1816
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Story of Rimini. Canto IV.

The Story of Rimini; a Poem.

Leigh Hunt


The lovers meet again, without recrimination, each blaming themselves for having wronged the other. There guilty behavior does not go unnoticed, even by the self-absorbed Giovanni. One night Francesca betrays herself by talking in her sleep, and Giovanni immediately betakes himself to his brother's chamber. With some reluctance, Paulo responds to the challenge, and falls on his brother's sword. Giovanni speaks a noble eulogy and sheds unwonted tears. When Paulo's squire informs Francesca, she promptly breathes her last. Giovanni, chastened, decides that the lovers must not be separated in death, and sends them back to Ravenna in a second elaborate procession. Francesca's scheming father loses his wits with grief.

Francis Jeffrey: "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" Edinburgh Review 26 (June 1816) 484.

Melesina Chenevix Trench: "We are just reading Rimini, and are crammed with description till we are crop-full. Pity that one who now and then reminds us of Dryden, and who really sees and feels, should thus bury himself in the exuberance of detail; and instead of allowing you to look quietly at the object he describes, turn it round and round, and force you, like a showman, to examine it on all sides, 'about, above, and underneath'" 29 August 1816; in Remains of Mrs. Richard Trench (1862) 346.

Mary Leadbeater to Melesina Chenevix Trench: "I have not met with the Story of Rimini; but I do not like the story. There is something very revolting in the idea of a woman loving another man better than her husband, and this makes me look upon Zeluco as a dangerous book. Hast thou not traced the source of the frequent divorces in the reading of the present day — perverting the young, vain, uncultivated mind? Why, amongst the many songs which float on the gale, and influence young minds so much with the double charm of poetry and melody, are there so very few in praise of married life?" 1816; in Leadbeater Papers (1862) 2:277.



HOW THE BRIDE RETURNED TO RAVENNA.
It has surprised me often, as I write,
That I, who have of late known small delight,
Should thus pursue a mournful theme, and make
My very solace of distress partake.
And I have longed sometimes, I must confess,
To start at once from notes of wretchedness,
And in a key would make you rise and dance,
Strike up a blithe defiance to mischance.
But work begun, an interest in it, shame
At turning cowed to the thoughts I frame,
Necessity to keep firm face on sorrow,
Some flattering, sweet-lipped question every morrow,
And above all, the poet's task divine
Of making tears to charm the sorrow past,
Have held me on, and shall do to the last.

Sorrow to him who has a true touched ear,
Is but the discord of a warbling sphere,
A lurking contrast, which though harsh it be,
Distils the next note more deliciously.
E'en tales like this, founded on real woe,
From bitter seed to balmy fruitage grow:
The woe was earthly, fugitive, is past;
The song that sweetens it, may always last.
And even they, whose shattered hearts and frames
Make them unhappiest of poetic names,
What are they, if they know their calling high,
But crushed perfumes exhaling to the sky?
Or weeping clouds, that but a while are seen,
Yet keep the earth they haste to, bright and green?

Once, and but once, — nor with a scornful face
Tried worth will hear, —that scene again took place.
Partly by chance they met, partly to see
The spot where they had last gone smilingly,
But most, from failure of all self-support;—
And oh! the meeting in that loved resort!
No peevishness there was, no loud distress,
No mean, recriminating selfishness;
But a mute gush of hiding tears from one
Clasped to the core of him, who yet shed none,—
And self-accusings then, which he began,
And into which her tearful sweetness ran;
And then kind looks, with meeting eyes again,
Starting to deprecate the other's pain;
Till half persuasions they could scarce do wrong,
And sudden sense of wretchedness, more strong,
And — why should I add more? — again they parted,
He doubly torn for her, and she nigh broken-hearted.

