Modern Italian Poets
W. D. Howells

Part 6 out of 6

poet's thought returns from these scenes of unstoried desolation, to
follow again the course of man in the Old World annals. But here,
also, he is lost in the confusion of man's advance and retirement, and
he muses:

How many were the peoples? Where the trace
Of their lost steps? Where the funereal fields
In which they sleep? Go, ask the clouds of heaven
How many bolts are hidden in their breasts,
And when they shall be launched; and ask the path
That they shall keep in the unfurrowed air.
The peoples passed. Obscure as destiny,
Forever stirred by secret hope, forever
Waiting upon the promised mysteries,
Unknowing God, that urged them, turning still
To some kind star,--they swept o'er the sea-weed
In unknown waters, fearless swam the course
Of nameless rivers, wrote with flying feet
The mountain pass on pathless snows; impatient
Of rest, for aye, from Babylon to Memphis,
From the Acropolis to Rome, they hurried.

And with them passed their guardian household gods,
And faithful wisdom of their ancestors,
And the seed sown in mother fields, and gathered,
A fruitful harvest in their happier years.
And, 'companying the order of their steps
Upon the way, they sung the choruses
And sacred burdens of their country's songs,
And, sitting down by hospitable gates,
They told the histories of their far-off cities.
And sometimes in the lonely darknesses
Upon the ambiguous way they found a light,--
The deathless lamp of some great truth, that Heaven
Sent in compassionate answer to their prayers.

But not to all was given it to endure
That ceaseless pilgrimage, and not on all
Did the heavens smile perennity of life
Revirginate with never-ceasing change;
And when it had completed the great work
Which God had destined for its race to do,
Sometimes a weary people laid them down
To rest them, like a weary man, and left
Their nude bones in a vale of expiation,
And passed away as utterly forever
As mist that snows itself into the sea.

The poet views this growth of nations from youth to decrepitude, and,
coming back at last to himself and to his own laud and time, breaks
forth into a lament of grave and touching beauty:

Muse of an aged people, in the eve
Of fading civilization, I was born
Of kindred that have greatly expiated
And greatly wept. For me the ambrosial fingers
Of Graces never wove the laurel crown,
But the Fates shadowed, from my youngest days,
My brow with passion-flowers, and I have lived
Unknown to my dear land. Oh, fortunate
My sisters that in the heroic dawn
Of races sung! To them did destiny give
The virgin fire and chaste ingenuousness
Of their land's speech; and, reverenced, their hands
Ran over potent strings. To me, the hopes
Turbid with hate; to me, the senile rage;
To me, the painted fancies clothed by art
Degenerate; to me, the desperate wish,
Not in my soul to nurse ungenerous dreams,
But to contend, and with the sword of song
To fight my battles too.

Such is the spirit, such is the manner, of the Prime Storie of
Aleardi. The merits of the poem are so obvious, that it seems scarcely
profitable to comment upon its picturesqueness, upon the clearness
and ease of its style, upon the art which quickens its frequent
descriptions of nature with a human interest. The defects of the poem
are quite as plain, and I have again to acknowledge the critical
acuteness of Arnaud, who says of Aleardi: "Instead of synthetizing
his conceptions, and giving relief to the principal lines, the poet
lingers caressingly upon the particulars, preferring the descriptive
to the dramatic element. Prom this results poetry of beautiful
arabesques and exquisite fragments, of harmonious verse and brilliant

Nevertheless, the same critic confesses that the poetry of Aleardi "is
not academically common", and pleases by the originality of its very


Like Primal Histories, the Hour of my Youth is a contemplative poem,
to which frequency of episode gives life and movement; but its scope
is less grand, and the poet, recalling his early days, remembers
chiefly the events of defeated revolution which give such heroic
sadness and splendor to the history of the first third of this
century. The work is characterized by the same opulence of diction,
and the same luxury of epithet and imagery, as the Primal Histories,
but it somehow fails to win our interest in equal degree: perhaps
because the patriot now begins to overshadow the poet, and appeal
is often made rather to the sympathies than the imagination. It is
certain that art ceases to be less, and country more, in the poetry
of Aleardi from this time. It could scarcely be otherwise; and had it
been otherwise, the poet would have become despicable, not great, in
the eyes of his countrymen.

