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Passion-flowers

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Julia's Poetry: Passion-Flowers
Rome

I knew a day of glad surprise in Rome,

Free to the childish joy of wandering,

Without a 'wherefore' or 'to what good end?'

By querulous voice propounded, or a thought

Of punctual Duty, waiting at the door

Of home, With weapon duly poised to slay

Delight, ere it across the threshold bound.

I strayed, amassing wild flowers, ivy leaves,

Relics, and crusted marbles, gathering too

Thoughts of unending Beauty from the fields,

The hills, the skies, the ancient heathen shrines

Transfigured in the light of Christian day.

Coaxed by soft airs by gentlest odors flattered,

Conquered at last by the all-conquering sun,

My heart its sadly cherished silence brake,

And its long sealed tides flowed forth in song,

While bounding feet in gladdest rhythm moved.

For never do I walk abroad so well

Enwrapped from wintry blast, or from fierce heat

Of summer shaded, as when I may move

To the free cadence of mine own wild singing.

Nature on that fair day bestowed a grace

More than maternal. If, at its high noon

Young angels, from their heavenly school dismissed,

Had made their play-ground on that Roman earth,

Methinks, they would have sorrowed to return,

Mingling unwonted tears with dews of eve.

But the :Day waned, and soft as love in death

Bequeathed her admonition, warning me

Back to the shelter of my Roman home,

Where with my children, at the open window,

In the soft purple scarf of twilight folded,

I sate, and through the gathering dimness saw

Mystical shapes, that deepened into joy.

And thus I mused: there is a feast to-night
At such a palace, spread for high-born dames,
Princes, and dignitaries of the church.
There will be light and music, fit for those
Who make the music and the light of life -
The glancing wine-cup, and the stately dance -
All glory of rich tissues, wondrous webs,
And those white shoulders English women show.
There, ere so far we pass, the courtly whist
At which the humblest Cardinal may sit,
And illustrate his Christian poverty.

Mirrors and diamonds flash the brilliance back.
That emulates the clearer hue of day;
And Night is only in Italian eyes,
That take in light as the stars give it out,
Till they grow introspective, and reveal
Slumbering within, volcanic depths of nature,
How still when still, how passionate when roused.
Such will the feast be, (Oh! bethink you, friends!)
And I am bidden thither!
Gold and Gems!
I cannot show; if even my hair and eyes
(Now fading in the grasp of Time) had well
Deserved the ancient praise that named them so;
But in serenity of white attire
Folded transparent, I can fitly go,
Wearing my native courage on my bosom
That will not dim for Prelate nor for Prince.
And to that tinted atmosphere of courts
"Where new corruption ever crowds, albeit
All words and ways are so embalmed by use
That men are born half mummied, I shall bring
Rosy, the woodland breath of Liberty
From my far home, where men live as they list,
And only trees are victims.
I pursued
Further, in thought, my new-commenced career.
The winter, like a college boy's vacation,
Seemed endless to anticipate, and lay
Stretched in a boundless glittering before me,
Unfathomable in its free delight.
Or if Horizon-bounded like the sea,
I saw new seas beyond-- the sweeping line
Limits the known, but not the possible.
But what sad sight is this? I looked across
The street, up towards the cresting of the hill,
And there, before a humble door, beheld
Two men arrive, that bore a scanty), coffin
Of frailest wood and meanest fashioning.
They entered in the shadow Death had left,
And soon emerged with heavier steps, as bearing
One who should bear the weight of life no more,
Abandoned to his ghastly solitude,
As is the Roman custom. 0nly here
Wealth stood not in the room of tenderness,
Granting its escort of funereal pomp
On the brief journey to oblivion.
Here was no gorgeous pall, no garland pale;
Here thronged no Capuchins, with livid flare
Of torches, (which, however held, will drop
Wax on the paper held by thievish boys,)
Nor mumming penitents, that frighten babes,
Nor priest to fellow-priest responding deep.
Only a dingy Acolite, with dull
And leaden brow, walked sturdily along
After the wooden cross, No solemn dirge
Startled the heart with words o~" hope and judgment,
To wail of wounded Nature set - scarce might
I catch the ominous mumbling of a prayer,
As the sad pilgrim hurried to his shrine
Adown the sloping street.
But from that house
(I never learned who lived and died therein)
Or ere I knew, the lengthening shadow fell
Upon the dial of my life, and there
Marked the swift wearing of its day. As sure
As chimes of Heaven ring out the hour of man,
So surely, then, I heard that I must die.
And as the mystic whisper crept to me,
Methought the flowers about my room turned faint,
And the light texture of my festal robe,
That seemed to dream of floating in the dance,
Grew dank and heavy, as the linen shroud
That binds dead hearts, and with enduring fibre
Outlasts the wasting of their nobleness,
While I, Careering onward, high in hope
Was held to pause and tremble. I have been
In dangers of the sea and land, unscared;
And from the narrow gates of childbed oft
Have issued, bearing high my perilous prize
(The germ of angel-hood, from chaos rescued,)
With steadfast hope and courage; but this once
My heart so failed me, I was faint to turn
For comfort to the Nurse, and question thus :
'Must I leave all my treasures, all my loves,
And, like yon wretched corps,, be coldly laid
Beyond sweet Nature's daily miracle?'
She, with true Quickly cheeriness replied:
'There is no need to think about it now,
'So do not fret you, Madam ' - but I sat
Till twilight darkened into night and till
The gracious children dropped in sleep, and heard
Ever those threatening words, ' Thou too shalt die.'

