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To steal a spark from their authentic fire,
Theirs who first broke the universal gloom,
On that ancient seat,
The seat of stone that runs along the wall,'
South of the church, east of the belfry-tower
(Thou canst not miss it), in the sultry time
Would DANTE sit conversing, and with those
Who little thought that in his hand he held
The balance, and assigned at his good pleasure
To each his place in the invisible world,
To some an upper region, some a lower;
Many a transgressor sent to his account,'
Long ere in FLORENCE numbered with the dead
The body still as full of life and stir
At home, abroad; still and as oft inclined
To eat, drink, sleep; still clad as others were, And at noon-day, where men were wont to meet, Met as continually; when the soul went, Relinquished to a demon, and by him
(So says the bard, and who can read and doubt ?) Dwelt in and governed.
Sit thee down a while; 141
Then, by the gates so marvellously wrought,
That they might serve to be the gates of Heaven,
Enter the Baptistery. That place he loved,
Loved as his own; 143 and in his visits there
Well might he take delight! For when a child,
Playing, as many are wont, with venturous feet
Near and yet nearer to the sacred font,
Slipped and fell in, he flew and rescued him,
Flew with an energy, a violence,
That broke the marble- a mishap ascribed
To evil motives; his, alas! to lead
A life of trouble, and ere long to leave
All things most dear to him, ere long to know
How salt another's bread is, and the toil
Of going up and down another's stairs.1
Nor then forget that chamber of the dead,146
Where the gigantic shapes of Night and Day,
Turned into stone, rest everlastingly;
Yet still are breathing, and shed round at noon
A two-fold influence-only to be felt-
A light, a darkness, mingling each with each;
Both and yet neither. There, from age to age,
Two ghosts are sitting on their sepulchres.
That is the Duke LORENZO. Mark him well.147
He meditates, his head upon his hand.
What from beneath his helm-like bonnet scowls?
Is it a face, or but an eyeless skull?
'T is lost in shade; yet, like the basilisk,
It fascinates, and is intolerable.
His mien is noble, most majestical!
Then most so, when the distant choir is heard
At morn or eve- - nor fail thou to attend
On that thrice-hallowed day, when all are there;
When all, propitiating with solemn songs,
Visit the dead. Then wilt thou feel his power!
But let not Sculpture, Painting, Poesy,
Or they, the masters of these mighty spells,
Detain us. Our first homage is to Virtue.
Where, in what dungeon of the citadel
(It must be known- the writing on the wall 149
Cannot be gone 't was with the blade cut in,
Ere, on his knees to God, he slew himself),
Did he, the last, the noblest citizen,'
Breathe out his soul, lest in the torturing hour
He might accuse the guiltless?
But with a sigh, a tear for human frailty,
We may return, and once more give a loose
To the delighted spirit — worshipping,
In her small temple of rich workmanship,'
VENUS herself, who, when she left the skies,
AMONG those awful forms, in elder time
Assembled, and through many an after-age
Destined to stand as Genii of the place
Where men most meet in FLORENCE, may be seen
His who first played the tyrant. Clad in mail,
But with his helmet off-in kingly state,
Aloft he sits upon his horse of brass;
And they, that read the legend underneath,
Go and pronounce him happy. Yet, methinks,
There is a chamber that, if walls could speak,
Would turn their admiration into pity.
Half of what passed died with him; but the rest,
All he discovered when the fit was on,
All that, by those who listened, could be gleaned
From broken sentences and starts in sleep,
Is told, and by an honest chronicler. 153
Two of his sons, GIOVANNI and GARZIA
(The eldest had not seen his nineteenth summer),
Went to the chase; but only one returned.
GIOVANNI, when the huntsman blew his horn
O'er the last stag that started from the brake,
And in the heather turned to stand at bay,
Appeared not; and at close of day was found
Bathed in his innocent blood. Too well, alas!
The trembling Cosмo guessed the deed, the doer;
And, having caused the body to be borne
In secret to that chamber at an hour
When all slept sound, save she who bore them both,
Who little thought of what was yet to come,
And lived but to be told he bade GARZÌA
Arise and follow him. Holding in one hand
A winking lamp, and in the other a key
Massive and dungeon-like, thither he led;
And, having entered in and locked the door,
The father fixed his eyes upon the son,
And closely questioned him. No change betrayed
Or guilt or fear. Then Cosмo lifted up
The bloody sheet. "Look there! Look there!" he cried. "Blood calls for blood
and from a father's hand!
- Unless thyself wilt save him that sad office. What!" he exclaimed, when, shuddering at the sight, The boy breathed out, "I stood but on my guard!" "Dar'st thou then blacken one who never wronged thee, Who would not set his foot upon a worm?
Yes, thou must die, lest others fall by thee,
And thou shouldst be the slayer of us all."
Then from GARZIA's belt he drew the blade,
That fatal one which spilt his brother's blood;
And, kneeling on the ground, "Great God!" he cried,
"Grant me the strength to do an act of justice.
Thou knowest what it costs me; but, alas!
How can I spare myself, sparing none else?
Grant me the strength, the will—and, O! forgive
The sinful soul of a most wretched son!
'T is a most wretched father who implores it."
Long on GARZIA's neck he hung and wept,
Long pressed him to his bosom tenderly;
And then, but while he held him by the arm,
Thrusting him backward, turned away his face,
And stabbed him to the heart.
Studious of men, anxious to learn and know,
When in the train of some great embassy
He came, a visitant, to Cosmo's court,
Think on the past; and, as he wandered through
The ample spaces of an ancient house,
Silent, deserted-stop a while to dwell
Upon two portraits there, drawn on the wall 157
Together, as of two in bonds of love,
Those of the unhappy brothers, and conclude,
From the sad looks of him who could have told,
The terrible truth.158 Well might he heave a sigh
For poor humanity, when he beheld
That very COSMO shaking o'er his fire,
Drowsy and deaf and inarticulate,
Wrapt in his night-gown, o'er a sick man's mess,
In the last stage-death-struck and deadly pale;
His wife, another, not his ELEANOR,
At once his nurse and his interpreter.