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


Prison of Tasso

By Lord Byron (1788–1824)

(From Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage)

FERRARA! in thy wide and grass-grown streets,

Whose symmetry was not for solitude,

There seems as ’t were a curse upon the seats

Of former sovereigns, and the antique brood

Of Este, which for many an age made good

Its strength within thy walls, and was of yore

Patron or tyrant, as the changing mood

Of petty power impelled, of those who wore

The wreath which Dante’s brow alone had worn before.

And Tasso is their glory and their shame.

Hark to his strain! and then survey his cell!

And see how dearly earned Torquato’s fame,

And where Alfonso bade his poet dwell.

The miserable despot could not quell

The insulted mind he sought to quench, and blend

With the surrounding maniacs, in the hell

Where he had plunged it. Glory without end

Scattered the clouds away, and on that name attend

The tears and praises of all time, while thine

Would rot in its oblivion, in the sink

Of worthless dust which from thy boasted line

Is shaken into nothing; but the link

Thou formest in his fortunes bids us think

Of thy poor malice, naming thee with scorn:

Alfonso, how thy ducal pageants shrink

From thee! if in another station born,

Scarce fit to be the slave of him thou mad’st to mourn:

Thou! formed to eat, and be despised, and die,

Even as the beasts that perish, save that thou

Hadst a more splendid trough and wider sty;

He! with a glory round his furrowed brow,

Which emanated then, and dazzles now,

In face of all his foes, the Cruscan quire,

And Boileau, whose rash envy could allow

No strain which shamed his country’s creaking lyre,

That whetstone of the teeth,—monotony in wire!

Peace to Torquato’s injured shade! ’t was his

In life and death to be the mark where Wrong

Aimed with her poisoned arrows—but to miss.

O victor unsurpassed in modern song!

Each year brings forth its millions; but how long

The tide of generations shall roll on,

And not the whole combined and countless throng

Compose a mind like thine? Though all in one

Condensed their scattered rays, they would not form a sun.