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Ari Scheffer, Paolo and Francesca Visited by Dante and Virgil, 1835

Be good, said my love
Let not your arms
My grave become
Handing dusty Death
An easy victory

Be good, said my angel
Outshine the Saints
Seduce good Grace herself
So we can be together
Forever and a day

After death’s bony fingers
The hourglass of mine and
Your precious lives have turned
Let us in each other’s arms
The peace of heaven welcome

Not like Paolo and Francesca*
Whose red-blooded mortal passion
Their souls from each other hid
And damned them to the fires
Of one blissful night

That same father-forged furnace
Burnt young Talbot’s** blood
Bereft the King’s war enginer
And let triumphant Death
Spoil the blossom of his generation

Don’t let the world
And its ambition
Coined by overeager fathers
Come between us
And the pure love I bear you

But as creatures of the light
Whose too too sullied flesh
Has melted and dissolved
Into a morning dew
Reach for the big blue

Our hearts are one, he said
And even as we love
On this base earth
Our hands don’t touch
As our ears hear each other

The heavenly harmony
Of two souls intertwined
Into the honeyed voice
Of their passion’s symphony,
Architecture of love’s river

And then, in the twilight
Between this world and
The blue shadow beyond
Where the sun never sets
We’ll have our full, he promised

Herbert James, The Lament of Icarus, 1898

No jealous Icarus***
Will reach our bliss
Nor betray it to a world
Basking in our treasures
We’ll be together!

I am no Paolo
I will guard your light
With my shadow
So your pretty testament
May build our eternal home

And there, in your words
The pure essence
Of your beloved soul
Will be All mine
To feast on

Until my eyes and heart
Overflow with your goodness,
Artless charm
And childlike affection
My lady of the light

Until I am no more
Save for the memories
Of my burning longing
For your pallid flesh
You left for the beggars

Be good, said my love
Let not your arms
My grave become
Handing dusty Death
An easy victory

Be good, said my angel
Outshine the Saints
Seduce good Grace herself
So we can be together
Forever and a day

His angel love is all I know
The essence of my Time on earth
And all that binds me to it
I breathe and write his promises,
The alchemy of goodness

*Paolo and Francesca are the legendary lovers that moved Dante to tears in his Inferno; their adultery condemned them to the eternal flames of hell, but the good poet understands too well that their passion is the very breath of his craft; Paolo and Francesca are the only instance where Dante shows compassion for the sinners on display
**The death of young Talbot in his father’s hands and subsequently old Talbot’s passing from grief over the loss of his son is Shakespeare’s only rendition of the myth of Icarus and one of the most moving passages in his oeuvre
***Icarus was the son of the most talented smith in the ancient Greek pantheon of the gods; his father designed a set of wings for him, but since they were made of wax, once Icarus got too close to the sun, which in the psychoanalytic concept of the Icarus complex is interpreted as the passion of worldly ambition and the highs associated with bipolar disorder, his wings burnt and he fell down to his death on earth. It is remarkable that the father who had managed to imprison the wildest sexual passions, the bull of Crete, was unable to tame the passion of his own son and lost him to it; Shakespeare thematises the mythical material in the context of war and its damning passions, which have worldly ambition at its core; as a wordsmith of passion, Shakespeare was aware of the dangerous ground he was threading, but also understood the saving powers of his craft

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