The Two Dreams

(FROM BOCCACCIO)

I will that if I say a heavy thing

Your tongues forgive me; seeing ye know that spring

Has flecks and fits of pain to keep her sweet,

And walks somewhile with winter-bitten feet.

Moreover it sounds often well to let

One string, when ye play music, keep at fret

The whole song through; one petal that is dead

Confirms the roses, be they white or red;

Dead sorrow is not sorrowful to hear

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As the thick noise that breaks mid weeping were;

The sick sound aching in a lifted throat

Turns to sharp silver of a perfect note;

And though the rain falls often, and with rain

Late autumn falls on the old red leaves like pain,

I deem that God is not disquieted.

Also while men are fed with wine and bread,

They shall be fed with sorrow at his hand.

There grew a rose-garden in Florence land

More fair than many; all red summers through

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The leaves smelt sweet and sharp of rain, and blew

Sideways with tender wind; and therein fell

Sweet sound wherewith the green waxed audible,

As a bird’s will to sing disturbed his throat

And set the sharp wings forward like a boat

Pushed through soft water, moving his brown side

Smooth-shapen as a maid’s, and shook with pride

His deep warm bosom, till the heavy sun’s

Set face of heat stopped all the songs at once.

The ways were clean to walk and delicate;

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And when the windy white of March grew late,

Before the trees took heart to face the sun

With ravelled raiment of lean winter on,

The roots were thick and hot with hollow grass.

Some roods away a lordly house there was,

Cool with broad courts and latticed passage wet

From rush-flowers and lilies ripe to set,

Sown close among the strewings of the floor;

And either wall of the slow corridor

Was dim with deep device of gracious things;

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Some angel’s steady mouth and weight of wings

Shut to the side; or Peter with straight stole

And beard cut black against the aureole

That spanned his head from nape to crown; thereby

Mary’s gold hair, thick to the girdle-tie

Wherein was bound a child with tender feet;

Or the broad cross with blood nigh brown on it.

Within this house a righteous lord abode,

Ser Averardo; patient of his mood,

And just of judgment; and to child he had

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A maid so sweet that her mere sight made glad

Men sorrowing, and unbound the brows of hate;

And where she came, the lips that pain made strait

Waxed warm and wide, and from untender grew

Tender as those that sleep brings patience to.

Such long locks had she, that with knee to chin

She might have wrapped and warmed her feet therein.

Right seldom fell her face on weeping wise;

Gold hair she had, and golden-coloured eyes,

Filled with clear light and fire and large repose

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Like a fair hound’s; no man there is but knows

Her face was white, and thereto she was tall;

In no wise lacked there any praise at all

To her most perfect and pure maidenhood;

No sin I think there was in all her blood.

She, where a gold grate shut the roses in,

Dwelt daily through deep summer weeks, through green

Hushed hours of rain upon the leaves; and there

Love made him room and space to worship her

With tender worship of bowed knees, and wrought

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Such pleasure as the pained sense palates not

For weariness, but at one taste undoes

The heart of its strong sweet, is ravenous

Of all the hidden honey; words and sense

Fail through the tune’s imperious prevalence.

In a poor house this lover kept apart,

Long communing with patience next his heart

If love of his might move that face at all,

Tuned evenwise with colours musical;

Then after length of days he said thus: ‘Love,

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For love’s own sake and for the love thereof

Let no harsh words untune your gracious mood;

For good it were, if anything be good,

To comfort me in this pain’s plague of mine;

Seeing thus, how neither sleep nor bread nor wine

Seems pleasant to me, yea no thing that is

Seems pleasant to me; only I know this,

Love’s ways are sharp for palms of piteous feet

To travel, but the end of such is sweet:

Now do with me as seemeth you the best.’

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She mused a little, as one holds his guest

By the hand musing, with her face borne down:

Then said: ‘Yea, though such bitter seed be sown,

Have no more care of all that you have said;

Since if there is no sleep will bind your head,

Lo, I am fain to help you certainly;

Christ knoweth, sir, if I would have you die;

There is no pleasure when a man is dead.’

Thereat he kissed her hands and yellow head

And clipped her fair long body many times;

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I have no wit to shape in written rhymes

A scanted tithe of this great joy they had.

They were too near love’s secret to be glad;

As whoso deems the core will surely melt

From the warm fruit his lips caress, hath felt

Some bitter kernel where the teeth shut hard:

Or as sweet music sharpens afterward,

Being half disrelished both for sharp and sweet;

As sea-water, having killed over-heat

In a man’s body, chills it with faint ache;

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So their sense, burdened only for love’s sake,

Failed for pure love; yet so time served their wit,

They saved each day some gold reserves of it,

Being wiser in love’s riddle than such be

Whom fragments feed with his chance charity.

