"AY, signer! that's Nervi, just under the lights
That look down from the forts on the Genoese heights;
And that stone set in stone in the rim of the sea,
Like a tall figure rising and reaching a hand,
Marks the spot where the chief and his redshirted band
Hoisted sail. ... Have a light? Ah, yes: as for me
I have lights, and a leg — short a leg, as you see;
And have three fingers hewn from this strong sabre-hand.
"See that cursed cowled monk, black-mantled, and black
In his heart as the plague, or the stole at his back,
Stealing by like a spy down that sweet wooded way?
Well, these were the fellows we grappled. Why they —
They were thick in the land as the locusts. The land
Was eaten alive by their indolence. Yea,
They did toil not nor spin, and yet their array
Was as purple and gold; and they laid heavy hand
On the first of the fruits, of the flocks; and the gown
Soiled the first fairest maidens of country and town.
"Look you there! Do you see where the blue bended floors
Of the heavens are frescoed with stars? See the heights,
Then the bent hills beneath, where the grapegrowers' doors
Open out and look down in a crescent of lights?
Well, there I was born; grew tall. Then the call
For bold men for Sicily. I rose from the vines,
Shook back my long hair, looked forth, then let fall
My dull pruning-hook, and stood full in the lines.
Then my young promised bride held her head to her breast
As a sword trailed the stones, and I strode with a zest.
But a sable-cowled monk girt his gown, and looked down
With a leer in her face, as I turned from the town.
"Then from yonder green hills bending down to the seas,
Grouping here, grouping there, in the gray olive trees,
We watched the slow sun; slow saw him retire
At last in the sea, like a vast isle of fire.
Then the chief drew his sword: There was that in his air,
As the care on his face came and went and still came,
As he gazed out at sea, and yet gazed anywhere,
That meant more, signor, more than a peasant can say.
Then at last, when the stars in the soft-tempered breeze
Glowed red and grew large, as if fanned to a flame,
Lo! something shot up from a black-muffled ship
Deep asleep in the bay, like a star gone astray:
Then down, double quick, with the sword-hilt a-trip,
Came the troop with a zest, and — that stone tells the rest.
"Hot times at Marsala! and then under Rome
It was hell sure enough, and a whole column fell
Like new vines in a frost. Then year followed year,
Until, stricken and sere, at last I came home —
As the strife lulled a spell, came limping back here —
Stealing back to my home, limping up out of hell.
But we won, did we not? Won, I scarcely know what —
Yet the whole land is free from the Alps to the sea.
Ah! my young promised bride? Christ, that cuts! Why, I thought
That her face had gone by, like a dream that was not.
"What a presence was hers! What a throat, what a mouth!
Why, a mouth that Rossetti, the painter, had smiled
But to see; had caught it on canvas, had set his craft wild
With talk of his picture from Northland to South! —
A mouth that half opened as hungered for love,
That trusted all things; a mouth that went out
With daring and valor, that never knew doubt,
Yet was proud and as pure as that bent moon above. ...
... "Yes, peaches must ripen and show the sun's red
In their time, I suppose, like the full of a rose;
And some one must pluck them, 'tis -very well said,
As they swell and grow rich and look luscious to touch:
Yet I fancy some men, some fiends, must have much
To repent of: This reaching up rudely of hand
For the early sweet-fruits of a warm, careless land;
This plucking and biting of every sweet peach
Ere yet it is ripe and come well to its worth,
Then casting it down, and quite spoiled, to the reach
Of the swine and the things that creep close to the earth. ...
"But he died! Look you here. Stand aside. Yes, he died
Like a dog in a ditch. In that low battle-moat
He was found on a morn. The red line on his throat
They said was a rope. 'Bah! the one-fingered man
Might have done it,' said one.
Then I laughed till I cried
When the guard led me forth, and the judge sat to scan
My hands and my strength, and to question me sore:
'Why, what has the match-man to do with all this, —
The one-fingered man, with his life gone amiss?'
I cried as I laughed, and they vexed me no more.
. . . . . .
Some men must fill trenches. Ten thousand go down
As unnamed and unknown as the stones in a wall,
For the few to pass over and on to renown:
And I am of these. The old king has his crown,
And my country is free; and what more, after all,
Did I ask from the first? Don't you think that yon lights
Through the black olive trees look divine on the seas?
Then look you above, where the Apennines bend:
Why, you scarcely can tell, as you peer through the trees,
Where the great stars begin or the cottage-lights end!
"Yes, a little bit lonely, that can't be denied:
But as good place to wait for a sign as may be.
I shall watch on the shore, looking out as before;
And the chief on his isle in the calm middle sea,
With his sword gathered up, stands waiting with me
For the great silent ship. We shall cross to the shore
Where a white city lies like yon Alps in the skies,
And look down on this sea; and right well satisfied.
"Ay! The whole country round vaunts our deed, and the town
Raised that shaft on the spot, for the whole land is free;
And some won renown, and one won a crown,
And one won a right to sell lights by the sea.
Have a light, sir, to-night? Ah, thanks, signer, thanks!
Bon voyage, bon voyage! Bless you and your francs."
Genoa, October, 1873.