The Prophecy of Dante

by Lord Byron


Lady! if for the cold and cloudy clime
    Where I was born, but where I would not die,
    Of the great Poet-Sire of Italy
I dare to build the imitative rhyme,
Harsh Runic copy of the South's sublime,
    Thou art the cause; and howsoever I
    Fall short of his immortal harmony,
Thy gentle heart will pardon me the crime.
Thou, in the pride of Beauty and of Youth,
    Spakest; and for thee to speak and be obeyed
Are one; but only in the sunny South
    Such sounds are uttered, and such charms displayed,
So sweet a language from so fair a mouth —
    Ah! to what effort would it not persuade?

Ravenna, June 21, 1819.


In the course of a visit to the city of Ravenna in the summer of 1819, it was suggested to the author that having composed something on the subject of Tasso's confinement, he should do the same on Dante's exile, — the tomb of the poet forming one of the principal objects of interest in that city, both to the native and to the stranger.

"On this hint I spake," and the result has been the following four cantos, in terza rima, now offered to the reader. If they are understood and approved, it is my purpose to continue the poem in various other cantos to its natural conclusion in the present age. The reader is requested to suppose that Dante addresses him in the interval between the conclusion of the Divina Commedia and his death, and shortly before the latter event, foretelling the fortunes of Italy in general in the ensuing centuries. In adopting this plan I have had in my mind the Cassandra of Lycophron, and the Prophecy of Nereus by Horace, as well as the Prophecies of Holy Writ. The measure adopted is the terza rima of Dante, which I am not aware to have seen hitherto tried in our language, except it may be by Mr. Hayley, of whose translation I never saw but one extract, quoted in the notes to Caliph Vathek; so that — if I do not err — this poem may be considered as a metrical experiment. The cantos are short, and about the same length of those of the poet, whose name I have borrowed and most likely taken in vain.

Amongst the inconveniences of authors in the present day, it is difficult for any who have a name, good or bad, to escape translation. I have had the fortune to see the fourth canto of Childe Harold translated into Italian versi sciolti — that is, a poem written in the Spenserean stanza into blank verse, without regard to the natural divisions of the stanza or the sense. If the present poem, being on a national topic, should chance to undergo the same fate, I would request the Italian reader to remember that when I have failed in the imitation of his great "Padre Alighier," I have failed in imitating that which all study and few understand, since to this very day it is not yet settled what was the meaning of the allegory in the first canto of the Inferno, unless Count Marchetti's ingenious and probable conjecture may be considered as having decided the question.

He may also pardon my failure the more, as I am not quite sure that he would be pleased with my success, since the Italians, with a pardonable nationality, are particularly jealous of all that is left them as a nation — their literature; and in the present bitterness of the classic and romantic war, are but ill disposed to permit a foreigner even to approve or imitate them, without finding some fault with his ultramontone presumption. I can easily enter into all this, knowing what would be thought in England of an Italian imitator of Milton, or if a translation of Monti, Pindemonte, or Arici, should be held up to the rising generation as a model for their future poetical essays. But I perceive that I am deviating into an address to the Italian reader, where my business is with the English one; and be they few or many, I must take my leave of both.

Canto the First.

