YOU ARE the Cardinal Acciaiuoli, and you,
Abate Panciatichi—two good Tuscan names:
Acciaiuoli—ah, your ancestor it was,
Built the huge battlemented convent-block
Over the little forky flashing Greve
That takes the quick turn at the foot o’ the hill
Just as one first sees Florence: oh those days!
’Tis Ema, though, the other rivulet,
The one-arched, brown brick bridge yawns over,—yes,
Gallop and go five minutes, and you gain
The Roman Gate from where the Ema’s bridged:
Kingfishers fly there: how I see the bend
O’erturreted by Certosa which he built,
That Senescal (we styled him) of your House!
I do adjure you, help me, Sirs! My blood
Comes from as far a source: ought it to end
This way, by leakage through their scaffold-planks
Into Rome’s sink where her red refuse runs?
Sirs, I beseech you by blood-sympathy,
If there be any vile experiment
In the air,—if this your visit simply prove,
When all’s done, just a well-intentioned trick,
That tries for truth truer than truth itself,
By startling up a man, ere break of day,
To tell him he must die at sunset,—pshaw!
That man’s a Franceschini; feel his pulse,
Laugh at your folly, and let’s all go sleep!
You have my last word,—innocent am I
As Innocent my Pope and murderer,
Innocent as a babe, as Mary’s own,
As Mary’s self,—I said, say and repeat,—
And why, then, should I die twelve hours hence? I—
Whom, not twelve hours ago, the gaoler bade
Turn to my straw-truss, settle and sleep sound
That I might wake the sooner, promptlier pay
His dues of meat-and-drink-indulgence, cross
His palm with fee of the good-hand, beside,
As gallants use who go at large again!
For why? All honest Rome approved my part;
Whoever owned wife, sister, daughter,—nay,
Mistress,—had any shadow of any right
That looks like right, and, all the more resolved,
Held it with tooth and nail,—these manly men
Approved! I being for Rome, Rome was for me!
Then, there’s the point reserved, the subterfuge
My lawyers held by, kept for last resource,
Firm should all else,—the impossible fancy!—fail,—
And sneaking burgess-spirit win the day:
The knaves! One plea at least would hold, they laughed,
One grappling-iron scratch the bottom-rock
Even should the middle mud let anchor go—
And hook my cause on to the Clergy’s,—plea
Which, even if law tipped off my hat and plume,
Would show my priestly tonsure, save me so,—
The Pope moreover, this old Innocent,
Being so meek and mild and merciful,
So fond o’ the poor and so fatigued of earth,
So . . . fifty thousand devils in deepest hell!
Why must he cure us of our strange conceit
Of the angel in man’s likeness, that we loved
And looked should help us at a pinch? He help?
He pardon? Here’s his mind and message—death,
Thank the good Pope! Now, is he good in this,
Never mind, Christian,—no such stuff’s extant,—
But will my death do credit to his reign,
Show he both lived and let live, so was good?
Cannot I live if he but like? ‘The law!’
Why, just the law gives him the very chance,
The precise leave to let my life alone,
Which the angelic soul of him (he says)
Yearns after! Here they drop it in his palm,
My lawyers, capital o’ the cursed kind,—
A life to take and hold and keep: but no!
He sighs, shakes head, refuses to shut hand,
Motions away the gift they bid him grasp,
And of the coyness comes that off I run
And down I go, he best knows whither,—mind,
He knows, and sets me rolling all the same!
Disinterested Vicar of our Lord,
This way he abrogates and disallows,
Nullifies and ignores,—reverts in fine
To the good and right, in detriment of me!
Talk away! Will you have the naked truth?
He’s sick of his life’s supper,—swallowed lies:
So, hobbling bedward, needs must ease his maw
Just where I sit o’ the door-sill. Sir Abate,
Can you do nothing? Friends, we used to frisk:
What of this sudden slash in a friend’s face,
This cut across our good companionship
That showed its front so gay when both were young?
Were not we put into a beaten path,
Bid pace the world, we nobles born and bred,
The body of friends with each his scutcheon full
Of old achievement and impunity,—
Taking the laugh of morn and Sol’s salute
As forth we fared, pricked on to breathe our steeds
And take equestrian sport over the green
Under the blue, across the crop,—what care?
So we went prancing up hill and down dale,
In and out of the level and the straight,
By the bit of pleasant byeway, where was harm?
Still Sol salutes me and the morning laughs:
I see my grandsire’s hoof-prints,—point the spot
Where he drew rein, slipped saddle, and stabbed knave
For daring throw gibe—much less, stone—from pale,
Then back, and on, and up with the cavalcade;
Just so wend we, now canter, now converse,
Till, ’mid the jauncing pride and jaunty port,
Something of a sudden jerks at somebody—
A dagger is out, a flashing cut and thrust,
Because I play some prank my grandsire played,
And here I sprawl: where is the company? Gone!
A trot and a trample! only I lie trapped,
Writhe in a certain novel springe just set
By the good old Pope: I’m first prize. Warn me? Why?
Apprize me that the law o’ the game is changed?
Enough that I’m a warning, as I writhe,
To all and each my fellows of the file,
And make law plain henceforward past mistake,
“For such a prank, death is the penalty!”
Pope the Five Hundredth . . . what do I know or care?
Deputes your Eminence and Abateship
To announce that, twelve hours from this time, he needs
I just essay upon my body and soul
The virtue of his bran-new engine, prove
Represser of the pranksome! I’m the first!
Thanks. Do you know what teeth you mean to try
The sharpness of, on this soft neck and throat?
I know it,—I have seen and hate it,—ay,
As you shall, while I tell you: let me talk,
Or leave me, at your pleasure! talk I must:
What is your visit but my lure to talk?
You have a something to disclose?—a smile,
At end of the forced sternness, means to mock
The heart-beats here? I call your two hearts stone!
Is your charge to stay with me till I die?
Be tacit as your bench, then! Use your ears,
I use my tongue: how glibly yours will run
At pleasant supper-time . . . God’s curse! . . . to-night
When all the guests jump up, begin so brisk
“Welcome, his Eminence who shrived the wretch!
“Now we shall have the Abate’s story!”
How I could spill this overplus of mine
Among those hoar-haired, shrunk-shanked, odds and ends
Of body and soul, old age is chewing dry!
Those windle-straws that stare while purblind death
Mows here, mows there, makes hay of juicy me,
And misses, just the bunch of withered weed,
Would brighten hell and streak its smoke with flame!
How the life I could shed yet never shrink,
Would drench their stalks with sap like grass in May!
Is it not terrible, I entreat you, Sirs?
Such manifold and plenitudinous life,
Prompt at death’s menace to give blow for threat,
Answer his “Be thou not!” by “Thus I am!”—
Terrible so to be alive yet die?
How I live, how I see! so,—how I speak!
Lucidity of soul unlocks the lips:
I never had the words at will before.
How I see all my folly at a glance!
“A man requires a woman and a wife:”
There was my folly; I believed the saw:
I knew that just myself concerned myself,
Yet needs must look for what I seemed to lack,
In a woman,—why, the woman’s in the man!
Fools we are, how we learn things when too late!
Overmuch life turns round my woman-side;
The male and female in me, mixed before,
Settle of a sudden: I’m my wife outright
In this unmanly appetite for truth,
This careless courage as to consequence,
This instantaneous sight through things and through,
This voluble rhetoric, if you please,—’tis she!
Here you have that Pompilia whom I slew,
Also the folly for which I slew her!
And, fool-like, what is it I wander from?
What, of the sharpness of your iron tooth?
Ah,—that I know the hateful thing: this way.
I chanced to stroll forth, many a good year gone,
One warm Spring eve in Rome, and unaware
Looking, mayhap, to count what stars were out,
Came on your huge axe in a frame, that falls
And so cuts off a man’s head underneath,
Mannaia,—thus we made acquaintance first,
Out of the way, in a bye-part o’ the town,
At the Mouth-of-Truth o’ the river-side, you know:
One goes by the Capitol: and wherefore coy,
Retiring out of crowded noisy Rome?
Because a very little time ago
It had done service, chopped off head from trunk,
Belonging to a fellow whose poor house
The thing had made a point to stand before.
Who stabled buffaloes and so gained bread,
(Our clowns unyoke them in the ground hard by)
And, after use of much improper speech,
Had struck at Duke Some-title-or-other’s face,
Because he kidnapped, carried away and kept
Felice’s sister that would sit and sing
I’ the filthy doorway while she plaited fringe
To deck the brutes with,—on their gear it goes,—
The good girl with the velvet in her voice.
So did the Duke, so did Felice, so
Did Justice, intervening with her axe.
There the man-mutilating engine stood
At ease, both gay and grim, like a Swiss guard
Off duty,—purified itself as well,
Getting dry, sweet and proper for next week,—
And doing incidental good, ’twas hoped
To the rough lesson-lacking populace
Who now and then, forsooth, must right their wrongs!
There stood the twelve-foot square of scaffold, railed
Considerately round to elbow-height:
(Suppose an officer should tumble thence
And sprain his ankle and be lame a month,
Through starting when the axe fell and head too?)
Railed likewise were the steps whereby ’twas reached.
All of it painted red: red, in the midst,
Ran up two narrow tall beams barred across,
Since from the summit, some twelve feet to reach,
The iron plate with the sharp shearing edge
Had . . . slammed, jerked, shot or slid,—I shall find which!
There it lay quiet, fast in its fit place,
The wooden half-moon collar, now eclipsed
By the blade which blocked its curvature: apart,
The other half,—the under half-moon board
Which, helped by this, completes a neck’s embrace,—
Joined to a sort of desk that wheels aside
Out of the way when done with,—down you kneel,
In you’re wheeled, over you the other drops,
Tight you are clipped, whiz, there’s the blade on you,
Out trundles body, down flops head on floor,
And where’s your soul gone? That, too, I shall find!
This kneeling-place was red, red, never fear!
But only slimy-like with paint, not blood,
For why? a decent pitcher stood at hand,
A broad dish to hold sawdust, and a broom
By some unnamed utensil,—scraper-rake,—
Each with a conscious air of duty done.
Underneath, loungers,—boys and some few men,—
Discoursed this platter and the other tool,
Just as, when grooms tie up and dress a steed,
Boys lounge and look on, and elucubrate
What the round brush is used for, what the square,—
So was explained—to me the skill-less man—
The manner of the grooming for next world
Undergone by Felice What’s-his-name.
There’s no such lovely month in Rome as May—
May’s crescent is no half-moon of red plank,
And came now tilting o’er the wave i’ the west,
One greenish-golden sea, right ’twixt those bars
Of the engine—I began acquaintance with,
Understood, hated, hurried from before,
To have it out of sight and cleanse my soul!
Here it is all again, conserved for use:
Twelve hours hence I may know more, not hate worse.
That young May-moon-month! Devils of the deep!
Was not a Pope then Pope as much as now?
Used not he chirrup o’er the Merry Tales,
Chuckle,—his nephew so exact the wag
To play a jealous cullion such a trick
As wins the wife i’ the pleasant story! Well?
Why do things change? Wherefore is Rome un-Romed?
I tell you, ere Felice’s corpse was cold,
The Duke, that night, threw wide his palace-doors,
Received the compliments o’ the quality,
For justice done him,—bowed and smirked his best,
And in return passed round a pretty thing,
A portrait of Felice’s sister’s self,
Florid old rogue Albano’s masterpiece,
As—better than virginity in rags—
Bouncing Europa on the back o’ the bull:
They laughed and took their road the safelier home.
Ah, but times change, there’s quite another Pope,
I do the Duke’s deed, take Felice’s place,
And, being no Felice, lout and clout,
Stomach but ill the phrase “I lose my head!”
How euphemistic! Lose what? Lose your ring,
Your snuff-box, tablets, kerchief!—but, your head?
I learnt the process at an early age;
’Twas useful knowledge in those same old days,
To know the way a head is set on neck.
My fencing-master urged “Would you excel?
“Rest not content with mere bold give-and-guard,
“Nor pink the antagonist somehow-anyhow,—
“See me dissect a little, and know your game!
“Only anatomy makes a thrust the thing.”
Oh Cardinal, those lithe live necks of ours!
Here go the vertebræ, here’s Atlas, here
Axis, and here the symphyses stop short,
So wisely and well,—as, o’er a corpse, we cant,—
And here’s the silver cord which . . . what’s our word?
Depends from the gold bowl, which loosed (not “lost”)
Lets us from heaven to hell,—one chop, we’re loose!
