Verse > Anthologies > James and Mary Ford, eds. > Every Day in the Year
James and Mary Ford, eds.  Every Day in the Year.  1902.
May 23
Death of Savonarola
By Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)
From “Casa Guidi Windows”
  An Italian political and religious reformer. He brought about a religious revival in Florence by his denunciation of the vice and corruption in Church and State. He was executed in Florence on May 23, 1498, by order of Pope Alexander VI., whose enmity he had incurred.

’TIS true that when the dust of death has choked
  A great man’s voice, the common words he said
Turn oracles,—the meanings which he yoked
  Like horses, draw like griffins!—this is true
And acceptable. Also I desire,        5
  When men make record, with the flowers they strew,
“Savonarola’s soul went out in fire
  Upon our Grand-duke’s piazza, and burned through
A moment first, or ere he did expire,
  The veil betwixt the right and wrong, and showed        10
How near God sate and judged the judges there,—
  Desire, upon the pavement overstrewed,
To cast my violets with as reverent care,
  And prove that all the winters which have snowed
Cannot snow out the scent, from stones and air,        15
  Of a sincere man’s virtues. This was he,
Savonarola, who, while Peter sank
  With his whole boat-load, called courageously
“Wake Christ, wake Christ!”—who, having tried the tank
  Of the church-waters used for baptistry        20
Ere Luther lived to spill them, said they stank!
  Who also, by a princely deathbed, cried
“Loose Florence, or God will not loose thy soul,”
  While the Magnificent fell back and died
Beneath the star-looks, shooting from the cowl,        25
  Which turned to wormwood bitterness the wide
Deep sea of his ambitions. It were foul
  To grudge Savonarola and the rest
Their violets! rather pay them quick and fresh!
  The emphasis of death makes manifest        30
The eloquence of action in our flesh;
  And men who, living, were but dimly guessed,
When once free from their life’s entangled mesh,
  Show their full length in graves, or even indeed
Exaggerate their stature, in the flat,        35
  To noble admirations which exceed
Nobly, nor sin in such excess. For that
  Is wise and righteous. We, who are the seed
Of buried creatures, if we turned and spate
  Upon our antecedents, we were vile.        40
Bring violets rather! If these had not walked
  Their furlong, could we hope to walk our mile?
Therefore bring violets! Yet if we, self-baulked,
  Stand still a-strewing violets all the while,
These had as well not moved, ourselves not talked        45
  Of these. So rise up with a cheerful smile,
And, having strewn the violets, reap the corn,
  And, having reaped and garnered, bring the plough
And draw new furrows ’neath the healthy morn,
  And plant the great Hereafter in this Now.        50

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