Shelley Sunday: ‘Marenghi’


by Percy Bysshe Shelley

(This fragment refers to an event told in Sismondi’s “Histoire des Republiques Italiennes”, which occurred during the war when Florence finally subdued Pisa, and reduced it to a province.—[MRS. SHELLEY’S NOTE, 1824.])

[Published in part (stanzas 7-15.) by Mrs. Shelley, “Posthumous Poems”, 1824; stanzas 1-28 by W.M. Rossetti, “Complete Poetical Works of P. B. S.”, 1870. The Boscombe manuscript—evidently a first draft—from which (through Dr. Garnett) Rossetti derived the text of 1870 is now at the Bodleian, and has recently been collated by Mr. C.D. Locock, to whom the enlarged and amended text here printed is owing. The substitution, in title and text, of “Marenghi” for “Mazenghi” (1824) is due to Rossetti. Here as elsewhere in the footnotes B. = the Bodleian manuscript.]

Let those who pine in pride or in revenge,
Or think that ill for ill should be repaid,
Who barter wrong for wrong, until the exchange
Ruins the merchants of such thriftless trade,
Visit the tower of Vado, and unlearn _5
Such bitter faith beside Marenghi’s urn.

A massy tower yet overhangs the town,
A scattered group of ruined dwellings now…

Another scene are wise Etruria knew
Its second ruin through internal strife _10
And tyrants through the breach of discord threw
The chain which binds and kills. As death to life,
As winter to fair flowers (though some be poison)
So Monarchy succeeds to Freedom’s foison.

In Pisa’s church a cup of sculptured gold _15
Was brimming with the blood of feuds forsworn:
A Sacrament more holy ne’er of old
Etrurians mingled mid the shades forlorn
Of moon-illumined forests, when…

And reconciling factions wet their lips _20
With that dread wine, and swear to keep each spirit
Undarkened by their country’s last eclipse…

Was Florence the liberticide? that band
Of free and glorious brothers who had planted,
Like a green isle mid Aethiopian sand, _25
A nation amid slaveries, disenchanted
Of many impious faiths—wise, just—do they,
Does Florence, gorge the sated tyrants’ prey?

O foster-nurse of man’s abandoned glory,
Since Athens, its great mother, sunk in splendour; _30
Thou shadowest forth that mighty shape in story,
As ocean its wrecked fanes, severe yet tender:—
The light-invested angel Poesy
Was drawn from the dim world to welcome thee.

And thou in painting didst transcribe all taught _35
By loftiest meditations; marble knew
The sculptor’s fearless soul—and as he wrought,
The grace of his own power and freedom grew.
And more than all, heroic, just, sublime,
Thou wart among the false…was this thy crime? _40

Yes; and on Pisa’s marble walls the twine
Of direst weeds hangs garlanded—the snake
Inhabits its wrecked palaces;—in thine
A beast of subtler venom now doth make
Its lair, and sits amid their glories overthrown, _45
And thus thy victim’s fate is as thine own.

The sweetest flowers are ever frail and rare,
And love and freedom blossom but to wither;
And good and ill like vines entangled are,
So that their grapes may oft be plucked together;— _50
Divide the vintage ere thou drink, then make
Thy heart rejoice for dead Marenghi’s sake.

[Albert] Marenghi was a Florentine;
If he had wealth, or children, or a wife
Or friends, [or farm] or cherished thoughts which twine _55
The sights and sounds of home with life’s own life
Of these he was despoiled and Florence sent…

No record of his crime remains in story,
But if the morning bright as evening shone, _60
It was some high and holy deed, by glory
Pursued into forgetfulness, which won
From the blind crowd he made secure and free
The patriot’s meed, toil, death, and infamy.

For when by sound of trumpet was declared
A price upon his life, and there was set _65
A penalty of blood on all who shared
So much of water with him as might wet
His lips, which speech divided not—he went
Alone, as you may guess, to banishment.

Amid the mountains, like a hunted beast,
He hid himself, and hunger, toil, and cold, _70
Month after month endured; it was a feast
Whene’er he found those globes of deep-red gold
Which in the woods the strawberry-tree doth bear,
Suspended in their emerald atmosphere. _75

And in the roofless huts of vast morasses,
Deserted by the fever-stricken serf,
All overgrown with reeds and long rank grasses,
And hillocks heaped of moss-inwoven turf,
And where the huge and speckled aloe made, _80
Rooted in stones, a broad and pointed shade,—

He housed himself. There is a point of strand
Near Vado’s tower and town; and on one side
The treacherous marsh divides it from the land,
Shadowed by pine and ilex forests wide, _85
And on the other, creeps eternally,
Through muddy weeds, the shallow sullen sea.

Here the earth’s breath is pestilence, and few
But things whose nature is at war with life—
Snakes and ill worms—endure its mortal dew.
The trophies of the clime’s victorious strife— _90
And ringed horns which the buffalo did wear,
And the wolf’s dark gray scalp who tracked him there.

And at the utmost point…stood there
The relics of a reed-inwoven cot, _95
Thatched with broad flags. An outlawed murderer
Had lived seven days there: the pursuit was hot
When he was cold. The birds that were his grave
Fell dead after their feast in Vado’s wave.

