I just had an apple
And it has instigated me
Into a realization
Of a historical spree
That Adam had it from the forbidden tree
Pissed off the gods
Unworthy was the humble plea
Cost them a divine retribution
Of hardship, pain and a crippled enemy
Snow White had it from the disguised envy queen
That none of the dwarfs could remedy
Sparkled her crimson white through
A glass casket
In the middle of ebony
Newton had it from the orchard tree
How naive and fragile
Could that thought be
That it twisted and turned his equations
Gave birth to gravity
Steve Jobs had its better half
Leaving the rest for the world
The i-series conquered
Provided people with the luxury of pushing buttons
Instead of pushing themselves
Nowadays they just have to touch
I'm quite anxious about the apple i just ate
Something phenomenal might happen
- quotes about apples
- quotes about Isaac Newton
- quotes about jobs
- quotes about snow
- quotes about white
- quotes about divine
- quotes about birth
- quotes about pain
The forbidden tree grows in serpentine road
It's almost soggy.
Hey! Novice you skid away
And take care my friend.
Ex-Adam had the skill
Though it's a sin.
Anyway who leaves a fruitful tree
without trespassing if it's tasty?
* To my poet friend Duncan.
Adam: A Sacred Drama. Act 2.
SCENE I. -- CHORUS OF ANGELS Singing.
Now let us garlands weave
Of all the fairest flowers,
Now at this early dawn,
For new-made man, and his companion dear;
Let all with festive joy,
And with melodious song,
Of the great Architect
Applaud this noblest work,
And speak the joyous sound,
Man is the wonder both of Earth and Heaven.
Your warbling now suspend,
You pure angelic progeny of God,
Behold the labour emulous of Heaven!
Behold the woody scene,
Decked with a thousand flowers of grace divine;
Here man resides, here ought he to enjoy
In his fair mate eternity of bliss.
How exquisitely sweet
This rich display of flowers,
This airy wild of fragrance,
So lovely to the eye,
And to the sense so sweet.
O the sublime Creator,
How marvellous his works, and more his power!
Such is the sacred flame
Of his celestial love,
Not able to confine it in himself,
He breathed, as fruitful sparks
From his creative breast,
The Angels, Heaven, Man, Woman, and the World.
Yes, mighty Lord! yes, hallowed love divine!
Who, ever in thyself completely blest,
Unconscious of a want,
Who from thyself alone, and at thy will,
Bright with beignant flames,
Without the aid of matter or of form,
By efficacious power
Hast of mere nothing formed
The whole angelic host
With potency endowed,
And that momentous gift,
Either by sin to fall,
Or by volition stand.
Hence, our Almighty Maker,
To render us more worthy of his Heaven,
And to confirm us in eternal grace,
Presented to our homage
The pure Incarnate Word;
That as a recompense for hallowed toil
So worthily achieved,
We might adore him humble;
For there's a written law
In the records of Heaven,
That not a work of God that breathes and lives,
And is endowed with reason,
Shall hold a seat in Heaven,
If it incline not first with holy zeal,
In tender adoration to the Word.
Justly each Spirit in the realms above,
And all of mortal race,
And every foe to Heaven,
Should bow the knee in reverence of the Word;
Since this is he whom from eternity
God in the awful depth
Of his sublime and fruitful mind produced;
He is not accident, but substance true,
As rare as perfect, and as truly great
As his high Author holy and divine.
This living Word, image express of God,
Is a resemblance of his mighty substance;
Whence he is called the Son, the Son of God,
Even as the Father, God;
The generated Word
By generation yields not unto time,
Since from eternity the eternal Father
Produced his Son, whence he rejoices there,
Great offspring of great Father there for ever!
For ever he is born,
There he is fed, and fostered
With plenitude of grace
Imparted by his Sire:
There was the Father ever, and the Son
Was ever at his side, or in the Father;
Nor younger is the Son
Than his Almighty Sire,
Nor elder is the Father
Than his eternal Son.
O Son, O Sire, O God, O Man, O Word,
Let all with bended knee,
With humble adoration reverence you!
O Lucifer, now doomed to endless pain,
Hadst thou been joined with us
In worship of the Word,
How hadst thou now been blessed in thy God!
But thou in pride alone, yes, thou alone
In thy great wisdom foolish,
Hast scorned the Paragon,
And wouldst not reverence the Incarnate God;
Whence by thy folly thou hast fallen as far
As thy proud soul expected to ascend.
Monster of fierceness, dwell
In thy obscure recess!
And for thy weighty crime
Incessant feel and infinite thy pain,
For infinite has been thy vast offence.
Reside for ever in the deep abyss,
For well the world's eternal Master knows
Again to fill those high celestial seats,
That by your ruin you have vacant left;
Behold man fashioned from the earth, who lives,
Like plants that vegetate;
See in a moment's space
How the pure breath of life,
Breathed on his visage by the power divine,
Endows the wondrous creature with a soul,
A pure immortal soul,
That graced, and lovely with exalted powers,
Shines the great faithful image of its God.
Behold it has the gift to merit highly,
The option to deserve or heaven or hell,
In free will perfect, as the first of angels.
Yes, man alone was formed in just derision
Of all the infernal host,
As lord of this fair world and all that lives,
The ornament of all,
The miracle of nature,
The perfect heir of heaven,
Related to the angels,
Adopted son of God,
And semblance of the Holy Trinity;
What couldst thou hope for more, what more attain,
In whom the eternal Lord
Has now vouchsafed in signalise his power?
How singular and worthy is his form,
Upright in stature, meek in dignity;
Well fashioned are his limbs, and his complexion
Well tempered, with a high majestic brow,
A brow turned upward to his native sky;
In language eloquent, in thought sublime,
For contemplation of his Maker formed.
Placed in a state of innocence is man;
Primeval justice is his blessed gift,
Hence are his senses to his reason subject,
His body to his mind,
Enjoying reason as his prime endowment.
Supernal love held him too highly dear,
To let him dwell alone;
And thence of lovely woman
(Fair faithful aid) bestowed on man the gift,
Adam, 'tis thine alone
To keep thy duty to thy Lord unstained;
In his command of the forbidden fruit,
Thy gift of freedom keep inviolate;
And though he fashioned thee without thy aid,
Think not without thy aid he means to save thee!
But since, descending from the heights of heaven,
We come as kind attendants upon man,
Now let us haste to Eden's flowery banks.
ALL THE ANGELS SING.
Now take we happy flight
To Paradise, adorned with fairest flowers;
There let us almost worship
The mighty lord of this transcendent world,
And joyous let us sing
This flowery heaven, and Adam as its God.
Adam. O mighty Lord of mighty things sublime?
O my supreme Creator!
O bounteous in thy love
To me thy humble servant, such rare blessings
With liberal hand thou givest,
Where'er I turn my eyes,
I see myself revered.
Approach ye animals that range the field!
And ye now close your variegated wings,
Ye pleasing birds! in me you look on Adam,
On him ordained to name
All things that gracious God has made for man;
And praise, with justice praise
Him who created me, who made you all,
And in his bounteous love with me rejoice.
But what do I behold? blest that I am,
My dear, my sweet companion!
Who comes to hail me with a gift of flowers,
And with these sylvan honours crown my brow.
Go! stately lion, go! and thou with scales
Rhinoceros, whose pride can strike to earth
The unconquered elephant!
Thou fiery courser bound along the fields,
And with thy neighing shake the echoing vale;
Thou camel, and all here, or beast, or bird,
Retire, in homage to approaching Eve!
Eve. Oh what delight more dear,
Than that, which Adam in my sight enjoys,
Draws him far off from me? Ye tender flowers,
Where may I find on you
The traces of his step?
Lurcone. See man and woman! hide thyself and watch!
Adam. No more fatigue my eyes,
Nor with thy animated glances dart
Such radiance lightning round:
Turn the clear Heaven of thy serener face
To him who loves its light;
See thy beloved Adam,
Behold him, my sweet love;
O thou, who art alone
Joy of the world, and dear delight of man!
Lurcone. Dread the approach of evil!
Guliar. Dread the deceit of hell!
Eve. By sovereign content
I feel my tongue enchained;
But though my voice be mute,
My countenance may seem more eloquent,
Expressing, though in silence, all my joy.
Adam. O my companion dear!
Lurcone. And soon perchance thy foe!
Adam. O thou my sweetest life!
Guliar. Perchance thy bitter death!
Eve. Take, gentle Adam, from my hand these flowers;
With these, my gift, let me entwine thy locks.
Adam. Ye lilies, and ye shrubs of showy hue,
Jasmine as ivory pure,
Ye spotless graces of the shining field;
And thou most lovely rose
Of tint most delicate,
Fair consort of the morn,
Delighted to imbibe
The genial dew of Heaven,
Rich vegetation's vermil-tinctured gem,
April's enchanting herald,
Thou flower supremely blest,
And queen of all the flowers,
Thou form'st around my locks
A garland of such fragrance,
That up to Heaven itself
Thy balmy sweets ascend.
Let us in pure embraces
So twine ourselves, my love,
That we may seem united,
One well-compact, and intricate acanthus.
Lurcone. Soon shall the fetters of infernal toil
So spread around ye both,
The indissoluble bond,
No mortal effort shall have power to break!
Eve. Now, that with flowers so lovely
We have adorned our tresses,
Here let us both with humble reverence kneel,
And praise our mighty Maker.
From this my thirsting heart
No longer can refrain.
Adam. At thy engaging words,
And thy pure heart's desire,
On these pure herbs and flowers,
I bend my willing knee in hallowed bliss.
Lurcone. Away! far off must I
From act so meekly just
Furious depart and leave the light of day.
Guliar. I must partake thy flight,
And follow thee, alas, surcharged with grief.
Adam. Now that these herbs and flowers to our bent knees
Such easy rest afford,
Let us with zealous ardour raise our eyes,
Contemplating with praise our mighty Maker!
First then, devout and favoured Eve, do thou
With sacred notes invite
To deeds so fair thy Adam.
Eve. My Lord Omnipotent,
In his celestial essence
Is first, supreme, unlimited, alone,
He no beginning had, no end will have.
Adam. My sovereign Lord, so great
Is irresistible, terrific, just,
Gracious, benign, indulgent,
Divine, unspotted, holy, loving, good,
In justice most revered,
Ancient of days, in his sublimest court.
Eve. He rests in highest Heaven,
Yet more exalted in his boundless self;
Thence his all-searching eye looks down on all;
Nought is from him concealed,
Since all exists in him:
Without him nothing could retain existence,
Nor is there aught that he
For his perfection needs,
Except himself alone.
Adam. He every place pervades,
But is confined in none:
In him the limits of all grandeur lie,
But he exists unlimited by space.
Eve. Above the universe himself he raised,
Yet he behind it rests;
The whole he now encircles, now pervades,
Now dwells apart from all,
So great, the universe
To comprehend him fails.
Adam. If he to all inclines,
In his just balance all he justly weighs:
From him if all things flow,
All things in him acknowledge their support,
But he on nothing rests.
Eve. To time my great director is not subject,
For time in him sees no vicissitude:
In awful and sublime eternity
One being stands for ever;
For ever stands one instant,
And hence this power assumes the name of God.
Adam. It is indeed a truth,
That my eternal mighty Lord is God;
This deity incomprehensible
That, ere the heaven was made,
Dwelt only in himself, and heaven in him.
Eve, let us joyous rise; in other scenes,
With admiration of celestial splendour
And of this lovely world,
With notes of hallowed bliss
Let us again make the glad air resound.
Eve. Lead on, my faithful guide;
Quick is my willing foot to follow thee,
Since my fond soul believes
That I in praising heaven to heaven ascend,
So my pure bosom feels
Full of divine content.
Adam. To speak on every theme
Our mighty Maker made thee eloquent,
So that in praising heaven thou seemest there.
My fair associate! treasure of my life!
Upon the wings of this exalted praise
Devotion soars so high, that if her feet
Rest on the earth, her spirit reaches heaven.
SCENE III. -- The Serpent, Satan, Spirits.
Serpent. To arms, to battle, O ye sons of power!
Ye warring spirits of the infernal field!
A new and wondrous war
Awaits you now, within the lists of earth;
Most strange indeed the mode
Of warring there, if triumph, war's great end,
Proves its beginning now.
Behold the sun himself turn pale with terror,
Behold the day obscured!
Behold each rapid bird directs his flight
Where thickest foliage spreads,
But shelter seeks in vain;
The leaves of every bough,
As with a palsy struck,
Affright him more, and urge his wings to flight.
I would not as a warrior take the field
Against the demi-goddess girt with angels,
Since she has now been used
To gaze on spirits tender and benign,
Not such as I, of semblance rough and fierce,
For battles born to subjugate the sky.
In human form I would not
Defy her to a great imprtant conflict,
The world she knows contains one only man.
Nor would I of the tiger
Or the imperious lion
Or other animal assume the shape;
For well she knows they could not reason with her,
Who are of reason void.
To make her knowledge vain,
That I exist to the eternal Maker,
A source of endless fear,
Wrapt in the painted serpent's scaly folds,
Part of myself I hide, giving the rest
A human semblance and a damsel's face.
Great things I tell thee, and behold I see
My adversary prompt to parley with me.
Of novelty to hear
How eager woman is!
Now, now I loose my tongue,
And shall entangle her in many a snare.
Satan. But what discordant sound
Rises from hell, where all was lately concord?
Why do hoarse trumpets bellow through the deep?
SCENE IV. -- Volan, the Serpent, Spirits, Satan.
Volan. Great Lord, ordained to found infernal realms,
And look with scorn upon the pomp of heaven,
Behold thy Volan fly
To pay his homage at thy scaly feet!
The chieftains of Avernus,
The prime infernal powers
To rise in rivalship
Of heaven in all, as in that lofty seat,
The Word to us revealed,
The source of such great strife,
They wish, that on the Earth
A goddess should prepare a throne for man,
And lead him to contemn
His own Almighty Maker:
Yet more the inhabitants of fire now wish
That having conquered Man,
And with such triumph gay,
To the great realms of deep and endless flames
Ye both with exultation may descend:
Then shall I see around
Hell dart its rays, and hold the sun in scorn
But if this man resist,
Then losing every hope
Of farther victory,
They wish that on the throne
Of triumph he may as a victor sit,
Who teaches it to move,
And thou perform the office
With an afflicted partner,
With him, who labours to conduct the car;
That clothed in horrid pomp
The region of Avernus,
May speak itself the seat of endless pain,
And at the sound of inauspicious trumpets
The heavens may shake, the universe re-echo.
SCENE V. -- Vain Glory drawn by a Giant, Volan, the Serpent, Satan, and Spirits.
Vain Glory. King of Avernus, at this harp's glad sound
I weave a starry garland for thy locks,
For well I see thy lovely scales portend
Honour to me, ruin and shame to man.
I am Vain Glory, and I sit on high,
Exulting Victress of the Mighty Giant:
He has his front in heaven, on earth his feet,
A faithful image of man's mighty worth:
But shake not thou with fear! strong as he is
So brittle is the crown of glass he wears
That at my breath, which drives him fiercely on,
Man loses power, and falls a prey to Death.
Serpent. Angel, or Goddess, from thy lofty triumph
Descend with me at the desire of Hell!
Haste to a human conflict;
You all so light and quick,
That by your movement not a leaf is shaken
In all these woods around,
Your mighty triumphs now together hide;
Now that in silence we may pass unseen,
Quick let us enter neighbouring Paradise.
Vain Glory. Wherefore delay? Point out the path we go;
Since prompt to follow thee,
Full as I am of haughtiness and pride,
With expeditious foot
I will advance
Among these herbs and flowers,
And let infernal laurels
Circle thy towering crest and circle mine!
Serpent. What tribes of beauteous flowers,
And plants how new and vivid!
How desolate shall I
Soon make these verdant scenes of plant and flower!
Behold! how with my foot
I now as much depress them,
As they shoot forth with pride to rear their heads:
Behold! their humid life
I wither with my step of blasting fire.
How I enjoy, as I advance through these
Fair bowers of rapid growth,
To poison with my breath the leaf and flower,
Embittering all these sweet and blooming fruits.
We are arrived, behold the lovely tree
Prohibited by heaven,
There mount, and be embowered
In the thick foliage of a wood so fair!
Vain Glory. See, I prepare to climb:
I am already high,
And in the leaves concealed.
Climb thou, great chief, and rapidly encircle,
And with thy scaly serpent train ascend
The tree; be quick, since now arising higher
I can discern where lonely Eve advances.
Serpent. Behold, enraged I twine around the trunk
With these my painted and empoisoned folds;
Behold, I breathe towards this woman, love,
Though hate is in my heart:
Behold me now; more beautiful than ever,
Though now of each pestiferous cruel monster
In poison and in rage, I am the model;
Now I behold her, now
In silence I conceal my gift of speech,
Among these leaves embowered.
SCENE VI. -- Eve, Serpent, and Vain Glory.
Eve. I ought, the servant of a Mighty Lord,
A servant low and humble,
With reverential knee bending to earth,
I ought to praise the boundless love of him,
Since he has made me queen
Of all the sun delights to view on earth.
But if to heaven I raise my eyes and heart,
Clearly can Eve not see
She was created for these great, eternal,
So that in spirit or in mortal frame,
She ever must enjoy or earth or heaven.
Hence this fair flowering tree
Wreathing abroad its widely branching arms,
As if desirous to contend with heaven,
Seems willing in my locks
To spread a shining heaven of verdant leaves;
And if I pass among the herbs and flowers,
Those, I behold, that by my step are pressed,
Arise more beautiful; the very buds
Expand, to form festoons
To decorate the grassy scene around.
Other new flowers with freshest beauty fair,
That stand from me sequestered,
Formed into groups or scattered in the vale,
Seem with delight to view me, and to say
The neighbouring flowers rejoice
To give thy foot support,
But we, aspiring Eagles,
From far behold thy visage,
Mild portraiture of the Almighty form.
While other plants and flowers,
Wishing that I may form my seat among them,
Above their native growth
So seem to raise themselves, that of sweet flowers
A fragrant hedge they form;
And others in a thousand tender ties,
Form on the ground so intricate a snare,
That the incautious hand which aims to free
The captive foot, must be itself ensnared.
If food I wish, or draught,
Lo! various fruit, lo! honey, milk, and manna;
Behold, from many a fount and many a rill,
The crystal beauty of the cooling stream.
If melody, behold the tuneful birds,
Behold angelic bands!
If welcome day,
Or mild and wished-for night,
Behold the sun, behold the moon and stars!
If I a friend require,
Adam, sweet friend, replies;
And if my God in heaven, the Eternal Maker
Dwells not unmindful, but regards my speech,
If creatures subject to my will I wish,
Lo! at my side all subject to my will.
What more can I desire, what more obtain?
Now nothing more, my Sovereign,
Eve is with honour loaded.
But what's before me? do I wake or dream?
Among these boughs I see
A human visage fair; what! are there then
More than myself and Adam,
Who view the glorious sun?
O marvellous, though I am distant far,
I yet discern the truth; with arms, with hands,
A human breast it has,
The rest is serpent all:
Oh, how the sun, emblazing with his rays
These gorgeous scales with glowing colours bright,
O'erwhelms my dazzled eyes!
I would approach it.
Serpent. Now, then, at length you see
I have precisely ta'en the semblance fit,
To overcome this woman.
Eve. The nearer I approach, more and more lovely
His semblance seems of emerald and sapphire,
Now ruby and now amethyst, and now
Of jasper, pearl, and flaming chrysolite
Each fold it waving forms around the trunk
Of this fair flowering tree!
Serpent. I will assail my foe.
Come to survey me better,
Thou dazzler of the eye,
Enchantress of the soul,
Soft idol of the heart,
Fair nymph, approach! Lo, I display myself,
Survey me all; now satisfy thine eyes;
View me attentive, paragon of beauty,
Thou noblest ornament of all the world,
Thou lovely pomp of nature,
Thou little paradise,
To whom all things do homage!
Where lonely from thy friend, thy Adam, far
Where art thou? now advancing where
The numerous bands of Angels
Become such fond admirers of thy beauty?
Happy I deem myself, supremely happy,
Since, 'tis my blessed lot,
With two fond eyes alone to gaze on that,
Which with unnumbered eyes, heaven scarce surveys.
Trust me if all the loveliness of heaven
Would wrap itself within a human veil,
Nought but thy beauteous bosom
Could form a mansion worthy such a guest.
How well I see, full well
That she above with thy light agile feet,
Imprints her step in heaven, and there she smiles
With thy enchanting lip,
To scatter joy around those blessed spheres;
Yes, with thy lips above,
She breathes, she speaks, she pauses,
And with thine eyes communicates a lustre
To all that's fair in heaven or fair on earth.
Eve. And who art thou, so eager
To lavish praise on me?
Yet never did mine eyes see form like thine.
Serpent. Can I be silent now?
Too much, too much, I pant
To please the lovely model of all grace.
Know when the world was fashioned out of nought
And this most fruitful garden,
I was ordained to dwell a gardener here,
By him who cultivates
The fair celestials fields:
Here joyful I ascend,
To watch that no voracious bird may seize
On such delicious fruit;
Here it is my delight,
Though all be marvellously fair around,
Lily to blend with lily, rose with rose,
And now the fragrant hedge
To form, and now between the groups of flowers,
And o'er the tender herb
To guide the current of the crystal stream.
Oh, what sweet scenes to captivate the eye
Of such a lovely virgin,
Will I disclose around;
Thou, if thou canst return
To this alluring spot,
And ever with fresh myrtle and new flowers,
More beauteous thou shalt find it;
This wondrous faculty I boast infused
By thy supernal Maker,
To guard in plant and flower their life and fragrance.
Eve. Since I have found thee courteous
No less than wise, reveal to me thy name;
Speak it to me, unless
I seek to know too much.
Serpent. Wisdom, I name myself,
Sometimes I Life am called,
For this my double nature, since I am
One part a serpent and the other human.
Eve. Strange things this day I hear; but tell me why
Thou serpent art combined with human form?
Serpent. I will inform thee; when the sovereign God
On nothing resting, yet gave force to all.
To balance all things in an even scale
The sage of heaven desired,
And not from opposite extremities
To pass without a medium justly founded:
Hence 'tween the brute and man
It pleased him to create this serpent kind;
And even this participates in reason,
And with a human face has human speech.
But what can fail to honour with submission,
The demi-god of earth?
Oh! if proportioned to thy charms, or equal
To the desert of man,
You had high knowledge, doubt not but in all
Ye would be reckoned as immortal gods;
Since the prime power of lofty science is
One of the first and greatest
Of attributes divine: Oh, could this be,
Descending from the base
Of this engaging plant,
How as a goddess should I here adore thee!
Eve. What, dost thou think so little then the sum
Of knowledge given to man? does he not know
Of every living herb and flower and plant,
Of minerals and of unnumbered gems,
Of fish, of fowl, and every animal,
In water or n earth, of fire, of air,
Of this fair starry heaven,
And of the moon and sun,
The virtues most concealed?
Serpent. Ah, this is nothing; since it only serves
To make the common things of nature known;
And I, although I am
Greatly inferior in my rank to man,
Yet, one by one, even I can number these,
More worthy it would be
To know both good and ill;
This, this is the supreme
Intelligence, and mysteries most high,
That on the earth would make you like to God.
Eve. That which hath power sufficient to import
This knowledge so sublime of good and ill,
(But mixt with mortal anguish,)
Is this forbidden tree, on which thou sittest.
Serpent. And tell me why a law
So bitter rises from a fruit so sweet?
Where then, where is the sense
That you so lately boasted as sublime?
Observe, if it be just,
That man so brave, so lovely, man that rules
The world with skilful hand, man that so much
Pleased his creating God, when power almighty
Fashioned the wonders both of earth and heaven,
That man at last a little fruit should crush,
And all be formed for nothing, or at best
But for a moment's space?
No, no, far from thee, far be such a doubt!
Let colour to thy cheek, and to thy lip
The banished rose return!
Say, -- but I know -- thy heart
Within thee speaks the language that I speak!
Eve. The Lord commanded me I should not taste
This fruit; and to obey him is my joy.
Serpent. If 'tis forbidden thee
To taste a fruit so fair,
Heaven does not choose that man should be a God,
But thou with courtesy, to my kind voice
Lend an attentive ear: say, if your Maker
Required such strict obedience, that you might
Depend but on his word to move and guard you;
Was there not power sufficient in the laws
Sublime of hope, of faith, and charity
Why then, fair creature, why, without occasion
Thus should he multiply his laws for man,
For ever outraging with such a yoke
Your precious liberty, and of great lords
Making you slaves, nay, in one point inferior
Even to the savage beasts,
Whom he would not reduce to any law?
Who does not know that loading you so much
With precepts, he has lessened the great blessing
Of joyous being, that your God first gave you?
Perchance he dreaded that ye soon might grow
His equals both, in knowledge, and be Gods?
No, for though like to God you might become
By such experiment, the difference still
Between you must be great, since this your knowledge,
And acquisition of divinity,
Could be but imitation, and effect
Of the first cause divine that dwells above.
And can it then be true,
That such a vital hand
Can do a deadly deed?
Oh, hadst thou tasted this, how wouldst thou gain
Advantage of the Lord, how then with him
Would thy conversing tongue,
Accuse the latent mysteries of heaven!
For other flowers and other plants, and fields,
And elements, and spheres,
Far different suns, and different moons, and stars
There are above, from those thou viewest here
Buried below these; all to thee are near,
Observe how near! but at the very distance
This apple is from thee. Extend thy hand,
Boldly extend it, -- ah! why dost thou pause?
Eve. What should I do? Who counsels me, O God?
Hope bids me live, and fear at once destroys me.
But say, how art thou able
To know such glorious things exist above,
And that on earth, one thus may equal God,
By feeding on this apple,
If thou in heaven wert never,
And ne'er permitted of the fruit to taste?
Serpent. Ah! is there ought I can deny to her
Whose happiness I wish? Now listen to me.
When of this garden I was made the keeper,
By him who fashioned thee,
All he has said to thee, to me he said;
And opening to me heaven's eternal bosom,
With all his infinite celestial pomp,
He satiated my eyes, and then thus spake:
Thy paradise thou hast enjoyed, O Serpent,
No more thou shalt behold it; now retain
Memory of heaven on earth,
Which thou mayst do by feeding on such fruit.
A heavenly seat alone is fit for man,
For that's the seat of beauty;
Since thou art partly man, and partly brute,
'Tis just thou dwell on earth;
The world was made for various beasts to dwell in,
He added, nor canst thou esteem it hard,
Serpent and man, to dwell on earth for ever,
Since thou already in thy human portion
Most fully hast enjoyed thy bliss above.
Thus I eternal live,
Forming my banquet of this savoury fruit,
And Paradise is open to my eyes,
By the intelligence, through me transfused
From this delicious viand.
Eve. Alas! what should I do? to whom apply?
My heart, what is thy counsel?
Serpent. 'Tis true, thy sovereign has imposed upon thee,
Under the pain of death,
To taste not of this fruit;
And to secure from thee
A dainty so delightful,
The watchful guard he made me
Of this forbidden tree;
So that if I consent, both man and thou,
His beautiful companion,
May rise to equal God in happiness.
'Tis but too true that to participate
In food and beverage with savage beasts,
Gives us in this similitude to them;
It is not just you both,
Works of a mighty Maker,
Great offspring of a great God,
Should in a base condition,
Among these groves and woods,
Lead a life equal to the lowest beast.
Eve. Ah! why art thou so eager
That I should taste of this forbidden food?
Serpent. Wouldst thou that I should tell?
Eve. 'Tis all my wish.
Serpent. Now lend thine ear, now arch
With silent wonder, both thy beauteous brows!
For two proud joys of mine,
Not for thy good alone, I wish to make thee
This liberal overture, and swear to keep
Silence while thou shalt seize the fruit denied.
First to avenge that high unworthy wrong
Done me by God, in fashioning my shape;
For I was deemed the refuse of his heaven,
For these my scaly parts,
That ever like a snake I trail behind;
And then, because he should to me alone
Have given this world, and o'er the numerous beasts
Have made me lord, not wholly of their kind;
But this my empire mighty and supreme,
O'er all these living things,
While man is doomed
To breathe on vital air,
Must seem but low and servile vassalage;
Since man, and only man
Was chosen high and mighty lord of all
This wondrous scene, and he thus raised to grandeur
Was newly formed of nought.
But when the fairest of all Eden's fruits
Is snatched and tasted, when you rise to Gods,
'Tis just that both ascending from this world,
Should reach the higher spheres
So that on earth to make me
Of every creature lord,
Of human error I my virtue make:
Know, that command is grateful even to God,
Grateful to man, and grateful to the serpent.
Eve. I yield obedience, ah! what is't I do?
Serpent. Rather what do you not? Ah, boldly taste,
Make me a god on earth, thyself in heaven.
Eve. Alas, how I perceive
A chilling tremour wander through my bones,
That turns my heart to ice!
Serpent. It is thy mortal part that now begins
To languish, as o'ercome by the divine,
Which o'er its lowly partner
In excellence ascends.
Behold the pleasant plant,
More lovely and more rich
Than if it raised to heaven branches of gold,
And bore the beauteous emerald as leaves,
With roots of coral and a trunk of silver.
Behold this jewelled fruit,
That gives enjoyment of a state divine!
How fair it is, and how
It takes new colours from the solar rays,
Bright as the splendid train
Of the gay peacock, when he whirls it round
Full in the sun, and lights his thousand eyes!
Behold how it invites!
'Tis all delicious, it is sweetness all;
Its charms are not deceitful,
Thine eye can view them well.
Now take it! Now I watch
In any angel spy thee! Dost thou pause?
Up! for once more I am thy guide; at last
The victory is thine!
Eve. At length behold me the exalted mistress
Of this most lovely fruit!
But why, alas, does my cold brow distil
These drops that overwhelm me?
Serpent. Lovely Virgin,
Will not our reason tell us
Supreme felicity is bought with pain?
Who from my brow will wipe
These drops of keener pain?
Who dissipate the dread that loads my heart?
Eve. Tell me what wouldst thou? tell me who afflicts thee?
Serpent. The terror of thy Lord; and hence I pray thee?
That when thou hast enjoyed
That sweet forbidden fruit,
When both of you become eternal gods,
That you would guard me from the wrath of heaven;
Since well indeed may he,
Whom we call God, kindle his wrath against me
Having to you imparted
Taste of this fruit against his high command.
But tell him, my desire
To make me lord of this inferior world,
Like man a god in heaven,
Rendered me mute while Eve attained the apple.
Eve. The gift I owe thee, Serpent, well deserves
That I should ne'er forget thee.
Serpent. Now in these verdant leaves I hide myself
Till thou with sounds of joy
Shalt call and re-assure me.
Eve. Now then conceal thyself, I promise thee
To be thy shield against the wrath of God.
O what delicious odour! 'tis so sweet
That I can well believe
That all the lovely flowers
From this derive their fragrance.
These dewy leaves to my conception seem
Moistened with manna, rather than with dew.
Ah, it was surely right
That fruit so exquisite
Should flourish to impart new life to man,
Not waste its sweets upon the wind and sun.
Nothing for any ill
To man could spring from God's creative hand:
Since he for man assuredly has felt
Such warmth of love unbounded, I will taste it.
How sweet it is! how far
Surpassing all the fruits of every kind,
Assembled in this soil!
But where is Adam now? Oh, Adam! Adam!
He answers not; then thou with speed depart
To find him; but among these flowers and leaves
Conceal this lovely apple, lest the angels,
Descrying it, forbid.
Adam to taste its sweets,
And so from man be made a mighty God.
Serpent. Extinguish in the waves thy rays, O sun!
No more distribute life!
Thus Lucifer ordains, and thus the apple!
Man, man is now subdued!
Vain Glory. O joyous day! O day
To Hell of triumph, and of shame to Heaven!
Eve has enjoyed the apple,
And now contrives that man may taste it too.
Now see by direst fate
Life is exchanged for death!
Now I exulting sing,
And hence depart with pride,
Since man's high boast is crushed,
And his bright day now turned to hideous night!
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What makes the cornfield smile; beneath what star
Maecenas, it is meet to turn the sod
Or marry elm with vine; how tend the steer;
What pains for cattle-keeping, or what proof
Of patient trial serves for thrifty bees;-
Such are my themes.
O universal lights
Most glorious! ye that lead the gliding year
Along the sky, Liber and Ceres mild,
If by your bounty holpen earth once changed
Chaonian acorn for the plump wheat-ear,
And mingled with the grape, your new-found gift,
The draughts of Achelous; and ye Fauns
To rustics ever kind, come foot it, Fauns
And Dryad-maids together; your gifts I sing.
And thou, for whose delight the war-horse first
Sprang from earth's womb at thy great trident's stroke,
Neptune; and haunter of the groves, for whom
Three hundred snow-white heifers browse the brakes,
The fertile brakes of Ceos; and clothed in power,
Thy native forest and Lycean lawns,
Pan, shepherd-god, forsaking, as the love
Of thine own Maenalus constrains thee, hear
And help, O lord of Tegea! And thou, too,
Minerva, from whose hand the olive sprung;
And boy-discoverer of the curved plough;
And, bearing a young cypress root-uptorn,
Silvanus, and Gods all and Goddesses,
Who make the fields your care, both ye who nurse
The tender unsown increase, and from heaven
Shed on man's sowing the riches of your rain:
And thou, even thou, of whom we know not yet
What mansion of the skies shall hold thee soon,
Whether to watch o'er cities be thy will,
Great Caesar, and to take the earth in charge,
That so the mighty world may welcome thee
Lord of her increase, master of her times,
Binding thy mother's myrtle round thy brow,
Or as the boundless ocean's God thou come,
Sole dread of seamen, till far Thule bow
Before thee, and Tethys win thee to her son
With all her waves for dower; or as a star
Lend thy fresh beams our lagging months to cheer,
Where 'twixt the Maid and those pursuing Claws
A space is opening; see! red Scorpio's self
His arms draws in, yea, and hath left thee more
Than thy full meed of heaven: be what thou wilt-
For neither Tartarus hopes to call thee king,
Nor may so dire a lust of sovereignty
E'er light upon thee, howso Greece admire
Elysium's fields, and Proserpine not heed
Her mother's voice entreating to return-
Vouchsafe a prosperous voyage, and smile on this
My bold endeavour, and pitying, even as I,
These poor way-wildered swains, at once begin,
Grow timely used unto the voice of prayer.
In early spring-tide, when the icy drip
Melts from the mountains hoar, and Zephyr's breath
Unbinds the crumbling clod, even then 'tis time;
Press deep your plough behind the groaning ox,
And teach the furrow-burnished share to shine.
That land the craving farmer's prayer fulfils,
Which twice the sunshine, twice the frost has felt;
Ay, that's the land whose boundless harvest-crops
Burst, see! the barns.
But ere our metal cleave
An unknown surface, heed we to forelearn
The winds and varying temper of the sky,
The lineal tilth and habits of the spot,
What every region yields, and what denies.
Here blithelier springs the corn, and here the grape,
There earth is green with tender growth of trees
And grass unbidden. See how from Tmolus comes
The saffron's fragrance, ivory from Ind,
From Saba's weakling sons their frankincense,
Iron from the naked Chalybs, castor rank
From Pontus, from Epirus the prize-palms
O' the mares of Elis.
Such the eternal bond
And such the laws by Nature's hand imposed
On clime and clime, e'er since the primal dawn
When old Deucalion on the unpeopled earth
Cast stones, whence men, a flinty race, were reared.
Up then! if fat the soil, let sturdy bulls
Upturn it from the year's first opening months,
And let the clods lie bare till baked to dust
By the ripe suns of summer; but if the earth
Less fruitful just ere Arcturus rise
With shallower trench uptilt it- 'twill suffice;
There, lest weeds choke the crop's luxuriance, here,
Lest the scant moisture fail the barren sand.
Then thou shalt suffer in alternate years
The new-reaped fields to rest, and on the plain
A crust of sloth to harden; or, when stars
Are changed in heaven, there sow the golden grain
Where erst, luxuriant with its quivering pod,
Pulse, or the slender vetch-crop, thou hast cleared,
And lupin sour, whose brittle stalks arise,
A hurtling forest. For the plain is parched
By flax-crop, parched by oats, by poppies parched
In Lethe-slumber drenched. Nathless by change
The travailing earth is lightened, but stint not
With refuse rich to soak the thirsty soil,
And shower foul ashes o'er the exhausted fields.
Thus by rotation like repose is gained,
Nor earth meanwhile uneared and thankless left.
Oft, too, 'twill boot to fire the naked fields,
And the light stubble burn with crackling flames;
Whether that earth therefrom some hidden strength
And fattening food derives, or that the fire
Bakes every blemish out, and sweats away
Each useless humour, or that the heat unlocks
New passages and secret pores, whereby
Their life-juice to the tender blades may win;
Or that it hardens more and helps to bind
The gaping veins, lest penetrating showers,
Or fierce sun's ravening might, or searching blast
Of the keen north should sear them. Well, I wot,
He serves the fields who with his harrow breaks
The sluggish clods, and hurdles osier-twined
Hales o'er them; from the far Olympian height
Him golden Ceres not in vain regards;
And he, who having ploughed the fallow plain
And heaved its furrowy ridges, turns once more
Cross-wise his shattering share, with stroke on stroke
The earth assails, and makes the field his thrall.
Pray for wet summers and for winters fine,
Ye husbandmen; in winter's dust the crops
Exceedingly rejoice, the field hath joy;
No tilth makes Mysia lift her head so high,
Nor Gargarus his own harvests so admire.
Why tell of him, who, having launched his seed,
Sets on for close encounter, and rakes smooth
The dry dust hillocks, then on the tender corn
Lets in the flood, whose waters follow fain;
And when the parched field quivers, and all the blades
Are dying, from the brow of its hill-bed,
See! see! he lures the runnel; down it falls,
Waking hoarse murmurs o'er the polished stones,
And with its bubblings slakes the thirsty fields?
Or why of him, who lest the heavy ears
O'erweigh the stalk, while yet in tender blade
Feeds down the crop's luxuriance, when its growth
First tops the furrows? Why of him who drains
The marsh-land's gathered ooze through soaking sand,
Chiefly what time in treacherous moons a stream
Goes out in spate, and with its coat of slime
Holds all the country, whence the hollow dykes
Sweat steaming vapour?
But no whit the more
For all expedients tried and travail borne
By man and beast in turning oft the soil,
Do greedy goose and Strymon-haunting cranes
And succory's bitter fibres cease to harm,
Or shade not injure. The great Sire himself
No easy road to husbandry assigned,
And first was he by human skill to rouse
The slumbering glebe, whetting the minds of men
With care on care, nor suffering realm of his
In drowsy sloth to stagnate. Before Jove
Fields knew no taming hand of husbandmen;
To mark the plain or mete with boundary-line-
Even this was impious; for the common stock
They gathered, and the earth of her own will
All things more freely, no man bidding, bore.
