The Human Tragedy ACT II

by Alfred Austin

Alfred Austin

Personages:
Olympia- Godfrid-
Gilbert- Olive.
Protagonists:
Love- Religion.
Place: Spiaggiascura-Milan-Florence.
Time: March 1858-May 1859
There is a little city in the South,
A silent little city by the sea,
Where a swift Alpine torrent finds its mouth,
And billowy mountains subside smilingly.
It knows nor weeping skies nor dewless drouth,
No seasons, save when April's glancing glee
Slow steadies unto Summer's still-poised wing,
Or mimic Winter lifts the mask from Spring.
Once on a time it was a famous city,
Famous for love, and song, and stately strife,
When men were knightly still, and women witty,
And court and camp with revelry were rife.
Now is it hushed as long-forgotten ditty,
Secluded almshouse of a bankrupt life,
Refuge for him, who, after days of riot,
Seeketh the safe monotony of quiet.
No traveller's busy footstep cometh there,
No pallid form, more painlessly to die;
No gainful barter thither doth repair;
Even the boatman's oar and net pass by.
No clattering wheel and whip offend the air;
Its streets but lead to mountain, sea, and sky,
And, when gaunt Winter stalks our shivering isle,
Bask, backed by hills, in ocean's rippling smile.
Within it is a lovelier little chapel
Than ever wealth ordained or genius planned
For those famed shrines where art and splendour grapple,
Vainly, to blend the beautiful and grand.
No gold adorns it, and no jewels dapple,
No boastful words attest the builder's hand;
Sacred to prayer, but quite unknown to fame,
Maria Stella Maris is its name.
Breaks not a morning but its snow-white altar
With fragrant mountain flowers is newly dight;
Comes not a noon but lowly murmured psalter
Again is said with unpretentious rite;
Its one sole lamp is never known to falter
In faithful watch through the long hush of night;
From dawn till gloaming, open to devotion
Its portal stands, and to the swell of ocean.
Never did form more lissom thread the dance
Than hers that scours the hill to find it flowers;
Never did sweeter lips or holier glance
Watch for the striking of the sacred hours;
No hands so leal e'er decked the warrior's lance,
As those which tend its lamp as darkness lours;
And never since dear Christ expired for man,
Had holy shrine so pure a sacristan.
Beyond its threshold she nor hearth nor home,
As tender maidens wont, had e'er possessed:
Only a window just above the foam,
Less like a chamber than a sea-bird's nest.
No mother's voice forbade her steps to roam,
No father's joy enslaved her to his breast;
And all but answered, asked you of her line,
``A daughter of the sunlight and the shrine.''
This year when streams enfranchised by the Spring
Came bounding to the ocean from the wolds,
Just as the callow broods were 'tempting wing,
And bleating voices heard about the folds,
And almond blossoms trusty news did bring
Rude winds had scampered to their northern holds,
Within the chapel a strange face was seen,
Where for long days no stranger's face had been.
When transubstantiated wine and bread
In mystic mass renewed the gainful loss
Of cruel Calvary, or tonsured head
From carven pulpit banned as worthless dross
All that the flesh can win, or doleful tread
Followed the tearful Stations of the Cross,
At Vespers' chant, at Benediction's prayer,
Or Quarant' Ore, was the stranger there.
Presence so constant she could scarcely fail,
Despite her own devotion, to perceive;
Since there, as elsewhere, save the old and frail,
Or such as had some sudden cause to grieve,
Or when the Church's mandate must prevail,
Men came but seldom, and to quickly leave.
So she gave thanks one callous bosom less
Should mitigate the Sacred Heart's distress.
Oft had he come, and knelt, and gone away,
Often returned and often knelt again,
Before her eyes, which, too absorbed to stray,
And not avoiding, rarely met the ken,-
As though as yet she scarcely knew that they
Had aught to do with, aught to fear from, men,-
Fell upon his, which, wont on her to gaze,
Forgot to curb their burning look of praise.
Perhaps the woman's instinct failed in her.
Perhaps a maiden's bashfulness is more
A matron's lesson than our lips aver.
Shrank not her clear gray eyes his gaze before,
But dipping finger so as scarce to stir
The water in the stoup beside the door,
She held it out towards his without dismay,
Turned, knelt, and crossed herself, and went her way.
Half a moon later, while the morn, yet early,
Smiled to the sound of reawakening trills,
When, though the mist, discomfited and surly,
Slowly retreating, hugged the higher hills,
On slopes below, the wild-rose blossom pearly
Sparkled with scented dew its sleep distils,
And None's faint bells afar were heard to chime,
Their eyes and hands met for a second time.
The bright incarnate spirit of the Morn,
Upon a stone mid-stream he saw her stand,
Atiptoe, straining at a snow-white thorn,
Whose bloom provoked but still escaped her hand.
He, though of gracious courtesy inborn,
Yet by a sight so fairylike unmanned,
Sat like a statue that hath long while caught,
And keeps, immutable, some selfish thought.
The ripple of the streamlet past her feet,
White thorn above her, whiter robe around,
The linnet-pipings nigh, the distant bleat,
Spiral lark-music in the blue sky drowned,
Blending of all, melodious and sweet,
To superficial sense and soul profound,
Steeped him in such oblivious trance, indeed
He in her beauty quite forgot her need.
Reaching a branch, she clutched it, but, alack!
It yielded as but yields a half-bent bow,
And with a sharp rebound sprang loosely back,
And all the bloom came showering down like snow,
Dappling the dark stream with a milk-white track;
But where it fell on her, you could not know.
And then she gave a foiled despairing cry,
That sounded half a prayer and half a sigh.
Swift at the sound from selfish trance he woke,
And started up, and hastened to her aid;
Sprang o'er the stepping stones, and deftly broke
A loftier bough in lovelier bloom arrayed,
And, as he tendered, reverently spoke:
``I pray you, sinless maiden.'' And she said,
``Thanks, gentle sir; my flowers are not for me,
But for our Lady's shrine afront the sea.''
``Then place these there,'' he said, ``unless, indeed,
By my base touch their virtue be annulled;
And when your lips for other sinners plead,
Breathe one kind orison for him who culled.
In this cold world, where sunless lives we lead,
Faith oft grows petrified, contrition dulled;
But who would not feel blest to know that prayers
Mounted from lips like yours to ears like Hers?
``And if such favour may a stranger ask,''
He said in accents chivalrous and free,
That screened no foul presumption with fair mask,
``May I your pious steps accompany?
I still perchance can aid you in your task,
To crown with flowers our Lady of the Sea;
Or if that office but for you be meet,
May I not help to bear them to her feet?''
Hers was a heart that knew not to deny.
Like the benign Madonna she adored,
She looked down ever with consenting eye
And smiling tenderness, whoe'er implored.
So, while the candid gaze made sure reply,
From parted lips a gracious welcome poured.
``Come then,'' she said, ``but quickly; we are late.
We must not make our loving Lady wait.''
So down the dewy hill they swift descended,
She treading first, he following fast behind;
Anon by tracks that deviously wended,
Now by smooth paths as straight as blows the wind;
Until the vineyards and the city blended,
And then those vanished, and their ears resigned
The mountain torrent's intermittent roar
For the tired waves that fainted on the shore.
The little temple's door stood open wide,
And all the place by sunshine was possessed,
From the groined roof which time had slowly dyed,
Down to the inlaid altar whitely dressed.
But the smooth walls that rose on either side,
Were marble; marble was the floor you pressed;
So that, withal, the spot seemed fresh and cool,
Even as shady grove or reedy pool.
Full on the left an antique pulpit rose,
Of structure quaint, and it was marble too,
Where hands long numb had carven, as they chose,
Odd allegories, fair and foul to view.
Here virgins, calm as newly fallen snows,
Bearing curved palms, and singing hymns to you;
There long lank demons gnawing damnëd souls,
And bastard animals, and nightmare scrolls.
But from these fancies twain you turned full soon,
For on the right the mild Madonna stood,
Down from her flowing hair to sandal-shoon
The mystic type of maiden motherhood.
Below her feet there curved a crescent moon,
And all the golden planets were her hood;
In comely folds her queenly garb was moulded,
And over her pure breast her hands were folded.
She looked the most immortal mortal being
That ever yet descended from the skies,
As one who seemed to see all, without seeing,
And without ears to hear man's smothered sighs;
With all our discords the one note agreeing,
'Mid death and hate a love that never dies;
A tranquil silence amid fretful din,
And still the sinless confidant of sin.
And now the mountain maiden spread the store
Of wondrous whiteness from the hawthorn bower
Culled by the stranger, on the marble floor,
And from her lap discovered many a flower:
Proud cyclamens on long lithe stems that soar,
Retiring violets that meekly cower
Among green leaves, lilies that know not fear,
And the blue stars to parting lovers dear.
All these her fingers fancifully wrought
Into festoons and wreaths and posies fair;
Then from an inner sanctuary brought
Vases of delicate tint but simplest ware,
And round the statue, nimbly as her thought,
Ranged them, till not a single spot seemed bare.
