Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  St. Peter’s

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

Rome, Churches of

St. Peter’s

By Lord Byron (1788–1824)

(From Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage)

BUT lo! the dome,—the vast and wondrous dome,

To which Diana’s marvel was a cell,—

Christ’s mighty shrine above his martyr’s tomb!

I have beheld the Ephesian’s miracle,—

Its columns strew the wilderness, and dwell

The hyena and the jackal in their shade;

I have beheld Sophia’s bright roofs swell

Their glittering mass i’ the sun, and have surveyed

Its sanctuary the while the usurping Moslem prayed.

But thou, of temples old, or altars new,

Standest alone, with nothing like to thee,—

Worthiest of God, the holy and the true.

Since Zion’s desolation, when that he

Forsook his former city, what could be

Of earthly structures, in his honor piled,

Of a sublimer aspect? Majesty,

Power, glory, strength, and beauty, all are aisled

In this eternal ark of worship undefiled.

Enter: its grandeur overwhelms thee not;

And why? It is not lessened; but thy mind,

Expanded by the genius of the spot,

Has grown colossal, and can only find

A fit abode wherein appear enshrined

Thy hopes of immortality; and thou

Shalt one day, if found worthy, so defined,

See thy God face to face, as thou dost now

His holy of holies, nor be blasted by his brow.

Thou movest, but increasing with the advance,

Like climbing some great Alp, which still doth rise,

Deceived by its gigantic elegance;

Vastness which grows, but grows to harmonize,

All musical in its immensities;

Rich marbles, richer painting, shrines where flame

The lamps of gold, and haughty dome which vies

In air with earth’s chief structures, though their frame

Sits on the firm-set ground, and this the clouds must claim.

Thou seest not all; but piecemeal thou must break,

To separate contemplation, the great whole;

And as the ocean many bays will make,

That ask the eye, so here condense thy soul

To more immediate objects, and control

Thy thoughts until thy mind hath got by heart

Its eloquent proportions, and unroll

In mighty graduations, part by part,

The glory which at once upon thee did not dart,

Not by its fault, but thine. Our outward sense

Is but of gradual grasp, and as it is

That what we have of feeling most intense

Outstrips our faint expression, even so this

Outshining and o’erwhelming edifice

Fools our fond gaze, and, greatest of the great,

Defies at first our nature’s littleness,

Till, growing with its growth, we thus dilate

Our spirits to the size of that they contemplate.