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La Madonna Della Sedia by Emma Lazarus


Raphael. Still in this free, clear air that vision floats

Before my brain. I may nor banish it

Nor grasp it. 'Tis too fine, too spirit-like,

To offer as the type of motherhood.

Color and blood and life and truth it lacks.

Gods! can it be that our imaginings

Excel your handiwork? Must life seem dull,

Must earth seem barren and unbeautiful,

For ever unto him who can create

This rarer world of delicate phantasy?

I lift mine eyes, and nothing real responds

To those ideal forms. God pardon me!

There in the everlasting sunshine sits

The Mother with the Infant at her breast.

Hence, ghostly shadows! let me learn to draw

Mine inspiration from the common air.

A peasant-woman auburn-haired, large-eyed,

Within the shade of overhanging boughs

Suckles her babe, and sees her eldest born

Gambol upon the grass: the elf has wrought

With two snapt boughs the semblance of a cross,

And proudly holds the sacred symbol high

Above his head to win his mother's praise.

Mine art may haply reproduce that wealth

Of brilliant hues—the dusk hair's glimmering gold,

The auroral blush, the bare breasts shining white

Where the babe's warm rose-face is pressed against

That fount of generous life; but ah! what craft

May paint the unearthly peace upon her brow,

The holy love that from her dark moist orbs

Beams with no lesser glory than the eyes

Of the Maid-Mother toward her heaven-born Child.

Little Boy with the Cross.

Oh, mother, such a stranger comes this way!

I saw him as I climbed the olive tree

To break the branches for my crucifix—

tall, fair youth with floating yellow curls.

Is he an angel?

Maria. Silly darling, peace!

No longer dwell the angels on the earth,

And see, he comes.

Raphael. Madonna mia, hail!

God bless thee and thy cherubim!

Maria. Amen!

God bless thee also for the pious wish!

No cherubim are these, but, Heaven be thanked,

Two healthy boys. Pray, sit and rest with us:

The heat has been too fierce for wayfarers,

And 'neath these shady vines the afternoon

Is doubly fresh.

Raphael. Thanks, 'tis a grateful air:

The weariness of travel it uplifts

From heavy brow and body with its breath,

Delicious as cool water to the touch.

Maria. Bernardo, climb yon trunk again and pluck

Some ripened clusters for this gentleman.

Raphael. Ah, 'tis a radiant child: what full, lithe limbs!

What cream-white dimpling flesh! what golden lights

Glance through the foliage on his crisp-curled head!

What rosy shadows on the naked form

Against gray olive leaves and blue-green vine!

And see, where now the bright, round face peers down,

And smiles and nods, and beckons us as one

Who leaneth out of heaven.

Maria. A wanton imp,

And full of freaks. I marvel much thereat,

Since I have named him from a holy saint,

Who bode among us many years, and gave

His dying blessing unto me and mine.

Raphael. The child could be no other than he is

Without some loss, mother. But what saint

Had here his hermitage?

Maria. Nay, pardon me,

'Twas but my reverent love that sainted him;

Yet was he one most worthy of the crown,

If austere life of white simplicity,

Large charity and strict self-sacrifice

Can sanctify a mortal.

Raphael. Yet I see

No convent nigh.

Maria. Nay, sir, no convent his.

Beyond our comfortable homes he dwelt,

Not lonely though alone: 'neath yonder hill

His hut was reared; a tall full-foliaged oak

O'ershadowed it. 'Tis not so long agone

Since he was here to comfort, help and heal,

Yet now no earthly trace of him remains.

Spring freshets from the hills have washed away

The last wrecked fragments of his hermitage,

And though I pleaded hard, I could not save

The oak, his dear dumb daughter, from the axe,

Albeit 'twas she preserved him unto us.

Forgive me, sir, my chatter wearies you,

Here be the grapes my boy has plucked: they sate

Both thirst and hunger, pray refresh yourself.

Raphael. Dear mother, it is rest to hear thee speak.

'Tis not my hale young limbs that are forespent,

But an outwearied spirit, seeking peace,

Hath found it in thy voice. Speak on, speak on.

