Poems » william byrd » childe harold s pilgrimage canto the fourth


     I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs;
     A palace and a prison on each hand:
     I saw from out the wave her structures rise
     As from the stroke of the enchanter's wand:
     A thousand years their cloudy wings expand
     Around me, and a dying Glory smiles
     O'er the far times, when many a subject land
     Look'd to the winged Lion's marble piles,
Where Venice sate in state, thron'd on her hundred isles!

     She looks a sea Cybele, fresh from ocean,
     Rising with her tiara of proud towers
     At airy distance, with majestic motion,
     A ruler of the waters and their powers:
     And such she was; her daughters had their dowers
     From spoils of nations, and the exhaustless East
     Pour'd in her lap all gems in sparkling showers.
     In purple was she rob'd, and of her feast
Monarchs partook, and deem'd their dignity increas'd.

     In Venice Tasso's echoes are no more,
     And silent rows the songless gondolier;
     Her palaces are crumbling to the shore,
     And music meets not always now the ear:
     Those days are gone--but Beauty still is here.
     States fall, arts fade--but Nature doth not die,
     Nor yet forget how Venice once was dear,
     The pleasant place of all festivity,
The revel of the earth, the masque of Italy!

     But unto us she hath a spell beyond
     Her name in story, and her long array
     Of mighty shadows, whose dim forms despond
     Above the dogeless city's vanish'd sway;
     Ours is a trophy which will not decay
     With the Rialto; Shylock and the Moor,
     And Pierre, cannot be swept or worn away--
     The keystones of the arch! though all were o'er,
For us repeopl'd were the solitary shore.

     The beings of the mind are not of clay;
     Essentially immortal, they create
     And multiply in us a brighter ray
     And more belov'd existence: that which Fate
     Prohibits to dull life, in this our state
     Of mortal bondage, by these spirits supplied,
     First exiles, then replaces what we hate;
     Watering the heart whose early flowers have died,
And with a fresher growth replenishing the void.

     Such is the refuge of our youth and age,
     The first from Hope, the last from Vacancy;
     And this worn feeling peoples many a page,
     And, maybe, that which grows beneath mine eye:
     Yet there are things whose strong reality
     Outshines our fairy-land; in shape and hues
     More beautiful than our fantastic sky,
     And the strange constellations which the Muse
O'er her wild universe is skilful to diffuse:

     I saw or dream'd of such--but let them go;
     They came like truth--and disappear'd like dreams;
     And whatsoe'er they were--are now but so:
     I could replace them if I would; still teems
     My mind with many a form which aptly seems
     Such as I sought for, and at moments found;
     Let these too go--for waking Reason deems
     Such overweening fantasies unsound,
And other voices speak, and other sights surround.

     I've taught me other tongues, and in strange eyes
     Have made me not a stranger; to the mind
     Which is itself, no changes bring surprise;
     Nor is it harsh to make, nor hard to find
     A country with--ay, or without mankind;
     Yet was I born where men are proud to be--
     Not without cause; and should I leave behind
     The inviolate island of the sage and free,
And seek me out a home by a remoter sea,

     Perhaps I lov'd it well: and should I lay
     My ashes in a soil which is not mine,
     My spirit shall resume it--if we may
     Unbodied choose a sanctuary. I twine
     My hopes of being remember'd in my line
     With my land's language: if too fond and far
     These aspirations in their scope incline,
     If my fame should be, as my fortunes are,
Of hasty growth and blight, and dull Oblivion bar

     My name from out the temple where the dead
     Are honour'd by the nations--let it be--
     And light the laurels on a loftier head!
     And be the Spartan's epitaph on me--
     "Sparta hath many a worthier son than he."
     Meantime I seek no sympathies, nor need;
     The thorns which I have reap'd are of the tree
     I planted: they have torn me, and I bleed:
I should have known what fruit would spring from such a seed.

     The spouseless Adriatic mourns her lord;
     And annual marriage now no more renew'd,
     The Bucentaur lies rotting unrestor'd,
     Neglected garment of her widowhood!
     St. Mark yet sees his lion where he stood
     Stand, but in mockery of his wither'd power,
     Over the proud Place where an Emperor sued,
     And monarchs gaz'd and envied in the hour
When Venice was a queen with an unequall'd dower.

     The Suabian sued, and now the Austrian reigns--
     An Emperor tramples where an Emperor knelt;
     Kingdoms are shrunk to provinces, and chains
     Clank over sceptred cities, nations melt
     From power's high pinnacle, when they have felt
     The sunshine for a while, and downward go
     Like lauwine loosen'd from the mountain's belt:
     Oh, for one hour of blind old Dandolo,
Th' octogenarian chief, Byzantium's conquering foe!

     Before St. Mark still glow his steeds of brass,
     Their gilded collars glittering in the sun;
     But is not Doria's menace come to pass?
     Are they not bridled?--Venice, lost and won,
     Her thirteen hundred years of freedom done,
     Sinks, like a sea-weed, into whence she rose!
     Better be whelm'd beneath the waves, and shun,
     Even in destruction's depth, her foreign foes,
From whom submission wrings an infamous repose.

     In youth she was all glory, a new Tyre,
     Her very by-word sprung from victory,
     The "Planter of the Lion," which through fire
     And blood she bore o'er subject earth and sea;
     Though making many slaves, herself still free,
     And Europe's bulwark 'gainst the Ottomite;
     Witness Troy's rival, Candia! Vouch it, ye
     Immortal waves that saw Lepanto's fight!
For ye are names no time nor tyranny can blight.

     Statues of glass--all shiver'd--the long file
     Of her dead Doges are declin'd to dust;
     But where they dwelt, the vast and sumptuous pile
     Bespeaks the pageant of their splendid trust;
     Their sceptre broken, and their sword in rust,
     Have yielded to the stranger: empty halls,
     Thin streets, and foreign aspects, such as must
     Too oft remind her who and what enthralls,
Have flung a desolate cloud o'er Venice' lovely walls.

     When Athens' armies fell at Syracuse,
     And fetter'd thousands bore the yoke of war,
     Redemption rose up in the Attic Muse,
     Her voice their only ransom from afar:
     See! as they chant the tragic hymn, the car
     Of the o'ermaster'd victor stops, the reins
     Fall from his hands--his idle scimitar
     Starts from its belt--he rends his captive's chains,
And bids him thank the bard for freedom and his strains.

     Thus, Venice! if no stronger claim were thine,
     Were all thy proud historic deeds forgot,
     Thy choral memory of the Bard divine,
     Thy love of Tasso, should have cut the knot
     Which ties thee to thy tyrants; and thy lot
     Is shameful to the nations--most of all,
     Albion, to thee: the Ocean queen should not
     Abandon Ocean's children; in the fall
Of Venice think of thine, despite thy watery wall.

     I loved her from my boyhood; she to me
     Was as a fairy city of the heart,
     Rising like water-columns from the sea,
     Of joy the sojourn, and of wealth the mart;
     And Otway, Radcliffe, Schiller, Shakespeare's art,
     Had stamp'd her image in me, and even so,
     Although I found her thus, we did not part;
     Perchance even dearer in her day of woe,
Than when she was a boast, a marvel, and a show.