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



By James Russell Lowell (1819–1891)

NEVER, surely, was holier man

Than Ambrose, since the world began:

With diet spare and raiment thin

He shielded himself from the father of sin;

With bed of iron and scourgings oft,

His heart to God’s hand as wax made soft.

Through earnest prayer and watchings long

He sought to know ’tween right and wrong,

Much wrestling with the blessed Word

To make it yield the sense of the Lord,

That he might build a storm-proof creed

To fold the flock in at their need.

At last he builded a perfect faith,

Fenced round about with, “The Lord thus saith”;

To himself he fitted the doorway’s size,

Meted the light to the need of his eyes,

And knew, by a sure and inward sign,

That the work of his fingers was divine.

Then Ambrose said, “All those shall die

The eternal death who believe not as I”;

And some were boiled, some burned in fire,

Some sawn in twain, that his heart’s desire,

For the good of men’s souls, might be satisfied

By the drawing of all to the righteous side.

One day, as Ambrose was seeking the truth

In his lonely walk, he saw a youth

Resting himself in the shade of a tree;

It had never been granted him to see

So shining a face, and the good man thought

’T were pity he should not believe as he ought.

So he set himself by the young man’s side,

And the state of his soul with questions tried;

But the heart of the stranger was hardened indeed,

Nor received the stamp of the one true creed;

And the spirit of Ambrose waxed sore to find

Such face the porch of so narrow a mind.

“As each beholds in cloud and fire

The shape that answers his own desire,

So each,” said the youth, “in the Law shall find

The figure and features of his mind;

And to each in his mercy hath God allowed

His several pillar of fire and cloud.”

The soul of Ambrose burned with zeal

And holy wrath for the young man’s weal:

“Believest thou then, most wretched youth,”

Cried he, “a dividual essence in Truth?

I fear me thy heart is too cramped with sin

To take the Lord and his glory in.”

Now there bubbled beside them where they stood

A fountain of waters sweet and good;

The youth to the streamlet’s brink drew near

Saying, “Ambrose, thou maker of creeds, look here!”

Six vases of crystal then he took,

And set them along the edge of the brook.

“As into these vessels the water I pour,

There shall one hold less, another more,

And the water unchanged, in every case,

Shall put on the figure of the vase;

O thou, who wouldst unity make through strife,

Canst thou fit this sign to the Water of Life?”

When Ambrose looked up, he stood alone,

The youth and the stream and the vases were gone;

But he knew, by a sense of humbled grace,

He had talked with an angel face to face,

And felt his heart change inwardly,

As he fell on his knees beneath the tree.