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Full text of "Sordello"

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SORDELLO. 



SOEDELLO. 



BY ROBERT BROWNING. 



LONDON: 
EDWARD MOXON, DOVER STREET. 

MDCCCXL. 



LONDON : 

BRADBURY AND fiVANS, PRINlfiRS, 

WHrXEFRlARS. 



SORDELLO. 



BOOK THE FIRST. 

Who will, may hear Sordello's story told : 
His story ? Who believes me shall behold 
The man, pursue his fortunes to the end 
Like me ; for as the friendless people's friend 
Spied from his hill-top once, despite the din 
And dust of multitudes, Pentapolin 
Named o* the Naked Arm, I single out 
Sordello, compassed murkily about 
With ravage of six long sad hundred years : 
Only believe me. Ye believe ? 

Appears 
Verona . . . Never, I should warn you first, 
Of my own choice had this, if not the worst 

B 



2 SORDELLO. 

Yet not the best expedient, served to tell 
A story I could body forth so well 
By making speak, myself kept out of view, 
The very man as he was wont to do. 
And leaving you to say the rest for him : 
Since, though I might be proud to see the dim 
Abysmal Past divide its hateful surge, 
Letting of all men this one man emerge 
Because it pleased me, yet, that moment past, 
I should delight in watching first to last 
His progress as you watch it, not a whit 
More in the secret than yourselves who sit 
Fresh-chapleted to listen : but it seems 
Your setters-forth of unexampled themes. 
Makers of quite new men, producing them 
Had best chalk broadly on each vesture's hem 
The wearer s quality, or take his stand 
Motley on back and pointing-pole in hand 
Beside them ; so for once I face ye, friends. 
Summoned together from the world's four ends, 
Dropped down from Heaven or cast up from Hell, 
To hear the story I propose to tell. 
Confess now, poets know the dragnet's trick, 
Catching the dead if Fate denies the quick 



SORDELLO. 3 

And shaming her ; *tis not for Fate to choose 
Silence or song because she can refuse 
Real eyes to glisten more, real hearts to ache 
Less oft, real brows turn smoother for our sake : 
I have experienced something of her spite ; 
But there's a realm wherein she has no right 
And I have many lovers : say but few 
Friends Fate accords me ? Here they are; now view 
The host I muster ! Many a lighted face 
Foul with no vestige of the grave's disgrace ; 
What else should tempt them back to taste our air 
Except to see how their successors fare ? 
My audience : and they sit, each ghostly man 
Striving to look as living as he can, 
Brother by breathing brother ; thou art set, 
Clear-witted critic, by . . . but I'll not fret 
A wondrous soul of them, nor move Death's spleen 
Who loves not to unlock them. Friends ! I mean 
The living in good earnest — ye elect 
Chiefly for love — suppose not I reject 
Judicious praise, who contrary shall peep 
Some fit occasion forth, for fear ye sleep. 
To glean your bland approvals. Then, appear, 
Yerona ! stay — thou, spirit, come not near 
B 2 



4 SORDELLO. 

Now — nor this time desert thy cloudy place 

To scare me, thus employed, with that pure face ! 

I need not fear this audience, I make free 

With them, but then this is no place for thee ! 

The thunder-phrase of the Athenian, grown 

Up out of memories of Marathon, 

Would echo like his own sword's griding screech 

Braying a Persian shield, — the silver speech 

Of Sidney's self, the starry paladin, 

Turn intense as a trumpet sounding in 

The knights to tilt — wert thou to hear ! What hear 

Have I to play my puppets, bear my part 

Before these worthies ? 

Lo, the Past is hurled 
In twain : up thrust, out-staggering on the world. 
Subsiding into shape, a darkness rears 
Its outline, kindles at the core, appears 
Verona. Tis six hundred years and more 
Since an event. The Second Friedrich wore 
The purple, and the Third Honorius filled 
The holy chair. That autumn eve was stilled : 
A last remains of sunset dimly burned 
O'er the far forests like a torch-flame turned 
By the wind back upon its bearer s hand 
In one long flare of crimson ; as a brand 



SORDELLO. 5 

The woods beneath lay black. A single eye 
From all Yerona cared for the soft sky ; 
But, gathering in its ancient market-place, 
Talked group with restless group ; and not a face 
But wrath made livid, for among them were 
Death's staunch purveyors, such as have in care 
To feast him. Fear had long since taken root 
In every breast, and now these crushed its fruit, 
The ripe hate, like a wine : to note the way 
It worked while each grew drunk ! men grave and grey 
Stood, with shut eyelids, rocking to and fro. 
Letting the silent luxury trickle slow 
About the hollows where a heart should be ; 
But the young gulped with a delirious glee 
Some foretaste of their first debauch in blood 
At the fierce news : for, be it understood, 
Envoys apprised Verona that her prince 
Count Richard of Saint Boniface, joined since 
A year with Azzo, Este's Lord, to thrust 
Taurello Salinguerra, prime in trust 
With Ecelin Romano, from his seat 
Ferrara, — over zealous in the feat 
And stumbling on a peril unaware. 
Was captive, " trammelled in his proper snare," 



5 SORDELLO. 

They phrase it, " taken by his own intrigue :" 
Immediate succour, from the Lombard League 
Of fifteen cities that affect the Pope, 
For Azzo therefore and his fellow — hope 
Of the Guelf cause, a glory overcast ! 
Men's faces, late agape, are now aghast : 
Prone is the purple pavice ; Este makes 
Mirth for the Devil when he undertakes 
To play the Ecelin ; as if it cost 
Merely your pushing-by to gain a post 
Like his ! The patron tells ye, once for all. 
There be sound reasons that preferment fall 
On our beloved . . . 

Duke o' the Rood, why not ? 
Shouted an Estian, grudge ye such a lot ? 
The hill-cat boasts some cunning of her own. 
Some stealthy trick to better beasts unknown 
That quick with prey enough her hunger blunts 
And feeds her fat while gaunt the lion hunts. 

Taurello, quoth an envoy, as in wane 
Dwelt at Ferrara. Like an osprey fain 
To fly but forced the earth his couch to make 
Far inland till his friend the tempest wake. 
Waits he the Kaiser s coming ; and as yet 
That fast friend sleeps, and he too sleeps ; but let 



SORDELLO. 7 

Only the billow freshen, and he snuffs 

The aroused hurricane ere it enroughs 

The sea it means to cross because of him : 

Sinketh the breeze ? His hope-sick eye grows dim ; 

Creep closer on the creature ! Every day 

Strengthens the Pontiff; Ecelin, they say, 

Dozes at Oliero, with dry lips 

Telling upon his perished finger-tips 

How many ancestors are to depose 

Ere he be Satan's Viceroy when the doze 

Deposits him in hell ; so Guelfs rebuilt 

Their houses ; not a drop of blood was spilt 

When Cino Bocchimpane chanced to meet 

Buccio Yirtii ; God's wafer, and the street 

Is narrow ! Tutti Santi, think, a-swarm 

With Ghibellins, and yet he took no harm. 

This could not last. Off Salinguerra went 

To Padua, Podesta, with pure intent. 

Said he, my presence, judged the single bar 

To permanent tranquillity, may jar 

No longer — so ! his back is fairly turned ? 

The pair of goodly palaces are burned, 

The gardens ravaged, and your Guelf is drunk 

A week with joy ; the next, his laughter sunk 



8 SORDELLO. 

In sobs of blood, for he found, some strange way, 

Old Salinguerra back again ; I say 

Old Salinguerra in the town once more 

Uprooting, overturning, flame before 

Blood fetlock- high beneath him ; Azzo fled ; 

Who scaped the carnage followed ; then the dead 

Were pushed aside from Salinguerra's throne. 

He ruled once more Ferrara, all alone. 

Till Azzo, stunned awhile, revived, would pounce ; 

Coupled with Boniface, like lynx and ounce. 

On the gorged bird. The burghers ground their teeth 

To see troop after troop encamp beneath 

r the standing corn thick o'er the scanty patch 

It took so many patient months to snatch 

Out of the marsh ; while just within their walls 

Men fed on men. Astute Taurello calls 

A parley : let the Count wind up the war ! 

Richard, light-hearted as a plunging star, 

Agrees to enter for the kindest ends 

Ferrara, flanked with fifty chosen friends, 

No horse-boy more for fear your timid sort 

Should fly Ferrara at the bare report. 

Quietly through the town they rode, jog- jog ; 

Ten, twenty, thirty . . . curse the catalogue 



SORDELLO. 9 

Of burnt Guelf houses ! Strange Taurello shows 
Not the least sign of life — whereat arose 
A general growl : How ? With his victors by ? 
I and my Veronese ? My troops and I ? 
Receive us, was your word ? so jogged they on, 
Nor laughed their host too openly : once gone 
Into the trap ... 

Six hundred years ago ! 
Such the time's aspect and peculiar woe 
(Yourselves may spell it yet in chronicles, 
Albeit the worm, our busy brother, drills 
His sprawling path through letters anciently 
Made fine and large to suit some abbot's eye) 
When the new HohenstaufFen dropped the mask, 
Flung John of Brienne's favor from his casque, 
Forswore crusading, had no mind to leave 
Saint Peter s proxy leisure to retrieve 
Losses to Otho and to Barbaross, 
Or make the Alps less easy to recross ; 
And thus confirming Pope Honorius' fear, 
Was excommunicate that very year. 
The triple-bearded Teuton come to life ! 
Groaned the Great League; and, arming for the strife. 
Wide Lombardy, on tiptoe to begin, 
Took up, as it was Guelf or Ghibellin, 



10 SORDELLO, 

Its cry; what cry ? 

The Emperor to come ! 
His crowd of feudatories, all and some 
That leapt down with a crash of swords, spears, shields, 
One fighter on his fellow, to our fields. 
Scattered anon, took station here and there, 
And carried it, till now, with little care — 
Cannot but cry for him ; how else rebut 
Us longer ? Cliffs an earthquake suffered jut 
In the mid-sea, each domineering crest 
Nothing save such another throe can wrest 
From out (conceive) a certain chokeweed grown 
Since o'er the waters, twine and tangle thrown 
Too thick, too fast accumulating round, 
Too sure to over-riot and confound 
Ere long each brilliant islet with itself 
Unless a second shock save shoal and shelf, 
Whirling the sea-drift wide : alas, the bruised 
And sullen wreck ! Sunlight to be diffused 
For that ! Sunlight, 'neatli which, a scum at first. 
The million fibres of our chokeweed nurst 
Dispread themselves, mantling the troubled main. 
And, shattered by those rocks, took hold again 
So kindly blazed it — that same blaze to brood 
O'er every cluster of the multitude 



SORDELLO. 11 

Still hazarding new clasps, ties, filaments, 
An emulous exchange of pulses, vents 
Of nature into nature ; till some growth 
Unfancied yet exuberantly clothe 
A surface solid now, continuous, one : 
The Pope, for us the People, who begun 
The People, carries on the People thus. 
To keep that Kaiser o£f and dwell with us ! 
See you ? 

Or say. Two Principles that live 
Each fitly by its Representative : 
Hill-cat . . . who called him so, our gracefidlest 
Adventurer ? the ambiguous stranger-guest 
Of Lombardy (sleek but that ruffling fur. 
Those talons to their sheath !) whose velvet purr 
Soothes jealous neighbours when a Saxon scout 
. . . Arpo or Yoland, is it ? one without 
A country or a name, presumes to couch 
Beside their noblest ; until men avouch 
That of all Houses in the Trivisan 
Conrad descries no fitter, rear or van. 
Than Ecelo ! They laughed as they enrolled 
That name at Milan on the page of gold 
For Godego, Ramon, Marostica, 
Cartiglion, Bassano, Loria, 



12 SORDELLO. 

And every sheep-cote on the Suabian s fief ! 

No laughter when his son, the Lombard Chief 

Forsooth, as Barbarossa's path was bent 

To Italy along the Yale of Trent, 

Welcomed him at Roncaglia ! Sadness now — 

The hamlets nested on the Tyrol's brow. 

The Asolan and Euganean hills, 

The Rhetian and the Julian, sadness fills 

Them all that Ecelin vouchsafes to stay 

Among and care about them ; day by day 

Choosing this pinnacle, the other spot, 

A castle building to defend a cot, 

A cot built for a castle to defend. 

Nothing but castles, castles, nor an end 

To boasts how mountain ridge may join with ridge 

By sunken gallery and soaring bridge — 

He takes, in brief, a figure that beseems 

The griesliest nightmare of the Church's dreams, 

A Signory firm-rooted, unestranged 

From its old interests, and nowise changed 

By its new neighbourhood ; perchance the vaunt 

Of Otho, " my own Este shall supplant 

Your Este,'* come to pass. The sire led in 

A son as cruel ; and this Ecelin 



BORDELLO. 13 

Had sons, in turn, and daughters sly and tall. 

And curling and compliant ; but for all 

Romano (so they style him) thrives, that neck 

Of his so pinched and white, that hungry cheek 

Prove 'tis some fiend, not him, men s flesh is meant 

To feed : whereas Romano's instrument. 

Famous Taurello Salinguerra, sole 

I* the world, a tree whose boughs are slipt the bole 

Successively, why shall not he shed blood 

To further a design ? Men understood 

Living was pleasant to him as he wore 

His careless surcoat, glanced some missive o'er, 

Propped on his truncheon in the public way. 

Ecelin lifts two writhen hands to pray 

At Oliero's convent now : so, place 

For Azzo, Lion of the . . . why disgrace 

A worthiness conspicuous near and far 

(Atii at Rome while free and consular, 

Este at Padua to repulse the Hun) 

By trumpeting the Church's princely son 

Styled Patron of Rovigo's Polesine, 

Ancona's March, Ferrara's . . . ask, in fine. 

Your chronicles, commenced when some old monk 

Found it intolerable to be sunk 



14 SORDELLO. 

(Vexed to the quick by his revolting cell) 
Quite out of summer while alive and well : 
Ended when by his mat the Prior stood, 
Mid busy promptings of the brotherhood, 
Striving to coax from his decrepit brains 
The reason Father Porphyry took pains 
To blot those ten lines out which used to stand 
First on their charter drawn by Hildebrand. 

The same night wears. Yerona's rule of yore 
Was vested in a certain Twenty-four ; 
And while within his palace these debate 
Concerning Richard and Ferrara's fate. 
Glide we by clapping doors, with sudden glare 
Of cressets vented on the dark, nor care 
For aught that 's seen or heard until we shut 
The smother in, the lights, all noises but 
The carroch's booming ; safe at last ! Why strange 
Such a recess should lurk behind a range 
Of banquet-rooms ? Your finger — thus — you push 
A spring, and the wall opens, would you rush 
Upon the banqueters, select your prey, 
Waiting, the slaughter- weapons in the way 
Strewing this very bench, with sharpened ear 
A preconcerted signal to appear ; 



SORDELLO. 15 

Or if you simply crouch with beating heart 
Bearing in some voluptuous pageant part 
To startle them. Nor mutes nor masquers now ; 
Nor any . . . does that one man sleep whose brow 
The dying lamp-flame sinks and rises o'er ? 
What woman stood beside him ? not the more 
Is he unfastened from the earnest eyes 
Because that arras fell between ! Her wise 
And lulling words are yet about the room, 
Her presence wholly poured upon the gloom 
Down even to her vesture's creeping stir : 
And so reclines he, saturate with her. 
Until an outcry from the square beneath 
Pierces the charm : he springs up, glad to breathe 
Above the cunning element, and shakes 
The stupor off" as (look you) morning breaks 
On the gay dress, and, near concealed by it, 
The lean frame like a half-burnt taper, lit 
Erst at some marriage-feast, then laid away 
Till the Armenian bridegroom's dying-day. 
In his wool wedding-robe ; for he — for he — 
" Gate- vein of this hearts' blood of Lombardy" 
(If I should falter now) — for he is Thine ! 
Sordello, thy forerunner, Florentine ! 



16 SORDELLO. 

A herald-star I know thou didst absorb 
Relentless into the consummate orb 
That scared it from its right to roll along 
^ A sempiternal path with dance and song 
Fulfilling its allotted period 
Serenest of the progeny of God 
Who yet resigns it not ; his darling stoops 
With no quenched lights, desponds with no blank troops 
Of disenfranchised brilliances, for, blent 
Utterly with thee, its shy element 
Like thine upburneth prosperous and clear : 
Still, what if I approach the august sphere 
Named now with only one name, disentwine 
That under current soft and argentine 
From its fierce mate in the majestic mass 
Leavened as the sea w^hose fire was mixt with glass 
In John s transcendent vision, launch once more 
That lustre ? Dante, pacer of the shore 
Where glutted Hell disgorgeth filthiest gloom, 
Unbitten by its whirring sulphur -spume — 
Or whence the grieved and obscure waters slope 
Into a darkness quieted by hope — 
Plucker of amaranths grown beneath God's eye 
In gracious twilights where his Chosen lie, 



SORDELLO. ] 7 

I would do this ! if I should falter now — 

In Mantua- territory half is slough 
Half pine-tree forest ; maples, scarlet-oaks 
Breed o'er the river-beds ; even Mincio chokes 
With sand the summer through ; but 'tis morass 
In winter up to Mantua walls. There was 
(Some thirty years before this evening's coil) 
One spot reclaimed from the surrounding spoil, 
Goito ; just a castle built amid 
A few low mountains ; firs and larches hid 
Their main defiles and rings of vineyard bound 
The rest : some captured creature in a pound, 
Whose artless wonder quite precludes distress, 
Secure beside in its own loveliness, 
So peered with airy head, below, above, 
The castle at its toils the lapwings love 
To glean among at grape-time. Pass within : 
A maze of corridors contrived for sin. 
Dusk winding- stairs, dim galleries got past, 
You gain the inmost chambers, gain at last 
A maple-panelled room : that haze which seems 
Floating about the panel, if there gleams 
A sunbeam over it will turn to gold 
And in light-graven characters unfold 
c 



18 SORDELLO. 

The Arab's wisdom everywhere ; what shade 

Marred them a moment, those slim pillars made, 

Cut like a company of palms to prop 

The roof, each kissing top entwined with top, 

Leaning together ; in the carver s mind 

Some knot of bacchanals, flushed cheek combined 

With straining forehead, shoulders purpled, hair 

DiiBfused between, who in a goat-skin bear 

A vintage ; graceful sister-palms : but quick 

To the main wonder now. A vault, see ; thick 

Black shade about the ceiling, though fine slits 

Across the buttress suffer light by fits 

Upon a marvel in the midst : nay, stoop — 

A dullish grey-streaked cumbrous font, a group 

Round it, each side of it, where'er one sees. 

Upholds it — shrinking Caryatides 

Of just-tinged marble like Eve's lilied flesh 

Beneath her Maker's finger when the fresh 

First pulse of life shot brightening the snow : 

The font's edge burthens every shoulder, so 

They muse upon the ground, eyelids half closed. 

Some, with meek arms behind their backs disposed. 

Some, crossed above their bosoms, sdme, to veil 

Their eyes, some, propping chin and cheek so pale, 



I 



SORDELLO. 19 

Some, hanging slack an utter helpless length 

Dead as a buried vestal whose whole strength 

Goes when the grate above shuts heavily ; 

So dwell these noiseless girls, patient to see. 

Like priestesses because of sin impure 

Penanced for ever, who resigned endure, 

Having that once drunk sweetness to the dregs ; 

And every eve Sordello's visit begs 

Pardon for them : constant as eve he came 

To sit beside each in her turn, the same 

As one of them, a certain space : and awe 

Made a great indistinctness till he saw 

Sunset slant cheerful through the buttress chinks. 

Gold seven times globed ; surely our maiden shrinks 

And a smile stirs her as if one faint grain 

V 

Her load were lightened, one shade less the stain 
Obscured her forehead, yet one more bead slipt 
From off the rosary whereby the crypt 
Keeps count of the contritions of its charge ? 
Then with a step more light, a heart more large, 
He may depart, leave her and every one 
To linger out the penance in mute stone. 
Ah, but Sordello ? Tis the tale I mean 
To tell you. In this castle may be seen, 
c 2 



20 SORDELLO. 

On the hill tops, or underneath the vines, 

Or southward by the mound of firs and pines 

That shuts out Mantua, still in loneliness, 

A slender boy in a loose page's dress, 

Sordello : do but look on him awhile 

Watching ('tis autumn) with an earnest smile 

The noisy flock of thievish birds at work 

Among the yellowing vineyards ; see him lurk 

('Tis winter with its sullenest of storms) 

Beside that arras-length of broidered forms. 

On tiptoe, lifting in both hands a light 

Which makes yon warrior s visage flutter bright 

— Ecelo, dismal father of the brood, 

And Ecelin, close to the girl he wooed 

— Auria, and their Child, with all his wives 

From Agnes to the Tuscan that survives. 

Lady of the castle, Adelaide : his face 

— Look, now he turns away ! Yourselves shall trace 

(The delicate nostril swerving wide and fine, 

A sharp and restless lip, so well combine 

With that calm brow) a soul fit to receive 

Delight at every sense ; you can believe 

Sordello foremost in the regal class 

Nature has broadly severed from her mass 



SORDELLO. 21 

Of men and framed for pleasure as she frames 

Some happy lands that have luxurious names 

For loose fertility ; a footfall there 

Suffices to upturn to the warm air 

Half-germinating spices, mere decay 

Produces richer life, and day by day 

New pollen on the lily-petal grows, 

And still more labyrinthine buds the rose. 

You recognise at once the finer dress 

Of flesh that amply lets in loveliness 

At eye and ear, while round the rest is furled 

(As though she would not trust them with her world) 

A veil that shows a sky not near so blue, 

And lets but half the sun look fervid through : 

How can such love like souls on each full-fraught 

Discovery brooding, blind at first to aught 

Beyond its beauty ; till exceeding love 

Becomes an aching weight, and to remove 

A curse that haunts such natures — to preclude 

Their finding out themselves can work no good 

To what they love nor make it very blest 

By their endeavour, they are fain invest 

The lifeless thing with life from their own soul 

Availing it to purpose, to control. 



22 SORDELLO. 

To dwell distinct and have peculiar joy 

And separate interests that may employ 

That beauty fitly, for its proper sake ; 

Nor rest they here : fresh births of beauty wake 

Fresh homage ; every grade of love is past, 

With every mode of loveliness ; then cast 

Inferior idols off their borrowed crown 

Before a coming glory : up and down 

Runs arrowy fire, while earthly forms combine 

To throb the secret forth ; a touch divine— 

And the scaled eyeball owns the mystic rod : 

Visibly through his garden walketh God. 

So fare they — Now revert : one character 

Denotes them through the progress and the stir ; 

A need to blend with each external charm, 

Bury themselves, the whole heart wide and warm. 

In something not themselves ; they would belong 

To what they worship — stronger and more strong 

Thus prodigally fed — that gathers shape 

And feature, soon imprisons past escape 

The votary framed to love and to submit 

Nor ask, as passionate he kneels to it, 

Whence grew the idol's empery. So runs 

A legend ; Light had birth ere moons and suns. 



SORDELLO. 23 

Flowing through space a river and alone, 

Till chaos burst and blank the spheres were strown 

Hither and thither, foundering and blind. 

When into each of them rushed Light — to find 

Itself no place, foiled of its radiant chance. 

Let such forego their just inheritance ! 

For there's a class that eagerly looks, too. 

On beauty, but, unlike the gentler crew, 

Proclaims each new revealment bom a twin 

With a distinctest consciousness within 

Referring still the quality, now first 

Revealed, to their own soul ; its instinct nursed 

In silence, now remembered better, shown 

More thoroughly, but not the less their own ; 

A dream come true ; the special exercise 

Of any special function that implies 

The being fair or good or wise or strong, 

Dormant within their nature all along — 

Whose fault ? So homage other souls direct 

Without, turns inward ; how should this deject 

Thee, soul? they murmur; wherefore strength be quelled 

Because, its trivial accidents withheld. 

Organs are missed that clog the world, inert, 

Wanting a will, to quicken and exert. 



24 SORDELLO. 

Like thine — existence cannot satiate 
Cannot surprise : laugh thou at envious fate, 
"Who from earth's simplest combination stampt 
With individuality — uncrampt 
By living its faint elemental life, 
Dost soar to heaven s complexest essence, rife 
With grandeurs, unaffronted to the last, 
Equal to being all. 

In truth ? Thou hast 
Life, then — wilt challenge life for us : thy race 
Is vindicated so, obtains its place 
In thy ascent, the first of us ; whom we 
May follow, to the meanest, finally. 
With our more bounded wills ? 

Ah, but to find 
A certain mood enervate such a mind. 
Counsel it slumber in the solitude 
Thus reached nor, stooping, task for mankind's good 
Its nature just as life and time accord 
(Too narrow an arena to reward 
Emprize — the world's occasion worthless since 
Not absolutely fitted to evince 
Its mastery) or if yet worse befall, 
And a desire possess it to put all 



SORDELLO. 25 

That nature forth, forcing our straitened sphere 

Contain it ; to display completely here 

The mastery another life should learn, 

Thrusting in time eternity's concern. 

So that Sordello . . . Fool, who spied the mark 

Of leprosy upon him, violet dark 

Already as he loiters ? Born just now — 

With the new century — beside the glow 

And efflorescence out of barbarism ; 

Witness a Greek or two from the abysm 

That stray through Florence-town with studious air, 

Calming the chisel of that Pisan pair . . . 

If Nicolo should carve a Christus yet ! 

While at Sienna is Guidone set. 

Forehead on hand ; a painful birth must be 

Matured ere San Eufemio's sacristy 

Or transept gather fruits of one great gaze 

At the noon-sun : look you ! An orange haze — 

The same blue stripe round that — and, i'the midst, 

Thy spectral whiteness, mother-maid, who didst 

Pursue the dizzy painter ! 

Woe then worth 
Any officious babble letting forth 
The leprosy confirmed and ruinous 
To spirit lodged in a contracted house ! 



26 SORDELLO. 

Go back to the beginning rather ; blend 

It gently with Sordello's life ; the end 

Is piteous, you shall see, but much between 

Pleasant enough; meantime some pyx to screen 

The full-grown pest, some lid to shut upon 

The goblin ! As they found at Babylon, 

(Colleagues mad Lucius and sage Antonine) 

Sacking the city, by Apollo's shrine 

Its pride, in rummaging the rarities, 

A cabinet ; be sure, who made the prize 

Opened it greedily ; and out there curled 

Just such another plague, for half the world 

Was stung. Crawl in then, hag, and crouch asquat, 

Keeping that blotchy bosom thick in spot 

Until your time is ripe ! The coffer-lid 

Is fastened and the coffer safely hid 

Under the Loxian s choicest gifts of gold. 

Who will may hear Sordello*s story told, 

And how he never could remember when 

He dwelt not at Goito ; calmly then 

About this secret lodge of Adelaide's 

Glided his youth away : beyond the glades 

On the fir-forest's border, and the rim 

Of the low range of mountain, was for him 



SORDELLO. 27 

No other world : but that appeared his own 
To wander through at pleasure and alone. 
The castle too seemed empty ; far and wide 
Might he disport unless the northern side 
Lay under a mysterious interdict — 
Slight, just enough remembered to restrict 
His roaming to the corridors, the vault 
Where those font-bearers expiate their fault. 
The maple-chamber, and the little nooks 
And nests and breezy parapet that looks 
Over the woods to Mantua ; there he strolled. 
Some foreign women-servants, very old. 
Tended and crept about him — all his clue 
To the world's business and embroiled ado 
Distant a dozen hill-tops at the most. 
And first a simple sense of life engrossed 
Sordello in his drowsy Paradise ; 
The day's adventures for the day suffice — 
Its constant tribute of perceptions strange 
With sleep and stir in healthy interchange 
Suffice, and leave him for the next at ease 
Like the great palmer- worm that strips the trees, 
Eats the life out of every luscious plant. 
And when September finds them sere or scant 



28 SORDELLO. 

Puts forth two wondrous winglets, alters quite, 

And hies him after unforeseen delight ; 

So fed Sordello, not a shard disheathed ; 

As ever round each new discovery wreathed 

Luxuriantly the fancies infantine 

His admiration, bent on making fine 

Its novel friend at any risk, would fling 

In gay profusion forth : a ficklest king 

Confessed those minions ! Eager to dispense 

So much from his own stock of thought and sense 

As might enable each to stand alone 

And serve him for a fellow ; with his own 

Joining the qualities that just before 

Had graced some older favourite : so they wore 

A fluctuating halo, yesterday 

Set flicker and to-morrow filched away ; 

Those upland objects each of separate name, 

Each with an aspect never twice the same, 

"Waxing and waning as the new-born host 

Of fancies, like a single night's hoar-frost, 

Gave to familiar things a face grotesque ; 

Only, preserving through the mad burlesque 

A grave regard : conceive ; the orpine patch 

Blossoming earliest on our log-house-thatch 



SORDELLO. 29 

The day those archers wound along the vmes — 

Related to the Chief that left their lines 

To climb with clinking step the northern stair 

Up to the solitary chambers where 

Sordello never came. Thus thrall reached thrall ; 

He o'er-festooning every interval 

As the adventurous spider, making light 

Of distance, shoots her threads from depth to height. 

From barbican to battlement ; so flung 

Fantasies forth and in their centre swung 

Our architect : the breezy morning fresh 

Above, and merry ; all his waving mesh 

Laughing with lucid dew-drops rainbow-edged. 

This world of ours by tacit pact is pledged 

To laying such a spangled fabric low 

Whether by gradual brush or gallant blow : 

But its abundant will was balked here : doubt 

Rose tardily in one so fenced about 

From most that nurtures judgment, care and pain : 

Judgment, that dull expedient we are fain. 

Less favoured, to adopt betimes and force 

Stead us, diverted from our natural course 

Of joys, contrive some yet amid the dearth. 

Vary and render them, it may be, worth 



30 SORDELLO. 

Most we forego : suppose Sordello hence 

Selfish enough, without a moral sense 

However feeble ; what informed the boy 

Others desired a portion in his joy ? 

Or say a ruthful chance broke woof and warp — 

A heron s nest beat down by March winds sharp, 

A fawn breathless beneath the precipice, 

A bird with unsoiled breast and filmless eyes 

Warm in the brake—could these undo the trance 

Lapping Sordello ? Not a circumstance 

That makes for you, friend Naddo ! Eat fern- seed 

And peer beside us and report indeed 

If (your word) Genius dawned with throes and stings 

And the whole fiery catalogue, while springs 

Summers and winters quietly came and went. 

Putting at length that period to content 

By right the world should have imposed : bereft 

Of its good offices, Sordello, left 

To study his companions, managed rip 

Their fringe off, learn the true relationship. 

Core with its crust, their natures with his own ; 

Amid his wild- wood sights he lived alone : 

As if the poppy felt with him ! Though he 

Partook the poppy's red effrontery 



SORDELLO. 31 

Till Autumn spoils their fleering quite with rain, 

And, turbanless, a coarse brown rattling crane 

Protrudes : that *s gone ! yet why renounce, for that, 

His disenchanted tributaries — flat 

Perhaps, but scarce so utterly forlorn 

Their simple presence may not well be borne 

Whose parley was a transport once : recall 

The poppy's gifts, it flaunts you, after all, 

A poppy : why distrust the evidence 

Of each soon satisfied and healthy sense ? 

The new-born Judgment answered : little boots 

Beholding other creatures' attributes 

And having none : or say that it sufficed. 

Yet, could one but possess, oneself, (enticed 

Judgment) some special office ! Nought beside 

Serves you ? Well then, be somehow justified 

For this ignoble wish to circumscribe 

And concentrate, rather than swell, the tribe 

Of actual pleasures : what now from without 

Effects it ? — proves, despite a lurking doubt. 

Mere sympathy sufficient, trouble spared ; 

— He tasted joys by proxy, clearly fared 

The better for them ; thus much craved his soul. 

