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

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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.

Daisies of Florence by Kathleen Raine 18/10/2011

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This poem by Kathleen Raine (obit 2003) was first published in 1965.

Bambini picking daisies in the new spring grass

Of the Boboli gardens

Now and now and now in rosy-petalled fingers hold

The multitude of time.

To the limits of the small and fine florets innumerable of white and gold

They know their daisies real.


Botticelli with daisies from the timeless fields of recollection scatters

That bright Elysium or Paradise

Whose flowers none can gather,

Where spirits immortal walk for ever

With her who walks through spring after spring in primavera robed,

Ripening the transient under her veil.

Banking in Shakespeare’s Florence 04/10/2011

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Taming of the Shrew IV, II: The Pedant Speaks

Alas, sir, it is worse for me than so!
For I have bills for money by exchange
From Florence, and must here deliver them.

Slade, ‘I’ve been to the Certosa’ 27/09/2011

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Vernon Arnold Slade’s sixth poetical epistle: Florence, 28 February 1908

I’ve been to the Certosa. On a mount

The Abbey perches amid cypress trees

Slim-shaped as needles set the wrong end up

To spear the cloud-wrack that goes drifting by.

A white-robed friar with a shining pate

Close-shaven, for a fee will pilot you,

And speak in slow French in your ear’s unused

To bear the torrent of Italian.

They’ve Brunelleschi cloisters, panels wrought

By Andrea della Robbia in his prime;

And one pale slab shows Michael’s prentice hand

At work upon the mitre of a priest

In death’s last sleep recumbent All around

The mountains rise like billows; and, from thence,

Far belfries peer like sunken masts at sea

And toll the hour to shepherds. The warm air

Has more of languor than your Scotch hills know

Besieged by dark battalions of tall pines

Whose vanguard’s lost in cloud like battlesmoke

About their hidden summits. Here the vines

And olives fledge the hillsides in long files

To the remotest vistas of the south;

And northward past Galuzzo where the line

Curves into Gelsomino – such a sight!

On this same highway you may pass to Rome

By gaunt Siena and a hundred hills

Still bearing on their breasts the unhealing scars

Of that inhuman tempest in whose broils

Proud Florence battened on her weaker peers

It was a grey day when I went. The wind

Snatched up the clouds and would not let them pause

To comfort the dry vales; in sudden puffs

It smote the roadway dust into a steam

Like water on red embers loth to die.

About the Abbey’s base there ran a brook

In merry ripples that the sun made dance

Thro’ slits in the grey cloud. A gipsy camp

With three rude shanties set on aching wheels

Was pitched beside it; and about the fire

Two boys, a monkey, and a shaggy mule

Tied by his fetlock to a stump of wood

A picture ready for the hand of Claude.

From Christian World to Pagan’s but a span

In that long bridge that links eternal time.

I’ve been to the museum where a store

Of shattered remnants from Etruria

Crowd the low rooms; above Egyptian runes

Press close on antique vases, urns, and rings,

And Greek and Roman bronzes turned to green;

Helmets and armour from the loot of Kings

Once crowned in cities now depopulate;

Rams’ heads with hollow eyes, and mouths agape;

A war-steed’s head and neck all creased to show

The bridle’s sudden tension in the mouth.

The stress upon the haunches, and the snort

That spread his eager nostrils gaping wide;

Blurred hand-mirrors that brightly once gave back

The proud glance of some beauty in her prime;

Snapped spears, cracked bucklers, all things that attest

Dead valour, futile beauty, fill the mind

With dust of chariots and the shout of men

Defiant on the far dim verge of time.

Well, well, I fall to ranting. To be brief

For all these marvels – for the owls, storks, bulls,

And long-horned antelopes that haunted once

The reedy waters of old Father Nile,

I care but little – more remote to me

Than the Chimera whose long tail becomes

A serpent self-devouring at the tip.

Two things I treasured; one, a weeping girl

And one, a scornful peasant gazing back.

I chose, in fancy, to connect the two

And call the girl abandoned, whence there came

The three-versed poem that I here append.

Sung to a reed-pipe when the world was younger.

O! lover passing in the night

Beneath my window, hear my cry!

I cannot see the lantern’s light

For bitter tears fast flowing by

O! help me, help me ere I die.

By day thou reapest in the field

My dear brown god amid the grain;

And I by night to thee would yield

This virgin body without stain.

Ah me! Ah me! the bitter pain!

Come to me ere the harvest goes,

Ere all the hot sun’s golden shine

Suck dry the full heart of the rose,

Ere all my sweetness turn to brine.

Ah! lover dear for whom I pine!

I’m well and working hard, but I can give

No details of my painting, for, alas!

I find my rhymed lament has filled the quire.

