Bella Venezia

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    A Dream of Venice

    NUMB, half asleep, and dazed with whirl of wheels,
    And gasp of steam, and measured clank of chains,
    I heard a blithe voice break a sudden pause,
    Ringing familiarly through the lamp-lit night,
    “Wife, here's your Venice!”
    I was lifted down,
    And gazed about in stupid wonderment,
    Holding my little Katie by the hand—
    My yellow-haired step-daughter. And again
    Two strong arms led me to the water-brink,
    And laid me on soft cushions in a boat,—
    A queer boat, by a queerer boatman manned—
    Swarthy-faced, ragged, with a scarlet cap—
    Whose wild, weird note smote shrilly through the dark.
    Oh yes, it was my Venice! Beautiful,
    With melancholy, ghostly beauty—old,
    And sorrowful, and weary—yet so fair,
    So like a queen still, with her royal robes,
    Full of harmonious colour, rent and worn!
    I only saw her shadow in the stream,
    By flickering lamplight,—only saw, as yet,
    White, misty palace-portals here and there,
    Pillars, and marble steps, and balconies,
    Along the broad line of the Grand Canal;
    And, in the smaller water-ways, a patch
    Of wall, or dim bridge arching overhead.
    But I could feel the rest. 'Twas Venice!—ay,
    The veritable Venice of my dreams.

    I saw the grey dawn shimmer down the stream,
    And all the city rise, new bathed in light,
    With rose-red blooms on her decaying walls,
    And gold tints quivering up her domes and spires—
    Sharp-drawn, with delicate pencillings, on a sky
    Blue as forget-me-nots in June. I saw
    The broad day staring in her palace-fronts,
    Pointing to yawning gap and crumbling boss,
    And colonnades, time-stained and broken, flecked
    With soft, sad, dying colours—sculpture-wreathed,
    And gloriously proportioned; saw the glow
    Light up her bright, harmonious, fountain'd squares,
    And spread out on her marble steps, and pass
    Down silent courts and secret passages,
    Gathering up motley treasures on its way;—

    Groups of rich fruit from the Rialto mart,
    Scarlet and brown and purple, with green leaves—
    Fragments of exquisite carving, lichen-grown,
    Found, 'mid pathetic squalor, in some niche
    Where wild, half-naked urchins lived and played—
    A bright robe, crowned with a pale, dark-eyed face—
    A red-striped awning 'gainst an old grey wall—
    A delicate opal gleam upon the tide.

    I looked out from my window, and I saw
    Venice, my Venice, naked in the sun—
    Sad, faded, and unutterably forlorn!—
    But still unutterably beautiful.

    For days and days I wandered up and down—
    Holding my breath in awe and ecstasy,—
    Following my husband to familiar haunts,
    Making acquaintance with his well-loved friends,
    Whose faces I had only seen in dreams
    And books and photographs and his careless talk.
    For days and days—with sunny hours of rest
    And musing chat, in that cool room of ours,
    Paved with white marble, on the Grand Canal;
    For days and days—with happy nights between,
    Half-spent, while little Katie lay asleep
    Out on the balcony, with the moon and stars.

    O Venice, Venice!—with thy water-streets—
    Thy gardens bathed in sunset, flushing red
    Behind San Giorgio Maggiore's dome—
    Thy glimmering lines of haughty palaces
    Shadowing fair arch and column in the stream—
    Thy most divine cathedral, and its square,
    With vagabonds and loungers daily thronged,
    Taking their ice, their coffee, and their ease—
    Thy sunny campo's, with their clamorous din,
    Their shrieking vendors of fresh fish and fruit—
    Thy churches and thy pictures—thy sweet bits
    Of colour—thy grand relics of the dead—
    Thy gondoliers and water-bearers—girls
    With dark, soft eyes, and creamy faces, crowned
    With braided locks as bright and black as jet—
    Wild ragamuffins, picturesque in rags,
    And swarming beggars and old witch-like crones,
    And brown-cloaked contadini, hot and tired,
    Sleeping, face-downward, on the sunny steps—
    Thy fairy islands floating in the sun—
    Thy poppy-sprinkled, grave-strewn Lido shore—

    Thy poetry and thy pathos—all so strange!—
    Thou didst bring many a lump into my throat,
    And many a passionate thrill into my heart,
    And once a tangled dream into my head.

