To R.K. Leather
(July 16th, 1892.)
PAOLO AND FRANCESCA
It happened in that great Italian land
Where every bosom heateth with a star -
At Rimini, anigh that crumbling strand
The Adriatic filcheth near and far -
In that same past where Dante's dream-days are,
That one Francesca gave her youthful gold
Unto an aged carle to bolt and bar;
Though all the love which great young hearts can hold,
How could she give that love unto a miser old?
Nay! but young Paolo was the happy lad,
A youth of dreaming eye yet dauntless foot,
Who all Francesca's wealth of loving had;
One brave to scale a wall and steal the fruit,
Nor fear because some dotard owned the root;
Yea! one who wore his love like sword on thigh
And kept not all his valour for his lute;
One who could dare as well as sing and sigh.
Ah! then were hearts to love, but they are long gone by.
Ye lily-wives so happy in the nest,
Whose joy within the gates of duty springs,
Blame not Love's poor, who, if they would be blest,
Must steal what comes to you with marriage rings:
Ye pity the poor lark whose scarce-tried wings
Faint in the net, while still the morning air
With brown free throats of all his brethren sings,
And can it be ye will not pity her,
Whose youth is as a lark all lost to singing there?
In opportunity of dear-bought joy
Rich were this twain, for old Lanciotto, he
Who was her lord, was brother of her boy,
And in one home together dwelt the three,
With brothers two beside; and he and she
Sat at one board together, in one fane
Their voices rose upon one hymn, ah me!
Beneath one roof each night their limbs had lain,
As now in death they share the one eternal pain.
As much as common men can love a flower
Unto Lanciotto was Francesca dear,
'Tis not on such Love wields his jealous power;
And therefore Paolo moved him not to fear,
Though he so green with youth and he so sere.
Nor yet indeed was wrong, the hidden thing
Grew at each heart, unknown of each, a year, -
Two eggs still silent in the nest through spring,
May draws so near to June, and not yet time to sing!
Yet oft, indeed, through days that gave no sign
Had but Francesca turned about and read
Paolo's bright eyes that only dared to shine
On the dear gold that glorified her head;
Ere all the light had from their circles fled
And the grey Honour darkened all his face:
They had not come to June and nothing said,
Day followed day with such an even pace,
Nor night succeeded night and left no starry trace.
Or, surely, had the flower Paolo pressed
In some sweet volume when he put it by.
Told how his mistress drew it to her breast
And called upon his name when none was nigh;
Had but the scarf he kissed with piteous cry
But breathed again its secret unto her,
Or had but one of every little sigh
Each left for each been love's true messenger:
They surely had not kept that winter all the year.
Yea! love lay hushed and waiting like a seed,
Some laggard of the season still abed
Though the sun calls and gentle zephyrs plead,
And Hope that waited long must deem it dead;
Yet lo! to-morrow sees its shining head
Singing at dawn 'mid all the garden throng:
Ah, had it known, it had been earlier sped -
Was it for fear of day it slept so long,
Or were its dreams of singing sweeter than the song?
But what poor flower can symbol all the might
And all the magnitude, great Love, of thee?
Ah, is there aught can image thee aright
In earth or heaven, how great or fair it be?
We watch the acorn grow into the tree,
We watch the patient spark surprise the mine,
But what are oaks to thy Ygdrasil-tree?
What the mad mine's convulsive strength to thine,
That wrecks a world but bids heaven's soaring steeples shine?
A god that hath no earthly metaphor,
A blinding word that hath no earthly rhyme,
Love! we can only call and no name more;
As the great lonely thunder rolls sublime,
As the great sun doth solitary climb,
And we have but themselves to know them by,
Just so Love stands a stranger amid Time:
The god is there, the great voice speaks on high,
We pray, 'What art thou, Lord?' but win us no reply.
So in the dark grew Love, but feared to flower,
Dreamed to himself, but never spake a word,
Burned like a prisoned fire from hour to hour,
Sang his dear song like an unheeded bird;
Waiting the summoning voice so long unheard,
Waiting with weary eyes the gracious sign
To bring his rose, and tell the dream he dared,
The tremulous moment when the star should shine,
And each should ask of each, and each should answer
Winter to-day, but lo! to-morrow spring!
They waited long, but oh at last it came,
Came in a silver hush at evening;
Francesca toyed with threads upon a frame,
Hard by young Paolo read of knight and dame
That long ago had loved and passed away:
He had no other way to tell his flame,
She dare not listen any other way -
But even that was bliss to lovers poor as they.
The world grew sweet with wonder in the west
The while he read and while she listened there,
And many a dream from out its silken nest
Stole like a curling incense through the air;
Yet looked she not on him, nor did he dare:
But when the lovers kissed in Paradise
His voice sank and he turned his gaze on her,
Like a young bird that flutters ere it flies, -
And lo! a shining angel called him from her eyes.
Then from the silence sprang a kiss like flame,
And they hung lost together; while around
The world was changed, no more to be the same
Meadow or sky, no little flower or sound
Again the same, for earth grew holy ground:
While in the silence of the mounting moon
Infinite love throbbed in the straining bound
Of that great kiss, the long-delaying boon,
Granted indeed at last, but ended, ah! so soon.
As the great sobbing fulness of the sea
Fills to the throat some void and aching cave,
Till all its hollows tremble silently,
Pressed with sweet weight of softly-lapping wave:
So kissed those mighty lovers glad and brave.
