I AM just seventeen years and five months old,
And, if I lived one day more, three full weeks;
’Tis writ so in the church’s register,
Lorenzo in Lucina, all my names
At length, so many names for one poor child,
—Francesca Camilla Vittoria Angela
Also ’tis writ that I was married there
Four years ago; and they will add, I hope,
When they insert my death, a word or two,—
Omitting all about the mode of death,—
This, in its place, this which one cares to know,
That I had been a mother of a son
Exactly two weeks. It will be through grace
O’ the Curate, not through any claim I have;
Because the boy was born at, so baptised
Close to, the Villa, in the proper church:
A pretty church, I say no word against,
Yet stranger-like,—while this Lorenzo seems
My own particular place, I always say.
I used to wonder, when I stood scarce high
As the bed here, what the marble lion meant,
With half his body rushing from the wall,
Eating the figure of a prostrate man—
(To the right, it is, of entry by the door)
An ominous sign to one baptised like me,
Married, and to be buried there, I hope.
And they should add, to have my life complete,
He is a boy and Gaetan by name—
Gaetano, for a reason,—if the friar
Don Celestine will ask this grace for me
Of Curate Ottoboni: he it was
Baptised me: he remembers my whole life
As I do his grey hair.
All these few things
I know are true,—will you remember them?
Because time flies. The surgeon cared for me,
To count my wounds,—twenty-two dagger-wounds,
Five deadly, but I do not suffer much—
Or too much pain,—and am to die to-night.
Oh how good God is that my babe was born,
—Better than born, baptised and hid away
Before this happened, safe from being hurt!
That had been sin God could not well forgive:
He was too young to smile and save himself.
When they took, two days after he was born,
My babe away from me to be baptised
And hidden awhile, for fear his foe should find,—
The country-woman, used to nursing babes,
Said “Why take on so? where is the great loss?
“These next three weeks he will but sleep and feed,
“Only begin to smile at the month’s end;
“He would not know you, if you kept him here,
“Sooner than that; so, spend three merry weeks
“Snug in the Villa, getting strong and stout,
“And then I bring him back to be your own,
“And both of you may steal to—we know where!”
The month—there wants of it two weeks this day!
Still, I half fancied when I heard the knock
At the Villa in the dusk, it might prove she—
Come to say “Since he smiles before the time,
“Why should I cheat you out of one good hour?
“Back I have brought him; speak to him and judge!”
Now I shall never see him; what is worse,
When he grows up and gets to be my age,
He will seem hardly more than a great boy;
And if he asks “What was my mother like?”
People may answer “Like girls of seventeen”—
And how can he but think of this and that,
Lucias, Marias, Sofias, who titter or blush
When he regards them as such boys may do?
Therefore I wish some one will please to say
I looked already old though I was young;
Do I not . . . say, if you are by to speak . . .
Look nearer twenty? No more like, at least,
Girls who look arch or redden when boys laugh,
Than the poor Virgin that I used to know
At our street-corner in a lonely niche,—
The babe, that sat upon her knees, broke off,—
Thin white glazed clay, you pitied her the more:
She, not the gay ones, always got my rose.
How happy those are who know how to write!
Such could write what their son should read in time,
Had they a whole day to live out like me.
Also my name is not a common name,
“Pompilia,” and may help to keep apart
A little the thing I am from what girls are.
But then how far away, how hard to find
Will anything about me have become,
Even if the boy bethink himself and ask!
No father that he ever knew at all,
Nor ever had—no, never had, I say!
That is the truth,—nor any mother left,
Out of the little two weeks that she lived,
Fit for such memory as might assist:
As good too as no family, no name,
Not even poor old Pietro’s name, nor hers,
Poor kind unwise Violante, since it seems
They must not be my parents any more.
That is why something put it in my head
To call the boy “Gaetano”—no old name
For sorrow’s sake; I looked up to the sky
And took a new saint to begin anew.
One who has only been made saint—how long?
Twenty-five years: so, carefuller, perhaps,
To guard a namesake than those old saints grow,
Tired out by this time,—see my own five saints!
On second thoughts, I hope he will regard
The history of me as what someone dreamed,
And get to disbelieve it at the last:
Since to myself it dwindles fast to that,
Sheer dreaming and impossibility,—
Just in four days too! All the seventeen years,
Not once did a suspicion visit me
How very different a lot is mine
From any other woman’s in the world.
The reason must be, ’twas by step and step
It got to grow so terrible and strange:
These strange woes stole on tiptoe, as it were,
Into my neighbourhood and privacy,
Sat down where I sat, laid them where I lay;
And I was found familiarised with fear,
When friends broke in, held up a torch and cried
“Why, you Pompilia in the cavern thus,
“How comes that arm of yours about a wolf?
“And the soft length,—lies in and out your feet
“And laps you round the knee,—a snake it is!”
And so on.
Well, and they are right enough,
By the torch they hold up now: for first, observe,
I never had a father,—no, nor yet
A mother: my own boy can say at least
“I had a mother whom I kept two weeks!”
Not I, who little used to doubt . . . I
Good Pietro, kind Violante, gave me birth?
They loved me always as I love my babe
(—Nearly so, that is—quite so could not be—)
Did for me all I meant to do for him,
Till one surprising day, three years ago,
They both declared, at Rome, before some judge
In some court where the people flocked to hear,
That really I had never been their child,
Was a mere castaway, the careless crime
Of an unknown man, the crime and care too much
Of a woman known too well,—little to these,
Therefore, of whom I was the flesh and blood:
What then to Pietro and Violante, both
No more my relatives than you or you?
Nothing to them! You know what they declared.
So with my husband,—just such a surprise,
Such a mistake, in that relationship!
Everyone says that husbands love their wives,
Guard them and guide them, give them happiness;
’Tis duty, law, pleasure, religion: well,
You see how much of this comes true in mine!
People indeed would fain have somehow proved
He was no husband: but he did not hear,
Or would not wait and so has killed us all.
Then there is . . . only let me name one more!
There is the friend,—men will not ask about,
But tell untruths of, and give nicknames to,
And think my lover, most surprise of all!
Do only hear, it is the priest they mean,
Giuseppe Caponsacchi: a priest—love,
And love me! Well, yet people think he did.
I am married, he has taken priestly vows,
They know that, and yet go on, say, the same,
“Yes, how he loves you!” “That was love”—they say,
When anything is answered that they ask:
Or else “No wonder you love him”—they say.
Then they shake heads, pity much, scarcely blame—
As if we neither of us lacked excuse,
And anyhow are punished to the full,
And downright love atones for everything!
Nay, I heard read-out in the public court
Before the judge, in presence of my friends,
Letters ’twas said the priest had sent to me,
And other letters sent him by myself,
We being lovers!
Listen what this is like!
When I was a mere child, my mother . . . that’s
Violante, you must let me call her so
Nor waste time, trying to unlearn the word, . . .
She brought a neighbour’s child of my own age
To play with me of rainy afternoons;
And, since there hung a tapestry on the wall,
We two agreed to find each other out
Among the figures. “Tisbe, that is you,
“With half-moon on your hair-knot, spear in hand,
“Flying, but no wings, only the great scarf
“Blown to a bluish rainbow at your back:
“Call off your hound and leave the stag alone!”
“—And there are you, Pompilia, such green leaves
“Flourishing out of your five finger-ends,
“And all the rest of you are turned a sort of tree?”
“Why is it you are turned a sort of tree?”
You know the figures never were ourselves
Though we nicknamed them so. Thus, all my life,—
As well what was, as what, like this, was not,—
Looks old, fantastic and impossible:
I touch a fairy thing that fades and fades.
—Even to my babe! I thought, when he was born,
Something began for once that would not end,
Nor change into a laugh at me, but stay
For evermore, eternally quite mine.
Well, so he is,—but yet they bore him off,
The third day, lest my husband should lay traps
And catch him, and by means of him catch me.
Since they have saved him so, it was well done:
Yet thence comes such confusion of what was
With what will be,—that late seems long ago,
And, what years should bring round, already come,
Till even he withdraws into a dream
As the rest do: I fancy him grown great,
Strong, stern, a tall young man who tutors me,
Frowns with the others “Poor imprudent child!
“Why did you venture out of the safe street?
“Why go so far from help to that lone house?
“Why open at the whisper and the knock?”
Six days ago when it was New Year’s-day,
We bent above the fire and talked of him,
What he should do when he was grown and great.
Violante, Pietro, each had given the arm
I leant on, to walk by, from couch to chair
And fireside,—laughed, as I lay safe at last,
“Pompilia’s march from bed to board is made,
“Pompilia back again and with a babe,
“Shall one day lend his arm and help her walk!”
Then we all wished each other more New Years.
Pietro began to scheme—“Our cause is gained;
“The law is stronger than a wicked man:
“Let him henceforth go his way, leave us ours!
“We will avoid the city, tempt no more
“The greedy ones by feasting and parade,—
“Live at the other villa, we know where,
“Still farther off, and we can watch the babe
“Grow fast in the good air; and wood is cheap
“And wine sincere outside the city gate.
“I still have two or three old friends will grope
“Their way along the mere half-mile of road,
“With staff and lantern on a moonless night
“When one needs talk: they’ll find me, never fear,
“And I’ll find them a flask of the old sort yet!”
