The Ring and the Book


Robert Browning

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Table of Contents

Introduction
  1. The Ring and The Book
  2. Half-Rome
  3. The Other Half-Rome
  4. Tertium Quid
  5. Count Guido Franceschini
  6. Giuseppe Caponsacchi
  7. Pompilia
  8. Dominus Hyacinthus de Archangelis
  9. Juris Doctor Johannes-Baptista Bottinius
  10. The Pope
  11. Guido
  12. The Book and The Ring

Introduction

The Ring and the Book, the longest and most important of Browning’s poems, is the product of several years of creative activity during the period of his fullest maturity. The love romance which had enriched his life for fifteen years had come to an end, and his thought was searching more profoundly than ever before the problems of life and death. For twenty years he had been devoting his art to casual subjects in rich succession; Men and Women and Dramatis Personœ lay in the immediate past, and the dramatic monologue had become an easy from for voicing his imaginations; yet he must have craved the fuller joy of expressing through some larger subject and at far greater length his conception of human life and of the Divine in and above the world.

The occasion for this expression came in the chance discovery of the Old Yellow Book in June 1860 on a market barrow in the Piazza di San Lorenzo, Florence, as told by Browning in the poem. This book is the record of a sensational murder trial at Rome, January-February 1698, and gives many of the facts and motives of an ignoble intrigue for certain properties, culminating in a brutal assassination and in the subsequent execution of the criminals. It was a dark page from the criminal annals of Rome, and time had all but effaced the record when it fell into the hands of the poet. The problem of making these dead fragments live again challenged the imagination of Browning, and by the power of his imagination he saw there in Florence that June night how the crime had stirred Rome a century and a half earlier. So interested did he become in the Franceschini story that he frequently told it to his friends in conversation, and is said to have offered it to one of them as the plot of an historical novel. Eventually the inspiration came to him to tell the story through his art of poetry, and what was more, he saw the opportunity of expressing through the incidents of this base crime his own fuller vision of man. The interpretation of the Yellow Book in his poem involved the whole problem of life as the poet saw it.

How then should he unfold his views? His own age had perfected the novel to present at length the activities and motives of man, and Browning learned much of his art from the novel. Yet he was no novelist, and he left unattempted the possible historical novel in the subject. Long years before he had tried the drama, and had been defeated by a half success, nor could a stage drama trace the minute threads of motive in this case. In the narrative poem as such he had little interest, and seldom practised the fascination of the narrator. Browning’s one purpose in the art of poetry was to search the heart deeply for motive. He had by years of practice developed the dramatic monologue to a high point of efficacy in expressing motive. It is accordingly not surprising that he made a “strange art of an art familiar,” and by the repetition of the story in many forms in a series of dramatic monologues, he invented a new type of poem which grew directly out of the material before him, and enabled him to tell the Franceschini story more truly than through any of the established forms of art.

This tragic course of events had not developed simply and symmetrically. Life seldom does. It was a confused web of disputed fact, with motive and counter-motive, genuine or sham, conventional or personal, further entangled by the professional casuistry of the lawyers, until the right and wrong of the story seemed hopelessly obscured. Such confusion surrounds every deeper crisis which stirs the heart of man, as is illustrated in the journalistic hubbub around every sensational crime and its trial at the bar of justice. Literary art tends to simplify all this by the intensification of the prevailing motives, and by the eradication of whatever distracts from these. Yet in the successive development of the epic, the drama, and the novel as methods of picturing life, there has been a distinct evolution away from this artistic singleness toward the variety and intricacy of life. The novel offers large opportunities to present this human complexity. Browning carries literary development a step farther by using in a new way the multi-monologue form of narrative, in which he tells the story from a series of personal standpoints, each of which modifies fact and motive with iridescent shadings of significance and with the perplexing but thrilling uncertainties which we find in real life. He illustrates by his art also the great principle which he found in life — the apparent relativity of truth —“The truth is this to thee and that to me.” He sees that the perception of truth is one of the most vital functions of personality, and that the kind and degree of our perception of it are invariably restricted by all limitations of personality. In monologue after monologue in his previous art Browning had tinged a thought or a passion or a story by the prejudice of the speaker. When at last he found the Old Yellow Book, it gave him illustration after illustration of such perversion of truth through personal bias. It became inevitable for him, therefore, in his strong sense of the obligation to represent the full truth of the tragedy, that he should tell and retell the story from the various personal standpoints possible until he had turned every phase of it to the reader. His figures of the landscape and the glass ball, book i. II. 1348-1378, illustrate this.

The Franceschini tragedy and the environing life of Rome thus come to live again before the reader in all that essential intricacy which we find in the world outside of books. In fact, the poem gives the impression not of a book, but of throbbing life, confused almost past finding out. We should read the successive monologues not for a chain of incident, nor for the achievement of a final judgment on the merits of the case, but to study the hearts of actors and spectators alike, as they pulsate with passions, noble or ignoble, which surge around that act of murder on January 2, 1698.

What persons then should be chosen as narrators? What personal standpoints were significant and vital to the complete understanding of the tragedy? First and most important were the three principals — the husband, the wife, and the priest Caponsacchi. Then the legal presentation of facts in the Yellow Book suggested the representation of the professional interpreters of law. Was not law the “patent-truth- extracting process” which man had established to ascertain the rights and wrongs of such cases? Hence Browning includes two of the attorneys found in the recorded case, though he cannot suppress his ironic attitude toward them. Above the lawyers stood their ultimate superior, the Pope, through whose final judgment the sentence was executed against the criminals; in him was exhibited judicial deliberation illuminated by an almost prophetic insight into divine truth. Beyond these six monologues, the poet saw the need of other narratives, which would present the story as it appeared to common, outside Rome. None of the actual personages involved, such as Abate Paolo, Canon, Conti, or Violante, could serve this purpose satisfactorily. Hence the poet invented two purely, typical, anonymous personages, “Half- Rome” and “Other Half-Rome,” who represent the two prejudiced camps of opinion which made up “reasonless, unreasoning Rome.” These speakers were doubtless suggested to the poet by the two anonymous Italian narratives of the murder story, which are included in the Yellow Book. Then in a sport of irony and caricature he invented “Tertium Quid”— a third Something — the supercilious, contemptuous opinion of the man who takes pride in his unsympathy, and who plays with judgment trivially, smartly, and sneeringly, even in the face of this violent crime — who found nothing in human life worthy of serious consideration save the etiquette and intrigue of his own polite circle. These three typical personages represent the opinion of Rome at large, but they also afford the poet and opportunity to tell and retell the story until all the details of fact have become familiar to the reader. Consequently when he passes on to the heart of the poem in the monologues of Guido, Caponsacchi, and Pompilia, he need no longer tell a story, but can devote himself entirely to such incidents and passions as bring out most fully and subtly the character of the speakers. The reading of books ii., iii., and iv., is a fundamental preparation of the reader for the complete understanding of the monologues of Guido, Caponsacchi, and Pompilia. When the poet had written these thrice three monologues he evidently felt his poem to be incomplete of final effect if he left the reader in any possible uncertainty as to the true nature of Guido. In book v. the poet had presented the Guido of skilled subterfuge and of supercilious reliance on the privileges of a sham social condition. He would now give us the genuine Guido, fierce, brutal, ignoble, depraved, blasphemous, till we shudder at the abyss of darkness in his heart. These are the ten monologues of the Ring and the Book, not ten repetitions of the same story, but ten glimpses into the human heart as it reacts upon a story which every changes with the personality of the narrator.

To this body of the poem Browning adds his prefatory and concluding books, both of them entirely unconventional in their form, but direct and vitally truthful to the poem as a whole, and to the Old Yellow Book before the poet. The first book is an invaluable preparatory miscellany, including the explanation of the title of the poem, an account of the finding of the Yellow Book, of its contents, of Browning’s immediate interest in it, and of his creative reaction in response to it; then a series of summaries of the monologue situations which follow in the succeeding books of the poem, and finally the invocation and dedication to Mrs.Browning. The concluding book is equally miscellaneous, and its purpose is to complete the story which had been broken by Guido’s shriek in his dungeon, and to lead the reader down from the glaring lights of mid-story into the creeping oblivion which overtook this fact as it overtakes all things human. The device of telling about Guido’s execution through the letters of eye-witnesses was suggested to the poet by the three letters of the Yellow Book, one of which, the letter of Arcangeli, is included in full, lines 239 — 288. From the additional Italian narrative which had fallen to his hands, Browning then fashions the ghastly spectacle of the throngs of Rome pressing curiously and unfeelingly around Guido’s scaffold. Even the final absolution of the memory of Pompilia and the establishment of her innocence takes the form of the court decree included in the Yellow Book. At last the inevitable tide of time surges over all, and the Franceschini tragedy and its stir in Rome are swept into final oblivion.

Through the ten voices of the ten monologues, Browning does not merely tell a story; he pictures the life of Rome and Arezzo in the year 1698, with all their play of professional and social motive. The accounts of the motives of Guido and Caponsacchi for entering the church reveal the great worldly ecclesiastical establishment of which they are a part. In domestic life the sacrament of marriage is pictured as mere barter and sale, not unmingled with fraud.

Marriage making for the earth,

With gold so much — birth, power, repute, so much,

Or beauty, youth so much, in lack of these.

And the law and the law courts, with their countless delays and perversions of justice are seen in a confusion of law. suits, civil and criminal, which surrounded Pompilia’s life. Rome is portrayed in the poem with an art more subtle and penetrating than is usually found in the art of the historical novel.

Yet here, as at all times, Browning is interested in men rather than institutions; in Abate Paolo, Canon Conti, the Confessors Romano and Celestino rather than in the church as such; in Arcangeli and Bottini rather than in the profession of the law. Hence many who were mere names in the Yellow Book become personal and alive in the poem. Violante stands forth in all her meddlesome self-will. Donna Beatrice grows portentously to a true novercal type, amplifying the sketch of the old duchess in the Flight of the Duchess. The worldly Bishop of Arezzo again yields to the Franceschini in bland deference the victim they desire. A score and more of persons have started into life from the old record, and are significant to Browning as a searcher of the heart of man.

But it is in the interpretation of the three chief actors that the creative Browning best found expression. Guido, Caponsacchi, and Pompilia become at last the measure of Browning’s mastery and insight, and are the high-water mark of his creative imagination.

Browning has represented many evil men in his art, but all his other villains pale into insignificance beside the full, passionate, living portrayal of Guido Franceschini. Yet Guido is not a monster, nor an accidentally unfortunate man; he is the hideous outgrowth of a self-seeking, Christless society, in which nobility is no longer a spiritual attribute, but has become a mere merchantable asset and a shield for crouching littlenesses. The Yellow Book makes plain accusation concerning the ruthless greed of Guido, but Browning connects this with the effete nobility and the worldly churchmanship of the day as he saw it. And this theme of greed is made to run through the whole Franceschini family with variations. Guido’s final desperation of hate and of misanthropy expresses itself in his terrible ravings in his prison cell on the night before his execution.

Caponsacchi, on the other hand, is Browning’s highest conception of heroic manhood, not an unreal, and vainly ideal dream, but a passionate, earnest, and great-hearted man, with a lovable impetuosity and rashness at times. He is a modern St. George, saving a woman in desperate plight by a reckless display of courage. Called suddenly from the narrow, uneventful life of an idle, fashionable canon, not by a great, shining duty, but by a low cry of pain from the roadside, he threw prudence and self-seeking to the wind that he might worship God in saving this woman. Though he is summoned by pity, he is detained by passion — not a debasing, physical passion, but passion controlled by the consecrating power of reverential love, as of the divine. He worships Pompilia with no merely conventional worship of love- sick poetising, but he bows, is blest by the revelation of Pompilia, who seems to him to be an embodiment of the virtues of the Madonna, whom he as a priest had been taught to revere. Into this portrait of his “soldier-saint” Browning put much that was noblest in his own high type of manhood.

In Pompilia, Browning has achieved his master picture of woman. Probably the character of the real Pompilia as it shone from the affidavit of Fra Celestino in the Old Yellow Book fixed the poet’s attention on this story. She is represented there as saint and martyr in simple loveliness of character. He further endowed her with the highest spiritual graces which may glorify woman, the passion of maternity, the devoted love for the man who embodies her ideal of manly nobility, and her unquestioning faith in God “held fast despite the plucking fiend.” These are greater and more essential to the highest womanhood than the intellectuality of Balaustion, or the social charm and grace of Colombe. Pompilia of the Yellow Book has been glorified at last with all that Browning had found most divine in that woman whom he reverenced primarily as a woman of these same spiritual graces, and only secondarily as a woman of genius.

The Pope might be added to the noble portraits of this great poem of humanity. As Caponsacchi may be said to represent the passionate and noble-worldly side of Browning’s nature, so the Pope represents his graver, more other worldly character. Browning has given us an unfading portrait of the great, wise, grave Pope, facing a sad duty, and turning from it to confront the darkest problems which may assail the human heart. But he creates the Pope less as a portrait than as a mouthpiece. Through this wise, earnest personality he would speak what he himself felt most deeply in the tragedy. No historic Pope could have spoken as Browning makes Pope Innocent speak. It may be pointed out that Browning uses his other great old men of this period in the same way, as mouthpieces of his own vision of truth: for such undoubtedly is his use of Rabbi Ben Ezra, of the Apostle John, and of the Russian village pope in Ivan Ivanovitch. Through the Pope, therefore, Browning gives his own mature verdict in the case, and gives it weight by the impressive personality of the Pope as he presents him.

The slow toil of years had at last carried out the plan which came suddenly to the poet as he was thinking of the materials in the Yellow Book, yet it was not the “gold” of fact but the “alloy” of personality, the richly endowed nature of Robert Browning that raised the poem to greatness. It is at last the one poem which seems to employ every power of his mastership, and to utter his deepest convictions concerning the life of man.

Charles W. Hodell.

Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A.
January 27, 1911.

The Ring and The Book

Do you see this Ring?

        ’Tis Rome-work, made to match

(By Castellani’s imitative craft)

Etrurian circlets found, some happy morn,

After a dropping April; found alive

Spark-like ’mid unearthed slope-side figtree- roots

That roof old tombs at Chiusi: soft, you see,

Yet crisp as jewel-cutting. There’s one trick,

(Craftsmen instruct me) one approved device

10

And but one, fits such slivers of pure gold

As this was — such mere oozings from the mine,

Virgin as oval tawny pendent tear

At beehive-edge when ripened combs o’erflow —

To bear the file’s tooth and the hammer’s tap:

Since hammer needs must widen out the round,

And file emboss it fine with lily-flowers,

Ere the stuff grow a ring-thing right to wear.

That trick is, the artificer melts up wax

With honey, so to speak; he mingles gold

20

With gold’s alloy, and, duly tempering both,

Effects a manageable mass, then works.

But his work ended, once the thing a ring,

Oh, there’s repristination! Just a spirt

O’ the proper fiery acid o’er its face,

And forth the alloy unfastened flies in fume;

While, self- sufficient now, the shape remains,

The rondure brave, the lilied loveliness,

Gold as it was, is, shall be evermore:

Prime nature with an added artistry —

30

No carat lost, and you have gained a ring.

What of it? ’Tis a figure, a symbol, say;

A thing’s sign: now for the thing signified.

Do you see this square old yellow Book, I toss

I’ the air, and catch again, and twirl about

By the crumpled vellum covers — pure crude fact

Secreted from man’s life when hearts beat hard,

And brains, high-blooded, ticked two centuries since?

Examine it yourselves! I found this book,

Gave a lira for it, eightpence English just,

40

(Mark the predestination!) when a Hand,

Always above my shoulder, pushed me once,

One day still fierce ’mid many a day struck calm,

Across a Square in Florence, crammed with booths,

Buzzing and blaze, noontide and market-time;

Toward Baccio’s marble — ay, the basement-ledge

O’ the pedestal where sits and menaces

John of the Black Bands with the upright spear,

’Twixt palace and church — Riccardi where they lived,

His race, and San Lorenzo where they lie.

50

This book — precisely on that palace-step

Which, meant for lounging knaves o’ the Medici,

Now serves re-venders to display their ware —

’Mongst odds and ends of ravage, picture-frames

White through the worn gilt, mirror-sconces chipped,

Bronze angel-heads once knobs attached to chests,

(Handled when ancient dames chose forth brocade)

Modern chalk drawings, studies from the nude,

Samples of stone, jet, breccia, porphyry

Polished and rough, sundry amazing busts

60

In baked earth (broken, Providence be praised!)

A wreck of tapestry, proudly-purposed web

When reds and blues were indeed red and blue,

Now offered as a mat to save bare feet

(Since carpets constitute a cruel cost)

Treading the chill scagliola bedward: then

A pile of brown-etched prints, two crazie each,

Stopped by a conch a-top from fluttering forth

— Sowing the Square with works of one and the same

Master, the imaginative Sienese

70

Great in the scenic backgrounds —(name and fame

None of you know, nor does he fare the worse:)

From these Oh, with a Lionard going cheap

If it should prove, as promised, that Joconde

Whereof a copy contents the Louvre! — these

I picked this book from. Five compeers in flank

Stood left and right of it as tempting more —

A dog’s-eared Spicilegium, the fond tale

O’ the Frail One of the Flower, by young Dumas,

Vulgarised Horace for the use of schools,

80

The Life, Death, Miracles of Saint Somebody,

Saint Somebody Else, his Miracles, Death and Life —

With this, one glance at the lettered back of which,

And “Stall!” cried I: a lira made it mine.

Here it is, this I toss and take again;

Small-quarto size, part print part manuscript:

A book in shape but, really, pure crude fact

Secreted from man’s life when hearts beat hard,

And brains, high-blooded, ticked two centuries since.

Give it me back! The thing’s restorative

90

I’ the touch and sight.

        That memorable day

(June was the month, Lorenzo named the Square)

I leaned a little and overlooked my prize

By the low railing round the fountain-source

Close to the statue, where a step descends:

While clinked the cans of copper, as stooped and rose

Thick-ankled girls who brimmed them, and made place

For marketmen glad to pitch basket down,

Dip a broad melon-leaf that holds the wet,

100

And whisk their faded fresh. And on I read

Presently, though my path grew perilous

Between the outspread straw-work, piles of plait

Soon to be flapping, each o’er two black eyes

And swathe of Tuscan hair, on festas fine;

Through fire-irons, tribes of tongs, shovels in sheaves,

Skeleton bedsteads, wardrobe-drawers agape,

Rows of tall slim brass lamps with dangling gear —

And worse, cast clothes a-sweetening in the sun:

None of them took my eye from off my prize.

110

Still read I on, from written title-page

To written index, on, through street and street,

At the Strozzi, at the Pillar, at the Bridge;

Till, by the time I stood at home again

In Casa Guidi by Felice Church,

Under the doorway where the black begins

With the first stone-slab of the staircase cold,

I had mastered the contents, knew the whole truth

Gathered together, bound up in this book,

Print three-fifths, written supplement the rest.

120

Romana Homicidiorum”— nay,

Better translate —“A Roman murder-case:

“Position of the entire criminal cause

“Of Guido Franceschini, nobleman,

“With certain Four the cutthroats in his pay,

“Tried, all five, and found guilty and put to death

“By heading or hanging as befitted ranks,

“At Rome on February Twenty-Two,

“Since our salvation Sixteen Ninety Eight:

“Wherein it is disputed if, and when,

130

“Husbands may kill adulterous wives, yet ’scape

“The customary forfeit.”

        Word for word,

So ran the title-page: murder, or else

Legitimate punishment of the other crime,

Accounted murder by mistake — just that

And no more, in a Latin cramp enough

When the law had her eloquence to launch,

But interfilleted with Italian streaks

When testimony stooped to mother-tongue —

140

That, was this old square yellow book about.

Now, as the ingot, ere the ring was forged,

Lay gold (beseech you, hold that figure fast!)

So, in this book lay absolutely truth,

Fanciless fact, the documents indeed,

Primary lawyer-pleadings for, against,

The aforesaid Five; real summed-up circumstance

Adduced in proof of these on either side,

Put forth and printed, as the practice was,

At Rome, in the Apostolic Chamber’s type,

150

And so submitted to the eye o’ the Court

Presided over by His Reverence

Rome’s Governor and Criminal Judge — the trial

Itself, to all intents, being then as now

Here in the book and nowise out of it;

Seeing, there properly was no judgment-bar,

No bringing of accuser and accused,

And whoso judged both parties, face to face

Before some court, as we conceive of courts.

There was a Hall of Justice; that came last:

160

For justice had a chamber by the hall

Where she took evidence first, summed up the same,

Then sent accuser and accused alike,

In person of the advocate of each,

To weigh that evidence’ worth, arrange, array

The battle. ’Twas the so-styled Fisc began,

Pleaded (and since he only spoke in print

The printed voice of him lives now as then)

The public Prosecutor —“Murder’s proved;

“With five . . . what we call qualities of bad,

“Worse, worst, and yet worse still, and still worse yet;

170

“Crest over crest crowning the cockatrice,

“That beggar hell’s regalia to enrich

“Count Guido Franceschini: punish him!”

Thus was the paper put before the court

In the next stage (no noisy work at all),

To study at ease. In due time like reply

Came from the so-styled Patron of the Poor,

Official mouthpiece of the five accused

Too poor to fee a better — Guido’s luck

180

Or else his fellows’, which, I hardly know —

An outbreak as of wonder at the world,

A fury fit of outraged innocence,

A passion of betrayed simplicity:

“Punish Count Guido? For what crime, what hint

“O’ the colour of a crime, inform us first!

“Reward him rather! Recognise, we say,

“In the deed done, a righteous judgment dealt!

“All conscience and all courage — there’s our Count

“Charactered in a word; and, what’s more strange,

190

“He had companionship in privilege,

“Found four courageous conscientious friends:

“Absolve, applaud all five, as props of law,

“Sustainers of society! — perchance

“A trifle over-hasty with the hand

“To hold her tottering ark, had tumbled else;

“But that’s a splendid fault whereat we wink,

“Wishing your cold correctness sparkled so!”

Thus paper second followed paper first,

Thus did the two join issue — nay, the four,

200

Each pleader having an adjunct. “True, he killed

“— So to speak — in a certain sort — his wife,

“But laudably, since thus it happed!” quoth one:

Whereat, more witness and the case postponed,

“Thus it happed not, since thus he did the deed,

“And proved himself thereby portentousest

“Of cutthroats and a prodigy of crime,

“As the woman that he slaughtered was a saint,

“Martyr and miracle!” quoth the other to match:

Again, more witness, and the case postponed.

210

“A miracle, ay — of lust and impudence;

“Hear my new reasons!” interposed the first:

“— Coupled with more of mine!” pursued his peer.

“Beside, the precedents, the authorities!”

From both at once a cry with an echo, that!

That was a firebrand at each fox’s tail

Unleashed in a cornfield: soon spread flare enough,

As hurtled thither and there heaped themselves

From earth’s four corners, all authority

And precedent for putting wives to death,

220

Or letting wives live, sinful as they seem.

How legislated, now, in this respect,

Solon and his Athenians? Quote the code

Of Romulus and Rome! Justinian speak!

Nor modern Baldo, Bartolo be dumb!

The Roman voice was potent, plentiful;

Cornelia de Sicariis hurried to help

Pompeia de Parricidiis; Julia de

Something-or-other jostled Lex this-and-that;

King Solomon confirmed Apostle Paul:

230

That nice decision of Dolabella, eh?

That pregnant instance of Theodoric, oh!

Down to that choice example Ælian gives

(An instance I find much insisted on)

Of the elephant who, brute-beast though he were,

Yet understood and punished on the spot

His master’s naughty spouse and faithless friend;

A true tale which has edified each child,

Much more shall flourish favoured by our court!

Pages of proof this way, and that way proof,

240

And always — once again the case postponed.

Thus wrangled, brangled, jangled they a month,

— Only on paper, pleadings all in print,

Nor ever was, except i’ the brains of men,

More noise by word of mouth than you hear now —

Till the court cut all short with “Judged, your cause.

“Receive our sentence! Praise God! We pronounce

“Count Guido devilish and damnable:

“His wife Pompilia in thought, word, and deed,

“Was perfect pure, he murdered her for that:

250

“As for the Four who helped the One, all Five —

“Why, let employer and hirelings share alike

“In guilt and guilt’s reward, the death their due!”

So was the trial at end, do you suppose?

“Guilty you find him, death you doom him to?

“Ay, were not Guido, more than needs, a priest,

“Priest and to spare!”— this was a shot reserved;

I learn this from epistles which begin

Here where the print ends — see the pen and ink

Of the advocate, the ready at a pinch! —

260

“My client boasts the clerkly privilege,

“Has taken minor orders many enough,

“Shows still sufficient chrism upon his pate

“To neutralise a blood-stain: presbyter,

Primœ tonsurœ, subdiaconus,

Sacerdos, so he slips from underneath

“Your power, the temporal, slides inside the robe

“Of mother Church: to her we make appeal

“By the Pope, the Church’s head!”

        A parlous plea,

270

Put in with noticeable effect, it seems;

“Since straight,”— resumes the zealous orator,

Making a friend acquainted with the facts —

“Once the word ‘clericality’ let fall,

“Procedure stopped and freer breath was drawn

“By all considerate and responsible Rome.”

Quality took the decent part, of course;

Held by the husband, who was noble too:

Or, for the matter of that, a churl would side

With too-refined susceptibility,

280

And honour which, tender in the extreme,

Stung to the quick, must roughly right itself

At all risks, not sit still and whine for law

As a Jew would, if you squeezed him to the wall,

Brisk-trotting through the Ghetto. Nay, it seems,

Even the Emperor’s Envoy had his say

To say on the subject; might not see, unmoved,

Civility menaced throughout Christendom

By too harsh measure dealt her champion here.

Lastly, what made all safe, the Pope was kind,

290

From his youth up, reluctant to take life,

If mercy might be just and yet show grace;

Much more unlikely then, in extreme age,

To take a life the general sense bade spare.

’Twas plain that Guido would go scatheless yet.

But human promise, oh, how short of shine!

How topple down the piles of hope we rear!

How history proves . . . nay, read Herodotus!

Suddenly starting from a nap, as it were,

A dog-sleep with one shut, one open orb,

300

Cried the Pope’s great self — Innocent by name

And nature too, and eighty-six years old,

Antonio Pignatelli of Naples, Pope

Who had trod many lands, known many deeds,

Probed many hearts, beginning with his own,

And now was far in readiness for God —

’Twas he who first bade leave those souls in peace,

Those Jansenists, re-nicknamed Molinists,

(’Gainst whom the cry went, like a frowsy tune,

Tickling men’s ears — the sect for a quarter of an hour

310

I’ the teeth of the world which, clown-like, loves to chew

Be it but a straw twixt work and whistling-while,

Taste some vituperation, bite away,

Whether at marjoram- sprig or garlic-clove,

Aught it may sport with, spoil, and then spit forth)

“Leave them alone,” bade he, “those Molinists!

“Who may have other light than we perceive,

“Or why is it the whole world hates them thus?”

Also he peeled off that last scandal-rag

Of Nepotism; and so observed the poor

320

That men would merrily say, “Halt, deaf, and blind,

Who feed on fat things, leave the master’s self

“To gather up the fragments of his feast,

“These be the nephews of Pope Innocent! —

“His own meal costs but five carlines a day,

“Poor- priest’s allowance, for he claims no more.”

— He cried of a sudden, this great good old Pope,

When they appealed in last resort to him,

“I have mastered the whole matter: I nothing doubt.

“Though Guido stood forth priest from head to heel,

330

“Instead of, as alleged, a piece of one —

“And further, were he, from the tonsured scalp

“To the sandaled sole of him, my son and Christ’s,

“Instead of touching us by finger- tip

“As you assert, and pressing up so close

“Only to set a blood-smutch on our robe —

“I and Christ would renounce all right in him.

“Am I not Pope, and presently to die,

“And busied how to render my account,

“And shall I wait a day ere I decide

340

“On doing or not doing justice here?

“Cut off his head to-morrow by this time,

“Hang up his four mates, two on either hand,

“And end one business more!”

        So said, so done —

Rather so writ, for the old Pope bade this,

I find, with his particular chirograph,

His own no such infirm hand, Friday night;

And next day, February Twenty-Two,

Since our salvation Sixteen Ninety Eight,

350

— Not at the proper head-and-hanging place

On bridge-foot close by Castle Angelo,

Where custom somewhat staled the spectacle,

(’Twas not so well i’ the way of Rome, beside,

The noble Rome, the Rome of Guido’s rank)

But at the city’s newer gayer end —

The cavalcading promenading place

Beside the gate and opposite the church

Under the Pincian gardens green with Spring,

’Neath the obelisk ’twixt the fountains in the Square,

360

Did Guido and his fellows find their fate,

All Rome for witness, and — my writer adds —

Remonstrant in its universal grief,

Since Guido had the suffrage of all Rome.

This is the bookful; thus far take the truth,

The untempered gold, the fact untampered with,

The mere ring- metal ere the ring be made!

And what has hitherto come of it? Who preserves

The memory of this Guido, and his wife

Pompilia, more than Ademollo’s name,

370

The etcher of those prints, two crazie each,

Saved by a stone from snowing broad the Square

With scenic backgrounds? Was this truth of force?

Able to take its own part as truth should,

Sufficient, self-sustaining? Why, if so —

Yonder’s a fire, into it goes my book,

As who shall say me nay, and what the loss?

You know the tale already: I may ask,

Rather than think to tell you, more thereof —

Ask you not merely who were he and she,

380

Husband and wife, what manner of mankind,

But how you hold concerning this and that

Other yet-unnamed actor in the piece.

The young frank handsome courtly Canon, now,

The priest, declared the lover of the wife,

He who, no question, did elope with her,

For certain bring the tragedy about,

Giuseppe Caponsacchi; — his strange course

I’ the matter, was it right or wrong or both?

Then the old couple, slaughtered with the wife

390

By the husband as accomplices in crime,

Those Comparini, Pietro and his spouse —

What say you to the right or wrong of that,

When, at a known name whispered through the door

Of a lone villa on a Christmas night,

It opened that the joyous hearts inside

Might welcome as it were an angel-guest

Come in Christ’s name to knock and enter, sup

And satisfy the loving ones he saved;

And so did welcome devils and their death?

400

I have been silent on that circumstance

Although the couple passed for close of kin

To wife and husband, were by some accounts

Pompilia’s very parents: you know best.

Also that infant the great joy was for,

That Gaetano, the wife’s two-weeks’ babe,

The husband’s first-born child, his son and heir,

Whose birth and being turned his night to day —

Why must the father kill the mother thus

Because she bore his son and saved himself?

410

Well, British Public, ye who like me not,

(God love you!) and will have your proper laugh

At the dark question, laugh it! I laugh first.

Truth must prevail, the proverb vows; and truth

— Here is it all i’ the book at last, as first

There it was all i’ the heads and hearts of Rome

Gentle and simple, never to fall nor fade

Nor be forgotten. Yet, a little while,

The passage of a century or so,

Decads thrice five, and here’s time paid his tax,

420

Oblivion gone home with her harvesting,

And left all smooth again as scythe could shave.

Far from beginning with you London folk,

I took my book to Rome first, tried truth’s power

On likely people. “Have you met such names?

“Is a tradition extant of such facts?

“Your law-courts stand, your records frown a-row:

“What if I rove and rummage?” “— Why, you’ll waste

“Your pains and end as wise as you began!”

Every one snickered: “names and facts thus old

430

“Are newer much than Europe news we find

“Down in to-day’s Diario. Records, quotha?

“Why, the French burned them, what else do the French?

“The rap-and-rending nation! And it tells

“Against the Church, no doubt — another gird

“At the Temporality, your Trial, of course?”

“— Quite otherwise this time,” submitted I;

“Clean for the Church and dead against the world,

“The flesh and the devil, does it tell for once.”

“— The rarer and the happier! All the same,

440

“Content you with your treasure of a book,

“And waive what’s wanting! Take a friend’s advice!

“It’s not the custom of the country. Mend

“Your ways indeed and we may stretch a point:

“Go get you manned by Manning and new-manned

“By Newman and, mayhap, wise-manned to boot

“By Wiseman, and we’ll see or else we won’t!

“Thanks meantime for the story, long and strong,

“A pretty piece of narrative enough,

“Which scarce ought so to drop out, one would think,

450

“From the more curious annals of our kind.

“Do you tell the story, now, in off-hand style,

“Straight from the book? Or simply here and there,

“(The while you vault it through the loose and large)

“Hang to a hint? Or is there book at all,

“And don’t you deal in.poetry, make-believe,

“And the white lies it sounds like?”

        Yes and no!

From the book, yes; thence bit by bit I dug

The lingot truth, that memorable day,

460

Assayed and knew my piecemeal gain was gold —

Yes; but from something else surpassing that,

Something of mine which, mixed up with the mass,

Made it bear hammer and be firm to file.

Fancy with fact is just one fact the more;

To-wit, that fancy has informed, transpierced,

Thridded and so thrown fast the facts else free,

As right through ring and ring runs the djereed

And binds the loose, one bar without a break.

I fused my live soul and that inert stuff,

470

Before attempting smithcraft, on the night

After the day when — truth thus grasped and gained —

The book was shut and done with and laid by

On the cream-coloured massive agate, broad

’Neath the twin cherubs in the tarnished frame

O’ the mirror, tall thence to the ceiling- top.

And from the reading, and that slab I leant

My elbow on, the while I read and read

I turned, to free myself and find the world,

And stepped out on the narrow terrace, built

480

Over the street and opposite the church,

And paced its lozenge brickwork sprinkled cool;

Because Felice-church-side-stretched, a-glow

Through each square window fringed for festival,

Whence came the clear voice of the cloistered ones

Chanting a chant made for midsummer nights —

I know not what particular praise of God,

It always came and went with June. Beneath

I’ the street, quick shown by openings of the sky

When flame fell silently from cloud to cloud,

490

Richer than that gold snow Jove rained on Rhodes,

The townsmen walked by twos and threes, and talked,

Drinking the blackness in default of air —

A busy human sense beneath my feet:

While in and out the terrace-plants, and round

One branch of tall datura, waxed and waned

The lamp-fly lured there, wanting the white flower.

Over the roof o’ the lighted church I looked

A bowshot to the street’s end, north away

Out of the Roman gate to the Roman road

500

By the river, till I felt the Apennine.

And there would lie Arezzo, the man’s town,

The woman’s trap and cage and torture- place,

Also the stage where the priest played his part,

A spectacle for angels — ay, indeed,

There lay Arezzo! Farther then I fared,

Feeling my way on through the hot and dense,

Romeward, until I found the wayside inn

By Castelnuovo’s few mean hut-like homes

Huddled together on the hill-foot bleak,

Bare, broken only by that tree or two

510

Against the sudden bloody splendour poured

Cursewise in his departure by the day

On the low house-roof of that squalid inn

Where they three, for the first time and the last,

Husband and wife and priest, met face to face.

Whence I went on again, the end was near,

Step by step, missing none and marking all,

Till Rome itself, the ghastly goal, I reached.

Why, all the while — how could it otherwise? —

520

The life in me abolished the death of things,

Deep calling unto deep: as then and there

Acted itself over again once more

The tragic piece. I saw with my own eyes

In Florence as I trod the terrace, breathed

The beauty and the fearfulness of night,

How it had run, this round from Rome to Rome —

Because, you are to know, they lived at Rome,

Pompilia’s parents, as they thought themselves,

Two poor ignoble hearts who did their best

530

Part God’s way, part the other way than God’s,

To somehow make a shift and scramble through

The world’s mud, careless if it splashed and spoiled,

Provided they might so hold high, keep clean

Their child’s soul, one soul white enough for three,

And lift it to whatever star should stoop,

What possible sphere of purer life than theirs

Should come in aid of whiteness hard to save.

I saw the star stoop, that they strained to touch,

And did touch and depose their treasure on,

540

As Guido Franceschini took away

Pompilia to be his for evermore,

While they sang “Now let us depart in peace,

“Having beheld thy glory, Guido’s wife!”

I saw the star supposed, but fog o’ the fen,

Gilded star-fashion by a glint from hell;

Having been heaved up, haled on its gross way,

By hands unguessed before, invisible help

From a dark brotherhood, and specially

Two obscure goblin creatures, fox-faced this,

550

Cat-clawed the other, called his next of kin

By Guido the main monster — cloaked and caped,

Making as they were priests, to mock God more —

Abate Paul, Canon Girolamo.

These who had rolled the starlike pest to Rome

And stationed it to suck up and absorb

The sweetness of Pompilia, rolled again

That bloated bubble, with her soul inside,

Back to Arezzo and a palace there —

Or say, a fissure in the honest earth

560

Whence long ago had curled the vapour first,

Blown big by nether fires to appal day:

It touched home, broke, and blasted far and wide.

I saw the cheated couple find the cheat

And guess what foul rite they were captured for —

Too fain to follow over hill and dale

That child of theirs caught up thus in the cloud

And carried by the Prince o’ the Power of the Air

Whither he would, to wilderness or sea.

I saw them, in the potency of fear,

570

Break somehow through the satyr-family

(For a grey mother with a monkey-mien,

Mopping and mowing, was apparent too,

As, confident of capture, all took hands

And danced about the captives in a ring)

— Saw them break through, breathe safe, at Rome again,

Saved by the selfish instinct, losing so

Their loved one left with haters. These I saw,

In recrudescency of baffled hate,

Prepare to wring the uttermost revenge

580

From body and soul thus left them: all was sure,

Fire laid and cauldron set, the obscene ring traced,

The victim stripped and prostrate: what of God?

The cleaving of a cloud, a cry, a crash,

Quenched lay their cauldron, cowered i’ the dust the crew,

As, in a glory of armour like Saint George,

Out again sprang the young good beauteous priest

Bearing away the lady in his arms,

Saved for a splendid minute and no more.

For, whom i’ the path did that priest come upon,

590

He and the poor lost lady borne so brave,

— Checking the song of praise in me, had else

Swelled to the full for God’s will done on earth —

Whom but a dusk misfeatured messenger,

No other than the angel of this life,

Whose care is lest men see too much at once.

He made the sign, such God-glimpse must suffice,

Nor prejudice the Prince o’ the Power of the Air,

Whose ministration piles us overhead

What we call, first, earth’s roof and, last, heaven’s floor,

600

Now grate o’ the trap, then outlet of the cage:

So took the lady, left the priest alone,

And once more canopied the world with black.

But through the blackness I saw Rome again,

And where a solitary villa stood

In a lone garden-quarter: it was eve,

The second of the year, and oh so cold!

Ever and anon there flittered through the air

A snow-flake, and a scanty couch of snow

Crusted the grass-walk and the garden- mould.

610

All was grave, silent, sinister — when, ha?

Glimmeringly did a pack of were-wolves pad

The snow, those flames were Guido’s eyes in front,

And all five found and footed it, the track,

To where a threshold- streak of warmth and light

Betrayed the villa-door with life inside,

While an inch outside were those blood- bright eyes,

And black lips wrinkling o’er the flash of teeth,

And tongues that lolled — Oh God that madest man!

They parleyed in their language. Then one whined —

620

That was the policy and master-stroke —

Deep in his throat whispered what seemed a name —

“Open to Caponsacchi!” Guido cried:

“Gabriel!” cried Lucifer at Eden-gate.

Wide as a heart, opened the door at once,

Showing the joyous couple, and their child

The two-weeks’ mother, to the wolves, the wolves

To them. Close eyes! And when the corpses lay

Stark-stretched, and those the wolves, their wolf-work done,

Were safe-embosomed by the night again,

630

I knew a necessary change in things;

As when the worst watch of the night gives way,

And there comes duly, to take cognisance,

The scrutinising eye-point of some star —

And who despairs of a new daybreak now?

Lo, the first ray protruded on those five!

It reached them, and each felon writhed transfixed.

Awhile they palpitated on the spear

Motionless over Tophet: stand or fall?

“I say, the spear should fall — should stand, I say!”

640

Cried the world come to judgment, granting grace

Or dealing doom according to world’s wont,

Those world’s-bystanders grouped on Rome’s cross-road

At prick and summons of the primal curse

Which bids man love as well as make a lie.

There prattled they, discoursed the right and wrong,

Turned wrong to right, proved wolves sheep and sheep wolves,

So that you scarce distinguished fell from fleece;

Till out spoke a great guardian of the fold,

Stood up, put forth his hand that held the crook,

650

And motioned that the arrested point decline:

Horribly off, the wriggling dead-weight reeled,

Rushed to the bottom and lay ruined there.

Though still at the pit’s mouth, despite the smoke

O’ the burning, tarriers turned again to talk

And trim the balance, and detect at least

A touch of wolf in what showed whitest sheep,

A cross of sheep redeeming the whole wolf —

Vex truth a little longer:— less and less,

Because years came and went, and more and more

660

Brought new lies with them to be loved in turn.

Till all at once the memory of the thing —

The fact that, wolves or sheep, such creatures were —

Which hitherto, however men supposed,

Had somehow plain and pillar-like prevailed

I’ the midst of them, indisputably fact,

Granite, time’s tooth should grate against, not graze —

Why, this proved standstone, friable, fast to fly

And give its grain away at wish o’ the wind.

Ever and ever more diminutive,

670

Base gone, shaft lost, only entablature,

Dwindled into no bigger than a book,

Lay of the column; and that little, left

By the roadside ’mid the ordure, shards, and weeds,

Until I haply, wandering that way,

Kicked it up, turned it over, and recognised,

For all the crumblement, this abacus,

This square old yellow book — could calculate

By this the lost proportions of the style.

This was it from, my fancy with those facts,

680

I used to tell the tale, turned gay to grave,

But lacked a listener seldom; such alloy,

Such substance of me interfused the gold

Which, wrought into a shapely ring therewith,

Hammered and filed, fingered and favoured, last

Lay ready for the renovating wash

O’ the water. “How much of the tale was true?”

I disappeared; the book grew all in all;

The lawyers’ pleadings swelled back to their size —

Doubled in two, the crease upon them yet,

690

For more commodity of carriage, see! —

And these are letters, veritable sheets

That brought posthaste the news to Florence, writ

At Rome the day Count Guido died, we find,

To stay the craving of a client there,

Who bound the same and so produced my book.

Lovers of dead truth, did ye fare the worse?

Lovers of live truth, found ye false my tale?

Well, now; there’s nothing in nor out o’ the world

Good except truth: yet this, the something else,

700

What’s this then, which proves good yet seems untrue?

This that I mixed with truth, motions of mine

That quickened, made the inertness malleolable

O’ the gold was not mine — what’s your name for this?

Are means to the end, themselves in part the end?

Is fiction which makes fact alive, fact too?

The somehow may be thishow.

        I find first

Writ down for very A B C of fact,

“In the beginning God made heaven and earth;”

710

From which, no matter with what lisp, I spell

And speak out a consequence — that man,

Man — as befits the made, the inferior thing —

Purposed, since made, to grow, not make in turn,

Yet forced to try and make, else fail to grow —

Formed to rise, reach at, if not grasp and gain

The good beyond him — which attempt is growth —

Repeats God’s process in man’s due degree,

Attaining man’s proportionate result —

Creates, no, but resuscitates, perhaps.

720

Inalienable, the arch-prerogative

Which turns thought, act — conceives, expresses too!

No less, man, bounded, yearning to be free,

May so project his surplusage of soul

In search of body, so add self to self

By owning what lay ownerless before —

So, find so fill full, so appropriate forms —

That, although nothing which had never life

Shall get life from him, be, not having been,

Yet, something dead may get to live again,

730

Something with too much life or not enough,

Which, either way imperfect, ended once:

An end whereat man’s impulse intervenes,

Makes new beginning, starts the dead alive,

Completes the incomplete and saves the thing.

Man’s breath were vain to light a virgin wick —

Half-burned-out, all but quite-quenched wicks o’ the lamp

Stationed for temple-service on this earth,

These indeed let him breathe on and relume!

For such man’s feat is, in the due degree,

740

— Mimic creation, galvanism for life,

But still a glory portioned in the scale.

Why did the mage say — feeling as we are wont

For truth, and stopping midway short of truth,

And resting on a lie — “I raise a ghost?”

“Because,” he taught adepts, “man makes not man.

“Yet by a special gift, an art of arts,

“More insight and more outsight and much more

“Will to use both of these than boast my mates,

“I can detach from me, commission forth

750

“Half of my soul; which in its pilgrimage

“O’er old unwandered waste ways of the world,

“May chance upon some fragment of a whole,

“Rag of flesh, scrap of bone in dim disuse,

“Smoking flax that fed fire once: prompt therein

“I enter, spark-like, put old powers to play,

“Push lines out to the limit, lead forth last

“(By a moonrise through a ruin of a crypt)

“What shall be mistily seen, murmuringly heard,

“Mistakenly felt: then write my name with Faust’s!”

760

Oh, Faust, why Faust? Was not Elisha once? —

Who bade them lay his staff on a corpse-face.

There was no voice, no hearing: he went in

Therefore, and shut the door upon them twain,

And prayed unto the Lord: and he went up

And lay upon the corpse, dead on the couch,

And put his mouth upon its mouth, his eyes

Upon its eyes, his hands upon its hands,

And stretched him on the flesh; the flesh waxed warm:

And he returned, walked to and fro the house,

770

And went up, stretched him on the flesh again,

And the eyes opened. ’Tis a credible feat

With the right man and way.

        Enough of me!

The Book! I turn its medicinable leaves

In London now till, as in Florence erst,

A spirit laughs and leaps through every limb,

And lights my eye, and lifts me by the hair,

Letting me have my will again with these

— How title I the dead alive once more?

780

Count Guido Franceschini the Aretine,

Descended of an ancient house, though poor,

A beak-nosed bushy-bearded black-haired lord,

Lean, pallid, low of stature yet robust,

Fifty years old — having four years ago

Married Pompilia Comparini, young,

Good, beautiful, at Rome, where she was born,

And brought her to Arezzo, where they lived

Unhappy lives, whatever curse the cause —

This husband, taking four accomplices,

790

Followed this wife to Rome, where she was fled

From their Arezzo to find peace again,

In convoy, eight months earlier, of a priest,

Aretine also, of still nobler birth,

Giuseppe Caponsacchi — and caught her there

Quiet in a villa on a Christmas night,

With only Pietro and Violante by,

Both her putative parents; killed the three,

Aged, they, seventy each, and she, seventeen,

And, two weeks since, the mother of his babe

800

First-born and heir to what the style was worth

O’ the Guido who determined, dared and did

This deed just as he purposed point by point.

Then, bent upon escape, but hotly pressed,

And captured with his co-mates that same night,

He, brought to trial, stood on this defence —

Injury to his honour caused the act;

That since his wife was false (as manifest

By flight from home in such companionship),

Death, punishment deserved of the false wife

810

And faithless parents who abetted her

I’ the flight aforesaid, wronged nor God nor man.

“Nor false she, nor yet faithless they,” replied

The accuser; “cloaked and masked this murder glooms;

“True was Pompilia, loyal too the pair;

“Out of the man’s own heart this monster curled,

“This crime coiled with connivancy at crime,

“His victim’s breast, he tells you, hatched and reared;

“Uncoil we and stretch stark the worm of hell!”

A month the trial swayed this way and that

820

Ere judgment settled down on Guido’s guilt;

Then was the Pope, that good Twelfth Innocent,

Appealed to: who well weighed what went before,

Affirmed the guilt and gave the guilty doom.

Let this old woe step on the stage again!

Act itself o’er anew for men to judge,

Not by the very sense and sight indeed —

(Which take at best imperfect cognisance,

Since, how heart moves brain, and how both move hand,

What mortal ever in entirety saw?)

830

— No dose of purer truth than man digests,

But truth with falsehood, milk that feeds him now,

Not strong meat he may get to bear some day —

To-wit, by voices we call evidence,

Uproar in the echo, live fact deadened down,

Talked over, bruited abroad, whispered away,

Yet helping us to all we seem to hear:

For how else know we save by worth of word?

Here are the voices presently shall sound

In due succession. First, the world’s outcry

840

Around the rush and ripple of any fact

Fallen stonewise, plumb on the smooth face of things;

The world’s guess, as it crowds the bank o’ the pool,

At what were figure and substance, by their splash:

Then, by vibrations in the general mind,

At depth of deed already out of reach.

This threefold murder of the day before —

Say, Half-Rome’s feel after the vanished truth;

Honest enough, as the way is: all the same,

Harbouring in the centre of its sense

850

A hidden germ of failure, shy but sure,

Should neutralise that honesty and leave

That feel for truth at fault, as the way is too.

Some prepossession such as starts amiss,

By but a hair’s-breadth at the shoulder-blade,

The arm o’ the feeler, dip he ne’er so brave;

And so leads waveringly, lets fall wide

O’the mark his finger meant to find, and fix

Truth at the bottom, that deceptive speck.

With this Half-Rome — the source of swerving, call

860

Over-belief in Guido’s right and wrong

Rather than in Pompilia’s wrong and right:

Who shall say how, who shall say why? ’Tis there —

The instinctive theorising whence a fact

Looks to the eye as the eye likes the look.

Gossip in a public place, a sample-speech.

Some worthy, with his previous hint to find

A husband’s side the safer, and no whit

Aware he is not Æacus the while —

How such an one supposes and states fact

870

To whosoever of a multitude

Will listen, and perhaps prolong thereby

The not-unpleasant flutter at the breast,

Born of a certain spectacle shut in

By the church Lorenzo opposite. So, they lounge

Midway the mouth o’ the street, on Corso side,

’Twixt palace Fiano and palace Ruspoli,

Linger and listen; keeping clear o’ the crowd,

Yet wishful one could lend that crowd one’s eyes,

(So universal is its plague of squint)

880

And make hearts beat our time that flutter false:

— All for the truth’s sake, mere truth, nothing else!

How Half-Rome found for Guido much excuse.

For truth with a like swerve, like unsuccess —

Or if success, by no more skill but luck:

This time, though rather siding with the wife,

However the fancy-fit inclined that way,

Than with the husband. One wears drab, one, pink;

Who wears pink, ask him “Which shall win the race,

890

“Of coupled runners like as egg and egg?”

“— Why, if I must choose, he with the pink scarf.”

Doubtless for some such reason choice fell here.

A piece of public talk to correspond

At the next stage of the story; just a day

Let pass and new day bring the proper change.

Another sample-speech i’ the market-place

O’ the Barberini by the Capucins;

Where the old Triton, at his fountain-sport,

Bernini’s creature plated to the paps,

900

Puffs up steel sleet which breaks to diamond dust,

A spray of sparkles snorted from his conch,

High over the caritellas, out o’ the way

O’ the motley merchandising multitude.

Our murder has been done three days ago,

The frost is over and gone, the south wind laughs,

And, to the very tiles of each red roof

A-smoke i’ the sunshine, Rome lies gold and glad:

So, listen how, to the other half of Rome,

Pompilia seemed a saint and martyr both!

910

Then, yet another day let come and go,

With pause prelusive still of novelty,

Hear a fresh speaker! — neither this nor that

Half-Rome aforesaid; something bred of both:

One and one breed the inevitable three.

Such is the personage harangues you next;

The elaborated product, tertium quid:

Rome’s first commotion in subsidence gives

The curd o’ the cream, flower o’ the wheat, as it were,

And finer sense o’ the city. Is this plain?

920

You get a reasoned statement of the case,

Eventual verdict of the curious few

Who care to sift a business to the bran

Nor coarsely bolt it like the simpler sort.

Here, after ignorance, instruction speaks;

Here, clarity of candour, history’s soul,

The critical mind, in short; no gossip-guess.

What the superior social section thinks,

In person of some man of quality

Who — breathing musk from lace-work and brocade,

930

His solitaire amid the flow of frill,

Powdered peruke on nose, and bag at back,

And cane dependent from the ruffled wrist —

Harangues in silvery and selectest phrase

’Neath waxlight in a glorified saloon

Where mirrors multiply the girandole:

Courting the approbation of no mob,

But Eminence This and All-Illustrious That

Who take snuff softly, range in well-bred ring,

Card-table-quitters for observance’ sake,

940

Around the argument, the rational word —

Still, spite its weight and worth, a sample-speech.

How quality dissertated on the case.

So much for Rome and rumour; smoke comes first:

Once the smoke risen untroubled, we descry

Clearlier what tongues of flame may spire and spit

To eye and ear, each with appropriate tinge

According to its food, pure or impure.

The actors, no mere rumours of the act,

Intervene. First you hear Count Guido’s voice,

950

In a small chamber that adjoins the court,

Where Governor and Judges, summoned thence,

Tommati, Venturini and the rest,

Find the accused ripe for declaring truth.

Soft-cushioned sits he; yet shifts seat, shirks touch,

As, with a twitchy brow and wincing lip

And cheek that changes to all kinds of white,

He proffers his defence, in tones subdued

Near to mock-mildness, now, so mournful seems

The obtuser sense truth fails to satisfy;

960

Now, moved, from pathos at the wrong endured,

To passion; for the natural man is roused

At fools who first do wrong, then pour the blame

Of their wrong-doing, Satan-like, on Job.

Also his tongue at times is hard to curb;

Incisive, nigh satiric bites the phrase,

Rough-raw, yet somehow claiming privilege

— It is so hard for shrewdness to admit

Folly means no harm when she calls black white!

— Eruption momentary at the most,

970

Modified forthwith by a fall o’the fire,

Sage acquiescence; for the world’s the world,

And, what it errs in, Judges rectify:

He feels he has a fist, then folds his arms

Crosswise and makes his mind up to be meek.

And never once does he detach his eye

From those ranged there to slay him or to save,

But does his best man’s-service for himself,

Despite — what twitches brow and makes lip wince —

His limbs’ late taste of what was called the Cord,

980

Or Vigil-torture more facetiously.

Even so; they were wont to tease the truth

Out of loath witness (toying, trifling time)

By torture: ’twas a trick, a vice of the age,

Here, there, and everywhere, what would you have?

Religion used to tell Humanity

She gave him warrant or denied him course.

And since the course was much to his own mind,

Of pinching flesh and pulling bone from bone

To unhusk truth a-hiding in its hulls,

990

Nor whisper of a warning stopped the way,

He, in their joint behalf, the burly slave,

Bestirred him, mauled and maimed all recusants,

While, prim in place, Religion overlooked;

And so had done till doomsday, never a sign

Nor sound of interference from her mouth,

But that at last the burly slave wiped brow,

Let eye give notice as if soul were there,

Muttered “’Tis a vile trick, foolish more than vile,

“Should have been counted sin; I make it so:

1000

“At any rate no more of it for me —

“Nay, for I break the torture-engine thus!”

Then did Religion start up, stare amain,

Look round for help and see none, smile and say

“What, broken is the rack? Well done of thee!

“Did I forget to abrogate its use?

“Be the mistake in common with us both!

“— One more fault our blind age shall answer for,

“Down in my book denounced though it must be

“Somewhere. Henceforth find truth by milder means!”

1010

Ah but, Religion, did we wait for thee

To ope the book, that serves to sit upon,

And pick such place out, we should wait indeed!

That is all history: and what is not now,

Was then, defendants found it to their cost.

How Guido, after being tortured, spoke.

Also hear Caponsacchi who comes next,

Man and priest — could you comprehend the coil! —

In days when that was rife which now is rare.

How, mingling each its multifarious wires,

Now heaven, now earth, now heaven and earth at once,

1021

Had plucked at and perplexed their puppet here,

Played off the young frank personable priest;

Sworn fast and tonsured plain heaven’s celibate,

And yet earth’s clear-accepted servitor,

A courtly spiritual Cupid, squire of dames

By law of love and mandate of the mode.

The Church’s own, or why parade her seal,

Wherefore that chrism and consecrative work?

Yet verily the world’s, or why go badged

1030

A prince of sonneteers and lutanists,

Show colour of each vanity in vogue

Borne with decorum due on blameless breast?

All that is changed now, as he tells the court

How he had played the part excepted at;

Tells it, moreover, now the second time:

Since, for his cause of scandal, his own share

I’ the flight from home and husband of the wife,

He has been censured, punished in a sort

By relegation — exile, we should say,

1040

To a short distance for a little time —

Whence he is summoned on a sudden now,

Informed that she, he thought to save, is lost,

And, in a breath, bidden re-tell his tale,

Since the first telling somehow missed effect,

And then advise in the matter. There stands he,

While the same grim black-panelled chamber blinks

As though rubbed shiny with the sins of Rome

Told the same oak for ages — wave- washed wall

Whereto has set a sea of wickedness.

1050

There, where you yesterday heard Guido speak,

Speaks Caponsacchi; and there face him too

Tommati, Venturini, and the rest

Who, eight months earlier, scarce repressed the smile,

Forewent the wink; waived recognition so

Of peccadillos incident to youth,

Especially youth high-born; for youth means love,

Vows can’t change nature, priests are only men,

And love needs stratagem and subterfuge:

Which age, that once was youth, should recognise,

1060

May blame, but needs not press too hard against.

Here sit the old Judges then, but with no grace

Of reverend carriage, magisterial port.

For why? The accused of eight months since — same

Who cut the conscious figure of a fool,

Changed countenance, dropped bashful gaze to ground,

While hesitating for an answer then —

Now is grown judge himself, terrifies now

This, now the other culprit called a judge,

Whose turn it is to stammer and look strange,

1070

As he speaks rapidly, angrily, speech that smites:

And they keep silence, bear blow after blow,

Because the seeming-solitary man,

Speaking for God, may have an audience too,

Invisible, no discreet judge provokes.

How the priest Caponsacchi said his say.

Then a soul sights its lowest and its last

After the loud ones — so much breath remains

Unused by the four-day’s-dying; for she lived

Thus long, miraculously long, ’twas thought,

1080

Just that Pompilia might defend herself.

How, while the hireling and the alien stoop,

Comfort, yet question — since the time is brief,

And folk, allowably inquisitive,

Encircle the low pallet where she lies

In the good house that helps the poor to die —

Pompilia tells the story of her life.

For friend and lover — leech and man of law

Do service; busy helpful ministrants

As varied in their calling as their mind,

1090

Temper and age: and yet from all of these

About the white bed under the arched roof,

Is somehow, as it were, evolved a one —

Small separate sympathies combined and large,

Nothings that were, grown something very much:

As if the bystanders gave each his straw,

All he had, though a trifle in itself,

Which, plaited all together, made a Cross

Fit to die looking on and praying with,

Just as well as ivory or gold.

1100

So, to the common kindliness she speaks,

There being scarce more privacy at the last

For mind than body: but she is used to bear,

And only unused to the brotherly look,

How she endeavoured to explain her life.

Then, since a Trial ensued, a touch o’ the same

To sober us, flustered with frothy talk,

And teach our common sense its helplessness.

For why deal simply with divining-rod,

Scrape where we fancy secret sources flow,

1110

And ignore law, the recognised machine,

Elaborate display of pipe and wheel

Framed to unchoak, pump up and pour apace

Truth in a flowery foam shall wash the world?

The patent truth- extracting process — ha?

Let us make all that mystery turn one wheel,

Give you a single grind of law at least!

One orator, of two on either side,

Shall teach us the puissance of the tongue

— That is, o’ the pen which simulated tongue

1120

On paper and saved all except the sound

Which ever was. Law’s speech beside law’s thought?

That were too stunning, too immense an odds:

That point of vantage, law let nobly pass.

One lawyer shall admit us to behold

The manner of the making out a case,

First fashion of a speech; the chick in egg,

And masterpiece law’s bosom incubates,

How Don Giacinto of the Arcangeli,

Called Procurator of the Poor at Rome,

1130

Now advocate for Guido and his mates —

The jolly learned man of middle age,

Cheek and jowl all in laps with fat and law,

Mirthful as mighty, yet, as great hearts use,

Despite the name and fame that tempt our flesh,

Constant to that devotion of the hearth,

Still captive in those dear domestic ties! —

How he — having a cause to triumph with,

All kind of interests to keep intact,

More than one efficacious personage

1140

To tranquillise, conciliate, and secure,

And above all, public anxiety

To quiet, show its Guido in good hands —

Also, as if such burdens were too light,

A certain family-feast to claim his care,

The birthday-banquet for the only son —

Paternity at smiling strife with law —

How he brings both to buckle in one bond;

And, thick at throat, with waterish under-eye,

Turns to his task and settles in his seat

1150

And puts his utmost means to practice now:

Wheezes out law and whiffles Latin forth,

And, just as though roast lamb would never be,

Makes logic levigate the big crime small:

Rubs palm on palm, rakes foot with itchy foot,

Conceives and inchoates the argument,

Sprinkling each flower appropriate to the time,

— Ovidian quip or Ciceronian crank,

A-bubble in the larynx while he laughs,

As he had fritters deep down frying there.

1160

How he turns, twists, and tries the oily thing

Shall be — first speech for Guido ’gainst the Fisc,

Then with a skip as it were from heel to head,

Leaving yourselves fill up the middle bulk

O’ the Trial, reconstruct its shape august,

From such exordium clap we to the close;

Give you, if we dare wing to such a height,

The absolute glory in some full-grown speech

On the other side, some finished butterfly,

Some breathing diamond-flake with leaf-gold fans,

1170

That takes the air, no trace of worm it was,

Or cabbage-bed it had production from.

Giovambattista o’ the Bottini, Fisc,

Pompilia’s patron by the chance of the hour,

To-morrow her persecutor — composite, he,

As becomes who must meet such various calls —

Odds of age joined in him with ends of youth.

A man of ready smile and facile tear,

Improvised hopes, despairs at nod and beck,

And language — ah, the gift of eloquence!

1180

Language that goes as easy as a glove

O’er good and evil, smoothens both to one.

Rashness helps caution with him, fires the straw,

In free enthusiastic careless fit,

On the first proper pinnacle of rock

Which happens, as reward for all that zeal,

To lure some bark to founder and bring gain:

While calm sits Caution, rapt with heavenward eye,

A true confessor’s gaze amid the glare,

Beaconing to the breaker, death and hell.

1190

“Well done, thou good and faithful!” she approves.

“Hadst thou let slip a faggot to the beach,

“The crew had surely spied thy precipice

“And saved their boat; the simple and the slow,

“Who should have prompt forestalled the wrecker’s fee:

“Let the next crew be wise and hail in time!”

Just so compounded is the outside man,

Blue juvenile, pure eye, and pippin cheek,

And brow all prematurely soiled and seamed

With sudden age, bright devastated hair.

1200

Ah, but you miss the very tones o’ the voice,

The scrannel pipe that screams in heights of head,

As, in his modest studio, all alone,

The tall wight stands a-tiptoe, strives and strains,

Both eyes shut, like the cockerel that would crow,

Tries to his own self amorously o’er

What never will be uttered else than so —

To the four walls, for Forum and Mars’ Hill,

Speaks out the poesy which, penned, turns prose.

Clavecinist debarred his instrument,

1210

He yet thrums — shirking neither turn nor trill,

With desperate finger on dumb table-edge —

The sovereign rondo, shall conclude his Suite,

Charm an imaginary audience there,

From old Corelli to young Haendel, both

I’ the flesh at Rome, ere he perforce go print

The cold black score, mere music for the mind —

The last speech against Guido and his gang,

With special end to prove Pompilia pure.

How the Fisc vindicates Pompilia’s fame.

1220

Then comes the all but end, the ultimate

Judgment save yours. Pope Innocent the Twelfth,

Simple, sagacious, mild yet resolute,

With prudence, probity and — what beside

From the other world he feels impress at times,

Having attained to fourscore years and six —

How, when the court found Guido and the rest

Guilty, but law supplied a subterfuge

And passed the final sentence to the Pope,

He, bringing his intelligence to bear

1230

This last time on what ball behoves him drop

In the urn, or white or black, does drop a black,

Send five souls more to just precede his own,

Stand him in stead and witness, if need were,

How he is wont to do God’s work on earth

The manner of his sitting out the dim

Droop of a sombre February day

In the plain closet where he does such work,

With, from all Peter’s treasury, one stool,

One table, and one lathen crucifix.

1240

There sits the Pope, his thoughts for company;

Grave but not sad — nay, something like a cheer

Leaves the lips free to be benevolent,

Which, all day long, did duty firm and fast.

A cherishing there is of foot and knee,

A chafing loose-skinned large-veined hand with hand —

What steward but knows when stewardship earns its wage,

May levy praise, anticipate the lord?

He reads, notes, lays the papers down at last,

Muses, then takes a turn about the room;

1250

Unclasps a huge tome in an antique guise,

Primitive print and tongue half obsolete,

That stands him in diurnal stead; opes page,

Finds place where falls the passage to be conned

According to an order long in use:

And, as he comes upon the evening’s chance,

Starts somewhat, solemnises straight his smile,

Then reads aloud that portion first to last,

And at the end lets flow his own thoughts forth

Likewise aloud, for respite and relief,

1260

Till by the dreary relics of the west

Wan through the half-moon window, all his light,

He bows the head while the lips move in prayer,

Writes some three brief lines, signs and seals the same,

Tinkles a hand-bell, bids the obsequious Sir

Who puts foot presently o’ the closet-sill

He watched outside of, bear as superscribed

That mandate to the Governor forthwith:

Then heaves abroad his cares in one good sigh,

Traverses corridor with no man’s help,

1270

And so to sup as a clear conscience should.

The manner of the judgment of the Pope.

Then must speak Guido yet a second time,

Satan’s old saw being apt here — skin for skin,

All a man hath that will he give for life.

While life was graspable and gainable, free

To bird-like buzz her wings round Guido’s brow,

Not much truth stiffened out the web of words

He wove to catch her: when away she flew

And death came, death’s breath rivelled up the lies,

1280

Left bare the metal thread, the fibre fine

Of truth, i’ the spinning: the true words come last.

How Guido, to another purpose quite,

Speaks and despairs, the last night of his life,

In that New Prison by Castle Angelo

At the bridge-foot: the same man, another voice.

On a stone bench in a close fetid cell,

Where the hot vapour of an agony,

Struck into drops on the cold wall, runs down

Horrible worms made out of sweat and tears —

1290

There crouch, well nigh to the knees in dungeon-straw,

Lit by the sole lamp suffered for their sake,

Two awe-struck figures, this a Cardinal,

That an Abate, both of old styled friends

Of the part-man part-monster in the midst,

So changed is Franceschini’s gentle blood.

The tiger-cat screams now, that whined before,

That pried and tried and trod so gingerly,

Till in its silkiness the trap-teeth join;

Then you know how the bristling fury foams.

1300

They listen, this wrapped in his folds of red,

While his feet fumble for the filth below;

The other, as beseems a stouter heart,

Working his best with beads and cross to ban

The enemy that comes in like a flood

Spite of the standard set up, verily

And in no trope at all, against him there:

For at the prison-gate, just a few steps

Outside, already, in the doubtful dawn,

Thither, from this side and from that, slow sweep

1310

And settle down in silence solidly,

Crow-wise, the frightful Brotherhood of Death.

Black-hatted and black-hooded huddle they,

Black rosaries a-dangling from each waist;

So take they their grim station at the door,

Torches alight and cross- bones-banner spread,

And that gigantic Christ with open arms,

Grounded. Nor lacks there aught but that the group

Break forth, intone the lamentable psalm,

“Out of the deeps, Lord, have I cried to thee!”—

1320

When inside, from the true profound, a sign

Shall bear intelligence that the foe is foiled,

Count Guido Franceschini has confessed,

And is absolved and reconciled with God.

Then they, intoning, may begin their march,

Make by the longest way for the People’s Square,

Carry the criminal to his crime’s reward:

A mob to cleave, a scaffolding to reach,

Two gallows and Mannaia crowning all.

Now Guido made defence a second time.

1330

Finally, even as thus by step and step

I led you from the level of to-day

Up to the summit of so long ago,

Here, whence I point you the wide prospect round —

Let me, by like steps, slope you back to smooth,

Land you on mother-earth, no whit the worse,

To feed o’ the fat o’ the furrow: free to dwell,

Taste our time’s better things profusely spread

For all who love the level, corn and wine,

Much cattle and the many-folded fleece.

1340

Shall not my friends go feast again on sward,

Though cognisant of country in the clouds

Higher than wistful eagle’s horny eye

Ever unclosed for, ’mid ancestral crags,

When morning broke and Spring was back once more,

And he died, heaven, save by his heart, unreached?

Yet heaven my fancy lifts to, ladder-like —

As Jack reached, holpen of his beanstalk-rungs!

A novel country: I might make it mine

By choosing which one aspect of the year

1350

Suited mood best, and putting solely that

On panel somewhere in the House of Fame,

Landscaping what I saved, not what I saw:

— Might fix you, whether frost in goblin-time

Startled the moon with his abrupt bright laugh,

Or, August’s hair afloat in filmy fire,

She fell, arms wide, face foremost on the world,

Swooned there and so singed out the strength of things.

Thus were abolished Spring and Autumn both,

The land dwarfed to one likeness of the land,

1360

Life cramped corpse-fashion. Rather learn and love

Each facet-flash of the revolving year! —

Red, green, and blue that whirl into a white,

The variance now, the eventual unity,

Which make the miracle. See it for yourselves,

This man’s act, changeable because alive!

Action now shrouds, now shows the informing thought;

Man, like a glass ball with a spark a-top,

Out of the magic fire that lurks inside,

Shows one tint at a time to take the eye:

1370

Which, let a finger touch the silent sleep,

Shifted a hair’s-breadth shoots you dark for bright,

Suffuses bright with dark, and baffles so

Your sentence absolute for shine or shade.

Once set such orbs — white styled, black stigmatised —

A-rolling, see them once on the other side

Your good men and your bad men every one,

From Guido Franceschini to Guy Faux,

Oft would you rub your eyes and change your names.

Such, British Public, ye who like me not,

1380

(God love you!)— whom I yet have laboured for,

Perchance more careful whoso runs may read

Than erst when all, it seemed, could read who ran —

Perchance more careless whoso reads may praise

Than late when he who praised and read and wrote

Was apt to find himself the self-same me —

Such labour had such issue, so I wrought

This arc, by furtherance of such alloy,

And so, by one spirt, take away its trace

Till, justifiably golden, rounds my ring.

1390

A ring without a posy, and that ring mine?

O lyric Love, half-angel and half-bird

And all a wonder and a wild desire —

Boldest of hearts that ever braved the sun,

Took sanctuary within the holier blue.

And sang a kindred soul out to his face —

Yet human at the red-ripe of the heart —

When the first summons from the darkling earth

Reached thee amid thy chambers, blanched their blue,

And bared them of the glory — to drop down,

1400

To toil for man, to suffer or to die —

This is the same voice: can thy soul know change?

Hail then, and hearken from the realms of help!

Never may I commence my song, my due

To God who best taught song by gift of thee,

Except with bent head and beseeching hand —

That still, despite the distance and the dark,

What was, again may be; some interchange

Of grace, some splendour once thy very thought,

Some benediction anciently thy smile:

1410

— Never conclude, but raising hand and head

Thither where eyes, that cannot reach, yet yearn

For all hope, all sustainment, all reward,

Their utmost up and on — so blessing back

In those thy realms of help, that heaven thy home,

Some whiteness which, I judge, thy face makes proud,

Some wanness where, I think, thy foot may fall!

Half-Rome

What, you, Sir, come too? (Just the man I’d meet.)

Be ruled by me and have a care o’the crowd:

This way, while fresh folk go and get their gaze:

I’ll tell you like a book and save your shins.

Fie, what a roaring day we’ve had! Whose fault?

Lorenzo in Lucina — here’s a church

To hold a crowd at need, accommodate

All comers from the Corso! If this crush

Make not its priests ashamed of what they show

10

For temple-room, don’t prick them to draw purse

And down with bricks and mortar, eke us out

The beggarly transept with its bit of apse

Into a decent space for Christian ease,

Why, to-day’s lucky pearl is cast to swine.

Listen and estimate the luck they’ve had!

(The right man, and I hold him.)

        Sir, do you see,

They laid both bodies in the church, this morn

The first thing, on the chancel two steps up,

20

Behind the little marble balustrade;

Disposed them, Pietro the old murdered fool

To the right of the altar, and his wretched wife

On the other side. In trying to count stabs,

People supposed Violante showed the most,

Till somebody explained us that mistake;

His wounds had been dealt out indifferent where,

But she took all her stabbings in the face,

Since punished thus solely for honour’s sake,

Honoris causâ, that’s the proper term.

30

A delicacy there is, our gallants hold,

When you avenge your honour and only then,

That you disfigure the subject, fray the face,

Not just take life and end, in clownish guise.

It was Violante gave the first offence,

Got therefore the conspicuous punishment:

While Pietro, who helped merely, his, mere death

Answered the purpose, so his face went free.

We fancied even, free as you please, that face

Showed itself still intolerably wronged;

40

Was wrinkled over with resentment yet,

Nor calm at all, as murdered faces use,

Once the worst ended: an indignant air

O’ the head there was —’ tis said the body turned

Round and away, rolled from Violante’s side

Where they had laid it loving-husband-like.

If so, if corpses can be sensitive,

Why did not he roll right down altar-step.

Roll on through nave, roll fairly out of church,

Deprive Lorenzo of the spectacle,

50

Pay back thus the succession of affronts

Whereto this church had served as theatre?

For see: at that same altar where he lies,

To that same inch of step, was brought the babe

For blessing after baptism, and there styled

Pompilia, and a string of names beside,

By his bad wife, some seventeen years ago,

Who purchased her simply to palm on him,

Flatter his dotage and defraud the heirs.

Wait awhile! Also to this very step

60

Did this Violante, twelve years afterward,

Bring, the mock-mother, that child-cheat full-grown,

Pompilia in pursuance of her plot.

And there brave God and man a second time

By linking a new victim to the lie.

There, having made a match unknown to him,

She, still unknown to Pietro, tied the knot

Which nothing cuts except this kind of knife;

Yes, made her daughter, as the girl was held,

Marry a man, and honest man beside,

70

And man of birth to boot — clandestinely

Because of this, because of that, because

O’ the devil’s will to work his worst for once —

Confident she could top her part at need

And, when her husband must be told in turn,

Ply the wife’s trade, play off the sex’s trick

And, alternating worry with quiet qualms,

Bravado with submissiveness, quick fool

Her Pietro into patience: so it proved.

Ay, ’tis four years since man and wife they grew,

80

This Guido Franceschini and this same

Pompilia, foolishly thought, falsely declared

A Comparini and the couple’s child:

Just at this altar where, beneath the piece

Of Master Guido Reni, Christ on cross,

Second to nought observable in Rome,

That couple lie now, murdered yestereve.

Even the blind can see a providence here.

From dawn till now that it is growing dusk,

A multitude has flocked and filled the church,

90

Coming and going, coming back again,

Till to count crazed one. Rome was at the show.

People climbed up the columns, fought for spikes

O’ the chapel-rail to perch themselves upon,

Jumped over and so broke the wooden work

Painted like porphyry to deceive the eye;

Serve the priests right! The organ-loft was crammed,

Women were fainting, no few fights ensued,

In short, it was a show repaid your pains:

For, though their room was scant undoubtedly,

100

Yet they did manage matters, to be just,

A little at this Lorenzo. Body o’me!

I saw a body exposed once . . . never mind!

Enough that here the bodies had their due.

No stinginess in wax, a row all round,

And one big taper at each head and foot.

So, people pushed their way, and took their turn,

Saw, threw their eyes up, crossed themselves, gave place

To pressure from behind, since all the world

Knew the old pair, could talk the tragedy

110

Over from first to last: Pompilia too,

Those who had known her — what ’twas worth to them!

Guido’s acquaintance was in less request;

The Count had lounged somewhat too long in Rome,

Made himself cheap; with him were hand and glove

Barbers and blear-eyed, as the ancient sings.

Also he is alive and like to be:

Had he considerately died — aha!

I jostled Luca Cini on his staff,

Mute in the midst, the whole man one amaze,

120

Staring amain and crossing brow and breast.

“How now?” asked I. “’Tis seventy years,” quoth he,

“Since

I first saw, holding my father’s hand,

“Bodies set forth: a many have I seen,

“Yet all was poor to this I live and see.

“Here the world’s wickedness seals up the sum:

“What with Molinos’ doctrine and this deed,

“Antichrist’s surely come and doomsday near.

“May I depart in peace, I have seen my see.”

“Depart then,” I advised, “nor block the road

130

“For youngsters still behindhand with such sights!”

“Why no,” rejoins the venerable sire,

“I know it’s horrid, hideous past belief,

“Burdensome far beyond what eye can bear;

“But they do promise, when Pompilia dies

“I’ the course o’ the day — and she can’t outlive night —

“They’ll bring her body also to expose

“Beside the parents, one, two, three a-breast;

“That were indeed a sight which, might I see,

“I trust I should not last to see the like!”

140

Whereat I bade the senior spare his shanks,

Since doctors give her till to-night to live

And tell us how the butchery happened. “Ah,

“But you can’t know!” sighs he. “I’ll not despair:

“Beside I’m useful at explaining things —

“As, how the dagger laid there at the feet,

“Caused the peculiar cuts; I mind its make,

“Triangular i’ the blade, a Genoese,

“Armed with those little hook-teeth on the edge

“To open in the flesh nor shut again:

150

“I like to teach a novice: I shall stay!”

And stay he did, and stay be sure he will.

A personage came by the private door

At noon to have his look: I name no names:

Well then, His Eminence the Cardinal,

Whose servitor in honourable sort

Guido was once, the same who made the match,

(Will you have the truth?) whereof we see effect.

No sooner whisper ran he was arrived

Than up pops Curate Carlo, a brisk lad,

160

Who never lets a good occasion slip,

And volunteers improving the event.

We looked he’d give the history’s self some help,

Treat us to how the wife’s confession went

(This morning she confessed her crime, we know)

And, may-be, throw in something of the Priest —

If he’s not ordered back, punished anew,

The gallant, Caponsacchi, Lucifer

I’ the garden where Pompilia, Eve-like, lured

Her Adam Guido to his fault and fall.

170

Think you we got a sprig of speech akin

To this from Carlo, with the Cardinal there?

Too wary, he was, too widely awake, I trow.

He did the murder in a dozen words;

Then said that all such outrages crop forth

I’ the course of nature, when Molinos’ tares

Are sown for wheat, flourish and choke the Church:

So slid on to the abominable sect

And the philosophic sin — we’ve heard all that,

And the Cardinal too (who book-made on the same),

180

But, for the murder, left it where he found.

Oh but he’s quick, the Curate, minds his game!

And, after all, we have the main o’ the fact:

Case could not well be simpler — mapped, as it were,

We follow the murder’s maze from source to sea,

By the red line, past mistake: one sees indeed

Not only how all was and must have been,

But cannot other than be to the end of time.

Turn out here by the Ruspoli! Do you hold

Guido was so prodigiously to blame?

190

A certain cousin of yours has told you so?

Exactly! Here’s a friend shall set you right,

Let him but have the handsel of your ear.

These wretched Comparini were once gay

And galiard, of the modest middle class:

Born in this quarter seventy years ago,

And married young, they lived the accustomed life,

Citizens as they were of good repute:

And, childless, naturally took their ease

With only their two selves to care about

200

And use the wealth for: wealthy is the word,

Since Pietro was possessed of house and land —

And specially one house, when good days were,

In Via Vittoria, the aspectable street

Where he lived mainly; but another house

Of less pretension did he buy betimes,

The villa, meant for jaunts and jollity,

I’ the Pauline district, to be private there —

Just what puts murder in an enemy’s head.

Moreover — and here’s the worm i’ the core, the germ

210

O’ the rottenness and ruin which arrived —

He owned some usufruct, had moneys’ use

Lifelong, but to determine with his life

In heirs’ default: so, Pietro craved an heir,

(The story always old and always new)

Shut his fool’s-eyes fast on the visible good

And wealth for certain, opened them owl-wide

On fortune’s sole piece of forgetfulness,

The child that should have been and would not be.

Hence, seventeen years ago, conceive his glee

220

When first Violante, ’twixt a smile and a blush,

With touch of agitation proper too,

Announced that, spite of her unpromising age,

The miracle would in time be manifest,

An heir’s birth was to happen: and it did.

Somehow or other — how, all in good time!

By a trick, a sleight of hand you are to hear —

A child was born, Pompilia, for his joy,

Plaything at once and prop, a fairy-gift,

A saints’ grace or, say, grant of the good God —

230

A fiddle-pin’s end! What imbeciles are we!

Look now: if some one could have prophesied,

“For love of you, for liking to your wife,

“I undertake to crush a snake I spy

“Settling itself i’ the soft of both your breasts.

“Give me yon babe to strangle painlessly!

“She’ll soar to the safe: you’ll have your crying out,

“Then sleep, then wake, then sleep, then end your days

“In peace and plenty, mixed with mild regret,

“Thirty years hence when Christmas takes old folk”—

240

How had old Pietro sprung up, crossed himself,

And kicked the conjuror! Whereas you and I,

Being wise with after-wit, had clapped our hands;

Nay, added, in the old fool’s interest,

“Strangle the black-eyed babe, so far so good,

“But on condition you relieve the man

“O’ the wife and throttle him Violante too —

“She is the mischief!”

        We had hit the mark.

She, whose trick brought the babe into the world,

250

She it was, when the babe was grown a girl,

Judged a new trick should reinforce the old,

Send vigour to the lie now somewhat spent

By twelve years’ service; lest Eve’s rule decline

Over this Adam of hers, whose cabbage-plot

Throve dubiously since turned fools’-paradise,

Spite of a nightingale on every stump.

Pietro’s estate was dwindling day by day,

While he, rapt far above such mundane care,

Crawled all-fours with his baby pick-a-back,

260

Sat at serene cats’-cradle with his child,

Or took the measured tallness, top to toe,

Of what was grown a great girl twelve years old:

Till sudden at the door a tap discreet,

A visitor’s premonitory cough,

And poverty had reached him in her rounds.

This came when he was past the working-time,

Had learned to dandle and forgot to dig,

And who must but Violante cast about,

Contrive and task that head of hers again?

270

She who had caught one fish, could make that catch

A bigger still, in angler’s policy:

So, with an angler’s mercy for the bait,

Her minnow was set wriggling on its barb

And tossed to the mid-stream; that is, this grown girl

With the great eyes and bounty of black hair

And first crisp youth that tempts a jaded taste,

Was whisked i’ the way of a certain man, who snapped.

Count Guido Franceschini the Aretine

Was head of an old noble house enough,

280

Not over-rich, you can’t have everything,

But such a man as riches rub against,

Readily stick to — one with a right to them

Born in the blood: ’twas in his very brow

Always to knit itself against the world,

So be beforehand when that stinted due

Service and suit: the world ducks and defers.

As such folks do, he had come up to Rome

To better his fortune, and, since many years,

Was friend and follower of a cardinal;

290

Waiting the rather thus on providence,

That a shrewd younger poorer brother yet,

The Abate Paolo, a regular priest,

Had long since tried his powers and found he swam

With the deftest on the Galilean pool:

But then he was a web-foot, free o’ the wave,

And no ambiguous dab-chick hatched to strut,

Humbled by any fond attempt to swim

When fiercer fowl usurped his dunghill top —

A whole priest, Paolo, no mere piece of one

300

Like Guido tacked thus to the Church’s tail!

Guido moreover, as the head o’ the house,

Claiming the main prize, not the lesser luck,

The centre lily, no mere chickweed fringe.

He waited and learned waiting, thirty years;

Got promise, missed performance — what would you have?