All things felt sweet were felt sweet overmuch;

The rose-thorn’s prickle dangerous to touch,

And flecks of fire in the thin leaf-shadows;

Too keen the breathèd honey of the rose,

Its red too harsh a weight on feasted eyes;

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They were so far gone in love’s histories,

Beyond all shape and colour and mere breath,

Where pleasure has for kinsfolk sleep and death,

And strength of soul and body waxen blind

For weariness, and flesh entoiled with mind,

When the keen edge of sense foretasteth sin.

Even this green place the summer caught them in

Seemed half deflowered and sick with beaten leaves

In their strayed eyes; these gold flower-fumèd eves

Burnt out to make the sun’s love-offering,

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The midnoon’s prayer, the rose’s thanksgiving,

The trees’ weight burdening the strengthless air,

The shape of her stilled eyes, her coloured hair,

Her body’s balance from the moving feet –

All this, found fair, lacked yet one grain of sweet

It had some warm weeks back: so perisheth

On May’s new lip the tender April breath:

So those same walks the wind sowed lilies in

All April through, and all their latter kin

Of languid leaves whereon the Autumn blows –

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The dead red raiment of the last year’s rose –

The last year’s laurel, and the last year’s love,

Fade, and grow things that death grows weary of.

What man will gather in red summer-time

The fruit of some obscure and hoary rhyme

Heard last midwinter, taste the heart in it,

Mould the smooth semitones afresh, refit

The fair limbs ruined, flush the dead blood through

With colour, make all broken beauties new

For love’s new lesson – shall not such find pain

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When the marred music labouring in his brain

Frets him with sweet sharp fragments, and lets slip

One word that might leave satisfied his lip –

One touch that might put fire in all the chords?

This was her pain: to miss from all sweet words

Some taste of sound, diverse and delicate –

Some speech the old love found out to compensate

For seasons of shut lips and drowsiness –

Some grace, some word the old love found out to bless

Passionless months and undelighted weeks.

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The flowers had lost their summer-scented cheeks,

Their lips were no more sweet than daily breath:

The year was plagued with instances of death.

So fell it, these were sitting in cool grass

With leaves about, and many a bird there was

Where the green shadow thickliest impleached

Soft fruit and writhen spray and blossom bleached

Dry in the sun or washed with rains to white:

Her girdle was pure silk, the bosom bright

With purple as purple water and gold wrought in.

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One branch had touched with dusk her lips and chin,

Made violet of the throat, abashed with shade

The breast’s bright plaited work: but nothing frayed

The sun’s large kiss on the luxurious hair.

Her beauty was new colour to the air

And music to the silent many birds.

Love was an-hungred for some perfect words

To praise her with; but only her low name

‘Andrevuola’ came thrice, and thrice put shame

In her clear cheek, so fruitful with new red

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That for pure love straightway shame’s self was dead.

Then with lids gathered as who late had wept

She began saying: ‘I have so little slept

My lids drowse now against the very sun;

Yea, the brain aching with a dream begun

Beats like a fitful blood; kiss but both brows,

And you shall pluck my thoughts grown dangerous

Almost away.’ He said thus, kissing them:

‘O sole sweet thing that God is glad to name,

My one gold gift, if dreams be sharp and sore

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Shall not the waking time increase much more

With taste and sound, sweet eyesight or sweet scent?

Has any heat too hard and insolent

Burnt bare the tender married leaves, undone

The maiden grass shut under from the sun?

Where in this world is room enough for pain?’

The feverish finger of love had touched again

Her lips with happier blood; the pain lay meek

In her fair face, nor altered lip nor cheek

With pallor or with pulse; but in her mouth

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Love thirsted as a man wayfaring doth,

Making it humble as weak hunger is.

She lay close to him, bade do this and this,

Say that, sing thus: then almost weeping-ripe

Crouched, then laughed low. As one that fain would wipe

The old record out of old things done and dead,

She rose, she heaved her hands up, and waxed red

For wilful heart and blameless fear of blame;

Saying ‘Though my wits be weak, this is no shame

For a poor maid whom love so punisheth

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With heats of hesitation and stopped breath

That with my dreams I live yet heavily

For pure sad heart and faith’s humility.

Now be not wroth and I will show you this.

