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.
Vespers on the Shore of the Mediterranean
Thomas William Parsons (1819–1892)
          At Savona, a very ancient little city on the coast of Genoa, there stands by the lighthouse a Madonna about twelve feet high, under which are inscribed two Sapphic verses, which are both good Latin and choice Italian,—made by Gabriello Chiabrera, “the prince of Italian lyric poets,” who was a native of Savona,—
        In mare irato, in subita procella,
Invoco te, nostra benigna stella.”

RELIGION’S purest presence was not found,
  By the first followers of our Saviour’s creed,
In stately fanes where trump and timbrel sound
  Sent up the chorus in a strain agreed,
And where the decked oblation’s wail might plead        5
For guilty man with Abraham’s holy seed.
Not in vast domes,—horizons hung by men,
  Where golden panels fret a marble sky,
And things below look up, and wonder when
  Those lifelike seraphim would start and fly!        10
Not where the heart is mastered by the eye
Will worship, anthem-winged, ascend most high.
But in the damp cathedral of the grove,
  Where nature feels the sanctitude of rest,
Or in the stillness of the sheltered cove        15
  Which noiseless waterfowl alone molest,
At times a reverence will pervade the breast
Which will not always come, a bidden guest.
Oft as the parting smiles of day and night
  Flush earth and ocean with a roseate hue,        20
And the quick changes of the magic light
  Prolong the glory of their warm adieu,
Each pilgrim on the hills, and every crew
On the lulled waters, frame their vows anew.
Then by the waves that lip Liguria’s land,        25
  In Genoa’s gulf, thou, wanderer! must have heard
What, more than hymns from Pergolesi’s hand,
  The living soul of adoration stirred,—
And, like the note of Spring’s first-welcomed bird,
Some thoughts awake for which there is no word.        30
The shipman’s chant! as noting travellers tell,
  In either language—old and new—the same;
But more they might have truly said, and well,
  For ’t is a speech the universe may claim;
Men of all times, all climes, and every name,        35
Devotion’s tongue! which from the Godhead came.
      Tost rudderless around the deep
        By Apennine and Alpine blast,
      Which o’er the surge in fury sweep,
        And make a bulrush of our mast,        40
      We murmur in our half-hour’s sleep
    To thee, Madonna! till the storm be past,
        In mare irato, in subita procella,
        Invoco te, nostra benigna stella.
      Whether for weeks our bark hath striven        45
        With death in wild Sardinia’s waves,
      Or downward far as Tunis driven,
        Threat us with life,—the life of slaves;
      We know whose hand its help has given,
    And locked the lightning in its thunder caves.        50
        In mare irato, in subita procella,
        Invoco te, nostra benigna stella.
      O Virgin! when the landsman’s hymn,
        At vesper time, on bended knee,
      In sunlit aisle, or chapel dim,        55
        Or cloister cell, is paid to thee,
      Hear us that ocean’s pavement skim,
    And join our anthem to the raging sea:
        In mare irato, in subita procella,
        Invoco te, nostra benigna stella.        60
      And when the tempest’s wrath is o’er,
        And tired Libeccio sinks to rest,
      And starlight falls upon the shore
        Where love sits watching, uncaressed,
      Though hushed the tumult and the roar,        65
    Again the prayer we ’ll chant which thou hast blest:
        In mare irato, in subita procella,
        Invoco te, nostra benigna stella.

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