Modern Italian Poets
W. D. Howells
Part 5 out of 6
to Florence to be placed in a school where he had the immeasurable
good fortune to fall into the hands of one whose gentleness and wisdom
he remembered through life. "Drea Francioni," he says, "had not time
to finish his work, but he was the first and the only one to put into
my heart the need and love of study. Oh, better far than stuffing the
head with Latin, with histories and with fables! Endear study, even if
you teach nothing; this is the great task!" And he afterward dedicated
his book on Tuscan proverbs, which he thought one of his best
performances, to this beloved teacher.
He had learned to love study, yet from this school, and from others
to which he was afterward sent, he came away with little Latin and no
Greek; but, what is more important, he began life about this time as a
poet--by stealing a sonnet. His theft was suspected, but could not be
proved. "And so," he says of his teacher and himself, "we remained, he
in his doubt and I in my lie. Who would have thought from this ugly
beginning that I should really have gone on to make sonnets of my
own?... The Muses once known, the vice grew upon me, and from my
twelfth to my fifteenth year I rasped, and rasped, and rasped, until
finally I came out with a sonnet to Italy, represented in the usual
fashion, by the usual matron weeping as usual over her highly
estimable misfortunes. In school, under certain priests who were more
Chinese than Italian, and without knowing whether Italy were round or
square, long or short, how that sonnet to Italy should get into my
head I don't know. I only know that it was found beautiful, and I was
advised to hide it,"--that being the proper thing to do with patriotic
poetry in those days.
After leaving school, Giusti passed three idle years with his family,
and then went to study the humanities at Pisa, where he found the
_cafe_ better adapted to their pursuit than the University, since
he could there unite with it the pursuit of the exact science of
billiards. He represents himself in his letters and verses to have led
just the life at Pisa which was most agreeable to former governments
of Italy,--a life of sensual gayety, abounding in the small
excitements which turn the thought from the real interests of the
time, and weaken at once the moral and intellectual fiber. But how
far a man can be credited to his own disgrace is one of the unsettled
questions: the repentant and the unrepentant are so apt to over-accuse
themselves. It is very wisely conjectured by some of Giusti's
biographers that he did not waste himself so much as he says in the
dissipations of student life at Pisa. At any rate, it is certain that
he began there to make those sarcastic poems upon political events
which are so much less agreeable to a paternal despotism than almost
any sort of love-songs. He is said to have begun by writing in the
manner of Beranger, and several critics have labored to prove the
similarity of their genius, with scarcely more effect, it seems to us,
than those who would make him out the Heinrich Heine of Italy, as they
call him. He was a political satirist, whose success was due to his
genius, but who can never be thoroughly appreciated by a foreigner,
or even an Italian not intimately acquainted with the affairs of his
times; and his reputation must inevitably diminish with the waning
interest of men in the obsolete politics of those vanished kingdoms
and duchies. How mean and little were all their concerns is scarcely
credible; but Giusti tells an adventure of his, at the period, which
throws light upon some of the springs of action in Tuscany. He had
been arrested for a supposed share in applause supposed revolutionary
at the theater; he boldly denied that he had been at the play. "If
you were not at the theater, how came your name on the list of the
accused?" demanded the logical commissary. "Perhaps," answered Giusti,
"the spies have me so much in mind that they see me where I am not....
Here," he continues, "the commissary fell into a rage, but I remained
firm, and cited the Count Mastiani in proof, with whom the man often
dined,"--Mastiani being governor in Pisa and the head of society. "At
the name of Mastiani there seemed to pass before the commissary a long
array of stewed and roast, eaten and to be eaten, so that he instantly
turned and said to me, 'Go, and at any rate take this summons for a
paternal admonition.'" Ever since the French Revolution of 1830, and
the sympathetic movements in Italy, Giusti had written political
satires which passed from hand to hand in manuscript copies, the
possession of which was rendered all the more eager and relishing by
the pleasure of concealing them from spies; so that for a defective
copy a person by no means rich would give as much as ten scudi. When a
Swiss printed edition appeared in 1844, half the delight in them was
gone; the violation of the law being naturally so dear to the human
heart that, when combined with patriotism, it is almost a rapture.
But, in the midst of his political satirizing, Giusti felt the sting
of one who is himself a greater satirist than any, when he will,
though he is commonly known for a sentimentalist. The poet fell in
love very seriously and, it proved, very unhappily, as he has recorded
in three or four poems of great sweetness and grace, but no very
characteristic merit. This passion is improbably believed to have
had a disastrous effect upon Giusti's health, and ultimately to have
shortened his life; but then the Italians always like to have their
poets _agonizzanti_, at least. Like a true humorist, Giusti has
himself taken both sides of the question; professing himself properly
heart-broken in the poems referred to, and in a letter written late
in life, after he had encountered his faded love at his own home in
Pescia, making a jest of any reconciliation or renewal of the old
passion between them.
"Apropos of the heart," says Giusti in this letter, "you ask me about
a certain person who once had mine, whole and sound, roots and all. I
saw her this morning in passing, out of the corner of my eye, and I
know that she is well and enjoying herself. As to our coming together
again, the case, if it were once remote, is now impossible; for you
can well imagine that, all things considered, I could never be such a
donkey as to tempt her to a comparison of me with myself. I am
certain that, after having tolerated me for a day or two for simple
appearance' sake, she would find some good excuse for planting me a
yard outside the door. In many, obstinacy increases with the ails
and wrinkles; but in me, thank Heaven, there comes a meekness, a
resignation, not to be expressed. Perhaps it has not happened
otherwise with her. In that case we could accommodate ourselves, and
talk as long as the evening lasted of magnesia, of quinine, and of
nervines; lament, not the rising and sinking of the heart, but of the
barometer; talk, not of the theater and all the rest, but whether it
is better to crawl out into the sun like lizards, or stay at home
behind battened windows. 'Good-evening, my dear, how have you been
to-day?' 'Eh! you know, my love, the usual rheumatism; but for the
rest I don't complain.' 'Did you sleep well last night?' 'Not so bad;
and you?' 'O, little or none at all; and I got up feeling as if all my
bones were broken.' 'My idol, take a little laudanum. Think that when
you are not well I suffer with you. And your appetite, how is it?' 'O,
don't speak of it! I can't get anything down.' 'My soul, if you don't
eat you'll not be able to keep up.' 'But, my heart, what would you do
if the mouthfuls stuck in your throat?' 'Take a little quassia; ...
but, dost thou remember, once--?' 'Yes, I remember; but once was
once,' ... and so forth, and so forth. Then some evening, if a priest
came in, we could take a hand at whist with a dummy, and so live on
to the age of crutches in a passion whose phases are confided to the
apothecary rather than to the confessor."
[Illustration: GIUSEPPE GIUSTI.]
Giusti's first political poems had been inspired by the revolutionary
events of 1830 in France; and he continued part of that literary force
which, quite as much as the policy of Cavour, has educated Italians
for freedom and independence. When the French revolution of 1848 took
place, and the responsive outbreaks followed all over Europe, Tuscany
drove out her Grand Duke, as France drove out her king, and, still
emulous of that wise exemplar, put the novelist Guerrazzi at the head
of her affairs, as the next best thing to such a poet as Lamartine,
which she had not. The affair ended in the most natural way; the
Florentines under the supposed popular government became very tired
of themselves, and called back their Grand Duke, who came again with
Austrian bayonets to support him in the affections of his subjects,
where he remained secure until the persuasive bayonets disappeared
before Garibaldi ten years later.
Throughout these occurrences the voice of Giusti was heard whenever
that of good sense and a temperate zeal for liberty could be made
audible. He was an aristocrat by birth and at heart, and he looked
upon the democratic shows of the time with distrust, if not dislike,
though he never lost faith in the capacity of the Italians for an
independent national government. His broken health would not let him
join the Tuscan volunteers who marched to encounter the Austrians in
Lombardy; and though he was once elected member of the representative
body from Pescia, he did not shine in it, and refused to be chosen
a second time. His letters of this period afford the liveliest and
truest record of feeling in Tuscany during that memorable time of
alternating hopes and fears, generous impulses, and mean derelictions,
and they strike me as among the best letters in any language.
Giusti supported the Grand Duke's return philosophically, with a
sarcastic serenity of spirit, and something also of the indifference
of mortal sickness. His health was rapidly breaking, and in March,
1850, he died very suddenly of a hemorrhage of the lungs.
In noticing Giusti's poetry I have a difficulty already hinted, for if
I presented some of the pieces which gave him his greatest fame among
his contemporaries, I should be doing, as far as my present purpose is
concerned, a very unprofitable thing. The greatest part of his poetry
was inspired by the political events or passions of the time at which
it was written, and, except some five or six pieces, it is all of a
political cast. These events are now many of them grown unimportant
and obscure, and the passions are, for the most part, quite extinct;
so that it would be useless to give certain of his most popular pieces
as historical, while others do not represent him at his best as a
poet. Some degree of social satire is involved; but the poems are
principally light, brilliant mockeries of transient aspects of
politics, or outcries against forgotten wrongs, or appeals for
long-since-accomplished or defeated purposes. We know how dreary this
sort of poetry generally is in our own language, after the occasion
is once past, and how nothing but the enforced privacy of a desolate
island could induce us to read, however ardent our sympathies may have
been, the lyrics about slavery or the war, except in very rare cases.
