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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Italy: Vols. XI–XIII. 1876–79.


After a Lecture on Shelley

By Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809–1894)

ONE broad, white sail in Spezzia’s treacherous bay;

On comes the blast; too daring bark, beware!

The cloud has clasped her; lo! it melts away;

The wide, waste waters, but no sail is there.

Morning: a woman looking on the sea;

Midnight: with lamps the long veranda burns;

Come, wandering sail, they watch, they burn for thee!

Suns come and go, alas! no bark returns.

And feet are thronging on the pebbly sands,

And torches flaring in the weedy caves,

Where’er the waters lay with icy hands

The shapes uplifted from their coral graves.

Vainly they seek; the idle quest is o’er;

The coarse, dark women, with their hanging locks,

And lean, wild children gather from the shore

To the black hovels bedded in the rocks.

But Love still prayed, with agonizing wail,

“One, one last look, ye heaving waters, yield!”

Till Ocean, clashing in his jointed mail,

Raised the pale burden on his level shield.

Slow from the shore the sullen waves retire;

His form a nobler element shall claim;

Nature baptized him in ethereal fire,

And Death shall crown him with a wreath of flame.

Fade, mortal semblance, never to return;

Swift is the change within thy crimson shroud;

Seal the white ashes in the peaceful urn;

All else has risen in yon silvery cloud.

Sleep where thy gentle Adonais lies,

Whose open page lay on thy dying heart,

Both in the smile of those blue-vaulted skies,

Earth’s fairest dome of all divinest art.

Breathe for his wandering soul one passing sigh,

O happier Christian, while thine eye grows dim,—

In all the mansions of the house on high,

Say not that Mercy has not one for him!