Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, GRISELDA: CHAPTER 2, by WILFRID SCAWEN BLUNT



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GRISELDA: CHAPTER 2, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Thus then it was. Griselda's childhood ends
Last Line: "to speak the unspoken ""yes"" of yesterday."
Subject(s): Novels & Novelists; Prophecy & Prophets; Women


THUS then it was. Griselda's childhood ends
With this untoward night; and what portends
May only now be guessed by those who read
Signs on the earth and wonders overhead.
I dare not prophesy.

What next appears
In the vain record of Griselda's years
Is hardly yet a token, for her life
Shewed little outward sign of change or strife,
Though she was changed and though perhaps at war.
Her face still shone untroubled as a star
In the world's firmament, and still she moved,
A creature to be wondered at and loved.
Her zeal, her wit, her talents, her good sense
Were all unchanged, though each seemed more intense
And lit up with new passion and inspired
To active purpose, valiant and untired.
She faced the world, talked much and well, made friends,
Promoted divers schemes for divers ends,
Artistic, social, philanthropical:
She had a store of zeal for each and all.
She pensioned poets, nobly took in hand
An emigration plan to Newfoundland,
Which ended in disaster and a ball.
She visited St. George's hospital,
The Home for Fallen Women, founded schools
Of music taught on transcendental rules.
L. House was dull though splendid. She had schemes
Of a vast London palace on the Thames,
Which should combine all orders new and old
Of architectural taste a house could hold,
And educate the masses. Then one day,
She fairly wearied and her soul gave way.

Again she sought Lord L., but not to ask
This time his counsel in the thankless task
She could no more make good, the task of living.
He was too mere a stranger to her grieving,
Her needs, her weakness. All her woman's heart
Was in rebellion at the idle part
He played in her sad life, and needed not
Mere pity for a pain to madness wrought.
She did not ask his sympathy. She said
Only that she was weary as the dead,
And needed change of air, and life, and scene:
She wished to go where all the world had been—
To Paris, Florence, Rome. She could not die
And not have seen the Alps and Italy.
Lord L. had tried all Europe, and knew best
Where she could flee her troubles and find rest.
Such was her will. Lord L., without more goad,
Prepared for travel—and they went abroad.

I will not follow here from day to day
Griselda's steps. Suffice it if I say
She found her wished-for Paris wearisome,
Another London and without her home,
And so went on, as still the fashion was,
Some years ago, ere Pullman cars with gas
And quick night flittings had submerged mankind
In one mad dream of luggage left behind,
By the Rhone boat to Provence. This to her
Seemed a delicious land, strange, barren, fair,
An old-world wilderness of greys and browns,
Rocks, olive-gardens, grim dismantled towns,
Deep-streeted, desolate, yet dear to see,
Smelling of oil and of the Papacy.
Griselda first gave reins to her romance
In this forgotten corner of old France,
Feeding her soul on that ethereal food,
The manna of days spent in solitude.
Lord L. was silent. She, as far away,
Saw other worlds which were not of to-day,
With cardinals, popes, Petrarch and the Muse.
She stopped to weep with Laura at Vaucluse,
Where waiting in the mistral poor Lord L.,
Who did not weep, sat, slept and caught a chill;
This sent them southwards on through Christendom,
To Genoa, Florence, and at last to Rome,
Where they remained the winter.

Change had wrought
A cure already in Griselda's thought,
Or half a cure. The world in truth is wide,
If we but pace it out from side to side,
And our worst miseries thus the smaller come.
Griselda was ashamed to grieve in Rome,
Among the buried griefs of centuries,
Her own sweet soul's too pitiful disease.
She found amid that dust of human hopes
An incantation for all horoscopes,
A better patience in that wreck of Time:
Her secret woes seemed chastened and sublime
There in the amphitheatre of woe.
She suffered with the martyrs. These would know,
Who offered their chaste lives and virgin blood,
How mortal frailty best might be subdued.
She saw the incense of her sorrow rise
With theirs as an accepted sacrifice
Before the face of the Eternal God
Of that Eternal City, and she trod
The very stones which seemed their griefs to sound
Beneath her steps, as consecrated ground.
In face of such a suffering hers must be
A drop, a tear in the unbounded sea
Which girds our lives. Rome was the home of grief,
Where all might bring their pain and find relief,
The temple of all sorrows: surely yet,
Sorrow's self here seemed swallowed up in it.

