Answer you, Sirs? Do I understand aright?
Have patience! In this sudden smoke from hell,
So things disguise themselves, I cannot see
My own hand held thus broad before my face
And know it again. Answer you? Then that means
Tell over twice what I, the first time, told
Six months ago: ’twas here, I do believe,
Fronting you same three in this very room,
I stood and told you: yet now no one laughs,
Who then . . . nay, dear my lords, but laugh you did,
As good as laugh, what in a judge we style
Laughter no levity, nothing indecorous, lords!
Only, I think I apprehend the mood:
There was the blameless shrug, permissible smirk,
The pen’s pretence at play with the pursed mouth,
The titter stifled in the hollow palm
Which rubbed the eyebrow and caressed the nose,
When I first told my tale: they meant, you know,
“The sly one, all this we are bound believe!
“Well, he can say no other than what he says.
“We have been young, too, come, there’s greater guilt!
“Let him but decently disembroil himself,
“Scramble from out the scrape nor move the mud,
“We solid ones may risk a finger-stretch!”
And now you sit as grave, stare as aghast
As if I were a phantom: now ’tis “Friend,
“Collect yourself!” no laughing matter more
“Counsel the Court in this extremity,
“Tell us again!” tell that, for telling which,
I got the jocular piece of punishment,
Was sent to lounge a little in the place
Whence now of a sudden here you summon me
To take the intelligence from just your lips
You, Judge Tommati, who then tittered most,
That she I helped eight months since to escape
Her husband, is retaken by the same,
Three days ago, if I have seized your sense,
(I being disallowed to interfere,
Meddle or make in a matter none of mine,
For you and law were guardians quite enough
O’ the innocent, without a pert priest’s help)
And that he has butchered her accordingly,
As she foretold and as myself believed,
And, so foretelling and believing so,
We were punished, both of us, the merry way:
Therefore, tell once again the tale! For what?
Pompilia is only dying while I speak!
Why does the mirth hang fire and miss the smile?
My masters, there’s an old book, you should con
For strange adventures, applicable yet,
’Tis stuffed with. Do you know that there was once
This thing: a multitude of worthy folk
Took recreation, watched a certain group
Of soldiery intent upon a game,
How first they wrangled, but soon fell to play,
Threw dice, the best diversion in the world.
A word in your ear, they are now casting lots,
Ay, with that gesture quaint and cry uncouth,
For the coat of One murdered an hour ago!
I am a priest, talk of what I have learned.
Pompilia is bleeding out her life belike,
Gasping away the latest breath of all,
This minute, while I talk not while you laugh?
Yet, being sobered now, what is it you ask
By way of explanation? There’s the fact!
It seems to fill the universe with sight
And sound, from the four corners of this earth
Tells itself over, to my sense at least.
But you may want it lower set i’ the scale,
Too vast, too close it clangs in the ear, perhaps;
You’d stand back just to comprehend it more:
Well then, let me, the hollow rock, condense
The voice o’ the sea and wind, interpret you
The mystery of this murder. God above!
It is too paltry, such a transference
O’ the storm’s roar to the cranny of the stone!
This deed, you saw begin why does its end
Surprise you? Why should the event enforce
The lesson, we ourselves learned, she and I,
From the first o’ the fact, and taught you, all in vain?
This Guido from whose throat you took my grasp,
Was this man to be favoured, now, or feared,
Let do his will, or have his will restrained,
In the relation with Pompilia? say!
Did any other man need interpose
Oh, though first comer, though as strange at the work
As fribble must be, coxcomb, fool that’s near
To knave as, say, a priest who fears the world
Was he bound brave the peril, save the doomed,
Or go on, sing his snatch and pluck his flower,
Keep the straight path and let the victim die?
I held so; you decided otherwise,
Saw no such peril, therefore no such need
To stop song, loosen flower, and leave path: Law,
Law was aware and watching, would suffice,
Wanted no priest’s intrusion, palpably
Pretence, too manifest a subterfuge!
Whereupon I, priest, coxcomb, fribble, and fool,
Ensconced me in my corner, thus rebuked,
A kind of culprit, over-zealous hound
Kicked for his pains to kennel; I gave place,
To you, and let the law reign paramount:
I left Pompilia to your watch and ward,
And now you point me there and thus she lies!
Men, for the last time, what do you want with me?
Is it, you acknowledge, as it were, a use,
A profit in employing me? at length
I may conceivably help the august law?
I am free to break the blow, next hawk that swoops
On next dove, nor miss much of good repute?
Or what if this your summons, after all,
Be but the form of mere release, no more,
Which turns the key and lets the captive go?
I have paid enough in person at Civita,
Am free, what more need I concern me with?
Thank you! I am rehabilitated then,
A very reputable priest. But she
The glory of life, the beauty of the world,
The splendour of heaven, . . . well, Sirs, does no one move?
Do I speak ambiguously? The glory, I say,
And the beauty, I say, and splendour, still say I,
Who, a priest, trained to live my whole life long
On beauty and splendour, solely at their source,
God, have thus recognised my food in one,
You tell me, is fast dying while we talk,
Pompilia, how does lenity to me,
Remit one death-bed pang to her? Come, smile!
The proper wink at the hot-headed youth
Who lets his soul show, through transparent words,
The mundane love that’s sin and scandal too!
You are all struck acquiescent now, it seems:
It seems the oldest, gravest signor here,
Even the redoubtable Tommati, sits
Chop-fallen, understands how law might take
Service like mine, of brain and heart and hand,
In good part. Better late than never, law!
You understand of a sudden, gospel too
Has a claim here, may possibly pronounce
Consistent with my priesthood, worthy Christ,
That I endeavoured to save Pompilia?
You were wrong, you see: that’s well to see, though late:
That’s all we may expect of man, this side
The grave: his good is knowing he is bad:
Thus will it be with us when the books ope
And we stand at the bar on judgment-day.
Well then, I have a mind to speak, see cause
To relume the quenched flax by this dreadful light,
Burn my soul out in showing you the truth.
I heard, last time I stood here to be judged,
What is priest’s-duty, labour to pluck tares
And weed the corn of Molinism; let me
Make you hear, this time, how, in such a case,
Man, be he in the priesthood or at plough,
Mindful of Christ or marching step by step
With . . . what’s his style, the other potentate
Who bids have courage and keep honour safe,
Nor let minuter admonition teaze?
How he is bound, better or worse, to act.
Earth will not end through this misjudgment, no!
For you and the others like you sure to come,
Fresh work is sure to follow, wickedness
That wants withstanding. Many a man of blood,
Many a man of guile will clamour yet,
Bid you redress his grievance, as he clutched
The prey, forsooth a stranger stepped between,
And there’s the good gripe in pure waste! My part
Is done; i’ the doing it, I pass away
Out of the world. I want no more with earth.
