Rossetti Archive Textual Transcription
Document Title: Poems (1870): Exhumation Proofs, Second Issue (complete), Huntington copy
Author: Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Date of publication: 1869 November (early November)
Printer: Strangeways and Walden
full Rossetti Archive record for this transcribed document is available.
- Our Lombard country-girls along the coast
- Wear daggers in their garters; for they know
- That they might hate another girl to death
- Or meet a German lover. Such a knife
- I bought her, with a hilt of horn and pearl.
- Father, you cannot know of all my thoughts
- That day in going to meet her,—that last day
- For the last time, she said;—of all the love
- And all the hopeless hope that she might change
10And go back with me. Ah! and everywhere,
- At places we both knew along the road,
- Some fresh shape of herself as once she was
- Grew present at my side; until it seemed—
- So close they gathered round me—they would all
- Be with me when I reached the spot at last,
- To plead my cause with her against herself
- So changed. O Father, if you knew all this
- You cannot know, then you would know too, Father,
- And only then, if God can pardon me.
20What can be told I'll tell, if you will hear.
- I passed a village-fair upon my road,
- And thought, being empty-handed, I would take
- Some little present, which might prove that day
- Either a pledge between us, or (God help me!)
- A parting gift. And there it was I bought
- The knife I spoke of, such as women wear.
- That day, some three hours afterwards, I found
- For certain, it must be a parting gift.
- And, standing silent now at last, I looked
30Into her scornful face; and heard the sea
- Still trying hard to din into my ears
- Some speech it knew which still might change her heart
- If only it could make me understand.
- One moment thus. Another, and her face
- Seemed further off than the last line of sea,
- So that I thought, if now she were to speak
- I could not hear her. Then again I knew
- All, as we stood together on the sand
- At Iglio, in the first thin shade o' the hills.
40 ‘Take it,’ I said, and held it
out to her,
- While the hilt glanced within my trembling hold;
- ‘Take it,‘ I said, ‘and keep it for my sake.’
- Her neck did not unbend, nor drooped her eyes,
- Nor did her foot leave beating of the sand;
- Only she put it by from her and laughed.
- Father, you hear my speech and not her laugh;
- But God was there and heard. Father, will God
- Remember all? He heard her when she laughed.
- It was another laugh than the sweet sound
50Which rose from her sweet childish heart, that day
- Eleven years before, when first I found her
- Alone upon the hill-side; and her curls
- Shook down in the warm grass as she looked up
- Out of her curls in my eyes bent to hers.
- She might have served a painter to pourtray
- That heavenly child which in the latter days
- Shall walk between the lion and the lamb.
- I had been for nights in hiding, worn and sick
- And hardly fed; and so her words at first
60Seemed fitful like the talking of the trees
- And voices in the air that knew my name.
- And I remember that I sat me down
- Upon the slope with her, and thought the world
- Must be all over or had never been,
- We seemed there so alone. And soon she told me
- Her parents both were gone away from her.
- I thought perhaps she meant that they had died;
- But when I asked her this, she looked again
- Into my face, and said that yestereve
70They kissed her long, and wept and made her weep,
- And gave her all the bread they had with them,
- And then had gone together up the hill
- Where we were sitting now, and had walked on
- Into the great red light: ‘and so,’
- ‘I have come up here too; and when this evening
- They step out of the light as they stepped in,
- I shall be here to kiss them.’ And she laughed.
- Then I bethought me suddenly of the famine;
- And how the church-steps throughout all the town,
80When last I had been there a month ago,
- Swarmed with starved folk; and how the bread was weighed
- By Austrians armed; and women that I knew
- For wives and mothers walked the public street,
- Telling their husbands how, if they still feared
- To snatch the children's food, themselves would stay
- Till they had earned it there. So then this child
- Was piteous to me; for all told me then
- Her parents must have left her to God's chance,
- To man's or to the Church's charity,
90Because of the great famine, rather than
- To watch her growing thin between their knees.
- With that, God took my mother's voice and spoke,
- And sights and sounds came back and things long since,
- And all my childhood found me on the hills;
- And so I took her with me.
- I was young,
- Scarce man then, Father; but the cause which gave
- The wounds I die of now had brought me then
- Some wounds already; and I lived alone,
- As any hiding hunted man must live.
100It was no easy thing to keep a child
- In safety; for herself it was not safe,
- And doubled my own danger: but I knew
- That God would help me.
- Yet a little while
- Pardon me, Father, if I pause. I think
- I have been speaking to you of some matters
- There was no need to speak of, have I not?
- You do not know how clearly those things stood
- Within my mind, which I have spoken of,
- Nor how they strove for utterance. Life all past
110Is like the sky when the sun sets in it,
- Clearest where furthest off.
- I told you how
- She scorned my parting gift and laughed. And yet
- A woman's laugh's another thing sometimes:
- I think they laugh in Heaven. I know last night
- I dreamed I saw into the garden of God,
- Where women walked whose painted images
- I have seen with candles round them in the church.
- They bent this way and that, one to another,
- Playing: and over the long golden hair
120Of each there floated like a ring of fire
- Which when she stooped stooped with her, and when she rose
- Rose with her. Then a breeze flew in among them,
- As if a window had been opened in heaven
- For God to give his blessing from, before
- This world of ours should set; (for in my dream
- I thought our world was setting, and the sun
- Flared, a spent taper;) and beneath that gust
- The rings of light quivered like forest-leaves.
- Then all the blessed maidens who were there
130Stood up together, as it were a voice
- That called them; and they threw their tresses back,
- And smote their palms, and all laughed up at once,
- For the strong heavenly joy they had in them
- To hear God bless the world. Wherewith I woke:
- And looking round, I saw as usual
- That she was standing there with her long locks
- Pressed to her side; and her laugh ended theirs.
- For always when I see her now, she laughs.
- And yet her childish laughter haunts me too,
140The life of this dead terror; as in days
- When she, a child, dwelt with me. I must tell
- Something of those days yet before the end.
- I brought her from the city—one
- When she was still a merry loving child,—
- The earliest gift I mind my giving her;
- A little image of a flying Love
- Made of our coloured glass-ware, in his hands
- A dart of gilded metal and a torch.
- And him she kissed and me, and fain would know
150Why were his poor eyes blindfold, why the wings
- And why the arrow. What I knew I told
- Of Venus and of Cupid,—strange old tales.
- And when she heard that he could rule the loves
- Of men and women, still she shook her head
- And wondered; and, ‘Nay, nay,’ she
- ‘So strong, and he a younger child than I!’
- And then she'd have me fix him on the wall
- Fronting her little bed; and then again
- She needs must fix him there herself, because
160I gave him to her and she loved him so,
- And he should make her love me better yet,
- If women loved the more, the more they grew.
- But the fit place upon the wall was high
- For her, and so I held her in my arms:
- And each time that the heavy pruning-hook
- I gave her for a hammer slipped away
- As it would often, still she laughed and laughed
- And kissed and kissed me. But amid her mirth,
- Just as she hung the image on the nail,
170It slipped and all its fragments strewed the ground:
- And as it fell she screamed, for in her hand
- The dart had entered deeply and drawn blood.
- And so her laughter turned to tears: and ‘Oh!’
- I said, the while I bandaged the small hand,—
- ‘That I should be the first to make you bleed,
- Who love and love and love
- The fingers till I got her safe to bed.
- And still she sobbed,—‘not for the
pain at all,’
- She said, ‘but for the Love, the poor good Love
180You gave me.’ So she cried herself to sleep.
