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THE IMPROVISATRICE: LEADS AND CYDIPPE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: She sat her in her twilight bower
Last Line: As e'er was poured in woman's ear!
Alternate Author Name(s): L. E. L.; Maclean, Letitia

SHE sat her in her twilight bower,
A temple formed of leaf and flower;
Rose and myrtle framed the roof,
To a shower of April proof;
And primroses, pale gems of spring,
Lay on the green turf glistening,
Close by the violet, whose breath
Is so sweet in a dewy wreath.
And oh, that myrtle! how green it grew!
With flowers as white as the pearls of dew
That shone beside: and the glorious rose
Lay like a beauty in warm repose,
Blushing in slumber. The air was bright
With the spirit and glow of its crimson light.
CYDIPPE had turned from her columned hall,
Where, the queen of the feast, she was worshipped by all:
Where the vases were burning with spices and flowers,
And the odorous waters were playing in showers;
And lamps were blazing -- those lamps of perfume
Which shed such a charm of light over the bloom
Of woman, when Pleasure a spell has thrown
Over one night hour and made it her own.
And the ruby wine-cup shone with a ray,
As the gems of the East had there melted away;
And the bards were singing those songs of fire,
That bright eyes and the goblet so well inspire; --
While she, the glory and pride of the hour,
Sat silent and sad in her secret bower!

There is a grief that wastes the heart,
Like mildew on a tulip's dyes, --
When hope, deferred but to depart,
Loses its smiles, but keeps its sighs:
When love's bark, with its anchor gone,
Clings to a straw, and still trusts on.
Oh, more than all! -- methinks that love
Should pray that it might ever be
Beside the burning shrine which had
Its young heart's fond idolatry.
Oh, absence is the night of love!
Lovers are very children then!
Fancying ten thousand feverish shapes,
Until their light returns again.
A look, a word, is then recalled,
And thought upon until it wears,
What is, perhaps, a very shade,
The tone and aspect of our fears.
And this is what was withering now
The radiance of CYDIPPE'S brow.
She watched until her cheek grew pale;
The green wave bore no bounding sail:
Her sight grew dim; 'mid the blue air
No snowy dove came floating there,
The dear scroll hid beneath his wing,
With plume and soft eye glistening,
To seek again, in leafy dome,
The nest of its accustomed home!
Still far away, o'er land and seas,
Lingered the faithless LEADES.

She thought of the spring days, when she had been'
Lonely and lovely, a maiden queen:
When passion to her was a storm at sea,
Heard 'mid the green land's tranquillity.
But a stately warrior came from afar;
He bore on his bosom the glorious scar
So worshipped by woman -- the death-seal of war.
And the maiden's heart was an easy prize,
When valour and faith were her sacrifice.

Methinks, might that sweet season last,
In which our first love-dream is past,
Ere doubts and cares, and jealous pain,
Are flaws in the heart's diamond-chain: --
Men might forget to think on Heaven,
And yet have the sweet sin forgiven.

But ere the marriage-feast was spread,
LEADES said that he must brook
To part awhile from that best light,
Those eyes which fixed his every look:
Just press again his native shore,
And then he would that shore resign
For her dear sake, who was to him
His household-god! -- his spirit's snrine!

He came not! Then the heart's decay
Wasted her silently away: --
A sweet fount, which the mid-day sun
Has all too hotly looked upon!

It is most sad to watch the fall
Of autumn leaves! -- but worst of all
It is to watch the flower of spring
Faded in its fresh blossoming!
To see the once so clear blue orb
Its summer light and warmth forget;
Darkening beneath its tearful lid,
Like a rain-beaten violet!
To watch the banner-rose of health
Pass from the cheek! -- to mark how plain
Upon the wan and sunken brow,
Become the wanderings of each vein!
The shadowy hand so thin so pale!
The languid step! -- the drooping head!
The long wreaths of neglected hair!
The lip whence red and smile are fled!
And having watched thus, day by day,
Light, life, and colour, pass away!
To see, at length, the glassy eye
Fix dull in dread mortality;
Mark the last ray, catch the last breath,
Till the grave sets its sign of death!

This was CYDIPPE'S fate! -- They laid
The maiden underneath the shade
Of a green cypress -- and that hour
The tree was withered and stood bare!
The spring brought leaves to other trees,
But never other leaf grew there!
It stood, 'mid others flourishing,
A blighted, solitary thing.

The summer sun shone on that tree
When shot a vessel o'er the sea --
When sprang a warrior from the prow --
LEADES! by the stately brow.
Forgotten toil, forgotten care,
All his worn heart has had to bear.
That heart is full! He hears the sigh
That breathed 'Farewell!' so tenderly.
If even then it was most sweet,
What will it be that now they meet?
Alas! alas! Hope's fair deceit!
He spurred o'er land, has cut the wave,
To look but on CYDIPPE'S grave.

It has blossomed in beauty, that lone tree,
LEADES' kiss restored its bloom;
For wild he kissed the withered stem --
It grew upon CYDIPPE'S tomb!
And there he dwelt. The hottest ray,
Still dew upon the branches lay
Like constant tears. The winter came;
But still the green tree stood the same.
And it was said, at evening's close,
A sound of whispered music rose;
That 'twas the trace of viewless feet
Made the flowers more than flowers sweet.
At length LEADES died. That day,
Bark and green foliage passed away
From the lone tree, -- again a thing
Of wonder and of perishing!

