There is a great deal of genuine poetry in this little volume; and poetry, too, of a very peculiar and original character. It reminds us, in many respects, of that pure and glorious style that prevailed among us before French models and French rules of criticism were known in this country, and to which we are delighted to see there is now so general a disposition to recur. Yet its more immediate prototypes, perhaps, are to be looked for rather in Italy than in England: at least, if it he copied from any thing English, it is from something much older than Shakespeare; and it unquestionably bears a still stronger resemblance to Chaucer than to his immediate followers in Italy. The same fresh, lively and artless pictures of external objects, — the same profusion of gorgeous but redundant and needless description, — the same familiarity and even homeliness of diction — and, above all, the same simplicity and directness in representing actions and passions in colours true to nature, but without any apparent attention to their effect, or any ostentation, or even visible impression as to their moral operation or tendency. The great distinction between the modern poets and their predecessors, is, that the latter painted more from the eye and less from the mind than the former. They described things and actions as they saw them, without expressing, or at any rate without dwelling on the deep-seated emotions from which the objects derived their interest, or the actions their character. The moderns, on the contrary, have brought these most prominently forward, and explained and enlarged upon them perhaps at excessive length. Mr. Hunt, in the piece before us, has followed the antient school; and though he has necessarily gone something beyond the naked notices that would have suited the age of Chaucer, he has kept himself far more to the delineation of visible, physical realities, than any other modern poet on such a subject.
Though he has chosen, however, to write in this style, and has done so very successfully, we are not by any means of opinion, that he either writes or appears to write it as naturally as those by whom it was first adopted; on the contrary, we think there is a good deal of affectation in his homeliness, directness, and rambling descriptions. He visibly gives himself airs of familiarity, and mixes up flippant, and even cant phrases, with passages that bear, upon the whole, the marks of considerable labour and study. In general, however, he is very successful in his attempts at facility, and has unquestionably produced a little poem of great grace and spirit, and, in many passages and many particulars, of infinite beauty and delicacy.
In the subject he has selected, he has ventured indeed upon sacred ground; but he has not profaned it. The passage in Dante, on which the story of Rimini is founded, remains unimpaired by the English version, and has even received a new interest from it. The undertaking must be allowed to have been one of great nicety. An imitation of the manner of Dante was an impossibility. That extraordinary author collects all his force into a single blow: His sentiments derive an obscure grandeur from their being only half expressed; and therefore, a detailed narrative of this kind, a description of particular circumstances done upon this ponderous principle, an enumeration of incidents leading to a catastrophe, with all the pith and conclusiveness of the catastrophe itself, would be intolerable. Mr. Hunt has arrived at his end by varying his means; and the effect of his poem coincides with that of the original passage, mainly, because the spirit in which it is written is quite different. With the personages in Dante, all is over before the reader is introduced to them; their doom is fixed; — and his style is as peremptory and irrevocable as their fate. But the lovers, whose memory the muse of the Italian poet had consecrated in the other world, are here restored to earth, with the graces and the sentiments that became them in their lifetime. Mr. Hunt, in accompanying them to its fatal close, has mingled every tint of many-coloured life in the tissue of their story — blending tears with smiles, the dancing of the spirits with sad forebodings, the intoxication of hope with bitter disappointment, youth with age, life and death together. He has united something of the voluptuous pathos of Boccacio with Ariosto's laughing graces. His court dresses, and gala processions he has borrowed from Watteau. His sunshine and his flowers are his own! He himself has explained the design of his poem in the Preface.
"The following story is founded on a passage in Dante, the substance of which is contained in the concluding paragraph of the second canto. For the rest of the incidents, generally speaking, the praise or blame remains with myself. The passage in question — the episode of Paulo and Francesca — has long been admired by the readers of Italian poetry, and is indeed the most cordial and refreshing one in the whole of that singular poem, the Inferno, which some call a satire, and some an epic, and which, I confess, has always appeared to me a kind of sublime night-mare. We even lose sight of the place, in which the saturnine poet, according to his summary way of disposing both of friends and enemies, has thought proper to put the sufferers; and see the whole melancholy absurdity of his theology, in spite of itself, falling to nothing before one genuine impulse of the affections.