Once more in Man's frail world! which I had left
    So long that 'twas forgotten; and I feel
    The weight of day again, — too soon bereft
Of the Immortal Vision which could heal
    My earthly sorrows, and to God's own skies
    Lift me from that deep Gulf without repeal,
Where late my ears rung with the damnéd cries
    Of Souls in hopeless bale; and from that place
    Of lesser torment, whence men may arise
Pure from the fire to join the Angelic race;
    Midst whom my own bright Beatricē blessed
    My spirit with her light; and to the base
Of the Eternal Triad! first, last, best,
    Mysterious, three, sole, infinite, great God!
    Soul universal! led the mortal guest,
Unblasted by the Glory, though he trod
    From star to star to reach the almighty throne.
    Oh Beatricē! whose sweet limbs the sod
So long hath pressed, and the cold marble stone,
    Thou sole pure Seraph of my earliest love,
    Love so ineffable, and so alone,
That nought on earth could more my bosom move,
    And meeting thee in Heaven was but to meet
    That without which my Soul, like the arkless dove,
Had wandered still in search of, nor her feet
    Relieved her wing till found; without thy light
    My Paradise had still been incomplete.
Since my tenth sun gave summer to my sight
    Thou wert my Life, the Essence of my thought,
    Loved ere I knew the name of Love, and bright
Still in these dim old eyes, now overwrought
    With the World's war, and years, and banishment,
    And tears for thee, by other woes untaught;
For mine is not a nature to be bent
    By tyrannous faction, and the brawling crowd,
    And though the long, long conflict hath been spent
In vain, — and never more, save when the cloud
    Which overhangs the Apennine my mind's eye
    Pierces to fancy Florence, once so proud
Of me, can I return, though but to die,
    Unto my native soil, — they have not yet
    Quenched the old exile's spirit, stern and high.
But the Sun, though not overcast, must set
    And the night cometh; I am old in days,
    And deeds, and contemplation, and have met
Destruction face to face in all his ways.
    The World hath left me, what it found me, pure,
    And if I have not gathered yet its praise,
I sought it not by any baser lure;
    Man wrongs, and Time avenges, and my name
    May form a monument not all obscure,
Though such was not my Ambition's end or aim,
    To add to the vain-glorious list of those
    Who dabble in the pettiness of fame,
And make men's fickle breath the wind that blows
    Their sail, and deem it glory to be classed
    With conquerors, and Virtue's other foes,
In bloody chronicles of ages past.
    I would have had my Florence great and free;
    Oh Florence! Florence! unto me thou wast
Like that Jerusalem which the Almighty He
    Wept over, "but thou wouldst not;" as the bird
    Gathers its young, I would have gathered thee
Beneath a parent pinion, hadst thou heard
    My voice; but as the adder, deaf and fierce,
    Against the breast that cherished thee was stirred
Thy venom, and my state thou didst amerce,
    And doom this body forfeit to the fire.
    Alas! how bitter is his country's curse
To him who for that country would expire,
    But did not merit to expire by her,
    And loves her, loves her even in her ire.
The day may come when she will cease to err,
    The day may come she would be proud to have
    The dust she dooms to scatter, and transfer
Of him, whom she denied a home, the grave.
    But this shall not be granted; let my dust
    Lie where it falls; nor shall the soil which gave
Me breath, but in her sudden fury thrust
    Me forth to breathe elsewhere, so reassume
    My indignant bones, because her angry gust
Forsooth is over, and repealed her doom;
    No, — she denied me what was mine — my roof,
    And shall not have what is not hers — my tomb.
Too long her arméd wrath hath kept aloof
    The breast which would have bled for her, the heart
    That beat, the mind that was temptation proof,
The man who fought, toiled, travelled, and each part
