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Saunterings - Dante And Byron Post by :joannent Category :Nonfictions Author :Charles Dudley Warner Date :May 2012 Read :1862

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Saunterings - Dante And Byron

The pilgrim to Ravenna, who has any idea of what is due to the genius of Dante, will be disappointed when he approaches his tomb. Its situation is in a not very conspicuous corner, at the foot of a narrow street, bearing the poet's name, and beside the Church of San Francisco, which is interesting as containing the tombs of the Polenta family, whose hospitality to the wandering exile has rescued their names from oblivion. Opposite the tomb is the shabby old brick house of the Polentas, where Dante passed many years of his life. It is tenanted now by all sorts of people, and a dirty carriage-shop in the courtyard kills the poetry of it. Dante died in 1321, and was at first buried in the neighboring church; but this tomb, since twice renewed, was erected, and his body removed here, in 1482. It is a square stuccoed structure, stained light green, and covered by a dome,--a tasteless monument, embellished with stucco medallions, inside, of the poet, of Virgil, of Brunetto Latini, the poet's master, and of his patron, Guido da Polenta. On the sarcophagus is the epitaph, composed in Latin by Dante himself, who seems to have thought, with Shakespeare, that for a poet to make his own epitaph was the safest thing to do. Notwithstanding the mean appearance of this sepulcher, there is none in all the soil of Italy that the traveler from America will visit with deeper interest. Near by is the house where Byron first resided in Ravenna, as a tablet records.

The people here preserve all the memorials of Byron; and, I should judge, hold his memory in something like affection. The Palace Guiccioli, in which he subsequently resided, is in another part of the town. He spent over two years in Ravenna, and said he preferred it to any place in Italy. Why I cannot see, unless it was remote from the route of travel, and the desolation of it was congenial to him. Doubtless he loved these wide, marshy expanses on the Adriatic, and especially the great forest of pines on its shore; but Byron was apt to be governed in his choice of a residence by the woman with whom he was intimate. The palace was certainly pleasanter than his gloomy house in the Strada di Porta Sisi, and the society of the Countess Guiccioli was rather a stimulus than otherwise to his literary activity. At her suggestion he wrote the "Prophecy of Dante;" and the translation of "Francesca da Rimini" was "executed at Ravenna, where, five centuries before, and in the very house in which the unfortunate lady was born, Dante's poem had been composed." Some of his finest poems were also produced here, poems for which Venice is as grateful as Ravenna. Here he wrote "Marino Faliero," "The Two Foscari," "Morganti Maggiore," "Sardanapalus," "The Blues," "The fifth canto of Don Juan," "Cain," "Heaven and Earth," and "The Vision of Judgment." I looked in at the court of the palace,--a pleasant, quiet place,--where he used to work, and tried to guess which were the windows of his apartments. The sun was shining brightly, and a bird was singing in the court; but there was no other sign of life, nor anything to remind one of the profligate genius who was so long a guest here.

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