Wilfrid Scawen Blunt

(1840 - 1922 / England)

Griselda: A Society Novel In Verse - Chapter Iii - Poem by Wilfrid Scawen Blunt

Who has not seen the falls of Tivoli,
The rocks, the foam--white water, and the three
Fair ruined temples which adorn the hill?
Who has not sat and listened to the shrill
Sweet melody of blackbirds, and the roar
Of Anio's voice rebounding from the shore,
Nor would have given his very soul to greet
Some passing vision of a white nymph's feet,
And waving arms, as the wild chasm's spray
Beat on his face, for ever answering ``Nay''?
Who has not turned away with sadder face,
Abashed before the genius of the place,
A wiser man, and owned upon his knees,
The dull transmontane Goth and boor he is?
Who that was born to feel? What sons of clay
Are these that stand among your shrines to--day,
Gods of the ancient rivers! and who set
The heavy impress of barbarian feet
Upon your classic shores, and dare to love
Your ruined homes in temple, rock, and grove!
What new rude sons of Japhet! What mad crew,
Whose only creed is what it dares to do
Through lack of knowledge, whose undoubting heart,
Here in the very temples of old art,
Brings out its little tribute, builds its shrines,
Wreathes its sad garlands of untutored lines,
Writes, paints, professes, sculptures its new gods,
And dares to have its home in your abodes!

Oh, if I had a soul oppressed with song,
A tongue on fire to prophesy among
My brother prophets, if I had a hand
Which needs must write its legend on life's sand
With brush or chisel, I at least would choose
Some soil less fair, less sacred to the Muse,
Some younger, wilder land, where no sad voice
Had ever stammered forth its tale of joys
And loves and sorrows, or in tones less rude
Than the brute pulsing of its human blood;
If I would build a temple, it should be
At least not here, not here in Italy,
Where all these temples stand. My thought should shape
Its fancies in rough granite on some cape
O'erlooking the Atlantic, from whose foam
No goddess ever leaped, and not in Rome,
Beneath the mockery of immortal eyes,
Gazing in marble down, so coldly wise!

Such was Griselda's thought, which, half aloud,
She uttered one May morning 'mid a crowd
Of pleasure--seekers, come from Rome to see
The wonder of these falls of Tivoli,
And Belgirate's villa, where the Prince
Was offering entertainment (for his sins),
And dancing, to all such as called him friend
That Spring in Rome, now nearly at an end;--
A thought suggested by the place and by
A German painter, who undauntedly
Was plying a huge canvas just begun,
With brush and palette seated in the sun.
She had hardly meant to speak, and when Lord L.
Objected (for he knew his classics well)
That landscape--painting was an unknown trade
In the days of Horace, blushed for her tirade,
And turned to Belgirate, who stood near,
Playing the host to all the world and her.

The Prince appealed to, though his care was less
With what was spoken than the speaker's face,
Took up the parable, confessed the truth
Of all each ventured, and agreed with both.
Nature, he said, and art, though now allied,
Had not in all times thus walked side by side.
Indeed the love of Nature, now so real,
Was alien to the love of the ideal,
The classic love which claimed as though of need
Some living presence for each fountain--head,
Each grove, each cavern, satyr, nymph, or god,
A human shape unseen yet understood.
This was the thought which lived in ancient art,
Eschewing the waste places of the heart,
And only on compulsion brought to face
Brute Nature's aspect in its nakedness.
Nature as Nature was a thought too rude
For these, untempered in its solitude.
It had no counterpart in our new love
Of mountain, sea, and forest. Then each grove
Asked for its statue, each perennial spring
Its fountain. Solitude itself must bring
Its echo. Every mountain top of Greece
Beheld fair temples rise. A law of peace
Reigned over art in protest at the mood
Of social life which drenched the world in blood.
All now had been reversed. Our modern creed
Scouted the law that men were born to bleed.
It turned from human nature, if untaught,
And wrought mankind, perhaps and overwrought
Into trim shapes, and then for its relief
Rushed to the wilderness to vent its grief
In lonely passion. Here it neither sought
Nor found a presence which it needed not.
It chose wild hills and barren seas. It saw
Beauty in tumult, in revolt a law.
Here it gave reins to its brute instincts. Here
It owned no god, no guide, no arbiter.
Its soul it must avenge of discipline,
And Nature had gone naked from the shrine.
This was its consolation. Of the score
Who stood around him and who praised his lore,
Perhaps no single listener understood
The thought which underlay the Prince's mood,
Or guessed its bitterness--not even she
Who lent the moral to his mockery.
Yet she was moved. In her too was a need
Of consolation for too fair a creed,
An impulse of rebellion. In her blood
There lived a germ of Nature unsubdued,
Which would not be appeased. She too had sought
A refuge from the tyranny of thought
In the brute impulses of sea and plain
And cloud and forest far from haunts of men.
A vain mad search. The fetters of her pride
Galled her like sores. Griselda turned and sighed.

