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


Saint Christopher

By William Dean Howells (1837–1920)

IN the narrow Venetian street,

On the wall above the garden gate

(Within the breath of the rose is sweet,

And the nightingale sings there, soon and late),

Stands Saint Christopher, carven in stone,

With the little child in his huge caress,

And the arms of the baby Jesus thrown

About his gigantic tenderness;

And over the wall a wandering growth

Of darkest and greenest ivy clings,

And climbs around them, and holds them both

In its netted clasp of knots and rings,

Clothing the saint from foot to beard

In glittering leaves that whisper and dance

To the child, on his mighty arm upreared,

With a lusty summer exuberance.

To the child on his arm the faithful saint

Looks up with a broad and tranquil joy;

His brows and his heavy beard aslant

Under the dimpled chin of the boy,

Who plays with the world upon his palm,

And bends his smiling looks divine

On the face of the giant mild and calm,

And the glittering frolic of the vine.

He smiles on either with equal grace,—

On the simple ivy’s unconscious life,

And the soul in the giant’s lifted face,

Strong from the peril of the strife:

For both are his own,—the innocence

That climbs from the heart of earth to heaven,

And the virtue that greatly rises thence

Through trial sent and victory given.

Grow, ivy, up to his countenance,

But it cannot smile on my life as on thine;

Look, Saint, with thy trustful, fearless glance,

Where I dare not lift these eyes of mine.