Italy : 27. The Pilgrim

It was an hour of universal joy.
The lark was up and at the gate of heaven,
Singing, as sure to enter when he came;
The butterfly was basking in my path,
His radiant wings unfolded. From below
The bell of prayer rose slowly, plaintively;
And odours, such as welcome in the day,
Such as salute the early traveller,
And come and go, each sweeter than the last,
Were rising. Hill and valley breathed delight;
And not a living thing but blest the hour!
In every bush and brake there was a voice
Responsive! ---- From the Thrasymene, that now
Slept in the sun, a lake of molten gold,
And from the shore that once, when armies met,
Rocked to and fro unfelt, so terrible
The rage, the slaughter, I had turned away;
The path, that led me, leading through a wood,
A fairy-wilderness of fruits and flowers,
And by a brook that, in the day of strife,
Ran blood, but now runs amber -- when a glade,
Far, far within, sunned only at noon-day,
Suddenly opened. Many a bench was there,
Each round its ancient elm; and many a track,
Well-known to them that from the high-way loved
Awhile to deviate. In the midst a cross
Of mouldering stone as in a temple stood,
Solemn, severe; coeval with the trees
That round it in majestic order rose;
And on the lowest step a Pilgrim knelt
In fervent prayer. He was the first I saw,
(Save in the tumult of a midnight-masque,
A revel, where none cares to play his part,
And they, that speak, at once dissolve the charm)
The first in sober truth, no counterfeit;
And, when his orisons were duly paid,
He rose, and we exchanged, as all are wont,
A traveller's greeting. ---- Young, and of an age
When Youth is most attractive, when a light
Plays round and round, reflected, while it lasts,
From some attendant Spirit, that ere long
(His charge relinquished with a sigh, a tear)
Wings his flights upward -- with a look he won
My favour; and, the spell of silence broke,
I could not but continue. ---- 'Whence,' I asked,
'Whence art thou?' -- 'From Mont'alto,' he replied,
'My native village in the Apennines.'--
'And whither journeying?' -- 'To the holy shrine
Of Saint Antonio in the City of Padua.
Perhaps, if thou hast ever gone so far,
Thou wilt direct my course.' -- 'Most willingly;
But thou hast much to do, much to endure,
Ere thou hast entered where the silver lamps
Burn ever. Tell me ... I would not transgress,
Yet ask I must ... what could have brought thee forth,
Nothing in act or thought to be atoned for?'--
'It was a vow I made in my distress.
We were so blest, none were so blest as we,
Till Sickness came. First, as death-struck, I fell;
Then my beloved Sister; and ere long,
Worn with continual watchings, night and day,
Our saint-like mother. Worse and worse she grew;
And in my anguish, my despair, I vowed,
That if she lived, if Heaven restored her to us,
I would forthwith, and in a Pilgrim's weeds,
Visit that holy shrine. My vow was heard;
And therefore am I come.' -- 'Blest be thy steps;
And may those weeds, so reverenced of old,
Guard thee in danger.' ---- 'They are nothing worth,
But they are worn in humble confidence;
Nor would I for the richest robe resign them,
Wrought, as they were, by those I love so well,
Lauretta and my sister; theirs the task,
But none to them, a pleasure, a delight,
To ply their utmost skill, and send me forth
As best became this service. Their last words,
'Fare thee well, Carlo. We shall count the hours!'
Will not go from me.' ---- 'Health and strength be thine
In thy long travel! May no sun-beam strike;
No vapour cling and wither! May'st thou be,
Sleeping or waking, sacred and secure!
And, when again thou comest, thy labour done,
Joy be among ye! In that happy hour
All will pour forth to bid thee welcome, Carlo;
And there is one, or I am much deceived,
One thou hast named, who will not be the last.'--
'Oh, she is true as Truth itself can be!
But ah, thou know'st her not. Would that thou didst!
My steps I quicken when I think of her;
For, though they take me further from her door,
I shall return the sooner.'