He to black serpents gave their venom-bane,
And bade the wolf go prowl, and ocean toss;
Shook from the leaves their honey, put fire away,
And curbed the random rivers running wine,
That use by gradual dint of thought on thought
Might forge the various arts, with furrow's help
The corn-blade win, and strike out hidden fire
From the flint's heart. Then first the streams were ware
Of hollowed alder-hulls: the sailor then
Their names and numbers gave to star and star,
Pleiads and Hyads, and Lycaon's child
Bright Arctos; how with nooses then was found
To catch wild beasts, and cozen them with lime,
And hem with hounds the mighty forest-glades.
Soon one with hand-net scourges the broad stream,
Probing its depths, one drags his dripping toils
Along the main; then iron's unbending might,
And shrieking saw-blade,- for the men of old
With wedges wont to cleave the splintering log;-
Then divers arts arose; toil conquered all,
Remorseless toil, and poverty's shrewd push
In times of hardship. Ceres was the first
Set mortals on with tools to turn the sod,
When now the awful groves 'gan fail to bear
Acorns and arbutes, and her wonted food
Dodona gave no more. Soon, too, the corn
Gat sorrow's increase, that an evil blight
Ate up the stalks, and thistle reared his spines
An idler in the fields; the crops die down;
Upsprings instead a shaggy growth of burrs
And caltrops; and amid the corn-fields trim
Unfruitful darnel and wild oats have sway.
Wherefore, unless thou shalt with ceaseless rake
The weeds pursue, with shouting scare the birds,
Prune with thy hook the dark field's matted shade,
Pray down the showers, all vainly thou shalt eye,
Alack! thy neighbour's heaped-up harvest-mow,
And in the greenwood from a shaken oak
Seek solace for thine hunger.
Now to tell
The sturdy rustics' weapons, what they are,
Without which, neither can be sown nor reared
The fruits of harvest; first the bent plough's share
And heavy timber, and slow-lumbering wains
Of the Eleusinian mother, threshing-sleighs
And drags, and harrows with their crushing weight;
Then the cheap wicker-ware of Celeus old,
Hurdles of arbute, and thy mystic fan,
Iacchus; which, full tale, long ere the time
Thou must with heed lay by, if thee await
Not all unearned the country's crown divine.
While yet within the woods, the elm is tamed
And bowed with mighty force to form the stock,
And take the plough's curved shape, then nigh the root
A pole eight feet projecting, earth-boards twain,
And share-beam with its double back they fix.
For yoke is early hewn a linden light,
And a tall beech for handle, from behind
To turn the car at lowest: then o'er the hearth
The wood they hang till the smoke knows it well.
Many the precepts of the men of old
I can recount thee, so thou start not back,
And such slight cares to learn not weary thee.
And this among the first: thy threshing-floor
With ponderous roller must be levelled smooth,
And wrought by hand, and fixed with binding chalk,
Lest weeds arise, or dust a passage win
Splitting the surface, then a thousand plagues
Make sport of it: oft builds the tiny mouse
Her home, and plants her granary, underground,
Or burrow for their bed the purblind moles,
Or toad is found in hollows, and all the swarm
Of earth's unsightly creatures; or a huge
Corn-heap the weevil plunders, and the ant,
Fearful of coming age and penury.
Mark too, what time the walnut in the woods
With ample bloom shall clothe her, and bow down
Her odorous branches, if the fruit prevail,
Like store of grain will follow, and there shall come
A mighty winnowing-time with mighty heat;
But if the shade with wealth of leaves abound,
Vainly your threshing-floor will bruise the stalks
Rich but in chaff. Many myself have seen
Steep, as they sow, their pulse-seeds, drenching them
With nitre and black oil-lees, that the fruit
Might swell within the treacherous pods, and they
Make speed to boil at howso small a fire.
Yet, culled with caution, proved with patient toil,
These have I seen degenerate, did not man
Put forth his hand with power, and year by year
Choose out the largest. So, by fate impelled,
Speed all things to the worse, and backward borne
Glide from us; even as who with struggling oars
Up stream scarce pulls a shallop, if he chance
His arms to slacken, lo! with headlong force
The current sweeps him down the hurrying tide.
Us too behoves Arcturus' sign observe,
And the Kids' seasons and the shining Snake,
No less than those who o'er the windy main
Borne homeward tempt the Pontic, and the jaws
Of oyster-rife Abydos. When the Scales
Now poising fair the hours of sleep and day
Give half the world to sunshine, half to shade,
Then urge your bulls, my masters; sow the plain
Even to the verge of tameless winter's showers
With barley: then, too, time it is to hide
Your flax in earth, and poppy, Ceres' joy,
Aye, more than time to bend above the plough,
While earth, yet dry, forbids not, and the clouds
Are buoyant. With the spring comes bean-sowing;
Thee, too, Lucerne, the crumbling furrows then
Receive, and millet's annual care returns,
What time the white bull with his gilded horns
Opens the year, before whose threatening front,
Routed the dog-star sinks. But if it be
For wheaten harvest and the hardy spelt,
Thou tax the soil, to corn-ears wholly given,
Let Atlas' daughters hide them in the dawn,
The Cretan star, a crown of fire, depart,
Or e'er the furrow's claim of seed thou quit,
Or haste thee to entrust the whole year's hope
To earth that would not. Many have begun
Ere Maia's star be setting; these, I trow,
Their looked-for harvest fools with empty ears.
But if the vetch and common kidney-bean
Thou'rt fain to sow, nor scorn to make thy care
Pelusiac lentil, no uncertain sign
Bootes' fall will send thee; then begin,
Pursue thy sowing till half the frosts be done.
Therefore it is the golden sun, his course
Into fixed parts dividing, rules his way
Through the twelve constellations of the world.
Five zones the heavens contain; whereof is one
Aye red with flashing sunlight, fervent aye
From fire; on either side to left and right
Are traced the utmost twain, stiff with blue ice,
And black with scowling storm-clouds, and betwixt
These and the midmost, other twain there lie,
By the Gods' grace to heart-sick mortals given,
And a path cleft between them, where might wheel
On sloping plane the system of the Signs.
And as toward Scythia and Rhipaean heights
The world mounts upward, likewise sinks it down
Toward Libya and the south, this pole of ours
Still towering high, that other, 'neath their feet,
By dark Styx frowned on, and the abysmal shades.
Here glides the huge Snake forth with sinuous coils
'Twixt the two Bears and round them river-wise-
The Bears that fear 'neath Ocean's brim to dip.
There either, say they, reigns the eternal hush
Of night that knows no seasons, her black pall
Thick-mantling fold on fold; or thitherward
From us returning Dawn brings back the day;
And when the first breath of his panting steeds
On us the Orient flings, that hour with them
Red Vesper 'gins to trim his his 'lated fires.
Hence under doubtful skies forebode we can
The coming tempests, hence both harvest-day
And seed-time, when to smite the treacherous main
With driving oars, when launch the fair-rigged fleet,
Or in ripe hour to fell the forest-pine.
Hence, too, not idly do we watch the stars-
Their rising and their setting-and the year,
Four varying seasons to one law conformed.
If chilly showers e'er shut the farmer's door,
Much that had soon with sunshine cried for haste,
He may forestall; the ploughman batters keen
His blunted share's hard tooth, scoops from a tree
His troughs, or on the cattle stamps a brand,
Or numbers on the corn-heaps; some make sharp
The stakes and two-pronged forks, and willow-bands
Amerian for the bending vine prepare.
Now let the pliant basket plaited be
Of bramble-twigs; now set your corn to parch
Before the fire; now bruise it with the stone.
Nay even on holy days some tasks to ply
Is right and lawful: this no ban forbids,
To turn the runnel's course, fence corn-fields in,
Make springes for the birds, burn up the briars,
And plunge in wholesome stream the bleating flock.
Oft too with oil or apples plenty-cheap
The creeping ass's ribs his driver packs,
And home from town returning brings instead
A dented mill-stone or black lump of pitch.
The moon herself in various rank assigns
The days for labour lucky: fly the fifth;
Then sprang pale Orcus and the Eumenides;
Earth then in awful labour brought to light
Coeus, Iapetus, and Typhoeus fell,
And those sworn brethren banded to break down
The gates of heaven; thrice, sooth to say, they strove
Ossa on Pelion's top to heave and heap,
Aye, and on Ossa to up-roll amain
Leafy Olympus; thrice with thunderbolt
Their mountain-stair the Sire asunder smote.
Seventh after tenth is lucky both to set
The vine in earth, and take and tame the steer,
And fix the leashes to the warp; the ninth
To runagates is kinder, cross to thieves.
Many the tasks that lightlier lend themselves
In chilly night, or when the sun is young,
And Dawn bedews the world. By night 'tis best
To reap light stubble, and parched fields by night;
For nights the suppling moisture never fails.
And one will sit the long late watches out
By winter fire-light, shaping with keen blade
The torches to a point; his wife the while,
Her tedious labour soothing with a song,
Speeds the shrill comb along the warp, or else
With Vulcan's aid boils the sweet must-juice down,
And skims with leaves the quivering cauldron's wave.
But ruddy Ceres in mid heat is mown,
And in mid heat the parched ears are bruised
Upon the floor; to plough strip, strip to sow;
Winter's the lazy time for husbandmen.
In the cold season farmers wont to taste
The increase of their toil, and yield themselves
To mutual interchange of festal cheer.
Boon winter bids them, and unbinds their cares,
As laden keels, when now the port they touch,
And happy sailors crown the sterns with flowers.
Nathless then also time it is to strip
Acorns from oaks, and berries from the bay,
Olives, and bleeding myrtles, then to set
Snares for the crane, and meshes for the stag,
And hunt the long-eared hares, then pierce the doe
With whirl of hempen-thonged Balearic sling,
While snow lies deep, and streams are drifting ice.
What need to tell of autumn's storms and stars,
And wherefore men must watch, when now the day
Grows shorter, and more soft the summer's heat?
When Spring the rain-bringer comes rushing down,
Or when the beards of harvest on the plain
Bristle already, and the milky corn
On its green stalk is swelling? Many a time,
When now the farmer to his yellow fields
The reaping-hind came bringing, even in act
To lop the brittle barley stems, have I
Seen all the windy legions clash in war
Together, as to rend up far and wide
The heavy corn-crop from its lowest roots,
And toss it skyward: so might winter's flaw,
Dark-eddying, whirl light stalks and flying straws.
Oft too comes looming vast along the sky
A march of waters; mustering from above,
The clouds roll up the tempest, heaped and grim
With angry showers: down falls the height of heaven,
And with a great rain floods the smiling crops,
The oxen's labour: now the dikes fill fast,
And the void river-beds swell thunderously,
And all the panting firths of Ocean boil.
The Sire himself in midnight of the clouds
Wields with red hand the levin; through all her bulk
Earth at the hurly quakes; the beasts are fled,
And mortal hearts of every kindred sunk
In cowering terror; he with flaming brand
Athos, or Rhodope, or Ceraunian crags
Precipitates: then doubly raves the South
With shower on blinding shower, and woods and coasts
Wail fitfully beneath the mighty blast.
This fearing, mark the months and Signs of heaven,
Whither retires him Saturn's icy star,
And through what heavenly cycles wandereth
The glowing orb Cyllenian. Before all
Worship the Gods, and to great Ceres pay
Her yearly dues upon the happy sward
With sacrifice, anigh the utmost end
Of winter, and when Spring begins to smile.
Then lambs are fat, and wines are mellowest then;
Then sleep is sweet, and dark the shadows fall
Upon the mountains. Let your rustic youth
To Ceres do obeisance, one and all;
And for her pleasure thou mix honeycombs
With milk and the ripe wine-god; thrice for luck
Around the young corn let the victim go,
And all the choir, a joyful company,
Attend it, and with shouts bid Ceres come
To be their house-mate; and let no man dare
Put sickle to the ripened ears until,
With woven oak his temples chapleted,
He foot the rugged dance and chant the lay.
Aye, and that these things we might win to know
By certain tokens, heats, and showers, and winds
That bring the frost, the Sire of all himself
Ordained what warnings in her monthly round
The moon should give, what bodes the south wind's fall,
What oft-repeated sights the herdsman seeing
Should keep his cattle closer to their stalls.
No sooner are the winds at point to rise,
Than either Ocean's firths begin to toss
And swell, and a dry crackling sound is heard
Upon the heights, or one loud ferment booms
The beach afar, and through the forest goes
A murmur multitudinous. By this
Scarce can the billow spare the curved keels,
When swift the sea-gulls from the middle main
Come winging, and their shrieks are shoreward borne,
When ocean-loving cormorants on dry land
Besport them, and the hern, her marshy haunts
Forsaking, mounts above the soaring cloud.
Oft, too, when wind is toward, the stars thou'lt see
From heaven shoot headlong, and through murky night
Long trails of fire white-glistening in their wake,
Or light chaff flit in air with fallen leaves,
Or feathers on the wave-top float and play.
But when from regions of the furious North
It lightens, and when thunder fills the halls
Of Eurus and of Zephyr, all the fields
With brimming dikes are flooded, and at sea
No mariner but furls his dripping sails.
Never at unawares did shower annoy:
Or, as it rises, the high-soaring cranes
Flee to the vales before it, with face
Upturned to heaven, the heifer snuffs the gale
Through gaping nostrils, or about the meres
Shrill-twittering flits the swallow, and the frogs
Crouch in the mud and chant their dirge of old.
Oft, too, the ant from out her inmost cells,
Fretting the narrow path, her eggs conveys;
Or the huge bow sucks moisture; or a host
Of rooks from food returning in long line
Clamour with jostling wings. Now mayst thou see
The various ocean-fowl and those that pry
Round Asian meads within thy fresher-pools,
Cayster, as in eager rivalry,
About their shoulders dash the plenteous spray,
Now duck their head beneath the wave, now run
Into the billows, for sheer idle joy
Of their mad bathing-revel. Then the crow
With full voice, good-for-naught, inviting rain,
Stalks on the dry sand mateless and alone.
Nor e'en the maids, that card their nightly task,
Know not the storm-sign, when in blazing crock
They see the lamp-oil sputtering with a growth
Of mouldy snuff-clots.
So too, after rain,
Sunshine and open skies thou mayst forecast,
And learn by tokens sure, for then nor dimmed
Appear the stars' keen edges, nor the moon
As borrowing of her brother's beams to rise,
Nor fleecy films to float along the sky.
Not to the sun's warmth then upon the shore
Do halcyons dear to Thetis ope their wings,
Nor filthy swine take thought to toss on high
With scattering snout the straw-wisps. But the clouds
Seek more the vales, and rest upon the plain,
And from the roof-top the night-owl for naught
Watching the sunset plies her 'lated song.
Distinct in clearest air is Nisus seen
Towering, and Scylla for the purple lock
Pays dear; for whereso, as she flies, her wings
The light air winnow, lo! fierce, implacable,
Nisus with mighty whirr through heaven pursues;
Where Nisus heavenward soareth, there her wings
Clutch as she flies, the light air winnowing still.
Soft then the voice of rooks from indrawn throat
Thrice, four times, o'er repeated, and full oft
On their high cradles, by some hidden joy
Gladdened beyond their wont, in bustling throngs
Among the leaves they riot; so sweet it is,
When showers are spent, their own loved nests again
And tender brood to visit. Not, I deem,
That heaven some native wit to these assigned,
Or fate a larger prescience, but that when
The storm and shifting moisture of the air
Have changed their courses, and the sky-god now,
Wet with the south-wind, thickens what was rare,
And what was gross releases, then, too, change
Their spirits' fleeting phases, and their breasts
Feel other motions now, than when the wind
Was driving up the cloud-rack. Hence proceeds
That blending of the feathered choirs afield,
The cattle's exultation, and the rooks'
But if the headlong sun
And moons in order following thou regard,
Ne'er will to-morrow's hour deceive thee, ne'er
Wilt thou be caught by guile of cloudless night.
When first the moon recalls her rallying fires,
If dark the air clipped by her crescent dim,
For folks afield and on the open sea
A mighty rain is brewing; but if her face
With maiden blush she mantle, 'twill be wind,
For wind turns Phoebe still to ruddier gold.
But if at her fourth rising, for 'tis that
Gives surest counsel, clear she ride thro' heaven
With horns unblunted, then shall that whole day,
And to the month's end those that spring from it,
Rainless and windless be, while safe ashore
Shall sailors pay their vows to Panope,
Glaucus, and Melicertes, Ino's child.
The sun too, both at rising, and when soon
He dives beneath the waves, shall yield thee signs;
For signs, none trustier, travel with the sun,
Both those which in their course with dawn he brings,
And those at star-rise. When his springing orb
With spots he pranketh, muffled in a cloud,
And shrinks mid-circle, then of showers beware;
For then the South comes driving from the deep,
To trees and crops and cattle bringing bane.
Or when at day-break through dark clouds his rays
Burst and are scattered, or when rising pale
Aurora quits Tithonus' saffron bed,
But sorry shelter then, alack I will yield
Vine-leaf to ripening grapes; so thick a hail
In spiky showers spins rattling on the roof.
And this yet more 'twill boot thee bear in mind,
When now, his course upon Olympus run,
He draws to his decline: for oft we see
Upon the sun's own face strange colours stray;
Dark tells of rain, of east winds fiery-red;
If spots with ruddy fire begin to mix,
Then all the heavens convulsed in wrath thou'lt see-
Storm-clouds and wind together. Me that night
Let no man bid fare forth upon the deep,
Nor rend the rope from shore. But if, when both
He brings again and hides the day's return,
Clear-orbed he shineth,idly wilt thou dread
The storm-clouds, and beneath the lustral North
See the woods waving. What late eve in fine
Bears in her bosom, whence the wind that brings
Fair-weather-clouds, or what the rain South
Is meditating, tokens of all these
The sun will give thee. Who dare charge the sun
With leasing? He it is who warneth oft
Of hidden broils at hand and treachery,
And secret swelling of the waves of war.
He too it was, when Caesar's light was quenched,
For Rome had pity, when his bright head he veiled
In iron-hued darkness, till a godless age
Trembled for night eternal; at that time
Howbeit earth also, and the ocean-plains,
And dogs obscene, and birds of evil bode
Gave tokens. Yea, how often have we seen
Etna, her furnace-walls asunder riven,
In billowy floods boil o'er the Cyclops' fields,
And roll down globes of fire and molten rocks!
A clash of arms through all the heaven was heard
By Germany; strange heavings shook the Alps.
Yea, and by many through the breathless groves
A voice was heard with power, and wondrous-pale
Phantoms were seen upon the dusk of night,
And cattle spake, portentous! streams stand still,
And the earth yawns asunder, ivory weeps
For sorrow in the shrines, and bronzes sweat.
Up-twirling forests with his eddying tide,
Madly he bears them down, that lord of floods,
Eridanus, till through all the plain are swept
Beasts and their stalls together. At that time
In gloomy entrails ceased not to appear
Dark-threatening fibres, springs to trickle blood,
And high-built cities night-long to resound
With the wolves' howling. Never more than then
From skies all cloudless fell the thunderbolts,
Nor blazed so oft the comet's fire of bale.
Therefore a second time Philippi saw
The Roman hosts with kindred weapons rush
To battle, nor did the high gods deem it hard
That twice Emathia and the wide champaign
Of Haemus should be fattening with our blood.
Ay, and the time will come when there anigh,
Heaving the earth up with his curved plough,
Some swain will light on javelins by foul rust
Corroded, or with ponderous harrow strike
On empty helmets, while he gapes to see
Bones as of giants from the trench untombed.
Gods of my country, heroes of the soil,
And Romulus, and Mother Vesta, thou
Who Tuscan Tiber and Rome's Palatine
Preservest, this new champion at the least
Our fallen generation to repair
Forbid not. To the full and long ago
Our blood thy Trojan perjuries hath paid,
Laomedon. Long since the courts of heaven
Begrudge us thee, our Caesar, and complain
That thou regard'st the triumphs of mankind,
Here where the wrong is right, the right is wrong,
Where wars abound so many, and myriad-faced
Is crime; where no meet honour hath the plough;
The fields, their husbandmen led far away,
Rot in neglect, and curved pruning-hooks
Into the sword's stiff blade are fused and forged.
Euphrates here, here Germany new strife
Is stirring; neighbouring cities are in arms,
The laws that bound them snapped; and godless war
Rages through all the universe; as when
The four-horse chariots from the barriers poured
Still quicken o'er the course, and, idly now
Grasping the reins, the driver by his team
Is onward borne, nor heeds the car his curb.
Thus far the tilth of fields and stars of heaven;
Now will I sing thee, Bacchus, and, with thee,
The forest's young plantations and the fruit
Of slow-maturing olive. Hither haste,
O Father of the wine-press; all things here
Teem with the bounties of thy hand; for thee
With viny autumn laden blooms the field,
And foams the vintage high with brimming vats;
Hither, O Father of the wine-press, come,
And stripped of buskin stain thy bared limbs
In the new must with me.
First, nature's law
For generating trees is manifold;
For some of their own force spontaneous spring,
No hand of man compelling, and possess
The plains and river-windings far and wide,
As pliant osier and the bending broom,
Poplar, and willows in wan companies
With green leaf glimmering gray; and some there be
From chance-dropped seed that rear them, as the tall
Chestnuts, and, mightiest of the branching wood,
Jove's Aesculus, and oaks, oracular
Deemed by the Greeks of old. With some sprouts forth
A forest of dense suckers from the root,
As elms and cherries; so, too, a pigmy plant,
Beneath its mother's mighty shade upshoots
The bay-tree of Parnassus. Such the modes
Nature imparted first; hence all the race
Of forest-trees and shrubs and sacred groves
Springs into verdure.
Other means there are,
Which use by method for itself acquired.
One, sliving suckers from the tender frame
Of the tree-mother, plants them in the trench;
One buries the bare stumps within his field,
Truncheons cleft four-wise, or sharp-pointed stakes;
Some forest-trees the layer's bent arch await,
And slips yet quick within the parent-soil;
No root need others, nor doth the pruner's hand
Shrink to restore the topmost shoot to earth
That gave it being. Nay, marvellous to tell,
Lopped of its limbs, the olive, a mere stock,
Still thrusts its root out from the sapless wood,
And oft the branches of one kind we see
Change to another's with no loss to rue,
Pear-tree transformed the ingrafted apple yield,
And stony cornels on the plum-tree blush.
Come then, and learn what tilth to each belongs
According to their kinds, ye husbandmen,
And tame with culture the wild fruits, lest earth
Lie idle. O blithe to make all Ismarus
One forest of the wine-god, and to clothe
With olives huge Tabernus! And be thou
At hand, and with me ply the voyage of toil
I am bound on, O my glory, O thou that art
Justly the chiefest portion of my fame,
Maecenas, and on this wide ocean launched
Spread sail like wings to waft thee. Not that I
With my poor verse would comprehend the whole,
Nay, though a hundred tongues, a hundred mouths
Were mine, a voice of iron; be thou at hand,
Skirt but the nearer coast-line; see the shore
Is in our grasp; not now with feigned song
Through winding bouts and tedious preludings
Shall I detain thee.
Those that lift their head
Into the realms of light spontaneously,
Fruitless indeed, but blithe and strenuous spring,
Since Nature lurks within the soil. And yet
Even these, should one engraft them, or transplant
To well-drilled trenches, will anon put of
Their woodland temper, and, by frequent tilth,
To whatso craft thou summon them, make speed
To follow. So likewise will the barren shaft
That from the stock-root issueth, if it be
Set out with clear space amid open fields:
Now the tree-mother's towering leaves and boughs
Darken, despoil of increase as it grows,
And blast it in the bearing. Lastly, that
Which from shed seed ariseth, upward wins
But slowly, yielding promise of its shade
To late-born generations; apples wane
Forgetful of their former juice, the grape
Bears sorry clusters, for the birds a prey.
Soothly on all must toil be spent, and all
Trained to the trench and at great cost subdued.
But reared from truncheons olives answer best,
As vines from layers, and from the solid wood
The Paphian myrtles; while from suckers spring
Both hardy hazels and huge ash, the tree
That rims with shade the brows of Hercules,
And acorns dear to the Chaonian sire:
So springs the towering palm too, and the fir
Destined to spy the dangers of the deep.
But the rough arbutus with walnut-fruit
Is grafted; so have barren planes ere now
Stout apples borne, with chestnut-flower the beech,
The mountain-ash with pear-bloom whitened o'er,
And swine crunched acorns 'neath the boughs of elms.
Nor is the method of inserting eyes
And grafting one: for where the buds push forth
Amidst the bark, and burst the membranes thin,
Even on the knot a narrow rift is made,
Wherein from some strange tree a germ they pen,
And to the moist rind bid it cleave and grow.
Or, otherwise, in knotless trunks is hewn
A breach, and deep into the solid grain
A path with wedges cloven; then fruitful slips
Are set herein, and- no long time- behold!
To heaven upshot with teeming boughs, the tree
Strange leaves admires and fruitage not its own.
Nor of one kind alone are sturdy elms,
Willow and lotus, nor the cypress-trees
Of Ida; nor of self-same fashion spring
Fat olives, orchades, and radii
And bitter-berried pausians, no, nor yet
Apples and the forests of Alcinous;
Nor from like cuttings are Crustumian pears
And Syrian, and the heavy hand-fillers.
Not the same vintage from our trees hangs down,
Which Lesbos from Methymna's tendril plucks.
Vines Thasian are there, Mareotids white,
These apt for richer soils, for lighter those:
Psithian for raisin-wine more useful, thin
Lageos, that one day will try the feet
And tie the tongue: purples and early-ripes,
And how, O Rhaetian, shall I hymn thy praise?
Yet cope not therefore with Falernian bins.
Vines Aminaean too, best-bodied wine,
To which the Tmolian bows him, ay, and king
Phanaeus too, and, lesser of that name,
Argitis, wherewith not a grape can vie
For gush of wine-juice or for length of years.
Nor thee must I pass over, vine of Rhodes,
Welcomed by gods and at the second board,
Nor thee, Bumastus, with plump clusters swollen.
But lo! how many kinds, and what their names,
There is no telling, nor doth it boot to tell;
Who lists to know it, he too would list to learn
How many sand-grains are by Zephyr tossed
On Libya's plain, or wot, when Eurus falls
With fury on the ships, how many waves
Come rolling shoreward from the Ionian sea.
Not that all soils can all things bear alike.
Willows by water-courses have their birth,
Alders in miry fens; on rocky heights
The barren mountain-ashes; on the shore
Myrtles throng gayest; Bacchus, lastly, loves
The bare hillside, and yews the north wind's chill.
Mark too the earth by outland tillers tamed,
And Eastern homes of Arabs, and tattooed
Geloni; to all trees their native lands
Allotted are; no clime but India bears
Black ebony; the branch of frankincense
Is Saba's sons' alone; why tell to thee
Of balsams oozing from the perfumed wood,
Or berries of acanthus ever green?
Of Aethiop forests hoar with downy wool,
Or how the Seres comb from off the leaves
Their silky fleece? Of groves which India bears,
Ocean's near neighbour, earth's remotest nook,
Where not an arrow-shot can cleave the air
Above their tree-tops? yet no laggards they,
When girded with the quiver! Media yields
The bitter juices and slow-lingering taste
Of the blest citron-fruit, than which no aid
Comes timelier, when fierce step-dames drug the cup
With simples mixed and spells of baneful power,
To drive the deadly poison from the limbs.
Large the tree's self in semblance like a bay,
And, showered it not a different scent abroad,
A bay it had been; for no wind of heaven
Its foliage falls; the flower, none faster, clings;
With it the Medes for sweetness lave the lips,
And ease the panting breathlessness of age.
But no, not Mede-land with its wealth of woods,
Nor Ganges fair, and Hermus thick with gold,
Can match the praise of Italy; nor Ind,
Nor Bactria, nor Panchaia, one wide tract
Of incense-teeming sand. Here never bulls
With nostrils snorting fire upturned the sod
Sown with the monstrous dragon's teeth, nor crop
Of warriors bristled thick with lance and helm;
But heavy harvests and the Massic juice
Of Bacchus fill its borders, overspread
With fruitful flocks and olives. Hence arose
The war-horse stepping proudly o'er the plain;
Hence thy white flocks, Clitumnus, and the bull,
Of victims mightiest, which full oft have led,
Bathed in thy sacred stream, the triumph-pomp
Of Romans to the temples of the gods.
Here blooms perpetual spring, and summer here
In months that are not summer's; twice teem the flocks;
Twice doth the tree yield service of her fruit.
But ravening tigers come not nigh, nor breed
Of savage lion, nor aconite betrays
Its hapless gatherers, nor with sweep so vast
Doth the scaled serpent trail his endless coils
Along the ground, or wreathe him into spires.
Mark too her cities, so many and so proud,
Of mighty toil the achievement, town on town
Up rugged precipices heaved and reared,
And rivers undergliding ancient walls.
Or should I celebrate the sea that laves
Her upper shores and lower? or those broad lakes?
Thee, Larius, greatest and, Benacus, thee
With billowy uproar surging like the main?
Or sing her harbours, and the barrier cast
Athwart the Lucrine, and how ocean chafes
With mighty bellowings, where the Julian wave
Echoes the thunder of his rout, and through
Avernian inlets pours the Tuscan tide?
A land no less that in her veins displays
Rivers of silver, mines of copper ore,
Ay, and with gold hath flowed abundantly.
A land that reared a valiant breed of men,
The Marsi and Sabellian youth, and, schooled
To hardship, the Ligurian, and with these
The Volscian javelin-armed, the Decii too,
The Marii and Camilli, names of might,
The Scipios, stubborn warriors, ay, and thee,
Great Caesar, who in Asia's utmost bounds
With conquering arm e'en now art fending far
The unwarlike Indian from the heights of Rome.
Hail! land of Saturn, mighty mother thou
Of fruits and heroes; 'tis for thee I dare
Unseal the sacred fountains, and essay
Themes of old art and glory, as I sing
The song of Ascra through the towns of Rome.
Now for the native gifts of various soils,
What powers hath each, what hue, what natural bent
For yielding increase. First your stubborn lands
And churlish hill-sides, where are thorny fields
Of meagre marl and gravel, these delight
In long-lived olive-groves to Pallas dear.
Take for a sign the plenteous growth hard by
Of oleaster, and the fields strewn wide
With woodland berries. But a soil that's rich,
In moisture sweet exulting, and the plain
That teems with grasses on its fruitful breast,
Such as full oft in hollow mountain-dell
We view beneath us- from the craggy heights
Streams thither flow with fertilizing mud-
A plain which southward rising feeds the fern
By curved ploughs detested, this one day
Shall yield thee store of vines full strong to gush
In torrents of the wine-god; this shall be
Fruitful of grapes and flowing juice like that
We pour to heaven from bowls of gold, what time
The sleek Etruscan at the altar blows
His ivory pipe, and on the curved dish
We lay the reeking entrails. If to rear
Cattle delight thee rather, steers, or lambs,
Or goats that kill the tender plants, then seek
Full-fed Tarentum's glades and distant fields,
Or such a plain as luckless Mantua lost
Whose weedy water feeds the snow-white swan:
There nor clear springs nor grass the flocks will fail,
And all the day-long browsing of thy herds
Shall the cool dews of one brief night repair.
Land which the burrowing share shows dark and rich,
With crumbling soil- for this we counterfeit
In ploughing- for corn is goodliest; from no field
More wains thou'lt see wend home with plodding steers;
Or that from which the husbandman in spleen
Has cleared the timber, and o'erthrown the copse
That year on year lay idle, and from the roots
Uptorn the immemorial haunt of birds;
They banished from their nests have sought the skies;
But the rude plain beneath the ploughshare's stroke
Starts into sudden brightness. For indeed
The starved hill-country gravel scarce serves the bees
With lowly cassias and with rosemary;
Rough tufa and chalk too, by black water-worms
Gnawed through and through, proclaim no soils beside
So rife with serpent-dainties, or that yield
Such winding lairs to lurk in. That again,
Which vapoury mist and flitting smoke exhales,
Drinks moisture up and casts it forth at will,
Which, ever in its own green grass arrayed,
Mars not the metal with salt scurf of rust-
That shall thine elms with merry vines enwreathe;
That teems with olive; that shall thy tilth prove kind
To cattle, and patient of the curved share.
Such ploughs rich Capua, such the coast that skirts
Thy ridge, Vesuvius, and the Clanian flood,
Acerrae's desolation and her bane.
How each to recognize now hear me tell.
Dost ask if loose or passing firm it be-
Since one for corn hath liking, one for wine,
The firmer sort for Ceres, none too loose
For thee, Lyaeus?- with scrutinizing eye
First choose thy ground, and bid a pit be sunk
Deep in the solid earth, then cast the mould
All back again, and stamp the surface smooth.
If it suffice not, loose will be the land,
More meet for cattle and for kindly vines;
But if, rebellious, to its proper bounds
The soil returns not, but fills all the trench
And overtops it, then the glebe is gross;
Look for stiff ridges and reluctant clods,
And with strong bullocks cleave the fallow crust.
Salt ground again, and bitter, as 'tis called-
Barren for fruits, by tilth untamable,
Nor grape her kind, nor apples their good name
Maintaining- will in this wise yield thee proof:
Stout osier-baskets from the rafter-smoke,
And strainers of the winepress pluck thee down;
Hereinto let that evil land, with fresh
Spring-water mixed, be trampled to the full;
The moisture, mark you, will ooze all away,
In big drops issuing through the osier-withes,
But plainly will its taste the secret tell,
And with a harsh twang ruefully distort
The mouths of them that try it. Rich soil again
We learn on this wise: tossed from hand to hand
Yet cracks it never, but pitch-like, as we hold,
Clings to the fingers. A land with moisture rife
Breeds lustier herbage, and is more than meet
Prolific. Ah I may never such for me
O'er-fertile prove, or make too stout a show
At the first earing! Heavy land or light
The mute self-witness of its weight betrays.
A glance will serve to warn thee which is black,
Or what the hue of any. But hard it is
To track the signs of that pernicious cold:
Pines only, noxious yews, and ivies dark
At times reveal its traces.
All these rules
Regarding, let your land, ay, long before,
Scorch to the quick, and into trenches carve
The mighty mountains, and their upturned clods
Bare to the north wind, ere thou plant therein
The vine's prolific kindred. Fields whose soil
Is crumbling are the best: winds look to that,
And bitter hoar-frosts, and the delver's toil
Untiring, as he stirs the loosened glebe.
But those, whose vigilance no care escapes,
Search for a kindred site, where first to rear
A nursery for the trees, and eke whereto
Soon to translate them, lest the sudden shock
From their new mother the young plants estrange.
Nay, even the quarter of the sky they brand
Upon the bark, that each may be restored,
As erst it stood, here bore the southern heats,
Here turned its shoulder to the northern pole;
So strong is custom formed in early years.
Whether on hill or plain 'tis best to plant
Your vineyard first inquire. If on some plain
You measure out rich acres, then plant thick;
Thick planting makes no niggard of the vine;
But if on rising mound or sloping bill,
Then let the rows have room, so none the less
Each line you draw, when all the trees are set,
May tally to perfection. Even as oft
In mighty war, whenas the legion's length
Deploys its cohorts, and the column stands
In open plain, the ranks of battle set,
And far and near with rippling sheen of arms
The wide earth flickers, nor yet in grisly strife
Foe grapples foe, but dubious 'twixt the hosts
The war-god wavers; so let all be ranged
In equal rows symmetric, not alone
To feed an idle fancy with the view,
But since not otherwise will earth afford
Vigour to all alike, nor yet the boughs
Have power to stretch them into open space.
Shouldst haply of the furrow's depth inquire,
Even to a shallow trench I dare commit
The vine; but deeper in the ground is fixed
The tree that props it, aesculus in chief,
Which howso far its summit soars toward heaven,
So deep strikes root into the vaults of hell.
It therefore neither storms, nor blasts, nor showers
Wrench from its bed; unshaken it abides,
Sees many a generation, many an age
Of men roll onward, and survives them all,
Stretching its titan arms and branches far,
Sole central pillar of a world of shade.
Nor toward the sunset let thy vineyards slope,
Nor midst the vines plant hazel; neither take
The topmost shoots for cuttings, nor from the top
Of the supporting tree your suckers tear;
So deep their love of earth; nor wound the plants
With blunted blade; nor truncheons intersperse
Of the wild olive: for oft from careless swains
A spark hath fallen, that, 'neath the unctuous rind
Hid thief-like first, now grips the tough tree-bole,
And mounting to the leaves on high, sends forth
A roar to heaven, then coursing through the boughs
And airy summits reigns victoriously,
Wraps all the grove in robes of fire, and gross
With pitch-black vapour heaves the murky reek
Skyward, but chiefly if a storm has swooped
Down on the forest, and a driving wind
Rolls up the conflagration. When 'tis so,
Their root-force fails them, nor, when lopped away,
Can they recover, and from the earth beneath
Spring to like verdure; thus alone survives
The bare wild olive with its bitter leaves.
Let none persuade thee, howso weighty-wise,
To stir the soil when stiff with Boreas' breath.
Then ice-bound winter locks the fields, nor lets
The young plant fix its frozen root to earth.
Best sow your vineyards when in blushing Spring
Comes the white bird long-bodied snakes abhor,
Or on the eve of autumn's earliest frost,
Ere the swift sun-steeds touch the wintry Signs,
While summer is departing. Spring it is
Blesses the fruit-plantation, Spring the groves;
In Spring earth swells and claims the fruitful seed.
Then Aether, sire omnipotent, leaps down
With quickening showers to his glad wife's embrace,
And, might with might commingling, rears to life
All germs that teem within her; then resound
With songs of birds the greenwood-wildernesses,
And in due time the herds their loves renew;
Then the boon earth yields increase, and the fields
Unlock their bosoms to the warm west winds;
Soft moisture spreads o'er all things, and the blades
Face the new suns, and safely trust them now;
The vine-shoot, fearless of the rising south,
Or mighty north winds driving rain from heaven,
Bursts into bud, and every leaf unfolds.
Even so, methinks, when Earth to being sprang,
Dawned the first days, and such the course they held;
'Twas Spring-tide then, ay, Spring, the mighty world
Was keeping: Eurus spared his wintry blasts,
When first the flocks drank sunlight, and a race
Of men like iron from the hard glebe arose,
And wild beasts thronged the woods, and stars the heaven.
Nor could frail creatures bear this heavy strain,
Did not so large a respite interpose
'Twixt frost and heat, and heaven's relenting arms
Yield earth a welcome.
For the rest, whate'er
The sets thou plantest in thy fields, thereon
Strew refuse rich, and with abundant earth
Take heed to hide them, and dig in withal
Rough shells or porous stone, for therebetween
Will water trickle and fine vapour creep,
And so the plants their drooping spirits raise.
Aye, and there have been, who with weight of stone
Or heavy potsherd press them from above;
This serves for shield in pelting showers, and this
When the hot dog-star chaps the fields with drought.
