Bianca's Dream - A Venetian Story
BIANCA!—fair Bianca!—who could dwell
With safety on her dark and hazel gaze,
Nor find there lurk'd in it a witching spell,
Fatal to balmy nights and blessed days?
The peaceful breath that made the bosom swell,
She turn'd to gas, and set it in a blaze;
Each eye of hers had Love's Eupyrion in it,
That he could light his link at in a minute.
So that, wherever in her charms she shone,
A thousand breasts were kindled into flame;
Maidens who cursed her looks forgot their own,
And beaux were turn'd to flambeaux where she
All hearts indeed were conquer'd but her own,
Which none could ever temper down or tame:
In short, to take our haberdasher's hints,
She might have written over it,—'from Flints.'
She was, in truth, the wonder of her sex,
At least in Venice—where with eyes of brown
Tenderly languid, ladies seldom vex
An amorous gentle with a needless frown;
Where gondolas convey guitars by pecks,
And Love at casements climbeth up and down,
Whom for his tricks and custom in that kind,
Some have considered a Venetian blind.
Howbeit, this difference was quickly taught,
Amongst more youths who had this cruel jailer,
To hapless Julio—all in vain he sought
With each new moon his hatter and his tailor;
In vain the richest padusoy he bought,
And went in bran new beaver to assail her—
As if to show that Love had made him smart
All over—and not merely round his heart.
In vain he labour'd thro' the sylvan park
Bianca haunted in—that where she came,
Her learned eyes in wandering might mark
The twisted cypher of her maiden name,
Wholesomely going thro' a course of bark:
No one was touched or troubled by his flame,
Except the Dryads, those old maids that grow
In trees,—like wooden dolls in embryo.
In vain complaining elegies he writ,
And taught his tuneful instrument to grieve,
And sang in quavers how his heart was split,
Constant beneath her lattice with each eve;
She mock'd his wooing with her wicked wit,
And slash'd his suit so that it matched his sleeve,
Till he grew silent at the vesper star,
And, quite despairing, hamstring'd his guitar.
Bianca's heart was coldly frosted o'er
With snows unmelting—an eternal sheet,
But his was red within him, like the core
Of old Vesuvius, with perpetual heat;
And oft he longed internally to pour
His flames and glowing lava at her feet,
But when his burnings he began to spout.
She stopp'd his mouth, and put the crater out.
Meanwhile he wasted in the eyes of men,
So thin, he seem'd a sort of skeleton-key
Suspended at death's door—so pale—and then
He turn'd as nervous as an aspen tree;
The life of man is three score years and ten,
But he was perishing at twenty-three,
For people truly said, as grief grew stronger,
'It could not shorten his poor life—much longer.'
For why, he neither slept, nor drank, nor fed,
Nor relished any kind of mirth below;
Fire in his heart, and frenzy in his head,
Love had become his universal foe,
Salt in his sugar—nightmare in his bed,
At last, no wonder wretched Julio,
A sorrow-ridden thing, in utter dearth
Of hope,—made up his mind to cut her girth!
For hapless lovers always died of old,
Sooner than chew reflection's bitter cud;
So Thisbe stuck herself, what time 'tis told,
The tender-hearted mulberries wept blood;
And so poor Sappho when her boy was cold,
Drown'd her salt tear drops in a salter flood,
Their fame still breathing, tho' their breath be past,
For those old suitors lived beyond their last.
So Julio went to drown,—when life was dull,
But took his corks, and merely had a bath;
And once he pull'd a trigger at his skull,
But merely broke a window in his wrath;
And once, his hopeless being to annul,
He tied a pack-thread to a beam of lath,
A line so ample, 'twas a query whether
'Twas meant to be a halter or a tether.
Smile not in scorn, that Julio did not thrust
His sorrows thro'—'tis horrible to die!
And come down, with our little all of dust,
That dun of all the duns to satisfy:
To leave life's pleasant city as we must,
In Death's most dreary spunging-house to lie,
Where even all our personals must go
To pay the debt of nature that we owe!
So Julio liv'd:—'twas nothing but a pet
He took at life—a momentary spite;
Besides, he hoped that time would some day get
The better of love's flame, howover bright;
A thing that time has never compass'd yet,
For love, we know, is an immortal light.
Like that old fire, that, quite beyond a doubt,
Was always in,—for none have found it out.
Meanwhile, Bianca dream'd—'twas once when Night
Along the darken'd plain began to creep,
Like a young Hottentot, whose eyes are bright,
Altho' in skin as sooty as a sweep:
The flow'rs had shut their eyes—the zephyr light
Was gone, for it had rock'd the leaves to sleep.
And all the little birds had laid their heads
Under their wings—sleeping in feather beds.
Lone in her chamber sate the dark-ey'd maid,
By easy stages jaunting thro' her pray'rs,
But list'ning side-long to a serenade,
That robb'd the saints a little of their shares;
For Julio underneath the lattice play'd
His Deh Vieni, and such amorous airs,
Born only underneath Italian skies,
Where every fiddle has a Bridge of Sighs.
Sweet was the tune—the words were even sweeter—
Praising her eyes, her lips, her nose, her hair,
With all the common tropes wherewith in metre
The hackney poets overcharge their fair.
Her shape was like Diana's, but completer;
Her brow with Grecian Helen's might compare:
Cupid, alas! was cruel Sagittarius,
Julio—the weeping water-man Aquarius.
Now, after listing to such laudings rare,
'Twas very natural indeed to go—
What if she did postpone one little pray'r—
To ask her mirror 'if it was not so?'
'Twas a large mirror, none the worse for wear,
Reflecting her at once from top to toe:
And there she gazed upon that glossy track,
That show'd her front face tho' it 'gave her back.'