- Another later thing comes back to me.
- 'Twas in those hardest foulest days of all,
- When still from his shut palace, sitting clean
- Above the splash of blood, old Metternich
- (May his soul die, and never-dying worms
- Feast on its pain for ever!) used to thin
- His year's doomed hundreds daintily, each month
- Thirties and fifties. This time, as I think,
- Was when his thrift forbad the poor to take
190That evil brackish salt which the dry rocks
- Keep all through winter when the sea draws in.
- The first I heard of it was a chance shot
- Here and there in the street, and on the stones
- A stumbling clatter as of horse hemmed round.
- Then, when she saw me hurry out of doors,
- My gun slung at my shoulder and my knife
- Stuck in my girdle, she smoothed down my hair
- And laughed to see me look so brave, and leaped
- Up to my neck and kissed me. She was still
200A child; and yet that kiss was on my lips
- So hot all day where the smoke shut us in.
- For now, being always with her, the first love
- I had—the father's, brother's
- I think, in somewise; like a holy thought
- Which is a prayer before one knows of it.
- The first time I perceived this, I remember,
- Was once when after hunting I came home
- Weary, and she brought food and fruit for me,
- And sat down at my feet upon the floor
210Leaning against my side. But when I felt
- Her sweet head reach from that low seat of hers
- So high as to be laid upon my heart,
- I turned and looked upon my darling there
- And marked for the first time how tall she was;
- And my heart beat with so much violence
- Under her cheek, I thought she could not choose
- But wonder at it soon and ask me why;
- And so I bade her rise and eat with me.
- And when, remembering all and counting back
220The time, I made out fourteen years for her
- And told her so, she gazed at me with eyes
- As of the sky and sea on a grey day,
- And drew her long hands through her hair, and asked me
- If she was not a woman; and then laughed:
- And as she stooped in laughing, I could see
- Beneath the growing throat the breasts half globed
- Like folded lilies deepset in the stream.
- Yes, let me think of her as then; for so
- Her image, Father, is not like the sights
230Which come when you are gone. She had a mouth
- Made to bring death to life,—the underlip
- Sucked in, as if it strove to kiss itself.
- Her face was ever pale, as when one stoops
- Over wan water; and the dark crisped hair
- And the hair's shadow made it paler still:—
- Deep-serried locks, the darkness of the cloud
- Where the moon's gaze is shrined in eddying gloom.
- Her body bore her neck as the tree's stem
- Bears the top branch; and as the branch sustains
240Its pride of flower and fruit, her high neck bore
- That face made wonderful with night and day.
- Her voice was swift, yet ever the last words
- Fell lingeringly; and rounded finger-tips
- She had, that clung a little where they touched
- And then were gone o' the instant. Her great eyes,
- That sometimes turned half dizzily beneath
- The passionate lids, as faint, when she would speak,
- Had also in them hidden springs of mirth,
- Which under the dark lashes evermore
250Shook to her laugh, as when a bird flies low
- Between the water and the willow-leaves,
- And the shade quivers till he wins the light.
- I was a moody comrade to her then,
- For all the love I bore her. Italy,
- The weeping desolate mother, long has claimed
- Her sons' strong arms to lean on, and their hands
- To lop the poisonous thicket from her path,
- Cleaving her way to light. And from her need
- Had grown the fashion of my whole poor life
260Which I was proud to yield her, as my father
- Had yielded his. And this had come to be
- A game to play, a love to clasp, a hate
- To wreak, all things together that a man
- Needs for his blood to ripen: till at times
- All else seemed shadows, and I wondered still
- To see such life pass muster and be deemed
- Time's bodily substance. In those hours, no doubt,
- To the young girl my eyes were like my soul,—
- Dark wells of death-in-life that yearned for day.
270And though she ruled me always, I remember
- That once when I was thus and she still kept
- Leaping about the place and laughing, I
- Did almost chide her; whereupon she knelt
- And putting her two hands into my breast
- Sang me a song. Are these tears in my eyes?
- 'Tis long since I have wept for anything.
- I thought that song forgotten out of mind,
- And now, just as I spoke of it, it came
- All back. It is but a rude thing, ill rhymed,
280Such as a blind man chaunts and his dog hears
- Holding the platter, when the children run
- To merrier sport and leave him. Thus it goes:—
- La bella donna*
- Piangendo disse:
Transcribed Footnote (page 11):
Note: the following poem is formatted in two columns, separated by a
- * She wept, sweet lady,
- And said in weeping:
- ‘What spell is keeping
- The stars so steady?
- Why does the power
- Of the sun's noon-hour
- To sleep so move me?
- And the moon in heaven,
- Stained where she passes
10 As a worn-out glass is,—
- Wearily driven,
- Why walks she above me?
- ‘Stars, moon, and sun too,
- I'm tired of either
- And all together!
- Whom speak they unto
- That I should listen?
- For very surely,
- Though my arms and shoulders
20 Dazzle beholders,
- And my eyes glisten,
- All's nothing purely!
- What are words said for
- At all about them,
- If he they are made for
- Can do without them?’
- She laughed, sweet lady,
- And said in laughing:
- ‘His hand clings half in
30 My own already!
- Oh! do you love me?
- Oh! speak of passion
- In no new fashion,
- No loud inveighings,
- But the old sayings
- You once said of me.
- ‘You said: “As summer,
- Through boughs grown brittle,
- Comes back a little
40 Ere frosts benumb her,—
- So bring'st thou to me
- All leaves and flowers,
- Though autumn's gloomy
- To-day in the bowers.”
- ‘Oh! does he love me,
- When my voice teaches
- The very speeches
- He then spoke of me?
- Alas! what flavour
50 Still with me lingers?’
- (But she laughed as my kisses
- Glowed in her fingers
- With love's old blisses.)
- ‘Oh! where's one favour
- Left me to woo him,
- Whose whole poor savour
- Belongs not to him?’
- ‘Come son fisse
- Le stelle in cielo!
- Quel fiato anelo
- Dello stanco sole,
- Quanto m'assonna!
290E la luna, macchiata
- Come uno specchio
- Logoro e vecchio,—
- Faccia affannata,
- Che cosa vuole?
- ‘Chè stelle, luna, e sole,
- Ciascun m'annoja
- E m'annojano insieme;
- Non me ne preme
- Nè ci prendo gioja.
- Che le spalle sien franche
- E le braccia bianche
- E il seno caldo e tondo,
- Non mi fa niente.
- Chè cosa al mondo
- Posso più far di questi
- Se non piacciono a te, come dicesti?’
- La donna rise
- E riprese ridendo:—
310‘Questa mano che prendo
- E dunque mia?
- Tu m'ami dunque?
- Dimmelo ancora,
- Non in modo qualunque,
- Ma le parole
- Belle e precise
- Che dicesti pria.
La state talora
un qualche istante
Tornare innanzi inverno,
Così ta fai ch'io scerno
Le foglie tutte quante,
Ben ch'io certo tenessi
Per passato l'autunno.
- ‘Eccolo il mio alunno!
- Io debbo insegnargli
- Quei cari detti istessi
- Ch'ei mi disse una volta!
330Oimè! Che cosa dargli,’
- (Ma ridea piano piano
- Dei baci in sulla mano,)
- ‘Ch'ei non m'abbia da lungo tempo tolta?’
- That I should sing upon this
- To listen, and such words still left to say!
