Poetry Monster

The Human Tragedy ACT III poem – Alfred Austin


Godfrid- Gilbert-

Miriam- Olympia.


Love- Religion-

* Patriotism.

Place: Capri-Mentana.

Time: October-November 1867

The laggard Child of Liberty and Light,

Long travailed by the centuries, now was born:

She had put off the obloquy of night,

And like a Goddess stood, facing the morn.

Minerva’s self had not more full-grown might

At her swift birth;-a thing no more to scorn.

A turret-crown crested her forehead clear;

Calm was her front, and in her hand a spear.

The Long-expected of the Nations stood

Resplendent on the mountains; Morning sang

For heart of joy, and o’er the crisp blue flood

That laves soft shores, a jubilant paean rang.

There was a stir sent through the old world’s blood,

And long-hushed lyres lent dithyrambic clang.

Hope was rethroned upon her ancient seat,

And pining peoples came and kissed her feet.

No more by stagnant water, oozing walls,

Listening to silence, Venice crouched and wept;

A glow was on her palaces; her halls

Echoed once more to sounds that long had slept.

Last of the dull Barbarian’s dainty thralls

To feel her limbs, up to her feet she leapt,

Clasping her Lombard brother by the hand,

While throbs of welcome trembled through the land.

For, ere her woe had moved the heart of ruth,

Day on her lone divided kindred broke.

The bright Parthenope renewed her youth,

And lithe Etruria slipped the tyrant’s yoke.

Umbria shook off the gnawing church-wolf’s tooth,

And, happy once again, Campania woke;

And round rent Savoy’s Cross as hot they pressed,

Italia clasped her children to her breast.

All-all,-save one! Rome still in bondage lay,

Writhing beneath the Hierarch’s heavy heel;

The eldest-born of that renowned array,

From franchised kith cut off by warding steel.

For fitful Gaul, whose horns were first to bray

Salvation o’er the hilltop, feebly leal

To its own dream, from such high quest had ceased,

Playing scorned gaoler to a trembling priest.

So every eye and heart were turned to Rome,

And hands were sworn to vengeance. Maidens thrust

Their lovers from them, spurning peaceful home

While blade still crouched in scabbard, lolled in rust.

As with the share they ploughed the rippling loam,

Or round their limbs there plashed the purple must,

All sang of Rome: “Rome, Rome shall yet be ours!

Sleep, Tyrants, sleep! we count the ripening hours.”

The sickle’s arm caressed the lissom corn,

To strains that throbbed of Rome; the blade that pruned

The shading elm or lopped the straggling thorn,

At each brave stroke to songs of Rome was tuned.

The shepherd boy upon the hills forlorn,

When his tired flock to sweet siesta swooned,

On his rude reed piped plaintively of Rome,

And, tiny patriot, heaved a sigh for home.

The wind that shrilled through each adventurous shroud

That skimmed the Tyrrhene sea, rang loud of Rome;

To songs of Rome were timed the arms that bowed

O’er Hadria’s oar or clave Liguria’s foam.

The quarry’s hollow bosom echoed loud

The self-same note; and where the chamois clomb

In fancied fastness, ’twas that ditty sweet,-

Sweet if yet sad,-that scared its flying feet.

Round the warm hearth or under chilly stars

Men gathered, ‘mong themselves discoursing low;

And as the stalwart grimly stroked their scars,

Bold striplings murmured, “We, too, sure shall go?”

Now every brawny babe was gat of Mars,

And suckled by a she-wolf; bred to grow

To kingly valour, by its blood impelled

To rear a Rome diviner than of eld.

But they who ruled the land since death had dragged

Down to its greedy cave the daring mind

That staked, to swell, its fortunes, sate as gagged,

And in the swathes of policy confined.

With halting gait the would-be leaders lagged

Behind the led, and feebly watched the wind,

Nursing a craven hope that Fortune’s wheel

Would drop the prize they feared to snatch by steel.

So to the rocky home of him who still

Bore Aspromonte’s bullet in his flesh,

Men’s hope was turned, that soon his chafing will

Would whet the blade and lift the flag afresh;

That he, their Cincinnatus, tied to till

Idly the niggard soil, would rend the mesh

The alien round him wove, and, long-implored,

Beat out at last his ploughshare to a sword.

There is an isle, kissed by a smiling sea,

Where all sweet confluents meet: a thing of heaven,

A spent aërolite, that well may be

The missing sister of the starry Seven.

Celestial beauty nestles at its knee,

And in its lap is nought of earthly leaven.

Girdled and crowned with loveliness, its year

Is circling summer; winter comes not near.

‘Tis small, as things of beauty ofttimes are,

And in a morning round it you may row,

Nor need a tedious haste your bark debar

From gliding inward where the ripples flow

Into strange grots whose roof is azure spar,

Whose pavement liquid silver. Mild winds blow

Around your prow, and at your keel the foam,

Leaping and laughing, freshly wafts you home.

They call the island Capri;-with a name

Dulling an airy dream, just as the soul

Is clogged with body palpable;-and Fame

Hath longwhile winged the word from pole to pole.

Its human story is a tale of shame,

Of all unnatural lusts a gory scroll,

Record of what, when pomp and power agree,

Man once hath been, and man again may be.

Terrace and slope from shore to summit show

Of each rich clime the glad-surrendered spoil.

Here the bright olive’s phantom branches glow,

There the plump fig sucks sweetness from the soil.

Nigh fragrant blossoms that through the Zodiac blow,

Returning tenfold to man’s leisured toil,

Hesperia’s fruit hangs golden. High in air,

The vine runs riot, spurning human care.

And flowers of every hue and breath abound,

Charming the sense; the burning cactus glows,

Like daisies elsewhere dappling all the ground,

And in each cleft the berried myrtle blows.

The playful lizard glides and darts around,

The elfin fireflies flicker o’er the rows

Of ripened grain. Alien to pain and wrong,

Men fill the days with dance, the nights with song.

Upon a beetling cliff, eyeing the flood,

Stood one in prime of years; but there was that

In his grave gaze which told of storms withstood,

And on his brow a lofty patience sate.

His was the tranquil mien of one who would

Wrestle with fate and lay obstruction flat,

But lets the meaner ills of life go by,

Bears small shafts dumb, nor gives lewd tongues the lie.

With Italy’s flowing fortunes Godfrid’s sword,

On victory’s wave upborne, had followed still:

Fleshed on that day when first the Austrian horde

Was swept from Lombard plain, nor sheathed until

The unclean Bourbon monster lay and roared,

Like old Typhoeus under Ischia’s hill,

And from Romagna’s gangrened flesh and worn

Amortised limbs, were priest-clinched shackles torn.

Then came that chilling pause, when though from peak

Of Apennine and Alp to dimpling wave

The glow of Freedom mantled o’er the cheek

Of the fair land, in shadow of the grave

Rome grovelled mute, and Venice, pale and weak,

Sobbed ‘neath her Teuton ravisher,-lovely slave,

Who, reared at Liberty’s maternal knee,

Yearned for the pure embraces of the free.

Even to her, deliverance came at last,

Yet not in the sweet guise brave men had dreamed.

Though Italy aside the scabbard cast,

Upon her blade no ray of victory gleamed.

But ‘mong the realms by force and fraud amassed

While rival robbers each from other schemed

To filch a province for his own domain,

Then Venice seized the hour, and slipped her chain.

Not on Custozza’s baleful field, but where

Trent cleaves Tyrolean Alp, had Godfrid fought,

And, when the sword was sheathed, within this fair

Famed isle at once a home and watch-tower sought,

Waiting for day to dawn on Rome’s despair;

And hither oft would come, and, steeped in thought,

Silently watch from Capri’s sunny brow

The soft sea lave its feet, even as now.

Here, too, when drooped awhile the wind of war,

Which, blowing up from Freedom’s freshening wave,

Scattered the clouds that dimmed Italia’s star,

Returning to its sheath reluctant glaive,

Had Gilbert safe retired, and from afar

Watched for the day to dawn on priest and slave,

And fill the lungs which now drew sleepy breath

With the awakening watchword, “Rome or Death!”

When first the noise of battle smote his ears,

He was as one who, reckless of dismay,

Seeks but to reach the bristling hedge of spears,

And on their point to fling his life away.

But wayward death, which follows him that fears,

Fears him that follows, still refused to slay

One who pursued its steps from field to field,

And found in scorn of life life’s surest shield.

But as in vain he fought for his own doom,

Winning but glory where he sought for rest,

The Cause espoused in hope to find a tomb

Began for its own sake to wed his breast.

There, once ensconced, it drove out idle gloom,

Bade sluttish sorrow do male will’s behest,

Aired the close chamber of his grief-locked brain,

And through his life made ordered purpose reign.

The wealth he had inherited, not won,

Which most who win or herit, swinish spend

Luxuriously lolling in the sun,

Till their plethoric wallowing comes to end,

Seen with his opened eyes, belonged to none,

Not even to him, except as Freedom’s friend,

A passing trust which Heaven would judge at last,

Bequeathed to endless future by the past.

Something of this from Godfrid had he learned,

Who, earlier versed in wisdom’s generous lore,

When once he found his counsels were not spurned,

Urged them on Gilbert ever more and more.

But many the bark that never hath returned

Unto the hand that pushed it from the shore;

And, Gilbert once inspired by Godfrid’s mind,

The pupil soon the mentor left behind.

The frantic watchword which, when blown aloud,

Hath ofttimes fooled the good, but ne’er the wise,

Of “Rulers, pass your sceptre to the crowd!”

Godfrid could but distrust, indeed despise.

Nor because he himself had disallowed

The altar’s claim to bind or bow his eyes,

Joined he with those who, reckless of the end,

Treat as his direst foe man’s kindest friend.

But few there be who in a world unfair,

Unbalanced, still keep equitable mind.

And Gilbert, giddy with the bracing air

Of freedom, looked before him nor behind.

Of its swift treacherous tempests unaware,

Nor his sails reefing with the rising wind,

The mad gusts circling in his un-taut shrouds,

Unpoised he drifted with the drifting clouds.

Thus each crude enterprise and yeasty vow

That borrowed freedom’s flag had Gilbert shared,

Though Godfrid stood apart with blaming brow,

Nor moved till clear the Royal trumpet blared.

And as it had been hitherto, so now.

The self-made track which tortuous rashness dared,

Still pushing on towards Rome, while one essayed,

One by the king’s highway the journey made.

But never near the twain came grudge or wrath

To flaw the friendship sanctioned by the grave;

And Godfrid, leaning on the mossy cloth

Which draped the wall that overlooks the wave,

Far down soft-fretting into pearly froth,

Or lithely crinkling into gravelly cave,

Was joined by Gilbert, who had left his skiff

Tethered below, and climbed the staircased cliff.

Awhile they both were silent; side by side,

Gazing across the scarcely-rippling bay

To the low shore where, curving deep and wide,

Then up the hill half climbing, Naples lay.

Or, did one speak, the other scarce replied;

For only triflers spoil the summer-day

With purposeless quick babble, vexing ears

That fain would list to sound which silence hears.

