Petrarch's Tomb At Arqua.
( Originally Published 1910 )
The drive from Este along the skirts of the Euganean Hills to Arqua takes one through a country which is tenderly beautiful, because of its contrast between little peaked mountains and the plain. It is not a grand landscape. It lacks all that makes the skirts of Alps and Apennines sublime. Its charm is a certain mystery and repose—an undefined sense of the neighboring Adriatic, a pervading consciousness of Venice unseen but felt from far away. From the terraces of Arqua the eye ranges across olive-trees, laurels, and pomegranates on the southern slopes to the misty level land that melts into the sea, with churches and tall campanili like gigantic galleys setting sail for fairyland over " the foam of perilous seas forlorn." Let a blue-black shadow from a thunder-cloud be cast upon this plain, and let one ray of sunlight strike a solitary bell-tower : it burns with palest flame of rose against the steely dark, and in its slender shaft and shell-like tint of pink all Venice is foreseen.
The village church of Arqua stands upon one of these terraces, with a full stream of clearest water flowing by. On the little square before the church-door, where the peasants congregate at mass-time—open to the skies with all their stars and storms, girdled by the hills, and within hearing of the vocal stream—is Petrarch's. sepulchre. Fit resting-place for what remains to earth of such a poet's clay ! It is as though archangels, flying, had carried the marble chest and set it down here on the hill-side, to be a sign and sanctuary for after-men. A simple rectilinear coffin, of smooth Verona mandorlato, raised on four thick columns, and closed by a heavy cippus-cover. Without emblems, allegories, or lamenting genii, this tomb of the great poet, the great awakener of Europe from mental lethargy, encircled by the hills, beneath the canopy of heaven, is impressive beyond the power of words. Bending here, we feel that Petrarch's own winged thoughts and fancies, eternal and aerial, " forms more real than living man, nurslings of immortality," have congregated to be the ever-ministering and irremovable attendants on the shrine of one who, while he lived, was purest spirit in a veil of flesh.