"Twas midnight over Italy,
Still was the wind, and calm the sea.
The ceiling of this glowing earth,
Frescoed with stars of twinkling light,
Whose orbs were bright with quiet mirth,
O'er-looked a sad and mournful sight--
A maid in bridal garments 'rayed,
Beside the sea quite wildly prayed.
It was Ninna, Villani's pride,
Who weary, weeps by the sea-side.
Before her eyes the buried past,
Like spectres of the midnight hour,
O'er saddened heart its visions cast
With all their former maddening power.
Her home in Florence far away,
Her fancy paints as bright as day.
She sees herself ingirlish frocks,
With golden, silken, curling locks
That crown a head and forehead high,
Above the brows of velvet touch,
64That over-look a deep blue eye,
Where quiet sadness linger much.
Within an ante-chamber dear
She sits. A harpsichord is near.
'Tis eve-- this time of which she dreams,
The dying sun has sent his gleams
To play on Pallas sculptured there,
To light the ancient liggio,
And kiss the maiden torso fair.
And while she sees the sunset glow,
A passion seizes heart and brain,
And bids her strike a mournful strain.
She wakes the harpsichord to life,
She dreams of peace away from strife,
"Of sunny isles of Lake Cashmere,"
Of the sacred grass near the Ganges' side,
Where he plane-trees lie reflected clear,
"And the valley of gardens lie beside."
She starts, and quickly turns to find
A man with face both proud and kind.
"This is Signora Ninna fair?
I've heard of thy rich gift so rare,"
65The stranger said with courteous bow.
"And know this era brings to light,
As critics artists will allow,
A soul aflame with genius bright.
O maid, art thou content to die
Unknown, and in oblivion sigh?
"Great Orpheus awoke the trees,
But in thy hands thou hold'st the keys
That hope the hearts of
O maid, the
will bow to thee.
List thou to me and thou wilt find
A mine more rich than India's sea!
My youth is gone, my hair is gray,
will see thy famous day.
"Signora, thou must fitted be
To join this pictured pageantry.
To glorious Rome thou must repair,
Where lives the giant minds of art,
And study with the masters there.
From Florence, then, thou wilt depart,
And leave behind thy poverty;
They'll soon forget thy history.
"And now I will disclose to thee,
What I would have thee know and see.
66This old, impassioned, foolish heart
Dost beat most tenderly for thee.
Signora, Cupid's thrilling dart
Has pierced an old man fearfully!
Hear me, Ninna mia, I pray,
Send not a hungry heart away!
"I only ask, O maid, of thee,
That thou'll bestow thy hand on me,
When thou for years have studied there,
(And I, thy every want supply)
Where master minds of art repair.
Oh, thou wilt ne'er these hopes deny.
Reflect on thy celebrity,
For thou'll be Countess Villani!"
"Oh, tempt me not!" fair Ninna cried.
"You offer gold and fame beside.
I care not for your boasted wealth,
the thing you value much--
The coin's more dear to you than health,
That thrill you with their every touch.
But fame! That I could
How dear a thing is power to me!
"Alas! if I will make my mark,
It must be done without a heart,
67For I must
myself to thee.
This is the payment thou dost ask;
No longer gay, no longer free,
Thou would'st confine me to the task
Of wedding, and of pleasing
-- I'll reap celebrity.
"Look down Via de Bardi there,
See yonder youth with raven hair?
He has a soul akin to mine;
A poet's lyre he tunes at will!
My heart is
, 'twill ne'er be
When he is near the tempest's still.
Shall I for fame's bright, glittering page
These passions trod that storm and rage?
"And yet'tis sweet to think of power.
Will I e'er see that glorious hour
When counts and princes bend the knee,
And queens of every land will smile
With pleasure at my symphoney
While I their leisure hours beguile?--
Go, tempter, go. Call thou again,
And I'll give thee thy answer, then."
This scene of fancy passes by,
And Ninna sees within her eye.
68While she thus prays beside the sea,
The hour when she has bade farewell
To him she loves most tenderly.
Her agony, no tongue can tell,
Yet she has given up all for art,
And e'en has trampled on her heart.
She sees herself in glorious Rome.
Of intellect it is the home;
And after years of study there,
She wakes to fame of which she dreamed,
Surrounded by her votaries fair.
Life, others thought, an Eden seemed.
But no! a serpent day by day,
Slowly ate her heart away.
And now Villani comes to claim
The girl who'll share his wealth and name.
To-day, she was to be his bride;
And while her maids her form arrayed,
A serving-boy stole near her side,
And in her hand a missive laid.
Amazed, the words therein she read,
And this is what the letter said:
"Among the sick and dead I lie,
A voice within has said
69Before another fading day,
This plague that sweeps o'er Italy,
Will long have made my body clay;
But while I go I think of thee.
Wilt thou not let my fainting eye
Rest on thy face before I die?"
Then wild her shrieks rung through the hall,
Arousing guests, spectators all.
And madly rushing through the streets,
She swiftly neared the water-side.
Escaping all the friends she meets,
Who know that She's Villani's bride.
She wrings her hands and sobs that he
She loves should die so mournfully.
Just now she thought she heard a groan,
A smothered sigh, and then a moan
Beneath those sheltering lime-trees there.
Softly she steals, and lists again;
She breathes to heaven another prayer,
And quickly, wildly rushing then
Beholds her lover, lonely dying,
Beside the lime-trees sadly lying.
"Nello Mio!" she whispers now,
As with her tears she bathes his brow,
70Too late I know the human heart
Is master of the human will.
Ambition's all-consuming spark
Will ne'er tender passions kill.
O love! my art has slowly died
Since I refused to be thy bride.
"'Twas thou who woke my Muse at will,
'Twas thou who could the tempests still.
With thee I would have touched the skies.
My pinions into fancy soar;
Inspired by those, thy love-lit eyes,
Imaginations realms explore.
But no! my soul on flattery fed,
My genius fades, and now is dead."
"Weep not, Ninna mia," he cries.
He moans again, and sadly sighs.
'Twas destined that our paths should stray
Dear heart, such are the things of life.
We'll meet within a brighter day,
Where there is neither woe nor strife.
Farewell! my spirit wings its flight,
Borne up by thine orb's softest light."
"Nello! I cannot see thee go
From out this life of mine, no, no!
71Death sure, will likewise come to me;
This torture cannot longer last,
My spirit soon Shall follow thee.
The plague its fetters o'er me cast.
I die: my soul is borne with thee,
To the boundless sphere of eternity."