The Poetical Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Volume IV by Browning

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Title: The Poetical Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Volume IV

Author: Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Release Date: January 18, 2010 [EBook #31015]

Language: English

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The Poetical Works
OF
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

In Six Volumes

Vol. IV.

London
Smith, Elder, & Co., 15 Waterloo Place
1890


CONTENTS.

POEMS:— PAGE
  A Child’s Grave at Florence 3
Catarina to Camoens 12
Life and Love 20
A Denial 22
Proof and Disproof 25
Question and Answer 29
Inclusions 30
Insufficiency 32
 
SONNETS FROM THE PORTUGUESE 33
 
CASA GUIDI WINDOWS:—
First Part 83
Second Part 134
 
POEMS BEFORE CONGRESS:—
Napoleon III. in Italy 171
The Dance 190
A Tale of Villafranca 195
A Court Lady 200
An August Voice 207
Christmas Gifts 213
Italy and the World 217
A Curse for a Nation 227
 
LAST POEMS:—
Little Mattie 241
A False Step 246
Void in Law 248
Lord Walter’s Wife 252
Bianca among the Nightingales 259
My Kate 267
A Song for the Ragged Schools of London 270
May’s Love 279
Amy’s Cruelty 280
My Heart and I 284
The Best Thing in the World 287
Where’s Agnes? 288

POEMS

3

A CHILD’S GRAVE AT FLORENCE.

A.A.E.C.
Born, July 1848. Died, November 1849

I.

Of English blood, of Tuscan birth,

What country should we give her?

Instead of any on the earth,

The civic Heavens receive her.

II.

And here among the English tombs

In Tuscan ground we lay her,

While the blue Tuscan sky endomes

Our English words of prayer.

4

III.

A little child!—how long she lived,

By months, not years, is reckoned:

Born in one July, she survived

Alone to see a second.

IV.

Bright-featured, as the July sun

Her little face still played in,

And splendours, with her birth begun,

Had had no time for fading.

V.

So, Lily, from those July hours,

No wonder we should call her;

She looked such kinship to the flowers,—

Was but a little taller.

VI.

A Tuscan Lily,—only white,

As Dante, in abhorrence

Of red corruption, wished aright

The lilies of his Florence.

5

VII.

We could not wish her whiter,—her

Who perfumed with pure blossom

The house—a lovely thing to wear

Upon a mother’s bosom!

VIII.

This July creature thought perhaps

Our speech not worth assuming;

She sat upon her parents’ laps

And mimicked the gnat’s humming;

IX.

Said “father,” “mother”—then left off,

For tongues celestial, fitter:

Her hair had grown just long enough

To catch heaven’s jasper-glitter.

X.

Babes! Love could always hear and see

Behind the cloud that hid them.

“Let little children come to Me,

And do not thou forbid them.”

6

XI.

So, unforbidding, have we met,

And gently here have laid her,

Though winter is no time to get

The flowers that should o’erspread her:

XII.

We should bring pansies quick with spring,

Rose, violet, daffodilly,

And also, above everything,

White lilies for our Lily.

XIII.

Nay, more than flowers, this grave exacts,—

Glad, grateful attestations

Of her sweet eyes and pretty acts,

With calm renunciations.

XIV.

Her very mother with light feet

Should leave the place too earthy,

Saying “The angels have thee, Sweet,

Because we are not worthy.”

7

XV.

But winter kills the orange-buds,

The gardens in the frost are,

And all the heart dissolves in floods,

Remembering we have lost her.

XVI.

Poor earth, poor heart,—too weak, too weak

To miss the July shining!

Poor heart!—what bitter words we speak

When God speaks of resigning!

XVII.

Sustain this heart in us that faints,

Thou God, the self-existent!

We catch up wild at parting saints

And feel Thy heaven too distant.

XVIII.

The wind that swept them out of sin

Has ruffled all our vesture:

On the shut door that let them in

We beat with frantic gesture,—

8

XIX.

To us, us also, open straight!

The outer life is chilly;

Are we too, like the earth, to wait

Till next year for our Lily?

XX.

—Oh, my own baby on my knees,

My leaping, dimpled treasure,

At every word I write like these,

Clasped close with stronger pressure!

XXI.

Too well my own heart understands,—

At every word beats fuller—

My little feet, my little hands,

And hair of Lily’s colour!

XXII.

But God gives patience, Love learns strength,

And Faith remembers promise,

And Hope itself can smile at length

On other hopes gone from us.

9

XXIII.

Love, strong as Death, shall conquer Death,

Through struggle made more glorious:

This mother stills her sobbing breath,

Renouncing yet victorious.

XXIV.

Arms, empty of her child, she lifts

With spirit unbereaven,—

“God will not all take back His gifts;

My Lily’s mine in heaven.

XXV.

“Still mine! maternal rights serene

Not given to another!

The crystal bars shine faint between

The souls of child and mother.

XXVI.

“Meanwhile,” the mother cries, “content!

Our love was well divided:

Its sweetness following where she went,

Its anguish stayed where I did.

10

XXVII.

“Well done of God, to halve the lot,

And give her all the sweetness;

To us, the empty room and cot,—

To her, the Heaven’s completeness.

XXVIII.

“To us, this grave,—to her, the rows

The mystic palm-trees spring in;

To us, the silence in the house,—

To her, the choral singing.

XXIX.

“For her, to gladden in God’s view,—

For us, to hope and bear on.

Grow, Lily, in thy garden new,

Beside the Rose of Sharon!

XXX.

“Grow fast in heaven, sweet Lily clipped,

In love more calm than this is,

And may the angels dewy-lipped

Remind thee of our kisses!

11

XXXI.

“While none shall tell thee of our tears,

These human tears now falling,

Till, after a few patient years,

One home shall take us all in.

XXXII.

“Child, father, mother—who, left out?

Not mother, and not father!

And when, our dying couch about,

The natural mists shall gather,

XXXIII.

“Some smiling angel close shall stand

In old Correggio’s fashion,

And bear a Lily in his hand,

For death’s ANNUNCIATION.”


12

CATARINA TO CAMOENS

(DYING IN HIS ABSENCE ABROAD, AND REFERRING TO THE POEM IN WHICH HE RECORDED THE SWEETNESS OF HER EYES).

I.

On the door you will not enter,

I have gazed too long: adieu!

Hope withdraws her peradventure;

Death is near me,—and not you.

Come, O lover,

Close and cover

These poor eyes, you called, I ween,

“Sweetest eyes were ever seen!”

II.

When I heard you sing that burden

In my vernal days and bowers,

Other praises disregarding,

I but hearkened that of yours—

13

Only saying

In heart-playing,

“Blessed eyes mine eyes have been,

If the sweetest HIS have seen!”

III.

But all changes. At this vesper,

Cold the sun shines down the door.

If you stood there, would you whisper

“Love, I love you,” as before,—

Death pervading

Now, and shading

Eyes you sang of, that yestreen,

As the sweetest ever seen?

IV.

Yes. I think, were you beside them,

Near the bed I die upon,

Though their beauty you denied them,

As you stood there, looking down,

You would truly

Call them duly,

For the love’s sake found therein,

“Sweetest eyes were ever seen.”

14

V.

And if you looked down upon them,

And if they looked up to you,

All the light which has foregone them

Would be gathered back anew:

They would truly

Be as duly

Love-transformed to beauty’s sheen,

“Sweetest eyes were ever seen.”

VI.

But, ah me! you only see me,

In your thoughts of loving man,

Smiling soft perhaps and dreamy

Through the wavings of my fan;

And unweeting

Go repeating,

In your reverie serene,

“Sweetest eyes were ever seen——”

VII.

While my spirit leans and reaches

From my body still and pale,

Fain to hear what tender speech is

In your love to help my bale.

15

O my poet,

Come and show it!

Come, of latest love, to glean

“Sweetest eyes were ever seen.”

VIII.

O my poet, O my prophet,

When you praised their sweetness so,

Did you think, in singing of it,

That it might be near to go?

Had you fancies

From their glances,

That the grave would quickly screen

“Sweetest eyes were ever seen”?

IX.

No reply. The fountain’s warble

In the courtyard sounds alone.

As the water to the marble

So my heart falls with a moan

From love-sighing

To this dying.

Death forerunneth Love to win

“Sweetest eyes were ever seen.”

16

X.

Will you come? When I’m departed

Where all sweetnesses are hid,

Where thy voice, my tender-hearted,

Will not lift up either lid.

Cry, O lover,

Love is over!

Cry, beneath the cypress green,

“Sweetest eyes were ever seen!”

XI.

When the angelus is ringing,

Near the convent will you walk,

And recall the choral singing

Which brought angels down our talk?

Spirit-shriven

I viewed Heaven,

Till you smiled—“Is earth unclean,

Sweetest eyes were ever seen?”

XII.

When beneath the palace-lattice

You ride slow as you have done,

And you see a face there that is

Not the old familiar one,—

17

Will you oftly

Murmur softly,

“Here ye watched me morn and e’en,

Sweetest eyes were ever seen!”

XIII.

When the palace-ladies, sitting

Round your gittern, shall have said,

“Poet, sing those verses written

For the lady who is dead,”

Will you tremble

Yet dissemble,—

Or sing hoarse, with tears between,

“Sweetest eyes were ever seen”?

XIV.

“Sweetest eyes!” how sweet in flowings

The repeated cadence is!

Though you sang a hundred poems,

Still the best one would be this.

I can hear it

’Twixt my spirit

And the earth-noise intervene—

“Sweetest eyes were ever seen!”

18

XV.

But the priest waits for the praying,

And the choir are on their knees,

And the soul must pass away in

Strains more solemn-high than these.

Miserere

For the weary!

Oh, no longer for Catrine

“Sweetest eyes were ever seen!”

XVI.

Keep my riband, take and keep it,

(I have loosed it from my hair)[1]

Feeling, while you overweep it,

Not alone in your despair,

Since with saintly

Watch unfaintly

Out of heaven shall o’er you lean

“Sweetest eyes were ever seen.”

XVII.

But—but now—yet unremovèd

Up to heaven, they glisten fast;

19

You may cast away, Belovèd,

In your future all my past:

Such old phrases

May be praises

For some fairer bosom-queen—

“Sweetest eyes were ever seen!”

XVIII.

Eyes of mine, what are ye doing?

Faithless, faithless,—praised amiss

If a tear be of your showing,

Dropt for any hope of HIS!

Death has boldness

Besides coldness,

If unworthy tears demean

“Sweetest eyes were ever seen.”

XIX.

I will look out to his future;

I will bless it till it shine.

Should he ever be a suitor

Unto sweeter eyes than mine,

Sunshine gild them,

Angels shield them,

Whatsoever eyes terrene

Be the sweetest HIS have seen!


20

LIFE AND LOVE.

I.

Fast this Life of mine was dying,

Blind already and calm as death,

Snowflakes on her bosom lying

Scarcely heaving with her breath.

II.

Love came by, and having known her

In a dream of fabled lands,

Gently stooped, and laid upon her

Mystic chrism of holy hands;

III.

Drew his smile across her folded

Eyelids, as the swallow dips;

Breathed as finely as the cold did

Through the locking of her lips.

21

IV.

So, when Life looked upward, being

Warmed and breathed on from above,

What sight could she have for seeing,

Evermore ... but only Love?


22

A DENIAL.

I.

We have met late—it is too late to meet,

O friend, not more than friend!

Death’s forecome shroud is tangled round my feet,

And if I step or stir, I touch the end.

In this last jeopardy

Can I approach thee, I, who cannot move?

How shall I answer thy request for love?

Look in my face and see.

II.

I love thee not, I dare not love thee! go

In silence; drop my hand.

If thou seek roses, seek them where they blow

In garden-alleys, not in desert-sand.

Can life and death agree,

That thou shouldst stoop thy song to my complaint?

I cannot love thee. If the word is faint,

Look in my face and see.

23

III.

I might have loved thee in some former days.

Oh, then, my spirits had leapt

As now they sink, at hearing thy love-praise!

Before these faded cheeks were overwept,

Had this been asked of me,

To love thee with my whole strong heart and head,—

I should have said still ... yes, but smiled and said,

“Look in my face and see!”

IV.

But now ... God sees me, God, who took my heart

And drowned it in life’s surge.

In all your wide warm earth I have no part—

A light song overcomes me like a dirge.

Could Love’s great harmony

The saints keep step to when their bonds are loose,

Not weigh me down? am I a wife to choose?

Look in my face and see—

V.

While I behold, as plain as one who dreams,

Some woman of full worth,

Whose voice, as cadenced as a silver stream’s,

Shall prove the fountain-soul which sends it forth;

24

One younger, more thought-free

And fair and gay, than I, thou must forget,

With brighter eyes than these ... which are not wet ...

Look in my face and see!

VI.

So farewell thou, whom I have known too late

To let thee come so near.

Be counted happy while men call thee great,

And one belovèd woman feels thee dear!—

Not I!—that cannot be.

I am lost, I am changed,—I must go farther, where

The change shall take me worse, and no one dare

Look in my face and see.

VII.

Meantime I bless thee. By these thoughts of mine

I bless thee from all such!

I bless thy lamp to oil, thy cup to wine,

Thy hearth to joy, thy hand to an equal touch

Of loyal troth. For me,

I love thee not, I love thee not!—away!

Here’s no more courage in my soul to say

“Look in my face and see.”


25

PROOF AND DISPROOF.

I.

Dost thou love me, my Belovèd?

Who shall answer yes or no?

What is provèd or disprovèd

When my soul inquireth so,

Dost thou love me, my Belovèd?

II.

I have seen thy heart to-day,

Never open to the crowd,

While to love me aye and aye

Was the vow as it was vowed

By thine eyes of steadfast grey.

26

III.

Now I sit alone, alone—

And the hot tears break and burn,

Now, Belovèd, thou art gone,

Doubt and terror have their turn.

Is it love that I have known?

IV.

I have known some bitter things,—

Anguish, anger, solitude.

Year by year an evil brings,

Year by year denies a good;

March winds violate my springs.

V.

I have known how sickness bends,

I have known how sorrow breaks,—

How quick hopes have sudden ends,

How the heart thinks till it aches

Of the smile of buried friends.

27

VI.

Last, I have known thee, my brave

Noble thinker, lover, doer!

The best knowledge last I have.

But thou comest as the thrower

Of fresh flowers upon a grave.

VII.

Count what feelings used to move me!

Can this love assort with those?

Thou, who art so far above me,

Wilt thou stoop so, for repose?

Is it true that thou canst love me?

VIII.

Do not blame me if I doubt thee.

I can call love by its name

When thine arm is wrapt about me;

But even love seems not the same,

When I sit alone, without thee.

28

IX.

In thy clear eyes I descried

Many a proof of love, to-day;

But to-night, those unbelied

Speechful eyes being gone away,

There’s the proof to seek, beside.

X.

Dost thou love me, my Belovèd?

Only thou canst answer yes!

And, thou gone, the proof’s disprovèd,

And the cry rings answerless—

Dost thou love me, my Belovèd?


29

QUESTION AND ANSWER.

I.

Love you seek for, presupposes

Summer heat and sunny glow.

Tell me, do you find moss-roses

Budding, blooming in the snow?

Snow might kill the rose-tree’s root—

Shake it quickly from your foot,

Lest it harm you as you go.

II.

From the ivy where it dapples

A grey ruin, stone by stone,

Do you look for grapes or apples,

Or for sad green leaves alone?

Pluck the leaves off, two or three—

Keep them for morality

When you shall be safe and gone.


30

INCLUSIONS.

I.

Oh, wilt thou have my hand, Dear, to lie along in thine?

As a little stone in a running stream, it seems to lie and pine.

Now drop the poor pale hand, Dear, unfit to plight with thine.

II.

Oh, wilt thou have my cheek, Dear, drawn closer to thine own?

My cheek is white, my cheek is worn, by many a tear run down.

Now leave a little space, Dear, lest it should wet thine own.

31

III.

Oh, must thou have my soul, Dear, commingled with thy soul?—

Red grows the cheek, and warm the hand; the part is in the whole:

Nor hands nor cheeks keep separate, when soul is joined to soul.


32

INSUFFICIENCY.

I.

There is no one beside thee and no one above thee,

Thou standest alone as the nightingale sings!

And my words that would praise thee are impotent things,

For none can express thee though all should approve thee.

I love thee so, Dear, that I only can love thee.

II.

Say, what can I do for thee? weary thee, grieve thee?

Lean on thy shoulder, new burdens to add?

Weep my tears over thee, making thee sad?

Oh, hold me not—love me not! let me retrieve thee.

I love thee so, Dear, that I only can leave thee.


34

SONNETS
FROM THE PORTUGUESE

35

I.

I thought once how Theocritus had sung

Of the sweet years, the dear and wished-for years,

Who each one in a gracious hand appears

To bear a gift for mortals, old or young:

And, as I mused it in his antique tongue,

I saw, in gradual vision through my tears,

The sweet, sad years, the melancholy years,

Those of my own life, who by turns had flung

A shadow across me. Straightway I was ’ware,

So weeping, how a mystic Shape did move

Behind me, and drew me backward by the hair;

And a voice said in mastery, while I strove,—

“Guess now who holds thee?”—“Death,” I said. But, there,

The silver answer rang,—“Not Death, but Love.”


36

II.

But only three in all God’s universe

Have heard this word thou hast said,—Himself, beside

Thee speaking, and me listening! and replied

One of us ... that was God, ... and laid the curse

So darkly on my eyelids, as to amerce

My sight from seeing thee,—that if I had died,

The deathweights, placed there, would have signified

Less absolute exclusion. “Nay” is worse

From God than from all others, O my friend!

Men could not part us with their worldly jars,

Nor the seas change us, nor the tempests bend;

Our hands would touch for all the mountain-bars:

And, heaven being rolled between us at the end,

We should but vow the faster for the stars.


37

III.

Unlike are we, unlike, O princely Heart!

Unlike our uses and our destinies.

Our ministering two angels look surprise

On one another, as they strike athwart

Their wings in passing. Thou, bethink thee, art

A guest for queens to social pageantries,

With gages from a hundred brighter eyes

Than tears even can make mine, to play thy part

Of chief musician. What hast thou to do

With looking from the lattice-lights at me,

A poor, tired, wandering singer, singing through

The dark, and leaning up a cypress tree?

The chrism is on thine head,—on mine, the dew,—

And Death must dig the level where these agree.


38

IV.

Thou hast thy calling to some palace-floor,

Most gracious singer of high poems! where

The dancers will break footing, from the care

Of watching up thy pregnant lips for more.

And dost thou lift this house’s latch too poor

For hand of thine? and canst thou think and bear

To let thy music drop here unaware

In folds of golden fulness at my door?

Look up and see the casement broken in,

The bats and owlets builders in the roof!

My cricket chirps against thy mandolin.

Hush, call no echo up in further proof

Of desolation! there’s a voice within

That weeps ... as thou must sing ... alone, aloof.


39

V.

I lift my heavy heart up solemnly,

As once Electra her sepulchral urn,

And, looking in thine eyes, I overturn

The ashes at thy feet. Behold and see

What a great heap of grief lay hid in me,

And how the red wild sparkles dimly burn

Through the ashen greyness. If thy foot in scorn

Could tread them out to darkness utterly,

It might be well perhaps. But if instead

Thou wait beside me for the wind to blow

The grey dust up, ... those laurels on thine head,

O my Belovèd, will not shield thee so,

That none of all the fires shall scorch and shred

The hair beneath. Stand further off then! go.


40

VI.

Go from me. Yet I feel that I shall stand

Henceforward in thy shadow. Nevermore

Alone upon the threshold of my door

Of individual life, I shall command

The uses of my soul, nor lift my hand

Serenely in the sunshine as before,

Without the sense of that which I forbore—

Thy touch upon the palm. The widest land

Doom takes to part us, leaves thy heart in mine

With pulses that beat double. What I do

And what I dream include thee, as the wine

Must taste of its own grapes. And when I sue

God for myself, He hears that name of thine,

And sees within my eyes the tears of two.


41

VII.

The face of all the world is changed, I think,

Since first I heard the footsteps of thy soul

Move still, oh, still, beside me, as they stole

Betwixt me and the dreadful outer brink

Of obvious death, where I, who thought to sink,

Was caught up into love, and taught the whole

Of life in a new rhythm. The cup of dole

God gave for baptism, I am fain to drink,

And praise its sweetness, Sweet, with thee anear.

The names of country, heaven, are changed away

For where thou art or shalt be, there or here;

And this ... this lute and song ... loved yesterday,

(The singing angels know) are only dear

Because thy name moves right in what they say.


42

VIII.

What can I give thee back, O liberal

And princely giver, who hast brought the gold

And purple of thine heart, unstained, untold,

And laid them on the outside of the wall

For such as I to take or leave withal,

In unexpected largesse? am I cold,

Ungrateful, that for these most manifold

High gifts, I render nothing back at all?

Not so; not cold,—but very poor instead

Ask God who knows. For frequent tears have run

The colours from my life, and left so dead

And pale a stuff, it were not fitly done

To give the same as pillow to thy head.

Go farther! let it serve to trample on.


43

IX.

Can it be right to give what I can give?

To let thee sit beneath the fall of tears

As salt as mine, and hear the sighing years

Re-sighing on my lips renunciative

Through those infrequent smiles which fail to live

For all thy adjurations? O my fears,

That this can scarce be right! We are not peers,

So to be lovers; and I own, and grieve,

That givers of such gifts as mine are, must

Be counted with the ungenerous. Out, alas!

I will not soil thy purple with my dust,

Nor breathe my poison on thy Venice-glass,

Nor give thee any love—which were unjust.

Beloved, I only love thee! let it pass.


44

X.

Yet, love, mere love, is beautiful indeed

And worthy of acceptation. Fire is bright,

Let temple burn, or flax; an equal light

Leaps in the flame from cedar-plank or weed:

And love is fire. And when I say at need

I love thee ... mark!... I love thee—in thy sight

I stand transfigured, glorified aright,

With conscience of the new rays that proceed

Out of my face toward thine. There’s nothing low

In love, when love the lowest: meanest creatures

Who love God, God accepts while loving so.

And what I feel, across the inferior features

Of what I am, doth flash itself, and show

How that great work of Love enhances Nature’s.


45

XI.

And therefore if to love can be desert,

I am not all unworthy. Cheeks as pale

As these you see, and trembling knees that fail

To bear the burden of a heavy heart,—

This weary minstrel-life that once was girt

To climb Aornus, and can scarce avail

To pipe now ’gainst the valley nightingale

A melancholy music,—why advert

To these things? O Belovèd, it is plain

I am not of thy worth nor for thy place!

And yet, because I love thee, I obtain

From that same love this vindicating grace,

To live on still in love, and yet in vain,—

To bless thee, yet renounce thee to thy face.


46

XII.

Indeed this very love which is my boast,

And which, when rising up from breast to brow,

Doth crown me with a ruby large enow

To draw men’s eyes and prove the inner cost,—

This love even, all my worth, to the uttermost,

I should not love withal, unless that thou

Hadst set me an example, shown me how,

When first thine earnest eyes with mine were crossed,

And love called love. And thus, I cannot speak

Of love even, as a good thing of my own:

Thy soul hath snatched up mine all faint and weak,

And placed it by thee on a golden throne,—

And that I love (O soul, we must be meek!)

Is by thee only, whom I love alone.


47

XIII.

And wilt thou have me fashion into speech

The love I bear thee, finding words enough,

And hold the torch out, while the winds are rough,

Between our faces, to cast light on each?—

I drop it at thy feet. I cannot teach

My hand to hold my spirit so far off

From myself—me—that I should bring thee proof

In words, of love hid in me out of reach.

Nay, let the silence of my womanhood

Commend my woman-love to thy belief,—

Seeing that I stand unwon, however wooed,

And rend the garment of my life, in brief,

By a most dauntless, voiceless fortitude,

Lest one touch of this heart convey its grief.


48

XIV.

If thou must love me, let it be for nought

Except for love’s sake only. Do not say

“I love her for her smile—her look—her way

Of speaking gently,—for a trick of thought

That falls in well with mine, and certes brought

A sense of pleasant ease on such a day”—

For these things in themselves, Belovèd, may

Be changed, or change for thee,—and love, so wrought,

May be unwrought so. Neither love me for

Thine own dear pity’s wiping my cheeks dry,—

A creature might forget to weep, who bore

Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!

