Frances Anne Kemble

(27 November 1809 - 15 January 1893 / London, England)

Arrival In Rome - Poem by Frances Anne Kemble

Early in life, when hope seems prophecy,
And strong desire can sometimes mould a fate,
My dream was of thy shores, O Italy!
Of thy blue deep, that even for a while
Will not forsake its spicy pine-girt beaches;
Of the unuttered glories of thy sky,
Of the unnumbered beauties of thy earth,
And all the immortal memories, that rest
For ever like an atmosphere above thee.
Thus towards the south my spirit's flight was turned,
For ever with the yearning of one born there,
And nursed upon its warm and fragrant bosom;
Awhile the sunny dream shut out all else,
And filled the horizon of my contemplations.
Slowly, and by degrees, the toiling years
Breathed o'er the bright illusion, dimming it,—
And gathered close about me sterner things.
The graceful lines, the gorgeous hues, the forms
Of grandeur and of beauty that my thoughts
Had dwelt amidst, as in their proper home,
Melted and faded—broke, dissolved away,

Till the last, lovely, lingering trace had vanished,
And I forgot to hope it might return.
Across an ocean—not thy sapphire waves,
O Mediterranean, sea of memories!
But the dark marble ridges of th' Atlantic,
Destiny led me—not to thy bright shores,
Ausonia, but that wondrous wilderness,
That other world, where Hope supreme beholds
All things unshaped—one huge eventful promise.
Ah, not to thee, thou treasure-house of Art,
Thou trophy-loaded Temple of the Past,
Hung with triumphant spoils of all the ages!
But to that land where Expectation stands,
All former things behind her—and before
The unfathomed brightness of Futurity,
Rolling its broad waves to the feet of God.
Upon that distant shore, a dream more fair
Than the imaginations of my youth
Awhile entranced me; lightning-like it fled,
And I remained utterly desolate.
Love had departed; Youth, too, had departed;
Hope had departed; and my life before me
Lay covered with the ashes of the Past,—
Dark, barren, cold, drear, flinty, colourless.
As through the cheerless gray of waning night,
When its black veils wear thin and part like film,
Beautiful light, like life, begins to glow,
And the great picture of the earth is sketched
Faintly upon the canvas of the dark,
Brighter and brighter growing, as the day
Holds its great torch against God's masterpiece,
Till the whole work in perfect glory shines:
So rose once more that southern vision's splendour
Upon the cheerless twilight of my fate;
The last grim pages of my book of life,
Filled with a mean and grinding martyrdom,
Washed with unceasing tears at length gave back
The nobler legend written on my youth.
Again, again, the glowing shapes returned;
Again, the lovely lines like magic drew me;
Again the splendour of the southern heavens
Shed rosy light and golden glories round me,
And Art and Nature, twins immortal, stood
Upon the threshold of earth's Paradise,
And waved me towards it. And at last I came,—
But with a broken heart and tear-dimmed eyes,
And such a woful weight of misery laden
As well might challenge the great ministry
Of the whole universe, to comfort it.
Thus did I seek thy shores, O Italy!
Land—not of promise—but of consolation;
Not in that season of my life, when life
Itself was rich enough for all its need,
And I yet held its whole inheritance;
But in the bankrupt days when all is spent,
Bestowed, or stolen, wasted, given away,
To buy a store of bitter memories:
In the first hour of lengthening evening shadows,
When Resolution on life's summit stands,
Looks back on all its brightness, and looks forward
Through gathering downward darkness to the grave.
Hail, then, most fair, most glorious, long desired—
Long dreamed of—hoped for—Italy, hail! hail!
I kiss thy earth, weeping with joy, to think
That I, at last, stand on thy sacred soil.


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Poem Submitted: Monday, September 6, 2010



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