Li Po |
On Marble Stairs
still grows the white dew
That has all night
soaked her silk slippers,
But she lets down
her crystal blind now
And sees through glaze
the moon of autumn.
Li Po |
A bright moon rising above Tian Shan Mountain,
Lost in a vast ocean of clouds.
The long wind, across thousands upon thousands of miles,
Blows past the Jade-gate Pass.
The army of Han has gone down the Baiteng Road,
As the barbarian hordes probe at Qinghai Bay.
It is known that from the battlefield
Few ever live to return.
Men at Garrison look on the border scene,
Home thoughts deepen sorrow on their faces.
In the towered chambers tonight,
Ceaseless are the women's sighs.
Li Po |
I take my wine jug out among the flowers
to drink alone, without friends.
I raise my cup to entice the moon.
That, and my shadow, makes us three.
But the moon doesn't drink,
and my shadow silently follows.
I will travel with moon and shadow,
happy to the end of spring.
When I sing, the moon dances.
When I dance, my shadow dances, too.
We share life's joys when sober.
Drunk, each goes a separate way.
Constant friends, although we wander,
we'll meet again in the Milky Way.
Li Po |
We climbed Yoyang Tower with
all the scene around coming
into vision; looking up the
Great River seeing boats turn
and enter the Tungting Lake; geese
crying farewell to the river
as they flew south; evening falling
as if mountain tops upt up the moon
with their lips; and we in the Yoyang
Tower as if with heads amongst
the cloud, drinking wine as if the cups
came from heaven itself; then
having drunk our fill there blew
a cold wind filling out our
sleeves, it seeming as though
we were dancing in time with it.
Li Po |
You ask how I spend my time--
I nestle against a treetrunk
and listen to autumn winds
in the pines all night and day.
Shantung wine can't get me drunk.
The local poets bore me.
My thoughts remain with you,
like the Wen River, endlessly flowing.
Li Po |
My friend is lodging high in the Eastern Range,
Dearly loving the beauty of valleys and hills.
At green Spring he lies in the empty woods,
And is still asleep when the sun shines on igh.
A pine-tree wind dusts his sleeves and coat;
A peebly stream cleans his heart and ears.
I envy you, who far from strife and talk
Are high-propped on a pillow of blue cloud.
Stanley Kunitz |
Reading in Li Po
how "the peach blossom follows the water"
I keep thinking of you
because you were so much like
naturally with the sex
and the figure slighter.
Loving you was a kind
of Chinese guerilla war.
Thanks to your lightfoot genius
no Eighth Route Army
kept its lines more fluid,
traveled with less baggage
so nibbled the advantage.
Even with your small bad heart
you made a dance of departures.
In the cold spring rains
when last you failed me
I had nothing left to spend
but a red crayon language
on the character of the enemy
to break appointments,
to fight us not
with his strength
but with his weakness,
to kill us
not with his health
but with his sickness.
Pet, spitfire, blue-eyed pony,
here is a new note
I want to pin on your door,
though I am ten years late
and you are nowhere:
are you stillmistress of the valley,
what trophies drift downriver,
why did you keep me waiting?
Conrad Aiken |
Fanfare of northwest wind, a bluejay wind
announces autumn, and the equinox
rolls back blue bays to a far afternoon.
Somewhere beyond the Gorge Li Po is gone,
looking for friendship or an old love's sleeve
or writing letters to his children, lost,
and to his children's children, and to us.
What was his light? of lamp or moon or sun?
Say that it changed, for better or for worse,
sifted by leaves, sifted by snow; on mulberry silk
a slant of witch-light; on the pure text
a slant of genius; emptying mind and heart
for winecups and more winecups and more words.
What was his time? Say that it was a change,
but constant as a changing thing may be,
from chicory's moon-dark blue down the taut scale
to chicory's tenderest pink, in a pink field
such as imagination dreams of thought.
But of the heart beneath the winecup moon
the tears that fell beneath the winecup moon
for children lost, lost lovers, and lost friends,
what can we say but that it never ends?
Even for us it never ends, only begins.
Yet to spell down the poem on her page,
margining her phrases, parsing forth
the sevenfold prism of meaning, up the scale
from chicory pink to blue, is to assume
Li Po himself: as he before assumed
the poets and the sages who were his.
Like him, we too have eaten of the word:
with him are somewhere lost beyond the Gorge:
and write, in rain, a letter to lost children,
a letter long as time and brief as love.
