Lord Byron: Parisina 2


Castle of Ferrara

Castle of Ferrara


And he for her had also wept,

But for the eyes that on him gazed:

His sorrow, if he felt it, slept;

Stern and erect his brow was raised.

What’er the grief his soul avowed,

He would not shrink before the crowd;

But yet he dared not look on her:

Remembrance of the hours that were —

His guilt — his love — his present state —

His father’s wrath — all good men’s hate —

His earthly, his eternal fate —

And hers, — oh, hers ! — he dared not throw

One look upon that death-like brow !

Else had his rising heart betrayed

Remorse for all the wreck it made.


And Azo spake: — “But yesterday

“I gloried in a wife and son;

“That dream this morning pass’d away;

“Ere day declines, I shall have none.

“My life must linger on alone;

“Well, — let that pass, — there breathes not one

“Who would not do as I have done:

“Those ties are broken — not by me;

“Let that too pass; — the doom’s prepared !

“Hugo, the priest awaits on thee,

“And then — thy crime’s reward !

“Away ! address thy prayers to Heaven,

“Before its evening stars are met —

“Learn if thou there canst be forgiven;

“It’s mercy may absolve thee yet.

“But here, upon the earth beneath,

“There is no spot where thou and I

“Together, for an hour, could breathe:

“Farewell ! I will not see thee die —

“But thou, frail thing ! shall view his head —

“Away ! I cannot speak the rest:

“Go ! woman of the wanton breast;

“Not I, but thou his blood dost shed:

“Go ! if that sight thou canst outlive,

“And joy thee in the life I give.”


And here stern Azo hid his face —

For on his brow the swelling vein

Throbbed as if back upon his brain

The hot blood ebbed and flowed again;

And therefore bowed he for a space,

And passed his shaking hand along

His eye, to veil it from the throng;

While Hugo raise his chained hands,

And for a brief delay demands

His father’s ear: the silent sire

Forbids not what his words require.


“It is not that I dread the death —

“For thou hast seen me by thy side

“All redly through the battle ride,

“And that not once a useless brand

“Thy slaves have wrested from my hand,

“Hath shed more blood in cause of thine,

“Than e’er can stain the axe of mine:

“Thou gav’st, and may’st resume my breath,

“A gift for which I thank thee not;

“Nor are my mother’s wrongs forgot,

“Her slighted love and ruined name,

“Her offspring’s heritage of shame;

“But she is in the grave, where he,

“Her son, thy rival, soon shall be.

“Her broken heart — my severed head —

“Shall witness for thee from the dead

“How trusty and how tender were

“Thy youthful love — paternal care.

” ‘Tis true that I have done thee wrong —

“But wrong for wrong — this deemed thy bride,

“The other victim of thy pride,

“Thou know’st for me was destined long.

“Thou saw’st, and coveted’st her charms —

“And with thy very crime — my birth,

“Thou taunted’st me — as little worth;

“A match ignoble for her arms,

“Because, forsooth, I could not claim

“The lawful heirship of thy name,

“Nor sit on Este’s lineal throne;

“Yet, were a few short summers mine,

“My name should more than Este’s shine

“With honours all my own.

“I had a sword — and have a breast

“That should have won as haught a crest

“As ever waved along the line

“Of all these sovereign sires of thine.

“Not always knightly spurs are worn

“The brightest by the better born;

“And mine have lanced my courser’s flank

“Before proud chiefs of princely rank,

“When charging to the cheering cry

“Of ‘Este and of Victory ! ‘ “

“I will not plead the cause of crime,

“Nor sue thee to redeem from time

“A few brief hours or days that must

“At length roll o’er my reckless dust; —

“Such maddening moments as my past,

“They could not, and they did not, last —

“Albeit, my birth and name be base,

“And thy nobility of race

“Disdained to deck a thing like me —

“Yet in my lineaments they trace

“Some features of my father’s face,

“And in my spirit — all of thee.

“From thee this tamelessness of heart —

“From thee — nay, wherefore dost thou start? —

“From thee in all their vigour came

“My arm of strength, my soul of flame —

“Thou didst not give me life alone,

“But all that made me more thine own.

“See what thy guilty love hath done !

“Repaid thee with too like a son !

“I am no bastard in my soul,

“For that, like thine, abhorred controul:

“And for by breath, that hasty boon

“Thou gav’st and wilt resume so soon,

“I valued it no more than thou,

“When rose thy casque above thy brow,

“And we, all side by side, have striven,

“And o’er the dead our coursers driven:

“The past is nothing — and at last

“The future can but be the past;

“Yet would I that I then had died;

“For though thou work’dst my mother’s ill,

“And made thy own my destined bride,

“I feel thou art may father still:

“And harsh, as sounds thy hard decree,

” ‘Tis not unjust, although from thee.

