Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, ITALIAN RHAPSODY, by ROBERT UNDERWOOD JOHNSON



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ITALIAN RHAPSODY, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Dear italy! The sound of thy soft name
Last Line: Oh, let me join the faithful shades that throng that fount above.
Subject(s): Italy; Italians


I

DEAR Italy! The sound of thy soft name
Soothes me with balm of Memory and Hope.
Mine, for the moment, height and sweep and slope
That once were mine. Supreme is still the aim
To flee the cold and gray
Of our December day,
And rest where thy clear spirit burns with unconsuming flame.

II

There are who deem remembered beauty best,
And thine, imagined, fairer is than sight
Of all the charms of other realms confessed,
Thou miracle of sea and land and light.
Was it lest, envying thee,
The world unhappy be,
Benignant Heaven gave to all the all-consoling Night?

III

Remembered beauty best? Who reason so?
Not lovers, yearning to the same dumb star
That doth disdain their passion -- who, afar,
Seek touch and voice in velvet winds and low.
No, storied Italy,
Not thine that heresy,
Thou who thyself art fairer far than Fancy e'er can show.

IV

To me thou art an ever-brooding spell;
An old enchantment, exorcised of wrong;
A beacon, whereagainst the wings of Song
Are bruised so, they cannot fly to tell;
A mistress, at whose feet
A myriad singers meet,
To find thy beauty the despair of measures full and sweet.

V

Of old, ere caste or custom froze the heart,
What tales of thine did Chaucer re-indite,--
Of Constance, and Griselda, and the plight
Of pure Cecilia, -- all with joyous art!

Oh, to have journeyed down
To Canterbury town,
And known, from lips that touched thy robe, that triad of renown!

VI

Fount of Romance whereat our Shakspere drank!
Through him the loves of all are linked to thee
By Romeo's ardor, Juliet's constancy.
He sets the peasant in the royal rank;
Shows under mask and paint
Kinship of knave and saint,
And plays on stolid man with Prospero's wand and Ariel's prank.

VII

Another English foster-child hadst thou
When Milton from the breast of thy delight
Drew inspiration. With a vestal's vow
He fed the flame caught from thy sacred light.
And when upon him lay
The long eclipse of day,
Thou wert the memory-hoarded treasure of his doomed sight.

VIII

Name me a poet who has trod thy soil;
He is thy lover, ever hastening back,
With thee forgetting weariness and toil,
The nightly sorrow for the daily lack.
How oft our lyric race
Looked last upon thy face!
Oh, would that I were worthy thus to die in thine embrace!

IX

Oh, to be kin to Keats, but as a part
Of the same Roman earth! -- to sleep, unknown,
Not far from Shelley of the virgin heart,
Where not one tomb is envious of a throne;
Where the proud pyramid,
To brighter glory bid,
Gives Cestius his longed-for fame, marking immortal Art.

X

Or, in loved Florence, to repose beside
Our trinity of singers! Fame enough
To neighbor lordly Landor, noble Clough,
And her, our later sibyl, sorrow-eyed.
Oh, tell me -- not their arts,
But their Italian hearts
Won for their dust that narrow oval, than the world more wide!

XI

So might I lie where Browning should have lain,
My "Italy" for all the world to read,
Like his on the palazzo. For thy pain
In losing from thy rosary that bead,
England accords thee room
Around his minster tomb --
A province conquered of thy soul, and not an Arab slain!

XII

Then take these lines, and add to them the lay,
All inarticulate, I to thee indite:
The sudden longing on the sunniest day,
The happy sighing in the stormiest night,
The tears of love that creep
From eyes unwont to weep,
Full with remembrance, blind with joy, and with devotion deep.

XIII

Absence from thee is such as men endure
Between the glad betrothal and the bride;
Or like the years that Youth, intense and sure,
From his ambition to his goal must bide.
And if no more I may
Mount to Fiesole ...
Oh, then were Memory meant for those to whom is Hope denied.

XIV

Show me a lover who hath drunk by night
Thy beauty-potion, as the grape the dew:
'T were little wonder he were poet too,
With wine of song in unexpected might,
While moonlit cloister calls
With plashy fountain-falls,
Or darkened Arno moves to music with its mirrored light.

XV

Who can withstand thee? What distress or care
But yields to Naples, or that long day-dream
We know as Venice, where alone more fair
Noon is than night; where every lapping stream
Wooes with a soft caress
Our new-world weariness,
And every ripple smiles with joy at sight of scene so rare.

XVI

The mystery of thy charm -- ah, who hath guessed?
'T was ne'er divined by day or shown in sleep;
Yet sometimes Music, floating from her steep,
Holds to our lips a chalice brimmed and blest:
Then know we that thou art
Of the Ideal part --
Of Man's one thirst that is not quenched, drink he howe'er so deep.

XVII

Thou human-hearted land, whose revels hold
Man in communion with the antique days,
And summon him from prosy greed to ways
Where Youth is beckoning to the Age of Gold;
How thou dost hold him near
And whisper in his ear
Of the lost Paradise that lies beyond the alluring haze!

XVIII

In tears I tossed my coin from Trevi's edge, --
A coin unsordid as a bond of love, --
And, with the instinct of the homing dove,
I gave to Rome my rendezvous and pledge.
And when imperious Death
Has quenched my flame of breath,
Oh, let me join the faithful shades that throng that fount above.





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