The slips once planted, yet remains to cleave
The earth about their roots persistently,
And toss the cumbrous hoes, or task the soil
With burrowing plough-share, and ply up and down
Your labouring bullocks through the vineyard's midst,
Then too smooth reeds and shafts of whittled wand,
And ashen poles and sturdy forks to shape,
Whereby supported they may learn to mount,
Laugh at the gales, and through the elm-tops win
From story up to story.
Now while yet
The leaves are in their first fresh infant growth,
Forbear their frailty, and while yet the bough
Shoots joyfully toward heaven, with loosened rein
Launched on the void, assail it not as yet
With keen-edged sickle, but let the leaves alone
Be culled with clip of fingers here and there.
But when they clasp the elms with sturdy trunks
Erect, then strip the leaves off, prune the boughs;
Sooner they shrink from steel, but then put forth
The arm of power, and stem the branchy tide.
Hedges too must be woven and all beasts
Barred entrance, chiefly while the leaf is young
And witless of disaster; for therewith,
Beside harsh winters and o'erpowering sun,
Wild buffaloes and pestering goats for ay
Besport them, sheep and heifers glut their greed.
Nor cold by hoar-frost curdled, nor the prone
Dead weight of summer upon the parched crags,
So scathe it, as the flocks with venom-bite
Of their hard tooth, whose gnawing scars the stem.
For no offence but this to Bacchus bleeds
The goat at every altar, and old plays
Upon the stage find entrance; therefore too
The sons of Theseus through the country-side-
Hamlet and crossway- set the prize of wit,
And on the smooth sward over oiled skins
Dance in their tipsy frolic. Furthermore
The Ausonian swains, a race from Troy derived,
Make merry with rough rhymes and boisterous mirth,
Grim masks of hollowed bark assume, invoke
Thee with glad hymns, O Bacchus, and to thee
Hang puppet-faces on tall pines to swing.
Hence every vineyard teems with mellowing fruit,
Till hollow vale o'erflows, and gorge profound,
Where'er the god hath turned his comely head.
Therefore to Bacchus duly will we sing
Meet honour with ancestral hymns, and cates
And dishes bear him; and the doomed goat
Led by the horn shall at the altar stand,
Whose entrails rich on hazel-spits we'll roast.
This further task again, to dress the vine,
Hath needs beyond exhausting; the whole soil
Thrice, four times, yearly must be cleft, the sod
With hoes reversed be crushed continually,
The whole plantation lightened of its leaves.
Round on the labourer spins the wheel of toil,
As on its own track rolls the circling year.
Soon as the vine her lingering leaves hath shed,
And the chill north wind from the forests shook
Their coronal, even then the careful swain
Looks keenly forward to the coming year,
With Saturn's curved fang pursues and prunes
The vine forlorn, and lops it into shape.
Be first to dig the ground up, first to clear
And burn the refuse-branches, first to house
Again your vine-poles, last to gather fruit.
Twice doth the thickening shade beset the vine,
Twice weeds with stifling briers o'ergrow the crop;
And each a toilsome labour. Do thou praise
Broad acres, farm but few. Rough twigs beside
Of butcher's broom among the woods are cut,
And reeds upon the river-banks, and still
The undressed willow claims thy fostering care.
So now the vines are fettered, now the trees
Let go the sickle, and the last dresser now
Sings of his finished rows; but still the ground
Must vexed be, the dust be stirred, and heaven
Still set thee trembling for the ripened grapes.
Not so with olives; small husbandry need they,
Nor look for sickle bowed or biting rake,
When once they have gripped the soil, and borne the breeze.
Earth of herself, with hooked fang laid bare,
Yields moisture for the plants, and heavy fruit,
The ploughshare aiding; therewithal thou'lt rear
The olive's fatness well-beloved of Peace.
Apples, moreover, soon as first they feel
Their stems wax lusty, and have found their strength,
To heaven climb swiftly, self-impelled, nor crave
Our succour. All the grove meanwhile no less
With fruit is swelling, and the wild haunts of birds
Blush with their blood-red berries. Cytisus
Is good to browse on, the tall forest yields
Pine-torches, and the nightly fires are fed
And shoot forth radiance. And shall men be loath
To plant, nor lavish of their pains? Why trace
Things mightier? Willows even and lowly brooms
To cattle their green leaves, to shepherds shade,
Fences for crops, and food for honey yield.
And blithe it is Cytorus to behold
Waving with box, Narycian groves of pitch;
Oh! blithe the sight of fields beholden not
To rake or man's endeavour! the barren woods
That crown the scalp of Caucasus, even these,
Which furious blasts for ever rive and rend,
Yield various wealth, pine-logs that serve for ships,
Cedar and cypress for the homes of men;
Hence, too, the farmers shave their wheel-spokes, hence
Drums for their wains, and curved boat-keels fit;
Willows bear twigs enow, the elm-tree leaves,
Myrtle stout spear-shafts, war-tried cornel too;
Yews into Ituraean bows are bent:
Nor do smooth lindens or lathe-polished box
Shrink from man's shaping and keen-furrowing steel;
Light alder floats upon the boiling flood
Sped down the Padus, and bees house their swarms
In rotten holm-oak's hollow bark and bole.
What of like praise can Bacchus' gifts afford?
Nay, Bacchus even to crime hath prompted, he
The wine-infuriate Centaurs quelled with death,
Rhoetus and Pholus, and with mighty bowl
Hylaeus threatening high the Lapithae.
Oh! all too happy tillers of the soil,
Could they but know their blessedness, for whom
Far from the clash of arms all-equal earth
Pours from the ground herself their easy fare!
What though no lofty palace portal-proud
From all its chambers vomits forth a tide
Of morning courtiers, nor agape they gaze
On pillars with fair tortoise-shell inwrought,
Gold-purfled robes, and bronze from Ephyre;
Nor is the whiteness of their wool distained
With drugs Assyrian, nor clear olive's use
With cassia tainted; yet untroubled calm,
A life that knows no falsehood, rich enow
With various treasures, yet broad-acred ease,
Grottoes and living lakes, yet Tempes cool,
Lowing of kine, and sylvan slumbers soft,
They lack not; lawns and wild beasts' haunts are there,
A youth of labour patient, need-inured,
Worship, and reverend sires: with them from earth
Departing justice her last footprints left.
Me before all things may the Muses sweet,
Whose rites I bear with mighty passion pierced,
Receive, and show the paths and stars of heaven,
The sun's eclipses and the labouring moons,
From whence the earthquake, by what power the seas
Swell from their depths, and, every barrier burst,
Sink back upon themselves, why winter-suns
So haste to dip 'neath ocean, or what check
The lingering night retards. But if to these
High realms of nature the cold curdling blood
About my heart bar access, then be fields
And stream-washed vales my solace, let me love
Rivers and woods, inglorious. Oh for you
Plains, and Spercheius, and Taygete,
By Spartan maids o'er-revelled! Oh, for one,
Would set me in deep dells of Haemus cool,
And shield me with his boughs' o'ershadowing might!
Happy, who had the skill to understand
Nature's hid causes, and beneath his feet
All terrors cast, and death's relentless doom,
And the loud roar of greedy Acheron.
Blest too is he who knows the rural gods,
Pan, old Silvanus, and the
A Fable For Critics
Phoebus, sitting one day in a laurel-tree's shade,
Was reminded of Daphne, of whom it was made,
For the god being one day too warm in his wooing,
She took to the tree to escape his pursuing;
Be the cause what it might, from his offers she shrunk,
And, Ginevra-like, shut herself up in a trunk;
And, though 'twas a step into which he had driven her,
He somehow or other had never forgiven her;
Her memory he nursed as a kind of a tonic,
Something bitter to chew when he'd play the Byronic,
And I can't count the obstinate nymphs that he brought over
By a strange kind of smile he put on when he thought of her.
'My case is like Dido's,' he sometimes remarked;
'When I last saw my love, she was fairly embarked
In a laurel, as _she_ thought-but (ah, how Fate mocks!)
She has found it by this time a very bad box;
Let hunters from me take this saw when they need it,-
You're not always sure of your game when you've treed it.
Just conceive such a change taking place in one's mistress!
What romance would be left?-who can flatter or kiss trees?
And, for mercy's sake, how could one keep up a dialogue
With a dull wooden thing that will live and will die a log,-
Not to say that the thought would forever intrude
That you've less chance to win her the more she is wood?
Ah! it went to my heart, and the memory still grieves,
To see those loved graces all taking their leaves;
Those charms beyond speech, so enchanting but now,
As they left me forever, each making its bough!
If her tongue _had_ a tang sometimes more than was right,
Her new bark is worse than ten times her old bite.'
Now, Daphne-before she was happily treeified-
Over all other blossoms the lily had deified,
And when she expected the god on a visit
('Twas before he had made his intentions explicit),
Some buds she arranged with a vast deal of care,
To look as if artlessly twined in her hair,
Where they seemed, as he said, when he paid his addresses,
Like the day breaking through, the long night of her tresses;
So whenever he wished to be quite irresistible,
Like a man with eight trumps in his hand at a whist-table
(I feared me at first that the rhyme was untwistable,
Though I might have lugged in an allusion to Cristabel),-
He would take up a lily, and gloomily look in it,
As I shall at the--, when they cut up my book in it.
Well, here, after all the bad rhyme I've been spinning,
I've got back at last to my story's beginning:
Sitting there, as I say, in the shade of his mistress,
As dull as a volume of old Chester mysteries,
Or as those puzzling specimens which, in old histories,
We read of his verses-the Oracles, namely,-
(I wonder the Greeks should have swallowed them tamely,
For one might bet safely whatever he has to risk,
They were laid at his door by some ancient Miss Asterisk,
And so dull that the men who retailed them out-doors
Got the ill name of augurs, because they were bores,-)
First, he mused what the animal substance or herb is
Would induce a mustache, for you know he's _imberbis;_
Then he shuddered to think how his youthful position
Was assailed by the age of his son the physician;
At some poems he glanced, had been sent to him lately,
And the metre and sentiment puzzled him greatly;
'Mehercle! I'd make such proceeding felonious,-
Have they all of them slept in the cave of Trophonius?
Look well to your seat, 'tis like taking an airing
On a corduroy road, and that out of repairing;
It leads one, 'tis true, through the primitive forest,
Grand natural features, but then one has no rest;
You just catch a glimpse of some ravishing distance,
When a jolt puts the whole of it out of existence,-
Why not use their ears, if they happen to have any?'
-Here the laurel leaves murmured the name of poor Daphne.
'Oh, weep with me, Daphne,' he sighed, 'for you know it's
A terrible thing to be pestered with poets!
But, alas, she is dumb, and the proverb holds good,
She never will cry till she's out of the wood!
What wouldn't I give if I never had known of her?
'Twere a kind of relief had I something to groan over:
If I had but some letters of hers, now, to toss over,
I might turn for the nonce a Byronic philosopher,
And bewitch all the flats by bemoaning the loss of her.
One needs something tangible, though, to begin on,-
A loom, as it were, for the fancy to spin on;
What boots all your grist? it can never be ground
Till a breeze makes the arms of the windmill go round;
(Or, if 'tis a water-mill, alter the metaphor,
And say it won't stir, save the wheel be well wet afore,
Or lug in some stuff about water 'so dreamily,'-
It is not a metaphor, though, 'tis a simile):
A lily, perhaps, would set _my_ mill a-going,
For just at this season, I think, they are blowing.
Here, somebody, fetch one; not very far hence
They're in bloom by the score, 'tis but climbing a fence;
There's a poet hard by, who does nothing but fill his
Whole garden, from one end to t'other, with lilies;
A very good plan, were it not for satiety,
One longs for a weed here and there, for variety;
Though a weed is no more than a flower in disguise,
Which is seen through at once, if love give a man eyes.'
Now there happened to be among Phoebus's followers,
A gentleman, one of the omnivorous swallowers,
Who bolt every book that comes out of the press,
Without the least question of larger or less,
Whose stomachs are strong at the expense of their head,-
For reading new books is like eating new bread,
One can bear it at first, but by gradual steps he
Is brought to death's door of a mental dyspepsy.
On a previous stage of existence, our Hero
Had ridden outside, with the glass below zero;
He had been, 'tis a fact you may safely rely on,
Of a very old stock a most eminent scion,-
A stock all fresh quacks their fierce boluses ply on,
Who stretch the new boots Earth's unwilling to try on,
Whom humbugs of all shapes and sorts keep their eye on,
Whose hair's in the mortar of every new Zion,
Who, when whistles are dear, go directly and buy one,
Who think slavery a crime that we must not say fie on,
Who hunt, if they e'er hunt at all, with the lion
(Though they hunt lions also, whenever they spy one),
Who contrive to make every good fortune a wry one,
And at last choose the hard bed of honor to die on,
Whose pedigree, traced to earth's earliest years,
Is longer than anything else but their ears,-
In short, he was sent into life with the wrong key,
He unlocked the door, and stept forth a poor donkey.
Though kicked and abused by his bipedal betters
Yet he filled no mean place in the kingdom of letters;
Far happier than many a literary hack,
He bore only paper-mill rags on his back
(For It makes a vast difference which side the mill
One expends on the paper his labor and skill):
So, when his soul waited a new transmigration,
And Destiny balanced 'twixt this and that station,
Not having much time to expend upon bothers,
Remembering he'd had some connection with authors,
And considering his four legs had grown paralytic,-
She set him on two, and he came forth a critic.
Through his babyhood no kind of pleasure he took
In any amusement but tearing a book;
For him there was no intermediate stage
From babyhood up to straight-laced middle age;
There were years when he didn't wear coat-tails behind,
But a boy he could never be rightly defined;
like the Irish Good Folk, though in length scarce a span,
From the womb he came gravely, a little old man;
While other boys' trousers demanded the toil
Of the motherly fingers on all kinds of soil,
Red, yellow, brown, black, clayey, gravelly, loamy,
He sat in the corner and read Viri Romae.
He never was known to unbend or to revel once
In base, marbles, hockey, or kick up the devil once;
He was just one of those who excite the benevolence
Of your old prigs who sound the soul's depths with a ledger,
And are on the lookout for some young men to 'edger-
cate,' as they call it, who won't be too costly,
And who'll afterward take to the ministry mostly;
Who always wear spectacles, always look bilious,
Always keep on good terms with each _mater-familias_
Throughout the whole parish, and manage to rear
Ten boys like themselves, on four hundred a year:
Who, fulfilling in turn the same fearful conditions,
Either preach through their noses, or go upon missions.
In this way our Hero got safely to college,
Where he bolted alike both his commons and knowledge;
A reading-machine, always wound up and going,
He mastered whatever was not worth the knowing,
Appeared in a gown, with black waistcoat of satin,
To spout such a Gothic oration in Latin
That Tully could never have made out a word in it
(Though himself was the model the author preferred in it),
And grasping the parchment which gave him in fee
All the mystic and-so-forths contained in A.B.,
He was launched (life is always compared to a sea)
With just enough learning, and skill for the using it,
To prove he'd a brain, by forever confusing it.
So worthy St. Benedict, piously burning
With the holiest zeal against secular learning,
_Nesciensque scienter_, as writers express it,
_Indoctusque sapienter a Roma recessit_.
'Twould be endless to tell you the things that he knew,
Each a separate fact, undeniably true,
But with him or each other they'd nothing to do;
No power of combining, arranging, discerning,
Digested the masses he learned into learning;
There was one thing in life he had practical knowledge for
(And this, you will think, he need scarce go to college for),-
Not a deed would he do, nor a word would he utter,
Till he'd weighed its relations to plain bread and butter.
When he left Alma Mater, he practised his wits
In compiling the journals' historical bits,-
Of shops broken open, men falling in fits,
Great fortunes in England bequeathed to poor printers,
And cold spells, the coldest for many past winters,-
Then, rising by industry, knack, and address,
Got notices up for an unbiased press,
With a mind so well poised, it seemed equally made for
Applause or abuse, just which chanced to be paid for:
From this point his progress was rapid and sure,
To the post of a regular heavy reviewer.
And here I must say he wrote excellent articles
On Hebraical points, or the force of Greek particles;
They filled up the space nothing else was prepared for,
And nobody read that which nobody cared for;
If any old book reached a fiftieth edition,
He could fill forty pages with safe erudition:
He could gauge the old books by the old set of rules,
And his very old nothings pleased very old fools;
But give him a new book, fresh out of the heart,
And you put him at sea without compass or chart,-
His blunders aspired to the rank of an art;
For his lore was engraft, something foreign that grew in him,
Exhausting the sap of the native and true in him,
So that when a man came with a soul that was new in him,
Carving new forms of truth out of Nature's old granite,
New and old at their birth, like Le Verrier's planet,
Which, to get a true judgment, themselves must create
In the soul of their critic the measure and weight,
Being rather themselves a fresh standard of grace,
To compute their own judge, and assign him his place,
Our reviewer would crawl all about it and round it,
And, reporting each circumstance just as he found it,
Without the least malice,-his record would be
Profoundly aesthetic as that of a flea,
Which, supping on Wordsworth, should print for our sakes,
Recollections of nights with the Bard of the Lakes,
Or, lodged by an Arab guide, ventured to render a
Comprehensive account of the ruins at Denderah.
As I said, he was never precisely unkind.
The defect in his brain was just absence of mind;
If he boasted, 'twas simply that he was self-made,
A position which I, for one, never gainsaid,
My respect for my Maker supposing a skill
In his works which our Hero would answer but ill;
And I trust that the mould which he used may be cracked, or he,
Made bold by success, may enlarge his phylactery,
And set up a kind of a man-manufactory,-
An event which I shudder to think about, seeing
That Man is a moral, accountable being.
He meant well enough, but was still in the way,
As dunces still are, let them be where they may;
Indeed, they appear to come into existence
To impede other folks with their awkward assistance;
If you set up a dunce on the very North pole
All alone with himself, I believe, on my soul,
He'd manage to get betwixt somebody's shins,
And pitch him down bodily, all in his sins,
To the grave polar bears sitting round on the ice,
All shortening their grace, to be in for a slice;
Or, if he found nobody else there to pother,
Why, one of his legs would just trip up the other,
For there's nothing we read of in torture's inventions,
Like a well-meaning dunce, with the best of intentions.
A terrible fellow to meet in society,
Not the toast that he buttered was ever so dry at tea;
There he'd sit at the table and stir in his sugar,
Crouching close for a spring, all the while, like a cougar;
Be sure of your facts, of your measures and weights,
Of your time,-he's as fond as an Arab of dates;
You'll be telling, perhaps, in your comical way,
Of something you've seen in the course of the day;
And, just as you're tapering out the conclusion,
You venture an ill-fated classic allusion,-
The girls have all got their laughs ready, when, whack!
The cougar comes down on your thunderstruck back!
You had left out a comma,-your Greek's put in joint,
And pointed at cost of your story's whole point.
In the course of the evening, you find chance for certain
Soft speeches to Anne, in the shade of the curtain:
You tell her your heart can be likened to _one_ flower,
'And that, O most charming of women, 's the sunflower,
Which turns'-here a clear nasal voice, to your terror,
From outside the curtain, says, 'That's all an error.'
As for him, he's-no matter, he never grew tender,
Sitting after a ball, with his feet on the fender,
Shaping somebody's sweet features out of cigar smoke
(Though he'd willingly grant you that such doings are smoke):
All women he damns with _mutabile semper_,
And if ever he felt something like love's distemper,
'Twas tow'rds a young lady who spoke ancient Mexican,
And assisted her father in making a lexicon;
Though I recollect hearing him get quite ferocious
About Mary Clausum, the mistress of Grotius,
Or something of that sort,-but, no more to bore ye
With character-painting, I'll turn to my story.
Now, Apollo, who finds it convenient sometimes
To get his court clear of the makers of rhymes,
The _genus_, I think it is called, _irritabile_,
Every one of whom thinks himself treated most shabbily,
And nurses a-what is it?-_immedicabile_,
Which keeps him at boiling-point, hot for a quarrel,
As bitter as wormwood, and sourer than sorrel,
If any poor devil but look at a laurel;-
Apollo, I say, being sick of their rioting
(Though he sometimes acknowledged their verse had a quieting
Effect after dinner, and seemed to suggest a
Retreat to the shrine of a tranquil siesta),
Kept our Hero at hand, who, by means of a bray,
Which he gave to the life, drove the rabble away;
And if that wouldn't do, he was sure to succeed,
If he took his review out and offered to read;
Or, failing in plans of this milder description,
He would ask for their aid to get up a subscription,
Considering that authorship wasn't a rich craft,
To print the 'American drama of Witchcraft.'
'Stay, I'll read you a scene,'-but he hardly began,
Ere Apollo shrieked 'Help!' and the authors all ran:
And once, when these purgatives acted with less spirit,
And the desperate case asked a remedy desperate,
He drew from his pocket a foolscap epistle
As calmly as if 'twere a nine-barrelled pistol,
And threatened them all with the judgment to come,
Of 'A wandering Star's first impressions of Rome.'
'Stop! stop!' with their hands o'er their ears, screamed the Muses,
'He may go off and murder himself, if he chooses,
'Twas a means self-defence only sanctioned his trying,
'Tis mere massacre now that the enemy's flying;
If he's forced to 't again, and we happen to be there,
Give us each a large handkerchief soaked in strong ether.'
I called this a 'Fable for Critics;' you think it's
More like a display of my rhythmical trinkets;
My plot, like an icicle's slender and slippery,
Every moment more slender, and likely to slip awry,
And the reader unwilling _in loco desipere_
Is free to jump over as much of my frippery
As he fancies, and, if he's a provident skipper, he
May have like Odysseus control of the gales,
And get safe to port, ere his patience quite fails;
Moreover, although 'tis a slender return
For your toil and expense, yet my paper will burn,
And, if you have manfully struggled thus far with me,
You may e'en twist me up, and just light your cigar with me:
If too angry for that, you can tear me in pieces,
And my _membra disjecta_ consign to the breezes,
A fate like great Ratzau's, whom one of those bores,
Who beflead with bad verses poor Louis Quatorze,
Describes (the first verse somehow ends with _victoire_),
As _dispersant partout et ses membres et sa gloire;_
Or, if I were over-desirous of earning
A repute among noodles for classical learning,
I could pick you a score of allusions, i-wis,
As new as the jests of _Didaskalos tis;_
Better still, I could make out a good solid list
From authors recondite who do not exist,-
But that would be naughty: at least, I could twist
Something out of Absyrtus, or turn your inquiries
After Milton's prose metaphor, drawn from Osiris;
But, as Cicero says he won't say this or that
(A fetch, I must say, most transparent and flat),
After saying whate'er he could possibly think of,-
I simply will state that I pause on the brink of
A mire, ankle-deep, of deliberate confusion,
Made up of old jumbles of classic allusion:
So, when you were thinking yourselves to be pitied,
Just conceive how much harder your teeth you'd have gritted,
An 'twere not for the dulness I've kindly omitted.
I'd apologize here for my many digressions.
Were it not that I'm certain to trip into fresh ones
('Tis so hard to escape if you get in their mesh once):
Just reflect, if you please, how 'tis said by Horatius,
That Maeonides nods now and then, and, my gracious!
It certainly does look a little bit ominous
When he gets under way with _ton d'apameibomenos_.
(Here a something occurs which I'll just clap a rhyme to,
And say it myself, ere a Zoilus have time to,-
Any author a nap like Van Winkle's may take,
If he only contrive to keep readers awake,
But he'll very soon find himself laid on the shelf,
If _they_ fall a-nodding when he nods himself.)
Once for all, to return, and to stay, will I, nill I-
When Phoebus expressed his desire for a lily,
Our Hero, whose homoeopathic sagacity
With an ocean of zeal mixed his dropp of capacity,
Set off for the garden as fast as the wind
(Or, to take a comparison more to my mind,
As a sound politician leaves conscience behind).
And leaped the low fence, as a party hack jumps
O'er his principles, when something else turns up trumps.
He was gone a long time, and Apollo, meanwhile,
Went over some sonnets of his with a file,
For, of all compositions, he thought that the sonnet
Best repaid all the toil you expended upon it;
It should reach with one impulse the end of its course,
And for one final blow collect all of its force;
Not a verse should be salient, but each one should tend
With a wave-like up-gathering to break at the end;
So, condensing the strength here, there smoothing a wry kink,
He was killing the time, when up walked Mr. D--,
At a few steps behind him, a small man in glasses
Went dodging about, muttering, 'Murderers! asses!'
From out of his pocket a paper he'd take,
With a proud look of martyrdom tied to its stake,
And, reading a squib at himself, he'd say, 'Here I see
'Gainst American letters a bloody conspiracy,
They are all by my personal enemies written;
I must post an anonymous letter to Britain,
And show that this gall is the merest suggestion
Of spite at my zeal on the Copyright question,
For, on this side the water, 'tis prudent to pull
O'er the eyes of the public their national wool,
By accusing of slavish respect to John Bull
All American authors who have more or less
Of that anti-American humbug-success,
While in private we're always embracing the knees
Of some twopenny editor over the seas,
And licking his critical shoes, for you know 'tis
The whole aim of our lives to get one English notice;
My American puffs I would willingly burn all
(They're all from one source, monthly, weekly, diurnal)
To get but a kick from a transmarine journal!'
So, culling the gibes of each critical scorner
As if they were plums, and himself were Jack Horner,
He came cautiously on, peeping round every corner,
And into each hole where a weasel might pass in,
Expecting the knife of some critic assassin,
Who stabs to the heart with a caricature.
Not so bad as those daubs of the Sun, to be sure,
Yet done with a dagger-o'-type, whose vile portraits
Disperse all one's good and condense all one's poor traits.
Apollo looked up, hearing footsteps approaching,
And slipped out of sight the new rhymes he was broaching,-
'Good day, Mr. D--, I'm happy to meet
With a scholar so ripe, and a critic so neat,
Who through Grub Street the soul of a gentleman carries;
What news from that suburb of London and Paris
Which latterly makes such shrill claims to monopolize
The credit of being the New World's metropolis?'
'Why, nothing of consequence, save this attack
On my friend there, behind, by some pitiful hack,
Who thinks every national author a poor one,
That isn't a copy of something that's foreign,
And assaults the American Dick-'
Nay, 'tis clear
That your Damon there's fond of a flea in his ear,
And, if no one else furnished them gratis, on tick
He would buy some himself, just to hear the old click;
Why, I honestly think, if some fool in Japan
Should turn up his nose at the 'Poems on Man,'
(Which contain many verses as fine, by the bye,
As any that lately came under my eye,)
Your friend there by some inward instinct would know it,
Would get it translated, reprinted, and show it;
As a man might take off a high stock to exhibit
The autograph round his own neck of the gibbet;
Nor would let it rest so, but fire column after column,
Signed Cato, or Brutus, or something as solemn,
By way of displaying his critical crosses,
And tweaking that poor transatlantic proboscis,
His broadsides resulting (this last there's no doubt of)
In successively sinking the craft they're fired out of.
Now nobody knows when an author is hit,
If he have not a public hysterical fit;
Let him only keep close in his snug garret's dim ether,
And nobody'd think of his foes-or of him either;
If an author have any least fibre of worth in him,
Abuse would but tickle the organ of mirth in him;
All the critics on earth cannot crush with their ban
One word that's in tune with the nature of man.'
'Well, perhaps so; meanwhile I have brought you a book,
Into which if you'll just have the goodness to look,
You may feel so delighted (when once you are through it)
As to deem it not unworth your while to review it,
And I think I can promise your thoughts, if you do,
A place in the next Democratic Review.'
'The most thankless of gods you must surely have thought me,
For this is the forty-fourth copy you've brought me;
I have given them away, or at least I have tried,
But I've forty-two left, standing all side by side
(The man who accepted that one copy died),-
From one end of a shelf to the other they reach,
'With the author's respects' neatly written in each.
The publisher, sure, will proclaim a Te Deum,
When he hears of that order the British Museum
Has sent for one set of what books were first printed
In America, little or big,-for 'tis hinted
That this is the first truly tangible hope he
Has ever had raised for the sale of a copy.
I've thought very often 'twould be a good thing
In all public collections of books, if a wing
Were set off by itself, like the seas from the dry lands,
Marked _Literature suited to desolate islands_,
And filled with such books as could never be read
Save by readers of proofs, forced to do it for bread,-
Such books as one's wrecked on in small country taverns,
Such as hermits might mortify over in caverns,
Such as Satan, if printing had then been invented,
As the climax of woe, would to Job have presented.
Such as Crusoe might dip in, although there are few so
Outrageously cornered by fate as poor Crusoe;
And since the philanthropists just now are banging
And gibbeting all who're in favor of hanging
(Though Cheever has proved that the Bible and Altar
Were let down from Heaven at the end of a halter.
And that vital religion would dull and grow callous,
Unrefreshed, now and then, with a sniff of the gallows),-
And folks are beginning to think it looks odd,
To choke a poor scamp for the glory of God;
And that He who esteems the Virginia reel
A bait to draw saints from their spiritual weal,
And regards the quadrille as a far greater knavery
Than crushing his African children with slavery,-
Since all who take part in a waltz or cotillon
Are mounted for hell on the Devil's own pillion,
Who, as every true orthodox Christian well knows,
Approaches the heart through the door of the toes,-
That He, I was saying, whose judgments are stored
For such as take steps in despite of his word,
Should look with delight on the agonized prancing
Of a wretch who has not the least ground for his dancing,
While the State, standing by, sings a verse from the Psalter
About offering to God on his favorite halter,
And, when the legs droop from their twitching divergence,
Sells the clothes to a Jew, and the corpse to the surgeons;-
Now, instead of all this, I think I can direct you all
To a criminal code both humane and effectual;-
I propose to shut up every doer of wrong
With these desperate books, for such term, short or long,
As, by statute in such cases made and provided,
Shall be by your wise legislators decided:
Thus: Let murderers be shut, to grow wiser and cooler,
At hard labor for life on the works of Miss--;
Petty thieves, kept from flagranter crimes by their fears,
Shall peruse Yankee Doodle a blank term of years,-
That American Punch, like the English, no doubt,-
Just the sugar and lemons and spirit left out.
'But stay, here comes Tityrus Griswold, and leads on
The flocks whom he first plucks alive, and then feeds on,-
A loud-cackling swarm, in whose leathers warm drest,
He goes for as perfect a-swan as the rest.
'There comes Emerson first, whose rich words, every one,
Are like gold nails in temples to hang trophies on,
Whose prose is grand verse, while his verse, the Lord knows,
Is some of it pr-- No, 'tis not even prose;
I'm speaking of metres; some poems have welled
From those rare depths of soul that have ne'er been excelled;
They're not epics, but that doesn't matter a pin,
In creating, the only hard thing's to begin;
A grass-blade's no easier to make than an oak;
If you've once found the way, you've achieved the grand stroke;
In the worst of his poems are mines of rich matter,
But thrown in a heap with a crash and a clatter;
Now it is not one thing nor another alone
Makes a poem, but rather the general tone,
The something pervading, uniting the whole,
The before unconceived, unconceivable soul,
So that just in removing this trifle or that, you
Take away, as it were, a chief limb of the statue;
Roots, wood, bark, and leaves singly perfect may be,
But, clapt hodge-podge together, they don't make a tree.
'But, to come back to Emerson (whom, by the way,
I believe we left waiting),-his is, we may say,
A Greek head on right Yankee shoulders, whose range
Has Olympus for one pole, for t'other the Exchange;
He seems, to my thinking (although I'm afraid
The comparison must, long ere this, have been made),
A Plotinus-Montaigne, where the Egyptian's gold mist
And the Gascon's shrewd wit cheek-by-jowl coexist;
All admire, and yet scarcely six converts he's got
To I don't (nor they either) exactly know what;
For though he builds glorious temples, 'tis odd
He leaves never a doorway to get in a god.
'Tis refreshing to old-fashioned people like me
To meet such a primitive Pagan as he,
In whose mind all creation is duly respected
As parts of himself-just a little projected;
And who's willing to worship the stars and the sun,
A convert to-nothing but Emerson.
So perfect a balance there is in his head,
That he talks of things sometimes as if they were dead;
Life, nature, love, God, and affairs of that sort,
He looks at as merely ideas; in short,
As if they were fossils stuck round in a cabinet,
Of such vast extent that our earth's a mere dab in it;
Composed just as he is inclined to conjecture her,
Namely, one part pure earth, ninety-nine parts pure lecturer;
You are filled with delight at his clear demonstration,
Each figure, word, gesture, just fits the occasion,
With the quiet precision of science he'll sort 'em,
But you can't help suspecting the whole a _post mortem_.
'There are persons, mole-blind to the soul's make and style,
Who insist on a likeness 'twixt him and Carlyle;
To compare him with Plato would be vastly fairer,
Carlyle's the more burly, but E. is the rarer;
He sees fewer objects, but clearlier, truelier,
If C.'s as original, E.'s more peculiar;
That he's more of a man you might say of the one,
Of the other he's more of an Emerson;
C.'s the Titan, as shaggy of mind as of limb,-
E. the clear-eyed Olympian, rapid and slim;
The one's two thirds Norseman, the other half Greek,
Where the one's most abounding, the other's to seek;
C.'s generals require to be seen in the mass,-
E.'s specialties gain if enlarged by the glass;
C. gives nature and God his own fits of the blues,
And rims common-sense things with mystical hues,-
E. sits in a mystery calm and intense,
And looks coolly around him with sharp common-sense;
C. shows you how every-day matters unite
With the dim transdiurnal recesses of night,-
While E., in a plain, preternatural way,
Makes mysteries matters of mere every day;
C. draws all his characters quite _a la_ Fuseli,-
Not sketching their bundles of muscles and thews illy,
He paints with a brush so untamed and profuse,
They seem nothing but bundles of muscles and thews;
E. is rather like Flaxman, lines strait and severe,
And a colorless outline, but full, round, and clear;-
To the men he thinks worthy he frankly accords
The design of a white marble statue in words.
C. labors to get at the centre, and then
Take a reckoning from there of his actions and men;
E. calmly assumes the said centre as granted,
And, given himself, has whatever is wanted.
'He has imitators in scores, who omit
No part of the man but his wisdom and wit,-
Who go carefully o'er the sky-blue of his brain,
And when he has skimmed it once, skim it again;
If at all they resemble him, you may be sure it is
Because their shoals mirror his mists and obscurities,
As a mud-puddle seems deep as heaven for a minute,
While a cloud that floats o'er is reflected within it.
'There comes--, for instance; to see him's rare sport,
Tread in Emerson's tracks with legs painfully short;
How he jumps, how he strains, and gets red in the face.
To keep step with the mystagogue's natural pace!
He follows as close as a stick to a rocket,
His fingers exploring the prophet's each pocket.
Fie, for shame, brother bard; with good fruit of your own,
Can't you let Neighbor Emerson's orchards alone?
Besides, 'tis no use, you'll not find e'en a core,-
-- has picked up all the windfalls before.
They might strip every tree, and E. never would catch 'em,
His Hesperides have no rude dragon to watch 'em;
When they send him a dishful, and ask him to try 'em,
He never suspects how the sly rogues came by 'em;
He wonders why 'tis there are none such his trees on,
And thinks 'em the best he has tasted this season.
'Yonder, calm as a cloud, Alcott stalks in a dream,
And fancies himself in thy groves, Academe,
With the Parthenon nigh, and the olive-trees o'er him,
And never a fact to perplex him or bore him,
With a snug room at Plato's when night comes, to walk to,
And people from morning till midnight to talk to,
And from midnight till morning, nor snore in their listening;-
So he muses, his face with the joy of it glistening,
For his highest conceit of a happiest state is
Where they'd live upon acorns, and hear him talk gratis;
And indeed, I believe, no man ever talked better,-
Each sentence hangs perfectly poised to a letter;
He seems piling words, but there's royal dust hid
In the heart of each sky-piercing pyramid.
While he talks he is great, but goes out like a taper,
If you shut him up closely with pen, ink, and paper;
Yet his fingers itch for 'em from morning till night,
And he thinks he does wrong if he don't always write;
In this, as in all things, a lamb among men,
He goes to sure death when he goes to his pen.
'Close behind him is Brownson, his mouth very full
With attempting to gulp a Gregorian bull;
Who contrives, spite of that, to pour out as he goes
A stream of transparent and forcible prose;
He shifts quite about, then proceeds to expound
That 'tis merely the earth, not himself, that turns round,
And wishes it clearly impressed on your mind
That the weathercock rules and not follows the wind;
Proving first, then as deftly confuting each side,
With no doctrine pleased that's not somewhere denied,
He lays the denier away on the shelf,
And then-down beside him lies gravely himself.
He's the Salt River boatman, who always stands willing
To convey friend or foe without charging a shilling,
And so fond of the trip that, when leisure's to spare,
He'll row himself up, if he can't get a fare.
The worst of it is, that his logic's so strong,
That of two sides he commonly chooses the wrong;
If there is only one, why, he'll split it in two,
And first pummel this half, then that, black and blue.
That white's white needs no proof, but it takes a deep fellow
To prove it jet-black, and that jet-black is yellow.
He offers the true faith to drink in a sieve,-
When it reaches your lips there's naught left to believe
But a few silly-(syllo-, I mean,)-gisms that squat 'em
Like tadpoles, o'erjoyed with the mud at the bottom.
'There is Willis, all _natty_ and jaunty and gay,
Who says his best things in so foppish a way,
With conceits and pet phrases so thickly o'erlaying 'em,
That one hardly knows whether to thank him for saying 'em;
Over-ornament ruins both poem and prose,
Just conceive of a Muse with a ring in her nose!
His prose had a natural grace of its own,
And enough of it, too, if he'd let it alone;
But he twitches and jerks so, one fairly gets tired,
And is forced to forgive where one might have admired;
Yet whenever it slips away free and unlaced,
It runs like a stream with a musical waste,
And gurgles along with the liquidest sweep;-
'Tis not deep as a river, but who'd have it deep?
In a country where scarcely a village is found
That has not its author sublime and profound,
For some one to be slightly shallow's a duty,
And Willis's shallowness makes half his beauty.
His prose winds along with a blithe, gurgling error,
And reflects all of Heaven it can see in its mirror:
'Tis a narrowish strip, but it is not an artifice;
'Tis the true out-of-doors with its genuine hearty phiz;
It is Nature herself, and there's something in that,
Since most brains reflect but the crown of a hat.
Few volumes I know to read under a tree,
More truly delightful than his A l'Abri,
With the shadows of leaves flowing over your book,
Like ripple-shades netting the bed of a brook;
With June coming softly your shoulder to look over,
Breezes waiting to turn every leaf of your book over,
And Nature to criticise still as you read,-
The page that bears that is a rare one indeed.
'He's so innate a cockney, that had he been born
Where plain bare-skin's the only full-dress that is worn,
He'd have given his own such an air that you'd say
'T had been made by a tailor to lounge in Broadway.
His nature's a glass of champagne with the foam on 't,
As tender as Fletcher, as witty as Beaumont;
So his best things are done in the flush of the moment;
If he wait, all is spoiled; he may stir it and shake it,
But, the fixed air once gone, he can never re-make it.
