Italy : 31. A Funeral

'Whence this delay?' 'Along the crowded street
A Funeral comes, and with unusual pomp.'
So I withdrew a little, and stood still,
While it went by. 'She died as she deserved,'
Said an Abatè, gathering up his cloak,
And with a shrug retreating as the tide
Flowed more and more.---'But she was beautiful!'
Replied a soldier of the Pontiff's guard.
'And innocent as beautiful!' exclaimed
A Matron sitting in her stall, hung round
With garlands, holy pictures, and what not?
Her Alban grapes and Tusculan figs displayed
In rich profusion. From her heart she spoke;
And I accosted her to hear her story.
'The stab,' she cried, 'was given in jealousy;
But never fled a purer spirit to heaven,
As thou wilt say, or much my mind misleads,
When thou hast seen her face. Last night at dusk,
When on her way from vespers -- None were near,
None save her serving-boy, who knelt and wept,
But what could tears avail him, when she fell --
Last night at dusk, the clock then striking nine,
Just by the fountain -- that before church,
The church she always used, St. Isidore's --
Alas, I knew her from her earliest youth,
That excellent lady. Ever would she say,
Good even, as she passed, and with a voice
Gentle as theirs in heaven!' -- But now by fits
A dull and dismal noise assailed the ear,
A wail, a chaunt, louder and louder yet;
And now a strange fantastic troop appeared!
Thronging, they came -- as from the shades below;
All of a ghostly white! 'Oh say,' I cried,
'Do not the living here bury the dead?
Do Spirits come and fetch them? What are these,
That seem not of this World, and mock the Day;
Each with a burning taper in his hand?' --
'It is an ancient Brotherhood thou seest.
Such their apparel. Through the long, long line,
Look where thou wilt, no likeness of a man;
The living masked, the dead alone uncovered.
But mark' -- And, lying on her funeral couch,
Like one asleep, her eyelids closed, her hands
Folded together on her modest breast,
As 'twere her nightly posture, through the crowd
She came at last -- and richly, gaily clad,
As for a birth-day feast! But breathes she not?
A glow is on her cheek -- and her lips move!
And now a smile is there -- how heavenly sweet!
'Oh no!' replied the Dame, wiping her tears,
But with an accent less of grief than anger,
'No, she will never, never wake again!'
Death, when we meet the Spectre in our walks,
As we did yesterday and shall to-morrow,
Soon grows familiar -- like most other things,
Seen, not observed; but in a foreign clime,
Changing his shape to something new and strange,
(And through the world he changes as in sport,
Affect he greatness or humility)
Knocks at the heart. His form and fashion here
To me, I do confess, reflect a gloom,
A sadness round; yet one I would not lose;
Being in unison with all things else
In this, this land of shadows, where we live
More in past time than present, where the ground,
League beyond league, like one great cemetery,
Is covered o'er with mouldering monuments;
And, let the living wander where they will,
They cannot leave the footsteps of the dead.
Oft, where the burial rite follows so fast
The agony, oft coming, nor from far,
Must a fond father meet his darling child,
(Him who at parting climbed his knees and clung)
Clay-cold and wan, and to the bearers cry,
'Stand, I conjure ye!'
Seen thus destitute,
What are the greatest? They must speak beyond
A thousand homilies. When Raphael went,
His heavenly face the mirror of his mind,
His mind a temple for all lovely things
To flock to and inhabit -- when He went,
Wrapt in his sable cloak, the cloak he wore,
To sleep beneath the venerable Dome,
By those attended, who in life had loved,
Had worshipped, following his steps to Fame,
('Twas on an April-day, when Nature smiles)
All Rome was there. But, ere the march began,
Ere to receive their charge the bearers came,
Who had not sought him? And when all beheld
Him where he lay, changed from yesterday,
Him in that hour cut off, and at his head
His last great work; when, entering in, they looked
Now on the dead, then on that master-piece,
Now on his face, lifeless and colourless,
Then on those forms divine that lived and breathed,
And would live on for ages -- all were moved;
And sighs burst forth, and loudest lamentations.