Samuel Rogers

(30 July 1763 – 18 December 1855)

Italy : 26. The Campagna Of Florence - Poem by Samuel Rogers

'Tis morning. Let us wander through the fields,
Where Cimabue found a shepherd-boy
Tracing his idle fancies on the ground;
And let us from the top of Fiesole,
Whence Galileo's glass by night observed
The phases of the moon, look round below
On Arno's vale, where the dove-coloured steer
Is ploughing up and down among the vines,
While many a careless note is sung aloud,
Filling the air with sweetness -- and on thee,
Beautiful Florence, all within thy walls,
Thy groves and gardens, pinnacles and towers,
Drawn to our feet.
From that small spire, just caught
By the bright ray, that church among the rest
By One of Old distinguished as The Bride,
Let us in thought pursue (what can we better?)
Those who assembled there at matin-time;
Who, when Vice revelled and along the street
Tables were set, what time the bearer's bell
Rang to demand the dead at every door,
Came out into the meadows; and, awhile
Wandering in idleness, but not in folly,
Sat down in the high grass and in the shade
Of many a tree sun-proof -- day after day,
When all was still and nothing to be heard
But the cicala's voice among the olives,
Relating in a ring, to banish care,
Their hundred tales. Round the green hill they went,
Round underneath -- first to a splendid house,
Gherardi, as an old tradition runs,
That on the left, just rising from the vale;
A place for Luxury -- the painted rooms,
The open galleries and middle court
Not unprepared, fragrant and gay with flowers.
Then westward to another, nobler yet;
That on the right, now known as the Palmieri,
Where Art with Nature vied -- a Paradise
With verduous walls, and many a trellised walk
All rose and jasmine, many a twilight-glade
Crossed by the deer. Then to the Ladies' Vale;
And the clear lake, that as by magic seemed
To lift up to the surface every stone
Of lustre there, and the diminutive fish
Innumerable, dropt with crimson and gold,
Now motionless, now glancing to the sun.
Who has not dwelt on their voluptuous day?
The morning-banquet by the fountain-side,
While the small birds rejoiced on every bough;
The dance that followed, and the noon-tide slumber;
Then the tales told in turn, as round they lay
On carpets, the fresh waters murmuring;
And the short interval of pleasant talk
Till supper-time, when many a siren-voice
Sung down the stars; and, as they left the sky,
The torches, planted in the sparkling grass,
And every where among the glowing flowers,
Burnt bright and brighter.
He, whose dream it was,
(It was no more) sleeps in a neighbouring vale;
Sleeps in the church, where, in his ear, I ween,
The Friar poured out his wondrous catalogue;
A ray, imprimis, of the star that shone
To the Wise Men; a vial-ful of sounds,
The musical chimes of the great bells that hung
In Solomon's Temple; and, though last not least,
A feather from the Angel Gabriel's wing
Dropt in the Virgin's chamber. That dark ridge,
Stretching south-east, conceals it from our sight;
Not so his lowly roof and scanty farm,
His copse and rill, if yet a trace be left,
Who lived in Val di Pesa, suffering long
Want and neglect and (far, far worse) reproach,
With calm, unclouded mind. The glimmering tower
On the grey rock beneath, his land-mark once,
Now serves for ours, and points out where he ate
His bread with cheerfulness. Who sees him not
('Tis his own sketch -- he drew it from himself)
Laden with cages from his shoulder slung,
And sallying forth, while yet a morn is grey,
To catch a thrush on every lime-twig there;
Or in the wood among his wood-cutters;
Or in the tavern by the highway-side
At tric-trac with the miller; or at night,
Doffing his rustic suit, and duly clad,
Entering his closet, and, among his books,
Among the Great of every age and clime,
A numerous court, turning to whom he pleased,
Questioning each why he did this or that,
And learning how to overcome the fear
Of poverty and death. ---- Nearer we hail
Thy sunny slope, Arcetri, sung of Old
For its green wine; dearer to me, to most,
As dwelt on by that great Astronomer,
Seven years a prisoner at the city-gate,
Let in but in his grave-clothes. Sacred be
His villa (justly was it called The Gem!)
Sacred the lawn, where many a cypress threw
Its length of shadow, while he watched the stars!
Sacred the vineyard, where, while yet his sight
Glimmered, at blush of morn he dressed his vines,
Chanting aloud in gaiety of heart
Some verse of Ariosto! There, unseen,
In manly-beauty Milton stood before him,
Gazing with reverent awe -- Milton, his guest,
Just then come forth, all life and enterprise;
He in his old age and extremity,
Blind, at noon-day exploring with his staff;
His eyes upturned as to the golden sun,
His eye-balls idly rolling. Little then
Did Galileo think whom he received;
That in his hand he held the hand of one
