The Madonna of the Gondoliers
In the center of the lagoon between Venice and the mouths of the Brenta, supported on a few mouldering piles, stands a small shrine dedicated to the Madonna dell’ Acqua, which the gondolier never passes without a prayer.
La Madonna Dell’ Acqua
Around her shrine no earthy blossoms blow,
No sign nor record of departed prayer,
Print of the stone, nor echo of the air;
Worn by the lip, nor wearied by the knee,
Only a deeper silence of the sea:
For there, in passing, pause the breezes bleak,
And the foam fades, and all the waves are weak.
The pulse-like oars in softer fall succeed,
The black prow falters through the wild seaweed –
Where, twilight-borne, the minute thunders reach,
Of deep mouthed surf, that bays by Lido’s beach,
With intermittent motion traversed far,
And shattered glancing of the western star,
Till the faint storm-bird on the heaving flow,
Drops in white circles, silently like snow.
Not here the ponderous gem nor pealing note,
Dim to adorn – insentient to adore –
But purple-dyed, the mists of evening float,
In ceaseless incense from the burning floor
Of ocean, and the gathered gold of heaven
Laces its sapphire vault, and, early given,
The white rays of the rushing firmament
Pierce the blue-quivering night through wreath or rent
Of cloud inscrutable and motionless,
Hectic and wan, and moon-companioned cloud!
Oh! lone Madonna – angel of the deep –
When the night falls, and the deadly winds are loud,
Will not thy love be with us while we keep
Our watch upon the waters, and the gaze
Of thy soft eyes, that slumber not, nor sleep?
Deem not thou, stranger, that such trust is vain;
Faith walks not on these weary waves alone,
Through weakness dread or apathy disdain
The spot which God has hallowed for His own.
They sin who pass it lightly – ill divining
The glory of this place of bitter prayer;
And hoping against hope, and self-resigning,
And reach of faith, and wrestling with despair,
And resurrection of the last distress,
Into the sense of Heaven, when earth is bare,
And of God’s voice, when man’s is comfortless.
– John Ruskin (1906)