A Letter From Italy

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
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Alfred Austin

Alfred Austin DL was an English poet who was appointed Poet Laureate in 1896 upon the death of Alfred, Lord Tennyson. more…

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"A Letter From Italy" Poetry.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2019. Web. 22 Aug. 2019. <https://www.poetry.net/poem/638/a-letter-from-italy>.

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