"The interest of the passage is greatly increased by its being founded on acknowledged matter of fact. Even the particular circumstance which Dante describes as having hastened the fall of the lovers — the perusal of Launcelot of the Lake — is most likely a true anecdote; for he himself, not long after the event, was living at the court of Guido Novello da Polenta, the heroine's father; and indeed the very circumstance of his having related it at all, considering its nature, is a warrant of its authenticity.
"The commentators differ in their accounts of the rest of the story: but all agree that the lady was in some measure beguiled into the match with the elder Malatesta; — Boccacio says, by being shown the younger brother once as he passed over a square, and told that that was her intended husband. I have accordingly turned this artifice to account, though in a different manner. I have also omitted the lameness attributed to the husband; and of two different names, by which he is called, Giovanni and Launcelot, have chosen the former, as not interfering with the hero's appellation, whose story the lovers were reading.
"The Italians have been very fond of this little piece of private history, and I used to wonder that I could meet with it in none of the books of novels, for which they have been so famous; till I reflected that it was, perhaps, owing to the nature of the books themselves, which such a story might have been no means of recommending. The historians of Ravenna, however, have taken care to record it; and, besides Dante's episode, it is alluded to by Petrarch and by Tassoni. The former mentions the lovers among his examples of calamitous passion, in the Trionfo d'Amore, cap. 3. — Tassoni, in his tragi-comic war, introduces Paulo Malatesta, as leading the troops of Rimini, and paints him in a very lively manner, as contemplating, while he rides, a golden sword-chain which Francesca had given him, and which he addresses with melancholy enthusiasm, as he goes. See the Secchia Rapita, canto 5. st. 43, &c.; and canto 7. st. 29, &c."
The poem opens with the following passage of superb description.
The sun is up, and 'tis a morn of May
Round old Ravenna's clear-shewn towers and bay,
A morn, the loveliest which the year has seen,
Last of the spring, yet fresh with all its green;
For a warm eve, and gentle rains at night,
Have left a sparkling welcome for the light,
And there's a crystal clearness all about;
The leaves are sharp, the distant hills look out;
A balmy briskness comes upon the breeze;
The smoke goes dancing from the cottage trees;
And when you listen, you may hear a coil
Of bubbling springs about the grassier soil;
And all the scene in short, — sky, earth, and sea,
Breathes like a bright-eyed face, that laughs out openly.
'Tis nature, full of spirits, waked and springing:—
The birds to the delightful time are singing,
Darting with freaks and snatches up and down,
Where the light woods go seaward from the town;
While happy faces, striking through the green
Of leafy roads, at every turn are seen;
And the far ships, lifting their sails of white
Like joyful hands, come up with scattery light;
Come gleaming up, true to the wished-for day,
And chase the whistling brine, and swirl into the bay.
And well may all who can, come crowding there,
Where peace returning, and processions rare,
And to crown all, a marriage in May-weather
Have aught to bring enjoying hearts together:
For on this sparkling day, Ravenna's pride,
The daughter of their prince, becomes a bride,
A bride, to crown the comfort of the land:
And he, whose victories have obtain'd her hand,
Has taken with the dawn, so flies report,
His promised journey to the expecting court
With hasting pomp, and squires of high degree,
The bold Giovanni, lord of Rimini.
Already in the streets the stir grows loud
Of expectation and a bustling crowd.
With feet and voice the gathering hum contends,
The deep talk heaves, the ready laugh ascends;
Callings, and clapping doors, and curs unite,
And shouts from mere exuberance of delight,
And armed bands, making important way,
Gallant and grave, the lords of holiday,
And nodding neighbours, greeting as they run,
And pilgrims, chanting in the morning sun.