But when this silence seemed to reach its noon,

Gilbert began, with slowly earnest tone,

To speak of freshly burgeoned hope, which soon

Would into full luxuriance be grown,

That foully-ravished Rome no more should croon

Upon her desolate hearth, but, vengeful grown,

And driving tonsured Tarquins from her door,

Renew the conquering Commonwealth of yore.

Godfrid had listened to the ardent tale,

Unmoved, nor wondering. But when it was done,

Fixing his gaze on a white-bosomed sail,

Far off, which, lightly heaving in the sun,

Seemed its own guide, own counsel, and own gale,

And in the track of its own hope to run,

With unpremeditated words which take

Shape from past meditation, thuswise spake:

“You trust me still, and you do well to trust;

For I who yet must blame, shall not betray.

Brighten your blade then. Mine, alas! must rust.

Sage peace is sadder than insanest fray.

Yet once more hear me, Gilbert! and be just.

Is Aspromonte’s lesson thrown away?

Is the throne false? The nation’s hunger dulled?

Or Turin’s senate’s solemn vote annulled?

“By all the lineal titles of the past,

By this to-day’s inheritance, by ties,

Already future-sanctioned, that shall last,

Rome will be gathered to Italian skies.

Wait! they but stumble who would step too fast.

Foresight and fate, the foolish and the wise,

Alike push on the hour that snaps the yoke.

Watch we the moving hands, and bide the stroke.

“Enough to purge this land of alien lords,

And weld its many sceptres into one;

And thanks to smiling Heaven and smiting swords,

The patient piecemeal task is wellnigh done.

I see the straining of the worn-out cords,

By potent hands in other ages spun,

Potent no more, and know that Rome will be

The crown, that was the crib, of Italy.

“But though from the Tiara we must strike

One storey of the too proud edifice,

Need we assail the crook to wrench the pike?

Ah! Gilbert! Gilbert! We should do amiss.

‘Ware how you weaken force and faith alike.

Reason and reverence first must learn to kiss.

The centuried growth it is which props the walls.

Tear down the ivy, and the ruin falls.”

Gilbert replied not; for the closing words,

Like melancholy music, made him mute.

Mute too was all, save where the slow sea-birds

Plained, or behind them dropped some o’er-ripe fruit,

Or, in far cleft, bleated the bearded herds.

At length, with scant farewell and hasty foot,

He turned him from the spot, and, to the shore

Descending,-Godfrid stood alone once more.

Absorbed in luscious idleness he seemed,

Watching the languid ripples crawl to land,

As one whose bliss was deepest when he dreamed,

And who earth’s beauty rather felt than scanned.

Yet oftentimes the soul all sailless deemed

By trivial gaze, with inward fire is fanned,

And, neither baulked by wave nor helped by wind,

Cleaves life’s rough surf, when gay barks lag behind.

But brief his re-found solitude; for soon,

Among the vines which clustered thick behind,

There came a maid, singing a mountain tune.

And, as she moved, vagrant as summer wind,

The bright green leaves into a long festoon

She wove, and round her crimson kirtle twined.

Crimson her bodice, white her brimming vest,

And white the kerchief folded o’er her breast.

Her skin was lustrous as the ripening grape,

And, like the grape’s, the sanguine flesh beamed through;

Her eye could match the olive’s dainty shape,

And far outshone its darkly-burnished hue.

Twisted in coils above the massive nape,

Her classic hair grand memories might renew,

Back from her brow, free from fantastic wiles,

Rippling like ocean, when dark ocean smiles.

She was not learnëd in that bookish lore

Which men call knowledge; but her arms could ply

In the stiff surge withal a valorous oar,

And quick hands make the flashing shuttle fly.

It was her fingers wove the dress she wore,

What time the night held more than half the sky;

And when the days were long, from dawn to close

Still would she climb, nor ever crave repose.

And yet she was a woman,-gently framed

For loving purposes. The murderous snare

She never set, nor barrel deadly-aimed

At bird or beast consented she to bear.

Even in the fishers’ net her hands disclaimed

All helpful service; but when none were there,

Oft she disported in the genial tide,

With surging breast keeling the foam aside.

The womb that bore her, like a tree with fruit

Too rich and rare, had perished with her birth;

And, ere she lisped, her father’s voice was mute

For aye, and she was left alone on earth.

No, not alone; for every native lute

Was tuned to move her little feet to mirth;

And now along the mainland, many a mile,

Men sang the lovely Orphan of the Isle.

In either hand a bunch of grapes she held:

The left were garnet, opal were the right;

Clustering and tapering, full-veined, sunshine-swelled,

They would have filled Iacchus with delight;

One of whose Charities of early eld

She seemed, with every genial grace bedight;

That gentle Triad who the innocent earth

Girdled with music, modesty, and mirth.

And as she came anear, the juicy bells

She merrily held and dangled in his face.

“Eat, eat of these; for old tradition tells

They melancholy’s darkest cloud can chase;”

Then with that frank simplicity which dwells

Alone with unsophisticated grace,

Archly went on, “Accept the simple cheer;

My tithe to him who preaches all the year.”

“Thanks for my tithe, dear Miriam,” Godfrid said;

“Perchance it is a trifle overdue;

But lo! you pay me interest instead:-

I cross old scores, and we commence anew.

‘Tis fortunate you came; for in my head

There runs another sermon. Nay, ’tis true,

And I will preach it. Come, be patient, dear.

See, there are only we, and waves, to hear.”

“Suppose,”-and on the rocky ledge that lay

Between them and the leap to death below,

He spread the comely gift,-“suppose that they

Who coaxed the unreflecting vine to throw

Its tendrils out, and trustingly display

The swelling beads to heaven’s seductive glow,

When they were ripe and bursting, even as now,

Should turn away, and leave them on the bough?-

“Leave them to shrink and wizen in the wind,

For the hot sun that fostered root and stem

To scorch their moist pulp, burn their cooling rind,

And all the airs of heaven to rifle them,

Though caves meanwhile with empty vats were lined,

And throats as dry as some trite apophthegm?

Suppose that this should happen,-here,-to-day,-

Here, in our Capri,-what would Miriam say?”

“Why, that the folks were mad. But there’s no fear.

Your parable lacks truth. Nay, look around!

The joyous vintage hours are circling near,

And wine-stirred feet ere long shall beat the ground.

They come, they come, the merry band! I hear

Our light-long toil in songs of plenty drowned;

We wreathe our brow with vine-leaves, and we sing,

While cape and creek with laughing echoes ring.”

“Right merrily answered, Miriam, and right true.

Yet hearken to me, dear! There is a God,

To whom the God of Wine is a deity new,

A thing of yesterday, a faun, a clod,

A tipsy nothing! Nay, I warrant you,

That long ere Bacchus breathed into the sod

The secret of the grape, the God of Love

Owned this fair world and shared the world above.

“Yes, wine is good; it thaws the ice-bound breast,

And fancy’s fretful-pawing steed unchains,

Rouses the torpid soul from churlish rest,

With floods of summer flushing wintry veins.

‘Tis wine that flutters the poet in his nest,

Plumes his light wing and warms his liquid strains,

Curtails long nights, and hath the charm to steep

Outwearied limbs in deep undreaming sleep.

“Yes, wine is good, but love is better still;

For it assails the pulses of the heart

With swift yet soft suffusions. Love can fill

Life’s vacant hollows, worse than any smart,

With pleasant tumult, surging joys that thrill

The silent soul to music. ‘Tis an art

Which maketh poets of us all; we sing

Like Sappho’s self, when love once tunes the string.

“Its children are delicious dreams, that haunt

The brain awake or sleeping; its bright lures

Alone confer the ecstasy they vaunt,

The one divine delirium that endures.

On love’s light step attend no shadows gaunt,

And all its own sweet wounds its sweet self cures.

It fans but feeds the warmly-glowing flesh,

And slakes the thirst it still creates afresh.

“But love, like these fair tokens of the vine,

Hath, too, its times and seasons. First, its spring;

Days of sweet doubt and fear, when smiles like thine,

Daintier than tendrils, to the fancy cling.

Next, its enticing summer, when the bine

Of hope unfolds its tremulous covering,

And softly-swelling vows, love’s crowning gift,

Fed by its life-blood, peep through each green rift.

“Then, last of all, love’s luscious autumn time,

When all its dreams have ripened. Fear hath fled.

No more the heart suspicion’s chilling rime

Or blight of scorching jealousy need dread.

Love’s hour is here; love’s vintage-bells may chime,

And love’s festoons be wreathed round board and bed.

He reels with ripeness: press his sweetness out,

Whilst the hills echo with the valley’s shout.

“But haply should we scorn mature desire,

Nor love’s full-teeming wealth make haste to press,

Why, then it shrivels of its own spurned fire,

And straight its goodly promise perishes.

Then shall no love-cup cheat the toils that tire,

Nor care be chased by wedlock’s staunch caress.

Yes, mad indeed, we have squandered all our store,

The harvest of our youth, which comes no more.

“Nay, listen to me, Miriam! for I speak

A parable that lacks nor truth nor aim.

Answer me truly: have I far to seek

To point the moral that I scarce need name?

Do I not read in rosy-glowing cheek,

In palpitating vein, in eye aflame,

Love in your heart would build himself a nest,

If you will only house that gentle guest?

“Why, why repel him, why indeed delay,

Since he hath come in so mature a guise?

Look down; ’tis Gilbert’s bark that cleaves the spray

Far at our feet, his arm the oar that plies.

What if time’s touch hath flecked his beard with gray,

It veils a breast more steadfast and more wise.

Ah! Youth in man is fickle! Not the fire

That warms the hearth is fed on green desire.

“He is a noble gentleman and true,

Whom sorrow hath made firm. He loves you, dear,

And still will love you when the dazzling dew

Of youth no more shall in your cheek appear.

I am no messenger; no more than you,

Hath he confessed his secret to my ear.

But Love is a silent babbler, and I need

No words of his or yours, your hearts to read.

“Nor can you plead him alien in blood,

For he hath made your country’s cause his own.

Have I not seen him in the sanguine flood

Through which she waded to her rightful throne,

And by the bayonet’s threat and cannon’s thud

Marked his tame port of peace heroic grown?

And when he deemed the hour to do or die

For Rome had struck, did not his soul reply?”

“O yes!” she answered, glowing as she spake,

His last words flushing her dark cheek with fire,

“I know that he would die for Italy’s sake,

And that is why-I swear it by my sire,

My mother’s sacred dust, my country’s ache!-

I yet will give him all his soul’s desire!

Thou art my more than brother; he shall be

Second to none,-not, Godfrid, e’en to thee!

“Yet listen to me in turn, albeit I sound

Beggar in fancies that enrich your tongue.

I said but now that none so mad were found,

Who, when these clusters full to falling hung

From stalk and stem, and o’er the happy ground

From tree to tree in drooping garlands swung,

Would scorn the sweet pulp bursting through the rind,

And leave the jocund juice to feed the wind.

“But see! Our vintage dawns. Yet do you doubt,

That if to-morrow, though brave loins were girt,

Brisk sleeves knit up, our baskets spread about,

The scoured vats all agape for wine to spirt

Down their huge throats, we heard a sudden shout

Of `Rome or Death!’ and saw the brave red shirt

Flame like a beacon,-we should, one and all,

Leave vat, leave vine, responsive to the call?

