1816
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Story of Rimini. Canto II.

The Story of Rimini; a Poem.

Leigh Hunt


It transpires that Paulo is not the bridegroom but the brother, sent as proxy for the gloomy Giovanni. Francesca is taken aback, but Paulo is charming, and the marriage-rites are performed. The privacy of the ceremony sits ill with a populace expecting a public feast, though most are pacified with a distribution of coins. Francesca is carried forth to Rimini, traveling through a blighted landscape reminiscent of similar scenes in the gothic romances of Ann Radcliffe. With a clanking of chains, she crosses the threshold her new abode at Rimini.

Francis Jeffrey: "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" Edinburgh Review 26 (June 1816) 481.

Henry A. Beers: "The first fruits of the Dante revival in England, in the shape of original production, was Leigh Hunt's Story of Rimini (1816) — 'Mr. Hunt's smutty story of Rimini,' as the Tory wits of Blackwood were fond of calling it in their onslaughts upon the Cockney school. This was a romaut in four cantos upon the already familiar episode of Francesca, that 'lily in the mouth of Tartarus'" Romanticism in the Nineteenth Century (1901) 105.

Herbert E. Cory: "His epicurean Story of Rimini (1816), so important for the history of nineteenth cnetury romanticism, hows the influence of Spenser, the sensuous builder of the Bower of Bliss, both for better and for worse. But in his beautiful essay, Imagination and Fancy, we find the key-note of Hunt's attitude towards Spenser. Here he furnishes a wonderful picture-gallery. He compares scene after scene of concentrated loveliness with some appropriate picture which hangs in the great galleries of Europe, No book could be more perfect to teach both youth and crabbed age to love Spenser" "Critics of Edmund Spenser" UCPMP (1911) 177.



THE BRIDE'S JOURNEY TO RIMINI.
We'll pass the followers, and their closing state;
The court was entered by a hinder gate;
The duke and princess had retired before,
Joined by the knights and ladies at the door;
But something seemed amiss, and there ensued
Deep talk among the spreading multitude,
Who stood in groups, or paced the measured street,
Filling with earnest hum the noontide heat;
Nor ceased the wonder, as the day increased,
And brought no symptoms of a bridal feast,
No mass, no tilt, no largess for the crowd,
Nothing to answer that procession proud;
But a blank look, as if no court had been,
Silence without and secrecy within;
And nothing heard by listening at the walls,
But now and then a bustling through the halls,
Or the dim organ roused at gathering intervals.

The truth was this: — The bridegroom had not come,
But sent his brother, proxy in his room.
A lofty spirit the former was, and proud,
Little gallant, and had a sort of cloud
Hanging for ever on his cold address,
Which he mistook for sovereign manliness.
But more of this hereafter. Guido knew
The prince's character; and he knew too,
That sweet as was his daughter, and prepared
To do her duty, where appeal was barred,
She had stout notions on the marrying score,
And where the match unequal prospect bore,
Might pause with firmness, and refuse to strike
A chord her own sweet music so unlike.
The old man therefore, kind enough at heart,
Yet fond from habit of intrigue and art,
And little formed for sentiments like these,
Which seemed to him mere maiden niceties,
Had thought at once to gratify the pride
Of his stern neighbour, and secure the bride,
By telling him, that if, as he had heard,
Busy he was just then, 'twas but a word,
And he might send and wed her by another,—
Of course, no less a person than his brother.
The bride meantime was told, and not unmoved,
To look for one no sooner seen than loved;
And when Giovanni, struck with what he thought
Mere proof how his triumphant hand was sought,
Dispatched the wished-for prince, who was a creature
Formed in the very poetry of nature,
The effect was perfect, and the future wife
Caught in the elaborate snare, perhaps for life.

One shock there was, however, to sustain,
Which nigh restored her to herself again.
She saw, when all were housed, in Guido's face
A look of leisurely surprise take place;
A little whispering followed for a while,
And then 'twas told her, with an easy smile,
That Prince Giovanni, to his great chagrin,
Had been delayed by something unforeseen,
But rather than defer his day of bliss
(If his fair ruler took it not amiss)
Had sent his brother Paulo in his stead;
"Who," said old Guido, with a nodding head,
"May well be said to represent his brother,
For when you see the one, you know the other."

By this time Paulo joined them where they stood,
And seeing her in some uneasy mood,
Changed the mere cold respects his brother sent
To such a strain of cordial compliment,
And paid them with an air so frank and bright,
As to a friend appreciated at sight,
That air, in short, which sets you at your ease,
Without implying your perplexities,
That what with the surprise in every way,
The hurry of the time, the appointed day,
The very shame, which now appeared increased,
Of begging leave to have her hand released,
And above all, those tones, and smiles, and looks,
Which seemed to realize the dreams of books,
And helped her genial fancy to conclude
That fruit of such a stock must all be good,
She knew not how to object in her confusion;
Quick were the marriage-rites, and, in conclusion,
The proxy, turning midst the general hush,
Kissed her meek lips, betwixt a rosy blush.

