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



By William Cowper (1731–1800)

(From The Task)

ALAS for Sicily! rude fragments now

Lie scattered, where the shapely column stood.

Her palaces are dust. In all her streets

The voice of singing and the sprightly chord

Are silent. Revelry and dance and show

Suffer a syncope and a solemn pause,

While God performs upon the trembling stage

Of his own works his dreadful part alone.

How does the earth receive him?—with what signs

Of gratulation and delight her king?

Pours she not all her choicest fruits abroad,

Her sweetest flowers, her aromatic gums,

Disclosing Paradise where’er he treads?

She quakes at his approach. Her hollow womb,

Conceiving thunders through a thousand deeps

And fiery caverns, roars beneath his foot.

The hills move lightly, and the mountains smoke,

For he has touched them. From the extremest point

Of elevation down into the abyss

His wrath is busy, and his frown is felt.

The rocks fall headlong, and the valleys rise,

The rivers die into offensive pools,

And charged with putrid verdure, breathe a gross

And mortal nuisance into all the air.

What solid was, by transformation strange,

Grows fluid; and the fixed and rooted earth,

Tormented into billows, heaves and swells,

Or with vortiginous and hideous whirl

Sucks down its prey insatiable. Immense

The tumult and the overthrow, the pangs

And agonies of human and of brute

Multitudes, fugitive on every side,

And fugitive in vain. The sylvan scene

Migrates uplifted; and, with all its soil

Alighting in far distant fields, finds out

A new possessor, and survives the change.

Ocean has caught the frenzy, and, upwrought

To an enormous and o’erbearing height,

Not by a mighty wind, but by that voice

Which winds and waves obey, invades the shore

Resistless. Never such a sudden flood,

Upridged so high, and sent on such a charge,

Possessed an inland scene. Where now the throng

That pressed the beach, and, hasty to depart,

Looked to the sea for safety? They are gone,

Gone with the refluent wave into the deep,—

A prince with half his people! Ancient towers,

And roofs embattled high, the gloomy scenes,

Where beauty oft and lettered worth consume

Life in the unproductive shades of death,

Fall prone: the pale inhabitants come forth,

And, happy in their unforeseen release

From all the rigors of restraint, enjoy

The terrors of the day, that sets them free.

Who, then, that has thee would not hold thee fast,

Freedom? whom they that lose thee so regret,

That e’en a judgment, making way for thee,

Seems in their eyes a mercy for thy sake.