Whereon she back retired a little space,
And eyed her handiwork with questioning face.
``There, it is done, tho' ill. Now let us kneel,
And beg our gracious Mother to accept
Our tribute poor, since paid with homage leal.''
Therewith a pace or two she forward stepped,
And her fair knees the marble fair did feel.
He just a little way behind her crept,
And, forcing his proud limbs to bend, obeyed
Her sovran word, and watched her as she prayed.
Her hands were clasped, her eyes cast meekly down,
Down her smooth cheek the tender tear-drop stole,
And under kerchief white and bodice brown
Heaved the pure tumult of her sinless soul.
Oh! soon the Lady with the starry crown
Will sure, he thought, step from her flowery knoll,
And, subtly quickened by celestial charms,
Enfold this virgin form in virgin arms!
How long she thus remained, he noted not,
But, like to one whose count of time is stayed,
Still as she knelt, knelt rooted to the spot,
And when she rose, rose, following like a shade;
And still, the place, the hour, the scene forgot,
Though sooth he should have bidden adieu, delayed;
Until she timorously broke the spell
With the faint words: ``I thank you, sir; farewell!''
``Farewell!'' he said,-her shadow even in speech;
But the sad sound dissolved his sunny dream:
``Farewell, farewell! but may we, I beseech,
Not meet once more beside the rippling stream,
Or on the grassy slope, or pebbly beach,
Or even here, which meeter still would seem?
And, to befriend me, tell me, ere I go,
The name in Heaven by which you are known below!''
``Still come, at your good will,'' she frankly said,
``Where the hills rise, or where the long waves fall,
Or where the stream runs babbling o'er its bed,
Or in this chapel, dearest spot of all,
And you by me will still be welcomëd,
If you, like me, will be my Lady's thrall.
My name, sir, is Olympia.'' ``Godfrid, mine.''
And so they parted, with no further sign.
And she within the little chapel kept;
But he went downward to the shining shore.
The sun yet higher along the heavens had stept,
Withal to him it glowed not as before.
The morning's magic from the hills had crept,
The little city a dimmed lustre wore;
The waves had lost their music, and his breast
Heaved, beneath load of vacancy opprest.
Not of the climes where song and sunshine steep
The blood in honeyed idleness was he,
Where waking hours are but a conscious sleep,
And noons, like nights, delicious vacancy;
But of that restless race who work and weep,
Whose hearths are warded by the surly sea,
A swordlike stock, half vigour and half gloom,
Which, when it smites not, must itself consume.
But he had fallen upon mournful times
When all great deeds were stagnant. Tales of fame
His isle still haunted, and in sounding rhymes
Were sometimes sung, barren of future aim.
The leaders of the land were supple mimes,
Greedy of passing plaudits, sold to shame;
By whose base drugs, into deep slumber cast,
A once great Realm lay pillowed on its past.
The sacred Sceptre's virtue was confessed
Therein no more; no man no man obeyed.
They had disarmed Authority; the best
Were worst of all, few, feeble, and afraid.
Religion, long inviolable guest,
A menial first, an alien now was made;
There was no end, no means, to prompt or please,
Save poor brute toil, or rich imbruted ease.
But he was of the strain of those who still
Are noble or are nothing; who in days,
Empty of worthy purpose, curb their will,
And, though instinct with action, stand and gaze.
Secluded vale and solitary hill
Are more to them than ignominious praise;
And o'er the world when night and dark are drawn,
Silent they wait till God brings back the dawn.
So home he left, and o'er the vain-ploughed sea,
Through groaning cities, and long, silent fields,
Past poplars tall, and many a crocused lea,
To where the vine its clustering fruitage yields,
Onward he journeyed, until herb and tree
Still scantier grew, and their protecting shields
The Alps threw out, and on his cheek he felt
Airs that but blow from snows that never melt.
Yet not longwhile within the cold embrace
Of the unruffled mountains did he stay,
Nor by hushed lakes that still reflect their face,
Darkly by night, translucently by day,
But by snow-suckled torrents sought to trace
His devious, lone, and uninstructed way,
Until they led him to that tideless sea
That laps the shore of what was Italy.
Thence to Spiaggiascura passed he on,
That silent little city by the shore,
Whence stir of busy life longwhile hath gone,
And where the laugh of youth is heard no more.
He fain earth's fardels ne'er again would don,
But henceforth only simple right implore
To sit i' the sun, and wise ensample win
From pale Lent lilies that nor toil nor spin.
The tenderness which drenches the lone mind,
Insensibly as dew distilled at night,
Made him, of late, cast many a look behind
Of fondness towards a Creed abandoned quite.
He felt his hands clasped by a parent kind
In infant prayer; he saw each dear old rite;
He heard the hymns of childhood, and he breathed
The scent of flowers with sacred incense wreathed.
For not in scorn, but he, bowed-down and blenched,
Had passed out from the Temple. Ere he went,
With secret tears the altar-steps he drenched,
Aware he sped to utter banishment.
From home, hearth, Heaven, reluctant heart he wrenched,
The stern exiler of his past content;
Bidding adieu to Faiths which, well he knew,
Cease not to comfort, ceasing to be true.
Thus with mute wisdom seated in his mind,
And tenderness chief tenant of his heart,
He left the wasteful, turbid strifes behind,
In which the understanding ne'er takes part;
And, by his very loneliness inclined
To welcome a new anodyne for smart
Not yet quite old, he found his footsteps halt
Where Spiaggiascura fronts the waters salt.
There found he all the disenchanted crave:
Beauty, and solitude, and simple ways;
The quiet-shining hills, the long lithe wave,
Now white-fringed fretting into rough-curved bays,
Now swirling smoothly where the flat sand gave
A couch whereon to end its stormy days;
Plain folk and primitive, made courteous by
Traditions old; and a cerulean sky.
In this new home, the fretful or the proud
Had trivial deemed, he with a windless will
Let his soul rest, as rests a summer cloud
On the soft summit of a rounded hill.
He joined the little city's mimic crowd
On early market morns, when down each rill
That marks a mountain track, with faces brown
Tall peasant folk came winding to the town.
But long before the sun was hot and high,
They up the hill again were mounting slow,
And soon their forms were lost in cleft and sky.
Then Godfrid through the quiet streets would go,
Greeting and greeted by chance passer-by,
Or sometimes halting where, with locks of snow,
A bent old dame sate spinning at her door,
Then saunter downward to the vacant shore.
But now the spot endeared to him before
By fair simplicity and lonely grace,
Had to his heart grown dearer more and more,
Since he had gazed upon Olympia's face,
Had seen her with up-raisëd eyes adore
The sinless Mother in the sacred place,
And carried in his arms her garlands sweet,
Swift down the hill following her fawnlike feet.
He thought how good, how restful it would be,
How cool of shade when fierce suns glare and scorch,
What placid haven from a plunging sea,
If he within the little temple's porch
Might dwell in reverent quietude, while she,
Purer of heart, still fed the altar's torch,
And live, despite his doubt, to her almost
As near as she to Heaven's angelic host.
He saw her with the broadening sunlight come
Over the hills, over the mountains gray;
He heard her in the rising dawn-wind's hum,
He felt her in the warmth of growing day.
She sang to him when all the groves were dumb,
Peopled the pine-slope's solitary way,
Walked the long sands, leaving no print the while,
And in the rippling wave infused her smile.
Thus while his heart grew rooted to the spot,
The sea lay dimpling with perpetual smiles,
Calm as a babe that sleeps within its cot,
And hushed as lake, dotted with fairy isles.
The winds were all shut up in Æolus' grot,
Heaven free from cloud that darkens or defiles,
And not the frailest blossom fluttered down
From drooping branch within the tiny town.
But when a sunny sevennight had passed,
Up from the south there came a trailing cloud,
And in its train an ever-rising blast,
That soon was singing high in sail and shroud;
And, as it waxed, the sky grew overcast,
Lurid and low;-whereat the breakers proud
Curved their strong crests, flung up their forelocks hoar,
And, madly rearing, plunged against the shore.
And still as waned the day the wrathful ocean
Higher and higher rose, and to and fro
The slippery billows slid in shapeless motion,
Now dense and dark, now shivered into snow;
Then once again as thick as hell-hag's potion,
Clotted with briny litter from below:
Like leaden coffins yawning first to sight,
Then swiftly hidden with fringed shrouds of white.
And where the sun would have been seen to set,
If sun had been, the sky was darkened most,
And drooped the welkin lower and lower yet,
As Night stole on without her starry host.
Anon, with flapping wings and stormy threat,
Foul seagulls came, and screamed along the coast;
Then utter dark closed in, before, behind,
And over all loud growled the wolfish wind.
'Twas midnight, and the waves were rolling in;
But in the little town were none who slept,
Save dotage deaf or childhood free from sin.
Pale in their beds, the rest scared vigil kept,
Crossing themselves, and listening to the din;
And, as it swelled, the women wailed and wept,
And wrung their hands, thinking of those at sea,
Then hushed their babes, waked by the threnody.
But one there was who neither wept nor prayed,
Nor sought a wakeful mockery of repose,
Was by the restless waves unrestful made,
And whose wild pulse still with the billows rose.