The truth is, the Muse, for a lady who has seen so much of life and
the ways of the world, is an excessively jealous personification, and
is apt to punish with oblivion a mixed devotion at her shrine. The
poet who desires to improve and exalt his time must make up his mind
to a double martyrdom,--first, to be execrated by vast numbers of
respectable people, and then to be forgotten by all. It is a great
pity, but it cannot be helped. It is chiefly your
Rogue of canzonets and serenades
who survives. Anacreon lives; but the poets who appealed to their
Ionian fellow-citizens as men and brethren, and lectured them upon
their servility and their habits of wine-bibbing and of basking away
the dearest rights of humanity in the sun, who ever heard of them? I
do not mean to say that Giusti ever lectured his generation; he was
too good an artist for that; but at least one Italian critic forebodes
that the figure he made in the patriotic imagination must diminish
rapidly with the establishment of the very conditions he labored to
bring about. The wit of much that he said must grow dim with the
fading remembrance of what provoked it; the sting lie pointless and
painless in the dust of those who writhed under it,--so much of the
poet's virtue perishing in their death. We can only judge of all this
vaguely and for a great part from the outside, for we cannot pretend
to taste the finest flavor of the poetry which, is sealed to a
foreigner in the local phrases and racy Florentine words which Giusti
used; but I think posterity in Italy will stand in much the same
attitude toward him that we do now. Not much of the social life of his
time is preserved in his poetry, and he will not be resorted to as
that satirist of the period to whom historians are fond of alluding in
support of conjectures relative to society in the past. Now and then
he touches upon some prevailing intellectual or literary affectation,
as in the poem describing the dandified, desperate young poet of
Immersed in suppers and balls,
A martyr in yellow gloves,
sings of Italy, of the people, of progress, with the rhetoricalities
of the modern Arcadians; and he has a poem called "The Ball", which
must fairly, as it certainly does wittily, represent one of those
anomalous entertainments which rich foreigners give in Italy, and to
which all sorts of irregular aliens resort, something of the local
aristocracy appearing also in a ghostly and bewildered way. Yet even
in this poem there is a political lesson.
I suppose, in fine, that I shall most interest my readers in Giusti,
if I translate here the pieces that have most interested me. Of all,
I like best the poem which he calls "St. Ambrose", and I think the
reader will agree with me about it. It seems not only very perfect
as a bit of art, with its subtly intended and apparently capricious
mingling of satirical and pathetic sentiment, but valuable for its
vivid expression of Italian feeling toward the Austrians. These
the Italians hated as part of a stupid and brutal oppression; they
despised them somewhat as a torpid-witted folk, but individually liked
them for their amiability and good nature, and in their better moments
they pitied them as the victims of a common tyranny. I will not be
so adventurous as to say how far the beautiful military music of the
Austrians tended to lighten the burden of a German garrison in an
Italian city; but certainly whoever has heard that music must have
felt, for one base and shameful moment, that the noise of so much of
a free press as opposed his own opinions might be advantageously
exchanged for it. The poem of "St. Ambrose", written in 1846, when the
Germans seemed so firmly fixed in Milan, is impersonally addressed
to some Italian, holding office under the Austrian government, and,
therefore, in the German interest.
Your Excellency is not pleased with me
Because of certain jests I made of late,
And, for my putting rogues in pillory,
Accuse me of being anti-German. Wait,
And hear a thing that happened recently:
When wandering here and there one day as fate
Led me, by some odd accident I ran
On the old church St. Ambrose, at Milan.
My comrade of the moment was, by chance,
The young son of one Sandro--one of those
Troublesome heads--an author of romance--
_Promessi Sposi_--your Excellency knows
The book, perhaps?--has given it a glance?
Ah, no? I see! God give your brain repose;
With graver interests occupied, your head
To all such stuff as literature is dead.
I enter, and the church is full of troops:
Of northern soldiers, of Croatians, say,
And of Bohemians, standing there in groups
As stiff as dry poles stuck in vineyards,--nay,
As stiff as if impaled, and no one stoops
Out of the plumb of soldierly array;
All stand, with whiskers and mustache of tow,
Before their God like spindles in a row.
I started back: I cannot well deny
That being rained down, as it were, and thrust
Into that herd of human cattle, I
Could not suppress a feeling of disgust
Unknown, I fancy, to your Excellency,
By reason of your office. Pardon! I must
Say the church stank of heated grease, and that
The very altar-candles seemed of fat.
But when the priest had risen to devote
The mystic wafer, from the band that stood
About the altar came a sudden note
Of sweetness over my disdainful mood;
A voice that, speaking from the brazen throat
Of warlike trumpets, came like the subdued
Moan of a people bound in sore distress,
And thinking on lost hopes and happiness.
'T was Verdi's tender chorus rose aloof,--
That song the Lombards there, dying of thirst,
Send up to God, "Lord, from the native roof."
O'er countless thrilling hearts the song has burst,
And here I, whom its magic put to proof,
Beginning to be no longer I, immersed
Myself amidst those tallowy fellow-men
As if they had been of my land and kin.
What would your Excellency? The piece was fine,
And ours, and played, too, as it should be played;
It drives old grudges out when such divine
Music as that mounts up into your head!
But when the piece was done, back to my line
I crept again, and there I should have staid,
But that just then, to give me another turn,
From those mole-mouths a hymn began to yearn:
A German anthem, that to heaven went
On unseen wings, up from the holy fane;
It was a prayer, and seemed like a lament,
Of such a pensive, grave, pathetic strain
That in my soul it never shall be spent;
And how such heavenly harmony in the brain
Of those thick-skulled barbarians should dwell
I must confess it passes me to tell.
In that sad hymn, I felt the bitter sweet
Of the songs heard in childhood, which the soul
Learns from beloved voices, to repeat
To its own anguish in the days of dole;
A thought of the dear mother, a regret,
A longing for repose and love,--the whole
Anguish of distant exile seemed to run
Over my heart and leave it all undone:
When the strain ceased, it left me pondering
Tenderer thoughts and stronger and more clear;
These men, I mused, the self-same despot king,
Who rules in Slavic and Italian fear,
Tears from their homes and arms that round them cling.
And drives them slaves thence, to keep us slaves here;
From their familiar fields afar they pass
Like herds to winter in some strange morass.
To a hard life, to a hard discipline,
Derided, solitary, dumb, they go;
Blind instruments of many-eyed Rapine
And purposes they share not, and scarce know;
And this fell hate that makes a gulf between
The Lombard and the German, aids the foe
Who tramples both divided, and whose bane
Is in the love and brotherhood of men.
Poor souls! far off from all that they hold dear,
And in a land that hates them! Who shall say
That at the bottom of their hearts they bear
Love for our tyrant? I should like to lay
They've our hate for him in their pockets! Here,
But that I turned in haste and broke away,
I should have kissed a corporal, stiff and tall,
And like a scarecrow stuck against the wall.
Note : Alessandro Manzoni.
I could not well praise this poem enough, without praising it too
much. It depicts a whole order of things, and it brings vividly before
us the scene described; while its deep feeling is so lightly and
effortlessly expressed, that one does not know which to like best,
the exquisite manner or the excellent sense. To prove that Giusti was
really a fine poet, I need give nothing more, for this alone would
imply poetic power; not perhaps of the high epic sort, but of the
kind that gives far more comfort to the heart of mankind, amusing and
consoling it. "Giusti composed satires, but no poems," says a French
critic; but I think most will not, after reading this piece, agree
with him. There are satires and satires, and some are fierce enough
and brutal enough; but when a satire can breathe so much tenderness,
such generous humanity, such pity for the means, at the same time
with such hatred of the source of wrong, and all with an air of such
smiling pathos, I say, if it is not poetry, it is something better,
and by all means let us have it instead of poetry. It is humor, in its
best sense; and, after religion, there is nothing in the world can
make men so conscious, thoughtful, and modest.
A certain pensiveness very perceptible in "St. Ambrose" is the
prevailing sentiment of another poem of Giusti's, which I like very
much, because it is more intelligible than his political satires, and
because it places the reader in immediate sympathy with a man who had
not only the subtlety to depict the faults of the time, but the sad
wisdom to know that he was no better himself merely for seeing them.
The poem was written in 1844, and addressed to Gino Capponi, the
life-long friend in whose house Giusti died, and the descendant of
the great Gino Capponi who threatened the threatening Frenchmen when
Charles VIII occupied Florence: "If you sound your trumpets," as a
call to arms against the Florentines, "we will ring our bells," he
Giusti speaks of the part which he bears as a spectator and critic of
passing events, and then apostrophizes himself:
Who art thou that a scourge so keen dost bear
And pitilessly dost the truth proclaim,
And that so loath of praise for good and fair,
So eager art with bitter songs of blame?
Hast thou achieved, in thine ideal's pursuit,
The secret and the ministry of art?
Did'st thou seek first to kill and to uproot
All pride and folly out of thine own heart
Ere turning to teach other men their part?
* * * * *
O wretched scorn! from which alone I sing,
Thou weariest and saddenest my soul!
O butterfly that joyest on thy wing,
Pausing from bloom to bloom, without a goal--
And thou, that singing of love for evermore,
Fond nightingale! from wood to wood dost go,
My life is as a never-ending war
Of doubts, when likened to the peace ye know,
And wears what seems a smile and is
There is another famous poem of Giusti's in quite a different mood.
It is called "Instructions to an Emissary", sent down into Italy to
excite a revolution, and give Austria a pretext for interference,
and the supposed speaker is an Austrian minister. It is done with
excellent sarcasm, and it is useful as light upon a state of things
which, whether it existed wholly in fact or partly in the suspicion of
the Italians, is equally interesting and curious. The poem was written
in 1847, when the Italians were everywhere aspiring to a national
independence and self-government, and their rulers were conceding
privileges while secretly leaguing with Austria to continue the old
order of an Italy divided among many small tyrants. The reader will
readily believe that my English is not as good as the Italian.
INSTRUCTIONS TO AN EMISSARY.
You will go into Italy; you have here
Your passport and your letters of exchange;
You travel as a count, it would appear,
Going for pleasure and a little change;
Once there, you play the rodomont, the queer
Crack-brain good fellow, idle gamester, strange
Spendthrift and madcap. Give yourself full swing;
People are taken with that kind of thing.
When you behold--and it will happen so--
The birds flock down about the net, be wary;
Talk from a warm and open heart, and show
Yourself with everybody bold and merry.
The North's a dungeon, say, a waste of snow,
The very house and home of January,
Compared with that fair garden of the earth,
Beautiful, free, and full of life and mirth.
And throwing in your discourse this word _free_,
Just to fill up, and as by accident,
Look round among your listeners, and see
If it has had at all the effect you meant;
Beat a retreat if it fails, carelessly
Talking of this and that; but in the event
Some one is taken with it, never fear,
Push boldly forward, for the road is clear.
