BETA

A woman sits in front of a doorway in a garden and stares directly at the viewer. She wears a wide-brimmed hat, hoop-shaped earrings, and a long shawl. She rests her chin on her hand and places the other hand in her lap. A dog sleeps by her feet and a lute is propped up beside her. A rose bush stands beside the lute. Grape vines line the doorway. Full-page illustration.

The Improvisatrice.

Beside her cottage door she sate and sang,1
That gentle creature with her deep black eyes,2
As if her heart of grief ne’er own’d a pang,3
And her young breast was sunny as her skies;4
The rich grapes hung clustering round her head,5
And rosiers, by her side, sweet perfume shed.6
A poetess in spirit, by the touch7
Of Nature framed, she needed not the rules8
Of pendants, sophists, dogmatists, and such;9
Art’s trickery, or the doctrines of the schools:10
The glow was at her soul, and so she sung,11
Life in her words, and heart upon her tongue.12
Her theme was love—of quiet summer eves,13
And shepherds piping in the pastoral dale;14
As with a throbbing heart, beneath the leaves15
Of the green elms, the lover breathed his tale,16
And she, his idol, from his amorous arms,17
Half-pain’d, half-pleas’d, withdrew her conquering
charms.
18
Of Tasso and his passion deep she told,19
His inspiration, frenzy, and despair;20
And how, through lonesome years, amid the mould21
Of dungeon cells, his Leonora fair22
Rose in her beauty on his tranced sight,23
Like eve’s one star ’mid winter’s gathering night.24
And then to mild Petrarcha changed the theme,25
And to Vaucluse’s woodland greenery bright,—26
Laura his daylight idol, and the dream27
Of his mild spirit through each watch of night;28
Time purifying still his ardours high,29
Till Passion’s self became Philosophy.30
Anon she sang of battle, and the breath31
Of Slaughter tainting Heaven’s salubrious gal32
Households laid prostrate by the leveller Death,33
And orphans desolate, and widows pale34
Anguish imploring Rapine, deaf to hear35
Life-withering Famine, and sepulchral Fear!36
The wars of fierce and fiery Tamerlane37
She sang; and how it soothed his savage rage38
To pluck, in daily hate, the humbling chain,39
Which knit proud Bajazet to his iron cage,40
Until, beneath Scorn’s unrelenting yoke,41
His hopes forsook him, and his heart was broke.42
Then Peter’s praise she hymn’d, who o’er the rude43
And darken’d Russ shed civilizing light,44
Triumphant in the van of battle stood,45
And vanquish’d Charles at red Pultowa’s fight.—46
Symphonious with her voice, the rich guitar47
Calm’d into peace, or kindled into war.48
Anon the varied charms of Nature’s face49
Would lend a syren witchery to her song,50
As she the lovely lineaments would trace51
Of amaranthine isles, to which belong52
Perennial endless summer, and man’s life,53
Unpoison’d by Ambition, knows not strife.54
Straight to the wintry waste of polar seas55
The’ enchantress bore with her the soul astray,56
Where scowl’d the iceberg, and the sleety breeze57
Drifted from howling cubs the bear away,58
And fur-clad natives, housed in caverns drear,59
Slept through the night which darken’d half the year.60
The Passions at her bidding throng’d around61
Hope, with her bright blue eyes and golden hair;62
Teeth-gnashing Hate;̳Remorse that bit the ground;63
Yellow-brow’d Jealousy, and fierce Despair;—64
Spirits met and mix’d; and, from the strife,65
She drew that pictured chaos, human life.66
Gaze on that face—’tis fair and feminine;67
Yet, in the mirror of those pensive eyes,68
Whose lustre rather seems to speak than shine,69
A fathomless abyss of passion lies:70
Earth is to her a spectral vision bright,71
Flashing with sunshine, or begrimed with night.72
’Tis past!—and art thou but a brilliant dream73
On which I gaze—a something, by the power74
Of Genius conjured from the shapes that teem75
In the mind’s eye, through Inspiration’s hour?—76
Even as I gaze, the warm illusions fade77
Into a silent scene, an empty shade.78
Bare canvas, and the solitary gloom79
Of a dim studio—there the Painter stands,80
Bidding each nice and tender touch illume81
The scene, till beauty on the sight expands;82
And lo! the marvel which creative Art83
Gifts in its high perfection to the heart !84
Yes! such was the illusion, and so bright85
The poetess of Nature, which the power86
Of genius conjured to the Painter’s sight,87
In Contemplation’s meditative hour,—88
The syren shape in Memory’s love enshrined,89
Which Bone to beauty drew, and Romney lined.90