Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Canto the Fourth
1 I stood in Venice,
on the Bridge of Sighs;
2 A palace and a prison on each hand:
3 I saw from out the wave her structures rise
4 As from the stroke of the enchanter's wand:
5 A thousand years their cloudy wings expand
6 Around me, and a dying Glory smiles
7 O'er the far times, when many a subject land
8 Look'd to the winged Lion's marble piles,
9 Where Venice sate in state, thron'd on her hundred isles!
10 She looks a sea Cybele, fresh
11 Rising with her tiara of proud towers
12 At airy distance, with majestic motion,
13 A ruler of the waters and their powers:
14 And such she was; her daughters had their dowers
15 From spoils of nations, and the exhaustless East
16 Pour'd in her lap all gems in sparkling showers.
17 In purple was she rob'd, and of her feast
18 Monarchs partook, and deem'd their dignity increas'd.
19 In Venice Tasso's echoes are
20 And silent rows the songless gondolier;
21 Her palaces are crumbling to the shore,
22 And music meets not always now the ear:
23 Those days are gone--but Beauty still is here.
24 States fall, arts fade--but Nature doth not die,
25 Nor yet forget how Venice once was dear,
26 The pleasant place of all festivity,
27 The revel of the earth, the masque of Italy!
28 But unto us she hath a spell
29 Her name in story, and her long array
30 Of mighty shadows, whose dim forms despond
31 Above the dogeless city's vanish'd sway;
32 Ours is a trophy which will not decay
33 With the Rialto; Shylock and the Moor,
34 And Pierre, cannot be swept or worn away--
35 The keystones of the arch! though all were o'er,
36 For us repeopl'd were the solitary shore.
37 The beings of the mind are not
38 Essentially immortal, they create
39 And multiply in us a brighter ray
40 And more belov'd existence: that which Fate
41 Prohibits to dull life, in this our state
42 Of mortal bondage, by these spirits supplied,
43 First exiles, then replaces what we hate;
44 Watering the heart whose early flowers have died,
45 And with a fresher growth replenishing the void.
46 Such is the refuge of our youth
47 The first from Hope, the last from Vacancy;
48 And this worn feeling peoples many a page,
49 And, maybe, that which grows beneath mine eye:
50 Yet there are things whose strong reality
51 Outshines our fairy-land; in shape and hues
52 More beautiful than our fantastic sky,
53 And the strange constellations which the Muse
54 O'er her wild universe is skilful to diffuse:
55 I saw or dream'd of such--but
let them go;
56 They came like truth--and disappear'd like dreams;
57 And whatsoe'er they were--are now but so:
58 I could replace them if I would; still teems
59 My mind with many a form which aptly seems
60 Such as I sought for, and at moments found;
61 Let these too go--for waking Reason deems
62 Such overweening fantasies unsound,
63 And other voices speak, and other sights surround.
64 I've taught me other tongues,
and in strange eyes
65 Have made me not a stranger; to the mind
66 Which is itself, no changes bring surprise;
67 Nor is it harsh to make, nor hard to find
68 A country with--ay, or without mankind;
69 Yet was I born where men are proud to be--
70 Not without cause; and should I leave behind
71 The inviolate island of the sage and free,
72 And seek me out a home by a remoter sea,
73 Perhaps I lov'd it well: and
should I lay
74 My ashes in a soil which is not mine,
75 My spirit shall resume it--if we may
76 Unbodied choose a sanctuary. I twine
77 My hopes of being remember'd in my line
78 With my land's language: if too fond and far
79 These aspirations in their scope incline,
80 If my fame should be, as my fortunes are,
81 Of hasty growth and blight, and dull Oblivion bar
82 My name from out the temple where
83 Are honour'd by the nations--let it be--
84 And light the laurels on a loftier head!
85 And be the Spartan's epitaph on me--
86 "Sparta hath many a worthier son than he."
87 Meantime I seek no sympathies, nor need;
88 The thorns which I have reap'd are of the tree
89 I planted: they have torn me, and I bleed:
90 I should have known what fruit would spring from such a seed.
91 The spouseless Adriatic mourns
92 And annual marriage now no more renew'd,
93 The Bucentaur lies rotting unrestor'd,
94 Neglected garment of her widowhood!
95 St. Mark yet sees his lion where he stood
96 Stand, but in mockery of his wither'd power,
97 Over the proud Place where an Emperor sued,
98 And monarchs gaz'd and envied in the hour
99 When Venice was a queen with an unequall'd dower.
100 The Suabian sued, and now the Austrian reigns--
101 An Emperor tramples where an Emperor knelt;
102 Kingdoms are shrunk to provinces, and chains
103 Clank over sceptred cities, nations melt
104 From power's high pinnacle, when they have felt
105 The sunshine for a while, and downward go
106 Like lauwine loosen'd from the mountain's belt:
107 Oh, for one hour of blind old Dandolo,
108 Th' octogenarian chief, Byzantium's conquering foe!
109 Before St. Mark still glow his steeds of
110 Their gilded collars glittering in the sun;
111 But is not Doria's menace come to pass?
112 Are they not bridled?--Venice, lost and won,
113 Her thirteen hundred years of freedom done,
114 Sinks, like a sea-weed, into whence she rose!
115 Better be whelm'd beneath the waves, and shun,
116 Even in destruction's depth, her foreign foes,
117 From whom submission wrings an infamous repose.
118 In youth she was all glory, a new Tyre,
119 Her very by-word sprung from victory,
120 The "Planter of the Lion," which through fire
121 And blood she bore o'er subject earth and sea;
122 Though making many slaves, herself still free,
123 And Europe's bulwark 'gainst the Ottomite;
124 Witness Troy's rival, Candia! Vouch it, ye
125 Immortal waves that saw Lepanto's fight!
126 For ye are names no time nor tyranny can blight.
127 Statues of glass--all shiver'd--the long
128 Of her dead Doges are declin'd to dust;
129 But where they dwelt, the vast and sumptuous pile
130 Bespeaks the pageant of their splendid trust;
131 Their sceptre broken, and their sword in rust,
132 Have yielded to the stranger: empty halls,
133 Thin streets, and foreign aspects, such as must
134 Too oft remind her who and what enthralls,
135 Have flung a desolate cloud o'er Venice' lovely walls.
136 When Athens' armies fell at Syracuse,
137 And fetter'd thousands bore the yoke of war,
138 Redemption rose up in the Attic Muse,
139 Her voice their only ransom from afar:
140 See! as they chant the tragic hymn, the car
141 Of the o'ermaster'd victor stops, the reins
142 Fall from his hands--his idle scimitar
143 Starts from its belt--he rends his captive's chains,
144 And bids him thank the bard for freedom and his strains.
145 Thus, Venice! if no stronger claim were
146 Were all thy proud historic deeds forgot,
147 Thy choral memory of the Bard divine,
148 Thy love of Tasso, should have cut the knot
149 Which ties thee to thy tyrants; and thy lot
150 Is shameful to the nations--most of all,
151 Albion, to thee: the Ocean queen should not
152 Abandon Ocean's children; in the fall
153 Of Venice think of thine, despite thy watery wall.
154 I loved her from my boyhood; she to me
155 Was as a fairy city of the heart,
156 Rising like water-columns from the sea,
157 Of joy the sojourn, and of wealth the mart;
158 And Otway, Radcliffe, Schiller, Shakespeare's art,
159 Had stamp'd her image in me, and even so,
160 Although I found her thus, we did not part;
161 Perchance even dearer in her day of woe,
162 Than when she was a boast, a marvel, and a show....
to Byron: Selected Poetry