Monte Cassino - Terra Di Lavoro


    Beautiful valley! through whose verdant meads
        Unheard the Garigliano glides along;--
    The Liris, nurse of rushes and of reeds,
        The river taciturn of classic song.

    The Land of Labor and the Land of Rest,
        Where mediaeval towns are white on all
    The hillsides, and where every mountain's crest
        Is an Etrurian or a Roman wall.

    There is Alagna, where Pope Boniface
         Was dragged with contumely from his throne;
    Sciarra Colonna, was that day's disgrace
        The Pontiff's only, or in part thine own?

    There is Ceprano, where a renegade
        Was each Apulian, as great Dante saith,
    When Manfred by his men-at-arms betrayed
        Spurred on to Benevento and to death.

    There is Aquinum, the old Volscian town,
        Where Juvenal was born, whose lurid light
    Still hovers o'er his birthplace like the crown
        Of splendor seen o'er cities in the night.

    Doubled the splendor is, that in its streets
        The Angelic Doctor as a school-boy played,
    And dreamed perhaps the dreams, that he repeats
        In ponderous folios for scholastics made.

    And there, uplifted, like a passing cloud

        That pauses on a mountain summit high,
    Monte Cassino's convent rears its proud
        And venerable walls against the sky.

    Well I remember how on foot I climbed
        The stony pathway leading to its gate;
    Above, the convent bells for vespers chimed,
        Below, the darkening town grew desolate.

    Well I remember the low arch and dark,
        The court-yard with its well, the terrace wide,
    From which, far down, the valley like a park
        Veiled in the evening mists, was dim descried.

    The day was dying, and with feeble hands
        Caressed the mountain-tops; the vales between
    Darkened; the river in the meadowlands
        Sheathed itself as a sword, and was not seen.

    The silence of the place was like a sleep,
        So full of rest it seemed; each passing tread
    Was a reverberation from the deep
        Recesses of the ages that are dead.

    For, more than thirteen centuries ago,
        Benedict fleeing from the gates of Rome,
    A youth disgusted with its vice and woe,
        Sought in these mountain solitudes a home.

    He founded here his Convent and his Rule
        Of prayer and work, and counted work as prayer;
    The pen became a clarion, and his school
        Flamed like a beacon in the midnight air.

    What though Boccaccio, in his reckless way,
        Mocking the lazy brotherhood, deplores
    The illuminated manuscripts, that lay
        Torn and neglected on the dusty floors?

    Boccaccio was a novelist, a child
        Of fancy and of fiction at the best!
    This the urbane librarian said, and smiled
        Incredulous, as at some idle jest.

    Upon such themes as these, with one young friar
        I sat conversing late into the night,
    Till in its cavernous chimney the woodfire
        Had burnt its heart out like an anchorite.

    And then translated, in my convent cell,
        Myself yet not myself, in dreams I lay,
    And, as a monk who hears the matin bell,
        Started from sleep; already it was day.

    From the high window I beheld the scene
        On which Saint Benedict so oft had gazed,--
    The mountains and the valley in the sheen
        Of the bright sun,--and stood as one amazed.

    Gray mists were rolling, rising, vanishing;
        The woodlands glistened with their jewelled crowns;
    Far off the mellow bells began to ring
        For matins in the half-awakened towns.

    The conflict of the Present and the Past,
        The ideal and the actual in our life,
    As on a field of battle held me fast,
        Where this world and the next world were at strife.

    For, as the valley from its sleep awoke,
        I saw the iron horses of the steam
    Toss to the morning air their plumes of smoke,
        And woke, as one awaketh from a dream.


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