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.
 
Verona
Dante at Verona
Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882)
 
*        *        *        *        *
FAME tells us that Verona’s court
  Was a fair place. The feet might still
  Wander forever at their will
In many ways of sweet resort;
  And still in many a heart around        5
  The poet’s name due honor found.
 
Watch we his steps. He comes upon
  The women at their palm-playing.
  The conduits round the gardens sing
And meet in scoops of milk-white stone,        10
  Where wearied damsels rest and hold
  Their hands in the wet spurt of gold.
 
One of whom, knowing well that he,
  By some found stern, was mild with them,
  Would run and pluck his garment’s hem,        15
Saying, “Messer Dante, pardon me,”—
  Praying that they might hear the song
  Which first of all he made, when young.
 
“Donne che avete!”… Thereunto
  Thus would he murmur, having first        20
  Drawn near the fountain, while she nursed
His hand against her side: a few
  Sweet words, and scarcely those, half said;
  Then turned, and changed, and bowed his head.
*        *        *        *        *
So you may read and marvel not        25
  That such a man as Dante—one
  Who, while Can Grande’s deeds were done,
Had drawn his robe round him and thought—
  Now at the same guest-table fared
  Where keen Uguccio wiped his beard.        30
 
Through leaves and trellis-work the sun
  Left the wine cool within the glass.
  They feasting where no sun could pass;
And when the women, all as one,
  Rose up with brightened cheeks to go,        35
  It was a comely thing, we know.
 
But Dante recked not of the wine;
  Whether the women stayed or went,
  His visage held one stern intent:
And when the music had its sign        40
  To breathe upon them for more ease,
  Sometimes he turned and bade it cease.
 
And as he spared not to rebuke
  The mirth, so oft in council he
  To bitter truth bore testimony:        45
And when the crafty balance shook
  Well poised to make the wrong prevail,
  Then Dante’s hand would turn the scale.
 
And if some envoy from afar
  Sailed to Verona’s sovereign port        50
  For aid or peace, and all the court
Fawned on its lord, “the Mars of war,
  Sole arbiter of life and death,”—
  Be sure that Dante saved his breath.
 
And Can La Scala marked askance        55
  These things, accepting them for shame
  And scorn, till Dante’s guestship came
To be a peevish sufferance:
  His host sought ways to make his days
  Hateful; and such have many ways.        60
 
There was a Jester, a foul lout
  Whom the court loved for graceless arts;
  Sworn scholiast of the bestial parts
Of speech; a ribald mouth to shout
  In folly’s horny tympanum        65
  Such things as make the wise man dumb.
 
Much loved, him Dante loathed. And so,
  One day when Dante felt perplexed
  If any day that could come next
Were worth the waiting for or no,        70
  And mute he sat amid their din,
  Can Grande called the Jester in.
 
Rank words, with such, are wit’s best wealth.
  Lords mouthed approval; ladies kept
  Twittering with clustered heads, except        75
Some few that took their trains by stealth
  And went. Can Grande shook his hair
  And smote his thighs and laughed i’ the air.
 
Then, facing on his guest, he cried,—
  “Say, Messer Dante, how it is        80
  I get out of a clown like this
More than your wisdom can provide.”
  And Dante: “’T is man’s ancient whim
  That still his like seems good to him.”
 
Also a tale is told, how once,        85
  At clearing tables after meat,
  Piled for a jest at Dante’s feet
Were found the dinner’s well-picked bones;
  So laid, to please the banquet’s lord,
  By one who crouched beneath the board.        90
 
Then smiled Can Grande to the rest:—
  “Our Dante’s tuneful mouth indeed
  Lacks not the gift on flesh to feed!”
“Fair host of mine,” replied the guest,
  “So many bones you ’d not descry        95
  If so it chanced the dog were I.”
*        *        *        *        *
 
 
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