Violante said “You chatter like a crow:
“Pompilia tires o’ the tattle, and shall to-bed:
“Do not too much the first day,—somewhat more
“To-morrow, and, the next, begin the cape
“And hood and coat! I have spun wool enough.”
Oh what a happy friendly eve was that!
And, next day, about noon, out Pietro went—
He was so happy and would talk so much,
Until Violante pushed and laughed him forth
Sight-seeing in the cold,—“So much to see
“I’ the churches! Swathe your throat three times!” she cried,
“And, above all, beware the slippery ways,
“And bring us all the news by supper-time!”
He came back late, laid by cloak, staff and hat,
Powdered so thick with snow it made us laugh,
Rolled a great log upon the ash o’ the hearth,
And bade Violante treat us to a flask,
Because he had obeyed her faithfully,
Gone sight-see through the seven, and found no church
To his mind like San Giovanni—“There’s the fold,
“And all the sheep together, big as cats!
“And such a shepherd, half the size of life,
“Starts up and hears the angel”—when, at the door,
A tap: we started up: you know the rest.
Pietro at least had done no harm, I know;
Nor even Violante, so much harm as makes
Such revenge lawful. Certainly she erred—
Did wrong, how shall I dare say otherwise?—
In telling that first falsehood, buying me
From my poor faulty mother at a price,
To pass off upon Pietro as his child:
If one should take my babe, give him a name,
Say he was not Gaetano and my own,
But that some other woman made his mouth
And hands and feet,—how very false were that!
No good could come of that; and all harm did.
Yet if a stranger were to represent
“Needs must you either give your babe to me
“And let me call him mine for ever more,
“Or let your husband get him”—ah, my God,
That were a trial I refuse to face!
Well, just so here: it proved wrong but seemed right
To poor Violante—for there lay, she said,
My poor real dying mother in her rags,
Who put me from her with the life and all,
Poverty, pain, shame and disease at once,
To die the easier by what price I fetched—
Also (I hope) because I should be spared
Sorrow and sin,—why may not that have helped?
My father,—he was no one, any one,—
The worse, the likelier,—call him,—he who came,
Was wicked for his pleasure, went his way,
And left no trace to track by; there remained
Nothing but me, the unnecessary life,
To catch up or let fall,—and yet a thing
She could make happy, be made happy with,
This poor Violante,—who would frown thereat?
Well, God, you see! God plants us where we grow.
It is not that, because a bud is born
At a wild briar’s end, full i’ the wild beast’s way,
We ought to pluck and put it out of reach
On the oak-tree top,—say, “There the bud belongs!”
She thought, moreover, real lies were—lies told
For harm’s sake; whereas this had good at heart,
Good for my mother, good for me, and good
For Pietro who was meant to love a babe,
And needed one to make his life of use,
Receive his house and land when he should die.
Wrong, wrong and always wrong! how plainly wrong!
For see; this fault kept pricking, as faults do,
All the same at her heart,—this falsehood hatched,
She could not let it go nor keep it fast.
She told me so,—the first time I was found
Locked in her arms once more after the pain,
When the nuns let me leave them and go home,
And both of us cried all the cares away,—
This it was set her on to make amends,
This brought about the marriage—simply this!
Do let me speak for her you blame so much!
When Paul, my husband’s brother, found me out,
Heard there was wealth for who should marry me,
So, came and made a speech to ask my hand
For Guido,—she, instead of piercing straight
Through the pretence to the ignoble truth,
Fancied she saw God’s very finger point,
Designate just the time for planting me,
(The wild briar-slip she plucked to love and wear)
In soil where I could strike real root, and grow,
And get to be the thing I called myself:
For, wife and husband are one flesh, God says,
And I, whose parents seemed such and were none,
Should in a husband have a husband now,
Find nothing, this time, but was what it seemed,
—All truth and no confusion any more.
I know she meant all good to me, all pain
To herself,—since how could it be aught but pain,
To give me up, so, from her very breast,
The wilding flower-tree-branch that, all those years,
She had got used to feel for and find fixed?
She meant well: has it been so ill i’ the main?
That is but fair to ask: one cannot judge
Of what has been the ill or well of life,
The day that one is dying—sorrows change
Into not altogether sorrow-like;
I do see strangeness but scarce misery,
Now it is over, and no danger more.
My child is safe; there seems not so much pain.
It comes, most like, that I am just absolved,
Purged of the past, the foul in me, washed fair,—
One cannot both have and not have, you know,—
Being right now, I am happy and colour things.
Yes, every body that leaves life sees all
Softened and bettered: so with other sights:
To me at least was never evening yet
But seemed far beautifuller than its day,
For past is past.
There was a fancy came,
When somewhere, in the journey with my friend,
We stepped into a hovel to get food;
And there began a yelp here, a bark there,—
Misunderstanding creatures that were worth
And vexed themselves and us till we retired.
The hovel is life: no matter what dogs bit
Or cats scratched in the hovel I break from,
All outside is lone field, moon and such peace—
Flowing in, filling up as with a sea
Whereon comes Someone, walks fast on the white,
Jesus Christ’s self, Don Celestine declares,
To meet me and calm all things back again.
Beside, up to my marriage, thirteen years
Were, each day, happy as the day was long:
This may have made the change too terrible.
I know that when Violante told me first
The cavalier,—she meant to bring next morn,
Whom I must also let take, kiss my hand,—
Would be at San Lorenzo the same eve
And marry me,—which over, we should go
Home both of us without him as before,
And, till she bade speak, I must hold my tongue,
Such being the correct way with girl-brides,
From whom one word would make a father blush,—
I know, I say, that when she told me this,
—Well, I no more saw sense in what she said
Than a lamb does in people clipping wool;
Only lay down and let myself be clipped.
And when next day the cavalier who came
(Tisbe had told me that the slim young man
With wings at head, and wings at feet, and sword
Threatening a monster, in our tapestry,
Would eat a girl else,—was a cavalier)
When he proved Guido Franceschini,—old
And nothing like so tall as I myself,
Hook-nosed and yellow in a bush of beard,
Much like a thing I saw on a boy’s wrist,
He called an owl and used for catching birds,—
And when he took my hand and made a smile—
Why, the uncomfortableness of it all
Seemed hardly more important in the case
Than,—when one gives you, say, a coin to spend,—
Its newness or its oldness; if the piece
Weigh properly and buy you what you wish,
No matter whether you get grime or glare!
Men take the coin, return you grapes and figs.
Here, marriage was the coin, a dirty piece
Would purchase me the praise of those I loved:
About what else should I concern myself?
So, hardly knowing what a husband meant,
I supposed this or any man would serve,
No whit the worse for being so uncouth:
For I was ill once and a doctor came
With a great ugly hat, no plume thereto,
Black jerkin and black buckles and black sword,
And white sharp beard over the ruff in front,
And oh so lean, so sour-faced and austere!—
Who felt my pulse, made me put out my tongue,
Then oped a phial, dripped a drop or two
Of a black bitter something,—I was cured!
What mattered the fierce beard or the grim face?
It was the physic beautified the man,
Master Malpichi,—never met his match
In Rome, they said,—so ugly all the same!
However, I was hurried through a storm,
Next dark eve of December’s deadest day—
How it rained!—through our street and the Lion’s-mouth
And the bit of Corso,—cloaked round, covered close,
I was like something strange or contraband,—
Into blank San Lorenzo, up the aisle,
My mother keeping hold of me so tight,
I fancied we were come to see a corpse
Before the altar which she pulled me toward.
There we found waiting an unpleasant priest
Who proved the brother, not our parish friend,
But one with mischief-making mouth and eye,
Paul, whom I know since to my cost. And then
I heard the heavy church-door lock out help
Behind us: for the customary warmth,
Two tapers shivered on the altar. “Quick—
“Lose no time!”—cried the priest. And straightway down
From . . . what’s behind the altar where he hid—
Hawk-nose and yellowness and bush and all,
Stepped Guido, caught my hand, and there was I
O’ the chancel, and the priest had opened book,
Read here and there, made me say that and this,
And after, told me I was now a wife,
Honoured indeed, since Christ thus weds the Church,
And therefore turned he water into wine,
To show I should obey my spouse like Christ.
Then the two slipped aside and talked apart.
And I, silent and scared, got down again
And joined my mother who was weeping now.
Nobody seemed to mind us any more,
And both of us on tiptoe found our way
To the door which was unlocked by this, and wide.
When we were in the street, the rain had stopped,
All things looked better. At our own house-door,
Violante whispered “No one syllable
“To Pietro! Girl-brides never breathe a word!”
“—Well treated to a wetting, draggle-tails!”
Laughed Pietro as he opened—“Very near
“You made me brave the gutter’s roaring sea
“To carry off from roost old dove and young,
“Trussed up in church, the cote, by me, the kite!
“What do these priests mean, praying folk to death
“On stormy afternoons, with Christmas close
“To wash our sins off nor require the rain?”
Violante gave my hand a timely squeeze,
Madonna saved me from immodest speech,
I kissed him and was quiet, being a bride.
