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


Dante Alighieri

By Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882)

OF Florence and of Beatrice

Servant and singer from of old,

O’er Dante’s heart in youth had tolled

The knell that gave his lady peace;

And now in manhood flew the dart

Wherewith his city pierced his heart.

Yet if his lady’s home above

Was heaven, on earth she filled his soul;

And if his city held control

To cast the body forth to rove,

The soul could soar from earth’s vain throng,

And heaven and hell fulfil the song.

Follow his feet’s appointed way,—

But little light we find that clears

The darkness of the exiled years.

Follow his spirit’s journey,—nay,

What fires are blent, what winds are blown

On paths his feet may tread alone?

Yet of the twofold life he led

In chainless thought and fettered will

Some glimpses reach us,—somewhat still

Of the steep stairs and bitter bread,—

Of the soul’s quest whose stern avow

For years had made him haggard now.

Alas! the sacred song whereto

Both heaven and earth had set their hand

Not only at fame’s gate did stand

Knocking to claim the passage through,

But toiled to ope that heavier door

Which Florence shut forevermore.

Shall not his birth’s baptismal town

One last high presage yet fulfil,

And at that font in Florence still

His forehead take the laurel-crown?

O God! or shall dead souls deny

The undying soul its prophecy?

Ay, ’t is their hour. Not yet forgot

The bitter words he spoke that day

When for some great charge far away

Her rulers his acceptance sought;

“And if I go, who stays?” so rose

His scorn; “and if I stay, who goes?”

“Lo! thou art gone now, and we stay,”

The curled lips mutter; “and no star

Is from thy mortal path so far

As streets where childhood knew the way.

To heaven and hell thy feet may win,

But thine own house they come not in.”

Therefore, the loftier rose the song

To touch the secret things of God,

The deeper pierced the hate that trod

On base men’s track who wrought the wrong;

Till the soul’s effluence came to be

Its own exceeding agony.

Arriving only to depart,

From court to court, from land to land,

Like flame within the naked hand

His body bore his burning heart,

That still on Florence strove to bring

God’s fire for a burnt-offering.