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.
 
Sorrento
Sorrento
Bayard Taylor (1825–1878)
 
THE GODS are gone, the temples overthrown,
  The storms of time the very rocks have shaken:
The Past is mute, save where some mouldy stone
  Speaks to confuse, like speech by age o’ertaken.
      The pomp that crowned the winding shore        5
      Has fled forevermore:
  Its old magnificence shall never reawaken.
 
Where once against the Grecian ships arrayed,
  The Oscan warriors saw their javelins hurtle,
The farmer prunes his olives, and the maid        10
  Trips down the lanes in flashing vest and kirtle:
      The everlasting laurel now
      Forgets Apollo’s brow,
  And, dedicate no more to Venus, blooms the myrtle.
 
Yet still, as long ago, when this high coast        15
  Phœnician strangers saw, and flying Dardans,
The bounteous earth fulfils her ancient boast
  In mellow fields which winter never hardens;
      And daisy, lavender, and rose
      Perpetual buds unclose,        20
  To flood with blended balm the tiers of hanging gardens.
 
From immemorial rocks the daffodil
  Beckons with scented stars, an unreached wonder:
On sunny banks their wine the hyacinths spill,
  And self-betraying violets bloom thereunder;        25
      While near and threatening, dim and deep,
      The wave assaults the steep,
  Or booms in hollow caves with sound of smothered thunder.
 
Here nature, dropping once her ordered plan,
  Fashioned all lovely things that most might please her,        30
Hiding her playground where the greed of man
  Must half withhold the toiling hands that tease her:
      Her sweetest air, her softest wave,
      Reluctantly she gave
  To grace the wealth of Rome, to heal the languid Cæsar!        35
 
She stationed there Vesuvius, to be
  Contrasted horror to her idyl tender:
Across the azure pavement of the sea
  She raised a cape for Baïæ’s marble splendor;
      And westward, on the circling zone,        40
      To front the seas unknown,
  She planted Capri’s couchant lion to defend her.
 
A mother kind, she doth but tantalize:
  Not from her secret gardens will she spurn us.
The Roman, casting hitherward his eyes,        45
  Forgot his Sybaris beside Volturnus,—
      Forgot the streams and sylvan charms
      That decked his Sabine farms,
  And orchards on the slopes that sink to still Avernus.
 
Here was his substance wasted: here he lost        50
  The marrow that subdued the world, in leisure;
Counting no days that were not feasts, no cost
  Too dear to purchase other forms of pleasure;
      Yet, while for him stood still the sun,
      The restless world rolled on,        55
  And shook from off its skirts Cæsar and Cæsar’s treasure.
 
Less than he sought will we: a moon of peace,
  To feed the mind on Fancy’s airy diet;
Soft airs that come like memories of Greece,
  Nights that renew the old Egyptian quiet:        60
      Escape from yonder burning crest
      That stirs with new unrest,
  And in its lava-streams keeps hot the endless riot.
 
Here, from the wars of Gaul, the strife of Rome,
  May we, meek citizens, a summer screen us:        65
Here find with milder Earth a perfect home,
  Once, ere she puts profounder rest between us:
      Here break the sacred laurel bough
      Still for Apollo’s brow,
  And bind the myrtle buds to crown a purer Venus.        70
 
 
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