Edwin Arnold

(1832-1904 / England)

On Leaving Italy - Poem by Edwin Arnold

A long blue stain upon a belt of gold,
A rim of earth against the sinking sun,
A shadow that doth fade, and fade, and fade
Somewhere between white water and red sky
Into a nothing-Italy! farewell!

Ay! fare thee well-I never knew before
How the cold comfort of that parting word
Mocks the weak will. I never thought to leave
Thy cities, sweet one, and thy citron hills
With grief that shapes itself into a curse,
And tears, unlike a woman's tears, that come
Hot from the heart; but now I seem to love
The billows for their hollow angry roar;
The sea-birds, for their melancholy scream;
The wind, in that he howleth nothing else
Save 'miserere';-for these winds and waves
That gird thy coral beach and craggy shore;
These birds that from thy tallest Apennines
Fetch food, and tell thine own unebbing sea
What they have seen thee: I, and these, and all
Sing well together in a parting song,
And tell thee with our rugged melody
We love thee all too well to love thee now.

Once thou wert mother of as true a band
As ever with strong arms and stronger hearts
Led history along:-obedience
From us to thee was but a thing of right,
Since when thy soldier-son, the Lord of Earth,
Wore kingdoms for the jewels of his crown,
And ours the meanest sparkle; but we gave
More than obedience, for we gave thee love,
And made thy glories and thy great of old
Our household words; so when our daughters asked
What deed or thought, what life or death were best?
We told of noble-hearted Portia,
Of chaste Lucrece, and she whose only gems
Were her bold Roman boys:-we taught our sons
Tales of Horatius and the bridge he held
One to a thousand; of young Scævola
Who kept the steady colour of his cheek
While the flames ate his hand; of Regulus,
Fabius and Scipio, (names that even now
Ring like a trumpet,) till the memory bred
Men of our own as apt for memory
In after times: and these, and more than these
Lady of nations! led to love of thee,
Such love, that once to tread thy battle-plains
And once to wander where those sons of thine
Were cradled into sovereignty, became
The hope and end of life-the greenest palm
Of all a pilgrimage.

And so I came
Tutored and schooled to love thee;-not alone
But companied by two whose talk should make
A pleasant music in the stranger-lands:-
One whom I knew before I loved-and one
I loved before I knew-true spirits both:
Three were we, born beneath a northern sky,
Three of us loving Italy alike,
And thither journeying.

We saw the vines
Purple and green, carpeting all her fields
Under the Lombard Alps:-we left the figs
To ripen on the Apennine, and passed
Through many a league of cork and citron-grove
Onward by trellised trees, and olive-clumps,
By Virgil's cradle and by Juliet's grave
To Venice-to the Lady of the Sea.
Yet found we never her we came to seek.
In town or tower; 'twas very Italy,
For fairer, lovelier land might never be;
But, oh! not the great Italy we knew,
The fair, free land of Livius-the Queen
Who wore the diadem of Eastern gold
Crusted with Western jewels: she whose sword
Conquered the world, and swayed the conquered world
-At once a sword and sceptre.

So we passed
Sadder and wiser southward; and we saw
A locust-plague upon the land we loved,
Blasting its beauty:-by the Mincius,
And where the water of Catullus' lake
Breaks into blue and silver: farther south,
By Foesulæ and the Lucanian hills,
Whose caves have echoed Horace: on the beach
Of the Adrian waters, and the upper sea.
From north to south we marked the gleam of spears,
The flash of foreign swords; and heard a tongue
Harsh and unfitted to the tender blue
Of Tuscan skies, challenging at the gates,
Th' Italian gates, each son of Italy:
In Lombard homes and Tuscan towns we saw
The sickly livery of the Austrian
Specked with Italian blood-we saw the hate
On many a noble forehead turn to smiles
Even at a step-from many a courteous lip
We caught the muffled thunder of the curse
Hid in a lowly greeting:-last of all
We trod the Eternal City: even there,
There where to breathe is to be free and proud,
The sabres of a great and noble land,
The warriors of our own 'sweet enemy'-
The spears of France, of France the fair and brave
Gleamed on the Vatican, and guarded there,
From the just vengeance of a cheated race,
A foolish, fond old dreamer. Italy!
We knew the brand that scarred thy beauty then,
The brazen chain that bound thee.

Beautiful Harlot! wilt thou sell thyself-
Sell thy sweet body longer? rise and tear
Thy tresses from the bloody hands that play
Too boldly with their beauty: teach the slaves
Thou wert an empress of the ancient Earth
And they thine appanage: oh! take thy place-
Thine own proud place-the place thy children won-
Again among the nations! strike a stroke,
One stroke, but one, for the dear memory
Of what they made thee, and the hateful thought
Of what thou art:-then in the Northern Land
A thousand swords shall sparkle in the sun,
And make thy quarrel theirs;-till then, farewell!
Farewell, discrownëd Queen!-sad Italy!

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Poem Submitted: Thursday, September 16, 2010

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