« ZurückWeiter »
brother-in-law to treat with him. But when the count knew the reason of the visit he said: “It seems to me that you little value the zeal of an honest man who, loyal to his office, does not wish, neither knows how, to break his sworn faith. My wife and children would look on me with scornful eyes should I be renegade; for shame is not the reward that sweetens life, but burdens it. If the Messenians stain themselves with innocent blood, I shall weep for the death of my wife and sons, but the heart of an honest citizen will have no remorse." Then he was silent. But treachery could do what such threats failed to accomplish. One Gavaretto was found, who unlocked the prison, and Riccardo was already escaping when Matteo, roused at a slight noise, came, sword in hand, and would have slain him; but the traitor behind, "to save his wages,” struck Matteo in the body, and the faithful count fell dead in his blood. I thought of this story, standing there, and nothing else in the castle's legend seemed worthy of memory in comparison, from its mystic beginning until that night, near two centuries ago, when the thunderbolt fell on it, igniting its store of powder, and blew it utterly to fragments with a great explosion.
The castle of Taormina on the eastward height is easily reached by a ridge that runs toward it on the homeward track. Along the way are seen the caves so often mentioned in the records of the city as the refuge of the people in times of disaster. The castle itself, much larger and more important than Mola, is wholly in ruins. The walls stand, with some broken stairways, and a room or two, massive and desolate, remains. Of its history I have found no particular mention, but here must always have been the citadel. Once more from its open platform I gazed on the fair country it had guarded, while the snows of Etna began to be touched with sunset; and as my hand lay on the ruined battlement, for which how many thousands died bloody deaths, again the long past rose from the rock. I saw the young Greeks raising Apollo's altar by the riverbank. I saw Dionysius in the winter night, staining the snow from the wound in his breast as he fled down the darkness, and the Norman soldier dying for Roger beneath the simitars by the young myrtles. I saw the citizens in the market-place overthrowing Verres' statue, the monk Elia with his lifted garment, the bishop in his murder before Ibrahim. I wondered at the little port that was large enough to hold the fleets of Athens, of Carthage, and of Augustus, and at the strip of beach trodden by so many famous men on heroic enterprises. There the fishers were drawing up their boats, coming home at the day's close from that toil of the sea which has outlived gods and martyrs and empires. The snows of Etna were now aflame with sunset, and the high clouds trembled with swift and mighty radiance, and league after league the sea took on the pale rose-color. Descending, I passed through the dark cleft between the castle and the silent, deserted church of the hermitage by its side, and, in a moment, again the vision burst on me, and in its glow I went down the rock-face by the terraces under almond blossoms. Softly the sea changed through every tender color, bathing beach and headland, and strange lights fell upon the crags from the mild heaven, and all the Taorminian land was filled with bloom; then the infinite beauty, slowly fading, withdrew the scene, and sweetly it parted from my eyes.
Yet once more I step out upon the terrace into the night. I hear the long roar of the breakers; I see the flickering fishers' lights, and Etna pale under the stars. The place is full of ghosts. In the darkness I seem to hear vaguely arising, half sense, half thought, the murmur of many tongues that have perished here, Sicanian and Siculian and the lost Oscan, Greek and Latin and the hoarse jargon of barbaric slaves, Byzantine and Arabic confused with strange African dialects, Norman and Sicilian, French and Spanish, mingling, blending, changing, the sharp battle-cry of a thousand assaults rising from the low ravines, the death-cry of twenty bloody massacres within these walls, ringing on the hard rock and falling to silence only to rise more full with fiercer pain - century after century of the battle-wrath and the battle-woe. My fancy shapes the air till I see over the darkly lifted castlerock the triple crossing swords of Greek, Carthaginian, and Roman in the age-long duel, and as these fade, the springing brands of Byzantine, Arab, and Norman, and yet again the heavy blades of France, Spain, and Sicily; and ever, like rain or snow, falls the bloody dew on this lone hillside. "Oh, wherefore?" I whisper; and all is silent save the surge still lifting round the coast the far voices of the old Ionian sea. I have wondered that the children of Etna should dwell in its lovely paradise, as I thought how often, how terribly, the lava has poured forth upon it, the shower of ashes fallen, the black horror of volcanic eruption overwhelmed the land. Yet, sum it all, pang by pang, all that Etna ever wrought of woe to the sons of men, the agonies of her burnings, the terrors of her living entombments, all her manfold deaths at once, and what were it in comparison with the blood that has flowed on this hillside, the slaughter, the murder, the infinite pain here suffered at the hands of man. O Etna, it is not thou that man should fear! He should fear his brother-man.
IX The stars were paling over Etna, white and ghostly, as I came out to depart. In the dark street I met a woman with a young boy clinging to her side. Her black hair fell down over her shoulders, and her bosom was scantily clothed by the poor garment that fell to her ankles and her feet. She was still young, and from her dark, sad face her eyes met mine with that fixed look of the hopeless poor, now grown familiar; the child, half naked, gazed up at me as he held his mother's hand. What brought her there at that hour, alone with her child? She seemed the epitome of the human life I was
? leaving behind, come forth to bid farewell; and she passed on under the shadows of the dawn. The last star faded as I went down the hollow between the spurs. Etna gleamed white and vast over the shoulder of the ravine, and, as I dipped down, was gone.
A NEW DEFENSE OF POETRY
THERE was an old cry, Return to Nature! Let us rather return unto the soul. Nature is great, and her
, science marvelous; but it is man who knows it. In what he knows it is partial and subsidiary. Know thyself, was the first command of reason; and wisdom was an ancient thing when the sweet influences of the Pleiades and the path of Arcturus with his sons were young in human thought. These late conquests of the mind in the material infinities of the universe, its exploring of stellar space, its exhuming of secular time, its harnessing
, t of invisible forces, this new mortal knowledge, its sudden
burst, its brilliancy and amplitude of achievement, thought winnowing the world as with a fan; the vivid spectacle of vast and beneficent changes wrought by this means in human welfare, the sense of the increase of man's power springing from unsuspected and illimitable resources - all this has made us forgetful of truth that is the oldest heirloom of the race. In the balances of thought the soul of man outweighs the mass that gravitation measures. Man only is of prime interest to men; and man as a spirit, a creature but made in the likeness of something divine. The lapse of æons touches us as little as the reach of space; even the building of our planet, and man's infancy, have the faint and distant reality of cradle records. Science may reconstruct the inchoate body of animal man, the clay of our mold,