“And not much pain i’ the process,” quoth the sage:
Who told him? Not Felice’s ghost, I think!
Such “losing” is scarce Mother Nature’s mode.
She fain would have cord ease itself away,
Worn to a thread by threescore years and ten,
Snap while we slumber: that seems bearable:
I’m told one clot of blood extravasate
Ends one as certainly as Roland’s sword,—
One drop of lymph suffused proves Oliver’s mace,—
Intruding, either of the pleasant pair,
On the arachnoid tunic of my brain.
That’s Nature’s way of loosing cord!—but Art,
How of Art’s process with the engine here?
When bowl and cord alike are crushed across,
Bored between, bruised through? Why, if Fagon’s self,
The French Court’s pride, that famed practitioner,
Would pass his cold pale lightning of a knife
Pistoja-ware, adroit ’twixt joint and joint,
With just a “See how facile, gentlefolks!”—
The thing were not so bad to bear! Brute force
Cuts as he comes, breaks in, breaks on, breaks out
O’ the hard and soft of you: is that the same?
A lithe snake thrids the hedge, makes throb no leaf:
A heavy ox sets chest to brier and branch,
Bursts somehow through, and leaves one hideous hole
And why, why must this needs be?
Oh, if men were but good! They are not good,
Nowise like Peter: people called him rough,
But if, as I left Rome, I spoke the Saint,
—“Petrus, quo vadis?”—doubtless, I should hear,
“To free the prisoner and forgive his fault!
“I plucked the absolute dead from God’s own bar,
“And raised up Dorcas,—why not rescue thee?”
What would cost such nullifying word?
If Innocent succeeds to Peter’s place,
Let him think Peter’s thought, speak Peter’s speech!
I say, he is bound to it: friends, how say you?
Concede I be all one bloodguiltiness
And mystery of murder in the flesh,
Why should that fact keep the Pope’s mouth shut fast?
He execrates my crime,—good!—sees hell yawn
One inch from the red plank’s end which I press,—
Nothing is better! What’s the consequence?
How does a Pope proceed that knows his cue?
Why, leaves me linger out my minute here,
Since close on death come judgment and the doom,
Nor cribs at dawn its pittance from a sheep
Destined ere dewfall to be butcher’s-meat!
Think, Sirs, if I had done you any harm,
And you require the natural revenge,
Suppose, and so intend to poison me,
—Just as you take and slip into my draught
The paperful of powder that clears scores,
You notice on my brow a certain blue:
How you both overset the wine at once!
How you both smile! “Our enemy has the plague!
“Twelve hours hence he’ll be scraping his bones bare
“Of that intolerable flesh, and die,
“Frenzied with pain: no need for poison here!
“Step aside and enjoy the spectacle!”
Tender for souls are you, Pope Innocent!
Christ’s maxim is—one soul outweighs the world:
Respite me, save a soul, then, curse the world!
“No,” venerable sire, I hear you smirk,
“No: for Christ’s gospel changes names, not things,
“Renews the obsolete, does nothing more!
“Our fire-new gospel is retinkered law,
“Our mercy, justice,—Jove’s rechristened God—
“Nay, whereas, in the popular conceit,
“’Tis pity that old harsh Law somehow limps,
“Lingers on earth, although Law’s day be done,—
“Else would benignant Gospel interpose,
“Not furtively as now, but bold and frank
“O’erflutter us with healing in her wings,—
“Law is all harshness, Gospel were all love!—
“We like to put it, on the contrary,—
“Gospel takes up the rod which Law lets fall;
“Mercy is vigilant when justice sleeps;
“Does Law let Guido taste the Gospel-grace?
“The secular arm allow the spiritual power
“To act for once?—what compliment so fine
“As that the Gospel handsomely be harsh,
“Thrust back Law’s victim on the nice and coy?”
Yes, you do say so,—else you would forgive
Me, whom Law dares not touch but tosses you!
Don’t think to put on the professional face!
You know what I know,—casuists as you are,
Each nerve must creep, each hair start, sting, and stand,
At such illogical inconsequence!
Dear my friends, do but see! A murder’s tried,
There are two parties to the cause: I’m one,
—Defend myself, as somebody must do:
I have the best o’ the battle: that’s a fact.
Simple fact,—fancies find no place beside:
What though half Rome condemned me? Half approved:
And, none disputes, the luck is mine at last,
All Rome, i’ the main, acquits me: whereupon
What has the Pope to ask but “How finds Law?”
“I find,” replies Law, “I have erred this while:
“Guilty or guiltless, Guido proves a priest,
“No layman: he is therefore yours, not mine:
“I bound him: loose him, you whose will is Christ’s!”
And now what does this Vicar of the Lord,
Shepherd o’ the flock,—one of whose charge bleats sore
For crook’s help from the quag wherein it drowns?
Law suffers him put forth the crumpled end,—
His pleasure is to turn staff, use the point,
And thrust the shuddering sheep he calls a wolf,
Back and back, down and down to where hell gapes!
“Guiltless,” cries Law—“Guilty,” corrects the Pope!
“Guilty,” for the whim’s sake! “Guilty,” he somehow thinks,
And anyhow says: ’tis truth; he dares not lie!
Others should do the lying. That’s the cause
Brings you both here: I ought in decency
Confess to you that I deserve my fate,
Am guilty, as the Pope thinks,—ay, to the end,
Keep up the jest, lie on, lie ever, lie
I’ the latest gasp of me! What reason, Sirs?
Because to-morrow will succeed to-day
For you, though not for me: and if I stick
Still to the truth, declare with my last breath,
I die an innocent and murdered man,—
Why, there’s the tongue of Rome will wag a-pace
This time to-morrow,—don’t I hear the talk!
“So, to the last he proved impenitent?
“Pagans have said as much of martyred saints!
“Law demurred, washed her hands of the whole case.
“Prince Somebody said this, Duke Something, that.
“Doubtless the man’s dead, dead enough, don’t fear!
“But, hang it, what if there have been a spice,
“A touch of . . . eh? You see, the Pope’s so old,
“Some of us add, obtuse,—age never slips
“The chance of shoving youth to face death first!”
And so on. Therefore to suppress such talk
You two come here, entreat I tell you lies,
And end, the edifying way. I end,
Telling the truth! Your self-styled shepherd thieves!
A thief—and how thieves hate the wolves we know:
Damage to theft, damage to thrift, all’s one!
The red hand is sworn foe of the black jaw!
That’s only natural, that’s right enough:
But why the wolf should compliment the thief
With the shepherd’s title, bark out life in thanks,
And, spiteless, lick the prong that spits him,—eh,
Cardinal? My Abate, scarcely thus!
There, let my sheepskin-garb, a curse on’t go—
Leave my teeth free if I must show my shag!
Repent? What good shall follow? If I pass
Twelve hours repenting, will that fact hook fast
The thirteenth at the horrid dozen’s end?
If I fall forthwith at your feet, gnash, tear,
Foam, rave, to give your story the due grace,
Will that assist the engine half-way back
Into its hiding-house?—boards, shaking now,
Bone against bone, like some old skeleton bat
That wants, now winter’s dead, to wake and prey!
Will howling put the spectre back to sleep?
Ah, but I misconceive your object, Sirs!
Since I want new life like the creature,—life
Being done with here, begins i’ the world away:
I shall next have “Come, mortals, and be judged!”
There’s but a minute betwixt this and then:
So, quick, be sorry since it saves my soul!
Sirs, truth shall save it, since no lies assist!
Hear the truth, you, whatever you style yourselves,
Civilisation and society!
Come, one good grapple, I with all the world!
Dying in cold blood is the desperate thing;
The angry heart explodes, bears off in blaze
The indignant soul, and I’m combustion-ripe.
Why, you intend to do your worst with me!
That’s in your eyes! You dare no more than death,
And mean no less. I must make up my mind!
So Pietro,—when I chased him here and there,
Morsel by morsel cut away the life
I loathed,—cried for just respite to confess
And save his soul: much respite did I grant!
Why grant me respite who deserve my doom?
Me—who engaged to play a prize, fight you,
Knowing your arms, and foil you, trick for trick,
At rapier-fence, your match and, may be, more.
I knew that if I chose sin certain sins,
Solace my lusts out of the regular way
Prescribed me, I should find you in the path,
Have to try skill with a redoubted foe;
You would lunge, I would parry, and make end.
At last, occasion of a murder comes:
We cross blades, I, for all my brag, break guard,
And in goes the cold iron at my breast,
Out at my back, and end is made of me.
You stand confessed the adroiter swordsman,—ay,
But on your triumph you increase, it seems,
Want more of me than lying flat on face:
I ought to raise my ruined head, allege
Not simply I pushed worse blade o’ the pair,
But my antagonist dispensed with steel!
There was no passage of arms, you looked me low,
With brow and eye abolished cut-and-thrust
Nor used the vulgar weapon! This chance scratch,
This incidental hurt, this sort of hole
I’ the heart of me? I stumbled, got it so!
Fell on my own sword as a bungler may!
Yourself proscribe such heathen tools, and trust
To the naked virtue: it was virtue stood
Unarmed and awed me,—on my brow there burned
Crime out so plainly, intolerably, red,
That I was fain to cry—“Down to the dust
“With me, and bury there brow, brand and all!”
Law had essayed the adventure,—but what’s Law?
Morality exposed the Gorgon-shield!
Morality and Religion conquer me.
If Law sufficed would you come here, entreat
I supplement law, and confess forsooth?
Did not the Trial show things plain enough?
“Ah, but a word of the man’s very self
“Would somehow put the keystone in its place
“And crown the arch!” Then take the word you want!
I say that, long ago, when things began,
All the world made agreement, such and such
Were pleasure-giving profit-bearing acts,
But henceforth extra-legal, nor to be:
You must not kill the man whose death would please
And profit you, unless his life stop yours
Plainly, and need so be put aside:
Get the thing by a public course, by law,
Only no private bloodshed as of old!
All of us, for the good of every one,
Renounced such licence and conformed to law:
Who breaks law, breaks pact, therefore, helps himself
To pleasure and profit over and above the due,
And must pay forfeit,—pain beyond his share:
For pleasure is the sole good in the world,
Any one’s pleasure turns to some one’s pain,
So, let law watch for everyone,—say we,
Who call things wicked that give too much joy,
And nickname the reprisal, envy makes,
Punishment: quite right! thus the world goes round.
I, being well aware such pact there was,
Who in my time have found advantage too
In law’s observance and crime’s penalty,—
Who, but for wholesome fear law bred in friends,
Had doubtless given example long ago,
Furnished forth some friend’s pleasure with my pain,
And, by my death, pieced out his scanty life,—
I could not, for that foolish life of me,
Help risking law’s infringement,—I broke bond,
And needs must pay price,—wherefore, here’s my head,
Flung with a flourish! But, repentance too?
But pure and simple sorrow for law’s breach
Rather than blunderer’s-ineptitude?
Cardinal, no! Abate, scarcely thus!
’Tis the fault, not that I dared try a fall
With Law and straightway am found undermost,
But that I fail to see, above man’s law,
God’s precept you, the Christians recognise?
Colly my cow! Don’t fidget, Cardinal!
Abate, cross your breast and count your beads
And exorcise the devil, for here he stands
And stiffens in the bristly nape of neck,
Daring you drive him hence! You, Christians both?
I say, if ever was such faith at all
Born in the world, by your community
Suffered to live its little tick of time,
’Tis dead of age now, ludicrously dead;
Honour its ashes, if you be discreet,
In epitaph only! For, concede its death,
Allow extinction, you may boast unchecked
What feats the thing did in a crazy land
At a fabulous epoch,—treat your faith, that way,
Just as you treat your relics: “Here’s a shred
“Of saintly flesh, a scrap of blessed bone,
“Raised King Cophetua, who was dead, to life
“In Mesopotamy twelve centuries since,
“Such was its virtue!”—twangs the Sacristan,
Holding the shrine-box up, with hands like feet
Because of gout in every finger-joint:
Does he bethink him to reduce one knob,
Allay one twinge by touching what he vaunts?
I think he half uncrooks fist to catch fee,
But, for the grace, the quality of cure,—
Cophetua was the man put that to proof!
Not otherwise, your faith is shrined and shown
And shamed at once: you banter while you bow!
Do you dispute this? Come, a monster-laugh,
A madman’s laugh, allowed his Carnival
Later ten days than when all Rome, but he,
Laughed at the candle-contest: mine’s alight,
’Tis just it sputter till the puff o’ the Pope
End it to-morrow and the world turn Ash.