Be bold and shrewd; and do not be too quick,
As some are, and plunge headlong on your prey
When, if the snare shall happen not to stick,
Your uproar frightens all the rest away;
To take your hare by carriage is the trick;
Make a wide circle, do not mind delay;
Experiment and work in silence; scheme
With that wise prudence that shall folly seem.
The minister bids the emissary, "Turn me into a jest; say I'm
sleepy and begin to dote; invent what lies you will, I give you
Of governments down yonder say this, too,
At the cafes and theaters; indeed
For this, I've made a little sign for you
Upon your passport that the wise will read
For an express command to let you do
Whatever you think best, and take no heed.
Then the emissary is instructed to make himself center of the party of
extremes, and in different companies to pity the country, to laugh at
moderate progress as a sham, and to say that the concessions of
the local governments are merely _ruses_ to pacify and delude the
people,--as in great part they were, though Giusti and his party did
not believe so. The instructions to the emissary conclude with the
Scatter republican ideas, and say
That all the rich and all the well-to-do
Use common people hardly better, nay,
Worse, than their dogs; and add some hard words, too:
Declare that _bread_'s the question of the day,
And that the communists alone are true;
And that the foes of the agrarian cause
Waste more than half of all by wicked laws.
Then, he tells him, when the storm begins to blow, and the pockets of
the people feel its effect, and the mob grows hungry, to contrive that
there shall be some sort of outbreak, with a bit of pillage,--
So that the kings down there, pushed to the wall,
For congresses and bayonets shall call.
If you should have occasion to spend, spend,
The money won't be wasted; there must be
Policemen in retirement, spies without end,
Shameless and penniless; buy, you are free.
If destiny should be so much your friend
That you could shake a throne or two for me,
Pour me out treasures. I shall be content;
My gains will be at least seven cent, per cent.
Or, in the event the inconstant goddess frown,
Let me know instantly when you are caught;
A thunderbolt shall burst upon your crown,
And you become a martyr on the spot.
As minister I turn all upside down,
Our government disowns you as it ought.
And so the cake is turned upon the fire,
And we can use you next as we desire.
In order not to awaken any fear
In the post-office, 't is my plan that you
Shall always correspond with liberals here;
Don't doubt but I shall hear of all you do.
...'s a Republican known far and near;
I haven't another spy that's _half_ as true!
You understand, and I need say no more;
Lucky for you if you get me up a war!
We get the flavor of this, at least the literary flavor, the satire,
and the irony, but it inevitably falls somewhat cold upon us, because
it had its origin in a condition of things which, though historical,
are so opposed to all our own experience that they are hard to be
imagined. Yet we can fancy the effect such a poem must have had, at
the time when it was written, upon a people who felt in the midst of
their aspirations some disturbing element from without, and believed
this to be espionage and Austrian interference. If the poem had also
to be passed about secretly from one hand to another, its enjoyment
must have been still keener; but strip it of all these costly and
melancholy advantages, and it is still a piece of subtle and polished
Most of Giusti's poems, however, are written in moods and manners very
different from this; there is sparkle and dash in the movement, as
well as the thought, which I cannot reproduce, and in giving another
poem I can only hope to show something of his varying manner.
Some foreigner, Lamartine, I think, called Italy the Land of the
Dead,--whereupon Giusti responded with a poem of that title, addressed
to his friend Gino Capponi:
THE LAND OF THE DEAD.
'Mongst us phantoms of Italians,--
Mummies even from our birth,--
The very babies' nurses
Help to put them under earth.
'T is a waste of holy water
When we're taken to the font:
They that make us pay for burial
Swindle us to that amount.
In appearance we're constructed
Much like Adam's other sons,--
Seem of flesh and blood, but really
We are nothing but dry bones.
O deluded apparitions,
What do _you_ do among men?
Be resigned to fate, and vanish
Back into the past again!
Ah! of a perished people
What boots now the brilliant story?
Why should skeletons be bothering
About liberty and glory?
Why deck this funeral service
With such pomp of torch and flower?
Let us, without more palaver,
Growl this requiem, of ours.
And so the poet recounts the Italian names distinguished in modern
literature, and describes the intellectual activity that prevails in
this Land of the Dead. Then he turns to the innumerable visitors of
O you people hailed down on us
From the living, overhead,
With what face can you confront us,
Seeking health among us dead?
Soon or late this pestilential
Clime shall work you harm--beware!
Even you shall likewise find it
Foul and poisonous grave-yard air.
O ye grim, sepulchral friars
Ye inquisitorial ghouls,
Lay down, lay down forever,
The ignorant censor's tools.
This wretched gift of thinking,
O ye donkeys, is your doom;
Do you care to expurgate us,
Positively, in the tomb?
Why plant this bayonet forest
On our sepulchers? what dread
Causes you to place such jealous
Custody upon the dead?
Well, the mighty book of Nature
Chapter first and last must have;
Yours is now the light of heaven,
Ours the darkness of the grave.
But, then, if you ask it,
We lived greatly in our turn;
We were grand and glorious, Gino,
Ere our friends up there were born!
O majestic mausoleums,
City walls outworn with time,
To our eyes are even your ruins
O barbarian unquiet
Raze each storied sepulcher!
With their memories and their beauty
All the lifeless ashes stir.
O'er these monuments in vigil
Cloudless the sun flames and glows
In the wind for funeral torches,--
And the violet, and the rose,
And the grape, the fig, the olive,
Are the emblems fit of grieving;
'T is, in fact, a cemetery
To strike envy in the living.
Well, in fine, O brother corpses,
Let them pipe on as they like;
Let us see on whom hereafter
Such a death as ours shall strike!
'Mongst the anthems of the function
Is not _Dies Irae_? Nay,
In all the days to come yet,
Shall there be no Judgment Day?
In a vein of like irony, the greater part of Giusti's political poems
are written, and none of them is wanting in point and bitterness, even
to a foreigner who must necessarily lose something of their point
and the _tang_ of their local expressions. It was the habi
the satirist, who at least loved the people's quaintness and
originality--and perhaps this is as much democracy as we ought to
demand of a poet--it was Giusti's habit to replenish his vocabulary
from the fountains of the popular speech. By this means he gave his
satires a racy local flavor; and though he cannot be said to have
written dialect, since Tuscan is the Italian language, he gained by
these words and phrases the frankness and fineness of dialect.
But Giusti had so much gentleness, sweetness, and meekness in his
heart, that I do not like to leave the impression of him as a satirist
last upon the reader. Rather let me close these meager notices with
the beautiful little poem, said to be the last he wrote, as he passed
his days in the slow death of the consumptive. It is called
For the spirit confused
With misgiving and with sorrow,
Let me, my Saviour, borrow
The light of faith from thee.
O lift from it the burden
That bows it down before thee.
With sighs and with weeping
I commend myself to thee;
My faded life, thou knowest,
Little by little is wasted
Like wax before the fire,
Like snow-wreaths in the sun.
And for the soul that panteth
For its refuge in thy bosom,
Break, thou, the ties, my Saviour,
That hinder it from thee.
FRANCESCO DALL' ONGARO
In the month of March, 1848, news came to Rome of the insurrection in
Vienna, and a multitude of the citizens assembled to bear the tidings
to the Austrian Ambassador, who resided in the ancient palace of the
Venetian Republic. The throng swept down the Corso, gathering numbers
as it went, and paused in the open space before the Palazzo di
Venezia. At its summons, the ambassador abandoned his quarters, and
fled without waiting to hear the details of the intelligence from
Vienna. The people, incited by a number of Venetian exiles, tore down
the double-headed eagle from the portal, and carried it for a more
solemn and impressive destruction to the Piazza del Popolo, while a
young poet erased the inscription asserting the Austrian claim to
the palace, and wrote in its stead the words, "Palazzo della Dieta
The sentiment of national unity expressed in this legend had been the
ruling motive of the young poet Francesco Dall' Ongaro's life, and had
already made his name famous through the patriotic songs that were
sung all over Italy. Garibaldi had chanted one of his Stornelli when
embarking from Montevideo in the spring of 1848 to take part in the
Italian revolutions, of which these little ballads had become the
rallying-cries; and if the voice of the people is in fact inspired,
this poet could certainly have claimed the poet's long-lost honors of
prophecy, for it was he who had shaped their utterance. He had ceased
to assume any other sacred authority, though educated a priest, and at
the time when he devoted the Palazzo di Venezia to the idea of united
Italy, there was probably no person in Rome less sacerdotal than he.
Francesco Dall' Ongaro was born in 1808, at an obscure hamlet in
the district of Oderzo in the Friuli, of parents who were small
freeholders. They removed with their son in his tenth year to Venice,
and there he began his education for the Church in the Seminary of the
Madonna della Salute. The tourist who desires to see the Titians and
Tintorettos in the sacristy of this superb church, or to wonder at the
cold splendors of the interior of the temple, is sometimes obliged to
seek admittance through the seminary; and it has doubtless happened to
more than one of my readers to behold many little sedate old men in
their teens, lounging up and down the cool, humid courts there, and
trailing their black priestly robes over the springing mold. The sun
seldom strikes into that sad close, and when the boys form into long
files, two by two, and march out for recreation, they have a torpid
and melancholy aspect, upon which the daylight seems to smile in vain.
They march solemnly up the long Zattere, with a pale young father
at their head, and then march solemnly back again, sweet, genteel,
pathetic specters of childhood, and reenter their common tomb,
doubtless unenvied by the hungriest and raggedest street boy, who asks
charity of them as they pass, and hoarsely whispers "Raven!" when
their leader is beyond hearing. There is no reason to suppose that
a boy, born poet among the mountains, and full of the wild and free
romance of his native scenes, could love the life led at the Seminary
of the Salute, even though it included the study of literature and
philosophy. From his childhood Dall' Ongaro had given proofs of
his poetic gift, and the reverend ravens of the seminary were
unconsciously hatching a bird as little like themselves as might be.