She never ventured in that spot again;
And Paulo knew it, but could not refrain;
He went again one day; and how it looked!
The calm, old shade! — his presence felt rebuked.
It seemed, as if the hopes of his young heart,
His kindness, and his generous scorn of art,
Had all been a mere dream, or at the best
A vain negation that could stand no test;
And that on waking from his idle fit,
He found himself (how could he think of it!)
A selfish boaster, and a hypocrite.

That thought before had grieved him; but the pain
Cut sharp and sudden, now it came again.
Sick thoughts of late had made his body sick,
And this, in turn, to them grown strangely quick;
And pale he stood, and seemed to burst all o'er
Into moist anguish never felt before,
And with a dreadful certainty to know
His peace was gone, and all to come was woe.
Francesca too, — the being made to bless,—
Destined by him to the same wretchedness,—
It seemed as if such whelming thoughts must find
Some props for them, or he should lose his mind.—
And find he did, not what the worse disease
Of want of charity calls sophistries,—
Nor what can cure a generous heart of pain,—
But humble guesses, helping to sustain.
He thought, with quick philosophy, of things
Rarely found out except through sufferings,—
Of habit, circumstance, design, degree,
Merit, and will, and thoughtful charity:
And these, although they push'd down, as they rose
His self-respect, and all those morning shews
Of true and perfect, which his youth had built,
Pushed with them too the worst of others guilt;
And furnished him, at least, with something kind,
On which to lean a sad and startled mind:
Till youth, and natural vigour, and the dread
Of self-betrayal, and a thought that spread
From time to time in gladness o'er his face,
That she he loved could have done nothing base,
Helped to restore him to his usual life,
Though grave at heart, and with himself at strife;
And he would rise betimes, day after day,
And mount his favourite horse, and ride away
Miles in the country, looking round about,
As he glode by, to force his thoughts without;
And, when he found it vain, would pierce the shade
Of some enwooded field or closer glade,
And there dismounting, idly sit, and sigh,
Or pluck the grass beside him with vague eye,
And almost envy the poor beast, that went
Cropping it, here and there, with dumb content.
But thus, at least, he exercised his blood,
And kept it livelier than inaction could;
And thus he earned for his thought-working head
The power of sleeping when he went to bed,
And was enabled still to wear away
That task of loaded hearts, another day.

But she, the gentler frame, — the shaken flower,
Plucked up to wither in a foreign bower,—
The struggling, virtue-loving, fallen she,
Wife that still was, and mother that might be,—
What could she do, unable thus to keep
Her strength alive, but sit, and think, and weep,
For ever stooping o'er her broidery frame,
Half blind, and longing till the night-time came,
When worn and wearied out with the day's sorrow
She might be still and senseless till the morrow.

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.

I pass the meetings Paulo had with her:—
Calm were they in their outward character,
Or pallid efforts, rather, to suppress
The pangs within, that either's might be less;
And ended mostly with a passionate start
Of tears and kindness, when they came to part.
Thinner he grew, she thought, and pale with care;
"And I, 'twas I, that dashed his noble air!"
He saw her wasting, yet with placid shew;
And scarce could help exclaiming in his woe,
"O gentle creature, look not at me so!"

But Prince Giovanni, whom her wan distress
Had touched, of late, with a new tenderness,
Which to his fresh surprise did but appear
To wound her more than when he was severe,
Began, with other helps perhaps, to see
Strange things, and missed his brother's company.
What a convulsion was the first sensation!
Rage, wonder, misery, scorn, humiliation,
A self-love, struck as with a personal blow
Gloomy revenge, a prospect full of woe,
All rushed upon him, like the sudden view
Of some new world, foreign to all he knew,
Where he had waked and found disease's visions true.

If any lingering hope that he was wrong,
Smooth'd o'er him now and then, 'twas not so long.
Next night, as sullenly awake he lay,
Considering what to do the approaching day,
He heard his wife say something in her sleep:—
He shook, and listened; — she began to weep,
And moaning louder, seemed to shake her head,
Till all at once articulate, she said,
"He loves his brother yet — dear heaven, 'twas I—"
Then lower voiced — "only — do let me die."

