Sordello/Book the Third

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
760135Sordello — Book the ThirdRobert Browning


And the font took them: let our laurels lie!
Braid moonfern now with mystic trifoly
Because once more Goito gets, once more,
Sordello to itself! A dream is o'er,
And the suspended life begins anew;
Quiet those throbbing temples, then, subdue
That cheek's distortion! Nature's strict embrace,
Putting aside the past, shall soon efface
Its print as well—factitious humours grown
Over the true—loves, hatreds not his own—
And turn him pure as some forgotten vest
Woven of painted byssus, silkiest
Tufting the Tyrrhene whelk's pearl-sheeted lip,
Left welter where a trireme let it slip
I' the sea, and vexed a satrap; so the stain
O' the world forsakes Sordello, with its pain,
Its pleasure: how the tinct loosening escapes,
Cloud after cloud! Mantua's familiar shapes
Die, fair and foul die, fading as they flit,
Men, women, and the pathos and the wit,
Wise speech and foolish, deeds to smile or sigh
For, good, bad, seemly or ignoble, die.
The last face glances through the eglantines,
The last voice murmurs, 'twixt the blossomed vines,
Of Men, of that machine supplied by thought
To compass self-perception with, he sought
By forcing half himself—an insane pulse
Of a god's blood, on clay it could convulse,
Never transmute—on human sights and sounds,
To watch the other half with; irksome bounds
It ebbs from to its source, a fountain sealed
Forever. Better sure be unrevealed
Than part revealed: Sordello well or ill
Is finished: then what further use of Will,
Point in the prime idea not realized,
An oversight? inordinately prized,
No less, and pampered with enough of each
Delight to prove the whole above its reach.
"To need become all natures, yet retain
"The law of my own nature—to remain
"Myself, yet yearn . . . as if that chestnut, think,
"Should yearn for this first larch-bloom crisp and pink,
"Or those pale fragrant tears where zephyrs stanch
"March wounds along the fretted pine-tree branch!
"Will and the means to show will, great and small,
"Material, spiritual,—abjure them all
"Save any so distinct, they may be left
"To amuse, not tempt become! and, thus bereft,
"Just as I first was fashioned would I be!
"Nor, moon, is it Apollo now, but me
"Thou visitest to comfort and befriend!
"Swim thou into my heart, and there an end,
"Since I possess thee!—nay, thus shut mine eyes
"And know, quite know, by this heart's fall and rise,
"When thou dost bury thee in clouds, and when
"Out-standest: wherefore practise upon men
"To make that plainer to myself?"

                                   Slide here
Over a sweet and solitary year
Wasted; or simply notice change in him—
How eyes, once with exploring bright, grew dim
And satiate with receiving. Some distress
Was caused, too, by a sort of consciousness
Under the imbecility,—nought kept
That down; he slept, but was aware he slept,
So, frustrated: as who brainsick made pact
Erst with the overhanging cataract
To deafen him, yet still distinguished plain
His own blood's measured clicking at his brain.

To finish. One declining Autumn day—
Few birds about the heaven chill and grey,
No wind that cared trouble the tacit woods—
He sauntered home complacently, their moods
According, his and nature's. Every spark
Of Mantua life was trodden out; so dark
The embers, that the Troubadour, who sung
Hundreds of songs, forgot, its trick his tongue,
Its craft his brain, how either brought to pass
Singing at all; that faculty might class
With any of Apollo's now. The year
Began to find its early promise sere
As well. Thus beauty vanishes; thus stone
Outlingers flesh: nature's and his youth gone,
They left the world to you, and wished you joy.
When, stopping his benevolent employ,
A presage shuddered through the welkin; harsh
The earth's remonstrance followed. 'T was the marsh
Gone of a sudden. Mincio, in its place,
Laughed, a broad water, in next morning's face,
And, where the mists broke up immense and white
I' the steady wind, burned like a spilth of light
Out of the crashing of a myriad stars.
And here was nature, bound by the same bars
Of fate with him!

