Venice – Great Poetry and Images.

Venice – Great Poetry and Images. Verse and my beautiful “reflection” images; combine to give a literary and visual feast.

From Lord Byron to Erica Jong: they created with words, their own unique visualisation of this historic city. 



Here are just a few relevant quotes, made by visiting artists, writers and poets over the centuries

“a city, floating in its own lagoon”….. “a city rising out of the waves”…. “a city like a water-lily”….  “like a Venetian woman, Venice dived from the bank to glide afloat.”….”a city of stone, water, colour and texture”….”a city where, direct and reflected light acts at the interface of structure and water, to produce the magic, of reality and illusion”…..  “It is the city of mirrors, the city of mirages, at once solid and liquid, at once air and stone.”



Venice – Great Poetry and Images. A literary and visual feast



Photographing Venice. Capturing reflected images

When the sun shines, images of reflected light on structures such as buildings and boats; are formed at the interface with the water.

When the water is calm, the reflections are well formed.  We are all used to the effect of throwing pebbles into a still pond and watching the effect!

So, remember you are focusing on the water’s surface; not on the original structures. With photographic lenses, at any given lens aperture, the field of sharpness lies one third in front and two thirds behind the point of focus. You must imagine the final framed image and focus about a third of the way up, from the bottom.

Unless you are deliberately aiming for a rather blurred image, you need to select a fast shutter speed to freeze the reflections and keep an eye on the lens aperture; because your focus-point is fairly critical for the best result.

When the water is disturbed by movement such as passing boats; fantastic new abstracted forms appear. Standing in front of the scene you wish to capture; watch out for any boats approaching. With the camera set up ready, just before, or at the point of the boat entering the view-finder; fire the shutter. If you have the capability for motor drive, it can be helpful. The great advantage of digital photography, is to be able to immediately view you results. It is difficult to imagine, the old analogue days – waiting 2 weeks for the lab to process your film and then cursing at badly focused or exposed pictures! Practise makes perfect.

For different effects, such as blurred images, try taking at night, a high view-point; such as from the Rialto or Academy bridges. With the a slower shutter speed necessary, frame your picture on the water’s surface; focus, shoot and be surprised at the end result!


Lord Byron –  Ode to Venice

The poem was written in 1818 and is a tribute to the city of Venice and its beauty. It describes the city’s marble walls and its sunken halls, and laments the fact that one day they will be level with the waters. The poem also expresses Byron’s love for Venice and his admiration for its art and architecture. Many writers in the nineteenth century feared that the city of Venice, which had endured for over a millennium; would sink under the waters and be lost forever. In his ‘Ode to Venice’, Byron laments what he believes to be Venice’s imminent loss; below the waters of the Adriatic.

O VENICE! Venice! when thy marble walls
Are level with the waters, there shall be
A cry of nations o’er thy sunken halls,
A loud lament along the sweeping sea!
If I, a northern wanderer, weep for thee,
What should thy sons do? – anything but weep?
And yet they only murmur in their sleep.
In contrast with their fathers, as the slime,
The dull green ooze of the receding deep,
Is with the dashing of the spring-tide foam,
That drives the sailor shipless to his home,
Are they to those that were; and thus they creep,
Crouching and crab-like, through their sapping streets.
O agony! that centuries should reap
No mellower harvest! Thirteen hundred years
Of wealth and glory turned to dust and tears;
And every monument the stranger meets,
Church, palace, pillar, as a mourner greets;
And even the Lion all subdued appears,
And the harsh sound of the barbarian drum, 20
With dull and daily dissonance, repeats
The echo of thy tyrant’s voice along
The soft waves, once all musical to song,
That heaved beneath the moonlight with the throng
Of gondolas, – and to the busy hum
Of cheerful creatures, whose most sinful deeds
Were but the overbeating of the heart,
And flow of too much happiness, which needs
The aid of age to turn its course apart
From the luxuriant and voluptuous flood
Of sweet sensations, battling with the blood.
But these are better than the gloomy errors,
The weeds of nations in their last decay,
When vice walks forth with her unsoftened terrors,
And mirth is madness, and but smiles to slay.



