William Everett.

The Italian poets since Dante online

. (page 6 of 15)
Online LibraryWilliam EverettThe Italian poets since Dante → online text (page 6 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

That often makes his teeth to snap for gall, —

But if one blow can reach, it pays for all.

The coming on of Orlando 's madness :

Never to weep, to wail he never stayed.

Nor respite gave himself by night or day;

Cities and towns he fled; in forest glade
Upon the hard ground all uncovered lay.

He wondered at himself: how in his head
A living fount of water seemed to play.

And how such heavy sighs his breast could know_

And oft himself addressed amid the flow:

* ' These are no longer tears that from my eyes
In such a copious flood incessant stream;

Their gush no solace to my grief supplies:

It stops when at their height my sorrows seem;

The well of life from my dead bosom flies

Straight to the path where strikes the visual beam.

And is that which it pours, and draws in one

My life and grief until their course be run,

' * These that afford the witness of my woe,

These are not sighs; sighs are not such as these;
These have a truce at last; I never know

That from my heart less strong the torture flees;




The love that fires my breast, upon the glow,

Is beating with his wings, to make this breeze ;
How canst thou, love, contrive this wondrous doom
To hold it in the flame, and ne'er consume?

"I am not, I am not what I appear.

What was Orlando lies in death below,
Slain most unkindly by his lady dear,

Who by her breach of faith is made his foe;
I am his parted ghost that wander here,

Here in this hell lamenting him I go.
That his poor shade, when all beside is dust.
May warning be to those in love who trust. ' '

All night throughout the forest strayed the count,
And till the breaking of the morning's flame;

Then cruel fortune led him to the fount
Whereon Medoro carved his lady's shame;

To see his wrong full written on the mount
Kindled him so, each drop within his frame

To hatred, madness, wrath and fury flew;

Without delay forthwith his sword he drew.

He cut the writing and the stone and sent

Their smallest fragments in a heavenward flight.

Ill-starred the cave, and every tree, that lent
Medoro chance Angelica to write;

So from that day no more their cooling tent
Or flock or shepherd might again invite.

And that clear water that had been so pure

From such untempered wrath was ill secure.

For boughs and stocks and stump and clod and stone
He ceased not in those lovely waves to fling.

Till all from top to bed so foul had grown
Clearness and purity had left the spring.

And weak at length, with sweat all vigor gone,
Now that exhausted breath no force could bring


To answer hate, contempt and burning ire,
To earth he fell, and seemed he must expire.

Broken and weak, he fell upon the plain,

And fixed his eyes to heaven and made no sound;

From food and sleep alike did he refrain,

While thrice the sun rose and went under ground;

Nor ever ceased to wax his bitter pain,

Till it had led him out of reason's bound.

On the fourth day, with mighty madness stung.

Both plate and mail from off his back he flung.

Here lay his helm, and there his buckler lay,
His harness far, his hauberk farther yet;

All of his arms, their fate in sum I say,
A different lodgment through the wood did get;

Tearing his garments then, be shown to day
His shaggy belly, back and breast he let:

And the great frenzy started, horrible,

That greater none will ever have to tell.

Such rage, such fury was at last revealed
That darkling he remained in every sense.

He did not think his sword in hand to wield,

Which had, I ween, showed wondrous skill of fence;

But neither brand, nor axe, nor mace to yield
Aid was there needed for his force immense;

Proof after proof his mighty prowess spoke,

A lofty pine uprooting with one stroke.

And after that uprooting many more.
As they were stalks of fennel or of dill;

Tall oaks and aged elms away he tore.

Beech, fir, and holm and rowan from the hill;

Just as the fowler, when the meadow floor
Clearing, will use to fix his nets with skill

Nettles and reeds and stubble of the wold,

He handled oaks and forest monarchs old.


The miraculous fleet (Rose's translation) :

Astolpho leading such a countless band

As might have Avell seven Africas opprest,
And recollecting 'twas the saint 's command,
Who upon him whilere imposed the quest,
That fair Provence and Aquamorta 's strand
He from the reaving Saracen should wrest,
Made through his numerous host a second draught
Of such as least inapt for sea he thought ;

And filling next as full as they could be

His hands with many different sorts of leaves,
Plucked from palm, olive, bay, and cedar tree.
Approached the shore, and cast them on the waves.
O blessed souls! O great felicity!
O grace, which rarely man from God receives!
O strange and wondrous miracle, which sprung
Out of those leaves upon the waters flung!