He, through the darkness, lone and unafraid,
Courted the storm and braved the tempest's blows,
Heard the rough surf's reverberating beat,
And felt the firm shore shake beneath his feet.
When all at once he marked a steady star
Spangle the gloom,-small, but surpassing bright,
Which seemed to shine nor near nor yet afar,
But glow suspended on the breast of night.
'Twas luminous as clear-faced planets are,
And then he saw it was the succouring light,
The Stella Maris, that Madonna's flower
Tended within the lonely chapel tower.
It led him on; he left the deafening tide,
And to the silent portal nearer drew,
Until no more the star could be descried,
The low porch hiding the tall tower from view.
But still across the bounding waters wide
Its steadfast ray a rippling pathway threw:
A glittering wedge of light that clave in twain
The obdurate dense night and murky main.
But now the chapel door was closed and barred;
So on the smooth cold step he sat him down,
And pitying thought of the stout hearts that warred
With the fell surge, or dropped their hold to drown.
Ah me! but life is dear, and death is hard,
Though, when life smiles, we only fret and frown;
From its full breast, sick nurslings, turn and cry,
To clutch it wildly as the stream runs dry.
So for awhile he mused. But soon his brain,
Careless to solve, let go the tangled theme;
And then strange thoughts, a desultory train,
Unbidden came and went, as in a dream.
Now he was tossing on the seething main,
Now at a shrine, lit by one pale lamp's gleam,
Kneeling with worshippers composed in prayer;-
And then, anon, whirled thro' the empty air.
How long he thus sat dream-bound, could be known
To darkness only. But at length he heard
A sound that neither was the billow's moan,
Nor howl of storm, nor scream of wheeling bird.
The porch behind him shook, and the numb stone
Whereon he sat, it seemed to him, was stirred;
And in the doorway, wimpled with a hood
Of flowing folds, the mild Madonna stood.
So, for an instant, to his sight it seemed;
But, by the fantasy not long beguiled,
He saw it was Olympia's self that beamed
Upon the darkness and the waters wild.
Yet was she heavenly as the thing he dreamed,
As pure, as potent, pitiful, and mild;
And at her beck he looked to see dismissed
The unruly winds, and the loud billows whist.
But still the storm raged on. ``Olympia! see,
See, I am here!'' he said, still cowering down;
And when she heard him not, about her knee
His arms he curved, and kissed her sacred gown.
``Godfrid!'' she cried, ``Godfrid! oh, come with me,
Come quick within, and pray for those that drown!
In vain I watch and sue with many a tear;
But if we both should pray, She still will hear.''
``She hear!'' he pleaded; ``hearken rather thou!''
Holding her robe, and suppliant at her feet;
``For never storm broke over failing prow
As on my breast life's whelming billows beat.
A long-tossed mariner I, behold me now
Straining to shore, craving for haven meet.
Oh, lift me, feeble, from these fearful waves,
And fold me, shipwrecked, to the heart that saves!''
``O Godfrid, talk not wildly thus!'' she said;
``I will be tender, so you will be calm;
There is no woe can not be comforted,
And for worst wound Heaven holds some blessëd balm.
I ne'er wore heavy heart or aching head,
But that I found, in psalter or in psalm,
Or silent mental prayer, or simple beads,
A swift and certain medicine for my needs.''
``Yes, but,'' he answered, ``mine a deeper woe,
Than bead, or prayer, or psalm can hope to probe.
I at my mother's knee was taught to throw
Myself on Heaven, and cling to Mary's robe;
But, like yon waves that wander to and fro,
Homeless and aimless through the whirling globe,
I flow now where Fate bids me, nor demand
Why there I ebb, and here I hug the strand.
``Still to the Sovereign Will I humbly bow,
If I no longer grace or gifts implore;
And, Heaven's own handmaid, listen to my vow,
Or Hope will die, where Faith had died before.
And see, Olympia!-is't not so?-I now
But seek one intermediary more.
You through Madonna all your wants prefer;
Well, I will pray to you, then you to Her.''
Then rising, with his face he sought her face;
But on what altered sight his sight now fell!
Though buried in her hands, withal apace
From her loved eyes he saw the tear-drops well.
And as he strove, with reverent embrace
And words of pious tenderness to quell
Her surging grief, ``Not pray! Not pray!'' she cried;
Then bared her gaze, and wailed out at his side:
``Alas! that ever by the rippling stream,
Under the blossoming thorn, our steps did meet!
Alas, alas, that I to you should seem
Winsome, and you to me undreamt-of sweet!
I thought you loved Madonna; was it a dream
I saw you carry garlands to her feet?
I told you-did I not?-I was her child,
Hers only, wholly, till you came and smiled.
``And I am Hers-not yours, not yours indeed.
Nay, urge not, speak not, Godfrid! for your tongue
Is but a dagger from whose strokes I bleed.
Hither return when the first lark hath sung,
And I meanwhile will watch, and weep, and plead
You yet may pray, even as you prayed when young.
Now go and rest! And in her hallowed keeping
Madonna hold you, while your cares are sleeping.''
She ceased, and with the cadence seemed to raise
Her hands to bless, whereat he bowed his head.
But when again he craved her lenient gaze,
The door was closed, the angelic vision fled.
Alone and outcast in the moaning ways
He stood, with winds and billows for his bed:
It seemed as if Heaven's self had thrust him out
To utter darkness, for the fiends to flout.
Radiant with smiles, with limbs of rosy hue,
Up from Tithonus' couch Aurora came,
Her golden chariot scattering sparks of dew,
Her glowing coursers breathing genial flame;
And, as of old, the glorious retinue
Of youth and beauty trumpeted her fame.
Fleet from her presence fled the winds; the waves
Crouched at her feet, owning themselves her slaves.
You cannot kill the Gods. Their shadows still
The cherished rites of Pagan eld renew,
Haunt the cool grot, or scour the thymy hill,
And in the wood their wanton sports pursue.
This very morn I heard Pan's pastoral quill,
And tracked Diana's sandals o'er the dew,
Caught dimpled Venus veiled in feathery foam,
And Faunus scampering to his sylvan home.
And if Jove prove not the last god dethroned,
But Heaven at length Olympus' fate should feel,
Deem not, withal, its choirs shall be disowned,
Or dumb oblivion o'er its seraphs steal.
Still shall calm Stephen smile on martyrs stoned,
Fair sinners still to Magdalen appeal;
Cecilia's touch still wake the sacred lyre,
And lamblike Agnes spotless loves inspire.
Such were the thoughts that stirred in Godfrid's brain,
When morning rose above the horizon's rim,
And once again he slowly sought to gain
Olympia's side, as she had bidden him.
There was a silence on the shimmering main,
And the white city did in sunshine swim;
You would have thought the griefs that make men gray,
Had, like the storm, been spirited away.
The chapel door stood open wide; the air,
Within, was sweet and fragrant as the clove.
Gold-dappled bees were humming everywhere,
Fancying Madonna's shrine a honeyed grove;
And, overhead, fluttered by coming care,
A little bird flew to and fro, and strove
To find some niche secure from ravage rude,
Where it might build its nest, and rear its brood.
Over the marble pavement pure as snow,
Faint yellow butterflies flickered, gaily dight,
Whose shifting shadows you might scarcely know
From golden flaws within the spotless white.
But for the rest, around, above, below,
There was no breath, no stir, no sound, no sight;
It was as quiet as could quiet be,
And all the place seemed lapped in vacancy.
The glamour that in silent beauty dwells
Chased for awhile the pain love's doubtful daring
Woke in his heart; but soon, despite its spells,
He felt the moments somewhat sadly wearing;
Till from the sacristy, with snow-white bells,
Olympia came, a lily lilies bearing,
And, having laid them at Madonna's feet,
Gazed on him salutation sad but sweet.
On her young cheek no more that rose did blow
Such as from hedgerow in lush June you pull,
But, in its stead, her face was washed with woe,
Though of the sort which maketh beautiful;
Her large orbs, swart and satin as the sloe,
Whose lustrous light no sorrow could annul,
Yet wore a strangely grave and settled look,
Like a dark pool, and not the laughing brook.
``Tell me my fate!'' he cried, seizing her hand.
``Your fate!'' she answered, ``tell me rather mine!
Bend pride's stiff knee; no longer grace withstand,
And ours shall be the bliss for which you pine.
If not, then Heaven hath this dear bounty banned,
And my poor heart must your rich heart resign.
I am Madonna's child, come life what may,
Come death! O Godfrid! kneel with me and pray!''
There was a moment's hush, brief but intense,
Long as perhaps a billow hangs to break.
Then, with a heaving of the bosom, whence,
More than the lips, the answer came, he spake,
And said ``I cannot!'' frightening thus suspense,
Which fled, and left a more enduring ache.
But tight he clutched her hand, as, in the wave,
Men bent on death still strive themselves to save.