No petty post rewards a nobleman

For spending youth in splendid lackey-work,

And there’s concurrence for each rarer prize;

When that falls, rougher hand and readier foot

310

Push aside Guido spite of his black looks.

The end was, Guido, when the warning showed,

The first white hair i’ the glass, gave up the game,

Determined on returning to his town,

Making the best of bad incurable

Patching the old palace up and lingering there

The customary life out with his kin,

Where honour helps to spice the scanty bread.

Just as he trimmed his lamp and girt his loins

To go his journey and be wise at home,

320

In the right mood of disappointed worth,

Who but Violante sudden spied her prey

(Where was I with that angler- simile?)

And threw her bait, Pompilia, where he sulked —

A gleam i’ the gloom!

What if he gained thus much,

Wrung out this sweet drop from the bitter Past,

Bore off this rose-bud from the prickly brake,

To justify such torn clothes and scratched hands,

And, after all, brought something back from Rome?

330

Would not a wife serve at Arezzo well

To light the dark house, lend a look of youth

To the mother’s face grown meagre, left alone

And famished with the emptiness of hope,

Old Donna Beatrice? Wife you want

Would you play family representative,

Carry you elder-brotherly, high and right

O’er what may prove the natural petulance

Of the third brother, younger, greedier still,

Girolamo, also a fledgeling priest,

340

Beginning life in turn with callow beak

Agape for luck, no luck had stopped and stilled.

Such were the pinks and greys about the bait

Persuaded Guido gulp down hook and all.

What constituted him so choice a catch,

You question? Past his prime and poor beside?

Ask that of any she who knows the trade.

Why first, here was a nobleman with friends,

A palace one might run to and be safe

When presently the threatened fate should fall,

350

A big-browed master to block door-way up,

Parley with people bent on pushing by

And praying the mild Pietro quick clear scores:

Is birth a privilege and power or no?

Also — but judge of the result desired,

By the price paid and manner of the sale.

The Count was made woo, win and wed at once:

Asked, and was haled for answer, lest the heat

Should cool, to San Lorenzo, one blind eve,

And had Pompilia put into his arms

360

O’ the sly there, by a hasty candle-blink,

With sanction of some priest-confederate

Properly paid to make short work and sure.

So did old Pietro’s daughter change her style

For Guido Franceschini’s lady-wife

Ere Guido knew it well; and why this haste

And scramble and indecent secrecy?

“Lest Pietro, all the while in ignorance,

“Should get to learn, gainsay and break the match:

“His peevishness had promptly put aside

370

“Such honour and refused the proffered boon,

“Pleased to become authoritative once.

“She remedied the wilful man’s mistake —”

Did our discreet Violante. Rather say,

Thus did she, lest the object of her game,

Guido the gulled one, give him but a chance,

A moment’s respite, time for thinking twice,

Might count the cost before he sold himself,

And try the clink of coin they paid him with.

But passed, the bargain struck, the business done,

380

Once the clandestine marriage over thus,

All parties made perforce the best o’ the fact;

Pietro could play vast indignation off,

Be ignorant and astounded, dupe alike

At need, of wife, daughter, and son-in-law,

While Guido found himself in flagrant fault,

Must e’en do suit and service, soothe, subdue

A father not unreasonably chafed,

Bring him to terms by paying son’s devoir.

Pleasant initiation!

390

        The end, this:

Guido’s broad back was saddled to bear all —

Pietro, Violante, and Pompilia too —

Three lots cast confidently in one lap,

Three dead-weights with one arm to lift the three

Out of their limbo up to life again:

The Roman household was to strike fresh root

In a new soil, graced with a novel name,

Gilt with an alien glory, Aretine

Henceforth and never Roman any more,

400

By treaty and engagement: thus it ran:

Pompilia’s dowry for Pompilia’s self

As a thing of course — she paid her own expense;

No loss nor gain there: but the couple, you see,

They, for their part, turned over first of all

Their fortune in its rags and rottenness

To Guido, fusion and confusion, he

And his with them and theirs — whatever rag

With a coin residuary fell on floor

When Brother Paolo’s energetic shake

410

Should do the relics justice: since ’twas thought,

Once vulnerable Pietro out of reach,

That, left at Rome as representative,

The Abate, backed by a potent patron here,

And otherwise with purple flushing him,

Might play a good game with the creditor,

Make up a moiety which, great or small,

Should go to the common stock — if anything,

Guido’s, so far repayment of the cost

About to be — and if, as looked more like,

420

Nothing — why, all the nobler cost were his

Who guaranteed, for better or for worse,

To Pietro and Violante, house and home,

Kith and kin, with the pick of company

And life o’ the fat o’ the land while life should last.

How say you to the bargain at first blush?

Why did a middle-aged not-silly man

Show himself thus besotted all at once?

Quoth Solomon, one black eye does it all.

They went to Arezzo — Pietro and his spouse,

430

With just the dusk o’ the day of life to spend,

Eager to use the twilight, taste a treat,

Enjoy for once with neither stay nor stint

The luxury of Lord-and- lady-ship,

And realise the stuff and nonsense long

A-simmer in their noddles; vent the fume

Born there and bred, the citizen’s conceit

How fares nobility while crossing earth,

What rampart or invisible body- guard

Keeps off the taint of common life from such.

440

They had not fed for nothing on the tales

Of grandees who give banquets worthy Jove,

Spending gold as if Plutus paid a whim,

Served with obeisances as when . . . what God?

I’m at the end of my tether; ’tis enough

You understand what they came primed to see:

While Guido who should minister the sight,

Stay all this qualmish greediness of soul

With apples and with flagons — for his part,

Was set on life diverse as pole from pole:

450

Lust of the flesh, lust of the eye — what else

Was he just now awake from, sick and sage,

After the very debauch they would begin? —

Suppose such stuff and nonsense really were.

That bubble, they were bent on blowing big,

He had blown already till he burst his cheeks,

And hence found soapsuds bitter to the tongue,

He hoped now to walk softly all his days

In soberness of spirit, if haply so,

Pinching and paring he might furnish forth

460

A frugal board, bare sustenance, no more,

Till times, that could not well grow worse, should mend.

Thus minded then, two parties mean to meet

And make each other happy. The first week,

And fancy strikes fact and explodes in full.

“This,” shrieked the Comparini, “this the Count,

“The palace, the signorial privilege,

“The pomp and pageantry were promised us?

“For this have we exchanged our liberty,

“Our competence, our darling of a child?

470

“To house as spectres in a sepulchre

“Under this black stone heap, the street’s disgrace,

“Grimmest as that is of the gruesome town,

“And here pick garbage on a pewter plate

“Or cough at verjuice dripped from earthenware?

“Oh Via Vittoria, oh the other place

“I’ the Pauline, did we give you up for this?

“Where’s the foregone housekeeping good and gay,

“The neighbourliness, the companionship,

“The treat and feast when holidays came round,

480

“The daily feast that seemed no treat at all,

“Called common by the uncommon fools we were!

“Even the sun that used to shine at Rome,

“Where is it? Robbed and starved and frozen too,

“We will have justice, justice if there be!”

Did not they shout, did not the town resound!

Guido’s old lady-mother Beatrice,

Who since her husband, Count Tommaso’s death,

Had held sole sway i’ the house — the doited crone

Slow to acknowledge, curtsey and abdicate —

490

Was recognised of true novercal type,

Dragon and devil. His brother Girolamo

Came next in order: priest was he? The worse!

No way of winning him to leave his mumps

And help the laugh against old ancestry

And formal habits long since out of date,

Letting his youth be patterned on the mode

Approved of where Violante laid down law.

Or did he brighten up by way of change?

Dispose himself for affability?

500

The malapert, too complaisant by half

To the alarmed young novice of a bride!

Let him go buzz, betake himself elsewhere

Nor singe his fly-wings in the candle-flame!

Four months’ probation of this purgatory,

Dog-snap and cat-claw, curse and counterblast,

The devil’s self had been sick of his own din;

And Pietro, after trumpeting huge wrongs

At church and market-place, pillar and post,

Square’s corner, street’s end, now the palace-step

510

And now the wine-house bench — while, on her side,

Violante up and down was voluble

In whatsoever pair of ears would perk

From goody, gossip, cater-cousin and sib,

Curious to peep at the inside of things

And catch in the act pretentious poverty

At its wits’ end to keep appearance up,

Make both ends meet — nothing the vulgar loves

Like what this couple pitched them right and left —

Then, their worst done that way, they struck tent, marched:

— Renounced their share o’ the bargain, flung what dues

521

Guido was bound to pay, in Guido’s face,

Left their hearts’- darling, treasure of the twain

And so forth, the poor inexperienced bride,

To her own devices, bade Arezzo rot

And the life signorial, and sought Rome once more.

I see the comment ready on your lip,

“The better fortune, Guido’s — free at least

“By this defection of the foolish pair,

“He could begin make profit in some sort

530

“Of the young bride and the new quietness,

“Lead his own life now, henceforth breathe unplagued.”

Could he? You know the sex like Guido’s self.

Learn the Violante-nature!

        Once in Rome,

By way of helping Guido lead such life,

Her first act to inaugurate return

Was, she got pricked in conscience: Jubilee

Gave her the hint. Our Pope, as kind as just,

Attained his eighty years, announced a boon

540

Should make us bless the fact, held Jubilee —

Short shrift, prompt pardon for the light offence,

And no rough dealing with the regular crime

So this occasion were not suffered slip —

Otherwise, sins commuted as before,

Without the least abatement in the price.

Now, who had thought it? All this while, it seems,

Our sage Violante had a sin of a sort

She must compound for now or not at all:

Now be the ready riddance! She confessed

550

Pompilia was a fable not a fact:

She never bore a child in her whole life.

Had this child been a changeling, that were grace

In some degree, exchange is hardly theft;

You take your stand on truth ere leap your lie:

Here was all lie, no touch of truth at all,

All the lie hers — not even Pietro guessed

He was as childless still as twelve years since.

The babe had been a find i’ the filth-heap, Sir,

Catch from the kennel! There was found a Rome,

560

Down in the deepest of our social dregs,

A woman who professed the wanton’s trade

Under the requisite thin coverture,

Communis meretrix and washer-wife:

The creature thus conditioned found by chance

Motherhood like a jewel in the muck,

And straightway either trafficked with her prize

Or listened to the tempter and let be —

Made pact abolishing her place and part

In womankind, beast-fellowship indeed —

570

She sold this babe eight months before its birth

To our Violante, Pietro’s honest spouse,

Well-famed and widely-instanced as that crown

To the husband, virtue in a woman’s shape.

She it was, bought and paid for, passed the thing

Off as the flesh and blood and child of her

Despite the flagrant fifty years — and why?

Partly to please old Pietro, fill his cup

With wine at the late hour when lees are left,

And send him from life’s feast rejoicingly —

580

Partly to cheat the rightful heirs, agape,

Each uncle’s cousin’s brother’s son of him,

For that same principal of the usufruct

It vext him he must die and leave behind.

Such was the sin had come to be confessed.

Which of the tales, the first or last, was true?

Did she so sin once, or, confessing now,

Sin for the first time? Either way you will.

One sees a reason for the cheat: one sees

A reason for a cheat in owning cheat

590

Where no cheat had been. What of the revenge?

What prompted the contrition all at once,

Made the avowal easy, the shame slight?

Why, prove they but Pompilia not their child,

No child, no dowry; this, supposed their child,

Had claimed what this, shown alien to their blood,

Claimed nowise: Guido’s claim was through his wife,

Null then and void with hers. The biter bit,

Do you see! For such repayment of the past,

One might conceive the penitential pair

600

Ready to bring their case before the courts,

Publish their infamy to all the world

And, arm in arm, go chuckling thence content.

Is this your view? ’Twas Guido’s anyhow

And colourable: he came forward then,

Protested in his very bride’s behalf

Against this lie and all it led to, least

Of all the loss o’ the dowry; no! From her

And him alike he would expunge the blot,

Erase the brand of such a bestial birth,

610

Participate in no hideous heritage

Gathered from the gutter to be garnered up

And glorified in a palace. Peter and Paul!

But that who likes may look upon the pair

Exposed in yonder church, and show his skill

By saying which is eye and which is mouth

Thro’ those stabs thick and threefold — but for that —

A strong word on the liars and their lie

Might crave expression and obtain it, Sir!

— Though prematurely, since there’s more to come,

620

More than will shake your confidence in things

Your cousin tells you — may I be so bold?

This makes the first act of the farce — anon

The stealing sombre element comes in

Till all is black or blood- red in the piece.

Guido, thus made a laughing-stock abroad,

A proverb for the market-place at home,

Left alone with Pompilia now, this graft

So reputable on his ancient stock,

This plague-seed set to fester his sound flesh,

630

What did the Count? Revenge him on his wife?

Unfasten at all risks to rid himself

The noisome lazar-badge, fall foul of fate,

And, careless whether the poor rag was ware

O’ the part it played, or helped unwittingly,

Bid it go burn and leave his frayed flesh free?

Plainly, did Guido open both doors wide,

Spurn thence the cur-cast creature and clear scores

As man might, tempted in extreme like this?

No, birth and breeding, and compassion too

640

Saved her such scandal. She was young, he thought,

Not privy to the treason, punished most

I’ the proclamation of it; why make her

A party to the crime she suffered by?

Then the black eyes were now her very own,

Not any more Violante’s: let her live,

Lose in a new air, under a new sun,

The taint of the imputed parentage

Truely or falsely, take no more the touch

Of Pietro and his partner anyhow!

650

All might go well yet.

        So she thought, herself,

It seems, since what was her first act and deed

When news came how these kindly ones at Rome

Had stripped her naked to amuse the world

With spots here, spots there, and spots everywhere?

— For I should tell you that they noised abroad

Not merely the main scandal of her birth,

But slanders written, printed, published wide,

Pamphlets which set forth all the pleasantry

660

Of how the promised glory was a dream,

The power a bubble and the wealth — why, dust.

There was a picture, painted to the life,

Of those rare doings, that superlative

Initiation in magnificence

Conferred on a poor Roman family

By favour of Arezzo and her first

And famousest, the Franceschini there.

You had the Countship holding head aloft

Bravely although bespattered, shifts and straits

670

In keeping out o’ the way o’ the wheels o’ the world,

The comic of those home-contrivances

When the old lady-mother’s wit was taxed

To find six clamorous mouths in food more real

Than fruit plucked off the cobwebbed family-tree,

Or acorns shed from its gilt mouldered frame —

Cold glories served up with three-pauls’ worth’s sauce.

What, I ask — when the drunkenness of hate

Hiccuped return for hospitality,

Befouled the table they had feasted on,

680

Or say — God knows I’ll not prejudge the case —

Grievances thus distorted, magnified,

Coloured by quarrel into calumny —

What side did our Pompilia first espouse?

Her first deliberate measure was, she wrote,

Pricked by some loyal impulse, straight to Rome

And her husband’s brother the Abate there,

Who, having managed to effect the match,

Might take men’s censure for its ill success.

She made a clean breast also in her turn;

690

She qualified the couple handsomely!

Since whose departure, hell, she said, was heaven,

And the house, late distracted by their peals,

Quiet as Carmel where the lilies live.

Herself had oftentimes complained: but why?

All her complaints had been their prompting, tales

Trumped up, devices to this very end.

Their game had been to thwart her husband’s love

And cross his will, malign his words and ways,

So reach this issue, furnish this pretence

700

For impudent withdrawal from their bond —

Theft, indeed murder, since they meant no less

Whose last injunction to her simple self

Had been — what parents’- precept do you think?

That she should follow after with all speed,

Fly from her husband’s house clandestinely,

Join them at Rome again, but first of all

Pick up a fresh companion in her flight,

Putting so youth and beauty to fit use,

Some gay, dare-devil, cloak-and-rapier spark

710

Capable of adventure — helped by whom

She, some fine eve when lutes were in the air,

Having put poison in the posset-cup,

Laid hands on money, jewels, and the like,

And, to conceal the thing with more effect,

By way of parting benediction too,

Fired the house — one would finish famously

I’ the tumult, slip out, scurry off and away

And turn up merrily at home once more.

Fact this, and not a dream o’ the devil, Sir!

720

And more than this, a fact none dare dispute,

Word for word, such a letter did she write.

And such the Abate read, nor simply read

But gave all Rome to ruminate upon,

In answer to such charges as, I say,

The couple sought to be beforehand with.

The cause thus carried to the courts at Rome,

Guido away, the Abate had no choice

But stand forth, take his absent brother’s part,

Defend the honour of himself beside.

730

He made what head he might against the pair,

Maintained Pompilia’s birth legitimate

And all her rights intact — hers, Guido’s now —

And so far by his tactics turned their flank,

The enemy being beforehand in the place,

That, though the courts allowed the cheat for fact,

Suffered Violante to parade her shame,

Publish her infamy to heart’s content,

And let the tale o’ the feigned birth pass for proved —

Yet they stopped there, refused to intervene

740

And dispossess the innocents, befooled

By gifts o’ the guilty, at guilt’s new caprice:

They would not take away the dowry now

Wrongfully given at first, nor bar at all

Succession to the aforesaid usufruct,

Established on a fraud, nor play the game

Of Pietro’s child and now not Pietro’s child

As it might suit the gamester’s purpose. Thus

Was justice ever ridiculed in Rome:

Such be the double verdicts favoured here

750

Which send away both parties to a suit

Nor puffed up nor cast down — for each a crumb

Of right, for neither of them the whole loaf.

Whence, on the Comparini’s part, appeal —

Counter-appeal on Guido’s — that’s the game:

And so the matter stands, even to this hour,

Bandied as balls are in a tennis-court,

And so might stand, unless some heart broke first,

Till doomsday.

        Leave it thus, and now revert

760

To the old Arezzo whence we moved to Rome.

We’ve had enough o’ the parents, false or true,

Now for a touch o’ the daughter’s quality.

The start’s fair henceforth — every obstacle

Out of the young wife’s footpath — she’s alone —

Left to walk warily now: how does she walk?

Why, once a dwelling’s doorpost marked and crossed

In rubric by the enemy on his rounds

As eligible, as fit place of prey,

Baffle him henceforth, keep him out who can!

770

Stop up the door at the first hint of hoof,

Presently at the window taps a horn,

And Satan’s by your fireside, never fear!

Pompilia, left alone now, found herself;

Found herself young too, sprightly, fair enough,

Matched with a husband old beyond his age

(Though that was something like four times her own)

Because of cares past, present, and to come:

Found too the house dull and its inmates dead,

So, looked outside for light and life.

780

        And lo

There in a trice did turn up life and light,

The man with the aureole, sympathy made flesh,

The all-consoling Caponsacchi, Sir!

A priest — what else should the consoler be?

With goodly shoulderblade and proper leg,

A portly make and a symmetric shape,

And curls that clustered to the tonsure quite.

This was a bishop in the bud, and now

A canon full-blown so far: priest, and priest

790

Nowise exorbitantly overworked,

The courtly Christian, not so much Saint Paul

As a saint of Cæsar’s household: there posed he

Sending his god-glance after his shot shaft,

Apollos turned Apollo, while the snake

Pompilia writhed transfixed through all her spires.

He, not a visitor at Guido’s house,

Scarce an acquaintance, but in prime request

With the magnates of Arezzo, was seen here,

Heard there, felt everywhere in Guido’s path

800

If Guido’s wife’s path be her husband’s too.

Now he threw comfits at the theatre

Into her lap — what harm in Carnival?

Now he pressed close till his foot touched her gown,

His hand brushed hers — how help on promenade?

And, ever on weighty business, found his steps

Incline to a certain haunt of doubtful fame

Which fronted Guido’s palace by mere chance;

While — how do accidents sometimes combine!

Pompilia chose to cloister up her charms

810

Just in a chamber that o’erlooked the street,

Sat there to pray, or peep thence at mankind.

This passage of arms and wits amused the town.

At last the husband lifted eyebrow — bent

On day-book and the study how to wring

Half the due vintage from the worn-out vines

At the villa, tease a quarter the old rent

From the farmstead, tenants swore would tumble soon —

Pricked up his ear a-singing day and night

With “ruin, ruin;”— and so surprised at last —

820

Why, what else but a titter? Up he jumps.

Back to mind come those scratchings at the grange,

Prints of the paw about the outhouse; rife

In his head at once again are word and wink,

Mum here and budget there, the smell o’ the fox,

The musk o’ the gallant. “Friends, there’s falseness here!”

The proper help of friends in such a strait

Is waggery, the world over. Laugh him free

O’ the regular jealous- fit that’s incident

To all old husbands that wed brisk young wives,

830

And he’ll go duly docile all his days.

“Somebody courts your wife, Count? Where and when?

“How and why? Mere horn-madness: have a care!

“Your lady loves her own room, sticks to it,

“Locks herself in for hours, you say yourself.

“And — what, it’s Caponsacchi means you harm?

“The Canon? We caress him, he’s the world’s,

“A man of such acceptance — never dream,

“Though he were fifty times the fox you fear,

“He’d risk his brush for your particular chick,

“When the wide town’s his hen-roost! Fie o’ the fool!”

841

So they dispensed their comfort of a kind.

Guido at last cried “Something is in the air,

“Under the earth, some plot against my peace:

“The trouble of eclipse hangs overhead,

“How it should come of that officious orb

“Your Canon in my system, you must say:

“I say — that from the pressure of this spring

“Began the chime and interchange of bells,

“Ever one whisper, and one whisper more,

850

“And just one whisper for the silvery last,

“Till all at once a- row the bronze-throats burst

“Into a larum both significant

“And sinister: stop it I must and will.

“Let Caponsacchi take his hand away

“From the wire! — disport himself in other paths

“Than lead precisely to my palace- gate —

“Look where he likes except one window’s way

“Where cheek on hand, and elbow set on sill,

“Happens to lean and say her litanies

860

“Every day and all day long, just my wife —

“Or wife and Caponsacchi may fare the worse!”

Admire the man’s simplicity, “I’ll do this,

“I’ll not have that, I’ll punish and prevent!”—

’Tis easy saying. But to a fray, you see,

Two parties go. The badger shows his teeth:

The fox nor lies down sheep-like nor dares fight.

Oh, the wife knew the appropriate warfare well,

The way to put suspicion to the blush!

At first hint of remonstrance, up and out

I’ the face of the world, you found her: she could speak,

871

State her case — Franceschini was a name,

Guido had his full share of foes and friends —

Why should not she call these to arbitrate?

She bade the Governor do governance,

Cried out on the Archbishop — why, there now,

Take him for sample! Three successive times,

Had he to reconduct her by main force

From where she took her station opposite

His shut door — on the public steps thereto,

880

Wringing her hands, when he came out to see,

And shrieking all her wrongs forth at his foot —

Back to the husband and the house she fled:

Judge if that husband warmed him in the face

Of friends or frowned on foes as heretofore!

Judge if he missed the natural grin of folk,

Or lacked the customary compliment

Of cap and bells, the luckless husband’s fit!

So it went on and on till — who was right?

One merry April morning, Guido woke

890

After the cuckoo, so late, near noonday,

With an inordinate yawning of the jaws,

Ears plugged, eyes gummed together, palate, tongue

And teeth one mud-paste made of poppy-milk;

And found his wife flown, his scrutoire the worse

For a rummage — jewelry that was, was not,

Some money there had made itself wings too —

The door lay wide and yet the servants slept

Sound as the dead, or dosed which does as well.

In short, Pompilia, she who, candid soul,

900

Had not so much as spoken all her life

To the Canon, nay, so much as peeped at him

Between her fingers while she prayed in church —

This lamb-like innocent of fifteen years

(Such she was grown to by this time of day)

Had simply put an opiate in the drink

Of the whole household overnight, and then

Got up and gone about her work secure,

Laid hand on this waif and the other stray,

Spoiled the Philistine and marched out of doors

910

In company of the Canon who, Lord’s love,

What with his daily duty at the church,

Nightly devoir where ladies congregate,

Had something else to mind, assure yourself,

Beside Pompilia, paragon though she be,

Or notice if her nose were sharp or blunt!

Well, anyhow, albeit impossible,

Both of them were together jollily

Jaunting it Rome-ward, half-way there by this,

While Guido was left go and get undrugged,

920

Gather his wits up, groaningly give thanks

When neighbours crowded round him to condole.

“Ah,” quoth a gossip, “well I mind me now,

“The Count did always say he thought he felt

“He feared as if this very chance might fall!

“And when a man of fifty finds his corns

“Ache and his joints throb, and foresees a storm,

“Though neighbours laugh and say the sky is clear,

“Let us henceforth believe him weatherwise!”

Then was the story told, I’ll cut you short:

930

All neighbours knew: no mystery in the world,

The lovers left at nightfall — over night

Had Caponsacchi come to carry off

Pompilia — not alone, a friend of his,

One Guillichini, the more conversant

With Guido’s housekeeping that he was just

A cousin of Guido’s and might play a prank —

(Have you not too a cousin that’s a wag?)

— Lord and a Canon also — what would you have?

Such are the red-clothed milk-swollen poppy-heads

940

That stand and stiffen ’mid the wheat o’ the Church! —

This worthy came to aid, abet his best.

And so the house was ransacked, booty bagged,

The lady led downstairs and out of doors

Guided and guarded till, the city passed,

A carriage lay convenient at the gate

Good-bye to the friendly Canon; the loving one

Could peradventure do the rest himself.

In jumps Pompilia, after her the priest,

“Whip, driver! — Money makes the mare to go,

950

“And we’ve a bagful. Take the Roman road!”

So said the neighbours. This was eight hours since.

Guido heard all, swore the befitting oaths,

Shook off the relics of his poison-drench,

Got horse, was fairly started in pursuit

With never a friend to follow, found the track

Fast enough, ’twas the straight Perugia way,

Trod soon upon their very heels, too late

By a minute only at Camoscia, at

Chiusi, Foligno, ever the fugitives

960

Just ahead, just out as he galloped in,

Getting the good news ever fresh and fresh,

Till, lo, at the last stage of all, last post

Before Rome — as we say, in sight of Rome

And safety (there’s impunity at Rome

For priests, you know) at — what’s the little place?

What some call Castelnuovo, some just call

The Osteria, because o’ the post-house inn,

There, at the journey’s all but end, it seems,

Triumph deceived them and undid them both,

970

Secure they might foretaste felicity

Nor fear surprisal: so, they were surprised.

There did they halt at early evening, there

Did Guido overtake them: ’twas day-break;

He came in time enough, not time too much,

Since in the courtyard stood the Canon’s self

Urging the drowsy stable grooms to haste

Harness the horses, have the journey end,

The trifling four-hour’s-running, so reach Rome.

And the other runaway, the wife? Upstairs,

980

Still on the couch where she had spent the night,

One couch in one room, and one room for both.

So gained they six hours, so were lost thereby.

Sir, what’s the sequel? Lover and beloved

Fall on their knees? No impudence serves here?

They beat their breasts and beg for easy death,

Confess this, that, and the other? — anyhow

Confess there wanted not some likelihood

To the supposition as preposterous,

That, O Pompilia, thy sequestered eyes

990

Had noticed, straying o’er the prayer-book’s edge,

More of the Canon than that black his coat,

Buckled his shoes were, broad his hat of brim:

And that, O Canon, thy religious care

Had breathed too soft a benedicite

To banish trouble from a lady’s breast

So lonely and so lovely, nor so lean!

This you expect? Indeed, then, much you err.

Not to such ordinary end as this

Had Caponsacchi flung the cassock far,

1000

Doffed the priest, donned the perfect cavalier;

The die was cast: over shoes over boots:

And just as she, I presently shall show,

Pompilia, soon looked Helen to the life,

Recumbent upstairs in her pink and white,

So, in the inn-yard, bold as ’twere Troy-town,

There strutted Paris in correct costume,

Cloak, cap and feather, no appointment missed,

Even to a wicked-looking sword at side,

He seemed to find and feel familiar at.

1010

Nor wanted words as ready and as big

As the part he played, the bold abashless one.

“I interposed to save your wife from death,

“Yourself from shame, the true and only shame:

“Ask your own conscience else! — or, failing that,

“What I have done I answer, anywhere,

“Here, if you will; you see I have a sword:

“Or, since I have a tonsure as you taunt,

“At Rome, by all means — priests to try a priest.

“Only, speak where your wife’s voice can reply!”

1020

And then he fingered at the sword again.

So, Guido called, in aid and witness both,

The Public Force. The Commissary came,

Officers also; they secured the priest;

Then, for his more confusion, mounted up

With him, a guard on either side, the stair

To the bed-room where still slept or feigned a sleep

His paramour and Guido’s wife: in burst

The company and bade her wake and rise.

Her defence? This. She woke, saw, sprang upright

1030

I’ the midst and stood as terrible as truth,

Sprang to her husband’s side, caught at the sword

That hung there useless, since they held each hand

O’ the lover, had disarmed him properly.

And in a moment out flew the bright thing

Full in the face of Guido — but for help

O’ the guards who held her back and pinioned her

With pains enough, she had finished you my tale

With a flourish of red all round it, pinked her man

Prettily; but she fought them one to six.

1040

They stopped that — but her tongue continued free:

She spat forth such invective at her spouse,

O’erfrothed him with such foam of murderer,

Thief, pandar — that the popular tide soon turned,

The favour of the very sbirri, straight

Ebbed from the husband, set toward his wife,

People cried “Hands off, pay a priest respect!”

And “persecuting fiend” and “martyred saint”

Began to lead a measure from lip to lip.

But facts are facts and flinch not; stubborn things,

1050

And the question “Prithee, friend, how comes my purse

“I’ the poke of you?”— admits of no reply.

Here was a priest found out in masquerade,

A wife caught playing truant if no more;

While the Count, mortified in mien enough,

And, nose to face, an added palm in length,

Was plain writ “husband” every piece of him:

Capture once made, release could hardly be.

Beside, the prisoners both made appeal,

“Take us to Rome!”

1060

        Taken to Rome they were;

The husband trooping after, piteously,

Tail between legs, no talk of triumph now —

No honour set firm on its feet once more

On two dead bodies of the guilty — nay,

No dubious salve to honour’s broken pate

From chance that, after all, the hurt might seem

A skin-deep matter, scratch that leaves no scar:

For Guido’s first search — ferreting, poor soul,

Here, there, and everywhere in the vile place

1070

Abandoned to him when their backs were turned,

Found — furnishing a last and best regale —

All the love-letters bandied twixt the pair

Since the first timid trembling into life

O’ the love-star till its stand at fiery full.

Mad prose, mad verse, fears, hopes, triumph, despair,

Avowal, disclaimer, plans, dates, names; — was nought

Wanting to prove, if proof consoles at all,

That this had been but the fifth act o’ the piece

Whereof the due proemium, months ago

1080

These playwrights had put forth, and ever since

Matured the middle, added ’neath his nose.

He might go cross himself: the case was clear.

Therefore to Rome with the clear case; there plead

Each party its best, and leave the law do right,

Let her shine forth and show, as God in heaven,

Vice prostrate, virtue pedestalled at last,

The triumph of truth! What else shall glad our gaze

When once authority has knit the brow

And set the brain behind it to decide

1090

Between the wolf and sheep turned litigants?

“This is indeed a business” law shook head:

“A husband charges hard things on a wife,

“The wife as hard o’ the husband: whose fault here?

“A wife that flies her husband’s house, does wrong:

“The male friend’s interference looks amiss,

“Lends a suspicion: but suppose the wife,

“On the other hand, be jeopardised at home —

“Nay, that she simply hold, ill-groundedly,

“An apprehension she is jeopardised —

1100

“And further, if the friend partake the fear,

“And, in a commendable charity

“Which trusteth all, trust her that she mistrusts —

“What do they but obey the natural law?

“Pretence may this be and a cloak for sin,

“And circumstances that concur i’ the close

“Hint as much, loudly — yet scarce loud enough

“To drown the answer ‘strange may yet be true:’

“Innocence often looks like guiltiness.

“The accused declare that in thought, word, and deed,

1110

“Innocent were they both from first to last

“As male-babe haply laid by female-babe

“At church on edge of the baptismal font

“Together for a minute, perfect-pure.

“Difficult to believe, yet possible,

“As witness Joseph, the friend’s patron-saint.

“The night at the inn — there charity nigh chokes

“Ere swallow what they both asseverate;

“Though down the gullet faith may feel it go,

“When mindful of what flight fatigued the flesh

1120

“Out of its faculty and fleshliness,

“Subdued it to the soul, as saints assure:

“So long a flight necessitates a fall

“On the first bed, though in a lion’s den.

“And the first pillow, though the lion’s back:

“Difficult to believe, yet possible.

“Last come the letter’s bundled beastliness —

“Authority repugns give glance to twice,

“Turns head, and almost lets her whip-lash fall;

“Yet here a voice cries ‘Respite!’ from the clouds —

1130

“The accused, both in a tale, protest, disclaim,

“Abominate the horror: ‘Not my hand’

“Asserts the friend —‘Nor mine’ chimes in the wife,

“ ‘Seeing I have no hand, nor write at all.’

“Illiterate — for she goes on to ask,

“What if the friend did pen now verse now prose,

“Commend it to her notice now and then?

“ ’Twas pearls to swine: she read no more than wrote,

“And kept no more than read, for as they fell

“She ever brushed the burr-like things away,

1140

“Or, better, burned them, quenched the fire in smoke.

“As for this fardel, filth, and foolishness,

“She sees it now the first time: burn it too!

“While for his part the friend vows ignorance

“Alike of what bears his name and bear hers:

“ ’Tis forgery, a felon’s masterpiece,

“And, as ’tis the fox still finds the stench,

“Home- manufacturer and the husband’s work.

“Though he confesses, the ingenuous friend,

“That certain missives, letters of a sort,

1150

“Flighty and feeble, which assigned themselves

“To the wife, no less have fallen, far too oft,

“In his path: wherefrom he understood just this —

“That were they verily the lady’s own,

“Why, she who penned them, since he never saw

“Save for one minute the mere face of her,

“Since never had there been the interchange

“Of word with word between them all their life,

“Why, she must be the fondest of the frail,

“And fit she for the ‘apage’ he flung,

1160

“Her letters for the flame they went to feed.

“But, now he sees her face and hears her speech,

“Much he repents him if, in fancy-freak

“For a moment the minutest measurable,

“He coupled her with the first flimsy word

“O’ the self-spun fabric some mean spider- soul

“Furnished forth: stop his films and stamp on him!

“Never was such a tangled knottiness,

“But thus authority cuts the Gordian through,

“And mark how her decision suits the need!

1170

“Here’s troublesomeness, scandal on both sides,

“Plenty of fault to find, no absolute crime:

“Let each side own its fault and make amends!

“What does a priest in cavalier’s attire

“Consorting publicly with vagrant wives

“In quarters close as the confessional

“Though innocent of harm? ’Tis harm enough:

“Let him pay it, and be relegate a good

“Three years, to spend in some place not too far

“Nor yet too near, midway twixt near and far,

1180

“Rome and Arezzo — Civita we choose,

“Where he may lounge away time, live at large,

“Find out the proper function of a priest,

“Nowise an exile — that were punishment,

“But one our love thus keeps out of harm’s way

“Not more from the husband’s anger than, mayhap

“His own . . . say, indiscretion, waywardness,

“And wanderings when Easter eves grow warm.

“For the wife — well, our best step to take with her,

“On her own showing, were to shift her root

1190

“From the old cold shade and unhappy soil

“Into a generous ground that fronts the south:

“Where, since her callow soul, a-shiver late,

“Craved simply warmth and called mere passers-by

“To the rescue, she should have her fill of shine.

“Do house and husband hinder and not help?

“Why then, forget both and stay here at peace,

“Come into our community, enroll

“Herself along with those good Convertites,

“Those sinners saved, those Magdalens re-made,

1200

“Accept their administration, well bestow

“Her body and patiently possess her soul,

“Until we see what better can be done.

“Last for the husband: if his tale prove true,

“Well is he rid of two domestic plagues —

“The wife that ailed, do whatsoever he would,

“And friend of hers that undertook the cure.

“See, what a double load we lift from breast!

“Off he may go, return, resume old life,

“Laugh at the priest here and Pompilia there

1210

“In limbo each and punished for their pains,

“And grateful tell the inquiring neighbourhood —

“In Rome, no wrong but has its remedy.”

The case was closed. Now, am I fair or no

In what I utter? Do I state the facts,

Having forechosen a side? I promised you!

The Canon Caponsacchi, then, was sent

To change his garb, re-trim his tonsure, tie

The clerkly silk round, every plait correct,

Make the impressive entry on his place

1220

Of relegation, thrill his Civita,

As Ovid, a like sufferer in the cause,

Planted a primrose-patch by Pontus: where,

What with much culture of the sonnet-stave

And converse with the aborigines,

Soft savagery of eyes unused to roll,

And hearts that all awry went pit-a-pat

And wanted setting right in charity,

What were a couple of years to while away?

Pompilia, as enjoined, betook herself

1230

To the aforesaid Convertites, the sisterhood

In Via Lungara, where the light ones live,

Spin, pray, then sing like linnets o’er the flax.

“Anywhere, anyhow, out of my husband’s house

“Is heaven,” cried she — was therefore suited so.

But for Count Guido Franceschini, he —

The injured man thus righted — found no heaven

I’ the house when he returned there, I engage,

Was welcomed by the city turned upside down

In a chorus of inquiry. “What, back — you?

1240

“And no wife? Left her with the Penitents?

“Ah, being young and pretty, ’twere a shame

“To have her whipped in public: leave the job

“To the priests who understand! Such priests as yours —

“(Pontifex Maximus whipped Vestals once)

“Our madcap Caponsacchi: think of him!

“So, he fired up, showed fight and skill of fence?

“Ay, you drew also, but you did not fight!

“The wiser, ’tis a word and a blow with him,

“True Caponsacchi, of old Head-i’-the-Sack

1250

“That fought at Fiesole ere Florence was:

“He had done enough, to firk you were too much.

“And did the little lady menace you,

“Make at your breast with your own harmless sword?

“The spitfire! Well, thank God you’re safe and sound,

“Have kept the sixth commandment whether or no

“The lady broke the seventh: I only wish

“I were as saint-like, could contain me so.

“I am a sinner, I fear I should have left

“Sir Priest no nose-tip to turn up at me!”

1260

You, Sir, who listen but interpose no word,

Ask yourself, had you borne a baiting thus?

Was it enough to make a wise man mad?

Oh, but I’ll have your verdict at the end!

Well, not enough, it seems: such mere hurt falls,

Frets awhile, and aches long, then less and less,

And so is done with. Such was not the scheme

O’ the pleasant Comparini: on Guido’s wound

Ever in due succession, drop by drop,

Came slow distilment from the alembic here

1270

Set on to simmer by Canidian hate,

Corrosives keeping the man’s misery raw.

First fire-drop — when he thought to make the best

O’ the bad, to wring from out the sentence passed,

Poor, pitiful, absurd although it were,

Yet what might eke him out result enough

And make it worth his while he had the right

And not the wrong i’ the matter judged at Rome.

Inadequate her punishment, no less

Punished in some slight sort his wife had been;

1280

Then, punished for adultery, what else?

On such admitted crime he thought to seize,

And institute procedure in the courts

Which cut corruption of this kind from man,

Cast loose a wife proved loose and castaway:

He claimed in due form a divorce at least.

This claim was met now by a counterclaim:

Pompilia sought divorce from bed and board

Of Guido, whose outrageous cruelty,

Whose mother’s malice and whose brother’s hate

1290

Were just the white o’ the charge, such dreadful depths

Blackened its centre — hints of worse than hate,

Love from that brother, by that Guido’s guile,

That mother’s prompting. Such reply was made,

So was the engine loaded, wound up, sprung

On Guido, who received the bolt in breast;

But no less bore up, giddily perhaps.

He had the Abate Paolo still in Rome,

Brother and friend and fighter on his side:

They rallied in a measure, met the foe

1300

Manlike, joined battle in the public courts,

As if to shame supine law from her sloth:

And waiting her award, let beat the while

Arezzo’s banter, Rome’s buffoonery,

On this ear and on that ear, deaf alike,

Safe from worse outrage. Let a scorpion nip,

And never mind till he contorts his tail!

But there was sting i’ the creature; thus it struck.

Guido had thought in his simplicity —

That lying declaration of remorse,

1310

That story of the child which was no child

And motherhood no motherhood at all,

— That even this sin might have its sort of good

Inasmuch as no question could be more,

Call it false, call the story true, no claim

Of further parentage pretended now:

The parents had abjured all right, at least,

I’ the woman still his wife: to plead right now

Were to declare the abjuration false:

He was relieved from any fear henceforth

1320

Their hands might touch, their breath defile again

Pompilia with his name upon her yet.

Well, no: the next news was, Pompilia’s health

Demanded change after full three long weeks

Spent in devotion with the Sisterhood —

Rendering sojourn — so the court opined —

Too irksome, since the convent’s walls were high

And windows narrow, nor was air enough

Nor light enough, but all looked prison-like,

The last thing which had come in the court’s head.

1330

Propose a new expedient therefore — this!

She had demanded — had obtained indeed,

By intervention of whatever friends

Or perhaps lovers —(beauty in distress

In one whose tale is the town-talk beside,

Never lacks friendship’s arm about her neck)—

Not freedom, scarce remitted penalty,

Solely the transfer to some private place

Where better air, more light, new food might be —

Incarcerated (call it, all the same)

1340

At some sure friend’s house she must keep inside,

Be found in at requirement fast enough —

Domus pro carcere, in Roman style.

You keep the house i’ the main, as most men do

And all good women: but free otherwise,

Should friends arrive, to lodge and entertain.

And such a domum, such a dwelling-place,

Having all Rome to choose from, where chose she?

What house obtained Pompilia’s preference?

Why, just the Comparini’s — just, do you mark,

1350

Theirs who renounced all part and lot in her

So long as Guido could be robbed thereby,

And only fell back on relationship

And found their daughter safe and sound again

So soon as that might stab him: yes, the pair

Who, as I told you, first had baited hook

With this poor gilded fly Pompilia-thing,

Then caught the fish, pulled Guido to the shore

And gutted him — now found a further use

For the bait, would trail the gauze wings yet again

1360

I’ the way of what new swimmer passed their stand.

They took Pompilia to their hiding-place —

Not in the heart of Rome as formerly,

Under observance, subject to control —

But out o’ the way — or in the way, who knows?

That blind mute villa lurking by the gate

At Via Paulina, not so hard to miss

By the honest eye, easy enough to find

In twilight by marauders: where perchance

Some muffled Caponsacchi might repair,

1370

Employ odd moments when he too tried change,

Found that a friend’s abode was pleasanter

Than relegation, penance, and the rest.

Come, here’s the last drop does its worst to wound,

Here’s Guido poisoned to the bone, you say,

Your boasted still’s full strain and strength: not so!

One master-squeeze from screw shall bring to birth

The hoard i’ the heart o’ the toad, hell’s quintessence.

He learned the true convenience of the change,

And why a convent wants the cheerful hearts

1380

And helpful hands which female straits require,

When, in the blind mute villa by the gate,

Pompilia — what? sang, danced, saw company?

— Gave birth, Sir, to a child, his son and heir,

Or Guido’s heir and Caponsacchi’s son.

I want your word now: what do you say to this?

What would say little Arezzo and great Rome,

And what did God say and the devil say

One at each ear o’ the man, the husband, now

The father? Why, the overburdened mind

1390

Broke down, what was a brain became a blaze.

In fury of the moment —(that first news

Fell on the Count among his vines, it seems,

Doing his farm-work)— why, he summoned steward,

Called in the first four hard hands and stout hearts

From field and furrow, poured forth his appeal,

Not to Rome’s law and gospel any more,

But this clown with a mother or a wife,

That clodpole with a sister or a son:

And, whereas law and gospel held their peace,

1400

What wonder if the sticks and stones cried out?

All five soon somehow found themselves at Rome,

At the villa door: there was the warmth and light —

The sense of life so just an inch inside —

Some angel must have whispered “One more chance!”

He gave it: bade the others stand aside:

Knocked at the door — “Who is it knocks?” cried one.

“I will make,” surely Guido’s angel said,

“One final essay, last experiment,

“Speak the word, name the name from out all names

1410

“Which, if — as doubtless strong illusions are,

“And strange disguisings whence even truth seems false,

“And, for I am a man, I dare not do

“God’s work until assured I see with God —

“If I should bring my lips to breathe that name

“And they be innocent — nay, by one touch

“Of innocence redeemed from utter guilt —

“That name will bar the door and bid fate pass,

“I will not say ‘It is a messenger,

“ ‘A neighbour, even a belated man,

“ ‘Much less your husband’s friend, your husband’s self:’

1421

“At such appeal the door is bound to ope.

“But I will say”— here’s rhetoric and to spare!

Why, Sir, the stumbling- block is cursed and kicked,

Block though it be; the name that brought offence

Will bring offence: the burnt child dreads the fire

Although that fire feed on a taper-wick

Which never left the altar nor singed fly:

And had a harmless man tripped you by chance,

How would you wait him, stand or step aside,

1430

When next you heard he rolled your way? Enough.

“Giuseppe Caponsacchi!” Guido cried;

And open flew the door: enough again.

Vengeance, you know, burst, like a mountain-wave

That holds a monster in it, over the house,

And wiped its filthy four walls free again

With a wash of hell-fire — father, mother, wife,

Killed them all, bathed his name clean in their blood,

And, reeking so, was caught, his friends and he,

Haled hither and imprisoned yesternight

1440

O’ the day all this was.

Now the whole is known,

And how the old couple come to lie in state

Though hacked to pieces — never, the experts say,

So thorough a study of stabbing — while the wife

Viper-like, very difficult to slay,

Writhes still through every ring of her, poor wretch,

At the Hospital hard by — survives, we’ll hope,

To somewhat purify her putrid soul

By full confession, make so much amends

1450

While time lasts; since at day’s end die she must.

For Caponsacchi — why, they’ll have him here,

The hero of the adventure, who so fit

To tell it in the coming Carnival?

’Twill make the fortune of whate’er saloon

Hears him recount, with helpful cheek, and eye

Hotly indignant now, now dewy-dimmed,

The incidents of flight, pursuit, surprise,

Capture, with hints of kisses all between —

While Guido, the most unromantic spouse,

1460

No longer fit to laugh at since the blood

Gave the broad farce an all too brutal air,

Why, he and those our luckless friends of his

May tumble in the straw this bitter day —

Laid by the heels i’ the New Prison, I hear,

To bide their trial, since trial, and for the life,

Follows if but for form’s sake: yes, indeed!

But with a certain issue: no dispute,

“Try him,” bids law: formalities oblige:

But as to the issue — look me in the face! —

1470

If the law thinks to find them guilty, Sir,

Master or men — touch one hair of the five,

Then I say in the name of all that’s left

Of honour in Rome, civility i’ the world

Whereof Rome boasts herself the central source —

There’s an end to all hope of justice more.

Astræa’s gone indeed, let hope go too!

Who is it dares impugn the natural law?

Deny God’s word “the faithless wife shall die?”

What, are we blind? How can we fail to see,

1480

This crowd of miseries make the man a mark,

Accumulate on one devoted head

For our example, yours and mine who read

Its lesson thus —“Henceforward let none dare

“Stand, like a natural in the public way,

“Letting the very urchins twitch his beard

“And tweak his nose, to earn a nickname so,

“Of the male-Grissel or the modern Job!”

Had Guido, in the twinkling of an eye,

Summed up the reckoning, promptly paid himself,

1490

That morning when he came up with the pair

At the wayside inn — exacted his just debt

By aid of what first mattock, pitchfork, axe

Came to hand in the helpful stable- yard,

And with that axe, if providence so pleased,

Cloven each head, by some Rolando-stroke,

In one clean cut from crown to clavicle,

— Slain the priest-gallant, the wife-paramour,

Sticking, for all defence, in each skull’s cleft

The rhyme and reason of the stroke thus dealt,

1500

To-wit, those letters and last evidence

Of shame, each package in its proper place —

Bidding, who pitied, undistend the skulls —

I say, the world had praised the man. But no!

That were too plain, too straight, too simply just!

He hesitates, calls law forsooth to help.

And law, distasteful to who calls in law

When honour is beforehand and would serve,

What wonder if law hesitate in turn,

Plead her disuse to calls o’ the kind, reply

1510

Smiling a little “ ’Tis yourself assess

“The worth of what’s lost, sum of damage done:

“What you touched with so light a finger-tip,

“You whose concern it was to grasp the thing,

“Why must law gird herself and grapple with?

“Law, alien to the actor whose warm blood

“Asks heat from law whose veins run lukewarm milk —

“What you dealt lightly with, shall law make out

“Heinous forsooth?”

        Sir, what’s the good of law

1520

In a case o’ the kind? None, as she all but says.

Call in law when a neighbour breaks your fence,

Cribs from your field, tampers with rent or lease,

Touches the purse or pocket — but wooes your wife?

No: take the old way trod when men were men!

Guido preferred the new path — for his pains,

Stuck in a quagmire, floundered worse and worse

Until he managed somehow scramble back

Into the safe sure rutted road once more,

Revenged his own wrong like a gentleman.

1530

Once back ’mid the familiar prints, no doubt

He made too rash amends for his first fault,

Vaulted too loftily over what barred him late,

And lit i’ the mire again — the common chance,

The natural over-energy: the deed

Maladroit yields three deaths instead of one,

And one life left: for where’s the Canon’s corpse?

All which is the worse for Guido, but, be frank —

The better for you and me and all the world,

Husbands of wives, especially in Rome.

1540

The thing is put right, in the old place — ay,

The rod hangs on its nail behind the door,

Fresh from the brine: a matter I commend

To the notice, during Carnival that’s near,

Of a certain what’s-his-name and jackanapes

Somewhat too civil of eves with lute and song

About a house here, where I keep a wife.

(You, being his cousin, may go tell him so.)

The Other Half-Rome

Another day that finds her living yet,

Little Pompilia, with the patient brow

And lamentable smile on those poor lips,

And, under the white hospital-array,

A flower-like body, to frighten at a bruise

You’d think, yet now, stabbed through and through again,

Alive i’ the ruins. ’Tis a miracle.

It seems that, when her husband struck her first,

She prayed Madonna just that she might live

10

So long as to confess and be absolved;

And whether it was that, all her sad life long,

Never before successful in a prayer,

This prayer rose with authority too dread —

Or whether, because earth was hell to her,

By compensation, when the blackness broke

She got one glimpse of quiet and the cool blue,

To show her for a moment such things were —

Or else — as the Augustinian Brother thinks,

The friar who took confession from her lip —

20

When a probationary soul that moves

From nobleness to nobleness, as she,

Over the rough way of the world, succumbs,

Bloodies its last thorn with unflinching foot,

The angels love to do their work betimes,

Staunch some wounds here nor leave so much for God.

Who knows? However it be, confessed, absolved,

She lies, with overplus of life beside

To speak and right herself from first to last,

Right the friend also, lamb-pure, lion-brave,

30

Care for the boy’s concerns, to save the son

From the sire, her two-weeks’ infant orphaned thus,

And — with best smile of all reserved for him —

Pardon that sire and husband from the heart.

A miracle, so tell your Molinists!

There she lies in the long white lazar-house.

Rome has besieged, these two days, never doubt,

Saint Anna’s where she waits her death, to hear

Though but the chink o’ the bell, turn o’ the hinge

When the reluctant wicket opes at last,

40

Lets in, on now this and now that pretence,

Too many by half — complain the men of art —

For a patient in such plight. The lawyers first

Paid the due visit — justice must be done;

They took her witness, why the murder was;

Then the priests followed properly — a soul

To shrive; ’twas Brother Celestine’s own right,

The same who noises thus her gifts abroad:

But many more, who found they were old friends,

Pushed in to have their stare and take their talk

50

And go forth boasting of it and to boast.

Old Monna Baldi chatters like a jay,

Swears — but that, prematurely trundled out

Just as she felt the benefit begin,

The miracle was snapped up by somebody —

Her palsied limb ’gan prick and promise life

At touch o’ the bedclothes merely — how much more

Had she but brushed the body as she tried!

Cavalier Carlo — well, there’s some excuse

For him — Maratta who paints Virgins so —

60

He too must fee the porter and slip by

With pencil cut and paper squared, and straight

There was he figuring away at face —

“A lovelier face is not in Rome,” cried he,

“Shaped like a peacock’s egg, the pure as pearl,

“That hatches you anon a snow-white chick.”

Then, oh that pair of eyes, that pendent hair,

Black this, and black the other! Mighty fine —

But nobody cared ask to paint the same,

Nor grew a poet over hair and eyes

70

Four little years ago when, ask and have,

The woman who wakes all this rapture leaned

Flower-like from out her window long enough,

As much uncomplimented as uncropped

By comers and goers in Via Vittoria: eh?

’Tis just a flower’s fate: past parterre we trip,

Till peradventure some one plucks our sleeve —

“Yon blossom at the briar’s end, that’s the rose

“Two jealous people fought for yesterday

“And killed each other: see, there’s undisturbed

80

“A pretty pool at the root, of rival red!”

Then cry we, “Ah, the perfect paragon!”

Then crave we, “Just one keepsake-leaf for us!”

Truth lies between: there’s anyhow a child

Of seventeen years, whether a flower or weed,

Ruined: who did it shall account to Christ —

Having no pity on the harmless life

And gentle face and girlish form he found,

And thus flings back: go practise if you please

With men and women: leave a child alone

90

For Christ’s particular love’s sake! — so I say.

Somebody, at the bedside, said much more,

Took on him to explain the secret cause

O’ the crime: quoth he, “Such crimes are very rife,

“Explode nor make us wonder now-a-days,

“Seeing that Antichrist disseminates

“That doctrine of the Philosophic Sin:

“Molinos’ sect will soon make earth too hot!”

“Nay,” groaned the Augustinian, “what’s there new?

“Crime will not fail to flare up from men’s hearts

100

“While hearts are men’s and so born criminal

“Which one fact, always old yet ever new,

“Accounts for so much crime that, for my part,

“Molinos may go whistle to the wind

“That waits outside a certain church, you know!”

Though really it does seem as if she here,

Pompilia, living so and dying thus,

Has undue experience how much crime

A heart can hatch. Why was she made to learn

— Not you, not I, not even Molinos’ self —

What

110

Guido Franceschini’s heart could hold?

Thus saintship is effected probably;

No sparing saints the process! — which the more

Tends to the reconciling us, no saints,

To sinnership, immunity and all.

For see now: Pietro and Violante’s life

Till seventeen years ago, all Rome might note

And quote for happy — see the signs distinct

Of happiness as we yon Triton’s trump.

What could they be but happy? — balanced so,

120

Nor low i’ the social scale nor yet too high,

Nor poor nor richer than comports with ease,

Nor bright and envied, nor obscure and scorned,

Nor so young that their pleasures fell too thick,

Nor old past catching pleasure when it fell,

Nothing above, below the just degree,

All at the mean where joy’s components mix.

So again, in the couple’s very souls

You saw the adequate half with half to match,

Each having and each lacking somewhat, both

130

Making a whole that had all and lacked nought;

The round and sound, in whose composure just

The acquiescent and recipient side

Was Pietro’s, and the stirring striving one

Violante’s: both in union gave the due

Quietude, enterprise, craving and content,

Which go to bodily health and peace of mind.

But, as ’tis said a body, rightly mixed,

Each element in equipoise, would last

Too long and live for ever — accordingly

Holds a germ — sand-grain weight too much i’ the scale —

141

Ordained to get predominance one day

And so bring all to ruin and release —

Not otherwise a fatal germ lurked here:

“With mortals much must go, but something stays;

“Nothing will stay of our so happy selves.”

Out of the very ripeness of life’s core

A worm was bred —“Our life shall leave no fruit.”

Enough of bliss, they thought, could bliss bear seed,

Yield its like, propagate a bliss in turn

150

And keep the kind up; not supplant themselves

But put in evidence, record they were,

Show them, when done with, i’ the shape of a child.

“’Tis in a child, man and wife grow complete,

“One flesh: God says so: let him do his work!”

Now, one reminder of this gnawing want,

One special prick o’ the maggot at the core,

Always befell when, as the day came round,

A certain yearly sum — our Pietro being,

As the long name runs, an usufructuary —

160

Dropped in the common bag as interest

Of money, his till death, not afterward,

Failing an heir: an heir would take and take,

A child of theirs be wealthy in their place

To nobody’s hurt — the stranger else seized all.

Prosperity rolled river-like and stopped,

Making their mill go; but when wheel wore out,

The wave would find a space and sweep on free

And, half-a-mile off, grind some neighbour’s corn.

Adam-like, Pietro sighed and said no more:

170

Eve saw the apple was fair and good to taste,

So, plucked it, having asked the snake advice.

She told her husband God was merciful,

And his and her prayer granted at the last:

Let the old mill-stone moulder — wheel unworn,

Quartz from the quarry, shot into the stream

Adroitly, should go bring grist as before —

Their house continued to them by an heir,

Their vacant heart replenished with a child.

We have her own confession at full length

180

Made in the first remorse: ’twas Jubilee

Pealed in the ear o’ the conscience and it woke.

She found she had offended God no doubt,

So much was plain from what had happened since,

Misfortune on misfortune; but she harmed

No one i’ the world, so far as she could see.

The act had gladdened Pietro to the height,

Her husband — God himself must gladden so

Or not at all —(thus much seems probable

From the implicit faith, or rather say

190

Stupid credulity of the foolish man

Who swallowed such a tale nor strained a whit

Even at his wife’s far- over-fifty years

Matching his sixty-and-under.) Him she blessed,

And as for doing any detriment,

To the veritable heir — why, tell her first

Who was he? Which of all the hands held up

I’ the crowd, would one day gather round their gate,

Did she so wrong by intercepting thus

The ducat, spendthrift fortune thought to fling

200

For a scramble just to make the mob break shins?

She kept it, saved them kicks and cuffs thereby.

While at the least one good work had she wrought,

Good, clearly and incontestably! Her cheat —

What was it to its subject, the child’s self,

But charity and religion? See the girl!

A body most like — a soul too probably —

Doomed to death, such a double death as waits

The illicit offspring of a common trull,

Sure to resent and forthwith rid herself

210

Of a mere interruption to sin’s trade,

In the efficacious way old Tiber knows.

Was not so much proved by the ready sale

O’ the child, glad transfer of this irksome chance?

Well then, she had caught up this castaway:

This fragile egg, some careless wild bird dropped,

She had picked from where it waited the foot-fall,

And put in her own breast till forth broke finch

Able to sing God praise on mornings now.

What so excessive harm was done? — she asked.

220

To which demand the dreadful answer comes —

For that same deed, now at Lorenzo’s church,

Both agents, conscious and inconscious, lie;

While she, the deed was done to benefit,

Lies also, the most lamentable of things,

Yonder where curious people count her breaths,

Calculate how long yet the little life

Unspilt may serve their turn nor spoil the show,

Give them their story, then the church its group.

Well, having gained Pompilia, the girl grew

230

I’ the midst of Pietro here, Violante there,

Each, like a semicircle with stretched arms,

Joining the other round her preciousness —

Two walls that go about a garden-plot

Where a chance sliver, branchlet slipt from bole

Of some tongue-leaved eye-figured Eden tree,

Filched by two exiles and borne far away,

Patiently glorifies their solitude —

Year by year mounting, grade by grade surmounts

The builded brick-work, yet is compassed still,

240

Still hidden happily and shielded safe —

Else why should miracle have graced the ground?

But on the twelfth sun that brought April there

What meant that laugh? The coping-stone was reached;

Nay, a light tuft of bloom towered above

To be toyed with by butterfly or bee,

Done good to or else harm to from outside:

Pompilia’s root, stem, and a branch or two

Home enclosed still, the rest would be the world’s.

All which was taught our couple though obtuse,

250

Since walls have ears, when one day brought a priest,

Smooth-mannered soft-speeched sleek-cheeked visitor,

The notable Abate Paolo — known

As younger brother of a Tuscan house

Whereof the actual representative,

Count Guido, had employd his youth and age

In culture of Rome’s most productive plant —

A cardinal: but years pass and change comes,

In token of which, here was our Paolo brought

To broach a weighty business. Might he speak?

260

Yes — to Violante somehow caught alone

While Pietro took his after-dinner doze,

And the young maiden, busily as befits,

Minded her broider-frame three chambers off.

So — giving now his great flap-hat a gloss

With flat o’ the hand between-whiles, soothing now

The silk from out its creases o’er the calf,

Setting the stocking clerical again,

But never disengaging, once engaged,

The thin clear grey hold of his eyes on her —

270

He dissertated on that Tuscan house,

Those Franceschini — very old they were —

Not rich however — oh, not rich, at least,

As people look to be who, low i’ the scale

One way, have reason, rising all they can

By favour of the money-bag: ’tis fair —

Do all gifts go together? But don’t suppose

That being not so rich means all so poor!

Say rather, well enough — i’ the way, indeed,

Ha, ha, to better fortune than the best,

280

Since if his brother’s patron-friend kept faith,

Put into promised play the Cardinalate,

Their house might wear the red cloth that keeps warm,

Would but the Count have patience — there’s the point!

For he was slipping into years apace,

And years make men restless — they needs must see

Some certainty, some sort of end assured,

Sparkle, tho’ from the topmost beacon-tip

That warrants life a harbour through the haze.

In short, call him fantastic as you choose,

290

Guido was home-sick, yearned for the old sights

And usual faces — fain would settle himself

And have the patron’s bounty when it fell

Irrigate far rather than deluge near,

Go fertilise Arezzo, not flood Rome.

Sooth to say, ’twas the wiser wish: the Count

Proved wanting in ambition — let us avouch,

Since truth is best — in callousness of heart,

Winced at those pin-pricks whereby honours hang

A ribbon o’er each puncture: his — no soul

300

Ecclesiastic (here the hat was brushed)

Humble but self-sustaining, calm and cold,

Having, as one who puts his hand to the plough,

Renounced the over-vivid family-feel —

Poor brother Guido! All too plain, he pined

Amid Rome’s pomp and glare for dinginess

And that dilapidated palace-shell

Vast as a quarry and, very like, as bare —

Since to this comes old grandeur now-a-days —

Or that absurd wild villa in the waste

310

O’ the hill side, breezy though, for who likes air,

Vittiano, nor unpleasant with its vines,

Outside the city and the summer heats.

And now his harping on this one tense chord

The villa and the palace, palace this

And villa the other, all day and all night

Creaked like the implacable cicala’s cry

And made one’s ear- drum ache: nought else would serve

But that, to light his mother’s visage up

With second youth, hope, gaiety again,

320

He must find straightway, woo and haply win

And bear away triumphant back, some wife.

Well now, the man was rational in his way —

He, the Abate — ought he to interpose?

Unless by straining still his tutelage

(Priesthood leaps over elder-brothership)

Across this difficulty: then let go,

Leave the poor fellow in peace! Would that be wrong?

There was no making Guido great, it seems,

Spite of himself: then happy be his dole!

330

Indeed, the Abate’s little interest

Was somewhat nearly touched i’ the case, they saw:

Since if his simple kinsman so were bent,

Began his rounds in Rome to catch a wife,

Full soon would such unworldliness surprise

The rare bird, sprinkle salt on phœnix’ tail,

And so secure the nest a sparrow- hawk.

No lack of mothers here in Rome — no dread

Of daughters lured as larks by looking-glass!

The first name-pecking credit-scratching fowl

340

Would drop her unfledged cuckoo in our nest

To gather greyness there, give voice at length

And shame the brood.. but it was long ago

When crusades were, and we sent eagles forth!

No, that at least the Abate could forestall.

He read the thought within his brother’s word,

Knew what he purposed better than himself.

We want no name and fame — having our own:

No worldly aggrandisement — such we fly:

But if some wonder of a woman’s-heart

350

Were yet untainted on this grimy earth,

Tender and true — tradition tells of such —

Prepared to pant in time and tune with ours —

If some good girl (a girl, since she must take

The new bent, live new life, adopt new modes)

Not wealthy — Guido for his rank was poor —

But with whatever dowry came to hand,

There were the lady-love predestinate!

And somehow the Abate’s guardian eye —

Scintillant, rutilant, fraternal fire —

360

Roving round every way had seized the prize

— The instinct of us, we, the spiritualty!

Come, cards on table; was it true or false

That here — here in this very tenement —

Yea, Via Vittoria did a marvel hide,

Lily of a maiden, white with intact leaf

Guessed thro’ the sheath that saved it from the sun?

A daughter with the mother’s hands still clasped

Over her head for fillet virginal,

A wife worth Guido’s house and hand and heart?

370

He came to see; had spoken, he could no less —

(A final cherish of the stockinged calf)

If harm were — well, the matter was off his mind.

Then with the great air did he kiss, devout,

Violante’s hand, and rise up his whole height

(A certain purple gleam about the black)

And go forth grandly — as if the Pope came next.

And so Violante rubbed her eyes awhile,

Got up too, walked to wake her Pietro soon

And pour into his ear the mighty news

380

How somebody had somehow somewhere seen

Their tree-top-tuft of bloom above the wall,

And came now to apprise them the tree’s self

Was no such crab-sort as should feed the swine,

But veritable gold, the Hesperian ball

Ordained for Hercules to haste and pluck,

And bear and give the Gods to banquet with —

Hercules standing ready at the door.

Whereon did Pietro rub his eyes in turn,

Look very wise, a little woeful too,

390

Then, periwig on head, and cane in hand,

Sally forth dignifiedly into the Square

Of Spain across Babbuino the six steps,

Toward the Boat-fountain where our idlers lounge —

Ask, for form’s sake, who Hercules might be,

And have congratulation from the world.

Heartily laughed the world in his fool’s-face

And told him Hercules was just the heir

To the stubble once a corn-field, and brick-heap

Where used to be a dwelling-place now burned.

400

Guido and Franceschini; a Count — ay:

But a cross i’ the poke to bless the Countship? No!

All gone except sloth, pride, rapacity,

Humours of the imposthume incident

To rich blood that runs thin — nursed to a head

By the rankly-salted soil — a cardinal’s court

Where, parasite and picker-up of crumbs,

He had hung on long, and now, let go, said some,

But shaken off, said others — in any case

Tired of the trade and something worse for wear,

410

Was wanting to change town for country quick,

Go home again: let Pietro help him home!

The brother, Abate Paolo, shrewder mouse,

Had pricked for comfortable quarters, inched

Into the core of Rome, and fattened so;

But Guido, over-burly for rat’s hole

Suited to clerical slimness, starved outside,

Must shift for himself: and so the shift was this!

What, was the snug retreat of Pietro tracked,

The little provision for his old age snuffed?

420

“Oh, make your girl a lady, an you list,

“But have more mercy on our wit than vaunt

“Your bargain as we burgesses who brag!

“Why, Goodman Dullard, if a friend must speak,

“Would the Count, think you, stoop to you and yours

“Were there the value of one penny-piece

“To rattle ’twixt his palms — or likelier laugh,

“Bid your Pompilia help you black his shoe?”

Home again, shaking oft the puzzled pate,

Went Pietro to announce a change indeed,

430

Yet point Violante where some solace lay

Of a rueful sort — the taper, quenched so soon,

Had ended merely in a snuff, not stink —

Congratulate there was one hope the less

Not misery the more: and so an end.

The marriage thus impossible, the rest

Followed: our spokesman, Paolo, heard his fate,

Resignedly Count Guido bore the blow:

Violante wiped away the transient tear,

Renounced the playing Danae to gold dreams,

440

Praised much her Pietro’s prompt sagaciousness,

Found neighbours’ envy natural, lightly laughed

At gossips’ malice, fairly wrapped herself

In her integrity three folds about,

And, letting pass a little day or two,

Threw, even over that integrity,

Another wrappage, namely one thick veil

That hid her, matron-wise, from head to foot,

And, by the hand holding a girl veiled too,

Stood, one dim end of a December day,

450

In Saint Lorenzo on the altar-step —

Just where she lies now and that girl will lie —

Only with fifty candles’ company

Now — in the place of the poor winking one

Which saw — doors shut and sacristan made sure —

A priest — perhaps Abate Paolo — wed

Guido clandestinely, irrevocably

To his Pompilia aged thirteen years

And five months — witness the church register —

Pompilia (thus become Count Guido’s wife

460

Clandestinely, irrevocably his, ),

Who all the while had borne, from first to last,

As brisk a part i’ the bargain, as yon lamb,

Brought forth from basket and set out for sale,

Bears while they chaffer, wary market-man

And voluble housewife, o’er it — each in turn

Patting the curly calm inconscious head,

With the shambles ready round the corner there,

When the talk’s talked out and a bargain struck.

Transfer complete, why, Pietro was apprised.

470

Violante sobbed the sobs and prayed the prayers

And said the serpent tempted so she fell,

Till Pietro had to clear his brow apace

And make the best of matters: wrath at first —

How else? pacification presently,

Why not? — could flesh withstand the impurpled one,

The very Cardinal, Paolo’s patron-friend?

Who, justifiably surnamed “a hinge,”

Knew where the mollifying oil should drop

To cure the creak o’ the valve — considerate

480

For frailty, patient in a naughty world,

He even volunteered to supervise

The rough draught of those marriage-articles

Signed in a hurry by Pietro, since revoked:

Trust’s politic, suspicion does the harm,

There is but one way to brow-beat this world,

Dumbfounder doubt, and repay scorn in kind —

To go on trusting, namely, till faith move

Mountains.

And faith here made the mountains move.

490

Why, friends whose zeal cried “Caution ere too late!”—

Bade “Pause ere jump, with both feet joined, on slough! —

Counselled “If rashness then, now temperance!”—

Heard for their pains that Pietro had closed eyes,

Jumped and was in the middle of the mire,

Money and all, just what should sink a man.

By the mere marriage, Guido gained forthwith

Dowry, his wife’s right; no rescinding there:

But Pietro, why must he needs ratify

One gift Violante gave, pay down one doit

500

Promised in first fool’s-flurry? Grasp the bag

Lest the son’s service flag — is reason and rhyme,

Above all when the son’s a son-in-law.

Words to the wind! The parents cast their lot

Into the lap o’ the daughter: and the son

Now with a right to lie there, took what fell,

Pietro’s whole having and holding, house and field,

Goods, chattels and effects, his worldly worth

Present and in perspective, all renounced

In favour of Guido. As for the usufruct —

510

The interest now, the principal anon,

Would Guido please to wait, at Pietro’s death:

Till when, he must support the couple’s charge,

Bear with them, housemates, pensionaries, pawned

To an alien for fulfilment of their pact.

Guido should at discretion deal them orts,

Bread-bounty in Arezzo the strange place —

They who had lived deliciously and rolled

Rome’s choicest comfit ’neath the tongue before.

Into this quag, “jump” bade the Cardinal!

520

And neck-deep in a minute there flounced they.

But they touched bottom at Arezzo: there —

Four months’ experience of how craft and greed,

Quickened by penury and pretentious hate

Of plain truth, brutify and bestialise —

Four months’ taste of apportioned insolence,

Cruelty graduated, dose by dose

Of ruffianism dealt out at bed and board,

And lo, the work was done, success clapped hands.

The starved, stripped, beaten brace of stupid dupes

530

Broke at last in their desperation loose,

Fled away for their lives, and lucky so;

Found their account in casting coat afar

And bearing off a shred of skin at least:

Left Guido lord o’ the prey, as the lion is,

And, careless what came after, carried their wrongs

To Rome — I nothing doubt, with such remorse

As folly feels, since pain can make it wise,

But crime, past wisdom, which is innocence,

Needs not be plagued with till a later day.

540

Pietro went back to beg from door to door,

In hope that memory not quite extinct

Of cheery days and festive nights would move

Friends and acquaintance — after the natural laugh,

And tributary “Just as we foretold —”

To show some bowels, give the dregs o’ the cup,

Scraps of the trencher, to their host that was,

Or let him share the mat with the mastiff, he

Who lived large and kept open house so long.

Not so Violante: ever a-head i’ the march,

550

Quick at the bye-road and the cut-across,

She went first to the best adviser, God —

Whose finger unmistakably was felt

In all this retribution of the past.

Here was the prize of sin, luck of a lie!

But here too was the Holy Year would help,

Bound to rid sinners of sin vulgar, sin

Abnormal, sin prodigious, up to sin

Impossible and supposed for Jubilee’ sake:

To lift the leadenest of lies, let soar

560

The soul unhampered by a feather-weight.

“I will,” said she, “go burn out this bad hole

“That breeds the scorpion, baulk the plague at least

“Its hope of further creeping progeny:

“I will confess my fault, be punished, yes,

“But pardoned too: Saint Peter pays for all.”

So, with the crowd she mixed, made for the dome,

Through the great door new-broken for the nonce

Marched, muffled more than ever matron-wise,

Up the left nave to the formidable throne,

570

Fell into file with this the poisoner

And that the parricide, and reached in turn

The poor repugnant Penitentiary

Set at this gully-hole o’ the world’s discharge

To help the frightfullest of filth have vent,

And then knelt down and whispered in his ear

How she had bought Pompilia, palmed the babe

On Pietro, passed the girl off as their child

To Guido, and defrauded of his due

This one and that one — more than she could name,

580

Until her solid piece of wickedness

Happened to split and spread woe far and wide:

Contritely now she brought the case for cure.

Replied the throne —“Ere God forgive the guilt,

“Make man some restitution! Do your part!

“The owners of your husband’s heritage,

“Barred thence by this pretended birth and heir —

“Tell them, the bar came so, is broken so,

“Theirs be the due reversion as before!

“Your husband who, no partner in the guilt,

590

“Suffers the penalty, led blindfold thus

“By love of what he thought his flesh and blood

“To alienate his all in her behalf —

“Tell him too such contract is null and void!

“Last, he who personates your son-in-law,

“Who with sealed eyes and stopped ears, tame and mute,

“Took at your hand that bastard of a whore

“You called your daughter and he calls his wife —

“Tell him, and bear the anger which is just!

“Then, penance so performed, may pardon be!”

Who could gainsay this just and right award?

600

Nobody in the world: but, out o’ the world,

Who knows? — might timid intervention be

From any makeshift of an angel-guide,

Substitute for celestial guardianship,

Pretending to take care of the girl’s self:

“Woman, confessing crime is healthy work,

“And telling truth relieves a liar like you,

“But what of her my unconsidered charge?

“No thought of, while this good befalls yourself,

610

“What in the way of harm may find out her?”

No least thought, I assure you: truth being truth,

Tell it and shame the devil!

        Said and done:

Home went Violante and disbosomed all:

And Pietro who, six months before, had borne

Word after word of such a piece of news

Like so much cold steel inched through his breast-blade,

Now at its entry gave a leap for joy,

As who — what did I say of one in a quag? —

620

Should catch a hand from heaven and spring thereby

Out of the mud, on ten toes stand once more.

“What? All that used to be, may be again?

“My money mine again, my house, my land,

“My chairs and tables, all mine evermore?

“What, the girl’s dowry never was the girl’s,

“And, unpaid yet, is never now to pay?

“Then the girl’s self, my pale Pompilia child

“That used to be my own with her great eyes —

“He who drove us forth, why should he keep her

630

“When proved as very a pauper as himself?

“Will she come back, with nothing changed at all,

“And laugh ‘But how you dreamed uneasily!

“ ‘I saw the great drops stand here on your brow —

“ ‘Did I do wrong to wake you with a kiss?’

“No, indeed, darling! No, for wide awake

“I see another outburst of surprise:

“The lout-lord, bully-beggar, braggart-sneak,

“Who not content with cutting purse, crops ear —

“Assuredly it shall be salve to mine

640

“When this great news red-letters him, the rogue!

“Ay, let him taste the teeth o’ the trap, this fox,

“Give us our lamb back, golden fleece and all,

“Let her creep in and warm our breasts again!

“What care for the past? — we three are our old selves,

“Who know now what the outside world is worth.”

And so, he carried case before the courts;

And there Violante, blushing to the bone,

Made public declaration of her fault,

Renounced her motherhood, and prayed the law

650

To interpose, frustrate of its effect

Her folly, and redress the injury done.

Whereof was the disastrous consequence,

That though indisputably clear the case

(For thirteen years are not so large a lapse,

And still six witnesses survived in Rome

To prove the truth o’ the tale)— yet, patent wrong

Seemed Guido’s; the first cheat had chanced on him:

Here was the pity that, deciding right,

Those who began the wrong would gain the good.

660

Guido pronounced the story one long lie

Lied to do robbery and take revenge:

Or say it were no lie at all but truth,

Then, it both robbed the right heirs and shamed him

Without revenge to humanise the deed:

What had he done when first they shamed him thus?

But that were too fantastic: losels they,

And leasing this world’s-wonder of a lie,

They lied to blot him though it brand themselves.

So answered Guido through the Abate’s mouth.

670

Wherefore the court, its customary way,

Inclined to the middle course the sage affect —

They held the child to be a changeling — good:

But, lest the husband got no good thereby,

They willed the dowry, though not hers at all,

Should yet be his, if not by right then grace —

Part-payment for the plain injustice done.

But then, that other contract, Pietro’s work,

Renunciation of his own estate,

That must be cancelled — give him back his goods,

680

He was no party to the cheat at least!

So ran the judgment:— whence a prompt appeal

On both sides, seeing right is absolute.

Cried Pietro, “Is Pompilia not my child?

“Why give her my child’s dowry?”—“Have I right

“To the dowry, why not to the rest as well?”

Cried Guido, or cried Paolo in his name:

Till law said “Reinvestigate the case!”

And so the matter pends, unto this day.

Hence new disaster — that no outlet seemed;

690

Whatever the fortune of the battle-field,

No path whereby the fatal man might march

Victorious, wreath on head and spoils in hand,

And back turned full upon the baffled foe —

Nor cranny whence, desperate and disgraced,

Stripped to the skin, he might be fain to crawl

Worm- like, and so away with his defeat

To other fortune and the novel prey.

No, he was pinned to the place there, left alone

With his immense hate and, the solitary

700

Subject to satisfy that hate, his wife.

“Cast her off? Turn her naked out of doors?

“Easily said! But still the action pends,

“Still dowry, principal and interest,

“Pietro’s possessions, all I bargained for —

“Any good day, be but my friends alert,

“May give them me if she continue mine.

“Yet, keep her? Keep the puppet of my foes —

“Her voice that lisps me back their curse — her eye

“They lend their leer of triumph to — her lip

710

“I touch and taste their very filth upon?”

In short, he also took the middle course

Rome taught him — did at last excogitate

How he might keep the good and leave the bad

Twined in revenge, yet extricable — nay

Make the very hate’s eruption, very rush

Of the unpent sluice of cruelty relieve

His heart first, then go fertilise his field.

What if the girl-wife, tortured with due care,

Should take, as though spontaneously, the road

720

It were impolitic to thrust her on?

If, goaded, she broke out in full revolt,

Followed her parents i’ the face o’ the world,

Branded as runaway not castaway,

Self-sentenced and self-punished in the act?

So should the loathed form and detested face

Launch themselves into hell and there be lost

While he looked o’er the brink with folded arms;

So should the heaped-up shames go shuddering back

O’ the head o’ the heapers, Pietro and his wife,

730

And bury in the breakage three at once:

While Guido, left free, no one right renounced,

Gain present, gain prospective, all the gain,

None of the wife except her rights absorbed.

Should ask law what it was law paused about —

If law were dubious still whose word to take,

The husband’s — dignified and derelict,

Or the wife’s — the . . . what I tell you. It should be.

Guido’s first step was to take pen, indite

A letter to the Abate — not his own,

740

His wife’s — she should re- write, sign, seal, and send.

She liberally told the household-news,

Rejoiced her vile progenitors were fled,

Revealed their malice — how they even laid

A last injunction on her, when they fled,

That she should forthwith find a paramour,

Complot with him to gather spoil enough

Then burn the house down — taking previous care

To poison all its inmates overnight —

And so companioned, so provisioned too,

750

Follow to Rome and all join fortunes gay.

This letter, traced in pencil-characters,

Guido as easily got retraced in ink

By his wife’s pen, guided from end to end,

As it had been just so much Hebrew, Sir:

For why? That wife could broider, sing perhaps,

Pray certainly, but no more read than write

This letter “which yet write she must,” he said,

“Being half courtesy and compliment,

“Half sisterliness: take the thing on trust!”

760

She had as readily re-traced the words

Of her own death-warrant — in some sort ’twas so.

This letter the Abate in due course

Communicated to such curious souls

In Rome as needs must pry into the cause

Of quarrel, why the Comparini fled

The Franceschini, whence the grievance grew,

What the hubbub meant: “Nay — see the wife’s own word,

“Authentic answer! Tell detractors too

“There’s a plan formed, a programme figured here

770

“— Pray God no after-practice put to proof,

“This letter cast no light upon, one day!”

So much for what should work in Rome — back now

To Arezzo, go on with the project there,

Forward the next step with as bold a foot,

And plague Pompilia to the height, you see!

Accordingly did Guido set himself

To worry up and down, across, around,

The woman, hemmed in by her household-bars —

Chased her about the coop of daily life,

780

Having first stopped each outlet thence save one

Which, like bird with a ferret in her haunt,

She needs must seize as sole way of escape

Though there was tied and twittering a decoy

To seem as if it tempted — just the plume

O’ the popinjay, and not a respite there

From tooth and claw of something in the dark —

Giuseppe Caponsacchi.

        Now begins

The tenebrific passage of the tale:

790

How hold a light, display the cavern’s gorge?

How, in this phase of the affair, show truth?

Here is the dying wife who smiles and says

“So it was — so it was not — how it was,

“I never knew nor ever care to know —”

Till they all weep, physician, man of law,

Even that poor old bit of battered brass

Beaten out of all shape by the world’s sins,

Common utensil of the lazar-house —

Confessor Celestino groans “’Tis truth,

800

“All truth, and only truth: there’s something else,

“Some presence in the room beside us all,

“Something that every lie expires before:

“No question she was pure from first to last.”

So far is well and helps us to believe:

But beyond, she the helpless, simple- sweet

Or silly-sooth, unskilled to break one blow

At her good fame by putting finger forth —

How can she render service to the truth?

The bird says “So I fluttered where a springe

810

“Caught me: the springe did not contrive itself,

“That I know: who contrived it, God forgive!”

But we, who hear no voice and have dry eyes,

Must ask — we cannot else, absolving her —

How of the part played by that same decoy

I’ the catching, caging? Was himself caught first?

We deal here with no innocent at least,

No witless victim — he’s a man of the age

And a priest beside — persuade the mocking world

Mere charity boiled over in this sort!

820

He whose own safety too — (the Pope’s apprised —

Good-natured with the secular offence,

The pope looks grave on priesthood in a scrape)

Our priest’s own safety therefore, may-be life,

Hangs on the issue! You will find it hard.

Guido is here to meet you with fixed foot,

Stiff like a statue —“Leave what went before!

“My wife fled i’ the company of a priest,

“Spent two days and two nights alone with him:

“Leave what came after!” He is hard to throw.

830

Moreover priests are merely flesh and blood;

When we get weakness, and no guilt beside,

We have no such great ill-fortune: finding grey,

We gladly call that white which might be black,

Too used to the double-dye. So, if the priest,

Moved by Pompilia’s youth and beauty, gave

Way to the natural weakness. . . . Anyhow

Here be facts, charactery; what they spell

Determine, and thence pick what sense you may!