The prince looked at her hastily; — no more;
He dresses, takes his sword, and through the door
Goes, like a spirit, in the morning air;—
His squire awaked attends; and they repair,
Silent as wonder, to his brother's room:—
His squire calls him up too; and forth they come.

The brothers meet, — Giovanni scarce in breath,
Yet firm and fierce, Paulo as pale as death.
"May I request, sir," said the prince, and frowned,
"Your ear a moment in the tilting ground?"
"There, brother?" answer'd Paulo, with an air
Surprised and shocked. "Yes, brother," cried he, "there."
The word smote crushingly; and paler still,
He bowed, and moved his lips, as waiting on his will.

Giovanni turned, and from the tower descending,
The squires, with looks of sad surprise, attending,
They issued forth in the moist-striking air,
And towards the tilt-yard crossed a planted square.
'Twas a fresh autumn dawn, vigorous and chill;
The lightsome morning star was sparkling still,
Ere it turned in to heaven; and far away
Appeared the streaky fingers of the day.
An opening in the trees took Paulo's eye,
As mute his brother and himself went by:
It was a glimpse of the tall wooded mound,
That screened Francesca's favourite spot of ground:
Massy and dark in the clear twilight stood,
As in a lingering sleep, the solemn wood;
And through the bowering arch, which led inside,
He almost fancied once, that he descried
A marble gleam, where the pavilion lay—
Starting he turned, and looked another way.

Arrived, and the two squires withdrawn apart,
The prince spoke low, as with a labouring heart,
And said, "Before you answer what you can,
"I wish to tell you, as a gentleman,
"That what you may confess," (and as he spoke
His voice with breathless and pale passion broke)
"Will implicate no person known to you,
More than disquiet in its sleep may do."

Paulo's heart bled; he waved his hand, and bent
His head a little in acknowledgment.
"Say then, sir, if you can," continued he,
"One word will do — you have not injured me:
"Tell me but so, and I shall bear the pain
"Of having asked a question I disdain;—
"But utter nothing, if not that one word;
"And meet me this:" — he stopped, and drew his sword.
Paulo seemed firmer grown from his despair;
He drew a little back; and with the air
Of one who would do well, not from a right
To be well thought of, but in guilt's despite,
"I am," said he, "I know, — 'twas not so ever—
"But fight for it! and with a brother! Never."
"How!" with uplifted voice, exclaimed the other;
"The vile pretence! who asked you — with a brother?
"Brother! O traitor to the noble name
Of Maletesta, I deny the claim.
What! wound it deepest? strike me to the core,
Me, and the hopes which I can have no more,
And then, as never brother of mine could,
Shrink from the letting a few drops of blood?"

"It is not so," cried Paulo, "'tis not so;
But I would save you from a further woe."

"A further woe, recreant!" retorted he:
I know of none: yes, one there still may be:
Save me the woe, save me the dire disgrace,
Of seeing one of an illustrious race
Bearing about a heart, which feared no law,
And a vile sword, which yet he dared not draw."

"Brother, dear brother!" Paulo cried, "nay, nay,
I'll use the word no more; — but peace, I pray!
You trample on a soul, sunk at your feet!"
'Tis false!" exclaimed the prince; "'tis a retreat
To which you fly, when manly wrongs pursue,
And fear the grave you bring a woman to."

A sudden start, yet not of pride or pain,
Paulo here gave; he seemed to rise again;
And taking off his cap without a word,
He drew, and kissed the crossed hilt of his sword,
Looking to heaven; — then with a steady brow,
Mild, yet not feeble, said, "I'm ready now."

"A noble word!" exclaimed the prince, and smote
The ground beneath him with his firming foot:—
The squires rush in between, in their despair,
But both the princes tell them to beware.