    Of a true citizen fulfilled, and saw
    For his reward the Guelfs ascendant art
Pass his destruction even into a law.
    These things are not made for forgetfulness,
    Florence shall be forgotten first; too raw
The wound, too deep the wrong, and the distress
    Of such endurance too prolonged to make
    My pardon greater, her injustice less,
Though late repented; yet — yet for her sake
    I feel some fonder yearnings, and for thine,
    My own Beatricē, I would hardly take
Vengeance upon the land which once was mine,
    And still is hallowed by thy dust's return,
    Which would protect the murderess like a shrine,
And save ten thousand foes by thy sole urn.
    Though, like old Marius from Minturnæ's marsh
    And Carthage ruins, my lone breast may burn
At times with evil feelings hot and harsh,
    And sometimes the last pangs of a vile foe
    Writhe in a dream before me, and o'erarch
My brow with hopes of triumph, — let them go!
    Such are the last infirmities of those
    Who long have suffered more than mortal woe,
And yet being mortal still, have no repose
    But on the pillow of Revenge — Revenge,
    Who sleeps to dream of blood, and waking glows
With the oft-baffled, slakeless thirst of change,
    When we shall mount again, and they that trod
    Be trampled on, while Death and Até range
O'er humbled heads and severed necks — — Great God!
    Take these thoughts from me — to thy hands I yield
    My many wrongs, and thine Almighty rod
Will fall on those who smote me, — be my shield!
    As thou hast been in peril, and in pain,
    In turbulent cities, and the tented field —
In toil, and many troubles borne in vain
    For Florence, — I appeal from her to Thee!
    Thee, whom I late saw in thy loftiest reign,
Even in that glorious Vision, which to see
    And live was never granted until now,
    And yet thou hast permitted this to me.
Alas! with what a weight upon my brow
    The sense of earth and earthly things come back,
    Corrosive passions, feelings dull and low,
The heart's quick throb upon the mental rack,
    Long day, and dreary night; the retrospect
    Of half a century bloody and black,
And the frail few years I may yet expect
    Hoary and hopeless, but less hard to bear,
    For I have been too long and deeply wrecked
On the lone rock of desolate Despair,
    To lift my eyes more to the passing sail
    Which shuns that reef so horrible and bare;
Nor raise my voice — for who would heed my wail?
    I am not of this people, nor this age,
    And yet my harpings will unfold a tale
Which shall preserve these times when not a page
    Of their perturbéd annals could attract
    An eye to gaze upon their civil rage,
Did not my verse embalm full many an act
    Worthless as they who wrought it: 'tis the doom
    Of spirits of my order to be racked
In life, to wear their hearts out, and consume
    Their days in endless strife, and die alone;
    Then future thousands crowd around their tomb,
And pilgrims come from climes where they have known
    The name of him — who now is but a name,
    And wasting homage o'er the sullen stone,
Spread his — by him unheard, unheeded — fame;
    And mine at least hath cost me dear: to die
    Is nothing; but to wither thus — to tame
My mind down from its own infinity —
    To live in narrow ways with little men,
    A common sight to every common eye,
A wanderer, while even wolves can find a den,
    Ripped from all kindred, from all home, all things
    That make communion sweet, and soften pain —
To feel me in the solitude of kings
    Without the power that makes them bear a crown —
    To envy every dove his nest and wings
Which waft him where the Apennine looks down
    On Arno, till he perches, it may be,
    Within my all inexorable town,
Where yet my boys are, and that fatal She,
    Their mother, the cold partner who hath brought
    Destruction for a dowry — this to see
And feel, and know without repair, hath taught
    A bitter lesson; but it leaves me free:
    I have not vilely found, nor basely sought,
They made an Exile — not a Slave of me.

