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Oldport Days Thomas Wentworth Higginson

Sunshine And Petrarch

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The following, on the other hand, seems to me one of the Shakespearian sonnets; the successive phrases set sail, one by one, like a yacht squadron; each spreads its graceful wings and glides away. It is hard to handle this white canvas without soiling. Macgregor, in the only version of this sonnet which I have seen, abandons all attempt at rhyme; but to follow the strict order of the original in this respect is a part of the pleasant problem which one cannot bear to forego. And there seems a kind of deity who presides over this union of languages, and who sometimes silently lays the words in order, after all one's own poor attempts have failed.


"O passi sparsi; o pensier vaghi e pronti"
    O wandering steps! O vague and busy dreams!
    O changeless memory! O fierce desire!
    O passion strong! heart weak with its own fire;
    O eyes of mine! not eyes, but living streams;
    O laurel boughs! whose lovely garland seems
    The sole reward that glory's deeds require;
    O haunted life! delusion sweet and dire,
    That all my days from slothful rest redeems;
    O beauteous face! where Love has treasured well
    His whip and spur, the sluggish heart to move
    At his least will; nor can it find relief.
    O souls of love and passion! if ye dwell
    Yet on this earth, and ye, great Shades of Love!
    Linger, and see my passion and my grief.

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Yonder flies a kingfisher, and pauses, fluttering like a butterfly in the air, then dives toward a fish, and, failing, perches on the projecting wall. Doves from neighboring dove-cotes alight on the parapet of the fort, fearless of the quiet cattle who find there a breezy pasture. These doves, in taking flight, do not rise from the ground at once, but, edging themselves closer to the brink, with a caution almost ludicrous in such airy things, trust themselves upon the breeze with a shy little hop, and at the next moment are securely on the wing.

How the abundant sunlight inundates everything! The great clumps of grass and clover are imbedded in it to the roots; it flows in among their stalks, like water; the lilac-bushes bask in it eagerly; the topmost leaves of the birches are burnished. A vessel sails by with plash and roar, and all the white spray along her side is sparkling with sunlight. Yet there is sorrow in the world, and it reached Petrarch even before Laura died,--when it reached her. This exquisite sonnet shows it:-

    SONNET 123.
    "I' vidi in terra angelici costumi."
    I once beheld on earth celestial graces,
    And heavenly beauties scarce to mortals known,
    Whose memory lends nor joy nor grief alone,
    But all things else bewilders and effaces.
    I saw how tears had left their weary traces
    Within those eyes that once like sunbeams shone,
    I heard those lips breathe low and plaintive moan,
    Whose spell might once have taught the hills their places.
    Love, wisdom, courage, tenderness, and truth,
    Made ill their mourning strains more high and dear
    Than ever wove sweet sounds for mortal ear;
    And heaven seemed listening in such saddest ruth The very leaves upon the boughs to soothe,
    Such passionate sweetness filled the atmosphere.

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Oldport Days
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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