« PreviousContinue »
Descending from the TYROL, as night fell,
Knocked at a city-gate near the hill-foot,
The gate that bore so long, sculptured in stone,
An eagle on a ladder, and at once
Found welcome-nightly in the bannered hall
Tuning his harp to tales of chivalry
Before the great MASTINO, and his guests,
The three-and-twenty kings, by adverse fate,
By war or treason or domestic strife,
Reft of their kingdoms, friendless, shelterless,
And living on his bounty.
Brushing the floor with what was once, methinks,
A hat of ceremony? On he glides,
Slip-shod, ungartered; his long suit of black
Dingy, thread-bare, though, patch by patch, renewed
Till it has almost ceased to be the same.
At length arrived, and with a shrug that pleads
"T is my necessity!" he stops and speaks,
Screwing a smile into his dinnerless face.
"Blame not a poet, signor, for his zeal-
When all are on the wing, who would be last?
The splendor of thy name has gone before thee;
And ITALY from sea to sea exults,
As well indeed she may! But I transgress."
He, who has known the weight of praise himself,
Should spare another." Saying so, he laid
His sonnet, an impromptu, at my feet
(If his, then PETRARCH must have stolen it from him), And bowed and left me; in his hollow hand.
Receiving my small tribute, a zecchine,
Unconsciously, as doctors do their fees.
My omelet, and a flagon of hill-wine,"
Pure as the virgin-spring, had happily
Fled from all eyes; or, in a waking dream,
I might have sat as many a great man has,
And many a small, like him of Santillane,
Bartering my bread and salt for empty praise."
Are those the distant turrets of Verona ?
And shall I sup where JULIET at the masque
Saw her loved MONTAGUE, and now sleeps by him?
Such questions hourly do I ask myself;
And not a stone, in a cross-way, inscribed
"To Mantua " "To Ferrara " 45- but excites
Surprise, and doubt, and self-congratulation.
O ITALY, how beautiful thou art!
Yet I could weep for thou art lying, alas!
Low in the dust; and we admire thee now
As we admire the beautiful in death.
Thine was a dangerous gift, when thou wert born,
The gift of Beauty. Would thou hadst it not;
Or wert as once, awing the caitiffs vile
That now beset thee, making thee their slave!
Would they had loved thee less, or feared thee more! 46 But why despair? Twice hast thou lived already;" Twice shone among the nations of the world,
As the sun shines among the lesser lights
Of heaven; and shalt again. The hour shall come, When they who think to bind the ethereal spirit,
Who, like the eagle cowering o'er his prey,
Watch with quick eye, and strike and strike again
If but a sinew vibrate," shall confess
Their wisdom folly. Even now the flame
Bursts forth where once it burnt so gloriously,
And, dying, left a splendor like the day,
That like the day diffused itself, and still
the light of genius, virtue, Greatness in thought and act, contempt of death, Godlike example. Echoes that have slept
Since ATHENS, LACEDÆMON, were themselves,
Since men invoked "By those in MARATHON!”
Awake along the EGEAN; and the dead,
They of that sacred shore, have heard the call,
And through the ranks, from wing to wing, are seen
Moving as once they were instead of rage
Breathing deliberate valor.
"IN this neglected mirror (the broad frame Of massy silver serves to testify
That many a noble matron of the house
Has sat before it) once, alas! was seen
What led to many sorrows. From that time
The bat came hither for a sleeping place;
And he, who cursed another in his heart,
Said, 'Be thy dwelling, through the day and night,
Shunned like COLL'ALTO.'"-T was in that old pile,
Which flanks the cliff with its gray battlements
Flung here and there, and, like an eagle's nest,
Hangs in the TREVISAN, that thus the steward,
Shaking his locks, the few that Time had left,
Addressed me, as we entered what was called
"My Lady's Chamber." On the walls, the chairs,
Much yet remained of the rich tapestry;
Much of the adventures of SIR LAUNCELOT
In the green glades of some enchanted wood.
The toilet-table was of silver wrought,
Florentine art, when Florence was renowned;
A gay confusion of the elements,
Dolphins and boys, and shells and fruits and flowers:
And from the ceiling, in his gilded cage,
Hung a small bird of curious workmanship,
That, when his mistress bade him, would unfold
(So says the babbling dame, Tradition, there)
His emerald-wings, and sing and sing again
The song that pleased her. While I stood and looked,
A gleam of day yet lingering in the west,
The steward went on. "She had ('t is now long since)
A gentle serving-maid, the fair CRISTINE,
Fair as a lily, and as spotless too;
None so admired, beloved. They had grown up
As play-fellows; and some there were, that said,
Some that knew much, discoursing of CRISTINE,
She is not what she seems.' When unrequired,
She would steal forth; her custom, her delight,
To wander through and through an ancient grove
Self-planted half-way down, losing herself
Like one in love with sadness; and her veil
And vesture white, seen ever in that place,
Ever as surely as the hours came round.
Among those reverend trees, gave her below
The name of The White Lady.
Is gone, and I delay thee.
The Countess, as it might be now, was sitting,
Her gentle serving-maid, the fair CRISTINE,
Combing her golden hair; and through this door
The Count, her lord, was hastening, called away
By letters of great urgency to VENICE;
When in the glass she saw, as she believed
('T was an illusion of the Evil One-
say he came and crossed it at the time),
A smile, a glance at parting, given and answered,
That turned her blood to gall. That very night
The deed was done. That night, cre yet the moon
Was up on Monte Calvo, and the wolf
Baying as still he does (oft is he heard,
An hour and more, by the old turret-clock),
They led her forth, the unhappy lost CRISTINE,
Helping her down in her distress to die.
"No blood was spilt; no instrument of death
Lurked or stood forth, declaring its bad purpose;
Nor was a hair of her unblemished head
Hurt in that hour. Fresh as a flower just blown,
And warm with life, her youthful pulses playing,
She was walled up within the castle-wall.50
The wall itself was hollowed secretly;
Then closed again, and done to line and rule.
Wouldst thou descend? -'T is in a darksome vault
Under the chapel: and there nightly now,
As in the narrow niche, when smooth and fair,
And as if nothing had been done or thought,
The stone-work rose before her, till the light