Nevertheless, Dall' Ongaro left their school to enter the University
of Padua as student of theology, and after graduating took orders, and
went to Este, where he lived some time as teacher of belles-lettres.
At Este his life was without scope, and he was restless and unhappy,
full of ardent and patriotic impulses, and doubly restricted by his
narrow field and his priestly vocation. In no long time he had trouble
with the Bishop of Padua, and, abandoning Este, seems also to have
abandoned the Church forever. The chief fruit of his sojourn in that
quaint and ancient village was a poem entitled II Venerdi Santo, in
which he celebrated some incidents of the life of Lord Byron, somewhat
as Byron would have done. Dall' Ongaro's poems, however, confess
the influence of the English poet less than those of other modern
Italians, whom Byron infected so much more than his own nation.
From Este, Dall' Ongaro went to Trieste, where he taught literature
and philosophy, wrote for the theater, and established a journal in
which, for ten years, he labored to educate the people in his ideas of
Italian unity and progress. That these did not coincide with the ideas
of most Italian dreamers and politicians of the time may be inferred
from the fact that he began in 1846 a course of lectures on Dante, in
which he combated the clerical tendencies of Gioberti and Balbo, and
criticised the first acts of Pius IX. He had as profound doubt of
Papal liberality as Niccolini, at a time when other patriots were
fondly cherishing the hope of a united Italy under an Italian pontiff;
and at Rome, two years later, he sought to direct popular feeling from
the man to the end, in one of the earliest of his graceful Stornelli.
Pio Nono is a name, and not the man
Who saws the air from yonder Bishop's seat;
Pio Nono is the offspring of our brain,
The idol of our hearts, a vision sweet;
Pio Nono is a banner, a refrain,
A name that sounds well sung upon the street.
Who calls, "Long live Pio Nono!" means to call,
Long live our country, and good-will to all!
And country and good-will, these signify
That it is well for Italy to die;
But not to die for a vain dream or hope,
Not to die for a throne and for a Pope!
During these years at Trieste, however, Dall' Ongaro seems to have
been also much occupied with pure literature, and to have given
a great deal of study to the sources of national poetry, as he
discovered them in the popular life and legends. He had been touched
with the prevailing romanticism; he had written hymns like
Manzoni, and, like Carrer, he sought to poetize the traditions and
superstitions of his countrymen. He found a richer and deeper vein
than the Venetian poet among his native hills and the neighboring
mountains of Slavonia, but I cannot say that he wrought it to much
better effect. The two volumes which he published in 1840 contain many
ballads which are very graceful and musical, but which lack the fresh
spirit of songs springing from the popular heart, while they also want
the airy and delicate beauty of the modern German ballads. Among the
best of them are two which Dall' Ongaro built up from mere lines and
fragments of lines current among the people, as in later years he more
successfully restored us two plays of Menander from the plots and
a dozen verses of each. "One may imitate," he says, "more or less
fortunately, Manzoni, Byron, or any other poet, but not the simple
inspirations of the people. And 'The Pilgrim who comes from Rome,' and
the 'Rosettina,' if one could have them complete as they once were,
would probably make me blush for my elaborate variations." But study
which was so well directed, and yet so conscious of its limitations,
could not but be of great value; and Dall' Ongaro, no doubt, owed to
it his gift of speaking so authentically for the popular heart. That
which he did later showed that he studied the people's thought and
expression _con amore_, and in no vain sentiment of dilettanteism, or
antiquarian research, or literary patronage.
It is not to be supposed that Dall' Ongaro's literary life had at this
period an altogether objective tendency. In the volumes mentioned,
there is abundant evidence that he was of the same humor as all men
of poetic feeling must be at a certain time of life. Here are pretty
verses of occasion, upon weddings and betrothals, such as people write
in Italy; here are stanzas from albums, such as people used to write
everywhere; here are didactic lines; here are bursts of mere sentiment
and emotion. In the volume of Fantasie, published at Florence in 1866,
Dall' Ongaro collected some of the ballads from his early works, but
left out the more subjective effusions.
I give one of these in which, under a fantastic name and in a
fantastic form, the poet expresses the tragic and pathetic interest of
the life to which he was himself vowed.
THE SISTER OF THE MOON.
Shine, moon, ah shine! and let thy pensive light
Be faithful unto me:
I have a sister in the lonely night
When I commune with thee.
Alone and friendless in the world am I,
Sorrow's forgotten maid,
Like some poor dove abandoned to die
By her first love unwed.
Like some poor floweret in a desert land
I pass my days alone;
In vain upon the air its leaves expand,
In vain its sweets are blown.
No loving hand shall save it from the waste,
And wear the lonely thing;
My heart shall throb upon no loving breast
In my neglected spring.
That trouble which consumes my weary soul
No cunning can relieve,
No wisdom understand the secret dole
Of the sad sighs I heave.
My fond heart cherished once a hope, a vow,
The leaf of autumn gales!
In convent gloom, a dim lamp burning low,
My spirit lacks and fails.
I shall have prayers and hymns like some dead saint
Painted upon a shrine,
But in love's blessed power to fall and faint,
It never shall be mine.
Born to entwine my life with others, born
To love and to be wed,
Apart from all I lead my life forlorn,
Sorrow's forgotten maid.
Shine, moon, ah shine! and let thy tender light
Be faithful unto me:
Speak to me of the life beyond the night
I shall enjoy with thee.
It will here satisfy the strongest love of contrasts to turn from
Dall' Ongaro the sentimental poet to Dall' Ongaro the politician, and
find him on his feet and making a speech at a public dinner given to
Richard Cobden at Trieste, in 1847. Cobden was then, as always, the
advocate of free trade, and Dall' Ongaro was then, as always, the
advocate of free government. He saw in the union of the Italians
under a customs-bond the hope of their political union, and in their
emancipation from oppressive imposts their final escape from yet
more galling oppression. He expressed something of this, and, though
repeatedly interrupted by the police, he succeeded in saying so much
as to secure his expulsion from Trieste.
Italy was already in a ferment, and insurrections were preparing in
Venice, Milan, Florence, and Rome; and Dall' Ongaro, consulting with
the Venetian leaders Manin and Tommaseo, retired to Tuscany, and took
part in the movements which wrung a constitution from the Grand Duke,
and preceded the flight of that prince. In December he went to Rome,
where he joined himself with the Venetian refugees and with other
Italian patriots, like D'Azeglio and Durando, who were striving to
direct the popular mind toward Italian unity. The following March he
was, as we have seen, one of the exiles who led the people against the
Palazzodi Venezia. In the mean time the insurrection of the glorious
Five Days had taken place at Milan, and the Lombard cities, rising one
after another, had driven out the Austrian garrisons. Dall' Ongaro
went from Rome to Milan, and thence, by advice of the revolutionary
leaders, to animate the defense against the Austrians in Friuli;
one of his brothers was killed at Palmanuova, and another severely
wounded. Treviso, whither he had retired, falling into the hands of
the Germans, he went to Venice, then a republic under the presidency
of Manin; and here he established a popular journal, which opposed the
union of the struggling republic with Piedmont under Carlo Alberto.
Dall' Ongaro was finally expelled and passed next to Ravenna, where he
found Garibaldi, who had been banished by the Roman government, and
was in doubt as to how he might employ his sword on behalf of his
country. In those days the Pope's moderately liberal minister, Rossi,
was stabbed, and Count Pompeo Campello, an old literary friend and
acquaintance of Dall' Ongaro, was appointed minister of war. With
Garibaldi's consent the poet went to Rome, and used his influence
to such effect that Garibaldi was authorized to raise a legion of
volunteers, and was appointed general of those forces which took so
glorious a part in the cause of Italian Independence. Soon after, when
the Pope fled to Gaeta, and the Republic was proclaimed, Dall' Ongaro
and Garibaldi were chosen representatives of the people. Then followed
events of which it is still a pang keen to read: the troops of the
French Republic marched upon Rome, and, after a defense more splendid
and heroic than any victory, the city fell. The Pope returned, and all
who loved Italy and freedom turned in exile from Rome. The cities of
the Romagna, Tuscany, Lombardy, and Venetia had fallen again under the
Pope, the Grand Duke, and the Austrians, and Dall' Ongaro took refuge
[Illustration: FRANCESCO DALL' ONGARA]
Without presuming to say whether Dall' Ongaro was mistaken in his
political ideas, we may safely admit that he was no wiser a politician
than Dante or Petrarch. He was an anti-Papist, as these were, and
like these he opposed an Italy of little principalities and little
republics. But his dream, unlike theirs, was of a great Italian
democracy, and in 1848-49 he opposed the union of the Italian patriots
under Carlo Alberto, because this would have tended to the monarchy.
But it is not so much with Dall' Ongaro's political opinions that we
have to do as with his poetry of the revolutionary period of 1848,
as we find in it the little collection of lyrics which he calls
"Stornelli." These commemorate nearly all the interesting aspects of
that epoch; and in their wit and enthusiasm and aspiration, we feel
the spirit of a race at once the most intellectual and the most
emotional in the world, whose poets write as passionately of politics
as of love. Arnaud awards Dall' Ongaro the highest praise, and
declares him "the first to formulate in the common language of Italy
patriotic songs which, current on the tongues of the people, should
also remain the patrimony of the national literature.... In his
popular songs," continues this critic, "Dall' Ongaro has given all
that constitutes true, good, and--not the least merit--novel poetry.
Meter and rhythm second the expression, imbue the thought with
harmony, and develop its symmetry.... How enviable is that
perspicuity which does not oblige you to re-read a single line to
evolve therefrom the latent idea!" And we shall have no less to admire
the perfect art which, never passing the intelligence of the people,
is never ignoble in sentiment or idea, but always as refined as it is
I do not know how I could better approach our poet than by first
offering this lyric, written when, in 1847, the people of Leghorn rose
in arms to repel a threatened invasion of the Austrians.
THE WOMAN OF LEGHORN.
Adieu, Livorno! adieu, paternal walls!
Perchance I never shall behold you more!
On father's and mother's grave the shadow falls.
