Sunday Poem: Edward Robert Bulwer Lytton – A Night in Italy

Edward Robert Bulwer Lytton, Earl of Lytton. 1831–1892
A Night in Italy
SWEET are the rosy memories of the lips  
  That first kiss’d ours, albeit they kiss no more:  
Sweet is the sight of sunset-sailing ships,  
  Altho’ they leave us on a lonely shore:  
Sweet are familiar songs, tho’ Music dips          5
  Her hollow shell in Thought’s forlornest wells:  
  And sweet, tho’ sad, the sound of midnight bells  
When the oped casement with the night-rain drips.  
There is a pleasure which is born of pain:  
  The grave of all things hath its violet.   10
Else why, thro’ days which never come again,  
  Roams Hope with that strange longing, like Regret?  
Why put the posy in the cold dead hand?  
  Why plant the rose above the lonely grave?  
  Why bring the corpse across the salt sea-wave?   15
Why deem the dead more near in native land?  
Thy name hath been a silence in my life  
  So long, it falters upon language now,  
O more to me than sister or than wife  
  Once … and now—nothing! It is hard to know   20
That such things have been, and are not; and yet  
  Life loiters, keeps a pulse at even measure,  
  And goes upon its business and its pleasure,  
And knows not all the depths of its regret….  
Ah, could the memory cast her spots, as do   25
  The snake’s brood theirs in spring! and be once more  
Wholly renew’d, to dwell i’ the time that ‘s new,  
  With no reiterance of those pangs of yore.  
Peace, peace! My wild song will go wandering  
  Too wantonly, down paths a private pain   30
  Hath trodden bare. What was it jarr’d the strain?  
Some crush’d illusion, left with crumpled wing  
Tangled in Music’s web of twinèd strings—  
  That started that false note, and crack’d the tune  
In its beginning. Ah, forgotten things   35
  Stumble back strangely! and the ghost of June  
Stands by December’s fire, cold, cold! and puts  
  The last spark out.—How could I sing aright  
  With those old airs haunting me all the night  
And those old steps that sound when daylight shuts?   40
For back she comes, and moves reproachfully,  
  The mistress of my moods, and looks bereft  
(Cruel to the last!) as tho’ ’twere I, not she,  
  That did the wrong, and broke the spell, and left  
Memory comfortless.—Away! away!   45
  Phantoms, about whose brows the bindweed clings,  
  Hopeless regret! In thinking of these things  
Some men have lost their minds, and others may.  
Yet, O for one deep draught in this dull hour!  
  One deep, deep draught of the departed time!   50
O for one brief strong pulse of ancient power,  
  To beat and breathe thro’ all the valves of rhyme!  
Thou, Memory, with thy downward eyes, that art  
  The cup-bearer of gods, pour deep and long,  
  Brim all the vacant chalices of song   55
With health! Droop down thine urn. I hold my heart  
One draught of what I shall not taste again  
  Save when my brain with thy dark wine is brimm’d,—  
One draught! and then straight onward, spite of pain,  
  And spite of all things changed, with gaze undimm’d,   60
Love’s footsteps thro’ the waning Past to explore  
  Undaunted; and to carve in the wan light  
  Of Hope’s last outposts, on Song’s utmost height,  
The sad resemblance of an hour or more.  
Midnight, and love, and youth, and Italy!   65
  Love in the land where love most lovely seems!  
Land of my love, tho’ I be far from thee,  
  Lend, for love’s sake, the light of thy moonbeams,  
The spirit of thy cypress-groves and all  
  Thy dark-eyed beauty for a little while   70
  To my desire. Yet once more let her smile  
Fall o’er me: o’er me let her long hair fall….  
Under the blessèd darkness unreproved  
  We were alone, in that best hour of time  
Which first reveal’d to us how much we loved,   75
  ‘Neath the thick starlight. The young night sublime  
Hung trembling o’er us. At her feet I knelt,  
  And gazed up from her feet into her eyes.  
  Her face was bow’d: we breathed each other’s sighs:  
We did not speak: not move: we look’d: we felt.   80
The night said not a word. The breeze was dead.  
