Metrical Translations of Corinne’s Odes in Madame de Staël’s Corinne, or Italy/Chant of Corinne at the Capitol

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Cradle of Letters! Mistress of the World!
Soil of the Sun! Italia! I salute thee!
How oft the human race have worn thy yoke.
The vessels of thine arms, thine arts, thy sky!

    Olympus for Ausonia once was left,
And by a God. Of such a land are born
Dreams of the golden time, for there man looks
Too happy to suppose him criminal.

    By genius Rome subdued the world, then reign'd
A queen by liberty. The Roman mind
Set its own stamp upon the universe;
And, when barbarian hordes whelm'd Italy,
Then darkness was entire upon the earth.

    Italia reappear’d, and with her rose
Treasures divine, brought by the wandering Greeks;
To her were then reveal'd the laws of Heaven.
Her daring children made discovery
Of a new hemisphere: Queen still, she held
Thought's sceptre; but that laurel’d sceptre made
Ungrateful subjects.

    Imagination gave her back the world
Which she had lost. Painters and poets shaped
Earth and Olympus, and a heaven and hell.
Her animating fire by Genius kept,
Far better guarded than the Pagan God’s,
Found not in Europe a Prometheus
To bear it from her.

    And wherefore am I at the Capitol?
Why should my lowly brow receive the crown
Which Petrarch wore? which yet suspended hangs
Where Tasso's funeral cypress mournful waves:
Why? oh, my countrymen! but that you love
Glory so well, that you repay its search
Almost like its success.

    Now, if you love that glory which too oft
Chooses its victims from its vanquishers,
Those which itself has crown'd; think, and be proud
Of days which saw the perish’d Arts reborn.
Your Dante! Homer of the Christian age,
The sacred poet of Faith’s mysteries,—
Hero of thought,—whose gloomy genius plunged
In Styx, and pierced to hell; and whose deep soul
Was like the abyss it fathom’d.

    Italia! as she was in days of power
Revived in Dante: such a spirit stirr'd
In old republics: bard and warrior too,
He lit the fire of action 'mid the dead,
Till e'en his shadows had more vigorous life
Than real existence; still were they pursued
By earthly memories: passions without aim
Gnaw'd at their heart, still fever'd by the past;

Yet less irrevocable seem’d that past,
Than their eternal future.

    Methinks that Dante, banish'd his own soil,
Bore to imagined worlds his actual grief,
Ever his shades inquire the things of life,
And ask’d the poet of his native land;
And from his exile did he paint a hell.
In his eyes Florence set her stamp on all;
The ancient dead seem'd Tuscans like himself:
Not that his power was bounded, but his strength;
And his great mind forced all the universe
Within the circle of its thought.

    A mystic chain of circles and of spheres
Led him from Hell to Purgatory; thence
From Purgatory into Paradise:
Faithful historian of his glorious dream,
He fills with light the regions most obscure;
The world created in his triple song
Is brilliant, and complete, and animate,
Like a new planet seen within the sky.

    All upon earth doth change to poetry
Beneath his voice: the objects, the ideas,
The laws, and all the strange phenomena,
Seem like a new Olympus with new Gods,—
Fancy's mythology,—which disappears
Like Pagan creeds at sight of paradise,
That sea of light, radiant with shining stars,
And love, and virtue.

    The magic words of our most noble bard
Are like the prism of the universe;—
Her marvels there reflect themselves, divide,
And recreate her wonders; sounds paint hues,
And colours melt in harmony. The rhyme—
Sounding or strange, and rapid or prolong’d—
That charm of genius, triumph of high art;
Poetry's divination, which reveals
All nature's secrets, such as influence
The heart of man.

    From this great work did Dante hope the end
Of his long exile; and he called on Fame
To be his mediator: but he died
Too soon to reap the laurels of his land.
Thus wastes the transitory life of man

In adverse fortunes; and it glory wins,
If some chance tide, more happy, floats to shore.
The grave is in the port; and destiny,
In thousand shapes, heralds the close of life
By a return of happiness.

    Thus the ill-fated Tasso, whom your praise,
O Romans! 'mid his wrongs, could yet console,—
The beautiful, the chivalric, the brave,
Dreaming the deeds, feeling the love he sung,—
With awe and gratitude approach’d your walls,
As did his heroes to Jerusalem.
They named the day to crown him; but its eve
Death bade him to his feast, the terrible!
The Heaven is jealous of the Earth; and calls
Its favourites from the stormy waves of time.

