Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE DANCE, by ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING

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THE DANCE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: You remember down at florence our cascine
Last Line: Cried exultant in great wonder and free gratitude.
Subject(s): Florence, Italy


YOU remember down at Florence our Cascine,
Where the people on the feast-days walk and drive,
And, through the trees, long-drawn in many a green way,
O'er-roofing hum and murmur like a hive,
The river and the mountains look alive?


You remember the piazzone there, the stand-place
Of carriages abrim with Florence Beauties,
Who lean and melt to music as the band plays,
Or smile and chat with some one who afoot is,
Or on horseback, in observance of male duties?


'T is so pretty, in the afternoons of summer,
So many gracious faces brought together!
Call it rout, or call it concert, they have come here,
In the floating of the fan and of the feather,
To reciprocate with beauty the fine weather.


While the flower-girls offer nosegays (because they too
Go with other sweets) at every carriage-door;
Here, by shake of a white finger, signed away to
Some next buyer, who sits buying score on score,
Piling roses upon roses evermore.


And last season, when the French camp had its station
In the meadow-ground, things quickened and grew gayer
Through the mingling of the liberating nation
With this people; groups of Frenchmen everywhere,
Strolling, gazing, judging lightly -- 'who was fair.'


Then the noblest lady present took upon her
To speak nobly from her carriage for the rest:
'Pray these officers from France to do us honor
By dancing with us straightway.' The request
Was gravely apprehended as addressed.


And the men of France, bareheaded, bowing lowly,
Led out each a proud signora to the space
Which the startled crowd had rounded for them -- slowly,
Just a touch of still emotion in his face,
Not presuming, through the symbol, on the grace.


There was silence in the people: some lips trembled,
But none jested. broke the music, at a glance:
And the daughters of our princes, thus assembled,
Stepped the measure with the gallant sons of France,
Hush! it might have been a Mass, and not a dance.


And they danced there till the blue that over-skied us
Swooned with passion, though the footing seemed sedate;
And the mountains, heaving mighty hearts beside us,
Sighed a rapture in a shadow, to dilate,
And touch the holy stone where Dante sate.


Then the sons of France, bareheaded, lowly bowing,
Led the ladies back where kinsmen of the south
Stood, received them; till, with burst of overflowing
Feeling -- husbands, brothers, Florence's male youth,
Turned and kissed the martial strangers mouth to mouth.


And a cry went up, a cry from all that people!
-- You have heard a people cheering, you suppose,
For the Member, mayor ... with chorus from the steeple?
This was different: scarce as loud, perhaps (who knows?),
For we saw wet eyes around us ere the close.


And we felt as if a nation, too long borne in
By hard wrongers, -- comprehending in such attitude
That God had spoken somewhere since the morning,
That men were somehow brothers, by no platitude, --
Cried exultant in great wonder and free gratitude.

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