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A Letter From Italy poem – Alfred Austin


I

Lately, when we wished good-bye

Underneath a gloomy sky,

“Bear,” you said, “my love in mind,

Leaving me not quite behind;

And across the mountains send

News and greeting to your friend.”

II

Swiftly though we did advance

Through the rich flat fields of France,

Still the eye grew tired to see

Patches of equality.

Nothing wanton, waste, or wild;

Women delving, lonely child

Tending cattle lank and lean;

Not a hedgerow to be seen,

Where the eglantine may ramble,

Or the vagrant unkempt bramble

Might its flowers upon you press

Simple-sweet but profitless:

Jealous ditches, straight and square

Sordid comfort everywhere.

Pollard poplars, stunted vine,

Nowhere happy-pasturing kine

Wandering in untended groups

Through the uncut buttercups.

All things pruned to pile the shelf

Nothing left to be itself:

Neither horn, nor hound, nor stirrup,

Not a carol, not a chirrup;

Every idle sound repressed,

Like a Sabbath without rest.

III

O the sense of freedom when

Kingly mountains rose again!

Congregated, but alone,

Each upon his separate throne;

Like to mighty minds that dwell,

Lonely, inaccessible,

High above the human race,

Single and supreme in space:

Soaring higher, higher, higher,

Carrying with them our desire,

Irrepressible if fond,

To push on to worlds beyond!

Many a peak august I saw,

Crowned with mist and girt with awe,

Fertilising, as is fit,

Valleys that look up to it,

With the melted snows down-driven,

Which itself received from Heaven.

Then, to see the torrents flashing,

Leaping, twisting, foaming, crashing,

Like a youth who feels, at length,

Freedom ample as his strength,

Hurrying from the home that bore him,

With the whole of life before him!

IV

As, when summer sunshine gleams,

Glaciers soften into streams,

So to liquid, flowing vowels,

As we pierced the mountains’ bowels,

Teuton consonants did melt

When Italian warmth was felt.

Gloomy fir and pine austere,

Unto precipices sheer

Clinging, as one holds one’s breath,

Half-way betwixt life and death,

Changed to gently-shelving slope,

Where man tills with faith and hope,

And the tenderest-tendrilled tree

Prospers in security.

Softer outlines, balmier air,

Belfries unto evening prayer

Calling, as the shadows fade,

Halting crone, and hurrying maid,

With her bare black tresses twined

Into massive coils behind,

And her snowy-pleated vest

Folded o’er mysterious breast,

Like the dove’s wings chastely crossed

At the Feast of Pentecost.

Something, in scent, sight, and sound,

Elsewhere craved for, never found,

Underneath, around, above,

Moves to tenderness and love.

V

But three nights I halted where

Stands the temple, vowed to prayer,

That surmounts the Lombard plain,

Green with strips of grape and grain.

There, Spiaggiascura’s child,

By too hopeful love beguiled,

Yet resolved, save faith should flow

Through his parched heart, to forego

Earthly bliss for heavenly pain,

Prayed for Godfrid, prayed in vain.

VI

How looked Florence? Fair as when

Beatrice was nearly ten:

Nowise altered, just the same

Marble city, mountain frame,

Turbid river, cloudless sky,

As in days when you and I

Roamed its sunny streets, apart,

Ignorant of each other’s heart,

Little knowing that our feet

Slow were moving on to meet,

And that we should find, at last,

Kinship in a common Past.

But a shadow falls athwart

All her beauty, all her art.

For alas! I vainly seek

Outstretched hand and kindling cheek,

Such as, in the bygone days,

Sweetened, sanctified, her ways.

When, as evening belfries chime,

I to Bellosguardo climb,

Vaguely thinking there to find

Faces that still haunt my mind,

Though the doors stand open wide,

No one waits for me inside;

Not a voice comes forth to greet,

As of old, my nearing feet.

So I stand without, and stare,

Wishing you were here to share

Void too vast alone to bear.

To Ricorboli I wend:

But where now the dear old friend,

Heart as open as his gate,

Song, and jest, and simple state?

They who loved me all are fled;

Some are gone, and some are dead.

So, though young and lovely be

Florence still, it feels to me,

Thinking of the days that were,

Like a marble sepulchre.

VII

Yet, thank Heaven! he liveth still,

Now no more upon the hill

Where was perched his Tuscan home,

But in liberated Rome:

Hale as ever; still his stride

Keeps me panting at his side.

Would that you were here to stray

With me up the Appian Way,

Climb with me the Coelian mount,

With me find Egeria’s fount,

See the clear sun sink and set

From the Pincian parapet,

Or from Sant’ Onofrio watch

Shaggy Monte Cavo catch

Gloomy glory on its face,

As the red dawn mounts apace.

Twenty years and more have fled

Since I first with youthful tread

Wandered ‘mong these wrecks of Fate,

Lonely but not desolate,

Proud to ponder and to brood,

Satisfied with solitude.

But as fruit that, hard in Spring,

Tender grows with mellowing,

So one’s nature, year by year,

Softens as it ripens, dear,

And youth’s selfish strain and stress

Sweeten into tenderness.

Therefore is it that I pine

For a gentle hand in mine,

For a voice to murmur clear

All I know but love to hear,

Crave to feel, think, hear, and see,

Through your lucid sympathy.

VIII

Shortly, shortly, we shall meet.

Southern skies awhile are sweet;

But in whatso land I roam,

Half my heart remains at home.

Tell me, for I long to hear,

Tidings of our English year.

Was the cuckoo soon or late?

Beg the primroses to wait,

That their homely smile may greet

Faithfully returning feet.

Have the apple blossoms burst?

Is the oak or ash the first?

Are there snowballs on the guelder?

Can you scent as yet the elder?

On the bankside that we know,

Is the golden gorse ablow,

Like love’s evergreen delight

Never out of season quite,

But most prodigal in Spring,

When the whitethroats pair and sing?

Tell me, tell me, most of all,

When you hear the thrushes call,

When you see soft shadows fleeting

O’er the grass where lambs are bleating.

When the lyric lark, returning

From the mirage of its yearning,-

Like a fountain that in vain

Rises but to fall again,-

Seeks its nest with drooping wing,

Do you miss me from the Spring?

IX

Quickly then I come. Adieu,

Mouldering arch and ether blue!

For in you I sure shall find

All that here I leave behind:

Steadfastness of Roman rays

In the candour of your gaze;

In your friendship comfort more

Than in warmth of Oscan shore;

In the smiles that light your mouth,

All the sunshine of the South.


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