Such is the manner in which the business of the day is ushered in. The rest of the first canto is taken up in describing the preparations for receiving the bridegroom, the processions of knights that precede his expected arrival; the dresses, &c. — There is something in all this part of the poem which gives back the sensation of the scene and the occasion; — a glancing eye, a busy ear, great bustle and gaiety, and, where it is required, great grace of description. Perhaps the subject is too long dwelt upon; and there is, occasionally, a repetition of nearly the same images and expressions. The reader may take the following as fair specimens.
And hark! the approaching trumpets, with a start
On the smooth wind come dancing to the heart.
A moment's hush succeeds; and from the walls,
Firm and at once, a silver answer calls.
Then press the crowd; and all who best can strive
In shuffling struggle, tow'rd the palace drive,
Where balconied and broad, of marble fair,
On pillars it o'erlooks the public square, &c.
For in this manner is the square set out:—
The sides, path-deep, are crowded round about,
And faced with guards, who keep the road entire;
And opposite to these, a brilliant quire
Of knights and ladies hold the central spot,
Seated in groups upon a grassy plot;
The seats with boughs are shaded from above
Of early trees transplanted from a grove,
And in the midst, fresh whistling through the scene,
A lightsome fountain starts from out the green,
Clear and compact, till, at its height o'er-run,
It shakes its loosening silver in the sun.
With various earnestness the crowd admire
Horsemen and horse, the motion and the attire.
Some watch, as they go by, the riders' faces
Looking composure, and their knightly graces;
The life, the carelessness, the sudden heed,
The body curving to the rearing steed,
The patting hand, that best persuades the check,
And makes the quarrel up with a proud neck;
The thigh broad-pressed, the spanning palm upon it,
And the jerked feather swaling in the bonnet.
Others the horses and their pride explore,
Their jauntiness behind and strength before;
The flowing back, firm chest, and fetlocks clean;
The branching veins ridging the glossy lean;
The mane hung sleekly; the projecting eye
That to the stander near looks awfully,
The finished head, in its compactness free,
Small, and o'erarching to the lifted knee,
The start and snatch, as if they felt the comb,
With mouths that fling about the creamy foam;
The snorting turbulence, the nod, the champing,
The shift, the tossing, and the fiery tramping.
After all, the future husband does not appear, but his younger brother, Paulo, who comes as his proxy to take the bride to Rimini; and it is to the mistaken impression thus made on her mind that all the subsequent distress is owing. His person, his dress, the gallantry of Paulo's demeanour, are very vividly described, and the effect of his appearance on the surrounding multitude.
And on a milk-white courser, like the air,
A glorious figure springs into the square;
Up, with a burst of thunder, goes the shout,
And rolls the echoing walls and peopled roofs about.
And see, — his horse obeys the check unseen;
And with an air 'twixt ardent and serene,
Letting a fall of curls about his brow,
He takes his cap off with a gallant bow;
Then for another and a deafening shout,
And scarfs are waved, and flowers come fluttering out;
And, shaken by the noise, the reeling air
Sweeps with a giddy whirl among the fair,
And whisks their garments, and their shining hair.
With busy interchange of wonder glows
The crowd, and loves his brilliance as he goes,—
The golden-fretted cap, the downward feather,—
The crimson vest fitting with pearls together,—
The rest in snowy white from the mid thight:
These catch the extrinsic and the common eye:
The Second Canto gives an account of the bride's journey to Rimini, in the company of her husband's brother, which abounds in picturesque descriptions. Mr. Hunt has here taken occasion to enter somewhat learnedly into the geography of his subject; and describes the road between Ravenna and Rimini, with the accuracy of a topographer, and the liveliness of a poet. There is, however, no impertinent minuteness of detail; but only those circumstances are dwelt upon, which fall in with the general interest of the story, and would be likely to strike forcibly upon the imagination in such an interval of anxiety and suspense. We have only room for the concluding lines.
