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

Rome, Churches of

In St. Peter’s

By William Wetmore Story (1819–1895)

The Convert Talks to His Friend

A NOBLE structure truly! as you say,—

Clear, spacious, large in feeling and design,

Just what a church should be,—I grant alway

There may be faults, great faults, yet I opine

Less on the whole than elsewhere may be found.

But let its faults go—out of human thought

Was nothing ever builded, written, wrought,

That one can say is whole, complete, and round;

Your snarling critic gloats upon defects,

And any fool among the architects

Can pick you out a hundred different flaws;

But who of them, with all his talking, draws

A church to match it? View it as a whole,

Not part by part, with those mean little eyes,

That cannot love, but only criticise,

How grand a body! with how large a soul!

Seen from without, how well it bodies forth

Rome’s proud religion—nothing mean and small

In its proportion, and above it all

A central dome of thought, a forehead bare

That rises in this soft Italian air

Big with its intellect, and far away,

When lesser domes have sunken in the earth,

Stands for all Rome uplifted in the day,

An art-born brother of the mountains there.

See what an invitation it extends

To the world’s pilgrims, be they foes or friends.

Its colonnades, with wide embracing arms,

Spread forth as if to bless and shield from harms,

And draw them to its heart, the inner shrine,

From the grand outer precincts, where alway

The living fountains wave their clouds of spray,

And temper with cool sound the hot sunshine.

Step in,—behind your back the curtain swings;

The world is left outside with worldly things.

How still! save where vague echoes rise and fall,

Dying along the distance, what a sense

Of peace and silence hovers over all,

That tones the marbled aisle’s magnificence,

And frescoed vaults and ceilings deep with gold,

To its own quiet.—See! how grand and bold,

Key of the whole, swells up the airy dome

Where the apostles hold their lofty home,

And angels hover in the misted height,

And amber shafts of sunset bridge with light

Its quivering air—while low the organ groans,

And from the choir’s gilt cages tangling tones

Whirl fuguing up, and play and float aloft,

And in its vast bell die in echoes soft.

And mark! our church hath its own atmosphere,

That varies not with seasons of the year,

But ever keeps its even temperate air,

And soft, large light without offensive glare.

No sombre, Gothic sadness here abides

To awe the sense—no sullen shadow hides

In its clear spaces—but a light as warm

And broad as charity smiles o’er the whole,

And joyous art and color’s festal charm

Refine the senses and uplift the soul.