Rhymes On The Road. Extract XIV. Rome.

A poem by Thomas Moore

Fragment of a Dream.--The great Painters supposed to be Magicians.--The Beginnings of the Art.--Gildings on the Glories and Draperies.-- Improvements under Giotto, etc.--The first Dawn of the true Style in Masaccio.--Studied by all the great Artists who followed him.--Leonardo da Vinci, with whom commenced the Golden Age of Painting.--His Knowledge of Mathematics and of Music.--His female heads all like each other.-- Triangular Faces.--Portraits of Mona Lisa, etc.--Picture of Vanity and Modesty.--His chef-d'oeuvre, the Last Supper.--Faded and almost effaced.

Filled with the wonders I had seen
In Rome's stupendous shrines and halls,
I felt the veil of sleep serene
Come o'er the memory of each scene,
As twilight o'er the landscape falls.
Nor was it slumber, sound and deep,
But such as suits a poet's rest--
That sort of thin, transparent sleep,
Thro' which his day-dreams shine the best.
Methought upon a plain I stood,
Where certain wondrous men, 'twas said,
With strange, miraculous power endued,
Were coming each in turn to shed
His art's illusions o'er the sight
And call up miracles of light.
The sky above this lonely place,
Was of that cold, uncertain hue,
The canvas wears ere, warmed apace,
Its bright creation dawns to view.

But soon a glimmer from the east
Proclaimed the first enchantments nigh;[1]
And as the feeble light increased,
Strange figures moved across the sky,
With golden glories deckt and streaks
Of gold among their garments' dyes;[2]
And life's resemblance tinged their cheeks,
But naught of life was in their eyes;--
Like the fresh-painted Dead one meets,
Borne slow along Rome's mournful streets.

But soon these figures past away;
And forms succeeded to their place
With less of gold in their array,
But shining with more natural grace,
And all could see the charming wands
Had past into more gifted hands.
Among these visions there was one,[3]
Surpassing fair, on which the sun,
That instant risen, a beam let fall,
Which thro' the dusky twilight trembled.
And reached at length the spot where all
Those great magicians stood assembled.
And as they turned their heads to view
The shining lustre, I could trace
The bright varieties it threw
On each uplifted studying face:[4]
While many a voice with loud acclaim
Called forth, "Masaccio" as the name
Of him, the Enchanter, who had raised
This miracle on which all gazed.

'Twas daylight now--the sun had risen
From out the dungeon of old Night.--
Like the Apostle from his prison
Led by the Angel's hand of light;
And--as the fetters, when that ray
Of glory reached them, dropt away.[5]
So fled the clouds at touch of day!
Just then a bearded sage came forth,[6]
Who oft in thoughtful dream would stand,
To trace upon the dusky earth
Strange learned figures with his wand;
And oft he took the silver lute
His little page behind him bore,
And waked such music as, when mute,
Left in the soul a thirst for more!

Meanwhile his potent spells went on,
And forms and faces that from out
A depth of shadow mildly shone
Were in the soft air seen about.
Tho' thick as midnight stars they beamed,
Yet all like living sisters seemed,
So close in every point resembling
Each other's beauties--from the eyes
Lucid as if thro' crystal trembling,
Yet soft as if suffused with sighs,
To the long, fawn-like mouth, and chin,
Lovelily tapering, less and less,
Till by this very charm's excess,
Like virtue on the verge of sin,
It touched the bounds of ugliness.
Here lookt as when they lived the shades
Of some of Arno's dark-eyed maids--
Such maids as should alone live on
In dreams thus when their charms are gone:
Some Mona Lisa on whose eyes
A painter for whole years might gaze,[7]
Nor find in all his pallet's dyes
One that could even approach their blaze!
Here float two spirit shapes,[8] the one,
With her white fingers to the sun
Outspread as if to ask his ray
Whether it e'er had chanced to play
On lilies half so fair as they!
This self-pleased nymph was Vanity--
And by her side another smiled,
In form as beautiful as she,
But with that air subdued and mild,
That still reserve of purity,
Which is to beauty like the haze
Of evening to some sunny view,
Softening such charms as it displays
And veiling others in that hue,
Which fancy only can see thro'!
This phantom nymph, who could she be,
But the bright Spirit, Modesty?

Long did the learned enchanter stay
To weave his spells and still there past,
As in the lantern's shifting play
Group after group in close array,
Each fairer, grander, than the last.
But the great triumph of his power
Was yet to come:--gradual and slow,
(As all that is ordained to tower
Among the works of man must grow,)
The sacred vision stole to view,
In that half light, half shadow shown,
Which gives to even the gayest hue
A sobered, melancholy tone.
It was a vision of that last,[9]
Sorrowful night which Jesus past
With his disciples when he said
Mournfully to them--"I shall be
"Betrayed by one who here hath fed
"This night at the same board with me."
And tho' the Saviour in the dream
Spoke not these words, we saw them beam
Legibly in his eyes (so well
The great magician workt his spell),
And read in every thoughtful line
Imprinted on that brow divine.

The meek, the tender nature, grieved,
Not angered to be thus deceived--
Celestial love requited ill
For all its care, yet loving still--
Deep, deep regret that there should fall
From man's deceit so foul a blight
Upon that parting hour--and all
His Spirit must have felt that night.
Who, soon to die for human-kind,
Thought only, mid his mortal pain,
How many a soul was left behind
For whom he died that death in vain!

Such was the heavenly scene--alas!
That scene so bright so soon should pass
But pictured on the humid air,
Its tints, ere long, grew languid there;[10]
And storms came on, that, cold and rough,
Scattered its gentlest glories all--
As when the baffling winds blow off
The hues that hang o'er Terni's fall,--
Till one by one the vision's beams
Faded away and soon it fled.
To join those other vanisht dreams
That now flit palely 'mong the dead,--
The shadows of those shades that go.
Around Oblivion's lake below!

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