And as a sky from which the sun has gone
Trembles all night with all the stars he gave
A firmament of memories of the sun, -
So thrilled and thrilled each life when that great kiss was done.
But coward shame that had no word to say
In passion's hour, with sudden icy clang
Slew the bright morn, and through the tarnished day
An iron bell from light to darkness rang:
She shut her ears because a throstle sang,
She dare not hear the little innocent bird,
And a white flower made her poor head to hang -
To be so white! once she was white as curd,
But now - 'Alack!' 'Alack!' She speaks no other word.
The pearly line on yonder hills afar
Within the dawn, when mounts the lark and sings
By the great angel of the morning star, -
That was his love, and all free fair fresh things
That move and glitter while the daylight springs:
To thus know love, and yet to spoil love thus!
To lose the dream - O silly beating wings -
Great dream so splendid and miraculous:
O Lord, O Lord, have mercy, have mercy upon us.
She turned her mind upon the holy ones
Whose love lost here was love in heaven tenfold,
She thought of Lucy, that most blessed of nuns
Who sent her blue eyes on a plate of gold
To him who wooed her daily for her love -
'Mine eyes!' 'Mine eyes!' 'Here, - go in peace, they are!'
But ever love came through the midnight grove,
Young Love, with wild eyes watching from afar,
And called and called and called until the morning star.
Ah, poor Francesca, 'tis not such as thou
That up the stony steeps of heaven climb;
Take thou thy heaven with thy Paolo now -
Sweet saint of sin, saint of a deathless rhyme,
Song shall defend thee at the bar of Time,
Dante shall set thy fair young glowing face
On the dark background of his theme sublime,
And Thou and He in your superb disgrace
Still on that golden wind of passion shall embrace.
* * * * *
So love this twain, but whither have they passed?
Ah me, that dark must always follow day,
That Love's last kiss is surely kissed at last,
Howe'er so wildly the poor lips may pray:
Merciful God, is there no other way?
And pen, O must thou of the ending write,
The hour Lanciotto found them where they lay,
Folded together, weary with delight,
Within the sumptuous petals of the rose of night.
Yea, for Lanciotto found them: many an hour
Ere their dear joy had run its doomèd date,
Had they, in silken nook and blossomed bower,
All unsuspect the blessed apple ate,
Who now must grind its core predestinate.
Kiss, kiss, poor losing lovers, nor deny
One little tremor of its bliss, for Fate
Cometh upon you, and the dark is nigh
Where all, unkissed, unkissing, learn at length to lie.
Bent on some journey of the state's concern
They deemed him, and indeed he rode thereon
But questioned Paolo - 'What if he return!'
'Nay, love, indeed he is securely gone
As thou art surely here, beloved one,
He went ere sundown, and our moon is here -
A fear, love, in this heart that yet knew none!'
How could he fright that little velvet ear
With last night's dream and all its ghostly fear!
So did he yield him to her eager breast,
And half forgot, but could not quite forget,
No sweetest kiss could put that fear to rest,
And all its haggard vision chilled him yet;
Their warder moon in nameless trouble set,
There seemed a traitor echo in the place,
A moaning wind that moaned for lovers met,
And once above her head's deep sunk embrace
He saw - Death at the window with his yellow face.
Had that same dream caught old Lanciotto's reins,
Bent in a weary huddle on his steed,
In darkling haste along the blindfold lanes,
Making a clattering halt in all that speed: -
'Fool! fool!' he cried, 'O dotard fool, indeed,
So ho! they wanton while the old man rides,'
And on the night flashed pictures of the deed.
'Come!' - and he dug his charger's panting sides,
And all the homeward dark tore by in roaring tides.
As some great lord of acres when a thief
Steals from his park some flower he never sees,
Calls it a lily fair beyond belief,
Prisons the wretch, and fines before he frees;
Such jealous madness did Lanciotto seize:
All in an instant is Francesca dear,
He claims the wife he never cared to please,
All in an instant seems his castle near, -
And those poor lovers sleep, forgot at last their fear.
His horse left steaming at his journey's end,
Up through his palace stairs with springing tread
He strode; the silence met him like a friend,
Fain to dissuade him from that deed of dread,
Making a breeze about his burning head,
Laying large hands of comfort on his soul;
Within the ashes of his cheek burned red
A long-shut rose of youth, as to the goal
Of death he sped, as once to love's own tryst he stole.
He caught a sound as of a rose's breath,
He caught another breath of deeper lung,
Rose-leaves and oak-leaves on the wind of death;
He drew aside the arras where they clung
In the dim light, so lovely and so young -
They lay in sin as in a cradle there,
Twin babes that in one bosom nestling hung:
Even Lanciotto paused, ah, will he spare?
Who could not quite forgive a wrong that is so fair!
The grave old clock ticked somewhere in the gloom,
A dozen waiting seconds rose and fell
Ere his pale dagger flickered in the room,
Then quenched its corpse-light in their bosoms' swell -
'Thus, dears, I mate you evermore in hell.'
Their blood ran warm about them and they sighed
For the mad smiter did his work too well,
Just drew together softly and so died,
Fell very still and strange, and moved not side by side.
Yea, moved not, though two hours he watched the twain
And heard their blood drip drip upon the floor,
Twice with stern voice he spake to them again,
And then, a little tenderly, once more, -
'Thus, dears, in hell I mate you evermore.'
And when the curious fingers of the day
Unravelled all the dark, and morning wore,
And the young light played round them where they lay,
The souls were many leagues upon the hellward way.