When I saw nothing more, the next three weeks,
Of Guido—“Nor the Church sees Christ” thought I:
“Nothing is changed however, wine is wine
“And water only water in our house.
“Nor did I see that ugly doctor since
“The cure of the illness: just as I was cured,
“I am married,—neither scarecrow will return.”
Three weeks, I chuckled—“How would Giulia stare,
“And Tecla smile and Tisbe laugh outright,
“Were it not impudent for brides to talk!”—
Until one morning, as I sat and sang
At the broidery-frame alone i’ the chamber,—loud
Voices, two, three together, sobbings too,
And my name, “Guido,” “Paolo,” flung like stones
From each to the other! In I ran to see.
There stood the very Guido and the priest
With sly face,—formal but nowise afraid,—
While Pietro seemed all red and angry, scarce
Able to stutter out his wrath in words;
And this it was that made my mother sob,
As he reproached her—“You have murdered us,
“Me and yourself and this our child beside!”
The Guido interposed “Murdered or not,
“Be it enough your child is now my wife!
“I claim and come to take her.” Paul put in,
“Consider—kinsman, dare I term you so?—
“What is the good of your sagacity
“Except to counsel in a strait like this?
“I guarantee the parties man and wife
“Whether you like or loathe it, bless or ban.
“May spilt milk be put back within the bowl—
“The done thing, undone? You, it is, we look
“For counsel to, you fitliest will advise!
“Since milk, though spilt and spoilt, does marble good,
“Better we down on knees and scrub the floor,
“Than sigh, ‘the waste would make a syllabub!’
“Help us so turn disaster to account,
“So predispose the groom, he needs shall grace
“The bride with favour from the very first,
“Not begin marriage an embittered man!”
He smiled,—the game so wholly in his hands!
While fast and faster sobbed Violante—“Ay,
“All of us murdered, past averting now!
“O my sin, O my secret!” and such like.
Then I began to half surmise the truth;
Something had happened, low, mean, underhand,
False, and my mother was to blame, and I
To pity, whom all spoke of, none addressed:
I was the chattel that had caused a crime.
I stood mute,—those who tangled must untie
The embroilment. Pietro cried “Withdraw, my child!
“She is not helpful to the sacrifice
“At this stage,—do you want the victim by
“While you discuss the value of her blood?
“For her sake, I consent to hear you talk:
“Go, child, and pray God help the innocent!”
I did go and was praying God, when came
Violante, with eyes swollen and red enough,
But movement on her mouth for make-believe
Matters were somehow getting right again.
She bade me sit down by her side and hear.
“You are too young and cannot understand,
“Nor did your father understand at first.
“I wished to benefit all three of us,
“And when he failed to take my meaning,—why,
“I tried to have my way at unaware—
“Obtained him the advantage he refused.
“As if I put before him wholesome food
“Instead of broken victual,—he finds change
“I’ the viands, never cares to reason why,
“But falls to blaming me, would fling the plate
“From window, scandalise the neighbourhood,
“Even while he smacks his lips,—men’s way, my child!
“But either you have prayed him unperverse
“Or I have talked him back into his wits:
“And Paolo was a help in time of need,—
“Guido, not much—my child, the way of men!
“A priest is more a woman than a man,
“And Paul did wonders to persuade. In short,
“Yes, he was wrong, your father sees and says;
“My scheme was worth attempting: and bears fruit,
“Gives you a husband and a noble name,
“A palace and no end of pleasant things.
“What do you care about a handsome youth?
“They are so volatile, and teaze their wives!
“This is the kind of man to keep the house.
“We lose no daughter,—gain a son, that’s all:
“For ’tis arranged we never separate,
“Nor miss, in our grey time of life, the tints
“Of you that colour eve to match with morn.
“In good or ill, we share and share alike,
“And cast our lots into a common lap,
“And all three die together as we lived!
“Only, at Arezzo,—that’s a Tuscan town,
“Not so large as this noisy Rome, no doubt,
“But older far and finer much, say folks,—
“In a great palace where you will be queen,
“Know the Archbishop and the Governor,
“And we see homage done you ere we die.
“Therefore, be good and pardon!”—“Pardon what?
“You know things, I am very ignorant:
“All is right if you only will not cry!”
And so an end! Because a blank begins
From when, at the word, she kissed me hard and hot,
And took me back to where my father leaned
Opposite Guido—who stood eyeing him,
As eyes the butcher the cast panting ox
That feels his fate is come, nor struggles more,—
While Paul looked archly on, pricked brow at whiles
With the pen-point as to punish triumph there,—
And said “Count Guido, take your lawful wife
“Until death part you!”
All since is one blank,
Over and ended; a terrific dream.
It is the good of dreams—so soon they go!
Wake in a horror of heart-beats, you may—
Cry, “The dread thing will never from my thoughts!”
Still, a few daylight doses of plain life,
Cock-crow and sparrow-chirp, or bleat and bell
Of goats that trot by, tinkling, to be milked;
And when you rub your eyes awake and wide,
Where is the harm o’ the horror? Gone! So here.
I know I wake,—but from what? Blank, I say!
This is the note of evil: for good lasts.
Even when Don Celestine bade “Search and find!
“For your soul’s sake, remember what is past,
“The better to forgive it,”—all in vain!
What was fast getting indistinct before,
Vanished outright. By special grace perhaps,
Between that first calm and this last, four years
Vanish,—one quarter of my life, you know.
I am held up, amid the nothingness,
By one or two truths only—thence I hang,
And there I live,—the rest is death or dream,
All but those points of my support. I think
Of what I saw at Rome once in the Square
O’ the Spaniards, opposite the Spanish House:
There was a foreigner had trained a goat,
A shuddering white woman of a beast,
To climb up, stand straight on a pile of sticks
Put close, which gave the creature room enough:
When she was settled there he, one by one,
Took away all the sticks, left just the four
Whereon the little hoofs did really rest,
There she kept firm, all underneath was air.
So, what I hold by, are my prayer to God,
My hope, that came in answer to the prayer,
Some hand would interpose and save me—hand
Which proved to be my friend’s hand: and,—best bliss,—
That fancy which began so faint at first,
That thrill of dawn’s suffusion through my dark,
Which I perceive was promise of my child,
The light his unborn face sent long before,—
God’s way of breaking the good news to flesh.
That is all left now of those four bad years.
Don Celestine urged “But remember more!
“Other men’s faults may help me find your own.
“I need the cruelty exposed, explained,
“Or how can I advise you to forgive?”
He thought I could not properly forgive
Unless I ceased forgetting,—which is true:
For, bringing back reluctantly to mind
My husband’s treatment of me,—by a light
That’s later than my life-time, I review
And comprehend much and imagine more,
And have but little to forgive at last.
For now,—be fair and say,—is it not true
He was ill-used and cheated of his hope
To get enriched by marriage? Marriage gave
Me and no money, broke the compact so:
He had a right to ask me on those terms,
As Pietro and Violante to declare
They would not give me: so the bargain stood:
They broke it, and he felt himself aggrieved,
Became unkind with me to punish them.
They said ’twas he began deception first,
Nor, in one point whereto he pledged himself,
Kept promise: what of that, suppose it were?
Echoes die off, scarcely reverberate
For ever,—why should ill keep echoing ill,
And never let our ears have done with noise?
Then my poor parents took the violent way
To thwart him,—he must needs retaliate,—wrong,
Wrong, and all wrong,—better say, all blind!
As I myself was, that is sure, who else
Had understood the mystery: for his wife
Was bound in some sort to help somehow there.
It seems as if I might have interposed,
Blunted the edge of their resentment so,
Since he vexed me because they first vexed him;
“I will entreat them to desist, submit,
“Give him the money and be poor in peace,—
“Certainly not go tell the world: perhaps
“He will grow quiet with his gains.”
Something to this effect and you do well!
But then you have to see first: I was blind.
That is the fruit of all such wormy ways,
The indirect, the unapproved of God:
You cannot find their author’s end and aim,
Not even to substitute your good for bad,
Your open for the irregular; you stand
Stupefied, profitless, as cow or sheep
That miss a man’s mind; anger him just twice
By trial at repairing the first fault.
Thus, when he blamed me, “You are a coquette,
“A lure-owl posturing to attract birds,
“You look love-lures at theatre and church,
“In walk, at window!”—that, I knew, was false:
But why he charged me falsely, whither sought
To drive me by such charge,—how could I know?
So, unaware, I only made things worse.
I tried to soothe him by abjuring walk,
Window, church, theatre, for good and all,
As if he had been in earnest: that, you know,
Was nothing like the object of his charge.
Yes, when I got my maid to supplicate
The priest, whose name she read when she would read
Those feigned false letters I was forced to hear
Though I could read no word of,—he should cease
Writing,—nay, if he minded prayer of mine,
Cease from so much as even pass the street
Whereon our house looked,—in my ignorance
I was just thwarting Guido’s true intent;
Which was, to bring about a wicked change
Of sport to earnest, tempt a thoughtless man
To write indeed, and pass the house, and more,
Till both of us were taken in a crime.
He ought not to have wished me thus act lies,
Simulate folly,—but,—wrong or right, the wish,—
I failed to apprehend its drift. How plain
It follows,—if I fell into such fault,
He also may have overreached the mark,
Made mistake, by perversity of brain,
In the whole sad strange plot, this same intrigue
To make me and my friend unself ourselves,
Be other man and woman than we were!