Let me, in heaven’s name, use the very snuff
O’ the taper in one last spark shall show truth
For a moment, show Pompilia who was true!
Not for her sake, but yours: if she is dead,
Oh, Sirs, she can be loved by none of you
Most or least priestly! Saints, to do us good,
Must be in heaven, I seem to understand:
We never find them saints before, at least.
Be her first prayer then presently for you
She had done the good to me . . .
What is all this?
There, I was born, have lived, shall die, a fool!
This is a foolish outset: might with cause
Give colour to the very lie o’ the man,
The murderer, make as if I loved his wife,
In the way he called love. He is the fool there!
Why, had there been in me the touch of taint,
I had picked up so much of knaves’-policy
As hide it, keep one hand pressed on the place
Suspected of a spot would damn us both.
Or no, not her! not even if any of you
Dares think that I, i’ the face of death, her death
That’s in my eyes and ears and brain and heart,
Lie, if he does, let him! I mean to say,
So he stop there, stay thought from smirching her
The snow-white soul that angels fear to take
Untenderly. But, all the same, I know
I too am taintless, and I bare my breast.
You can’t think, men as you are, all of you,
But that, to hear thus suddenly such an end
Of such a wonderful white soul, that comes
Of a man and murderer calling the white black,
Must shake me, trouble and disadvantage. Sirs,
Why, good and wise you are!
You might at the beginning stop my mouth:
So, none would be to speak for her, that knew.
I talk impertinently, and you bear,
All the same. This it is to have to do
With honest hearts: they easily may err,
But in the main they wish well to the truth.
You are Christians; somehow, no one ever plucked
A rag, even, from the body of the Lord,
To wear and mock with, but, despite himself,
He looked the greater and was the better. Yes,
I shall go on now. Does she need or not
I keep calm? Calm I’ll keep as monk that croons
Transcribing battle, earthquake, famine, plague,
From parchment to his cloister’s chronicle.
Not one word more from the point now!
Yes, I am one of your body and a priest.
Also I am a younger son o’ the House
Oldest now, greatest once, in my birth-town
Arezzo, I recognise no equal there
(I want all arguments, all sorts of arms
That seem to serve, use this for a reason, wait!)
Not therefore thrust into the Church, because
O’ the piece of bread one gets there. We were first
Of Fiesole, that rings still with the fame
Of Capo-in-Sacco our progenitor:
When Florence ruined Fiesole, our folk
Migrated to the victor-city, and there
Flourished, our palace and our tower attest,
In the Old Mercato, this was years ago,
Four hundred, full, no, it wants fourteen just.
Our arms are those of Fiesole itself,
The shield quartered with white and red: a branch
Are the Salviati of us, nothing more.
That were good help to the Church? But better still
Not simply for the advantage of my birth
I’ the way of the world, was I proposed for priest;
But because there’s an illustration, late
I’ the day, that’s loved and looked to as a saint
Still in Arezzo, he was bishop of,
Sixty years since: he spent to the last doit
His bishop’s-revenue among the poor,
And used to tend the needy and the sick,
Barefoot, because of his humility.
He it was, when the Granduke Ferdinand
Swore he would raze our city, plough the place
And sow it with salt, because we Aretines
Had tied a rope about the neck, to hale
The statue of his father from its base
For hate’s sake, he availed by prayers and tears
To pacify the Duke and save the town.
This was my father’s father’s brother. You see,
For his sake, how it was I had a right
To the self-same office, bishop in the egg,
So, grew i’ the garb and prattled in the school,
Was made expect, from infancy almost,
The proper mood o’ the priest; till time ran by
And brought the day when I must read the vows,
Declare the world renounced and undertake
To become priest and leave probation, leap
Over the ledge into the other life,
Having gone trippingly hitherto up to the height
O’er the wan water. Just a vow to read!
I stopped short awe-struck. “How shall holiest flesh
“Engage to keep such vow inviolate,
“How much less mine, I know myself too weak,
“Unworthy! Choose a worthier stronger man!”
And the very Bishop smiled and stopped the mouth
In its mid-protestation. “Incapable?
“Qualmish of conscience? Thou ingenuous boy!
“Clear up the clouds and cast thy scruples far!
“I satisfy thee there’s an easier sense
“Wherein to take such vow than suits the first
“Rough rigid reading. Mark what makes all smooth,
“Nay, has been even a solace to myself!
“The Jews who needs must, in their synagogue,
“Utter sometimes the holy name of God,
“A thing their superstition boggles at,
“Pronounce aloud the ineffable sacrosanct,
“How does their shrewdness help them? In this wise;
“Another set of sounds they substitute,
“Jumble so consonants and vowels how
“Should I know? that there grows from out the old
“Quite a new word that means the very same
“And o’er the hard place slide they with a smile.
“Giuseppe Maria Caponsacchi mine,
“Nobody wants you in these latter days
“To prop the Church by breaking your back-bone,
“As the necessary way was once, we know,
“When Dioclesian flourished and his like;
“That building of the buttress-work was done
“By martyrs and confessors: let it bide,
“Add not a brick, but, where you see a chink,
“Stick in a sprig of ivy or root a rose
“Shall make amends and beautify the pile!
“We profit as you were the painfullest
“O’ the martyrs, and you prove yourself a match
“For the cruellest confessor ever was,
“If you march boldly up and take your stand
“Where their blood soaks, their bones yet strew the soil,
“And cry ‘Take notice, I the young and free
“‘And well-to-do i’ the world, thus leave the world,
“‘Cast in my lot thus with no gay young world
“‘But the grand old Church: she tempts me of the two!’
“Renounce the world? Nay, keep and give it us!
“Let us have you, and boast of what you bring.
“We want the pick o’ the earth to practise with,
“Not its offscouring, halt and deaf and blind
“In soul and body. There’s a rubble-stone
“Unfit for the front o’ the building, stuff to stow
“In a gap behind and keep us weather-tight;
“There’s porphyry for the prominent place. Good lack!
“Saint Paul has had enough and to spare, I trow,
“Of ragged run-away Onesimus:
“He wants the right-hand with the signet-ring
“Of King Agrippa, now, to shake and use.
“I have a heavy scholar cloistered up
“Close under lock and key, kept at his task
“Of letting Fenelon know the fool he is,
“In a book I promise Christendom next Spring.
“Why, if he covets so much meat, the clown,
“As a lark’s wing next Friday, or, any day,
“Diversion beyond catching his own fleas,
“He shall be properly swinged, I promise him.
“But you, who are so quite another paste
“Of a man, do you obey me? Cultivate
“Assiduous, that superior gift you have
“Of making madrigals (who told me? Ah!)