A day of fuller joy arose for me
When the young Spring-tide came, and dark-eyed boys
Bound violets and anemones to sell.
The later light gave scope to long delight,
And I might stray, unhaunted by the fear
Of fever, or the chill of evening air,
While happiest companionship enriched
The ways whose very dust was gold before.
Then the enchantment of an orange grove
First overcame me, entering thy lone walks
Cloistered in twilight, Villa Massimo!
Where the stern cypresses stand up to guard
A thousand memories of blessedness.
There seemed a worship in the concentrate
Deep-breathing sweetness of those virgin flowers,
Fervid as worship as passionate souls
That have not found their vent in earthly life,
And soar too wild untaught, and sink unaided.
They filled the air with incense gathered up
For the pale vesper of the evening star.
Nor failed the rite of meet antiphony -
I felt the silence holy, holy, till a note
Fell, as a sound of ravishment from heaven-
Fell, as a star falls, trailing sound for light;
And, ere its thread of melody was broken,
From the serene sprang other sounds, its fellows,
Thug fluttered back celestial welcoming.
Astonished, penetrate, too past myself
To know I sinned in speaking, where a breath
Less exquisite was sacrilege, my lips
Gave passage to one cry: God I what is that?
(Oh! not to know what has no peer on earth!)
And one, not distant, stooped to me and said
'If ever thou recall thy friend afar,
Let him but be commemorate with this hour,
The first in which thou heard'st our Nightengale

Nor only to these holy solitudes
To my willing feet made duteous pilgrimage:
The grooving warmth unlocked for me the gates
Whence Rome once issued to subdue the world,
And, following in her footsteps, I might see
Where erst she strode forth towards the unknown waste,
Her splendor felt itself" empowered to fill.
How widely overflowed her noble soul,
Too great and generous to contain itself,
Gathering glory from the East, and then
(With kindred instinct of all luminous things)
Craving an outlet in the I Northern night,
As is if its depth alone could give her scope.
But the dim North had other laws than hers,
And took not from her will its destiny;
Its darkness swallowed up the light she gave
And seemed to quench it.. But, as none can tell
Among the sunbeams which unconscious one
Comes weaponed with celestial will, to strike
The stroke of Freedom on the fettered floods,
Giving the spring his watchword-- even so
Rome knew not she had spoke the word of Fate
That should, from out its sluggishness, compel
The frost-bound vastness of barbaric life,
Till, with an ominous sound, the torrent rose
And rushed upon her with terrific brow
Sweeping her back, through all her haughty ways,
To her own gates, a, piteous fugative --
A moment chafing at its limits there
To enter in, resistless, and o'erwhelm,
With heavy tides of death, her struggling breast.
Beguile we not to flights like this, thou Past
That, forced to abdicate the rod of rule,
Stretchest the wand of favor to our love,
And tempest souls from thy magnificence.
Here on the ruins of the Ancient world,
Thou sittest like harlot, to entrap
The manifold human heart with various gifts
The poet tender fool, must pause to wave
Aside thy shadowy veil, and gaze into
Thy melancholy eyes, that rivet him,
And yield his reason to thy wildering rhyme :
He sinks beside thee, looking, listening, longing,
And thou hast stolen the darling of the Age
That to his mother's breast returns no more.

