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Slade, ‘Since this must be my final’ 25/10/2011

Posted by florencecapital in Uncategorized.
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Vernon Arnold Slade’s seventh poetical epistle: Florence, 10 March 1908

Since this must be my final ere we meet

In London on Good Friday, you shall come

And gaze your last on Florence from the hill

Where ‘David’s’ bronze replica, dominant,

Stares out intrepid on his unseen foes

Past tower, tree, and villa unabashed.

There’s surely no man born could frown him down,

Or move his calm and kingly arrogance

From its fell purpose.

Florence lies below

Like scattered shingle on a desert strand

Where waves have flung their pearl and amber down,

So bright the houses gleam below the hills.

If it’s a sunny day and clear, you’ll view

Fiesole perched high and looped about

With spiral roads that make the way seem long

So often do you turn and turn about

Before you reach the tall lean tower that tolls

The hours for labour and the church’s call.

Then further to your right there’s Ripoli;

A snowy-terraced mountain lies beyond

That tells of air too chilly for the vines;

And to your left tall Mount Morello tilts

A bare grey shoulder into the blue sky.

It’s only half a minute you’ll stay so

Before a tout comes wheedling with his wares.

You fly him like the pest he is, and leap

The steps alternate on the steep stone way

That slants through trees precipitously down

To Porta San Miniato where they tax

All dutiable produce passing through.

Keep on due north and soon you’ll cross a Bridge

Over the river romping to its bourne;

On the green edge gay petticoats a-gleam

Where Arno serves as wash-tub for the wives.

From a high window in a neighbouring palace

A grey-garbed signorina lures your eye

With such a growth of bronze hair in thick braids

Not needing ribbon to maintain it so

In all its wiry vigour freshly coiled,

And such a poise of figure as she leans

Her bare arms on a faded balcony.

Above, a half-obliterated bust

Struck from the stone to mark some ancient triumph,

Looks down on the plebeian multitude

Crowned with vain laurel garlands that acclaim

To all the world its futile arrogance.

I haunt this bridge at nightfall for the sake

Of serenaders with their mandolines

Who, with their trilling, snare light coins that

Fall from blazing hotel windows opened wide,

Along the Arno all the lamps a-row

Shoot down long spears of light into the stream.

The plaintive music swells and ebbs and dies;

Lights twinkle; and the water tremulous

Reflects the thousand lamps like truant stars

Drawn earthward from their chilly altitudes

By the long-wailing music’s amorous tone.

From the far bank the vesper chimes float down

To flout these chants of pagan minstrelsy,

From belfries where the priest-like cypress trees

Keep their eternal vigil night and day.

Here is an echo of a plaintive song,

Song in high tenor there a week ago

English dims its native colouring.

Lovely and strong, now man at his labour

Yearns for his bride.

One that waits for him only I am forsaken.

Now is the vintage come and the vintners

Work in the sun,

Red blood swift in its ferment

Feeding their sinews.

Singing they move in line, and the trellis

Yieldeth its fruit.

Young boys swift to the wine-press

Bear it in baskets.

Laden twixt arm and hip, they are moving

Downward the slope,

One arm wide and the other

Crooked to the burden.

Yonder the brook runs swift, and the cresses

Shake to its song.

Girls spread over the willows

Newly-rinsed linen.

White as the snow it gleams or the lilies

White in the fields;

White swan’s down is not whiter

Cast on the river.

Lovely and strong now man at his labour

Yearns for his bride,

One that waits for him only

I am forsaken.

Wandering last night among the gloomy bow’rs

That crest Mount Oliveto, 1 was moved

By a most gaunt old cypress tree that seemed

The spirit of my darker self that leant

His cheek to mine and whispered ‘All is ill.

The earth is grown too old and topples downward

Into that sunless chaos whence she rose

Because the elder gods are all forgot’.

His cone was a black finger on the sky

Where thunder muttered; and the scared wind smote

The pliant boughs into a hymn of praise

In honour of gods forgotten utterly.

The rain fell downward, hissing in my ears;

Frayed birds fled homeward; and I shut my

Eyes enchaining so the phantom images

Raised by the thunder’s riot; and I heard

Hard breathing and the hurried beat of hooves

From men and beasts, as in an earlier day,

Battling anew for mastery of the world

The cypress sang another song of old.

When grief was sin and strength was bom of joy,

All trees that flourished were as ministers

To hearten and console; their boughs conspired

In benediction round the homes of men.

Well, that’s my fancy. Here the thing’s worked out

Into a chant slow sung reproachfully

By hidden dryads to complaining boors

In times when these lacked trains and telephones,

Three posts a day and pensions from the state,

And yet perchance were happier. Who shall say?

Are things uncouth?

There shall be loveliness if you be kind.

Fear draws a veil o’er beauty,

Death’s own shadow.

Fear not your kin;

For if all men be watchers who shall toil!

Chill hearts among the sowers

Chill earth’s bosom.

O, soft and brave

Are men who earn our favour, maiming naught.

Mindful are they and cherish

Newt and fledgling;

And when these pass,

Or a frayed squirrel scampers up the bole,

Clap not their hands nor gather

Mirth from terror.

Who snare or slay

Snare their own spirit, clip the wings of joy;

Nor shall the earth for slayers

Yield her plenty.

All things that live

Share of their loveliness with them that love.

Our breath shall shape their nostrils,

Fan their pulses.

Farewell till Friday week, I’m loth to leave

My lair among the house-tops with its view

Of Giotto’s bell-tower leaping to the sky

Most like a froz’n cascade, all iridescent,

My uncompleted canvas, and my hosts

So prompt and sedulous to all my needs.

But other things a-tugging at my heart

Make call peremptory – my village home.

Green fields, trim hedgerows and my mother tongue

From voices that I love among the Downs.

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