“Should we not quit the harvest of the year,

To gather in the harvest of all time?

He,-you,-yes I!-leave grape and grain, nor fear

To reap ‘mid thirst and want a store sublime?

Swords were our sickles then; the dewlapped steer

No more with purple load our slopes would climb;

Its peaceful flank in warlike wains would foam,

Splashed with their blood who barred the path to Rome!

“Bear with me then, I pray, my brother kind,

And bid him bear awhile whose love I prize.

So long as the Priest-King my kith shall bind

In Peter’s chains,-well, Rome hath all my sighs!

I have no heart for tenderness, no mind

For pillowed sweets, no ear for baby cries.

Oh! I should blush were conflict’s thrilling noise

To reach me, cooing over selfish joys!”

She ceased; and he was silent in his soul,

Drinking her noble rhetoric. But while each

Watched mute the creamy ripples landward roll,

Up the rude path that zigzagged from the beach,

A bright-eyed urchin, with a fluttering scroll,

Skipping and tumbling came,-too blown for speech;

His damson-coloured cheeks with speed aglow,

And tangled curls, left in the breeze to blow.

Hearing the swift step, Godfrid turned his head,

And quick the little Mercury, pressed for breath,

Thrust in his hand the scroll, then, panting, said,

“Read-read! the game’s afoot of `Rome or Death!’

See! Garibaldi from his isle hath sped,

And the whole land to join him hasteneth.

All Naples is astir; and look! they write,

This time the King will cheer, not foil, the fight.”

And as he spoke, and Godfrid scanned the scroll,

And saw that he spoke true, again the shout

Of “Rome or Death!” burst on his startled soul.

And half-way down to wave, where jutted out

From skeleton crag a green and grassy mole,

Down-peering spied they Gilbert, waving about

A blood-red flag, and loud with lusty breath

Crying, “Come! Godfrid! Miriam! Rome or Death!”

As swift as light, Miriam round Godfrid’s neck

Flung tight her arms, and nigh as quickly loosed;

Then, without more ado or ever a check,

Down the steep path they ran, like streams unsluiced:

So fast, that soon the summit was a speck

Where late they stood,-the sea-bird’s stormy roost.

And audibly now they heard the billows bound,

Which there had seemed to die without a sound.

And, ever as they sped, waxed loud and oft

The cry, “Rome, Rome or Death!” Each feathery holt,

Each sinuous down, each peak that pricked aloft,

Flung back the words, echoing the grand revolt.

And swift from vineyard, terrace, garden, croft,

As, straight on lightning, swoops the thunderbolt,

Flashed all the folk, in gathering crowd and roar,

And with one pulse descending to the shore.

Thither too, whooping loud, thronged untamed boys,

Bare-browed, bare-breasted, gemmed with eager eyes,

With rapid questions heightening all the noise,

Then breaking off, nor waiting for replies.

And glowing maids were there, full ripe for joys

Not found in battle: Goddesses in size,

With massive pitcher on their heads, at ease

Standing like stalwart Caryatides;

Nor moving lip, but with full gaze intent

On lovers yesternight intent to woo,

Who now no more coined words of blandishment,

But arched their blades, and felt the edge was true.

Over their serried shoulders forward leant,

With craning necks and faces sharp to view,

Low-chattering crones, wailing the lonely lot

Of these thus left, who heard but heeded not.

And, last of all, grave matrons joined the throng,

Babe upon arm, that only lisped as yet

The name of Rome and mother;-grave and strong,

With thoughtful brow and eye, but cheek unwet:

While through the crowd bent graybeards hobbled along,

Blessing the Lord that, ere their sun had set,

They had seen this day; yet railing half at Fate,

That sent salvation, for their aid too late.

Then high debate arose who first should go,

Who linger last, and who at home must stay.

Some, fledged with shafts of death from tip to toe,

Vowed none should snatch or turn them from the fray;

Some could a rusty matchlock only show,

And some a rough-edged billhook but display;

These from the hearth had snatched up smouldering brands,

And those had brawny thews but empty hands.

But, once upon the mainland, arms would swift

For all be found. And, as they babbled, came

Women and girls with many a farewell gift:

Strings of fat quails for which the isle hath fame,

And figs distilling honey through each rift

In their moist pulp; bread, worthy sure to name

Even as to give; huge bunches from the vine

Now newly plucked; and flasks of rosy wine.

Meanwhile from where, under the frowning cliff,

In days gone by long waves had worn a cave,

Godfrid and Gilbert dragged a light-oared skiff,

And straight the sharp keel through the shingle drave.

A moment at the sand-bar halting stiff,

It heeled, then lurched; and, as it touched the wave,

The waters rose to take it, and it lay

Trembling with gladness on the circling spray.

Her uncowled face lit by a steadfast smile,

Into the boat first Miriam lightly stepped;

Two sinewy youths, the pick of all the isle,

Followed, and briskly to their places leapt;

Then Gilbert, and last Godfrid. Poised awhile,

Down swooped the oars, and swift away they swept:

The lined shore crying after them, “Death or Rome!

Swift speed your bark! we follow in its foam.”

Soon on the left rough Massa rose to view,

Then soft Sorrento. Now they swept along

Past populous shores where vine-veiled ashes strew

Cities that echoed once to dance and song.

Far to the right dark Ischia flecked the blue,

Where Nature’s penitent hand smooths ancient wrong;

And soon the mighty cone began to loom,

That floods with streams of death its fiery womb.

But close behind them now they caught the hum

Of many voices, and the rising roar

Of noisy Naples, mingled with the strum

And twang of sharp guitar along the shore.

A moment more, and with the cry “We come,”

Bare-legged and Phrygian-capped, upon them bore

A rush of boatmen, voluble of speech,

Who drew the light skiff swiftly up the beach.

Then out they sprang,-first Miriam, Gilbert next,

Last Godfrid,-and the eager host pressed round;

Rude fishermen, hoarse women half unsexed,

And nude sea-urchins frisking o’er the ground.

Each with chaotic shout their ears perplexed,

Question and answer in the hubbub drowned,

O’er which there surged alone, as springs the foam

Above loud waves, the cry of “Death or Rome!”

But as they thrust the frenzied crowd aside,

And pushed on to the city’s beating heart,

At every step their hopes grew verified,

And warlike omens bade their doubts depart.

Men, new in arms, gathering from far and wide,

Made but a martial muster-ground the mart.

Churches were changed to barracks; and the cars

Of Ceres’ self were given up to Mars.

The very streets volcanic seemed and roared

Like Somma’s fiery self, and seething flowed

With streams of living lava, ever poured

Hot from the City’s innermost abode.

And, over all, ever and anon there soared

Convulsive detonations, such as goad

To agony of madness feet that fly

Waveward, when roused Vesuvius shells the sky!

And then night fell, and fairy lamps shone out

From balcony and lattice. High in air,

Gay gonfalons were lightly blown about,

And at the windows crowded faces fair.

Shrill lads upon the pavement thronged to shout

The great news forth, and in the shining square,

Hard by the Palace, flushed with jets of light,

Men stood in groups and fought the coming fight.

Just ere the hour drew near for lamps to fade

And the dense crowd to melt away to rest,

Far up Toledo shrilling trumpet brayed.

Straight at the sound, thither all footsteps pressed,

And, as if ranged for battle’s stern parade,

Formed in deep files and long lines drawn abreast,

And, close in phalanx packed, with ringing cheer,

“Evviva Italia! Evviva!” rent the ear.

Rang out once more the clarion’s cleaving blare,

And rudely rumbled hollow-bowelled drum;

Then strains of martial music stormed the air,

And away they strode, steps sounding but lips dumb.

But at the windows, still, cheered voices fair,

And waved white kerchiefs gallantly; while some

Sweet flowers drew forth from bosoms yet more sweet,

And showered them down to kiss the tramping feet.

Then midnight tolled, and all the city was still.

Inarime lay darkling on the sea;

Faint spikes of flame tipped Somma’s murky hill,

And on the shore the waves died silently.

The fabled fields the Mantuan’s wizard quill

Steeps in undying glamour, seemed to be

Once more Elysian, and the night-winds lay

Cradled on Baiae’s ruin-pebbled bay.

Gay broke the morn, and now along the land,

On with the day the joyous tidings grew;

Passed the fleet spray round Spartivento’s strand,

And raced with Manfredonia’s billows blue.

Swifter than falcon by Libeccio fanned,

Up the long straggling Apennine it flew,

And, lithe as mist by sunrise skyward drawn,

Scaled Alpine peak and, bright, proclaimed the dawn.

It brought the lilies out in Florence fair,

Flooded with life Bologna’s grim arcades,

Fluttered the doves in Venice’ marble square,

Filled Milan’s thrifty streets with generous blades.

Perugia’s griffin laid his talons bare,

The lion leaped from Padua’s learnëd shades;

And Turin’s generous beast, prompt at the sound,

Lowered his horned front, and, pawing, shook the ground.

Far off upon the mountain’s marble side,

In rough-hewn amphitheatres whose bold tiers,

Scaling the sky, white crowned with blue, defied

With unprotected front the pitiless years,-

Round huge blocks coiling nervous rope tight-tied,

Or urging sinewy bullock with goads and jeers,

Carrara’s sun-scorched toilers at the sound

Unwonted paused, and wildly stared around.

Steadying with brawny thews through rich brown soil

The unwieldy antique plough that Rhea’s son

Drave round his regal Palatine, lusty swains

The challenge heard, and, as at signal gun,

Left the unfinished furrow; left their wains

Standing half-piled; left their sleek oxen dun;

Left helpful wife, smooth babe, and clambering boy,

Nor stopped to snatch one desultory joy.

They left the long unstrung festoons half-stripped,

The tall deep crates half-filled, the vats unpressed,

In the first trough their hands empurpled dipped,

Doffed work-day gear, and called for gay red vest;

Then, with brief, brave farewell, away they slipped,

Eager as fledglings from forsaken nest,

And not one hand was raised to bid them stay,

One tear let fall to clog them on their way.

And Godfrid, Gilbert, Miriam, like the rest,

Ever on foot, now journeying with the crowd,

Now solitary skirting Samnian crest,

Trackless, by many a dried-up torrent ploughed,

On toward the Roman frontier panting pressed,

Nor halted till they saw Alatri proud

Look down on Collepardo, and descried

Soft Liris winding round rough Sora’s side.

But to the sword’s goal nearer as they drew,

Omens of slackening purpose met their feet.

Men ‘gan to ask each other what they knew.

Had not the Royal drum been heard to beat?

And were not those the Royal trumpets, blew?

Yet could it be they did but sound retreat,

Without one blow to break the bonds that wed

Longwhile the living to the loathsome dead?

Where was the Chief? Had he yet left his isle?

Yes; foiling nimble lurchers of the law,

He treads the mainland. Did a sceptic smile?

Swift was the answer: here is one who saw…

Ay! but how now? A dungeon’s well-clamped pile

Coffins his rashness. He will burst it… Faugh!