Canto the Second.

The Spirit of the fervent days of Old,
    When words were things that came to pass, and Thought
    Flashed o'er the future, bidding men behold
Their children's children's doom already brought
    Forth from the abyss of Time which is to be,
    The Chaos of events, where lie half-wrought
Shapes that must undergo mortality;
    What the great Seers of Israel wore within,
    That Spirit was on them, and is on me,
And if, Cassandra-like, amidst the din
    Of conflict none will hear, or hearing heed
    This voice from out the Wilderness, the sin
Be theirs, and my own feelings be my meed,
    The only guerdon I have ever known.
    Hast thou not bled? and hast thou still to bleed,
Italia? Ah! to me such things, foreshown
    With dim sepulchral light, bid me forget
    In thine irreparable wrongs my own;
We can have but one Country, and even yet
    Thou'rt mine — my bones shall be within thy breast,
    My Soul within thy language, which once set
With our old Roman sway in the wide West;
    But I will make another tongue arise
    As lofty and more sweet, in which expressed
The hero's ardour, or the lover's sighs,
    Shall find alike such sounds for every theme
    That every word, as brilliant as thy skies,
Shall realise a Poet's proudest dream,
    And make thee Europe's Nightingale of Song;
    So that all present speech to thine shall seem
The note of meaner birds, and every tongue
    Confess its barbarism when compared with thine.
    This shalt thou owe to him thou didst so wrong,
Thy Tuscan bard, the banished Ghibelline.
    Woe! woe! the veil of coming centuries
    Is rent, — a thousand years which yet supine
Lie like the ocean waves ere winds arise,
    Heaving in dark and sullen undulation,
    Float from Eternity into these eyes;
The storms yet sleep, the clouds still keep their station,
    The unborn Earthquake yet is in the womb,    41
    The bloody Chaos yet expects Creation,
But all things are disposing for thy doom;
    The Elements await but for the Word,
    "Let there be darkness!" and thou grow'st a tomb!
Yes! thou, so beautiful, shalt feel the sword,
    Thou, Italy! so fair that Paradise,
    Revived in thee, blooms forth to man restored:
Ah! must the sons of Adam lose it twice?
    Thou, Italy! whose ever golden fields,
    Ploughed by the sunbeams solely, would suffice
For the world's granary; thou, whose sky Heaven gilds
    With brighter stars, and robes with deeper blue;
    Thou, in whose pleasant places Summer builds
Her palace, in whose cradle Empire grew,
    And formed the Eternal City's ornaments
    From spoils of Kings whom freemen overthrew;
Birthplace of heroes, sanctuary of Saints,
    Where earthly first, then heavenly glory made
    Her home; thou, all which fondest Fancy paints,
And finds her prior vision but portrayed
    In feeble colours, when the eye — from the Alp
    Of horrid snow, and rock, and shaggy shade
Of desert-loving pine, whose emerald scalp
    Nods to the storm — dilates and dotes o'er thee,
    And wistfully implores, as 'twere, for help
To see thy sunny fields, my Italy,
    Nearer and nearer yet, and dearer still
    The more approached, and dearest were they free,
Thou — Thou must wither to each tyrant's will:
    The Goth hath been, — the German, Frank, and Hun
    Are yet to come, — and on the imperial hill
Ruin, already proud of the deeds done
    By the old barbarians, there awaits the new,
    Throned on the Palatine, while lost and won
Rome at her feet lies bleeding; and the hue
    Of human sacrifice and Roman slaughter
    Troubles the clotted air, of late so blue,
And deepens into red the saffron water
    Of Tiber, thick with dead; the helpless priest,
    And still more helpless nor less holy daughter,
Vowed to their God, have shrieking fled, and ceased
    Their ministry: the nations take their prey,
    Iberian, Almain, Lombard, and the beast
And bird, wolf, vulture, more humane than they
    Are; these but gorge the flesh, and lap the gore
    Of the departed, and then go their way;
But those, the human savages, explore
    All paths of torture, and insatiate yet,
    With Ugolino hunger prowl for more.
Nine moons shall rise o'er scenes like this and set;
    The chiefless army of the dead, which late
    Beneath the traitor Prince's banner met,
Hath left its leader's ashes at the gate;
    Had but the royal Rebel lived, perchance
    Thou hadst been spared, but his involved thy fate.
Oh! Rome, the Spoiler or the spoil of France,
    From Brennus to the Bourbon, never, never
    Shall foreign standard to thy walls advance,
But Tiber shall become a mournful river.
    Oh! when the strangers pass the Alps and Po,
    Crush them, ye Rocks! Floods whelm them, and for ever!
Why sleep the idle Avalanches so,
    To topple on the lonely pilgrim's head?
    Why doth Eridanus but overflow
The peasant's harvest from his turbid bed?
    Were not each barbarous horde a nobler prey?
    Over Cambyses' host the desert spread
Her sandy ocean, and the Sea-waves' sway
    Rolled over Pharaoh and his thousands, — why,
    Mountains and waters, do ye not as they?
And you, ye Men! Romans, who dare not die,
    Sons of the conquerors who overthrew
    Those who overthrew proud Xerxes, where yet lie
The dead whose tomb Oblivion never knew,
    Are the Alps weaker than Thermopylæ?
    Their passes more alluring to the view
Of an invader? is it they, or ye,
    That to each host the mountain-gate unbar,
    And leave the march in peace, the passage free?
Why, Nature's self detains the Victor's car,
    And makes your land impregnable, if earth
    Could be so; but alone she will not war,
Yet aids the warrior worthy of his birth
    In a soil where the mothers bring forth men:
    Not so with those whose souls are little worth;
For them no fortress can avail, — the den
    Of the poor reptile which preserves its sting
    Is more secure than walls of adamant, when
The hearts of those within are quivering.
    Are ye not brave? Yes, yet the Ausonian soil
    Hath hearts, and hands, and arms, and hosts to bring
Against Oppression; but how vain the toil,
    While still Division sows the seeds of woe
    And weakness, till the Stranger reaps the spoil.
Oh! my own beauteous land! so long laid low,
    So long the grave of thy own children's hopes,
    When there is but required a single blow
To break the chain, yet — yet the Avenger stops,
    And Doubt and Discord step 'twixt thine and thee,
    And join their strength to that which with thee copes;
What is there wanting then to set thee free,
    And show thy beauty in its fullest light?
    To make the Alps impassable; and we,
Her Sons, may do this with one deed — — Unite.

