sun shines among the lesser lights
Of heaven; and shalt again. The hour shall come,
When they who think to bind the ethereal spirit,
Who, like the eagle cowering o’er his prey,        50
Watch with quick eye, and strike and strike again
If but a sinew vibrate, shall confess
Their wisdom folly. Even now the flame
Bursts forth where once it burnt so gloriously,
And, dying, left a splendour like the day,        55
That like the day diffused itself, and still
Blesses the earth—the light of genius, virtue,
Greatness in thought and act, contempt of death,
God-like example. Echoes that have slept
Since Athens, Lacedæmon, were Themselves,        60
Since men invoked ‘By Those in Marathon!’
Awake along the Ægean; and the dead,
They of that sacred shore, have heard the call,
And thro’ the ranks, from wing to wing, are seen
Moving as once they were—instead of rage        65
Breathing deliberate valour.
 
 
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