“Get done a Marinesque Adoniad straight
“With a pulse o’ the blood a-pricking, here and there
“That I may tell the lady, ‘And he’s ours!”’
So I became a priest: those terms changed all,
I was good enough for that, nor cheated so;
I could live thus and still hold head erect.
Now you see why I may have been before
A fribble and coxcomb, yet, as priest, break word
Nowise, to make you disbelieve me now.
I need that you should know my truth. Well, then,
According to prescription did I live,
Conformed myself, both read the breviary
And wrote the rhymes, was punctual to my place
I’ the Pieve, and as diligent at my post
Where beauty and fashion rule. I throve apace,
Sub-deacon, Canon, the authority
For delicate play at tarocs, and arbiter
O’ the magnitude of fan-mounts: all the while
Wanting no whit the advantage of a hint
Benignant to the promising pupil, thus:
“Enough attention to the Countess now,
“The young one; ’tis her mother rules the roast,
“We know where, and puts in a word: go pay
“Devoir to-morrow morning after mass!
“Break that rash promise to preach, Passion-week!
“Has it escaped you the Archbishop grunts
“And snuffles when one grieves to tell his Grace
“No soul dares treat the subject of the day
“Since his own masterly handling it (ha, ha!)
“Five years ago, when somebody could help
“And touch up an odd phrase in time of need,
“(He, he!) and somebody helps you, my son!
“Therefore, don’t prove so indispensable
“At the Pieve, sit more loose i’ the seat, nor grow
“A fixture by attendance morn and eve!
“Arezzo’s just a haven midway Rome
“Rome’s the eventual harbour, make for port,
“Crowd sail, crack cordage! And your cargo be
“A polished presence, a genteel manner, wit
“At will, and tact at every pore of you!
“I sent our lump of learning, Brother Clout,
“And Father Slouch, our piece of piety,
“To see Rome and try suit the Cardinal.
“Thither they clump-clumped, beads and book in hand,
“And ever since ’tis meat for man and maid
“How both flopped down, prayed blessing on bent pate
“Bald many an inch beyond the tonsure’s need,
“Never once dreaming, the two moony dolts,
“There’s nothing moves his Eminence so much
“As far from all this awe at sanctitude
“Heads that wag, eyes that twinkle, modified mirth
“At the closet-lectures on the Latin tongue
“A lady learns so much by, we know where.
“Why, body o’ Bacchus, you should crave his rule
“For pauses in the elegiac couplet, chasms
“Permissible only to Catullus! There!
“Now go do duty: brisk, break Priscian’s head
“By reading the day’s office there’s no help.
“You’ve Ovid in your poke to plaster that;
“Amen’s at the end of all: then sup with me!”
Well, after three or four years of this life,
In prosecution of my calling, I
Found myself at the theatre one night
With a brother Canon, in a mood and mind
Proper enough for the place, amused or no:
When I saw enter, stand, and seat herself
A lady, young, tall, beautiful, strange, and sad.
It was as when, in our cathedral once,
As I got yawningly through matin-song,
I saw facchini bear a burden up,
Base it on the high-altar, break away
A board or two, and leave the thing inside
Lofty and lone: and lo, when next I looked,
There was the Rafael! I was still one stare,
When “Nay, I’ll make her give you back your gaze”
Said Canon Conti; and at the word he tossed
A paper-twist of comfits to her lap,
And dodged and in a trice was at my back
Nodding from over my shoulder. Then she turned,
Looked our way, smiled the beautiful sad strange smile.
“Is not she fair? ’Tis my new cousin,” said he:
“The fellow lurking there i’ the black o’ the box
“Is Guido, the old scapegrace: she’s his wife,
“Married three years since: how his Countship sulks!
“He has brought little back from Rome beside,
“After the bragging, bullying. A fair face,
“And they do say a pocket-full of gold
“When he can worry both her parents dead.
“I don’t go much there, for the chamber’s cold
“And the coffee pale. I got a turn at first
“Paying my duty, I observed they crouched
“The two old frightened family spectres, close
“In a corner, each on each like mouse on mouse
“I’ the cat’s cage: ever since, I stay at home.
“Hallo, there’s Guido, the black, mean, and small,
“Bends his brows on us please to bend your own
“On the shapely nether limbs of Light-skirts there
“By way of a diversion! I was a fool
“To fling the sweetmeats. Prudence, for God’s love!
“To-morrow I’ll make my peace, e’en tell some fib,
“Try if I can’t find means to take you there.”
That night and next day did the gaze endure,
Burnt to my brain, as sunbeam thro’ shut eyes,
And not once changed the beautiful sad strange smile.
At vespers Conti leaned beside my seat
I’ the choir, part said, part sung “In ex-cel-sis
“All’s to no purpose: I have louted low,
“But he saw you staring quia sub don’t incline
“To know you nearer: him we would not hold
“For Hercules, the man would lick your shoe
“If you and certain efficacious friends
“Managed him warily, but there’s the wife:
“Spare her, because he beats her, as it is,
“She’s breaking her heart quite fast enough jam tu
“So, be you rational and make amends
“With little Light-skirts yonder in secula
“Secu-lo-o-o-o-rum. Ah, you rogue! Every one knows
“What great dame she makes jealous: one against one,
“Play, and win both!”
Sirs, ere the week was out,
I saw and said to myself “Light-skirts hides teeth
“Would make a dog sick, the great dame shows spite
“Should drive a cat mad: ’tis but poor work this
“Counting one’s fingers till the sonnet’s crowned.
“I doubt much if Marino really be
“A better bard than Dante after all.
“’Tis more amusing to go pace at eve
“I’ the Duomo, watch the day’s last gleam outside
“Turn, as into a skirt of God’s own robe,
“Those lancet-windows’ jewelled miracle,
“Than go eat the Archbishop’s ortolans,
“Digest his jokes. Luckily Lent is near:
“Who cares to look will find me in my stall
“At the Pieve, constant to this faith at least
“Never to write a canzonet any more.”
So, next week, ’twas my patron spoke abrupt,
In altered guise, “Young man, can it be true
“That after all your promise of sound fruit,
“You have kept away from Countess young or old
“And gone play truant in church all day long?
“Are you turning Molinist?” I answered quick
“Sir, what if I turned Christian? It might be,
“The fact is, I am troubled in my mind,
“Beset and pressed hard by some novel thoughts.
“This your Arezzo is a limited world;
“There’s a strange Pope, ’tis said, a priest who thinks.
“Rome is the port, you say: to Rome I go.
“I will live alone, one does so in a crowd,
“And look into my heart a little.” “Lent
“Ended,” I told friends, “I shall go to Rome.”