The despot, that engirds with: bristling thorns:
Broad meadow lands of gracious human growth,
That they may yield their golden wealth at will
To wither in his prison granary-
Harvesting ruthlessly with headsman's axe,"
And sword unknightly, whose death-angels pause
And with slow fingers bind the immortal sheaves,-
He, hurrying in his greed of power and wealth,
Sees in thine hand unrighteous title-deeds,
And stops to bargain. Soon the compact's signed,
Empty of justice, not to sense aspiring,
But with a formula defying Heaven
That smiles down hope and promise, and the law
That metes the liberal sunshine equally.
Thou giv'st him right to wrong his fellows much,
Himself more, and God's image most of all.
Thou hast him, purchased at his own vile price,
And those who weep, waste not their tears on him.

Or yonder monkling, in unmanly garb,
With sturdy limbs fed fat in idleness,
Whose hands scorn labor, as his brain hates thought,
These stretched for alms, that busy with deceit,
Who trails from door to door his beggary,
Devoutest praylng, where the housewife's fair.
He is an image of thy modelling,
Spawn of ruder age, as one might say,
Some generations nearer brutes than we.
Shall he thrive on, upheld of thee, and live
A life that were a sanctimonious lie,
Had it but truth enough to be a lie?
Shall he still cheat the poor with demon fables,
And glittering trash, that holds the place of God?
Shall God himself, known through such medium,
Be held in horror of the human heart,
Whose inborn yearning for the love divine
Congeals, before the vengeful portraiture,
To terror, and estrangement wide as life?
Oh then, roll further back thy chariot wheels,
Even to the Ghetto of the hated Jew ;
In his poor synagogue's simplicity
Faith entcrs not in Fancy's masquerade
Accoutred for religion's revelry.
His Rabbi nothing adds or takes away,
Nothing assumes of mystic right or power,
But gives the ancient venerable word
With cautious lips and emphasis devout,
(Intent on reading as his fathers read,)
As if believing it, not he should teach.
He hath the oracles that Jesus loved,
Though suffering till tradition's jealous hand
To bind too closely o'er the face of Truth
Her veil of oriental tracery,
Which that serene One smilingly looks through,
Sure of her own and God's eternity.
From Sinai's height great Moses gives him laws
He hears as we, vibrating endlessly ."
The goldcn harp-strings of the poet-king,
While wondrous, widely gibed Solomon
Teaches his quaint philosophy of life,
And pictures passion holier than prayer.
Still in his prophets reading history,
He waits the Christ whom Christians show him not
Waiting with infinite loss, yet in one thing,
One only, happier than they--his faith
Enfolds intact in its integrity,
One treasure, which lies brokenly in theirs,
The deepest lesson of his Eastern skies,
Th' inviolable unity of God.

Still to the spirit of the Past I speak
As I discerned it there, in fateful league
With wanton weakness, selfishness and sin.
'No good survives the fitness of its time,
The semblance of the most transcendent form
That Friendship ever mourned in burial,
Should it revisit us with church-yard damps
And deathly odors scattering from its hair,
Were but a thing of ghastliness and dread
Fit for exorcisement. Thou hadst thy day,
And in it thy degree of grace and glory;
But now, rebellious to thy doom of change,
Thou throwest grimly on thy catafalque,
While Rome, that were as fragrant as God's Eden,
Could Nature only have her freshening way,
Must still exhale thee, shuddering, to the world,
Condemned to propagate the germ of death
Which thy decay holds festering in her heart

'Thou vampire Beauty, own that thou art dead,
Nor bind thy hollow brows with flowers of youth
That wither as they touch thee. Yield to us
The wealth thy spectral fingers cannot hold;
Bless us, and so depart, to lie in state,
Embalmed thy lifeless body, and thy shade
So clamorous now for bloody holocausts
Hallowed to peace, by pious festivals.'

But from these reasonings, that far outstrip
The knowledge and the wisdom of a child,
Let me descend to chronicle my steps
In that enchanted region -- steps that take
A moment's grandeur from the ground they trod,
Though else pursuing with uncertain stride
Ways of obscure and mean significance.
I saw the outposts, where Rome's wider growth
Invited wider ruin, crumbled now,
Till Ruin's self needs History's blazonment
'To be remarked, so closely does she hug
The charitable weeds that Time's remorse
Flings back, to hide what he makes devastate.

