Italy : 42. Naples

This region, surely, is not of the earth.
Was it not dropt from heaven? Not a grove,
Citron or pine or cedar, not a grot
Sea-worn and mantled with a gadding vine,
But breathes enchantment. Not a cliff but flings
On the clear wave some image of delight,
Some cabin-roof glowing with crimson flowers,
Some ruined temple or fallen monument,
To muse on as the bark is gliding by.
And be it mine to muse there, mine to glide,
From day-break, when the mountain pales his fire
Yet more and more, and from the mountain-top,
Till then invisible, a smoke ascends,
Solemn and slow, as erst from Ararat,
When he, the Patriarch, who escaped the Flood,
Was with his house-hold sacrificing there --
From day-break to that hour, that last and best,
When, one by one, the fishing-boats come forth,
Each with its glimmering lantern at the prow,
And, when the nets are thrown, the evening-hymn
Steals o'er the trembling waters.
Fable and Truth have shed, in rivalry,
Each her peculiar influence. Fable came,
And laughed and sung, arraying Truth in flowers,
Like a young child her grandam. Fable came,
Earth, sea and sky reflecting, as she flew,
A thousand, thousand colours not their own;
And at her bidding, lo! a dark descent
To Tartarus, and those thrice happy fields,
Those fields with ether pure and purple light
Ever invested, scenes by Him pourtrayed,
Who here was wont to wander, here invoke
The Sacred Muses, here receive, record
What they revealed, and on the western shore
Sleeps in a silent grove, o'erlooking thee,
Beloved Parthenope.
Yet here, methinks,
Truth wants no ornament, in her own shape
Filling the mind by turns with awe and love,
By turns inclining to wild ecstasy,
And soberest meditation. Here the vines
Wed, each her elm, and o'er the golden grain
Hang their luxuriant clusters, chequering
The sunshine: where, when cooler shadows fall,
And the mild moon her fairy net-work weaves,
The lute, or mandolin, accompanied
By many a voice yet sweeter than their own,
Kindles, nor slowly; and the dance displays
The gentle arts and witcheries of love,
Its hopes and fears and feignings, till the youth
Drops on his knee as vanquished, and the maid,
Her tambourine uplifting with a grace,
Nature's and Nature's only, bids him rise.

But here the mighty Monarch underneath,
He in his palace of fire, diffuses round
A dazzling splendour. Here, unseen, unheard,
Opening another Eden in the wild,
His gifts he scatters; save, when issuing forth
In thunder, he blots out the sun, the sky,
And, mingling all things earthly as in scorn,
Exalts the valley, lays the mountain low,
Pours many a torrent from his burning lake,
And in an hour of universal mirth,
What time the trump proclaims the festival,
Buries some capital city, there to sleep
The sleep of ages -- till a plough, a spade
Disclose the secret, and the eye of day
Glares coldly on the streets, the skeletons;
Each in his place, each in his gay attire,
And eager to enjoy.
Let us go round;
And let the sail be slack, the course be slow,
That at our leisure, as we coast along,
We may contemplate, and from every scene
Receive its influence. The Cumæan towers,
There did they rise, sun-gilt; and here thy groves,
Delicious Balæ. Here (what would they not?)
The masters of the earth, unsatisfied,
Built in the sea; and now the boatman steers
O'er many a crypt and vault yet glimmering,
O'er many a broad and indestructible arch,
The deep foundations of their palaces;
Nothing now heard ashore, so great the change,
Save when the sea-mew clamours, or the owl
Hoots in the temple.
What the mountainous Isle,
Seen in the South. 'Tis where a Monster dwelt,
Hurling his victims from the topmost cliff;
Then, and then only merciful, so slow,
So subtle were the tortures they endured.
Fearing and feared he lived, cursing and cursed;
And still the dungeons in the rock breathe out
Darkness, distemper. Strange, that one so vile
Should from his den strike terror through the world;
Should, where withdrawn in his decrepitude,
Say to the noblest, be they where they might,
'Go from the earth!' and from the earth they went.
Yet such things were -- and will be, when mankind,
Losing all virtue, lose all energy;
And for the loss incur the penalty,
Trodden down and trampled.
Let us turn the prow,
And in the track of him who went to die,
Traverse this valley of waters, landing where
A waking dream awaits us. At a step
Two thousand years roll backward, and we stand,
Immovable, nor asking, Can it be?

Once did I linger there alone, till day
Closed, and at length the calm of twilight came,
So grateful, yet so solemn! At the fount,
Just where the three ways meet, I stood and looked,
('Twas near a noble house, the house of Pansa)--
And all was still as in the long, long night
That followed when the shower of ashes fell,
When they that sought Pompeii, sought in vain;
It was not to be found. But now a ray,
Bright and yet brighter, on the pavement glanced,
And on the wheel-track worn for centuries,
And on the stepping-stones from side to side,
O'er which the maidens, with their water-urns,
Were wont to trip so lightly. Full and clear,
The moon was rising, and at once revealed
The name of every dweller, and his craft;
Shining throughout with an unusual lustre,
And lighting up this City of the Dead.

Mark, where within, as though the embers lived,
The ample chimney-vault is dun with smoke.
There dwelt a miller; silent and at rest
His mill-stones now. In old companionship
Still do they stand as on the day he went,
Each ready for its office -- but he comes not.
And here, hard by (where one in idleness
Has stopt to scrawl a ship, an armed man;
And in a tablet on the wall we read
Of shows ere long to be) a sculptor wrought,
Nor meanly; blocks, half-chiselled into life,
Waiting his call. Here long, as yet attests
The trodden floor, an olive-merchant drew
From many an earthen jar, no more supplied;
And here from his vintner served his guests
Largely, the stain of his o'erflowing cups
Fresh on the marble. On the bench, beneath,
They sate and quaffed and looked on them that passed,
Gravely discussing the last news from Rome.
But lo, engraven on a threshold-stone,
That word of courtesy, so sacred once,
Hail! At a master's greeting we may enter.
And lo, a fairy-palace! every where
As through the courts and chambers we advance,
Floors of mosaic, walls of arabesque,
And columns clustering in Patrician splendour.
But hark, a footstep! May we not intrude?
And now, methinks, I hear a gentle laugh,
And gentle voices mingling as in converse!
-- And now a harp-string as struck carelessly,
And now -- along the corridor it comes --
I cannot err, a filling as of baths!
-- Ah no, 'tis but a mockery of the sense,
Idle and vain! We are but where we were;
Still wandering in a City of the Dead!