Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE ROSE: THE ITALIAN MINSTREL'S TALE, by LETITIA ELIZABETH LANDON



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THE ROSE: THE ITALIAN MINSTREL'S TALE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: The count gonfali held a feast that night
Last Line: Less from a vision of earth than of heaven.
Alternate Author Name(s): L. E. L.; Maclean, Letitia


THE Count GONFALI held a feast that night
And colour'd lamps sent forth their odorous light
Over gold carvings and the purple fall
Of tapestry; and around each stately hall
Were statues, pale and finely shaped and fair,
As if all beauty save her life were there;
And, like light clouds floating around each room,
The censers roll'd their volumes of perfume;
And scented waters mingled with the breath
Of flowers, which died as if they joy'd in death;
And the white vases, white as mountain snow,
Look'd yet more delicate in the rich glow
Of summer blossoms hanging o'er each side,
Like sunset reddening o'er a silver tide.
There was the tulip, with its rainbow globe;
And, like the broidery on a silken robe
Made for the beauty's festal midnight hours,
The sparkling jessamine shook its silver showers;
Like timid hopes the lily shrank from sight:
The rose leant as it languish'd with delight,
Yet, bride-like, drooping in its crimson shame;
And the anemone, whose cheek of flame
Is golden, as it were the flower the sun
In his noon hour most loved to look upon.

At first the pillar'd halls were still and lone,
As if some fairy palace all unknown
To mortal eye or step. This was not long;
Waken'd the lutes, and swell'd a burst of song,
And the vast mirrors glitter'd with the crowd
Of changing shapes. The young, the fair, the proud,
Came thronging in; and the gay cavalier
Took some fair flower from the fairest near,
And gave it to the dark-eyed beauty's hand,
To mark his partner for the saraband;
And graceful steps pass'd on, whose tender tread
Was as the rose-leaf in the autumn shed;
And witching words, raising on the young cheek
Blushes that had no need of words to speak.
Many were lovely there; but, of that many,
Was one who shone the loveliest of any,
The young OLYMPIA. On her face the dyes
Were yet warm with the dance's exercise,
The laugh upon her full red lip yet hung,
And, arrow-like, flash'd light words from her tongue
She had more loveliness than beauty: hers
Was that enchantment which the heart confers;
A mouth sweet from its smiles, a glancing eye,
Which had o'er all expression mastery;
Laughing its orb, but the long dark lash made
Somewhat of sadness with its twilight shade,
And suiting well the upcast look which seem'd
At times as it of melancholy dream'd;
Her cheek was as a rainbow, it so changed,
As each emotion o'er its surface ranged;
And every word had its companion blush,
But evanescent as the crimson flush
That tints the daybreak; and her step was light
As the gale passing o'er the leaves at night;
In truth those snow feet were too like the wind,
Too slight to leave a single trace behind.
She lean'd against a pillar, and one hand
Smooth'd back the curls that had escaped the band
Of wreathed red roses, -- soft and fitting chain
In bondage such bright prisoners to retain.
The other was from the white marble known
But by the clasping of its emerald zone:
And lighted up her brow, and flash'd her eye,
As many that were wandering careless by
Caught but a sound, and paused to hear what more
Her lip might utter of its honey store.
She had that sparkling wit which is like light,
Making all things touch'd with its radiance bright;
And a sweet voice whose words would chain all round,
Although they had no other charm than sound.
And many named her name, and each with praise;
Some with her passionate beauty fill'd their gaze,
Some mark'd her graceful step, and others spoke
Of the so many hearts that own'd the yoke
Of her bewildering smile; meantime, her own
Seem'd as that it no other love had known
Than its sweet loves of nature, music, song,
Which as by right to woman's world belong,
And make it lovely for Love's dwelling-place.
Alas, that he should leave his fiery trace!
But this bright creature's brow seem'd all too fair,
Too gay, for Love to be a dweller there;
For Love brings sorrow: yet you might descry
A trouble flashing in that brilliant eye,
A troubled colour on that varying cheek,
A hurry in the tremulous lip to speak
Avoidance of sad topics, as to shun
Somewhat the spirit dared not rest upon;
An unquiet feverishness, a change of place,
A pretty pettishness, if on her face
A look dwelt as in scrutiny to seek
What hidden meanings from its change might break.