Alas, from the beginning Love is whole 



32 BORDELLO. 

And true ; if sure of nought beside, most sure 

Of its own truth at least ; nor may endure 

A crowd to see its face, that cannot know 

How hot the pulses throb its heart below ; 

While its own helplessness and utter want 

Of means to worthily be ministrant 

To what it worships, do but fan the more 

Its flame, exalt the idol far before 

Itself as it would ever have it be ; 

Souls like Sordello, on the contrary, 

Coerced and put to shame, retaining Will, 

Care little, take mysterious comfort still. 

But look forth tremblingly to ascertain 

If others judge their claims not urged in vain 

— Will say for them their stifled thoughts aloud ; 

So they must ever live before a crowd : 

Vanity, Naddo tells you. 

Whence contrive 
A crowd, now ? These brave women just alive. 
That archer-troop ? Forth glided — not alone 
Each painted warrior, every girl of stone, 
— Nor Adelaide bent double o'er a scroll. 
One maiden at her knees, that eve his soul 
Shook as he stumbled through the arras'd glooms 
On them, for, 'mid quaint robes and weird perfumes, 



BORDELLO. 33 

Started the meagre Tuscan up (her eyes 
The maiden s also, bluer with surprise) 
— But the entire out- world : whatever scraps 
And snatches, song and story, dreams perhaps. 
Conceited the world's offices, and he 
Transferred to the first comer, flower or tree. 
Nor counted a befitting heritage 
Each, of its own right, singly to engage 
Some Man, no other ; such availed to stand 
Alone : strength, wisdom, grace on every hand 
Soon disengaged themselves ; and he discerned 
A sort of human life : at least, was turned 
A stream of life-like figures through his brain 
— Lord, Liegeman, Yalvassor and Suzerain, 
Ere he could choose, surrounded him ; a stuff 
To work his pleasure on ; there, sure enough. 
But as for gazing, what shall fix that gaze ? 
Are they to simply testify the ways 
He who convoked them sends his soul alono- 

o 

With the cloud's thunder or a dove's brood-song ? 
While they live each its life, boast each its own 
Peculiar dower of bliss, stand each alone 
In some one point where something dearest loved 
Is easiest gained — far worthier to be proved 

D 



34 SORDELLO. 

Than aught he envies in the forest- wights ! 

No simple and self-evident delights, 

But mixed desires of unimagined range, 

Contrasts or combinations, new and strange, 

Irksome perhaps, yet plainly recognised 

By this, the sudden company — loves prized 

By those who are to prize his own amount 

Of loves. Once care because such make account, 

Allow a foreign recognition stamp 

The current value, and your crowd shall vamp 

You counterfeits enough ; and so their print 

Be on the piece, 'tis gold, attests the mint 

And good, pronounce they whom my new appeal 

Is made to : if their casual print conceal — 

This arbitrary good of theirs o'ergloss 

What I have lived without, nor felt my loss — 

Qualities strange, ungainly, wearisome, 

— What matter ? so must speech expand the dumb 

Part sigh, part smile with which Sordello, late 

No foolish woodland-sights could satiate, 

Betakes himself to study hungrily 

Just what the puppets his crude fantasy 

Supposes notablest, popes, kings, priests, knights. 

May please to promulgate for appetites ; 



SORDELLO. 35 

Accepting all their artificial joys 
Not as he views them, but as he employs 
Each shape to estimate the other s stock 
Of attributes, that on a marshalled flock 
Of authorised enjoyments he may spend 
Himself, be Men, now, as he used to blend 
With tree and flower — nay more entirely, else 
'Twere mockery : for instance, how excels 
My life that Chieftain s ? (who apprised the youth 
' Ecelin, here, becomes this month in truth, 
Imperial Yicar?) Turns he in his tent 
Remissly ? Be it so — my head is bent 
Deliciously amid my girls to sleep : 
What if he stalks the Trentine-pass ? Yon steep 
I climbed an hour ago with little toil — 

■ We are alike there : but can I, too, foil 
The Guelfs' paid stabber, carelessly afibrd 
St. Mark's a spectacle, the sleight o' the sword 
Baffling their project in a moment ? Here 
No rescue ! Poppy he is none, but peer 
To Ecelin, assuredly : his hand. 
Fashioned no otherwise, should wield a brand 
With Ecelin s success — try, now ! He soon 
Was satisfied, returned as to the moon 
D 2 



36 SORDELLO. 

From earth ; left each abortive boy's-attempt 
For feats, from failure happily exempt, 
In fancy at his beck. One day I will 
Accomplish it ! Are they not older still 
— Not grown up men and women ? Tis beside 
Only a dream ; and though I must abide 
With dreams now, I may find a thorough vent 
For all myself, acquire an instrument 
For acting what these people act ; my soul 
Hunting a body out, obtain its whole 
Desire some day ! How else express chagrin 
And resignation, show the hope steal in 
With which he let sink from an aching wrist 
The rough-hewn ash bow, and a gold shaft hiss'd 
Into the Syrian air, struck Malek down 
Superbly ! Crosses to the breach ! God's Town 
Was gained Him back ! Why bend rough ash-bows 
So lives he : if not careless as before, [more ? 

Comforted : for one may anticipate. 
Rehearse the future ; be prepared when fate 
Shall have prepared in turn real men w^hose names 
Startle, real places of enormous fames, 
Estes abroad and Ecelins at home 
To worship him, Mantuas, Yeronas, Rome 



SORDELLO. 37 

To witness it. "Who grudges time so spent ? 

Rather test qualities to heart's content — 

Summon them, thrice selected, near and far — 

Compress the starriest into one star 

So grasp the whole at once ! The pageant 's thinned 

Accordingly ; from rank to rank, like wind 

His spirit passed to winnow and divide ; 

Back fell the simpler phantasms ; every side 

The strong clave to the wise ; with either classed 

The beauteous ; so, till two or three amassed 

Mankind's beseemingnesses, and reduced 

Themselves eventually, graces loosed. 

And lavished strengths, to heighten up One Shape 

Whose potency no creature should escape : 

Can it be Friedrich of the bowmen s talk ? 

Surely that grape-juice, bubbling at the stalk. 

Is some grey scorching Saracenic wine 

The Kaiser quaffs with the Miramoline — 

Those swarthy hazel- clusters, seamed and chapped. 

Or filberts russet- sheathed and velvet-capped. 

Are dates plucked from the bough John Brienne sent 

To keep in mind his sluggish armament 

Of Canaan . . . Friedrich's, all the pomp and fierce 

Demeanour ! But harsh sounds and sights transpierce 



38 SORDELLO. 

So rarely the serene cloud where he dwells 

Whose looks enjoin, whose lightest words are spells 

Upon the obdurate ; that arm indeed 

Has thunder for its slave ; but where's the need 

Of thunder if the stricken multitude 

Hearkens, arrested in its angriest mood, 

While songs go up exulting, then dispread, 

Dispart, disperse, lingering overhead 

Like an escape of angels ? Tis the tune. 

Nor much unlike the words the women croon 

Smilingly, colourless and faint designed 

Each as a worn-out queen s face some remind 

Of her extreme youth's love-tales. Eglamor 

Made that ! Half minstrel and half emperor, 

Who but ill objects vexed him ? Such he slew. 

The kinder sort were easy to subdue 

By those ambrosial glances, dulcet tones ; 

And these a gracious hand advanced to thrones 

Beneath him. Wherefore twist and torture this^ 

Striving to name afresh the antique bliss. 

Instead of saying, neither less nor more. 

He had discovered, as our world before, 

Apollo ? That shall be the name ; nor bid 

Me rag by rag expose how patchwork hid 



SORDELLO. 39' 

The man — what thefts of every clime and day- 
Contributed to purfle the array 
He climbs with (June's at deep) some close ravine 
'Mid clatter of its million pebbles sheen, 
Over which singing soft the runnel slipt 
Elate with rains : into whose streamlet dipt 
He foot, yet trod, you thought, with unwet sock — 
Though really on the stubs of living rock 
Ages ago it crenneled ; vines for roof, 
Lindens for wall ; before him, aye aloof. 
Flittered in the cool some azure damsel-fly, 
Child of the simmering quiet, there to die : 
Emerging whence, Apollo still, he spied 
Mighty descents of forest ; multiplied 
Tuft on tuft, here, the frolic myrtle-trees ; 
There gendered the grave maple-stocks at ease ; 
And, proud of its observer, strait the wood 
Tried old surprises on him ; black it stood 
A sudden barrier ('twas a cloud passed o'er) 
So dead and dense the tiniest brute no more 
Must pass ; yet presently (the cloud despatched) 
Each clump, forsooth, was glistering detached 
A shrub, oak-boles shrunk into ilex-stems ! 
Yet could not he denounce the stratagems 



40 SORDELLO. 

He saw thro', till, hours thence, aloft would hang 
White summer-lightnings ; as it sank and sprang 
In measure, that whole palpitating breast 
Of Heaven, 'twas Apollo nature prest 
At eve to worship. 

Time stole : by degrees 
The Pythons perished off ; his votaries 
Sunk to respectful distance ; songs redeem 
Their pains, but briefer ; their dismissals seem 
Emphatic ; only girls are very slow 
To disappear : his Delians ! Some that glow 
O' the instant, more with earlier loves to wrench 
Away, reserves to quell, disdains to quench ; 
Alike in one material circumstance — 
All soon or late adore Apollo ! Glance 
The bevy through, divine Apollo's choice, 
A Daphne ! We secure Count Richard's voice 
In Este's counsels, one for Este's ends 
As our Taurello, say his faded friends. 
By granting him our Palma ! The sole child. 
They mean, of Agnes Este who beguiled 
Ecelin, years before this Adelaide 
Wedded and turned hira wicked ; but the maid 
Rejects his suit, those sleepy women boast. 
She, scorning all beside, deserves the most 



I 



SORDELLO. 41 

Sordello : so conspicuous in his world 

Of dreams sate Palma. How the tresses curled 

Into a sumptuous swell of gold and wound 

About her like a glory, even the ground |~breathe 

Was bright as with shed sunbeams; (breathe not, 

Not) — poised, see, one leg doubled underneath, 

Its small foot buried in the dimpling snow, 

Rests, but the other, listlessly below, 

O'er the couch-side swings feeling for cool air, 

The vein-streaks swoln a richer violet where 

The languid blood lies heavily ; and calm 

On her slight prop, each flat and outspread palm, 

As but suspended in the act to rise 

By consciousness of beauty, whence her eyes 

Turn with so frank a triumph, for she meets 

Apollo's gaze in the pine-glooms. 

Time fleets 
That's worst ! Because the pre-appointed age 
Approaches. Fate is tardy with the stage 
She all but promised. Lean he grows and pale. 
Though restlessly at rest. Hardly avail 
Fancies to soothe him. Time steals, yet alone 
He tarries here ! The earnest smile is gone. 
How long this might continue matters not : 
For ever, possibly ; since to the spot 



42 SORDELLO. 

None come : for lingering Taurello quits 
Mantua at last, and light our lady flits 
Back to her place disburthened of a care. 
Strange — to be constant here if he is there ! 
Is it distrust ? Oh, never ! for they both 
Goad Ecelin alike — Romano's growth 
So daily manifest that Azzo 's dumb 
And Richard wavers ... let but Friedrich come ! 
— Find matter for the minstrelsy's report 
Lured from the Isle and its young Kaiser s court 
To sing us a Messina morning up ; 
Who, double rillets of a drinking cup. 
Sparkle along to ease the land of drouth. 
Northward to Provence that, and thus far south 
The other : what a method to apprise 
Neighbours of births, espousals, obsequies ! 
Which in their very tongue the Troubadour 
Records ; and his performance makes a tour. 
For Trouveres bear the miracle about. 
Explain its cunning to the vulgar rout. 
Until the Formidable House is famed 
Over the country — as Taurello aimed 
Who introduced, although the rest adopt, 
The novelty. Their games her absence stopped 



SORDELLO. 43 

Begin afresh now Adelaide, recluse 
No longer, in the light of day pursues 
Her plans at Mantua — whence an accident 
That breaking on Sordello's mixed content 
Opened, like any flash that cures the blind, ' 
The veritable business of mankind. 



BOOK THE SECOND. 



The woods were long austere with snow : at last 
Pink leaflets budded on the beech, and fast 
Larches, scattered through pine-tree solitudes, 
Brightened, " as in the slumbrous heart o' the woods 
Our buried year, a witch, grew young again 
To placid incantations, and that stain 
About were from her caldron, green smoke blent 
With those black pines" — so Eglamor gave vent 
To a chance fancy : whence a just rebuke 
From his companion ; brother Naddo shook 
The solemnest of brows ; Beware, he said. 
Of setting up conceits in Nature's stead ! 
Forth wandered our Sordello. Nought so sure 
As that to-day's adventure will secure 
Palma, the forest-lady — only pass 
O'er yon damp mound and its exhausted grass. 



SORDELLO. 45 

Under that brake where sundawn feeds the stalks 

Of withered fern with gold, into those walks 

Of pine, and take her ! Buoyantly he went. 

Again his stooping forehead was besprent 

With dew-drops from the skirting ferns. Then wide 

Opened the great morass, shot every side 

With flashing water through and through ; a- shine, 

Thick steaming, all alive. Whose shape divine 

Quivered i' the farthest rainbow- vapour, glanced 

Athwart the flying herons ? He advanced, 

But warily ; though Mincio leaped no more. 

Each foot-fall burst up in the marish-floor 

A diamond jet : and if you stopped to pick 

Rose-lichen, or molest the leeches quick, 

And circling blood- worms, minnow, newt or loach, 

A sudden pond would silently encroach 

This way and that. On Palma passed. The verge 

Of a new wood was gained. She will emerge 

Flushed, now, and panting ; crowds to see ; will own 

She loves him — Boniface to hear, to groan. 

To leave his suit ! One screen of pine -trees still 

Opposes : but — the startling spectacle — 

Mantua, this time ! Under the walls — a crowd 

Indeed — real men and women — gay and loud 



46 BORDELLO. 

Round a pavilion. How he stood ! 

In truth 
No prophecy had come to pass : his youth 
In its prime now — and where was homage poured 
Upon Sordello ? — born to be adored, 
And suddenly discovered weak, scarce made 
To cope with any, cast into the shade 
By this and this. Yet something seemed to prick 
And tingle in his blood ; a sleight — a trick — 
And much would be explained. It went for naught — 
The best of their endowments were ill bought 
With his identity : nay, the conceit 
This present roving leads to Palma's feet 
Was not so vain . . . list! The word, Palma? Steal 
Aside, and die, Sordello ; this is real, 
And this — abjure ! 

What next ? The curtains, see. 
Dividing ! She is there ; and presently 
He will be there — the proper You, at length — 
In your own cherished dress of grace and strength : 
Most like the very Boniface . . . 

Not so. 
It was a showy man advanced ; but though 
A glad cry welcomed him, then every sound 
Sank and the crowd disposed themselves around. 



SORDELLO. 47 

— This is not he, Sordello felt ; while " Place 

For the best Troubadour of Boniface," 

Hollaed the Jongleurs, " Eglamor whose lay 

Concludes his patron s Court of Love to-day." 

Obsequious Naddo strung his master s lute 

With the new lute- string, Elys, named to suit 

The song : He stealthily at watch, the while. 

Biting his lip to keep down a great smile 

Of pride : then up he struck. Sordello's brain 

Swam : for he knew a sometime deed aoain ; 

So could supply each foolish gap and chasm 

The minstrel left in his enthusiasm. 

Mistaking its true version — was the tale 

Not of Apollo ? Only, what avail 

Luring her down, that Elys an he pleased. 

If the man dares no further ? Has he ceased ? 

And, lo, the people's frank applause half done, 

Sordello w^as beside him, had begun 

(Spite of indignant twitchings from his friend 

The Trouvere) the true lay with the true end. 

Taking the other s names and time and place 

For his. On flew the song, a giddy race, 

After the flying story ; word made leap 

Out word; rhyme — rhyme; the lay could barely keep 



48 SORDELLO. 

Pace with the action visibly rushing past : 
Both ended. Back fell Naddo more aghast 
Than your Egyptian from the harassed bull 
That wheels abrupt and, bellowing, fronts full 
His plague, who spies a scarab 'neath his tongue, 
And finds 'twas Apis* flank his hasty prong 
Insulted. But the people — but the cries. 
And crowding round, and proffering the prize ! 
(For he had gained some prize) — He seemed to shrink 
Into a sleepy cloud, just at whose brink 
One sight withheld him ; there sat Adelaide, 
Silent ; but at her knees the very maid 
Of the North Chamber, her red lips as rich, 
The same pure fleecy hair ; one curl of which. 
Golden and great, quite touched his cheek as o'er 
She leant, speaking some six words and no more ; 
He answered something, anything ; and she 
Unbound a scarf and laid it heavily 
Upon him, her neck's warmth and all; again 
Moved the arrested magic ; in his brain 
Noises grew, and a light that turned to glare. 
And greater glare, until the intense flare 
Engulfed him, shut the whole scene from his sense. 
And when he woke 'twas many a furlong thence, 



SORDELLO. 49 

At home : the sun shining his ruddy wont ; 

The customary birds'-chirp ; but his front [^around 

Was crowned — was crowned ! Her scented scarf 

His neck ! Whose gorgeous vesture heaps the ground ? 

A prize ? He turned, and peeringly on him 

Brooded the women faces, kind and dim, 

Ready to talk. The Jongleurs in a troop 

Had brought him back, Naddo and Squarcialupe 

And Tagliafer ; how strange ! a childhood spent 

Assuming, well for him, so brave a bent ! 

Since Eglamor, they heard, was dead with spite. 

And Palma chose him for her minstrel. 

Light 
Sordello rose — to think, now ; hitherto 
He had perceived. Sure a discovery grew 
Out of it all ! Best live from first to last 
The transport o'er again. A week he passed 
Sucking the sweet out of each circumstance. 
From the bard's outbreak to the luscious trance 
Bounding his own achievement. Strange ! A man 
Recounted that adventure, and began 
Imperfectly ; his own task was to fill 
The frame- work up, sing well what he sang ill, 
Supply the necessary points, set loose 
As many incidents of little use 

E 



50 SORDELLO. 

— More imbecile the other, not to see 

Their relative importance clear as he ! 

But for a special pleasure in the act 

Of singing — had he ever turned, in fact, 

From Elys, to sing Elys ? — from each fit 

Of rapture, to contrive a song of it ? 

True, this snatch or the other seemed to wind 

Into a treasure, helped himself to find 

A beauty in himself; for, see, he soared 

By means of that mere snatch to many a hoard 

Of fancies ; as some falling cone bears oft 

The eye, along the fir-tree-spire, aloft 

To a dove's nest. Then how divine the cause 

Such a performance should exact applause 

From men if they have fancies too ? Can Fate 

Decree they find a beauty separate 

In the poor snatch itself . . . our Elys, there, 

(" Her head that's sharp and perfect like a pear, 

So close and smooth are laid the few fine locks 

Coloured like honey oozed from topmost rocks 

Sun-blanched the livelong summer") — if they heard 

Just those two rhymes, assented at my word. 

And loved them as I love them who have run 

These fingers through those fine locks, let the sun 



SORDELLO. 61 

Into the white cool skin . . . nay, thus I clutch 
Those locks ! — I needs must be a God to such. 
Or if some few, above themselves, and yet 
Beneath me, like their Eglamor, have set 
An impress on our gift ? So men believe 
And worship what they know not, nor receive 
Delight from. Have they fancies — slow, perchance, 
Not at their beck, which indistinctly glance 
Until by song each floating part be linked 
To each, and all grow palpable, distinct ? 
He pondered this. 

Meanwhile sounds low and drear 
Stole on him, and a noise of footsteps, near 
And nearer, and the underwood was pushed 
Aside, the larches grazed, the dead leaves crushed 
At the approach of men. The wind seemed laid ; 
Only, the trees shrunk slightly and a shade 
Came o'er the sky although 'twas midday yet : 
You saw each half-shut downcast violet 
Flutter —a Roman bride, when they dispart 
Her unbound tresses with the Sabine dart, 
Holding that famous rape in memory still, 
Felt creep into her curls the iron chill. 
And looked thus, Eglamor would say — indeed 
'Tis Eglamor, no other, these precede 
E 2 



52 SORDELLO. 

Home hither in the woods. Twere surely sweet 
Far from the scene of one's forlorn defeat 
To sleep ! thought Naddo, who in person led 
Jongleurs and Trouveres, chanting at their head, 
A scanty company ; for, sooth to say, 
Our beaten Troubadour had seen his day : 
Old worshippers were something shamed, old friends 
Nigh weary ; still the death proposed amends : 
Let us but get them safely through my song 
And home again, quoth Naddo. 

All along. 
This man (they rest the bier upon the sand) 
— This calm corpse with the loose flowers in its hand, 
Eglamor, lived Bordello's opposite : 
For him indeed was Naddo's notion right 
And Verse a temple- worship vague and vast, 
A ceremony that withdrew the last 
Opposing bolt, looped back the lingering veil 
Which hid the holy place— should one so frail 
Stand there without such effort ? or repine 
That much was blank, uncertain at the shrine 
He knelt before, till, soothed by many a rite. 
The Power responded, and some sound or sight 
Grew up, his own forever ! to be fixed 
In rhyme, the beautiful, forever ; mixed 



SORDELLO. 53 

With his own life, unloosed when he should please, 

Having it safe at hand, ready to ease 

All pain, remove all trouble ; every time 

He loosed that fancy from its bonds of rhyme. 

Like Perseus when he loosed his naked love. 

Faltering ; so distinct and far above 

Himself, these fancies ! He, no genius rare, 

Transfiguring in fire or wave or air 

At will, but a poor gnome that, cloistered up. 

In some rock -chamber with his agate cup. 

His topaz rod, his seed-pearl, in these few 

And their arrangement finds enough to do 

For his best art. Then, how he loved that art ! 

The calling marking him a man apart 

From men — one not to care, take counsel for 

Cold hearts, comfortless faces (Eglamor 

Was neediest of his tribe) since verse, the gift. 

Was his, and men, the whole of them, must shift 

Without it, e'en content themselves with wealth 

And pomp and power, snatching a life by stealth. 

So Eglamor was not without his pride ! 

The sorriest bat which cowers through noontide 

While other birds are jocund, has one time 

When moon and stars are blinded, and the prime 



54 SORDELLO. 

Of earth is its to claim, nor find a peer ; 

And Eglamor was noblest poet here, 

He knew, among the April woods he cast 

Conceits upon in plenty as he past, 

That Naddo might suppose him not to think 

Entirely on the coming triumph ; wink 

At the one weakness ! Twas a fervid child 

That song of his — no brother of the guild 

Had e'er conceived its like. The rest you know ; 

The exaltation and the overthrow ; 

Our poet lost his purpose, lost his rank. 

His life — to that it came. Yet envy sank 

Within him, as he heard Sordello out. 

And, for the first time, shouted — tried to shout 

Like others, not from any zeal to show 

Pleasure that way : the common sort did so. 

And what was Eglamor ? who, bending down 

The same, placed his beneath Sordello's crown, 

Printed a kiss on his successor s hand, 

Left one great tear on it, then joined his band 

— In time ; for some were watching at the door — 

Who knows what envy may efi'ect ? Give o'er. 

Nor charm his lips, nor craze him ! (here one spied 

An,d disengaged the withered crown) — Beside 



SORDELLO. 55 

His crown ! How prompt and clear those verses rung 
To answer yours ! nay sing them ! And he sung 
Them calmly. Home he went ; friends used to wait 
His coming, anxious to congratulate. 
But, to a man, so quickly runs report, 
Could do no less than leave him, and escort 
•His rival. That eve, then, bred many a thought 
What must his future life be : was he brought 
So low, who was so lofty this spring morn ? 
At length he said. Best sleep now with my scorn. 
And by to-morrow I devise some plain 
Expedient ! So he slept, nor woke again. 
They found as much, those friends, when they returned 
Overflowing with the marvels they had learned 
About Sordello's paradise, his roves 
Among the hills and valleys, plains and groves, 
Wherein, no doubt, this lay was roughly cast, 
Polished by slow degrees, completed last 
To Eglamor s discomfiture and death. 

Such form the chanters now, and, out of breath, 
They lay the beaten man in his abode, 
Naddo reciting that same luckless ode. 
Doleful to hear : Sordello could explore 
By means of it, however, one step more 



56 SORDELLO. 

In joy ; and, mastering the round at length, 
Learnt how to live in weakness as in strength, 
When from his covert forth he stood, addressed 
Eglamor, bade the tender ferns invest. 
Primeval pines o'ercanopy his couch. 
And, most of all, his fame — (shall I avouch 
Eglamor heard it, dead though he might look. 
And laughed as from his brow Sordello took 
The crown, and laid it on his breast, and said, 
It was a crown, now, fit for poet's head ?) 
— Continue. Nor the prayer quite fruitless fell; 
A plant they have yielding a three-leaved bell 
Which whitens at the heart ere noon, and ails 
Till evening ; evening gives it to her gales 
To clear away with such forgotten things 
As are an eyesore to the morn : this brings 
Him to their mind, and bears his very name. 

So much for Eglamor. My own month came ; 
Twas a sunrise of blossoming and May. 
Beneath a flowering laurel thicket lay 
Sordello ; each new sprinkle of white stars 
That smell fainter of wine than Massic jars 
Dug up at Baise, when the south wind shed 
The ripest, made him happier ; filleted 



SORDELLO. 57 

And robed the same, only a lute beside 

Lay on the turf. Before him far and wide 

The country stretched : Goito slept behind 

— The castle and its covert which confined 

Him with his hopes and fears ; so fain of old 

To leave the story of his birth untold. 

At intervals, 'spite the fantastic glow 

Of his Apollo-life, a certain low 

And wretched whisper winding through the bliss 

Admonished, no such fortune could be his, 

All was quite false and sure to fade one day : 

The closelier drew he round him his array 

Of brilliance to expel the truth. But when 

A reason for his difi*erence from men 

Surprised him at the grave, he took no rest 

While aught of that old life, superbly drest 

Down to its meanest incident, remained 

A mystery — alas, they soon explained 

Away Apollo ! and the tale amounts 

To this : when at Yicenza both her Counts 

Banished the Yivaresi kith and kin, 

Those Maltraversi hung on Ecelin, 

Reviling as he followed ; he for spite 

Must fire their quarter, though that self-same night 



58 SORDELLO, 

Among the flames young Ecelin was born 
Of Adelaide, there too, and barely torn 
From the roused populace hard on the rear 
By a poor archer when his chieftain s fear 
Was high ; into the tliick Elcorte leapt, 
Saved her, and died ; no creature left except 
His child to thank. And when the full escape 
Was known — how men impaled from chine to nape 
Unlucky Prata, all to pieces spurned 
Bishop Pistore's concubines, and burned 
Taurello's entire household, flesh and fell. 
Missing the sweeter prey — such courage well 
Might claim reward. The orphan, ever since, 
Sordello, had been nurtured by his prince 
Within a blind retreat where Adelaide 
(For, once this notable discovery made, 
The past at every point was understood) 
Can harbour easily when times are rude, 
When Este schemes for Palm a — would retrieve 
That pledge, when Mantua is not fit to leave 
Longer unguarded with a vigilant eye, 
Taurello bides there so ambiguously 
(He who can have no motive now to moil 
For his own fortunes since their utter spoil) 



SORDELLO. 59 

As it were worth while yet (goes the report) 

To disengage himself from us. In short, 

Apollo vanished ; a mean youth, just named 

His lady's minstrel, was to be proclaimed 

— How shall I phrase it ? Monarch of the "World. 

But on the morning that array was furled 

For ever, and in place of one a slave 

To longings, wild, indeed, but longings save 

In dreams as wild, suppressed — one daring not 

Assume the mastery such dreams allot, 

Until a magical equipment, strength 

Grace, wisdom, decked him too, — he chose at length 

(Content with unproved wits and failing frame) 

In virtue of his simple "Will, to claim 

That mastery, no less — to do his best 

With means so limited, and let the rest 

Go by, — the seal was set : never again 

Sordello could in his own sight remain 

One of the many, one with hopes and cares 

And interests nowise distinct from theirs, 

Only peculiar in a thriveless store 

Of fancies, which were fancies and no more ; 

Never again for him and for the crowd 

A common law was challenged and allowed 



60 SORDELLO. 

If calmly reasoned of, however denied 
By a mad impulse nothing justified 
Short of Apollo's presence : the divorce 
Is clear : why needs Sordello square his course 
By any known example ? Men no more 
Compete with him than tree and flower before ; 
Himself, inactive, yet is greater far 
Than such as act, each stooping to his star, 
Acquiring thence his function ; he has gained 
The same result with meaner mortals trained 
To strength or beauty, moulded to express 
Each the idea that rules him ; since no less 
He comprehends that function but can still 
Embrace the others, take of Might his fill 
With Richard as of Grace with Palma, mix 
Their qualities, or for a moment ^x 
On one, abiding free meantime, uncramped 
By any partial organ, never stamped 
Strong, so to Strength turning all energies — 
Wise, and restricted to becoming Wise — 
That is, he loves not, nor possesses One 
Idea that, star-like over, lures him on 
To its exclusive purpose. Fortunate 
This flesh of mine ne'er strove to emulate 



SORDELLO. 61 

A soTil SO various — took no casual mould 

Of the first fancy and contracted, cold 

Lay clogged forever thence, averse to change 

As that. Whereas it left her free to range, 

Remains itself a blank, cast into shade, 

Encumbers little, if it cannot aid. 

So, range, my soul ! Who by self-consciousness 

The last drop of all beauty dost express — 

The grace of seeing grace, a quintessence 

For thee : but for the world, that can dispense 

Wonder on men, themselves that wonder — make 

A shift to love at second hand and take 

Those for its idols who but idolize. 

Themselves, — that loves the soul as strong, as wise, 

Whose love is Strength, is Wisdom, — such shall bow 

Surely in unexampled worship now, 

Discerning me ! — 

(Dear monarch, I beseech, 
Notice how lamentably wide a breach 
Is here ! discovering this, discover too 
What our poor world has possibly to do 
With it ! As pigmy natures as you please — 
So much the better for you ; take your ease ; 
Look on, and laugh ; style yourself God alone ; 
Strangle some day with a cross olive-stone ; 



62 SORDELLO. 

All that is right enough : but why want us 

To know that you yourself know thus and thus ? 

Nay finish — ) 

— Bow to me conceiving all 
Man s life, who see its blisses, great and small, 
Afar — not tasting any : no machine 
To exercise my utmost will is mine, 
Therefore mere consciousness for me ! — Perceive 
What I could do, a mastery believe, 
Asserted and established to the throng 
By their selected evidence of Song 
Which now shall prove whate'er they are, or seek 
To be, I am — who take no pains to speak, 
Change no old standards of perfection, vex 
With no strange forms created to perplex. 
But mean perform their bidding and no more, 
At their own satiating-point give o'er. 
And each shall love in me the love that leads 
His soul to its perfection. Song, not Deeds, 
(For we get tired) was chosen. Fate would brook 
Mankind no other organ ; He would look 
For not another channel to dispense 
His own volition and receive their sense 
Of its existing, but would be content. 
Obstructed else, with merely verse for vent — 



SORDELLO. 63 

Nor should, for instance, Strength an outlet seek 

And striving be admired, nor Grace bespeak 

"Wonder, displayed in gracious attitudes. 

Nor Wisdom, poured forth, change unseemly moods ; 

But he would give and take on Song's one point : 

Like some huge throbbing-stone that, poised a-joint, 

Sounds to affect on its basaltic bed 

Must sue in just one accent : tempests shed 

Thunder, and raves the landstorm : only let 

That key by any little noise be set — 

The far benighted hunter s halloo pitch 

On that, the hungry curlew chance to scritch 

Or serpent hiss it, rustling through the rift, 

However loud, however low — all lift 

The groaning monster, stricken to the heart. 

Lo ye, the world's concernment, for its part. 
And this, for his, will hardly interfere ! 
Its businesses in blood and blaze this year 
— But wile the hour away — a pastime slight 
Till he shall step upon the platform : right ! 
And now thus much is settled, cast in rough. 
Proved feasible, be counselled ! thought enough, 
Slumber, Sordello ! any day will serve : 
Were it a less digested plan ! 'how swerve 



64 SORDELLO. 

To-morrow ? Meanwhile eat these sun-dried grapes 
And watch the soaring hawk there ! Life escapes 
Merrily thus. 

