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


Piazza della Signoria

By Samuel Rogers (1763–1855)

(From Italy)

AMONG the awful forms that stand assembled

In the great square of Florence, may be seen

That Cosmo, not the father of his country,

Not he so styled, but he who played the tyrant.

Clad in rich armor like a paladin,

But with his helmet off, in kingly state,

Aloft he sits upon his horse of brass;

And they who read the legend underneath

Go and pronounce him happy. Yet there is

A chamber at Grosseto, that, if walls

Could speak and tell of what is done within,

Would turn your admiration into pity.

Half of what passed died with him; but the rest,

All he discovered when the fit was on,

All that, by those who listened, could be gleaned

From broken sentences, and starts in sleep,

Is told, and by an honest chronicler.

Two of his sons, Giovanni and Garzia,

(The eldest had not seen his sixteenth summer,)

Went to the chase; but one of them, Giovanni,

His best beloved, the glory of his house,

Returned not; and at close of day was found

Bathed in his innocent blood. Too well, alas,

The trembling Cosmo guessed the deed, the doer;

And, having caused the body to be borne

In secret to that chamber, at an hour

When all slept sound, save the disconsolate mother,

Who little thought of what was yet to come,

And lived but to be told,—he bade Garzia

Arise and follow him. Holding in one hand

A winking lamp, and in the other a key

Massive and dungeon-like, thither he led;

And, having entered in and locked the door,

The father fixed his eyes upon the son,

And closely questioned him. No change betrayed

Or guilt or fear. Then Cosmo lifted up

The bloody sheet. “Look there! look there!” he cried,

“Blood calls for blood,—and from a father’s hand!

Unless thyself wilt save him that sad office.”

“What!” he exclaimed, when, shuddering at the sight,

The boy breathed out, “I stood but on my guard.”

“Dar’st thou then blacken one who never wronged thee,

Who would not set his foot upon a worm?

Yes, thou must die, lest others fall by thee,

And thou shouldst be the slayer of us all.”

Then from Garzia’s side he took the dagger,

That fatal one which spilt his brother’s blood;

And, kneeling on the ground, “Great God!” he cried,

“Grant me the strength to do an act of justice,

Thou knowest what it costs me; but, alas,

How can I spare myself, sparing none else?

Grant me the strength, the will,—and, O, forgive

The sinful soul of a most wretched son.

’T is a most wretched father who implores it.”

Long on Garzia’s neck he hung, and wept

Tenderly, long pressed him to his bosom;

And then, but while he held him by the arm,

Thrusting him backward, turned away his face,

And stabbed him to the heart.
Well might De Thou,

When in his youth he came to Cosmo’s court,

Think on the past; and, as he wandered through

The ancient palace,—through those ample spaces

Silent, deserted,—stop awhile to dwell

Upon two portraits there, drawn on the wall

Together, as of two in bonds of love,

One in a Cardinal’s habit, one in black,

Those of the unhappy brothers, and infer

From the deep silence that his questions drew,

The terrible truth.
Well might he heave a sigh

For poor humanity, when he beheld

That very Cosmo shaking o’er his fire,

Drowsy and deaf and inarticulate,

Wrapt in his nightgown, o’er a sick man’s mess,

In the last stage,—death-struck and deadly pale;

His wife, another, not his Eleanora,

At once his nurse and his interpreter.