"Petrarch to Laura." by Mary Darby Robinson (1758-1800)
"Ere such a soul regains its peaceful state,
"How often must it love, how often hate,
"How often hope, despair, resent, regret,
"Conceal, disdain, do all things, but forget."
Supposed to have been written during his retirement at Vaucluse a short time before her death.
YE silent haunts, ye dark embow'ring shades,
Lone shaggy wilds and melancholy glades;
Ye mountains black'ning o'er the thorny vale;
Ye lucid lakes that trembling meet the gale;
Ye gloomy avenues of dire despair,
Dear last asylums of long-cherish'd care;
Eternal solitudes ! where LOVE retires
To bathe his wounds, and quench his fatal fires;
Where frantic, lost, forlorn, and sad I go
A wand'ring pilgrim in a maze of woe;
Oh! to your deepest caverns let me fly,
Breathe a fond pray'r, and 'MIDST YOUR HORRORS DIE.
Ye sparry grots, ye once ador'd retreats,
Ye tinkling rills, ye consecrated seats,
Whose velvet sod embroider'd o'er with flow'rs,
On the charm'd sense celestial odour pours;
Ye roseate banks o'erhung with waving trees,
That moan responsive to the murm'ring breeze;
How cold, how desolate your shade appears,
A path of mis'ry thro' a vale of tears.
Now pale Despair hangs brooding o'er your bow'rs,
Absorbs your sweets, and withers all your flow'rs;
Strips the thick foliage from your verdant shades,
And spreads eternal darkness o'er your glades;
No more for ME your sunny banks shall pour
In purple tides ripe Autumn's luscious store;
No more for ME your lust'rous tints shall glow,
Your forests wave, your silv'ry channels flow;
Yet 'midst your heav'n my wounded breast shall crave
One narrow cell, my SOLACE and my GRAVE.
Subdu'd, o'erwhelm'd, a with'ring shade I stray,
Shrink from myself; and shudder at the day:
No more fond HOPE sustains my sick'ning soul,
Resistless passion spurns her meek controul;
Corroding anguish o'er each prospect low'rs,
Bends my weak frame, my lusty youth devours;
Clings to my breast where ev'ry fibre bleeds,
And on its vital throne insatiate feeds.
Where shall I fly ? what path untrod explore,
Where love can wound, and memory live no more;
Where, LAURA, shall I turn, what balsam find
To soothe the throbbings of my fev'rish mind ?
What blest relief can life's dull round impart,
What rapture vivify the hopeless heart;
What pitying star its beamy stream dispense,
To light my soul, and cheer my vagrant sense;
To gild the gloom of desolating woes,
And lead my wand'ring footsteps to repose?
When wild with passion, madd'ning with remorse,
From AVIGNON'S lov'd walls I bent my course;
While roll'd in crimson clouds the orb of day,
O'er seas of ether shed his parting ray;
As to his western goal he journey'd forth,
Leaving pale twilight weeping o'er the earth;
Oft did I pause, oft turn my longing eyes
To the tall spire that pierc'd the evening skies;
All was serene ! save when the curfew's sound
Struck on my pensive heart with knell profound;
While Fancy bade my frantic mind explore,
Those scenes of holy joy I taste no more;
Unsullied altars, consecrated shrines,
Where curling incense round each taper twines;
Where, thro' long aisles, seraphic PÆANS ring,
And meek-ey'd virgins choral anthems sing!
Where, like a being of celestial mould,
My LAURA'S beauteous form I dar'd behold * !
While at the shrine her orisons she pour'd,
Pure as the spirit of the saint ador'd !
Oft as the cross her snowy fingers press'd,
Her auburn tresses veil'd her spotless breast !
A shade transparent deck'd her brow divine,
And bade her eyes with temper'd lustre shine !
As low she bow'd before the throne of Grace,
A cherub's softness harmoniz'd her face;
A smile benign reveal'd her tranquil soul,
While from her lips devotion's fervour stole;
Each conscious rapture to her share was giv'n,
Her form was virtue, and her mind was heav'n.
