Il Cinque Maggio

We present this work in honor of the 150th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Alessandro Manzoni
1785 – 1873


He was – As motionless as lay,
First mingled with the dead,
The relics of the senseless clay,
Whence such a soul had fled, –
The Earth astounded holds her breath,
Struck with the tidings of his death:
She pauses the last hour to see
Of the dread Man of Destiny;
Nor knows she when another tread,
Like that of the once mighty dead,
Shall such a footprint Leave impressed
As his, in blood, upon her breast.

I saw him blazing on his throne,
Yet hailed him not: by restless fate
Hurled from the giddy summit down;
Resume again his lofty state:
Saw him at last for ever fall,
Still mute amid the shouts of all:
Free from base flattery, when he rose;
From baser outrage, when he fell:
Now his career has reached its close,
My voice is raised, the truth to tell,
And o’er his exiled urn will try
To pour a strain that shall not die.

From Alps to Pyramids were thrown
His bolts from Scylla to the Don,
From Manzanares to the Rhine,
From sea to sea, unerring hurled;
And ere the flash had ceased to shine,
Burst on their aim, – and shook the world.
Was this true glory? – The high doom
Must be pronounced by times to come:
For us, we bow before His throne,
Who willed, in gifting mortal clay
With such a spirit, to display
A grander impress of his own.

His was the stormy, fierce delight
To dare adventure’s boldest scheme;
The soul of fire, that burned for might,
And could of naught but empire dream;
And his the indomitable will
That dream of empire to fulfil,
And to a greatness to attain
‘T were madness to have hoped to gain:
All these were his; nor these alone; –
Flight, victory, exile, and the throne; –
Twice in the dust by thousands trod,
Twice on the altar as a god.

Two ages stood in arms arrayed,
Contending which should victor be:
He spake: – his mandate they obeyed,
And bowed to hear their destiny.
He stepped between them, to assume
The mastery, and pronounce their doom;
Then vanished, and inactive wore
Life’s remnant out on that lone shore.
What envy did his palmy state,
What pity his reverses move,
Object of unrelenting hate,
And unextinguishable love!

As beat innumerable waves
O’er the last floating plank that saves
One sailor from the wreck, whose eye
Intently gazes o’er the main,
Far in the distance to descry
Some speck of hope, – but all in vain;
Did countless waves of memory roll
Incessant, thronging on his soul:
Recording, for a future age,
The tale of his renown,
How often on the immortal page
His hand sank weary down!

Oft on some sea beat cliff alone
He stood, – the lingering daylight gone,
And pensive evening come at last, –
With folded arms, and eyes declined;
While, O, what visions on his mind
Came rushing – of the past!
The rampart stormed, – lie tented field, –
His eagles glittering far and wide, –
His columns never taught to yield, –
His cavalry’s resistless tide,
Watching each motion of his hand,
Swift to obey the swift command.

Such thoughts, perchance, last filled his breast,
And his departing soul oppressed,
To tempt it to despair;
Till from on high a hand of might
In mercy came to guide its flight
Up to a purer air, –
Leading it, o’er hope’s path of flowers,
To the celestial plains,
Where greater happiness is ours
Than even fancy feigns,
And where earth’s fleeting glories fade
Into the shadow of a shade.

Immortal, bright, beneficent,
Faith, used to victories, on thy roll
Write this with joy; for never bent
Beneath death’s hand a haughtier soul;
Thou from the worn and pallid clay
Chase every bitter word away,
That would insult the dead:
His holy crucifix, whose breath
Has power to raise and to depress,
Send consolation and distress,
Lay by him on that lowly bed
And hallowed it in death.

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