    'Twixt afternoon and evening. I was tired;
    The air was hot and golden—not a breath
    Of wind until the sunset—hot and still.
    Our floor was water-sprinkled; our thick walls
    And open doors and windows, shadowed deep
    With jalousies and awnings, made a cool
    And grateful shadow for my little couch.
    A subtle perfume stole about the room
    From a small table, piled with purple grapes,
    And water-melon slices, pink and wet,
    And ripe, sweet figs, and golden apricots,
    New-laid on green leaves from our garden—leaves
    Wherewith an antique torso had been clothed.
    My husband read his novel on the floor,
    Propped up on cushions and an Indian shawl;
    And little Katie slumbered at his feet,
    Her yellow curls alight, and delicate tints
    Of colour in the white folds of her frock.
    I lay, and mused, in comfort and at ease,
    Watching them both and playing with my thoughts;
    And then I fell into a long, deep sleep,
    And dreamed.
    I saw a water-wilderness—
    Islands entangled in a net of streams—
    Cross-threads of rippling channels, woven through
    Bare sands, and shallows glimmering blue and broad—
    A line of white sea-breakers far away.
    There came a smoke and crying from the land—
    Ruin was there, and ashes, and the blood
    Of conquered cities, trampled down to death.
    But here, methought, amid these lonely gulfs,
    There rose up towers and bulwarks, fair and strong,
    Lapped in the silver sea-mists;—waxing aye
    Fairer and stronger—till they seemed to mock
    The broad-based kingdoms on the mainland shore.
    I saw a great fleet sailing in the sun,
    Sailing anear the sand-slip, whereon broke
    The long white wave-crests of the outer sea,—
    Pepin of Lombardy, with his warrior hosts—
    Following the bloody steps of Attila!
    I saw the smoke rise when he touched the towns
    That lay, outposted, in his ravenous reach;

    Then, in their island of deep waters,* saw
    A gallant band defy him to his face,
    And drive him out, with his fair vessels wrecked
    And charred with flames, into the sea again.
    “Ah, this is Venice!” I said proudly—“queen
    Whose haughty spirit none shall subjugate.”

    It was the night. The great stars hung, like globes
    Of gold, in purple skies, and cast their light
    In palpitating ripples down the flood
    That washed and gurgled through the silent streets—
    White-bordered now with marble palaces.
    It was the night. I saw a grey-haired man,
    Sitting alone in a dark convent-porch—
    In beggar's garments, with a kingly face,
    And eyes that watched for dawnlight anxiously—
    A weary man, who could not rest nor sleep.
    I heard him muttering prayers beneath his breath,
    And once a malediction—while the air
    Hummed with the soft, low psalm-chants from within.
    And then, as grey gleams yellowed in the east,
    I saw him bend his venerable head,
    Creep to the door, and knock.
    Again I saw
    The long-drawn billows breaking on the land,
    And galleys rocking in the summer noon.
    The old man, richly retinued, and clad
    In princely robes, stood there, and spread his arms,
    And cried, to one low-kneeling at his feet,
    “Take thou my blessing with thee, O my son!
    And let this sword, wherewith I gird thee, smite
    The impious tyrant-king, who hath defied,
    Dethroned, and exiled him who is as Christ.
    The Lord be good to thee, my son, my son,
    For thy most righteous dealing!”
    And again
    'Twas that long slip of land betwixt the sea
    And still lagoons of Venice—curling waves
    Flinging light, foamy spray upon the sand.
    The noon was past, and rose-red shadows fell
    Across the waters. Lo! the galleys came
    To anchorage again—and lo! the Duke
    Yet once more bent his noble head to earth,
    And laid a victory at the old man's feet,
    Praying a blessing with exulting heart.
    “This day, my well-belovèd, thou art blessed,
    And Venice with thee, for St. Peter's sake.