Fix'd to the earth with trembling zeal I gaz'd.
Each passion waken'd, and each sense amaz'd !
Involuntary sighs, too soon confess'd
The struggling tumults lab'ring in my breast;
No thought sublime on my rapt feelings hung,
No sacred eloquence unchain'd my tongue;
ALL, ALL WAS LOVE ! while thro' my burning brain
Rush'd a fierce torrent of convulsive pain;
From my dim eyes celestial radiance stole,
While howling demons grasp'd my sinking soul,
Guilt's writhing scorpions twining round my heart,
Enflam'd each wound, and heighten'd every smart;
In vain I sought Religion's calm domain,
And at her footstool pour'd my hopeless pain;
The priestess frowning on my impious pray'r,
Check'd the bold suit, and hurl'd me to despair.
AH, LAURA! canst thou seal the dread decree
That tears thy PETRARCH from his GOD and THEE?
That gives his mental hopes, his fond desires
To conscious anguish and consuming fires ?
Canst thou with unrelenting vengeance urge
A trembling soul to fate's extremest verge;
And while subdu'd it supplicates relief,
Dash the doom'd suff'rer to eternal grief ?
Why, soft enchantress, spread the fatal snare
That lures thy struggling victim to despair ?
Why with meek smiles my wand'ring sense reclaim ?
Why feed with pitying looks my hopeless flame ? †
Ah! rather come in awful lustre drest,
Calm my touch'd sense, and lull the fiends to rest;
Teach me each rebel passion to disown,
Chill my hot pulse, and freeze my heart to stone:
With contrite sighs devotion's flame illume;
With holy tear-drops gem this mental gloom:
Come in transcendent VIRTUE'S sacred form,
Stem the fierce torrent, and appease the storm;
Grasp the dire bolt suspended o'er my head,
And o'er my quiv'ring heart-strings patience shed;
Check with thy councils ev'ry madd'ning flight,
Direct me trembling to the paths of light;
Bow my parch'd dip to kiss the chast'ning rod,
And lead me blushing to the throne of GOD !
Where'er I fly, where'er my frenzy roves,
To pine-clad summits, or low bending groves:
Still on my shatter'd brain thy form appears,
Steals to my heart, and glistens thro' my tears:
Thy voice I hear in ev'ry whispering gale,
Thy fragrant breath from Citron buds inhale;
I mark the ROSE in native sweetness drest,
I snatch the blushing emblem to my breast;
Thy burnish'd ringlets float across my sight,
In the last glowing stream of orient light;
And as the star of morn unfolds its fire,
Stolen from the glances of its burning sire:
Thy beaming eyes emit translucent rays,
The lust'rous heralds of thy soul's rich blaze !
A matron's purity thy smiles impart,
And Heav'n's best splendours brighten in thy heart;
Ah! wherefore PETRARCH, wherefore rashly dare
The dang'rous magic of a form so fair ?
Yet ere thy pow'r supreme my soul confess'd,
Ere fainting Virtue fled my burning breast;
While in its veins one ling'ring spark remain'd,
One heavenly spark by trembling hope sustain'd;
VAUCLUSE thy sylvan solitudes I chose
To cure my passion, or conceal my woes;
And oft beneath thy melancholy shade
Reluctant, pensive, half-resolv'd I stray'd;
And trembling, fault'ring, frequent sighs I pour'd
Before the shrine of HIM but half ador'd:
While as the sacred Virgin's form I view'd
A brighter IDOL, every sense subdu'd !
While holy vows were lost in warm desires
LOVE drop'd a tear that quench'd religion's fires:
While thro' my eyes my heart's true fervour shone,
And my fond soul, dear Saint, WAS ALL THY OWN !
Now o'er some craggy peak when frowning night
Grasps the last shad'wy tint of ruby light;
When o'er the vast expanse I seek in vain
The tawny vineyard and the yellow plain;
Heedless I wander, while the tempest flies,
Brave the bleak winds, and mock the threat'ning skies.
