Quell' antiquo mio dolce empio signore.
LOVE, SUMMONED BY THE POET TO THE TRIBUNAL OF REASON, PASSES A SPLENDID EULOGIUM ON LAURA.
Long had I suffer'd, till—to combat more
In strength, in hope too sunk—at last before
Impartial Reason's seat,
Whence she presides our nobler nature o'er,
I summon'd my old tyrant, stern and sweet;
There, groaning 'neath a weary weight of grief,
With fear and horror stung,
Like one who dreads to die and prays relief,
My plea I open'd thus: "When life was young,
I, weakly, placed my peace within his power,
And nothing from that hour
Save wrong I've met; so many and so great
The torments I have borne,
That my once infinite patience is outworn,
And my life worthless grown is held in very hate!
"Thus sadly has my time till now dragg'd by
In flames and anguish: I have left each way
Of honour, use, and joy,
This my most cruel flatterer to obey.
What wit so rare such language to employ
[Pg 308]That yet may free me from this wretched thrall.
Or even my complaint,
So great and just, against this ingrate paint?
O little sweet! much bitterness and gall!
How have you changed my life, so tranquil, ere
With the false witchery blind,
That alone lured me to his amorous snare!
If right I judge, a mind
I boasted once with higher feelings rife,
—But he destroy'd my peace, he plunged me in this strife!
"Less for myself to care, through him I've grown.
And less my God to honour than I ought:
Through him my every thought
On a frail beauty blindly have I thrown;
In this my counsellor he stood alone,
Still prompt with cruel aid so to provoke
My young desire, that I
Hoped respite from his harsh and heavy yoke.
But, ah! what boots—though changing time sweep by,
If from this changeless passion nought can save—
A genius proud and high?
Or what Heaven's other envied gifts to have,
If still I groan the slave
Of the fierce despot whom I here accuse,
Who turns e'en my sad life to his triumphant use?
"'Twas he who made me desert countries seek,
Wild tribes and nations dangerous, manners rude,
My path with thorns he strew'd,
And every error that betrays the weak.
Valley and mountain, marsh, and stream, and sea,
On every side his snares were set for me.
In June December came,
With present peril and sharp toil the same;
Alone they left me never, neither he,
Nor she, whom I so fled, my other foe:
Untimely in my tomb,
If by some painful death not yet laid low.
My safety from such doom
Heaven's gracious pity, not this tyrant, deigns,
Who feeds upon my grief, and profits in my pains!
[Pg 309]"No quiet hour, since first I own'd his reign,
I've known, nor hope to know: repose is fled
From my unfriendly bed,
Nor herb nor spells can bring it back again.
By fraud and force he gain'd and guards his power
O'er every sense; soundeth from steeple near,
By day, by night, the hour,
I feel his hand in every stroke I hear.
Never did cankerworm fair tree devour,
As he my heart, wherein he, gnawing, lurks,
And, there, my ruin works.
Hence my past martyrdom and tears arise,
My present speech, these sighs,
Which tear and tire myself, and haply thee,
—Judge then between us both, thou knowest him and me!"
With fierce reproach my adversary rose:
"Lady," he spoke, "the rebel to a close
Is heard at last, the truth
Receive from me which he has shrunk to tell:
Big words to bandy, specious lies to sell,
He plies right well the vile trade of his youth,
Freed from whose shame, to share
My easy pleasures, by my friendly care,
From each false passion which had work'd him ill,
Kept safe and pure, laments he, graceless, still
The sweet life he has gain'd?
And, blindly, thus his fortune dares he blame,
Who owes his very fame
To me, his genius who sublimed, sustain'd,
In the proud flight to which he, else, had dared not aim?
"Well knows he how, in history's every page,
The laurell'd chief, the monarch on his throne,
The poet and the sage,
Favourites of fortune, or for virtue known,
Were cursed by evil stars, in loves debased,
Soulless and vile, their hearts, their fame, to waste:
While I, for him alone,
From all the lovely ladies of the earth,
Chose one, so graced with beauty and with worth,
The eternal sun her equal ne'er beheld.
