Barcaroles by Susan Coolidge


Over the lapsing lagune all the day
Urging my gondola with oar-strokes light,
Always beside one shadowy waterway
I pause and peer, with eager, jealous sight,
Toward the Piazza where Pepita stands,
Wooing the hungry pigeons from their flight.

Dark the canal; but she shines like the sun,
With yellow hair and dreaming, wine-brown eyes.
Thick crowd the doves for food. She gives ME none.
She sees and will not see. Vain are my sighs.
One slow, reluctant stroke. Aha! she turns,
Gestures and smiles, with coy and feigned surprise.

Shifting and baffling is our Lido track,
Blind and bewildering all the currents flow.
Me they perplex not. In the midnight black
I hold my way secure and fearless row,
But ah! what chart have I to her, my Sea,
Whose fair, mysterious depths I long to know?

Subtle as sad mirage; true and untrue
She seems, and, pressing ever on in vain,
I yearn across the mocking, tempting blue.
Never she draws more near, never I gain
A furlong’s space toward where she sits and a miles;
Smiles and cares nothing for my love and pain.

How shall I win her? What may strong arm do
Against such gentle distance? I can say
No more than this, that when she stands to woo
The doves beside the shadowy waterway,
And when I look and long, sometimes–she smiles
Perhaps she will do more than smile one day!


Light and darkness, brown and fair,
Ha! they think I do not see,–
I behind them, swiftly rowing.
Rowing? Yes, but eyes are free,
Eyes and fancies:–

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Now what fire in looks and glances!
Now the dark head bends, grown bolder.
Ringlets mingle–silence–broken
(All unconscious of beholder)
By a kiss!

What could lovers ask or miss
In such moonlight, such June weather,
But a boat like this, (me rowing!)
And forever and together
To be floating?

Ah! if she and I such boating
Might but share one day, some fellow
With strong arms behind, Pasquale,
Or Luigi, with gay awning,
(She likes yellow!)

She–I mean Pepita–mellow
Moonlight on the waves, no other
To break silence or catch whispers,
All the love which now I smother
Told and spoken,–

Listened to, a kiss for token:
How, my Signor? What! so soon
Homeward bound? We, born of Venice,
Live by night and nap by noon.
If ’twere me, now,

With my brown-eyed girl, this prow
Would not turn for hours still;
But the Signor bids, commands,
I am here to do his will,
He is master.

Glide we on; so, faster, faster.
Now the two are safely landed.
Buono mano, grazie, Signor,
They who love are open-handed.
Now, Pepita!



She has said “yes,” and the world is a-smite.
There she sits as she sat in my dream;
There she sits, and the blue waves gleam,
And the current bears us along the while
For happy mile after happy mile,
A fairy boat on a fairy stream.

The Angelus bells siring to and fro,
And the sunset lingers to hear their swell,
For the sunset loves such music well.
A big, bright moon is hovering low,
Where the edge of the sky is all aglow,
Like the middle heart of a red, red shell.

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The Lido floats like a purple flower;
Orange and rose are the sails at sea;
Silk and pink the surf-line free
Tumbles and chimes, and the perfect hour
Clasps us and folds us in its power,
Folds us and holds us, my love and me.

Can there be sadness anywhere
In the world to-night? Or tears or sighs
Beneath such festal moon and skies?
Can there be memory or despair?
What is it, beloved? Why point you there,
With sudden dew in those dearest eyes?

Yes! one sad thing on the happy earth!
Like a mourner’s veil in the bridal array,
Or a sorrowful sigh in the music gay,
A shade on the sun, in the feast a dearth,
Drawn like a ghost across our way,
Torcello sits and rebukes our mirth.

She sits a widow who sat as queen,
Ashes on brows once crowned and bright;
Woe in the eyes once full of light;
Her sad, fair roses and manifold green,
All bitter and pallid and heavy with night,
Are full of the shadows of woes unseen.

Let us hurry away from her face unblest,
Row us away, for the song is done,
The Angelus bells cease, one by one,
Pepita’s head lies on my breast;
But, trembling and full of a vague unrest,
I long for the morrow and for the sun.

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