chamber not a sound intrudes
Upon the midnight’s tingling
Where Nino sits before his book and broods,
Thin and brow-burdened with
some fine distress,
Some gloom that hangs about his mournful moods
His weary bearing and neglected
So sad he sits, nor ever turns a leaf—
Sorrow’s pale miser o’er his hoard of grief.
and Leonora, they had met
Once at a revel by some lover’s
And they were young with hearts already set
To tender thoughts, attunèd
Wherefore it seemed they never could forget
That winning touch, that one
But found at last a shelter safe and sweet,
Where trembling hearts and longing hands might meet.
their dreams, and sweet, the life they led
With that great love that was
their bosoms' all,
Yet ever shadowed by some circling dread
It gloomed at moments deep and
And so for many a month they seemed to tread
With fluttering hearts, whatever
Half glad, half sad, their sweet and secret way
To the soft tune of some old lover’s lay.
But she is
gone, alas he knows not where,
Or how his life that tender
gift should lose:
Indeed his love was ever full of care,
The hasty joys and griefs of
him who woos,
Where sweet success is neighbour to despair,
With stolen looks and dangerous
But one long week she came not, nor the next,
And so he wandered here and there perplext;
she came. Full many days
He sought her at their trysts,
devised deep schemes
To lure her back, and fell on subtle ways
To win some word of her; but
all his dreams
Vanished like smoke, and then in sore amaze
From town to town, as one that
He wandered, following in unhappy quest
Uncertain clues that ended like the rest.
And now this
midnight, as he sits forlorn,
The printed page for him no
With every word some torturing dream is born;
And every thought is like a
step that scares
Old memories up to make him weep and mourn,
He cannot turn but from their
The weary shadows of his lost delight.
Rise up like dusk birds through the lonely night.
with questions vain he probes his grief,
Till thought is wearied out,
and dreams grow dim.
What bitter chance, what woe beyond belief
Could keep his lady’s heart
so hid from him?
Or was her love indeed but light and brief,
A passing thought, a moment’s
Aye there it stings, the woe that never sleeps:
Poor Nino leans upon his book, and weeps.
length the sudden grief that shook
His piercèd bosom like a gust
And laid full weary on the wide-spread book,
His eyes grow dim with slumber
light and fast;
But scarcely have his dreams had time to look
On lands of kindlier promise,
He starts up softly, and in wondering wise
Listens atremble with wide open eyes.
was that? Who knocks like one in dread
With such swift hands upon his
Perhaps some beggar driven from his bed
By gnawing hunger he can bear
Or questing traveller with confusèd tread,
Straying, bewildered in the
Nino uprises, scared, he knows not how,
The dreams still pale about his burdened brow.
bolt he draws, and unawares
A stranger enters with slow
A long robed monk, and in his hand he bears,
A jewelled goblet curiously
But of his face beneath the cowl he wears
For all his searching Nino seeth
And slowly past him with long stride he hies,
While Nino follows with bewildered eyes.
on he goes with dusky rustling gown
His steps are soft, his hands
are white and fine;
And still he bears the goblet on whose crown
A hundred jewels in the lamplight
And ever from its edges dripping down
Falls with dark stain the rich
and lustrous wine,
Wherefrom through all the chamber’s shadowy deeps
A deadly perfume like a vapour creeps.
And now he
sets it down with careful hands
On the slim table’s polished
And for a space as if in dreams he stands,
Close hidden in his sombre drapery.
"Oh lover, by thy lady’s last commands,
I bid thee hearken, for I bear
A gift to give thee and a tale to tell
From her who loved thee, while she lived too well."
voice falls slow and solemnly.
Tis soft, and rich, and wondrous
deep of tone;
And Nino’s face grows white as ivory,
Listening fast-rooted like a
shape of stone.
Ah, blessed saints, can such a dark thing be?
And was it death, and is Leonora
Oh, love is harsh, and life is frail indeed,
That gives men joy, and then so makes them bleed.
is the gift I bring"; the stranger’s head
Turns to the cup that glitters
at his side;
"And now my tongue draws back for very dread,
Unhappy youth, from what it
must not hide.
The saddest tale that ever lips have said;
Yet thou must know how sweet
A broken martyr for love’s weary sake,
And left this gift for thee to leave or take."
listens with that marble face,
And eyes that move not, strangely
wide and set.
The monk continues with his mournful grace:
"She told me, Nino, how
you often met
In secret, and your plighted loves kept pace,
Together, tangled in the self-same
Your dream’s dark and danger and its cread you knew,
And still you met, and still your passion grew.
aye with that luxurious fire you fed
Your dangerous longing daily,
crumb by crumb;
Nor ever cared that still above your head
The shadow grew; for that your
lips were dumb.
You knew full keenly you could never wed:
’Twas all a dream: the end must
For not on thee her father’s eyes were turned
To find a son, when mighty lords were spurned.
knowest that new-sprung prince, that proud up-start,
Pisa’s new tyrant with his armèd
Who bends of late to take the people’s part,
Yet plays the king among his
Whose gloomy palace in our city’s heart,
Frowns like a fortress with
its loop-holed walls.