There was a certain young bold handsome priest

840

Popular in the city, far and wide

Famed, for Arezzo’s but a little place,.

As the best of good companions, gay and grave

At the decent minute; settled in his stall,

Or sideling, lute on lap, by lady’s couch,

Ever the courtly Canon: see in such

A star shall climb apace and culminate,

Have its due handbreadth of the heaven at Rome,

Though meanwhile pausing on Arezzo’s edge,

As modest candle ’mid the mountain fog,

850

To rub off redness and rusticity

Ere it sweep chastened, gain the silver-sphere.

Whether through Guido’s absence or what else,

This Caponsacchi, favourite of the town,

Was yet no friend of his nor free o’ the house,

Though both moved in the regular magnates’ march —

Each must observe the other’s tread and halt

At church, saloon, theatre, house of play.

Who could help noticing the husband’s slouch,

The black of his brow — or miss the news that buzzed

860

Of how the little solitary wife

Wept and looked out of window all day long?

What need of minute search into such springs

As start men, set o’ the move? — machinery

Old as earth, obvious as the noonday sun.

Why, take men as they come — an instance now —

Of all those who have simply gone to see

Pompilia on her deathbed since four days,

Half at the least are, call it how you please,

In love with her — I don’t except the priests

870

Nor even the old confessor whose eyes run

Over at what he styles his sister’s voice

Who died so early and weaned him from the world.

Well, had they viewed her ere the paleness pushed

The last o’ the red o’ the rose away, while yet

Some hand, adventurous ’twixt the wind and her,

Might let the life run back and raise the flower

Rich with reward up to the guardian’s face —

Would they have kept that hand employed the same

At fumbling on with prayer-book pages? No!

880

Men are men: why then need I say one word

More than this, that our man the Canon here

Saw, pitied, loved Pompilia?

        This is why;

This startling why: that Caponsacchi’s self —

Whom foes and friends alike avouch, for good

Or ill, a man of truth whate’er betide,

Intrepid altogether, reckless too

How his own fame and fortune, tossed to the winds,

Suffer by any turn the adventure take,

890

Nay, more — not thrusting, like a badge to hide,

’Twixt shirt and skin a joy which shown is shame —

But flirting flag-like i’ the face o’ the world

This tell-tale kerchief, this conspicuous love

For the lady — oh, called innocent love, I know!

Only, such scarlet fiery innocence

As most men would try muffle up in shade —

’Tis strange then that this else abashless mouth

Should yet maintain, for truth’s sake which is God’s,

That it was not he made the first advance,

900

That, even ere word had passed between the two,

Pompilia penned him letters, passionate prayers,

If not love, then so simulating love

That he, no novice to the taste of thyme,

Turned from such over-luscious honey-clot

At end o’ the flower, and would not lend his lip

Till . . . but the tale here frankly outsoars faith:

There must be falsehood somewhere. For her part,

Pompilia quietly constantly avers

She never penned a letter in her life

910

Nor to the Canon nor any other man,

Being incompetent to write and read:

Nor had she ever uttered word to him, nor he

To her till that same evening when they met,

She on her window-terrace, he beneath

I’ the public street, as was their fateful chance,

And she adjured him in the name of God

Find out and bring to pass where, when and how

Escape with him to Rome might be contrived.

Means found, plan laid and time fixed, she avers,

920

And heart assured to heart in loyalty,

All at an impulse! All extemporised

As in romance-books! Is that credible?

Well, yes: as she avers this with calm mouth

Dying, I do think “Credible!” you’d cry —

Did not the priest’s voice come to break the spell:

They questioned him apart, as the custom is,

When first the matter made a noise at Rome,

And he, calm, constant then as she is now,

For truth’s sake did assert and reassert

930

Those letters called him to her and he came,

— Which damns the story credible otherwise.

Why should this man — mad to devote himself,

Careless what comes of his own fame, the first —

Be studious thus to publish and declare

Just what the lightest nature loves to hide,

Nor screen a lady from the byword’s laugh

“First spoke the lady, last the cavalier!”

— I say — why should the man tell truth just here

When graceful lying meets such ready shrift?

940

Or is there a first moment for a priest

As for a woman, when invaded shame

Must have its first and last excuse to show?

Do both contrive love’s entry in the mind

Shall look, i’ the manner of it, a surprise,

That after, once the flag o’ the fort hauled down,

Effrontery may sink drawbridge, open gate,

Welcome and entertain the conqueror?

Or what do you say to a touch of the devil’s worst?

Can it be that the husband, he who wrote

950

The letter to his brother I told you of,

I’ the name of her it meant to criminate —

What if he wrote those letters to the priest?

Further the priest says, when it first befell,

This folly o’ the letters, that he checked the flow,

Put them back lightly each with its reply.

Here again vexes new discrepancy:

There never reached her eye a word from him;

He did write but she could not read — she could

Burn what offended wifehood, womanhood,

960

So did burn: never bade him come to her,

Yet when it proved he must come, let him come,

And when he did come though uncalled, she spoke

Prompt by an inspiration: thus it was.

Will you go somewhat back to understand?

When first, pursuant to his plan, there sprung,

Like an uncaged beast, Guido’s cruelty

On the weak shoulders of his wife, she cried

To those whom law appoints resource for such,

The secular guardian — that’s the Governor,

970

And the Archbishop — that’s the spiritual guide,

And prayed them take the claws from out her flesh.

Now, this is ever the ill consequence

Of being noble, poor, and difficult,

Ungainly, yet too great to disregard —

That the born peers and friends hereditary

Though disinclined to help from their own store

The opprobrious wight, put penny in his poke

From purse of theirs or leave the door ajar

When he goes wistful by at dinner-time —

980

Yet, if his needs conduct him where they sit

Smugly in office, judge this, bishop that,

Dispensers of the shine and shade o’ the place —

And if, the friend’s door shut and purse undrawn,

The potentate may find the office-hall

Do as good service at no cost — give help

By- the-bye, pay up traditional dues at once

Just through a feather-weight too much i’ the scale,

A finger-tip forgot at the balance-tongue —

Why, only churls refuse, or Molinists.

990

Thus when, in the first roughness of surprise

At Guido’s wolf-face whence the sheepskin fell,

The frightened couple, all bewilderment,

Rushed to the Governor — who else rights wrong?

Told him their tale of wrong and craved redress —

Why, then the Governor woke up to the fact

That Guido was a friend of old, poor Count! —

So, promptly paid his tribute, promised the pair,

Wholesome chastisement should soon cure their qualms

Next time they came and prated and told lies:

1000

Which stopped all prating, sent them dumb to Rome.

Well, now it was Pompilia’s turn to try:

The troubles pressing on her, as I said,

Three times she rushed, maddened by misery,

To the other mighty man, sobbed out her prayer

At footstool of the Archbishop — fast the friend

Of her husband also! Oh, good friends of yore!

So, the Archbishop, not to be outdone

By the Governor, break custom more than he,

Thrice bade the foolish woman stop her tongue,

1010

Unloosed her hands from harassing his gout,

Coached her and carried her to the Count again,

— His old friend should be master in his house,

Rule his wife and correct her faults at need!

Well, driven from post to pillar in this wise,

She, as a last resource, betook herself

To one, should be no family-friend at least,

A simple friar o’ the city; confessed to him,

Then told how fierce temptation of release

By self-dealt death was busy with her soul,

1020

And urged that he put this in words, write plain

For one who could not write, set down her prayer

That Pietro and Violante, parent-like

If somehow not her parents, should for love

Come save her, pluck from out the flame the brand

Themselves had thoughtlessly thrust in so deep

To send gay- coloured sparkles up and cheer

Their seat at the chimney-corner. The good friar

Promised as much at the moment; but, alack,

Night brings discretion: he was no one’s friend,

1030

Yet presently found he could not turn about

Nor take a step i’ the case and fail to tread

On someone’s toe who either was a friend,

Or a friend’s friend, or friend’s friend thrice-removed,

And woe to friar by whom offences come!

So, the course being plain — with a general sigh

At matrimony the profound mistake —

He threw reluctantly the business up,

Having his other penitents to mind.

If then, all outlets thus secured save one,

1040

At last she took to the open, stood and stared

With her wan face to see where God might wait —

And there found Caponsacchi wait as well

For the precious something at perdition’s edge.

He only was predestinate to save —

And if they recognised in a critical flash

From the zenith, each the other, her need of him,

His need of . . . say, a woman to perish for,

The regular way o’ the world, yet break no vow,

Do no harm save to himself — if this were thus?

1050

How do you say? It were improbable;

So is the legend of my patron-saint.

Anyhow, whether, as Guido states the case,

Pompilia — like a starving wretch i’ the street

Who stops and rifles the first passenger

In the great right of an excessive wrong —

Did somehow call this stranger and he came —

Or whether the strange sudden interview

Blazed as when star and star must needs go close

Till each hurts each and there is loss in heaven —

1060

Whatever way in this strange world it was —

Pompilia and Caponsacchi met, in fine,

She at her window, he i’ the street beneath,

And understood each other at first look.

All was determined and performed at once

And on a certain April evening, late

I’ the month, this girl of sixteen, bride and wife

Three years and over — she who hitherto

Had never taken twenty steps in Rome

Beyond the church, pinned to her mother’s gown,

1070

Nor, in Arezzo, knew her way through street

Except what led to the Archbishop’s door —

Such an one rose up in the dark, laid hand

On what came first, clothes and a trinket or two,

Belongings of her own in the old day —

Stole from the side o’ the sleeping spouse — who knows?

Sleeping perhaps, silent for certain — slid

Ghost-like from great dark room to great dark room,

In through the tapestries and out again

And onward, unembarrassed as a fate,

1080

Descended staircase, gained last door of all,

Sent it wide open at first push of palm,

And there stood, first time, last and only time,

At liberty, alone in the open street —

Unquestioned, unmolested found herself

At the city gate, by Caponsacchi’s side,

Hope there, joy there, life and all good again,

The carriage there, the convoy there, light there

Broadening into a full blaze at Rome

And breaking small what long miles lay between;

1090

Up she sprang, in he followed, they were safe.

The husband quotes this for incredible,

All of the story from first word to last:

Sees the priest’s hand throughout upholding hers,

Traces his foot to the alcove, that night,

Whither and whence blindfold he knew the way,

Proficient in all craft and stealthiness;

And cites for proof a servant, eye that watched

And ear that opened to purse secrets up,

A woman-spy — suborned to give and take

1100

Letters and tokens, do the work of shame

The more adroitly that herself, who helped

Communion thus between a tainted pair,

Had long since been a leper thick in spot,

A common trull o’ the town: she witnessed all,

Helped many meetings, partings, took her wage

And then told Guido the whole matter. Lies!

The woman’s life confutes her word — her word

Confutes itself: “Thus, thus and thus I lied.”

“And thus, no question, still you lie,” we say.

1110

“Ay, but at last, e’en have it how you will,

“Whatever the means, whatever the way, explodes

“The consummation”— the accusers shriek:

“Here is the wife avowedly found in flight,

“And the companion of her flight, a priest;

“She flies her husband, he the church his spouse:

“What is this?”

        Wife and priest alike reply

“This is the simple thing it claims to be,

“A course we took for life and honour’s sake,

1120

“Very strange, very justifiable.”

She says, “God put it in my head to fly,

“As when the martin migrates: autumn claps

“Her hands, cries ‘Winter’s coming, will be here,

“‘Off with you ere the white teeth overtake!

“‘Flee!’ So I fled: this friend was the warm day,

“The south wind and whatever favours flight;

“I took the favour, had the help, how else?

“And so we did fly rapidly all night,

“All day, all night — a longer night — again,

1130

“And then another day, longest of days,

“And all the while, whether we fled or stopped,

“I scarce know how or why, one thought filled both,

“‘Fly and arrive!’ So long as I found strength

“I talked with my companion, told him much,

“Knowing that he knew more, knew me, knew God

“And God’s disposal of me — but the sense

“O’ the blessed flight absorbed me in the main,

“And speech became mere talking through a sleep,

“Till at the end of that last longest night

1140

“In a red daybreak, when we reached an inn

“And my companion whispered ‘Next stage — Rome!’

“Sudden the weak flesh fell like piled-up cards,

“All the frail fabric at a finger’s touch,

“And prostrate the poor soul too, and I said,

“‘But though Count Guido were a furlong off,

“‘Just on me, I must stop and rest awhile!’

“Then something like a white wave o’ the sea

“Broke o’er my brain and buried me in sleep

“Blessedly, till it ebbed and left me loose,

1150

“And where was I found but on a strange bed

“In a strange room like hell, roaring with noise,

“Ruddy with flame, and filled with men, in front

“Whom but the man you call my husband, ay —

“Count Guido once more between heaven and me,

“For there my heaven stood, my salvation, yes —

“That Caponsacchi all my heaven of help,

“Helpless himself, held prisoner in the hands

“Of men who looked up in my husband’s face

“To take the fate thence he should signify,

1160

“Just as the way was at Arezzo: then,

“Not for my sake but his who had helped me —

“I sprang up, reached him with one bound, and seized

“The sword o’ the felon, trembling at his side,

“Fit creature of a coward, unsheathed the thing

“And would have pinned him through the poison-bag

“To the wall and left him there to palpitate,

“As you serve scorpions, but men interposed —

“Disarmed me, gave his life to him again

“That he might take mine and the other lives,

1170

“And he has done so. I submit myself!”

The priest says — oh, and in the main result

The facts asseverate, he truly says,

As to the very act and deed of him,

However you mistrust the mind o’ the man —

The flight was just for flight’s sake, no pretext

For aught except to set Pompilia free:

He says “I cite the husband’s self’s worst charge

“In proof of my best word for both of us.

“Be it conceded that so many times

1180

“We took our pleasure in his palace: then,

“What need to fly at all? — or flying no less,

“What need to outrage the lips sick and white

“Of a woman, and bring ruin down beside,

“By halting when Rome lay one stage beyond?”

So does he vindicate Pompilia’s fame,

Confirm her story in all points but one —

This; that, so fleeing and so breathing forth

Her last strength in the prayer to halt awhile,

She makes confusion of the reddening white

1190

Which was the sunset when her strength gave way,

And the next sunrise and its whitening red

Which she revived in when her husband came:

She mixes both times, morn and eve, in one,

Having lived through a blank of night ’twixt each

Though dead-asleep, unaware as a corpse,

She on the bed above; her friend below

Watched in the doorway of the inn the while,

Stood i’ the red o’ the morn, that she mistakes,

In act to rouse and quicken the tardy crew

1200

And hurry out the horses, have the stage

Over, the last league, reach Rome and be safe:

When up came Guido.

        Guido’s tale begins —

How he and his whole household, drunk to death

By some enchanted potion, poppied drugs

Plied by the wife, lay powerless in gross sleep

And left the spoilers unimpeded way,

Could not shake off their poison and pursue,

Till noontide, then made shift to get on horse

1210

And did pursue: which means, he took his time,

Pressed on no more than lingered after, step

By step, just making sure o’ the fugitives,

Till at the nick of time, he saw his chance,

Seized it, came up with and surprised the pair.

How he must needs have gnawn lip and gnashed teeth,

Taking successively at tower and town,

Village and roadside, still the same report,

“Yes, such a pair arrived an hour ago,

“Sat in the carriage just where your horse stands,

1220

“While we got horses ready — turned deaf ear

“To all entreaty they would even alight;

“Counted the minutes and resumed their course.”

Would they indeed escape, arrive at Rome,

Leave no least loop to let damnation through,

And foil him of his captured infamy,

Prize of guilt proved and perfect? So it seemed:

Till, oh the happy chance, at last stage, Rome

But two short hours off, Castelnuovo reached,

The guardian angel gave reluctant place,

1230

Satan stepped forward with alacrity,

Pompilia’s flesh and blood succumbed, perforce

A halt was, and her husband had his will,

Perdue he couched, counted out hour by hour

Till he should spy in the east a signal-streak —

Night had been, morrow was, triumph would be.

Do you see the plan deliciously complete?

The rush upon the unsuspecting sleep,

The easy execution, the outcry

Over the deed, “Take notice all the world!

1240

“These two dead bodies, locked still in embrace —

“The man is Caponsacchi and a priest,

“The woman is my wife: they fled me late,

“Thus have I found and you behold them thus,

“And may judge me: do you approve or no?”

Success did seem not so improbable,

But that already Satan’s laugh was heard,

His back turned on Guido — left i’ the lurch,

Or rather, baulked of suit and service now,

That he improve on both by one deed more,

1250

Burn up the better at no distant day,

Body and soul one holocaust to hell.

Anyhow, of this natural consequence

Did just the last link of the long chain snap:

For his eruption was o’ the priest, alive

And alert, calm, resolute, and formidable,

Not the least look of fear in that broad brow —

One not to be disposed of by surprise,

And armed moreover — who had guessed as much?

Yes, there stood he in secular costume

1260

Complete from head to heel, with sword at side,

He seemed to know the trick of perfectly.

There was no prompt suppression of the man

As he said calmly, “I have saved your wife

“From death; there was no other way but this;

“Of what do I defraud you except death?

“Charge any wrong beyond, I answer it.”

Guido, the valorous, had met his match,

Was forced to demand help instead of fight,

Bid the authorities o’ the place lend aid

1270

And make the best of a broken matter so.

They soon obeyed the summons — I suppose,

Apprized and ready, or not far to seek —

Laid hands on Caponsacchi, found in fault,

A priest yet flagrantly accoutred thus —

Then, to make good Count Guido’s further charge,

Proceeded, prisoner made lead the way,

In a crowd, upstairs to the chamber-door

Where wax-white, dead asleep, deep beyond dream,

As the priest laid her, lay Pompilia yet.

1280

And as he mounted step by step with the crowd

How I see Guido taking heart again!

He knew his wife so well and the way of her —

How at the outbreak she would shroud her shame

In hell’s heart, would it mercifully yawn —

How, failing that, her forehead to his foot,

She would crouch silent till the great doom fell,

Leave him triumphant with the crowd to see!

Guilt motionless or writhing like a worm?

No! Second misadventure, this worm turned,

1290

I told you: would have slain him on the spot

With his own weapon, but they seized her hands:

Leaving her tongue free, as it tolled the knell

Of Guido’s hope so lively late. The past

Took quite another shape now. She who shrieked

“At least and for ever I am mine and God’s,

“Thanks to his liberating angel Death —

“Never again degraded to be yours

“The ignoble noble, the unmanly man,

“The beast below the beast in brutishness!”—

1300

This was the froward child, “the restif lamb

“Used to be cherished in his breast,” he groaned —

“Eat from his hand and drink from out his cup,

“The while his fingers pushed their loving way

“Through curl on curl of that soft coat — alas,

“And she all silverly baaed gratitude

“While meditating mischief!”— and so forth.

He must invent another story now!

The ins and outs of the room were searched: he found

Or showed for found the abominable prize —

1310

Love-letters from his wife who cannot write,

Love-letters in reply o’ the priest — thank God! —

Who can write and confront his character

With this, and prove the false thing forged throughout:

Spitting whereat he needs must spatter who

But Guido’s self? — that forged and falsified

One letter called Pompilia’s, past dispute:

Then why not these to make sure still more sure?

So was the case concluded then and there:

Guido preferred his charges in due form,

1320

Called on the law to adjudicate, consigned

The accused ones to the Prefect of the place.

(Oh mouse-birth of that mountain-like revenge!)

And so to his own place betook himself

After the spring that failed — the wildcat’s way.

The captured parties were conveyed to Rome;

Investigation followed here i’ the court —

Soon to review the fruit of its own work,

From then to now being eight months and no more.

Guido kept out of sight and safe at home:

1330

The Abate, brother Paolo, helped most

At words when deeds were out of question, pushed

Nearest the purple, best played deputy,

So, pleaded, Guido’s representative

At the court shall soon try Guido’s self — what’s more,

The court that also took — I told you, Sir —

That statement of the couple, how a cheat

Had been i’ the birth of the babe, no child of theirs.

That was the prelude; this, the play’s first act:

Whereof we wait what comes, crown, close of all.

1340

Well, the result was something of a shade

On the parties thus accused — how otherwise?

Shade, but with shine as unmistakable.

Each had a prompt defence: Pompilia first —

“Earth was made hell to me who did no harm:

“I only could emerge one way from hell

“By catching at the one hand held me, so

“I caught at it and thereby stepped to heaven:

“If that be wrong, do with me what you will!”

Then Caponsacchi with a grave grand sweep

1350

O’ the arm as though his soul warned baseness off —

“If as a man, then much more as a priest

“I hold me bound to help weak innocence:

“If so my worldly reputation burst,

“Being the bubble it is, why, burst it may:

“Blame I can bear though not blameworthiness.

“But use your sense first, see if the miscreant here

“The man who tortured thus the woman, thus

“Have not both laid the trap and fixed the lure

“Over the pit should bury body and soul!

1360

“His facts are lies: his letters are the fact —

“An infiltration flavoured with himself!

“As for the fancies — whether . . . what is it you say?

“The lady loves me, whether I love her

“In the forbidden sense of your surmise —

“If, with the midday blaze of truth above,

“The unlidded eye of God awake, aware,

“You needs must pry about and track the course

“Of each stray beam of light may traverse earth,

“To the night’s sun and Lucifer himself,

1370

“Do so, at other time, in other place,

“Not now nor here! Enough that first to last

“I never touched her lip nor she my hand

“Nor either of us thought a thought, much less

“Spoke a word which the Virgin might not hear.

“Be that your question, thus I answer it.”

Then the court had to make its mind up, spoke.

“It is a thorny question, and a tale

“Hard to believe, but not impossible:

“Who can be absolute for either side?

1380

“A middle course is happily open yet.

“Here has a blot surprised the social blank —

“Whether through favour, feebleness, or fault,

“No matter, leprosy has touched our robe

“And we’re unclean and must be purified.

“Here is a wife makes holiday from home,

“A priest caught playing truant to his church,

“In masquerade moreover: both allege

“Enough excuse to stop our lifted scourge

“Which else would heavily fall. On the other hand,

1390

“Here is a husband, ay and man of mark,

“Who comes complaining here, demands redress

“As if he were the pattern of desert —

“The while those plaguy allegations frown,

“Forbid we grant him the redress he seeks.

“To all men be our moderation known!

“Rewarding none while compensating each,

“Hurting all round though harming nobody,

“Husband, wife, priest, scot-free not one shall ’scape,

“Yet priest, wife, husband, boast the unbroken head

1400

“From application of our excellent oil:

“So that whatever be the fact, in fine,

“It makes no miss of justice in a sort.

“First, let the husband stomach as he may,

“His wife shall neither be returned him, no —

“Nor branded, whipped, and caged, but just consigned

“To a convent and the quietude she craves;

“So is he rid of his domestic plague:

“What better thing can happen to a man?

“Next, let the priest retire — unshent, unshamed,

1410

“Unpunished as for perpetrating crime,

“But relegated (not imprisoned, Sirs!)

“Sent for three years to clarify his youth

“At Civita, a rest by the way to Rome:

“There let his life skim off its last of lees

“Nor keep this dubious colour. Judged the cause:

“All parties may retire, content, we hope.”

That’s Rome’s way, the traditional road of law;

Whither it leads is what remains to tell.

The priest went to his relegation-place,

1420

The wife to her convent, brother Paolo

To the arms of brother Guido with the news

And this beside — his charge was countercharged;

The Comparini, his old brace of hates,

Were breathed and vigilant and venomous now —

Had shot a second bolt where the first stuck,

And followed up the pending dowry-suit

By a procedure should release the wife

From so much of the marriage-bond as barred

Escape when Guido turned the screw too much

1430

On his wife’s flesh and blood, as husband may.

No more defence, she turned and made attack,

Claimed now divorce from bed and board, in short:

Pleaded such subtle strokes of cruelty,

Such slow sure siege laid to her body and soul,

As, proved — and proofs seemed coming thick and fast —

Would gain both freedom and the dowry back

Even should the first suit leave them in his grasp:

So urged the Comparini for the wife.

Guido had gained not one of the good things

1440

He grasped at by his creditable plan

O’ the flight and following and the rest: the suit

That smouldered late was fanned to fury new,

This adjunct came to help with fiercer fire,

While he had got himself a quite new plague —

Found the world’s face an universal grin

At this last best of the Hundred Merry Tales

Of how a young and spritely clerk devised

To carry off a spouse that moped too much,

And cured her of the vapours in a trice:

1450

And how the husband, playing Vulcan’s part,

Told by the Sun, started in hot pursuit

To catch the lovers, and came halting up,

Cast his net and then called the Gods to see

The convicts in their rosy impudence —

Whereat said Mercury, “Would that I were Mars!”

Oh it was rare, and naughty all the same!

Brief, the wife’s courage and cunning — the priest’s show

Of chivalry and adroitness — last not least,

The husband — how he ne’er showed teeth at all,

1460

Whose bark had promised biting; but just sneaked

Back to his kennel, tail ’twixt legs, as ’twere —

All this was hard to gulp down and digest.

So pays the devil his liegeman, brass for gold.

But this was at Arezzo: here in Rome

Brave Paolo bore up against it all —

Battled it out, nor wanting to himself

Nor Guido nor the House whose weight he bore

Pillar-like, not by force of arm but brain.

He knew his Rome, what wheels we set to work;

1470

Plied influential folk, pressed to the ear

Of the efficacious purple, pushed his way

To the old Pope’s self — past decency indeed —

Praying him take the matter in his hands

Out of the regular court’s incompetence;

But times are changed and nephews out of date

And favouritism unfashionable: the Pope

Said “Render Cæsar what is Cæsar’s due!”

As for the Comparini’s counter-plea,

He met that by a counter- plea again,

1480

Made Guido claim divorce — with help so far

By the trial’s issue: for, why punishment

However slight unless for guiltiness

However slender? — and a molehill serves

Much as a mountain of offence this way.

So was he gathering strength on every side

And growing more and more to menace — when

All of a terrible moment came the blow

That beat down Paolo’s fence, ended the play

O’ the foil and brought Mannaia on the stage.

1490

Five months had passed now since Pompilia’s flight,

Months spent in peace among the Convert nuns:

This — being, as it seemed, for Guido’s sake

Solely, what pride might call imprisonment

And quote as something gained, to friends at home —

This naturally was at Guido’s charge:

Grudge it he might, but penitential fare,

Prayers, preachings, who but he defrayed the cost?

So, Paolo dropped, as proxy, doit by doit

Like heart’s blood, till — what’s here? What notice comes?

1500

The Convent’s self makes application bland

That, since Pompilia’s health is fast o’ the wane,

She may have leave to go combine her cure

Of soul with cure of body, mend her mind

Together with her thin arms and sunk eyes

That want fresh air outside the convent-wall,

Say in a friendly house — and which so fit

As a certain villa in the Pauline way,

That happens to hold Pietro and his wife,

The natural guardians? “Oh, and shift the care

1510

“You shift the cost, too; Pietro pays in turn,

“And lightens Guido of a load! And then,

“Villa or convent, two names for one thing,

“Always the sojourn means imprisonment,

Domum pro carcere — nowise we relax,

“Nothing abate: how answers Paolo?”

You,

What would you answer? All so smooth and fair,

Even Paul’s astuteness sniffed no harm i’ the world.

He authorised the transfer, saw it made,

1520

And, two months after, reaped the fruit of the same,

Having to sit down, rack his brain and find

What phrase should serve him best to notify

Our Guido that by happy providence

A son and heir, a babe was born to him

I’ the villa — go tell sympathising friends!

Yes, such had been Pompilia’s privilege:

She, when she fled, was one month gone with child,

Known to herself or unknown, either way

Availing to explain (say men of art)

1530

The strange and passionate precipitance

Of maiden startled into motherhood

Which changes body and soul by nature’s law.

So when the she-dove breeds, strange yearnings come

For the unknown shelter by undreamed-of shores,

And there is born a blood-pulse in her heart

To fight if needs be, though with flap of wing,

For the wool-flock or the fur- tuft, though a hawk

Contest the prize — wherefore, she knows not yet.

Anyhow, thus to Guido came the news.

1540

“I shall have quitted Rome ere you arrive

“To take the one step left,”— wrote Paolo.

Then did the winch o’ the winepress of all hate,

Vanity, disappointment, grudge, and greed,

Take the last turn that screws out pure revenge

With a bright bubble at the brim beside —

By an heir’s birth he was assured at once

O’ the main prize, all the money in dispute:

Pompilia’s dowry might revert to her

Or stay with him as law’s caprice should point —

1550

But now — now — what was Pietro’s shall be hers,

What was hers shall remain her own — if hers,

Why then — oh, not her husband’s but — her heir’s!

That heir being his too, all grew his at last

By this road or by that road, since they join.

Before, why, push he Pietro out o’ the world —

The current of the money stopped, you see,

Pompilia being proved no Pietro’s child:

Or let it be Pompilia’s life he quenched,

Again the current of the money stopped —

1560

Guido debarred his rights as husband soon,

So the new process threatened; — now, the chance,

Now, the resplendent minute! Clear the earth,

Cleanse the house, let the three but disappear

A child remains, depositary of all,

That Guido may enjoy his own again!

Repair all losses by a master-stroke,

Wipe out the past, all done and left undone,

Swell the good present to best evermore,

Die into new life, which let blood baptise!

1570

So, i’ the blue of a sudden sulphur-blaze,

And why there was one step to take at Rome,

And why he should not meet with Paolo there,

He saw — the ins and outs to the heart of hell —

And took the straight line thither swift and sure.

He rushed to Vittiano, found four sons o’ the soil,

Brutes of his breeding, with one spark i’ the clod

That served for a soul, the looking up to him

Or aught called Franceschini as life, death,

Heaven, hell — lord paramount, assembled these,

1580

Harangued, equipped, instructed, pressed each clod

With his will’s imprint; then took horse, plied spur,

And so arrived, all five of them, at Rome

On Christmas-Eve, and forthwith found themselves

Installed i’ the vacancy and solitude

Left them by Paolo, the considerate man

Who, good as his word, disappeared at once

As if to leave the stage free. A whole week

Did Guido spend in study of his part,

Then played it fearless of a failure. One,

1590

Struck the year’s clock whereof the hours are days,

And off was rung o’ the little wheels the chime

“Goodwill on earth and peace to man:” but, two,

Proceeded the same bell and, evening come,

The dreadful five felt finger-wise their way

Across the town by blind cuts and black turns

To the little lone suburban villa; knocked —

“Who may be outside?” called a well-known voice.

“A friend of Caponsacchi’s bringing friends

“A letter.”

That’s a test, the excusers say:

1600

        Ay, and a test conclusive, I return.

What? Had that name brought touch of guilt or taste

Of fear with it, aught to dash the present joy

With memory of the sorrow just at end —

She, happy in her parents’ arms at length

With the new blessing of the two weeks’ babe —

How had that name’s announcement moved the wife?

Or, as the other slanders circulate,

Were Caponsacchi no rare visitant

On nights and days whither safe harbour lured,

1610

What bait had been i’ the name to ope the door?

The promise of a letter? Stealthy guests

Have secret watchwords, private entrances:

The man’s own self might have been found inside

And all the scheme made frustrate by a word.

No: but since Guido knew, none knew so well,

The man had never since returned to Rome

Nor seen the wife’s face more than villa’s front,

So, could not be at hand to warn or save —

For that, he took this sure way to the end.

1620

“Come in,” bade poor Violante cheerfully,

Drawing the door-bolt: that death was the first,

Stabbed through and through. Pietro, close on her heels,

Set up a cry —“Let me confess myself!

“Grant but confession!” Cold steel was the grant.

Then came Pompilia’s turn.

Then they escaped.

The noise o’ the slaughter roused the neighbourhood.

They had forgotten just the one thing more

Which saves i’ the circumstance, the ticket to-wit

1630

Which puts post-horses at a traveller’s use:

So, all on foot, desperate through the dark

Reeled they like drunkards along open road,

Accomplished a prodigious twenty miles

Homeward, and gained Baccano very near,

Stumbled at last, deaf, dumb, blind through the feat,

Into a grange and, one dead heap, slept there

Till the pursuers hard upon their trace

Reached them and took them, red from head to heel,

And brought them to the prison where they lie.

1640

The couple were laid i’ the church two days ago,

And the wife lives yet by miracle.

All is told.

You hardly need ask what Count Guido says,

Since something he must say. “I own the deed —”

(He cannot choose — but —) “I declare the same

“Just and inevitable — since no way else

“Was left me, but by this of taking life,

“To save my honour which is more than life.

“I exercised a husband’s rights.” To which

1650

The answer is as prompt —“There was no fault

“In any one o’ the three to punish thus:

“Neither i’ the wife, who kept all faith to you,

“Nor in the parents, whom yourself first duped,

“Robbed and maltreated, then turned out of doors.

“You wronged and they endured wrong; yours the fault.

“Next, had endurance overpassed the mark

“And turned resentment needing remedy —

“Nay, put the absurd impossible case, for once —

“You were all blameless of the blame alleged

1660

“And they blameworthy where you fix all blame,

“Still, why this violation of the law?

“Yourself elected law should take its course,

“Avenge wrong, or show vengeance not your right;

“Why, only when the balance in law’s hand

“Trembles against you and inclines the way

“O’ the other party, do you make protest,

“Renounce arbitrament, flying out of court,

“And crying ‘Honour’s hurt the sword must cure?’

“Aha, and so i’ the middle of each suit

1670

“Trying i’ the courts — and you had three in play

“With an appeal to the Pope’s self beside —

“What, you may chop and change and right your wrongs

“Leaving the law to lag as she thinks fit?”

That were too temptingly commodious, Count!

One would have still a remedy in reserve

Should reach the safest oldest sinner, you see!

One’s honour forsooth? Does that take hurt alone

From the extreme outrage? I who have no wife,

Being yet sensitive in my degree

1680

As Guido — must discover hurt elsewhere

Which, half compounded-for in days gone by,

May profitably break out now afresh,

Need cure from my own expeditious hands.

The lie that was, as it were, imputed me

When you objected to my contract’s clause —

The theft as good as, one may say, alleged,

When you, co-heir in a will, excepted, Sir,

To my administration of effects,

— Aha, do you think law disposed of these?

1690

My honour’s touched and shall deal death around!

Count, that were too commodious, I repeat!

If any law be imperative on us all,

Of all are you the enemy: out with you

From the common light and air and life of man!

Tertium Quid

True, Excellency — as his Highness says,

Though she’s not dead yet, she’s as good as stretched

Symmetrical beside the other two;

Though he’s not judged yet, he’s the same as judged,

So do the facts abound and superabound:

And nothing hinders, now, we lift the case

Out of the shade into the shine, allow

Qualified persons to pronounce at last,

Nay, edge in an authoritative word

10

Between this rabble’s-brabble of dolts and fools

Who make up reasonless unreasoning Rome.

“Now for the Trial!” they roar: “the Trial to test

“The truth, weigh husband and weigh wife alike

“I’ the scales of law, make one scale kick the beam!”

Law’s a machine from which, to please the mob,

Truth the divinity must needs descend

And clear things at the play’s fifth act — aha!

Hammer into their noddles who was who

And what was what. I tell the simpletons

20

“Could law be competent to such a feat

“’Twere done already: what begins next week

“Is end o’ the Trial, last link of a chain

“Whereof the first was forged three years ago

“When law addressed herself to set wrong right,

“And proved so slow in taking the first step

“That ever some new grievance — tort, retort,

“On one or the other side — o’ertook i’ the game,

“Retarded sentence, till this deed of death

“Is thrown in, as it were, last bale to boat

30

“Crammed to the edge with cargo — or passengers?

“‘Trecentos inseris: ohe, jam satis est!

“‘Huc appelle!’— passengers, the word must be.”

Long since, the boat was loaded to my eyes.

To hear the rabble and brabble, you’d call the case

Fused and confused past human finding out.

One calls the square round, t’other the round square —

And pardonably in that first surprise

O’ the blood that fell and splashed the diagram:

But now we’ve used our eyes to the violent hue

40

Can’t we look through the crimson and trace lines?

It makes a man despair of history,

Eusebius and the established fact — fig’s end!

Oh, give the fools their Trial, rattle away

With the leash of lawyers, two on either side —

One barks, one bites — Masters Arcangeli

And Spreti — that’s the husband’s ultimate hope

Against the Fisc and the other kind of Fisc,

Bound to do barking for the wife: bow — wow!

Why, Excellency, we and his Highness here

50

Would settle the matter as sufficiently

As ever will Advocate This and Fiscal That

And Judge the Other, with even — a word and a wink —

We well know who for ultimate arbiter.

Let us beware o’ the basset-table — lest

We jog the elbow of Her Eminence,

Jostle his cards — he’ll rap you out a.. st!

By the window-seat! And here’s the Marquis too!

Indulge me but a moment: if I fail

— Favoured with such an audience, understand! —

60

To set things right, why, class me with the mob

As understander of the mind of man!

The mob — now, that’s just how the error comes!

Bethink you that you have to deal with plebs,

The commonalty; this is an episode

In burgess-life — why seek to aggrandise,

Idealise, denaturalise the class?

People talk just as if they had to do

With a noble pair that . . . Excellency, your ear!

Stoop to me, Highness — listen and look yourselves!

70

This Pietro, this Violante, live their life

At Rome in the easy way that’s far from worst

Even for their betters — themselves love themselves,

Spend their own oil in feeding their own lamp

That their own faces may grow bright thereby.

They get to fifty and over: how’s the lamp?

Full to the depth o’ the wick — moneys so much;

And also with a remnant — so much more

Of moneys — which there’s no consuming now,

But, when the wick shall moulder out some day,

80

Failing fresh twist of tow to use up dregs,

Will lie a prize for the passer-by — to-wit

Any one that can prove himself the heir,

Seeing the couple are wanting in a child:

Meantime their wick swims in the safe broad bowl

O’ the middle rank — not raised a beacon’s height

For wind to ravage, nor swung till lamp graze ground

As watchman’s cresset, he pokes here and there,

Going his rounds to probe the ruts i’ the road

Or fish the luck o’ the puddle. Pietro’s soul

90

Was satisfied when crony smirked, “No wine

“Like Pietro’s, and he drinks it every day!”

His wife’s heart swelled her boddice, joyed its fill

When neighbours turned heads wistfully at church,

Sighed at the load of lace that came to pray.

Well, having got through fifty years of flare,

They burn out so, indulge so their dear selves,

That Pietro finds himself in debt at last,

As he were any lordling of us all:

And, for the dark begins to creep on day,

100

Creditors grow uneasy, talk aside,

Take counsel, then importune all at once.

For if the good fat rosy careless man,

Who has not laid a ducat by, decease —

Let the lamp fall, no heir at hand to catch —

Why, being childless, there’s a spilth i’ the street

O’ the remnant, there’s a scramble for the dregs

By the stranger: so, they grant him no longer day

But come in a body, clamour to be paid.

What’s his resource? He asks and straight obtains

110

The customary largess, dole dealt out

To what we call our “poor dear shame-faced ones,”

In secret once a month to spare the shame

O’ the slothful and the spendthrift — pauper-saints

The Pope puts meat i’ the mouth of, ravens they,

And providence he — just what the mob admires!

That is, instead of putting a prompt foot

On selfish worthless human slugs whose slime

Has failed to lubricate their path in life,

Why, the Pope picks the first ripe fruit that falls

120

And gracious puts it in the vermin’s way.

Pietro could never save a dollar? Straight

He must be subsidised at our expense:

And for his wife — the harmless household sheep

One ought not to see harassed in her age —

Judge, by the way she bore adversity,

O’ the patient nature you ask pity for!

How long, now, would the roughest marketman,

Handling the creatures huddled to the knife,

Harass a mutton ere she made a mouth

130

Or menaced biting? Yet the poor sheep here,

Violante, the old innocent burgess-wife,

In her first difficulty showed great teeth

Fit to crunch up and swallow a good round crime.

She meditates the tenure of the Trust,

Fidei commissum is the lawyer-phrase,

These funds that only want an heir to take —

Goes o’er the gamut o’ the creditor’s cry

By semitones from whine to snarl high up

And growl down low, one scale in sundry keys —

140

Pauses with a little compunction for the face

Of Pietro frustrate of its ancient cheer —

Never a bottle now for friend at need —

Comes to a stop on her own frittered lace

And neighbourly condolences thereat,

Then makes her mind up, sees the thing to do:

And so, deliberately snaps house-book clasp,

Posts off to vespers, missal beneath arm,

Passes the proper San Lorenzo by,

Dives down a little lane to the left, is lost

150

In a labyrinth of dwellings best unnamed,

Selects a certain blind one, black at base,

Blinking at top — the sign of we know what —

One candle in a casement set to wink

Streetward, do service to no shrine inside —

Mounts thither by the filthy flight of stairs,

Holding the cord by the wall, to the tip-top,

Gropes for the door i’ the dark, ajar of course,

Raps, opens, enters in: up starts a thing

Naked as needs be —“What, you rogue, ’tis you?

160

“Back — how can I have taken a farthing yet?

“Mercy on me, poor sinner that I am!

“Here’s . . . why, I took you for Madonna’s self

“With all that sudden swirl of silk i’ the place!

“What may your pleasure be, my bonny dame?”

Your Excellency supplies aught left obscure?

One of those women that abound in Rome,

Whose needs oblige them eke out one poor trade

By another vile one: her ostensible work

Was washing clothes, out in the open air

170

At the cistern by Citorio; but true trade —

Whispering to idlers when they stopped and praised

The ancles she let liberally shine

In kneeling at the slab by the fountain-side,

That there was plenty more to criticise

At home, that eve, i’ the house where candle blinked

Decorously above, and all was done

I’ the holy fear of God and cheap beside.

Violante, now, had seen this woman wash,

Noticed and envied her propitious shape,

180

Tracked her home to her house- top, noted too,

And now was come to tempt her and propose

A bargain far more shameful than the first

Which trafficked her virginity away

For a melon and three pauls at twelve years old.

Five minutes’ talk with this poor child of Eve,

Struck was the bargain, business at an end —

“Then, six months hence, that person whom you trust,

“Comes, fetches whatsoever babe it be;

“I keep the price and secret, you the babe,

190

“Paying beside for mass to make all straight:

“Meantime, I pouch the earnest-money-piece.”

Downstairs again goes fumbling by the rope

Violante, triumphing in a flourish of fire

From her own brain, self-lit by such success —

Gains church in time for the “Magnificat

And gives forth “My reproof is taken away,

“And blessed shall mankind proclaim me now,”

So that the officiating priest turns round

To see who proffers the obstreperous praise:

200

Then home to Pietro, the enraptured-much

But puzzled-more when told the wondrous news —

How orisons and works of charity,

(Beside that pair of pinners and a coif,

Birthday surprise last Wednesday was five weeks)

Had borne fruit in the Autumn of his life —

They, or the Orvieto in a double dose.

Anyhow, she must keep house next six months,

Lie on the settle, avoid the three-legged stool,

And, chiefly, not be crossed in wish or whim,

210

And the result was like to be an heir.

Accordingly, when time was come about,

He found himself the sire indeed of this

Francesca Vittoria Pompilia and the rest

O’ the names whereby he sealed her his next day.

A crime complete in its way is here, I hope?

Lies to God, lies to man, every way lies

To nature and civility and the mode:

Flat robbery of the proper heirs thus foiled

O’ the due succession — and, what followed thence,

220

Robbery of God, through the confessor’s ear

Debarred the most noteworthy incident

When all else done and undone twelve- month through

Was put in evidence at Easter-time.

All other peccadillos! — but this one

To the priest who comes next day to dine with us?

’Twere inexpedient; decency forbade.

Is so far clear? You know Violante now,

Compute her capability of crime

By this authentic instance? Black hard cold

230

Crime like a stone you kick up with your foot

I’ the middle of a field?

        I thought as much.

But now, a question — how long does it lie,

The bad and barren bit of stuff you kick,

Before encroached on and encompassed round

With minute moss, weed, wild-flower — made alive

By worm, and fly, and foot of the free bird?

Your Highness — healthy minds let bygones be,

Leave old crimes to grow young and virtuous-like

240

I’ the sun and air; so time treats ugly deeds:

They take the natural blessing of all change.

There was the joy o’ the husband silly-sooth,

The softening of the wife’s old wicked heart,

Virtues to right and left, profusely paid

If so they might compensate the saved sin.

And then the sudden existence, dewy-dear,

O’ the rose above the dungheap, the pure child

As good as new created, since withdrawn

From the horror of the pre-appointed lot

250

With the unknown father and the mother known

Too well — some fourteen years of squalid youth,

And then libertinage, disease, the grave —

Hell in life here, hereafter life in hell:

Look at that horror and this soft repose!

Why, moralist, the sin has saved a soul!

Then, even the palpable grievance to the heirs —

’Faith, this was no frank setting hand to throat

And robbing a man, but . . . Excellency, by your leave,

How did you get that marvel of a gem,

260

The sapphire with the Graces grand and Greek?

The story is, stooping to pick a stone

From the pathway through a vineyard — no-man’s-land —

To pelt a sparrow with, you chanced on this:

Why, now, do those five clowns o’ the family

O’ the vinedresser digest their porridge worse

That not one keeps it in his goatskin pouch

To do flints’-service with the tinder-box?

Don’t cheat me, don’t cheat you, don’t cheat a friend!

But are you so hard on who jostles just

270

A stranger with no natural sort of claim

To the havings and the holdings (here’s the point)

Unless by misadventure, and defect

Of that which ought to be — nay, which there’s none

Would dare so much as wish to profit by —

Since who dares put in just so many words

“May Pietro fail to have a child, please God!

“So shall his house and goods belong to me,

“The sooner that his heart will pine betimes?”

Well then, God don’t please, nor his heart shall pine!

280

Because he has a child at last, you see,

Or selfsame thing as though a child it were,

He thinks, whose sole concern it is to think:

If he accepts it why should you demur?

Moreover, say that certain sin there seem,

The proper process of unsinning sin

Is to begin well-doing somehow else.

Pietro — remember, with no sin at all

I’ the substitution — why, this gift of God

Flung in his lap from over Paradise

290

Steadied him in a moment, set him straight

On the good path he had been straying from.

Henceforward no more wilfulness and waste,

Cuppings, carousings — these a sponge wiped out.

All sort of self-denial was easy now

For the child’s sake, the chatelaine to be,

Who must want much and might want who knows what?

And so, the debts were paid, habits reformed,

Expense curtailed, the dowry set to grow.

As for the wife — I said, hers the whole sin:

300

So, hers the exemplary penance. ’Twas a text

Whereon folk preached and praised, the district through:

“Oh, make us happy and you make us good!

“It all comes of God giving her a child:

“Such graces follow God’s best earthly gift!”

Here you put by my guard, pass to my heart

By the home-thrust —“There’s a lie at base of all.”

Why, thou exact Prince, is it a pearl or no,

Yon globe upon the Principessa’s neck?

That great round glory of pellucid stuff,

310

A fish secreted round glory of pellucid grit!

Do you call it worthless for the worthless core?

(She don’t, who well knows what she changed for it!)

So, to our brace of burgesses again!

You see so far i’ the story, who was right,

Who wrong, who neither, don’t you? What, you don’t?

Eh? Well, admit there’s somewhat dark i’ the case,

Let’s on — the rest shall clear, I promise you.

Leap over a dozen years: you find, these passed,

An old good easy creditable sire,

320

A careful housewife’s beaming bustling face,

Both wrapped up in the love of their one child,

The strange tall pale beautiful creature grown

Lily-like out o’ the cleft i’ the sun-smit rock

To bow its white miraculous birth of buds

I’ the way of wandering Joseph and his spouse —

So painters fancy: here it was a fact.

And this their lily — could they but transplant

And set in vase to stand by Solomon’s porch

’Twixt lion and lion! — this Pompilia of theirs,

330

Could they see worthily married, well bestowed

In house and home! And why despair of this

With Rome to choose from, save the topmost rank?

Themselves would help the choice with heart and soul,

Throw their late savings in a common heap

Should go with the dowry, to be followed in time

By the heritage legitimately hers:

And when such paragon was found and fixed,

Why, they might chant their “Nunc dimittas” straight.

Indeed the prize was simply full to a fault;

340

Exorbitant for the suitor they should seek,

And social class to choose among, these cits.

Yet there’s a latitude: exceptional white

Amid the general brown o’ the species, lurks

A burgess nearly an aristocrat,

Legitimately in reach: look out for him!

What banker, merchant, has seen better days,

What second-rate painter a-pushing up,

Poet a-slipping down, shall bid the best

For this young beauty with the thumping purse?

350

Alack, had it been but one of such as these

So like the real thing they may pass for it,

All had gone well! Unluckily fate must needs

It proved to be the impossible thing itself;

The truth and not the sham: hence ruin to them all.

For, Guido Franceschini was the head

Of an old family in Arezzo, old

To that degree they could afford be poor

Better than most: the case is common too.

Out of the vast door ’scutcheoned overhead,

360

Creeps out a serving-man on Saturdays

To cater for the week — turns up anon

I’ the market, chaffering for the lamb’s least leg,

Or the quarter-fowl, less entrails, claws and comb:

Then back again with prize — a liver begged

Into the bargain, gizzard overlooked —

He’s mincing these to give the beans a taste,

When, at your knock, he leaves the simmering soup,

Waits on the curious stranger-visitant,

Napkin in half-wiped hand, to show the rooms,

370

Point pictures out have hung their hundred years,

“Priceless,” he tells you — puts in his place at once

The man of money: yes, you’re banker-king

Or merchant-kaiser, wallow in your wealth

While patron, the house-master, can’t afford

To stop our ceiling-hole that rain so rots —

But he’s the man of mark, and there’s his shield,

And yonder’s the famed Rafael, first in kind,

The painter painted for his grandfather —

You have paid a paul to see: “Good-morning, Sir!”

380

Such is the law of compensation. Here

The poverty was getting too acute;

There gaped so many noble mouths to feed,

Beans must suffice unflavoured of the fowl.

The mother — hers would be a spun-out life

I’ the nature of things; the sisters had done well

And married men of reasonable rank:

But that sort of illumination stops,

Throws back no heat upon the parent-hearth.

The family instinct felt out for its fire

390

To the Church — the Church traditionally helps

A second son: and such was Paolo,

Established here at Rome these thirty years,

Who played the regular game — priest and Abate,

Made friends, owned house and land, became of use

To a personage: his course lay clear enough.

The youngest caught the sympathetic flame,

And, though unfledged wings kept him still i’ the cage,

Yet he shot up to be a Canon, so

Clung to the higher perch and crowed in hope.

400

Even our Guido, eldest brother, went

As far i’ the way o’ the Church as safety seemed,

He being Head o’ the House, ordained to wive —

So, could but dally with an Order or two

And testify good-will i’ the cause: he clipt

His top-hair and thus far affected Christ,

But main promotion must fall otherwise,

Though still from the side o’ the Church: and here was he

At Rome, since first youth, worn threadbare of soul

By forty-six years’ rubbing on hard life,

Getting fast tired o’ the game whose word is —“Wait!”

411

When one day — he too having his Cardinal

To serve in some ambiguous sort, as serve

To draw the coach the plumes o’ the horses’ heads —

The Cardinal saw fit to dispense with him,

Ride with one plume the less; and off it dropped.

Guido thus left — with a youth spent in vain

And not a penny in purse to show for it,

Advised with Paolo, bent no doubt in chafe

The black brows somewhat formidably the while.

420

“Where is the good I came to get at Rome?

“Where the repayment of the servitude

“To a purple popinjay, whose feet I kiss,

“Knowing his father wiped the shoes of mine?”

“Patience,” pats Paolo the recalcitrant —

“You have not had, so far, the proper luck,

“Nor do my gains suffice to keep us both:

“A modest competency is mine, not more.

“You are the Count however, yours the style,

“Heirdom and state — you can’t expect all good.

“Had I, now, held your hand of cards . . . well, well —

431

“What’s yet unplayed, I’ll look at, by your leave,

“Over your shoulder — I who made my game,

“Let’s see, if I can’t help to handle yours.

“Fie on you, all the Honours in your fist,

“Countship, Househeadship — how have you misdealt!

“Why, in the first place, they will marry a man!

Notum tonsoribus! To the Tonsor then!

“Come, clear your looks, and choose your freshest suit,

“And, after function’s done with, down we go

440

“To the woman- dealer in perukes, a wench

“I and some others settled in the shop

“At Place Colonna: she’s an oracle. Hmm!

“ ‘Dear, ’tis my brother: brother, ’tis my dear.

“ ‘Dear, give us counsel! Whom do you suggest

“ ‘As properest party in the quarter round,

“ ‘For the Count here? — he is minded to take wife,

“ ‘And further tells me he intends to slip

“ ‘Twenty zecchines under the bottom-scalp

“ ‘Of his old wig when he sends it to revive

450

“ ‘For the wedding: and I add a trifle too.

“ ‘You know what personage I’m potent with.’ ”

And so plumped out Pompilia’s name the first.

She told them of the household and its ways,

The easy husband and the shrewder wife

In Via Vittoria — how the tall young girl,

With hair black as yon patch and eyes as big

As yon pomander to make freckles fly,

Would have so much for certain, and so much more

In likelihood — why, it suited, slipt as smooth

460

As the Pope’s pantoufle does on the Pope’s foot.

“I’ll to the husband!” Guido ups and cries.

“Ay, so you’d play your last court-card, no doubt!”

Puts Paolo in with a groan —“Only, you see,

“ ’Tis I, this time, that supervise your lead.

“Priests play with women, maids, wives, mothers — why?

“These play with men and take them off our hands.

“Did I come, counsel with some cut-beard gruff

“Or rather this sleek young-old barberess?

“Go, brother, stand you rapt in the ante- room

470

“Of Her Efficacity my Cardinal

“For an hour — he likes to have lord-suitors lounge —

“While I betake myself to the grey mare,

“The better horse — how wise the people’s word! —

“And wait on Madam Violante.”

        Said and done.

He was at Via Vittoria in three skips:

Proposed at once to fill up the one want

O’ the burgess- family which, wealthy enough,

And comfortable to heart’s desire, yet crouched

480

Outside a gate to heaven — locked, bolted, barred,

Whereof Count Guido had a key he kept

Under his pillow, but Pompilia’s hand

Might slide behind his neck and pilfer thence.

The key was fairy; mention of it made

Violante feel the thing shoot one sharp ray

That reached the heart o’ the woman. “I assent:

“Yours be Pompilia, hers and ours that key

“To all the glories of the greater life!

“There’s Pietro to convince: leave that to me!”

490

Then was the matter broached to Pietro; then

Did Pietro make demand and get response

That in the Countship was a truth, but in

The counting up of the Count’s cash, a lie:

He thereupon stroked grave his chin, looked great,

Declined the honour. Then the wife wiped one —

Winked with the other eye turned Paolo-ward,

Whispered Pompilia, stole to church at eve,

Found Guido there and got the marriage done,

And finally begged pardon at the feet

500

Of her dear lord and master. Whereupon

Quoth Pietro —“Let us make the best of things!”

“I knew your love would licence us,” quoth she:

Quoth Paolo once more, “Mothers, wives, and maids,

“These be the tools wherewith priests manage men.”

Now, here take breath and ask — which bird o’ the brace

Decoyed the other into clapnet? Who

Was fool, who knave? Neither and both, perchance.

There was a bargain mentally proposed

On each side, straight and plain and fair enough;

510

Mind knew its own mind: but when mind must speak,

The bargain have expression in plain terms,

There was the blunder incident to words,

And in the clumsy process, fair turned foul,

The straight backbone-thought of the crooked speech

Were just —“I Guido truck my name and rank

“For so much money and youth and female charms.”—

“We Pietro and Violante give our child

“And wealth to you for a rise i’ the world thereby.”

Such naked truth while chambered in the brain

520

Shocks nowise: walk it forth by way of tongue —

Out on the cynical unseemliness!

Hence was the need, on either side, of a lie

To serve as decent wrappage: so, Guido gives

Money for money — and they, bride for groom,

Having, he, not a doit, they, not a child

Honestly theirs, but this poor waif and stray.

According to the words, each cheated each;

But in the inexpressive barter of thoughts,

Each did give and did take the thing designed,

530

The rank on this side and the cash on that —

Attained the object of the traffic, so.

The way of the world, the daily bargain struck

In the first market! Why sells Jack his ware?

“For the sake of serving an old customer.”

Why does Jill buy it? “Simply not to break

“A custom, pass the old stall the first time.”

Why, you know where the gist is of the exchange:

Each sees a profit, throws the fine words in.

Don’t be too hard o’ the pair! Had each pretence

540

Been simultaneously discovered, stripped

From off the body o’ the transaction, just

As when a cook . . . will Excellency forgive?

Strips away those long loose superfluous legs

From either side the crayfish, leaving folk

A meal all meat henceforth, no garnishry,

(With your respect, Prince!)— balance had been kept,

No party blamed the other — so, starting fair,

All subsequent fence of wrong returned by wrong

I’ the matrimonial thrust and parry, at least

550

Had followed on equal terms. But, as it chanced,

One party had the advantage, saw the cheat

Of the other first and kept its own concealed:

And the luck o’ the first discovery fell, beside,

To the least adroit and self-possessed o’ the pair.

’Twas foolish Pietro and his wife saw first

The nobleman was penniless, and screamed

“We are cheated!”

        Such unprofitable noise

Angers at all times: but when those who plague,

560

Do it from inside your own house and home,

Gnats which yourself have closed the curtain round,

Noise goes too near the brain and makes you mad.

The gnats say, Guido used the candle flame

Unfairly — worsened that first bad of his,

By practise of all kind of cruelty

To oust them and suppress the wail and whine —

That speedily he so scared and bullied them,

Fain were they, long before five months were out,

To beg him grant, from what was once their wealth,

570

Just so much as would help them back to Rome

Where, when they had finished paying the last doit

O’ the dowry, they might beg from door to door.

So say the Comparini — as if it were

In pure resentment for this worse than bad,

That then Violante, feeling conscience prick,

Confessed her substitution of the child

Whence all the harm came — and that Pietro first

Bethought him of advantage to himself

I’ the deed, as part revenge, part remedy

580

For all miscalculation in the pact.

On the other hand “Not so!” Guido retorts —

“I am the wronged, solely, from first to last,

“Who gave the dignity I engaged to give,

“Which was, is, cannot but continue gain.

“My being poor was a bye-circumstance,

“Miscalculated piece of untowardness,

“Might end to-morrow did heaven’s windows ope,

“Or uncle die and leave me his estate.

“You should have put up with the minor flaw,

590

“Getting the main prize of the jewel. If wealth,

“Not rank, had been prime object in your thoughts,

“Why not have taken the butcher’s son, the boy

“O’ the baker or candlestick-maker? In all the rest,

“It was yourselves broke compact and played false,

“And made a life in common impossible.

“Show me the stipulation of our bond

“That you should make your profit of being inside

“My house, to hustle and edge me out o’ the same.

“First make a laughing-stock of mine and me,

600

“Then round us in the ears from morn to night

“(Because we show wry faces at your mirth)

“That you are robbed, starved, beaten, and what not!

“You fled a hell of your own lighting-up,

“Pay for your own miscalculation too:

“You thought nobility, gained at any price,

“Would suit and satisfy — find the mistake,

“And now retaliate, not on yourselves, but me.

“And how? By telling me, i’ the face of the world,

“I it is have been cheated all this while,

610

“Abominably and irreparably — my name

“Given to a cur-cast mongrel, a drab’s brat,

“A beggar’s bye-blow — thus depriving me

“Of what yourselves allege the whole and sole

“Aim on my part i’ the marriage — money to-wit.

“This thrust I have to parry by a guard

“Which leaves me open to a counter-thrust

“On the other side — no way but there’s a pass

“Clean through me. If I prove, as I hope to do,

“There’s not one truth in this your odious tale

620

“O’ the buying, selling, substituting — prove

“Your daughter was and is your daughter — well,

“And her dowry hers and therefore mine — what then?

“Why, where’s the appropriate punishment for this

“Enormous lie hatched for mere malice’ sake

“To ruin me? Is that a wrong or no?

“And if I try revenge for remedy,

“Can I well make it strong and bitter enough?”

I anticipate however — only ask,

Which of the two here sinned most? A nice point!

630

Which brownness is least black — decide who can,

Wager-by-battle-of-cheating! What do you say,

Highness? Suppose, your Excellency, we leave

The question at this stage, proceed to the next,

Both parties step out, fight their prize upon,

In the eye o’ the world?

        They brandish law ’gainst law;

The grinding of such blades, each parry of each,

Throws terrible sparks off, over and above the thrusts,

And makes more sinister the fight, to the eye,

640

Than the very wounds that follow. Beside the tale

Which the Comparini have to re-assert,

They needs must write, print, publish all abroad

The straitnesses of Guido’s household life —

The petty nothings we bear privately

But break down under when fools flock around.

What is it all to the facts o’ the couple’s case,

How helps it prove Pompilia not their child,

If Guido’s mother, brother, kith and kin

Fare ill, lie hard, lack clothes, lack fire, lack food?

650

That’s one more wrong than needs.

        On the other hand,

Guido — whose cue is to dispute the truth

O’ the tale, reject the shame it throws on him —

He may retaliate, fight his foe in turn

And welcome, we allow. Ay, but he can’t!

He’s at home, only acts by proxy here:

Law may meet law — but all the gibes and jeers,

The superfluity of naughtiness,

Those libels on his House — how reach at them?

660

Two hateful faces, grinning all a-glow,

Not only make parade of spoil they filched,

But foul him from the height of a tower, you see.

Unluckily temptation is at hand —

To take revenge on a trifle overlooked,

A pet lamb they have left in reach outside,

Whose first bleat, when he plucks the wool away,

Will strike the grinners grave: his wife remains

Who, four months earlier, some thirteen years old,

Never a mile away from mother’s house

670

And petted to the height of her desire,

Was told one morning that her fate was come,

She must be married — just as, a month before,

Her mother told her she must comb her hair

And twist her curls into one knot behind.

These fools forgot their pet lamb, fed with flowers,

Then ’ticed as usual by the bit of cake,

Out of the bower into the butchery.

Plague her, he plagues them threefold: but how plague?

The world may have its word to say to that:

680

You can’t do some things with impunity.

What remains . . . well, it is an ugly thought . . .

But that he drive herself to plague herself —

Herself disgrace herself and so disgrace

Who seek to disgrace Guido?

        There’s the clue

To what else seems gratuitously vile,

If, as is said, from this time forth the rack

Was tried upon Pompilia: ’twas to wrench

Her limbs into exposure that brings shame.

690

The aim o’ the cruelty being so crueller still,

That cruelty almost grows compassion’s self

Could one attribute it to mere return

O’ the parents’ outrage, wrong avenging wrong.

They see in this a deeper deadlier aim,

Not to vex just a body they held dear,

But blacken too a soul they boasted white,

And show the world their saint in a lover’s arms,

No matter how driven thither — so they say.

On the other hand, so much is easily said,

700

And Guido lacks not an apologist.

The pair had nobody but themselves to blame,

Being selfish beasts throughout, no less, no more:

— Cared for themselves, their supposed good, nought else,

And brought about the marriage; good proved bad,

As little they cared for her its victim — nay,

Meant she should stay behind and take the chance,

If haply they might wriggle themselves free.

They baited their own hook to catch a fish

With this poor worm, failed o’ the prize, and then

710

Sought how to unbait tackle, let worm float

Or sink, amuse the monster while they ’scaped.

Under the best stars Hymen brings above,

Had all been honesty on either side,

A common sincere effort to good end,

Still, this would prove a difficult problem, Prince!

— Given, a fair wife, aged thirteen years,

A husband poor, care-bitten, sorrow-sunk,

Little, long-nosed, bush-bearded, lantern-jawed,

Forty-six-years full — place the two grown one,

720

She, cut off sheer from every natural aid,

In a strange town with no familiar face —

He, in his own parade-ground or retreat

As need were, free from challenge, much less check

To an irritated, disappointed will —

How evolve happiness from such a match?

’Twere hard to serve up a congenial dish

Out of these ill-agreeing morsels, Duke,

By the best exercise of the cook’s craft,

Best interspersion of spice, salt and sweet!

730

But let two ghastly scullions concoct mess

With brimstone, pitch, vitriol, and devil’s-dung —

Throw in abuse o’ the man, his body and soul,

Kith, kin, and generation, shake all slab

At Rome, Arezzo, for the world to nose,

Then end by publishing, for fiend’s arch-prank,

That, over and above sauce to the meat’s self,

Why, even the meat, bedevilled thus in dish,

Was never a pheasant but a carrion-crow —

Prince, what will then the natural loathing be?

What wonder if this? — the compound plague o’ the pair

741

Pricked Guido — not to take the course they hoped,

That is, submit him to their statement’s truth,

Accept its obvious promise of relief,

And thrust them out of doors the girl again

Since the girl’s dowry would not enter there,

— Quit of the one if baulked of the other: no!

Rather did rage and hate so work in him,

Their product proved the horrible conceit

That he should plot and plan and bring to pass

750

His wife might, of her own free will and deed,

Relieve him of her presence, get her gone,

And yet leave all the dowry safe behind,

Confirmed his own henceforward past dispute,

While blotting out, as by a belch of hell,

Their triumph in her misery and death.

You see, the man was Aretine, had touch

O’ the subtle air that breeds the subtle wit;

Was noble too, of old blood thrice-refined

That shrinks from clownish coarseness in disgust:

760

Allow that such an one may take revenge,

You don’t expect he’ll catch up stone and fling,

Or try cross-buttock, or whirl quarter- staff?

Instead of the honest drubbing clowns bestow,

When out of temper at the dinner spoilt,

On meddling mother-in-law and tiresome wife —

Substitute for the clown a nobleman,

And you have Guido, practising, ’tis said,

Unmitigably from the very first,

The finer vengeance: this, they say, the fact

770

O’ the famous letter shows — the writing traced

At Guido’s instance by the timid wife

Over the pencilled words himself writ first —

Wherein she, who could neither write nor read,

Was made unblushingly declare a tale

To the brother, the Abate then in Rome,

How her putative parents had impressed,

On their departure, their enjoinment; bade

“We being safely arrived here, follow, you!

“Poison your husband, rob, set fire to all,

780

“And then by means o’ the gallant you procure

“With ease, by helpful eye and ready tongue,

“The brave youth ready to dare, do, and die,

“You shall run off and merrily reach Rome

“Where we may live like flies in honey-pot:”—

Such being exact the programme of the course

Imputed her as carried to effect.

They also say — to keep her straight therein,

All sort of torture was piled, pain on pain,

On either side Pompilia’s path of life,

Built round about and over against by fear,

Circumvallated month by month, and week

By week, and day by day, and hour by hour,

Close, closer and yet closer still with pain,

No outlet from the encroaching pain save just

Where stood one saviour like a piece of heaven,

Hell’s arms would strain round but for this blue gap.

She, they say further, first tried every chink,

Every imaginable break i’ the fire,

As way of escape: ran to the Commissary,

800

Who bade her not malign his friend her spouse;

Flung herself thrice at the Archbishop’s feet,

Where three times the Archbishop let her lie,

Spend her whole sorrow and sob full heart forth,

And then took up the slight load from the ground

And bore it back for husband to chastise —

Mildly of course — but natural right is right.

So went she slipping ever yet catching at help,

Missing the high till come to lowest and last,

No more than a certain friar of mean degree,

810

Who heard her story in confession, wept,

Crossed himself, showed the man within the monk.

“Then, will you save me, you the one i’ the world?

“I cannot even write my woes, nor put

“My prayer for help in words a friend may read —

“I no more own a coin than have an hour

“Free of observance — I was watched to church,

“Am watched now, shall be watched back presently —

“How buy the skill of scribe i’ the market- place?

“Pray you, write down and send whatever I say

820

“O’ the need I have my parents take me hence!”

The good man rubbed his eyes and could not choose —

Let her dictate her letter in such a sense

That parents, to save breaking down a wall,

Might lift her over: she went back, heaven in her heart.

Then the good man took counsel of his couch,

Woke and thought twice, the second thought the best:

“Here am I, foolish body that I be,

“Caught all but pushing, teaching, who but I,

“My betters their plain duty — what, I dare

830

“Help a case the Archbishop would not help,

“Mend matters, peradventure, God loves mar?

“What hath the married life but strifes and plagues

“For proper dispensation? So a fool

“Once touched the ark — poor Hophni that I am!

“Oh married ones, much rather should I bid,

“In patience all of ye possess your souls!

“This life is brief and troubles die with it:

“Where were the prick to soar up homeward else?”

So saying, he burnt the letter he had writ,

840

Said Ave for her intention, in its place,

Took snuff and comfort, and had done with all.

Then the grim arms stretched yet a little more

And each touched each, all but one streak i’ the midst,

Whereat stood Caponsacchi, who cried, “This way,

“Out by me! Hesitate one moment more

“And the fire shuts out me and shuts in you!

“Here my hand holds you life out!” Whereupon

She clasped the hand, which closed on hers and drew

Pompilia out o’ the circle now complete.

850

Whose fault or shame but Guido’s? — ask her friends.

But then this is the wife’s — Pompilia’s tale —

Eve’s . . . no, not Eve’s, since Eve, to speak the truth,

Was hardly fallen (our candour might pronounce)

So much of paradisal nature, Eve’s,

When simply saying in her own defence

“The serpent tempted me and I did eat.”

Her daughters ever since prefer to urge

“Adam so starved me I was fain accept

“The apple any serpent pushed my way.”

860

What an elaborate theory have we here,

Ingeniously nursed up, pretentiously

Brought forth, pushed forward amid trumpet-blast,

To account for the thawing of an icicle,

Show us there needed Ætna vomit flame

Ere run the chrystal into dew-drops! Else,

How, unless hell broke loose to cause the step,

How could a married lady go astray?

Bless the fools! And ’tis just this way they are blessed,

And the world wags still — because fools are sure

870

— Oh, not of my wife nor your daughter! No!

But of their own: the case is altered quite.

Look now — last week, the lady we all love —

Daughter o’ the couple we all venerate,

Wife of the husband we all cap before,

Mother o’ the babes we all breathe blessings on —

Was caught in converse with a negro page.

Hell thawed that icicle, else “Why was it —

“Why?” asked and echoed the fools. “Because, you fools — ”

So did the dame’s self answer, she who could,

880

With that fine candour only forthcoming

When ’tis no odds whether withheld or no —

“Because my husband was the saint you say,

“And — with that childish goodness, absurd faith,

“Stupid self-satisfaction, you so praise —

“Saint to you, insupportable to me.

“Had he — instead of calling me fine names,

“Lucretia and Susanna and so forth,

“And curtaining Correggio carefully

“Lest I be taught that Leda had two legs —

890

“— But once never so little tweaked my nose

“For peeping through my fan at Carnival,

“Confessing thereby ‘I have no easy task —

“‘I need use all my powers to hold you mine,

“‘And then — why ’tis so doubtful if they serve,

“‘That — take this, as an earnest of despair!’

“Why, we were quits — I had wiped the harm away,

“Thought ‘The man fears me!’ and foregone revenge.”

We must not want all this elaborate work

To solve the problem why young fancy-and-flesh

900

Slips from the dull side of a spouse in years,

Betakes it to the breast of brisk-and-bold

Whose love-scrapes furnish talk for all the town!

Accordingly, one word on the other side

Tips over the piled-up fabric of a tale.

Guido says — that is, always, his friends say —

It is unlikely from the wickedness,

That any man treat any woman so.

The letter in question was her very own,

Unprompted and unaided: she could write —

910

As able to write as ready to sin, or free,

When there was danger, to deny both facts.

He bids you mark, herself from first to last

Attributes all the so-styled torture just

To jealousy — jealousy of whom but just

This very Caponsacchi! How suits here

This with the other alleged motive, Prince?

Would Guido make a terror of the man

He meant should tempt the woman, as they charge?

Do you fright your hare that you may catch your hare?

920

Consider too the charge was made and met

At the proper time and place where proofs were plain —

Heard patiently and disposed of thoroughly

By the highest powers, possessors of most light,

The Governor, for the law, and the Archbishop

For the Gospel: which acknowledged primacies,

’Tis impudently pleaded, he could warp

Into a tacit partnership with crime —

He being the while, believe their own account,

Impotent, penniless and miserable!

930

He further asks — Duke, note the knotty point! —

How he — concede him skill to play such part

And drive his wife into a gallant’s arms —

Could bring the gallant to play his part too

And stand with arms so opportunely wide?

How bring this Caponsacchi — with whom, friends

And foes alike agree, throughout his life

He never interchanged a civil word

Nor lifted courteous cap to — how bend him,

To such observancy of beck and call,

940

— To undertake this strange and perilous feat

For the good of Guido, using, as the lure,

Pompilia whom, himself and she avouch,

He had nor spoken with nor seen, indeed,

Beyond sight in a public theatre,

When she wrote letters (she that could not write!)

The importunate shamelessly- protested love

Which brought him, though reluctant, to her feet,

And forced on him the plunge which, howsoe’er

She might swim up i’ the whirl, must bury him

950

Under abysmal black: a priest contrive

No mitigable amour to ’e hushed up,

But open flight and noon-day infamy?

Try and concoct defence for such revolt!

Take the wife’s tale as true, say she was wronged —

Pray, in what rubric of the breviary

Do you find it registered the part of a priest

That to right wrongs he skip from the church-door,

Go journeying with a woman that’s a wife,

And be pursued, o’ertaken, and captured . . . how?

960

In a lay-dress, playing the sentinel

Where the wife sleeps (says he who best should know)

And sleeping, sleepless, both have spent the night!

Could no one else be found to serve at need —

No woman — or if man, no safer sort

Than this not well-reputed turbulence?

Then, look into his own account o’ the case!

He, being the stranger and the astonished one,

Yet received protestations of her love

From lady neither known nor cared about:

970

Love, so protested, bred in him disgust

After the wonder — or incredulity,

Such impudence seeming impossible.

But, soon assured such impudence might be,

When he had seen with his own eyes at last

Letters thrown down to him i’ the very street

From behind lattice where the lady lurked,

And read their passionate summons to her side —

Why then, a thousand thoughts swarmed up and in —

How he had seen her once, a moment’s space,

980

Observed she was so young and beautiful,

Heard everywhere report she suffered much

From a jealous husband thrice her age — in short

There flashed the propriety, expediency

Of treating, trying might they come to terms,

— At all events, granting the interview

Prayed for, and so adapted to assist

Decision as to whether he advance,

Stand or retire, in his benevolent mood.

Therefore the interview befell at length;

990

And at this one and only interview,

He saw the sole and single course to take —

Bade her dispose of him, head, heart, and hand,

Did her behest and braved the consequence,

Not for the natural end, the love of man

For woman whether love be virtue or vice,

But, please you, altogether for pity’s sake —

Pity of innocence and helplessness!

And how did he assure himself of both?

Had he been the house-inmate, visitor,

1000

Eye-witness of the described martyrdom

So, competent to pronounce its remedy

Ere rush on such extreme and desperate course,

Involving such enormity of harm,

Moreover, to the husband judged thus, doomed

And damned without a word in his defence?

But no — the truth was felt by instinct here!

— Process which saves a world of trouble and time,

And there’s his story: what do you say to it,

Trying its truth by your own instinct too,

1010

Since that’s to be the expeditious mode?

“And now, do hear my version,” Guido cries:

“I accept argument and inference both.

“It would indeed have been miraculous

“Had such a confidency sprung to birth

“With no more fanning from acquaintanceship

“Than here avowed by my wife and this priest.

“Only, it did not: you must substitute

“The old stale unromantic way of fault,

“The commonplace adventure, mere intrigue

1020

“In the prose form with the unpoetic tricks,

“Cheatings and lies: they used the hackney chair

“Satan jaunts forth with, shabby and serviceable,

“No gilded jimcrack-novelty from below,

“To bowl you along thither, swift and sure.

“That same officious go-between, the wench

“That gave and took the letters of the two,

“Now offers self and service back to me:

“Bears testimony to visits night by night

“When all was safe, the husband far and away —

1030

“To many a timely slipping out at large

“By light o’ the morning- star, ere he should wake,

“And when the fugitives were found at last,

“Why, with them were found also, to belie

“What protest they might make of innocence,

“All documents yet wanting, if need were,

“To establish guilt in them, disgrace in me —

“The chronicle o’ the converse from its rise

“To culmination in this outrage: read!

“Letters from wife to priest, from priest to wife —

1040

“Here they are, read and say where they chime in

“With the other tale, superlative purity

“O’ the pair of saints! I stand or fall by these.”

But then on the other side again — how say

The pair of saints? That not one word is theirs —

No syllable o’ the batch or writ or sent

Or yet received by either of the two.

“Found,” says the priest, “because he needed them,

“Failing all other proofs, to prove our fault:

“So, here they are, just as is natural.

1050

“Oh yes — we had our missives, each of us!

“Not these, but to the full as vile, no doubt:

“Hers as from me — she could not read, so burnt —

“Mine as from her — I burnt because I read.

“Who forged and found them? Cui profuerint!

(I take the phrase out of your Highness’ mouth)

“He who would gain by her fault and my fall,

“The trickster, schemer, and pretender — he

“Whose whole career was lie entailing lie

“Sought to be sealed truth by the worst lie last!”

1060

Guido rejoins —“Did the other end o’ the tale

“Match this beginning! ’Tis alleged I prove

“A murderer at the end, a man of force

“Prompt, indiscriminate, effectual: good!

“Then what need all this trifling woman’s work,

“Letters and embassies and weak intrigue,

“When will and power were mine to end at once

“Safely and surely? Murder had come first

“Not last with such a man, assure yourselves!

“The silent acquetta, stilling at command —

1070

“A drop a day i’ the wine or soup, the dose —

“The shattering beam that breaks above the bed

“And beats out brains, with nobody to blame

“Except the wormy age which eats even oak —

“Nay, the staunch steel or trusty cord — who cares

“I’ the blind old palace, a pitfall at each step,

“With none to see, much more to interpose

“O’ the two, three creeping house-dog-servant-things

“Born mine and bred mine? — had I willed gross death,

“I had found nearer paths to thrust him prey

1080

“Than this that goes meandering here and there

“Through half the world and calls down in its course

“Notice and noise — hate, vengeance, should it fail,

“Derision and contempt though it succeed!

“Moreover, what o’ the future son and heir?

“The unborn babe about to be called mine —

“What end in heaping all this shame on him,

“Were I indifferent to my own black share?

“Would I have tried these crookednesses, say,

“Willing and able to effect the straight?”

1090

“Ay, would you!”— one may hear the priest retort,

“Being as you are, i’ the stock, a man of guile,

“And ruffianism but an added graft.

“You, a born coward, try a coward’s arms,

“Trick and chicane — and only when these fail

“Does violence follow, and like fox you bite

“Caught out in stealing. Also, the disgrace

“You hardly shrunk at, wholly shrivelled her:

“You plunged her thin white delicate hand i’ the flame

“Along with your coarse horny brutish fist,

1100

“Held them a second there, then drew out both

“— Yours roughed a little, hers ruined through and through.

“Your hurt would heal forthwith at ointment’s touch —

“Namely, succession to the inheritance

“Which bolder crime had lost you: let things change,

“The birth o’ the boy warrant the bolder crime,

“Why, murder was determined, dared, and done.

“For me,” the priest proceeds with his reply,

“The look o’ the thing, the chances of mistake,

“All were against me — that, I knew the first:

1110

“But, knowing also what my duty was,

“I did it: I must look to men more skilled

“I’ the reading hearts than ever was the world.”

Highness, decide! Pronounce, Her Excellency!

Or . . . even leave this argument in doubt,

Account it a fit matter, taken up

With all its faces, manifold enough,

To put upon — what fronts us, the next stage.

Next legal process! — Guido, in pursuit,

Coming up with the fugitives at the inn,

1120

Caused both to be arrested then and there

And sent to Rome for judgment on the case —

Thither, with all his armoury of proofs

Betook himself, and there we’ll meet him now,

Waiting the further issue.

        Here some smile

“And never let him henceforth dare to plead —

“Of all pleas and excuses in the world

“For any deed hereafter to be done —

“His irrepressible wrath at honour’s wound!

1130

“Passion and madness irrepressible?

“Why, Count and cavalier, the husband comes

“And catches foe i’ the very act of shame:

“There’s man to man — nature must have her way —

“We look he should have cleared things on the spot.

“Yes, then, indeed — even tho’ it prove he erred —

“Though the ambiguous first appearance, mount

“Of solid injury, melt soon to mist,

“Still — had he slain the lover and the wife —

“Or, since she was a woman and his wife,

1140

“Slain him, but stript her naked to the skin

“Or at best left no more of an attire

“Than patch sufficient to pin paper to,

“Some one love-letter, infamy and all,

“As passport to the Paphos fit for such,

“Safe- conduct to her natural home the stews —

“Good! One had recognised the power o’ the pulse.

“But when he stands, the stock-fish — sticks to law —

“Offers the hole in his heart, all fresh and warm,

“For scrivener’s pen to poke and play about —

1150

“Can stand, can stare, can tell his beads perhaps,

“Oh, let us hear no syllable o’ the rage!

“Such rage were a convenient afterthought

“For one who would have shown his teeth belike,

“Exhibited unbridled rage enough,

“Had but the priest been found, as was to hope,

“In serge, not silk, with crucifix, not sword:

“Whereas the grey innocuous grub, of yore,

“Had hatched a hornet, tickle to the touch,

“The priest was metamorphosed into knight.

1160

“And even the timid wife, whose cue was — shriek,

“Bury her brow beneath his trampling foot —

“She too sprang at him like a pythoness:

“So, gulp down rage, passion must be postponed,

“Calm be the word! Well, our word is — we brand

“This part o’ the business, howsoever the rest

“Befall.”

        “Nay,” interpose as prompt his friends —

“This is the world’s way! So you adjudge reward

“To the forbearance and legality

1170

“Yourselves begin by inculcating — ay,

“Exacting from us all with knife at throat!

“This one wrong more you add to wrong’s amount —

“You publish all, with the kind comment here,

“‘Its victim was too cowardly for revenge.”’

Make it your own case — you who stand apart!

The husband wakes one morn from heavy sleep,

With a taste of poppy in his mouth — rubs eyes,

Finds his wife flown, his strong box ransacked too,

Follows as he best can, overtakes i’ the end.

1180

You bid him use his privilege: well, it seems

He’s scarce cool-blooded enough for the right move —

Does not shoot when the game were sure, but stands

Bewildered at the critical minute — since

He has the first flash of the fact alone

To judge from, act with, not the steady lights

Of after-knowledge — yours who stand at ease

To try conclusions: he’s in smother and smoke,

You outside, with explosion at an end:

The sulphur may be lightning or a squib —

1190

He’ll know in a minute, but till then, he doubts.

Back from what you know to what he knew not!

Hear the priest’s lofty “I am innocent,”

The wife’s as resolute “You are guilty!” Come!

Are you not staggered? — pause, and you lose the move!

Nought left you but a low appeal to law,

“Coward” tied to your tail for compliment!

Another consideration: have it your way!

Admit the worst: his courage failed the Count,

He’s cowardly like the best o’ the burgesses

1200

He’s grown incorporate with — a very cur,

Kick him from out your circle by all means!

Why, trundled down this reputable stair,

Still, the Church-door lies wide to take him in,

And the Court-porch also: in he sneaks to each —

“Yes, I have lost my honour and my wife,

“And, being moreover an ignoble hound,

“I dare not jeopardise my life for them!”

