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

Rome, Churches of

San Nicolo in Carcere

By Lord Byron (1788–1824)

(From Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage)

THERE is a dungeon, in whose dim, drear light

What do I gaze on? Nothing; look again!

Two forms are slowly shadowed on my sight,—

Two insulated phantoms of the brain:

It is not so; I see them full and plain,—

An old man, and a female young and fair,

Fresh as a nursing mother, in whose vein

The blood is nectar;—but what doth she there,

With her unmantled neck, and bosom white and bare?

Full swells the deep pure fountain of young life,

Where on the heart and from the heart we took

Our first and sweetest nurture, when the wife,

Blest into mother, in the innocent look,

Or even the piping cry of lips that brook

No pain and small suspense, a joy perceives

Man knows not, when from out its cradled nook

She sees her little bud put forth its leaves—

What may the fruit be yet?—I know not—Cain was Eve’s.

But here youth offers to old age the food,

The milk of his own gift: it is her sire

To whom she renders back the debt of blood

Born with her birth. No; he shall not expire

While in those warm and lovely veins the fire

Of health and holy feeling can provide

Great Nature’s Nile, whose deep stream rises higher

Than Egypt’s river: from that gentle side

Drink, drink and live, old man! heaven’s realm holds no such tide.

The starry fable of the milky way

Has not thy story’s purity; it is

A constellation of a sweeter ray,

And sacred Nature triumphs more in this

Reverse of her decree, than in the abyss

Where sparkle distant worlds: O holiest nurse!

No drop of that clear stream its way shall miss

To thy sire’s heart replenishing its source

With life, as our freed souls rejoin the universe.