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Poetry Monster

At San Giovanni Del Lago poem – Alfred Austin


I leaned upon the rustic bridge,

And watched the streamlet make

Its chattering way past zigzag ridge

Down to the silent lake.

The sunlight flickered on the wave,

Lay quiet on the hill;

Italian sunshine, bright and brave,

Though ’twas but April still.

I heard the distant shepherd’s shout,

I heard the fisher’s call;

The lizards glistened in and out,

Along the crannied wall.

Hard-by, in rudely frescoed niche,

Hung Christ upon the tree;

Round Him the Maries knelt, and each

Was weeping bitterly.

A nightingale from out the trees

Rippled, and then was dumb;

But in the golden bays the bees

Kept up a constant hum.

Two peasant women of the land,

Barefoot, with tresses black,

Came slowly toward me from the strand,

With their burdens on their back:

Two wicker crates with linen piled,

Just newly washed and wrung;

And, close behind, a little child

That made the morning young.

Reaching the bridge, each doffed her load,

Resting before they clomb,

Along the stony twisting road,

Up to their mountain home.

Shortly the child, just half its height,

Stooped ‘neath her mother’s pack,

And strove and strove with all her might

To lift it on her back.

Thereat my heart began to smile:

Haply I speak their tongue:

“Can you,” I said, “not wait awhile?

You won’t be always young.

“Why long to share the toil you see,

Why hurry on the years,

When life will one long season be

Of labour and of tears?

“Be patient with your childhood. Work

Will come full soon enough.

From year to year, from morn till murk,

Life will be hard and rough.

“And yours will grow, and haply I,

Revisiting this shore,

In years to come will see and sigh

You are a child no more.

“Yours then will be the moil, the heat,

Yours be the strain and stress.

Pray Heaven Love then attend your feet

To make life’s burden less.”

Thus as I spoke, with steadfast stare

She clung between the two,

Scarce understanding, yet aware

That the sad words were true.

Down from the mother’s face a tear

Fell to her naked feet.

“But now unto the Signor, dear,

Your poesy repeat.”

Without demur the little maid

Spread out her palms, and lo!

From lips that lisped, yet unafraid,

Sweet verse began to flow.

She told the story that we all

Learn at our mother’s knee,

Of Eve’s transgression, Adam’s fall,

And Heaven’s great clemency:

How Jesus was by Mary’s hands

In the rough manger laid,

And by rich Kings from far-off lands

Was pious homage paid:

Then how, though cruel Herod slew

The suckling babes, and thought

To baffle God, Christ lived and grew,

And in the temple taught.

She raised her hands to suit the rhyme,

She clasped them on her heart;

There never lived the city mime

So well had played the part.

When she broke off, I was too choked

With tenderness to speak.

And so her little form I stroked,

And kissed her on the cheek;

And took a sweetmeat that I had,

And put it in her mouth.

O then she danced like a stream that’s glad

When it hurries to the south.

She danced, she skipped, she kissed “good-bye,”

She frolicked round and round:

The pair resumed their packs, and I

Sate rooted to the ground.

“A rivederla!” Then the three

Went winding up the hill.

Ah! they have long forgotten me;

But I remember still.


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