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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Mila and Aligi in the Cavern

By Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863–1938)

From the translation of ‘The Daughter of Jorio: A Pastoral Tragedy,’ by Charlotte Endymion Porter, Pietro Isola, and Alice Henry

MILA—Give me that hand of yours, so I may kiss it.

’Tis the drop that I yield to my thirst.

Aligi[coming closer]—With the ember I wanted to burn it, Mila,

This sinful hand that sought to offend you.

Mila—All that I forget. I am only the woman

You found on the rock there seated,

By who knows what roads coming hither!

Aligi[coming again closer]—Upon your face your tears are not drying,

Dear woman. A tear is now staying

On the eyelashes, while you speak trembles, and falls not.

Mila—Over us hovers deep stillness. Aligi, just listen!

Hushed is the singing. With the grasses and snow-peaks

We are alone, brother mine, we are alone.

Aligi—Mila, now you are unto me as you first were

Out there on the rock, when you were all smiling,

With your eyes all shining, your feet all bleeding.

Mila—And you,—you,—are you not now the one who was kneeling,

Who the flowrets of Santo Giovanni

Put down on the ground? Ah! by one were they gathered

Who bears them yet, wears them yet—in her scapulary.

Aligi—Mila, there is in your voice a vibration

That while it consoles me, it saddens.

As even October, when, all my flocks with me,

I border the bordering stretches of seashore.

Mila—To border them with you, the shore and the mountain—

Ah! I would that that fate were my fate evermore.

Aligi—O my love, be preparing for such wayfaring!

Though the road there be long, for that is Love strong.

Mila—Aligi, I’d pass there through fires ever flaming,

Onward still wending by roads never ending.

Aligi—To cull on the hill-top the blue gentian lonely,

On the seashore only the star-fish flower.

Mila—There on my knees would I drag myself on,

Placing them down on the tracks you were marking.

Aligi—Think, too, of the places to rest when the night should o’ertake us,

And the mint and the thyme that would be your pillows.

Mila—I cannot think. No. Yet give leave this one night more

That I live with you, here, where you are here breathing,

That I hear you asleep and be with you,

And over you keep, like your dogs, faithful vigil!

Aligi—Oh, you know, Oh, you know what must await us.

How with you must I ever divide the bread, salt, and water.

And so shall I share with you also the pallet,

Unto death and eternity. Give me your hands!

[They grasp each other’s hands, gazing into each other’s eyes.]

Mila—Ah! we tremble, we tremble. You are frigid,

Aligi. You are blanching. O whither

Is flowing the blood your face loses?

[She frees herself and touches his face with both hands.]

Aligi—O Mila, Mila, I hear a great thundering,

All the mountain is shaking and sinking,

Where are you? Where are you? All is veiled.

[He stretches out his hand toward her as one tottering.They kiss each other.They fall down upon their knees, facing each other.]

Mila—Have mercy upon us, blessed Virgin!

Aligi—Have mercy upon us, O Christ Jesus!

[A deep silence follows.]

A Voice[outside]—Shepherd, ho! You are wanted, and in a hurry.

A black sheep has broken his shank.

[Aligi arises tottering and goes toward the entrance.]

You are wanted at once and must hurry,

And there is a woman I know not.

On her head is a basket. For you she is asking.

[Aligi turns his head and looks toward Mila with an all-embracing glance.She is still on her knees.]

Aligi[in a whisper]—Mila, replenish the oil in our lamp of the Virgin,

So it go not out. See, it barely is burning.

Take the oil from the skin. Some yet is within.

And await me. I only must go to the sheepfold.

Because we trembled will Mary forgive us.

Replenish the oil and pray her for mercy.[He goes out into the fields.]

Mila—O Holy Virgin! Grant me this mercy:

That I may stay here with my face to earth bowed,

Cold here, that I may be found dead here,

That I may be removed hence for burial.

No trespass there was in thine eyesight.

No trespass there was. For Thou unto us wert indulgent.

The lips did no trespass. (To bear witness

There wert Thou!) The lips did no trespass.

So under Thine eyes I may die here, die here!

