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

Maremma, The


By Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)

  • This fragment refers to an event, told in Sismondi’s Histoire des Républiques Italiennes, which occurred during the war when Florence finally subdued Pisa, and reduced it to a province. The opening stanzas are addressed to the conquering city.

  • O FOSTER-NURSE of man’s abandoned glory

    Since Athens, its great mother, sunk in splendor,

    Thou shadowest forth that mighty shape in story,

    As ocean its wrecked fanes, severe yet tender:

    The light-invested angel Poesy

    Was drawn from the dim world to welcome thee.

    And thou in painting didst transcribe all taught

    By loftiest meditations; marble knew

    The sculptor’s fearless soul, and, as he wrought,

    The grace of his own power and freedom grew.

    And (more than all) heroic, just, sublime

    Thou wert among the false,—was this thy crime?

    Yes; and on Pisa’s marble walls the twine

    Of direst weeds hangs garlanded, the snake

    Inhabits its wrecked palaces; in thine

    A beast of subtler venom now doth make

    Its lair, and sits amid their glories overthrown,

    And thus thy victim’s fate is as thine own.

    The sweetest flowers are ever frail and rare,

    And love and freedom blossom but to wither;

    And good and ill like vines entangled are,

    So that their grapes may oft be plucked together;

    Divide the vintage ere thou drink, then make

    Thy heart rejoice for dead Mazenghi’s sake.

    No record of his crime remains in story,

    But if the morning bright as evening shone,

    It was some high and holy deed, by glory

    Pursued into forgetfulness, which won

    From the blind crowd he made secure and free

    The patriot’s meed, toil, death, and infamy.

    For when by sound of trumpet was declared

    A price upon his life, and there was set

    A penalty of blood on all who shared

    So much of water with him as might wet

    His lips, which speech divided not,—he went

    Alone, as you may guess, to banishment.

    Amid the mountains, like a hunted beast,

    He hid himself, and hunger, toil, and cold

    Month after month endured; it was a feast

    Whene’er he found those globes of deep red gold

    Which in the woods the strawberry-tree doth bear,

    Suspended in their emerald atmosphere.

    And in the roofless huts of vast morasses,

    Deserted by the fever-stricken serf,

    All overgrown with reeds and long rank grasses,

    And hillocks heaped of moss-inwoven turf,

    And where the huge and speckled aloe made,

    Rooted in stones, a broad and pointed shade,

    He housed himself. There is a point of strand

    Near Vada’s tower and town; and on one side

    The treacherous marsh divides it from the land,

    Shadowed by pine and ilex forests wide;

    And on the other creeps eternally,

    Through muddy weeds, the shallow sullen sea.