Where from the wild romantic cliffs around
The headlong torrents fall with hollow sound;
And stealing thro' the winding vale below,
Unseen, thro' mid-day glooms incessant flow;
While sullen echo's aëry tongue betrays,
Where round her seat each brawling channel strays;
While the lone owl her lurid haunts among,
To the pale moon repeats her nightly song;
While rocks acute, my fev'rish limbs sustain,
Chill'd by the freezing blast and drizzling rain;
Madd'ning I see thy glitt'ring phantom rise,
Spring from the steep, and hover 'midst the skies.
I rave, I howl, from point to point I start,
While hell's worst torments riot in my heart;
I court the fiends my rending pangs to share,
And prove the PROUDEST TRANSPORTS OF DESPAIR,
When first to these calm shades I bent my way,
Led by the light of intellectual ray;
I mark'd soft peace her gentlest balm diffuse,
To sooth the hapless HERMIT OF VAUCLUSE !
Where 'midst the foliage of my laurel † bow'rs,
The MUSE had sprinkled never-fading flow'rs;
Where mild PHILOSOPHY unveil'd her shrine,
Each care to solace, and each wish refine;
Whole years my studious eye intent explor'd
The treasur'd gems by hoary wisdom stor'd !
Each truth sublime by ancient sages taught,
Grac'd with the glossy charm of polish'd thought:
And oft the sickly taper's feeble rays
Shrunk from the splendours of the solar blaze,
While o'er the classic page absorb'd I hung,
Where HOMER breath'd, or tuneful VIRGIL sung !
When all was rapture, all was peace, my breast
No pang endur'd, no wayward thought confess'd !
Swiftly thy beauty gleam'd across my sight,
Dim'd the bright flame of transitory light,
Spurn'd each weak barrier trembling Reason gave,
And plung'd me vanquish'd in affliction's wave.
Yet, yet once more, my aching bosom sought
A lenient pause from agonizing thought;
I left these bow'rs o'er foreign realms to stray,
LOVE lit his torch to guide my thorny way !
Mournful I journey'd o'er ITALIA'S lands,
And moisten'd with my tears SICILIAN sands,
Where the proud DANUBE'S rushing waters roll,
I pour'd the madd'ning anguish of my soul.
O'er ALPINE hills in solitary woe,
I wept and wander'd 'midst eternal snow.
Oft did I mark the RHONE'S impetuous stream
By the faint lustre of pale Cynthia's beam;
And as the foamy current curl'd along,
Heard the rocks echo with my frantic song !
Where ROME'S majestic ruins tott'ring stand
The hourly victims of Time's mould'ring hand;
Whole nights I've trod the tessellated stone,
While scarce a glimm'ring star in pity shone;
And starting 'midst th' impenetrable gloom,
Grasp'd the cold fragment of some MARTYR'S tomb,
And tore the crawling ivy from its bed,
To weave a pillow for my burning head:
Then rais'd my eyes to GOD in fervent pray'r,
To end my BEING and my SORROWS there.
For O ! eternal MARTYRDOM I prove,
Heav'n's doom'd APOSTATE–my fell tyrant, LOVE!
When ROME her proud applause exulting gave,
And round my car her laurels stoop'd to wave !
When borne triumphant o'er the sacred ground,
By holy hands with flow'ry chaplets crown'd !
While clanking cymbals echo'd thro' the sky;
And rosy infants bade the censers † fly !
When nation's throng'd THY POET'S Fame to share,
And shouts of rapture fill'd the perfum'd air !
No flush'd delight from adulation caught,
No selfish joy with false ambition fraught
Could draw my prostrate soul from LOVE and THEE;
Still at THY shrine I bent the trembling knee !
For who but THEE, transcendent Angel ! taught
The flame to live, which kindled every thought ?
For who, like THEE, could heavenly themes inspire,
Or touch the sensate mind with hallow'd fire,
Mingling with mortal dust the spark divine,
That bade my verse with deathless glories shine.
