Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  The Plaza Santiago

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Spain, Portugal, Belgium, and Holland: Vols. XIV–XV. 1876–79.

Spain: Bedmar

The Plaza Santiago

By George Eliot (1819–1880)

(From The Spanish Gypsy)

’T IS daylight still, but now the golden cross

Uplifted by the angel on the dome

Stands rayless in calm color clear-defined

Against the northern blue; from turrets high

The flitting splendor sinks with folded wing

Dark-hid till morning, and the battlements

Wear soft relenting whiteness mellowed o’er

By summers generous and winters bland.

Now in the east the distance casts its veil,

And gazes with a deepening earnestness.

The old rain-fretted mountains in their robes

Of shadow-broken gray; the rounded hills

Reddened with blood of Titans, whose huge limbs

Entombed within, feed full the hardy flesh

Of cactus green and blue, broad-sworded aloes;

The cypress soaring black above the lines

Of white court-walls; the jointed sugar-canes

Pale-golden with their feathers motionless

In the warm quiet;—all thought-teaching form

Utters itself in firm, unshimmering hues.

For the great rock has screened the westering sun

That still on plains beyond streams vaporous gold

Among the branches; and within Bedmar

Has come the time of sweet serenity

When color glows unglittering, and the soul

Of visible things shows silent happiness,

As that of lovers trusting though apart.

The ripe-cheeked fruits, the crimson-petalled flowers;

The wingéd life that pausing seems a gem

Cunningly carven on the dark green leaf;

The face of man with hues supremely blent

To difference fine as of a voice mid sounds;—

Each lovely light-dipped thing seems to emerge

Flushed gravely from baptismal sacrament.

All beauteous existence rests, yet wakes,

Lies still, yet conscious, with clear open eyes

And gentle breath and mild suffuséd joy.

’T is day, but day that falls like melody

Repeated on a string with graver tones,—

Tones such as linger in a long farewell.


Sudden, with gliding motion like a flame

That through dim vapor makes a path of glory,

A figure lithe, all white and saffron-robed,

Flashed right across the circle, and now stood

With ripened arms uplift and regal head,

Like some tall flower whose dark and intense heart

Lies half within a tulip-tinted cup.

Juan stood fixed and pale; Pepíta stepped

Backward within the ring: the voices fell

From shouts insistent to more passive tones

Half meaning welcome, half astonishment.

“Lady Fedalma!—will she dance for us?”

But she, sole swayed by impulse passionate,

Feeling all life was music and all eyes

The warming, quickening light that music makes,

Moved as, in dance religious, Miriam,

When on the Red Sea shore she raised her voice,

And led the chorus of her people’s joy;

Or as the Trojan maids that reverent sang

Watching the sorrow-crownéd Hecuba:

Moved in slow curves voluminous, gradual,

Feeling and action flowing into one,

In Eden’s natural taintless marriage-bond;

Ardently modest, sensuously pure,

With young delight that wonders at itself

And throbs as innocent as opening flowers,

Knowing not comment,—soilless, beautiful.

The spirit in her gravely glowing face

With sweet community informs her limbs,

Filling their fine gradation with the breath

Of virgin majesty; as full vowelled words

Are new impregnate with the master’s thought.

Even the chance-strayed delicate tendrils black,

That backward ’scape from out her wreathing hair,—

Even the pliant folds that cling transverse

When with obliquely soaring bend altern

She seems a goddess quitting earth again—

Gather expression,—a soft undertone

And resonance exquisite from the grand chord

Of her harmoniously bodied soul.


But sudden, at one point, the exultant throng

Is pushed and hustled, and then thrust apart:

Something approaches,—something cuts the ring

Of jubilant idlers,—startling as a streak

From alien wounds across the blooming flesh

Of careless sporting childhood. ’T is the band

Of Gypsy prisoners. Soldiers lead the van

And make sparse flanking guard, aloof surveyed

By gallant Lopez, stringent in command.

The Gypsies chained in couples, all save one,

Walk in dark file with grand bare legs and arms

And savage melancholy in their eyes

That star-like gleam from out black clouds of hair;

Now they are full in sight, now stretch

Right to the centre of the open space.

Fedalma now, with gentle wheeling sweep

Returning, like the loveliest of the Hours

Strayed from her sisters, truant lingering,

Faces again the centre, swings again

The uplifted tambourine…..
When lo! with sound

Stupendous throbbing, solemn as a voice

Sent by the invisible choir of all the dead,

Tolls the great passing-bell that calls to prayer

For souls departed: at the mighty beat

It seems the light sinks awestruck,—’t is the note

Of the sun’s burial; speech and action pause;

Religious silence and the holy sign

Of everlasting memories (the sign

Of death that turned to more diffusive life)

Pass o’er the Plaça. Little children gaze

With lips apart, and feel the unknown god;

And the most men and women pray. Not all.

The soldiers pray; the Gypsies stand unmoved

As pagan statues with proud level gaze.

But he who wears a solitary chain

Heading the file, has turned to face Fedalma.

She motionless, with arm uplifted, guards

The tambourine aloft (lest, sudden-lowered,

Its trivial jingle mar the duteous pause),

Reveres the general prayer, but prays not, stands

With level glance meeting that Gypsy’s eyes,

That seem to her the sadness of the world

Rebuking her, the great bell’s hidden thought

Now first unveiled,—the sorrows unredeemed

Of races outcast, scorned, and wandering.

Why does he look at her? why she at him?

As if the meeting light between their eyes

Made permanent union? His deep-knit brow,

Inflated nostril, scornful lip compressed,

Seem a dark hieroglyph of coming fate

Written before her.