Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, ELISABETTA SIRANI, 1665, by EDWARD ROBERT BULWER-LYTTON



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ELISABETTA SIRANI, 1665, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Just to begin, - and end! So much, - no more
Last Line: Safe, where old friends will pass; and still near home!
Alternate Author Name(s): Meredith, Owen; Lytton, 1st Earl Of; Lytton, Robert
Subject(s): Sirani, Elisabetta (1638-1665); Paintings & Painters


JUST to begin, -- and end! so much, -- no more!
To touch upon the very point at last
Where life should cling: to feel the solid shore
Safe; where, the seething sea's strong toil o'erpast,
Peace seemed appointed; then, with all the store
Half-undivulged of the gleaned ocean cast,
Like a discouraged wave's on the bleak strand,
Where what appeared some temple (whose glad Priest
To gather ocean's sparkling gift should stand,
Bidding the wearied wave, from toil releast,
Sleep in the marble harbors bathed with bland
And quiet sunshine, flowing from full east
Among the laurels) proves the dull blind rock's
Fantastic front, -- to die, a disallowed,
Dasht purpose: which the scornful shorecliff mocks,
Even as it sinks; and all its wealth bestowed
In vain, -- mere food to feed, perchance, stray flocks
Of the coarse sea-gull! weaving its own shroud
Of idle foam, swift ceasing to be seen!
-- Sad, sad, my father! ... yet it comes to this.
For I am dying. All that might have been --
That must have been! ... the days, so hard to miss,
So sure to come! ...eyes, lips, that seemed to lean
In on me at my work, and almost kiss
The curls bowed o'er it, ...lost! O, never doubt
I should have lived to know them all again,
And from the crowd of praisers single out
For special love those forms beheld so plain
Beforehand. When my pictures, borne about
Bologna, to the church doors, led their train
Of kindling faces, turned, as by they go,
Up to these windows, -- standing at your side
Unseen, to see them, I (be sure!) should know
And welcome back those eyes and lips, descried
Long since in fancy: for I loved them so,
And so believed them! Think! ... Bologna's pride
My paintings! ...Guido Reni's mantle mine...
And I, the maiden artist, prized among
The masters, ...ah, that dream was too divine
For earth to realize! I die so young,
All this escapes me! God, the gift be Thine,
Not man's then...better so! That throbbing throng
Of human faces fades out fast. Even yours,
Beloved ones, the inexorable Fate
(For all our vowed affections!) scarce endures
About me. Must I go, then, desolate
Out from among you? Nay, my work insures
Fit guerdon somewhere, -- though the gift must wait!
Had I lived longer, life would sure have set
Earth's gift of fame in safety. But I die.
Death must make safe the heavenly guerdon yet.
I trusted time for immortality, --
There was my error! Father, never let
Doubt of reward confuse my memory!
Besides, -- I have done much: and what is done
Is well done. All my heart conceived, my hand
Made fast...mild martyr, saint, and weeping nun,
And truncheoned prince, and warrior with bold brand,
Yet keep my life upon them; -- as the sun,
Though fallen below the limits of the land,
Still sees on every form of purple cloud
His painted presence.

Flaring August's here,
September's coming! Summer's broidered shroud
Is borne away in triumph by the year:
Red Autumn drops, from all his branches bowed,
His careless wealth upon the costly bier.
We must be cheerful. Set the casement wide.
One last look o'er the places I have loved,
One last long look! ... Bologna, O my pride
Among thy palaced streets! The days have moved
Pleasantly o'er us. What has been denied
To our endeavor? Life goes unreproved.
To make the best of all things, is the best
Of all means to be happy. This I know,
But cannot phrase it finely. The night's rest
The day's toil sweetens. Flowers are warmed by snow.
All's well God wills. Work out this grief. Joy's zest
Itself is salted with a touch of woe.
There's nothing comes to us may not be borne,
Except a too great happiness. But this
Comes rarely. Though I know that you will mourn
The little maiden helpmate you must miss,
Thanks be to God, I leave you not forlorn.
There should be comfort in this dying kiss.
Let Barbara keep my colors for herself.
I'm sorry that Lucia went away
In some unkindness. 'T was a cheerful elf!
Send her my scarlet ribands, mother; say
I thought of her. My palette's on the shelf,
Surprised, no doubt, at such long holiday.
In the south window, on the easel, stands
My picture for the Empress Eleanore,
Still wanting some few touches, these weak hands
Must leave to others. Yet there's time before
The year ends. And the Empress' own commands
You'll find in writing. Barbara's brush is more
Like mine than Anna's; let her finish it.
O, ...and there's 'Maso, our poor fisherman!
You'll find my work done for him: something fit
To hang among his nets: you liked the plan
My fancy took to please our friend's dull wit,
Scarce brighter than his old tin fishing-can....
St. Margaret, stately as a ship full sail,
Leading a dragon by an azure band;
The ribbon flutters gayly in the gale;
The monster follows the Saint's guiding hand,
Wrinkled to one grim smile from head to tail:
For in his horny hide his heart grows bland.
-- Where are you, dear ones? ...

'T is the dull, faint chill,
Which soon will shrivel into burning pain!
Dear brother, sisters, father, mother, -- still
Stand near me! While your faces fixt remain
Within my sense, vague fears of unknown ill
Are softly crowded out, ...and yet, 't is vain!
Greet Giulio Banzi; greet Antonio; greet
Bartolomeo, kindly. When I'm gone,
And in the school-room, as of old, you meet,
-- Ah, yes! you'll miss a certain merry tone,
A cheerful face, a smile that should complete
The vague place in the household picture grown
To an aspect so familiar, it seems strange
That aught should alter there. Mere life, at least,
Could not have brought the shadow of a change
Across it. Safely the warm years increast
Among us. I have never sought to range
From our small table at earth's general feast,
To higher places: never loved but you,
Dear family of friends, except my art:
Nor any form save those my pencil drew
E'er quivered in the quiet of my heart.
I die a maiden to Madonna true,
And would have so continued....There, the smart,
The pang, the faintness! ...

Ever, as I lie
Here, with the Autumn sunset on my face,
And heavy in my curls (whilst it, and I,
Together, slipping softly from the place
We played in, pensively prepare to die),
A low warm humming simmers in my ears,
-- Old Summer afternoons! faint fragments rise
Out of my broken life...at times appears
Madonna-like a moon in mellow skies:
The three Fates with the spindle and the shears:
The Grand Duke Cosmo with the Destinies:
St. Margaret with her dragon: fitful cheers
Along the Via Urbana come and go:
Bologna with her towers! ... Then all grows dim,
And shapes itself anew, softly and slow,
To cloistered glooms through which the silver hymn
Eludes the sensitive silence; whilst below
The south west window, just one single, slim,
And sleepy sunbeam, powders with waved gold
A lane of gleamy mist along the gloom,
Whereby to find its way, through manifold
Magnificence, to Guido Reni's tomb,
Which, set in steadfast splendor, I behold.
And all the while, I scent the incense fume,
Till dizzy grows the brain, and dark the eye
Beneath the eyelid. When the end is come,
There, by his tomb (our master's) let me lie,
Somewhere, not too far off; beneath the dome
Of our own Lady of the Rosary:
Safe, where old friends will pass; and still near home!





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