He thoroughly read o*er 
His truchman Naddo's missive six times more, 
Praying him visit Mantua and supply 
A famished world. 

The evening star was high 
When he reached Mantua, but his fame arrived 
Before him : friends applauded, foes connived, 
And Naddo looked an angel, and the rest 
Angels, and all these angels would be blest 
Supremely by a song — the thrice-renowned 
Goito manufacture. Then he found 
(Casting about to satisfy the crowd) 
That happy vehicle, so late allowed, 
A sore annoyance ; 'twas the song's effect 
He cared for, scarce the song itself : reflect ! 
In the past life what might be singing's use ? 
Just to delight his Delians, whose profuse 
Praise, not the toilsome process which procured 
That praise, enticed Apollo : dreams abjured, 
No over-leaping means for ends — take both 
For granted or take neither ! I am loth 



SORDELLO. 6i 

To say the rhymes at last were Eglamor s ; 

But Naddo, chuckling, bade competitors 

Go pine ; the Master certes meant to waste 

No effort, cautiously had probed the taste 

He'd please anon : true bard, in short, disturb 

His title if they could ; nor spur nor curb. 

Fancy nor reason, wanting in him ; whence 

The staple of his verses, common sense : 

He built on Man s broad nature — gift of gifts 

That power to build ! The world contented shifts 

With counterfeits enough, a dreary sort 

Of warriors, statesmen, ere it can extort 

Its poet-soul— that's, after all, a freak 

(The having eyes to see and tongue to speak) 

With our herd's stupid sterling happiness 

So plainly incompatible that — yes — 

Yes — should a son of his improve the breed 

And turn out poet he were cursed indeed. 

Well, there's Goito to retire upon 

If the worst happen ; best go stoutly on 

Now ! thought Sordello. 

Ay, and goes on yet ! 
You pother with your glossaries to get 
A notion of the Troubadour's intent — 
His Rondels, Tenzons, Yirlai or Sirvent — 
p 



6^; SORDELLO. 

Much as you study arras how to twirl 
His Angelot, plaything of page and girl, 
Once ; but you surely reach, at last, — or, no ! 
Never quite reach what struck the people so. 
As from the welter of their time he drew 
Its elements successively to view", 
Followed all actions backward on their course 
And catching up, unmingled at the source. 
Such a Strength, such a Weakness, added then 
A touch or two, and turned them into Men. 
Virtue took form, nor Vice refused a shape ; 
Here Heaven opened, there was Hell agape, 
As Saint this simpered past in sanctity. 
Sinner the other flared portentous by 
A greedy People : then why stop, surprised 
At his success ? The scheme was realised 
Too suddenly in one respect : a crowd 
Praising, eyes quick to see, and lips as loud 
To speak, delicious homage to receive, 
Bianca's breath to feel upon his sleeve 
Who said, " But Anafest — why asks he less 
Than Lucio, in your verses ? how confess 
It seemed too much but yestereve V* The youth 
Who bade him earnestly " avow the truth, 



SORDELLO. 67 

You love Bianca, surely, from your song ; 
I knew I was unworthy I" soft or strong, 
In poured such tributes ere he had arranged 
Etherial ways to take them, sorted, changed. 
Digested : courted thus at unawares, 
In spite of his pretensions and his cares 
He caught himself shamefully hankering 
After your obvious petty joys that spring 
From real life, fain relinquish pedestal 
And condescend with pleasures — one and all 
To be renounced, no doubt ; for thus to chain 
Himself to single joys and so refrain 
From tasting their quintessence, frustrates, sure. 
His prime design ; each joy must he abjure 
Even for love of it. 

He laughed : what sage 
But perishes if from his magic page 
He look because, at the first line, a proof 
*Twas heard salutes him from the cavern roof ? 
On ! Give thyself, excluding aught beside. 
To the day's task ; compel thy slave provide 
Its utmost at the soonest ; turn the leaf 
Thoroughly conned ; these lays of thine, in brief— 
^' Cannot men bear, now, somewhat better? — fly 
A pitch beyond this unreal pageantry 
p 2 



68 SORDELLO. 

Of essences ? the period sure has ceased 
For such : present ns with ourselves, at least, 
Not portions of ourselves, mere loves and hates 
Made flesh : wait not ! 

Awhile the poet waits 
However. The first trial was enough : 
He left imagining, to try the stuff 
That held the imaged thing and, let it writhe 
Never so fiercely, scarce allowed a tithe 
To reach the light — his Language. How he sought 
The cause, conceived a cure, and slow re- wrought 
That Language, welding words into the crude 
Mass from the new speech round him, till a rude 
Armour was hammered out, in time to be 
Approved beyond the Roman panoply 
Melted to make it, boots not. This obtained 
With some ado, no obstacle remained 
To using it ; accordingly he took 
An action with its actors, quite forsook 
Himself to live in each, returned anon 
With the result — a creature, and by one 
And one proceeded leisurely equip 
Its limbs in harness of his workmanship. 
Accomplished ! Listen Mantuans ! Fond essay ! 
Piece after piece that armour broke away 



BORDELLO. 69 

Because perceptions whole, like that he sought 

To clothe^ reject so pure a work of thought 

As language : Thought may take Perception s place 

But hardly co -exist in any case, 

Being its mere presentment — of the Whole 

By Parts, the Simultaneous and the Sole 

By the Successive and the Many. Lacks 

The crowd perceptions ? painfully it tacks 

Together thoughts Sordello, needing such, 

Has rent perception into : it *s to clutch 

And reconstruct — his office to diffuse. 

Destroy : as difficult obtain a Muse 

In short, as be Apollo. For the rest. 

E'en if some wondrous vehicle exprest 

The whole dream, what impertinence in me 

So to express it, who myself can be 

The dream ! nor, on the other hand, are those, 

I sing to over-likely to suppose 

A higher than the highest I present 

Now, and they praise already : be content 

Both parties, rather ; they with the old verse. 

And I with the old praise — far go, fare worse ! 

A few adhering rivets loosed, upsprings 

The angel, sparkles off his mail, and rings 



70 SORDELLO. 

Whirled from each delicatest limb it warps, 
As might Apollo from the sudden corpse 
Of Hyacinth have cast his luckless quoits. 
He set to celebrating the exploits 
Of Montfort o'er the Mountaineers. 

Then came 
The world's revenge : their pleasure now his aim 
Merely — what was it ? Not to play the fool 
So much as learn our lesson in your school, 
Replied the world : he found that every time 
He gained applause by any given rhyme 
His auditory recognised no jot 
As he intended, and, mistaking not 
Him for his meanest hero, ne'er was dunce 
Sufficient to believe him — All at once. 
His Will . . . conceive it caring for his Will ! 
— Mantuans, the main of them, admiring still 
How a mere singer, ugly, stunted, weak, 
Had Montfort at completely (so to speak) 
His lingers* ends ; while past the praise-tide swept 
To Montfort, either s share distinctly kept. 
The true meed for true merit — His abates 
Into a sort he most repudiates. 
And on them angrily he turns. Who were 
The Mantuans, after all, that he should care 



SORDELLO. 71 

About their recognition, ay or no ? 

In spite of the convention months ago, 

(Why blink the truth) was not he forced to help 

This same ungrateful audience, every whelp 

Of Naddo's litter, make them pass for peers 

With the bright band of those Goito years, 

As erst he toiled for flower or tree ? Why there 

Sate Palma ! Adelaide's funereal hair 

Ennobled the next corner. Ay, he strewed 

A fairy dust upon that multitude 

Although he feigned to take them by themselves ; 

His giants dignified those puny elves. 

Sublimed their faint applause. In short he found 

Himself still footing a delusive round. 

Remote as ever from the self- display 

He meant to compass, hampered every way 

By what he hoped assistance. Wherefore then 

Continue, make believe to find in men 

A use he found not ? 

Weeks, months, years went by ; 
And, lo, Sordello vanished utterly. 
Sundered in twain; each spectral part at strife 
With each ; one jarred against another life ; 
The Poet thwarting hopelessly the Man 
Who, fooled no longer, free m fancy ran 



- 72 SORDELLO. 

Here, there ; let slip no opportunities 

Forsooth, as pitiful beside the prize 

To drop on him some no-time and acquit 

His constant faith (the Poet-half *s to wit) 

That waiving any compromise between 

No joy and all joy kept the hunger keen 

Beyond most methods — of incurring scoff 

From the Man-portion not to be put off 

With self-reflectings by the Poet's scheme [^dream, 

Though ne'er so bright ; which sauntered forth in 

Dress'd any how, nor waited mystic frames, 

Immeasurable gifts, astounding claims. 

But just his sorry self ; who yet might be 

Sorrier for aught he in reality 

Achieved, so pinioned that the Poet-part, 

Fondling, in turn of fancy. Verse ; the Art 

Developing his soul a thousand ways ; 

Potent, by its assistance, to amaze 

The multitude with majesties, convince 

Each sort of nature that same nature's prince 

Accosted it : language, the makeshift, grew 

Into a bravest of expedients, too ; 

Apollo, seemed it now, perverse had thrown 

Quiver and bow away, the lyre alone 



SORDELLO. 73 

Sufficed : while, out of dream, his day's work went 
To tune a crazy tenzon or sirvent — 
So hampered him tlie Man- part, thrust to judge 
Between the bard and the bard's audience, grudge 
A minute's toil that missed its due reward ! 
But the complete Sordello, Man and Bard, 
John's cloud-girt angel, this foot on the land, 
That on the sea, with open in his hand 
A bitter-sweetling of a book — was gone. 

And if internal struggles to be one 
That frittered him incessantly piece-meal. 
Referred, ne'er so obliquely, to the real 
Mantuans ! intruding ever with some call 
To action while he pondered, once for all. 
Which looked the easier effort — to pursue 
This course, still leap o'er paltry joys, yearn through 
The present ill-appreciated stage 
Of self-revealment and compel the age 
Know him ; or else, forswearing bard-craft, wake 
From out his lethargy and nobly shake 
Off timid habits of denial, mix 
With men, enjoy like men : ere he could ^x 
On aught, in rushed the Mantuans ; much they cared 
For his perplexity ! Thus unprepared. 



74 SORDELLO. 

The obvious if not only shelter lay 
In deeds the dull conventions of his day 
Prescribed the like of him : why not be glad 
'Tis settled Palma's minstrel, good or bad, 
Submits to this and that established rule ? 
Let Yidal change or any other fool 
His murrey-coloured robe for philamot 
And crop his hair ; so skin-deep, is it not, 
Such vigour ? Then, a sorrow to the heart. 
His talk ! Whatever topics they might start 
Had to be groped for in his consciousness 
Strait, and as strait delivered them by guess : 
Only obliged to ask himself, " "What was," 
A speedy answer followed, but, alas. 
One of God's large ones, tardy to condense 
Itself into a period ; answers whence 
A tangle of conclusions must be stripped 
At any risk ere, trim to pattern clipped. 
They matched rare specimens the Mantua flock 
Regaled him with, each talker from his stock 
Of sorted o'er opinions, every stage. 
Juicy in youth or desiccate with age, 
Fruits like the fig-tree's, rathe-ripe, rotten-rich, 
Sweet-sour, all tastes to take : a practice which 



SORDELLO. 75 

He too had not impossibly attained, 

Once either of those fancy-flights restrained ; 

For, at conjecture how the words appear 

To others, playing there what passes here. 

And occupied abroad by what he spumed 

At home, 'twas slipt the occasion he returned 

To seize : he'd strike that lyre adroitly — speech, 

Would but a twenty cubit plectre reach ; 

A clever hand, consummate instrument. 

Were both brought close ! each excellency went 

For nothing else. The question Naddo asked 

Had just a life-time moderately tasked 

To answer, Naddo's fashion ; more disgust 

And more ; why move his soul, since move it must 

At minutes' notice or as good it failed 

To move at all ? The end was, he retailed 

Some ready-made opinion, put to use 

This quip, that maxim, ventured reproduce 

Gestures and tones — at any folly caught 

Serving to finish with, nor too much sought 

If false or true 'twas spoken ; praise and blame 

Of what he said grew pretty well the same 

— Meantime awards to meantime acts : his soul, 

Unequal to the compassing a Whole, 



'J^ SORDELLO. 

Saw in a tenth part less and less to strive 
About. And as for Men in turn . . . contrive 
Who could to take eternal interest 
In them, so hate the worst, so love the best ! 
Though in pursuance of his passive plan 
He hailed, decried the proper way. 

As Man 
So figured he ; and how as Poet ? Verse 
Came only not to a stand- still. The worse, 
That his poor piece of daily work to do 
Was not sink under any rivals ; who 
Loudly and long enough, without these qualms, 
Tuned, from Bocafoli's stark -naked psalms, 
To Plara's sonnets spoilt by toying with, 
" As knops that stud some almug to the pith 
Pricked for gum, wry thence, and crinkled worse 
Than pursed-up eyelids of a river-horse 
Sunning himself o* the slime when whirrs the breese" 
Ha, ha ! Of course he might compete with these 
But— but— 

Observe a pompion-twine afloat ; 
Pluck me one cup from off the castle-moat — 
Along with cup you raise leaf, stalk and root, 
The entire surface of the pool to boot. 



SORDELLO. *!1 

So could I pluck a cup, put in one song 

A single sight, did not my hand, too strong, 

Twitch in the least the root-strings of the whole. 

How should externals satisfy my soul ? 

Why that's precise the error Squarcialupe 

(Hazarded Naddo) finds ; the man can't stoop 

To' sing us out, quoth he, a mere romance ; 

He'd fain do better than the best, enhance 

The subjects' rarity, work problems out 

Therewith : now you're a bard, a bard past doubt, 

And no philosopher ; why introduce 

Crotchets like these ? fine, surely, but no use 

In poetry — which still must be, to strike. 

Based upon common sense ; there's nothing like 

Appealing to our nature ! what beside 

Was your first poetry ? No tricks w^ere tried 

In that, no hollow thrills, afi^ected throes ! 

The man, said we, tells his own joys and woes — 

We'll trust him. Would you have your songs endure ? 

Build on the human heart ! — Why to be sure 

Yours is one sort of heart — but I mean theirs. 

Ours, every one's, the healthy heart one cares 

To build on ! Central peace, mother of strength. 

That's father of . . . nay, go yourself that length. 



78 SORDELLO. 

Ask those calm -hearted doers what they do 

When they have got their cahn ! Nay, is it true 

Fire rankles at the heart of every glohe ? 

Perhaps ! But these are matters one may probe 

Too deeply for poetic purposes : 

Rather select a theory that . . . yes [^midway 

Laugh ! what does that prove ? . . . stations you 

And saves some little o'er-refining. Nay, 

That's rank injustice done me ! I restrict 

The poet ? Don t I hold the poet picked 

Out of a host of warriors, statesmen — did 

I tell you ? Yery like ! as well you hid 

That sense of power you have ! True bards believe 

Us able to achieve what they achieve — 

That is, just nothing — in one point abide 

Profounder simpletons than all beside : 

Oh ay ! The knowledge that you are a bard 

Must constitute your prime, nay sole, reward ! 

So prattled Naddo, busiest of the tribe 

Of genius-haunters — how shall I describe 

What grubs or nips, or rubs, or rips — your louse 

For love, your flea for hate, magnanimous, 

Malignant, Pappacoda, Tagliafer, 

Picking a sustenance from wear and tear 



SORDELLO. 79 

By implements it sedulous employs 

To undertake, lay down, mete out, o'er-toise 

Sordello ? fifty creepers to elude 

At once ! They settled stanchly ; shame ensued : 

Behold the monarch of mankind succumb 

To the last fool who turned him round his thumb, 

As Naddo styled it ! Twas not worth oppose 

The matter of a moment, gainsay those 

He aimed at getting rid of; better think 

Their thoughts and speak their speech, secure to slink 

Back expeditiously to his safe place. 

And chew the cud — what he and what his race 

Were really, each of them. Yet even this 

Conformity was partial. He would miss 

Some point, brought into contact with them ere 

Assured in what small segment of the sphere 

Of his existence they attended him ; 

Whence blunders — falsehoods rectify — a grim 

List — slur it over ! How ? If dreams were tried, 

His will swayed sicklily from side to side 

Nor merely neutralized his waking act 

But tended e'en in fancy to distract 

The intermediate will, the choice of means : 

He lost the art of dreaming : Mantua scenes 



80 SORDELLO. 

Supplied a baron, say, he sung before, 

Handsomely reckless, full to running o'er 

Of gallantries ; abjure the soul, content 

With body, therefore ! Scarcely had he bent 

Himself in dream thus low when matter fast 

Cried out, he found, for spirit to contrast 

And task it duly ; by advances slight. 

The simple stuff becoming composite. 

Count Lori grew Apollo — best recall 

His fancy ! Then would some rough peasant-Paul 

Like those old Ecelin confers with, glance 

His gay apparel o'er ; that countenance 

Gathered his shattered fancy into one, 

And, body clean abolished, soul alone 

Sufficed the grey Paulician : by and by 

To balance the ethereality 

Passions were needed ; foiled he sunk again. 

Meanwhile the world rejoiced ('tis time explain) 
Because a sudden sickness set it free 
From Adelaide. Missins the mother bee 
Her mountain hive Romano swarmed ; at once 
A rustle-forth of daughters and of sons 
Blackened the valley. I am sick too, old. 
Half crazed I think ; what good 's the Kaiser s gold 



SORDELLO. 81 

To such an one ? God help me ! for I catch 

My children's greedy sparkling eyes at watch — 

He bears that double breastplate on, they say, 

So many minutes less than yesterday 1 

Beside Monk Hilary is on his knees 

Now, sworn to kneel and pray till God shall please 

Exact a punishment for many things 

You know and some you never knew ; which brings 

To memory, Azzo's sister Beatrix 

And Richard's Giglia are my Alberic's 

And Ecelin s betrothed ; the Count himself 

Must get my Palma : Ghibellin and Guelf 

Mean to embrace each other. So began 

Romano's missive to his fighting-man 

Taurello on the Tuscan s death, away 

"With Friedrich sworn to sail from Naples' bay 

Next month for Syria. Never thunder-clap 

Out of Vesuvius' mount like this mishap 

Startled him. That accursed Yicenza ! I 

Absent, and she selects this time to die ! 

Ho, fellows, for Yicenza ! Half a score 

Of horses ridden dead he stood before 

Romano in his reeking spurs : too late — 

Boniface urged me, Este could not wait, 

G 



82 BORDELLO. 

The chieftain stammered ; let me die in peace — 

Forget me ! Was it I e'er craved increase 

Of rule ? Do you and Friedrich plot your worst 

Against the Father : as you found me first 

So leave me now. Forgive me ! Palraa, sure, 

Is at Goito still. Retain that lure — 

Only be pacified ! 

The country rung 
With such a piece of news : on every tongue 
How Ecelin s great servant, congeed ofi*, 
Had done a long day's service, so might doff 
The green and yellow to recover breath 
At Mantua, whither, since Retrude's death, 
(The girlish slip of a Sicilian bride 
From Otho's House he carried to reside 
At Mantua till the Ferrarese should pile 
A structure worthy her imperial style. 
The gardens raise, their tenantry enshrine 
She never lived to see) although his line 
Was ancient in her archives and she took 
A pride in him, that city, nor forsook 
Her child though he forsook himself and spent 
A prowess on Romano surely meant 
For his own purposes — he ne'er resorts 
If wholly satisfied (to trust reports) 



SORDELLO. 83 

With Ecelin. So forward in a trice 

Were shows to greet him. Take a friend's advice, 

Quoth Naddo to Sordello, nor be rash 

Because your rivals (nothing can abash 

Some folks) demur that we pronounced you best 

To sound the great man s welcome ; *tis a test 

Remember ; Strojavacca looks asquint, 

The rough fat sloven ; and there's plenty hint 

Your pinions have received of late a shock — 

Out-soar them, cobs wan of the silver flock ! 

Sing well ! A signal wonder song's no whit 

Facilitated. 

Fast the minutes flit ; 
Another day, Sordello finds, will bring 
The soldier, and he cannot choose but sing ; 
So quits, a last shift, Mantua — slow, alone : 
Out of that aching brain, a very stone, 
Song must be struck. What occupies that front ? 
Just how he was more awkward than his wont 
The night before, when Naddo, who had seen 
Taurello on his progress, praised the mien 
For dignity no crosses could afi*ect — 
Such was a joy, and might not he detect 
A satisfaction if established joys 
Were proved imposture ? Poetry annoys 
G 2 



84 SORDELLO. 

Its utmost : wherefore fret ? Verses may come 

Or keep away ! And thus he wandered, dumb 

Till evening, when he paused, thoroughly spent, 

On a blind hill-top ; down the gorge he went, 

Yielding himself up as to an embrace ; 

The moon came out ; like features of a face 

A querulous fraternity of pines. 

Sad blackthorn clumps, leafless and grovelling vines 

Also came out, made gradually up 

The picture ; 'twas Goito's mountain-cup 

And castle. He had dropped through one defile 

He never dared explore, the Chief erewhile 

Had vanished by. Back rushed the dream, en wrapt 

Him wholly. 'Twas Apollo now they lapped 

Those mountains, not a pettish minstrel meant 

To wear his soul away in discontent 

Brooding on fortune's malice ; heart and brain 

Swelled ; he expanded to himself again 

As that thin seedling spice-tree starved and frail 

Pushina: between cat's head or ibis' tail 

Crusted into the porphyry pavement smooth 

— Suffered remain just as it sprung to soothe 

The Soldan s pining daughter, never yet 

AYell in the chilly green-glazed minaret — 



SORDELLO. 85 

When rooted up the sunny day she died 
And flung into the common court beside 
Its parent tree. Come home, Sordello ! Soon 
Was he low muttering beneath the moon 
Of sorrow saved, of quiet evermore, 
How from his purposes maintained before 
Only resulted wailing and hot tears. 
Ah, the slim castle ! dwindled of late years. 
But more mysterious ; gone to ruin — trails 
Of vine thro' every loop-hole. Nought avails 
The night as, torch in hand, he must explore 
The maple chamber — did I say its floor 
Was made of intersecting cedar beams ? 
Worn now with gaps so large there blew cold streams 
Of air quite from the dungeon ; lay your ear 
Close and 'tis like, one after one, you hear 
In the blind darkness water-drops. The nests 
And nooks retained their long ranged vesture-chests 
Empty and smelling of the iris-root 
The Tuscan grated o'er them to recruit 
Her wasted wits. Palma was gone that day. 
Said the remaining women. Last, he lay 
Beside the Carian group reserved and still. 
The Body, the Machine for Acting Will 



86 SORDELLO. 

Had been at the commencement proved unfit ; 
That for Reflecting, Demonstrating it, 
Mankind — no fitter : was the Will Itself 
In fault ? 

His forehead pressed the moonlit shelf 
Beside the youngest marble maid awhile ; 
Then, raising it, he thought, with a long smile, 
I shall be king again ! as he withdrew 
The envied scarf ; into the font he threw 
His crown. 

Next day, no poet ! Wherefore ? asked 
Taurello, when the dance of Jongleurs masked 
As devils ended ; don t a song come next ? 
The master of the pageant looked perplext 
Till Naddo's whisper came to his relief ; 
His Highness knew what poets were : in brief, 
Had not the tetchy race prescriptive right 
To peevishness, caprice ? or, call it spite. 
One must receive their nature in its length 
And breadth, expect the weakness with the strength ! 
So phrasing, till, his stock of phrases spent, 
The easy-natured soldier smiled assent. 
Settled his portly person, smoothed his chin. 
And nodded that the bull-chase might begin. 



SORDELLO. S7 



BOOK THE THIRD. 



And the font took them : let our laurels lie ! 
Braid moonfem now with mystic trifoly 
Because once more Goito gets, once more, 
Sordello to itself ! A dream is o'er 
And the suspended life begins anew ; 
Quiet those throbbing temples, then, subdue 
That cheek's distortion ! Nature's strict embrace, 
Putting aside the past, shall soon efface 
Its print as well — factitious humours grown 
Over the true — loves, hatreds not his own — 
And turn him pure as some forgotten vest 
"Woven of painted byssus, silkiest 
Tufting the Tyrrhene whelk's pearl-sheeted lip. 
Left welter where a trireme let it slip 
I' the sea and vexed a Satrap ; so the stain 
C the world forsakes Sordello with its pain 



88 SORDELLO. 

Its pleasure : how the tinct loosening escapes 

Cloud after cloud ! Mantua's familiar shapes 

Die, fair and foul die, fading as they flit, 

Men, women, and the pathos and the wit. 

Wise speech and foolish, deeds to smile or sigh 

For, good, bad, seemly or ignoble, die : 

The last face glances through the eglantines. 

The last voice murmurs 'twixt the blossomed vines 

This May of the Machine supplied by Thought 

To compass Self-perception idly sought 

By forcing half himself — an insane pulse 

Of a God's blood on clay it could convulse 

Never transmute — on human sights and sounds 

To watch the other half with ; irksome bounds 

It ebbs from to its source, a fountain sealed 

Forever. Better sure be unrevealed 

Than part-revealed : Sordello well or ill 

Is finished with : what further use of Will ? 

— Point in the prime idea not realized, 

An oversight, inordinately prized 

No less, and pampered with enough of each 

Delight to prove the whole above its reach. 

To need become all natures yet retain 

The law of one's own nature — to remain 



SORDELLO. 89 

Oneself, yet yearn . . . aha, that chesnut, think. 
To yearn for this first larch-bloom crisp and pink. 
With those pale fragrant tears where zephyrs staunch 
March wounds along the fretted pine-tree branch ! 
Will and the means to show it, great and small 
Material, spiritual, abjure them all 
Save any so distinct as to be left 
Amuse, not tempt become : and, thus bereft, 
Say, just as I am fashioned would I be ! 
Nor, Moon, is it Apollo now but me 
Thou visitest to comfort and befriend ; 
Swim thou into my heart and there an end 
Since I possess thee ! nay thus shut mine eyes 
And know, quite know, by that heart's fall and rise 
If thou dost bury thee in clouds and when 
Out-standest : wherefore practise upon Men 
To make that plainer to myself ? 

Slide here 
Over a sweet and solitary year 
Wasted : or simply notice change in him — 
How eyes, bright with exploring once, grew dim 
As satiate with receiving. Some distress 
Occasioned, too, a sort of consciousness 
Under the imbecility ; nought kept 
That down : he slept, but was aware he slept 



90 SORDELLO. 

And frustrate so ; as who brainsick made pact 

Erst with the overhanging cataract 

To deafen him, yet may distinguish now 

His own blood's measured clicking at his brow. 

To finish. One declining Autumn day — 
Few birds about the heaven chill and grey, 
No wind that cared trouble the tacit woods — 
He sauntered home complacently, their moods 
According, his and Nature's. Every spark 
Of Mantua life was trodden out ; so dark 
The embers that the Troubadour who sung 
Hundreds of songs forgot, its trick the tongue, 
Its craft the brain, how either brought to pass 
Singing so e'er ; that faculty might class 
With any of Apollo's now. The year 
Began to find its early promise sere 
As well. Thus beauty vanishes ! Your stone 
Outlasts your flesh. Nature's and his youth gone, 
They left the world to you and wished you joy. 
When stopping his benevolent employ 
A presage shuddered through the welkin ; harsh 
The earth's remonstrance followed. 'Twas the marsh 
Gone of a sudden. Mincio in its place 
Laughed a broad water in next morning's face 



SORDELLO. 91 

And, where the mists broke up immense and white 
I' the steady wind, burnt like a spilth of light 
Out of the crashing of a myriad stars. 
And here was Nature, bound by the same bars 
Of fate with him ! 

No : youth once gone is gone : 
Deeds let escape are never to be done : 
Leaf-fall and grass-spring for the year, but us — 
Oh forfeit I unalterably thus 
My chance ? nor two lives wait me, this to spend 
Learning save that ? Nature has leisure mend 
Mistake, occasion, knows she, will recur — 
Landslip or seabreach how affects it her 
With her magnificent resources ? I 
Must perish once and perish utterly ! 
Not any strollings now at even- close 
Down the field-path, Sordello, by thorn-rows 
Alive with lamp-flies, swimming spots of fire 
And dew, outlining the black cypress' spire 
She waits you at, Elys, who heard you first 
Woo her the snow-month — ah, but ere she durst 
Answer 'twas April ! Linden-flower- time-long 
Her eyes were on the ground ; 'tis July, strong 
Now ; and because white dust-clouds overwhelm 
The woodside, here or by the village elm 



92 BORDELLO. 

That holds the moon she meets you, somewhat pale, 

But letting you lift up her coarse flax veil 

And whisper (the damp little hand in yours) 

Of love — heart's love — your heart's love that endures 

Till death. Tush ! No mad mixing with the rout 

Of haggard ribalds wandering about 

The hot torchlit wine -scented island-house 

Where Friedrich holds his wickedest carouse 

Parading to the gay Palermitans, 

Soft Messinese, dusk Saracenic clans 

From Nuocera, those tall grave dazzling Norse, 

Clear-cheeked, lank-haired, toothed whiter than the 

Queens of the caves of jet stalactites Qmorse, 

He sent his barks to fetch through icy seas. 

The blind night seas without a saving-star. 

And here in snowy birdskin robes they are, 

Sordello, here, mollitious alcoves gilt 

Superb as Byzant-domes the devils built 

— Ah, Byzant, there again ! no chance to go 

Ever like august pleasant Dandolo, 

Worshipping hearts about him for a wall, 

Conducted, blind eyes, hundred years and all. 

Through vanquished Byzant to have noted him 

What pillar, marble massive, sardius slim. 



SORDELLO. 93 

Twere fittest we transport to Venice* Square — 

Flattered and promised life to touch them there 

Soon, by his fervid sons of senators ! 

No more lifes, deaths, loves, hatreds, peaces, wars — 

Ah, fragments of a Whole ordained to be ! 

Points in the life I waited ! what are ye 

But roundels of a ladder which appeared 

Awhile the very platform it was reared 

To lift me on — that Happiness I find 

Proofs of my faith in, even in the blind 

Instinct which bade forego you all unless 

Ye led me past yourselves ? Ay, Happiness 

Awaited me ; the way life should be used 

Was to acquire, and deeds like you conduced 

To teach it by a self-revealment (deemed 

That very use too long). Whatever seemed 

Progress to that was Pleasure ; aught that stayed 

Me reaching it — No Pleasure. I have laid 

The roundels down ; I climb not ; still aloft 

The platform stretches ! Blisses strong and soft 

I dared not entertain elude me ; yet 

Never of what they promised could I get 

A glimpse till now ! The common sort, the crowd, 

Exist, perceive ; with Being are endowed. 



94 SORDELLO. 

However slight, distinct from what they See, 
However bounded : Happiness must be 
To feed the first by gleanings from the last, 
Attain its qualities, and slow or fast 
Become what one beholds ; such peace-in-strife 
By transmutation is the Use of Life, 
The Alien turning Native to the soul 
Or body — which instructs me ; I am whole 
There and demand a Palma ; had the world 
Been from my soul to a like distance hurled 
'Twere Happiness to make it one with me — 
Whereas I must, ere I begin to Be, 
Include a world, in flesh, I comprehend 
In spirit now ; and this done, what's to blend 
"With ? Nought is Alien here — my Will 
Owns it already ; yet can turn it still 
Less Native, since my Means to correspond 
With Will are so unworthy 'twas my bond 
To tread the very ones that tantalize 
Me now into a grave, never to rise — 
I die then ! Will the rest agree to die ? 
Next Age or no ? Shall its Sordello try 
Clue after clue and catch at last the clue 
I miss, that's underneath my finger too, 



SORDELLO. 95 

Twice, thrice a day, perhaps, — some yearning traced 

Deeper, some petty consequence embraced 

Closer ! Why fled I Mantua then ? Complained 

So much my Will was fettered, yet remained 

Content within a tether half the range 

I could assign it ? — able to exchange 

My ignorance, I felt, for knowledge, and 

Idle because I could thus understand — 

Could e'en have penetrated to its core 

Our mortal mystery, and yet forbore, 

Preferred elaborating in the dark 

My casual stuff*, by any wretched spark 

Born of my predecessors, tho' one stroke 

Of mine had brought the flame forth ! Mantua's yoke. 

