Arthur Hugh Clough

Currente Calamo

QUICK, painter, quick, the moment seize
Amid the snowy Pyrenees;
More evanescent than the snow
The pictures come, are seen, and go:
Quick, quick, currente calamo.
  I do not ask the tints that fill
The gate of day ’twixt hill and hill,
I ask not for the hues that fleet
Above the distant peaks; my feet
Are on a poplar-bordered road,
Where, with a saddle and a load,
A donkey, old and ashen-gray,
Reluctant works his dusty way.
Before him, still with might and main
Pulling his rope, the rustic rein,
A girl: before both him and me
Frequent she turns and lets me see,
Unconscious lets me scan and trace
The sunny darkness of her face,
And outlines full of Southern grace.
Following, I notice, yet and yet,
Her olive skin, dark eyes, deep set
And black, and blacker e’en than jet
The escaping hair that scantly showed,
Since o’er it, in the country mode,
For winter warmth and summer shade,
The lap of scarlet cloth is laid.
And then back falling from the head
A crimson kerchief overspread
Her jacket blue, thence passing down
A skirt of darkest yellow brown,
Coarse stuff, allowing to the view
The smooth limb to the woollen shoe.
But who,—here ’s some one following too,—
A priest, and reading at his book!
Read on, O priest, and do not look!
Consider,—she is but a child,—
Yet might your fancy be beguiled,—
Read on, O priest, and pass and go!
But see, succeeding in a row,
Two, three, and four, a motley train,
Musicians wandering back to Spain;
With fiddle and with tambourine,
A man with women following seen;
What dresses, ribbon-ends, and flowers!
And, sight to wonder at for hours,
The man,—to Phillip has he sat?
With butterfly-like velvet hat,
One dame his big bassoon conveys,
On one his gentle arm he lays;
They stop and look, and something say,
And to “España” ask the way.
But while I speak and point them on,
Alas! my dearer friends are gone;
The dark-eyed maiden and the ass
Have had the time the bridge to pass,
Vainly beyond it far descried;
Adieu: and peace with you abide,
Gray donkey and your beauteous guide.
The pictures come, the pictures go,
Quick, quick, currente calamo.

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