Religion and Law lean forward from their chairs,

“Well done, thou good and faithful servant!” Ay,

1210

Not only applaud him that he scorned the world,

But punish should he dare do otherwise.

If the case be clear or turbid — you must say!

Thus, anyhow, it mounted to the stage

In the law-courts — let’s see clearly from this point! —

Where the priest tells his story true or false,

And the wife her story, and the husband his,

All with result as happy as before.

The courts would nor condemn nor yet acquit

This, that, or the other, in so distinct a sense

1220

As end the strife to either’s absolute loss:

Pronounced, in place of something definite,

“Each of the parties, whether goat or sheep

“I’ the main, has wool to show and hair to hide.

“Each has brought somehow trouble, is somehow cause

“Of pains enough — even though no worse were proved.

“Here is a husband, cannot rule his wife

“Without provoking her to scream and scratch

“And scour the fields — causelessly, it may be:

“Here is that wife — who makes her sex our plague,

1230

“Wedlock, our bugbear — perhaps with cause enough:

“And here is the truant priest o’ the trio, worst

“Or best — each quality being conceivable.

“Let us impose a little mulct on each.

“We punish youth in state of pupilage

“Who talk at hours when youth is bound to sleep,

“Whether the prattle turn upon Saint Rose

“Or Donna Olimpia of the Vatican:

“ ’Tis talk, talked wisely or unwisely talked,

“I’ the dormitory where to talk at all,

1240

“Transgresses, and is mulct: as here we mean.

“For the wife — let her betake herself, for rest,

“After her run, to a House of Convertites —

“Keep there, as good as real imprisonment:

“Being sick and tired, she will recover so.

“For the priest, spritely strayer out of bounds,

“Who made Arezzo hot to hold him — Rome

“Profits by his withdrawal from the scene.

“Let him be relegate to Civita,

“Circumscribed by its bounds till matters mend:

1250

“There he at least lies out o’ the way of harm

“From foes — perhaps from the too friendly fair.

“And finally for the husband, whose rash rule

“Has but itself to blame for this ado —

“If he be vexed that, in our judgments dealt,

“He fails obtain what he accounts his right,

“Let him go comforted with the thought, no less,

“That, turn each sentence howsoever he may,

“There’s satisfaction to extract therefrom.

“For, does he wish his wife proved innocent?

1260

“Well, she’s not guilty, he may safely urge,

“Has missed the stripes dishonest wives endure —

“This being a fatherly pat o’ the cheek, no more.

“Does he wish her guilty? Were she otherwise

“Would she be locked up, set to say her prayers,

“Prevented intercourse with the outside world,

“And that suspected priest in banishment,

“Whose portion is a further help i’ the case?

“Oh, ay, you all of you want the other thing,

“The extreme of law, some verdict neat, complete —

1270

“Either, the whole o’ the dowry in your poke

“With full release from the false wife, to boot,

“And heading, hanging for the priest, beside —

“Or, contrary, claim freedom for the wife,

“Repayment of each penny paid her spouse

“Amends for the past, release for the future! Such

“Is wisdom to the children of this world;

“But we’ve no mind, we children of the light,

“To miss the advantage of the golden mean,

“And push things to the steel point.” Thus the courts.

1280

Is it settled so far? Settled or disturbed,

Console yourselves: ’tis like . . . an instance, now!

You’ve seen the puppets, of Place Navona, play —

Punch and his mate — how threats pass, blows are dealt,

And a crisis comes: the crowd or clap or hiss

Accordingly as disposed for man or wife —

When down the actors duck awhile perdue,

Donning what novel rag-and-feather trim

Best suits the next adventure, new effect:

And — by the time the mob is on the move,

1290

With something like a judgment pro and con, —

There’s a whistle, up again the actors pop

In t’other tatter with fresh-tinseled staves,

To re-engage in one last worst fight more

Shall show, what you thought tragedy was farce.

Note, that the climax and the crown of things

Invariably is, the devil appears himself,

Armed and accoutred, horns and hoofs and tail!

Just so, nor otherwise it proved — you’ll see:

Move to the murder, never mind the rest!

1300

Guido, at such a general duck-down,

I’ the breathing-space — of wife to convent here,

Priest to his relegation, and himself

To Arezzo — had resigned his part perforce

To brother Abate, who bustled, did his best,

Retrieved things somewhat, managed the three suits —

Since, it should seem, there were three suits-at-law

Behoved him look to, still, lest bad grow worse:

First civil suit — the one the parents brought,

Impugning the legitimacy of his wife,

1310

Affirming thence the nullity of her rights:

This was before the Rota — Molines,

That’s judge there, made that notable decree

Which partly leaned to Guido, as I said —

But Pietro had appealed against the same

To the very court will judge what we judge now —

Tommati and his fellows — Suit the first.

Next civil suit — demand on the wife’s part

Of separation from the husband’s bed

On plea of cruelty and risk to life —

1320

Claims restitution of the dowry paid,

Immunity from paying any more:

This second, the Vicegerent has to judge.

Third and last suit — this time, a criminal one —

Answer to, and protection from, both these —

Guido’s complaint of guilt against his wife

In the Tribunal of the Governor,

Venturini, also judge of the present cause.

Three suits of all importance plaguing him,

Beside a little private enterprise

1330

Of Guido’s — essay at a shorter cut.

For Paolo, knowing the right way at Rome,

Had, even while superintending these three suits

I’ the regular way, each at its proper court,

Ingeniously made interest with the Pope

To set such tedious regular forms aside,

And, acting the supreme and ultimate judge,

Declare for the husband and against the wife.

Well, at such crisis and extreme of straits,

The man at bay, buffeted in this wise,

1340

Happened the strangest accident of all.

“Then,” sigh friends, “the last feather broke his back,

“Made him forget all possible remedies

“Save one — he rushed to, as the sole relief

“From horror and the abominable thing.”

“Or rather,” laugh foes, “then did there befall

“The luckiest of conceivable events,

“Most pregnant with impunity for him,

“Which henceforth turned the flank of all attack,

“And bade him do his wickedest and worst.”

1350

— The wife’s withdrawal from the Convertites,

Visit to the villa where her parents lived,

And birth there of his babe. Divergence here!

I simply take the facts, ask what they show.

First comes this thunderclap of a surprise:

Then follow all the signs and silences

Premonitory of earthquake. Paolo first

Vanished, was swept off somewhere, lost to Rome:

(Wells dry up, while the sky is sunny and blue.)

Then Guido girds himself for enterprise,

1360

Hies to Vittiano, counsels with his steward,

Comes to terms with four peasants young and bold,

And starts for Rome the Holy, reaches her

At very holiest, for ’tis Christmas Eve,

And makes straight for the Abate’s dried-up font,

The lodge where Paolo ceased to work the pipes.

And then, rest taken, observation made

And plan completed, all in a grim week,

The five proceed in a body, reach the place,

— Pietro’s, by the Paolina, silent, lone,

1370

And stupefied by the propitious snow —

At one in the evening: knock: a voice “Who’s there?”

“Friends with a letter from the priest your friend.”

At the door, straight smiles old Violante’s self.

She falls — her son-in-law stabs through and through,

Reaches thro’ her at Pietro —“With your son

“This is the way to settle suits, good sire!”

He bellows

        “Mercy for heaven, not for earth!

“Leave to confess and save my sinful soul,

“Then do your pleasure on the body of me!”

1380

—“Nay, father, soul with body must take its chance!”

He presently got his portion and lay still.

And last, Pompilia rushes here and there

Like a dove among lightnings in her brake,

Falls also: Guido’s, this last husband’s-act.

He lifts her by the long dishevelled hair,

Holds her away at arms’ length with one hand,

While the other tries if life come from the mouth —

Looks out his whole heart’s hate on the shut eyes,

Draws a deep satisfied breath, “So — dead at last!”

1390

Throws down the burthen on dead Pietro’s knees,

And ends all with “Let us away, my boys!”

And, as they left by one door, in at the other

Tumbled the neighbours — for the shrieks had pierced

To the mill and the grange, this cottage and that shed.

Soon followed the Public Force: pursuit began

Though Guido had the start and chose the road:

So, that same night was he, with the other four,

Overtaken near Baccano — where they sank

By the way-side, in some shelter meant for beasts,

1400

And now lay heaped together, nuzzling swine,

Each wrapped in bloody cloak, each grasping still

His unwiped weapon, sleeping all the same

The sleep o’ the just — a journey of twenty miles

Bringing just and unjust to a level, you see.

The only one i’ the world that suffered aught

By the whole night’s toil and trouble, flight and chase,

Was just the officer who took them, Head

O’ the Public Force — Patrizj, zealous soul,

Who, having duty to sustain the flesh,

1410

Got heated, caught a fever and so died:

A warning to the over-vigilant,

— Virtue in a chafe should change her linen quick,

Lest pleurisy get start of providence.

(That’s for the Cardinal, and told, I think!)

Well, they bring back the company to Rome.

Says Guido, “By your leave, I fain would ask

“How you found out ’twas I who did the deed?

“What put you on my trace, a foreigner,

“Supposed in Arezzo — and assuredly safe

1420

“Except for an oversight: who told you, pray?”

“Why, naturally your wife!” Down Guido drops

O’ the horse he rode — they have to steady and stay,

At either side the brute that bore him, bound,

So strange it seemed his wife should live and speak!

She had prayed — at least so people tell you now —

For but one thing to the Virgin for herself,

Not simply, as did Pietro ’mid the stabs —

Time to confess and get her own soul saved —

But time to make the truth apparent, truth

1430

For God’s sake, lest men should believe a lie:

Which seems to have been about the single prayer

She ever put up, that was granted her.

With this hope in her head, of telling truth —

Being familiarised with pain, beside —

She bore the stabbing to a certain pitch

Without a useless cry, was flung for dead

On Pietro’s lap, and so attained her point.

Her friends subjoin this — have I done with them? —

And cite the miracle of continued life

1440

(She was not dead when I arrived just now)

As attestation to her probity.

Does it strike your Excellency? Why, your Highness,

The self-command and even the final prayer,

Our candour must acknowledge explainable

As easily by the consciousness of guilt.

So, when they add that her confession runs

She was of wifehood one white innocence

In thought, word, act, from first of her short life

To last of it; praying i’ the face of death,

1450

That God forgive her other sins — not this

She is charged with and must die for, that she failed

Anyway to her husband: while thereon

Comments the old Religious —“ So much good,

“Patience beneath enormity of ill,

“I hear to my confusion, woe is me,

“Sinner that I stand, shamed in the walk and gait

“I have practised and grown old in, by a child!”—

Guido’s friends shrug the shoulder, “Just this same

“Prodigious absolute calm in the last hour

1460

“Confirms us — being the natural result

“Of a life which proves consistent to the close.

“Having braved heaven and deceived earth throughout,

“She braves still and deceives still, gains thereby

“Two ends, she prizes beyond earth or heaven:

“First sets her lover free, imperilled sore

“By the new turn things take: he answers yet

“For the part he played: they have summoned him indeed:

“The past ripped up, he may be punished still:

“What better way of saving him than this?

1470

“Then — thus she dies revenged to the uttermost

“On Guido, drags him with her in the dark,

“The lower still the better, do you doubt?

“Thus, two ways, does she love her love to the end,

“And hate her hate — death, hell is no such price

“To pay for these — lovers and haters hold.”

But there’s another parry for the thrust.

“Confession,” cry folks —“ a confession, think!

“Confession of the moribund is true!”

Which of them, my wise friends? This public one,

1480

Or the private other we shall never know?

The private may contain — your casuists teach —

The acknowledgment of, and the penitence for,

That other public one, so people say.

However it be — we trench on delicate ground,

Her Eminence is peeping o’er the cards —

Can one find nothing in behalf of this

Catastrophe? Deaf folks accuse the dumb!

You criticise the drunken reel, fool’s-speech,

Maniacal gesture of the man — we grant!

1490

But who poured poison in his cup, we ask?

Recall the list of his excessive wrongs,

First cheated in his wife, robbed by her kin,

Rendered anon the laughing-stock o’ the world

By the story, true or false, of his wife’s birth —

The last seal publicly apposed to shame

By the open flight of wife and priest — why, Sirs,

Step out of Rome a furlong, would you know

What anotherguess tribunal than ours here.

Mere worldly Court without the help of grace,

1500

Thinks of just that one incident o’ the flight?

Guido preferred the same complaint before

The court of Arezzo, bar of the Granduke —

In virtue of it being Tuscany

Where the offence had rise and flight began —

Self-same complaint he made in the sequel here

Where the offence grew to the full, the flight

Ended: offence and flight, one fact judged twice

By two distinct tribunals — what result?

There was a sentence passed at the same time

1510

By Arezzo and confirmed by the Granduke,

Which nothing baulks of swift and sure effect

But absence of the guilty (flight to Rome

Frees them from Tuscan jurisdiction now)

— Condemns the wife to the opprobrious doom

Of all whom law just lets escape from death.

The Stinche, House of Punishment, for life —

That’s what the wife deserves in Tuscany:

Here, she deserves — remitting with a smile

To her father’s house, main object of the flight!

1520

The thief presented with the thing he steals!

At this discrepancy of judgments — mad,

The man took on himself the office, judged;

And the only argument against the use

O’ the law he thus took into his own hands

Is . . . what, I ask you? — that, revenging wrong,

He did not revenge sooner, kill at first

Whom he killed last! That is the final charge.

Sooner? What’s soon or late i’ the case? — ask we.

A wound i’ the flesh no doubt wants prompt redress;

1530

It smarts a little to-day, well in a week,

Forgotten in a month; or never, or now, revenge!

But a wound to the soul? That rankles worse and worse.

Shall I comfort you, explaining —“ Not this once

“But now it may be some five hundred times

“I called you ruffian, pandar, liar, and rogue:

“The injury must be less by lapse of time?”

The wrong is a wrong, one and immortal too,

And that you bore it those five hundred times,

Let it rankle unrevenged five hundred years,

1540

Is just five hundred wrongs the more and worse!

Men, plagued this fashion, get to explode this way,

If left no other.

        “But we left this man

“Many another way, and there’s his fault,”

’Tis answered —“ He himself preferred our arm

“O’ the law to fight his battle with. No doubt

“We did not open him an armoury

“To pick and choose from, use, and then reject.

“He tries one weapon and fails — he tries the next

1550

“And next: he flourishes wit and common sense,

“They fail him — he plies logic doughtily,

“It fails him too — thereon, discovers last

“He has been blind to the combustibles —

“That all the while he is a-glow with ire,

“Boiling with irrepressible rage, and so

“May try explosives and discard cold steel —

“So hire assassins, plot, plan, execute!

“Is this the honest self-forgetting rage

“We are called to pardon? Does the furious bull

1560

“Pick out four helpmates from the grazing herd

“And journey with them over hill and dale

“Till he find his enemy?”

        What rejoinder? save

That friends accept our bull-similitude.

Bull-like — the indiscriminate slaughter, rude

And reckless aggravation of revenge,

Were all i’the way o’ the brute who never once

Ceases, amid all provocation more,

To bear in mind the first tormentor, first

1570

Giver o’ the wound that goaded him to fight:

And, though a dozen follow and reinforce

The aggressor, wound in front and wound in flank,

Continues undisturbedly pursuit,

And only after prostrating his prize

Turns on the pettier, makes a general prey.

So Guido rushed against Violante, first

Author of all his wrongs, fons et origo

Malorum — increasingly drunk — which justice done?

He finished with the rest. Do you blame a bull?

1580

In truth you look as puzzled as ere I preached!

How is that? There are difficulties perhaps

On any supposition, and either side.

Each party wants too much, claims sympathy

For its object of compassion, more than just.

Cry the wife’s friends, “O the enormous crime

“Caused by no provocation in the world!”

“Was not the wife a little weak?”— inquire —

“Punished extravagantly, if you please,

“But meriting a little punishment?

1590

“One treated inconsiderately, say,

“Rather than one deserving not at all

“Treatment and discipline o’ the harsher sort?”

No, they must have her purity itself,

Quite angel — and her parents angels too

Of an aged sort, immaculate, word and deed,

At all events, so seeming, till the fiend,

Even Guido, by his folly, forced from them

The untoward avowal of the trick o’ the birth,

Would otherwise be safe and secret now.

1600

Why, here you have the awfulest of crimes

For nothing! Hell broke loose on a butterfly!

A dragon born of rose-dew and the moon!

Yet here is the monster! Why, he’s a mere man —

Born, bred, and brought up in the usual way.

His mother loves him, still his brothers stick

To the good fellow of the boyish games;

The Governor of his town knows and approves,

The Archbishop of the place knows and assists:

Here he has Cardinal This to vouch for the past,

1610

Cardinal That to trust for the future — match

And marriage were a Cardinal’s making — in short,

What if a tragedy be acted here

Impossible for malice to improve,

And innocent Guido with his innocent four

Be added, all five, to the guilty three,

That we of these last days be edified

With one full taste o’ the justice of the world?

The long and the short is, truth is what I show:—

Undoubtedly no pains ought to be spared

1620

To give the mob an inkling of our lights.

It seems unduly harsh to put the man

To the torture, as I hear the court intends,

Though readiest way of twisting out the truth;

He is noble, and he may be innocent:

On the other hand, if they exempt the man

(As it is also said they hesitate

On the fair ground, presumptive guilt is weak

I’ the case of nobility and privilege) —

What crime that ever was, ever will be,

1630

Deserves the torture? Then abolish it!

You see the reduction ad absurdum, Sirs?

Her Excellency must pronounce, in fine!

What, she prefers going and joining play?

Her Highness finds it late, intends retire?

I am of their mind: only, all this talk, talked,

’Twas not for nothing that we talked, I hope?

Both know as much about it, now, at least,

As all Rome: no particular thanks, I beg!

(You’ll see, I have not so advanced myself,

1640

After my teaching the two idiots here!)

Count Guido Franceschini

Thanks, Sir, but, should it please the reverend Court,

I feel I can stand somehow, half sit down

Without help, make shift to even speak, you see,

Fortified by the sip of . . . why, ’tis wine,

Velletri — and not vinegar and gall,

So changed and good the times grow! Thanks, kind Sir!

Oh, but one sip’s enough! I want my head

To save my neck, there’s work awaits me still.

How cautious and considerate . . . aie, aie, aie,

10

Not your fault, sweet Sir! Come, you take to heart

An ordinary matter. Law is law.

Noblemen were exempt, the vulgar thought,

From racking, but, since law thinks otherwise,

I have been put to the rack: all’s over now,

And neither wrist — what men style, out of joint:

If any harm be, ’tis the shoulder-blade,

The left one, that seems wrong i’ the socket — Sirs,

Much could not happen, I was quick to faint,

Being past my prime of life, and out of health.

20

In short I thank you — yes, and mean the word.

Needs must the Court be slow to understand

How this quite novel form of taking pain,

This getting tortured merely in the flesh,

Amounts to almost an agreeable change

In my case, me fastidious, plied too much

With opposite treatment, used (forgive the joke)

To the rasp-tooth toying with this brain of mine,

And, in and out my heart, the play o’ the probe.

Four years have I been operated on

30

I’ the soul, do you see — its tense or tremulous part —

My self-respect, my care for a good name,

Pride in an old one, love of kindred — just

A mother, brothers, sisters, and the like,

That looked up to my face when days were dim,

And fancied they found light there — no one spot,

Foppishly sensitive, but has paid its pang.

That, and not this you now oblige me with,

That was the Vigil-torment, if you please!

The poor old noble House that drew the rags

40

O’ the Franceschini’s once superb array

Close round her, hoped to slink unchallenged by —

Pluck off these! Turn the drapery inside out

And teach the tittering town how scarlet wears!

Show men the lucklessness, the improvidence

Of the easy-natured Count before this Count,

The father I have some slight feeling for,

Who let the world slide, nor foresaw that friends

Then proud to cap and kiss the patron’s shoe,

Would, when the purse he left held spider-webs,

50

Properly push his child to wall one day!

Mimic the tetchy humour, furtive glance

And brow where half was furious half fatigued,

O’ the same son got to be of middle age,

Sour, saturnine — your humble servant here; —

When things go cross and the young wife, he finds

Take to the window at a whistle’s bid,

And yet demurs thereon, preposterous fool! —

Whereat the worthies judge he wants advice

And beg to civilly ask what’s evil here,

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Perhaps remonstrate on the habit they deem

He’s given unduly to, of beating her

. . . Oh, sure he beats her — why says John so else,

Who is cousin to George who is sib to Tecla’s self

Who cooks the meal and combs the lady’s hair?

What? ’Tis my wrist you merely dislocate

For the future when you mean me martyrdom?

— Let the old mother’s economy alone,

How the brocade-strips saved o’ the seamy side

O’ the wedding-gown buy raiment for a year?

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— How she can dress and dish up — lordly dish

Fit for a duke, lamb’s head and purtenance —

With her proud hands, feast household so a week?

No word o’ the wine rejoicing God and man

The less when three-parts water? Then, I say,

A trifle of torture to the flesh, like yours,

While soul is spared such foretaste of hell-fire,

Is naught. But I curtail the catalogue

Through policy — a rhetorician’s trick —

Because I would reserve some choicer points

80

O’ the practice, more exactly parallel —

(Having an eye to climax) with what gift,

Eventual grace the Court may have in store

I’ the way of plague — my crown of punishments.

When I am hanged or headed, time enough

To prove the tenderness of only that,

Mere heading, hanging — not their counterpart,

Not demonstration public and precise

That I, having married the mongrel of a drab,

Am bound to grant that mongrel-brat, my wife,

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Her mother’s birthright-licence as is just —

Let her sleep undisturbed, i’ the family style,

Her sleep out in the embraces of a priest,

Nor disallow their bastard as my heir!

Your sole mistake — dare I submit so much

To the reverend Court? — has been in all this pains

To make a stone roll down hill — rack and wrench

And rend a man to pieces, all for what?

Why — make him ope mouth in his own defence,

Show cause for what he has done, the irregular deed,

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(Since that he did it, scarce dispute can be)

And clear his fame a little, beside the luck

Of stopping even yet, if possible,

Discomfort to his flesh from noose or axe —

For that, out come the implements of law!

May it content my lords the gracious Court

To listen only half so patient-long

As I will in that sense profusely speak,

And — fie, they shall not call in screws to help!

I killed Pompilia Franceschini, Sirs;

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Killed too the Comparini, husband, wife,

Who called themselves, by a notorious lie,

Her father and her mother to ruin me.

There’s the irregular deed: you want no more

Than right interpretation of the same,

And truth so far — am I to understand?

To that then, with convenient speed — because

Now I consider — yes, despite my boast,

There is an ailing in this omoplat

May clip my speech all too abruptly close,

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Whatever the good-will in me. Now for truth!

I’ the name of the indivisible Trinity!

Will my lords, in the plentitude of their light,

Weigh well that all this trouble has come on me

Through my persistent treading in the paths

Where I was trained to go — wearing that yoke

My shoulder was predestined to receive,

Born to the hereditary stoop and crease?

Noble, I recognised my nobler still,

The church, my suzerain; no mock-mistress, she;

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The secular owned the spiritual: mates of mine

Have thrown their careless hoofs up at her call

“Forsake the clover and come drag my wain!”

There they go cropping: I protruded nose

To halter, bent my back of docile beast,

And now am whealed, one wide wound all of me,

For being found at the eleventh hour o’ the day

Padding the mill-track, not neck-deep in grass:

— My one fault, I am stiffened by my work,

— My one reward, I help the Court to smile!

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I am representative of a great line,

One of the first of the old families

In Arezzo, ancientest of Tuscan towns.

When my worst foe is fain to challenge this,

His worst exception runs — not first in rank

But second, noble in the next degree

Only; not malice ’self maligns me more.

So, my lord opposite has composed, we know,

A marvel of a book, sustains the point

That Francis boasts the primacy ’mid saints;

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Yet not inaptly hath his argument

Obtained response from yon my other lord

In thesis published with the world’s applause

— Rather ’tis Dominic such post befits:

Why, at the worst, Francis stays Francis still,

Second in rank to Dominic it may be,

Still, very saintly, very like our Lord;

And I at least descend from a Guido once

Homager to the Empire, nought below —

Of which account as proof that, none o’ the line

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Having a single gift beyond brave blood,

Or able to do aught but give, give, give

In blood and brain, in house and land and cash,

Not get and garner as the vulgar may,

We become poor as Francis or our Lord.

Be that as it likes you, Sirs — whenever it chanced

Myself grew capable anyway of remark,

(Which was soon — penury makes wit premature)

This struck me, I was poor who should be rich

Or pay that fault to the world which trifles not

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When lineage lacks the flag yet lifts the pole:

Therefore I must make more forthwith, transfer

My stranded self, born fish with gill and fin

Fit for the deep sea, now left bare-backed

In slush and sand, a show to crawlers vile

Reared of the low-tide and aright therein.

The enviable youth with the old name,

Wide chest, stout arms, sound brow and pricking veins,

A heartful of desire, man’s natural load,

A brainful of belief, the noble’s lot —

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All this life, cramped and gasping, high and dry

I’ the wave’s retreat — the misery, good my lords,

Which made you merriment at Rome of late —

It made me reason, rather — muse, demand

— Why our bare dropping palace, in the street

Where such-an-one whose grandfather sold tripe

Was adding to his purchased pile a fourth

Tall tower, could hardly show a turret sound?

Why Beatrice Countess, whose son I am,

Cowered in the winter-time as she spun flax,

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Blew on the earthen basket of live ash.

Instead of jaunting forth in coach and six

Like such-another widow who ne’er was wed?

I asked my fellows, how came this about?

“Why, Jack, the suttler’s child, perhaps the camp’s,

“Went to the wars, fought sturdily, took a town

“And got rewarded as was natural.

“She of the coach and six — excuse me there!

“Why, don’t you know the story of her friend?

“A clown dressed vines on somebody’s estate,

200

“His boy recoiled from muck, liked Latin more,

“Stuck to his pen, and got to be a priest,

“Till one day . . . don’t you mind that telling tract

“Against Molinos, the old Cardinal wrote?

“He penned and dropped it in the patron’s desk

“Who, deep in thought and absent much of mind,

“Licensed the thing, allowed it for his own;

“Quick came promotion — suum cuique, Count!

“Oh, he can pay for coach and six, be sure!”

“— Well, let me go, do likewise: war’s the word —

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“That way the Franceschini worked at first,

“I’ll take my turn, try soldiership.”—“What, you?

“The eldest son and heir and prop o’ the house,

“So do you see your duty? Here’s your post,

“Hard by the hearth and altar. (Roam from roof,

“This youngster, play the gypsy out of doors,

“And who keeps kith and kin that fall on us?)

“Stand fast, stick tight, conserve your gods at home!”

“— Well then, the quiet course, the contrary trade!

“We had a cousin amongst us once was Pope,

220

“And minor glories manifold. Try the Church,

“The tonsure, and — since heresy’s but half-slain

“Even by the Cardinal’s tract he thought he wrote —

“Have at Molinos!”—“Have at a fool’s head!

“You a priest? How were marriage possible?

“There must be Franceschini till time ends —

“That’s your vocation. Make your brothers priests,

“Paul shall be porporate, and Girolamo step

“Red- stockinged in the presence when you choose,

“But save one Franceschini for the age!

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“Be not the vine but dig and dung its root,

“Be not a priest but gird up priesthood’s loins,

“With one foot in Arezzo stride to Rome,

“Spend yourself there and bring the purchase back!

“Go hence to Rome, be guided!”

So I was.

I turned alike from the hill-side zig-zag thread

Of way to the table-land a soldier takes,

Alike from the low-lying pasture-place

Where churchmen graze, recline, and ruminate,

240

— Ventured to mount no platform like my lords

Who judge the world, bear brain I dare not brag —

But stationed me, might thus the expression serve,

As who should fetch and carry, come and go,

Meddle and make i’ the cause my lords love most —

The public weal, which hangs to the law, which holds

By the Church, which happens to be through God himself.

Humbly I helped the Church till here I stand —

Or would stand but for the omoplat, you see!

Bidden qualify for Rome, I, having a field,

250

Went, sold it, laid the sum at Peter’s foot:

Which means — I settled home-accounts with speed,

Set apart just a modicum should suffice

To keep the villa’s head above the waves

Of weed inundating its oil and wine,

And prop roof, stanchion wall o’ the palace so

It should keep breath i’ the body, hold its own

Amid the advance of neighbouring loftiness —

(People like building where they used to beg)—

Till succoured one day — shared the residue

260

Between my mother and brothers and sisters there,

Black-eyed babe Donna This and Donna That,

As near to starving as might decently be,

— Left myself journey-charges, change of suit,

A purse to put i’ the pocket of the Groom

O’ the Chamber of the patron, and a glove

With a ring to it for the digits of the niece

Sure to be helpful in his household — then

Started for Rome, and led the life prescribed.

Close to the Church, though clean of it, I assumed

270

Three or four orders of no consequence,

They cast out evil spirits and exorcise,

For example; bind a man to nothing more,

Give clerical savour to his layman’s-salt,

Facilitate his claim to loaf and fish

Should miracle leave, beyond what feeds the flock,

Fragments to brim the basket of a friend —

While, for the world’s sake, I rode, danced, and gamed,

Quitted me like a courtier, measured mine

With whatsoever blade had fame in fence,

280

— Ready to let the basket go its round

Even though my turn was come to help myself,

Should Dives count on me at dinner-time

As just the understander of a joke

And not immoderate in repartee.

Utrique sic paratus, Sirs, I said

“Here,” (in the fortitude of years fifteen,

So good a pedagogue is penury)

“Here wait, do service — serving and to serve!

“And, in due time, I nowise doubt at all,

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“The recognition of my service comes.

“Next year I’m only sixteen. I can wait.”

I waited thirty years, may it please the Court:

Saw meanwhile many a denizen o’ the dung

Hop, skip, jump o’er my shoulder, make him wings

And fly aloft — succeed, in the usual phrase.

Every one soon or late comes round by Rome:

Stand still here, you’ll see all in turn succeed.

Why, look you, so and so, the physician here,

My father’s lacquey’s son we sent to school,

300

Doctored and dosed this Eminence and that,

Salved the last Pope his certain obstinate sore,

Soon bought land as became him, names it now:

I grasp bell at his griffin-guarded gate,

Traverse the half-mile avenue — a term,

A cypress, and a statue, three and three —

Deliver message from my Monsignor,

With varletry at lounge i’ the vestibule

I’m barred from, who bear mud upon my shoe.

My father’s chaplain’s nephew, Chamberlain —

310

Nothing less, please you! — courteous all the same,

— He does not see me though I wait an hour

At his staircase-landing ’twixt the brace of busts,

A noseless Sylla, Marius maimed to match,

My father gave him for a hexastich

Made on my birth-day — but he sends me down,

To make amends, that relic I prize most —

The unburnt end o’ the very candle, Sirs,

Purfled with paint so prettily round and round,

He carried in such state last Peter’s day —

320

In token I, his gentleman and squire,

Had held the bridle, walked his managed mule

Without a tittup the procession through.

Nay, the official — one you know, sweet lords! —

Who drew the warrant for my transfer late

To the New Prisons from Tordinona — he

Graciously had remembrance —“Francesc . . . ha?

“His sire, now — how a thing shall come about! —

“Paid me a dozen florins above the fee,

“For drawing deftly up a deed of sale

330

“When troubles fell so thick on him, good heart,

“And I was prompt and pushing! By all means!

“At the New Prisons be it his son shall lie —

“Anything for an old friend!” and thereat

Signed name with triple flourish underneath.

These were my fellows, such their fortunes now,

While I— kept fasts and feasts innumerable,

Matins and vespers, functions to no end

I’ the train of Monsignor and Eminence,

As gentleman-squire, and for my zeal’s reward

340

Have rarely missed a place at the table- foot

Except when some Ambassador, or such like,

Brought his own people. Brief, one day I felt

The tick of time inside me, turning-point

And slight sense there was now enough of this:

That I was near my seventh climacteric,

Hard upon, if not over, the middle life,

And, although fed by the east-wind, fulsome- fine

With foretaste of the Land of Promise, still

My gorge gave symptom it might play me false;

350

Better not press it further — be content

With living and dying only a nobleman,

Who merely had a father great and rich,

Who simply had one greater and richer yet,

And so on back and back till first and best

Began i’ the night; I finish in the day.

“The mother must be getting old,” I said,

“The sisters are well wedded away, our name

“Can manage to pass a sister off, at need,

“And do for dowry: both my brothers thrive —

360

“Regular priests they are, nor, hat-like, ’bide

“’Twixt flesh and fowl with neither privilege.

“My spare revenue must keep me and mine.

“I am tired: Arezzo’s air is good to breathe;

“Vittiano — one limes flocks of thrushes there;

“A leathern coat costs little and lasts long:

“Let me bid hope good-bye, content at home!”

Thus, one day, I disbosomed me and bowed.

Whereat began the little buzz and thrill

O’ the gazers round me; each face brightened up:

370

As when at your Casino, deep in dawn,

A gamester says at last, “I play no more,

“Forego gain, acquiesce in loss, withdraw

“Anyhow:” and the watchers of his ways,

A trifle struck compunctious at the word,

Yet sensible of relief, breathe free once more,

Break up the ring, venture polite advice —

“How, Sir? So scant of heart and hope indeed?

“Retire with neither cross nor pile from play? —

“So incurious, so short-casting? — give your chance

380

“To a younger, stronger, bolder spirit belike,

“Just when luck turns and the fine throw sweeps all?”

Such was the chorus: and its good will meant —

“See that the loser leave door handsomely!

“There’s an ill look — it’s sinister, spoils sport,

“When an old bruised and battered year-by-year

“Fighter with fortune, not a penny in poke,

“Reels down the steps of our establishment

“And staggers on broad daylight and the world,

“In shagrag beard and doleful doublet, drops

390

“And breaks his heart on the outside: people prate

“‘Such is the profit of a trip upstairs!’

“Contrive he sidle forth, baulked of the blow

“Best dealt by way of moral, bidding down

“No curse but blessings rather on our heads

“For some poor prize he bears at tattered breast,

“Some palpable sort of kind of good to set

“Over and against the grievance: give him quick!”

Whereon protested Paul, “Go hang yourselves!

“Leave him to me. Count Guido and brother of mine,

400

“A word in your ear! Take courage since faint heart

“Ne’er won . . . aha, fair lady, don’t men say?

“There’s a sors, there’s a right Virgilian dip!

“Do you see the happiness o’ the hint? At worst,

“If the Church want no more of you, the Court

“No more, and the Camp as little, the ingrates — come,

“Count you are counted: still you’ve coat to back,

“Not cloth of gold and tissue, as we hoped,

“But cloth with sparks and spangles on its frieze

“From Camp, Court, Church, enough to make a shine,

410

“Entitle you to carry home a wife

“With the proper dowry, let the worst betide!

“Why, it was just a wife you meant to take!”

Now, Paul’s advice was weighty: priests should know:

And Paul apprised me, ere the week was out,

That Pietro and Violante, the easy pair,

The cits enough, with stomach to be more,

Had just the daughter and exact the sum

To truck for the quality of myself: “She’s young,

“Pretty and rich: you’re noble, classic, choice.

420

“Is it to be a match?” “A match,” said I.

Done! He proposed all, I accepted all,

And we performed all. So I said and did

Simply. As simply followed, not at first

But with the outbreak of misfortune, still

One comment on the saying and doing —“What?

“No blush at the avowal you dared buy

“A girl of age beseems your granddaughter,

“Like ox or ass? Are flesh and blood a ware?

“Are heart and soul a chattel?”

430

        Softly, Sirs!

Will the Court of its charity teach poor me

Anxious to learn, of any way i’ the world,

Allowed by custom and convenience, save

This same which, taught from my youth up, I trod?

Take me along with you; where was the wrong step?

If what I gave in barter, style and state

And all that hangs to Franceschinihood,

Were worthless — why, society goes to ground,

Its rules are idiot’s-rambling. Honour of birth —

440

If that thing has no value, cannot buy

Something with value of another sort,

You’ve no reward nor punishment to give

I’ the giving or the taking honour; straight

Your social fabric, pinnacle to base,

Comes down a-clatter like a house of cards.

Get honour, and keep honour free from flaw,

Aim at still higher honour — gabble o’ the goose!

Go bid a second blockhead like myself

Spend fifty years in guarding bubbles of breath,

450

Soapsuds with air i’ the belly, gilded brave,

Guarded and guided, all to break at touch

O’ the first young girl’s hand and first old fool’s purse!

All my privation and endurance, all

Love, loyalty, and labour dared and did,

Fiddle-de-dee! — why, doer and darer both —

Count Guido Franceschini had hit the mark

Far better, spent his life with more effect,

As a dancer or a prizer, trades that pay!

On the other hand, bid this buffoonery cease,

460

Admit that honour is a privilege,

The question follows, privilege worth what?

Why, worth the market-price — now up, now down,

Just so with this as with all other ware:

Therefore essay the market, sell your name,

Style and condition to who buys them best!

“Does my name purchase,” had I dared inquire,

“Your niece, my lord?” there would have been rebuff

Though courtesy, your lordship cannot else —

“Not altogether! Rank for rank may stand:

470

“But I have wealth beside, you — poverty;

“Your scale flies up there: bid a second bid,

“Rank too, and wealth too!” Reasoned like yourself!

But was it to you I went with goods to sell?

This time ’twas my scale quietly kissed the ground,

Mere rank against mere wealth — some youth beside,

Some beauty too, thrown into the bargain, just

As the buyer likes or lets alone. I thought

To deal o’ the square: others find fault, it seems:

The thing is, those my offer most concerned,

480

Pietro, Violante, cried they fair or foul?

What did they make o’ the terms? Preposterous terms?

Why then accede so promptly, close with such

Nor take a minute to chaffer? Bargain struck,

They straight grew bilious, wished their money back,

Repented them, no doubt: why, so did I,

So did your lordship, if town-talk be true,

Of paying a full farm’s worth for that piece

By Pietro of Cortona — probably

His scholar Ciro Ferri may have retouched —

490

You caring more for colour than design —

Getting a little tired of cupids too.

That’s incident to all the folk who buy!

I am charged, I know, with gilding fact by fraud;

I falsified and fabricated, wrote

Myself down roughly richer than I prove,

Rendered a wrong revenue — grant it all!

Mere grace, mere coquetry such fraud, I say:

A flourish round the figures of a sum

For fashion’s sake, that deceives nobody.

500

The veritable back-bone, understood

Essence of this same bargain, blank and bare,

Being the exchange of quality for wealth —

What may such fancy-flights be? Flecks of oil

Flirted by chapmen where plain dealing grates.

I may have dripped a drop —“My name I sell;

“Not but that I too boast my wealth”— as they,

“— We bring you riches; still our ancestor

“Was hardly the rapscallion, folks saw flogged,

“But heir to we know who, were rights of force!”

510

They knew and I knew where the back-bone lurked

I’ the writhings of the bargain, lords, believe!

I paid down all engaged for, to a doit,

Delivered them just that which, their life long,

They hungered in the hearts of them to gain —

Incorporation with nobility thus

In word and deed: for that they gave me wealth.

But when they came to try their gain, my gift,

Quit Rome and qualify for Arezzo, take

The tone o’ the new sphere that absorbed the old,

520

Put away gossip Jack and goody Joan

And go become familiar with the Great,

Greatness to touch and taste and handled now —

Why, then — they found that all was vanity,

Vexation, and what Solomon describes!

The old abundant city-fare was best,

The kindly warmth o’ the commons, the glad clap

Of the equal on the shoulder, the frank grin

Of the underling at all so many spoons

Fire-new at neighbourly treat — best, best and best

530

Beyond compare! — down to the loll itself

O’ the pot-house settle — better such a bench

Than the stiff crucifixion by my dais

Under the piece-meal damask canopy

With the coroneted coat of arms a-top!

Poverty and privation for pride’s sake,

All they engaged to easily brave and bear —

With the fit upon them and their brains a-work —

Proved unendurable to the sobered sots.

A banished prince, now, will exude a juice

540

And salamander-like support the flame:

He dines on chestnuts, chucks the husks to help

The broil o’ the brazier, pays the due baioc,

Goes off light-hearted: his grimace begins

At the funny humours of the christening-feast

Of friend the money-lender — then he’s touched

By the flame and frizzles at the babe to kiss!

Here was the converse trial, opposite mind:

Here did a petty nature split on rock

Of vulgar wants predestinate for such —

550

One dish at supper and weak wine to boot!

The prince had grinned and borne: the citizen shrieked,

Summoned the neighbourhood to attest the wrong,

Made noisy protest he was murdered — stoned

And burned and drowned and hanged — then broke away,

He and his wife, to tell their Rome the rest.

And this you admire, you men o’ the world, my lords?

This moves compassion, makes you doubt my faith?

Why, I appeal to . . . sun and moon? Not I!

Rather to Plautus, Terence, Boccaccio’s Book,

560

My townsman, frank Ser Franco’s merry Tales —

To all who strip a vizard from a face,

A body from its padding, and a soul

From froth and ignorance it styles itself —

If this be other than the daily hap

Of purblind greed that dog-like still drops bone,

Grasps shadow, and then howls the case is hard!

So much for them so far: now for myself,

My profit or loss i’ the matter: married am I:

Text whereon friendly censors burst to preach.

570

Ay, at Rome even, long ere I was left

To regulate her life for my young bride

Alone at Arezzo, friendliness outbroke

(Sifting my future to predict its fault)

“Purchase and sale being thus so plain a point

“How of a certain soul bound up, may-be,

“I’ the barter with the body and money- bags?

“From the bride’s soul what is it you expect?”

Why, loyalty and obedience — wish and will

To settle and suit her fresh and plastic mind

580

To the novel, nor disadvantageous mould!

Father and mother shall the woman leave,

Cleave to the husband, be it for weal or woe:

There is the law: what sets this law aside

In my particular case? My friends submit

“Guide, guardian, benefactor — fee, faw, fum,

“The fact is you are forty-five years old,

“Nor very comely even for that age:

“Girls must have boys.” Why, let girls say so then,

Nor call the boys and men, who say the same,

590

Brute this and beast the other as they do!

Come, cards on table! When you chaunt us next

Epithalamium full to overflow

With praise and glory of white womanhood,

The chaste and pure — troll no such lies o’er lip!

Put in their stead a crudity or two,

Such short and simple statement of the case

As youth chalks on our walls at spring of year!

No! I shall still think nobler of the sex,

Believe a woman still may take a man

600

For the short period that his soul wears flesh,

And, for the soul’s sake, understand the fault

Of armour frayed by fighting. Tush, it tempts

One’s tongue too much! I’ll say — the law’s the law:

With a wife, I look to find all wifeliness,

As when I buy, timber and twig, a tree —

I buy the song o’ the nightingale inside.

Such was the pact: Pompilia from the first

Broke it, refused from the beginning day

Either in body or soul to cleave to mine,

610

And published it forthwith to all the world.

No rupture — you must join ere you can break —

Before we had cohabited a month

She found I was a devil and no man —

Made common cause with those who found as much,

Her parents, Pietro and Violante — moved

Heaven and earth to the rescue of all three.

In four months’ time, the time o’ the parents’ stay,

Arezzo was a-ringing, bells in a blaze,

With the unimaginable story rife

620

I’ the mouth of man, woman, and child — to wit

My misdemeanour. First the lighter side,

Ludicrous face of things — how very poor

The Franceschini had become at last,

The meanness and the misery of each shift

To save a soldo, stretch and make ends meet.

Next, the more hateful aspect — how myself

With cruelty beyond Caligula’s

Had stripped and beaten, robbed and murdered them.

The good old couple, I decoyed, abused,

630

Plundered and then cast out, and happily so,

Since — in due course the abominable comes —

Woe worth the poor young wife left lonely here!

Repugnant in my person as my mind,

I sought — was ever heard of such revenge?

— To lure and bind her to so cursed a couch,

Such co-embrace with sulphur, snake and toad,

That she was fain to rush forth, call the stones

O’ the common street to save her, not from hate

Of mine merely, but . . . must I burn my lips

640

With the blister of the lie? . . . the satyr-love

Of who but my own brother, the young priest,

Too long enforced to lenten fare belike,

Now tempted by the morsel tossed him full

I’ the trencher where lay bread and herbs at best.

Mark, this yourselves say! — this, none disallows,

Was charged to me by the universal voice

At the instigation of my four-months’ wife! —

And then you ask “Such charges so preferred,

“(Truly or falsely, here concerns us not)

650

“Pricked you to punish now if not before? —

“Did not the harshness double itself, the hate

“Harden?” I answer “Have it your way and will!”

Say my resentment grew apace: what then?

Do you cry out on the marvel? When I find

That pure smooth egg which, laid within my nest,

Could not but hatch a comfort to us all,

Issues a cockatrice for me and mine,

Do you stare to see me stamp on it? Swans are soft:

Is it not clear that she you call my wife,

660

That any wife of any husband, caught

Whetting a sting like this against his breast —

Speckled with fragments of the fresh-broke shell,

Married a month and making outcry thus —

Proves a plague-prodigy to God and man?

She married: what was it she married for,

Counted upon and meant to meet thereby?

“Love” suggests some one, “love, a little word

“Whereof we have not heard one syllable.”

So, the Pompilia, child, girl, wife, in one,

670

Wanted the beating pulse, the rolling eye,

The frantic gesture, the devotion due

From Thyrsis to Neæra! Guido’s love —

Why not provençal roses in his shoe,

Plume to his cap, and trio of guitars

At casement, with a bravo close beside?

Good things all these are, clearly claimable

When the fit price is paid the proper way.

Had it been some friend’s wife, now, threw her fan

At my foot, with just this pretty scrap attached,

680

“Shame, death, damnation — fall these as they may,

“So I find you, for a minute! Come this eve!”

— Why, at such sweet self-sacrifice — who knows?

I might have fired up, found me at my post,

Ardent from head to heel, nor feared catch cough.

Nay, had some other friend’s . . . say, daughter, tripped

Upstairs and tumbled flat and frank on me,

Bareheaded and barefooted, with loose hair

And garments all at large — cried “Take me thus!

“Duke So-and-So, the greatest man in Rome —

690

“To escape his hand and heart have I broke bounds,

“Traversed the town and reached you!”— Then, indeed,

The lady had not reached a man of ice!

I would have rummaged, ransacked at the word

Those old odd corners of an empty heart

For remnants of dim love the long disused,

And dusty crumblings of romance! But here,

We talk of just a marriage, if you please —

The every-day conditions and no more;

Where do these bind me to bestow one drop

700

Of blood shall dye my wife’s true-love-knot pink?

Pompilia was no pigeon, Venus’ pet,

That shuffled from between her pressing paps

To sit on my rough shoulder — but a hawk,

I bought at a hawk’s price and carried home

To do hawk’s service — at the Rotunda, say,

Where, six o’ the callow nestlings in a row,

You pick and choose and pay the price for such.

I have paid my pound, await my penny’s worth,

So, hoodwink, starve, and properly train my bird,

710

And, should she prove a haggard — twist her neck!

Did I not pay my name and style, my hope

And trust, my all? Through spending these amiss

I am here! ’Tis scarce the gravity of the Court

Will blame me that I never piped a tune,

Treated my falcon-gentle like my finch.

The obligation I incurred was just

To practise mastery, prove my mastership:—

Pompilia’s duty was — submit herself,

Afford me pleasure, perhaps cure my bile.

720

Am I to teach my lords what marriage means,

What God ordains thereby and man fulfils

Who, docile to the dictate, treads the house?

My lords have chosen the happier part with Paul

And neither marry nor burn — yet priestliness

Can find a parallel to the marriage-bond

In its own blessed special ordinance

Whereof indeed was marriage made the type:

The Church may show her insubordinate,

As marriage her refractory. How of the Monk

730

Who finds the claustral regimen too sharp

After the first month’s essay? What’s the mode

With the Deacon who supports indifferently

The rod o’ the Bishop when he tastes its smart

Full four weeks? Do you straightway slacken hold

Of the innocents, the all-unwary ones

Who, eager to profess, mistook their mind? —

Remit a fast-day’s rigour to the Monk

Who fancied Francis’ manna meant roast quails,

Concede the Deacon sweet society,

740

He never thought the levite-rule renounced —

Or rather prescribe short chain and sharp scourge

Corrective of such peccant humours? This —

I take to be the Church’s mode, and mine,

If I was over-harsh — the worse i’ the wife

Who did not win from harshness as she ought,

Wanted the patience and persuasion, lore

Of love, should cure me and console herself.

Put case that I mishandle, flurry, and fright

My hawk through clumsiness in sportsmanship,

750

Twitch out five pens where plucking one would serve —

What, shall she bite and claw to mend the case?

And, if you find I pluck five more for that,

Shall you weep “Now he roughs the turtle there?”

Such was the starting; now of the further step.

In lieu of taking penance in good part,

The Monk, with hue and cry, summons a mob

To make a bonfire of the convent, say —

And the Deacon’s pretty piece of virtue (save

The ears o’ the Court! I try to save my head)

760

Instructed by the ingenuous postulant,

Taxes the Bishop with adultery (mud

Needs must pair off with mud, and filth with filth)—

Such being my next experience: who knows not —

The couple, father and mother of my wife,

Returned to Rome, published before my lords,

Put into print, made circulate far and wide

That they had cheated me who cheated them?

Pompilia, I supposed their daughter, drew

Breath first ’mid Rome’s worst rankness, through the deed

770

Of a drab and a rogue, was bye-blow bastard-babe

Of a nameless strumpet, passed off, palmed on me

As the daughter with the dowry. Daughter? Dirt

O’ the kennel! Dowry? Dust o’ the street! Nought more,

Nought less, nought else but — oh — ah — assuredly

A Franceschini and my very wife!

Now take this charge as you will, for false or true —

This charge, preferred before your very selves

Who judge me now — I pray you, adjudge again,

Classing it with the cheats or with the lies,

780

By which category I suffer most!

But of their reckoning, theirs who dealt with me

In either fashion — I reserve my word,

Justify that in its place; I am now to say,

Whichever point o’ the charge might poison most,

Pompilia’s duty was no doubtful one.

You put the protestation in her mouth

“Henceforward and forevermore, avaunt

“Ye fiends, who drop disguise and glare revealed

“In your own shape, no longer father mine

790

“Nor mother mine! Too nakedly you hate

“Me whom you looked as if you loved once — me

“Whom, whether true or false, your tale now damns,

“Divulged thus to my public infamy,

“Private perdition, absolute overthrow.

“For, hate my husband to your hearts’ content,

“I, spoil and prey of you from first to last,

“I who have done you the blind service, lured

“The lion to your pit-fall — I, thus left

“To answer for my ignorant bleating there,

800

“I should have been remembered and withdrawn

“From the first o’ the natural fury, not flung loose

“A proverb and a byeword men will mouth

“At the cross-way, in the corner, up and down

“Rome and Arezzo — there, full in my face,

“If my lord, missing them and finding me,

“Content himself with casting his reproach

“To drop i’ the street where such impostors die.

“Ah, but — that husband, what the wonder were! —

“If, far from casting thus away the rag

810

“Smeared with the plague, his hand had chanced upon,

“Sewn to his pillow by Locusta’s wile —

“Far from abolishing, root, stem, and branch,

“The misgrowth of infectious mistletoe

“Foisted into his stock for honest graft —

“If he, repudiate not, renounce nowise,

“But, guarding, guiding me, maintain my cause

“By making it his own (what other way?)

“— To keep my name for me, he call it his,

“Claim it of who would take it by their lie —

820

“To save my wealth for me — or babe of mine

“Their lie was framed to beggar at the birth —

“He bid them loose grasp, give our gold again:

“Refuse to become partner with the pair

“Even in a game which, played adroitly, gives

“Its winner life’s great wonderful new chance —

“Of marrying, to- wit, a second time —

“Ah, did he do thus, what a friend were he!

“Anger he might show — who can stamp out flame

“Yet spread no black o’ the brand? — yet, rough albeit

830

“In the act, as whose bare feet feel embers scorch.

“What grace were his, what gratitude were mine!”

Such protestation should have been my wife’s.

Looking for this, do I exact too much?

Why, here’s the — word for word so much, no more —

Avowal she made, her pure spontaneous speech

To my brother the Abate at first blush,

Ere the good impulse had begun to fade —

So did she make confession for the pair,

So pour forth praises in her own behalf.

840

“Ay, the false letter,” interpose my lords —

“The simulated writing — ’twas a trick:

“You traced the signs, she merely marked the same,

“The product was not hers but yours.” Alack,

I want no more impulsion to tell truth

From the other trick, the torture inside there!

I confess all — let it be understood —

And deny nothing! If I baffle you so,

Can so fence, in the plenitude of right,

That my poor lathen dagger puts aside

850

Each pass o’ the Bilboa, beats you all the same —

What matters inefficiency of blade?

Mine and not hers the letter — conceded, lords!

Impute to me that practice! — take as proved

I taught my wife her duty, made her see

What it behoved her see and say and do,

Feel in her heart and with her tongue declare,

And, whether sluggish or recalcitrant,

Forced her to take the right step, I myself

Marching in mere marital rectitude!

860

And who finds fault here, say the tale be true?

Would not my lords commend the priest whose zeal

Seized on the sick, morose, or moribund,

By the palsy-smitten finger, made it cross

His brow correctly at the critical time?

— Or answered for the inarticulate babe

At baptism, in its stead declared the faith,

And saved what else would perish unprofessed?

True, the incapable hand may rally yet,

Renounce the sign with renovated strength —

870

The babe may grow up man and Molinist —

And so Pompilia, set in the good path

And left to go alone there, soon might see

That too frank-forward, all too simple- strait

Her step was, and decline to tread the rough,

When here lay, tempting foot, the meadow-side,

And there the coppice called with singing-birds!

Soon she discovered she was young and fair,

That many in Arezzo knew as much —

Yes, this next cup of bitterness, my lords,

880

Had to begin go filling, drop by drop,

Its measure up of full disgust for me,

Filtered into by every noisome drain —

Society’s sink toward which all moisture runs.

Would not you prophesy —“She on whose brow is stamped

“The note of the imputation that we know —

“Rightly or wrongly mothered with a whore —

“Such an one, to disprove the frightful charge,

“What will she but exaggerate chastity,

“Err in excess of wifehood, as it were,

890

“Renounce even levities permitted youth,

“Though not youth struck to age by a thunderbolt?

“Cry ‘wolf’ i’ the sheepfold, where’s the sheep dares bleat,

“Knowing the shepherd listens for a growl?”

So you expect. How did the devil decree?

Why, my lords, just the contrary of course!

It was in the house from the window, at the church

From the hassock — where the theatre lent its lodge,

Or staging for the public show left space —

That still Pompilia needs must find herself

900

Launching her looks forth, letting looks reply

As arrows to a challenge; on all sides

Ever new contribution to her lap,

Till one day, what is it knocks at my clenched teeth

But the cup full, curse- collected all for me?

And I must needs drink, drink this gallant’s praise,

That minion’s prayer, the other fop’s reproach,

And come at the dregs to — Caponsacchi! Sirs,

I— chin deep in a marsh of misery,

Struggling to extricate my name and fame

910

And fortune from the marsh would drown them all,

My face the sole unstrangled part of me —

I must have this new gad-fly in that face,

Must free me from the attacking lover too!

Men say I battled ungracefully enough —

Was harsh, uncouth and ludicrous beyond

The proper part o’ the husband: have it so!

Your lordships are considerate at least —

You order me to speak in my defence

Plainly, expect no quavering tuneful trills

920

As when you bid a singer solace you —

Nor look that I shall give it, for a grace,

Stans pede in uno: — you remember well

In the one case, ’tis a plainsong too severe,

This story of my wrongs — and that I ache

And need a chair, in the other. Ask you me

Why, when I felt this trouble flap my face,

Already pricked with every shame could perch —

When, with her parents, my wife plagued me too —

Why I enforced not exhortation mild

930

To leave whore’s-tricks and let my brows alone,

With mulct of comfits, promise of perfume?

“Far from that! No, you took the opposite course,

“Breathed threatenings, rage and slaughter!” What you will!

And the end has come, the doom is verily here,

Unhindered by the threatening. See fate’s flare

Full on each face of the dead guilty three!

Look at them well, and now, lords, look at this!

Tell me: if on that day when I found first

That Caponsacchi thought the nearest way

940

To his church was some half-mile round by my door,

And that he so admired, shall I suppose,

The manner of the swallows’ come-and- go

Between the props o’ the window over-head —

That window happening to be my wife’s —

As to stand gazing by the hour on high,

Of May-eves, while she sat and let him smile —

If I— instead of threatening, talking big,

Showing hair-powder, a prodigious pinch,

For poison in a bottle — making believe

950

At desperate doings with a bauble-sword,

And other bugaboo-and-baby-work —

Had, with the vulgarest household implement,

Calmly and quietly cut off, clean thro’ bone,

But one joint of one finger of my wife,

Saying “For listening to the serenade,

“Here’s your ring-finger shorter a full third:

“Be certain I will slice away next joint,

“Next time that anybody underneath

“Seems somehow to be sauntering as he hoped

960

“A flower would eddy out of your hand to his

“While you please fidget with the branch above

“O’ the rose-tree in the terrace!”— had I done so,

Why, there had followed a quick sharp scream, some pain,

Much calling for plaister, damage to the dress,

A somewhat sulky countenance next day,

Perhaps reproaches — but reflections too!

I don’t hear much of harm that Malchus did

After the incident of the ear, my lords!

Saint Peter took the efficacious way;

970

Malchus was sore but silenced for his life:

He did not hang himself i’ the Potter’s Field

Like Judas, who was trusted with the bag

And treated to sops after he proved a thief.

So, by this time, my true and obedient wife

Might have been telling beads with a gloved hand;

Awkward a little at pricking hearts and darts

On sampler possibly, but well otherwise:

Not where Rome shudders now to see her lie.

I give that for the course a wise man takes;

980

I took the other however, tried the fool’s,

The lighter remedy, brandished rapier dread

With cork-ball at the tip, boxed Malchus’ ear

Instead of severing the cartilage,

Called her a terrible nickname, and the like

And there an end: and what was the end of that?

What was the good effect o’ the gentle course?

Why, one night I went drowsily to bed,

Dropped asleep suddenly, not suddenly woke,

But did wake with rough rousing and loud cry,

990

To find noon in my face, a crowd in my room,

Fumes in my brain, fire in my throat, my wife

Gone God knows whither — rifled vesture-chest,

And ransacked money-coffer. “What does it mean?”

The servants had been drugged too, stared and yawned.

“It must be that our lady has eloped!”

—“Whither and with whom?”—“With whom but the Canon’s self?

“One recognises Caponsacchi there!”—

(By this time the admiring neighbourhood

Joined chorus round me while I rubbed my eyes)

1000

“’Tis months since their intelligence began —

“A comedy the town was privy to —

“He wrote and she wrote, she spoke, he replied,

“And going in and out your house last night

“Was easy work for one . . . to be plain with you . . .

“Accustomed to do both, at dusk and dawn

“When you were absent — at the villa, you know,

“Where husbandry required the master-mind.

“Did not you know? Why, we all knew, you see!”

And presently, bit by bit, the full and true

1010

Particulars of the tale were volunteered

With all the breathless zeal of friendship —“Thus

“Matters were managed: at the seventh hour of night” . . .

—“Later, at daybreak” . . . “Caponsacchi came” . . .

—“While you and all your household slept like death,

“Drugged as your supper was with drowsy stuff” . . .

—“And your own cousin Guillichini too —

“Either or both entered your dwelling-place,

“Plundered it at their pleasure, made prize of all,

“Including your wife . . . ”—“Oh, your wife led the way,

“Out of doors, on to the gate . . . ”—“But gates are shut,

1021

“In a decent town, to darkness and such deeds:

“They climbed the wall — your lady must be lithe —

“At the gap, the broken bit . . . ”—“Torrione, true!

“To escape the questioning guard at the proper gate,

“Clemente, where at the inn, hard by, ‘the Horse,’

“Just outside, a calash in readiness

“Took the two principals, all alone at last,

“To gate San Spirito, which o’erlooks the road,

“Leads to Perugia, Rome and liberty.”

1030

Bit by bit thus made-up mosaic- wise,

Flat lay my fortune — tesselated floor,

Imperishable tracery devils should foot

And frolic it on, around my broken gods,

Over my desecrated hearth.

        So much

For the terrible effect of threatening, Sirs!

Well, this way I was shaken wide awake,

Doctored and drenched, somewhat unpoisoned so;

Then, set on horseback and bid seek the lost,

1040

I started alone, head of me, heart of me

Fire, and each limb as languid . . . ah, sweet lords,

Bethink you! — poison-torture, try persuade

The next refractory Molinist with that! . . .

Floundered thro’ day and night, another day

And yet another night, and so at last,

As Lucifer kept falling to find hell,

Tumbled into the court-yard of an inn

At the end, and fell on whom I thought to find,

Even Caponsacchi — what part once was priest,

1050

Cast to the winds now with the cassock-rags:

In cape and sword a cavalier confessed,

There stood he chiding dilatory grooms,

Chafing that only horseflesh and no team

Of eagles would supply the last relay,

Whirl him along the league, the one post more

Between the couple and Rome and liberty.

’Twas dawn, the couple were rested in a sort,

And though the lady, tired — the tenderer sex —

Still lingered in her chamber — to adjust

1060

The limp hair, look for any blush astray —

She would descend in a twinkling — “Have you out

“The horses therefore!”

        So did I find my wife.

Is the case complete? Do your eyes here see with mine?

Even the parties dared deny no one

Point out of all these points.

        What follows next?

“Why, that then was the time,” you interpose,

“Or then or never, while the fact was fresh,

1070

“To take the natural vengeance: there and thus

“They and you — somebody had stuck a sword

“Beside you while he pushed you on your horse —

“’Twas requisite to slay the couple, Count!”

Just so my friends say —“Kill!” they cry in a breath,

Who presently, when matters grow to a head

And I do kill the offending ones indeed —

When crime of theirs, only surmised before,

Is patent, proved indisputably now —

When remedy for wrong, untried at the time,

1080

Which law professes shall not fail a friend,

Is thrice tried now, found threefold worse than null —

When what might turn to transient shade, who knows?

Solidifies into a blot which breaks

Hell’s black off in pale flakes for fear of mine —

Then, when I claim and take revenge —“So rash?”

They cry —“so little reverence for the law?”

Listen, my masters, and distinguish here!

At first, I called in law to act and help:

Seeing I do so, “Why, ’tis clear,” they cry,

1090

“You shrank from gallant readiness and risk,

“Were coward: the thing’s inexplicable else.”

Sweet my lords, let the thing be! I fall flat,

Play the reed, not the oak, to breath of man.

Only, inform my ignorance! Say I stand

Convicted of the having been afraid,

Proved a poltroon, no lion but a lamb —

Does that deprive me of my right of lamb

And give my fleece and flesh to the first wolf?

Are eunuchs, women, children, shieldless quite

1100

Against attack their own timidity tempts?

Cowardice were misfortune and no crime!

— Take it that way, since I am fallen so low

I scarce dare brush the fly that blows my face,

And thank the man who simply spits not there —

Unless the Court be generous, comprehend

How one brought up at the very feet of law

As I, awaits the grave Gamaliel’s nod

Ere he clench fist at outrage — much less, stab!

— How, ready enough to rise at the right time,

1110

I still could recognise no time mature

Unsanctioned by a move o’ the judgment-seat,

So, mute in misery, eyed my masters here

Motionless till the authoritative word

Pronounced amercement. There’s the riddle solved:

This is just why I slew nor her nor him,

But called in law, law’s delegate in the place,

And bade arrest the guilty couple, Sirs!

We had some trouble to do so — you have heard

They braved me — he with arrogance and scorn,

1120

She, with a volubility of curse,

A conversancy in the skill of tooth

And claw to make suspicion seem absurd,

Nay, an alacrity to put to proof

At my own throat my own sword, teach me so

To try conclusions better the next time —

Which did the proper service with the mob.

They never tried to put on mask at all:

Two avowed lovers forcibly torn apart,

Upbraid the tyrant as in a playhouse scene,

1130

Ay, and with proper clapping and applause

From the audience that enjoys the bold and free.

I kept still, said to myself, “There’s law!” Anon

We searched the chamber where they passed the night,

Found what confirmed the worst was feared before,

However needless confirmation now —

The witches’ circle intact, charms undisturbed

That raised the spirit and succubus — letters, to- wit,

Love-laden, each the bag o’ the bee that bore

Honey from lily and rose to Cupid’s hive —

1140

Now, poetry in some rank blossom-burst,

Now, prose — “Come here, go there, wait such a while,

“He’s at the villa, now he’s back again:

“We are saved, we are lost, we are lovers all the same!”

All in order, all complete — even to a clue

To the drowsiness that happed so opportune —

No mystery, when I read “Of all things, find

“What wine Sir Jealousy decides to drink —

“Red wine? Because a sleeping-potion, dust

“Dropped into white, discolours wine and shows.”

1150

—“Oh, but we did not write a single word!

“Somebody forged the letters in our name! —”

Both in a breath protested presently.

Aha, Sacchetti again! —“Dame,” quoth the Duke,

“What meaneth this epistle, counsel me,

“I pick from out thy placket and peruse,

“Wherein my page averreth thou art white

“And warm and wonderful ’twixt pap and pap?”

“Sir,” laughed the Lady “’tis a counterfeit!

“Thy page did never stroke but Dian’s breast,

1160

“The pretty hound I nurture for thy sake:

“To lie were losel — by my fay, no more!”

And no more say I too, and spare the Court.

Ah, the Court! yes, I come to the Court’s self;

Such the case, so complete in fact and proof

I laid at the feet of law — there sat my lords,

Here sit they now, so may they ever sit

In easier attitude than suits my haunch!

In this same chamber did I bare my sores

O’ the soul and not the body — shun no shame,

1170

Shrink from no probing of the ulcerous part,

Since confident in Nature — which is God —

That she who, for wise ends, concocts a plague,

Curbs, at the right time, the plague’s virulence too:

Law renovates even Lazarus — cures me!

Cæsar thou seekest? To Cæsar thou shalt go!

Cæsar’s at Rome; to Rome accordingly!

The case was soon decided: both weights, cast

I’ the balance, vibrate, neither kicks the beam,

Here away, there away, this now and now that.

1180

To every one o’ my grievances law gave

Redress, could purblind eye but see the point,

The wife stood a convicted runagate

From house and husband — driven to such a course

By what she somehow took for cruelty,

Oppression and imperilment of life —

Not that such things were, but that so they seemed:

Therefore, the end conceded lawful (since

To save life there’s no risk should stay our leap)

It follows that all means to the lawful end

1190

Are lawful likewise — poison, theft, and flight,

As for the priest’s part, did he meddle or make,

Enough that he too thought life jeopardised;

Concede him then the colour charity

Casts on a doubtful course — if blackish white

Or whitish black, will charity hesitate?

What did he else but act the precept out,

Leave, like a provident shepherd, his safe flock

To follow the single lamb and strayaway?

Best hope so and think so — that the ticklish time

1200

I’ the carriage, the tempting privacy, the last

Somewhat ambiguous accident at the inn,

— All may bear explanation: may? then, must!

The letters — do they so incriminate?

But what if the whole prove a prank o’ the pen,

Flight of the fancy, none of theirs at all,

Bred of the vapours of my brain belike,

Or at worst mere exercise of scholar’s-wit

In the courtly Caponsacchi: verse, convict?

Did not Catullus write less seemly once?

1210

Yet doctus and unblemished he abides.

Wherefore so ready to infer the worst?

Still, I did righteously in bringing doubts

For the law to solve — take the solution now!

“Seeing that the said associates, wife and priest,

“Bear themselves not without some touch of blame

“— Else why the pother, scandal, and outcry

“Which trouble our peace and require chastisement?

“We, for complicity in Pompilia’s flight

“And deviation, and carnal intercourse

1220

“With the same, do set aside and relegate

“The Canon Caponsacchi for three years

“At Civita in the neighbourhood of Rome:

“And we consign Pompilia to the care

“Of a certain Sisterhood of penitents

“I’ the city’s self, expert to deal with such.”

Word for word, there’s your judgment! Read it, lords,

Re- utter your deliberate penalty

For the crime yourselves establish! Your award —

Who chop a man’s right- hand off at the wrist

1230

For tracing with forefinger words in wine

O’ the table of a drinking-booth that bear

Interpretation as they mocked the Church!

— Who brand a woman black between the breasts

For sinning by connection with a Jew:

While for the Jew’s self — pudency be dumb!

You mete out punishment such and such, yet so

Punish the adultery of wife and priest!

Take note of that, before the Molinists do,

And read me right the riddle, since right must be!

1240

While I stood rapt away with wonderment,

Voices broke in upon my mood and muse.

“Do you sleep?” began the friends at either ear,

“The case is settled — you willed it should be so —

“None of our counsel, always recollect!

“With law’s award, budge! Back into your place!

“Your betters shall arrange the rest for you.

“We’ll enter a new action, claim divorce:

“Your marriage was a cheat themselves allow:

“You erred i’ the person — might have married thus

1250

“Your sister or your daughter unaware.

“We’ll gain you, that way, liberty at least,

“Sure of so much by law’s own showing. Up

“And off with you and your unluckiness —

“Leave us to bury the blunder, sweep things smooth!”

I was in humble frame of mind, be sure!

I bowed, betook me to my place again.

Station by station I retraced the road,

Touched at this hostel, passed this post-house by,

Where, fresh-remembered yet, the fugitives

1260

Had risen to the heroic stature: still —

“That was the bench they sat on — there’s the board

“They took the meal at — yonder garden-ground

“They leaned across the gate of,”— ever a word

O’ the Helen and the Paris, with “Ha! you’re he,

“The . . . much-commiserated husband?” Step

By step, across the pelting, did I reach

Arezzo, underwent the archway’s grin,

Traversed the length of sarcasm in the street,

Found myself in my horrible house once more,

1270

And after a colloquy . . . no word assists!

With the mother and the brothers, stiffened me

Strait out from head to foot as dead man does,

And, thus prepared for life as he for hell,

Marched to the public Square and met the world.

Apologise for the pincers, palliate screws?

Ply me with such toy-trifles, I entreat!

Trust who has tried both sulphur and sops-in-wine!

I played the man as I best might, bade friends

Put non-essentials by and face the fact.

1280

“What need to hang myself as you advise?

“The paramour is banished — the ocean’s width,

“Or the suburb’s length — to Ultima Thule, say,

“Or Proxima Civitas, what’s the odds of name

“And place? He’s banished, and the fact’s the thing.

“Why should law banish innocence an inch?

“Here’s guilt then, what else do I care to know?

“The adulteress lies imprisoned — whether in a well

“With bricks above and a snake for company,

“Or tied by a garter to a bed-post — much

1290

“I mind what’s little — least’s enough and to spare!

“The little fillip on the coward’s cheek

“Serves as though crab-tree cudgel broke his pate.

“Law has pronounced there’s punishment, less or more:

“And I take note o’ the fact and use it thus —

“For the first flaw in the original bond,

“I claim release. My contract was to wed

“The daughter of Pietro and Violante. Both

“Protest they never had a child at all.

“Then I have never made a contract: good!

1300

“Cancel me quick the thing pretended one.

“I shall be free. What matter if hurried over

“The harbour-boom by a great favouring tide,

“Or the last of a spent ripple that lifts and leaves?

“The Abate is about it. Laugh who wins!

“You shall not laugh me out of faith in law!

“I listen, through all your noise, to Rome!”

        Rome spoke.

In three months letters thence admonished me

“Your plan for the divorce is all mistake.

1310

“It would hold, now, had you, taking thought to wed

“Rachel of the blue eye and golden hair,

“Found swarth-skinned Leah cumber couch next day:

“But Rachel, blue-eyed golden-haired aright,

“Proving to be only Laban’s child, not Lot’s,

“Remains yours all the same for ever more.

“No whit to the purpose is your plea: you err

“I’ the person and the quality — nowise

“In the individual — that’s the case in point!

“You go to the ground — are met by a cross-suit

1320

“For separation, of the Rachel here,

“From bed and board — she is the injured one,

“You did the wrong and have to answer it.

“As for the circumstance of imprisonment

“And colour it lends to this your new attack,

“Never fear, that point is considered too!

“The durance is already at an end;

“The convent-quiet preyed upon her health,

“She is transferred now to her parents’ house

“— No-parents, when that cheats and plunders you,

1330

“But parentage again confessed in full,

“When such confession pricks and plagues you more —

“As now — for, this their house is not the house

“In Via Vittoria wherein neighbours’ watch

“Might incommode the freedom of your wife,

“But a certain villa smothered up in vines

“At the town’s edge by the gate i’ the Pauline way,

“Out of eye-reach, out of ear-shot, little and lone,

“Whither a friend — at Civita, we hope,

“A good half-dozen-hours’ ride off — might, some eve,

1340

“Betake himself, and whence ride back, some morn,

“Nobody the wiser: but be that as it may,

“Do not afflict your brains with trifles now.

“You have still three suits to manage, all and each

“Ruinous truly should the event play false.

“It is indeed the likelier so to do,

“That brother Paul, your single prop and stay,

“After a vain attempt to bring the Pope

“To set aside procedures, sit himself

“And summarily use prerogative,

1350

“Afford us the infallible finger’s tact

“To disentwine your tangle of affairs,

“Paul — finding it moreover past his strength

“To stem the irruption, bear Rome’s ridicule

“Of . . . since friends must speak . . . to be round with you . . .

“Of the old outwitted husband, wronged and wroth,

“Pitted against a brace of juveniles —

“A brisk priest who is versed in Ovid’s art

“More than his Summa, and a gamesome wife

“Able to act Corinna without book,

1360

“Beside the waggish parents who played dupes

“To dupe the duper —(and truly divers scenes

“Of the Arezzo palace, tickle rib

“And tease eye till the tears come, so we laugh;

“Nor wants the shock at the inn its comic force,

“And then the letters and poetry — merum sal!)

“— Paul, finally, in such a state of things,

“After a brief temptation to go jump

“And join the fishes in the Tiber, drowns

“Sorrow another and a wiser way:

1370

“House and goods, he has sold all off, is gone,

“Leaves Rome — whether for France or Spain, who knows?

“Or Briton almost divided from our orb.

“You have lost him anyhow.”

        Now — I see my lords

Shift in their seat — would I could do the same!

They probably please expect my bile was moved

To purpose, nor much blame me: now, they judge,

The fiery titillation urged my flesh

Break through the bonds. By your pardon, no, sweet Sirs!

1380

I got such missives in the public place;

When I sought home — with such news, mounted stair

And sat at last in the sombre gallery,

(’Twas Autumn, the old mother in bed betimes,

Having to bear that cold, the finer frame

Of her daughter-in-law had found intolerable —

The brother, walking misery away

O’ the mountain-side with dog and gun belike)

As I supped, ate the coarse bread, drank the wine

Weak once, now acrid with the toad’s-head-squeeze,

1390

My wife’s bestowment — I broke silence thus:

“Let me, a man, manfully meet the fact,

“Confront the worst o’ the truth, end, and have peace!

“I am irremediably beaten here —

“The gross illiterate vulgar couple — bah!

“Why, they have measured forces, mastered mine,

“Made me their spoil and prey from first to last.

“They have got my name — ’tis nailed now fast to theirs,

“The child or changeling is anyway my wife;

“Point by point as they plan they execute,

1400

“They gain all, and I lose all — even to the lure

“That led to loss — they have the wealth again

“They hazarded awhile to hook me with,

“Have caught the fish and find the bait entire:

“They even have their child or changeling back

“To trade with, turn to account a second time.

“The brother, presumably might tell a tale

“Or give a warning — he, too, flies the field,

“And with him vanish help and hope of help.

“They have caught me in the cavern where I fell,

1410

“Covered my loudest cry for human aid

“With this enormous paving-stone of shame.

“Well, are we demigods or merely clay?

“Is success still attendant on desert?

“Is this, we live on, heaven and the final state,

“Or earth which means probation to the end?

“Why claim escape from man’s predestined lot

“Of being beaten and baffled? — God’s decree,

“In which I, bowing bruised head, acquiesce.

“One of us Franceschini fell long since

1420

“I’ the Holy Land, betrayed, tradition runs,

“To Paynims by the feigning of a girl

“He rushed to free from ravisher, and found

“Lay safe enough with friends in ambuscade

“Who flayed him while she clapped her hands and laughed:

“Let me end, falling by a like device.

“It will not be so hard. I am the last

“O’ my line which will not suffer any more.

“I have attained to my full fifty years,

“(About the average of us all, ’tis said,

1430

“Though it seems longer to the unlucky man)

“— Lived through my share of life; let all end here,

“Me and the house and grief and shame at once.

“Friends my informants — I can bear your blow!”

And I believe ’twas in no unmeet match

For the stoic’s mood, with something like a smile,

That, when morose December roused me next,

I took into my hand, broke seal to read

The new epistle from Rome. “All to no use!

“Whate’er the turn next injury take,” smiled I,

1440

“Here’s one has chosen his part and knows his cue.

“I am done with, dead now; strike away, good friends!

“Are the three suits decided in a trice?

“Against me — there’s no question! How does it go?

“Is the parentage of my wife demonstrated

“Infamous to her wish? Parades she now

“Loosed of the cincture that so irked the loin?

“Is the last penny extracted from my purse

“To mulct me for demanding the first pound

“Was promised in return for value paid?

1450

“Has the priest, with nobody to court beside,

“Courted the Muse in exile, hitched my hap

“Into a rattling ballad-rhyme which, bawled

“At tavern-doors, wakes rapture everywhere,

“And helps cheap wine down throat this Christmas time,

“Beating the bagpipes? Any or all of these!

“As well, good friends, you cursed my palace here

“To its old cold stone face — stuck your cap for crest

“Over the shield that’s extant in the Square —

“Or spat on the statue’s cheek, the impatient world

1460

“Sees cumber tomb-top in our family church:

“Let him creep under covert as I shall do,

“Half below-ground already indeed. Good-bye!

“My brothers are priests, and childless so; that’s well —

“And, thank God most for this, no child leave I—

“None after me to bear till his heart break

“The being a Franceschini and my son!”

“Nay,” said the letter, “but you have just that!

“A babe, your veritable son and heir —

“Lawful — ’tis only eight months since your wife

1470

“Left you — so, son and heir, your babe was born

“Last Wednesday in the villa — you see the cause

“For quitting Convent without beat of drum,

“Stealing a hurried march to this retreat

“That’s not so savage as the Sisterhood

“To slips and stumbles: Pietro’s heart is soft,

“Violante leans to pity’s side — the pair

“Ushered you into life a bouncing boy:

“And he’s already hidden away and safe

“From any claim on him you mean to make —

1480

“They need him for themselves — don’t fear, they know

“The use o’ the bantling — the nerve thus laid bare

“To nip at, new and nice, with finger-nail!”

Then I rose up like fire, and fire-like roared.

What, all is only beginning not ending now?

The worm which wormed its way from skin through flesh

To the bone and there lay biting, did its best,

What, it goes on to scrape at the bone’s self,

Will wind to inmost marrow and madden me?

There’s to be yet my representative,

1490

Another of the name shall keep displayed

The flag with the ordure on it, brandish still

The broken sword has served to stir a jakes?

Who will he be, how will you call the man?

A Franceschini — when who cut my purse,

Filched my name, hemmed me round, hustled me hard

As rogues at a fair some fool they strip i’ the midst,

When these count gains, vaunt pillage presently:—

But a Caponsacchi, oh, be very sure!

When what demands its tribute of applause

1500

Is the cunning and impudence o’ the pair of cheats,

The lies and lust o’ the mother, and the brave

Bold carriage of the priest, worthily crowned

By a witness to his feat i’ the following age —

And how this three-fold cord could hook and fetch

And land leviathan that king of pride!

Or say, by some mad miracle of chance,

Is he indeed my flesh and blood, this babe?

Was it because fate forged a link at last

Betwixt my wife and me, and both alike

1510

Found we had henceforth some one thing to love,

Was it when she could damn my soul indeed

She unlatched door, let all the devils o’ the dark

Dance in on me to cover her escape?

Why then, the surplusage of disgrace, the spilth

Over and above the measure of infamy,

Failing to take effect on my coarse flesh

Seasoned with scorn now, saturate with shame —

Is saved to instil on and corrode the brow,

The baby-softness of my first-born child —

1520

The child I had died to see though in a dream,

The child I was bid strike out for, beat the wave

And baffle the tide of troubles where I swam,

So I might touch shore, lay down life at last

At the feet so dim and distant and divine

Of the apparition, as ’twere Mary’s babe

Had held, through night and storm, the torch aloft —

Born now in very deed to bear this brand

On forehead and curse me who could not save!

Rather be the town-talk true, Square’s jest, street’s jeer

1530

True, my own inmost heart’s confession true,

And he’s the priest’s bastard and none of mine!

Ay, there was cause for flight, swift flight and sure!

The husband gets unruly, breaks all bounds

When he encounters some familiar face,

Fashion of feature, brow and eyes and lips

Where he least looked to find them — time to fly!

This bastard then, a nest for him is made,

As the manner is of vermin, in my flesh —

Shall I let the filthy pest buzz, flap, and sting,

1540

Busy at my vitals and, nor hand nor foot

Lift, but let be, lie still and rot resigned?

No, I appeal to God — what says Himself,

How lessons Nature when I look to learn?

Why, that I am alive, am still a man

With brain and heart and tongue and right-hand too —

Nay, even with friends, in such a cause as this,

To right me if I fail to take my right.

No more of law; a voice beyond the law

Enters my heart, Quis est pro Domino?

1550

Myself, in my own Vittiano, told the tale

To my own serving-people summoned there:

Told the first half of it, scarce heard to end

By judges who got done with judgment quick

And clamoured to go execute her ’hest —

Who cried “Not one of us that dig your soil

“And dress your vineyard, prune your olive-trees,

“But would have brained the man debauched our wife,

“And staked the wife whose lust allured the man,

“And paunched the Duke, had it been possible,

1560

“Who ruled the land, yet barred us such revenge!”

I fixed on the first whose eyes caught mine, some four,

Resolute youngsters with the heart still fresh,

Filled my purse with the residue o’ the coin

Uncaught-up by my wife whom haste made blind,

Donned the first rough and rural garb I found,

Took whatsoever weapon came to hand,

And out we flung and on we ran or reeled

Romeward, I have no memory of our way,

Only that, when at intervals the cloud

1570

Of horror about me opened to let in life,

I listened to some song in the ear, some snatch

Of a legend, relic of religion, stray

Fragment of record very strong and old

Of the first conscience, the anterior right,

The God’s-gift to mankind, impulse to quench

The antagonistic spark of hell and tread

Satan and all his malice into dust,

Declare to the world the one law, right is right.

Then the cloud re-encompassed me, and so

1580

I found myself, as on the wings of winds,

Arrived: I was at Rome on Christmas Eve.

Festive bells — everywhere the Feast o’ the Babe,

Joy upon earth, peace and good will to man!

I am baptised. I started and let drop

The dagger. “Where is it, His promised peace?”

Nine days o’ the Birth-Feast did I pause and pray

To enter into no temptation more.

