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Far off the cypress island of the dead

Shimmers across the misted grey lagoon,

As we turn towards the city once again,

Santi Giovanni e Paolo still ahead.


Black gondola through turbid water glides,

Rippling the verd-antico water lane:

The gondoliere’s swanlike cryings glean

Echoes where brazen Colleoni rides.


That campo santo of the Doges slides

Behind us in the hazing afternoon:

The glaucous pavement moves us slowly on,

With crumbled brick and stone along both sides.


As though this tapestry were suddenly frayed,

We are transported to a further scene

Of alabaster, lapis, serpentine,

And other splendours arrogantly displayed.



Here wafted on the vaporetti tides,

We pass below the palaces, which tone

Their pinks and blues and umbers into one

Prevailing wash of age that blends their prides.


Dandolo, Loredan, Grimani: the guides

We read scatter their stars, and let them rain

To right and left, while, breathless, they explain

The sumptuous past which this canal divides.


On, by the Mocenigo, where the shade

Of Byron, moody, damns a splintered pen;

And, crossing towards the square-cut Balbi, strain

To see the Rezzonico, where Browning died.


And now another dark Byzantine glade

Draws us beneath bronze balconies, where green

Entrellised plants drink up a phantom sun;

This view not even Canaletto tried.


Somehow the water stairs are at our side;

And we have left the gondola to lion

Mouthed ring, and here are passing through the iron

Gates to the church which Titian magnified.


The blue November days of Venice fade:

Lights round Bellini’s gilded altar-screen

Throws back the shadows from La Donna’s throne:

Translucent beauty where the frari prayed.


The monument to Titian towers, wide

Entablatures of fame; nearby, serene,

Canova’s, meant for Titian, now his own;

And Dogeal crowns in marble multiplied.


But we have quit this church, whose rudeness hides

Glories impervious to praise, and, drawn

Through darkness lapping round us, move alone

To the gondola that glimmers from the shades.


Slowly, we coast along these leaden roads

That lead us through the palaces, which lean,

On either side, like fortress walls between

Time and the stars: dead princes’ dead bodies.



The lantern hanging at the prow pervades

The shadows all about us with the sheen

Of candlelight, investing scalloped stone

With gold that flickers up and then subsides.


The cloaks. the masks, the jewelled and jingling swords

Which would have etched this silence - all are done

With, flung aside, despoiled; like lutes, foregone:

No water music and no limpid words.


As though regretting this, the steersman cedes

His muted swanness to the past; and soon

His voice is lifted on a touching tone:

One of Rossini’s love-lorn serenades.


And on this rippling night, thus he confides

The loss of his ‘Amore’ to the moon,

Which comes and goes, and ever and again

Falls on the gondola in silver floods.


Ah, Venice, how the pathos of that bride’s

Devotion, which you thought the sea must own

To you, whose Doge had wed her, takes this tune

And gives it grandeur on the ebbing tides.