VENICE: PART 3
Fourth Draft: Pentameters
How that blunt contract startled me! Someone
as far above as are the summer clouds
would now become my inner nature, her husked
luxuriousness of body and her strident breath
be mine to raise in storms of drenching passion
and ride that tumult as the breakers pass
to sunlit happiness, the brilliant swell
of water splashing on Rialto steps.
I took her hand. Assented. No words were said,
and in the morning I was shipwrecked, sunk
in that wide fundament of heavy sighs.
What can he say who has his body drowned
and then retrieved from what he did not fathom,
his limbs pulled out and wrapped in heady currents,
in pulsing vinegar of rasping strokes
that bring him upward in a rush of bubbles —
all this was mine and with an openness
I would not think were possible in one
so calculating in her step and dress.
I kept the contract close to mind in days
or weeks, so many, that I did not see her,
the warm blood pumping in reanimated
my play on 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 daylight in the early morning decks
the sparkling waters of the Adriatic
— far, far over, more than eyes can see
of coasts that brought in pinewood and the grapes,
the dark-wood cedars down from Smyrna,
Lebanon with honeyed smell of dates
and figs, and the rich sequestering of the light
reflected on the small Greek islands, the small
Ionian Isles where olives grey the hillsides,
and 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
of summer blazing on beneath the vast
white emptinesses of further Asia —
all these I set down in my canvases
of jewels and rouge and lustrous damask cloths.
In all I painted there, the liquid strokes
that lingered in an eyelid or a streak
of greenish ochre in the golden hair
which teemed with jewels or gleaming pearls
or bloom of healthy colour touched at breast
50. or ear — sweet things I'd run my fingers through
on long-remembered drowsy afternoons,
the sunlight soaking into tapestries
or into mellow shuttering that closed off walls —
all that I had in mind was in that body
which was but part of mine, as Venice knew
and smiled indulgently, as did her suitors
arrayed at embassies and Council's meetings.
For me, it was of course much deprecating
of myself and more my servile station.
A man held in by guilds and signed agreements,
an artisan, not one to talk on high
of trade or empire or the prelate's zeal.
Mine was what I saw each living day:
the moving finger of our living God
that guided me in pen or chalk or brush —
and which, continually, made ducats ring:
Your studio would do this? So much obliged.
Your last astonished us and therefore we
will meet your fees, in total, as agreed.
There was no madman here whose licenced dreams
stood good to cauterize the public gaze,
but such of rank and dazzling precedence
that all who saw in me a mason's son
would speak in happy terms of industry,
of 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
bears through the sanctity an undressed thought,
what could I do who scraped the acres back
off sumptuous flame in damask, satin braids,
to see beneath it but the dull cloth gleam,
that spoke of honesty in working men
and not the harlot's underdress of silk.
I was no forward thinker, but one who sought
in God's meek and perpetual majesty to praise
what He has given us, to pass in silence
the roaring, drunken merriment in rooms
or flaunted bodices on balconies,
and, worse, the genders of my own half sex,
the drabs who not so much exposed themselves
but did all manner of disgusting acts
with those I was acquainted with, indeed
knew well — from these I crossed myself, and blessed
the scriptures that in safety, day by day
to Canaan's land have brought me, sinning ever
as we all are, drifting endlessly
beyond the knowledge of our fall, whom
100. He forgives as we acknowledge him.
When young I lived with miracles and daily
lodged them in my mind. When daylight
crept up upon my father's stony walls,
I'd rise and sketch the figures as they stood,
erect and life-proud and in their proper forms.
Of course, now, being older, I am appalled
at such buffoonery and rank presumption.
I would repaint those walls of summer villas,
retouch my awkward-fashioned altarpieces,
but yet I marvel as I marvelled then.
God's hand was with me, guiding. In this I found
through puppetry and heartless make believe
redeeming images that made them true,
and that hard conscience of my father gave
me grace to see and draw as in his place.
A stout man, much in rages, heavy drinking,
and one so disappointed he would see
around him, day by day, God's creatures, find
the angel's wings in breezes or the clouds,
could hear them point or speak to him no doubt,
but with his trembling hands could only make
on stone his rough-hewn, ragged shapes of prophets.
One opening from another: each one kept
him toiling endlessly at wayside shrines.
Why God should let him labour on in vain,
would taunt with mirages and throw them back
with limitless self-loathing I do not know,
but He no doubt had reasons and has made
the same rich promises to flower in donna
Antonia's beauty in whom I saw a thousand
ways to make a patron's aimless wishes
reform in character and rich commission.
But all the while, most modestly, I'd set
how this could be, or that, and from my twirling brush
would come true prodigies of form and colour,
that they could see the world around them brought
to that most distant past, and what they saw
stretch out from doorway or the Rialto step
was now a living, sun-drenched holy land.
What they hoped for had been lived before:
along the Lido went our Saviour's steps
and He, for all His meekness and remit
of pain, had borne the lightness of the world.
Our revelry and dancing were His glory too,
who spoke in parables for simple folk.
Though even then the days were growing late,
and Venice stood as sunlit on the edge
of darkness — that we didn't know, and could
not tell her feasting, ever-hopeful people.
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