And yet not love, not only love. Not caritas
or only that. Nor the pink chicory love,
deep as it may be, even to moon-dark blue,
in which the dragon of his meaning flew
for friends or children lost, or even
for the beloved horse, for Li Po's horse:
not these, in the self's circle so embraced:
too near, too dear, for pure assessment: no,
a letter crammed and creviced, crannied full,
storied and stored as the ripe honeycomb
with other faith than this. As of sole pride
and holy loneliness, the intrinsic face
worn by the always changing shape between
end and beginning, birth and death.
How moves that line of daring on the map?
Where was it yesterday, or where this morning
when thunder struck at seven, and in the bay
the meteor made its dive, and shed its wings,
and with them one more Icarus? Where struck
that lightning-stroke which in your sleep you saw
wrinkling across the eyelid? Somewhere else?
But somewhere else is always here and now.
Each moment crawls that lightning on your eyelid:
each moment you must die. It was a tree
that this time died for you: it was a rock
and with it all its local web of love:
a chimney, spilling down historic bricks:
perhaps a skyful of Ben Franklin's kites.
And with them, us. For we must hear and bear
the news from everywhere: the hourly news,
infinitesimal or vast, from everywhere.
Sole pride and loneliness: it is the state
the kingdom rather of all things: we hear
news of the heart in weather of the Bear,
slide down the rungs of Cassiopeia's Chair,
still on the nursery floor, the Milky Way;
and, if we question one, must question all.
What is this ‘man'? How far from him is ‘me'?
Who, in this conch-shell, locked the sound of sea?
We are the tree, yet sit beneath the tree,
among the leaves we are the hidden bird,
we are the singer and are what is heard.
What is this ‘world'? Not Li Po's Gorge alone,
and yet, this too might be. ‘The wind was high
north of the White King City, by the fields
of whistling barley under cuckoo sky,'
where, as the silkworm drew her silk, Li Po
spun out his thoughts of us. ‘Endless as silk'
(he said) ‘these poems for lost loves, and us,'
and, ‘for the peachtree, blooming in the ditch.'
Here is the divine loneliness in which
we greet, only to doubt, a voice, a word,
the smoke of a sweetfern after frost, a face
touched, and loved, but still unknown, and then
a body, still mysterious in embrace.
Taste lost as touch is lost, only to leave
dust on the doorsill or an ink-stained sleeve:
and yet, for the inadmissible, to grieve.
Of leaf and love, at last, only to doubt:
from world within or world without, kept out.
Caucus of robins on an alien shore
as of the Ho-Ho birds at Jewel Gate
southward bound and who knows where and never late
or lost in a roar at sea. Rovers of chaos
each one the ‘Rover of Chao,' whose slight bones
shall put to shame the swords. We fly with these,
have always flown, and they
stay with us here, stand still and stay,
while, exiled in the Land of Pa, Li Po
still at the Wine Spring stoops to drink the moon.
And northward now, for fall gives way to spring,
from Sandy Hook and Kitty Hawk they wing,
and he remembers, with the pipes and flutes,
drunk with joy, bewildered by the chance
that brought a friend, and friendship, how, in vain,
he strove to speak, ‘and in long sentences,' his pain.
Exiled are we. Were exiles born. The ‘far away,'
language of desert, language of ocean, language of sky,
as of the unfathomable worlds that lie
between the apple and the eye,
these are the only words we learn to say.
Each morning we devour the unknown. Each day
we find, and take, and spill, or spend, or lose,
a sunflower splendor of which none knows the source.
This cornucopia of air! This very heaven
of simple day! We do not know, can never know,
the alphabet to find us entrance there.
So, in the street, we stand and stare,
to greet a friend, and shake his hand,
yet know him beyond knowledge, like ourselves;
ocean unknowable by unknowable sand.
The locust tree spills sequins of pale gold
in spiral nebulae, borne on the Invisible
earthward and deathward, but in change to find
the cycles to new birth, new life. Li Po
allowed his autumn thoughts like these to flow,
and, from the Gorge, sends word of Chouang's dream.
Did Chouang dream he was a butterfly?
Or did the butterfly dream Chouang? If so,
why then all things can change, and change again,
the sea to brook, the brook to sea, and we
from man to butterfly; and back to man.