’Twas him he sought for fair Leonora’s hand,
That so his own declining house might stand.
end came soon; ’twas never known to thee;
But, when your love was scarce
a six months old,
She sat one day beside her father’s knee,
And in her ears the dreadful
thing was told.
Within one month her bridal hour should be
With Messer Gianni for his power
And as she sat with whitened lips the while,
The old man kissed her, with his crafty smile.
pallid lady, all the woe she felt
Thou, wretched Nino, thou alone
Down at his feet with many a moan she knelt,
And prayed that he would never
wound her so.
Ah, tender saints! it was a sight to melt
The flintiest heart; but his
could never glow.
He sat with clenchèd hands and straightened head,
And frowned, and glared, and turned from white to red.
still with cries about his knees she clung,
Her tender bosom broken with
His words were brief, with bitter fury flung:
‘The father’s will the child
must meekly bear;
I am thy father, thou a girl and young.’
Then to her feet she rose in
And cried with tightened lips and eyes aglow,
One daring word, a straight and simple, ‘No!’
father left her with wild words, and sent
Rough men, who dragged her to
a dungeon deep,
Where many a weary soul in darkness pent
For many a year had watched
the slow days creep,
And there he left her for his dark intent,
Where madness breeds and sorrows
Coarse robes he gave her, and her lips he fed
With bitter water and a crust of bread.
day by day still following out his plan,
He came to her, and with determined
Strove with soft words and then with curse and ban
To bend her heart so wearied
to his might,
And aye she bode his bitter pleasure’s span,
As one that hears, but hath
not sense or sight.
Ah, Nino, still her breaking heart held true:
Poor lady sad, she had no thought but you.
father tired at last and came no more,
But in his settled anger bade
The marriage feast with all luxurious store,
With pomps and shows and splendors
rich and rare; 180
And so in toil another fortnight wore,
Nor knew she aught what things
were in the air,
Till came the old lord’s message brief and coarse:
Within three days she should be wed by force.
all that noon and weary night she lay,
Poor child, like death upon
her prison stone,
And none that came to her but crept away,
Sickened at heart to see her
lips so moan,
Her eyes so dim within their sockets grey,
Her tender cheeks so thin and
But when the next morn’s light began to stir,
She sent and prayed that I might be with her.
boon he gave: perchance he deemed that I,
The chaplain of his house, her childhood's friend,
With patient tones and holy words, might try
To soothe her purpose to his gainful end.
I bowed full low before his crafty eye,
But knew my heart had no base help to lend.
That night with many a silent prayer I came
To poor Leonora in her grief and shame. 200
she was strange to me: I could not speak
For glad amazement, mixed with
some dark fear;
I saw her stand no longer pale and weak,
But a proud maiden, queenly
and most clear,
With flashing eyes and vermeil in her cheek: 205
And on the little table, set
I marked two goblets of rare workmanship
With some strange liquor crownèd to the lip.
then she ran to me and caught my hand,
Tightly imprisoned in her meagre
And like the ghost of sorrow she did stand,
And eyed me softly with a liquid
‘Oh father, grant, I pray thee, I command,
One boon to me, I’ll never ask
One boon to me and to my love, to both; 215
Dear father, grant, and bind it with an oath."
granted I, and then with many a wail
She told me all the story of
And when she finished, lightly but most pale,
To those two brimming goblets
she did go, 220
And one she took within her fingers frail,
And looked down smiling in its
‘And now thine oath I’ll tell; God grant to thee
No rest in grave, if thou be false to me.
poor me! whom cruel hearts would wed 225
On the sad morrow to that wicked
But I’ll not go; nay, rather I’ll be dead,
Safe from their frown and from
their bitter word.
Without my Nino life indeed were sped;
And sith we two can never more
In this drear world, so weary and perplext,
We’ll die, and win sweet pleasure in the next.
father, God will never give thee rest,
If thou be false to what thy
lips have sworn,
And false to love, and false to me distressed, 235
A helpless maid, so broken and
This cup—she put it softly to her breast—
I pray thee carry, ere the morrow
To Nino’s hand, and tell him all my pain;
This other with mine own lips I will drain.’ 240
she raised it to her lips, the while
I darted forward, madly fain
Her dreadful hands, but with a sudden wile
She twisted and sprang from
me with bent knees,
And rising turned upon me with a smile, 245
And drained her goblet to the
‘Oh priest, remember, keep thine oath,’ she cried,
And the spent goblet fell against her side.
then she moaned and murmured like a bell:
‘My Nino, my sweet Nino!’ and
no more 250
She said, but fluttered like a bird and fell
Lifeless as marble to the footworn
And there she lies even now in lonely cell,
Poor lady, pale with all the
grief she bore,
She could not live, and still be true to thee, 255
And so she’s gone where no rude hands can be."
voice pauses like some mournful flute,
Whose pondered closes for sheer
And then with hand that seems as it would suit
A soft girl best, it is so light
and frail, 260
He turns half round, and for a moment mute
Points to the goblet, and so
ends his tale:
"Mine oath is kept, thy lady’s last command;
’Tis but a short hour since it left her hand."