And as he held her thus, her sight grew dim,
Her other hand on Mary did she lay,
And turned from him to her, from her to him,
As soul and sense alternately did sway;
Like one of those primeval seraphim,
Pure spirit, but love-chained to a child of clay,
Immortal born, with just that mortal leaven,
Seduced to earth, but quick recalled to Heaven.
When suddenly across her infirm gaze,
Bewildered lips, and vacillating gait,
There rushed a quick resolve, such as betrays
The heart when hope at bay grows desperate.
Lifting her hand from off the statue's base,
She clutched his arm as though she clutched at Fate,
And, gasping, said, ``Will you with me repair
Where Milan's spires go up to heaven like prayer?
``For in its busy ways and sinful crowd,
There is, as I have heard, a marble pile,
Whose topmost pinnacles are lost in cloud,
And, ere the mountains, catch day's dawning smile.
The gorgeous palaces that house the proud,
Yield to its spacious nave and thick-trunked aisle,
And wealth and pomp of courts are sordid things,
To its rich worship of the King of kings.
``And learnëd men its famous Chapter fill,
Learnëd and breathed on by the Holy Ghost,
Chief among whom, in days they talk of still,
This little town could for its pastor boast.
He in my budding soul was first to instil
Sweet precepts, tidings from the heavenly host,
Love of my dear Madonna, and a life
That never thought to find in fondness, strife.
``Come, let us go, and, if you will, afoot,
And to that far-off goal make pilgrimage;
And our joint journey in your heart may put
Wise counsel, and your cruel doubts assuage.
If not, then he-for I will set him to't,-
With heavenly argument and reason sage
Shall melt the ear which to my prayer is cold,
And win you back, lost sheep, to Christ's dear fold.''
Now woke the morn, fresh as a maiden wakes,
And, while the world still slept, forth hand in hand
Went Godfrid and Olympia. Lagging flakes
Of silvery mist, by light gales curled and fanned,
Fled up the hill; from feathery-foliaged brakes
There rang melodious matins; on the sand,
And on the sea, glistened a pearly dew;
And, over both, bright bent the heavens blue.
He had a leathern satchel at his back,
And in her breast a missal small she bore;
And, their sole burden these, they took the track
That lies between the mountains and the shore.
On the smooth main was many a white-sailed smack,
Upon the hillside many a ruin hoar;
With many a fluttering wing the air was sown,
But on the mountain road themselves alone.
Soon as they reached the last and loftiest crest
Whence could Spiaggiascura be descried,
Halting, they took their first brief snatch of rest,
By a bright well that bubbled at their side.
There, as she said a prayer within her breast,
He prayerless gazed upon the prospect wide;
And then the twain, hands linking as before,
Strode on, nor saw the little city more.
Through smiling tracts, defended from the snows,
All the year basking in the sun's warm ray,
And fanned by every genial gale that blows,
Tracts that are Eden still, their journey lay.
Leftward the far-receding mountains rose,
Upon the right ranged headland, creek, and bay,
And jutting promontories, round which the bright
Blue ocean ended in a fringe of white.
High up the hill were smooth steep pastures green,
Whence tinkling herd-bells fitful reached the ear;
And in the rough and bosky clefts between,
Browsed shaggy goats, clambering where all was sheer:
While, but half heard, and only faintly seen,
There a thin silvery thread, a white speck here,
Dashed the precipitous torrent, soon to flow
Glibly adown the gradual slope below:
The smiling slope with olive groves bedecked,
Now darkly green, now, as the breeze did stir,
Spectral and white, as though the air were flecked
With elfin branches tipped with gossamer;
And then so faint, Godfrid could scarce detect
Which the gray hillside, which the foliage fair;
Until once more it dense and sombre grew,
Again to shift, just as the zephyr blew.
Nigher their ken were mulberry, fig, and vine,
This linked to those in many a long festoon,
'Neath which the wise, when days are long, recline,
Reaping the hours in a deep golden swoon.
The tendrils yet had but begun to twine
Round the pale stems that would be hidden soon;
But, in the cradling furrows lodged between,
Peeped sprouting maize, and grasses newly green.
And here and there with glistering lemon bowers
The lower landward terraces were crowned,
Or shapely orange groves, whose fragrant flowers
Make of the land a bride the whole year round.
Pink petals from the almond fell in showers,
Making a vernal carpet for the ground;
Over the walls peered tufts of yellow broom,
And oleanders reddening into bloom.
And ever and anon some quiet town
Came into view, and thro' it straight they passed,
Though once mayhap its name had won renown
In this strange world, where nothing great doth last.
With braided hair, bronzed limbs, and girded gown,
Ranged round a fountain flowing clear and fast,
Their eyes as bright as day, yet dark as night,
Bent stalwart women, washing linen white.
And round the open thresholds children fair,
Happy and lithe as lizards, romped and ran,
Their grandams sitting by in sunny chair;
But, in the ways, never a sign of man.
He was away, driving the ox-drawn share,
Trimming the vine-clasped elm to shapely span,
Or through his maize in many a trivial course
Scattering the rampart torrent's forward force.
In each broad market-place a church there was,
With campanile soaring straight in air,
And open door for whosoe'er should pass.
And once or twice, to say a hasty prayer,
Olympia stole within, though he, alas!
Without remained, mute in the noontide glare.
But ne'er a shrine they saw which, to their mind,
Was half so fair as that one left behind.
When, for awhile, the sea got lost to view,
Since landward now the hilly pathway wound,
By aromatic pine-slopes stern of hue,
Which shut the sunlight out, their gaze was bound.
Beyond their ken the shaggy summits grew;
Grimly, below them, yawned ravine profound,
Wherethro' swift torrent a rough pathway tore,
Filling the sombre silence with its roar.
But soon again the black pass broadened out,
On them once more the welcome sunshine streamed,
And budding larches, dotted sparse about
Among dark firs, like fairy foliage gleamed.
In valleys green they heard the shepherds shout
To flocks that browsed and herds that dozed and dreamed;
Torrent no more, the stream beneath them flowed,
Devious, yet smooth, e'en as their mountain road;
Seeking a softly undulating plain
With straggling red-roofed villages bestrewed,
Whence, as the light of day began to wane,
Ave Maria rang from belfries rude.
The air, the hills, the reappearing main,
Felt the soft touch of twilight's tender mood;
And every bosom in that region fair,
All, saving one alone, o'erflowed with prayer.
For at the foot of a tall roadside cross,
Whereon the martyred Godhead patient hung,
And round whose base soft-greenly grew the moss,
By hill-dews fed, herself Olympia flung,
And, like to one who mourns some bitter loss,
Yet hides the grief wherewith the heart is wrung,
There silently to Heaven her vows preferred,
Yet because mute, oh, not less surely heard!
But when once more she rose up to her feet,
Still at his side to bravely trudge along,
Her heart, he saw, with quicker pulses beat,
And lo! she broke, unbidden, into song.
It was a melody unearthly sweet,
Which the fond ear for ever would prolong;
And with her voice, as ceased the belfries' clang,
The craggy hollows of the mountain rang.
Oh, Mary Mother, full of grace,
Above all other women blest,
Through whose pure womb our erring race
Beholds its sin-born doom redressed,
Pray for us!
Thou by the Holy Ghost that wert
With every heavenly gift begirt,
Thou that canst shield us from all hurt,
Pray for us! Pray for us!
Tower of David, Ivory Tower,
Vessel of Honour, House of Gold,
Mystical Rose, unfading Flower,
Sure refuge of the unconsoled,
Pray for us!
Mirror of Justice, Wisdom's Seat,
Celestial shade for earthly heat,
The sinner's last and best retreat,
Pray for us! Pray for us!
O thou of Heaven that art the gate,
That to the feeble strength dost bear,
To whom no outcast turns too late,
Even when thy Son is deaf to prayer,
Pray for us!
O Morning Star, to chase the dark,
Cause of our joy through care and cark,
Thou of the Covenant the Ark,
Pray for us! Pray for us!
Bright Queen of the angelic choir,
Of patriarchs, prophets, worshipped Queen!
Queen of the martyrs proved by fire,
And Queen of confessors serene;
Queen of the apostolic train,
Queen that o'er all the saints doth reign,
O Queen conceived without a stain!
Pray for us! Pray for us!
So ceased the strain, and with it ceased the day.
The mountains slowly wrapped themselves in night;
Far off, the silent sea gloomed cold and gray,
Sky-sundered by one long low line of white.
Over the vale, far down, a flat mist lay,
Which for a phantom lake bewrayed the sight;
And louder now they heard the watchdogs bark,
And cataracts dashing downward through the dark.
Therefore with eager eye and quickened pace
Descried they twinkling lights not far ahead;
But many a zigzag yet had they to trace,
Descending ever, ere their hopes were fed.
At length they heard the voices of the place,
Sought out the inn, and craved for board and bed;
Two little sleeping chambers side by side,
And what rude fare the mountains could provide.
Yet as that day full many a league their feet
Had traversed, and would dawn bring many more,
Olympia early rose from fireside seat.
Reverent, he saw her to her chamber door,
Bent o'er her hand, and wished her slumber meet;
Then, to the warm hearth fed by pine logs hoar
Returning, sat him down, and by their light
Mused, mute and mournful, far into the night.
