Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Italy
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Italy: Vols. XI–XIII.  1876–79.
William Wetmore Story (1819–1895)
THIS is a barren, desolate scene,
Grim and gray, with scarce a tree,
Gashed with many a wild ravine
Far away as the eye can see;
Ne’er a home for miles to be found,        5
Save where huddled on some grim peak
A village clinging in fear looks round
Over the country vast and bleak,
As if it had fled from the lower ground,
Refuge from horrors there to seek.        10
Over the spare and furzy soil
With never a waving grain-field sowed,
Raggedly winds with weary toil
The shining band of dusty road,—
Down through the river’s rocky bed,        15
That is white and dry with summer’s drought,
Or climbing some sandy hillock’s head,
Over and under, in and out,
Like a struggling thing by madness led,
That wanders along in fear and doubt.        20
What are those spots on yon sandy slope
Where the green is frayed and tattered with gray?
Are they only rocks, or sheep that crop
The meagre pasture? one scarce can say.
This seems not a place for flowers,—but behold!        25
How the lupine spreads its pink around,
And the clustered ginestra squanders its gold
As if it loved this barren ground;
And surely that bird is over-bold
That dares to sing o’er that grave-like mound.        30
It is dead and still in the middle noon;
The sand-beds shine with a blinding light,
The cicali dizzen the air with their tune,
And the sunshine seems like a curse to smite;
The mountains around their shoulders bare,        35
Gather a thin and shadowy veil,
And shrink from the fierce and scorching glare—
And close to the grass so withered and pale
Hovering quivers the glassy air,
And the lizards pant in their emerald mail.        40
Think of this place in the dreary gloom
Of an autumn twilight, when the sun
Hiding in banks of clouds goes down,
And silence and shadow are coming on;—
White mists crawl,—one lurid light        45
Glares from the west through a broken cloud—
Rack hurries above—the dubious night
Is creeping along with its spectral crowd;
Would it, I ask, be a startling sight
To meet a ghost here than in a shroud?        50
One of the thousand murdered men
Who have stained the blasted soil with blood?
Dues the lupine get its color then
From some victim pashed to death in the mud?
Has the yellow ginestra the hue of the gold        55
From the traveller here in terror torn?
Was yon bird but a sprite, singing so bold,
That in life a maiden’s form had worn,
And at night steals back in its shape of old
To haunt the darkness pale and forlorn?        60
Look at that castle whose ruins crown
The rocky crest of yonder height,
Still frowning over the squalid town,
That cowers beneath as if in affright.
From his eyrie there to glut his beak        65
The robber swooped to his shuddering prey,
And the ghosts of the past still haunt the peak
Though robber and baron have passed away.
And, hark! was that the owl’s long shriek,
Or a ghost’s that flits through the ruins gray?        70
’T is blood and gold wherever I gaze,
And tangled brambles, stiff and gray,—
A scowling, ugly, terrified place,
A spot for murder and deadly fray.
On such a barren, desolate heath,        75
When shadows were deepening all around,
The sisters weird before Macbeth
Rising, hovered along the ground,
And echoed his inward thought of death,
And vanished again behind a mound.
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