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


Santa Maria Novella

By Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)

(From Casa Guidi Windows)

YOU enter, in your Florence wanderings,

Santa Maria Novella church. You pass

The left stair, where, at plague-time, Macchiavel

Saw one with set fair face as in a glass,

Dressed out against the fear of death and hell,

Rustling her silks in pauses of the mass,

To keep the thought off how her husband fell,

When she left home, stark dead across her feet,—

The stair leads up to what Orgagna gave

Of Dante’s dæmons; but you, passing it,

Ascend the right stair of the farther nave,

To muse in a small chapel scarcely lit

By Cimabue’s Virgin. Bright and brave,

That picture was accounted, mark, of old!

A king stood bare before its sovran grace;

A reverent people shouted to behold

The picture, not the king; and even the place

Containing such a miracle, grew bold,

Named the Glad Borgo from that beauteous face,

Which thrilled the artist, after work, to think

That his ideal Mary-smile should stand

So very near him!—he, within the brink

Of all that glory, let in by his hand

With too divine a rashness! Yet none shrink

Who gaze here now,—albeit the thing is planned

Sublimely in the thought’s simplicity.

The Virgin, throned in empyreal state,

Minds only the young babe upon her knee;

While, each side, angels bear the royal weight,

Prostrated meekly, smiling tenderly

Oblivion of their wings! the Child thereat

Stretches its hand like God. If any should,

Because of some stiff draperies and loose joints.

Gaze scorn down from the heights of Raffaelhood,

On Cimabue’s picture,—Heaven anoints

The head of no such critic, and his blood

The poet’s curse strikes full on, and appoints

To ague and cold spasms forevermore.

A noble picture! worthy of the shout

Wherewith along the streets the people bore

Its cherub faces, which the sun threw out

Until they stooped and entered the church door!