Cale Rice.

A Night in Avignon

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Scene: A room in the chambers of Petrarca at Avignon. It opens on a loggia overlooking, on higher ground, the spired church of Santa Clara and the gray cloisters of a Carthusian monastery. Beyond lie the city walls under glamour of the blue Proven?al night.

The room, faintly frescoed, is lighted with many candles; some glittering on a wine-table heavy with wines toward the right front. A door on the left leads to other rooms, and an arrased one opposite, down to the street. Bookshelves and a writing-desk strewn with a lute and writings are also on the left; a crimson couch is in the centre; and garlands of myrtle and laurel deck the wine-table.

Gherardo, the monk, is seated by the desk, following with severe looks the steps of Petrarca, who is walking feverishly to and fro.

Gherardo (after a pause). Listen. Another word, Francesco.
Petrarca. Aih!
And then another Ц that will breed another.
Gherardo. Dote on this Laura still Ц if still you must:
Woman's your destiny.
But quench these lights and set away that wine.
Petrarca. And to no other lips turn? hers denied me?
Never, Gherardo!
Gherardo. Virtue bids you.
Petrarca. Vainly!
I've borne until I will not Е For it is
Two years now since in the aisles
Of Santa Clara yonder my heart first
Went from me on mad wings.
Two years this April morning
Since it fell fluttering before her feet Е
As she stood there beside our blessed Lady,
Gowned as young Spring in green and violets!..
Gherardo. And these two years have been inviolate;
Your life as pure as hers,
As virgin Ч
Save for the songs you've sung to her; those songs
This idle city echoes with. But now Ч
Petrarca. Now I will open all the gates to Pleasure!
To rosy Pleasure Ц warm, unspiritual,
Ready to spring
Into the arms of all
Whom bloodless Virtue pales.
For, of restraint and hoping, I have drunk
But a vintage of tears!
And what has been my gain?
Gherardo. Her chastity.
Petrarca. A chastity unchallenged of desire Ч
And therefore none!
Aih, none!
For, were it other;
Could I aver that once, that ever once
Her lids had fallen low in fear of love,
I'd bid the desert of my heart burn dry Ч
To the last oasis Ч
With resignation!
But never have they, never! and I'm mad.

(Pours out wine.)

Gherardo. And you will seek to cure it with more madness?
To cast the devil of love out of your veins
With other love and lower!
Petrarca. Yes, yes, yes! (drinks.)
With little Sancia's!
Whose soul is a sweet sin!
Who lives but for this life and asks of Death
Only a breath of time before he ends it,
To tell three beads and fill her mouth with aves.
Just for enough, she says,
"To tell God that He made me" Ц as He did.
Gherardo. And to blaspheme with! O obsess?d man.

(Has risen, flushed.)

But you will fail! For this vain revelry
Will ease not.
And I see all love is base Ч
As say the Fathers Ч
All!.. and the body of woman
Is vile from the beginning.
Petrarca.Monkish lies!

(Drinks again for courage.)

The body of woman's born of bliss and beauty.
Only one thing is fairer Ц that's her soul.
Gherardo. And is that Word which says thou shalt not look
Upon another's wife a monkish lie?


Your Laura is another's.
Petrarca (torn). As I found!
After my heart became a poison flame Ч
Within me!
A fierce inquisitor against my peace!
After I followed her from Santa Clara,
That mass-hour,
To an escutcheoned door!
After and not before Е And such another's!
Ugo di Sade's!
A beast whose sullen mind two thoughts would drain;
Whose breath is a poltroon's;
Who is unkindЕ I've seen her weep; who loves
Her notЕ And yet the fane of song I frame her,
The love I burn on it, she laughs away.
To hide her own?.. I will not so believe.
Gherardo. Nor should you.
Petrarca. Yet you bid me quarry still
The deeps of me to shrine her?
And be Avignon's laughter?
A mock, a titter on the tongue of geese
That gad the city gates?
A type of fools that sigh while others kiss?
"Francesco Petrarca!
Who never clasped his mistress Ц but in a sonnet!
Who fills empty canzone with his passion Ч
But never her ears!
Never!†Ц though she was wed against her will
To an unlettered boor out bartering Ч
One whom she well could leave!"Е
I'll not, Gherardo!.. Sonnets?

(Tears several from desk.)

Vain, all!..

(Casts them away.)

But Lello comes! and brings me Sancia!
Filippa! merry Filippa and Sancia!
We'll drink!†Ц wine of Rocella!
Wine of the Rhine! Bielna! San Porciano! Ч
And kiss!

(Throws back his head.)

Kiss with the lips of life and not of Е

(A knell has begun to beat from the church without. He hears it, and, awed, sinks, crossing himself, to the couch.)
(Gherardo, exalted, shudders.)

