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


Meditative Fragments, on Venice

By Richard Monckton Milnes, Lord Houghton (1809–1885)

WALK in St. Mark’s, the time the ample space

Lies in the freshness of the evening shade,

When, on each side, with gravely darkened face,

The masses rise above the light arcade;

Walk down the midst with slowly tunèd pace,

But gay withal,—for there is high parade

Of fair attire and fairer forms, which pass

Like varying groups on a magician’s glass.

From broad-illumined chambers far within,

Or under curtains daintily outspread,

Music and laugh and talk, the motley din

Of all who from sad thought or toil are sped,

Here a chance hour of social joy to win,

Gush forth,—but I love best, above my head

To feel nor arch nor tent, nor anything

But that pure Heaven’s eternal covering.

It is one broad saloon, one gorgeous hall;

A chamber, where a multitude, all kings,

May hold full audience, splendid festival,

Or Piety’s most pompous ministerings;

Thus be its height unmarred,—thus be it all

One mighty room, whose form direct upsprings

To the o’erarching sky;—it is right good,

When Art and Nature keep such brotherhood.

For where, upon the firmest sodden land,

Has ever monarch’s power and toil of slaves

Equalled the works of that self-governed band,

Who fixed the Delos of the Adrian waves;

Planting upon these strips of yielding sand

A Temple of the Beautiful, which braves

The jealous strokes of ocean, nor yet fears

The far more perilous sea, “whose waves are years”?

Walk in St. Mark’s again, some few hours after,

When a bright sleep is on each storied pile,—

When fitful music and inconstant laughter

Give place to Nature’s silent moonlight smile:

Now Fancy wants no faery gale to waft her

To Magian haunt or charm-engirded isle,

All too content, in passive bliss, to see

This show divine of visible poetry.

On such a night as this impassionedly

The old Venetian sung those verses rare,

“That Venice must of needs eternal be,

For Heaven had looked through the pellucid air,

And cast its reflex in the crystal sea,

And Venice was the image pictured there.”

I hear them now, and tremble, for I seem

As treading on an unsubstantial dream.

Who talks of vanished glory, of dead power,

Of things that were, and are not? Is he here?

Can he take in the glory of this hour,

And call it all the decking of a bier?

No, surely as on that Titanic tower

The Guardian Angel stands in æther clear,

With the moon’s silver tempering his gold wing,

So Venice lives, as lives no other thing:—

That strange Cathedral! exquisitely strange,—

That front, on whose bright varied tints the eye

Rests as of gems,—those arches, whose high range

Gives its rich-broidered border to the sky,—

Those ever-prancing steeds!—My friend, whom change

Of restless will has led to lands that lie

Deep in the East, does not thy fancy set

Above those domes an airy minaret?

Dost thou not feel that in this scene are blent

Wide distances of the estrangéd earth,

Far thoughts, far faiths, beseeming her who bent

The spacious Orient to her simple worth,

Who, in her own young freedom eminent,

Scorning the slaves that shamed their ancient birth,

And feeling what the West could be, had been,

Went out a traveller, and returned a queen?