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


Written at Venice

By Richard Monckton Milnes, Lord Houghton (1809–1885)

NOT only through the golden haze

Of indistinct surprise,

With which the Ocean-bride displays

Her pomp to stranger eyes;—

Not with the fancy’s flashing play,

The traveller’s vulgar theme,

Where following objects chase away

The moment’s dazzling dream;—

Not thus art thou content to see

The city of my love,

Whose beauty is a thought to me

All mortal thoughts above;

And pass in dull unseemly haste,

Nor sight nor spirit clear,

As if the first bewildering taste

Were all the banquet here!

When the proud sea, for Venice’ sake,

Itself consents to wear

The semblance of a land-locked lake,

Inviolably fair;

And in the dalliance of her isles,

Has levelled his strong waves,

Adoring her with tenderer wiles

Than his own pearly caves,—

Surely may we to similar calm

Our noisy lives subdue,

And bare our bosoms to such balm

As God has given to few;

Surely may we delight to pause

On our care-goaded road,

Refuged from Time’s most bitter laws

In this august abode.

Thou knowest this,—thou lingerest here,

Rejoicing to remain;

The plashing oars fall on thy ear

Like a familiar strain;

No wheel prolongs its weary roll,

The earth itself goes round

Slower than elsewhere, and thy soul

Dreams in the void of sound.

Thy heart, by Nature’s discipline,

From all disdain refined,

Kept open to be written in

By good of every kind,

Can harmonize its inmost sense

To every outward tone,

And bring to all experience

High reasoning of its own.

So, when these forms come freely out,

And wonder is gone by,

With patient skill it sets about

Its subtle work of joy;

Connecting all it comprehends

By lofty moods of love,—

The earthly Present’s farthest ends,—

The Past’s deep Heaven above.

O bliss! to watch, with half-shut lid,

By many a secret place,

Where darkling loveliness is hid,

And undistinguished grace,—

To mark the gloom, by slow degrees,

Exfoliate, till the whole

Shines forth before our sympathies,

A soul that meets a soul!

Come out upon the broad Lagoon,

Come for the hundredth time,—

Our thoughts shall make a pleasant tune,

Our words a worthy rhyme;

And thickly round us we will set

Such visions as were seen,

By Tizian and by Tintorett,

And dear old Giambellin,—

And all their peers in art, whose eyes,

Taught by this sun and sea,

Flashed on their works those burning dyes,

That fervent poetry;

And wove the shades so thinly clear

They would be parts of light

In northern climes, where frowns severe

Mar half the charms of sight.

Did ever shape that Paolo drew

Put on such brilliant tire,

As Nature, in this evening view,—

This world of tinted fire?

The glory into whose embrace

The virgin pants to rise

Is but reflected from the face

Of these Venetian skies.

The sun beneath the horizon’s brow

Has sunk, not passed away;

His presence is far lordlier now

Than on the throne of day;

His spirit of splendor has gone forth,

Sloping wide violet rays,

Possessing air and sea and earth

With his essential blaze.

Transpierced, transfused, each densest mass

Melts to as pure a glow,

As images on painted glass

Or silken screens can show.

Gaze on the city,—contemplate

With that fine sense of thine

The Palace of the ancient state,—

That wildly grand design!

How mid the universal sheen

Of marble amber-tinged,

Like some enormous baldaquin

Gay-checkered and deep-fringed,

It stands in air and will not move,

Upheld by magic power,—

The dun-lead domes just caught above,—

Beside, the glooming tower.

Now a more distant beauty fills

Thy scope of ear and eye,—

That graceful cluster of low hills,

Bounding the western sky,

Which the ripe evening flushes cover

With purplest fruitage-bloom,—

Methinks that gold-lipt cloud may hover

Just over Petrarch’s tomb!

Petrarch! when we that name repeat,

Its music seems to fall

Like distant bells, soft-voiced and sweet,

But sorrowful withal;—

That broken heart of love!—that life

Of tenderness and tears!

So weak on earth, in earthly strife,—

So strong in holier spheres!

How in his most of godlike pride,

While emulous nations ran

To kiss his feet, he stept aside

And wept the woes of man!

How in his genius-woven bower

Of passion ever green,

The world’s black veil fell, hour by hour,

Him and his rest between.

Welcome such thoughts;—they well atone

With this more serious mood

Of visible things that night brings on,

In her cool shade to brood;

The moon is clear in heaven and sea,

Her silver has been long

Slow-changing to bright gold, but she

Deserves a separate song.