So ends the
stranger: surely no man’s tongue 265
Was e’er so soft, or half so
sweet, as his.
Oft as he listened, Nino’s heart had sprung
With sudden start as from a
For deep in many a word he deemed had rung
The liquid fall of some loved
And so it pierced his sorrow to the core,
The ghost of tones that he should hear no more.
But now the
tale is ended, and still keeps
The stranger hidden in dusky
And Nino stands, wide-eyed, as one that sleeps, 275
And dimly wonders how his heart
Anon he bends, yet neither moans nor weeps,
But hangs atremble, like a broken
"Ah! bitter fate, that lured and sold us so,
Poor lady mine; alas for all our woe!" 280
as he moans in such dark mood,
His wandering eyes upon the
Oh, dreaming heart! Oh, strange ingratitude!
So to forget his lady’s lingering
Her parting gift, so rich, so crimson-hued, 285
The lover’s draught, that shall
be cure for all.
He lifts the goblet lightly from its place,
And smiles, and rears it with his courtly grace.
lady sweet, I shall not long delay:
This gift of thine shall bring
me to thine eyes. 290
Sure God will send on no unpardoned way
The faithful soul, that at such
When thou art gone, I cannot longer stay
To brave this world with all
its wrath and lies,
Where hands of stone and tongues of dragon’s breath 295
Have bruised mine angel to her piteous death."
And now the
gleaming goblet hath scarce dyed
His lips’ thin pallor with its
When Nino starts in wonder, fearful-eyed,
For, lo! the stranger with outstretchèd
Springs at his face one soft and sudden stride,
And from his hand the deadly
cup hath sped,
Dashed to the ground, and all its seeded store
Runs out like blood upon the marble floor.
Nino, my sweet Nino! speak to me, 305
Nor stand so strange, nor look
so deathly pale.
’Twas all to prove thy heart’s dear constancy
I brought that cup and told
that piteous tale.
Ah! chains and cells and cruel treachery
Are weak indeed when women’s
hearts assail. 310
Art angry, Nino?" ’Tis no monk that cries,
But sweet Leonora with her love-lit eyes.
from her brow the pented hood;
The dusky robe falls rustling
to her feet;
And there she stands, as aye in dreams she stood. 315
Ah, Nino, see! Sure man did
So warm a flower from such a sombre bud,
So trembling fair, so wan, so
Aye, Nino, down like saint upon thy knee,
And soothe her hands with kisses warm and free. 320
And now with
broken laughter on her lips,
And now with moans remembering
of her care,
She weeps, and smiles, and like a child she slips
Her lily fingers through his
The while her head with all its sweet she dips, 325
Close to his ear, to soothe
and murmur there;
"Oh, Nino, I was hid so long from thee,
That much I doubted what thy love might be.
though ’twas cruel hard of me to try
Thy faithful heart with such
a fearful test, 330
Yet now thou canst be happy, sweet, as I
Am wondrous happy in thy truth
To haggard death indeed thou needst not fly
To find the softness of thy
For such a gift was never death’s to give, 335
But thou shalt have me for thy love, and live.
see these cheeks, my Nino? they’re so thin,
Not round and soft, as when
thou touched them last:
So long with bitter rage they pent me in,
Like some poor thief in lonely
dungeons cast; 340
Only this night through every bolt and gin
By cunning stealth I wrought
my way at last.
Straight to thine heart I fled, unfaltering,
Like homeward pigeon with uncagèd wing.
Nino, kneel not; let me hear thee speak. 345
We must not tarry long; the
dawn is nigh."
So rises he, for very gladness weak;
But half in fear that yet the
dream may fly,
He touches mutely mouth and brow and cheek;
Till in his ear she ’gins to
plead and sigh: 350
"Dear love, forgive me for that cruel tale,
That stung thine heart and made thy lips so pale."
And so he
folds her softly with quick sighs,
And both with murmurs warm and
Talk and retalk, with dim or smiling eyes, 355
Of old delights and sweeter
days to fall:
And yet not long, for, ere the starlit skies,
Grow pale above the city’s eastern
They rise, with lips and happy hands withdrawn,
And pass out softly into the dawn. 360
knows the captain of a ship,
The friend of many journeys,
who may be
This very morn will let his cables slip
For the warm coast of Sicily.
There in Palermo, at the harbour’s lip, 365
A brother lives, of tried fidelity:
So to the quays by hidden ways they wend
In the pale morn, nor do they miss their friend.
And ere the
shadow off another night
Hath darkened Pisa, many a foe
shall stray 370
Through Nino’s home, with eyes malignly bright
In wolfish quest, but shall
not find his prey:
The while those lovers in their white-winged flight
Shall see far out upon the twilight
Behind, the glimmer of the sea, before, 375
The dusky outlines of a kindlier shore.