VENICE: PART 3
Third Draft: Pentameters
Such words and their directness startled me
from one who hung there there as the summer clouds,
voluptuous but distant. And to have that body
flagrantly to fondle, to reach into,
to feel my pressing stir its deeper sinews,
from husked luxuriousness to drenching passion,
vibrant, demanding and from knotted trembling
to drown again in heavy murmurings
as will the sea from storm and tempest pass
10. again to smiling sunlit brilliancy,
when days and days of drifting happiness
swell in like water on the Rialto steps.
These a man does not forget that has
his inner body pulled into long water depths,
where limbs kick out but are withstood by pressures
that knead his being, undo sinews, bring
him gasping in a rush of silver bubbles —
all this was mine and with an openness
I wouldn't have thought were possible in one so
20. calculating in her step and dress. That was
the contract kept meticulously those days
or weeks I would not see her but felt there still
was warm blood pumping through, reanimating
that came in canvases and happiness.
Veronese I must tell you was a name
that brought to minds the sumptuous animation
of festivals, our love of being dressed
as the day spread over the sparkling waters
of the Adriatic — whose coasts brought in
30. dried grapes, the rich dark cedars down to Smyrna,
Lebanon with honeyed smell of dates
and figs, and the rich sequestering of the light
reflected on the small Greek islands, the far
Ionian Isles where olives dot the hillsides,
on to Cyprus where the sea-borne Venus came
out of the sea's mystery and its copper ore.
All that is Venice with its trading posts
across the frozen Caucasus, with camel
bells that tinkle through the threaded silence
40. of summer blazing on beneath the vast
white emptinesses that make so much of Asia —
all these I set down in my canvases
of jewels and clothes and satin sheen.
In all I painted there, the liquid strokes
that lingered on an eyelid or a a streak
of grey-green in the lustrous golden hair
that teemed with jewels or gleaming pearls
or bloom of healthy red in breast or ear
were things which I had run my fingers through
50. on long remembered afternoons when sky
and the soft sunlight soaked in tapestries
or the wooden shuttering of donna Antonia's walls.
Indeed, the what I had was hers in origin.
As all knew that and her worthier suitors
smiled at embassies and the Council's meetings.
For me, I was impenetrably deprecating
both of myself and of my servile station.
I was a man still bound by signed agreements,
and not for me to talk with high commanders
60. On themes of empire or of prelate's zeal.
Mine was what I saw each living day:
our Saviour's ineffable goodness of forms
so given to my coloured chalk or brush -
the which, I add, yet made the ducat's ring
Your studio would do this? So much obliged.
Your last astonished us and therefore we
will meet your fees, in total, as agreed.
I was no madman whose unlicenced dreams
were good to place before the public gaze,
70. but such of rank and dazzling precedence
that Venice that saw me as a mason's son
would speak in glowing terms of industry
and fame beyond the burger's quiet facades
in plain Verona or the hills around.
All was mine to seize and celebrate,
that if there came, no doubt, more troubling sights,
as daylight surging through an inner room
to bear the sanctity of undressed thought,
what could I do who scraped the acres back
80. Of sumptuous flame in damask, satin braids,
saw nothing beneath it but the dull cloth gleam,
that spoke so eloquently of underclothes
of harlots, the drab and weave of working men?
I was no errant thinker, but one who sought
in God's meek and perpetual majesty to praise
what He has given us and pass in silence
where gateways into Hell flared out in doorways
or in upper rooms. All those who flaunted
bodices but not that gender, the drabs
90. who not so much exposed themselves but did
all manner of disgusting acts with some I was
acquainted of, this I knew, and crossed myself,
and blessed the scriptures that have safely, day
by day so brought me over, who are poor
sinners always, all of us and drifting.
We are God's creatures, whom our God forgives
as in His own good grace He moves within us.
For I then daily lived with miracles
when young, and lodged them in my mind. When daylight
100. bloomed however late or dilatory
on my child's monastic, whitewashed walls,
I'd rise and sketch the tropes of gesture on
the rough-cut figures sumptuous as they stood,
life-proud and shadowed in their forms. Of course,
now, being older, I am appalled at such
buffoonery and platitudes. I would
repaint the altarpieces, palaces,
retouch the awkward fashioned scenery,
and yet I marvel as I marvelled then,
awed at what I'd done. God's work, it's true,
but for all the puppetry and make believe
110. there were redeeming images that made them real,
the conscience of my father given me
to see and act and do. A stout man, I
remember, of rages and of heavy drinking,
a disappointed man with locked away
the talent that saw creatures round him day
by day, and felt the angel's wings in gusts
of wind or in the moving clouds, could hear
God speak to him no doubt but with his heavy
chisel made nothing on the stone but clumsy, ragged
120. Cuts and blunt, deluded rows of prophets.
One opening from another, where each one kept
him toiling endlessly at wayside shrines.
Why God would let him labium on in vain,
would taunt with mirages and throw them back
with limitless self-loathing I do not know,
thought He, I should have known would make this painter
in his turn doubt all, and hear beyond the shouts
of praise matters much more pertinent.
But that was far away, on those full summer
130. Days when drunk with donna Antonia's beauty
and heavy with the means to see a thousand
ways to make a patron's airy wishes
take firm hold on character and situation,
I would set out there modestly how this
would be or that, and from my twirling brush
came true prodigies of coloured tumult.
They could see the world around them brought
to that most distant past, that all they lived
was now but parcel and continuation
of days of sun-drenched holy land, that what
they hoped for had been lived before, graciously,
140. that echoing shore that rounded and embayed
the Lido was but what the Saviour's feet
had trodden the long, sad centuries before,
that He, for all His meekness and remit
of pain, such subjugation He had borne
was not required of us. Feasting and good things
were of His glory also, the parables
that led in all good time to what is true.
Though even then the days were growing late
for this good mercantile conception, that Venice
waned as the last bright edge of sunlight on
150. the rounding world grown dark. We did not know
that, either the Serenissima or her
prattling, feasting, ever hopeful people.
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