But she, when in her little room shut in,
First, on her knees, her prayers to Heaven addressed;
These said, her simple gown she did unpin,
And of their robes her modest limbs divest.
Some mountain jonquils, that had gathered been
By Godfrid, fondly to her heart she pressed;
Then on the pillow laid her weary head,
And guardian angels gathered round the bed.
So for three days they journeyed, till they came
Where once-proud Genoa sits beside the sea,
Striving her antique temper yet to tame
To the stern bidding of the days that be:
Ghost of gay Eld, the same yet not the same,
As when she shone, beautiful, brave, and free,
Her airy pennon flouting every strand,
And Neptune's trident glittering in her hand.
But, with the breaking of another morn,
They rose betimes and travelled with the crowd,
Roaring through tunneled hill, and loudly borne
On wings of wind past leagues of land and cloud,
Where the Ligurian hoed his patch of corn,
Or through his vines the Lombard peasant ploughed;
Till, with mid-afternoon, they could descry
The pinnacles of Milan prick the sky.
And soon, once more afoot, their steps were bent
Through intersecting streets whose broad slant eaves,
Stretching athwart the footway, made a tent
For the hot sun, almost as cool as leaves.
It seemed that the whole city with them went;
And when they reached the piazza that receives
Many a convergent way, a mighty crowd
Streamed up the steps of the cathedral proud.
So, never halting in the glowing square
A moment even, though the fretted fane,
Flamboyant oriel, pinnacles poised in air,
One after one the eye would count in vain,
Bold-flying buttress, tall shaft tapering fair,
And dazzling front, might well their gaze detain,
For the main door they made with all the folk,
Till on their ear the pealing organ broke.
A moment more, and lo! they stood within!
A cry of wonder from Olympia burst;
But on the instant seeing that He, whom sin
Doomed to dire death upon the rood accurst,
Shone on the altar, veiled by mystery thin,
Straight knelt she down, and, soon in prayer immersed,
Forgot the crowd, long aisles, and columns tall,
While Godfrid gazed and marvelled at it all.
Each valid foot of transept, nave, and aisle,
Was dense with living things absorbed in prayer;
Young men and maidens, children without guile,
Gray sires with flowing beard and bosom bare;
Smooth sinless faces here, that seemed to smile,
Even as they prayed, with eyes soft-closed; and there,
Hard furrowed visages down which the tears
Flowed from the brackish fount of desert years.
With comely kerchief crossed o'er bosom brown,
The humble peasant fingered her worn beads,
Made at her side her youngsters nestle down,
And told Madonna of her simple needs.
Next her, a dainty dame of Milan town,
Voluptuous as but southern rapture breeds,
Bewailing in the dust her too frail breast,
Begged Christ to be her lover and sole guest.
And many a tonsured head was there, that bore
The ascetic cowl, surmounting garments strict;
Here the brown serge the loving Francis wore,
There the black robes of active Benedict;
And Dominic's stern habit, splashed with gore,
Beneath which silently the hairshirt pricked;
And, dotted in the carnal crowd anon,
Were pale-faced nuns, meek, circumspect, and wan.
Then from afar a long procession came
Of white-robed acolytes silver censers swinging,
And wreathëd flowers, and torches all aflame,
And golden bells melodiously ringing,
And fair young boys, with faces free from blame,
Tuning their callow throats to such sweet singing,
It seemed to eye and ear of faith and fear
That Christ and all His cherubim were near.
And as they sang, the stately pomp swept on,
Crozier and Cross, inlaid with many a gem,
Taller than those that bore them; lights that shone
In golden candlestick with jewelled stem,
And many a bright embroidered gonfalon
Vaunting aloft the new Jerusalem;
And scintillating reliquary rare,
And awful Monstrance, whereon none may stare.
Last in the solemn train, in cope of gold
And snow-white alb, came venerable eld,
Mitre on head of more than earthly mould,
Led by grave priests, gorgeously chasubled.
And, as they passed, round arch and column old
Incense and organ music rolled and swelled,
Till the long line within the chancel poured,
And then with one acclaim they praised the Lord.
``All ye works of the Lord,'' they loudly sang,
``Bless ye the Lord, Praise Him for evermore!
Praise Him, ye waves, with your sonorous clang,
Praise Him, ye winds, Praise Him, O sea and shore!
Mountains, and little hills, and clouds that hang
Over the deep, dews, snows, and pinnacles hoar,
Darkness and Light, storms that are silent never,
Bless ye the Lord, Praise Him for ever and ever!
``Bless ye the Lord, fountains and rivers that run,
Huge whales and monsters of the deep profound;
Praise Him, ye lightnings, moon, and stars, and sun,
Birds of the air, and beasts that graze the ground!
Praise Him for all the wondrous things He hath done;
Praise Him on harps, Praise Him on cymbals of sound!
With sounding trumpet, timbrel, and organ, and chord,
Praise Him! Let every spirit praise the Lord!''
Then on the dense mass sudden silence fell,
Each knee was bent, each reverent skullcap doffed,
Held was each breath, and, touched by unseen spell,
The organ fluted silvery and soft.
Then came the tinkle of a little bell,
And, all heads low, the Host was held aloft;
While glinted through warm panes day's dying gleam,
And the rapt soul touched Heaven in a dream.
Then once again the organ thundered loud,
Usurping the high edifice with sound,
Whereat with dumb accord the prostrate crowd
Rose, crossed themselves, and to the doorway wound;
And soon where, late, myriads of knees were bowed
In phalanxed prayer, reigned solitude profound.
The solemn notes waxed faint, then swooned away,
And died along the aisles the light of day.
And now throughout the vague cathedral gloom,
That here and there with lone faint lamps was flecked,
Two forms alone were blackly seen to loom,
A kneeling maiden, and a man erect.
They looked like statues carven at a tomb,
Apeing the quick, with flowing drapery decked,
And praying with fixed lips and stony head
Till the last trump shall sound and rouse the dead.
But, shortly rising, with a beckoning nod
She drew him forward through the weirdlike space,
And on the hard smooth marble as they trod,
Their feet made fearsome echoes in the place.
Anon she checked him: ``Stay you here with God,''
Whispering she said, ``I will be back apace.''
Among stone stems he saw her disappear,
Though still her hurrying footfall reached his ear.
At length even that deserted him; and then,
He was alone in the tremendous gloom:
Alone with God, far from the help of men.
Like empty vault of monumental tomb,
More felt than seen, the dark roof smote his ken;
The long aisles stretched like avenues of doom,
And, in the distant chancel dimly lit,
Bodiless forms seemed noiselessly to flit.
Left with his dark and solitary ache,
``If there be spirits of solace and light,'' he cried,
``Swoop from your spheres, your unseen Heaven forsake,
And now no more my lonely doubts deride.
Sound-sleeping martyrs, from the tomb awake!
Palm-bearing virgins, through the silence glide!
Can you be false who are indeed so fair?
And if I needs must pray, then hear my prayer!
``And thou, Olympia's trust, once mine no less,
Of all the Gods gentlest Divinity!
Mother, and Lady of the mild caress,
Lend me thy face! oh! give me eyes to see!
If thou canst hear, why dost thou scorn distress,
Thou before whom demons of darkness flee?
Let me behold thee once,-once, I entreat!-
E'en as Judea's mountains felt thy feet!''
Not such the prayers to which high Heaven replies;
The lips of faith another language speak;
Celestial visions visit downcast eyes,
And those who find, not arrogantly seek.
No answer came to his presumptuous cries,
Such as, 'tis said, descends on suppliants meek,
But only deeper darkness, and a sense
Of unslaked thirst and yearning impotence.
At length, again, a solitary tread
Upon the silence gained, though far and faint;
Yet well he guessed 'twas hers, than whom the dead
And never dying vaunt no purer saint.
Nearer, and ever nearer, now it sped,
Until his fancy her fair form could paint
On the dark space, and then the dark space yawned,
And she herself, no fancy, on him dawned.
``Come with me, now,'' she said, in accents low,
And straightway led him with such swift command
Among dense-columned aisles, it seemed as though
Athwart a lonesome wood where huge trunks stand,
Baulking straight steps, together they did go,
He strange, and she familiar in the land,
Where, overhead, thick-matted branches made
Day night, and night a more cimmerian shade.
But shortly shone a little light ahead,
Just level with their gaze; a feeble flame,
Held by a priest in cassock habited
And in mid-doorway seen as in a frame.
He stood as still as stand the pictured dead,
When some deft hand makes death and life the same,
And bids one, doubtful, nearer draw, and seek
If that which gazes so, perchance will speak.
But ere the living presence could be proved,
Olympia's aid had vanished from his side;
The tall dark figure in the doorway moved,
And with fine gesture welcome fair implied.
He, by the stately courtesy behoved
To pass within, with slow obedient stride
Entered, the other slowly following him;
Then the door closed, and all again was dim.
And where now was Olympia? Ask you where?
She to the gloaming chancel back had crept,
And, hope and fear absorbed in silent prayer,
Lay prone, aye prostrate, even as though she slept.