One evening I was sitting in a muse
Over the opened “Summa,” darkened round
By the mid-March twilight, thinking how my life
Had shaken under me, broke short indeed
And showed the gap ’twixt what is, what should be,
And into what abysm the soul may slip,
Leave aspiration here, achievement there,
Lacking omnipotence to connect extremes
Thinking moreover . . . oh, thinking, if you like,
How utterly dissociated was I
A priest and celibate, from the sad strange wife
Of Guido, just as an instance to the point,
Nought more, how I had a whole store of strengths
Eating into my heart, which craved employ,
And she, perhaps, need of a finger’s help,
And yet there was no way in the wide world
To stretch out mine and so relieve myself
How when the page o’ the Summa preached its best,
Her smile kept glowing out of it, as to mock
The silence we could break by no one word,
There came a tap without the chamber-door
And a whisper, when I bade who tapped speak out,
And, in obedience to my summons, last
In glided a masked muffled mystery,
Laid lightly a letter on the opened book,
Then stood with folded arms and foot demure,
Pointing as if to mark the minutes’ flight.
I took the letter, read to the effect
That she, I lately flung the comfits to,
Had a warm heart to give me in exchange,
And gave it, loved me and confessed it thus,
And bade me render thanks by word of mouth,
Going that night to such a side o’ the house
Where the small terrace overhangs a street
Blind and deserted, not the street in front:
Her husband being away, the surly patch,
At his villa of Vittiano.
“And you?” I asked:
“What may you be?” “Count Guido’s kind of maid
“Most of us have two functions in his house.
“We all hate him, the lady suffers much,
“’Tis just we show compassion, furnish aid,
“Specially since her choice is fixed so well.
“What answer may I bring to cheer the sweet
Then I took a pen and wrote.
“No more of this! That you are fair, I know:
“But other thoughts now occupy my mind.
“I should not thus have played the insensible
“Once on a time. What made you, may one ask,
“Marry your hideous husband? ’Twas a fault,
“And now you taste the fruit of it. Farewell.”
“There!” smiled I as she snatched it and was gone
“There, let the jealous miscreant, Guido’s self,
“Whose mean soul grins through this transparent trick,
“Be baulked so far, defrauded of his aim!
“What fund of satisfaction to the knave,
“Had I kicked this his messenger downstairs,
“Trussed to the middle of her impudence,
“Setting his heart at ease so! No, indeed!
“There’s the reply which he shall turn and twist
“At pleasure, snuff at till his brain grow drunk,
“As the bear does when he finds a scented glove
“That puzzles him, a hand and yet no hand,
“Of other perfume than his own foul paw!
“Last month, I had doubtless chosen to play the dupe,
“Accepted the mock-invitation, kept
“The sham appointment, cudgel beneath cloak,
“Prepared myself to pull the appointer’s self
“Out of the window from his hiding-place
“Behind the gown of this part-messenger
“Part-mistress who would personate the wife.
“Such had seemed once a jest permissible:
“Now, I am not i’ the mood.”
Back next morn brought
The messenger, a second letter in hand.
“You are cruel, Thyrsis, and Myrtilla moans
“Neglected but adores you, makes request
“For mercy: why is it you dare not come?
“Such virtue is scarce natural to your age:
“You must love someone else; I hear you do,
“The baron’s daughter or the Advocate’s wife,
“Or both, all’s one, would you make me the third
“I take the crumbs from table gratefully
“Nor grudge who feasts there. ’Faith, I blush and blaze!
“Yet if I break all bounds, there’s reason sure,
“Are you determinedly bent on Rome?
“I am wretched here, a monster tortures me:
“Carry me with you! Come and say you will!
“Concert this very evening! Do not write!
“I am ever at the window of my room
“Over the terrace, at the Ave. Come!”
I questioned lifting half the woman’s mask
To let her smile loose. “So, you gave my line
“To the merry lady?” “She kissed off the wax,
“And put what paper was not kissed away,
“In her bosom to go burn: but merry, no!
“She wept all night when evening brought no friend,
“Alone, the unkind missive at her breast;
“Thus Philomel, the thorn at her breast too,
“Sings” . . . “Writes this second letter?” “Even so!
“Then she may peep at vespers forth?” “What risk
“Do we run o’ the husband?” “Ah, no risk at all!
“He is more stupid even than jealous. Ah
“That was the reason? Why, the man’s away!
“Beside, his bugbear is that friend of yours,
“Fat little Canon Conti. He fears him
“How should he dream of you? I told you truth
“He goes to the villa at Vittiano ’tis
“The time when Spring-sap rises in the vine
“Spends the night there. And then his wife’s a child,
“Does he think a child outwits him? A mere child:
“Yet so full grown, a dish for any duke.
“Don’t quarrel longer with such cates, but come!”
I wrote “In vain do you solicit me.
“I am a priest: and you are wedded wife,
“Whatever kind of brute your husband prove.
“I have scruples, in short. Yet should you really show
“Sign at the window . . . but nay, best be good!
“My thoughts are elsewhere.” “Take her that!”
“Let the incarnate meanness, cheat and spy,
“Mean to the marrow of him, make his heart
“His food, anticipate hell’s worm once more!
“Let him watch shivering at the window ay,
“And let this hybrid, this his light-of-love
“And lackey-of-lies, a sage economy,
“Paid with embracings for the rank brass coin,
“Let her report and make him chuckle o’er
“The break-down of my resolution now,
“And lour at disappointment in good time!
“So tantalise and so enrage by turns,
“Until the two fall each on the other like
“Two famished spiders, as the coveted fly
“That toys long, leaves their net and them at last!”
And so the missives followed thick and fast
For a month, say, I still came at every turn
On the soft sly adder, endlong ’neath my tread.
I was met i’ the street, made sign to in the church,
A slip was found i’ the door-sill, scribbled word
’Twixt page and page o’ the prayer-book in my piece:
A crumpled thing dropped even before my feet,
Pushed through the blind, above the terrace-rail,
As I passed, by day, the very window once.
And ever from corners would be peering up
The messenger, with the self-same demand
“Obdurate still, no flesh but adamant?
“Nothing to cure the wound, assuage the throe
“O’ the sweetest lamb that ever loved a bear?”
And ever my one answer in one tone
“Go your ways, temptress! Let a priest read, pray,
“Unplagued of vain talk, visions not for him!
“In the end, you’ll have your will and ruin me!”
One day, a variation: thus I read:
“You have gained little by timidity.
“My husband has found out my love at length,
“Sees cousin Conti was the stalking-horse,
“And you the game he covered, poor fat soul!
“My husband is a formidable foe,
“Will stick at nothing to destroy you. Stand
“Prepared, or better, run till you reach Rome!
“I bade you visit me, when the last place
“My tyrant would have turned suspicious at,
“Or cared to seek you in, was . . . why say, where?