One gazed with silent homage, one who caught
Her every breath, and blush, and look, and thought;
One whose step mingled not with the gay crowd
That circled round her as of right allow'd,
But one who stood aloof with that lone pride
Which ever to deep passion is allied.
Half scorning, yet half envying the gay ring
That gather'd round with gentle blandishing,
He stood aloof; and cold and stern and high,
Look'd as he mocked at their idolatry:
Yet long'd his knee to bend before the shrine
Of the sweet image his heart own'd divine;
While, half in anger that she had not known
What even to himself he would not own.
He knew not how a woman's heart will keep
The mystery of itself, and like the deep
Will shine beneath the sunbeam, flash and flow
O'er the rich bark that perishes below.
She felt he gazed upon her, and her cheek
Wore added beauty in its crimson break;
And softer smiles were on her lip, like those
The summer moonlight sheds upon the rose;
And her eye sparkled, like the wine-cup's brim,
Mantling in light, though it turn'd not to him.
Again the dancers gather'd; from them one
Took gaily her fair hand, and they are gone.
LEONI follow'd not, yet as they pass'd
How could OLYMPIA'S light step be the last?
Yet pass'd she quickly by him, and the haste
From her wreathed hair one fragrant rose displaced.
LEONI saw it fall; he is alone,
And he may make the fairy gift his own.
He took the flower, and to his lip 'twas press'd,
One moment, and 'tis safe within his breast;
But while he linger'd dreaming o'er its bloom,
OLYMPIA'S step again is in the room
With the young Cavalier, who urged her way,
And said her rose beside the column lay,
For there he miss'd it, and some flattering word
Fill'd up the whisper which he only heard.
LEONI flung it down in carelessness,
As he had mark'd them not, and held it less
From knowledge of his act than vacant thought,
While the mind on some other subject wrought.
In haste he left them both, but he could hear
The pleading of the gallant Cavalier
For that rose as a gift. He might not tell
What answer from the maiden's lip then fell,
But when they met again he mark'd her hair
Where it had wreathed, -- the rosebud was not there.
They pass'd and repass'd: he, cold, silently,
As was his wont; but she, with flashing eye,
And blush lit up to crimson, seem'd to wear
More than accustom'd gladness in her air.
Ah! the heart overacts its part; its mirth,
Like light, will all too often take its birth
'Mid darkness and decay; those smiles that press,
Like the gay crowd round, are not happiness;
For peace broods quiet on her dove-like wings,
And this false gaiety a radiance flings,
Dazzling but hiding not; and some who dwelt
Upon her meteor beauty, sadness felt;
Its very brilliance spoke the fever'd breast;
Thus glitter not the waters when at rest.

The scene is changed, the maiden is alone
To brood upon Hope's temple overthrown;
The hue has left her lip, the light her eye,
And she has flung her down as if to die.
Back from her forehead was the rich hair swept,
Which yet its festal braid of roses kept.
She was in solitude: the silent room
Was in the summer's sweet and shadowy gloom;
The sole light from the oratory came,
Where a small lamp set forth its scented flame
Beneath the Virgin's picture; but the wind
Stole from the casement, for the jasmine twined,
With its luxuriant boughs, too quickly grew,
To let the few dim star-beams wander through.
In her hand was a rose; she held the flower
As if her eye were spell-bound by its power.
It was spell-bound; coldly that flower repress'd
Sweet hopes, -- ay, hopes, albeit unconfess'd.
Check'd, vainly check'd, the bitter grief recurs --
That rose flung down because that rose was hers!
And at the thought paleness in blushes fled,
Had he, then, read her heart, and scorn'd when read?
Oh! better perish, than endure that thought.
She started from her couch; when her eye caught
The Virgin's picture. Seem'd it that she took
Part in her votary's suffering; the look
Spoke mild reproof, touch'd with grave tenderness,
Pitying her grief, yet blaming her excess.
OLYMPIA turn'd away, she might not bear
To meet such holy brow, such placid air,
At least not yet; for she must teach her breast
A lesson of submission, if not rest,
And still each throbbing pulse, ere she might kneel
And pray for peace she had not sought to feel.

She sought the casement, lured by the soft light
Of the young moon, now rising on the night.
The cool breeze kiss'd her, and a jasmine spray
Caught in her tresses, as to woo her stay.
And there were sights and sounds that well might fling
A charmed trance on deepest suffering.
For stood the palace close on the sea shore;
Not like those northern ones, where breakers roar,
And rugged rocks and barren sands are blent, --
At once both desolate and magnificent;
But here the beech had turf and trees that grew
Down to the water-side, and made its blue
Mirror for their dark shapes. Is nought so fair
But must there come somewhat of shadow there?
Whate'er thou touchest there must be some shade,
Fair earth, such destiny for thee is made.

It was a night to gaze upon the sea,
Marvel, and envy its tranquillity;
It was a night to gaze upon the earth,
And feel mankind were not her favourite birth;
It was a night to gaze upon the sky,
Pine for its loveliness, and pray to die.
OLYMPIA felt the hour; from her cheek fled
Passion's untranquil rose, she bow'd her head:
For the thick tears like hasty childhood's came;
She hid her face, for tears are shed with shame.
Her heart had spent its tempest, like the cloud
When summer rain bursts from its stormy shroud;
Pale, sad, but calm, she turn'd, and bent the knee,
In meekest prayer, Madonna fair, to thee.
Where might the maiden's soul, thus crush'd and riven,
Turn from its mortal darkness, but to Heaven?
It is in vain to say that love is not
The life and colour of a woman's lot.
It is her strength; for what, like love's caress,
Will guard and guide her own weak tenderness?
It is her pride, flecting and false the while,
To see her master suing for her smile.
Calls it not all her best affections forth, --
Pure faith, devotedness, whose fruitless worth
Is all too little felt? O man has power
Of head and hand, -- heart is a woman's dower!