Who could requite him -- who would spread his name
O'er lands and seas -- great as himself, nay greater;
Milton, as little that in him he saw,
As in a glass, what he himself should be,
Destined so soon to fall on evil days
And evil tongues -- so soon, alas, to live
In darkness, and with dangers compassed round,
And solitude.
Well-pleased, could we pursue
The Arno, from his birth-place in the clouds,
So near the yellow Tiber's -- springing up
From his four fountains on the Appenine,
That mountain-ridge a sea-mark to the ships,
Sailing on either sea. Downward he runs,
Scattering fresh verdure through the desolate wild,
Down by the City of Hermits, and the woods
That only echo to the choral hymn;
Then through these gardens to the Tuscan sea,
Reflecting castles, convents, villages,
And those great Rivals in an elder day,
Florence and Pisa -- who have given him fame,
Fame everlasting, but who stained so oft
His troubled waters. Oft, alas, were seen,
When flight, pursuit, and hideous rout were there,
Hands, clad in gloves of steel, held up imploring;
The man, the hero, on his foaming steed
Borne underneath, already in the realms
Of Darkness. -- Nor did night or burning noon
Bring respite. Oft, as that great Artist saw,
Whose pencil had a voice, the cry 'To arms!'
And the shrill trumpet, hurried up the bank
Those who had stolen an hour to breast the ride,
And wash from their unharnessed limbs the blood
And sweat of battle. Sudden was the rush,
Violent the tumult; for, already in sight,
Nearer and nearer yet the danger drew;
Each every sinew straining, every nerve,
Each snatching up, and girding, buckling on
Morion and greave and shirt of twisted mail,
As for his life -- no more perchance to taste,
Arno, the grateful freshness of thy glades,
Thy waters -- where, exulting, he had felt
A swimmer's transport, there, alas, to float
And welter.
Nor between the gusts of War,
When flocks were feeding, and the shepherd's pipe
Gladdened the valley, when, but not unarmed,
The sower came forth, and following him that ploughed,
Threw in the seed -- did thy indignant waves
Escape pollution. Sullen was the splash,
Heavy and swift the plunge, when they received
The key that just had grated on the ear
Of Ugolino, ever-closing up
That dismal dungeon thenceforth to be named
The Tower of Famine. ---- Once indeed 'twas thine,
When many a winter-flood, thy tributary,
Was through its rocky glen rushing, resounding,
And thou wert in thy might, to save, restore
A charge most precious. To the nearest ford,
Hastening, a horseman from Arezzo came,
Careless, impatient of delay, a babe
Slung in a basket to the knotty staff
That lay athwart his saddle-bow. He spurs,
He enters; and his horse, alarmed, perplexed,
Halts in the midst. Great is the stir, the strife;
And lo, an atom on that dangerous sea,
The babe is floating! Fast and far he flies;
Now tempest-rocked, now whirling round and round,
But not to perish. By thy willing waves
Borne to the shore, among the bulrushes
The ark has rested; and unhurt, secure,
As on his mother's breast he sleeps within,
All peace! or never had the nations heard
That voice so sweet, which still enchants, inspires;
That voice, which sung of love, of liberty.
Petrarch lay there!
And such the images
That here spring up for ever, in the Young
Kindling poetic fire! Such they that came
And clustered round our Milton, when at eve,
Reclined beside thee, Arno; when at eve,
Led on by thee, he wandered with delight,
Framing Ovidian verse, and through thy groves
Gathering wild myrtle. Such the Poet's dreams;
Yet not such only. For look round and say,
Where is the ground that did not drink warm blood,
The echo that had learnt not to articulate
The cry of murder? ---- Fatal wast the day
To Florence, when ('twas in a narrow street
North of that temple, where the truly great
Sleep, not unhonoured, not unvisited;
That temple sacred to the Holy Cross --
There is the house -- that house of the Donati,
Towerless, and left long since, but to the last
Braving assault -- all rugged, all embossed
Below, and still distinguished by the rings
Of brass, that held in war and festival-time
Their family-standards) fatal was the day
To Florence, when, at morn, at the ninth hour,
A noble Dame in weeds of widowhood,
Weeds by so many to be worn so soon,
Stood at her door; and, like a sorceress, flung
Her dazzling spell.
Subtle she was, and rich,
Rich in a hidden pearl of heavenly light,
Her daughter's beauty; and too well she knew
Its virtue! Patiently she stood and watched;
Nor stood alone -- but spoke not -- In her breast
Her purpose lay; and, as a Youth passed by,
Clad for the nuptial rite, she smiled and said,
Lifting a corner of the maiden's veil,
'This had I treasured up in secret for thee.
This hast thou lost!' He gazed and was undone!
Forgetting -- not forgot -- he broke the bond,
And paid the penalty, losing his life
