Home  »  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895  »  Palmermo

Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

Harriet Eleanor Hamilton King b. 1840



Had look’d upon the glory of that day

In Sieily beneath the summer sun,

Would not have dream’d that Death was reigning there

In shape so terrible;—for all the road

Was like an avenue of Paradise,

Life, and full flame of loveliness of life.

The red geraniums blaz’d in banks breast-high,

And from the open doors in the white walls

Scents of magnolia and of heliotrope

Came to the street; filmy aurora-flowers

Oper’d and died in the hour, and fell away

In many-color’d showers upon the ground;

Nebulous masses of the pale blue stars

Made light upon the darkness of the green,

Through openings in the thickets over-arch’d;

Where roses, white and yellow and full-rose,

Weigh’d down their branches, till the ground was swept

By roses, and strewn with them, as the air

Shook the thick clusters, and the Indian reeds

Bow’d to its passing with their feathery heads;

And trumpet-blossoms push’d out great white horns

From the green sheath, till all the green was hid

By the white spread of giant-blowing wings.

In the cool shadow heaps of tuberose

Lay by the fountains in the market-place,

Among the purple fruit. The jalousies

Of the tall houses shut against the sun

Were wreath’d with trails of velvet-glossy bells;

And here and there one had not been unclos’d

Yesterday, and the vivid shoots had run

Over it in a night, and seal’d it fast

With tendril, and bright leaf, and drops of flower.

And in and out the balconies thin stems

Went twisting, and the chains of passion-flowers,

Bud, blossom, and phantasmal orb of fruit

Alternate, swung, and lengthen’d every hour.

And fine-leav’d greenery crept from bower to bower

With thick white star-flakes scatter’d; and the bloom

Of orient lilies, and the rainbow-blue

Of iris shot up stately from the grass;

And through the wavering shadows crimson sparks

Pois’d upon brittle stalks, glanced up and down;

And shining darkness of the cypress clos’d

The deep withdrawing glades of evergreen,

Lit up far off with oleander pyres.

Out of the rocky dust of the wayside

The lamps of the aloes burn’d themselves aloft,

Immortal; and the prickly cactus-knots

In the hot sunshines overleant the walls,

The lizards darting in and out of them;

But in the shadier side the maidenhair

Sprung thick from every crevice. Passing these,

He issued on to the Piazza, where

The wonder o the world, the Fountain streams

From height to height of marble, dashing down

White waves forever over whitest limbs,

That shine in multitudes amid the spray

And sound of silver waters without end,

Rolling and rising and showering suddenly.

There standing where the fig-trees made a shade

Close in the angle, he beheld the streets

Stretch fourways to the beautiful great gates;

With all their burnish’d domes and carven stones

In wavering color’d lines of light and shade.

And downwards, from the greatest of the gates,

Porta Felice, swept the orange-groves;

And avenues of coral-trees led down

In all their hanging splendors to the shore;

And out beyond them, sleeping in the light,

The islands, and the azure of the sea.

And upwards, through a labyrinth of spires,

And turrets, and steep alabaster walls,

The city rose, and broke itself away

Amidst the forests of the hills, and reach’d

The heights of Monreale, crown’d with all

Its pinnacles and all its jewell’d fronts

Shining to seaward;—but the tolling bells

Out of the gilded minarets smote the ear:—

Until at last, through miles of shadowy air,

The blue and violet mountains shut the sky.