But love me for love’s sake, that evermore

Thou mayst love on, through love’s eternity.


49

XV.

Accuse me not, beseech thee, that I wear

Too calm and sad a face in front of thine;

For we two look two ways, and cannot shine

With the same sunlight on our brow and hair.

On me thou lookest with no doubting care,

As on a bee shut in a crystalline;

Since sorrow hath shut me safe in love’s divine,

And to spread wing and fly in the outer air

Were most impossible failure, if I strove

To fail so. But I look on thee—on thee—

Beholding, besides love, the end of love,

Hearing oblivion beyond memory;

As one who sits and gazes from above,

Over the rivers to the bitter sea.


50

XVI.

And yet, because thou overcomest so,

Because thou art more noble and like a king,

Thou canst prevail against my fears and fling

Thy purple round me, till my heart shall grow

Too close against thine heart henceforth to know

How it shook when alone. Why, conquering

May prove as lordly and complete a thing

In lifting upward, as in crushing low!

And as a vanquished soldier yields his sword

To one who lifts him from the bloody earth,

Even so, Belovèd, I at last record,

Here ends my strife. If thou invite me forth,

I rise above abasement at the word.

Make thy love larger to enlarge my worth.


51

XVII.

My poet, thou canst touch on all the notes

God set between His After and Before,

And strike up and strike off the general roar

Of the rushing worlds a melody that floats

In a serene air purely. Antidotes

Of medicated music, answering for

Mankind’s forlornest uses, thou canst pour

From thence into their ears. God’s will devotes

Thine to such ends, and mine to wait on thine.

How, Dearest, wilt thou have me for most use?

A hope, to sing by gladly? or a fine

Sad memory, with thy songs to interfuse?

A shade, in which to sing—of palm or pine?

A grave, on which to rest from singing? Choose.


52

XVIII.

I never gave a lock of hair away

To a man, Dearest, except this to thee,

Which now upon my fingers thoughtfully,

I ring out to the full brown length and say

“Take it.” My day of youth went yesterday;

My hair no longer bounds to my foot’s glee,

Nor plant I it from rose or myrtle-tree,

As girls do, any more: it only may

Now shade on two pale cheeks the mark of tears,

Taught drooping from the head that hangs aside

Through sorrow’s trick. I thought the funeral-shears

Would take this first, but Love is justified,—

Take it thou,—finding pure, from all those years,

The kiss my mother left here when she died.


53

XIX.

The soul’s Rialto hath its merchandise;

I barter curl for curl upon that mart,

And from my poet’s forehead to my heart

Receive this lock which outweighs argosies,—

As purply black, as erst to Pindar’s eyes

The dim purpureal tresses gloomed athwart

The nine white Muse-brows. For this counterpart, ...

The bay-crown’s shade, Belovèd, I surmise,

Still lingers on thy curl, it is so black!

Thus, with a fillet of smooth-kissing breath,

I tie the shadows safe from gliding back,

And lay the gift where nothing hindereth;

Here on my heart, as on thy brow, to lack

No natural heat till mine grows cold in death.


54

XX.

Beloved, my Belovèd, when I think

That thou wast in the world a year ago,

What time I sat alone here in the snow

And saw no footprint, heard the silence sink

No moment at thy voice, but, link by link,

Went counting all my chains as if that so

They never could fall off at any blow

Struck by thy possible hand,—why, thus I drink

Of life’s great cup of wonder! Wonderful,

Never to feel thee thrill the day or night

With personal act or speech,—nor ever cull

Some prescience of thee with the blossoms white

Thou sawest growing! Atheists are as dull,

Who cannot guess God’s presence out of sight.


55

XXI.

Say over again, and yet once over again,

That thou dost love me. Though the word repeated

Should seem “a cuckoo-song,” as thou dost treat it.

Remember, never to the hill or plain,

Valley and wood, without her cuckoo-strain

Comes the fresh Spring in all her green completed.

Belovèd, I, amid the darkness greeted

By a doubtful spirit-voice, in that doubt’s pain

Cry, “Speak once more—thou lovest!” Who can fear

Too many stars, though each in heaven shall roll,

Too many flowers, though each shall crown the year?

Say thou dost love me, love me, love me—toll

The silver iterance!—only minding, Dear,

To love me also in silence with thy soul.


56

XXII.

When our two souls stand up erect and strong,

Face to face, silent, drawing nigh and nigher,

Until the lengthening wings break into fire

At either curvèd point,—what bitter wrong

Can the earth do to us, that we should not long

Be here contented? Think. In mounting higher,

The angels would press on us and aspire

To drop some golden orb of perfect song

Into our deep, dear silence. Let us stay

Rather on earth, Belovèd,—where the unfit

Contrarious moods of men recoil away

And isolate pure spirits, and permit

A place to stand and love in for a day,

With darkness and the death-hour rounding it.


57

XXIII.

Is it indeed so? If I lay here dead,

Wouldst thou miss any life in losing mine?

And would the sun for thee more coldly shine

Because of grave-damps falling round my head?

I marvelled, my Belovèd, when I read

Thy thought so in the letter. I am thine—

But ... so much to thee? Can I pour thy wine

While my hands tremble? Then my soul, instead

Of dreams of death, resumes life’s lower range.

Then, love me, Love! look on me—breathe on me!

As brighter ladies do not count it strange,

For love, to give up acres and degree,

I yield the grave for thy sake, and exchange

My near sweet view of Heaven, for earth with thee!


58

XXIV.

Let the world’s sharpness, like a clasping knife,

Shut in upon itself and do no harm

In this close hand of Love, now soft and warm,

And let us hear no sound of human strife

After the click of the shutting. Life to life—

I lean upon thee, Dear, without alarm,

And feel as safe as guarded by a charm

Against the stab of worldlings, who if rife

Are weak to injure. Very-whitely still

The lilies of our lives may reassure

Their blossoms from their roots, accessible

Alone to heavenly dews that drop not fewer

Growing straight, out of man’s reach, on the hill.

God only, who made us rich, can make us poor.


59

XXV.

A heavy heart, Belovèd, have I borne

From year to year until I saw thy face,

And sorrow after sorrow took the place

Of all those natural joys as lightly worn

As the stringed pearls, each lifted in its turn

By a beating heart at dance-time. Hopes apace

Were changed to long despairs, till God’s own grace

Could scarcely lift above the world forlorn

My heavy heart. Then thou didst bid me bring

And let it drop adown thy calmly great

Deep being! Fast it sinketh, as a thing

Which its own nature doth precipitate,

While thine doth close above it, mediating

Betwixt the stars and the unaccomplished fate.


60

XXVI.

I lived with visions for my company

Instead of men and women, years ago,

And found them gentle mates, nor thought to know

A sweeter music than they played to me.

But soon their trailing purple was not free

Of this world’s dust, their lutes did silent grow,

And I myself grew faint and blind below

Their vanishing eyes. Then THOU didst come—to be,

Belovèd, what they seemed. Their shining fronts,

Their songs, their splendours (better, yet the same,

As river-water hallowed into fonts),

Met in thee, and from out thee overcame

My soul with satisfaction of all wants:

Because God’s gifts put man’s best dreams to shame.


61

XXVII.

My own Belovèd, who hast lifted me

From this drear flat of earth where I was thrown,

And, in betwixt the languid ringlets, blown

A life-breath, till the forehead hopefully

Shines out again, as all the angels see,

Before thy saving kiss! My own, my own,

Who camest to me when the world was gone,

And I who looked for only God, found thee!

I find thee; I am safe, and strong, and glad.

As one who stands in dewless asphodel

Looks backward on the tedious time he had

In the upper life,—so I, with bosom-swell,

Make witness, here, between the good and bad,

That Love, as strong as Death, retrieves as well.


62

XXVIII.

My letters! all dead paper, mute and white!

And yet they seem alive and quivering

Against my tremulous hands which loose the string

And let them drop down on my knee to-night.

This said,—he wished to have me in his sight

Once, as a friend: this fixed a day in spring

To come and touch my hand ... a simple thing,

Yet I wept for it!—this, ... the paper’s light ...

Said, Dear, I love thee; and I sank and quailed

As if God’s future thundered on my past.

This said, I am thine—and so its ink has paled

With lying at my heart that beat too fast.

And this ... O Love, thy words have ill availed

If, what this said, I dared repeat at last!


63

XXIX.

I think of thee!—my thoughts do twine and bud

About thee, as wild vines, about a tree,

Put out broad leaves, and soon there’s nought to see

Except the straggling green which hides the wood.

Yet, O my palm-tree, be it understood

I will not have my thoughts instead of thee

Who art dearer, better! Rather, instantly

Renew thy presence; as a strong tree should,

Rustle thy boughs and set thy trunk all bare,

And let these bands of greenery which insphere thee

Drop heavily down,—burst, shattered, everywhere!

Because, in this deep joy to see and hear thee

And breathe within thy shadow a new air,

I do not think of thee—I am too near thee.


64

XXX.

I see thine image through my tears to-night,

And yet to-day I saw thee smiling. How

Refer the cause?—Belovèd, is it thou

Or I, who makes me sad? The acolyte

Amid the chanted joy and thankful rite

May so fall flat, with pale insensate brow,

On the altar-stair. I hear thy voice and vow,

Perplexed, uncertain, since thou art out of sight,

As he, in his swooning ears, the choir’s Amen.

Belovèd, dost thou love? or did I see all

The glory as I dreamed, and fainted when

Too vehement light dilated my ideal,

For my soul’s eyes? Will that light come again,

As now these tears come—falling hot and real?


65

XXXI.

Thou comest! all is said without a word.

I sit beneath thy looks, as children do

In the noon-sun, with souls that tremble through

Their happy eyelids from an unaverred

Yet prodigal inward joy. Behold, I erred

In that last doubt! and yet I cannot rue

The sin most, but the occasion—that we two

Should for a moment stand unministered

By a mutual presence. Ah, keep near and close,

Thou dovelike help! and, when my fears would rise,

With thy broad heart serenely interpose:

Brood down with thy divine sufficiencies

These thoughts which tremble when bereft of those,

Like callow birds left desert to the skies.


66

XXXII.

The first time that the sun rose on thine oath

To love me, I looked forward to the moon

To slacken all those bonds which seemed too soon

And quickly tied to make a lasting troth.

Quick-loving hearts, I thought, may quickly loathe;

And, looking on myself, I seemed not one

For such man’s love!—more like an out-of-tune

Worn viol, a good singer would be wroth

To spoil his song with, and which, snatched in haste,

Is laid down at the first ill-sounding note.

I did not wrong myself so, but I placed

A wrong on thee. For perfect strains may float

’Neath master-hands, from instruments defaced,—

And great souls, at one stroke, may do and doat.


67

XXXIII.

Yes, call me by my pet-name! let me hear

The name I used to run at, when a child,

From innocent play, and leave the cowslips piled,

To glance up in some face that proved me dear

With the look of its eyes. I miss the clear

Fond voices which, being drawn and reconciled

Into the music of Heaven’s undefiled,

Call me no longer. Silence on the bier,

While I call God—call God!—So let thy mouth

Be heir to those who are now exanimate.

Gather the north flowers to complete the south,

And catch the early love up in the late.

Yes, call me by that name,—and I, in truth,

With the same heart, will answer and not wait.


68

XXXIV.

With the same heart, I said, I’ll answer thee

As those, when thou shalt call me by my name—

Lo, the vain promise! is the same, the same,

Perplexed and ruffled by life’s strategy?

When called before, I told how hastily

I dropped my flowers or brake off from a game,

To run and answer with the smile that came

At play last moment, and went on with me

Through my obedience. When I answer now,

I drop a grave thought, break from solitude;

Yet still my heart goes to thee—ponder how—

Not as to a single good, but all my good!

Lay thy hand on it, best one, and allow

That no child’s foot could run fast as this blood.


69

XXXV.

If I leave all for thee, wilt thou exchange

And be all to me? Shall I never miss

Home-talk and blessing and the common kiss

That comes to each in turn, nor count it strange,

When I look up, to drop on a new range

Of walls and floors, another home than this?

Nay, wilt thou fill that place by me which is

Filled by dead eyes too tender to know change?

That’s hardest. If to conquer love, has tried,

To conquer grief, tries more, as all things prove;

For grief indeed is love and grief beside.

Alas, I have grieved so I am hard to love.

Yet love me—wilt thou? Open thine heart wide,

And fold within the wet wings of thy dove.


70

XXXVI.

When we met first and loved, I did not build

Upon the event with marble. Could it mean

To last, a love set pendulous between

Sorrow and sorrow? Nay, I rather thrilled,

Distrusting every light that seemed to gild

The onward path, and feared to overlean

A finger even. And, though I have grown serene

And strong since then, I think that God has willed

A still renewable fear ... O love, O troth ...

Lest these enclaspèd hands should never hold,

This mutual kiss drop down between us both

As an unowned thing, once the lips being cold.

And Love, be false! if he, to keep one oath,

Must lose one joy, by his life’s star foretold.


71

XXXVII.

Pardon, oh, pardon, that my soul should make,

Of all that strong divineness which I know

For thine and thee, an image only so

Formed of the sand, and fit to shift and break.

It is that distant years which did not take

Thy sovranty, recoiling with a blow,

Have forced my swimming brain to undergo

Their doubt and dread, and blindly to forsake

Thy purity of likeness and distort

Thy worthiest love to a worthless counterfeit:

As if a shipwrecked Pagan, safe in port,

His guardian sea-god to commemorate,

Should set a sculptured porpoise, gills a-snort

And vibrant tail, within the temple-gate.


72

XXXVIII.

First time he kissed me, he but only kissed

The fingers of this hand wherewith I write;

And ever since, it grew more clean and white,

Slow to world-greetings, quick with its “Oh, list,”

When the angels speak. A ring of amethyst

I could not wear here, plainer to my sight,

Than that first kiss. The second passed in height

The first, and sought the forehead, and half missed,

Half falling on the hair. O beyond meed!

That was the chrism of love, which love’s own crown,

With sanctifying sweetness, did precede.

The third upon my lips was folded down

In perfect, purple state; since when, indeed,

I have been proud and said, “My love, my own.”


73

XXXIX.

Because thou hast the power and own’st the grace

To look through and behind this mask of me

(Against which years have beat thus blanchingly

With their rains), and behold my soul’s true face,

The dim and weary witness of life’s race,—

Because thou hast the faith and love to see,

Through that same soul’s distracting lethargy,

The patient angel waiting for a place

In the new Heavens,—because nor sin nor woe,

Nor God’s infliction, nor death’s neighbourhood,

Nor all which others viewing, turn to go,

Nor all which makes me tired of all, self-viewed,—

Nothing repels thee, ... Dearest, teach me so

To pour out gratitude, as thou dost, good!


74

XL.

Oh, yes! they love through all this world of ours!

I will not gainsay love, called love forsooth.

I have heard love talked in my early youth,

And since, not so long back but that the flowers

Then gathered, smell still. Mussulmans and Giaours

Throw kerchiefs at a smile, and have no ruth

For any weeping. Polypheme’s white tooth

Slips on the nut if, after frequent showers,

The shell is over-smooth,—and not so much

Will turn the thing called love, aside to hate

Or else to oblivion. But thou art not such

A lover, my Belovèd! thou canst wait

Through sorrow and sickness, to bring souls to touch,

And think it soon when others cry “Too late.”


75

XLI.

I thank all who have loved me in their hearts,

With thanks and love from mine. Deep thanks to all

Who paused a little near the prison-wall

To hear my music in its louder parts

Ere they went onward, each one to the mart’s

Or temple’s occupation, beyond call.

But thou, who, in my voice’s sink and fall

When the sob took it, thy divinest Art’s

Own instrument didst drop down at thy foot

To hearken what I said between my tears, ...

Instruct me how to thank thee! Oh, to shoot

My soul’s full meaning into future years,

That they should lend it utterance, and salute

Love that endures, from Life that disappears!


76

XLII.

My future will not copy fair my past”—

I wrote that once; and thinking at my side

My ministering life-angel justified

The word by his appealing look upcast

To the white throne of God, I turned at last,

And there, instead, saw thee, not unallied

To angels in thy soul! Then I, long tried

By natural ills, received the comfort fast,

While budding, at thy sight, my pilgrim’s staff

Gave out green leaves with morning dews impearled.

I seek no copy now of life’s first half:

Leave here the pages with long musing curled,

And write me new my future’s epigraph,

New angel mine, unhoped for in the world!


77

XLIII.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight

For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.

I love thee to the level of everyday’s

Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.

I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;

I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.

I love thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,

I shall but love thee better after death.


78

XLIV.

Belovèd, thou hast brought me many flowers

Plucked in the garden, all the summer through

And winter, and it seemed as if they grew

In this close room, nor missed the sun and showers.

So, in the like name of that love of ours,

Take back these thoughts which here unfolded too,

And which on warm and cold days I withdrew

From my heart’s ground. Indeed, those beds and bowers

Be overgrown with bitter weeds and rue,

And wait thy weeding; yet here’s eglantine,

Here’s ivy!—take them, as I used to do

Thy flowers, and keep them where they shall not pine.

Instruct thine eyes to keep their colours true,

And tell thy soul their roots are left in mine.


80

CASA GUIDI WINDOWS

A Poem,
IN TWO PARTS

81

ADVERTISEMENT TO THE FIRST EDITION.

This poem contains the impressions of the writer upon events in Tuscany of which she was a witness. “From a window,” the critic may demur. She bows to the objection in the very title of her work. No continuous narrative nor exposition of political philosophy is attempted by her. It is a simple story of personal impressions, whose only value is in the intensity with which they were received, as proving her warm affection for a beautiful and unfortunate country, and the sincerity with which they are related, as indicating her own good faith and freedom from partisanship.

Of the two parts of this poem, the first was written nearly three years ago, while the second resumes the actual situation of 1851. The discrepancy between the two parts is a sufficient guarantee to the public of the truthfulness of the writer, who, though she certainly escaped the epidemic “falling sickness” of enthusiasm for Pio Nono, takes shame upon herself that she believed, like a woman, some royal oaths, and lost sight of the probable consequences of some obvious popular defects. If the discrepancy should be painful to the reader, let him understand that to the writer it has been more so. But such discrepancies we are called upon to accept at every hour by the conditions of our nature, 82 implying the interval between aspiration and performance, between faith and disillusion, between hope and fact.

“O trusted broken prophecy,

O richest fortune sourly crost,

Born for the future, to the future lost!”

Nay, not lost to the future in this case. The future of Italy shall not be disinherited.

Florence, 1851.


83

CASA GUIDI WINDOWS.

PART I.

I heard last night a little child go singing

’Neath Casa Guidi windows, by the church,

O bella libertà, O bella!—stringing

The same words still on notes he went in search

So high for, you concluded the upspringing

Of such a nimble bird to sky from perch

Must leave the whole bush in a tremble green,

And that the heart of Italy must beat,

While such a voice had leave to rise serene

’Twixt church and palace of a Florence street:

A little child, too, who not long had been

By mother’s finger steadied on his feet,

And still O bella libertà he sang.

Then I thought, musing, of the innumerous

Sweet songs which still for Italy outrang

84

From older singers’ lips who sang not thus

Exultingly and purely, yet, with pang

Fast sheathed in music, touched the heart of us

So finely that the pity scarcely pained.

I thought how Filicaja led on others,

Bewailers for their Italy enchained,

And how they called her childless among mothers,

Widow of empires, ay, and scarce refrained

Cursing her beauty to her face, as brothers

Might a shamed sister’s,—“Had she been less fair

She were less wretched;”—how, evoking so

From congregated wrong and heaped despair

Of men and women writhing under blow,

Harrowed and hideous in a filthy lair,

Some personating Image wherein woe

Was wrapt in beauty from offending much,

They called it Cybele, or Niobe,

Or laid it corpse-like on a bier for such,

Where all the world might drop for Italy

Those cadenced tears which burn not where they touch,—

“Juliet of nations, canst thou die as we?

And was the violet crown that crowned thy head

So over-large, though new buds made it rough,

It slipped down and across thine eyelids dead,

O sweet, fair Juliet?” Of such songs enough,

85

Too many of such complaints! behold, instead,

Void at Verona, Juliet’s marble trough:[2]

As void as that is, are all images

Men set between themselves and actual wrong,

To catch the weight of pity, meet the stress

Of conscience,—since ’t is easier to gaze long

On mournful masks and sad effigies

Than on real, live, weak creatures crushed by strong.

For me who stand in Italy to-day

Where worthier poets stood and sang before,

I kiss their footsteps yet their words gainsay.

I can but muse in hope upon this shore

Of golden Arno as it shoots away

Through Florence’ heart beneath her bridges four:

Bent bridges, seeming to strain off like bows,

And tremble while the arrowy undertide

Shoots on and cleaves the marble as it goes,

And strikes up palace-walls on either side,

And froths the cornice out in glittering rows,

With doors and windows quaintly multiplied,

And terrace-sweeps, and gazers upon all,

By whom if flower or kerchief were thrown out

From any lattice there, the same would fall

86

Into the river underneath, no doubt,

It runs so close and fast ’twixt wall and wall.

How beautiful! the mountains from without

In silence listen for the word said next.

What word will men say,—here where Giotto planted

His campanile like an unperplexed

Fine question Heavenward, touching the things granted

A noble people who, being greatly vexed

In act, in aspiration keep undaunted?

What word will God say? Michel’s Night and Day

And Dawn and Twilight wait in marble scorn[3]

Like dogs upon a dunghill, couched on clay

From whence the Medicean stamp’s outworn,

The final putting off of all such sway

By all such hands, and freeing of the unborn

In Florence and the great world outside Florence.

Three hundred years his patient statues wait

In that small chapel of the dim Saint Lawrence:

Day’s eyes are breaking bold and passionate

Over his shoulder, and will flash abhorrence

On darkness and with level looks meet fate,

87

When once loose from that marble film of theirs;

The Night has wild dreams in her sleep, the Dawn

Is haggard as the sleepless, Twilight wears

A sort of horror; as the veil withdrawn

’Twixt the artist’s soul and works had left them heirs

Of speechless thoughts which would not quail nor fawn,

Of angers and contempts, of hope and love:

For not without a meaning did he place

The princely Urbino on the seat above

With everlasting shadow on his face,

While the slow dawns and twilights disapprove

The ashes of his long-extinguished race

Which never more shall clog the feet of men.

I do believe, divinest Angelo,

That winter-hour in Via Larga, when

They bade thee build a statue up in snow[4]

And straight that marvel of thine art again

Dissolved beneath the sun’s Italian glow,

Thine eyes, dilated with the plastic passion,

Thawing too in drops of wounded manhood, since,

To mock alike thine art and indignation,

Laughed at the palace-window the new prince,—

(“Aha! this genius needs for exaltation,

88

When all’s said and however the proud may wince,

A little marble from our princely mines!”)

I do believe that hour thou laughedst too

For the whole sad world and for thy Florentines,

After those few tears, which were only few!

That as, beneath the sun, the grand white lines

Of thy snow-statue trembled and withdrew,—

The head, erect as Jove’s, being palsied first,

The eyelids flattened, the full brow turned blank,

The right-hand, raised but now as if it cursed,

Dropt, a mere snowball, (till the people sank

Their voices, though a louder laughter burst

From the royal window)—thou couldst proudly thank

God and the prince for promise and presage,

And laugh the laugh back, I think verily,

Thine eyes being purged by tears of righteous rage

To read a wrong into a prophecy,

And measure a true great man’s heritage

Against a mere great-duke’s posterity.

I think thy soul said then, “I do not need

A princedom and its quarries, after all;

For if I write, paint, carve a word, indeed,

On book or board or dust, on floor or wall,

The same is kept of God who taketh heed

That not a letter of the meaning fall

Or ere it touch and teach His world’s deep heart,

89

Outlasting, therefore, all your lordships, sir!

So keep your stone, beseech you, for your part,

To cover up your grave-place and refer

The proper titles; I live by my art.

