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

Rome, Palaces and Villas of

Palazzo Farnese

By Walter Thornbury (1828–1876)

GUIDO RENI in a Roman palace chamber

Sat one pleasant summer afternoon

(’T was the old Farnese’s sumptuous palace).

The walls were blazoned with the gilded moon

In crescent, and sweet tangles of those flowers

That blossom into faces, while birds play,

Fluttering from twig to twig, and lizards run

Below, and jewelled beetles crawl from spray to spray.

The great hall window, reaching to the floor,

Stood open for the vine to ramble in;

The birds were in the garden down below;

The silver-columned fountain, tall and thin

As a magician’s wand, rose in the air;

Great yellow clouds, laden with sunshine, passed;

The sky, one flawless sapphire, floated there.

Guido was painting, half entranced in thought;

Quietly painting that pure, gentle face

You ’ve seen in lonely chapels oft and oft;

Calm, sweet, and radiant, with a saintly grace;

Chaste as a virgin martyr glorified;

Without one thought of earth, pure as the snow

Upon the Alp-peak, with no stain of sin

Sullying her form, save where one rapturous glow

Of coldest sunshine lit her marbly breast;

The dove-like eyes were all intent on heaven.

A Sabbath sanctity was in the air,

And not one glare of passion’s burning leven.

Where was the proud and dark-eyed beauty then,

The painter’s model? Where the peasant girl

All love and happiness? Where, then, was she

With throbbing bosom and with lavish curl?

Only a blear-eyed crone in a low chair,

Facing the central window, dozed or prayed.

Her cheeks were wrinkled leather, and her hair,

In one gray half-starved knot of grizzled braid,

Crowned her old nodding, semi-palsied head.

Her breviary was resting on her knees,

Nor recked she what the chiding painter said.

In came the cardinal, grave, and coldly wise.

His scarlet gown and robes of cobweb lace

Trailed on the marble floor; with convex glass

He bent o’er Guido’s shoulder; soon his face

Grew wistful, and then curdled to a smile,

As he beheld the crone, and looked again.

“Where is thy model, Guido?” Guido said,

“I keep her, cardinal, locked up in my brain.”