This 'I,' this moving ‘I,' this focal ‘I,'
which changes, when it dreams the butterfly,
into the thing it dreams of; liquid eye
in which the thing takes shape, but from within
as well as from without: this liquid ‘I':
how many guises, and disguises, this
nimblest of actors takes, how many names
puts on and off, the costumes worn but once,
the player queen, the lover, or the dunce,
hero or poet, father or friend,
suiting the eloquence to the moment's end;
childlike, or bestial; the language of the kiss
sensual or simple; and the gestures, too,
as slight as that with which an empire falls,
or a great love's abjured; these feignings, sleights,
savants, or saints, or fly-by-nights,
the novice in her cell, or wearing tights
on the high wire above a hell of lights:
what's true in these, or false? which is the ‘I'
of 'I's'? Is it the master of the cadence, who
transforms all things to a hoop of flame, where through
tigers of meaning leap? And are these true,
the language never old and never new,
such as the world wears on its wedding day,
the something borrowed with something chicory blue?
In every part we play, we play ourselves;
even the secret doubt to which we come
beneath the changing shapes of self and thing,
yes, even this, at last, if we should call
and dare to name it, we would find
the only voice that answers is our own.
We are once more defrauded by the mind.
Defrauded? No. It is the alchemy by which we grow.
It is the self becoming word, the word
becoming world. And with each part we play
we add to cosmic Sum and cosmic sum.
Who knows but one day we shall find,
hidden in the prism at the rainbow's foot,
the square root of the eccentric absolute,
and the concentric absolute to come.
The thousand eyes, the Argus ‘I's' of love,
of these it was, in verse, that Li Po wove
the magic cloak for his last going forth,
into the Gorge for his adventure north.
What is not seen or said? The cloak of words
loves all, says all, sends back the word
whether from Green Spring, and the yellow bird
'that sings unceasing on the banks of Kiang,'
or 'from the Green Moss Path, that winds and winds,
nine turns for every hundred steps it winds,
up the Sword Parapet on the road to Shuh.'
‘Dead pinetrees hang head-foremost from the cliff.
The cataract roars downward. Boulders fall
Splitting the echoes from the mountain wall.
No voice, save when the nameless birds complain,
in stunted trees, female echoing male;
or, in the moonlight, the lost cuckoo's cry,
piercing the traveller's heart. Wayfarer from afar,
why are you here? what brings you here? why here?'
Why here. Nor can we say why here. The peachtree bough
scrapes on the wall at midnight, the west wind
sculptures the wall of fog that slides
seaward, over the Gulf Stream.
comes through the wainscot, brings to his larder
the twinned acorn and chestnut burr. Our sleep
lights for a moment into dream, the eyes
turn under eyelids for a scene, a scene,
o and the music, too, of landscape lost.
And yet, not lost. For here savannahs wave
cressets of pampas, and the kingfisher
binds all that gold with blue.
Why here? why here?
Why does the dream keep only this, just this C?
Yes, as the poem or the music do?
The timelessness of time takes form in rhyme:
the lotus and the locust tree rehearse
a four-form song, the quatrain of the year:
not in the clock's chime only do we hear
the passing of the Now into the past,
the passing into future of the Now:
hut in the alteration of the bough
time becomes visible, becomes audible,
becomes the poem and the music too:
time becomes still, time becomes time, in rhyme.
Thus, in the Court of Aloes, Lady Yang
called the musicians from the Pear Tree Garden,
called for Li Po, in order that the spring,
tree-peony spring, might so be made immortal.
Li Po, brought drunk to court, took up his brush,
but washed his face among the lilies first,
then wrote the song of Lady Flying Swallow:
which Hsuang Sung, the emperor, forthwith played,
moving quick fingers on a flute of jade.
Who will forget that afternoon? Still, still,
the singer holds his phrase, the rising moon
remains unrisen. Even the fountain's falling blade
hangs in the air unbroken, and says: Wait!
Text into text, text out of text. Pretext
for scholars or for scholiasts. The living word
springs from the dying, as leaves in spring
spring from dead leaves, our birth from death.
And all is text, is holy text. Sheepfold Hill
becomes its name for us, anti yet is still
unnamed, unnamable, a book of trees
before it was a book for men or sheep,
before it was a book for words. Words, words,
for it is scarlet now, and brown, and red,
and yellow where the birches have not shed,
where, in another week, the rocks will show.
And in this marriage of text and thing how can we know
where most the meaning lies? We climb the hill
through bullbriar thicket and the wild rose, climb
past poverty-grass and the sweet-scented bay
scaring the pheasant from his wall, but can we say
that it is only these, through these, we climb,
or through the words, the cadence, and the rhyme?
