Italy : 14. Venice
There is a glorious City in the Sea.
The Sea is in the broad, the narrow streets,
Ebbing and flowing; and the salt sea-weed
Clings to the marble of her palaces.
No track of men, no footsteps to and fro,
Lead to her gates. The path lies o'er the Sea,
Invisible; and from the land we went,
As to a floating City -- steering in,
And gliding up her streets as in a dream,
So smoothly, silently -- by many a dome,
Mosque-like, and many a stately portico,
The statues ranged along an azure sky;
By many a pile in more than Eastern pride,
Of old the residence of merchant-kings;
The fronts of some, though Time had shattered them,
Still glowing with the richest hues of art,
As though the wealth within them had run o'er.
Thither I came, and in a wondrous Ark,
(That, long before we slipt our cable, rang
As with the voices of all living things)
From Padua, where the stars are, night by night
Watched from the top of an old dungeon-tower,
Whence blood ran once, the tower of Ezzelin --
Not as he watched them, when he read his fate
And shuddered. But of him I thought not then,
Him or his horoscope; far, far from me
The forms of Guilt and Fear; tho' some were there,
Sitting among us round the cabin-board,
Some who, like him, had cried, 'Spill blood enough!'
And could shake long at shadows. They had played
Their parts at Padua, and were floating home,
Careless and full of mirth; to-morrow a day
Not in their Calendar. -- Who in a strain
To make the hearer fold his arms and sigh,
Sings, 'Caro, Caro!' -- 'Tis the Prima Donna,
And to her monkey, smiling in his face.
Who, as transported, cries, 'Brava! Ancora!'
'Tis a grave personage, an old macaw,
Perched on her shoulder. -- But who leaps ashore,
And with a shout urges the lagging mules;
Then climbs a tree that overhangs the stream,
And, like an acorn, drops on deck again?
'Tis he who speaks not, stirs not, but we laugh;
That child of fun and frolic, Arlecchino.
And mark their Poet -- with what emphasis
He prompts the young Soubrette, conning her part!
Her tongue plays truant, and he raps his box,
And prompts again; for ever looking round
As if in search for subjects for his wit,
His satire; and as often whispering
Things, though unheard, not unimaginable.
Had I thy pencil, Crabbe, (when thou hast done,
Late may it be .. it will, like Prospero's staff,
Be buried fifty fathoms in the earth,)
I would portray the Italian -- Now I cannot.
Subtle, discerning, eloquent, the slave
Of Love, of Hate, for ever in extremes;
Gentle when unprovoked, easily won,
But quick in quarrel -- through a thousand shades
His spirit flits, cameleon-like; and mocks
The eye of the observer.
At length we leave the river for the sea.
At length a voice aloft proclaims 'Venezia!'
And, as called forth, She comes. -- A few in fear,
Flying away from him whose boast it was,
That the grass grew not where his horse had trod,
Gave birth to Venice. Like the water-fowl,
They built their nests among the ocean-waves;
And where the sands were shifting, as the wind
Blew from the north or south -- where they that came,
Had to make sure the ground they stood upon,
Rose, like an exhalation from the deep,
A vast Metropolis, with glistening spires,
With theatres, basilicas adorned;
A scene of light and glory, a dominion,
That has endured the longest among men.
And whence the talisman, whereby she rose,
Towering? 'Twas found there in the barren sea.
Want led the Enterprise; and, far or near,
Who met not the Venetian! -- now among
The AEgean Isles, steering from port to port,
Landing and bartering; now, no stranger there,
In Cairo, or without the eastern gate,
Ere yet the Cafila came, listening to hear
Its bells approaching from the Red-Sea coast;
Then on the Euxine, and that smaller Sea
Of Azoph, in close converse with the Russ,
And Tartar; on his lowly deck receiving
Pearls from the Persian Gulf, gems from Golcond;
Eyes brighter yet, that shed the light of love,
From Georgia, from Circassia. Wandering round,
When in the rich bazaar he saw, displayed,
Treasures from climes unknown, he asked and learnt,
And, travelling slowly upward, drew ere long
From the well-head, supplying all below;
Making the Imperial City of the East,
Herself, his tributary.
If we turn
To those black forests, where, thro' many an age,
Night without day, no axe the silence broke,
Or seldom, save where Rhine or Danube rolled;
Where o'er the narrow glen a castle hangs,
And, like the wolf that hungered at his door,
The baron lived by rapine -- there we meet,
In warlike guise, the Caravan from Venice;
When on its march, now lost and now beheld,
A glittering file (the trumpet heard, the scout
Sent and recalled) but at a city-gate
All gaiety, and looked for ere it comes;
Winning regard with all that can attract,
Cages, whence every wild cry of the desert,
Jugglers, stage-dancers. Well might Charlemain,
And his brave peers, each with his visor up,
On their long lances lean and gaze awhile,
When the Venetian to their eyes disclosed
The wonders of the East! Well might they then
Sigh for new conquests!
Thus did Venice rise,
Thus flourish, till the unwelcome tidings came,
That in the Tagus had arrived a fleet
From India, from the region of the Sun,
Fragrant with spices -- that a way was found,
A channel opened, and the golden stream
Turned to enrich another. Then she felt
Her strength departing, yet awhile maintained
Her state, her splendour; till a tempest shook
All things most held in honour among men,
All that the giant with the scythe had spared,
To their foundations, and at once she fell;
She who had stood yet longer than the last
Of the Four Kingdoms -- who, as in an Ark,
Had floated down, amid a thousand wrecks,
Uninjured, from the Old World to the New,
From the last glimpse of civilized life -- to where
Light shone again, and with the blaze of noon.
Through many an age in the mid-sea she dwelt,
From her retreat calmly contemplating
The changes of the Earth, herself unchanged.
Before her passed, as in an awful dream,
The mightiest of the mighty. What are these,
Clothed in their purple? O'er the globe they fling
Their monstrous shadows; and, while yet we speak,
Phantom-like, vanish with a dreadful scream!
What -- but the last that styled themselves the Caesars?
And who in long array (look where they come;
Their gestures manacing so far and wide)
Wear the green turban and the heron's plume?
Who -- but the Caliphs? followed fast by shapes
As new and strange -- Emperor, and King, and Czar,
And Soldan, each, with a gigantic stride,
Trampling on all the flourishing works of peace
To make his greatness greater, and inscribe
His name in blood -- some, men of steel, steel-clad;
Others, nor long, alas, the interval,
In light and gay attire, with brow serene
Wielding Jove's thunder, scattering sulphurous fire
Mingled with darkness: and, among the rest,
Lo, one by one, passing continually,
Those who assume a sway beyond them all;
Men grey with age, each in a triple crown,
And in his tremulous hands grasping the keys
That can alone, as he would signify,
Unlock Heaven's gate.
Samuel Rogers's Other Poems
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