The flowing tresses of her warm, soft hair,
Dark as the gloom, the cold white marble swept;
She moved not, spoke not, sighed not; even her breath
Came faint, like one that feebly copes with death.
But, slowly rising thence, her body first
She lifted, then her hands, and last her eyes;
And floods of passionate supplication burst,
Through lips long sealed, from breast o'ercharged with sighs.
She called on Christ, on Her who bore and nursed,
On every Saint and Seraph in the skies,
And vowed herself to pain, if Heaven would save
From death the dear imperilled soul it gave.
``Oh, by Thine agony and bloody sweat,
Deliver him, O Lord!'' aloud she cried;
``By Thy keen Cross and Passion, save him yet
Save by Thy crown of thorns and bleeding side!
Why did Gethsemane Thy tear-drops wet?
Why wert Thou scourged, why scorned, why crucified?
Why didst Thou die, why gloriously ascend,
Why send the Comforter, be this the end?''
Then in a tempest of hot tears her cries
Were drenched and drowned, her weak words washed away;
Her tears were choked with sobs, sobs swooned to sighs,
Then sighs to silence, and there mute she lay.
Oh, if there be a Heaven beyond the skies,
A Heaven to hear, why was it deaf that day?
For since time's dawn, unto the realms of air
No holier heart e'er breathed a purer prayer.
``Rise, my dear child,'' a mild voice gravely said,
``Rise and accept your doom:'' whereat she rose.
``In vain is Reason's dew when Faith is dead,
And Grace sleeps silent under Doubt's deep snows.
I can no more. The Paraclete hath fled;
Through his parched bosom prayer no longer flows.
By Heaven may yet the miracle be wrought;
But human ways are weak, and words are nought.''
Then, lamp in hand, through choir and transept dim
He led them, till they reached a little door,
And, having fatherly blessed her and him,
Closed it, and they beheld his face no more.
The sky was bright with starry cherubim,
Silent, and round them was the city's roar;
And, in their hearts, an anguish of despair,
Too deep for utterance, and too dark for prayer.
There motionless they stood, bereft of speech,
As vessels stranded wait for some fresh wave
That yet perhaps will lift them from the beach,
And bear them buoyant o'er the breakers brave.
None came; yet still they lingered, each for each,
Two lonely mourners at an open grave,
Which holds the dead and must be filled with clay,
And neither hath the heart to turn away.
At length when too oppressive grew the strain,
``Will you not sleep in Milan, dear?'' he said;
Thus seeking with life's need to fly from pain,
And have his instant sentence respited.
But she, who knew delay was worse than vain,
Raised deprecating hand, and shook her head;
``No, Godfrid! Here, our task is ended quite:
Let us retrace our pilgrimage to-night!''
So once again they fled without delay,
On wings of wind through leagues of dim-seen land,
Night and the stars accompanying their way,
And roar and blackness close on either hand;
Until the dark drew off, and with the day
They saw the sparkling bay and joyous strand,
White sails, brown oars, huge coils of briny ropes,
And fair proud city throned on regal slopes.
And soon the road they came by, which had run
Close by the sea, now smooth as woodland pond,
Saw them once more, love-woven dream unspun,
Facing farewell. A little way beyond,
A sleek brown mule stood blinking in the sun,
For a long march rudely caparisoned;
And at its side a gentle mountaineer,
Who to their grief lent neither eye nor ear.
``Hear me once more, Olympia! Must we part?
Is Heaven so stern, and can your gentle breast
Inflict and sooth endure so keen a smart,
When charity could lull our pain to rest?
Is there no common Eden of the heart,
Where each fond bosom is a welcome guest?
No comprehensive Paradise, to hold
All loving souls in one celestial fold?
``Here, 'twixt the mountains and the sea, I swear
That I your Faith will reverence as my soul,
And as when first I succoured your despair
By the dark streamlet and the blossoming bole,
I every dewy dawn fresh flowers will bear
Unto Madonna's shrine, that happy goal
Where our first journey ended, and I fain
Would have this end,-not snapped, as now, in pain!''
The foam-fringe at their feet was not more white
Than her pale cheek as, downcast, she replied:
``No, Godfrid! no! Farewell, farewell! You might
Have been my star; a Star once fell by pride:
But since you furl your wings, and veil your light,
I cling to Mary and Christ crucified.
Leave me, nay leave me, ere it be too late!
Better part here than part at Heaven's gate!''
Thereat he kissed her forehead, she his hand,
And on the mule he mounted her, and then,
Along the road that skirts the devious strand,
Watched her, until she vanished from his ken.
Tears vainly dropped as water upon sand
Or words of grace on hearts of hardened men,
Coursed down her cheek, while, half her grief divined,
The mountain guide walked sad and mute behind.
But never more as in the simple days
When prayer was all her thought, her heart shall be;
For she is burdened with the grief that stays,
And by a shadow vexed that will not flee.
Pure, but not spared, she passes from our gaze,
Victim, not vanquisher of Love. And he?
Once more an exile over land and main:-
Ah! Life is sad, and scarcely worth the pain!
The sun was sinking where the sky-line bounded
The blue and scarcely furrowed plain of ocean;
A moment more, was gone, and left confounded
Retreat of day and night's advancing motion.
Then came the moon, rayless, and red, and rounded,
As when sole mistress of our heart's devotion,
And slowly took her melancholy march
Up the ascent of Heaven's stupendous arch.
Dark were the thoughts that passed through Godfrid's mind,
As sleepless on the deck sleep made his own,
He skirted bay, and cape, and hills behind,
And in their hollows villages bestrewn,
Which, dimly seen, were beautiful divined,
And, since no sooner just descried than flown,
Held on his heart a fond romantic claim
For ever thence. If life could do the same!
But soon there crept a tremor overhead;
The billows shook their white manes, and uprose;
The sheathëd east more large and crimson spread,
Like an imperious rosebud when it blows.
Up came the sun, impetuous and red:
The moon turned deadly pale, fronting her foes;
Refused, spite overwhelming odds and ills,
To share her sway, and died behind the hills.
Then, from remotest summit to the shore,
And thickly dotted everywhere between,
As sped the vessel, frequent more and more,
On treeless slope, in stream-refreshed ravine,
Glistened the marble hamlets; some that bore
Upon the beach, others in distance seen,
Like maidens dipping white feet in the spray,
Or dipped, and going up the hills away.
Smoothly he sailed past headland, bay, and frith,
Smoothly and softly, till the vessel drew
Its track to Leghorn's living port, wherewith
Even now the prophecy seemed coming true
Of Italy's birth; past Pisa, by its kith
Beggared of all save beauty; onward, through
Val d'Arno garlanded with Spring, he sped,
For Florence called, ``Come and be comforted!''
And comfort came to Godfrid, as, caressed
In that fair city's whilom curving walls,
He owned the spell by none save it possessed,
Which stirs yet rests the soul, and never palls;
Strange power, oft felt by many a pilgrim guest,
Of river and garden, convents, hills, and halls,
Palace, and shrine, and gallery, to slake
The spirit's thirst and lull the bosom's ache.
But when robbed Autumn wept herself away,
And the South's bright unweeping winter came
Down from the mountain tops where glittering lay
Her fallen tears congealed, the smouldering flame
Of love that, unextinguished night or day,
Burned in his vestal heart, began to claim
Fresh fuel, and he longed to see once more
Madonna's shrine and Spiaggiascura's shore.
Love his sole escort, yearning his sole guide,
And but one stage his journey, he at last-
For long now seemed the pilgrimage,-descried
The shimmering Eden of his exiled Past.
There, the dell zigzagged up the soft hillside,
There, tripped the streamlet, frolicsome and fast,
There, stood the little chapel, and lo! there,
Olympia's casement, open to the air.
But as unto the spot he drew more nigh,
And hastened onward with remembering feet,
He saw with sinking heart and saddening eye
Madonna's chapel closed, that used to greet,
With open door, sunshine, and sea, and sky.
So on its silent step he took his seat,
As on that woful night, and gazing dumb
On the blue breakers, wondered would she come.
And ever and anon he cast a glance
Up at her casement, where was wont to stand
A pot of flowers. Now,-was it only chance?-
No flowers were there. At length, from off the sand
He saw a bent and withered dame advance
Slow toward the shrine, her spindle in her hand,
Singing, to mind her of the days gone by,
A sweet love-ditty, low and plaintively.
As leisurely she came, he leisured rose,
And, gazing at her well-remembered face,
Said, ``Can you tell me why these doors now close,
And where is she, the guardian of this place?''
``She? she is gone; and whither, no one knows.
Spiaggiascura sees no more her face,
Her feet no more! And I have heard them say,
'Twas one like you that drove our dear away.
``Sister of Charity they call her now.
She wears black serge about her fair young limbs,
And a white fillet, smooth across her brow,
Hides her once raven hair. Elsewhere her hymns
She chants, and Christ hath got her virgin vow.
But many an eye in Spiaggiascura swims,
Vainly, to have her back. Ah! well-a-day!
That love and grief should drive our dear away!''