“But now all’s changed: beside, the season’s past
“At the villa, wants the master’s eye no more.
“Anyhow, I beseech you, stay away
“From the window! He might well be posted there.”
I wrote “You raise my courage, or call up
“My curiosity, who am but man.
“Tell him he owns the palace, not the street
“Under that’s his and yours and mine alike.
“If it should please me pad the path this eve,
“Guido will have two troubles, first to get
“Into a rage and then get out again.
“Be cautious, though: at the Ave!”
You of the court!
When I stood question here and reached this point
O’ the narrative, search notes and see and say
If some one did not interpose with smile
And sneer, “And prithee why so confident
“That the husband must, of all needs, not the wife,
“Fabricate thus, what if the lady loved?
“What if she wrote the letters?”
I told you there’s a picture in our church.
Well, if a low-browed verger sidled up
Bringing me, like a blotch, on his prod’s point,
A transfixed scorpion, let the reptile writhe,
And then said, “See a thing that Rafael made
“This venom issued from Madonna’s mouth!”
I should reply, “Rather, the soul of you
“Has issued from your body, like from like,
“By way of the ordure-corner!”
But no less,
I tired of the same black teazing lie
Obtruded thus at every turn; the pest
Was far too near the picture, anyhow:
One does Madonna service, making clowns
Remove their dung-heap from the sacristy.
“I will to the window, as he tempts,” said I:
“Yes, whom the easy love has failed allure,
“This new bait of adventure may, he thinks.
“While the imprisoned lady keeps afar,
“There will they lie in ambush, heads alert,
“Kith, kin, and Count mustered to bite my heel.
“No mother nor brother viper of the brood
“Shall scuttle off without the instructive bruise!”
So, I went: crossed street and street: “The next street’s turn,
“I stand beneath the terrace, see, above,
“The black of the ambush-window. Then, in place
“Of hand’s throw of soft prelude over lute
“And cough that clears way for the ditty last,”
I began to laugh already “he will have
“‘Out of the hole you hide in, on to the front,
“‘Count Guido Franceschini, show yourself!
“‘Hear what a man thinks of a thing like you,
“‘And after, take this foulness in your face!”’
The words lay living on my lip, I made
The one turn more and there at the window stood,
Framed in its black square length, with lamp in hand,
Pompilia; the same great, grave, griefful air
As stands i’ the dusk, on altar that I know,
Left alone with one moonbeam in her cell,
Our Lady of all the Sorrows. Ere I knelt
Assured myself that she was flesh and blood
She had looked one look and vanished.
I thought “Just so:
“It was herself, they have set her there to watch
“Stationed to see some wedding-band go by,
“On fair pretence that she must bless the bride,
“Or wait some funeral with friends wind past,
“And crave peace for the corpse that claims its due.
“She never dreams they used her for a snare,
“And now withdraw the bait has served its turn.
“Well done, the husband, who shall fare the worse!”
And on my lip again was “Out with thee,
“Guido!” When all at once she re-appeared;
But, this time, on the terrace overhead,
So close above me, she could almost touch
My head if she bent down; and she did bend,
While I stood still as stone, all eye, all ear.
She began “You have sent me letters, Sir:
“I have read none, I can neither read nor write;
“But she you gave them to, a woman here,
“One of the people in whose power I am,
“Partly explained their sense, I think, to me
“Obliged to listen while she inculcates
“That you, a priest, can dare love me, a wife,
“Desire to live or die as I shall bid,
“(She makes me listen if I will or no)
“Because you saw my face a single time.
“It cannot be she says the thing you mean;
“Such wickedness were deadly to us both:
“But good true love would help me now so much
“I tell myself, you may mean good and true.
“You offer me, I seem to understand,
“Because I am in poverty and starve,
“Much money, where one piece would save my life.
“The silver cup upon the altar-cloth
“Is neither yours to give nor mine to take;
“But I might take one bit of bread therefrom,
“Since I am starving, and return the rest,
“Yet do no harm: this is my very case.
“I am in that strait, I may not abstain
“From so much of assistance as would bring
“The guilt of theft on neither you nor me;
“But no superfluous particle of aid.
“I think, if you will let me state my case,
“Even had you been so fancy-fevered here,
“Not your sound self, you must grow healthy now
“Care only to bestow what I can take.
“That it is only you in the wide world,
“Knowing me nor in thought nor word nor deed,
“Who, all unprompted save by your own heart,
“Come proffering assistance now, were strange
“But that my whole life is so strange: as strange
“It is, my husband whom I have not wronged
“Should hate and harm me. For his own soul’s sake,
“Hinder the harm! But there is something more,
“And that the strangest: it has got to be
“Somehow for my sake too, and yet not mine,
“ This is a riddle for some kind of sake
“Not any clearer to myself than you,
“And yet as certain as that I draw breath,
“I would fain live, not die oh no, not die!
“My case is, I was dwelling happily
“At Rome with those dear Comparini, called
“Father and mother to me; when at once
“I found I had become Count Guido’s wife:
“Who then, not waiting for a moment, changed
“Into a fury of fire, if once he was
“Merely a man: his face threw fire at mine,
“He laid a hand on me that burned all peace,
“All joy, all hope, and last all fear away,
“Dipping the bough of life, so pleasant once,
“In fire which shrivelled leaf and bud alike,
“Burning not only present life but past,
“Which you might think was safe beyond his reach.
“He reached it, though, since that beloved pair,
“My father once, my mother all those years,
“That loved me so, now say I dreamed a dream
“And bid me wake, henceforth no child of theirs,
“Never in all the time their child at all.
“Do you understand? I cannot: yet so it is.
“Just so I say of you that proffer help:
“I cannot understand what prompts your soul,
“I simply needs must see that it is so,
“Only one strange and wonderful thing more.
“They came here with me, those two dear ones, kept
“All the old love up, till my husband, till
“His people here so tortured them, they fled.
“And now, is it because I grow in flesh
“And spirit one with him their torturer,
“That they, renouncing him, must cast off me?
“If I were graced by God to have a child,
“Could I one day deny God graced me so?
“Then, since my husband hates me, I shall break
“No law that reigns in this fell house of hate,
“By using letting have effect so much
“Of hate as hides me from that whole of hate
“Would take my life which I want and must have
“Just as I take from your excess of love
“Enough to save my life with, all I need.
“The Archbishop said to murder me were sin:
“My leaving Guido were a kind of death
“With no sin, more death, he must answer for.
“Hear now what death to him and life to you
“I wish to pay and owe. Take me to Rome!
“You go to Rome, the servant makes me hear.