‘Methought our lips upon their second kiss

Met in this place, and a fair day we had

And fair soft leaves that waxed and were not sad

With shaken rain or bitten through with drouth;

When I, beholding ever how your mouth

Waited for mine, the throat being fallen back,

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Saw crawl thereout a live thing flaked with black

Specks of brute slime and leper-coloured scale,

A devil’s hide with foul flame-writhen grail

Fashioned where hell’s heat festers loathsomest;

And that brief speech may ease me of the rest,

Thus were you slain and eaten of the thing.

My waked eyes felt the new day shuddering

On their low lids, felt the whole east so beat,

Pant with close pulse of such a plague-struck heat,

As if the palpitating dawn drew breath

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For horror, breathing between life and death,

Till the sun sprang blood-bright and violent.’

So finishing, her soft strength wholly spent,

She gazed each way, lest some brute-hoovèd thing,

The timeless travail of hell’s childbearing,

Should threat upon the sudden: whereat he,

For relish of her tasted misery

And tender little thornprick of her pain,

Laughed with mere love. What lover among men

But hath his sense fed sovereignly ’twixt whiles

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With tears and covered eyelids and sick smiles

And soft disaster of a painèd face?

What pain, established in so sweet a place,

But the plucked leaf of it smells fragrantly?

What colour burning man’s wide-open eye

But may be pleasurably seen? what sense

Keeps in its hot sharp extreme violence

No savour of sweet things? The bereaved blood

And emptied flesh in their most broken mood

Fail not so wholly, famish not when thus

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Past honey keeps the starved lip covetous.

Therefore this speech from a glad mouth began,

Breathed in her tender hair and temples wan

Like one prolonged kiss while the lips had breath.

‘Sleep, that abides in vassalage of death

And in death’s service wears out half his age,

Hath his dreams full of deadly vassalage,

Shadow and sound of things ungracious;

Fair shallow faces, hooded bloodless brows,

And mouths past kissing; yea, myself have had

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As harsh a dream as holds your eyelids sad.

‘This dream I tell you came three nights ago;

In full mid sleep I took a whim to know

How sweet things might be; so I turned and thought;

But save my dream all sweet availed me not.

First came a smell of pounded spice and scent

Such as God ripens in some continent

Of utmost amber in the Syrian sea;

And breaths as though some costly rose could be

Spoiled slowly, wasted by some bitter fire

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To burn the sweet out leaf by leaf, and tire

The flower’s poor heart with heat and waste, to make

Strong magic for some perfumed woman’s sake.

Then a cool naked sense beneath my feet

Of bud and blossom; and sound of veins that beat

As if a lute should play of its own heart

And fearfully, not smitten of either part;

And all my blood it filled with sharp and sweet

As gold swoln grain fills out the huskèd wheat;

So I rose naked from the bed, and stood

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Counting the mobile measure in my blood

Some pleasant while, and through each limb there came

Swift little pleasures pungent as a flame,

Felt in the thrilling flesh and veins as much

As the outer curls that feel the comb’s first touch

Thrill to the roots and shiver as from fire;

And blind between my dream and my desire

I seemed to stand and held my spirit still

Lest this should cease. A child whose fingers spill

Honey from cells forgotten of the bee

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Is less afraid to stir the hive and see

Some wasp’s bright back inside, than I to feel

Some finger-touch disturb the flesh like steel.

I prayed thus; Let me catch a secret here

So sweet, it sharpens the sweet taste of fear

And takes the mouth with edge of wine; I would

Have here some colour and smooth shape as good

As those in heaven whom the chief garden hides

With low grape-blossom veiling their white sides

And lesser tendrils that so bind and blind

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Their eyes and feet, that if one come behind

To touch their hair they see not, neither fly;

This would I see in heaven and not die.

So praying, I had nigh cried out and knelt,

So wholly my prayer filled me: till I felt

In the dumb night’s warm weight of glowing gloom

Somewhat that altered all my sleeping-room,

And made it like a green low place wherein

Maids mix to bathe: one sets her small warm chin

Against a ripple, that the angry pearl

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May flow like flame about her: the next curl

Dips in some eddy coloured of the sun

To wash the dust well out; another one

Holds a straight ankle in her hand and swings

With lavish body sidelong, so that rings

Of sweet fierce water, swollen and splendid, fail

All round her fine and floated body pale,

Swayed flower-fashion, and her balanced side

Swerved edgeways lets the weight of water slide,

As taken in some underflow of sea

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Swerves the banked gold of sea-flowers; but she

Pulls down some branch to keep her perfect head

Clear of the river: even from wall to bed,

I tell you, was my room transfigured so.

Sweet, green and warm it was, nor could one know

If there were walls or leaves, or if there was

No bed’s green curtain, but mere gentle grass.