I bore the hateful house, my brother’s once,

Deserted — let the ghost of social joy

1590

Mock and make mouths at me from empty room

And idle door that missed the master’s step —

Bore the frank wonder of incredulous eyes,

As my own people watched without a word,

Waited, from where they huddled round the hearth

Black like all else, that nod so slow to come —

I stopped my ears even to the inner call

Of the dread duty, heard only the song

“Peace upon earth,” saw nothing but the face

O’ the Holy Infant and the halo there

1600

Able to cover yet another face

Behind it, Satan’s which I else should see.

But, day by day, joy waned and withered off:

The Babe’s face, premature with peak and pine,

Sank into wrinkled ruinous old age,

Suffering and death, then mist-like disappeared,

And showed only the Cross at end of all,

Left nothing more to interpose ’twixt me

And the dread duty — for the angel’s song,

“Peace upon earth,” louder and louder pealed

1610

“O Lord, how long, how long be unavenged?”

On the ninth day, this grew too much for man.

I started up —“Some end must be!” At once,

Silence: then, scratching like a death-watch-tick,

Slowly within my brain was syllabled,

“One more concession, one decisive way

“And but one, to determine thee the truth —

“This way, in fine, I whisper in thy ear:

“Now doubt, anon decide, thereupon act!”

“That is a way, thou whisperest in my ear!

1620

“I doubt, I will decide, then act,” said I—

Then beckoned my companions: “Time is come!”

And so, all yet uncertain save the will

To do right, and the daring aught save leave

Right undone, I did find myself at last

I’ the dark before the villa with my friends,

And made the experiment, the final test,

Ultimate chance that ever was to be

For the wretchedness inside. I knocked — pronounced

The name, the predetermined touch for truth,

1630

“What welcome for the wanderer? Open straight —”

To the friend, physician, friar upon his rounds,

Traveller belated, beggar lame and blind? —

No, but —“to Caponsacchi!” And the door

Opened.

        And then — why, even then, I think,

I’ the minute that confirmed my worst of fears,

Surely — I pray God that I think aright! —

Had but Pompilia’s self, the tender thing

Who once was good and pure, was once my lamb

1640

And lay in my bosom, had the well-known shape

Fronted me in the door-way — stood there faint

With the recent pang, perhaps, of giving birth

To what might, though by miracle, seem my child —

Nay more, I will say, had even the aged fool

Pietro, the dotard, in whom folly and age

Wrought, more than enmity or malevolence,

To practise and conspire against my peace —

Had either of these but opened, I had paused.

But it was she the hag, she that brought hell

1650

For a dowry with her to her husband’s house,

She the mock-mother, she that made the match

And married me to perdition, spring and source

O’ the fire inside me that boiled up from heart

To brain and hailed the Fury gave it birth —

Violante Comparini, she it was,

With the old grin amid the wrinkles yet,

Opened: as if in turning from the Cross,

With trust to keep the sight and save my soul,

I had stumbled, first thing, on the serpent’s head

1660

Coiled with a leer at foot of it.

        There was the end!

Then was I rapt away by the impluse, one

Immeasurable everlasting wave of a need

To abolish that detested life. ’Twas done:

You know the rest and how the folds o’ the thing,

Twisting for help, involved the other two

More or less serpent-like: how I was mad,

Blind, stamped on all, the earth-worms with the asp,

And ended so.

1670

        You came on me that night,

Your officers of justice — caught the crime

In the first natural frenzy of remorse?

Twenty miles off, sound sleeping as a child

On a cloak i’ the straw which promised shelter first,

With the bloody arms beside me — was it not so?

Wherefore not? Why, how else should I be found?

I was my own self, had my sense again,

My soul safe from the serpents. I could sleep:

Indeed and, dear my lords, I shall sleep now,

1680

Spite of my shoulder, in five minutes’ space,

When you dismiss me, having truth enough!

It is but a few days are passed, I find,

Since this adventure. Do you tell me, four?

Then the dead are scarce quiet where they lie,

Old Pietro, old Violante, side by side

At the church Lorenzo — oh, they know it well!

So do I. But my wife is still alive,

Has breath enough to tell her story yet,

Her way, which is not mine, no doubt at all.

1690

And Caponsacchi, you have summoned him —

Was he so far to send for? Not at hand?

I thought some few o’ the stabs were in his heart,

Or had not been so lavish — less had served.

Well, he too tells his story — florid prose

As smooth as mine is rough. You see, my lords,

There will be a lying intoxicating smoke

Born of the blood — confusion probably —

For lies breed lies — but all that rests with you!

The trial is no concern of mine; with me

1700

The main of the care is over: I at least

Recognise who took that huge burthen off,

Let me begin to live again. I did

God’s bidding and man’s duty, so, breathe free;

Look you to the rest! I heard Himself prescribe,

That great Physician, and dared lance the core

Of the bad ulcer; and the rage abates,

I am myself and whole now: I prove cured

By the eyes that see, the ears that hear again,

The limbs that have relearned their youthful play,

1710

The healthy taste of food and feel of clothes

And taking to our common life once more,

All that now urges my defence from death.

The willingness to live, what means it else?

Before — but let the very action speak!

Judge for yourselves, what life seemed worth to me

Who, not by proxy but in person, pitched

Head-foremost into danger as a fool

That never cares if he can swim or no —

So he but find the bottom, braves the brook.

1720

No man omits precaution, quite neglects

Secresy, safety, schemes not how retreat,

Having schemed he might advance. Did I so scheme?

Why, with a warrant which ’tis ask and have,

With horse thereby made mine without a word,

I had gained the frontier and slept safe that night.

Then, my companions — call them what you please,

Slave or stipendiary — what need of one

To me whose right-hand did its owner’s work?

Hire an assassin yet expose yourself?

1730

As well buy glove and then thrust naked hand

I’ the thorn-bush. No, the wise man stays at home,

Sends only agents out, with pay to earn:

At home, when they come back — he straight discards

Or else disowns. Why use such tools at all

When a man’s foes are of his house, like mine,

Sit at his board, sleep in his bed? Why noise,

When there’s the acquetta and the silent way?

Clearly my life was valueless.

        But now

1740

Health is returned, and sanity of soul

Nowise indifferent to the body’s harm.

I find the instinct bids me save my life;

My wits, too, rally round me; I pick up

And use the arms that strewed the ground before,

Unnoticed or spurned aside: I take my stand,

Make no defence. God shall not lose a life

May do Him further service, while I speak

And you hear, you my judges and last hope!

You are the law: ’tis to the law I look.

1750

I began life by hanging to the law,

To the law it is I hang till life shall end.

My brother made appeal to the Pope, ’tis true,

To stay proceedings, judge my cause himself

Nor trouble law — some fondness of conceit

That rectitude, sagacity sufficed

The investigator in a case like mine,

Dispensed with the machine of law. The Pope

Knew better, set aside my brother’s plea

And put me back to law — referred the cause

1760

Ad judices meos, — doubtlessly did well.

Here, then, I clutch my judges — I claim law —

Cry, by the higher law whereof your law

O’ the land is humbly representative —

Cry, on what point is it, where either accuse,

I fail to furnish you defence? I stand

Acquitted, actually or virtually,

By every intermediate kind of court

That takes account of right or wrong in man,

Each unit in the series that begins

1770

With God’s throne, ends with the tribunal here.

God breathes, not speaks, his verdicts, felt not heard,

Passed on successively to each court I call

Man’s conscience, custom, manners, all that make

More and more effort to promulgate, mark

God’s verdict in determinable words,

Till last come human jurists — solidify

Fluid result — what’s fixable lies forged,

Statute — the residue escapes in fume,

Yet hangs aloft, a cloud, as palpable

1780

To the finer sense as word the legist welds.

Justinian’s Pandects only make precise

What simply sparkled in men’s eyes before,

Twitched in their brow or quivered on their lip,

Waited the speech they called but would not come,

These courts then, whose decree your own confirms —

Take my whole life, not this last act alone,

Look on it by the light reflected thence!

What has Society to charge me with?

Come, unreservedly — favour nor fear —

1790

I am Guido Franceschini, am I not?

You know the courses I was free to take?

I took just that which let me serve the Church,

I gave it all my labour in body and soul

Till these broke down i’ the service. “Specify?”

Well, my last patron was a Cardinal.

I left him unconvicted of a fault —

Was even helped, by way of gratitude,

Into the new life that I left him for,

This very misery of the marriage — he

1800

Made it, kind soul, so far as in him lay —

Signed the deed where you yet may see his name.

He is gone to his reward — dead, being my friend

Who could have helped here also — that, of course!

So far, there’s my acquittal, I suppose.

Then comes the marriage itself — no question, lords,

Of the entire validity of that!

In the extremity of distress, ’tis true,

For after-reasons, furnished abundantly,

I wished the thing invalid, went to you

1810

Only some months since, set you duly forth

My wrong and prayed your remedy, that a cheat

Should not have force to cheat my whole life long.

“Annul a marriage? ’Tis impossible!

“Though ring about your neck be brass not gold,

“Needs must it clasp, gangrene you all the same!”

Well, let me have the benefit, just so far,

O’ the fact announced — my wife then is my wife,

I have allowance for a husband’s right.

I am charged with passing right’s due bound — such acts

1820

As I thought just, my wife called cruelty,

Complained of in due form — convoked no court

Of common gossipry, but took her wrongs —

And not once, but so long as patience served —

To the town’s top, jurisdiction’s pride of place,

To the Archbishop and the Governor.

These heard her charge with my reply, and found

That futile, this sufficient: they dismissed

The hysteric querulous rebel, and confirmed

Authority in its wholesome exercise,

1830

They, with directest access to the facts.

“— Ay, for it was their friendship favoured you,

“Hereditary alliance against a breach

“I’ the social order: prejudice for the name

“Of Franceschini!”— So I hear it said:

But not here. You, lords, never will you say

“Such is the nullity of grace and truth,

“Such the corruption of the faith, such lapse

“Of law, such warrant have the Molinists

“For daring reprehend us as they do —

1840

“That we pronounce it just a common case,

“Two dignitaries, each in his degree

“First, foremost, this the spiritual head, and that

“The secular arm o’ the body politic,

“Should, for mere wrongs’ love and injustice’ sake,

“Side with, aid and abet in cruelty

“This broken beggarly noble — bribed perhaps

“By his watered wine and mouldy crust of bread —

“Rather than that sweet tremulous flower-like wife

“Who kissed their hands and curled about their feet

1850

“Looking the irresistible loveliness

“In tears that takes man captive, turns” . . . enough!

Do you blast your predecessors? What forbids

Posterity to trebly blast yourselves

Who set the example and instruct their tongue?

You dreaded the crowd, succumbed to the popular cry,

Or else, would nowise seem defer thereto

And yield to public clamour though i’the right!

You riddled your eye of my unseemliness,

The noble whose misfortune wearied you —

1860

Or, what’s more probable, made common cause

With the cleric section, punished in myself

Maladroit uncomplaisant laity,

Defective in behaviour to a priest

Who claimed the customary partnership

I’ the house and the wife. Lords, any lie will serve!

Look to it — or allow me freed so far!

Then I proceed a step, come with clean hands

Thus far, re-tell the tale told eight months since.

The wife, you allow so far, I have not wronged,

1870

Has fled my roof, plundered me and decamped

In company with the priest her paramour:

And I gave chase, came up with, caught the two

At the wayside inn where both had spent the night,

Found them in flagrant fault, and found as well,

By documents with name and plan and date,

The fault was furtive then that’s flagrant now,

Their intercourse a long established crime.

I did not take the license law’s self gives

To slay both criminals o’ the spot at the time,

1880

But held my hand — preferred play prodigy

Of patience which the world calls cowardice,

Rather than seem anticipate the law

And cast discredit on its organs — you —

So, to your bar I brought both criminals,

And made my statement: heard their counter-charge

Nay — their corroboration of my tale,

Nowise disputing its allegements, not

I’ the main, not more than nature’s decency

Compels men to keep silence in this kind —

1890

Only contending that the deeds avowed

Would take another colour and bear excuse.

You were to judge between us; so you did.

You disregard the excuse, you breathe away

The colour of innocence and leave guilt black,

“Guilty” is the decision of the court,

And that I stand in consequence untouched,

One white intergity from head to heel.

Not guilty? Why then did you punish them?

True, punishment has been inadequate —

1900

’Tis not I only, not my friends that joke,

My foes that jeer, who echo “inadequate”—

For, by a chance that comes to help for once,

The same case simultaneously was judged

At Arezzo, in the province of the Court

Where the crime had beginning but not end.

They then, deciding on but half o’ the crime,

The effraction, robbery — features of the fault

I never cared to dwell upon at Rome —

What was it they adjudged as penalty

1910

To Pompilia — the one criminal o’ the pair

Amenable to their judgment, not the priest

Who is Rome’s? Why, just imprisonment for life

I’ the Stinche. There was Tuscany’s award

To a wife that robs her husband: you at Rome

Having to deal with adultery in a wife

And, in a priest, breach of the priestly vow,

Give gentle sequestration for a month

In a manageable Convent, then release,

You call imprisonment, in the very house

1920

O’ the very couple, the sole aim and end

Of the culprits’ crime was — there to reach and rest

And there take solace and defy me: well —

This difference ’twixt their penalty and yours

Is immaterial: make your penalty less —

Merely that she should henceforth wear black gloves

And white fan, she who wore the opposite —

Why, all the same the fact o’ the thing subsists.

Reconcile to your conscience as you may,

Be it on your own heads, you pronounced one half

1930

O’ the penalty for heinousness like hers

And his, that’s for a fault at Carnival

Of comfit-pelting past discretion’s law,

Or accident to handkerchief in Lent

Which falls perversely as a lady kneels

Abruptly, and but half conceals her neck!

I acquiesce for my part — punished, though

By a pin-point scratch, means guilty: guilty means

— What have I been but innocent hitherto?

Anyhow, here the offence, being punished, ends.

1940

Ends? — for you deemed so, did you not, sweet lords?

That was throughout the veritable aim

O’ the sentence light or heavy — to redress

Recognised wrong? You righted me, I think?

Well then — what if I, at this last of all,

Demonstrate you, as my whole pleading proves,

No particle of wrong received thereby

One atom of right? — that cure grew worse disease?

That in the process you call “justice done”

All along you have nipped away just inch

1950

By inch the creeping climbing length of plague

Breaking my tree of life from root to branch,

And left me, after all and every act

Of your interference — lightened of what load?

At liberty wherein? Mere words and wind!

“Now I was saved, now I should feel no more

“The hot breath, find a respite from fixed eye

“And vibrant tongue!” Why, scarce your back was turned,

There was the reptile, that feigned death at first,

Renewing its detested spire and spire

1960

Around me, rising to such heights of hate

That, so far from mere purpose now to crush

And coil itself on the remains of me,

Body and mind, and there flesh fang content.

Its aim is now to evoke life from death,

Make me anew, satisfy in my son

The hunger I may feed but never sate,

Tormented on to perpetuity —

My son, whom, dead, I shall know, understand,

Feel, hear, see, never more escape the sight

1970

In heaven that’s turned to hell, or hell returned

(So, rather, say) to this same earth again —

Moulded into the image and made one,

Fashioned of soul as featured like in face,

First taught to laugh and lisp and stand and go

By that thief, poisoner, and adulteress

I call Pompilia, he calls . . . sacred name,

Be unpronounced, be unpolluted here!

And last led up to the glory and prize of hate

By his . . . foster-father, Caponsacchi’s self,

1980

The perjured priest, pink of conspirators,

Tricksters and knaves, yet polished, superfine,

Manhood to model adolescence by . . .

Lords, look on me, declare — when, what I show,

Is nothing more nor less than what you deemed

And doled me out for justice — what did you say?

For reparation, restitution and more —

Will you not thank, praise, bid me to your breasts

For having done the thing you thought to do,

And thoroughly trampled out sin’s life at last?

I have heightened phrase to make your soft speech serve,

1991

Doubled the blow you but essayed to strike,

Carried into effect your mandate here

That else had fallen to ground: mere duty done,

Oversight of the master just supplied

By zeal i’ the servant: I, being used to serve,

Have simply . . . what is it they charge me with?

Blackened again, made legible once more

Your own decree, not permanently writ,

Rightly conceived but all too faintly traced —

2000

It reads efficient, now, comminatory,

A terror to the wicked, answers so

The mood o’ the magistrate, the mind of law.

Absolve, then, me, law’s mere executant!

Protect your own defender — save me, Sirs!

Give me my life, give me my liberty,

My good name and my civic rights again!

It would be too fond, too complacent play

Into the hands o’ the devil, should we lose

The game here, I for God: a soldier-bee

2010

That yields his life, exenterate with the stroke

O’ the sting that saves the hive. I need that life,

Oh, never fear! I’ll find life plenty use

Though it should last five years more, aches and all!

For, first thing, there’s the mother’s age to help —

Let her come break her heart upon my breast,

Not on the blank stone of my nameless tomb!

The fugitive brother has to be bidden back

To the old routine, repugnant to the tread,

Of daily suit and service to the Church —

2020

Thro’ gibe and jest, those stones that Shimei flung!

Ay, and the spirit-broken youth at home,

The awe- struck altar-ministrant, shall make

Amends for faith now palsied at the source,

Shall see truth yet triumphant, justice yet

A victor in the battle of this world!

Give me — for last, best gift, my son again,

Whom law makes mine — I take him at your word,

Mine be he, by miraculous mercy, lords!

Let me lift up his youth and innocence

2030

To purify my palace, room by room

Purged of the memories, lend from his bright brow

Light to the old proud paladin my sire

Shrunk now for shame into the darkest shade

O’ the tapestry, showed him once and shrouds him now!

Then may we — strong from that rekindled smile —

Go forward, face new times, the better day.

And when, in times made better through your brave

Decision now — might but Utopia be! —

Rome rife with honest women and strong men,

2040

Manners reformed, old habits back once more,

Customs that recognise the standard worth —

The wholesome household rule in force again,

Husbands once more God’s representative,

Wives like the typical Spouse once more, and Priests

No longer men of Belial, with no aim

At leading silly women captive, but

Of rising to such duties as yours now —

Then will I set my son at my right hand

And tell his father’s story to this point,

2050

Adding “The task seemed superhuman, still

“I dared and did it, trusting God and law:

“And they approved of me: give praise to both!”

And if, for answer, he shall stoop to kiss

My hand, and peradventure start thereat —

I engage to smile “That was an accident

“I’ the necessary process — just a trip

“O’ the torture-irons in their search for truth —

“Hardly misfortune, and no fault at all.”

Giuseppe Caponsacchi

Answer you, Sirs? Do I understand aright?

Have patience! In this sudden smoke from hell —

So things disguise themselves — I cannot see

My own hand held thus broad before my face

And know it again. Answer you? Then that means

Tell over twice what I, the first time, told

Six months ago: ’twas here, I do believe,

Fronting you same three in this very room,

I stood and told you: yet now no one laughs,

10

Who then . . . nay, dear my lords, but laugh you did,

As good as laugh, what in a judge we style

Laughter — no levity, nothing indecorous, lords!

Only — I think I apprehend the mood:

There was the blameless shrug, permissible smirk,

The pen’s pretence at play with the pursed mouth,

The titter stifled in the hollow palm

Which rubbed the eyebrow and caressed the nose,

When I first told my tale: they meant, you know,

“The sly one, all this we are bound believe!

20

“Well, he can say no other than what he says.

“We have been young, too — come, there’s greater guilt!

“Let him but decently disembroil himself,

“Scramble from out the scrape nor move the mud —

“We solid ones may risk a finger-stretch!”

And now you sit as grave, stare as aghast

As if I were a phantom: now ’tis —“Friend,

“Collect yourself!”— no laughing matter more —

“Counsel the Court in this extremity,

“Tell us again!”— tell that, for telling which,

30

I got the jocular piece of punishment,

Was sent to lounge a little in the place

Whence now of a sudden here you summon me

To take the intelligence from just — your lips

You, Judge Tommati, who then tittered most —

That she I helped eight months since to escape

Her husband, is retaken by the same,

Three days ago, if I have seized your sense —

(I being disallowed to interfere,

Meddle or make in a matter none of mine,

40

For you and law were guardians quite enough

O’ the innocent, without a pert priest’s help)—

And that he has butchered her accordingly,

As she foretold and as myself believed —

And, so foretelling and believing so,

We were punished, both of us, the merry way:

Therefore, tell once again the tale! For what?

Pompilia is only dying while I speak!

Why does the mirth hang fire and miss the smile?

My masters, there’s an old book, you should con

50

For strange adventures, applicable yet,

’Tis stuffed with. Do you know that there was once

This thing: a multitude of worthy folk

Took recreation, watched a certain group

Of soldiery intent upon a game —

How first they wrangled, but soon fell to play,

Threw dice — the best diversion in the world.

A word in your ear — they are now casting lots,

Ay, with that gesture quaint and cry uncouth,

For the coat of One murdered an hour ago!

60

I am a priest — talk of what I have learned.

Pompilia is bleeding out her life belike,

Gasping away the latest breath of all,

This minute, while I talk — not while you laugh?

Yet, being sobered now, what is it you ask

By way of explanation? There’s the fact!

It seems to fill the universe with sight

And sound — from the four corners of this earth

Tells itself over, to my sense at least.

But you may want it lower set i’ the scale —

70

Too vast, too close it clangs in the ear, perhaps;

You’d stand back just to comprehend it more:

Well then, let me, the hollow rock, condense

The voice o’ the sea and wind, interpret you

The mystery of this murder. God above!

It is too paltry, such a transference

O’ the storm’s roar to the cranny of the stone!

This deed, you saw begin — why does its end

Surprise you? Why should the event enforce

The lesson, we ourselves learned, she and I,

80

From the first o’ the fact, and taught you, all in vain?

This Guido from whose throat you took my grasp,

Was this man to be favoured, now, or feared,

Let do his will, or have his will restrained,

In the relation with Pompilia? — say!

Did any other man need interpose

— Oh, though first comer, though as strange at the work

As fribble must be, coxcomb, fool that’s near

To knave as, say, a priest who fears the world —

Was he bound brave the peril, save the doomed,

90

Or go on, sing his snatch and pluck his flower,

Keep the straight path and let the victim die?

I held so; you decided otherwise,

Saw no such peril, therefore no such need

To stop song, loosen flower, and leave path: Law,

Law was aware and watching, would suffice,

Wanted no priest’s intrusion, palpably

Pretence, too manifest a subterfuge!

Whereupon I, priest, coxcomb, fribble, and fool,

Ensconced me in my corner, thus rebuked,

100

A kind of culprit, over-zealous hound

Kicked for his pains to kennel; I gave place,

To you, and let the law reign paramount:

I left Pompilia to your watch and ward,

And now you point me — there and thus she lies!

Men, for the last time, what do you want with me?

Is it — you acknowledge, as it were, a use,

A profit in employing me? — at length

I may conceivably help the august law?

I am free to break the blow, next hawk that swoops

110

On next dove, nor miss much of good repute?

Or what if this your summons, after all,

Be but the form of mere release, no more,

Which turns the key and lets the captive go?

I have paid enough in person at Civita,

Am free — what more need I concern me with?

Thank you! I am rehabilitated then,

A very reputable priest. But she —

The glory of life, the beauty of the world,

The splendour of heaven,

         . . . well, Sirs, does no one move?

120

Do I speak ambiguously? The glory, I say,

And the beauty, I say, and splendour, still say I,

Who, a priest, trained to live my whole life long

On beauty and splendour, solely at their source,

God — have thus recognised my food in one,

You tell me, is fast dying while we talk,

Pompilia — how does lenity to me,

Remit one death-bed pang to her? Come, smile!

The proper wink at the hot-headed youth

Who lets his soul show, through transparent words,

130

The mundane love that’s sin and scandal too!

You are all struck acquiescent now, it seems:

It seems the oldest, gravest signor here,

Even the redoubtable Tommati, sits

Chop-fallen — understands how law might take

Service like mine, of brain and heart and hand,

In good part. Better late than never, law!

You understand of a sudden, gospel too

Has a claim here, may possibly pronounce

Consistent with my priesthood, worthy Christ,

140

That I endeavoured to save Pompilia?

        Then,

You were wrong, you see: that’s well to see, though late:

That’s all we may expect of man, this side

The grave: his good is — knowing he is bad:

Thus will it be with us when the books ope

And we stand at the bar on judgment-day.

Well then, I have a mind to speak, see cause

To relume the quenched flax by this dreadful light,

Burn my soul out in showing you the truth.

150

I heard, last time I stood here to be judged,

What is priest’s-duty — labour to pluck tares

And weed the corn of Molinism; let me

Make you hear, this time, how, in such a case,

Man, be he in the priesthood or at plough,

Mindful of Christ or marching step by step

With . . . what’s his style, the other potentate

Who bids have courage and keep honour safe,

Nor let minuter admonition teaze?

How he is bound, better or worse, to act.

160

Earth will not end through this misjudgment, no!

For you and the others like you sure to come,

Fresh work is sure to follow — wickedness

That wants withstanding. Many a man of blood,

Many a man of guile will clamour yet,

Bid you redress his grievance — as he clutched

The prey, forsooth a stranger stepped between,

And there’s the good gripe in pure waste! My part

Is done; i’ the doing it, I pass away

Out of the world. I want no more with earth.

170

Let me, in heaven’s name, use the very snuff

O’ the taper in one last spark shall show truth

For a moment, show Pompilia who was true!

Not for her sake, but yours: if she is dead,

Oh, Sirs, she can be loved by none of you

Most or least priestly! Saints, to do us good,

Must be in heaven, I seem to understand:

We never find them saints before, at least.

Be her first prayer then presently for you —

She had done the good to me . . .

180

        What is all this?

There, I was born, have lived, shall die, a fool!

This is a foolish outset:— might with cause

Give colour to the very lie o’ the man,

The murderer — make as if I loved his wife,

In the way he called love. He is the fool there!

Why, had there been in me the touch of taint,

I had picked up so much of knaves’-policy

As hide it, keep one hand pressed on the place

Suspected of a spot would damn us both.

190

Or no, not her! — not even if any of you

Dares think that I, i’ the face of death, her death

That’s in my eyes and ears and brain and heart,

Lie — if he does, let him! I mean to say,

So he stop there, stay thought from smirching her

The snow-white soul that angels fear to take

Untenderly. But, all the same, I know

I too am taintless, and I bare my breast.

You can’t think, men as you are, all of you,

But that, to hear thus suddenly such an end

200

Of such a wonderful white soul, that comes

Of a man and murderer calling the white black,

Must shake me, trouble and disadvantage. Sirs,

Only seventeen!

        Why, good and wise you are!

You might at the beginning stop my mouth:

So, none would be to speak for her, that knew.

I talk impertinently, and you bear,

All the same. This it is to have to do

With honest hearts: they easily may err,

210

But in the main they wish well to the truth.

You are Christians; somehow, no one ever plucked

A rag, even, from the body of the Lord,

To wear and mock with, but, despite himself,

He looked the greater and was the better. Yes,

I shall go on now. Does she need or not

I keep calm? Calm I’ll keep as monk that croons

Transcribing battle, earthquake, famine, plague,

From parchment to his cloister’s chronicle.

Not one word more from the point now!

220

        I begin.

Yes, I am one of your body and a priest.

Also I am a younger son o’ the House

Oldest now, greatest once, in my birth-town

Arezzo, I recognise no equal there —

(I want all arguments, all sorts of arms

That seem to serve — use this for a reason, wait!)

Not therefore thrust into the Church, because

O’ the piece of bread one gets there. We were first

Of Fiesole, that rings still with the fame

230

Of Capo-in- Sacco our progenitor:

When Florence ruined Fiesole, our folk

Migrated to the victor-city, and there

Flourished — our palace and our tower attest,

In the Old Mercato — this was years ago,

Four hundred, full — no, it wants fourteen just.

Our arms are those of Fiesole itself,

The shield quartered with white and red: a branch

Are the Salviati of us, nothing more.

That were good help to the Church? But better still —

240

Not simply for the advantage of my birth

I’ the way of the world, was I proposed for priest;

But because there’s an illustration, late

I’ the day, that’s loved and looked to as a saint

Still in Arezzo, he was bishop of,

Sixty years since: he spent to the last doit

His bishop’s-revenue among the poor,

And used to tend the needy and the sick,

Barefoot, because of his humility.

He it was — when the Granduke Ferdinand

250

Swore he would raze our city, plough the place

And sow it with salt, because we Aretines

Had tied a rope about the neck, to hale

The statue of his father from its base

For hate’s sake — he availed by prayers and tears

To pacify the Duke and save the town.

This was my father’s father’s brother. You see,

For his sake, how it was I had a right

To the self-same office, bishop in the egg,

So, grew i’ the garb and prattled in the school,

260

Was made expect, from infancy almost,

The proper mood o’ the priest; till time ran by

And brought the day when I must read the vows,

Declare the world renounced and undertake

To become priest and leave probation — leap

Over the ledge into the other life,

Having gone trippingly hitherto up to the height

O’er the wan water. Just a vow to read!

I stopped short awe-struck. “How shall holiest flesh

“Engage to keep such vow inviolate,

270

“How much less mine — I know myself too weak,

“Unworthy! Choose a worthier stronger man!”

And the very Bishop smiled and stopped the mouth

In its mid-protestation. “Incapable?

“Qualmish of conscience? Thou ingenuous boy!

“Clear up the clouds and cast thy scruples far!

“I satisfy thee there’s an easier sense

“Wherein to take such vow than suits the first

“Rough rigid reading. Mark what makes all smooth,

“Nay, has been even a solace to myself!

280

“The Jews who needs must, in their synagogue,

“Utter sometimes the holy name of God,

“A thing their superstition boggles at,

“Pronounce aloud the ineffable sacrosanct —

“How does their shrewdness help them? In this wise;

“Another set of sounds they substitute,

“Jumble so consonants and vowels — how

“Should I know? — that there grows from out the old

“Quite a new word that means the very same —

“And o’er the hard place slide they with a smile.

290

“Giuseppe Maria Caponsacchi mine,

“Nobody wants you in these latter days

“To prop the Church by breaking your back-bone —

“As the necessary way was once, we know,

“When Dioclesian flourished and his like;

“That building of the buttress-work was done

“By martyrs and confessors: let it bide,

“Add not a brick, but, where you see a chink,

“Stick in a sprig of ivy or root a rose

“Shall make amends and beautify the pile!

300

“We profit as you were the painfullest

“O’ the martyrs, and you prove yourself a match

“For the cruellest confessor ever was,

“If you march boldly up and take your stand

“Where their blood soaks, their bones yet strew the soil,

“And cry ‘Take notice, I the young and free

“ ‘And well-to-do i’ the world, thus leave the world,

“ ‘Cast in my lot thus with no gay young world

“ ‘But the grand old Church: she tempts me of the two!’

“Renounce the world? Nay, keep and give it us!

310

“Let us have you, and boast of what you bring.

“We want the pick o’ the earth to practise with,

“Not its offscouring, halt and deaf and blind

“In soul and body. There’s a rubble-stone

“Unfit for the front o’ the building, stuff to stow

“In a gap behind and keep us weather- tight;

“There’s porphyry for the prominent place. Good lack!

“Saint Paul has had enough and to spare, I trow,

“Of ragged run-away Onesimus:

“He wants the right-hand with the signet-ring

320

“Of King Agrippa, now, to shake and use.

“I have a heavy scholar cloistered up

“Close under lock and key, kept at his task

“Of letting Fenelon know the fool he is,

“In a book I promise Christendom next Spring.

“Why, if he covets so much meat, the clown,

“As a lark’s wing next Friday, or, any day,

“Diversion beyond catching his own fleas,

“He shall be properly swinged, I promise him.

“But you, who are so quite another paste

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“Of a man — do you obey me? Cultivate

“Assiduous, that superior gift you have

“Of making madrigals —(who told me? Ah!)

“Get done a Marinesque Adoniad straight

“With a pulse o’ the blood a-pricking, here and there

“That I may tell the lady, ‘And he’s ours!”’

So I became a priest: those terms changed all,

I was good enough for that, nor cheated so;

I could live thus and still hold head erect.

Now you see why I may have been before

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A fribble and coxcomb, yet, as priest, break word

Nowise, to make you disbelieve me now.

I need that you should know my truth. Well, then,

According to prescription did I live,

— Conformed myself, both read the breviary

And wrote the rhymes, was punctual to my place

I’ the Pieve, and as diligent at my post

Where beauty and fashion rule. I throve apace,

Sub-deacon, Canon, the authority

For delicate play at tarocs, and arbiter

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O’ the magnitude of fan-mounts: all the while

Wanting no whit the advantage of a hint

Benignant to the promising pupil — thus:

“Enough attention to the Countess now,

“The young one; ’tis her mother rules the roast,

“We know where, and puts in a word: go pay

“Devoir to-morrow morning after mass!

“Break that rash promise to preach, Passion-week!

“Has it escaped you the Archbishop grunts

“And snuffles when one grieves to tell his Grace

360

“No soul dares treat the subject of the day

“Since his own masterly handling it (ha, ha!)

“Five years ago — when somebody could help

“And touch up an odd phrase in time of need,

“(He, he!)— and somebody helps you, my son!

“Therefore, don’t prove so indispensable

“At the Pieve, sit more loose i’ the seat, nor grow

“A fixture by attendance morn and eve!

“Arezzo’s just a haven midway Rome —

“Rome’s the eventual harbour — make for port,

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“Crowd sail, crack cordage! And your cargo be

“A polished presence, a genteel manner, wit

“At will, and tact at every pore of you!

“I sent our lump of learning, Brother Clout,

“And Father Slouch, our piece of piety,

“To see Rome and try suit the Cardinal.

“Thither they clump-clumped, beads and book in hand,

“And ever since ’tis meat for man and maid

“How both flopped down, prayed blessing on bent pate

“Bald many an inch beyond the tonsure’s need,

380

“Never once dreaming, the two moony dolts,

“There’s nothing moves his Eminence so much

“As — far from all this awe at sanctitude —

“Heads that wag, eyes that twinkle, modified mirth

“At the closet-lectures on the Latin tongue

“A lady learns so much by, we know where.

“Why, body o’ Bacchus, you should crave his rule

“For pauses in the elegiac couplet, chasms

“Permissible only to Catullus! There!

“Now go do duty: brisk, break Priscian’s head

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“By reading the day’s office — there’s no help.

“You’ve Ovid in your poke to plaster that;

“Amen’s at the end of all: then sup with me!”

Well, after three or four years of this life,

In prosecution of my calling, I

Found myself at the theatre one night

With a brother Canon, in a mood and mind

Proper enough for the place, amused or no:

When I saw enter, stand, and seat herself

A lady, young, tall, beautiful, strange, and sad.

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It was as when, in our cathedral once,

As I got yawningly through matin-song,

I saw facchini bear a burden up,

Base it on the high- altar, break away

A board or two, and leave the thing inside

Lofty and lone: and lo, when next I looked,

There was the Rafael! I was still one stare,

When —“Nay, I’ll make her give you back your gaze”—

Said Canon Conti; and at the word he tossed

A paper-twist of comfits to her lap,

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And dodged and in a trice was at my back

Nodding from over my shoulder. Then she turned,

Looked our way, smiled the beautiful sad strange smile.

“Is not she fair? ’Tis my new cousin,” said he:

“The fellow lurking there i’ the black o’ the box

“Is Guido, the old scapegrace: she’s his wife,

“Married three years since: how his Countship sulks!

“He has brought little back from Rome beside,

“After the bragging, bullying. A fair face,

“And — they do say — a pocket-full of gold

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“When he can worry both her parents dead.

“I don’t go much there, for the chamber’s cold

“And the coffee pale. I got a turn at first

“Paying my duty — I observed they crouched

“— The two old frightened family spectres, close

“In a corner, each on each like mouse on mouse

“I’ the cat’s cage: ever since, I stay at home.

“Hallo, there’s Guido, the black, mean, and small,

“Bends his brows on us — please to bend your own

“On the shapely nether limbs of Light-skirts there

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“By way of a diversion! I was a fool

“To fling the sweetmeats. Prudence, for God’s love!

“To-morrow I’ll make my peace, e’en tell some fib,

“Try if I can’t find means to take you there.”

That night and next day did the gaze endure,

Burnt to my brain, as sunbeam thro’ shut eyes,

And not once changed the beautiful sad strange smile.

At vespers Conti leaned beside my seat

I’ the choir — part said, part sung —“In ex-cel-sis —

“All’s to no purpose: I have louted low,

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“But he saw you staring — quia sub — don’t incline

“To know you nearer: him we would not hold

“For Hercules — the man would lick your shoe

“If you and certain efficacious friends

“Managed him warily — but there’s the wife:

“Spare her, because he beats her, as it is,

“She’s breaking her heart quite fast enough — jam tu —

“So, be you rational and make amends

“With little Light-skirts yonder — in secula

Secu-lo-o-o-o-rum. Ah, you rogue! Every one knows

“What great dame she makes jealous: one against one,

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“Play, and win both!”

        Sirs, ere the week was out,

I saw and said to myself “Light-skirts hides teeth

“Would make a dog sick — the great dame shows spite

“Should drive a cat mad: ’tis but poor work this —

“Counting one’s fingers till the sonnet’s crowned.

“I doubt much if Marino really be

“A better bard than Dante after all.

“’Tis more amusing to go pace at eve

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“I’ the Duomo — watch the day’s last gleam outside

“Turn, as into a skirt of God’s own robe,

“Those lancet-windows’ jewelled miracle —

“Than go eat the Archbishop’s ortolans,

“Digest his jokes. Luckily Lent is near:

“Who cares to look will find me in my stall

“At the Pieve, constant to this faith at least —

“Never to write a canzonet any more.”

So, next week, ’twas my patron spoke abrupt,

In altered guise, “Young man, can it be true

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“That after all your promise of sound fruit,

“You have kept away from Countess young or old

“And gone play truant in church all day long?

“Are you turning Molinist?” I answered quick

“Sir, what if I turned Christian? It might be,

“The fact is, I am troubled in my mind,

“Beset and pressed hard by some novel thoughts.

“This your Arezzo is a limited world;

“There’s a strange Pope — ’tis said, a priest who thinks.

“Rome is the port, you say: to Rome I go.

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“I will live alone, one does so in a crowd,

“And look into my heart a little.” “Lent

“Ended,”— I told friends — “I shall go to Rome.”

One evening I was sitting in a muse

Over the opened “Summa,” darkened round

By the mid-March twilight, thinking how my life

Had shaken under me — broke short indeed

And showed the gap ’twixt what is, what should be —

And into what abysm the soul may slip,

Leave aspiration here, achievement there,

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Lacking omnipotence to connect extremes —

Thinking moreover . . . oh, thinking, if you like,

How utterly dissociated was I

A priest and celibate, from the sad strange wife

Of Guido — just as an instance to the point,

Nought more — how I had a whole store of strengths

Eating into my heart, which craved employ,

And she, perhaps, need of a finger’s help —

And yet there was no way in the wide world

To stretch out mine and so relieve myself —

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How when the page o’ the Summa preached its best,

Her smile kept glowing out of it, as to mock

The silence we could break by no one word —

There came a tap without the chamber-door

And a whisper, when I bade who tapped speak out,

And, in obedience to my summons, last

In glided a masked muffled mystery,

Laid lightly a letter on the opened book,

Then stood with folded arms and foot demure,

Pointing as if to mark the minutes’ flight.

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I took the letter, read to the effect

That she, I lately flung the comfits to,

Had a warm heart to give me in exchange,

And gave it — loved me and confessed it thus,

And bade me render thanks by word of mouth,

Going that night to such a side o’ the house

Where the small terrace overhangs a street

Blind and deserted, not the street in front:

Her husband being away, the surly patch,

At his villa of Vittiano.

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        “And you?”— I asked:

“What may you be?”—“Count Guido’s kind of maid —

“Most of us have two functions in his house.

“We all hate him, the lady suffers much,

“’Tis just we show compassion, furnish aid,

“Specially since her choice is fixed so well.

“What answer may I bring to cheer the sweet

“Pompilia?”

        Then I took a pen and wrote.

“No more of this! That you are fair, I know:

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“But other thoughts now occupy my mind.

“I should not thus have played the insensible

“Once on a time. What made you — may one ask —

“Marry your hideous husband? ’Twas a fault,

“And now you taste the fruit of it. Farewell.”

“There!” smiled I as she snatched it and was gone —

“There, let the jealous miscreant — Guido’s self,

“Whose mean soul grins through this transparent trick —

“Be baulked so far, defrauded of his aim!

“What fund of satisfaction to the knave,

540

“Had I kicked this his messenger downstairs,

“Trussed to the middle of her impudence,

“Setting his heart at ease so! No, indeed!

“There’s the reply which he shall turn and twist

“At pleasure, snuff at till his brain grow drunk,

“As the bear does when he finds a scented glove

“That puzzles him — a hand and yet no hand,

“Of other perfume than his own foul paw!

“Last month, I had doubtless chosen to play the dupe,

“Accepted the mock-invitation, kept

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“The sham appointment, cudgel beneath cloak,

“Prepared myself to pull the appointer’s self

“Out of the window from his hiding-place

“Behind the gown of this part-messenger

“Part-mistress who would personate the wife.

“Such had seemed once a jest permissible:

“Now, I am not i’ the mood.”

        Back next morn brought

The messenger, a second letter in hand.

“You are cruel, Thyrsis, and Myrtilla moans

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“Neglected but adores you, makes request

“For mercy: why is it you dare not come?

“Such virtue is scarce natural to your age:

“You must love someone else; I hear you do,

“The baron’s daughter or the Advocate’s wife,

“Or both — all’s one, would you make me the third —

“I take the crumbs from table gratefully

“Nor grudge who feasts there. ’Faith, I blush and blaze!

“Yet if I break all bounds, there’s reason sure,

“Are you determinedly bent on Rome?

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“I am wretched here, a monster tortures me:

“Carry me with you! Come and say you will!

“Concert this very evening! Do not write!

“I am ever at the window of my room

“Over the terrace, at the Ave. Come!”

I questioned — lifting half the woman’s mask

To let her smile loose. “So, you gave my line

“To the merry lady?” “She kissed off the wax,

“And put what paper was not kissed away,

“In her bosom to go burn: but merry, no!

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“She wept all night when evening brought no friend,

“Alone, the unkind missive at her breast;

“Thus Philomel, the thorn at her breast too,

“Sings” . . . “Writes this second letter?” “Even so!

“Then she may peep at vespers forth?”—“What risk

“Do we run o’ the husband?”—“Ah — no risk at all!

“He is more stupid even than jealous. Ah —

“That was the reason? Why, the man’s away!

“Beside, his bugbear is that friend of yours,

“Fat little Canon Conti. He fears him —

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“How should he dream of you? I told you truth —

“He goes to the villa at Vittiano —’tis

“The time when Spring-sap rises in the vine —

“Spends the night there. And then his wife’s a child,

“Does he think a child outwits him? A mere child:

“Yet so full grown, a dish for any duke.

“Don’t quarrel longer with such cates, but come!”

I wrote “In vain do you solicit me.

“I am a priest: and you are wedded wife,

“Whatever kind of brute your husband prove.

“I have scruples, in short. Yet should you really show

601

“Sign at the window . . . but nay, best be good!

“My thoughts are elsewhere.”—“Take her that!”

        —“Again

“Let the incarnate meanness, cheat and spy,

“Mean to the marrow of him, make his heart

“His food, anticipate hell’s worm once more!

“Let him watch shivering at the window — ay,

“And let this hybrid, this his light-of-love

“And lackey-of-lies — a sage economy —

610

“Paid with embracings for the rank brass coin —

“Let her report and make him chuckle o’er

“The break-down of my resolution now,

“And lour at disappointment in good time!

“— So tantalise and so enrage by turns,

“Until the two fall each on the other like

“Two famished spiders, as the coveted fly

“That toys long, leaves their net and them at last!”

And so the missives followed thick and fast

For a month, say — I still came at every turn

620

On the soft sly adder, endlong ’neath my tread.

I was met i’ the street, made sign to in the church,

A slip was found i’ the door-sill, scribbled word

’Twixt page and page o’ the prayer-book in my piece:

A crumpled thing dropped even before my feet,

Pushed through the blind, above the terrace-rail,

As I passed, by day, the very window once.

And ever from corners would be peering up

The messenger, with the self-same demand

“Obdurate still, no flesh but adamant?

630

“Nothing to cure the wound, assuage the throe

“O’ the sweetest lamb that ever loved a bear?”

And ever my one answer in one tone —

“Go your ways, temptress! Let a priest read, pray,

“Unplagued of vain talk, visions not for him!

“In the end, you’ll have your will and ruin me!”

One day, a variation: thus I read:

“You have gained little by timidity.

“My husband has found out my love at length,

“Sees cousin Conti was the stalking-horse,

640

“And you the game he covered, poor fat soul!

“My husband is a formidable foe,

“Will stick at nothing to destroy you. Stand

“Prepared, or better, run till you reach Rome!

“I bade you visit me, when the last place

“My tyrant would have turned suspicious at,

“Or cared to seek you in, was . . . why say, where?

“But now all’s changed: beside, the season’s past

“At the villa — wants the master’s eye no more.

“Anyhow, I beseech you, stay away

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“From the window! He might well be posted there.”

I wrote —“You raise my courage, or call up

“My curiosity, who am but man.

“Tell him he owns the palace, not the street

“Under — that’s his and yours and mine alike.

“If it should please me pad the path this eve,

“Guido will have two troubles, first to get

“Into a rage and then get out again.

“Be cautious, though: at the Ave!

        You of the court!

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When I stood question here and reached this point

O’ the narrative — search notes and see and say

If some one did not interpose with smile

And sneer, “And prithee why so confident

“That the husband must, of all needs, not the wife,

“Fabricate thus — what if the lady loved?

“What if she wrote the letters?”

        Learned Sir,

I told you there’s a picture in our church.

Well, if a low-browed verger sidled up

670

Bringing me, like a blotch, on his prod’s point,

A transfixed scorpion, let the reptile writhe,

And then said, “See a thing that Rafael made —

“This venom issued from Madonna’s mouth!”—

I should reply, “Rather, the soul of you

“Has issued from your body, like from like,

“By way of the ordure-corner!”

        But no less,

I tired of the same black teazing lie

Obtruded thus at every turn; the pest

680

Was far too near the picture, anyhow:

One does Madonna service, making clowns

Remove their dung-heap from the sacristy.

“I will to the window, as he tempts,” said I:

“Yes, whom the easy love has failed allure,

“This new bait of adventure may — he thinks.

“While the imprisoned lady keeps afar,

“There will they lie in ambush, heads alert,

“Kith, kin, and Count mustered to bite my heel.

“No mother nor brother viper of the brood

690

“Shall scuttle off without the instructive bruise!”

So, I went: crossed street and street: “The next street’s turn,

“I stand beneath the terrace, see, above,

“The black of the ambush-window. Then, in place

“Of hand’s throw of soft prelude over lute

“And cough that clears way for the ditty last,”—

I began to laugh already —“he will have

“ ‘Out of the hole you hide in, on to the front,

“ ‘Count Guido Franceschini, show yourself!

“ ‘Hear what a man thinks of a thing like you,

700

“ ‘And after, take this foulness in your face!”’

The words lay living on my lip, I made

The one turn more — and there at the window stood,

Framed in its black square length, with lamp in hand,

Pompilia; the same great, grave, griefful air

As stands i’ the dusk, on altar that I know,

Left alone with one moonbeam in her cell,

Our Lady of all the Sorrows. Ere I knelt —

Assured myself that she was flesh and blood —

She had looked one look and vanished.

        I thought —“Just so:

710

“It was herself, they have set her there to watch —

“Stationed to see some wedding-band go by,

“On fair pretence that she must bless the bride,

“Or wait some funeral with friends wind past,

“And crave peace for the corpse that claims its due.

“She never dreams they used her for a snare,

“And now withdraw the bait has served its turn.

“Well done, the husband, who shall fare the worse!”

And on my lip again was —“Out with thee,

720

“Guido!” When all at once she re-appeared;

But, this time, on the terrace overhead,

So close above me, she could almost touch

My head if she bent down; and she did bend,

While I stood still as stone, all eye, all ear.

She began —“You have sent me letters, Sir:

“I have read none, I can neither read nor write;

“But she you gave them to, a woman here,

“One of the people in whose power I am,

“Partly explained their sense, I think, to me

730

“Obliged to listen while she inculcates

“That you, a priest, can dare love me, a wife,

“Desire to live or die as I shall bid,

“(She makes me listen if I will or no)

“Because you saw my face a single time.

“It cannot be she says the thing you mean;

“Such wickedness were deadly to us both:

“But good true love would help me now so much —

“I tell myself, you may mean good and true.

“You offer me, I seem to understand,

740

“Because I am in poverty and starve,

“Much money, where one piece would save my life.

“The silver cup upon the altar-cloth

“Is neither yours to give nor mine to take;

“But I might take one bit of bread therefrom,

“Since I am starving, and return the rest,

“Yet do no harm: this is my very case.

“I am in that strait, I may not abstain

“From so much of assistance as would bring

“The guilt of theft on neither you nor me;

750

“But no superfluous particle of aid.

“I think, if you will let me state my case,

“Even had you been so fancy- fevered here,

“Not your sound self, you must grow healthy now —

“Care only to bestow what I can take.

“That it is only you in the wide world,

“Knowing me nor in thought nor word nor deed,

“Who, all unprompted save by your own heart,

“Come proffering assistance now — were strange

“But that my whole life is so strange: as strange

760

“It is, my husband whom I have not wronged

“Should hate and harm me. For his own soul’s sake,

“Hinder the harm! But there is something more,

“And that the strangest: it has got to be

“Somehow for my sake too, and yet not mine,

“— This is a riddle — for some kind of sake

“Not any clearer to myself than you,

“And yet as certain as that I draw breath —

“I would fain live, not die — oh no, not die!

“My case is, I was dwelling happily

770

“At Rome with those dear Comparini, called

“Father and mother to me; when at once

“I found I had become Count Guido’s wife:

“Who then, not waiting for a moment, changed

“Into a fury of fire, if once he was

“Merely a man: his face threw fire at mine,

“He laid a hand on me that burned all peace,

“All joy, all hope, and last all fear away,

“Dipping the bough of life, so pleasant once,

“In fire which shrivelled leaf and bud alike,

780

“Burning not only present life but past,

“Which you might think was safe beyond his reach.

“He reached it, though, since that beloved pair,

“My father once, my mother all those years,

“That loved me so, now say I dreamed a dream

“And bid me wake, henceforth no child of theirs,

“Never in all the time their child at all.

“Do you understand? I cannot: yet so it is.

“Just so I say of you that proffer help:

“I cannot understand what prompts your soul,

790

“I simply needs must see that it is so,

“Only one strange and wonderful thing more.

“They came here with me, those two dear ones, kept

“All the old love up, till my husband, till

“His people here so tortured them, they fled.

“And now, is it because I grow in flesh

“And spirit one with him their torturer,

“That they, renouncing him, must cast off me?

“If I were graced by God to have a child,

“Could I one day deny God graced me so?

800

“Then, since my husband hates me, I shall break

“No law that reigns in this fell house of hate,

“By using — letting have effect so much

“Of hate as hides me from that whole of hate

“Would take my life which I want and must have —

“Just as I take from your excess of love

“Enough to save my life with, all I need.

“The Archbishop said to murder me were sin:

“My leaving Guido were a kind of death

“With no sin — more death, he must answer for.

810

“Hear now what death to him and life to you

“I wish to pay and owe. Take me to Rome!

“You go to Rome, the servant makes me hear.

“Take me as you would take a dog, I think,

“Masterless left for strangers to maltreat:

“Take me home like that — leave me in the house

“Where the father and the mother are; and soon

“They’ll come to know and call me by my name,

“Their child once more, since child I am, for all

“They now forget me, which is the worst o’ the dream —

820

“And the way to end dreams is to break them, stand,

“Walk, go: then help me to stand, walk and go!

“The Governor said the strong should help the weak:

“You know how weak the strongest women are.

“How could I find my way there by myself?

“I cannot even call out, make them hear —

“Just as in dreams: I have tried and proved the fact.

“I have told this story and more to good great men,

“The Archbishop and the Governor: they smiled.

“ ‘Stop your mouth, fair one!’— presently they frowned,

830

“ ‘Get you gone, disengage you from our feet!’

“I went in my despair to an old priest,

“Only a friar, no great man like these two,

“But good, the Augustinian, people name

“Romano — he confessed me two months since:

“He fears God, why then needs he fear the world?

“And when he questioned how it came about

“That I was found in danger of a sin —

“Despair of any help from providence —

“ ‘Since, though your husband outrage you,’ said he,

840

“ ‘That is a case too common, the wives die

“ ‘Or live, but do not sin so deep as this’—

“Then I told — what I never will tell you —

“How, worse than husband’s hate, I had to bear

“The love — soliciting to shame called love —

“Of his brother — the young idle priest i’ the house

“With only the devil to meet there. ‘This is grave —

“ ‘Yes we must interfere: I counsel — write

“ ‘To those who used to be your parents once,

“ ‘Of dangers here, bid them convey you hence!’

850

“ ‘But,’ said I, ‘when I neither read nor write?’

“Then he took pity and promised ‘I will write.’

“If he did so — why, they are dumb or dead:

“Either they give no credit to the tale,

“Or else, wrapped wholly up in their own joy

“Of such escape, they care not who cries, still

“I’ the clutches. Anyhow, no word arrives.

“All such extravagance and dreadfulness

“Seems incident to dreaming, cured one way —

“Wake me! The letter I received this morn,

860

“Said — if the woman spoke your very sense —

“ ‘You would die for me:’ I can believe it now:

“For now the dream gets to involve yourself.

“First of all, you seemed wicked and not good,

“In writing me those letters: you came in

“Like a thief upon me. I this morning said

“In my extremity, entreat the thief!

“Try if he have in him no honest touch!

“A thief might save me from a murderer.

“’Twas a thief said the last kind word to Christ:

870

“Christ took the kindness and forgave the theft:

“And so did I prepare what I now say.

“But now, that you stand and I see your face,

“Though you have never uttered word yet — well, I know,

“Here too has been dream- work, delusion too,

“And that at no time, you with the eyes here,

“Ever intended to do wrong by me,

“Nor wrote such letters therefore. It is false,

“And you are true, have been true, will be true.

“To Rome then — when is it you take me there?

880

“Each minute lost is mortal. When? — I ask.”

I answered, “It shall be when it can be.

“I will go hence and do your pleasure, find

“The sure and speedy means of travel, then

“Come back and take you to your friends in Rome.

“There wants a carriage, money and the rest —

“A day’s work by to-morrow at this time.

“How shall I see you and assure escape?”

She replied, “Pass, to-morrow at this hour.

“If I am at the open window, well:

890

“If I am absent, drop a handkerchief

“And walk by! I shall see from where I watch,

“And know that all is done. Return next eve,

“And next, and so till we can meet and speak!”

“To-morrow at this hour I pass,” said I.

She was withdrawn.

        Here is another point

I bid you pause at. When I told thus far,

Someone said, subtly, “Here at least was found

“Your confidence in error — you perceived

900

“The spirit of the letters, in a sort,

“Had been the lady’s, if the body should be

“Supplied by Guido: say, he forged them all!

“Here was the unforged fact — she sent for you,

“Spontaneously elected you to help,

“— What men call, loved you: Guido read her mind,

“Gave it expression to assure the world

“The case was just as he foresaw: he wrote,

“She spoke.”

        Sirs, that first simile serves still —

910

That falsehood of a scorpion hatched, I say,

Nowhere i’ the world but in Madonna’s mouth.

Go on! Suppose, that falsehood foiled, next eve

Pictured Madonna raised her painted hand,

Fixed the face Rafael bent above the Babe,

On my face as I flung me at her feet:

Such miracle vouchsafed and manifest,

Would that prove the first lying tale was true?

Pompilia spoke, and I at once received,

Accepted my own fact, my miracle

920

Self-authorised and self-explained — she chose

To summon me and signify her choice.

Afterward — oh! I gave a passing glance

To a certain ugly cloud- shape, goblin-shred

Of hell-smoke hurrying past the splendid moon

Out now to tolerate no darkness more,

And saw right through the thing that tried to pass

For truth and solid, not an empty lie:

“So, he not only forged the words for her

“But word for me, made letters he called mine:

930

“What I sent, he retained, gave these in place,

“All by the mistress-messenger! As I

“Recognised her, at potency of truth,

“So she, by the crystalline soul, knew me,

“Never mistook the signs. Enough of this —

“Let the wraith go to nothingness again,

“Here is the orb, have only thought for her!”

“Thought?” nay, Sirs, what shall follow was not thought:

I have thought sometimes, and thought long and hard.

I have stood before, gone round a serious thing,

940

Tasked my whole mind to touch and clasp it close,

As I stretch forth my arm to touch this bar.

God and man, and what duty I owe both —

I dare to say I have confronted these

In thought: but no such faculty helped here.

I put forth no thought — powerless, all that night

I paced the city: it was the first Spring.

By the invasion I lay passive to,

In rushed new things, the old were rapt away;

Alike abolished — the imprisonment

950

Of the outside air, the inside weight o’ the world

That pulled me down. Death meant, to spurn the ground,

Soar to the sky — die well and you do that.

The very immolation made the bliss;

Death was the heart of life, and all the harm

My folly had crouched to avoid, now proved a veil

Hiding all gain my wisdom strove to grasp:

As if the intense centre of the flame

Should turn a heaven to that devoted fly

Which hitherto, sophist alike and sage,

960

Saint Thomas with his sober grey goose-quill,

And sinner Plato by Cephisian reed,

Would fain, pretending just the insect’s good,

Whisk off, drive back, consign to shade again.

Into another state, under new rule

I knew myself was passing swift and sure;

Whereof the initiatory pang approached,

Felicitous annoy, as bitter- sweet

As when the virgin-band, the victors chaste,

Feel at the end the earthly garments drop,

970

And rise with something of a rosy shame

Into immortal nakedness: so I

Lay, and let come the proper throe would thrill

Into the ecstacy and outthrob pain.

I’ the grey of dawn it was I found myself

Facing the pillared front o’ the Pieve — mine,

My church: it seemed to say for the first time

“But am not I the Bride, the mystic love

“O’ the Lamb, who took thy plighted troth, my priest,

“To fold thy warm heart on my heart of stone

980

“And freeze thee nor unfasten any more?

“This is a fleshly woman — let the free

“Bestow their life-blood, thou art pulseless now!”

See! Day by day I had risen and left this church

At the signal waved me by some foolish fan,

With half a curse and half a pitying smile

For the monk I stumbled over in my haste,

Prostrate and corpse-like at the altar-foot

Intent on his corona: then the church

Was ready with her quip, if word conduced,

990

To quicken my pace nor stop for prating —“There!

“Be thankful you are no such ninny, go

“Rather to teach a black-eyed novice cards

“Than gabble Latin and protrude that nose

“Smoothed to a sheep’s through no brains and much faith!”

That sort of incentive! Now the church changed tone —

Now, when I found out first that life and death

Are means to an end, that passion uses both,

Indisputably mistress of the man

Whose form of worship is self-sacrifice —

1000

Now, from the stone lungs sighed the scrannel voice

“Leave that passion, come be dead with me!”

As if, i’ the fabled garden, I had gone

On great adventure, plucked in ignorance

Hedge-fruit, and feasted to satiety,

Laughing at such high fame for hips and haws,

And scorned the achievement: then come all at once

O’ the prize o’ the place, the thing of perfect gold,

The apple’s self: and, scarce my eye on that,

Was ’ware as well o’ the seven-fold dragon’s watch.

1010

Sirs, I obeyed. Obedience was too strange —

This new thing that had been struck into me

By the look o’ the lady — to dare disobey

The first authoritative word. ’Twas God’s.

I had been lifted to the level of her,

Could take such sounds into my sense. I said

“We two are cognisant o’ the Master now;

“It is she bids me bow the head: how true,

“I am a priest! I see the function here;

“I thought the other way self-sacrifice:

1020

“This is the true, seals up the perfect sum.

“I pay it, sit down, silently obey.”

So, I went home. Dawn broke, noon broadened, I

I sat stone-still, let time run over me.

The sun slanted into my room, had reached

The west. I opened book — Aquinas blazed

With one black name only on the white page.

I looked up, saw the sunset: vespers rang:

“She counts the minutes till I keep my word

“And come say all is ready. I am a priest

1030

“Duty to God is duty to her: I think

“God, who created her, will save her too

“Some new way, by one miracle the more,

“Without me. Then, prayer may avail perhaps.”

I went to my own place i’ the Pieve, read

The office: I was back at home again

Sitting i’ the dark. “Could she but know — but know

“That, were there good in this distinct from God’s,

“Really good as it reached her, though procured

“By a sin of mine — I should sin: God forgives.

1040

“She knows it is no fear withholds me: fear?

“Of what? Suspense here is the terrible thing.

“If she should, as she counts the minutes, come

“On the fantastic notion that I fear

“The world now, fear the Archbishop, fear perhaps

“Count Guido, he who, having forged the lies,

“May wait the work, attend the effect — I fear

“The sword of Guido! Let God see to that —

“Hating lies, let not her believe a lie!”

Again the morning found me. “I will work,

1050

“Tie down my foolish thoughts. Thank God so far!

“I have saved her from a scandal, stopped the tongues

“Had broken else into a cackle and hiss

“Around the noble name. Duty is still

“Wisdom: I have been wise.” So the day wore.

At evening —“But, achieving victory,

“I must not blink the priest’s peculiar part,

“Nor shrink to counsel, comfort: priest and friend —

“How do we discontinue to be friends?

“I will go minister, advise her seek

1060

“Help at the source — above all, not despair:

“There may be other happier help at hand.

“I hope it — wherefore then neglect to say?”

There she stood — leaned there, for the second time,

Over the terrace, looked at me, then spoke:

“Why is it you have suffered me to stay

“Breaking my heart two days more than was need?

“Why delay help, your own heart yearns to give?

“You are again here, in the self-same mind,

“I see here, steadfast in the face of you —

1070

“You grudge to do no one thing that I ask.

“Why then is nothing done? You know my need.

“Still, through God’s pity on me, there is time

“And one day more: shall I be saved or no?”

I answered —“Lady, waste no thought, no word

“Even to forgive me! Care for what I care —

“Only! Now follow me as I were fate!

“Leave this house in the dark to-morrow night,

“Just before daybreak:— there’s new moon this eve —

“It sets, and then begins the solid black.

1080

“Descend, proceed to the Torrione, step

“Over the low dilapidated wall,

“Take San Clemente, there’s no other gate

“Unguarded at the hour: some paces thence

“An inn stands; cross to it; I shall be there.”

She answered, “If I can but find the way.

“But I shall find it. Go now!”

        I did go,

Took rapidly the route myself prescribed,

Stopped at Torrione, climbed the ruined place,

1090

Proved that the gate was practicable, reached

The inn, no eye, despite the dark, could miss,

Knocked there and entered, made the host secure:

“With Caponsacchi it is ask and have;

“I know my betters. Are you bound for Rome?

“I get swift horse and trusty man,” said he.

Then I retraced my steps, was found once more

In my own house for the last time: there lay

The broad pale opened Summa. “Shut his book,

“There’s other showing! ’Twas a Thomas too

1100

“Obtained — more favoured than his namesake here —

“A gift, tied faith fast, foiled the tug of doubt —

“Our Lady’s girdle; down he saw it drop

“As she ascended into heaven, they say:

“He kept that safe and bade all doubt adieu.

“I too have seen a lady and hold a grace.”

I know not how the night passed: morning broke:

Presently came my servant. “Sir, this eve —

“Do you forget?” I started. —“How forget?

“What is it you know?”—“With due submission, Sir,

1110

“This being last Monday in the month but one

“And a vigil, since to-morrow is Saint George,

“And feast day, and moreover day for copes,

“And Canon Conti now away a month,

“And Canon Crispi sour because, forsooth,

“You let him sulk in stall and bear the brunt

“Of the octave. . . . Well, Sir, ’tis important!”

        “True!”

“Hearken, I have to start for Rome this night.

“No word, lest Crispi overboil and burst!

1120

“Provide me with a laic dress! Throw dust

“I’ the Canon’s eye, stop his tongue’s scandal so!

“See there’s a sword in case of accident.”

I knew the knave, the knave knew me.

        And thus

Through each familiar hindrance of the day

Did I make steadily for its hour and end —

Felt time’s old barrier-growth of right and fit

Give way through all its twines and let me go;

Use and wont recognised the excepted man,

1130

Let speed the special service — and I sped

Till, at the dead between midnight and morn,

There was I at the goal, before the gate,

With a tune in the ears, low leading up to loud,

A light in the eyes, faint that would soon be flare,

Ever some spiritual witness new and new

In faster frequence, crowding solitude

To watch the way o’ the warfare — till, at last,

When the ecstatic minute must bring birth,

Began a whiteness in the distance, waxed

1140

Whiter and whiter, near grew and more near,

Till it was she: there did Pompilia come:

The white I saw shine through her was her soul’s,

Certainly, for the body was one black,

Black from head down to foot. She did not speak,

Glided into the carriage — so a cloud

Gathers the moon up. “By San Spirito,

“To Rome, as if the road burned underneath!

“Reach Rome, then hold my head in pledge, I pay

“The run and the risk to heart’s content!” Just that,

1150

I said — then, in another tick of time,

Sprang, was beside her, she and I alone.

So it began, our flight thro’ dusk to clear,

Through day and night and day again to night

Once more, and to last dreadful dawn of all.

Sirs, how should I lie quiet in my grave

Unless you suffer me wring, drop by drop,

My brain dry, make a riddance of the drench

Of minutes with a memory in each,

Recorded motion, breath or look of hers,

1160

Which poured forth would present you one pure glass,

Mirror you plain — as God’s sea, glassed in gold,

His saints — the perfect soul Pompilia? Men,

You must know that a man gets drunk with truth

Stagnant inside him! Oh, they’ve killed her, Sirs!

Can I be calm?

        Calmly! Each incident

Proves, I maintain, that action of the flight

For the true thing it was. The first faint scratch

O’ the stone will test its nature, teach its worth

1170

To idiots who name Parian, coprolite.

After all, I shall give no glare — at best

Only display you certain scattered lights

Lamping the rush and roll of the abyss —

Nothing but here and there a fire-point pricks

Wavelet from wavelet: well!

        For the first hour

We both were silent in the night, I know:

Sometimes I did not see nor understand.

Blackness engulphed me — partial stupor, say —

1180

Then I would break way, breathe through the surprise,

And be aware again, and see who sat

In the dark vest with the white face and hands.

I said to myself —“I have caught it, I conceive

“The mind o’ the mystery: ’tis the way they wake

“And wait, two martyrs somewhere in a tomb

“Each by each as their blessing was to die;

“Some signal they are promised and expect,

“When to arise before the trumpet scares:

“So, through the whole course of the world they wait

1190

“The last day, but so fearless and so safe!

“No otherwise, in safety and not fear,

“I lie, because she lies too by my side.”

You know this is not love, Sirs — it is faith,

The feeling that there’s God, he reigns and rules

Out of this low world: that is all; no harm!

At times she drew a soft sigh — music seemed

Always to hover just above her lips

Not settle — break a silence music too.

In the determined morning, I first found

1200

Her head erect, her face turned full to me,

Her soul intent on mine through two wide eyes.

I answered them. “You are saved hitherto.

“We have passed Perugia — gone round by the wood,

“Not through, I seem to think — and opposite

“I know Assisi; this is holy ground.”

Then she resumed. “How long since we both left

“Arezzo?”—“Years — and certain hours beside.”

It was at . . . ah, but I forget the names!

’Tis a mere post-house and a hovel or two —

1210

I left the carriage and got bread and wine

And brought it her. —“Does it detain to eat?”

“— They stay perforce, change horses — therefore eat!

We lose no minute: we arrive, be sure!”

She said — I know not where — there’s a great hill

Close over, and the stream has lost its bridge,

One fords it. She began —“I have heard say

“Of some sick body that my mother knew,

“’Twas no good sign when in a limb diseased

“All the pain suddenly departs — as if

1220

“The guardian angel discontinued pain

“Because the hope of cure was gone at last:

“The limb will not again exert itself,

“It needs be pained no longer: so with me,

“— My soul whence all the pain is past at once:

“All pain must be to work some good in the end.

“True, this I feel now, this may be that good,

“Pain was because of — otherwise, I fear!”

She said — a long while later in the day,

When I had let the silence be — abrupt —

1230

“Have you a mother?”—“She died, I was born.”

“A sister then?”—“No sister.”—“Who was it —

“What woman were you used to serve this way,

“Be kind to, till I called you and you came?”

I did not like that word. Soon afterward —

“Tell me, are men unhappy, in some kind

“Of mere unhappiness at being men,

“As women suffer, being womanish?

“Have you, now, some unhappiness, I mean,

“Born of what may be man’s strength overmuch,

1240

“To match the undue susceptibility,

“The sense at every pore when hate is close?

“It hurts us if a baby hides its face

“Or child strikes at us punily, calls names

“Or makes a mouth — much more if stranger men

“Laugh or frown — just as that were much to bear!

“Yet rocks split — and the blow-ball does no more,

“Quivers to feathery nothing at a touch;

“And strength may have its drawback, weakness scapes.”

Once she asked, “What is it that made you smile,

1250

“At the great gate with the eagles and the snakes,

“Where the company entered, ’tis a long time since?”

“— Forgive — I think you would not understand:

“Ah, but you ask me — therefore, it was this.

“That was a certain bishop’s villa-gate,

“I knew it by the eagles — and at once

“Remembered this same bishop was just he

“People of old were wont to bid me please

“If I would catch preferment: so, I smiled

“Because an impulse came to me, a whim —

1260

“What if I prayed the prelate leave to speak,

“Began upon him in his presence-hall

“—‘What, still at work so grey and obsolete?

“ ‘Still rocheted and mitred more or less?

“ ‘Don’t you feel all that out of fashion now?

“ ‘I find out when the day of things is done!’ ”

At eve we heard the angelus: she turned —

“I told you I can neither read nor write.

“My life stopped with the play-time; I will learn,

“If I begin to live again: but you —

1270

“Who are a priest — wherefore do you not read

“The service at this hour? Read Gabriel’s song,

“The lesson, and then read the little prayer

“To Raphael, proper for us travellers!”

I did not like that, neither, but I read.

When we stopped at Foligno it was dark.

The people of the post came out with lights:

The driver said, “This time to-morrow, may

“Saints only help, relays continue good,

“Nor robbers hinder, we arrive at Rome.”

1280

I urged — “Why tax your strength a second night?

“Trust me, alight here and take brief repose!

“We are out of harm’s reach, past pursuit: go sleep

“If but an hour! I keep watch, guard the while

“Here in the doorway.” But her whole face changed,

The misery grew again about her mouth,

The eyes burned up from faintness, like the fawn’s

Tired to death in the thicket, when she feels

The probing spear o’ the huntsman. “Oh, no stay!”

She cried, in the fawn’s cry, “On to Rome, on, on —

1290

“Unless ’tis you who fear — which cannot be!”

We did go on all night; but at its close

She was troubled, restless, moaned low, talked at whiles

To herself, her brow on quiver with the dream:

Once, wide awake, she menaced, at arms’ length

Waved away something —“Never again with you!

“My soul is mine, my body is my soul’s:

“You and I are divided ever more

“In soul and body: get you gone!” Then I—

“Why, in my whole life I have never prayed!

1300

“Oh, if the God, that only can, would help!

“Am I his priest with power to cast out fiends?

“Let God arise and all his enemies

“Be scattered!” By morn, there was peace, no sigh

Out of the deep sleep.

        When she woke at last,

I answered the first look —“Scarce twelve hours more,

“Then, Rome! There probably was no pursuit,

“There cannot now be peril: bear up brave!

“Just some twelve hours to press through to the prize —

1310

“Then, no more of the terrible journey!” “Then,

“No more o’ the journey: if it might but last!

“Always, my life-long, thus to journey still!

“It is the interruption that I dread —

“With no dread, ever to be here and thus!

“Never to see a face nor hear a voice!

“Yours is no voice; you speak when you are dumb;

“Nor face, I see it in the dark. I want

“No face nor voice that change and grow unkind.”

That I liked, that was the best thing she said.

1320

In the broad day, I dared entreat, “Descend!”

I told a woman, at the garden-gate

By the post- house, white and pleasant in the sun,

“It is my sister — talk with her apart!

“She is married and unhappy, you perceive;

“I take her home because her head is hurt;

“Comfort her as you women understand!”

So, there I left them by the garden-wall,

Paced the road, then bade put the horses to,

Came back, and there she sat: close to her knee,

1330

A black-eyed child still held the bowl of milk,

Wondered to see how little she could drink,

And in her arms the woman’s infant lay.

She smiled at me “How much good this has done!

“This is a whole night’s rest and how much more!

“I can proceed now, though I wish to stay.

“How do you call that tree with the thick top

“That holds in all its leafy green and gold

“The sun now like an immense egg of fire?”

(It was a million-leaved mimosa.) “Take

1340

“The babe away from me and let me go!”

And in the carriage, “Still a day, my friend;

“And perhaps half a night, the woman fears.

“I pray it finish since it cannot last.

“There may be more misfortune at the close,

“And where will you be? God suffice me then!”

And presently — for there was a roadside-shrine —

“When I was taken first to my own church

“Lorenzo in Lucina, being a girl,

“And bid confess my faults, I interposed,

1350

“ ‘But teach me what fault to confess and know!’

“So, the priest said —‘You should bethink yourself:

“ ‘Each human being needs must have done wrong!’

“Now, be you candid and no priest but friend —

“Were I surprised and killed here on the spot,

“A runaway from husband and his home,

“Do you account it were in sin I died?

“My husband used to seem to harm me, not . . .

“Not on pretence he punished sin of mine,

“Nor for sin’s sake and lust of cruelty,

1360

“But as I heard him bid a farming-man

“At the villa take a lamb once to the wood

“And there ill-treat it, meaning that the wolf

“Should hear its cries, and so come, quick be caught,

“Enticed to the trap: he practised thus with me

“That so, whatever were his gain thereby,

“Others that I might become prey and spoil.

“Had it been only between our two selves —

“His pleasure and my pain — why, pleasure him

“By dying, nor such need to make a coil!

1370

“But this was worth an effort, that my pain

“Should not become a snare, prove pain threefold

“To other people — strangers — or unborn —

“How should I know? I sought release from that —

“I think, or else from — dare I say, some cause

“Such as is put into a tree, which turns

“Away from the northwind with what nest it holds —

“The woman said that trees so turn: now, friend,

“Tell me, because I cannot trust myself!

“You are a man: what have I done amiss?”

1380

You must conceive my answer — I forget —

Taken up wholly with the thought, perhaps,

This time she might have said — might, did not say —

“You are a priest.” She said, “my friend.”

        Day wore,

We passed the places, somehow the calm went,

Again the restless eyes began to rove

In new fear of the foe mine could not see:

She wandered in her mind — addressed me once

“Gaetano!”— that is not my name: whose name?

1390

I grew alarmed, my head seemed turning too:

I quickened pace with promise now, now threat:

Bade drive and drive, nor any stopping more.

“Too deep i’ the thick of the struggle, struggle through!

“Then drench her in repose though death’s self pour

“The plenitude of quiet — help us, God,

“Whom the winds carry!”

        Suddenly I saw

The old tower, and the little white-walled clump

Of buildings and the cypress-tree or two —

1400

“Already Castelnuovo — Rome!” I cried,

“As good as Rome — Rome is the next stage, think!

“This is where travellers’ hearts are wont to beat.

“Say you are saved, sweet lady!” Up she woke.

The sky was fierce with colour from the sun

Setting. She screamed out “No, I must not die!

“Take me no farther, I should die: stay here!

“I have more life to save than mine!”

        She swooned.

We seemed safe: what was it foreboded so?

1410

Out of the coach into the inn I bore

The motionless and breathless pure and pale

Pompilia — bore her through a pitying group

And laid her on a couch, still calm and cured

By deep sleep of all woes at once. The host

Was urgent “Let her stay an hour or two!

“Leave her to us, all will be right by morn!”

Oh, my foreboding! But I could not choose.

I paced the passage, kept watch all night long.

I listened — not one movement, not one sigh.

1420

“Fear not: she sleeps so sound!” they said — but I

Feared, all the same, kept fearing more and more,

Found myself throb with fear from head to foot,

Filled with a sense of such impending woe,

That, at first pause of night, pretence of grey,

I made my mind up it was morn. —“Reach Rome,

“Lest hell reach her! A dozen miles to make,

“Another long breath, and we emerge!” I stood

I’ the court-yard, roused the sleepy grooms.

        “Have out

“Carriage and horse, give haste, take gold!”— said I.

1430

While they made ready in the doubtful morn —

’Twas the last minute — needs must I ascend

And break her sleep; I turned to go.

        And there

Faced me Count Guido, there posed the mean man

As master — took the field, encamped his rights,

Challenged the world: there leered new triumph, there

Scowled the old malice in the visage bad

And black o’ the scamp. Soon triumph suppled the tongue

A little, malice glued to his dry throat,

And he part howled, part hissed . . . oh, how he kept

1441

Well out o’ the way, at arm’s length and to spare! —

“My salutation to your priestship! What?

“Matutinal, busy with book so soon

“Of an April day that’s damp as tears that now

“Deluge Arezzo at its darling’s flight? —

“’Tis unfair, wrongs feminity at large,

“To let a single dame monopolize

“A heart the whole sex claims, should share alike:

“Therefore I overtake you, Canon! Come!

1450

“The lady — could you leave her side so soon?

“You have not yet experienced at her hands

“My treatment, you lay down undrugged, I see!

“Hence this alertness — hence no death-in-life

“Like what held arms fast when she stole from mine.

“To be sure, you took the solace and repose

“That first night at Foligno! — news abound

“O’ the road by this time — men regaled me much,

“As past them I came halting after you,

“Vulcan pursuing Mars, as poets sing —

1460

“Still at the last here pant I, but arrive,

“Vulcan — and not without my Cyclops too,

“The Commissary and the unpoisoned arm

“O’ the Civil Force, should Mars turn mutineer.

“Enough of fooling: capture the culprits, friend!

“Here is the lover in the smart disguise

“With the sword — he is a priest, so mine lies still:

“There upstairs hides my wife the runaway,

“His leman: the two plotted, poisoned first,

“Plundered me after, and eloped thus far

1470

“Where now you find them. Do your duty quick!

“Arrest and hold him! That’s done: now catch her!”

During this speech of that man — well, I stood

Away, as he managed — still, I stood as near

The throat of him — with these two hands, my own —

As now I stand near yours, Sir — one quick spring,

One great good satisfying gripe, and lo!

There had he lain abolished with his lie,

Creation purged o’ the miscreate, man redeemed,

A spittle wiped off from the face of God!

1480

I, in some measure, seek a poor excuse

For what I left undone, in just this fact

That my first feeling at the speech I quote

Was — not of what a blasphemy was dared,

Not what a bag of venomed purulence

Was split and noisome — but how splendidly

Mirthful, what ludicrous a lie was launched!

Would Molière’s self wish more than hear such man

Call, claim such woman for his own, his wife,

Even though, in due amazement at the boast,

1490

He had stammered, she moreover was divine?

She to be his — were hardly less absurd

Than that he took her name into his mouth,

Licked, and then let it go again, the beast,

Signed with his slaver. Oh, she poisoned him,

Plundered him, and the rest! Well, what I wished

Was, that he would but go on, say once more

So to the world, and get his meed of men,

The fist’s reply to the filth. And while I mused,

The minute, oh the misery, was gone!

1500

On either idle hand of me there stood

Really an officer, nor laughed i’ the least.

They rendered justice to his reason, laid

Logic to heart, as ’twere submitted them

“Twice two makes four.”

        “And now, catch her!”— he cried.

That sobered me. “Let myself lead the way —

“Ere you arrest me, who am somebody,

“And, as you hear, a priest and privileged —

“To the lady’s chamber! I presume you — men

1510

“Expert, instructed how to find out truth,

“Familiar with the guise of guilt. Detect

“Guilt on her face when it meets mine, then judge

“Between us and the mad dog howling there!”

Up we all went together, in they broke

O’ the chamber late my chapel. There she lay,

Composed as when I laid her, that last eve,

O’ the couch, still breathless, motionless, sleep’s self,

Wax-white, seraphic, saturate with the sun

O’ the morning that now flooded from the front

1520

And filled the window with a light like blood.

“Behold the poisoner, the adulteress,

“— And feigning sleep too! Seize, bind!”— Guido hissed.

She started up, stood erect, face to face

With the husband: back he fell, was buttressed there

By the window all a-flame with morning-red,

He the black figure, the opprobrious blur

Against all peace and joy and light and life.

“Away from between me and hell!”— she cried:

“Hell for me, no embracing any more!

1530

“I am God’s, I love God, God — whose knees I clasp,

“Whose utterly most just award I take,

“But bear no more love-making devils: hence!”

I may have made an effort to reach her side

From where I stood i’ the door- way — anyhow

I found the arms, I wanted, pinioned fast,

Was powerless in the clutch to left and right

O’ the rabble pouring in, rascality

Enlisted, rampant on the side of hearth,

Home, and the husband — pay in prospect too!

1540

They heaped themselves upon me. —“Ha! — and him

“Also you outrage? Him, too, my sole friend,

“Guardian, and saviour? That I baulk you of,

“Since — see how God can help at last and worst!”

She sprung at the sword that hung beside him, seized,

Drew, brandished it, the sunrise burned for joy

O’ the blade, “Die,” cried she, “devil, in God’s name!”

Ah, but they all closed round her, twelve to one,

— The unmanly men, no woman-mother made,

Spawned somehow! Dead-white and disarmed she lay.

1550

No matter for the sword, her word sufficed

To spike the coward through and through: he shook,

Could only spit between the teeth —“You see?

“You hear? Bear witness, then! Write down . . . but, no —

“Carry these criminals to the prison-house,

“For first thing! I begin my search meanwhile

“After the stolen effects, gold, jewels, plate,

“Money, and clothes, they robbed me of and fled:

“With no few amorous pieces, verse and prose,

“I have much reason to expect to find.”

1560

When I saw, that — no more than the first mad speech,

Made out the speaker mad and a laughing- stock,

So neither did this next device explode

One listener’s indignation — that a scribe

Did sit down, set himself to write indeed,

And sundry knaves began to peer and pry

In corner and hole — that Guido, wiping brow

And getting him a countenance, was fast

Losing his fear, beginning to strut free

O’ the stage of his exploit, snuff here, sniff there —

1570

I took the truth in, guessed sufficiently

The service for the moment —“What I say,

“Slight at your peril! We are aliens here,

“My adversary and I, called noble both;

“I am the nobler, and a name men know.

“I could refer our cause to our own court

“In our own country, but prefer appeal

“To the nearer jurisdiction. Being a priest,

“Though in a secular garb — for reasons good

“I shall adduce in due time to my peers —

1580

“I demand that the Church I serve, decide

“Between us, right the slandered lady there.

“A Tuscan noble, I might claim the Duke:

“A priest, I rather choose the Church — bid Rome

“Cover the wronged with her inviolate shield.”