Back to Caprera, oath-bound, see him led,

To gnaw his heart out on its barren bed!

Godfrid the loud sardonic babble heard,

Silent and gloomy. ‘Neath a trellised vine,

As evening paled, chary of heed or word,

He sate with Miriam. Flask of Volscian wine,

And fare by hospitable hands preferred,

Untasted stood. And when, at Miriam’s sign,

The host withdrew, neither the silence broke,

Till, Gilbert, suddenly entering, thuswise spoke:

“’Tis as we feared. The King clanks back his blade

Into the scabbard, and we stand alone.

The royal troops, late marshalled to invade,

Now guard, the frontiers of the priestly throne.

Some they turn back by force, and some persuade;

Some through their nets have broken, and are flown

On to Mentana, resolute for Rome,

Save the Chief fail them too, and call them home.”

So saying, mute he stood, biding reply.

But Miriam, who, the while he spoke, had gazed

On him alone, now glanced with anxious eye

To where sate Godfrid with his face upraised

And propped upon his hand reflectingly;

Over whose aspect suddenly there blazed

The light of hot resolve, and, starting up,

He seized the flask and drained a brimming cup.

And as he laid it down, “Too late,” he cried,

“To turn back now! See! I will go with you.

In vain we would discern; the Fates decide,

And fool us to the task they’d have us do.

So will I not be wanting at your side,

Though deep I pray we shall not live to rue

The madness of this hour. I cannot stem

The waves I loosed not. I must ride with them:

“Though be it to dismay. But, Gilbert, this,

This bear in mind, if I should fall, you stay:

Though destiny now shapes my steps amiss,

And I am by its current swept away,

I drew the sword, only to bridge the abyss

Which severs Rome from Italy; and say,

If chance some voice of my last deed inquires,

He ne’er assailed the altar of his sires.

“Enough,-alas! too much,-of my poor name;

But there be those whom I, in death, would spare.

Now, go with Miriam where the tongue of fame

Reports our camp: I will towards Rome repair,

And learn if chains have made her courage tame,

Or if, not too disheartened still to dare,

She finds her feet, and through her prison walls

Answers the voice of Liberty that calls.

“Now farewell, Miriam! Gilbert be your guide

Till I unto you both my steps retrace.”

Whereat she rose, and going to his side,

Soft laid against his beard her tender face,

And murmured: “For your journey Heaven provide!”

Then he to her gave brotherly embrace,

And, grasping Gilbert’s hand, as brave men do,

Went, and down vine-slopes vanished from their view.

But when the morrow’s dawn broke wild and red,

Afoot once more, Gilbert and Miriam clomb

Many a hillside, crossed many a torrent’s bed,

Tracking through shaggy wood, past tumbling foam,

That faithful band who, by one instinct led,

Swarmed at the Sabine heights that look towards Rome;

There where Nomentum still keeps, half consoled,

Its Latin name and Bacchic fame of old.

And these, if few, yet steadfast, o’er the rim

Which severed still the freedman from the slave,

Had crept or burst, and in embattled trim,

Five thousand breasts, wooed glory or the grave.

Purged of the waifs that on the surface swim

Of noisy venture’s swift but shallow wave,

Shrunk was their volume now, calm, gathered, deep,

Even as the cataract’s, ere adown it leap.

But on the mountainous ledge that dips towards Rome,

They still hung pausing; for the Chief yet lagged.

Cursed be the knaves that to his far-off home

Had yet again his limbs reluctant dragged!

Fools! would they coop the wind or curb the foam?

Soon flashed the news upon their spirits fagged,

That he unhelped had slipped the net once more,

And wind and wave were wafting him to shore.

Yes! steering tiny shallop, all alone,

From rock to rock ‘mid perilous shoals, then tost

On tumbling billows by the mistral blown,

Till space ‘twixt sea and sky seemed wellnigh lost,

Long ere the snarer guessed their bird was flown,

He gripped Sardinia’s coast, its mountains crossed,

And thence by leal hands led and fair gales fanned,

Near Leghorn’s beach leaped once again to land.

Then swift to arms and flashing ranks they flew,

Shoulder to shoulder, heart by brave heart, ranged,

Quick with whose every beat He nearer drew.

Yes! ’twas the Chief, from venture unestranged,

As when his grasp the Bourbon hydra slew

At tough Marsala, and a kingdom changed.

Upon his brow were threatening thunders piled,

But round his mouth love’s playful lightnings smiled.

“My children!” when their jubilant welcome waned,

With resonant clear voice he said, “I am here.

The French Jove’s minions thought to hold me chained,

Lest I spread fire through this cimmerian sphere.

Oh! how his eagle rent me, as I strained

To rid me of my rock’s engyving gear!

But herculean destiny, which foils

Olympian counsels, came and cut my toils.

“And lo! I stand among you yet once more,

Sons of my heart and scions of my soul!

I see ye are still, all that ye were of yore,

The valorous stuff Alcmene’s self might foal.

Behind, lies shame in ambush,-peril before.

Which do ye choose? Speak! whither is our goal?”

He paused; and like a thunderclap, the breath

Of their charged breasts roared loud, “To Rome or Death!”

“’Tis well. Look there!” And as he spake they turned,

Following his finger with immediate eyes.

“There, there is the vent for which your lives have burned,

Your goal or grave, your sepulchre or prize.

Gods! where the suckling she-wolf’s bosom spurned

The cruel priest’s decision, darkly wise,

The foul hyaena’s bastard litter tugs

At Italy’s breast, poisoning our Mother’s dugs!

“Will ye not, stalwart war-hounds, help me scare

The unclean foster-whelps from such a shrine?-

This brood of Hell, that Heaven’s fair front would wear,

From hearths which, even in ruin, keep divine;

Ruins, your own inheritance? Now swear

By all the godhood in Rome’s royal line,

By the Republic’s virtue, by the brow

Of Empire calm, ye will reclaim them now!

“Lend me your youth, I give to you my years,

The steadfast wisdom of the life that hangs

Upon death’s gaze and calmly waits the shears,

Nor cares o’ermuch when the dark portal clangs.

So that I see the glimmer of your spears

Frighting the foemen’s eyes, and mark your fangs

Fast in the hirelings fleeing from the list

Of final war, then let me be dismissed.

“My task will then be finished. But I waste

In sterile words the sunlight. Now, to arms!

Yon citadel, within whose walls disgraced

A host of motley mercenaries swarms,

The savour of your valour first shall taste.

Now blow the sanguine bugle’s shrill alarms!

Cleansed of its levy of Batavian boors,

Monte Rotondo must, ere dark, be yours!”

Though light their panoply, their valour great.

No Vulcan’s limping thunderbolts delayed

With cumbrous help their impetus elate;

Theirs the straight barrel and the swooping blade,

The fleet advance-the pause-the crouching gait-

The forward rush-the well-seized ambuscade;

Till, in thin trusty lines spread out, they feel

The circled city with a grasp of steel.

Then straight its pulse responded. Loudly bayed

The deep-mouthed cannon from the walls, and woke

The slumbering citadel, which swiftly made

Its mouth a teeming womb whence martial folk,

Born ready-armed, swarmed to the rampart’s aid,

Crested the walls, and glimmered through the smoke

Of sulphurous din, whose war-clouds thundered black

‘Gainst the long sinuous hills, that bellowed back.

“Fire me the gate!” the Chief exclaimed, “and smoke

These skulking vermin from their darksome holes!

Why waste your breath in many an idle stroke

Against the intangible air? Unearth the moles!

Look! you must break the shell to seize the yolk!

Then fire the gate, ye young and valorous souls!

Swiftly let torch and faggot be their guests,

And burn yourselves an entrance to their breasts!”

Then, under cover of the deepening dusk,

As now the foe, in fancied fastness, drowned

With draughts of cheering wine the homely rusk,

Weening the day with conquering laurels crowned,-

With fascines girt and many a well-dried husk

Of last year’s corn, soft to the gate they wound,

Whose solid jaws, deemed doubly safe till dawn,

Stood grimly clenched, with all the guards withdrawn.

Others too brought, but with like stealthy stride,

Bales of coarse tow in liquid resin steeped,

With kegs of shining pitch, and,-high and wide,

Faggot on straw, straw upon faggot heaped,-

Thrust them between, and then their torches plied.

Swift at the touch the prompt light crackling leaped,

And, darting tongues of fire from quivering frame,

Spread through the loose sere heap its own fierce flame.

Nor till the goodly pile was all ablaze,

Was the alarum raised within; when straight

The slack carousers, smitten with amaze,

Snatching their arms, rushed wildly to the gate.

But those into the darkness, far from gaze,

Softly drew off, instructed well to wait

And pour, with obvious aim that could not fail,

Through its reopening jaws a deadly hail.

And soon, the monstrous bars and bolts drawn back,

The huge gates groaned, then slowly opened wide,

And straight in front uprose the blazing stack,

Though through the gap no foe could be descried.

So ‘gan they all, emboldened, to attack

The burning barricade, and thrust aside

This fell approach of fire that strove to spread

To their defences its contagion dread.

Thus as they rushed with ardour to undo

The invisible assailants’ crafty task,

And with unguarded breasts swarmed full in view

Of those who wore the distance for a mask,

Came sudden such a crashing volley through

The screen of sputtering twig and boiling cask,

That, staggering, back they fell, and, ambushed mesh

Dreading at hand, rolled back the gate afresh.

But ere its ponderous lips could meet and clang,

The fiery mass fell in and choked its jaws.

Then once again a rattling volley rang

Straight through the chasm, and, all unseen the cause,

With deadly aim dealt many a mortal pang.

Then silence came,-a momentary pause,-

Then blinding smoke; and then, all barriers snapped,

The gate, without, within, in flame was wrapped.

The wolfish watch-dogs from uneasy sleep,

As though the moon were up, uprose and bayed,

While the rude herd, slow-roused from slumber deep,

Crept from his hutch and the weird sight surveyed.

Leaning with hands that neither sow nor reap

On his long crook, there statue-like he stayed,

As one who wondered not, and in whose veins

The instinct flowed of fire and ravaged plains.

Unsheltered kine in unhelped labour lowed,

Coupling their throes with yet more deep dismay;

While stolid oxen, freed from yoke and goad,

Rolled their large eyes, and wondered was it day.

Troops of wild colts, no lord as yet bestrode,

Gathered in clouds, stopped, sniffed, then tore away;

And low-browed buffaloes, into terror lashed,

Through jungled swamp, snorting and bellowing, splashed.

It seemed as though the centuries had rolled

Their sepulchres back, and all the disarmed dead

Were coming forth anon, and, as of old,

Round Rome’s seductive realm of ruin spread,

Would in their coils its feeble walls enfold,

And on its wreck a fresh destruction shed;

That Goth, Gaul, Vandal, Hun, did all conspire

To wrap what yet remained, in final fire!

And still the greedy flames kept crawling round

Monte Rotondo’s ivy-buttressed wall,

Whence gloomy owls, as if from under ground,

Flapped out, and with their melancholy call

Would ever and anon the deepening swound

Of dying ears with fantasies appal,

Vexing their souls with terror as they sank

Through yielding life into the deep dread blank.