“Begot in sin, to die in shame,

“My life begun and ends the same:

“As erred the sire, so erred the son,

“And thou must punish both in one.

“My crime seems worst to human view,

“But God must judge between us too !


He ceased — and stood with folded arms,

On which the circling fetters sounded;

And not an ear but felt as wounded,

Of all the chiefs that there were ranked

When those dull chains in meeting clanked:

Till Parisina’s fatal charms

Again attracted every eye —

Would she thus hear him doomed to die !

She stood, I said, all pale and still,

The living cause of Hugo’s ill:

Her eyes unmoved, but full and wide,

Not once had turned to either side —

Nor once did those sweet eyelids close,

Or shade the glance o’er which they rose,

But round their orbs of deepest blue

The circling white dilated grew —

And there with glassy gaze she stood

As ice were in her curdled blood;

But every now and then a tear

So large and slowly gathered slid

From the long dark fringe of that fair lid,

It was a thing to see, not hear !

And those who saw, it did surprise,

Such drops could fall from human eyes.

To speak she thought — the imperfect note

Was choked within her swelling throat,

Yet seemed in that low hollow groan

Her whole heart gushing in the tone.

It ceased — again she thought to speak,

Then burst her voice in one long shriek,

And to the earth she fell like stone

Or statue from its base o’erthrown,

More like a thing that ne’er had life, —

A monument of Azo‘s wife, —

Than her, that living guilty thing,

Whose every passion was a sting,

Which urged to guilt, but could not bear

That guilt’s detection and despair.

But yet she lived — and all too soon

Recovered from that death-like swoon —

But scarce to reason — every sense

Had been o’erstrung by pangs intense;

And each frail fibre of her brain

( As bow-strings, when relaxed by rain,

The erring arrow launch aside )

Sent forth her thoughts all wild and wide —

The past a blank, the future black,

With glimpses of a dreary track,

Like lightning on the desert path,

When midnight storms are mustering wrath.

She feared — she felt that something ill

Lay on her soul, so deep and chill —

That there was sin and shame she knew;

That some one was to die — but who?

She had forgotten: — did she breathe?

Could this be still the earth beneath?

The sky above, and men around;

Or were they fiends who now so frowned

On one, before whose eyes each eye

Till then and smiled in sympathy?

All was confused and undefined

To her all-jarred and wandering mind;

A chaos of wild hopes and fears:

And now in laughter, now in tears,

But madly still in each extreme,

She strove with that convulsive dream;

For so it seemed on her to break:

Oh ! vainly must she strive to wake !


The Convent bells are ringing,

But mournfully and slow;

In the grey square turret swinging,

With a deep sound, to and fro,

Heavily to the heart they go !

Hark ! the hymn is singing —

The song for the dead below,

Or the living who shortly shall be so !

For a departing being’s soul

The death-hymn peals and the hollow bells knoll:

He is near his mortal goal;

Kneeling at the Friar’s knee;

Sad to hear — and piteous to see —

Kneeling on the bare, cold ground,

With the block before and the guards around —

And the headsman with his bare arm ready,

That the blow may be both swift and steady,

Feels if the axe be sharp and true —

Since he set its edge anew:

While the crowd in a speechless circle gather

To see the Son fall by the doom of the Father.


It is a lovely hour as yet

Before the summer sun shall set,

Which rose upon that heavy day,

And mocked it with his steadiest ray;

And his evening beams are shed

Full on Hugo’s fated head,

As his last confession pouring

To the monk, his doom deploring

In penitential holiness,

He bends to hear his accents bless

With absolution such as may

Wipe our mortal stains away.

That high sun on his head did glisten

As he there did bow and listen —

And the rings of chestnut hair

Curled half down his neck so bare;

But brighter still the beam was thrown

Upon the axe which near him shone

With a clear and ghastly glitter —

Oh ! that parting hour was bitter !

Even the stern stood chilled with awe:

Dark the crime, and just the law —

Yet they shuddered as they saw.


The parting prayers are said and over

Of that false son — and daring lover !

His beads and sins are all recounted,

His hours to their last minute mounted —

His mantling cloak before was stripped,

His bright brown locks must now be clipped

‘Tis done — all closely are they shorn —

The vest which till this moment worn —

The scarf which Parisina gave —

Must not adorn him to the grave.

Even that must now be thrown aside,

And o’er his eyes the kerchief tied;

But no — that last indignity

Shall ne’er approach his haughty eye.

All feelings seemingly subdued,

In deep disdain were half renewed,

When headsman’s hands prepared to bind

Those eyes which would not brook such blind;

As if they dared not look on death.