Think it out, you who have the time! for me,—
I cannot say less; more I will not say.
Leave it to God to cover and undo!
Only, my dulness should not prove too much!
—Not prove that in a certain other point
Wherein my husband blamed me,—and you blame,
If I interpret smiles and shakes of head,—
I was dull too. Oh, if I dared but speak!
Must I speak? I am blamed that I forwent
A way to make my husband’s favour come.
That is true: I was firm, withstood, refused . . .
—Women as you are, how can I find the words?
I felt there was just one thing Guido claimed
I had no right to give nor he to take;
We being in estrangement, soul from soul:
Till, when I sought help, the Archbishop smiled,
Inquiring into privacies of life,
—Said I was blameable—(he stands for God)
Nowise entitled to exemption there.
Then I obeyed,—as surely had obeyed
Were the injunction “Since your husband bids,
“Swallow the burning coal he proffers you!”
But I did wrong, and he gave wrong advice
Though he were thrice Archbishop,—that, I know!—
Now I have got to die and see things clear.
Remember I was barely twelve years old—
A child at marriage: I was let alone
For weeks, I told you, lived my child-life still
Even at Arezzo, when I woke and found
First . . . but I need not think of that again—
Over and ended! Try and take the sense
Of what I signify, if it must be so.
After the first, my husband, for hate’s sake,
Said one eve, when the simpler cruelty
Seemed somewhat dull at edge and fit to bear,
“We have been man and wife six months almost:
“How long is this your comedy to last?
“Go this night to my chamber, not your own!”
At which word, I did rush—most true the charge—
And gain the Archbishop’s house—he stands for God—
And fall upon my knees and clasp his feet,
Praying him hinder what my estranged soul
Refused to bear, though patient of the rest:
“Place me within a convent,” I implored—
“Let me henceforward lead the virgin life
“You praise in Her you bid me imitate!”
What did he answer? “Folly of ignorance!
“Know, daughter, circumstances make or mar
“Virginity,—’tis virtue or ’tis vice.
“That which was glory in the Mother of God
“Had been, for instance, damnable in Eve
“Created to be mother of mankind.
“Had Eve, in answer to her Maker’s speech
“‘Be fruitful, multiply, replenish earth’—
“Pouted ‘But I choose rather to remain
“‘Single ’—why, she had spared herself forthwith
“Further probation by the apple and snake,
“Been pushed straight out of Paradise! For see—
“If motherhood be qualified impure,
“I catch you making God command Eve sin!
“—A blasphemy so like these Molinists’,
“I must suspect you dip into their books.”
Then he pursued “’Twas in your covenant!”
No! There my husband never used deceit.
He never did by speech nor act imply
“Because of our souls’ yearning that we meet
“And mix in soul through flesh, which yours and mine
“Wear and impress, and make their visible selves,
“—All which means, for the love of you and me,
“Let us become one flesh, being one soul!”
He only stipulated for the wealth;
Honest so far. But when he spoke as plain—
Dreadfully honest also—“Since our souls
“Stand each from each, a whole world’s width between,
“Give me the fleshy vesture I can reach
“And rend and leave just fit for hell to burn!”—
Why, in God’s name, for Guido’s soul’s own sake
Imperilled by polluting mine,—I say,
I did resist; would I had overcome!
My heart died out at the Archbishop’s smile;
—It seemed so stale and worn a way o’ the world,
As though ’twere nature frowning—“Here is Spring,
“The sun shines as he shone at Adam’s fall,
“The earth requires that warmth reach everywhere:
“What, must your patch of snow be saved forsooth
“Because you rather fancy snow than flowers?”
Something in this style he began with me.
Last he said, savagely for a good man,
“This explains why you call your husband harsh,
“Harsh to you, harsh to whom you love. God’s Bread!
“The poor Count has to manage a mere child
“Whose parents leave untaught the simplest things
“Their duty was and privilege to teach,—
“Goodwives’ instruction, gossips’ lore: they laugh
“And leave the Count the task,—or leave it me!”
Then I resolved to tell a frightful thing.
“I am not ignorant,—know what I say,
“Declaring this is sought for hate, not love.
“Sir, you may hear things like almighty God.
“I tell you that my housemate, yes—the priest
“My husband’s brother, Canon Girolamo—
“Has taught me what depraved and misnamed love
“Means, and what outward signs denote the sin,
“For he solicits me and says he loves,
“The idle young priest with nought else to do.
“My husband sees this, knows this, and lets be.
“Is it your counsel I bear this beside?”
“—More scandal, and against a priest this time!
“What, ’tis the Canon now?”—less snappishly—
“Rise up, my child, for such a child you are,
“The rod were too advanced a punishment!
“Let’s try the honeyed cake. A parable!
“‘Without a parable spake He not to them.’ ”
“There was a ripe round long black toothsome fruit,
“Even a flower-fig, the prime boast of May:
“And, to the tree, said . . . either the spirit o’ the fig,
“Or, if we bring in men, the gardener,
“Archbishop of the orchard—had I time
“To try o’ the two which fits in best: indeed
“It might be the Creator’s self, but then
“The tree should bear an apple, I suppose,—
“Well, anyhow, one with authority said
“‘Ripe fig, burst skin, regale the fig-pecker—
“‘The bird whereof thou art a perquisite!’
“‘Nay,’ with a flounce, replied the restif fig,
“‘I much prefer to keep my pulp myself:
“‘He may go breakfastless and dinnerless,
“‘Supperless of one crimson seed, for me!’
“So, back she flopped into her bunch of leaves.
“He flew off, left her,—did the natural lord,—
“And lo, three hundred thousand bees and wasps
“Found her out, feasted on her to the shuck:
“Such gain the fig’s that gave its bird no bite!
“The moral,—fools elude their proper lot,
“Tempt other fools, get ruined all alike.
“Therefore go home, embrace your husband quick!
“Which if his Canon brother chance to see,
“He will the sooner back to book again.”
So, home I did go; so, the worst befell:
So, I had proof the Archbishop was just man,
And hardly that, and certainly no more.
For, miserable consequence to me,
My husband’s hatred waxed nor waned at all,
His brother’s boldness grew effrontery soon,
And my last stay and comfort in myself
Was forced from me: henceforth I looked to God
Only, nor cared my desecrated soul
Should have fair walls, gay windows for the world.
God’s glimmer, that came through the ruin-top,
Was witness why all lights were quenched inside:
Henceforth I asked God counsel, not mankind.
So, when I made the effort, saved myself,
They said—“No care to save appearance here!
“How cynic,—when, how wanton, were enough!”
—Adding, it all came of my mother’s life—
My own real mother, whom I never knew,
Who did wrong (if she needs must have done wrong)
Through being all her life, not my four years,
At mercy of the hateful,—every beast
O’ the field was wont to break that fountain-fence,
Trample the silver into mud so murk
Heaven could not find itself reflected there,—
Now they cry “Out on her, who, plashy pool,
“Bequeathed turbidity and bitterness
“To the daughter-stream where Guido dipt and drank!”
Well, since she had to bear this brand—let me!
The rather do I understand her now,—
From my experience of what hate calls love,—
Much love might be in what their love called hate.
If she sold . . . what they call, sold . . . me her child—
I shall believe she hoped in her poor heart
That I at least might try be good and pure,
Begin to live untempted, not go doomed
And done with ere once found in fault, as she.
Oh and, my mother, it all came to this?
Why should I trust those that speak ill of you,
When I mistrust who speaks even well of them?
Why, since all bound to do me good, did harm,
May not you, seeming as you harmed me most,
Have meant to do most good—and feed your child
From bramble-bush, whom not one orchard-tree
But drew-back bough from, nor let one fruit fall?
This it was for you sacrificed your babe?
Gained just this, giving your heart’s hope away
As I might give mine, loving it as you,
If . . . but that never could be asked of me!
There, enough! I have my support again,
Again the knowledge that my babe was, is,
Will be mine only. Him, by death, I give
Outright to God, without a further care,—
But not to any parent in the world,—
So to be safe: why is it we repine?
What guardianship were safer could we choose?
All human plans and projects come to nought,
My life, and what I know of other lives,
Prove that: no plan nor project! God shall care!
And now you are not tired? How patient then
All of you,—Oh yes, patient this long while
Listening, and understanding, I am sure!
Four days ago, when I was sound and well
And like to live, no one would understand.
People were kind, but smiled “And what of him,
“Your friend, whose tonsure, the rich dark-brown hides?
“There, there!—your lover, do we dream he was?
“A priest too—never were such naughtiness!
“Still, he thinks many a long think, never fear,
“After the shy pale lady,—lay so light
“For a moment in his arms, the lucky one!”
And so on: wherefore should I blame you much?
So we are made, such difference in minds,
Such difference too in eyes that see the minds!
That man, you misinterpret and misprise—
The glory of his nature, I had thought,
Shot itself out in white light, blazed the truth
Through every atom of his act with me:
Yet where I point you, through the chrystal shrine,
Purity in quintessence, one dew-drop,
You all descry a spider in the midst.
