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Oldport Days Thomas Wentworth Higginson

Sunshine And Petrarch

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In a later strain he rises to that dream which is more than earth's realities.

    SONNET 261.
    "Levommi il mio pensiero."
    Dreams bore my fancy to that region where
    She dwells whom here I seek, but cannot see.
    'Mid those who in the loftiest heaven be
    I looked on her, less haughty and more fair.
    She touched my hand, she said, "Within this sphere,
    If hope deceive not, thou shalt dwell with me:
    I filled thy life with war's wild agony;
    Mine own day closed ere evening could appear.
    My bliss no human brain can understand;
    I wait for thee alone, and that fair veil
    Of beauty thou dost love shall wear again."
    Why was she silent then, why dropped my hand
    Ere those delicious tones could quite avail
    To bid my mortal soul in heaven remain?

It vindicates the emphatic reality and pesonality of Petrarch's love, after all, that when from these heights of vision he surveys and resurveys his life's long dream, it becomes to him more and more definite, as well as more poetic, and is farther and farther from a merely vague sentimentalism. In his later sonnets, Laura grows more distinctly individual to us; her traits show themselves as more characteristic, her temperament more intelligible, her precise influence upon Petrarch clearer. What delicate accuracy of delineation is seen, for instance, in this sonnet!

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    SONNET 314.
    "Dolci durezze e placide repulse."
    Gentle severity, repulses mild,
    Full of chaste love and pity sorrowing;
    Graceful rebukes, that had the power to bring
    Back to itself a heart by dreams beguiled;
    A soft-toned voice, whose accents undefiled
    Held sweet restraints, all duty honoring;
    The bloom of virtue; purity's clear spring
    To cleanse away base thoughts and passions wild; Divinest eyes to make a lover's bliss,
    Whether to bridle in the wayward mind
    Lest its wild wanderings should the pathway miss,
    Or else its griefs to soothe, its wounds to bind;
    This sweet completeness of thy life it is
    That saved my soul; no other peace I find.

In the following sonnet visions multiply upon visions. Would that one could transfer into English the delicious way in which the sweet Italian rhymes recur and surround and seem to embrace each other, and are woven and unwoven and interwoven, like the heavenly hosts that gathered around Laura.

    SONNET 302.
    "Gli angeli eletti."
    The holy angels and the spirits blest,
    Celestial bands, upon that day serene
    When first my love went by in heavenly mien,
    Came thronging, wondering at the gracious guest.
    "What light is here, in what new beauty drest?"
    They said among themselves; "for none has seen
    Within this age come wandering such a queen
    From darkened earth into immortal rest."
    And she, contented with her new-found bliss,
    Ranks with the purest in that upper sphere,
    Yet ever and anon looks back on this, To watch for me, as if for me she stayed.
    So strive, my thoughts, lest that high path I miss.
    I hear her call, and must not be delayed.

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Oldport Days
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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