'The traveller, who hears that vesper-bell,
Howe'er employed, must send a prayer to heaven
In foreign lands I liked the custom well,
For with the calm and sober thoughts of even
It well accords; and, wert Thou journeying there,
It would not hurt thee, George! to join that vesper-prayer.'
Southey's Saint Gualberto.
Who knows not, fair Sicilian land!
How proudly thou wert famed of yore,
When all the Muses hymned thy strand,
And, pleased to tread so sweet a shore,
Bacchus and Ceres, hand in hand,
To thee their choicest treasures bore,
And saw upreared their graceful shrines
'Mid waving corn and curling vines.
Yes—land thou wert of fruits and flowers,
The favoured land of Deity;
By Jove made glad with suns and showers,
By Neptune cheered with brightest sea;
E'en Dis, beneath his gloomy bowers,
Had heard, and loved to dream of thee,
And, when he willed to take a bride,
Snatched her from Enna's sloping side.
Those hollow creeds have passed away,
Those false, if graceful, shrines are gone;
A purer faith, of stricter sway,
For our behoof, their place hath won;
And Christian altars overlay
Yon temple's old foundation stone;
And in Minerva'svacant cell
Sublimest wisdom deigns to dwell.
And where, within some deep shy wood,
And, seen but half through curving bough,
In silent marble Dian stood,
Behold! a holier Virgin, now,
Hath sanctified the solitude;
And Thou, meek Mary—Mother! thou,
Dost hallow each old pagan spot,
Or storied stream or fabled grot.
The devious pilgrim, far beguiled,
How gladly doth he turn to greet
Thy long sought image 'mid the wild,
A calming thought—a vision sweet.
If grief be his then, Lady mild!
Thy gentle aid he will entreat,
And, bowed in heart not less than deed,
Findeth a prayer to fit the need.
There, while his secret soul he bares,
That lonely altar bending by,
The traveller, passing unawares,
Shall stay his step—but not too nigh—
And hearkening to those unforced prayers,
Albeit the creed he may deny,
Shall own his reason less averse,
And spirit, surely, not the worse.
Thy shrines are lovely—wheresoe'er—
And yet—if it were mine to choose
One—loveliest—where fretted Care
Might come, to rest—or Thought, to muse—
'Twould be that one, so soft and fair,
That standeth by old Syracuse;
Just where those salt-sea waters take
The likeness of an inland lake.
Green tendrilled plants, in many a ring,
Creep round the grey stone, tenderly,
As though in very love to cling
And clasp it; while the reverent sea
A fond uplooking wave doth bring,
To break, anon, submissively;
As if it came that brow to greet,
Then whisper praise beneath thy feet.
When suns, that sink in twilight clear,
Forth from the city tempt to roam,
Be mine to meet sweet evening here,
And muse on friends I've left at home.
But She, who loves the mariner,
Shall yet more duly hither come,
Where, fitly, thou art held to be
Our Guardian Lady of the Sea.