Come, thus I wave a wand and bring to pass
In a moment, in the twinkle of an eye,
What but that—feigning everywhere grows fact,
Professors turn possessors, realise
The faith they play with as a fancy now,
And bid it operate, have full effect
On every circumstance of life, to-day,
In Rome,—faith’s flow set free at fountain-head!
Now, you’ll own, at this present when I speak,
Before I work the wonder, there’s no man
Woman or child in Rome, faith’s fountain-head,
But might, if each were minded, realise
Conversely unbelief, faith’s opposite—
Set it to work on life unflinchingly,
Yet give no symptom of an outward change:
Why should things change because men disbelieve?
What’s incompatible, in the whited tomb,
With bones and rottenness one inch below?
What saintly act is done in Rome to-day
But might be prompted by the devil,—“is”
I say not,—“has been, and again may be,”—
I do say, full i’ the face o’ the crucifix
You try to stop my mouth with! Off with it!
Look in your own heart, if your soul have eyes!
You shall see reason why, though faith were fled,
Unbelief still might work the wires and move
Man, the machine, to play a faithful part.
Preside your college, Cardinal, in your cape,
Or,—having got above his head, grown Pope,—
Abate, gird your loins and wash my feet!
Do you suppose I am at loss at all
Why you crook, why you cringe, why fast or feast?
Praise, blame, sit, stand, lie or go!—all of it,
In each of you, purest unbelief may prompt,
And wit explain to who has eyes to see.
But, lo, I wave wand, make the false the true!
Here’s Rome believes in Christianity!
What an explosion, how the fragments fly
Of what was surface, mask, and make-believe!
Begin now,—look at this Pope’s-halberdier
In wasp-like black and yellow foolery!
He, doing duty at the corridor,
Wakes from a muse and stands convinced of sin!
Down he flings halbert, leaps the passage-length,
Pushes into the presence, pantingly
Submits the extreme peril of the case
To the Pope’s self,—whom in the world beside?—
And the Pope breaks talk with ambassador,
Bids aside bishop, wills the whole world wait
Till he secure that prize, outweighs the world,
A soul, relieve the sentry of his qualm!
His Altitude the Referendary,—
Robed right, and ready for the usher’s word
To pay devoir,—is, of all times, just then
’Ware of a master-stroke of argument
Will cut the spinal cord . . . ugh, ugh! . . . I mean,
Paralyse Molinism for evermore!
Straight he leaves lobby, trundles, two and two,
Down steps, to reach home, write if but a word
Shall end the impudence: he leaves who likes
Go pacify the Pope: there’s Christ to serve!
How otherwise would men display their zeal?
If the same sentry had the least surmise
A powder-barrel ’neath the pavement lay
In neighbourhood with what might prove a match,
Meant to blow sky-high Pope and presence both—
Would he not break through courtiers, rank and file,
Bundle up, bear off and save body so,
O’ the Pope, no matter for his priceless soul?
There’s no fool’s-freak here, nought to soundly swinge,
Only a man in earnest, you’ll so praise
And pay and prate about, that earth shall ring!
Had thought possessed the Referendary
His jewel-case at home was left ajar,
What would be wrong in running, robes awry,
To be beforehand with the pilferer?
What talk then of indecent haste? Which means,
That both these, each in his degree, would do
Just that,—for a comparative nothing’s sake,
And thereby gain approval and reward—
Which, done for what Christ says is worth the world,
Procures the doer curses, cuffs, and kicks.
I call such difference ’twixt act and act,
Sheer lunacy unless your truth on lip
Be recognised a lie in heart of you!
How do you all act, promptly or in doubt,
When there’s a guest poisoned at supper-time
And he sits chatting on with spot on cheek?
“Pluck him by the skirt, and round him in the ears,
“Have at him by the beard, warn anyhow!”
Good, and this other friend that’s cheat and thief
And dissolute,—go stop the devil’s feast,
Withdraw him from the imminent hell-fire!
Why, for your life, you dare not tell your friend
“You lie, and I admonish you for Christ!”
Who yet dare seek that same man at the Mass
To warn him—on his knees, and tinkle near,—
He left a cask a-tilt, a tap unturned,
The Trebbian running: what a grateful jump
Out of the Church rewards your vigilance!
Perform that self-same service just a thought
More maladroitly,—since a bishop sits
At function!—and he budges not, bites lip,—
“You see my case: how can I quit my post?
“He has an eye to any such default.
“See to it, neighbour, I beseech your love!”
He and you know the relative worth of things,
What is permissible or inopportune.
Contort your brows! You know I speak the truth:
Gold is called gold, and dross called dross, i’ the Book:
Gold you let lie and dross pick up and prize!
—Despite your master of some fifty monks
And nuns a-maundering here and mumping there,
Who could, and on occasion would, spurn dross,
Clutch gold, and prove their faith a fact so far,—
I grant you! Fifty times the number squeak
And gibber in the madhouse—firm of faith,
This fellow, that his nose supports the moon,
The other, that his straw hat crowns him Pope:
Does that prove all the world outside insane?
Do fifty miracle-mongers match the mob
That acts on the frank faithless principle,
Born-baptised-and-bred Christian-atheists, each
With just as much a right to judge as you,—
As many senses in his soul, or nerves
I’ neck of him as I,—whom, soul and sense,
Neck and nerve, you abolish presently,—
I being the unit in creation now
Who pay the Maker, in this speech of mine,
A creature’s duty, spend my last of breath
In bearing witness, even by my worst fault
To the creature’s obligation, absolute,
Perpetual: my worst fault protests, “The faith
“Claims all of me: I would give all she claims,
“But for a spice of doubt: the risk’s too rash:
“Double or quits, I play, but, all or nought,
“Exceeds my courage: therefore, I descend
“To the next faith with no dubiety—
“Faith in the present life, made last as long
“And prove as full of pleasure as may hap,
“Whatever pain it cause the world.” I’m wrong?
I’ve had my life, whate’er I lose: I’m right?
I’ve got the single good there was to gain.
Entire faith, or else complete unbelief,—
Aught between has my loathing and contempt,
Mine and God’s also, doubtless: ask yourself,
Cardinal, where and how you like a man!
Why, either with your feet upon his head,
Confessed your caudatory, or at large
The stranger in the crowd who caps to you
But keeps his distance,—why should he presume?
You want no hanger-on and dropper-off,
Now yours, and now not yours but quite his own,
According as the sky looks black or bright.
Just so I capped to and kept off from faith—
You promised trudge behind through fair and foul,
Yet leave i’ the lurch at the first spit of rain.
Who holds to faith whenever rain begins?
What does the father when his son lies dead,
The merchant when his money-bags take wing,
The politician whom a rival ousts?
No case but has its conduct, faith prescribes:
Where’s the obedience that shall edify?
Why, they laugh frankly in the face of faith
And take the natural course,—this rends his hair
Because his child is taken to God’s breast,
That gnashes teeth and raves at loss of trash
Which rust corrupts and thieves break through and steal,
And this, enabled to inherit earth
Through meekness, curses till your blood runs cold!
Down they all drop to my low level, ease
Heart upon dungy earth that’s warm and soft,
And let who will, attempt the altitudes.
We have the prodigal son of heavenly sire,
Turning his nose up at the fatted calf,
Fain to fill belly with the husks we swine
Did eat by born depravity of taste!
Enough of the hypocrites. But you, Sirs, you—
Who never budged from litter where I lay,
And buried snout i’ the draff-box while I fed,
Cried amen to my creed’s one article—
“Get pleasure, ’scape pain,—give your preference
“To the immediate good, for time is brief,
“And death ends good and ill and everything:
“What’s got is gained, what’s gained soon is gained twice,
“And,—inasmuch as faith gains most,—feign faith!”
So did we brother-like pass word about:
—You, now,—like bloody drunkards but half-drunk,
Who fool men yet perceive men find them fools,
And that a titter gains the gravest mouth,—
O’the sudden you must needs re-introduce
Solemnity, must sober undue mirth
By a blow dealt your boon companion here
Who, using the old licence, dreamed of harm
No more than snow in harvest: yet it falls!
You check the merriment effectually
By pushing your abrupt machine i’ the midst,
Making me Rome’s example: blood for wine!
The general good needs that you chop and change!
I may dislike the hocus-pocus,—Rome,
The laughter-loving people, won’t they stare
Chap-fallen!—while serious natures sermonise
“The magistrate, he beareth not the sword
“In vain; who sins may taste its edge, we see!”
Why my sin, drunkards? Where have I abused
Liberty, scandalised you all so much?
Who called me, who crooked finger till I came,
Fool that I was, to join companionship?
I knew my own mind, meant to live my life,
Elude your envy, or else make a stand,
Take my own part and sell you my life dear:
But it was “Fie! No prejudice in the world
“To the proper manly instinct! Cast your lot
“Into our lap, one genius ruled our births,
“We’ll compass joy by concert; take with us
“The regular irregular way i’ the wood;
“You’ll miss no game through riding breast by breast,
“In this preserve, the Church’s park and pale,
“Rather than outside where the world is waste!”
Come, if you said not that, did you say this?
Give plain and terrible warning, “Live, enjoy?
“Such life begins in death and ends in hell!
“Dare you bid us assist you to your sins
“Who hurry sin and sinners from the earth?
“No such delight for us, why then for you?
“Leave earth, seek heaven or find its opposite!”
Had you so warned me, not in lying words
But veritable deeds with tongues of flame,
That had been fair, that might have struck a man,
Silenced the squabble between soul and sense,
Compelled him make his mind up, take one course
Or the other, peradventure!—wrong or right,
Foolish or wise, you would have been at least
Sincere, no question,—forced me choose, indulge
Or else renounce my instincts, still play wolf
Or find my way submissive to the fold,
Be red-crossed on the fleece, one sheep the more.
But you as good as bade me wear sheep’s wool
Over wolf’s skin, suck blood and hide the noise
By mimicry of something like a bleat,—
Whence it comes that because, despite my care,
Because I smack my tongue too loud for once,
Drop baaing, here’s the village up in arms!
Have at the wolf’s throat, you who hate the breed!
Oh, were it only open to choose—
One little time more—whether I’d be free
Your foe, or subsidised your friend forsooth!
Should not you get a growl through the white fangs
In answer to your beckoning! Cardinal,
Abate, managers o’ the multitude,
I’d turn your gloved hands to account, be sure!
You should manipulate the coarse rough mob:
’Tis you I’d deal directly with, not them,—
Using your fears: why touch the thing myself
When I could see you hunt and then cry “Shares!
“Quarter the carcass or we quarrel; come,
“Here’s the world ready to see justice done!”
Oh, it had been a desperate game, but game
Wherein the winner’s chance were worth the pains
To try conclusions!—at the worst, what’s worse
Than this Mannaia-machine, each minute’s talk,
Helps push an inch the nearer me? Fool, fool!
You understand me and forgive, sweet Sirs?
I blame you, tear my hair and tell my woe—
All’s but a flourish, figure of rhetoric!
One must try each expedient to save life.
One makes fools look foolisher fifty-fold
By putting in their place the wise like you
To take the full force of an argument
Would buffet their stolidity in vain.
If you should feel aggrieved by the mere wind
O’ the blow that means to miss you and maul them,
That’s my success! Is it not folly, now,
To say with folks, “A plausible defence—
“We see through notwithstanding, and reject?”
Reject the plausible they do, these fools,
Who never even make pretence to show
One point beyond its plausibility
In favour of the best belief they hold!
“Saint Somebody-or-other raised the dead:”
Did he? How do you come to know as much?
“Know it, what need? The story’s plausible,
“Avouched for by a martyrologist,
“And why should good men sup on cheese and leeks
“On such a saint’s day, if there were no saint?”
I praise the wisdom of these fools, and straight
Tell them my story—“plausible, but false!”
False, to be sure! What else can story be
That runs—a young wife tired of an old spouse,
Found a priest whom she fled away with,—both
Took their full pleasure in the two-days’ flight,
Which a grey-headed greyer-hearted pair,
(Whose best boast was, their life had been a lie)
Helped for the love they bore all liars. Oh,
Here incredulity begins! Indeed?
Allow then, were no one point strictly true,
There’s that i’ the tale might seem like truth at least
To the unlucky husband,—jaundiced patch,—
Jealousy maddens people, why not him?
Say, he was maddened, so, forgivable!
Humanity pleads that though the wife were true,
The priest true, and the pair of liars true,
They might seem false to one man in the world!