    And I will give thee, for thy bride and queen,
    The sea which thou hast conquered. Take this ring,
    As sign of her subjection, and thy right
    To be her lord for ever.”
    Once again
    I saw that old man,—in the vestibule
    Of St. Mark's fair cathedral,—circled round
    With cardinals and priests, ambassadors
    And the noblesse of Venice—richly robed
    In papal vestments, with the triple crown
    Gleaming upon his brows. There was a hush:—
    I saw a glittering train come sweeping on,
    From the blue water and across the square,
    Thronged with an eager multitude,—the Duke,
    And with him Barbarossa, humbled now,
    And fain to pray for pardon. With bare heads,
    They reached the church, and paused. The Emperor knelt,
    Casting away his purple mantle—knelt,
    And crept along the pavement, as to kiss
    Those feet, which had been weary twenty years
    With his own persecutions. And the Pope
    Lifted his white haired, crowned, majestic head,
    And trod upon his neck,—crying out to Christ,
    “Upon the lion and adder shalt thou go—
    The dragon shalt thou tread beneath thy feet!”
    The vision changed. Sweet incense-clouds rose up
    From the cathedral altar, mix'd with hymns
    And solemn chantings, o'er ten thousand heads;
    And ebbed and died away along the aisles.
    I saw a train of nobles—knights of France—
    Pass 'neath the glorious arches through the crowd,
    And stand, with halo of soft, coloured light
    On their fair brows—the while their leader's voice
    Rang through the throbbing silence like a bell.
    “Signiors, we come to Venice, by the will
    Of the most high and puissant lords of France,
    To pray you look with your compassionate eyes
    Upon the Holy City of our Christ—
    Wherein He lived, and suffered, and was lain
    Asleep, to wake in glory, for our sakes—
    By Paynim dogs dishonoured and defiled!
    Signiors, we come to you, for you are strong.
    The seas which lie betwixt that land and this
    Obey you. O have pity! See, we kneel—
    Our Masters bid us kneel—and bid us stay
    Here at your feet until you grant our prayers!”
    Wherewith the knights fell down upon their knees,

    And lifted up their supplicating hands.
    Lo! the ten thousand people rose as one,
    And shouted with a shout that shook the domes
    And gleaming roofs above them—echoing down,
    Through marble pavements, to the shrine below,
    Where lay the miraculous body of their Saint
    (Shed he not heavenly radiance as he heard?—
    Perfuming the damp air of his secret crypt),
    And cried, with an exceeding mighty cry,
    “We do consent! We will be pitiful!”
    The thunder of their voices reached the sea,
    And thrilled through all the netted water-veins
    Of their rich city. Silence fell anon,
    Slowly, with fluttering wings, upon the crowd;
    And then a veil of darkness.
    And again
    The filtered sunlight streamed upon those walls,
    Marbled and sculptured with divinest grace;
    Again I saw a multitude of heads,
    Soft-wreathed with cloudy incense, bent in prayer—
    The heads of haughty barons, armed knights,
    And pilgrims girded with their staff and scrip,
    The warriors of the Holy Sepulchre.
    The music died away along the roof;
    The hush was broken—not by him of France—
    By Enrico Dandolo, whose grey head
    Venice had circled with the ducal crown.
    The old man looked down, with his dim, wise eyes,
    Stretching his hands abroad, and spake. “Seigneurs,
    My children, see—your vessels lie in port
    Freighted for battle. And you, standing here,
    Wait but the first fair wind. The bravest hosts
    Are with you, and the noblest enterprise
    Conceived of man. Behold, I am grey-haired,
    And old and feeble. Yet am I your lord.
    And, if it be your pleasure, I will trust
    My ducal seat in Venice to my son,
    And be your guide and leader.”
    When they heard,
    They cried aloud, “In God's name, go with us!”
    And the old man, with holy weeping, passed
    Adown the tribune to the altar-steps;
    And, kneeling, fixed the cross upon his cap.
    A ray of sudden sunshine lit his face—
    The grand, grey, furrowed face—and lit the cross,
    Until it twinkled like a cross of fire.
    “We shall be safe with him,” the people said,

    Straining their wet, bright eyes; “and we shall reap
    Harvests of glory from our battle-fields!”

