Rossetti Archive Textual Transcription
Document Title: Poems. A New Edition (1881), proof Signature L (Delaware Museum, first
revise, copy 1)
Author: Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Date of publication: 1881 May 15 (circa)
Publisher: F. S. Ellis
Printer: Strangeways and Walden
full Rossetti Archive record for this transcribed document is available.
- 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.
20 What 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: such might prove, I said,
- 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
30 Into 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 and keep it for my sake,’ I said.
- Her neck unbent not, neither did her eyes
- Move, nor her foot left beating of the sand;
- Only she put it by from her and laughed.
- Father, you hear my speech and not her laugh;
- But God heard that. Will God remember all?
- It was another laugh than the sweet sound
- Which rose from her sweet childish heart, that day
50 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
- Seemed fitful like the talking of the trees
60 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
- They kissed her long, and wept and made her weep,
70 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,’ she said,
- ‘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,
- When last I had been there a month ago,
80 Swarmed with starved folk; and how the bread was
- By Austrians armed; and women that I knew
- For wives and mothers walked the public street,
- Saying aloud that if their husbands 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,
- Because of the great famine, rather than
90 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.
- It was no easy thing to keep a child
100 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
- Is like the sky when the sun sets in it,
110 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
- Of each there floated like a ring of fire
120 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
- Stood up together, as it were a voice
130 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,
- The life of this dead terror; as in days
140 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 such day
- 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
- Why were his poor eyes blindfold, why the wings
150 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 murmured still,
- ‘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
- I gave him to her and she loved him so,
160 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,
- It slipped and all its fragments strewed the ground:
170 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 you!’—kissing still
- 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
- You gave me.’ So she cried herself to sleep.
180 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
- That evil brackish salt which the dry rocks
190 Keep all through winter when the sea draws in.
- The first I heard of it was a chance shot
- In the street here and there, 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
- A child; and yet that kiss was on my lips
200 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 love—was changed,
- 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
- Leaning against my side. But when I felt
210 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
- The time, I made out fourteen years for her
220 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
- Which come when you are gone. She had a mouth
230 Made to bring death to life,—the underlip
- Sucked in, as if it strove to kiss itself.
- Her face was pearly 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 dimness of the cloud
- Where the moon's gaze is set in eddying gloom.
- Her body bore her neck as the tree's stem
- Bears the top branch; and as the branch sustains
- The flower of the year's pride, her high neck bore
240 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
- Shook to her laugh, as when a bird flies low
250 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
- Which I was proud to yield her, as my father
260 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.
- And though she ruled me always, I remember
270 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,
- Such as a blind man chaunts and his dog hears
280 Holding the platter, when the children run
- To merrier sport and leave him. Thus it goes:—
- La bella donna*
- Piangendo disse:
- ‘Come son fisse
- Le stelle in cielo!
- Quel fiato anelo
- Dello stanco sole,
- Quanto m' assonna!
- E la luna, macchiata
Transcribed Footnote (page 157):
Note: The translated version of the poem appears in two columns at bottom of page.
- * 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! what one favour
- Remains to woo him,
- Whose whole poor savour
- Belongs not to him?’
290Come 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.
- E veramente,
300Che le spalle sien franche
- E la 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:—
- ‘Questa mano che prendo
310E 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 tu 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!
- Oimè! Che cosa dargli,’
330(Ma ridea piano piano
- Dei baci in sulla mano,)
- ‘Ch' ei non m'abbia da lungo tempo
- That I should sing upon this bed!—with you
- 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
- And laid it down beyond my reach; and so
340 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.
- Yet one more thing comes back on me to-night
350 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
- Sat on one throne together: and to her
360 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
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