Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

(27 February 1807 – 24 March 1882 / Portland, Maine)

Monte Cassino. Terra Di Lavoro. (Birds Of Passage. Flight The Fourth) - Poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Beautiful valley! through whose verdant meads
Unheard the Garigliano glides along;--
The Liris, nurse of rushes and of reeds,
The river taciturn of classic song.

The Land of Labor and the Land of Rest,
Where mediaeval towns are white on all
The hillsides, and where every mountain's crest
Is an Etrurian or a Roman wall.

There is Alagna, where Pope Boniface
Was dragged with contumely from his throne;
Sciarra Colonna, was that day's disgrace
The Pontiff's only, or in part thine own?

There is Ceprano, where a renegade
Was each Apulian, as great Dante saith,
When Manfred by his men-at-arms betrayed
Spurred on to Benevento and to death.

There is Aquinum, the old Volscian town,
Where Juvenal was born, whose lurid light
Still hovers o'er his birthplace like the crown
Of splendor seen o'er cities in the night.

Doubled the splendor is, that in its streets
The Angelic Doctor as a school-boy played,
And dreamed perhaps the dreams, that he repeats
In ponderous folios for scholastics made.

And there, uplifted, like a passing cloud
That pauses on a mountain summit high,
Monte Cassino's convent rears its proud
And venerable walls against the sky.

Well I remember how on foot I climbed
The stony pathway leading to its gate;
Above, the convent bells for vespers chimed,
Below, the darkening town grew desolate.

Well I remember the low arch and dark,
The courtyard with its well, the terrace wide,
From which, far down, the valley like a park,
Veiled in the evening mists, was dim descried.

The day was dying, and with feeble hands
Caressed the mountain-tops; the vales between
Darkened; the river in the meadow-lands
Sheathed itself as a sword, and was not seen.

The silence of the place was like a sleep,
So full of rest it seemed; each passing tread
Was a reverberation from the deep
Recesses of the ages that are dead.

For, more than thirteen centuries ago,
Benedict fleeing from the gates of Rome,
A youth disgusted with its vice and woe,
Sought in these mountain solitudes a home.

He founded here his Convent and his Rule
Of prayer and work, and counted work as prayer;
The pen became a clarion, and his school
Flamed like a beacon in the midnight air.

What though Boccaccio, in his reckless way,
Mocking the lazy brotherhood, deplores
The illuminated manuscripts, that lay
Torn and neglected on the dusty floors?

Boccaccio was a novelist, a child
Of fancy and of fiction at the best!
This the urbane librarian said, and smiled
Incredulous, as at some idle jest.

Upon such themes as these, with one young friar
I sat conversing late into the night,
Till in its cavernous chimney the wood-fire
Had burnt its heart out like an anchorite.

And then translated, in my convent cell,
Myself yet not myself, in dreams I lay,
And, as a monk who hears the matin bell,
Started from sleep;-- already it was day.

From the high window I beheld the scene
On which Saint Benedict so oft had gazed,--
The mountains and the valley in the sheen
Of the bright sun,--and stood as one amazed.

Gray mists were rolling, rising, vanishing;
The woodlands glistened with their jewelled crowns;
Far off the mellow bells began to ring
For matins in the half-awakened towns.

The conflict of the Present and the Past,
The ideal and the actual in our life,
As on a field of battle held me fast,
Where this world and the next world were at strife.

For, as the valley from its sleep awoke,
I saw the iron horses of the steam
Toss to the morning air their plumes of smoke,
And woke, as one awaketh from a dream.

Comments about Monte Cassino. Terra Di Lavoro. (Birds Of Passage. Flight The Fourth) by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

  • Gold Star - 68,780 Points Fabrizio Frosini (11/15/2015 11:20:00 AM)

    Monte Cassino, with its historic abbey, is south of Rome in the Italian region Lazio.
    St. Benedict of Nursia established there his first monastery (c.529 AD) . The motto of the monks is ''ORA ET LABORA'' ('pray and work') .

    from Wikipedia:
    During the Battle of Monte Cassino (January–May 1944) the Abbey made up one section of the 161-kilometre (100-mile) Gustav Line, a German defensive line designed to hold the Allied troops from advancing any further into Italy. On 15 February 1944 the abbey was almost completely destroyed in a series of heavy American-led air raids. The bombing was conducted because many reports from troops on the ground suggested that Germans were occupying the monastery, and it was considered a key observational post by all those who were fighting in the field. However, during the bombing no Germans were present in the abbey. Subsequent investigations have since confirmed that the only people killed in the monastery by the bombing were 230 Italian civilians seeking refuge there. Only after the bombing were the ruins of the monastery occupied by German Fallschirmjäger (paratroopers) , because the ruins provided excellent defensive cover, aiding them in their defence.
    The Abbey was rebuilt after the war. (Report) Reply

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Poem Submitted: Tuesday, March 30, 2010

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