'Tis no wild and wond'rous legend, but a simple pious tale
Of a gentle shepherd maiden, dwelling in Italian vale,
Near where Arno's glittering waters like the sunbeams flash and play
As they mirror back the vineyards through which they take their way.
She was in the rosy dawning of girlhood fair and bright,
And, like morning's smiles and blushes, was she lovely to the sight;
Soft cheeks like sea-shells tinted and radiant hazel eyes;
But on changing earthly lover were not lavished smiles or sighs.
Still, that gentle heart was swelling with a love unbounded, true,
Such as worldly breast, earth harden'd, passion-wearied, never knew;
And each day she sought the chapel of Our Lady in the dell,
There to seek an hour's communing with the Friend she loved so well.
Often, too, she brought a garland of wild flowers, fragrant, fair,
Which she culled whilst onward leading her flock with patient care;
The diamond dew-drops clinging to every petal sweet, -
For the mystic Rose of Heaven was it not a tribute meet?
The white statue of the Virgin boasted neither crown nor gem;
On its head she placed her chaplet instead of diadem,
Murm'ring, "O, my gentle Mother, would that it were in my power
To give Thee pearl or diamond instead of simple flower!"
But for earth she was too winsome, that fair child of faith and love,
One of those whom God culls early for His gardens bright above;
And the hand of sickness touched her till she faded day by day,
And to Our Lady's chapel she came no more to pray.
One evening, in the valley, after journeying many a mile,
Two pious men in holy garb lay down to rest a while,
And in sleep to both a vision of most wond'rous beauty came,
Such as only visit souls which burn with heav'nly love's pure flame.
Amid clouds of golden brightness they saw to earth float down
A band of fair young virgins, wearing each a glittering crown;
And surpassing them in beauty, as the day outshines the night,
Was high Heaven's regal Mistress - Our Lady, fair and bright.
Then the pious brothers knew at once that she was on her way
To see a dying maiden, and her love through life repay;
And when, from slumber waking, they told their vision true,
They said: "Let us go visit this child of Mary, too!"
High instinct lent by Heaven guided on their feet aright,
And in silence grave they journeyed till a cottage came in sight;
'Neath its humble porch they entered, with bow'd and reverent head,
And found themselves in presence of the peaceful, holy dead.
Oh! most fair the sight! No maiden with bridal wreath on brow
Ever looked one half so lovely as the one they gazed on now;
As a lily, fair and spotless, bright and pure each feature shone,
Bearing impress of that Heaven to which Mary's child had gone.