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.
 
Venice
Meditative Fragments, on Venice
Richard Monckton Milnes, Lord Houghton (1809–1885)
 
WALK in St. Mark’s, the time the ample space
Lies in the freshness of the evening shade,
When, on each side, with gravely darkened face,
The masses rise above the light arcade;
Walk down the midst with slowly tunèd pace,        5
But gay withal,—for there is high parade
Of fair attire and fairer forms, which pass
Like varying groups on a magician’s glass.
 
From broad-illumined chambers far within,
Or under curtains daintily outspread,        10
Music and laugh and talk, the motley din
Of all who from sad thought or toil are sped,
Here a chance hour of social joy to win,
Gush forth,—but I love best, above my head
To feel nor arch nor tent, nor anything        15
But that pure Heaven’s eternal covering.
 
It is one broad saloon, one gorgeous hall;
A chamber, where a multitude, all kings,
May hold full audience, splendid festival,
Or Piety’s most pompous ministerings;        20
Thus be its height unmarred,—thus be it all
One mighty room, whose form direct upsprings
To the o’erarching sky;—it is right good,
When Art and Nature keep such brotherhood.
 
For where, upon the firmest sodden land,        25
Has ever monarch’s power and toil of slaves
Equalled the works of that self-governed band,
Who fixed the Delos of the Adrian waves;
Planting upon these strips of yielding sand
A Temple of the Beautiful, which braves        30
The jealous strokes of ocean, nor yet fears
The far more perilous sea, “whose waves are years”?
 
Walk in St. Mark’s again, some few hours after,
When a bright sleep is on each storied pile,—
When fitful music and inconstant laughter        35
Give place to Nature’s silent moonlight smile:
Now Fancy wants no faery gale to waft her
To Magian haunt or charm-engirded isle,
All too content, in passive bliss, to see
This show divine of visible poetry.        40
 
On such a night as this impassionedly
The old Venetian sung those verses rare,
“That Venice must of needs eternal be,
For Heaven had looked through the pellucid air,
And cast its reflex in the crystal sea,        45
And Venice was the image pictured there.”
I hear them now, and tremble, for I seem
As treading on an unsubstantial dream.
 
Who talks of vanished glory, of dead power,
Of things that were, and are not? Is he here?        50
Can he take in the glory of this hour,
And call it all the decking of a bier?
No, surely as on that Titanic tower
The Guardian Angel stands in æther clear,
With the moon’s silver tempering his gold wing,        55
So Venice lives, as lives no other thing:—
 
That strange Cathedral! exquisitely strange,—
That front, on whose bright varied tints the eye
Rests as of gems,—those arches, whose high range
Gives its rich-broidered border to the sky,—        60
Those ever-prancing steeds!—My friend, whom change
Of restless will has led to lands that lie
Deep in the East, does not thy fancy set
Above those domes an airy minaret?
 
Dost thou not feel that in this scene are blent        65
Wide distances of the estrangéd earth,
Far thoughts, far faiths, beseeming her who bent
The spacious Orient to her simple worth,
Who, in her own young freedom eminent,
Scorning the slaves that shamed their ancient birth,        70
And feeling what the West could be, had been,
Went out a traveller, and returned a queen?
 
 
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