  The leaf lay without whispering on the tree,  
As I lay at her feet. Droop’d was her head:  
  One hand in mine: and one still pensively  
Went wandering through my hair. We were together.   85
  How? Where? What matter? Somewhere in a dream,  
  Drifting, slow drifting down a wizard stream:  
Whither? Together: then what matter whither?  
It was enough for me to clasp her hand:  
  To blend with her love-looks my own: no more.   90
Enough (with thoughts like ships that cannot land,  
  Blown by faint winds about a magic shore)  
To realize, in each mysterious feeling,  
  The droop of the warm cheek so near my own:  
  The cool white arm about my shoulder thrown:   95
Those exquisite fair feet where I was kneeling.  
How little know they life’s divinest bliss,  
  That know not to possess and yet refrain!  
Let the young Psyche roam, a fleeting kiss:  
  Grasp it—a few poor grains of dust remain.  100
See how those floating flowers, the butterflies,  
  Hover the garden thro’, and take no root!  
  Desire for ever hath a flying foot:  
Free pleasure comes and goes beneath the skies.  
Close not thy hand upon the innocent joy  105
  That trusts itself within thy reach. It may,  
Or may not, linger. Thou canst but destroy  
  The wingèd wanderer. Let it go or stay.  
Love thou the rose, yet leave it on its stem.  
  Think! Midas starved by turning all to gold.  110
  Blessèd are those that spare, and that withhold;  
Because the whole world shall be trusted them.  
The foolish Faun pursues the unwilling Nymph  
  That culls her flowers beside the precipice  
Or dips her shining ankles in the lymph:  115
  But, just when she must perish or be his,  
Heaven puts an arm out. She is safe. The shore  
  Gains some new fountain; or the lilied lawn  
  A rarer sort of rose: but ah, poor Faun!  
To thee she shall be changed for evermore.  120
Chase not too close the fading rapture. Leave  
  To Love his long auroras, slowly seen.  
Be ready to release as to receive.  
  Deem those the nearest, soul to soul, between  
Whose lips yet lingers reverence on a sigh.  125
  Judge what thy sense can reach not, most thine own,  
  If once thy soul hath seized it. The unknown  
Is life to love, religion, poetry.  
The moon had set. There was not any light,  
  Save of the lonely legion’d watch-stars pale  130
In outer air, and what by fits made bright  
  Hot oleanders in a rosy vale  
Search’d by the lamping fly, whose little spark  
  Went in and out, like passion’s bashful hope.  
  Meanwhile the sleepy globe began to slope  135
A ponderous shoulder sunward thro’ the dark.  
And the night pass’d in beauty like a dream.  
  Aloof in those dark heavens paused Destiny,  
With her last star descending in the gleam  
  Of the cold morrow, from the emptied sky.  140
The hour, the distance from her old self, all  
  The novelty and loneness of the place  
  Had left a lovely awe on that fair face,  
And all the land grew strange and magical.  
As droops some billowy cloud to the crouch’d hill,  145
  Heavy with all heaven’s tears, for all earth’s care,  
She droop’d unto me, without force or will,  
  And sank upon my bosom, murmuring there  
A woman’s inarticulate passionate words.  
  O moment of all moments upon earth!  150
  O life’s supreme! How worth, how wildly worth,  
Whole worlds of flame, to know this world affords.  
What even Eternity can not restore!  
  When all the ends of life take hands and meet  
Round centres of sweet fire. Ah, never more,  155
  Ah never, shall the bitter with the sweet  
Be mingled so in the pale after-years!  
  One hour of life immortal spirits possess.  
  This drains the world, and leaves but weariness,  
And parching passion, and perplexing tears.  160
Sad is it, that we cannot even keep  
  That hour to sweeten life’s last toil: but Youth  
Grasps all, and leaves us: and when we would weep,  
  We dare not let our tears fall, lest, in truth,  
They fall upon our work which must be done.  165
  And so we bind up our torn hearts from breaking:  
  Our eyes from weeping, and our brows from aching:  
And follow the long pathway all alone.

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