They wax in number beyond all esteem;

Becoming crooked and heavy, long, and wide;

Into hard timber turn and solid beam.

The slender veins that branch on either side :

Taper the masts; and, moored in the salt stream,

All in a thought transformed to vessels, ride;

And of as diverse qualities appear

As are the plants whereon they grew whilere.

It was a miracle to see them grown

To galliot, galley, frigate, ship, and boat;

Wondrous that they with tackling of their own

Are found as well as any barks afloat.

Nor lack there men to govern them, when blown

By blustering winds, from islands not remote —

Sardinia or Corsica — of every rate.

Pilot and patron, mariner and mate.



I HAVE mentioned the emphatic way in which Ari-

osto more than once speaks of the illustrious women of

his own time. In one place, particularly, he asks

himself whether he shall name all who are worthy,

or select some one for especial praise, and answers:
One will I choose; and one shall be my choice

Who beyond envy hath herself so raised
That none of all can lift approving voice,

Though left unnamed, while she alone is praised.
Nor she alone doth from her verse rejoice

In deathless fame, since sweeter ne'er was phrased;
But all of whom he deigns to speak or write
She saves from death, set in eternal light.

As Phoebus makes his sister brighter far
With ampler lustre, and to him more dear

Than Venus, Pleiades, or other star

Which turns with heaven, or keeps its proper sphere;

So wit he breathes, above all dames that are.
To her I mean, and song more sweet to hear,

And such a force to her high words hath given

That like another sun she gilds our heaven.

Victoria is she named, and rightly, born
'Mid victories, and if she walk or stand,

Triumphs and trophies all her life adorn.
And victories troop with her on either hand.



This panegyric, exalting one woman above all
others of her time, is echoed by every writer of the
age. The subject of it is Vittoria Colonna, a daughter
of the princely Roman house so dear to Petrarch.
Her life extended from 1490 to 1547, just overlapping
at both ends that of King Henry VIII of England,
who very possibly asked her to marry him, though
this is not recorded. Her father, with the easy loy-
alty of his century, had passed from the service of
the French king to that of Ferdinand of Aragon,
and had become closely allied with the Marquess of
Pescara, one of the Spanish generals. They cemented
their friendship by betrothing the marquess's eldest
son to Vittoria, then five years old. The marriage
was celebrated in 1509, the year when Henry VIII
came to the throne. Marriages at that day were
arranged with no reference to the inclinations of the
parties; but in this instance, at least, the testimony
is unanimous that these two noble persons loved each
other truly, and were famed throughout Italy as un-
rivalled in lineage, beauty, wealth, and accomplish-
ments. Their home was Naples, whence they con-
stantly resorted to the romantic island of Ischia.
Here they gathered round them a brilliant company
of warriors, statesmen, philosophers, and poets, as
well as the first ladies of Naples and Sicily. Among
these was Bernardo Tasso, famous father of a more


famous son, who perhaps will forgive me for not
dwelling on his hundred-canto romance of ''Amadigi
di Gaula " if I insert his sonnet to Ischia :

O haughty cliff, whose fair and stately height
As home so many chiefs and heroes claim,
Whence rays of glory send afar their flame

That render dark and dim all other light ; —

If through true virtue man may soar aright
To perfect happiness and endless fame,
Those souls than others worthier of the name

Will go who in thy rocky breast delight.

The blaze of arms is thine ; and in thee hide
Chaste beauty, valor, and high courtesy,

As great as heaven can give or time behold.

The fates be friendly to thee ; wind and tide
Afford thee honor; and thy native sea
Breathe ever gently tempered heat and cold.

From this retreat Vittoria was roused by the cam-
paigns in the north of Italy between the emperor
and Lewis XII, where her husband acted as general
of the light cavalry, and shared in the rout of Ra-
venna, where he was made prisoner. In his long ab-
sences at the war, his wife's chief interest was in the
exchange of letters; but she gave much time to liter-
ature and the like pursuits, while the force and
beauty of her character impressed every one who
came near her. In particular her influence over the
young Marquess of Vasto, a near kinsman of her
husband, whose wild and frivolous youth she ab-
solutely made over into all that was interesting and


promising, almost consoled her for having no children
of her own.

