A Tale Of Villafranca by Elizabeth Barrett Browning



My little son, my Florentine,
Sit down beside my knee,
And I will tell you why the sign
Of joy which flushed our Italy
Has faded since but yesternight;
And why your Florence of delight
Is mourning as you see.


A great man (who was crowned one day)
Imagined a great Deed:
He shaped it out of cloud and clay,
He touched it finely till the seed
Possessed the flower: from heart and brain
He fed it with large thoughts humane,
To help a people’s need.


He brought it out into the sun–
They blessed it to his face:
“O great pure Deed, that hast undone
So many bad and base!
O generous Deed, heroic Deed,
Come forth, be perfected, succeed,
Deliver by God’s grace.”


Then sovereigns, statesmen, north and south,
Rose up in wrath and fear,
And cried, protesting by one mouth,
“What monster have we here?
A great Deed at this hour of day?
A great just Deed–and not for pay?
Absurd,–or insincere.”


“And if sincere, the heavier blow
In that case we shall bear,
For where’s our blessed ‘status quo,’
Our holy treaties, where,–
Our rights to sell a race, or buy,
Protect and pillage, occupy,
And civilize despair?”


Some muttered that the great Deed meant
A great pretext to sin;
And others, the pretext, so lent,
Was heinous (to begin).
Volcanic terms of “great” and “just”?
Admit such tongues of flame, the crust
Of time and law falls in.


A great Deed in this world of ours?
Unheard of the pretence is:
It threatens plainly the great Powers;
Is fatal in all senses.
A just Deed in the world?–call out
The rifles! be not slack about
The national defences.

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And many murmured, “From this source
What red blood must be poured!”
And some rejoined, “‘T is even worse;
What red tape is ignored!”
All cursed the Doer for an evil
Called here, enlarging on the Devil,–
There, monkeying the Lord!


Some said it could not be explained,
Some, could not be excused;
And others, “Leave it unrestrained,
Gehenna’s self is loosed.”
And all cried “Crush it, maim it, gag it!
Set dog-toothed lies to tear it ragged,
Truncated and traduced!”


But HE stood sad before the sun
(The peoples felt their fate).
“The world is many,–I am one;
My great Deed was too great.
God’s fruit of justice ripens slow:
Men’s souls are narrow; let them grow.
My brothers, we must wait.”


The tale is ended, child of mine,
Turned graver at my knee.
They say your eyes, my Florentine,
Are English: it may be.
And yet I’ve marked as blue a pair
Following the doves across the square
At Venice by the sea.


Ah child! ah child! I cannot say
A word more. You conceive
The reason now, why just to-day
We see our Florence grieve.
Ah child, look up into the sky!
In this low world, where great Deeds die,
What matter if we live?

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