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

Capri, the Island

The Grotto Azzuro

By William Gibson (1826–1887)

MANY an archéd roof is bent

Over the wave,

But none like thine, from the firmament

To the shells that at thy threshold lave.

What name shall shadow thy rich-blue sheen,

Violet, sapphire, or ultramarine,

Beautiful cave?

Blue,—all blue,—may we not compare it

With heaven’s hue,

With the pearl-shell, with burning spirit,

Or with aught that is azure too?

No! for in ghostly realms alone

Is the like of thy lustre shone,

Cave of blue!

Less of earth than the spirit-world,

Morning ne’er

Waters of thine with its dews impearled,

Nor sunrise crimsoned the concave here;

But evening in thee hath, as grandly glooms

The twilight which thy one star illumes,

A rival sphere.

And that star—the great eye of heaven

Watching thee—

Waxes and wanes with morn and even,

Beams as the skies beyond may be;

Resting on thy horizon’s rim

Steadfast, but burning bright and dim


On thy huge dome and cathedral aisles,

Loftier far

Than man’s monuments, Capri piles

Island rocks, which mountains are.

Gleams through the flood thy spangled floor,

As light streams in by thine open door

On rock and spar.

The world without by that sole portal

May enter in;

And therefore sacred to shapes immortal

For classic ages thy halls have been.

Sailing along from the lessening skylight,

Let us from the deepening twilight

Its secrets win.

Mermaids, mantled in mazarine,

Fancy sees;

The ocean-sirens, and her, their queen,

Of music-charméd memories.

Still breathes the ancient Parthenope,

O’er waters of modern Napoli

Her melodies.

Blue,—blue,—beautiful and intense,—


Spirits, or some one spirit immense,

Breathing and burning in the air;

Making an ardent presence felt,

Till the rocks seem as like to melt

In the glare!

No! they may emit no heat,

Those prisoned beams.

At noontide, in thy coolness sweet,

The glowing Italian summer dreams,

And the limpid and sparkling lymph

Bath of beauty, in form of nymph,

Well beseems.

World of wonders and strange delights,

Submontane sea,

Bowers of branching stalactites,

Islands of lapis lazuli,

And waves so clear, and air so rich,

That, gazing, we know not which is which,—

Adieu to thee!

To bathe the burning brow is sweet

In such baptism,

Often to find out truth’s retreat,

In sparkling grotto, in cool abysm;

So shall deep quiet thy soul imbue,

And melt into one harmonious hue

The garish prism!