The thought I threw into this snow shall stir

This gazing people when their gaze is done;

And the tradition of your act and mine,

When all the snow is melted in the sun,

Shall gather up, for unborn men, a sign

Of what is the true princedom,—ay, and none

Shall laugh that day, except the drunk with wine.”

Amen, great Angelo! the day’s at hand.

If many laugh not on it, shall we weep?

Much more we must not, let us understand.

Through rhymers sonneteering in their sleep

And archaists mumbling dry bones up the land

And sketchers lauding ruined towns a-heap,—

Through all that drowsy hum of voices smooth,

The hopeful bird mounts carolling from brake,

The hopeful child, with leaps to catch his growth,

Sings open-eyed for liberty’s sweet sake:

And I, a singer also from my youth,

Prefer to sing with these who are awake,

With birds, with babes, with men who will not fear

The baptism of the holy morning dew,

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(And many of such wakers now are here,

Complete in their anointed manhood, who

Will greatly dare and greatlier persevere,)

Than join those old thin voices with my new,

And sigh for Italy with some safe sigh

Cooped up in music ’twixt an oh and ah,—

Nay, hand in hand with that young child, will I

Go singing rather, “Bella libertà,”

Than, with those poets, croon the dead or cry

Se tu men bella fossi, Italia!

“Less wretched if less fair.” Perhaps a truth

Is so far plain in this, that Italy,

Long trammelled with the purple of her youth

Against her age’s ripe activity,

Sits still upon her tombs, without death’s ruth

But also without life’s brave energy.

“Now tell us what is Italy?” men ask:

And others answer, “Virgil, Cicero,

Catullus, Cæsar.” What beside? to task

The memory closer—“Why, Boccaccio,

Dante, Petrarca,”—and if still the flask

Appears to yield its wine by drops too slow,—

“Angelo, Raffael, Pergolese,”—all

Whose strong hearts beat through stone, or charged again

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The paints with fire of souls electrical,

Or broke up heaven for music. What more then?

Why, then, no more. The chaplet’s last beads fall

In naming the last saintship within ken,

And, after that, none prayeth in the land.

Alas, this Italy has too long swept

Heroic ashes up for hour-glass sand;

Of her own past, impassioned nympholept!

Consenting to be nailed here by the hand

To the very bay-tree under which she stept

A queen of old, and plucked a leafy branch;

And, licensing the world too long indeed

To use her broad phylacteries to staunch

And stop her bloody lips, she takes no heed

How one clear word would draw an avalanche

Of living sons around her, to succeed

The vanished generations. Can she count

These oil-eaters with large live mobile mouths

Agape for macaroni, in the amount

Of consecrated heroes of her south’s

Bright rosary? The pitcher at the fount,

The gift of gods, being broken, she much loathes

To let the ground-leaves of the place confer

A natural bowl. So henceforth she would seem

No nation, but the poet’s pensioner,

With alms from every land of song and dream,

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While aye her pipers sadly pipe of her

Until their proper breaths, in that extreme

Of sighing, split the reed on which they played:

Of which, no more. But never say “no more”

To Italy’s life! Her memories undismayed

Still argue “evermore;” her graves implore

Her future to be strong and not afraid;

Her very statues send their looks before.

We do not serve the dead—the past is past.

God lives, and lifts His glorious mornings up

Before the eyes of men awake at last,

Who put away the meats they used to sup,

And down upon the dust of earth outcast

The dregs remaining of the ancient cup,

Then turn to wakeful prayer and worthy act.

The Dead, upon their awful ’vantage ground,

The sun not in their faces, shall abstract

No more our strength; we will not be discrowned

As guardians of their crowns, nor deign transact

A barter of the present, for a sound

Of good so counted in the foregone days.

O Dead, ye shall no longer cling to us

With rigid hands of desiccating praise,

And drag us backward by the garment thus,

To stand and laud you in long-drawn virelays!

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We will not henceforth be oblivious

Of our own lives, because ye lived before,

Nor of our acts, because ye acted well.

We thank you that ye first unlatched the door,

But will not make it inaccessible

By thankings on the threshold any more.

We hurry onward to extinguish hell

With our fresh souls, our younger hope, and God’s

Maturity of purpose. Soon shall we

Die also! and, that then our periods

Of life may round themselves to memory

As smoothly as on our graves the burial-sods,

We now must look to it to excel as ye,

And bear our age as far, unlimited

By the last mind-mark; so, to be invoked

By future generations, as their Dead.

’T is true that when the dust of death has choked

A great man’s voice, the common words he said

Turn oracles, the common thoughts he yoked

Like horses, draw like griffins: this is true

And acceptable. I, too, should desire,

When men make record, with the flowers they strew,

“Savonarola’s soul went out in fire

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Upon our Grand-duke’s piazza,[5] and burned through

A moment first, or ere he did expire,

The veil betwixt the right and wrong, and showed

How near God sat and judged the judges there,—”

Upon the self-same pavement overstrewed

To cast my violets with as reverent care,

And prove that all the winters which have snowed

Cannot snow out the scent from stones and air,

Of a sincere man’s virtues. This was he,

Savonarola, who, while Peter sank

With his whole boat-load, called courageously

“Wake Christ, wake Christ!”—who, having tried the tank

Of old church-waters used for baptistry

Ere Luther came to spill them, swore they stank;

Who also by a princely deathbed cried,

“Loose Florence, or God will not loose thy soul!”

Then fell back the Magnificent and died

Beneath the star-look shooting from the cowl,

Which turned to wormwood-bitterness the wide

Deep sea of his ambitions. It were foul

To grudge Savonarola and the rest

Their violets: rather pay them quick and fresh!

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The emphasis of death makes manifest

The eloquence of action in our flesh;

And men who, living, were but dimly guessed,

When once free from their life’s entangled mesh,

Show their full length in graves, or oft indeed

Exaggerate their stature, in the flat,

To noble admirations which exceed

Most nobly, yet will calculate in that

But accurately. We, who are the seed

Of buried creatures, if we turned and spat

Upon our antecedents, we were vile.

Bring violets rather. If these had not walked

Their furlong, could we hope to walk our mile?

Therefore bring violets. Yet if we self-baulked

Stand still, a-strewing violets all the while,

These moved in vain, of whom we have vainly talked.

So rise up henceforth with a cheerful smile,

And having strewn the violets, reap the corn,

And having reaped and garnered, bring the plough

And draw new furrows ’neath the healthy morn,

And plant the great Hereafter in this Now.

Of old ’t was so. How step by step was worn,

As each man gained on each securely!—how

Each by his own strength sought his own Ideal,—

The ultimate Perfection leaning bright

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From out the sun and stars to bless the leal

And earnest search of all for Fair and Right

Through doubtful forms by earth accounted real!

Because old Jubal blew into delight

The souls of men with clear-piped melodies,

If youthful Asaph were content at most

To draw from Jubal’s grave, with listening eyes,

Traditionary music’s floating ghost

Into the grass-grown silence, were it wise?

And was ’t not wiser, Jubal’s breath being lost,

That Miriam clashed her cymbals to surprise

The sun between her white arms flung apart,

With new glad golden sounds? that David’s strings

O’erflowed his hand with music from his heart?

So harmony grows full from many springs,

And happy accident turns holy art.

You enter, in your Florence wanderings,

The church of Saint Maria Novella. Pass

The left stair, where at plague-time Machiavel[6]

Saw One with set fair face as in a glass,

Dressed out against the fear of death and hell,

Rustling her silks in pauses of the mass,

To keep the thought off how her husband fell,

When she left home, stark dead across her feet,—

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The stair leads up to what the Orgagnas save

Of Dante’s dæmons; you, in passing it,

Ascend the right stair from the farther nave

To muse in a small chapel scarcely lit

By Cimabue’s Virgin. Bright and brave,

That picture was accounted, mark, of old:

A king stood bare before its sovran grace,[7]

A reverent people shouted to behold

The picture, not the king, and even the place

Containing such a miracle grew bold,

Named the Glad Borgo from that beauteous face

Which thrilled the artist, after work, to think

His own ideal Mary-smile should stand

So very near him,—he, within the brink

Of all that glory, let in by his hand

With too divine a rashness! Yet none shrink

Who come to gaze here now; albeit ’t was planned

Sublimely in the thought’s simplicity:

The Lady, throned in empyreal state,

Minds only the young Babe upon her knee,

While sidelong angels bear the royal weight,

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Prostrated meekly, smiling tenderly

Oblivion of their wings; the Child thereat

Stretching its hand like God. If any should,

Because of some stiff draperies and loose joints,

Gaze scorn down from the heights of Raffaelhood

On Cimabue’s picture,—Heaven anoints

The head of no such critic, and his blood

The poet’s curse strikes full on and appoints

To ague and cold spasms for evermore.

A noble picture! worthy of the shout

Wherewith along the streets the people bore

Its cherub-faces which the sun threw out

Until they stooped and entered the church door.

Yet rightly was young Giotto talked about,

Whom Cimabue found among the sheep,[8]

And knew, as gods know gods, and carried home

To paint the things he had painted, with a deep

And fuller insight, and so overcome

His chapel-Lady with a heavenlier sweep

Of light: for thus we mount into the sum

Of great things known or acted. I hold, too,

That Cimabue smiled upon the lad

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At the first stroke which passed what he could do,

Or else his Virgin’s smile had never had

Such sweetness in ’t. All great men who foreknew

Their heirs in art, for art’s sake have been glad,

And bent their old white heads as if uncrowned,

Fanatics of their pure Ideals still

Far more than of their triumphs, which were found

With some less vehement struggle of the will.

If old Margheritone trembled, swooned

And died despairing at the open sill

Of other men’s achievements (who achieved,

By loving art beyond the master), he

Was old Margheritone, and conceived

Never, at first youth and most ecstasy,

A Virgin like that dream of one, which heaved

The death-sigh from his heart. If wistfully

Margheritone sickened at the smell

Of Cimabue’s laurel, let him go!

For Cimabue stood up very well

In spite of Giotto’s, and Angelico

The artist-saint kept smiling in his cell

The smile with which he welcomed the sweet slow

Inbreak of angels (whitening through the dim

That he might paint them), while the sudden sense

Of Raffael’s future was revealed to him

By force of his own fair works’ competence.

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The same blue waters where the dolphins swim

Suggest the tritons. Through the blue Immense

Strike out, all swimmers! cling not in the way

Of one another, so to sink; but learn

The strong man’s impulse, catch the freshening spray

He throws up in his motions, and discern

By his clear westering eye, the time of day.

Thou, God, hast set us worthy gifts to earn

Besides Thy heaven and Thee! and when I say

There’s room here for the weakest man alive

To live and die, there’s room too, I repeat,

For all the strongest to live well, and strive

Their own way, by their individual heat,—

Like some new bee-swarm leaving the old hive,

Despite the wax which tempts so violet-sweet.

Then let the living live, the dead retain

Their grave-cold flowers!—though honour’s best supplied

By bringing actions, to prove theirs not vain.

Cold graves, we say? it shall be testified

That living men who burn in heart and brain,

Without the dead were colder. If we tried

To sink the past beneath our feet, be sure

The future would not stand. Precipitate

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This old roof from the shrine, and, insecure,

The nesting swallows fly off, mate from mate.

How scant the gardens, if the graves were fewer!

The tall green poplars grew no longer straight

Whose tops not looked to Troy. Would any fight

For Athens, and not swear by Marathon?

Who dared build temples, without tombs in sight?

Or live, without some dead man’s benison?

Or seek truth, hope for good, and strive for right,

If, looking up, he saw not in the sun

Some angel of the martyrs all day long

Standing and waiting? Your last rhythm will need

Your earliest key-note. Could I sing this song,

If my dead masters had not taken heed

To help the heavens and earth to make me strong,

As the wind ever will find out some reed

And touch it to such issues as belong

To such a frail thing? None may grudge the Dead

Libations from full cups. Unless we choose

To look back to the hills behind us spread,

The plains before us sadden and confuse;

If orphaned, we are disinherited.

I would but turn these lachrymals to use,

And pour fresh oil in from the olive-grove,

To furnish them as new lamps. Shall I say

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What made my heart beat with exulting love

A few weeks back?—

The day was such a day

As Florence owes the sun. The sky above,

Its weight upon the mountains seemed to lay,

And palpitate in glory, like a dove

Who has flown too fast, full-hearted—take away

The image! for the heart of man beat higher

That day in Florence, flooding all her streets

And piazzas with a tumult and desire.

The people, with accumulated heats

And faces turned one way, as if one fire

Both drew and flushed them, left their ancient beats

And went up toward the palace-Pitti wall

To thank their Grand-duke who, not quite of course,

Had graciously permitted, at their call,

The citizens to use their civic force

To guard their civic homes. So, one and all,

The Tuscan cities streamed up to the source

Of this new good at Florence, taking it

As good so far, presageful of more good,—

The first torch of Italian freedom, lit

To toss in the next tiger’s face who should

Approach too near them in a greedy fit,—

The first pulse of an even flow of blood

To prove the level of Italian veins

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Towards rights perceived and granted. How we gazed

From Casa Guidi windows while, in trains

Of orderly procession—banners raised,

And intermittent bursts of martial strains

Which died upon the shout, as if amazed

By gladness beyond music—they passed on!

The Magistracy, with insignia, passed,—

And all the people shouted in the sun,

And all the thousand windows which had cast

A ripple of silks in blue and scarlet down

(As if the houses overflowed at last),

Seemed growing larger with fair heads and eyes.

The Lawyers passed,—and still arose the shout,

And hands broke from the windows to surprise

Those grave calm brows with bay-tree leaves thrown out.

The Priesthood passed,—the friars with worldly-wise

Keen sidelong glances from their beards about

The street to see who shouted; many a monk

Who takes a long rope in the waist, was there:

Whereat the popular exultation drunk

With indrawn “vivas” the whole sunny air,

While through the murmuring windows rose and sunk

A cloud of kerchiefed hands,—“The church makes fair

Her welcome in the new Pope’s name.” Ensued

The black sign of the “Martyrs”—(name no name,

But count the graves in silence). Next were viewed

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The Artists; next, the Trades; and after came

The People,—flag and sign, and rights as good—

And very loud the shout was for that same

Motto, “Il popolo.” Il Popolo,—

The word means dukedom, empire, majesty,

And kings in such an hour might read it so.

And next, with banners, each in his degree,

Deputed representatives a-row

Of every separate state of Tuscany:

Siena’s she-wolf, bristling on the fold

Of the first flag, preceded Pisa’s hare,

And Massa’s lion floated calm in gold,

Pienza’s following with his silver stare,

Arezzo’s steed pranced clear from bridle-hold,—

And well might shout our Florence, greeting there

These, and more brethren. Last, the world had sent

The various children of her teeming flanks—

Greeks, English, French—as if to a parliament

Of lovers of her Italy in ranks,

Each bearing its land’s symbol reverent;

At which the stones seemed breaking into thanks

And rattling up the sky, such sounds in proof

Arose; the very house-walls seemed to bend;

The very windows, up from door to roof,

Flashed out a rapture of bright heads, to mend

With passionate looks the gesture’s whirling off

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A hurricane of leaves. Three hours did end

While all these passed; and ever in the crowd,

Rude men, unconscious of the tears that kept

Their beards moist, shouted; some few laughed aloud,

And none asked any why they laughed and wept:

Friends kissed each other’s cheeks, and foes long vowed

More warmly did it; two-months’ babies leapt

Right upward in their mother’s arms, whose black

Wide glittering eyes looked elsewhere; lovers pressed

Each before either, neither glancing back;

And peasant maidens smoothly ’tired and tressed

Forgot to finger on their throats the slack

Great pearl-strings; while old blind men would not rest,

But pattered with their staves and slid their shoes

Along the stones, and smiled as if they saw.

O heaven, I think that day had noble use

Among God’s days! So near stood Right and Law,

Both mutually forborne! Law would not bruise

Nor Right deny, and each in reverent awe

Honoured the other. And if, ne’ertheless,

That good day’s sun delivered to the vines

No charta, and the liberal Duke’s excess

Did scarce exceed a Guelf’s or Ghibelline’s

In any special actual righteousness

Of what that day he granted, still the signs

Are good and full of promise, we must say,

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When multitudes approach their kings with prayers

And kings concede their people’s right to pray

Both in one sunshine. Griefs are not despairs,

So uttered, nor can royal claims dismay

When men from humble homes and ducal chairs

Hate wrong together. It was well to view

Those banners ruffled in a ruler’s face

Inscribed, “Live freedom, union, and all true

Brave patriots who are aided by God’s grace!”

Nor was it ill when Leopoldo drew

His little children to the window-place

He stood in at the Pitti, to suggest

They too should govern as the people willed.

What a cry rose then! some, who saw the best,

Declared his eyes filled up and overfilled

With good warm human tears which unrepressed

Ran down. I like his face; the forehead’s build

Has no capacious genius, yet perhaps

Sufficient comprehension,—mild and sad,

And careful nobly,—not with care that wraps

Self-loving hearts, to stifle and make mad,

But careful with the care that shuns a lapse

Of faith and duty, studious not to add

A burden in the gathering of a gain.

And so, God save the Duke, I say with those

Who that day shouted it; and while dukes reign,

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May all wear in the visible overflows

Of spirit, such a look of careful pain!

For God must love it better than repose.

And all the people who went up to let

Their hearts out to that Duke, as has been told—

Where guess ye that the living people met,

Kept tryst, formed ranks, chose leaders, first unrolled

Their banners?

In the Loggia? where is set

Cellini’s godlike Perseus, bronze or gold,

(How name the metal, when the statue flings

Its soul so in your eyes?) with brow and sword

Superbly calm, as all opposing things,

Slain with the Gorgon, were no more abhorred

Since ended?

No, the people sought no wings

From Perseus in the Loggia, nor implored

An inspiration in the place beside

From that dim bust of Brutus, jagged and grand,

Where Buonarroti passionately tried

From out the close-clenched marble to demand

The head of Rome’s sublimest homicide,

Then dropt the quivering mallet from his hand,

Despairing he could find no model-stuff

Of Brutus in all Florence where he found

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The gods and gladiators thick enough.

Nor there! the people chose still holier ground:

The people, who are simple, blind and rough,

Know their own angels, after looking round.

Whom chose they then? where met they?

On the stone

Called Dante’s,—a plain flat stone scarce discerned

From others in the pavement,—whereupon

He used to bring his quiet chair out, turned

To Brunelleschi’s church, and pour alone

The lava of his spirit when it burned:

It is not cold to-day. O passionate

Poor Dante who, a banished Florentine,

Didst sit austere at banquets of the great

And muse upon this far-off stone of thine

And think how oft some passer used to wait

A moment, in the golden day’s decline,

With “Good night, dearest Dante!”—well, good night!

I muse now, Dante, and think verily,

Though chapelled in the byeway out of sight,

Ravenna’s bones would thrill with ecstasy,

Couldst know thy favourite stone’s elected right

As tryst-place for thy Tuscans to foresee

Their earliest chartas from. Good night, good morn,

Henceforward, Dante! now my soul is sure

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That thine is better comforted of scorn,

And looks down earthward in completer cure

Than when, in Santa Croce church forlorn

Of any corpse, the architect and hewer

Did pile the empty marbles as thy tomb.[9]

For now thou art no longer exiled, now

Best honoured: we salute thee who art come

Back to the old stone with a softer brow

Than Giotto drew upon the wall, for some

Good lovers of our age to track and plough[10]

Their way to, through time’s ordures stratified,

And startle broad awake into the dull

Bargello chamber: now thou’rt milder-eyed,—

Now Beatrix may leap up glad to cull

Thy first smile, even in heaven and at her side,

Like that which, nine years old, looked beautiful

At May-game. What do I say? I only meant

That tender Dante loved his Florence well,

While Florence, now, to love him is content;

And, mark ye, that the piercingest sweet smell

Of love’s dear incense by the living sent

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To find the dead, is not accessible

To lazy livers—no narcotic,—not

Swung in a censer to a sleepy tune,—

But trod out in the morning air by hot

Quick spirits who tread firm to ends foreshown,

And use the name of greatness unforgot,

To meditate what greatness may be done.

For Dante sits in heaven and ye stand here,

And more remains for doing, all must feel,

Than trysting on his stone from year to year

To shift processions, civic toe to heel,

The town’s thanks to the Pitti. Are ye freer

For what was felt that day? a chariot-wheel

May spin fast, yet the chariot never roll.

But if that day suggested something good,

And bettered, with one purpose, soul by soul,—

Better means freer. A land’s brotherhood

Is most puissant: men, upon the whole,

Are what they can be,—nations, what they would.

Will therefore, to be strong, thou Italy!

Will to be noble! Austrian Metternich

Can fix no yoke unless the neck agree;

And thine is like the lion’s when the thick

Dews shudder from it, and no man would be

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The stroker of his mane, much less would prick

His nostril with a reed. When nations roar

Like lions, who shall tame them and defraud

Of the due pasture by the river-shore?

Roar, therefore! shake your dewlaps dry abroad:

The amphitheatre with open door

Leads back upon the benches who applaud

The last spear-thruster.

Yet the Heavens forbid

That we should call on passion to confront

The brutal with the brutal and, amid

This ripening world, suggest a lion-hunt

And lion’s-vengeance for the wrongs men did

And do now, though the spears are getting blunt.

We only call, because the sight and proof

Of lion-strength hurts nothing; and to show

A lion-heart, and measure paw with hoof,

Helps something, even, and will instruct a foe

As well as the onslaught, how to stand aloof:

Or else the world gets past the mere brute blow

Or given or taken. Children use the fist

Until they are of age to use the brain;

And so we needed Cæsars to assist

Man’s justice, and Napoleons to explain

God’s counsel, when a point was nearly missed,

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Until our generations should attain

Christ’s stature nearer. Not that we, alas,

Attain already; but a single inch

Will raise to look down on the swordsman’s pass.

As knightly Roland on the coward’s flinch:

And, after chloroform and ether-gas,

We find out slowly what the bee and finch

Have ready found, through Nature’s lamp in each,

How to our races we may justify

Our individual claims and, as we reach

Our own grapes, bend the top vines to supply

The children’s uses,—how to fill a breach

With olive-branches,—how to quench a lie

With truth, and smite a foe upon the cheek

With Christ’s most conquering kiss. Why, these are things

Worth a great nation’s finding, to prove weak

The “glorious arms” of military kings.

And so with wide embrace, my England, seek

To stifle the bad heat and flickerings

Of this world’s false and nearly expended fire!

Draw palpitating arrows to the wood,

And twang abroad thy high hopes and thy higher

Resolves, from that most virtuous altitude!

Till nations shall unconsciously aspire

By looking up to thee, and learn that good

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And glory are not different. Announce law

By freedom; exalt chivalry by peace;

Instruct how clear calm eyes can overawe,

And how pure hands, stretched simply to release

A bond-slave, will not need a sword to draw

To be held dreadful. O my England, crease

Thy purple with no alien agonies,

No struggles toward encroachment, no vile war!

Disband thy captains, change thy victories,

Be henceforth prosperous as the angels are,

Helping, not humbling.

Drums and battle-cries

Go out in music of the morning-star—

And soon we shall have thinkers in the place

Of fighters, each found able as a man

To strike electric influence through a race,

Unstayed by city-wall and barbican.

The poet shall look grander in the face

Than even of old (when he of Greece began

To sing “that Achillean wrath which slew

So many heroes”)—seeing he shall treat

The deeds of souls heroic toward the true,

The oracles of life, previsions sweet

And awful like divine swans gliding through

White arms of Ledas, which will leave the heat

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Of their escaping godship to endue

The human medium with a heavenly flush.

