Rhymes on the Road - Extract 8. Venice

Thy brave, thy learned have passed away
Thy beautiful! — ah, where are they?
The forms, the faces that once shone,
Models of grace, in Titian's eye,
Where are they now, while flowers live on
In ruined places, why, oh! why
Must Beauty thus with Glory die?
That maid whose lips would still have moved.
Could art have breathed a spirit through them:
Whose varying charms her artist loved
More fondly every time he drew them,
(So oft beneath his touch they past,
Each semblance fairer than the last);
Wearing each shape that Fancy's range
Offers to Love — yet still the one
Fair idol seen thro' every change,
Like facets of some orient stone, —
In each the same bright image shown.
Sometimes a Venus, unarrayed
But in her beauty — sometimes deckt
In costly raiment, as a maid
That kings might for a throne select.
Now high and proud, like one who thought
The world should at her feet be brought;
Now with a look reproachful, sad, —
Unwonted look from brow so glad, —
And telling of a pain too deep
For tongue to speak or eyes to weep.
Sometimes thro' allegory's veil,
In double semblance seemed to shine,
Telling a strange and mystic tale
Of Love Profane and Love Divine —
Akin in features, but in heart
As far as earth and heaven apart.
Or else (by quaint device to prove
The frailty of all worldly love)
Holding a globe of glass as thin
As air-blown bubbles in her hand,
With a young Love confined therein,
Whose wings seem waiting to expand —
And telling by her anxious eyes
That if that frail orb break he flies.
Thou too with touch magnificent,
Paul of V ERONA ! — where are they?
The oriental forms that lent
Thy canvas such a bright array?
Noble and gorgeous dames whose dress
Seems part of their own loveliness:
Like the sun's drapery which at eve
The floating clouds around him weave
Of light they from himself receive!
Where is there now the living face
Like those that in thy nuptial throng
By their superb, voluptuous grace,
Make us forget the time, the place,
The holy guests they smile among, —
Till in that feast of heaven-sent wine
We see no miracles but thine.

If e'er, except in Painting's dream,
There bloomed such beauty here, 't is gone, —
Gone like the face that in the stream
Of Ocean for an instant shone,
When Venus at that mirror gave
A last look ere she left the wave.
And tho', among the crowded ways,
We oft are startled by the blaze
Of eyes that pass with fitful light,
Like fire-flies on the wing at night
'T is not that nobler beauty given
To show how angels look in heaven.
Even in its shape most pure and fair.
'T is Beauty with but half her zone,
All that can warm the sense is there,
But the Soul's deeper charm has flown: —
'T is R APHAEL'S Fornarina, — warm,
Luxuriant, arch, but unrefined;
A flower round which the noon-tide swarm
Of young Desires may buzz and wind,
But where true Love no treasure meets
Worth hoarding in his hive of sweets.

Ah no, — for this and for the hue
Upon the rounded cheek, which tells
How fresh within the heart this dew
Of love's unrifled sweetness dwells,
We must go back to our own Isles,
Where Modesty, which here but gives
A rare and transient grace to smiles,
In the heart's holy centre lives;
And thence as from her throne diffuses
O'er thoughts and looks so bland a reign,
That not a thought or feeling loses
Its freshness in that gentle chain.
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