Canto the Third.

From out the mass of never-dying ill,
    The Plague, the Prince, the Stranger, and the Sword,
    Vials of wrath but emptied to refill
And flow again, I cannot all record
    That crowds on my prophetic eye: the Earth
    And Ocean written o'er would not afford
Space for the annal, yet it shall go forth;
    Yes, all, though not by human pen, is graven,
    There where the farthest suns and stars have birth,
Spread like a banner at the gate of Heaven,
    The bloody scroll of our millennial wrongs
    Waves, and the echo of our groans is driven
Athwart the sound of archangelic songs,
    And Italy, the martyred nation's gore,
    Will not in vain arise to where belongs
Omnipotence and Mercy evermore:
    Like to a harpstring stricken by the wind,
    The sound of her lament shall, rising o'er
The Seraph voices, touch the Almighty Mind.
    Meantime I, humblest of thy sons, and of
    Earth's dust by immortality refined
To Sense and Suffering, though the vain may scoff,
    And tyrants threat, and meeker victims bow
    Before the storm because its breath is rough,
To thee, my Country! whom before, as now,
    I loved and love, devote the mournful lyre
    And melancholy gift high Powers allow
To read the future: and if now my fire
    Is not as once it shone o'er thee, forgive!
    I but foretell thy fortunes — then expire;
Think not that I would look on them and live.
    A Spirit forces me to see and speak,
    And for my guerdon grants not to survive;
My Heart shall be poured over thee and break:
    Yet for a moment, ere I must resume
    Thy sable web of Sorrow, let me take
Over the gleams that flash athwart thy gloom
    A softer glimpse; some stars shine through thy night,
    And many meteors, and above thy tomb
Leans sculptured Beauty, which Death cannot blight:
    And from thine ashes boundless Spirits rise
To give thee honour, and the earth delight;
    Thy soil shall still be pregnant with the wise,
    The gay, the learned, the generous, and the brave,
Native to thee as Summer to thy skies,
    Conquerors on foreign shores, and the far wave,
    Discoverers of new worlds, which take their name;
    For thee alone they have no arm to save,
And all thy recompense is in their fame,
    A noble one to them, but not to thee —
    Shall they be glorious, and thou still the same?
Oh! more than these illustrious far shall be
    The Being — and even yet he may be born —
    The mortal Saviour who shall set thee free,
And see thy diadem, so changed and worn
    By fresh barbarians, on thy brow replaced;
    And the sweet Sun replenishing thy morn,
Thy moral morn, too long with clouds defaced,
    And noxious vapours from Avernus risen,
    Such as all they must breathe who are debased
By Servitude, and have the mind in prison.
    Yet through this centuried eclipse of woe
    Some voices shall be heard, and Earth shall listen;
Poets shall follow in the path I show,
    And make it broader: the same brilliant sky
    Which cheers the birds to song shall bid them glow,
And raise their notes as natural and high;
    Tuneful shall be their numbers; they shall sing
    Many of Love, and some of Liberty,
But few shall soar upon that Eagle's wing,
    And look in the Sun's face, with Eagle's gaze,
    All free and fearless as the feathered King,
But fly more near the earth; how many a phrase
    Sublime shall lavished be on some small prince
    In all the prodigality of Praise!
And language, eloquently false, evince
    The harlotry of Genius, which, like Beauty,
    Too oft forgets its own self-reverence,
And looks on prostitution as a duty.
    He who once enters in a Tyrant's hall
    As guest is slave — his thoughts become a booty,
And the first day which sees the chain enthral
    A captive, sees his half of Manhood gone —
    The Soul's emasculation saddens all
His spirit; thus the Bard too near the throne
    Quails from his inspiration, bound to please, —
    How servile is the task to please alone!
To smooth the verse to suit his Sovereign's ease
    And royal leisure, nor too much prolong
    Aught save his eulogy, and find, and seize,
Or force, or forge fit argument of Song!
    Thus trammelled, thus condemned to Flattery's trebles,
    He toils through all, still trembling to be wrong:
For fear some noble thoughts, like heavenly rebels,
    Should rise up in high treason to his brain,
    He sings, as the Athenian spoke, with pebbles