The Hour of my Youth opens with a picture, where, for once at least,
all the brilliant effects are synthetized; the poet has ordered here
the whole Northern world, and you can dream of nothing grand or
beautiful in those lonely regions which you do not behold in it.

Ere yet upon the unhappy Arctic lands,
In dying autumn, Erebus descends
With the night's thousand hours, along the verge
Of the horizon, like a fugitive,
Through the long days wanders the weary sun;
And when at last under the wave is quenched
The last gleam of its golden countenance,
Interminable twilight land and sea
Discolors, and the north-wind covers deep
All things in snow, as in their sepulchers
The dead are buried. In the distances
The shock of warring Cyclades of ice
Makes music as of wild and strange lament;
And up in heaven now tardily are lit
The solitary polar star and seven
Lamps of the Bear. And now the warlike race
Of swans gather their hosts upon the breast
Of some far gulf, and, bidding their farewell
To the white cliffs, and slender junipers,
And sea-weed bridal-beds, intone the song
Of parting, and a sad metallic clang
Send through the mists. Upon their southward way
They greet the beryl-tinted icebergs; greet
Flamy volcanoes, and the seething founts
Of Geysers, and the melancholy yellow
Of the Icelandic fields; and, wearying,
Their lily wings amid the boreal lights,
Journey away unto the joyous shores
Of morning.

In a strain of equal nobility, but of more personal and subjective
effect, the thought is completed:

So likewise, my own soul, from these obscure
Days without glory, wings its flight afar
Backward, and journeys to the years of youth
And morning. Oh, give me back once more,
Oh, give me, Lord, one hour of youth again!
For in that time I was serene and bold,
And uncontaminate, and enraptured with
The universe. I did not know the pangs
Of the proud mind, nor the sweet miseries
Of love; and I had never gathered yet,
After those fires so sweet in burning, bitter
Handfuls of ashes, that, with tardy tears
Sprinkled, at last have nourished into bloom
The solitary flower of penitence.
The baseness of the many was unknown,
And civic woes had not yet sown with salt
Life's narrow field. Ah! then the infinite
Voices that Nature sends her worshipers
From land, from sea, and from the cloudy depths
Of heaven smote the echoing soul of youth
To music. And at the first morning sigh
Of the poor wood-lark,--at the measured bell
Of homeward flocks, and at the opaline wings
Of dragon-flies in their aerial dances
Above the gorgeous carpets of the marsh,--
At the wind's moan, and at the sudden gleam
Of lamps lighting in some far town by night,--
And at the dash of rain that April shoots
Through the air odorous with the smitten dust,--
My spirits rose, and glad and swift my thought
Over the sea of being sped all-sails.

There is a description of a battle, in the Hour of my Youth, which.
I cannot help quoting before I leave the poem. The battle took place
between the Austrians and the French on the 14th of January, 1797, in
the Chiusa, a narrow valley near Verona, and the fiercest part of the
fight was for the possession of the hill of Rivoli.

Clouds of smoke
Floated along the heights; and, with her wild,
Incessant echo, Chiusa still repeated
The harmony of the muskets. Rival hosts
Contended for the poverty of a hill
That scarce could give their number sepulcher;
But from that hill-crest waved the glorious locks
Of Victory. And round its bloody spurs,
Taken and lost with fierce vicissitude,
Serried and splendid, swept and tempested
Long-haired dragoons, together with the might
Of the Homeric foot, delirious
With fury; and the horses with their teeth
Tore one another, or, tossing wild their manes,
Fled with their helpless riders up the crags,
By strait and imminent paths of rock, till down,
Like angels thunder-smitten, to the depths
Of that abyss the riders fell. With slain
Was heaped the dreadful amphitheater;
The rocks dropped blood; and if with gasping breath
Some wounded swimmer beat away the waves
Weakly between him and the other shore,
The merciless riflemen from the cliffs above,
With their inexorable aim, beneath
The waters sunk him.