A thousand gnats make up a serpent’s sting,
And many sly soft stimulants to wrath
Compose a formidable wrong at last,
That gets called easily by some one name
Not applicable to the single parts,
And so draws down a general revenge,
Excessive if you take crime, fault by fault.
Jealousy! I have known a score of plays,
Were listened to and laughed at in my time
As like the everyday-life on all sides,
Wherein the husband, mad as a March hare,
Suspected all the world contrived his shame;
What did the wife? The wife kissed both eyes blind,
Explained away ambiguous circumstance,
And while she held him captive by the hand,
Crowned his head,—you know what’s the mockery,—
By half her body behind the curtain. That’s
Nature now! That’s the subject of a piece
I saw in Vallombrosa Convent, made
Expressly to teach men what marriage was!
But say “Just so did I misapprehend!”
Or “Just so she deceived me to my face!”
And that’s pretence too easily seen through!
All those eyes of all husbands in all plays,
At stare like one expanded peacock-tail,
Are laughed at for pretending to be keen
While horn-blind: but the moment I step forth—
Oh, I must needs o’ the sudden prove a lynx
And look the heart, that stone-wall, through and through!
Such an eye, God’s may be,—not yours nor mine.
Yes, presently . . . what hour is fleeting now?
When you cut earth away from under me,
I shall be left alone with, pushed beneath
Some such an apparitional dread orb;
I fancy it go filling up the void
Above my mote-self it devours, or what
Immensity please wreak on nothingness.
Just so I felt once, couching through the dark,
Hard by Vittiano; young I was, and gay,
And wanting to trap fieldfares: first a spark
Tipped a bent, as a mere dew-globule might
Any stiff grass-stalk on the meadow,—this
Grew fiercer, flamed out full, and proved the sun.
What do I want with proverbs, precepts here?
Away with man! What shall I say to God?
This, if I find the tongue and keep the mind—
“Do Thou wipe out the being of me, and smear
“This soul from off Thy white of things, I blot!
“I am one huge and sheer mistake,—whose fault?
“Not mine at least, who did not make myself!”
Someone declares my wife excused me so!
Perhaps she knew what argument to use.
Grind your teeth, Cardinal, Abate, writhe!
What else am I to cry out in my rage,
Unable to repent one particle
O’ the past? Oh, how I wish some cold wise man
Would dig beneath the surface which you scrape,
Deal with the depths, pronounce on my desert
Groundedly! I want simple sober sense,
That asks, before it finishes with a dog,
Who taught the dog that trick you hang him for?
You both persist to call that act a crime,
Sense would call . . . yes, I do assure you, Sirs, . . .
A blunder! At the worst, I stood in doubt
On cross-road, took one path of many paths:
It leads to the red thing, we all see now,
But nobody at first saw one primrose
In bank, one singing-bird in bush, the less,
To warn from wayfare: let me prove you that!
Put me back to the cross-road, start afresh!
Advise me when I take the first false step!
Give me my wife: how should I use my wife,
Love her or hate her? Prompt my action now!
There she stands, there she is alive and pale,
The thirteen-years’-old child, with milk for blood,
Pompilia Comparini, as at first,
Which first is only four brief years ago!
I stand too in the little ground-floor room
O’ the father’s house at Via Vittoria: see!
Her so-called mother,—one arm round the waist
O’ the child to keep her from the toys—let fall,
At wonder I can live yet look so grim,—
Ushers her in, with deprecating wave
Of the other,—there she fronts me loose, at large,
Held only by her mother’s finger-tip—
Struck dumb, for she was white enough before!
She eyes me with those frightened balls of black,
As heifer—the old simile comes pat—
Eyes tremblingly the altar and the priest:
The amazed look, all one insuppressive prayer,—
Might she but be set free as heretofore,
Have this cup leave her lips unblistered, bear
Any cross anywhither anyhow,
So but alone, so but apart from me!
You are touched? So am I, quite otherwise,
If ’tis with pity. I resent my wrong,
Being a man: we only show man’s soul
Through man’s flesh, she sees mine, it strikes her thus!
Is that attractive? To a youth perhaps—
Calf-creature, one-part boy to three-parts girl,
To whom it is a flattering novelty
That he, men use to motion from their path,
Can thus impose, thus terrify in turn
A chit whose terror shall be changed apace
To bliss unbearable when, grace and glow,
Prowess and pride descend the throne and touch
Esther in all that pretty tremble, cured
By the dove o’ the sceptre! But myself am old,
O’ the wane at least, in all things: what do you say
To her who frankly thus confirms my doubt?
I am past the prime, I scare the woman-world,
Done-with that way: you like this piece of news?
A little saucy rose-bud minx can strike
Death-damp into the breast of doughty king
Though ’twere French Louis,—soul I understand,—
Saying, by gesture of repugnance, just
“Sire, you are regal, puissant and so forth,
“But—young you have been, are not, nor will be!”
In vain the mother nods, winks, bustles up
“Count, girls incline to mature worth like you!
“As for Pompilia, what’s flesh, fish, or fowl
“To one who apprehends no difference,
“And would accept you even were you old
“As you are . . . youngish by her father’s side?
“Trim but your beard a little, thin your bush
“Of eyebrow; and for presence, portliness
“And decent gravity, you beat a boy!”
Deceive you for a second, if you may,
In presence of the child that so loves age,
Whose neck writhes, cords itself against your kiss,
Whose hand you wring stark, rigid with despair!
Well, I resent this; I am young in soul,
Nor old in body,—thews and sinews here,—
Though the vile surface be not smooth as once,—
Far beyond the first wheelwork that went wrong
Through the untempered iron ere ’twas proof:
I am the steel man worth ten times the crude,—
Would woman see what this declines to see,
Declines to say “I see,”—the officious word
That makes the thing, pricks on the soul to shoot
New fire into the half-used cinder, flesh!
Therefore ’tis she begins with wronging me,
Who cannot but begin with hating her.
Our marriage follows: there we stand again!
Why do I laugh? Why, in the very gripe
O’ the jaws of death’s gigantic skull do I
Grin back his grin, make sport of my own pangs?
Why from each clashing of his molars, ground
To make the devil bread from out my grist,
Leaps out a spark of mirth, a hellish toy?
Take notice we are lovers in a church,
Waiting the sacrament to make us one
And happy! Just as bid, she bears herself,
Comes and kneels, rises, speaks, is silent,—goes:
So have I brought my horse, by word and blow,
To stand stock-still and front the fire he dreads.
How can I other than remember this,
Resent the very obedience? Gain thereby?
Yes, I do gain my end and have my will,—
Thanks to whom? When the mother speaks the word,
She obeys it—even to enduring me!
There had been compensation in revolt—
Revolt’s to quell: but martyrdom rehearsed,
But determined saintship for the sake
O’ the mother?—“Go!” thought I, “we meet again!”
Pass the next weeks of dumb contented death,
She lives,—wakes up, installed in house and home,
Is mine, mine all day-long, all night-long mine.
Good folks begin at me with open mouth
“Now, at least, reconcile the child to life!
“Study and make her love . . . that is, endure
“The . . . hem! the . . . all of you though somewhat old,
“Till it amount to something, in her eye,
“As good as love, better a thousand times—
“Since nature helps the woman in such strait,
“Makes passiveness her pleasure: failing which,
“What if you give up boys’ and girls’ fools’-play
“And go on to wise friendship all at once?
“Those boys and girls kiss themselves cold, you know.
“Toy themselves tired and slink aside full soon
“To friendship, as they name satiety;
“Thither go you and wait their coming!” Thanks,
Considerate advisers,—but, fair play!
Had you and I but started fair at first
We, keeping fair, might reach it, neck by neck,
This blessed goal, whenever fate so please:
But why am I to miss the daisied mile
The course begins with, why obtain the dust
Of the end precisely at the starting-point?
Why quaff life’s cup blown free of all the beads,
The bright red froth wherein our beard should steep
Before our mouth essay the black o’ the wine?
Foolish, the love-fit? Let me prove it such
Like you, before like you I puff things clear!
“The best’s to come, no rapture but content!
“Not the first glory but a sober glow,
“Nor a spontaneous outburst in pure boon,
“So much as, gained by patience, care and toil!”
Go preach that to your nephews, not to me
Who, tired i’ the midway of my life, would stop
And take my first refreshment in a rose:
What’s this coarse woolly hip, worn smooth of leaf,
You counsel I go plant in garden-pot,
Water with tears, manure with sweat and blood,
In confidence the seed shall germinate
And, for its very best, some far-off day,
Grow big, and blow me out a dog-rose bell?
Why must your nephews begin breathing spice
O’ the hundred-petalled Provence prodigy?
Nay, more and worse,—would such my root bear rose—
Prove really flower and favourite, not the kind
That’s queen, but those three leaves that make one cup.
And hold the hedge-bird’s breakfast,—then indeed
The prize though poor would pay the care and toil!
Respect we Nature that makes least as most,
Marvellous in the minim! But this bud,
Bit through and burned black by the tempter’s tooth,
This bloom whose best grace was the slug outside
And the wasp inside its bosom,—call you “rose?”
Claim no immunity from a weed’s fate
For the horrible present! What you call my wife
I call a nullity in female shape,
Vapid disgust, soon to be pungent plague,
When mixed with, made confusion and a curse
By two abominable nondescripts,
That father and that mother: think you see
The dreadful bronze our boast, we Aretines,
The Etruscan monster, the three-headed thing,
Bellerophon’s foe! How name you the whole beast?
You choose to name the body from one head,
That of the simple kid which droops the eye,
Hangs the neck and dies tenderly enough:
I rather see the griesly lion belch
Flame out i’ the midst, the serpent writhe her rings,
Grafted into the common stock for tail,
And name the brute, Chimæra, which I slew!
How was there ever more to be—(concede
My wife’s insipid harmless nullity)—
Dissociation from that pair of plagues—
That mother with her cunning and her cant—
The eyes with first their twinkle of conceit,
Then, dropped to earth in mock-demureness,—now,
The smile self-satisfied from ear to ear
Now, the prim pursed-up mouth’s protruded lips,
With deferential duck, slow swing of head,
Tempting the sudden fist of man too much,—
That owl-like screw of lid and rock of ruff!
As for the father,—Cardinal, you know,
The kind of idiot!—rife are such in Rome,
But they wear velvet commonly, such fools,
At the end of life, can furnish forth young folk
Who grin and bear with imbecility,
Since the stalled ass, the joker, sheds from jaw
Corn, in the joke, for those who laugh or starve:
But what say we to the same solemn beast
Wagging his ears and wishful of our pat,
When turned, with hide in holes and bones laid bare,
To forage for himself i’ the waste o’ the world,
Sir Dignity i’ the dumps? Pat him? We drub
Self-knowledge, rather, into frowzy pate,
Teach Pietro to get trappings or go hang!
Fancy this quondam oracle in vogue
At Via Vittoria, this personified
Authority when time was,—Pantaloon
Flaunting his tom-fool tawdry just the same
As if Ash-Wednesday were mid-Carnival!
That’s the extreme and unforgivable
Of sins, as I account such. Have you stooped
For your own ends to bestialise yourself
By flattery of a fellow of this stamp?
The ends obtained, or else shown out of reach,
He goes on, takes the flattery for pure truth,—
“You love and honour me, of course: what next?”
What, but the trifle of the stabbing, friend?—
Which taught you how one worships when the shrine
Has lost the relic that we bent before.
Angry? And how could I be otherwise?
’Tis plain: this pair of old pretentious fools
Meant to fool me: it happens, I fooled them,
Why could not these who sought to buy and sell
Me,—when they found themselves were bought and sold,
Make up their mind to the proved rule of right,
Be chattel and not chapman any more?
Miscalculation has its consequence;
But when the shepherd crooks a sheep-like thing
And meaning to get wool, dislodges fleece
And finds the veritable wolf beneath,
(How that staunch image serves at every turn!)
Does he, by way of being politic,
Pluck the first whisker grimly visible?—
Or rather grow in a trice all gratitude,
Protest this sort-of-what-one-might-name sheep
Beats the old other curly-coated kind,
And shall share board and bed, if so it deign,
With its discoverer, like a royal ram?
Ay, thus, with chattering teeth and knocking knees,
Would wisdom treat the adventure: these, forsooth,
Tried whisker-plucking, and so found what trap
The whisker kept perdue, two rows of teeth—
Sharp, as too late the prying fingers felt.
