Lord Byron Poem

The Prophecy of Dante, Canto the First.

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Once more in Man’s frail world! which I had left
    So long that ’twas forgotten; and I feel
    The weight of day again, — too soon bereft
Of the Immortal Vision which could heal
    My earthly sorrows, and to God’s own skies
    Lift me from that deep Gulf without repeal,
Where late my ears rung with the damnéd cries
    Of Souls in hopeless bale; and from that place
    Of lesser torment, whence men may arise
Pure from the fire to join the Angelic race;
    Midst whom my own bright Beatricē blessed
    My spirit with her light; and to the base
Of the Eternal Triad! first, last, best,
    Mysterious, three, sole, infinite, great God!
    Soul universal! led the mortal guest,
Unblasted by the Glory, though he trod
    From star to star to reach the almighty throne.
    Oh Beatricē! whose sweet limbs the sod
So long hath pressed, and the cold marble stone,
    Thou sole pure Seraph of my earliest love,
    Love so ineffable, and so alone,
That nought on earth could more my bosom move,
    And meeting thee in Heaven was but to meet
    That without which my Soul, like the arkless dove,
Had wandered still in search of, nor her feet
    Relieved her wing till found; without thy light
    My Paradise had still been incomplete.
Since my tenth sun gave summer to my sight
    Thou wert my Life, the Essence of my thought,
    Loved ere I knew the name of Love, and bright
Still in these dim old eyes, now overwrought
    With the World’s war, and years, and banishment,
    And tears for thee, by other woes untaught;
For mine is not a nature to be bent
    By tyrannous faction, and the brawling crowd,
    And though the long, long conflict hath been spent
In vain, — and never more, save when the cloud
    Which overhangs the Apennine my mind’s eye
    Pierces to fancy Florence, once so proud
Of me, can I return, though but to die,
    Unto my native soil, — they have not yet
    Quenched the old exile’s spirit, stern and high.
But the Sun, though not overcast, must set
    And the night cometh; I am old in days,
    And deeds, and contemplation, and have met
Destruction face to face in all his ways.
    The World hath left me, what it found me, pure,
    And if I have not gathered yet its praise,
I sought it not by any baser lure;
    Man wrongs, and Time avenges, and my name
    May form a monument not all obscure,
Though such was not my Ambition’s end or aim,
    To add to the vain-glorious list of those
    Who dabble in the pettiness of fame,
And make men’s fickle breath the wind that blows
    Their sail, and deem it glory to be classed
    With conquerors, and Virtue’s other foes,
In bloody chronicles of ages past.
    I would have had my Florence great and free;
    Oh Florence! Florence! unto me thou wast
Like that Jerusalem which the Almighty He
    Wept over, “but thou wouldst not;” as the bird
    Gathers its young, I would have gathered thee
Beneath a parent pinion, hadst thou heard
    My voice; but as the adder, deaf and fierce,
    Against the breast that cherished thee was stirred
Thy venom, and my state thou didst amerce,
    And doom this body forfeit to the fire.
    Alas! how bitter is his country’s curse
To him who for that country would expire,
    But did not merit to expire by her,
    And loves her, loves her even in her ire.
The day may come when she will cease to err,
    The day may come she would be proud to have
    The dust she dooms to scatter, and transfer
Of him, whom she denied a home, the grave.
    But this shall not be granted; let my dust
    Lie where it falls; nor shall the soil which gave
Me breath, but in her sudden fury thrust
    Me forth to breathe elsewhere, so reassume
    My indignant bones, because her angry gust
Forsooth is over, and repealed her doom;
    No, — she denied me what was mine — my roof,
    And shall not have what is not hers — my tomb.
Too long her arméd wrath hath kept aloof
    The breast which would have bled for her, the heart
    That beat, the mind that was temptation proof,
The man who fought, toiled, travelled, and each part
    Of a true citizen fulfilled, and saw
    For his reward the Guelfs ascendant art
Pass his destruction even into a law.
    These things are not made for forgetfulness,
    Florence shall be forgotten first; too raw
The wound, too deep the wrong, and the distress
    Of such endurance too prolonged to make
    My pardon greater, her injustice less,
Though late repented; yet — yet for her sake
    I feel some fonder yearnings, and for thine,
    My own Beatricē, I would hardly take
Vengeance upon the land which once was mine,
    And still is hallowed by thy dust’s return,
    Which would protect the murderess like a shrine,
And save ten thousand foes by thy sole urn.
    Though, like old Marius from Minturnæ’s marsh
    And Carthage ruins, my lone breast may burn
At times with evil feelings hot and harsh,
    And sometimes the last pangs of a vile foe
    Writhe in a dream before me, and o’erarch
My brow with hopes of triumph, — let them go!
    Such are the last infirmities of those
    Who long have suffered more than mortal woe,
And yet being mortal still, have no repose
    But on the pillow of Revenge — Revenge,
    Who sleeps to dream of blood, and waking glows
With the oft-baffled, slakeless thirst of change,
    When we shall mount again, and they that trod
    Be trampled on, while Death and Até range
O’er humbled heads and severed necks — — Great God!
    Take these thoughts from me — to thy hands I yield
    My many wrongs, and thine Almighty rod
Will fall on those who smote me, — be my shield!
    As thou hast been in peril, and in pain,
    In turbulent cities, and the tented field —
In toil, and many troubles borne in vain
    For Florence, — I appeal from her to Thee!
    Thee, whom I late saw in thy loftiest reign,
Even in that glorious Vision, which to see
    And live was never granted until now,
    And yet thou hast permitted this to me.
Alas! with what a weight upon my brow
    The sense of earth and earthly things come back,
    Corrosive passions, feelings dull and low,
The heart’s quick throb upon the mental rack,
    Long day, and dreary night; the retrospect
    Of half a century bloody and black,
And the frail few years I may yet expect
    Hoary and hopeless, but less hard to bear,
    For I have been too long and deeply wrecked
On the lone rock of desolate Despair,
    To lift my eyes more to the passing sail
    Which shuns that reef so horrible and bare;
Nor raise my voice — for who would heed my wail?
    I am not of this people, nor this age,
    And yet my harpings will unfold a tale
Which shall preserve these times when not a page
    Of their perturbéd annals could attract
    An eye to gaze upon their civil rage,
Did not my verse embalm full many an act
    Worthless as they who wrought it: ’tis the doom
    Of spirits of my order to be racked
In life, to wear their hearts out, and consume
    Their days in endless strife, and die alone;
    Then future thousands crowd around their tomb,
And pilgrims come from climes where they have known
    The name of him — who now is but a name,
    And wasting homage o’er the sullen stone,
Spread his — by him unheard, unheeded — fame;
    And mine at least hath cost me dear: to die
    Is nothing; but to wither thus — to tame
My mind down from its own infinity —
    To live in narrow ways with little men,
    A common sight to every common eye,
A wanderer, while even wolves can find a den,
    Ripped from all kindred, from all home, all things
    That make communion sweet, and soften pain —
To feel me in the solitude of kings
    Without the power that makes them bear a crown —
    To envy every dove his nest and wings
Which waft him where the Apennine looks down
    On Arno, till he perches, it may be,
    Within my all inexorable town,
Where yet my boys are, and that fatal She,
    Their mother, the cold partner who hath brought
    Destruction for a dowry — this to see
And feel, and know without repair, hath taught
    A bitter lesson; but it leaves me free:
    I have not vilely found, nor basely sought,
They made an Exile — not a Slave of me.

The Prophecy of Dante, Canto the Second.
The Prophecy of Dante, Dedication.


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