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


Through the Alpine Gates

By Bayard Taylor (1825–1878)

O, SWEET it was, when, from that bleak abode

Where avalanches grind the pines to dust,

And crouching glaciers down the hollows thrust

Their glittering claws, I took the sunward road,

Making my guide the torrent, that before

My steps ran shouting, giddy with its joy,

And tossed its white hands like a gamesome boy,

And sprayed its rainbow frolics o’er and o’er!

Full-orbed, in rosy dusk, the perfect moon

That evening shone: the torrent’s noise, afar,

No longer menaced, but with mellow tune

Sang to the twinkle of a silver star,

Above the opening valley. “Italy!”

The moon, the star, the torrent, said to me,—

“Sleep thou in peace, the morning will unbar

These Alpine gates, and give thy world to thee!”

And morning did unfold the jutting capes

Of chestnut-wooded hills, that held embayed

Warm coves of fruit, the pine’s Æolian shade,

Or pillared bowers, blue with suspended grapes;—

A land whose forms some livelier grace betrayed;

Where motion sang and cheerful color laughed,

And only gloomed, amid the dancing shapes

Of vine and bough, the pointed cypress-shaft!

On,—on, through broadening vale and brightening sun

I walked, and hoary in their old repose

The olives twinkled: many a terrace rose,

With marbles crowned and jasmine overrun,

And orchards where the ivory silkworm spun.

On leafy palms outspread, its pulpy fruit

The fig-tree held; and last, the charm to close,

A dark-eyed shepherd piped a reedy flute.

My heart beat loud: I walked as in a dream

Where simplest actions, touched with marvel, seem

Enchanted yet familiar: for I knew

The orchards, terraces, and breathing flowers,

The tree from Adam’s garden, and the blue

Sweet sky behind the light aerial towers;

And that young faun that piped, had piped before,—

I knew my home: the exile now was o’er!

And when the third rich day declined his lids,

I floated where the emerald waters fold

Gem-gardens, fairy island-pyramids,

Whereon the orange hangs his globes of gold,—

Which aloes crown with white, colossal plume,

Above the beds where lavish Nature bids

Her sylphs of odor endless revel hold,

Her zones of flowers in balmy congress bloom!

I hailed them all, and hailed beyond, the plain;

The palace-fronts, on distant hills uplift,

White as the morning star; the streams that drift

In sandy channels to the Adrian main:

Till one still eve, with duplicated stain

Of crimson sky and wave, disclosed to me

The domes of Venice, anchored on the sea,

Far off,—an airy city of the brain!

Forth from the shores of Earth we seemed to float,

Drawn by that vision,—hardly felt the breeze

That left one glassy ripple from the boat

To break the smoothness of the silken seas;

And far and near, as from the lucent air,

Came vesper chimes and wave-born melodies.

So might one die, if Death his soul could bear

So gently, heaven before him float so fair!