He might be a marvel of easy delightfulness,
If he would not sometimes leave the _r_ out of sprightfulness;
And he ought to let Scripture alone-'tis self-slaughter,
For nobody likes inspiration-and-water.
He'd have been just the fellow to sup at the Mermaid,
Cracking jokes at rare Ben, with an eye to the barmaid,
His wit running up as Canary ran down,-
The topmost bright bubble on the wave of The Town.
'Here comes Parker, the Orson of parsons, a man
Whom the Church undertook to put under her ban
(The Church of Socinus, I mean),-his opinions
Being So-(ultra)-cinian, they shocked the Socinians:
They believed-faith, I'm puzzled-I think I may call
Their belief a believing in nothing at all,
Or something of that sort; I know they all went
For a general union of total dissent:
He went a step farther; without cough or hem,
He frankly avowed he believed not in them;
And, before he could be jumbled up or prevented,
From their orthodox kind of dissent he dissented.
There was heresy here, you perceive, for the right
Of privately judging means simply that light
Has been granted to _me_, for deciding on _you;_
And in happier times, before Atheism grew,
The deed contained clauses for cooking you too:
Now at Xerxes and Knut we all laugh, yet our foot
With the same wave is wet that mocked Xerxes and Knut,
And we all entertain a secure private notion,
That our _Thus far!_ will have a great weight with the ocean,
'Twas so with our liberal Christians: they bore
With sincerest conviction their chairs to the shore;
They brandished their worn theological birches,
Bade natural progress keep out of the Churches,
And expected the lines they had drawn to prevail
With the fast-rising tide to keep out of their pale;
They had formerly dammed the Pontifical See,
And the same thing, they thought, would do nicely for P.;
But he turned up his nose at their mumming and shamming,
And cared (shall I say?) not a d-- for their damming;
So they first read him out of their church, and next minute
Turned round and declared he had never been in it.
But the ban was too small or the man was too big,
For he recks not their bells, books, and candles a fig
(He scarce looks like a man who would _stay_ treated shabbily,
Sophroniscus' son's head o'er the features of Rabelais):-
He bangs and bethwacks them,-their backs he salutes
With the whole tree of knowledge torn up by the roots;
His sermons with satire are plenteously verjuiced,
And he talks in one breath of Confutzee, Cass, Zerduscht,
Jack Robinson, Peter the Hermit, Strap, Dathan,
Cush, Pitt (not the bottomless, _that_ he's no faith in),
Pan, Pillicock, Shakespeare, Paul, Toots, Monsieur Tonson,
Aldebaran, Alcander, Ben Khorat, Ben Jonson,
Thoth, Richter, Joe Smith, Father Paul, Judah Monis,
Musaeus, Muretus, _hem_,-[Greek: m] Scorpionis,
Maccabee, Maccaboy, Mac-Mac-ah! Machiavelli,
Condorcet, Count d'Orsay, Conder, Say, Ganganelli,
Orion, O'Connell, the Chevalier D'O,
(See the Memoirs of Sully,) [Greek: to pan], the great toe
Of the statue of Jupiter, now made to pass
For that of Jew Peter by good Romish brass,
(You may add for yourselves, for I find it a bore,
All the names you have ever, or not, heard before,
And when you've done that-why, invent a few more).
His hearers can't tell you on Sunday beforehand,
If in that day's discourse they'll be Bibled or Koraned,
For he's seized the idea (by his martyrdom fired)
That all men (not orthodox) _may be_ inspired;
Yet though wisdom profane with his creed he may weave in,
He makes it quite clear what he _doesn't_ believe in,
While some, who decry him, think all Kingdom Come
Is a sort of a, kind of a, species of Hum,
Of which, as it were, so to speak, not a crumb
Would be left, if we didn't keep carefully mum,
And, to make a clean breast, that 'tis perfectly plain
That _all_ kinds of wisdom are somewhat profane;
Now P.'s creed than this may be lighter or darker,
But in one thing, 'tis clear, he has faith, namely-Parker;
And this is what makes him the crowd-drawing preacher,
There's a background of god to each hard-working feature,
Every word that he speaks has been fierily furnaced
In the blast of a life that has struggled in earnest:
There he stands, looking more like a ploughman than priest,
If not dreadfully awkward, not graceful at least,
His gestures all downright and same, if you will,
As of brown-fisted Hobnail in hoeing a drill;
But his periods fall on you, stroke after stroke,
Like the blows of a lumberer felling an oak,
You forget the man wholly, you're thankful to meet
With a preacher who smacks of the field and the street,
And to hear, you're not over-particular whence,
Almost Taylor's profusion, quite Latimer's sense.
'There is Bryant, as quiet, as cool, and as dignified,
As a smooth, silent iceberg, that never is ignified,
Save when by reflection 'tis kindled o' nights
With a semblance of flame by the chill Northern Lights.
He may rank (Griswold says so) first bard of your nation
(There's no doubt that he stands in supreme iceolation),
Your topmost Parnassus he may set his heel on,
But no warm applauses come, peal following peal on,-
He's too smooth and too polished to hang any zeal on:
Unqualified merits, I'll grant, if you choose, he has 'em,
But he lacks the one merit of kindling enthusiasm;
If he stir you at all, it is just, on my soul,
Like being stirred up with the very North Pole.
'He is very nice reading in summer, but _inter
Nos_, we don't want _extra_ freezing in winter;
Take him up in the depth of July, my advice is,
When you feel an Egyptian devotion to ices.
But, deduct all you can, there's enough that's right good in him,
He has a true soul for field, river, and wood in him;
And his heart, in the midst of brick walls, or where'er it is,
Glows, softens, and thrills with the tenderest charities-
To you mortals that delve in this trade-ridden planet?
No, to old Berkshire's hills, with their limestone and granite.
If you're one who _in loco_ (add _foco_ here) _desipis_,
You will get out of his outermost heart (as I guess) a piece;
But you'd get deeper down if you came as a precipice,
And would break the last seal of its inwardest fountain,
If you only could palm yourself off for a mountain.
Mr. Quivis, or somebody quite as discerning,
Some scholar who's hourly expecting his learning,
Calls B. the American Wordsworth; but Wordsworth
May be rated at more than your whole tuneful herd's worth.
No, don't be absurd, he's an excellent Bryant;
But, my friends, you'll endanger the life of your client,
By attempting to stretch him up into a giant;
If you choose to compare him, I think there are two per-
-sons fit for a parallel-Thomson and Cowper;
I don't mean exactly,-there's something of each,
There's T.'s love of nature, C.'s penchant to preach;
Just mix up their minds so that C.'s spice of craziness
Shall balance and neutralize T.'s turn for laziness,
And it gives you a brain cool, quite frictionless, quiet,
Whose internal police nips the buds of all riot,-
A brain like a permanent strait-jacket put on
The heart that strives vainly to burst off a button,-
A brain which, without being slow or mechanic,
Does more than a larger less drilled, more volcanic;
He's a Cowper condensed, with no craziness bitten,
And the advantage that Wordsworth before him had written.
'But, my dear little bardlings, don't prick up your ears
Nor suppose I would rank you and Bryant as peers;
If I call him an iceberg, I don't mean to say
There is nothing in that which is grand in its way;
He is almost the one of your poets that knows
How much grace, strength, and dignity lie in Repose;
If he sometimes fall short, he is too wise to mar
His thought's modest fulness by going too far;
'T would be well if your authors should all make a trial
Of what virtue there is in severe self-denial,
And measure their writings by Hesiod's staff,
Which teaches that all has less value than half.
'There is Whittier, whose swelling and vehement heart
Strains the strait-breasted drab of the Quaker apart,
And reveals the live Man, still supreme and erect,
Underneath the bemummying wrappers of sect;
There was ne'er a man born who had more of the swing
Of the true lyric bard and all that kind of thing;
And his failures arise (though he seem not to know it)
From the very same cause that has made him a poet,-
A fervor of mind which knows no separation
'Twixt simple excitement and pure inspiration,
As my Pythoness erst sometimes erred from not knowing
If 'twere I or mere wind through her tripod was blowing;
Let his mind once get head in its favorite direction
And the torrent of verse bursts the dams of reflection,
While, borne with the rush of the metre along,
The poet may chance to go right or go wrong,
Content with the whirl and delirium of song;
Then his grammar's not always correct, nor his rhymes,
And he's prone to repeat his own lyrics sometimes,
Not his best, though, for those are struck off at white-heats
When the heart in his breast like a trip-hammer beats,
And can ne'er be repeated again any more
Than they could have been carefully plotted before:
Like old what's-his-name there at the battle of Hastings
(Who, however, gave more than mere rhythmical bastings),
Our Quaker leads off metaphorical fights
For reform and whatever they call human rights,
Both singing and striking in front of the war,
And hitting his foes with the mallet of Thor;
_Anne haec_, one exclaims, on beholding his knocks,
_Vestis filii tui_, O leather-clad Fox?
Can that be thy son, in the battle's mid din,
Preaching brotherly love and then driving it in
To the brain of the tough old Goliath of sin,
With the smoothest of pebbles from Castaly's spring
Impressed on his hard moral sense with a sling?
'All honor and praise to the right-hearted bard
Who was true to The Voice when such service was hard,
Who himself was so free he dared sing for the slave
When to look but a protest in silence was brave;
All honor and praise to the women and men
Who spoke out for the dumb and the down-trodden then!
It needs not to name them, already for each
I see History preparing the statue and niche;
They were harsh, but shall _you_ be so shocked at hard words
Who have beaten your pruning-hooks up into swords,
Whose rewards and hurrahs men are surer to gain
By the reaping of men and of women than grain?
Why should _you_ stand aghast at their fierce wordy war, if
You scalp one another for Bank or for Tariff?
Your calling them cut-throats and knaves all day long
Doesn't prove that the use of hard language is wrong;
While the World's heart beats quicker to think of such men
As signed Tyranny's doom with a bloody steel-pen,
While on Fourth-of-Julys beardless orators fright one
With hints at Harmodius and Aristogeiton,
You need not look shy at your sisters and brothers
Who stab with sharp words for the freedom of others;-
No, a wreath, twine a wreath for the loyal and true
Who, for sake of the many, dared stand with the few,
Not of blood-spattered laurel for enemies braved,
But of broad, peaceful oak-leaves for citizens saved!
'Here comes Dana, abstractedly loitering along,
Involved in a paulo-post-future of song,
Who'll be going to write what'll never be written
Till the Muse, ere he think of it, gives him the mitten,-
Who is so well aware of how things should be done,
That his own works displease him before they're begun,-
Who so well all that makes up good poetry knows,
That the best of his poems is written in prose;
All saddled and bridled stood Pegasus waiting,
He was booted and spurred, but he loitered debating;
In a very grave question his soul was immersed,-
Which foot in the stirrup he ought to put first:
And, while this point and that he judicially dwelt on,
He, somehow or other, had written Paul Felton,
Whose beauties or faults, whichsoever you see there,
You'll allow only genius could hit upon either.
That he once was the Idle Man none will deplore,
But I fear he will never be anything more;
The ocean of song heaves and glitters before him,
The depth and the vastness and longing sweep o'er him.
He knows every breaker and shoal on the chart,
He has the Coast Pilot and so on by heart,
Yet he spends his whole life, like the man in the fable,
In learning to swim on his library table.
'There swaggers John Neal, who has wasted in Maine
The sinews and cords of his pugilist brain,
Who might have been poet, but that, in its stead, he
Preferred to believe that he was so already;
Too hasty to wait till Art's ripe fruit should drop,
He must pelt down an unripe and colicky crop;
Who took to the law, and had this sterling plea for it,
It required him to quarrel, and paid him a fee for it;
A man who's made less than he might have, because
He always has thought himself more than he was,-
Who, with very good natural gifts as a bard,
Broke the strings of his lyre out by striking too hard,
And cracked half the notes of a truly fine voice,
Because song drew less instant attention than noise.
Ah, men do not know how much strength is in poise,
That he goes the farthest who goes far enough,
And that all beyond that is just bother and stuff.
No vain man matures, he makes too much new wood;
His blooms are too thick for the fruit to be good;
'Tis the modest man ripens, 'tis he that achieves,
Just what's needed of sunshine and shade he receives;
Grapes, to mellow, require the cool dark of their leaves;
Neal wants balance; he throws his mind always too far,
Whisking out flocks of comets, but never a star;
He has so much muscle, and loves so to show it,
That he strips himself naked to prove he's a poet,
And, to show he could leap Art's wide ditch, if he tried,
Jumps clean o'er it, and into the hedge t'other side.
He has strength, but there's nothing about him in keeping;
One gets surelier onward by walking than leaping;
He has used his own sinews himself to distress,
And had done vastly more had he done vastly less;
In letters, too soon is as bad as too late;
Could he only have waited he might have been great;
But he plumped into Helicon up to the waist,
And muddied the stream ere he took his first taste.
'There is Hawthorne, with genius so shrinking and rare
That you hardly at first see the strength that is there;
A frame so robust, with a nature so sweet,
So earnest, so graceful, so lithe and so fleet,
Is worth a descent from Olympus to meet;
'Tis as if a rough oak that for ages had stood,
With his gnarled bony branches like ribs of the wood,
Should bloom, after cycles of struggle and scathe,
With a single anemone trembly and rathe;
His strength is so tender, his wildness so meek,
That a suitable parallel sets one to seek,-
He's a John Bunyan Fouque, a Puritan Tieck;
When Nature was shaping him, clay was not granted
For making so full-sized a man as she wanted,
So, to fill out her model, a little she spared
From some finer-grained stuff for a woman prepared,
And she could not have hit a more excellent plan
For making him fully and perfectly man.
The success of her scheme gave her so much delight,
That she tried it again, shortly after, in Dwight;
Only, while she was kneading and shaping the clay,
She sang to her work in her sweet childish way,
And found, when she'd put the last touch to his soul,
That the music had somehow got mixed with the whole.
'Here's Cooper, who's written six volumes to show
He's as good as a lord: well, let's grant that he's so;
If a person prefer that description of praise,
Why, a coronet's certainly cheaper than bays;
But he need take no pains to convince us he's not
(As his enemies say) the American Scott.
Choose any twelve men, and let C. read aloud
That one of his novels of which he's most proud,
And I'd lay any bet that, without ever quitting
Their box, they'd be all, to a man, for acquitting.
He has drawn you one character, though, that is new,
One wildflower he's plucked that is wet with the dew
Of this fresh Western world, and, the thing not to mince,
He has done naught but copy it ill ever since;
His Indians, with proper respect be it said,
Are just Natty Bumppo, daubed over with red,
And his very Long Toms are the same useful Nat,
Rigged up in duck pants and a sou'wester hat
(Though once in a Coffin, a good chance was found
To have slipped the old fellow away underground).
All his other men-figures are clothes upon sticks,
The _derniere chemise_ of a man in a fix
(As a captain besieged, when his garrison's small,
Sets up caps upon poles to be seen o'er the wall):
And the women he draws from one model don't vary.
All sappy as maples and flat as a prairie.
When a character's wanted, he goes to the task
As a cooper would do in composing a cask;
He picks out the staves, of their qualities heedful,
Just hoops them together as tight as is needful,
And, if the best fortune should crown the attempt, he
Has made at the most something wooden and empty.
'Don't suppose I would underrate Cooper's abilities;
If I thought you'd do that, I should feel very ill at ease;
The men who have given to _one_ character life
And objective existence are not very rife;
You may number them all, both prose-writers and singers,
Without overrunning the bounds of your fingers,
And Natty won't go to oblivion quicker
Than Adams the parson or Primrose the vicar.
'There is one thing in Cooper I like, too, and that is
That on manners he lectures his countrymen gratis;
Not precisely so either, because, for a rarity,
He is paid for his tickets in unpopularity.
Now he may overcharge his American pictures,
But you'll grant there's a good deal of truth in his strictures;
And I honor the man who is willing to sink
Half his present repute for the freedom to think,
And, when he has thought, be his cause strong or weak,
Will risk t'other half for the freedom to speak,
Caring naught for what vengeance the mob has in store,
Let that mob be the upper ten thousand or lower.
'There are truths you Americans need to be told,
And it never'll refute them to swagger and scold;
John Bull, looking o'er the Atlantic, in choler
At your aptness for trade, says you worship the dollar;
But to scorn such eye-dollar-try's what very few do,
And John goes to that church as often as you do,
No matter what John says, don't try to outcrow him,
'Tis enough to go quietly on and outgrow him;
Like most fathers, Bull hates to see Number One
Displacing himself in the mind of his son,
And detests the same faults in himself he'd neglected
When he sees them again in his child's glass reflected;
To love one another you're too like by half;
If he is a bull, you're a pretty stout calf,
And tear your own pasture for naught but to show
What a nice pair of horns you're beginning to grow.
'There are one or two things I should just like to hint,
For you don't often get the truth told you in print;
The most of you (this is what strikes all beholders)
Have a mental and physical stoop in the shoulders;
Though you ought to be free as the winds and the waves,
You've the gait and the manners of runaway slaves;
Though you brag of your New World, you don't half believe in it;
And as much of the Old as is possible weave in it;
Your goddess of freedom, a tight, buxom girl,
With lips like a cherry and teeth like a pearl,
With eyes bold as Here's, and hair floating free,
And full of the sun as the spray of the sea,
Who can sing at a husking or romp at a shearing,
Who can trip through the forests alone without fearing,
Who can drive home the cows with a song through the grass,
Keeps glancing aside into Europe's cracked glass.
Hides her red hands in gloves, pinches up her lithe waist,
And makes herself wretched with transmarine taste;
She loses her fresh country charm when she takes
Any mirror except her own rivers and lakes.
'You steal Englishmen's books and think Englishmen's thought,
With their salt on her tail your wild eagle is caught;
Your literature suits its each whisper and motion
To what will be thought of it over the ocean;
The cast clothes of Europe your statesmanship tries
And mumbles again the old blarneys and lies;-
Forget Europe wholly, your veins throb with blood,
To which the dull current in hers is but mud:
Let her sneer, let her say your experiment fails,
In her voice there's a tremble e'en now while she rails,
And your shore will soon be in the nature of things
Covered thick with gilt drift-wood of castaway kings,
Where alone, as it were in a Longfellow's Waif,
Her fugitive pieces will find themselves safe.
O my friends, thank your god, if you have one, that he
'Twixt the Old World and you set the gulf of a sea;
Be strong-backed, brown-handed, upright as your pines,
By the scale of a hemisphere shape your designs,
Be true to yourselves and this new nineteenth age,
As a statue by Powers, or a picture by Page,
Plough, sail, forge, build, carve, paint, make all over new,
To your own New-World instincts contrive to be true,
Keep your ears open wide to the Future's first call,
Be whatever you will, but yourselves first of all,
Stand fronting the dawn on Toil's heaven-scaling peaks,
And become my new race of more practical Greeks.-
Hem! your likeness at present, I shudder to tell o't,
Is that you have your slaves, and the Greek had his helot.'
Here a gentleman present, who had in his attic
More pepper than brains, shrieked, 'The man's a fanatic,
I'm a capital tailor with warm tar and feathers,
And will make him a suit that'll serve in all weathers;
But we'll argue the point first, I'm willing to reason 't,
Palaver before condemnation's but decent:
So, through my humble person, Humanity begs
Of the friends of true freedom a loan of bad eggs.'
But Apollo let one such a look of his show forth
As when [Greek: aeie nukti eoikios], and so forth,
And the gentleman somehow slunk out of the way,
But, as he was going, gained courage to say,-
'At slavery in the abstract my whole soul rebels,
I am as strongly opposed to 't as any one else.'
'Ay, no doubt, but whenever I've happened to meet
With a wrong or a crime, it is always concrete,'
Answered Phoebus severely; then turning to us,
'The mistake of such fellows as just made the fuss
Is only in taking a great busy nation
For a part of their pitiful cotton-plantation.-
But there comes Miranda, Zeus! where shall I flee to?
She has such a penchant for bothering me too!
She always keeps asking if I don't observe a
Particular likeness 'twixt her and Minerva;
She tells me my efforts in verse are quite clever;-
She's been travelling now, and will be worse than ever;
One would think, though, a sharp-sighted noter she'd be
Of all that's worth mentioning over the sea,
For a woman must surely see well, if she try,
The whole of whose
What, you, Sir, come too? (Just the man I'd meet.)
Be ruled by me and have a care o' the crowd:
This way, while fresh folk go and get their gaze:
I'll tell you like a book and save your shins.
Fie, what a roaring day we've had! Whose fault?
Lorenzo in Lucina,—here's a church
To hold a crowd at need, accommodate
All comers from the Corso! If this crush
Make not its priests ashamed of what they show
For temple-room, don't prick them to draw purse
And down with bricks and mortar, eke us out
The beggarly transept with its bit of apse
Into a decent space for Christian ease,
Why, to-day's lucky pearl is cast to swine.
Listen and estimate the luck they've had!
(The right man, and I hold him.)
Sir, do you see,
They laid both bodies in the church, this morn
The first thing, on the chancel two steps up,
Behind the little marble balustrade;
Disposed them, Pietro the old murdered fool
To the right of the altar, and his wretched wife
On the other side. In trying to count stabs,
People supposed Violante showed the most,
Till somebody explained us that mistake;
His wounds had been dealt out indifferent where,
But she took all her stabbings in the face,
Since punished thus solely for honour's sake,
Honoris causâ, that's the proper term.
A delicacy there is, our gallants hold,
When you avenge your honour and only then,
That you disfigure the subject, fray the face,
Not just take life and end, in clownish guise.
It was Violante gave the first offence,
Got therefore the conspicuous punishment:
While Pietro, who helped merely, his mere death
Answered the purpose, so his face went free.
We fancied even, free as you please, that face
Showed itself still intolerably wronged;
Was wrinkled over with resentment yet,
Nor calm at all, as murdered faces use,
Once the worst ended: an indignant air
O' the head there was—'t is said the body turned
Round and away, rolled from Violante's side
Where they had laid it loving-husband-like.
If so, if corpses can be sensitive,
Why did not he roll right down altar-step,
Roll on through nave, roll fairly out of church,
Deprive Lorenzo of the spectacle,
Pay back thus the succession of affronts
Whereto this church had served as theatre?
For see: at that same altar where he lies,
To that same inch of step, was brought the babe
For blessing after baptism, and there styled
Pompilia, and a string of names beside,
By his bad wife, some seventeen years ago,
Who purchased her simply to palm on him,
Flatter his dotage and defraud the heirs.
Wait awhile! Also to this very step
Did this Violante, twelve years afterward,
Bring, the mock-mother, that child-cheat full-grown,
Pompilia, in pursuance of her plot,
And there brave God and man a second time
By linking a new victim to the lie.
There, having made a match unknown to him,
She, still unknown to Pietro, tied the knot
Which nothing cuts except this kind of knife;
Yes, made her daughter, as the girl was held,
Marry a man, and honest man beside,
And man of birth to boot,—clandestinely
Because of this, because of that, because
O' the devil's will to work his worst for once,—
Confident she could top her part at need
And, when her husband must be told in turn,
Ply the wife's trade, play off the sex's trick
And, alternating worry with quiet qualms,
Bravado with submissiveness, prettily fool
Her Pietro into patience: so it proved.
Ay, 't is four years since man and wife they grew,
This Guido Franceschini and this same
Pompilia, foolishly thought, falsely declared
A Comparini and the couple's child:
Just at this altar where, beneath the piece
Of Master Guido Reni, Christ on cross,
Second to nought observable in Rome,
That couple lie now, murdered yestereve.
Even the blind can see a providence here.
From dawn till now that it is growing dusk,
A multitude has flocked and filled the church,
Coming and going, coming back again,
Till to count crazed one. Rome was at the show.
People climbed up the columns, fought for spikes
O' the chapel-rail to perch themselves upon,
Jumped over and so broke the wooden work
Painted like porphyry to deceive the eye;
Serve the priests right! The organ-loft was crammed,
Women were fainting, no few fights ensued,
In short, it was a show repaid your pains:
For, though their room was scant undoubtedly,
Yet they did manage matters, to be just,
A little at this Lorenzo. Body o' me!
I saw a body exposed once … never mind!
Enough that here the bodies had their due.
No stinginess in wax, a row all round,
And one big taper at each head and foot.
So, people pushed their way, and took their turn,
Saw, threw their eyes up, crossed themselves, gave place
To pressure from behind, since all the world
Knew the old pair, could talk the tragedy
Over from first to last: Pompilia too,
Those who had known her—what 't was worth to them!
Guido's acquaintance was in less request;
The Count had lounged somewhat too long in Rome,
Made himself cheap; with him were hand and glove
Barbers and blear-eyed, as the ancient sings.
Also he is alive and like to be:
Had he considerately died,—aha!
I jostled Luca Cini on his staff,
Mute in the midst, the whole man one amaze,
Staring amain and crossing brow and breast.
"How now?" asked I. "'T is seventy years," quoth he,
"Since I first saw, holding my father's hand,
"Bodies set forth: a many have I seen,
"Yet all was poor to this I live and see.
"Here the world's wickedness seals up the sum:
"What with Molinos' doctrine and this deed,
"Antichrist surely comes and doomsday's near.
"May I depart in peace, I have seen my see."
"Depart then," I advised, "nor block the road
"For youngsters still behindhand with such sights!"
"Why no," rejoins the venerable sire,
"I know it's horrid, hideous past belief,
"Burdensome far beyond what eye can bear;
"But they do promise, when Pompilia dies
"I' the course o' the day,—and she can't outlive night,—
"They'll bring her body also to expose
"Beside the parents, one, two, three a-breast;
"That were indeed a sight, which might I see,
"I trust I should not last to see the like!"
Whereat I bade the senior spare his shanks,
Since doctors give her till to-night to live,
And tell us how the butchery happened. "Ah,
"But you can't know!" sighs he, "I'll not despair:
"Beside I'm useful at explaining things—
"As, how the dagger laid there at the feet,
"Caused the peculiar cuts; I mind its make,
"Triangular i' the blade, a Genoese,
"Armed with those little hook-teeth on the edge
"To open in the flesh nor shut again:
"I like to teach a novice: I shall stay!"
And stay he did, and stay be sure he will.
A personage came by the private door
At noon to have his look: I name no names:
Well then, His Eminence the Cardinal,
Whose servitor in honourable sort
Guido was once, the same who made the match,
(Will you have the truth?) whereof we see effect.
No sooner whisper ran he was arrived
Than up pops Curate Carlo, a brisk lad,
Who never lets a good occasion slip,
And volunteers improving the event.
We looked he'd give the history's self some help,
Treat us to how the wife's confession went
(This morning she confessed her crime, we know)
And, may-be, throw in something of the Priest—
If he's not ordered back, punished anew,
The gallant, Caponsacchi, Lucifer
I' the garden where Pompilia, Eve-like, lured
Her Adam Guido to his fault and fall.
Think you we got a sprig of speech akin
To this from Carlo, with the Cardinal there?
Too wary he was, too widely awake, I trow.
He did the murder in a dozen words;
Then said that all such outrages crop forth
I' the course of nature when Molinos' tares
Are sown for wheat, flourish and choke the Church:
So slid on to the abominable sect
And the philosophic sin—we've heard all that,
And the Cardinal too, (who book-made on the same)
But, for the murder, left it where he found.
Oh but he's quick, the Curate, minds his game!
And, after all, we have the main o' the fact:
Case could not well be simpler,—mapped, as it were,
We follow the murder's maze from source to sea,
By the red line, past mistake: one sees indeed
Not only how all was and must have been,
But cannot other than be to the end of time.
Turn out here by the Ruspoli! Do you hold
Guido was so prodigiously to blame?
A certain cousin of yours has told you so?
Exactly! Here's a friend shall set you right,
Let him but have the handsel of your ear.
These wretched Comparini were once gay
And galliard, of the modest middle class:
Born in this quarter seventy years ago
And married young, they lived the accustomed life,
Citizens as they were of good repute:
And, childless, naturally took their ease
With only their two selves to care about
And use the wealth for: wealthy is the word,
Since Pietro was possessed of house and land—
And specially one house, when good days smiled,
In Via Vittoria, the aspectable street
Where he lived mainly; but another house
Of less pretension did he buy betimes,
The villa, meant for jaunts and jollity,
I' the Pauline district, to be private there—
Just what puts murder in an enemy's head.
Moreover,—here's the worm i' the core, the germ
O' the rottenness and ruin which arrived,—
He owned some usufruct, had moneys' use
Lifelong, but to determine with his life
In heirs' default: so, Pietro craved an heir,
(The story always old and always new)
Shut his fool's-eyes fast on the visible good
And wealth for certain, opened them owl-wide
On fortune's sole piece of forgetfulness,
The child that should have been and would not be.
Hence, seventeen years ago, conceive his glee
When first Violante, 'twixt a smile and blush,
With touch of agitation proper too,
Announced that, spite of her unpromising age,
The miracle would in time be manifest,
An heir's birth was to happen: and it did.
Somehow or other,—how, all in good time!
By a trick, a sleight of hand you are to hear,—
A child was born, Pompilia, for his joy,
Plaything at once and prop, a fairy-gift,
A saints' grace or, say, grant of the good God,—
A fiddle-pin's end! What imbeciles are we!
Look now: if some one could have prophesied,
"For love of you, for liking to your wife,
"I undertake to crush a snake I spy
"Settling itself i' the soft of both your breasts.
"Give me yon babe to strangle painlessly!
"She'll soar to the safe: you'll have your crying out,
"Then sleep, then wake, then sleep, then end your days
"In peace and plenty, mixed with mild regret,
"Thirty years hence when Christmas takes old folk"—
How had old Pietro sprung up, crossed himself,
And kicked the conjuror! Whereas you and I,
Being wise with after-wit, had clapped our hands;
Nay, added, in the old fool's interest,
"Strangle the black-eyed babe, so far so good,
"But on condition you relieve the man
"O' the wife and throttle him Violante too—
"She is the mischief!"
We had hit the mark.
She, whose trick brought the babe into the world,
She it was, when the babe was grown a girl,
Judged a new trick should reinforce the old,
Send vigour to the lie now somewhat spent
By twelve years' service; lest Eve's rule decline
Over this Adam of hers, whose cabbage-plot
Throve dubiously since turned fools' paradise,
Spite of a nightingale on every stump.
Pietro's estate was dwindling day by day,
While he, rapt far above such mundane care,
Crawled all-fours with his baby pick-a-back,
Sat at serene cats'-cradle with his child,
Or took the measured tallness, top to toe,
Of what was grown a great girl twelve years old:
Till sudden at the door a tap discreet,
A visitor's premonitory cough,
And poverty had reached him in her rounds.
This came when he was past the working-time,
Had learned to dandle and forgot to dig,
And who must but Violante cast about,
Contrive and task that head of hers again?
She who had caught one fish, could make that catch
A bigger still, in angler's policy:
So, with an angler's mercy for the bait,
Her minnow was set wriggling on its barb
And tossed to mid-stream; which means, this grown girl
With the great eyes and bounty of black hair
And first crisp youth that tempts a jaded taste,
Was whisked i' the way of a certain man, who snapped.
Count Guido Franceschini the Aretine
Was head of an old noble house enough,
Not over-rich, you can't have everything,
But such a man as riches rub against,
Readily stick to,—one with a right to them
Born in the blood: 't was in his very brow
Always to knit itself against the world,
Beforehand so, when that world stinted due
Service and suit: the world ducks and defers.
As such folks do, he had come up to Rome
To better his fortune, and, since many years,
Was friend and follower of a cardinal;
Waiting the rather thus on providence
That a shrewd younger poorer brother yet,
The Abate Paolo, a regular priest,
Had long since tried his powers and found he swam
With the deftest on the Galilean pool:
But then he was a web-foot, free o' the wave,
And no ambiguous dab-chick hatched to strut,
Humbled by any fond attempt to swim
When fiercer fowl usurped his dunghill top—
A whole priest, Paolo, no mere piece of one
Like Guido tacked thus to the Church's tail!
Guido moreover, as the head o' the house,
Claiming the main prize, not the lesser luck,
The centre lily, no mere chickweed fringe.
He waited and learned waiting, thirty years;
Got promise, missed performance—what would you have?
No petty post rewards a nobleman
For spending youth in splendid lackey-work,
And there's concurrence for each rarer prize;
When that falls, rougher hand and readier foot
Push aside Guido spite of his black looks.
The end was, Guido, when the warning showed,
The first white hair i' the glass, gave up the game,
Determined on returning to his town,
Making the best of bad incurable,
Patching the old palace up and lingering there
The customary life out with his kin,
Where honour helps to spice the scanty bread.
Just as he trimmed his lamp and girt his loins
To go his journey and be wise at home,
In the right mood of disappointed worth,
Who but Violante sudden spied her prey
(Where was I with that angler-simile?)
And threw her bait, Pompilia, where he sulked—
A gleam i' the gloom!
What if he gained thus much,
Wrung out this sweet drop from the bitter Past,
Bore off this rose-bud from the prickly brake
To justify such torn clothes and scratched hands,
And, after all, brought something back from Rome?
Would not a wife serve at Arezzo well
To light the dark house, lend a look of youth
To the mother's face grown meagre, left alone
And famished with the emptiness of hope,
Old Donna Beatrice? Wife you want
Would you play family-representative,
Carry you elder-brotherly, high and right
O'er what may prove the natural petulance
Of the third brother, younger, greedier still,
Girolamo, also a fledgeling priest,
Beginning life in turn with callow beak
Agape for luck, no luck had stopped and stilled.
Such were the pinks and greys about the bait
Persuaded Guido gulp down hook and all.
What constituted him so choice a catch,
You question? Past his prime and poor beside!
Ask that of any she who knows the trade.
Why first, here was a nobleman with friends,
A palace one might run to and be safe
When presently the threatened fate should fall,
A big-browed master to block door-way up,
Parley with people bent on pushing by
And praying the mild Pietro quick clear scores:
Is birth a privilege and power or no?
Also,—but judge of the result desired,
By the price paid and manner of the sale.
The Count was made woo, win and wed at once:
Asked, and was haled for answer, lest the heat
Should cool, to San Lorenzo, one blind eve,
And had Pompilia put into his arms
O' the sly there, by a hasty candle-blink,
With sanction of some priest-confederate
Properly paid to make short work and sure.
So did old Pietro's daughter change her style
For Guido Franceschini's lady-wife
Ere Guido knew it well; and why this haste
And scramble and indecent secrecy?
"Lest Pietro, all the while in ignorance,
"Should get to learn, gainsay and break the match:
"His peevishness had promptly put aside
"Such honour and refused the proffered boon,
"Pleased to become authoritative once.
"She remedied the wilful man's mistake—"
Did our discreet Violante. Rather say,
Thus did she, lest the object of her game,
Guido the gulled one, give him but a chance,
A moment's respite, time for thinking twice,
Might count the cost before he sold himself,
And try the clink of coin they paid him with.
But coin paid, bargain struck and business done,
Once the clandestine marriage over thus,
All parties made perforce the best o' the fact;
Pietro could play vast indignation off,
Be ignorant and astounded, dupe, poor soul,
Please you, of daughter, wife and son-in-law,
While Guido found himself in flagrant fault,
Must e'en do suit and service, soothe, subdue
A father not unreasonably chafed,
Bring him to terms by paying son's devoir.
The end, this:
Guido's broad back was saddled to bear all—
Pietro, Violante, and Pompilia too,—
Three lots cast confidently in one lap,
Three dead-weights with one arm to lift the three
Out of their limbo up to life again.
The Roman household was to strike fresh root
In a new soil, graced with a novel name,
Gilt with an alien glory, Aretine
Henceforth and never Roman any more,
By treaty and engagement; thus it ran:
Pompilia's dowry for Pompilia's self
As a thing of course,—she paid her own expense;
No loss nor gain there: but the couple, you see,
They, for their part, turned over first of all
Their fortune in its rags and rottenness
To Guido, fusion and confusion, he
And his with them and theirs,—whatever rag
With coin residuary fell on floor
When Brother Paolo's energetic shake
Should do the relics justice: since 't was thought,
Once vulnerable Pietro out of reach,
That, left at Rome as representative,
The Abate, backed by a potent patron here,
And otherwise with purple flushing him,
Might play a good game with the creditor,
Make up a moiety which, great or small,
Should go to the common stock—if anything,
Guido's, so far repayment of the cost
About to be,—and if, as looked more like,
Nothing,—why, all the nobler cost were his
Who guaranteed, for better or for worse,
To Pietro and Violante, house and home,
Kith and kin, with the pick of company
And life o' the fat o' the land while life should last.
How say you to the bargain at first blush?
Why did a middle-aged not-silly man
Show himself thus besotted all at once?
Quoth Solomon, one black eye does it all.
They went to Arezzo,—Pietro and his spouse,
With just the dusk o' the day of life to spend,
Eager to use the twilight, taste a treat,
Enjoy for once with neither stay nor stint
The luxury of lord-and-lady-ship,
And realize the stuff and nonsense long
A-simmer in their noddles; vent the fume
Born there and bred, the citizen's conceit
How fares nobility while crossing earth,
What rampart or invisible body-guard
Keeps off the taint of common life from such.
They had not fed for nothing on the tales
Of grandees who give banquets worthy Jove,
Spending gold as if Plutus paid a whim,
Served with obeisances as when … what God?
I'm at the end of my tether; 't is enough
You understand what they came primed to see:
While Guido who should minister the sight,
Stay all this qualmish greediness of soul
With apples and with flagons—for his part,
Was set on life diverse as pole from pole:
Lust of the flesh, lust of the eye,—what else
Was he just now awake from, sick and sage,
After the very debauch they would begin?—
Suppose such stuff and nonsense really were.
That bubble, they were bent on blowing big,
He had blown already till he burst his cheeks,
And hence found soapsuds bitter to the tongue.
He hoped now to walk softly all his days
In soberness of spirit, if haply so,
Pinching and paring he might furnish forth
A frugal board, bare sustenance, no more,
Till times, that could not well grow worse, should mend.
Thus minded then, two parties mean to meet
And make each other happy. The first week,
And fancy strikes fact and explodes in full.
"This," shrieked the Comparini, "this the Count,
"The palace, the signorial privilege,
"The pomp and pageantry were promised us?
"For this have we exchanged our liberty,
"Our competence, our darling of a child?
"To house as spectres in a sepulchre
"Under this black stone-heap, the street's disgrace,
"Grimmest as that is of the gruesome town,
"And here pick garbage on a pewter plate
"Or cough at verjuice dripped from earthenware?
"Oh Via Vittoria, oh the other place
"I' the Pauline, did we give you up for this?
"Where's the foregone housekeeping good and gay,
"The neighbourliness, the companionship,
"The treat and feast when holidays came round,
"The daily feast that seemed no treat at all,
"Called common by the uncommon fools we were!
"Even the sun that used to shine at Rome,
"Where is it? Robbed and starved and frozen too,
"We will have justice, justice if there be!"