"Back, Gerard," cries Giovanni; "I require
No teacher here, but an observant squire."
"Back, Tristan," Paulo cries; "fear not for me;
All is not worst that so appears to thee.
And here," said he, "a word." The poor youth came,
Starting in sweeter tears to hear his name:
A whisper, and a charge there seemed to be,
Given to him kindly yet inflexibly:
Both squires then drew apart again, and stood
Mournfully both, each in his several mood,—
One half in rage, as to himself he speaks,
The other with the tears streaming down both his cheeks.

The prince attacked with nerve in every limb,
Nor seemed the other slow to strike again;
Yet as the fight grew warm, 'twas evident,
One fought to wound, the other to prevent:
Giovanni pressed, and pushed, and shifted aim,
And played his weapon like a tongue of flame;
Paulo retired, and warded, turned on heel,
And led him, step by step, round like a wheel.
Sometimes indeed he feigned an angrier start,
But still relapsed, and played his former part.
"What!" cried Giovanni, who grew still more fierce,
"Fighting in sport? Playing your cart and tierce?"
"Not so, my prince," said Paulo; "have a care
How you think so, or I shall wound you there."
He stamped, and watching as he spoke the word,
Drove, with his breast, full on his brother's sword.
'Twas done. He staggered; and in falling prest
Giovanni's foot with his right hand and breast:
Then on his elbow turned, and raising t' other,
He smiled and said, "No fault of yours, my brother;
An accident — a slip — the finishing one
To errors by that poor old man begun.
You'll not — you'll not" — his heart leaped on before,
And choked his utterance; but he smiled once more,
For as his hand grew lax, he felt it prest;—
And so, his dim eyes sliding into rest,
He turned him round, and dropt with hiding head,
And, in that loosening drop, his spirit fled.

But noble passion touched Giovanni's soul;
He seemed to feel the clouds of habit roll
Away from him at once, with all their scorning,
And out he spoke, in the clear air of morning:—
"By heaven, by heaven, and all the better part
Of us poor creatures with a human heart,
I trust we reap at last, as well as plough;—
But there, meantime, my brother, liest thou;
And, Paulo, thou wert the completest knight,
That ever rode with banner to the fight;
And thou wert the most beautiful to see,
That ever came in press of chivalry;
And of a sinful man, thou wert the best,
That ever for his friend put spear in rest;
And thou wert the most meek and cordial,
That ever among ladies ate in hall;
And thou wert still, for all that bosom gored,
The kindest man that ever struck with sword."

At this the words forsook his tongue; and he,
Who scarcely had shed tears since infancy,
Felt his stern visage thrill, and meekly bow'd
His head, and for his brother wept aloud.
The squires with glimmering tears — Tristan, indeed,
Heart-struck, and hardly able to proceed,—
Double their scarfs about the fatal wound,
And raise the body up to quit the ground.
Giovanni starts; and motioning to take
The way they came, follows his brother back,
And having seen him laid upon the bed,
No further look he gave him, nor tear shed,
But went away, such as he used to be,
With looks of stately will and calm austerity.

Tristan, who when he was to make the best
Of something sad and not to be redressed,
Could show a heart as firm as it was kind,
Now locked his tears up, and seemed all resigned,
And to Francesca's chamber took his way,
To tell her what his master bade him say.
He found her ladies up and down the stairs
Moving with noiseless caution, and in tears,
And that the sad news had before him got,
Though she herself, it seemed, yet knew it not.
The door, as tenderly as miser's purse,
Was opened to him by her aged nurse,
Who shaking her old head, and pressing close
Her withered lips to keep the tears that rose,
Made signs she guessed what 'twas he came about,
And so his arm squeezed gently, and went out.

