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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Ode to Venice

By Lord Byron (1788–1824)

O VENICE! Venice! when thy marble walls

Are level with the waters, there shall be

A cry of nations o’er thy sunken halls,

A loud lament along the sweeping sea!

If I, a northern wanderer, weep for thee,

What should thy sons do?—anything but weep:

And yet they only murmur in their sleep.

In contrast with their fathers—as the slime,

The dull green ooze of the receding deep,

Is with the dashing of the spring-tide foam

That drives the sailor shipless to his home—

Are they to those that were; and thus they creep,

Crouching and crab-like, through their sapping streets.

Oh, agony! that centuries should reap

No mellower harvest! Thirteen hundred years

Of wealth and glory turned to dust and tears;

And every monument the stranger meets,

Church, palace, pillar, as a mourner greets;

And even the Lion all subdued appears,

And the harsh sound of the barbarian drum,

With dull and daily dissonance, repeats

The echo of thy tyrant’s voice along

The soft waves, once all musical to song,

That heaved beneath the moonlight with the throng

Of gondolas—and to the busy hum

Of cheerful creatures, whose most sinful deeds

Were but the overbeating of the heart,

And flow of too much happiness, which needs

The aid of age to turn its course apart

From the luxuriant and voluptuous flood

Of sweet sensations, battling with the blood.

But these are better than the gloomy errors,

The weeds of nations in their last decay,

When Vice walks forth with her unsoftened terrors,

And Mirth is madness, and but smiles to slay:

And Hope is nothing but a false delay,

The sick man’s lightning half an hour ere death,

When Faintness, the last mortal birth of Pain,

And apathy of limb, the dull beginning

Of the cold staggering race which Death is winning,

Steals vein by vein and pulse by pulse away,

Yet so relieving the o’er-tortured clay,

To him appears renewal of his breath,

And freedom the mere numbness of his chain;

And then he talks of life, and how again

He feels his spirit soaring—albeit weak,

And of the fresher air, which he would seek:

And as he whispers knows not that he gasps,

That his thin finger feels not what it clasps,

And so the film comes o’er him—and the dizzy

Chamber swims round and round—and shadows busy,

At which he vainly catches, flit and gleam,

Till the last rattle chokes the strangled scream,

And all is ice and blackness—and the earth

That which it was the moment ere our birth.

There is no hope for nations!—Search the page

Of many thousand years—the daily scene,

The flow and ebb of each recurring age,

The everlasting to be which hath been,

Hath taught us naught, or little: still we lean

On things that rot beneath our weight, and wear

Our strength away in wrestling with the air:

For ’tis our nature strikes us down; the beasts

Slaughtered in hourly hecatombs for feasts

Are of as high an order—they must go

Even where their driver goads them, though to slaughter.

Ye men, who pour your blood for kings as water,

What have they given your children in return?

A heritage of servitude and woes,

A blindfold bondage, where your hire is blows.

What! do not yet the red-hot plowshares burn,

O’er which you stumble in a false ordeal,

And deem this proof of loyalty the real;

Kissing the hand that guides you to your scars,

And glorying as you tread the glowing bars?

All that your sires have left you, all that Time

Bequeaths of free, and History of sublime,

Spring from a different theme! Ye see and read,

Admire and sigh, and then succumb and bleed!

Save the few spirits who, despite of all,

And worse than all—the sudden crimes engendered

By the down-thundering of the prison-wall,

And thirst to swallow the sweet waters tendered

Gushing from Freedom’s fountains, when the crowd,

Maddened with centuries of drought, are loud,

And trample on each other to obtain

The cup which brings oblivion of a chain

Heavy and sore, in which long yoked they plowed

The sand; or if there sprung the yellow grain,

’Twas not for them,—their necks were too much bowed,

And their dead palates chewed the cud of pain;—

Yes! the few spirits who, despite of deeds

Which they abhor, confound not with the cause

Those momentary starts from Nature’s laws

Which, like the pestilence and earthquake, smite

But for a term, then pass, and leave the earth

With all her seasons to repair the blight

With a few summers, and again put forth

Cities and generations—fair when free—

For, Tyranny, there blooms no bud for thee!

Glory and Empire! once upon these towers

With Freedom—godlike Triad!—how ye sate!

The league of mightiest nations in those hours

When Venice was an envy, might abate,

But did not quench her spirit; in her fate

All were enwrapped: the feasted monarchs knew

And loved their hostess, nor could learn to hate,

Although they humbled. With the kingly few

The many felt, for from all days and climes

She was the voyager’s worship; even her crimes

Were of the softer order—born of Love.

She drank no blood, nor fattened on the dead,

But gladdened where her harmless conquests spread;

For these restored the Cross, that from above

Hallowed her sheltering banners, which incessant

Flew between earth and the unholy Crescent,

Which if it waned and dwindled, Earth may thank

The city it has clothed in chains, which clank

Now, creaking in the ears of those who owe

The name of Freedom to her glorious struggles;

Yet she but shares with them a common woe,

And called the “kingdom” of a conquering foe,

But knows what all—and, most of all, we—know,

With what set gilded terms a tyrant juggles!

The name of Commonwealth is past and gone

O’er the three fractions of the groaning globe:

Venice is crushed, and Holland deigns to own

A sceptre, and endures the purple robe;

If the free Switzer yet bestrides alone

His chainless mountains, ’tis but for a time,

For tyranny of late is cunning grown,

And in its own good season tramples down

The sparkles of our ashes. One great clime,

Whose vigorous offspring by dividing ocean

Are kept apart and nursed in the devotion

Of Freedom, which their fathers fought for and

Bequeathed—a heritage of heart and hand,

And proud distinction from each other land,

Whose sons must bow them at a monarch’s motion,

As if his senseless sceptre were a wand

Full of the magic of exploded science—

Still one great clime, in full and free defiance,

Yet rears her crest, unconquered and sublime,

Above the far Atlantic! She has taught

Her Esau-brethren that the haughty flag,

The floating fence of Albion’s feebler crag,

May strike to those whose red right hands have bought

Rights cheaply earned with blood. Still, still forever,

Better, though each man’s life-blood were a river,

That it should flow, and overflow, than creep

Through thousand lazy channels in our veins,

Dammed like the dull canal with locks and chains,

And moving as a sick man in his sleep,

Three paces, and then faltering:—better be

Where the extinguished Spartans still are free,

In their proud charnel of Thermopylæ,

Than stagnate in our marsh,—or o’er the deep

Fly, and one current to the ocean add,

One spirit to the souls our fathers had,

One freeman more, America, to thee!