Nor till the dappled curtain of the East

Rose on the chorused dawn,-by surfeit choked,

Had the fierce fire from random foray ceased.

But long ere then, their sleepless limbs yet smoked

With grime of battle, and their rage increased

By yestreen’s blood that still their garments soaked,

With bayonet couched and fury-flashing sword,

Through the charred portal had the Red-shirts poured.

And still as they advanced, from thresholds freed

Came forth the exultant populace, and blessed

The arms that brought salvation to its need.

Their blackened hands the trembling grandsire pressed;

The tearful matron brought the welcome meed

Of mother’s kiss; the soft-eyed maid caressed;

Whose brothers swelled their ranks, to lead them where

The routed hirelings clung to central lair.

In a grim palace whose huge entrance seemed

Portcullis more than hospitable gate,

And through whose grim-barred embrasures there streamed

No ray of cheering sunshine soon or late,

Whose hoary walls were but too truly deemed

To boast the dungeon’s thickness,-desperate,

And like to wolves whom baying throats surround,

The cowering foe had final covert found.

But when once more the threat of fire was hurled,

And torch and bavin to their hold were brought,

And round the basement tall the black smoke curled,

Quick from within a parley was besought,

And high o’erhead a small white flag unfurled.

Curt the conditions. These: All who had fought,

Would in the courtyard pile both gun and blade,

And straight across the frontier be conveyed.

So on the morn of that auspicious day,

By valour won, Monte Rotondo fell,

Making fagged limbs with freshening triumph gay,

And sinking hearts with surging hope re-swell

That henceforth neither foe nor fate could stay

Their supreme star and front invincible.

Lo! Yonder column rose, and tower, and dome,

In the blue air! Why not at once to Rome?

But quick the Chief with tranquillising smile

Checked their untimely ardour. “Not to-day.

Blown with the race of victory, breathe awhile,

Nor tempt too much your yet but mortal clay.

Another morn, and yon cross-crownëd pile,

That glistens in the sun, shall point your way;

Nor shall its dome above the twilight soar,

A second time, ere Rome be God’s once more!”

So wounds were blithely drest, and blood-stains dried,

And, as day broadened, short siestas snatched;

Some, stretched supine on the bare mountain-side,

Some, slumber-shaded under a pine detached.

And some lay gashed and shattered, open-eyed,

On pallet rough in hovel rudely-thatched;

And some, alack! in their last bed were laid,

Nor heard o’erhead the beating of the spade.

But, with the waning of the sultry glare,

About the camp a fitful movement grew.

Here, these prepared the evening meal, and there,

From bellied vats those beaded beakers drew.

Others with busy brows and muscles bare

Rubbed their accoutrements to flashing hue.

Some sang; and oft, a solitary neigh

Shivered the air, then eddying died away.

Scarce a good bowshot from the bustling throng,

A farmstead stood, irregularly built,

Its walls of unhewn stone, yet square and strong,

Held in old days by arquebuse and hilt.

Alone of all the tenements along

Those sparse-clad heights by sunset softly gilt,

Nor strident voice nor desecrating hoof

Filled the apt shelter of its ample roof.

But if a curious eye had cared to scan

Its hidden life, two forms might now be seen,

Busy within; a godlike-statured man,

And grave-browed maiden, moulded like a queen:

A type to show what sovereign Nature can,

When stunting progress cometh not between

Her and her handiwork; a shape unmarred

As, goddess-born, was sung by Scian bard.

And like a queen of old, her fingers fair

Played busily with stuffs of various dyes,

Red, white, and green, of which, with loving care,

She made, when shaped to strips of equal size,

A banner, such as Freedom’s champions bear;

While Gilbert watched her with unmoving eyes,

Leaning against the threshold, while his hands

Smoothed a rough stake, mute slave of her commands.

“’Tis done,” she said, and as she said she rose.

“Now to the staff affix me Italy’s flag!

As veers the vane unto the wind that blows,

So, once breeze-fluttered, never shall it lag

Behind the storm that breaks upon our foes,

Lead where it will, and though to death it drag!

Follow this symbol, Gilbert! you will find

Peril in front, but victory hard behind!”

The colours from her fair brave hands he took,

But quick the fair brave hands themselves he pressed,

Drawing them upward, and with touch that shook,

Laid and soft held them on his ample chest.

And as some acorned oak bends low to look

On tender fern that girds its rugged breast,

So he, now bending her fresh form above,

Dropped in her lap the autumn of his love.

“Yes, Miriam! to its flagstaff will I bind

Your banner fast, and follow it as true

As watching vane obeys the wandering wind!

But when our blades have hewn a pathway through

To Rome or Death, then should I chance to find

The better doom, oh! unto me will you

Be as this steadfast pennon to its pole,

To bark its sail, unto the flesh its soul?

“You, Miriam, you! my standard, symbol be,

And I could bear you through a cloud of foes!

The glorious colours you, upborne by me,

From battle’s onset unto victory’s close.”

Then, holding flag and staff asunder, “See,

What soul or spell hath this apart from those?

But knit them close, and then, its flag unfurled,

Even this sere branch might rouse a slumbering world!

“And yet a humbler, happier fate I crave,

Than to renew such task as brings us here.

Once let yon sky no longer roof a slave

In this fair land, and I our bark would steer

Back o’er that blue and siren-rippled wave,

To me through you, to you through kinship dear,

And, fondly tethered to its narrow isle,

Live in the sunshine of your wifely smile.”

She started at the word, and from his grasp,

Hereto endured, had fain her form withdrawn,

But that he gripped her wrists with tightening clasp,

And to her, helpless as some poor meshed fawn,

Sued with yet bolder lips and quickening gasp:

“Stay near me still, even as to night the dawn!

Fair life, fair love, with no dread gloom o’ercast,

Wherein I drown the darkness of my past!

“Thy land, thy race, is mine, and thy young hopes

Are round my heart entwined, as a fair flower

Scales with its delicate bine and tendrilled ropes

The lonely gaps of some untenanted tower,

Where the bat burrows and the night-owl mopes.

O, be to me a beauty and a dower!

Fill me with light and colour, till men bless

Me, the poor wall, that props thy loveliness.

“Dead in the grave she lies, dead in the grave,

Who should have loved me, but she loved me not.

Pierced through the heart by passion’s glittering glaive,

Thus did she leave me, who were best forgot.

Snowdrops and lilies her lone sepulchre pave,

White as the sheets over some infant’s cot,

Where innocence lies sleeping. She too sleeps;-

Happier than one that wakes, and wants, and weeps.

“I would not wake her, for she was not mine.

Sound be her sleep and sweet; sweet be her dreams!

She will not dream of me. She was divine,

And I am earthly; so at least it seems.

Yet did she pour out all my life like wine,

And leave the goblet empty. O for streams,

Streams of full love that to the heart are wed,

As some deep river to its deeper bed!

“That is not Love which is not loved: ’tis nought

But vacancy of pain, unfuelled fire,

A sigh by silence choked, a speechless thought,

Insanity of soul, diseased desire.

And love is won no more than sold or bought;

‘Tis a spontaneous giver, whom inspire

The Gods alone, whose promptings we forsook.

The fault was mine. She gave me-what I took.

“Streams roll not back, nor deem that I e’er could

To that dim past revert which was my bane.

I am as one who quits a darksome wood,

And sees before him sunlight-smiling plain,

Thankful to stand no more where late he stood.

Country and kin to me were symbols vain.

Thou art my kindred, and thy land shall be

Land of my love and true nativity.

“But”-and yet tighter, as he spoke, he clenched

His nervous grasp-“by the Enduring Powers,

By all the tears that ever drowned and drenched

The cheek of hopeless love through lonely hours,

Whose parching fire can by no tears be quenched,

By thy sire’s ashes, by the sacred flowers

That roof thy mother’s grave, I thee conjure,

Spare me not now! Strike home; I will endure.

“Strike, but once only! I can nurse that pain;

Nurse it in solitude which doth repair

Even worse wounds than that. But there’s a chain

No mortal twice consentingly would bear,-

The chain which binds with its tormenting strain

Two pulsing lives that one life do not share.

Love me with love that knows nor ebb nor flow,

As I love thee! or, Miriam, bid me go!”

Thereat he loosed her hands, and his own fell,

Mute, to his side; and like some giant stone,

Poised on its base by old enchanter’s spell,

So that it rocks e’en to a touch alone,

So now he stood, mightily movable,

And through the glamour that is all love’s own,

Despite his manhood, ready to be stirred

By the soft touch of her responsive word.

A moment mute remained she, with her head

Bent on its stem, like some dark crimson rose

When winds have been too rough, which, since, have fled.

But soon, like bud that to the sunlight blows,

Her face she lifted to his gaze, and said,

“Did he not tell you? For indeed he knows.

He wrung my secret from me on the day

Our joyous war-bark bounded o’er the bay.”

“What!” he exclaimed, as future, present, past,

Confusedly before him ‘gan to swim;

“What! Godfrid! Comes he then once more to blast

My burgeoning hopes? Oh! how love’s sight is dim!”

“O, thou mistak’st me quite!” she cried, aghast;

“For thee he pleaded, and I answered him,

Straight from my soul, as now I answer thee:-

Love me, and I will listen,-when Rome is free!

“Till then,-but hark!” And ere one grateful word

Could from his bosom burst to ease his joy,

Out through the threshold, like a startled bird,

She flew, he following like an eager boy.

And lo! the camp with some strange news was stirred,

And, as a flock of wild-fowl to decoy,

Skimming the reedy pool, are blindly urged

On instant wing, toward one spot converged.

Thither, too, Miriam, Gilbert at her side,

Straight made with breathless eagerness her way,

The rush of supple striplings opening wide

To let them pass athwart the armed array.

“See the brave band returned from Rome,” one cried.

“Then Godfrid’s back!” and he could hear her say,

With murmuring lips, as low as breathing shell,

The rapid prayer, “Pray Heaven! alive and well!”

Soon was all doubt dispelled; for toward the crest

Of the steep range whose face towards Rome is set,

A handful stood, by thirsty march distressed,

Hot, haggard, silent, dashed with gore and sweat;

And in their midst, towering o’er all the rest,

As, ‘mong tall fir-trees, tall pine tops them yet,

Stood Godfrid, gloomy, dark with dust and smoke,

And to the gathering crowd thus curtly spoke:

“Yes, we are back, or those at least you see,

A remnant, safe; the best are left behind:

Of freedom reft that others might be free,

Or dead, that worse than dead fresh life might find.

Cairoli fell o’erborne, one against three,

But not till two of three first fed the wind.

His Spartan dam may smile; one son remains;

Not here,-but wounded, captive, and in chains.

“What did I hear you ask? Doth Rome not rise?

Who rises with the heel upon his neck,

Or greets the dawn with joyfulness, whose eyes,

Long shorn of sight, the greedy vultures peck?

Alas! Of heaven-fed Freedom’s lusty cries,

What can emasculated serflings reck?

Rome rise? Yes,-when you raise her. Not till then.

Shall she long wait you? Not if ye are men!”

