Page images
PDF
EPUB

And, as he walked, with modest dignity
Folding his scarlet mantle. At the gate
They join; and slowly up the bannered aisle
Led by the choir, with due solemnity
Range round the altar. In his vestments there
The Patriarch stands; and, while the anthem flows,
Who can look on unmoved

the dream of years
Just now fulfilling! Here a mother weeps,
Rejoicing in her daughter. There a son
Blesses the day that is to make her his;
While she shines forth through all her ornament,
Her beauty heightened by her hopes and fears.

At length the rite is ending. All fall down,
All of all ranks; and, stretching out his hands,
Apostle-like, the holy man proceeds
To give the blessing - not a stir, a breath;
When, hark! a din of voices from without,
And shrieks and groans and outeries as in battle !
And, lo! the door is burst, the curtain rent,
And armed ruffians, robbers from the deep,
Savage, uncouth, led on by BARBERIGO
And his six brothers in their coats of steel,
Are standing on the threshold! Statue-like
A while they gaze on the fallen multitude,
Each with his sabre up, in act to strike;
Then, as at once recovering from the spell,
Rush forward to the altar, and as soon
Are gone again — amid no clash of arms
Bearing away the maidens and the treasures.

Where are they now? — ploughing the distant waves,
Their sails outspread and given to the wind,
They on their decks triumphant. On they speed,

Steering for ISTRIA; their accursed barks
(Well are they known 100 the galliot and the galley)
Freighted, alas ! with all that life endears !
The richest argosies were poor to them !

Now hadst thou seen along that crowded shore
The matrons running wild, their festal dress
A strange and moving contrast to their grief;
And through the city, wander where thou wouldst,
The men half armed and arming - everywhere
As roused from slumber by the stirring trump;
One with a shield, one with a casque

and

spear;
One with an axe severing in two the chain
Of some old pinnace. Not a raft, a plank,
But on that day was drifting. In an hour
Half VENICE was afloat. But long before,
Frantic with grief and scorning all control,
The youths were gone in a light brigantine,
Lying at anchor near the arsenal ;
Each having sworn, and by the holy rood,
To slay or to be slain.

And from the tower
The watchman gives the signal. In the east
A ship is seen, and making for the port;
Her flag St. Mark's. And now she turns the point,
Over the waters like a sea-bird flying!
Ha ! 't is the same, 't is theirs ! from stern to prow
Green with victorious wreaths, she comes to bring
All that was lost.

Coasting, with narrow search, FRIULI — like a tiger in his spring, They had surprised the corsairs where they lay Sharing the spoil in blind security

101

102

And casting lots — had slain them, one and all,
All to the last, and flung them far and wide
Into the sea, their proper element;
Him first, as first in rank, whose name so long
Had hushed the babes of VENICE, and who yet,
Breathing a little, in his look retained
The fierceness of his soul.1

Thus were the brides
Lost and recovered; and what now remained
But to give thanks ? Twelve breast-plates and twelve

crowns,
By the young victors to their patron-saint
Vowed in the field, inestimable gifts
Flaming with gems and gold, were in due time
Laid at his feet; and ever to preserve
The memory of a day so full of change,
From joy to grief, from grief to joy again,
Through many an age, as oft as it came round,
'T was held religiously. The Doge resigned
His crimson for pure ermine, visiting
At earliest dawn St. Mary's silver shrine;
And through the city, in a stately barge
Of gold, were borne with songs and symphonies
Twelve ladies young and noble.104 Clad they were
In bridal white with bridal ornaments,
Each in her glittering veil; and on the deck,
As on a burnished throne, they glided by ;
No window or balcóny but adorned
With hangings of rich texture, not a roof
But covered with beholders, and the air
Vocal with joy. Onward they went, their oars
Moving in concert with the harmony,

Through the Rialto 105 to the Ducal Palace,
And at a banquet, served with honor there,
Sat representing, in the eyes of all,
Eyes not unwet, I ween, with grateful tears,
Their lovely ancestors, the Brides of VENICE.

FOSCARI.

108

LET us lift up the curtain, and observe
What passes in that chamber. Now a sigh,

,
And now a groan is heard. Then all is still.
Twenty are sitting as in judgment there ;
Men who have served their country and grown gray
In governments and distant embassies,
Men eminent alike in war and peace;
Such as in effigy shall long adorn
The walls of VENICE - to show what she was !
Their garb is black, and black the arras is,
And sad the general aspect. Yet their looks
Are calm, are cheerful ; nothing there like grief,
Nothing or harsh or cruel. Still that noise,
That low and dismal moaning.

Half withdrawn, A little to the left, sits one in crimson, A venerable man, fourscore and five. Cold drops of sweat stand on his furrowed brow. His hands are clenched; his eyes half-shut and glazed, His shrunk and withered limbs rigid as marble. Tis FOSCARI, the Doge. And there is one, A young man, lying at his feet, stretched out In torture. 'Tis his son. 'Tis GIACOMO,

[ocr errors]

His only joy (and has he lived for this ?)
Accused of murder. Yesternight the proofs,
If proofs they be, were in the Lion's mouth
Dropt by some hand unseen ; and he, himself,
Must sit and look on a beloved son
Suffering the Question.

Twice, to die in peace,
To save, while yet he could, a falling house,
And turn the hearts of his fell adversaries,
Those who had now, like hell-hounds in full cry,
Chased down his last of four, twice did he ask
To lay aside the crown, and they refused,
An oath exacting, never more to ask;
And there he sits, a spectacle of woe,
Condemned in bitter mockery to wear
The bauble he had sighed for.

Once again

The screw is turned ; and, as it turns, the son
Looks up, and, in a faint and broken tone,
Murmurs “My father!” The old man shrinks back,
And in his mantle muffles up his face.
“ Art thou not guilty ?” says a voice, that once
Would greet the sufferer long before they met,
“Art thou not guilty ?”—“No! Indeed I am not!”
But all is unavailing. In that court
Groans are confessions ; patience, fortitude,
The work of magic; and, released, revived,
For condemnation, from his father's lips
He hears the sentence, “ Banishment to CANDIA.
Death, if he leaves it.” And the bark sets sail ;
And he is gone from all he loves in life!
Gone in the dead of night — unseen of any —

« PreviousContinue »