Did not they shout, did not the town resound!
Guido's old lady-mother Beatrice,
Who since her husband, Count Tommaso's death,
Had held sole sway i' the house,—the doited crone
Slow to acknowledge, curtsey and abdicate,—
Was recognized of true novercal type,
Dragon and devil. His brother Girolamo
Came next in order: priest was he? The worse!
No way of winning him to leave his mumps
And help the laugh against old ancestry
And formal habits long since out of date,
Letting his youth be patterned on the mode
Approved of where Violante laid down law.
Or did he brighten up by way of change,
Dispose himself for affability?
The malapert, too complaisant by half
To the alarmed young novice of a bride!
Let him go buzz, betake himself elsewhere
Nor singe his fly-wings in the candle-flame!
Four months' probation of this purgatory,
Dog-snap and cat-claw, curse and counterblast,
The devil's self were sick of his own din;
And Pietro, after trumpeting huge wrongs
At church and market-place, pillar and post,
Square's corner, street's end, now the palace-step
And now the wine-house bench—while, on her side,
Violante up and down was voluble
In whatsoever pair of ears would perk
From goody, gossip, cater-cousin and sib,
Curious to peep at the inside of things
And catch in the act pretentious poverty
At its wits' end to keep appearance up,
Make both ends meet,—nothing the vulgar loves
Like what this couple pitched them right and left.
Then, their worst done that way, both struck tent, marched:
—Renounced their share o' the bargain, flung what dues
Guido was bound to pay, in Guido's face,
Left their hearts'-darling, treasure of the twain
And so forth, the poor inexperienced bride,
To her own devices, bade Arezzo rot,
Cursed life signorial, and sought Rome once more.
I see the comment ready on your lip,
"The better fortune, Guido's—free at least
"By this defection of the foolish pair,
"He could begin make profit in some sort
"Of the young bride and the new quietness,
"Lead his own life now, henceforth breathe unplagued."
Could he? You know the sex like Guido's self.
Learn the Violante-nature!
Once in Rome,
By way of helping Guido lead such life,
Her first act to inaugurate return
Was, she got pricked in conscience: Jubilee
Gave her the hint. Our Pope, as kind as just,
Attained his eighty years, announced a boon
Should make us bless the fact, held Jubilee—
Short shrift, prompt pardon for the light offence
And no rough dealing with the regular crime
So this occasion were not suffered slip—
Otherwise, sins commuted as before,
Without the least abatement in the price.
Now, who had thought it? All this while, it seems,
Our sage Violante had a sin of a sort
She must compound for now or not at all.
Now be the ready riddance! She confessed
Pompilia was a fable not a fact:
She never bore a child in her whole life.
Had this child been a changeling, that were grace
In some degree, exchange is hardly theft,
You take your stand on truth ere leap your lie:
Here was all lie, no touch of truth at all,
All the lie hers—not even Pietro guessed
He was as childless still as twelve years since.
The babe had been a find i' the filth-heap, Sir,
Catch from the kennel! There was found at Rome,
Down in the deepest of our social dregs,
A woman who professed the wanton's trade
Under the requisite thin coverture,
Communis meretrix and washer-wife:
The creature thus conditioned found by chance
Motherhood like a jewel in the muck,
And straightway either trafficked with her prize
Or listened to the tempter and let be,—
Made pact abolishing her place and part
In womankind, beast-fellowship indeed.
She sold this babe eight months before its birth
To our Violante, Pietro's honest spouse,
Well-famed and widely-instanced as that crown
To the husband, virtue in a woman's shape.
She it was, bought, paid for, passed off the thing
As very flesh and blood and child of her
Despite the flagrant fifty years,—and why?
Partly to please old Pietro, fill his cup
With wine at the late hour when lees are left,
And send him from life's feast rejoicingly,—
Partly to cheat the rightful heirs, agape,
Each uncle's cousin's brother's son of him,
For that same principal of the usufruct
It vext him he must die and leave behind.
Such was the sin had come to be confessed.
Which of the tales, the first or last, was true?
Did she so sin once, or, confessing now,
Sin for the first time? Either way you will.
One sees a reason for the cheat: one sees
A reason for a cheat in owning cheat
Where no cheat had been. What of the revenge?
What prompted the contrition all at once,
Made the avowal easy, the shame slight?
Why, prove they but Pompilia not their child,
No child, no dowry! this, supposed their child,
Had claimed what this, shown alien to their blood,
Claimed nowise: Guido's claim was through his wife,
Null then and void with hers. The biter bit,
Do you see! For such repayment of the past,
One might conceive the penitential pair
Ready to bring their case before the courts,
Publish their infamy to all the world
And, arm in arm, go chuckling thence content.
Is this your view? 'T was Guido's anyhow
And colourable: he came forward then,
Protested in his very bride's behalf
Against this lie and all it led to, least
Of all the loss o' the dowry; no! From her
And him alike he would expunge the blot,
Erase the brand of such a bestial birth,
Participate in no hideous heritage
Gathered from the gutter to be garnered up
And glorified in a palace. Peter and Paul!
But that who likes may look upon the pair
Exposed in yonder church, and show his skill
By saying which is eye and which is mouth
Thro' those stabs thick and threefold,—but for that—
A strong word on the liars and their lie
Might crave expression and obtain it, Sir!
—Though prematurely, since there's more to come,
More that will shake your confidence in things
Your cousin tells you,—may I be so bold?
This makes the first act of the farce,—anon
The sombre element comes stealing in
Till all is black or blood-red in the piece.
Guido, thus made a laughing-stock abroad,
A proverb for the market-place at home,
Left alone with Pompilia now, this graft
So reputable on his ancient stock,
This plague-seed set to fester his sound flesh,
What does the Count? Revenge him on his wife?
Unfasten at all risks to rid himself
The noisome lazar-badge, fall foul of fate,
And, careless whether the poor rag was ware
O' the part it played, or helped unwittingly,
Bid it go burn and leave his frayed flesh free?
Plainly, did Guido open both doors wide,
Spurn thence the cur-cast creature and clear scores
As man might, tempted in extreme like this?
No, birth and breeding, and compassion too
Saved her such scandal. She was young, he thought,
Not privy to the treason, punished most
I' the proclamation of it; why make her
A party to the crime she suffered by?
Then the black eyes were now her very own,
Not any more Violante's: let her live,
Lose in a new air, under a new sun,
The taint of the imputed parentage
Truly or falsely, take no more the touch
Of Pietro and his partner anyhow!
All might go well yet.
So she thought, herself,
It seems, since what was her first act and deed
When news came how these kindly ones at Rome
Had stripped her naked to amuse the world
With spots here, spots there and spots everywhere?
—For I should tell you that they noised abroad
Not merely the main scandal of her birth,
But slanders written, printed, published wide,
Pamphlets which set forth all the pleasantry
Of how the promised glory was a dream,
The power a bubble, and the wealth—why, dust.
There was a picture, painted to the life,
Of those rare doings, that superlative
Initiation in magnificence
Conferred on a poor Roman family
By favour of Arezzo and her first
And famousest, the Franceschini there.
You had the Countship holding head aloft
Bravely although bespattered, shifts and straits
In keeping out o' the way o' the wheels o' the world,
The comic of those home-contrivances
When the old lady-mother's with was taxed
To find six clamorous mouths in food more real
Than fruit plucked off the cobwebbed family-tree,
Or acorns shed from its gilt mouldered frame—
Cold glories served up with stale fame for sauce.
What, I ask,—when the drunkenness of hate
Hiccuped return for hospitality,
Befouled the table they had feasted on,
Or say,—God knows I'll not prejudge the case,—
Grievances thus distorted, magnified,
Coloured by quarrel into calumny,—
What side did our Pompilia first espouse?
Her first deliberate measure was—she wrote,
Pricked by some loyal impulse, straight to Rome
And her husband's brother the Abate there,
Who, having managed to effect the match,
Might take men's censure for its ill success.
She made a clean breast also in her turn,
And qualified the couple properly,
Since whose departure, hell, she said, was heaven,
And the house, late distracted by their peals,
Quiet as Carmel where the lilies live.
Herself had oftentimes complained: but why?
All her complaints had been their prompting, tales
Trumped up, devices to this very end.
Their game had been to thwart her husband's love
And cross his will, malign his words and ways,
To reach this issue, furnish this pretence
For impudent withdrawal from their bond,—
Theft, indeed murder, since they meant no less
Whose last injunction to her simple self
Had been—what parents'-precept do you think?
That she should follow after with all speed,
Fly from her husband's house clandestinely,
Join them at Rome again, but first of all
Pick up a fresh companion in her flight,
So putting youth and beauty to fit use,—
Some gay dare-devil cloak-and-rapier spark
Capable of adventure,—helped by whom
She, some fine eve when lutes were in the air,
Having put poison in the posset-cup,
Laid hands on money, jewels and the like,
And, to conceal the thing with more effect,
By way of parting benediction too,
Fired the house,—one would finish famously
I' the tumult, slip out, scurry off and away
And turn up merrily at home once more.
Fact this, and not a dream o' the devil, Sir!
And more than this, a fact none dare dispute,
Word for word, such a letter did she write,
And such the Abate read, nor simply read
But gave all Rome to ruminate upon,
In answer to such charges as, I say,
The couple sought to be beforehand with.
The cause thus carried to the courts at Rome,
Guido away, the Abate had no choice
But stand forth, take his absent brother's part,
Defend the honour of himself beside.
He made what head he might against the pair,
Maintained Pompilia's birth legitimate
And all her rights intact—hers, Guido's now:
And so far by his policy turned their flank,
(The enemy being beforehand in the place)
That,—though the courts allowed the cheat for fact,
Suffered Violante to parade her shame,
Publish her infamy to heart's content,
And let the tale o' the feigned birth pass for proved,—
Yet they stopped there, refused to intervene
And dispossess the innocents, befooled
By gifts o' the guilty, at guilt's new caprice.
They would not take away the dowry now
Wrongfully given at first, nor bar at all
Succession to the aforesaid usufruct,
Established on a fraud, nor play the game
Of Pietro's child and now not Pietro's child
As it might suit the gamester's purpose. Thus
Was justice ever ridiculed in Rome:
Such be the double verdicts favoured here
Which send away both parties to a suit
Nor puffed up nor cast down,—for each a crumb
Of right, for neither of them the whole loaf.
Whence, on the Comparini's part, appeal—
Counter-appeal on Guido's,—that's the game:
And so the matter stands, even to this hour,
Bandied as balls are in a tennis-court,
And so might stand, unless some heart broke first,
Leave it thus, and now revert
To the old Arezzo whence we moved to Rome.
We've had enough o' the parents, false or true,
Now for a touch o' the daughter's quality.
The start's fair henceforth, every obstacle
Out of the young wife's footpath, she's alone,
Left to walk warily now: how does she walk?
Why, once a dwelling's threshold marked and crossed
In rubric by the enemy on his rounds
As eligible, as fit place of prey,
Baffle him henceforth, keep him out who can!
Stop up the door at the first hint of hoof,
Presently at the window taps a horn,
And Satan's by your fireside, never fear!
Pompilia, left alone now, found herself;
Found herself young too, sprightly, fair enough,
Matched with a husband old beyond his age
(Though that was something like four times her own)
Because of cares past, present and to come:
Found too the house dull and its inmates dead,
So, looked outside for light and life.
Did in a trice turn up with life and light,—
The man with the aureole, sympathy made flesh,
The all-consoling Caponsacchi, Sir!
A priest—what else should the consoler be?
With goodly shoulderblade and proper leg,
A portly make and a symmetric shape,
And curls that clustered to the tonsure quite.
This was a bishop in the bud, and now
A canon full-blown so far: priest, and priest
Nowise exorbitantly overworked,
The courtly Christian, not so much Saint Paul
As a saint of Cæsar's household: there posed he
Sending his god-glance after his shot shaft,
Apollos turned Apollo, while the snake
Pompilia writhed transfixed through all her spires.
He, not a visitor at Guido's house,
Scarce an acquaintance, but in prime request
With the magnates of Arezzo, was seen here,
Heard there, felt everywhere in Guido's path
If Guido's wife's path be her husband's too.
Now he threw comfits at the theatre
Into her lap,—what harm in Carnival?
Now he pressed close till his foot touched her gown,
His hand brushed hers,—how help on promenade?
And, ever on weighty business, found his steps
Incline to a certain haunt of doubtful fame
Which fronted Guido's palace by mere chance;
While—how do accidents sometimes combine!—
Pompilia chose to cloister up her charms
Just in a chamber that o'erlooked the street,
Sat there to pray, or peep thence at mankind.
This passage of arms and wits amused the town.
At last the husband lifted eyebrow,—bent
On day-book and the study how to wring
Half the due vintage from the worn-out vines
At the villa, tease a quarter the old rent
From the farmstead, tenants swore would tumble soon,—
Pricked up his ear a-singing day and night
With "ruin, ruin;"—and so surprised at last—
Why, what else but a titter? Up he jumps.
Back to mind come those scratchings at the grange,
Prints of the paw about the outhouse; rife
In his head at once again are word and wink,
Mum here and budget there, the smell o' the fox,
The must o' the gallant. "Friends, there's falseness here!"
The proper help of friends in such a strait
Is waggery, the world over. Laugh him free
O' the regular jealous-fit that's incident
To all old husbands that wed brisk young wives,
And he'll go duly docile all his days.
"Somebody courts your wife, Count? Where and when?
"How and why? Mere horn-madness: have a care!
"Your lady loves her own room, sticks to it,
"Locks herself in for hours, you say yourself.
"And—what, it's Caponsacchi means you harm?
"The Canon? We caress him, he's the world's,
"A man of such acceptance—never dream,
"Though he were fifty times the fox you fear,
"He'd risk his brush for your particular chick,
"When the wide town's his hen-roost! Fie o' the fool!"
So they dispensed their comfort of a kind.
Guido at last cried "Something is in the air,
"Under the earth, some plot against my peace.
"The trouble of eclipse hangs overheard;
"How it should come of that officious orb
"Your Canon in my system, you must say:
"I say—that from the pressure of this spring
"Began the chime and interchange of bells,
"Ever one whisper, and one whisper more,
"And just one whisper for the silvery last,
"Till all at once a-row the bronze-throats burst
"Into a larum both significant
"And sinister: stop it I must and will.
"Let Caponsacchi take his hand away
"From the wire!—disport himself in other paths
"Than lead precisely to my palace-gate,—
"Look where he likes except one window's way
"Where, cheek on hand, and elbow set on sill,
"Happens to lean and say her litanies
"Every day and all day long, just my wife—
"Or wife and Caponsacchi may fare the worse!"
Admire the man's simplicity, "I'll do this,
"I'll not have that, I'll punish and prevent!"—
'T is easy saying. But to a fray, you see,
Two parties go. The badger shows his teeth:
The fox nor lies down sheep-like nor dares fight.
Oh, the wife knew the appropriate warfare well,
The way to put suspicion to the blush!
At first hint of remonstrance, up and out
I' the face of the world, you found her: she could speak,
State her case,—Franceschini was a name,
Guido had his full share of foes and friends—
Why should not she call these to arbitrate?
She bade the Governor do governance,
Cried out on the Archbishop,—why, there now,
Take him for sample! Three successive times,
Had he to reconduct her by main-force
From where she took her station opposite
His shut door,—on the public steps thereto,
Wringing her hands, when he came out to see,
And shrieking all her wrongs forth at his foot,—
Back to the husband and the house she fled:
Judge if that husband warmed him in the face
Of friends or frowned on foes as heretofore!
Judge if he missed the natural grin of folk,
Or lacked the customary compliment
Of cap and bells, the luckless husband's fit!
So it went on and on till—who was right?
One merry April morning, Guido woke
After the cuckoo, so late, near noonday,
With an inordinate yawning of the jaws,
Ears plugged, eyes gummed together, palate, tongue
And teeth one mud-paste made of poppy-milk;
And found his wife flown, his scritoire the worse
For a rummage,—jewelry that was, was not,
Some money there had made itself wings too,—
The door lay wide and yet the servants slept
Sound as the dead, or dosed which does as well.
In short, Pompilia, she who, candid soul,
Had not so much as spoken all her life
To the Canon, nay, so much as peeped at him
Between her fingers while she prayed in church,—
This lamb-like innocent of fifteen years
(Such she was grown to by this time of day)
Had simply put an opiate in the drink
Of the whole household overnight, and then
Got up and gone about her work secure,
Laid hand on this waif and the other stray,
Spoiled the Philistine and marched out of doors
In company of the Canon who, Lord's love,
What with his daily duty at the church,
Nightly devoir where ladies congregate,
Had something else to mind, assure yourself,
Beside Pompilia, paragon though she be,
Or notice if her nose were sharp or blunt!
Well, anyhow, albeit impossible,
Both of them were together jollily
Jaunting it Rome-ward, half-way there by this,
While Guido was left go and get undrugged,
Gather his wits up, groaningly give thanks
When neighbours crowded round him to condole.
"Ah," quoth a gossip, "well I mind me now,
"The Count did always say he thought he felt
"He feared as if this very chance might fall!
"And when a man of fifty finds his corns
"Ache and his joints throb, and foresees a storm,
"Though neighbours laugh and say the sky is clear,
"Let us henceforth believe him weatherwise!"
Then was the story told, I'll cut you short:
All neighbours knew: no mystery in the world.
The lovers left at nightfall—over night
Had Caponsacchi come to carry off
Pompilia,—not alone, a friend of his,
One Guillichini, the more conversant
With Guido's housekeeping that he was just
A cousin of Guido's and might play a prank—
(Have not you too a cousin that's a wag?)
—Lord and a Canon also,—what would you have?
Such are the red-clothed milk-swollen poppy-heads
That stand and stiffen 'mid the wheat o' the Church!—
This worthy came to aid, abet his best.
And so the house was ransacked, booty bagged,
The lady led downstairs and out of doors
Guided and guarded till, the city passed,
A carriage lay convenient at the gate.
Good-bye to the friendly Canon; the loving one
Could peradventure do the rest himself.
In jumps Pompilia, after her the priest,
"Whip, driver! Money makes the mare to go,
"And we've a bagful. Take the Roman road!"
So said the neighbours. This was eight hours since.
Guido heard all, swore the befitting oaths,
Shook off the relics of his poison-drench,
Got horse, was fairly started in pursuit
With never a friend to follow, found the track
Fast enough, 't was the straight Perugia way,
Trod soon upon their very heels, too late
By a minute only at Camoscia, reached
Chiusi, Foligno, ever the fugitives
Just ahead, just out as he galloped in,
Getting the good news ever fresh and fresh,
Till, lo, at the last stage of all, last post
Before Rome,—as we say, in sight of Rome
And safety (there's impunity at Rome
For priests, you know) at—what's the little place?—
What some call Castelnuovo, some just call
The Osteria, because o' the post-house inn,
There, at the journey's all but end, it seems,
Triumph deceived them and undid them both,
Secure they might foretaste felicity
Nor fear surprisal: so, they were surprised.
There did they halt at early evening, there
Did Guido overtake them: 't was day-break;
He came in time enough, not time too much,
Since in the courtyard stood the Canon's self
Urging the drowsy stable-grooms to haste
Harness the horses, have the journey end,
The trifling four-hours'-running, so reach Rome.
And the other runaway, the wife? Upstairs,
Still on the couch where she had spent the night,
One couch in one room, and one room for both.
So gained they six hours, so were lost thereby.
Sir, what's the sequel? Lover and beloved
Fall on their knees? No impudence serves here?
They beat their breasts and beg for easy death,
Confess this, that and the other?—anyhow
Confess there wanted not some likelihood
To the supposition so preposterous,
That, O Pompilia, thy sequestered eyes
Had noticed, straying o'er the prayerbook's edge,
More of the Canon than that black his coat,
Buckled his shoes were, broad his hat of brim:
And that, O Canon, thy religious care
Had breathed too soft a benedicite
To banish trouble from a lady's breast
So lonely and so lovely, nor so lean!
This you expect? Indeed, then, much you err.
Not to such ordinary end as this
Had Caponsacchi flung the cassock far,
Doffed the priest, donned the perfect cavalier.
The die was cast: over shoes over boots:
And just as she, I presently shall show,
Pompilia, soon looked Helen to the life,
Recumbent upstairs in her pink and white,
So, in the inn-yard, bold as 't were Troy-town,
There strutted Paris in correct costume,
Cloak, cap and feather, no appointment missed,
Even to a wicked-looking sword at side,
He seemed to find and feel familiar at.
Nor wanted words as ready and as big
As the part he played, the bold abashless one.
"I interposed to save your wife from death,
"Yourself from shame, the true and only shame:
"Ask your own conscience else!—or, failing that,
"What I have done I answer, anywhere,
"Here, if you will; you see I have a sword:
"Or, since I have a tonsure as you taunt,
"At Rome, by all means,—priests to try a priest.
"Only, speak where your wife's voice can reply!"
And then he fingered at the sword again.
So, Guido called, in aid and witness both,
The Public Force. The Commissary came,
Officers also; they secured the priest;
Then, for his more confusion, mounted up
With him, a guard on either side, the stair
To the bed-room where still slept or feigned a sleep
His paramour and Guido's wife: in burst
The company and bade her wake and rise.
Her defence? This. She woke, saw, sprang upright
I' the midst and stood as terrible as truth,
Sprang to her husband's side, caught at the sword
That hung there useless,—since they held each hand
O' the lover, had disarmed him properly,—
And in a moment out flew the bright thing
Full in the face of Guido: but for help
O' the guards who held her back and pinioned her
With pains enough, she had finished you my tale
With a flourish of red all round it, pinked her man
Prettily; but she fought them one to six.
They stopped that,—but her tongue continued free:
She spat forth such invective at her spouse,
O'erfrothed him with such foam of murderer,
Thief, pandar—that the popular tide soon turned,
The favour of the very sbirri, straight
Ebbed from the husband, set toward his wife,
People cried "Hands off, pay a priest respect!"
And "persecuting fiend" and "martyred saint"
Began to lead a measure from lip to lip.
But facts are facts and flinch not; stubborn things,
And the question "Prithee, friend, how comes my purse
"I' the poke of you?"—admits of no reply.
Here was a priest found out in masquerade,
A wife caught playing truant if no more;
While the Count, mortified in mien enough,
And, nose to face, an added palm in length,
Was plain writ "husband" every piece of him:
Capture once made, release could hardly be.
Beside, the prisoners both made appeal,
"Take us to Rome!"
Taken to Rome they were;
The husband trooping after, piteously,
Tail between legs, no talk of triumph now—
No honour set firm on its feet once more
On two dead bodies of the guilty,—nay,
No dubious salve to honour's broken pate
From chance that, after all, the hurt might seem
A skin-deep matter, scratch that leaves no scar:
For Guido's first search,—ferreting, poor soul,
Here, there and everywhere in the vile place
Abandoned to him when their backs were turned,
Found,—furnishing a last and best regale,—
All the love-letters bandied 'twixt the pair
Since the first timid trembling into life
O' the love-star till its stand at fiery full.
Mad prose, mad verse, fears, hopes, triumph, despair,
Avowal, disclaimer, plans, dates, names,—was nought
Wanting to prove, if proof consoles at all,
That this had been but the fifth act o' the piece
Whereof the due proemium, months ago
These playwrights had put forth, and ever since
Matured the middle, added 'neath his nose.
He might go cross himself: the case was clear.
Therefore to Rome with the clear case; there plead
Each party its best, and leave law do each right,
Let law shine forth and show, as God in heaven,
Vice prostrate, virtue pedestalled at last,
The triumph of truth! What else shall glad our gaze
When once authority has knit the brow
And set the brain behind it to decide
Between the wolf and sheep turned litigants?
"This is indeed a business!" law shook head:
"A husband charges hard things on a wife,
"The wife as hard o' the husband: whose fault here?
"A wife that flies her husband's house, does wrong:
"The male friend's interference looks amiss,
"Lends a suspicion: but suppose the wife,
"On the other hand, be jeopardized at home—
"Nay, that she simply hold, ill-groundedly,
"An apprehension she is jeopardized,—
"And further, if the friend partake the fear,
"And, in a commendable charity
"Which trusteth all, trust her that she mistrusts,—
"What do they but obey law—natural law?
"Pretence may this be and a cloak for sin,
"And circumstances that concur i' the close
"Hint as much, loudly—yet scarce loud enough
"To drown the answer 'strange may yet be true:'
"Innocence often looks like guiltiness.
"The accused declare that in thought, word and deed,
"Innocent were they both from first to last
"As male-babe haply laid by female-babe
"At church on edge of the baptismal font
"Together for a minute, perfect-pure.
"Difficult to believe, yet possible,
"As witness Joseph, the friend's patron-saint.
"The night at the inn—there charity nigh chokes
"Ere swallow what they both asseverate;
"Though down the gullet faith may feel it go,
"When mindful of what flight fatigued the flesh
"Out of its faculty and fleshliness,
"Subdued it to the soul, as saints assure:
"So long a flight necessitates a fall
"On the first bed, though in a lion's den,
"And the first pillow, though the lion's back:
"Difficult to believe, yet possible.
"Last come the letters' bundled beastliness—
"Authority repugns give glance to—nay,
"Turns head, and almost lets her whip-lash fall;
"Yet here a voice cries 'Respite!' from the clouds—
"the accused, both in a tale, protest, disclaim,
"Abominate the horror: 'Not my hand'
"Asserts the friend—'Nor mine' chimes in the wife,
"'Seeing I have no hand, nor write at all.'
"Illiterate—for she goes on to ask,
"What if the friend did pen now verse now prose,
"Commend it to her notice now and then?
"'T was pearls to swine: she read no more than wrote,
"And kept no more than read, for as they fell
"She ever brushed the burr-like things away,
"Or, better, burned them, quenched the fire in smoke.
"As for this fardel, filth and foolishness,
"She sees it now the first time: burn it too!
"While for his part the friend vows ignorance
"Alike of what bears his name and bears here:
"'T is forgery, a felon's masterpiece,
"And, as 't is said the fox still finds the stench,
"Home-manufacture and the husband's work.
"Though he confesses, the ingenuous friend,
"That certain missives, letters of a sort,
"Flighty and feeble, which assigned themselves
"To the wife, no less have fallen, far too oft,
"In his path: wherefrom he understood just this—
"That were they verily the lady's own.
"Why, she who penned them, since he never saw
"Save for one minute the mere face of her,
"Since never had there been the interchange
"Of word with word between them all their life,
"Why, she must be the fondest of the frail,
"And fit, she for the 'apage' he flung,
"Her letters for the flame they went to feed!
"But, now he sees her face and hears her speech,
"Much he repents him if, in fancy-freak
"For a moment the minutest measurable,
"He coupled her with the first flimsy word
"O' the self-spun fabric some mean spider-soul
"Furnished forth: stop his films and stamp on him!
"Never was such a tangled knottiness,
"But thus authority cuts the Gordian through,
"And mark how her decision suits the need!
"Here's troublesomeness, scandal on both sides,
"Plenty of fault to find, no absolute crime:
"Let each side own its fault and make amends!
"What does a priest in cavalier's attire
"Consorting publicly with vagrant wives
"In quarters close as the confessional,
"Though innocent of harm? 'T is harm enough:
"Let him pay it,—say, be relegate a good
"Three years, to spend in some place not too far
"Nor yet too near, midway 'twixt near and far,
"Rome and Arezzo,—Civita we choose,
"Where he may lounge away time, live at large,
"Find out the proper function of a priest,
"Nowise an exile,—that were punishment,—
"But one our love thus keeps out of harm's way
"Not more from the husband's anger than, mayhap
"His own … say, indiscretion, waywardness,
"And wanderings when Easter eves grow warm.
"For the wife,—well, our best step to take with her,
"On her own showing, were to shift her root
"From the old cold shade and unhappy soil
"Into a generous ground that fronts the south
"Where, since her callow soul, a-shiver late,
"Craved simply warmth and called mere passers-by
"To the rescue, she should have her fill of shine.
"Do house and husband hinder and not help?
"Why then, forget both and stay here at peace,
"Come into our community, enroll
"Herself along with those good Convertites,
"Those sinners saved, those Magdalens re-made,
"Accept their ministration, well bestow
"Her body and patiently possess her soul,
"Until we see what better can be done.
"Last for the husband: if his tale prove true,
"Well is he rid of two domestic plagues—
"Both wife that ailed, do whatsoever he would,
"And friend of hers that undertook the cure.
"See, what a double load we lift from breast!
"Off he may go, return, resume old life,
"Laugh at the priest here and Pompilia there
"In limbo each and punished for their pains,
"And grateful tell the inquiring neighbourhood—
"In Rome, no wrong but has its remedy."
The case was closed. Now, am I fair or no
In what I utter? Do I state the facts,
Having forechosen a side? I promised you!
The Canon Caponsacchi, then, was sent
To change his garb, re-trim his tonsure, tie
The clerkly silk round, every plait correct,
Make the impressive entry on his place
Of relegation, thrill his Civita,
As Ovid, a like sufferer in the cause,
Planted a primrose-patch by Pontus: where,—
What with much culture of the sonnet-stave
And converse with the aborigines,
Soft savagery of eyes unused to roll
And hearts that all awry went pit-a-pat
And wanted setting right in charity,—
What were a couple of years to while away?
Pompilia, as enjoined, betook herself
To the aforesaid Convertites, soft sisterhood
In Via Lungara, where the light ones live,
Spin, pray, then sing like linnets o'er the flax.
"Anywhere, anyhow, out of my husband's house
"Is heaven," cried she,—was therefore suited so.
But for Count Guido Franceschini, he-
The injured man thus righted—found no heaven
I' the house when he returned there, I engage,
Was welcomed by the city turned upside down
In a chorus of inquiry. "What, back—you?
"And no wife? Left her with the Penitents?
"Ah, being young and pretty, 't were a shame
"To have her whipped in public: leave the job
"To the priests who understand! Such priests as yours—
"(Pontifex Maximus whipped Vestals once)
"Our madcap Caponsacchi: think of him!
"So, he fired up, showed fight and skill of fence?
"Ay, you drew also, but you did not fight!
"The wiser, 't is a word and a blow with him,
"True Caponsacchi, of old Head-i'-the-Sack
"That fought at Fiesole ere Florence was:
"He had done enough, to firk you were too much.
"And did the little lady menace you,
"Make at your breast with your own harmless sword?
"The spitfire! Well, thank God you're safe and sound,
"Have kept the sixth commandment whether or no
"The lady broke the seventh: I only wish
"I were as saint-like, could contain me so.
"I, the poor sinner, fear I should have left
"Sir Priest no nose-tip to turn up at me!"
You, Sir, who listen but interpose no word,
Ask yourself, had you borne a baiting thus?
Was it enough to make a wise man mad?
Oh, but I'll have your verdict at the end!
Well, not enough, it seems: such mere hurt falls,
Frets awhile, aches long, then grows less and less,
And so gets done with. Such was not the scheme
O' the pleasant Comparini: on Guido's wound
Ever in due succession, drop by drop,
Came slow distilment from the alembic here
Set on to simmer by Canidian hate,
Corrosives keeping the man's misery raw.
First fire-drop,—when he thought to make the best
O' the bad, to wring from out the sentence passed,
Poor, pitiful, absurd although it were,
Yet what might eke him out result enough
And make it worth while to have had the right
And not the wrong i' the matter judged at Rome.
Inadequate her punishment, no less
Punished in some slight sort his wife had been;
Then, punished for adultery, what else?
On such admitted crime he thought to seize,
And institute procedure in the courts
Which cut corruption of this kind from man,
Cast loose a wife proved loose and castaway:
He claimed in due form a divorce at least.
This claim was met now by a counterclaim:
Pompilia sought divorce from bed and board
Of Guido, whose outrageous cruelty,
Whose mother's malice and whose brother's hate
Were just the white o' the charge, such dreadful depths
Blackened its centre,—hints of worse than hate,
Love from that brother, by that Guido's guile,
That mother's prompting. Such reply was made,
So was the engine loaded, wound up, sprung
On Guido, who received bolt full in breast;
But no less bore up, giddily perhaps.
He had the Abate Paolo still in Rome,
Brother and friend and fighter on his side:
They rallied in a measure, met the foe
Manlike, joined battle in the public courts,
As if to shame supine law from her sloth:
And waiting her award, let beat the while
Arezzo's banter, Rome's buffoonery,
On this ear and on that ear, deaf alike,
Safe from worse outrage. Let a scorpion nip,
And never mind till he contorts his tail!
But there was sting i' the creature; thus it struck.
Guido had thought in his simplicity—
That lying declaration of remorse,
That story of the child which was no child
And motherhood no motherhood at all,
—That even this sin might have its sort of good
Inasmuch as no question more could be,—
Call it false, call the story true,—no claim
Of further parentage pretended now:
The parents had abjured all right, at least,
I' the woman owned his wife: to plead right still
Were to declare the abjuration false:
He was relieved from any fear henceforth
Their hands might touch, their breath defile again
Pompilia with his name upon her yet.
Well, no: the next news was, Pompilia's health
Demanded change after full three long weeks
Spent in devotion with the Sisterhood,—
Which rendered sojourn,—so the court opined,—
Too irksome, since the convent's walls were high
And windows narrow, now was air enough
Nor light enough, but all looked prison-like,
The last thing which had come in the court's head.
Propose a new expedient therefore,—this!
She had demanded—had obtained indeed,
By intervention of her pitying friends
Or perhaps lovers—(beauty in distress,
Beauty whose tale is the town-talk beside,
Never lacks friendship's arm about her neck)—
Obtained remission of the penalty,
Permitted transfer to some private place
Where better air, more light, new food might soothe—
Incarcerated (call it, all the same)
At some sure friend's house she must keep inside,
Be found in at requirement fast enough,—
Domus pro carcere, in Roman style.
You keep the house i' the main, as most men do
And all good women: but free otherwise,
Should friends arrive, to lodge them and what not?
And such a domum, such a dwelling-place,
Having all Rome to choose from, where chose she?
What house obtained Pompilia's preference?
Why, just the Comparini's—just, do you mark,
Theirs who renounced all part and lot in her
So long as Guido could be robbed thereby,
And only fell back on relationship
And found their daughter safe and sound again
When that might surelier stab him: yes, the pair
Who, as I told you, first had baited hook
With this poor gilded fly Pompilia-thing,
Then caught the fish, pulled Guido to the shore
And gutted him,—not found a further use
For the bait, would trail the gauze wings yet again
I' the way of what new swimmer passed their stand.
They took Pompilia to their hiding-place—
Not in the heart of Rome as formerly,
Under observance, subject to control—
But out o' the way,—or in the way, who knows?
That blind mute villa lurking by the gate
At Via Paulina, not so hard to miss
By the honest eye, easy enough to find
In twilight by marauders: where perchance
Some muffled Caponsacchi might repair,
Employ odd moments when he too tried change,
Found that a friend's abode was pleasanter
Than relegation, penance and the rest.
Come, here's the last drop does its worst to wound
Here's Guido poisoned to the bone, you say
Your boasted still's full strain and strength: not so!
One master-squeeze from screw shall bring to birth
The hoard i' the heart o' the toad, hell's quintessence.
He learned the true convenience of the change,
And why a convent lacks the cheerful hearts
And helpful hands which female straits require,
When, in the blind mute villa by the gate,
Pompilia—what? sang, danced, saw company?
—Gave birth, Sir, to a child, his son and heir,
Or Guido's heir and Caponsacchi's son.
I want your word now: what do you say to this?
What would say little Arezzo and great Rome,
And what did God say and the devil say
One at each ear o' the man, the husband, now
The father? Why, the overburdened mind
Broke down, what was a brain became a blaze.
In fury of the moment—(that first news
Fell on the Count among his vines, it seems,
Doing his farm-work,)—why, he summoned steward,
Called in the first four hard hands and stout hearts
From field and furrow, poured forth his appeal,
Not to Rome's law and gospel any more,
But this clown with a mother or a wife,
That clodpole with a sister or a son:
And, whereas law and gospel held their peace,
What wonder if the sticks and stones cried out?
All five soon somehow found themselves at Rome,
At the villa door: there was the warmth and light—
The sense of life so just an inch inside—
Some angel must have whispered "One more chance!"
Knocked at the door,—"Who is it knocks?" cried one.
"I will make," surely Guido's angel urged,
"One final essay, last experiment,
"Speak the word, name the name from out all names
"Which, if,—as doubtless strong illusions are,
"And strange disguisings whereby truth seems false,
"And, since I am but man, I dare not do
"God's work until assured I see with God,—
"If I should bring my lips to breathe that name
"And they be innocent,—nay, by one mere touch
"Of innocence redeemed from utter guilt,-
"That name will bar the door and bid fate pass.
"I will not say 'It is a messenger,
"'A neighbour, even a belated man,
"'Much less your husband's friend, your husband's self:'
"At such appeal the door is bound to ope.
"But I will say"—here's rhetoric and to spare!
Why, Sir, the stumbling-block is cursed and kicked,
Block though it be; the name that brought offence
Will bring offence: the burnt child dreads the fire
Although that fire feed on some taper-wick
Which never left the altar nor singed a fly:
And had a harmless man tripped you by chance,
How would you wait him, stand or step aside,
When next you heard he rolled your way? Enough.
"Giuseppe Caponsacchi!" Guido cried;
And open flew the door: enough again.
Vengeance, you know, burst, like a mountain-wave
That holds a monster in it, over the house,
And wiped its filthy four walls free at last
With a wash of hell-fire,—father, mother, wife,
Killed them all, bathed his name clean in their blood,
And, reeking so, was caught, his friends and he,
Haled hither and imprisoned yesternight
O' the day all this was.
Now, Sir, tale is told,
Of how the old couple come to lie in state
Though hacked to pieces,—never, the expert say,
So thorough a study of stabbing—while the wife
(Viper-like, very difficult to slay)
Writhes still through every ring of her, poor wretch,
At the Hospital hard by—survives, we'll hope,
To somewhat purify her putrid soul
By full confession, make so much amends
While time lasts; since at day's end die she must.
For Caponsacchi,—why, they'll have him here,
As hero of the adventure, who so fit
To figure in the coming Carnival?
'T will make the fortune of whate'er saloon
Hears him recount, with helpful cheek, and eye
Hotly indignant now, now dewy-dimmed,
The incidents of flight, pursuit, surprise,
Capture, with hints of kisses all between—
While Guido, wholly unromantic spouse,
No longer fit to laugh at since the blood
Gave the broad farce an all too brutal air,
Why, he and those four luckless friends of his
May tumble in the straw this bitter day—
Laid by the heels i' the New Prison, I hear,
To bide their trial, since trial, and for the life,
Follows if but for form's sake: yes, indeed!
But with a certain issue: no dispute,
"Try him," bids law: formalities oblige:
But as to the issue,—look me in the face!—
If the law thinks to find them guilty, Sir,
Master or men—touch one hair of the five,
Then I say in the name of all that's left
Of honour in Rome, civility i' the world
Whereof Rome boasts herself the central source,—
There's an end to all hope of justice more.