That evening on the terrace, vaguely lit
With paper lanterns and the infinite
Display of those fair natural lamps, the stars,
And 'neath the influence of the planet Mars
Or Venus or another--which it was
We best may judge by that which came to pass--
The Prince essayed his fortune. From the hour
Of their first flash of eloquence, some power,
Some most persistent and ingenious fate
Of idle tongues had held them separate,
Griselda and the Prince--him in his part
Of host, with cares not wholly of the heart
Demanding his attention, while on her
Friends fastened more than dull and less than dear.
In vain they stopped, and loitered, and went on,
Leaving no trick untried, unturned no stone;
In vain they waited. Still the hope deferred
Failed of its object, one consoling word,
One little sigh as of relief thus given:
``Well, they are gone at last, and thanked be Heaven.''
But hour on hour went by, and accident
Seemed still at pains to frustrate their intent,
Piling up grief for them and poor Lord L.,
On whom, in fault of foes, their vengeance fell.
'Twas worst for her. She knew not whom to strike,
Lord L., her friends, the Prince? 'Twas now alike.
She had lost in fact her temper, if I dare
Thus speak of one so wise and one so fair,
And to the point that now there was no room
For other thought, but L. should take her home,
Away and speedily. The Prince, who knew
No word of what a storm Fate held in brew,
And who had sought, in innocence of all,
Griselda's hand to lead the opening ball,
And sought in vain, now found, to his despair,
My lady cloaked and standing on the stair.
She was alone. ``Lord L. had gone,'' she said,
``To bid the Prince good night. Her foolish head
Had played her false, and ached with the new heat
Of the May sun (even L. complained of it).
They must be home betimes. Next day was Sunday,
And they had much to do 'twixt that and Monday,
In view of their departure.'' ``Whither? whence?
In Heaven's name,'' exclaimed the astounded Prince.
``Why, home to England, she had thought he knew:
She must have told him. L. was more than due
In London, where his place in Parliament
Required his presence. He had missed the Lent,
And dared not miss the Easter session. She
Thought he was right, altho','' and suddenly
She burst in tears. The Prince, in dire distress,
Besought her to be calm. But she, with face
Hid in both hands, and turning from the light,
Broke from his arms, and rushed into the night.
Across the hall, beneath the portico,
And down the steps she fled, to where below
The garden lay all dim with starlit shade,
And the white glimmer of the main facade.
Here Belgirate found her on a seat,
Crouched in an angle of the parapet,
And sobbing as in terror. His surprise
Was changed to resolution. To his eyes
The world became transfigured. ``Lady L.,''
He whispered, ``what is this? You love me? Well,
Why do you weep?'' He took her hands in his
And pressed them to his lips; and at the kiss
Griselda started from the heap she was
And sat upright, with pale pathetic face
Turned to the night. By the dim starlight he
Beheld, half--awed and half in ecstasy,
The strange emotion of her countenance.
She made no gesture to withdraw her hands,
No sign of disagreement with his words.
Her eyes looked scared and troubled like a bird's
Caught in a net, and seemed to ask of Fate
Where the next blow should fall. 'Twas thus she sat
Speechless, inanimate, nor seemed to breathe.
The Prince could hear the chattering of her teeth,
And feel her shiver in the warm night wind,
And yet its touch was hardly thus unkind.

He too, poor soul, in hope and tenderness,
Still kissed her hands, and kissed her gloves and dress,
And kneeling at her feet embraced her knees
With soothing arms and soft cajoleries.
She dared not turn nor speak. The balustrade
Served as a pretext for her with its shade
Hiding his face. She would not seem to guess
All that his fondness asked of her distress:
A word might break the spell. She only knew
She was a poor sad woman, doomed to do
Sorrow to all who loved her, that the Prince
Had spoken truly, and her long pretence
Of innocence was o'er. She scorned to make
An idle protest now for honour's sake.
He had a right to ask for what he would
Now that she loved him, and her womanhood
Reserved one tearful right, and only one,
To hide her face an instant and be gone.