ONE evening I had roamed beside
The winding of the Arno's tide;
The sky was flooded with moonlight:
Below were waters azure bright,
Palazzos with their marble halls,
Green gardens, silver waterfalls,
And orange groves and citron shades,
And cavaliers and dark-eyed maids;
Sweet voices singing, echoes sent
From many a rich-toned instrument.
I could not bear this loveliness!
It was on such a night as this
That love had lighted up my dream
Of long despair and short-lived bliss.
I sought the city; wandering on,
Unconscious where my steps might be:
My heart was deep in other thoughts;
All places were alike to me: --
At length I stopped beneath the walls
Of San Mark's old cathedral halls.
I entered: -- and, beneath the roof,
Ten thousand wax-lights burnt on high;
And incense on the censers fumed
As for some great solemnity.
The white-robed choristers were singing;
Their cheerful peals the bells were ringing:
Then deep-voiced music floated round,
As the far arches sent forth sound --
The stately organ: -- and fair bands
Of young girls strewed, with lavish hands,
Violets o'er the mosaic floor;
And sang while scattering the sweet store.

I turned me to a distant aisle
Where but a feeble glimmering came
(Itself in darkness) of the smile
Sent from the tapers' perfumed flame;
And coloured as each picture pane
Shed o'er the blaze its crimson stain: --
While, from the window o'er my head,
A dim and sickly gleam was shed
From the young moon, -- enough to show
That tomb and tablet lay below.
I leant upon one monument, --
'Twas sacred to unhappy love:
On it were carved a blighted pine --
A broken ring -- a wonded dove.
And two or three brief words told all
Her history who lay beneath: --
'The flowers -- at morn her bridal flowers, --
'Formed, e'er the eve, her funeral wreath.'

I could but envy her. I thought,
How sweet it must be thus to die!
Your last looks watched, -- your last sigh caught,
As life or heaven were in that sigh!
Passing in loveliness and light;
Your heart as pure, -- your cheek as bright
As the spring-rose, whose petals shut
By sun unscorched, by shower unwet;
Leaving behind a memory
Shrined in love's fond eternity.

But I was wakened from this dream
By a burst of light -- a gush of song --
A welcome, as the stately doors
Poured in a gay and gorgeous throng.
I could see all from where I stood.
And first I looked upon the bride;
She was a pale and lovely girl; --
But, oh God! who was by her side? --
LORENZO! -- No, I did not speak;
My heart beat high, but could not break.
I shrieked not, wept not: but stood there
Motionless in my still despair;
As I were forced by some strange thrall,
To bear with and to look on all, --
I heard the hymn, I heard the vow;
(Mine ear throbs with them even now!)
I saw the young bride's timid cheek
Blushing beneath her silver veil.
I saw LORENZO kneel! Methought
('Twas but a thought!) he too was pale.
But when it ended, and his lip
Was prest to hers -- I saw no more!
My heart grew cold, -- my brain swam round, --
I sank upon the cloister floor!
I lived, -- if that may be called life,
From which each charm of life has fled --
Happiness gone, with hope and love, --
In all but breath already dead.

Rust gathered on the silent chords
Of my neglected lyre, -- the breeze
Was now its mistress: music brought
For me too bitter memories!
The ivy darkened o'er my bower;
Around, the weeds choked every flower.
I pleased me in this desolateness,
As each thing bore my fate's impress,
At length I made myself a task --
To paint that Cretan maiden's fate,
Whom Love taught such deep happiness,
And whom Love left so desolate.
I drew her on a rocky shore: --
Her black hair loose, and sprinkled o'er
With white sea-foam; -- her arms were bare,
Flung upwards in their last despair.
Her naked feet the pebbles prest;
The tempest-wind sang in her vest:
A wild stare in her glassy eyes;
White lips, as parched by their hot sighs;
And cheek more pallid than the spray
Which, cold and colourless, on it lay: --
Just such a statue as should be
Placed ever, Love! beside thy shrine;
Warning thy victims of what ills --
What burning tears, false god! are thine.
Before her was the darkling sea:
Behind the barren mountains rose --
A fit home for the broken heart
To weep away life, wrongs, and woes!

I had now but one hope: -- that when
The hand that traced these tints was cold --
Its pulse but in their passion seen --
LORENZO might these tints behold,
And find my grief; -- think -- see -- feel all
I felt, in this memorial!

It was one evening, -- the rose light
Was o'er each green veranda shining;
Spring was just breaking, and white buds
Were 'mid the darker ivy twining,
My hall was filled with the perfume
Sent from the early orange bloom:
The fountain, in the midst, was fraught
With rich hues from the sunset caught; --
And the first song came from the dove,
Nestling in the shrub alcove.
But why pause on my happiness? --
Another step was with mine there,
Another sigh than mine made sweet
With its dear breath the scented air!
LORENZO! could it be my hand
That now was trembling in thine own?
LORENZO! could it be mine ear
That drank the music of thy tone?

We sat us by a lattice, where
Came in the soothing evening breeze,
Rich with the gifts of early flowers,
And the soft wind-lute's symphonies.
And in the twilight's vesper-hour,
Beneath the hanging jasmine shower,
I heard a tale, -- as fond, as dear
As e'er was poured in woman's ear!

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