Astræa's gone indeed, let hope go too!
Who is it dares impugn the natural law,
Deny God's word "the faithless wife shall die"?
What, are we blind? How can we fail to learn
This crowd of miseries make the man a mark,
Accumulate on one devoted head
For our example?—yours and mine who read
Its lesson thus—"Henceforward let none dare
"Stand, like a natural in the public way,
"Letting the very urchins twitch his beard
"And tweak his nose, to earn a nickname so,
"Be styled male-Grissel or else modern Job!"
Had Guido, in the twinkling of an eye,
Summed up the reckoning, promptly paid himself,
That morning when he came up with the pair
At the wayside inn,—exacted his just debt
By aid of what first mattock, pitchfork, axe
Came to hand in the helpful stable-yard,
And with that axe, if providence so pleased,
Cloven each head, by some Rolando-stroke,
In one clean cut from crown to clavicle,
—Slain the priest-gallant, the wife-paramour,
Sticking, for all defence, in each skull's cleft
The rhyme and reason of the stroke thus dealt,
To-wit, those letters and last evidence
Of shame, each package in its proper place,—
Bidding, who pitied, undistend the skulls,—
I say, the world had praised the man. But no!
That were too plain, too straight; too simply just!
He hesitates, calls law forsooth to help.
And law, distasteful to who calls in law
When honour is beforehand and would serve,
What wonder if law hesitate in turn,
Plead her disuse to calls o' the kind, reply
(Smiling a little) "'T is yourself assess
"The worth of what's lost, sum of damage done.
"What you touched with so light a finger-tip,
"You whose concern it was to grasp the thing,
"Why must law gird herself and grapple with?
"Law, alien to the actor whose warm blood
"Asks heat from law whose veins run lukewarm milk,—
"What you dealt lightly with, shall law make out
Sir, what's the good of law
In a case o'the kind? None, as she all but says.
Call in law when a neighbour breaks your fence,
Cribs from your field, tampers with rent or lease,
Touches the purse or pocket,—but wooes your wife?
No: take the old way trod when men were men!
Guido preferred the new path,—for his pains,
Stuck in a quagmire, floundered worse and worse
Until he managed somehow scramble back
Into the safe sure rutted road once more,
Revenged his own wrong like a gentleman.
Once back 'mid the familiar prints, no doubt
He made too rash amends for his first fault,
Vaulted too loftily over what barred him late,
And lit i' the mire again,—the common chance,
The natural over-energy: the deed
Maladroit yields three deaths instead of one,
And one life left: for where's the Canon's corpse?
All which is the worse for Guido, but, be frank—
The better for you and me and all the world,
Husbands of wives, especially in Rome.
The thing is put right, in the old place,—ay,
The rod hangs on its nail behind the door,
Fresh from the brine: a matter I commend
To the notice, during Carnival that's near,
Of a certain what's-his-name and jackanapes
Somewhat too civil of eves with lute and song
About a house here, where I keep a wife.
(You, being his cousin, may go tell him so.)
III. The Other Half-Rome
Another day that finds her living yet,
Little Pompilia, with the patient brow
And lamentable smile on those poor lips,
And, under the white hospital-array,
A flower-like body, to frighten at a bruise
You'd think, yet now, stabbed through and through again,
Alive i' the ruins. 'T is a miracle.
It seems that, when her husband struck her first,
She prayed Madonna just that she might live
So long as to confess and be absolved;
And whether it was that, all her sad life long
Never before successful in a prayer,
This prayer rose with authority too dread,—
Or whether, because earth was hell to her,
By compensation, when the blackness broke
She got one glimpse of quiet and the cool blue,
To show her for a moment such things were,—
Or else,—as the Augustinian Brother thinks,
The friar who took confession from her lip,—
When a probationary soul that moved
From nobleness to nobleness, as she,
Over the rough way of the world, succumbs,
Bloodies its last thorn with unflinching foot,
The angels love to do their work betimes,
Staunch some wounds here nor leave so much for God.
Who knows? However it be, confessed, absolved,
She lies, with overplus of life beside
To speak and right herself from first to last,
Right the friend also, lamb-pure, lion-brave,
Care for the boy's concerns, to save the son
From the sire, her two-weeks' infant orphaned thus,
And—with best smile of all reserved for him—
Pardon that sire and husband from the heart.
A miracle, so tell your Molinists!
There she lies in the long white lazar-house.
Rome has besieged, these two days, never doubt,
Saint Anna's where she waits her death, to hear
Though but the chink o' the bell, turn o' the hinge
When the reluctant wicket opes at last,
Lets in, on now this and now that pretence,
Too many by half,—complain the men of art,—
For a patient in such plight. The lawyers first
Paid the due visit—justice must be done;
They took her witness, why the murder was.
Then the priests followed properly,—a soul
To shrive; 't was Brother Celestine's own right,
The same who noises thus her gifts abroad.
But many more, who found they were old friends,
Pushed in to have their stare and take their talk
And go forth boasting of it and to boast.
Old Monna Baldi chatters like a jay,
Swears—but that, prematurely trundled out
Just as she felt the benefit begin,
The miracle was snapped up by somebody,—
Her palsied limb 'gan prick and promise life
At touch o' the bedclothes merely,—how much more
Had she but brushed the body as she tried!
Cavalier Carlo—well, there's some excuse
For him—Maratta who paints Virgins so—
He too must fee the porter and slip by
With pencil cut and paper squared, and straight
There was he figuring away at face:
"A lovelier face is not in Rome," cried he,
"Shaped like a peacock's egg, the pure as pearl,
"That hatches you anon a snow-white chick."
Then, oh that pair of eyes, that pendent hair,
Black this and black the other! Mighty fine—
But nobody cared ask to paint the same,
Nor grew a poet over hair and eyes
Four little years ago when, ask and have,
The woman who wakes all this rapture leaned
Flower-like from out her window long enough,
As much uncomplimented as uncropped
By comers and goers in Via Vittoria: eh?
'T is just a flower's fate: past parterre we trip,
Till peradventure someone plucks our sleeve—
"Yon blossom at the briar's end, that's the rose
"Two jealous people fought for yesterday
"And killed each other: see, there's undisturbed
"A pretty pool at the root, of rival red!"
Then cry we "Ah, the perfect paragon!"
Then crave we "Just one keepsake-leaf for us!"
Truth lies between: there's anyhow a child
Of seventeen years, whether a flower or weed,
Ruined: who did it shall account to Christ—
Having no pity on the harmless life
And gentle face and girlish form he found,
And thus flings back. Go practise if you please
With men and women: leave a child alone
For Christ's particular love's sake!—so I say.
Somebody, at the bedside, said much more,
Took on him to explain the secret cause
O' the crime: quoth he, "Such crimes are very rife,
"Explode nor make us wonder now-a-days,
"Seeing that Antichrist disseminates
"That doctrine of the Philosophic Sin:
"Molinos' sect will soon make earth too hot!"
"Nay," groaned the Augustinian, "what's there new?
"Crime will not fail to flare up from men's hearts
"While hearts are men's and so born criminal;
"Which one fact, always old yet ever new,
"Accounts for so much crime that, for my part,
"Molinos may go whistle to the wind
"That waits outside a certain church, you know!"
Though really it does seem as if she here,
Pompilia, living so and dying thus,
Has had undue experience how much crime
A heart can hatch. Why was she made to learn
—Not you, not I, not even Molinos' self—
What Guido Franceschini's heart could hold?
Thus saintship is effected probably;
No sparing saints the process!—which the more
Tends to the reconciling us, no saints,
To sinnership, immunity and all.
For see now: Pietro and Violante's life
Till seventeen years ago, all Rome might note
And quote for happy—see the signs distinct
Of happiness as we yon Triton's trump.
What could they be but happy?—balanced so,
Nor low i' the social scale nor yet too high,
Nor poor nor richer than comports with ease,
Nor bright and envied, nor obscure and scorned,
Nor so young that their pleasures fell too thick,
Nor old past catching pleasure when it fell,
Nothing above, below the just degree,
All at the mean where joy's components mix.
So again, in the couple's very souls
You saw the adequate half with half to match,
Each having and each lacking somewhat, both
Making a whole that had all and lacked nought.
The round and sound, in whose composure just
The acquiescent and recipient side
Was Pietro's, and the stirring striving one
Violante's: both in union gave the due
Quietude, enterprise, craving and content,
Which go to bodily health and peace of mind.
But, as 't is said a body, rightly mixed,
Each element in equipoise, would last
Too long and live for ever,—accordingly
Holds a germ—sand-grain weight too much i' the scale—
Ordained to get predominance one day
And so bring all to ruin and release,—
Not otherwise a fatal germ lurked here:
"With mortals much must go, but something stays;
"Nothing will stay of our so happy selves."
Out of the very ripeness of life's core
A worm was bred—"Our life shall leave no fruit."
Enough of bliss, they thought, could bliss bear seed,
Yield its like, propagate a bliss in turn
And keep the kind up; not supplant themselves
But put in evidence, record they were,
Show them, when done with, i' the shape of a child.
"'T is in a child, man and wife grow complete,
"One flesh: God says so: let him do his work!"
Now, one reminder of this gnawing want,
One special prick o' the maggot at the core,
Always befell when, as the day came round,
A certain yearly sum,—our Pietro being,
As the long name runs, an usufructuary,—
Dropped in the common bag as interest
Of money, his till death, not afterward,
Failing an heir: an heir would take and take,
A child of theirs be wealthy in their place
To nobody's hurt—the stranger else seized all.
Prosperity rolled river-like and stopped,
Making their mill go; but when wheel wore out,
The wave would find a space and sweep on free
And, half-a-mile off, grind some neighbour's corn.
Adam-like, Pietro sighed and said no more:
Eve saw the apple was fair and good to taste,
So, plucked it, having asked the snake advice.
She told her husband God was merciful,
And his and her prayer granted at the last:
Let the old mill-stone moulder,—wheel unworn,
Quartz from the quarry, shot into the stream
Adroitly, as before should go bring grist—
Their house continued to them by an heir,
Their vacant heart replenished with a child.
We have her own confession at full length
Made in the first remorse: 't was Jubilee
Pealed in the ear o' the conscience and it woke.
She found she had offended God no doubt,
So much was plain from what had happened since,
Misfortune on misfortune; but she harmed
No one i' the world, so far as she could see.
The act had gladdened Pietro to the height,
Her spouse whom God himself must gladden so
Or not at all: thus much seems probable
From the implicit faith, or rather say
Stupid credulity of the foolish man
Who swallowed such a tale nor strained a whit
Even at his wife's far-over-fifty years
Matching his sixty-and-under. Him she blessed;
And as for doing any detriment
To the veritable heir,—why, tell her first
Who was he? Which of all the hands held up
I' the crowd, one day would gather round their gate,
Did she so wrong by intercepting thus
The ducat, spendthrift fortune thought to fling
For a scramble just to make the mob break shins?
She kept it, saved them kicks and cuffs thereby.
While at the least one good work had she wrought,
Good, clearly and incontestably! Her cheat—
What was it to its subject, the child's self,
But charity and religion? See the girl!
A body most like—a soul too probably—
Doomed to death, such a double death as waits
The illicit offspring of a common trull,
Sure to resent and forthwith rid herself
Of a mere interruption to sin's trade,
In the efficacious way old Tiber knows.
Was not so much proved by the ready sale
O' the child, glad transfer of this irksome chance?
Well then, she had caught up this castaway:
This fragile egg, some careless wild bird dropped,
She had picked from where it waited the foot-fall,
And put in her own breast till forth broke finch
Able to sing God praise on mornings now.
What so excessive harm was done?—she asked.
To which demand the dreadful answer comes—
For that same deed, now at Lorenzo's church,
Both agents, conscious and inconscious, lie;
While she, the deed was done to benefit,
Lies also, the most lamentable of things,
Yonder where curious people count her breaths,
Calculate how long yet the little life
Unspilt may serve their turn nor spoil the show,
Give them their story, then the church its group.
Well, having gained Pompilia, the girl grew
I' the midst of Pietro here, Violante there,
Each, like a semicircle with stretched arms,
Joining the other round her preciousness—
Two walls that go about a garden-plot
Where a chance sliver, branchlet slipt from bole
Of some tongue-leaved eye-figured Eden tree,
Filched by two exiles and borne far away.
Patiently glorifies their solitude,—
Year by year mounting, grade by grade surmount
The builded brick-work, yet is compassed still,
Still hidden happily and shielded safe,—
Else why should miracle have graced the ground?
But on the twelfth sun that brought April there
What meant that laugh? The coping-stone was reached;
Nay, above towered a light tuft of bloom
To be toyed with by butterfly or bee,
Done good to or else harm to from outside:
Pompilia's root, stalk and a branch or two
Home enclosed still, the rest would be the world's.
All which was taught our couple though obtuse,
Since walls have ears, when one day brought a priest,
Smooth-mannered soft-speeched sleek-cheeked visitor,
The notable Abate Paolo—known
As younger brother of a Tuscan house
Whereof the actual representative,
Count Guido, had employed his youth and age
In culture of Rome's most productive plant—
A cardinal: but years pass and change comes,
In token of which, here was our Paolo brought
To broach a weighty business. Might he speak?
Yes—to Violante somehow caught alone
While Pietro took his after-dinner doze,
And the young maiden, busily as befits,
Minded her broider-frame three chambers off.
So—giving now his great flap-hat a gloss
With flat o' the hand between-whiles, soothing now
The silk from out its creases o'er the calf,
Setting the stocking clerical again,
But never disengaging, once engaged,
The thin clear grey hold of his eyes on her—
He dissertated on that Tuscan house,
Those Franceschini,—very old they were—
Not rich however—oh, not rich, at least,
As people look to be who, low i' the scale
One way, have reason, rising all they can
By favour of the money-bag! 't is fair—
Do all gifts go together? But don't suppose
That being not so rich means all so poor!
Say rather, well enough—i' the way, indeed,
Ha, ha, to fortune better than the best:
Since if his brother's patron-friend kept faith,
Put into promised play the Cardinalate,
Their house might wear the red cloth that keeps warm,
Would but the Count have patience—there's the point!
For he was slipping into years apace,
And years make men restless—they needs must spy
Some certainty, some sort of end assured,
Some sparkle, tho' from topmost beacon-tip,
That warrants life a harbour through the haze.
In short, call him fantastic as you choose,
Guido was home-sick, yearned for the old sights
And usual faces,—fain would settle himself
And have the patron's bounty when it fell
Irrigate far rather than deluge near,
Go fertilize Arezzo, not flood Rome.
Sooth to say, 't was the wiser wish: the Count
Proved wanting in ambition,—let us avouch,
Since truth is best,—in callousness of heart,
And winced at pin-pricks whereby honours hang
A ribbon o'er each puncture: his—no soul
Ecclesiastic (here the hat was brushed)
Humble but self-sustaining, calm and cold,
Having, as one who puts his hand to the plough,
Renounced the over-vivid family-feel—
Poor brother Guido! All too plain, he pined
Amid Rome's pomp and glare for dinginess
And that dilapidated palace-shell
Vast as a quarry and, very like, as bare—
Since to this comes old grandeur now-a-days—
Or that absurd wild villa in the waste
O' the hill side, breezy though, for who likes air,
Vittiano, nor unpleasant with its vines,
Outside the city and the summer heats.
And now his harping on this one tense chord
The villa and the palace, palace this
And villa the other, all day and all night
Creaked like the implacable cicala's cry
And made one's ear drum ache: nought else would serve
But that, to light his mother's visage up
With second youth, hope, gaiety again,
He must find straightway, woo and haply win
And bear away triumphant back, some wife.
Well now, the man was rational in his way:
He, the Abate,—ought he to interpose?
Unless by straining still his tutelage
(Priesthood leaps over elder-brothership)
Across this difficulty: then let go,
Leave the poor fellow in peace! Would that be wrong?
There was no making Guido great, it seems,
Spite of himself: then happy be his dole!
Indeed, the Abate's little interest
Was somewhat nearly touched i' the case, they saw:
Since if his simple kinsman so were bent,
Began his rounds in Rome to catch a wife,
Full soon would such unworldliness surprise
The rare bird, sprinkle salt on phoenix' tail,
And so secure the nest a sparrow-hawk.
No lack of mothers here in Rome,—no dread
Of daughters lured as larks by looking-glass!
The first name-pecking credit-scratching fowl
Would drop her unfledged cuckoo in our nest
To gather greyness there, give voice at length
And shame the brood … but it was long ago
When crusades were, and we sent eagles forth!
No, that at least the Abate could forestall.
He read the thought within his brother's word,
Knew what he purposed better than himself.
We want no name and fame—having our own:
No worldly aggrandizement—such we fly:
But if some wonder of a woman's-heart
Were yet untainted on this grimy earth,
Tender and true—tradition tells of such—
Prepared to pant in time and tune with ours—
If some good girl (a girl, since she must take
The new bent, live new life, adopt new modes)
Not wealthy (Guido for his rank was poor)
But with whatever dowry came to hand,—
There were the lady-love predestinate!
And somehow the Abate's guardian eye—
Scintillant, rutilant, fraternal fire,—
Roving round every way had seized the prize
—The instinct of us, we, the spiritualty!
Come, cards on table; was it true or false
That here—here in this very tenement—
Yea, Via Vittoria did a marvel hide,
Lily of a maiden, white with intact leaf
Guessed thro' the sheath that saved it from the sun?
A daughter with the mother's hands still clasped
Over her head for fillet virginal,
A wife worth Guido's house and hand and heart?
He came to see; had spoken, he could no less—
(A final cherish of the stockinged calf)
If harm were,—well, the matter was off his mind.
Then with the great air did he kiss, devout,
Violante's hand, and rise up his whole height
(A certain purple gleam about the black)
And go forth grandly,—as if the Pope came next.
And so Violante rubbed her eyes awhile,
Got up too, walked to wake her Pietro soon
And pour into his ear the mighty news
How somebody had somehow somewhere seen
Their tree-top-tuft of bloom above the wall,
And came now to apprize them the tree's self
Was no such crab-sort as should go feed swine,
But veritable gold, the Hesperian ball
Ordained for Hercules to haste and pluck,
And bear and give the Gods to banquet with—
Hercules standing ready at the door.
Whereon did Pietro rub his eyes in turn,
Look very wise, a little woeful too,
Then, periwig on head, and cane in hand,
Sally forth dignifiedly into the Square
Of Spain across Babbuino the six steps,
Toward the Boat-fountain where our idlers lounge,—
Ask, for form's sake, who Hercules might be,
And have congratulation from the world.
Heartily laughed the world in his fool's-face
And told him Hercules was just the heir
To the stubble once a corn-field, and brick-heap
Where used to be a dwelling-place now burned.
Guido and Franceschini; a Count,—ay:
But a cross i' the poke to bless the Countship? No!
All gone except sloth, pride, rapacity,
Humours of the imposthume incident
To rich blood that runs thin,—nursed to a head
By the rankly-salted soil—a cardinal's court
Where, parasite and picker-up of crumbs,
He had hung on long, and now, let go, said some,
Shaken off, said others,—but in any case
Tired of the trade and something worse for wear,
Was wanting to change town for country quick,
Go home again: let Pietro help him home!
The brother, Abate Paolo, shrewder mouse,
Had pricked for comfortable quarters, inched
Into the core of Rome, and fattened so;
But Guido, over-burly for rat's hole
Suited to clerical slimness, starved outside,
Must shift for himself: and so the shift was this!
What, was the snug retreat of Pietro tracked,
The little provision for his old age snuffed?
"Oh, make your girl a lady, an you list,
"But have more mercy on our wit than vaunt
"Your bargain as we burgesses who brag!
"Why, Goodman Dullard, if a friend must speak,
"Would the Count, think you, stoop to you and yours
"Were there the value of one penny-piece
"To rattle 'twixt his palms—or likelier laugh,
"Bid your Pompilia help you black his shoe?"
Home again, shaking oft the puzzled pate,
Went Pietro to announce a change indeed,
Yet point Violante where some solace lay
Of a rueful sort,—the taper, quenched so soon,
Had ended merely in a snuff, not stink—
Congratulate there was one hope the less
Not misery the more: and so an end.
The marriage thus impossible, the rest
Followed: our spokesman, Paolo, heard his fate,
Resignedly Count Guido bore the blow:
Violante wiped away the transient tear,
Renounced the playing Danae to gold dreams,
Praised much her Pietro's prompt sagaciousness,
Found neighbours' envy natural, lightly laughed
At gossips' malice, fairly wrapped herself
In her integrity three folds about,
And, letting pass a little day or two,
Threw, even over that integrity,
Another wrappage, namely one thick veil
That hid her, matron-wise, from head to foot,
And, by the hand holding a girl veiled too,
Stood, one dim end of a December day,
In Saint Lorenzo on the altar-step—
Just where she lies now and that girl will lie—
Only with fifty candles' company
Now, in the place of the poor winking one
Which saw,—doors shut and sacristan made sure,—
A priest—perhaps Abate Paolo—wed
Guido clandestinely, irrevocably
To his Pompilia aged thirteen years
And five months,—witness the church register,—
Pompilia, (thus become Count Guido's wife
Clandestinely, irrevocably his,)
Who all the while had borne, from first to last,
As brisk a part i' the bargain, as yon lamb,
Brought forth from basket and set out for sale,
Bears while they chaffer, wary market-man
And voluble housewife, o'er it,—each in turn
Patting the curly calm inconscious head,
With the shambles ready round the corner there,
When the talk's talked out and a bargain struck.
Transfer complete, why, Pietro was apprised.
Violante sobbed the sobs and prayed the prayers
And said the serpent tempted so she fell,
Till Pietro had to clear his brow apace
And make the best of matters: wrath at first,—
How else? pacification presently,
Why not?—could flesh withstand the impurpled one,
The very Cardinal, Paolo's patron-friend?
Who, justifiably surnamed "a hinge,"
Knew where the mollifying oil should drop
To cure the creak o' the valve,—considerate
For frailty, patient in a naughty world.
He even volunteered to supervise
The rough draught of those marriage-articles
Signed in a hurry by Pietro, since revoked:
Trust's politic, suspicion does the harm,
There is but one way to brow-beat this world,
Dumb-founder doubt, and repay scorn in kind,—
To go on trusting, namely, till faith move
And faith here made the mountains move.
Why, friends whose zeal cried "Caution ere too late!"—
Bade "Pause ere jump, with both feet joined, on slough!"—
Counselled "If rashness then, now temperance!"—
Heard for their pains that Pietro had closed eyes,
Jumped and was in the middle of the mire,
Money and all, just what should sink a man.
By the mere marriage, Guido gained forthwith
Dowry, his wife's right; no rescinding there:
But Pietro, why must he needs ratify
One gift Violante gave, pay down one doit
Promised in first fool's-flurry? Grasp the bag
Lest the son's service flag,—is reason and rhyme,
Above all when the son's a son-in-law.
Words to the wind! The parents cast their lot
Into the lap o' the daughter: and the son
Now with a right to lie there, took what fell,
Pietro's whole having and holding, house and field,
Goods, chattels and effects, his worldly worth
Present and in perspective, all renounced
In favour of Guido. As for the usufruct—
The interest now, the principal anon,
Would Guido please to wait, at Pietro's death:
Till when, he must support the couple's charge,
Bear with them, housemates, pensionaries, pawned
To an alien for fulfilment of their pact.
Guido should at discretion deal them orts,
Bread-bounty in Arezzo the strange place,—
They who had lived deliciously and rolled
Rome's choicest comfit 'neath the tongue before.
Into this quag, "jump" bade the Cardinal!
And neck-deep in a minute there flounced they.
But they touched bottom at Arezzo: there—
Four months' experience of how craft and greed
Quickened by penury and pretentious hate
Of plain truth, brutify and bestialize,—
Four months' taste of apportioned insolence,
Cruelty graduated, dose by dose
Of ruffianism dealt out at bed and board,
And lo, the work was done, success clapped hands.
The starved, stripped, beaten brace of stupid dupes
Broke at last in their desperation loose,
Fled away for their lives, and lucky so;
Found their account in casting coat afar
And bearing off a shred of skin at least:
Left Guido lord o' the prey, as the lion is,
And, careless what came after, carried their wrongs
To Rome,—I nothing doubt, with such remorse
As folly feels, since pain can make it wise,
But crime, past wisdom, which is innocence,
Needs not be plagued with till a later day.
Pietro went back to beg from door to door,
In hope that memory not quite extinct
Of cheery days and festive nights would move
Friends and acquaintance—after the natural laugh,
And tributary "Just as we foretold—"
To show some bowels, give the dregs o' the cup,
Scraps of the trencher, to their host that was,
Or let him share the mat with the mastiff, he
Who lived large and kept open house so long.
Not so Violante: ever a-head i' the march,
Quick at the bye-road and the cut-across,
She went first to the best adviser, God—
Whose finger unmistakably was felt
In all this retribution of the past.
Here was the prize of sin, luck of a lie!
But here too was what Holy Year would help,
Bound to rid sinners of sin vulgar, sin
Abnormal, sin prodigious, up to sin
Impossible and supposed for Jubilee' sake:
To lift the leadenest of lies, let soar
The soul unhampered by a feather-weight.
"I will" said she "go burn out this bad hole
"That breeds the scorpion, baulk the plague at least
"Of hope to further plague by progeny:
"I will confess my fault, be punished, yes,
"But pardoned too: Saint Peter pays for all."
So, with the crowd she mixed, made for the dome,
Through the great door new-broken for the nonce
Marched, muffled more than ever matron-wise,
Up the left nave to the formidable throne,
Fell into file with this the poisoner
And that the parricide, and reached in turn
The poor repugnant Penitentiary
Set at this gully-hole o' the world's discharge
To help the frightfullest of filth have vent,
And then knelt down and whispered in his ear
How she had bought Pompilia, palmed the babe
On Pietro, passed the girl off as their child
To Guido, and defrauded of his due
This one and that one,—more than she could name,
Until her solid piece of wickedness
Happened to split and spread woe far and wide:
Contritely now she brought the case for cure.
Replied the throne—"Ere God forgive the guilt,
"Make man some restitution! Do your part!
"The owners of your husband's heritage,
"Barred thence by this pretended birth and heir,—
"Tell them, the bar came so, is broken so,
"Theirs be the due reversion as before!
"Your husband who, no partner in the guilt,
"Suffers the penalty, led blindfold thus
"By love of what he thought his flesh and blood
"To alienate his all in her behalf,—
"Tell him too such contract is null and void!
"Last, he who personates your son-in-law,
"Who with sealed eyes and stopped ears, tame and mute,
"Took at your hand that bastard of a whore
"You called your daughter and he calls his wife,—
"Tell him, and bear the anger which is just!
"Then, penance so performed, may pardon be!"
Who could gainsay this just and right award?
Nobody in the world: but, out o' the world,
Who knows?—might timid intervention be
From any makeshift of an angel-guide,
Substitute for celestial guardianship,
Pretending to take care of the girl's self:
"Woman, confessing crime is healthy work,
"And telling truth relieves a liar like you,
"But how of my quite unconsidered charge?
"No thought if, while this good befalls yourself,
"Aught in the way of harm may find out her?"
No least thought, I assure you: truth being truth,
Tell it and shame the devil!
Said and done:
Home went Violante, disbosomed all:
And Pietro who, six months before, had borne
Word after word of such a piece of news
Like so much cold steel inched through his breastblade,
Now at its entry gave a leap for joy
As who—what did I say of one in a quag?—
Should catch a hand from heaven and spring thereby
Out of the mud, on ten toes stand once more.
"What? All that used to be, may be again?
"My money mine again, my house, my land,
"My chairs and tables, all mine evermore?
"What, the girl's dowry never was the girl's,
"And, unpaid yet, is never now to pay?
"Then the girl's self, my pale Pompilia child
"That used to be my own with her great eyes—
"He who drove us forth, why should he keep her
"When proved as very a pauper as himself?
"Will she come back, with nothing changed at all,
"And laugh 'But how you dreamed uneasily!
"'I saw the great drops stand here on your brow—
"'Did I do wrong to wake you with a kiss?'
"No, indeed, darling! No, for wide awake
"I see another outburst of surprise:
"The lout-lord, bully-beggar, braggart-sneak,
"Who not content with cutting purse, crops ear—
"Assuredly it shall be salve to mine
"When this great news red-letters him, the rogue!
"Ay, let him taste the teeth o' the trap, this fox,
"Give us our lamb back, golden fleece and all,
"Let her creep in and warm our breasts again!
"Why care for the past? We three are our old selves,
"And know now what the outside world is worth."
And so, he carried case before the courts;
And there Violante, blushing to the bone,
Made public declaration of her fault,
Renounced her motherhood, and prayed the law
To interpose, frustrate of its effect
Her folly, and redress the injury done.
Whereof was the disastrous consequence,
That though indisputably clear the case
(For thirteen years are not so large a lapse,
And still six witnesses survived in Rome
To prove the truth o' the tale)—yet, patent wrong
Seemed Guido's; the first cheat had chanced on him:
Here was the pity that, deciding right,
Those who began the wrong would gain the prize.
Guido pronounced the story one long lie
Lied to do robbery and take revenge:
Or say it were no lie at all but truth,
Then, it both robbed the right heirs and shamed him
Without revenge to humanize the deed:
What had he done when first they shamed him thus?
But that were too fantastic: losels they,
And leasing this world's-wonder of a lie,
They lied to blot him though it brand themselves.
So answered Guido through the Abate's mouth.
Wherefore the court, its customary way,
Inclined to the middle course the sage affect.
They held the child to be a changeling,—good:
But, lest the husband got no good thereby,
They willed the dowry, though not hers at all,
Should yet be his, if not by right then grace—
Part-payment for the plain injustice done.
As for that other contract, Pietro's work,
Renunciation of his own estate,
That must be cancelled—give him back his gifts,
He was no party to the cheat at least!
So ran the judgment:—whence a prompt appeal
On both sides, seeing right is absolute.
Cried Pietro "Is the child no child of mine?
"Why give her a child's dowry?"—"Have I right
"To the dowry, why not to the rest as well?"
Cried Guido, or cried Paolo in his name:
Till law said "Reinvestigate the case!"
And so the matter pends, to this same day.
Hence new disaster—here no outlet seemed;
Whatever the fortune of the battle-field,
No path whereby the fatal man might march
Victorious, wreath on head and spoils in hand,
And back turned full upon the baffled foe,—
Nor cranny whence, desperate and disgraced,
Stripped to the skin, he might be fain to crawl
Worm-like, and so away with his defeat
To other fortune and a novel prey.
No, he was pinned to the place there, left alone
With his immense hate and, the solitary
Subject to satisfy that hate, his wife.
"Cast her off? Turn her naked out of doors?
"Easily said! But still the action pends,
"Still dowry, principal and interest,
"Pietro's possessions, all I bargained for,—
"Any good day, be but my friends alert,
"May give them me if she continue mine.
"Yet, keep her? Keep the puppet of my foes—
"Her voice that lisps me back their curse—her eye
"They lend their leer of triumph to—her lip
"I touch and taste their very filth upon?"
In short, he also took the middle course
Rome taught him—did at last excogitate
How he might keep the good and leave the bad
Twined in revenge, yet extricable,—nay
Make the very hate's eruption, very rush
Of the unpent sluice of cruelty relieve
His heart first, then go fertilize his field.
What if the girl-wife, tortured with due care,
Should take, as though spontaneously, the road
It were impolitic to thrust her on?
If, goaded, she broke out in full revolt,
Followed her parents i' the face o' the world,
Branded as runaway not castaway,
Self-sentenced and self-punished in the act?
So should the loathed form and detested face
Launch themselves into hell and there be lost
While he looked o'er the brink with folded arms;
So should the heaped-up shames go shuddering back
O' the head o' the heapers, Pietro and his wife,
And bury in the breakage three at once:
While Guido, left free, no one right renounced,
Gain present, gain prospective, all the gain,
None of the wife except her rights absorbed,
Should ask law what it was law paused about—
If law were dubious still whose word to take,
The husband's—dignified and derelict,
Or the wife's—the … what I tell you. It should be.
Guido's first step was to take pen, indite
A letter to the Abate,—not his own,
His wife's,—she should re-write, sign, seal and send.
She liberally told the household-news,
Rejoiced her vile progenitors were gone,
Revealed their malice—how they even laid
A last injunction on her, when they fled,
That she should forthwith find a paramour,
Complot with him to gather spoil enough,
Then burn the house down,—taking previous care
To poison all its inmates overnight,—
And so companioned, so provisioned too,
Follow to Rome and there join fortunes gay.
This letter, traced in pencil-characters,
Guido as easily got re-traced in ink
By his wife's pen, guided from end to end,
As if it had been just so much Chinese.
For why? That wife could broider, sing perhaps,
Pray certainly, but no more read than write
This letter "which yet write she must," he said,
"Being half courtesy and compliment,
"Half sisterliness: take the thing on trust!"
She had as readily re-traced the words
Of her own death-warrant,—in some sort 't was so.
This letter the Abate in due course
Communicated to such curious souls
In Rome as needs must pry into the cause
Of quarrel, why the Comparini fled
The Franceschini, whence the grievance grew,
What the hubbub meant: "Nay,—see the wife's own word,
"Authentic answer! Tell detractors too
"There's a plan formed, a programme figured here
"—Pray God no after-practice put to proof,
"This letter cast no light upon, one day!"
So much for what should work in Rome: back now
To Arezzo, follow up the project there,
Forward the next step with as bold a foot,
And plague Pompilia to the height, you see!
Accordingly did Guido set himself
To worry up and down, across, around,
The woman, hemmed in by her household-bars,—
Chase her about the coop of daily life,
Having first stopped each outlet thence save one
Which, like bird with a ferret in her haunt,
She needs must seize as sole way of escape
Though there was tied and twittering a decoy
To seem as if it tempted,—just the plume
O' the popinjay, not a real respite there
From tooth and claw of something in the dark,—
The tenebrific passage of the tale:
How hold a light, display the cavern's gorge?
How, in this phase of the affair, show truth?
Here is the dying wife who smiles and says
"So it was,—so it was not,—how it was,
"I never knew nor ever care to know—"
Till they all weep, physician, man of law,
Even that poor old bit of battered brass
Beaten out of all shape by the world's sins,
Common utensil of the lazar-house—
Confessor Celestino groans "'T is truth,
"All truth and only truth: there's something here,
"Some presence in the room beside us all,
"Something that every lie expires before:
"No question she was pure from first to last."
So far is well and helps us to believe:
But beyond, she the helpless, simple-sweet
Or silly-sooth, unskilled to break one blow
At her good fame by putting finger forth,—
How can she render service to the truth?
The bird says "So I fluttered where a springe
"Caught me: the springe did not contrive itself,
"That I know: who contrived it, God forgive!"
But we, who hear no voice and have dry eyes,
Must ask,—we cannot else, absolving her,—
How of the part played by that same decoy
I' the catching, caging? Was himself caught first?
We deal here with no innocent at least,
No witless victim,—he's a man of the age
And priest beside,—persuade the mocking world
Mere charity boiled over in this sort!
He whose own safety too,—(the Pope's apprised—
Good-natured with the secular offence,
The Pope looks grave on priesthood in a scrape)
Our priest's own safety therefore, may-be life,
Hangs on the issue! You will find it hard.
Guido is here to meet you with fixed foot,
Stiff like a statue—"Leave what went before!
"My wife fled i' the company of a priest,
"Spent two days and two nights alone with him:
"Leave what came after!" He stands hard to throw
Moreover priests are merely flesh and blood;
When we get weakness, and no guilt beside,
'Tis no such great ill-fortune: finding grey,
We gladly call that white which might be black,
Too used to the double-dye. So, if the priest
Moved by Pompilia's youth and beauty, gave
Way to the natural weakness… . Anyhow
Here be facts, charactery; what they spell
Determine, and thence pick what sense you may!
There was a certain young bold handsome priest
Popular in the city, far and wide
Famed, since Arezzo's but a little place,
As the best of good companions, gay and grave
At the decent minute; settled in his stall,
Or sidling, lute on lap, by lady's couch,
Ever the courtly Canon; see in him
A proper star to climb and culminate,
Have its due handbreadth of the heaven at Rome,
Though meanwhile pausing on Arezzo's edge,
As modest candle does 'mid mountain fog,
To rub off redness and rusticity
Ere it sweep chastened, gain the silver-sphere!
Whether through Guido's absence or what else,
This Caponsacchi, favourite of the town,
Was yet no friend of his nor free o' the house,
Though both moved in the regular magnates' march:
Each must observe the other's tread and halt
At church, saloon, theatre, house of play.
Who could help noticing the husband's slouch,
The black of his brow—or miss the news that buzzed
Of how the little solitary wife
Wept and looked out of window all day long?
What need of minute search into such springs
As start men, set o' the move?—machinery
Old as earth, obvious as the noonday sun.
Why, take men as they come,—an instance now,—
Of all those who have simply gone to see
Pompilia on her deathbed since four days,
Half at the least are, call it how you please,
In love with her—I don't except the priests
Nor even the old confessor whose eyes run
Over at what he styles his sister's voice
Who died so early and weaned him from the world.
Well, had they viewed her ere the paleness pushed
The last o' the red o' the rose away, while yet
Some hand, adventurous 'twixt the wind and her,
Might let shy life run back and raise the flower
Rich with reward up to the guardian's face,—
Would they have kept that hand employed all day
At fumbling on with prayer-book pages? No!
Men are men: why then need I say one word
More than that our mere man the Canon here
Saw, pitied, loved Pompilia?
This is why;
This startling why: that Caponsacchi's self—
Whom foes and friends alike avouch, for good
Or ill, a man of truth whate'er betide,
Intrepid altogether, reckless too
How his own fame and fortune, tossed to the winds,
Suffer by any turn the adventure take,
Nay, more—not thrusting, like a badge to hide,
'Twixt shirt and skin a joy which shown is shame—
But flirting flag-like i' the face o' the world
This tell-tale kerchief, this conspicuous love
For the lady,—oh, called innocent love, I know!
Only, such scarlet fiery innocence
As most folk would try muffle up in shade,—
—'T is strange then that this else abashless mouth
Should yet maintain, for truth's sake which is God's,
That it was not he made the first advance,
That, even ere word had passed between the two,
Pompilia penned him letters, passionate prayers,
If not love, then so simulating love
That he, no novice to the taste of thyme,
Turned from such over-luscious honey-clot
At end o' the flower, and would not lend his lip
Till … but the tale here frankly outsoars faith:
There must be falsehood somewhere. For her part,
Pompilia quietly constantly avers
She never penned a letter in her life
Nor to the Canon nor any other man,
Being incompetent to write and read:
Nor had she ever uttered word to him, nor he
To her till that same evening when they met,
She on her window-terrace, he beneath
I' the public street, as was their fateful chance,
And she adjured him in the name of God
To find out, bring to pass where, when and how
Escape with him to Rome might be contrived.