[Pg 310]Such charm was in her life,
Such virtue in her speech with music rife,
Their wondrous power dispell'd
Each vain and vicious fancy from his heart,
—A foe I am indeed, if this a foeman's part!
"Such was my anger, these my hate and slights,
Than all which others could bestow more sweet;
Evil for good I meet,
If thus ingratitude my grace requites.
So high, upon my wings, he soar'd in fame,
To hear his song, fair dames and gentle knights
In throngs delighted came.
Among the gifted spirits of our time
His name conspicuous shines; in every clime
Admired, approved, his strains an echo find.
Such is he, but for me
A mere court flatterer who was doom'd to be,
Unmark'd amid his kind,
Till, in my school, exalted and made known
By her, who, of her sex, stood peerless and alone!
"If my great service more there need to tell,
I have so fenced and fortified him well,
That his pure mind on nought
Of gross or grovelling now can brook to dwell;
Modest and sensitive, in deed, word, thought,
Her captive from his youth, she so her fair
And virtuous image press'd
Upon his heart, it left its likeness there:
Whate'er his life has shown of good or great,
In aim or action, he from us possess'd.
Never was midnight dream
So full of error as to us his hate!
For Heaven's and man's esteem
If still he keep, the praise is due to us,
Whom in its thankless pride his blind rage censures thus!
"In fine, 'twas I, my past love to exceed,
Who heavenward fix'd his hope, who gave him wings
To fly from mortal things,
Which to eternal bliss the path impede;
[Pg 311]With his own sense, that, seeing how in her
Virtues and charms so great and rare combined,
A holy pride might stir
And to the Great First Cause exalt his mind,
(In his own verse confess'd this truth we see,)
While that dear lady whom I sent to be
The grace, the guard, and guide
Of his vain life"—But here a heart-deep groan
I sudden gave, and cried,
"Yes! sent and snatch'd her from me." He replied,
"Not I, but Heaven above, which will'd her for its own!"
At length before that high tribunal each—
With anxious trembling I, while in his mien
Was conscious triumph seen—
With earnest prayer concluded thus his speech:
"Speak, noble lady! we thy judgment wait."
She then with equal air:
"It glads me to have heard your keen debate,
But in a cause so great,
More time and thought it needs just verdict to declare!"
[OF PARTS ONLY]
I cited once t' appear before the noble queen,
That ought to guide each mortal life that in this world is seen,
That pleasant cruel foe that robbeth hearts of ease,
And now doth frown, and then doth fawn, and can both grieve and please;
And there, as gold in fire full fined to each intent,
Charged with fear, and terror eke I did myself present,
As one that doubted death, and yet did justice crave,
And thus began t' unfold my cause in hope some help to have.
"Madam, in tender youth I enter'd first this reign,
Where other sweet I never felt, than grief and great disdain;
And eke so sundry kinds of torments did endure.
As life I loathed, and death desired my cursèd case to cure;
And thus my woeful days unto this hour have pass'd
In smoky sighs and scalding tears, my wearied life to waste;
[Pg 312]O Lord! what graces great I fled, and eke refused
To serve this cruel crafty Sire that doubtless trust abused."
"What wit can use such words to argue and debate,
What tongue express the full effect of mine unhappy state;
What hand with pen can paint t' uncipher this deceit;
What heart so hard that would not yield that once hath seen his bate;
What great and grievous wrongs, what threats of ill success,
What single sweet, mingled with mass of double bitterness.
With what unpleasant pangs, with what an hoard of pains,
Hath he acquainted my green years by his false pleasant trains."
"Who by resistless power hath forced me sue his dance,
That if I be not much abused had found much better
And when I most resolved to lead most quiet life, chance;
He spoil'd me of discordless state, and thrust me in truceless strife.
He hath bewitch'd me so that God the less I served,
And due respect unto myself the further from me swerv'd;
He hath the love of one so painted in my thought,
That other thing I can none mind, nor care for as I ought.
And all this comes from him, both counsel and the cause.
That whet my young desire so much to th' honour of his laws."