There must have burned within Marenghi’s breast _100
That fire, more warm and bright than life and hope,
(Which to the martyr makes his dungeon…
More joyous than free heaven’s majestic cope
To his oppressor), warring with decay,—
Or he could ne’er have lived years, day by day. _105

Nor was his state so lone as you might think.
He had tamed every newt and snake and toad,
And every seagull which sailed down to drink
Those freshes ere the death-mist went abroad.
And each one, with peculiar talk and play, _110
Wiled, not untaught, his silent time away.

And the marsh-meteors, like tame beasts, at night
Came licking with blue tongues his veined feet;
And he would watch them, as, like spirits bright,
In many entangled figures quaint and sweet _115
To some enchanted music they would dance—
Until they vanished at the first moon-glance.

He mocked the stars by grouping on each weed
The summer dew-globes in the golden dawn;
And, ere the hoar-frost languished, he could read _120
Its pictured path, as on bare spots of lawn
Its delicate brief touch in silver weaves
The likeness of the wood’s remembered leaves.

And many a fresh Spring morn would he awaken—
While yet the unrisen sun made glow, like iron _125
Quivering in crimson fire, the peaks unshaken
Of mountains and blue isles which did environ
With air-clad crags that plain of land and sea,—
And feel … liberty.

And in the moonless nights when the dun ocean _130
Heaved underneath wide heaven, star-impearled,
Starting from dreams…
Communed with the immeasurable world;
And felt his life beyond his limbs dilated,
Till his mind grew like that it contemplated. _135

His food was the wild fig and strawberry;
The milky pine-nuts which the autumn-blast
Shakes into the tall grass; or such small fry
As from the sea by winter-storms are cast;
And the coarse bulbs of iris-flowers he found _140
Knotted in clumps under the spongy ground.

And so were kindled powers and thoughts which made
His solitude less dark. When memory came
(For years gone by leave each a deepening shade),
His spirit basked in its internal flame,— _145
As, when the black storm hurries round at night,
The fisher basks beside his red firelight.

Yet human hopes and cares and faiths and errors,
Like billows unawakened by the wind,
Slept in Marenghi still; but that all terrors, _150
Weakness, and doubt, had withered in his mind.
His couch…

And, when he saw beneath the sunset’s planet
A black ship walk over the crimson ocean,—
Its pennon streaming on the blasts that fan it, _155
Its sails and ropes all tense and without motion,
Like the dark ghost of the unburied even
Striding athwart the orange-coloured heaven,—

The thought of his own kind who made the soul
Which sped that winged shape through night and day,— _160
The thought of his own country…

NOTES: _3 Who B.; Or 1870. _6 Marenghi’s 1870; Mazenghi’s B. _7 town 1870; sea B. _8 ruined 1870; squalid B. (‘the whole line is cancelled,’ Locock). _11 threw 1870; cancelled, B. _17 A Sacrament more B.; At Sacrament: more 1870. _18 mid B.; with 1870. _19 forests when… B.; forests. 1870. _23, _24 that band Of free and glorious brothers who had 1870; omitted, B. _25 a 1870; one B. _27 wise, just—do they 1870; omitted, B. _28 Does 1870; Doth B. prey 1870; spoil B. _33 angel 1824; Herald [?] B. _34 to welcome thee 1824; cancelled for… by thee B. _42 direst 1824; Desert B. _45 sits amid 1824 amid cancelled for soils (?) B. _53-_57 Albert…sent B.; omitted 1824, 1870. Albert cancelled B.: Pietro is the correct name. _53 Marenghi]Mazenghi B. _55 farm doubtful: perh. fame (Locock). _62 he 1824; thus B. _70 Amid the mountains 1824; Mid desert mountains [?] B. _71 toil, and cold]cold and toil editions 1824, 1839. _92, _93 And… there B. (see Editor’s Note); White bones, and locks of dun and yellow hair, And ringed horns which buffaloes did wear— 1870. _94 at the utmost point 1870; cancelled for when (where?) B. _95 reed B.; weed 1870. _99 after B.; upon 1870. _100 burned within Marenghi’s breast B.; lived within Marenghi’s heart 1870. _101 and B.; or 1870. _103 free B.; the 1870. _109 freshes B.; omitted, 1870. _118 by 1870; with B. _119 dew-globes B.; dewdrops 1870. _120 languished B.; vanished 1870. _121 path, as on [bare] B.; footprints, as on 1870. _122 silver B.; silence 1870. _130 And in the moonless nights 1870; cancelled, B. dun B.; dim 1870. _131 Heaved 1870; cancelled, B. wide B.; the 1870. star-impearled B.; omitted, 1870. _132 Starting from dreams 1870; cancelled for He B. _137 autumn B.; autumnal 1870. _138 or B.; and 1870. _155 pennon B.; pennons 1870. _158 athwart B.; across 1870.


 Edited by Thomas Hutchinson, M. A


Image Credit: View of Ancient Florence by Fabio Borbottoni


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