Poems of Letitia Elizabeth Landon (L. E. L.) in The Amulet, 1832/Venice
VENICE. THE EMBARKATION.
BY L. E. L.
Morn on the Adriatic, every wave
Is turned to light, and mimics the blue sky,
As if the ocean were another heaven;
Column, and tower, and fretted pinnacle
Are white with sunshine; and the few soft shades
Do but relieve the eye.
The Summer-time, how beautiful they are!
A buoyant spirit fills the natural world,
And sheds its influence on humanity;
Man draws his breath more lightly, and forgets
The weight of cares that made the night seem long.
How beautiful the Summer, and the Morn,
When opening over forest and green field,
Waking the singing birds, till every leaf
Vibrates with music; and the flowers unfold,
Heavy and fragrant with their dewy sleep.
But here they only call to life and light
The far wide waste of waters, and the walls
Of a proud city—yet how beautiful!
Not the calm beauty of a woodland world,
Fraught with sweet idleness and minstrel-dreams;
But beauty which awakes the intellect
More than the feelings; that of power and mind–-
Man's power, man's mind—for never city raised
A prouder or a fairer brow than Venice,
The daughter and the mistress of the sea.
Far spread the ocean, but it spread to bear
Her galleys o'er its depths, for war or wealth.
And raised upon foundations, which have robbed
The waters of its birthright, stand her halls.
Now enter in her palaces: a world
Has paid its tribute to their luxury:
The harvest of the rose, on Syria's plains,
Is reaped for Venice; from the Indian vales
The sandal-wood is brought to burn in Venice;
The ambergris that floats on Eastern seas,
And spice, and cinnamon, and pearls that lie
Deep in the gulph of Ormus, are for Venice;
The Persian loom doth spread her silken floors;
And the clear gems from far Golconda's mines
Burn on the swanlike necks of her proud daughters—
For the fair wife of a Venetian noble
Doth often bear upon her ivory arm
The ransom of a kingdom. By the sword,
Drawn by the free and fearless; by the sail,
Which sweeps the sea for riches—which are power–-
The state of Venice is upheld: she is
A Christian Tyre, save that her sea-girt gates
Do fear no enemy, and dread no fall.
Morn on the Adriatic, bright and glad!
And yet we are not joyful—there is here
A stronger influence than sweet nature's joy;—
The scene hath its own sorrow, and the heart
Ponders the lessons of mortality
Too gravely to be warmed by that delight
Born of the sun, and air, and morning prime.
For we forget the present as we stand
So much beneath the shadow of the past:
And here the past is mighty. Memory
Lies heavy on the atmosphere around—
There is the sea—but where now are the ships
That bore the will of Venice round the world?–-
Where are the sails that brought home victory
And wealth from other nations? No glad prows
Break up the waters into sparkling foam;
I only see some sluggish fishing-boats.
There are the palaces—their marble fronts
Are grey and worn; and the rich furniture
Is stripped from the bare walls; or else the moth
Feeds on the velvet hangings. There they hang—
The many pictures* of the beautiful,
The brave, the noble, who were once Venetians:
But hourly doth the damp destroy their colours,
And Titian's hues are faded as the face
From which he painted. With a downcast brow,
Drawing his dark robe round him, which no more
Hides the rich silk or gems,† walks the Venetian;
Proud with a melancholy pride which dwells
Only upon the glories of the dead;
And humble with a bitter consciousness
Of present degradation.
These are the things that tame the pride of man—
The spectral writings on the wall of Time–
Warnings from the Invisible to show
Man's destiny is not in his own hands.
Cities and nations, each are in their turn
The mighty sacrifice which Time demands,
And offers up at the eternal throne—
Signs of man's weakness and man's vanity.
* Lord Byron, in one of his letters, alludes to the numberless splendid pictures mouldering in the Venetian palaces, whose inhabitants refuse to sell the portraits of their ancestors, almost the sole memorials of their former splendour.
† Though the use of the same dark robe was prescribed to all Venetian noblemen, they used to outvie each other in the magnificence of the under garments which it concealed.