How long they sat thus silent who shall say?
Griselda knew not. Time was far away;
She wanted courage to prepare her heart
For that last bitterest word of all, ``We part.''
And he cared naught for time. His Heaven was there,
Nor needed thought, nor speech, nor even prayer.

A sound of music roused them. From the house
Voices broke in and strains tumultuous,
Proving the dance begun. Then with a sigh
Griselda turned her head, and piteously
Looked in his face. She moved as if to go,
And when he held her still, ``For pity, no,
Let me be gone,'' she cried. ``I ask it thus,''
Clasping her hands. ``You will not? No! alas!
You must not doubt me when I speak the truth;
This is a great misfortune for us both.''
``Griselda,'' he began. ``Oh, stop,'' she said,
``You know not what you ask.'' She bent her head
Close to his own. ``I am not what I seem,
A woman to be loved, not even by him
Whom I might choose to worship. Mine must be
An unfinished life, not quite a tragedy,
Even to my friends, an idle aimless life,
Not worth an argument, still less a strife.
You must forget, forgive me. We were friends,
Friends still perhaps; but, oh! this first day ends
Our love for ever. What you said was true,
Only I never guessed it.'' The Prince knew
That she was weeping, and a single sob
Broke from her lips. She seemed her wounds to probe.
``Yes, I have loved you, loved you from the first,
The day we met at Terni, when you burst
Like sunshine on the storm of my dark life--
You, wise and free--I, only the sad wife
Of one you called a friend. The fault was mine
And mine alone. In you there was no sin:
You stood too far from me, too high above
My woman's follies even to dream of love.
There, do not answer, you were kind to me,
Good, patient, wise--you could no other be--
But, oh! you never loved me.'' Here again
The Prince broke in protesting (but in vain):
Her words were madness and his heart was hers.
She would not listen nor control her tears.
``You never loved me. This one thought I hold
In consolation of my manifold
Deceits and errors. You at least are free
From all deceptions and remorse and me:
I cannot cause you sorrow, else it were
Indeed too pitiful, too hard to bear.''

She stooped and kissed his forehead reverently,
As one would kiss a relic; and when he
Still would have spoken, stopped him with a hand
Laid on his lips, half--prayer and half--command.
She would not let him speak. The prince, tho' mute,
Now pleaded with his hands and pressed his suit
With better eloquence, for this to her
Seemed less a crime than speech. Her ignorant fear
Had hardly fathomed yet the troubled sea
On which her lot was cast thus dangerously.
She only feared his words to prove him right,
And these caresses in the dim still night
Soothed and consoled her. They were too unreal,
Too strange to her experience, quite to feel
Or quite to question. She, with half--shut eyes,
And face averted, ceased to feel surprise,
And ceased to think. She was a child again,
Caressed and fondled. She forgot her pain,
And almost even his presence in the place.
He was too near and could not see her face.
Besides, Griselda loved him. Only once
She made a silent protest with her hands,
As one might make asleep, and in her dream
Opened her eyes, and seemed to question him
With the pathetic instinct as of doom.
The Prince in rapture judged his hour was come.

Alas! poor Prince. If thou hadst had thy bliss,
I would not then have grudged thy happiness,
Thine nor Griselda's. Happiness is not
A merchandise men buy or leave unbought
And find again. It is a wild bird winging
Its way through heaven, in joyous circles ringing,
Aloft, at its own will. Then, ere we wist,
It stooped and sat a moment on our wrist,
And fondled with our fingers, and made play
With jess and hood as if it meant to stay.
And we, if we were wise and fortunate,
And if the hour had been decreed of fate,
Seized the glad bird and held it in our hand,
And forced it to obey our least command,
Knowing that never more, if not made sure,
It would come again to voice, or sign, or lure.

