“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 ;
The latter three lines in this passage confirm that, from line 15 (“Away, away, across the lake”),
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 Richardson
ʼs 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
This is the “cold stream” that issues “darkling” from a subterranean source, in Ruskin
ʼs lines. Josiah Conder
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”
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
disputes the association of the Fiumelatte
; and the Ruskins likewise looked elsewhere for this classical location; see
and its contextual notes.
Also in connection with the Fiumelatte
quotes from the popular travel account of the Continent, Diary of an Invalid
). 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”
, Diary of an Invalid