Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, FRA GIACOMO, by ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN



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FRA GIACOMO, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Alas, fra giacamo / too late!
Last Line: And the monks say mass for your mistress' soul.
Alternate Author Name(s): Maitland, Thomas
Subject(s): Italy; Tragedy; Italians


ALAS, Fra Giacomo,
Too late! -- but follow me;
Hush! draw the curtain, -- so! --
She is dead, quite dead, you see.
Poor little lady! she lies
With the light gone out of her eyes,
But her features still wear that soft
Gray meditative expression,
Which you must have noticed oft,
And admired too, at confession.
How saintly she looks, and how meek!
Though this be the chamber of death,
I fancy I feel her breath
As I kiss her on the cheek.
With that pensive religious face,
She has gone to a holier place!
And I hardly appreciated her, --
Her praying, fasting, confessing,
Poorly, I own, I mated her;
I thought her too cold, and rated her
For her endless image-caressing.
Too saintly for me by far,
As pure and as cold as a star,
Not fashioned for kissing and pressing, --
But made for a heavenly crown.
Ay, father, let us go down, --
But first, if you please, your blessing.

Wine? No? Come, come, you must!
You'll bless it with your prayers,
And quaff a cup, I trust,
To the health of the saint up stairs?
My heart is aching so!
And I feel so weary and sad,
Through the blow that I have had, --
You'll sit, Fra Giacomo?
My friend! (and a friend I rank you
For the sake of that saint,) -- nay, nay!
Here's the wine, -- as you love me, stay! --
'T is Montepulciano! -- Thank you.

Heigh-ho! 'T is now six summers
Since I won that angel and married her:
I was rich, not old, and carried her
Off in the face of all comers.
So fresh, yet so brimming with soul!
A tenderer morsel, I swear,
Never made the dull black coal
Of a monk's eye glitter and glare.
Your pardon! -- nay, keep your chair!
I wander a little, but mean
No offence to the gray gaberdine;
Of the church, Fra Giacomo,
I'm a faithful upholder, you know,
But (humor me!) she was as sweet
As the saints in your convent windows,
So gentle, so meek, so discreet,
She knew not what lust does or sin does.
I'll confess, though, before we were one,
I deemed her less saintly, and thought
The blood in her veins had caught
Some natural warmth from the sun.
I was wrong, -- I was blind as a bat, --
Brute that I was, how I blundered!
Though such a mistake as that
Might have occurred as bat
To ninety-nine men in a hundred.
Yourself, for example? you've seen her?
Spite her modest and pious demeanor,
And the manners so nice and precise,
Seemed there not color and light,
Bright motion and appetite,
That were scarcely consistent with ice?
Externals implying, you see,
Internals less saintly than human? --
Pray speak, for between yon and me
You're not a bad judge of a woman!
A jest, -- but a jest! -- Very true:
'T is hardly becoming to jest,
And that saint up stairs at rest, --
Her soul may be listening, too!
I was always a brute of a fellow!
Well may your visage turn yellow, --
To think how I doubted and doubted,
Suspected, grumbled at, flouted
That golden-haired angel, -- and solely
Because she was zealous and holy!
Noon and night and morn
She devoted herself to piety;
Not that she seemed to scorn
Or dislike her husband's society;
But the claims of her soul superseded
All that I asked for or needed,
And her thoughts were far away
From the level of sinful clay,
And she trembled if earthly matters
Interfered with her aves and paters.
Poor dove, she so fluttered in flying
Above the dim vapors of hell --
Bent on self-sanctifying --
That she never thought of trying
To save her husband as well.
And while she was duly elected
For place in the heavenly roll,
I (brute that I was!) suspected
Her manner of saving her soul.
So, half for the fun of the thing,
What did I (blasphemer!) but fling
On my shoulders the gown of a monk --
Whom I managed for that very day
To get safely out of the way --
And seat me, half sober, half drunk,
With the cowl thrown over my face,
In the father confessor's place.
Eheu! benedicite!
In her orthodox sweet simplicity,
With that pensive gray expression,
She sighfully knelt at confession,
While I bit my lips till they bled,
And dug my nails in my hand,
And heard with averted head
What I'd guessed and could understand.
Each word was a serpent's sting,
But, wrapt in my gloomy gown,
I sat, like a marble thing,
As she told me all! -- SIT DOWN!

More wine, Fra Giacomo!
One cup, -- if you love me! No?
What, have these dry lips drank
So deep of the sweets of pleasure --
Sub rosa, but quite without measure --
That Montepulciano tastes rank?
Come, drink! 't will bring the streaks
Of crimson back to your cheeks;
Come, drink again to the saint
Whose virtues you loved to paint,
Who, stretched on her wifely bed,
With the tender, grave expression
You used to admire at confession,
Lies poisoned, overhead!

Sit still, -- or by heaven, you die!
Face to face, soul to soul, you and I
Have settled accounts, in a fine
Pleasant fashion, over our wine.
Stir not, and seek not to fly, --
Nay, whether or not, you are mine!
Thank Montepulciano for giving
You death in such delicate sips;
'T is not every monk ceases living
With so pleasant a taste on his lips;
But, lest Montepulciano unsurely should kiss,
Take this! and this! and this!

Cover him over, Pietro,
And bury him in the court below, --
You can be secret, lad, I know!
And, hark you, then to the convent go, --
Bid every bell of the convent toll,
And the monks say mass for your mistress' soul.




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