The Monte Circellio is part of a poem in four cantos, dispersed, it
is said, to avoid the researches of the police, in which the poet
recounts in picturesque verse the glories and events of the Italian
land and history through which he passes. A slender but potent cord
of common feeling unites the episodes, and the lament for the present
fate of Italy rises into hope for her future. More than half of the
poem is given to a description of the geological growth of the earth,
in which the imagination of the poet has unbridled range, and in which
there is a success unknown to most other attempts to poetize the facts
of science. The epochs of darkness and inundation, of the monstrous
races of bats and lizards, of the mammoths and the gigantic
vegetation, pass, and, after thousands of years, the earth is tempered
and purified to the use of man by fire; and that

Paradise of land and sea, forever
Stirred by great hopes and by volcanic fires,
Called Italy,

takes shape: its burning mountains rise, its valleys sink, its plains
extend, its streams run. But first of all, the hills of Rome lifted
themselves from the waters, that day when the spirit of God dwelling
upon their face

Saw a fierce group of seven enkindled hills,
In number like the mystic candles lighted
Within his future temple. Then he bent
Upon that mystic pleiades of flame
His luminous regard, and spoke to it:
"Thou art to be my Rome." The harmony
Of that note to the nebulous heights supreme,
And to the bounds of the created world,
Rolled like the voice of myriad organ-stops,
And sank, and ceased. The heavenly orbs resumed
Their daily dance and their unending journey;
A mighty rush of plumes disturbed the rest
Of the vast silence; here and there like stars
About the sky, flashed the immortal eyes
Of choral angels following after him.

The opening lines of Monte Circellio are scarcely less beautiful than
the first part of Un' Ora della mia Giovinezza, but I must content
myself with only one other extract from the poem, leaving the rest
to the reader of the original. The fact that every summer the Roman
hospitals are filled with the unhappy peasants who descend from the
hills of the Abruzzi to snatch its harvests from the feverish Campagna
will help us to understand all the meaning of the following passage,
though nothing could add to its pathos, unless, perhaps, the story
given by Aleardi in a note at the foot of his page: "How do you live
here?" asked a traveler of one of the peasants who reap the Campagna.
The Abruzzese answered, "Signor, we die."

What time,
In hours of summer, sad with so much light,
The sun beats ceaselessly upon the fields,
The harvesters, as famine urges them,
Draw hither in thousands, and they wear
The look of those that dolorously go
In exile, and already their brown eyes
Are heavy with the poison of the air.
Here never note of amorous bird consoles
Their drooping hearts; here never the gay songs
Of their Abruzzi sound to gladden these
Pathetic hands. But taciturn they toil,
Reaping the harvest for their unknown lords;
And when the weary tabor is performed,
Taciturn they retire; and not till then
Their bagpipes crown the joys of the return,
Swelling the heart with their familiar strain.
Alas! not all return, for there is one
That dying in the furrow sits, and seeks
With his last look some faithful kinsman out,
To give his life's wage, that he carry it
Unto his trembling mother, with the last
Words of her son that comes no more. And dying,
Deserted and alone, far off he hears
His comrades going, with their pipes in time
Joyfully measuring their homeward steps.
And when in after years an orphan comes
To reap the harvest here, and feels his blade
Go quivering through the swaths of falling grain,
He weeps and thinks: haply these heavy stalks
Ripened on his unburied father's bones.

In the poem called The Marine and Commercial Cities of Italy (Le Citta
Italiane Marinare e Commercianti), Aleardi recounts the glorious rise,
the jealousies, the fratricidal wars, and the ignoble fall of Venice,
Florence, Pisa, and Genoa, in strains of grandeur and pathos; he has
pride in the wealth and freedom of those old queens of traffic,
and scorn and lamentation for the blind selfishness that kept them
Venetian, Florentine, Pisan, and Genoese, and never suffered them
to be Italian. I take from this poem the prophetic vision of the
greatness of Venice, which, according to the patriotic tradition of
Sabellico, Saint Mark beheld five hundred years before the foundation
of the city, when one day, journeying toward Aquileja, his ship lost
her course among the islands of the lagoons. The saint looked out over
those melancholy swamps, and saw the phantom of a Byzantine cathedral
rest upon the reeds, while a multitudinous voice broke the silence
with the Venetian battle-cry, "Viva San Marco!" The lines that follow
illustrate the pride and splendor of Venetian story, and are notable,
I think, for a certain lofty grace of movement and opulence of