With which, the keen-eared group aside he ploughed,

And, greeting Miriam with fraternal speech,

Passed, linked with her and Gilbert, from the crowd

To that lone dwelling placed beyond the reach

Of the camp’s tumult. Then, like storm-charged cloud,

The black news circled, each one questioning each,

And vowing deep, as swift the story spread,

To rouse the living and avenge the dead.

But when with morn the heights and slopes began

To prick and burgeon into armëd life,

The dense red ranks spread out like gaudy fan,

To bass-toned drum and treble-fluted fife.

From mouth to mouth the gladsome rumour ran,

The hour was here to kiss the lips of strife,

With battle’s breast to blend embrace and breath,

And rush, delirious, on to Rome or Death!

And as they gazed, and every bosom rose,

High-leavened with the thought of combat nigh,

Far off they saw, as when a ground-mist grows,

Or distant copse shows feathery to the eye

When first the early-budding sallow blows,

About the walls a haze ambiguous lie,

Which, when it once had shape and substance ta’en,

Rolled itself out, and crept along the plain.

Shortly the moving mist began to gleam

And glitter as when dawn’s returning rays

Strike on the ripples of a shadeless stream,

Until it glowed one scintillating blaze,

Flickering and flashing in each morning beam.

And then they knew it was no vaporous haze,

But foe come forth,-bayonet, and blade, and gun,-

Shining and shimmering in the cloudless sun.

Swift through their lines a thrill electric ran,

And, as it died, girt by that faithful few

Whose spendthrift lives had still been in the van

Since first his banner of redemption flew,

‘Mid men heroic looking more than man,

Serenely strong, the Chief came full in view;

While through the ranks, with sabre-sounding clang,

A shout of welcome and defiance rang.

“Hail, noble champions of a noble Cause!”

Flashing them back their greeting, thus he spake.

“See, Fortune smiles. The beast whose greedy claws

Ye have come to clip, doth from his covert break,

And, spurred by desperate terror, hither draws.

Now in your hands your shafts avenging take,

And bide his onset! We will wait him here,

And let the rash fool rush upon the spear.

“Then shall his lair be yours. Gods! what a lair!

The very cradle of your name and race;

To Roman loins where Sabine women bare

A lusty birth from violent embrace:

Sons sternly strong, daughters divinely fair,

Celestial those in force as these in face,

Who, not unmindful of their getting, curled

Their sinewy arms around a ravished world!

“Look! where your sires, disarmed by love’s decree,

To their consenting brides at length were wed,

The Gallic harlot, fetched across the sea,

With venal limbs fouls your ancestral bed!

Your home, your hearth, your very nursery,

Where Roman babes on Roman tales were fed,

Hath grown a den defiled, a place of shame,

Barbarians mock, and patriots blush to name!

“Where trod the Jove-crowned conquerors of earth,

The stealthy shaveling slipshod creeps along;

Where rang the echoes of triumphant mirth,

The trembling monk mumbles his drowsy song.

On the twin hill where Empire took its birth,

And the victorious eagles used to throng,

A spurious Caesar drills his legions foul,

And flings his aegis o’er each crouching cowl!

“And do ye live and breathe? Now live no more,

Save ye can purge the palace and the fane

Of prince and priest who barter grace for gore,

And God’s and Caesar’s name alike profane.

Is Italy so fair, their native shore

Bounds their barbarian appetite in vain?

Vainly the Alps arise, vain rolls the wave?

Then sate their greed of soil.-Give them a grave!”

Then with brief words, and indicating hand,

Along the heights and broken slopes he spread

The little cohorts of his clustered band.

Some in the shrunken streamlet’s stony bed

He showed to crouch, and others bade to stand

Behind the waving ridge’s sheltering head,

Watching, with eye alert and firelock low,

To deal prompt death on the presumptuous foe.

And where the gray-trunked olive’s purpling beads

Glistened among its shifting-coloured sprays,

He dotted children of the mountain-meads,

Who mark the chamois with unerring gaze

On track that only to the snow-line leads;

While others in the down-cut corn and maize,

Cut but unstacked, he bade in ambush wait,

Patient as vengeance, pitiless as fate!

Hark! the sharp challenge of a rifle rings

Shrill through the air! then all again is still;

Save where its eddying echo faintly clings

To the deep hollows of some distant hill.

But soon the breeze a fuller message brings,

Another,-and another yet,-until

A fitful musket-rattle spreads around,

And silence seems but waiting upon sound.

Awhile from hill and slope no answer came;

Though many a sharp-fanged messenger of death

Tore through the leafy vine-stem’s tender frame,

Scorched the gray trunks with its malignant breath,

And set the shocks of ripened maize aflame.

But as when long a storm-cloud lingereth,

And, since it loometh black, men wonder why

Its threatening javelins linger in the sky;

But when at length it bursteth overhead,

It bursteth all at once, and serried hail

Flashes and rattles on the torrent’s bed,

And beats the corn as doth the thresher’s flail;

So now, at lagging signal swiftly spread,

The scowling muzzles pointing toward the vale

Hurled on the foe a hurricane of steel,

That made the foremost fall, the hindmost reel.

“Now must be craven bolts, winged from afar,

Exchanged for bristling weapons, face to face,

And this too distant dalliance of war

Discarded for the grip of close embrace.

So, Latin lads! show of what strain ye are,

And prove the unslacked mettle of your race

Against these mongrels of a lineage lewd,

The bastard sons of sires your sires subdued!”

Thus through the hush of momentary truce

Rang the Chief’s clarion voice. But from his lips

Scarce had the words been fledged, than, as a sluice

Opens and quick its pent-up water slips,

Was all the volume of assault let loose,

And, wave on wave, the flashing bayonet-tips

Came streaming on, an ever-broadening ring,

Crested with banners of the Pontiff-King.

Wave upon wave: As, when on some long shore

The tide comes rolling in, in ridgy sheets,

Surge after surge, with hollow-bosomed roar,

Plunges and breaks, then hurriedly retreats,

And the stunned strand stands solid as before,

But swift a fresh on-coming billow meets

The flying foam, and carries it along,

Back to the assault, with volume doubly strong;

So, endless, rolled the ridges of attack,

Line after line, valour at valour’s heel;

Surged, roared, rushed, broke, then fell in fragments back,

Shattered and shivered on that shore of steel.

Yet waxed not then the tide of onset slack,

But as each ruined rank was seen to reel,

Another,-longer,-stronger,-onwards dashed,

And o’er the flying eddies curled and crashed.

Then forth from copse and vineyard, orchard, grove,

Farmstead and stony torrent’s shielding bank,

And deep-set pool where the tall cane-stems wove

For ambushed feet a cover dense and dank,

Rushing and trampling came a mighty drove,

That swiftly formed in many a hornëd rank,

And, swarming on each open crest and crown,

Paused for the word to speed their valour down.

Not fiercer, blacker, sweeps the Alpine storm,

When gorges howl and the fir-forests crash;

Not louder, ocean, when the dun waves form

Their monstrous heads, and rocks and breakers clash;

Not straighter doth the avalanche enorm

Its jaggëd path through crackling pine-masts gash,

Than swept the impulse of their gathered will,-

At once wind, wave, and lauwine,-down the hill.

Whereat the ranks that fenced the Triple Crown,

And, too unmindful of rebuke divine,

Drew Peter’s sword afresh, soon as the frown

Of grim assault drew near in line on line

Of smoke and steel, flung blade and rifle down,

And, scattering wide o’er dip and steep incline,

Their faces set where safety led the way,

And fled in wildered flakes of loose dismay.

Then all seemed won; and victory’s course that, first,

Steadied by curbing discipline had rolled,

Soon as it felt resistance’ barriers burst,

Asunder swept and spread out uncontrolled;

Dispersing as the fugitives dispersed,

By the wild rout made hazardously bold,

Till in the exultant lines,-left, centre, right,-

Pursuit had waxed disorderly as flight.

When lo! though nought as yet could they descry

Save friends behind and fleeing foes before,

Upon them weapons new began to ply,

New and unseen, that hushed the cannon’s roar.

So thick came bullets now, they scanned the sky

To see if Heaven itself perchance did pour

The hellish missiles down, and foully mar

With unfair stroke the hard-got spoils of war.

As thus awhile they halted, and with eyes

Of wonder and of terror gazed around,

They saw the flying rout melt phantomwise,

And sudden, in its stead, as from the ground,

A new and unsuspected host arise,

Bearing the Tricolor with eagle crowned;

Advancing not, but stemming their advance,

With the famed chassepots of Imperial France.

Then rage seized every breast; and once again,

By warlike instinct ordered, swift they shrank,

Rallying each other both with voice and ken,

Into close file and steady marshalled rank;

Though faster, thicker, rained upon them then

The lethal hail, and many a brave brow sank,

To rise no more, on which, a moment gone,

The upward light of dawning victory shone.

In vain or force or feint, courage or skill,

Against a foe that seemed to multiply,

By some miraculous arm, its strength at will,

And, scattering death, never itself to die.

Maddened by pain, no more they cared to fill

The widening gaps, but with a desperate cry

Rushed in disordered valour, singly brave,

If not to make, at least to find, a grave.

Then many fled, and those who fled not fell;

And, from that moment, Miriam ‘mong the erect

Nor Gilbert saw nor Godfrid. In the swell

And surf of carnage lay their valour wrecked.

And ere she could descend and rush to well

Her love in dying ears,-unruled, unchecked,

The tide of flight came on, and as the spray

Lifts the light seaweed, swept her steps away.

The last she saw was a mute patient steer

Join its yoke-fellow in death’s darkened stall,

Where it may slumber peaceful all the year,

Dreading no bondsman’s stroke, no master’s call.

The rest was like the tumult in the ear

Of waters o’er the drowning, or the pall

That falls on fainting eyes when pulses reel,

And even the living brain forgets to feel.

Into sparse wattled sheep-pens many crept,

And by the rude but pitying herd were hid

Among his flock, that, all inhuman, slept.

But their bedfellows closed not weary lid,

And when pursuit’s fierce waves had past them swept,

Up from the strange, warm, throbbing couch they slid,

And to their host, beneath the starlight pale,

With sobs of fury stammered out their tale.

They told him how the day dawned bright with hope,

How noon had seen the hirelings’ onset foiled,

How they, triumphant, bounded down the slope,

And then,-with lips that faltered, blood that boiled,-

How their spent strength had with new foes to cope,

And Italy’s dream, touching its goal, was spoiled.

Then, speech engulfed in surges of the breast,

Aghast they stood, and, silent, looked the rest.

Till one just mustered stertorous breath to tell

The shepherd son of Romulus who those were

That with their hellish sorcery broke the spell.

Whereat the hind shook his thick matted hair,

Unto their curses joined his curses fell;

And bringing down his crook, high poised in air,

Sharp to the ground, as though it were a spear,

Called on the avenging gods below to hear!

Into Mentana’s squalid ways,-for there

A little band, at daybreak left behind,

Still kept unbroken front,-the wounded bare

The dying, fain some pillow’s prop to find

For these, oblivious of their own despair.

And soon the church with pallets rude was lined,

By which Franciscan priests soft-sandalled stole,

And sped with patriot prayers each parting soul.