One says, “The head of it is plain to see,”
And one, “They are the feet by which I judge,”
All say, “Those films were spun by nothing else.”
Then, I must lay my babe away with God,
Nor think of him again, for gratitude.
Yes, my last breath shall wholly spend itself
In one attempt more to disperse the stain,
The mist from other breath fond mouths have made,
About a lustrous and pellucid soul:
So that, when I am gone but sorrow stays,
And people need assurance in their doubt
If God yet have a servant, man a friend,
The weak a saviour and the vile a foe,—
Let him be present, by the name invoked,
Strength comes already with the utterance!
I will remember once more for his sake
The sorrow: for he lives and is belied.
Could he be here, how he would speak for me!
I had been miserable three drear years
In that dread palace and lay passive now,
When I first learned there could be such a man.
Thus it fell: I was at a public play,
In the last days of Carnival last March,
Brought there I knew not why, but now know well.
My husband put me where I sat, in front;
Then crouched down, breathed cold through me from behind,
Stationed i’ the shadow,—none in front could see,—
I, it was, faced the stranger-throng beneath,
The crowd with upturned faces, eyes one stare,
Voices one buzz. I looked but to the stage,
Whereon two lovers sang and interchanged
“True life is only love, love only bliss:
“I love thee—thee I love!” then they embraced.
I looked thence to the ceiling and the walls,—
Over the crowd, those voices and those eyes,—
My thoughts went through the roof and out, to Rome
On wings of music, waft of measured words,—
Set me down there, a happy child again,
Sure that to-morrow would be festa-day,
Hearing my parents praise past festas more,
And seeing they were old if I was young,
Yet wondering why they still would end discourse
With “We must soon go, you abide your time,
“And,—might we haply see the proper friend
“Throw his arm over you and make you safe!”
Sudden I saw him; into my lap there fell
A foolish twist of comfits, broke my dream
And brought me from the air and laid me low,
As ruined as the soaring bee that’s reached
(So Pietro told me at the Villa once)
By the dust-handful. There the comfits lay:
I looked to see who flung them, and I faced
This Caponsacchi, looking up in turn.
Ere I could reason out why, I felt sure,
Whoever flung them, his was not the hand,—
Up rose the round face and good-natured grin
Of him who, in effect, had played the prank,
From covert close beside the earnest face,—
Fat waggish Conti, friend of all the world.
He was my husband’s cousin, privileged
To throw the thing: the other, silent, grave,
Solemn almost, saw me, as I saw him.
There is a psalm Don Celestine recites,
“Had I a dove’s wings, how I fain would flee!”
The psalm runs not “I hope, I pray for wings,”—
Not “If wings fall from heaven, I fix them fast,”—
Simply “How good it were to fly and rest,
“Have hope now, and one day expect content!
“How well to do what I shall never do!”
So I said “Had there been a man like that,
“To lift me with his strength out of all strife
“Into the calm, how I could fly and rest!
“I have a keeper in the garden here
“Whose sole employment is to strike me low
“If ever I, for solace, seek the sun.
“Life means with me successful feigning death,
“Lying stone-like, eluding notice so,
“Forgoing here the turf and there the sky.
“Suppose that man had been instead of this!”
Presently Conti laughed into my ear,
—Had tripped up to the raised place where I sat—
“Cousin, I flung them brutishly and hard!
“Because you must be hurt, to look austere
“As Caponsacchi yonder, my tall friend
“A-gazing now. Ah, Guido, you so close?
“Keep on your knees, do! Beg her to forgive!
“My cornet battered like a cannon-ball.
“Good bye, I’m gone!”—nor waited the reply.
That night at supper, out my husband broke,
“Why was that throwing, that buffoonery?
“Do you think I am your dupe? What man would dare
“Throw comfits in a stranger lady’s lap?
“’Twas knowledge of you bred such insolence
“In Caponsacchi; he dared shoot the bolt,
“Using that Conti for his stalking-horse.
“How could you see him this once and no more,
“When he is always haunting hereabout
“At the street-corner or the palace-side,
“Publishing my shame and your impudence?
“You are a wanton,—I a dupe, you think?
“O Christ, what hinders that I kill her quick?”
Whereat he drew his sword and feigned a thrust.
All this, now,—being not so strange to me,
Used to such misconception day by day
And broken-in to bear,—I bore, this time,
More quietly than woman should perhaps:
Repeated the mere truth and held my tongue.
Then he said, “Since you play the ignorant,
“I shall instruct you. This amour,—commenced
“Or finished or midway in act, all’s one,—
“’Tis the town-talk; so my revenge shall be.
“Does he presume because he is a priest?
“I warn him that the sword I wear shall pink
“His lily-scented cassock through and through,
“Next time I catch him underneath your eaves!”
But he had threatened with the sword so oft
And, after all, not kept his promise. All
I said was, “Let God save the innocent!
“Moreover, death is far from a bad fate.
“I shall go pray for you and me, not him;
“And then I look to sleep, come death or, worse,
“Life.” So, I slept.
There may have elapsed a week,
When Margherita,—called my waiting-maid,
Whom it is said my husband found too fair—
Who stood and heard the charge and the reply,
Who never once would let the matter rest
From that night forward, but rang changes still
On this the thrust and that the shame, and how
Good cause for jealousy cures jealous fools,
And what a paragon was this same priest
She talked about until I stopped my ears,—
She said, “A week is gone; you comb your hair,
“Then go mope in a corner, cheek on palm,
“Till night comes round again,—so, waste a week
“As if your husband menaced you in sport.
“Have not I some acquaintance with his tricks?
“Oh no, he did not stab the serving-man
“Who made and sang the rhymes about me once!
“For why? They sent him to the wars next day.
“Nor poisoned he the foreigner, my friend,
“Who wagered on the whiteness of my breast,—
“The swarth skins of our city in dispute:
“For, though he paid me proper compliment,
“The Count well knew he was besotted with
“Somebody else, a skin as black as ink,
“(As all the town knew save my foreigner)
“He found and wedded presently,—‘Why need
“‘Better revenge?’—the Count asked. But what’s here?
“A priest, that does not fight, and cannot wed,
“Yet must be dealt with! If the Count took fire
“For the poor pastime of a minute,—me—
“What were the conflagration for yourself,
“Countess and lady-wife and all the rest?
“The priest will perish; you will grieve too late:
“So shall the city-ladies’ handsomest,
“Frankest and liberalest gentleman
“Die for you, to appease a scurvy dog
“Hanging’s too good for. Is there no escape?
“Were it not simple Christian charity
“To warn the priest be on his guard,—save him
“Assured death, save yourself from causing it?
“I meet him in the street. Give me a glove,
“A ring to show for token! Mum’s the word!”
I answered, “If you were, as styled, my maid,
“I would command you: as you are, you say,
“My husband’s intimate,—assist his wife
“Who can do nothing but entreat ‘Be still!’
“Even if you speak truth and a crime is planned,
“Leave help to God as I am forced to do!
“There is no other course, or we should craze,
“Seeing such evil with no human cure.
“Reflect that God, who makes the storm desist,
“Can make an angry violent heart subside.
“Why should we venture teach Him governance?
“Never address me on this subject more!”
“—Ay, saw your Caponsacchi in his house,
“And come back stuffed with news I must outpour.
“I told him, ‘Sir, my mistress is a stone:
“‘Why should you harm her for no good you get?
“‘For you do harm her—prowl about our place
“‘With the Count never distant half the street,
“‘Lurking at every corner, would you look!
“‘’Tis certain she has witched you with a spell.
“‘Are there not other beauties at your beck?
“‘We all know, Donna This and Monna That
“‘Die for a glance of yours, yet here you gaze!
“‘Go make them grateful, leave the stone its cold!’
“And he—oh, he turned first white and then red,
“And then—‘To her behest I bow myself,
“‘Whom I love with my body and my soul:
“‘Only, a word i’ the bowing! See, I write
“‘One little word, no harm to see or hear!
“‘Then, fear no further!’ This is what he wrote.
“I know you cannot read,—therefore, let me!
“‘My idol!’” . . .
But I took it from her hand
And tore it into shreds. “Why join the rest
“Who harm me? Have I ever done you wrong?
“People have told me ’tis you wrong myself:
“Let it suffice I either feel no wrong
“Or else forgive it,—yet you turn my foe!
“The others hunt me and you throw a noose!”
She muttered, “Have your wilful way!” I slept.
Whereupon . . . no, I leave my husband out!
It is not to do him more hurt, I speak.
Let it suffice, when misery was most,
One day, I swooned and got a respite so.
She stooped as I was slowly coming to,
This Margherita, ever on my trace,
If I drowned,
But woke afloat i’ the wave with upturned eyes,
And found their first sight was a star! I turned—
For the first time, I let her have her will,
Heard passively,—“The imposthume at such head,
“One touch, one lancet-puncture would relieve,—
“And still no glance the good physician’s way
“Who rids you of the torment in a trice!
“Still he writes letters you refuse to hear.
“He may prevent your husband, kill himself,
“So desperate and all foredone is he!
“Just hear the pretty verse he made to-day!