Oh, such is happiness. That night for them
Fate stood, a genius, suppliant and tame,
Demanding to do service. Had they willed,
The treasure--house of Heaven had been unfilled
And emptied in their lap. They too, even they,
Mere mortals born, inheritors of clay,
Had known eternal life, and been as gods.
Only the will between them was at odds,
Only the word was wanting. What one thing
It was that frightened Fate to taking wing,
And scared for ever the celestial bird,
And left them desolate, if I have heard
I do not now remember nor would say
Even if I knew. 'Twas told me not to--day
Nor yesterday, but in a time long since,
By one of the two who knew, in confidence,
And then not quite perhaps the utter truth.
Whoever tells it? But there came to both
A moment when, as Belgirate knew,
There was no further power to plead or sue:
They had played with Fate too long. Their hour was over;
She was no more his love nor he her lover.
His courage was exhausted. One by one
His fingers, which still held Griselda's gown,
Relaxed their hold. His hands dropped by his side,
His head upon his bosom, and the pride,
Which was the reason of his being, quailed.
Grief in that hour and tenderness prevailed,
And tears rushed to his eyes, long strangers there,
And to his lips, Italian--like, a prayer,
While he lay prostrate, his face turned from heaven,
Under the stars. The tower clock struck eleven
And roused him. He had neither heard nor known
Griselda's going, but he was alone.

And she? Griselda? In a whirl of grief,
Tortured, distracted, hopeless of relief,
And careless now what eye should see her tears,
Whom none could mock with bitterer jibes than hers,
And speechless to all question of her lord,
Who sought to learn what portent had occurred,
And still reverted to the theme begun
Of Roman fever and the Roman sun;
She was driven back to Rome. Two days her door
Was shut to all the world, both rich and poor,
And on the third she went to Ostia,
Pleading a wild desire to see the sea.

The sea! What virtue is there in the sea
That it consoles us thus in misery?
In joy we do not love it, and our bliss
Scoffs at its tears and scorns its barrenness.
Our pride of life is in the fruitful Earth,
The mother of all joy, which gave us birth,
The Earth so touching in its hopes to be,
So green, so tender in its sympathy.
But when life turns to bitterness--ah! then,
Where is Earth's message to the sons of men?
How does she speak? What sound of grief is hers
To match our grief? What tale of pity stirs
Her jubilant heart? The laughing woods give back
Naught of their happiness to those who lack.
The beauty of the uplands bars relief,
The prosperous fields are insolent to grief;
There is no comfort in the lowing herds,
The hum of bees, the songs, the shouts of birds;
There is no sob in all the living earth,
Naught but the flutter of discordant mirth,
On which, as on a pageant, morn and even
The careless sun shines mockingly from heaven.
There is no grief in all the world save one,
The ocean's voice, as tearful as our own.
Then from the Earth we turn--too potent mother,
Too joyous in her offspring--to that other,
The childless, joyless, unproductive sea,
And mourn with her her dread virginity.
We clasp her naked rocks with our two hands,
Barefoot we tread her barren waste of sands,
Her breadths of shingle and her treeless shore,
Knowing her griefs are as our griefs, and more,
An eternal lack of love. 'Twas in this guise
Griselda cradled her soul's miseries,
And nursed it in its anguish like a child,
And soothed it to oblivion. The sea smiled
With its eternal smile upon her sorrow,
The selfsame yesterday, to--day, to--morrow,
And kept its tears in its own bosom sealed,
A mystery of passion unrevealed,
Save in the tremor of its voice at noon,
When the wind rose and played wild chords thereon.
So she. The memory of that place long stood
In her remembrance as a dream of good,
Dividing life as sleep divides the day,
A place of utter weakness. Let those say
Who will, that deeds of strength life's milestones are.
The dearest days are not the days of war,
And victory is forgotten in the peace
Of certain hours gone by in helplessness,
When the soul ceased to battle, and lay still
As on a deathbed dumb to good and ill.
These are its treasures. Nor was silence all
Griselda's ointment. Hard by the sea--wall,
Where daily her steps turned fresh peace to find,
A convent stood, inviting to the mind.
Here she found entrance at the chapel gate,
And knelt in prayer half--inarticulate,
Bowed to the earth. For patron saints it had
The Marys three--``two virtuous, and one bad,''
Griselda thought, ``like her own self''--who came
In flight together from Jerusalem,
And landed there; and these in her great need,
She suppliant asked for her soul's daily bread,
Using all fondest words her lips could frame,
To speak her secret wishes without blame.
Six candlesticks she vowed, to each a pair,
So they would listen to and grant her prayer.
The superstition pleased her. In her pride
She bowed and begged like any peasant's bride,
For what? for whom? she hardly could explain
Even to her, the dear St. Magdalen.
``And yet,'' she argued, ``she at least will know
And understand me if no other do.''

All this was folly, but it comforted
And gave her strength. Then with a calmer head,
If not a calmer heart, she turned once more
From love to life. Her first strong grief was o'er.


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Poem Submitted: Tuesday, April 13, 2010



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