Una donna più bella assai che 'l sole.
GLORY AND VIRTUE.
A lady, lovelier, brighter than the sun,
Like him superior o'er all time and space,
Of rare resistless grace,
Me to her train in early life had won:
She, from that hour, in act, and word and thought,
—For still the world thus covets what is rare—
In many ways though brought
Before my search, was still the same coy fair:
For her alone my plans, from what they were,
Grew changed, since nearer subject to her eyes;
Her love alone could spur
My young ambition to each hard emprize:
So, if in long-wish'd port I e'er arrive,
I hope, for aye through her,
When others deem me dead, in honour to survive.
Full of first hope, burning with youthful love,
She, at her will, as plainly now appears,
Has led me many years,
But for one end, my nature best to prove:
Oft showing me her shadow, veil, and dress,
But never her sweet face, till I, who right
[Pg 109]Knew not her power to bless,
All my green youth for these, contented quite,
So spent, that still the memory is delight:
Since onward yet some glimpse of her is seen,
I now may own, of late,
Such as till then she ne'er for me had been,
She shows herself, shooting through all my heart
An icy cold so great
That save in her dear arms it ne'er can thence depart.
Not that in this cold fear I all did shrink,
For still my heart was to such boldness strung
That to her feet I clung,
As if more rapture from her eyes to drink:
And she—for now the veil was ta'en away
Which barr'd my sight—thus spoke me, "Friend, you see
How fair I am, and may
Ask, for your years, whatever fittest be."
"Lady," I said, "so long my love on thee
Has fix'd, that now I feel myself on fire,
What, in this state, to shun, and what desire."
She, thereon, with a voice so wond'rous sweet
And earnest look replied,
By turns with hope and fear it made my quick heart beat:—
"Rarely has man, in this full crowd below,
E'en partial knowledge of my worth possess'd
Who felt not in his breast
At least awhile some spark of spirit glow:
But soon my foe, each germ of good abhorr'd,
Quenches that light, and every virtue dies,
While reigns some other lord
Who promises a calmer life shall rise:
Love, of your mind, to him that naked lies,
So shows the great desire with which you burn,
That safely I divine
It yet shall win for you an honour'd urn;
Already one of my few friends you are,
And now shall see in sign
A lady who shall make your fond eyes happier far."
"It may not, cannot be," I thus began;
—When she, "Turn hither, and in yon calm nook
[Pg 110]Upon the lady look
So seldom seen, so little sought of man!"
I turn'd, and o'er my brow the mantling shame,
Within me as I felt that new fire swell,
Of conscious treason came.
She softly smiled, "I understand you well;
E'en as the sun's more powerful rays dispel
And drive the meaner stars of heaven from sight,
So I less fair appear,
Dwindling and darken'd now in her more light;
But not for this I bar you from my train,
As one in jealous fear—
One birth, the elder she, produced us, sisters twain."
Meanwhile the cold and heavy chain was burst
Of silence, which a sense of shame had flung
Around my powerless tongue,
When I was conscious of her notice first:
And thus I spoke, "If what I hear be true,
Bless'd be the sire, and bless'd the natal day
Which graced our world with you!
Blest the long years pass'd in your search away!
From the right path if e'er I went astray,
It grieves me more than, haply, I can show:
But of your state, if I
Deserve more knowledge, more I long to know."
She paused, then, answering pensively, so bent
On me her eloquent eye,
That to my inmost heart her looks and language went:—
"As seem'd to our Eternal Father best,
We two were made immortal at our birth:
To man so small our worth
Better on us that death, like yours, should rest.
Though once beloved and lovely, young and bright,
So slighted are we now, my sister sweet
Already plumes for flight
Her wings to bear her to her own old seat;
Myself am but a shadow thin and fleet;
Thus have I told you, in brief words, whate'er
You sought of us to find:
And now farewell! before I mount in air
This favour take, nor fear that I forget."
[Pg 111]Whereat she took and twined
A wreath of laurel green, and round my temples set.
My song! should any deem thy strain obscure,
Say, that I care not, and, ere long to hear,
In certain words and clear,
Truth's welcome message, that my hope is sure;
For this alone, unless I widely err
Of him who set me on the task, I came,
That others I might stir
To honourable acts of high and holy aim.