- Yet was it I that sang? The voice seemed hers,
- As on the very day she sang to me;
- When, having done, she took out of my hand
- Something that I had played with all the while
340And laid it down beyond my reach; and so
- Turning my face round till it fronted hers,—
- ‘Weeping or laughing, which was
best?’ she said.
- But these are foolish tales. How should I show
- The heart that glowed then with love's heat, each day
- More and more brightly?—when for long years now
- The very flame that flew about the heart,
- And gave it fiery wings, has come to be
- The lapping blaze of hell's environment
- Whose tongues all bid the molten heart despair.
350 Yet one more thing comes back on me to-night
- Which I may tell you: for it bore my soul
- Dread firstlings of the brood that rend it now.
- It chanced that in our last year's wanderings
- We dwelt at Monza, far away from home,
- If home we had: and in the Duomo there
- I sometimes entered with her when she prayed.
- An image of Our Lady stands there, wrought
- In marble by some great Italian hand
- In the great days when she and Italy
360Sat on one throne together: and to her
- And to none else my loved one told her heart.
- She was a woman then; and as she knelt,—
- Her sweet brow in the sweet brow's shadow there,—
- They seemed two kindred forms whereby our land
- (Whose work still serves the world for miracle)
- Made manifest herself in womanhood.
- Father, the day I speak of was the first
- For weeks that I had borne her company
- Into the Duomo; and those weeks had been
370Much troubled, for then first the glimpses came
- Of some impenetrable restlessness
- Growing in her to make her changed and cold.
- And as we entered there that day, I bent
- My eyes on the fair Image, and I said
- Within my heart, ‘Oh turn her heart to me!’
- And so I left her to her prayers, and went
- To gaze upon the pride of Monza's shrine,
- Where in the sacristy the light still falls
- Upon the Iron Crown of Italy,
380On whose crowned heads the day has closed, nor yet
- The daybreak gilds another head to crown.
- But coming back, I wondered when I saw
- That the sweet Lady of her prayers now stood
- Alone without her; until further off,
- Before some new Madonna gaily decked,
- Tinselled and gewgawed, a slight German toy,
- I saw her kneel, still praying. At my step
- She rose, and side by side we left the church.
- I was much moved, and sharply questioned her
390Of her transferred devotion; but she seemed
- Stubborn and heedless; till she lightly laughed
- And said: ‘The old Madonna? Aye indeed,
- ‘She had my old thoughts,—this one
has my new.’
- Then silent to the soul I held my way:
- And from the fountains of the public place
- Unto the pigeon-haunted pinnacles,
- Bright wings and water winnowed the bright air;
- And stately with her laugh's subsiding smile
- She went, with clear-swayed waist and towering neck
400And hands held light before her; and the face
- Which long had made a day in my life's night
- Was night in day to me; as all men's eyes
- Turned on her beauty, and she seemed to tread
- Beyond my heart to the world made for her.
- Ah there! my wounds will snatch my sense again:
- The pain comes billowing on like a full cloud
- Of thunder, and the flash that breaks from it
- Leaves my brain burning. That's the wound he gave,
- The Austrian whose white coat I still made match
410With his white face, only the two were red
- As suits his trade. The devil makes them wear
- White for a livery, that the blood may show
- Braver that brings them to him. So he looks
- Sheer o'er the field and knows his own at once.
- Give me a draught of water in that cup;
- My voice feels thick; perhaps you do not hear;
- But you
must hear. If you mistake my words
- And so absolve me, I am sure the blessing
- Will burn my soul. If you mistake my words
420And so absolve me, Father, the great sin
- Is yours, not mine: mark this: your soul shall burn
- With mine for it. I have seen pictures where
- Souls burned with Latin shriekings in their mouths:
- Shall my end be as theirs? Nay, but I know
- 'Tis you shall shriek in Latin. Some bell rings,
- Rings through my brain: it strikes the hour in hell.
- You see I cannot, Father; I have tried,
- But cannot, as you see. These twenty times
- Beginning, I have come to the same point
430And stopped. Beyond, there are but broken words
- Which will not let you understand my tale.
- It is that then we have her with us here,
- As when she wrung her hair out in my dream
- To-night, till all the darkness reeked of it.
- Her hair is always wet, for she has kept
- Its tresses wrapped about her side for years;
- And when she wrung them round over the floor,
- I heard the blood hiss through her fingers; so
- That I sat straight up in my bed and screamed
440Once and again; and once to once, she laughed.
- Look that you turn not now,—she's at your back:
- Gather your robe up, Father, and keep close,
- Or she'll sit down on it and send you mad.
- At Iglio in the first thin shade o' the hills
- The sand is black and red. The black was black
- When what was spilt that day sank into it,
- And the red scarcely darkened. There I stood
- This night with her, and saw the sand the same.
- What would you have me tell you? Father, father,
450How shall I make you know? You have not known
- The dreadful soul of woman, who one day
- Forgets the old and takes the new to heart,
- Forgets what man remembers, and therewith
- Forgets the man. Nor can I clearly tell
- How the change happened between her and me.
- Her eyes looked on me from an emptied heart
- When most my heart was full of her; and still
- In every corner of myself I sought
- To find what service failed her; and no less
460Than in the good time past, there all was hers.
- What do you love? Your Heaven? Conceive it spread
- For one first year of all eternity
- All round you with all joys and gifts of God;
- And then when most your soul is blent with it
- And all yields song together,—then it stands
- O' the sudden like a pool that once gave back
- Your image, but now drowns it and is clear
- Again,—or like a sun bewitched, that burns
- Your shadow from you, and still shines in sight.
470How could you bear it? Would you not cry out,
- Among those eyes grown blind to you, those ears
- That hear no more your voice you hear the same,—
- ‘God! what is left but hell for company,
- But hell, hell, hell?’—until the
name so breathed
- Whirled with hot wind and sucked you down in fire?
- Even so I stood the day her empty heart
- Left her place empty in our home, while yet
- I knew not why she went nor where she went
- Nor how to reach her: so I stood the day
480When to my prayers at last one sight of her
- Was granted, and I looked on heaven made pale
- With scorn, and heard heaven mock me in that laugh.
- O sweet, long sweet! Was that some ghost of you
- Even as your ghost that haunts me now,—twin shapes
- Of fear and hatred? May I find you yet
- Mine when death wakes? Ah! be it even in flame,
- We may have sweetness yet, if you but say
- As once in childish sorrow: ‘Not my pain,
- My pain was nothing: oh your poor poor love,
490Your broken love!’
- My Father, it is hard
- To tell you the last things of that last day;
- But I must tell you all now. While I stopped
- To buy the dagger at the village fair,
- I saw two cursed rats about the place
- I knew for spies—blood-sellers both. That day
- Was not yet over; for three hours to come
- I prized my life: and so I looked around
- For safety. A poor painted mountebank
- Was playing pranks and shouting in a crowd.
500I knew he must have heard my name, so I
- Pushed past and whispered to him who I was,
- And of my danger. Straight he hustled me
- Into his booth, as it were in the trick,
- And brought me out next minute with my face
- All smeared in patches and a zany's gown;
- And there I handed him his cups and balls
- And swung the sand-bags round to clear the ring
- For half an hour. The spies came once and looked;
- And while they stopped, and made all sights and sounds
510Sharp to my startled senses, I remember
- A woman laughed above me. I looked up
- And saw her—a brown handsome harlot—leaning
- Half through a tavern window thick with vine.
- Some man had come behind her in the room
- And caught her by her arms, and she had turned
- With that coarse empty laugh. I saw him there
- Munching her neck with kisses, while the vine
- Crawled in her back.
