I. Discovery and Rebirth                         

This 1908 postcard depicts French artist's Hortense Richard's "Graziella," printed using full-color chromolithograph process.
This 1908 postcard depicts French artist’s Hortense Richard’s “Graziella,” printed using full-color chromolithograph process.

Can one be born and die the same summer?
Not an infant turning pale-still at mother’s
Breast, but to gain and lose youthful love in
Italy, in holy Rome, Naples, that equal to Godly
Images on cathedral ceilings, each brushstroke
An adoration of divinity, love that coalesces in
One’s heart, sets souls ablaze, two halves of the
Same story, René and Graziella.

Our first encounter, flickering torchlight illu-
Minated Graziella’s face, from sleep aroused,
Dark hair wind-ravished, arms slender and
Marble-white, her linen nightgown revealing
Youthful curves. From this idyllic scene, my
Heart smitten, our souls reborn, ship of two sails
On wild seas pressed, though she knew me not,
Her ocean-blue Venetian eyes spoke otherwise.

Pains of forbidden love, when my spirit takes
Wing, songs of sky-spiraling swallows, darting
O’er olive groves and fishing villages, love of
Life, meeting of hands, of lips, of our bodies,
Fevered heart of Ortis, we read aloud to each
Other, admiring, weeping, surrendering to
Impulses, wind-borne passions, shared dreams,
Our lives merged in shared eternal moments.

II. Shattered Boat, Lives Renewed

This postcard was addressed to Count Benedict Tyszkiewicz, of Polish-Lithuanian nobility who lived in Paris and was a noted art collector.
This postcard was addressed to Count Benedict Tyszkiewicz, of Polish-Lithuanian nobility who lived in Paris and was a noted art collector.

At first, we uttered no words, our boat broken
On rocky shores, as if a child had fallen on stony
Porticos, boat-corpse, timbers drifting lifelessly
In shallows, my Venetian family waded into cruel
Seas, collecting ribs and painted planks, her rig-
Ging and anchor lost. Once sturdy and true and
Oft adored with those qualities bestowed to wives
And mothers, who out of love, toiled endlessly.

Our fishing livelihood lost, from tragedy came
Charity, one family helping another in dire times,
Gift of shattered wood and boat iron to poorest
Amongst us, carving of Saint Francis from her
Fractured keel, memories of wind-filling sails,
Fish-filled nets, sea sunrises and sunsets, few
Sequins made, prayers offered for safe return,
Love of family, holy providers God and ocean.

Our lives renewed, planks in forest grow, hemp
For new rigging, old timbers repurposed to beds
And fences, a new boat gifted by wealthy merchant,
Who had three, brightly painted, sturdy as the last,
Weeping twice for grief and joy, and following the
Ancients, we kept some token of our old boat for
New, her sacred soul occupying  skiff anew. Yes,
We rose above sea-storms to behold sunlit heights.

III. Love and Life Lost

To search for answers and finding none, reckon-
Ing with time, the great sea, Graziella fallen to
Fever, death-pale, limbs shivering and stone cold,
“René, I feel death calling. We may never marry;
However, you are husband of my soul.” Hearing
Such words, I lit candles for Madonna. “Miracles
Holy Mother has performed, giving me to you.”
O! Moments of such candor, lifting of self-veils.

For moments, no world existed beyond us, the
Prospects that Graziella, fisherman’s daughter,
Would live, her fever passed, my love for her had
Grown a thousand times, her eyes bright as sea
Horizons lifted to view, meeting of sun, sky,
And radiant clouds reposing over land. She was
Never-ending sea: calm, pensive, impassioned,
Love cresting on boundless waves.

Whilst in Paris, an unknown traveler beckoned me,
Letter from Graziella which read, “I shall die in
Three days…” a lock of hair contained therein. In
That moment, I felt death’s shadow had called, its
Pall upon my face and being, my love and life had
Fallen into ruins. Forever, I shall love you, Graziella
And language of your home. Alas! Your sepulcher
Lies deep within my weeping heart.

My first effort of condensing a novel to poetry, these verses required multiple
readings of Alphonse de Lamartine’s “Graziella,” and as such,  the poem is more interpretive based on specific passages that were personally meaningful. Whilst the narrator in Lamartine’s work was not identified, for this poem, he is René, meaning “reborn.”

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