Her husband, after his release from captivity, con-
tinued to distinguish himself as a soldier. After the
rout of Francis I at Pavia, the Italian princes who had
called in the emperor as their ally began to think one
foreign ruler as oppressive as another, and tried to en-
list Pescara on their side by the offer of the crown of
Naples. The offer, so tempting, and by no means vision-
ary, might have been accepted had not Vittoria Co-
lonna written to him to maintain that virtue and true
faith which he had sworn to Charles V, his natural
sovereign, and which raised him above kings. Pescara
soon died of his wounds at Milan, where his wife had
failed to reach him in time. She returned to Naples,
buried in grief, which she sought to express in verses
to which she largely devoted her time. They are
chiefly sonnets, much in the style of Petrarch, but
most remarkable for the firm and masculine tone
both of the eulogy and the regrets, free from the
lackadaisical air to which Petrarch is too prone. She
resisted all proposals to leave her widowhood, though
strongly urged to by her brothers, being much under
forty years of age, beautiful, noble, accomplished,
and courted even by princes. After the lapse of about
seven years, her mind opened as it had not yet done
to religious influence. Her poetry at once assumed


a higher and richer tone, and her acquaintance, al-
ways charming, began to exercise a marvellous effect
upon all who knew her. She lived much at Rome,
but life for a Colonna was not always easy there,
for that house was the head of a turbulent faction,
leagued with the foes of Pope Clement VII. She,
therefore, -more than once took shelter in a convent,
and towards the end of her life wrote none but sacred
poetry. She died early in 1547, leaving an abso-
lutely unequalled reputation for every high quality
that can adorn a great lady, all the most illustrious
men of the day contending to exalt her in terms which
the severest criticism has been unable to say is ex-
aggerated. I quote two sonnets, one from her earlier
and one from her later life. The first is addressed to
Charles V, telling him with a good deal of haughti-
ness how much he owed to Pescara 's services :

Thy haughty eagle on my glorious sun
Fixing her eyes, high o 'er the vulgar crowd
Attained its goal, and doubling glad and proud

Her pinions' stroke the fiery sphere had won;

But now her chosen orb its course hath run.
Veiled and obscured for us by densest cloud,
See how her former aim is drooped and bowed;

Her bold flight keeps not as it had begun.

The crowns, the trophies of each high emprise,
Dispel the night which dark all else hath made,
Borne back with glory in his blazing ray.
That blaze hath broader, since his latest day

He closed in splendor; but it blinds her eyes —
She spreads her wings, but lingers in the shade.


Few changes of style can be greater than to her
later tone; one can see how her retreat at Ischia
struck the note for the following :

When swells the angry ocean, and surrounds
With force and rage some firmly rooted rock,
If steadfast that shall prove, the boastful shock

Breaks, and the waves fall back within their bounds.

So I, if I behold the flood profound
Of worldly wrath assail me with its mock,
I lift my eyes to heaven, and rout the flock

Of waves on waves the thicker they abound.

And if perchance the blast of passion 's voice

Threatens new warfare, speed me to the land.
And with the cord of love, that faith hath twined
To him in whom I trust my skiff I bind,

Jesus, the living rock; and I rejoice

That when I will, my harbor is at hand.

Among the countless poems addressed to Vittoria
Colonna is one in which the author declares she has
absolutely made him over again, and recreated him
to a higher life, as follows:

When once designs the perfect, godlike art
The form and guise of any man to hold,
Then from mean substance and in simple mould

Doth life to thought at its first birth impart, —

A second birth from marble makes it start
Completed promise of the chisel bold.
Whence born again, and by no death controlled,

Beauty and force are its immortal part.

So my own model was I born at first.

Myself my pattern; to be born again
Through thy perfecting work, O dame benign.

If thou my fulness fill, and slake my thirst
In pity, oh, what torture will be mine

If thou my blind and empty thought disdain.


The author of this sonnet was Michael Angelo Bu-
onarroti, who, when admitted to the society of Vit-
toria Colonna, declared in plain prose what these
verses imply, that she recreated him and inspired in
his life a sense of higher things, and of responsibility
in their search which it never had felt before.