My love has gone under our flag to war;
And I will follow him where fortune calls;
I have had a rifle in my hands before.
The ball intended for my lover's breast,
Before he knows it my heart shall arrest;
And over his dead comrade's visage he
Shall pitying stoop, and look whom it can be.
Then he shall see and know that it is I:
Poor boy! how bitterly my love will cry!
The Italian editor of the "Stornelli" does not give the closing lines
too great praise when he declares that "they say more than all the
lament of Tancred over Clorinda." In this little flight of song, we
pass over more tragedy than Messer Torquato could have dreamed in
the conquest of many Jerusalems; for, after all, there is nothing so
tragic as fact. The poem is full at once of the grand national
impulse, and of purely personal and tender devotion; and that
fluttering, vehement purpose, thrilling and faltering in alternate
lines, and breaking into a sob at last, is in every syllable the
utterance of a woman's spirit and a woman's nature.
Quite as womanly, though entirely different, is this lament, which
the poet attributes to his sister for their brother, who fell at
Palmanuova, May 14, 1848.
(Palma, May 14, 1848.)
And he, my brother, to the fort had gone,
And the grenade, it struck him in the breast;
He fought for liberty, and death he won,
For country here, and found in heaven rest.
And now only to follow him I sigh;
A new desire has taken me to die,--
To follow him where is no enemy,
Where every one lives happy and is free.
All hope and purpose are gone from this woman's heart, for whom Italy
died in her brother, and who has only these artless, half-bewildered
words of regret to speak, and speaks them as if to some tender and
sympathetic friend acquainted with all the history going before their
abrupt beginning. I think it most pathetic and natural, also, that
even in her grief and her aspiration for heaven, her words should have
the tint of her time, and she should count freedom among the joys of
Quite as womanly again, and quite as different once more, is the lyric
which the reader will better appreciate when I remind him how the
Austrians massacred the unarmed people in Milan, in January, 1848,
and how, later, during the Five Days, they murdered their Italian
prisoners, sparing neither sex nor age.
Note : "Many foreigners," says Emilie Dandolo, in his restrained
and temperate history of "I Volontarii e Bersaglieri Lombardi", "have
cast a doubt upon the incredible ferocity of the Austrians during the
Five Days, and especially before evacuating the city. But, alas! the
witnesses are too many to be doubted. A Croat was seen carrying a babe
transfixed upon his bayonet. All know of those women's hands and ears
found in the haversacks of the prisoners; of those twelve unhappy men
burnt alive at Porta Tosa; of those nineteen buried in a lime-pit at
the Castello, whose scorched bodies we found. I myself, ordered with a
detachment, after the departure of the enemy, to examine the Castello
and neighborhood, was horror-struck at the sight of a babe nailed to a
THE LOMBARD WOMAN.
(Milan, January, 1848.)
Here, take these gaudy robes and put them by;
I will go dress me black as widowhood;
I have seen blood run, I have heard the cry
Of him that struck and him that vainly sued.
Henceforth no other ornament will I
But on my breast a ribbon red as blood.
And when they ask what dyed the silk so red,
I'll say, The life-blood of my brothers dead.
And when they ask how it may cleansed be,
I'll say, O, not in river nor in sea;
Dishonor passes not in wave nor flood;
My ribbon ye must wash in German blood.
The repressed horror in the lines,
I have seen blood run, I have heard the cry
Of him that struck and him that vainly sued,
is the sentiment of a picture that presents the scene to the reader's
eye as this shuddering woman saw it; and the heart of woman's
fierceness and hate is in that fragment of drama with which the brief
poem closes. It is the history of an epoch. That epoch is now past,
however; so long and so irrevocably past, that Dall' Ongaro commented
in a note upon the poem: "The word 'German' is left as a key to the
opinions of the time. Human brotherhood has been greatly promoted
since 1848. German is now no longer synonymous with enemy. Italy has
made peace with the peoples, and is leagued with them all against
their common oppressors."
There is still another of these songs, in which the heart of womanhood
speaks, though this time with a voice of pride and happiness.
My love looks well under his helmet's crest;
He went to war, and did not let them see
His back, and so his wound is in the breast:
For one he got, he struck and gave them three.
When he came back, I loved him, hurt so, best;
He married me and loves me tenderly.
When he goes by, and people give him way,
I thank God for my fortune every day;
When he goes by he seems more grand and fair
Than any crossed and ribboned cavalier:
The cavalier grew up with his cross on,
And I know how my darling's cross was won!
This poem, like that of La Livornese and La Donna Lombarda, is a vivid
picture: it is a liberated city, and the streets are filled with
jubilant people; the first victorious combats have taken place, and
it is a wounded hero who passes with his ribbon on his breast. As the
fond crowd gives way to him, his young wife looks on him from her
window with an exultant love, unshadowed by any possibility of harm:
Mi meno a moglie e mi vuol tanto bene!
This is country and freedom to her,--this is strength which despots
cannot break,--this is joy to which defeat and ruin can never come
nigh! It might be any one of the sarcastic and quickwitted people
talking politics in the streets of Rome in 1847, who sees the
newly elected Senator--the head of the Roman municipality, and the
legitimate mediator between Pope and people--as he passes, and speaks
to him in these lines the dominant feeling of the moment:
O Senator of Rome! if true and well
You are reckoned honest, in the Vatican,
Let it be yours His Holiness to tell,
There are many Cardinals, and not one man.
They are made like lobsters, and, when they are dead,
Like lobsters change their colors and turn red;
And while they are living, with their backward gait
Displace and tangle good Saint Peter's net.
An impulse of the time is strong again in the following Stornello,--a
cry of reproach that seems to follow some recreant from a beleaguered
camp of true comrades, and to utter the feeling of men who marched to
battle through defection, and were strong chiefly in their just cause.
It bears the date of that fatal hour when the king of Naples, after a
brief show of liberality, recalled his troops from Bologna, where they
had been acting against Austria with the confederated forces of the
other Italian states, and when every man lost to Italy was as an
ebbing drop of her life's blood.
(Bologna, May, 1818.)
Never did grain grow out of frozen earth;
From the dead branch never did blossom start:
If thou lovest not the land that gave thee birth,
Within thy breast thou bear'st a frozen heart;
If thou lovest not this land of ancient worth,
To love aught else, say, traitor, how thou art!
To thine own land thou could'st not faithful be,--
Woe to the woman that puts faith in thee!
To him that trusteth in the recreant, woe!
Never from frozen earth did harvest grow:
To her that trusteth a deserter, shame!
Out of the dead branch never blossom came.
And this song, so fine in its picturesque and its dramatic qualities,
is not less true to the hope of the Venetians when they rose in 1848,
and intrusted their destinies to Daniele Manin.
THE RING OF THE LAST DOGE.
I saw the widowed Lady of the Sea
Crowned with corals and sea-weed and shells,
Who her long anguish and adversity
Had seemed to drown in plays and festivals.
I said: "Where is thine ancient fealty fled?--
Where is the ring with which Manin did wed
His bride?" With tearful visage she:
"An eagle with two beaks tore it from me.
Suddenly I arose, and how it came
I know not, but I heard my bridegroom's name."
Poor widow! 't is not he. Yet he may bring--
Who knows?--back to the bride her long-lost ring.
The Venetians of that day dreamed that San Marco might live again, and
the fineness and significance of the poem could not have been lost on
the humblest in Venice, where all were quick to beauty and vividly
remembered that the last Doge who wedded the sea was named, like the
new President, Manin.
I think the Stornelli of the revolutionary period of 1848 have a
peculiar value, because they embody, in forms of artistic perfection,
the evanescent as well as the enduring qualities of popular feeling.
They give us what had otherwise been lost, in the passing humor of
the time. They do not celebrate the battles or the great political
occurrences. If they deal with events at all, is it with events that
express some belief or longing,--rather with what people hoped or
dreamed than with what they did. They sing the Friulan volunteers, who
bore the laurel instead of the olive during Holy Week, in token that
the patriotic war had become a religion; they remind us that the first
fruits of Italian longing for unity were the cannons sent to the
Romans by the Genoese; they tell us that the tricolor was placed in
the hand of the statue of Marcus Aurelius at the Capitol, to signify
that Rome was no more, and that Italy was to be. But the Stornelli
touch with most effect those yet more intimate ties between national
and individual life that vibrate in the hearts of the Livornese and
the Lombard woman, of the lover who sees his bride in the patriotic
colors, of the maiden who will be a sister of charity that she may
follow her lover through all perils, of the mother who names her
new-born babe Costanza in the very hour of the Venetian republic's
fall. And I like the Stornelli all the better because they preserve
the generous ardor of the time, even in its fondness and excess.
After the fall of Rome, the poet did not long remain unmolested even
in his Swiss retreat. In 1852 the Federal Council yielded to the
instances of the Austrian government, and expelled Dall' Ongaro from
the Republic. He retired with his sister and nephew to Brussels, where
he resumed the lectures upon Dante, interrupted by his exile from
Trieste in 1847, and thus supported his family. Three years later he
gained permission to enter France, and up to the spring-time of 1859
he remained in Paris, busying himself with literature, and watching
events with all an exile's eagerness. The war with Austria broke out,
and the poet seized the long-coveted opportunity to return to Italy,
whither he went as the correspondent of a French newspaper. On the
conclusion of peace at Villafranca, this journal changed its tone, and
being no longer in sympathy with Dall' Ongaro's opinions, he left it.
Baron Ricasoli, to induce him to make Tuscany his home, instituted
a chair of comparative dramatic literature in connection with the
University of Pisa, and offered it to Dall' Ongaro, whose wide general
learning and special dramatic studies peculiarly qualified him to hold
it. He therefore took up his abode at Florence, dedicating his main
industry to a comparative course of ancient and modern dramatic
literature, and writing his wonderful restorations of Menander's
"Phasma" and "Treasure". He was well known to the local American and
English Society, and was mourned by many friends when he died there,
some ten years ago.