“No — yours my forfeit blood and breath —

“These hands are chained — but let me die

“At least with an unshackled eye —

“Strike:”— and as the word he said,

Upon the block he bowed his head;

These the last accents Hugo spoke:

“Strike” — and flashing fell the stroke —

Rolled the head — and gushing, sunk

Back the stained and heaving trunk,

In the dust, which each deep vein

Slaked with its ensanguined rain;

His eyes and lips a moment quiver,

Convulsed and quick — then fix for ever.

He died, as erring man should die,

Without display, without parade;

Meekly had he bowed and prayed,

As not disdaining priestly aid,

Nor desperate of all hope on high.

And while before the Prior kneeling,

His heart was weaned from earthly feeling;

His wrathful sire — his paramour —

What were they in such an hour?

No more reproach — no more despair

No thought but heaven — no word but prayer —

Save the few which from him broke,

When, bared to meet the headsman’s stroke,

He claimed to die with eyes unbound,

His sole adieu to those around.


Still as the lips that closed in death,

Each gazer’s bosom held his breath:

But yet, afar, from man to man,

A cold electric shiver ran,

As down the deadly blow descended

On him whose life and love thus ended;

And with a hushing sound comprest,

A sigh shrunk back on every breast;

But no more thrilling noise rose there,

Beyond the blow that to the block

Pierced through with forced and sullen shock,

Save one: — what cleaves the silent air

So madly shrill — so passing wild?

That, as a mother’s o’er her child,

Done to death by sudden blow,

To the sky these accents go,

Like a soul’s in endless woe.

Through Azo’s palace-lattice driven,

That horrid voice ascends to heaven,

And every eye is turned thereon;

But sound and sight alike are gone !

It was a woman’s shriek — and ne’er

In madlier accents rose despair;

And those who heard it, as it past,

In mercy wished it were the last.


Hugo is fallen; and, from that hour,

No more in palace, hall, or bower,

Was Parisina heard or seen:

Her name — as if she ne’er had been —

Was banish’d from each lip and ear,

Like words of wantoness or fear;

And from Prince Azo’s voice, by none

Was mention heard of wife or son;

No tomb — no memory had they;

Theirs was unconsecrated clay;

At least the knight’s who died that day.

But Parisina’s fate lies hid:

Like dust beneath the coffin lid:

Whether in convent she abode,

And won to heaven her dreary road,

By blighted and remorseful years

Of scourge, and fast, and sleepless tears:

Or if she fell by bowl or steel,

For that dark love she dared to feel;

Or if, upon the moment smote,

She died by tortures less remote;

Like him she saw upon the block,

With heart that shared the headsman’s shock,

In quickened brokenness that came,

In pity, o’er her shattered frame,

None knew — and none can ever know:

But whatso’er its end below,

Her life began and closed in woe !


And Azo found another bride,

And goodly sons grew by his side;

But none so lovely and so brave

As him who withered in the grave;

Or if they were — on his cold eye

Their growth but glanced unheeded by,

Or noticed with a smothered sigh.

But never tear his cheek descended,

And never smile his brow unbended;

And o’er that fair broad brow were wrought

The intersected lines of thought;

Those furrows which the burning share

Of Sorrow ploughs untimely there;

Scars of the lacerating mind

Which the Soul’s war doth leave behind,

He was past all mirth or woe:

Nothing more remained below

But sleepless nights and heavy days,

A mind all dead to scorn or praise,

A heart which shunned itself — and yet

That would not yield — nor could forget,

Which when it least appeared to melt,

Intently thought — intensely felt:

The deepest ice which ever froze

Can only o’er the surface close —

The living stream lies quick below,

And flows — and cannot cease to flow.

Still was his sealed-up bosom haunted

By thoughts which Nature hath implanted;

Too deeply rooted thence to vanish,

Howe’er our stifled tears we banish;

When, struggling as they rise to start,

We check those waters of the heart,

They are not dried — those tears unshed

But flow back to the fountain head,

And resting in their spring more pure,

For ever in its depth endure,

Unseen, unwept, but uncongealed,

And cherished most where least revealed.

With inward starts of feeling left,

To throb o’er those of life bereft,

Without the power to fill again

The desart gap which made his pain;

Without the hope to meet them where

United souls shall gladness share,

With all the consciousness that he

Had only passed a just decree;

That they had wrought their doom of ill,

Yet Azo’s age was wretched still.

The tainted branches of the tree,

If lopped with care, a strength may give,

By which the rest shall bloom and live

All greenly fresh and wildly free,

But if the lightning, in its wrath,

The waving boughs with fury scathe,

The massy trunk the ruin feels.

And never more a leaf reveals.




Parisina Malatesta

Parisina Malatesta