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.
 
Rome, Churches of
In St. Peter’s
William Wetmore Story (1819–1895)
 
The Convert Talks to His Friend

A NOBLE structure truly! as you say,—
Clear, spacious, large in feeling and design,
Just what a church should be,—I grant alway
There may be faults, great faults, yet I opine
Less on the whole than elsewhere may be found.        5
But let its faults go—out of human thought
Was nothing ever builded, written, wrought,
That one can say is whole, complete, and round;
Your snarling critic gloats upon defects,
And any fool among the architects        10
Can pick you out a hundred different flaws;
But who of them, with all his talking, draws
A church to match it? View it as a whole,
Not part by part, with those mean little eyes,
That cannot love, but only criticise,        15
How grand a body! with how large a soul!
 
Seen from without, how well it bodies forth
Rome’s proud religion—nothing mean and small
In its proportion, and above it all
A central dome of thought, a forehead bare        20
That rises in this soft Italian air
Big with its intellect, and far away,
When lesser domes have sunken in the earth,
Stands for all Rome uplifted in the day,
An art-born brother of the mountains there.        25
See what an invitation it extends
To the world’s pilgrims, be they foes or friends.
Its colonnades, with wide embracing arms,
Spread forth as if to bless and shield from harms,
And draw them to its heart, the inner shrine,        30
From the grand outer precincts, where alway
The living fountains wave their clouds of spray,
And temper with cool sound the hot sunshine.
 
Step in,—behind your back the curtain swings;
The world is left outside with worldly things.        35
How still! save where vague echoes rise and fall,
Dying along the distance, what a sense
Of peace and silence hovers over all,
That tones the marbled aisle’s magnificence,
And frescoed vaults and ceilings deep with gold,        40
To its own quiet.—See! how grand and bold,
Key of the whole, swells up the airy dome
Where the apostles hold their lofty home,
And angels hover in the misted height,
And amber shafts of sunset bridge with light        45
Its quivering air—while low the organ groans,
And from the choir’s gilt cages tangling tones
Whirl fuguing up, and play and float aloft,
And in its vast bell die in echoes soft.
 
And mark! our church hath its own atmosphere,        50
That varies not with seasons of the year,
But ever keeps its even temperate air,
And soft, large light without offensive glare.
No sombre, Gothic sadness here abides
To awe the sense—no sullen shadow hides        55
In its clear spaces—but a light as warm
And broad as charity smiles o’er the whole,
And joyous art and color’s festal charm
Refine the senses and uplift the soul.
*        *        *        *        *
 
 
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