Meanwhile, in this same Italy we want

Not popular passion, to arise and crush,

But popular conscience, which may covenant

For what it knows. Concede without a blush,

To grant the “civic guard” is not to grant

The civic spirit, living and awake:

Those lappets on your shoulders, citizens,

Your eyes strain after sideways till they ache

(While still, in admirations and amens,

The crowd comes up on festa-days to take

The great sight in)—are not intelligence,

Not courage even—alas, if not the sign

Of something very noble, they are nought;

For every day ye dress your sallow kine

With fringes down their cheeks, though unbesought

They loll their heavy heads and drag the wine

And bear the wooden yoke as they were taught

The first day. What ye want is light—indeed

Not sunlight—(ye may well look up surprised

To those unfathomable heavens that feed

Your purple hills)—but God’s light organized

In some high soul, crowned capable to lead

The conscious people, conscious and advised,—

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For if we lift a people like mere clay,

It falls the same. We want thee, O unfound

And sovran teacher! if thy beard be grey

Or black, we bid thee rise up from the ground

And speak the word God giveth thee to say,

Inspiring into all this people round,

Instead of passion, thought, which pioneers

All generous passion, purifies from sin,

And strikes the hour for. Rise up, teacher! here’s

A crowd to make a nation!—best begin

By making each a man, till all be peers

Of earth’s true patriots and pure martyrs in

Knowing and daring. Best unbar the doors

Which Peter’s heirs keep locked so overclose

They only let the mice across the floors,

While every churchman dangles, as he goes,

The great key at his girdle, and abhors

In Christ’s name, meekly. Open wide the house,

Concede the entrance with Christ’s liberal mind,

And set the tables with His wine and bread.

What! “commune in both kinds?” In every kind—

Wine, wafer, love, hope, truth, unlimited,

Nothing kept back. For when a man is blind

To starlight, will he see the rose is red?

A bondsman shivering at a Jesuit’s foot—

“Væ! meâ culpâ!”—is not like to stand

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A freedman at a despot’s and dispute

His titles by the balance in his hand,

Weighing them “suo jure.” Tend the root

If careful of the branches, and expand

The inner souls of men before you strive

For civic heroes.

But the teacher, where?

From all these crowded faces, all alive,

Eyes, of their own lids flashing themselves bare,

And brows that with a mobile life contrive

A deeper shadow,—may we in no wise dare

To put a finger out and touch a man,

And cry “this is the leader”? What, all these!

Broad heads, black eyes,—yet not a soul that ran

From God down with a message? All, to please

The donna waving measures with her fan,

And not the judgment-angel on his knees

(The trumpet just an inch off from his lips),

Who when he breathes next, will put out the sun?

Yet mankind’s self were foundered in eclipse,

If lacking doers, with great works to be done;

And lo, the startled earth already dips

Back into light; a better day’s begun;

And soon this leader, teacher, will stand plain,

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And build the golden pipes and synthesize

This people-organ for a holy strain.

We hold this hope, and still in all these eyes

Go sounding for the deep look which shall drain

Suffused thought into channelled enterprise.

Where is the teacher? What now may he do,

Who shall do greatly? Doth he gird his waist

With a monk’s rope, like Luther? or pursue

The goat, like Tell? or dry his nets in haste,

Like Masaniello when the sky was blue?

Keep house, like other peasants, with inlaced

Bare brawny arms about a favourite child,

And meditative looks beyond the door

(But not to mark the kidling’s teeth have filed

The green shoots of his vine which last year bore

Full twenty bunches), or, on triple-piled

Throne-velvets sit at ease to bless the poor,

Like other pontiffs, in the Poorest’s name?

The old tiara keeps itself aslope

Upon his steady brows which, all the same,

Bend mildly to permit the people’s hope?

Whatever hand shall grasp this oriflamme,

Whatever man (last peasant or first pope

Seeking to free his country) shall appear,

Teach, lead, strike fire into the masses, fill

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These empty bladders with fine air, insphere

These wills into a unity of will,

And make of Italy a nation—dear

And blessed be that man! the Heavens shall kill

No leaf the earth lets grow for him, and Death

Shall cast him back upon the lap of Life

To live more surely, in a clarion-breath

Of hero-music. Brutus with the knife,

Rienzi with the fasces, throb beneath

Rome’s stones,—and more who threw away joy’s fife

Like Pallas, that the beauty of their souls

Might ever shine untroubled and entire:

But if it can be true that he who rolls

The Church’s thunders will reserve her fire

For only light,—from eucharistic bowls

Will pour new life for nations that expire,

And rend the scarlet of his papal vest

To gird the weak loins of his countrymen,—

I hold that he surpasses all the rest

Of Romans, heroes, patriots; and that when

He sat down on the throne, he dispossessed

The first graves of some glory. See again,

This country-saving is a glorious thing:

And if a common man achieved it? well.

Say, a rich man did? excellent. A king?

That grows sublime. A priest? improbable.

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A pope? Ah, there we stop, and cannot bring

Our faith up to the leap, with history’s bell

So heavy round the neck of it—albeit

We fain would grant the possibility

For thy sake, Pio Nono!

Stretch thy feet

In that case—I will kiss them reverently

As any pilgrim to the papal seat:

And, such proved possible, thy throne to me

Shall seem as holy a place as Pellico’s

Venetian dungeon, or as Spielberg’s grate

At which the Lombard woman hung the rose

Of her sweet soul by its own dewy weight,

To feel the dungeon round her sunshine close,

And pining so, died early, yet too late

For what she suffered. Yea, I will not choose

Betwixt thy throne, Pope Pius, and the spot

Marked red for ever, spite of rains and dews,

Where Two fell riddled by the Austrian’s shot,

The brothers Bandiera, who accuse,

With one same mother-voice and face (that what

They speak may be invincible) the sins

Of earth’s tormentors before God the just,

Until the unconscious thunderbolt begins

To loosen in His grasp.

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And yet we must

Beware, and mark the natural kiths and kins

Of circumstance and office, and distrust

The rich man reasoning in a poor man’s hut,

The poet who neglects pure truth to prove

Statistic fact, the child who leaves a rut

For a smoother road, the priest who vows his glove

Exhales no grace, the prince who walks afoot,

The woman who has sworn she will not love,

And this Ninth Pius in Seventh Gregory’s chair,

With Andrea Doria’s forehead!

Count what goes

To making up a pope, before he wear

That triple crown. We pass the world-wide throes

Which went to make the popedom,—the despair

Of free men, good men, wise men; the dread shows

Of women’s faces, by the faggot’s flash

Tossed out, to the minutest stir and throb

O’ the white lips, the least tremble of a lash,

To glut the red stare of a licensed mob;

The short mad cries down oubliettes, and plash

So horribly far off; priests, trained to rob,

And kings that, like encouraged nightmares, sat

On nations’ hearts most heavily distressed

With monstrous sights and apophthegms of fate—

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We pass these things,—because “the times” are prest

With necessary charges of the weight

Of all this sin, and “Calvin, for the rest,

Made bold to burn Servetus. Ah, men err!”—

And so do churches! which is all we mean

To bring to proof in any register

Of theological fat kine and lean:

So drive them back into the pens! refer

Old sins (with pourpoint, “quotha” and “I ween”)

Entirely to the old times, the old times;

Nor ever ask why this preponderant

Infallible pure Church could set her chimes

Most loudly then, just then,—most jubilant,

Precisely then, when mankind stood in crimes

Full heart-deep, and Heaven’s judgments were not scant.

Inquire still less, what signifies a church

Of perfect inspiration and pure laws

Who burns the first man with a brimstone-torch,

And grinds the second, bone by bone, because

The times, forsooth, are used to rack and scorch!

What is a holy Church unless she awes

The times down from their sins? Did Christ select

Such amiable times to come and teach

Love to, and mercy? The whole world were wrecked

If every mere great man, who lives to reach

A little leaf of popular respect,

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Attained not simply by some special breach

In the age’s customs, by some precedence

In thought and act, which, having proved him higher

Than those he lived with, proved his competence

In helping them to wonder and aspire.

My words are guiltless of the bigot’s sense;

My soul has fire to mingle with the fire

Of all these souls, within or out of doors

Of Rome’s church or another. I believe

In one Priest, and one temple with its floors

Of shining jasper gloom’d at morn and eve

By countless knees of earnest auditors,

And crystal walls too lucid to perceive,

That none may take the measure of the place

And say “So far the porphyry, then, the flint—

To this mark mercy goes, and there ends grace,”

Though still the permeable crystals hint

At some white starry distance, bathed in space.

I feel how nature’s ice-crusts keep the dint

Of undersprings of silent Deity.

I hold the articulated gospels which

Show Christ among us crucified on tree.

I love all who love truth, if poor or rich

In what they have won of truth possessively.

No altars and no hands defiled with pitch

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Shall scare me off, but I will pray and eat

With all these—taking leave to choose my ewers—

And say at last “Your visible churches cheat

Their inward types; and, if a church assures

Of standing without failure and defeat,

The same both fails and lies.”

To leave which lures

Of wider subject through past years,—behold,

We come back from the popedom to the pope,

To ponder what he must be, ere we are bold

For what he may be, with our heavy hope

To trust upon his soul. So, fold by fold,

Explore this mummy in the priestly cope,

Transmitted through the darks of time, to catch

The man within the wrappage, and discern

How he, an honest man, upon the watch

Full fifty years for what a man may learn,

Contrived to get just there; with what a snatch

Of old-world oboli he had to earn

The passage through; with what a drowsy sop,

To drench the busy barkings of his brain;

What ghosts of pale tradition, wreathed with hop

’Gainst wakeful thought, he had to entertain

For heavenly visions; and consent to stop

The clock at noon, and let the hour remain

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(Without vain windings-up) inviolate

Against all chimings from the belfry. Lo,

From every given pope you must abate,

Albeit you love him, some things—good, you know—

Which every given heretic you hate,

Assumes for his, as being plainly so.

A pope must hold by popes a little,—yes,

By councils, from Nicæa up to Trent,—

By hierocratic empire, more or less

Irresponsible to men,—he must resent

Each man’s particular conscience, and repress

Inquiry, meditation, argument,

As tyrants faction. Also, he must not

Love truth too dangerously, but prefer

“The interests of the Church” (because a blot

Is better than a rent, in miniver)—

Submit to see the people swallow hot

Husk-porridge, which his chartered churchmen stir

Quoting the only true God’s epigraph,

“Feed my lambs, Peter!”—must consent to sit

Attesting with his pastoral ring and staff

To such a picture of our Lady, hit

Off well by artist-angels (though not half

As fair as Giotto would have painted it)—

To such a vial, where a dead man’s blood

Runs yearly warm beneath a churchman’s finger,—

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To such a holy house of stone and wood,

Whereof a cloud of angels was the bringer

From Bethlehem to Loreto. Were it good

For any pope on earth to be a flinger

Of stones against these high-niched counterfeits?

Apostates only are iconoclasts.

He dares not say, while this false thing abets

That true thing, “This is false.” He keeps his fasts

And prayers, as prayer and fast were silver frets

To change a note upon a string that lasts,

And make a lie a virtue. Now, if he

Did more than this, higher hoped, and braver dared,

I think he were a pope in jeopardy,

Or no pope rather, for his truth had barred

The vaulting of his life,—and certainly,

If he do only this, mankind’s regard

Moves on from him at once, to seek some new

Teacher and leader. He is good and great

According to the deeds a pope can do;

Most liberal, save those bonds; affectionate,

As princes may be, and, as priests are, true;

But only the Ninth Pius after eight,

When all’s praised most. At best and hopefullest,

He’s pope—we want a man! his heart beats warm,

But, like the prince enchanted to the waist,

He sits in stone and hardens by a charm

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Into the marble of his throne high-placed.

Mild benediction waves his saintly arm—

So, good! but what we want’s a perfect man,

Complete and all alive: half travertine

Half suits our need, and ill subserves our plan.

Feet, knees, nerves, sinews, energies divine

Were never yet too much for men who ran

In such hard ways as must be this of thine,

Deliverer whom we seek, whoe’er thou art,

Pope, prince, or peasant! If, indeed, the first,

The noblest, therefore! since the heroic heart

Within thee must be great enough to burst

Those trammels buckling to the baser part

Thy saintly peers in Rome, who crossed and cursed

With the same finger.

Come, appear, be found,

If pope or peasant, come! we hear the cock,

The courtier of the mountains when first crowned

With golden dawn; and orient glories flock

To meet the sun upon the highest ground.

Take voice and work! we wait to hear thee knock

At some one of our Florentine nine gates,

On each of which was imaged a sublime

Face of a Tuscan genius, which, for hate’s

And love’s sake, both, our Florence in her prime

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Turned boldly on all comers to her states,

As heroes turned their shields in antique time

Emblazoned with honourable acts. And though

The gates are blank now of such images,

And Petrarch looks no more from Nicolo

Toward dear Arezzo, ’twixt the acacia-trees,

Nor Dante, from gate Gallo—still we know,

Despite the razing of the blazonries,

Remains the consecration of the shield:

The dead heroic faces will start out

On all these gates, if foes should take the field,

And blend sublimely, at the earliest shout,

With living heroes who will scorn to yield

A hair’s-breadth even, when, gazing round about,

They find in what a glorious company

They fight the foes of Florence. Who will grudge

His one poor life, when that great man we see

Has given five hundred years, the world being judge,

To help the glory of his Italy?

Who, born the fair side of the Alps, will budge,

When Dante stays, when Ariosto stays,

When Petrarch stays for ever? Ye bring swords,

My Tuscans? Ay, if wanted in this haze,

Bring swords: but first bring souls!—bring thoughts and words,

Unrusted by a tear of yesterday’s,

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Yet awful by its wrong,—and cut these cords,

And mow this green lush falseness to the roots,

And shut the mouth of hell below the swathe!

And, if ye can bring songs too, let the lute’s

Recoverable music softly bathe

Some poet’s hand, that, through all bursts and bruits

Of popular passion, all unripe and rathe

Convictions of the popular intellect,

Ye may not lack a finger up the air,

Annunciative, reproving, pure, erect,

To show which way your first Ideal bare

The whiteness of its wings when (sorely pecked

By falcons on your wrists) it unaware

Arose up overhead and out of sight.

Meanwhile, let all the far ends of the world

Breathe back the deep breath of their old delight,

To swell the Italian banner just unfurled.

Help, lands of Europe! for, if Austria fight,

The drums will bar your slumber. Had ye curled

The laurel for your thousand artists’ brows,

If these Italian hands had planted none?

Can any sit down idle in the house

Nor hear appeals from Buonarroti’s stone

And Raffael’s canvas, rousing and to rouse?

Where’s Poussin’s master? Gallic Avignon

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Bred Laura, and Vaucluse’s fount has stirred

The heart of France too strongly, as it lets

Its little stream out (like a wizard’s bird

Which bounds upon its emerald wing and wets

The rocks on each side), that she should not gird

Her loins with Charlemagne’s sword when foes beset

The country of her Petrarch. Spain may well

Be minded how from Italy she caught,

To mingle with her tinkling Moorish bell,

A fuller cadence and a subtler thought.

And even the New World, the receptacle

Of freemen, may send glad men, as it ought,

To greet Vespucci Amerigo’s door.

While England claims, by trump of poetry,

Verona, Venice, the Ravenna-shore,

And dearer holds John Milton’s Fiesole

Than Langland’s Malvern with the stars in flower.

And Vallombrosa, we two went to see

Last June, beloved companion,—where sublime

The mountains live in holy families,

And the slow pinewoods ever climb and climb

Half up their breasts, just stagger as they seize

Some grey crag, drop back with it many a time,

And straggle blindly down the precipice.

The Vallombrosan brooks were strewn as thick

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That June-day, knee-deep with dead beechen leaves,

As Milton saw them ere his heart grew sick

And his eyes blind. I think the monks and beeves

Are all the same too: scarce have they changed the wick

On good Saint Gualbert’s altar which receives

The convent’s pilgrims; and the pool in front

(Wherein the hill-stream trout are cast, to wait

The beatific vision and the grunt

Used at refectory) keeps its weedy state,

To baffle saintly abbots who would count

The fish across their breviary nor ’bate

The measure of their steps. O waterfalls

And forests! sound and silence! mountains bare

That leap up peak by peak and catch the palls

Of purple and silver mist to rend and share

With one another, at electric calls

Of life in the sunbeams,—till we cannot dare

Fix your shapes, count your number! we must think

Your beauty and your glory helped to fill

The cup of Milton’s soul so to the brink,

He never more was thirsty when God’s will

Had shattered to his sense the last chain-link

By which he had drawn from Nature’s visible

The fresh well-water. Satisfied by this,

He sang of Adam’s paradise and smiled,

Remembering Vallombrosa. Therefore is

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The place divine to English man and child,

And pilgrims leave their souls here in a kiss.

For Italy’s the whole earth’s treasury, piled

With reveries of gentle ladies, flung

Aside, like ravelled silk, from life’s worn stuff;

With coins of scholars’ fancy, which, being rung

On work-day counter, still sound silver-proof;

In short, with all the dreams of dreamers young,

Before their heads have time for slipping off

Hope’s pillow to the ground. How oft, indeed,

We’ve sent our souls out from the rigid north,

On bare white feet which would not print nor bleed,

To climb the Alpine passes and look forth,

Where booming low the Lombard rivers lead

To gardens, vineyards, all a dream is worth,—

Sights, thou and I, Love, have seen afterward

From Tuscan Bellosguardo, wide awake,[11]

When, standing on the actual blessed sward

Where Galileo stood at nights to take

The vision of the stars, we have found it hard,

Gazing upon the earth and heaven, to make

A choice of beauty.

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Therefore let us all

Refreshed in England or in other land,

By visions, with their fountain-rise and fall,

Of this earth’s darling,—we, who understand

A little how the Tuscan musical

Vowels do round themselves as if they planned

Eternities of separate sweetness,—we,

Who loved Sorrento vines in picture-book,

Or ere in wine-cup we pledged faith or glee,—

Who loved Rome’s wolf with demi-gods at suck,

Or ere we loved truth’s own divinity,—

Who loved, in brief, the classic hill and brook,

And Ovid’s dreaming tales and Petrarch’s song,

Or ere we loved Love’s self even,—let us give

The blessing of our souls (and wish them strong

To bear it to the height where prayers arrive,

When faithful spirits pray against a wrong,)

To this great cause of southern men who strive

In God’s name for man’s rights, and shall not fail.

Behold, they shall not fail. The shouts ascend

Above the shrieks, in Naples, and prevail.

Rows of shot corpses, waiting for the end

Of burial, seem to smile up straight and pale

Into the azure air and apprehend

That final gun-flash from Palermo’s coast

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Which lightens their apocalypse of death.

So let them die! The world shows nothing lost;

Therefore, not blood. Above or underneath,

What matter, brothers, if ye keep your post

On duty’s side? As sword returns to sheath,

So dust to grave, but souls find place in Heaven.

Heroic daring is the true success,

The eucharistic bread requires no leaven;

And though your ends were hopeless, we should bless

Your cause as holy. Strive—and, having striven,

Take, for God’s recompense, that righteousness!

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PART II.

I wrote a meditation and a dream,

Hearing a little child sing in the street:

I leant upon his music as a theme,

Till it gave way beneath my heart’s full beat

Which tried at an exultant prophecy

But dropped before the measure was complete—

Alas, for songs and hearts! O Tuscany,

O Dante’s Florence, is the type too plain?

Didst thou, too, only sing of liberty

As little children take up a high strain

With unintentioned voices, and break off

To sleep upon their mothers’ knees again?

Couldst thou not watch one hour? then, sleep enough—

That sleep may hasten manhood and sustain

The faint pale spirit with some muscular stuff.

But we, who cannot slumber as thou dost,

We thinkers, who have thought for thee and failed,

We hopers, who have hoped for thee and lost,

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We poets, wandered round by dreams,[12] who hailed

From this Atrides’ roof (with lintel-post

Which still drips blood,—the worse part hath prevailed)

The fire-voice of the beacons to declare

Troy taken, sorrow ended,—cozened through

A crimson sunset in a misty air,

What now remains for such as we, to do?

God’s judgments, peradventure, will He bare

To the roots of thunder, if we kneel and sue?

From Casa Guidi windows I looked forth,

And saw ten thousand eyes of Florentines

Flash back the triumph of the Lombard north,—

Saw fifty banners, freighted with the signs

And exultations of the awakened earth,

Float on above the multitude in lines,

Straight to the Pitti. So, the vision went.

And so, between those populous rough hands

Raised in the sun, Duke Leopold outleant,

And took the patriot’s oath which henceforth stands

Among the oaths of perjurers, eminent

To catch the lightnings ripened for these lands.

Why swear at all, thou false Duke Leopold?

What need to swear? What need to boast thy blood

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Unspoilt of Austria, and thy heart unsold

Away from Florence? It was understood

God made thee not too vigorous or too bold;

And men had patience with thy quiet mood,

And women, pity, as they saw thee pace

Their festive streets with premature grey hairs.

We turned the mild dejection of thy face

To princely meanings, took thy wrinkling cares

For ruffling hopes, and called thee weak, not base.

Nay, better light the torches for more prayers

And smoke the pale Madonnas at the shrine,

Being still “our poor Grand-duke, our good Grand-duke,

Who cannot help the Austrian in his line,”—

Than write an oath upon a nation’s book

For men to spit at with scorn’s blurring brine!

Who dares forgive what none can overlook?

For me, I do repent me in this dust

Of towns and temples which makes Italy,—

I sigh amid the sighs which breathe a gust

Of dying century to century

Around us on the uneven crater-crust

Of these old worlds,—I bow my soul and knee.

Absolve me, patriots, of my woman’s fault

That ever I believed the man was true!

These sceptred strangers shun the common salt,

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And, therefore, when the general board’s in view

And they stand up to carve for blind and halt,

The wise suspect the viands which ensue.

I much repent that, in this time and place

Where many corpse-lights of experience burn

From Cæsar’s and Lorenzo’s festering race,

To enlighten groping reasoners, I could learn

No better counsel for a simple case

Than to put faith in princes, in my turn.

Had all the death-piles of the ancient years

Flared up in vain before me? knew I not

What stench arises from some purple gears?

And how the sceptres witness whence they got

Their briar-wood, crackling through the atmosphere’s

Foul smoke, by princely perjuries, kept hot?

Forgive me, ghosts of patriots,—Brutus, thou,

Who trailest downhill into life again

Thy blood-weighed cloak, to indict me with thy slow

Reproachful eyes!—for being taught in vain

That, while the illegitimate Cæsars show

Of meaner stature than the first full strain

(Confessed incompetent to conquer Gaul),

They swoon as feebly and cross Rubicons

As rashly as any Julius of them all!

Forgive, that I forgot the mind which runs

Through absolute races, too unsceptical!

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I saw the man among his little sons,

His lips were warm with kisses while he swore;

And I, because I am a woman—I,

Who felt my own child’s coming life before

The prescience of my soul, and held faith high,—

I could not bear to think, whoever bore,

That lips, so warmed, could shape so cold a lie.

From Casa Guidi windows I looked out,

Again looked, and beheld a different sight.

The Duke had fled before the people’s shout

“Long live the Duke!” A people, to speak right,

Must speak as soft as courtiers, lest a doubt

Should curdle brows of gracious sovereigns, white.

Moreover that same dangerous shouting meant

Some gratitude for future favours, which

Were only promised, the Constituent

Implied, the whole being subject to the hitch

In “motu proprios,” very incident

To all these Czars, from Paul to Paulovitch.

Whereat the people rose up in the dust

Of the ruler’s flying feet, and shouted still

And loudly; only, this time, as was just,

Not “Live the Duke,” who had fled for good or ill,

But “Live the People,” who remained and must,

The unrenounced and unrenounceable.

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Long live the people! How they lived! and boiled

And bubbled in the cauldron of the street:

How the young blustered, nor the old recoiled,

And what a thunderous stir of tongues and feet

Trod flat the palpitating bells and foiled

The joy-guns of their echo, shattering it!

How down they pulled the Duke’s arms everywhere!

How up they set new café-signs, to show

Where patriots might sip ices in pure air—

(The fresh paint smelling somewhat)! To and fro

How marched the civic guard, and stopped to stare

When boys broke windows in a civic glow!

How rebel songs were sung to loyal tunes,

And bishops cursed in ecclesiastic metres:

How all the Circoli grew large as moons,

And all the speakers, moonstruck,—thankful greeters

Of prospects which struck poor the ducal boons,

A mere free Press, and Chambers!—frank repeaters

Of great Guerazzi’s praises—“There’s a man,

The father of the land, who, truly great,

Takes off that national disgrace and ban,

The farthing tax upon our Florence-gate,

And saves Italia as he only can!”

How all the nobles fled, and would not wait,

Because they were most noble,—which being so,

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How Liberals vowed to burn their palaces,

Because free Tuscans were not free to go!

