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Dante in Exile

by George Gordon Byron, 1881

(Prophecy of Dante, Canto i.)

ALAS! with what a weight upon my brow
  The sense of earth and earthly things come back,
  Corrosive passions, feelings dull and low,
The heart’s quick throb upon the mental rack,
  Long day, and dreary night; the retrospect
  Of half a century bloody and black,
And the frail few years I may yet expect
  Hoary and hopeless, but less hard to bear,
  For I have been too long and deeply wreck’d
On the lone rock of desolate Despair
  To lift my eyes more to the passing sail
  Which shuns that reef so horrible and bare;
Nor raise my voice—for who would heed my wail?
  I am not of this people, nor this age,
  And yet my harpings will unfold a tale
Which shall preserve these times when not a page
  Of their perturbed annals could attract
  An eye to gaze upon their civil rage,
Did not my verse embalm full many an act
  Worthless as they who wrought it: ’tis the doom.
  Of spirits of my order to be rack’d
In life, to wear their hearts out, and consume
  Their days in endless strife, and die alone;
  Then future thousands crowd around their tomb,
And pilgrims come from climes where they have known
  The name of him—who now is but a name,
  And wasting homage o’er the sullen stone,
Spread his—by him unheard, unheeded—fame;
  And mine at least hath cost me dear: to die
  Is nothing; but to wither thus—to tame
My mind down from its own infinity—
  To live in narrow ways with little men,
  A common sight to every common eye,
A wanderer, while even wolves can find a den,
  Ripp’d from all kindred, from all home, all things
  That make communion sweet, and soften pain—
To feel me in the solitude of kings
  Without the power that makes them bear a crown—
  To envy every dove his nest and wings
Which waft him where the Apennine looks down
  On Arno, till he perches, it may be,
  Within my all inexorable town,
Where yet my boys are, and that fatal she,
  Their mother, the cold partner who hath brought
  Destruction for a dowry—this to see
And feel, and know without repair, hath taught
  A bitter lesson; but it leaves me free:
  I have not vilely found, nor basely sought,
They made an Exile—not a slave of me.

Published in Poetry of Byron

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