On a Portrait of Dante by Giotto by James Lowell 16/09/2011

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James Lowell (obit 1891) included this poem in his volume Miscellaneous Poems (1843).

Can this be thou who, lean and pale,
With such immitigable eye
Didst look upon those writhing souls in bale,
And note each vengeance, and pass by
Unmoved, save when thy heart by chance
Cast backward one forbidden glance,
And saw Francesca, with child’s glee,
Subdue and mount thy wild-horse knee
And with proud hands control its fiery prance?

With half-drooped lids, and smooth, round brow,
And eye remote, that only sees
Fair Beatrice’s spirit wandering now
In some sea-lulled Hesperides,
Thou movest through the jarring street,
Secluded from the noise of feet
By her gift-blossom in thy hand,
Thy branch of palm from Holy Land;
No trace is here of ruin’s fiery sleet.

Yet there is something round thy lips
That prophesies the coming doom,
The soft, gray herald-shadow ere the eclipse
Notches the perfect disk with gloom;
A something that would banish thee,
And thine untamed pursuer be,
From men and their unworthy fates,
Though Florence had not shut her gates,
And Grief had loosed her clutch and let thee free.

Ah! he who follows fearlessly
The beckonings of a poet-heart
Shall wander, and without the world’s decree,
A banished man in field and mart;
Harder than Florence walls the bar
Which with deaf sternness holds him far
From home and friends, till death’s release,
And makes his only prayer for peace,
Like thine, scarred veteran of a lifelong war!

Alma Mater by Amy Levy 13/09/2011

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‘Alma Mater’ appeared in A London Plane-Tree And Other Verse in 1889 the year of her suicide. Her Alma Mater is Cambridge where she studied at Newnham College.

Today in Florence all the air

Is soft with spring, with sunlight fair;

In the tall street gay folks are met;

Duomo and Tower gleam overhead,

Like jewels in the city set,

Fair-hued and many-faceted.

Against the old grey stones are piled

February violets, pale and sweet,

Whose scent of earth in woodland wild

Is wafted up and down the street.

The city’s heart is glad; my own

Sits lightly on its bosom’s throne.

Why is it that I see to-day,

Imaged as clear as in a dream,

A little city far away,

A churlish sky, a sluggish stream,

Tall clustering trees and gardens fair,

Dark birds that circle in the air,

Grey towers and fanes; on either hand,

Stretches of wind-swept meadow-land?

Oh, who can sound the human breast?

And this strange truth must be confessed;

That city do I love the best

Wherein my heart was heaviest.

Lucentio’s Education in Florence 06/09/2011

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Taming of the Shrew, I, I: Lucentio speaks

Tranio, since for the great desire I had
To see fair Padua, nursery of arts,
I am arriv’d for fruitful Lombardy,
The pleasant garden of great Italy,
And by my father’s love and leave am arm’d
With his good will and thy good company,
My trusty servant well approv’d in all,
Here let us breathe, and haply institute
A course of learning and ingenious studies.
Pisa, renowned for grave citizens,
Gave me my being and my father first,
A merchant of great traffic through the world,
Vincentio, come of the Bentivolii;
Vincentio’s son, brought up in Florence
It shall become to serve all hopes conceiv’d,
To deck his fortune with his virtuous deeds.
And therefore, Tranio, for the time I study,
Virtue and that part of philosophy
Will I apply that treats of happiness
By virtue specially to be achiev’d.
Tell me thy mind; for I have Pisa left
And am to Padua come as he that leaves
A shallow plash to plunge him in the deep,
And with satiety seeks to quench his thirst.

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.

Reminiscence by Amy Lee 09/08/2011

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‘Reminiscence’ appeared in A London Plane-Tree And Other Verse in 1889 the year of her suicide

It is so long gone by, and yet

How clearly now I see it all!

The glimmer of your cigarette,

The little chamber, narrow and tall.

Perseus; your picture in its frame;

(How near they seem and yet how far!)

The blaze of kindled logs; the flame

Of tulips in a mighty jar.

Florence and spring-time: surely each

Glad things unto the spirit saith.

Why did you lead me in your speech

To these dark mysteries of death ?

Lucentio’s Transformation 02/08/2011

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Taming of the Shrew, I, I

Basta, content thee, for I have it full.
We have not yet been seen in any house,
Nor can we be distinguish’d by our faces
For man or master. Then it follows thus:
Thou shalt be master, Tranio, in my stead,
Keep house and port and servants, as I should;
I will some other be; some Florentine
Some Neapolitan, or meaner man of Pisa.
’Tis hatch’d, and shall be so. Tranio, at once
Uncase thee; take my colour’d hat and cloak.
When Biondello comes, he waits on thee;
But I will charm him first to keep his tongue.