- And three hours afterwards,
- When she that I had run all risks to meet
520Laughed as I told you, my life burned to death
- Within me, for I thought it like the laugh
- Heard at the fair. She had not left me long;
- But all she might have changed to, or might change to,
- (I know nought since—she never speaks a word—)
- Seemed in that laugh. Have I not told you yet,
- Not told you all this time what happened, Father,
- When I had offered her the little knife,
- And bade her keep it for my sake that loved her,
- And she had laughed? Have I not told you yet?
530 ‘Take it,’ I said to
her the second time,
- ‘Take it and keep it.’ And then
came a fire
- That burnt my hand; and then the fire was blood,
- And sea and sky were blood and fire, and all
- The day was one red blindness; till it seemed
- Within the whirling brain's entanglement
- That she or I or all things bled to death.
- And then I found her lying at my feet
- And knew that I had stabbed her, and saw still
- The look she gave me when she took the knife
540Deep in her heart, even as I bade her then,
- And fell, and her stiff boddice scooped the sand
- Into her bosom.
- And she keeps it, see,
- Do you not see she keeps it?—there, beneath
- Wet fingers and wet tresses, in her heart.
- For look you, when she stirs her hand, it shows
- The little hilt of horn and pearl,—even such
- A dagger as our women of the coast
- Twist in their garters.
- Father, I have done:
- And from her side now she unwinds the thick
550Dark hair; all round her side it is wet through,
- But like the sand at Iglio does not change.
- Now you may see the dagger clearly. Father,
- I have told all: tell me at once what hope
- Can reach me still. For now she draws it out
- Slowly, and only smiles as yet: look, Father,
- She scarcely smiles: but I shall hear her laugh
- Soon, when she shows the crimson blade to God.
“Vengeance of Jenny's case! Fie on her! Never name her,
- Lazy laughing languid Jenny,
- Fond of a kiss and fond of a guinea,
- Whose head is on my knee to-night;—
- (Have all our dances left it light
- With their wild tunes?)—Ah, Jenny, queen
- Of kisses which the blush between
- Could hardly make much daintier!— Nay,
- Poor flower left torn since yesterday
- Until to-morrow leave you bare;
10Poor handful of bright spring-water
- Flung in the whirlpool's shrieking face!—
- Poor shameful Jenny, full of grace
- Thus with your head upon my knee;—
- Whose person or whose purse may be
- The lodestar of your reverie?
- This room of yours, my Jenny, looks
- A change from mine so full of books,
- Whose serried ranks hold fast, forsooth,
- So many captive hours of youth,—
20The hours they thieve from day and night
- To make one's cherished work come right,
- And leave it wrong for all their theft,
- Even as to-night my work was left:
- Until I vowed that since my brain
- And eyes of dancing seemed so fain,
- My feet should have some dancing too:—
- And thus it was I met with you.
- Well, I suppose 'twas hard to part,
- For here I am. And now, sweetheart,
30You seem too tired to get to bed.
- It was a careless life I led
- When rooms like this were scarce so strange
- Not long ago. What breeds the change,—
- The many aims or the few years?
- Because to-night it all appears
- Something I do not know again.
- The cloud's not danced out of my brain,—
- The cloud that made the books so swim
- At every effort's interim.
40Why, Jenny, as I watch you there,—
- For all your wealth of loosened hair,
- Your silk ungirdled and unlac'd
- And warm sweets open to the waist,
- All golden in the lamplight's gleam,—
- You know not what a book you seem,
- Half-read by lightning in a dream!
- How should you know, my Jenny? Nay,
- And I should be ashamed to say:—
- Poor beauty, so well worth a kiss!
50But while my thought runs on like this
- With wasteful whims more than enough,
- I wonder what you're thinking of.
- If of myself you think at all,
- What is the thought?—conjectural
- On sorry matters best unsolved?—
- Or inly is each grace revolved
- To fit me with a lure?—or (sad
- To think!) perhaps you're merely glad
- That I'm not drunk or ruffianly
60And let you rest upon my knee.
- For sometimes, were the truth confess'd,
- You're thankful for a little rest,—
- Glad from the crush to rest within,
- From the heart-sickness and the din
- Where envy's voice at virtue's pitch
- Mocks you because your gown is rich;
- And from the pale girl's dumb rebuke,
- Whose ill-clad grace and toil-worn look
- Proclaim the strength that keeps her weak
70And other nights than yours bespeak;
- And from the wise unchildish elf,
- To schoolmate lesser than himself
- Pointing you out, what thing you are:—
- Yes, from the daily jeer and jar,
- From shame and shame's outbraving too,
- Is rest not sometimes sweet to you?—
- But most from the hatefulness of man
- Who spares not to end what he began,
- Whose acts are foul and his speech hard,
80Who, having used you, afterward
- Thrusts you aside, as when I dine
- I serve the dishes and the wine.
- Well, handsome Jenny mine, sit up,
- I've filled our glasses, let us sup,
- And do not let me think of you,
- Lest shame of yours suffice for two.
- What, still so tired? Well, well then, keep
- Your head there, so you do not sleep;
- But that the weariness may pass
90And leave you merry, take this glass.
- Ah! lazy lily hand, more bless'd
- If ne'er in rings it had been dress'd
- Nor ever by a glove conceal'd!
- Behold the lilies of the field,
- They toil not neither do they spin;
- (So doth the ancient text begin,—
- Not of such rest as one of these
- Can share.) Another rest and ease
- Along each summer-sated path
100From its new lord the garden hath,
- Than that whose spring in blessings ran
- Which praised the righteous husbandman,
- Ere yet, in days of hankering breath,
- The lilies sickened unto death.
- What, Jenny, are your lilies dead?
- Aye, and the snow-white leaves are spread
- Like winter on the garden-bed.
- But you had roses left in May,—
- They were not gone too. Jenny, nay,
110But must your roses die away?
- Even so; the leaves are curled apart,
- Still red as from the broken heart,
- And here's the naked stem of thorns.
- Nay, nay, mere words. Here nothing warns
- As yet of winter. Sickness here
- Or want alone could waken fear,—
- Nothing but passion wrings a tear.
- Except when there may rise unsought
- Haply at times a passing thought
120Of the old days which seem to be
- Much older than any history
- That is written in any book;
- When she would lie in fields and look
- Along the ground through the thick grass,
- And wonder where the city was,
- Far out of sight, whose broil and bale
- They told her then for a child's tale.
- Jenny, you know the city now.
- A child can tell the tale there, how
130Some things which are not yet enroll'd
- In market-lists are bought and sold
- Even till the early Sunday light,
- When Saturday night is market-night
- Everywhere, be it dry or wet,
- And market-night in the Haymarket.
- Our learned London children know,
- Poor Jenny, all your mirth and woe;
- Have seen your lifted silken skirt
- Advertize dainties through the dirt;
140Have seen your coach-wheels splash rebuke
- On virtue; and have learned your look
- When, wealth and health slipped past, you stare
- Along the streets alone, and there,
- Round the long park, across the bridge,
- The cold lamps at the pavement's edge
- Wind on together and apart,
- A fiery serpent for your heart.
- Let the thoughts pass, an empty cloud!
- Suppose I were to think aloud,—
150What if to her all this were said?
- Why, as a volume seldom read
- Being opened halfway shuts again,
- So might the pages of her brain
- Be parted at such words, and thence
- Close back upon the dusty sense.