There was no refusing this: they bore me off,

They bore her off, to separate cells o’ the same

Ignoble prison, and, separate, thence to Rome.

Pompilia’s face, then and thus, looked on me

The last time in this life: not one sight since,

1590

Never another sight to be! And yet

I thought I had saved her. I appealed to Rome:

It seems I simply sent her to her death.

You tell me she is dying now, or dead;

I cannot bring myself to quite believe

This is a place you torture people in:

What if this your intelligence were just

A subtlety, an honest wile to work

On a man at unawares? ’Twere worthy you.

No, Sirs, I cannot have the lady dead!

1600

That erect form, flashing brow, fulgurant eye,

That voice immortal (oh, that voice of hers!)

That vision in the blood-red day-break — that

Leap to life of the pale electric sword

Angels go armed with — that was not the last

O’ the lady! Come, I see through it, you find —

Know the manœuvre! Also herself said

I had saved her: do you dare say she spoke false?

Let me see for myself if it be so!

Though she were dying, a priest might be of use,

1610

The more when he’s a friend too — she called me

Far beyond “friend.” Come, let me see her — indeed

It is my duty, being a priest: I hope

I stand confessed, established, proved a priest?

My punishment had motive that, a priest

I, in a laic garb, a mundane mode,

Did what were harmlessly done otherwise.

I never touched her with my finger-tip

Except to carry her to the couch, that eve,

Against my heart, beneath my head, bowed low,

1620

As we priests carry the paten: that is why

— To get leave and go see her of your grace —

I have told you this whole story over again.

Do I deserve grace? For I might lock lips,

Laugh at your jurisdiction: what have you

To do with me in the matter? I suppose

You hardly think I donned a bravo’s dress

To have a hand in the new crime; on the old,

Judgment’s delivered, penalty imposed,

I was chained fast at Civita hand and foot —

1630

She had only you to trust to, you and Rome,

Rome and the Church, and no pert meddling priest

Two days ago, when Guido, with the right,

Hacked her to pieces. One might well be wroth;

I have been patient, done my best to help:

I come from Civita and punishment

As a friend of the court — and for pure friendship’s sake

Have told my tale to the end — nay, not the end —

For, wait — I’ll end — not leave you that excuse!

When we were parted — shall I go on there?

1640

I was presently brought to Rome — yes, here I stood

Opposite yonder very crucifix —

And there sat you and you, Sirs, quite the same,

I heard charge, and bore question, and told tale

Noted down in the book there — turn and see

If, by one jot or tittle, I vary now!

I’ the colour the tale takes, there’s change perhaps;

’Tis natural, since the sky is different,

Eclipse in the air now; still, the outline stays.

I showed you how it came to be my part

1650

To save the lady. Then your clerk produced

Papers, a pack of stupid and impure

Banalities called letters about love —

Love, indeed — I could teach who styled them so.

Better, I think, though priest and loveless both!

“— How was it that a wife, young, innocent,

“And stranger to your person, wrote this page?”—

“— She wrote it when the Holy Father wrote

“The bestiality that posts thro’ Rome,

“Put in his mouth by Pasquin.”—“Nor perhaps

1660

“Did you return these answers, verse, and prose,

“Signed, sealed and sent the lady? There’s your hand!”

“— This precious piece of verse, I really judge

“Is meant to copy my own character,

“A clumsy mimic; and this other prose,

“Not so much even; both rank forgery:

“Verse, quotha? Bembo’s verse! When Saint John wrote

“The tract ‘De Tribus,’ I wrote this to match.”

“— How came it, then, the documents were found

“At the inn on your departure?”—“I opine,

1670

“Because there were no documents to find

“In my presence — you must hide before you find.

“Who forged them, hardly practised in my view;

“Who found them, waited till I turned my back.”

“— And what of the clandestine visits paid,

“Nocturnal passage in and out the house

“With its lord absent? ’Tis alleged you climbed . . . ”

“— Flew on a broomstick to the man i’ the moon!

“Who witnessed or will testify this trash?”

“— The trusty servant, Margherita’s self,

1680

“Even she who brought you letters, you confess,

“And, you confess, took letters in reply:

“Forget not we have knowledge of the facts!”

“— Sirs, who have knowledge of the facts, defray

“The expenditure of wit, I waste in vain,

“Trying to find out just one fact of all!

“She who brought letters from who could not write,

“And took back letters to who could not read —

“Who was that messenger, of your charity?”

“— Well, so far favours you the circumstance

“That this same messenger . . . how shall we say? . . .

1691

Sub imputatione meretricis

Laborat, — which makes accusation null:

“We waive this woman’s:— nought makes void the next.

“Borsi, called Venerino, he who drove,

“O’ the first night when you fled away, at length

“Deposes to your kissings in the coach,

“— Frequent, frenetic . . . ” “When deposed he so?”

“After some weeks of sharp imprisonment . . . ”

“— Granted by friend the Governor, I engage —”

1700

“— For his participation in your flight!

“At length his obduracy melting made

“The avowal mentioned . . . ” “Was dismissed forthwith

“To liberty, poor knave, for recompense.

“Sirs, give what credit to the lie you can!

“For me, no word in my defence I speak,

“And God shall argue for the lady!”

        So

Did I stand question, and make answer, still

With the same result of smiling disbelief,

1710

Polite impossibility of faith

In such affected virtue in a priest;

But a showing fair play, an indulgence, even,

To one no worse than others after all —

Who had not brought disgrace to the order, played

Discreetly, ruffled gown nor ripped the cloth

In a bungling game at romps: I have told you, Sirs —

If I pretended simply to be pure,

Honest, and Christian in the case — absurd!

As well go boast myself above the needs

1720

O’ the human nature, careless how meat smells,

Wine tastes — a saint above the smack! But once

Abate my crest, own flaws i’ the flesh, agree

To go with the herd, be hog no more nor less,

Why, hogs in common herd have common rights —

I must not be unduly borne upon,

Who had just romanced a little, sown wild oats,

But ’scaped without a scandal, flagrant fault.

My name helped to a mirthful circumstance:

“Joseph” would do well to amend his plea:

1730

Undoubtedly — some toying with the wife,

But as for ruffian violence and rape,

Potiphar pressed too much on the other side!

The intrigue, the elopement, the disguise — well charged!

The letters and verse looked hardly like the truth.

Your apprehension was — of guilt enough

To be compatible with innocence,

So, punished best a little and not too much.

Had I struck Guido Franceschini’s face,

You had counselled me withdraw for my own sake,

1740

Baulk him of bravo-hiring. Friends came round,

Congratulated, “Nobody mistakes!

“The pettiness o’ the forfeiture defines

“The peccadillo: Guido gets his share:

“His wife is free of husband and hook-nose,

“The mouldy viands and the mother-in-law.

“To Civita with you and amuse the time,

“Travesty us ‘De Raptu Helenœ!”

“A funny figure must the husband cut

“When the wife makes him skip — too ticklish, eh?

1750

“Do it in Latin, not the Vulgar, then!

“Scazons — we’ll copy and send his Eminence!

“Mind — one iambus in the final foot!

“He’ll rectify it, be your friend for life!”

Oh, Sirs, depend on me for much new light

Thrown on the justice and religion here

By this proceeding, much fresh food for thought!

And I was just set down to study these

In relegation, two short days ago,

Admiring how you read the rules, when, clap,

1760

A thunder comes into my solitude —

I am caught up in a whirlwind and cast here,

Told of a sudden, in this room where so late

You dealt out law adroitly, that those scales,

I meekly bowed to, took my allotment from,

Guido has snatched at, broken in your hands,

Metes to himself the murder of his wife,

Full measure, pressed down, running over now!

Can I assist to an explanation? — Yes,

I rise in your esteem, sagacious Sirs,

1770

Stand up a renderer of reasons, not

The officious priest would personate Saint George

For a mock Princess in undragoned days,

What, the blood startles you? What, after all

The priest who needs must carry sword on thigh

May find imperative use for it? Then, there was

A princess, was a dragon belching flame,

And should have been a Saint George also? Then,

There might be worse schemes than to break the bonds

At Arezzo, lead her by the little hand,

1780

Till she reached Rome, and let her try to live?

But you were the law and the gospel — would one please

Stand back, allow your faculty elbow-room?

You blind guides who must needs lead eyes that see!

Fools, alike ignorant of man and God!

What was there here should have perplexed your wit

For a wink of the owl- eyes of you? How miss, then,

What’s now forced on you by this flare of fact —

As if Saint Peter failed to recognise

Nero as no apostle, John or James,

1790

Till someone burned a martyr, make a torch

O’ the blood and fat to show his features by!

Could you fail read this cartulary aright

On head and front of Franceschini there,

Large-lettered like hell’s masterpiece of print —

That he, from the beginning pricked at heart

By some lust, letch of hate against his wife,

Plotted to plague her into overt sin

And shame, would slay Pompilia body and soul,

And save his mean self — miserably caught

1800

I’ the quagmire of his own tricks, cheats, and lies?

— That himself wrote those papers — from himself

To himself — which, i’ the name of me and her,

His mistress-messenger gave her and me,

Touching us with such pustules of the soul

That she and I might take the taint, be shown

To the world and shuddered over, speckled so?

— That the agent put her sense into my words,

Made substitution of the thing she hoped,

For the thing she had and held, its opposite,

1810

While the husband in the background bit his lips

At each fresh failure of his precious plot?

— That when at the last we did rush each on each,

By no chance but because God willed it so —

The spark of truth was struck from out our souls —

Made all of me, descried in the first glance,

Seem fair and honest and permissible love

O’ the good and true — as the first glance told me

There was no duty patent in the world

Like daring try be good and true myself,

1820

Leaving the shows of things to the Lord of Show

And prince o’ the Power of the Air. Our very flight,

Even to its most ambiguous circumstance,

Irrefragably proved how futile, false . . .

Why, men — men and not boys — boys and not babes —

Babes and not beasts — beasts and not stocks and stones! —

Had the liar’s lie been true one pin-point speck,

Were I the accepted suitor, free o’ the place,

Disposer of the time, to come at a call

And go at a wink as who should say me nay —

1830

What need of flight, what were the gain therefrom

But just damnation, failure or success?

Damnation pure and simple to her the wife

And me the priest — who bartered private bliss

For public reprobation, the safe shade

For the sunshine which men see to pelt me by:

What other advantage — we who led the days

And nights alone i’ the house — was flight to find?

In our whole journey did we stop an hour,

Diverge a foot from strait road till we reached

1840

Or would have reached — but for that fate of ours —

The father and mother, in the eye of Rome,

The eye of yourselves we made aware of us

At the first fall of misfortune? And indeed

You did so far give sanction to our flight,

Confirm its purpose, as lend helping hand,

Deliver up Pompilia not to him

She fled, but those the flight was ventured for.

Why then could you, who stopped short, not go on

One poor step more, and justify the means,

1850

Having allowed the end? — not see and say,

“Here’s the exceptional conduct that should claim

“To be exceptionally judged on rules

“Which, understood, make no exception here”—

Why play instead into the devil’s hands

By dealing so ambiguously as gave

Guido the power to intervene like me,

Prove one exception more? I saved his wife

Against law: against law he slays her now:

Deal with him!

1860

        I have done with being judged.

I stand here guiltless in thought, word and deed,

To the point that I apprise you — in contempt

For all misapprehending ignorance

O’ the human heart, much more the mind of Christ —

That I assuredly did bow, was blessed

By the revelation of Pompilia. There!

Such is the final fact I fling you, Sirs,

To mouth and mumble and misinterpret: there!

“The priest’s in love,” have it the vulgar way!

1870

Unpriest me, rend the rags o’ the vestment, do —

Degrade deep, disenfranchise all you dare —

Remove me from the midst, no longer priest

And fit companion for the like of you —

Your gay Abati with the well-turned leg

And rose i’ the hat-rim, Canons, cross at neck

And silk mask in the pocket of the gown,

Brisk bishops with the world’s musk still unbrushed

From the rochet; I’ll no more of these good things:

There’s a crack somewhere, something that’s unsound

1880

I’ the rattle!

        For Pompilia — be advised,

Build churches, go pray! You will find me there,

I know, if you come — and you will come, I know.

Why, there’s a Judge weeping! Did not I say

You were good and true at bottom? You see the truth —

I am glad I helped you: she helped me just so.

But for Count Guido — you must counsel there!

I bow my head, bend to the very dust,

Break myself up in shame of faultiness.

1890

I had him one whole moment, as I said —

As I remember, as will never out

O’ the thoughts of me — I had him in arm’s reach

There — as you stand, Sir, now you cease to sit —

I could have killed him ere he killed his wife,

And did not: he went off alive and well

And then effected this last feat — through me!

Me — not through you — dismiss that fear! ’Twas you

Hindered me staying here to save her — not

From leaving you and going back to him

1900

And doing service in Arezzo. Come,

Instruct me in procedure! I conceive —

In all due self-abasement might I speak —

How you will deal with Guido: oh, not death!

Death, if it let her life be: otherwise

Not death — your lights will teach you clearer! I

Certainly have an instinct of my own

I’ the matter: bear with me and weigh its worth!

Let us go away — leave Guido all alone

Back on the world again that knows him now!

1910

I think he will be found (indulge so far!)

Not to die so much as slide out of life,

Pushed by the general horror and common hate

Low, lower — left o’ the very ledge of things,

I seem to see him catch convulsively

One by one at all honest forms of life,

At reason, order, decency, and use —

To cramp him and get foothold by at least;

And still they disengage them from his clutch.

“What, you are he, then, had Pompilia once

1920

“And so forwent her? Take not up with us!”

And thus I see him slowly and surely edged

Off all the table-land whence life upsprings

Aspiring to be immortality,

As the snake, hatched on hill-top by mischance,

Despite his wriggling, slips, slides, slidders down

Hill-side, lies low and prostrate on the smooth

Level of the outer place, lapsed in the vale:

So I lose Guido in the loneliness,

Silence and dusk, till at the doleful end,

1930

At the horizontal line, creation’s verge,

From what just is to absolute nothingness —

Lo, what is this he meets, strains onward still?

What other man deep further in the fate,

Who, turning at the prize of a footfall

To flatter him and promise fellowship,

Discovers in the act a frightful face —

Judas, made monstrous by much solitude!

The two are at one now! Let them love their love

That bites and claws like hate, or hate their hate

1940

That mops and mows and makes as it were love!

There, let them each tear each in devil’s-fun,

Or fondle this the other while malice aches —

Both teach, both learn detestability!

Kiss him the kiss, Iscariot! Pay that back,

That snatch o’ the slaver blistering on your lip —

By the better trick, the insult he spared Christ —

Lure him the lure o’ the letters, Aretine!

Lick him o’er slimy-smooth with jelly-filth

O’ the verse-and-prose pollution in love’s guise!

1950

The cockatrice is with the basilisk!

There let them grapple, denizens o’ the dark,

Foes or friends, but indissolubly bound,

In their one spot out of the ken of God

Or care of man, for ever and ever more!

Why, Sirs, what’s this? Why, this is sorry and strange! —

Futility, divagation: this from me

Bound to be rational, justify an act

Of sober man! — whereas, being moved so much,

I give you cause to doubt the lady’s mind:

1960

A pretty sarcasm for the world! I fear

You do her wit injustice — all through me!

Like my fate all through — ineffective help!

A poor rash advocate I prove myself.

You might be angry with good cause: but sure

At the advocate — only at the undue zeal

That spoils the force of his own plea, I think?

My part was just to tell you how things stand,

State facts and not be flustered at their fume.

But then ’tis a priest speaks: as for love — no!

1970

If you let buzz a vulgar fly like that

About your brains, as if I loved, forsooth,

Indeed, Sirs, you do wrong! We had no thought

Of such infatuation, she and I:

There are many points that prove it: do be just!

I told you — at one little roadside-place

I spent a good half-hour, paced to and fro

The garden; just to leave her free awhile,

I plucked a handful of Spring herb and bloom:

I might have sat beside her on the bench

1980

Where the children were: I wish the thing had been,

Indeed: the event could not be worse, you know:

One more half-hour of her saved! She’s dead now, Sirs!

While I was running on at such a rate,

Friends should have plucked me by the sleeve: I went

Too much o’ the trivial outside of her face

And the purity that shone there — plain to me,

Not to you, what more natural? Nor am I

Infatuated — oh, I saw, be sure!

Her brow had not the right line, leaned too much,

1990

Painters would say; they like the straight-up Greek:

This seemed bent somewhat with an invisible crown

Of martyr and saint, not such as art approves.

And how the dark orbs dwelt deep underneath,

Looked out of such a sad sweet heaven on me —

The lips, compressed a little, came forward too,

Careful for a whole world of sin and pain.

That was the face, her husband makes his plea,

He sought just to disfigure — no offence

Beyond that! Sirs, let us be rational!

2000

He needs must vindicate his honour — ay,

Yet shirks, the coward, in a clown’s disguise,

Away from the scene, endeavours to escape.

Now, had he done so, slain and left no trace

O’ the slayer — what were vindicated, pray?

You had found his wife disfigured or a corpse,

For what and by whom? It is too palpable!

Then, here’s another point involving law:

I use this argument to show you meant

No calumny against us by that title

2010

O’ the sentence — liars try to twist it so:

What penalty it bore, I had to pay

Till further proof should follow of innocence —

Probationis ob defectum, — proof?

How could you get proof without trying us?

You went through the preliminary form,

Stopped there, contrived this sentence to amuse

The adversary. If the title ran

For more than fault imputed and not proved,

That was a simple penman’s error, else

2020

A slip i’ the phrase — as when we say of you

“Charged with injustice”— which may either be

Or not be — ’tis a name that sticks meanwhile.

Another relevant matter: fool that I am!

Not what I wish true, yet a point friends urge:

It is not true — yet, since friends think it helps —

She only tried me when some others failed —

Began with Conti, whom I told you of,

And Guillichini, Guido’s kinsfolk both,

And when abandoned by them, not before,

2030

Turned to me. That’s conclusive why she turned.

Much good they got by the happy cowardice!

Conti is dead, poisoned a month ago:

Does that much strike you as a sin? Not much,

After the present murder — one mark more

On the Moor’s skin — what is black by blacker still?

Conti had come here and told truth. And so

With Guillichini; he’s condemned of course

To the galleys, as a friend in this affair,

Tried and condemned for no one thing i’ the world,

2040

A fortnight since by who but the Governor? —

The just judge, who refused Pompilia help

At first blush, being her husband’s friend, you know.

There are two tales to suit the separate courts,

Arezzo and Rome: he tells you here, we fled

Alone, unhelped — lays stress on the main fault,

The spiritual sin, Rome looks to: but elsewhere

He likes best we should break in, steal, bear off,

Be fit to brand and pillory and flog —

That’s the charge goes to the heart of the Governor:

2050

If these unpriest me, you and I may yet

Converse, Vincenzo Marzi-Medici!

Oh, Sirs, there are worse men than you, I say!

More easily duped, I mean; this stupid lie,

Its liar never dared propound in Rome,

He gets Arezzo to receive — nay more,

Gets Florence and the Duke to authorise!

This is their Rota’s sentence, their Granduke

Signs and seals! Rome for me henceforward — Rome,

Where better men are — most of all, that man

2060

The Augustinian of the Hospital,

Who writes the letter — he confessed, he says,

Many a dying person, never one

So sweet and true and pure and beautiful.

A good man! Will you make him Pope one day?

Not that he is not good too, this we have —

But old — else he would have his word to speak,

His truth to teach the world: I thirst for truth,

But shall not drink it till I reach the source.

Sirs, I am quiet again. You see, we are

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So very pitiable, she and I,

Who had conceivably been otherwise.

Forget distemperature and idle heat!

Apart from truth’s sake, what’s to move so much?

Pompilia will be presently with God;

I am, on earth, as good as out of it,

A relegated priest; when exile ends,

I mean to do my duty and live long.

She and I are mere strangers now: but priests

Should study passion; how else cure mankind,

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Who come for help in passionate extremes?

I do but play with an imagined life

Of who, unfettered by a vow, unblessed

By the higher call — since you will have it so —

Leads it companioned by the woman there.

To live, and see her learn, and learn by her,

Out of the low obscure and petty world —

Or only see one purpose and one will

Evolve themselves i’ the world, change wrong to right:

To have to do with nothing but the true,

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The good, the eternal — and these, not alone

In the main current of the general life,

But small experiences of every day,

Concerns of the particular hearth and home:

To learn not only by a comet’s rush

But a rose’s birth — not by the grandeur, God —

But the comfort, Christ. All this, how far away!

Mere delectation, meet for a minute’s dream! —

Just as a drudging student trims his lamp,

Opens his Plutarch, puts him in the place

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Of Roman, Grecian; draws the patched gown close,

Dreams, “Thus should I fight, save or rule the world!”—

Then smilingly, contentedly, awakes

To the old solitary nothingness.

So I, from such communion, pass content. . . .

O great, just, good God! Miserable me!

Pompilia

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

Pompilia Comparini — laughable!

Also ’tis writ that I was married there

Four years ago; and they will add, I hope,

10

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

20

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 —

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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 —

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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,

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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

60

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,

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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 —

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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,

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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.

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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,

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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,

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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,

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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,

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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.

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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!

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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:

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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!

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        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,

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“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 —

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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:

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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?”

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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.

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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

240

“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!

250

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,

260

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

270

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.

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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,

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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,

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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,

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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 —

320

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,

330

(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,

340

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.

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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.

360

        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

370

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

380

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

390

(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 —

400

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?

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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

420

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 —

430

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,

440

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,

450

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

460

“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,

470

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,

480

“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

490

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?

500

“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

510

“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:

520

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,

530

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

540

“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,

550

“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,

560

“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,

570

“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 —

580

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,

590

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,

600

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,

610

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 —

621

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,

630

“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

640

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?

650

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,

660

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.”

        Yes, say

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,

670

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,

680

“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

690

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.

700

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 —

710

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 . . .

720

— 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,

730

“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

740

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,

750

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

760

“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’,

770

“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;

780

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,

790

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

800

“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 —

810

“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!

820

“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 —

830

“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

840

“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.

850

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.

860

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

870

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

880

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

890

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 —

900

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.

910

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!

920

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.”

930

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 —

940

Let him be present, by the name invoked,

Giuseppe-Maria Caponsacchi!

        There,

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.

950

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

960

“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,

970

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:

980

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,

990

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

1000

“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 —

1010

“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

1020

“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?”

1030

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.

1040

“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,

1050

“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

1060

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,

1070

“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

1080

“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

1090

“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,

1100

“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?

1110

“ ‘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,

1120

“ ‘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:

1130

“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,

1140

And whispered —“Caponsacchi!”

        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.

1150

“He may prevent your husband, kill himself,

“So desperate and all foredone is he!

“Just hear the pretty verse he made to-day!

“I 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.

1160

“Your husband dashes you against the stones;

“This man would place each fragment in a shrine:

“You hate him, love your husband!”

        I returned,

“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,

1170

“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

1180

“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!”

1190

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.

1200

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 —

1210

“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

1220

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.

1230

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!

1240

“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

1250

“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!”

1260

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,

1270

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,

1280

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:

1290

“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,

1300

“ ‘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

1310

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

1320

“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

1330

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

1340

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.

1350

“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?

1361

“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.

1370

“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

1380

“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

1390

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,

1400

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

1410

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,

1420

“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,

1430

“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,

1440

“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!”

        He replied —

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

1450

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:

1460

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

1470

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

1480

“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

1490

Then, for the first time, that I could not write)—

Flirted his way, have flecked the blaze!

        For me,

’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

1500

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,

1510

“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

1520

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?

1530

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

1540

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 —

1550

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.

1560

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 —

1570

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,

1580

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

1590

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!”

1600

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,

1610

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

1620

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

1630

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

1640

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

1650

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!

1660

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

1670

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,

1680

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?

1690

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

1700

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,

1710

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,

1720

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

1730

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!

1740

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,

1750

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!

1760

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

1770

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,

1780

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,

1790

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:

1800

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.

1810

“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

1820

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

1830

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,

1840

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.

Dominus Hyacinthus de Archangelis

Pauperum Procurator

Ah, my Giacinto, he’s no ruddy rogue,

Is not Cinone? What, to-day we’re eight?

Seven and one’s eight, I hope, old curly-pate!

— Branches me out his verb-tree on the slate,

Amo -as -avi -atum -are -ans,

Up to - aturus, person, tense, and mood,

Quies me cum subjunctivo (I could cry)

And chews Corderius with his morning crust!

Look eight years onward, and he’s perched, he’s perched,

10

Dapper and deft on stool beside this chair,

Cinozzo, Cinoncello, who but he?

— Trying his milk-teeth on some crusty case

Like this, papa shall triturate full soon

To smooth Papinianian pulp!

        It trots

Already through my head, though noon be now,

Does supper-time and what belongs to eye.

Dispose, O Don, o’ the day, first work then play!

— The proverb bids. And “then” means, won’t we hold

20

Our little yearly lovesome frolic feast,

Cinuolo’s birth-night, Cinicello’s own,

That makes gruff January grin perforce!

For too contagious grows the mirth, the warmth

Escaping from so many hearts at once —

When the good wife, buxom and bonny yet,

Jokes the hale grandsire — such are just the sort

To go off suddenly — he who hides the key

O’ the box beneath his pillow every night —

Which box may hold a parchment (some one thinks)

30

Will show a scribbled something like a name

“Cinino, Ciniccino,” near the end,

“To whom I give and I bequeath my lands,

“Estates, tenements, hereditaments,

“When I decease as honest grandsire ought:”

Wherefore — yet this one time again perhaps —

Shan’t my Orvieto fuddle his old nose!

Then, uncles, one or the other, well i’ the world,

May — drop in, merely? — trudge through rain and wind,

Rather! The smell-feasts rouse them at the hint

40

There’s cookery in a certain dwelling-place!

Gossips, too, each with keepsake in his poke,

Will pick the way, thrid lane by lantern-light,

And so find door, put galligaskin off

At entry of a decent domicile

Cornered in snug Condotti — all for love,

All to crush cup with Cinucciatolo!

        Well,

Let others climb the heights o’ the court, the camp!

How vain are chambering and wantonness,

50

Revel and rout and pleasures that make mad!

Commend me to home-joy, the family board,

Altar and hearth! These, with a brisk career,

A source of honest profit and good fame,

Just so much work as keeps the brain from rust,

Just so much play as lets the heart expand,

Honouring God and serving man — I say,

These are reality, and all else — fluff,

Nutshell and naught — thank Flaccus for the phrase!

Suppose I had been Fisc, yet bachelor!

60

Why, work with a will, then! Wherefore lazy now?

Turn up the hour-glass, whence no sand-grain slips

But should have done its duty to the saint

O’ the day, the son and heir that’s eight years old!

Let law come dimple Cinoncino’s cheek,

And Latin dumple Cinarello’s chin,

The while we spread him fine and toss him flat

This pulp that makes the pancake, trim our mass

Of matter into Argument the First,

Prime Pleading in defence of our accused,

70

Which, once a-waft on paper wing, shall soar,

Shall signalise before applausive Rome

What study, and mayhap some mother-wit,

Can do toward making Master fop and Fisc

Old bachelor Bottinius bite his thumb.

Now, how good God is! How falls plumb to point

This murder, gives me Guido to defend

Now, of all days i’ the year, just when the boy

Verges on Virgil, reaches the right age

For some such illustration from his sire,

80

Stimulus to himself! One might wait years

And never find the chance which now finds me!

The fact is, there’s a blessing on the hearth,

A special providence for fatherhood!

Here’s a man, and what’s more, a noble, kills

— Not sneakingly but almost with parade —

Wife’s father and wife’s mother and wife’s self

That’s mother’s self of son and heir (like mine!)

— And here stand I, the favoured advocate,

Who pluck this flower o’ the field, no Solomon

90

Was ever clothed in glorious gold to match,

And set the same in Cinoncino’s cap!

I defend Guido and his comrades — I!

Pray God, I keep me humble: not to me —

Non nobis, Domine, sed tibi laus!

How the fop chuckled when they made him Fisc!

We’ll beat you, my Bottinius, all for love,

All for our tribute to Cinotto’s day!

Why, ’sbuddikins, old Innocent himself

May rub his eyes at the bustle — ask “What’s this

100

“Rolling from out the rostrum, as a gust

“O’ the Pro Milone had been prisoned there,

“And rattled Rome awake?” Awaken Rome,

How can the Pope doze on in decency?

He needs must wake up also, speak his word,

Have his opinion like the rest of Rome,

About this huge, this hurly-burly case:

He wants who can excogitate the truth,

Give the result in speech, plain black and white,

To mumble in the mouth and make his own

110

— A little changed, good man, a little changed!

No matter, so his gratitude be moved,

By when my Giacintino gets of age,

Mindful of who thus helped him at a pinch,

Archangelus Procurator Pauperum —

And proved Hortensius Redivivus!

        Whew!

To earn the Est-est, merit the minced herb

That mollifies the liver’s leathery slice,

With here a goose-foot, there a cock’s-comb stuck,

120

Cemented in an element of cheese!

I doubt if dainties do the grandsire good:

Last June he had a sort of strangling . . . bah!

He’s his own master, and his will is made.

So, liver fizz, law flit and Latin fly

As we rub hands o’er dish by way of grace!

May I lose cause if I vent one word more

Except — with fresh-cut quill we ink the white —

P-r-o-pro Guidone et Sociis. There!

Count Guido married — or, in Latin due,

130

What? Duxit in uxorem? — commonplace!

Tædas jugales iniit, subiit, — ha!

He underwent the matrimonial torch?

Connubio stabili sibi junxit, — hum!

In stable bond of marriage bound his own?

That’s clear of any modern taint: and yet . . .

Virgil is little help to who writes prose.

He shall attack me Terence with the dawn,

Shall Cinuccino! Mum, mind business, Sir!

Thus circumstantially evolve we facts,

140

Ita se habet ideo series facti:

He wedded — ah, with owls for augury!

Nupserat, heu sinistris avibus,

One of the blood Arezzo boasts her best,

Dominus Guido, nobili genere ortus,

Pompiliœ. . . .

        But the version afterward!

Curb we this ardour! Notes alone, to-day,

The speech to-morrow and the Latin last:

Such was the rule in Farinacci’s time.

Indeed I hitched it into verse and good.

150

Unluckily, law quite absorbs a man,

Or else I think I too had poetised.

“Law is the pork substratum of the fry,

“Goose- foot and cock’s-comb are Latinity,”—

And in this case, if circumstance assist,

We’ll garnish law with idiom, never fear!

Out-of-the-way events extend our scope:

For instance, when Bottini brings his charge,

“That letter which you say Pompilia wrote,

“To criminate her parents and herself

160

“And disengage her husband from the coil —

“That, Guido Franceschini wrote, say we:

“Because Pompilia could nor read nor write,

“Therefore he pencilled her such letter first,

“Then made her trace in ink the same again.”

— Ha, my Bottini, have I thee on hip?

How will he turn this nor break Tully’s pate?

Existimandum” (don’t I hear the dog!)

Quod Guido designaverit elementa

Dictæ epistolæ, quæ fuerint

170

“(Superinducto ab ea calamo)

Notata atramento”— there’s a style! —

Quia ipsa scribere nesciebat.” Boh!

Now, my turn! Either, Insulse! — I outburst,

Stupidly put! Inane is the response,

Inanis est responsio, or the like —

To-wit, that each of all those characters,

Quod singula elementa epistolæ,

Had first of all been traced for her by him,

Fuerant per eum prius designata,

180

And then, the ink applied a-top of that,

Et deinde, superinducto calamo,

The piece, she says, became her handiwork,

Per eam, efformata, ut ipsa asserit.

Inane were such response! (a second time:)

Her husband outlined her the whole, forsooth?

Vir ejus lineabat epistolam?

What, she confesses that she wrote the thing,

Fatetur eam scripsisse, (scorn that scathes!)

That she might pay obedience to her lord?

190

Ut viro obtemperaret, apices

(Here repeat charge with proper varied phrase)

Eo designante, ipsaque calamum

Super inducente? By such argument,

Ita pariter, she seeks to show the same,

(Ay, by Saint Joseph and what saints you please)

Epistolam ostendit, medius fidius,

No voluntary deed but fruit of force!

Non voluntarie sed coacte scriptam!

That’s the way to write Latin, friend my Fisc!

200

Bottini is a beast, one barbarous:

Look out for him when he attempts to say

“Armed with a pistol, Guido followed her!”

Will not I be beforehand with my Fisc,

Cut away phrase by phrase from underfoot!

Guido Pompiliam — Guido thus his wife

Following with igneous engine, shall I have?

Armis munitus igneis persequens —

Arma sulphurea gestans, sulphury arms,

Or, might one style a pistol — popping-piece?

210

Armatus breviori sclopulo?

We’ll let him have been armed so, though it make

Somewhat against us: I had thought to own —

Provided with a simple travelling-sword,

Ense solummodo viatorio

Instructus: but we’ll grant the pistol here:

Better we lost the cause than lacked the gird

At the Fisc’s Latin, lost the Judge’s laugh!

It’s Venturini that decides for style.

Tommati rather goes upon the law.

220

So, as to law —

        Ah, but with law ne’er hope

To level the fellow — don’t I know his trick!

How he draws up, ducks under, twists aside!

He’s a lean-gutted hectic rascal, fine

As pale-haired red-eyed ferret which pretends

’Tis ermine, pure soft snow from tail to snout.

He eludes law by piteous looks aloft,

Lets Latin glance off as he makes appeal

To the saint that’s somewhere in the ceiling-top —

230

Do you suppose that I don’t see the beast?

Plague of the ermine-vermin! For it takes,

It takes, and here’s the fellow Fisc, you see,

And Judge, you’ll not be long in seeing next!

Confound the fop — he’s now at work like me:

Enter his study, as I seem to do,

Hear him read out his writing to himself!

I know he writes as if he spoke: I hear

The hoarse shrill throat, see shut eyes, neck shot-forth,

— I see him strain on tiptoe, soar and pour

240

Eloquence out, nor stay nor stint at all —

Perorate in the air, and so, to press

With the product! What abuse of type is here!

He’ll keep clear of my cast, my logic-throw,

Let argument slide, and then deliver swift

Some bowl from quite an unguessed point of stand —

Having the luck o’ the last word, the reply!

A plaguy cast, a mortifying stroke:

You face a fellow — cries “So, there you stand?

“But I discourteous jump clean o’er your head!

250

“You play ship-carpenter, not pilot so —

“Stop rat-holes, while a sea sweeps through the breach —

“Hammer and fortify at puny points!

“Do, clamp and tenon, make all tight and safe!

“’Tis here and here and here you ship a sea,

“No good of your stopped leaks and littleness!”

Yet what do I name “little and a leak?”

The main defence o’ the murder’s used to death,

By this time, dry bare bones, no scrap to pick:

Safer I worked at the new, the unforeseen,

260

The nice bye-stroke, the fine and improvised,

Point that can titillate the brain o’ the Bench

Torpid with over-teaching, by this time!

As if Tommati, that has heard, reheard

And heard again, first this side and then that —

Guido and Pietro, Pietro and Guido din

And deafen, full three years, at each long ear —

Don’t want amusement for instruction now,

Won’t rather feel a flea run o’er his ribs,

Than a daw settle heavily on his head!

270

Oh, I was young and had the trick of fence,

Knew subtle pass and push with careless right —

The left arm ever quietly behind back

With the dagger in ’t: not both hands to blade!

Puff and blow, put the strength out, Blunderbore!

That’s my subordinate, young Spreti, now,

Pedant and prig — he’ll pant away at proof,

That’s his way!

        Now for mine — to rub some life

Into one’s choppy fingers this cold day!

280

I trust Cinuzzo ties on tippet, guards

The precious throat on which so much depends!

Guido must be all goose-flesh in his hole,

Despite the prison-straw: bad Carnival

For captives! no sliced fry for him, poor Count!

Carnival-time — another providence!

The town a-swarm with strangers to amuse,

To edify, to give one’s name and fame

In charge of, till they find, some future day,

Cintino come and claim it, his name too,

290

Pledge of the pleasantness they owe papa —

Who else was it, cured Rome of her great qualms,

When she must needs have her own judgment? — ay

Since all her topping wits had set to work,

Pronounced already on the case: mere boys,

Twice Cineruggiolo’s age and half his sense,

As good as tell me, when I cross the court,

“Master Arcangeli!” (plucking at my gown)

“We can predict, we comprehend your play,

“We’ll help you save your client.” Tra-la-la!

300

I’ve travelled ground, from childhood till this hour,

To have the town anticipate my track!

The old fox takes the plain and velvet path,

The young hound’s predilection — prints the dew,

Don’t he, to suit their pulpy pads of paw?

No! Burying nose deep down i’ the briery bush,

Thus I defend Count Guido.

        Where are we weak?

First, which is foremost in advantage too,

Our murder — we call, killing — is a fact

310

Confessed, defended, made a boast of: good!

To think the Fisc claimed use of torture here,

And got thereby avowal plump and plain

That gives me just the chance I wanted — scope

Not for brute-force but ingenuity,

Explaining matters, not denying them!

One may dispute — as I am bound to do,

And shall — validity of process here:

Inasmuch as a noble is exempt

From torture which plebeians undergo

320

In such a case: for law is lenient, lax,

Remits the torture to a nobleman

Unless suspicion be of twice the strength

Attaches to a man born vulgarly:

We don’t card silk with comb that dresses wool.

Moreover, ’twas severity undue

In this case, even had the lord been lout.

What utters, on this head, our oracle,

Our Farinacci, my Gamaliel erst,

In those immortal “Questions?” What I quote:

330

Of all the tools at Law’s disposal, sure

“That named Vigiliarum is the best —

“That is, the worst — to whoso has to bear:

“Lasting, as it may do, from some seven hours

“To ten, (beyond ten, we’ve no precedent;

“Certain have touched their ten but, bah, they died!)

“It does so efficaciously convince

“That — speaking by much observation here —

“Out of each hundred cases, by my count,

“Never I knew of patients beyond four

340

“Withstand its taste, or less than ninety-six

“End by succumbing: only martyrs four,

“Of obstinate silence, guilty or no — against

“Ninety-six full confessors, innocent

“Or otherwise — so shrewd a tool have we!”

No marvel either: in unwary hands,

Death on the spot is no rare consequence:

As indeed all but happened in this case

To one of ourselves, our young tough peasant-friend

The accomplice called Baldeschi: they were rough,

350

Dosed him with torture as you drench a horse,

Not modify your treatment to a man:

So, two successive days he fainted dead,

And only on the third essay, gave up,

Confessed like flesh and blood. We could reclaim —

Blockhead Bottini giving cause enough!

But no — we’ll take it as spontaneously

Confessed: we’ll have the murder beyond doubt.

Ah, fortunate (the poet’s word reversed)

Inasmuch as we know our happiness!

360

Had the antagonist left dubiety,

Here were we proving murder a mere myth,

And Guido innocent, ignorant, absent — ay,

Absent! He was — why, where should Christian be? —

Engaged in visiting his proper church,

The duty of us all at Christmas-time;

When Caponsacchi, the seducer, stung

To madness by his relegation, cast

About him and contrived a remedy:

To stave off what opprobrium broke afresh,

370

By the birth o’ the babe, on him the imputed sire,

He came and quietly sought to smother up

His shame and theirs together — killed the three,

And fled —(go seek him where you please to search)—

Just at the moment, Guido, touched by grace,

Devotions ended, hastened to the spot,

Meaning to pardon his convicted wife,

“Neither do I condemn thee, go in peace!”—

Who thus arrived i’ the nick of time to catch

The charge o’ the killing, though great-heartedly

380

He came but to forgive and bring to life.

Doubt ye the force of Christmas on the soul?

“Is thine eye evil because mine is good?”

So, doubtless, had I needed argue here

But for the full confession round and sound!

Thus would you have some kingly alchemist —

Whose concern should not be with proving brass

Transmutable to gold, but triumphing,

Rather, above his gold changed out of brass,

Not vulgarly to the mere sight and touch,

390

But in the idea, the spiritual display,

Proud apparition buoyed by winged words

Hovering above its birth- place in the brain —

Here would you have this excellent personage

Forced, by the gross need, to gird apron round,

Plant forge, light fire, ply bellows — in a word,

Demonstrate — when a faulty pipkin’s crack

May disconcert you his presumptive truth!

Here were I hanging to the testimony

Of one of these poor rustics — four, ye Gods!

400

Whom the first taste of friend the Fiscal’s cord

Might drive into undoing my whole speech,

Shaming truth so!

        I wonder, all the same,

Not so much at those peasants’ lack of heart;

But — Guido Franceschini, nobleman,

Bear pain no better! Everybody knows

It used once, when my father was a boy,

To form a proper, nay, important point

I’ the education of our well-born youth,

410

To take the torture handsomely at need,

Without confessing in this clownish guise,

Each noble had his rack for private use,

And would, for the diversion of a guest,

Bid it be set up in the yard of arms,

To take thereon his hour of exercise —

Command the varletry stretch, strain their best,

While friends looked on, admired my lord could smile

’Mid tugging which had caused an ox to roar.

Men are no longer men!

420

        — And advocates

No longer Farinacci, let men add,

If I one more time fly from point proposed!

So, Vindicatio, — here begins the same! —

Honoris causa; so we make our stand:

Honour in us had injury, we shall prove.

Or if we fail to prove such injury

More than misprision of the fact — what then?

It is enough, authorities declare,

If the result, the deed in question now,

430

Be caused by confidence that injury

Is veritable and no figment: since,

What, though proved fancy afterward, seemed fact

At the time, they argue shall excuse result.

That which we do, persuaded of good cause

For what we do, hold justifiable! —

The casuists bid: man, bound to do his best,

They would not have him leave that best undone

And mean to do the worst — though fuller light

Show best was worst and worst would have been best.

440

Act by the present light, they ask of man.

Ultra quod hic non agitur, besides

It is not anyway our business here,

De probatione adulterii,

To prove what we thought crime was crime indeed,

Ad irrogandam pænam, and require

Its punishment: such nowise do we seek:

Sed ad effectum, but ’tis our concern,

Excusandi, here to simply find excuse,

Occisorem, for who did the killing-work,

450

Et ad illius defensionem (mark

The difference!) and defend the man, just that.

Quo casu levior probatio

Exuberaret, to which end far lighter proof

Suffices than the prior case would claim:

It should be always harder to convict,

In short, than to establish innocence,

Therefore we shall demonstrate first of all

That Honour is a gift of God to man

Precious beyond compare — which natural sense

460

Of human rectitude and purity —

Which white, man’s soul is born with, brooks no touch:

Therefore, the sensitivest spot of all,

Woundable by a wafture breathed from black,

Is — honour within honour, like the eye

Centred i’ the ball — the honour of our wife.

Touch us o’ the pupil of our honour, then,

Not actually — since so you slay outright —

But by a gesture simulating touch,

Presumable mere menace of such taint —

470

This were our warrant for eruptive ire

“To whose dominion I impose no end.”

(Virgil, now, should not be too difficult

To Cinoncino — say the early books . . .

Pen, truce to further gambols! Poscimur!)

Nor can revenge of injury done here

To the honour proved the life and soul of us,

Be too excessive, too extravagant:

Such wrong seeks and must have complete revenge.

Show we this, first, on the mere natural ground:

480

Begin at the beginning, and proceed

Incontrovertibly. Theodoric,

In an apt sentence Cassiodorus cites,

Propounds for basis of all household law —

I hardly recollect it, but it ends,

“Bird mates with bird, beast genders with his like,

“And brooks no interference:” bird and beast?

The very insects . . . if they wive or no,

How dare I say when Aristotle doubts?

But the presumption is they likewise wive,

490

At least the nobler sorts; for take the bee

As instance — copying King Solomon —

Why that displeasure of the bee to aught

That savours of incontinency, makes

The unchaste a very horror to the hive?

Whence comes it bees obtain the epithet

Of castæ apes? notably “the chaste?”

Because, ingeniously saith Scaliger,

(The young one — see his book of Table-talk)

“Such is their hatred of immodest act,

500

“They fall upon the offender, sting to death.”

I mind a passage much confirmative

I’ the Idyllist (though I read him Latinized)

“Why,” asks a shepherd, “is this bank unfit

“For celebration of our vernal loves?”

“Oh swain,” returns the wiser shepherdess,

“Bees swarm here, and would quick resent our warmth!”

Only cold-blooded fish lack instinct here,

Nor gain nor guard connubiality:

But beasts, quadrupedal, mammiferous,

510

Do credit to their beasthood: witness him,

That Ælian cites, the noble elephant,

(Or if not Ælian, somebody as sage)

Who seeing much offence beneath his nose,

His master’s friend exceed in courtesy

The due allowance to that master’s wife,

Taught them good manners and killed both at once,

Making his master and all men admire.

Indubitably, then, that master’s self

Favoured by circumstance, had done the same

520

Or else stood clear rebuked by his own beast.

Adeo, ut qui honorem spernit, thus,

Who values his own honour not a straw —

Et non recuperare curat, nor

Labours by might and main to salve its wound,

Se ulciscendo, by revenging him,

Nil differat a belluis, is a brute,

Quinimo irrationabilior

Ipsismet belluis, nay, contrariwise,

Much more irrational than brutes themselves,

530

Should be considered, reputetur! How?

If a poor animal feel honour smart,

Taught by blind instinct nature plants in him,

Shall man — confessed creation’s master-stroke,

Nay, intellectual glory, nay, a god,

Nay, of the nature of my Judges here —

Shall man prove the insensible, the block,

The blot o’ the earth he crawls on to disgrace?

(Come, that’s both solid and poetic)— man

Derogate, live for the low tastes alone,

540

Mean creeping cares about the animal life?

May Gigia have remembered, nothing stings

Fried liver out of its monotony

Of richness like a root of fennel, chopped

Fine with the parsley: parsley-sprigs, I said —

Was there need I should say “and fennel too?”

But no, she cannot have been so obtuse!

To our argument! The fennel will be chopped.

From beast to man next mount we — ay, but, mind,

Still mere man, not yet Christian — that, in time!

550

Not too fast, mark you! ’Tis on Heathen grounds

We next defend our act: then, fairly urge —

If this were done of old, in a green tree,

Allowed in the Spring rawness of our kind,

What may be licensed in the Autumn dry,

And ripe, the latter harvest-tide of man?

If, with his poor and primitive half-lights,

The Pagan, whom our devils served for gods,

Could stigmatise the breach of marriage-vow

As that which blood, blood only might efface —

560

Absolve the husband, outraged, whose revenge

Anticipated law, plied sword himself —

How with the Christian in full blaze of day?

Shall not he rather double penalty,

Multiply vengeance, than, degenerate,

Let privilege be minished, droop, decay?

Therefore set forth at large the ancient law!

Superabundant the examples be

To pick and choose from. The Athenian Code,

Solon’s, the name is serviceable — then,

570

The Laws of the Twelve Tables, that fifteenth —

“Romulus” likewise rolls out round and large.

The Julian; the Cornelian; Gracchus’ Law:

So old a chime, the bells ring of themselves!

Spreti can set that going if he please,

I point you, for my part, the belfry out,

Intent to rise from dusk, diluculum,

Into the Christian day shall broaden next.

First, the fit compliment to His Holiness

Happily reigning: then sustain the point —

580

All that was long ago declared as law

By the early Revelation, stands confirmed

By Apostle and Evangelist and Saint —

To- wit — that Honour is the supreme good.

Why should I baulk Saint Jerome of his phrase?

Ubi honor non est, where no honour is,

Ibi contemptus est; and where contempt,

Ibi injuria frequens; and where that,

The frequent injury, ibi et indignatio;

And where the indignation, ibi quies

590

Nulla; and where there is no quietude,

Why, ibi, there, the mind is often cast

Down from the heights where it proposed to dwell,

Mens a proposito sœpe dejicitur.

And naturally the mind is so cast down,

Since harder ’tis, quum difficilius sit,

Iram cohibere, to coerce one’s wrath,

Quam miracula facere, than work miracles —

Saint Gregory smiles in his First Dialogue:

Whence we infer, the ingenuous soul, the man

600

Who makes esteem of honour and repute,

Whenever honour and repute are touched,

Arrives at term of fury and despair,

Loses all guidance from the reason-check:

As in delirium, or a frenzy-fit,

Nor fury nor despair he satiates — no,

Not even if he attain the impossible,

O’erturn the hinges of the universe

To annihilate — not whose caused the smart

Solely, the author simply of his pain,

610

But the place, the memory, vituperii,

O’the shame and scorn: quia, — says Solomon,

(The Holy Spirit speaking by his mouth

In Proverbs, the sixth chapter near the end)

— Because, the zeal and fury of a man,

Zelus et furor viri, will not spare,

Non parcet, in the day of his revenge,

In die vindictœ, nor will acquiesce,

Nec acquiescet, through a person’s prayers,

Cujusdam precibus — nec suscipiet,

620

Nor yet take, pro redemptione, for

Redemption, dona plurium, gifts of friends,

Nor money-payment to compound for ache.

Who recognises not my client’s case?

Whereto, as strangely consentaneous here,

Adduce Saint Bernard in the Epistle writ

To Robertulus, his nephew: Too much grief.

Dolor quippe nimius non deliberat,

Does not excogitate propriety,

Non verecundatur, nor knows shame at all,

630

Non consulit rationem, nor consults

Reason, non dignitatis metuit

Damnum, nor dreads the loss of dignity;

Modum et ordinem, order and the mode,

Ignorat, it ignores: why, trait for trait,

Was ever portrait limned so like the life?

(By Cavalier Maratta, shall I say?

I hear he’s first in reputation now.)

Yes, that of Samson in the Sacred Text:

That’s not so much the portrait as the man

640

Samson in Gaza was the antetype

Of Guido at Rome: for note the Nazarite!

Blinded he was — an easy thing to bear,

Intrepidly he took imprisonment,

Gyves, stripes, and daily labour at the mill:

But when he found himself, i’ the public place,

Destined to make the common people sport,

Disdain burned up with such an impetus

I’ the breast of him that, all of him on fire,

Moriatur, roared he, let my soul’s self die,

650

Anima mea, with the Philistines!

So, pulled down pillar, roof, and death and all,

Multosque plures interfecit, ay,

And many more he killed thus, moriens,

Dying, quam vivus, than in his whole life,

Occiderat, he ever killed before.

Are these things writ for no example, Sirs?

One instance more, and let me see who doubts!

Our Lord Himself, made up of mansuetude,

Sealing the sum of sufferance up, received

660

Opprobrium, contumely, and buffeting

Without complaint: but when He found Himself

Touched in His honour never so little for once,

Then outbroke indignation pent before —

Honorem meum nemini dabo!” “No,

“My honour I to nobody will give!”

And certainly the example so hath wrought,

That whosoever, at the proper worth,

Apprises worldly honour and repute,

Esteems it nobler to die honoured man

670

Beneath Mannaia, than live centuries

Disgraced in the eye o’ the world. We find Saint Paul

No miscreant to this faith delivered once:

“Far worthier were it that I died,” cries he,

Expedit mihi magis mori, “than

“That any one should make my glory void,”

Quam ut gloriam meam quis evacuet!

See, ad Corinthienses: whereupon

Saint Ambrose makes a comment with much fruit,

Doubtless my Judges long since laid to heart,

680

So I desist from bringing forward here —

(I can’t quite recollect it.)

        Have I proved

Satis superque, both enough and to spare,

That Revelation old and new admits

The natural man may effervesce in ire,

O’erflood earth, o’erfroth heaven with foamy rage,

At the first puncture to his self-respect?

Then, Sirs, this Christian dogma, this law-bud

Full-blown now, soon to bask the absolute flower

690

Of Papal doctrine in our blaze of clay —

Bethink you, shall we miss one promise-streak,

One doubtful birth of dawn crepuscular,

One dew-drop comfort to humanity,

Now that the chalice teems with noonday wine?

Yea, argue Molinists who bar revenge —

Referring just to what makes out our case!

Under old dispensation, argue they,

The doom of the adulterous wife was death,

Stoning by Moses’ law. “Nay, stone her not,

700

“Put her away!” next legislates our Lord;

And last of all, “Nor yet divorce a wife!”

Ordains the Church, “she typifies ourself,

The Bride no fault shall cause to fall from Christ.”

Then, as no jot nor tittle of the Law

Has passed away — which who presumes to doubt?

As not one word of Christ is rendered vain —

Which, could it be though heaven and earth should pass?

— Where do I find my proper punishment

For my adulterous wife, I humbly ask

710

Of my infallible Pope — who now remits

Even the divorce allowed by Christ in lieu

Of lapidation Moses licensed me?

The Gospel checks the Law which throws the stone,

The Church tears the divorce-bill Gospel grants,

The wife sins and enjoys impunity!

What profits me the fulness of the days,

The final dispensation, I demand,

Unless Law, Gospel, and the Church subjoin.

“But who hath barred thee primitive revenge,

720

“Which, like fire damped and dammed up, burns more fierce?

“Use thou thy natural privilege of man,

“Else wert thou found like those old ingrate Jews,

“Despite the manna- banquet on the board,

“A-longing after melons, cucumbers,

“And such like trash of Egypt left behind!”

(There was one melon, had improved our soup,

But did not Cinoncino need the rind

To make a boat with? So I seem to think.)

Law, Gospel, and the Church — from these we leap

730

To the very last revealment, easy rule

Befitting the well-born and thorough-bred

O’ the happy day we live in — not the dark

O’ the early rude and acorn- eating race.

“Behold,” quoth James, “we bridle in a horse

“And turn his body as we would thereby!”

Yea, but we change the bit to suit the growth,

And rasp our colt’s jaw with a rugged spike

We hasten to remit our managed steed

Who wheels round at persuasion of a touch.

740

Civilisation bows to decency,

The acknowledged use and wont, the manners — mild

But yet imperative law — which make the man.

Thus do we pay the proper compliment

To rank, and that society of Rome,

Hath so obliged us by its interest,

Taken our client’s part instinctively,

As unaware defending its own cause.

What dictum doth Society lay down

I’ the case of one who hath a faithless wife?

750

Wherewithal should the husband cleanse his way?

Be patient and forgive? Oh, language fails —

Shrinks from depicturing his punishment!

For if wronged husband raise not hue and cry,

Quod si maritus de adulterio non

Conquereretur, he’s presumed a — foh!

Presumitur leno: so, complain he must.

But how complain? At your tribunal, lords?

Far weightier challenge suits your sense, I wot!

You sit not to have gentlemen propose

760

Questions gentility can itself discuss.

Did not you prove that to our brother Paul?

The Abate, quum judicialiter.

Prosequeretur, when he tried the law,

Guidonis causam, in Count Guido’s case,

Accidit ipsi, this befell himself,

Quod risum moverit et cachinnos, that

He moved to mirth and cachinnation, all

Or nearly all, fere in omnibus

Etiam sensatis et cordatis, men

770

Strong-sensed, sound-hearted, nay, the very Court,

Ipsismet in judicibus, I might add,

Non tamen dicam. In a cause like this,

So multiplied were reasons pro and con,

Delicate, intertwisted and obscure,

That law were shamed to lend a finger-tip

To unravel, readjust the hopeless twine,

While, half- a-dozen steps outside the court,

There stood a foolish trifler with a tool

A-dangle to no purpose by his side,

780

Had clearly cut the tangle in a trice.

Asserunt enim unanimiter

Doctores, for the Doctors all assert,

That husbands, quod mariti, must be held

Viles, cornuti reputantur, vile

And branching forth a florid infamy,

Si propriis manibus, if with their own hands,

Non sumunt, they take not straightway revenge,

Vindictam, but expect the deed be done

By the Court — expectant illam fieri

790

Per judices, qui summopere rident, which

Gives an enormous guffaw for reply,

Et cachinnantur. For he ran away,

Deliquit enim, just that he might ’scape

The censure of both counsellors and crowd,

Ut vulgi et Doctorum evitaret

Censuram, and lest so he superadd

To loss of honour ignominy too,

Et sic ne istam quoque ignominiam

Amisso honori superadderet.

800

My lords, my lords, the inconsiderate step

Was — we referred ourselves to law at all!

Twit me not with, “Law else had punished you!”

Each punishment of the extra-legal step,

To which the high-born preferably revert,

Is ever for some oversight, some slip

I’ the taking vengeance, not for vengeance’ self.

A good thing done unhandsomely turns ill;

And never yet lacked ill the law’s rebuke.

For pregnant instance, let us contemplate

810

The luck of Leonardus — see at large

Of Sicily’s Decisions sixty-first.

This Leonard finds his wife is false: what then?

He makes her own son snare her, and entice

Out of the town- walls to a private walk,

Wherein he slays her with commodity.

They find her body half-devoured by dogs:

Leonard is tried, convicted, punished, sent

To labour in the galleys seven years long:

Why? For the murder? Nay, but for the mode!

820

Malus modus occidendi, ruled the Court,

An ugly mode of killing, nothing more!

Another fructuous sample — see “De Re

Criminali,” in Matthæus’ divine piece.

Another husband, in no better plight,

Simulates absence, thereby tempts the wife;

On whom he falls, out of sly ambuscade,

Backed by a brother of his, and both of them

Armed to the teeth with arms that law had blamed.

Nimis dolose, overwilily,

830

Fuisse operatum, was it worked,

Pronounced the law: had all been fairly done

Law had not found him worthy, as she did,

Of four years’ exile. Why cite more? Enough

Is good as a feast —(unless a birthday-feast

For one’s Cinuccio: so, we’ll finish here)

My lords, we rather need defend ourselves

Inasmuch as for a twinkling of an eye

We hesitatingly appealed to law —

Rather than deny that, on mature advice,

840

We blushingly bethought us, bade revenge

Back to the simple proper private way

Of decent self-dealt gentlemanly death.

Judges, there is the law, and this beside,

The testimony! Look to it!

        Pause and breathe!

So far is only too plain; we must watch,

Bottini will scarce hazard an attack

Here: let’s anticipate the fellow’s play,

And guard the weaker places — warily ask,

850

What if considerations of a sort,

Reasons of a kind, arise from out the strange

Peculiar unforseen new circumstance

Of this our (candour owns) abnormal act,

To bar the right of us revenging so?

“Impunity were otherwise your meed:

“Go slay your wife and welcome,”— may be urged —

“But why the innocent old couple slay,

“Pietro, Violante? You may do enough,

“Not too much, not exceed the golden mean:

860

“Neither brute-beast nor Pagan, Gentile, Jew,

“Nor Christian, no nor votarist of the mode,

“Were free at all to push revenge so far!”

No, indeed? Why, thou very sciolist!

The actual wrong, Pompilia seemed to do,

Was virtual wrong done by the parents here —

Imposing her upon us as their child —

Themselves allow: then, her fault was their fault,

Her punishment be theirs accordingly!

But wait a little, sneak not off so soon!

870

Was this cheat solely harm to Guido, pray?

The precious couple you call innocent —

Why, they were felons that law failed to clutch,

Qui ut fraudarent, who that they might rob,

Legitime vocatos, folks law called,

Ad fidei commissum, true heirs to the Trust,

Partum supposuerunt, feigned this birth,

Immemores reos factos esse, blind

To the fact that, guilty, they incurred thereby,

Ultimi supplicii, hanging or aught worse.

880

Do you blame us that we turn law’s instruments

Not mere self-seekers — mind the public weal,

Nor make the private good our sole concern?

That having — shall I say — secured a thief,

Not simply we recover from his pouch

The stolen article our property,

But also pounce upon our neighbour’s purse

We opportunely find reposing there,

And do him justice while we right ourselves?

He owes us, for our part, a drubbing say,

890

But owes our neighbour just a dance i’ the air

Under the gallows: so we throttle him.

The neighbour’s Law, the couple are the Thief,

We are the over-ready to help Law —

Zeal of her house hath eaten us up: for which,

Can it be, Law intends to eat up us,

Crudum Priamum, devour poor Priam raw,

(’Twas Jupiter’s own joke) with babes to boot,

Priamique pisinnos, in Homeric phrase?

Shame! — and so ends the period prettily.

900

But even — prove the pair not culpable,

Free as unborn babe from connivance at,

Participation in, their daughter’s fault:

Ours the mistake. Is that a rare event?

Non semel, it is anything but rare,

In contingentia facti, that by chance,

Impunes evaserunt, go scot-free,

Qui, such well-meaning people as ourselves,

Justo dolore moti, who aggrieved

With cause, apposuerunt manus, lay

910

Rough hands, in innocentes, on wrong heads.

Cite we an illustrative case in point:

Mulier Smirnea quœdam, good my lords,

A gentlewoman lived in Smyrna once,

Virum et filium ex eo conceptum, who

Both husband and her son begot by him,

Killed, interfecerat, ex quo, because,

Vir filium suum perdiderat, her spouse

Had been beforehand with her, killed her son,

Matrimonii primi, of a previous bed.

920

Deinde accusata, then accused,

Apud Dolabellam, before him that sat

Proconsul, nec duabus cœdibus

Comtaminatam liberare, nor

To liberate a woman doubly- dyed

With murder, voluit, made he up his mind,

Nec condemnare, nor to doom to death,

Justo dolore impulsam, one impelled

By just grief, sed remisit, but sent her up

Ad Areopagum, to the Hill of Mars,

930

Sapientissimorum judicum

Cœtum, to that assembly of the sage

Paralleled only by my judges here;

Ubi, cognito de causa, where, the cause

Well weighed, responsum est, they gave reply,

Ut ipsa et accusator, that both sides

O’ the suit, redirent, should come back again,

Post centum annos, after a hundred years,

For judgment; et sic, by which sage decree,

Duplici parricidio rea, one

940

Convicted of a double parricide,

Quamvis etiam innocentem, though in truth

Out of the pair, one innocent at least

She, occidisset, plainly had put to death,

Undequaque, yet she altogether ’scaped,

Evasit impunis. See the case at length

In Valerius, fittingly styled Maximus,

That eighth book of his Memorable Facts.

Nor Cyriacus cites beside the mark:

Similiter uxor quœ mandaverat,

950

Just so, a lady who had taken care,

Homicidium viri, that her lord be killed,

Ex denegatione debiti,

For denegation of a certain debt,

Matrimonialis, he was loth to pay,

Fuit pecuniaria mulcta, was

Amerced in a pecuniary mulct,

Punita, et ad pœnam, and to pains,

Temporalem, for a certain space of time,

In monasterio, in a convent.

960

        Ay,

In monasterio! How he manages

In with the ablative, the accusative!

I had hoped to have hitched the villain into verse

For a gift, this very day, a complete list

O’ the prepositions each with proper case,

Telling a story, long was in my head.

What prepositions take the accusative?

Ad to or at — who saw the cat? — down to

Ob, for, because of, keep her claws off! Ah,

970

Law in a man takes the whole liberty!

The muse is fettered — just as Ovid found!

And now, sea widens and the coast is clear.

What of the dubious act you bade excuse?

Surely things brighten, brighten, till at length

Remains — so far from act that needs defence —

Apology to make for act delayed

One minute, let alone eight mortal months

Of hesitation! “Why procrastinate?”

(Out with it my Bottinius, ease thyself!)

980

“Right, promptly done, is twice right: right delayed

“Turns wrong. We grant you should have killed your wife,

“But on the moment, at the meeting her

“In company with the priest: then did the tongue

“O’ the Brazen Head give licence, ‘Time is now!’

“You make your mind up: ‘Time is past’ it peals.

“Friend, you are competent to mastery

“O’ the passions that confessedly explain

“An outbreak — yet allow an interval,

“And then break out as if time’s clock still clanged.

990

“You have forfeited your chance, and flat you fall

“Into the commonplace category

“Of men bound to go softly all their days,

“Obeying law.”

        Now, which way make response?

What was the answer Guido gave, himself?

— That so to argue came of ignorance

How honour bears a wound: “For, wound,” said he,

“My body, and the smart is worst at first:

“While, wound my soul where honour sits and rules,

1000

“Longer the sufferance, stronger grows the pain,

“’Tis ex incontinenti, fresh as first.”

But try another tack, calm common sense

By way of contrast: as — Too true, my lords!

We did demur, awhile did hesitate:

Yet husband sure should let a scruple speak

Ere he slay wife — for his own safety, lords!

Carpers abound in this misjudging world.

Moreover, there’s a nicety in law

That seems to justify them should they carp:

1010

Suppose the source of injury a son —

Father may slay such son yet run no risk:

Why graced with such a privilege? Because

A father so incensed with his own child,

Or must have reason, or believe he has:

Quia semper, seeing that in such event,

Presumitur, the law is bound suppose,

Quod capiat pater, that the sire must take,

Bonum consilium pro filio,

The best course as to what befits his boy,

1020

Through instinct, ex instinctu, of mere love,

Amoris, and, paterni, fatherhood;

Quam confidentiam, which confidence,

Non habet, law declines to entertain,

De viro, of the husband: where has he

An instinct that compels him love his wife?

Rather is he presumably her foe:

So, let him ponder long in this bad world

Ere do the simplest act of justice.

        But

1030

Again — and here we brush Bottini’s breast —

Object you, “See the danger of delay!

“Suppose a man murdered my friend last month:

“Had I come up and killed him for his pains

“In rage, I had done right, allows the law:

“I meet him now and kill him in cold blood,

“I do wrong, equally allows the law:

“Wherein do actions differ, yours and mine?”

In plenitudine intellectus es?

Hast thy wits, Fisc? To take such slayer’s life,

1040

Returns it life to thy slain friend at all?

Had he stolen ring instead of stabbing friend —

To- day, to-morrow or next century,

Meeting the thief, thy ring upon his thumb,

Thou justifiably hadst wrung it thence:

So, couldst thou wrench thy friend’s life back again,

Though prisoned in the bosom of his foe,

Why, law would look complacent on thy rush.

Our case is, that the thing we lost, we found:

The honour, we were robbed of eight months since,

1050

Being recoverable at any day

By death of the delinquent. Go thy ways!

Ere thou hast learned law, will be much to do,

As said the rustic while he shod the goose.

Nay, if you urge me, interval was none!

From the inn to the villa — blank or else a bar

Of adverse and contrarious incident

Solid between us and our just revenge!

What with the priest who flourishes his blade,

The wife who like a fury flings at us,

1060

The crowd — and then the capture, the appeal

To Rome, the journey there, the journey thence,

The shelter at the House of Convertites,

The visits to the Villa, and so forth,

Where was one minute left us all this while

To put in execution that revenge

We planned o’ the instant? — as it were, plumped down

A round sound egg, o’ the spot, some eight months since,

Rome, more propitious than our nest, should hatch!

Object not, “You reached Rome on Christmas-eve,

1070

“And, despite liberty to act at once,

“Waited a week — indecorous delay!”

Hath so the Molinism-canker, lords,

Eaten to the bone? Is no religion left?

No care for aught held holy by the Church?

What, would you have us skip and miss those Feasts

O’ the Natal Time, must we go prosecute

Secular business on a sacred day?

Should not the merest charity expect,

Setting our poor concerns aside for once,

1080

We hurried to the song matutinal

I’ the Sistine, and pressed forward for the Mass

The Cardinal that’s Camerlengo chaunts,

Then rushed on to the blessing of the Hat

And Rapier, which the Pope sends to what prince

Has done most detriment to the Infidel —

And thereby whet our courage if ’twere blunt?

Meantime, allow we kept the house a week,

Suppose not we were idle in our mew:

Picture Count Guido raging here and there —

“‘Money?’ I need none —‘Friends?’ The word is null.

1091

“Match me the white was on that shield of mine

“Borne at” . . . wherever might be shield to bear;

“I see my grandsire, he who fought so well

“At” . . . here find out and put in time and place

Of what might be a fight his grandsire fought:

“I see this — I see that —”

        See to it all,

Or I shall scarce see lamb’s fry in an hour!

— Nod to the uncle, as I bid advance

1100

The smoking dish, “This, for your tender teeth!

“Behoves us care a little for our kin —

“You, Sir — who care so much for cousinship

“As come to your poor loving nephew’s feast!”

He has the reversion of a long lease yet —

Land to bequeath! He loves lamb’s fry, I know!

Here fall to be considered those same six

Qualities; what Bottini needs must call

So many aggravations of our crime,

Parasite-growth upon mere murder’s back.

1110

We summarily might dispose of such

By some off-hand and jaunty fling, some skit —

“So, since there’s proved no crime to aggravate,

“A fico for your aggravations, Fisc!”

No — handle mischief rather — play with spells

Were meant to raise a spirit, and laugh the while

We show that did he rise we are his match!

Therefore, first aggravation: we made up —

Over and above our simple murdering selves —

A regular assemblage of armed men,

1120

Coadunatio armatorum, — ay,

Unluckily it was the very judge

Who sits in judgment on our cause to-day

That passed the law as Governor of Rome:

“Four men armed,”— though for lawful purpose, mark!

Much more for an acknowledged crime — “shall die.”

We five were armed to the teeth, meant murder too?

Why, that’s the very point that saves us, Fisc!

Let me instruct you. Crime nor done nor meant —

You punish still who arm and congregate:

1130

For why have used bad means to a good end?

Crime being meant not done — you punish still

The means to crime, you haply pounce upon,

Though circumstance have baulked you of their end:

But crime not only compassed but complete,

Meant and done too? Why, since you have the end,

Be that your sole concern, nor mind those means

No longer to the purpose! Murdered we?

(— Which, that our luck was in the present case,

Quod contigisse in præsenti casu,

1140

Is palpable, manibus palpatum est —)

Make murder out against us, nothing less!

Of many crimes committed with a view

To one main crime, you overlook the less,

Intent upon the large. Suppose a man

Having in view commission of a theft,

Climb the town- wall: ’tis for the theft he hangs,

Suppose you can convict him of such theft,

Remitted whipping due to who climbs wall

For bravery or wantonness alone,

1150

Just to dislodge a daw’s nest and no more.

So I interpret you the manly mind

Of him the Judge shall judge both you and me —

O’ the Governor, who, being no babe, my Fisc,

Cannot have blundered on ineptitude!

Were specially of such forbidden sort

Through shape or length or breadth, as, prompt, law plucks

From single hand of solitary man,

And makes him pay the carriage with his life:

1160

Delatio armorum, arms against the rule,

Contra formam constitutionis, of

Pope Alexander’s blessed memory.

Such are the poignard with the double prong,

Horn-like, when tines make bold the antlered buck,

And all of brittle glass — for man to stab

And break off short and so let fragment stick

Fast in the flesh to baffle surgery:

And such the Genoese blade with hooks at edge

That did us service at the Villa here.

1170

Sed parcat mihi tam eximius vir,

But, let so rare a personage forgive,

Fisc, thy objection is a foppery!

Thy charge runs, that we killed three innocents:

Killed, dost see? Then, if killed, what matter how? —

By stick or stone, by sword or dagger, tool

Long or tool short, round or triangular —

Poor folks, they find small comfort in a choice!

Means to an end, means to an end, my Fisc!

Nature cries out “Take the first arms you find!”

1180

Furor ministrat arma: where’s a stone?

Unde mî lapidem, where darts for me?

Unde sagittas? But subdue the bard

And rationalise a little: eight months since,

Had we, or had we not, incurred your blame

For letting ’scape unpunished this bad pair?

I think I proved that in last paragraph!

Why did we so? Because our courage failed.

Wherefore? Through lack of arms to fight the foe:

We had no arms or merely lawful ones,

1190

An unimportant sword and blunderbuss,

Against a foe, pollent in potency,

The amasius, and our vixen of a wife.

Well then, how culpably do we gird loin

And once more undertake the high emprise,

Unless we load ourselves this second time

With handsome superfluity of arms,

Since better say “too much” than “not enough,”

And “plus non vitiat,” too much does no harm,

Except in mathematics, sages say.

1200

Gather instruction from the parable!

At first we are advised —“A lad hath here

“Seven barley loaves and two small fishes: what

“Is that among so many?” Aptly asked:

But put that question twice and, quite as apt

The answer is “Fragments, twelve baskets full!”

And, while we speak of superabundance, fling

A word by the way to fools that cast their flout

On Guido —“Punishment exceeds offence:

“You might be just but you were cruel too!”

1210

If so you stigmatise the stern and strict,

Still, he is not without excuse — may plead

Transgression of his mandate, over-zeal

O’ the part of his companions: all he craved

Was, they should fray the faces of the three:

Solummodo fassus est, he owns no more,

Dedisse mandatum, than that he desired,

Ad sfrisiandum, dicam, that they hack

And hew, i’ the customary phrase, his wife,

Uxorem tantum, and no harm beside.

1220

If his instructions then be misconceived,

Nay, disobeyed, impute you blame to him?

Cite me no Panicollus to the point,

As adverse! Oh, I quite expect his case —

How certain noble youths of Sicily

Having good reason to mistrust their wives,

Killed them and were absolved in consequence:

While others who had gone beyond the need

By mutilation of the paramour

(So Galba in the Horatian satire grieved)

1230

— These were condemned to the galleys, as for guilt

Exceeding simple murder of a wife.

But why? Because of ugliness, and not

Cruelty, in the said revenge, I trow!

Ex causa abscissionis partium;

Quia nempe id facientes reputantur

Naturæ inimici, man revolts

Against such as the natural enemy.

Pray, grant to one who meant to slit the nose

And slash the cheek and slur the mouth, at most,

1240

A somewhat more humane award than these!

Objectum funditus corruit, flat you fall,

My Fisc! I waste no kick on you but pass.

Third aggravation: that our act was done —

Not in the public street, where safety lies,

Not in the bye-place, caution may avoid,

Wood, cavern, desert, spots contrived for crime —

But in the very house, home, nook and nest,

O’ the victims, murdered in their dwelling-place,

In domo ac habitatione propria,

1250

Where all presumably is peace and joy.

The spider, crime, pronounce we twice a pest

When, creeping from congenial cottage, she

Taketh hold with her hands, to horrify

His household more, i’ the palace of the king.

All three were housed and safe and confident.

Moreover, the permission that our wife

Should have at length domum pro carcere,

Her own abode in place of prison — why,

We ourselves granted, by our other self

1260

And proxy Paolo: did we make such grant,

Meaning a lure? — elude the vigilance

O’ the jailor, lead her to commodious death,

While we ostensibly relented?

        Ay,

Just so did we, nor otherwise, my Fisc!

Is vengeance lawful? We demand our right,

But find it will be questioned or refused

By jailor, turnkey, hangdog — what know we?

Pray, how is it we should conduct ourselves?

1270

To gain our private right — break public peace,

Do you bid us? — trouble order with our broils?

Endanger . . . shall I shrink to own . . . ourselves? —

Who want no broken head nor bloody nose

(While busied slitting noses, breaking heads)

From the first tipstaff shall please interfere!

Nam quicquid sit, for howsoever it be

An de consensu nostro, if with leave

Or not, a monasterio, from the nuns,

Educta esset, she had been led forth,

1280

Potuimus id dissimulare, we

May well have granted leave in pure pretence,

Ut aditum habere, that thereby

An entry we might compass, a free move

Potuissemus, to her easy death,

Ad eam occidendam. Privacy

O’ the hearth, and sanctitude of home, say you?

Would you give man’s abode more privilege

Than God’s? — for in the churches where He dwells,

In quibus assistit Regum Rex, by means

1290

Of His essence, per essentiam, all the same,

Et nihilominus, therein, in eis,

Ex justa via delinquens, whoso dares

To take a liberty on ground enough,

Is pardoned, excusatur: that’s our case —

Delinquent through befitting cause. You hold,

To punish a false wife in her own house

Is graver than, what happens every day,

To hale a debtor from his hiding-place

In church protected by the Sacrament?

1300

To this conclusion have I brought my Fisc?

Foxes have holes, and fowls o’ the air their nests;

Praise you the impiety that follows, Fisc?

Shall false wife yet have where to lay her head?

Contra Fiscum definitum est!” He’s done,

Surge et scribe,” make a note of it!

— If I may dally with Aquinas’ word.

Or in the death-throe does he mutter still?

Fourth aggravation, that we changed our garb,

And rusticised ourselves with uncouth hat,

1310

Rough vest and goatskin wrappage; murdered thus

Mutatione vestium, in disguise,

Whereby mere murder got complexed with wile,

Turned homicidium ex insidiis. Fisc,

How often must I round thee in the ears —

All means are lawful to a lawful end?

Concede he had the right to kill his wife:

The Count indulged in a travesty; why?

Deilla ut vindictam sumeret,

That on her he might lawful vengeance take,

1320

Commodius, with more ease, et tutius,

And safelier: wants he warrant for the step?

Read to thy profit how the Apostle once

For ease and safety, when Damascus raged,

Was let down in a basket by the wall,

To ’scape the malice of the governor

(Another sort of Governor boasts Rome!)

— Many are of opinion — covered close,

Concealed with — what except that very cloak

He left behind at Troas afterward?

1330

I shall not add a syllable: Molinists may!

Well, have we more to manage? Ay, indeed!

Fifth aggravation, that our wife reposed

Sub potestate judicis, beneath

Protection of the judge — her house was styled

A prison, and his power became its guard

In lieu of wall and gate and bolt and bar.

This a tough point, shrewd, redoubtable:

Because we have to supplicate the judge

Shall overlook wrong done the judgment-seat.

1340

Now, I might suffer my own nose be pulled,

As man — but then as father . . . if the Fisc

Touched one hair of my boy who held my hand

In confidence he could not come to harm

Crossing the Corso, at my own desire,

Going to see those bodies in the church —

What would you say to that, Don Hyacinth?

This is the sole and single knotty point:

For, bid Tommati blink his interest,

You laud his magnanimity the while:

1350

But baulk Tommati’s office — he talks big!

“My predecessors in the place — those sons

“O’ the prophets that may hope succeed me here —

“Shall I diminish their prerogative?

“Count Guido Franceschini’s honour! — well,

“Has the Governor of Rome none?”

        You perceive,

The cards are all against us. Make a push,

Kick over table, as our gamesters do!

We, do you say, encroach upon the rights,

1360

Deny the omnipotence o’ the Judge forsooth?

We, who have only been from first to last

Intent on that his purpose should prevail,

Nay, more, at times, anticipating both

At risk of a rebuke?

        But wait awhile!

Cannot we lump this with the sixth and last

Of the aggravations — that the Majesty

O’ the Sovereign here received a wound, to-wit,

Læsa Majestas, since our violence

1370

Was out of envy to the course of law,

In odium litis? We cut short thereby

Three pending suits, promoted by ourselves

I’ the main — which worsens crime, accedit ad

Exasperationem criminis!

Yes, here the eruptive wrath with full effect!

How — did not indignation chain my tongue —

Could I repel this last, worst charge of all!

(There is a porcupine to barbacue;

Gigia can jug a rabbit well enough,

1380

With sour-sweet sauce and pine-pips; but, good Lord,

Suppose the devil instigate the wench

To stew, not roast him? Stew my porcupine?

If she does, I know where his quills shall stick!

Come, I must go myself and see to things:

I cannot stay much longer stewing here)

Our stomach . . . I mean, our soul — is stirred within,

And we want words. We wounded Majesty?

Fall under such a censure, we — who yearned

So much that Majesty dispel the cloud

1390

And shine on us with healing on its wings,

We prayed the Pope, Majestas’ very self,

To anticipate a little the tardy pack,

Bell us forth deep the authoritative bay

Should start the beagles into sudden yelp

Unisonous — and, Gospel leading Law,

Grant there assemble in our own behoof

A Congregation, a particular Court,

A few picked friends of quality and place,

To hear the several matters in dispute,

1400

Causes big, little and indifferent,

Bred of our marriage like a mushroom- growth,

All at once (can one brush off such too soon?)

And so with laudable dispatch decide

Whether we, in the main (to sink detail)

Were one the Church should hold fast or let go.

“What, take the credit from the Law?” you ask?

Indeed, we did! Law ducks to Gospel here:

Why should Law gain the glory and pronounce

A judgment shall immortalise the Pope?

1410

Yes: our self-abnegating policy

Was Joab’s — we would rouse our David’s sloth,

Bid him encamp against a city, sack

A place whereto ourselves had long laid siege,

Lest, taking it at last, it take our name

And be not Innocentinopolis.

But no! The modesty was in alarm,

The temperance refused to interfere,

Returned us our petition with the word

Ad judices suos,” “Leave him to his Judge!”

1420

As who should say —“Why trouble my repose?

“Why consult Peter in a simple case,

“Peter’s wife’s sister in her fever-fit

“Might solve as readily as the Apostle’s self?

“Are my Tribunals posed by aught so plain?

“Hath not my Court a conscience? It is of age,

“Ask it!”

        We do ask — but, inspire reply

To the Court thou bidst me ask, as I have asked —

Oh thou, who vigilantly dost attend

1430

To even the few, the ineffectual words

Which rise from this our low and mundane sphere

Up to thy region out of smoke and noise,

Seeking corroboration from thy nod

Who art all justice — which means mercy too,

In a low noisy smoky world like ours

Where Adam’s sin made peccable his seed!

We venerate the father of the flock,

Whose last faint sands of life, the frittered gold,

Fall noiselessly, yet all too fast, o’ the cone

1440

And tapering heap of those collected years —

Never have these been hurried in their flow,

Though justice fain would jog reluctant arm,

In eagerness to take the forfeiture

Of guilty life: much less shall mercy sue

In vain that thou let innocence survive,

Precipitate no minim of the mass

O’ the all-so precious moments of thy life,

By pushing Guido into death and doom!

(Our Cardinal engages read my speech:

1450

They say, the Pope has one half-hour, in twelve,

Of something like a moderate return

Of the intellectuals — never much to lose! —

If I adroitly plant this passage there,

The Fisc will find himself forestalled, I think,

Though he stand, beat till the old ear-drum break!

— Ah, boy of my own bowels, Hyacinth,

Wilt ever catch the knack — requite the pains

Of poor papa, become proficient too

I’ the how and why and when — the time to laugh,

1460

The time to weep, the time, again, to pray,

And all the times prescribed by Holy Writ?

Well, well, we fathers can but care, but cast

Our bread upon the waters!)

        In a word,

These secondary charges go to ground,

Since secondary, so superfluous — motes

Quite from the main point: we did all and some,

Little and much, adjunct and principal,

Causa honoris. Is there such a cause

1470

As the sake of honour? By that sole test try

Our action, nor demand it more or less,

Because of the action’s mode, we merit blame

Or may-be deserve praise. The Court decides.

Is the end lawful? It allows the means:

What we may do we may with safety do,

And what means “safety” we ourselves must judge.

Put case a person wrongs me past dispute:

If my legitimate vengeance be a blow,

Mistrusting my bare arm can deal the same,

1480

I claim co-operation of a stick;

Doubtful if stick be tough, I crave a sword;

Diffident of ability in fence,

I fee a friend, a swordsman to assist:

Take one — who may be coward, fool or knave —

Why not take fifty? — and if these exceed

I’ the due degree of drubbing, whom accuse

But the first author of the aforesaid wrong

Who put poor me to such a world of pains?

Surgery would have just excised a wart;

The patient made such pother, struggled so

1490

That the sharp instrument sliced nose and all.

Taunt us not that our friends performed for pay!

For us, enough were simple honour’s sake:

Give country clowns the dirt they comprehend,

The piece of gold! Our reasons, which suffice

Ourselves, be ours alone; our piece of gold

Be, to the rustic, reason and to spare!