In's mouth, lest Truth should stammer through his strain.
    But out of the long file of sonneteers
    There shall be some who will not sing in vain,
And he, their Prince, shall rank among my peers,
    And Love shall he his torment; but his grief
    Shall make an immortality of tears,
And Italy shall hail him as the Chief
    Of Poet-lovers, and his higher song
    Of Freedom wreathe him with as green a leaf.
But in a farther age shall rise along
    The banks of Po two greater still than he;
    The World which smiled on him shall do them wrong
Till they are ashes, and repose with me.
    The first will make an epoch with his lyre,
    And fill the earth with feats of Chivalry:
His Fancy like a rainbow, and his Fire,
    Like that of Heaven, immortal, and his Thought
    Borne onward with a wing that cannot tire;
Pleasure shall, like a butterfly new caught,
    Flutter her lovely pinions o'er his theme,
    And Art itself seem into Nature wrought
By the transparency of his bright dream. —
    The second, of a tenderer, sadder mood,
    Shall pour his soul out o'er Jerusalem;
He, too, shall sing of Arms, and Christian blood
    Shed where Christ bled for man; and his high harp
    Shall, by the willow over Jordan's flood,
Revive a song of Sion, and the sharp
    Conflict, and final triumph of the brave
    And pious, and the strife of Hell to warp
Their hearts from their great purpose, until wave
    The red-cross banners where the first red Cross
    Was crimsoned from His veins who died to save,
Shall be his sacred argument; the loss
    Of years, of favour, freedom, even of fame
    Contested for a time, while the smooth gloss
Of Courts would slide o'er his forgotten name
    And call Captivity a kindness — meant
    To shield him from insanity or shame —
Such shall be his meek guerdon! who was sent
    To be Christ's Laureate — they reward him well!
    Florence dooms me but death or banishment,
Ferrara him a pittance and a cell,
    Harder to bear and less deserved, for I
    Had stung the factions which I strove to quell;
But this meek man who with a lover's eye
    Will look on Earth and Heaven, and who will deign
    To embalm with his celestial flattery,
As poor a thing as e'er was spawned to reign,
    What will he do to merit such a doom?
    Perhaps he'll love — and is not Love in vain
Torture enough without a living tomb?
    Yet it will be so — he and his compeer,
    The Bard of Chivalry, will both consume
In penury and pain too many a year,
    And, dying in despondency, bequeath
    To the kind World, which scarce will yield a tear,
A heritage enriching all who breathe
    With the wealth of a genuine Poet's soul,
    And to their country a redoubled wreath,
Unmatched by time; not Hellas can unroll
    Through her Olympiads two such names, though one
    Of hers be mighty; — and is this the whole
Of such men's destiny beneath the Sun?
    Must all the finer thoughts, the thrilling sense,
    The electric blood with which their arteries run,
Their body's self turned soul with the intense
    Feeling of that which is, and fancy of
    That which should be, to such a recompense
Conduct? shall their bright plumage on the rough
    Storm be still scattered? Yes, and it must be;
    For, formed of far too penetrable stuff,
These birds of Paradise but long to flee
    Back to their native mansion, soon they find
    Earth's mist with their pure pinions not agree,
And die or are degraded; for the mind
    Succumbs to long infection, and despair,
    And vulture Passions flying close behind,
Await the moment to assail and tear;
    And when, at length, the wingéd wanderers stoop,
    Then is the Prey-birds' triumph, then they share
The spoil, o'erpowered at length by one fell swoop.
    Yet some have been untouched who learned to bear,
    Some whom no Power could ever force to droop,
Who could resist themselves even, hardest care!
    And task most hopeless; but some such have been,
    And if my name amongst the number were,
That Destiny austere, and yet serene,
    Were prouder than more dazzling fame unblessed;
    The Alp's snow summit nearer heaven is seen
Than the Volcano's fierce eruptive crest,
    Whose splendour from the black abyss is flung,
    While the scorched mountain, from whose burning breast
A temporary torturing flame is wrung,
    Shines for a night of terror, then repels
    Its fire back to the Hell from whence it sprung,
The Hell which in its entrails ever dwells.

