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Comes the clear lustre of the sunlit dawn
Eager to kiss the marble's tender veins,
Half bathed in splendour, half in gloom withdrawn,
When on one side the light dominion gains
The other still in sombre shade remains;
Until the shadow ever backward creeping
No more the brightness of the gleam restrains,
Long undulations in pure glory stooping,
Like lines on waved sand in summer sunshine sleeping.
Above, great pinnacles their summits raise,
High spires of marble foam ; and arches white
Bordered with scarlet flowers alternate blaze
Resplendent-a confusion of delight;
There midmost stand in breadth of golden might
Four horses Grecian-moulded, while on high
Upon a field of azure gleaming bright
With countless stars, the symbol of the sky,
The Lion of St. Mark stands ever haughtily.
A sea of crested arches, wave on wave
Tossing themselves in wreaths of sculptured spray,
Flash higher still, with irridescence brave
Now glistening bright, now fading quite away,
Like sunset's halo at the close of day.
The breakers foaming on the Lido shore
Seemed standing, frost-bound, in confused array,
As though they meant to fall, but froze before,
And silent stood congealed, in stone for evermore.
Such was the vision that I saw appear,
A wondrous form of varied imagery,
And as I gazed, there came a mighty fear,
Touching my soul with sense of mystery,
Seizing my heart, I knew not whence or why.
I stood in presence of a solemn shrine,
The work of noble men in days gone by,
When Venice took the Lion for her sign
Ere vice could shame its pride or blood incarnadine.
The Lion of St. Mark still stands erect,
But sees the pride of all his glory stained;
Her walls with gold and azure still are decked,
But Freedom, Life, and Empire long have waned,
And Venice lies in slavery enchained.
She tasted Pleasure; tasting, craved for more,
And in fruition nobleness disdained,
But like the apple of the Dead Sea's shore
Found Pleasure turn to ashes, in repentance sore.
She was the crowning city of the sea,
Queen of the hundred isles, and gained the name
Of Mart of nations, Christianity
Ruling her purposes, till purest fame
Uplifted her beyond the reach of blame.
And still the dying glory seems to last
In faded splendour, through the fervent aim
Of those old workmen, who in stone set fast
Proofs of religious zeal and stern dominion passed.
St. Mark's incrusted walls and lustrous gold,
Those single shafts, those subtle lineaments
Of chiselled marble, and the wealth untold
Of precious blazonry, bear evidence
Of truthful love and humble reverence,
Which Venice had of old, when she applied
Her wealth to honour God, in permanence
Of stone and rich adornment, at her side
As Table of the Law and symbol of the Bride.
So stood the Church, a Bible lifted high
Above the turmoil of the restless crowd,
As seeming ever solemnly to cry
“He shall return," with strength and power endowed
To raise the humble and lay low the proud.
But Venice hearkened not: at her right hand
A glorious Bible stood ; yet she allowed
Transgression from His law and mild command,
And sinning found in sin her peace for ever banned.
What though the East has lavished all her skill
To gild each letter with a living fire,
Though Fancy's richest hues the pages fill
With all that men should reverence or admire ?
Its language is forgotten : men aspire
Not to regard the lesson of its lore,
But to be dressed in vain and tricked attire,
To enter Pleasure's portals, or the door
That lustful Vice and Sin hold open evermore.
It is alone and desolate amid
A crowded city, that will never know
Its beauty and its teaching, lying hid
From their dull hearts and eyes, altho'rgh they go
Before its gates for ever to and fro.
Revels and tragedies have passed away
Forgotten; idle masquers still below
Pursue their heedless path, though day by day
Those solemn domes are witness to the paltry play.
The madness of the World assembles there,
And Horror strives with Mirth and Vanity,
Vice joins with Pleasure, Murder with Despair ;
While over all the Temple mournfully
Stands silent unregarded, and the cry,
“St. Mark and Liberty,” the ancient boast
Of glorious Venice, is a memory,
That wakes no echo, dies itself almost-
St. Mark's behest unheeded and all freedom lost.