We must translate our motives like our speech

Into the lower phrase that suits the sense

1500

O’ the limitedly apprehensive. Let

Each level have its language! Heaven speaks first

To the angel, then the angel tames the word

Down to the ear of Tobit: he, in turn,

Diminishes the message to his dog,

And finally that dog finds how the flea

(Which else, importunate, might check his speed)

Shall learn its hunger must have holiday —

How many varied sorts of language here,

Each following each with pace to match the step,

1510

Haud passibus œquis!

        Talking of which flea

Reminds me I must put in special word

For the poor humble following — the four friends,

Sicarii, our assassins in your charge.

Ourselves are safe in your approval now:

Yet must we care for our companions, plead

The cause o’ the poor, the friends (of old-world faith)

Who are in tribulation for our sake.

Pauperum Procurator is my style:

1520

I stand forth as the poor man’s advocate:

And when we treat of what concerns the poor,

Et cum agatur de pauperibus,

In bondage, carceratis, for their sake,

In eorum causis, natural piety,

Pietas, ever ought to win the day,

Triumphare debet, quia ipsi sunt,

Because those very paupers constitute,

Thesaurus Christi, all the wealth of Christ.

Nevertheless I shall not hold you long

With multiplicity of proofs, nor burn

1530

Candle at noon-tide, clarify the clear.

There beams a case refulgent from our books —

Castrensis, Butringarius, everywhere

I find it burn to dissipate the dark.

’Tis this: a husband had a friend, which friend

Seemed to him over-friendly with his wife

In thought and purpose — I pretend no more.

To justify suspicion or dispel,

He bids his wife make show of giving heed,

1540

Semblance of sympathy — propose, in fine,

A secret meeting in a private place.

The friend, enticed thus, finds an ambuscade,

To-wit, the husband posted with a pack

Of other friends, who fall upon the first

And beat his love and life out both at once.

These friends were brought to question for their help.

Law ruled “The husband being in the right,

“Who helped him in the right can scarce be wrong”—

Opinio, an opinion every way,

1550

Multum tenenda cordi, heart should hold!

When the inferiors follow as befits

The lead o’ the principal, they change their name,

And, non dicuntur, are no longer called

His mandatories, mandatorii,

But helpmates, sed auxiliatores; since

To that degree does honour’ sake lend aid,

Adeo honoris causa est efficax,

That not alone, non solum, does it pour

Itself out, se diffundat, on mere friends,

1560

We bring to do our bidding of this sort,

In mandatorios simplices, but sucks

Along with it in wide and generous whirl,

Sed etiam assassinii qualitate

Qualificatos, people qualified

By the quality of assassination’s self,

Dare I make use of such neologism,

Ut utar verbo.

        Haste we to conclude:

Of the other points that favour, leave some few

1570

For Spreti; such as the delinquents’ youth:

One of them falls short, by some months, of age

Fit to be managed by the gallows; two

May plead exemption from our law’s award,

Being foreigners, subjects of the Granduke —

I spare that bone to Spreti and reserve

Myself the juicier breast of argument —

Flinging the breast-blade i’ the face o’ the Fisc,

Who furnished me the tid-bit: he must needs

Play off his armoury and rack the clowns —

1580

And they, at instance of the rack, confessed

All four unanimously did resolve —

That night o’ the murder, in brief minutes snatched

Behind the back of Guido as he fled —

That, since he had not kept his promise, paid

The money for the murder on the spot,

And, reaching home again, might even ignore

The past or pay it in improper coin,

They one and all resolved, these hopeful friends,

They would inaugurate the morrow’s light,

1590

Having recruited strength with needful rest,

By killing Guido as he lay asleep

Pillowed by wallet which contained their fee.

I thank the Fisc for knowledge of this fact:

What fact could hope to make more manifest

Their rectitude, Guido’s integrity?

For who fails recognise apparent here,

That these poor rustics bore no envy, hate,

Malice nor yet uncharitableness

Against the people they had put to death?

1600

In them, did such an act reward itself?

All done was to deserve their simple pay,

Obtain the bread they earned by sweat of brow:

Missing this pay, they missed of everything —

Hence claimed it, even at expense of life

To their own lord, so little warped were they

By prepossession, such the absolute

Instinct of equity in rustic souls!

While he the Count, the cultivated mind,

He, wholly rapt in his serene regard

1610

Of honour, as who contemplates the sun

And hardly minds what tapers blink below,

He, dreaming of no argument for death

Except the vengeance worthy noble hearts,

Would be to desecrate the deed forsooth,

Vulgarise vengeance, as defray its cost

By money dug out of the dirty earth,

Mere irritant, in Maro’s phrase, to ill?

What though he lured base hinds by lucre’s hope —

The only motive they could masticate,

1620

Milk for babes, not stong meat which men require?

The deed done, those coarse hands were soiled enough,

He spared them the pollution of the pay.

So much for the allegement, thine, my Fisc,

Quo nil absurdius, than which nought more mad.

Excogitari potest, may be squeezed

From out the cogitative brain of thee!

And now, thou excellent the Governor!

(Push to the peroration) cœterum

Enixe supplico, I strive in prayer,

1630

Ut dominis meis, that unto the Court,

Benigna fronte, with a gracious brow,

Et oculis serenis, and mild eyes,

Perpendere placeat, it may please them weigh,

Quod dominus Guido, that our noble Count,

Occidit, did the killing in dispute,

Ut ejus honor tumulatus, that

The honour of him buried fathom-deep

In infamy, in infamia, might arise,

Resurgeret, as ghosts break sepulchre!

1640

Occidit, for he killed, uxorem, wife,

Quia illi fuit, since she was to him,

Opprobrio, a disgrace and nothing more!

Et genitores, killed her parents too,

Qui, who, postposita verecundia,

Having thrown off all sort of decency,

Filiam repudiarunt, had renounced

Their daughter, atque declarare non

Erubuerunt, nor felt blush tinge cheek,

Declaring, meretricis genitam

1650

Esse, she was the offspring of a drab,

Ut ipse dehonestaretur, just

That so himself might lose his social rank!

Cujus mentem, and which daughter’s heart and soul,

They, perverterunt, turned from the right course,

Et ad illicitos amores non

Dumtaxat pellexerunt, and to love

Not simply did alluringly incite,

Sed vi obedientiœ, but by force

O’ the duty, filialis, daughters owe,

1660

Coegerunt, forced and drove her to the deed:

Occidit, I repeat he killed the clan,

Ne scilicet amplius in dedecore,

Lest peradventure longer life might trail,

Viveret, link by link his turpitude,

Invisus consanguineis, hateful so

To kith and kindred, a nobilibus

Notatus, shunned by men of quality,

Relictus ab amicis, left i’ the lurch

By friends, ab omnibus derisus, turned

1670

A common hack-block to try edge of jokes.

Occidit, and he killed them here in Rome,

In Urbe, the Eternal City, Sirs,

Nempe quœ alias spectata est,

The appropriate theatre which witnessed once,

Matronam nobilem, Lucretia’s self,

Abluere pudicitiœ maculas,

Wash off the spots of her pudicity,

Sanguine proprio, with her own pure blood;

Quœ vidit, and which city also saw,

1680

Patrem, Virginius, undequaque, quite,

Impunem, with no sort of punishment,

Nor, et non illaudatum, lacking praise,

Sed polluentem parricidio,

Imbrue his hands with butchery, filiœ,

Of chaste Virginia, to avoid a rape,

Ne raperetur ad stupra; so to heart,

Tanti illi cordi fuit, did he take,

Suspicio, the mere fancy men might have,

Honoris amittendi, of fame’s loss,

1690

Ut potius voluerit filia

Orbari, that he chose to lose his child,

Quam illa incederet, rather than she walk

The ways an, inhonesta, child disgraced,

Licet non sponte, though against her will.

Occidit — killed them, I reiterate —

In propria domo, in their own abode,

Ut adultera et parentes, that each wretch,

Conscii agnoscerent, might both see and say,

Nullum locum, there’s no place, nullumque esse

1700

Asylum, nor yet refuge of escape,

Impenetrabilem, shall serve as bar,

Honori lœso, to the wounded one

In honour; neve ibi opprobria

Continuarentur, killed them on the spot

Moreover, dreading lest within those walls

The opprobrium peradventure be prolonged,

Et domus quœ testis fuit turpium,

And that the domicile which witnessed crime,

Esset et pœnœ, might watch punishment:

1710

Occidit, killed, I round you in the ears,

Quia alio modo, since, by other mode,

Non poterat ejus existimatio,

There was no possibility his fame,

Lœsa, gashed griesly, tam enormiter,

Ducere cicatrices, might be healed:

Occidit ut exemplum prœberet

Uxoribus, killed her so to lesson wives

Jura conjugii, that the marriage-oath,

Esse servanda, must be kept henceforth:

1720

Occidit denique, killed her, in a word,

Ut pro posse honestus viveret,

That he, please God, might creditably live,

Sin minus, but if fate willed otherwise,

Proprii honoris, of his outraged fame,

Offensi, by Mannaja, if you please,

Commiseranda victima caderet,

The pitiable victim he should fall!

Done! I’ the rough, i’ the rough! But done! And, lo,

Landed and stranded lies my very own,

1730

My miracle, my monster of defence —

Leviathan into the nose whereof

I have put fish-hook, pierced his jaw with thorn,

And given him to my maidens for a play!

I’ the rough — to-morrow I review my piece,

Tame here and there undue floridity —

It’s hard: you have to plead before these priests

And poke at them with Scripture, or you pass

For heathen and, what’s worse, for ignorant

O’ the quality o’ the Court and what it likes

1740

By way of illustration of the law:

To-morrow stick in this, and throw out that,

And, having first ecclesiasticised,

Regularise the whole, next emphasise,

Then latinize and lastly Cicero-ise,

Giving my Fisc his finish. There’s my speech —

And where’s my fry, and family and friends?

Where’s that old Hyacinth I mean to hug

Till he cries out, “Jam satis! Let me breathe!”

Oh, what an evening have I earned to-day!

1750

Hail, ye true pleasures, all the rest are false!

Oh, the old mother, oh, the fattish wife!

Rogue Hyacinth shall put on paper toque,

And wrap himself around with mamma’s veil

Done up to imitate papa’s black robe,

(I’m in the secret of the comedy —

Part of the program leaked out long ago!)

And call himself the Advocate o’ the Poor,

Mimic Don father that defends the Count,

And for reward shall have a small full glass

1760

Of manly red rosolio to himself,

— Always provided that he conjugate

Bibo, I drink, correctly — nor be found

Make the perfectum, bipsi, as last year!

How the ambitious do so harden heart

As lightly hold by these home-sanctitudes,

To me is matter of bewilderment —

Bewilderment! Because ambition’s range

Is nowise tethered by domestic tie:

Am I refused an outlet from my home

1770

To the world’s stage? — whereon a man should play

The man in public, vigilant for law,

Zealous for truth, a credit to his kind,

Nay — through the talent so employed as yield

The Lord his own again with usury —

A satisfaction, yea, to God Himself!

Well, I have modelled me by Agur’s wish,

“Remove far from me vanity and lies,

“Feed me with food convenient for me!” What

I’ the world should a wise man require beyond?

1780

Can I but coax the good fat little wife

To tell her fool of a father of the prank

His scapegrace nephew played this time last year

At Carnival — he could not choose, I think,

But modify that inconsiderate gift

O’ the cup and cover (somewhere in the will

Under the pillow, someone seems to guess)

— Correct that clause in favour of a boy

The trifle ought to grace with name engraved

(Would look so well produced in years to come

1790

To pledge a memory when poor papa

Latin and law are long since laid at rest)

Hyacintho dono dedit avus — why,

The wife should get a necklace for her pains,

The very pearls that made Violante proud,

And Pietro pawned for half their value once —

Redeemable by somebody — ne sit

Marita quœ rotundioribus

Onusta mammis . . . baccis ambulet,

Her bosom shall display the big round balls,

1800

No braver should be borne by wedded wife!

With which Horatian promise I conclude.

Into the pigeon-hole with thee, my speech!

Off and away, first work then play, play, play!

Bottini, burn your books, you blazing ass!

Sing “Tra-la-la, for, lambkins, we must live!”

Juris Doctor Johannes-Baptista Bottinius

Fisci et Rev. Cam. Apostol. Advocatus

Had I God’s leave, how I would alter things!

If I might read instead of print my speech —

Ay, and enliven speech with many a flower

Refuses obstinately blow in print

As wildings planted in a prim parterre —

This scurvy room were turned an immense hall;

Opposite, fifty judges in a row;

This side and that of me, for audience — Rome:

And, where yon window is, the Pope should be —

10

Watch, curtained, but yet visibly enough.

A buzz of expectation! Through the crowd,

Jingling his chain and stumping with his staff,

Up comes an usher, louts him low, “The Court

“Requires the allocution of the Fisc!”

I rise, I bend, I look about me, pause

O’er the hushed multitude: I count — One, two —

Have ye seen, Judges, have ye, lights of law —

When it may hap some painter, much in vogue

Throughout our city nutritive of arts,

20

Ye summon to a task shall test his worth,

And manufacture, as he knows and can,

A work may decorate a palace-wall,

Afford my lords their Holy Family —

Hath it escaped the acumen of the Court

How much a painter sets himself to paint?

Suppose that Joseph, Mary and her Babe

A- journeying to Egypt prove the piece:

Why, first he sedulously practiseth,

This painter — girding loin and lighting lamp —

30

On what may nourish eye, make facile hand;

Getteth him studies (styled by draughtsmen so)

From some assistant corpse of Jew or Turk

Or, haply, Molinist, he cuts and carves —

This Luca or this Carlo or the like:

To him the bones their inmost secret yield,

Each notch and nodule signify their use,

On him the muscles turn, in triple tier,

And pleasantly entreat the entrusted man —

“Familiarise thee with our play that lifts

40

“Thus, and thus lowers again, leg, arm, and foot!”

— Ensuring due correctness in the nude.

Which done, is all done? Not a whit, ye know!

He — to art’s surface rising from her depth —

If some flax-polled soft-bearded sire be found,

May simulate a Joseph (happy chance!)

Limneth exact each wrinkle of the brow,

Loseth no involution, cheek or chap,

Till lo, in black and white, the senior lives!

Is it a young and comely peasant-nurse

50

That poseth? (be the phrase accorded me!)

Each feminine delight of florid lip,

Eyes brimming o’er and brow bowed down with love,

Marmoreal neck and bosom uberous —

Glad on the paper in a trice they go

To help his notion of the Mother-Maid:

Methinks I see it, chalk a little stumped!

Yea and her babe — that flexure of soft limbs,

That budding face imbued with dewy sleep,

Contribute each an excellence to Christ.

60

Nay, since he humbly lent companionship,

Even the poor ass, unpanniered and elate

Stands, perks an ear up, he a model too;

While clouted shoon, staff, scrip and water-gourd —

Aught may betoken travel, heat and haste —

No jot nor tittle of these but in its turn

Ministers to perfection of the piece:

Till now, such piece before him, part by part —

Such prelude ended — pause our painter may,

Submit his fifty studies one by one,

70

And in some sort boast “I have served my lords.”

But what? And hath he painted once this while?

Or when ye cry “Produce the thing required,

“Show us our picture shall rejoice its niche,

“Thy Journey through the Desert done in oils!”—

What, doth he fall to shuffling ’mid his sheets,

Fumbling for first this, then the other fact

Consigned to paper — “studies,” bear the term! —

And stretch a canvas, mix a pot of paste,

And fasten here a head and there a tail,

80

(The ass hath one, my Judges!) so dove-tail

Or, rather, ass-tail in, piece sorrily out —

By bits of reproduction of the life —

The picture, the expected Family?

I trow not! do I miss with my conceit

The mark, my lords? — not so my lords were served!

Rather your artist turns abrupt from these,

And preferably buries him and broods

(Quite away from aught vulgar and extern)

On the inner spectrum, filtered through the eye,

90

His brain-deposit, bred of many a drop,

E pluribus unum: and the wiser he!

For in that brain — their fancy sees at work,

Could my lords peep indulged — results alone,

Not processes which nourish the result,

Would they discover and appreciate — life

Fed by digestion, not raw food itself,

No gobbets but smooth comfortable chyme

Secreted from each snapped-up crudity —

Less distinct, part by part, but in the whole

100

Truer to the subject — the main central truth

And soul o’ the picture, would my Judges spy —

Not those mere fragmentary studied facts

Which answer to the outward frame and flesh —

Not this nose, not that eyebrow, the other fact

Of man’s staff, woman’s stole or infant’s clout,

But lo, a spirit-birth conceived of flesh,

Truth rare and real, not transcripts, fact and false.

The studies — for his pupils and himself!

The picture be for our eximious Rome

110

And — who knows? — satisfy its Governor,

Whose new wing to the villa he hath bought

(God give him joy of it) by Capena, soon

(’Tis bruited) shall be glowing with the brush

Of who hath long surpassed the Florentine,

The Urbinate and . . . what if I dared add,

Even his master, yea the Cortonese —

I mean the accomplished Ciro Ferri, Sirs!

(— Did not he die? I’ll see before I print.)

End we exordium, Phœbus plucks my ear!

120

Thus then, just so and no whit otherwise,

Have I— engaged as I were Ciro’s self,

To paint a parallel, a Family,

The patriarch Pietro with his wise old wife

To boot (as if one introduced Saint Anne

By bold conjecture to complete the group)

And juvenile Pompilia with her babe,

Who, seeking safety in the wilderness,

Were all surprised by Herod, while outstretched

In sleep beneath a palm-tree by a spring,

130

And killed — the very circumstance I paint,

Moving the pity and terror of my lords —

Exactly so have I, a month at least,

Your Fiscal, made me cognisant of facts,

Searched out, pried into, pressed the meaning forth

Of every piece of evidence in point,

How bloody Herod slew these innocents —

Until the glad result is gained, the group

Demonstrably presented in detail,

Their slumber and his onslaught — like as life.

140

Yea and, availing me of help allowed

By law, discreet provision lest my lords

Be too much troubled by effrontery —

The rack, law plies suspected crime withal —

(Law that hath listened while the lyrist sang

Lene tormentum ingenio admoves,”

Gently thou joggest by a twinge the wit,

Plerumque duro,” else were slow to blab!)

Through this concession my full cup runs o’er:

The guilty owns his guilt without reserve.

150

Therefore by part and part I clutch my case

Which, in entirety now — momentous task —

My lords demand, so render them I must,

Since, one poor pleading more and I have done.

But shall I ply my papers, play my proofs,

Parade my studies, fifty in a row,

As though the Court were yet in pupilage

And not the artist’s ultimate appeal?

Much rather let me soar the height prescribed

And, bowing low, proffer my picture’s self!

160

No more of proof, disproof — such virtue was,

Such vice was never in Pompilia, now!

Far better say “Behold Pompilia!”—(for

I leave the family as unmanageable,

And stick to just one portrait, but life-size.)

Hath calumny imputed to the fair

A blemish, mole on cheek or wart on chin,

Much more, blind hidden horrors best unnamed?

Shall I descend to prove you, point by point,

Never was knock-knee known nor splay-foot found

170

In Phryne? (I must let the portrait go,

Content me with the model, I believe)—

— I prove this? An indignant sweep of hand,

Dash at and doing away with drapery,

And — use your eyes, Athenians, smooth she smiles!

Or — since my client can no longer smile,

And more appropriate instances abound —

What is this Tale of Tarquin, how the slave

Was caught by him, preferred to Collatine?

Thou, even from thy corpse-clothes virginal,

180

Look’st the lie dead, Lucretia!

Thus at least

I, by the guidance of antiquity,

(Our one infallible guide) now operate,

Sure that the innocency shown is safe;

Sure, too, that, while I plead, the echoes cry

(Lend my weak voice thy trump, sonorous Fame!)

“Monstrosity the Phrynean shape shall mar,

“Lucretia’s soul comport with Tarquin’s lie,

“When thistles grow on vines or thorns yield figs,

190

“Or oblique sentence leave this judgment-seat!”

A great theme: may my strength be adequate!

For — paint Pompilia, dares my feebleness?

How did I unaware engage so much

— Find myself undertaking to produce

A faultless nature in a flawless form?

What’s here? Oh, turn aside nor dare the blaze

Of such a crown, such constellation, say,

As jewels here thy front, Humanity!

First, infancy, pellucid as a pearl;

200

Then, childhood — stone which, dew-drop at the first,

(An old conjecture) sucks, by dint of gaze,

Blue from the sky and turns to sapphire so:

Yet both these gems eclipsed by, last and best,

Womanliness and wifehood opaline,

Its milk-white pallor — chastity — suffused

With here and there a tint and hint of flame —

Desire — the lapidary loves to find.

Such jewels bind conspicuously thy brow,

Pompilia, infant, child, maid, woman, wife —

210

Crown the ideal in our earth at last!

What should a faculty like mine do here?

Close eyes, or else, the rashlier hurry hand!

Which is to say — lose no time but begin!

Sermocinando ne declamem, Sirs,

Ultra clepsydram, as our preachers say,

Lest I exceed my hour-glass. Whereupon,

As Flaccus prompts, I dare the epic plunge —

Begin at once with marriage, up till when

Little or nothing would arrest your love,

220

In the easeful life o’ the lady; lamb and lamb,

How do they differ? Know one, you know all

Manners of maidenhood: mere maiden she.

And since all lambs are like in more than fleece,

Prepare to find that, lamb-like, she too frisks —

O’ the weaker sex, my lords, the weaker sex!

To whom, the Teian teaches us, for gift,

Not strength — man’s dower — but beauty, nature gave,

“Beauty in lieu of spears, in lieu of shields!”

And what is beauty’s sure concomitant,

230

Nay, intimate essential character,

But melting wiles, deliciousest deceits,

The whole redoubted armoury of love?

Therefore of vernal pranks, dishevellings

O’ the hair of youth that dances April in,

And easily-imagined Hebe-slips

O’er sward which May makes over-smooth for foot —

These shall we pry into? — or wiselier wink,

Though numerous and dear they may have been?

For lo, advancing Hymen and his pomp!

240

Discedunt nunc amores, loves, farewell!

Maneat amor, let love, the sole, remain!

Farewell to dewiness and prime of life!

Remains the rough determined day: dance done,

To work, with plough and harrow! What comes next?

’Tis Guido henceforth guides Pompilia’s step,

Cries “No more friskings o’er the foodful glebe,

“Else, ’ware the whip!” Accordingly — first crack

O’ the thong — we hear that his young wife was barred,

Cohibita fuit, from the old free life,

250

Vitam liberiorem ducere.

Demur we? Nowise: heifer brave the hind?

We seek not there should lapse the natural law,

The proper piety to lord and king

And husband: let the heifer bear the yoke!

Only, I crave he cast not patience off,

This hind; for deem you she endures the whip,

Nor winces at the goad, nay, restive, kicks?

What if the adversary’s charge be just,

And all untowardly she pursue her way

With groan and grunt, though hind strike ne’er so hard?

261

If petulant remonstrance made appeal,

Unseasonable, o’erprotracted — if

Importunate challenge taxed the public ear

When silence more decorously had served

For protestation — if Pompilian plaint

Wrought but to aggravate Guidonian ire —

Why, such mishaps, ungainly though they be,

Ever companion change, are incident

To altered modes and novelty of life:

270

The philosophic mind expects no less,

Smilingly knows and names the crisis, sits

Waiting till old things go and new arrive.

Therefore, I hold a husband but inept

Who turns impatient at such transit-time,

As if thus running from the rod would last!

Since, even while I speak, the end is reached

Success awaits the soon-disheartened man,

The parents turn their backs and leave the house,

The wife may wail but none shall intervene,

280

He hath attained his object, groom and bride

Partake the nuptial bower no soul to see,

Old things are passed and all again is new,

Over and gone the obstacles to peace,

Novorum — tenderly the Mantuan turns

The expression, some such purpose in his eye —

Nascitur ordo! Every storm is laid,

And forth from plain each pleasant herb may peep,

Each bloom of wifehood in abeyance late:

(Confer a passage in the Canticles.)

290

But what if, as ’tis wont with plant and wife,

Flowers — after a suppression to good end,

Still, when they do spring forth — sprout here, spread there

Anywhere likelier than beneath the foot

O’ the lawful good-man gardener of the ground?

He dug and dibbled, sowed and watered — still

’Tis a chance wayfarer shall pluck the increase.

Just so, respecting persons not too much,

The lady, foes allege, put forth each charm

And proper floweret of feminity

300

To whosoever had a nose to smell

Or breast to deck: what if the charge be true?

The fault were graver had she looked with choice,

Fastidiously appointed who should grasp,

Who, in the whole town, go without the prize!

To nobody she destined donative,

But, first come was first served, the accuser saith

Put case her sort of . . . in this kind . . . escapes

Were many and oft and indiscriminate —

Impute ye as the action were prepense,

310

The gift particular, arguing malice so?

Which butterfly of the wide air shall brag

“I was preferred to Guido”— when ’tis clear

The cup, he quaffs at, lay with olent breast

Open to gnat, midge, been and moth as well?

One chalice entertained the company;

And if its peevish lord object the more,

Mistake, misname such bounty in a wife,

Haste we to advertise him — charm of cheek,

Lustre of eye, allowance of the lip,

320

All womanly components in a spouse,

These are no household-bread each stranger’s bite

Leaves by so much diminished for the mouth

O’ the master of the house at supper-time:

But rather like a lump of spice they lie,

Morsel of myrrh, which scents the neighbourhood

Yet greets its lord no lighter by a grain.

Nay, even so, he shall be satisfied!

Concede we there was reason in his wrong,

Grant we his grievance and content the man!

330

For lo, Pompilia, she submits herself;

Ere three revolving years have crowned their course,

Off and away she puts this same reproach

Of lavish bounty, inconsiderate gift

O’ the sweets of wifehood stored to other ends:

No longer shall he blame “She none excludes,”

But substitute “She laudably sees all,

“Searches the best out and selects the same.”

For who is here, long sought and latest found,

Waiting his turn unmoved amid the whirl,

340

Constans in levitate,”— Ha, my lords?

Calm in his levity — indulge the quip! —

Since ’tis a levite bears the bell away,

Parades him henceforth as Pompilia’s choice.

’Tis no ignoble object, husband! Doubt’st?

When here comes tripping Flaccus with his phrase

“Trust me, no miscreant singled from the mob,

Crede non illum tibi de scelesta

Plebe delectum,” but a man of mark,

A priest, dost hear? Why then, submit thyself!

350

Priest, ay and very phœnix of such fowl,

Well-born, of culture, young and vigorous,

Comely too, since precise the precept points —

On the selected levite be there found

Nor mole nor scar nor blemish, lest the mind

Come all uncandid through the thwarting flesh!

Was not the son of Jesse ruddy, sleek,

Pleasant to look on, pleasant every way?

Since well he smote the harp and sweetly sang,

And danced till Abigail came out to see,

360

And seeing smiled and smiling ministered

The raisin-duster and the cake of figs,

With ready meal refreshed the gifted youth,

Till Nabal, who was absent shearing sheep,

Felt heart sink, took to bed (discreetly done —

They might have been beforehand with him else)

And died — would Guido had behaved as well!

But ah, the faith of early days is gone,

Heu prisca fides! Nothing died in him

Save courtesy, good sense and proper trust,

370

Which, when they ebb from souls they should o’erflow,

Discover stub, weed, sludge and ugliness.

(The Pope, you know, is Neapolitan

And relishes a sea-side simile.)

Deserted by each charitable wave,

Guido, left high and dry, shows jealous now!

Jealous avouched, paraded: tax the fool

With any peccadillo, he responds

“Truly I beat my wife through jealousy,

“Imprisoned her and punished otherwise,

380

“Being jealous: now would threaten, sword in hand,

“Now manage to mix poison in her sight,

“And so forth: jealously I dealt, in fine.”

Concede the fact and what remains to prove?

Have I to teach my masters what effect

Hath jealousy and how, befooling men,

It makes false true, abuses eye and ear,

Turns the mist adamantine, loads with sound

Silence, and into void and vacancy

Crowds a whole phalanx of conspiring foes?

390

Therefore who owns “I watched with jealousy

“My wife” adds “for no reason in the world!”

What need that who says “madman” should remark

“The thing he thought a serpent proved an eel?”—

Perchance the right Comacchian, six foot length,

And not an inch too long for that same pie

(Master Arcangeli has heard of such)

Whose succulence makes fasting bearable;

Meant to regale some moody splenetic

Who pleases to mistake the donor’s gift,

400

And spies — I know not what Lernæan snake

I’ the luscious Lenten creature, stamps forsooth

The dainty in the dust.

        Enough! Prepare,

His lunes announced, for downright lunacy!

Insanit homo, threat succeeds to threat,

And blow redoubles blow — his wife, the block.

But, if a block, shall not she jar the hand

That buffets her? The injurious idle stone

Rebounds and fits the head of him who flung.

410

Causeless rage breeds, i’ the wife now, rageful cause,

Tyranny wakes rebellion from its sleep.

Rebellion, say I? — rather, self-defence,

Laudable wish to live and see good days,

Pricks our Pompilia on to fly the foe

By any means, at any price — nay, more,

Nay, most of all, i’ the very interest

Of the foe that, baffled of his blind desire

At any price, is truliest victor so.

Shall he effect his crime and lose his soul?

420

No, dictates duty to a loving wife.

Far better that the unconsummate blow,

Adroitly baulked by her, should back again,

Correctively admonish his own pate!

Crime then — the Court is with me? — she must crush;

How crush it? By all efficacious means;

And these — why, what is woman should they be?

“With horns the bull, with teeth the lion fights,

“To woman,” quoth the lyrist quoted late,

“Nor teeth, nor horns, but beauty, Nature gave!”

430

Pretty i’ the Pagan! Who dares blame the use

Of the armoury thus allowed for natural —

Exclaim against a seeming-dubious play

O’ the sole permitted weapon, spear and shield

Alike, resorted to i’ the circumstance

By poor Pompilia? Grant she somewhat plied

Arts that allure, the magic nod and wink,

The witchery of gesture, spell of word,

Whereby the likelier to enlist this friend,

Yet stranger, as a champion on her side?

440

Such, being but mere man, (’twas all she knew),

Must be made sure by beauty’s silken bond,

The weakness that subdues the strong, and bows

Wisdom alike and folly. Grant the tale

O’ the husband, which is false, for proved and true

To the letter — or the letters, I should say,

The abominations he professed to find

And fix upon Pompilia and the priest —

Allow them hers — for though she could not write,

In early days of Eve-like innocence

450

That plucked no apple from the knowledge-tree,

Yet, at the Serpent’s word, Eve plucks and eats

And knows — especially how to read and write:

And so Pompilia — as the move o’ the maw,

Quoth Persius, makes a parrot bid “Good-day!”

A crow salute the concave, and a pie

Endeavour at proficiency in speech —

So she, through hunger after fellowship,

May well have learned, though late, to play the scribe:

As indeed, there’s one letter on the list

460

Explicitly declares did happen here.

“You thought my letters could be none of mine,”

She tells her parents —“mine, who wanted skill;

“But now I have the skill, and write, you see!”

She needed write love-letters, so she learned,

Negatas artifex sequi voces”— though

This letter nowise ’scapes the common lot,

But lies i’ the condemnation of the rest,

Found by the husband’s self who forged them all.

Yet, for the sacredness of argument,

470

For this once an exemption shall it plead —

Anything, anything to let the wheels

Of argument run glibly to their goal!

Concede she wrote (which were preposterous)

This and the other epistle — what of it?

Where does the figment touch her candid fame?

Being in peril of her life —“my life,

“Not an hour’s purchase,” as the letter runs —

And having but one stay in this extreme,

And out of the wide world a single friend —

480

What could she other than resort to him,

And how with any hope resort but thus?

Shall modesty dare bid a stranger brave

Danger, disgrace, nay death in her behalf —

Think to entice the sternness of the steel

Save by the magnet moves the manly mind?

— Most of all when such mind is hampered so

By growth of circumstance athwart the life

O’ the natural man, that decency forbids

He stoop and take the common privilege,

490

Say frank “I love,” as all the vulgar do.

A man is wedded to philosophy,

Married to statesmanship; a man is old;

A man is fettered by the foolishness

He took for wisdom and talked ten years since;

A man is, like our friend the Canon here,

A priest, and wicked if he break his vow:

He dare to love, who may be Pope one day?

Suppose this man could love, though, all the same —

From what embarrassment she sets him free

500

Should one, a woman he could love, speak first —

“’Tis I who break reserve, begin appeal,

“Confess that, whether you love me or no,

“I love you!” What an ease to dignity,

What help of pride from the hard high-backed chair

Down to the carpet where the kittens bask,

All under the pretence of gratitude!

From all which, I deduce — the lady here

Was bound to proffer nothing short of love

To the priest whose service was to save her. What?

510

Shall she propose him lucre, dust o’ the mine,

Rubbish o’ the rock, some diamond, muckworms prize,

Or pearl secreted by a sickly fish?

Scarcely! She caters for a generous taste.

’Tis love shall beckon, beauty bid to breast,

Till all the Samson sink into the snare!

Because, permit the end — permit therewith

Means to the end!

        How say you, good my lords?

I hope you heard my adversary ring

520

The changes on this precept: now, let me

Reverse the peal! Quia dato licito fine,

Ad illum assequendum ordinata

Non sunt damnanda media — licit end

Enough was the escape from death, I hope,

To legalise the means illicit else

Of feigned love, false allurement, fancied fact.

Thus Venus losing Cupid on a day,

(See that Idyllium Moschi) seeking help,

In the anxiety of motherhood,

530

Allowably promised “Who shall bring report

“Where he is wandered to, my winged babe,

“I give him for reward a nectared kiss;

“But who brings safely back the truant’s self,

“His be a super-sweet makes kiss seem cold!”

Are not these things writ for example-sake?

To such permitted motive, then, refer

All those professions, else were hard explain,

Of hope, fear, jealousy, and the rest of love!

He is Myrtillus, Amaryllis she,

540

She burns, he freezes — all a mere device

To catch and keep the man may save her life,

Whom otherwise nor catches she nor keeps!

Worst, once, is best now: in all faith, she feigns:

Feigning — the liker innocence to guilt,

The truer to the life is what she feigns!

How if Ulysses — when, for public good

He sunk particular qualms and played the spy,

Entered Troy’s hostile gate in beggar’s garb —

How if he first had boggled at this clout,

550

Grown dainty o’er that clack-dish? Grime is grace

To whoso gropes amid the dung for gold.

Hence, beyond promises, we praise each proof

That promise was not simply made to break —

No moonshine- structure meant to fade at dawn:

So call —(proofs consequent and requisite)—

What enemies allege of — more than words,

Deeds — meeting at the window, twilight-tryst,

Nocturnal entertainment in the dim

Old labyrinthine palace; lies, we know —

560

Inventions we, long since, turned inside out,

Would such external semblance of intrigue

Demonstrate that intrigue must lurk perdue?

Does every hazel-sheath disclose a nut?

He were a Molinist who dared maintain

That midnight meetings in a screened alcove

Must argue folly in a matron — since

So would he bring a slur on Judith’s self,

Commended beyond women that she lured

The lustful to destruction through his lust.

570

Pompilia took not Judith’s liberty,

No faulchion find you in her hand to smite —

No damsel to convey the head in dish,

Of Holophernes — style the Canon so —

Or is it the Count? If I entangle me

With my similitudes — if wax wings melt,

And earthward down I drop, not mine the fault:

Blame your beneficence, O Court, O sun,

Whereof the beamy smile affects my flight!

What matter, so Pompilia’s fame revive

580

I’ the warmth that proves the bane of Icarus?

Yea, we have shown it lawful, necessary

Pompilia leave her husband, seek the house

O’ the parents: and because ’twixt home and home

Lies a long road with many a danger rife,

Lions by the way and serpents in the path,

To rob and ravish — much behoves she keep

Each shadow of suspicion from fair fame,

For her own sake much, but for his sake more,

The ingrate husband! Evidence shall be,

590

Some witness to the world how white she walks

I’ the mire she wanders through ere Rome she reach.

And who so proper witness as a priest?

Gainsay ye? Let me hear who dares gainsay!

I hope we still can punish heretics!

“Give me the man,” I say with him of Gath,

“That we may fight together” None, I think:

The priest is granted me.

        Then, if a priest,

One juvenile and potent: else, mayhap,

600

That dragon, our Saint George would slay, slays him.

And should fair face accompany strong hand,

The more complete equipment: nothing mars

Work, else praiseworthy, like a bodily flaw

I’ the worker: as ’tis said Saint Paul himself

Deplored the check o’ the puny presence, still

Cheating his fulmination of its flash,

Albeit the bolt therein went true to oak.

Therefore the agent, as prescribed, she takes —

A priest, juvenile, potent, handsome too —

610

In all obedience: “good,” you grant again.

Do you? I would ye were the husband, lords!

How prompt and facile might departure be!

How boldly would Pompilia and the priest

March out of door, spread flag at beat of drum,

But that inapprehensive Guido grants

Neither premiss nor yet conclusion here,

And, purblind, dreads a bear in every bush!

For his own quietude and comfort, then,

Means must be found for flight in masquerade

620

At hour when all things sleep. —“Save jealousy!”

Right, judges! Therefore shall the lady’s wit

Supply the boon thwart nature baulks him of,

And do him service with the potent drug

(Helen’s nepenthe, as my lords opine)

Shall respite blessedly each frittered nerve

O’ the much-enduring man: accordingly,

There lies he, duly dosed and sound asleep,

Relieved of woes, or real or raved about.

While soft she leaves his side, he shall not wake;

630

Nor stop who steals away to join her friend,

Nor do him mischief should he catch that friend

Intent on more than friendly office — nay,

Nor get himself raw head and bones laid bare

In payment of his apparition!

        Thus

Would I defend the step — were the thing true

Which is a fable — see my former speech —

That Guido slept (who never slept a wink)

Through treachery, an opiate from his wife,

640

Who not so much as knew what opiates mean.

Now she may start: but hist — a stoppage still!

A journey is an enterprise which costs!

As in campaigns, we fight and others pay,

Suis expensis, nemo militat.

’Tis Guido’s self we guard from accident,

Ensuring safety to Pompilia, versed

Nowise in misadventures by the way,

Hard riding and rough quarters, the rude fare,

The unready host. What magic mitigates

650

Each plague of travel to the unpractised wife?

Money, sweet Sirs! And were the fiction fact,

She helped herself thereto with liberal hand

From out the husband’s store — what fitter use

Was ever husband’s money destined to?

With bag and baggage thus did Dido once

Decamp — for more authority, a queen!

So is she fairly on her route at last,

Prepared for either fortune: nay and if

The priest, now all a-glow with enterprise,

660

Cool somewhat presently when fades the flush

O’ the first adventure, clouded o’er belike

By doubts, misgivings how the day may die,

Though born with such auroral brilliance — if

The brow seem over-pensive and the lip

’Gin lag and lose the prattle lightsome late —

Vanquished by tedium of a prolonged jaunt

In a close carriage o’er a jolting road,

With only one young female substitute

For seventeen other Canons of ripe age

670

Were wont to keep him company in church —

Shall not Pompilia haste to dissipate

The silent cloud that, gathering, bodes her bale? —

Prop the irresoluteness may portend

Suspension of the project, check the flight,

Bring ruin on them both? — use every means,

Since means to the end are lawful? What i’ the way

Of wile should have allowance like a kiss

Sagely and sisterly administered,

Sororia saltem oscula? We find

680

Such was the remedy her wit applied

To each incipient scruple of the priest,

If we believe — as, while my wit is mine

I cannot — what the driver testifies,

Borsi, called Venerino, the mere tool

Of Guido and his friend the Governor —

The avowal I proved wrung from out the wretch,

After long rotting in imprisonment,

As price of liberty and favour: long

They tempted, he at last succumbed, and lo

690

Counted them out full tale each kiss required —

“The journey was one long embrace,” quoth he.

Still, though we should believe the driver’s lie,

Nor even admit as probable excuse,

Right reading of the riddle — as I urged

In my first argument, with fruit perhaps —

That what the owl-like eyes (at back of head!)

O’ the driver, drowsed by driving night and day,

Supposed a vulgar interchange of love,

This was but innocent jog of head ’gainst head,

700

Cheek meeting jowl as apple may touch pear

From branch and branch contiguous in the wind,

When Autumn blusters and the orchard rocks.

The rapid run and the rough road were cause

O’ the casual ambiguity, no harm

I’ the world to eyes awake and penetrative.

Yet — not to grasp a truth I can forego

And safely fight without and conquer still —

Say, she kissed him, and he kissed her again!

Such osculation was a potent means,

710

A very efficacious help, no doubt:

This with a third part of her nectar did

Venus imbue: why should Pompilia fling

The poet’s declaration in his teeth? —

Pause to employ what — since it had success,

And kept the priest her servant to the end —

We must presume of energy enough,

No whit superfluous, so permissible?

The goal is gained: day, night and yet a day

Have run their round: a long and devious road

720

Is traversed — many manners, various men

Passed in review, what cities did they see,

What hamlets mark, what profitable food

For after-meditation cull and store!

Till Rome, that Rome whereof — this voice,

Would it might make our Molinists observe.

That she is built upon a rock nor shall

Their powers prevail against her! — Rome, I say,

Is all but reached; one stage more and they stop

Saved: pluck up heart, ye pair, and forward, then!

730

Ah, Nature — baffled she recurs, alas!

Nature imperiously exacts her due,

Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak,

Pompilia needs must acquiesce and swoon,

Give hopes alike and fears a breathing-while.

The innocent sleep soundly: sound she sleeps.

So let her slumber, then, unguarded save

By her own chastity, a triple mail,

And his good hand whose stalwart arms have borne

The sweet and senseless burthen like a babe

740

From coach to couch — the serviceable man!

Nay, what and if he gazed rewardedly

On the pale beauty prisoned in embrace,

Stooped over, stole a balmy breath perhaps

For more assurance sleep was not decease —

Ut vidi,” “how I saw!” succeeded by

Ut perii,” “how I sudden lost my brains!”

— What harm ensued to her unconscious quite?

For, curiosity — how natural!

Importunateness — what a privilege

750

In the ardent sex! And why curb ardour here?

How can the priest but pity whom he saved?

And pity is how near to love, and love

How neighbourly to unreasonableness!

And for love’s object, whether love were sage

Or foolish, could Pompilia know or care,

Being still sound asleep, as I premised?

Thus the philosopher absorbed by thought,

Even Archimedes, busy o’er a book

The while besiegers sacked his Syracuse,

760

Was ignorant of the imminence o’ the point

O’ the sword till it surprised him: let it stab,

And never knew himself was dead at all.

So sleep thou on, secure whate’er betide!

For thou, too, hast thy problem hard to solve —

How so much beauty is compatible

With so much innocence!

        Fit place, methinks,

While in this task she rosily is lost,

To treat of and repel objection here

770

Which — frivolous, I grant — but, still misgives

My mind, it may have flitted, gadfly-like,

And teazed the Court at times — as if, all said

And done, there still seemed, one might nearly say,

In a certain acceptation, somewhat more

Of what may pass for insincerity,

Falsehood, throughout the course Pompilia took,

Than befits Christian. Pagans held, we know,

We always ought to aim at good and truth,

Not always put one thing in the same words:

780

Non idem semper dicere sed spectare

Debemus. But the Pagan yoke was light;

“Lie not at all,” the exacter precept bids:

Each least lie breaks the law — is sin, ye hold.

I humble me, but venture to submit —

What prevents sin, itself is sinless, sure:

And sin, which hinders sin of deeper dye,

Softens itself away by contrast so.

Conceive me! Little sin, by none at all,

Were properly condemned for great: but great,

790

By greater, dwindles into small again.

Now, what is greatest sin of womanhood?

That which unwomans it, abolishes

The nature of the woman — impudence.

Who contradicts me here? Concede me, then,

Whatever friendly fault may interpose

To save the sex from self-abolishment

Is three-parts on the way to virtue’s rank!

Now, what is taxed here as duplicity,

Feint, wile and trick — admitted for the nonce —

800

What worse do one and all than interpose,

Hold, as it were, a deprecating hand,

Statuesquely, in the Medicean mode,

Before some shame which modesty would veil?

Who blames the gesture prettily perverse?

Thus — lest ye miss a point illustrative —

Admit the husband’s calumny — allow

That the wife, having penned the epistle fraught

With horrors, charge on charge of crime, she heaped

O’ the head of Pietro and Violante —(still

810

Presumed her parents)— and despatched the thing

To their arch-enemy Paolo, through free choice

And no sort of compulsion in the world —

Put case that she discards simplicity

For craft, denies the voluntary act,

Declares herself a passive instrument

I’ the hands of Guido; duped by knavery,

She traced the characters, she could not write,

And took on trust the unread sense which, read,

Were recognised but to be spurned at once.

820

Allow this calumny, I reiterate!

Who is so dull as wonder at the pose

Of our Pompilia in the circumstance?

Who sees not that the too-ingenuous soul,

Repugnant even at a duty done

Which brought beneath too scrutinising glare

The misdemeanours — buried in the dark —

Of the authors of her being, she believed —

Stung to the quick at her impulsive deed,

And willing to repair what harm it worked,

830

She — wise in this beyond what Nero proved,

Who, when needs were the candid juvenile

Should sign the warrant, doom the guilty dead,

“Would I had never learned to write,” quoth he!

— Pompilia rose above the Roman, cried

“To read or write I never learned at all!”

O splendidly mendacious!

        But time fleets:

Let us not linger: hurry to the end,

Since end does flight and all disastrously.

840

Beware ye blame desert for unsuccess,

Disparage each expedient else to praise,

Call failure folly! Man’s best effort fails.

After ten years’ resistance Troy fell flat:

Could valour save a town, Troy still had stood.

Pompilia came off halting in no point

Of courage, conduct, the long journey through:

But nature sank exhausted at the close,

And, as I said, she swooned and slept all night.

Morn breaks and brings the husband: we assist

850

At the spectacle. Discovery succeeds.

Ha, how is this? What moonstruck rage is here?

Though we confess to partial frailty now,

To error in a woman and a wife,

Is ’t by the rough way she shall be reclaimed?

Who bursts upon her chambered privacy?

What crowd profanes the chaste cubiculum?

What outcries and lewd laughter, scurril gibe

And ribald jest to scare the ministrant

Good angels that commerce with souls in sleep?

860

Why, had the worst crowned Guido to his wish,

Confirmed his most irrational surmise,

Yet there be bounds to man’s emotion, checks

To an immoderate astonishment.

’Tis decent horror, regulated wrath,

Befit our dispensation: have we back

The old Pagan licence? Shall a Vulcan clap

His net o’ the sudden and expose the pair

To the unquenchable universal mirth?

A feat, antiquity saw scandal in

870

So clearly, that the nauseous tale thereof —

Demodocus his nugatory song —

Hath ever been concluded modern stuff

Impossible to the mouth of the grave Muse,

So, foisted into that Eighth Odyssey

By some impertinent pickthank. O thou fool,

Count Guido Franceschini, what were gained

By publishing thy shame thus to the world?

Were all the precepts of the wise a waste —

Bred in thee not one touch of reverence?

880

Why, say thy wife — admonish we the fool —

Were false, and thou bid chronicle thy shame,

Much rather should thy teeth bite out thy tongue,

Dump lip consort with desecrated brow,

Silence become historiographer,

And thou — thine own Cornelius Tacitus!

But virtue, barred, still leaps the barrier, lords!

— Still, moon-like, penetrates the encroaching mist

And bursts, all broad and bare, on night, ye know!

Surprised, then, in the garb of truth, perhaps,

890

Pompilia, thus opposed, breaks obstacle,

Springs to her feet, and stands Thalassian- pure,

Confronts the foe — nay, catches at his sword

And tries to kill the intruder, he complains.

Why, so she gave her lord his lesson back,

Crowned him, this time, the virtuous woman’s way,

With an exact obedience; he brought sword,

She drew the same, since swords are meant to draw.

Tell not me ’tis sharp play with tools on edge!

It was the husband chose the weapon here.

900

Why did not he inaugurate the game

With some gentility of apophthegm

Still pregnant on the philosophic page,

Some captivating cadence still a- lisp

O’ the poet’s lyre? Such spells subdue the surge,

Make tame the tempest, much more mitigate

The passions of the mind, and probably

Had moved Pompilia to a smiling blush.

No, he must needs prefer the argument

O’ the blow: and she obeyed, in duty bound,

910

Returned him buffet ratiocinative —

Ay, in the reasoner’s own interest,

For wife must follow whither husband leads,

Vindicate honour as himself prescribes,

Save him the very way himself bids save!

No question but who jumps into a quag

Should stretch forth hand and pray one “Pull me out

“By the hand!” such were the customary cry:

But Guido pleased to bid “Leave hand alone!

“Join both feet, rather, jump upon my head,

920

“I extricate myself by the rebound!”

And dutifully as enjoined she jumped —

Drew his own sword and menaced his own life,

Anything to content a wilful spouse.

And so he was contented — one must do

Justice to the expedient which succeeds,

Strange as it seem: at flourish of the blade,

The crowd drew back, stood breathless and abashed,

Then murmured “This should be no wanton wife,

“No conscience-stricken creature, caught i’ the act,

930

“And patiently awaiting our first stone:

“But a poor hard-pressed all-bewildered thing,

“Has rushed so far, misguidedly perhaps,

“Meaning no more harm than a frightened sheep.

“She sought for aid; and if she made mistake

“I’ the man could aid most, why — so mortals do:

“Even the blessed Magdalen mistook

“Far less forgiveably: consult the place —

“Supposing him to be the gardener,

“‘Sir,’ said she, and so following.” Why more words?

940

Forthwith the wife is pronounced innocent:

What would the husband more than gain his cause,

And find that honour flash in the world’s eye,

His apprehension was lest soil had smirched?

So, happily the adventure comes to close

Whereon my fat opponent grounds his charge

Preposterous: at mid-day he groans “How dark!”

Listen to me, thou Archangelic swine!

Where is the ambiguity to blame,

The flaw to find in our Pompilia? Safe

950

She stands, see! Does thy comment follow quick

“Safe, inasmuch as at the end proposed;

“But thither she picked way by devious path —

“Stands dirtied, no dubiety at all!

“I recognise success, yet, all the same,

“Importunately will suggestion prick —

“What, had Pompilia gained the right to boast

“‘No devious path, no doubtful patch was mine,

“‘I saved my head nor sacrificed my foot?’

“Why, being in a peril, show mistrust

960

“Of the angels set to guard the innocent?

“Why rather hold by obvious vulgar help

“Of stratagem and subterfuge, excused

“Somewhat, but still no less a foil, a fault,

“Since low with high, and good with bad is linked?

“Methinks I view some ancient bas-relief.

“There stands Hesione thrust out by Troy,

“Her father’s hand has chained her to a crag,

“Her mother’s from the virgin plucked the vest,

“At a safe distance both distressful watch,

970

“While near and nearer comes the snorting orc.

“I look that, white and perfect to the end,

“She wait till Jove despatch some demigod;

“Not that — impatient of celestial club

“Alcmena’s son should brandish at the beast —

“She daub, disguise her dainty limbs with pitch,

“And so elude the purblind monster! Ay,

“The trick succeeds, but ’tis an ugly trick,

“Where needs have been no trick!”

        My answer? Faugh!

980

Nimis incongrue! Too absurdly put!

Sententiam ego teneo contrariam,

Trick, I maintain, had no alternative.

The heavens were bound with brass — Jove far at feast

(No feast like that thou didst not ask me to,

Arcangeli — I heard of thy regale!)

With the unblamed Æthiop — Hercules spun wool

I’ the lap of Omphale, while Virtue shrieked —

The brute came paddling all the faster. You

Of Troy, who stood at distance, where’s the aid

990

You offered in the extremity? Most and least,

Gentle and simple, here the Governor,

There the Archbishop, everywhere the friends,

Shook heads and waited for a miracle,

Or went their way, left Virtue to her fate.

Just this one rough and ready man leapt forth!

— Was found, sole anti-Fabius (dare I say)

To restore things, with no delay at all,

Qui, haud cunctando, rem restituit! He,

He only, Caponsacchi ’mid a crowd,

1000

Caught Virtue up, carried Pompilia off

Thro’ the gaping impotence of sympathy

In ranged Arezzo: what you take for pitch,

Is nothing worse, belike, than black and blue,

Mere evanescent proof that hardy hands

Did yeoman’s service, cared not where the gripe

Was more than duly energetic: bruised,

She smarts a little, but her bones are saved

A fracture, and her skin will soon show sleek.

How it disgusts when weakness, false-refined,

1010

Censures the honest rude effective strength —

When sickly dreamers of the impossible

Decry plain sturdiness which does the feat

With eyes wide open!

        Did occasion serve,

I could illustrate, if my lords allow;

Quid vetat, what forbids, I aptly ask

With Horace, that I give my anger vent,

While I let breathe, no less, and recreate

The gravity of my Judges, by a tale —

1020

A case in point — what though an apologue

Graced by tradition — possibly a fact?

Tradition must precede all scripture, words

Serve as our warrant ere our books can be:

So, to tradition back we needs must go

For any fact’s authority: and this

Hath lived so far (like jewel hid in muck)

O’ the page of that old lying vanity

Called “Sepher Toldoth Yeschu:” God be praised,

I read no Hebrew — take the thing on trust:

1030

But I believe the writer meant no good

(Blind as he was to truth in some respects)

To our pestiferous and schismatic . . . well,

My lords’ conjecture be the touchstone, show

The thing for what it is! The author lacks

Discretion, and his zeal exceeds: but zeal —

How rare in our degenerate day! Enough!

Here is the story — fear not, I shall chop

And change a little, else my Jew would press

All too unmannerly before the Court.

1040

It happened once — begins this foolish Jew,

Pretending to write Christian history —

That three, held greatest, best and worst of men,

Peter and John and Judas, spent a day

In toil and travel through the country-side

On some sufficient business — I suspect,

Suppression of some Molinism i’ the bud.

Foot- sore and hungry, dropping with fatigue,

They reached by nightfall a poor lonely grange,

Hostel or inn: so, knocked and entered there.

“Your pleasure, great ones?”—“Shelter, rest and food!”

1051

For shelter, there was one bare room above;

For rest therein, three beds of bundled straw:

For food, one wretched starveling fowl, no more —

Meat for one mouth, but mockery for three.

“You have my utmost.” How should supper serve?

Peter broke silence. “To the spit with fowl!

“And while ’tis cooking, sleep! — since beds there be,

“And, so far, satisfaction of a want.

“Sleep we an hour, awake at supper-time,

1060

“Then each of us narrate the dream he had,

“And he whose dream shall prove the happiest, point

“The clearliest out the dreamer as ordained

“Beyond his fellows to receive the fowl,

“Him let our shares be cheerful tribute to,

“His the entire meal, may it do him good!”

Who could dispute so plain a consequence?

So said, so done: each hurried to his straw,

Slept his hour’s-sleep and dreamed his dream, and woke.

“I,” commenced John, “dreamed that I gained the prize

1070

“We all aspire to: the proud place was mine,

“Throughout the earth and to the end of time

“I was the Loved Disciple: mine the meal!”

“But I,” proceeded Peter, “dreamed, a word

“Gave me the headship of our company,

“Made me the Vicar and Vice-regent, gave

“The keys of Heaven and Hell into my hand,

“And o’er the earth, dominion: mine the meal!”

“While I,” submitted in soft under-tone

The Iscariot — sense of his unworthiness

1080

Turning each eye up to the inmost white —

With long-drawn sigh, yet letting both lips smack,

“I have had just the pitifullest dream

“That ever proved man meanest of his mates,

“And born foot-washer and foot-wiper, nay

“Foot-kisser to each comrade of you all!

“I dreamed I dreamed; and in that mimic dream

“(Impalpable to dream as dream to fact)

“Methought I meanly chose to sleep no wink

“But wait until I heard my brethren breathe;

“Then stole from couch, slipped noiseless to the door,

1091

“Slid downstairs, furtively approached the hearth,

“Found the fowl duly brown, both back and breast,

“Hissing in harmony with the cricket’s chirp,

“Grilled to a point; said no grace but fell to,

“Nor finished till the skeleton lay bare.

“In penitence for which ignoble dream,

“Lo, I renounce my portion cheerfully!

“Fie on the flesh — be mine the etherial gust,

“And yours the sublunary sustenance!

1100

“See, that whate’er be left, ye give the poor!”

Down the two scuttled, one on other’s heel,

Stung by a fell surmise; and found, alack,

A goodly savour, both the drumstick-bones,

And that which henceforth took the appropriate name

O’ the merry-thought, in memory of the fact

That to keep wide awake is our best dream.

So — as was said once of Thucydides

And his sole joke, “The lion, lo, hath laughed!”—

Just so, the Governor and all that’s great

1110

I’ the city, never meant that Innocence

Should starve thus while Authority sat at meat.

They meant to fling a bone at banquet’s end,

Wished well to our Pompilia — in their dreams,

Nor bore the secular sword in vain — asleep:

Just so the Archbishop and all good like him

Went to bed meaning to pour oil and wine

I’ the wounds of her, next day — but long ere day,

They had burned the one and drunk the other: while

Just so, again, contrariwise, the priest

1120

Sustained poor Nature in extremity

By stuffing barley-bread into her mouth,

Saving Pompilia (grant the parallel)

By the plain homely and straightforward way

Taught him by common-sense. Let others shriek

“Oh what refined expedients did we dream

“Proved us the only fit to help the fair!”

He cried “A carriage waits, jump in with me!”

And now, this application pardoned, lords —

This recreative pause and breathing-while —

1130

Back to beseemingness and gravity!

For Law steps in: Guido appeals to Law,

Demands she arbitrate — does well for once.

O Law, of thee how neatly was it said

By that old Sophocles, thou hast thy seat

I’ the very breast of Jove, no meanlier throned!

Here is a piece of work now, hitherto

Begun and carried on, concluded near,

Without an eye-glance cast thy sceptre’s way;

And, lo the stumbling and discomfiture!

1140

Well may you call them “lawless,” means men take

To extricate themselves through mother-wit

When tangled haply in the toils of life!

Guido would try conclusions with his foe,

Whoe’er the foe was and whate’er the offence;

He would recover certain dowry-dues:

Instead of asking Law to lend a hand,

What pother of sword drawn and pistol cocked,

What peddling with forged letters and paid spies,

Politic circumvention! — all to end

1150

As it began — by loss of the fool’s head,

First in a figure, presently in a fact.

It is a lesson to mankind at large.

How other were the end, would men be sage

And bear confidingly each quarrel straight,

O Law, to thy recipient mother-knees!

How would the children light come and prompt go,

This, with a red-cheeked apple for reward,

The other, peradventure red-cheeked too

I’ the rear, by taste of birch for punishment.

1160

No foolish brawling murders any more!

Peace for the household, practice for the Fisc,

And plenty for the exchequer of my lords!

Too much to hope, in this world: in the next,

Who knows? Since, why should sit the Twelve enthroned

To judge the tribes, unless the tribes be judged?

And ’tis impossible but offences come:

So, all’s one lawsuit, all one long leet-day!

Forgive me this digression — that I stand

Entranced awhile at Law’s first beam, outbreak

1170

O’ the business, when the Count’s good angel bade

“Put up thy sword, born enemy to the ear,

“And let Law listen to thy difference!”

And Law does listen and compose the strife,

Settle the suit, how wisely and how well!

On our Pompilia, faultless to a fault,

Law bends a brow maternally severe,

Implies the worth of perfect chastity,

By fancying the flaw she cannot find.

Superfluous sifting snow, nor helps nor harms:

1180

’Tis safe to censure levity in youth,

Tax womanhood with indiscretion, sure!

Since toys, permissible to-day, become

Follies to-morrow: prattle shocks in church:

And that curt skirt which lets a maiden skip,

The matron changes for a trailing robe.

Mothers may risk thus much with half-shut eyes

Nodding above their spindles by the fire,

On the chance to hit some hidden fault, else safe.

Just so, Law hazarded a punishment —

1190

If applicable to the circumstance,

Why, well — if not so apposite, well too.

“Quit the gay range o’ the world,” I hear her cry,

“Enter, in lieu, the penitential pound:

“Exchange the gauds of pomp for ashes, dust:—

“Leave each mollitious haunt of luxury,

“The golden-garnished silken-couched alcove,

“The many-columned terrace that so tempts

“Feminine soul put foot forth, nor stop ear

“To fluttering joy of lover’s serenade,

1200

“Leave these for cellular seclusion; mask

“And dance no more, but fast and pray; avaunt —

“Be burned, thy wicked townsman’s sonnet-book!

“Welcome, mild hymnal by . . . some better scribe!

“For the warm arms, were wont enfold thy flesh,

“Let wire-shirt plough and whip-cord discipline!”

If such an exhortation proved, perchance,

Inapplicable, words bestowed in waste,

What harm, since law has store, can spend nor miss?

And so, our paragon submits herself,

1210

Goes at command into the holy house

And, also at command, comes out again:

For, could the effect of such obedience prove

Too certain, too immediate? Being healed,

Go blaze abroad the matter, blessed one!

Art thou sound forthwith? Speedily vacate

The step by pool-side, leave Bethesda free

To patients plentifully posted round,

Since the whole need not the physician! Brief,

She may betake her to her parents’ place.

1220

Welcome her, father, with wide arms once more,

Motion her, mother, to thy breast again!

For why? The law relinquishes its charge,

Grants to your dwelling-place a prison’s style,

But gives you back Pompilia; golden days,

Redeunt Saturnia regna! Six weeks slip,

And she is domiciled in house and home

As though she thence had never budged at all.

And thither let the husband, joyous — ay,

But contrite also — quick betake himself,

1230

Proud that his dove which lay among the pots

Hath mued those dingy feathers — moulted now,

Shows silver bosom clothed with yellow gold.

Quick, he shall tempt her to the perch she fled,

Bid to domestic bliss the truant back!

O let him not delay! Time fleets how fast,

And opportunity, the irrevocable,

Once flown will flout him! Is the furrow traced?

If field with corn ye fail preoccupy,

Darnel for wheat and thistle-beards for grain,

1240

Infelix lolium, carduus horridus,

Will grow apace in combination prompt,

Defraud the husbandman of his desire.

Already — hist — what murmurs ’monish now

The laggard? — doubtful, nay, fantastic bruit

Of such an apparition, such return

Interdum, to anticipate the spouse,

Of Caponsacchi’s very self! ’Tis said

When nights are lone and company is rare,

His visitations brighten winter up.

1250

If so they did — which nowise I believe —

How can I? — proof abounding that the priest,

Once fairly at his relegation place

Never once left it — still, admit he stole

A midnight march, would fain see friend again,

Find matter for instruction in the past,

Renew the old adventure in such chat

As cheers a fireside! He was lonely too,

He, too, must need his recreative hour.

Should it amaze the philosophic mind

1260

If one, was wont the enpurpled cup to quaff,

Have feminine society at will,

Being debarred abruptly from all drink

Save at the spring which Adam used for wine,

Dread harm to just the health he hoped to guard,

And, meaning abstinence, gain malady?

Ask Tozzi, now physician to the Pope!

“Little by little break”—(I hear he bids

Master Arcangeli my antagonist,

Who loves good cheer — and may indulge too much —

1270

So I explain the logic of the plea

Wherewith he opened our proceedings late)—

“Little by little break a habit, Don!

“Become necessity to feeble flesh!”

And thus, nocturnal taste of intercourse

(Which never happened — but, suppose it did)

May have been used to dishabituate

By sip and sip this drainer to the dregs

O’ the draught of conversation — heady stuff,

Brewage which broached, it took two days and nights

1280

To properly discuss o’ the journey, Sirs!

Such is the second-nature, men call use,

That undelightful objects get to charm

Instead of chafe: the daily colocynth

Tickles the palate by repeated dose,

Old sores scratch kindly, the ass makes a push,

Although the mill-yoke-wound be smarting yet,

For mill-door bolted on a holiday —

And must we marvel if the impulse urge

To talk the old story over now and then,

1290

The hopes and fears, the stoppage and the haste —

Subjects of colloquy to surfeit once?

“Here did you bid me twine a rosy wreath!”

“And there you paid my lips a compliment!”

“There you admired the tower could be so tall!”

“And there you likened that of Lebanon

“To the nose o’ the beloved!”— Trifles — still,

Forsan et hœc olim,”— such trifles serve

To make the minutes pass in winter-time,

Husband, return then, I re-counsel thee!

1300

For, finally, of all glad circumstance

Should make a prompt return imperative,

What i’ the world awaits thee, dost suppose?

O’ the sudden, as good gifts are wont befall,

What is the hap of the unconscious Count?

That which lights bonfire and sets cask a-tilt,

Dissolves the stubborn’st heart in jollity.

O admirable, there is born a babe,

A son, an heir, a Franceschini last

And best o’ the stock! Pompilia, thine the palm!

1310

Repaying incredulity with faith,

Ungenerous thrift of each marital debt

With bounty in profuse expenditure,

Pompilia will not have the old year end

Without a present shall ring in the new —

Bestows upon her parsimonious lord

An infant for the apple of his eye,

Core of his heart, and crown completing life,

The summum bonum of the earthly lot!

“We,” saith ingeniously the sage, “are born

1320

“Solely that others may be born of us.”

So, father, take thy child, for thine that child,

Oh nothing doubt! In wedlock born, law holds

Baseness impossible, since “filius est

Quem nuptiœ demonstrant,” twits the text

Whoever dares to doubt.

        Yet doubt he dares!

O faith where art thou flown from out the world?

Already on what an age of doubt we fall!

Instead of each disputing for the prize,

1330

The babe is bandied here from that to this.

Whose the babe? “Cujum pecus?” Guido’s lamb?

An Melibœi?” Nay, but of the priest!

Non sed Ægonis!” Some one must be sire:

And who shall say in such a puzzling strait,

If there were not vouchsafed some miracle

To the wife who had been harassed and abused

More than enough by Guido’s family

For non-production of the promised fruit

Of marriage? What if Nature, I demand,

1340

Touched to the quick by taunts upon her sloth,

Had roused herself, put forth recondite power,

Bestowed this birth to vindicate her sway?

Like to the favour, Maro memorised,

Was granted Aristæus when his hive

Lay empty of the swarm, not one more bee —

Not one more babe to Franceschini’s house —

And lo, a new birth filled the air with joy,

Sprung from the bowels of the generous steed!

Just so a son and heir rejoiced the Count!

1350

Spontaneous generation, need I prove

Were facile feat to Nature at a pinch?

Let whoso doubts, steep horsehair certain weeks,

In water, there will be produced a snake;

A second product of the horse, which horse

Happens to be the representative —

Now that I think on’t — of Arezzo’s self

The very city our conception blessed!

Is not a prancing horse the City-arms?

What sane eye sees not such coincidence?

1360

Cur ego, boast thou, my Pompilia, then,

Desperem fieri sine conjuge

Mater — how well the Ovidian distich suits! —

Et parere intacto dummodo

Casta viro? but language baffles here.

Note, further, as to mark the prodigy,

The babe in question neither took the name

Of Guido, from the sire presumptive, nor

Giuseppe, from the sire potential, but

Gaetano — last saint of the hierarchy,

1370

And newest namer for a thing so new:

What other motive could have prompted choice?

Therefore be peace again: exult, ye hills!

Ye vales rejoicingly break forth in song!

Incipe, parve puer, begin, small boy,

Risu cognoscere patrem, with a smile

To recognise thy parent! Nor do thou

Boggle, oh parent, to return the grace —

Nec anceps hare, pater, puero

Cognoscendo — one might well eke out the prayer!

1380

In vain! The perverse Guido doubts his eyes

Distrusts assurance, lets the devil drive;

Because his house is swept and garnished now,

He, having summoned seven like himself,

Must hurry thither, knock and enter in,

And make the last worse than the first, indeed!

Is he content? We are. No further blame

O’ the man and murder! They were stigmatised

Befittingly: the Court heard long ago

My mind o’ the matter, which, outpouring full,

1390

Has long since swept, like surge i’ the simile

Of Homer, overborne both dyke and dam,

And whelmed alike client and advocate:

His fate is sealed, his life as good as gone,

On him I am not tempted to waste word.

Yet though my purpose holds — which was and is

And solely shall be to the very end,

To draw the true effigiem of a saint,

Do justice to perfection in the sex —

Yet, let not some gross pamperer o’ the flesh

1400

And niggard in the spirit’s nourishment,

Whose feeding hath offuscated his wit

Rather than law — he never had, to lose —

Let not such advocate object to me

I leave my proper function of attack!

“What’s this to Bacchus?”—(in the classic phrase,

Well used, for once) he hiccups probably.

O Advocate o’ the poor, thou born to make

Their blessing void — beati pauperes!

By painting saintship I depicture sin,

1410

Beside the pearl, I prove how black the jet,

And through Pompilia’s virtue, Guido’s crime.

Back to her, then — with but one beauty more,

End we our argument — one crowning grace

Pre-eminent ’mid agony and death.

For to the last Pompilia played her part,

Used the right means to the permissible end,

And, wily as an eel that stirs the mud

Thick overhead, so baffling spearman’s thrust,

She, while he stabbed her, simulated death,

1420

Delayed, for his sake, the catastrophe,

Obtained herself a respite, four days’ grace,

Whereby she told her story to the world,

Enabled me to make the present speech,

And, by a full confession, saved her soul.

Yet hold, even here would malice leer its last,

Gurgle its choaked remonstrance: snake, hiss free!

Oh, that’s the objection? And to whom? — not her

But me, forsooth — as, in the very act

Of both confession and, what followed close,

1430

Subsequent talk, chatter and gossipry,

Babble to sympathising he and she

Whoever chose besiege her dying bed —

As this were found at variance with my tale,

Falsified all I have adduced for truth,

Admitted not one peccadillo here,

Pretended to perfection, first and last,

O’ the whole procedure — perfect in the end,

Perfect i’ the means, perfect in everything,

Leaving a lawyer nothing to excuse,

1440

Reason away and show his skill about!

— A flight, impossible to Adamic flesh,

Just to be fancied, scarcely to be wished,

And, anyhow, unpleadable in court!

“How reconcile,” gasps Malice, “that with this?”

Your “this,” friend, is extraneous to the law,

Comes of men’s outside meddling, the unskilled

Interposition of such fools as press

Out of their province. Must I speak my mind?

Far better had Pompilia died o’ the spot

1450

Than found a tongue to wag and shame the law,

Shame most of all herself — did friendship fail,

And advocacy lie less on the alert.

Listen how these protect her to the end!

Do I credit the alleged narration? No!

Lied our Pompilia then, to laud herself?

Still, no; — clear up what seems discrepancy?

The means abound — art’s long, though time is short,

So, keeping me in compass, all I urge

Is — since, confession at the point of death,

1460

Nam in articulo mortis, with the Church

Passes for statement honest and sincere,

Nemo presumitur reus esse — then,

If sure that all affirmed would be believed,

’Twas charity, in one so circumstanced,

To spend her last breath in one effort more

For universal good of friend and foe,

And — by pretending utter innocence,

Nay, freedom from each foible we forgive —

Re-integrate — not solely her own fame,

1470

But do the like kind office for the priest

Whom the crude truth might treat less courteously,

Indeed, expose to peril, abbreviate

The life and long career of usefulness

Presumably before him: while her lord,

Whose fleeting life is forfeit to the law —

What mercy to the culprit if, by just

The gift of such a full certificate

Of his immitigable guiltiness,

She stifled in him the absurd conceit

1480

Of murder as it were a mere revenge!

— Stopped confirmation of that jealousy

Which, had she but acknowledged the first flaw,

The faintest foible, might embolden him

To battle with his judge, baulk penitence,

Bar preparation for impending fate.

Whereas, persuade him he has slain a saint

Who sinned not in the little she did sin,

You urge him all the brisklier to repent

Of most and least and aught and everything!

1490

Next — if this view of mine, content ye not,

Lords, nor excuse the genial falsehood here,

’Tis come to our Triarii, last resource,

We fall back on the inexpugnable,

Submit you — she confessed before she talked!

The sacrament obliterates the sin:

What is not — was not, in a certain sense.

Let Molinists distinguish, “Souls washed white

“Were red once, still show pinkish to the eye!”

We say, abolishment is nothingness

1500

And nothingness has neither head nor tail

End nor beginning; — better estimate

Exorbitantly, than disparage aught

Of the efficacity of the act, I hope!

Solvuntur tabulœ? May we laugh and go?

Well — not before (in filial gratitude

To Law, who, mighty mother, waves adieu)

We take on us to vindicate Law’s self —

For — yea, Sirs — curb the start, curtail the stare! —

Remains that we apologize for haste

1510

I’ the Law, our lady who here bristles up

“And my procedure? Did the Court mistake?

“(Which were indeed a misery to think)

“Did not my sentence in the former stage

“O’ the business bear a title plain enough?

Decretum”— I translate it word for word —

“‘Decreed: the priest, for his complicity

“‘I’ the flight and deviation of the dame,

“‘As well as for unlawful intercourse,

“‘Is banished three years:’ crime and penalty,

1520

“Declared alive. If he be taxed with guilt

“How can you call Pompilia innocent?

“If they be innocent, have I been just?”

Gently, O mother, judge men! — whose mistake

Is in the poor misapprehensiveness.

The Titulus a-top of your decree

Was but to ticket there the kind of charge

You in good time would arbitrate upon.

Title is one thing — arbitration’s self,

Probatio, quite another possibly.

1530

Subsistit, there holds good the old response.

Responsio tradita, we must not stick,

Quod non sit attendendus Titulus,

To the Title, sed Probatio, but to Proof,

Resultans ex processu, and result

O’ the Trial, and the style of punishment,

Et pœna per sententiam imposita;

All is tentative, till the sentence come,

Mere indication of what men expect,

And nowise an assurance they shall find.

1540

Lords, what if we permissibly relax

The tense bow, as the law-god Phœbus bids,

Relieve our gravity at close of speech?

I traverse Rome, feel thirsty, need a draught,

Look for a wine-shop, find it by the bough

Projecting as to say “Here wine is sold!”

So much I know — “sold:” but what sort of wine?

Strong, weak, sweet, sour, home made or foreign drink?

That much must I discover by myself.

“Wine is sold,” quoth the bough, “but good or bad,

1550

“Find, and inform us when you smack your lips!”

Exactly so, Law hangs her title forth,

To show she entertains you with such case

About such crime: come in! she pours, you quaff.

You find the Priest good liquor in the main,

But heady and provocative of brawls.

Remand the residue to flask once more,

Lay it low where it may deposit lees,

I’ the cellar: thence produce it presently,

Three years the brighter and the better!

1560

        Thus,

Law’s son, have I bestowed my filial help,

And thus I end, tenax proposito;

Point to point as I purposed have I drawn

Pompilia, and implied as terribly

Guido: so, gazing, let the world crown Law —

Able once more, despite my impotence,

And helped by the acumen of the Court,

To eliminate, display, make triumph truth!

What other prize than truth were worth the pains?

1570

There’s my oration — much exceeds in length

That famed Panegyric of Isocrates,

They say it took him fifteen years to pen.

But all those ancients could say anything!

He put in just what rushed into his head,

While I shall have to prune and pare and print.

This comes of being born in modern times

With priests for auditory. Still, it pays.

The Pope

Like to Ahasuerus, that shrewd prince,

I will begin — as is, these seven years now,

My daily wont — and read a History

(Written by one whose deft right hand was dust

To the last digit, ages ere my birth)

Of all my predecessors, Popes of Rome:

For though mine ancient early dropped the pen,

Yet others picked it up and wrote it dry,

Since of the making books there is no end.

10

And so I have the Papacy complete

From Peter first to Alexander last;

Can question each and take instruction so.

Have I to dare — I ask, how dared this Pope?

To suffer? Suchanone, how suffered he?

Being about to judge, as now, I seek

How judged once, well or ill, some other Pope;

Study some signal judgment that subsists

To blaze on, or else blot, the page which seals

The sum up of what gain or loss to God

20

Came of His one more Vicar in the world.

So, do I find example, rule of life;

So, square and set in order the Next page,

Shall be stretched smooth o’er my own funeral cyst.

Eight hundred years exact before the year

I was made Pope, men made Formosus Pope,

Say Sigebert and other chroniclers.

Ere I confirm or quash the Trial here

Of Guido Franceschini and his friends,

Read — how there was a ghastly Trial once

30

Of a dead man by a live man, and both, Popes:

Thus — in the antique penman’s very phrase.

“Then Stephen, Pope and seventh of the name,

“Cried out, in synod as he sat in state,

“While choler quivered on his brow and beard,

“‘Come into court, Formosus, thou lost wretch,

“‘That claimedst to be late the Pope as I!’

“And at the word, the great door of the church

“Flew wide, and in they brought Formosus’ self,

“The body of him, dead, even as embalmed

40

“And buried duly in the Vatican

“Eight months before, exhumed thus for the nonce.

“They set it, that dead body of a Pope,

“Clothed in pontific vesture now again,

“Upright on Peter’s chair as if alive.

“And Stephen, springing up, cried furiously

“‘Bishop of Porto, wherefore didst presume

“‘To leave that see and take this Roman see,

“‘Exchange the lesser for the greater see,

“‘— A thing against the canons of the Church?’

50

“Then one (a Deacon who, observing forms,

“Was placed by Stephen to repel the charge,

“Be advocate and mouthpiece of the corpse)

“Spoke as he dared, set stammeringly forth

“With white lips and dry tongue — as but a youth,

“For frightful was the corpse-face to behold —

“How nowise lacked there precedent for this.

“But when, for his last precedent of all,

“Emboldened by the Spirit, out he blurts

“‘And, Holy Father, didst not thou thyself

60

“‘Vacate the lesser for the greater see,

“‘Half a year since change Arago for Rome?’

“‘— Ye have the sin’s defence now, synod mine!’

“Shrieks Stephen in a beastly froth of rage:

“‘Judge now betwixt him dead and me alive!

“‘Hath he intruded or do I pretend?

“‘Judge, judge!’— breaks wavelike one whole foam of wrath.

“Whereupon they, being friends and followers,

“Said ‘Ay, thou art Christ’s Vicar, and not he!

“‘A way with what is frightful to behold!

70

“‘This act was uncanonic and a fault.’

“Then, swallowed up in rage, Stephen exclaimed

“‘So, guilty! So, remains I punish guilt!

“‘He is unpoped, and all he did I damn:

“‘The Bishop, that ordained him, I degrade:

“‘Depose to laics those he raised to priests:

“‘What they have wrought is mischief nor shall stand,

“‘It is confusion, let it vex no more!

“‘Since I revoke, annul and abrogate

“‘All his decrees in all kinds: they are void!

80

“‘In token whereof and warning to the world,

“‘Strip me yon miscreant of those robes usurped,

“‘And clothe him with vile serge befitting such!

“‘Then hale the carrion to the market-place;

“‘Let the town-hangman chop from his right hand

“‘Those same three fingers which he blessed withal;

“‘Next cut the head off, once was crowned forsooth:

“‘And last go fling all, fingers, head and trunk,

“‘In Tiber that my Christian fish may sup!’

“— Either because of which means Fish

90

“And very aptly symbolises Christ,

“Or else because the Pope is Fisherman

“And seals with Fisher’s-signet. Anyway,

“So said, so done: himself, to see it done,

“Following the corpse, they trailed from street to street

“Till into Tiber wave they threw the thing.

“The people, crowded on the banks to see,

“Were loud or mute, wept or laughed, cursed or jeered,

“According as the deed addressed their sense;

“A scandal verily: and out spake a Jew

100

“‘Wot ye your Christ had vexed our Herod thus?’

“Now when, Formosus being dead a year,

“His judge Pope Stephen tasted death in turn,

“Made captive by the mob and strangled straight,

“Romanus, his successor for a month,

“Did make protest Formosus was with God,

“Holy, just, true in thought and word and deed.

“Next Theodore, who reigned but twenty days,

“Therein convoked a synod, whose decree

“Did reinstate, repope the late unpoped,

110

“And do away with Stephen as accursed.

“So that when presently certain fisher-folk

“(As if the queasy river could not hold

“Its swallowed Jonas, but discharged the meal)

“Produced the timely product of their nets,

“The mutilated man, Formosus — saved

“From putrefaction by the embalmer’s spice,

“Or, as some said, by sanctity of flesh —

“‘Why, lay the body again’ bade Theodore

“‘Among his predecessors, in the church

120

“‘And burial- place of Peter!’ which was done.

“‘And’ addeth Luitprand ‘many of repute,

“‘Pious and still alive, avouch to me

“‘That as they bore the body up the aisle

“‘The saints in imaged row bowed each his head

“‘For welcome to a brother-saint come back.’

“As for Romanus and this Theodore,

“These two Popes, through the brief reign granted each,

“Could but initiate what John came to close

“And give the final stamp to: he it was,

130

“Ninth of the name, (I follow the best guides)

“Who — in full synod at Ravenna held

“With Bishops seventy-four, and present too

“Eude King of France with his Archbishopry —

“Did condemn Stephen, anathematise

“The disinterment, and make all blots blank.

“‘For,’ argueth here Auxilius in a place

De Ordinationibus, ‘precedents

“‘Had been, no lack, before Formosus long,

“‘Of Bishops so transferred from see to see —

140

“‘Marinus, for example’: read the tract.

“But, after John, came Sergius, reaffirmed

“The right of Stephen, cursed Formosus, nay

“Cast out, some say, his corpse a second time.

“And here — because the matter went to ground,

“Fretted by new griefs, other cares of the age —

“Here is the last pronouncing of the Church,

“Her sentence that subsists unto this day.

“Yet constantly opinion hath prevailed

“I’ the Church, Formosus was a holy man.”

150

Which of the judgments was infallible?

Which of my predecessors spoke for God?

And what availed Formosus that this cursed,

That blessed, and then this other cursed again?

“Fear ye not those whose power can kill the body

“And not the soul,” saith Christ “but rather those

“Can cast both soul and body into hell!”

John judged thus in Eight Hundred Ninety Eight,

Exact eight hundred years ago to-day

When, sitting in his stead, Vice-gerent here,

160

I must give judgment on my own behoof.

So worked the predecessor: now, my turn!

In God’s name! Once more on this earth of God’s,

While twilight lasts and time wherein to work,

I take His staff with my uncertain hand,

And stay my six and fourscore years, my due

Labour and sorrow, on His judgment-seat,

And forthwith think, speak, act, in place of Him —

The Pope for Christ. Once more appeal is made

From man’s assize to mine: I sit and see

170

Another poor weak trembling human wretch

Pushed by his fellows, who pretend the right,

Up to the gulf which, where I gaze, begins

From this world to the next — gives way and way,

Just on the edge over the awful dark:

With nothing to arrest him but my feet.

He catches at me with convulsive face,

Cries “Leave to live the natural minute more!”

While hollowly the avengers echo “Leave?

“None! So has he exceeded man’s due share

180

“In man’s fit licence, wrung by Adam’s fall,

“To sin and yet not surely die — that we,

“All of us sinful, all with need of grace,

“All chary of our life — the minute more

“Or minute less of grace which saves a soul —

“Bound to make common cause with who craves time,

“— We yet protest against the exorbitance

“Of sin in this one sinner, and demand

“That his poor sole remaining piece of time

“Be plucked from out his clutch: put him to death!

190

“Punish him now! As for the weal or woe

“Hereafter, God grant mercy! Man be just,

“Nor let the felon boast he went scot-free!”