Various the trees and passing foliage here,—
Wild pear, and oak, and dusky juniper,
With briony between in trails of white,
And ivy, and the suckle's streaky light,
And moss, warm gleaming with a sudden mark,
Like growths of sunshine left upon the bark,
And still the pine, flat-topp'd, and dark, and tall,
In lordly right, predominant o'er all.
Much they admire that old religious tree,
With shaft above the rest up-shooting free,
And shaking, when its dark locks feel the wind,
Its wealthy fruit with rough Mosaic rind.
At noisy intervals, the living cloud
Of cawing rooks breaks o'er them, gathering loud
Like a wild people at a stranger's coming;
Then hushing paths succeed, with insects humming,
Or ring-dove, that repeats his pensive plea,
Or startled gull up-screaming tow'rds the sea:
But scarce their eyes encounter living thing,
Save, now and then, a goat loose wandering,
Or a few cattle, looking up aslant
With sleepy eyes and meek mouths ruminant;
Or once, a plodding woodman, old and bent,
Passing with half-indifferent wonderment,
Yet turning, at the last, to look once more;
Then feels his trembling staff, and onward as before.
So ride they in delight through beam and shade;—
Till many a rill now passed, and many a glade,
They quit the piny labyrinths, and soon
Emerge into the full and sheeted moon:
Chilling it seems; and pushing steed on steed,
They start them freshly with a homeward speed.
Then well-known fields they pass, and straggling cots.
Boy-storied trees, and passion-plighted spots;
And turning last a sudden corner, see
The moon-lit towers of slumbering Rimini.
The marble bridge comes heaving forth below
With a long gleam; and nearer as they go,
They see the still Marecchia, cold and bright,
Sleeping along with face against the light.
A hollow trample now, — a fall of chains,—
The bride has entered, — not a voice remains;—
Night, and a maiden silence, wrap the plains.
We have detained our readers longer than we intended, from that which forms the most interesting part of the poem, the Third Canto, of which the subject is the fatal passion between Paulo and Francesca. We shall be ample in our extracts from this part of the poem, because we have no other way of giving an idea of its characteristic qualities. Mr. Hunt, as we have already intimated, does not belong to any of the modern schools of poetry; and therefore we cannot convey our idea of his manner of writing, by reference to any the more conspicuous models. His poetry is not like Mr. Wordsworth's, which is metaphysical; nor like Mr. Coleridge's, which is fantastical; nor like Mr. Southey's, which is monastical. But it is something which we have already endeavoured to sketch by its general features, and shall now enable the reader to study in detail in the following extracts.
The first disappointment of the warm-hearted bride, and the portraits of the rival brothers, are sketched with equal skill and delicacy.
Enough of this. Yet how shall I disclose
The weeping days that with the morning rose,
How bring the bitter disappointment in,—
The holy cheat, the virtue-binding sin,—
The shock, that told this lovely, trusting heart,
That she had given, beyond all power to part,
Her hope, belief, love, passion, to one brother,
Possession (oh, the misery!) to another!
Some likeness was there 'twixt the two, — an air
At times, a cheek, a colour of the hair,
A tone, when speaking of indifferent things;
Nor, by the scale of common measurings,
Would you say more perhaps, than that the one
Was more robust, the other finelier spun;
That of the two, Giovanni was the graver,
Paulo the livelier, and the more in favour.
Some tastes there were indeed, that would prefer
Giovanni's countenance as the martialler;
And 'twas a soldier's truly, if an eye
Ardent and cool at once, drawn-back and high,
An eagle's nose and a determined lip,
Were the best marks of manly soldiership.
Paulo's was fashioned in a different mould,
And finer still, I think; for though 'twas bold,
When boldness was required, and could put on
A glowing frown as if an angel shone,
Yet there was nothing in it one might call
A stamp exclusive or professional,—
No courtier's face, and yet its smile was ready,—
No scholar's, yet its look was deep and steady,—
No soldier's, for its power was all of mind,
Too true for violence, and too refined.
