Canzone, Written in Prison

The love of song what can impart
To the lone captive’s sinking heart?
Thou Sun! thou fount divine
Of light! the gift is thine!

O, how, beyond the gloom
That wraps my living tomb,
Through forest, garden, mead, and grove,
All nature drinks the ray
Of glorious day,—
Inebriate with love!

The jocund torrents flow
To distant worlds that owe
Their life to thee!
And if a slender ray
Chance through my bars to stray,
And pierce to me,
My cell, no more a tomb,
Smiles in its caverned gloom,—
As nature to the free!

If scarce thy bounty yields
To these ungenial fields
The gift divine,
O, shed thy blessings here,
Now while in dungeon drear
Italians pine!

Thy splendors faintly known,
Sclavonia may not own
For thee the love
Our hearts must move,
Who from our cradle learn
To adore thee, and to yearn
With passionate desire
(Our nature’s fondest prayer,
Needful as vital air)
To see thee, or expire.

Memorial to Italian Carbonari imprisoned at Špilberk Castle in Brno, present-day Czech Republic

Memorial to Carbonari imprisoned at Špilberk Castle in Brno, present-day Czech Republic.
Image credit : Millenium187 / CC BY-SA 3.0

Beneath my native, distant sky,
The captive’s sire and mother sigh;
O, never there may darkling cloud
With veil of circling horror shroud
The rising day;
But thy warm beams, still glowing bright,
Enchant their hearts with joyous light,
And charm their grief away!

— Silvio Pellico

In October 1820, poet and dramatist Silvio Pellico was arrested by Austrian officials, charged with being a member of the Carbonari, a loosely connected group of secret political societies devoted to unification and freedom of Italy. Initially, Pellico was sentenced to death for his seditious activities, but in February 1822, his death sentence was commuted to fifteen years imprisonment. He was released in1830. In 1832, he published My Prisons (Le mie prigioni), an account of his eight-year incarceration in Spielberg (Špilberk) Castle.

[Research note: this poem was taken from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed., Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes, Switzerland and Austria: Vol. XVI (Boston: James R. Osgood & Co., 1876–79). See http://www.bartleby.com/270/7/142.html]

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