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[Pg 400]


Da poi che sotto 'l ciel cosa non vidi.

When all beneath the ample cope of heaven
I saw, like clouds before the tempest driven,
In sad vicissitude's eternal round,
Awhile I stood in holy horror bound;
And thus at last with self-exploring mind,
Musing, I ask'd, "What basis I could find
To fix my trust?" An inward voice replied,
"Trust to the Almighty: He thy steps shall guide;
He never fails to hear the faithful prayer,
But worldly hope must end in dark despair.
Now, what I am, and what I was, I know;
I see the seasons in procession go
With still increasing speed; while things to come,
Unknown, unthought, amid the growing gloom
Of long futurity, perplex my soul,
While life is posting to its final goal.
Mine is the crime, who ought with clearer light
To watch the winged years' incessant flight;
And not to slumber on in dull delay
Till circling seasons bring the doomful day.
But grace is never slow in that, I trust,
To wake the mind, before I sink to dust,
With those strong energies that lift the soul
To scenes unhoped, unthought, above the pole.
While thus I ponder'd, soon my working thought
Once more that ever-changing picture brought
Of sublunary things before my view,
And thus I question'd with myself anew:—
"What is the end of this incessant flight
Of life and death, alternate day and night?
When will the motion on these orbs impress'd
Sink on the bosom of eternal rest?"
At once, as if obsequious to my will,
Another prospect shone, unmoved and still;
Eternal as the heavens that glow'd above,
A wide resplendent scene of light and love.
The wheels of Phœbus from the zodiac turn'd;
No more the nightly constellations burn'd;
Green earth and undulating ocean roll'd
Away, by some resistless power controll'd;
[Pg 401]Immensity conceived, and brought to birth
A grander firmament, and more luxuriant earth.
What wonder seized my soul when first I view'd
How motionless the restless racer stood,
Whose flying feet, with winged speed before,
Still mark'd with sad mutation sea and shore.
No more he sway'd the future and the past,
But on the moveless present fix'd at last;
As at a goal reposing from his toils,
Like earth unclothed of all its vernal foils.
Unvaried scene! where neither change nor fate,
Nor care, nor sorrow, can our joys abate;
Nor finds the light of thought resistance here,
More than the sunbeams in a crystal sphere.
But no material things can match their flight,
In speed excelling far the race of light.
Oh! what a glorious lot shall then be mine
If Heaven to me these nameless joys assign!
For there the sovereign good for ever reigns,
Nor evil yet to come, nor present pains;
No baleful birth of time its inmates fear,
That comes, the burthen of the passing year;
No solar chariot circles through the signs,
And now too near, and now too distant, shines;
To wretched man and earth's devoted soil
Dispensing sad variety of toil.
Oh! happy are the blessed souls that sing
Loud hallelujahs in eternal ring!
Thrice happy he, who late, at last shall find
A lot in the celestial climes assign'd!
He, led by grace, the auspicious ford explores,
Where, cross the plains, the wintry torrent roars;
That troublous tide, where, with incessant strife,
Weak mortals struggle through, and call it life.
In love with Vanity, oh, doubly blind
Are they that final consolation find
In things that fleet on dissolution's wing,
Or dance away upon the transient ring
Of seasons, as they roll.
No sound they hear
From that still voice that Wisdom's sons revere;
No vestment they procure to keep them warm
Against the menace of the wintry storm;
[Pg 402]But all exposed, in naked nature lie,
A shivering crowd beneath the inclement sky,
Of reason void, by every foe subdued,
Self-ruin'd, self-deprived of sovereign good;
Reckless of Him, whose universal sway,
Matter, and all its various forms, obey;
Whether they mix in elemental strife,
Or meet in married calm, and foster life.
His nature baffles all created mind,
In earth or heaven, to fathom, or to find.
One glimpse of glory on the saints bestow'd,
With eager longings fills the courts of God
For deeper views, in that abyss of light,
While mortals slumber here, content with night:
Though nought, we find, below the moon, can fill
The boundless cravings of the human will.
And yet, what fierce desire the fancy wings
To gain a grasp of perishable things;
Although one fleeting hour may scatter far
The fruit of many a year's corroding care;
Those spacious regions where our fancies roam,
Pain'd by the past, expecting ills to come,
In some dread moment, by the fates assign'd,
Shall pass away, nor leave a rack behind;
And Time's revolving wheels shall lose at last
The speed that spins the future and the past;
And, sovereign of an undisputed throne,
Awful eternity shall reign alone.
Then every darksome veil shall fleet away
That hides the prospects of eternal day:
Those cloud-born objects of our hopes and fears,
Whose air-drawn forms deluded memory bears
As of substantial things, away so fast
Shall fleet, that mortals, at their speed aghast,
Watching the change of all beneath the moon,
Shall ask, what once they were, and will be soon?
The time will come when every change shall cease,