The princess, who had passed a fearful night,
Toiling with dreams, — fright crowding upon fright,
Had missed her husband at that early hour,
And when she tried to rise, found she'd no power.
Yet as her body seemed to go, her mind
Felt, though in anguish still, strangely resigned;
And moving not, nor weeping, mute she lay,
Wasting in patient gravity away.
The nurse, sometime before with gentle creep
Had drawn the curtains, hoping she might sleep:
But suddenly she asked, though not with fear,
"Brangin, what bustle's that I seem to hear?"
And the poor creature, who the news had heard,
Pretending to be busy, had just stirred
Something about the room, and answered not a word.

"Who's there?" said that sweet voice, kindly and clear,
Which in its stronger days was joy to hear:—
Its weakness now almost deprived the squire
Of his new firmness, but approaching nigher,
"Madam," said he, "'tis I; one who may say,
He loves his friends more than himself to-day;"—
"Tristan." — She paused a little, and then said—
"Tristan — my friend, what noise thus haunts my head?
Something I'm sure has happened — tell me what—
I can bear all, though you may fancy not."
"Madam," replied the squire, "you are, I know,
All sweetness — pardon me for saying so.
My master bade me say then," resumed he,
"That he spoke firmly, when he told it me,—
That I was also, madam, to your ear
Firmly to speak, and you firmly to hear,—
That he was forced this day, whether or no,
To combat with the prince; 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.

I pass the grief that struck to every face,
And the mute anguish all about that place,
In which the silent people, here and there,
Went soft, as though she still could feel their care.
The gentle-tempered for a while forgot
Their own distress, or wept the common lot:
The warmer, apter now to take offence,
Yet hushed as they rebuked, and wondered whence
Others at such a time could get their want of sense.

Fain would I haste indeed to finish all;
And so at once I reach the funeral.
Private 'twas fancied it must be, though some
Thought that her sire, the poor old duke, would come:
And some were wondering in their pity, whether
The lovers might not have one grave together.
Next day, however, from the palace gate
A blast of trumpets blew, like voice of fate;
And all in sable clad, forth came again
A portion of the former sprightly train;
Gerard was next, and then a rank of friars;
And then, with heralds on each side, two squires,
The one of whom upon a cushion bore
The coroneted helm Prince Paulo wore,
His shield the other; — then there was a space,
And in the middle, with a doubtful pace,
His horse succeeded, plumed and trapped in black,
Bearing the sword and banner on his back:
The noble creature, as in state he trod,
Appeared as if he missed his princely load;
And with back-rolling eye and lingering pride,
To hope his master still might come to ride.
Then Tristan, heedless of what passed around,
Rode by himself, with eyes upon the ground.
Then heralds in a row: and last of all
Appeared a hearse, hung with an ermined pall,
And bearing on its top, together set,
A prince's and princess's coronet.
Mutely they issued forth, black, slow, dejected,
Nor stopped within the walls, as most expected;
But passed the gates — the bridge — the last abode,—
And towards Ravenna held their silent road.

The prince, it seems, struck since his brother's death,
With what he hinted with his dying breath,
And told by others now of all they knew,
Had instantly determined what to do;
And from a mingled feeling, which he strove
To hide no longer from his taught self-love,
Of sorrow, shame, resentment, and a sense
Of justice owing to that first offence,
Had, on the day preceding, written word
To the old duke of all that had occurred.
"And though I shall not," (so concluded he,)
"Otherwise touch thine age's misery,
Yet as I would that both one grave should hide,
Which can, and must not be, where I reside,
'Tis fit, though all have something to deplore,
That he, who joined them once, should keep to part no more."

The wretched father, who, when he had read
This letter, felt it wither his grey head,
And ever since had paced about his room,
Trembling, and and at the windows looking out,
Had given such orders, as he well could frame,
To meet devoutly whatsoever came;
And as the news immediately took flight,
Few in Ravenna went to sleep that night,
But talked the business over, and reviewed
All that they knew of her, the fair and good;
And so with wondering sorrow the next day,
Waited till they should see that sad array.

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.

[pp. 81-111]