Michael Angelo was born in the same year as Ari-
osto, and died in 1563, the year before the birth of
Shakespeare. A course on Italian poetry must never
omit his name, though it is no place for a survey of
his works. His poetry, like that of so many Italians,
is founded on the model of Petrarch, in sonnets and
madrigals, a somewhat indefinite name for short
poems in lines of varying length and combination of
rhyme. But Michael Angelo could not be a copyist
of Petrarch, or, indeed, of anybody. His poetry has
much the same traits as his sculpture: loftiness of
design, an intense love of beauty, somewhat injured
by the artist's absorption in his own skill, so that
we rather admire the craft of the designer than the
result of his labor, and sometimes find that result
obscure ; and, more than all, a prevailing air of with-
drawal from the crowd, of self-contained contempla-
tion, for which I could almost bear to use the detest-
able modern word ' ' aloofness. ' ' This air is, of course,
wholly alien to Petrarch or Ariosto or Chaucer or
Spenser; Michael Angelo derived it from Dante and


passed it on to Milton, though its first and greatest
exponent is ^schylus. Space forbids my quoting
him at any length; perhaps as good a specimen as
any is his sonnet on his master, Dante:

To the blind gulfs from earth he passed, and when
The first and second hells he saw, to God
Led by his mighty thought the way he trod

Alive, revealing the true light to men.

Star of high worth, which to our blinded ken
With his bright rays eternal secrets showed,
And found the prize at last, full oft bestowed

On noblest heroes by this sinful den.

Eight hardly was the work of Dante known.
And noble passion, by the ungrateful crowd,

Which fails in greeting to the just alone.
Yet were I such, such fate to me allowed

For his rough exile, were his virtue mine.

The happiest lot on earth would I resign.

At the time Vittoria Colonna died, the reign of
romantic poetry was drawing to a close, and Michael
Angelo entirely outlived it. Italy was undergoing
a great change ; the soldier was falling and the church-
man rising in the popular mind. The rapid tri-
umphs of the Reformation had shown that neither
a fighting pope like Julius II nor a literary pope
like Leo X was the man for the times. A succession
of popes, the Pauls and Piuses, came to the Vatican,
who in various ways grappled with the problem how
to regain for the church something of what she had
lost. Under such influences a different tone was sure


to be heard among the poets of the age. Vittoria
Colonna and Michael Angelo might well afford by
their lives and by their writings the spark to kindle
into poetic enthusiasm the growing sentiment of re-
ligion ; and the leader was ready in the person of him
for whom was repeated the fate of Dante as told in
Buonarroti's sonnet,— poor, glorious Torquato Tasso.
Tasso had all Dante's nobility without his stern ele-
vation of character. His poem, if it did not reveal
eternal secrets to the eyes of men, awoke holy emo-
tions in their bosoms, and the reward he received was
even less deserved and more bitter than Dante 's bread
with smack of salt, and stairs steep to climb in the
houses of others.

I have spoken more than once of Bernardo Tasso,
the author of " Amadis of Gaul," a poet of some merit,
but who, standing as he does between Ariosto and his
own son, is no longer a great light in Italian litera-
ture, Torquato was born at Sorrento on the 11th of
March, 1544, and died at Rome on the 25th of April,
1595. His birth was nine and his death five years
earlier than those of Edmund Spenser. On the
influence of beautiful and romantic scenery in child-
hood I think a great deal of sentimental nonsense
has been written : but if ever early surroundings did
make a poet it would be those on which Tasso 's eyes
first opened. Sorrento is the loveliest spot on earth.


be the second where it may. But we might say that
Tasso's birthplace was the only fortunate thing in his
life. In his childhood his father left his home, out
of loyalty to a friend who had been exiled for a po-
litical uprising, and departed with him to the court of
France, as a result of which Bernardo Tasso was
deprived of his property and his civic rights. Tor-
quato remained with his mother to be educated at a
Jesuit school, where he showed great proficiency and
won his teachers' warm regard. His father took
the liveliest interest in his education, and was kept in-
formed of its details. At length, when Torquato
was about twelve, Bernardo, who had led a wandering
life for years, took up his abode at Rome, under the
protection of Cardinal d'Este. But affairs at Tor-
quato 's home were most sad. His mother had in vain
tried to obtain her own property when her husband's
was confiscated; her brothers had treated her with
injustice and even with cruelty, reducing her to such
distress that she was forced to send her son away to
his father at Rome, a separation which proved to be
final. Under Bernardo's authority, Torquato con-
tinued his education in various cities: at Bergamo,
where the family had its origin, at Urbino, at Venice,
and at Rome, it being the old story of a boy whose
father would make him a lawyer while nature made
him a poet. At Venice he had studied with great


delight the writings of Petrarch and Ariosto, and
had been fired with a passion to emulate the latter.
Accordingly, when not eighteen, he composed a ro-
mantic poem called "Rinaldo," which convinced his
father, when read in manuscript, that his son was born
to succeed him as a poet, and he was left to follow his
bent. The poem was published, and had a wide circu-
lation, making Tasso 's name favorably known.