How grown men raged at Austria’s wickedness,

And smoked,—while fifty striplings in a row

Marched straight to Piedmont for the wrong’s redress!

You say we failed in duty, we who wore

Black velvet like Italian democrats,

Who slashed our sleeves like patriots, nor forswore

The true republic in the form of hats?

We chased the archbishop from the Duomo door,

We chalked the walls with bloody caveats

Against all tyrants. If we did not fight

Exactly, we fired muskets up the air

To show that victory was ours of right.

We met, had free discussion everywhere

(Except perhaps i’ the Chambers) day and night.

We proved the poor should be employed, ... that’s fair,—

And yet the rich not worked for anywise,—

Pay certified, yet payers abrogated,—

Full work secured, yet liabilities

To overwork excluded,—not one bated

Of all our holidays, that still, at twice

Or thrice a week, are moderately rated.

We proved that Austria was dislodged, or would

Or should be, and that Tuscany in arms

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Should, would dislodge her, ending the old feud;

And yet, to leave our piazzas, shops, and farms,

For the simple sake of fighting, was not good—

We proved that also. “Did we carry charms

Against being killed ourselves, that we should rush

On killing others? what, desert herewith

Our wives and mothers?—was that duty? tush!”

At which we shook the sword within the sheath

Like heroes—only louder; and the flush

Ran up the cheek to meet the future wreath.

Nay, what we proved, we shouted—how we shouted

(Especially the boys did), boldly planting

That tree of liberty, whose fruit is doubted,

Because the roots are not of nature’s granting!

A tree of good and evil: none, without it,

Grow gods; alas and, with it, men are wanting!

O holy knowledge, holy liberty,

O holy rights of nations! If I speak

These bitter things against the jugglery

Of days that in your names proved blind and weak,

It is that tears are bitter. When we see

The brown skulls grin at death in churchyards bleak,

We do not cry “This Yorick is too light,”

For death grows deathlier with that mouth he makes.

So with my mocking: bitter things I write

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Because my soul is bitter for your sakes,

O freedom! O my Florence!

Men who might

Do greatly in a universe that breaks

And burns, must ever know before they do.

Courage and patience are but sacrifice;

And sacrifice is offered for and to

Something conceived of. Each man pays a price

For what himself counts precious, whether true

Or false the appreciation it implies.

But here,—no knowledge, no conception, nought!

Desire was absent, that provides great deeds

From out the greatness of prevenient thought:

And action, action, like a flame that needs

A steady breath and fuel, being caught

Up, like a burning reed from other reeds,

Flashed in the empty and uncertain air,

Then wavered, then went out. Behold, who blames

A crooked course, when not a goal is there

To round the fervid striving of the games?

An ignorance of means may minister

To greatness, but an ignorance of aims

Makes it impossible to be great at all.

So with our Tuscans! Let none dare to say,

“Here virtue never can be national;

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Here fortitude can never cut a way

Between the Austrian muskets, out of thrall:”

I tell you rather that, whoever may

Discern true ends here, shall grow pure enough

To love them, brave enough to strive for them,

And strong to reach them though the roads be rough:

That having learnt—by no mere apophthegm—

Not just the draping of a graceful stuff

About a statue, broidered at the hem,—

Not just the trilling on an opera-stage

Of “libertà” to bravos—(a fair word,

Yet too allied to inarticulate rage

And breathless sobs, for singing, though the chord

Were deeper than they struck it) but the gauge

Of civil wants sustained and wrongs abhorred,

The serious sacred meaning and full use

Of freedom for a nation,—then, indeed,

Our Tuscans, underneath the bloody dews

Of some new morning, rising up agreed

And bold, will want no Saxon souls or thews

To sweep their piazzas clear of Austria’s breed.

Alas, alas! it was not so this time.

Conviction was not, courage failed, and truth

Was something to be doubted of. The mime

Changed masks, because a mime. The tide as smooth

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In running in as out, no sense of crime

Because no sense of virtue,—sudden ruth

Seized on the people: they would have again

Their good Grand-duke and leave Guerazzi, though

He took that tax from Florence. “Much in vain

He takes it from the market-carts, we trow,

While urgent that no market-men remain,

But all march off and leave the spade and plough,

To die among the Lombards. Was it thus

The dear paternal Duke did? Live the Duke!”

At which the joy-bells multitudinous,

Swept by an opposite wind, as loudly shook.

Call back the mild archbishop to his house,

To bless the people with his frightened look,—

He shall not yet be hanged, you comprehend!

Seize on Guerazzi; guard him in full view,

Or else we stab him in the back, to end!

Rub out those chalked devices, set up new

The Duke’s arms, doff your Phrygian caps, and men

The pavement of the piazzas broke into

By barren poles of freedom: smooth the way

For the ducal carriage, lest his highness sigh

“Here trees of liberty grew yesterday!”

“Long live the Duke!”—how roared the cannonry,

How rocked the bell-towers, and through thickening spray

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Of nosegays, wreaths, and kerchiefs tossed on high,

How marched the civic guard, the people still

Being good at shouts, especially the boys!

Alas, poor people, of an unfledged will

Most fitly expressed by such a callow voice!

Alas, still poorer Duke, incapable

Of being worthy even of so much noise!

You think he came back instantly, with thanks

And tears in his faint eyes, and hands extended

To stretch the franchise through their utmost ranks?

That having, like a father, apprehended,

He came to pardon fatherly those pranks

Played out and now in filial service ended?—

That some love-token, like a prince, he threw

To meet the people’s love-call, in return?

Well, how he came I will relate to you;

And if your hearts should burn, why, hearts must burn,

To make the ashes which things old and new

Shall be washed clean in—as this Duke will learn.

From Casa Guidi windows gazing, then,

I saw and witness how the Duke came back.

The regular tramp of horse and tread of men

Did smite the silence like an anvil black

And sparkless. With her wide eyes at full strain,

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Our Tuscan nurse exclaimed “Alack, alack,

Signora! these shall be the Austrians.” “Nay,

Be still,” I answered, “do not wake the child!”

—For so, my two-months’ baby sleeping lay

In milky dreams upon the bed and smiled,

And I thought “He shall sleep on, while he may,

Through the world’s baseness: not being yet defiled,

Why should he be disturbed by what is done?”

Then, gazing, I beheld the long-drawn street

Live out, from end to end, full in the sun,

With Austria’s thousand; sword and bayonet,

Horse, foot, artillery,—cannons rolling on

Like blind slow storm-clouds gestant with the heat

Of undeveloped lightnings, each bestrode

By a single man, dust-white from head to heel,

Indifferent as the dreadful thing he rode,

Like a sculptured Fate serene and terrible.

As some smooth river which has overflowed

Will slow and silent down its current wheel

A loosened forest, all the pines erect,

So swept, in mute significance of storm,

The marshalled thousands; not an eye deflect

To left or right, to catch a novel form

Of Florence city adorned by architect

And carver, or of Beauties live and warm

Scared at the casements,—all, straightforward eyes

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And faces, held as steadfast as their swords,

And cognizant of acts, not imageries.

The key, O Tuscans, too well fits the wards!

Ye asked for mimes,—these bring you tragedies:

For purple,—these shall wear it as your lords.

Ye played like children,—die like innocents.

Ye mimicked lightnings with a torch,—the crack

Of the actual bolt, your pastime circumvents.

Ye called up ghosts, believing they were slack

To follow any voice from Gilboa’s tents, ...

Here’s Samuel!—and, so, Grand-dukes come back!

And yet, they are no prophets though they come:

That awful mantle, they are drawing close,

Shall be searched, one day, by the shafts of Doom

Through double folds now hoodwinking the brows.

Resuscitated monarchs disentomb

Grave-reptiles with them, in their new life-throes.

Let such beware. Behold, the people waits,

Like God: as He, in His serene of might,

So they, in their endurance of long straits.

Ye stamp no nation out, though day and night

Ye tread them with that absolute heel which grates

And grinds them flat from all attempted height.

You kill worms sooner with a garden-spade

Than you kill peoples: peoples will not die;

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The tail curls stronger when you lop the head:

They writhe at every wound and multiply

And shudder into a heap of life that’s made

Thus vital from God’s own vitality.

’T is hard to shrivel back a day of God’s

Once fixed for judgment: ’t is as hard to change

The peoples, when they rise beneath their loads

And heave them from their backs with violent wrench

To crush the oppressor; for that judgment-rod’s

The measure of this popular revenge.

Meanwhile, from Casa Guidi windows, we

Beheld the armament of Austria flow

Into the drowning heart of Tuscany:

And yet none wept, none cursed, or, if ’t was so,

They wept and cursed in silence. Silently

Our noisy Tuscans watched the invading foe;

They had learnt silence. Pressed against the wall,

And grouped upon the church-steps opposite,

A few pale men and women stared at all.

God knows what they were feeling, with their white

Constrainèd faces, they, so prodigal

Of cry and gesture when the world goes right,

Or wrong indeed. But here was depth of wrong,

And here, still water; they were silent here;

And through that sentient silence, struck along

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That measured tramp from which it stood out clear,

Distinct the sound and silence, like a gong

At midnight, each by the other awfuller,—

While every soldier in his cap displayed

A leaf of olive. Dusty, bitter thing!

Was such plucked at Novara, is it said?

A cry is up in England, which doth ring

The hollow world through, that for ends of trade

And virtue and God’s better worshipping,

We henceforth should exalt the name of Peace

And leave those rusty wars that eat the soul,—

Besides their clippings at our golden fleece.

I, too, have loved peace, and from bole to bole

Of immemorial undeciduous trees

Would write, as lovers use upon a scroll,

The holy name of Peace and set it high

Where none could pluck it down. On trees, I say,—

Not upon gibbets!—With the greenery

Of dewy branches and the flowery May,

Sweet mediation betwixt earth and sky

Providing, for the shepherd’s holiday.

Not upon gibbets! though the vulture leaves

The bones to quiet, which he first picked bare.

Not upon dungeons! though the wretch who grieves

And groans within less stirs the outer air

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Than any little field-mouse stirs the sheaves.

Not upon chain-bolts! though the slave’s despair

Has dulled his helpless miserable brain

And left him blank beneath the freeman’s whip

To sing and laugh out idiocies of pain.

Nor yet on starving homes! where many a lip

Has sobbed itself asleep through curses vain.

I love no peace which is not fellowship

And which includes not mercy. I would have

Rather the raking of the guns across

The world, and shrieks against Heaven’s architrave;

Rather the struggle in the slippery fosse

Of dying men and horses, and the wave

Blood-bubbling.... Enough said!—by Christ’s own cross,

And by this faint heart of my womanhood,

Such things are better than a Peace that sits

Beside a hearth in self-commended mood,

And takes no thought how wind and rain by fits

Are howling out of doors against the good

Of the poor wanderer. What! your peace admits

Of outside anguish while it keeps at home?

I loathe to take its name upon my tongue.

’T is nowise peace: ’t is treason, stiff with doom,—

’T is gagged despair and inarticulate wrong,—

Annihilated Poland, stifled Rome,

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Dazed Naples, Hungary fainting ’neath the thong,

And Austria wearing a smooth olive-leaf

On her brute forehead, while her hoofs outpress

The life from these Italian souls, in brief.

O Lord of Peace, who art Lord of Righteousness,

Constrain the anguished worlds from sin and grief,

Pierce them with conscience, purge them with redress,

And give us peace which is no counterfeit!

But wherefore should we look out any more

From Casa Guidi windows? Shut them straight,

And let us sit down by the folded door,

And veil our saddened faces and, so, wait

What next the judgment-heavens make ready for.

I have grown too weary of these windows. Sights

Come thick enough and clear enough in thought,

Without the sunshine; souls have inner lights.

And since the Grand-duke has come back and brought

This army of the North which thus requites

His filial South, we leave him to be taught.

His South, too, has learnt something certainly,

Whereof the practice will bring profit soon;

And peradventure other eyes may see,

From Casa Guidi windows, what is done

Or undone. Whatsoever deeds they be,

Pope Pius will be glorified in none.

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Record that gain, Mazzini!—it shall top

Some heights of sorrow. Peter’s rock, so named,

Shall lure no vessel any more to drop

Among the breakers. Peter’s chair is shamed

Like any vulgar throne the nations lop

To pieces for their firewood unreclaimed,—

And, when it burns too, we shall see as well

In Italy as elsewhere. Let it burn.

The cross, accounted still adorable,

Is Christ’s cross only!—if the thief’s would earn

Some stealthy genuflexions, we rebel;

And here the impenitent thief’s has had its turn,

As God knows; and the people on their knees

Scoff and toss back the crosiers stretched like yokes

To press their heads down lower by degrees.

So Italy, by means of these last strokes,

Escapes the danger which preceded these,

Of leaving captured hands in cloven oaks,—

Of leaving very souls within the buckle

Whence bodies struggled outward,—of supposing

That freemen may like bondsmen kneel and truckle,

And then stand up as usual, without losing

An inch of stature.

Those whom she-wolves suckle

Will bite as wolves do in the grapple-closing

Of adverse interests. This at last is known

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(Thank Pius for the lesson), that albeit

Among the popedom’s hundred heads of stone

Which blink down on you from the roof’s retreat

In Siena’s tiger-striped cathedral, Joan

And Borgia ’mid their fellows you may greet,

A harlot and a devil,—you will see

Not a man, still less angel, grandly set

With open soul to render man more free.

The fishers are still thinking of the net,

And, if not thinking of the hook too, we

Are counted somewhat deeply in their debt;

But that’s a rare case—so, by hook and crook

They take the advantage, agonizing Christ

By rustier nails than those of Cedron’s brook,

I’ the people’s body very cheaply priced,—

And quote high priesthood out of Holy book,

While buying death-fields with the sacrificed.

Priests, priests,—there’s no such name!—God’s own, except

Ye take most vainly. Through heaven’s lifted gate

The priestly ephod in sole glory swept

When Christ ascended, entered in, and sate

(With victor face sublimely overwept)

At Deity’s right hand, to mediate,

He alone, He for ever. On His breast

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The Urim and the Thummim, fed with fire

From the full Godhead, flicker with the unrest

Of human pitiful heart-beats. Come up higher,

All Christians! Levi’s tribe is dispossest.

That solitary alb ye shall admire,

But not cast lots for. The last chrism, poured right,

Was on that Head, and poured for burial

And not for domination in men’s sight.

What are these churches? The old temple-wall

Doth overlook them juggling with the sleight

Of surplice, candlestick and altar-pall;

East church and west church, ay, north church and south,

Rome’s church and England’s,—let them all repent,

And make concordats ’twixt their soul and mouth,

Succeed Saint Paul by working at the tent,

Become infallible guides by speaking truth,

And excommunicate their pride that bent

And cramped the souls of men.

Why, even here

Priestcraft burns out, the twinèd linen blazes;

Not, like asbestos, to grow white and clear,

But all to perish!—while the fire-smell raises

To life some swooning spirits who, last year,

Lost breath and heart in these church-stifled places.

Why, almost, through this Pius, we believed

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The priesthood could be an honest thing, he smiled

So saintly while our corn was being sheaved

For his own granaries! Showing now defiled

His hireling hands, a better help’s achieved

Than if they blessed us shepherd-like and mild.

False doctrine, strangled by its own amen,

Dies in the throat of all this nation. Who

Will speak a pope’s name as they rise again?

What woman or what child will count him true?

What dreamer praise him with the voice or pen?

What man fight for him?—Pius takes his due.


Record that gain, Mazzini!—Yes, but first

Set down thy people’s faults; set down the want

Of soul-conviction; set down aims dispersed,

And incoherent means, and valour scant

Because of scanty faith, and schisms accursed

That wrench these brother-hearts from covenant

With freedom and each other. Set down this,

And this, and see to overcome it when

The seasons bring the fruits thou wilt not miss

If wary. Let no cry of patriot men

Distract thee from the stern analysis

Of masses who cry only! keep thy ken

Clear as thy soul is virtuous. Heroes’ blood

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Splashed up against thy noble brow in Rome;

Let such not blind thee to an interlude

Which was not also holy, yet did come

’Twixt sacramental actions,—brotherhood

Despised even there, and something of the doom

Of Remus in the trenches. Listen now—

Rossi died silent near where Cæsar died.

HE did not say “My Brutus, is it thou?”

But Italy unquestioned testified

I killed him! I am Brutus.—I avow.”

At which the whole world’s laugh of scorn replied

“A poor maimed copy of Brutus!”

Too much like,

Indeed, to be so unlike! too unskilled

At Philippi and the honest battle-pike,

To be so skilful where a man is killed

Near Pompey’s statue, and the daggers strike

At unawares i’ the throat. Was thus fulfilled

An omen once of Michel Angelo?—

When Marcus Brutus he conceived complete,

And strove to hurl him out by blow on blow

Upon the marble, at Art’s thunderheat,

Till haply (some pre-shadow rising slow

Of what his Italy would fancy meet

To be called Brutus) straight his plastic hand

Fell back before his prophet-soul, and left

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A fragment, a maimed Brutus,—but more grand

Than this, so named at Rome, was!

Let thy weft

Present one woof and warp, Mazzini! Stand

With no man hankering for a dagger’s heft,

No, not for Italy!—nor stand apart,

No, not for the Republic!—from those pure

Brave men who hold the level of thy heart

In patriot truth, as lover and as doer,

Albeit they will not follow where thou art

As extreme theorist. Trust and distrust fewer;

And so bind strong and keep unstained the cause

Which (God’s sign granted) war-trumps newly blown

Shall yet annunciate to the world’s applause.

But now, the world is busy; it has grown

A Fair-going world. Imperial England draws

The flowing ends of the earth from Fez, Canton,

Delhi and Stockholm, Athens and Madrid,

The Russias and the vast Americas,

As if a queen drew in her robes amid

Her golden cincture,—isles, peninsulas,

Capes, continents, far inland countries hid

By jasper-sands and hills of chrysopras,

All trailing in their splendours through the door

Of the gorgeous Crystal Palace. Every nation,

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To every other nation strange of yore,

Gives face to face the civic salutation,

And holds up in a proud right hand before

That congress the best work which she can fashion

By her best means. “These corals, will you please

To match against your oaks? They grow as fast

Within my wilderness of purple seas.”—

“This diamond stared upon me as I passed

(As a live god’s eye from a marble frieze)

Along a dark of diamonds. Is it classed?”—

“I wove these stuffs so subtly that the gold

Swims to the surface of the silk like cream

And curdles to fair patterns. Ye behold!”—

“These delicatest muslins rather seem

Than be, you think? Nay, touch them and be bold,

Though such veiled Chakhi’s face in Hafiz’ dream.”—

“These carpets—you walk slow on them like kings,

Inaudible like spirits, while your foot

Dips deep in velvet roses and such things.”—

“Even Apollonius might commend this flute:[13]

The music, winding through the stops, upsprings

To make the player very rich: compute!”

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“Here’s goblet-glass, to take in with your wine

The very sun its grapes were ripened under:

Drink light and juice together, and each fine.”—

“This model of a steamship moves your wonder?

You should behold it crushing down the brine

Like a blind Jove who feels his way with thunder.”—

“Here’s sculpture! Ah, we live too! why not throw

Our life into our marbles? Art has place

For other artists after Angelo.”—

“I tried to paint out here a natural face;

For nature includes Raffael, as we know,

Not Raffael nature. Will it help my case?”—

“Methinks you will not match this steel of ours!”—

“Nor you this porcelain! One might dream the clay

Retained in it the larvæ of the flowers,

They bud so, round the cup, the old Spring-way.”—

“Nor you these carven woods, where birds in bowers

With twisting snakes and climbing cupids, play.”

O Magi of the east and of the west,

Your incense, gold and myrrh are excellent!—

What gifts for Christ, then, bring ye with the rest?

Your hands have worked well: is your courage spent

In handwork only? Have you nothing best,

Which generous souls may perfect and present,

And He shall thank the givers for? no light

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Of teaching, liberal nations, for the poor

Who sit in darkness when it is not night?

No cure for wicked children? Christ,—no cure!

No help for women sobbing out of sight

Because men made the laws? no brothel-lure

Burnt out by popular lightnings? Hast thou four

No remedy, my England, for such woes?

No outlet, Austria, for the scourged and bound,

No entrance for the exiled? no repose,

Russia, for knouted Poles worked underground,

And gentle ladies bleached among the snows?

No mercy for the slave, America?

No hope for Rome, free France, chivalric France?

Alas, great nations have great shames, I say.

No pity, O world, no tender utterance

Of benediction, and prayers stretched this way

For poor Italia, baffled by mischance?

O gracious nations, give some ear to me!

You all go to your Fair, and I am one

Who at the roadside of humanity

Beseech your alms,—God’s justice to be done.

So, prosper!

In the name of Italy,

Meantime, her patriot Dead have benison.

They only have done well; and, what they did

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Being perfect, it shall triumph. Let them slumber:

No king of Egypt in a pyramid

Is safer from oblivion, though he number

Full seventy cerements for a coverlid.

These Dead be seeds of life, and shall encumber

The sad heart of the land until it loose

The clammy clods and let out the Spring-growth

In beatific green through every bruise.

The tyrant should take heed to what he doth,

Since every victim-carrion turns to use,

And drives a chariot, like a god made wroth,

Against each piled injustice. Ay, the least,

Dead for Italia, not in vain has died;

Though many vainly, ere life’s struggle ceased,

To mad dissimilar ends have swerved aside;

Each grave her nationality has pieced

By its own majestic breadth, and fortified

And pinned it deeper to the soil. Forlorn

Of thanks be, therefore, no one of these graves!

Not Hers,—who, at her husband’s side, in scorn,

Outfaced the whistling shot and hissing waves,

Until she felt her little babe unborn

Recoil, within her, from the violent staves

And bloodhounds of the world,—at which, her life

Dropt inwards from her eyes and followed it

Beyond the hunters. Garibaldi’s wife

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And child died so. And now, the seaweeds fit

Her body, like a proper shroud and coif,

And murmurously the ebbing waters grit

The little pebbles while she lies interred

In the sea-sand. Perhaps, ere dying thus,

She looked up in his face (which never stirred

From its clenched anguish) as to make excuse

For leaving him for his, if so she erred.

He well remembers that she could not choose.

A memorable grave! Another is

At Genoa. There, a king may fitly lie,

Who, bursting that heroic heart of his

At lost Novara, that he could not die

(Though thrice into the cannon’s eyes for this

He plunged his shuddering steed, and felt the sky

Reel back between the fire-shocks), stripped away

The ancestral ermine ere the smoke had cleared,

And, naked to the soul, that none might say

His kingship covered what was base and bleared

With treason, went out straight an exile, yea,

An exiled patriot. Let him be revered.

Yea, verily, Charles Albert has died well;

And if he lived not all so, as one spoke,

The sin pass softly with the passing-bell;

For he was shriven, I think, in cannon-smoke,

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And, taking off his crown, made visible

A hero’s forehead. Shaking Austria’s yoke

He shattered his own hand and heart. “So best,”

His last words were upon his lonely bed,

I do not end like popes and dukes at least—

“Thank God for it.” And now that he is dead,

Admitting it is proved and manifest

That he was worthy, with a discrowned head,

To measure heights with patriots, let them stand

Beside the man in his Oporto shroud,

And each vouchsafe to take him by the hand,

And kiss him on the cheek, and say aloud,—

“Thou, too, hast suffered for our native land!

My brother, thou art one of us! be proud.”

Still, graves, when Italy is talked upon.

Still, still, the patriot’s tomb, the stranger’s hate.

Still Niobe! still fainting in the sun,

By whose most dazzling arrows violate

Her beauteous offspring perished! has she won

Nothing but garlands for the graves, from Fate?

Nothing but death-songs?—Yes, be it understood

Life throbs in noble Piedmont! while the feet

Of Rome’s clay image, dabbled soft in blood,

Grow flat with dissolution and, as meet,

Will soon be shovelled off like other mud,

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To leave the passage free in church and street.

And I, who first took hope up in this song,

Because a child was singing one ... behold,

The hope and omen were not, haply, wrong!

Poets are soothsayers still, like those of old

Who studied flights of doves; and creatures young

And tender, mighty meanings may unfold.

