Rossetti Archive Textual Transcription
Document Title: Poems. A New Edition (1881), proof Signature M (Delaware Museum, first revise
proof, printer's copy)
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.
- For weeks that I had borne her company
- Into the Duomo; and those weeks had been
- Much troubled, for then first the glimpses came
370 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,
- On whose crowned heads the day has closed, nor yet
380 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
- Of her transferred devotion; but she seemed
390 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
- And hands held light before her; and the face
400 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
- With his white face, only the two grew red
410 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
- And so absolve me, Father, the great sin
420 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
- And stopped. Beyond, there are but broken words
430 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 between her fingers hiss;
- So that I sat up in my bed and screamed
- Once and again; and once to once, she laughed.
440 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,
- How shall I make you know? You have not known
450 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
- Than in the good time past, there all was hers.
460 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.
- How could you bear it? Would you not cry out,
470 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
- When to my prayers at last one sight of her
480 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,
- Your broken love!’
- My Father, have I not
490 Yet told you the last things of that last day
- On which I went to meet her by the sea?
- O God, O God! but I must tell you all.
- Midway upon my journey, when 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
500 Was playing tricks and shouting in a crowd.
- I 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;
510 And while they stopped, and made all sights and sounds
- Sharp to my startled senses, I remember
- A woman laughed above me. I looked up
- And saw where a brown-shouldered harlot leaned
- 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 on him, as now
- He munched her neck with kisses, while the vine
- Crawled in her back.
- And three hours afterwards,
520 When she that I had run all risks to meet
- Laughed 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,
530 And she had laughed? Have I not told you yet?
- ‘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 eclipse, that she
- Or I or all things bled or burned to death.
- And then I found her laid against my feet
- And knew that I had stabbed her, and saw still
540 Her look in falling. For she took the knife
- Deep in her heart, even as I bade her then,
- And fell; and her stiff bodice 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:
550 And from her side now she unwinds the thick
- Dark 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 steel to God.
- In our Museum galleries
- To-day I lingered o'er the prize
- Dead Greece vouchsafes to living eyes,—
- Her Art for ever in fresh wise
- From hour to hour rejoicing me.
- Sighing I turned at last to win
- Once more the London dirt and din;
- And as I made the swing-door spin
- And issued, they were hoisting in
10 A wingèd beast from Nineveh.
- A human face the creature wore,
- And hoofs behind and hoofs before,
- And flanks with dark runes fretted o'er.
- 'Twas bull, 'twas mitred Minotaur,
- A dead disbowelled mystery:
- The mummy of a buried faith
- Stark from the charnel without scathe,
- Its wings stood for the light to bathe,—
- Such fossil cerements as might swathe
20 The very corpse of Nineveh.
- The print of its first rush-wrapping,
- Wound ere it dried, still ribbed the thing.
- What song did the brown maidens sing,
- From purple mouths alternating,
- When that was woven languidly?
- What vows, what rites, what prayers preferr'd,
- What songs has the strange image heard?
- In what blind vigil stood interr'd
- For ages, till an English word
30 Broke silence first at Nineveh?
- Oh when upon each sculptured court,
- Where even the wind might not resort,—
- O'er which Time passed, of like import
- With the wild Arab boys at sport,—
- A living face looked in to see:—
- O seemed it not—the spell once broke—
- As though the carven warriors woke,
- As though the shaft the string forsook,
- The cymbals clashed, the chariots shook,
40 And there was life in Nineveh?
- On London stones our sun anew
- The beast's recovered shadow threw.
- (No shade that plague of darkness knew,
- No light, no shade, while older grew
- By ages the old earth and sea.)
- Lo thou! could all thy priests have shown
- Such proof to make thy godhead known?
- From their dead Past thou liv'st alone;
- And still thy shadow is thine own
50 Even as of yore in Nineveh.
- That day whereof we keep record,
- When near thy city-gates the Lord
- Sheltered His Jonah with a gourd,
- This sun, (I said) here present, pour'd
- Even thus this shadow that I see.
- This shadow has been shed the same
- From sun and moon,—from lamps which came
- For prayer,—from fifteen days of flame,
- The last, while smouldered to a name
60 Sardanapalus' Nineveh.
- Within thy shadow, haply, once
- Sennacherib has knelt, whose sons
- Smote him between the altar-stones:
- Or pale Semiramis her zones
- Of gold, her incense brought to thee,
- In love for grace, in war for aid: . . . .
- Ay, and who else? . . . . till 'neath thy shade
- Within his trenches newly made
- Last year the Christian knelt and pray'd—
70 Not to thy strength—in Nineveh.*
- Now, thou poor god, within this hall
- Where the blank windows blind the wall
- From pedestal to pedestal,
- The kind of light shall on thee fall
- Which London takes the day to be:
- While school-foundations in the act
- Of holiday, three files compact,
- Shall learn to view thee as a fact
- Connected with that zealous tract:
80 ‘Rome,—Babylon and Nineveh.’
Transcribed Footnote (page 173):
* During the excavations, the Tiyari workmen held their services
shadow of the great bulls. (
Layard's ‘Nineveh,’ ch. ix.)
- Deemed they of this, those worshippers,
- When, in some mythic chain of verse
- Which man shall not again rehearse,
- The faces of thy ministers
- Yearned pale with bitter ecstasy?
- Greece, Egypt, Rome,—did any god
- Before whose feet men knelt unshod
- Deem that in this unblest abode
- Another scarce more unknown god
90 Should house with him, from Nineveh?
- Ah! in what quarries lay the stone
- From which this pillared pile has grown,
- Unto man's need how long unknown,
- Since those thy temples, court and cone,
- Rose far in desert history?
- Ah! what is here that does not lie
- All strange to thine awakened eye?
- Ah! what is here can testify
- (Save that dumb presence of the sky)
100 Unto thy day and Nineveh?
- Why, of those mummies in the room
- Above, there might indeed have come
- One out of Egypt to thy home,
- An alien. Nay, but were not some
- Of these thine own ‘antiquity?’
- And now,—they and their gods and thou
- All relics here together,—now
- Whose profit? whether bull or cow,
- Isis or Ibis, who or how,
110 Whether of Thebes or Nineveh?
- The consecrated metals found,
- And ivory tablets, underground,
- Winged teraphim and creatures crown'd,
- When air and daylight filled the mound,
- Fell into dust immediately.
- And even as these, the images
- Of awe and worship,—even as these,—
- So, smitten with the sun's increase,
- Her glory mouldered and did cease
120 From immemorial Nineveh.
- The day her builders made their halt,
- Those cities of the lake of salt
- Stood firmly 'stablished without fault,
- Made proud with pillars of basalt,
- With sardonyx and porphyry.
- The day that Jonah bore abroad
- To Nineveh the voice of God,
- A brackish lake lay in his road,
- Where erst Pride fixed her sure abode,
130 As then in royal Nineveh.
- The day when he, Pride's lord and Man's,
- Showed all the kingdoms at a glance
- To Him before whose countenance
- The years recede, the years advance,
- And said, Fall down and worship me:—
- 'Mid all the pomp beneath that look,
- Then stirred there, haply, some rebuke,
- Where to the
wind the Salt Pools shook,
- And in those tracts, of life forsook,
140 That knew thee not, O Nineveh!
- Delicate harlot! On thy throne
- Thou with a world beneath thee prone
- In state for ages sat'st alone;
- And needs were years and lustres flown
- Ere strength of man could vanquish thee:
- Whom even thy victor foes must bring,
- Still royal, among maids that sing
Electronic Archive Edition: 1