 Lord Byron – I stood in Venice (From “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”)

The poem, again written in 1818, describes the city of Venice and its beauty. It first describes the Bridge of Sighs, a palace and a prison on each hand,and how the city’s structures rise from “out of the waves”  The poem also expresses Byron’s admiration for Venice and its architecture.  States fall, arts fade; but nature does not. Beauty remains.

I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs,
A palace and a prison on each hand:
I saw from out the wave her structures rise
As from the stroke of the enchanter’s wand:
A thousand years their cloudy wings expand
Around me, and a dying Glory smiles
O’er the far times, when many a subject land
Looked to the wingéd Lion’s marble piles,
Where Venice sate in state, throned on her hundred isles!

She looks a sea Cybele, fresh from ocean,
Rising with her tiara of proud towers
At airy distance, with majestic motion,
A ruler of the waters and their powers:
And such she was – her daughters had their dowers
From spoils of nations, and the exhaustless East
Poured in her lap all gems in sparkling showers:
In purple was she robed, and of her feast
Monarchs partook, and deemed their dignity increased.

In Venice Tasso’s echoes are no more,
And silent rows the songless gondolier;
Her palaces are crumbling to the shore,
And music meets not always now the ear:
Those days are gone – but Beauty still is here;
States fall, arts fade – but Nature doth not die,
Nor yet forget how Venice once was dear,
The pleasant place of all festivity,
The revel of the earth, the masque of Italy!


Samuel Rogers (1763-1855) – “Venice”

Today, Rogers is not that well known, but he was an associate of a number of major Romantic poets in the early 19th century. In a series of poems about Italy, Rogers described the country as a travel book, written in verse.

His poem about Venice brilliantly captures the marine setting of the city.


 There is a glorious city in the sea.

The sea is in the broad, the narrow streets,

Ebbing and flowing; and the salt sea-weed

Clings to the marble of her palaces.

No track of men, no footsteps to and fro,

Lead to her gates. The path lies o’er the sea,

Invisible; and from the land we went,

As to a floating city,—steering in,

And gliding up her streets as in a dream,

So smoothly, silently,—by many a dome,

Mosque-like, and many a stately portico,

The statues ranged along an azure sky;

By many a pile in more than Eastern pride,

Of old the residence of merchant-kings;

The fronts of some, though time had shattered them,

Still glowing with the richest hues of art,

As though the wealth within them had run o’er.


A few in fear,

Flying away from him whose boast it was,

That the grass grew not where his horse had trod,

Gave birth to Venice. Like the waterfowl,

They built their nests among the ocean-waves;

And where the sands were shifting, as the wind

Blew from the north or south,—where they that came

Had to make sure the ground they stood upon,

Rose, like an exhalation from the deep,

A vast metropolis, with glistering spires,

With theatres, basilicas adorned;

A scene of light and glory, a dominion,

That has endured the longest among men.



Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882) – “Venice”.

White swan of cities, slumbering in thy nest

So wonderfully built among the reeds

Of the lagoon, that fences thee and feeds,

As sayeth thy old historian and thy guest!

White water-lily, cradled and caressed

By ocean streams, and from the silt and weeds

Lifting thy golden pistils with their seeds,

Thy sun-illumined spires, thy crown and crest!

White phantom city, whose untrodden streets

Are rivers, and whose pavements are the shifting

Shadows of palaces and strips of sky;

I wait to see thee vanish like the fleets

Seen in mirage, or towers of cloud uplifting

In air their unsubstantial masonry.



Emma Lazarus (1849-1887) – “A Masque of Venice”.

Best-known for her sonnet later inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, Lazarus was, like Longfellow, an American poet. Subtitled ‘A Dream’. This poem certainly captures Venice’s other-worldly feel.

