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[Taken as a whole the Italian Poems must be reckoned the least valuable portion of Byron's work, although one of them is interesting as showing the tendency of the poet's mind, and another is an extraordinary tour de force. Their composition extends from April of 1817 to March of 1820, the first three years of his residence in Italy, and is the fruit of his genuine love for the language and literature of that land. In the autumn of 1816 Byron left Switzerland for Italy and was soon domiciled in Venice. The first of the Italian poems, however, was the result of a visit to Ferrara, and shows how strong was the historical spirit in him. The Lament of Tasso is dated April 20, 1817. The subject seems to have had a special interest for Byron, and he has introduced it with good effect into the fourth canto of Childe Harold (stanzas xxxv. et seq.), not without a fling at Boileau in return for the famous clinquant du Tasse. Beppo was written in the autumn of 1817, in acknowledged imitation of the mock-heroic style of John Hookham Frere. At this time Byron was still engaged on the fourth canto of Childe Harold and it is a mark of his versatility that he could work at once on two poems so different in character. While finishing the solemn apostrophes of his romantic Pilgrim he was thus preluding the satirical mockery of the later Pilgrim, Don Juan. The first canto of the latter poem was, indeed, finished in September of the following year. The Ode on Venice, quite in the style and metre of the Tasso, was written in July of 1818, although not published for nearly a twelvemonth, when it appeared with Mazeppa and A Fragment. The Prophecy of Dante, both in subject and metre, was peculiarly out of Byron's range, and must be reckoned one of his absolute failures. As for the metre, the terza rima, Byron was only one of a number of English poets who have shown astonishing perversity in disregarding the principles on which its success depends, as might have been learned from the slightest attention to the manner of Dante himself and the other great Italians. Shelley's Ode to the West Wind displays the same wilful ignorance and is saved from failure only by its brevity. The Prophecy of Dante was written at Ravenna in June, 1819, at the request of the Countess Guiccioli. Byron's next Italian poem proves that, if he imitated Frere in Beppo, he also went directly to the sources from which Frere himself had drawn. His translation of the first canto of Pulci's Morgante Maggiore is a careful piece of work, finished in the early weeks of 1820 at Ravenna, and in its closeness to the original is really a tour de force. It is not necessary to point out the influence of such a translation on Don Juan. The last of his Italian poems was a translation of the famous Francesca of Rimini episode in the fifth canto of Dante's Inferno. Writing to Murray from Ravenna, March 20, 1820, Byron says: Last post I sent you The Vision of Dante, -four first cantos. Enclosed you will find, line for line, in third rhyme (terza rima), of which your British Blackguard reader as yet understands nothing, Fanny of Rimini. You know that she was born here, and married, and slain, from Cary, Boyd, and such people already. I have done it into cramp English, line for line, and rhyme for rhyme, to try the possibility.']
THE LAMENT OF TASSO
At Ferrara, in the Library, are preserved the original MSS. of Tasso's Gierusalemme and of Guarini's Pastor Fido, with letters of Tasso, one from Titian to Ariosto; and the inkstand and chair, the tomb and the house of the latter. But, as misfortune has a greater interest for posterity, and little or none for the cotemporary, the cell where Tasso was confined in the hospital of St. Anna attracts a more fixed attention than the residence or the monument of Ariosto - at least it had this effect on me. There are two inscriptions, one on the outer gate, the second over the cell itself, inviting, unnecessarily, the wonder and the indignation of the spectator. Ferrara is much decayed, and depopulated: the castle still exists entire; and I saw the court where Parisina and Hugo were beheaded, according to the annal of Gibbon.
I was indeed delirious in my heart
That thou wert beautiful, and I not blind, Hath been the sin which shuts me from mankind;
But let them go, or torture as they will,
The wretched are the faithful, 't is their fate
To have all feeling save the one decay,
But ours is fathomless, and hath no shore.
And yet I did not venture to repine.
Not for thou wert a princess, but that Love Hath robed thee with a glory, and array'd Thy lineaments in beauty that dismay'dOh! not dismay'd- but awed, like One above;
And in that sweet severity there was
A something which all softness did surpass I know not how mine
-thy genius master'd My star stood still before thee: if it
Presumptuous thus to love without design,
And with my years my soul began to pant
And the whole heart exhaled into One
But undefined and wandering, till the day
away, Thou didst annihilate the earth to me!
I loved all Solitude; but little thought
And then I lost my being all to be
In mockery through them. If I bear and
Yet do I feel at times my mind decline,
Abandons, Heaven forgets me; in the dearth
Why in this furnace is my spirit proved Like steel in tempering fire? because I loved?
Because I loved what not to love, and see,