The house of Este, Duke of Ferrara, still retained
the preeminence among the princely families of Italy
which it had had in the days of Ariosto. Bernardo
Tasso and his son entered the service of the Cardinal
d'Este just as the duke was about to celebrate his
marriage with the daughter of the emperor, and Tor-
quato was dazzled and overwhelmed by the splendid
ceremonies. He conceived a strange devotion to the
court, which remained with him in spite of many
wrongs. The cardinal being called to a conclave, Tasso
was free from even the slight obligations of his ser-
vice, and occupied himself much with poetry and phi-
losophy, but chiefly in cultivating the favor of the
duke and his sisters, Lucrezia and Leonora d'Este.
They were naturally attracted by the reputation
of the young poet, whose bodily strength, charming
manners, varied accomplishments, and open disposi-
tion never failed to win him friends, and through
them he was brought prominently to the notice of
Puke Alfonso. He heard that Tasso had made consid-



erable progress in an epic poem on the capture of Je-
rusalem in the first Crusade, and brought him under
the notice of the most distinguished men of his court.
Tasso, who was the most sensitive of men, whether
to kindness or injury, determined to introduce, as
hero of the Crusade, Rinaldo, a supposed ancestor of
the duke's, thereby following Ariosto's example, but
with more dignity and less tediousness of detail.

In 1569 he was called from Ferrara by his father's
last sickness and death, which he was just in time to
witness, returning immediately to the court. In the
next year the Princess Lucrezia was married to the
Duke of Urbino, and Leonora, losing her chief com-
panion, was led more and more to cultivate the so-
ciety of Tasso. To her he communicated the first
cantos of his poem. These contain the famous episode
of Sophronia and Olindo, in which the consuming
love that dreads expression is exhibited with so much
vividness that the great majority of mankind will
always believe that Tasso was telling his own story
of the mighty passion that was growing up in him
for the great lady. By the rigid laws of court usage
he never could think of marrying her, and she prob-
ably never dreamed of him except as a most re-
spectable and interesting companion for her vacant
hours :

Something better than her clog, a little dearer than her


But whether he did love her, how much he loved
her, and whether any one else knew of his love are still
unsolved problems.

In the same year Tasso went with Cardinal d'Este
to the court of Charles IX at Paris, where he was
received with great honor, and offered rich gifts which
he declined to accept ; but later he lost the favor of the
cardinal by expressing his indignation at the mas-
sacre of St. Bartholomew and obtained leave of ab-
sence, which he spent at Rome, where Leonora was
visiting. By her mediation he passed from one
brother's service to another's, and received a pen-
sion from Alfonso on very liberal terms. He now
gave his best energies to perfecting his great epic;
but chancing to hear a now forgotten poem of the
pastoral form, he composed, in the space of two
months, his * ' Aminta, ' ' the first pastoral of any value.
It was performed in 1573 at Ferrara with brilliant
success, and, when printed eight years later, took
Italy by storm.

In 1575 the ' ' Gerusalemme ' ' was at last completed,
but before giving it to the world he submitted it to
the judgment of his friends, and revised it again and
again by their suggestions. These suggestions, of
course, as anybody but poor Tasso would have antici-
pated, consisted in pulling it to pieces from end to
end ; they were made by men of undoubted talent, but


not one of them capable of writing the poem, to save
his soul. Tasso, who found that all his good-natured
compliance only drew out a new flood of absurdities,
was irritated beyond bearing. His friend Leonora, to
soothe him, offered him a retreat in a palace of her
own, but in his absence from Ferrara, his enemies—
and such a man is sure to have them— were spread-

1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Online LibraryWilliam EverettThe Italian poets since Dante → online text (page 6 of 15)