“A sonnet from Mirtillo. ‘Peerless fair . . . ’
“All poetry is difficult to read,
“—The sense of it is, anyhow, he seeks
“Leave to contrive you an escape from hell,
“And for that purpose asks an interview.
“I can write, I can grant it in your name,
“Or, what is better, lead you to his house.
“Your husband dashes you against the stones;
“This man would place each fragment in a shrine:
“You hate him, love your husband!”
“It is not true I love my husband,—no,
“Nor hate this man. I listen while you speak,
“—Assured that what you say is false, the same:
“Much as when once, to me a little child,
“A rough gaunt man in rags, with eyes on fire,
“A crowd of boys and idlers at his heels,
“Rushed as I crossed the Square, and held my head
“In his two hands, ‘Here’s she will let me speak!
“‘You little girl, whose eyes do good to mine,
“‘I am the Pope, am Sextus, now the Sixth;
“‘And that Twelfth Innocent, proclaimed to-day,
“‘Is Lucifer disguised in human flesh!
“‘The angels, met in conclave, crowned me!’—thus
“He gibbered and I listened; but I knew
“All was delusion, ere folks interposed
“‘Unfasten him, the maniac!’ Thus I know
“All your report of Caponsacchi false,
“Folly or dreaming; I have seen so much
“By that adventure at the spectacle,
“The face I fronted that one first, last time:
“He would belie it by such words and thoughts.
“Therefore while you profess to show him me,
“I ever see his own face. Get you gone!”
“—That will I, nor once open mouth again,—
“No, by Saint Joseph and the Holy Ghost!
“On your head be the damage, so adieu!”
And so more days, more deeds I must forget,
Till . . . what a strange thing now is to declare!
Since I say anything, say all if true!
And how my life seems lengthened as to serve!
It may be idle or inopportune,
But, true?—why, what was all I said but truth,
Even when I found that such as are untrue
Could only take the truth in through a lie?
Now—I am speaking truth to the Truth’s self:
God will lend credit to my words this time.
It had got half through April. I arose
One vivid daybreak,—who had gone to bed
In the old way my wont those last three years,
Careless until, the cup drained, I should die.
The last sound in my ear, the over-night,
Had been a something let drop on the sly
In prattle by Margherita, “Soon enough
“Gaieties end, now Easter’s past: a week,
“And the Archbishop gets him back to Rome,—
“Everyone leaves the town for Rome, this Spring,—
“Even Caponsacchi, out of heart and hope,
“Resigns himself and follows with the flock.”
I heard this drop and drop like rain outside
Fast-falling through the darkness while she spoke:
So had I heard with like indifference,
“And Michael’s pair of wings will arrive first
“At Rome to introduce the company,
“Will bear him from our picture where he fights
“Satan,—expect to have that dragon loose
“And never a defender!”—my sole thought
Being still, as night came, “Done, another day!
“How good to sleep and so get nearer death!”—
When, what, first thing at daybreak, pierced the sleep
With a summons to me? Up I sprang alive,
Light in me, light without me, everywhere
Change! A broad yellow sun-beam was let fall
From heaven to earth,—a sudden drawbridge lay,
Along which marched a myriad merry motes,
Mocking the flies that crossed them and recrossed
In rival dance, companions new-born too.
On the house-eaves, a dripping shag of weed
Shook diamonds on each dull grey lattice-square,
As first one, then another bird leapt by,
And light was off, and lo was back again,
Always with one voice,—where are two such joys?—
The blessed building-sparrow! I stepped forth,
Stood on the terrace,—o’er the roofs, such sky!
My heart sang, “I too am to go away,
“I too have something I must care about,
“Carry away with me to Rome, to Rome!
“The bird brings hither sticks and hairs and wool,
“And nowhere else i’ the world; what fly breaks rank,
“Falls out of the procession that befits,
“From window here to window there, with all
“The world to choose,—so well he knows his course?
“I have my purpose and my motive too,
“My march to Rome, like any bird or fly!
“Had I been dead! How right to be alive!
“Last night I almost prayed for leave to die,
“Wished Guido all his pleasure with the sword
“Or the poison,—poison, sword, was but a trick,
“Harmless, may God forgive him the poor jest!
“My life is charmed, will last till I reach Rome!
“Yesterday, but for the sin,—ah, nameless be
“The deed I could have dared against myself!
“Now—see if I will touch an unripe fruit,
“And risk the health I want to have and use!
“Not to live, now, would be the wickedness,—
“For life means to make haste and go to Rome
“And leave Arezzo, leave all woes at once!”
Now, understand here, by no means mistake!
Long ago had I tried to leave that house
When it seemed such procedure would stop sin;
And still failed more the more I tried—at first
The Archbishop, as I told you,—next, our lord
The Governor,—indeed I found my way,
I went to the great palace where he rules,
Though I knew well ’twas he who,—when I gave
A jewel or two, themselves had given me,
Back to my parents,—since they wanted bread,
They who had never let me want a nosegay,—he
Spoke of the jail for felons, if they kept
What was first theirs, then mine, so doubly theirs,
Though all the while my husband’s most of all!
I knew well who had spoke the word wrought this:
Yet, being in extremity, I fled
To the Governor, as I say,—scarce opened lip
When—the cold cruel snicker close behind—
Guido was on my trace, already there,
Exchanging nod and wink for shrug and smile,
And I—pushed back to him and, for my pains,
Paid with . . . but why remember what is past?
I sought out a poor friar the people call
The Roman, and confessed my sin which came
Of their sin,—that fact could not be repressed,—
The frightfulness of my despair in God:
And, feeling, through the grate, his horror shake,
Implored him, “Write for me who cannot write,
“Apprise my parents, make them rescue me!
“You bid me be courageous and trust God:
“Do you in turn dare somewhat, trust and write
“‘Dear friends, who used to be my parents once,
“‘And now declare you have no part in me,
“‘This is some riddle I want wit to solve,
“‘Since you must love me with no difference.
“‘Even suppose you altered,—there’s your hate,
“‘To ask for: hate of you two dearest ones
“‘I shall find liker love than love found here,
“‘If husbands love their wives. Take me away
“‘And hate me as you do the gnats and fleas,
“‘Even the scorpions! How I shall rejoice!’
“Write that and save me!” And he promised—wrote
Or did not write; things never changed at all:
He was not like the Augustinian here!
Last, in a desperation I appealed
To friends, whoever wished me better days,
To Guillichini, that’s of kin,—“What, I—
“Travel to Rome with you? A flying gout
“Bids me deny my heart and mind my leg!”
Then I tried Conti, used to brave—laugh back
The louring thunder when his cousin scowled
At me protected by his presence: “You—
“Who well know what you cannot save me from,—
“Carry me off! What frightens you, a priest?”
He shook his head, looked grave—“Above my strength!
“Guido has claws that scratch, shows feline teeth;
“A formidabler foe than I dare fret:
“Give me a dog to deal with, twice the size!
“Of course I am a priest and Canon too,
“But . . . by the bye . . . though both, not quite so bold
“As he, my fellow-Canon, brother-priest,
“The personage in such ill odour here
“Because of the reports—pure birth o’ the brain—
“Our Caponsacchi, he’s your true Saint George
“To slay the monster, set the Princess free,
“And have the whole High-Altar to himself:
“I always think so when I see that piece
“I’ the Pieve, that’s his church and mine, you know:
“Though you drop eyes at mention of his name!”
That name had got to take a half-grotesque
Half-ominous, wholly enigmatic sense,
Like any bye-word, broken bit of song
Born with a meaning, changed by mouth and mouth
That mix it in a sneer or smile, as chance
Bids, till it now means nought but ugliness
And perhaps shame.
—All this intends to say,
That, over-night, the notion of escape
Had seemed distemper, dreaming; and the name,—
Not the man, but the name of him, thus made
Into a mockery and disgrace,—why, she
Who uttered it persistently, had laughed,
“I name his name, and there you start and wince
“As criminal from the red tongs’ touch!”—yet now,
Now, as I stood letting morn bathe me bright,
Choosing which butterfly should bear my news,—
The white, the brown one, or that tinier blue,—
The Margherita, I detested so,
In she came—“The fine day, the good Spring time!
“What, up and out at window? That is best.
“No thought of Caponsacchi?—who stood there
“All night on one leg, like the sentry crane,
“Under the pelting of your water-spout—
“Looked last look at your lattice ere he leave
“Our city, bury his dead hope at Rome?
“Ay, go to looking-glass and make you fine,
“While he may die ere touch one least loose hair
“You drag at with the comb in such a rage!”
I turned—“Tell Caponsacchi he may come!”
“Tell him to come? Ah, but, for charity,
“A truce to fooling! Come? What,—come this eve?
“Peter and Paul! But I see through the trick—
“Yes, come, and take a flower-pot on his head
“Flung from your terrace! No joke, sincere truth?”
How plainly I perceived hell flash and fade
O’ the face of her,—the doubt that first paled joy,
Then, final reassurance I indeed
Was caught now, never to be free again!
What did I care?—who felt myself of force
To play with the silk, and spurn the horsehair-springe.
“But—do you know that I have bade him come,
“And in your own name? I presumed so much,
“Knowing the thing you needed in your heart.
“But somehow—what had I to show in proof?