    Anon there rose a vapour from the sea—
    A dim white mist, that thickened into fog.
    The campanile and columns were blurred out,
    Cathedral domes and spires, and colonnades
    Of marble palaces on the Grand Canal.
    Joy-bells rang sadly and softly—far away;
    Banners of welcome waved like wind-blown clouds;
    Glad shouts were muffled into mournful wails.
    A Doge was come to be enthroned and crowned,—
    Not in the great Bucentaur—not in pomp;
    The water-ways had wandered in the mist,
    And he had tracked them, slowly, painfully,
    From San Clemente to Venice, in a frail
    And humble gondola. A Doge was come;
    But he, alas! had missed his landing-place,
    And set his foot upon the blood-stained stones
    Betwixt the blood-red columns. Ah, the sea—
    The bride, the queen—she was the first to turn
    Against her passionate, proud, ill-fated lord!

    Slowly the sea-fog melted, and I saw
    Long, limp dead bodies dangling in the sun.
    Two granite pillars towered on either side,
    And broad blue waters glittered at their feet.
    “These are the traitors,” said the people; “they
    Who, with our Lord the Duke, would overthrow
    The government of Venice.”
    And anon,
    The doors about the palace were made fast.
    A great crowd gathered round them, with hushed breath
    And throbbing pulses. And I knew their lord,
    The Duke Faliero, knelt upon his knees,
    On the broad landing of the marble stairs
    Where he had sworn the oath he could not keep—
    Vexed with the tyrannous oligarchic rule
    That held his haughty spirit netted in,
    And cut so keenly that he writhed and chafed
    Until he burst the meshes—could not keep!
    I watched and waited, feeling sick at heart;
    And then I saw a figure, robed in black—
    One of their dark, ubiquitous, supreme
    And fearful tribunal of Ten—come forth,
    And hold a dripping sword-blade in the air.
    “Justice has fallen on the traitor! See,
    His blood has paid the forfeit of his crime!”

    And all the people, hearing, murmured deep,
    Cursing their dead lord, and the council, too,
    Whose swift, sure, heavy hand had dealt his death.

    Then came the night, all grey and still and sad.
    I saw a few red torches flare and flame
    Over a little gondola, where lay
    The headless body of the traitor Duke,
    Stripped of his ducal vestments. Floating down
    The quiet waters, it passed out of sight,
    Bearing him to unhonoured burial.
    And then came mist and darkness.
    Lo! I heard
    The shrill clang of alarm-bells, and the wails
    Of men and women in the wakened streets.
    A thousand torches flickered up and down,
    Lighting their ghastly faces and bare heads;
    The while they crowded to the open doors
    Of all the churches—to confess their sins,
    To pray for absolution, and a last
    Lord's Supper—their viaticum, whose death
    Seemed near at hand—ay, nearer than the dawn.
    “Chioggia is fall'n!” they cried, “and we are lost!”

    Anon I saw them hurrying to and fro,
    With eager eyes and hearts and blither feet—
    Grave priests, with warlike weapons in their hands,
    And delicate women, with their ornaments
    Of gold and jewels for the public fund—
    Mix'd with the bearded crowd, whose lives were given,
    With all they had, to Venice in her need.
    No more I heard the wailing of despair,—
    But great Pisani's blithe word of command,
    The dip of oars, and creak of beams and chains,
    And ring of hammers in the arsenal.
    “Venice shall ne'er be lost!” her people cried—
    Whose names were worthy of the Golden Book—
    “Venice shall ne'er be conquered!”
    And anon
    I saw a scene of triumph—saw the Doge,
    In his Bucentaur, sailing to the land—
    Chioggia behind him blackened in the smoke,
    Venice before, all banners, bells, and shouts
    Of passionate rejoicing! Ten long months
    Had Genoa waged that war of life and death;
    And now—behold the remnant of her host,
    Shrunken and hollow-eyed and bound with chains—
    Trailing their galleys in the conqueror's wake!

