“Under the reign of Nicholas III. Ferrara was polluted with a domestic tragedy. By the testimony of an attendant, and his own observation, the Marquis of Este discovered the incestuous loves of his wife Parisina, and Hugo his bastard son, a beautiful and valiant youth. They were beheaded in the castle by the sentence of a father and husband, who published his shame, and survived their execution. He was unfortunate, if they were guilty; if they were innocent, he was still more unfortunate; nor is there any possible situation in which I can sincerely approve the last act of the justice of a parent.” — Gibbon’s Miscellaneous Works, vol. 3d. p. 470, new edition.
It is the hour when from the boughs
The nightingale’s high note is heard;
It is the hour when lovers’ vows
Seem sweet in every whisper’d word;
And gentle winds, and waters near,
Make music to the lonely ear.
Each flower the dews have lightly wet,
And in the sky the stars are met,
And on the wave is deeper blue,
And on the leaf a browner hue,
And in the heaven that clear obscure,
So softly dark, and darkly pure,
Which follows the decline of day,
As twilight melts beneath the moon away.
But it is not to list to the waterfall
That Parisina leaves her hall,
And it is not to gaze on the heavenly light
That the lady walks in the shadow of night;
And if she sits in Este’s bower,
‘Tis not for the sake of its full-blown flower —
She listens — but not for the nightingale —
Though her ear expects as soft a tale.
There glides a step through the foliage thick,
And her cheek grows pale — and her heart beats quick.
There whispers a voice through the rustling leaves,
And her blush returns, and her bosom heaves:
A moment more — and they shall meet —
‘Tis past — her lover’s at her feet.
And what unto them is the world beside
With all its change of time and tide?
Its living things — its earth and sky —
Are nothing to their mind and eye.
And heedless as the dead are they
Of aught around, above, beneath;
As if all else had passed away,
They only for each other breathe;
Their very sighs are full of joy
So deep, that did it not decay,
That happy madness would destroy
The hearts which feel its fiery sway:
Of guilt, of peril, do they deem
In that tumultuous tender dream?
Who that have felt that passion’s power,
Or paused, or feared in such an hour?
Or thought how brief such moments last:
But yet — they are already past !
Alas ! we must awake before
We know such vision comes no more.
With many a lingering look they leave
The spot of guilty gladness past;
And though they hope, and vow, they grieve,
As if that parting were the last.
The frequent sigh — the long embrace —
The lip that there would cling for ever,
While gleams on Parisina’s face
The Heaven she fears will not forgive her,
As if each calmly conscious star
Beheld her frailty from afar —
The frequent sigh, the long embrace,
Yet binds them to their trysting-place.
But it must come, and they must part
In fearful heaviness of heart,
With all the deep and shuddering chill
Which follows fast the deeds of ill.
And Hugo is gone to his lonely bed,
To covet there another’s bride;
But she must lay her conscious head
A husband’s trusting heart beside.
But fevered in her sleep she seems,
And red her cheek with troubled dreams,
And mutters she in her unrest
A name she dare not breathe by day,
And clasps her lord unto the breast
Which pants for one away:
And he to that embrace awakes,
And, happy in the thought, mistakes
That dreaming sigh, and warm caress,
For such as he was wont to bless;
And could in very fondness weep
O’er her who loves him even in sleep.
He clasped her sleeping to his heart,
And listened to each broken word:
He hears — Why doth Prince Azo start,
As if the Archangel’s voice he heard?
And well he may — a deeper doom
Could scarcely thunder o’er his tomb,
When he shall wake to sleep no more,
And stand the eternal throne before.
And well he may — his earthly peace
Upon that sound is doomed to cease.
That sleeping whisper of a name
Bespeaks her guilt and Azo’s shame.
And whose that name? that o’er his pillow
Sounds fearful as the breaking billow,
Which rolls the plank upon the shore,
And dashes on the pointed rock
The wretch who sinks to rise no more, —
So came upon his soul the shock.
And whose that name? ’tis Hugo’s, — his —
In sooth he had not deem’d of this ! —
‘Tis Hugo’s, — he, the child of one
He loved — his own all-evil son —
The offspring of his wayward youth,
When he betrayed Bianca’s truth,
The maid whose folly could confide
In him who made her not his bride.
He plucked his poignard in its sheath,
But sheathed it ere the point was bare —
Howe’er unworthy now to breathe,
He could not slay a thing so fair —
At least, not smiling — sleeping — there —
Nay more: — he did not wake her then,
But gazed upon her with a glance
Which, had she roused her from her trance,
Had frozen her sense to sleep again —
And o’er his brow the burning lamp
Gleamed on the dew-drops big and damp.
She spake no more — but still she slumberd —
While, in his thought, her days are numbered.
And with the morn he sought, and found,
In many a tale from those around,
The proof of all he feared to know,
Their present guilt, his future woe;
The long-conniving damsels seek
To save themselves, and would transfer
The guilt — the shame — the doom — to her:
Concealment is no more — they speak
All circumstance which may compel
Full credence to the tale they tell:
And Azo’s tortured heart and ear
Have nothing more to feel or hear.
He was not one who brooked delay:
Within the chamber of his state,
The chief of Este’s ancient sway
Upon his throne of judgment sate;
His nobles and his guards are there, —
Before him is the sinful pair;
Both young, — and one how passing fair !
With swordless belt, and fettered hand,
Oh, Christ ! that thus a son should stand
Before a father’s face !
Yet thus must Hugo meet his sire,
And hear the sentence of his ire,
The tale of his disgrace !
And yet he seems not overcome,
Although, as yet, his voice be dumb.
And still, and pale, and silently
Did Parisina wait her doom;
How changed since last her speaking eye
Glanced gladness round the glittering room,
Where high-born men were proud to wait —
Where Beauty watched to imitate
Her gentle voice — her lovely mien —
And gather from her air and gait
The graces of it’s queen:
Then, — had her eye in sorrow wept,
A thousand warriors forth had leapt,
A thousand swords had sheathless shone,
And made her quarrel all their own.
Now, — what is she? And what are they?
Can she command, or these obey?
All silent and unheeding now,
With downcast eyes and knitting brow,
And folded arms, and freezing air,
And lips that scarce their scorn forbear,
Her knights and dames, her court — is there:
And he, the chosen one, whose lance
Had yet been couched before her glance,
Who — were his arms a moment free —
Had died or gained her liberty;
The minion of his father’s bride, —
He, too, is fettered by her side;
Nor sees her swoln and full eye swim
Less for her own despair than him:
Those lids o’er which the violet vein —
Wandering, leaves a tender stain,
Shining through the smoothest white
That e’er did softest kiss invite —
Now seemed with hot and livid glow
To press, not shade, the orbs below;
Which glance so heavily, and fill,
As tear on tear grows gathering still.
To be continued…