And long her lovely eyes were held in thrall,
By that dear page where first the woman reads:
That Julio was no flatt'rer, none at all,
She told herself—and then she told her beads;
Meanwhile, the nerves insensibly let fall
Two curtains fairer than the lily breeds;
For Sleep had crept and kiss'd her unawares,
Just at the half-way milestone of her pray'rs.
Then like a drooping rose so bended she,
Till her bow'd head upon her hand reposed;
But still she plainly saw, or seem'd to see,
That fair reflection, tho' her eyes were closed,
A beauty-bright as it was wont to be,
A portrait Fancy painted while she dozed:
'Tis very natural some people say,
To dream of what we dwell on in the day.
Still shone her face—yet not, alas! the same,
But 'gan some dreary touches to assume,
And sadder thoughts, with sadder changes came—
Her eyes resigned their light, her lips their bloom,
Her teeth fell out, her tresses did the same,
Her cheeks were tinged with bile, her eyes with
There was a throbbing at her heart within,
For, oh! there was a shooting in her chin.
And lo! upon her sad desponding brow,
The cruel trenches of besieging age,
With seams, but most unseemly, 'gan to show
Her place was booking for the seventh stage;
And where her raven tresses used to flow,
Some locks that Time had left her in his rage.
And some mock ringlets, made her forehead shady,
A compound (like our Psalms) of Tête and braidy.
Then for her shape—alas! how Saturn wrecks,
And bends, and corkscrews all the frame about,
Doubles the hams, and crooks the straightest necks,
Draws in the nape, and pushes forth the snout,
Makes backs and stomachs concave or convex:
Witness those pensioners called In and Out,
Who all day watching first and second rater,
Quaintly unbend themselves—but grow no
So Time with fair Bianca dealt, and made
Her shape a bow, that once was like an arrow;
His iron hand upon her spine he laid,
And twisted all awry her 'winsome marrow.'
In truth it was a change!—she had obey'd
The holy Pope before her chest grew narrow,
But spectacles and palsy seem'd to make her
Something between a Glassite and a Quaker.
Her grief and gall meanwhile were quite extreme,
And she had ample reason for her trouble;
For what sad maiden can endure to seem
Set in for singleness, tho' growing double.
The fancy madden'd her; but now the dream,
Grown thin by getting bigger, like a bubble,
Burst,—but still left some fragments of its size,
That, like the soapsuds, smarted in her eyes.
And here—just here—as she began to heed
The real world, her clock chimed out its score;
A clock it was of the Venetian breed,
That cried the hour from one to twenty-four;
The works moreover standing in some need
Of workmanship, it struck some dozens more;
A warning voice that clench'd Bianca's fears,
Such strokes referring doubtless to her years.
At fifteen chimes she was but half a nun,
By twenty she had quite renounced the veil;
She thought of Julio just at twenty-one,
And thirty made her very sad and pale,
To paint that ruin where her charms would run;
At forty all the maid began to fail,
And thought no higher, as the late dream cross'd her,
Of single blessedness, than single Gloster.
And so Bianca changed;—the next sweet even,
With Julio in a black Venetian bark,
Row'd slow and stealthily—the hour, eleven,
Just sounding from the tow'r of old St. Mark;
She sate with eyes turn'd quietly to heav'n,
Perchance rejoicing in the grateful dark
That veil'd her blushing cheek,—for Julio brought her
Of course—to break the ice upon the water.
But what a puzzle is one's serious mind
To open;—oysters, when the ice is thick,
Are not so difficult and disinclin'd;
And Julio felt the declaration stick
About his throat in a most awful kind;
However, he contrived by bits to pick
His trouble forth,—much like a rotten cork
Grop'd from a long-necked bottle with a fork.
But love is still the quickest of all readers;
And Julio spent besides those signs profuse
That English telegraphs and foreign pleaders,
In help of language, are so apt to use,
Arms, shoulders, fingers, all were interceders,
Nods, shrugs, and bends,—Bianca could not choose
But soften to his suit with more facility,
He told his story with so much agility.
'Be thou my park, and I will be thy dear,
(So he began at last to speak or quote
Be thou my bark, and I thy gondolier,
(For passion takes this figurative note
Be thou my light, and I thy chandelier;
Be thou my dove, and I will be thy cote:
My lily be, and I will be thy river;
Be thou my life—and I will be thy liver.'
This, with more tender logic of the kind,
He pour'd into her small and shell-like ear,
That timidly against his lips inclin'd;
Meanwhile her eyes glanced on the silver sphere
That even now began to steal behind
A dewy vapour, which was lingering near,
Wherein the dull moon crept all dim and pale,
Just like a virgin putting on the veil:—
Bidding adieu to all her sparks—the stars,
That erst had woo'd and worshipp'd in her train,
Saturn and Hesperus, and gallant Mars—
Never to flirt with heavenly eyes again.
Meanwhile, remindful of the convent bars,
Bianca did not watch these signs in vain,
But turn'd to Julio at the dark eclipse,
With words, like verbal kisses, on her lips.
He took the hint full speedily, and, back'd
By love, and night, and the occasion's meetness,
Bestow'd a something on her cheek that smack'd
(Tho' quite in silence) of ambrosial sweetness;
That made her think all other kisses lack'd
Till then, but what she knew not, of completeness;
Being used but sisterly salutes to feel,
Insipid things—like sandwiches of veal.
He took her hand, and soon she felt him wring
The pretty fingers all instead of one;
Anon his stealthy arm began to cling
About her waist that had been clasp'd by none,
Their dear confessions I forbear to sing,
Since cold description would but be outrun;
For bliss and Irish watches have the pow'r,
In twenty minutes, to lose half an hour!
Thomas Hood's Other Poems
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