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BARON GIOVANNI NICOTERA; SALERNO, 1858, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Salerno waits amid the heat
Last Line: I behold god in heaven, and strive.
Alternate Author Name(s): Hamilton-king, Harriet Eleanor
Subject(s): Courage; Italy - Revolutions; Nicotera, Baron Giovanni (1828-1894); Valor; Bravery

SALERNO waits amid the heat
Of August, for the words of doom.—
Nicotera and eighty men
Who followed him are here to meet
Award of justice:—it has come.
Follow, and hear the judgment, then.

Ergastolo—an evil name,
An evil thing, a hell on earth;
Wherein no whisper evermore
Of hope shall enter; nor the shame
Of stripes, and bonds, and brutal mirth,
Be loosed from life, till life is o'er.

The judge and prisoner, man to man,
Are met together;—silent one,
With fiery face that in its prime
Looks from the prison changed and wan;—
While speaks the other, having done
With life, and trembling at the time,

'My time is past: some new time wakes:—
I am an old man, I am weak,
I have not seen a face like yours;
And, looking on it, my heart breaks
For such a doom as I must speak:—
I know no heart of man endures

'Such things as are before you now.
I pray you, ere it be too late,
To seek some mercy, for the sake
Of those that love you, and to bow
Unto the world, and kings, and fate:—
You will not bend, but they can break.

'You that are helpless in their hands,
Keep your own heart, but speak some word
Of prayer for pardon, and submit
To that strong law which stays and stands
A rock above the waves unstirred,
While you are dashed to death on it,

'In vain, in vain;—and lives of those
That followed you are cast away.
For them, for you, there yet is grace
If you will have it.' The tears rose:
But answer made Nicotera,
Standing together face to face,—

'Domenico, I speak to you,
Not as the judge who serveth man,
But as the man who serveth God—
God who shall judge between us two:—
I say, I will not, if I can,
Retrace one step my feet have trod.

You serve your King, and it is well;
He hath not failed you at your need,
Not yet,—and you have royal grace.
We serve our God—and you can tell
Our wages:—and if this indeed
Were all, you have the better place.

'But we have not been desolate
Of such divinest comfortings
As hitherto have borne us up;
With one inspired Apostolate,
One trumpet-voice that round us rings,
One sanguine sacramental cup.

'And having heard and drunk, nowise
Can we but triumph, since God's light
Hath opened to us—Italy!
And hath unveiled before our eyes,
Far off, and unapproached, and bright,
His last dread angel, Liberty.

'The unseen, unborn face of one
Even as a mother cherisheth,
Who knoweth she shall live to bear
A living and most lovely son,
And yet must die before his breath
Upon her lips makes soft the air,—

'Though now we suffer for her sake,
Her living face we shall not see;
The throes are come, but not the birth.
For we no more shall writhe and wake,
And on our graves her foot shall be,
When she comes down to reign on earth.

All day the hammers fast and hard
Have riveted on feet and hands
The weight of irons they shall wear
Through the long dying, and the yard
With fettered pairs is filled, and stands
Nicotera amongst them there.

'For this that I have brought you to,
Children, forgive me ere we part;
A font of fire, a whole life's loss:
And yet I know that none of you
Forgiveth me, but in his heart
Blesseth me rather, for this cross.

'Through every hour of painful breath,
Henceforth our souls must carve their price:
Life's hope is past, life's purpose stays.
Better than life, better than death,
Is this the living sacrifice:
God keep us worthy all our days!

'The earliest martyrs, the unnamed
Saints, the forgotten rank and file
Of Christ's unconquered soldiery,
Under the same fierce suns that flamed
On the same bare and blasted isle,
Suffered in lifelong constancy.

'The same rocks echo the same clank
Of chains, the same taskmaster's stroke,
And grind of stone, and anvil's roar:
Ye go to drink the cup they drank;
And yet they live, their chains are broke,
Their martyrdom has long been o'er.