Then on she passed, with feet infirm and slow,
Plying her spindle still along the shore,
Unto her own pleased ears continuing low
The love-song of her youth that was no more.
But he from her reproach made haste to go,
Lest others came and echoed it, and bore
Straight thence to Milan, making for the pile
Which, ere the mountains, takes the orient's smile.
Empty its vast space now, where once he stood
With myriads packed in prayer; empty its nave,
Empty the aisles, trunked like a virgin wood,
Save of a verger wielding idle stave.
``Pray, tell me where to find a Father good,
Who once the simple folk their sins forgave
That live at Spiaggiascura,'' Godfrid said.
``Alas, sir! he hath been this three months dead!''
Then seeing that life and death alike conspired
Against him, with unhoping heart he went
From Milan, and to Florence back retired,
Once more relapsing to that dumb content,
Which, when is nothing more to be desired
This side the grave, sits with its longings bent
Upon the other, and in patience waits
The tardy opening of death's grim-shut gates.
Then oftenest his presence might you see,
Ever alone, in corridor and hall,
And mostly there where Venus of the Sea,
Lithe on her white pentelic pedestal,
And pure withal in utter nudity,
Stands, challenging the story of the Fall.
Wait, souls impatient! Art will manumit
The bondsman, Nature, when the times shall fit.
Withal, with lively concourse and the gay
Prismatic multitude that daily troops
From broad piazza or from narrower way
Along the quay where mountain Arno stoops
To suit the lowly bridges, would he stray,
Glad with the gladness of the shifting groups,
And, when the afternoons grew bright and long,
Mix with the green Cascine's babbling throng.
But he was seen there rarely, for he most
Loved in the pale light of the afternoon,
When vespers had been chanted, and the host
Of monks had slipped away with slattern shoon
To cell or sacristy, to stalk like ghost
Through dim-lit aisles where none did importùne,
Or in the cloister garden hard beside
San Marco's shrine or Buonarotti's bride.
With him were fountain, walk, and flower-bed,
And frescoed wall, a little space beyond,
Of open corridor, whereon the dead,
With art ingenuous, reverent, and fond,
Have limned, through gratitude to him who led
Them, his disciples, never to despond,
In colours not like those of modern trick,
But glowing still, the life of Dominic.
Then through the Spezieria's courteous gate
Emerging on the outer world, his eye
And heart felt overburdened with the weight
Of the fair streets, vast hills, and vaster sky,
Where all except himself seemed calm and great.
Then would he lean o'er Ponte Nuovo nigh,
Till did the arbitrary tears annul
A scene for his soft heart too beautiful.
But, with the springtide of another year,
There ran a light-heeled rumour through the land,
That Future palpitated-for was here,
And End to be accomplished, long time planned.
In every city pealed the joy-bells clear,
For War to wave anew her smouldering brand.
Men leaped from lethargy, and, as they passed,
Glared in each others' eyes, and looked, ``At last!''
And women brought their children in the streets,
And held their nestlings to the martial mirth,
Ashamed no more to offer mother's teats
To those who, once it seemed, would curse their birth.
And maidens sent their other souls, their sweets,
Unwed, but proudly tearful in their dearth,
Thinking, ``Rest childless in your patriot graves,
Or freight our wombs with sons no longer slaves!''
For He, the self-crowned democrat, whose claim
Had herds, condoning violence, confessed,
Unequal heir of a too warlike fame,
Who 'neath the buckler wore a doubting breast,
Had let long-smothered purpose break aflame
Through clouding words, whose meaning still was guessed,
Thinking to vindicate the tinsel yoke,
He durst not lighten, by one noble stroke;
And thundered for his war-horse. On they came,
He at their head, the galliard plumes of France:
And when the record of her too much shame
Sadly ye read, forget not oft to glance
At one bright page; for never since the name
Of Brother grew a password, had the lance
Been laid in rest, or war-spur stuck in steed,
For goal sublimer or for sorer need.
Meanwhile, though press and platform might harangue,
Busy with self and turbulent with fears,
He rode him forth, alone, with martial clang,
All the waked centuries singing in his ears,
To drive the bandogs back whose greedy fang
Was fastening deeper with their victim's tears;
Spontaneous rushed where Italy made moan,
To give her grandeur, or to lose his own.
Scared by the mighty name which whilom hunted
Their long gaunt backs, they half relaxed their grip.
She, scrambling to her feet, what spear unblunted
Was left her, seized, and stanched her bleeding lip;
Donned armour seeming large for limbs unwonted,
And strode with France to battle, hip to hip;
While Europe coldly prophesied disaster:
``See the fair slave making a change of master!''
And Florence, gentle Florence, good to rule,
Rose from her sunny insolicitude,
Feeling that crafty mildness would befool
Her easy heart to tolerate a brood
Of hireling brows who deem the world a school,
Themselves the ushers. At her altered mood
He fled, their Lord. Without or hiss or groan,
They laughed the discrowned craven from his throne.
Then all the Tuscan youth, like Helen's charmer,
Less for Bellona's than for Beauty's joust
In seeming fitted, donned withal their armour,
And followed in the wake the war-dogs loosed.
And Godfrid felt the passive blood wax warmer
Within his veins, and knew himself traduced
By servile lethargy and despot sorrow,
And sware to join the banners on the morrow.
He had no mother, sister, maid, to leave,
But friendly faces had been bent on him,
And friendly hands stretched out to make him grieve
Less for a past which never could be dim.
His farewells he had ta'en, and, as the eve
On Florence drooped, was hurrying past the brim
Of snow-flushed Arno, in his soldier guise,
When on his arm a hand, and-Christ! those eyes!
The eyes of Olive, still as fair and fond,
The touch of Olive clinging to his side
In mute remembrance of the ancient bond.
Quickly she spoke: ``Say, whither do you glide,
With blind gaze fastened on some goal beyond?''
``I go to fight for Italy!'' he cried.
``O Olive! come not with that pallid face
To check me, now but started in the race!''
``Hush! If it ever held you, prove it now!
I want your aid. Can Italy not wait?
But choose!'' she said. ``For death upon his brow
Beleaguering sits, and I am desolate.
Strange faces vex him, and, I know not how-
But, come or go! Why stand I here to prate?
You once were-Well, I did believe that time
Might quench my love, not leave you less sublime.''
Swiftly together through the streets they sped,
Swift to the chamber mounted where he lay,
With all except the blankness of the dead.
``An English face, dear!'' did she softly say,
``Whose name you know.'' Sir Gilbert from his bed
Turned a slow glance, and murmured, as a ray
Crept o'er his face of momentary bliss:
``An English face and voice? Thanks, thanks, for this!''
He was so feeble, so usurped by pain,
He could not say, articulately, more;
But pressure of the hand, and look, made plain
That this new presence made his smart less sore.
Then she explained to Godfrid how the twain
Had come through Umbrian hills from Capuan shore,
Arrived yestreen in Florence' swarming town,
And he by fever straight been stricken down.
``The strangeness of the place will aggravate
His mental ache, and multiply his fears;
The sounds within, without, the hostel-gate,
Are unfamiliar to his homesick ears.
Can he be saved? Oh! think you 'tis too late?
Yes! he will die!'' And rose the woman's tears,
And clung the woman's hands. These Godfrid pressed,
And whispered low: ``Be calm, and hope the best!''
And then he set himself, as best he might,
With hand not quite so gentle as his heart,
Unskilled indeed, and all inapposite
For this new task, to play the nurse's part;
Urging meanwhile the unpaid debt of night
And travel's weariness, with specious art,
To her, he said, who must from slumber snatch
Strength to relieve him in to-morrow's watch.
At last, reluctant, on a couch hard-by,
Still robed, she lay, and soon was deafly sleeping:
While darker waned the light in Gilbert's eye,
And o'er his temples came the death-dews creeping.
The fitful night-gusts from a murky sky
And hills of melancholy mist came sweeping;
Till Godfrid's ears, excited, thought to find
The crash of battle flying on the wind.
And then as darkness deepened, and the storm
Howled for the moon that came not, and the night
Scowled that she tarried, o'er the fevered form
Came writhing pangs and agonies to fright,
Which give to dying limbs a strength enorm;
The which with gentle words, as best he might,
Strove Godfrid to assuage, beset with fear
Lest yon sound sleeper should awake and hear.
``Thanks, more than brother! But I die, to-night!''
He breathed, and on the pillow weakly sank.
Colder the feet, the lips more pinched and white,
Clammier the hands, more moist the hair and lank.
Stole through the casement omens of the light
Of lagging dawn, but cloud-distressed and dank.
Then woke the fair flushed sleeper from repose,
Blaming her eyes that they could ever close.
He still was there, and through the doubtful morn,
Through struggling noon, once more defended eve,
Into another night was bravely borne
By hard-pressed dogged life that would not leave
The centre of its citadel, though shorn
Of hope that outward succour would relieve;
Until it seemed that death, of late so eager,
Fell back from lines 'twas useless to beleaguer.