“Take me as you would take a dog, I think,
“Masterless left for strangers to maltreat:
“Take me home like that leave me in the house
“Where the father and the mother are; and soon
“They’ll come to know and call me by my name,
“Their child once more, since child I am, for all
“They now forget me, which is the worst o’ the dream
“And the way to end dreams is to break them, stand,
“Walk, go: then help me to stand, walk and go!
“The Governor said the strong should help the weak:
“You know how weak the strongest women are.
“How could I find my way there by myself?
“I cannot even call out, make them hear
“Just as in dreams: I have tried and proved the fact.
“I have told this story and more to good great men,
“The Archbishop and the Governor: they smiled.
“‘Stop your mouth, fair one!’ presently they frowned,
“‘Get you gone, disengage you from our feet!’
“I went in my despair to an old priest,
“Only a friar, no great man like these two,
“But good, the Augustinian, people name
“Romano, he confessed me two months since:
“He fears God, why then needs he fear the world?
“And when he questioned how it came about
“That I was found in danger of a sin
“Despair of any help from providence,
“‘Since, though your husband outrage you,’ said he,
“‘That is a case too common, the wives die
“‘Or live, but do not sin so deep as this’
“Then I told what I never will tell you
“How, worse than husband’s hate, I had to bear
“The love, soliciting to shame called love,
“Of his brother, the young idle priest i’ the house
“With only the devil to meet there. ‘This is grave
“‘Yes we must interfere: I counsel, write
“‘To those who used to be your parents once,
“‘Of dangers here, bid them convey you hence!’
“‘But,’ said I, ‘when I neither read nor write?’
“Then he took pity and promised ‘I will write.’
“If he did so, why, they are dumb or dead:
“Either they give no credit to the tale,
“Or else, wrapped wholly up in their own joy
“Of such escape, they care not who cries, still
“I’ the clutches. Anyhow, no word arrives.
“All such extravagance and dreadfulness
“Seems incident to dreaming, cured one way,
“Wake me! The letter I received this morn,
“Said if the woman spoke your very sense
“‘You would die for me:’ I can believe it now:
“For now the dream gets to involve yourself.
“First of all, you seemed wicked and not good,
“In writing me those letters: you came in
“Like a thief upon me. I this morning said
“In my extremity, entreat the thief!
“Try if he have in him no honest touch!
“A thief might save me from a murderer.
“’Twas a thief said the last kind word to Christ:
“Christ took the kindness and forgave the theft:
“And so did I prepare what I now say.
“But now, that you stand and I see your face,
“Though you have never uttered word yet, well, I know,
“Here too has been dream-work, delusion too,
“And that at no time, you with the eyes here,
“Ever intended to do wrong by me,
“Nor wrote such letters therefore. It is false,
“And you are true, have been true, will be true.
“To Rome then, when is it you take me there?
“Each minute lost is mortal. When? I ask.”
I answered, “It shall be when it can be.
“I will go hence and do your pleasure, find
“The sure and speedy means of travel, then
“Come back and take you to your friends in Rome.
“There wants a carriage, money and the rest,
“A day’s work by to-morrow at this time.
“How shall I see you and assure escape?”
She replied, “Pass, to-morrow at this hour.
“If I am at the open window, well:
“If I am absent, drop a handkerchief
“And walk by! I shall see from where I watch,
“And know that all is done. Return next eve,
“And next, and so till we can meet and speak!”
“To-morrow at this hour I pass,” said I.
She was withdrawn.
Here is another point
I bid you pause at. When I told thus far,
Someone said, subtly, “Here at least was found
“Your confidence in error, you perceived
“The spirit of the letters, in a sort,
“Had been the lady’s, if the body should be
“Supplied by Guido: say, he forged them all!
“Here was the unforged fact she sent for you,
“Spontaneously elected you to help,
“What men call, loved you: Guido read her mind,
“Gave it expression to assure the world
“The case was just as he foresaw: he wrote,
Sirs, that first simile serves still,
That falsehood of a scorpion hatched, I say,
Nowhere i’ the world but in Madonna’s mouth.
Go on! Suppose, that falsehood foiled, next eve
Pictured Madonna raised her painted hand,
Fixed the face Rafael bent above the Babe,
On my face as I flung me at her feet:
Such miracle vouchsafed and manifest,
Would that prove the first lying tale was true?
Pompilia spoke, and I at once received,
Accepted my own fact, my miracle
Self-authorised and self-explained, she chose
To summon me and signify her choice.
Afterward, oh! I gave a passing glance
To a certain ugly cloud-shape, goblin-shred
Of hell-smoke hurrying past the splendid moon
Out now to tolerate no darkness more,
And saw right through the thing that tried to pass
For truth and solid, not an empty lie:
“So, he not only forged the words for her
“But word for me, made letters he called mine:
“What I sent, he retained, gave these in place,
“All by the mistress-messenger! As I
“Recognised her, at potency of truth,
“So she, by the crystalline soul, knew me,
“Never mistook the signs. Enough of this
“Let the wraith go to nothingness again,
“Here is the orb, have only thought for her!”
“Thought?” nay, Sirs, what shall follow was not thought:
I have thought sometimes, and thought long and hard.
I have stood before, gone round a serious thing,
Tasked my whole mind to touch and clasp it close,
As I stretch forth my arm to touch this bar.
God and man, and what duty I owe both,
I dare to say I have confronted these
In thought: but no such faculty helped here.
I put forth no thought, powerless, all that night
I paced the city: it was the first Spring.
By the invasion I lay passive to,
In rushed new things, the old were rapt away;
Alike abolished the imprisonment
Of the outside air, the inside weight o’ the world
That pulled me down. Death meant, to spurn the ground,
Soar to the sky, die well and you do that.
The very immolation made the bliss;
Death was the heart of life, and all the harm
My folly had crouched to avoid, now proved a veil
Hiding all gain my wisdom strove to grasp:
As if the intense centre of the flame
Should turn a heaven to that devoted fly
Which hitherto, sophist alike and sage,
Saint Thomas with his sober grey goose-quill,
And sinner Plato by Cephisian reed,
Would fain, pretending just the insect’s good,
Whisk off, drive back, consign to shade again.
Into another state, under new rule
I knew myself was passing swift and sure;
Whereof the initiatory pang approached,
Felicitous annoy, as bitter-sweet
As when the virgin-band, the victors chaste,
Feel at the end the earthly garments drop,
And rise with something of a rosy shame
Into immortal nakedness: so I
Lay, and let come the proper throe would thrill
Into the ecstacy and outthrob pain.
I’ the grey of dawn it was I found myself
Facing the pillared front o’ the Pieve mine,
My church: it seemed to say for the first time
“But am not I the Bride, the mystic love
“O’ the Lamb, who took thy plighted troth, my priest,
“To fold thy warm heart on my heart of stone
“And freeze thee nor unfasten any more?