'Twas thus she comforted her soul. And then,
She had found a friend, a phœnix among men,
Which made it easier to compound with life,
Easier to be a woman and a wife.

This was Prince Belgirate. He of all
The noble band to whose high fortune fall
The name and title proudest upon Earth
While pride shall live by privilege of birth,
The name of Roman, shone conspicuous
The head and front of his illustrious house,
Which had produced two pontiffs and a saint
Before the world had heard of Charles le Quint;
A most accomplished nobleman in truth,
And wise beyond the manner of his youth,
With wit and art and learning, and that sense
Of policy which still is most intense
Among the fertile brains of Italy,
A craft inherited from days gone by.
As scholar he was known the pupil apt
Of Mezzofanti, in whose learning lapped
And prized and tutored as a wondrous child,
He had sucked the milk of knowledge undefiled
While yet a boy, and brilliantly anon
Had pushed his reputation thus begun
Through half a score of tongues. In art his place
Was as chief patron of the rising race,
Which dreamed new conquests on the glorious womb
Of ancient beauty laid asleep in Rome.
The glories of the past he fain would see
Wrought to new life in this new century,
By that continuous instinct of her sons,
Which had survived Goths, Vandals, Lombards, Huns,
To burst upon a wondering world again
With full effulgence in the Julian reign.

In politics, though prudently withdrawn
From the public service, which he held in scorn,
As being unworthy the deliberate zeal
Of one with head to think or heart to feel;
And being neither priest, nor soldier, nor
Versed in the practice of Canonic lore,
He made his counsels felt and privately
Lent his best influence to "the Powers that be,"
Counsels the better valued that he stood
Alone, among the youth of stirring blood,
And bowed not to that Baal his proud knee,
The national false goddess, Italy.
He was too stubborn in his Roman pride
To trick out this young strumpet as a bride,
And held in classic scorn who would become
Less than a Roman citizen in Rome.
A man of heart besides and that light wit
Which leavens all, even pedantry's conceit.
None better knew than he the art to shew
A little less in talk than all he knew.
His manner too, and voice, and countenance,
Imposed on all, and these he knew to enhance
By certain freedoms and simplicities
Of language, which set all his world at ease.
A very peer and prince and paragon,
Griselda thought, Rome's latest, worthiest son,
An intellectual phœnix.

On her night
A sudden dawn had broke, portentous, bright.
Her soul had found its fellow. From the day
Of their first meeting on the Appian Way,
Beside Metella's tomb, where they had discussed
The doubtful merit of a new found bust,
And had agreed to differ or agree,
I know not which, a hidden sympathy
Had taken root between them. Either mind
Found in the other tokens of its kind
Which spoke in more than words, and naturally
Leaned to its fellow-mind as tree to tree.
Lord L., who had known the Prince in other days,
While riding home had spoken in his praise,
And won Griselda's heart and patient smile,
For divers threadbare tales of blameless guile
Among the virtuosi, where the prince
Had played his part with skill and influence,
His sworn ally. Lord L. grew eloquent,
Finding her ears such rapt attention lent,
And could have gone on talking all his life
About his friend's perfections to his wife.

Griselda listened. In her heart there stirred
A strange unconscious pleasure at each word,
Which made the sunshine brighter and the sky
More blue, more tender in its sympathy.
The hills of the Campagna crowned with snow
Moved her and touched, she knew not why nor how.
The solemn beauty of the world; the fate
Of all things living, vast and inchoate
Yet clothed with flowers; the soul's eternal dream
Of something still beyond; the passionate whim
Of every noble mind for something good,
Which should assuage its hunger with new food;
The thrill of hope, the pulse of happiness,
The vague half-conscious longing of the eyes:
All these appealed to her, and seemed to lie
In form and substance under the blue sky,
Filling the shadows of the Sabine Hills
As with a presence, till her natural ills,
Transfigured through a happy mist of tears,
Gave place to hopes yet hardly dreamed as hers.
And still Lord L. talked calmly on, and she
Listened as to the voice of prophecy,
Nursing the pressure which the Prince's hand
Had left in hers, nor cared to understand.