- For is there hue or shape defin'd
- In Jenny's desecrated mind,
- Where all contagious currents meet,
- A Lethe of the middle street?
160Nay, it reflects not any face,
- Nor sound is in its sluggish pace,
- But as they coil those eddies clot,
- And night and day remember not.
- Why, Jenny, you're asleep at last!—
- Asleep, poor Jenny, hard and fast,—
- So young and soft and tired; so fair,
- With chin thus nestled in your hair,
- Mouth quiet, eyelids almost blue
- As if some sky of dreams shone through!
170Just as another woman sleeps!
- Enough to throw one's thoughts in heaps
- Of doubt and horror,—what to say
- Or think,—this awful secret sway,
- The potter's power over the clay!
- Of the same lump (it has been said)
- For honour and dishonour made,
- Two sister vessels. Here is one.
- My cousin Nell is fond of fun,
- And fond of dress, and change, and praise,
180So mere a woman in her ways:
- And if her sweet eyes rich in youth
- Are like her lips that tell the truth,
- My cousin Nell is fond of love.
- And she's the girl I'm proudest of.
- Who does not prize her, guard her well?
- The love of change, in cousin Nell,
- Shall find the best and hold it dear:
- The unconquered mirth turn quieter
- Not through her own, through others' woe:
190The conscious pride of beauty glow
- Beside another's pride in her,
- One little part of all they share.
- For Love himself shall ripen these
- In a kind soil to just increase
- Through years of fertilizing peace.
- Of the same lump (as it is said)
- For honour and dishonour made,
- Two sister vessels. Here is one.
- It makes a goblin of the sun.
200So pure, so fall'n! How dare to think
- Of the first common kindred link?
- Yet, Jenny, till the world shall burn
- It seems that all things take their turn;
- And who shall say but this fair tree
- May need, in changes that may be,
- Your children's children's charity?
- Scorned then, no doubt, as you are scorn'd!
- Shall no man hold his pride forewarn'd
- Till in the end, the Day of Days,
210At Judgment, one of his own race,
- As frail and lost as you, shall rise,
- His daughter, with his mother's eyes?
- Each of such curdled lives alike
- A life for which my twelve hours strike
- And time must be and time must end.
- Hard to keep sight of! What might tend
- To give the thought clear presence? Well,
- Remember it is possible,
- Whether I please or do not please,
220That in the making each of these
- A separate man has lost his soul.
- Fair shines the gilded aureole
- In which our highest painters place
- Some living woman's simple face.
- And the stilled features thus descried
- As Jenny's long throat droops aside,—
- The loving underlip drawn in,
- The shadows where the cheeks are thin,
- And pure wide curve from ear to chin,—
230With Raffael's or Da Vinci's hand
- To show them to men's souls, might stand,
- Whole ages long, the whole world through,
- For preachings of what God can do.
- What has man done here? How atone,
- Great God, for this which man has done?
- And for the body and soul which by
- Man's pitiless doom must now comply
- With lifelong hell, what lullaby
- Of sweet forgetful second birth
240Remains? All dark. No sign on earth
- What measure of God's rest endows
- The many mansions of his house.
- If but a woman's heart might see
- Such erring heart unerringly
- For once! But that can never be.
- Like a rose shut in a book
- In which pure women may not look,
- For its base pages claim control
- To crush the flower within the soul;
250Where through each dead rose-leaf that clings,
- Pale as transparent psyche-wings,
- To the vile text, are traced such things
- As might make lady's cheek indeed
- More than a living rose to read;
- So nought save foolish foulness may
- Watch with hard eyes the sure decay;
- And so the life-blood of this rose,
- Puddled with shameful knowledge, flows
- Through leaves no chaste hand may unclose:
260Yet still it keeps such faded show
- Of when 'twas gathered long ago,
- That the crushed petals' lovely grain,
- The sweetness of the sanguine stain,
- Seen of a woman's eyes, must make
- Her pitiful heart, so prone to ache,
- Love roses better for its sake:—
- Only that this can never be:—
- Even so unto her sex is she.
- Yet, Jenny, looking long at you,
270The woman almost fades from view.
- A cypher of man's changeless sum
- Of lust, past, present, and to come,
- Is left. A riddle that one shrinks
- To challenge from the scornful sphinx.
- Like a toad within a stone
- Seated while Time crumbles on;
- Which sits there since the earth was curs'd
- For Man's transgression at the first;
- Which, living through all centuries,
280Not once has seen the sun arise;
- Whose life, to its cold circle charmed,
- The earth's whole summers have not warmed;
- Which always—whitherso the stone
- Be cast—sits there, deaf, blind, alone;—
- Aye, and shall not be driven out
- Till that which shuts him round about
- Break at the very Master's stroke,
- And the dust thereof vanish as smoke,
- And the seed of Man vanish as dust:—
290Even so within this world is Lust.
- Come, come, what use in thoughts like this?
- Poor little Jenny, good to kiss,—
- You'd not believe by what strange roads
- Thought travels, when your beauty goads
- A man to-night to think of toads!
- Jenny, wake up. . . . Why, there's the dawn!
- And there's an early waggon drawn
- To market, and some sheep that jog
- Bleating before a barking dog;
300And the old streets come peering through
- Another night that London knew;
- And all as ghostlike as the lamps.
- So on the wings of day decamps
- My last night's frolic. Glooms begin
- To shiver off as lights creep in
- Past the gauze curtains half drawn-to,
- And the lamp's doubled shade grows blue,—
- Your lamp, my Jenny, kept alight,
- Like a wise virgin's, all one night!
310And in the alcove coolly spread
- Glimmers with dawn your empty bed;
- And yonder your fair face I see
- Reflected lying on my knee,
- Where teems with first foreshadowings
- Your pier-glass scrawled with diamond rings.
- And somehow in myself the dawn
- Among stirred clouds and veils withdrawn
- Strikes greyly on her. Let her sleep.
- But will it wake her if I heap
320These cushions thus beneath her head
- Where my knee was? No,—there's your bed,
- My Jenny, while you dream. And there
- I lay among your golden hair
- Perhaps the subject of your dreams,
- These golden coins.
- For still one deems
- That Jenny's flattering sleep confers
- New magic on the magic purse,—
- Grim web, how clogged with shrivelled flies!
- Between the threads fine fumes arise
330And shape their pictures in the brain.
- There roll no streets in glare and rain,
- Nor flagrant man-swine whets his tusk;
- But delicately sighs in musk
- The homage of the dim boudoir;
- Or like a palpitating star
- Thrilled into song, the opera-night
- Breathes faint in the quick pulse of light;
- Or at the carriage-window shine
- Rich wares for choice; or, free to dine,
340Whirls through its hour of health (divine
- For her) the concourse of the Park.
- And though in the discounted dark
- Her functions there and here are one,
- Beneath the lamps and in the sun
- There reigns at least the acknowledged belle
- Apparelled beyond parallel.
- Ah Jenny, yes, we know your dreams.
- For even the Paphian Venus seems
- A goddess o'er the realms of love,
350When silver-shrined in shadowy grove:
- Aye, or let offerings nicely placed
- But hide Priapus to the waist,
- And whoso looks on him shall see
- An eligible deity.
- Why, Jenny, waking here alone
- May help you to remember one!
- I think I see you when you wake,
- And rub your eyes for me, and shake
- My gold, in rising, from your hair,
360A Danaë for a moment there.
- Jenny, my love rang true! for still
- Love at first sight is vague, until
- That tinkling makes him audible.