    Once more the tremulous waters, flaked with light;
    A covered vessel, with an armèd guard—
    A yelling mob on fair San Giorgio's isle,
    And ominous whisperings in the city squares.
    Carrara's noble head bowed down at last,
    Beaten by many storms,—his golden spurs
    Caught in the meshes of a hidden snare!
    “O Venice!” I cried, “where is thy great heart
    And honourable soul?”
    And yet once more
    I saw her—the gay Sybaris of the world—
    The rich voluptuous city—sunk in sloth.
    I heard Napoleon's cannon at her gates,
    And her degenerate nobles cry for fear.
    I saw at last the great Republic fall—
    Conquered by her own sickness, and with scarce
    A noticeable wound—I saw her fall!
    And she had stood above a thousand years!
    O Carlo Zeno! O Pisani! Sure
    Ye turned and groaned for pity in your graves.
    I saw the flames devour her Golden Book
    Beneath the rootless “Tree of Liberty;”
    I saw the Lion's legend blotted out,
    For “rights of men”—unutterable wrongs!—
    Dandolo's brazen horses borne away—
    The venerable Bucentaur, with its wealth
    Of glorious recollections, broken up.
    I heard the riotous clamour; then the change
    To passionate minor cadence—then the sad
    And hopeless silence settle down; and then—
    I woke. The flickering water-gleam was gone
    From off the ceiling, and white snows of light
    Fell softly on the marble walls and floors,
    And on the yellow head of little Kate
    Musingly bent down from the balcony.
    The lapping of the tide—the dip of oars—
    The sad, sweet songs, and sadder city bells,
    Mellowly borne along the water-streets:—
    The swirl and ripple around lumbering keels
    Of heavy, slow, Rialto market-boats,
    Adown the broad and misty highway, lit
    With moonbeams and the far-strown light of lamps,
    Following the track of vanished gondolas:—
    The flutter of a fig-leaf in the wind,
    A faded fig-leaf, flapping faded walls,
    With faded, crumbling, delicate sculpture-crusts:—
    The voice of dreaming Katie crooning out

    A snatch of melody that the Austrian band
    Played in San Marco's Place some hours agone,
    While patriots, neath their shadowy colonnades,
    Sauntered, and shut their ears, and ate their hearts:—
    A measured footstep, pacing to and fro—
    The brush of two strong hands upon my brows—
    The tenor-music of dear English lips,
    Whispering, between two kisses, cheerily,
    “Wake up, my wife; Nina has brought our tea:”—
    These were the sounds that called me back to life.

    Rialto (Rivo alto)

    Ada Cambridge

    View 20 more comments

    1. Lilu26 47 months ago | reply

      Oh gosh soo much memories with this perfect picture !!!!

    2. michellefouineur 47 months ago | reply

      Bonjour, je suis un administrateur du groupe Belles photos., et nous aimerions beaucoup que vous ajoutiez votre photo à notre groupe.

    3. nina's clicks 47 months ago | reply

      So beautiful! Congratulations!

    4. Maureen Bond 46 months ago | reply

      one of the best shots I have seen in a very long time!

    5. pgford55 46 months ago | reply

      soo great. love it!!

    6. melcir.meri 45 months ago | reply

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    7. Miguelángel 45 months ago | reply

      Great photo, very beautiful and illustrative.

    8. TeusAraujo 43 months ago | reply

      absolute! *________* I loved *_*

    9. yiimisekiz 40 months ago | reply

      how beautiful...!

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    11. Niagara Moon 30 months ago | reply

      I saw your wonderful photo in this pool. ...

    12. oatjiro 29 months ago | reply

      Very impress both photo and your narration.

    13. kcezary 11 months ago | reply

      Beautiful capture :-)

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