Means were found, plan laid, time fixed, she avers,
And heart assured to heart in loyalty,
All at an impulse! All extemporized
As in romance-books! Is that credible?
Well, yes: as she avers this with calm mouth
Dying, I do think "Credible!" you'd cry—
Did not the priest's voice come to break the spell.
They questioned him apart, as the custom is,
When first the matter made a noise at Rome,
And he, calm, constant then as she is now,
For truth's sake did assert and re-assert
Those letters called him to her and he came,
—Which damns the story credible otherwise.
Why should this man,—mad to devote himself,
Careless what comes of his own fame, the first,—
Be studious thus to publish and declare
Just what the lightest nature loves to hide,
So screening lady from the byword's laugh
"First spoke the lady, last the cavalier!"
—I say,—why should the man tell truth just now
When graceful lying meets such ready shrift?
Or is there a first moment for a priest
As for a woman, when invaded shame
Must have its first and last excuse to show?
Do both contrive love's entry in the mind
Shall look, i' the manner of it, a surprise,—
That after, once the flag o' the fort hauled down,
Effrontery may sink drawbridge, open gate,
Welcome and entertain the conqueror?
Or what do you say to a touch of the devil's worst?
Can it be that the husband, he who wrote
The letter to his brother I told you of,
I' the name of her it meant to criminate,—
What if he wrote those letters to the priest?
Further the priest says, when it first befell,
This folly o' the letters, that he checked the flow,
Put them back lightly each with its reply.
Here again vexes new discrepancy:
There never reached her eye a word from him:
He did write but she could not read—could just
Burn the offence to wifehood, womanhood,
So did burn: never bade him come to her,
Yet when it proved he must come, let him come,
And when he did come though uncalled,—why, spoke
Prompt by an inspiration: thus it chanced.
Will you go somewhat back to understand?
When first, pursuant to his plan, there sprang,
Like an uncaged beast, Guido's cruelty
On soul and body of his wife, she cried
To those whom law appoints resource for such,
The secular guardian,—that's the Governor,
And the Archbishop,—that's the spiritual guide,
And prayed them take the claws from out her flesh.
Now, this is ever the ill consequence
Of being noble, poor and difficult,
Ungainly, yet too great to disregard,—
This—that born peers and friends hereditary,—
Though disinclined to help from their own store
The opprobrious wight, put penny in his poke
From private purse or leave the door ajar
When he goes wistful by at dinner-time,—
Yet, if his needs conduct him where they sit
Smugly in office, judge this, bishop that,
Dispensers of the shine and shade o' the place—
And if, friend's door shut and friend's purse undrawn,
Still potentates may find the office-seat
Do as good service at no cost—give help
By-the-bye, pay up traditional dues at once
Just through a feather-weight too much i' the scale,
Or finger-tip forgot at the balance-tongue,—
Why, only churls refuse, or Molinists.
Thus when, in the first roughness of surprise
At Guido's wolf-face whence the sheepskin fell,
The frightened couple, all bewilderment,
Rushed to the Governor,—who else rights wrong?
Told him their tale of wrong and craved redress—
Why, then the Governor woke up to the fact
That Guido was a friend of old, poor Count!—
So, promptly paid his tribute, promised the pair,
Wholesome chastisement should soon cure their qualms
Next time they came, wept, prated and told lies:
So stopped all prating, sent them dumb to Rome.
Well, now it was Pompilia's turn to try:
The troubles pressing on her, as I said,
Three times she rushed, maddened by misery,
To the other mighty man, sobbed out her prayer
At footstool of the Archbishop—fast the friend
Of her husband also! Oh, good friends of yore!
So, the Archbishop, not to be outdone
By the Governor, break custom more than he,
Thrice bade the foolish woman stop her tongue,
Unloosed her hands from harassing his gout,
Coached her and carried her to the Count again,
—His old friend should be master in his house,
Rule his wife and correct her faults at need!
Well, driven from post to pillar in this wise,
She, as a last resource, betook herself
To one, should be no family-friend at least,
A simple friar o' the city; confessed to him,
Then told how fierce temptation of release
By self-dealt death was busy with her soul,
And urged that he put this in words, write plain
For one who could not write, set down her prayer
That Pietro and Violante, parent-like
If somehow not her parents, should for love
Come save her, pluck from out the flame the brand
Themselves had thoughtlessly thrust in so deep
To send gay-coloured sparkles up and cheer
Their seat at the chimney-corner. The good friar
Promised as much at the moment; but, alack,
Night brings discretion: he was no one's friend,
Yet presently found he could not turn about
Nor take a step i' the case and fail to tread
On someone's toe who either was a friend,
Or a friend's friend, or friend's friend thrice-removed,
And woe to friar by whom offences come!
So, the course being plain,—with a general sigh
At matrimony the profound mistake,—
He threw reluctantly the business up,
Having his other penitents to mind.
If then, all outlets thus secured save one,
At last she took to the open, stood and stared
With her wan face to see where God might wait—
And there found Caponsacchi wait as well
For the precious something at perdition's edge,
He only was predestinate to save,—
And if they recognized in a critical flash
From the zenith, each the other, her need of him,
His need of … say, a woman to perish for,
The regular way o' the world, yet break no vow,
Do no harm save to himself,—if this were thus?
How do you say? It were improbable;
So is the legend of my patron-saint.
Anyhow, whether, as Guido states the case,
Pompilia,—like a starving wretch i' the street
Who stops and rifles the first passenger
In the great right of an excessive wrong,—
Did somehow call this stranger and he came,—
Or whether the strange sudden interview
Blazed as when star and star must needs go close
Till each hurts each and there is loss in heaven—
Whatever way in this strange world it was,—
Pompilia and Caponsacchi met, in fine,
She at her window, he i' the street beneath,
And understood each other at first look.
All was determined and performed at once.
And on a certain April evening, late
I' the month, this girl of sixteen, bride and wife
Three years and over,—she who hitherto
Had never taken twenty steps in Rome
Beyond the church, pinned to her mother's gown,
Nor, in Arezzo, knew her way through street
Except what led to the Archbishop's door,—
Such an one rose up in the dark, laid hand
On what came first, clothes and a trinket or two,
Belongings of her own in the old day,—
Stole from the side o' the sleeping spouse—who knows?
Sleeping perhaps, silent for certain,—slid
Ghost-like from great dark room to great dark room
In through the tapestries and out again
And onward, unembarrassed as a fate,
Descended staircase, gained last door of all,
Sent it wide open at first push of palm,
And there stood, first time, last and only time,
At liberty, alone in the open street,—
Unquestioned, unmolested found herself
At the city gate, by Caponsacchi's side,
Hope there, joy there, life and all good again,
The carriage there, the convoy there, light there
Broadening ever into blaze at Rome
And breaking small what long miles lay between;
Up she sprang, in he followed, they were safe.
The husband quotes this for incredible,
All of the story from first word to last:
Sees the priest's hand throughout upholding hers,
Traces his foot to the alcove, that night,
Whither and whence blindfold he knew the way,
Proficient in all craft and stealthiness;
And cites for proof a servant, eye that watched
And ear that opened to purse secrets up,
A woman-spy,—suborned to give and take
Letters and tokens, do the work of shame
The more adroitly that herself, who helped
Communion thus between a tainted pair,
Had long since been a leper thick in spot,
A common trull o' the town: she witnessed all,
Helped many meetings, partings, took her wage
And then told Guido the whole matter. Lies!
The woman's life confutes her word,—her word
Confutes itself: "Thus, thus and thus I lied."
"And thus, no question, still you lie," we say.
"Ay but at last, e'en have it how you will,
"Whatever the means, whatever the way, explodes
"The consummation"—the accusers shriek:
"Here is the wife avowedly found in flight,
"And the companion of her flight, a priest;
"She flies her husband, he the church his spouse:
"What is this?"
Wife and priest alike reply
"This is the simple thing it claims to be,
"A course we took for life and honour's sake,
"Very strange, very justifiable."
She says, "God put it in my head to fly,
"As when the martin migrates: autumn claps
"Her hands, cries 'Winter's coming, will be here,
"'Off with you ere the white teeth overtake!
"'Flee!' So I fled: this friend was the warm day,
"The south wind and whatever favours flight;
"I took the favour, had the help, how else?
"And so we did fly rapidly all night,
"All day, all night—a longer night—again,
"And then another day, longest of days,
"And all the while, whether we fled or stopped,
"I scarce know how or why, one thought filled both,
"'Fly and arrive!' So long as I found strength
"I talked with my companion, told him much,
"Knowing that he knew more, knew me, knew God
"And God's disposal of me,—but the sense
"O' the blessed flight absorbed me in the main,
"And speech became mere talking through a sleep,
"Till at the end of that last longest night
"In a red daybreak, when we reached an inn
"And my companion whispered 'Next stage—Rome!'
"Sudden the weak flesh fell like piled-up cards,
"All the frail fabric at a finger's touch,
"And prostrate the poor soul too, and I said
"'But though Count Guido were a furlong off,
"'Just on me, I must stop and rest awhile!'
"Then something like a huge white wave o' the sea
"Broke o'er my brain and buried me in sleep
"Blessedly, till it ebbed and left me loose,
"And where was I found but on a strange bed
"In a strange room like hell, roaring with noise,
"Ruddy with flame, and filled with men, in front
"Who but the man you call my husband? ay—
"Count Guido once more between heaven and me,
"For there my heaven stood, my salvation, yes—
"That Caponsacchi all my heaven of help,
"Helpless himself, held prisoner in the hands
"Of men who looked up in my husband's face
"To take the fate thence he should signify,
"Just as the way was at Arezzo. Then,
"Not for my sake but his who had helped me—
"I sprang up, reached him with one bound, and seized
"The sword o' the felon, trembling at his side,
"Fit creature of a coward, unsheathed the thing
"And would have pinned him through the poison-bag
"To the wall and left him there to palpitate,
"As you serve scorpions, but men interposed—
"Disarmed me, gave his life to him again
"That he might take mine and the other lives,
"And he has done so. I submit myself!"
The priest says—oh, and in the main result
The facts asseverate, he truly says.
As to the very act and deed of him,
However you mistrust the mind o' the man—
The flight was just for flight's sake, no pretext
For aught except to set Pompilia free.
He says "I cite the husband's self's worst charge
"In proof of my best word for both of us.
"Be it conceded that so many times
"We took our pleasure in his palace: then,
"What need to fly at all?—or flying no less,
"What need to outrage the lips sick and white
"Of a woman, and bring ruin down beside,
"By halting when Rome lay one stage beyond?"
So does he vindicate Pompilia's fame,
Confirm her story in all points but one—
This; that, so fleeing and so breathing forth
Her last strength in the prayer to halt awhile,
She makes confusion of the reddening white
Which was the sunset when her strength gave way,
And the next sunrise and its whitening red
Which she revived in when her husband came:
She mixes both times, morn and eve, in one,
Having lived through a blank of night 'twixt each
Though dead-asleep, unaware as a corpse,
She on the bed above; her friend below
Watched in the doorway of the inn the while,
Stood i' the red o' the morn, that she mistakes,
In act to rouse and quicken the tardy crew
And hurry out the horses, have the stage
Over, the last league, reach Rome and be safe:
When up came Guido.
Guido's tale begins—
How he and his whole household, drunk to death
By some enchanted potion, poppied drugs
Plied by the wife, lay powerless in gross sleep
And left the spoilers unimpeded way,
Could not shake off their poison and pursue,
Till noontide, then made shift to get on horse
And did pursue: which means he took his time,
Pressed on no more than lingered after, step
By step, just making sure o' the fugitives,
Till at the nick of time, he saw his chance,
Seized it, came up with and surprised the pair.
How he must needs have gnawn lip and gnashed teeth,
Taking successively at tower and town,
Village and roadside, still the same report
"Yes, such a pair arrived an hour ago,
"Sat in the carriage just where now you stand,
"While we got horses ready,—turned deaf ear
"To all entreaty they would even alight;
"Counted the minutes and resumed their course."
Would they indeed escape, arrive at Rome,
Leave no least loop-hole to let murder through,
But foil him of his captured infamy,
Prize of guilt proved and perfect? So it seemed.
Till, oh the happy chance, at last stage, Rome
But two short hours off, Castelnuovo reached,
The guardian angel gave reluctant place,
Satan stepped forward with alacrity,
Pompilia's flesh and blood succumbed, perforce
A halt was, and her husband had his will.
Perdue he couched, counted out hour by hour
Till he should spy in the east a signal-streak—
Night had been, morrow was, triumph would be.
Do you see the plan deliciously complete?
The rush upon the unsuspecting sleep,
The easy execution, the outcry
Over the deed "Take notice all the world!
"These two dead bodies, locked still in embrace,—
"The man is Caponsacchi and a priest,
"The woman is my wife: they fled me late,
"Thus have I found and you behold them thus,
"And may judge me: do you approve or no?"
Success did seem not so improbable,
But that already Satan's laugh was heard,
His black back turned on Guido—left i' the lurch
Or rather, baulked of suit and service now,
Left to improve on both by one deed more,
Burn up the better at no distant day,
Body and soul one holocaust to hell.
Anyhow, of this natural consequence
Did just the last link of the long chain snap:
For an eruption was o' the priest, alive
And alert, calm, resolute and formidable,
Not the least look of fear in that broad brow—
One not to be disposed of by surprise,
And armed moreover—who had guessed as much?
Yes, there stood he in secular costume
Complete from head to heel, with sword at side,
He seemed to know the trick of perfectly.
There was no prompt suppression of the man
As he said calmly "I have saved your wife
"From death; there was no other way but this;
"Of what do I defraud you except death?
"Charge any wrong beyond, I answer it."
Guido, the valorous, had met his match,
Was forced to demand help instead of fight,
Bid the authorities o' the place lend aid
And make the best of a broken matter so.
They soon obeyed the summons—I suppose,
Apprised and ready, or not far to seek—
Laid hands on Caponsacchi, found in fault,
A priest yet flagrantly accoutred thus,—
Then, to make good Count Guido's further charge,
Proceeded, prisoner made lead the way,
In a crowd, upstairs to the chamber-door
Where wax-white, dead asleep, deep beyond dream,
As the priest laid her, lay Pompilia yet.
And as he mounted step and step with the crowd
How I see Guido taking heart again!
He knew his wife so well and the way of her—
How at the outbreak she would shroud her shame
In hell's heart, would it mercifully yawn—
How, failing that, her forehead to his foot,
She would crouch silent till the great doom fell,
Leave him triumphant with the crowd to see
Guilt motionless or writhing like a worm!
No! Second misadventure, this worm turned,
I told you: would have slain him on the spot
With his own weapon, but they seized her hands:
Leaving her tongue free, as it tolled the knell
Of Guido's hope so lively late. The past
Took quite another shape now. She who shrieked
"At least and for ever I am mine and God's,
"Thanks to his liberating angel Death—
"Never again degraded to be yours
"The ignoble noble, the unmanly man,
"The beast below the beast in brutishness!"—
This was the froward child, "the restif lamb
"Used to be cherished in his breast," he groaned—
"Eat from his hand and drink from out his cup,
"The while his fingers pushed their loving way
"Through curl on curl of that soft coat—alas,
"And she all silverly baaed gratitude
"While meditating mischief!"—and so forth.
He must invent another story now!
The ins and outs o' the rooms were searched: he found
Or showed for found the abominable prize—
Love-letters from his wife who cannot write,
Love-letters in reply o' the priest—thank God!—
Who can write and confront his character
With this, and prove the false thing forged throughout:
Spitting whereat, he needs must spatter whom
But Guido's self?—that forged and falsified
One letter called Pompilia's, past dispute:
Then why not these to make sure still more sure?
So was the case concluded then and there:
Guido preferred his charges in due form,
Called on the law to adjudicate, consigned
The accused ones to the Prefect of the place,
(Oh mouse-birth of that mountain-like revenge!)
And so to his own place betook himself
After the spring that failed,—the wildcat's way.
The captured parties were conveyed to Rome;
Investigation followed here i' the court—
Soon to review the fruit of its own work,
From then to now being eight months and no more.
Guido kept out of sight and safe at home:
The Abate, brother Paolo, helped most
At words when deeds were out of question, pushed
Nearest the purple, best played deputy,
So, pleaded, Guido's representative
At the court shall soon try Guido's self,—what's more,
The court that also took—I told you, Sir—
That statement of the couple, how a cheat
Had been i' the birth of the babe, no child of theirs.
That was the prelude; this, the play's first act:
Whereof we wait what comes, crown, close of all.
Well, the result was something of a shade
On the parties thus accused,—how otherwise?
Shade, but with shine as unmistakable.
Each had a prompt defence: Pompilia first—
"Earth was made hell to me who did no harm:
"I only could emerge one way from hell
"By catching at the one hand held me, so
"I caught at it and thereby stepped to heaven:
"If that be wrong, do with me what you will!"
Then Caponsacchi with a grave grand sweep
O' the arm as though his soul warned baseness off—
"If as a man, then much more as a priest
"I hold me bound to help weak innocence:
"If so my worldly reputation burst,
"Being the bubble it is, why, burst it may:
"Blame I can bear though not blameworthiness.
"But use your sense first, see if the miscreant proved,
"The man who tortured thus the woman, thus
"Have not both laid the trap and fixed the lure
"Over the pit should bury body and soul!
"His facts are lies: his letters are the fact—
"An infiltration flavoured with himself!
"As for the fancies—whether … what is it you say?
"The lady loves me, whether I love her
"In the forbidden sense of your surmise,—
"If, with the midday blaze of truth above,
"The unlidded eye of God awake, aware,
"You needs must pry about and trace the birth
"Of each stray beam of light may traverse night,
"To the night's sun that's Lucifer himself,
"Do so, at other time, in other place,
"Not now nor here! Enough that first to last
"I never touched her lip nor she my hand
"Nor either of us thought a thought, much less
"Spoke a word which the Virgin might not hear.
"Be such your question, thus I answer it."
Then the court had to make its mind up, spoke.
"It is a thorny question, yea, a tale
"Hard to believe, but not impossible:
"Who can be absolute for either side?
"A middle course is happily open yet.
"Here has a blot surprised the social blank,—
"Whether through favour, feebleness or fault,
"No matter, leprosy has touched our robe
"And we unclean must needs be purified.
"Here is a wife makes holiday from home,
"A priest caught playing truant to his church,
"In masquerade moreover: both allege
"Enough excuse to stop our lifted scourge
"Which else would heavily fall. On the other hand,
"Here is a husband, ay and man of mark,
"Who comes complaining here, demands redress
"As if he were the pattern of desert—
"The while those plaguy allegations frown,
"Forbid we grant him the redress he seeks.
"To all men be our moderation known!
"Rewarding none while compensating each,
"Hurting all round though harming nobody,
"Husband, wife, priest, scot-free not one shall 'scape,
"Yet priest, wife, husband, boast the unbroken head
"From application of our excellent oil:
"So that, whatever be the fact, in fine,
"We make no miss of justice in a sort.
"First, let the husband stomach as he may,
"His wife shall neither be returned him, no—
"Nor branded, whipped and caged, but just consigned
"To a convent and the quietude she craves;
"So is he rid of his domestic plague:
"What better thing can happen to a man?
"Next, let the priest retire—unshent, unshamed,
"Unpunished as for perpetrating crime,
"But relegated (not imprisoned, Sirs!)
"Sent for three years to clarify his youth
"At Civita, a rest by the way to Rome:
"There let his life skim off its last of lees
"Nor keep this dubious colour. Judged the cause:
"All parties may retire, content, we hope."
That's Rome's way, the traditional road of law;
Whither it leads is what remains to tell.
The priest went to his relegation-place,
The wife to her convent, brother Paolo
To the arms of brother Guido with the news
And this beside—his charge was countercharged;
The Comparini, his old brace of hates,
Were breathed and vigilant and venomous now—
Had shot a second bolt where the first stuck,
And followed up the pending dowry-suit
By a procedure should release the wife
From so much of the marriage-bond as barred
Escape when Guido turned the screw too much
On his wife's flesh and blood, as husband may.
No more defence, she turned and made attack,
Claimed now divorce from bed and board, in short:
Pleaded such subtle strokes of cruelty,
Such slow sure siege laid to her body and soul,
As, proved,—and proofs seemed coming thick and fast,—
Would gain both freedom and the dowry back
Even should the first suit leave them in his grasp:
So urged the Comparini for the wife.
Guido had gained not one of the good things
He grasped at by his creditable plan
O' the flight and following and the rest: the suit
That smouldered late was fanned to fury new,
This adjunct came to help with fiercer fire,
While he had got himself a quite new plague—
Found the world's face an universal grin
At this last best of the Hundred Merry Tales
Of how a young and spritely clerk devised
To carry off a spouse that moped too much,
And cured her of the vapours in a trice:
And how the husband, playing Vulcan's part,
Told by the Sun, started in hot pursuit
To catch the lovers, and came halting up,
Cast his net and then called the Gods to see
The convicts in their rosy impudence—
Whereat said Mercury "Would that I were Mars!"
Oh it was rare, and naughty all the same!
Brief, the wife's courage and cunning,—the priest's show
Of chivalry and adroitness,—last not least,
The husband—how he ne'er showed teeth at all,
Whose bark had promised biting; but just sneaked
Back to his kennel, tail 'twixt legs, as 't were,—
All this was hard to gulp down and digest.
So pays the devil his liegeman, brass for gold.
But this was at Arezzo: here in Rome
Brave Paolo bore up against it all—
Battled it out, nor wanting to himself
Nor Guido nor the House whose weight he bore
Pillar-like, by no force of arm but brain.
He knew his Rome, what wheels to set to work;
Plied influential folk, pressed to the ear
Of the efficacious purple, pushed his way
To the old Pope's self,—past decency indeed,—
Praying him take the matter in his hands
Out of the regular court's incompetence.
But times are changed and nephews out of date
And favouritism unfashionable: the Pope
Said "Render Cæsar what is Cæsar's due!"
As for the Comparini's counter-plea,
He met that by a counter-plea again,
Made Guido claim divorce—with help so far
By the trial's issue: for, why punishment
However slight unless for guiltiness
However slender?—and a molehill serves
Much as a mountain of offence this way.
So was he gathering strength on every side
And growing more and more to menace—when
All of a terrible moment came the blow
That beat down Paolo's fence, ended the play
O' the foil and brought mannaia on the stage.
Five months had passed now since Pompilia's flight,
Months spent in peace among the Convert nuns.
This,—being, as it seemed, for Guido's sake
Solely, what pride might call imprisonment
And quote as something gained, to friends at home,—
This naturally was at Guido's charge:
Grudge it he might, but penitential fare,
Prayers, preachings, who but he defrayed the cost?
So, Paolo dropped, as proxy, doit by doit
Like heart's blood, till—what's here? What notice comes?
The convent's self makes application bland
That, since Pompilia's health is fast o' the wane,
She may have leave to go combine her cure
Of soul with cure of body, mend her mind
Together with her thin arms and sunk eyes
That want fresh air outside the convent-wall,
Say in a friendly house,—and which so fit
As a certain villa in the Pauline way,
That happens to hold Pietro and his wife,
The natural guardians? "Oh, and shift the care
"You shift the cost, too; Pietro pays in turn,
"And lightens Guido of a load! And then,
"Villa or convent, two names for one thing,
"Always the sojourn means imprisonment,
"Domus pro carcere—nowise we relax,
"Nothing abate: how answers Paolo?"
What would you answer? All so smooth and fair,
Even Paul's astuteness sniffed no harm i' the world.
He authorized the transfer, saw it made
And, two months after, reaped the fruit of the same,
Having to sit down, rack his brain and find
What phrase should serve him best to notify
Our Guido that by happy providence
A son and heir, a babe was born to him
I' the villa,—go tell sympathizing friends!
Yes, such had been Pompilia's privilege:
She, when she fled, was one month gone with child,
Known to herself or unknown, either way
Availing to explain (say men of art)
The strange and passionate precipitance
Of maiden startled into motherhood
Which changes body and soul by nature's law.
So when the she-dove breeds, strange yearnings come
For the unknown shelter by undreamed-of shores,
And there is born a blood-pulse in her heart
To fight if needs be, though with flap of wing,
For the wool-flock or the fur-tuft, though a hawk
Contest the prize,—wherefore, she knows not yet.
Anyhow, thus to Guido came the news.
"I shall have quitted Rome ere you arrive
"To take the one step left,"—wrote Paolo.
Then did the winch o' the winepress of all hate,
Vanity, disappointment, grudge and greed,
Take the last turn that screws out pure revenge
With a bright bubble at the brim beside—
By an heir's birth he was assured at once
O' the main prize, all the money in dispute:
Pompilia's dowry might revert to her
Or stay with him as law's caprice should point,—
But now—now—what was Pietro's shall be hers,
What was hers shall remain her own,—if hers,
Why then,—oh, not her husband's but—her heir's!
That heir being his too, all grew his at last
By this road or by that road, since they join.
Before, why, push he Pietro out o' the world,—
The current of the money stopped, you see,
Pompilia being proved no Pietro's child:
Or let it be Pompilia's life he quenched,
Again the current of the money stopped,—
Guido debarred his rights as husband soon,
So the new process threatened;—now, the chance,
Now, the resplendent minute! Clear the earth,
Cleanse the house, let the three but disappear
A child remains, depositary of all,
That Guido may enjoy his own again,
Repair all losses by a master-stroke,
Wipe out the past, all done all left undone,
Swell the good present to best evermore,
Die into new life, which let blood baptize!
So, i' the blue of a sudden sulphur-blaze,
Both why there was one step to take at Rome,
And why he should not meet with Paolo there,
He saw—the ins and outs to the heart of hell—
And took the straight line thither swift and sure.
He rushed to Vittiano, found four sons o' the soil,
Brutes of his breeding, with one spark i' the clod
That served for a soul, the looking up to him
Or aught called Franceschini as life, death,
Heaven, hell,—lord paramount, assembled these,
Harangued, equipped, instructed, pressed each clod
With his will's imprint; then took horse, plied spur,
And so arrived, all five of them, at Rome
On Christmas-Eve, and forthwith found themselves
Installed i' the vacancy and solitude
Left them by Paolo, the considerate man
Who, good as his word, had disappeared at once
As if to leave the stage free. A whole week
Did Guido spend in study of his part,
Then played it fearless of a failure. One,
Struck the year's clock whereof the hours are days,
And off was rung o' the little wheels the chime
"Good will on earth and peace to man:" but, two,
Proceeded the same bell and, evening come,
The dreadful five felt finger-wise their way
Across the town by blind cuts and black turns
To the little lone suburban villa; knocked—
"Who may be outside?" called a well-known voice.
"A friend of Caponsacchi's bringing friends
That's a test, the excusers say:
Ay, and a test conclusive, I return.
What? Had that name brought touch of guilt or taste
Of fear with it, aught to dash the present joy
With memory of the sorrow just at end,—
She, happy in her parents' arms at length
With the new blessing of the two weeks' babe,—
How had that name's announcement moved the wife?
Or, as the other slanders circulate,
Were Caponsacchi no rare visitant
On nights and days whither safe harbour lured,
What bait had been i' the name to ope the door?
The promise of a letter? Stealthy guests
Have secret watchwords, private entrances:
The man's own self might have been found inside
And all the scheme made frustrate by a word.
No: but since Guido knew, none knew so well,
The man had never since returned to Rome
Nor seen the wife's face more than villa's front,
So, could not be at hand to warn or save,-
For that, he took this sure way to the end.
"Come in," bade poor Violante cheerfully,
Drawing the door-bolt: that death was the first,
Stabbed through and through. Pietro, close on her heels,
Set up a cry—"Let me confess myself!
"Grant but confession!" Cold steel was the grant.
Then came Pompilia's turn.
Then they escaped.
The noise o' the slaughter roused the neighbourhood.
They had forgotten just the one thing more
Which saves i' the circumstance, the ticket to-wit
Which puts post-horses at a traveller's use:
So, all on foot, desperate through the dark
Reeled they like drunkards along open road,
Accomplished a prodigious twenty miles
Homeward, and gained Baccano very near,
Stumbled at last, deaf, dumb, blind through the feat,
Into a grange and, one dead heap, slept there
Till the pursuers hard upon their trace
Reached them and took them, red from head to heel,
And brought them to the prison where they lie.
The couple were laid i' the church two days ago,
And the wife lives yet by miracle.
All is told.
You hardly need ask what Count Guido says,
Since something he must say. "I own the deed—"
(He cannot choose,—but—) "I declare the same
"Just and inevitable,—since no way else
"Was left me, but by this of taking life,
"To save my honour which is more than life.
"I exercised a husband's rights." To which
The answer is as prompt—"There was no fault
"In any one o' the three to punish thus:
"Neither i' the wife, who kept all faith to you,
"Nor in the parents, whom yourself first duped,
"Robbed and maltreated, then turned out of doors.
"You wronged and they endured wrong; yours the fault.
"Next, had endurance overpassed the mark
"And turned resentment needing remedy,—
"Nay, put the absurd impossible case, for once—
"You were all blameless of the blame alleged
"And they blameworthy where you fix all blame,
"Still, why this violation of the law?
"Yourself elected law should take its course,
"Avenge wrong, or show vengeance not your right;
"Why, only when the balance in law's hand
"Trembles against you and inclines the way
"O' the other party, do you make protest,
"Renounce arbitrament, flying out of court,
"And crying 'Honour's hurt the sword must cure'?
"Aha, and so i' the middle of each suit
"Trying i' the courts,—and you had three in play
"With an appeal to the Pope's self beside,—
"What, you may chop and change and right your wrongs
"Leaving the law to lag as she thinks fit?"
That were too temptingly commodious, Count!
One would have still a remedy in reserve
Should reach the safest oldest sinner, you see!
One's honour forsooth? Does that take hurt alone
From the extreme outrage? I who have no wife,
Being yet sensitive in my degree
As Guido,—must discover hurt elsewhere
Which, half compounded-for in days gone by,
May profitably break out now afresh,
Need cure from my own expeditious hands.
The lie that was, as it were, imputed me
When you objected to my contract's clause,—
The theft as good as, one may say, alleged,
When you, co-heir in a will, excepted, Sir,
To my administration of effects,
—Aha, do you think law disposed of these?
My honour's touched and shall deal death around!
Count, that were too commodious, I repeat!
If any law be imperative on us all,
Of all are you the enemy: out with you
From the common light and air and life of man!
Sense of Smell
if you were hiding
back at the ranch
in the middle of the orchard
or years later
raking leaves and
the dead ones
from the single tree
in your backyard
after a rain
the smell of apples
is still the same
0240 The Poet and the Tree
under the tree's shade
the poet wrote;
that his poems
might have the grace
of the tree.
the tree heard
the poet's wish
and gave itself,
to share his book
leaf for leaf
for as long
as his poems lived
and so it was
The Robin begins to build her nest
in the gnarled tree;
the twigs are twisted;
the branches lack leaves;
and the nest is exposed
offering no shelter.
She puts another twig
into the tree fork;
but it falls to the ground.
She looks away west
out a message:
Nature is abandoning us.
A Leaf Springing Forth On A Tree Thought To Be Dead
a leaf springs forth
from the side of
a tree that we
to a deadly
a bud comes out
from its ailing side
and the sun comes
there is still
hope inside my heart
and then you hold
my hand and grip it
and then the days pass by
and nights come
and stars and
and then we repeat
what we kep telling to each other
in times like these
life is beautiful.
life is always beautiful
As what my mind has earnestly reasoned,
Regards the day that sealed the fate of man,
The fall of humankind must have happened,
Because Adam is one vegetarian;
For if instead of fruits, he cared for meats,
Eve's overture finds no nerve to arouse,
And Serpent has to tempt with other treats,
Like say, with pigeon or some squirming mouse;
Or with a carnivore's delightful fare,
Coming not from God's forbidden tree,
But comes without a transgression to bear,
And of any encrusted guilt is free;
…..The tree, nary will Eve ever approach,
…..So no apple could cause them dire reproach.
You And The Tree
As I see you standing there
looking at that tree.
Many a thought come flocking by
deep-down inside of me.
I can't decide whats more beautiful
You or the tree?
I stand flummoxed, captivated
Immersed in deep mystery.
I find you protective as the tree
sheltering me in your arms.
I find you reassuring as the tree
Always believing in me, always firm.
You protect me from life's harsh realities
as the tree shades the rain and light.
You shield me from all misery,
you give me a reason to fight.
Whatever it is, I don't care.
I want both of you here.
The tree for its shade and you as my mate
And then i can spend ages here.
A Tree of Ashes
The Tree Of Ashes
'You should have died at birth'
That's what his mother said
Had he died at birth
Maybe, many would be ahead
Soon, She's the one who's leaving
Going on her way
She will be the one who will be judged
On that her judgement day
He was the blame for all their ills
Although he knows not why
Maybe they all were right
And should have taken the time to die
He didn't die, he's still he's still here
What should we do with him?
Find a stone to cast at him
You who are all without sin
There are two who squabble over things
Not theirs and never were
And two who could care less
For Frankincense and Myrrh
When she's gone, she'll be the last
Of that tree with broken branches
Spread over the earth, is this tree
The tree that's turned to ashes
A tree that could have been so strong
Instead of mean and ugly sorrow
This tree of life that will be gone
As quickly as tomorrow
A tree grows in Avignon
Planted by a Soldiers hand,
She slept, while Europe blazed.
Bore silence through winters cull,
Captured in darkness, there to laze
Amongst the ruins of Avignon
Freed by the spring,
Guarded by the sun
Born in thunders drench
A seedling of hope for Avignon
Gave witness to unjust death,
Found her strength in summer’s breath.
Drank the blood of murders shame,
Grew fertile, her innocence to bear
Seduced by the bees of Avignon
Gave birth, to temptation
Casting forth her gift,
Amongst the ruin,
While Children played, in her boughs.
A new beginning, the bad forgotten
Healing the scars of Avignon
Taken confession, the old to cleanse,
Listened to love,
Their dreams to mend
Sheltered the lost, from Natures eye
Watched children grow,
And the old men die,
For she is the spirit of Avignon
Planted by a soldiers hand,
When dark clouds gathered
A place of love, redemption tethered
To forget the war
And find his wife
A tree of Life for Avignon
Time moves on.
The soul returns,
And still she grows.
Anonymous to a stranger’s eye,
A cathedral of hope, a grannies smile
A tree of home
A tree that set us free,
That tree that saved my Avignon.
The Four Angels
As Adam lay a-dreaming beneath the Apple Tree
The Angel of the Earth came down, and offered Earth in fee;
But Adam did not need it,
Nor the plough he would not speed it,
Singing: --"Earth and Water, Air and Fire,
What more can mortal man desire?"
(The Apple Tree's in bud)
As Adam lay a-dreaming beneath the Apple Tree
The Angel of the Waters offered all the Seas in fee;
But Adam would not take 'em,
Nor the ships he wouldn't make 'em,
Singing:--"Water, Earth and Air and Fire,
What more can mortal man desire? "
(The Apple Tree's in leaf.)
As Adam lay a-dreaming beneath the Apple Tree
The Angel of the Air he offered all the Air in fee;
But Adam did not crave it,
Nor the flight he wouldn't brave it,
Singing: --"Air and Water, Earth and Fire,
What more can mortal man desire:"
(The Apple Tree's in bloom.)
As Adam lay a-dreaming beneath the Apple Tree
The Angel of the Fire rose up and not a word said he;
But he wished a flame and made it,
And in Adam's heart he laid it,
Singing: --"Fire, Fire, burning Fire!
Stand up, and reach your heart's desire!"
(The Apple Blossom's set.)
As Adam was a-working outside of Eden-Wall,
He used the Earth, he used the Seas, he used the Air and all;
Till out of black disaster
He arose to be a master
Of Earth and Water, Air and Fire,
But never reached his heart's desire!
(The Apple Tree's cut down!)
Ode To Woman
Adam and Eve were allowed to live in Eden,
And were permitted enjoying all its benedictions,
But, eating the fruit of a tree was forbidden,
God knew their all and bad intentions,
Satan instigated to eat the fruit of that forbidden tree,
Adam denied forcely but Eve accepted with gee,
She took that fruit and forced Adam to eat,
And found shortly, they lost their splendid seat.
Acting on a woman's words the first man at last,
Being disobedient of Lord, paradise they lost.
Everybody is unable to find her true mind,
Her charming personality makes to lovers blind,
They lose their all to find her favour and love,
But find her love is still more above,
When one proposes her, she reaches us seven heaven,
Realizes herself prettier than Venus, turns proud,
She flirts him like a faithless or a witch then,
Seeks next prey she wonders and weeps like a cloud.
Entices with her chemistry and has no heart at all,
Never lies her love constant, she make all enthrall.
O! Woman is also a mother, full of mercy and grace,
Lies paradise beneath her tender beautiful feet,
And we visit to a pilgrimage when we see her face,
And our fates decorates with the dust of her feet,
Sister, daughter and wife are her embodiments,
Who consoles and encourages when we lose confidence,
Teaches us to face circumstances and touches sentiments,
Being the key of success, she has gotten her existence.
Notwithstanding a tender fellow she bears knights,
Who flow blood river to achieve their rights.
She is taken as a plaything or decoration,
No value she bears in Western Era these days,
She lost her spiritual power and destination,
And taken as amusement where she stays,
Wearing nude dress, she does impress and entice,
And reaching men's society, she does stir and rejoice,
And draws all's attention at her figure and voice.
The queen of home has kicked her throne and crown,
Lost her boaty veil so now she is going to drown.
The women's society seems an oyster sea,
And obtaining a shell we dive deep in it,
After a great efforts, we find a she,
But shock badly, seeing pearl is not in it,
She is jealous of her gender of one is more nice,
And backbiting seems her by birth right,
Impossible if four girls and produce no voice,
She is selfish and beauty is her might.
If one feels me boasting and tells me wrong,
That dear should prove this, I'll leave writing song.
Lighting It Up And Blowing It Out
Lighting it up and blowing it out
I try to make my way through the dark
by beginning at the end
as if the coming and the going
were the same door
or good-bye were the first thing
you would say to a friend.
I approach things like a night stream
as if my death were already achieved
and behind me.
And all the atoms of my being
dancing like frenzied gnats
in the sunset glow of a last eye-beam
are certifiably primordial
and any one of them
when they lose it in the light
could begin a world.
And what can you say more of a life
that dreams of what it is
than it's the taste of the same wine
in many different cups?
And as any fox knows
the grape is always sweetest
when you can taste it with your eyes.
Though why foxes eat grapes is anyone's guess
but life makes itself up as it goes
like music in a fish's earlobes.
It feathers its themes in fire and light
and goes up in smoke
like the ghost of a tree
looking for habitable planets among the stars.
New wounds with innocent root-room for old scars.
Chalking the cue to bank the long shot
you're trying to spin off into
the deep, dark pockets
of your game-winning afterlife.
