Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII. 1876–79.

Syria: Gilboa


By Vittorio Alfieri (1749–1803)

(From Saul, Act II, Scene 1)
Translated by C. Lloyd

THIS dawn how splendid! The universal sun

Arises not wrapt in a bloody shroud;

He seems to promise a propitious day.

O my past years! where now are ye all fled?

Saul never from his martial bed, till now,

Rose in the camp, without the certain trust

That, ere at eve his pillow he resumed,

He should be victor.


O Abner, with what different eyes do youth

And hoary age contemplate the events

Of human life. When with a well-knit arm

I grasped this ponderous and gnarled spear,

Which now I scarcely sway, I ill conceived

The possibility of self-mistrust,

But I have now not only lost my youth,—

Ah! were the invincible right-hand of God

E’en yet with me! or were with me at least

David, my champion!


And what? Wouldst thou

Conceal from me the horror of my state?

Ah! were I not a father, as I am,

Alas! too certainly, of much-loved children,

Would I have now life, victory, or the throne?

I should already, and a long time since,

Headlong have cast myself mid hostile swords:

I should already, thus at least, at once

Have closed the horrible life that I drag on.

How many years have now past, since a smile

Was seen to play upon my lips? My children,

Whom still I love so much, if they caress me,

For the most part inflame my heart to rage.

Impatient, fierce, incensed, and turbulent,

I am a burthen to myself and others;

In peace I wish for war, in war for peace;

Poison concealed I drink in every cup,

In every friend I see an enemy;

The softest carpets of Assyria seem

Planted with thorns to my unsolaced limbs;

My transient sleep is agonized with fear;

Each dream with imaged terrors that distract me.

Why should I add to this dark catalogue?

Who would believe it? The sonorous trumpet

Speaks to my ears in an appalling voice;

And fills the heart of Saul with deep dismay.

Thou seest clearly that Saul’s tottering house

Is desolate, bereft of all its splendor;

Thou seest that God hath cast me off forever.


That selfsame voice.

Imperative and visionary voice,

Which as a youth my nightly slumbers broke,

When I in privacy securely lived

Far from the throne, and all aspiring thoughts

For sundry nights hath that same voice been heard

In menacing, denunciatory tones;

Like the deep murmur of the stormy waves,

Thundering repulsively, to me it cried,—

“Depart, depart, O Saul.” The sacred aspect,

The venerable aspect of the prophet,

Which I had seen in dreams before he had

Made manifest that God had chosen me

For Israel’s king, that Samuel, in a dream,

Now with far different aspect I behold,

I, from a hollow, deep, and horrible vale,

Behold him sitting on a radiant mount:

David is humbly prostrate at his feet:

The holy prophet on his forehead pours

The consecrated oil: with the other hand

Stretched to my head, a hundred cubits length,

He snatches from my brow the royal crown,

And would replace it on the brow of David:

But wouldst thou think it? David prostrate falls,

With piteous gesture, at the prophet’s feet,

Refusing to receive it; and he weeps,

And cries, and intercedes so fervently,

That he refits it on my head at last.