What would you have? The fools transgress, the fools
Forthwith receive appropriate punishment:
They first insult me, I return the blow,
There follows noise enough: four hubbub months,
Now hue and cry, now whimpering and wail—
A perfect goose-yard cackle of complaint
Because I do not gild the geese their oats,—
I have enough of noise, ope wicket wide,
Sweep out the couple to go whine elsewhere,
Frightened a little, hurt in no respect,
And am just taking thought to breathe again,
Taste the sweet sudden silence all about,
When, there they are at it, the old noise I know,
At Rome i’ the distance! “What, begun once more?
“Whine on, wail ever, ’tis the loser’s right!”
But eh, what sort of voice grows on the wind?
Triumph it sounds and no complaint at all!
And triumph it is! My boast was premature:
The creatures, I turned forth, clapped wing and crew
Fighting-cock-fashion,—they had filched a pearl
From dung-heap, and might boast with cause enough!
I was defrauded of all bargained for,—
You know, the Pope knows, not a soul but knows
My dowry was derision, my gain—muck,
My wife (the Church declared my flesh and blood)
The nameless bastard of a common whore:
My old name turned henceforth to . . . shall I say
“He that received the ordure in his face?”
And they who planned this wrong, performed this wrong,
And then revealed this wrong to the wide world,
Rounded myself in the ears with my own wrong,—
Why, these were . . . note hell’s lucky malice, now! . . .
These were just they, and they alone, could act
And publish in this wise their infamy,
Secure that men would in a breath believe
Compassionate and pardon them,—for why?
They plainly were too stupid to invent,
Too simple to distinguish wrong from right,—
Inconscious agents they, the silly-sooth,
Of heaven’s retributive justice on the strong
Proud cunning violent oppressor—me!
Follow them to their fate and help your best,
You Rome, Arezzo, foes called friends of mine,
They gave the good long laugh to at my cost!
Defray your share o’ the cost since you partook
The entertainment! Do!—assured the while,
That not one stab, I dealt to right and left,
But went the deeper for a fancy—this—
That each might do me two-fold service, find
A friend’s face at the bottom of each wound,
And scratch its smirk a little!
There’s a report at Florence,—is it true?—
That when your relative the Cardinal
Built, only the other day, that barrack-bulk,
The palace in Via Larga, some one picked
From out the street a saucy quip enough
That fell there from its day’s flight through the town,
About the flat front and the windows wide
And ugly heap of cornice,—hitched the joke
Into a sonnet, signed his name thereto,
And forthwith pinned on post the pleasantry.
For which he’s at the galleys, rowing now
Up to his waist in water,—just because
Panciatic and lymphatic rhymed so pat:
I hope, Sir, those who passed this joke on me
Were not unduly punished? What say you,
Prince of the Church, my patron? Nay, indeed!
I shall not dare insult your wits so much
As think this problem difficult to solve!
This Pietro and Violante, then, I say,
These two ambiguous insects, changing name
And nature with the season’s warmth or chill,—
Now, grovelled, grubbing toiling moiling ants,
A very synonym of thrift and peace,—
Anon, with lusty June to prick their heart,
Soared i’ the air, winged flies for more offence,
Circled me, buzzed me deaf and stung me blind,
And stunk me dead with fetor in the face
Until I stopped the nuisance: there’s my crime!
Pity I did not suffer them subside
Into some further shape and final form
Of execrable life? My masters, no!
I, by one blow, wisely cut short at once
Them and their transformations of disgust
In the snug little Villa out of hand.
“Grant me confession, give bare time for that!”—
Shouted the sinner till his mouth was stopped.
His life confessed!—that was enough for me,
Who came to see that he did penance. ’S death!
Here’s a coil raised, a pother and for what?
Because strength, being provoked by weakness, fought
And conquered,—the world never heard the like!
Pah, how I spend my breath on them, as if
’Twas their fate troubled me, too hard to range
Among the right and fit and proper things!
Ay, but Pompilia,—I await your word,—
She, unimpeached of crime, unimplicate
In folly, one of alien blood to these
I punish, why extend my claim, exact
Her portion of the penalty? Yes, friends,
I go too fast: the orator’s at fault:
Yes, ere I lay her, with your leave, by them
As she was laid at San Lorenzo late,
I ought to step back, lead her by degrees,
Recounting at each step some fresh offence,
Up to the red bed,—never fear, I will!
Gaze on her, where you place her, to begin,
Confound me with her gentleness and worth!
The horrible pair have fled and left her now,
She has her husband for her sole concern,
His wife, the woman fashioned for his help,
Flesh of his flesh, bone of his bone, the bride
To groom as is the Church and Spouse, to Christ:
There she stands in his presence,—“Thy desire
“Shall be to the husband, o’er thee shall he rule!”
—“Pompilia, who declare that you love God,
“You know who said that: then, desire my love,
“Yield me contentment and be ruled aright!”
She sits up, she lies down, she comes and goes,
Kneels at the couch-side, overleans the sill
O’ the window, cold and pale and mute as stone,
Strong as stone also. “Well, are they not fled?
“Am I not left, am I not one for all?
“Speak a word, drop a tear, detach a glance,
“Bless me or curse me of your own accord!
“Is it the ceiling only wants your soul,
“Is worth your eyes?” And then the eyes descend
And do look at me. Is it at the meal?
“Speak!” she obeys, “Be silent!” she obeys,
Counting the minutes till I cry “Depart,”
As brood-bird when you saunter past her eggs,
Departed, just the same through door and wall
I see the same stone strength of white despair.
And all this will be never otherwise!
Before, the parents’ presence lent her life:
She could play off her sex’s armoury,
Intreat, reproach, be female to my male,
Try all the shrieking doubles of the hare,
Go clamour to the Commissary, bid
The Archbishop hold my hands and stop my tongue,
And yield fair sport so: but the tactics change,
The hare stands stock-still to enrage the hound!
Since that day when she learned she was no child
Of those she thought her parents,—that their trick
Had tricked me whom she thought sole trickster late,—
Why, I suppose she said within herself
“Then, no more struggle for my parents’ sake,
“And, for my own sake, why needs struggle be?”
But is there no third party to the pact?
What of her husband’s relish or dislike
For this new game of giving up the game,
This worst offence of not offending more?
I’ll not believe but instinct wrought in this,
Set her on to conceive and execute
The preferable plague . . . how sure they probe,—
These jades, the sensitivest soft of man!
The long black hair was wound now in a wisp,—
Crowned sorrow better than the wild web late:
No more soiled dress, ’tis trimness triumphs now,
For how should malice go with negligence?
The frayed silk looked the fresher for her spite!
There was an end to springing out of bed,
Praying me, with face buried on my feet,
Be hindered of my pastime,—so an end
To my rejoinder, “What, on the ground at last?
“Vanquished in fight, a supplicant for life?
“What if I raise you? ’Ware the casting down
“When next you fight me!” Then, she lay there, mine:
Now, mine she is if I please wring her neck,—
A moment of disquiet, working eyes,
Protruding tongue, a long sigh, then no more—
As if one killed the horse one could not ride!
Had I enjoined “Cut off the hair!”—why, snap
The scissors, and at once a yard or so
Had fluttered in black serpents to the floor:
But till I did enjoin it, how she combs,
Uncurls and draws out to the complete length,
Plaits, places the insulting rope on head
To be an eyesore past dishevelment!
Is all done? Then sit still again and stare!
I advise—no one think to bear that look
Of steady wrong, endured as steadily,
—Through what sustainment of deluding hope?
Who is the friend i’ the background that notes all?
Who may come presently and close accounts?
This self-possession to the uttermost,
How does it differ in aught, save degree,
From the terrible patience of God?
“All which just means,
“She did not love you!” Again the word is launched
And the fact fronts me! What, you try the wards
With the true key and the dead lock flies ope?
No, it sticks fast and leaves you fumbling still!
You have some fifty servants, Cardinal,—
Which of them loves you? Which subordinate
But makes parade of such officiousness
That,—if there’s no love prompts it,—love, the sham,
Does twice the service done by love, the true.
God bless us liars, where’s one touch of truth
In what we tell the world, or world tells us,
Oh how we like each other? All the same,
We calculate on word and deed, nor err,—
Bid such a man do such a loving act,
Sure of effect and negligent of cause,
Just as we bid a horse, with cluck of tongue,
Stretch his legs arch-wise, crouch his saddled back
To foot-reach of the stirrup—all for love,
And some for memory of the smart of switch
On the inside of the foreleg—what care we?
Yet where’s the bond obliges horse to man
Like that which binds fast wife to husband? God
Laid down the law: gave man the brawny arm
And ball of fist—woman the beardless cheek
And proper place to suffer in the side:
Since it is he can strike, let her obey!
Can she feel no love? Let her show the more,
Sham the worse, damn herself praiseworthily!
Who’s that soprano Rome went mad about
Last week while I lay rotting in my straw?
The very jailor gossiped in his praise—
How,—dressed up like Armida, though a man;
And painted to look pretty, though a fright,—
He still made love so that the ladies swooned,
Being an eunuch. “Ah, Rinaldo mine!
“But to breathe by thee while Jove slays us both!”
All the poor bloodless creature never felt,
Si, do, re, me, fa, squeak and squall—for what?
Two gold zecchines the evening! Here’s my slave,
Whose body and soul depend upon my nod,
Can’t falter out the first note in the scale
For her life! Why blame me if I take the life?
All women cannot give men love, forsooth!
No, nor all pullets lay the henwife eggs—
Whereat she bids them remedy the fault,
Brood on a chalk-ball: soon the nest is stocked—
Otherwise, to the plucking and the spit!
This wife of mine was of another mood—
Would not begin the lie that ends with truth,
Nor feign the love that brings real love about:
Wherefore I judged, sentenced and punished her.
But why particularise, defend the deed?
Say that I hated her for no one cause
Beyond my pleasure so to do,—what then?
Just on as much incitement acts the world,
All of you! Look and like! You favour one,
Brow-beat another, leave alone a third,—
Why should you master natural caprice?
Pure nature! Try—plant elm by ash in file;
Both unexceptionable trees enough,
They ought to overlean each other, pair
At top and arch across the avenue
The whole path to the pleasaunce: do they so—
Or loathe, lie off abhorrent each from each?
Lay the fault elsewhere, since we must have faults:
Mine shall have been,—seeing there’s ill in the end
Come of my course,—that I fare somehow worse
For the way I took,—my fault . . . as God’s my judge
I see not where the fault lies, that’s the truth!
I ought . . . oh, ought in my own interest
Have let the whole adventure go untried,
This chance by marriage,—or else, trying it,
Ought to have turned it to account some one
O’ the hundred otherwises? Ay, my friend,
Easy to say, easy to do,—step right
Now you’ve stepped left and stumbled on the thing,
—The red thing! Doubt I any more than you
That practice makes man perfect? Give again
The chance,—same marriage and no other wife,
Be sure I’ll edify you! That’s because
I’m practised, grown fit guide for Guido’s self.
You proffered guidance,—I know, none so well,—
You laid down law and rolled decorum out,
From pulpit-corner on the gospel-side,—
Wanted to make your great experience mine,
Save me the personal search and pains so: thanks!
Take your word on life’s use? When I take his—
The muzzled ox that treadeth out the corn,
Gone blind in padding round and round one path,—
As to the taste of green grass in the field!
What do you know o’ the world that’s trodden flat
And salted sterile with your daily dung,
Leavened into a lump of loathsomeness?
Take your opinion of the modes of life,
The aims of life, life’s triumph or defeat,
How to feel, how to scheme and how to do
Or else leave undone? You preached long and loud
On high-days, “Take our doctrine upon trust!
“Into the mill-house with you! Grind our corn,
“Relish our chaff, and let the green grass grow!”
I tried chaff, found I famished on such fare,
So made this mad rush at the mill-house-door,
Buried my head up to the ears in dew,
Browsed on the best, for which you brain me, Sirs!
Be it so! I conceived of life that way,
And still declare—life, without absolute use
Of the actual sweet therein, is death, not life.
Give me,—pay down,—not promise, which is air,—
Something that’s out of life and better still,
Make sure reward, make certain punishment,
Entice me, scare me,—I’ll forego this life;
Otherwise, no!—the less that words, mere wind,
Would cheat me of some minutes while they plague.
The fulness of revenge here,—blame yourselves
For this eruption of the pent-up soul
You prisoned first and played with afterward!
“Deny myself” meant simply pleasure you,
The sacred and superior, save the mark!
You,—whose stupidity and insolence
I must defer to, soothe at every turn,—
Whose swine-like snuffling greed and grunting lust
I had to wink at or help gratify,—
While the same passions,—dared they perk in me,
Me, the immeasurably marked, by God,
Master of the whole world of such as you,—
I, boast such passions? ’Twas “Suppress them straight!
