The Artist-Prisoner

HERE, in this vacant cell of mine,
I picture and paint my Apennine.

In spite of walls and gyvéd wrist,
I gather my gold and amethyst.

The muffled footsteps’ ebb and swell,
Immutable tramp of sentinel,

The clenchéd lip, the gaze of doom,
The hollow-resounding dungeon-gloom,

All fade and cease, as, mass and line,
I shadow the sweep of Apennine,

And from my olive palette take
The marvellous pigments, flake by flake.

With azure, pearl, and silver white,
The purple of bloom and malachite,

Ceiling, wall, and iron door,
When the grim guard goes, I picture o’er.

E’en where his shadow falls athwart
The sunlight of noon, I’ve a glory wrought,—

Have shaped the gloom and golden shine
To image my gleaming Apennine.

No cruel Alpine heights are there,
Dividing the depths of pallid air;

But sea-blue liftings, far and fine,
With driftings of pearl and coralline;

And domes of marble, every one
All ambered o’er by setting sun;—

Yes, marble realms, that, clear and high,
So float in the purple-azure sky,

We all have deemed them, o’er and o’er,
Miraculous isles of madrepore;

Nor marvel made that hither floods
Bore wonderful forms of hero-gods.

Oh, can you see, as spirit sees,
Yon silvery sheen of olive-trees?

To me a sound of murmuring doves
Comes wandering up from olive-groves,

And lingers near me, while I dwell
On yonder fair field of asphodel,

Half-lost in sultry songs of bees,
As, touching my chaliced anemones,

I prank their leaves with dusty sheen
To show where the golden bees have been.

On granite wall I paint the June
With emerald grape and wild festoon,—

Its chestnut-trees with open palms
Beseeching the sun for daily alms,—

In sloping valley, veiled with vines,
A violet path beneath the pines,—

The way one goes to find old Rome,
Its far away sign a purple dome.

But not for me the glittering shrine:
I worship my God in the Apennine!

To all save those of artist eyes,
The listeners to silent symphonies,

Only a cottage small is mine,
With poppied pasture, sombre pine.

But they hear anthems, prayer, and bell,
And sometimes they hear an organ swell;

They see what seems—so saintly fair—
Madonna herself a-wandering there,

Bearing baby so divine
They speak of the Child in Palestine!

Yet I, who threw my palette down
To fight on the walls of yonder town,

Know them for wife and baby mine,
As, weeping, I trace them, line by line,
In far-off glen of Apennine!