And I don't believe in much anymore
though that hasn't stopped me from crying
like a slow window trying to keep
the stars from leaking out of me
as if there were a black hole
somewhere in my heart
waiting for an iris to make it an eye
whose seeing might be a new way of healing
what can't be healed.
Once here. Here forever.
But whether we're the eternal children of forever
or just another breath on the night air
that doesn't even know we live,
even death is just another way of killing time here.
When everywhere's the center of everything else,
the centre holds,
things don't fall apart.
And that's the mystic art
of knowing how to make the most out of existence
by offering no resistance
to the rocks in your own mindstream
that part the waters like the thoughts
of an exile in the promised land
who can't go back the way she came.
The river can't step into the same you twice.
And in every direction
your eyes have ever burned like stars
you can see the dark jewel of your own life
from the inside
before it breaks into light.
Sometimes I'm the lonely sign
on the only path to nowhere
and others I'm positively amniotic
with the schools of my blue lucidity
the albino dolphins of the moon leap through
without a chance of changing their colour.
A flower of prophetic blood bleaches my skull.
I swallow the snakefire of my last eclipse
like a lump of coal
I'm trying to turn into a diamond
that doesn't burn
and never sloughs its skin.
Reality isn't a religion or a science,
or the back and front of a mirror
that doesn't know whose eyes its looking through.
Religion: how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?
Science: how many pins can dance on the head of an angel?
Totem poles on a telephone booth where no one ever picks up.
Voodoo dolls that hex the cause of their effects.
The apple bloom on the tree of knowledge
lets go of its flightless wings
and follows the wind
like the eyelids of unfeathered angels
who opened their eyes like flawless fruit
as they fell toward paradise
without a parachute of smokey virtue
or the scale of a snake for a vice.
Emergence into the open
like a hidden secret revealed
is the engine of evolution
that empowers the dark matter
of this incorporeal starmud
to arise like the high note of a bird
that's flown beyond the night in its voice
like light beyond its myth of origin.
And the peduncle is lost in the ensuing phylum
as a madman is lost in the scream
that woke up the asylum,
or a god is lost in his own creation.
And the mountains listen
to the holy voices
in the valleys of their shadows
they deepen as they arise
like the guests of an echoless calling
to greet the unknown host.
It's what the moon feels
when she fondles her locket of water
and memories pull at her heartstrings
like tides on earth
and music is the way she recalls
the sirens that used to sing
like the brides of empty lifeboats
that prayed like smashed guitars
for the night to sow the seedless sea with stars.
And in every fish that swims through fire
like the sacred response of life
to the longing in its own desire
she knows they got their wish.
Fireflies in the ashes of the phoenix tree.
And the eggs of cosmic words
like serpents in a bird's nest
learning to fly like dragons
that have just swallowed the moon.
And it's one thing to pull the sword from the stone
but it's a greater power than magic and proof
with no urge to rule
that summons the butterfly from its cocoon
by giving the fool who inches toward the truth
along the green branch toward the apple-bloom
that already tastes like the forbidden fruit
of some radical insight
the whole orchard in a pair of wings
and more than enough night and light on its palette
to start a revolution in seeing among the flowers
who still labour in the chains of their roots
to turn their earthbound lucidities into stars
who might look back for a change
with eyes that have gathered like water out of the shining
and taste the light in the honey
that kissed their eyelids into gold
long before the night was old
and it wasn't enough just to see them.
When you opened your eyes
in the burning clarity of your lone vision
before this matrix of space and time
gave birth to the world
you were free to be whatever you could see.
That's when the light first spoke to you
in the mother-tongue of your seeing
and your voice broke
like a secret name in the mirror
that didn't know who you were
and the moon on nightwater
the thief at the window
your breath like stars on the cold, night air
summoned the whole of being
in every particulate shard
and radiant plinth of the mirror
to drive your shining into the shadows
so myriad things can appear as they are.
Many eyes open. Night. An eclipse. One star.
And the darkness an anti-romantic
in love with the moon from afar.
The Shepherds Calendar - March
March month of 'many weathers' wildly comes
In hail and snow and rain and threatning hums
And floods: while often at his cottage door
The shepherd stands to hear the distant roar
Loosd from the rushing mills and river locks
Wi thundering sound and over powering shocks
And headlong hurry thro the meadow brigs
Brushing the leaning sallows fingering twigs
In feathery foam and eddy hissing chase
Rolling a storm oertaken travellers pace
From bank to bank along the meadow leas
Spreading and shining like to little seas
While in the pale sunlight a watery brood
Of swopping white birds flock about the flood
Yet winter seems half weary of its toil
And round the ploughman on the elting soil
Will thread a minutes sunshine wild and warm
Thro the raggd places of the swimming storm
And oft the shepherd in his path will spye
The little daisey in the wet grass lye
That to the peeping sun enlivens gay
Like Labour smiling on an holiday
And where the stunt bank fronts the southern sky
By lanes or brooks where sunbeams love to lye
A cowslip peep will open faintly coy
Soon seen and gatherd by a wandering boy
A tale of spring around the distant haze
Seems muttering pleasures wi the lengthening days
Morn wakens mottld oft wi may day stains
And shower drops hang the grassy sprouting plains
And on the naked thorns of brassy hue
Drip glistning like a summer dream of dew
While from the hill side freshing forest drops
As one might walk upon their thickening tops
And buds wi young hopes promise seemly swells
Where woodman that in wild seclusion dwells
Wi chopping toil the coming spring decieves
Of many dancing shadows flowers and leaves
And in his pathway down the mossy wood
Crushes wi hasty feet full many a bud
Of early primrose yet if timely spied
Shelterd some old half rotten stump beside
The sight will cheer his solitery hour
And urge his feet to stride and save the flower
Muffld in baffles leathern coat and gloves
The hedger toils oft scaring rustling doves
From out the hedgrows who in hunger browze
The chockolate berrys on the ivy boughs
And flocking field fares speckld like the thrush
Picking the red awe from the sweeing bush
That come and go on winters chilling wing
And seem to share no sympathy wi spring
The stooping ditcher in the water stands
Letting the furrowd lakes from off the lands
Or splashing cleans the pasture brooks of mud
Where many a wild weed freshens into bud
And sprouting from the bottom purply green
The water cresses neath the wave is seen
Which the old woman gladly drags to land
Wi reaching long rake in her tottering hand
The ploughman mawls along the doughy sloughs
And often stop their songs to clean their ploughs
From teazing twitch that in the spongy soil
Clings round the colter terryfying toil
The sower striding oer his dirty way
Sinks anckle deep in pudgy sloughs and clay
And oer his heavy hopper stoutly leans
Strewing wi swinging arms the pattering beans
Which soon as aprils milder weather gleams
Will shoot up green between the furroed seams
The driving boy glad when his steps can trace
The swelling edding as a resting place
Slings from his clotted shoes the dirt around
And feign woud rest him on the solid ground
And sings when he can meet the parting green
Of rushy balks that bend the lands between
While close behind em struts the nauntling crow
And daws whose heads seem powderd oer wi snow
To seek the worms-and rooks a noisey guest
That on the wind rockd elms prepares her nest
On the fresh furrow often drops to pull
The twitching roots and gathering sticks and wool
Neath trees whose dead twigs litter to the wind
And gaps where stray sheep left their coats behind
While ground larks on a sweeing clump of rushes
Or on the top twigs of the oddling bushes
Chirp their 'cree creeing' note that sounds of spring
And sky larks meet the sun wi flittering wing
Soon as the morning opes its brightning eye
Large clouds of sturnels blacken thro the sky
From oizer holts about the rushy fen
And reedshaw borders by the river Nen
And wild geese regiments now agen repair
To the wet bosom of broad marshes there
In marching coloms and attention all
Listning and following their ringleaders call
The shepherd boy that hastens now and then
From hail and snow beneath his sheltering den
Of flags or file leavd sedges tyd in sheaves
Or stubble shocks oft as his eye percieves
Sun threads struck out wi momentery smiles
Wi fancy thoughts his lonliness beguiles
Thinking the struggling winter hourly bye
As down the edges of the distant sky
The hailstorm sweeps-and while he stops to strip
The stooping hedgbriar of its lingering hip
He hears the wild geese gabble oer his head
And pleasd wi fancys in his musings bred
He marks the figurd forms in which they flye
And pausing follows wi a wandering eye
Likening their curious march in curves or rows
To every letter which his memory knows
While far above the solitary crane
Swings lonly to unfrozen dykes again
Cranking a jarring mellancholy cry
Thro the wild journey of the cheerless sky
Full oft at early seasons mild and fair
March bids farewell wi garlands in her hair
Of hazzel tassles woodbines hairy sprout
And sloe and wild plumb blossoms peeping out
In thickset knotts of flowers preparing gay
For aprils reign a mockery of may
That soon will glisten on the earnest eye
Like snow white cloaths hung in the sun to drye
The old dame often stills her burring wheel
When the bright sun will thro the window steal
And gleam upon her face and dancing fall
In diamond shadows on the picturd wall
While the white butterflye as in amaze
Will settle on the glossy glass to gaze
And oddling bee oft patting passing bye
As if they care to tell her spring was nigh
And smiling glad to see such things once more
Up she will get and potter to the door
And look upon the trees beneath the eves
Sweet briar and ladslove swelling into leaves
And damsin trees thick notting into bloom
And goosberry blossoms on the bushes come
And stooping down oft views her garden beds
To see the spring flowers pricking out their heads
And from her apron strings she'll often pull
Her sissars out an early bunch to cull
For flower pots on the window board to stand
Where the old hour glass spins its thread of sand
And maids will often mark wi laughing eye
In elder where they hang their cloaths to drye
The sharp eyd robin hop from grain to grain
Singing its little summer notes again
As a sweet pledge of Spring the little lambs
Bleat in the varied weather round their dams
Or hugh molehill or roman mound behind
Like spots of snow lye shelterd from the wind
While the old yoes bold wi paternal cares
Looses their fears and every danger dares
Who if the shepherds dog but turns his eye
And stops behind a moment passing bye
Will stamp draw back and then their threats repeat
Urging defiance wi their stamping feet
And stung wi cares hopes cannot recconsile
They stamp and follow till he leaps a stile
Or skulking from their threats betakes to flight
And wi the master lessens out of sight
Clowns mark the threatning rage of march pass bye
And clouds wear thin and ragged in the sky
While wi less sudden and more lasting smiles
The growing sun their hopes of spring beguiles
Who often at its end remark wi pride
Days lengthen in their visits a 'cocks stride'
Dames clean their candlesticks and set them bye
Glad of the makeshift light that eves supply
The boy returning home at night from toil
Down lane and close oer footbrig gate and style1
Oft trembles into fear and stands to hark
The waking fox renew his short gruff bark
While badgers eccho their dread evening shrieks
And to his thrilling thoughts in terror speaks
And shepherds that wi in their hulks remain
Night after night upon the chilly plain
To watch the dropping lambs that at all hours
Come in the quaking blast like early flowers
Demanding all the shepherds care who find
Warm hedge side spots and take them from the wind
And round their necks in wary caution tyes
Long shreds of rags in red or purple dyes
Thats meant in danger as a safty spell
Like the old yoe that wears a tinkling bell
The sneaking foxes from his thefts to fright
That often seizes the young lambs at night
These when they in their nightly watchings hear
The badgers shrieks can hardly stifle fear
They list the noise from woodlands dark recess
Like helpless shrieking woman in distress
And oft as such fears fancying mystery
Believes the dismal yelling sounds to be
For superstition hath its thousand tales
To people all his midnight woods and vales
And the dread spot from whence the dismal noise
Mars the night musings of their dark employs
Owns its sad tale to realize their fear
At which their hearts in boyhood achd to hear
A maid at night by treacherous love decoyd
Was in that shrieking wood years past destroyd
She went twas said to meet the waiting swain
And home and friends ne'er saw her face again
Mid brakes and thorns that crowded round the dell
And matting weeds that had no tongues to tell
He murderd her alone at dead midnight
While the pale moon threw round her sickly light
And loud shrieks left the thickets slumbers deep
That only scard the little birds from sleep
When the pale murderers terror frowning eye
Told its dread errand that the maid shoud dye
Mid thick black thorns her secret grave was made
And there ere night the murderd girl was laid
When no one saw the deed but god and he
And moonlight sparkling thro the sleeping tree
Around-the red breast might at morning steel
There for the worm to meet his morning meal
In fresh turnd moulds that first beheld the sun
Nor knew the deed that dismal night had done
Such is the tale that superstition gives
And in her midnight memory ever lives
That makes the boy run by wi wild affright
And shepherds startle on their rounds at night
Now love teazd maidens from their droning wheel
At the red hour of sunset sliving steals
From scolding dames to meet their swains agen
Tho water checks their visits oer the plain
They slive where no one sees some wall behind
Or orchard apple trees that stops the wind
To talk about springs pleasures hoveing nigh
And happy rambles when the roads get dry
The insect world now sunbeams higher climb
Oft dream of spring and wake before their time
Blue flyes from straw stacks crawling scarce alive
And bees peep out on slabs before the hive
Stroaking their little legs across their wings
And venturing short flight where the snow drop hings
Its silver bell-and winter aconite
Wi buttercup like flowers that shut at night
And green leaf frilling round their cups of gold
Like tender maiden muffld from the cold
They sip and find their honey dreams are vain
And feebly hasten to their hives again
And butterflys by eager hopes undone
Glad as a child come out to greet the sun
Lost neath the shadow of a sudden shower
Nor left to see tomorrows april flower .
Letter To Maria Gisborne
The spider spreads her webs, whether she be
In poet's tower, cellar, or barn, or tree;
The silk-worm in the dark green mulberry leaves
His winding sheet and cradle ever weaves;
So I, a thing whom moralists call worm,
Sit spinning still round this decaying form,
From the fine threads of rare and subtle thought-
No net of words in garish colours wrought
To catch the idle buzzers of the day-
But a soft cell, where when that fades away,
Memory may clothe in wings my living name
And feed it with the asphodels of fame,
Which in those hearts which must remember me
Grow, making love an immortality.
Whoever should behold me now, I wist,
Would think I were a mighty mechanist,
Bent with sublime Archimedean art
To breathe a soul into the iron heart
Of some machine portentous, or strange gin,
Which by the force of figured spells might win
Its way over the sea, and sport therein;
For round the walls are hung dread engines, such
As Vulcan never wrought for Jove to clutch
Ixion or the Titan:-or the quick
Wit of that man of God, St. Dominic,
To convince Atheist, Turk, or Heretic,
Or those in philanthropic council met,
Who thought to pay some interest for the debt
They owed to Jesus Christ for their salvation,
By giving a faint foretaste of damnation
To Shakespeare, Sidney, Spenser, and the rest
Who made our land an island of the blest,
When lamp-like Spain, who now relumes her fire
On Freedom's hearth, grew dim with Empire:-
With thumbscrews, wheels, with tooth and spike and jag,
Which fishers found under the utmost crag
Of Cornwall and the storm-encompassed isles,
Where to the sky the rude sea rarely smiles
Unless in treacherous wrath, as on the morn
When the exulting elements in scorn,
Satiated with destroyed destruction, lay
Sleeping in beauty on their mangled prey,
As panthers sleep;-and other strange and dread
Magical forms the brick floor overspread,-
Proteus transformed to metal did not make
More figures, or more strange; nor did he take
Such shapes of unintelligible brass,
Or heap himself in such a horrid mass
Of tin and iron not to be understood;
And forms of unimaginable wood,
To puzzle Tubal Cain and all his brood:
Great screws, and cones, and wheels, and groovèd blocks,
The elements of what will stand the shocks
Of wave and wind and time.-Upon the table
More knacks and quips there be than I am able
To catalogize in this verse of mine:-
A pretty bowl of wood-not full of wine,
But quicksilver; that dew which the gnomes drink
When at their subterranean toil they swink,
Pledging the demons of the earthquake, who
Reply to them in lava-cry halloo!
And call out to the cities o'er their head,-
Roofs, towers, and shrines, the dying and the dead,
Crash through the chinks of earth-and then all quaff
Another rouse, and hold their sides and laugh.
This quicksilver no gnome has drunk-within
The walnut bowl it lies, veinèd and thin,
In colour like the wake of light that stains
The Tuscan deep, when from the moist moon rains
The inmost shower of its white fire-the breeze
Is still-blue Heaven smiles over the pale seas.
And in this bowl of quicksilver-for I
Yield to the impulse of an infancy
Outlasting manhood-I have made to float
A rude idealism of a paper boat:-
A hollow screw with cogs-Henry will know
The thing I mean and laugh at me,-if so
He fears not I should do more mischief.-Next
Lie bills and calculations much perplexed,
With steam-boats, frigates, and machinery quaint
Traced over them in blue and yellow paint.
Then comes a range of mathematical
Instruments, for plans nautical and statical;
A heap of rosin, a queer broken glass
With ink in it;-a china cup that was
What it will never be again, I think,-
A thing from which sweet lips were wont to drink
The liquor doctors rail at-and which I
Will quaff in spite of them-and when we die
We'll toss up who died first of drinking tea,
And cry out,-'Heads or tails?' where'er we be.
Near that a dusty paint-box, some odd hooks,
A half-burnt match, an ivory block, three books,
Where conic sections, spherics, logarithms,
To great Laplace, from Saunderson and Sims,
Lie heaped in their harmonious disarray
Of figures,-disentangle them who may.
Baron de Tott's Memoirs beside them lie,
And some odd volumes of old chemistry.
Near those a most inexplicable thing,
With lead in the middle-I'm conjecturing
How to make Henry understand; but no-
I'll leave, as Spenser says, with many mo,
This secret in the pregnant womb of time,
Too vast a matter for so weak a rhyme.
And here like some weird Archimage sit I,
Plotting dark spells, and devilish enginery,
The self-impelling steam-wheels of the mind
Which pump up oaths from clergymen, and grind
The gentle spirit of our meek reviews
Into a powdery foam of salt abuse,
Ruffling the ocean of their self-content;-
I sit-and smile or sigh as is my bent,
But not for them-Libeccio rushes round
With an inconstant and an idle sound,
I heed him more than them-the thunder-smoke
Is gathering on the mountains, like a cloak
Folded athwart their shoulders broad and bare;
The ripe corn under the undulating air
Undulates like an ocean;-and the vines
Are trembling wide in all their trellised lines-
The murmur of the awakening sea doth fill
The empty pauses of the blast;-the hill
Looks hoary through the white electric rain,
And from the glens beyond, in sullen strain,
The interrupted thunder howls; above
One chasm of Heaven smiles, like the eye of Love
On the unquiet world;-while such things are,
How could one worth your friendship heed the war
Of worms? the shriek of the world's carrion jays,
Their censure, or their wonder, or their praise?
You are not here! the quaint witch Memory sees,
In vacant chairs, your absent images,
And points where once you sat, and now should be
But are not.-I demand if ever we
Shall meet as then we met;-and she replies,
Veiling in awe her second-sighted eyes;
'I know the past alone-but summon home
My sister Hope,-she speaks of all to come.'
But I, an old diviner, who knew well
Every false verse of that sweet oracle,
Turned to the sad enchantress once again,
And sought a respite from my gentle pain,
In citing every passage o'er and o'er
Of our communion-how on the sea-shore
We watched the ocean and the sky together,
Under the roof of blue Italian weather;
How I ran home through last year's thunder-storm,
And felt the transverse lightning linger warm
Upon my cheek-and how we often made
Feasts for each other, where good will outweighed
The frugal luxury of our country cheer,
As well it might, were it less firm and clear
Than ours must ever be;-and how we spun
A shroud of talk to hide us from the sun
Of this familiar life, which seems to be
But is not:-or is but quaint mockery
Of all we would believe, and sadly blame
The jarring and inexplicable frame
Of this wrong world:-and then anatomize
The purposes and thoughts of men whose eyes
Were closed in distant years;-or widely guess
The issue of the earth's great business,
When we shall be as we no longer are-
Like babbling gossips safe, who hear the war
Of winds, and sigh, but tremble not;-or how
You listened to some interrupted flow
Of visionary rhyme,-in joy and pain
Struck from the inmost fountains of my brain,
With little skill perhaps;-or how we sought
Those deepest wells of passion or of thought
Wrought by wise poets in the waste of years,
Staining their sacred waters with our tears;
Quenching a thirst ever to be renewed!
Or how I, wisest lady! then endued
The language of a land which now is free,
And, winged with thoughts of truth and majesty,
Flits round the tyrant's sceptre like a cloud,
And bursts the peopled prisons, and cries aloud,
'My name is Legion!'-that majestic tongue
Which Calderon over the desert flung
Of ages and of nations; and which found
An echo in our hearts, and with the sound
Startled oblivion;-thou wert then to me
As is a nurse-when inarticulately
A child would talk as its grown parents do.
If living winds the rapid clouds pursue,
If hawks chase doves through the aethereal way,
Huntsmen the innocent deer, and beasts their prey,
Why should not we rouse with the spirit's blast
Out of the forest of the pathless past
These recollected pleasures?
You are now
In London, that great sea, whose ebb and flow
At once is deaf and loud, and on the shore
Vomits its wrecks, and still howls on for more.
Yet in its depth what treasures! You will see
That which was Godwin,-greater none than he
Though fallen-and fallen on evil times-to stand
Among the spirits of our age and land,
Before the dread tribunal of to come
The foremost,-while Rebuke cowers pale and dumb.
You will see Coleridge-he who sits obscure
In the exceeding lustre and the pure
Intense irradiation of a mind,
Which, with its own internal lightning blind,
Flags wearily through darkness and despair-
A cloud-encircled meteor of the air,
A hooded eagle among blinking owls.-
You will see Hunt-one of those happy souls
Which are the salt of the earth, and without whom
This world would smell like what it is-a tomb;
Who is, what others seem; his room no doubt
Is still adorned with many a cast from Shout,
With graceful flowers tastefully placed about;
And coronals of bay from ribbons hung,
And brighter wreaths in neat disorder flung;
The gifts of the most learned among some dozens
Of female friends, sisters-in-law, and cousins.
And there is he with his eternal puns,
Which beat the dullest brain for smiles, like duns
Thundering for money at a poet's door;
Alas! it is no use to say, 'I'm poor!'
Or oft in graver mood, when he will look
Things wiser than were ever read in book,
Except in Shakespeare's wisest tenderness.-
You will see Hogg,-and I cannot express
His virtues,-though I know that they are great,
Because he locks, then barricades the gate
Within which they inhabit;-of his wit
And wisdom, you'll cry out when you are bit.
He is a pearl within an oyster shell,
One of the richest of the deep;-and there
Is English Peacock, with his mountain Fair,
Turned into a Flamingo;-that shy bird
That gleams i' the Indian air-have you not heard
When a man marries, dies, or turns Hindoo,
His best friends hear no more of him?-but you
Will see him, and will like him too, I hope,
With the milk-white Snowdonian Antelope
Matched with this cameleopard-his fine wit
Makes such a wound, the knife is lost in it;
A strain too learnèd for a shallow age,
Too wise for selfish bigots; let his page,
Which charms the chosen spirits of the time,
Fold itself up for the serener clime
Of years to come, and find its recompense
In that just expectation.-Wit and sense,
Virtue and human knowledge; all that might
Make this dull world a business of delight,
Are all combined in Horace Smith.-And these,
With some exceptions, which I need not tease
Your patience by descanting on,-are all
You and I know in London.
My thoughts, and bid you look upon the night.
As water does a sponge, so the moonlight
Fills the void, hollow, universal air-
What see you?-unpavilioned Heaven is fair,
Whether the moon, into her chamber gone,
Leaves midnight to the golden stars, or wan
Climbs with diminished beams the azure steep;
Or whether clouds sail o'er the inverse deep,
Piloted by the many-wandering blast,
And the rare stars rush through them dim and fast:-
All this is beautiful in every land.-
But what see you beside?-a shabby stand
Of Hackney coaches-a brick house or wall
Fencing some lonely court, white with the scrawl
Of our unhappy politics;-or worse-
A wretched woman reeling by, whose curse
Mixed with the watchman's, partner of her trade,
You must accept in place of serenade-
Or yellow-haired Pollonia murmuring
To Henry, some unutterable thing.
I see a chaos of green leaves and fruit
Built round dark caverns, even to the root
Of the living stems that feed them-in whose bowers
There sleep in their dark dew the folded flowers;
Beyond, the surface of the unsickled corn
Trembles not in the slumbering air, and borne
In circles quaint, and ever-changing dance,
Like wingèd stars the fire-flies flash and glance,
Pale in the open moonshine, but each one
Under the dark trees seems a little sun,
A meteor tamed; a fixed star gone astray
From the silver regions of the milky way;-
Afar the Contadino's song is heard,
Rude, but made sweet by distance-and a bird
Which cannot be the Nightingale, and yet
I know none else that sings so sweet as it
At this late hour;-and then all is still-
Now-Italy or London, which you will!
Next winter you must pass with me; I'll have
My house by that time turned into a grave
Of dead despondence and low-thoughted care,
And all the dreams which our tormentors are;
Oh! that Hunt, Hogg, Peacock, and Smith were there,
With everything belonging to them fair!-
We will have books, Spanish, Italian, Greek;
And ask one week to make another week
As like his father, as I'm unlike mine,
Which is not his fault, as you may divine.
Though we eat little flesh and drink no wine,
Yet let's be merry: we'll have tea and toast;
Custards for supper, and an endless host
Of syllabubs and jellies and mince-pies,
And other such lady-like luxuries,-
Feasting on which we will philosophize!
And we'll have fires out of the Grand Duke's wood,
To thaw the six weeks' winter in our blood.
And then we'll talk;-what shall we talk about?
Oh! there are themes enough for many a bout
Of thought-entangled descant;-as to nerves-
With cones and parallelograms and curves
I've sworn to strangle them if once they dare
To bother me-when you are with me there.
And they shall never more sip laudanum,
From Helicon or Himeros;-well, come,
And in despite of God and of the devil,
We'll make our friendly philosophic revel
Outlast the leafless time; till buds and flowers
Warn the obscure inevitable hours,
Sweet meeting by sad parting to renew;-
'To-morrow to fresh woods and pastures new.'
Lazy laughing languid Jenny,
Fond of a kiss and fond of a guinea,
Whose head upon my knee to-night
Rests for a while, as if grown light
With all our dances and the sound
To which the wild tunes spun you round:
Fair Jenny mine, the thoughtless queen
Of kisses which the blush between
Could hardly make much daintier;
Whose eyes are as blue skies, whose hair
Is countless gold incomparable:
Fresh flower, scarce touched with signs that tell
Of Love's exuberant hotbed:—Nay,
Poor flower left torn since yesterday
Until to-morrow leave you bare;
Poor handful of bright spring-water
Flung in the whirlpool's shrieking face;
Poor shameful Jenny, full of grace
Thus with your head upon my knee;—
Whose person or whose purse may be
The lodestar of your reverie?
This room of yours, my Jenny, looks
A change from mine so full of books,
Whose serried ranks hold fast, forsooth,
So many captive hours of youth,—
The hours they thieve from day and night
To make one's cherished work come right,
And leave it wrong for all their theft,
Even as to-night my work was left:
Until I vowed that since my brain
And eyes of dancing seemed so fain,
My feet should have some dancing too:—
And thus it was I met with you.
Well, I suppose 'twas hard to part,
For here I am. And now, sweetheart,
You seem too tired to get to bed.
It was a careless life I led
When rooms like this were scarce so strange
Not long ago. What breeds the change,—
The many aims or the few years?
Because to-night it all appears
Something I do not know again.
The cloud's not danced out of my brain—
The cloud that made it turn and swim
While hour by hour the books grew dim.
Why, Jenny, as I watch you there,—
For all your wealth of loosened hair,
Your silk ungirdled and unlac'd
And warm sweets open to the waist,
All golden in the lamplight's gleam,—
You know not what a book you seem,
Half-read by lightning in a dream!
How should you know, my Jenny? Nay,
And I should be ashamed to say:—
Poor beauty, so well worth a kiss!
But while my thought runs on like this
With wasteful whims more than enough,
I wonder what you're thinking of.
If of myself you think at all,
What is the thought?—conjectural
On sorry matters best unsolved?—
Or inly is each grace revolved
To fit me with a lure?—or (sad
To think!) perhaps you're merely glad
That I'm not drunk or ruffianly
And let you rest upon my knee.
For sometimes, were the truth confess'd,
You're thankful for a little rest,—
Glad from the crush to rest within,
From the heart-sickness and the din
Where envy's voice at virtue's pitch
Mocks you because your gown is rich;
And from the pale girl's dumb rebuke,
Whose ill-clad grace and toil-worn look
Proclaim the strength that keeps her weak,
And other nights than yours bespeak;
And from the wise unchildish elf,
To schoolmate lesser than himself
Pointing you out, what thing you are:—
Yes, from the daily jeer and jar,
From shame and shame's outbraving too,
Is rest not sometimes sweet to you?—
But most from the hatefulness of man,
Who spares not to end what he began,
Whose acts are ill and his speech ill,
Who, having used you at his will,
Thrusts you aside, as when I dine
I serve the dishes and the wine.
Well, handsome Jenny mine, sit up:
I've filled our glasses, let us sup,
And do not let me think of you,
Lest shame of yours suffice for two.
What, still so tired? Well, well then, keep
Your head there, so you do not sleep;
But that the weariness may pass
And leave you merry, take this glass.
Ah! lazy lily hand, more bless'd
If ne'er in rings it had been dress'd
Nor ever by a glove conceal'd!
Behold the lilies of the field,
They toil not neither do they spin;
(So doth the ancient text begin,—
Not of such rest as one of these
Can share.) Another rest and ease
Along each summer-sated path
From its new lord the garden hath,
Than that whose spring in blessings ran
Which praised the bounteous husbandman,
Ere yet, in days of hankering breath,
The lilies sickened unto death.
What, Jenny, are your lilies dead?
Aye, and the snow-white leaves are spread
Like winter on the garden-bed.
But you had roses left in May,—
They were not gone too. Jenny, nay,
But must your roses die, and those
Their purfled buds that should unclose?
Even so; the leaves are curled apart,
Still red as from the broken heart,
And here's the naked stem of thorns.
Nay, nay, mere words. Here nothing warns
As yet of winter. Sickness here
Or want alone could waken fear,—
Nothing but passion wrings a tear.
Except when there may rise unsought
Haply at times a passing thought
Of the old days which seem to be
Much older than any history
That is written in any book;
When she would lie in fields and look
Along the ground through the blown grass
And wonder where the city was,
Far out of sight, whose broil and bale
They told her then for a child's tale.
Jenny, you know the city now.
A child can tell the tale there, how
Some things which are not yet enroll'd
In market-lists are bought and sold
Even till the early Sunday light,
When Saturday night is market-night
Everywhere, be it dry or wet,
And market-night in the Haymarket.
Our learned London children know,
Poor Jenny, all your pride and woe;
Have seen your lifted silken skirt
Advertise dainties through the dirt;
Have seen your coach-wheels splash rebuke
On virtue; and have learned your look
When, wealth and health slipped past, you stare
Along the streets alone, and there,
Round the long park, across the bridge,
The cold lamps at the pavement's edge
Wind on together and apart,
A fiery serpent for your heart.
Let the thoughts pass, an empty cloud!
Suppose I were to think aloud,—
What if to her all this were said?
Why, as a volume seldom read
Being opened halfway shuts again,
So might the pages of her brain
Be parted at such words, and thence
Close back upon the dusty sense.
For is there hue or shape defin'd
In Jenny's desecrated mind,
Where all contagious currents meet,
A Lethe of the middle street?
Nay, it reflects not any face,
Nor sound is in its sluggish pace,
But as they coil those eddies clot,
And night and day remember not.
Why, Jenny, you're asleep at last!—
Asleep, poor Jenny, hard and fast,—
So young and soft and tired; so fair,
With chin thus nestled in your hair,
Mouth quiet, eyelids almost blue
As if some sky of dreams shone through!
Just as another woman sleeps!
Enough to throw one's thoughts in heaps
Of doubt and horror,—what to say
Or think,—this awful secret sway,
The potter's power over the clay!
Of the same lump (it has been said)
For honour and dishonour made,
Two sister vessels. Here is one.
My cousin Nell is fond of fun,
And fond of dress, and change, and praise,
So mere a woman in her ways:
And if her sweet eyes rich in youth
Are like her lips that tell the truth,
My cousin Nell is fond of love.
And she's the girl I'm proudest of.
Who does not prize her, guard her well?
The love of change, in cousin Nell,
Shall find the best and hold it dear:
The unconquered mirth turn quieter
Not through her own, through others' woe:
The conscious pride of beauty glow
Beside another's pride in her,
One little part of all they share.
For Love himself shall ripen these
In a kind soil to just increase
Through years of fertilizing peace.
Of the same lump (as it is said)
For honour and dishonour made,
Two sister vessels. Here is one.
It makes a goblin of the sun.
So pure,—so fall'n! How dare to think
Of the first common kindred link?
Yet, Jenny, till the world shall burn
It seems that all things take their turn;
And who shall say but this fair tree
May need, in changes that may be,
Your children's children's charity?
Scorned then, no doubt, as you are scorn'd!
Shall no man hold his pride forewarn'd
Till in the end, the Day of Days,
At Judgment, one of his own race,
As frail and lost as you, shall rise,—
His daughter, with his mother's eyes?
How Jenny's clock ticks on the shelf!
Might not the dial scorn itself
That has such hours to register?
Yet as to me, even so to her
Are golden sun and silver moon,
In daily largesse of earth's boon,
Counted for life-coins to one tune.
And if, as blindfold fates are toss'd,
Through some one man this life be lost,
Shall soul not somehow pay for soul?
Fair shines the gilded aureole
In which our highest painters place
Some living woman's simple face.
And the stilled features thus descried
As Jenny's long throat droops aside,—
The shadows where the cheeks are thin,
And pure wide curve from ear to chin,—
With Raffael's, Leonardo's hand
To show them to men's souls, might stand,
Whole ages long, the whole world through,
For preachings of what God can do.
What has man done here? How atone,
Great God, for this which man has done?
And for the body and soul which by
Man's pitiless doom must now comply
With lifelong hell, what lullaby
Of sweet forgetful second birth
Remains? All dark. No sign on earth
What measure of God's rest endows
The many mansions of his house.
If but a woman's heart might see
Such erring heart unerringly
For once! But that can never be.
Like a rose shut in a book
In which pure women may not look,
For its base pages claim control
To crush the flower within the soul;
Where through each dead rose-leaf that clings,
Pale as transparent Psyche-wings,
To the vile text, are traced such things
As might make lady's cheek indeed
More than a living rose to read;
So nought save foolish foulness may
Watch with hard eyes the sure decay;
And so the life-blood of this rose,
Puddled with shameful knowledge, flows
Through leaves no chaste hand may unclose:
Yet still it keeps such faded show
Of when 'twas gathered long ago,
That the crushed petals' lovely grain,
The sweetness of the sanguine stain,
Seen of a woman's eyes, must make
Her pitiful heart, so prone to ache,
Love roses better for its sake:—
Only that this can never be:—
Even so unto her sex is she.
Yet, Jenny, looking long at you,
The woman almost fades from view.
A cipher of man's changeless sum
Of lust, past, present, and to come,
Is left. A riddle that one shrinks
To challenge from the scornful sphinx.
Like a toad within a stone
Seated while Time crumbles on;
Which sits there since the earth was curs'd
For Man's transgression at the first;
Which, living through all centuries,
Not once has seen the sun arise;
Whose life, to its cold circle charmed,
The earth's whole summers have not warmed;
Which always—whitherso the stone
Be flung—sits there, deaf, blind, alone;—
Aye, and shall not be driven out
Till that which shuts him round about
Break at the very Master's stroke,
And the dust thereof vanish as smoke,
And the seed of Man vanish as dust:—
Even so within this world is Lust.
Come, come, what use in thoughts like this?
Poor little Jenny, good to kiss,—
You'd not believe by what strange roads
Thought travels, when your beauty goads
A man to-night to think of toads!
Jenny, wake up…. Why, there's the dawn!
And there's an early waggon drawn
To market, and some sheep that jog
Bleating before a barking dog;
And the old streets come peering through
Another night that London knew;
And all as ghostlike as the lamps.
So on the wings of day decamps
My last night's frolic. Glooms begin
To shiver off as lights creep in
Past the gauze curtains half drawn-to,
And the lamp's doubled shade grows blue,—
Your lamp, my Jenny, kept alight,
Like a wise virgin's, all one night!
And in the alcove coolly spread
Glimmers with dawn your empty bed;
And yonder your fair face I see
Reflected lying on my knee,
Where teems with first foreshadowings
Your pier-glass scrawled with diamond rings:
And on your bosom all night worn
Yesterday's rose now droops forlorn,
But dies not yet this summer morn.
And now without, as if some word
Had called upon them that they heard,
The London sparrows far and nigh
Clamour together suddenly;
And Jenny's cage-bird grown awake
Here in their song his part must take,
Because here too the day doth break.
And somehow in myself the dawn
Among stirred clouds and veils withdrawn
Strikes greyly on her. Let her sleep.
But will it wake her if I heap
These cushions thus beneath her head
Where my knee was? No,—there's your bed,
My Jenny, while you dream. And there
I lay among your golden hair,
Perhaps the subject of your dreams,
These golden coins.
For still one deems
That Jenny's flattering sleep confers
New magic on the magic purse,—
Grim web, how clogged with shrivelled flies!
Between the threads fine fumes arise
And shape their pictures in the brain.
There roll no streets in glare and rain,
Nor flagrant man-swine whets his tusk;
But delicately sighs in musk
The homage of the dim boudoir;
Or like a palpitating star
Thrilled into song, the opera-night
Breathes faint in the quick pulse of light;
Or at the carriage-window shine
Rich wares for choice; or, free to dine,
Whirls through its hour of health (divine
For her) the concourse of the Park.
And though in the discounted dark
Her functions there and here are one,
Beneath the lamps and in the sun
There reigns at least the acknowledged belle
Apparelled beyond parallel.
Ah Jenny, yes, we know your dreams.
For even the Paphian Venus seems
A goddess o'er the realms of love,
When silver-shrined in shadowy grove:
Aye, or let offerings nicely plac'd
But hide Priapus to the waist,
And whoso looks on him shall see
An eligible deity.
Why, Jenny, waking here alone
May help you to remember one,
Though all the memory's long outworn
Of many a double-pillowed morn.
I think I see you when you wake,
And rub your eyes for me, and shake
My gold, in rising, from your hair,
A Danaë for a moment there.
Jenny, my love rang true! for still
Love at first sight is vague, until
That tinkling makes him audible.
And must I mock you to the last,
Ashamed of my own shame,—aghast
Because some thoughts not born amiss
Rose at a poor fair face like this?
Well, of such thoughts so much I know:
In my life, as in hers, they show,
By a far gleam which I may near,
A dark path I can strive to clear.
Only one kiss. Good-bye, my dear.