Anne, the placid and imperturbable, was promoted to take the place that Gerty had rejected, in the gentle home of the good sisters. The secret of her birth, whatever it was, never came to light but, she took kindly, as Madam Delia had predicted,to "living genteel," and grew up into a well-behaved mediocrity, unregretful of the show-tent. Yet probably no one reared within the smell of sawdust ever quite outgrew all taste for "the profession," and Anne, even when promoted to good society, never missed seeing a performance when her wandering friends came by. If I told you under what name Gerty became a star in the low-comedy line, after her marriage, you would all recognize it; and if you had seen her in "Queen Pippin" or the "Shooting-Star" pantomime, you would wish to see her again. Her first child was named after Madam Delia, and proved to be a placid little thing, demure enough to have been born in a Quaker family, and exhibiting no contortions or gymnastics but those common to its years. And you may be sure that the retired show-woman found in the duties of brevet-grand-mother a glory that quite surpassed her expectations.
Near my summer home there is a little cove or landing by the bay, where nothing larger than a boat can ever anchor. I sit above it now, upon the steep bank, knee-deep in buttercups, and amid grass so lush and green that it seems to ripple and flow instead of waving. Below lies a tiny beach, strewn with a few bits of drift-wood and some purple shells, and so sheltered by projecting walls that its wavelets plash but lightly. A little farther out the sea breaks more roughly over submerged rocks, and the waves lift themselves, before breaking, in an indescribable way, as if each gave a glimpse through a translucent window, beyond which all ocean's depths might be clearly seen, could one but hit the proper angle of vision. On the right side of my retreat a high wall limits the view, while close upon the left the crumbling parapet of Fort Greene stands out into the foreground, its verdant scarp so relieved against the blue water that each inward-bound schooner seems to sail into a cave of grass. In the middle distance is a white lighthouse, and beyond lie the round tower of old Fort Louis and the soft low hills of Conanicut.
Behind me an oriole chirrups in triumph amid the birch-trees which wave around the house of the haunted window; before me a kingfisher pauses and waits, and a darting blackbird shows the scarlet on his wings. Sloops and schooners constantly come and go, careening in the wind, their white sails taking, if remote enough, a vague blue mantle from the delicate air. Sail-boats glide in the distance,--each a mere white wing of canvas,--or coming nearer, and glancing suddenly into the cove, are put as suddenly on the other tack, and almost in an instant seem far away. There is to-day such a live sparkle on the water, such a luminous freshness on the grass, that it seems, as is so often the case in early June, as if all history were a dream, and the whole earth were but the creation of a summer's day.
If Petrarch still knows and feels the consummate beauty of these earthly things, it may seem to him some repayment for the sorrows of a life-time that one reader, after all this lapse of years, should choose his sonnets to match this grass, these blossoms, and the soft lapse of these blue waves. Yet any longer or more continuous poem would be out of place to-day. I fancy that this narrow cove prescribes the proper limits of a sonnet; and when I count the lines of ripple within yonder projecting wall, there proves to be room for just fourteen. Nature meets our whims with such little fitnesses. The words which build these delicate structures of Petrarch's are as soft and fine and close-textured as the sands upon this tiny beach, and their monotone, if such it be, is the monotone of the neighboring ocean. Is it not possible, by bringing such a book into the open air, to separate it from the grimness of commentators, and bring it back to life and light and Italy?
The beautiful earth is the same as when this poetry and passion were new; there is the same sunlight, the same blue water and green grass; yonder pleasure-boat might bear, for aught we know, the friends and lovers of five centuries ago; Petrarch and Laura might be there, with Boccaccio and Fiammetta as comrades, and with Chaucer as their stranger guest. It bears, at any rate, if I know its voyagers, eyes as lustrous, voices as sweet. With the world thus young, beauty eternal, fancy free, why should these delicious Italian pages exist but to be tortured into grammatical examples? Is there no reward to be imagined for a delightful book that can match Browning's fantastic burial of a tedious one? When it has sufficiently basked in sunshine, and been cooled in pure salt air, when it has bathed in heaped clover, and been scented, page by page, with melilot, cannot its beauty once more blossom, and its buried loves revive?
Emboldened by such influences, at least let me translate a sonnet, and see if anything is left after the sweet Italian syllables are gone. Before this continent was discovered, before English literature existed, when Chaucer was a child, these words were written. Yet they are to-day as fresh and perfect as these laburnum-blossoms that droop above my head. And as the variable and uncertain air comes freighted with clover-scent from yonder field, so floats through these long centuries a breath of fragrance, the memory of Laura. SONNET 129. "Lieti fiori e felici." O joyous, blossoming, ever-blessed flowers! 'Mid which my queen her gracious footstep sets; O plain, that keep'st her words for amulets And hold'st her memory in thy leafy bowers! O trees, with earliest green of spring-time hours, And spring-time's pale and tender violets! O grove, so dark the proud sun only lets His blithe rays gild the outskirts of your towers! O pleasant country-side! O purest stream, That mirrorest her sweet face, her eyes so clear, And of their living light can catch the beam! I envy you her haunts so close and dear. There is no rock so senseless but I deem It burns with passion that to mine is near.
Goethe compared translators to carriers, who convey good wine to market, though it gets unaccountably watered by the way. The more one praises a poem, the more absurd becomes one's position, perhaps, in trying to translate it. If it is so admirable--is the natural inquiry,--why not let it alone? It is a doubtful blessing to the human race, that the instinct of translation still prevails, stronger than reason; and after one has once yielded to it, then each untranslated favorite is like the trees round a backwoodsman's clearing, each of which stands, a silent defiance, until he has cut it down. Let us try the axe again. This is to Laura singing. SONNET 134. "Quando Amor i begli occhi a terra inchina." When Love doth those sweet eyes to earth incline, And weaves those wandering notes into a sigh Soft as his touch, and leads a minstrelsy Clear-voiced and pure, angelic and divine, He makes sweet havoc in this heart of mine, And to my thoughts brings transformation high, So that I say, "My time has come to die, If fate so blest a death for me design." But to my soul thus steeped in joy the sound Brings such a wish to keep that present heaven, It holds my spirit back to earth as well. And thus I live: and thus is loosed and wound The thread of life which unto me was given By this sole Siren who with us doth dwell.
As I look across the bay, there is seen resting over all the hills, and even upon every distant sail, an enchanted veil of palest blue, that seems woven out of the very souls of happy days,--a bridal veil, with which the sunshine weds this soft landscape in summer. Such and so indescribable is the atmospheric film that hangs over these poems of Petrarch's; there is a delicate haze about the words, that vanishes when you touch them, and reappears as you recede. How it clings, for instance, around this sonnet! SONNET 191. "Aura che quelle chiome." Sweet air, that circlest round those radiant tresses, And floatest, mingled with them, fold on fold, Deliciously, and scatterest that fine gold, Then twinest it again, my heart's dear jesses, Thou lingerest on those eyes, whose beauty presses Stings in my heart that all its life exhaust, Till I go wandering round my treasure lost, Like some scared creature whom the night distresses. I seem to find her now, and now perceive How far away she is; now rise, now fall; Now what I wish, now what is true, believe. O happy air! since joys enrich thee all, Rest thee; and thou, O stream too bright to grieve! Why can I not float with thee at thy call?
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