Poems of Italy: selections from the Odes of Giosue Carducci/Miramar

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O MIRAMAR, about your fair white towers,
Weary with weight of the rain-burdened sky,
Like some dark cluster of ill-omened birds
                                Gather the clouds.

O Miramar, against your granite rocks,
Grey-rising from the grim deeps of the sea
With echoing shriek as of tormented souls
                                Thunder the waves.

In melancholy shadow of the clouds
Stand, keeping watch above the double gulf,
Turreted cities of the Istrian shore
                                Gems of the sea.

And all its roaring anger still the sea
Hurls 'gainst the rocky rampart whence you look
Over the Adriatic on both sides,
                                Hapsburgian hold.

O'er Nabresina thunder bursts and rolls
Along the iron coast; and, lightning-crowned,
Distant Triesté through a mist of showers
                                Raises her head.

 
Ah, how all nature smiled on that fair morn
Of April when, his lovely dame beside,
Forth came the fair-haired Emperor, to sail
                                For distant shores.

Upon his placid countenance there beamed
The manly strength of one to empire called;
The blue eyes of his lady wandered proud
                                Over the sea.

Farewell, O castle of the happy days,
Vainly constructed as a nest for love!
An alien zephyr toward the desert ocean
                                Bears off the twain.

With kindled hopes, they leave the halls adorned
With chiselled wisdom and triumphal story;
Dante and Goethe to the castle's lord
                                Make vain appeal.

A sphinx of changeful aspect lures him on
To follow in her path across the sea.
He yields, and half-way open leaves the book
                                Of old romance.

 
Ah, 'twas no song of love or high exploit,
No music of guitars that waited him
To sound a welcome in the Aztec Spain!
                                Long on the air,

What is that wail which from Salvor's sad Point
Sounds midst the raucous sobbing of the flood?
Do dead Venetians sing, or else the old,
                                Old Istrian Fates?

—"Ah, Son of Hapsburg, in an ill-starred hour
You mount, upon our seas, the fated ship![1]
Darkly the Furies, by you, to the wind
                                Shake out the sails.

See how the sphinx perfidiously gives back
As you advance, and puts on other forms!
It is mad Joan's livid look that fronts
                                That of your wife;

It is the severed head of France's Queen[2]
Grinning at you; and with deep-sunken eyes
Fastened on yours, 'tis Montezuma's fierce
                                Yellow-hued face.

 
While, midst dark tufts of savage plants, unstirred
By any breathing of benignant airs,
Huitzilopotli in his pyramid
                                Sits keeping watch.

Out from the god are darting livid flames
Into the tropic night; he scents your blood,
And with his gaze o'ersweeps the spreading main,
                                Howling, "Oh come!

"Long have I waited; the ferocious whites
Destroyed my kingdom, broke my temples down,
Come, self-devoted victim, nephew thou
                                Of the Fifth Charles.

"I wanted not your forebears of ill fame,
Rotten with vice, consumed with royal madness;
For you I waited, you I pluck, reborn
                                Hapsburgian flower.

“And to Guatimozino's mighty soul
That reigns 'neath the pavilion of the sun,
I send you, Maximilian, that are strong,
                                Beautiful, pure!"





Notes

The Château of Miramar, from which the Archduke Maximilian of Austria set out on his ill-fated expedition to Mexico, is situated on the Adriatic, not far from Trieste. The "double gulf" (third stanza) consists of the Gulf of Venice and the Gulf of Trieste, which form practically one sheet of water; and the "turreted cities of the Istrian shore" (whose names I omitted in the translation as unnecessary) are Muggia, Pirano, Egida, and Parenzo. Huitzilopotli (stanza sixteen) is the Mexican god of war. In his own note to the original poem, Carducci explains the rather obscure allusions which occur in the ninth and tenth stanzas. "Certain recollections of the Château of Miramar that find place in these verses perhaps need elucidation," he writes. "In Maximilian's study, built to resemble the cabin of the flagship 'Novara,' which later carried him to Mexico, portraits of Dante and Goethe are to be seen near where the Archduke was accustomed to sit studying; and there still lies open upon the table an old edition of Castillian romances—rare, if I remember rightly, and printed in the Low Countries. In the main hall are engraved a number of Latin maxims. Memorable among them, because of the spot and the man, are these: "Si Fortuna juvat cavete tolli," "Sæpe sub dulci melle venena latent," "Non ad astra mollis et terris via," "Vivitur ingenio, cætera mortis erunt."