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

Serchio, the River

The Boat

By Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)

OUR boat is asleep on Serchio’s stream,

Its sails are folded like thoughts in a dream,

The helm sways idly hither and thither.

Dominic, the boatman, has brought the mast

And the oars and the sails; but ’t is sleeping fast,

Like a beast, unconscious of its tether.

The stars burnt out in the pale blue air,

And the thin white moon lay withering there;

To tower and cavern and rift and tree

The owl and the bat fled drowsily.

Day had kindled the dewy woods,

And the rocks above and the stream below,

And the vapors in their multitudes,

And the Apennines’ shroud of summer snow,

And clothed with light of airy gold

The mists in their eastern caves uprolled.

Day had awakened all things that be,—

The lark and the thrush and the swallow free,

And the milkmaid’s song and mower’s scythe,

And the matin-bell and the mountain bee.

Fireflies were quenched on the dewy corn;

Glow-worms went out on the river’s brim,

Like lamps which a student forgets to trim;

The beetle forgot to wind his horn;

The crickets were still in the meadow and hill;

Like a flock of rooks at a farmer’s gun,

Night’s dreams and terrors, every one,

Fled from the brains which are their prey

From the lamp’s death to the morning ray.

All rose to do the task He set to each,

Who shaped us to his ends and not our own;

The million rose to learn, and one to teach

What none yet ever knew or can be known.

And many rose

Whose woe was such that fear became desire;—

Melchior and Lionel were not among those;

They from the throng of men had stepped aside,

And made their home under the green hillside.

It was that hill whose intervening brow

Screens Lucca from the Pisan’s envious eye,

Which the circumfluous plain waving below,

Like a wide lake of green fertility,

With streams and fields and marshes bare

Divides from the far Apennines, which lie

Islanded in the immeasurable air.

“What think you, as she lies in her green cove,

Our little sleeping boat is dreaming of?

If morning dreams are true, why I should guess

That she was dreaming of our idleness,

And of the miles of watery way

We should have led her by this time of day.”

“Never mind,” said Lionel,

“Give care to the winds, they can bear it well

About yon poplar tops; and see!

The white clouds are driving merrily,

And the stars we miss this morn will light

More willingly our return to-night.

List, my dear fellow, the breeze blows fair;

How it scatters Dominic’s long black hair!

Singing of us, and our lazy motions,

If I can guess a boat’s emotions.”

The chain is loosed, the sails are spread,

The living breath is fresh behind,

As, with dews and sunrise fed,

Comes the laughing morning wind.

The sails are full, the boat makes head

Against the Serchio’s torrent fierce,

Then flags with intermitting course,

And hangs upon the wave,

Which fervid from its mountain source

Shallow, smooth, and strong, doth come;

Swift as fire, tempestuously

It sweeps into the affrighted sea;

In morning’s smile its eddies coil,

Its billows sparkle, toss, and boil,

Torturing all its quiet light

Into columns fierce and bright.

The Serchio, twisting forth

Between the marble barriers which it clove

At Ripafratta, leads through the dread chasm

The wave that died the death which lovers love,

Living in what it sought; as if this spasm

Had not yet past, the toppling mountains cling,

But the clear stream in full enthusiasm

Pours itself on the plain, until wandering,

Down one clear path of effluence crystalline

Sends its clear waves, that they may fling

At Arno’s feet tribute of corn and wine;

Then, through the pestilential deserts wild

Of tangled marsh and woods of stunted fir,

It rushes to the ocean.