Divina Commedia

The tumult of the time disconsolate...



By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow



I.Written March 29, 1864.1.


Oft have I seen at some cathedral door

A laborer, pausing in the dust and heat,

Lay down his burden, and with reverent feet

Enter, and cross himself, and on the floor

Kneel to repeat his paternoster o'er;

Far off the noises of the world retreat;

The loud vociferations of the street

Become an undistinguishable roar.

So, as I enter here from day to day,

And leave my burden at this minster gate,

Kneeling in prayer, and not ashamed to pray


The tumult of the time disconsolate

To inarticulate murmurs dies away,

While the eternal ages watch and wait.II.2.

How strange the sculptures that adorn these towers!

This crowd of statues, in whose folded sleeves

Birds build their nests; while canopied with leaves

Parvis and portal bloom like trellised bowers,

And the vast minster seems a cross of flowers!

But fiends and dragons on the gargoyled eaves

Watch the dead Christ between the living thieves,

And, underneath, the traitor Judas lowers!

Ah! from what agonies of heart and brain,

What exultations trampling on despair,

What tenderness, what tears, what hate of wrong,

What passionate outcry of a soul in pain,

Uprose this poem of the earth and air,

This mediæval miracle of song!


III.Written December 22, 1865.3.

I enter, and I see thee in the gloom

Of the long aisles, O poet saturnine!

And strive to make my steps keep pace with thine.

The air is filled with some unknown perfume;

The congregation of the dead make room

For thee to pass; the votive tapers shine;

Like rooks that haunt Ravenna's groves of pine

The hovering echoes fly from tomb to tomb.

From the confessionals I hear arise

Rehearsals of forgotten tragedies,

And lamentations from the crypts below;

And then a voice celestial that begins

With the pathetic words, "Although your sins

As scarlet be," and ends with "as the snow."


IV.Written May 5, 1867.4.


With snow-white veil and garments as of flame,

She stands before thee, who so long ago

Filled thy young heart with passion and the woe

From which thy song and all its splendors came;

And while with stern rebuke she speaks thy name,

The ice about thy heart melts as the snow

On mountain heights, and in swift overflow

Comes gushing from thy lips in sobs of shame.

Thou makest full confession; and a gleam,

As of the dawn on some dark forest cast,

Seems on thy lifted forehead to increase;

Leth and Eunoë -- the remembered dream

And the forgotten sorrow -- bring at last

That perfect pardon which is perfect peace.


V.Written January 16, 1866.5.


I lift mine eyes, and all the windows blaze

With forms of Saints and holy men who died,

Here martyred and hereafter glorified;

And the great Rose upon its leaves displays

Christ's Triumph, and the angelic roundelays,

With splendor upon splendor multiplied;

And Beatrice again at Dante's side

No more rebukes, but smiles her words of praise.

And then the organ sounds, and unseen choirs

Sing the old Latin hymns of peace and love

And benedictions of the Holy Ghost;

And the melodious bells among the spires

O'er all the house-tops and through heaven above

Proclaim the elevation of the Host!


VI.Written March 7, 1866.6.


O star of morning and of liberty!

O bringer of the light, whose splendor shines

Above the darkness of the Apennines,

Forerunner of the day that is to be!

The voices of the city and the sea,

The voices of the mountains and the pines,

Repeat thy song, till the familiar lines

Are footpaths for the thought of Italy!

Thy fame is blown abroad from all the heights,

Through all the nations, and a sound is heard,

As of a mighty wind, and men devout,

Strangers of Rome, and the new proselytes,

In their own language hear thy wondrous word,

And many are amazed and many doubt.

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