My minstrel's-trade, was to behold mankind, 

And my own matter — just to bring my mind 

Behold, just extricate, for my acquist. 

Each object suffered stifle in the mist 

Convention, hazard, blindness could impose 

In their relation to myself. 

He rose. 
The level wind carried above the firs 
Clouds, the irrevocable travellers, 
Onward. 



I 



96 SORDELLO. 

Pushed thus into a drowsy copse, 
Arms twine about my neck, each eyelid drops 
Under a humid finger ; while there fleets 
Outside the screen a pageant time repeats 
Never again ! To be deposed — immured 
Clandestinely — still petted, still assured 
To govern were fatiguing work — the Sight 
Fleeting meanwhile ! 'Tis noontide — wreak ere night 
Somehow one's will upon it rather ! Slake 
This thirst somehow, the poorest impress take 
That serves ! A blasted bud displays you, torn, 
Faint rudiments of the full flower unborn ; 
But who divines what petal coats o*erclasp 
Of the bulb dormant in the Mummy's grasp 
Taurello sent . . . 

Taurello ? Palma sent 
Your Trouvere (Naddo interposing leant 
Over the lost bard's shoulder) and believe 
You cannot more reluctantly conceive 
Than I pronounce her message : we depart 
Together : what avail a poet's heart 
Verona and her gauds ? ^Ye blades of grass 
Sufiice him. News ? Why, where your marish was, 
On its mud-banks smoke rises after smoke 
r the valley like a spout of hell new-broke. 



SORDELLO. 97 

Oh, the world's tidings ! little thanks, I guess, 

For them. The father of our Patroness 

Playing Taurello an astounding trick 

Parts between Ecelin and Alberic 

His wealth and goes into a convent : both 

Wed Guelfs : the Count and Palma plighted troth 

A week since at Verona : and she wants 

You doubtless to contrive the marriage-chants 

Ere Richard storms Ferrara. Your response 

To Palma ? Wherefore jest ? Depart at once ? 

A good resolve ! In truth I hardly hoped 

So prompt an acquiescence. Have you groped 

Out wisdom in the wilds here ? — Thoughts may be 

Over-poetical for poetry ? 

Pearl-white you minstrels liken Palma's neck, 

And yet what spoils an orient like some speck 

Of genuine white turning its own white grey ? 

You take me ? Curse the cicales ! 

One more day — 
One eve — appears Yerona ! Many a group, 
(You mind) instructed of the osprey's swoop 
On 1 nx and ounce, was gathering — Christendom 
Sure to receive, whatever it might be, from 
The evening's purpose cheer or detriment 
Since Friedrich only waited some event 
H 



98 SORDELLO. 

Like this of Ghibellins establishing 

Themselves within Ferrara, ere, as King 

Of Lombardy, he'd glad descend there, wage 

Old warfare with the Pontiff, disengage 

His barons from the burghers, and restore 

The rule of Charlemagne broken of yore 

By Hildebrand. That eve-long each by each 

Sordello sate and Palma : little speech 

At first in that dim closet, face with face 

Despite the tumult in the market place 

Exchanging quick low laughters : now would gush 

Word upon word to meet a sudden flush, 

A look left off, a shifting lips' surmise — 

But for the most part their two histories 

Ran best thro' the locked fingers and linked arms. 

And so the night flew on w4th its alarms 

Till in burst one of Palma's retinue ; 

Now Lady, gasped he. Then arose the two 

And leaned into Verona's air dead still. 

A balcony lay black beneath until 

Out 'mid a gush of torchfire gTey-haired men 

Came on it and harangued the people : then 

Sea-like that people surging to and fro 

Shouted, Hale forth the Carroch — trumpets, ho, 



SORDELLO. 99 

A flourish ! run it in the ancient grooves — 
Back from the bell ! Hammer ! that whom behooves 
May hear the League is up ! Peal ! learn who list 
Verona means not be the first break tryst 
To-morrow with the League. 

Enough. Now turn — 
Over the Eastern cypresses : discern 
You any beacon set a-glimmer ? 

Rang 
The air with shouts that overpowered the clang 
Of the incessant carroch even. Haste — 
The Candle's at the gate- way ! ere it waste 
Each soldier stands beside, armed fit to march 
With Tiso Sampier thro' that Eastern arch ! 
Ferrara's succoured, Palma ! 

Once again 
They sate together ; some strange thing in train 
To say, so difiicult was Palma's place 
In taking, with a coy fastidious grace 
Like the bird's flutter ere it fix and feed ; 
But when she felt she held her friend indeed 
Safe, she threw back her curls, began implant 
Her lessons ; telling of another want 
Goito's quiet nourished than his own ; 
Palma — to serve, as him — be served, alone 
h2 



100 SORDELLO. 

Importing ; Agnes' milk so neutralised 

The blood of Ecelin. Nor be surprised 

If, while Sordello nature captive led, 

In dream was Palma wholly subjected 

To some out-soul which dawned not though she pined 

Delaying still (pursued she) heart and mind 

To live : how dared I let expand the force 

Within me till some out-soul whose resource 

It grew for should direct it ? Every law 

Of life, its fitnesses and every flaw, 

Must that determine whose corporeal shape 

Would be no other than the prime escape 

And revelation to me of a Will 

Orb-like o'ershrouded and inscrutable 

Above except the point I was to know 

Shone that myself, my powers, might overflow 

So far, so much ; as now it signified 

Which earthly shape it henceforth chose to guide 

Me by, whose lip selected to declare 

Its oracles, what fleshly garb would wear: 

— The first of intimations, whom to love ; 

The next, how love him. And that orb above 

The castle-covert and the mountain-close 

Slow in appearing, if beneath arose 



BORDELLO. 101 

Cravings, aversions, and our green precinct 
Took pride in me at unawares distinct 
With this or that endowment, how represt, 
At once such jetting power shrunk to the rest ! 
Was I to have a chance touch spoil me, leave 
My spirit thence unfitted to receive 
The consummating spell ? — that spell so near 
Moreover : waits he not the waking year ? 
His almond- blossoms must be honey-ripe 
By this ; to welcome him fresh runnels stripe 
The thawed ravines ; because of him the wind 
Walks like a herald. I shall surely find 
Him now ! 

And chief that earnest April mom 
Of Richard's Love-court was it time, so worn 
And white her cheek, so idly her blood beat. 
Sitting that morn beside the Lady's feet 
And saying as she prompted ; till outburst 
One face from all the faces — not then first 
She knew it ; where in maple-chamber glooms, 
Crowned with what sanguine-heart pomegranate 
Advanced it ever ? Men s acknowledgment j^blooms 
Sanctioned her own : 'twas taken, Palma's bent, 
She said. 



102 SORDELLO. 

And day by day the Tuscan dumb 
Sat scheming, scheming ; Ecelin would come 
Gaunt, scared, Cesano baffles me, he'd say : 
Better I fought it out my father s way ! 
Strangle Ferrara in its drowning flats 
And you and your Taurello yonder — what's 
Romano's business there ? An hour's concern 
To cure the fro ward Chief ! induced return 
Much heartened from those overmeaning eyes, 
Wound up to persevere, his enterprise 
Marked out anew, its exigent of wit 
Apportioned, she at liberty to sit 
And scheme against the next emergence, I — 
To covet what I deemed their sprite, made fly 
Or fold the wing — to con your horoscope 
For leave command those steely shafts shoot ope 
Or straight assuage their blinding eagerness 
To blank smooth snow : what semblance of success 
To any of my plans for making you 
Romano's lord ? That Chief — her children too — 
There Salinguerra would obstruct me sheer. 
And the insuperable Tuscan here 
Stayed me ! But one wild eve that Lady died 
Jn her lone chamber : only I beside : 



SORDELLO. 103 

Taurello far at Naples, and my sire 
At Padua, Ecelin away in ire 
With Alberic : she held me thus — a clutch 
To make our spirits as our bodies touch — 
And so began flinging the past up, heaps 
Of uncouth treasure from their sunless sleeps 
Within her soul ; deeds rose along with dreams, 
Fragments of many miserable schemes, 
Secrets, more secrets, then — no, not the last — 
'Mongst others, like a casual trick o' the past, 
How . . . ay, she told me, gathering her face 
— That face of hers into one arch-grimace 
To die with . . . 

Friend, 'tis gone ! but not the fear 
Of that fell laughing, heard as now I hear. 
Nor faltered voice, nor seemed herself grow weak, 
When i' the midst abrupt she ceased to speak 
— Dead, as to serve a purpose, mark, for in 
Rushed o' the very instant Ecelin 
(How summoned who divines ?) looking as if 
Part understood he why his mate lay stiff 
Already in my arms for, Girl, how must 
I manage Este in the matter thrust 
Upon me, how unravel their bad coil ? 
Since (he declared) 'tis on your brow — a soil 



104 SORDELLO. 

Like hers there ! then said in a breath he lacked 

No counsel after all, had signed no pact 

With devils, nor was treason here or there, 

Goito or Yicenza, his affair : 

He 'd bury it in Adelaide's deep grave 

And begin life afresh, nor, either, slave 

For any Friedrich's or Taurello's sake ! 

What booted him to meddle or to make 

In Lombardy ? 'Twas afterward I knew 

The meaning of his promise to undo 

All she had done — why marriages were made, 

New friendships entered on, old followers paid 

In curses for their pains, people's amaze 

At height, when passing out by Gate St. Blaise 

He stopped short in Yicenza, bent his head 

Over a friar s neck, had vowed, he said. 

Long since, nigh thirty years, because his wife 

And child were saved there, to bestow his life 

On God, his gettings on the Church. 

Exiled 
Within Goito, still that dream beguiled 
Her days and nights ; 'twas found the orb she sought 
To serve, those glimpses came of Fomalhaut 
No other : how then serve it ? — authorise 
Him and Romano mingle destinies ? 



SORDELLO. 105 

And straight Romano's angel stood beside 
Her who had else been Boniface's bride, 
For Salinguerra 'twas, the neck low bent, 
The voice lightened to music as he meant 
To learn not teach me how Romano waxed, 
Wherefore it waned, and why if I relaxed 
My grasp (think, I !) would drop a thing effete, 
Frayed by itself, unequal to complete 
The course and counting every step astray 
A gain so much. Romano every way 
Stable, a House now — why this starting back 
Into the very outset of its track ? 
This recent patching-principle allied 
Our House with other Houses — what beside 
Concerned the apparition, yon grim Knight 
Who followed Conrad hither in such plight 
His utmost wealth was reckoned in his steed ? 
For Ecelo, that prowler, was decreed 
A task in the beginning hazardous 
To him as ever task can be to us, 
But did the weather-beaten thief despair 
When first our crystal cincture of warm air. 
That binds the Trivisan as its spice-belt 
(Crusaders say) the tract where Jesus' dwelt, 



106 SORDELLO. 

Furtive he pierced and Este was to face — 

Despaired Saponian Strength of Lombard Grace ? 

Said he for making surer aught made sure, 

Maturing what already was mature ? 

No ; his heart prompted Ecelo, Confront 

Este, inspect yourself. What's nature ? Wont. 

Discard three-parts your nature and adopt 

The rest as an advantage I Old Strength propped 

The earliest of Podestas among 

The Yincentines, no less than, while there sprung 

His Palace up in Padua like a threat, 

Their noblest spied a Grace unnoticed yet 

In Conrad's crew. Thus far the object gained, 

Romano was established ; has remained — 

For are you not Italian, truly peer 

With Este ? Azzo better soothes it ear 

Than Alberic ? or is this lion s-crine 

From over-mount (this yellow hair of mine) 

So weak a graft on Agnes Este's stock ? 

(Thus went he on with something of a mock) 

Wherefore recoil then from the very fate 

Conceded you, refuse to imitate 

Your model farther ? Este long since left 

Being mere Este : as a blade its heft. 



SORDELLO. 107 

Este requires the Pope to further him : 

And you, the Kaiser : whom your father's whim 

Foregoes or, better, never shall forego 

If Palma dares pursue what Ecelo 

Commenced but Ecelin desists from : just 

As Adelaide of Susa could intrust 

Her donative (that 's Piedmont to the Pope, 

The Alpine-pass for him to shut or ope 

Twixt France and Italy) to the superb 

Matilda's perfecting, — lest aught disturb 

Our Adelaide's great counter-project for 

Giving her Trentine to the Emperor 

And passage here from Germany, shall you 

Take it, my slender plodding talent, too — 

Urged me Taurello w4th his half-smile. 

He 
As Patron of the scattered family 
Conveyed her to his Mantua, kept in bruit 
Azzo's alliances and Richard's suit 
Until, the Kaiser excommunicate. 
Nothing remains, Taurello said, but wait 
Some rash procedure : Palma was the link, 
As Agnes' child, between us, and they shrink 
From losing Palma : judge if we advance 
Your father s method your inheritance ! 



108 SORDELLO. 

That day she was betrothed to Boniface 

At Padua by Taurello's self, took place 

The outrage of the Ferrarese : again, 

That day she sought Yerona with the train 

Agreed for, by Taurello's policy 

Convicting Richard of the fault, since she 

Was present to annul or to confirm, 

Richard, whose patience had outstayed its term. 

Quitted Yerona for the siege. 

And now 
"What glory may engird Sordello's brow 
For this ? A month since Oliero sunk 
All Ecelin that was into a Monk ; 
But how could Salinguerra so forget 
His liege of thirty summers as grudge yet 
One effort to recover him ? He sent 
Forthwith the tidings of the Town s event 
To Oliero, adding, he, despite 
The recent folly, recognised his right 
To order such proceedings ; should he wring 
Its uttermost advantage out, or fling 
This chance away ? If not him, who was Head 
Now of the House ? Through me that missive sped ; 
My father s answer will by me return. 
Behold ! For him, he writes, no more concern 



SORDELLO. 109 

With strife than for his children with the plots 
Of Friedrich. Old engagements out he blots 
For aye : Taurello shall no more subserve 
Nor Ecelin impose. Lest this unnerve 
Him therefore at this juncture, slack his grip 
Of Richard, suffer the occasion slip, 
I, in his sons' default (who, mating with 
Este, forsake Romano as the frith 
Its mainsea for the firmland that makes head 
Against) I stand, Romano ; in their stead 
Assume the station they desert, and give 
Still, as the Kaiser s Representative, 
Taurello licence he demands. Midnight — 
Morning — by noon to-morrow, making light 
Of the League's issue, we, in some gay weed 
Like yours disguised together, may precede 
The arbitrators to Ferrara ; reach 
Him, let Taurello' s noble accents teach 
The rest ! then say if I have misconceived 
Your destiny, too readily believed 
The Kaiser s cause your own. 

And Palma 's fled. 
Though no affirmative disturbs the head 
A dying lamp-flame sinks and rises o'er 
Like the alighted planet Pollux wore. 



110 SORDELLO. 

Until, morn breaking, he resolves to be 

Gate- vein of this heart's blood of Lombardy, 

Soul to their body — have their aggregate 

Of souls and bodies, and so conquer fate 

Though he should live, a centre of disgust 

Even, apart, core of the outward crust 

He vivifies, assimilates. For thus 

Bring I Bordello to the rapturous 

Exclaim at the crowd's cry, because one round 

Of life was quite accomplished and he found 

Not only that a soul, howe'er its might, 

Is insufficient to its own delight 

Both in corporeal organs and in skill 

By means of such to body forth its Will — 

And, after, insufficient to apprise 

Men of that Will, oblige them recognise 

The Hid by the Revealed — but that, the last 

Nor lightest of the struggles overpast, 

His Will, bade abdicate, which would not void 

The throne, might sit there , suffer be enjoyed 

The same a varied and divine array 

Incapable of homage the first way 

Nor fit to render incidentally 

Tribute connived at, taken by the by, 



SORDELLO. lil 

In joys : and if, thus warranted rescind 

The ignominious exile of mankind 

Whose proper service, ascertained intact 

As yet (by Him to be themselves made act. 

Not watch Sordello acting each of them) 

"Was to secure — if the true diadem 

Seenied imminent while our Sordello drank 

The wisdom of that golden Palma, thank 

Yerona's Lady in her Citadel 

Founded by Gaulish Brennus legends tell — 

And truly when she left him the sun reared 

A head like the first clamberer's that peered 

A-top the Capitol, his face on flame 

With triumph, triumphing till Manlius came. 

Nor slight too much my rhymes — " that spring, 

Dispart, disperse, lingering overhead [^dispread. 

Like an escape of angels ? " Hather say 

My transcendental platan ! mounting gay 

(An archimage so courts a novice-queen) 

With tremulous silvered trunk, whence branches sheen 

Laugh out, thick foliaged next, a-shiver soon 

With coloured buds, then glowing like the moon 

One mild flame, last a pause, a burst, and all 

Her ivory limbs are smothered by a fall, 



112 SORDELLO. 

Bloom-flinders and fruit-sparkles and leaf-dust, 
Ending the weird work prosecuted just 
For her amusement ; he decrepit, stark, 
Dozes ; her uncontrolled delight may mark 
Apart — 

Yet not so, surely never so ! 
Only as good my soul were suffered go 
O'er the lagune : forth fare thee, put aside 
Ehtrance thy synod, as a God may glide 
Out of the world he fills and leave it mute 
A myriad ages as we men compute. 
Returning into it without a break 
I' the consciousness ! They sleep, and I awake 
O'er the lagune. 

Sordello said once, note 
In just such songs as Eglamor, say, wrote 
With heart and soul and strength, for he believed 
Himself achieving all to be achieved 
By singer — in such songs you find alone 
Completeness, judge the song and singer One 
And either s purpose answered, his in it 
Or its in him : while from true works (to wit 
Sordello's dream-performances that will 
Be never more than dream) escapes there still 



SORDELLO. 113 

Some proof the singer s proper life 's beneath 

The life his song exhibits, this a sheath 

To that ; a passion and a knowledge far 

Transcending these, majestic as they are. 

Smoulder ; his lay was but an episode 

In the bard's life. Which evidence you owed 

To some slight weariness, a looking-off 

Or start-away, the childish skit or scoff 

In " Charlemagne,'* for instance, dreamed divine 

In every point except one restive line 

(Those daughters !) — what significance may lurk 

In that ? My life commenced before that work. 

Continues after it, as on I fare 

With no more stopping possibly, no care 

To jot down (says the bard) the why and how 

And where and when of life as I do now : 

But shall I cease to live for that ? Alas 

For you ! who sigh, when shall it come to pass 

We read that story, when will he compress 

The future years, his whole life's business, 

Into another lay which that one flout, 

Howe'er inopportune it be, lets out 

Engrosses him already while professed 

To meditate with us eternal rest ? 



114 , SORDELLO. 

Strike sail, slip cable ! here the galley 's moored 
For once, the awning's stretched, the poles assured ; 
Noontide above ; except the wave's crisp dash. 
Or buzz of colibri, or tortoise' splash, 
The margin's silent ; out with every spoil 
Made in our tracking, coil by mighty coil, 
This serpent of a river to his head 
I' the midst ! Admire each treasure as we spread 
The turf to help us tell our history 
Aright : give ear then, gentles, and descry 
The groves of giant rushes how they grew 
Like demons' endlong tresses we sailed through. 
How mountains yawned, forests to give us vent 
Opened, each doleful side, yet on we went 
Till . . . may that beetle (shake your cap) attest 
The springing of a land-wind from the West ! 
Wherefore ? Ah yes, we frolic it to-day : 
To-morrow, and the pageant's moved away 
Down to the poorest tent-pole : we and you 
Part company : no other may pursue 
Eastward your voyage, be informed what fate 
Intends, if triumph or decline await 
The tempter of the everlasting steppe. 
I sung this on an empty palace -step 



SORDELLO. 115 

At Venice : why should I break off, nor sit 
Longer upon my step, exhaust the fit 
England gave birth to ? Who's adorable 

Enough reclaim a no Sordello's Will 

Alack ! — be queen to me ? That Bassanese 
Busied among her smoking fruit -boats ? These 
Perhaps from our delicious Asolo 
Who twinkle, pigeons o'er the portico 
Not prettier, bind late lilies into sheaves 
To deck the bridge-side chapel, dropping leaves 
Soiled by their own loose gold-meal ? Ah, beneath 
The cool arch stoops she, brownest-cheek ! Her wreath 
Endures a month — a half month — if I make 
A queen of her, continue for her sake 
Bordello's story ? Nay, that Paduan girl 
Splashes with barer legs where a live whirl 
In the dead black Giudecca proves sea- weed 
Drifting has sucked down three, four, all indeed 
Save one pale-red striped, pale-blue turbaned post 
For gondolas. 

You sad disheveled ghost 
That pluck at me and point, are you advised 
I breathe ? Let stay those girls (e'en her disguised 
— Jewels in the locks that love no crownet like 
Their native field-buds and the green wheat spike, 
i2 



116 SORDELLO. 

So fair ! — Who left this end of June's turmoil, 

Shook off, as might a lily its gold soil, 

Pomp, save a foolish gem or two, and free 

Came join the peasants o'er the kissing sea.) 

Look they too happy, too tricked out ? Confess 

You have so niggard stock of happiness 

To share that, do one's uttermost, dear wretch. 

One labours ineffectually stretch 

It o'er you so that mother, children, both 

May equitably flaunt the sumpter-cloth ! 

No : tear the robe yet farther : be content 

With seeing some few score pre-eminent 

Through shreds of it, acknowledged happy wights, 

Engrossing what should furnish all, by rights — 

(At home we dizen scholars, chiefs and kings. 

But in this magic weather hardly clings 

The old garb gracefully : Venice, a type 

Of Life, 'twixt blue and blue extends, a stripe, 

As Life, the somewhat, hangs'twixt nought and nought r 

'Tis Venice, and 'tis Life — as good you sought 

To spare me the Piazza's slippery stone. 

Or stay me thrid her cross canals alone. 

As hinder Life what seems the single good 

Sole purpose, one thing to be understood 



SORDELLO. 117 

Of Life) — best, be they Peasants, be they Queens, 

Take them, I say, made happy any means. 

Parade them for the common credit, vouch 

A luckless residue we send to crouch 

In corners out of sight was just as framed 

For happiness, its portion might have claimed 

And so, could we concede that portion, stalked 

Fastuous as any — such my project, baulked 

Already ; hardly venture I adjust 

A lappet when I find you ! To mistrust 

Me ! nor unreasonably. You, no doubt, 

Have the true knack of tiring suitors out 

With those thin lips on tremble, lashless eyes 

Inveterately tear-shot — there, be wise 

Mistress of mine, there, there, as if I meant 

You insult ! Shall your friend (not slave) be shent 

For speaking home ? Beside care-bit erased 

Broken-up beauties ever took my taste 

Supremely, and I love you more, far more 

That she I looked should foot Life's temple-floor — 

Years ago, leagues at distance, when and where 

A whisper came. Seek others, since thy care 

Is found, a life's provision ; if a race 

Should be thy mistress, and into one face 



118 SORDELLO. 

The many faces crowd ? Ah, had I, judge, 
Or no, your secret ? Rough apparel — grudge 
All ornaments save tag or tassel worn 
To hint we are not thoroughly forlorn — 
Slouch bonnet, unloop mantle, careless go 
Alone (that's saddest but it must be so) 
Through Venice, sing now and now glance aside, 
Aught desultory or undignified. 
And, ravishingest lady, will you pass 
Or not each formidable group, the mass 
Before the Basilike (that feast gone by, 
God's day, the great June Corpus Domini) 
And wistfully foregoing proper men 
Come timid up to me for alms ? And then 
The luxury to hesitate, feign do 
Some unexampled grace, when whom but you 
Dare I bestow your own upon ? And hear , 
Me out before you say it is to sneer 
I call you ravishing, for I regret 
Little that she, whose early foot was set 
Forth as she'd plant it on a pedestal, 
Now i' the silent city, seems to fall 
Towards me — no wreath, only a lip's unrest 
To quiet, surcharged eyelids to be pressed 



SORDELLO. 119 

Dry of their tears upon my bosom : strange 

Such sad chance should produce in thee such change, 

My love ! warped men, souls, bodies ! yet God spoke 

Of right-hand foot and eye — selects our yoke 

Sordello ! as your poetship may find : 

So sleep upon my shoulder, child, nor mind 

Their foolish talk ; we'll manage reinstate 

The matter ; ask moreover, when they prate 

Of evil men past hope, don t each contrive 

Despite the evil you abuse to live ? 

Keeping, each losel, thro' a maze of lies, 

His own conceit of truth ? to which he hies 

By obscure tortuous windings, if you will. 

But to himself not inaccessible ; 

He sees it, and his lies are for the crowd 

Who cannot see ; some fancied right allowed 

His vilest wrong, empowered the fellow clutch 

One pleasure from the multitude of such 

Denied him : then assert, all men appear 

To think all better than themselves, by here 

Trusting a crowd they wrong ; but really, say. 

All men think all men stupider than they 

Since save themselves no other comprehends 

The complicated scheme to make amends 



120 SORDELLO. 

— Evil, the scheme by which, thro' Ignorance 
Good labours to exist. A slight advance 
Merely to find the sickness you die through 
And nought beside : but if one can t eschew 
One's portion in the common lot, at least 
One can avoid an ignorance increased 
Tenfold by dealing out hint after hint 
How nought is like dispensing without stint 
The water of life — so easy to dispense 
Beside, when one has probed the centre whence 
Commotion's born — could tell you of it all 
— Meantime, just meditate my madrigal 
O* the mugwort that conceals a dewdrop safe ! . 
What, dullard ? we and you in smothery chafe 
Babes, baldheads, stumbled thus far into Zin 
The Horrid, getting neither out nor in, 
A hungry sun above us, sands among 
Our throats, each dromedary lolls a tongue. 
Each camel churns a sick and frothy chap. 
And you, 'twixt tales of Potiphar s mishap 
And sonnets on the earliest ass that spoke. 
Remark you wonder any one needs choak 
With founts about ! Potsherd him, Gibeonites, 
While awkwardly enough your Moses smites 



SORDELLO. 121 

The rock though he forego his Promised Land, 

Thereby, have Satan claim his carcass, and 

Dance, forsooth, Metaphysic Poet ... ah 

Mark ye the dim first oozings ? Meribah ! 

And quaffing at the fount my courage gained 

Recall — not that I prompt ye — who explained . . . 

Presumptuous ! interrupts one. You not I 

'Tis, Brother, marvel at and magnify 

Mine office : office, quotha ? can we get 

To the beginning of the office yet ? 

What do we here ? simply experiment 

Each on the other's power and its intent 

When elsewhere tasked, if this of mine were trucked 

For thine to either s profit, — watch construct, 

In short, an engine : with a finished one 

What it can do is all, nought how 'tis done ; 

But this of ours yet in probation, dusk 

A kernel of strange wheel work thro' its husk 

Grows into shape by quarters and by halves ; 

Remark this tooth's spring, wonder what that valve's 

Fall bodes, presume each faculty's device. 

Make out each other more or less precise — 

The scope of the whole engine's to be proved — 

We die : which means to say the whole's removed, 



124 SORDELLO. 

The Minster minded that ! in heaps the dust 
Lay every where : that town, the Minster s trust, 
Held Plara ; who, its denizen, bade hail 
In twice twelve sonnets, Naddo, Tempers vale. 

Exact the town, the minster and the street ! 

As all mirth triumphs, sadness means defeat : 
Lust triumphs and is gay, Love's triumphed o'er 
And sad : but Lucio's sad : I said before ^ 
Love's sad, not Lucio ; one who loves may be 
As gay his love has leave to hope, as he 
Downcast his lusts' desire escapes the springe : 
Tis of the mood itself I speak, what tinge 
Determines it, else colourless, or mirth. 
Or melancholy, as from Heaven or Earth. 

Ay, that's the variation's gist ! Indeed ? 
Thus far advanced in safety then, proceed ! 
And having seen too what I saw, be bold 
Enough encounter what I do behold 
(That's sure) but you must take on trust ! Attack 
The use and purpose of such sights ! Alack, 
Not so unwisely hastes the crowd dispense 
On Salinguerras praise in preference 
To the Sordellos : men of action these ! 
Who seeing just as little as you please 



SORDELLO. 125 

Yet turn that little to account ; engage 

With, do not gaze at ; carry on a stage 

The work o* the world, not merely make report 

The work existed ere their time — In short, 

When at some future no-time a hrave band 

Sees, using what it sees, then shake my hand 

In heaven, my brother ! Meanwhile where's the hurt 

To keep the Makers- see on the alert 

At whose defection mortals stare aghast 

As though Heaven s bounteous window^s were slammed 

Incontinent ? whereas all you beneath [^fast 

Should scowl at, curse them, bruise lips, break their 

Who ply the pullies for neglecting you : [^teeth 

And therefore have I moulded, made anew 

A Man, delivered to be turned and tried, 

Be angry with or pleased at. On your side 

Have ye times, places, actors of your own ? 

Try them upon Sordello once full-grown, 

And then — ah then ! If Hercules first parched 

His foot in Egypt only to be marched 

A sacrifice for Jove with pomp to suit. 

What chance have I ? The demigod was mute 

Till at the altar, where time out of mind 

Such guests became oblations, chaplets twined 



126 SORDELLO. 

His forehead long enough, and he began 

Slaying the slayers, nor escaped a man — 

Take not affront, my gentle audience ! whom 

No Hercules shall make his hecatomb 

Believe, nor from his brows your chaplet rend — 

That's your kind suffrage, yours, nay, yours, my friend 

Whose great verse blares unintermittent on 

Like any trumpeter at Marathon, 

He'll testify who when Plataeas grew scant 

Put up with ^tna for a stimulant ! 

And well too, I acknowledged, as it loomed 

Over the Midland sea that morn, presumed 

All day, demolished by the blazing West 

At eve, while towards it tilting cloudlets prest 

Like Persian ships for Salamis. Friend, wear 

A crest proud as desert while I declare 

Had I a flawless ruby fit to wring 

A tear its colour from that painted king 

To lose, I would, for that one smile which went 

To my heart, fling it in the sea content 

Wearing your verse in place, an amulet 

Sovereign against low-thoughtedness and fret ! 

My English Eyebright, if you are not glad 

That, as I stopped my task awhile, the sad 



SORDELLO. 127 

Disheveled form wherein I put mankind 

To come at times and keep my pact in mind 

Renewed me, — hear no crickets in the hedge 

Nor let a glowworm spot the river s edge 

At home, and may the summer showers gush 

Without a warning from the missel thrush ! 

For, Eyebright, what I sing's the fate of such 

As find our common nature (overmuch 

Despised because restricted and unfit 

To bear the burthen they impose on it) 

Cling when they would discard it ; craving strength 

To leap from the allotted world, at length 

Tis left — they floundering without a term 

Each a God's germ, but doomed remain a germ 

In unexpanded infancy, assure 

Yourself, nor misconceive my portraiture 

Nor undervalue its adornments quaint ! 

What seems a fiend perchance may prove a saint : 

Ponder a story ancient pens transmit, 

Then say if you condemn me or acquit. 

John the Beloved, banished Antioch 

For Patmos, bade collectively his flock 

Farewell but set apart the closing eve 

To comfort some his exile most would grieve 



128 SORDELLO. 

He kDew : a touching spectacle, that house 

In motion to receive him ! Xanthus' spouse 

You missed, made panther's meat a month since; but 

Xanthus himself (for 'twas his nephew shut 

'Twixt boards and sawn asunder) Polycarp, 

Soft Charicle next year no wheel could warp 

To swear by Ca3sar's fortune, with the rest 

Were ranged ; thro' whom the grey disciple prest 

Busily blessing right and left, just stopt 

To pat one infant's curls the hangman crept 

Soon after, reached the portal ; on its hinge 

The door turns and he enters — what deep twinge 

Ruins the smiling mouth, those wide eyes ^x 

Whereon ? How like some spectral candlestick's 

Branch the disciple's arms ! Dead swooned he, woke 

Anon, heaved sigh, made shift to gasp heart-broke 

Get thee behind me Satan ! have I toiled 

To no more purpose ? is the gospel foiled 

Here too, and o'er my son's, my Xanthus' hearth, 

Pourtrayed with sooty garb and features swarth — 

Ah Xanthus, am I to thy roof beguiled 

To see the — the — the Devil domiciled? 