There thou shalt lie, O Saint![1] but compassed round
Thickly by shining groves
Of pillars; on thy regal portico,
Lifting their glittering and impatient hooves,
Corinth's fierce steeds shall bound;[2]
And at thy name, the hymn of future wars,
From their funereal caves
The bandits of the waves
Shall fly in exile;[3] brought from bloody fields
Hard won and lost in far-off Palestine,
The glimmer of a thousand Arab moons
Shall fill thy broad lagoons;
And on the false Byzantine's towers shall climb
A blind old man sublime,[4]
Whom victory shall behold
Amidst his enemies with thy sacred flag,
All battle-rent, unrolled.


[1] The bones of St. Mark repose in his church at Venice.

[2] The famous bronze horses of St. Mark's still shine with the gold
that once covered them.

[3] Venice early swept the Adriatic of the pirates who infested it.

[4] The Doge Enrico Dandolo, who, though blind and bowed with eighty
years of war, was the first to plant the banner of Saint Mark on the
walls of Constantinople when that city was taken by the Venetians and

The late poems of Aleardi are nearly all in this lyrical form, in
which the thought drops and rises with ceaseless change of music,
and which wins the reader of many empty Italian canzoni by the mere
delight of its movement. It is well adapted to the subjects for which
Aleardi has used it; it has a stateliness and strength of its own, and
its alternate lapse and ascent give animation to the ever-blending
story and aspiration, appeal or reflection. In this measure are
written The Three Rivers, The Three Maidens, and The Seven Soldiers.
The latter is a poem of some length, in which the poet, figuring
himself upon a battle-field on the morrow after a combat between
Italians and Austrians, "wanders among the wounded in search of
expiated sins and of unknown heroism. He pauses," continues his
eloquent biographer in the _Galleria Nazionale_, "to meditate on the
death of the Hungarian, Polish, Bohemian, Croatian, Austrian, and
Tyrolese soldiers, who personify the nationalities oppressed by the
tyranny of the house of Hapsburg. A minister of God, praying beside
the corpses of two friends, Pole and Hungarian, hails the dawn of the
Magyar resurrection. Then rises the grand figure of Sandor Petofi,
'the patriotic poet of Hungary,' whose life was a hymn, and whose
miraculous re-appearance will, according to popular superstition, take
place when Hungary is freed from her chains. The poem closes with a
prophecy concerning the destinies of Austria and Italy." Like all the
poems of Aleardi, it abounds in striking lines; but the interest,
instead of gathering strongly about one central idea, diffuses itself
over half-forgotten particulars of revolutionary history, and the
sympathy of the reader is fatigued and confused with the variety of
the demand upon it.

For this reason, The Three Rivers and The Three Maidens are more
artistic poems: in the former, the poet seeks vainly a promise of
Italian greatness and unity on the banks of Tiber and of Arno, but
finds it by the Po, where the war of 1859 is beginning; in the latter,
three maidens recount to the poet stories of the oppression which has
imprisoned the father of one, despoiled another's house through the
tax-gatherer, and sent the brother of the third to languish, the
soldier-slave of his tyrants, in a land where "the wife washes the
garments of her husband, yet stained with Italian blood".

A very little book holds all the poems which Aleardi has written, and
I have named them nearly all. He has in greater degree than any other
Italian poet of this age, or perhaps of any age, those qualities
which English taste of this time demands--quickness of feeling and
brilliancy of expression. He lacks simplicity of idea, and his style
is an opal which takes all lights and hues, rather than the crystal
which lets the daylight colorlessly through. He is distinguished no
less by the themes he selects than by the expression he gives them.
In his poetry there is passion, but his subjects are usually those to
which love is accessory rather than essential; and he cares better to
sing of universal and national destinies as they concern individuals,
than the raptures and anguishes of youthful individuals as they
concern mankind. The poet may be wrong in this, but he achieves an
undeniable novelty in it, and I confess that I read him willingly on
account of it.

