Italy : 46. Sorrento

He who sets sail from Naples, when the wind
Blows fragrance from Posilipo, may soon,
Crossing from side to side that beautiful lake,
Land underneath the cliff, where once among
The children gathering shells along the shore,
One laughed and played, unconscious of his fate;
His to drink deep of sorrow, and, through life,
To be the scorn of them that knew him not,
Trampling alike the giver and his gift,
The gift a pearl precious, inestimable,
A lay divine, a lay of love and war,
To charm, ennoble, and, from age to age,
Sweeten the labour, when the oar was plied
Or on the Adrian or the Tuscan sea.
There would I linger -- then go forth again,
And hover round that region unexplored,
Where to Salvator (when, as some relate,
By chance or choice he led a bandit's life,
Yet oft withdrew, alone and unobserved,
To wander through those awful solitudes)
Nature revealed herself. Unveiled she stood,
In all her wildness, all her majesty,
As in that elder time, ere Man was made.
There would I linger, then go forth again;
And he who steers due east, doubling the cape,
Discovers, in a crevice of the rock,
The fishing-town, Amalfi. Haply there
A heaving bark, an anchor on the strand,
May tell him what it is; but what it was,
Cannot be told so soon.
The time has been,
When on the quays along the Syrian coast,
'Twas asked and eagerly, at break of dawn,
'What ships are from Amalfi?' when her coins,
Silver and gold, circled from clime to clime;
From Alexandria southward to Sennaar,
And eastward, through Damascus and Cabul
And Samarcand, to thy great wall, Cathay.
Then were the nations by her wisdom swayed;
And every clime on every sea was judged
According to her judgements. In her port
Prows, strange, uncouth, from Nile and Niger met,
People of various feature, various speech;
And in their countries many a house of prayer,
And many a shelter, where no shelter was,
And many a well, like Jacob's in the wild,
Rose at her bidding. Then in Palestine,
By the way‑side, in sober grandeur, stood
A Hospital, that, night and day, received
The pilgrims of the west; and, when 'twas asked,
'Who are the noble founders?' every tongue
At once replied, 'The merchants of Amalfi.'
That Hospital, when Godfrey scaled the walls,
Sent forth its holy men in complete steel;
And hence, the cowl relinquished for the helm,
That chosen band, valiant, invincible,
So long renowned as champions of the Cross,
In Rhodes, in Malta.
For three hundred years
There, unapproached but from the deep, they dwelt;
Assailed for ever, yet from age to age
Acknowledging no matter. From the deep
They gathered in their harvests; bringing home,
In the same ship, relics of ancient Greece,
That land of glory where their fathers lay,
Grain from the golden vales of Sicily,
And Indian spices. When at length they fell,
Losing their liberty, they left mankind
A legacy, compared with which the wealth
Of Eastern kings -- what is it in the scale?
The mariner's compass.
They are now forgot,
And with them all they did, all they endured,
Struggling with fortune. When Sicardi stood
On his high deck, his falchion in his hand,
And, with a shout like thunder, cried, 'Come forth,
And serve me in Salerno!' forth they came,
Covering the sea, a mournful spectacle;
The women wailing, and the heavy oar
Falling unheard. Not thus did they return,
The tyrant slain; though then the grass of years
Grew in their streets.
There now to him who sails
Under the shore, a few white villages,
Scattered above, below, some in the clouds,
Some on the margin of the dark blue sea,
And glittering thro' their lemon-groves, announce
The region Amalfi. Then, half-fallen,
A lonely watch-tower on the precipice,
Their ancient land-mark, comes. Long may it last;
Though now he little thinks how large his debt,
Serve for their monument!