                  "No! youth once gone is gone:
"Deeds, let escape, are never to be done.
"Leaf-fall and grass-spring for the year; for us—
"Oh forfeit I unalterably thus
"My chance? nor two lives wait me, this to spend,
"Learning save that? Nature has time, may mend
"Mistake, she knows occasion will recur;
"Landslip or seabreach, how affects it her
"With her magnificent resources?—I
"Must perish once and perish utterly.
"Not any strollings now at even-close
"Down the field-path, Sordello! by thorn-rows
"Alive with lamp-flies, swimming spots of fire
"And dew, outlining the black cypress' spire
"She waits you at, Elys, who heard you first
"Woo her, the snow-month through, but ere she durst
"Answer 't was April. Linden-flower-time-long
"Her eyes were on the ground; 't is July, strong
"Now; and because white dust-clouds overwhelm
"The woodside, here or by the village elm
"That holds the moon, she meets you, somewhat pale,
"But letting you lift up her coarse flax veil
"And whisper (the damp little hand in yours)
"Of love, heart's love, your heart's love that endures
"Till death. Tush! No mad mixing with the rout
"Of haggard ribalds wandering about
"The hot torchlit wine-scented island-house
"Where Friedrich holds his wickedest carouse,
"Parading,—to the gay Palermitans,
"Soft Messinese, dusk Saracenic clans
"Nuocera holds,—those tall grave dazzling Norse,
"High-cheeked, lank-haired, toothed whiter than the morse,
"Queens of the caves of jet stalactites,
"He sent his barks to fetch through icy seas,
"The blind night seas without a saving star,
"And here in snowy birdskin robes they are,
"Sordello!—here, mollitious alcoves gilt
"Superb as Byzant domes that devils built!
"—Ah, Byzant, there again! no chance to go
"Ever like august cheery Dandolo,
"Worshipping hearts about him for a wall,
"Conducted, blind eyes, hundred years and all,
"Through vanquished Byzant where friends note for him
"What pillar, marble massive, sardius slim,
"'T were fittest he transport to Venice' Square—
"Flattered and promised life to touch them there
"Soon, by those fervid sons of senators!
"No more lifes, deaths, loves, hatreds, peaces, wars!
"Ah, fragments of a whole ordained to be,
"Points in the life I waited! what are ye
"But roundels of a ladder which appeared
"Awhile the very platform it was reared
"To lift me on?—that happiness I find
"Proofs of my faith in, even in the blind
"Instinct which bade forego you all unless
"Ye led me past yourselves. Ay, happiness
"Awaited me; the way life should be used
"Was to acquire, and deeds like you conduced
"To teach it by a self-revealment, deemed
"Life's very use, so long! Whatever seemed
"Progress to that, was pleasure; aught that stayed
"My reaching it—no pleasure. I have laid
"The ladder down; I climb not; still, aloft
"The platform stretches! Blisses strong and soft,
"I dared not entertain, elude me; yet
"Never of what they promised could I get
"A glimpse till now! The common sort, the crowd,
"Exist, perceive; with Being are endowed,
"However slight, distinct from what they See,
"However bounded; Happiness must be,
"To feed the first by gleanings from the last,
"Attain its qualities, and slow or fast
"Become what they behold; such peace-in-strife,
"By transmutation, is the Use of Life,
"The Alien turning Native to the soul
"Or body—which instructs me; I am whole
"There and demand a Palma; had the world
"Been from my soul to a like distance hurled,
"'T were Happiness to make it one with me:
"Whereas I must, ere I begin to Be,
"Include a world, in flesh, I comprehend
"In spirit now; and this done, what 's to blend
"With? Nought is Alien in the world—my Will
"Owns all already; yet can turn it—still
"Less—Native, since my Means to correspond
"With Will are so unworthy, 't was my bond
"To tread the very joys that tantalize
"Most now, into a grave, never to rise.
"I die then! Will the rest agree to die?
"Next Age or no? Shall its Sordello try
"Clue after clue, and catch at last the clue
"I miss?—that 's underneath my finger too,
"Twice, thrice a day, perhaps,—some yearning traced
"Deeper, some petty consequence embraced
"Closer! Why fled I Mantua, then?—complained
"So much my Will was fettered, yet remained
"Content within a tether half the range
"I could assign it?—able to exchange
"My ignorance (I felt) for knowledge, and
"Idle because I could thus understand—
"Could e'en have penetrated to its core
"Our mortal mystery, yet—fool—forbore,
"Preferred elaborating in the dark
"My casual stuff, by any wretched spark
"Born of my predecessors, though one stroke
"Of mine had brought the flame forth! Mantua's yoke,
"My minstrel's-trade, was to behold mankind,—
"My own concern was just to bring my mind
"Behold, just extricate, for my acquist,
"Each object suffered stifle in the mist
"Which hazard, custom, blindness interpose
"Betwixt things and myself."

                              Whereat he rose.
The level wind carried above the firs
Clouds, the irrevocable travellers,

       "Pushed thus into a drowsy copse,
"Arms twine about my neck, each eyelid drops
"Under a humid finger; while there fleets,
"Outside the screen, a pageant time repeats
"Never again! To be deposed, immured
"Clandestinely—still petted, still assured
"To govern were fatiguing work—the Sight
"Fleeting meanwhile! 'T is noontide: wreak ere night
"Somehow my will upon it, rather! Slake
"This thirst somehow, the poorest impress take
"That serves! A blasted bud displays you, torn,
"Faint rudiments of the full flower unborn;
"But who divines what glory coats o'erclasp
"Of the bulb dormant in the mummy's grasp
"Taurello sent?" . . .

                       "Taurello? Palma sent
"Your Trouvere," (Naddo interposing leant
Over the lost bard's shoulder)—"and, believe,
"You cannot more reluctantly receive
"Than I pronounce her message: we depart
"Together. What avail a poet's heart
"Verona's pomps and gauds? five blades of grass
"Suffice him. News? Why, where your marish was,
"On its mud-banks smoke rises after smoke
"I' the valley, like a spout of hell new-broke.
"Oh, the world's tidings! small your thanks, I guess,
"For them. The father of our Patroness,
"Has played Taurello an astounding trick,
"Parts between Ecelin and Alberic
"His wealth and goes into a convent: both
"Wed Guelfs: the Count and Palma plighted troth
"A week since at Verona: and they want
"You doubtless to contrive the marriage-chant
"Ere Richard storms Ferrara." Then was told
The tale from the beginning—how, made bold
By Salinguerra's absence, Guelfs had burned
And pillaged till he unawares returned
To take revenge: how Azzo and his friend
Were doing their endeavour, how the end
O' the siege was nigh, and how the Count, released
From further care, would with his marriage-feast
Inaugurate a new and better rule,
Absorbing thus Romano.