Just as the twilight faded into dark,

Voices were heard without; and striplings four,

Who had escaped the foeman’s deadly mark,

Into the nave a goodly body bore,

Stretched on a litter, seeming stiff and stark,

Whose torn red shirt was steeped in redder gore,

And to whose beard and hair of iron gray

The death-dews clung, like frost to wintry spray.

Behind them close walked Miriam, on whose brow

Black thunder-sorrow brooded, but who dropped

No tear of feeble anguish even now.

Slow at the sight each prostrate sufferer propped

His head upon his hand, and breathed a vow

Of dying love towards her. She nor stopped,

Nor looked on either side, but followed pale

The mournful convoy to the altar rail.

There with arresting hand she bade them pause,

And on the altar step to lay him down,

And to a servant of dear Christ’s sweet laws

Who wore the saintly Francis’ habit brown,

Beckoned; and as distressful beauty draws

Even the heart that wears the chaste cold crown,

He hastened towards her and said lovingly,

“My daughter dear, what can I do for thee?”

“Wed me,” she said, “dear father, to this man;

Wed me this hour, ere he be man no more.

See! though his eyes be closed, his cheek be wan,

And though he soon will tread the heavenly floor,

He lives-he breathes! his sinking bosom can

Receive the vow I long therein to pour,

Ere he shall leave me but a deaf-eared clod,

And go to claim me at the Throne of God!”

The monk bent over the mute, hueless face,

And laid his ear against the blood-stained breast;

Then turned to her, and said: “Fair child of grace,

‘Tis true that life hath not yet left its nest,

But even now for its true dwelling-place

Its wing it lifts, to fly away to rest.

‘Twould be as though you wed a corpse, to wear

Eternal widowhood on your young hair.”

“O yes, I know!” she only could repeat,

In hurrying words that burst through sorrow’s dam,

“Father, I know! But wed us, I entreat,

That I may plead, through him, before the Lamb,

For our wronged land! It, corpse-like at my feet,

I ne’er can be more widowed than I am.

I,-I will live to plot, he die to pray,

That Heaven with Earth conspire to avenge this day!”

The trembling friar took up the clammy hand,

Whose pulse beat faint, and laid it within hers,

While she repeated, at his grave command,

The solemn pledge which deathless bond avers.

And, on the instant,-o’er a silent land

As a faint breeze sometimes in summer stirs,

Then drops,-so Gilbert, for a moment’s space,

Opened blue eyes, and smiled into her face.

Then grief had all its way, and wild she flung

Her body on his body, and loud wept;-

Wept with the loosened nerves, late overstrung,

And with the passion that too long had slept.

A sympathetic horror stole among

The close-packed pallets: some from out them crept

Near her to kneel; and those who could not stir,

Died, weeping blood for Italy and her!

Now far and wide the sterile-rolling plain

Lay in the shadow of the passing night,

Whose ebon wings, outstretched o’er land and main,

Move on,-slow,-silent,-none may mark their flight:

O’er stiff cold limbs for ever dead to pain,

O’er writhing forms whose cries still scared the kite,

Calling for aid from those that, happier, slept,

On, on, unhalting, pitiless, it swept.

There is a tall but crumbling tower that stands

Amid the lone Campagna’s gloomiest waste,

Whose depths were dug by those Cyclopean hands

Which famed Cortona’s massive circuit traced.

Above, its walls, like wrecks on littered strands,

Heaped more than built, rise up. Each age has traced

Its record on the masonry. Wouldst compare

Republic, Empire, ruin?-Scan them there!

Its corner-stones are waifs from submerged fanes,

Its mortar, marble gods. Urn, statue, bust,

All that of porphyry temple yet remains,

Tumbled and trampled, shattered, ground to dust,

Chipped, splintered, fouled, besmeared with wintry stains,

Into its chinks and crannies have been thrust.

Religions, dynasties, to patch a rent

In its rude mail, their sepulchres have lent.

The feudal bandit, flying from the proof

Of bloody deed,-a later, fiercer Goth,-

Oft to its shelter came with glowing hoof,

There fortress found, and braved a Pontiff’s wrath.

Foxes and wolves have littered ‘neath its roof.

But now alone, to sup his darnel broth,

And warm his agued limbs within its walls,

Thither at times the stricken shepherd crawls.

To-night there shone a feeble light within,

And, in the one sole chamber time had spared,

Upon a pallet rough and mattress thin,

Was stretched a wounded man. His throat was bared,

But on his still-clad form was thrown a skin

Such as Rome’s minstrels wear,-rude, shaggy-haired,-

That served for coverlet; beneath his head,

A sheaf of straw for pillow had been spread.

Soundly he slept, though ever and anon,

As though he would awake, he groaned and gasped;

But still a stout sword-hilt, from which was gone

One-half its blade, his right hand tightly grasped.

A little way aloof, with face that shone

With fervent prayer, and palms intently clasped

Before a crucifix, herself had laid

Against the wall, a wimpled Sister prayed.

And, save these two, for many a league around,

No living mortal was: only the dead.

He, pierced and gashed, and plunged in sleep profound,

She, with her pure white veil around her head,

Between her God divided and each sound

That reached her from the slumbering sufferer’s bed:

Her vigil’s sole companion, one small lamp,

Such as you find in sepulchres old and damp.

Sudden he woke, and with a battle-cry,

Raising his body upright in the bed,

Brandished the bright dismembered blade on high,

Struck at the foe, and rallied friends that fled.

He saw as yet with but half-waking eye,

And, bridging the abyss between the dread

Dark hour he fell and life’s returning light,

Fancied himself erect in thick of fight.

But when the air resisted not, nor stroke

Of quick-retorting sword attested fray,

Slowly to complete consciousness he woke,

Stared wildly round, and wondered where he lay.

He saw the bare blank walls, the nun’s dark cloak,

The little oil-fed lamp’s ascetic ray;

Then on his broken blade and bloody vest

Looking,-half he recalled, and read the rest.

The pale-faced Sister, startled by his cries

‘Mid her mute prayer, rose promptly from her knees,

And, with celestial pity in her eyes,

Stole toward the pallet, soft as steals a breeze

Through open casement when the sunset dies.

“Brother,” she said, “I come to bring you ease,

To nurse your wound and speed your parting soul.

Forget the fight: for Heaven is now your goal.”

Her eyes were cast down meekly, and she seemed

As one who saw yet saw not. On her brow

And round her mouth a tranquil radiance beamed.

Yet surely, surely not again, not now,

Not now,-as but a moment gone,-he dreamed

An empty dream? That face, that voice, avow

Herself, her soul! “Olympia!” loud he cried;

But on his lips all other language died.

She started, and flung up her arms, like one

By bullet through the brain in battle shot,

Or fearful tidings suddenly undone.

“O Godfrid! Godfrid! Tell me it is not,

Not thou, not Godfrid! whom at rise of sun,

At noon, at night, I never have forgot

In my poor prayers! not thou, the once adored,

I see with shattered, sacrilegious sword!

“Yes, it is thou, sole vision of my heart,

Ere dearer Christ espoused me to His breast!

I must behold thee, even as thou art,-

His foe, His executioner confessed,

Stained with His blood. When we were forced to part

On that smooth shore by smoother sea caressed,

How could I dream that we should meet as now,

A worse than brand of Cain upon your brow!

“Did all avail you nothing? Not the morn

When first we met, and you with gentle speech

Dissevered from the Maytime-blossoming thorn

The snow-white branch, I, feeble, could not reach?

Oh! did you ne’er recall, in hours forlorn,

The sunny shrine I tended on the beach,

Nor that all-trustful tenderness which made

Your alien presence welcome as I prayed?

“Did you forget my little chapel quite?

And did Madonna’s statue, which your hand

Helped me to deck, as swiftly fade from sight

As morning’s footstep from the evening’s sand?

Did you bethink you never of that night

Of raging tempest on a blackened strand,

When you did seek my face, and I did weep

To hear your woe, then, blessing, bade you sleep?

“You have forgotten it all. Our journey dear,

Our simple mid-day meal, our evening halt,

The tumbling cataracts, the sheep-bells clear,

The tall black pine-wood scaling Heaven’s vault,-

Tell me how soon did these all disappear,

How soon was hateful memory sown with salt?

When, when did cold oblivion begin?

And when was all as though it ne’er had been?

“Well might my prayers, sin-weighted as they be,

Not reach the Throne of Grace. But thou, O thou!

Thou mightst at least have not been deaf to me,

And, for my sake, have reverenced the brow,

Mangled with thorns, of Him who died for thee!

Though you believe not, was it hard to bow

To the remembrance of the words I spoke,

The tears I shed, the hoping heart you broke?

“No! all was vain. Shore, mountain, sea, and stream,

Milan’s cathedral, Spiaggiascura’s shrine,

The silent grief that worse than speech did seem,

To me so sacred, since it half was thine,

Then when we parted,-these were but a dream!

Alas! I dream not. Waking woe is mine,

Waking reproach. Forgive, O loving Lord!

That I once kissed the hand that grasps that sword!”

Thus as she spoke, he neither word nor sign

Let fall, nor muscle moved, nor eyelid dropped,

But, with lips parted, gaze slow-dimmed with brine,

Intently gazed and listened, till she stopped.

Then, one hand still to hilt he held divine

Clinging, his head upon the other propped,

Grave, he began: “With reverence have not you

Been heard, Olympia? Reverent, hear me too.

“You are the bride of Heaven, and I, alas!

Earthy; but, even as you are heavenly, hear!

O, since that bitter parting came to pass,

Never an hour hath been, in year on year,

Whether the hills were hoar, or green the grass,

Or dimpling corn uplifted playful spear,

Or mellow bunches drooped from branch and wall,

I had not sped to you, had you deigned to call.

“Forgot that morn! forgot that dewy spot,

Where Heaven, it seemed, dawned full upon my gaze!

Forgot the little chapel! and forgot

Madonna’s statue, at whose flowery base

With you I knelt, my doubts remembered not!

Nay, if oblivion from my brain shall raze

Record of these, then back may Mercy roll

Her opening gates, and clang them on my soul!

“Bear with me still, Olympia, to the end!

Full well I know ’tis not your love, your wrongs,

With which you now reproach me, or that rend

The heart which henceforth but to God belongs.

Vainly I now should call you more than friend;

Vainly, though every dear old feeling throngs

Back to my breast at sight of you once more:

Vainly,-though even I knelt and could adore!

“Too late! Too late! Denied to me awhile,

For ever are you ravished from me now!

Gone from your lips the sweetly mortal smile,

And Heaven’s pure veil protects your sacred brow.

You are removed so far, you would beguile

My wildest vows, as did that virgin bough

Your straining hand, when in the mountain glade

I lent my help!… Alas! Me none will aid!

“Yet though you did abjure me, and have given

Heaven all the love I once with Heaven did share,

The links which knitted me to you, are riven

Tighter by time, and have survived despair.

I may from many sins need to be shriven;

But one weight still I shall not have to bear

Before the judgment-seat. My love was pure,

Even as your own, and will till death endure!

“When you had sought a haven in the sky,

I, from my haven driven, put forth to sea.