- And must I mock you to the last,
- Ashamed of my own shame, aghast
- Because some thoughts not born amiss
- Rose at a poor fair face like this?
- Well, of such thoughts so much I know:
- In my life, as in hers, they show,
370By a far gleam which I may near,
- A dark path I can strive to clear.
- Only one kiss. Goodbye, my dear.
- This is her picture as she was:
- It seems a thing to wonder on,
- As though mine image in the glass
- Should tarry when myself am gone.
- I gaze until she seems to stir,
- Until mine eyes almost aver
- That now, even now, the sweet lips part
- To breathe the words of the sweet heart:—
- And yet the earth is over her.
10In painting her I shrined her face
- Mid mystic trees, where light falls in
- Hardly at all; a covert place
- Where you might think to find a din
- Of doubtful talk, and a live flame
- Wandering, and many a shape whose name
- Not itself knoweth, and old dew,
- And your own footsteps meeting you,
- And all things going as they came.
- A deep dim wood; and there she stands
20 As in that wood that day. At least,
- Thus was the movement of her hands
- And thus the carriage of her waist.
- And passing fair the type must seem,
- Unknown the presence and the dream.
- 'Tis she: though of herself, alas!
- Less than her shadow on the grass
- Or than her image in the stream.
- That day we met there, I and she
- One with the other all alone;
30And we were blithe; yet memory
- Saddens those hours, as when the moon
- Looks upon daylight. And with her
- I stooped to drink the spring-water,
- Athirst where other waters sprang;
- And where the echo is, she sang,—
- My soul another echo there.
- Last night at last I could have slept,
- And yet delayed my sleep till dawn,
- Still wandering. Then it was I wept:
40 For unawares I came upon
- Those glades where then she walked with me:
- And as I stood there suddenly,
- All wan with traversing the night,
- Upon the desolate verge of light
- Yearned loud the iron-bosomed sea.
- Even so, where Heaven holds breath and hears
- The beating heart of Love's own breast,
- Where round the secret of all spheres
- All angels lay their wings to rest,
50How shall my soul stand rapt and awed,
- When, by the new birth borne abroad
- Throughout the music of the suns,
- It enters in her soul at once
- And knows the silence there for God!
- Here with her face doth memory sit
- Meanwhile, and wait the day's decline,
- Till other eyes shall look from it,
- Eyes of the spirit's Palestine,
- Even than the old gaze tenderer:
60While hopes and aims long lost with her
- Stand round her image side by side,
- Like tombs of pilgrims that have died
- About the Holy Sepulchre.
- Consider the sea's listless chime:
- Time's self it is, made audible,—
- The murmur of the earth's own shell.
- Secret continuance sublime
- Is the sea's end: our sight may pass
- No furlong further. Since time was,
- This sound hath told the lapse of time.
- No quiet, which is death's,—it hath
- The mournfulness of ancient life,
10 Enduring always at dull strife.
- As the world's heart of rest and wrath,
- Its painful pulse is in the sands.
- Last utterly, the whole sky stands,
- Grey and not known, along its path.
- Listen alone beside the sea,
- Listen alone among the woods;
- Those voices of twin solitudes
- Shall have one sound alike to thee:
- Hark where the murmurs of thronged men
20 Surge and sink back and surge again,—
- Still the one voice of wave and tree.
- Gather a shell from the strown beach
- And listen at its lips: they sigh
- The same desire and mystery,
- The echo of the whole sea's speech.
- And all mankind is thus at heart
- Not anything but what thou art:
- And Earth, Sea, Man, are all in each.
- Give honour unto Luke Evangelist;
- For he it was (the aged legends say)
- Who first taught Art to fold her hands and pray.
- Scarcely at once she dared to read the mist
- Of devious symbols: but soon having wist
- How sky-breadth and field-silence and this day
- Are symbols also in some deeper way,
- She looked through these to God and was God's priest.
- And if, past noon, her toil began to irk,
10And she sought talismans, and turned in vain
- To soulless self-reflections of man's skill,—
- Yet now, in this the twilight, she might still
- Kneel in the latter grass to pray again,
- Ere the night cometh and she may not work.
- ‘Yea, thou shalt learn how salt his food who fares
- Upon another's bread,—how steep his path
- Who treadeth up and down another's stairs.’
Div. Com. Parad. xvii.)
- ‘Behold, even I, even I am Beatrice.’
Div. Com. Purg. xxx.)
- Of Florence and of Beatrice
- Servant and singer from of old,
- O'er Dante's heart in youth had toll'd
- The knell that gave his Lady peace;
- And now in manhood flew the dart
- Wherewith his City pierced his heart.
- Yet if his Lady's home above
- Was heaven, on earth she filled his soul;
- And if his City held control
10To cast the body forth to rove,
- The soul could soar from earth's vain throng
- And Heaven and Hell fulfil the song.
- Follow his feet's appointed way;—
- But little light we find that clears
- The darkness of the exiled years.
- Follow his spirit's journey:—nay,
- What fires are blent, what winds are blown
- On paths his feet may tread alone?
- Yet of the two-fold life he led
20 In chainless thought and fettered will
- Some glimpses reach us,—somewhat still
- Of the steep stairs and bitter bread,—
- Of the soul's quest whose stern avow
- For years had made him haggard now.
- Alas! the Sacred Song whereto
- Both heaven and earth had set their hand
- Not only at Fame's gate did stand
- Knocking to claim the passage through,
- But toiled to ope that heavier door
30 Which Florence shut for evermore.
- Shall not his birth's baptismal Town
- One last high presage yet fulfil,
- And at that font in Florence still
- His forehead take the laurel-crown?
- O God! or shall dead souls deny
- The undying soul its prophecy?
- Aye, 'tis their hour. Not yet forgot
- The bitter words he spoke that day
- When for some great charge far away
40Her rulers his acceptance sought.
- ‘And if I go, who
- His scorn:—‘and if I stay, who goes?’
- ‘Lo! thou art gone now, and we stay:’
- (The curled lips mutter): ‘and no star
- Is from the mortal path so far
- As streets were childhood knew the way.
- To Heaven and Hell thy feet may win,
- But thine own house they come not in.’
- Therefore, the loftier rose the song
- To touch the secret things of God,
- The deeper pierced the hate that trod
10On base men's track who wrought the wrong;
- Till the soul's effluence came to be
- Its own exceeding agony.
- Even such was Dante's mood, when now,
- Mocked for long years with Fortune's sport,
- He dwelt at yet another court,
- There where Verona's knee did bow
- And her voice hailed with proud acclaim
- Can Grande della Scala's name.
- As that lord's kingly guest awhile
20 His life we follow; through the days
- Which walked in exile's barren ways,—
- The nights which still beneath one smile
- Heard through all spheres one song increase,—
- ‘Even I, even I am Beatrice.’
- At Can La Scala's court, no doubt,
- Due reverence did his steps attend;
- The ushers on his path would bend
- At ingoing as at going out;
- The penmen waited on his call
30 At council-board, the grooms in hall.
- And pages hushed their laughter down,
- And squires would still the merry stir,
- When he passed up the dais-chamber
- With set brows lordlier than a frown;
- And tire-maids hidden among these
- Drew close their loosened boddices.
- Perhaps the priests, fed there to ban
- Or bless on bidding, if at whiles
- They found him wandering in their aisles,
40 Grudged ghostly greeting to the man
- By whom, though not of ghostly guild,
- With Heaven and Hell men's hearts were fill'd.
