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.