In taking leave of him, I feel that I ought to let him have the last
word, which is one of self-criticism, and, I think, singularly just.
He refers to the fact of his early life, that his father forbade him
to be a painter, and says: "Not being allowed to use the pencil, I
have used the pen. And precisely on this account my pen resembles
too much a pencil; precisely on this account I am too much of a
naturalist, and am too fond of losing myself in minute details. I am
as one, who, in walking, goes leisurely along, and stops every moment
to observe the dash of light that breaks through the trees of the
woods, the insect that alights on his hand, the leaf that falls on
his head, a cloud, a wave, a streak of smoke; in fine, the thousand
accidents that make creation so rich, so various, so poetical, and
beyond which we evermore catch glimpses of that grand, mysterious
something, eternal, immense, benignant, and never inhuman or cruel, as
some would have us believe, which is called God."


No one could be more opposed, in spirit and method, to Aleardo Aleardi
than Giulio Carcano; but both of these poets betray love and study
of English masters. In the former there is something to remind us of
Milton, of Ossian, who is still believed a poet in Latin countries,
and of Byron; and in the latter, Arnaud notes very obvious
resemblances to Gray, Crabbe, and Wordsworth in the simplicity or the
proud humility of the theme, and the courage of its treatment. The
critic declares the poet's aesthetic creed to be God, the family, and
country; and in a beautiful essay on Domestic Poetry, written amidst
the universal political discouragement of 1839, Carcano himself
declares that in the cultivation of a popular and homelike feeling in
literature the hope of Italy no less than of Italian poetry lies. He
was ready to respond to the impulses of the nation's heart, which he
had felt in his communion with its purest and best life, when, in
later years, its expectation gave place to action, and many of his
political poems are bold and noble. But his finest poems are those
which celebrate the affections of the household, and poetize the
pathetic beauty of toil and poverty in city and country. He sings with
a tenderness peculiarly winning of the love of mothers and children,
and I shall give the best notion of the poet's best in the following
beautiful lullaby, premising merely that the title of the poem is the
Italian infantile for sleep:

Sleep, sleep, sleep! my little girl:
Mother is near thee. Sleep, unfurl
Thy veil o'er the cradle where baby lies!
Dream, baby, of angels in the skies!
On the sorrowful earth, in hopeless quest,
Passes the exile without rest;
Where'er he goes, in sun or snow,
Trouble and pain beside him go.

But when I look upon thy sleep,
And hear thy breathing soft and deep,
My soul turns with a faith serene
To days of sorrow that have been,
And I feel that of love and happiness
Heaven has given my life excess;
The Lord in his mercy gave me thee,
And thou in truth art part of me!

Thou knowest not, as I bend above thee,
How much I love thee, how much I love thee;
Thou art the very life of my heart,
Thou art my joy, thou art my smart!
Thy day begins uncertain, child:
Thou art a blossom in the wild;
But over thee, with his wings abroad,
Blossom, watches the angel of God.

Ah! wherefore with so sad a face
Must thy father look on thy happiness?
In thy little bed he kissed thee now,
And dropped a tear upon thy brow.
Lord, to this mute and pensive soul
Temper the sharpness of his dole:
Give him peace whose love my life hath kept:
He too has hoped, though he has wept.

And over thee, my own delight,
Watch that sweet Mother, day and night,
To whom the exiles consecrate
Altar and heart in every fate.
By her name I have called my little girl;
But on life's sea, in the tempest's whirl,
Thy helpless mother, my darling, may
Only tremble and only pray!

Sleep, sleep, sleep! my baby dear;
Dream of the light of some sweet star.
Sleep, sleep! and I will keep
Thoughtful vigils above thy sleep.
Oh, in the days that are to come,
With unknown trial and unknown doom,
Thy little heart can ne'er love me
As thy mother loves and shall love thee!


Arnaldo Fusinato of Padua has written for the most part comic poetry,
his principal piece of this sort being one in which he celebrates
and satirizes the student-life at the University of Padua. He had
afterward to make a formal reparation to the students, which he did in
a poem singing their many virtues. The original poem of The Student is
a rather lively series of pictures, from which we learn that it
was once the habit of studious youth at Padua, when freshmen, or
_matricolini_, to be terrible dandies, to swear aloud upon the public
ways, to pass whole nights at billiards, to be noisy at the theater,
to stand treat for the Seniors, joyfully to lend these money, and to
acquire knowledge of the world at any cost. Later, they advanced to
the dignity of breaking street-lamps and of being arrested by the
Austrian garrison, for in Padua the students were under a kind of
martial law. Sometimes they were expelled; they lost money at play,
and wrote deceitful letters to their parents for more; they shunned
labor, and failed to take degrees. But we cannot be interested in
traits so foreign to what I understand is our own student-life.
Generally, the comic as well as the sentimental poetry of Fusinato
deals with incidents of popular life; and, of course, it has hits
at the fleeting fashions and passing sensations: for example, Il
Bloomerismo is satirized.