Not a stain,
In the sun-brimmed sapphire cup that is the sky-
Not a ripple on the black translucent lane
Of the palace-walled lagoon.
Not a cry
As the gondoliers with velvet oar glide by,
Through the golden afternoon.

From this height
Where the carved, age-yellowed balcony o’erjuts
Yonder liquid, marble pavement, see the light
Shimmer soft beneath the bridge,
That abuts
On a labyrinth of water-ways and shuts
Half their sky off with its ridge.

We shall mark
All the pageant from this ivory porch of ours,
Masques and jesters, mimes and minstrels, while we hark
To their music as they fare.
Scent their flowers
Flung from boat to boat in rainbow radiant showers
Through the laughter-ringing air.

See! they come,
Like a flock of serpent-throated black-plumed swans,
With the mandoline, viol, and the drum,
Gems afire on arms ungloved,
Fluttering fans,
Floating mantles like a great moth’s streaky vans
Such as Veronese loved.

But behold
In their midst a white unruffled swan appear.
One strange barge that snowy tapestries enfold,
White its tasseled, silver prow.
Who is here?
Prince of Love in masquerade or Prince of Fear,
Clad in glittering silken snow?

Cheek and chin
Where the mask’s edge stops are of the hoar-frosts hue,
And no eyebeams seem to sparkle from within
Where the hollow rings have place.
Yon gay crew
Seem to fly him, he seems ever to pursue.
‘T is our sport to watch the race.

At his side
Stands the goldenest of beauties; from her glance,
From her forehead, shines the splendor of a bride,
And her feet seem shod with wings,
To entrance,
For she leaps into a wild and rhythmic dance,
Like Salome at the King’s.

‘T is his aim
Just to hold, to clasp her once against his breast,
Hers to flee him, to elude him in the game.
Ah, she fears him overmuch!
Is it jest,-
Is it earnest? a strange riddle lurks half-guessed
In her horror of his touch.

For each time
That his snow-white fingers reach her, fades some ray
From the glory of her beauty in its prime;
And the knowledge grows upon us that the dance
Is no play
‘Twixt the pale, mysterious lover and the fay-
But the whirl of fate and chance.

Where the tide
Of the broad lagoon sinks plumb into the sea,
There the mystic gondolier hath won his bride.
Hark, one helpless, stifled scream!
Must it be?
Mimes and minstrels, flowers and music, where are ye?
Was all Venice such a dream?



Alfred Edward Housman (1859-1936) – “Far Known to Sea and Shore’.

Venice, like Paris, is a most romantic city. Inspired by a romantic liaison with a Venetian gondolier named Andrea, this Housman poem was unpublished during his lifetime, almost certainly because Housman thought it was too candid about his homosexuality.

Far known to sea and shore,
Foursquare and founded well,
A thousand years it bore,
And then the belfry fell.

The steersman of Triest
Looked where his mark should be,
But empty was the west
And Venice under sea.

From dusty wreck dispersed
Its stature mounts amain;
On surer foot than first
The belfry stands again.

At to-fall of the day
Again its curfew tolls
And burdens far away
The green and sanguine shoals.

It looks to north and south,
It looks to east and west;
It guides to Lido mouth
The steersman of Triest.

Andrea, fare you well;
Venice, farewell to thee.
The tower that stood and fell
Is not rebuilt in me.



Arthur Symons (1865-1945) – “Venice”

Symons introduced many English readers to French Symbolism. This short poem, evokes images out of words.

Water and marble and that silentness
Which is not broken by a wheel or hoof;
A city like a water-lily, less
Seen than reflected, palace wall and roof,
In the unfruitful waters motionless,
Without one living grass’s green reproof;
A city without joy or weariness,
Itself beholding, from itself aloof.


Robert Laurence Binyon (1869-1943) – “Venice”

He is remembered chiefly for writing “For the Fallen”; a poem familiar to anyone who has watched the Remembrance Day service in the UK every November.

This poem, is a glorious and evocative description of the unique Venetian landscape.