A graceful nose was his, lightsomely brought
Down from a forehead of clear-spirited thought;
Wisdom looked sweet and inward from his eye;
And round his mouth was sensibility:—
It was a face, in short, seemed made to shew
How far the genuine flesh and blood could go;—
A morning glass of unaffected nature,—
Something, that baffled every pompous feature,—
The visage of a glorious human creature.
The worst of Prince Giovanni, as his bride
Too quickly found, was an ill-tempered pride.
Bold, handsome, able if he chose to please,
Punctual and right in common offices,
He lost the sight of conduct's only worth,
The scattering smiles on this uneasy earth,
And on the strength of virtues of small weight,
Claimed tow'rds himself the exercise of great.
He kept no reckoning with his sweets and sours;—
He'd hold a sullen countenance for hours,
And then, if pleased to cheer himself a space,
Look for the immediate rapture in your face,
And wonder that a cloud could still be there,
How small soever, when his own was fair.
Yet all the while, no doubt, however stern
Or cold at times, he thought he loved in turn,
And that the joy he took in her sweet ways,
The pride he felt when she excited praise,
In short, the enjoyment of his own good pleasure,
Was thanks enough, and passion beyond measure.—
She, had she loved him, might have thought so too,
For what will love's exalting not go through,
Till long neglect, and utter selfishness,
Shame the fond pride it takes in its distress?
But ill prepared was she, in her hard lot,
To fancy merit where she found it not,—
She, who had been beguil'd, — she, who was made
Within a gentle bosom to be laid,—
To bless and to be blessed, — to be heart-bare
To one who found his bettered likeness there,—
To think for ever with him, like a bride,—
To haunt his eye, like grace personified,—
To double his delight, to share his sorrow,
And like a morning beam, wake to him every morrow.
Paulo's growing passion for Francesca is described with equal delicacy and insight into the sophistry of the human heart. He is represented as first concealing his attachment from himself; then struggling with it; then yielding to it—
Till 'twas his food and habit day by day,
And she became companion of his thought;
Silence her gentleness before him brought,
Society her sense, reading her books,
Music her voice, every sweet thing her looks.
He wished not to himself another's blessing,
But then he might console for not possessing;
And glorious things there were, which but to see
And not admire, was mere stupidity:
He might as well object to his own eyes
For loving to behold the fields and skies,
His neighbour's grove, or story-painted hall;
'Twas but the taste for what was natural.
But we hasten on to the principal event and the catastrophe of the poem. The scene of the fatal meeting between the lovers is laid in the gardens of the palace, which are here described with the utmost elegance and beauty.
So now you walked beside an odorous bed
Of gorgeous hues, purple, and gold, and red;
And now turned off into a leafy walk,
Close and continuous, fit for lovers' talk;
And now pursued the stream, and as you trod
Onward and onward o'er the velvet sod,
Felt on your face an air, watery and sweet,
And a new sense in your soft-lighting feet;
And then perhaps you entered upon shades,
Pillowed with dells and uplands 'twixt the glades,
Through which the distant palace, now and then,
Looked lordly forth with many-windowed ken
A land of trees, which reaching round about,
In shady blessing stretched their old arms out,
With spots of sunny opening, and with nooks
To lie and read in, sloping into brooks,
Where at her drink you startled the slim deer,
Retreating lightly with a lovely fear.
And all about, the birds kept leafy house,
And sung and darted in and out the boughs;
And all about, a lovely sky of blue
Clearly was felt, or down the leaves laughed through;
And here and there, in every part, were seats,
Some in the open walks, some in retreats
With bowering leaves o'erhead, to which the eye
Looked up half sweetly and half awfully,—
Places of nestling green, for poets made,
Where when the sunshine struck a yellow shade,
The slender trunks, to inward-peeping sight,
Thronged in dark pillars up the gold green light.
