Griselda: A Society Novel In Verse - Chapter III

Wilfrid Scawen Blunt 1840 (Petworth House) – 1922 (United Kingdom)

Who has not seen the falls of Tivoli,
The rocks, the foam--white water, and the three
Fair ruined temples which adorn the hill?
Who has not sat and listened to the shrill
Sweet melody of blackbirds, and the roar
Of Anio's voice rebounding from the shore,
Nor would have given his very soul to greet
Some passing vision of a white nymph's feet,
And waving arms, as the wild chasm's spray
Beat on his face, for ever answering ``Nay''?
Who has not turned away with sadder face,
Abashed before the genius of the place,
A wiser man, and owned upon his knees,
The dull transmontane Goth and boor he is?
Who that was born to feel? What sons of clay
Are these that stand among your shrines to--day,
Gods of the ancient rivers! and who set
The heavy impress of barbarian feet
Upon your classic shores, and dare to love
Your ruined homes in temple, rock, and grove!
What new rude sons of Japhet! What mad crew,
Whose only creed is what it dares to do
Through lack of knowledge, whose undoubting heart,
Here in the very temples of old art,
Brings out its little tribute, builds its shrines,
Wreathes its sad garlands of untutored lines,
Writes, paints, professes, sculptures its new gods,
And dares to have its home in your abodes!

Oh, if I had a soul oppressed with song,
A tongue on fire to prophesy among
My brother prophets, if I had a hand
Which needs must write its legend on life's sand
With brush or chisel, I at least would choose
Some soil less fair, less sacred to the Muse,
Some younger, wilder land, where no sad voice
Had ever stammered forth its tale of joys
And loves and sorrows, or in tones less rude
Than the brute pulsing of its human blood;
If I would build a temple, it should be
At least not here, not here in Italy,
Where all these temples stand. My thought should shape
Its fancies in rough granite on some cape
O'erlooking the Atlantic, from whose foam
No goddess ever leaped, and not in Rome,
Beneath the mockery of immortal eyes,
Gazing in marble down, so coldly wise!

Such was Griselda's thought, which, half aloud,
She uttered one May morning 'mid a crowd
Of pleasure--seekers, come from Rome to see
The wonder of these falls of Tivoli,
And Belgirate's villa, where the Prince
Was offering entertainment (for his sins),
And dancing, to all such as called him friend
That Spring in Rome, now nearly at an end;--
A thought suggested by the place and by
A German painter, who undauntedly
Was plying a huge canvas just begun,
With brush and palette seated in the sun.
She had hardly meant to speak, and when Lord L.
Objected (for he knew his classics well)
That landscape--painting was an unknown trade
In the days of Horace, blushed for her tirade,
And turned to Belgirate, who stood near,
Playing the host to all the world and her.

The Prince appealed to, though his care was less
With what was spoken than the speaker's face,
Took up the parable, confessed the truth
Of all each ventured, and agreed with both.
Nature, he said, and art, though now allied,
Had not in all times thus walked side by side.
Indeed the love of Nature, now so real,
Was alien to the love of the ideal,
The classic love which claimed as though of need
Some living presence for each fountain--head,
Each grove, each cavern, satyr, nymph, or god,
A human shape unseen yet understood.
This was the thought which lived in ancient art,
Eschewing the waste places of the heart,
And only on compulsion brought to face
Brute Nature's aspect in its nakedness.
Nature as Nature was a thought too rude
For these, untempered in its solitude.
It had no counterpart in our new love
Of mountain, sea, and forest. Then each grove
Asked for its statue, each perennial spring
Its fountain. Solitude itself must bring
Its echo. Every mountain top of Greece
Beheld fair temples rise. A law of peace
Reigned over art in protest at the mood
Of social life which drenched the world in blood.
All now had been reversed. Our modern creed
Scouted the law that men were born to bleed.
It turned from human nature, if untaught,
And wrought mankind, perhaps and overwrought
Into trim shapes, and then for its relief
Rushed to the wilderness to vent its grief
In lonely passion. Here it neither sought
Nor found a presence which it needed not.
It chose wild hills and barren seas. It saw
Beauty in tumult, in revolt a law.
Here it gave reins to its brute instincts. Here
It owned no god, no guide, no arbiter.
Its soul it must avenge of discipline,
And Nature had gone naked from the shrine.
This w
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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Wilfrid Scawen Blunt

Wilfrid Scawen Blunt was an English poet and writer. more…

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