Chang Hsu, calligrapher of great renown,
needed to put but his three cupfuls down
to tip his brush with lightning. On the scroll,
wreaths of cloud rolled left and right, the sky
opened upon Forever. Which is which?
The poem? Or the peachtree in the ditch?
Or is all one? Yes, all is text, the immortal text,
Sheepfold Hill the poem, the poem Sheepfold Hill,
and we, Li Po, the man who sings, sings as he climbs,
transposing rhymes to rocks and rocks to rhymes.
The man who sings. What is this man who sings?
And finds this dedicated use for breath
for phrase and periphrase of praise between
the twin indignities of birth and death?
Li Yung, the master of the epitaph,
forgetting about meaning, who himself
had added 'meaning' to the book of >things,'
lies who knows where, himself sans epitaph,
his text, too, lost, forever lost ...
And yet, no,
text lost and poet lost, these only flow
into that other text that knows no year.
The peachtree in the poem is still here.
The song is in the peachtree and the ear.
The winds of doctrine blow both ways at once.
The wetted finger feels the wind each way,
presaging plums from north, and snow from south.
The dust-wind whistles from the eastern sea
to dry the nectarine and parch the mouth.
The west wind from the desert wreathes the rain
too late to fill our wells, but soon enough,
the four-day rain that bears the leaves away.
Song with the wind will change, but is still song
and pierces to the rightness in the wrong
or makes the wrong a rightness, a delight.
Where are the eager guests that yesterday
thronged at the gate? Like leaves, they could not stay,
the winds of doctrine blew their minds away,
and we shall have no loving-cup tonight.
No loving-cup: for not ourselves are here
to entertain us in that outer year,
where, so they say, we see the Greater Earth.
The winds of doctrine blow our minds away,
and we are absent till another birth.
Beyond the Sugar Loaf, in the far wood,
under the four-day rain, gunshot is heard
and with the falling leaf the falling bird
flutters her crimson at the huntsman's foot.
Life looks down at death, death looks up at life,
the eyes exchange the secret under rain,
rain all the way from heaven: and all three
know and are known, share and are shared, a silent
moment of union and communion.
Have we come
this way before, and at some other time?
Is it the Wind Wheel Circle we have come?
We know the eye of death, and in it too
the eye of god, that closes as in sleep,
giving its light, giving its life, away:
clouding itself as consciousness from pain,
clouding itself, and then, the shutter shut.
And will this eye of god awake again?
Or is this what he loses, loses once,
but always loses, and forever lost?
It is the always and unredeemable cost
of his invention, his fatigue. The eye
closes, and no other takes its place.
It is the end of god, each time, each time.
Yet, though the leaves must fall, the galaxies
rattle, detach, and fall, each to his own
perplexed and individual death, Lady Yang
gone with the inkberry's vermilion stalk,
the peony face behind a fan of frost,
the blue-moon eyebrow behind a fan of rain,
beyond recall by any alchemist
or incantation from the Book of Change:
unresumable, as, on Sheepfold Hill,
the fir cone of a thousand years ago:
still, in the loving, and the saying so,
as when we name the hill, and, with the name,
bestow an essence, and a meaning, too:
do we endow them with our lives?
into another orbit: into a time
not theirs: and we become the bell to speak
this time: as we become new eyes
with which they see, the voice
in which they find duration, short or long,
the chthonic and hermetic song.
Beyond Sheepfold Hill,
gunshot again, the bird flies forth to meet
predestined death, to look with conscious sight
into the eye of light
the light unflinching that understands and loves.
And Sheepfold Hill accepts them, and is still.
The landscape and the language are the same.
And we ourselves are language and are land,
together grew with Sheepfold Hill, rock, and hand,
and mind, all taking substance in a thought
wrought out of mystery: birdflight and air
predestined from the first to be a pair:
as, in the atom, the living rhyme
invented her divisions, which in time,
and in the terms of time, would make and break
the text, the texture, and then all remake.
This powerful mind that can by thinking take
the order of the world and all remake,
will it, for joy in breaking, break instead
its own deep thought that thought itself be dead?
Already in our coil of rock and hand,
hidden in the cloud of mind, burning, fading,
under the waters, in the eyes of sand,
was that which in its time would understand.
