Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE IMPROVISATRICE: INTRODUCTION, by LETITIA ELIZABETH LANDON



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THE IMPROVISATRICE: INTRODUCTION, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: I am a daughter of that land
Last Line: Her latest, wildest song was breaking.
Alternate Author Name(s): L. E. L.; Maclean, Letitia


I AM a daughter of that land,
Where the poet's lip and the painter's hand
Are most divine, -- where the earth and sky,
Are picture both and poetry --
I am of Florence. 'Mid the chill
Of hope and feeling, oh! I still
Am proud to think to where I owe
My birth, though but the dawn of woe!

My childhood passed 'mid radiant things,
Glorious as Hope's imaginings;
Statues but known from shapes of the earth,
By being too lovely for mortal birth;
Paintings whose colours of life were caught
From the fairy tints in the rainbow wrought;
Music whose sighs had a spell like those
That float on the sea at the evening's close;
Language so silvery, that every word
Was like the lute's awakening chord;
Skies half sunshine, and half starlight;
Flowers whose lives were a breath of delight;
Leaves whose green pomp knew no withering;
Fountains bright as the skies of our spring;
And songs whose wild and passionate line
Suited a soul of romance like mine.

My power was but a woman's power;
Yet, in that great and glorious dower
Which Genius gives, I had my part:
I poured my full and burning heart
In song, and on the canvass made
My dreams of beauty visible;
I knew not which I loved the most --
Pencil or lute, -- both loved so well.

Oh, yet my pulse throbs to recall,
When first upon the gallery's wall
Picture of mine was placed, to share
Wonder and praise from each one there!
Sad were my shades; methinks they had
Almost a tone of prophecy --
I ever had, from earliest youth,
A feeling what my fate would be.

My first was of a gorgeous hall,
Lighted up for festival;
Braided tresses, and cheeks of bloom,
Diamond agraff, and foam-white plume;
Censers of roses, vases of light,
Like what the moon sheds on a summer night.
Youths and maidens with linked hands,
Joined in the graceful sarabands,
Smiled on the canvass; but apart
Was one who leant in silent mood,
As revelry to his sick heart
Were worse than veriest solitude.
Pale, dark-eyed, beautiful, and young,
Such as he had shone o'er my slumbers,
When I had only slept to dream
Over again his magic numbers.

Divinest Petrarch! he whose lyre,
Like morning light, half dew, half fire,
To Laura and to love was vowed --
He looked on one, who with the crowd
Mingled, but mixed not; on whose cheek
There was a blush, as if she knew
Whose look was fixed on her's. Her eye,
Of a spring-sky's delicious blue,
Had not the language of that bloom,
But mingling tears, and light, and gloom,
Was raised abstractedly to Heaven: --
No sign was to her lover given.
I painted her with golden tresses,
Such as float on the wind's caresses
When the laburnums wildly fling
Their sunny blossoms to the spring,
A cheek which had the crimson hue
Upon the sun-touched nectarine;
A lip of perfume and of dew;
A brow like twilight's darkened line.
I strove to catch cach charm that long
Has lived, -- thanks to her lover's song!
Each grace he numbered one by one,
That shone in her of Avignon.

I ever thought that poet's fate
Utterly lone and desolate.
It is the spirit's bitterest pain
To love, to be beloved again;
And yet between a gulf which ever
The hearts that burn to meet must sever:
And he was vowed to one sweet star,
Bright yet to him, but bright afar.

O'er some, Love's shadow may but pass
As passes the breath-stain o'er glass;
And pleasures, cares, and pride combined,
Fill up the blank Love leaves behind.
But there are some whose love is high,
Entire, and sole idolatry;
Who, turning from a heartless world,
Ask some dear thing, which may renew
Affection's severed links, and be
As true as they themselves are true.
But Love's bright fount is never pure;
And all his pilgrims must endure
All passion's mighty suffering
Ere they may reach the blessed spring.
And some who waste their lives to find
A prize which they may never win:
Like those who search for Irem's groves,
Which found, they may not enter in.
Where is the sorrow but appears
In Love's long catalogue of tears?
And some there are who leave the path
In agony and fierce disdain;
But bear upon each cankered breast
The scar that never heals again.

My next was of a minstrel too,
Who proved what woman's hand might do,
When, true to the heart pulse, it woke
The harp. Her head was bending down,
As if in weariness, and near,
But unworn, was a laurel crown.
She was not beautiful, if bloom
And smiles form beauty; for, like death,
Her brow was ghastly; and her lip
Was parched, as fever were its breath.
There was a shade upon her dark,
Large, floating eyes, as if each spark
Of minstrel ecstasy was fled,
Yet leaving them no tears to shed;
Fixed in their hopelessness of care,
And reckless in their great despair.
She sat beneath a cypress tree,
A little fountain ran beside,
And, in the distance, one dark rock
Threw its long shadow o'er the tide;
And to the west, where the nightfall
Was darkening day's gemm'd coronal,
Its white shafts crimsoning in the sky
Arose the sun-god's sanctuary.
I deemed, that of lyre, life, and love
She was a long, last farewell taking; --
That, from her pale and parched lips,
Her latest, wildest song was breaking.





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