A week, a puzzling, shapeless week, had gone,
When sunshine seemed to venture in the room,
Not through the window only, but upon
The learnëd brows so long enwrapt in gloom;
And, the eighth morning, when they came to con
That pale sunk face, the very leech from whom
Comfort came rarest, whispered low at length,
``He yet may live; 'tis an affair of strength!''
His whims waxed fewer, and his gaze less wild.
At last came sleep; true, but a timid sleep,
Like wounded friend but lately reconciled,
Whom thoughts of past estrangement somewhat keep
Embarrassed still, withal a slumber mild,
Well-wishing, kindly, if nor long nor deep;
Under whose covering influence might faint life
Repair the losses of its recent strife.
As the sick-chamber felt returning dawn
Of hope deemed set for ever, and tender heed
Might from the bedside partly be withdrawn,
Olive's fond gaze, which lately did but feed
On its vicissitudes, seemed now to fawn
More upon him Fate sent her in her need,
With look of thankful wonder in her eyes,
Blent with affection, deeper for disguise.
As dawn on night, as night on evening crept,
Strength summoned stealthy courage to invade
The slowly cooling channels lately swept
By subtle fever's enervating raid.
And when, the eleventh morn, the doctors stepped
Across the wonted threshold, and surveyed
The form that had so obstinately braved
The onset of close death, they murmured, ``Saved!''
Then sleep, so generous still, if sensitive,
And anxious now to make a full amend
For absence long, approaches coy and stiff,
Seeming as though it never could expend
The kept-back love it long had yearned to give,
Nor prove itself enough the true old friend
Of former nights, found even night too brief
Wherein to bring the sufferer relief.
One morn, the fourth from that on which the words
Of promised life had life still more promoted,
From soundest sleep he woke. Without, the birds,
Many, and musical, and swollen-throated,
Lustily carolled. Voices of the herds,
From slopes unseen, into the city floated;
With sunshine-shadow blended, and the sense
Of life come back, and Spring's young influence.
Yes! Spring had, jocund, danced adown the hills,
Filling the valleys with her footsteps fair,
And calling to the leaping mountain rills
Her swifter flight to follow, if they dare.
The dainty crocus and bluff daffodils
Pushed through the sod to drink the honeyed air.
The light lark into soaring treble burst,
To tell to Heaven what Earth had learned the first.
``Godfrid!'' he murmured. But no answer came.
``Poor fellow! he is wearied, and at last
Seeks the repose he has such right to claim,
Now that my peril, thanks to him, is passed.''
He felt within so steady glow the flame
Of life late flickering, and so longed to cast
One look without, he slowly, stiffly, stepped
From his lone couch, and to the window crept.
He opened. Just below, the city lay,
The marble shining city; but, between,
Waved feathery trees in fresh-assumed array
Of many-shaded but harmonious green.
Seemed air, and sky, and mountain far away,
To swim and sparkle in a perfumed sheen,
And, nearer coming, to salute his brow,
And bid him own he ne'er had lived till now.
Roses, o'erburthened with their weight of flowers,
And drooping 'neath their own too luscious scent,
Hung over garden walls, and to young bowers
Transformed hoar gate and ruined battlement.
The nightingales through all the noonday hours
Sang, not for sorrow, but for heart's content;
Nor round the circuit of the city fair,
But over penthoused street and broad bright square.
It seemed as though the universe and he
Together had revived, and now his heart,
Hereto in sooth not over quick to see
The year's distinct emotions, had a part
In her new vernal geniality.
But unto him was solitude a smart:
He could not look, alone; 'twas not his fate
To find in Nature friend and intimate.
So thence he tottered, weak, across the floor,
To an adjoining chamber. Nought could be
More sweetly sunny or deserted more.
From world without came hummings of the bee,
And liquid linnet trills. By open door,
Into another room he passed, to see
Godfrid on couch, asleep, with weary limb,
And Olive, nigh, intently watching him.
Down her fixed face, as alabaster pale,
The tears were trickling steadily and slow,
As tears will stream which neither flood nor fail,
Because from deep enduring source they flow.
He stood transfixed, reading the pictured tale,
And then completing it by his own woe:
Incarnate revelation, come at last,
Explaining each fresh puzzle of the past.
All-all,-in that mute tell-tale group he saw:
The fettered heart he once had fondly deemed
Must love like his into love's orbit draw;
The cold consents which more like sufferance seemed
Than blood's response; obedience chilled by awe,
Not warmed by tenderness; the tears that gleamed
Oftener in eye than smile round lip or brow;-
In these,-in more,-he stood instructed now.
For in that concentrated gaze he read
Not love alone, but love's stern hopelessness,
Whose first, whose last indulgence was to shed
Thus openly the tears 'twould else repress,
Before that blameless, tranquil-sleeping head,
Unconscious cause of her, of his, distress.
He could not salve his woe with sense of wrong,
Nor anguish learn from vengeance to be strong.
He turned away to go, as men will turn
From grief they cannot grapple with, and sought
Soft to retire, that so she might not learn
The ruin in his heart her heart had wrought,
And, unaccused, for other's heart might yearn.
But gently though he moved, the sound she caught,
And, keen as guilt for every step that stirs,
Read in his face the thought he read in hers.
No word by him or her was uttered then,
Or ever, of the truth, now both well knew,
And while she silently eschewed his ken,
He mute into his hollow woe withdrew.
But from that hour she sickened straight; and when
Godfrid awoke refreshed with slumber's dew,
And came with hearty mien to greet them both,
He found her sunk in strange mysterious sloth.
At first he thought 'twas nature's self, that, wise,
Was but unstringing chords long overstrained,
And, when he marked no dread in Gilbert's eyes,
Deemed every torpid moment moment gained.
But when she sleepless lay in sleepy guise,
And hour by hour the pale-pink life-tint waned
From cheek but late with rosy youth aglow,
Fear gathered in his heart, foreboding woe.
And when the leeches, come to take farewell
Of Gilbert, scanned her face and touched her hand,
She said she needed not the medicined spell,
Nor had she any ache they understand.
Nor could they, sooth, her lethargy dispel,
Or say what foe, of all the dismal band,
Was lurking in her blood, but sought to learn,
By questioning words, what skill could not discern.
And when they questioned Godfrid if some woe,
Of old or recent canker, vexed her heart,
With stare for stare he answered, ``Who shall know?''
Whereat they moved away and talked apart,
Then gravely said, ``Believe us, that is so.
Hers is a malady beyond our art.
We know not whether she will die or live,
For we have neither death nor life to give:''
And so departed. Then she, like a light
That burns dim, dimmer, toward the break of day
Within an alabaster vase at night,
As Gilbert waxed in strength, so waned away,
Then, without warning flicker, went out quite,
And, all her sorrows silenced, smiling lay.
She looked so bland, so griefless, on her bier,
You would have thought she had been happy here.
There is no name for that of which she died,
Unless we call it weariness of heart,
Which still can slay, however men deride
Its power and against it vaunt their art.
But she hath now the peace for which she sighed,
And never again will know or want or smart.
She never more will draw uneasy breath,
For she hath wed the faithful bridegroom, Death.
There is a peaceful cemetery stands
Where the Fair City's walls once cast their shade,
Filled with the dead beloved of other lands;
And One sleeps there whose memory will not fade.
Their dreamless bed is made by stranger hands,
And in strange earth their limbs forlorn are laid.
No English flowers bloom there, but tapereth high
The solemn cypress, pointing to the sky.
There, with the restful, Olive hath her rest,
Borne thither from the restless, both by him
She loved, and him she should have loved, the best.
No pompous dirge was sung, no funeral hymn
Vexed the deep silence of her shut-up breast:
Only a few grave words, and tears that swim
In manly eyes when the cold covering earth
Takes all we had, and leaves us to our dearth.
But when the sycophants of death had flown,
Among the white memorials of life's fate,
Gilbert and Godfrid, lingering, grieved alone.
Hard-by, they heard through Pinti's buzzing gate
The rolling wheels of war, and trumpets blown
By those who, not less eager because late,
Made for the front of Freedom's thickening lines
Through the choked passes of the Apennines.
And Godfrid's soul, like war-horse when it hears
The longed-for bugles blow, pricked at the sound.
``Now must I go! This is no time for tears.
Farewell! I speed me to yet holier ground.
I hear the summons of the harked-for years;
At last, at last, a godlike Cause is found.
Who tends the dead, when betwixt Alp and wave
A buried Nation bursteth from its grave?''
And as he spoke, the fire that filled his eye
Was flashed from Gilbert's with reflected ray,
Who, as at grief enraged, thus made reply:
``Let me go, too. Now wherefore should I stay?
Life still keeps something, so it be to die
In the hot hour of liberating fray.
How can I reck for what I fight, or whom,
So you but find me sword, and foe, and tomb!''
So where the graves are quietest she lieth,
She who was so unfortunate, though fair.
While to the rest full many a footstep hieth,
To her hushed mound none ever doth repair.
But fleecy cloud, and sunny breeze that flieth,
Seem to have made it their peculiar care.
As for the twain, they vanished in the rattle
Of jolting tumbrils and the joy of battle.
END OF ACT II





Last updated January 14, 2019