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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

On a Bust of Dante

By Thomas William Parsons (1819–1892)

[The earliest version of this poem was contributed, over the signature “P. P. P.,” to the Boston “Advertiser and Patriot,” 7 October, 1841. In 1843 the author revised it,—inserting the present fourth stanza,—and published it anew with his translation of “The First Ten Cantos of the Inferno.” The following text is from the poet’s manuscript of 1888 and in accordance with his final revision.]

SEE, from this counterfeit of him

Whom Arno shall remember long,

How stern of lineament, how grim,

The father was of Tuscan song:

There but the burning sense of wrong,

Perpetual care and scorn, abide;

Small friendship for the lordly throng;

Distrust of all the world beside.

Faithful if this wan image be,

No dream his life was,—but a fight!

Could any Beatrìce see

A lover in that anchorite?

To that cold Ghibeline’s gloomy sight

Who could have guessed the visions came

Of Beauty, veiled with heavenly light,

In circles of eternal flame?

The lips as Cumæ’s cavern close,

The cheeks with fast and sorrow thin,

The rigid front, almost morose,

But for the patient hope within,

Declare a life whose course hath been

Unsullied still, though still severe,

Which, through the wavering days of sin,

Kept itself icy-chaste and clear.

Not wholly such his haggard look

When wandering once, forlorn, he strayed,

With no companion save his book,

To Corvo’s hushed monastic shade;

Where, as the Benedictine laid

His palm upon the convent’s guest,

The single boon for which he prayed

Was peace, that pilgrim’s one request.

Peace dwells not here,—this rugged face

Betrays no spirit of repose;

The sullen warrior sole we trace,

The marble man of many woes.

Such was his mien when first arose

The thought of that strange tale divine,

When hell he peopled with his foes,

Dread scourge of many a guilty line.

War to the last he waged with all

The tyrant canker-worms of earth;

Baron and duke, in hold and hall,

Cursed the dark hour that gave him birth;

He used Rome’s harlot for his mirth;

Plucked bare hypocrisy and crime;

But valiant souls of knightly worth

Transmitted to the rolls of Time.

O Time! whose verdicts mock our own,

The only righteous judge art thou!

That poor, old exile, sad and lone,

Is Latium’s other Virgil now:

Before his name the nations bow;

His words are parcel of mankind,

Deep in whose hearts, as on his brow,

The marks have sunk of Dante’s mind.