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Poem by Bessie Rayner Parkes


IF ever I in Rome should dwell--
Rome, the desired of all my heart--
Amidst that world loved long and well,
The infinite world of ancient art;

And there, by graves so dear to fame,
A dreaming poet, cast my lot;
What voice within would whisper shame,
Were England and her needs forgot!

So to myself, with museful mouth,
I said long since--the while I paced,
With heart that trembled towards the south,
Through London's coiled and stony waste--

How doubly dreary seemed the smoke,
The sunless noon, the starless even,
When o'er my dream a vision broke--
Italy! or the Courts of Heaven!

Now, walking on this Pincian Hill,
And watching where the day declines,
(Gilding the Cross of Peter still)
By Monte Mario's fringe of pines,--

Almost, I think, the heart might grow
Forgetful of its earlier ties,
And all its life-blood learn to flow
Familiar with Italian skies.

Not with the love of brain or soul,
But with that fiery strength we use
In leaning towards the strong control
Of what we must, not what we choose.

As mother for child, as wife for spouse,
As one long exiled yearns for home,
As sinner for the Heavenly House,
So yearned, so loved I thee, O Rome!

Now I have seen thee--seen the plains,
The desolate plains where thou dost lie;
Where many a rock-built tomb complains
Of some great name or race gone by.

And past the walls that round thee sweep
Have daily ridden. Walls sublime!
Which girdle in thy power, and keep
Inviolate from the hands of Time.

Just touched and softened by decay,
Each gate some glorious year recalls;
Kings! Consuls! Emperors! Saints! were they
Who, mile by mile, linked walls to walls.

All ancient cities, though great they be,
(And London counts by tens of tens),
Seem pigmy towns compared to thee;
While Lincoln, throned amidst her fens,

And York upon her meadow-side,
(A thousand milestones on her road),
Are footprints, just to show the stride
With which the giant Cæsar strode!

Yet here, where Cæsar lies in state,
Amidst the cypress and the rose,
A lovelier mountain mourns his fate,
A nobler river swiftlier flows.

Oh, starlit streets of ancient Rome,
Baptized in blood of Christian men!
Happy the hearts that call ye home,
And feet that toward ye turn again!

I oft in dreams shall seem to see
Hills where the olive and the vine
Fall rippling down to meet the sea;
Or underneath the branching pine

Shall watch the storm-clouds sweeping by,
Down from the Alban Mount in swirls,
And, blackening all the vaulted sky,
Rush tangling through our sculptor's curls.

Ah! not too distant fall that day
When I, a pilgrim far from home,
Shall hear upon the Aurelian Way,
"Allons, postillon, vite! à Rome."

Bessie Rayner Parkes

Bessie Rayner Parkes's other poems:
  1. Firelight
  2. The Old Chateau
  3. On a Group of Justice and Charity
  4. A Midsummer NightТs Dream
  5. The Mersey and the Irwell

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