The sun strikes, through the windows, up the floor;

Stand out in it, my own young Florentine,

Not two years old, and let me see thee more!

It grows along thy amber curls, to shine

Brighter than elsewhere. Now, look straight before,

And fix thy brave blue English eyes on mine,

And from my soul, which fronts the future so,

With unabashed and unabated gaze,

Teach me to hope for, what the angels know

When they smile clear as thou dost. Down God’s ways

With just alighted feet, between the snow

And snowdrops, where a little lamb may graze,

Thou hast no fear, my lamb, about the road,

Albeit in our vain-glory we assume

That, less than we have, thou hast learnt of God.

Stand out, my blue-eyed prophet!—thou, to whom

The earliest world-day light that ever flowed,

Through Casa Guidi Windows chanced to come!

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Now shake the glittering nimbus of thy hair,

And be God’s witness that the elemental

New springs of life are gushing everywhere

To cleanse the watercourses, and prevent all

Concrete obstructions which infest the air!

That earth’s alive, and gentle or ungentle

Motions within her, signify but growth!—

The ground swells greenest o’er the labouring moles.

Howe’er the uneasy world is vexed and wroth,

Young children, lifted high on parent souls,

Look round them with a smile upon the mouth,

And take for music every bell that tolls;

(Who said we should be better if like these?)

But we sit murmuring for the future though

Posterity is smiling on our knees,

Convicting us of folly. Let us go—

We will trust God. The blank interstices

Men take for ruins, He will build into

With pillared marbles rare, or knit across

With generous arches, till the fane’s complete.

This world has no perdition, if some loss.

Such cheer I gather from thy smiling, Sweet!

The self-same cherub-faces which emboss

The Vail, lean inward to the Mercy-seat.


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POEMS
BEFORE CONGRESS

169

PREFACE.

These poems were written under the pressure of the events they indicate, after a residence in Italy of so many years that the present triumph of great principles is heightened to the writer’s feelings by the disastrous issue of the last movement, witnessed from “Casa Guidi Windows” in 1849. Yet, if the verses should appear to English readers too pungently rendered to admit of a patriotic respect to the English sense of things, I will not excuse myself on such grounds, nor on the ground of my attachment to the Italian people and my admiration of their heroic constancy and union. What I have written has simply been written because I love truth and justice quand même,—“more than Plato” and Plato’s country, more than Dante and Dante’s country, more even than Shakespeare and Shakespeare’s country.

And if patriotism means the flattery of one’s nation in every case, then the patriot, take it as you please, is merely the courtier which I am not, though I have written “Napoleon III. in Italy.” It is time to limit the significance of certain terms, or to enlarge the significance of certain things. Nationality is excellent in its place; and the instinct of self-love is the root of a man, which will develop into sacrificial virtues. But all the virtues are means and uses; and, if we hinder their tendency to growth and expansion, we both destroy them as virtues, and degrade them to that rankest species of corruption reserved for the most noble organizations. For instance,—non-intervention in the affairs of neighbouring states is a high political virtue; but non-intervention 170 does not mean, passing by on the other side when your neighbour falls among thieves,—or Phariseeism would recover it from Christianity. Freedom itself is virtue, as well as privilege; but freedom of the seas does not mean piracy, nor freedom of the land, brigandage; nor freedom of the senate, freedom to cudgel a dissident member; nor freedom of the press, freedom to calumniate and lie. So, if patriotism be a virtue indeed, it cannot mean an exclusive devotion to our country’s interests,—for that is only another form of devotion to personal interests, family interests, or provincial interests, all of which, if not driven past themselves, are vulgar and immoral objects. Let us put away the Little Peddlingtonism unworthy of a great nation, and too prevalent among us. If the man who does not look beyond this natural life is of a somewhat narrow order, what must be the man who does not look beyond his own frontier or his own sea?

I confess that I dream of the day when an English statesman shall arise with a heart too large for England; having courage in the face of his countrymen to assert of some suggested policy,—“This is good for your trade; this is necessary for your domination: but it will vex a people hard by; it will hurt a people farther off; it will profit nothing to the general humanity: therefore, away with it!—it is not for you or for me.” When a British minister dares speak so, and when a British public applauds him speaking, then shall the nation be glorious, and her praise, instead of exploding from within, from loud civic mouths, come to her from without, as all worthy praise must, from the alliances she has fostered and the populations she has saved.

And poets who write of the events of that time shall not need to justify themselves in prefaces for ever so little jarring of the national sentiment imputable to their rhymes.

Rome: February 1860.


171

NAPOLEON III. IN ITALY.

I.

Emperor, Emperor!

From the centre to the shore,

From the Seine back to the Rhine,

Stood eight millions up and swore

By their manhood’s right divine

So to elect and legislate,

This man should renew the line

Broken in a strain of fate

And leagued kings at Waterloo,

When the people’s hands let go.

Emperor

Evermore.

II.

With a universal shout

They took the old regalia out

From an open grave that day;

From a grave that would not close,

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Where the first Napoleon lay

Expectant, in repose,

As still as Merlin, with his conquering face

Turned up in its unquenchable appeal

To men and heroes of the advancing race,—

Prepared to set the seal

Of what has been on what shall be.

Emperor

Evermore.

III.

The thinkers stood aside

To let the nation act.

Some hated the new-constituted fact

Of empire, as pride treading on their pride.

Some quailed, lest what was poisonous in the past

Should graft itself in that Druidic bough

On this green Now.

Some cursed, because at last

The open heavens to which they had looked in vain

For many a golden fall of marvellous rain

Were closed in brass; and some

Wept on because a gone thing could not come;

And some were silent, doubting all things for

That popular conviction,—evermore

Emperor.

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IV.

That day I did not hate

Nor doubt, nor quail nor curse.

I, reverencing the people, did not bate

My reverence of their deed and oracle,

Nor vainly prate

Of better and of worse

Against the great conclusion of their will.

And yet, O voice and verse,

Which God set in me to acclaim and sing

Conviction, exaltation, aspiration,

We gave no music to the patent thing,

Nor spared a holy rhythm to throb and swim

About the name of him

Translated to the sphere of domination

By democratic passion!

I was not used, at least,

Nor can be, now or then,

To stroke the ermine beast

On any kind of throne

(Though builded by a nation for its own),

And swell the surging choir for kings of men—

“Emperor

Evermore.”

174

V.

But now, Napoleon, now

That, leaving far behind the purple throng

Of vulgar monarchs, thou

Tread’st higher in thy deed

Than stair of throne can lead,

To help in the hour of wrong

The broken hearts of nations to be strong,—

Now, lifted as thou art

To the level of pure song,

We stand to meet thee on these Alpine snows!

And while the palpitating peaks break out

Ecstatic from somnambular repose

With answers to the presence and the shout,

We, poets of the people, who take part

With elemental justice, natural right,

Join in our echoes also, nor refrain.

We meet thee, O Napoleon, at this height

At last, and find thee great enough to praise.

Receive the poet’s chrism, which smells beyond

The priest’s, and pass thy ways;—

An English poet warns thee to maintain

God’s word, not England’s:—let His truth be true

And all men liars! with His truth respond

To all men’s lie. Exalt the sword and smite

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On that long anvil of the Apennine

Where Austria forged the Italian chain in view

Of seven consenting nations, sparks of fine Admonitory light,

Till men’s eyes wink before convictions new.

Flash in God’s justice to the world’s amaze,

Sublime Deliverer!—after many days

Found worthy of the deed thou art come to do—

Emperor.

Evermore.

VI.

But Italy, my Italy,

Can it last, this gleam?

Can she live and be strong,

Or is it another dream

Like the rest we have dreamed so long?

And shall it, must it be,

That after the battle-cloud has broken

She will die off again

Like the rain,

Or like a poet’s song

Sung of her, sad at the end

Because her name is Italy,—

Die and count no friend?

Is it true,—may it be spoken,—

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That she who has lain so still,

With a wound in her breast,

And a flower in her hand,

And a grave-stone under her head,

While every nation at will

Beside her has dared to stand,

And flout her with pity and scorn,

Saying “She is at rest,

She is fair, she is dead,

And, leaving room in her stead

To Us who are later born,

This is certainly best!”

Saying “Alas, she is fair,

Very fair, but dead,—give place,

And so we have room for the race.”

—Can it be true, be true,

That she lives anew?

That she rises up at the shout of her sons,

At the trumpet of France,

And lives anew?—is it true

That she has not moved in a trance,

As in Forty-eight?

When her eyes were troubled with blood

Till she knew not friend from foe,

Till her hand was caught in a strait

Of her cerement and baffled so

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From doing the deed she would;

And her weak foot stumbled across

The grave of a king,

And down she dropt at heavy loss,

And we gloomily covered her face and said,

“We have dreamed the thing;

She is not alive, but dead.”

VII.

Now, shall we say

Our Italy lives indeed?

And if it were not for the beat and bray

Of drum and trump of martial men,

Should we feel the underground heave and strain,

Where heroes left their dust as a seed

Sure to emerge one day?

And if it were not for the rhythmic march

Of France and Piedmont’s double hosts,

Should we hear the ghosts

Thrill through ruined aisle and arch,

Throb along the frescoed wall,

Whisper an oath by that divine

They left in picture, book, and stone,

That Italy is not dead at all?

Ay, if it were not for the tears in our eyes,

178

These tears of a sudden passionate joy,

Should we see her arise

From the place where the wicked are overthrown,

Italy, Italy—loosed at length

From the tyrant’s thrall,

Pale and calm in her strength?

Pale as the silver cross of Savoy

When the hand that bears the flag is brave,

And not a breath is stirring, save

What is blown

Over the war-trump’s lip of brass,

Ere Garibaldi forces the pass!

VIII.

Ay, it is so, even so.

Ay, and it shall be so.

Each broken stone that long ago

She flung behind her as she went

In discouragement and bewilderment

Through the cairns of Time, and missed her way

Between to-day and yesterday,

Up springs a living man.

And each man stands with his face in the light

Of his own drawn sword,

Ready to do what a hero can.

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Wall to sap, or river to ford,

Cannon to front, or foe to pursue,

Still ready to do, and sworn to be true,

As a man and a patriot can.

Piedmontese, Neapolitan,

Lombard, Tuscan, Romagnole,

Each man’s body having a soul,—

Count how many they stand,

All of them sons of the land,

Every live man there

Allied to a dead man below,

And the deadest with blood to spare

To quicken a living hand

In case it should ever be slow.

Count how many they come

To the beat of Piedmont’s drum,

With faces keener and grayer

Than swords of the Austrian slayer,

All set against the foe.

“Emperor

Evermore.”

IX.

Out of the dust where they ground them;

Out of the holes where they dogged them;

Out of the hulks where they wound them

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In iron, tortured and flogged them;

Out of the streets where they chased them,

Taxed them, and then bayonetted them;

Out of the homes where they spied on them

(Using their daughters and wives);

Out of the church where they fretted them,

Rotted their souls and debased them,

Trained them to answer with knives,

Then cursed them all at their prayers!—

Out of cold lands, not theirs,

Where they exiled them, starved them, lied on them;

Back they come like a wind, in vain

Cramped up in the hills, that roars its road

The stronger into the open plain,

Or like a fire that burns the hotter

And longer for the crust of cinder,

Serving better the ends of the potter;

Or like a restrainèd word of God,

Fulfilling itself by what seems to hinder.

“Emperor

Evermore.”

X.

Shout for France and Savoy!

Shout for the helper and doer.

Shout for the good sword’s ring,

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Shout for the thought still truer.

Shout for the spirits at large

Who passed for the dead this spring,

Whose living glory is sure.

Shout for France and Savoy!

Shout for the council and charge!

Shout for the head of Cavour;

And shout for the heart of a King

That’s great with a nation’s joy!

Shout for France and Savoy!

XI.

Take up the child, Macmahon, though

Thy hand be red

From Magenta’s dead,

And riding on, in front of the troop,

In the dust of the whirlwind of war

Through the gate of the city of Milan, stoop

And take up the child to thy saddle-bow,

Nor fear the touch as soft as a flower of his smile as clear as a star!

Thou hast a right to the child, we say,

Since the women are weeping for joy as they

Who, by thy help and from this day,

Shall be happy mothers indeed.

182

They are raining flowers from terrace and roof:

Take up the flower in the child.

While the shout goes up of a nation freed

And heroically self-reconciled,

Till the snow on that peaked Alp aloof

Starts, as feeling God’s finger anew,

And all those cold white marble fires

Of mounting saints on the Duomo-spires

Flicker against the Blue.

“Emperor

Evermore.”

XII.

Ay, it is He,

Who rides at the King’s right hand!

Leave room to his horse and draw to the side,

Nor press too near in the ecstasy

Of a newly delivered impassioned land:

He is moved, you see,

He who has done it all.

They call it a cold stern face;

But this is Italy

Who rises up to her place!—

For this he fought in his youth,

Of this he dreamed in the past;

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The lines of the resolute mouth

Tremble a little at last.

Cry, he has done it all!

“Emperor

Evermore.”

XIII.

It is not strange that he did it,

Though the deed may seem to strain

To the wonderful, unpermitted,

For such as lead and reign.

But he is strange, this man:

The people’s instinct found him

(A wind in the dark that ran

Through a chink where was no door),

And elected him and crowned him

Emperor

Evermore.

XIV.

Autocrat? let them scoff,

Who fail to comprehend

That a ruler incarnate of

The people must transcend

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All common king-born kings;

These subterranean springs

A sudden outlet winning

Have special virtues to spend.

The people’s blood runs through him,

Dilates from head to foot,

Creates him absolute,

And from this great beginning

Evokes a greater end

To justify and renew him—

Emperor

Evermore.

XV.

What! did any maintain

That God or the people (think!)

Could make a marvel in vain?—

Out of the water-jar there,

Draw wine that none could drink?

Is this a man like the rest,

This miracle, made unaware

By a rapture of popular air,

And caught to the place that was best?

You think he could barter and cheat

As vulgar diplomates use,

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With the people’s heart in his breast?

Prate a lie into shape

Lest truth should cumber the road;

Play at the fast and loose

Till the world is strangled with tape;

Maim the soul’s complete

To fit the hole of a toad;

And filch the dogman’s meat

To feed the offspring of God?

XVI.

Nay, but he, this wonder,

He cannot palter nor prate,

Though many around him and under,

With intellects trained to the curve,

Distrust him in spirit and nerve

Because his meaning is straight.

Measure him ere he depart

With those who have governed and led;

Larger so much by the heart,

Larger so much by the head.

Emperor

Evermore.

186

XVII.

He holds that, consenting or dissident,

Nations must move with the time;

Assumes that crime with a precedent

Doubles the guilt of the crime;

—Denies that a slaver’s bond,

Or a treaty signed by knaves

(Quorum magna pars, and beyond

Was one of an honest name),

Gives an inexpugnable claim

To abolish men into slaves.

Emperor

Evermore.

XVIII.

He will not swagger nor boast

Of his country’s meeds, in a tone

Missuiting a great man most

If such should speak of his own;

Nor will he act, on her side,

From motives baser, indeed,

Than a man of a noble pride

Can avow for himself at need;

187

Never, for lucre or laurels,

Or custom, though such should be rife,

Adapting the smaller morals

To measure the larger life.

He, though the merchants persuade,

And the soldiers are eager for strife,

Finds not his country in quarrels

Only to find her in trade,—

While still he accords her such honour

As never to flinch for her sake

Where men put service upon her,

Found heavy to undertake

And scarcely like to be paid:

Believing a nation may act

Unselfishly—shiver a lance

(As the least of her sons may, in fact)

And not for a cause of finance.

Emperor

Evermore.

XIX.

Great is he

Who uses his greatness for all.

His name shall stand perpetually

As a name to applaud and cherish,

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Not only within the civic wall

For the loyal, but also without

For the generous and free.

Just is he,

Who is just for the popular due

As well as the private debt.

The praise of nations ready to perish

Fall on him,—crown him in view

Of tyrants caught in the net,

And statesmen dizzy with fear and doubt!

And though, because they are many,

And he is merely one,

And nations selfish and cruel

Heap up the inquisitor’s fuel

To kill the body of high intents,

And burn great deeds from their place,

Till this, the greatest of any,

May seem imperfectly done;

Courage, whoever circumvents!

Courage, courage, whoever is base!

The soul of a high intent, be it known,

Can die no more than any soul

Which God keeps by Him under the throne;

And this, at whatever interim,

Shall live, and be consummated

Into the being of deeds made whole.

189

Courage, courage! happy is he,

Of whom (himself among the dead

And silent) this word shall be said:

—That he might have had the world with him,

But chose to side with suffering men,

And had the world against him when

He came to deliver Italy.

Emperor

Evermore.


190

THE DANCE.

I.

You remember down at Florence our Cascine,

Where the people on the feast-days walk and drive,

And, through the trees, long-drawn in many a green way,

O’er-roofing hum and murmur like a hive,

The river and the mountains look alive?

II.

You remember the piazzone there, the stand-place

Of carriages a-brim with Florence Beauties,

Who lean and melt to music as the band plays,

Or smile and chat with someone who a-foot is,

Or on horseback, in observance of male duties?

191

III.

’T is so pretty, in the afternoons of summer,

So many gracious faces brought together!

Call it rout, or call it concert, they have come here,

In the floating of the fan and of the feather,

To reciprocate with beauty the fine weather.

IV.

While the flower-girls offer nosegays (because they too

Go with other sweets) at every carriage-door;

Here, by shake of a white finger, signed away to

Some next buyer, who sits buying score on score,

Piling roses upon roses evermore.

V.

And last season, when the French camp had its station

In the meadow-ground, things quickened and grew gayer

Through the mingling of the liberating nation

With this people; groups of Frenchmen everywhere,

Strolling, gazing, judging lightly—“who was fair.”

192

VI.

Then the noblest lady present took upon her

To speak nobly from her carriage for the rest:

“Pray these officers from France to do us honour

By dancing with us straightway.” The request

Was gravely apprehended as addressed.

VII.

And the men of France, bareheaded, bowing lowly,

Led out each a proud signora to the space

Which the startled crowd had rounded for them—slowly,

Just a touch of still emotion in his face,

Not presuming, through the symbol, on the grace.

VIII.

There was silence in the people: some lips trembled,

But none jested. Broke the music, at a glance:

And the daughters of our princes, thus assembled,

Stepped the measure with the gallant sons of France,

Hush! it might have been a Mass, and not a dance.

193

IX.

And they danced there till the blue that overskied us

Swooned with passion, though the footing seemed sedate;

And the mountains, heaving mighty hearts beside us,

Sighed a rapture in a shadow, to dilate,

And touch the holy stone where Dante sate.

X.

Then the sons of France, bareheaded, lowly bowing,

Led the ladies back where kinsmen of the south

Stood, received them; till, with burst of overflowing

Feeling—husbands, brothers, Florence’s male youth,

Turned, and kissed the martial strangers mouth to mouth.

XI.

And a cry went up, a cry from all that people!

—You have heard a people cheering, you suppose,

For the Member, mayor ... with chorus from the steeple?

This was different: scarce as loud, perhaps (who knows?),

For we saw wet eyes around us ere the close.

194

XII.

And we felt as if a nation, too long borne in

By hard wrongers,—comprehending in such attitude

That God had spoken somewhere since the morning,

That men were somehow brothers, by no platitude,—

Cried exultant in great wonder and free gratitude.


195

A TALE OF VILLAFRANCA.

TOLD IN TUSCANY.

I.

My little son, my Florentine,

Sit down beside my knee,

And I will tell you why the sign

Of joy which flushed our Italy

Has faded since but yesternight;

And why your Florence of delight

Is mourning as you see.

II.

A great man (who was crowned one day)

Imagined a great Deed:

He shaped it out of cloud and clay,

He touched it finely till the seed

Possessed the flower: from heart and brain

He fed it with large thoughts humane,

To help a people’s need.

196

III.

He brought it out into the sun—

They blessed it to his face:

“O great pure Deed, that hast undone

So many bad and base!

O generous Deed, heroic Deed,

Come forth, be perfected, succeed,

Deliver by God’s grace.”

IV.

Then sovereigns, statesmen, north and south,

Rose up in wrath and fear,

And cried, protesting by one mouth,

“What monster have we here?

A great Deed at this hour of day?

A great just Deed—and not for pay?

Absurd,—or insincere.”

V.

“And if sincere, the heavier blow

In that case we shall bear,

For where’s our blessed ‘status quo,’

Our holy treaties, where,—

Our rights to sell a race, or buy,

Protect and pillage, occupy,

And civilize despair?”

197

VI.

Some muttered that the great Deed meant

A great pretext to sin;

And others, the pretext, so lent,

Was heinous (to begin).

Volcanic terms of “great” and “just”?

Admit such tongues of flame, the crust

Of time and law falls in.

VII.

A great Deed in this world of ours?

Unheard of the pretence is:

It threatens plainly the great Powers;

Is fatal in all senses.

A just Deed in the world?—call out

The rifles! be not slack about

The national defences.

VIII.

And many murmured, “From this source

What red blood must be poured!”

And some rejoined, “’T is even worse;

What red tape is ignored!”

All cursed the Doer for an evil

Called here, enlarging on the Devil,—

There, monkeying the Lord!

198

IX.

Some said it could not be explained,

Some, could not be excused;

And others, “Leave it unrestrained,

Gehenna’s self is loosed.”

And all cried “Crush it, maim it, gag it!

Set dog-toothed lies to tear it ragged,

Truncated and traduced!”

X.

But He stood sad before the sun

(The peoples felt their fate).

“The world is many,—I am one;

My great Deed was too great.

God’s fruit of justice ripens slow:

Men’s souls are narrow; let them grow.

My brothers, we must wait.”

XI.

The tale is ended, child of mine,

Turned graver at my knee.

They say your eyes, my Florentine,

Are English: it may be.

And yet I’ve marked as blue a pair

Following the doves across the square

At Venice by the sea.

199

XII.

Ah child! ah child! I cannot say

A word more. You conceive

The reason now, why just to-day

We see our Florence grieve.

Ah child, look up into the sky!

In this low world, where great Deeds die,

What matter if we live?


200

A COURT LADY.

I.

Her hair was tawny with gold, her eyes with purple were dark,

Her cheeks’ pale opal burnt with a red and restless spark.

II.

Never was lady of Milan nobler in name and in race;

Never was lady of Italy fairer to see in the face.

III.

Never was lady on earth more true as woman and wife,

Larger in judgment and instinct, prouder in manners and life.

201

IV.

She stood in the early morning, and said to her maidens “Bring

That silken robe made ready to wear at the Court of the King.

V.

“Bring me the clasps of diamond, lucid, clear of the mote,

Clasp me the large at the waist, and clasp me the small at the throat.

VI.

“Diamonds to fasten the hair, and diamonds to fasten the sleeves,

Laces to drop from their rays, like a powder of snow from the eaves.”

VII.

Gorgeous she entered the sunlight which gathered her up in a flame,

While, straight in her open carriage, she to the hospital came.

202

VIII.

In she went at the door, and gazing from end to end,

“Many and low are the pallets, but each is the place of a friend.”

IX.

Up she passed through the wards, and stood at a young man’s bed:

Bloody the band on his brow, and livid the droop of his head.

X.

“Art thou a Lombard, my brother? Happy art thou,” she cried,

And smiled like Italy on him: he dreamed in her face and died.

XI.

Pale with his passing soul, she went on still to a second:

He was a grave hard man, whose years by dungeons were reckoned.

203

XII.

Wounds in his body were sore, wounds in his life were sorer.

“Art thou a Romagnole?” Her eyes drove lightnings before her.

XIII.

“Austrian and priest had joined to double and tighten the cord

Able to bind thee, O strong one,—free by the stroke of a sword.

XIV.

“Now be grave for the rest of us, using the life overcast

To ripen our wine of the present (too new) in glooms of the past.”

XV.

Down she stepped to a pallet where lay a face like a girl’s,

Young, and pathetic with dying,—a deep black hole in the curls.

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XVI.

“Art thou from Tuscany, brother? and seest thou, dreaming in pain,

Thy mother stand in the piazza, searching the List of the slain?”

XVII.

Kind as a mother herself, she touched his cheeks with her hands:

“Blessed is she who has borne thee, although she should weep as she stands.”

