Verse > Anthologies > Alfred H. Miles, ed. > Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century
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Alfred H. Miles, ed.  Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century.  1907.
 
The Spanish Gypsy (1864–8) (From Book I)
By George Eliot (Mary Ann Cross) (1819–1880)
 
THE LONG notes linger on the trembling air,
With subtle penetration enter all
The myriad corridors of the passionate soul,
Message-like spread, and answering action rouse.
Not angular jigs that warm the chilly limbs        5
In hoary northern mists, but action curved
To soft andante strains pitched plaintively.
Vibrations sympathetic stir all limbs:
Old men live backward in their dancing prime,
And move in memory; small legs and arms        10
With pleasant agitation purposeless
Go up and down like pretty fruits in gales.
All long in common for the expressive act
Yet wait for it; as in the olden time
Men waited for the bard to tell their thought.        15
“The dance! the dance!” is shouted all around.
Now Pablo lifts the bow, Pepíta now,
Ready as bird that sees the sprinkled corn,
When Juan nods and smiles, puts forth her foot
And lifts her arm to wake the castanets.        20
Juan advances, too, from out the ring
And bends to quit his lute; for now the scene
Is empty; Roldan weary, gathers pence,
Followed by Annibal with purse and stick.
The carpet lies a coloured isle untrod,        25
Inviting feet: “The dance, the dance,” resounds,
The bow entreats with slow melodic strain,
And all the air with expectation yearns.
Sudden, with gliding motion like a flame
That through dim vapour makes a path of glory,        30
A figure lithe, all white and saffron-robed,
Flashed right across the circle, and now stood
With ripened arms uplift and regal head,
Like some tall flower whose dark and intense heart
Lies half within a tulip-tinted cup.        35
 
Juan stood fixed and pale; Pepíta stepped
Backward within the ring; the voices fell
From shouts insistent to more passive tones
Half meaning welcome, half astonishment.
“Lady Fedalma!—will she dance for us?”        40
 
But she, sole swayed by impulse passionate,
Feeling all life was music and all eyes
The warming quickening light that music makes,
Moved as, in dance religious, Miriam,
When on the Red Sea shore she raised her voice        45
And led the chorus of the people’s joy;
Or as the Trojan maids that reverent sang
Watching the sorrow-crownéd Hecuba:
Moved in slow curves voluminous, gradual,
Feeling and action flowing into one,        50
In Eden’s natural taintless marriage-bond;
Ardently modest, sensuously pure,
With young delight that wonders at itself
And throbs as innocent as opening flowers,
Knowing not comment—soilless, beautiful.        55
The spirit in her gravely glowing face
With sweet community informs her limbs,
Filling their fine gradation with the breath
Of virgin majesty; as full vowelled words
Are new impregnate with the master’s thought.        60
Even the chance-strayed delicate tendrils black,
That backward ’scape from out her wreathing hair—
Even the pliant folds that cling transverse
When with obliquely soaring bend altern
She seems a goddess quitting earth again—        65
Gather expression—a soft undertone
And resonance exquisite from the grand chord
Of her harmoniously bodied soul.
 
At first a reverential silence guards
The eager senses of the gazing crowd:        70
They hold their breath, and live by seeing her.
But soon the admiring tension finds relief—
Sighs of delight, applausive murmurs low,
And stirrings gentle as of earéd corn
Or seed-bent grasses, when the ocean’s breath        75
Spreads landward. Even Juan is impelled
By the swift-travelling movement: fear and doubt
Give way before the hurrying energy;
He takes his lute and strikes in fellowship,
Filling more full the rill of melody        80
Raised ever and anon to clearest flood
By Pablo’s voice, that dies away too soon,
Like the sweet blackbird’s fragmentary chant,
Yet wakes again, with varying rise and fall,
In songs that seem emergent memories        85
Prompting brief utterance—little cancións
And villancicos, Andalusia-born.
 
PABLO (sings).
              It was in the prime
              Of the sweet Spring-time,
                In the linnet’s throat        90
                Trembled the love-note,
              And the love-stirred air
              Thrilled the blossoms there.
              Little shadows danced
                Each a tiny elf,        95
              Happy in large light
                And the thinnest self.
 
            It was but a minute
            In a far-off Spring,
              But each gentle thing,        100
            Sweetly-wooing linnet,
            Soft-thrilled hawthorn tree,
              Happy shadowy elf
              With the thinnest self,
              Lives still on in me.        105
            O the sweet, sweet prime
            Of the past Spring-time!
 
And still the light is changing: high above
Float soft pink clouds; others with deeper flush
Stretch like flamingos bending toward the south.        110
Comes a more solemn brilliance o’er the sky,
A meaning more intense upon the air—
The inspiration of the dying day.
And Juan now, when Pablo’s notes subside,
Soothes the regretful ear, and breaks the pause        115
With masculine voice in deep antiphony.
 
JUAN (sings).
            Day is dying! Float, O song,
              Down the westward river,
            Requiem chanting to the Day
              Day, the mighty Giver.        120
 
            Pierced by shafts of Time he bleeds,
              Melted rubies sending
            Through the river and the sky,
              Earth and heaven blending;
 
            All the long-drawn earthy banks        125
              Up to cloud-land lifting:
            Slow between them drifts the swan,
              ’Twixt two heavens drifting.
 
            Wings half open, like a flow’r
              Inly deeper flushing,        130
            Neck and breast as virgin’s pure
              Virgin proudly blushing.
 
            Day is dying! Float, O swan,
              Down the ruby river;
            Follow, song, in requiem        135
              To the mighty Giver.
 
The exquisite hour, the ardour of the crowd,
The strains more plenteous, and the gathering might
Of action passionate where no effort is,
But self’s poor gates open to rushing power        140
That blends the inward ebb and outward vast—
All gathering influences culminate
And urge Fedalma. Earth and heaven seem one,
Life a glad trembling on the outer edge
Of unknown rapture. Swifter now she moves,        145
Filling the measure with a double beat
And widening circle; now she seems to glow
With more declared presence, glorified,
Circling, she lightly bends and lifts on high
The multitudinous-sounding tambourine,        150
And makes it ring and boom, then lifts it higher
Stretching her left arm beauteous; now the crowd
Exultant shouts, forgetting poverty
In the rich moment of possessing her.
 
 
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