“Oh coolly came on Comos lake / The lovely beams of morning mild, / That oer the Lecco mountains break” (MS VIII; Poems [1891]; Works [1903])—For the Ruskinsʼ excursion on Lake Como, see “Lago di Como” and associated glosses. The town of Lecco lies at the bottom of the eastern leg of Lake Como, corresponding to the town of Como lying at the bottom of the western leg. The latter was the Ruskinsʼ ultimate destination. As they set out steaming southward on the lake in the “morning mild”, they did not turn at the fork toward the eastern leg and Lecco, but disembarked from the steamboat and were rowed to their resting place at Cadenabbia on the western bank, which they reached at four oʼclock in the afternoon. By referring at the start of the poem to the morning breaking over Lecco, and closing with “sunwaves”—altered in draft by the insertion of “sun‐red waves”—Ruskin frames the poem as if contained in a single day, but in fact the journey from Chiavenna to Como extended from Saturday to Monday, 15–17 June, with Monday devoted to excursions from the familyʼs base in Cadenabbia, as explained in the following gloss. The sunrise‐to‐sunset frame of the poem is also geographical, spanning the eastern leg to the western leg of the lake. Mary Shelley uses the same trope in a striking paragraph of Shelley, Rambles in Germany and Italy, describing the “progress of each day” she spent in Cadenabbia (1:67–68).
In nineteenth‐century British travel guides, as now, the eastern leg of Lake Como is often called Lake Lecco. Ruskinʼs phrase, “Lecco mountains”, however, is poetic; the mountain that rises above Lecco is Monte Resegone, “distinguished by the saw‐like form of its crest against the sky”, as implied in its name (Maule, Hand‐book for Travellers in Northern Italy, 150). Resegone is visible above Lecco, as one sails down the lake toward Bellagio, before turning toward the western bank; and it can be seen even from Cadenabbia on the western bank, rising above the promontory of Bellagio, as Mary Shelley remarked, its crest calling to her mind scenes from Manzoniʼs I Promessi Sposi (1827) (Shelley, Rambles in Germany and Italy, 1:67). (The Ruskins would also have been able to look back on their path, by sighting the crest of Resegone from atop Milan Cathedral; see “Milan Cathedral” and its contextual glosses.)
Ruskin does not describe the village of Cadenabbia itself in the poem. He probably found too little excitment in its most attractive feature, which since the eighteenth century had consisted in accommodations outside of the larger cities that English travelers could consider as “clean as in England”, its people “civil and honest”, and cookery worthy of a diplomat. “Did you think there existed such a place in Italy?” So wrote the well‐traveled bear‐leader Thomas Brand ([1751–1814], quoted from a 1791 letter, in Black, Italy and the Grand Tour, 69). A more nuanced study of the village and its hotel life was written by Mary Shelley during her long stay in 1840, an account attuned to the daily life of the people, ordinary objects, and peace of the surroundings.


“Away, away, across the lake / . . . / The rock was high, the cavern dark / Scarce lit up by the jewelled spark, / Of the cold stream, that under earth / Was darkling buried at its birth. / . . . / We launched again, and downward bore / Awhile beside the centre shore. / Then left the shadowy eastern lake” (MS VIII; Poems [1891]; Works [1903])—The latter three lines in this passage confirm that, from line 15 (“Away, away, across the lake”), Ruskin is referring to an excursion that the family made to the eastern shores of the lake on Monday, 17 June, after spending Saturday night and Sunday at Cadenabbia; then, as poem explains in conclusion, the family “launched” back across the lake to their hotel, and rowed south to Como, taking in even more sights along the way. The sight on the opposite shore that Ruskin describes most particularly in the poem can be identified in Mary Richardsonʼs diary account as the “torrent” Fiumelatte, which cascades into the lake below Varenna, on the Lecco side of the lake (Diary of Mary Richardson, 1833, 43). This is the “cold stream” that issues “darkling” from a subterranean source, in Ruskinʼs lines. Josiah Conder (1789–1855), the writer and compiler of the “Modern Traveller” series of travel accounts, highlights this cascade in the seriesʼ 1831 volume on Italy: “The Fiume di Latte (so called from the milky colour of the water) is one of the wonders of the lake, being an intermittent stream, and, according to some Italian antiquaries, the one which the younger Pliny refers to as being in the neighbourhood of his residence. . . . The Fiume di Latte intermits wholly during the winter, running only from March to September. It increases by degrees till it reaches its utmost height, and then decreases again till its bed again becomes dry. There seems to be no reason to doubt that its semi‐annual course is occasioned by the melting of the snows in the higher mountains, though the length of the subterranean channel through which it flows is unknown. Its excessive coldness is in favour of the supposition, that it is fed by some distant glacier; and its milky colour indicates that it has found or forced a channel through some limestone or calcareous formation. It bursts forth with great impetuosity from its subterranean channel, tumbling down a broken declivity of nearly a thousand feet into the lake” (Conder, Italy, 1:332–33). Mary Shelley could hear the “hollow roar of the mysterious torrent . . . borne, softened by distance, from the opposite shore”, when seated in the calm of evening at the lakeside in Cadenabbia (Shelley, Rambles in Germany and Italy, 1:93).
Conder disputes the association of the Fiumelatte with Pliny; and the Ruskins likewise looked elsewhere for this classical location; see “Villa Pliniana” and its contextual notes. Also in connection with the Fiumelatte, Conder quotes from the popular travel account of the Continent, Diary of an Invalid (1820), by Henry Matthews (1789–1828). Relevant to the trope of describing the expanse of the lake, Matthews orients the traveler to the waterfall as a checkpoint, when sitting in a boat on the lake. Oppposite this “romantic little waterfall”, he writes, “there is a spot . . . from which you command a prospect of the whole scene”. Without having to climb to “a birdʼs‐eye view”, which Matthews regards as a “disadvantage”, one has “the three branches of the lake under your eye at once” (Conder, Italy, 1:331–33; , Matthews, Diary of an Invalid, 304).
Toward the end of this passage, in the lines touching on the “centre shore” after launching back toward Cadenabbia, Ruskin is referring to the point between the two legs of the lake, where Bellagio is settled beneath its promontory. See Neoclassical and Napoleonic‐Era Architecture in Milan and Northern Italy.


“Was darkling buried at its birth” (MS VIII; Poems [1891]; Works [1903])—Besides Keatsʼs “Ode to a Nightingale”, and, behind that poem, Miltonʼs invocation to light in book 3 of Paradise Lost, a possible source for Ruskinʼs adverbial usage of darkling—and a more likely source, at this time—is Walter Scottʼs Rokeby. Concluding the description of the dreamy youth, Wilfred Wycliffe—an unathletic and bookish boy, born with the “minstrelʼs skill, . . . / The art unteachable, untaught”, a kind of fictional youth with whom Ruskin may well have identified—Wilfred is described as the “only heir”, “destined darkling to pursue / Ambitionʼs maze by [his father] Oswaldʼs clue” (Scott, Works, 49:35–36 [bk. 1, stz. 26]).