Already in the Kingdom of the Dead
the scrolls were waiting for the names and dates
and what would there irrevocably be said.
The brush was in the hand, the poem was in the love,
the praise was in the word. The ‘Book of Lives'
listed the name, Li Po, as an Immortal;
and it was time to travel. Not, this year,
north to the Damask City, or the Gorge,
but, by the phoenix borne, swift as the wind,
to the Jade Palace Portal. There
look through the clouded to the clear
and there watch evil like a brush-stroke disappear
in the last perfect rhyme
of the begin-all-end-all poem, time.
Northwest by north. The grasshopper weathervane
bares to the moon his golden breastplate, swings
in his predicted circle, gilded legs and wings
bright with frost, predicting frost. The tide
scales with moon-silver, floods the marsh, fulfils
Payne Creek and Quivett Creek, rises to lift
the fishing-boats against a jetty wall;
and past them floods the plankton and the weed
and limp sea-lettuce for the horseshoe crab
who sleeps till daybreak in his nest of reed.
The hour is open as the mind is open.
Closed as the mind is closed. Opens as the hand opens
to receive the ghostly snowflakes of the moon, closes
to feel the sunbeams of the bloodstream warm
our human inheritance of touch. The air tonight
brings back, to the all-remembering world, its ghosts,
borne from the Great Year on the Wind Wheel Circle.
On that invisible wave we lift, we too,
and drag at secret moorings,
stirred by the ancient currents that gave us birth.
And they are here, Li Po and all the others,
our fathers and our mothers: the dead leaf's footstep
touches the grass: those who were lost at sea
and those the innocents the too-soon dead:
and all it ever knew is here in-gathered,
held in our hands, and in the wind
breathed by the pines on Sheepfold Hill.
How still the Quaker Graveyard, the Meeting House
how still, where Cousin Abiel, on a night like this,
now long since dead, but then how young,
how young, scuffing among the dead leaves after frost
looked up and saw the Wine Star, listened and heard
borne from all quarters the Wind Wheel Circle word:
the father within him, the mother within him, the self
coming to self through love of each for each.
In this small mute democracy of stones
is it Abiel or Li Po who lies
and lends us against death our speech?
They are the same, and it is both who teach.
The poets and the prophecies are ours:
and these are with us as we turn, in turn,
the leaves of love that fill the Book of Change.
Conrad Aiken |
What shall we talk of? Li Po? Hokusai?
You narrow your long dark eyes to fascinate me;
You smile a little. . . .Outside, the night goes by.
I walk alone in a forest of ghostly trees . . .
Your pale hands rest palm downwards on your knees.
'These lines—converging, they suggest such distance!
The soul is drawn away, beyond horizons.
Lured out to what? One dares not think.
Sometimes, I glimpse these infinite perspectives
In intimate talk (with such as you) and shrink . . .
'One feels so petty!—One feels such—emptiness!—'
You mimic horror, let fall your lifted hand,
And smile at me; with brooding tenderness . . .
Alone on darkened waters I fall and rise;
Slow waves above me break, faint waves of cries.
'And then these colors . . . but who would dare describe them?
This faint rose-coral pink . . this green—pistachio?—
So insubstantial! Like the dim ghostly things
Two lovers find in love's still-twilight chambers . . .
Old peacock-fans, and fragrant silks, and rings . . .
'Rings, let us say, drawn from the hapless fingers
Of some great lady, many centuries nameless,—
Or is that too sepulchral?—dulled with dust;
And necklaces that crumble if you touch them;
And gold brocades that, breathed on, fall to rust.
'No—I am wrong . . . it is not these I sought for—!
Why did they come to mind? You understand me—
You know these strange vagaries of the brain!—'
—I walk alone in a forest of ghostly trees;
Your pale hands rest palm downwards on your knees;
These strange vagaries of yours are all too plain.
'But why perplex ourselves with tedious problems
Of art or . . . such things? . . . while we sit here, living,
With all that's in our secret hearts to say!—'
Hearts?—Your pale hand softly strokes the satin.
You play deep music—know well what you play.
You stroke the satin with thrilling of finger-tips,
You smile, with faintly perfumed lips,
You loose your thoughts like birds,
Brushing our dreams with soft and shadowy words . .
We know your words are foolish, yet sit here bound
In tremulous webs of sound.