The poem which I translate, however, is in a different strain from any
of these. It will be remembered that when the Austrians returned to
take Venice in 1849, after they had been driven out for eighteen
months, the city stood a bombardment of many weeks, contesting every
inch of the approach with the invaders. But the Venetians were very
few in number, and poorly equipped; a famine prevailed among them; the
cholera broke out, and raged furiously; the bombs began to drop into
the square of St. Mark, and then the Venetians yielded, and ran up the
white flag on the dearly contested lagoon bridge, by which the railway
traveler enters the city. The poet is imagined in one of the little
towns on the nearest main-land.

The twilight is deepening, still is the wave;
I sit by the window, mute as by a grave;
Silent, companionless, secret I pine;
Through tears where thou liest I look, Venice mine.

On the clouds brokenly strewn through the west
Dies the last ray of the sun sunk to rest;
And a sad sibilance under the moon
Sighs from the broken heart of the lagoon.

Out of the city a boat draweth near:
"You of the gondola! tell us what cheer!"
"Bread lacks, the cholera deadlier grows;
From the lagoon bridge the white banner blows."

No, no, nevermore on so great woe,
Bright sun of Italy, nevermore glow!
But o'er Venetian hopes shattered so soon,
Moan in thy sorrow forever, lagoon!

Venice, to thee comes at last the last hour;
Martyr illustrious, in thy foe's power;
Bread lacks, the cholera deadlier grows;
From the lagoon bridge the white banner blows.

Not all the battle-flames over thee streaming;
Not all the numberless bolts o'er thee screaming;
Not for these terrors thy free days are dead:
Long live Venice! She's dying for bread!

On thy immortal page, sculpture, O Story,
Others'iniquity, Venice's glory;
And three times infamous ever be he
Who triumphed by famine, O Venice, o'er thee.

Long live Venice! Undaunted she fell;
Bravely she fought for her banner and well;
But bread lacks; the cholera deadlier grows;
From the lagoon bridge the white banner blows.

And now be shivered upon the stone here
Till thou be free again, O lyre I bear.
Unto thee, Venice, shall be my last song,
To thee the last kiss and the last tear belong.

Exiled and lonely, from hence I depart,
But Venice forever shall live in my heart;
In my heart's sacred place Venice shall be
As is the face of my first love to me.

But the wind rises, and over the pale
Face of its waters the deep sends a wail;
Breaking, the chords shriek, and the voice dies.
On the lagoon bridge the white banner flies!


Among the later Italian poets is Luigi Mercantini, of Palermo, who has
written almost entirely upon political themes--events of the different
revolutions and attempts at revolution in which Italian history
so abounds. I have not read him so thoroughly as to warrant me in
speaking very confidently about him, but from the examination which
I have given his poetry, I think that he treats his subjects with as
little inflation as possible, and he now and then touches a point of
naturalness--the high-water mark of balladry, to which modern poets,
with their affected unaffectedness and elaborate simplicity, attain
only with the greatest pains and labor. Such a triumph of Mercantini's
is this poem which I am about to give. It celebrates the daring and
self-sacrifice of three hundred brave young patriots, led by Carlo
Pisacane, who landed on the coast of Naples in 1857, for the purpose
of exciting a revolution against the Bourbons, and were all killed. In
a note the poet reproduces the pledge signed by these young heroes,
which is so fine as not to be marred even by their dramatic, almost
theatrical, consciousness.

We who are here written down, having all sworn,
despising the calumnies of the vulgar, strong in the
justice of our cause and the boldness of our spirits, do
solemnly declare ourselves the initiators of the Italian
revolution. If the country does not respond to our appeal,
we, without reproaching it, will know how to die
like brave men, following the noble phalanx of Italian
martyrs. Let any other nation of the world find men
who, like us, shall immolate themselves to liberty, and
then only may it compare itself to Italy, though she still
be a slave.