XVIII.

On she passed to a Frenchman, his arm carried off by a ball:

Kneeling,—“O more than my brother! how shall I thank thee for all?

XIX.

“Each of the heroes around us has fought for his land and line,

But thou hast fought for a stranger, in hate of a wrong not thine.

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XX.

“Happy are all free peoples, too strong to be dispossessed.

But blessed are those among nations who dare to be strong for the rest!”

XXI.

Ever she passed on her way, and came to a couch where pined

One with a face from Venetia, white with a hope out of mind.

XXII.

Long she stood and gazed, and twice she tried at the name,

But two great crystal tears were all that faltered and came.

XXIII.

Only a tear for Venice?—she turned as in passion and loss,

And stooped to his forehead and kissed it, as if she were kissing the cross.

206

XXIV.

Faint with that strain of heart she moved on then to another,

Stern and strong in his death. “And dost thou suffer, my brother?”

XXV.

Holding his hands in hers:—“Out of the Piedmont lion

Cometh the sweetness of freedom! sweetest to live or to die on.”

XXVI.

Holding his cold rough hands,—“Well, oh well have ye done

In noble, noble Piedmont, who would not be noble alone.”

XXVII.

Back he fell while she spoke. She rose to her feet with a spring,—

“That was a Piedmontese! and this is the Court of the King.”


207

AN AUGUST VOICE.

“Una voce augusta.”—Monitore Toscano.

I.

You’ll take back your Grand-duke?

I made the treaty upon it.

Just venture a quiet rebuke;

Dall’ Ongaro write him a sonnet;

Ricasoli gently explain

Some need of the constitution:

He’ll swear to it over again,

Providing an “easy solution.”

You’ll call back the Grand-duke.

II.

You’ll take back your Grand-duke?

I promised the Emperor Francis

To argue the case by his book,

And ask you to meet his advances.

208

The Ducal cause, we know

(Whether you or he be the wronger),

Has very strong points;—although

Your bayonets, there, have stronger.

You’ll call back the Grand-duke.

You’ll take back your Grand-duke?

He is not pure altogether.

For instance, the oath which he took

(In the Forty-eight rough weather)

He’d “nail your flag to his mast,”

Then softly scuttled the boat you

Hoped to escape in at last,

And both by a “Proprio motu.”

You’ll call back the Grand-duke.

IV.

You’ll take back your Grand-duke?

The scheme meets nothing to shock it

In this smart letter, look,

We found in Radetsky’s pocket;

Where his Highness in sprightly style

Of the flower of his Tuscans wrote,

209

“These heads be the hottest in file;

Pray shoot them the quickest.” Quote,

And call back the Grand-duke.

V.

You’ll take back your Grand-duke?

There are some things to object to.

He cheated, betrayed, and forsook,

Then called in the foe to protect you.

He taxed you for wines and for meats

Throughout that eight years’ pastime

Of Austria’s drum in your streets—

Of course you remember the last time

You called back your Grand-duke?

VI.

You’ll take back the Grand-duke?

It is not race he is poor in,

Although he never could brook

The patriot cousin at Turin.

His love of kin you discern,

By his hate of your flag and me—

So decidedly apt to turn

All colours at the sight of the Three.[14]

You’ll call back the Grand-duke.

210

VII.

You’ll take back your Grand-duke?

’T was weak that he fled from the Pitti;

But consider how little he shook

At thought of bombarding your city!

And, balancing that with this,

The Christian rule is plain for us;

... Or the Holy Father’s Swiss

Have shot his Perugians in vain for us.

You’ll call back the Grand-duke.

VIII.

Pray take back your Grand-duke.

—I, too, have suffered persuasion.

All Europe, raven and rook,

Screeched at me armed for your nation.

Your cause in my heart struck spurs;

I swept such warnings aside for you:

My very child’s eyes, and Hers,

Grew like my brother’s who died for you.

You’ll call back the Grand-duke?

IX.

You’ll take back your Grand-duke?

My French fought nobly with reason,—

211

Left many a Lombardy nook

Red as with wine out of season.

Little we grudged what was done there,

Paid freely your ransom of blood:

Our heroes stark in the sun there

We would not recall if we could.

You’ll call back the Grand-duke?

X.

You’ll take back your Grand-duke?

His son rode fast as he got off

That day on the enemy’s hook,

When I had an epaulette shot off.

Though splashed (as I saw him afar—no

Near) by those ghastly rains,

The mark, when you’ve washed him in Arno,

Will scarcely be larger than Cain’s.

You’ll call back the Grand-duke?

XI.

You’ll take back your Grand-duke?

’T will be so simple, quite beautiful:

The shepherd recovers his crook,

... If you should be sheep, and dutiful.

212

I spoke a word worth chalking

On Milan’s wall—but stay,

Here’s Poniatowsky talking,—

You’ll listen to him to-day,

And call back the Grand-duke.

XII.

You’ll take back your Grand-duke?

Observe, there’s no one to force it,—

Unless the Madonna, Saint Luke

Drew for you, choose to endorse it.

I charge you, by great Saint Martino

And prodigies quickened by wrong,

Remember your Dead on Ticino;

Be worthy, be constant, be strong—

Bah!—call back the Grand-duke!!


213

CHRISTMAS GIFTS.

ὡς βασιλεῖ, ὡς θεῷ, ὡς νεκρῷ.       

Gregory Nazianzen.

I.

The Pope on Christmas Day

Sits in Saint Peter’s chair;

But the peoples murmur and say

“Our souls are sick and forlorn,

And who will show us where

Is the stable where Christ was born?”

II.

The star is lost in the dark;

The manger is lost in the straw;

The Christ cries faintly ... hark!...

Through bands that swaddle and strangle—

But the Pope in the chair of awe

Looks down the great quadrangle.

214

III.

The Magi kneel at his foot,

Kings of the East and West,

But, instead of the angels (mute

Is the “Peace on earth” of their song),

The peoples, perplexed and opprest,

Are sighing “How long, how long?”

IV.

And, instead of the kine, bewilder in

Shadow of aisle and dome,

The bear who tore up the children,

The fox who burnt up the corn,

And the wolf who suckled at Rome

Brothers to slay and to scorn.

V.

Cardinals left and right of him,

Worshippers round and beneath,

The silver trumpets at sight of him

Thrill with a musical blast:

But the people say through their teeth,

“Trumpets? we wait for the Last!”

215

VI.

He sits in the place of the Lord,

And asks for the gifts of the time;

Gold, for the haft of a sword

To win back Romagna averse,

Incense, to sweeten a crime,

And myrrh, to embitter a curse.

VII.

Then a king of the West said “Good!—

I bring thee the gifts of the time;

Red, for the patriot’s blood,

Green, for the martyr’s crown,

White, for the dew and the rime,

When the morning of God comes down.”

VIII.

—O mystic tricolor bright!

The Pope’s heart quailed like a man’s;

The cardinals froze at the sight,

Bowing their tonsures hoary:

And the eyes in the peacock-fans

Winked at the alien glory.

216

IX.

But the peoples exclaimed in hope,

“Now blessed be he who has brought

These gifts of the time to the Pope,

When our souls were sick and forlorn.

—And here is the star we sought,

To show us where Christ was born!”


217

ITALY AND THE WORLD.

I.

Florence, Bologna, Parma, Modena:

When you named them a year ago,

So many graves reserved by God, in a

Day of Judgment, you seemed to know,

To open and let out the resurrection.

II.

And meantime (you made your reflection

If you were English), was nought to be done

But sorting sables, in predilection

For all those martyrs dead and gone,

Till the new earth and heaven made ready.

218

III.

And if your politics were not heady,

Violent, ... “Good,” you added, “good

In all things! Mourn on sure and steady.

Churchyard thistles are wholesome food

For our European wandering asses.

IV.

“The date of the resurrection passes

Human foreknowledge: men unborn

Will gain by it (even in the lower classes),

But none of these. It is not the morn

Because the cock of France is crowing.

V.

“Cocks crow at midnight, seldom knowing

Starlight from dawn-light! ’t is a mad

Poor creature.” Here you paused, and growing

Scornful,—suddenly, let us add,

The trumpet sounded, the graves were open.

219

VI.

Life and life and life! agrope in

The dusk of death, warm hands, stretched out

For swords, proved more life still to hope in,

Beyond and behind. Arise with a shout,

Nation of Italy, slain and buried!

VII.

Hill to hill and turret to turret

Flashing the tricolor,—newly created

Beautiful Italy, calm, unhurried,

Rise heroic and renovated,

Rise to the final restitution.

VIII.

Rise; prefigure the grand solution

Of earth’s municipal, insular schisms,—

Statesmen draping self-love’s conclusion

In cheap vernacular patriotisms,

Unable to give up Judæa for Jesus.

220

IX.

Bring us the higher example; release us

Into the larger coming time:

And into Christ’s broad garment piece us

Rags of virtue as poor as crime,

National selfishness, civic vaunting.

X.

No more Jew nor Greek then,—taunting

Nor taunted;—no more England nor France!

But one confederate brotherhood planting

One flag only, to mark the advance,

Onward and upward, of all humanity.

XI.

For civilization perfected

Is fully developed Christianity.

“Measure the frontier,” shall it be said,

“Count the ships,” in national vanity?

—Count the nation’s heart-beats sooner.

221

XII.

For, though behind by a cannon or schooner,

That nation still is predominant

Whose pulse beats quickest in zeal to oppugn or

Succour another, in wrong or want,

Passing the frontier in love and abhorrence.

XIII.

Modena, Parma, Bologna, Florence,

Open us out the wider way!

Dwarf in that chapel of old Saint Lawrence

Your Michel Angelo’s giant Day,

With the grandeur of this Day breaking o’er us!

XIV.

Ye who, restrained as an ancient chorus,

Mute while the coryphæus spake,

Hush your separate voices before us,

Sink your separate lives for the sake

Of one sole Italy’s living for ever!

222

XV.

Givers of coat and cloak too,—never

Grudging that purple of yours at the best,

By your heroic will and endeavour

Each sublimely dispossessed,

That all may inherit what each surrenders!

XVI.

Earth shall bless you, O noble emenders

On egotist nations! Ye shall lead

The plough of the world, and sow new splendours

Into the furrow of things for seed,—

Ever the richer for what ye have given.

XVII.

Lead us and teach us, till earth and heaven

Grow larger around us and higher above.

Our sacrament-bread has a bitter leaven;

We bait our traps with the name of love,

Till hate itself has a kinder meaning.

223

XVIII.

Oh, this world: this cheating and screening

Of cheats! this conscience for candle-wicks,

Not beacon-fires! this overweening

Of underhand diplomatical tricks,

Dared for the country while scorned for the counter!

XIX.

Oh, this envy of those who mount here,

And oh, this malice to make them trip!

Rather quenching the fire there, drying the fount here,

To frozen body and thirsty lip,

Than leave to a neighbour their ministration.

XX.

I cry aloud in my poet-passion,

Viewing my England o’er Alp and sea.

I loved her more in her ancient fashion:

She carries her rifles too thick for me

Who spares them so in the cause of a brother.

224

XXI.

Suspicion, panic? end this pother.

The sword, kept sheathless at peace-time, rusts.

None fears for himself while he feels for another:

The brave man either fights or trusts,

And wears no mail in his private chamber.

XXII.

Beautiful Italy! golden amber

Warm with the kisses of lover and traitor!

Thou who hast drawn us on to remember,

Draw us to hope now: let us be greater

By this new future than that old story.

XXIII.

Till truer glory replaces all glory,

As the torch grows blind at the dawn of day;

And the nations, rising up, their sorry

And foolish sins shall put away,

As children their toys when the teacher enters.

225

XXIV.

Till Love’s one centre devour these centres

Of many self-loves; and the patriot’s trick

To better his land by egotist ventures,

Defamed from a virtue, shall make men sick,

As the scalp at the belt of some red hero.

XXV.

For certain virtues have dropped to zero,

Left by the sun on the mountain’s dewy side;

Churchman’s charities, tender as Nero,

Indian suttee, heathen suicide,

Service to rights divine, proved hollow:

XXVI.

And Heptarchy patriotisms must follow.

—National voices, distinct yet dependent,

Ensphering each other, as swallow does swallow,

With circles still widening and ever ascendant,

In multiform life to united progression,—

226

XXVII.

These shall remain. And when, in the session

Of nations, the separate language is heard,

Each shall aspire, in sublime indiscretion,

To help with a thought or exalt with a word

Less her own than her rival’s honour.

XXVIII.

Each Christian nation shall take upon her

The law of the Christian man in vast:

The crown of the getter shall fall to the donor,

And last shall be first while first shall be last,

And to love best shall still be, to reign unsurpassed.


227

A CURSE FOR A NATION.

PROLOGUE.

I heard an angel speak last night,

And he said “Write!

Write a Nation’s curse for me,

And send it over the Western Sea.”

I faltered, taking up the word:

“Not so, my lord!

If curses must be, choose another

To send thy curse against my brother.

“For I am bound by gratitude,

By love and blood,

To brothers of mine across the sea,

Who stretch out kindly hands to me.”

228

“Therefore,” the voice said, “shalt thou write

My curse to-night.

From the summits of love a curse is driven,

As lightning is from the tops of heaven.”

“Not so,” I answered. “Evermore

My heart is sore

For my own land’s sins: for little feet

Of children bleeding along the street:

“For parked-up honours that gainsay

The right of way:

For almsgiving through a door that is

Not open enough for two friends to kiss:

“For love of freedom which abates

Beyond the Straits:

For patriot virtue starved to vice on

Self-praise, self-interest, and suspicion:

“For an oligarchic parliament,

And bribes well-meant.

What curse to another land assign,

When heavy-souled for the sins of mine?”

229

“Therefore,” the voice said, “shalt thou write

My curse to-night.

Because thou hast strength to see and hate

A foul thing done within thy gate.”

“Not so,” I answered once again.

“To curse, choose men.

For I, a woman, have only known

How the heart melts and the tears run down.”

“Therefore,” the voice said, “shalt thou write

My curse to-night.

Some women weep and curse, I say

(And no one marvels), night and day.

“And thou shalt take their part to-night,

Weep and write.

A curse from the depths of womanhood

Is very salt, and bitter, and good.”

So thus I wrote, and mourned indeed,

What all may read.

And thus, as was enjoined on me,

I send it over the Western Sea.


230

THE CURSE.

I.

Because ye have broken your own chain

With the strain

Of brave men climbing a Nation’s height,

Yet thence bear down with brand and thong

On souls of others,—for this wrong

This is the curse. Write.

Because yourselves are standing straight

In the state

Of Freedom’s foremost acolyte,

Yet keep calm footing all the time

On writhing bond-slaves,—for this crime

This is the curse. Write.

Because ye prosper in God’s name,

With a claim

To honour in the old world’s sight,

Yet do the fiend’s work perfectly

In strangling martyrs,—for this lie

This is the curse. Write.

231

II.

Ye shall watch while kings conspire

Round the people’s smouldering fire,

And, warm for your part,

Shall never dare—O shame!

To utter the thought into flame

Which burns at your heart.

This is the curse. Write.

Ye shall watch while nations strive

With the bloodhounds, die or survive,

Drop faint from their jaws,

Or throttle them backward to death;

And only under your breath

Shall favour the cause.

This is the curse. Write.

Ye shall watch while strong men draw

The nets of feudal law

To strangle the weak;

And, counting the sin for a sin,

Your soul shall be sadder within

Than the word ye shall speak.

This is the curse. Write.

232

When good men are praying erect

That Christ may avenge his elect

And deliver the earth,

The prayer in your ears, said low,

Shall sound like the tramp of a foe

That’s driving you forth.

This is the curse. Write.

When wise men give you their praise,

They shall pause in the heat of the phrase,

As if carried too far.

When ye boast your own charters kept true

Ye shall blush; for the thing which ye do

Derides what ye are.

This is the curse. Write.

When fools cast taunts at your gate,

Your scorn ye shall somewhat abate

As ye look o’er the wall;

For your conscience, tradition, and name

Explode with a deadlier blame

Than the worst of them all.

This is the curse. Write.

233

Go, wherever ill deeds shall be done,

Go, plant your flag in the sun

Beside the ill-doers!

And recoil from clenching the curse

Of God’s witnessing Universe

With a curse of yours.

This is the curse. Write.


238

LAST POEMS

239

ADVERTISEMENT.

These Poems are given as they occur on a list drawn up last June. A few had already been printed in periodicals.

There is hardly such direct warrant for publishing the Translations; which were only intended, many years ago, to accompany and explain certain Engravings after ancient Gems, in the projected work of a friend, by whose kindness they are now recovered: but as two of the original series (the “Adonis” of Bion and “Song to the Rose” from Achilles Tatius) have subsequently appeared, it is presumed that the remainder may not improperly follow.

A single recent version is added.

London: February 1862.


240

TO “GRATEFUL FLORENCE,”

TO THE MUNICIPALITY HER REPRESENTATIVE,

AND TO TOMMASEO ITS SPOKESMAN,

MOST GRATEFULLY.


241

LITTLE MATTIE.

I.

Dead! Thirteen a month ago!

Short and narrow her life’s walk;

Lover’s love she could not know

Even by a dream or talk:

Too young to be glad of youth,

Missing honour, labour, rest,

And the warmth of a babe’s mouth

At the blossom of her breast.

Must you pity her for this

And for all the loss it is,

You, her mother, with wet face,

Having had all in your case?

II.

Just so young but yesternight,

Now she is as old as death.

242

Meek, obedient in your sight,

Gentle to a beck or breath

Only on last Monday! Yours,

Answering you like silver bells

Lightly touched! An hour matures:

You can teach her nothing else.

She has seen the mystery hid

Under Egypt’s pyramid:

By those eyelids pale and close

Now she knows what Rhamses knows.

III.

Cross her quiet hands, and smooth

Down her patient locks of silk,

Cold and passive as in truth

You your fingers in spilt milk

Drew along a marble floor;

But her lips you cannot wring

Into saying a word more,

“Yes,” or “No,” or such a thing:

Though you call and beg and wreak

Half your soul out in a shriek,

She will lie there in default

And most innocent revolt.

243

IV.

Ay, and if she spoke, maybe

She would answer, like the Son,

“What is now ’twixt thee and me?”

Dreadful answer! better none.

Yours on Monday, God’s to-day!

Yours, your child, your blood, your heart,

Called ... you called her, did you say,

“Little Mattie” for your part?

Now already it sounds strange,

And you wonder, in this change,

What He calls His angel-creature,

Higher up than you can reach her.

V.

’T was a green and easy world

As she took it; room to play

(Though one’s hair might get uncurled

At the far end of the day).

What she suffered she shook off

In the sunshine; what she sinned

She could pray on high, enough

To keep safe above the wind.

244

If reproved by God or you,

’T was to better her, she knew;

And if crossed, she gathered still

’T was to cross out something ill.

VI.

You, you had the right, you thought,

To survey her with sweet scorn,

Poor gay child, who had not caught

Yet the octave-stretch forlorn

Of your larger wisdom! Nay,

Now your places are changed so,

In that same superior way

She regards you dull and low

As you did herself exempt

From life’s sorrows. Grand contempt

Of the spirits risen awhile,

Who look back with such a smile!

VII.

There’s the sting of’t. That, I think,

Hurts the most a thousandfold!

To feel sudden, at a wink,

Some dear child we used to scold,

245

Praise, love both ways, kiss and tease,

Teach and tumble as our own,

All its curls about our knees,

Rise up suddenly full-grown.

Who could wonder such a sight

Made a woman mad outright?

Show me Michael with the sword

Rather than such angels, Lord!


246

A FALSE STEP.

I.

Sweet, thou hast trod on a heart.

Pass; there’s a world full of men;

And women as fair as thou art

Must do such things now and then.

II.

Thou only hast stepped unaware,—

Malice, not one can impute;

And why should a heart have been there

In the way of a fair woman’s foot?

III.

It was not a stone that could trip,

Nor was it a thorn that could rend:

Put up thy proud under-lip!

’T was merely the heart of a friend.

247

IV.

And yet peradventure one day

Thou, sitting alone at the glass,

Remarking the bloom gone away,

Where the smile in its dimplement was,

V.

And seeking around thee in vain

From hundreds who flattered before,

Such a word as “Oh, not in the main

Do I hold thee less precious, but more!”...

VI.

Thou’lt sigh, very like, on thy part,

“Of all I have known or can know,

I wish I had only that Heart

I trod upon ages ago!”


248

VOID IN LAW.

I.

Sleep, little babe, on my knee,

Sleep, for the midnight is chill,

And the moon has died out in the tree,

And the great human world goeth ill.

Sleep, for the wicked agree:

Sleep, let them do as they will.

Sleep.

II.

Sleep, thou hast drawn from my breast

The last drop of milk that was good;

And now, in a dream, suck the rest,

Lest the real should trouble thy blood.

Suck, little lips dispossessed,

As we kiss in the air whom we would.

Sleep.

249

III.

O lips of thy father! the same,

So like! Very deeply they swore

When he gave me his ring and his name,

To take back, I imagined, no more!

And now is all changed like a game,

Though the old cards are used as of yore?

Sleep.

IV.

“Void in law,” said the Courts. Something wrong

In the forms? Yet, “Till death part us two,

I, James, take thee, Jessie,” was strong,

And One witness competent. True

Such a marriage was worth an old song,

Heard in Heaven though, as plain as the New.

Sleep.

V.

Sleep, little child, his and mine!

Her throat has the antelope curve,

And her cheek just the colour and line

Which fade not before him nor swerve:

Yet she has no child!—the divine

Seal of right upon loves that deserve.

Sleep.

250

VI.

My child! though the world take her part,

Saying “She was the woman to choose;

He had eyes, was a man in his heart,”—

We twain the decision refuse:

We ... weak as I am, as thou art, ...

Cling on to him, never to loose.

Sleep.

VII.

He thinks that, when done with this place,

All’s ended? he’ll new-stamp the ore?

Yes, Cæsar’s—but not in our case.

Let him learn we are waiting before

The grave’s mouth, the heaven’s gate, God’s face

With implacable love evermore.

Sleep.

VIII.

He’s ours, though he kissed her but now,

He’s ours, though she kissed in reply:

He’s ours, though himself disavow,

And God’s universe favour the lie;

Ours to claim, ours to clasp, ours below,

Ours above, ... if we live, if we die.

Sleep.

251

IX.

Ah baby, my baby, too rough

Is my lullaby? What have I said?

Sleep! When I’ve wept long enough

I shall learn to weep softly instead,

And piece with some alien stuff

My heart to lie smooth for thy head.

Sleep.

X.

Two souls met upon thee, my sweet;

Two loves led thee out to the sun:

Alas, pretty hands, pretty feet,

If the one who remains (only one)

Set her grief at thee, turned in a heat

To thine enemy,—were it well done?

Sleep.

XI.

May He of the manger stand near

And love thee! An infant He came

To His own who rejected Him here,

But the Magi brought gifts all the same.

I hurry the cross on my Dear!

My gifts are the griefs I declaim!

Sleep.


252

LORD WALTER’S WIFE.

I.

“But why do you go?” said the lady, while both sat under the yew,

And her eyes were alive in their depth, as the kraken beneath the sea-blue.

II.

“Because I fear you,” he answered;—“because you are far too fair,

And able to strangle my soul in a mesh of your gold-coloured hair.”

III.

“Oh, that,” she said, “is no reason! Such knots are quickly undone,

And too much beauty, I reckon, is nothing but too much sun.”

253

IV.

“Yet farewell so,” he answered;—“the sun-stroke’s fatal at times.

I value your husband, Lord Walter, whose gallop rings still from the limes.”

V.

“Oh, that,” she said, “is no reason. You smell a rose through a fence:

If two should smell it, what matter? who grumbles, and where’s the pretence?”

VI.

“But I,” he replied, “have promised another, when love was free,

To love her alone, alone, who alone and afar loves me.”

VII.

“Why, that,” she said, “is no reason. Love’s always free, I am told.

Will you vow to be safe from the headache on Tuesday, and think it will hold?”

254

VIII.

“But you,” he replied, “have a daughter, a young little child, who was laid

In your lap to be pure; so I leave you: the angels would make me afraid.”