And I am bound, the solitary judge,

To weigh the worth, decide upon the plea,

And either hold a hand out, or withdraw

A foot and let the wretch drift to the fall.

Ay, and while thus I dally, dare perchance

Put fancies for a comfort ’twixt this calm

And yonder passion that I have to bear —

200

As if reprieve were possible for both

Prisoner and Pope — how easy were reprieve!

A touch o’ the hand-bell here, a hasty word

To those who wait, and wonder they wait long,

I’ the passage there, and I should gain the life! —

Yea, though I flatter me with fancy thus,

I know it is but nature’s craven-trick.

The case is over, judgment at an end,

And all things done now and irrevocable:

A mere dead man is Franceschini here,

210

Even as Formosus centuries ago.

I have worn through this sombre wintry day,

With winter in my soul beyond the world’s,

Over these dismalest of documents

Which drew night down on me ere eve befell —

Pleadings and counter- pleadings, figure of fact

Beside fact’s self, these summaries to wit —

How certain three were slain by certain five:

I read here why it was, and how it went,

And how the chief o’ the five preferred excuse,

220

And how law rather chose defence should lie —

What argument he urged by wary word

When free to play off wile, start subterfuge,

And what the unguarded groan told, torture’s feat

When law grew brutal, outbroke, overbore

And glutted hunger on the truth, at last —

No matter for the flesh and blood between.

All’s a clear rede and no more riddle now.

Truth, nowhere, lies yet everywhere in these —

Not absolutely in a portion, yet

230

Evolvable from the whole: evolved at last

Painfully, held tenaciously by me.

Therefore there is not any doubt to clear

When I shall write the brief word presently

And chink the hand-bell, which I pause to do.

Irresolute? Not I more than the mound

With the pine-trees on it yonder! Some surmise,

Perchance, that since man’s wit is fallible,

Mine may fail here? Suppose it so — what then?

Say — Guido, I count guilty, there’s no babe

240

So guiltless, for I misconceive the man!

What’s in the chance should move me from my mind?

If, as I walk in a rough country-side,

Peasants of mine cry “Thou art he can help,

“Lord of the land and counted wise to boot:

“Look at our brother, strangling in his foam,

“He fell so where we find him — prove thy worth!”

I may presume, pronounce, “A frenzy-fit,

“A falling-sickness or a fever-stroke!

Breathe a vein, copiously let blood at once!”

250

So perishes the patient, and anon

I hear my peasants —“All was error, lord!

“Our story, thy prescription: for there crawled

“In due time from our hapless brother’s breast

“The serpent which had stung him: bleeding slew

“Whom a prompt cordial had restored to health.”

What other should I say than “God so willed:

“Mankind is ignorant, a man am I:

“Call ignorance my sorrow not my sin!”

So and not otherwise, in after-time,

260

If some acuter wit, fresh probing, sound

This multifarious mass of words and deeds

Deeper, and reach through guilt to innocence,

I shall face Guido’s ghost nor blench a jot.

“God who set me to judge thee, meted out

“So much of judging faculty, no more:

“Ask Him if I was slack in use thereof!”

I hold a heavier fault imputable

Inasmuch as I changed a chaplain once,

For no cause — no, if I must bare my heart —

270

Save that he snuffled somewhat saying mass.

For I am ware it is the seed of act,

God holds appraising in His hollow palm,

Not act grown great thence on the world below,

Leafage and branchage, vulgar eyes admire.

Therefore I stand on my integrity,

Nor fear at all: and if I hesitate,

It is because I need to breathe awhile,

Rest, as the human right allows, review,

Intent the little seeds of act, the tree —

280

The thought, to clothe in deed, and give the world

At chink of bell and push of arrased door.

O pale departure, dim disgrace of day!

Winter’s in wane, his vengeful worst art thou,

To dash the boldness of advancing March!

Thy chill persistent rain has purged our streets

Of gossipry; pert tongue and idle ear

By this, consort ’neath archway, portico.

But wheresoe’er Rome gathers in the grey,

Two names now snap and flash from mouth to mouth —

290

(Sparks, flint and steel strike) Guido and the Pope.

By this same hour to-morrow eve — aha,

How do they call him? — the sagacious Swede

Who finds by figures how the chances prove,

Why one comes rather than another thing,

As, say, such dots turn up by throw of dice,

Or, if we dip in Virgil here and there

And prick for such a verse, when such shall point.

Take this Swede, tell him, hiding name and rank,

Two men are in our city this dull eve;

300

One doomed to death — but hundreds in such plight

Slip aside, clean escape by leave of law

Which leans to mercy in this latter time;

Moreover in the plenitude of life

Is he, with strength of limb and brain adroit,

Presumably of service here: beside,

The man is noble, backed by nobler friends:

Nay, for who wish him well, the city’s self

Makes common cause with the house-magistrate,

The lord of hearth and home, domestic judge

310

Who ruled his own and let men cavil. Die?

He’ll bribe a gaoler or break prison first!

Nay, a sedition may be helpful, give

Hint to the mob to batter wall, burn gate,

And bid the favourite malefactor march.

Calculate now these chances of escape!

“It is not probable, but well may be.”

Again, there is another man, weighed now

By twice eight years beyond the seven-times-ten,

Appointed overweight to break our branch.

320

And this man’s loaded branch lifts, more than snow,

All the world’s cark and care, though a bird’s nest

Were a superfluous burthen: notably

Hath he been pressed, as if his age were youth,

From to-day’s dawn till now that day departs,

Trying one question with true sweat of soul

“Shall the said doomed man fitlier die or live?”

When a straw swallowed in his posset, stool

Stumbled on where his path lies, any puff

That’s incident to such a smoking flax,

330

Hurries the natural end and quenches him!

Now calculate, thou sage, the chances here,

Say, which shall die the sooner, this or that?

“That, possibly, this in all likelihood.”

I thought so: yet thou tripp’st, my foreign friend!

No, it will be quite otherwise — to-day

Is Guido’s last: my term is yet to run.

But say the Swede were right, and I forthwith

Acknowledge a prompt summons and lie dead:

Why, then I stand already in God’s face

340

And hear “Since by its fruit a tree is judged,

“Show me thy fruit, the latest act of thine!

“For in the last is summed the first and all —

“What thy life last put heart and soul into,

“There shall I taste thy product.” I must plead

This condemnation of a man to-day.

Not so! Expect nor question nor reply

At what we figure as God’s judgment-bar!

None of this vile way by the barren words

Which, more than any deed, characterise

350

Man as made subject to a curse: no speech —

That still bursts o’er some lie which lurks inside,

As the split skin across the coppery snake,

And most denotes man! since, in all beside,

In hate or lust or guile or unbelief,

Out of some core of truth the excrescence comes,

And, in the last resort, the man may urge

“So was I made, a weak thing that gave way

“To truth, to impulse only strong since true,

“And hated, lusted, used guile, forwent faith.”

360

But when man walks the garden of this world

For his own solace, and, unchecked by law,

Speaks or keeps silence as himself sees fit,

Without the least incumbency to lie,

— Why, can he tell you what a rose is like,

Or how the birds fly, and not slip to false

Though truth serve better? Man must tell his mate

Of you, me and himself, knowing he lies,

Knowing his fellow knows the same — will think

“He lies, it is the method of a man!”

370

And yet will speak for answer “It is truth”

To him who shall rejoin “Again a lie!”

Therefore this filthy rags of speech, this coil

Of statement, comment, query and response,

Tatters all too contaminate for use,

Have no renewing: He, the Truth, is, too,

The Word. We men, in our degree, may know

There, simply, instantaneously, as here

After long time and amid many lies,

Whatever we dare think we know indeed

380

— That I am I, as He is He — what else?

But be man’s method for man’s life at least!

Wherefore, Antonio Pignatelli, thou

My ancient self, who wast no Pope so long

But studied God and man, the many years

I’ the school, i’ the cloister, in the diocese

Domestic, legate-rule in foreign lands —

Thou other force in those old busy days

Than this grey ultimate decrepitude —

Yet sensible of fires that more and more

390

Visit a soul, in passage to the sky,

Left nakeder than when flesh-robe was new —

Thou, not Pope but the mere old man o’ the world,

Supposed inquisitive and dispassionate,

Wilt thou, the one whose speech I somewhat trust,

Question the after-me, this self now Pope,

Hear his procedure, criticise his work?

Wise in its generation is the world.

This is why Guido is found reprobate.

I see him furnished forth for his career,

400

On starting for the life-chance in our world,

With nearly all we count sufficient help:

Body and mind in balance, a sound frame,

A solid intellect: the wit to seek,

Wisdom to choose, and courage wherewithal

To deal with whatsoever circumstance

Should minister to man, make life succeed.

Oh, and much drawback! what were earth without?

Is this our ultimate stage, or starting-place

To try man’s foot, if it will creep or climb,

410

’Mid obstacles in seeming, points that prove

Advantage for who vaults from low to high

And makes the stumbling-block a stepping-stone?

So, Guido, born with appetite, lacks food,

Is poor, who yet could deftly play-off wealth,

Straitened, whose limbs are restless till at large:

And, as he eyes each outlet of the cirque,

The narrow penfold for probation, pines

After the good things just outside the grate,

With less monition, fainter conscience-twitch,

420

Rarer instinctive qualm at the first feel

Of the unseemly greed and grasp undue,

Than nature furnishes the main mankind —

Making it harder to do wrong than right

The first time, careful lest the common ear

Break measure, miss the outstep of life’s march.

Wherein I see a trial fair and fit

For one else too unfairly fenced about,

Set above sin, beyond his fellows here,

Guarded from the arch-tempter, all must fight,

430

By a great birth, traditionary name,

Diligent culture, choice companionship,

Above all, conversancy with the faith

Which puts forth for its base of doctrine just

“Man is born nowise to content himself

“But please God.” He accepted such a rule,

Recognised man’s obedience; and the Church,

Which simply is such rule’s embodiment,

He clave to, he held on by — nay, indeed,

Near pushed inside of, deep as layman durst,

440

Professed so much of priesthood as might sue

For priest’s-exemption where the layman sinned —

Got his arm frocked which, bare, the law would bruise.

Hence, at this moment, what’s his last resource,

His extreme stray and utmost stretch of hope

But that — convicted of such crime as law

Wipes not away save with a worldling’s blood —

Guido, the three-parts consecrate, may ’scape?

Nay, the portentous brothers of the man

Are veritably priests, protected each

450

May do his murder in the Church’s pale,

Abate Paul, Canon Girolamo!

This is the man proves irreligiousest

Of all mankind, religion’s parasite!

This may forsooth plead dinned ear, jaded sense,

The vice o’ the watcher who bides near the bell,

Sleeps sound because the clock is vigilant,

And cares not whether it be shade or shine,

Doling out day and night to all men else!

Why was the choice o’ the man to niche himself

460

Perversely ’neath the tower where Time’s own tongue

Thus undertakes to sermonise the world?

Why, but because the solemn is safe too,

The belfry proves a fortress of a sort,

Has other uses than to teach the hour,

Turns sunscreen, paravent and ombrifuge

To whoso seeks a shelter in its pale,

— Ay, and attractive to unwary folk

Who gaze at storied portal, statued spire,

And go home with full head but empty purse

470

Nor dare suspect the sacristan the thief!

Shall Judas — hard upon the donor’s heel,

To filch the fragments of the basket — plead

He was too near the preacher’s mouth, nor sat

Attent with fifties in a company?

No — closer to promulgated decree,

Clearer the censure of default. Proceed!

I find him bound, then, to begin life well;

Fortified by propitious circumstance,

Great birth, good breeding, with the Church for guide.

480

How lives he? Cased thus in a coat of proof,

Mailed like a man-at-arms, though all the while

A puny starveling — does the breast pant big,

The limb swell to the limit, emptiness

Strive to become solidity indeed?

Rather, he shrinks up like the ambiguous fish,

Detaches flesh from shell and outside show,

And steals by moonlight (I have seen the thing)

In and out, now to prey and now to skulk.

Armour he boasts when a wave breaks on beach,

490

Or bird stoops for the prize: with peril nigh —

The man of rank, the much-befriended man,

The man almost affiliate to the Church,

Such is to deal with, let the world beware!

Does the world recognise, pass prudently?

Do tides abate and sea-fowl hunt i’ the deep?

Already is the slug from out its mew,

Ignobly faring with all loose and free,

Sand-fly and slush-worm at their garbage- feast,

A naked blotch no better than they all:

500

Guido has dropped nobility, slipped the Church,

Plays trickster if not cut-purse, body and soul

Prostrate among the filthy feeders — faugh!

And when Law takes him by surprise at last,

Catches the foul thing on its carrion-prey,

Behold, he points to shell left high and dry,

Pleads “But the case out yonder is myself!”

Nay, it is thou, Law prongs amid thy peers,

Congenial vermin; that was none of thee,

Thine outside — give it to the soldier-crab!

510

For I find this black mark impinge the man,

That he believes in just the vile of life.

Low instinct, base pretension, are these truth?

Then, that aforesaid armour, probity

He figures in, is falsehood scale on scale;

Honor and faith — a lie and a disguise,

Probably for all livers in this world,

Certainly for himself! All say good words

To who will hear, all do thereby bad deeds

To who must undergo; so thrive mankind!

520

See this habitual creed exemplified

Most in the last deliberate act; as last,

So, very sum and substance of the soul

Of him that planned and leaves one perfect piece,

The sin brought under jurisdiction now,

Even the marriage of the man: this act

I sever from his life as sample, show

For Guido’s self, intend to test him by,

As, from a cup filled fairly at the fount,

By the components we decide enough

530

Or to let flow as late, or staunch the source.

He purposes this marriage, I remark,

On no one motive that should prompt thereto —

Farthest, by consequence, from ends alleged

Appropriate to the action; so they were:

The best, he knew and feigned, the worst he took.

Not one permissible impulse moves the man,

From the mere liking of the eye and ear,

To the true longing of the heart that loves,

No trace of these: but all to instigate,

540

Is what sinks man past level of the brute,

Whose appetite if brutish is a truth.

All is the lust for money: to get gold —

Why, lie, rob, if it must be, murder! Make

Body and soul wring gold out, lured within

The clutch of hate by love, the trap’s pretence!

What good else get from bodies and from souls?

This got, there were some life to lead thereby,

— What, where or how, appreciate those who tell

How the toad lives: it lives — enough for me!

550

To get this good — with but a groan or so,

Then, silence of the victims — were the feat.

He foresaw, made a picture in his mind —

Of father and mother stunned and echoless

To the blow, as they lie staring at fate’s jaws

Their folly danced into, till the woe fell;

Edged in a month by strenuous cruelty

From even the poor nook whence they watched the wolf

Feast on their heart, the lamb-like child his prey;

Plundered to the last remnant of their wealth,

560

(What daily pittance pleased the plunderer dole)

Hunted forth to go hide head, starve and die,

So leave the pale awe-stricken wife, past hope

Of help i’ the world now, mute and motionless

His slave, his chattel, to use and then destroy:

All this, he bent mind how to bring about,

Put this in act and life, as painted plain,

And have success, the crown of earthly good,

In this particular enterprise of man,

A marriage — undertaken in God’s face

570

With all those lies so opposite God’s truth,

For ends so other than man’s end.

        Thus schemes

Guido, and thus would carry out his scheme:

But when an obstacle first blocks the path,

When he finds there is no monopoly

Of lies and trick i’ the tricking lying world —

That sorry timid natures, even this sort

O’ the Comparini, want nor trick nor lie

Proper to the kind — that as the gor-crow treats

580

The bramble- finch so treats the finch the moth,

And the great Guido is minutely matched

By this same couple — whether true or false

The revelation of Pompilia’s birth,

Which in a moment brings his scheme to nought —

Then, he is piqued, advances yet a stage,

Leaves the low region to the finch and fly,

Soars to the zenith whence the fiercer fowl

May dare the inimitable swoop. I see.

He draws now on the curious crime, the fine

590

Felicity and flower of wickedness;

Determines, by the utmost exercise

Of violence, made safe and sure by craft,

To satiate malice, pluck one last arch-pang

From the parents, else would triumph out of reach,

By punishing their child, within reach yet,

Who nowise could have wronged, thought, word or deed,

I’ the matter that now moves him. So plans he,

Always subordinating (note the point!)

Revenge, the manlier sin, to interest

600

The meaner — would pluck pang forth, but unclench

No gripe in the act, let fall no money-piece.

Hence a plan for so plaguing, body and soul,

His wife, so putting, day by day and hour by hour,

The untried torture to the untouched place,

As must precipitate an end foreseen,

Goad her into some plain revolt, most like

Plunge upon patent suicidal shame,

Death to herself, damnation by rebound

To those whose hearts he, holding hers, holds still:

610

Such a plan as, in its completeness, shall

Ruin the three together and alike,

Yet leave himself in luck and liberty,

No claim renounced, no right a forfeiture,

His person unendangered, his good fame

Without a flaw, his pristine worth intact —

While they, with all their claims and rights that cling,

Shall forthwith crumble off him every side,

Scorched into dust, a plaything for the winds.

As when, in our Campagna, there is fired

620

The nest-like work that lets a peasant house;

And, as the thatch burns here, there, everywhere,

Even to the ivy and wild vine, that bound

And blessed the hut where men were happy once,

There rises gradual, black amid the blaze,

Some grim and unscathed nucleus of the nest —

Some old malicious tower, some obscene tomb

They thought a temple in their ignorance,

And clung about and thought to lean upon —

There laughs it o’er their ravage — where are they?

630

So did his cruelty burn life about,

And lay the ruin bare in dreadfulness,

Try the persistency of torment so

O’ the wife, that, at some fierce extremity,

Some crisis brought about by fire and flame,

The patient stung to frenzy should break loose,

Fly anyhow, find refuge anywhere,

Even in the arms of who might front her first,

No monster but a man — while nature shrieked

“Or thus escape, or die!” The spasm arrived,

640

Not the escape by way of sin — O God,

Who shall pluck sheep Thou holdest, from Thy hand?

Therefore she lay resigned to die — so far

The simple cruelty was foiled. Why then,

Craft to the rescue, craft should supplement

Cruelty and show hell a masterpiece!

Hence this consummate lie, this love-intrigue,

Unmanly simulation of a sin,

With place and time and circumstance to suit —

These letters false beyond all forgery —

650

Not just handwriting and mere authorship,

But false to body and soul they figure forth —

As though the man had cut out shape and shape

From fancies of that other Aretine,

To paste below — incorporate the filth

With cherub faces on a missal-page!

Whereby the man so far attains his end

That strange temptation is permitted — see!

Pompilia, wife, and Caponsacchi, priest,

Are brought together as nor priest nor wife

660

Should stand, and there is passion in the place,

Power in the air for evil as for good,

Promptings from heaven and hell, as if the stars

Fought in their courses for a fate to be.

Thus stand the wife and priest, a spectacle,

I doubt not, to unseen assemblage there.

No lamp will mark that window for a shrine,

No tablet signalise the terrace, teach

New generations which succeed the old,

The pavement of the street is holy ground;

670

No bard describe in verse how Christ prevailed

And Satan fell like lightning! Why repine?

What does the world, told truth, but lie the more?

A second time the plot is foiled; nor, now,

By corresponding sin for countercheck,

No wile and trick to baffle trick and wile —

The play of the parents! Here the blot is blanched

By God’s gift of a purity of soul

That will not take pollution, ermine-like

Armed from dishonour by its own soft snow.

680

Such was this gift of God who showed for once

How He would have the world go white: it seems

As a new attribute were born of each

Champion of truth, the priest and wife I praise —

As a new safeguard sprang up in defence

Of their new noble nature: so a thorn

Comes to the aid of and completes the rose —

Courage to-wit, no woman’s gift nor priest’s,

I’ the crisis; might leaps vindicating right.

See how the strong aggressor, bad and bold,

690

With every vantage, preconcerts surprise,

Flies of a sudden at his victim’s throat

In a byeway — how fares he when face to face

With Caponsacchi? Who fights, who fears now?

There quails Count Guido, armed to the chattering teeth,

Cowers at the steadfast eye and quiet word

O’ the Canon at the Pieve!

        There skulks crime

Behind law called in to back cowardice!

While out of the poor trampled worm the wife,

Springs up a serpent!

700

        But anon of these!

Him I judge now — of him proceed to note,

Failing the first, a second chance befriends

Guido, gives pause ere punishment arrive.

The law he called, comes, hears, adjudicates,

Nor does amiss i’ the main — secludes the wife

From the husband, respites the oppressed one, grants

Probation to the oppressor, could he know

The mercy of a minute’s fiery purge!

The furnace-coals alike of public scorn,

710

Private remorse, heaped glowing on his head,

What if — the force and guile, the ore’s alloy,

Eliminate, his baser soul refined —

The lost be saved even yet, so as by fire?

Let him, rebuked, go softly all his days

And, when no graver musings claim their due,

Meditate on a man’s immense mistake

Who, fashioned to use feet and walk, deigns crawl —

Takes the unmanly means — ay, though to end

Man scarce should make for, would but reach thro’ wrong —

720

May sin, but must not needs shame manhood so:

Since fowlers hawk, shoot, nay and snare the game,

And yet eschew vile practice, nor find sport

In torch-light treachery or the luring owl.

But how hunts Guido? Why, the fraudful trap —

Late spurned to ruin by the indignant feet

Of fellows in the chase who loved fair play —

Here he picks up the fragments to the least,

Lades him and hies to the old lurking-place

Where haply he may patch again, refit

730

The mischief, file its blunted teeth anew,

Make sure, next time, a snap shall break the bone.

Craft, greed and violence complot revenge:

Craft, for its quota, schemes to bring about

And seize occasion and be safe withal:

Greed craves its act may work both far and near,

Crush the tree, branch and trunk and root beside,

Whichever twig or leaf arrests a streak

Of possible sunshine else would coin itself,

And drop down one more gold piece in the path.

740

Violence stipulates “Advantage proved,

“And safety sure, be pain the overplus!

“Murder with jagged knife! Cut but tear too!

“Foiled oft, starved long, glut malice for amends!”

And, last, craft schemes — scheme sorrowful and strange

As though the elements, whom mercy checked,

Had mustered hate for one eruption more,

One final deluge to surprise the Ark

Cradled and sleeping on its mountain-top:

The outbreak-signal — what but the dove’s coos

750

Back with the olive in her bill for news

Sorrow was over? ’Tis an infant’s birth,

Guido’s first born, his son and heir, that gives

The occasion: other men cut free their souls

From care in such a case, fly up in thanks

To God, reach, recognise His love for once:

Guido cries “Soul, at last the mire is thine!

“Lie there in likeness of a money-bag,

“This babe’s birth so pins down past moving now,

“That I dare cut adrift the lives I late

760

“Scrupled to touch lest thou escape with them!

“These parents and their child my wife — touch one

“Lose all! Their rights determined on a head

“I could but hate, not harm, since from each hair

“Dangled a hope for me: now — chance and change!

“No right was in their child but passes now

“To that child’s child and through such child to me.

“I am the father now — come what, come will,

“I represent my child; he comes between —

“Cuts sudden off the sunshine of this life

770

“From those three: why, the gold is in his curls!

“Not with old Pietro’s, Violante’s head,

“Not his grey horror, her more hideous black —

“Go these, devoted to the knife!”

        ’Tis done:

Wherefore should mind misgive, heart hesitate?

He calls to counsel, fashions certain four

Colourless natures counted clean till now,

— Rustic simplicity, uncorrupted youth,

Ignorant virtue! Here’s the gold o’ the prime

780

When Saturn ruled, shall shock our leaden day —

The clown abash the courtier! Mark it, bards!

The courtier tries his hand on clownship here,

Speaks a word, names a crime, appoints a price —

Just breathes on what, suffused with all himself,

Is red-hot henceforth past distinction now

I’ the common glow of hell. And thus they break

And blaze on us at Rome, Christ’s Birthnight-eve!

Oh angels that sang erst “On the earth, peace!

“To man, good will!”— such peace finds earth to-day!

790

After the seventeen hundred years, so man

Wills good to man, so Guido makes complete

His murder! what is it I said? — cuts loose

Three lives that hitherto he suffered cling,

Simply because each served to nail secure,

By a corner of the money-bag, his soul —

Therefore, lives sacred till the babe’s first breath

O’erweights them in the balance — off they fly!

So is the murder managed, sin conceived

To the full: and why not crowned with triumph too?

800

Why must the sin, conceived thus, bring forth death?

I note how, within hair’s-breadth of escape,

Impunity and the thing supposed success,

Guido is found when the check comes, the change,

The monitory touch o’ the tether — felt

By few, not marked by many, named by none

At the moment, only recognised aright

I’ the fulness of the days, for God’s, lest sin

Exceed the service, leap the line: such check —

A secret which this life finds hard to keep,

810

And, often guessed, is never quite revealed.

Guido must needs trip on a stumbling-block

Too vulgar, too absurdly plain i’ the path!

Study this single oversight of care,

This hebetude that mars sagacity,

Forgetfulness of what the man best knew!

Here is a stranger who, with need to fly,

Needs but to ask and have the means of flight.

Why, the first urchin tells you, to leave Rome,

Get horses, you must show the warrant, just

820

The banal scrap, clerk’s scribble, a fair word buys,

Or foul one, if a ducat sweeten word —

And straight authority will back demand,

Give you the pick o’ the post- house! — in such wise,

The resident at Rome for thirty years,

Guido, instructs a stranger! And himself

Forgets just this poor paper scrap, wherewith

Armed, every door he knocks at opens wide

To save him: horsed and manned, with such advance

O’ the hunt behind, why ’twere the easy task

830

Of hours told on the fingers of one hand,

To reach the Tuscan Frontier, laugh at home,

Light-hearted with his fellows of the place —

Prepared by that strange shameful judgment, that

Satire upon a sentence just pronounced

By the Rota and confirmed by the Granduke —

Ready in a circle to receive their peer,

Appreciate his good story how, when Rome,

The Pope-King and the populace of priests

Made common cause with their confederate

840

The other priestling who seduced his wife,

He, all unaided, wiped out the affront

With decent bloodshed and could face his friends,

Frolic it in the world’s eye. Ay, such tale

Missed such applause, all by such oversight!

So, tired and footsore, those blood-flustered five

Went reeling on the road through dark and cold,

The few permissible miles, to sink at length,

Wallow and sleep in the first wayside straw,

As the other herd quenched, i’ the wash o’ the wave,

850

— Each swine, the devil inside him: so slept they,

And so were caught and caged — all through one trip,

Touch of the fool in Guido the astute!

He curses the omission, I surmise,

More than the murder. Why, thou fool and blind,

It is the mercy-stroke that stops thy fate,

Hamstrings and holds thee to thy hurt — but how?

On the edge o’ the precipice! One minute more,

Thou hadst gone farther and fared worse, my son,

Fathoms down on the flint and fire beneath!

860

Thy comrades each and all were of one mind

Straightway, thy murder done, to murder thee

In turn, because of promised pay withheld.

So, to the last, greed found itself at odds

With craft in thee, and, proving conqueror,

Had sent thee, the same night that crowned thy hope,

Thither where, this same day, I see thee not,

Nor, through God’s mercy, need, to-morrow, see.

Such I find Guido, midmost blotch of black

Discernible in this group of clustered crimes

870

Huddling together in the cave they call

Their palace, outraged day thus penetrates.

Around him ranged, now close and now remote,

Prominent or obscure to meet the needs

O’ the mage and master, I detect each shape

Subsidiary i’ the scene nor loathed the less,

All alike coloured, all descried akin

By one and the same pitchy furnace stirred

At the centre: see, they lick the master’s hand —

This fox-faced horrible priest, this brother-brute

880

The Abate — why, mere wolfishness looks well,

Guido stands honest in the red o’ the flame,

Beside this yellow that would pass for white,

This Guido, all craft but no violence,

This copier of the mien and gait and garb

Of Peter and Paul, that he may go disguised,

Rob halt and lame, sick folk i’ the temple- porch!

Armed with religion, fortified by law,

A man of peace, who trims the midnight lamp

And turns the classic page — and all for craft,

890

All to work harm with, yet incur no scratch!

While Guido brings the struggle to a close,

Paul steps back the due distance, clear o’ the trap

He builds and baits. Guido I catch and judge;

Paul is past reach in this world and my time:

That is a case reserved. Pass to the next,

The boy of the brood, the young Girolamo

Priest, Canon, and what more? nor wolf nor fox,

But hybrid, neither craft nor violence

Wholly, part violence part craft: such cross

900

Tempts speculation — will both blend one day,

And prove hell’s better product? Or subside

And let the simple quality emerge,

Go on with Satan’s service the old way?

Meanwhile, what promise — what performance too!

For there’s a new distinctive touch, I see,

Lust — lacking in the two — hell’s own blue tint

That gives a character and marks the man

More than a match for yellow and red. Once more,

A case reserved: should I doubt? Then comes

910

The gaunt grey nightmare in the furthest smoke,

The hag that gave these three abortions birth,

Unmotherly mother and unwomanly

Woman, that near turns motherhood to shame,

Womanliness to loathing: no one word,

No gesture to curb cruelty a whit

More than the she-pard thwarts her playsome whelps

Trying their milk-teeth on the soft o’ the throat

O’ the first fawn, flung, with those beseeching eyes,

Flat in the covert! How should she but couch,

920

Lick the dry lips, unsheathe the blunted claw,

Catch ’twixt her placid eyewinks at what chance

Old bloody half-forgotten dream may flit,

Born when herself was novice to the taste,

The while she lets youth take its pleasure. Last,

These God-abandoned wretched lumps of life,

These four companions — country-folk this time,

Not tainted by the unwholesome civic breath,

Much less the curse o’ the court! Mere striplings too,

Fit to do human nature justice still!

930

Surely when impudence in Guido’s shape

Shall propose crime and proffer money’s-worth

To these stout tall bright-eyed and black- haired boys,

The blood shall bound in answer to each cheek

Before the indignant outcry break from lip!

Are these i’ the mood to murder, hardly loosed

From healthy autumn-finish, the ploughed glebe,

Grapes in the barrel, work at happy end,

And winter come with rest and Christmas play?

How greet they Guido with his final task —

940

(As if he but proposed “One vineyard more

“To dig, ere frost come, then relax indeed!”)

“Anywhere, anyhow and anywhy,

“Murder me some three people, old and young,

“Ye never heard the names of — and be paid

“So much!” And the whole four accede at once.

Demur? As cattle would, bid march or halt!

Is it some lingering habit, old fond faith

I’ the lord of the land, instructs them — birthright- badge

Of feudal tenure claims its slaves again?

950

Not so at all, thou noble human heart!

All is done purely for the pay — which, earned,

And not forthcoming at the instant, makes

Religion heresy, and the lord o’ the land

Fit subject for a murder in his turn.

The patron with cut throat and rifled purse,

Deposited i’ the roadside-ditch, his due,

Nought hinders each good fellow trudging home,

The heavier by a piece or two in poke,

And so with new zest to the common life,

960

Mattock and spade, plough-tail and waggon-shaft,

Till some such other piece of luck betide,

Who knows? Since this is a mere start in life,

And none of them exceeds the twentieth year.

Nay, more i’ the background, yet? Unnoticed forms

Claim to be classed, subordinately vile?

Complacent lookers-on that laugh — perchance

Shake head as their friend’s horse-play grows too rough

With the mere child he manages amiss —

But would not interfere and make bad worse

For twice the fractious tears and prayers: thou know’st

971

Civility better, Marzi-Medici,

Governor for thy kinsman the Granduke!

Fit representative of law, man’s lamp

I’ the magistrate’s grasp full-flare, no rushlight-end

Sputtering ’twixt thumb and finger of the priest!

Whose answer to these Comparini’s cry

Is a threat — whose remedy of Pompilia’s wrong

A shrug o’ the shoulder, a facetious word

Or wink, traditional with Tuscan wits,

980

To Guido in the doorway. Laud to law!

The wife is pushed back to the husband, he

Who knows how these home-squabblings persecute

People who have the public good to mind,

And work best with a silence in the court!

Ah, but I save my word at least for thee,

Archbishop, who art under me in the Church,

As I am under God — thou, chosen by both

To do the shepherd’s office, feed the sheep —

How of this lamb that panted at thy foot

990

While the wolf pressed on her within crook’s reach?

Wast thou the hireling that did turn and flee?

With thee at least anon the little word!

Such denizens o’ the cave now cluster round

And heat the furnace sevenfold: time indeed

A bolt from heaven should cleave roof and clear place,

Transfix and show the world, suspiring flame,

The main offender, scar and brand the rest

Hurrying, each miscreant to his hole: then flood

And purify the scene with outside day —

1000

Which yet, in the absolutest drench of dark,

Ne’er wants a witness, some stray beauty- beam

To the despair of hell.

        First of the first,

Such I pronounce Pompilia, then as now

Perfect in whiteness — stoop thou down, my child,

Give one good moment to the poor old Pope

Heart-sick at having all his world to blame —

Let me look at thee in the flesh as erst,

Let me enjoy the old clean linen garb,

1010

Not the new splendid vesture! Armed and crowned,

Would Michael, yonder, be, nor crowned nor armed,

The less pre-eminent angel? Everywhere

I see in the world the intellect of man,

That sword, the energy his subtle spear,

The knowledge which defends him like a shield —

Everywhere; but they make not up, I think,

The marvel of a soul like thine, earth’s flower

She holds up to the softened gaze of God!

It was not given Pompilia to know much,

1020

Speak much, to write a book, to move mankind,

Be memorised by who records my time.

Yet if in purity and patience, if

In faith held fast despite the plucking fiend,

Safe like the signet-stone with the new name

That saints are known by — if in right returned

For wrong, most pardon for worst injury,

If there be any virtue, any praise —

Then will this woman-child have proved — who knows? —

Just the one prize vouchsafed unworthy me,

1030

Ten years a gardener of the untoward ground,

I till — this earth, my sweat and blood manure

All the long day that barrenly grows dusk:

At least one blossom makes me proud at eve

Born ’mid the briers of my enclosure! Still

(Oh, here as elsewhere, nothingness of man!)

Those be the plants, imbedded yonder South

To mellow in the morning, those made fat

By the master’s eye, that yield such timid leaf,

Uncertain bud, as product of his pains!

While — see how this mere chance-sown, cleft-nursed seed,

1041

That sprang up by the wayside ’neath the foot

Of the enemy, this breaks all into blaze,

Spreads itself, one wide glory of desire

To incorporate the whole great sun it loves

From the inch- height whence it looks and longs! My flower,

My rose, I gather for the breast of God,

This I praise most in thee, where all I praise,

That having been obedient to the end

According to the light allotted, law

1050

Prescribed thy life, still tried, still standing test —

Dutiful to the foolish parents first,

Submissive next to the bad husband — nay,

Tolerant of those meaner miserable

That did his hests, eked out the dole of pain —

Thou, patient thus, couldst rise from law to law,

The old to the new, promoted at one cry

O’ the trump of God to the new service, not

To longer bear, but henceforth fight, be found

Sublime in new impatience with the foe!

1060

Endure man and obey God: plant firm foot

On neck of man, tread man into the hell

Meet for him, and obey God all the more!

Oh child that didst despise thy life so much

When it seemed only thine to keep or lose,

How the fine ear felt fall the first low word

“Value life, and preserve life for My sake!”

Thou didst . . . how shall I say? . . . receive so long

The standing ordinance of God on earth,

What wonder if the novel claim had clashed

1070

With old requirement, seemed to supersede

Too much the customary law? But, brave,

Thou at first prompting of what I call God,

And fools call Nature, didst hear, comprehend,

Accept the obligation laid on thee,

Mother elect, to save the unborn child,

As brute and bird do, reptile and the fly,

Ay and, I nothing doubt, even tree, shrub, plant

And flower o’ the field, all in a common pact

To worthily defend that trust of trusts,

1080

Life from the Ever Living:— didst resist —

Anticipate the office that is mine —

And with his own sword stay the upraised arm,

The endeavour of the wicked, and defend

Him who — again in my default — was there

For visible providence: one less true than thou

To touch, i’ the past, less practised in the right,

Approved so far in all docility

To all instruction — how had such an one

Made scruple “Is this motion a decree?”

1090

It was authentic to the experienced ear

O’ the good and faithful servant. Go past me

And get thy praise — and be not far to seek

Presently when I follow if I may!

And surely not so very much apart

Need I place thee, my warrior-priest — in whom

What if I gain the other rose, the gold.

We grave to imitate God’s miracle,

Greet monarchs with, good rose in its degree?

Irregular noble scapegrace — son the same!

1100

Faulty — and peradventure ours the fault

Who still misteach, mislead, throw hook and line

Thinking to land leviathan forsooth,

Tame the scaled neck, play with him as a bird,

And bind him for our maidens! Better bear

The King of Pride go wantoning awhile,

Unplagued by cord in nose and thorn in jaw,

Through deep to deep, followed by all that shine,

Churning the blackness hoary: He who made

The comely terror, He shall make the sword

1110

To match that piece of netherstone his heart,

Ay, nor miss praise thereby; who else shut fire

I’ the stone, to leap from mouth at sword’s first stroke,

In lamps of love and faith, the chivalry

That dares the right and disregards alike

The yea and nay o’ the world? Self-sacrifice —

What if an idol took it? Ask the Church

Why she was wont to turn each Venus here —

Poor Rome perversely lingered round, despite

Instruction, for the sake of purblind love —

1120

Into Madonna’s shape, and waste no whit

Of aught so rare on earth as gratitude!

All this sweet savour was not ours but thine,

Nard of the rock, a natural wealth we name

Incense, and treasure up as food for saints,

When flung to us — whose function was to give

Not find the costly perfume. Do I smile?

Nay, Caponsacchi, much I find amiss,

Blameworthy, punishable in this freak

Of thine, this youth prolonged though age was ripe,

1130

This masquerade in sober day, with change

Of motley too — now hypocrite’s-disguise,

Now fool’s-costume: which lie was least like truth,

Which the ungainlier, more discordant garb

With that symmetric soul inside my son,

The churchman’s or the worldling’s — let him judge,

Our Adversary who enjoys the task!

I rather chronicle the healthy rage —

When the first moan broke from the martyr-maid

At that uncaging of the beasts — made bare

1140

My athlete on the instant, gave such good

Great undisguised leap over post and pale

Right into the mid-cirque, free fighting-place.

There may have been rash stripping — every rag

Went to the winds — infringement manifold

Of laws prescribed pudicity, I fear,

In this impulsive and prompt self-display!

Ever such tax comes of the foolish youth;

Men mulct the wiser manhood, and suspect

No veritable star swims out of cloud:

1150

Bear thou such imputation, undergo

The penalty I nowise dare relax —

Conventional chastisement and rebuke.

But for the outcome, the brave starry birth

Conciliating earth with all that cloud,

Thank heaven as I do! Ay, such championship

Of God at first blush, such prompt cheery thud

Of glove on ground that answers ringingly

The challenge of the false knight — watch we long,

And wait we vainly for its gallant like

1160

From those appointed to the service, sworn

His body-guard with pay and privilege —

White-cinct, because in white walks sanctity,

Red- socked, how else proclaim fine scorn of flesh,

Unchariness of blood when blood faith begs?

Where are the men-at-arms with cross on coat?

Aloof, bewraying their attire: whilst thou

In mask and motley, pledged to dance not fight,

Sprang’st forth the hero! In thought, word and deed,

How throughout all thy warfare thou wast pure,

1170

I find it easy to believe: and if

At any fateful moment of the strange

Adventure, the strong passion of that strait,

Fear and surprise, may have revealed too much —

As when a thundrous midnight, with black air

That burns, rain-drops that blister, breaks a spell,

Draws out the excessive virtue of some sheathed

Shut unsuspected flower that hoards and hides

Immensity of sweetness — so, perchance,

Might the surprise and fear release too much

1180

The perfect beauty of the body and soul

Thou savedst in thy passion for God’s sake,

He who is Pity: was the trial sore?

Temptation sharp? Thank God a second time!

Why comes temptation but for man to meet

And master and make crouch beneath his foot,

And so be pedestalled in triumph? Pray

“Lead us into no such temptations, Lord!”

Yea, but, O Thou whose servants are the bold,

Lead such temptations by the head and hair,

1190

Reluctant dragons, up to who dares fight,

That so he may do battle and have praise!

Do I not see the praise? — that while thy mates

Bound to deserve i’ the matter, prove at need

Unprofitable through the very pains

We gave to train them well and start them fair —

Are found too stiff, with standing ranked and ranged,

For onset in good earnest, too obtuse

Of ear, through iteration of command,

For catching quick the sense of the real cry —

1200

Thou, whose sword-hand was used to strike the lute,

Whose sentry-station graced some wanton’s gate,

Thou didst push forward and show mettle, shame

The laggards, and retrieve the day. Well done!

Be glad thou hast let light into the world,

Through that irregular breach o’ the boundary — see

The same upon thy path and march assured,

Learning anew the use of soldiership,

Self-abnegation, freedom from all fear,

Loyalty to the life’s end! Ruminate,

1210

Deserve the initiatory spasm — once more

Work, be unhappy but bear life, my son!

And troop you, somewhere ’twixt the best and worst,

Where crowd the indifferent product, all too poor

Makeshift, starved samples of humanity!

Father and mother, huddle there and hide!

A gracious eye may find you! Foul and fair,

Sadly mixed natures: self-indulgent — yet

Self-sacrificing too: how the love soars,

How the craft, avarice, vanity and spite

1220

Sink again! So they keep the middle course,

Slide into silly crime at unaware,

Slip back upon the stupid virtue, stay

Nowhere enough for being classed, I hope

And fear. Accept the swift and rueful death,

Taught, somewhat sternlier than is wont, what waits

The ambiguous creature — how the one black tuft

Steadies the aim of the arrow just as well

As the wide faultless white on the bird’s breast.

Nay, you were punished in the very part

1230

That looked most pure of speck — the honest love

Betrayed you — did love seem most worthy pains,

Challenge such purging, as ordained survive

When all the rest of you was done with? Go!

Never again elude the choice of tints!

White shall not neutralise the black, nor good

Compensate bad in man, absolve him so:

Life’s business being just the terrible choice.

So do I see, pronounce on all and some

Grouped for my judgment now — profess no doubt

1240

While I pronounce: dark, difficult enough

The human sphere, yet eyes grow sharp by use,

I find the truth, dispart the shine from shade,

As a mere man may, with no special touch

O’ the lynx-gift in each ordinary orb:

Nay, if the popular notion class me right,

One of well nigh decayed intelligence —

What of that? Through hard labour and good will,

And habitude that gives a blind man sight

At the practised finger-ends of him, I do

1250

Discern, and dare decree in consequence,

Whatever prove the peril of mistake.

Whence, then, this quite new quick cold thrill — cloud-like,

This keen dread creeping from a quarter scarce

Suspected in the skies I nightly scan?

What slacks the tense nerve, saps the wound-up spring

Of the act that should and shall be, sends the mount

And mass o’ the whole man’s-strength — conglobed so late —

Shudderingly into dust, a moment’s work?

While I stand firm, go fearless, in this world,

1260

For this life recognise and arbitrate,

Touch and let stay, or else remove a thing,

Judge “This is right, this object out of place,”

Candle in hand that helps me and to spare —

What if a voice deride me, “Perk and pry!

“Brighten each nook with thine intelligence!

“Play the good householder, ply man and maid

“With tasks prolonged into the midnight, test

“Their work and nowise stint of the due wage

“Each worthy worker: but with gyves and whip

1270

“Pay thou misprision of a single point

“Plain to thy happy self who lift’st the light,

“Lament’st the darkling — bold to all beneath!

“What if thyself adventure, now the place

“Is purged so well? Leave pavement and mount roof,

“Look round thee for the light of the upper sky,

“The fire which lit thy fire which finds default

“In Guido Franceschini to his cost!

“What if, above in the domain of light,

“Thou miss the accustomed signs, remark eclipse?

1280

“Shalt thou still gaze on ground nor lift a lid —

“Steady in thy superb prerogative,

“Thy inch of inkling — nor once face the doubt

“I’ the sphere above thee, darkness to be felt?”

Yet my poor spark had for its source, the sun;

Thither I sent the great looks which compel

Light from its fount: all that I do and am

Comes from the truth, or seen or else surmised,

Remembered or divined, as mere man may:

I know just so, nor otherwise. As I know,

1290

I speak — what should I know, then, and how speak

Were there a wild mistake of eye or brain

In the recorded governance above?

If my own breath, only, blew coal alight

I called celestial and the morning-star?

I, who in this world act resolvedly,

Dispose of men, the body and the soul,

As they acknowledge or gainsay this light

I show them — shall I too lack courage? — leave

I, too, the post of me, like those I blame?

1300

Refuse, with kindred inconsistency,

Grapple with danger whereby souls grow strong?

I am near the end; but still not at the end;

All till the very end is trial in life:

At this stage is the trial of my soul

Danger to face, or danger to refuse?

Shall I dare try the doubt now, or not dare?

O Thou — as represented here to me

In such conception as my soul allows —

Under Thy measureless my atom width! —

1310

Man’s mind — what is it but a convex glass

Wherein are gathered all the scattered points

Picked out of the immensity of sky,

To reunite there, be our heaven on earth,

Our known unknown, our God revealed to man?

Existent somewhere, somehow, as a whole;

Here, as a whole proportioned to our sense —

There, (which is nowhere, speech must babble thus!)

In the absolute immensity, the whole

Appreciable solely by Thyself —

1320

Here, by the little mind of man, reduced

To littleness that suits his faculty,

Appreciable too in the degree;

Between Thee and ourselves — nay even, again,

Below us, to the extreme of the minute,

Appreciable by how many and what diverse

Modes of the life Thou makest be! (why live

Except for love — how love unless they know?)

Each of them, only filling to the edge,

Insect or angel, his just length and breadth,

1330

Due facet of reflection — full, no less,

Angel or insect, as Thou framedst things —

I it is who have been appointed here

To represent Thee, in my turn, on earth,

Just as, if new philosophy know aught,

This one earth, out of all the multitude

Of peopled worlds, as stars are now supposed —

Was chosen, and no sun- star of the swarm,

For stage and scene of Thy transcendent act

Beside which even the creation fades

1340

Into a puny exercise of power.

Choice of the world, choice of the thing I am,

Both emanate alike from the dread play

Of operation outside this our sphere

Where things are classed and counted small or great —

Incomprehensibly the choice is Thine!

I therefore bow my head and take Thy place.

There is, beside the works, a tale of Thee

In the world’s mouth which I find credible:

I love it with my heart: unsatisfied,

1350

I try it with my reason, nor discept

From any point I probe and pronounce sound.

Mind is not matter nor from matter, but

Above — leave matter then, proceed with mind:

Man’s be the mind recognised at the height —

Leave the inferior minds and look at man.

Is he the strong, intelligent and good

Up to his own conceivable height? Nowise.

Enough o’ the low — soar the conceivable height,

Find cause to match the effect in evidence,

Works in the world, not man’s, then God’s; leave man:

1361

Conjecture of the worker by the work:

Is there strength there? — enough: intelligence?

Ample: but goodness in a like degree?

Not to the human eye in the present state,

This isoscele deficient in the base.

What lacks, then, of perfection fit for God

But just the instance which this tale supplies

Of love without a limit? So is strength,

So is intelligence; then love is so,

1370

Unlimited in its self-sacrifice:

Then is the tale true and God shows complete.

Beyond the tale, I reach into the dark,

Feel what I cannot see, and still faith stands:

I can believe this dread machinery

Of sin and sorrow, would confound me else,

Devised — all pain, at most expenditure

Of pain by Who devised pain — to evolve,

By new machinery in counterpart,

The moral qualities of man — how else? —

1380

To make him love in turn and be beloved,

Creative and self-sacrificing too,

And thus eventually God-like, (ay,

“I have said ye are Gods,”— shall it be said for nought?)

Enable man to wring, from out all pain,

All pleasure for a common heritage

To all eternity: this may be surmised,

The other is revealed — whether a fact,

Absolute, abstract, independent truth,

Historic, not reduced to suit man’s mind —

1390

Or only truth reverberate, changed, made pass

A spectrum into mind, the narrow eye —

The same and not the same, else unconceived —

Though quite conceivable to the next grade

Above it in intelligence — as truth

Easy to man were blindness to the beast

By parity of procedure — the same truth

In a new form, but changed in either case:

What matter so the intelligence be filled?

To the child, the sea is angry, for it roars;

1400

Frost bites, else why the tooth-like fret on face?

Man makes acoustics deal with the sea’s wrath,

Explains the choppy cheek by chymic law —

To both, remains one and the same effect

On drum of ear and root of nose, change cause

Never so thoroughly: so our heart be struck,

What care I— by God’s gloved hand or the bare?

Nor do I much perplex me with aught hard,

Dubious in the transmitting of the tale —

No, nor with certain riddles set to solve.

1410

This life is training and a passage; pass —

Still, we march over some flat obstacle

We made give way before us; solid truth

In front of it, were motion for the world?

The moral sense grows but by exercise.

’Tis even as man grew probatively

Initiated in Godship, set to make

A fairer moral world than this he finds,

Guess now what shall be known hereafter. Thus,

O’ the present problem: as we see and speak,

1420

A faultless creature is destroyed, and sin

Has had its way i’ the world where God should rule.

Ay, but for this irrelevant circumstance

Of inquisition after blood, we see

Pompilia lost and Guido saved: how long?

For his whole life: how much is that whole life?

We are not babes, but know the minute’s worth,

And feel that life is large and the world small,

So, wait till life have passed from out the world.

Neither does this astonish at the end,

1430

That, whereas I can so receive and trust,

Men, made with hearts and souls the same as mine,

Reject and disbelieve — subordinate

The future to the present — sin, nor fear.

This I refer still to the foremost fact,

Life is probation and this earth no goal

But starting-point of man: compel him strive,

Which means, in man, as good as reach the goal —

Why institute that race, his life, at all?

But this does overwhelm me with surprise,

1440

Touch me to terror — not that faith, the pearl,

Should be let lie by fishers wanting food —

Nor, seen and handled by a certain few

Critical and contemptuous, straight consigned

To shore and shingle for the pebble it proves —

But that, when haply found and known and named

By the residue made rich for evermore,

These — ay, these favoured ones, should in a trice

Turn, and with double zest go dredge for whelks,

Mud-worms that make the savoury soup. Enough

1450

O’ the disbelievers, see the faithful few!

How do the Christians here deport them, keep

Their robes of white unspotted by the world?

What is this Aretine Archbishop, this

Man under me as I am under God,

This champion of the faith, I armed and decked,

Pushed forward, put upon a pinnacle,

To show the enemy his victor — see!

What’s the best fighting when the couple close?

Pompilia cries, “Protect me from the fiend!”

1460

“No, for thy Guido is one heady, strong,

“Dangerous to disquiet: let him bide!

“He needs some bone to mumble, help amuse

“The darkness of his den with: so, the fawn

“Which limps up bleeding to my foot and lies,

“— Come to me, daughter — thus I throw him back!”

Have we misjudged here, over-armed the knight,

Given gold and silk where the plain steel serves best,

Enfeebled whom we sought to fortify,

Made an archbishop and undone a saint?

1470

Well then, descend these heights, this pride of life,

Sit in the ashes with the barefoot monk

Who long ago stamped out the worldly sparks.

Fasting and watching, stone cell and wire scourge,

— No such indulgence as unknits the strength —

These breed the tight nerve and tough cuticle,

Let the world’s praise or blame run rillet-wise

Off the broad back and brawny breast, we know!

He meets the first cold sprinkle of the world

And shudders to the marrow, “Save this child?

1480

“Oh, my superiors, oh, the Archbishop here!

“Who was it dared lay hand upon the ark

“His betters saw fall nor put finger forth?

“Great ones could help yet help not: why should small?

“I break my promise: let her break her heart!”

These are the Christians not the wordlings, not

The sceptics, who thus battle for the faith!

If foolish virgins disobey and sleep,

What wonder? But the wise that watch, this time

Sell lamps and buy lutes, exchange oil for wine,

1490

The mystic Spouse betrays the Bridegroom here.

To our last resource, then! Since all flesh is weak,

Bind weaknesses together, we get strength:

The individual weighed, found wanting, try

Some institution, honest artifice

Whereby the units grow compact and firm:

Each props the other, and so stand is made

By our embodied cowards that grow brave.

The Monastery called of Convertites,

Meant to help women because these helped Christ —

1500

A thing existent only while it acts,

Does as designed, else a nonentity,

For what is an idea unrealised? —

Pompilia is consigned to these for help.

They do help; they are prompt to testify

To her pure life and saintly dying days.

She dies, and lo, who seemed so poor, proves rich!

What does the body that lives through helpfulness

To women for Christ’s sake? The kiss turns bite,

The dove’s note changes to the crow’s cry: judge!

1510

“Seeing that this our Convent claims of right

“What goods belong to those we succour, be

“The same proved women of dishonest life —

“And seeing that this Trial made appear

“Pompilia was in such predicament —

“The Convent hereupon pretends to said

“Succession of Pompilia, issues writ,

“And takes possession by the Fisc’s advice.”

Such is their attestation to the cause

Of Christ, who had one saint at least, they hoped:

1520

But, is a title-deed to filch, a corpse

To slander, and an infant-heir to cheat?

Christ must give up his gains then! They unsay

All the fine speeches — who was saint is whore.

Why, scripture yields no parallel for this!

The soldiers only threw dice for Christ’s coat;

We want another legend of the Twelve

Disputing if it was Christ’s coat at all,

Claiming as prize the woof of price — for why?

The Master was a thief, purloined the same,

1530

Or paid for it out of the common bag!

Can it be this is end and outcome, all

I take with me to show as stewardship’s fruit,

The best yield of the latest time, this year

The seventeen-hundredth since God died for man?

Is such effect proportionate to cause?

And still the terror keeps on the increase

When I perceive . . . how can I blink the fact?

That the fault, the obduracy to good,

Lies not with the impracticable stuff

1540

Whence man is made, his very nature’s fault,

As if it were of ice, the moon may gild

Not melt, or stone, ’twas meant the sun should warm

Not make bear flowers — nor ice nor stone to blame:

But it can melt, that ice, and bloom, that stone,

Impassible to rule of day and night!

This terrifies me, thus compelled perceive

Whatever love and faith we looked should spring

At advent of the authoritative star,

Which yet lie sluggish, curdled at the source —

1550

These have leapt forth profusely in old time,

These still respond with promptitude to-day,

At challenge of — what unacknowledged powers

O’ the air, what uncommissioned meteors, warmth

By law, and light by rule should supersede?

For see this priest, this Caponsacchi, stung

At the first summons — “Help for honour’s sake,

“Play the man, pity the oppressed!”— no pause,

How does he lay about him in the midst,

Strike any foe, right wrong at any risk,

1560

All blindness, bravery and obedience! — blind?

Ay, as a man would be inside the sun,

Delirious with the plenitude of light

Should interfuse him to the finger-ends —

Let him rush straight, and how shall he go wrong?

Where are the Christians in their panoply?

The loins we girt about with truth, the breasts

Righteousness plated round, the shield of faith,

The helmet of salvation, and that sword

O’ the Spirit, even the word of God — where these?

1570

Slunk into corners! Oh, I hear at once

Hubbub of protestation! “What, we monks

“We friars, of such an order, such a rule,

“Have not we fought, bled, left our martyr-mark

“At every point along the boundary- line

“’Twixt true and false, religion and the world,

“Where this or the other dogma of our Church

“Called for defence?” And I, despite myself,

How can I but speak loud what truth speaks low,

“Or better than the best, or nothing serves!

1580

“What boots deed, I can cap and cover straight

“With such another doughtiness to match,

“Done at an instinct of the natural man?”

Immolate body, sacrifice soul too —

Do not these publicans the same? Outstrip!

Or else stop race, you boast runs neck and neck,

You with the wings, they with the feet — for shame!

Oh, I remark your diligence and zeal!

Five years long, now, rounds faith into my ears,

“Help thou, or Christendom is done to death!”

1590

Five years since, in the Province of To- kien,

Which is in China as some people know,

Maigrot, my Vicar Apostolic there,

Having a great qualm, issues a decree.

Alack, the converts use as God’s name, not

Tien-chu but plain Tien or else mere Shang-ti,

As Jesuits please to fancy politic,

While, say Dominicans, it calls down fire —

For Tien means heaven, and Shang-ti, supreme prince,

While Tien-chu means the lord of heaven: all cry,

1600

“There is no business urgent for despatch

“As that thou send a legate, specially

“Cardinal Tournon, straight to Pekin, there

“To settle and compose the difference!”

So have I seen a potentate all fume

For some infringement of his realm’s just right,

Some menace to a mud-built straw-thatched farm

O’ the frontier, while inside the mainland lie,

Quite undisputed-for in solitude,

Whole cities plague may waste or famine sap:

1610

What if the sun crumble, the sands encroach,

While he looks on sublimely at his ease?

How does their ruin touch the empire’s bound?

And is this little all that was to be?

Where is the gloriously-decisive change,

The immeasurable metamorphosis

Of human clay to divine gold, we looked

Should, in some poor sort, justify the price?

Had a mere adept of the Rosy Cross

Spent his life to consummate the Great Work,

1620

Would not we start to see the stuff it touched

Yield not a grain more than the vulgar got

By the old smelting-process years ago?

If this were sad to see in just the sage

Who should profess so much, perform no more,

What is it when suspected in that Power

Who undertook to make and made the world,

Devised and did effect man, body and soul,

Ordained salvation for them both, and yet . . .

Well, is the thing we see, salvation?

1630

        I

Put no such dreadful question to myself,

Within whose circle of experience burns

The central truth, Power, Wisdom, Goodness — God:

I must outlive a thing ere know it dead:

When I outlive the faith there is a sun,

When I lie, ashes to the very soul —

Someone, not I, must wail above the heap,

“He died in dark whence never morn arose.”

While I see day succeed the deepest night —

1640

How can I speak but as I know? — my speech

Must be, throughout the darkness, “It will end:”

“The light that did burn, will burn!” Clouds obscure —

But for which obscuration all were bright?

Too hastily concluded! Sun-suffused,

A cloud may soothe the eye made blind by blaze —

Better the very clarity of heaven:

The soft streaks are the beautiful and dear.

What but the weakness in a faith supplies

The incentive to humanity, no strength

1650

Absolute, irresistible, comports?

How can man love but what he yearns to help?

And that which men think weakness within strength,

But angels know for strength and stronger yet —

What were it else but the first things made new,

But repetition of the miracle,

The divine instance of self-sacrifice

That never ends and aye begins for man?

So, never I miss footing in the maze,

No — I have light nor fear the dark at all.

1660

But are mankind not real, who pace outside

My petty circle, the world measured me?

And when they stumble even as I stand,

Have I a right to stop ears when they cry,

As they were phantoms, took the clouds for crags,

Tripped and fell, where the march of man might move?

Beside, the cry is other than a ghost’s,

When out of the old time there pleads some bard,

Philosopher, or both and — whispers not,

But words it boldly. “The inward work and worth

1670

“Of any mind, what other mind may judge

“Save God who only knows the thing He made,

“The veritable service He exacts?

“It is the outward product men appraise.

“Behold, an engine hoists a tower aloft:

“‘I looked that it should move the mountain too!”

“Or else ‘Had just a turret toppled down,

“Success enough!’— may say the Machinist

“Who knows what less or more result might be:

“But we, who see that done we cannot do,

1680

“‘A feat beyond man’s force,’ we men must say.

“Regard me and that shake I gave the world!

“I was born, not so long before Christ’s birth,

“As Christ’s birth haply did precede thy day —

“But many a watch, before the star of dawn:

“Therefore I lived — it is thy creed affirms,

“Pope Innocent, who art to answer me! —

“Under conditions, nowise to escape,

“Whereby salvation was impossible.

“Each impulse to achieve the good and fair,

1690

“Each aspiration to the pure and true,

“Being without a warrant or an aim,

“Was just as sterile a felicity

“As if the insect, born to spend his life

“Soaring his circles, stopped them to describe

“(Painfully motionless in the mid-air)

“Some word of weighty counsel for man’s sake,

“Some ‘Know thyself’ or ‘Take the golden mean!’

“— Forwent his happy dance and the glad ray,

“Died half an hour the sooner and was dust.

1700

“I, born to perish like the brutes, or worse,

“Why not live brutishly, obey my law?

“But I, of body as of soul complete,

“A gymnast at the games, philosopher

“I’ the schools, who painted, and made music — all

“Glories that met upon the tragic stage

“When the Third Poet’s tread surprised the Two —

“Whose lot fell in a land where life was great

“And sense went free and beauty lay profuse,

“I, untouched by one adverse circumstance,

1710

“Adopted virtue as my rule of life,

“Waived all reward, and loved for loving’s sake,

“And, what my heart taught me, I taught the world,

“And have been teaching now two thousand years.

“Witness my work — plays that should please, forsooth!

“‘They might please, they may displease, they shall teach,

“‘For truth’s sake,’ so I said, and did, and do.

“Five hundred years ere Paul spoke, Felix heard —

“How much of temperance and righteousness,

“Judgment to come, did I find reason for,

1720

“Corroborate with my strong style that spared

“No sin, nor swerved the more from branding brow

“Because the sinner was called Zeus and God?

“How nearly did I guess at that Paul knew?

“How closely come, in what I represent

“As duty, to his doctrine yet a blank?

“And as that limner not untruly limns

“Who draws an object round or square, which square

“Or round seems to the unassisted eye,

“Though Galileo’s tube display the same

1730

“Oval or oblong — so, who controverts

“I rendered rightly what proves wrongly wrought

“Beside Paul’s picture? Mine was true for me.

“I saw that there are, first and above all,

“The hidden forces, blind necessities,

“Named Nature, but the thing’s self unconceived:

“Then follow — how dependent upon these,

“We know not, how imposed above ourselves,

“We well know — what I name the gods, a power

“Various or one; for great and strong and good

1740

“Is there, and little, weak and bad there too,

“Wisdom and folly: say, these make no God —

“What is it else that rules outside man’s self?

“A fact then — always, to the naked eye —

“And, so, the one revealment possible

“Of what were unimagined else by man.

“Therefore, what gods do, man may criticise,

“Applaud, condemn — how should he fear the truth?

“But likewise have in awe because of power,

“Venerate for the main munificence,

1750

“And give the doubtful deed its due excuse

“From the acknowledged creature of a day

“To the Eternal and Divine. Thus, bold

“Yet self-mistrusting, should man bear himself,

“Most assured on what now concerns him most —

“The law of his own life, the path he prints —

“Which law is virtue and not vice, I say —

“And least inquisitive where least search skills,

“I’ the nature we best give the clouds to keep.

“What could I paint beyond a scheme like this

“Out of the fragmentary truths where light

1760

“Lay fitful in a tenebrific time?

“You have the sunrise now, joins truth to truth,

“Shoots life and substance into death and void;

“Themselves compose the whole we made before:

“The forces and necessity grow God —

“The beings so contrarious that seemed gods,

“Prove just His operation manifold

“And multiform, translated, as must be,

“Into intelligible shape so far

1770

“As suits our sense and sets us free to feel:

“What if I let a child think, childhood-long,

“That lightning, I would have him spare his eye,

“Is a real arrow shot at naked orb?

“The man knows more, but shuts his lids the same:

“Lightning’s cause comprehends nor man nor child

“Why then, my scheme, your better knowledge broke,

“Presently readjusts itself, the small

“Proportioned largelier, parts and whole named new:

“So much, no more two thousand years have done!

1780

“Pope, dost thou dare pretend to punish me,

“For not descrying sunshine at midnight,

“Me who crept all-fours, found my way so far —

“While thou rewardest teachers of the truth,

“Who miss the plain way in the blaze of noon —

“Though just a word from that strong style of mine,

“Grasped honestly in hand as guiding-staff,

“Had pricked them a sure path across the bog,

“That mire of cowardice and slush of lies

“Wherein I find them wallow in wide day?”

1790

How should I answer this Euripides?

Paul — ’tis a legend — answered Seneca,

But that was in the day-spring; noon is now

We have got too familiar with the light.

Shall I wish back once more that thrill of dawn?

When the whole truth-touched man burned up, one fire?

— Assured the trial, fiery, fierce, but fleet,

Would, from his little heap of ashes, lend

Wings to the conflagration of the world

Which Christ awaits ere He make all things new —

1800

So should the frail become the perfect, rapt

From glory of pain to glory of joy; and so,

Even in the end — the act renouncing earth,

Lands, houses, husbands, wives and children here —

Begin that other act which finds all, lost,

Regained, in this time even, a hundredfold,

And, in the next time, feels the finite love

Blent and embalmed with its eternal life.

So does the sun ghastlily seem to sink

In those north parts, lean all but out of life,

1810

Desist a dread mere breathing-stop, then slow

Reassert day, begin the endless rise.

Was this too easy for our after-stage?

Was such a lighting- up of faith, in life,

Only allowed initiate, set man’s step

In the true way by help of the great glow?

A way wherein it is ordained he walk,

Bearing to see the light from heaven still more

And more encroached on by the light of earth,

Tentatives earth puts forth to rival heaven,

1820

Earthly incitements that mankind serve God

For man’s sole sake, not God’s and therefore man’s,

Till at last, who distinguishes the sun

From a mere Druid fire on a far mount?

More praise to him who with his subtle prism

Shall decompose both beams and name the true.

In such sense, who is last proves first indeed;

For how could saints and martyrs fail see truth

Streak the night’s blackness? Who is faithful now,

Untwists heaven’s pure white from the yellow flare

1830

O’ the world’s gross torch, without a foil to help

Produce the Christian act, so possible

When in the way stood Nero’s cross and stake —

So hard now that the world smiles “Rightly done!

“It is the politic, the thrifty way,

“Will clearly make you in the end returns

“Beyond our fool’s sport and improvidence:

“We fools go thro’ the cornfield of this life,

“Pluck ears to left and right and swallow raw,

“— Nay, tread, at pleasure, a sheaf underfoot,

1840

“To get the better at some poppy-flower —

“Well aware we shall have so much wheat less

“In the eventual harvest: you meantime

“Waste not a spike — the richlier will you reap!

“What then? There will be always garnered meal

“Sufficient for our comfortable loaf,

“While you enjoy the undiminished prize!”

Is it not this ignoble confidence,

Cowardly hardihood, that dulls and damps,

Makes the old heroism impossible?

1850

Unless . . . what whispers me of times to come?

What if it be the mission of that age,

My death will usher into life, to shake

This torpor of assurance from our creed,

Re-introduce the doubt discarded, bring

The formidable danger back, we drove

Long ago to the distance and the dark?

No wild beast now prowls round the infant camp;

We have built wall and sleep in city safe:

But if the earthquake try the towers, that laugh

1860

To think they once saw lions rule outside,

Till man stand out again, pale, resolute,

Prepared to die — that is, alive at last?

As we broke up that old faith of the world,

Have we, next age, to break up this the new —

Faith, in the thing, grown faith in the report —

Whence need to bravely disbelieve report

Through increased faith in thing reports belie?

Must we deny — do they, these Molinists,

At peril of their body and their soul —

1870

Recognised truths, obedient to some truth

Unrecognised yet, but perceptible? —

Correct the portrait by the living face,

Man’s God, by God’s God in the mind of man?

Then, for the few that rise to the new height,

The many that must sink to the old depth,

The multitude found fall away! A few,

E’en ere the new law speak clear, keep the old,

Preserve the Christian level, call good good

And evil evil (even though razed and blank

1880

The old titles stand), thro’ custom, habitude,

And all they may mistake for finer sense

O’ the fact than reason warrants — as before,

They hope perhaps, fear not impossibly.

Surely some one Pompilia in the world

Will say “I know the right place by foot’s feel,

“I took it and tread firm there; wherefore change?”

But what a multitude will fall, perchance,

Quite through the crumbling truth subjacent late,

Sink to the next discoverable base,

Rest upon human nature, take their stand

1890

On what is fact, the lust and pride of life!

The mass of men, whose very souls even now

Seem to need re-creating — so they slink

Worm-like into the mud light now lays bare —

Whose future we dispose of with shut eyes

“They are baptised — grafted, the barren twigs,

“Into the living stock of Christ: may bear

“One day, till when they lie death-like, not dead,”—

Those who with all the aid of Christ lie thus,

1900

How, without Christ, whither unaided, sink?

What but to this rehearsed before my eyes?

Do not we end, the century and I?

The impatient antimasque treads close on kibe

O’ the very masque’s self it will mock — on me,

Last lingering personage, the impatient mime

Pushes already — will I block the way?

Will my slow trail of garments ne’er leave space

For pantaloon, sock, plume, and castanet?

Here comes the first experimentalist

1910

In the new order of things — he plays a priest;

Does he take inspiration from the Church,

Directly make her rule his law of life?

Not he: his own mere impulse guides the man —

Happily sometimes, since ourselves admit

He had danced, in gaiety of heart, i’ the main

The right step in the maze we bade him foot.

What if his heart had prompted to break loose

And mar the measure? Why, we must submit

And thank the chance that brought him safely through.

1920

Will he repeat the prodigy? Perhaps.

Can he teach others how to quit themselves,

Prove why this step was right, while that were wrong?

How should he? “Ask your hearts as I asked mine,

“And get discreetly through the morrice so;

“If your hearts misdirect you — quit the stage,

“And make amends — be there amends to make.”

Such is, for the Augustine that was once,

This Canon Caponsacchi we see now.

“And my heart answers to another tune,”

Puts in the Abate, second in the suite,

1930

“I have my taste too, and tread no such step!

“You choose the glorious life, and may, for me,

“Who like the lowest of life’s appetites —

“What you judge — but the very truth of joy

“To my own apprehension which must judge.

“Call me knave and you get yourself called fool!

“I live for greed, ambition, lust, revenge;

“Attain these ends by force, guile: hypocrite,

“To-day, perchance to-morrow recognised

1940

“The rational man, the type of commonsense.”

There’s Loyola adapted to our time!

Under such guidance Guido plays his part,

He also influencing in due turn

These last clods where I track intelligence

By any glimmer, those four at his beck

Ready to murder any, and, at their own,

As ready to murder him — these are the world!

And, first effect of the new cause of things,

There they lie also duly — the old pair

1950

Of the weak head and not so wicked heart,

And the one Christian mother, wife and girl,

— Which three gifts seem to make an angel up —

The first foot of the dance is on their heads!

Still, I stand here, not off the stage though close

On the exit: and my last act, as my first,

I owe the scene, and Him who armed me thus

With Paul’s sword as with Peter’s key. I smite

With my whole strength once more, then end my part,

Ending, so far as man may, this offence.

1960

And when I raise my arm, what plucks my sleeve?

Who stops me in the righteous function — foe

Or friend? O, still as ever, friends are they

Who, in the interest of outraged truth

Deprecate such rough handling of a lie!

The facts being proved and incontestable,

What is the last word I must listen to?

Is it “Spare yet a term this barren stock,

“We pray thee dig about and dung and dress

“Till he repent and bring forth fruit even yet?”

1970

Is it “So poor and swift a punishment

“Shall throw him out of life with all that sin?

“Let mercy rather pile up pain on pain

“Till the flesh expiate what the soul pays else?”

Nowise! Remonstrance on all sides begins

Instruct me, there’s a new tribunal now

Higher than God’s — the educated man’s!

Nice sense of honour in the human breast

Supersedes here the old coarse oracle —

Confirming handsomely a point or so

1980

Wherein the predecessor worked aright

By rule of thumb: as when Christ said — when, where?

Enough, I find it in a pleading here —

“All other wrongs done, patiently I take:

“But touch my honour and the case is changed!

“I feel the due resentment — nemini

Honorem trado, is my quick retort.”

Right of Him, just as if pronounced to-day!

Still, should the old authority be mute,

Or doubtful, or in speaking clash with new,

1990

The younger takes permission to decide.

At last we have the instinct of the world

Ruling its household without tutelage,

And while the two laws, human and divine,

Have busied finger with this tangled case,

In the brisk junior pushes, cuts the knot,

Pronounces for acquittal. How it trips

Silverly o’er the tongue! “Remit the death!

“Forgive . . . well, in the old way, if thou please,

“Decency and the relics of routine

2000

“Respected — let the Count go free as air!

“Since he may plead a priest’s immunity —

“The minor orders help enough for that,

“With Farinacci’s licence — who decides

“That the mere implication of such man,

“So privileged, in any cause, before

“Whatever court except the Spiritual,

“Straight quashes the procedure — quash it, then!

“It proves a pretty loophole of escape

“Moreover, that, beside the patent fact

2010

“O’ the law’s allowance, there’s involved the weal

“O’ the Popedom: a son’s privilege at stake,

“Thou wilt pretend the Church’s interest,

“Ignore all finer reasons to forgive!

“But herein lies the proper cogency —

“(Let thy friends teach thee while thou tellest beads)

“That in this case the spirit of culture speaks,

“Civilisation is imperative.

“To her shall we remand all delicate points

“Henceforth, nor take irregular advice

2020

“O’ the sly, as heretofore: she used to hint

“Apologies when law was out of sorts

“Because a saucy tongue was put to rest,

“An eye that roved was cured of arrogance:

“But why be forced to mumble under breath

“What soon shall be acknowledged the plain fact,

“Outspoken, say, in thy successor’s time?

“Methinks we see the golden age return!

“Civilisation and the Emperor

“Succeed thy Christianity and Pope.

2030

“One Emperor then, as one Pope now: meanwhile,

“She anticipates a little to tell thee ‘Take

“‘Count Guido’s life, and sap society,

“‘Whereof the main prop was, is, and shall prove

“‘— Supremacy of husband over wife!’

“Shall the man rule i’ the house, or may his mate

“Because of any plea dispute the same?

“Oh, pleas of all sorts shall abound, be sure,

“If once allowed validity — for, harsh

“And savage, for, inept and silly-sooth,

2040

“For, this and that, will the ingenious sex

“Demonstrate the best master e’er graced slave:

“And there’s but one short way to end the coil —

“By giving right and reason steadily

“To the man and master: then the wife submits.

“There it is broadly stated — nor the time

“Admits we shift — a pillar? nay, a stake

“Out of its place i’ the tenement, one touch

“Whereto may send a shudder through the heap

“And bring it toppling on our heads perchance.

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“Moreover, if this breed a qualm in thee,

“Give thine own feelings play for once — deal death?

“Thou, whose own life winks o’er the socket-edge,

“Would’st thou it went out in such ugly snuff

“As dooming sons to death, though justice bade?

“Why, on a certain feast, Barabbas’ self

“Was set free not to cloud the general cheer.

“Neither shalt thou pollute thy Sabbath close!

“Mercy is safe and graceful. How one hears

“The howl begin, scarce the three little taps

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“O’ the silver mallet ended on thy brow —

“‘His last act was to sacrifice a Count

“‘And thereby screen a scandal of the Church!

“‘Guido condemned, the Canon justified

“‘Of course — delinquents of his cloth go free!’

“And so the Luthers and the Calvins come,

“So thy hand helps Molinos to the chair

“Whence he may hold forth till doom’s day on just

“These petit-maître priestlings — in the choir,

Sanctus et Benedictus, with a brush

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“Of soft guitar-strings that obey the thumb,

“Touched by the bedside, for accompaniment!

“Does this give umbrage to a husband? Death

“To the fool, and to the priest impunity!

“But no impunity to any friend

“So simply over-loyal as these four

“Who made religion of their patron’s cause,

“Believed in him and did his bidding straight,

“Asked not one question but laid down the lives

“This Pope took — all four lives together made

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“Just his own length of days — so, dead they lie,

“As these were times when loyalty’s a drug,

“And zeal in a subordinate too cheap

“And common to be saved when we spend life!

“Come, ’tis too much good breath we waste in words:

“The pardon, Holy Father! Spare grimace,

“Shrugs and reluctance! Are not we the world,

“Bid thee, our Priam, let soft culture plead

“Hecuba-like, ‘non tali’ (Virgil serves)

“‘Auxilio,’ and the rest! Enough, it works!

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“The Pope relaxes, and the Prince is loth,

“The father’s bowels yearn, the man’s will bends,

“Reply is apt. Our tears on tremble, hearts

“Big with a benediction, wait the word

“Shall circulate thro’ the city in a trice,

“Set every window flaring, give each man

“O’ the mob his torch to wave for gratitude.

“Pronounce it, for our breath and patience fail!”

I will, Sirs: for a voice other than yours

Quickens my spirit. “Quis pro Domino?

2100

“Who is upon the Lord’s side?” asked the Count.

I, who write —

        “On receipt of this command,

“Acquaint Count Guido and his fellows four

“They die to-morrow: could it be to-night,

“The better, but the work to do, takes time.

“Set with all diligence a scaffold up,

“Not in the customary place, by Bridge

“Saint Angelo, where die the common sort;

“But since the man is noble, and his peers

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“By predilection haunt the People’s Square,

“There let him be beheaded in the midst,

“And his companions hanged on either side:

“So shall the quality see, fear, and learn.

“All which work takes time: till to-morrow, then,

“Let there be prayer incessant for the five!”

For the main criminal I have no hope

Except in such a suddenness of fate.

I stood at Naples once, a night so dark

I could have scarce conjectured there was earth

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Anywhere, sky or sea or world at all:

But the night’s black was burst through by a blaze —

Thunder struck blow on blow, earth groaned and bore,

Through her whole length of mountain visible:

There lay the city thick and plain with spires,

And, like a ghost disshrouded, white the sea.

So may the truth be flashed out by one blow,

And Guido see, one instant, and be saved.

Else I avert my face, nor follow him

Into that sad obscure sequestered state

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Where God unmakes but to remake the soul

He else made first in vain; which must not be.

Enough, for I may die this very night

And how should I dare die, this man let live?

Carry this forthwith to the Governor!

Guido

You are the Cardinal Acciaiuoli, and you,

Abate Panciatichi — two good Tuscan names:

Acciaiuoli — ah, your ancestor it was,

Built the huge battlemented convent-block

Over the little forky flashing Greve

That takes the quick turn at the foot o’ the hill

Just as one first sees Florence: oh those days!

’Tis Ema, though, the other rivulet,

The one-arched, brown brick bridge yawns over — yes,

10

Gallop and go five minutes, and you gain

The Roman Gate from where the Ema’s bridged:

Kingfishers fly there: how I see the bend

O’erturreted by Certosa which he built,

That Senescal (we styled him) of your House!

I do adjure you, help me, Sirs! My blood

Comes from as far a source: ought it to end

This way, by leakage through their scaffold-planks

Into Rome’s sink where her red refuse runs?

Sirs, I beseech you by blood-sympathy,

20

If there be any vile experiment

In the air — if this your visit simply prove,

When all’s done, just a well-intentioned trick,

That tries for truth truer than truth itself,

By startling up a man, ere break of day,

To tell him he must die at sunset — pshaw!

That man’s a Franceschini; feel his pulse,

Laugh at your folly, and let’s all go sleep!

You have my last word — innocent am I

As Innocent my Pope and murderer,

Innocent as a babe, as Mary’s own,

30

As Mary’s self — I said, say and repeat —

And why, then, should I die twelve hours hence? I—

Whom, not twelve hours ago, the gaoler bade

Turn to my straw-truss, settle and sleep sound

That I might wake the sooner, promptlier pay

His dues of meat-and-drink-indulgence, cross

His palm with fee of the good- hand, beside,

As gallants use who go at large again!

For why? All honest Rome approved my part;

40

Whoever owned wife, sister, daughter — nay,

Mistress — had any shadow of any right

That looks like right, and, all the more resolved,

Held it with tooth and nail — these manly men

Approved! I being for Rome, Rome was for me!

Then, there’s the point reserved, the subterfuge

My lawyers held by, kept for last resource,

Firm should all else — the impossible fancy! — fail —

And sneaking burgess-spirit win the day:

The knaves! One plea at least would hold, they laughed,

50

One grappling-iron scratch the bottom-rock

Even should the middle mud let anchor go —

And hook my cause on to the Clergy’s — plea

Which, even if law tipped off my hat and plume,

Would show my priestly tonsure, save me so —

The Pope moreover, this old Innocent,

Being so meek and mild and merciful,

So fond o’ the poor and so fatigued of earth,

So . . . fifty thousand devils in deepest hell!

Why must he cure us of our strange conceit

60

Of the angel in man’s likeness, that we loved

And looked should help us at a pinch? He help?

He pardon? Here’s his mind and message — death,

Thank the good Pope! Now, is he good in this,

Never mind, Christian — no such stuff’s extant —

But will my death do credit to his reign,

Show he both lived and let live, so was good?

Cannot I live if he but like? “The law!”

Why, just the law gives him the very chance,

The precise leave to let my life alone,

70

Which the angelic soul of him (he says)

Yearns after! Here they drop it in his palm,

My lawyers, capital o’ the cursed kind —

A life to take and hold and keep: but no!

He sighs, shakes head, refuses to shut hand,

Motions away the gift they bid him grasp,

And of the coyness comes that off I run

And down I go, he best knows whither — mind,

He knows, and sets me rolling all the same!

Disinterested Vicar of our Lord,

This way he abrogates and disallows,

Nullifies and ignores — reverts in fine

To the good and right, in detriment of me!

Talk away! Will you have the naked truth?

He’s sick of his life’s supper — swallowed lies:

So, hobbling bedward, needs must ease his maw

Just where I sit o’ the door-sill. Sir Abate,

Can you do nothing? Friends, we used to frisk:

What of this sudden slash in a friend’s face,

This cut across our good companionship

90

That showed its front so gay when both were young?

Were not we put into a beaten path,

Bid pace the world, we nobles born and bred,

The body of friends with each his scutcheon full

Of old achievement and impunity —

Taking the laugh of morn and Sol’s salute

As forth we fared, pricked on to breathe our steeds

And take equestrian sport over the green

Under the blue, across the crop — what care?

So we went prancing up hill and down dale,

100

In and out of the level and the straight,

By the bit of pleasant byeway, where was harm?

Still Sol salutes me and the morning laughs:

I see my grandsire’s hoof-prints — point the spot

Where he drew rein, slipped saddle, and stabbed knave

For daring throw gibe — much less, stone — from pale,

Then back, and on, and up with the cavalcade;

Just so wend we, now canter, now converse,

Till, ’mid the jauncing pride and jaunty port,

Something of a sudden jerks at somebody —

110

A dagger is out, a flashing cut and thrust,

Because I play some prank my grandsire played,

And here I sprawl: where is the company? Gone!

A trot and a trample! only I lie trapped,

Writhe in a certain novel springe just set

By the good old Pope: I’m first prize. Warn me? Why?

Apprise me that the law o’ the game is changed?

Enough that I’m a warning, as I writhe,

To all and each my fellows of the file,

And make law plain henceforward past mistake,

120

“For such a prank, death is the penalty!”

Pope the Five Hundredth . . . what do I know or care?

Deputes your Eminence and Abateship

To announce that, twelve hours from this time, he needs

I just essay upon my body and soul

The virtue of his bran-new engine, prove

Represser of the pranksome!

        I’m the first!

Thanks. Do you know what teeth you mean to try

The sharpness of, on this soft neck and throat?

I know it — I have seen and hate it — ay,

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As you shall, while I tell you: let me talk,

Or leave me, at your pleasure! talk I must:

What is your visit but my lure to talk?

You have a someth