Mercantini puts his poem in the mouth of a peasant girl, and calls it


They were three hundred; they were young and strong,
And they are dead!
That morning I was going out to glean;
A ship in the middle of the sea was seen
A barque it was of those that go by steam,
And from its top a tricolor flag did stream.
It anchored off the isle of Ponza; then
It stopped awhile, and then it turned again
Toward this place, and here they came ashore.
They came with arms, but not on us made war.
They were three hundred; they were young and strong,
And they are dead!

They came in arms, but not on us made war;
But down they stooped until they kissed the shore,
And one by one I looked them in the face,--
A tear and smile in each one I could trace.
They were all thieves and robbers, their foes said.
They never took from us a loaf of bread.
I heard them utter nothing but this cry:
"We have come to die, for our dear land to die."
They were three hundred; they were young and strong,
And they are dead!

With his blue eyes and with his golden hair
There was a youth that marched before them there,
And I made bold and took him by the hand,
And "Whither goest thou, captain of this band?"
He looked at me and said: "Oh, sister mine,
I'm going to die for this dear land of thine."
I felt my bosom tremble through and through;
I could not say, "May the Lord help you!"
They were three hundred; they were young and strong,
And they are dead!

I did forget to glean afield that day,
But after them I wandered on their way.
And twice I saw them fall on the gendarmes,
And both times saw them take away their arms,
But when they came to the Certosa's wall
There rose a sound of horns and drums, and all
Amidst the smoke and shot and darting flame
More than a thousand foemen fell on them.
They were three hundred; they were young and strong,
And they are dead!

They were three hundred and they would not fly;
They seemed three thousand and they chose to die.
They chose to die with each his sword in hand.
Before them ran their blood upon the land;
I prayed for them while I could see them fight,
But all at once I swooned and lost the sight;
I saw no more with them that captain fair,
With his blue eyes and with his golden hair.
They were three hundred; they were young and strong,
And they are dead.


Little remains to be said in general of poetry whose character and
tendency are so single. It is, in a measure, rarely, if ever, known
to other literatures, a patriotic expression and aspiration. Under
whatever mask or disguise, it hides the same longing for freedom, the
same impulse toward unity, toward nationality, toward Italy. It is
both voice and force.

It helped incalculably in the accomplishment of what all Italians
desired, and, like other things which fulfill their function, it died
with the need that created it. No one now writes political poetry
in Italy; no one writes poetry at all with so much power as to make
himself felt in men's vital hopes and fears. Carducci seems an
agnostic flowering of the old romantic stalk; and for the rest, the
Italians write realistic novels, as the French do, the Russians, the
Spaniards--as every people do who have any literary life in them. In
Italy, as elsewhere, realism is the ultimation of romanticism.

Whether poetry will rise again is a question there as it is everywhere
else, and there is a good deal of idle prophesying about it. In the
mean time it is certain that it shares the universal decay.

Compendio della Storia della Letteratura Italiana. Di Paolo
Emiliano-Giudici. Firenze: Poligrafia Italiana, 1851.

Della Letteratura Italiana. Esempj e Giudizi, esposti da Cesare Cantu.
A Complemento della sua Storia degli Italiani. Torino: Presso l'Unione
Tipografico-Editrice, 1860.

Storia della Letteratura Italiana. Di Francesco de Sanctis. Napoli:
Antonio Morano, Editore, 1879. Saggi Critici. Di Francesco de Sanctis.
Napoli: Antonio Morano, Librajo-Editore, 1869.

I Contemporanei Italiani. Galleria Nazionale del Secolo XIX. Torino:
Dall'Unione Tipografico-Editrice, 1862.

L'Italie est-elle la Terre des Morts? Par Marc-Monnier. Paris:
Hachette & Cie., 1860.

I Poeti Patriottici. Studii di Giuseppe Arnaud. Milano: 1862.

The Tuscan Poet Giuseppe Giusti and his Times. By Susan Horner.
London: Macmillan & Co., 1864.


Back to Full Books