                       "Shall I school
"My master," added Naddo, "and suggest
"How you may clothe in a poetic vest
"These doings, at Verona? Your response
"To Palma! Wherefore jest? 'Depart at once?
"A good resolve! In truth, I hardly hoped
"So prompt an acquiescence. Have you groped
"Out wisdom in the wilds here?—thoughts may be
"Over-poetical for poetry.
"Pearl-white, you poets liken Palma's neck;
"And yet what spoils an orient like some speck
"Of genuine white, turning its own white grey?
"You take me? Curse the cicala!"

                                  One more day,
One eve—appears Verona! Many a group,
(You mind) instructed of the osprey's swoop
On lynx and ounce, was gathering—Christendom
Sure to receive, whate'er the end was, from
The evening's purpose cheer or detriment,
Since Friedrich only waited some event
Like this, of Ghibellins establishing
Themselves within Ferrara, ere, as King
Of Lombardy, he 'd glad descend there, wage
Old warfare with the Pontiff, disengage
His barons from the burghers, and restore
The rule of Charlemagne, broken of yore
By Hildebrand.

              I' the palace, each by each,
Sordello sat and Palma: little speech
At first in that dim closet, face with face
(Despite the tumult in the market-place)
Exchanging quick low laughters: now would rush
Word upon word to meet a sudden flush,
A look left off, a shifting lips' surmise—
But for the most part their two histories
Ran best thro' the locked fingers and linked arms.
And so the night flew on with its alarms
Till in burst one of Palma's retinue;
"Now, Lady!" gasped he. Then arose the two
And leaned into Verona's air, dead-still.
A balcony lay black beneath until
Out, 'mid a gush of torchfire, grey-haired men
Came on it and harangued the people: then
Sea-like that people surging to and fro
Shouted, "Hale forth the carroch—trumpets, ho,
"A flourish! Run it in the ancient grooves!
"Back from the bell! Hammer—that whom behoves
"May hear the League is up! Peal—learn who list,
"Verona means not first of towns break tryst
"To-morrow with the League!"

                              Enough. Now turn—
Over the eastern cypresses: discern!
Is any beacon set a-glimmer?

The air with shouts that overpowered the clang
Of the incessant carroch, even: "Haste—
"The candle 's at the gateway! ere it waste,
"Each soldier stand beside it, armed to march
"With Tiso Sampier through the eastern arch!"
Ferrara's succoured, Palma!

                             Once again
They sat together; some strange thing in train
To say, so difficult was Palma's place
In taking, with a coy fastidious grace
Like the bird's flutter ere it fix and feed.
But when she felt she held her friend indeed
Safe, she threw back her curls, began implant
Her lessons; telling of another want
Goito's quiet nourished than his own;
Palma—to serve him—to be served, alone
Importing; Agnes' milk so neutralized
The blood of Ecelin. Nor be surprised
If, while Sordello fain had captive led
Nature, in dream was Palma subjected
To some out-soul, which dawned not though she pined
Delaying, till its advent, heart and mind
Their life. "How dared I let expand the force
"Within me, till some out-soul, whose resource
"It grew for, should direct it? Every law
"Of life, its every fitness, every flaw,
"Must One determine whose corporeal shape
"Would be no other than the prime escape
"And revelation to me of a Will
"Orb-like o'ershrouded and inscrutable
"Above, save at the point which, I should know,
"Shone that myself, my powers, might overflow
"So far, so much; as now it signified
"Which earthly shape it henceforth chose my guide,
"Whose mortal lip selected to declare
"Its oracles, what fleshly garb would wear
"—The first of intimations, whom to love;
"The next, how love him. Seemed that orb, above
"The castle-covert and the mountain-close,
"Slow in appearing?—if beneath it rose
"Cravings, aversions,—did our green precinct
"Take pride in me, at unawares distinct
"With this or that endowment,—how, repressed
"At once, such jetting power shrank to the rest!
"Was I to have a chance touch spoil me, leave
"My spirit thence unfitted to receive
"The consummating spell?—that spell so near
"Moreover! 'Waits he not the waking year?
"'His almond-blossoms must be honey-ripe
"'By this; to welcome him, fresh runnels stripe
"'The thawed ravines; because of him, the wind
"'Walks like a herald. I shall surely find
"'Him now!'

           "And chief, that earnest April morn
"Of Richard's Love-court, was it time, so worn
"And white my cheek, so idly my blood beat,
"Sitting that morn beside the Lady's feet
"And saying as she prompted; till outburst
"One face from all the faces. Not then first
"I knew it; where in maple chamber glooms,
"Crowned with what sanguine-heart pomegranate blooms,
"Advanced it ever? Men's acknowledgment
"Sanctioned my own: 't was taken, Palma's bent,—
"Sordello,—recognized, accepted.

"Sat she still scheming. Ecelin would come
"Gaunt, scared, 'Cesano baffles me,' he 'd say:
"'Better I fought it out, my father's way!
"'Strangle Ferrara in its drowning flats,
"'And you and your Taurello yonder!—what's
"'Romano's business there?' An hour's concern
"To cure the froward Chief!—induce return
"As heartened from those overmeaning eyes,
"Wound up to persevere,—his enterprise
"Marked out anew, its exigent of wit
"Apportioned,—she at liberty to sit
"And scheme against the next emergence, I—
"To covet her Taurello-sprite, made fly
"Or fold the wing—to con your horoscope
"For leave command those steely shafts shoot ope,
"Or straight assuage their blinding eagerness
"In blank smooth snow What semblance of success
"To any of my plans for making you
"Mine and Romano's? Break the first wall through,
"Tread o'er the ruins of the Chief, supplant
"His sons beside, still, vainest were the vaunt:
"There, Salinguerra would obstruct me sheer,
"And the insuperable Tuscan, here,
"Stay me! But one wild eve that Lady died
"In her lone chamber: only I beside:
"Taurello far at Naples, and my sire
"At Padua, Ecelin away in ire
"With Alberic. She held me thus—a clutch
"To make our spirits as our bodies touch—
"And so began flinging the past up heaps
"Of uncouth treasure from their sunless sleeps
"Within her soul; deeds rose along with dreams,
"Fragments of many miserable schemes,
"Secrets, more secrets, then—no, not the last—
"'Mongst others, like a casual trick o' the past,
"How . . . ay, she told me, gathering up her face,
"All left of it, into one arch-grimace
"To die with . . .