- And the court-poets (he, forsooth,
- A whole world's poet strayed to court!)
- Had for his scorn their hate's retort.
- He'd meet them flushed with easy youth,
- Hot on their errands. Like noon-flies
- They vexed him in the ears and eyes.
- But at this court, peace still must wrench
50 Her chaplet from the teeth of war:
- By day they held high watch afar,
- At night they cried across the trench;
- And still, in Dante's path, the fierce
- Gaunt soldiers wrangled o'er their spears.
- But vain seemed all the strength to him,
- As golden convoys sunk at sea
- Whose wealth might root out penury:
- Because it was not, limb with limb,
- Knit like his heart-strings round the wall
60 Of Florence, that her foes might fall.
- Yet in the tiltyard, when the dust
- Cleared from the sundered press of knights
- Ere yet again it swoops and smites,
- He almost deemed his longing must
- Find force to wield that multitude
- And hurl that strength the way he would.
- How should he move them,—fame and gain
- On all hands calling them at strife?
- He still might find but his one life
70To give, by Florence counted vain;
- One heart the false hearts made her doubt;
- One voice she heard once and cast out.
- Oh! if his Florence could but come,
- A lily-sceptered damsel fair,
- As her own Giotto painted her
- On many shields and gates at home,—
- A lady crowned, at her soft pace
- Riding the lists round to the dais:
- Till where Can Grande rules the lists,
80 As young as Truth, as calm as Farce,
- She draws her rein now, while her horse
- Bows at the turn of the white wrists;
- And when each knight within his stall
- Gives ear, she speaks and tells them all:
- All the foul tale,—truth sworn untrue,
- And falsehood's triumph. All the tale?
- Great God! and must she not prevail
- To fire them ere they heard it through,—
- And hand achieve ere heart could rest
90 That high adventure of her guest?
- How would his Florence lead them forth,
- Her bridle ringing as she went;
- And at the last within her tent,
- 'Neath golden lilies worship-worth,
- How queenly would she bend the while
- And thank the victors with her smile!
- Peace, Dante, peace! The task is long,
- The time wears short to compass it.
- Within thine heart such hopes may flit
100 And find a voice in deathless song:
- But lo! as children of man's earth,
- These hopes are dead before their birth.
- Fame tells us that Verona's court
- Was a fair place. The feet might still
- Wander for ever at their will
- In many ways of sweet resort;
- And still in many a heart around
- The Poet's name due honour found.
- Watch we his steps. He comes upon
110 The women at their palm-playing.
- The conduits round the gardens sing
- And meet in scoops of milk-white stone,
- Where wearied damsels rest and hold
- Their hands in the wet spurt of gold.
- One of whom, knowing well that he,
- By some found stern, was mild with them,
- Would run and pluck his garment's hem,
- Saying, ‘Messer Dante, pardon me,’—
- Praying that they might hear the song
120 Which first of all he made, when young.
- ‘Donne che
avete’* ...... thereunto
- Thus would he murmur, having first
- Drawn near the fountain, while she nurs'd
- His hand against her side: a few
- Sweet words, and scarcely those, half said:
- Then turned, and changed, and bowed his head.
- For then the voice said in his heart,
- ‘Even I, even I am Beatrice;’
- And his whole life would yearn to cease:
130Till having reached his room, apart
- Beyond vast lengths of palace-floor,
- He drew the arras round his door.
- At such times, Dante, thou hast set
- Thy forehead to the painted pane
- Full oft, I know; and if the rain
- Smote it outside, her fingers met
- Thy brow; and if the sun fell there,
- Her breath was on thy face and hair.
- Then, weeping, I think certainly
140 Thou hast beheld, past sight of eyne,—
- Within another room of thine
- Where now thy body may not be
- But where in thought thou still remain'st,—
- A window often wept against:
Transcribed Footnote (page 54):
*‘Donne che avete intelletto
d'amore:’—the first canzone of
- The window thou, a youth, hast sought,
- Flushed in the limpid eventime,
- Ending with daylight the day's rhyme
- Of her; where oftenwhiles her thought
- Held thee—the lamp untrimmed to write—
150 In joy through the blue lapse of night.
- At Can La Scala's court, no doubt,
- Guests seldom wept. It was brave sport,
- No doubt, at Can La Scala's court,
- Within the palace and without;
- Where music, set to madrigals,
- Loitered all day through groves and halls.
- Because Can Grande of his life
- Had not had six-and-twenty years
- As yet. And when the chroniclers
160Tell you of that Vicenza strife
- And of strifes elsewhere,—you must not
- Conceive for church—sooth he had got.
- Just nothing in his wits but war:
- Though certes 'twas the young man's joy
- (Grown with his growth from a mere boy,)
- To mark his ‘Viva Cane!’ scare
- The foe's shut front, till it would reel
- All blind with shaken points of steel.
- But there were places—held too sweet
170 For eyes that had not the due veil
- Of lashes and clear lids—as well
- In favour as in saddle-seat:
- Breath of low speech he scorned not there
- Nor light cool fingers in his hair.
- Yet if the child whom the sire's plan
- Made free of a deep treasure-chest
- Scoffed it with ill-conditioned jest,—
- We may be sure too that the man
- Was not mere thews, nor all content
180 With lewdness swathed in sentiment.
- So you may read and marvel not
- That such a man as Dante—one
- Who, while Can Grande's deeds were done,
- Had drawn his robe round him and thought—
- Now at the same guest-table far'd
- Where keen Uguccio wiped his beard.*
- Through leaves and trellis-work the sun
- Left the wine cool within the glass,—
- They feasting where no sun could pass:
190And when the women, all as one,
- Rose up with brightened cheeks to go,
- It was a comely thing, we know.
Transcribed Footnote (page 56):
* Uguccione della Faggiuola, Dante's former protector, was
fellow-guest at Verona.
- But Dante recked not of the wine,
- Whether the women stayed or went,
- His visage held one stern intent:
- And when the music had its sign
- To breathe upon them for more ease,
- Sometimes he turned and bade it cease.
- And if some envoy from afar
200 Sailed to Verona's sovereign port
- For aid or peace, and all the court
- Fawned on its lord, ‘the Mars of war,
- Sole arbiter of life and death,’—
- Be sure that Dante saved his breath.
- And Can La Scala marked askance
- These things, accepting them for shame
- And scorn, till Dante's guestship came
- To be a peevish sufferance:
- His host sought ways to make his days
210 Hateful; and such have many ways.
- There was a Jester, a foul lout
- Whom the court loved for graceless arts;
- Sworn scholiast of the bestial parts
- Of speech; a ribald mouth to shout
- In Folly's horny tympanum
- Such things as make the wise man dumb.
- Much loved, him Dante loathed. And so,
- One day when Dante felt perplex'd
- If any day that could come next
220Were worth the waiting for or no,
- Till now his scanty speech quite ceas'd,—
- Can Grande summoned in this beast.
- Rank words, with such, are wit's best wealth.
- Lords mouthed approval; ladies kept
- Twittering with clustered heads, except
- Some few that took their trains by stealth
- And went. Can Grande shook his hair
- And smote his thighs and laughed i' the air.
- Then, facing on his guest, he cried,—
230 ‘Say, Messer Dante, how it is
- I get out of a clown like this
- More than your wisdom can provide?’
- And Dante: ‘'Tis man's ancient whim
- That still his like seems good to him’—
- But wherefore should we turn the grout
- In a drained cup, or be at strife
- From the worn garment of a life
- To rip the twisted ravel out?
