Venice from Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage

Lord Byron, poet (1788-1824)

I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs;
A palace and a prison on each hand:

I saw from out the wave her structures rise

As from the stroke of the enchanter’s wand;
A thousand years their cloudy wings expand
Around me, and a dying glory smiles

O’er the far times when many a subject land

Looked to the wingéd’s Lion’s marble piles,

Where Venice sate in state, throned on her hundred isles!

She looks a sea Cybele, fresh from ocean,
Rising with her tiara of proud towers

At airy distance, with majestic motion,

A ruler of the waters and their powers.
And such she was; her daughters had their dowers
From spoils of nations, and the exhaustless
East
Poured in her lap all gems in sparkling showers.
In purple was she robed, and of her feast

Monarchs partook, and deemed their dignity increased.

In Venice Tasso’s echoes are no more,
And silent rows the songless gondolier;

Her palaces are crumbling to the shore,
And music meets not always now the ear:

Those days are gone, but beauty still is here.

States fall, arts fade, but Nature doth not die,

The pleasant place of all festivity,

The revel of the earth, the masque of Italy!

But unto us she hath a spell beyond
Her name in story, and her long array

Of mighty shadows, whose dim forms despond

Above the Dogeless city’s vanished sway:

Ours is a trophy which will not decay

With the Rialto; Shylock and the Moor,

And Pierre, cannot be swept or worn away,—
The keystones of the arch! though all were o’er,

For us repeopled were the solitary shore.

The beings of the mind are not of clay;
Essentially immortal, they create

And multiply in us a brighter ray
And more beloved existence: that which
Fate
Prohibits to dull life, in this our state
Of mortal bondage, by these spirits supplied,

First exiles, then replaces what we hate;

Watering the heart whose early flowers have died,

And with a fresher growth replenishing the void.

The spouseless Adriatic mourns her lord;
And, annual marriage now no more renewed,
The Bucentaur lies rotting restored,

Neglected garment of her widowhood!
St. Mark yet sees his lion where he stood

Stand, but in mockery of his withered power,
Over the proud place where an emperor sued,

And monarchs gazed and envied in the hour

When Venice was a queen with an unequalled dower.

The Suabian sued, and now the Austrian reigns,—
An emperor tramples where an emperor knelt;

Kingdoms are shrunk to provinces, and chains

Clank over sceptred cities; nations melt

From power’s high pinnacle, when they have felt

The sunshine for a while, and downward go

Like lauwine loosened from the mountain’s belt:

O for one hour of blind old Dandolo!

The octogenarian chief, Byzantium’s conquering foe.

Before St. Mark still glow his steeds of brass,
Their gilded collars glittering in the sun;

But is not Doria’s menace come to pass?
Are they not bridled? Venice, lost and won,
Her thirteen hundred years of freedom done,

Sinks, like a seaweed, into whence she rose!
Better be whelmed beneath the waves, and shun,
Even in destruction’s depth, her foreign foes,

From whom submission wrings an infamous repose.

In youth she was all glory,—a new Tyre,—
Her very byword sprung from victory,

The “Planter of the Lion,” which through fire

And blood she bore o’er subject earth and sea;

Though making many slaves, herself still free,

And Europe’s bulwark ‘gainst the Ottomite:

Witness Troy’s rival, Candia! Vouch it, ye

Immortal waves that saw Lepanto’s fight!

For ye are names no time nor tyranny can blight.

I loved her from my boyhood,—she to me
Was as a fairy city of the heart,

Rising like water-columns from the sea

Of joy the sojourned and of wealth the mart;

And Otway, Radcliffe, Schiller, Shakespeare’s art,

Had stamped her image in me, and even so,

Although I found her thus, we did not part,

Perchance even dearer in her day of woe

Than when she was a boast, a marvel, and a show.

I can repeople with the past,—and of
The present there is still for eye and thought,

And meditation chastened down, enough;

And more, it may be, than I hoped or sought;

And of the happiest moments which were wrought
Within the web of my existence, some
From thee, fair Venice! have their colors caught;

There are some feelings time cannot benumb,

Nor torture shake, or mine would now be cold and dumb.