As with Dall' Ongaro literature had always been but an instrument for
the redemption of Italy, even after his appointment to a university
professorship he did not forget this prime object. In nearly all that
he afterwards wrote, he kept the great aim of his life in view, and
few of the events or hopes of that dreary period of suspense and
abortive effort between the conclusion of peace at Villafranca and the
acquisition of Venice went unsung by him. Indeed, some of his most
characteristic "Stornelli" belong to this epoch. After Savoy and Nice
had been betrayed to France, and while the Italians waited in angry
suspicion for the next demand of their hated ally, which might be the
surrender of the island of Sardinia or the sacrifice of the Genoese
province, but which no one could guess in the impervious Napoleonic
silence, our poet wrote:
THE IMPERIAL EGG.
Who knows what hidden devil it may be
Under yon mute, grim bird that looks our way?--
Yon silent bird of evil omen,--he
That, wanting peace, breathes discord and dismay.
Quick, quick, and change his egg, my Italy,
Before there hatch from it some bird of prey,--
Before some beak of rapine be set free,
That, after the mountains, shall infest the sea;
Before some ravenous eaglet shall be sent
After our isles to gorge the continent.
I'd rather a goose even from yon egg should come,--
If only of the breed that once saved Rome!
The flight of the Grand Duke from Florence in 1859, and his
conciliatory address to his late subjects after Villafranca, in which
by fair promises he hoped to win them back to their allegiance;
the union of Tuscany with the kingdom of Italy; the removal of the
Austrian flags from Milan; Garibaldi's crusade in Sicily; the movement
upon Rome in 1862; Aspromonte,--all these events, with the shifting
phases of public feeling throughout that time, the alternate hopes and
fears of the Italian nation, are celebrated in the later Stornelli
of Dall' Ongaro. Venice has long since fallen to Italy; and Rome has
become the capital of the nation. But the unification was not
accomplished till Garibaldi, who had done so much for Italy, had been
wounded by her king's troops in his impatient attempt to expel the
French at Aspromonte.
TO MY SONGS.
Fly, O my songs, to Varignano, fly!
Like some lost flock of swallows homeward flying,
And hail me Rome's Dictator, who there doth lie
Broken with wounds, but conquered not, nor dying;
Bid him think on the April that is nigh,
Month of the flowers and ventures fear-defying.
Or if it is not nigh, it soon shall come,
As shall the swallow to his last year's home,
As on its naked stem the rose shall burn,
As to the empty sky the stars return,
As hope comes back to hearts crushed by regret;--
Nay, say not this to his heart ne'er crushed yet!
Let us conclude these notices with one of the Stornelli which is
non-political, but which I think we won't find the less agreeable for
that reason. I like it because it says a pretty thing or two very
daintily, and is interfused with a certain arch and playful spirit
which is not so common but we ought to be glad to recognize it.
If you are good as you are fair, indeed,
Keep to yourself those sweet eyes, I implore!
A little flame burns under either lid
That might in old age kindle youth once more:
I am like a hermit in his cavern hid,
But can I look on you and not adore?
Fair, if you do not mean my misery
Those lovely eyes lift upward to the sky;
I shall believe you some saint shrined above,
And may adore you if I may not love;
I shall believe you some bright soul in bliss,
And may look on you and not look amiss.
I have already noted the more obvious merits of the Stornelli, and I
need not greatly insist upon them. Their defects are equally plain;
one sees that their simplicity all but ceases to be a virtue at times,
and that at times their feeling is too much intellectualized. Yet for
all this we must recognize their excellence, and the skill as well
as the truth of the poet. It is very notable with what directness he
expresses his thought, and with what discretion he leaves it when
expressed. The form is always most graceful, and the success with
which dramatic, picturesque, and didactic qualities are blent, for
a sole effect, in the brief compass of the poems, is not too highly
praised in the epithet of novelty. Nothing is lost for the sake of
attitude; the actor is absent from the most dramatic touches, the
painter is not visible in lines which are each a picture, the teacher
does not appear for the purpose of enforcing the moral. It is not the
grandest poetry, but is true feeling, admirable art.
The Italian poet who most resembles in theme and treatment the German
romanticists of the second period was nearest them geographically in
his origin. Giovanni Prati was born at Dasindo, a mountain village of
the Trentino, and his boyhood was passed amidst the wild scenes of
that picturesque region, whose dark valleys and snowy, cloud-capped
heights, foaming torrents and rolling mists, lend their gloom and
splendor to so much of his verse. His family was poor, but it was
noble, and he received, through whatever sacrifice of those who
remained at home, the education of a gentleman, as the Italians
understand it. He went to school in Trent, and won some early laurels
by his Latin poems, which the good priests who kept the _collegio_
gathered and piously preserved in an album for the admiration and
emulation of future scholars; when in due time he matriculated at the
University of Padua as student of law, he again shone as a poet,
and there he wrote his "Edmenegarda", a poem that gave him instant
popularity throughout Italy. When he quitted the university he visited
different parts of the country, "having the need" of frequent change
of scenes and impressions; but everywhere he poured out songs,
ballads, and romances, and was already a voluminous poet in 1840,
when, in his thirtieth year, he began to abandon his Teutonic phantoms
and hectic maidens, and to make Italy in various disguises the heroine
of his song. Whether Austria penetrated these disguises or not, he was
a little later ordered to leave Milan. He took refuge in Piedmont,
whose brave king, in spite of diplomatic remonstrances from his
neighbors, made Prati his _poeta cesareo_, or poet laureate. This was
in 1843; and five years later he took an active part in inciting with
his verse the patriotic revolts which broke out all over Italy. But
he was supposed by virtue of his office to be monarchical in his
sympathies, and when he ventured to Florence, the novelist Guerrezzi,
who was at the head of the revolutionary government there, sent the
poet back across the border in charge of a carbineer. In 1851 he had
the misfortune to write a poem in censure of Orsini's attempt upon the
life of Napoleon III., and to take money for it from the gratified
emperor. He seems to have remained up to his death in the enjoyment of
his office at Turin. His latest poem, if one may venture to speak of
any as the last among poems poured out with such bewildering rapidity,
was "Satan and the Graces", which De Sanctis made himself very merry
The Edmenegarda, which first won him repute, was perhaps not more
youthful, but it was a subject that appealed peculiarly to the heart
of youth, and was sufficiently mawkish. All the characters of the
Edmenegarda were living at the time of its publication, and were
instantly recognized; yet there seems to have been no complaint
against the poet on their part, nor any reproach on the part of
criticism. Indeed, at least one of the characters was nattered by
the celebrity given him. "So great," says Prati's biographer, in the
_Galleria Nazionale_, "was the enthusiasm awakened everywhere, and in
every heart, by the Edmenegarda, that the young man portrayed in it,
under the name of Leoni, imagining himself to have become, through
Prati's merit, an eminently poetical subject, presented himself to the
poet in the Caffe Pedrocchi at Padua, and returned him his warmest
thanks. Prati also made the acquaintance, at the Caffe Nazionale in
Turin, of his Edmenegarda, but after the wrinkles had seamed the
visage of his ideal, and canceled perhaps from her soul the memory of
anguish suffered." If we are to believe this writer, the story of a
wife's betrayal, abandonment by her lover, and repudiation by her
husband, produced effects upon the Italian public as various as
profound. "In this pathetic story of an unhappy love was found so much
truth of passion, so much naturalness of sentiment, and so much power,
that every sad heart was filled with love for the young poet, so
compassionate toward innocent misfortune, so sympathetic in form,
in thought, in sentiment. Prom that moment Prati became the poet of
suffering youth; in every corner of Italy the tender verses of the
Edmenegarda were read with love, and sometimes frenzied passion; the
political prisoners of Rome, of Naples, and Palermo found them a
grateful solace amid the privations and heavy tedium of incarceration;
many sundered lovers were reconjoined indissolubly in the kiss of
peace; more than one desperate girl was restrained from the folly of
suicide; and even the students in the ecclesiastical seminaries at
Milan revolted, as it were, against their rector, and petitioned
the Archbishop of Gaisruk that they might be permitted to read the
[Illustration: GIOVANNI PRATI.]
What he was at first, Prati seems always to have remained in character
and in ideals. "Would you know the poet in ordinary of the king of
Sardinia?" says Marc-Monnier. "Go up the great street of the Po, under
the arcades to the left, around the Caffe Florio, which is the center
of Turin. If you meet a great youngster of forty years, with brown
hair, wandering eyes, long visage, lengthened by the imperial,
prominent nose, diminished by the mustache,--good head, in fine, and
proclaiming the artist at first glance, say to yourself that this is
he, give him your hand, and he will give you his. He is the openest of
Italians, and the best fellow in the world. It is here that he lives,
under the arcades. Do not look for his dwelling; he does not dwell,
he promenades. Life for him is not a combat nor a journey; it is a
saunter (_flanerie_), cigar in mouth, eyes to the wind; a comrade whom
he meets, and passes a pleasant word with; a group of men who talk
politics, and leave you to read the newspapers; _puis ca et la, par
hasard, une bonne fortune_; a woman or an artist who understands you,
and who listens while you talk of art or repeat your verses. Prati
lives so the whole year round. From time to time he disappears for a
week or two. Where is he? Nobody knows. You grow uneasy; you ask his
address: he has none. Some say he is ill; others, he is dead; but some
fine morning, cheerful as ever, he re-appears under the arcades. He
has come from the bottom of a wood or the top of a mountain, and he
has made two thousand verses.... He is hardly forty-one years old, and
he has already written a million lines. I have read seven volumes of
his, and I have not read all."