Canto the Fourth.

Many are Poets who have never penned
    Their inspiration, and perchance the best:
    They felt, and loved, and died, but would not lend
Their thoughts to meaner beings; they compressed
    The God within them, and rejoined the stars
    Unlaurelled upon earth, but far more blessed
Than those who are degraded by the jars
    Of Passion, and their frailties linked to fame,
    Conquerors of high renown, but full of scars.
Many are Poets but without the name;
    For what is Poesy but to create,
    From overfeeling, Good or Ill, and aim
At an external life beyond our fate,
    And be the new Prometheus of new men,
    Bestowing fire from Heaven, and then, too late,
Finding the pleasure given repaid with pain,
    And vultures to the heart of the bestower,
    Who, having lavished his high gift in vain,
Lies chained to his lone rock by the sea-shore?
    So be it: we can bear. — But thus all they
    Whose Intellect is an o'ermastering Power
Which still recoils from its encumbering clay
    Or lightens it to spirit, whatsoe'er
    The form which their creations may essay,
Are bards; the kindled Marble's bust may wear
    More poesy upon its speaking brow
    Than aught less than the Homeric page may bear;
One noble stroke with a whole life may glow,
    Or deify the canvass till it shine
    With beauty so surpassing all below,
That they who kneel to Idols so divine
    Break no commandment, for high Heaven is there
    Transfused, transfigurated: and the line
Of Poesy, which peoples but the air
    With Thought and Beings of our thought reflected,
    Can do no more: then let the artist share
The palm, he shares the peril, and dejected
    Faints o'er the labour unapproved — Alas!
    Despair and Genius are too oft connected.
Within the ages which before me pass
    Art shall resume and equal even the sway
    Which with Apelles and old Phidias
She held in Hellas' unforgotten day.
    Ye shall be taught by Ruin to revive
    The Grecian forms at least from their decay,
And Roman souls at last again shall live
    In Roman works wrought by Italian hands,
    And temples, loftier than the old temples, give
New wonders to the World; and while still stands
    The austere Pantheon, into heaven shall soar
    A Dome, its image, while the base expands
Into a fane surpassing all before,
    Such as all flesh shall flock to kneel in: ne'er
    Such sight hath been unfolded by a door
As this, to which all nations shall repair,
    And lay their sins at this huge gate of Heaven.
    And the bold Architect unto whose care
The daring charge to raise it shall be given,
    Whom all Arts shall acknowledge as their Lord,
    Whether into the marble chaos driven
His chisel bid the Hebrew, at whose word
    Israel left Egypt, stop the waves in stone,
    Or hues of Hell be by his pencil poured
Over the damned before the Judgement-throne,
    Such as I saw them, such as all shall see,
    Or fanes be built of grandeur yet unknown —
The Stream of his great thoughts shall spring from me
    The Ghibelline, who traversed the three realms
    Which form the Empire of Eternity.
Amidst the clash of swords, and clang of helms,
    The age which I anticipate, no less
    Shall be the Age of Beauty, and while whelms
Calamity the nations with distress,
    The Genius of my Country shall arise,
    A Cedar towering o'er the Wilderness,
Lovely in all its branches to all eyes,
    Fragrant as fair, and recognised afar,
    Wafting its native incense through the skies.
