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Oldport Days Thomas Wentworth Higginson

Sunshine And Petrarch

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These odes and sonnets are all but parts of one symphony, leading us through a passion strengthened by years and only purified by death, until at last the graceful lay becomes an anthem and a Nunc dimittis. In the closing sonnets Petrarch withdraws from the world, and they seem like voices from a cloister, growing more and more solemn till the door is closed. This is one of the last:-

    SONNET 309.
    "Dicemi spesso il mio fidato speglio."
    Oft by my faithful mirror I am told,
    And by my mind outworn and altered brow,
    My earthly powers impaired and weakened now,
    "Deceive thyself no more, for thou art old!"
    Who strives with Nature's laws is over-bold,
    And Time to his commandments bids us bow.
    Like fire that waves have quenched, I calmly vow
    In life's long dream no more my sense to fold.
    And while I think, our swift existence flies,
    And none can live again earth's brief career,
    Then in my deepest heart the voice replies
    Of one who now has left this mortal sphere,
    But walked alone through earthly destinies,
    And of all women is to fame most dear.

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How true is this concluding line! Who can wonder that women prize beauty, and are intoxicated by their own fascinations, when these fragile gifts are yet strong enough to outlast all the memories of statesmanship and war? Next to the immortality of genius is that which genius may confer upon the object of its love. Laura, while she lived, was simply one of a hundred or a thousand beautiful and gracious Italian women; she had her loves and aversions, joys and griefs; she cared dutifully for her household, and embroidered the veil which Petrarch loved; her memory appeared as fleeting and unsubstantial as that woven tissue. After five centuries we find that no armor of that iron age was so enduring. The kings whom she honored, the popes whom she revered are dust, and their memory is dust, but literature is still fragrant with her name. An impression which has endured so long is ineffaceable; it is an earthly immortality.

"Time is the chariot of all ages to carry men away, and beauty cannot bribe this charioteer." Thus wrote Petrarch in his Latin essays; but his love had wealth that proved resistless and for Laura the chariot stayed.

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Oldport Days
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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