I have not myself had the patience here boasted by M. Marc-Monnier;
but three or four volumes of Prati's have sufficed to teach me the
spirit and purpose of his poetry. Born in 1815, and breathing his
first inspirations from that sense of romance blowing into Italy with
every northern gale,--a son of the Italian Tyrol, the region where the
fire meets the snow,--he has some excuse, if not a perfect reason, for
being half-German in his feeling. It is natural that Prati should love
the ballad form above all, and should pour into its easy verse the
wild legends heard during a boyhood passed among mountains and
mountaineers. As I read his poetic tales, with a little heart-break,
more or less fictitious, in each, I seem to have found again the sweet
German songs that fluttered away out of my memory long ago. There is
a tender light on the pages; a mistier passion than that of the south
breathes through the dejected lines; and in the ballads we see all our
old acquaintance once more,--the dying girls, the galloping horsemen,
the moonbeams, the familiar, inconsequent phantoms,--scarcely changed
in the least, and only betraying now and then that they have been at
times in the bad company of Lara, and Medora, and other dissipated and
vulgar people. The following poem will give some proof of all this,
and will not unfairly witness of the quality of Prati in most of the
poetry he has written:
THE MIDNIGHT RIDE.
Ruello, Ruello, devour the way!
On your breath bear us with you, O winds, as ye swell!
My darling, she lies near her death to-day,--
Gallop, gallop, gallop, Ruel!
That my spurs have torn open thy flanks, alas!
With thy long, sad neighing, thou need'st not tell;
We have many a league yet of desert to pass,--
Gallop, gallop, gallop, Ruel!
Hear'st that mocking laugh overhead in space?
Hear'st the shriek of the storm, as it drives, swift and fell?
A scent as of graves is blown into my face,--
Gallop, gallop, gallop, Ruel!
Ah, God! and if that be the sound I hear
Of the mourner's song and the passing-bell!
O heaven! What see I? The cross and the bier?--
Gallop, gallop, gallop, Ruel!
Thou falt'rest, Ruello? Oh, courage, my steed!
Wilt fail me, O traitor I trusted so well?
The tempest roars over us,--halt not, nor heed!--
Gallop, gallop, gallop, Ruel!
Gallop, Ruello, oh, faster yet!
Good God, that flash! O God! I am chill,--
Something hangs on my eyelids heavy as death,--
Gallop, gallop, gallop, Ruel!
Smitten with the lightning stroke,
From his seat the cavalier
Fell, and forth the charger broke,
Rider-free and mad with fear,--
Through the tempest and the night,
Like a winged thing in flight.
In the wind his mane blown back,
With a frantic plunge and neigh,--
In the shadow a shadow black,
Ever wilder he flies away,--
Through the tempest and the night,
Like a winged thing in flight.
From his throbbing flanks arise
Smokes of fever and of sweat,--
Over him the pebble flies
From his swift feet swifter yet,--
Through the tempest and the night,
Like a winged thing in flight.
From the cliff unto the wood,
Twenty leagues he passed in all;
Soaked with bloody foam and blood,
Blind he struck against the wall:
Death is in the seat; no more
Stirs the steed that flew before.
And the while, upon the colorless,
Death-white visage of the dying
Maiden, still and faint and fair,
Rosy lights arise and wane;
And her weakness lifting tremulous
From the couch where she was lying
Her long, beautiful, loose hair
Strives she to adorn in vain.
"Mother, what it is has startled me
From my sleep I cannot tell thee:
Only, rise and deck me well
In my fairest robes again.
For, last night, in the thick silences,--
I know not how it befell me,--
But the gallop of Ruel,
More than once I heard it plain.
"Look, O mother, through yon shadowy
Trees, beyond their gloomy cover:
Canst thou not an atom see
Toward us from the distance start?
Seest thou not the dust rise cloudily,
And above the highway hover?
Come at last! 'T is he! 't is he!
Mother, something breaks my heart."
Ah, poor child! she raises wearily
Her dim eyes, and, turning slowly,
Seeks the sun, and leaves this strife
With a loved name in her breath.
Ah, poor child! in vain she waited him.
In the grave they made her lowly
Bridal bed. And thou, O life!
Hast no hopes that know not death?
Among Prati's patriotic poems, I have read one which seems to me
rather vivid, and which because it reflects yet another phase of that
great Italian resurrection, as well as represents Prati in one of his
best moods, I will give here:
With ears intent, with eyes abased,
Like a shadow still my steps thou hast chased;
If I whisper aught to my friend, I feel
Thee follow quickly upon my heel.
Poor wretch, thou fill'st me with loathing; fly!
Thou art a spy!
When thou eatest the bread that thou dost win
With the filthy wages of thy sin,
The hideous face of treason anear
Dost thou not see? dost thou not fear?
Poor wretch, thou fill'st me with loathing; fly!
Thou art a spy!
The thief may sometimes my pity claim;
Sometimes the harlot for her shame;
Even the murderer in his chains
A hidden fear from me constrains;
But thou only fill'st me with loathing; fly!
Thou art a spy!
Fly, poor villain; draw thy hat down,
Close be thy mantle about thee thrown;
And if ever my words weigh on thy heart,
Betake thyself to some church apart;
There, "Lord, have mercy!" weep and cry:
"I am a spy!"
Forgiveness for thy great sin alone
Thou may'st hope to find before his throne.
Dismayed by thy snares that all abhor,
Brothers on earth thou hast no more;
Poor wretch, thou fill'st me with loathing; fly!
Thou art a spy!
In the first quarter of the century was born a poet, in the village of
San Giorgio, near Verona, of parents who endowed their son with the
magnificent name of Aleardo Aleardi. His father was one of those small
proprietors numerous in the Veneto, and, though not indigent, was by
no means a rich man. He lived on his farm, and loved it, and tried to
improve the condition of his tenants. Aleardo's childhood was spent in
the country,--a happy fortune for a boy anywhere, the happiest fortune
if that country be Italy, and its scenes the grand and beautiful
scenes of the valley of the Adige. Here he learned to love nature with
the passion that declares itself everywhere in his verse; and hence he
was in due time taken and placed at school in the Collegio [note:
Not a college in the American sense, but a private school of a high
grade.] of Sant' Anastasia, in Verona, according to the Italian
system, now fallen into disuse, of fitting a boy for the world by
giving him the training of a cloister. It is not greatly to Aleardi's
discredit that he seemed to learn nothing there, and that he drove his
reverend preceptors to the desperate course of advising his removal.
They told his father he would make a good farmer, but a scholar,
never. They nicknamed him the _mole_, for his dullness; but, in the
mean time, he was making underground progress of his own, and he came
to the surface one day, a mole no longer, to everybody's amazement,
but a thing of such flight and song as they had never seen before,--in
fine, a poet. He was rather a scapegrace, after he ceased to be a
mole, at school; but when he went to the University at Padua, he
became conspicuous among the idle, dissolute students of that day for
temperate life and severe study. There he studied law, and learned
patriotism; political poetry and interviews with the police were the
consequence, but no serious trouble.
One of the offensive poems, which he says he and his friends had the
audacity to call an ode, was this:
Sing we our country. 'T is a desolate
And frozen cemetery;
Over its portals undulates
A banner black and yellow;
And within it throng the myriad
Phantoms of slaves and kings:
A man on a worn-out, tottering
Throne watches o'er the tombs:
The pallid lord of consciences,
The despot of ideas.
Tricoronate he vaunts himself
And without crown is he.
In this poem the yellow and black flag is, of course, the Austrian,
and the enthroned man is the pope, of whose temporal power our
poet was always the enemy. "The Austrian police," says Aleardi's
biographer, "like an affectionate mother, anxious about everything,
came into possession of these verses; and the author was admonished,
in the way of maternal counsel, not to touch such topics, if he would
not lose the favor of the police, and be looked on as a prodigal son."
He had already been admonished for carrying a cane on the top of which
was an old Italian pound, or lira, with the inscription, Kingdom of
Italy,--for it was an offense to have such words about one in any way,
so trivial and petty was the cruel government that once reigned over
In due time he took that garland of paper laurel and gilt pasteboard
with which the graduates of Padua are sublimely crowned, and returned
to Verona, where he entered the office of an advocate to learn the
practical workings of the law. These disgusted him, naturally enough;
and it was doubtless far less to the hurt of his feelings than of his
fortune that the government always refused him the post of advocate.
In this time he wrote his first long poem, Arnaldo, which was
published at Milan in 1842, and which won him immediate applause. It
was followed by the tragedy of Bragadino; and in the year 1845 he
wrote Le Prime Storie, which he suffered to lie unpublished for twelve
years. It appeared in Verona in 1857, a year after the publication of
his Monte Circellio, written in 1846.
[Illustration: ALEARDO ALEARDI.]
The revolution of 1848 took place; the Austrians retired from the
dominion of Venice, and a provisional republican government, under the
presidency of Daniele Manin, was established, and Aleardi was sent as
one of its plenipotentiaries to Paris, where he learnt how many fine
speeches the friends of a struggling nation can make when they do not
mean to help it. The young Venetian republic fell. Aleardi left Paris,
and, after assisting at the ceremony of being bombarded in Bologna,
retired to Genoa. He later returned to Verona, and there passed
several years of tranquil study. In 1852, for the part he had taken
in the revolution, he was arrested and imprisoned in the fortress at
Mantua, thus fulfilling the destiny of an Italian poet of those times.
All the circumstances and facts of this arrest and imprisonment are so
characteristic of the Austrian method of governing Italy, that I do
not think it out of place to give them with some fullness. In the year
named, the Austrians were still avenging themselves upon the patriots
who had driven them out of Venetia in 1848, and their courts were
sitting in Mantua for the trial of political prisoners, many of whom
were exiled, sentenced to long imprisonment, or put to death. Aleardi
was first confined in the military prison at Verona, but was soon
removed to Mantua, whither several of his friends had already been
sent. All the other prisons being full, he was thrust into a place
which till now had seemed too horrible for use. It was a narrow room,
dark, and reeking with the dampness of the great dead lagoon which
surrounds Mantua. A broken window, guarded by several gratings, let in
a little light from above; the day in that cell lasted six hours,
the night eighteen. A mattress on the floor, and a can of water for
drinking, were the furniture. In the morning they brought him two
pieces of hard, black bread; at ten o'clock a thick soup of rice and
potatoes; and nothing else throughout the day. In this dungeon he
remained sixty days, without books, without pen or paper, without any
means of relieving the terrible gloom and solitude. At the end of this
time, he was summoned to the hall above to see his sister, whom he
tenderly loved. The light blinded him so that for a while he could not
perceive her, but he talked to her calmly and even cheerfully, that
she might not know what he had suffered. Then he was remanded to his
cell, where, as her retreating footsteps ceased upon his ear, he cast
himself upon the ground in a passion of despair. Three months passed,
and he had never seen the face of judge or accuser, though once the
prison inspector, with threats and promises, tried to entrap him into
a confession. One night his sleep was broken by a continued hammering;
in the morning half a score of his friends were hanged upon the
gallows which had been built outside his cell.