For strength have I none to leave here, O Mother!

Yet remain with him here Mila cannot!

Mother clement! I was never sinful,

But a well-spring tramped on and trodden.

Shamed have I been in the eyes of Heaven,

But who took away from my memory

This shame of mine if not Thou, Mary?

Born anew then was I when love was born in me.

Thou it was willed it, O faithful Virgin!

All the veins of this new blood spring from afar,

Spring from far off, from the far, far away,

From the depths of the earth where she rests,

She who nourished me once in days long ago, long ago.

Let it also be she who bears now for me witness

Of innocency! Madonna, Thou also bore witness!

The lips did no trespass here now (Thou wert witness),

No, there was none in the lips, no, in the lips there was none.

And if I trembled, O let me bear that trespass,

Bear ever that tremor with me beyond!

Here I close up within me my eyes with my fingers.

[With the index and middle finger of each hand she presses her eyes, bowing her head to the earth.]

Death do I feel. Now do I feel it draw closer.

The tremor increaseth. Yet not the heart ceaseth.[Rising impetuously.]

Ah, wretch that I am, that which was told me

To do, I did not, though thrice did he say it:

“Replenish the oil.” And lo! now ’tis dying!

[She goes toward the oil-skin hanging from a beam, with her eye still watching the dying flame, endeavoring to keep it alive with the murmured prayer.]

Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum.

(Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord be with Thee.)

[Opening the skin, it flattens in her hands.She searches for the flask to draw of the oil, but is able to get but one or two drops.]

’Tis empty! ’Tis empty! But three drops, Virgin,

For my unction extreme prithee be given me,

But two for my hands, for my lips the other,

And all for my soul, all the three!

For how can I live when back he returns here,

What can I say, Mother, what can I say?

Surely then he will see, or ere he see me,

How the lamp has gone out. If my loving

Sufficed not to keep the flame burning,

How pale unto him will this love of mine, Mother, appear!

[Again she tries the skin, looking again for other receptacles, upsetting everything and still murmuring prayers.]

Cause it to burn, O Mother intrepid!

But a little while longer, as much longer only

As an Ave Maria, a Salve

Regina, O Mother of Mercy, of Pity!

[In the frenzy of her search she goes to the entrance and hears a step and catches sight of a shadow.She calls aloud.]

O woman, good woman, Christian sister,

Come you hither! and may the Lord bless you!

Come you hither! For mayhap the Lord sends you.

What bear you in your basket? If a little

Oil, oh, then of your charity, give me a little!

Pray enter and take of all these your free choice,

These ladles, spindles, mortars, distaffs, any!

For need that there is here for Our Lady,

To replenish the oil in her lamp there hanging

And not to quench it; if through me it be quenched,

I shall lose sight of the way to Heaven.

Christian woman, grasp you my meaning?

Will you to me do this loving kindness?

[The woman appears at the entrance, her head and face covered with a black mantle.She takes down the basket from her head without a word and placing it on the ground removes the cloth, takes out the phial of oil, and offers it to Mila.]

Mila—Ah! be thou blessed, be thou blessed! Lord God

Reward thee on earth, and in Heaven also!

You have some! You have some! In mourning are you;

But the Madonna will grant it to you

To see again the face of your lost one,—

All for this deed of your charity done me.

[She takes the phial and turns anxiously to go to the dying lamp.]

Ah! perdition upon me! ’Tis quenched.

[The phial falls from her hand and breaks.For a few seconds she remains motionless, stunned with the terrible omen.The woman leaning down to the spilled oil touches it with her fingers and crosses herself.Mila regards the woman with utter sadness and the resignation of despair makes her voice hollow and slow.]

Mila—Pardon me, pardon, Christian pilgrim,

This your charity turned to nothing.

The oil wasted, broken in pieces the phial,

Misfortune upon me befallen.

Tell me what choose you? All these things here

Were fashioned out thus by the shepherd.

A new distaff and with it a spindle

Wish you? Or wish you a mortar and pestle?

Tell me, I pray. For nothing know I any more.

I am one of the lost in the earth beneath.