But 'twixt the wood and flowery walks, halfway,
And formed of both, the loveliest portion lay,
A spot, that struck you like enchanted ground:—
It was a shallow dell, set in a mound
Of sloping shrubs, that mounted by degrees,
The birch and poplar mixed with heavier trees;
From under which, sent through a marble spout,
Betwixt the dark wet green, a rill gushed out,
Whose low sweet talking seemed as if it said
Something eternal to that happy shade:
The ground within was lawn, with plots of flowers
Heaped towards the centre, and with citron bowers;
And in the midst of all, clustered about
With bay and myrtle, and just gleaming out,
Lurked a pavilion, — a delicious sight,—
Small, marble, well-proportioned, mellowy white,
With yellow vine-leaves sprinkled, — but no more,—
And a young orange either side the door.
It was a beauteous piece of ancient skill,
Spared from the rage of war, and perfect still;
By some supposed the work of fairy hands,
Famed for luxurious taste, and choice of lands,—
Alcina, or Morgana, — who from fights
And errant fame inveigled amorous knights,
And lived with them in a long round of blisses,
Feasts, concerts, baths, and bower-enshaded kisses.
But 'twas a temple, as its sculpture told,
Built to the Nymphs that haunted there of old;
For o'er the door was carved a sacrifice
By girls and shepherds brought, with reverent eyes,
Of sylvan drinks and foods, simple and sweet,
And goats with struggling horns and planted feet:
And on a line with this ran round about
A like relief, touched exquisitely out,
That shewed, in various scenes, the nymphs themselves;
Some by the water side on bowery shelves
Leaning at will, — some in the water sporting
With sides half swelling forth, and looks of courting,—
Some in a flowery dell, hearing a swain
Play on his pipe, till the hills ring again,—
Some tying up their long moist hair, — some sleeping
Under the trees, with fauns and satyrs peeping,—
Or, sidelong-eyed, pretending not to see,
The latter in the brakes come creepingly,
While from their forgotten urns, lying about
In the green herbage, let the water out.
Never, be sure, before or since was seen
A summer-house so fine in such a nest of green.
Such is the landscape: — now for the figures.
All the green garden, flower-bed, shade, and plot,
Francesca loved, but most of all this spot.
Whenever she walked forth, wherever went
About the grounds, to this at last she bent:
Here she had brought a lute and a few books;
Here would she lie for hours, with grateful looks,
Thanking at heart the sunshine and the leaves,
The vernal rain-drops counting from the eaves,
And all that promising, calm smile we see
In nature's face, when we look patiently.
Then would she think of heaven; and you might hear
Sometimes, when every thing was hushed and clear,
Her gentle voice from out those shades emerging,
Singing the evening anthem to the Virgin.
The gardeners and the rest, who served the place,
And blest whenever they beheld her face,
Knelt when they heard it, bowing and uncovered,
And felt as if in air some sainted beauty hovered.
One day, — 'twas on an early autumn noon,
When airs and gurgling brooks are best in tune
And grasshoppers are loud, and day-work done
And shades have heavy outlines in the sun,—
The princess came to her accustomed bower
To get her, if she could, a soothing hour,
Trying, as she was used, to leave her cares
Without, and slumberously enjoy the airs,
And the low-talking leaves, and that cool light
The vines let in, and all that hushing sight
Of closing wood seen through the opening door,
And distant plash of waters tumbling o'er,
And smell of citron blooms, and fifty luxuries more.
Painfully clear those rising thoughts appeared,
With something dark at bottom that she feared;
And turning from the trees her thoughtful look,
She reached o'er-head, and took her down a book,
And fell to reading with as fixed an air,
As though she had been wrapt since morning there.