                   "Friend, 't is gone! but not the fear
"Of that fell laughing, heard as now I hear.
"Nor faltered voice, nor seemed her heart grow weak
"When i' the midst abrupt she ceased to speak
"—Dead, as to serve a purpose, mark!—for in
"Rushed o' the very instant Ecelin
"(How summoned, who divines?)—looking as if
"He understood why Adelaide lay stiff
"Already in my arms; for 'Girl, how must
"'I manage Este in the matter thrust
"'Upon me, how unravel your bad coil?—
"'Since' (he declared) ''t is on your brow—a soil
"'Like hers there!' then in the same breath, 'he lacked
"'No counsel after all, had signed no pact
"'With devils, nor was treason here or there,
"'Goito or Vicenza, his affair:
"'He buried it in Adelaide's deep grave,
"'Would begin life afresh, now,—would not slave
"'For any Friedrich's nor Taurello's sake!
"'What booted him to meddle or to make
"'In Lombardy?' And afterward I knew
"The meaning of his promise to undo
"All she had done—why marriages were made,
"New friendships entered on, old followers paid
"With curses for their pains,—new friends' amaze
"At height, when, passing out by Gate St. Blaise,
"He stopped short in Vicenza, bent his head
"Over a friar's neck,—'had vowed,' he said,
"'Long since, nigh thirty years, because his wife
"'And child were saved there, to bestow his life
"'On God, his gettings on the Church.'

"Within Goito, still one dream beguiled
"My days and nights; 't was found, the orb I sought
"To serve, those glimpses came of Fomalhaut,
"No other: but how serve it?—authorize
"You and Romano mingle destinies?
"And straight Romano's angel stood beside
"Me who had else been Boniface's bride,
"For Salinguerra 't was, with neck low bent,
"And voice lightened to music, (as he meant
"To learn, not teach me,) who withdrew the pall
"From the dead past and straight revived it all,
"Making me see how first Romano waxed,
"Wherefore he waned now, why, if I relaxed
"My grasp (even I!) would drop a thing effete,
"Frayed by itself, unequal to complete
"Its course, and counting every step astray
"A gain so much. Romano, every way
"Stable, a Lombard House now—why start back
"Into the very outset of its track?
"This patching principle which late allied
"Our House with other Houses—what beside
"Concerned the apparition, the first Knight
"Who followed Conrad hither in such plight
"His utmost wealth was summed in his one steed?
"For Ecelo, that prowler, was decreed
"A task, in the beginning hazardous
"To him as ever task can be to us;
"But did the weather-beaten thief despair
"When first our crystal cincture of warm air
"That binds the Trevisan,—as its spice-belt
"(Crusaders say) the tract where Jesus dwelt,—
"Furtive he pierced, and Este was to face—
"Despaired Saponian strength of Lombard grace?
"Tried he at making surer aught made sure,
"Maturing what already was mature?
"No; his heart prompted Ecelo, 'Confront
"'Este, inspect yourself. What 's nature? Wont.
"'Discard three-parts your nature, and adopt
"'The rest as an advantage!' Old strength propped
"The man who first grew Podestà among
"The Vicentines, no less than, while there sprung
"His palace up in Padua like a threat,
"Their noblest spied a grace, unnoticed yet
"In Conrad's crew. Thus far the object gained,
"Romano was established—has remained—
"'For are you not Italian, truly peers
"'With Este? Azzo better soothes our ears
"'Than Alberic? or is this lion's-crine
"'From over-mounts' (this yellow hair of mine)
"'So weak a graft on Agnes Este's stock?'
"(Thus went he on with something of a mock)
"'Wherefore recoil, then, from the very fate
"'Conceded you, refuse to imitate
"'Your model farther? Este long since left
"'Being mere Este: as a blade its heft,
"'Este required the Pope to further him:
"'And you, the Kaiser—whom your father's whim
"'Foregoes or, better, never shall forego
"'If Palma dare pursue what Ecelo
"'Commenced, but Ecelin desists from: just
"'As Adelaide of Susa could intrust
"'Her donative,—her Piedmont given the Pope,
"'Her Alpine-pass for him to shut or ope
"''Twixt France and Italy,—to the superb
"'Matilda's perfecting,—so, lest aught curb
"'Our Adelaide's great counter-project for
"'Giving her Trentine to the Emperor
"'With passage here from Germany,—shall you
"'Take it,—my slender plodding talent, too!'
"—Urged me Taurello with his half-smile

"As Patron of the scattered family
"Conveyed me to his Mantua, kept in bruit
"Azzo's alliances and Richard's suit
"Until, the Kaiser excommunicate,
"'Nothing remains,' Taurello said, 'but wait
"'Some rash procedure: Palma was the link,
"'As Agnes' child, between us, and they shrink
"'From losing Palma: judge if we advance,
"'Your father's method, your inheritance!'
"The day I was betrothed to Boniface
"At Padua by Taurello's self, took place
"The outrage of the Ferrarese: again,
"The day I sought Verona with the train
"Agreed for,—by Taurello's policy
"Convicting Richard of the fault, since we
"Were present to annul or to confirm,—
"Richard, whose patience had outstayed its term,
"Quitted Verona for the siege.

