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

To Rienzi, Beseeching him to Restore to Rome her Ancient Liberty

By Petrarch (1304–1374)

“Spirto gentil che quelle membra reggi”

Translation of Robert Guthrie Macgregor

SPIRIT heroic! who with fire divine

Kindlest those limbs, awhile which pilgrim hold

On earth a chieftain gracious, wise, and bold;

Since rightly now the rod of State is thine,

Rome and her wandering children to confine,

And yet reclaim her to the old good way;

To thee I speak, for elsewhere not a ray

Of virtue can I find, extinct below,

Nor one who feels of evil deeds the shame.

Why Italy still waits, and what her aim,

I know not: callous to her proper woe,

Indolent, aged, slow,

Still will she sleep? Is none to rouse her found?

Oh that my wakening hands were through her tresses wound!

So grievous is the spell, the trance so deep,

Loud though we call, my hope is faint that e’er

She yet will waken from her heavy sleep;

But not, methinks, without some better end

Was this our Rome intrusted to thy care,

Who surest may revive and best defend.

Fearlessly then upon that reverend head,

’Mid her disheveled locks, thy fingers spread,

And lift at length the sluggard from the dust;

I, day and night, who her prostration mourn,

For this in thee have fixed my certain trust,—

That if her sons yet turn,

And their eyes ever true to honor raise,

The glory is reserved for thy illustrious days!

Her ancient walls, which still with fear and love

The world admires, whene’er it calls to mind

The days of Eld, and turns to look behind;

Her hoar and caverned monuments above

The dust of men, whose fame, until the world

In dissolution sink, can never fail;

Her all, that in one ruin now lies hurled,

Hopes to have healed by thee its every ail.

O faithful Brutus, noble Scipios, dead!

To you what triumph, where ye now are blest,

If of our worthy choice the fame have spread:

And how his laureled crest

Will old Fabricius rear, with joy elate,

That his own Rome again shall beauteous be and great!

And if for things of earth its care Heaven show,

The souls who dwell above in joy and peace,

And their mere mortal frames have left below,

Implore thee this long civil strife may cease,

Which kills all confidence, nips every good,

Which bars the way to many a roof where men

Once holy, hospitable lived, the den

Of fearless rapine now and frequent blood,

Whose doors to virtue only are denied.

While beneath plundered saints, in outraged fanes

Plots faction, and revenge the altar stains;

And—contrast sad and wide—

The very bells which sweetly wont to fling

Summons to prayer and praise, now battle’s tocsin ring!

Pale weeping women, and a friendless crowd

Of tender years, infirm and desolate Age,

Which hates itself and its superfluous days,

With each blest order to religion vowed,

Whom works of love through lives of want engage,

To thee for help their hands and voices raise;

While our poor panic-stricken land displays

The thousand wounds which now so mar her frame

That e’en from foes compassion they command;

Or more if Christendom thy care may claim,

Lo! God’s own house on fire, while not a hand

Moves to subdue the flame:

Heal thou these wounds, this feverish tumult end,

And on the holy work Heaven’s blessing shall descend!

Often against our marble column high,

Wolf, Lion, Bear, proud Eagle, and base Snake

Even to their own injury insult shower;

Lifts against thee and theirs her mournful cry

The noble Dame who calls thee here to break

Away the evil weeds which will not flower.

A thousand years and more! and gallant men

There fixed her seat in beauty and in power;

The breed of patriot hearts has failed since then!

And in their stead, upstart and haughty now,

A race which ne’er to her in reverence bends,

Her husband, father thou!

Like care from thee and counsel she attends,

As o’er his other works the Sire of all extends.

’Tis seldom e’en that with our fairest schemes

Some adverse fortune will not mix, and mar

With instant ill, ambition’s noblest dreams;

But thou, once ta’en thy path, so walk that I

May pardon her past faults, great as they are,

If now at least she give herself the lie.

For never in all memory as to thee,

To mortal man so sure and straight the way

Of everlasting honor open lay,

For thine the power and will, if right I see,

To lift our empire to its old proud state.

Let this thy glory be!

They succored her when young and strong and great;

He, in her weak old age, warded the stroke of Fate.

Forth on thy way! my song, and where the bold

Tarpeian lifts his brow, shouldst thou behold,

Of others’ weal more thoughtful than his own,

The chief, by general Italy revered,

Tell him from me, to whom he is but known

As one to virtue and by fame endeared,

Till stamped upon his heart the sad truth be,

That day by day to thee,

With suppliant attitude and streaming eyes,

For justice and relief our seven-hilled city cries.