By this time his punishment had been so far mitigated that he had
been allowed a German grammar and dictionary, and for the first time
studied that language, on the literature of which he afterward
lectured in Florence. He had, like most of the young Venetians of his
day, hated the language, together with those who spoke it, until then.
At last, one morning at dawn, a few days after the execution of his
friends, Aleardi and others were thrust into carriages and driven to
the castle. There the roll of the prisoners was called; to several
names none answered, for those who had borne them were dead. Were the
survivors now to be shot, or sentenced to some prison in Bohemia or
Hungary? They grimly jested among themselves as to their fate. They
were marched out into the piazza, under the heavy rain, and there
these men who had not only not been tried for any crime, but had not
even been accused of any, received the grace of the imperial pardon.
Aleardi returned to Verona and to his books, publishing another poem
in 1856, called Le Citta Italiane Marinare e Commercianti. His next
publication was, in 1857, Rafaello e la Fornarina; then followed Un'
Ora della mia Giovinezza, Le Tre Fiume, and Le Tre Fanciulle, in 1858.
The war of 1859 broke out between Austria and France and Italy.
Aleardi spent the brief period of the campaign in a military prison at
Verona, where his sympathies were given an ounce of prevention. He had
committed no offense, but at midnight the police appeared, examined
his papers, found nothing, and bade him rise and go to prison. After
the peace of Villafranca he was liberated, and left the Austrian
states, retiring first to Brescia, and then to Florence. His
publications since 1859 have been a Canto Politico and I Sette
Soldati. He was condemned for his voluntary exile, by the Austrian
courts, and I remember reading in the newspapers the official
invitation given him to come back to Verona and be punished. But,
oddly enough, he declined to do so.
The first considerable work of Aleardi was Le Prime Storie (Primal
Histories), in which he traces the course of the human race through
the Scriptural story of its creation, its fall, and its destruction by
the deluge, through the Greek and Latin days, through the darkness and
glory of the feudal times, down to our own,--following it from Eden
to Babylon and Tyre, from Tyre and Babylon to Athens and Rome, from
Florence and Genoa to the shores of the New World, full of shadowy
tradition and the promise of a peaceful and happy future.
He takes this fruitful theme, because he feels it to be alive with
eternal interest, and rejects the well-worn classic fables, because
Under the bushes of the odorous mint
The Dryads are buried, and the placid Dian
Guides now no longer through the nights below
Th' invulnerable hinds and pearly car,
To bless the Carian shepherd's dreams. No more
The valley echoes to the stolen kisses,
Or to the twanging bow, or to the bay
Of the immortal hounds, or to the Fauns'
Plebeian laughter. From the golden rim
Of shells, dewy with pearl, in ocean's depths
The snowy loveliness of Galatea
Has fallen; and with her, their endless sleep
In coral sepulchers the Nereids
Forgotten sleep in peace.
The poet cannot turn to his theme, however, without a sad and scornful
apostrophe to his own land, where he figures himself sitting by the
way, and craving of the frivolous, heartless, luxurious Italian
throngs that pass the charity of love for Italy. They pass him by
unheeded, and he cries:
Hast thou seen
In the deep circle of the valley of Siddim,
Under the shining skies of Palestine,
The sinister glitter of the Lake of Asphalt?
Those coasts, strewn thick with ashes of damnation,
Forever foe to every living thing,
Where rings the cry of the lost wandering bird
That, on the shore of the perfidious sea,
Athirsting dies,--that watery sepulcher
Of the five cities of iniquity,
Where even the tempest, when its clouds hang low,
Passes in silence, and the lightning dies,--
If thou hast seen them, bitterly hath been
Thy heart wrung with the misery and despair
Of that dread vision!
Yet there is on earth
A woe more desperate and miserable,--
A spectacle wherein the wrath of God
Avenges him more terribly. It is
A vain, weak people of faint-heart old men,
That, for three hundred years of dull repose,
Has lain perpetual dreamer, folded in
The ragged purple of its ancestors,
Stretching its limbs wide in its country's sun,
To warm them; drinking the soft airs of autumn
Forgetful, on the fields where its forefathers
Like lions fought! From overflowing hands,
Strew we with hellebore and poppies thick
But the throngs have passed by, and the poet takes up his theme. Abel
sits before an altar upon the borders of Eden, and looks with an
exile's longing toward the Paradise of his father, where, high above
all the other trees, he beholds,
Lording it proudly in the garden's midst,
The guilty apple with its fatal beauty.
He weeps; and Cain, furiously returning from the unaccepted labor of
the fields, lifts his hand against his brother.
It was at sunset;
The air was severed with a mother's shriek,
And stretched beside the o'erturned altar's foot
Lay the first corse.
Ah! that primal stain
Of blood that made earth hideous, did forebode
To all the nations of mankind to come
The cruel household stripes, and the relentless
Battles of civil wars, the poisoned cup,
The gleam of axes lifted up to strike
The prone necks on the block.
Beheld that blood amazed, and from on high
He heard the awful voice of cursing leap,
And in the middle of his forehead felt
God's lightning strike....
....And there from out the heart
All stained with guiltiness emerged the coward
Religion that is born of loveless fears.
And, moved and shaken like a conscious thing,
The tree of sin dilated horribly
Its frondage over all the land and sea,
And with its poisonous shadow followed far
The flight of Cain....
.... And he who first
By th' arduous solitudes and by the heights
And labyrinths of the virgin earth conducted
This ever-wandering, lost Humanity
Was the Accursed.
Cain passes away, and his children fill the world, and the joy of
guiltless labor brightens the poet's somber verse.
The murmur of the works of man arose
Up from the plains; the caves reverberated
The blows of restless hammers that revealed,
Deep in the bowels of the fruitful hills,
The iron and the faithless gold, with rays
Of evil charm. And all the cliffs repeated
The beetle's fall, and the unceasing leap
Of waters on the paddles of the wheel
Volubly busy; and with heavy strokes
Upon the borders of the inviolate woods
The ax was heard descending on the trees,
Upon the odorous bark of mighty pines.
Over the imminent upland's utmost brink
The blonde wild-goat stretched forth his neck to meet
The unknown sound, and, caught with sudden fear,
Down the steep bounded, and the arrow cut
Midway the flight of his aerial foot.
So all the wild earth was tamed to the hand of man, and the wisdom of
the stars began to reveal itself to the shepherds,
Who, in the leisure of the argent nights,
Leading their flocks upon a sea of meadows,
turned their eyes upon the heavenly bodies, and questioned them in
their courses. But a taint of guilt was in all the blood of Cain,
which the deluge alone could purge.
And beautiful beyond all utterance
Were the earth's first-born daughters. Phantasms these
That now enamor us decrepit, by
The light of that prime beauty! And the glance
Those ardent sinners darted had beguiled
God's angels even, so that the Lord's command
Was weaker than the bidding of their eyes.
And there were seen, descending from on high,
His messengers, and in the tepid eyes
Gathering their flight about the secret founts
Where came the virgins wandering sole to stretch
The nude pomp of their perfect loveliness.
Caught by some sudden flash of light afar,
The shepherd looked, and deemed that he beheld
A fallen star, and knew not that he saw
A fallen angel, whose distended wings,
All tremulous with voluptuous delight,
Strove vainly to lift him to the skies again.
The earth with her malign embraces blest
The heavenly-born, and they straightway forgot
The joys of God's eternal paradise
For the brief rapture of a guilty love.
And from these nuptials, violent and strange,
A strange and violent race of giants rose;
A chain of sin had linked the earth to heaven;
And God repented him of his own work.
The destroying rains descended,
And the ocean rose,
And on the cities and the villages
The terror fell apace. There was a strife
Of suppliants at the altars; blasphemy
Launched at the impotent idols and the kings;
There were embraces desperate and dear,
And news of suddenest forgivenesses,
And a relinquishment of all sweet things;
And, guided onward by the pallid prophets,
The people climbed, with lamentable cries,
In pilgrimage up the mountains.
But in vain;
For swifter than they climbed the ocean rose,
And hid the palms, and buried the sepulchers
Far underneath the buried pyramids;
And the victorious billow swelled and beat
At eagles' Alpine nests, extinguishing
All lingering breath of life; and dreadfuller
Than the yell rising from the battle-field
Seemed the hush of every human sound.
On the high solitude of the waters naught
Was seen but here and there unfrequently
A frail raft, heaped with languid men that fought
Weakly with one another for the grass
Hanging about a cliff not yet submerged,
And here and there a drowned man's head, and here
And there a file of birds, that beat the air
With weary wings.
After the deluge, the race of Noah repeoples the empty world, and the
history of mankind begins anew in the Orient. Rome is built, and the
Christian era dawns, and Rome falls under the feet of the barbarians.
Then the enthusiasm of Christendom sweeps toward the East, in the
repeated Crusades; and then, "after long years of twilight", Dante,
the sun of Italian civilization, rises; and at last comes the dream of
another world, unknown to the eyes of elder times.
But between that and our shore roared diffuse
Abysmal seas and fabulous hurricanes
Which, thought on, blanched the faces of the bold;
For the dread secret of the heavens was then
The Western world. Yet on the Italian coasts
A boy grew into manhood, in whose soul
The instinct of the unknown continent burned.
He saw in his prophetic mind depicted
The opposite visage of the earth, and, turning
With joyful defiance to the ocean, sailed
Forth with two secret pilots, God and Genius.
Last of the prophets, he returned in chains
In the New World are the traces, as in the Old, of a restless
humanity, wandering from coast to coast, growing, building cities,
and utterly vanishing. There are graves and ruins everywhere; and the
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