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


In My Gondola

By Walter Thornbury (1828–1876)

WHERE high above the silent street

The Campanile springs,

Where round St. Mark’s the angels still

Poise their unfaded wings,

I in my floating hearse dream on

While my old boatman sings.

Quick to that lonely Jesuit church

Where the bronze charger stands;

To that old house,—a palace once,

Now spoiled by Austrian hands,—

Its marbles rent by heat and cold,

Ill clamped with rusty bands.

O, not to-day the painting-school,

Where dusky Titians glow,

And where Bellini’s jewelled saints

All congregate below.

No, not to-day the chapel dim,

Half lit by silver lamps,

Nor that old Doge’s nameless tomb,

Defaced by carking damps.

I go to muse away an hour

O’er glories dead and past,

O’er pride dethroned by cruel Time,

That rude Iconoclast.

O, how this city, Ocean’s Queen,

Is beggared now at last!

I pace the rooms where tapestry

Still boasts its faded kings;

Where, quaint and querulous with age,

The old custode sings,

And feebly tries to reach the web

Where the lean spider clings.

I seek the Council-room, whose walls

Are stamped with globes and stars,

And where above the throne of state,

Still glowers a painted Mars.

Out on that curséd Austrian drum,

Beneath the window-bars!

I love the chapel, though no priest

Bends at the shrine, now bare,

No starry candles glimmer bright

Through the dim, balmy air;

And yet a halo seems to shine

Round the one picture there.

Here once the Mocenigo lived,

Aping a royal pride,

His golden wealth flashed lustre down

Upon the passing tide,

His purple gondolas long since

A Tyrian glory dyed.

The fount still plashes day by day

Upon the old stained floor,

Where stones turn emerald in the beams

That through the vine-leaves pour;

It ever falls, yet can’t efface

One blot of human gore.

There ’s blood upon the agate steps

And on the marble stair,

Where the quick lizard flits across,

Fearing the very air.

A bad man’s conscience knew such fears,

Long centuries since, just there.

It was a day of proud content:

The Adriatic’s tide

Had just received the ring that joined

The bridegroom to the bride;

The golden barge with sails of silk

Moved homeward o’er the tide;

The streets were full of silken cloaks,

With gems the windows shone;

The poorest fishing-girl that day

Her bridal dress had on;

Flags shook from every roof,—the bells

All day had madly gone.

Fresh from his prayers beneath the dome,

The perfumes on his cloak,

Here the Doge sat, and heard the wave

Moan as if one had spoke;

And thought of how the gory rack

Those pale lean limbs had broke.

Thought of the Giant Stairs, where one

Knelt down awhile to pray,

Then stood erect and eyed the crowd

Like a royal stag at bay,

And smiled on doves that o’er him flew

To some isle far away.

He thought of that well-chamber, where

A groaning man did lie,

And of the burning roof, where one

Prepared himself to die;

And e’en the strangler’s burly knave

Had tear-drops in his eye;

Or dreamt of the Great Chamber where

The Forty bend and write,

Smiling so grimly when they hear

The brawny headsman smite.—

His dream was broken by a star,

That flashed across the night.

Slow past the marble stairs he saw

A roll of paper float,

Dropped by that sable gondolier

That turns yon corner,—note

How pale his face turns,—“Doge, beware!”

Upon his vision smote.

That night a deep and stifled cry

Rose to a window grate.

The morning came; they found a plume

Beside the water-gate;

A letter torn, some drops of blood.

The Doge had fled,—too late!

Now back, old sturdy gondolier,

My dream has passed away;

Back with my floating hearse, and quick,

Before that dying ray

Leave the last roof, and darkness pall

The dead corse of the day.

The doves upon the copper dome

Flutter at my wild cry,

Now that I see yon saints look up

Devoutly to the sky;

Where Christ upon a golden throne

Is robed and crowned on high.

Yon pillars brave old Dandolo

Brought from the Asian shore;

Those are the brazen steeds the Greeks

Bridled in days of yore;

Yonder the wingéd lion tries

From his stone chains to soar.

But slaves sleep on the church’s steps;

Slaves snore in every boat;

Slaves’ songs at night along the tide

On these free breezes float;

Slaves stab and gamble in the square,

And tear poor Freedom’s throat.

The dead were great; their puny sons,

Unworthy such a home,

Laugh, sing, and sleep beneath the shade

Cast by their giant dome,

Slaves of the butcher and the priest,—

Of Austria and of Rome.

Hark! now the brutal German drum

Leads on the bayonets. See

Insolent soldiers pacing round

A city once so free.

Rise, hero of yon lonely isle,

And give them liberty.