Edwin Arnold

(1832-1904 / England)

Violetta - Poem by Edwin Arnold

Oh! was there ever tale of human love
Which was not also tale of human tears?
Died not sweet Desdemona? sorrowed not
Fair, patient Imogen? and she whose name
Lives among lovers, Sappho silver-voiced.
Was not the wailing of her passionate lyre
Ended for ever in the dull, deaf sea?
Must it be thus? oh! must the cup that holds
The sweetest vintage of the vine of life
Taste bitter at the dregs? Is there no story,
No legend, no love-passage, which shall bend
Even as the bow that God hath bent in heaven
O'er the sad waste of mortal histories
Promising respite to the rain of tears?
Meseems I do remember one! it told
Of lovers led by angel hands together,
Who met most strangely, and who loved most strongly
To the last kiss of life:-I heard it often
Down at Caserta, by the seven waters;
Fioretta sang the story to her lute
At the Ave-Mary. Oh! I would I had
The merry music of her easy tongue,
And the quick flash of her Italian eye,
So should ye listen to the very last.
She said-I think it was at set of sun-
Down the green hill where the Velino rushes,
And through the valley where he rests, and then
On to the village came a way-farer
Of noble bearing: young and fair he was
With smoothest face and forehead; whereupon
Time had not written wrinkles: at his heels
The scabbard of his sword kept even time,
Merrily clinking on the mountain stone
With every stride-oh! but he had an eye
To make a Lady look once and again
Where if she looked she could not choose but love;
The village girls dancing about the well
Stayed the quick music of the mandoline
Even at the quickest, as he passed them by;
Whereat with smile, and ready compliment,
And jewelled bonnet doffed, and brown curls bowed,
He questioned of the leagues that lay between him
And the 'Tre Mauri'-'Not a league, fair Sir,
'But you shall find the Castle and the Court
'Full to the roof, and it were very pity
'To dull such doublet with the mountain-mist
'And rust your new sword ere the sun hath seen it.'
'-Nay, I must on!'-'Well, there's the haunted chamber;
'If you can look a ghost into the face
'As you can look a girl, I nothing question
'There's sleeping-room; so farewell, Signor mine.'
And so with laughing lip and curled moustache
Montorio left them laughing, and at night
Beat with his dagger-hilt upon a door,
Which opened up into the spacious court
Of what was now a hostel, but had once
Been Albertino's palace. Little recked he
Though there were dances on the garden grass,
And rustling satins, and brocades of gold
In every alley; and the glint of gems,
And quiet float of feathers in the hall;
Only he eased him of his belt and sword,
And after ortolans and Alban wine
Followed the torches of the seneschal
Along the rushes to an ancient room
Where after many drowsy beads he slept
Dreamless and still.


Above him in the turret
There sat two sisters beautiful-but one
Most beautiful: even as the evening star
Sits in her place among the silver worlds
Most silvery. The Lady Violetta
On wrist and arm of rounded ivory
Resting her brow, read from the painted page
The legend of the Milanese Manzoni
Until the night was old: close at her side
Sat Beatricè at the broider frame,
Drawing the stained silks slow and slower still,
For that her eyes were heavy: so at last,
Bidding her sister seek her in the chamber,
Her quiet feet left Violetta reading,
With bright eyes wearied, but with heart unfilled.
How long the story held her, that I know not;
But long enough it was to let the sand
Slide from the thrice-turned glass, and the light flicker
As though it strove to live and look upon her;
So that she started, and with opened lips,
As when a bud opens to be a rose,
Breathed from the dying lamp its little life,
And stripping off the flowers from her forehead,
Let the great waves of gold go to the ground,
And walked in the white moonlight to her bed.
And now she sleepeth, beautiful and calm,
With those long glossy tresses for a night-robe,
And her blue eyelids down upon her eyes;
Ha! methought Beatricè's hair was black!
Whose are yon sleeper's clustering curls of brown?
Brown!-she has missed the chamber, and is laid
By young Montorio, most unwittingly
Wandering hither slumbrous and unlighted:
Look, they are sleeping side by side; their hearts
Beating one measure, and their warm breath meeting,
And his bright locks and her long tresses tangled,
Whose eyes have never met by daylight. Stay!
Stir not! and speak not! oh, how shall it end?
They sleep! the spangled night is melting off,
And still they sleep: the holy moon looks in,
In at the painted window-panes, and flings
Ruby, blue, purple, emerald, amethyst,
Crystal and orange colours on their limbs;
And round her face a glory of white light,
As one who sins not: on the tapestries
Gold lights are flashing like the wings of angels,
Bringing these two hearts to be single-hearted.
They sleep! and it is morning! her white hand
Falls light as snow on his, and sends a dream,
A quick strange dream into his heart, whose joy
Goes through the spirit to the sense, and lifts
The curtain of his eye;-what doth he gaze on!-
Is the dream vanished, but the dream's dear glory
Left him for comfort? Ah! that hasty cry
Hath snapped the spell! she starts,-and she is gone,-
Rose-colour from the forehead to the foot.-
He thinks it is a spirit, and will kneel;-
But kneeling, spies a bracelet: pearl and gold
Warm from the wearer, where her foot was last;
So hath he kissed it lovingly, and laid it
Close at his heart, and when the house was up
Asked of the busy Hostess earnestly:-
'Who holds the upper chamber of the turret?'-
'The lady Violetta and her sister,
'Last night, fair Sir; but when the sun was up
'They rose, and parted from us, Venice-ward.'


He wrote the name upon his heart, and wandered
Away into the world to search for her.-


Twice a year ended:-at Perugia
There was a solemn mass at Whitsuntide,
The chaunt of priests, and song of choristers
Rose with the ringing of the loaded censers,
And the low breathing of a people's prayers,
So that the sound went through the fluted pillars,
Down the long nave, out by the portal-arch,
Into the square, and smote upon the ear
Of one who walked disconsolate; he turned,
Following as it were an angel's word,
And bent his proud knee on the marble, praying;
And as he prayed the weight went from his heart,
And the dull longing and the baffled search
Of twice twelve moons faded before the song
Of her who knelt beside him, for she sang
'The Psalm of ended trials;' presently
The veil was raised, and it was-Violetta,
Once more Montorio was by her side!


Oh! shall I tell ye how he wooed and won her,
Or when he won her, how he stamped the kiss,
The long-delayed and life-expected kiss
Upon her rose-leaf lips, and took her wrist
And clasped the bracelet on, and whispered low
With a light laugh that none might understand,
'Sweet Violetta! hadst thou not lost this,
'And thy dear self beside, I had not won
'A noble, beautiful, and gentle wife.'


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Poem Submitted: Thursday, September 16, 2010



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