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

Torcello, the Island

Torcello Again

By Joaquin Miller (1837–1913)

(From The Ship in the Desert)

AND yet again through the watery miles

Of reeds I rowed till the desolate isles

Of the black bead-makers of Venice are not.

I touched where a single sharp tower is shot

To heaven, and torn by thunder and rent

As if it had been Time’s battlement.

A city lies dead, and this great gravestone

Stands at its head like a ghost alone.

Some cherry-trees grow here, and here

An old church, simple and severe

In ancient aspect, stands alone

Amid the ruin and decay, all grown

In moss and grasses. Old and quaint,

With antique cuts of martyred saint,

The gray church stands with stooping knees,

Defying the decay of seas.

Her pictured Hell, with flames blown high,

In bright mosaics wrought and set

When man first knew the Nubian art,

Her bearded saints, as black as jet;

Her quaint Madonna, dim with rain

And touch of pious lips of pain,

So touched my lonesome soul, that I

Gazed long, then came and gazed again,

And loved, and took her to my heart.

Nor monk in black, nor Capuchin,

Nor priest of any creed was seen.

A sun-browned woman, old and tall,

And still as any shadow is,

Stole forth from out the mossy wall

With massive keys, to show me this;

Came slowly forth, and following,

Three birds, and all with drooping wing.

Three mute brown babes of hers; and they,—

O, they were beautiful as sleep,

Or death, below the troubled deep.

And on the pouting lips of these

Red corals of the silent seas,

Sweet birds, the everlasting seal

Of silence that the God has set

On this dead island sits for aye.

I would forget, yet not forget,

Their helpless eloquence. They creep

Somehow into my heart, and keep

One bleak, cold corner, jewel set.

They steal my better self away

To them, as little birds that day

Stole fruits from out the cherry-trees.

So helpless and so wholly still,

So sad, so wrapped in mute surprise,

That I did love, despite my will.

One little maid of ten—such eyes,

So large and lonely, so divine,

Such pouting lips, such peachy cheek—

Did lift her perfect eyes to mine,

Until our souls did touch and speak;

Stood by me all that perfect day,

Yet not one sweet word could she say.

She turned her melancholy eyes

So constant to my own, that I

Forgot the going clouds, the sky,

Found fellowship, took bread and wine,

And so her little soul and mine

Stood very near together there.

And O, I found her very fair.

Yet not one soft word could she say;

What did she think of all that day?

The sometime song of gondolier

Is heard afar. The fishermen

Betimes draw net by ruined shore,

In full spring-time when east-winds fall;

Then traders row with muffled oar,

Tedesco or the turbaned Turk,

The pirate, at some midnight work

By watery wall,—but that is all.