“This is a fleshly woman, let the free
“Bestow their life-blood, thou art pulseless now!”
See! Day by day I had risen and left this church
At the signal waved me by some foolish fan,
With half a curse and half a pitying smile
For the monk I stumbled over in my haste,
Prostrate and corpse-like at the altar-foot
Intent on his corona: then the church
Was ready with her quip, if word conduced,
To quicken my pace nor stop for prating “There!
“Be thankful you are no such ninny, go
“Rather to teach a black-eyed novice cards
“Than gabble Latin and protrude that nose
“Smoothed to a sheep’s through no brains and much faith!”
That sort of incentive! Now the church changed tone
Now, when I found out first that life and death
Are means to an end, that passion uses both,
Indisputably mistress of the man
Whose form of worship is self-sacrifice
Now, from the stone lungs sighed the scrannel voice
“Leave that passion, come be dead with me!”
As if, i’ the fabled garden, I had gone
On great adventure, plucked in ignorance
Hedge-fruit, and feasted to satiety,
Laughing at such high fame for hips and haws,
And scorned the achievement: then come all at once
O’ the prize o’ the place, the thing of perfect gold,
The apple’s self: and, scarce my eye on that,
Was ’ware as well o’ the seven-fold dragon’s watch.
Sirs, I obeyed. Obedience was too strange,
This new thing that had been struck into me
By the look o’ the lady, to dare disobey
The first authoritative word. ’Twas God’s.
I had been lifted to the level of her,
Could take such sounds into my sense. I said
“We two are cognisant o’ the Master now;
“It is she bids me bow the head: how true,
“I am a priest! I see the function here;
“I thought the other way self-sacrifice:
“This is the true, seals up the perfect sum.
“I pay it, sit down, silently obey.”
So, I went home. Dawn broke, noon broadened, I
I sat stone-still, let time run over me.
The sun slanted into my room, had reached
The west. I opened book, Aquinas blazed
With one black name only on the white page.
I looked up, saw the sunset: vespers rang:
“She counts the minutes till I keep my word
“And come say all is ready. I am a priest
“Duty to God is duty to her: I think
“God, who created her, will save her too
“Some new way, by one miracle the more,
“Without me. Then, prayer may avail perhaps.”
I went to my own place i’ the Pieve, read
The office: I was back at home again
Sitting i’ the dark. “Could she but know but know
“That, were there good in this distinct from God’s,
“Really good as it reached her, though procured
“By a sin of mine, I should sin: God forgives.
“She knows it is no fear withholds me: fear?
“Of what? Suspense here is the terrible thing.
“If she should, as she counts the minutes, come
“On the fantastic notion that I fear
“The world now, fear the Archbishop, fear perhaps
“Count Guido, he who, having forged the lies,
“May wait the work, attend the effect, I fear
“The sword of Guido! Let God see to that
“Hating lies, let not her believe a lie!”
Again the morning found me. “I will work,
“Tie down my foolish thoughts. Thank God so far!
“I have saved her from a scandal, stopped the tongues
“Had broken else into a cackle and hiss
“Around the noble name. Duty is still
“Wisdom: I have been wise.” So the day wore.
At evening “But, achieving victory,
“I must not blink the priest’s peculiar part,
“Nor shrink to counsel, comfort: priest and friend
“How do we discontinue to be friends?
“I will go minister, advise her seek
“Help at the source, above all, not despair:
“There may be other happier help at hand.
“I hope it, wherefore then neglect to say?”
There she stood leaned there, for the second time,
Over the terrace, looked at me, then spoke:
“Why is it you have suffered me to stay
“Breaking my heart two days more than was need?
“Why delay help, your own heart yearns to give?
“You are again here, in the self-same mind,
“I see here, steadfast in the face of you,
“You grudge to do no one thing that I ask.
“Why then is nothing done? You know my need.
“Still, through God’s pity on me, there is time
“And one day more: shall I be saved or no?”
I answered “Lady, waste no thought, no word
“Even to forgive me! Care for what I care
“Only! Now follow me as I were fate!
“Leave this house in the dark to-morrow night,
“Just before daybreak: there’s new moon this eve
“It sets, and then begins the solid black.
“Descend, proceed to the Torrione, step
“Over the low dilapidated wall,
“Take San Clemente, there’s no other gate
“Unguarded at the hour: some paces thence
“An inn stands; cross to it; I shall be there.”
She answered, “If I can but find the way.
“But I shall find it. Go now!”
I did go,
Took rapidly the route myself prescribed,
Stopped at Torrione, climbed the ruined place,
Proved that the gate was practicable, reached
The inn, no eye, despite the dark, could miss,
Knocked there and entered, made the host secure:
“With Caponsacchi it is ask and have;
“I know my betters. Are you bound for Rome?
“I get swift horse and trusty man,” said he.
Then I retraced my steps, was found once more
In my own house for the last time: there lay
The broad pale opened Summa. “Shut his book,
“There’s other showing! ’Twas a Thomas too
“Obtained, more favoured than his namesake here,
“A gift, tied faith fast, foiled the tug of doubt,
“Our Lady’s girdle; down he saw it drop
“As she ascended into heaven, they say:
“He kept that safe and bade all doubt adieu.
“I too have seen a lady and hold a grace.”
I know not how the night passed: morning broke:
Presently came my servant. “Sir, this eve
“Do you forget?” I started. “How forget?
“What is it you know?” “With due submission, Sir,
“This being last Monday in the month but one
“And a vigil, since to-morrow is Saint George,
“And feast day, and moreover day for copes,
“And Canon Conti now away a month,
“And Canon Crispi sour because, forsooth,
“You let him sulk in stall and bear the brunt
“Of the octave. . . . Well, Sir, ’tis important!”
“Hearken, I have to start for Rome this night.
“No word, lest Crispi overboil and burst!
“Provide me with a laic dress! Throw dust
“I’ the Canon’s eye, stop his tongue’s scandal so!
“See there’s a sword in case of accident.”
I knew the knave, the knave knew me.
Through each familiar hindrance of the day
Did I make steadily for its hour and end,
Felt time’s old barrier-growth of right and fit
Give way through all its twines and let me go;
Use and wont recognised the excepted man,
Let speed the special service, and I sped
Till, at the dead between midnight and morn,
There was I at the goal, before the gate,
With a tune in the ears, low leading up to loud,
A light in the eyes, faint that would soon be flare,
Ever some spiritual witness new and new
In faster frequence, crowding solitude
To watch the way o’ the warfare, till, at last,
When the ecstatic minute must bring birth,
Began a whiteness in the distance, waxed
Whiter and whiter, near grew and more near,
Till it was she: there did Pompilia come:
The white I saw shine through her was her soul’s,
Certainly, for the body was one black,
Black from head down to foot. She did not speak,
Glided into the carriage, so a cloud
Gathers the moon up. “By San Spirito,
“To Rome, as if the road burned underneath!