And lo! from every tower and turret high,

Rang out the glad peal, summoning to be free,

Free or for ever slave, the land that I

Loved not the less, because it fathered thee!

Land, crowned with snow and girdled by the foam,

Fair as her Florence, outraged as her Rome!

“Nay, bear with me, Olympia, bear alway,

If only for the sake of olden days.

Rome, still forgotten, still in fetters, lay.

I against you as soon my sword would raise

As ‘gainst the altar where you kneel and pray;

And though I lift no voice of prayer or praise,

In half-believing awe I bend me too,

Before the Faith that fosters such as you.

“Not, not against the altar did I fling

My feeble body, counting life as dross:

No, but from Peter’s hampered hand to wring

The carnal sword, and leave therein the Cross:

That Rome, unswathed, might from the sepulchre spring,

And Italy no more bewail the loss

Of her first-born, but grouped around her knee

Her dear ones hail,-not fair alone, but free!

“Ah! half in darkness on this earth we dwell,

Not in the light, but shadow, of the truth;

Confounding good with evil, heaven with hell,

Misjudging rage and hate for love and ruth.

But, though our souls thus vainly gnaw their shell,

And manhood seem but disillusioned youth,

I still must hope, the lingering dawn despite,

That slow we move, through liberty, to light.

“And if there be, for close of all this ache,

This panting struggle, a celestial goal,

Come with me there, Olympia! I will take

My blood-stained sword, and you your snow-white soul!

Perchance we there shall see that each doth make

Complete the other, and a godlike whole,

From human vision hid, will flash to life,

In that pure atmosphere where melteth strife.

“But if I needs must go, leaving you here,

Pass solitary, silent, to my doom,

I will await you in whatever sphere

I may awake, of sunshine or of gloom.

For I will never, never yield you, dear!

While soul surviveth! Meanwhile, tend my tomb;

But still remember, that my latest breath

Blent, with your name, the cry of `Rome or Death!”’

Faint came the final words, though tightly still

He grasped the bladeless hilt she would release,

To join his hands in prayer. “Oh! do His will,

And with the Heavenly Victor make your peace!

My heart shall keep a nook for you until

We meet in the Land where wrong and sorrow cease.

But oh! bequeath me, ere you leave me lone,

Some hope that we may meet before the Throne!

“Your words have meaning which you do not see.

All betwixt Rome must choose, God’s Voice hath said,

And endless Death!” “Then, Death,” he cried, “for me!”

And waved his broken brand above his head;

Then dropped the hilt, and fell back heavily.

Dragged down by woe, she knelt beside the bed,

And on the offending hand laid sobbing cheek:-

For love too strong, for martyrdom too weak!

Now with light jocund step came young-eyed Morn,

Dancing and singing o’er the eastern hill.

The timorous twilight, blushing, fled forlorn,

And in each thicket awoke pipe and trill.

The world,-the old, worn world,-seemed freshly born,

Eden renewed, where man might drink his fill

Of brimming joy and beauty, nor e’er know

His naked self, that long bequest of woe!

The sluggish mountains, donning crowns of gold,

Uprose to greet the morning. O’er the plain

Of blight and wreck a roseate wave was rolled.

Glowed in the sunlight aqueduct and fane,

No longer ruined. Happy Gods of old

Would soon, it seemed, their ancient seat regain,

And rule once more, from oracle and shrine,

A scene for mortal empire too divine!

Rome, Rome itself, bathed in auroral sheen,

Its domes, towers, columns, fanned by buoyant gales,

Scanned from afar, one well indeed might ween

A sea of sunlight flecked with joyous sails.

Here, playful fountains leaped, and laughed between;

There, bright-trunked stone-pines spread their sombre veils

‘Twixt earth and sky; the cracks in temples hoar

But dimples seemed, with which they smiled once more.

From narrow humid street, in open square,

Sun-flooded, gathered an unwonted throng;

And most where saint-crowned pillar clave the air,

Or spouting column soared like voice of song.

In every eye there lurked the angry glare,

In every nerve the self-suppression strong,

Of panther ere it leaps;-a fearful pause,

Ere bounds the body, and out-curve the claws!

When, all at once, from lip to lip there flew

The rumour that the great Deliverer’s tread

Nearer and nearer to the city drew,

Striding across the prostrate tyrant’s head.

Some, shimmering in the distant sunlight blue,

Had seen his bayonet-tips and banners red

Stream o’er the crest of the Nomentan Way;

And some, ’twas said, had heard his trumpets bray.

Then all the people started up and took

Hotly their way unto the Eastern gate.

The comfortable cripple left his nook,

And hobbled with the crowd. With eager gait,

Dark matrons flower and lemon stall forsook;

While timid maidens, fearing to be late,

Awaited not their mothers, but entwined

Their hands with baby boys, and ran like wind.

Yes! in the sunlight, pinnacles of steel

Flashed, and lithe pennons floated in the air;

And from the ranks they crested rang the peal

Of thunderous drum and many a clarion’s blare.

But, pitying Christ! what do those notes reveal,

And what these ensigns, waved anear, declare?

The Pontiff’s paean sounds ‘neath banners black,

His hellish legions tramping in their track!

On,-on,-they came, with rhythmic-moving tread,

His hirelings first, their Gallic prop behind;

And, last, with sullen step and unraised head,

A haggard, footsore file, whom Death unkind

Forgot to reap; who neither fell nor fled,

But, caught in toils no valour could unwind

And reft of arms, now with the craven thong

Linking their limbs, toiled painfully along.

Just ere the vanguard of the long array

The gateway reached, and bright warm bayonet-tips,

Dipping beneath its vault, from sheen of day

Passed, for a moment, into cold eclipse,

The crowd one last look gave, then slunk away:

The men with muttered curses on their lips,

Women with silent anguish in their eyes,

And hate, in hearts of both, that never dies!

Then, to the clang of cymbals and the sound

Of triumph-breathing instruments, swept on

The exultant host through solitude profound:

Past silent-nodding wrecks of Empire gone,

Sallust’s choked garden, Caesar’s toppled mound.

What though bright fountain flashed, bright sunlight shone,

Loud pealed their trumpets, proudly waved their plumes,

Rome’s dwellings seemed as empty as her tombs!

But as they, onward moving, roused the styes

Where modern squalor supersedes the reign

Of ancient ruin, swarms of black-robed spies,

Shavelings and sbirri, and their servile train,

Began through chink and crack with stealthy eyes

To peer and glance, as when from hole and drain

Foul-feeding vermin thrust suspicious snout,

Ere to their garbage-feast they sally out.

But when they saw the Cross-Keys waving high,

And heard Gaul’s pompous music fill the air,

Then out they came in shoals,-a various fry:

Some in brown serge, with feet and foreheads bare,

And hempen cord whence hung the rosary;

Some robed in white, long-bearded, comely, spare,

Whose lofty brows roofed Learning and the Law;

And some, black-frocked, with clenched ascetic jaw.

Sudden, as though from underground they sprung,

File after file, came troops of tonsured boys,

To whose slim bodies gaudy cassocks clung,

And who from native Freedom’s healthy joys

Had, babes, been weaned, and taught an alien tongue.

Their pretty voices swelled the monkish noise,

Their tender forms the sabre-sounding throng,

Their innocent hearts the festival of wrong!

They too, the coiners of the spurious smile,

That round the victor’s chariot skip and bark,

Obsequious hounds, the vilest of the vile,

Came thick; and those, who know not light from dark,

Meek, timorous hearts, whom fear and faith beguile,

And who in storm cling fast to Peter’s ark:

And, last, the sceptic souls, who from them thrust

Man’s genial dreams, and in the fasces trust.

So the armed host, by sycophant and slave,

Friar, and mendicant, and boyish band,

Followed and cheered, marched on with banners brave

To that famed spot on hoary Tiber’s strand,

Where Papal statues arrogantly wave

Over the stream forgotten Pagans spanned,

And Papal gaolers, copying the gloom

Of death, have carved a dungeon from a tomb.

Across the bridge they streamed, a hemmed-in crowd,

And up the narrow squalid Borgo passed,

Till lo! the pile, whose head with sun and cloud

Converses, and whose feet are planted fast

In earth’s foundation, rose before them proud,

Stupendous, soaring, dominant, and vast:

Type of that mighty Power which claims to quell

Man’s soul, and rule the realms of Heaven and Hell.

Then, as a stream that finds a wider bed,

Over the broad piazza loose they poured,

Between the curving colonnades, and sped

Up the long marble steps, defaced and scored,

Though polished smooth, by many a pilgrim’s tread;

Until no more the glittering cupola soared

Up in the sky, and into shade they passed,

Like that the sun-confronting mountains cast.

A moment more, beneath the atrium pealed

Fresh music, and an army new drew near:

The Church’s spiritual ranks, that wield

‘Gainst Satan’s host the crosier as a spear,

And on their bosom wear the cross for shield:

Music that ravished the submissive ear,

And gorgeous companies whose pompous train

Dazzled the eye and dizzy left the brain.

Troops of fantastic friars, endless files

Of eremites and missionaries brought

From sun-scorched lands and ice-engirdled isles;

Gold-mitred Abbots deep in prayer and thought,

And throne-defying Prelates wreathed in smiles,

Apparelled in rich copes with gems inwrought;

Last, crimson-cassocked Cardinals, who curled

Proudly their lips, as though they swayed the world.

Sudden shrilled silver trumpets, and out-flashed,

Quickly as sunlight flashes, mailëd men,

Across whose doublets,-black with yellow slashed,-

Glowed plates of burnished steel, that dazed the ken.

Next, brazen instruments and cymbals clashed,

Rending the lofty portico, and then,

So dread a sight approached, that they who saw

Dropped on their knees, and veiled their eyes for awe.

For in mid-air, by men upborne, there came,

Enthroned, a venerable man, arrayed

In more than regal glory. Eyes of flame,

Ravished from Juno’s bird, his pathway made,

And, cushioned, shone his Triple Crown of fame.

Closed were his lids, but on his features played

A more than mortal radiance; and benign,

O’er the crouched crowd he made the Holy Sign.

When swept the long procession’s final train

Into the august Temple’s pillared nave,

Where statued pomp half baffles death’s disdain,

And wrings its vauntful triumphs from the grave,

Army and concourse poured into the fane,

Distinguished now no more, but, like a wave,

Over the marble pavement rippling spread,

Till every slab was hid by human tread.

Then, with one voice, unto the Lord of Hosts,

Prince, priest, and people, Te Deum loudly sang:

Who hurls the waves against earth’s granite coasts,

Swells with His voice the wingless tempest’s clang,

And brings to nought the Mighty’s impious boasts.

High up the spacious dome their anthem rang,

And in the air without, with rhythmic stroke,

The accompanying cannon’s bounding pulses spoke.

But with these proud Hosannas, and the boom

Of insolent artillery that cleaved

Rome’s arching sky, ascended too the gloom

Of orphaned hearths, beds widowed, lives bereaved;

Where He eternally abideth, Whom

Eye hath not seen, ear heard, nor heart conceived.

With sleepless eyes that scanned the nations wide,

Brooding He sate, His justice by His side!


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