At last, about the vesper hour, a score
Of trumpets issued from the palace door,
The banners of their brass with favours tied,
And with a blast proclaimed the wedded bride.
But not a word the sullen silence broke,
Till something of a gift the herald spoke,
And with a bag of money issuing out,
Scattered the ready harvest round about;
Then burst the mob into a jovial cry,
And largess! largess! claps against the sky,
And bold Giovanni's name, the lord of Rimini.

The rest however still were looking on,
Careless and mute, and scarce the noise was gone,
When riding from the gate with banners reared,
Again the morning visitors appeared.
The prince was in his place; and in a car,
Before him, glistening like a farewell star,
Sate the dear lady with her brimming eyes;
And off they set, through doubtful looks and cries;
For some too shrewdly guessed, and some were vexed
At the dull day, and some the whole perplexed,
And all great pity thought it to divide
Two that seemed made for bridegroom and for bride.
Ev'n she, whose heart this strange, abrupt event
Had seared, as 'twere, with burning wonderment,
Could scarce, at times, a starting cry forbear
At leaving her own home and native air;
Till passing now the limits of the town,
And on the last few gazers looking down,
She saw by the road-side an aged throng,
Who, wanting power to bustle with the strong,
Had learnt their gracious mistress was to go,
And gathered there, an unconcerted shew;
Bending they stood, with their old foreheads bare,
And the winds fingered with their reverend hair.
Farewell! farewell, my friends! she would have cried,
But in her throat the leaping accents died,
And, waving with her hand a vain adieu,
She dropt her veil, and backwarder withdrew,
And let the kindly tears their own good course pursue.

It was a lovely evening, fit to close
A lovely day, and brilliant in repose.
Warm, but not dim, a glow was in the air;
The soften'd breeze came smoothing here and there;
And every tree, in passing, one by one,
Gleam'd out with twinkles of the golden sun:
For leafy was the road, with tall array,
On either side, of mulberry and bay,
And distant snatches of blue hills between;
And there the alder was with its bright green,
And the broad chestnut, and the poplar's shoot,
That like a feather waves from head to foot,
With, ever and anon, majestic pines;
And still, from tree to tree, the early vines
Hung garlanding the way in amber lines.

Nor long the princess kept her from the view
Of that dear scenery with its parting hue;
For sitting now, calm from the gush of tears,
With dreaming eye fixed down, and half-shut ears,
Hearing, yet hearing not, the fervent sound
Of hoofs thick reckoning and the wheel's moist round,
A call of "slower!" from the farther part
Of the check'd riders woke her with a start;
And looking up again, half sigh, half stare,
She lifts her veil, and feels the freshening air.

'Tis down a hill they go, gentle indeed,
And such, as with a bold and playful speed
Another time they would have scorned to measure;
But now they take with them a lovely treasure,
And feel they should consult her gentle pleasure.

And now with thicker shades the pines appear;
The noise of hoofs grows duller on the ear;
And quitting suddenly their gravelly toil,
The wheels go spinning o'er a sandy soil.
Here first the silence of the country seems
To come about her with its listening dreams,
And, full of anxious thoughts, half freed from pain,
In downward musing she relapsed again,
Leaving the others who had passed that way
In careless spirits of the early day,
To look about, and mark the reverend scene,
For awful tales renowned, and everlasting green.

A heavy spot the forest looks at first,
To one grim shade condemned, and sandy thirst,
Or only chequered, here and there, with bushes
Dusty and sharp, or plashy pools with rushes,
About whose sides the swarming insects fry
Opening with noisome din, as they go by.
But entering more and more, they quit the sand
At once, and strike upon a grassy land,
From which the trees, as from a carpet, rise
In knolls and clumps, with rich varieties.
A moment's trouble find the knights to rein
Their horses in, which, feeling turf again,
Thrill, and curvet, and long to be at large
To scour the space and give the winds a charge,
Or pulling tight the bridles, as they pass,
Dip their warm mouths into the freshening grass.
But soon in easy rank, from glade to glade,
Proceed they, coasting underneath the shade,
Some baring to the cool their placid brows,
Some looking upward through the glimmering boughs,
Or peering grave through inward-opening places,
And half prepared for glimpse of shadowy faces.
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 pleased, — till now the couching sun
Levels his final look through shadows dun;
And the clear moon, with meek o'er-lifted face,
Seems come to look into the silvering place.
Then first the bride waked up, for then was heard,
Sole voice, the poet's and the lover's bird,
Preluding first, as though the sounds were cast
For the dear leaves about her, till at last
With shot-out raptures, in a perfect shower,
She vents her heart on the delicious hour.
Lightly the horsemen go, as if they'd ride
A velvet path, and hear no voice beside:
A placid hope assures the breath-suspending bride.

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.

[pp. 25-39]

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