Gherardo. It is the knell of Matteo Banista,
Whose soul is gone for its licentious days
Upon steep purgatory.

(Prepares to go.)

Your sin be on you Е and it will.
Petrarca (fearful). No!.. no!

(Starts up.)

But hear, Gherardo, hear!

(His words come stifled.)

There in the cloister have you peace Ц in prayer?
In visions Ц penances?..
Swear that you have! swear to me! once!.. but once!
And IЕ! Е
No, never!.. never!

(He wipes his brow.)

While we are in the world the world's in us.
The Holy Church I own Ч
Confess her Heaven's queen;
But we are flesh and all things that are fair
God made us to enjoy Ч
Or, high in Paradise, we'll know but sorrow.
You though would ban earth's beauty,
Even the torch of Glory
That kindled Italy once and led great Greece Ч
The torch of Plato, Homer, Virgil, all
The sacred bards and sages, pagan-born!
I love them! they are divine!
And so to-nightЕ! Е


They! it is Lello! Lello! Sancia! Ч

(Hears a lute and laughter below, then a call, "Sing, Sancia"; then Sancia singing:)

To the maids of Saint R?my
All the gallants go for pleasure;
To the maids of Saint R?my Ч
Tripping to love's measure!
To the dames of Avignon
All the masters go for wiving;
To the dames of Avignon Ч
That shall be their shriving!

(He goes to the Loggia as they gayly applaud. Then Lello cries:)

Lello. Ho-ho! Petrarca! Pagan! are you in?
What! are you sonnet-monger?
Petrarca. Ai, ai, aih!

(Motions Gherardo Чwho goes.)

Lello. Come then! Your door is locked! down! let us in!

(Rattles it.)

Petrarca. No, ribald! hold! the key is on the sill!
Look for it and ascend!

(Orso enters.)

Stay, here is Orso!

(The old servant goes through and down the stairs to meet them. In a moment the tramp of feet is heard and they enterЦ†Lello between them Ц singing:)

Guelph! Guelph! and Ghibbeline!
Ehyo! ninni! onni! ?nz!
I went fishing on All Saints' Day
And Ц caught but human bones!

I went fishing on All Saints' Day.
The Rhone ran swift, the wind blew black!
I went fishing on All Saints' Day Ч
But my love called me back!

She called me back and she kissed my lips Ч
Oh, my lips! Oh, onni! ?nz!
"Better take life than death," said she,
Better take love than Ц bones! bones!

(Sancia kisses Petrarca.)

"Better take love than bones."

(They scatter with glee and Petrarca seizes Sancia to him.)

Petrarca. Yes, little Sancia! and you, my friends!
Warm love is better, better!
And braver! Come, Lello! give me your hand!
And you, Filippa! No, I'll have your lips!
Sancia (interposing). Or Ц less? One at a time, Messer Petrarca!
You learn too fast. Mine only for to-night.
Petrarca. And for a thousand nights, Sancia fair!
Sancia. You hear him? Santa Madonna! pour us wine,
To pledge him in!
Petrarca.The tankards bubble o'er!

(They go to the table.)

And see, they are wreathed of April,
With loving myrtle and laurel intertwined.
We'll hold symposium, as bacchanals!
Sancia. And that is Ц what? some dull and silly show
Out of your sallow books?
Petrarca.Those books were writ
With ink of the gods, my Sancia, upon
Papyri of the stars!
Sancia. And Ц long ago?
Ha! long ago?
Petrarca. Returnless centuries!
Sancia (contemptuously). Who loves the past, loves mummies and their dust Ч
And he will mould!
Who loves the future loves what may not be,
And feeds on fear.
Only one flower has Time Ц its name is Now!
Come, pluck it! pluck it!
Lello. Brava, maid! the Now!
Sancia (dancing). Come, pluck it! pluck it!
Petrarca.By my soul, I will!

(Seizes her again.)

It grows upon these lips Ц and if to-night
They leant out over the brink of Hell, I would.

(She breaks from him.)

Filippa. Enough! the wine! the wine!
Sancia. O ever-thirsty
And ever-thrifty Pippa! Well, pour out!

(She lifts a brimming cup.)

We'll drink to Messer Petrarca Ч
Who's weary of his bed-mate, Solitude.
May he long revel in the courts of Venus!
All (drinking). Aih, long!
Petrarca. As long as Sancia enchants them!
Filippa. I'd trust him not, Sancia. Put him to oath.
Sancia. And, to the rack, if faithless? This Filippa!
Messer Petrarca, should she not be made
High Jurisconsult to our lord, the Devil,
Whose breath of life is oaths?..
But, swear it! Е by the Saints!
Who were great sinners all!
And by the bones of every monk or nun
Who ever darkened the world!
Lello. Or ever shall!

