Naples And Venice

Overlooking, overhearing, Naples and her subject bay,
Stands Camaldoli, the convent, shaded from the inclement ray.

Thou, who to that lofty terrace, lov'st on summer--eve to go,
Tell me, Poet! what Thou seest,--what Thou hearest, there below!

Beauty, beauty, perfect beauty! Sea and City, Hills and Air,
Rather blest imaginations than realities of fair.

Forms of grace alike contenting casual glance and stedfast gaze,
Tender lights of pearl and opal mingling with the diamond blaze.

Sea is but as deepen'd aether: white as snow--wreaths sunbeshone
Lean the Palaces and Temples green and purple heights upon.

Streets and paths mine eye is tracing, all replete with clamorous throng,
Where I see and where I see not, waves of uproar roll along.

As the sense of bees unnumber'd, burning through the walk of limes,--
As the thought of armies gathering round a chief in ancient times,--

So from Corso, Port, and Garden, rises Life's tumultuous strain,
Not secure from wildest utterance rests the perfect--crystal main.

Still the all--enclosing Beauty keeps my spirit free from harm,
Distance blends the veriest discords into some melodious charm.

--Overlooking, overhearing, Venice and her sister isles,
Stands the giant Campanile massive 'mid a thousand piles.

Thou who to this open summit lov'st at every hour to go,
Tell me, Poet! what Thou seest, what Thou hearest, there below.

Wonder, wonder, perfect wonder! Ocean is the City's moat;
On the bosom of broad Ocean seems the mighty weight to float:

Seems--yet stands as strong and stable as on land e'er city shall,--
Only moves that Ocean--serpent, tide--impelled the Great Canal.

Rich arcades and statued pillars, gleaming banners, burnished domes,--
Ships approaching,--ships departing,--countless ships in harbour--homes.

Yet so silent! scarce a murmur winged to reach this airy seat,
Hardly from the close Piazza rises sound of voice or feet.

Plash of oar or single laughter,--cry or song of Gondolier,--
Signals far between to tell me that the work of life is here.

Like a glorious maiden dreaming music in the drowsy heat,
Lies the City, unbetokening where its myriad pulses beat.

And I think myself in cloudland,--almost try my power of will,
Whether I can change the picture, or it must be Venice still.

When the question wakes within me, which hath won the crown of deed,
Venice with her moveless silence, Naples with her noisy speed?

Which hath writ the goodlier tablet for the past to hoard and show,
Venice in her student stillness, Naples in her living glow?

Here are Chronicles with virtues studded as the night with stars,--
Records there of passions raging through a wilderness of wars:

There a tumult of Ambitions, Power afloat on blood and tears,--
Here one simple reign of Wisdom stretching thirteen hundred years:

Self--subsisting, self--devoted, there the moment's Hero ruled,--
Here the State, each one subduing, pride enchained and passion schooled:

Here was Art the nation's mistress, Art of colour, Art of stone--
There before the leman Pleasure bowed the people's soul alone.

Venice! vocal is thy silence, can our soul but rightly hear;
Naples! dumb as death thy voices, listen we however near.

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