There were set also hard against the feet

Gold plates with honey and green grapes to eat,

With the cool water’s noise to hear in rhymes:

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And a wind warmed me full of furze and limes

And all hot sweets the heavy summer fills

To the round brim of smooth cup-shapen hills.

Next the grave walking of a woman’s feet

Made my veins hesitate, and gracious heat

Made thick the lids and leaden on mine eyes:

And I thought ever, surely it were wise

Not yet to see her: this may last (who knows?)

Five minutes; the poor rose is twice a rose

Because it turns a face to her, the wind

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Sings that way; hath this woman ever sinned,

I wonder? as a boy with apple-rind,

I played with pleasures, made them to my mind,

Changed each ere tasting. When she came indeed,

First her hair touched me, then I grew to feed

On the sense of her hand; her mouth at last

Touched me between the cheek and lip and past

Over my face with kisses here and there

Sown in and out across the eyes and hair.

Still I said nothing; till she set her face

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More close and harder on the kissing-place,

And her mouth caught like a snake’s mouth, and stung

So faint and tenderly, the fang scarce clung

More than a bird’s foot: yet a wound it grew,

A great one, let this red mark witness you

Under the left breast; and the stroke thereof

So clove my sense that I woke out of love

And knew not what this dream was nor had wit;

But now God knows if I have skill of it.’

Hereat she laid one palm against her lips

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To stop their trembling; as when water slips

Out of a beak-mouthed vessel with faint noise

And chuckles in the narrowed throat and cloys

The carven rims with murmuring, so came

Words in her lips with no word right of them,

A beaten speech thick and disconsolate,

Till his smile ceasing waxed compassionate

Of her sore fear that grew from anything –

The sound of the strong summer thickening

In heated leaves of the smooth apple-trees:

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The day’s breath felt about the ash-branches,

And noises of the noon whose weight still grew

On the hot heavy-headed flowers, and drew

Their red mouths open till the rose-heart ached;

For eastward all the crowding rose was slaked

And soothed with shade: but westward all its growth

Seemed to breathe hard with heat as a man doth

Who feels his temples newly feverous.

And even with such motion in her brows

As that man hath in whom sick days begin,

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She turned her throat and spake, her voice being thin

As a sick man’s, sudden and tremulous;

‘Sweet, if this end be come indeed on us,

Let us love more;’ and held his mouth with hers.

As the first sound of flooded hill-waters

Is heard by people of the meadow-grass,

Or ever a wandering waif of ruin pass

With whirling stones and foam of the brown stream

Flaked with fierce yellow: so beholding him

She felt before tears came her eyelids wet,

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Saw the face deadly thin where life was yet,

Heard his throat’s harsh last moan before it clomb:

And he, with close mouth passionate and dumb,

Burned at her lips: so lay they without speech,

Each grasping other, and the eyes of each

Fed in the other’s face: till suddenly

He cried out with a little broken cry

This word, ‘O help me, sweet, I am but dead.’

And even so saying, the colour of fair red

Was gone out of his face, and his blood’s beat

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Fell, and stark death made sharp his upward feet

And pointed hands; and without moan he died.

Pain smote her sudden in the brows and side,

Strained her lips open and made burn her eyes:

For the pure sharpness of her miseries

She had no heart’s pain, but mere body’s wrack;

But at the last her beaten blood drew back

Slowly upon her face, and her stunned brows

Suddenly grown aware and piteous

Gathered themselves, her eyes shone, her hard breath

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Came as though one nigh dead came back from death;

Her lips throbbed, and life trembled through her hair.

And in brief while she thought to bury there

The dead man that her love might lie with him

In a sweet bed under the rose-roots dim

And soft earth round the branchèd apple-trees,

Full of hushed heat and heavy with great ease,

And no man entering divide him thence.

Wherefore she bade one of her handmaidens

To be her help to do upon this wise.

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And saying so the tears out of her eyes

Fell without noise and comforted her heart:

Yea, her great pain eased of the sorest part

Began to soften in her sense of it.

There under all the little branches sweet

The place was shapen of his burial;

They shed thereon no thing funereal,

But coloured leaves of latter rose-blossom,

Stems of soft-grass, some withered red and some

Fair and fresh-blooded; and spoil splendider

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Of marigold and great spent sunflower.

And afterward she came back without word

To her own house; two days went, and the third

Went, and she showed her father of this thing.

And for great grief of her soul’s travailing

He gave consent she should endure in peace

Till her life’s end; yea, till her time should cease,

She should abide in fellowship of pain.

And having lived a holy year or twain

She died of pure waste heart and weariness.

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And for love’s honour in her love’s distress

This word was written over her tomb’s head;

‘Here dead she lieth, for whose sake Love is dead.’