IX.

“Oh, that,” she said, “is no reason. The angels keep out of the way;

And Dora, the child, observes nothing, although you should please me and stay.”

X.

At which he rose up in his anger,—“Why, now, you no longer are fair!

Why, now, you no longer are fatal, but ugly and hateful, I swear.”

XI.

At which she laughed out in her scorn: “These men! Oh, these men overnice,

Who are shocked if a colour not virtuous is frankly put on by a vice.”

255

XII.

Her eyes blazed upon him—“And you! You bring us your vices so near

That we smell them! You think in our presence a thought ’t would defame us to hear!

XIII.

“What reason had you, and what right,—I appeal to your soul from my life,—

To find me too fair as a woman? Why, sir, I am pure, and a wife.

XIV.

“Is the day-star too fair up above you? It burns you not. Dare you imply

I brushed you more close than the star does, when Walter had set me as high?

XV.

“If a man finds a woman too fair, he means simply adapted too much

To uses unlawful and fatal. The praise!—shall I thank you for such?

256

XVI.

“Too fair?—not unless you misuse us! and surely if, once in a while,

You attain to it, straightway you call us no longer too fair, but too vile.

XVII.

“A moment,—I pray your attention!—I have a poor word in my head

I must utter, though womanly custom would set it down better unsaid.

XVIII.

“You grew, sir, pale to impertinence, once when I showed you a ring.

You kissed my fan when I dropped it. No matter!—I’ve broken the thing.

XIX.

“You did me the honour, perhaps, to be moved at my side now and then

In the senses—a vice, I have heard, which is common to beasts and some men.

257

XX.

“Love’s a virtue for heroes!—as white as the snow on high hills,

And immortal as every great soul is that struggles, endures, and fulfils.

XXI.

“I love my Walter profoundly,—you, Maude, though you faltered a week,

For the sake of ... what was it—an eyebrow? or, less still, a mole on a cheek?

XXII.

“And since, when all’s said, you’re too noble to stoop to the frivolous cant

About crimes irresistible, virtues that swindle, betray and supplant,

XXIII.

“I determined to prove to yourself that, whate’er you might dream or avow

By illusion, you wanted precisely no more of me than you have now.

258

XXIV.

“There! Look me full in the face!—in the face. Understand, if you can,

That the eyes of such women as I am are clean as the palm of a man.

XXV.

“Drop his hand, you insult him. Avoid us for fear we should cost you a scar—

You take us for harlots, I tell you, and not for the women we are.

XXVI.

“You wronged me: but then I considered ... there’s Walter! And so at the end

I vowed that he should not be mulcted, by me, in the hand of a friend.

XXVII.

“Have I hurt you indeed? We are quits then. Nay, friend of my Walter, be mine!

Come, Dora, my darling, my angel, and help me to ask him to dine.”


259

BIANCA AMONG THE NIGHTINGALES.

I.

The cypress stood up like a church

That night we felt our love would hold,

And saintly moonlight seemed to search

And wash the whole world clean as gold;

The olives crystallized the vales’

Broad slopes until the hills grew strong:

The fire-flies and the nightingales

Throbbed each to either, flame and song.

The nightingales, the nightingales!

II.

Upon the angle of its shade

The cypress stood, self-balanced high;

Half up, half down, as double-made,

Along the ground, against the sky;

And we, too! from such soul-height went

Such leaps of blood, so blindly driven,

260

We scarce knew if our nature meant

Most passionate earth or intense heaven

The nightingales, the nightingales!

III.

We paled with love, we shook with love,

We kissed so close we could not vow;

Till Giulio whispered “Sweet, above

God’s Ever guaranties this Now.”

And through his words the nightingales

Drove straight and full their long clear call,

Like arrows through heroic mails,

And love was awful in it all.

The nightingales, the nightingales!

IV.

O cold white moonlight of the north,

Refresh these pulses, quench this hell!

O coverture of death drawn forth

Across this garden-chamber ... well!

But what have nightingales to do

In gloomy England, called the free ...

(Yes, free to die in!...) when we two

Are sundered, singing still to me?

And still they sing, the nightingales!

261

V.

I think I hear him, how he cried

“My own soul’s life!” between their notes.

Each man has but one soul supplied,

And that’s immortal. Though his throat’s

On fire with passion now, to her

He can’t say what to me he said!

And yet he moves her, they aver.

The nightingales sing through my head,—

The nightingales, the nightingales!

VI.

He says to her what moves her most.

He would not name his soul within

Her hearing,—rather pays her cost

With praises to her lips and chin.

Man has but one soul, ’t is ordained,

And each soul but one love, I add;

Yet souls are damned and love’s profaned;

These nightingales will sing me mad!

The nightingales, the nightingales!

VII.

I marvel how the birds can sing.

There’s little difference, in their view,

262

Betwixt our Tuscan trees that spring

As vital flames into the blue,

And dull round blots of foliage meant,

Like saturated sponges here,

To suck the fogs up. As content

Is he too in this land, ’t is clear.

And still they sing, the nightingales.

VIII.

My native Florence! dear, forgone!

I see across the Alpine ridge

How the last feast-day of Saint John

Shot rockets from Carraia bridge.

The luminous city, tall with fire,

Trod deep down in that river of ours,

While many a boat with lamp and choir

Skimmed birdlike over glittering towers.

I will not hear these nightingales.

IX.

I seem to float, we seem to float

Down Arno’s stream in festive guise;

A boat strikes flame into our boat,

And up that lady seems to rise

As then she rose. The shock had flashed

A vision on us! What a head,

263

What leaping eyeballs!—beauty dashed

To splendour by a sudden dread.

And still they sing, the nightingales.

X.

Too bold to sin, too weak to die;

Such women are so. As for me,

I would we had drowned there, he and I,

That moment, loving perfectly.

He had not caught her with her loosed

Gold ringlets ... rarer in the south ...

Nor heard the “Grazie tanto” bruised

To sweetness by her English mouth.

And still they sing, the nightingales.

XI.

She had not reached him at my heart

With her fine tongue, as snakes indeed

Kill flies; nor had I, for my part,

Yearned after, in my desperate need,

And followed him as he did her

To coasts left bitter by the tide,

Whose very nightingales, elsewhere

Delighting, torture and deride!

For still they sing, the nightingales.

264

XII.

A worthless woman; mere cold clay

As all false things are: but so fair,

She takes the breath of men away

Who gaze upon her unaware.

I would not play her larcenous tricks

To have her looks! She lied and stole,

And spat into my love’s pure pyx

The rank saliva of her soul.

And still they sing, the nightingales.

XIII.

I would not for her white and pink,

Though such he likes—her grace of limb,

Though such he has praised—nor yet, I think.

For life itself, though spent with him,

Commit such sacrilege, affront

God’s nature which is love, intrude

’Twixt two affianced souls, and hunt

Like spiders, in the altar’s wood.

I cannot bear these nightingales.

XIV.

If she chose sin, some gentler guise

She might have sinned in, so it seems:

265

She might have pricked out both my eyes,

And I still seen him in my dreams!

—Or drugged me in my soup or wine,

Nor left me angry afterward:

To die here with his hand in mine,

His breath upon me, were not hard.

(Our Lady hush these nightingales!)

XV.

But set a springe for him, “mio ben,”

My only good, my first last love!—

Though Christ knows well what sin is, when

He sees some things done they must move

Himself to wonder. Let her pass.

I think of her by night and day.

Must I too join her ... out, alas!...

With Giulio, in each word I say?

And evermore the nightingales!

XVI.

Giulio, my Giulio!—sing they so,

And you be silent? Do I speak,

And you not hear? An arm you throw

Round someone, and I feel so weak?

266

—Oh, owl-like birds! They sing for spite,

They sing for hate, they sing for doom,

They’ll sing through death who sing through night,

They’ll sing and stun me in the tomb—

The nightingales, the nightingales!


267

MY KATE.

I.

She was not as pretty as women I know,

And yet all your best made of sunshine and snow

Drop to shade, melt to nought in the long-trodden ways,

While she’s still remembered on warm and cold days—

My Kate.

II.

Her air had a meaning, her movements a grace;

You turned from the fairest to gaze on her face:

And when you had once seen her forehead and mouth,

You saw as distinctly her soul and her truth—

My Kate.

III.

Such a blue inner light from her eyelids outbroke,

You looked at her silence and fancied she spoke:

When she did, so peculiar yet soft was the tone,

Though the loudest spoke also, you heard her alone—

My Kate.

268

IV.

I doubt if she said to you much that could act

As a thought or suggestion: she did not attract

In the sense of the brilliant or wise: I infer

’T was her thinking of others made you think of her—

My Kate.

V.

She never found fault with you, never implied

Your wrong by her right; and yet men at her side

Grew nobler, girls purer, as through the whole town

The children were gladder that pulled at her gown—

My Kate.

VI.

None knelt at her feet confessed lovers in thrall;

They knelt more to God than they used,—that was all:

If you praised her as charming, some asked what you meant,

But the charm of her presence was felt when she went—

My Kate.

VII.

The weak and the gentle, the ribald and rude,

She took as she found them, and did them all good;

It always was so with her—see what you have!

She has made the grass greener even here ... with her grave—

My Kate.

269

VIII.

My dear one!—when thou wast alive with the rest,

I held thee the sweetest and loved thee the best:

And now thou art dead, shall I not take thy part

As thy smiles used to do for thyself, my sweet Heart—

My Kate?


270

A SONG FOR THE RAGGED SCHOOL OF LONDON.

WRITTEN IN ROME.

I.

I am listening here in Rome.

“England’s strong,” say many speakers,

“If she winks, the Czar must come,

Prow and topsail, to the breakers.”

II.

“England’s rich in coal and oak,”

Adds a Roman, getting moody;

“If she shakes a travelling cloak,

Down our Appian roll the scudi.”

III.

“England’s righteous,” they rejoin:

“Who shall grudge her exaltations

When her wealth of golden coin

Works the welfare of the nations?”

271

IV.

I am listening here in Rome.

Over Alps a voice is sweeping—

“England’s cruel, save us some

Of these victims in her keeping!”

V.

As the cry beneath the wheel

Of an old triumphant Roman

Cleft the people’s shouts like steel,

While the show was spoilt for no man,

VI.

Comes that voice. Let others shout,

Other poets praise my land here:

I am sadly sitting out,

Praying, “God forgive her grandeur.”

VII.

Shall we boast of empire, where

Time with ruin sits commissioned?

In God’s liberal blue air

Peter’s dome itself looks wizened;

272

VIII.

And the mountains, in disdain,

Gather back their lights of opal

From the dumb despondent plain

Heaped with jawbones of a people.

IX.

Lordly English, think it o’er,

Cæsar’s doing is all undone!

You have cannons on your shore,

And free Parliaments in London;

X.

Princes’ parks, and merchants’ homes,

Tents for soldiers, ships for seamen,—

Ay, but ruins worse than Rome’s

In your pauper men and women.

XI.

Women leering through the gas

(Just such bosoms used to nurse you),

Men, turned wolves by famine—pass!

Those can speak themselves, and curse you.

273

XII.

But these others—children small,

Spilt like blots about the city,

Quay, and street, and palace-wall—

Take them up into your pity!

XIII.

Ragged children with bare feet,

Whom the angels in white raiment

Know the names of, to repeat

When they come on you for payment.

XIV.

Ragged children, hungry-eyed,

Huddled up out of the coldness

On your doorsteps, side by side,

Till your footman damns their boldness.

XV.

In the alleys, in the squares,

Begging, lying little rebels;

In the noisy thoroughfares,

Struggling on with piteous trebles.

274

XVI.

Patient children—think what pain

Makes a young child patient—ponder!

Wronged too commonly to strain

After right, or wish, or wonder.

XVII.

Wicked children, with peaked chins,

And old foreheads! there are many

With no pleasures except sins,

Gambling with a stolen penny.

XVIII.

Sickly children, that whine low

To themselves and not their mothers,

From mere habit,—never so

Hoping help or care from others.

XIX.

Healthy children, with those blue

English eyes, fresh from their Maker,

Fierce and ravenous, staring through

At the brown loaves of the baker.

275

XX.

I am listening here in Rome,

And the Romans are confessing,

“English children pass in bloom

All the prettiest made for blessing.

XXI.

Angli angeli!” (resumed

From the mediæval story)

“Such rose angelhoods, emplumed

In such ringlets of pure glory!”

XXII.

Can we smooth down the bright hair,

O my sisters, calm, unthrilled in

Our heart’s pulses? Can we bear

The sweet looks of our own children,

XXIII.

While those others, lean and small,

Scurf and mildew of the city,

Spot our streets, convict us all

Till we take them into pity?

276

XXIV.

“Is it our fault?” you reply,

“When, throughout civilization,

Every nation’s empery

Is asserted by starvation?

XXV.

“All these mouths we cannot feed,

And we cannot clothe these bodies.”

Well, if man’s so hard indeed,

Let them learn at least what God is!

XXVI.

Little outcasts from life’s fold,

The grave’s hope they may be joined in

By Christ’s covenant consoled

For our social contract’s grinding.

XXVII.

If no better can be done,

Let us do but this,—endeavour

That the sun behind the sun

Shine upon them while they shiver!

277

XXVIII.

On the dismal London flags,

Through the cruel social juggle,

Put a thought beneath their rags

To ennoble the heart’s struggle.

XXIX.

O my sisters, not so much

Are we asked for—not a blossom

From our children’s nosegay, such

As we gave it from our bosom,—

XXX.

Not the milk left in their cup,

Not the lamp while they are sleeping,

Not the little cloak hung up

While the coat’s in daily keeping,—

XXXI.

But a place in Ragged Schools,

Where the outcasts may to-morrow

Learn by gentle words and rules

Just the uses of their sorrow.

278

XXXII.

O my sisters! children small,

Blue-eyed, wailing through the city—

Our own babes cry in them all:

Let us take them into pity.


279

MAY’S LOVE.

Handwritten Copy of Poem

I.

You love all, you say,

Round, beneath, above me:

Find me then some way

Better than to love me,

Me, too, dearest May!

II.

O world-kissing eyes

Which the blue heavens melt to;

I, sad, overwise,

Loathe the sweet looks dealt to

All things—men and flies.

III.

You love all, you say:

Therefore, Dear, abate me

Just your love, I pray!

Shut your eyes and hate me—

Only me—fair May!


280

AMY’S CRUELTY.

I.

Fair Amy of the terraced house,

Assist me to discover

Why you who would not hurt a mouse

Can torture so your lover.

II.

You give your coffee to the cat,

You stroke the dog for coming,

And all your face grows kinder at

The little brown bee’s humming.

III.

But when he haunts your door ... the town

Marks coming and marks going ...

You seem to have stitched your eyelids down

To that long piece of sewing!

281

IV.

You never give a look, not you,

Nor drop him a “Good morning,”

To keep his long day warm and blue,

So fretted by your scorning.

V.

She shook her head—“The mouse and bee

For crumb or flower will linger:

The dog is happy at my knee,

The cat purrs at my finger.

VI.

“But he ... to him, the least thing given

Means great things at a distance;

He wants my world, my sun, my heaven,

Soul, body, whole existence.

VII.

“They say love gives as well as takes;

But I’m a simple maiden,—

My mother’s first smile when she wakes

I still have smiled and prayed in.

282

VIII.

“I only know my mother’s love

Which gives all and asks nothing;

And this new loving sets the groove

Too much the way of loathing.

IX.

“Unless he gives me all in change,

I forfeit all things by him:

The risk is terrible and strange—

I tremble, doubt, ... deny him.

X.

“He’s sweetest friend or hardest foe,

Best angel or worst devil;

I either hate or ... love him so,

I can’t be merely civil!

XI.

“You trust a woman who puts forth

Her blossoms thick as summer’s?

You think she dreams what love is worth,

Who casts it to new-comers?

283

XII.

“Such love’s a cowslip-ball to fling,

A moment’s pretty pastime;

I give ... all me, if anything,

The first time and the last time.

XIII.

“Dear neighbour of the trellised house,

A man should murmur never,

Though treated worse than dog and mouse,

Till doated on for ever!”


284

MY HEART AND I.

I.

Enough! we’re tired, my heart and I.

We sit beside the headstone thus,

And wish that name were carved for us.

The moss reprints more tenderly

The hard types of the mason’s knife,

As heaven’s sweet life renews earth’s life

With which we’re tired, my heart and I.

II.

You see we’re tired, my heart and I.

We dealt with books, we trusted men,

And in our own blood drenched the pen,

As if such colours could not fly.

We walked too straight for fortune’s end,

We loved too true to keep a friend;

At last we’re tired, my heart and I.

285

III.

How tired we feel, my heart and I!

We seem of no use in the world;

Our fancies hang grey and uncurled

About men’s eyes indifferently;

Our voice which thrilled you so, will let

You sleep; our tears are only wet:

What do we here, my heart and I?

IV.

So tired, so tired, my heart and I!

It was not thus in that old time

When Ralph sat with me ’neath the lime

To watch the sunset from the sky.

“Dear love, you’re looking tired,” he said;

I, smiling at him, shook my head:

’T is now we’re tired, my heart and I.

V.

So tired, so tired, my heart and I!

Though now none takes me on his arm

To fold me close and kiss me warm

Till each quick breath end in a sigh

Of happy languor. Now, alone,

We lean upon this graveyard stone,

Uncheered, unkissed, my heart and I.

286

VI.

Tired out we are, my heart and I.

Suppose the world brought diadems

To tempt us, crusted with loose gems

Of powers and pleasures? Let it try.

We scarcely care to look at even

A pretty child, or God’s blue heaven,

We feel so tired, my heart and I.

VII.

Yet who complains? My heart and I?

In this abundant earth no doubt

Is little room for things worn out:

Disdain them, break them, throw them by!

And if before the days grew rough

We once were loved, used,—well enough,

I think, we’ve fared, my heart and I.


287

THE BEST THING IN THE WORLD.

What’s the best thing in the world?

June-rose, by May-dew impearled;

Sweet south-wind, that means no rain;

Truth, not cruel to a friend;

Pleasure, not in haste to end;

Beauty, not self-decked and curled

Till its pride is over-plain;

Light, that never makes you wink;

Memory, that gives no pain;

Love, when, so, you’re loved again.

What’s the best thing in the world?

—Something out of it, I think.


288

WHERE’S AGNES?

I.

Nay, if I had come back so,

And found her dead in her grave,

And if a friend I know

Had said, “Be strong, nor rave:

She lies there, dead below:

II.

“I saw her, I who speak,

White, stiff, the face one blank:

The blue shade came to her cheek

Before they nailed the plank,

For she had been dead a week.”

III.

Why, if he had spoken so,

I might have believed the thing,

Although her look, although

Her step, laugh, voice’s ring

Lived in me still as they do.

289

IV.

But dead that other way,

Corrupted thus and lost?

That sort of worm in the clay?

I cannot count the cost,

That I should rise and pay.

V.

My Agnes false? such shame?

She? Rather be it said

That the pure saint of her name

Has stood there in her stead,

And tricked you to this blame.

VI.

Her very gown, her cloak

Fell chastely: no disguise,

But expression! while she broke

With her clear grey morning-eyes

Full upon me and then spoke.

VII.

She wore her hair away

From her forehead,—like a cloud

Which a little wind in May

Peels off finely: disallowed

Though bright enough to stay.

290

VIII.

For the heavens must have the place

To themselves, to use and shine in,

As her soul would have her face

To press through upon mine, in

That orb of angel grace.

IX.

Had she any fault at all,

’T was having none, I thought too—

There seemed a sort of thrall;

As she felt her shadow ought to

Fall straight upon the wall.

X.

Her sweetness strained the sense

Of common life and duty;

And every day’s expense

Of moving in such beauty

Required, almost, defence.

XI.

What good, I thought, is done

By such sweet things, if any?

This world smells ill i’ the sun

Though the garden-flowers are many,—

She is only one.

291

XII.

Can a voice so low and soft

Take open actual part

With Right,—maintain aloft

Pure truth in life or art,

Vexed always, wounded oft?—

XIII.

She fit, with that fair pose

Which melts from curve to curve,

To stand, run, work with those

Who wrestle and deserve,

And speak plain without glose?

XIV.

But I turned round on my fear

Defiant, disagreeing—

What if God has set her here

Less for action than for Being?—

For the eye and for the ear.

XV.

Just to show what beauty may,

Just to prove what music can,—

And then to die away

From the presence of a man,

Who shall learn, henceforth, to pray?

292

XVI.

As a door, left half ajar

In heaven, would make him think

How heavenly-different are

Things glanced at through the chink,

Till he pined from near to far.

XVII.

That door could lead to hell?

That shining merely meant

Damnation? What! She fell

Like a woman, who was sent

Like an angel, by a spell?

XVIII.

She, who scarcely trod the earth,

Turned mere dirt? My Agnes,—mine!

Called so! felt of too much worth

To be used so! too divine

To be breathed near, and so forth!

XIX.

Why, I dared not name a sin

In her presence: I went round,

Clipped its name and shut it in

Some mysterious crystal sound,—

Changed the dagger for the pin.

293

XX.

Now you name herself that word?

O my Agnes! O my saint!

Then the great joys of the Lord

Do not last? Then all this paint

Runs off nature? leaves a board?

XXI.

Who’s dead here? No, not she:

Rather I! or whence this damp

Cold corruption’s misery?

While my very mourners stamp

Closer in the clods on me.

XXII.

And my mouth is full of dust

Till I cannot speak and curse—

Speak and damn him ... “Blame’s unjust”?

Sin blots out the universe,

All because she would and must?

XXIII.

She, my white rose, dropping off

The high rose-tree branch! and not

That the night-wind blew too rough,

Or the noon-sun burnt too hot,

But, that being a rose—’t was enough!

294

XXIV.

Then henceforth may earth grow trees!

No more roses!—hard straight lines

To score lies out! none of these

Fluctuant curves, but firs and pines,

Poplars, cedars, cypresses!


END OF THE FOURTH VOLUME.

PRINTED BY
SPOTTISWOODE AND CO., NEW-STREET SQUARE
LONDON


FOOTNOTES:

[1]

She left him the riband from her hair.

[2]

They show at Verona, as the tomb of Juliet, an empty trough of stone.

[3]

These famous statues recline in the Sagrestia Nuova, on the tombs of Giuliano de’ Medici, third son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, and Lorenzo of Urbino, his grandson. Strozzi’s epigram on the Night, with Michel Angelo’s rejoinder, is well known.

[4]

This mocking task was set by Pietro, the unworthy successor of Lorenzo the Magnificent.

[5]

Savonarola was burnt for his testimony against papal corruptions as early as March, 1498: and, as late as our own day, it has been a custom in Florence to strew with violets the pavement where he suffered, in grateful recognition of the anniversary.

[6]

See his description of the plague in Florence.

[7]

Charles of Anjou, in his passage through Florence, was permitted to see this picture while yet in Cimabue’s “bottega.” The populace followed the royal visitor, and, from the universal delight and admiration, the quarter of the city in which the artist lived was called “Borgo Allegri.” The picture was carried in triumph to the church, and deposited there.

[8]

How Cimabue found Giotto, the shepherd-boy, sketching a ram of his flock upon a stone, is prettily told by Vasari,—who also relates that the elder artist Margheritone died “infastidito” of the successes of the new school.

[9]

The Florentines, to whom the Ravennese refused the body of Dante (demanded of them “in a late remorse of love”), have given a cenotaph in this church to their divine poet. Something less than a grave!

[10]

In allusion to Mr. Kirkup’s discovery of Giotto’s fresco portrait of Dante.

[11]

Galileo’s villa, close to Florence, is built on an eminence called Bellosguardo.

[12]

See the opening passage of the “Agamemnon” of Æschylus.

[13]

Philostratus relates of Apollonius how he objected to the musical instrument of Linus the Rhodian that it could not enrich or beautify. The history of music in our day would satisfy the philosopher on one point at least.

[14]

The Italian tricolor: red, green, and white.

Transcriber Notes

Archaic and variable spelling and hyphenation are preserved.

Sections in Greek will yield a transliteration when the pointer is moved over each line, e.g. ὡς βασιλεῖ, ὡς θεῷ, ὡς νεκρῷ.




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