Italy : 24. Florence
Of all the fairest Cities of the Earth
None is so fair as Florence. 'Tis a gem
Of purest ray; and what a light broke forth,
When it emerged from darkness! Search within,
Without; all is enchantment! 'Tis the Past
Contending with the Present; and in turn
Each has the mastery.
In this chapel wrought
One of the Few, Nature's Interpreters,
The Few whom Genius gives as Lights to shine,
Massaccio; and he slumbers underneath.
Wouldst thou behold his monument? Look round!
And know that where we stand, stood oft and long,
Oft till the day was gone, Raphael himself,
He and his haughty Rival ---- patiently,
Humbly, to learn of those who came before,
To steal a spark from their authentic fire,
Theirs who first broke the universal gloom,
Sons of the Morning. -- On that ancient seat,
The seat of stone that runs along the wall,
South of the Church, east of the belfry-tower,
(Thou canst not miss it) in the sultery time
Would Dante sit conversing, and with those
Who little thought that in his hand he held
The balance, and assigned at his good pleasure
To each his place in the invisible world,
To some an upper region, some a lower;
Many a transgressor sent to his account,
Long ere in Florence numbered with the dead;
The body still as full of life and stir
At home, abroad; still and as oft inclined
To eat, drink, sleep; still clad as others were,
And at noon-day, where men were wont to meet,
Met as continually; when the soul went,
Relinquished to a demon, and by him
(So says the Bard, and who can read and doubt?)
Dwelt in and governed. -- Sit thee down awhile;
Then by the gates so marvellously wrought,
That they might serve to be the gates of Heaven,
Enter the Baptistery. That place he loved,
Loved as his own; and in his visits there
Well might he take delight! For when a child,
Playing, as many are wont, with venturous feet
Near and yet nearer to the sacred font,
Slipped and fell in, he flew and rescued him,
Flew with an energy, a violence,
That broke the marble -- a mishap ascribed
To evil motives; his, alas, to lead
A life of trouble, and ere long to leave
All things most dear to him, ere long to know
How salt another's bread is, and the toil
Of going up and down another's stairs.
Nor then forget that Chamber of the Dead,
Where the gigantic shapes of Night and Day,
Turned into stone, rest everlastingly;
Yet still are breathing, and shed round at noon
A two-fold influence -- only to be felt --
A light, a darkness, mingling each with each;
Both and yet neither. There, from age to age,
Two Ghosts are sitting on their sepulchres.
That is the Duke Lorenzo. Mark him well.
He meditates, his head upon his hand.
What from beneath his helm-like bonnet scowls?
Is it a face, or but an eyeless skull?
'Tis hid in shade; yet, like the basilisk,
It fascinates, and is intolerable.
His mien is noble, most majestical!
Then most so, when the distant choir is heard,
At morn or eve -- nor fail thou to attend
On that thrice-hallowed day, when all are there;
When all, propitiating with solemn songs,
With light, and frankincense, and holy water,
Visit the Dead. Then wilt thou feel his power!
But let not Sculpture, Painting, Poesy,
Or they, the masters of these mighty spells,
Detain us. Our first homage is to Virtue.
Where, in what dungeon of the Citadel
(It must be known -- the writing on the wall
Cannot be gone -- 'twas cut in with his dagger,
Ere, on his knees to God, he slew himself,)
Where, in what dungeon, did Filippo Strozzi,
The last, the greatest of the men of Florence,
Breathe out his soul -- lest in his agony,
When on the rack and called upon to answer,
He might accuse the guiltless.
That debt paid,
But with a sigh, a tear for human frailty,
We may return, and once more give a loose
To the delighted spirit -- worshipping,
In her small temple of rich workmanship,
Venus herself, who, when she left the skies,
Samuel Rogers's Other Poems
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