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


The Knight’s Epitaph

By William Cullen Bryant (1794–1878)

THIS is the church which Pisa, great and free,

Reared to St. Catharine. How the time-stained walls,

That earthquakes shook not from their poise, appear

To shiver in the deep and voluble tones

Rolled from the organ! Underneath my feet

There lies the lid of a sepulchral vault.

The image of an armed knight is graven

Upon it, clad in perfect panoply,—

Cuishes, and greaves, and cuirass, with barred helm,

Gauntleted hand, and sword, and blazoned shield.

Around, in Gothic characters, worn dim

By feet of worshippers, are traced his name,

And birth, and death, and words of eulogy.

Why should I pore upon them? This old tomb,

This effigy, the strange, disused form

Of this inscription, eloquently show

His history. Let me clothe in fitting words

The thoughts they breathe, and frame his epitaph.

“He whose forgotten dust for centuries

Has lain beneath this stone was one in whom

Adventure and endurance and emprise

Exalted the mind’s faculties and strung

The body’s sinews. Brave he was in fight,

Courteous in banquet, scornful of repose,

And bountiful, and cruel, and devout,

And quick to draw the sword in private feud.

He pushed his quarrels to the death, yet prayed

The saints as fervently on bended knees

As ever shaven cenobite. He loved

As fiercely as he fought. He would have borne

The maid that pleased him from her bower by night

To his hill-castle, as the eagle bears

His victim from the fold, and rolled the rocks

On his pursuers. He aspired to see

His native Pisa queen and arbitress

Of cities; earnestly for her he raised

His voice in council, and affronted death

In battle-field, and climbed the galley’s deck,

And brought the captured flag of Genoa back,

Or piled upon the Arno’s crowded quay

The glittering spoils of the tamed Saracen.

He was not born to brook the stranger’s yoke,

But would have joined the exiles that withdrew

Forever, when the Florentine broke in

The gates of Pisa, and bore off the bolts

For trophies,—but he died before that day.

“He lived, the impersonation of an age

That never shall return. His soul of fire

Was kindled by the breath of the rude time

He lived in. Now a gentler race succeeds,

Shuddering at blood; the effeminate cavalier,

Turning from the reproaches of the past,

And from the hopeless future, gives to ease

And love and music his inglorious life.”