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William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. The Book of Georgian Verse. 1909.

The Garden of Boccaccio

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834)

OF late, in one of those most weary hours,

When life seems emptied of all genial powers,

A dreary mood, which he who ne’er has known

May bless his happy lot, I sate alone;

And, from the numbing spell to win relief,

Call’d on the Past for thought of glee or grief.

In vain! bereft alike of grief and glee,

I sate and cow’r’d o’er my own vacancy!

And as I watched the dull continuous ache,

Which, all else slumbering, seem’d alone to wake;

O Friend! long wont to notice yet conceal,

And soothe by silence what words cannot heal,

I but half saw that quiet hand of thine

Place on my desk this exquisite design,

Boccaccio’s Garden and its faery,

The love, the joyaunce, and the gallantry!

An Idyll, with Boccaccio’s spirit warm,

Framed in the silent poesy of form.

Like flocks a-down a newly-bathed steep

Emerging from a mist: or like a stream

Of music soft, that not dispels the sleep,

But casts in happier moulds the slumberer’s dream,

Gazed by an idle eye with silent might

The picture stole upon my inward sight.

A tremulous warmth crept gradual o’er my chest,

As though an infant’s finger touch’d my breast.

And one by one (I know not whence) were brought

All spirits of power that most had stirr’d my thought

In selfless boyhood, on a new world tost

Of wonder, and in its own fancies lost;

Or charm’d my youth, that, kindled from above,

Loved ere it loved, and sought a form for love;

Or lent a lustre to the earnest scan

Of manhood, musing what and whence is man!

Wild strain of Scalds, that in the sea-worn caves

Rehearsed their war-spell to the winds and waves;

Or fateful hymn of those prophetic maids,

That call’d on Hertha in deep forest glades;

Or minstrel lay, that cheer’d the baron’s feast;

Or rhyme of city pomp, of monk and priest,

Judge, mayor, and many a guild in long array,

To high-church pacing on the great saint’s day.

And many a verse which to myself I sang,

That woke the tear yet stole away the pang,

Of hopes which in lamenting I renew’d.

And last, a matron now, of sober mien,

Yet radiant still and with no earthly sheen,

Whom as a faery child my childhood woo’d

Even in my dawn of thought—Philosophy;

Though then unconscious of herself, pardie,

She bore no other name than Poesy;

And, like a gift from heaven, in lifeful glee,

That had but newly left a mother’s knee,

Prattled and play’d with bird and flower, and stone,

As if with elfin playfellows well known,

And life reveal’d to innocence alone.

Thanks, gentle artist! now I can descry

Thy fair creation with a mastering eye,

And all awake! And now in fixed gaze stand,

Now wander through the Eden of thy hand;

Praise the green arches, on the fountain clear

See fragment shadows of the crossing deer;

And with that serviceable nymph I stoop

The crystal from its restless pool to scoop.

I see no longer! I myself am there,

Sit on the ground-sward, and the banquet share.

’Tis I, that sweep that lute’s love-echoing strings,

And gaze upon the maid who gazing sings;

Or pause and listen to the tinkling bells

From the high tower, and think that there she dwells.

With old Boccaccio’s soul I stand possest,

And breathe an air like life, that swells my chest.

The brightness of the world, O thou once free,

And always fair, rare land of courtesy!

O Florence! with the Tuscan fields and hills

And famous Arno, fed with all their rills;

Thou brightest star of star-bright Italy!

Rich, ornate, populous, all treasures thine,

The golden corn, the olive, and the vine,

Fair cities, gallant mansions, castles old,

And forests, where beside his leafy hold

The sullen boar hath heard the distant horn;

Palladian palace with its storied halls;

Fountains, where Love lies listening to their falls;

Gardens, where flings the bridge its airy span,

And Nature makes her happy home with man:

Where many a gorgeous flower is duly fed

With its own rill, on its own spangled bed,

And wreathes the marble urn, or leans its head,

A mimic mourner, that with veil withdrawn

Weeps liquid gems, the presents of the dawn;—

Thine all delights, and every muse is thine;

And more than all, the embrace and intertwine

Of all with all in gay and twinkling dance!

’Mid gods of Greece and warriors of romance,

See! Boccace sits, unfolding on his knees

The new found roll of old Mæonides;

But from his mantle’s fold, and near the heart,

Peers Ovid’s Holy Book of Love’s sweet smart!

O all-enjoying and all-blending sage,

Long be it mine to con thy mazy page,

Where, half conceal’d, the eye of fancy views

Fauns, nymphs, and winged saints, all gracious to thy muse!

Still in thy garden let me watch their pranks,

And see in Dian’s vest between the ranks

Of the twin vines, some maid that half believes

The vestal fires, of which her lover grieves,

With that sly satyr peeping through the leaves!