'Twas Launcelot of the Lake, a bright romance,
That like a trumpet made young pulses dance,
Yet had a softer note that shook still more;—
She had begun it but the day before,
And read with a full heart, half sweet, half sad,
How old King Ban was spoiled of all he had
But one fair castle: how one summer's day
With his fair queen and child he went away
To ask the great King Arthur for assistance.
We cannot give the whole abstract of the story, — only she becomes more deeply engaged as she comes to the love scenes. — What follows, we think is very exquisitely written.
Ready she sat with one hand to turn o'er
The leaf, to which her thoughts ran on before,
The other propping her white brow, and throwing
Its ringlets out, under the skylight glowing.
So sat she fixed; and so observed was she
Of one, who at the door stood tenderly,—
Paulo, — who from a window seeing her
Go straight across the lawn, and guessing where,
Had thought she was in tears, and found, that day,
His usual efforts vain to keep away.
"May I come in?" said he: — it made her start,—
That smiling voice; — she coloured, pressed her heart
A moment, as for breath, and then with free
And usual tone said, "O yes, — certainly."
There's wont to be, at conscious times like these,
An affectation of a bright-eyed ease,
An air of something quite serene and sure,
As if to seem so, were to be, secure:
With this the lovers met, with this they spoke,
With this they sat down to the self-same book,
And Paulo, by degrees, gently embraced
With one permitted arm her lovely waist;
And both their cheeks, like peaches on a tree,
Came with a touch together, thrillingly;
And o'er the book they hung, and nothing said,
And every lingering page grew longer as they read.
As thus they sat, and felt, with leaps of heart,
Their colour change, they came upon the part
Where fond Geneura, with her flame long nurst,
Smiled upon Launcelot when he kiss'd her first:—
That touch, at last, through every fibre slid;
And Paulo turned, scarce knowing what he did,
Only he felt he could no more dissemble,
And kissed her, mouth to mouth, all in a tremble.
Sad were those hearts, and sweet was that long kiss:
Sacred be love from sight, whate'er it is.
The world was all forgot, the struggle o'er,
Desperate the joy — That day they read no more.
We do not think the execution of the fourth and last Canto quite equal to that of the third: Yet there are passages in it of the greatest beauty; and an air of melancholy breathes from the whole with irresistible softness and effect. The feelings of Francesca, arising from the consciousness of her melancholy situation and broken vows, are thus finely represented.
And oh, the morrow, how it used to rise!
How would she open her despairing eyes,
And from the sense of the long lingering day,
Rushing upon her, almost turn away,
Loathing the light, and groan to sleep again!
Then sighing once for all, to meet the pain,
She would get up in haste, and try to pass
The time in patience, wretched as it was;
Till patience self, in her distempered sight,
Would seem a charm to which she had no right,
And trembling at the lip, and pale with fears,
She shook her head, and burst into fresh tears.
Old comforts now were not at her command:
The falcon reached in vain from off his stand;
The flowers were not refreshed; the very light,
The sunshine, seemed as if it shone at night;
The least noise smote her like a sudden wound;
And did she hear but the remotest sound
Of song or instrument about the place,
She hid with both her hands her streaming face.
But worse to her than all (and oh! thought she,
That ever, ever, such a worse should be!)
The sight of infant was, or child at play;
Then would she turn, and move her lips, and pray,
That heaven would take her, if it pleased, away.
From the distress and agitation of her mind, she afterwards betrays the secret of her infidelity to her husband in her sleep. This leads to a rencounter between the two brothers, which is fatal to Paulo, who runs voluntarily upon his brother's sword; and partly from the shock of the news, partly from previous grief preying on her mind and body, Francesca dies the same day. Her death is profoundly affecting, and leaves an impression on the imagination, icy, cold, and monumental. The squire of Paulo is admitted to the side of her sad couch, to tell the dismal story — and repeats, in the Prince's own words, how he had been forced to fight with his brother—
"and that although
His noble brother was no fratricide,
Yet in that fight, and on his sword, — he died."
