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In the course of a visit to the city of Ravenna, in the summer of 1819, it was suggested to the author that, having composed something on the subject of Tasso's confinement, he should do the samne on Dante's exile the tomb of the poet forming one of the principal objects of interest in that city, both to the native and to the stranger.
“On this hint I spake," and the result has been the following four cantos, in terza rima, now offered to the reader. If they are understood and approved, it is my purpose to continue the poem in various other cantos to its natural conclusion in the present age. The reader is requested to suppose that Dante addresses him in the interval between the conclusion of the Divina Commedia and his death, and shortly before the latter event, foretelling the fortunes of Italy in general in the ensuing centuries. In adopting this plan I have had in my mind the Cassandra of Lycophron, and the Prophecy of Nereus by Horace, as well as the Prophecies of Holy Writ. The measure adopted is the terza rima of Dante, which I am not aware to have seen hitherto tried in our language, except it may be by Mr. Hayley, of whose translation I never saw but one extract, quoted in the notes to Caliph Vathek; so that—if I do not
:—this poem may be considered as a metrical experiment. The cantos are short, and about the same length as those of the poet whose name I have borrowed, and most probably taken in vain.
Amongst the inconveniences of authors in the present day, it is difficult for any who have a name, good or bad, to escape translation. I have had the fortune to see the fourth canto of Childe Harold translated into Italian versi sciolti—that is, a poem written in the Spenserean stanza into blank verse, without regard to the natural divisions of the stanza, or of the sense. If the present poem, being on a national topic, should chance to undergo the same fate, I would request the Italian reader to remember, that when I have failed in the imitation of his
great “Padre Alighier,” I have failed in imitating that which all study and few understand ; since to this very day it is not yet settled what was the meaning of the allegory in the first canto of the Inferno,
unless Count Marchetti's ingenious and probable conjecture may be considered as having decided the question. He
may also pardon my failure the more, as I am not quite sure that he would be pleased with my success, since the Italians, with a pardonable nationality, are particularly jealous of all that is left them as a nation—their literature ; and, in the present bitterness of the classic and romantic war, are but ill disposed to permit a foreigner even to approve or imitate them, without finding some fault with his ultramontane presumption. I can easily enter into all this, knowing what would be thought in England of an Italian imitator of Milton, or if a translation of Monti, or Pindemonte, or Arici, should be held up to the rising generation as a model for their future poetical essays. But I perceive that I am deviating into an address to the Italian reader, when
business is with the English one, and, be they few or many, I must take my leave of both.
ONCE more in man's frail world! which I had left
So long that 't was forgotten ; and I feel
The weight of clay again,—too soon bereft Of the immortal vision which could heal
My earthly sorrows, and to God's own skies
Lift me from that deep gulf without repeal, Where late my ears rung
with the damned cries Of souls in hopeless bale! and from that place Of lesser torment, whence men may
arise Pure from the fire to join the angelic race;
*Midst whom my own bright Beatrice bless’d'
My spirit with her light; and to the base Of the Eternal Triad! first, last, best,
Mysterious, three, sole, infinite, great God!
Soul universal! led the mortal guest, Unblasted by the glory, though he trod
From star to star to reach the almighty throne.
Oh Beatrice! whose sweet limbs the sod
Thou sole pure seraph of my earliest love,
Love so ineffable, and so alone,
And meeting thee in heaven was but to meet
That without which my soul, like the arkless dove, Had wander'd still in search of, nor her feet
* “ There were in this poem, originally, three lines of remarkable strength and severity, which, as the Italian poet against whom they were directed was then living, were omitted in the publication. I shall here give them from memory:
The prostitution of his muse and wife,
Relieved her wing till found; without thy light
My paradise had still been incomplete. Since my tenth sun gave summer to my sight
Thou wert my life, the essence of my thought,
Loved ere I knew the name of love, and bright Still in these dim old eyes, now overwrought With the world's war, and
years, and banishment, And tears for thee, by other woes untaught : For mine is not a nature to be bent
By tyrannous faction, and the brawling crowd ;
And though the long, long conflict hath been spent In vain, and never more, save when the cloud
Which overhangs the Apennine, my mind's eye
Pierces to fancy Florence, once so proud Of me, can I return, though but to die,
Unto my native soil, they have not yet
Quench'd the old exile's spirit, stern and high. But the sun, though not overcast, must set,
And the night cometh; I am old in days,
And deeds, and contemplation, and have met Destruction face to face in all his ways.
The world hath left me, what it found me-pure;
And if I have not gather'd yet its praise, I sought it not by any baser lure.
Man wrongs, and Time
May form a monument not all obscure, Though such was not my ambition's end or aim,
To add to the vain glorious list of those
Who dabble in the pettiness of fame,
Their sail, and deem it glory to be class'd
and virtue's other foes, In bloody chronicles of ages past.
I would have had my Florence great and free :3
Oh Florence! Florence! unto me thou wast Like that Jerusalem which the Almighty He
Wept over, “but thou wouldst not.” As the bird
Gathers its young, I would have gather'd thee Beneath a parent pinion, hadst thou heard
My voice; but as the adder, deaf and fierce,
Against the breast that cherish'd thee was stirr'd Thy venom,
state thou didst amerce, And doom this body forfeit to the fire.
Alas! how bitter is his country's curse
But did not merit to expire by her,
And loves her, loves her even in her ire. The day may come when she will cease to err,
The day may come she would be proud to have
The dust she dooms to scatter, 4 and transfer Of him, whom she denied a home, the grave. But this shall not be granted ; let my
dust Lie where it falls ; nor shall the soil which gave Me breath, but in her sudden fury thrust
Me forth to breathe elsewhere, so reassume
My indignant bones, because her angry gust Forsooth is over, and repeal'd her doom.
No,she denied me what was mine—my roof,
And shall not have what is not hers—my tomb. Too long her armed wrath hath kept aloof
The breast which would have bled for her, the heart
That beat, the mind that was temptation-proof, The man who fought, toil'd, travell’d, and each part
Of a true citizen fulfill'd, and saw
For his reward the Guelf's ascendant art Pass his destruction even into a law.
These things are not made for forgetfulness
Florence shall be forgotten first; too raw
Of such endurance too prolong'd, to make
My pardon greater, her injustice less, Though late repented : yet-yet for her sake
I feel some fonder yearnings, and for thine,
My own Beatrice, I'would hardly take Vengeance upon the land which once was mine,
And still is hallow'd by thy dust's return,
Which would protect the murderess like a shrine,
Though, like old Marius' from Minturna's marsh
burn At times with evil feelings hot and harsh,
And sometimes the last pangs of a vile foe
Writhe in a dream before me, and o'er-arch My brow with hopes of triumph,—let them go!
Such are the last infirmities of those
Who long have suffer'd more than mortal woe, And yet, being mortal still, have no repose
But on the pillow of Revenge —Revenge,
Who sleeps to dream of blood, and waking glows
When we shall mount again, and they that trod
Take these thoughts from me—to thy hands I yield