“Reach Rome, then hold my head in pledge, I pay
“The run and the risk to heart’s content!” Just that,
I said, then, in another tick of time,
Sprang, was beside her, she and I alone.
So it began, our flight thro’ dusk to clear,
Through day and night and day again to night
Once more, and to last dreadful dawn of all.
Sirs, how should I lie quiet in my grave
Unless you suffer me wring, drop by drop,
My brain dry, make a riddance of the drench
Of minutes with a memory in each,
Recorded motion, breath or look of hers,
Which poured forth would present you one pure glass,
Mirror you plain, as God’s sea, glassed in gold,
His saints, the perfect soul Pompilia? Men,
You must know that a man gets drunk with truth
Stagnant inside him! Oh, they’ve killed her, Sirs!
Can I be calm?
Calmly! Each incident
Proves, I maintain, that action of the flight
For the true thing it was. The first faint scratch
O’ the stone will test its nature, teach its worth
To idiots who name Parian, coprolite.
After all, I shall give no glare at best
Only display you certain scattered lights
Lamping the rush and roll of the abyss
Nothing but here and there a fire-point pricks
Wavelet from wavelet: well!
For the first hour
We both were silent in the night, I know:
Sometimes I did not see nor understand.
Blackness engulphed me, partial stupor, say
Then I would break way, breathe through the surprise,
And be aware again, and see who sat
In the dark vest with the white face and hands.
I said to myself “I have caught it, I conceive
“The mind o’ the mystery: ’tis the way they wake
“And wait, two martyrs somewhere in a tomb
“Each by each as their blessing was to die;
“Some signal they are promised and expect,
“When to arise before the trumpet scares:
“So, through the whole course of the world they wait
“The last day, but so fearless and so safe!
“No otherwise, in safety and not fear,
“I lie, because she lies too by my side.”
You know this is not love, Sirs, it is faith,
The feeling that there’s God, he reigns and rules
Out of this low world: that is all; no harm!
At times she drew a soft sigh music seemed
Always to hover just above her lips
Not settle, break a silence music too.
In the determined morning, I first found
Her head erect, her face turned full to me,
Her soul intent on mine through two wide eyes.
I answered them. “You are saved hitherto.
“We have passed Perugia, gone round by the wood,
“Not through, I seem to think, and opposite
“I know Assisi; this is holy ground.”
Then she resumed. “How long since we both left
“Arezzo?” “Years and certain hours beside.”
It was at . . . ah, but I forget the names!
’Tis a mere post-house and a hovel or two,
I left the carriage and got bread and wine
And brought it her. “Does it detain to eat?”
“They stay perforce, change horses, therefore eat!
We lose no minute: we arrive, be sure!”
She said I know not where there’s a great hill
Close over, and the stream has lost its bridge,
One fords it. She began “I have heard say
“Of some sick body that my mother knew,
“’Twas no good sign when in a limb diseased
“All the pain suddenly departs, as if
“The guardian angel discontinued pain
“Because the hope of cure was gone at last:
“The limb will not again exert itself,
“It needs be pained no longer: so with me,
“My soul whence all the pain is past at once:
“All pain must be to work some good in the end.
“True, this I feel now, this may be that good,
“Pain was because of, otherwise, I fear!”
She said, a long while later in the day,
When I had let the silence be, abrupt
“Have you a mother?” “She died, I was born.”
“A sister then?” “No sister.” “Who was it
“What woman were you used to serve this way,
“Be kind to, till I called you and you came?”
I did not like that word. Soon afterward
“Tell me, are men unhappy, in some kind
“Of mere unhappiness at being men,
“As women suffer, being womanish?
“Have you, now, some unhappiness, I mean,
“Born of what may be man’s strength overmuch,
“To match the undue susceptibility,
“The sense at every pore when hate is close?
“It hurts us if a baby hides its face
“Or child strikes at us punily, calls names
“Or makes a mouth, much more if stranger men
“Laugh or frown, just as that were much to bear!
“Yet rocks split, and the blow-ball does no more,
“Quivers to feathery nothing at a touch;
“And strength may have its drawback, weakness scapes.”
Once she asked, “What is it that made you smile,
“At the great gate with the eagles and the snakes,
“Where the company entered, ’tis a long time since?”
“Forgive I think you would not understand:
“Ah, but you ask me, therefore, it was this.
“That was a certain bishop’s villa-gate,
“I knew it by the eagles, and at once
“Remembered this same bishop was just he
“People of old were wont to bid me please
“If I would catch preferment: so, I smiled
“Because an impulse came to me, a whim
“What if I prayed the prelate leave to speak,
“Began upon him in his presence-hall
“‘What, still at work so grey and obsolete?
“‘Still rocheted and mitred more or less?
“‘Don’t you feel all that out of fashion now?
“‘I find out when the day of things is done!’ ”
At eve we heard the angelus: she turned
“I told you I can neither read nor write.
“My life stopped with the play-time; I will learn,
“If I begin to live again: but you
“Who are a priest wherefore do you not read
“The service at this hour? Read Gabriel’s song,
“The lesson, and then read the little prayer
“To Raphael, proper for us travellers!”
I did not like that, neither, but I read.
When we stopped at Foligno it was dark.
The people of the post came out with lights:
The driver said, “This time to-morrow, may
“Saints only help, relays continue good,
“Nor robbers hinder, we arrive at Rome.”
I urged, “Why tax your strength a second night?
“Trust me, alight here and take brief repose!
“We are out of harm’s reach, past pursuit: go sleep
“If but an hour! I keep watch, guard the while
“Here in the doorway.” But her whole face changed,
The misery grew again about her mouth,
The eyes burned up from faintness, like the fawn’s
Tired to death in the thicket, when she feels
The probing spear o’ the huntsman. “Oh, no stay!”
She cried, in the fawn’s cry, “On to Rome, on, on
“Unless ’tis you who fear, which cannot be!”
We did go on all night; but at its close
She was troubled, restless, moaned low, talked at whiles
To herself, her brow on quiver with the dream:
Once, wide awake, she menaced, at arms’ length
Waved away something “Never again with you!
“My soul is mine, my body is my soul’s:
“You and I are divided ever more
“In soul and body: get you gone!” Then I
“Why, in my whole life I have never prayed!
“Oh, if the God, that only can, would help!
“Am I his priest with power to cast out fiends?
“Let God arise and all his enemies
“Be scattered!” By morn, there was peace, no sigh
Out of the deep sleep.
When she woke at last,
I answered the first look “Scarce twelve hours more,
“Then, Rome! There probably was no pursuit,
“There cannot now be peril: bear up brave!