“He would not come: half-promised, that was all,
“And wrote the letters you refused to read.
“What is the message that shall move him now?
“After the Ave Maria, at first dark,
“I will be standing on the terrace, say!
“I would I had a good long lock of hair
“Should prove I was not lying! Never mind!”
Off she went—“May he not refuse, that’s all—
“Fearing a trick!”
I answered, “He will come.”
And, all day, I sent prayer like incense up
To God the strong, God the beneficent,
God ever mindful in all strife and strait,
Who, for our own good, makes the need extreme,
Till at the last He puts forth might and saves.
An old rhyme came into my head and rang
Of how a virgin, for the faith of God,
Hid herself, from the Paynims that pursued,
In a cave’s heart; until a thunderstone,
Wrapped in a flame, revealed the couch and prey:
And they laughed—“Thanks to lightning, ours at last!”
And she cried “Wrath of God, assert His love!
“Servant of God, thou fire, befriend His child!”
And lo, the fire she grasped at, fixed its flash,
Lay in her hand a calm cold dreadful sword
She brandished till pursuers strewed the ground,
So did the souls within them die away,
As o’er the prostrate bodies, sworded, safe,
She walked forth to the solitudes and Christ:
So should I grasp the lightning and be saved!
And still, as the day wore, the trouble grew
Whereby I guessed there would be born a star,
Until at an intense throe of the dusk,
I started up, was pushed, I dare to say,
Out on the terrace, leaned and looked at last
Where the deliverer waited me: the same
Silent and solemn face, I first descried
At the spectacle, confronted mine once more.
So was that minute twice vouchsafed me, so
The manhood, wasted then, was still at watch
To save me yet a second time: no change
Here, though all else changed in the changing world!
I spoke on the instant, as my duty bade,
In some such sense as this, whatever the phrase.
“Friend, foolish words were borne from you to me;
“Your soul behind them is the pure strong wind,
“Not dust and feathers which its breath may bear:
“These to the witless seem the wind itself,
“Since proving thus the first of it they feel.
“If by mischance you blew offence my way,
“The straws are dropt, the wind desists no whit,
“And how such strays were caught up in the street
“And took a motion from you, why inquire?
“I speak to the strong soul, no weak disguise.
“If it be truth,—why should I doubt it truth?—
“You serve God specially, as priests are bound,
“And care about me, stranger as I am,
“So far as wish my good,—that miracle
“I take to intimate He wills you serve
“By saving me,—what else can He direct?
“Here is the service. Since a long while now,
“I am in course of being put to death:
“While death concerned nothing but me, I bowed
“The head and bade, in heart, my husband strike.
“Now I imperil something more, it seems,
“Something that’s trulier me than this myself,
“Something I trust in God and you to save.
“You go to Rome, they tell me: take me there,
“Put me back with my people!”
The first word I heard ever from his lips,
All himself in it,—an eternity
Of speech, to match the immeasurable depths
O’ the soul that then broke silence—“I am yours.”
So did the star rise, soon to lead my step,
Lead on, nor pause before it should stand still
Above the House o’ the Babe,—my babe to be,
That knew me first and thus made me know him,
That had his right of life and claim on mine,
And would not let me die till he was born,
But pricked me at the heart to save us both,
Saying “Have you the will? Leave God the way!”
And the way was Caponsacchi—“mine,” thank God!
He was mine, he is mine, he will be mine.
No pause i’ the leading and the light! I know,
Next night there was a cloud came, and not he:
But I prayed through the darkness till it broke
And let him shine. The second night, he came.
“The plan is rash; the project desperate:
“In such a flight needs must I risk your life,
“Give food for falsehood, folly or mistake,
“Ground for your husband’s rancour and revenge”—
So he began again, with the same face.
I felt that, the same loyalty—one star
Turning now red that was so white before—
One service apprehended newly: just
A word of mine and there the white was back!
“No, friend, for you will take me! ’Tis yourself
“Risk all, not I,—who let you, for I trust
“In the compensating great God: enough!
“I know you: when is it that you will come?”
“To-morrow at the day’s dawn.” Then I heard
What I should do: how to prepare for flight
And where to fly.
That night my husband bade
“—You, whom I loathe, beware you break my sleep
“This whole night! Couch beside me like the corpse
“I would you were!” The rest you know, I think—
How I found Caponsacchi and escaped.
And this man, men call sinner? Jesus Christ!
Of whom men said, with mouths Thyself mad’st once,
“He hath a devil”—say he was Thy saint,
My Caponsacchi! Shield and show—unshroud
In Thine own time the glory of the soul
If aught obscure,—if ink-spot, from vile pens
Scribbling a charge against him—(I was glad
Then, for the first time, that I could not write)—
Flirted his way, have flecked the blaze!
’Tis otherwise: let men take, sift my thoughts
—Thoughts I throw like the flax for sun to bleach!
I did think, do think, in the thought shall die,
That to have Caponsacchi for my guide,
Ever the face upturned to mine, the hand
Holding my hand across the world,—a sense
That reads, as only such can read, the mark
God sets on women, signifying so
She should—shall peradventure—be divine;
Yet ’ware, the while, how weakness mars the print
And makes confusion, leaves the thing men see,
—Not this man,—who from his own soul, re-writes
The obliterated charter,—love and strength
Mending what’s marred: “So kneels a votarist,
“Weeds some poor waste traditionary plot
“Where shrine once was, where temple yet may be,
“Purging the place but worshipping the while,
“By faith and not by sight, sight clearest so,—
“Such way the saints work,”—says Don Celestine.
But I, not privileged to see a saint
Of old when such walked earth with crown and palm,
If I call “saint” what saints call something else—
The saints must bear with me, impute the fault
To a soul i’ the bud, so starved by ignorance,
Stinted of warmth, it will not blow this year
Nor recognise the orb which Spring-flowers know.
But if meanwhile some insect with a heart
Worth floods of lazy music, spendthrift joy—
Some fire-fly renounced Spring for my dwarfed cup,
Crept close to me with lustre for the dark,
Comfort against the cold,—what though excess
Of comfort should miscall the creature—sun?
What did the sun to hinder while harsh hands
Petal by petal, crude and colourless,
Tore me? This one heart brought me all the Spring!
Is all told? There’s the journey: and where’s time
To tell you how that heart burst out in shine?
Yet certain points do press on me too hard.
Each place must have a name, though I forget:
How strange it was—there where the plain begins
And the small river mitigates its flow—
When eve was fading fast, and my soul sank,
And he divined what surge of bitterness,
In overtaking me, would float me back
Whence I was carried by the striding day—
So,—“This grey place was famous once,” said he—
And he began that legend of the place
As if in answer to the unspoken fear,
And told me all about a brave man dead,
Which lifted me and let my soul go on!
How did he know too,—at that town’s approach
By the rock-side,—that in coming near the signs,
Of life, the house-roofs and the church and tower,
I saw the old boundary and wall o’ the world
Rise plain as ever round me, hard and cold,
As if the broken circlet joined again,
Tightened itself about me with no break,—
As if the town would turn Arezzo’s self,—
The husband there,—the friends my enemies,
All ranged against me, not an avenue
I try, but would be blocked and drive me back
On him,—this other, . . . oh the heart in that!
Did not he find, bring, put into my arms
A new-born babe?—and I saw faces beam
Of the young mother proud to teach me joy,
And gossips round expecting my surprise
At the sudden hole through earth that lets in heaven.
I could believe himself by his strong will
Had woven around me what I thought the world
We went along in, every circumstance,
Towns, flowers and faces, all things helped so well!
For, through the journey, was it natural
Such comfort should arise from first to last?
As I look back, all is one milky way;
Still bettered more, the more remembered, so
Do new stars bud while I but search for old,
And fill all gaps i’ the glory, and grow him—
Him I now see make the shine everywhere.
Even at the last when the bewildered flesh,
The cloud of weariness about my soul
Clogging too heavily, sucked down all sense,—
Still its last voice was, “He will watch and care;
“Let the strength go, I am content: he stays!”
I doubt not he did stay and care for all—
From that sick minute when the head swam round,
And the eyes looked their last and died on him,
As in his arms he caught me and, you say,
Carried me in, that tragical red eve,
And laid me where I next returned to life
In the other red of morning, two red plates
That crushed together, crushed the time between,
And are since then a solid fire to me,—
When in, my dreadful husband and the world
Broke,—and I saw him, master, by hell’s right,
And saw my angel helplessly held back
By guards that helped the malice—the lamb prone,
The serpent towering and triumphant—then
Came all the strength back in a sudden swell,
I did for once see right, do right, give tongue
The adequate protest: for a worm must turn
If it would have its wrong observed by God.
I did spring up, attempt to thrust aside
That ice-block ’twixt the sun and me, lay low
The neutraliser of all good and truth.
If I sinned so,—never obey voice more
O’ the Just and Terrible, who bids us—“Bear!”
Not—“Stand by, bear to see my angels bear!”
I am clear it was on impulse to serve God
Not save myself,—no—nor my child unborn!
Had I else waited patiently till now?—
Who saw my old kind parents, silly-sooth
And too much trustful, for their worst of faults,
Cheated, brow-beaten, stripped and starved, cast out
Into the kennel: I remonstrated,
Then sank to silence, for,—their woes at end,
Themselves gone,—only I was left to plague.