Sovereigns shall pause amidst their sport of war,
    Weaned for an hour from blood, to turn and gaze
    On canvass or on stone; and they who mar
All beauty upon earth, compelled to praise,
    Shall feel the power of that which they destroy;
    And Art's mistaken gratitude shall raise
To tyrants, who but take her for a toy,
    Emblems and monuments, and prostitute
    Her charms to Pontiffs proud, who but employ
The man of Genius as the meanest brute
    To bear a burthen, and to serve a need,
    To sell his labours, and his soul to boot.
Who toils for nations may be poor indeed,
    But free; who sweats for Monarchs is no more
    Than the gilt Chamberlain, who, clothed and feed,
Stands sleek and slavish, bowing at his door.
    Oh, Power that rulest and inspirest! how
    Is it that they on earth, whose earthly power
Is likest thine in heaven in outward show,
    Least like to thee in attributes divine,
    Tread on the universal necks that bow,
And then assure us that their rights are thine?
    And how is it that they, the Sons of Fame,
    Whose inspiration seems to them to shine
From high, they whom the nations oftest name,
    Must pass their days in penury or pain,
    Or step to grandeur through the paths of shame,
And wear a deeper brand and gaudier chain?
    Or if their Destiny be born aloof
    From lowliness, or tempted thence in vain,
In their own souls sustain a harder proof,
    The inner war of Passions deep and fierce?
    Florence! when thy harsh sentence razed my roof,
I loved thee; but the vengeance of my verse,
    The hate of injuries which every year
    Makes greater, and accumulates my curse,
Shall live, outliving all thou holdest dear —
    Thy pride, thy wealth, thy freedom, and even that,
    The most infernal of all evils here,
The sway of petty tyrants in a state;
    For such sway is not limited to Kings,
    And Demagogues yield to them but in date,
As swept off sooner; in all deadly things,
    Which make men hate themselves, and one another,
    In discord, cowardice, cruelty, all that springs
From Death the Sin-born's incest with his mother,
    In rank oppression in its rudest shape,
    The faction Chief is but the Sultan's brother,
And the worst Despot's far less human ape.
    Florence! when this lone spirit, which so long
    Yearned, as the captive toiling at escape,
To fly back to thee in despite of wrong,
    An exile, saddest of all prisoners,
    Who has the whole world for a dungeon strong,
Seas, mountains, and the horizon's verge for bars,
    Which shut him from the sole small spot of earth
    Where — whatsoe'er his fate — he still were hers,
His Country's, and might die where he had birth —
    Florence! when this lone Spirit shall return
    To kindred Spirits, thou wilt feel my worth,
And seek to honour with an empty urn
    The ashes thou shalt ne'er obtain — Alas!
    "What have I done to thee, my People?" Stern
Are all thy dealings, but in this they pass
    The limits of Man's common malice, for
    All that a citizen could be I was —
Raised by thy will, all thine in peace or war —
    And for this thou hast warred with me. — 'Tis done:
    I may not overleap the eternal bar
Built up between us, and will die alone,
    Beholding with the dark eye of a Seer
    The evil days to gifted souls foreshown,
Foretelling them to those who will not hear;
    As in the old time, till the hour be come
    When Truth shall strike their eyes through many a tear,
And make them own the Prophet in his tomb.

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