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.
 
Sicily
Sicily
William Cowper (1731–1800)
 
(From The Task)

ALAS for Sicily! rude fragments now
Lie scattered, where the shapely column stood.
Her palaces are dust. In all her streets
The voice of singing and the sprightly chord
Are silent. Revelry and dance and show        5
Suffer a syncope and a solemn pause,
While God performs upon the trembling stage
Of his own works his dreadful part alone.
How does the earth receive him?—with what signs
Of gratulation and delight her king?        10
Pours she not all her choicest fruits abroad,
Her sweetest flowers, her aromatic gums,
Disclosing Paradise where’er he treads?
She quakes at his approach. Her hollow womb,
Conceiving thunders through a thousand deeps        15
And fiery caverns, roars beneath his foot.
The hills move lightly, and the mountains smoke,
For he has touched them. From the extremest point
Of elevation down into the abyss
His wrath is busy, and his frown is felt.        20
The rocks fall headlong, and the valleys rise,
The rivers die into offensive pools,
And charged with putrid verdure, breathe a gross
And mortal nuisance into all the air.
What solid was, by transformation strange,        25
Grows fluid; and the fixed and rooted earth,
Tormented into billows, heaves and swells,
Or with vortiginous and hideous whirl
Sucks down its prey insatiable. Immense
The tumult and the overthrow, the pangs        30
And agonies of human and of brute
Multitudes, fugitive on every side,
And fugitive in vain. The sylvan scene
Migrates uplifted; and, with all its soil
Alighting in far distant fields, finds out        35
A new possessor, and survives the change.
Ocean has caught the frenzy, and, upwrought
To an enormous and o’erbearing height,
Not by a mighty wind, but by that voice
Which winds and waves obey, invades the shore        40
Resistless. Never such a sudden flood,
Upridged so high, and sent on such a charge,
Possessed an inland scene. Where now the throng
That pressed the beach, and, hasty to depart,
Looked to the sea for safety? They are gone,        45
Gone with the refluent wave into the deep,—
A prince with half his people! Ancient towers,
And roofs embattled high, the gloomy scenes,
Where beauty oft and lettered worth consume
Life in the unproductive shades of death,        50
Fall prone: the pale inhabitants come forth,
And, happy in their unforeseen release
From all the rigors of restraint, enjoy
The terrors of the day, that sets them free.
Who, then, that has thee would not hold thee fast,        55
Freedom? whom they that lose thee so regret,
That e’en a judgment, making way for thee,
Seems in their eyes a mercy for thy sake.
 
 
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