This quick revolving wheel shall rest in peace:
No summer then shall glow, nor winter freeze;
Nothing shall be to come, and nothing past,
But an eternal now shall ever last.
Though time shall be no more, yet space shall give
A nobler theatre to love and live
[Pg 403]The wingèd courier then no more shall claim
The power to sink or raise the notes of Fame,
Or give its glories to the noontide ray:
True merit then, in everlasting day,
Shall shine for ever, as at first it shone
At once to God and man and angels known.
Happy are they who in this changing sphere
Already have begun the bright career
That reaches to the goal which, all in vain,
The Muse would blazon in her feeble strain:
But blest above all other blest is he
Who from the trammels of mortality,
Ere half the vital thread ran out, was free,
Mature for Heaven; where now the matchless fair
Preserves those features, that seraphic air,
And all those mental charms that raised my mind,
To judge of heaven while yet on earth confined.
That soft attractive glance that won my heart
When first my bosom felt unusual smart,
Now beams, now glories, in the realms above,
Fed by the eternal source of light and love.
Then shall I see her as I first beheld,
But lovelier far, and by herself excell'd;
And I distinguish'd in the bands above
Shall hear this plaudit in the choirs of love:—
"Lo! this is he who sung in mournful strains
For many years a lover's doubts and pains;
Yet in this soul-expanding, sweet employ,
A sacred transport felt above all vulgar joy.
She too shall wonder at herself to hear
Her praises ring around the radiant sphere:
But of that hour it is not mine to know;
To her, perhaps, the period of my woe
Is manifest; for she my fate may find
In the pure mirror of the eternal mind.
To me it seems at hand a sure presage,
Denotes my rise from this terrestrial stage;
Then what I gain'd and lost below shall lie
Suspended in the balance of the sky,
And all our anxious sublunary cares
Shall seem one tissue of Arachne's snares;
[Pg 404]And all the lying vanities of life,
The sordid source of envy, hate, and strife,
Ignoble as they are, shall then appear
Before the searching beam of truth severe;
Then souls, from sense refined, shall see the fraud
That led them from the living way of God.
From the dark dungeon of the human breast
All direful secrets then shall rise confess'd,
In honour multiplied—a dreadful show
To hierarchies above, and saints below.
Eternal reason then shall give her doom;
And, sever'd wide, the tenants of the tomb
Shall seek their portions with instinctive haste,
Quick as the savage speeds along the waste.
Then shall the golden hoard its trust betray,
And they, that, mindless of that dreadful day,
Boasted their wealth, its vanity shall know
In the dread avenue of endless woe:
While they whom moderation's wholesome rule
Kept still unstain'd in Virtue's heavenly school,
Who the calm sunshine of the soul beneath
Enjoy'd, will share the triumph of the Faith.
These pageants five the world and I beheld,
The sixth and last, I hope, in heaven reveal'd
(If Heaven so will), when Time with speedy hand
The scene despoils, and Death's funereal wand
The triumph leads.
But soon they both shall fall
Under that mighty hand that governs all,
While they who toil for true renown below,
Whom envious Time and Death, a mightier foe,
Relentless plunged in dark oblivion's womb,
When virtue seem'd to seek the silent tomb,
Spoil'd of her heavenly charms once more shall rise,
Regain their beauty, and assert the skies;
Leaving the dark sojourn of time beneath,
And the wide desolated realms of Death.
But she will early seek these glorious bounds,
Whose long-lamented fall the world resounds
In unison with me.
And heaven will view
That awful day her heavenly charms renew,
[Pg 405]When soul with body joins.
Gebenna's strand
Saw me enroll'd in Love's devoted band,
And mark'd my toils through many hard campaigns
And wounds, whose scars my memory yet retains.
Blest is the pile that marks the hallow'd dust!—
There, at the resurrection of the just,
When the last trumpet with earth-shaking sound
Shall wake her sleepers from their couch profound;
Then, when that spotless and immortal mind
In a material mould once more enshrined,
With wonted charms shall wake seraphic love,
How will the beatific sight improve
Her heavenly beauties in the climes above!

[LINES 82-99.

Happy those souls who now are on their way,
Or shall hereafter, to attain that end,
Theme of my argument, come when it will;
And, 'midst the other fair, and fraught with grace,
Most happy she whom Death has snatch'd away,
On this side far the natural bound of life.
The angel manners then will clearly shine,
The meet and pure discourse, the chasten'd thought,
Which nature planted in her youthful breast.
Unnumber'd beauties, worn by time and death,
Shall then return to their best state of bloom;
And how thou hast bound me, love, will then be seen,
Whence I by every finger shall be shown!—
Behold who ever wept, and in his tears
Was happier far than others in their smiles!
And she, of whom I yet lamenting sing,
Shall wonder at her own transcendant charms,
Seeing herself far above all admired.

Poem by Francesco Petrarch
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