If only I was threatened and belied,
What matter? I could bear it and did bear;
It was a comfort, still one lot for all:
They were not persecuted for my sake
And I, estranged, the single happy one.
But when at last, all by myself I stood
Obeying the clear voice which bade me rise,
Not for my own sake but my babe unborn,
And take the angel’s hand was sent to help—
And found the old adversary athwart the path—
Not my hand simply struck from the angel’s, but
The very angel’s self made foul i’ the face
By the fiend who struck there,—that I would not bear,
That only I resisted! So, my first
And last resistance was invincible.
Prayers move God; threats, and nothing else, move men!
I must have prayed a man as he were God
When I implored the Governor to right
My parents’ wrongs: the answer was a smile.
The Archbishop,—did I clasp his feet enough,
Hide my face hotly on them, while I told
More than I dared make my own mother known?
The profit was—compassion and a jest.
This time, the foolish prayers were done with, right
Used might, and solemnised the sport at once.
All was against the combat: vantage, mine?
The runaway avowed, the accomplice-wife,
In company with the plan-contriving priest?
Yet, shame thus rank and patent, I struck, bare,
At foe from head to foot in magic mail,
And off it withered, cobweb-armoury
Against the lightning! ’Twas truth singed the lies
And saved me, not the vain sword nor weak speech!
You see, I will not have the service fail!
I say, the angel saved me: I am safe!
Others may want and wish, I wish nor want
One point o’ the circle plainer, where I stand
Traced round about with white to front the world.
What of the calumny I came across,
What o’ the way to the end?—the end crowns all.
The judges judged aright i’ the main, gave me
The uttermost of my heart’s desire, a truce
From torture and Arezzo, balm for hurt
With the quiet nuns,—God recompense the good!
Who said and sang away the ugly past.
And, when my final fortune was revealed,
What safety while, amid my parents’ arms,
My babe was given me! Yes, he saved my babe:
It would not have peeped forth, the bird-like thing,
Through that Arezzo noise and trouble: back
Had it returned nor ever let me see!
But the sweet peace cured all, and let me live
And give my bird the life among the leaves
God meant him! Weeks and months of quietude,
I could lie in such peace and learn so much—
Begin the task, I see how needful now,
Of understanding somewhat of my past,—
Know life a little, I should leave so soon.
Therefore, because this man restored my soul,
All has been right; I have gained my gain, enjoyed
As well as suffered,—nay, got foretaste too
Of better life beginning where this ends—
All through the breathing-while allowed me thus,
Which let good premonitions reach my soul
Unthwarted, and benignant influence flow
And interpenetrate and change my heart,
Uncrossed by what was wicked,—nay, unkind.
For, as the weakness of my time drew nigh,
Nobody did me one disservice more,
Spoke coldly or looked strangely, broke the love
I lay in the arms of, till my boy was born,
Born all in love, with nought to spoil the bliss
A whole long fortnight: in a life like mine
A fortnight filled with bliss is long and much.
All women are not mothers of a boy,
Though they live twice the length of my whole life,
And, as they fancy, happily all the same.
There I lay, then, all my great fortnight long,
As if it would continue, broaden out
Happily more and more, and lead to heaven:
Christmas before me,—was not that a chance?
I never realised God’s birth before—
How he grew likest God in being born.
This time I felt like Mary, had my babe
Lying a little on my breast like hers.
So all went on till, just four days ago—
The night and the tap.
O it shall be success
To the whole of our poor family! My friends
. . . Nay, father and mother,—give me back my word!
They have been rudely stripped of life, disgraced
Like children who must needs go clothed too fine,
Carry the garb of Carnival in Lent:
If they too much affected frippery,
They have been punished and submit themselves,
Say no word: all is over, they see God
Who will not be extreme to mark their fault
Or he had granted respite: they are safe.
For that most woeful man my husband once,
Who, needing respite, still draws vital breath,
I—pardon him? So far as lies in me,
I give him for his good the life he takes,
Praying the world will therefore acquiesce.
Let him make God amends,—none, none to me
Who thank him rather that, whereas strange fate
Mockingly styled him husband and me wife,
Himself this way at least pronounced divorce,
Blotted the marriage-bond: this blood of mine
Flies forth exultingly at any door,
Washes the parchment white, and thanks the blow.
We shall not meet in this world nor the next,
But where will God be absent? In His face
Is light, but in His shadow healing too:
Let Guido touch the shadow and be healed!
And as my presence was importunate,—
My earthly good, temptation and a snare,—
Nothing about me but drew somehow down
His hate upon me,—somewhat so excused
Therefore, since hate was thus the truth of him,—
May my evanishment for evermore
Help further to relieve the heart that cast
Such object of its natural loathing forth!
So he was made; he nowise made himself:
I could not love him, but his mother did.
His soul has never lain beside my soul;
But for the unresisting body,—thanks!
He burned that garment spotted by the flesh!
Whatever he touched is rightly ruined: plague
It caught, and disinfection it had craved
Still but for Guido; I am saved through him
So as by fire; to him—thanks and farewell!
Even for my babe, my boy, there’s safety thence—
From the sudden death of me, I mean; we poor
Weak souls, how we endeavour to be strong!
I was already using up my life,—
This portion, now, should do him such a good,
This other go to keep off such an ill!
The great life; see, a breath and it is gone!
So is detached, so left all by itself
The little life, the fact which means so much.
Shall not God stoop the kindlier to His work,
His marvel of creation, foot would crush,
Now that the hand He trusted to receive
And hold it, lets the treasure fall perforce?
The better; He shall have in orphanage
His own way all the clearlier: if my babe
Outlive the hour—and he has lived two weeks—
It is through God who knows I am not by.
Who is it makes the soft gold hair turn black,
And sets the tongue, might lie so long at rest,
Trying to talk? Let us leave God alone!
Why should I doubt He will explain in time
What I feel now, but fail to find the words?
My babe nor was, nor is, nor yet shall be
Count Guido Franceschini’s child at all—
Only his mother’s, born of love not hate!
So shall I have my rights in after-time.
It seems absurd, impossible to-day;
So seems so much else not explained but known.
Ah! Friends, I thank and bless you every one!
No more now: I withdraw from earth and man
To my own soul, compose myself for God.
Well, and there is more! Yes, my end of breath
Shall bear away my soul in being true!
He is still here, not outside with the world,
Here, here, I have him in his rightful place!
’Tis now, when I am most upon the move,
I feel for what I verily find—again
The face, again the eyes, again, through all,
The heart and its immeasurable love
Of my one friend, my only, all my own,
Who put his breast between the spears and me.
Ever with Caponsacchi! Otherwise
Here alone would be failure, loss to me—
How much more loss to him, with life debarred
From giving life, love locked from love’s display,
The day-star stopped its task that makes night morn!
O lover of my life, O soldier-saint,
No work begun shall ever pause for death!
Love will be helpful to me more and more
I’ the coming course, the new path I must tread,
My weak hand in thy strong hand, strong for that!
Tell him that if I seem without him now,
That’s the world’s insight! Oh, he understands!
He is at Civita—do I once doubt
The world again is holding us apart?
He had been here, displayed in my behalf
The broad brow that reverberates the truth,
And flashed the word God gave him, back to man!
I know where the free soul is flown! My fate
Will have been hard for even him to bear:
Let it confirm him in the trust of God,
Showing how holily he dared the deed!
And, for the rest,—say, from the deed, no touch
Of harm came, but all good, all happiness,
Not one faint fleck of failure! Why explain?
What I see, oh, he sees and how much more!
Tell him,—I know not wherefore the true word
Should fade and fall unuttered at the last—
It was the name of him I sprang to meet
When came the knock, the summons and the end.
“My great hurt, my strong hand are back again!”
I would have sprung to these, beckoning across
Murder and hell gigantic and distinct
O’ the threshold, posted to exclude me heaven:
He is ordained to call and I to come!
Do not the dead wear flowers when dressed for God?
Say,—I am all in flowers from head to foot!
Say,—not one flower of all he said and did,
Might seem to flit unnoticed, fade unknown,
But dropped a seed has grown a balsam-tree
Whereof the blossoming perfumes the place
At this supreme of moments! He is a priest;
He cannot marry therefore, which is right:
I think he would not marry if he could.
Marriage on earth seems such a counterfeit,
Mere imitation of the inimitable:
In heaven we have the real and true and sure.
’Tis there they neither marry nor are given
In marriage but are as the angels: right,
Oh how right that is, how like Jesus Christ
To say that! Marriage-making for the earth,
With gold so much,—birth, power, repute so much,
Or beauty, youth so much, in lack of these!
Be as the angels rather, who, apart,
Know themselves into one, are found at length
Married, but marry never, no, nor give
In marriage; they are man and wife at once
When the true time is: here we have to wait
Not so long neither! Could we by a wish
Have what we will and get the future now,
Would we wish ought done undone in the past?
So, let him wait God’s instant men call years;
Meantime hold hard by truth and his great soul,
Do out the duty! Through such souls alone
God stooping shows sufficient of His light
For us i’ the dark to rise by. And I rise.