                                "And now
"What glory may engird Sordello's brow
"Through this? A month since at Oliero slunk
"All that was Ecelin into a monk;
"But how could Salinguerra so forget
"His liege of thirty years as grudge even yet
"One effort to recover him? He sent
"Forthwith the tidings of this last event
"To Ecelin—declared that he, despite
"The recent folly, recognized his right
"To order Salinguerra: 'Should he wring
"'Its uttermost advantage out, or fling
"'This chance away? Or were his sons now Head
"'O' the House?' Through me Taurello's missive sped;
"My father's answer will by me return.
"Behold! 'For him,' he writes, 'no more concern
"'With strife than, for his children, with fresh plots
"'Of Friedrich. Old engagements out he blots
"'For aye: Taurello shall no more subserve,
"'Nor Ecelin impose.' Lest this unnerve
"Taurello at this juncture, slack his grip
"Of Richard, suffer the occasion slip,—
"I, in his sons' default (who, mating with
"Este, forsake Romano as the frith
"Its mainsea for that firmland, sea makes head
"Against) I stand, Romano,—in their stead
"Assume the station they desert, and give
"Still, as the Kaiser's representative,
"Taurello licence he demands. Midnight—
"Morning—by noon to-morrow, making light
"Of the League's issue, we, in some gay weed
"Like yours, disguised together, may precede
"The arbitrators to Ferrara: reach
"Him, let Taurello's noble accents teach
"The rest! Then say if I have misconceived
"Your destiny, too readily believed
"The Kaiser's cause your own!"

                                And Palma's fled.
Though no affirmative disturbs the head,
A dying lamp-flame sinks and rises o'er,
Like the alighted planet Pollux wore,
Until, morn breaking, he resolves to be
Gate-vein of this heart's blood of Lombardy,
Soul of this body—to wield this aggregate
Of souls and bodies, and so conquer fate
Though he should live—a centre of disgust
Even—apart, core of the outward crust
He vivifies, assimilates. For thus
I bring Sordello to the rapturous
Exclaim at the crowd's cry, because one round
Of life was quite accomplished; and he found
Not only that a soul, whate'er its might,
Is insufficient to its own delight,
Both in corporeal organs and in skill
By means of such to body forth its Will—
And, after, insufficient to apprise
Men of that Will, oblige them recognize
The Hid by the Revealed—but that,—the last
Nor lightest of the struggles overpast,—
Will, he bade abdicate, which would not void
The throne, might sit there, suffer he enjoyed
Mankind, a varied and divine array
Incapable of homage, the first way,
Nor fit to render incidentally
Tribute connived at, taken by the by,
In joys. If thus with warrant to rescind
The ignominious exile of mankind—
Whose proper service, ascertained intact
As yet, (to be by him themselves made act,
Not watch Sordello acting each of them)
Was to secure—if the true diadem
Seemed imminent while our Sordello drank
The wisdom of that golden Palma,—thank
Verona's Lady in her citadel
Founded by Gaulish Brennus, legends tell:
And truly when she left him, the sun reared
A head like the first clamberer's who peered
A-top the Capitol, his face on flame
With triumph, triumphing till Manlius came.
Nor slight too much my rhymes—that spring, dispread,
Dispart, disperse, lingering over head
Like an escape of angels! Rather say,
My transcendental platan! mounting gay
(An archimage so courts a novice-queen)
With tremulous silvered trunk, whence branches sheen
Laugh out, thick-foliaged next, a-shiver soon
With coloured buds, then glowing like the moon
One mild flame,—last a pause, a burst, and all
Her ivory limbs are smothered by a fall,
Bloom-flinders and fruit-sparkles and leaf-dust,
Ending the weird work prosecuted just
For her amusement; he decrepit, stark,
Dozes; her uncontrolled delight may mark

       Yet not so, surely never so
Only, as good my soul were suffered go
O'er the lagune: forth fare thee, put aside—
Entrance thy synod, as a god may glide
Out of the world he fills, and leave it mute
For myriad ages as we men compute,
Returning into it without a break
O' the consciousness! They sleep, and I awake
O'er the lagune, being at Venice.