From this day forth, I say, a tender mood
Possessed them both scarce conscious and unwooed,
Even in the Prince, her elder and a man.
At least Griselda had no thought nor plan
Beyond the pleasure of a friendship dear
To all alike, Lord L., the Prince, and her:
No plan but that the day would be more sweet,
More full of meaning, if they chanced to meet;
And this chanced every day. The Prince was kind
Beyond all kindness, and Lord L. could find
No words to speak his thanks he thus should be
The cicerone of their company.

And where a better? Belgirate's lore
In all things Roman was in truth a store
From which to steal. At her Gamaliel's knees
Griselda sat and learned Rome's mysteries
With all the zeal of a disciple young
And strange to genius and a pleading tongue.
The Prince was eloquent. His theme was high,
One which had taught less vigorous wings to fly,
The world of other days, the Pagan Rome,
The scarce less Pagan Rome of Christendom.
On these the Prince spoke warmly much and well,
Holding Griselda's patient ears in spell,
Yet broke off smiling when he met her eye
Fixed on his face in its mute sympathy,
A smile which was a question, an appeal,
And seemed to ask the meaning of her zeal.
He did not understand her quite. He saw
Something beyond, unfixed by any law
Of woman's nature his experience knew.
He knew not what to hold or hope as true,
For she was young and sad and beautiful,
A very woman with a woman's soul.
She had so strange a pathos in her eyes,
A tone so deep, such echoes in her voice.
What was this Roman Hecuba to her?
This prate of consul, pontiff, emperor?
These broken symbols of forgotten pride?
These ashes of old fame by fame denied?
What were these stones to her that she should weep,
Or spend her passion on a cause less deep
Than her own joys and sorrows? Was it love,
Or what thing else had such a power to move?
If there was meaning in red lips! And yet
'Twere rank impiety to think of it.
An Italian woman—yes. But she? Who knew
What English virtue dared yet dared not do?

This was the thought which lent its mockery
To the more tender omen of his eye,
And checked the pride and chilled the vague desire
Her beauty half had kindled into fire.
Yet hope was born and struggled to more life,
A puny infant with its fears at strife,
An unacknowledged hidden bastard child,
Too fair to crush, too wise to be beguiled;
Even Griselda's prudery confessed
A star of Bethlehem risen in her East.

And thus the winter passed in happiness
If not in love. I leave to each to guess
What name 'twere best to give it. For to some
Who judge such things by simple rule of thumb,
'Twill seem impossible they thus should meet
Day after day in palace, temple, street,
Beneath the sun of heaven or in the shade
Of those old gardens by the cypress made,
Or on their horses drinking in the wind
Of the Campagna, and with care behind,
Left to take vengeance upon poor Lord L.,
Some furlongs back a solemn sentinel,
Or in the twilight slowly stealing home
Towards the hundred cupolas of Rome,
To greet the new-born moon and so repeat
Old Tuscan ditties, tender, wise, and sweet,
To the light chatter of their horse-hoofs' chime
In echoing answer of their terza-rhyme—
'Twill seem, I say, to some impossible
That all this was not love. Yet, sooth to tell,
Easter had come and gone, and yet 'twas true
No word of love had passed between the two.