"I understand," with firmness answered she,
More low in voice, but still composedly.
"Now, Tristan — faithful friend — leave me; and take
This trifle here, and keep it for my sake."
So saying, from the curtains she put forth
Her thin white hand, that held a ring of worth;
And he, with tears no longer to be kept
From quenching his heart's thirst, silently wept,
And kneeling took the ring, and touched her hand
To either streaming eye, with homage bland,
And looking on it once, gently up started,
And in his reverent stillness so departed.
Her favourite lady then with the old nurse
Returned, and fearing she must now be worse,
Gently withdrew the curtains, and looked in:—
O, who that feels one godlike spark within,
Shall say that earthly suffering cancels not frail sin!
There lay she praying, upwardly intent,
Like a fair statue on a monument,
With her two trembling hands together prest,
Palm against palm, and pointing from her breast.
She ceased, and turning slowly towards the wall,
They saw her tremble sharply, feet and all,—
Then suddenly be still. Near and more near
They bent with pale inquiry and close ear;—
Her eyes were shut — no motion — not a breath—
The gentle sufferer was at peace in death.
The bodies of the two lovers are sent back, by order of the husband, to Ravenna, to be buried in one tomb. We shall close our extracts with the account of the arrival of this mournful procession, so different in every respect from the former one.
The days were then at close of autumn, — still,
A little rainy, and towards night-fall chill;
There was a fitful, moaning air abroad;
And ever and anon, over the road,
The last few leaves came fluttering from the trees,
Whose trunks now thronged to sight, in dark varieties.
The people, who from reverence kept at home,
Listened till afternoon to hear them come;
And hour on hour went by, and nought was heard
But some chance horseman, or the wind that stirred,
Till towards the vesper hour; and then 'twas said
Some heard a voice, which seemed as if it read;
And others said, that they could hear a sound
Of many horses trampling the moist ground.
Still nothing came, — till on a sudden, just
As the wind opened in a rising gust,
A voice of chanting rose, and as it spread,
They plainly heard the anthem for the dead.
It was the choristers who went to meet
The train, and now were entering the first street.
Then turned aside that city, young and old,
And in their lifted hands the gushing sorrow rolled.
But of the older people, few could bear
To keep the window, when the train drew near;
And all felt double tenderness to see
The bier approaching, slow and steadily,
On which those two in senseless coldness lay,
Who but a few short months — it seemed a day—
Had left their walls, lovely in form and mind,
In sunny manhood he, — she first of womankind.
They say, that when Duke Guido saw them come,
He clasped his hands, and looking round the room,
Lost his old wits for ever. From the morrow
None saw him after. But no more of sorrow.
On that same night, those lovers silently
Were buried in one grave, under a tree.
There, side by side, and hand in hand, they lay
In the green ground: — and on fine nights in May
Young hearts betrothed used to go there to pray.
We have given these extracts a length, that our readers might judge of the story of Rimini, less on our authority, than its own merits; and we have few remarks to add to those which we ventured to make at the beginning. The diction of this little poem is among its chief beauties — and yet its greatest blemishes are faults in diction. — It is very English throughout — but often very affectedly negligent, and so extremely familiar as to be absolutely low and vulgar. What, for example, can be said for such lines as
"She had stout notions on the marrying score," or
"He kept no reckoning with his sweets and sours;—" or
"And better still — in my idea at least," or
"The two divinest things this world has got."
We see no sort of beauty either in such absurd and unusual phrases as "a clipsome waist," — "a scattery light," or "flings of sunshine, " — nor any charm in such comparatives as "martialler," or "tastefuller," or "franklier," or in such words as "whisks," and "swaling," and "freaks and snatches," and an hundred others in the same taste. We think the author rather heretical too on the subject of versification — though we have much less objection to his theory than to his practice. But we cannot spare him a line more on the present occasion — and must put off the rest of our admonitions till we meet him again.