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Emma Lazarus

(22 July 1849 – 19 November 1887 / New York City / United States)

A Masque Of Venice


(A Dream.)

Not a stain,
In the sun-brimmed sapphire cup that is the sky-
Not a ripple on the black translucent lane
Of the palace-walled lagoon.
Not a cry
As the gondoliers with velvet oar glide by,
Through the golden afternoon.

From this height
Where the carved, age-yellowed balcony o'erjuts
Yonder liquid, marble pavement, see the light
Shimmer soft beneath the bridge,
That abuts
On a labyrinth of water-ways and shuts
Half their sky off with its ridge.

We shall mark
All the pageant from this ivory porch of ours,
Masques and jesters, mimes and minstrels, while we hark
To their music as they fare.
Scent their flowers
Flung from boat to boat in rainbow radiant showers
Through the laughter-ringing air.

See! they come,
Like a flock of serpent-throated black-plumed swans,
With the mandoline, viol, and the drum,
Gems afire on arms ungloved,
Fluttering fans,
Floating mantles like a great moth's streaky vans
Such as Veronese loved.

But behold
In their midst a white unruffled swan appear.
One strange barge that snowy tapestries enfold,
White its tasseled, silver prow.
Who is here?
Prince of Love in masquerade or Prince of Fear,
Clad in glittering silken snow?

Cheek and chin
Where the mask's edge stops are of the hoar-frosts hue,
And no eyebeams seem to sparkle from within
Where the hollow rings have place.
Yon gay crew
Seem to fly him, he seems ever to pursue.
'T is our sport to watch the race.

At his side
Stands the goldenest of beauties; from her glance,
From her forehead, shines the splendor of a bride,
And her feet seem shod with wings,
To entrance,
For she leaps into a wild and rhythmic dance,
Like Salome at the King's.

'T is his aim
Just to hold, to clasp her once against his breast,
Hers to flee him, to elude him in the game.
Ah, she fears him overmuch!
Is it jest,-
Is it earnest? a strange riddle lurks half-guessed
In her horror of his touch.

For each time
That his snow-white fingers reach her, fades some ray
From the glory of her beauty in its prime;
And the knowledge grows upon us that the dance
Is no play
'Twixt the pale, mysterious lover and the fay-
But the whirl of fate and chance.

Where the tide
Of the broad lagoon sinks plumb into the sea,
There the mystic gondolier hath won his bride.
Hark, one helpless, stifled scream!
Must it be?
Mimes and minstrels, flowers and music, where are ye?
Was all Venice such a dream?

Submitted: Friday, April 16, 2010

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