Whereto sobbed Xanthus, Father, 'tis yourself 

Installed, a limning which our utmost pelf 



SORDELLO, 129 

"Went to procure against to-morrow's loss, 
And that's no twy-prong but a pastoral cross 
You're painted with ! The puckered brows unfold — 
And you shall hear Sordello's story told. 



130 SORDELLO. 



BOOK THE FOURTH. 



Meantime Ferrara lay in rueful case ; 

The lady-city, for whose sole embrace 

Her pair of suitors struggled, felt their arms 

A brawny mischief to the fragile charms 

Each tugged for — one discovering to twist 

Her tresses twice or thrice about his wrist 

Secured a point of vantage — one, how best 

He'd parry that by planting in her breast 

His elbow-spike — both parties too intent 

For noticing, howe'er the battle went. 

Its conqueror would have a corpse to kiss. 

May Boniface be duly damned for this ! 

Howled some old Ghibellin as up he turned, 

From the wet heap of rubbish where they burned 

His house, a little scull with dazzling teeth : 

A boon, sweet Christ — let Salinguerra seethe 



BORDELLO. 131 

In hell for ever, Christ, and let myself 

Be there to laugh at him ! moaned some young Guelf 

Stumbling upon a shrivelled hand nailed fast 

To the charred lintel of the doorway Tast 

His father stood w^ithin to bid him speed. 

The thoroughfares looked overrun with weed 

--Docks, quitchgrass, loathly mallows no man plants. 

The stranger none of its inhabitants 
Crept out of doors to taste fresh air again, 
Or ask the purpose of a sumptuous train 
Admitted on a morning ; every town 
Of the East League was come by envoy down 
To treat for Richard's ransom : here you saw 
The Yicentine, here snowy oxen draw 
The Paduan carroch, its vermilion cross 
On its white j&eld : a-tiptoe o*er the fosse 
Looked Legate Montelungo wistfully 
After the flock of steeples he might spy 
In Este*s time, gone (doubts he) long ago 
To mend the ramparts — sure the laggards know 
The Pope 's as good as here ! They paced the streets 
More soberly. At last, Taurello greets 
The League, announced a pursuivant, — will match 
Its courtesy, and labours to despatch 

K 2 



130 SORDELLO. 



BOOK THE FOURTH. 



Meantime Ferrara lay in rueful case ; 

The lady- city, for whose sole embrace 

Her pair of suitors struggled, felt their arms 

A brawny mischief to the fragile charms 

Each tugged for — one discovering to twist 

Her tresses twice or thrice about his wrist 

Secured a point of vantage — one, how best 

He'd parry that by planting in her breast 

His elbow-spike — both parties too intent 

For noticing, howe'er the battle went. 

Its conqueror would have a corpse to kiss. 

May Boniface be duly damned for this ! 

Howled some old Ghibellin as up he turned. 

From the wet heap of rubbish where they burned 

His house, a little scull with dazzling teeth : 

A boon, sweet Christ — let Salinguerra seethe 



SORDELLO. 131 

In hell for ever, Christ, and let myself 

Be there to laugh at him ! moaned some young Guelf 

Stumbling upon a shrivelled hand nailed fast 

To the charred lintel of the doorway Tast 

His father stood v^ithin to bid him speed. 

The thoroughfares looked overrun vv^ith weed 

—Docks, quitchgrass, loathly mallows no man plants. 

The stranger none of its inhabitants 
Crept out of doors to taste fresh air again. 
Or ask the purpose of a sumptuous train 
Admitted on a morning ; every town 
Of the East League was come by envoy down 
To treat for Richard's ransom : here you saw 
The Yicentine, here snowy oxen draw 
The Paduan carroch, its vermilion cross 
On its white field : a-tiptoe o*er the fosse 
Looked Legate Montelungo wistfully 
After the flock of steeples he might spy 
In Este*s time, gone (doubts he) long ago 
To mend the ramparts — sure the laggards know 
The Pope 's as good as here ! They paced the streets 
More soberly. At last, Taurello greets 
The League, announced a pursuivant, — will match 
Its courtesy, and labours to despatch 
K 2 



132 SORDELLO. 

At earliest Tito, Friedrich*s Pretor, sent 
On pressing matters from his post at Trent 
With Mainard Count of Tyrol,— simply waits 
Their going to receive the delegates. 
Tito ! Our delegates exchanged a glance. 
And, keeping the main way, admired askance 
The lazy engines of outlandish birth 
Couched like a king each on its bank of earth— 
Arbalist, manganel, and catapult ; 
While stationed by, as waiting a result. 
Lean silent gangs of mercenaries ceased 
Working to watch the strangers — this, at least, 
Were better spared ; he scarce presumes gainsay 
The League's decision ! Get our friend away 
And profit for the future : how else teach 
Azzo 'tis not so safe within claw's reach 
Till Salinguerra's final gasp be blown ? 
Those mere convulsive scratches find the bone 
— Who bade him bloody the spent osprey's nare ? 

The carrochs halted in the public square. 
Pennons of every blazon once a-flaunt. 
Men prattled, freelier that the crested gaunt 
White ostrich with a horse- shoe in her beak 
Was missing ; whosoever chose might speak 



SORDELLO. 133 

Ecdin boldly out: so, Ecelin 

Needed his wife to swallow half the sin 

And sickens by himself : the devil's whelp 

He styles his son dwindles away, no help 

From conserves, your fine triple-curded froth 

Of virgin's blood, your Venice viper-broth — 

Eh ? Jubilate ! Tush ! no little word 

You utter here that's not distinctly heard 

At Oliero : he was absent sick 

When we besieged Bassano — who i' the thick 

O' the work perceived the progress Azzo made 

Like Ecelin ? through his witch Adelaide 

Who managed it so well that night by night 

At their bed-foot stood up a soldier-sprite 

First fresh, pale by-and-by without a wound, 

And w4ien he came with eyes filmed as in s wound 

They knew the place was taken — Ominous 

Your Ghibellin should get what cautelous 

Old Redbeard sought from Azzo's sire to wrench 

Vainly ; St. George contrived his town a trench 

O' the marshes, an impermeable bar ; 

Young Ecelin is meant the tutelar 

Of Padua rather ; veins embrace upon 

His hand like Brenta and Bacchiglion . , . 



134 SORDELLO. 

What now ? The founts ! God's bread, touch not a 

A crawling hell of carrion — every tank [plank ! 

Choke full ! found out just now to Cino's cost — 

The same who gave Taurello's side for lost, 

And, making no account of fortune's freaks, 

Refused to budge from Padua then, but sneaks 

Back now with Concorezzi — ^'faith ! they drag 

Their carroch to San Vital, plant the flag 

On his own Palace so adroitly razed 

He knew it not ; a sort of Guelf folk gazed 

And laughed apart ; Cino disliked their air — 

Must pluck up spirit, show he does not care — 

Seats himself on the tank's edge — will begin 

To hum, za za^ Cavaler Ecelin — 

A silence ; he gets warmer, clinks to chime. 

Now both feet plough the ground, deeper each time. 

At last, za za^ and up with a fierce kick 

Comes his own mother s face caught by the thick 

Grey hair about his spur ! 

Which means, they lift 
The covering Taurello made a shift 
To stretch upon the truth ; as well avoid 
Further disclosures ; leave them thus employed. 
Our dropping Autumn morning clears apace. 
And poor Ferrara puts a softened face 



SORDELLO. 135 

On her misfortunes, save one spot — this tall 

Huge foursquare line of red brick gar den- wall 

Bastioned within by trees of every sort 

On three sides, slender, spreading, long and short, 

(Each grew as it contrived, the poplar ramped, 

The fig-tree reared itself,) but stark and cramped, 

Made fools of ; whence upon the very edge. 

Running 'twixt trunk and trunk to smooth one ledge 

Of shade, are shrubs inserted, warp and woof, 

Which smother up that variance. Scale the roof 

Of solid tops and o'er the slope you slide 

Down to a grassy space level and wide. 

Here and there dotted with a tree, but trees 

Of rarer leaf, each foreigner at ease, 

Set by itself ; and in the centre spreads, 

Born upon three uneasy leopards' heads, 

A laver, broad and shallow, one bright spirt 

Of water bubbles in : the walls begirt 

With trees leave off on either hand : pursue 

Your path along a wondrous avenue 

The walls abut on, heaped of gleamy stone, 

With aloes leering everywhere, grey-grown 

From many a Moorish summer ; how they wind 

Out of the fissures ! likelier to bind 



1^6 SORDELLO. 

The building than those rusted cramps which drop 

Already in the eating sunshine. Stop 

Yon fleeting shapes above there ! Ah, the pride 

Or else despair of the whole country-side — 

A range of statues, swarming o'er with wasps, 

God, goddess, woman, man, your Greek rough-rasps 

In crumbling Naples marble 1 meant to look 

Like those Messina marbles Constance took 

Delight in, or Taurello's self conveyed 

To Mantua for his mistress, Adelaide, 

A certain font with caryatides 

Since cloistered at Goito ; only, these 

Are up and doing, not abashed, a troop 

Able to right themselves — who see you, stoop 

O' the instant after you their arms ! unplucked 

By this or that you pass, for they conduct 

To terrace raised on terrace, and, between. 

Creatures of brighter mould and braver mien 

Than any yet, the choicest of the Isle 

No doubt ; here, left a sullen breathing- while. 

Up-gathered on himself the Fighter stood 

For his last fight, and, wiping treacherous blood 

Out of the eyelids just held ope beneath 

Those shading fi-ngers in their iron sheath ,. 



SORDELLO. 137 

Steadied his strengths amid the buz and stir 

Of a dusk hideous amphitheatre 

At the announcement of his over-match 

To wind the day's diversion up, despatch 

Their pertinacious friend : while, limbs one heap. 

The Slave, no breath in her round mouth, watched leap 

Dart after dart forth as her hero's car 

Clove dizzily the solid of the war 

— Let coil about his knees for pride in him. 

We reach the farthest terrace and the grim 

San Pietro Palace stops us. 

Such the state 
Of Salinguerra's plan to emulate 
Sicilian marvels that his girlish wife 
Retrude still might lead her ancient life 
In her new home — whereat enlarged so much 
Neighbours upon the novel princely touch 
He took who here imprisons Boniface. 
Here must the Envoys come to sue for grace ; 
And here, emerging from the labyrinth 
Below, two minstrels pause beside the plinth 
Of the door-pillar. 

One had really left 
Yerona for the cornfields (a poor theft 



138 SORDELLO. 

From the morass) where Este's camp was made, 

The Envoys' march, the Legate's cavalcade — 

Looked cursorily o'er, but scarce as when, 

Eager for cause to stand aloof from men 

At every point save the fantastic tie 

Acknowledged in his boyish sophistry. 

He made account of such. A crowd ; he meant 

To task the whole of it ; each part's intent 

Concerned him therefore, and the more he pried 

The less became Sordello satisfied 

With his own figure at the moment. Sought 

He respite from his task ? descried he aught 

Novel in the anticipated sight 

Of all those livers upon all delight ? 

A phalanx as of myriad points combined 

Whereby he still had imaged that mankind 

His youth was passed in dreams of rivalling, 

His age — in plans to show at least the thing 

So dreamed, but now he hastened to impress 

With his own will, effect a happiness 

From theirs, supply a body to his soul 

Thence, and become eventually whole 

With them as he had hoped to be without — 

Made these the mankind he was mad about ? 



SORDELLO. 139 

Because a few of them were notable 

Must all be figured worthy note ? As well 

Expect to find Taurello's triple line 

Of trees a single and prodigious pine. 

Real pines rose here and there, but, close among, 

Thrust into and mixed up with pines, a throng 

Of shrubs you saw, a nameless common sort 

O'erpast in dreams, left out of the report, 

Fast hurried into corners, or at best 

Admitted to be fancied like the rest. 

Reckon that morning's proper chiefs ; how few! 

And yet the people grew, the people grew, 

Grew ever, as with many there indeed, 

More left behind and most who should succeed. 

Simply in virtue of their faces, eyes. 

Petty enjoyments and huge miseries. 

Were veritably mingled with, made great 

Those chiefs : no overlooking Mainard's state 

Nor Concorezzi's station, but instead 

Of stopping there, each dwindled to be head 

Of infinite and absent Tyrolese 

Or Paduans ; startling too the more that these 

Seemed passive and disposed of, uncared for. 

Yet doubtless on the whole (quoth Eglamor) 



140 SORDELLO. 

Smiling — for if a wealthy man decays 

And out of store of such must wear all days 

One tattered suit alike in sun and shade, 

*Tis commonly some tarnished fine brocade 

Fit for a feast-night's flourish and no more ; 

Nor otherwise poor Misery from her store 

Of looks is fain upgather, keep unfurled 

For common wear as she goes through the world 

The faint remainder of some worn-out smile 

Meant for a feast-night's service merely. While 

Crowd upon crowd rose on Sordello thus, — 

Crowds no way interfering to discuss 

Much less dispute life's joys with one employed 

In envying them, or, if they enjoyed. 

There lingered somewhat indefinable 

In every look and tone, the mirth as well 

As woe, that fixed at once his estimate 

Of the result, their good or ba^i estate, — 

Old memories flocked but with a new efibct : 

And the new body, ere he could suspect. 

Cohered, mankind and he were really fused. 

The new self seemed impatient to be used 

By him, but utterly another way 

To that anticipated : strange to say, 



I 



SORDELLO. 141 

They were too much below him, more in thrall 

Than he, the adjunct than the principal. 

What booted scattered brilliances ? the mind 

Of any number he might hope to bind 

And stamp with his own thought, howe'er august, 

If all the rest should grovel in the dust ? 

No : first a mighty equilibrium sure 

To be established, privilege procure 

For them himself had long possessed 1 he felt 

An error, an exceeding error melt— - 

While he was occupied with Mantuan chants 

Behoved him think of men and of their wants 

Such as he now distinguished every side. 

As his own want that might be satisfied. 

And, after that, of wondrous qualities 

Of his own soul demanding exercise. 

And like demand it longer : nor a claim 

On their part, nor was virtue in the aim 

At serving them on his, but, past retrieve, 

He in their toils felt with them, nor could leave, 

Wonder that in the eagerness to rule, 

Impress his will upon them, he the fool 

Had never entertained the obvious thought 

This last of his arrangements would be fraught 



142 SORDELLO. 

With good to them as well, and he should be 

Rejoiced thereat ; and if, as formerly. 

He sighed the merry time of life must fleet, 

'Twas deeplier now, for could the crowds repeat 

Their poor experiences ? His hand that shook 

Was twice to be deplored. The Legate, look ! 

With eyes, like fresh-blown thrush-eggs on a thread, 

Faint-blue and loosely floating in his head, 

Large tongue, moist open mouth ; and this long while 

That owner of the idiotic smile 

Serves them ! He fortunately saw in time 

His fault however, and the office prime 

Includes the secondary — best accept 

Both offices ; Taurello its adept 

Could teach him the preparatory one. 

And how to do what he had fancied done 

Long previously, ere take the greater task. 

How render then these people happy ? ask 

The people's friends : for there must be one good, 

One way to it — the Cause ! he understood 

The meaning now of Palma ; else why are 

The great ado, the trouble wide and far. 

These Guelfs and Ghibellins, the Lombard's hope 

Or its despair ! 'twixt Emperor or Pope 



SORDELLO. 143 

The confused shifting sort of Eden tale — 

Of hardihood recurring still to fail — 

That foreign interloping fiend, this free 

And native overbrooding Deity — 

Yet a dire fascination o'er the palms 

His presence ruined troubling thorough calms 

Of Paradise — or, on the other hand, 

The Pontiff, as your Kaisers understand, 

That, snake-like cursed of God to love the ground. 

With lulling eye breaks in the noon profound 

Some saving tree — who but the Kaiser drest 

As the dislodging angel of the pest 

Then ? yet that pest bedropt, flat head, full fold, 

With coruscating dower of dyes ; behold 

The secret, so to speak, and master-spring 

Of the whole contest ! which of them shall bring 

Men good — perchance the most good — ay, it may 

Be that ; the question is which knows the way. 

And hereupon Count Mainard strutted past 
Out of San Pietro ; never looked the last 
Of archers, slingers ; and our friend began 
To recollect strange modes of serving man — 
Arbalist, catapult, brake, manganel. 
And more : this way of theirs may, who can tell, 



144 BORDELLO. 

Need perfecting, said he : all's better solved 
At once : Taurello 'twas the task devolved 
On late— -confront Taurello ! 

And at last 
They did confront him. Scarcely an hour past 
When forth Sordello came, older by years 
Than at his entry. Unexampled fears 
Oppressed him, and he staggered off, blind, mute 
And deaf, like some fresh-mutilated brute. 
Into Ferrara — not the empty tov^n 
That morning witnessed : he w^ent up and down 
Streets whence the veil was stripped shred after shred. 
So that in place of huddling with their dead 
Indoors to answer Salinguerra*s ends, 
Its folk made shift to crawl and sit like friends 
With any one. A woman gave him choice 
Of her two dauo^hters, the infantile voice 
Or dimpled knee, for half a chain his throat 
Was clasped with ; but an archer knew the coat — 
Its blue cross and eight lilies, bade beware 
One dogging him in concert with the pair 
Though thrumming on the sleeve that hid his knife. 
Night set in early, autumn dews fell rife, 
And fires were kindled while the Leaguer s mass 
Began at every carroch — he must pass 



SORDELLO. 145 

Between that kneeling people : presently 

The carroch of Yerona caught his eye 

With purple trappings ; silently he bent 

Over its fire, when voices violent 

Began, Afiirm not whom the youth was like 

That, striking from the porch, I did not strike 

Again ; I too have chesnut hair ; my kin 

Hate Azzo and stand up for Ecelin ; 

Here, minstrel, drive bad thoughts away; sing; take 

My glove for guerdon I and for that man's sake 

He turned : A song of Eglamor's ! scarce named. 

When, Our Sordello's, rather ! all exclaimed ; 

Is not Sordello famousest for rhyme ? 

He had been happy to deny, this time ; 

Profess as heretofore the aching head, 

The failing heart ; suspect that in his stead 

Some true Apollo had the charge of them. 

Was champion to reward or to condemn 

So his intolerable risk might shift 

Or share itself ; but Naddo's precious gift 

Of gifts returned, be certain ! at the close — 

I made that, said he to a youth who rose 

As if to hear : 'twas Palma through the band 

Conducted him in silence by the hand. 



146 SORDELLO. 

Back now for Salinguerra. Tito of Trent 
Gave place, remember, to the pair ; who went 
In turn at Montelungo's visit — one 
After the other are they come and gone. 
A drear vast presence-chamber roughly set 
In order for this morning's use ; you met 
The grim black twy-necked eagle, coarsely blacked 
AYith ochre on the naked walls, nor lacked 
There green and yellow tokens either side ; 
But the new symbol Tito brought had tried 
The Legate's patience — nay, if Palma knew 
What Salinguerra almost meant to do 
Until the sight of her restored his lip 
A certain half- smile three months' chieftainship 
Had banished ? Afterward the Legate found 
No change in him, nor asked what badge he wound 
And unwound carelessly ! Now sate the Chief 
Silent as when our couple left whose brief 
Encounter wrought so opportune effect 
In thoughts he summoned not, nor would reject — 
Though time, if ever, 'twas to pause now — fix 
On any sort of ending : wiles and tricks 
Exhausted, judge 1 his charge, the crazy town, 
Just managed to be hindered crashing down — 



SORDELLO. 147 

His last sound troops ranged — care observed to post 
His last of the maimed soldiers innermost — 
So much was plain enough, but somehow struck 
Him not before : and now with this strange luck 
Of Tito's news, rewarding his address 
So well, what thought he of? How the success 
With Friedrich's rescript there would either hush 
Ecelin's fiercest scruple up, or flush 
Young Ecelin s white cheek, or, last, exempt 
Himself from telling what there was to tempt ? 
No : that this minstrel was Romano's last 
Servant — himself the first ! Could he contrast 
The whole ! that minstrel's thirty autumns spent 
In doing nought, his notablest event 
This morning's journey hither, as we told — 
Who yet was lean, outworn and really old, 
A stammering awkward youth (scarce dared he raise 
His eye before that magisterial gaze) 
— And Salinguerra with his fears and hopes 
Of sixty years, his Emperors and Popes, 
Cares and contrivances, yet you would say 
A youth 'twas nonchalantly looked away 
Through the embrasure northward o'er the sick 
Expostulating trees — so agile quick 
l2 



148 . SORDELLO. 

And graceful turned the head on the broad chest 
Encased in pliant steel, his constant vest, 
Whence split thesun off in a spray of fire 
Across the room ; and, loosened of its tire 
Of steel, that head let see the comely brown 
Large massive locks discoloured as a crown 
Encircled them, so frayed the basnet where 
A sharp white line divided clean the hair ; 
Glossy above, glossy below, it swept 
Curling and fine about a brow thus kept 
Calm, laid coat upon coat, marble and sound : 
This was the mystic mark the Tuscan found. 
Mused of, turned over books about. Square-faced, 
No lion more ; two vivid eyes, enchased 
In hollows filled with many a shade and streak 
Settling from the bold nose and bearded cheek ; 
Nor might the half- smile reach them that deformed 
A lip supremely perfect else — unwarmed, 
Unwidened, less or more ; indifferent 
Whether on trees or men his thoughts were bent — 
Thoughts rarely, after all, in trim and train 
As now : a period was fulfilled again ; 
Such in a series made his life, compressed 
In each, one story serving for the rest — 



SORDELLO. 149 

Therefore he smiled. Beyond stretched garden-grounds 
Where late the adversary, breaking bounds, 
Procured him an occasion That above. 
That eagle, testified he could improve 
Effectually ; the Kaiser s symbol lay 
Beside his rescript, a new badge by way 
Of baldric ; while another thing that marred 
Alike emprize, achievement and reward, 
Ecelin s missive was conspicuous too. 

What a past life those flying thoughts pursue ! 
As his no name in Mantua half so old ; 
But at Ferrara, where his sires enrolled 
It latterly, the Adelardi spared 
Few means to rival them : both factions shared 
Ferrara, so that, counted out, 't would yield 
A product very like the city's shield, 
Half black and white, or Ghibelin and Guelf, 
As after Salinguerra styled himself 
And Este who, till Marchesalla died 
— Last of the Adelardi, never tried 
His fortune there ; but Marchesalla's child 
Transmits (can Blacks and Whites be reconciled 
And young Taurello wed Linguetta) wealth 
And sway to a sole grasp : each treats by stealth 



150 SORDELLO. 

Already : when the Guelfs, the Ravennese 

Arrive, assault the Pietro quarter, seize 

Linguetta, and are gone ! Our first dismay 

Abated somewhat, hurries down to lay 

The after indignation Boniface, 

No meaner spokesman : Learn the full disgrace 

Averted ere you blame us — wont to rate 

Your Salinguerra, and sole potentate 

That might have been, 'mongst Este's valvassors- 

Ay, Azzo's — who, not privy to, abhors 

Our step — but we were zealous. Azzo 's then 

To do with ! Straight a meeting of old men : 

The Lombard Eagle of the azure sphere 

With Italy to build in, builds he here ? 

This deemed— the other owned upon advice — 

A third reflected on the matter twice — 

In fine, young Salinguerra's staunchest friends 

Talked of the townsmen making him amends. 

Gave him a goshawk, and affirmed there was 

Rare sport, one morning, over the morass 

A mile or so. He sauntered through the plain, 

Was restless, fell to thinking, turned again 

In time for Azzo's entry with the bride ; 

Count Boniface rode smirking at his side ; 



SORDELLO. 151 

There's half Ferrara with her, whispers flew, 
And all Ancona ! If the stripling knew ! 

Anon the stripling was in Sicily 
Where Heinrich ruled in right of Constance ; he 
Was gracious nor his guest incapable ; 
Each understood the other. So it fell, 
One Spring, when Azzo, thoroughly at ease, 
Had near forgotten what precise degrees 
He crept by into such a downy seat, 
Over the Count trudged in a special heat 
To bid him of God's love dislodge from each 
Of Salinguerra's Palaces ; a breach 
Might yawn else not so readily to shut, 
For who was just arrived at Mantua but 
The youngster, sword to thigh, tuft upon chin, 
With tokens for Celano, Ecelin, 
Pistore and the like ! Next news : no whit 
Do any of Ferrara's domes befit 
His wife of Heinrich's very blood : a band 
Of foreigners assemble, understand 
Garden-constructing, level and surround, 
Build up and bury in. A last news crowned 
The consternation : since his infant's birth 
He only waits they end his wondrous girth 



152 SORDELLO. 

Of trees that link San Pietro with Toma 
To visit us. When, as its Podesta 
Regaled him at Yicenza, Este, there 
With Boniface beforehand, each aware 
Of plots in progress, gave alarm, expelled 
A party which abetted him, but yelled 
Too hastily. The burning and the flight. 
And how Taurello, occupied that night 
With Ecelin, lost wife and son, were told : 
— Not how he bore the blow, retained his hold, 
Got friends safe through, left enemies the worst 
O* the fray, and hardly seemed to care at first — 
But afterward you heard not constantly 
Of Salinguerra's House so sure to be ! 
Though Azzo simply gained by the event 
A shifting of his plagues — this one content 
To fall behind the other and estrange, 
You will not say, his nature, but so change 
That in Romano sought he wife and child, 
And for Romano's sake was reconciled 
To losing individual life, deep sunk, 
A very pollard mortised in a trunk 
Which Arabs out of wantonness contrive 
Shall dwindle that the alien stock may thrive 



SORDELLO. 153 

Till forth that vine-palm feathers to the root 

And red drops moisten them its arid fruit. 

Once set on Adelaide, the subtle mate 

And wholly at his beck, to emulate 

The Churches valiant women deed for deed, 

To paragon her namesake, win the meed 

Of its Matilda,-^and they overbore 

The rest of Lombardy — not as before 

By an instinctive truculence, but patched 

The Kaiser s strategy until it matched 

The Pontiff's, sought old ends by novel means : 

Only, Romano Salinguerra screens. 

Heinrich was somewhat of the tardiest 

To comprehend, nor Philip acquiesced 

At once in the arrangement ; reasoned, plied 

His friend with offers of another bride, 

A statelier function — fruitlessly : 'tis plain » 

Taurello's somehow one to let remain 

Obscure ; and Otho, free to judge of both, 

— Ecelin the unready, harsh and loth, 

And this more plausible and facile wight 

With every point a-sparkle — chose the right. 

Admiring how his predecessors harped 

On the wrong man : thus, quoth he, wits are warped 



I. 



154 SORDELLO. 

By outsides ! Carelessly, withal, his life 

Suffered its many turns of peace and strife 

In many lands — you hardly could surprise 

A man who shamed Sordello (recognise) 

In this as much beside, that, unconcerned 

What qualities are natural or earned. 

With no ideal of graces, as they came 

He took them, singularly well the same — 

Speaking a dozen languages because 

Your Greek eludes you, leave the least of flaws 

In contracts, while, through Arab lore, deter 

Who may the Tuscan, once Jove trined for her. 

From Friedrich's path ! Friedrich, whose pilgrimage 

The same man puts aside, whom he '11 engage 

To leave next year John Brienne in the lurch, 

And see Bassano for Saint Francis' church 

— Profound on Guide the Bolognian s piece 

That, if you lend him credit, rivals Greece — 

Angels, with aureoles like golden quoits 

Pitched home, applauding Ecelin s exploits 

In Painimrie. He strung the angelot ; 

Made rhymes thereto ; for prowess, clove he not 

Tiso, last siege, from crest to crupper ? why 

Detail you thus a varied mastery 



SORDELLO. 155 

But that Taurello, ever on the watch 
For men, to read their hearts and thereby catch 
Their capabilities and purposes, 
Displayed himself so far as displayed these : 
While our Sordello only cared to know- 
About men as a means for him to show 
Himself, and men were much or little worth 
According as they kept in or drew forth 
That self; the other's choicest instruments 
Surmised him shallow. Meantime malecontents 
Dropped off, town after town grew wiser ; how 
Change the world's face ? said people ; as 'tis now 
It has been, will be ever : very fine 
Subjecting things profane to things divine 
In talk : this contumacy will fatigue 
The vigilance of Este and the League, 
Observe ! accordingly, their basement sapped, 
Azzo and Boniface were soon entrapped 
By Ponte Alto, and in one month's space 
Slept at Yerona : either left a brace 
Of sons — so three years after, cither's pair 
Lost Guglielm and Aldobrand its heir : 
Azzo remained and Richard — all the stay 
Of Este and St. Boniface, at bay 



156 BORDELLO. 

As 'twere ; when either Ecelin grew old 

Or his brain altered — not the proper mould 

For new appliances — his old palm stock 

Endured no influx of strange strengths : he'd rock 

As in a drunkenness, or chuckle low 

As proud of the completeness of his woe, 

Then weep — real tears ! Now make some mad 

On Este, heedless of the lesson taught [^onslaught 

So painfully — now cringe, sue peace, but peace 

At price of all advantage ; therefore cease 

The fortunes of Romano ! Up at last 

Rose Este and Romano sank as fast. 

And men remarked this sort of peace and war 

Commenced while Salinguerra was afar : 

And every friend besought him, but in vain, 

To wait his old adherent, call again 

Taurello : not he — who had daughters, sons, 

Could plot himself, nor needed any one's 

Advice. 'Twas Adelaide's remaining staunch 

Prevented his destruction root and branch 

Forthwith ; Goito green above her, gay 

He made alliances, gave lands away 

To whom it pleased accept them, and withdrew 

For ever from the world. Taurello, who 



SORDELLO. 157 

Was summoned to the convent, then refused 
A word, — however patient, thus abused, 
At Este's mercy through his imbecile 
Ally, was fain dismiss the foolish smile, 
And a few movements of the happier sort 
. Changed matters, put himself in men s report 
As heretofore ; he had to fight, beside. 
And that became him ever. So in pride 
. And flushing of this kind of second youth 
He dealt a good- will blow : Este in truth 
Was prone — and you remembered, somewhat late, 
A laughing old outrageous stifled hate 
He bore that Este — how it would outbreak 
At times spite of disguise, like an earthquake 
In sunny weather — as that noted day 
When with his hundred friends he ofibred slay 
Azzo before the Kaiser's face : and how 
On Azzo's calm refusal to allow 
A liegeman's challenge straight he too was calmed : 
His hate, no doubt, would bear to lie embalmed. 
Bricked up, the moody Pharaoh, to survive 
All intermediate crumblings, be alive 
At earth's catastrophe — 'twas Este's crash 
Not Azzo's he demanded, so no rash 



158 SORDELLO. 

Procedure ! Este's true antagonist 
Eose out of Ecelin : all voices whist, 
Each glance was sharpened, wit predicted. He 
Twas leaned in the embrasure presently. 
Amused with his own efforts, now, to trace 
With his steel- sheathed forefinger Friedrich's face 
I' the dust : and as the trees waved sere, his smile 
Deepened, and words expressed its thought erewhile. 

Ay, fairly housed at last, my old compeer ? 
That we should stick together all the year 
I kept Yerona ! — How old Boniface, 
Old Azzo caught us in its market-place, 
He by that pillar, I this pillar, each 
In mid swing, more than fury of his speech. 
Egging our rabble on to disavow 
Allegiance to the Marquis — Ba^cchus, how 
They caught us ! Ecelin must turn their drudge ; 
Nor, if released, will Salinguerra grudge 
Paying arrears of tribute due long since — 
Bacchus ! My man, could promise then, nor wince. 
The bones-and-muscles ! sound of wind and limb, 
Spoke he the set excuse I framed for him ; 
And now he sits me, slavering and mute. 
Intent on chafing each starved purple foot 



SORDELLO. 159 

Benumbed past aching with the altar slab — 

Will no vein throb there when some monk shall blab 

Spitefully to the cir^cle of bald scalps 

" Friedrich 's affirmed to be our side the Alps" 

— Eh, brother Lactance, brother Anaclet ? 