“Or stay, we’ll pick and choose before destroy:
“Here’s wrath in you,—a serviceable sword,—
“Beat it into a ploughshare! What’s this long
“Lance-like ambition? Forge a pruning-hook,
“May be of service when our vines grow tall!
“But—sword used swordwise, spear thrust out as spear?
“Anathema! Suppression is the word!”
My nature, when the outrage was too gross,
Widened itself an outlet over-wide
By way of answer?—sought its own relief
With more of fire and brimstone than you wished?
All your own doing: preachers, blame yourselves!
’Tis I preach while the hour-glass runs and runs!
God keep me patient! All I say just means—
My wife proved, whether by her fault or mine,—
That’s immaterial,—a true stumbling-block
I’ the way of me her husband: I but plied
The hatchet yourselves use to clear a path,
Was politic, played the game you warrant wins,
Plucked at law’s robe a-rustle through the courts,
Bowed down to kiss divinity’s buckled shoe
Cushioned i’ the church: efforts all wide the aim!
Procedures to no purpose! Then flashed truth!
The letter kills, the spirit keeps alive
In law and gospel: there be nods and winks
Instruct a wise man to assist himself
In certain matters nor seek aid at all.
“Ask money of me,”—quoth the clownish saw,—
“And take my purse! But,—speaking with respect,—
“Need you a solace for the troubled nose?
“Let everybody wipe his own himself!”
Sirs, tell me free and fair! Had things gone well
At the wayside inn: had I surprised asleep
The runaways, as was so probable,
And pinned them each to other partridge-wise,
Through back and breast to breast and back, then bade
Bystanders witness if the spit, my sword,
Were loaded with unlawful game for once—
Would you have interposed to damp the glow
Applauding me on every husband’s cheek?
Would you have checked the cry “A judgment, see!
“A warning, note! Be henceforth chaste, ye wives,
“Nor stray beyond your proper precinct, priests!”
If you had, then your house against itself
Divides, nor stands your kingdom any more.
Oh, why, why was it not ordained just so?
Why fell not things out so nor otherwise?
Ask that particular devil whose task it is
To trip the all-but-at perfection,—slur
The line o’ the painter just where paint leaves off
And life begins,—puts ice into the ode
O’ the poet while he cries “Next stanza—fire!”
Inscribes all human effort with one word,
Artistry’s haunting curse, the Incomplete!
Being incomplete, the act escaped success.
Easy to blame now! Every fool can swear
To hole in net that held and slipped the fish.
But, treat my act with fair unjaundiced eye,
What was there wanting to a masterpiece
Except the luck that lies beyond a man?
My way with the woman, now proved grossly wrong,
Just missed of being gravely grandly right
And making critics laugh o’ the other side.
Do, for the poor obstructed artist’s sake,
Go with him over that spoiled work once more!
Take only its first flower, the ended act
Now in the dusty pod, dry and defunct!
I march to the Villa, and my men with me,
That evening, and we reach the door and stand.
I say . . . no, it shoots through me lightning-like
While I pause, breathe, my hand upon the latch,
“Let me forebode! Thus far, too much success:
“I want the natural failure—find it where?
“Which thread will have to break and leave a loop
“I’ the meshy combination, my brain’s loom
“Wove this long while and now next minute tests?
“Of three that are to catch, two should go free,
“One must: all three surprised,—impossible!
“Beside, I seek three and may chance on six,—
“This neighbour, t’other gossip,—the babe’s birth
“Brings such to fireside and folks give them wine,—
“’Tis late: but when I break in presently
“One will be found outlingering the rest
“For promise of a posset,—one whose shout
“Would raise the dead down in the catacombs,
“Much more the city-watch that goes its round.
“When did I ever turn adroitly up
“To sun some brick embedded in the soil,
“And with one blow crush all three scorpions there?
“Or Pietro or Violante shambles off—
“It cannot be but I surprise my wife—
“If only she is stopped and stamped on, good!
“That shall suffice: more is improbable.
“Now I may knock!” And this once for my sake
The impossible was effected: I called king,
Queen and knave in a sequence, and cards came,
All three, three only! So, I had my way,
Did my deed: so, unbrokenly lay bare
Each tænia that had sucked me dry of juice,
At last outside me, not an inch of ring
Left now to writhe about and root itself
I’ the heart all powerless for revenge! Henceforth
I might thrive: these were drawn and dead and damned.
Oh Cardinal, the deep long sigh you heave
When the load’s off you, ringing as it runs
All the way down the serpent-stair to hell!
No doubt the fine delirium flustered me,
Turned my brain with the influx of success
As if the sole need now were to wave wand
And find doors fly wide,—wish and have my will,—
The rest o’ the scheme would care for itself: escape?
Easy enough were that, and poor beside!
It all but proved so,—ought to quite have proved,
Since, half the chances had sufficed, set free
Any one, with his senses at command,
From thrice the danger of my flight. But, drunk,
Redundantly triumphant,—some reverse
Was sure to follow! There’s no other way
Accounts for such prompt perfect failure then
And there on the instant. And day o’ the week,
A ducat slid discreetly into palm
O’ the mute post-master, while you whisper him—
How you the Count and certain four your knaves,
Have just been mauling who was malapert,
Suspect the kindred may prove troublesome,
Therefore, want horses in a hurry,—that
And nothing more secures you any day
The pick o’ the stable! Yet I try the trick,
Double the bribe, call myself Duke for Count,
And say the dead man only was a Jew,
And for my pains find I am dealing just
With the one scrupulous fellow in all Rome—
Just this immaculate official stares,
Sees I want hat on head and sword in sheath,
Am splashed with other sort of wet than wine,
Shrugs shoulder, puts my hand by, gold and all,
Stands on the strictness of the rule o’ the road!
“Where’s the Permission?” Where’s the wretched rag
With the due seal and sign of Rome’s Police,
To be had for asking, half-an-hour ago?
“Gone? Get another, or no horses hence!”
He dares not stop me, we five glare too grim,
But hinders,—hacks and hamstrings sure enough,
Gives me some twenty miles of miry road
More to march in the middle of that night
Whereof the rough beginning taxed the strength
O’ the youngsters, much more mine, such as you see,
Who had to think as well as act: dead-beat,
We gave in ere we reached the boundary
And safe spot out of this irrational Rome,—
Where, on dismounting from our steeds next day,
We had snapped our fingers at you, safe and sound,
Tuscans once more in blessed Tuscany,
Where the laws make allowance, understand
Civilised life and do its champions right!
Witness the sentence of the Rota there,
Arezzo uttered, the Granduke confirmed,
One week before I acted on its hint,—
Giving friend Guillichini, for his love,
The galleys, and my wife your saint, Rome’s saint,—
Rome manufactures saints enough to know,—
Seclusion at the Stinche for her life,
All this, that all but was, might all have been,
Yet was not! baulked by just a scrupulous knave
Whose palm was horn through handling horses’ hoofs
And could not close upon my proffered gold!
What say you to the spite of fortune? Well,
The worst’s in store: thus hindered, haled this way
To Rome again by hangdogs, whom find I
Here, still to fight with, but my pale frail wife?
—Riddled with wounds by one not like to waste
The blows he dealt,—knowing anatomy,—
(I think I told you) one to pick and choose
The vital parts! ’Twas learning all in vain!
She too must shimmer through the gloom o’ the grave,
Come and confront me—not at judgment-seat
Where I could twist her soul, as erst her flesh,
And turn her truth into a lie,—but there,
O’ the death-bed, with God’s hand between us both,
Striking me dumb, and helping her to speak,
Tell her own story her own way, and turn
My plausibility to nothingness!
Four whole days did Pompilia keep alive,
With the best surgery of Rome agape
At the miracle,—this cut, the other slash,
And yet the life refusing to dislodge,
Four whole extravagant impossible days,
Till she had time to finish and persuade
Every man, every woman, every child
In Rome of what she would: the selfsame she
Who, but a year ago, had wrung her hands,
Reddened her eyes and beat her breasts, rehearsed
The whole game at Arezzo, nor availed
Thereby to move one heart or raise one hand!
When destiny intends you cards like these,
What good of skill and preconcerted play?
Had she been found dead, as I left her dead,
I should have told a tale brooked no reply:
You scarcely will suppose me found at fault
With that advantage! “What brings me to Rome?
“Necessity to claim and take my wife:
“Better, to claim and take my new-born babe,—
“Strong in paternity a fortnight old,
“When ’tis at strongest: warily I work,
“Knowing the machinations of my foe;
“I have companionship and use the night:
“I seek my wife and child,—I find—no child
“But wife, in the embraces of that priest
“Who caused her to elope from me. These two,
“Backed by the pander-pair who watch the while,
“Spring on me like so many tiger-cats,
“Glad of the chance to end the intruder. I—
“What should I do but stand on my defence,
“Strike right, strike left, strike thick and threefold, slay,
“Not all—because the coward priest escapes.
“Last, I escape, in fear of evil tongues,
“And having had my taste of Roman law.”
What’s disputable, refutable here?—
Save by just one ghost-thing half on earth,
Half out of it,—as if she held God’s hand
While she leant back and looked her last at me,
Forgiving me (here monks begin to weep)
Oh, from her very soul, commending mine
To heavenly mercies which are infinite,—
While fixing fast my head beneath your knife!
’Tis fate not fortune! All is of a piece!
What was it you informed me of my youths?
My rustic four o’ the family, soft swains,
What sweet surprise had they in store for me,
Those of my very household,—what did Law
Twist with her rack-and-cord-contrivance late
From out their bones and marrow? What but this—
Had no one of these several stumbling-blocks
Stopped me, they yet were cherishing a scheme,
All of their honest country homespun wit,
To quietly next day at crow of cock,
Cut my own throat too, for their own behoof,
Seeing I had forgot to clear accounts
O’ the instant, nowise slackened speed for that,—
And somehow never might find memory,
Once safe back in Arezzo, where things change,
And a court-lord needs mind no country lout.
Well, being the arch-offender, I die last,—
May, ere my head falls, have my eyesight free,
Nor miss them dangling high on either hand,
Like scarecrows in a hemp-field, for their pains!
And then my Trial,—’tis my Trial that bites
Like a corrosive, so the cards are packed,
Dice loaded, and my life-stake tricked away!
Look at my lawyers, lacked they grace of law,
Latin or logic? Were not they fools to the height,
Fools to the depth, fools to the level between,
O’ the foolishness set to decide the case?
They feign, they flatter; nowise does it skill,
Everything goes against me: deal each judge
His dole of flattery and feigning,—why,
He turns and tries and snuffs and savours it,
As an old fly the sugar-grain, your gift;
Then eyes your thumb and finger, brushes clean
The absurd old head of him, and whisks away,
Leaving your thumb and finger dirty. Faugh!
And finally, after this long-drawn range
Of affront, failure, failure and affront,—
This path, twixt crosses leading to a skull,
Paced by me barefoot, bloodied by my palms
From the entry to the end,—there’s light at length,
A cranny of escape,—appeal may be
To the old man, to the father, to the Pope
For a little life—from one whose life is spent,
A little pity—from pity’s source and seat,
A little indulgence to rank, privilege,
From one who is the thing personified,
Rank, privilege, indulgence, grown beyond
Earth’s bearing, even, ask Jansenius else!
Still the same answer, still no other tune
From the cicala perched at the tree-top
Than crickets noisy round the root,—’tis “Die!”
Bids Law—“Be damned!” adds Gospel,—nay,
No word so frank,—’tis rather, “Save yourself!”
The Pope subjoins—“Confess and be absolved!
“So shall my credit countervail your shame,
“And the world see I have not lost the knack
“Of trying all the spirits,—yours, my son,
“Wants but a fiery washing to emerge
“In clarity! Come, cleanse you, ease the ache
“Of these old bones, refresh our bowels, boy!”
Do I mistake your mission from the Pope?
Then, bear his Holiness the mind of me!
I do get strength from being thrust to wall,
Successively wrenched from pillar and from post
By this tenacious hate of fortune, hate
Of all things in, under, and above earth.
Warfare, begun this mean unmanly mode,
Does best to end so,—gives earth spectacle
Of a brave fighter who succumbs to odds
That turn defeat to victory. Stab, I fold
My mantle round me! Rome approves my act:
Applauds the blow which costs me life but keeps
My honour spotless: Rome would praise no more
Had I fallen, say, some fifteen years ago,
Helping Vienna when our Aretines
Flocked to Duke Charles and fought Turk Mustafa:
Nor would you two be trembling o’er my corpse
With all this exquisite solicitude.
