How Lisa loved the King.
Six hundred years ago, in Dante’s time,Before his cheek was furrowed by deep rhyme;When Europe, fed afresh from Eastern story,Was like a garden tangled with the gloryOf flowers hand-planted and of flowers air-sown,Climbing and trailing, budding and full-blown,Where purple bells are tossed amid pink stars,And springing blades, green troops in innocent wars,Crowd every shady spot of teeming earth,Making invisible motion visible birth,—
Six hundred years ago, Palermo townKept holiday. A deed of great renown,A high revenge, had freed it from the yokeOf hated Frenchmen; and from Calpe’s rockTo where the Bosporus caught the earlier sun,’Twas told that Pedro, King of Aragon,Was welcomed master of all Sicily,—A royal knight, supreme as kings should beIn strength and gentleness that make high chivalry.
Spain was the favorite home of knightly grace,Where generous men rode steeds of generous race;Both Spanish, yet half Arab; both inspiredBy mutual spirit, that each motion firedWith beauteous response, like minstrelsyAfresh fulfilling fresh expectancy.So, when Palermo made high festival,The joy of matrons and of maidens allWas the mock terror of the tournament,Where safety, with the glimpse of danger blent,Took exaltation as from epic song,Which greatly tells the pains that to great life belong.
And in all eyes King Pedro was the kingOf cavaliers; as in a full-gemmed ringThe largest ruby, or as that bright starWhose shining shows us where the Hyads are.His the best genet, and he sat it best;His weapon, whether tilting or in rest,Was worthiest watching; and his face, once seen,Gave to the promise of his royal mienSuch rich fulfilment as the opened eyesOf a loved sleeper, or the long-watched riseOf vernal day, whose joy o’er stream and meadow flies.
But of the maiden forms that thick enwreathedThe broad piazza, and sweet witchery breathed,With innocent faces budding all arow,From balconies and windows high and low,Who was it felt the deep mysterious glow,The impregnation with supernal fireOf young ideal love, transformed desire,Whose passion is but worship of that BestTaught by the many-mingled creed of each young breast?
’Twas gentle Lisa, of no noble line,Child of Bernardo, a rich Florentine,Who from his merchant-city hither cameTo trade in drugs; yet kept an honest fame,And had the virtue not to try and sellDrugs that had none. He loved his riches well,But loved them chiefly for his Lisa’s sake,Whom with a father’s care he sought to makeThe bride of some true honorable man,—Of Perdicone (so the rumor ran),Whose birth was higher than his fortunes were,For still your trader likes a mixture fairOf blood that hurries to some higher strainThan reckoning money’s loss and money’s gain.And of such mixture good may surely come:Lord’s scions so may learn to cast a sum,A trader’s grandson bear a well-set head,And have less conscious manners, better bred;Nor, when he tries to be polite, be rude instead.
’Twas Perdicone’s friends made overturesTo good Bernardo; so one dame assuresHer neighbor dame, who notices the youthFixing his eyes on Lisa; and, in truth,Eyes that could see her on this summer dayMight find it hard to turn another way.She had a pensive beauty, yet not sad;Rather like minor cadences that gladThe hearts of little birds amid spring boughs:And oft the trumpet or the joust would rousePulses that gave her cheek a finer glow,Parting her lips that seemed a mimic bowBy chiselling Love for play in coral wrought,Then quickened by him with the passionate thought,The soul that trembled in the lustrous nightOf slow long eyes. Her body was so slight,It seemed she could have floated in the sky,And with the angelic choir made symphony;But in her cheek’s rich tinge, and in the darkOf darkest hair and eyes, she bore a markOf kinship to her generous mother-earth,The fervid land that gives the plumy palm-trees birth.
She saw not Perdicone; her young mindDreamed not that any man had ever pinedFor such a little simple maid as she:She had but dreamed how heavenly it would beTo love some hero noble, beauteous, great,Who would live stories worthy to narrate,Like Roland, or the warriors of Troy,The Cid, or Amadis, or that fair boyWho conquered every thing beneath the sun,And somehow, some time, died at BabylonFighting the Moors. For heroes all were goodAnd fair as that archangel who withstoodThe Evil One, the author of all wrong,—That Evil One who made the French so strong;And now the flower of heroes must he beWho drove those tyrants from dear Sicily,So that her maids might walk to vespers tranquilly....