Sworn to abjure the world and the world's fret, 

God's own now ? drop the dormitory bar, 

Enfold the scanty grey serge scapular 

Twice o'er the cowl to muffle memories out — 

So ! but the midnight whisper turns a shout, 

Eyes wink, mouths open, pulses circulate 

In the stone walls : the past, the world you hate 

Is with you, ambush, open field — or see 

The surging flame — they fire Yicenza — glee ! 

Follow, let Pilio and Bernard! chafe — 

Bring up the Mantuans — through San Biagio — safe ! 

Ah, the mad people waken ? Ah, they writhe 

And reach you ? if they block the gate — no tithe 

Can pass — keep back you Bassanese ! the edge, 

Use the edge — shear, thrust, hew, melt down the 

wedge, 
Let out the black of those black upturned eyes ! 
Hell — are they sprinkling fire too ? the blood fries 
And hisses on your brass gloves as they tear 
Those upturned faces choaking with despair. 



160 SORDELLO. 

Brave ! Slidder through the reeking gate — how now ! 
You six had charge of her ? And then the vow 
Comes, and the foam spirts, hair 's plucked, till one shriek 
(I hear it) and you fling — you cannot speak — 
Your gold-flowered basnet to a man who haled 
The Adelaide he dared scarce view unveiled 
This morn, naked across the fire : how crown 
The archer that exhausted lays you down 
Your infant, smiling at the flame, and dies ? 
While one, while mine . . . 

Bacchus ! I think there lies 
More than one corpse there (and he paced the room) 
— Another cinder somewhere — 'twas my doom 
Beside, my doom : if Adelaide is dead 
I am the same, this Azzo lives instead 
Of that to me, and we pull any how 
Este into a heap — the matter s now 
At the true juncture slipping us so oft ; 
Ay, Heinrich died and Otho, please you, dofibd 
His crown at such a juncture : let but hold 
Our Friedrich's purpose, let this chain enfold 
The neck of . . . who but this same Ecelin ? 
That must recoil when the best days begin — 
Recoil ? that's nought ; so the recoiler leaves 
His name for me to fight with, no one grieves ! 



SORDELLO. 161 

But he must interfere, forsooth, unlock 

His cloister to become my stumbling-block 

Just as of old ! Ay, ay, there 'tis again — 

The land's inevitable Head — explain 

The reverences that subject us ! Count 

These Ecelins now ! not to say as fount. 

Originating power of thought, from twelve 

That drop i' the trenches they joined hands to delve 

Six shall surpass him, but . . . why, men must twine 

Somehow with something ! Ecelin 's a fine 

Clear name! Twere simpler, doubtless, twine with me 

At once : our cloistered friend's capacity 

Was of a sort ! I had to share myself 

In fifty portions, like an o'ertasked elf 

That's forced illume in fifty points the vast 

Rare vapour he 's environed by : at last 

My strengths, though sorely frittered, e'en converge 

And crown — no, Bacchus, they have yet to urge 

The man be crowned ! 

That aloe, an he durst, 
Would climb ! just such a bloated sprawler first 
I noted in Messina's castle court 
The day I came, and Heinrich asked in sport 
If I would pledge my faith to win him back 
His right in Lombardy ; for, once bid pack 

M 



162 SORDELLO. 

Marauders, he continued, in my stead 
You rule, Taurello ! and upon this head 
Laid the silk glove of Constance — I see her 
Too, mantled head to foot in miniver, 
Eetrude following ! 

I am absolved 
From further toil : the empery devolved 
On me, 'twas Tito's word : and think, to lay 
For once my plan, pursue my plan my way. 
Prompt nobody, and render an account 
Taurello to Taurello ! nay, I mount 
To Friedrich — he conceives the post I kept. 
Who did true service, able or inept. 
Who's worthy guerdon, Ecelin or I : 
Me guerdoned, counsel follows ; would he vie 
With the Pope really ? Azzo, Boniface 
Compose a right-arm Hohenstauffen's race 
Must break ere govern Lombardy ; I point 
How easy 'twere to twist, once out of joint. 
The socket from the bone ; my Azzo's stare 
Meanwhile ! for I, this idle strap to wear. 
Shall — fret myself abundantly, what end 
To serve ? There's left me tw^enty years to spend 
— How better than my old way ? Had I one 
Who laboured overthrow my work — a son 



BORDELLO. 163 

Hatching with Azzo superb treachery, 
To root my pines up and then poison me, 
Suppose — 'twere worth while frustrate that ! Beside 
Another life 's ordained me : the world's tide 
Rolls, and what hope of parting from the press 
Of waves, a single wave through weariness 
That's gently led aside, laid upon shore ? 
My life must be lived out in foam and roar, 
No question. Fifty years the province held 
Taurello ; troubles raised, and troubles quelled. 
He in the midst — who leaves this quaint stone place. 
Those trees a year or two, then, not a trace 
Of him ! How obtain hold, fetter men s tongues 
Like that Sordello with his foolish songs — 
To which, despite our bustle, he is linked ? 
— Flowers one may teaze, that never seem extinct ; 
Ay, that patch, surely, green as ever, where 
I set Her Moorish lentisk, by the stair. 
To overawe the aloes — and we trod 
Those flowers, how call you such ? into the sod ; 
A stately foreigner — and worlds pf pain 
To make it thrive, arrest rough winds — all vain ! 
It would decline — these would not be destroyed — 
And now, where is it — where can you avoid 
M 2 



164 SORDELLO. 

The flowers ? I frighten children twenty years 
Longer ! — which way, too, Ecelin appears 
To thwart me, for his son s besotted youth 
Gives promise of the proper tiger-tooth, 
They prattle, at Yicenza ! Fate, fate, fate, 
My fine Taurello ! go you, promulgate 
Friedrich*s decree, and here's shall aggrandise 
Young Ecelin — our Prefect's badge ! a prize 
Too precious, certainly. 

How now ? Compete 
With my old comrade ? shufl3^e from their seat 
His children ? Paltry dealing ! don t I know 
Ecelin ? now, I think, and years ago ! 
What 's changed — the weakness? did not I compound 
For that, and undertake preserve him sound 
Despite it ? Say Taurello 's hankering 
After the boy s preferment — this play-thing 
To carry, Bacchus ! And he laughed. 

Remark 
Why schemes wherein cold-blooded men embark 
Prosper, when your enthusiastic sort 
Fails : for these last are ever stopping short — 
(Much to be done — so little they can do !) 
The careless tribe see nothing to pursue 



SORDELLO. 165 

Should they desist ; meantime their scheme succeeds. 

Thoughts were caprices in the course of deeds 
Methodic with Taurello ; so he turned, 
Enough amused by fancies fairly earned 
Of Este's horror-struck submitted neck, 
And Boniface completely at his beck, 
To his own petty but immediate doubt 
If he could pacify the League without 
Conceding Richard ; just to this was brought 
That interval of vain discursive thought ! 
As, shall I say, some Ethiop, past pursuit 
Of all enslavers, dips a shackled foot. 
Burnt to the blood, into the drowsy black 
Enormous water current, his sole track 
To his own tribe again, where he is King ; 
And laughs because he guesses, numbering 
The yellower poison- wattles on the pouch 
Of the first lizard wrested from its coucli 
Under the slime (whose skin, the while, he strips 
To cure his nostril with, and festered lips. 
And eyeballs bloodshot through the desert blast) 
That he has reached its boundary, at last 
May breathe; — thinks o'er enchantments of the South 
Sovereign to plague his enemies, their mouth 



166 SORDELLO. 

And nails, and hair ; but, these enchantments tried 

In fancy, puts them soberly aside 

For truth, cool projects, a return with friends, 

The likelihood of winning wild amends 

Ere long ; thinks that, takes comfort silently, 

And from the river's brink his wrongs and he, 

Hugging revenge close to their hearts, are soon 

Off-striding for the Mountains of the Moon. 

Midnight : the watcher nodded on his spear, 
Since clouds dispersing left a passage clear, 
If any meagre and discoloured moon 
Should venture forth ; and such was peering soon 
Above the harassed city — her close lanes 
Closer, not half so tapering her fanes. 
As though she shrunk into herself to keep 
What little life was saved more safely. Heap 
By heap the watch-fires mouldered, and beside 
The blackest spoke Sordello and replied 
Palma with none to listen. Tis your Cause — 
What makes a Ghibellin ? There should be laws — 
(Remember how my youth escaped ! I trust 
To you for manhood, Palma ; tell me just 
As any child) — laws secretly at work 
Explaining this. Assure me good may lurk 



SORDELLO. 167 

Under the bad ; my multitude has part 
In your designs, their welfare is at heart 
With Salinguerra, to their interest 
Refer the deeds he dwelt on — so divest 
Our conference of much that scared me : why 
Affect that heartless tone to Tito ? I 
Esteemed myself, yes, in my inmost mind 
This morn, a recreant to that wide mankind 
O'erlooked till now : why boast my spirit's force, 
— That force denied its object ? why divorce 
These, then admire my spu-it's flight the same, 
As though it bore a burden, which could tame 
No pinion, from d^ead void to living space ? 
— That orb consigned to chaos and disgrace. 
Why vaunt complacently my frantic dance. 
Making a feat's facilities enhance 
The marvel ? But I front Taurello, one 
Of happier fate, and what I should have done 
He does ; the multitude aye paramount 
With him, its making progress may account 
For his abiding still : when . . . but you heard 
His talk with Tito — the excuse preferred 
For burning those five hostages — and broached 
By way of blind, as you and I approached, 
I do believe. 



168 SORDELLO. 

She spoke : then he, My thought 
Plainer expressed ! All Friedrich's profit — nought 
Of these meantime, of conquests to achieve 
For them, of wretchednesses to relieve 
While profiting that Friedrich. Azzo, too. 
Supports a cause : what is it ? Guelfs pursue 
Their ends by means like yours, or better ? 

When 
The Guelfs were shown alike, men ranged with men, 
And deed with deed, blaze, blood, with blood and blaze. 
Morn broke : once more, Sordello, meet its gaze 
Proudly — the people's charge against thee fails 
In every point, while either party quails ! 
These are the busy ones — be silent thou ! 
Two parties take the world up, and allow 
No third, yet have one principle, subsist 
By the same method ; whoso shall enlist 
With either, ranks with man's inveterate foes. 
So there is one less quarrel to compose 
'Twixt us : the Guelf 's, the Ghibellin 's to curse — 
I have done nothing, but both sides do worse 
Than nothing ; nay to me, forgotten^ reft 
Of insight, lapped by trees and flowers, was left 
The notion of a service— ha ? What lured 
Me here, what mighty aim was I assured 



SORDELLO. 169 

Moved Salinguerra ? If a Cause remained 
Intact, distinct from these, and fate ordained, 
For all the past, that Cause for me ? 

One pressed 
Before them here, a watcher, to suggest 
The subject for a ballad : he must know 
The tale of the dead worthy, long ago 
Consul of Rome — that 's long ago for us. 
Minstrels and bowmen, idly squabbling thus 
In the world's corners — but too late, no doubt. 
For the brave time he sought to bring about 
— Not know Crescentius Nomentanus ? Then 
He cast about for terms to tell him, when 
Sordello disavowed it, how they used 
Whenever their Superior introduced 
A novice to the Brotherhood (for I 
Was just a brown-sleeve brother, merrily 
Appointed too, quoth he, till Innocent 
Bade me relinquish, to my small content, 
My wife or my brown sleeves) out some one spoke 
Ere nocturns of Crescentius, to revoke 
The edict issued after his demise 
That blotted memory, and effigies, 
All out except a floating power, a name 
Including, tending to produce the same 



1/0 SORDELLO. 

Great act. Rome, dead, forgotten, lived at least 

Within that man, though to a vulgar priest 

And a vile stranger, fit to be a slave 

Of Rome's, Pope John, King Otho, fortune gave 

The rule there : but Crescentius, haply drest 

In white, called Roman Consul for a jest, 

Taking the people at their word, forth stept 

As upon Brutus' heel, nor ever kept 

Us waiting ; stept he forth and from his brain 

Gave Rome out on its ancient place again. 

Ay, bade proceed with Brutus' Rome kings styled 

Themselves the citizens of, and, beguiled 

Thereby, were fain select the lustrous gem 

Out of a lapfull, spoil their diadem 

— The Senate's cypher was so hard to scratch ! 

He flashes like a phanal, men too catch 

The flame, and Rome's accomplished ; when returned 

Otho and John the Consul's step had spurned, 

With Hugo Lord of Este, to redress 

The wrongs of each. Crescentius in the stress 

Of adverse fortune bent. They crucified 

Their Consul in the Forum and abide 

Such slaves at Rome e'er since, that I — (for I 

Was once a brown-sleeve brother, merrily 



SORDELLO. 171 

Appointed) — I had option to keep wife 

Or keep brown sleeves, and managed in the strife 

Lose both. A song of Rome ! 

And Rome, indeed, 
Robed at Goito in fantastic weed. 
The Mother-City of those Mantuan days, 
Looked an established point of light whence rays 
Traversed the world ; and all the clustered homes 
Beside of men were bent on being Romes 
In their degree ; the question was how each 
Should most resemble Rome, clean out of reach 
Herself ; nor struggled either principle 
To change what it aspired possess — Rome, still 
For Friedrich or Honorius. 

Rome 's the Cause ! 
The Rome of the old Pandects, our new laws — 
The Capitol turned Castle Angelo 
And structures that inordinately glow 
Corrected by the Theatre forlorn 
As a black mundane shell, its world late born 
— Yerona, that 's beside it. These combined, 
We typify the scheme to put mankind 
Once more in full possession of their rights 
By his sole agency. On me it lights 



172 SORDELLO. 

To build up Rome again — me, first and last : 
For such a Future was endured the Past ! 
And thus in the grey twilight forth he sprung 
To give his thought consistency among 
The People's self, and let their truth avail 
Finish the dream grown from the archer s tale. 



SORDELLO. 173 



BOOK THE FIFTH. 



Is it the same Sordello in the dusk 

As at the dawn ? merely a perished husk 

Now, that arose a power like to build 

Up Rome again ? The proud conception chilled 

So soon ? Ay, watch that latest dream of thine 

— A Rome indebted to no Palatine, 

Drop arch by arch, Sordello ! Art possest 

Of thy wish now — rewarded for thy quest 

To-day among Ferrara's squalid sons — 

Are this and this and this the shining ones 

Meet for the Shining City ? Sooth to say 

Our favoured tenantry pursue their way 

After a fashion ! This companion slips 

On the smooth causey, t'other blinkard trips 

At his mooned sandal. Leave to lead the brawls 

Here i' the atria ? No, friend. He that sprawls 



174 SORDELLO. 

On aught but a stibadium suffers . . . goose, 
Puttest our lustral vase to such an use ? 
Oh, huddle up the day s disasters — march 
Ye runagates, and drop thou, arch by arch, 
Eome ! 

Yet before they quite disband — a whim — 
Study a shelter, now, for him, and him. 
Nay, even him, to house them ! any cave 
Suffices — throw out earth. A loophole ? Brave ! 
They ask to feel the sun shine, see the grass 
Grow, hear the larks sing ? Dead art thou, alas, 
And I am dead ! But here's our son excels 
At hurdle- weaving any Scythian, fells 
Oak and devises rafters, dreams and shapes 
That dream into a door-post, just escapes 
The mystery of hinges. Lie we both 
Perdue another age. The goodly growth 
Of brick and stone ! Our building-pelt was rough, 
But that descendant's garb suits well enough 
A portico-contriver. Speed the years — 
What 's time to us ? and lo, a city rears 
Itself ! nay, enter — what's the grave to us ? 
So our forlorn acquaintance carry thus 
A head ! successively sewer, forum, cirque — 
Last age that aqueduct was counted work, 



SORDELLO. 175 

And now they tire the artificer upon 

Blank alabaster, black obsidion, 

— Careful Jove's face be duly fulgurant, 

And mother Yenus' kiss-creased nipples pant 

Back into pristine pulpiness, ere fixed 

Above the baths. What difference betwixt 

This Rome and ours ? Resemblance what between 

The scurvy dumb- show and the pageant sheen — 

These Romans and our rabble ? Rest thy wit 

And listen : step by step, — a workman fit 

With each, nor too fit, — to one's task, one's time, — 

No leaping o'er the petty to the prime, 

When just the substituting osier lithe 

For bulrushes, and after, wood for withe 

To further loam and roughcast work a stage. 

Exacts an architect, exacts an age, — 

Nor tables of the Mauritanian tree 

For men whose maple-log 's their luxury, — 

And Rome's accomplished ! Better (say you) merge 

At once all workmen in the demiurge, 

All epochs in a life-time, and all tasks 

In one : undoubtedly the city basks 

I' the day — w^hile those you'd feast there want the knack 

Of keeping fresh-chalked gowns from speck and brack. 



176 SORDELLO. 

Distinguish not your peacock from your swan, 

Or Mareotic juice from Coecuban, 

Nay sneer . . . enough ! 'twas happy to conceive 

Rome on a sudden, nor shall fate bereave 

Us of that credit : for the rest, her spite 

Is an old story — serves us very right 

For adding yet another to the dull 

List of devices — things proved beautiful 

Could they be done, Sordello cannot do. 

He sate upon the terrace, plucked and threw 
The powdery aloe- cusps away, saw shift 
Rome's walls, and drop arch after arch, and drift 
Mist-like afar those pillars of all stripe. 
Mounds of all majesty. Thou archetype. 
Last of my dreams and loveliest, depart ! 

And then a low voice wound into his heart : 
Sordello (lower than a Pythoness 
Conceding to a Lydian King's distress 
The cause of his long error — one mistake 
Of her past oracle) Sordello, wake ! 
Where is the vanity ? Why count you, one 
The first step with the last step ? What is gone 
Except that aery magnificence — 
That last step you took first ? an evidence 



SORDELLO. 177 

You were ... no matter. Let those glances fall ! 

This basis, this beginning step of all, 

Which proves you one of us, is this gone too ? 

Pity to disconcert one versed as you 

In fate's ill-nature, but its full extent 

Eludes Sordello, even : the veil 's rent, 

Read the black writing — that collective man 

Outstrips the individual ! Who began 

The greatnesses you know ? — ay, your own art 

Shall serve us : put the poet's mimes apart — 

Close with the poet — closer — what ? a dim 

Too plain form separates itself from him ? 

Alcama's song enmeshes the lulled Isle, 

Woven into the echoes left erewhile 

Of Nina's, one soft web of song : no more 

Turning his name, now, flower-like o'er and o'er ! 

An elder poet 's in the younger's place — 

Take Nina's strength — but lose Alcama's grace ? 

Each neutralizes each then I gaze your fill ; 

Search further and the past presents you still 

New Ninas, new Alcamas, time's mid-night 

Concluding, — better say its evenlight 

Of yesterday. You, now, in this respect 

Of benefitting people (to reject 



178 BORDELLO. 

The favour of your fearful ignorance 

A thousand phantasms eager to advance, 

Refer you but to those within your reach) 

Were you the first who got, to use plain speech, 

The Multitude to be materialized ? 

That loose eternal unrest — who devised 

An apparition i' the midst ? the rout 

Who checked, the breathless ring who formed about 

That sudden flower ? Get round at any risk 

The gold-rough pointel, silver-blazing disk 

0' the lily ! Swords across it ! Reign thy reign 

And serve thy frolic service, Charlemagne ! 

— The very child of over-joy ousness. 

Unfeeling thence, strong therefore : Strength by stress 

Of Strength comes of a forehead confident. 

Two widened eyes expecting heart's content, 

A calm as out of just-quelled noise, nor swerves 

The ample cheek for doubt, in gracious curves 

Abutting on the upthrust nether lip — 

He wills, how should lie doubt then ? Ages slip — 

Was it Sordello pried into the work 

So far accomplished, and discovering lurk 

A company amid the other clans, 

Only distinct in priests for castellans 



SORDELLO. 179 

And popes for suzerains (their rule confessed 
Its rule, their interest its interest, 
Living for sake of living — there an end, 
Wrapt in itself, no energy to spend 
In making adversaries or allies) ; 
Dived he into its capabilities 
And dared create out of that sect a soul 
Should turn the multitude, already whole, 
To some account ? Speak plainer ! Is't so sure 
God's church lives by a King's investiture ? 
Look to last step : a staggering — a shock — 
What 's sand shall be demolished, but the rock 
Endures — a column of black fiery dust 
Blots heaven — woe, woe, 'tis prematurely thrust 
Aside, that step ! — the air clears — nought's erased 
Of the true outline ? Thus much is firm based — 
The other was a scaffold : see you stand 
Buttressed upon his mattock Hildebrand 
Of the huge brain-mask welded ply o'er ply 
As in a forge ; it buries either eye 
White and extinct, that stupid brow ; teeth clenched, 
The neck 's tight-corded, too, the chin deep-trenched, 
As if a cloud enveloped him while fought 
Under it all, grim prizers, thought with thought 
N 2 



180 SORDELLO. 

At dead-lock, agonizing he, until 

The victor thought leap radiant up, and Will,' 

The slave with folded arms and drooping lids 

They fought for, lean forth flame-like as it bids. 

— A root, the crippled mandrake of the earth. 

Thwarted and dwarfed and blasted in its birth, 

Be certain ; fruit of suffering's excess. 

Whence feeling, therefore stronger : still by stress 

Of Strength, work Knowledge ! Full threehundred years 

For men to wear away in smiles and tears 

Between the two that nearly seem to touch, 

Observe you : quit one workman and we clutch 

Another, letting both their trains go by — 

The actors-out of cither's policy, 

Heinrich, on this hand, Otho, Barbaross, 

May carry the Imperial crowns across, 

Aix' Iron, Milan's Silver, and Rome's Gold — 

As Alexander, Innocent uphold 

On that the Papal keys — but, link on link, 

Why is it neither chain betrays a chink ? 

How coalesce the small and great ? Alack, 

For one thrust forward, fifty such fall back ! 

The couple there alone help Gregory ? 

Hark — from the hermit Peter's thin sad cry 



SORDELLO. 181 

At Claremont, yonder to the serf that says 
Friedrich *s no liege of his while he delays 
Getting the Pope's curse off him ! The Crusade — 
Or trick of breeding strength by other aid 
Than strength, is safe : hark — from the wild harangue 
Of Yimmercato, to the carroch's clang. 
Yonder ! The League — or trick of turning strength 
Against pernicious strength, is safe at length : 
Yet hark — from Mantuan Albert's making cease 
The fierce ones, to Saint Francis preacliing peace 
Yonder 1 God's Truce — or trick to supersede 
The use of strength at all, is safe. Indeed 
We trench upon the future ! Who shall found 
Next step, next age — trail plenteous o'er the ground 
Yine-like, produced by joy and sorrow, whence 
Unfeeling and yet feeling, strongest thence : 
Knowledge by stress of Knowledge is it ? No — 
E'en were Sordello ready to forego 
His work for this, 'twere overleaping work 
Some one must do before, howe'er it irk : 
No end 's in sight yet of that second road : 
Who means to help must still support the load 
Hildebrand lifted — why hast Thou, he groaned, 
Imposed, my God, a thing thy Paul had moaned. 



182 SORDELLO. 

Thy Moses failed beneath, on me ? and yet 

That grandest of the tasks God ever set 

On man left much to do : a mighty wrench — 

The scaffold falls — but half the pillars blench 

Merely, start back again — perchance have been 

Taken for buttresses : crash every screen. 

Hammer the tenons better, and engage 

A gang about your work, for the next age 

Or two, of Knowledge, part by Strength and part 

By Knowledge ! then — Ay, then perchance may start 

Sordello on his race —but who'll divulge 

Time's secrets ? lo, a step 's awry, a bulge 

To be corrected by a step we thought 

Got over long ago — till that is wrought. 

No progress ! and that scaffold in its turn 

Becomes, its service o'er, a thing to spurn. 

Meanwhile, your some half-dozen years of life 

Longer, dispose you to forego the strife — 

Who takes exception ? 'Tis Ferrara, mind. 

Before us, and Goito 's left behind : 

As you then were, as half yourself, desist ! 

— The warrior-part of you may, an it list. 

Finding real faulchions diiSicult to poise. 

Fling them afar and taste the cream of joys 



SORDELLO. 183 

By wielding one in fancy, — what is bard 

Of you, may spurn the vehicle that marred 

Elys so much, and in mere fancy glut 

His sense on her free beauties — we have but 

To please ourselves for law, and you could please 

What then appeared yourself by dreaming these 

Rather than doing these : now — fancy's trade 

Is ended, mind, nor one half may evade 

The other half : our friends are half of you : 

Out of a thousand helps, just one or two 

Can be accomplished presently — but flinch 

From these (as from the faulchion raised an inch, 

Elys described a couplet) and make proof 

Of fancy, — and, while one half lolls aloof 

O' the grass completing Rome to the tip-top — 

See if, for that, the other half will stop 

A tear, begin a smile : that rabble's woes, 

Ludicrous in their patience as they chose 

To sit about their town and quietly 

Be slaughtered, — the poor reckless soldiery. 

With their ignoble rhymes on Richard, how 

Polt-foot, sang they, was in a pitfall now, 

Cheering each other from the engine-mounts, — 

That crippled spawling idiot who recounts 



184 SORDELLO. 

How, lopt of limbs, he lay, stupid as stone^ 
Till the pains crept from out him one by one^ 
And wriggles round the archers on his head 
To earn a morsel of their chesnut bread, — 
And Cino, always in the self-same place 
Weeping ; beside that other wretches' case 
Eyepits to ear one gangrene since he plied 
The engine in his coat of raw sheep's hide 
A double watch in the noon stm ; and see 
Lucchino, beauty, with the favors free, 
Trim hacqueton and sprucely scented hair. 
Campaigning it for the first time — cut there 
In two already, boy enough to crawl 
For latter orpine round the Southern wall, 
Toma, where Richard 's kept, because that whore 
Marfisa the fool never saw before 
Sickened for flowers this wearisomest siege : 
Then Tiso's wife — men liked their pretty liege. 
Cared for her least of whims once, Berta, wed 
A twelvemonth gone, and, now poor Tiso 's dead. 
Delivering herself of his first child 
On that chance heap of wet filth, reconciled 
To fifty gazers. (Here a wind below 
Made moody music augural of woe 



SORDELLO. 185 

From the pine barrier) — "What if, now the scene 
Draws to a shutting, if yourself have been 
— You, plucking purples in Goito's moss 
Like edges of a trabea (not to cross 
Your consul-feeling) or dry aloe-shafts 
Here at Ferrara — He whom fortune wafts 
This very age her best inheritance 
Of opportunities ? Yet we advance . 
Upon the last ! Since talking is your trade, 
There 's Salinguerra left you to persuade. 
And then — 

No — no — which latest chance secure ! 
Leapt up and cried Sordello : this made sure, 
The Past is yet redeemable whose work 
Was — help the Guelfs, and I, howe'er it irk. 
Thus help ! He shook the foolish aloe-haulm 
Out of his doublet, paused, proceeded calm 
To the appointed presence. The large head 
Turned on its socket ; And your spokesman, said 
The large voice, is Elcorte's happy sprout ? 
Few such (so finishing a speech no doubt 
Addressed to Palma, silent at his side) 
Our sober councils have diversified : 
Elcorte's son ! — but forward as you may, 
Our lady's minstrel with so much to say ! 



186 SORDELLO. 

The hesitating sunset floated back, 

Rosily traversed in a single track 

The chamber, from the lattice o'er the girth 

Of pines to the huge eagle blacked in earth 

Opposite, outlined sudden, spur to crest. 

That solid Salinguerra, and caressed 

Palma's contour ; 'twas Day looped back Night's pall; 

Sordello had a chance left spite of all. 

And much he made of the convincing speech 
He meant should compensate the Past and reach 
Through his youth's daybreak of unprofit, quite 
To his noon s labour, so proceed till night 
At leisure ! The contrivances to bind 
Taurello body with the Cause and mind, 
— "Was the consummate rhetoric just that ? 
Yet most Bordello's argument dropped flat 
Through his accustomed fault of breaking yoke. 
Disjoining him who felt from him who spoke : 
Was't not a touching incident — so prompt 
A rendering the world its just accompt 
Once proved its debtor ? Who'd suppose before 
This proof that he, Goito's God of yore. 
At duty's instance could demean himself 
So memorably, dwindle to a Guelf ? 



SORDELLO. 187 

Be sure, in such delicious flattery steeped, 

His inmost self at the out-portion peeped 

Thus occupied ; then stole a glance at those 

Appealed to, curious if her colour rose 

Or his lip moved, while he discreetly urged 

The need of Lomhardy's becoming purged 

At soonest of her barons ; the poor part 

Abandoned thus missing the blood at heart. 

Spirit in brain, unseasonably off 

Elsewhere ! But, though his speech was worthy scoff, 

Good-humoured Salinguerra, famed for tact 

That way, who, careless of his phrase, ne'er lacked 

The right phrase, and harangued Honor ius dumb 

At his accession, looked as all fell plumb 

To purpose and himself took interest 

In every point his new instructor pressed 

— Left playing with the rescript's white wax seal 

To scrutinize Sordello head to heel : 

Then means he . . . yes, assent sure ? Well ? Alas, 

He said no more than. So it comes to pass 

That poesy, sooner than politics. 

Makes fade young hair : to think his speech could fix 

Taurello ! 

Then a flash ; he knew the truth : 
So fantasies shall break and fritter youth 



188 SORDELLO. 

That he has long ago lost earnestness, 

Lost will to work, lost power to express 

Even the need of working ! Ere the grave 

No more occasions now, though he should crave 

One such in right of superhuman toil 

To do what was undone, repair his spoil, 

Alter the Past — nought brings again the chance ! 

Not that he was to die : he saw askance 

Protract the ignominious years beyond 

To dream in — time to hope and time despond, 

Remember and forget, be sad, rejoice 

As saved a trouble, suited to his choice, 

— One way or other idle life out, drop 

No few smooth verses by the way — for prop 

A thyrsus these sad people should, the same, 

Pick up, set store by, and, so far from blame. 

Plant o'er his hearse convinced his better part 

Survived him. Rather tear men out the heart 

Of the truth ! Sordello muttered, and renewed 

His propositions for the Multitude. 

But Salinguerra who, the last attack. 
Threw himself in his ruffling corslet back 
To hear the better, smilingly resumed 
Some task ; beneath the carroch's warning boomed; 



^ 



SORDELLO. 189 

He must decide with Tito ; courteously 

He turned then, even seeming to agree 

With his admonisher — " Assist the Pope, • 

Extend his domination, fill the scope 

Of the Church based on All, by All, for All — 

Change Secular to Evangelicar' — 

Echoing his very sentence : all seemed lost, 

When sudden he looked, laughingly almost, 

To Palma : This opinion of your friend's 

For instance, would it answer Palma's ends ? 

Best, were it not, turn Guelf, submit our Strength 

(Here he drew out his baldric to its length) 

To the Pope's Knowledge — letting Richard slip. 

Wide to the walls throw ope your gates, equip 

Azzo with . . . but no matter ! Who '11 subscribe 

To a trite censure of the minstrel tribe 

Henceforward ? or pronounce, as Heinrich used, 

" Spear -heads for battle, burr-heads for the joust" 

— When Constance, for his couplets, would promote 

Alcama from a parti-coloured coat 

To holding her lord's stirrup in the wars. 

Not that I see where couplet -making jars 

With common sense : at Mantua we had borne 

This chanted, easier than their most forlorn 



190 SORDELLO. 

Of bull-fights, that's indisputable ! 