Why is it that I make such suit to live?
The popular sympathy that’s round me now
Would break like bubble that o’er-domes a fly—
Pretty enough while he lies quiet there,
But let him want the air and ply the wing,
Why, it breaks and bespatters him, what else?
Cardinal, if the Pope had pardoned me,
And I walked out of prison through the crowd,
It would not be your arm I should dare press!
Then, if I got safe to my place again,
How sad and sapless were the years to come!
I go my old ways and find things grown grey;
You priests leer at me, old friends look askance;
The mob’s in love, I’ll wager, to a man,
With my poor young good beauteous murdered wife:
For hearts require instruction how to beat,
And eyes, on warrant of the story, wax
Wanton at portraiture in white and black
Of dead Pompilia gracing ballad-sheet,
Which, had she died unmurdered and unsung,
Would never turn though she paced street as bare
As the mad penitent ladies do in France.
My brothers quietly would edge me out
Of use and management of things called mine;
Do I command? “You stretched command before!”
Show anger? “Anger little helped you once!”
Advise? “How managed you affairs of old?”
My very mother, all the while they gird,
Turns eye up, gives confirmatory groan,—
For unsuccess, explain it how you will,
Disqualifies you, makes you doubt yourself,
—Much more, is found decisive by your friends.
Beside, am I not fifty years of age?
What new leap would a life take, checked like mine
I’ the spring at outset? Where’s my second chance?
Ay, but the babe . . . I had forgot my son,
My heir! Now for a burst of gratitude!
There’s some appropriate service to intone,
Some gaudeamus and thanksgiving-psalm!
Old, I renew my youth in him, and poor
Possess a treasure,—is not that the phrase?
Only I must wait patient twenty years—
Nourishing all the while, as father ought,
The excrescence with my daily blood of life.
Does it respond to hope, such sacrifice,—
Grows the wen plump while I myself grow lean?
Why, here’s my son and heir in evidence,
Who stronger, wiser, handsomer than I
By fifty years, relieves me of each load,—
Tames my hot horse, carries my heavy gun,
Courts my coy mistress,—has his apt advice
On house-economy, expenditure,
And what not? All which good gifts and great growth
Because of my decline, he brings to bear
On Guido, but half apprehensive how
He cumbers earth, crosses the brisk young Count,
Who civilly would thrust him from the scene.
Contrariwise, does the blood-offering fail?
There’s an ineptitude, one blank the more
Added to earth in semblance of my child?
Then, this has been a costly piece of work,
My life exchanged for his!—why he, not I,
Enjoy the world, if no more grace accrue?
Dwarf me, what giant have you made of him?
I do not dread the disobedient son—
I know how to suppress rebellion there,
Being not quite the fool my father was.
But grant the medium measure of a man,
The usual compromise ’twixt fool and sage,
—You know—the tolerably-obstinate,
The not-so-much-perverse but you may train,
The true son-servant that, when parent bids
“Go work, son, in my vineyard!” makes reply
“I go, Sir!”—Why, what profit in your son
Beyond the drudges you might subsidise,
Have the same work from at a paul the head?
Look at those four young precious olive-plants
Reared at Vittiano,—not on flesh and blood,
These twenty years, but black bread and sour wine!
I bade them put forth tender branch, and hook
And hurt three enemies I had in Rome:
They did my hest as unreluctantly,
At promise of a dollar, as a son
Adjured by mumping memories of the past!
No, nothing repays youth expended so—
Youth, I say, who am young still,—give but leave
To live my life out, to the last I’d live
And die conceding age no right of youth!
It is the will runs the renewing nerve
Through flaccid flesh, would faint before the time.
Therefore no sort of use for son have I—
Sick, not of life’s feast but of steps to climb
To the house where life prepares her feast,—of means
To the end: for make the end attainable
Without the means,—my relish were like yours.
A man may have an appetite enough
For a whole dish of robins ready cooked,
And yet lack courage to face sleet, pad snow,
And snare sufficiency for supper.
The time’s arrived when, ancient Roman-like,
I am bound to fall on my own sword,—why not
Say—Tuscan-like, more ancient, better still?
Will you hear truth can do no harm nor good?
I think I never was at any time
A Christian, as you nickname all the world,
Me among others: truce to nonsense now!
Name me, a primitive religionist—
As should the aboriginary be
I boast myself, Etruscan, Aretine,
One sprung,—your frigid Virgil’s fieriest word,—
From fauns and nymphs, trunks and the heart of oak,
With,—for a visible divinity,—
The portent of a Jove Ægiochus
Descried ’mid clouds, lightning and thunder, couched
On topmost crag of your Capitoline—
’Tis in the Seventh Æneid,—what, the Eighth?
Right,—thanks, Abate,—though the Christian’s dumb,
The Latinist’s vivacious in you yet!
I know my grandsire had out tapestry
Marked with the motto, ’neath a certain shield
His grandson presently will give some gules
To vary azure. First we fight for faiths,
But get to shake hands at the last of all:
Mine’s your faith too,—in Jove Ægiochus!
Nor do Greek gods, that serve as supplement,
Jar with the simpler scheme, if understood.
We want such intermediary race
To make communication possible;
The real thing were too lofty, we too low,
Midway hang these: we feel their use so plain
In linking height to depth, that we doff hat
And put no question nor pry narrowly
Into the nature hid behind the names.
We grudge no rite the fancy may demand;
But never, more than needs, invent, refine,
Improve upon requirement, idly wise
Beyond the letter, teaching gods their trade,
Which is to teach us: we’ll obey when taught.
Why should we do our duty past the due?
When the sky darkens, Jove is wroth,—say prayer!
When the sun shines and Jove is glad,—sing psalm!
But where fore pass prescription and devise
Blood-offering for sweat-service, lend the rod
A pungency through pickle of our own?
Learned Abate,—no one teaches you
What Venus means and who’s Apollo here!
I spare you, Cardinal,—but, though you wince,
You know me, I know you, and both know that!
So, if Apollo bids us fast, we fast:
But where does Venus order we stop sense
When Master Pietro rhymes a pleasantry?
Give alms prescribed on Friday,—but, hold hand
Because your foe lies prostrate,—where’s the word
Explicit in the book debars revenge?
The rationale of your scheme is just
“Pay toll here, there pursue your pleasure free!”
So do you turn to use the medium-powers,
Mars and Minerva, Bacchus and the rest,
And so are saved propitiating—what?
What all good, all wise and all potent Jove
Vexed by the very sins in man, himself
Made life’s necessity when man he made?
Irrational bunglers! So, the living truth
Revealed to strike Pan dead, ducks low at last,
Prays leave to hold its own and live good days
Provided it go masque grotesquely, called
Christian not Pagan? Oh, you purged the sky
Of all gods save One, the great and good,
Clapped hands and triumphed! But the change came fast:
The inexorable need in man for life—
Life,—you may mulct and minish to a grain
Out of the lump, so the grain left but live,—
Laughed at your substituting death for life,
And bade you do your worst,—which worst was done
—Pass that age styled the primitive and pure
When Saint this, Saint that, dutifully starved,
Froze, fought with beasts, was beaten and abused,
And finally ridded of his flesh by fire,
Keeping the while unspotted from the world!—
Good: but next age, how goes the game, who gives
His life and emulates Saint that and this?
They mutiny, mutter who knows what excuse?
In fine make up their minds to leave the new,
Stick to the old,—enjoy old liberty,
No prejudice, all the same, if so it please,
To the new profession: sin o’ the sly, henceforth!
Let the law stand: the letter kills, what then?
The spirit saves as unmistakeably.
Omniscience sees, Omnipotence could stop,
All-mercifulness pardons,—it must be,
Frown law its fiercest, there’s a wink somewhere.
Such was the logic in this head of mine:
I, like the rest, wrote “poison” on my bread;
But broke and ate:—said “those that use the sword
“Shall perish by the same;” then stabbed my foe.
I stand on solid earth, not empty air:
Dislodge me, let your Pope’s crook hale me hence!
Not he, nor you! And I so pity both,
I’ll make the speech you want the wit to make:
“Count Guido, who reveal our mystery,
“You trace all issues to the love of life:
“We have a life to love and guard, like you.
“Why did you put us upon self-defence?
“You well knew what prompt pass-word would appease
“The sentry’s ire when folk infringe his bounds,
“And yet kept mouth shut: do you wonder then
“If, in mere decency, he shot you dead?
“He can’t have people play such pranks as you
“Beneath his nose at noonday, who disdain
“To give him an excuse before the world,
“By crying ‘I break rule to save our camp!’
“Under the old rule, such offence were death;
“And so had you heard Pontifex pronounce
“‘Since you slay foe and violate the form,
“‘That turns to murder, which were sacrifice
“‘Had you, while, say, law-suiting him to death,
“‘But raised an altar to the Unknown God,
“‘Or else the Genius of the Vatican.’
“Why then this pother?—all because the Pope
“Doing his duty, cries ‘A foreigner,
“‘You scandalise the natives: here at Rome
“‘Romano vivitur more: wise men, here,
“‘Put the Church forward and efface themselves.
“‘The fit defence had been,—you stamped on wheat,
“‘Intending all the time to trample tares,—
“‘Were fain extirpate, then, the heretic,
“‘And now find, in your haste you slew a fool:
“‘Nor Pietro, nor Violante, nor your wife
“‘Meant to breed up your babe a Molinist!
“‘Whence you are duly contrite. Not one word
“‘Of all this wisdom did you urge!—Which slip
“‘Death must atone for!”’
So, let death atone!
So ends mistake, so end mistakers!—end
Perhaps to recommence,—how should I know?
Only, be sure, no punishment, no pain
Childish, preposterous, impossible,
But some such fate as Ovid could foresee,—
Byblis in fluvium, let the weak soul end
In water, sed Lycaon in lupum, but
The strong become a wolf for evermore!
Change that Pompilia to a puny stream
Fit to reflect the daisies on its bank!
Let me turn wolf, be whole, and sate, for once,—
Wallow in what is now a wolfishness
Coerced too much by the humanity
That’s half of me as well! Grow out of man,
Glut the wolf-nature,—what remains but grow
Into the man again, be man indeed
And all man? Do I ring the changes right
Deformed, transformed, reformed, informed, conformed!
The honest instinct, pent and crossed through life,
Let surge by death into a visible flow
Of rapture: as the strangled thread of flame
Painfully winds, annoying and annoyed,
Malignant and maligned, thro’ stone and ore,
Till earth exclude the stranger: vented once,
It finds full play, is recognised a-top
Some mountain as no such abnormal birth.
Fire for the mount, the streamlet for the vale!
Ay, of the water was that wife of mine—
Be it for good, be it for ill, no run
O’ the red thread through that insignificance!
Again, how she is at me with those eyes!
Away with the empty stare! Be holy still,
And stupid ever! Occupy your patch
Of private snow that’s somewhere in what world
May now be growing icy round your head,
And aguish at your foot-print,—freeze not me,
Dare follow not another step I take.
Not with so much as those detested eyes,
No, though they follow but to pray me pause
On the incline, earth’s edge that’s next to hell!
None of your abnegation of revenge!
Fly at me frank, tug while I tear again!
There’s God, go tell Him, testify your worst!
Not she! There was no touch in her of hate:
And it would prove her hell, if I reached mine!
To know I suffered, would still sadden her,
Do what the angels might to make amends!
Therefore there’s either no such place as hell,
Or thence shall I be thrust forth, for her sake,
And thereby undergo three hells, not one—
I who, with outlet for escape to heaven,
Would tarry if such flight allowed my foe
To raise his head, relieved of that firm foot
Had pinned him to the fiery pavement else!
So am I made, “who did not make myself:”
(How dared she rob my own lip of the word?)
Beware me in what other world may be!—
Pompilia, who have brought me to this pass!
All I know here, will I say there, and go
Beyond the saying with the deed. Some use
There cannot but be for a mood like mine,
Implacable, persistent in revenge.
She maundered “All is over and at end:
“I go my own road, go you where God will!
“Forgive you? I forget you!” There’s the saint
That takes your taste, you other kind of men!
How you had loved her! Guido wanted skill
To value such a woman at her worth!
Properly the instructed criticise
“What’s here, you simpleton have tossed to take
“Its chance i’ the gutter? This a daub, indeed?
“Why, ’tis a Rafael that you kicked to rags!”
Perhaps so: some prefer the pure design:
Give me my gorge of colour, glut of gold
In a glory round the Virgin made for me!