In just such songs as Eglamor (say) wrote
With heart and soul and strength, for he believed
Himself achieving all to be achieved
By singer—in such songs you find alone
Completeness, judge the song and singer one,
And either purpose answered, his in it
Or its in him: while from true works (to wit
Sordello's dream-performances that will
Never be more than dreamed) escapes there still
Some proof, the singer's proper life was 'neath
The life his song exhibits, this a sheath
To that; a passion and a knowledge far
Transcending these, majestic as they are,
Smouldered; his lay was but an episode
In the bard's life: which evidence you owed
To some slight weariness, some looking-off
Or start-away. The childish skit or scoff
In "Charlemagne," (his poem, dreamed divine
In every point except one silly line
About the restiff daughters)—what may lurk
In that? "My life commenced before this work,"
(So I interpret the significance
Of the bard's start aside and look askance)
"My life continues after: on I fare
"With no more stopping, possibly, no care
"To note the undercurrent, the why and how,
"Where, when, o' the deeper life, as thus just now.
"But, silent, shall I cease to live? Alas
"For you! who sigh, 'When shall it come to pass
"'We read that story? How will he compress
"'The future gains, his life's true business,
"'Into the better lay which—that one flout,
"'Howe'er inopportune it be, lets out—
"'Engrosses him already, though professed
"'To meditate with us eternal rest,
"'And partnership in all his life has found?'"
'T is but a sailor's promise, weather-bound:
"Strike sail, slip cable, here the bark be moored
"For once, the awning stretched, the poles assured!
"Noontide above; except the wave's crisp dash,
"Or buzz of colibri, or tortoise' splash,
"The margin 's silent: out with every spoil
"Made in our tracking, coil by mighty coil,
"This serpent of a river to his head
"I' the midst! Admire each treasure, as we spread
"The bank, to help us tell our history
"Aright: give ear, endeavour to descry
"The groves of giant rushes, how they grew
"Like demons' endlong tresses we sailed through,
"What mountains yawned, forests to give us vent
"Opened, each doleful side, yet on we went
"Till . . . may that beetle (shake your cap) attest
"The springing of a land-wind from the West!"

—Wherefore? Ah yes, you frolic it to-day!
To-morrow, and, the pageant moved away
Down to the poorest tent-pole, we and you
Part company: no other may pursue
Eastward your voyage, be informed what fate
Intends, if triumph or decline await
The tempter of the everlasting steppe.

I muse this on a ruined palace-step
At Venice: why should I break off, nor sit
Longer upon my step, exhaust the fit
England gave birth to? Who 's adorable
Enough reclaim a —- no Sordello's Will
Alack!—be queen to me? That Bassanese
Busied among her smoking fruit-boats? These
Perhaps from our delicious Asolo
Who twinkle, pigeons o'er the portico
Not prettier, bind June lilies into sheaves
To deck the bridge-side chapel, dropping leaves
Soiled by their own loose gold-meal? Ah, beneath
The cool arch stoops she, brownest cheek! Her wreath
Endures a month—a half-month—if I make
A queen of her, continue for her sake
Sordello's story? Nay, that Paduan girl
Splashes with barer legs where a live whirl
In the dead black Giudecca proves sea-weed
Drifting has sucked down three, four, all indeed
Save one pale-red striped, pale-blue turbaned post
For gondolas.

             You sad dishevelled ghost
That pluck at me and point, are you advised
I breathe? Let stay those girls (e'en her disguised
—Jewels i' the locks that love no crownet like
Their native field-buds and the green wheat-spike,
So fair!—who left this end of June's turmoil,
Shook off, as might a lily its gold soil,
Pomp, save a foolish gem or two, and free
In dream, came join the peasants o'er the sea.)
Look they too happy, too tricked out? Confess
There is such niggard stock of happiness
To share, that, do one's uttermost, dear wretch,
One labours ineffectually to stretch
It o'er you so that mother and children, both
May equitably flaunt the sumpter-cloth!
Divide the robe yet farther: be content
With seeing just a score pre-eminent
Through shreds of it, acknowledged happy wights,
Engrossing what should furnish all, by rights!
For, these in evidence, you clearlier claim
A like garb for the rest,—grace all, the same
As these my peasants. I ask youth and strength
And health for each of you, not more—at length
Grown wise, who asked at home that the whole race
Might add the spirit's to the body's grace,
And all be dizened out as chiefs and bards.
But in this magic weather one discards
Much old requirement. Venice seems a type
Of Life—'twixt blue and blue extends, a stripe,
As Life, the somewhat, hangs 'twixt nought and nought:
'T is Venice, and 't is Life—as good you sought
To spare me the Piazza's slippery stone
Or keep me to the unchoked canals alone,
As hinder Life the evil with the good
Which make up Living, rightly understood.
Only, do finish something! Peasants, queens,
Take them, made happy by whatever means,
Parade them for the common credit, vouch
That a luckless residue, we send to crouch
In corners out of sight, was just as framed
For happiness, its portion might have claimed
As well, and so, obtaining joy, had stalked
Fastuous as any!—such my project, baulked
Already; I hardly venture to adjust
The first rags, when you find me. To mistrust
Me!—nor unreasonably. You, no doubt,
Have the true knack of tiring suitors out
With those thin lips on tremble, lashless eyes
Inveterately tear-shot: there, be wise,
Mistress of mine, there, there, as if I meant
You insult!—shall your friend (not slave) be shent
For speaking home? Beside, care-bit erased
Broken-up beauties ever took my taste
Supremely; and I love you more, far more
Than her I looked should foot Life's temple-floor.
Years ago, leagues at distance, when and where
A whisper came, "Let others seek!—thy care
"Is found, thy life's provision; if thy race
"Should be thy mistress, and into one face
"The many faces crowd?" Ah, had I, judge,
Or no, your secret? Rough apparel—grudge
All ornaments save tag or tassel worn
To hint we are not thoroughly forlorn—
Slouch bonnet, unloop mantle, careless go
Alone (that's saddest, but it must be so)
Through Venice, sing now and now glance aside,
Aught desultory or undignified,—
Then, ravishingest lady, will you pass
Or not each formidable group, the mass
Before the Basilic (that feast gone by,
God's great day of the Corpus Domini)
And, wistfully foregoing proper men,
Come timid up to me for alms? And then
The luxury to hesitate, feign do
Some unexampled grace!—when, whom but you
Dare I bestow your own upon? And hear
Further before you say, it is to sneer
I call you ravishing; for I regret
Little that she, whose early foot was set
Forth as she 'd plant it on a pedestal,
Now, i' the silent city, seems to fall
Toward me—no wreath, only a lip's unrest
To quiet, surcharged eyelids to be pressed
Dry of their tears upon my bosom. Strange
Such sad chance should produce in thee such change,
My love! Warped souls and bodies! yet God spoke
Of right-hand, foot and eye—selects our yoke,
Sordello, as your poetship may find!
So, sleep upon my shoulder, child, nor mind
Their foolish talk; we 'll manage reinstate
Your old worth; ask moreover, when they prate
Of evil men past hope, "Don't each contrive,
"Despite the evil you abuse, to live?—
"Keeping, each losel, through a maze of lies,
"His own conceit of truth? to which he hies
"By obscure windings, tortuous, if you will,
"But to himself not inaccessible;
"He sees truth, and his lies are for the crowd
"Who cannot see; some fancied right allowed
"His vilest wrong, empowered the losel clutch
"One pleasure from a multitude of such
"Denied him." Then assert, "All men appear
"To think all better than themselves, by here
"Trusting a crowd they wrong; but really," say,
"All men think all men stupider than they,
"Since, save themselves, no other comprehends
"The complicated scheme to make amends
"—Evil, the scheme by which, thro' Ignorance,
"Good labours to exist." A slight advance,—
Merely to find the sickness you die through,
And nought beside! but if one can't eschew
One's portion in the common lot, at least
One can avoid an ignorance increased
Tenfold by dealing out hint after hint
How nought were like dispensing without stint
The water of life—so easy to dispense
Beside, when one has probed the centre whence
Commotion 's born—could tell you of it all!
"—Meantime, just meditate my madrigal
"O' the mugwort that conceals a dewdrop safe!"
What, dullard? we and you in smothery chafe,
Babes, baldheads, stumbled thus far into Zin
The Horrid, getting neither out nor in,
A hungry sun above us, sands that bung
Our throats,—each dromedary lolls a tongue,
Each camel churns a sick and frothy chap,
And you, 'twixt tales of Potiphar's mishap,
And sonnets on the earliest ass that spoke,
—Remark, you wonder any one needs choke
With founts about! Potsherd him, Gibeonites!
While awkwardly enough your Moses smites
The rock, though he forego his Promised Land
Thereby, have Satan claim his carcass, and
Figure as Metaphysic Poet . . . ah,
Mark ye the dim first oozings? Meribah!
Then, quaffing at the fount my courage gained,
Recall—not that I prompt ye—who explained . . .