What of this holy saint? how chanced the tree

To save his life?

Maria. Ah, 'twas a miracle.

Through summer's withering heats and blighting droughts

His own hands gave the thirsty roots to drink.

In spring the first pale growth of tender green

Thrilled him with scarcely less delight than mine

At my babe's earliest glance of answering love.

Daily he fed the tame free birds that went

Singing among its boughs; he tended it,

He watched, he cherished, yea he talked to it,

As though it had a soul. God gave to him

Two daughters, he was wont to say—one mute,

And one who spake, the oak tree and myself.

A child, scarce older than my Bernard now,

I nestled to the quaint, kind hermit's heart,

And grew to girlhood with my hand in his.

I loved to prank his wretched cell with flowers.

Twisting bright weeds around his crucifix,

Or trailing ivy wreaths about his door.

One winter came when half my father's vines

Were killed with frost; the valley was as white

As yonder boldest mountain-top; the air

Cut like a knife; the brooks were still and stiff;

The high drifts choked the hollows of the hills.

When spring approached and swollen brooks ran free.

And in the ponds the blue ice cracked and brake,

The hard snows melted and the bladed green

Put forth again, then from the mountain-slopes,

The avalanches rolled; the streams o'erflowed;

The fields were flooded; flocks were swept away,

And folk fared o'er the pasture-ground in boats.

Two days and nights the sun and stars seemed drowned,

The air was thick with water, and the world

Lay ruined under rain and sliding snows.

Then day and night my thoughts were with the saint

Whose poor hut clung to yonder treacherous slope:

My dreams, my tears, my prayers were all for him.

Not till the flood subsided, and again

A watery sun shone forth, my prayers prevailed

Upon my father, and he went with me

To seek the holy man. "Just God!" he cried,

And I, with both hands pressed against mine eyes,

Burst into sobs. No hermitage was there:

Naught save one broken, tottering wall remained

Beneath the unshaken, firmly-rooted oak.

Then from the branches came a faint, thin voice,

"My children, I am saved!" and looking up,

We found him clinging with what strength was left

Unto the boughs. We led him home with us,

Starving and sick, and chilled through blood and bone.

Our tenderest care was needed to revive

The life half spent, and soon we learned the tale

Of his salvation. He had climbed at first

Unto his roof, but saw ere long small chance

For that frail hut to stand against the storm.

It rocked beneath him as a bark at sea,

The hard wind beat upon him, and the rain

Drenched him and seemed to scourge him as with flails.

He gave himself to God; composed with prayer

His spirit to meet death; when overhead

The swaying oak-limbs seemed to beckon him

To seek the branches' shelter and support.

His prayer till death was that the Lord would bless

His daughters, and distinguish them above

All children of the earth. For me his suit

Hath well prevailed, thank God! A happy wife,

A happy mother, I have naught to ask:

My blessings overflow.

Raphael. Thanks for thy tale,

Most gracious mother. See thy babe is lulled

To smiling sleep.

Maria. Yea, and the silence now

Awakens him. Ah, darling rogue, art flushed

With too much comfort? So! let the cool air

Play with thy curls and fan the plump, hot cheek.

Raphael. Hold, as the child uplifts his cherub face,

Opens his soft small arms to stroke thy cheek,

Crowing with glee, while the slant sunbeams light

A halo of gold fire about thy hair,

I see again a canvas that is hung

Over the altar in our church at home.

"Mater amabilis," yet here be traits,

Colors and tones the artist never dreamed.

Sweet mother, let me sketch thee with thy babe:

So rare a picture should not pass away

With the brief moment which it illustrates.

Maria. Art thou a painter too, Sir Traveler?

Where be thy brush and colors?

Raphael. Ah, 'tis true,

Naught have I with me. What is this? 'twill serve

My purpose.

Maria. 'Tis the cover of a cask,

Made of the very oak whereof I spake:

My father for his wine-casks felled the tree.

Raphael. A miracle! the hermit's daughters thus

Will be remembered in the years to come.

My pencil will suffice to scratch the lines

Upon the wood: my memory will hold

The lights, the tints, the golden atmosphere,

The genius of the scene—the mother-love.