Titian’s the man, not Monk Angelico
Who traces you some timid chalky ghost
That turns the church into a charnel: ay,
Just such a pencil might depict my wife!
She,—since she, also, would not change herself,—
Why could not she come in some heart-shaped cloud,
Rainbowed about with riches, royalty
Rimming her round, as round the tintless lawn
Guardingly runs the selvage cloth of gold?
I would have left the faint fine gauze untouched,
Needle-worked over with its lily and rose,
Let her bleach unmolested in the midst,
Chill that selected solitary spot
Of quietude she pleased to think was life:
Purity, pallor grace the lawn no doubt
When there’s the costly bordure to unthread
And make again an ingot: but what’s grace
When you want meat and drink and clothes and fire?
A tale comes to my mind that’s apposite—
Possibly true, probably false, a truth
Such as all truths we live by, Cardinal!
’Tis said, a certain ancestor of mine
Followed—whoever was the potentate,
To Paynimrie, and in some battle, broke
Through more than due allowance of the foe
And, risking much his own life, saved the lord’s
Battered and bruised, the Emperor scrambles up,
Rubs his eyes and looks round and sees my sire,
Picks a furze-sprig from out his hauberk-joint,
(Token how near the ground went majesty)
And says “Take this, and, if thou get safe home,
“Plant the same in thy garden-ground to grow:
“Run thence an hour in a straight line, and stop:
“Describe a circle round (for central point)
“The furze aforesaid, reaching every way
“The length of that hour’s run: I give it thee,—
“The central point, to build a castle there,
“The circumjacent space, for fit demesne,
“The whole to be thy children’s heritage,—
“Whom, for my sake, bid thou wear furze on cap!”
Those are my arms: we turned the furze a tree
To show more, and the greyhound tied thereto,
Straining to start, means swift and greedy both;
He stands upon a triple mount of gold—
By Jove, then, he’s escaping from true gold
And trying to arrive at empty air!
Aha! the fancy never crossed my mind!
My father used to tell me, and subjoin
“As for the castle, that took wings and flew:
“The broad lands,—why, to traverse them to-day
“Would task my gouty feet, though in my prime
“I doubt not I could stand and spit so far:
“But for the furze, boy, fear no lack of that,
“So long as fortune leaves one field to grub!
“Wherefore hurra for furze and loyalty!”
What may I mean, where may the lesson lurk?
“Do not bestow on man by way of gift
“Furze without some substantial framework,—grace
“Of purity, a furze-sprig of a wife,
“To me i’ the thick of battle for my bread,
“Without some better dowry,—house and land!”
No other gift than sordid muck? Yes, Sir!
Many more and much better. Give them me!
O those Olimpias bold, those Biancas brave,
That brought a husband will worth Ormuz’ wealth!
Cried “Thou being mine, why, what but thine am I?
“Be thou to me law, right, wrong, heaven and hell!
“Let us blend souls, be thou in me to bid
“Two bodies work one pleasure! What are these
“Called king, priest, father, mother, stranger, friend?
“They fret thee or they frustrate? Give the word—
“Be certain they shall frustrate nothing more!
“And who is this young florid foolishness
“That holds thy fortune in his pigmy clutch,
“—Being a prince and potency, forsooth!—
“And hesitates to let the trifle go?
“Let me but seal up eye, sing ear to sleep
“Sounder than Samson,—pounce thou on the prize
“Shall slip from off my breast, and down couch-side
“And on to floor, and far as my lord’s feet—
“Where he stands in the shadow with the sword
“Waiting to see what Delilah dares do!
“Is the youth fair? What is a man to me
“Who am thy call-bird? Twist his neck—my dupe’s,—
“Then take the breast shall turn a breast indeed!”
Such women are there; and they marry whom?
Why, when a man has gone and hanged himself
Because of what he calls a wicked wife,—
See, if the turpitude, he makes his moan,
Be not mere excellence the fool ignores!
His monster is perfection, Circe, sent
Straight from the sun, with rod the idiot blames
As not an honest distaff to spin wool!
O thou Lucrezia, is it long to wait
Yonder where all the gloom is in a glow
With thy suspected presence?—virgin yet,
Virtuous again in face of what’s to teach—
Sin unimagined, unimaginable,—
I come to claim my bride,—thy Borgia’s self
Not half the burning bridegroom I shall be!
Cardinal, take away your crucifix!
Abate, leave my lips alone, they bite!
’Tis vain you try to change, what should not change,
And cannot. I have bared, you bathe my heart—
It grows the stonier for your saving dew!
You steep the substance, you would lubricate,
In waters that but touch to petrify!
You too are petrifactions of a kind:
Move not a muscle that shows mercy; rave
Another twelve hours, every word were waste!
I thought you would not slay impenitence,—
Teazed first contrition from the man you slew,—
I thought you had a conscience. Cardinal,
You know I am wronged!—wronged, say, and wronged maintain.
Was this strict inquisition made for blood
When first you showed us scarlet on your back,
Called to the College? That straightforward way
To that legitimate end,—I think it passed
Over a scantling of heads brained, hearts broke,
Lives trodden into dust,—how otherwise?
Such is the way o’ the world, and so you walk:
Does memory haunt your pillow? Not a whit.
God wills you never pace your garden-path
One appetising hour ere dinner-time
But your intrusion there treads out of life
An universe of happy innocent things:
Feel you remorse about that damsel-fly
Which buzzed so near your mouth and flapped your face,
You blotted it from being at a blow?
It was a fly, you were a man, and more,
Lord of created things, so took your course.
Manliness, mind,—these are things fit to save,
Fit to brush fly from: why, because I take
My course, must needs the Pope kill me?—kill you!
Because this instrument he throws away
Is strong to serve a master: it were yours
To have and hold and get such good from out!
The Pope who dooms me, needs must die next year;
I’ll tell you how the chances are supposed
For his successor: first the Chamberlain,
Old San Cesario,—Colloredo, next,—
Then, one, two, three, four, I refuse to name,
After these, comes Altieri; then come you—
Seventh on the list you are, unless . . . ha, ha,
How can a dead hand give a friend a lift?
Are you the person to despise the help
O’ the head shall drop in pannier presently?
So a child seesaws on or kicks away
The fulcrum-stone that’s all the sage requires
To fit his lever to and move the world.
Cardinal, I adjure you in God’s name,
Save my life, fall at the Pope’s feet, set forth
Things your own fashion, not in words like these
Made for a sense like yours who apprehend!
Translate into the court-conventional
“Count Guido must not die, is innocent!
“Fair, be assured! But what an he were foul,
“Blood-drenched and murder-crusted head to foot?
“Spare one whose death insults the Emperor,
“And outrages the Louis you so love!
“He has friends who will avenge him; enemies
“Who hate the church now with impunity
“Missing the old coercive: would you send
“A soul straight to perdition, dying frank
“An atheist?” Go and say this, for God’s sake!
—Why, you don’t think I hope you’ll say one word?
Neither shall I persuade you from your stand
Nor you persuade me from my station: take
Your crucifix away, I tell you twice!
Come, I am tired of silence! Pause enough!
You have prayed: I have gone inside my soul
And shut its door behind me: ’tis your torch
Makes the place dark,—the darkness let alone
Grows tolerable twilight,—one may grope
And get to guess at length and breadth and depth.
What is this fact I feel persuaded of—
This something like a foothold in the sea,
Although Saint Peter’s bark scuds, billow-borne,
Leaves me to founder where it flung me first?
Spite of your splashing, I am high and dry!
God takes his own part in each thing he made;
Made for a reason, he conserves his work,
Gives each its proper instinct of defence.
My lamblike wife could neither bark nor bite,
She bleated, bleated, till for pity pure,
The village roused it, ran with pole and prong
To the rescue, and behold the wolf’s at bay!
Shall he try bleating?—or take turn or two,
Since the wolf owns to kinship with the fox,
And failing to escape the foe by these,
Give up attempt, die fighting quietly?
The last bad blow that strikes fire in at eye
And on to brain, and so out, life and all,
How can it but be cheated of a pang
While, fighting quietly, the jaws enjoy
Their re-embrace in mid back-bone they break,
After their weary work thro’ the foes’ flesh?
That’s the wolf-nature. Don’t mistake my trope!
The Cardinal is qualmish! Eminence,
My fight is figurative, blows i’ the air,
Brain-war with powers and principalities,
Spirit-bravado, no real fisticuffs!
I shall not presently, when the knock comes,
Cling to this bench nor flee the hangman’s face,
No, trust me! I conceive worse lots than mine.
Whether it be the old contagious fit
And plague o’ the prison have surprised me too,
The appropriate drunkenness of the death-hour
Creep on my sense, the work o’ the wine and myrrh,—
I know not,—I begin to taste my strength,
Careless, gay even: what’s the worth of life?
The Pope is dead, my murderous old man,
For Tozzi told me so: and you, forsooth—
Why, you don’t think, Abate, do your best,
You’ll live a year more with that hacking cough
And blotch of crimson where the cheek’s a pit?
Tozzi has got you also down in book.
Cardinal, only seventh of seventy near,
Is not one called Albano in the lot?
Go eat your heart, you’ll never be a Pope!
Inform me, is it true you left your love,
A Pucci, for promotion in the church?
She’s more than in the church,—in the churchyard!
Plautilla Pucci, your affianced bride,
Has dust now in the eyes that held the love,—
And Martinez, suppose they make you Pope,
Stops that with veto,—so, enjoy yourself!
I see you all reel to the rock, you waves—
Some forthright, some describe a sinuous track,
Some crested, brilliantly with heads above,
Some in a strangled swirl sunk who knows how,
But all bound whither the main-current sets,
Rockward, an end in foam for all of you!
What if I am o’ertaken, pushed to the front
By all you crowding smoother souls behind,
And reach, a minute sooner than was meant,
The boundary, whereon I break to mist?
Go to! the smoothest safest of you all,
Most perfect and compact wave in my train,
Spite of the blue tranquillity above,
Spite of the breadth before of lapsing peace
Where broods the halcyon and the fish leaps free,
Will presently begin to feel the prick
At lazy heart, the push at torpid brain,
Will rock vertiginously in turn, and reel,
And, emulative, rush to death like me:
Later or sooner by a minute then,
So much for the untimeliness of death,—
And, as regards the manner that offends,
The rude and rough, I count the same for gain—
Be the act harsh and quick! Undoubtedly
The soul’s condensed and, twice itself, expands
To burst thro’ life, in alternation due,
Into the other state whate’er it prove.
You never know what life means till you die:
Even throughout life, ’tis death that makes life live,
Gives it whatever the significance.
For see, on your own ground and argument,
Suppose life had no death to fear, how find
A possibility of nobleness
In man, prevented daring any more?
What’s love, what’s faith without a worst to dread?
Lack-lustre jewelry; but faith and love
With death behind them bidding do or die—
Put such a foil at back, the sparkle’s born!
From out myself how the strange colours come!
Is there a new rule in another world?
Be sure I shall resign myself: as here
I recognised no law I could not see,
There, what I see, I shall acknowledge too:
On earth I never took the Pope for God,
In heaven I shall scarce take God for the Pope.
Unmanned, remade: I hold it probable—
With something changeless at the heart of me
To know me by, some nucleus that’s myself:
Accretions did it wrong? Away with them—
You soon shall see the use of fire!
All that was, is; and must for ever be.
Nor is it in me to unhate my hates,—
I use up my last strength to strike once more
Old Pietro in the wine-house-gossip-face,
To trample underfoot the whine and wile
Of that Violante,—and I grow one gorge
To loathingly reject Pompilia’s pale
Poison my hasty hunger took for food.
A strong tree wants no wreaths about its trunk,
No cloying cups, no sickly sweet of scent,
But sustenance at root, a bucketful.
How else lived that Athenian who died so,
Drinking hot bull’s-blood, fit for men like me?
I lived and died a man, and take man’s chance,
Honest and bold: right will be done to such.
Who are these you have let descend my stair?
Ha, their accursed psalm! Lights at the sill!
Is it “Open” they dare bid you? Treachery!
Sirs, have I spoken one word all this while
Out of the world of words I had to say?
Not one word! All was folly—I laughed and mocked!
Sirs, my first true word all truth and no lie,
Is—save me notwithstanding! Life is all!
I was just stark mad,—let the madman live
Pressed by as many chains as you please pile!
Don’t open! Hold me from them! I am yours,
I am the Granduke’s—no, I am the Pope’s!
Abate,—Cardinal,—Christ,—Maria,—God, . . .
Pompilia, will you let them murder me?