- Good needs expounding; but of all
240 Each hath enough to guess his fill.
- They named him Justicer-at-Law:
- Each month to bear the tale in mind
- Of hues a wench might wear unfin'd
- And of the load an ox might draw;
- To cavil in the weight of bread
- And to see purse-thieves gibbeted.
- And when his spirit wove the spell
- (From under even to over noon
- In converse with itself alone,)
250As high as Heaven, as low as Hell,—
- He would be summoned and must go:
- For had not Gian stabbed Giacomo?
- Therefore the bread he had to eat
- Seemed brackish, less like corn than tares;
- And the rush-strown accustomed stairs
- Each day were steeper to his feet;
- And when the night-vigil was done,
- His brows would ache to feel the sun.
- Nevertheless, when through his kin
260 There came the tidings how at last
- In Florence a decree was pass'd
- Whereby all banished folk might win
- Free pardon so a fine were paid
- And act of public penance made,—
- This Dante writ in answer thus,
- Words such as these: ‘That clearly they
- In Florence must not have to say,—
- The man abode aloof from us
- Nigh fifteen years, yet lastly skulk'd
270 Hither to candleshrift or mulct.
- ‘That he was one the Heavens forbid
- To traffic in God's justice sold
- By market-weight of earthly gold,
- Or to bow down over the lid
- Of steaming censers, and so be
- Made clean of manhood's obloquy.
- ‘That since no gate led, by God's will,
- To Florence, but the one whereat
- The priests and money-changers sat,
280He still would wander; for that still,
- Even through the body's prison-bars,
- His soul possessed the sun and stars.’
- Such were his words. It is indeed
- For ever well our singers should
- Utter good words and know them good
- Not through song merely; with close heed
- Lest, having spent for the work's sake
- Six days, the man be left to make.
- Months o'er Verona, till the feast
290 Was come for Florence the Free Town:
- And at the shrine of Baptist John
- The exiles, girt with many a priest
- And carrying candles as they went,
- Were held to mercy of the saint.
- On the high seats in sober state,—
- Gold neck-chains range o'er range below
- Gold screen-work where the lilies grow,—
- The Heads of the Republic sate,
- Marking the humbled face go by
300 Each one of his house-enemy.
- And as each proscript rose and stood
- From kneeling in the ashen dust
- On the shrine-steps, some magnate thrust
- A beard into the velvet hood
- Of his front colleague's gown, to see
- The cinders stuck in the bare knee.
- Tosinghi passed, Manelli passed,
- Rinucci passed, each in his place;
- But not an Alighieris' face
310Went by that day from first to last
- In the Republic's triumph; nor
- A foot came home to Dante's door.
Respublica—a public thing:
- A shameful shameless prostitute,
- Whose lust with one lord may not suit,
- So takes by turns its revelling
- A night with each, till he at morn
- Is stripped and beaten forth forlorn,
- And leaves her, cursing her. If she,
320 Indeed, have not some spice-draught, hid
- In scent under a silver lid,
- To drench his open throat with—he
- Once hard asleep; and thrust him not
- At dawn beneath the boards to rot.)
- Years filled out their twelve moons, and ceased
- One in another; and alway
- There were the whole twelve hours each day
- And each night as the years increased;
- And rising moon and setting sun
330 Beheld that Dante's work was done.
- What of his work for Florence? Well
- It was, he knew, and well must be.
- Yet evermore her hate's decree
- Dwelt in his thought intolerable:—
- His body to be
- To beat its wings at hope's vain goal.
Transcribed Footnote (page 62):
* Such was the last sentence passed by Florence against Dante,
- What of his work for Beatrice?
- Now well-nigh was the third song writ,—
- The stars a third time scaling it
340With sudden music of pure peace:
- For echoing thrice the threefold song,
- The unnumbered stars the tone prolong.*
- Each hour, as then the Vision pass'd,
- He heard the utter harmony
- Of the nine trembling spheres, till she
- Bowed her eyes towards him in the last,
- So that all ended with her eyes,
- Hell, Purgatory, Paradise.
- ‘It is my trust, as the years fall,
350 To write more worthily of her
- Who now, being made God's minister,
- Looks on His visage and knows all.’
- Such was the hope that he dared send
- Forth solemnly, to make an end
- Of the ‘New Life,’ his youth's dear book.
- Adding thereunto: ‘In such trust
- I labour, and believe I must
- Accomplish this which my soul took
- In charge, if God, my Lord and hers,
360 Leave my life with me a few years.’
Transcribed Footnote (page 63):
‘E quirdi uscimmo a riveder le
‘Puro e disposto a salire alle
‘L'amor che muove il sole e
- The trust which he had borne in youth
- Was all at length accomplished. He
- At length had written worthily—
- Yea even of her; no rhymes uncouth
- 'Twixt tongue and tongue; but by God's aid
- The first words Italy had said.
- Ah! haply now the heavenly guide
- Was not the last form seen by him:
- But there that Beatrice stood slim
370And bowed in passing at his side,
- For whom in youth his heart made moan
- Then when the city sat alone.
- Clearly herself; the same whom he
- Met, not past girlhood, in the street,
- Low-bosomed and with hidden feet;
- And then as woman perfectly,
- In years that followed, more than once,—
- And now at last among the suns,
- In that high vision. But indeed
380 It may be that his mind could fall
- Back soonest to the first of all,—
- The child his boyhood bore in heed
- Nine years. At length the voice brought peace,—
- ‘Even I, even I am Beatrice.’
- All this, being there, we had not seen.
- Seen only was the shadow wrought
- On the strong features bound in thought;
- The vagueness gairing gait and mien;
- The white streaks gathering clear to view
390 In the burnt beard the women knew.
- For a tale tells that on his track,
- As through Verona's streets he went,
- This saying certain women sent:—
- ‘Lo, he that strolls to Hell and back
- At will! Behold him, how Hell's reek
- Has crisped his beard and singed his cheek.’
- ‘Whereat’ (Boccaccio's words)
- For pride in fame.’ It might be so:
- Nevertheless we cannot know
400If then his thought were not beguil'd
- To mirth, for that he scarce could tell
- If he indeed were back from Hell.
- So the day came, after a space,
- When Dante felt assured that there
- The sunshine must lie sicklier
- Even than in any other place,
- Save only Florence. When that day
- Had come, he rose and went his way.
- He went and turned not. From his shoes
410 It may be that he shook the dust,
- As every righteous dealer must
- Not less than once ere life can close;
- And unaccomplished destiny
- Struck cold his forehead, it may be.
- No book keeps record how the Prince
- Sunned himself out of Dante's reach,
- Nor how the Jester stank in speech;
- While courtiers, used to smile and wince,
- Poets and harlots, all the throng,
420 Let loose their slaver and their song.
- No book keeps record if the seat
- Which Dante had at his host's board
- Were sat in next by clerk or lord,—
- If leman lolled with dainty feet
- At ease, or hostage brooded there,
- Or priest lacked silence for his prayer.
- Eat and wash hands, Can Grande;—scarce
- We know their deeds now: hands which fed
- Our Dante with that bitter bread;
430And thou the watch-dog of those stairs
- Whereon the weary footsteps fell,
- That knew the paths of Heaven and Hell.
- Now do Thou let thy servant, Lord,—
- Who now hath suffered all the heart
- And the soul can on earth,—depart
- In peace according to thy word?
- His eyes (are not the lids still wet?)
- Beheld not thy salvation yet.
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