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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Fifth of May
By Alessandro Manzoni (1785–1873)
From ‘Modern Italian Poets’: Translation of William Dean Howells

HE passed: and as immovable
  As, with the last sigh given,
Lay his own clay, oblivious,
  From that great spirit riven,
So the world stricken and wondering        5
    Stands at the tidings dread;
Mutely pondering the ultimate
  Hour of that fateful being,
And in the vast futurity
  No peer of his foreseeing        10
Among the countless myriads
    Her blood-stained dust that tread.
Him on his throne and glorious
  Silent saw I, that never—
When with awful vicissitude        15
  He sank, rose, fell forever—
Mixed my voice with the numberless
    Voices that pealed on high;
Guiltless of servile flattery
  And of the scorn of coward,        20
Come I when darkness suddenly
  On so great light hath lowered,
And offer a song at his sepulchre
    That haply shall not die.
From the Alps unto the Pyramids,        25
  From Rhine to Manzanares,
Unfailingly the thunderstroke
  His lightning purpose carries;
Bursts from Scylla to Tanais,—
    From one to the other sea.        30
Was it true glory?—Posterity,
  Thine be the hard decision;
Bow we before the mightiest,
  Who willed in him the vision
Of his creative majesty        35
    Most grandly traced should be.
The eager and tempestuous
  Joy of the great plan’s hour,
The throe of the heart that controllessly
  Burns with a dream of power,        40
And wins it, and seizes victory
    It had seemed folly to hope,
All he hath known: the infinite
  Rapture after the danger,
The flight, the throne of sovereignty,        45
  The salt bread of the stranger;
Twice ’neath the feet of the worshipers,
    Twice ’neath the altar’s cope.
He spoke his name; two centuries,
  Armèd and threatening either,        50
Turned unto him submissively,
  As waiting fate together;
He made a silence, and arbiter
    He sat between the two.
He vanished; his days in the idleness        55
  Of his island prison spending,
Mark of immense malignity,
  And of a pity unending,
Of hatred inappeasable,
    Of deathless love and true.        60
As on the head of the mariner,
  Its weight some billow heaping,
Falls, even while the castaway,
  With strainèd sight far sweeping,
Scanneth the empty distances        65
    For some dim sail in vain:
So over his soul the memories
  Billowed and gathered ever;
How oft to tell posterity
  Himself he did endeavor,        70
And on the pages helplessly
    Fell his weary hand again.
How many times, when listlessly
  In the long dull day’s declining—
Downcast those glances fulminant,        75
  His arms on his breast entwining—
He stood assailed by the memories
    Of days that were passed away;
He thought of the camps, the arduous
  Assaults, the shock of forces,        80
The lightning-flash of the infantry,
  The billowy rush of horses,
The thrill in his supremacy,
    The eagerness to obey.
Ah, haply in so great agony        85
  His panting soul had ended
Despairing, but that potently
  A hand, from heaven extended,
Into a clearer atmosphere
    In mercy lifted him.        90
And led him on by blossoming
  Pathways of hope ascending
To deathless fields, to happiness
  All earthly dreams transcending,
Where in the glory celestial        95
    Earth’s fame is dumb and dim.
Beautiful, deathless, beneficent
  Faith! used to triumphs, even
This also write exultantly:
  No loftier pride ’neath Heaven        100
Unto the shame of Calvary
    Stooped ever yet its crest.
Thou from his weary mortality
  Disperse all bitter passions:
The God that humbleth and hearteneth,        105
  That comforts and that chastens,
Upon the pillow else desolate
    To his pale lips lay pressed!

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