(A pause.)

Petrarca. I'll swear your eyes are singing
Under the shadow of your hair, mad Sancia,
Like nightingales in the wood.
Sancia. Pah! Messer Poet Е
Such words as those you vent without an end Ч
To the Lady Laura!
Petrarca. Stop!

(Grows pale.)

Not her name Ц here!

(All have sat down; he rises.)

Sancia. O-ho! this air will soil it? and it might
Not sound so sweet in sonnets ever after?

(To the rest Ц rising:)

Shall we depart, that he may still indite them?
"To Laura Ц On the Vanity of Passion"?
"To Laura Ц Unrelenting"?
"To Laura Ц Whose Departing Darkens the Sky"?


"To Laura Ц Who Deigns Not a Single Tear"?

(Orso enters.)

Shall we depart?
Lello. Peace! Sancia.

(Moves away.)

Petrarca (still tensely Ц to Orso). Speak.
Orso. Sir, you are desired.
Petrarca. By whom?
Orso. Her veil
Was lifted and she told me:
Therefore I say it out Ц Madonna Laura.

(All stare, amazed. Silence.)

Petrarca (hoarsely). What lie is this!
Orso. I am too old to lie.
Sancia (laughing). Who was the goddess that his books tell of,
The cold one so long chaste, but who at last Ч
Lello. Be silent, Sancia! Francesco Е what?
Petrarca (to Orso). Lead Monna Laura here Ч

(Orso goes.)

If it is she!..
But you, my friends, must know how strange this is,
And how Ц !.. I have no words!..
Wait me, I pray you, yonder, in that chamber.

(They go, left, Sancia shrugging. Then Orso brings Laura, whom Petrarca is helpless to greet, and who falters Ц yet nobly determining, comes down.)

Laura. Messer Petrarca, Е I have been impelled
To come Е and as the purest should, boldly,
With lifted veil, to say Е
Petrarca. Lady!
Laura. To say Ч
(Of gratitude I cannot give another Е
For life to a woman is but resignation,
And that at last is shame) Е
Petrarca. At last Е shame Ч
Laura. To say Ц Love is to us as light to the lilies
That lean by Mont Ventoux.
The love of one pure man for one pure woman.
Petrarca (dazed). Lady!..
Laura. Yes, and Ц I've been unkind to you.
Ungentle ever.

(Shakes her head.)

But there's no other way sometimes for those
Who would be wholly true.
And yet Е do I owe any truth to him?
Petrarca. To Ц Ugo di Sade?
Laura (bitterly). Who is called my husband?
How I was bound to him, you know! and how
I've dwelt and have endured more than his bursts
Of burning cruelty. For still, I thought,
He is my husband!
And still Ц He is my husband!..
But now no more I think it Ц oh! no more!
Too visible it is
That he belongs to any Ц who sell love.
So I may innocently say to you
Who for two years have sung my name
Yet never once have turned unto another Ч

(Petrarca pales.)

I well may say Е

(Stopped by his manner.)

There's something that you Е Ah!

(Sees, stricken, his grief and shame. Then her glance goes round the room and falls on the wine-table Е Then Sancia is heard within:)

Sancia. Well, well, Messer Petrarca! How long will
You shut us in this dark Ц that is as black
As old Pope John the twenty-second's soul?
A pretty festa, this!
Petrarca (brokenly). Merciless God!

(Falls abased before Laura's look, tortured with remorse.)

O lady, what have I done beyond repair!..

(She gathers her veil.)

What have I lost within this gulf of shame!
For a paltry pleasure have I sold my dream,
Whose pinions would have lifted you at last?
Laura (very pale). I did not know, Messer Petrarca, you
Had friends awaiting.

(Pauses numbly.)

I came to-night, as first I would have said,
With holy gratitude Ч
For a love I thought you gave.
With gratitude that honor well could speak,
I thought, and yet be honor;
With gratitude forgetful of all else Е
And trusting Е But no matter:
All trust shall be embalmed and laid away.
I go with pity; seeing
My husband Ц is even as other men.

(She passes to the door and out: Petrarca moans. Then Lello enters and comes to him anxiously.)

Lello. Francesco!
Petrarca. Lello!


Lello! Have I dreamed?

(Rising, with anguish.)

Did Laura come to me out of the night Ч
Come as the first voice breaking beyond death
To one despairing?
And was I lifted up to Heaven's dawn?
And then Е


God! am I fallingЕ? shall I everЕ?
Down thisЕ? Е My friend stay with me!
No, go Е and take them with you Ц Sancia Ц all!..
I have slain the Spring forever!
The green of the whole fair world!.. O Laura! Laura!

(Sinks down on the couch and buries his face in his arms. Lello goes sorrowfully out.)
The End

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