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Slade, ‘Ere your letter came’ 26/07/2011

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Vernon Arnold Slade’s fourth poetical epistole: 10 December, 1906

Ere your letter came, bright sunshine

Broke my swamping cloud the thunder

Rolled away and laughed remotely

At my tremors. Dark Anita

Came next morning to my chamber;

Swore the wicked fiend possessed her

When she spoke, and prayed forgiveness:

Him she’d exorcised with candles

Trebled on her tiny altar.

Her remorse was naively cheerful

Like a child who, reprimanded,

Sulks an hour and says returning

‘Please I’m good now; won’t you kiss me?

It’s a case of pique quite clearly

She’d a quarrel with Pietro

Her tall lover who’s reclaimed her.

While she, smiling, begged my pardon

He was waiting in the doorway;

And a note for fifty lire

Made them glad as birds in April.

Now they’re man and wife, and dwelling

In this house with me as tenant

Whom they treat as lord and master.

Her old father chuckles proudly

O’er a wilful bird safe-nested,

‘No more plaints and no more flapping

Skyward after stars alluring.

Now she’s mated.’ So he mutters.

Well, my love’s gone and we’re plighted.

Wholly trusting and contented.

Three days spent in restful languor

Eased the rapid pulse; the roses

Bloomed again as in my portrait

I’ve recorded – just a twinkle

In the brown eyes deep and drowsy

Like a sparkle in a wine-cup.

I can see you smile, old cynic!

My revenge will come, don’t doubt it

When the love-god overtakes you.

I’ve a new friend in a novice

Chance-met in a street one morning

Where I’d lost my way. My query

Drew his gay reply in English

Naively formed and scorning S’s

As their wont is with Italians.

Like the pianist ecstatic

In Giorgione’s lovely ‘Chorus’

Is his glance that ebbs or brightens

As a flame the breezes flutter.

Thrice a week he comes for lessons,

Never prompt and always tiring

Ere his task’s complete. Though facile

Both of hand and eye, he cheapens

All his work with vain convention

Trite and symbolising nothing.

Ere a work’s half done he’s listless,

Rapt anew by some stray fancy

Which his body’s poise expresses

With a kind of wanton languor

That’s Italia. Never people

Felt the primal curse so keenly

‘In thy brow’s sweat shalt thou labour

All thy days:’ and they, like Adam,

Seize the plough but ever backward

Gaze on some receding glory.

For the youth I feel compassion,

Sworn to priesthood ere he’s twenty.

Seldom he’s austere. He whistles

Love songs full of threats and kisses

Wave on wave of wild ‘crescendo’

Like a pigeon wooing hotly:

Here’s a snatch may serve as sampler.

Of songs I have a store within

Love-taught; my dancing senses spin

To hear them on the violin.

And, should that sweet girl satisfy

My soul; and she her tongue untie

In song, while pity brimmed her eye,

What solace would my spirit drink!

Ah, then for her my notes I’d link

Blithe as a warbling bobolink.

Dear golden angel whom I’d teach

To sing of love; forbidden peach

Full ripe and hanging out of reach,

Bright sun above the lowly rye

Look down upon me ere I die

For love of thee aloft so high!

Here the most of art and music

But exploits such pagan senses.

You will find in crypt and courtyard

Not the spirit’s strife exalted,

But each type of human impulse.

Doll Christs nestle close to Mary

Clad in gaudy robes; about her

Kneel the saints with lips disparted

As though sipping unseen nectar.

Wrapt in a most sensual languor.

You’ve a hint of this in Sarto’s

Bland ‘Madonna of the Harpies’

With the saints in adoration

Round the smiling babe who whispers

‘Foolish men; I’m really Cupid

Creeping slyly to Griefs bosom:

On the morrow she’ll be merry.’

It’s an art that leaves no summit

For the spirit’s upward toiling

Such as northern tempers cherish.

Does such art advance man’s stature

In the civil scale? I doubt it.

Don’t forget there’s Leonardo,

Angelo and Botticelli

Shall I venture Donatello?

Men who touch the universal,

From my scruples clear exempted.

There is music played each Sunday

In the Park, that draws all beauty.

Horse, man, woman, like a magnet.

Black-haired donnas walk there hatless,

(As at home our northern mill-hands)

Tousled heads and powdered faces:

(Powder’s such a swift ablution;

Gives a peach bloom; water roughens)

Officers, their gold braid shining

In the keen December sunshine,

Pace the walks with cloaks flung round

them

Like the Belvidere Apollo,

Truculent or vainly smiling

At the brown girls promenading;

Nuns, with hats like toy feluccas

In full sail, move slowly forward;

Much-bejewelled matrons jostle

A slim nurse whose pale blue streamers

Gaily flutter from her bonnet,

As she shakes a Punchinello

At her charge who laughs responsive.

All the way down the Lung Amo

Eye meets eye in shameless challenge.

While the full lips prelude loving

In a manner hardly sacred.

There’s a hint of snow-capped mountains

Just beyond the four arched bridges

All a-glitter like gold fetters

Linking towns of dream together

Over pearl streams. Groups of cypress

Sentinel remoter Edens

On the sky-line. Opened windows

Flash a sparkle down the vista.

Arno’s barred with white where softly

O’er the weir its waters tumble.

There a score of gazing loafers

Lean enraptured by the motion

Of the ripples sudden plashing

O’er the stone shelf into billows

Tossing for a yard’s width under.

Then a chain of pack-mules greet you,

With their tiny bells a-jingle,

Which the driver cheers with music

Chanted in a thin falsetto.

Passing thence into some byeway

Seems like diving under water,

Such a swift chill gloom accepts you;

Narrow streets and lofty houses

Ban the sunshine so completely

That you fancy for a moment

Sudden storm-clouds have descended.

So felt I when last I wrote you.

Now the vista’s one long sparkle:

That’s my life and all its promise

To my lover’s gaze; I’ll warrant

Three new pictures done ere Christmas

Proving that I’m no mere dreamer.

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