At the bridge-foot; and hence a world of woe!
Vengeance for vengeance crying, blood for blood;
No intermission! Law, that slumbers not,
And, like the Angel with the flaming sword,
Sits over all, at once chastising, healing,
Himself the Avenger, went; and every street
Ran red with mutual slaughter -- tho' sometimes
The young forgot the lesson they had learnt,
And loved when they should hate -- like thee, Imelda,
Thee and thy Paolo. When last ye met
In that still hour (the heat, the glare was gone,
Not so the splendour -- thro' the cedar grove
A radiance streamed like a consuming fire,
As tho' the glorious orb, in its descent,
Had come and rested there) when last ye met,
And thy relentless brothers dragged him forth,
It had been well, hadst thou slept on, Imelda,
Nor from thy trance of fear awakened, as night
Fell on that fatal spot, to wish thee dead,
To track him by his blood, to search, to find,
Then fling thee down to catch a word, a look,
A sigh, if yet thou couldst (alas, thou couldst not)
And die, unseen, unthought of -- from the wound
Sucking the poison.
Yet, when Slavery came,
Worse followed. Genius, Valour left the land,
Indignant -- all that had from age to age
Adorned, ennobled; and headlong they fell,
Tyrant and slave. For deeds of violence,
Done in broad day and more than half redeemed
By many a great and generous sacrifice
Of self to others, came the unpledged bowl,
The stab of the stiletto. Gliding by
Unnoticed, in slouched hat and muffling cloak,
That just discovered, Caravaggio-like,
A swarthy cheek, black brow, and eye of flame,
The Bravo stole, and o'er the shoulder plunged
To the heart's core, or from beneath the ribs
Slanting (a surer path, as some averred)
Struck upward -- then slunk off, or, if pursued,
Made for the Sanctuary, and there along
The glimmering aisle among the worshippers
Wandered with restless step and jealous look,
Dropping thick blood. -- Misnamed to lull alarm,
In every Palace was The Laboratory,
Where he within brewed poisons swift and slow,
That scattered terror 'till all things seemed poisonous,
And brave men trembled if a hand held out
A nosegay or a letter; while the Great
Drank only from the Venice-glass, that broke,
That shivered, scattering round it as in scorn,
If aught malignant, aught of thine was there,
Cruel Tophana; and pawned provinces
For that miraculous gem, the gem that gave
A sign infallible of coming ill,
That clouded though the vehicle of death
Were an invisible perfume. Happy then
The guest to whom at sleeping-time 'twas said,
But in an under-voice (a lady's page
Speaks in no louder) 'Pass not on. That door
Leads to another which awaits thy coming,
One in the floor -- now left, alas, unlocked.
No eye detects it -- lying under-foot,
Just as thou enterest, at the threshold-stone;
Ready to fall and plunge thee into night
And long oblivion!
In that Evil Hour
Where lurked not danger? Thro' the fairy-land
No seat of pleasure glittering half-way down,
No hunting-place -- but with some damning spot
That will not be washed out! There, at Caïano,
Where, when the hawks were mewed and evening came,
Pulci would set the table in a roar
With his wild lay -- there, where the Sun descends,
And hill and dale are lost, veiled with his beams,
The fair Venetian died, and she and her lord --
Died of a posset drugged by him who sat
And saw them suffer, flinging back the charge;
The murderer on the murdered.
Sobs of Grief,
Sounds inarticulate - - suddenly stopt,
And followed by a struggle and a gasp,
A gasp in death, are heard yet in Cerreto,
Along the marble halls and staircases,
Nightly at twelve; and, at the self-same hour,
Shrieks, such as penetrate the inmost soul,
Such as awake the innocent babe to long,
Long wailing, echo thro' the emptiness
Of that old den far up among the hills,
Frowning on him who comes from Pietra-Mala;
In them, alas, within five days and less,
Two unsuspecting victims, passing fair,
Welcomed with kisses, and slain cruelly,
One with the knife, one with the fatal noose.
But, lo, the Sun is setting; earth and sky
One blaze of glory -- What we saw but now,
As though it were not, though it had not been!
He lingers yet; and, lessening to a point,
Shines like the eye of Heaven -- then withdraws;
And from the zenith to the utmost skirts
All is celestial red! The hour is come,
When they that sail along the distant seas,
Languish for home; and they that in the morn
Said to sweet friends 'farewell,' melt as at parting;
When, just gone forth, the pilgrim, if he hears,
As now we hear it -- echoing round the hill,
The bell that seems to mourn the dying day,
Slackens his pace and sighs, and those he loved
Loves more than ever. But who feels it not?
And well we may, for we are far away.

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Poem Submitted: Friday, September 3, 2010

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