How Lisa Loved the King by George Eliot

How Lisa Loved the King


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subjects: Poetry

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Written between the inception of Middlemarch and the completion, seven years later, of Daniel Deronda this book is a charming treatment of a subject taken from Boccaccio; a poem interesting by virtue of its graceful form.

20 pages, with a reading time of ~0.5 hours (5,046 words), and first published in 1869. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, .

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Six hundred years ago, in Dante's time,
Before his cheek was furrowed by deep rhyme;
When Europe, fed afresh from Eastern story,
Was like a garden tangled with the glory
Of flowers hand–planted and of flowers air–sown,
Climbing and trailing, budding and full–blown,
Where purple bells are tossed amid pink stars,
And springing blades, green troops in innocent wars,
Crowd every shady spot of teeming earth,
Making invisible motion visible birth,—

Six hundred years ago, Palermo town
Kept holiday.  A deed of great renown,
A high revenge, had freed it from the yoke
Of hated Frenchmen; and from Calpe's rock
To where the Bosporus caught the earlier sun,
'Twas told that Pedro, King of Aragon,
Was welcomed master of all Sicily,—
A royal knight, supreme as kings should be
In strength and gentleness that make high chivalry.

Spain was the favorite home of knightly grace,
Where generous men rode steeds of generous race;
Both Spanish, yet half Arab; both inspired
By mutual spirit, that each motion fired
With beauteous response, like minstrelsy
Afresh fulfilling fresh expectancy.
So, when Palermo made high festival,
The joy of matrons and of maidens all
Was the mock terror of the tournament,
Where safety, with the glimpse of danger blent,
Took exaltation as from epic song,
Which greatly tells the pains that to great life belong.

And in all eyes King Pedro was the king
Of cavaliers; as in a full–gemmed ring
The largest ruby, or as that bright star
Whose shining shows us where the Hyads are.
His the best genet, and he sat it best;
His weapon, whether tilting or in rest,
Was worthiest watching; and his face, once seen,
Gave to the promise of his royal mien
Such rich fulfilment as the opened eyes
Of a loved sleeper, or the long–watched rise
Of vernal day, whose joy o'er stream and meadow flies.

But of the maiden forms that thick enwreathed
The broad piazza, and sweet witchery breathed,
With innocent faces budding all arow,
From balconies and windows high and low,
Who was it felt the deep mysterious glow,
The impregnation with supernal fire
Of young ideal love, transformed desire,
Whose passion is but worship of that Best
Taught by the many–mingled creed of each young breast?

'Twas gentle Lisa, of no noble line,
Child of Bernardo, a rich Florentine,
Who from his merchant–city hither came
To trade in drugs; yet kept an honest fame,
And had the virtue not to try and sell
Drugs that had none.  He loved his riches well,
But loved them chiefly for his Lisa's sake,
Whom with a father's care he sought to make
The bride of some true honorable man,—
Of Perdicone (so the rumor ran),
Whose birth was higher than his fortunes were,
For still your trader likes a mixture fair
Of blood that hurries to some higher strain
Than reckoning money's loss and money's gain.
And of such mixture good may surely come:
Lord's scions so may learn to cast a sum,
A trader's grandson bear a well–set head,
And have less conscious manners, better bred;
Nor, when he tries to be polite, be rude instead.

'Twas Perdicone's friends made overtures
To good Bernardo; so one dame assures
Her neighbor dame, who notices the youth
Fixing his eyes on Lisa; and, in truth,
Eyes that could see her on this summer day
Might find it hard to turn another way.
She had a pensive beauty, yet not sad;
Rather like minor cadences that glad
The hearts of little birds amid spring boughs:
And oft the trumpet or the joust would rouse
Pulses that gave her cheek a finer glow,
Parting her lips that seemed a mimic bow
By chiselling Love for play in coral wrought,
Then quickened by him with the passionate thought,
The soul that trembled in the lustrous night
Of slow long eyes.  Her body was so slight,
It seemed she could have floated in the sky,
And with the angelic choir made symphony;
But in her cheek's rich tinge, and in the dark
Of darkest hair and eyes, she bore a mark
Of kinship to her generous mother–earth,
The fervid land that gives the plumy palm–trees birth...