In yon cool grot emboss'd with shells and flow'rs,
Where the hot stream of noon-day light scarce pours;
Where silence reigns, save when the shallow rill
With gurgling sound steals o'er the mossy sill;
While 'midst the shadows of the twilight gleam,
I tun'd my LYRE–thy FATAL CHARMS my theme;
O'er my chill'd form sleep's sable curtain hung,
Veil'd my sad eyes, and chain'd my fault'ring tongue.
Each sense absorb'd, yet my fond SOUL was free,
Its thoughts, its faculties, all dwelt with thee;
Celestial visions hover'd o'er my breast,
And rose lip'd Angels sooth'd my pangs to rest.
Their silver harps hung pendant on the sky,
Bound with unfading wreaths of em'rald die,
While the wing'd choristers inscrib'd thy name
On Heav'n's blue tablet with etherial flame.
In the bland portal of the rosy East
AURORA sat in golden mantle drest;
The silent air in crystal fetters bound,
Slept on the folded clouds that glisten'd round;
When to my ravish'd sight thy form was shown,
The guardian spirit of the sphery throne !
A crown of orient pearls thy brow compress'd,
A zone of myrtle clasp'd thy iv'ry breast!
The tear of PITY trembled in thine eye
Like a bright PLANET in the morning sky !
The blush of HEBE mantled o'er thy cheek,
When thus thy voice seraphic seem'd to speak:
"Freed from the goading chain of mortal care,
I rove a bless'd inhabitant of air;
Yet, in delicious extacy I wait,
Till my lov'd PETRARCH shall partake my fate:
Death's but a messenger that brings relief
To the last pang of sublunary grief.
THE SOUL, once purified, awaits on those
Who toil amidst a wilderness of woes:
It guards the partners of its mortal hours,
When anguish threatens, or despair devours,
Shields the frail bosom with a cherub's wing,
And robs thy tyrant DEATH of EV'RY STING.
But see the ruddy dawn's advancing blaze,
Tears my fond shadow from thy eager gaze;
I leave thee in life's wild'ring vale to rove,
The mourning victim of disast'rous love:
Farewell, thy LAURA'S last fond hope is this,
To meet her PETRARCH in the realms of bliss."
The vision vanish'd, while my frantic mind
"Awoke to all the griefs it left behind !"
Now driven from each vain hope, each fond delight,
My SUN of glory saddens into night;
My once bright laurels doom'd, alas ! to fade
On the pale forehead of a ling'ring shade.
A living spectre drooping and forlorn,
A star obscur'd of all its lustre shorn:
I count my midnight beads, and kneeling, rave,
On the damp sod my PALLET and my GRAVE.
Toiling thro' tedious years unseen, unblest,
Eternal thorns corroding in my breast;
I fast, I pray, and yet no comfort find;
Heaven on my lips, but hell within my mind !
I feel THEE ever on my heated brain;
I weep, I sigh, I supplicate in vain !
Or, if by chance one pitying ray of rest
Warms the sad inmate of my throbbing breast;
'Tis but a gleam of INTELLECTUAL light
That feebly glances o'er my MENTAL sight,
And for a moment dissipates the gloom,
To point my weary footsteps TO THE TOMB.
† "Petrarch first beheld Laura at Matins on the sixth of April, 1327, in the church of St. Clair at Avignon."
See Mrs. Dobson's Life of Petrarch.
† "Laura wished to be beloved by Petrarch, but with such refinement, that he should never speak of his love: whenever he attempted the most distant expression of this kind, she treated him with excessive rigour; but when she saw him in despair, his countenance languishing, and his spirits drooping, she then re-animated him by some trifling kindness."
See Mrs. Dobson's Life of Petrarch, Vol. I. Page 116.
† Petrarch dedicated this Tree to his beloved Laura.
† Small Vases suspended by silver or gold chains, and filled with burning incense; they are generally carried by children at religious ceremonies in Catholic countries.
[Notes were included in the original text by Mrs. Robinson, at the bottom of each individual page. They are given here at the end of each poem. ]