White clouds that rose clouds chase
Till the sky laughs round, blue and bare;
Sunbeams that quivering waves out–race
To sparkle kisses on a marble stair;
Indolent water that images
Slender–pillared palaces,
Or glides in shadow and sun, where, over
Walls that leaning crumble red,
Milky blossom and fresh leaf hover,
Or glitters in endless morning spread,
Far and faint for dazzling miles
To lonely towers and cypress isles,
Where phantom mountains hang on high
Along the mist of northern sky:
O Love, what idle tale is told
That these are glories famed and old?
For to–day I know it is all in you,
This vision, bathed in magic blue,
My sea that girdles me round and round
With winding arms in deeps profound,
And bears our thoughts like golden sails
To be lost where the far verge gleams and pales,
My sky that over the mountains brings
The stars, and gives us wondrous wings,
My dawn that pierces the secret night
To the central heart of burning light
And thousand–coloured flames and flowers
In radiant palaces, domes and towers!
A marvel born of sky and sea,
‘Tis all in you, that have given it me.



Boris Pasternak ( 1890-1960) – “Venice”

Better-known as the novelist who wrote Doctor Zhivago, he was also a poet and in this Venetian poem; he captures the  sights, music and sounds and of the city.

A click of window glass had roused me
Out of my sleep at early dawn.
Beneath me Venice swam in water;
A sodden pretzel made of stone.

I was all quiet now; however,
While still asleep, I heard a cry –
And like a sign that had been silenced
It still disturbed the morning sky.

It hung – a trident of the Scorpion –
Above the sleeping mandolins
And had been uttered by an angry
Insulted woman’s voice, maybe.

Now it was silent. To the handle
Its fork was stuck in morning haze.
The Grand Canal, obliquely grinning
Kept looking back – a runaway
Reality was born of dream-shreds
Far off, among the hired boats.
Like a Venetian woman, Venice
Dived from the bank to glide afloat.


 Erica Jong (1942- ) – “Venice – November, 1966

American author and teacher, best known for her fiction and poetry. In ‘this most improbable of cities’ –  St Mark, gondoliers, the Doge and of course, lots of water are all featured.

With his head full of Shakespearean tempests

and old notions of poetic justice,

he was ready with his elegies

the day the ocean sailed into the square.


‘The sea,’ he wrote, ‘is a forgiving element,

and history only the old odor of blood.

She will come to rest on the soft floor

of the world, barnacled like a great pirate ship,

and blind fish – mouthing like girls before a glass –

will bump, perhaps, San Marco’s brittle bones.’


Pleased with these images, he paused

and conjured visions of a wet apocalypse:

the blown church bobbing like a monstrous water toy,

Doge Dandolo’s bronze horses from Byzantium

pawing the black waves, incredulous pigeons

hovering like gulls over the drowning square,

mosaic saints floating gently to pieces.


Then he waited as the wind rose, as gondoliers

were rocking in the long furrows of their boats

and small waves licked the marble lions’ eyes.

But still this most improbable of cities

hung on, lewdly enjoying her own smell.


Learning later how Florence, with her brown bells,

her dried-up joke of a river, had played

the ark to all his fantasies of flood,

he felt a little foolish. He was walking

in the gallery then, thinking of the doges:

how they tread on clouds which puff and pucker

like the flesh of their fat Venetian whores;

how thanks to Tintoretto’s shrewd, old eyes,

they saw themselves amid the holy saints;

how shrewd, old Tintoretto, for a price,

painted his patrons into paradise.



LINKS (in blue)

Foreign Artists working in Venice

“Turner in Venice”

“Whistler in Venice”

“Monet in Venice”

“John Ruskin – Writer and Artist”


“Depicting Venice – Patrick Hughes”

“Quotes about Venice”




 Venice – Great Poetry and Images    Venice – Great Poetry and Images  Venice – Great Poetry and Images 

Venice – Great Poetry and Images    Venice – Great Poetry and Images Venice – Great Poetry and Images 

Venice – Great Poetry and Images    Venice – Great Poetry and Images Venice – Great Poetry and Images 



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