I saw Albano, Ostia, Tivoli,
The Sybil of the temple, spreading still
Her silent, awful oracle before
The crowned Iris of the waterfall,
Who, from her crystal columns opposite,
Smiles promise back for mournful 'monishing,
And when she flies, flies heavenward, nor leaves
More earthy record than the glittering tears,
In which the gladness of her soul dissolves,
And, thrilling through th' unconscious element,
The deep pulsation of a deathless heart.

Other, at times, that downward torrent seemed.
A daring Sappho leaps she from the rock,
Maddened of faithless sunshine, fleeing it.
In the abyss is peace, and she shall sleep
Treasured in darkness, garnered up in gloom.
But, sharing the impulsive ecstasy,
Love leaps with her - his slender arms of steel
Enlacing what his rainbow wings uphold.
Now, vain her furious flight, her struggle vain,
The sunshine overtakes her desperate course;
Her madness is unhealed, she cannot rest,
For Love in sunshine, follows every where.
Forgive imperfect types, that strive to show
How the fixed Sybil sits there and decays,
While leaping, loving human life flows on,
And, plunging down to Chaos, is not lost

I saw l'Arricia, where the artist's soul
Revels in light and color magical,
Nor feels the dearth of thought, where nought transpires,
Save steady growth of men and plants alike.
Studies of leaves and grasses, fervid tints,
And purple mountain shadows, wile for him
Too soon the silent, sultry summer day,
Gorgeous in all its changes; if he wish
A tenant for his painted Paradise
He summons up, to fill the golden void,
Such stately forms and shadowings of life
As with the look and gesture startle us,
Seen in the coldness of our sombre wails,
And make us tremble strangely, as a veil
Were for a moment merely liked there,
And all the burning beauty of the South
Were near us, like Eternity, unguessed.

And often, when I've seen the twilight drape
Her folds of sadness o'er the wide domain
Of the Campagna, desolate with tombs,
(Itself a monumental wilderness,)
I've pondered thus: 'Perhaps at midnight here
Wakes the quiescent city of our day,
A Juliet, drunken with her draught of woe,
And wildly calls on Love's deliverance
Writhing in her untimely cerements,
And stiffens back to silence when she hears:
'Love has no help, save that which waits on Death.'
Oh no! more piteous still, amazed child,
Bereft in parentage and destiny,
She wanders, stopping at these stones, to trace
Through wreck and rust of ages, signs that prove
Her filiation to the mighty sires
Whose grim ghosts scare her slumbers, pointing hither.
She feels the kingly impulse of her race,
(For next to soul is sense of generous blood,)
But, too unskilled to construe of" herself,
Can only crouch when strangers call her, Changeling,
And on the weak, unwilling hand enforce
Their gift of shame, a Bondmaid's heritage.

These days wore on more rapidly than such
As Winter loads with leaden sluggishness,
Abridged of light, but lengthened out with care;
And, while I dreamed that they" should never end,
They were already ended in my
Thcn, as perforce, I gathered up all strength
For the uprooting of my vine of life,
So clinging, creeping, craving from men's hands
A gracious culture, lovlng so to grow
And bear the fruit God gave it right to bear
As genial tribute to Love's genial care;
I felt the sudden, earnest wish for death
Shoot like a subtle poison through my veins.

Oh now! I cried; in these full golden hours,
Let me set sail, and bend my course for heaven.
Oh God! I am too happy not to be
Admitted there, I can but end in thee;
Not elsewhere tends this tide of blessedness.
But, if I must await the tedious ebb
And day's decline, I shall but be a wreck
That whitens, stranded on the shore, and mocks
The pilot's skill, with bare dismantled ribs,
While shattered mast and shredded banner point
To the rich freight surrendered to the deep.
As I Prayed thus, I wrestled with myself
And wrenched my hands, by loving friends held back
Till they were free, and stretched on high to God
Who took them.
As by an electric chain,
The mystical conjunction showed to me
The twilight street, or only six months gone,
The lonely coffin, the ungracious priest,
And the worn pilgrim, carried to his rest;
And the same voice, which, as a silver bell
Chimed out the numbers of men's fate in heaven,
Uttered again what then a menace seemed,
But what was now a promise -'Thou shalt die.'

Have patience with me, on the seaward way
I linger, for one gesture of farewell.
The bridge is crossed that led, oh path of peace!
To holy vespers in the twilight aisle.
The gate is closed -- the air without is drear.
Look back! the dome! gorgeous in sunset; still-
I see it- soul is concentrate in sight-
The dome is gone -- gone seems the heaven with it.
Night hides my sorrow from me. Oh, my Rome,
As I have loved thee, rest God's love with thee!