"Presumptuous!" interrupts one. You, not I
'T is brother, marvel at and magnify
Such office: "office," quotha? can we get
To the beginning of the office yet?
What do we here? simply experiment
Each on the other's power and its intent
When elsewhere tasked,—if this of mine were trucked
For yours to either's good,—we watch construct,
In short, an engine: with a finished one,
What it can do, is all,—nought, how 't is done.
But this of ours yet in probation, dusk
A kernel of strange wheelwork through its husk
Grows into shape by quarters and by halves;
Remark this tooth's spring, wonder what that valve's
Fall bodes, presume each faculty's device,
Make out each other more or less precise—
The scope of the whole engine 's to be proved;
We die: which means to say, the whole 's removed,
Dismounted wheel by wheel, this complex gin,—
To be set up anew elsewhere, begin
A task indeed, but with a clearer clime
Than the murk lodgment of our building-time.
And then, I grant you, it behoves forget
How 't is done—all that must amuse us yet
So long: and, while you turn upon your heel,
Pray that I be not busy slitting steel
Or shredding brass, camped on some virgin shore
Under a cluster of fresh stars, before
I name a tithe o' the wheels I trust to do!

So occupied, then, are we: hitherto,
At present, and a weary while to come,
The office of ourselves,—nor blind nor dumb,
And seeing somewhat of man's state,—has been,
For the worst of us, to say they so have seen;
For the better, what it was they saw; the best
Impart the gift of seeing to the rest:
"So that I glance," says such an one, "around,
"And there 's no face but I can read profound
"Disclosures in; this stands for hope, that—fear,
"And for a speech, a deed in proof, look here!
"'Stoop, else the strings of blossom, where the nuts
"'O'erarch, will blind thee! Said I not? She shuts
"'Both eyes this time, so close the hazels meet!
"'Thus, prisoned in the Piombi, I repeat
"'Events one rove occasioned, o'er and o'er,
"'Putting 'twixt me and madness evermore
"'Thy sweet shape, Zanze! Therefore stoop!'

                                              "'That's truth!'
"(Adjudge you) 'the incarcerated youth
"'Would say that!'

                   "Youth? Plara the bard? Set down
"That Plara spent his youth in a grim town
"Whose cramped ill-featured streets huddled about
"The minster for protection, never out
"Of its black belfry's shade and its bells' roar.
"The brighter shone the suburb,—all the more
"Ugly and absolute that shade's reproof
"Of any chance escape of joy,—some roof,
"Taller than they, allowed the rest detect,—
"Before the sole permitted laugh (suspect
"Who could, 't was meant for laughter, that ploughed cheek's
"Repulsive gleam!) when the sun stopped both peaks
"Of the cleft belfry like a fiery wedge,
"Then sank, a huge flame on its socket edge,
"With leavings on the grey glass oriel-pane
"Ghastly some minutes more. No fear of rain—
"The minster minded that! in heaps the dust
"Lay everywhere. This town, the minster's trust,
"Held Plara; who, its denizen, bade hail
"In twice twelve sonnets, Tempe's dewy vale."

