Helen Gray Cone

(1859-1934 / United States)

Madonna Pia - Poem by Helen Gray Cone

To westward lies the unseen sea,
Blue sea the live winds wander o'er.
The many-colored sails can flee,
And leave the dead, low-lying shore.
Her longing does not seek the main,
Her face turns northward first at morn;
There, crowning all the wide champaign,
Siena stood, where she was born.

Siena stands, and still shall stand;
She ne'er shall see or town or tower.
Warm life and beauty, hand in hand,
Steal farther from her hour by hour.
Yet forth she leans, with trembling knees,
And northward will she stare and stare
Through that thick wall of cypress-trees,
And sigh adown the stirless air:

'Shall no remembrance in Siena linger
Of me, once fair, whom slow Maremma slays?
As well he knows, whose ring upon my finger
Hath sealed for his alone mine earthly days!'

From wilds where shudders through the weeds
The dull, mean-headed, silent snake,
Like voiceless doubt that creeps and breeds;
From swamps where sluggish waters take,
As lives unblest a passing love,
The flag-flower's image in the spring,
Or seem, when flits the bird above,
To stir within with shadowed wing,

A Presence mounts in pallid mist
To fold her close: she breathes its breath;
She waxes wan, by Fever kissed,
Who weds her for his master, Death,
Aside are set her dimmed hopes all,
She counts no more the uncurrent hoard;
On gray Death's neck she fain would fall,
To own him for her proper lord.

She minds the journey here by night:
When some red sudden torch would blaze,
She saw by fits, with childish fright,
The cork-trees twist beside the ways.
Like dancing demon shapes they showed,
With malice drunk; the bat beat by,
The owlet sobbed; on, on they rode,
She knew not where, she knows not why.

For Nello-when in piteous wise
She lifted up her look to ask,
Except the ever-burning eyes
His face was like a marble mask.
And so it always meets her now;
The tomb wherein at last he lies
Shall bear such carven lips and brow,
All save the ever-burning eyes.

Perchance it is his form alone
Doth stroke his hound, at meat doth sit,
And, for the soul that was his own,
A fiend awhile inhabits it;
While he sinks through the fiery throng,
Down, to fill an evil bond,
Since false conceit of others' wrong
Hath wrought him to a sin beyond.

But she-if when her years were glad
Vain fluttering thoughts were hers, that hid
Behind that gracious fame she had;
If e'er observance hard she did
That sinful men might call her saint,-
White-handed Pia, dovelike-eyed,-
The sick blank hours shall yet acquaint
Her heart with all her blameful pride.

And Death shall find her kneeling low,
And lift her to the porphyry stair,
And she from ledge to ledge shall go,
Stayed by the staff of that last prayer,
Until the high, sweet-singing wood
Whence folk are rapt to heaven, she win;
Therein the unpardoned never stood,
Nor may one Sorrow nest therein.

But through the Tuscan land shall beat
Her Sorrow, like a wounded bird;
And if her suit at Mary's feet
Avail, its moan shall yet be heard
By some just poet, who shall shed,
Whate'er the theme that leads his rhyme
Bright words like tears above her, dead,
Entreating of the after time:

'Among you let her mournful memory linger!
Siena bare her, whom Maremma slew;
And this dark lord, who gave her maiden finger
His ancient gem, the secret only knew.'


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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 22, 2010



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