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


Campanile di Pisa

By Thomas William Parsons (1819–1892)

SNOW was glistening on the mountains, but the air was that of June;

Leaves were falling, but the runnels playing still their summer tune,

And the dial’s lazy shadow hovered nigh the brink of noon.

On the benches in the market rows of languid idlers lay,

When to Pisa’s nodding belfry, with a friend, I took my way.

From the top we looked around us, and as far as eye might strain,

Saw no sign of life or motion in the town or on the plain.

Hardly seemed the river moving, through the willows to the main;

Nor was any noise disturbing Pisa from her drowsy hour,

Save the doves that fluttered ’neath us, in and out and round the tower.

Not a shout from gladsome children, or the clatter of a wheel,

Nor the spinner of the suburb, winding his discordant reel,

Nor the stroke upon the pavement of a hoof or of a heel.

Even the slumberers in the churchyard of the Campo Santo seemed

Scarce more quiet than the living world that underneath us dreamed.

Dozing at the city’s portal, heedless guard the sentry kept,

More than Oriental dulness o’er the sunny farms had crept,

Near the walls the ducal herdsman by the dusty roadside slept;

While his camels, resting round him, half alarmed the sullen ox,

Seeing those Arabian monsters pasturing with Etruria’s flocks.

Then it was, like one who wandered, lately, singing by the Rhine,

Strains perchance to maiden’s hearing sweeter than this verse of mine,

That we bade Imagination lift us on her wing divine,

And the days of Pisa’s greatness rose from the sepulchral past,

When a thousand conquering galleys bore her standard at the mast.

Memory for a moment crowned her sovereign mistress of the seas,

When she braved, upon the billows, Venice and the Genoese,

Daring to deride the Pontiff, though he shook his angry keys.

When her admirals triumphant, riding o’er the Soldan’s waves,

Brought from Calvary’s holy mountain fitting soil for knightly graves.

When the Saracen surrendered, one by one, his pirate isles,

And Ionia’s marbled trophies decked Lungarno’s Gothic piles,

Where the festal music floated in the light of ladies’ smiles;

Soldiers in the busy courtyard, nobles in the hall above,

O, those days of arms are over,—arms and courtesy and love!

Down in yonder square at sunrise, lo! the Tuscan troops arrayed,

Every man in Milan armor, forged in Brescia every blade:

Sigismondi is their captain,—Florence! art thou not dismayed?

There ’s Lanfranchi! there the bravest of Gherardesca stem,

Hugolino,—with the bishop; but enough, enough of them.

Now, as on Achilles’ buckler, next a peaceful scene succeeds;

Pious crowds in the cathedral duly tell their blessed beads;

Students walk the learned cloister; Ariosto wakes the reeds;

Science dawns; and Galileo opens to the Italian youth,

As he were a new Columbus, new discovered realms of truth.

Hark! what murmurs from the million in the bustling market rise!

All the lanes are loud with voices, all the windows dark with eyes;

Black with men the marble bridges, heaped the shores with merchandise;

Turks and Greeks and Libyan merchants in the square their councils hold,

And the Christian altars glitter gorgeous with Byzantine gold.

Look! anon the masqueraders don their holiday attire;

Every palace is illumined,—all the town seems built of fire,—

Rainbow-colored lanterns dangle from the top of every spire.

Pisa’s patron saint hath hallowed to himself the joyful day,

Never on the thronged Rialto showed the Carnival more gay.

Suddenly the bell beneath us broke the vision with its chime.

“Signors,” quoth our gray attendant, “it is almost vesper time.”

Vulgar life resumed its empire,—down we dropt from the sublime.

Here and there a friar passed us, as we paced the silent streets,

And a cardinal’s rumbling carriage roused the sleepers from the seats.