Alfred Austin

(30 May 1835 – 2 June 1913 / Headingley)

Florence - Poem by Alfred Austin

City acclaimed from far-off days
Fair, and baptized in field of flowers,
Once more I scan, with eager gaze,
Your soaring domes, your storied towers.

Nigh on eight lustres now have flown
Since first with trembling heart I came,
And, girdled by your mountain zone,
Found you yet fairer than your fame.

It was the season purple-sweet,
When figs are plucked, and grapes are pressed,
And all your folk with following feet
Bore a dead Poet to sacred rest.

You seemed to fling your gates ajar,
And gently lead me by the hand,
Saying, ``Behold! henceforth you are
No stranger in this Tuscan land.''

And though no love my love can wean
From Albion's crags and cradling sea,
You, Florence, since that hour, have been
More than a foster-nurse to me.

And seems that welcome half profaned,
If, in your lap lain oft and long,
I cherish to have something drained
Of Dante's soul and Petrarch's song?

But more than even Muse can give,
Is Love, which, songless though we be,
While the unloving jarring live,
Makes life one long sweet melody.

And you with love and friendship still
Have teemed, as teem your hills with wine,
And, through the seasons good or ill,
Have made their mellow vintage mine.

But most, while Fancy yet was young,
Yet timely cared no more to roam,
You lent your tender Tuscan tongue
To help me in my English home.

So now from soft Sicilian shore,
And Tiber's sterner tide, I bring
My Autumn sheaves, to share once more
The rapture of your rainbow Spring.

I, lingering in your palaced town,
Asudden, 'neath some beetling pile,
Catch sight of Dante's awful frown,
Or Vinci's enigmatic smile;

Then, following olden footsteps, stroll
To where, from May-day's mocking pyre,
Savonarola's tortured soul
Went up to Heaven in tongues of fire;

Or Buonarroti's godlike hand
Made marble block from Massa's steep
Dawn into Day at his command,
Or plunged it into Night and Sleep.

Onward I pass through radiant squares,
And widening ways whose foliage shames
Our leafless streets, to one that bears
The best-beloved of English names,

And climb the white-veiled slopes arrayed
In bridal bloom of peach and pear,
While, 'neath the olive's phantom shade,
Lupine and beanflower scent the air.

The wild-bees hum round golden bay,
The green frog sings on fig-tree bole,
And, see! down daisy-whitened way
Come the slow steers and swaying pole.

The fresh-pruned vine-stems, curving, bend
Over the peaceful wheaten spears,
And with the glittering sunshine blend
Their transitory April tears.

O'er wall and trellis trailed and wound,
Hang roses blushing, roses pale;
And, hark! what was that silvery sound?
The first note of the nightingale.

Curtained, I close my lids and dream
Of Beauty seen not but surmised,
And, lulled by scent and song, I seem
Immortally imparadised.

When from the deep sweet swoon I wake
And gaze past slopes of grape and grain,
Where Arno, like some lonely lake,
Silvers the far-off seaward plain,

I see celestial sunset fires
That lift us from this earthly leaven,
And darkly silent cypress spires
Pointing the way from hill to Heaven.

Then something more than mortal steals
Over the wavering twilight air,
And, messenger of nightfall, peals
From each crowned peak a call to prayer.

And now the last meek prayer is said,
And, in the hallowed hush, there is
Only a starry dome o'erhead,
Propped by columnar cypresses.


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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 8, 2010



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