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



By William Wetmore Story (1819–1895)

THIS is a barren, desolate scene,

Grim and gray, with scarce a tree,

Gashed with many a wild ravine

Far away as the eye can see;

Ne’er a home for miles to be found,

Save where huddled on some grim peak

A village clinging in fear looks round

Over the country vast and bleak,

As if it had fled from the lower ground,

Refuge from horrors there to seek.

Over the spare and furzy soil

With never a waving grain-field sowed,

Raggedly winds with weary toil

The shining band of dusty road,—

Down through the river’s rocky bed,

That is white and dry with summer’s drought,

Or climbing some sandy hillock’s head,

Over and under, in and out,

Like a struggling thing by madness led,

That wanders along in fear and doubt.

What are those spots on yon sandy slope

Where the green is frayed and tattered with gray?

Are they only rocks, or sheep that crop

The meagre pasture? one scarce can say.

This seems not a place for flowers,—but behold!

How the lupine spreads its pink around,

And the clustered ginestra squanders its gold

As if it loved this barren ground;

And surely that bird is over-bold

That dares to sing o’er that grave-like mound.

It is dead and still in the middle noon;

The sand-beds shine with a blinding light,

The cicali dizzen the air with their tune,

And the sunshine seems like a curse to smite;

The mountains around their shoulders bare,

Gather a thin and shadowy veil,

And shrink from the fierce and scorching glare—

And close to the grass so withered and pale

Hovering quivers the glassy air,

And the lizards pant in their emerald mail.

Think of this place in the dreary gloom

Of an autumn twilight, when the sun

Hiding in banks of clouds goes down,

And silence and shadow are coming on;—

White mists crawl,—one lurid light

Glares from the west through a broken cloud—

Rack hurries above—the dubious night

Is creeping along with its spectral crowd;

Would it, I ask, be a startling sight

To meet a ghost here than in a shroud?

One of the thousand murdered men

Who have stained the blasted soil with blood?

Dues the lupine get its color then

From some victim pashed to death in the mud?

Has the yellow ginestra the hue of the gold

From the traveller here in terror torn?

Was yon bird but a sprite, singing so bold,

That in life a maiden’s form had worn,

And at night steals back in its shape of old

To haunt the darkness pale and forlorn?

Look at that castle whose ruins crown

The rocky crest of yonder height,

Still frowning over the squalid town,

That cowers beneath as if in affright.

From his eyrie there to glut his beak

The robber swooped to his shuddering prey,

And the ghosts of the past still haunt the peak

Though robber and baron have passed away.

And, hark! was that the owl’s long shriek,

Or a ghost’s that flits through the ruins gray?

’T is blood and gold wherever I gaze,

And tangled brambles, stiff and gray,—

A scowling, ugly, terrified place,

A spot for murder and deadly fray.

On such a barren, desolate heath,

When shadows were deepening all around,

The sisters weird before Macbeth

Rising, hovered along the ground,

And echoed his inward thought of death,

And vanished again behind a mound.