The fact is, after the first halcyon hour
When she had met the Prince and proved his power
To move her inmost soul, Griselda made
This compact with her heart no less than head,
Being a woman of much logic sense,
And knowing all, at least by inference.
She was resolved that, come what evil might
On her poor heart, the right should still be right,
And not a hair's breadth would she swerve from this,
Though it should cost her soul its happiness.
She would not trifle longer, nor provide
The Prince with pretext for his further pride,
Or grant more favour than a friendship given
Once and for all, in this world as in Heaven.
This she indeed could offer, but, if more
Were asked, why then, alas! her dream was o'er.
I think no actual covenant had passed
In words between them either first or last,
But that the Prince, though puzzled and perplexed,
Had drawn a just conclusion from his text,
And read her meaning, while the hazard made,
Of certain idle words at random said,
Had sapped his confidence, and served to show
If speech were wise, 'twas wiser to forgo.

Once too he wrote a sonnet. They had spent
An afternoon (it was in early Lent)
At that fair angle of the city wall
Which is the English place of burial,
A poet's pilgrimage to Shelley's tomb,
The holiest spot, Griselda thought, in Rome,
A place to worship in, perhaps to pray,
At least to meditate and spend the day.

She had brought her friend with her. She had at heart
To win his homage for the unknown art
Of this dead alien priest of Italy,
This lover of the earth, and sea, and sky;
And, reading there and talking in that mood
Which comes of happiness and youthful blood
So near akin to sorrow, their discourse
Had touched on human pain and pain's remorse
Amid the eternal greenness of the Spring;
And, when they came to part, there had seemed to ring
A note of trouble in Griselda's voice,
A sigh as if in grief for human joys,
An echo of unspoken tenderness,
Which caused the Prince to hold her hand in his
One little moment longer than was right,
When they had shaken hands and bid good-night.

And so he wrote that evening on the spur
Of the first tender impulse of the hour
A sonnet to Griselda, a farewell
It seemed to be, yet also an appeal,
Perhaps a declaration; who shall say
Whether the thought which lightened into day,
Between the sorrowing accents of each line,
Was more despair, or hope which asked a sign?

"Farewell," it said, "although nor seas divide
Nor kingdoms separate, but a single street,
The sole sad gap between us, scarce too wide
For hands to cross, and though we needs must meet
Not in a year, a month, but just to-morrow,
When the first happy instinct of our feet
Bears us together,—yet we part in sorrow,
Bidding good-bye, as though we would repeat
Good-byes for ever. There are gulfs that yawn
Between us wide with time and circumstance,
Deep as the gulf which lies 'twixt dead and dead.
The day of promise finds no second dawn.
See, while I speak, the pressure of our hands
Fades slowly from remembrance, and is fled,
And our weak hearts accept their fate. Nay, nay,
We meet again, but never as to-day."

To this Griselda answered nothing. She
Was pleased, yet disconcerted. Poetry
Is always pleasant to a woman's ear,
And to Griselda's had been doubly dear,
If it had touched less nearly. But her heart
Had bounded with too violent a start
To leave her certain of her self-control,
In this new joy which seemed to probe her soul.
And feeling frightened she had tried to find
A reason for the tumult of her mind
In being angry. He should not have dared
To strike so near the truth. Or had she bared
Her soul so plain to his that he should speak
Of both as an eye-witness? She felt weak
And out of temper with herself and him,
And with the sudden waking from a dream
Too long indulged, and with her own sad fate,
Which made all dreams a crime against the State.
There yawned indeed a gulf between them. This
It needed no such word as had been his
To bring back to her memory or show
How wide it was, and deep, and far below;
And yet she shuddered, for already thought
Had led her to the brink where reason fought
With folly, and conjured it to look down
Into the vast and terrible unknown.
This was itself an omen.

All that day
Griselda had a headache, and said nay
To those who called, the Prince among the rest,
Who came distrusting and returned distressed.
Awhile this humour lasted. Then they met,
And Belgirate, venturing a regret
For having vexed her with so poor a rhyme,
Griselda had protested want of time
And want of talent as her sole excuse
For having made no answer to his Muse,
Yet cast withal a look so pitiful
Upon his face it moved his very soul.
This closed the incident. He might have spoken
Perhaps that instant, and received some token
Of more than a forgiveness. But his fate
Had willed it otherwise or willed too late,
For love forgives not, plead it as we may
To speak the unspoken "Yes" of yesterday.





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