'How beautiful is intimate talk like this!—
It is as if we dissolved grey walls between us,
Stepped through the solid portals, become but shadows,
To hear a hidden music . . . Our own vast shadows
Lean to a giant size on the windy walls,
Or dwindle away; we hear our soft footfalls
Echo forever behind us, ghostly clear,
Music sings far off, flows suddenly near,
And dies away like rain . . .
We walk through subterranean caves again,—
Vaguely above us feeling
A shadowy weight of frescos on the ceiling,
Strange half-lit things,
Soundless grotesques with writhing claws and wings . . .
And here a beautiful face looks down upon us;
And someone hurries before, unseen, and sings . . .
Have we seen all, I wonder, in these chambers—
Or is there yet some gorgeous vault, arched low,
Where sleeps an amazing beauty we do not know? . . '
The question falls: we walk in silence together,
Thinking of that deep vault and of its secret . . .
This lamp, these books, this fire
Are suddenly blown away in a whistling darkness.
Deep walls crash down in the whirlwind of desire.
Robert Browning |
The morn when first it thunders in March,
The eel in the pond gives a leap, they say:
As I leaned and looked over the aloed arch
Of the villa-gate this warm March day,
No flash snapped, no dumb thunder rolled
In the valley beneath where, white and wide
And washed by the morning water-gold,
Florence lay out on the mountain-side.
River and bridge and street and square
Lay mine, as much at my beck and call,
Through the live translucent bath of air,
As the sights in a magic crystal ball.
And of all I saw and of all I praised,
The most to praise and the best to see
Was the startling bell-tower Giotto raised:
But why did it more than startle me?
Giotto, how, with that soul of yours,
Could you play me false who loved you so?
Some slights if a certain heart endures
Yet it feels, I would have your fellows know!
I' faith, I perceive not why I should care
To break a silence that suits them best,
But the thing grows somewhat hard to bear
When I find a Giotto join the rest.
On the arch where olives overhead
Print the blue sky with twig and leaf,
(That sharp-curled leaf which they never shed)
'Twixt the aloes, I used to lean in chief,
And mark through the winter afternoons,
By a gift God grants me now and then,
In the mild decline of those suns like moons,
Who walked in Florence, besides her men.
They might chirp and chaffer, come and go
For pleasure or profit, her men alive---
My business was hardly with them, I trow,
But with empty cells of the human hive;
---With the chapter-room, the cloister-porch,
The church's apsis, aisle or nave,
Its crypt, one fingers along with a torch,
Its face set full for the sun to shave.
Wherever a fresco peels and drops,
Wherever an outline weakens and wanes
Till the latest life in the painting stops,
Stands One whom each fainter pulse-tick pains:
One, wishful each scrap should clutch the brick,
Each tinge not wholly escape the plaster,
---A lion who dies of an ass's kick,
The wronged great soul of an ancient Master.
For oh, this world and the wrong it does
They are safe in heaven with their backs to it,
The Michaels and Rafaels, you hum and buzz
Round the works of, you of the little wit!
Do their eyes contract to the earth's old scope,
Now that they see God face to face,
And have all attained to be poets, I hope?
'Tis their holiday now, in any case.
Much they reck of your praise and you!
But the wronged great souls---can they be quit
Of a world where their work is all to do,
Where you style them, you of the little wit,
Old Master This and Early the Other,
Not dreaming that Old and New are fellows:
A younger succeeds to an elder brother,
Da Vincis derive in good time from Dellos.
And here where your praise might yield returns,
And a handsome word or two give help,
Here, after your kind, the mastiff girns
And the puppy pack of poodles yelp.
What, not a word for Stefano there,
Of brow once prominent and starry,
Called Nature's Ape and the world's despair
For his peerless painting? (See Vasari.)
There stands the Master. Study, my friends,
What a man's work comes to! So he plans it,
Performs it, perfects it, makes amends
For the toiling and moiling, and then, _sic transit!_
Happier the thrifty blind-folk labour,
With upturned eye while the hand is busy,
Not sidling a glance at the coin of their neighbour!
'Tis looking downward that makes one dizzy.
``If you knew their work you would deal your dole.''
May I take upon me to instruct you?
When Greek Art ran and reached the goal,
Thus much had the world to boast _in fructu_---
The Truth of Man, as by God first spoken,
Which the actual generations garble,
Was re-uttered, and Soul (which Limbs betoken)
And Limbs (Soul informs) made new in marble.