Brave ! 
Whom vanity nigh slew, contempt shall save ! 
All's at an end : a Troubadour suppose 
Mankind 's to class him with their friends or foes ? 
A puny uncouth ailing vassal think 
The world and him in some especial link ? 
Abrupt the visionary tether 's burst — 
"What's to reward or what to be amerced 
If a poor drudge, solicitous to dream 
Deservingly, gets tangled by his theme 
So far as to conceit his knack or gift 
Or whatsoe'er it be of verse might lift 
The globe, a lever like the hand and head 
Of — Men of Action, as the Jongleurs said, 
— The Great Men, in the people's dialect ? 
And not a moment did this scorn affect 
Sordello : scorn the poet ? They, for once, 
Asking " what was," obtained a full response. 
Bid Naddo think at Mantua, he had but 
To look into his promptuary, put 
His hand on a set thought in a set speech : 
And was Sordello fitted thus for each 
Conjuncture ? No wise ; since within his soul 
Perception brooded unexpressed and whole: 



SORDELLO. 191 

A healthy spirit like a healthy frame 

Craves aliment in plenty and, the same, 

Changes, assimilates its aliment : 

Perceived Sordello, on a truth intent ? 

Next day no formularies more you saw 

Than figs or olives in a sated maw 

— Tis Knowledge whither such perceptions tend, 

They lose themselves in that, means to an end, 

The Many Old producing some One New, 

A Last unlike the First. If lies are true. 

The Caliph Haroun s man of brass receives 

A^meal, ay, millet grains and lettuce leaves 

Together in his stomach rattle loose— 

You find them perfect next day to produce 

But ne'er expect the man, on strength of that, 

Can roll an iron camel- collar flat 

Like Haroun s self ! I tell you, what was stored 

Parcel by parcel through his life, outpoured 

That eve, was, for that age, a novel thing : 

And round those three the People formed a ring, 

Suspended their own vengeance, chose await 

The issue of this strife to reinstate 

Them in the right of taking it — in fact 

He must be proved their lord ere they exact 



192 SORDELLO. 

Amends for that lord's defalcation. Last, 
A reason why the phrases flowed so fast 
Was in his quite forgetting for the time 
Himself in his amazement that his rhyme 
Disguised the royalty so much : he there — 
They full face to him — and yet unaware 
Who was the King and who . . . But if I lay 
On thine my spirit and compel obey 
His lord — Taurello ? Impotent to build 
Another Rome, but hardly so unskilled 
In what such builder should have been as brook 
One shame beyond the charge that he forsook 
His function ! Set me free that shame I bend 
A brow before, suppose new years to spend, 
Allow each chance, nor fruitlessly, recur — 
Measure thee with the Minstrel, then, demur 
At any crown he claims ! That I must cede 
As 'tis, my right to my especial meed — 
Confess you fitter help the world than I 
Ordained its champion from eternity. 
Is much : but to behold you scorn the post 
I quit in your behalf— as aught 's to boast 
Unless you help the world ! And while he rung 
The changes on this theme, the roof up-sprung, 



SORDELLO. 193 

The sad walls of the presence-chamber died 

Into the distance, or, embowering vied 

With far-away Goito's vine- frontier ; 

And crowds of faces (only keeping clear 

The rose-light in the midst, his vantage-ground 

To fight their battle from) deep clustered round 

Sordello, with good wishes no mere breath, 

Kind prayers for him no vapour, since, come death. 

Come life, he was fresh-sinewed every joint. 

Each bone new-marrowed as whom Gods anoint 

Though mortal to their rescue : now let sprawl 

The snaky volumes hither, Typhon's all 

For Hercules to trample — good report 

From Salinguerra 's only to extort ? 

So was I (closed he his inculcating 
A poet must be earth's essential king) 
So was I, royal so, and if I fail 
Tis not the royalty ye witness quail 
But one deposed who, caring not exert 
Its proper essence, trifled malapert 
With accidents instead — good things assigned 
The herald of a better thing behind — 
And, worthy through display of these, put forth 
Never the inmost all- surpassing worth 



194 SORDELLO. 

That constitutes him King precisely since 

As yet no other creature may evince 

Its like : the power he took most pride to test. 

Whereby all forms of life had been professed 

At pleasure, forms already on the earth, 

Was but a means to power whose novel birth 

Should, in its novelty, be kingship's proof — 

Now, whether he came near or kept aloof, 

Those forms unalterable first to last 

Proved him her copy, not the protoplast 

Of Nature : what could come of being free 

By action to exhibit tree for tree, 

Bird, beast for beast and bird, or prove earth bore 

A veritable man or woman more ? 

Means to an end, such proofs ; and what the end ? 

Your essence, whatsoe'er it be, extend — 

Never contract ! Already you include 

The multitude ; now let the multitude 

Include yourself, and the result is new ; 

Themselves before, the multitude turn you ; 

This were to live and move and have (in them) 

Your being, and secure a diadem 

That 's to transmit (because no cycle yearns 

Beyond itself, but on itself returns) 



SORDELLO. 195 

When the full sphere in wane, the world overlaid 
Long since with you, shall have in turn obeyed 
Some orb still prouder, some displayer, still 
More potent than the last, of human Will, 
And some new King depose the old. Of such 
Am I — whom pride of this elates too much ? 
Safe, rather say, mid troops of peers again ; 
I, with my words, hailed brother of the train 
Once deeds sufficed : for, let the world roll back. 
Who fails, through deeds diverse so e'er, re-track 
My purpose still, my task ? A teeming crust — 
Air, flame, earth, wave at conflict — see ! Needs must 
Emerge some Calm embodied these refer 
(Saturn — no yellow-bearded Jupiter!) 
The brawl to ; some existence like a pact 
And protest against Chaos, some first fact 
r the faint of Time . . . my deep of life, I know, 
Is unavailing e'en to poorly show 
(For here the Chief immeasurably yawned) 
Deeds in their due gradation till Song dawned — 
The fullest effluence of the finest mind 
All in degree, no way diverse in kind 
From those about us, minds which, more or less, 
Lofty or low, in moving seek impress 
o 2 



196 SORDELLO. 

Themselves on somewhat ; but one mind has climbed 

Step after step, by just ascent sublimed : 

Thought is the soul of act, and stage by stage. 

Is soul from body still to disengage 

As tending to a freedom which rejects 

Such help and incorporeally aflfects 

The world, producing deeds but not by deeds. 

Swaying, in others, frames itself exceeds, 

Assigning them the simpler tasks it used 

As patiently perform till Song produced 

Acts, by thoughts only, for the mind : divest 

Mind of e'en Thought, and, lo, God's unexpressed 

Will dawns above us. But so much to win 

Ere that ! A lesser round of steps within 

The last. About me, faces ! and they flock. 

The earnest faces ! What shall I unlock 

By song ? behold me prompt, whate'er it be, 

To minister : how much can mortals see 

Of Life ? No more ? I covet the first task 

And marshal yon Life's elemental Masque 

Of Men, on evil or on good lay stress, 

This light, this shade make prominent, suppress 

All ordinary hues that softening blend 

Such natures with the level : apprehend 



BORDELLO. 197 

"Which evil is, which good, if I allot 

Your Hell, the Purgatory, Heaven ye v^ot. 

To those you doubt concerning : I en womb 

Some wretched Friedrich with his red-hot tomb, 

Some dubious spirit, Lombard Agilulph 

With the black chastening river I engulph ; 

Some unapproached Matilda I enshrine 

With languors of the planet of decline — 

These fail to recognise, to arbitrate 

Between henceforth, to rightly estimate 

Thus marshalled in the Masque ! Myself, the while. 

As one of you, am witness, shrink or smile 

At my own showing ! Next age — what's to do ? 

The men and women stationed hitherto 

Will I unstation, good and bad, conduct 

Each nature to its farthest or obstruct 

At soonest in the world : Light, thwarted, breaks 

A limpid purity to rainbow flakes. 

Or Shadow, helped, freezes to gloom : behold 

How such, with fit assistance to unfold. 

Or obstacles to crush them, disengage 

Their forms, love, hate, hope, fear, peace make, war 

In presence of you all ! Myself implied C^v^ge? 

Superior now, as, by the platform's side, 



198 SORDELLO. 

Bidding them do and suffer to content 

The world . . . no — that I wait not — circumvent 

A few it has contented, and to these 

Offer unveil the last of mysteries 

I boast ! Man s life shall have yet freer play : 

Once more I cast external things away 

And Natures, varied now, so decompose 

That . . . but enough ! Why fancy how I rose, 

Or rather you advanced since evermore 

Yourselves effect what I was fain before 

Effect, what I supplied yourselves suggest, 

What I leave bare yourselves can now invest ? 

How we attained to talk as brothei:s talk. 

In half-words, call things by half-names, no balk 

From discontinuing old aids — To-day 

Takes in account the work of Yesterday-— 

Has not the world a Past now, its adept 

Consults ere he dispense with or accept 

New aids ? a single touch more may enhance, 

A touch less turn to insignificance 

Those structures' symmetry the Past has strewed 

Your world with, once so bare : leave the mere rude 

Explicit details, 'tis but brother s speech 

We need, speech where an accent's change gives each 



SORDELLO. 199 

The other's soul — no speech to understand 

By former audience — need was then expand, 

Expatiate — hardly were they brothers ! true — 

Nor I lament my less remove from you. 

Nor reconstruct what stands already : ends 

Accomplished turn to means : my art intends 

New structure from the ancient : as they changed 

The spoils of every clime at Venice, ranged 

The horned and snouted Lybian God, upright 

As in his desert, by some simple bright 

Clay cinerary pitcher — Thebes as Rome, 

Athens as Byzant rifled, till their Dome 

From Earth's reputed consummations razed 

A seal the all-transmuting Triad blazed 

Above. Ah, whose that fortune ? ne'ertheless 

E'en he must stoop contented to express 

No tithe of what's to say — the vehicle 

Never sufficient — but his work is still 

For faces like the faces that select 

A single service I am bound effect 

Nor murmur, bid me, still as poet, bow 

Taurello to the Guelf cause, disallow 

The Kaiser's coming — which with heart, soul, strength, 

I labour for, this eve, who feel at length 



200 SORDELLO. 

My past career s outrageous vanity 

And would (as vain amends) die, even die 

Now I first estimate the boon of life, 

So death might bow Taurello — sure this strife 

Is the last strife — the People my support. 

My poor Sordello ! what may we extort 
By this, I wonder ? Palma's lighted eyes 
Turned to Taurello who, as past surprise. 
Began, You love him — what you'd say at large 
If I say briefly ? First your father s charge 
To me, his friend, peruse : I guessed indeed 
You were no stranger to the course decreed 
Us both : I leave his children to the saints : 
As for a certain project, he acquaints 
The Pope with that, and offers him the best 
Of your possessions to permit the rest 
Go peaceably — to Ecelin, a stripe 
Of soil the cursed Yicentines will gripe, 
— To Alberic, a patch the Trevisan 
Clutches already; extricate who can 
Treville, Yillarazzi, Puissolo, 
Cartiglione, Loria — all go, 

And with them go my hopes ! 'Tis lost, then ! Lost 
This eve, our crisis, and some pains it cost 



SORDELLO. 201 

Procuring ; thirty years — as good Fd spent 

Like our admonisher ! But each his bent 

Pursues — no question, one might live absurd 

Oneself this while, by deed as he by word. 

Persisting to obtrude an influence where 

'Tis made account of much as . . . nay, you fare 

With twice the fortune, youngster — I submit, 

Happy to parallel my waste of wit 

With the renowned Sordello's — you decide 

A course for me — Romano may abide 

Romano, — Bacchus ! Who*d suppose the dearth 

Of Ecelins and Alberics on earth ? 

Say there's a thing in prospect, must disgrace 

Betide competitors ? An obscure place 

Suits me — there wants youth, bustle, one to stalk 

And attitudinize — some fight, more talk, 

Most flaunting badges — 'twere not hard make clear 

Since Friedrich's very purposes lie here 

— Here — pity they are like to lie ! For me, 

Whose station s fixed unceremoniously 

Long since, small use contesting ; I am but 

The liegeman, you are born the lieges — shut 

That gentle mouth now ! — or resume your kin 

In your sweet self; Palma were Ecelin 



202 SORDELLO. 

For me and welcome ! Could that neck endure 

This bauble for a cumbrous garniture 

You should ... or might one bear it for you ? Stay — 

I have not been so flattered many a day 

As by your pale friend — Bacchus ! The least help 

Would lick the hind's fawn to a lion's whelp — 

His neck is broad enough — a ready tongue 

Beside — too writhled — but, the main thing, young — 

I could . . . why look ye I 

And the badge was thrown 
Across Sordello's neck : this badge alone 
Makes you Romano's Head — the Lombard's Curb 
Turns on your neck which would, on mine, disturb 
My pauldron, said Taurello. A mad act, 
Nor dreamed about a moment since — in fact 
Not when his sportive arm rose for the nonce — 
But he had dallied overmuch, this once, 
With power : the thing was done, and he, aware 
The thing was done, proceeded to declare 
(So like a nature made to serve, excel 
In serving, only feel by service well) 
That he should make him all he said and more : 
As good a scheme as any : what's to pore 
At in my face ? he asked — ponder instead 
This piece of news : you are Romano's Head — 



SORDELLO. 203 

One cannot slacken pace so near the goal, 
Suffer my Azzo to escape heart-whole 
This time ! For you there's Palma to espouse — 
For me, one crowning trouble ere I house 
Like my compeer. 

On which ensued a strange 
And solemn visitation — mighty change 
O'er every one of them — each looked on each — 
Up in the midst a truth grew, without speech, 
And when the giddiness sank and the haze 
Subsided, they were sitting, no amaze, 
Sordello with the baldric on, his sire 
Silent though his proportions seemed aspire 
Momently ; and, interpreting the thrill 
Nigh at its ebb, Palma you found was still 
Relating somewhat Adelaide confessed 
A year ago, while dying on her breast. 
Of a contrivance that Yicenza night. 
Her Ecelin had birth : their convoy's flight 
Cut off a moment, coiled inside the flame 
That wallowed like a dragon at his game 
The toppling city through— San Biagio rocks ! 
And wounded lies in her delicious locks 
Retrude, the frail mother, on her face. 
None of her wasted, just in one embrace 



204 BORDELLO. 

Covering her child : when, as they lifted her, 

Cleaving the tumult, mighty, mightier 

And mightiest Taurello's cry outbroke, 

Leapt like a tongue of fire that cleaves the smoke. 

Midmost to cheer his Mantuans onward — drown 

His colleague's clamour, Ecelin s, up, down 

The disarray : failed Adelaide see then 

Who was the natural Chief, the Man of Men ? 

Outstripping time her Ecelin burst swathe. 

Stood up with haggard eyes beyond the scathe 

From wandering after his heritage 

Lost once and lost for aye — what could engage 

That deprecating glance ? A new Shape leant 

On a familiar Shape — gloatingly bent 

O'er his discomfiture ; 'mid wreaths it wore. 

Still one outflamed the rest — her child's before 

'Twas Salinguerra's for his child : scorn, hate 

Rage, startled her from Ecelin — too late ! 

A moment's work, and rival's foot had spurned 

Never that brow to earth ! Ere sense returned — 

The act conceived, adventured, and complete. 

They stole away towards an obscure retreat 

Mother and child— Retrude's self not slain 

(Nor even here Taurello moved) though pain 



SORDELLO. 205 

Was fled ; and what assured them most 'twas fled, 

All pain, was, if you raised the pale hushed head 

'T would turn this way and that, waver awhile, 

And only settle into its old smile 

(Graceful as the disquieted water-flag 

Steadying itself, remarked they, in the quag 

On either side their path) when sufi'ered look 

Downward : they marched : no sign of life once shook 

The company's close litter of crossed spears 

Till, as they reached Goito, a few tears 

Slipt in the sunset from her long black lash, 

And she was gone. So far the action rash — 

No crime. They laid Retrude in the font 

Taurello's very gift, her child was wont 

To sit beneath — constant as eve he came 

To sit by its attendant girls the same 

As one of them. For Palm a, she would blend 

With this magific spirit to the end 

That ruled her first — but scarcely had she dared 

To disobey the Adelaide who scared 

Her into vowing never to disclose 

A secret to her husband which so froze 

His blood at half recital she contrived 

To hide from him Taurello's infant lived 



206 SORDELLO. 

Lest, by revealing that, himself should mar 

Romano's fortunes : and, a crime so far, 

Palma received that action : she was told 

Of Salinguerra's nature, and his cold 

Calm acquiescence in his lot ! But free 

Impart the secret to Romano, slie 

Engaged to repossess Sordello of 

His heritage, and hers, and that way doflP 

The mask, but after years, long years I — while now 

Was not Romano's sign-mark on that brow ? 

Across Taurello's heart his arms were locked : 
And 'twas, when speak he did, as if he mocked 
The minstrel, who had not to move, he said. 
Not stir — should Fate defraud him of a shred 
Of this son s infancy ? much less of youth 
(Laughingly all this) which to aid, in truth, 
Himself, reserved on purpose, had not grown 
Old, not too old — 'twas better keep alone 
Till now, and never idly meet till now : 
— Then, in the same breath, told Sordello how 
The intimations of this eve's event 
Were futile — Friedrich means advance to Trent, 
Thence to Yerona, then to Rome — there stop — 
Tumble the Church down, institute a-top 



SORDELLO. 207 

The Alps a Prefecture of Lombardy : 
— That's now — no prophesying what may be 
Anon, beneath a monarch of the clime, 
Native of Gesi, passing his youth's prime 
At Naples. Tito bids my choice decide 
On whom . . . 

Embrace him, madman ! Palma cried 
Who through the laugh saw sweatdrops burst apace 
And his lips' blanching : he did not embrace 
Sordello, but he laid Sordello's hand 
On his own eyes, mouth, forehead. 

Understand, 
This while Sordello was becoming flushed 
Out of his whiteness; thoughts rushed, fancies rushed ; 
He pressed his hand upon his head and signed 
Both should forbear him. Nay, the best's behind ! 
Taurello laughed — not quite with the same laugh : 
The truth is, thus you scatter, ay, like chaff 
The Guelfs a despicable monk recoils 
From — nor expect a fickle Kaiser spoils 
Our triumph ! — Friedrich ? Think you I intend 
Friedrich shall reap the fruits of blood I spend 
And brain I waste ? Think you the people clap 
Their hands at my out-hewing this wild gap 



208 SORDELLO. 

For any Friedricli to fill up ? Tis mine— 

That's yours : I tell you towards some such design 

Have I worked blindly, yes, and idly, yes. 

And for another, yes— but worked no less 

With instinct at my heart ; I else had swerved, 

While now — look round ! My cunning has preserved 

Samminiato — that's a central place 

Secures us Florence, boy, in Pisa's case 

By land as she by sea ; with Pisa ours. 

And Florence, and Pistoia, one devours 

The land at leisure ! Gloriously dispersed — 

Brescia, observe, Milan, Piacenza first 

That flanked us (ah, you know not !) in the March ; 

On these we pile, as keystone of our arch, 

Romagna and Bologna, whose first span 

Covered the Trentine and the Yalsugan ; 

Sofia's Egna by Bolgiano's sure . . . 

So he proceeded. Half of all this pure 

Delusion, doubtless, nor the rest too true, 

But what was undone he felt sure to do 

As ring by ring he wrung ofi*, flung away 

The pauldron-rings to give his sword-arm play — 

Need of the sword now ! That would soon adjust 

Aught wrong at present ; to the sword intrust 



SORDELLO. 209 

Sordello's whiteness, undersize ; 'twas plain 

He hardly rendered right to his own hrain — 

Like a brave hound men educate to pride 

Himself on speed or scent nor aught beside, 

As though he could not, gift by gift, match men ! 

Palma had listened patiently : but when 

Twas time expostulate, attempt withdraw 

Taurello from his child, she, without aw^e 

Took off his iron arms from, one by one, 

Sordello's shrinking shoulders, and, that done, 

Made him avert his visage and relieve 

Sordello (you might see his corslet heave [^sank : 

The while) who, loose, rose — tried to speak — then 

They left him in the chamber — all was blank. 

And even reeling down the castle-stair 
Taurello kept up, as though unaware 
Palma was guide to him, the old device 
— Something of Milan — how we muster thrice 
The Torriani's strength there — all along 
Our own Yisconti cowed them — thus the song 
Continued even while she bade him stoop, 
Thrid somehow, by some glimpse of arrow-loop. 
The turnings to the gallery below. 
Where he stopped short as Palma let him go. 
p 



210 SORDELLO. 

When he had sate in silence long enough 
Splintering the stone bench, braving a rebuff 
She stopt the truncheon ; only to commence 
One of Sordello's poems, a pretence 
For speaking, some poor rhyme of Elys' hair 
And head that 's sharp and perfect like a pear, 
So smooth and close are laid the few fine locks 
Stained like pale honey oozed from topmost rocks 
Sun-blanched the livelong Summer — from his worst 
Performance, the Goito, as his|first : 
And that at end, conceiving from the brow 
And open mouth no silence would serve now, 
Went on to say the whole world loved that man 
And, for that matter, thought his face, tho' wan, 
Eclipsed the Count's — he sucking in each phrase 
As if an angel spoke : the foolish praise 
Ended, he drew her on his mailed knees, made 
Her face a frame- work with his hands, a shade, 
A crown, an aureole — there must she remain 
(Her little mouth compressed w4th smiling pain 
As in his gloves she felt her tresses twitch) 
To get the best look at, in fittest niche 
Dispose his saint ; that done, he kissed her brow — 
Lauded her father for his treason now. 



SORDELLO. 211 

He told her, only how could one suspect 

The wit in him ? whose clansman, recollect, 

Was ever Salinguerra — she, the same, 

Romano and his lady — so might claim 

To know all, as she should — and thus begun 

Schemes with a yengeance, schemes on schemes, not 

one 
Fit to be told that foolish boy, he said. 
But only let Sordello Palma wed, 
—Then ! 

*Twas a dim long narrow place at best : 
Midway a sole grate showed the fiery West 
As shows its corpse the world's end some split tomb — 
A gloom, a rift of fire, another gloom 
Faced Palma — but at length Taurello set 
Her free ; the grating held one ragged jet 
Of fierce gold fire : he lifted her within 
The hollow underneath — how else begin 
Fate's second marvellous cycle, else renew 
The ages than with Palma plain in view ? 
Then paced the passage, hands clenched, head erect. 
Pursuing his discourse ; a grand unchecked 
Monotony made out from his quick talk 
And the recurring noises of his walk ; 
p2 



212 SORDELLO. 

— Somewhat too much like the o'ercharged assent 

Of two resolved friends in one danger blent, 

Who hearten each the other against heart — 

Boasting there *s nought to care for, when, apart 

The boaster, all's to care for : he, beside 

Some shape not visible, in power and pride 

Approached, out of the dark, ginglingly near, 

Nearer, passed close in the broad light, his ear 

Crimson, eyeballs suffused, temples full- fraught. 

Just a snatch of the rapid speech you caught. 

And on he strode into the opposite dark 

Till presently the harsh heel's turn, a spark 

r the stone, and whirl of some loose embossed thong 

That crashed against the angle aye so long 

After the last, punctual to an amount 

Of mailed great paces you could not but count. 

Prepared you for the pacing back again : 

And by the snatches might you ascertain 

That, Friedrich's Prefecture surmounted, left 

By this alone in Italy, they cleft 

Asunder, crushed together, at command 

Of none, were free to break up Hildebrand, 

Rebuild, he and Sordello, Charlemagne — 

But garnished. Strength with Knowledge, if we deign 



BORDELLO. 213 

Accept that compromise and stoop to give 

Rome law, the Caesars' Representative. 

— Enough that the illimitable flood 

Of triumphs after triumphs, understood 

In its faint reflux (you shall hear) sufiiced 

Young Ecelin for appanage, enticed 

Him till, these long since quiet in their graves, 

He found 'twas looked for that a long life's braves 

Should somehow be made good — so, weak and worn, 

Must stagger up at Milan, one grey morn 

Of the To-Come, to fight his latest fight. 

And Salinguerra's prophecy at height — 

He voluble with a raised arm and stifle, 

A blaring voice, a blazing eye, as if 

He had our very Italy to keep 

Or cast away, or gather in a heap 

To garrison the better — ay, his word 

Was, " run the cucumber into a gourd, 

Drive Trent upon Apulia" — at their pitch 

Who spied the continents and islands which 

Grew sickles, mulberry leaflets in the map — 

(Strange that three such confessions so should hap 

To Palma Dante spoke with in the clear 

Amorous silence of the Swooning-sphere. 



214 SORDELLO. 

Cunizza, as he called her ! Never ask 

Of Palma more ! She sate, knowing her task 

Was done, the labour of it — for success 

Concerned not Palma, passion s votaress) 

Triumph at height, I say, Sordello crowned — 

Above the passage suddenly a sound 

Stops speech, stops walk : back shrinks Taurello, bids 

With large involuntary asking lids 

Palma interpret. Tis his own foot-stamp — 

Your hand ! His summons 1 Nay, this idle damp 

Befits not. Out they two reeled dizzily : 

" Yisconti's strong at Milan," resumed he 

In the old somewhat insignificant way 

(Was Palma wont years afterward to say) 

As though the spirit's flight sustained thus far 

Dropped at that very instant. Gone they are — 

Palma, Taurello ; Eglamor anon, 

Ecelin, Alberic ... ah, Naddo 's gone ! 

— Labours this moonrise what the Master meant 

" Is Squarcialupo speckled ? — purulent 

rd say, but when was Providence put out ? 

He carries somehow handily about 

His spite nor fouls himself ! " Goito's vines 

Stand like a cheat detected — stark rouoh lines 



SORDELLO. 215 

The moon breaks through, a grey mean scale against 
The vault where, this eve's Maiden, thou remain st 
Like some fresh martyr, eyes fixed — who can tell ? 
As Heaven, now all's at end, did not so well 
Spite of the faith and victory, to leave 
Its virgin quite to death in the lone eve : 
While the persisting hermit- bee ... ha! wait 
No longer — these in compass, forward fate ! 



216 SORDELLO. 



BOOK THE SIXTH. 



The thought of Eglamor 's least like a thought, 

And yet a false one, was, Man shrinks to nought 

If matched with symbols of immensity — 

Must quail, forsooth, before a quiet sky 

Or sea, too little for their quietude : 

And, truly, somewhat in Sordello's mood 

Confirmed its speciousness while evening sank 

Down the near terrace to the further bank. 

And only one spot left out of the night 

Glimmered upon the river opposite — 

A breadth of watery heaven like a bay, 

A sky-like space of water, ray for ray 

And star for star, one richness where they mixed 

As this and that wing of an angel, fixed, 

Tumultuary splendors folded in 

To die : nor turned he till Ferrara's din 



BORDELLO. 217 

(Say, the monotonous speech from a man's lip 
Who lets some first and eager purpose slip 
In a new fancy's birth ; the speech keeps on 
Though elsewhere its informing soul be gone) 
Aroused him, — surely ofi'ered succour ; fate 
Paused with this eve ; ere she precipitate 
Herself . . . put ofi* strange after-thoughts awhile, 
That voice, those large hands, that portentous smile . . . 
What help to pierce the Future as the Past 
Lay in the plaining city ? 

And at last 
The main discovery and prime concern. 
All that just now imported him to learn. 
His truth, like yonder slow moon to complete 
Heaven, rose again, and naked at his feet 
Lighted his old life's every shift and change. 
Effort with counter-effort ; nor the range 
Of each looked wrong except wherein it checked 
Some other — which of these could he suspect 
Prying into them by the sudden blaze ? 
The real way seemed made up of all the ways — 
Mood after mood of the one mind in him ; 
Tokens of the existence, bright or dim, 
Of a transcendent all-embracing sense 
Demanding only outward influence, 



218 BORDELLO. 

A soul, in Palma's phrase, above his soul, 

Power to uplift his power, this moon s control, 

Over the sea-depths, and their mass had swept 

Onward from the beginning and still kept 

Its course ; but years and years the sky above 

Held none, and so, untasked of any love, 

His sensitiveness idled, now amort. 

Alive now, and to sullenness or sport 

Given wholly up, disposed itself anew 

At every passing instigation, grew 

And dwindled at caprice, in foam-showers spilt, 

Wedge-like insisting, quivered now a gilt 

Shield in the sunshine, now a blinding race 

Of whitest ripples o'er the reef — found place 

For myriad charms ; not gathered up and, hurled 

Right from its heart, encompassing the world. 

So had Sordello been, by consequence, 

Without a function : others made pretence 

To strengths not half his own, yet had some core 

Within, submitted to some moon, before 

It still, superior still whatever its force, 

Were able therefore to fulfil a course 

Nor missed Life's crown, authentic attribute — 

To each who lives must be a certain fruit 



SORDELLO. 219 

Of having lived in his degree, a stage 
Earlier or later in men's pilgrimage, 
To stop at ; and to which those spirits tend 
Who, still discovering beauty without end, 
Amass the scintillations for one star 
— Something unlike them, self- sustained, afar. 
And meanwhile nurse the dream of being blest 
By winning it to notice and invest 
Their souls with alien glory some one day 
Whene'er the nucleus, gathering shape alway, 
Round to the perfect circle — soon or late 
According as themselves are formed to wait ; 
Whether 'tis human beauty will suffice 
—The yellow hair and the luxurious eyes, 
Or human intellect seem best, or each 
Combine in some ideal form past reach 
On earth, or else some shade of these, some aim, 
Some love, hate even, take their place the same, 
That may be served — all this they do not lose. 
Waiting for death to live, nor idly choose 
What Hell shall be — a progress thus pursued 
Through all existence, still above the food 
That 's offered them, still towering beyond 
The widened range in virtue of their bond 



220 SORDELLO. 

Of sovereignty : not that a Palma's Love 

A Salinguerra's Hate would equal prove 

To swaying all Sordello : wherefore doubt, 

Love meet for such a Strength, some Moon 's without 

To match his Sea ? — fear, Good so manifest, 

Only the Best breaks faith ? — but that the Best 

Somehow eludes us ever, still might be 

And is not : crave you gems ? where 's penury 

Of their material round us ? pliant earth, 

The plastic flame — what balks the Mage his birth 

— Jacynth in balls, or lodestone by the block ? 

Flinders enrich the strand and veins the rock — 

No more ! Ask creatures ? Life in tempest. Thought 

Clothes the keen hill-top, mid-day woods are fraught 

With fervors . . . ah, these forms are well enough — 

But we had hoped, encouraged by the stuff 

Profuse at Nature's pleasure, Men beyond 

These Men ! and thus, perchance, are over-fond 

In arguing, from Good the Best, from force 

Divided — force combined, an ocean s course 

From this our sea whose mere intestine pants 

Had seemed at times sufficient to our wants. 

— External Power ? If none be adequate 

And he have been ordained (a prouder fate) 



SORDELLO. 221 

A law to his own sphere ? the need remove 
All incompleteness be that law, that love ? 
Nay, really such be other s laws, though veiled 
In mercy to each vision that had failed 
If unassisted by its Want, for lure. 
Embodied ? stronger vision could endure 
The simple want — no bauble for a truth ! 
The People were himself ; and by the ruth 
At their condition was he less impelled 
Alter the discrepancy he beheld 
Than if, from the sound Whole, a sickly Part 
Subtracted were transformed, decked out with art. 
Then palmed on him as alien woe — the Guelf 
To succour, proud that he forsook himself? 
No : All 's himself — ^all service, therefore, rates 
Alike, nor serving one part, immolates 
The rest : but all in time 1 That lance of yours 
Makes havoc soon with Malek and his Moors, 
That buckler 's lined with many a Giant's beard 
Ere long, Porphyrio, be the lance but reared, 
The buckler wielded handsomely as now ; 
But view your escort, bear in mind your vow. 
Count the pale tracts of sand to pass ere that. 
And, if you hope we struggle through this flat. 



222 SORDELLO. 

Put lance and buckler up —next half-month lacks 
A sturdy exercise of mace or axe 
To cleave this dismal brake of prickly-pear 
That bristling holds Cydippe by the hair, 
Lames barefoot Agathon. 

