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Joseph Addison (1672-1719)

A Letter from Italy
To The Right Honourable Charles Lord Halifax In The Year MDCCI


Salve magna parens frugum Saturnia tellus,
Magna virûm! tibi res antiquæ laudis et artis
Aggredior, sanctos ausus recludere fontes.
Virg. Geor. 2.

              1      While you, my Lord, the rural shades admire,
              2And from Britannia's public posts retire,
              3Nor longer, her ungrateful sons to please,
              4For their advantage sacrifice your ease;

              5      Me into foreign realms my fate conveys,
              6Through nations fruitful of immortal lays,
              7Where the soft season and inviting clime
              8Conspire to trouble your repose with rhyme.

              9      For wheresoe'er I turn my ravish'd eyes,
            10Gay gilded scenes and shining prospects rise,
            11Poetic fields encompass me around,
            12And still I seem to tread on classic ground;
            13For here the Muse so oft her harp has strung
            14That not a mountain rears its head unsung,
            15Renown'd in verse each shady thicket grows,
            16And ev'ry stream in heavenly numbers flows.

            17      How am I pleas'd to search the hills and woods
            18For rising springs and celebrated floods!
            19To view the Nar, tumultuous in his course,
            20And trace the smooth Clitumnus to his source,
            21To see the Mincio draw his wat'ry store
            22Through the long windings of a fruitful shore,
            23And hoary Albula's infected tide
            24O'er the warm bed of smoking sulphur glide.

            25      Fir'd with a thousand raptures I survey
            26Eridanus through flowery meadows stray,
            27The king of floods! that rolling o'er the plains
            28The towering Alps of half their moisture drains,
            29And proudly swoln with a whole winter's snows,
            30Distributes wealth and plenty where he flows.

            31      Sometimes, misguided by the tuneful throng,
            32I look for streams immortaliz'd in song,
            33That lost in silence and oblivion lie,
            34(Dumb are their fountains and their channels dry)
            35Yet run forever by the Muse's skill,
            36And in the smooth description murmur still.

            37      Sometimes to gentle Tiber I retire,
            38And the fam'd river's empty shores admire,
            39That destitute of strength derives its course
            40From thrifty urns and an unfruitful source;
            41Yet sung so often in poetic lays,
            42With scorn the Danube and the Nile surveys;
            43So high the deathless Muse exalts her theme!
            44Such was the Boin, a poor inglorious stream,
            45That in Hibernian vales obscurely stray'd,
            46And unobserv'd in wild meanders play'd;
            47'Till by your lines and Nassau's sword renown'd,
            48Its rising billows through the world resound,
            49Where-e'er the hero's godlike acts can pierce,
            50Or where the fame of an immortal verse.

            51      Oh could the Muse my ravish'd breast inspire
            52With warmth like yours, and raise an equal fire,
            53Unnumber'd beauties in my verse should shine,
            54And Virgil's Italy should yield to mine!

            55      See how the golden groves around me smile,
            56That shun the coast of Britain's stormy isle,
            57Or when transplanted and preserv'd with care,
            58Curse the cold clime, and starve in northern air.
            59Here kindly warmth their mounting juice ferments
            60To nobler tastes, and more exalted scents:
            61Ev'n the rough rocks with tender myrtle bloom,
            62And trodden weeds send out a rich perfume.
            63Bear me, some god, to Baia's gentle seats,
            64Or cover me in Umbria's green retreats;
            65Where western gales eternally reside,
            66And all the seasons lavish all their pride:
            67Blossoms, and fruits, and flowers together rise,
            68And the whole year in gay confusion lies.

            69      Immortal glories in my mind revive,
            70And in my soul a thousand passions strive,
            71When Rome's exalted beauties I descry
            72Magnificent in piles of ruin lie.
            73An amphitheatre's amazing height
            74Here fills my eye with terror and delight,
            75That on its public shows unpeopled Rome,
            76And held uncrowded nations in its womb:
            77Here pillars rough with sculpture pierce the skies:
            78And here the proud triumphal arches rise,
            79Where the old Romans deathless acts display'd,
            80Their base degenerate progeny upbraid:
            81Whole rivers here forsake the fields below,
            82And wond'ring at their height through airy channels flow.