So, you saw yourself as you wished you were,
As you might have been, as you cannot be;
Earth here, rebuked by Olympus there:
And grew content in your poor degree
With your little power, by those statues' godhead,
And your little scope, by their eyes' full sway,
And your little grace, by their grace embodied,
And your little date, by their forms that stay.
You would fain be kinglier, say, than I am?
Even so, you will not sit like Theseus.
You would prove a model? The Son of Priam
Has yet the advantage in arms' and knees' use.
You're wroth---can you slay your snake like Apollo?
You're grieved---still Niobe's the grander!
You live---there's the Racers' frieze to follow:
You die---there's the dying Alexander.
So, testing your weakness by their strength,
Your meagre charms by their rounded beauty,
Measured by Art in your breadth and length,
You learned---to submit is a mortal's duty.
---When I say ``you'' 'tis the common soul,
The collective, I mean: the race of Man
That receives life in parts to live in a whole,
And grow here according to God's clear plan.
Growth came when, looking your last on them all,
You turned your eyes inwardly one fine day
And cried with a start---What if we so small
Be greater and grander the while than they?
Are they perfect of lineament, perfect of stature?
In both, of such lower types are we
Precisely because of our wider nature;
For time, theirs---ours, for eternity.
To-day's brief passion limits their range;
It seethes with the morrow for us and more.
They are perfect---how else? they shall never change:
We are faulty---why not? we have time in store.
The Artificer's hand is not arrested
With us; we are rough-hewn, nowise polished:
They stand for our copy, and, once invested
With all they can teach, we shall see them abolished.
'Tis a life-long toil till our lump be leaven---
The better! What's come to perfection perishes.
Things learned on earth, we shall practise in heaven:
Works done least rapidly, Art most cherishes.
Thyself shalt afford the example, Giotto!
Thy one work, not to decrease or diminish,
Done at a stroke, was just (was it not?) ``O!''
Thy great Campanile is still to finish.
Is it true that we are now, and shall be hereafter,
But what and where depend on life's minute?
Hails heavenly cheer or infernal laughter
Our first step out of the gulf or in it?
Shall Man, such step within his endeavour,
Man's face, have no more play and action
Than joy which is crystallized for ever,
Or grief, an eternal petrifaction?
On which I conclude, that the early painters,
To cries of ``Greek Art and what more wish you?''---
Replied, ``To become now self-acquainters,
``And paint man man, whatever the issue!
``Make new hopes shine through the flesh they fray,
``New fears aggrandize the rags and tatters:
``To bring the invisible full into play!
``Let the visible go to the dogs---what matters?''
Give these, I exhort you, their guerdon and glory
For daring so much, before they well did it.
The first of the new, in our race's story,
Beats the last of the old; 'tis no idle quiddit.
The worthies began a revolution,
Which if on earth you intend to acknowledge,
Why, honour them now! (ends my allocution)
Nor confer your degree when the folk leave college.
There's a fancy some lean to and others hate---
That, when this life is ended, begins
New work for the soul in another state,
Where it strives and gets weary, loses and wins:
Where the strong and the weak, this world's congeries,
Repeat in large what they practised in small,
Through life after life in unlimited series;
Only the scale's to be changed, that's all.
Yet I hardly know. When a soul has seen
By the means of Evil that Good is best,
And, through earth and its noise, what is heaven's serene,---
When our faith in the same has stood the test---
Why, the child grown man, you burn the rod,
The uses of labour are surely done;
There remaineth a rest for the people of God:
And I have had troubles enough, for one.
But at any rate I have loved the season
Of Art's spring-birth so dim and dewy;
My sculptor is Nicolo the Pisan,
My painter---who but Cimabue?
Nor ever was man of them all indeed,
From these to Ghiberti and Ghirlandaio,
Could say that he missed my critic-meed.
So, now to my special grievance---heigh ho!
Their ghosts still stand, as I said before,
Watching each fresco flaked and rasped,
Blocked up, knocked out, or whitewashed o'er:
---No getting again what the church has grasped!
The works on the wall must take their chance;
``Works never conceded to England's thick clime!''
(I hope they prefer their inheritance
Of a bucketful of Italian quick-lime.)
When they go at length, with such a shaking
Of heads o'er the old delusion, sadly
Each master his way through the black streets taking,
Where many a lost work breathes though badly---
Why don't they bethink them of who has merited?
Why not reveal, while their pictures dree
Such doom, how a captive might be out-ferreted?
Why is it they never remember me?
