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



By Thomas William Parsons (1819–1892)

MIDWAY betwixt the present and the past,

Naples and Pæstum, look! Sorrento lies:

Ulysses built it, and the Sirens cast

Their spell upon the shore, the sea, the skies.

If thou hast dreamed, in any dream of thine,

How Paradise appears, or those Elysian

Immortal meadows which the gods assign

Unto the pure of heart,—behold thy vision!

These waters, they are blue beyond belief,

Nor hath green England greener fields than these:

The sun,—’t is Italy’s; here winter ’s brief

And gentle visit hardly chills the breeze.

Here Tasso dwelt, and here inhaled with spring

The breath of passion and the soul of song.

Here young Boccaccio plumed his early wing,

Thenceforth to soar above the vulgar throng.

All charms of contrast—every nameless grace

That lives in outline, harmony, or hue—

So heighten all the romance of the place,

That the rapt artist maddens at the view,

And then despairs, and throws his pencil by,

And sits all day and looks upon the shore

And the calm ocean with a languid eye,

As though to labor were a law no more.

Voluptuous coast! no wonder that the proud

Imperial Roman found in yonder isle

Some sunshine still to gild Fate’s gathering cloud,

And lull the storm of conscience for a while.

What new Tiberius, tired of lust and life,

May rest him here to give the world a truce,—

A little truce from perjury and strife,

Justice adulterate and power’s misuse?

Might the gross Bourbon,—he that sleeps in spite

Of red Vesuvius ever in his eye,

Yet, if he wake, should tremble at its light,

As ’t were Heaven’s vengeance, promised from on high,—

Or that poor gamester, of so cunning play,

Who, up at last, in Fortune’s fickle dance,

Aping the mighty in so mean a way,

Makes now his dice the destinies of France,—

Might they, or any of Oppression’s band,

Sit here and learn the lesson of the scene,

Peace might return to many a bleeding land,

And men grow just again, and life serene.