            83      Still to new scenes my wand'ring Muse retires,
            84And the dumb show of breathing rocks admires;
            85Where the smooth chisel all its force has shown,
            86And soften'd into flesh the rugged stone.
            87In solemn silence, a majestic band,
            88Heroes, and gods, the Roman consuls stand,
            89Stern tyrants, whom their cruelties renown,
            90And emperors in Parian marble frown;
            91While the bright dames, to whom they humbly su'd,
            92Still show the charms that their proud hearts subdu'd.

            93      Fain would I Raphael's godlike art rehearse,
            94And show th' immortal labours in my verse,
            95Where from the mingled strength of shade and light
            96A new creation rises to my sight,
            97Such heav'nly figures from his pencil flow,
            98So warm with life his blended colours glow.
            99From theme to theme with secret pleasure tost,
          100Amidst the soft variety I'm lost:
          101Here pleasing airs my ravish'd soul confound
          102With circling notes and labyrinths of sound;
          103Here domes and temples rise in distant views,
          104And opening palaces invite my Muse.

          105      How has kind Heav'n adorn'd the happy land,
          106And scatter'd blessings with a wasteful hand!
          107But what avail her unexhausted stores,
          108Her blooming mountains, and her sunny shores,
          109With all the gifts that heav'n and earth impart,
          110The smiles of nature, and the charms of art,
          111While proud oppression in her valleys reigns,
          112And tyranny usurps her happy plains?
          113The poor inhabitant beholds in vain
          114The red'ning orange and the swelling grain:
          115Joyless he sees the growing oils and wines,
          116And in the myrtle's fragrant shade repines:
          117Starves, in the midst of nature's bounty curst,
          118And in the loaden vineyard dies for thirst.

          119      Oh Liberty, thou goddess heavenly bright,
          120Profuse of bliss, and pregnant with delight!
          121Eternal pleasures in thy presence reign,
          122And smiling plenty leads thy wanton train;
          123Eas'd of her load subjection grows more light,
          124And poverty looks cheerful in thy sight;
          125Thou mak'st the gloomy face of Nature gay,
          126Giv'st beauty to the sun, and pleasure to the day.

          127      Thee, goddess, thee, Britannia's Isle adores;
          128How has she oft exhausted all her stores,
          129How oft in fields of death thy presence sought,
          130Nor thinks the mighty prize too dearly bought!
          131On foreign mountains may the sun refine
          132The grape's soft juice, and mellow it to wine,
          133With citron groves adorn a distant soil,
          134And the fat olive swell with floods of oil:
          135We envy not the warmer clime, that lies
          136In ten degrees of more indulgent skies,
          137Nor at the coarseness of our heaven repine,
          138Tho' o'er our heads the frozen Pleiads shine:
          139'Tis Liberty that crowns Britannia's Isle,
          140And makes her barren rocks and her bleak mountains smile.

          141      Others with towering piles may please the sight,
          142And in their proud aspiring domes delight;
          143A nicer touch to the stretch'd canvas give,
          144Or teach their animated rocks to live:
          145'Tis Britain's care to watch o'er Europe's fate,
          146And hold in balance each contending state,
          147To threaten bold presumptuous kings with war,
          148And answer her afflicted neighbours' pray'r.
          149The Dane and Swede, rous'd up by fierce alarms,
          150Bless the wise conduct of her pious arms:
          151Soon as her fleets appear, their terrors cease,
          152And all the northern world lies hush'd in peace.

          153      Th' ambitious Gaul beholds with secret dread
          154Her thunder aim'd at his aspiring head,
          155And fain her godlike sons would disunite
          156By foreign gold, or by domestic spite;
          157But strives in vain to conquer or divide,
          158Whom Nassau's arms defend and counsels guide.

          159      Fir'd with the name, which I so oft have found
          160The distant climes and different tongues resound,
          161I bridle in my struggling Muse with pain,
          162That longs to launch into a bolder strain.

          163      But I've already troubled you too long,
          164Nor dare attempt a more advent'rous song.
          165My humble verse demands a softer theme,
          166A painted meadow, or a purling stream;
          167Unfit for heroes; whom immortal lays,
          168And lines like Virgil's, or like yours, should praise.


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Joseph Addison, A Letter from Italy, to the Right Honourable Charles, Lord Halifax ... 1701 (London: H. Hills, 1709). B-10 3701 Fisher Rare Book Library
First publication date: 1703
RPO poem editor: N. J. Endicott
RP edition: 2RP 1.538.
Recent editing: 4:2002/4/20

Composition date: 1701
Form: Heroic Couplets


Other poems by Joseph Addison