Flush-faced they played with old polysyllables

At Davos, the following experiment in Horatian alcaics was suggested by conversations with Horatio (!) F. Brown (historian specialised in the history of Venice) and J.A. Symonds (historian of the Italian Renaissance), on metrical forms, followed by the despatch of some translations from old Venetian boat-songs by the former after his return to Venice.

RLS invents the word ‘conded’ from the Latin ‘condo’ in the sense of to put by or keep out of sight. According to Horace’s advice a poem should be held back for nine years before being published (Ars Poetica, 388: Nonumque prematur in annum).

The visit to Monte Generoso, on the border between Switzerland and Italy, was given up.

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 3, 784.]

To Horatio F. Brown [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 31-32]

Hôtel Bélvedère, Davos, [c. 1 April 1881].

My dear Brown,

Nine years I have conded them.

Horace’s Art of Poetry, 1880 ed. [https://ia902708.us.archive.org/]

Brave lads in olden musical centuries

Sang, night by night, adorable choruses,

Sat late by alehouse doors in April

Chaunting in joy as the moon was rising:

F.F. Errill, ‘April moonrise’, 1948 [http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/]

Moon-seen and merry, under the trellises,

Flush-faced they played with old polysyllables;

Spring scents inspired, old wine diluted;

Love and Apollo were there to chorus.

L.H. Rosoman, ‘Taverna la Fenice, Venice, No.2’, 1952 [http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/]

Tintoretto, ‘Apollo crowning a poet and giving him a consort’, 1570-1580 [ http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/%5D

Now these, the songs, remain to eternity,

Those, only those, the bountiful choristers

Gone – those are gone, those unremembered

Sleep and are silent in earth for ever.

So man himself appears and evanishes,

So smiles and goes; as wanderers halting at

Some green-embowered house, play their music,

Play and are gone on the windy highway;

Jack Butler Yeats, ‘Return of the wanderer’, c. 1928 [http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/]

A. Rousseau (living), ‘Figure Walking through a Woodland’ [http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/]

Yet dwells the strain enshrined in the memory

Long after they departed eternally,

Forth-faring tow’rd far mountain summits,

Cities of men on the sounding Ocean.

Th. Hill, ‘Mount Lafayette in winter’, 1870 [http://hoocher.com/]

Cl. Monet, ‘Rough Sea at Etretat’, 1883 [http://hoocher.com/]

Cl.-J. Vernet, ‘A Storm with a Shipwreck’, 1754 [https://ericwedwards.files.wordpress.com/]

Youth sang the song in years immemorial;

Brave chanticleer, he sang and was beautiful;

Bird-haunted, green tree-tops in springtime

Heard and were pleased by the voice of singing;

W.-A. Bouguereau, ‘The youth of Baccus’, 1884 [http://upload.wikimedia.org/]

Youth goes, and leaves behind him a prodigy –

Songs sent by thee afar from Venetian

Sea-grey lagunes, sea-paven highways,

Dear to me here in my Alpine exile.

S. Elgood (1851-1943), ‘Venice from the Lagoon [http://www.birketfoster.co.uk/]

W.W. Warren, ‘Evening, Venice’, 1881 [http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/]

Ch. Napier Hemy, ‘Grey Venice’, 1885 [http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/]

G. Ciardi, ‘The Lagoon, Venice’, 1886 [http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/]

E.L. Kirchner, ‘Davos in Winter’, 1921-1923 [https://davidderrick.files.wordpress.com/]

Please, my dear Brown, forgive my horrid delay. Symonds overworked and knocked up. I off my sleep; my wife gone to Paris. Weather lovely. – Yours ever,

Robert Louis Stevenson


Monte Generoso in May; here, I think, till the end of April; write again, to prove you are forgiving.

E. Lear, ‘The Plains of Lombardy from Monte Generoso’, 1880 [http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/]

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