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

Cuma (Cumæ)

Sibylla Cumana

By William Gibson (1826–1887)

MOON-CURVES of shore, and promontories and isles;

A many-purpled sea flowing in and round;

Wrecks of antiquity and yet elder myth;

A rubbish, half on land and half in sea,

Of Rome’s once sumptuous seaside luxury;

Phlegræan fields, where Titan force still heaves

The uncertain bases of the vernal hills;

Volcanic bowls, smouldering and boiling yet,

Or brimmed with cool oblivion of the wave;

A ghastly tunnel in the sunny cliff

Of one fair lake that bears Avernus’ name;

A narrow chamber of Cimmerian gloom

And Phlegethonic steam (the Sibyl’s grot);

A green hill, crowned with venerable walls

Of an Acropolis, and a lonely shaft

Of fluted Doric, where Apollo’s fane

(The Sibyl’s lover erst and tutelar god)

Was reared by Dædalus, hither voyaging

With wings, as fabled, or invented sails;

And the hill honey-combed with labyrinths

Of caverns, opening on the sunset sea

(The hundred mouths of Sibylline oracles);

The Acherusian lake; the Elysian fields,

Clothed in the delicate atmosphere of spring,

Sprouting with young vines, redolent of the fruit

And flower of orange, true Hesperian gold,

And the wide whisper of the violet;

A round and vaulted ruin, temple or bath

In times imperial, where two women danced

The tarantella to a tambourine,

That echo made orchestral,—one a girl,

Like a Bacchante in abandonment

To her own grace, with pure Hellenic face,

And plash of blue-black hair, and flashing eyes;

And one a weird sexagenarian crone,—

Types of the Sibyl in her youth and age;—

These reminiscences of a long day

By Baiæ’s and more ancient Cumæ’s shore

Set me to dreaming of the mystic maid

That sold the books to Tarquin. Me she led

To no ancestral and prophetic shades,

But through the gates of Sleep, ivory or horn,

She brought me, with the scent of roses dead,

One Sibylline leaf,—a poem of her youth,

Set to love-music by the Lyric god.