Oh, People, urge 
Your claims ! — for thus he ventured to the verge 
Push a vain mummery which perchance distrust 
Of his fast-slipping resolution thrust 
No less : accordingly the Crowd — as yet 
He had inconsciously contrived forget 
To dwell upon the points . . . one might assuage 
The signal horrors sooner than engage 
With a dim vulgar vast unobvious grief 
Not to be fancied off, obtain relief 
In brilliant fits, cured by a happy quirk, 
But by dim vulgar vast unobvious work 
To correspond — however, forth they stood : 
And now content thy stronger vision, brood 
On thy bare want ; the grave stript turf by turf, 
Study the corpse-face thro' the taint-worms' scurf ! 

Down sank the People s Then ; uprose their Now. 
These sad ones render service to ! And how 
Piteously little must that service prove 
— Had surely proved in any case ! for move 



SORDELLO. 223 

Each other obstacle away, let youth 

Have been aware it had surprised a Truth 

'Twere service to impart — can Truth be seized, 

Settled forthwith, and of the captive eased 

Its captor look around, since this alit 

So happily, no gesture luring it. 

The earnest of a flock to follow ? Yain, 

Most vain ! a life 's to spend ere this he chain. 

To the poor crowd's complacence ; ere the crowd 

Pronounce it captured he descries a cloud 

Its kin of twice the plumage— he, in turn, 

If he shall live as many lives, may learn 

Secure — not otherwise. Then Mantua called 

Back to his mind how certain bards were thralled 

— Buds blasted, but of breaths more like perfumes 

Than Naddo's staring nosegay's carrion blooms 

Could boast — some rose that burnt heart out in sweets, 

A spendthrift in the Spring, no Summer greets — 

Some Dularete, drunk with truths and wine. 

Grown bestial dreaming how become divine. 

Yet to surmount this obstacle, commence 

With the commencement, merits crowning ! Hence 

Must Truth be casual Truth, elicited 

In sparks so mean, at intervals dispread 



224 SORDELLO. 

So rarely, that 'tis like at no one time 

Of the world's story has not Truth, the prime 

Of Truth, the very Truth which loosed had hurled 

Its course aright, been really in the world 

Content the while with some mean spark by dint 

Of some chance-blow, the solitary hint 

Of buried fire, which, rip its breast, would stream 

Sky- ward I 

Sordello's miserable gleam 
Was looked for at the moment : he would dash 
This badge to earth and all it brought, abash 
Taurello thus, perhaps persuade him wrest 
The Kaiser from his purpose ; would attest 
His constancy in any case. Before 
He dashes it, however, think once more ! 
For, was that little truly service ? Ay — 
r the end, no doubt ; but meantime ? Plain you spy 
Its ultimate EflPect, but many flaws 
Of vision blur each intervening Cause ; 
Were the day's fraction clear as the life's sum 
Of service. Now as filled as the To-come 
With evidence of good — nor too minute 
A share to vie with evil ! How dispute 
The Guelfs were fitliest maintained in rule ? 
That made the life's work : not so easy school 



BORDELLO. 225 

Your day's work — say, on natures circumstanced 
So variously, which yet, as each advanced 
Or might impede that Guelf rule, it behoved 
You, for the Then's sake, hate what Now you loved, 
Love what you hated ; nor if one man bore 
Brand upon temples while his fellow wore 
The aureole, would it task us to decide — 
But portioned duly out, the Future vied 
Never with the unparcelled Present ! Smite 
Or spare so much on warrant all so slight ? 
The Present's complete sympathies to break. 
Aversions bear with, for a Future's sake 
So feeble ? Tito ruined through one speck, 
The Legate saved by his sole lightish fleck ? 
This were work, true — but work performed at cost 
Of other work — aught gained here, elsewhere lost — 
For a new segment spoil an orb half-done — 
Rise with the People one step, and sink . . . one ? 
Would it were one step — less than the whole face 
Of things our novel duty bids erase ! 
Harms are to vanquish ; what ? the Prophet saith. 
The Minstrel singeth vainly then ? Old faith. 
Old courage, born of the surrounding harms. 
Were not, from highest to the lowest, charms ? 
Q 



226 SORDELLO. 

Oh, flame persists but is not glare as stanch ? 

Where the salt marshes stagnate, crystals branch — 

Blood dries to crimson — Evil 's beautified 

In every shape ! But Beauty thrust aside 

You banish Evil : wherefore ? After all 

Is Evil our result less natural 

Than Good ? For overlook the Seasons* strife 

With tree and flower — the hideous animal life, 

Of which who seeks shall find a grinning taunt 

For his solution, must endure the vaunt 

Of Nature's angel, as a child that knows 

Himself befooled, unable to propose 

Auofht better than the foolins: — and but care 

For Men, the varied People then and there, 

Of wliich 'tis easy saying Good and 111 

Claim him alike 1 Whence rose the claim but still 

From 111, the fruit of 111 — what else could knit 

Him theirs but Sorrow ? Any free from it 

Were also free from him ! A happiness 

Could be distinguished in this morning's press 

Of miseries — the fool's who passed a gibe 

On one, said he, so wedded to his tribe 

He carries green and yellow tokens in 

His very face that he 's a Ghibellin — 



SORDELLO. 227 

Mucli hold on him that fool obtained f Nay mount 
Yet higher ; and upon Men's own account 
Must Evil stay : for what is Joy ? To heave 
Up one obstruction more, and common leave 
What was peculiar — by this act destroy 
Itself; a partial death is every joy ; 
The sensible escape, enfranchisement 
Of a sphere's essence : once the vexed — content. 
The cramped — at large, the growing circle — round, 
Airs to begin again — some novel bound 
To break, some new enlargement 's to entreat. 
The sphere though larger is not more complete. 
Now for Mankind's experience : who alone 
Might style the unobstructed world his own ? 
Whom palled Goito with its perfect things ? 
Sordello's self; whereas for Mankind springs 
Salvation — hindrances are interposed 
For them, not all Life's view at once disclosed 
To creatures sudden on its summit left 
With Heaven above and yet of wings bereft — 
But lower laid, as at the mountain's foot 
Where, range on range, the girdling forests shoot 
Between the prospect and the throngs who scale 
Earnestly ever, piercing veil by veil, 
Q 2 



228 SORDELLO. 

Confirmed witli each discovery ; in their soul 

The Whole they seek by Parts — but, found that Whole, 

Could they revert ? Oh, testify ! The space 

Of time we judge so meagre to embrace 

The Parts, were more than plenty, once attained 

The Whole, to quite exhaust it : for nought 's gained 

But leave to look — -no leave to do : Beneath 

Soon sates the looker — look Above, then ! Death 

Tempts ere a tithe of Life be tasted. Live 

First, and die soon enough, Sordello ! Give 

Body and spirit the bare right they claim 

To pasture thee on a voluptuous shame 

That thou, a pageant -city's denizen. 

Art neither vilely lodged midst Lombard men — 

Canst force joy out of sorrow, seem to truck 

Thine attributes away for sordid muck, 

Yet manage from that very muck educe 

Gold ; then subject, nor scruple, to thy cruce 

The world's discardings ; think, if ingots pay 

Such pains, the clods that yielded them are clay 

To all save thee, and clay remain though quenched 

Thypurging-fire; who's robbed then? Would I wrenched 

An ample treasure forth ! — As 'tis, why crave 

A share that ruins me and will not save 



BORDELLO. , 229 

Yourselves ? — imperiously command I quit 
The course that makes my joy nor will remit 
Your woe ? Would all arrive at joy ? Reverse 
The order (time instructs you) nor coerce 
Each unit till, some predetermined mode, 
The total be emancipate ; our road 
Is one, our times of travel many ; thwart 
No enterprising soul's precocious start 
Before the general march ; if slow or fast 

All straggle up to the same point at last, 
Why grudge my having gained a month ago 

The brakes at balm-shed, asphodels in blow, 

While you w^ere landlocked? Speed your Then, but Iiow 

This badge would suffer me improve my Now ! 
His time of action for, against, or with 

Our world (I labour to extract the pith 

Of this and more) grew up, that even- tide. 

Gigantic with its power of joy beside 

The world's eternity of impotence 

To profit though at all his joy's expense. 

Make nothing of that time because so brief? 

Rather make more — instead of joy take grief 

Before its novelty have time subside ; 

No time for the late savour — leave untried 



230 SORDELLO. 

Virtue, the creaming honey wine, quick squeeze 
Vice like a biting spirit from the lees 
Of life — together let wrath, hatred, lust. 
All tyrannies in every shape be thrust 
Upon this Now, which time may reason out 
As mischiefs, far from benefits, no doubt — 
But long ere then Bordello will have slipt 
Away — you teach him at Goito's crypt 
There's a blank issue to that fiery thrill ! 
Stirring, the Few cope with the Many, still : 
So much of dust as, quiet, makes a mass 
Unable to produce three tufts of grass. 
Shall, troubled by the whirlwind, render void 
The whole calm glebe's endeavour : be employed ! 
And e*en though somewhat smarts the Crowd for this. 
Contributes each his pang to make up bliss, 
'Tis but one pang — one blood-drop to the bowl 
Which brimful tempts the sluggish asp uncowl 
So quick, stains ruddily the dull red cape, 
And, kindling orbs dull as the unripe grape 
Before, avails forthwith to disentrance 
The mischief — soon to lead a mystic dance 
Among you ! Nay, who sits alone in Rome ? 
Have those great hands indeed hewn out a home 



SORDELLO. 231 

For me— compelled to live ? Oh Life, life-breath, 

Life-blood, — ere sleep be travail, life ere death 1 

This life to feed my soul, direct, oblique, 

But alway feeding ! Hindrances ? They pique — 

Helps ? such . . . but wherefore say my soul o'ertops 

All height — than every depth profounder drops ? 

Enough that I can live, and would live ! Wait 

For some transcendent life reserved by Fate 

To follow this ? Oh, never ! Fate I trust 

The same my soul to ; for, as who flings dust 

Perchance — so facile was the deed, she chequed 

The void with these materials to affect 

That soul diversely — these consigned anew 

To nought by death, why marvel if she threw 

A second and superber spectacle 

Before it ? What may serve for sun— what still 

Wander a moon above me — what else wind 

About me like the pleasures left behind ? 

And how shall some new flesh that is not flesh 

Cling to me ? what's new laughter — soothes the fresh 

Sleep like sleep ? Fate 's exhaustless for my sake 

In brave resource, but whether bids she slake 

My thirst at this first rivulet or count 

No draught worth lip save from the rocky fount 



232 SORDELLO. 

Above i' the clouds, while here she's provident 

Of (taste) loquacious pearl the soft tree-tent 

Guards, with its face of reate and sedge, nor fail 

The silver globules and gold-sparkling grail 

At bottom— Oh, 'twere too absurd to slight 

For the hereafter the to-day's delight ! 

Quench thirst at this, then seek next well-spring — wear 

Home-lilies ere strange lotus in my hair ! 

Here is the Crowd, whom I with freest heart 

Offer to serve, contented for my part 

To give this life up once for aril, but grant 

I really serve ; if otherwise, why want 

Aught further of me ? Life they cannot chuse 

But set aside — wherefore should I refuse 

The gift ? I take it — I, for one, engage 

Never to falter through the pilgrimage — 

Or end it howling that the stock or stone 

Were enviable, truly : I, for one. 

Will praise the world you style mere anteroom 

To the true palace — but shall I assume 

— My foot the courtly gait, my tongue the trope. 

My eye the glance, before the doors fly ope 

One moment ? What — with guarders row on row^ 

Gay swarms of varletry that come and go. 



SORDELLO. 233 

Pages to dice with, waiting-girls unlace 

The plackets of, pert claimants help displace, 

Heart-heavy suitors get a rank for ; laugh 

At yon sleek parasite, break his own staff 

'Cross Beetle-brows the Usher's shoulder ; why — 

Admitted to the presence by and bye. 

Should thought of these recurring make me grieve 

Among new sights I reach, old sights I leave ? 

— Cool citrine-crystals, fierce pyropus-stone — 

Bare floor -work too ! — But did I let alone 

That black-eyed peasant in the vestibule 

Once and for ever ? — Floor- work ? No such fool ! 

Rather, were Heaven to forestal Earth, I'd say 

Must I be blessed or you ? Then my own way 

Bless me — a firmer arm, a fleeter foot, 

111 thank you, but to no mad wings transmute 

These limbs of mine — our greensward is too soft ; 

Nor camp I on the thunder-cloud aloft — 

We feel the bliss distinctlier having thus 

Engines subservient, not mixed up with us — 

Better move palpably through Heaven — nor, freed 

Of flesh forsooth, from space to space proceed 

'Mid flying synods of worlds — but in Heaven's marge 

Show Titan still, recumbent o'er his targe 



234 SORDELLO. 

Solid with stars — the Centaur at his game 
Made tremulously out in hoary flame ! 

Life ! Yet the very cup whose extreme dull 
Dregs, even, I would quaflf, was dashed, at full, 
Aside so oft ; the death I fly, revealed 
So oft a better life this life concealed 
And which sage, champion, martyr, thro' each path 
Have hunted fearlessly — the horrid bath, 
The crippling- irons and the fiery chair : 
— 'Twas well for them ; let me become aware 
As they, and I relinquish Life, too ! Let 
Life's secret but disclose itself ! Forget 
Vain ordinances, I have one appeal — 
I feel, am what I feel, know what I feel 
— So much is Truth to me — What Is then ? Since 
One object viewed diversely may evince 
Beauty and ugliness — this way attract, 
That way repel, why gloze upon the fact ? 
Why must a single of the sides be right ? 
Who bids choose this and leave its opposite ? 
No abstract Right for me — in youth endued 
With Right still present, still to be pursued, 
Thro' all the interchange of circles, rife 
Each with its proper law and mode of life, 



SORDELLO. 235 

Each to be dwelt at ease in : thus to sway- 
Regally witli the Kaiser, or obey 
Implicit with his Serf of fluttering heart, 
Or, like a sudden thought of God's, to start 
Up in the presence, then go forth and shout 
That some should pick the unstrung jewels out — 
Were well ! 

And, as in moments when the Past 
Gave partially enfranchisement, he cast 
Himself quite thro' mere secondary states 
Of his soul's essence, little loves and hates, 
Into the mid vague yearnings overlaid 
By these ; as who should pierce hill, plain, grove, 

glade. 
And so into the very nucleus probe 
That first determined there exist a Globe : 
And as that 's easiest half the globe dissolved. 
So seemed Sordello's closing-truth evolved 
In his flesh -half 's break up — the sudden swell 
Of his expanding soul showed 111 and Well, 
Sorrow and Joy, Beauty and Ugliness 
Virtue and Yice, the Larger and the Less, 
All qualities, in fine, recorded here. 
Might be but Modes of Time and this one Sphere, 



236 SORDELLO. 

Urgent on these but not of force to bind 

As Time — Eternity, as Matter — Mind, 

If Mind, Eternity shall choose assert 

Their attributes within a Life : thus girt 

With circumstance, next change beholds them cinct 

Quite otherwise — with Good and 111 distinct, 

Joys, sorrows, tending to a like result — 

Contrived to render easy, difficult, 

This or the other course of . . . what new bond 

In place of flesh may stop their flight beyond 

Its new sphere, as that course does harm or good 

To its arrangements. Once this understood, 

As suddenly he felt himself alone, 

Quite out of Time and this World, all was known. 

What made the secret of the past despair ? 

(Most imminent when he seemed most aware 

Of greatness in the Past — nought turned him mad 

Like craving to expand the power he had. 

Not a new power to be expanded) — just 

This made it ; Soul on Matter being thrust, 

Tis Joy when so much Soul is wreaked in Time 

On Matter, — let the Soul attempt sublime 

Matter beyond its scheme and so prevent 

Or more or less that deed's accomplishment. 



BORDELLO. 237 

And Sorrow follows : Sorrow to avoid — 

Let the Employer match the thing Employed, 

Fit to the finite his infinity, 

And thus proceed for ever, in degree 

Changed but in kind the same, still limited 

To the appointed circumstance and dead 

To all beyond : a sphere is but a sphere — 

Small, Great, are merely terms we bandy here — 

Since to the spirit's absoluteness all 

Are like : now of the present sphere we call 

Life, are conditions — take but this among 

Many ; the Body was to be so long 

Youthful, no longer — but, since no control 

Tied to that Body's purposes his Soul, 

It chose to understand the Body's trade 

More than the Body's self — had fain conveyed 

Its boundless, to the body's bounded lot — 

So, the soul permanent, the body not, — 

Scarce the one minute for enjoying here. 

The soul must needs instruct its weak compeer, 

Run o'er its capabilities and wring 

A joy thence it holds worth experiencing — 

Which, far from half discovered even, — lo, 

The minute's gone, the body's power's let go 



238 SORDELLO. 

Apportioned to that joy*s acquirement ! Broke, 

Say, morning o'er the earth and all it woke — 

From the volcano's vapour-flag to hoist 

Black o'er the spread of sea, to the low moist 

Dale's silken barley- spikes sullied with rain, 

Swayed earthwards, heavily to raise again — 

(The Small a sphere as perfect as the Great 

To the soul's absoluteness) — meditate 

On such an Autumn-morning's cluster-chord 

And the whole music it was framed afford, 

And, the chord's might discovered, what should pluck 

One string, the finger, was found palsy -struck. 

And then what marvel if the Spirit, shown 

A saddest sight — the Body lost alone 

Thro' its officious proffered help, deprived 

Of this and that enjoyment Fate contrived. 

Virtue, Good, Beauty, each allowed slip hence, — 

Yain gloriously were fain, for recompense. 

To stem the ruin even yet, protract 

The Body's term, supply the power it lacked 

From its infinity, compel it learn 

These qualities were only Time's concern, 

That Body may, with its assistance, barred — 

Advance the same, vanquished — obtain reward, 



SORDELLO. 239 

Reap joy where sorrow was intended grow, 

Of Wrong make Eight and turn 111 Good below — 

And the result is, the poor Body soon 

Sinks under what was meant a wondrous boon, 

Leaving its bright accomplice all aghast. 

So much was plain then, proper in the Past ; 
To be complete for, satisfy the whole 
Series of spheres — Eternity, his soul 
Exceeded, so was incomplete for, each 
One sphere — our Time. But does our knowledge reach 
No farther ? Is the cloud of hindrance broke 
But by the failing of the fleshly yoke, 
Its loves and hates, as now when they let soar 
The spirit, self-sufficient as before, 
Tho' but the single space that shall elapse 
Twixt its enthralment in new bonds perhaps ? 
Must Life be ever but escaped, which should 
Have been enjoyed ? nay, might have been and would, 
Once ordered rightly, and a Soul's no whit 
More than the Body's purpose under it 
( A- breadth of watery heaven like a bay, 
A sky-like space of water, ray for ray 
And star for star, one richness where they mixed 
As this and that wing of an angel, fixed, 



240 SORDELLO. 

Tumultuary splendours folded in 

To die) and which thus, far from first begin 

Exciting discontent, had surest quelled 

The Body if aspiring it rebelled. 

But how so order Life ? Still brutalize 

The soul, the sad world's method — muffled eyes 

To all that was before, shall after be 

This sphere — and every other quality 

Save some sole and immutable Great and Good 

And Beauteous whither fate has loosed its hood 

To follow ? Never may some soul see All 

— The Great before and after and the Small 

Now, yet be saved by this the simplest lore, 

And take the single course prescribed before, 

As the king-bird with ages on his plumes 

Travels to die in his ancestral glooms ? 

But where descry the Love that shall select 

That course ? Here is a Soul whom to affect 

Nature has plied with all her means — from trees 

And flowers — e'en to the Multitude . . . and these 

Decides he save or no ? One word to end ! 

Ah my Sordello, I this once befriend 
And speak for you. A Power above him still 
Which, utterly incomprehensible, 



SORDELLO. 241 

Is out of rivalry, which thus he can 

Love, tho' unloving all conceived by Man — 

What need ! And of — none the minutest duct 

To that out-Nature, nought that would instruct 

And so let rivalry begin to live — 

But of a Power its representative 

Who, being for authority the same. 

Communication different, should claim 

A course the first chose and this last revealed — 

This Human clear, as that Divine concealed — 

The utter need ! 

What has Sordello found ? 
Or can his spirit go the mighty round 
At length, end where our souls begun ? as says 
Old fable, the two doves were sent two ways 
About the world — where in the midst they met 
Tho' on a shifting waste of sand, men set 
Jove's temple ? Quick, what has Sordello found ? 
For they approach — approach — that foot's rebound . . 
Palma ? No, Salinguerra tho' in mail ; 
They mount, have reached the threshold, dash the veil 
Aside— and you divine who sat there dead 
Under his foot the badge ; still, Palma said, 
A triumph lingering in the wide eyes 
Wider than some spent swimmer's if he spies 

R 



242 BORDELLO. 

Help from above in his extreme despair 

And, head far back on shoulder thrust, turns there 

With short and passionate cry ; as Palma prest 

In one great kiss her lips upon his breast 

It beat. By this the hermit-bee has stopped 

His day's toil at Goito — the new cropped 

Dead vine-leaf answers, now *tis eve, he bit, 

Twirled so, and filed all day — the mansion s fit 

God counselled for ; as easy guess the word 

That passed betwixt them and become the third 

To the soft small unfrighted bee, as tax 

Him with one fault — so no remembrance racks 

Of the stone maidens and the font of stone 

He, creeping thro* the crevice, leaves alone — 

Alas, my friend — Alas Sordello ! whom 

Anon we laid within that cold font-tomb — 

And yet again alas ! 

And now is 't worth 
Our while bring back to mind, much less set forth 
How Salinguerra extricates himself 
Without Sordello ? Ghibellin and Guelf 
May fight their fiercest ? If Count Richard sulked 
In durance or the Marquis paid his mulct, 
Who cares, Sordello gone ? The upshot, sure, 
Was peace ; our chief made some frank overture 



SORDELLO. 243 

That prospered ; compliment fell thick and fast 
On its disposer, and Taurello passed 
With foe and friend for an outstripping soul 
Nine days at least : then, fairly reached the goal, 
He, by one effort, blotted the great hope 
Out of his mind, no further tried to cope 
With Este that mad evening's style, but sent 
Away tlie Legate and the League, content 
No blame at least the brothers had incurred, 
— Despatched a message to the Monk he heard 
Patiently first to last, scarce shivered at. 
Then curled his limbs up on his wolfskin mat 
And ne'er spoke more, — informed the Ferrarese 
He but retained their rule so long as these 
Lingered in pupilage — and last, no mode 
Apparent else of keeping safe the road 
From Germany direct to Lombardy 
For Friedrich, none, that is, to guarantee 
The faith and promptitude of who should next 
Obtain Sofia's dowry, sore perplexed — 
(Sofia being youngest of the tribe 
Of daughters Ecelin was wont to bribe 
The envious magnates with — nor since he sent 
Enrico Egna this fair child had Trent 
R 2 



244 SORDELLO. 

Once failed the Kaiser s purposes — we lost 

Egna last year, and who takes Egna's post — 

Opens the Lombard gate if Friedrich knock ?) 

Himself espoused the Lady of the Rock 

In pure necessity, and so destroyed 

His slender last of chances, quite made void 

Old prophecy, and spite of all the schemes 

Overt and covert, youth's deeds, age's dreams, 

Was sucked into Romano : and so hushed 

He up this evening's work, that when, 'twas brushed 

Somehow against by a blind chronicle 

Which, chronicling whatever woe befell 

Ferrara, scented this the obscure woe 

And " Salinguerra's sole son Giacomo 

Deceased, fatuous and doting, ere his Sire," 

The townsfolk rubbed their eyes, could but admire 

Which of Soj&a's five he meant. The chaps 

Of his dead hope were tardy to collapse, 

Obliterated not the beautiful 

Distinctive features at a crash — scarce dull 

Next year, as Azzo, Boniface withdrew 

Each to his stronghold ; then (securely too 

Ecelin at Campese slept—close by 

Who likes may see him in Solagna lie 



BORDELLO. 245 

With cushioned head and gloved hand to denote 

The Cavalier he was) — then his heart smote 

Young Ecelin, conceive ! Long since adult, 

And, save Yicenza's business, what result 

In blood and blaze ? so hard 'twas intercept 

Sordello till Sordello's option ! Stept 

Its lord on Lombardy — for in the nick 

Of time when he at last and Alberic 

Closed with Taurello, came precisely news 

That in Yerona half the souls refuse 

Allegiance to the Marquis and the Count — 

Have cast them from a throne they bid him mount. 

Their Podesta, thro' his ancestral worth : 

Ecelin flew there, and the town henceforth 

Was wholly his — Taurello sinking back 

From temporary station to a track 

That suited : news received of this acquist, 

Friedrich did come to Lombardy — who missed 

Taurello ? Yet another year — they took 

Yicenza, left the Marquis scarce a nook 

For refuge, and, when hundreds two or three 

After conspired to call themselves " the Free," 

Opposing Alberic, these Bassanese, 

(Without Sordello !) — Ecelin at ease 



246 SORDELLO. 

Slaughtered them so observably that oft 

A little Salinguerra looked with soft 

Blue eyes up, asked his sire the proper age 

To get appointed his proud uncle's page : 

More years passed, and that sire was dwindled down 

To a mere showy turbulent soldier, grown 

Better through age, his parts still in repute, 

Subtle — how else ? — but hardly so astute 

As his contemporaneous friends professed — 

Undoubtedly a brawler — for the rest. 

Known by each neighbour, so allowed for, let 

Keep his incorrigible ways, nor fret 

Men who had missed their boyhood's bugbear — trap 

The ostrich, suffer our bald osprey flap 

A battered pinion — was the word. In fine. 

One flap too much and Venice's marine 

Was meddled with ; no overlooking that ! 

We captured him in his Ferrara, fat 

And florid at a banquet, more by fraud 

Than force, to speak the truth — there 's slender laud 

Ascribed you for assisting eighty years 

To pull his death on such a man — fate shears 

The life-cord prompt enough whose last fine threads 

You fritter : so, presiding his board-head, 



SORDELLO. 247 

A great smile your assurance all went well 
With Friedrich (as if he were like to tell !) 
In rushed (a plan contrived before) our friends, 
Made some pretence at fighting, just amends 
For the shame done his eighty years — apart 
The principle, none found it in his heart 
To be much angry with Taurello — gained 
Our galleys with the prize, and w^hat remained 
But carry him to Venice for a show ? 
— Set him, as 'twere, down gently-^free to go 
His gait, inspect our square, pretend observe 
The swallows soaring their eternal curve 
Twixt Theodore and Mark, if citizens 
Gathered importunately, fives and tens. 
To point their children the Magnifico, 
All but a monarch once in firm-land, go 
His gait among us now — it took, indeed, 
Fully this Ecelin to supersede 
That man, remarked the seniors. Singular 
Sordello's inability to bar 
Rivals the stage, that evening, mainly brought 
About by his strange disbelief that aught 
Was to be done, should fairly thrust the Twain 
Under Taurello's tutelage, that, brain 



248 SORDELLO. 

And heart and hand, he forthwith in one rod 

Indissolubly bound to baffle God 

Who loves the world — should thus allow the thin 

Grey wizened dwarfish devil Ecelin, 

And massy-mascled big-boned Alberic 

(Mere man, alas) to put his problem quick 

To demonstration — prove wherever s will 

To do, there's plenty to be done, or ill 

Or good : anointed, then, to rend and rip — 

Kings of the gag and flesh -hook, screw and whip, 

They plagued the world : a touch of Hildebrand 

(So far from obsolete !) made Lombards band 

Together, cross their coats as for Christ's cause, 

And saving Milan win the world's applause. 

Ecelin perished : and I think grass grew 

Never so pleasant as in Yalley Hu 

By San Zenon where Alberic in turn 

Saw his exasperated captors burn 

Seven children with their mother, and, regaled 

So far, tied on to a wild horse, was trailed 

To death through raunce and bramble-bush : I take 

God's part and testify that mid the brake 

Wild o'er his castle on Zenone's knoll 

You hear its one tower left, a belfry, toll — 



SORDELLO. 249 

Cherups the contumacious grasshopper, 
Rustles the lizard and the cushats chirre 
Above the ravage : there, at deep of day 
A week since, heard I the old Canon say- 
He saw with his own eyes a barrow burst 
And Alberic's huge skeleton unhearsed 
Five years ago, no more : he added, June's 
A month for carding off our first cocoons 
The silkworms fabricate— a double news. 
Nor he nor I could tell the worthier. Choose ! 
And Naddo gone, all's gone ; not Eglamor ! 
Believe I knew the face I waited for, 
A guest my spirit of the golden courts : 
Oh strange to see how, despite ill-reports, 
Disuse, some wear of years, that face retained 
Its joyous look of love ! Suns waxed and waned. 
And still my spirit held an upward flight. 
Spiral on spiral, gyres of life and light 
More and more gorgeous — ever that face there 
The last admitted ! crossed, too, with some care 
As perfect triumph were not sure for all. 
But on a few enduring damp must fall, 
A transient struggle, haply a painful sense 
Of the inferior nature's clinging — whence 



250 SORDELLO. 

Slight starting tears easily wiped away, 
Fine jealousies soon stifled in the play 
Of irrepressible admiration — not 
Aspiring, all considered, to their lot 
Who ever, just as they prepare ascend 
Spiral on spiral, wish thee well, impend 
Thy frank delight at their exclusive track, 
That upturned fervid face and hair put back ! 

Is there no more to say ? He of the rhymes — 
Many a tale of this retreat betimes 
Was born : Sordello die at once for men ? 
The Chroniclers of Mantua tired their pen 
Relating how a Prince Yisconti saved 
Mantua and elsewhere notably behaved — 
Who thus by fortune's ordering events 
Passed with posterity to all intents 
For just the God he never could become : 
As Knight, Bard, Gallant, men were never dumb 
In praise of him : while what he should have been, 
Could be, and was not — the one step too mean 
For him to take, we suffer at this day 
Because of ; Ecelin had pushed away 
Its chance ere Dante could arrive to take 
That step Sordello spurned, for the world's sake : 



SORDELLO. 251 

He did much — but Sordello's step was gone. 
Thus had Sordello ta'en that step alone, 
Apollo had been compassed — 'twas a fit 
He wished should go to him, not he to it 
— As one content to merely be supposed 
Singing or fighting elsewhere, while he dozed 
Really at home*— and who was chiefly glad 
To have achieved the few real deeds he had 
Because that way assured they were not worth 
Doing, so spared from doing them henceforth — 
A tree that covets fruitage and yet tastes 
Never itself, itself — had he embraced 
Our cause then, Men had plucked Hesperian fruit 
And, praising that, just thrown him in to boot 
All he was anxious to appear but scarce 
Solicitous to be : a sorry farce 
Such life is after all — cannot I say 
He lived for some one better thing ? this way — 
Lo, on a heathy brown and nameless hill 
By sparkling Asolo, in mist and chill, 
Morning just up, higher and higher runs 
A child barefoot and rosy— See ! the sun's 
On the square castle's inner- court's green wall 
— Like the chine of some fossil animal 



252 SORDELLO. 

Half turned to earth and flowers ; and thro' the haze 

(Save where some slender patches of grey maize) 

Are to be overleaped) that boy has crost 

The whole hill-side of dew and powder-frost 

Matting the balm and mountain camomile : 

Up and up goes he, singing all the while 

Some unintelligible words to beat 

The lark, God's poet, swooning at his feet 

So worsted is he at the few fine locks 

Stained like pale honey oozed from topmost rocks 

Sunblanched the livelong summer. — All that's left 

Of the Goito lay ! And thus bereft, 

Sleep and forget, Sordello ... in effect 

He sleeps, the feverish poet — I suspect 

Not utterly companionless ; but, friends. 

Wake up ; the ghost's gone, and the story ends 

I'd fain hope, sweetly — seeing, peri or ghoul, 

That spirits are conjectured fair or foul. 

Evil or good, judicious authors think, 

According as they vanish in a stink 

Or in a perfume : friends be frank : ye snuff 

Civet, I warrant : really ? Like enough — 

Merely the savour's rareness — any nose 

May ravage with impunity a rose— 



SORDELLO. 253 



Rifle a musk-pod and 'twill ache like yours : 
I'd tell you that same pungency ensures 
An after-gust — but that were overbold : 
Who would has heard Sordello's story told. 



THE END. 



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