Youth, beauty, rank, and wealth, all these combined, --
Can these be wretched? Mystery of the mind!
Whose happiness is in itself, but still
Has not that happiness at its own will.

And she was wretched; she, the young, the fair,
The good, the kind, bow'd down in her despair.
Ay, bitterest of the bitter, this worst pain, --
To know love's offering has been in vain;
Rejected, scorn'd, and trampled under foot,
Its bloom and leaves destroy'd, not so its root.
"He loves me not," -- no other word or sound
An echo in OLYMPIA'S bosom found.
She thought on many a look and many a tone
From which she gather'd hope, -- now these were gone,
Life were too burthensome, save that it led
To death; and peace, at least, was with the dead.
One pang remain'd: perchance, though unconfess'd,
Some secret hope yet linger'd in her breast;
But this, too, was destroy'd. She learn'd next morn
Sea winds and waters had LEONI borne
Afar to other lands; and she had now
But only to her hapless fate to bow.

She changed, she faded, she, the young, the gay,
Like the first rose Spring yields to pale decay.
Still her lip wore the sweetness of a smile,
But it forgot its gaiety the while.
Her voice had ever a low gentle tone,
But now 'twas tremulous as Sorrow's own.
Her step fell softer, as it were subdued
To suit its motion to her alter'd mood;
As if her every movement, gesture, look,
Their bearing from the spirit's sadness took;
And yet there was no word which told that grief
Prey'd on the heart, as blight preys on the leaf.
But meeker tenderness to those around,
A soothing, sharing love, as if she found
Her happiness in theirs; more mild, more kind,
As if a holier rule were on her mind.
I cannot choose but marvel at the way
In which our lives pass on from day to day,
Learning strange lessons in the human heart,
And yet like shadows letting them depart.
Is misery so familiar that we bring
Ourselves to view it as a usual thing?
Thus is it; how regardless pass we by
The cheek to paleness worn, the heavy eye!
We do too little feel each other's pain;
We do relax too much the social chain
That binds us to each other; slight the care
There is for grief in which we have no share.

OLYMPIA felt all this; it loosed one more
Of her heart's ties, and earth's illusions wore
The aspect of their truth, -- a gloomy show,
But what it well befits the soul to know.
It taught the lesson of how vain the toil
To build our hopes upon earth's fragile soil.
Oh! only those who suffer, those may know
How much of piety will spring from woe.

Days, weeks, and months pass'd onwards, and once more
LEONI stood upon his native shore.
Slight change there was in him: perchance his brow
Wore somewhat more of settled shadow now;
Somewhat of inward grief, too, though repress'd,
Was in his scornful speech and bitter jest;
For misery, like a masquer, mocks at all
In which it has no part, or one of gall.
I will say that he loved her, but say not
That his, like hers, was an all-blighted lot;
For ever in man's bosom will man's pride
An equal empire with his love divide.

It was one glorious sunset, lone and mute,
Save a young page who sometimes waked his lute
With snatches of sad song; LEONI paced
His stately hall, and much might there be traced
What were the workings of its owner's mind.
Red wine was in a silver vase enshrined,
But rudely down the cup was flung, undrain'd,
So hastily, the leaf below was stain'd;
For many an open'd volume lay beside,
As each for solace had in vain been tried:
And now, worn, wearied, with his solitude,
He strode, half sad, half listless in his mood,
Listening the lute or the deep ocean wave,
When an attendant enter'd in and gave
A packet to his hand. Careless he gazed,
And broke the seal. Why! the red flush has raised
Its passion to his brow -- what! is the name
There written? -- from OLYMPIA, then, it came.

"One word, LEONI, 'tis my first and last,
And never spoken but that life is passed.
It is earth's lingering dreaming, that I pine
To know these lines will meet one look of thine;
If possible upon thy heart to fling
One gentle memory, one soft thought to cling
To thy more mournful hours; to bid thee take
A pledge too dearly treasured for thy sake,
And one of mine. Ah! this may be forgiven;
'Tis the last weakness of the bride of Heaven,
Which I shall be or e'er this comes to tell
How much thou hast been loved. Farewell, farewell!"

He took her gift: well known the pledges there,
A wither'd rose, a tress of silken hair.
SUNNY and blue was the minstrel's eye,
Like the lake when noontide is passing by;
And his hair fell down in its golden rings,
As bright and as soft as his own harp strings,
Yet with somewhat wild upon lip and cheek,
As forth the enthusiast spirit would break
To wander at times through earth and air,
And feed upon all the wonders there.
A changeful prelude his light notes rung,
As remembering all they had ever sung.
Now the deep numbers rolled along,
Like the fiery sweep of a battle song;
Now sad, yet bold, as those numbers gave
Their last farewell to the victor's grave;
Then was it soft and low, as it brought
The depths of the maiden's lovelorn thought: --
Harp of Erin! hath song a tone
Not to thy gifted numbers known? --
But the latest touch was light and calm,
As the voice of a hymn, the night-falling balm;
Holy and sweet, as its music were given
Less from a vision of earth than of heaven.





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