    ‘Twas in an age more happy and more free
Than Tasso's that, like Dante, Petrarch sang:
Brave poet of Italian liberty.
Elsewhere they know him only by his love:
Here memories more severe aye consecrate
His sacred name; his country could inspire
E'en more than Laura.

    His vigils gave antiquity new life;
Imagination was no obstacle
To his deep studies: that creative power
Conquer'd the future, and reveal'd the past.
He proved how knowledge lends invention aid;
And more original his genius seem'd,
When, like the powers eternal, it could be
Present in every time.

    Our laughing climate, and our air serene
Inspired our Ariosto: after war,
Our many long and cruel wars, he came
Like to a rainbow; varied and as bright
As that glad messenger of summer hours,
His light, sweet gaiety is like nature's smile,
And not the irony of man.

    Raffaële, Galileo, Angelo,
Pergolese; you! intrepid voyagers,
Greedy of other lands, though Nature never
Could yield ye one more lovely than your own;
Come ye, and to our poets join your fame:
Artists, and sages, and philosophers,

Ye are, like them, the children of a sun
Which kindles valour, concentrates the mind,
Develops fancy, each one in its turn;
Which lulls content, and seems to promise all,
Or make us all forget.

    Know ye the land where orange-trees are blooming;
Where all heaven's rays are fertile, and with love?
Have you inhaled these perfumes, luxury!
In air already so fragrant and so soft?
Now answer, strangers; Nature, in your home,
Is she as generous or as beautiful?

    Not only with vine-leaves and ears of corn
Is Nature dress'd, but 'neath the feet of man,
As at a sovereign's feet, she scatters flowers
And sweet and useless plants, which, born to please,
Disdain to serve.

    Here pleasures delicate, by nature nurst,—
Felt by a people who deserve to feel:—
The simplest food suffices for their wants.
What though her fountains flow with purple wine
From the abundant soil, they drink them not!
They love their sky, their arts, their monuments;
Their land, the ancient, and yet bright with spring;
Brilliant society; refined delight:
Coarse pleasures, fitting to a savage race,
Suit not with them.

    Here the sensation blends with the idea;
Life ever draws from the same fountain-head;
The soul, like air, expands o'er earth and heaven.
Here Genius feels at ease: its reveries
Are here so gentle; its unrest is soothed:
For one lost aim a thousand dreams are given,
And nature cherishes, if man oppress;
A gentle hand consoles, and binds the wound:
E'en for the griefs that haunt the stricken heart,
Is comfort here: by admiration fill’d,
For God, all goodness; taught to penetrate
The secret of his love; not thy brief days—
Mysterious heralds of eternity—
But in the fertile and majestic breast
Of the immortal universe!

    Yet there are griefs which our consoling sky
May not efface: but where will grief convey
Noble and soft impressions to the soul,
As it does here?

    Elsewhere the living cannot find them space
For all their hurrying paths, and ardent hopes;
And deserts, ruins, vacant palaces,
Leave a vast vacancy to shadows;—Rome,
Is she not now the country of the tomb?

    The Coliseum, and the obelisks—
The wonders brought from Egypt and from Greece—
From the extremity of time, here met,
From Romulus to Leo,—all are here,
Greatness attracting greatness, that one place
Might garner all that man could screen from time:
All consecrate to funeral monuments.
Our idle life is scarcely here perceived:
The silence of the living to the dead
Is homage: they endure, but we decay.

    The dead alone are honour'd, and alone
Recorded still;—our destinies obscure

Contrast the glories of our ancestors;
Our present life leaves but the past entire,
And deep the quiet around memory:
Our trophies are the work of those no more:
Genius itself ranks 'mid th' illustrious deed.

    It is Rome's secret charm to reconcile
Imagination with our long last sleep.
We are resign'd ourselves, and suffer less
For those we love. The people of the South
Paint closing life in hues less terrible
Than do the gloomy nations of the North:
The sun, like glory, even warms the grave.

    The chill, the solitude of sepulchres
‘Neath our fair sky, beside our funeral urns
So numerous, less haunt the frighted soul.
We deem they wait for us, yon shadowy crowd:
And from our silent city's loneliness
Down to the subterranean one below
It is a gentle passage.

    The edge of grief is blunted thus, and turn’d,
Not by a harden'd heart, a wither'd soul,
But by a yet more perfect harmony,—
An air more fragrant,—blending with our life.
We yield ourselves to Nature with less fear—
Nature, whose great Creator said of old,—
"The lilies of the vale, lo! they toil not,
And neither do they spin:
Yet the great Solomon, in all his glory,
Was not arrayed like one of these."

  1. For the translation of this Ode, the proprietor of the Standard Novels is indebted to the pen of Miss L. E. Landon.