Richard Chenevix Trench

1807 - 1886 / Ireland

On Leaving Rome

ADDRESSED TO A FRIEND RESIDING IN THAT CITY
O lately written in the roll of friends,
O written late, not last, three happy months
Under the shadow of the Capitol,
A pleasant time, made pleasanter by thee,
It has been mine to live- three months of spring,
Which pleasant in themselves and for thy sake,
Had yet this higher, that they stirred in the heart
The motions of continual thankfulness
For me, considering by what gracious paths
I had been guided, by what paths of love,
Since I was last a dweller in these gates.
That meditation could not prove to me
But as a spring that ever bubbles up,
Sparkling in the face of heaven, while every day
Reminded me how little of delight
I gathered from this wondrous city then,
But what a rare and ample gladness now.

For though not then indifferent to me
Nature or Art, yea rather though from these
I drew whatever lightened for a while
Life's burden and intolerable load;
Yet seldom could I gather heart enough,
With all their marvels round me, to go forth
In quest of any. But some lonely spot,
Some ridge of ruin fringed with cypresses,
Such as have everywhere so loved to make
Their chosen home, more than all other trees,
'Mid the fall'n structures of imperial Rome,
Me did such haunt please better; or I loved,
With others whom a like disquietude,
At the like crisis of their lives, now kept
Restless, with them to question to and fro
And to debate the evil of the world,
As though we bore no portion of that ill,
As though with subtle phrases we could spin
A woof to screen us from life's undelight:
Sometimes prolonging far into the night
Such talk, as loth to separate, and find
Each in his solitude how vain are words,
When that which is opposed to them is more.

I would not live that time again for worlds,
Full of rebellious askings, for what end,
And by what power, without our own consent,
Caught in this snare of life we knew not how,
We were placed here, to suffer and to sin,
To be in misery and know not why.
Yet so it fared with me, a sojourner,
Five years ago, beneath these mouldering walls,
As I am now; and, trusted friend, to thee
I have not doubted to reveal my soul,
For thou hast known, if I may read aright
The pages of thy past existence, thou
Hast known the dreary sickness of the soul,
Which falls upon us in our lonely youth,
The fear of all bright visions leaving us,
The sense of emptiness, without the sense
Of an abiding fulness anywhere;
When all the generations of mankind,
With all their purposes, their hopes and fears,
Seem nothing truer than those wandering shapes
Cast by a trick of light upon a wall,
And nothing different from these, except
In their capacity for suffering;-
That fearful moment of our youth, when first
We have the sense of sin, and none as yet
Of expiation. Our own life seemed then
But as an arrow flying in the dark
Without an aim; a most unwelcome gift,
Which we might not put by. But now, what God
Intended as a blessing and a boon
We have received as such; and we can say
A solemn yet a joyful thing is life,
Which, being full of duties, is for this
Of gladness full, and full of lofty hopes.
And He has taught us what reply to make
Or secretly in spirit, or in words,
If there be need, when sorrowing men complain
The fair illusions of their youth depart,
All things are going from them, and today
Is emptier of delights than yesterday,
Even as tomorrow will be barer yet;
We have been taught to feel this need not be,
This is not life's inevitable law-
But that the gladness we are called to know,
Is an increasing gladness; that the soil
Of the human heart, tilled rightly, will become
Richer and deeper, fitter to bear fruit
Of an immortal growth, from day to day,
Fruit of love, life, and indeficient joy.

Oh! not for baneful self-complacency,
Not for the setting up our present selves
To triumph o'er our past (worst pride of all),
May we compare this present with that past;
But to provoke renewed acknowledgments,
But to incite unto an earnest hope
For all our brethren. And how should I fear
To own to thee that this is in my heart,
This longing- that it leads me home today,
Glad even while I turn my back on Rome,
Yet half unseen- its arts, its memories,
Its glorious fellowship of living men;
Glad in the hope to tread the soil again
Of England, where our place of duty lies-
Yet not as though we deemed we could do much,
Or claimed large sphere of action for ourselves;
Not in this thought- since rather be it ours,
Both thine and mine, to ask for that calm frame
Of spirit, in which we know and deeply feel
How little is the most which we can do,
Yet leave not so that little unfulfilled.
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