Not that I expect the great Bigordi,
Nor Sandro to hear me, chivalric, bellicose;
Nor the wronged Lippino; and not a word I
Say of a scrap of Fr Angelico's:
But are you too fine, Taddeo Gaddi,
To grant me a taste of your intonaco,
Some Jerome that seeks the heaven with a sad eye?
Not a churlish saint, Lorenzo Monaco?
Could not the ghost with the close red cap,
My Pollajolo, the twice a craftsman,
Save me a sample, give me the hap
Of a muscular Christ that shows the draughtsman?
No Virgin by him the somewhat petty,
Of finical touch and tempera crumbly---
Could not Alesso Baldovinetti
Contribute so much, I ask him humbly?
Margheritone of Arezzo,
With the grave-clothes garb and swaddling barret
(Why purse up mouth and beak in a pet so,
You bald old saturnine poll-clawed parrot?)
Not a poor glimmering Crucifixion,
Where in the foreground kneels the donor?
If such remain, as is my conviction,
The hoarding it does you but little honour.
They pass; for them the panels may thrill,
The tempera grow alive and tinglish;
Their pictures are left to the mercies still
Of dealers and stealers, Jews and the English,
Who, seeing mere money's worth in their prize,
Will sell it to somebody calm as Zeno
At naked High Art, and in ecstasies
Before some clay-cold vile Carlino!
No matter for these! But Giotto, you,
Have you allowed, as the town-tongues babble it,---
Oh, never! it shall not be counted true---
That a certain precious little tablet
Which Buonarroti eyed like a lover,---
Was buried so long in oblivion's womb
And, left for another than I to discover,
Turns up at last! and to whom?---to whom?
I, that have haunted the dim San Spirito,
(Or was it rather the Ognissanti?)
Patient on altar-step planting a weary toe!
Nay, I shall have it yet! _Detur amanti!_
My Koh-i-noor-or (if that's a platitude)
Jewel of Giamschid, the Persian Sofi's eye
So, in anticipative gratitude,
What if I take up my hope and prophesy?
When the hour grows ripe, and a certain dotard
Is pitched, no parcel that needs invoicing,
To the worse side of the Mont Saint Gothard,
We shall begin by way of rejoicing;
None of that shooting the sky (blank cartridge),
Nor a civic guard, all plumes and lacquer,
Hunting Radetzky's soul like a partridge
Over Morello with squib and cracker.
This time we'll shoot better game and bag 'em hot---
No mere display at the stone of Dante,
But a kind of sober Witanagemot
(Ex: ``Casa Guidi,'' _quod videas ante_)
Shall ponder, once Freedom restored to Florence,
How Art may return that departed with her.
Go, hated house, go each trace of the Loraine's,
And bring us the days of Orgagna hither!
How we shall prologize, how we shall perorate,
Utter fit things upon art and history,
Feel truth at blood-heat and falsehood at zero rate,
Make of the want of the age no mystery;
Contrast the fructuous and sterile eras,
Show---monarchy ever its uncouth cub licks
Out of the bear's shape into Chimra's,
While Pure Art's birth is still the republic's.
Then one shall propose in a speech (curt Tuscan,
Expurgate and sober, with scarcely an ``_issimo,_'')
To end now our half-told tale of Cambuscan,
And turn the bell-tower's _alt_ to _altissimo_:
And fine as the beak of a young beccaccia
The Campanile, the Duomo's fit ally,
Shall soar up in gold full fifty braccia,
Completing Florence, as Florence Italy.
Shall I be alive that morning the scaffold
Is broken away, and the long-pent fire,
Like the golden hope of the world, unbaffled
Springs from its sleep, and up goes the spire
While ``God and the People'' plain for its motto,
Thence the new tricolour flaps at the sky?
At least to foresee that glory of Giotto
And Florence together, the first am I!
* 1 A sculptor, died 1278.
* 2 Died 1455. Designed the bronze gates of the Baptistry at Florence.
* 3 A painter, died 1498.
* 4 The son of Fr Lippo Lippi. Wronged, because some of his
* pictures have been attributed to others.
* 5 Died 1366. One of Giotto's pupils and assistants.
* 6 Rough cast.
* 7 Painter, sculptor, and goldsmith.
* 8 Distemper---mixture of water and egg yolk.
* 9 Sculptor and architect, died 1313-
*10 All Saints.
*11 A Florentine painter, died 1576.
*12 Tartar king.
*13 A woodcock