'God be with you! For me, they say,
I go, kept back for such a meed
As man's heart faileth him to see:
Therefore forget me not, but pray
The grace be greater than the need;
What matter, if God go with me!

'No darkness is so deep, but white
Wings of the angels through can pierce;
Nor any chain such heaps lies in
But God's own hand can hold it light;
Nor is there any flame so fierce
But Christ Himself can stand therein.'

The sunset comes; the guarded rank
Through thronging thousands of the town,
Gathered on window, roof, and door,
With heavy step, and ceaseless clank,
To the dark ship is passing down,
That waits to take them from the shore

Ah Saints, the bare and bleeding feet!
Ah Christ, the bruised and bleeding hands!
Ah God, the pallid faces there!
One low long sob goes through the street,
One passionate curse God understands,
One bitter agony of prayer.

A dream of liquid colour! lo,
The hills that slope into the sea
Range back from rose to violet,
And melting into indigo,
In farthest mountain mystery,
Upon the stainless East are set

The fishing-fleet at anchor-hold
Leans over, every purple barge,
Its purple shadow on the seas;
In sweeps of silver outward rolled,
Till points of pearl upon the marge
Set sail for the Hesperides.

Midway the Sirens' Islands mark
The blue and glassy wave that flows
And ebbs within their cavern-line;
Lying all cool and lovely-dark
Against the cloudless West that glows
Through depths of crimson crystalline.

But the black hull is closer moored
Against the white shore, motionless;
All round, the opal flood of light,
Beneath the great black shape obscured,
Quivers intenser;—is not this
The very gate of Heaven in sight?

Not yet, not yet! Another day.—
O, faithful hearts, take this for sign,
That as upon your agony,
With unmoved faces on their way,
Shine through the sunset the divine
Lights of Italia's shore and sea,—

Some day, hereafter, ye shall gaze
On them through other eyes than these
Of dry despair;—and happy tears
Suddenly break forth—'Are the days
Ended indeed? The skies and seas
Are passing. Past, with all the years.

The night has fallen suddenly;
A wind comes sighing from the seas;
And they are passed beyond our sight.
And none Nicotera shall see
Henceforth, though he went not with these
He who is shut from life and light.

For he who was their Chief and First,
Shall suffer chief and first of all.
Dark caverns of captivity
In many an isle they hold; and worst
Of any, rumour can recall,
Is Favignana's, out at sea.

They say Tiberius hollowed it,
The year that Christ from Calvary
Looked down, and said 'Forgive them, Lord.'
It lieth under water, lit
By such faint daylight shadowy
As down four hundred steps is poured;

Down in the heart of naked rock,
Below the seas that evermore
Sound through the dank and oozing walls;
The chains are rusted in the lock,
And on the rotting crusted floor
The centipede and scorpion crawls.

This legend on the tower above
Is carved: 'Si entra vivo, e
Si esce morto.' But Death waits:
And here Nicotera, for love
Of Italy, through night and day
Endures alone, and expiates.

O Master of the mighty hand
Who sealest sentence with a kiss,
So that thy doomsmen's hearts grow light,—
Is the word true? Shall the faith stand?
Is the work worth such woe as this?
Can the day recompense the night?

Thou sendest forth, and dost not spare,
Thy best to meet the tyrant's worst;
Thou sowest lives for Seed of Life.
O starry-stern through all despair,
Straight on thy course as at the first,
Where is thine anguish in this strife?

The live pain burneth like a lamp
Within thy dark eyes passionate,
It burneth to the soul away:
It saith, 'To me the dungeon-damp,
The last farewell, the felon's fate,
Were nothing:—I know more, and stay.

'Facing the foreseen doom ye know,
Through flesh and soul's extremity,
Fight on, and keep your hearts alive!
I have gone through where ye must go,
I have seen past the agony,
I behold God in Heaven, and strive.

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