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Slade, ‘New Year dawned’ 23/08/2011

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Vernon Arnold Slade’s fifth poetical epistole: Florence, 2 January 1907

New Year dawned on frosted windows;

All the hills were veiled; the belfries

Chimed their holy summons dimly

Through the haze; while youths went chanting

Songs of carnival in chorus.

Such dull weather’s ill for Florence;

With the sun goes half her beauty,

What are all those wave-stained bastions

With the plaster slowly flaking,

Licked by Arno, without sunlight?

Those defaced facades discoloured

By inclement Time; those pillars

Peeping shapely from the plaster

Like a live limb out of chaos?

Light’s the thing enhances colour

Makes the ten poor rags that flutter

On yon clothes-line things of beauty,

Ten live tints; and glosses over

All decay and all dishonour

Wrought by Time or vandal blunder;

Gives a gold ground to the cypress

Cones thrust up into the sunlight

Clean as swords but sans their glitter;

Careless flings a myriad twinkling

Points of light upon the ilex;

Underlines the crumbled fret-work;

Puts new fire in faded dragons

Rampant on their worn escutcheons;

Heals and clarifies and cleanses.

Post gave way to rain this morning.

Arno’s flood leaps turbulently

Past each bridge in foaming eddies

Like the swine of old Gadara

Devil-spurred to self-destruction.

There’s a most astounding tumult

Where the weir’s self makes a sudden

Downfall of their swift impulsion,

And the rabble roars confounded.

Though I boast a high top-story

I’ve no light, and chilly fingers

Poorly warmed by two scaldinoes:

Hence to-day, I left my painting;

Hid my canvas in a corner

(Lest I found its glance too tempting)

;

Took my lamp and read dear Reynold’s

Counsel sage in his ‘Discourses’,

So urbane, so gentlemanly!

Out of this has grown a book-plate,

Interlacing vine and laurel

Round three cameo-heads. There’s Raphael

Fronting poor pope-pestered Michael

Whom he loved so; Titian under.

He of Venice only pardoned,

Throned aloof from all his fellows.

This I send: the thing may serve you

For some album’s front; or haply

Please your sister to embroider

Sans the heads, all which are taken

Much dwarfed, from Uffizi portraits.

Since my last, I’ve lost my novice,

Bruno Melli, who’s absconded

From his order, none knows whither.

I was fancied an abettor

Of his flight. A girl’s gone with him

From the flat below. A slattern

With a mole on her left eyebrow,

And grey eyes wide-spread. I marvel

Such an earthy goddess lured him.

Once she served me as a model

Languorous, unkempt, and frowsy

In a street scene selling flowers

Where she served to prop a corner

As her wont was. There’ll be sudden

Penitence, recrimination,

And the narrow aisle’s redemption

For poor Bruno. But – for Ida?

Well, again she’ll proffer flowers;

Prop the grey street corners, luring

Other Brunos, none that love her.

Will her numbed heart then remember

All is done for one dear Bruno

Snug there in the church’s bosom?

We shall see. His abjuration

Of the holy spouse won’t aid him

To find bread for the supplanter.

Bruno is some serving woman’s

Luckless child born out of wedlock,

Gossips hint a ducal father,

Twenty years ago, resulting

From a summer day’s hot fancy

In the vales of Vallombrosa

When not one small wind was moving

To assuage with gentle motion

The warm air’s intemperate ardour.

Him a humane dame adopted

Soon as born, and vowed to monkhood;

Hoped to make a new St. Francis

Of the amorous delinquent.

Poor vain fancies! Ida’s father

Grovels daily near the portals

Of San Marco, with a bandage

On one eye to mimic blindness.

Begging is a high profession.

One of the fine arts in Florence.

Ragged heaps of human flotsam

Whine for alms at every corner

Proffering, like ancient pontiffs,

Peace eternal for your ‘soldi’,

And damnation for refusal

Of their claims. They’re mimes and graceful

Always, spite of rage and foulness.

And the slow law’s idle menace.

Please allay your ‘shrewd suspicions’

As to the young wife. I’m gauging

Better now the shallow fancy

Of her sudden love. She’s bridled

Now, and moves along sedately.

All alert, apologetic

To myself your humble servant

Should she misdemean; she’s easy

To subdue. I’ll change my manner

Of address, and drop the trustful

Form, and use the second person;

Yield no thanks, and hint of leaving

That’s a loss of silver lire

To the coffers.

Tall Pietro

Now parades the streets as carter

To an export firm. He proudly

Tells me he has English horses

‘Always excellent, Signore’.

Old Francesco – that’s her father –

Acts as cook. We all on Sunday

Sit together at the table

For our mid-day meal. They’re flattered

Highly, and defer in all things

To my whim. The tender morsels

All come my way. After dinner

Babbo, Nita and Pietro

Puff their cigarettes quite gravely.

I, who cannot share their fancy

For the weed, tip up a flagon.

Fill my glass, and leaning backward

Sip Marsala or Spumante,

While they smoke and hum Mascagni.

Nita, with her full lips parted

And a curl of blue smoke passing

Slowly through that pearly portal,

With her black hair, coarse and glossy

As a horse’s mane, seems fashioned

For a sunnier realm than Florence

In these chilly days. She rather

Seems befitting to the harem

Of some bronzed Arabian Nimrod

Further south where lips grow ardent,

Fanned by airs that make the rosebuds

Pout and open wide their bosoms,

Begging all the bees to sip there.

I’m a dilatory scribe. Don’t serve me

With a like long term of silence.

Let instead your pen go gallop.

Promptly. Yield me good for evil.

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