"'Exact the town, the minster and the street!'"

"As all mirth triumphs, sadness means defeat:
"Lust triumphs and is gay, Love 's triumphed o'er
"And sad: but Lucio 's sad. I said before,
"Love's sad, not Lucio; one who loves may be
"As gay his love has leave to hope, as he
"Downcast that lusts' desire escapes the springe:
"'T is of the mood itself I speak, what tinge
"Determines it, else colourless,—or mirth,
"Or melancholy, as from heaven or earth."
"'Ay, that 's the variation's gist!'

"Thus far advanced in safety then, proceed!
"And having seen too what I saw, be bold
"And next encounter what I do behold
"(That's sure) but bid you take on trust!"

The use and purpose of such sights! Alack,
Not so unwisely does the crowd dispense
On Salinguerras praise in preference
To the Sordellos: men of action, these!
Who, seeing just as little as you please,
Yet turn that little to account,—engage
With, do not gaze at,—carry on, a stage,
The work o' the world, not merely make report
The work existed ere their day! In short,
When at some future no-time a brave band
Sees, using what it sees, then shake my hand
In heaven, my brother! Meanwhile where's the hurt
Of keeping the Makers-see on the alert,
At whose defection mortals stare aghast
As though heaven's bounteous windows were slammed fast
Incontinent? Whereas all you, beneath,
Should scowl at, bruise their lips and break their teeth
Who ply the pullies, for neglecting you:
And therefore have I moulded, made anew
A Man, and give him to be turned and tried,
Be angry with or pleased at. On your side,
Have ye times, places, actors of your own?
Try them upon Sordello when full-grown,
And then—ah then! If Hercules first parched
His foot in Egypt only to be marched
A sacrifice for Jove with pomp to suit,
What chance have I? The demigod was mute
Till, at the altar, where time out of mind
Such guests became oblations, chaplets twined
His forehead long enough, and he began
Slaying the slayers, nor escaped a man.
Take not affront, my gentle audience! whom
No Hercules shall make his hecatomb,
Believe, nor from his brows your chaplet rend—
That's your kind suffrage, yours, my patron-friend,
Whose great verse blares unintermittent on
Like your own trumpeter at Marathon,—
You who, Platæa and Salamis being scant,
Put up with Ætna for a stimulant—
And did well, I acknowledged, as he loomed
Over the midland sea last month, presumed
Long, lay demolished in the blazing West
At eve, while towards him tilting cloudlets pressed
Like Persian ships at Salamis. Friend, wear
A crest proud as desert while I declare
Had I a flawless ruby fit to wring
Tears of its colour from that painted king
Who lost it, I would, for that smile which went
To my heart, fling it in the sea, content,
Wearing your verse in place, an amulet
Sovereign against all passion, wear and fret!
My English Eyebright, if you are not glad
That, as I stopped my task awhile, the sad
Dishevelled form, wherein I put mankind
To come at times and keep my pact in mind,
Renewed me,—hear no crickets in the hedge,
Nor let a glowworm spot the river's edge
At home, and may the summer showers gush
Without a warning from the missel thrush!
So, to our business, now—the fate of such
As find our common nature—overmuch
Despised because restricted and unfit
To bear the burthen they impose on it—
Cling when they would discard it; craving strength
To leap from the allotted world, at length
They do leap,—flounder on without a term,
Each a god's germ, doomed to remain a germ
In unexpanded infancy, unless . . .
But that 's the story—dull enough, confess!
There might be fitter subjects to allure;
Still, neither misconceive my portraiture
Nor undervalue its adornments quaint:
What seems a fiend perchance may prove a saint.
Ponder a story ancient pens transmit,
Then say if you condemn me or acquit.

John the Beloved, banished Antioch
For Patmos, bade collectively his flock
Farewell, but set apart the closing eve
To comfort those his exile most would grieve,
He knew: a touching spectacle, that house
In motion to receive him! Xanthus' spouse
You missed, made panther's meat a month since; but
Xanthus himself (his nephew 't was, they shut
'Twixt boards and sawed asunder) Polycarp,
Soft Charicle, next year no wheel could warp
To swear by Cæsar's fortune, with the rest
Were ranged; thro' whom the grey disciple pressed,
Busily blessing right and left, just stopped
To pat one infant's curls, the hangman cropped
Soon after, reached the portal. On its hinge
The door turns and he enters: what quick twinge
Ruins the smiling mouth, those wide eyes fix
Whereon, why like some spectral candlestick's
Branch the disciple's arms? Dead swooned he, woke
Anon, heaved sigh, made shift to gasp, heart-broke,
"Get thee behind me, Satan! Have I toiled
"To no more purpose? Is the gospel foiled
"Here too, and o'er my son's, my Xanthus' hearth,
"Portrayed with sooty garb and features swarth—
"Ah Xanthus, am I to thy roof beguiled
"To see the—the—the Devil domiciled?"
Whereto sobbed Xanthus, "Father, 't is yourself
"Installed, a limning which our utmost pelf
"Went to procure against to-morrow's loss;
"And that's no twy-prong, but a pastoral cross,
"You 're painted with!"

                        His puckered brows unfold—
And you shall hear Sordello's story told.