Table of contents

1. Garibaldi a

He bent his head upon his breast
Wherein his lion-heart lay sick:—
“Perhaps we are not ill-repaid;
Perhaps this is not a true test;
Perhaps that was not a foul trick;
Perhaps none wronged, and none betrayed.
“Perhaps the people's vote which here
United, there may disunite, 8
And both be lawful as they think;
Perhaps a patriot statesman, dear
For chartering nations, can with right
Disfranchise those who hold the ink.12
“Perhaps men's wisdom is not craft;
Men's greatness, not a selfish greed;
Men's justice, not the safer side;
Perhaps even women, when they laughed,
Wept, thanked us that the land was freed,
Not wholly (though they kissed us) lied.
“Perhaps no more than this we meant,
When up at Austria's guns we flew,
And quenched them with a cry apiece,
Italia!22 —Yet a dream was sent . .
The little house my father knew,
The olives and the palms of Nice.”24
He paused, and drew his sword out slow,
Then pored upon the blade intent,
As if to read some written thing;
While many murmured,—“He will go
In that despairing sentiment
And break his sword before the King.”30
He poring still upon the blade,
His large lid32 quivered, something fell.
“Perhaps,” he said, “I was not born
With such fine brains to treat and trade,—35
And if a woman37 knew it well,
Her falsehood only meant her scorn.
“Yet through Varese's39 cannon-smoke
My eye saw clear: men feared this man
At Como,49 where this sword could seal
Death's protocol with every stroke:
And now . . the drop there scarcely can
Impair the keenness of the steel.
“So man and sword may have their use;
And if the soil beneath my foot
In valor's act is forfeited,
I'll strike the harder, take my dues
Out nobler, and all loss confute
From ampler heavens above my head.
“My King, King Victor, I am thine!
So much Nice-dust as what I am
(To make our Italy) must cleave.
Forgive that.” Forward with a sign
He went.
You've seen the telegram?
Palermo's taken, we believe.55

2. Note on the text

This poem, first published in the New York Independent (11 October 1860), portrays Giuseppe Maria Garibaldi (1807-82), the hero of the Italian struggle for liberation or Risorgimento and one of the four men most responsible for creating a unified Italy. Unlike the others—revolutionary organizer Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-72), statesman Camillo Benso di Cavour (1810-61), and King Victor Emmanuel II of Piedmont, subsequently king of Italy (1820-78)— Garibaldi was a gifted military leader. A master of guerilla warfare and charismatic leader of volunteer armies, he spearheaded many crucial Italian victories over Austrian forces in the north and over the Bourbon king’s troops in the south. Although EBB recognized Garibaldi’s intellectual and diplomatic limitations, she judged his military leadership essential to the Italian cause (see notes below). She also referred poignantly to his gallant first wife in Casa Guidi Windows (2:678-93; 1851) and to his patriotic daughter in “The King’s Gift” (1862).

3. Explanatory Notes

Giuseppe Maria Garibaldi

In March 1860 plebiscites, the people of the regions of Tuscany and Emilia (formerly Romagna, Modena, and Parma) voted overwhelmingly to annex themselves to Piedmont, the core of a newly unified Italian state. The contrasting results of April plebiscites in Nice and Savoy were highly suspect, apparently manipulated under the influence of the French emperor Napoleon III: despite public demonstrations of strong fervor to join Italy, the reported votes supported annexation to France.

patriot statesman probably refers to Cavour, chief minister of Piedmont (and often in conflict with Garibaldi), who agreed to cede Nice and Savoy to France as the price of the Emperor’s support for Italian union and independence. Without French troops, Italy’s ability to withstand Austria’s forces was doubtful.

Italia (Italian) Italy.

Garibaldi was born in Nice.

In August 1860 EBB wrote that Garibaldi, disappointed by his recent marriage and by the uncertain disposition of Nice, had considered withdrawing from the revolutionary fray before his campaign in Sicily in May 1860: “The unhappy man went away into the wilderness & would see nobody—& the idea was throughout Italy that this [the marriage debacle] & the Nice affair which he could not & would not try to understand, were too much for him, .. & that his intention was to break his sword in the presence of the King [Victor Emmanuel II of Piedmont] & go to America- The man was nobler however than he himself at first thought- After some passionate grief he resolved to use his wounded life instead of losing it, & to draw his sword instead of breaking it—and off he went to Sicily to finish the great work in Italy” (LTA 2:481).

lid eyelid.

EBB frequently praised Garibaldi’s courage and heroism and declared him a military genius essential to the revolution’s success (e.g., LTA 2:486). But she also judged that he lacked intelligence, especially regarding complex diplomacy: “He is a hero…. He is not a man of brain. And Garibaldi could not have saved Italy” (LTA 2:474); and later: “I always told you that the man was a hero & WEAK—& we want brains as well as arms for the work here” (LTA 2:476; see also 480-82).

After marrying the daughter of a marquis, Garibaldi immediately learned that he had been duped, for she was pregnant with another man’s child, and he left her (see LTA 2:481).

Varese Early in the war of 1859, Garibaldi fought Austrian troops in the northern lake region, defeating them at Varese on May 26th.

Como site of another victory in the lake region, where Garibaldi’s 3,000 men routed a force three times as large. Though these victories ultimately accomplished little militarily, they galvanized Italian patriotism.

In early May 1860 Garibaldi led his band called the “Thousand” to Sicily, attracted many Sicilians to his force, and quickly conquered the Neapolitan troops fighting to preserve the Spanish Bourbon monarchy in the Kingdom of the two Sicilies (Sicily and Naples). By the month’s end, he had seized the capital city of Palermo and delivered Sicily to the nationalists and their king Victor Emmanuel (LTA 2:468 n9).

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Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Date: 2009-06-03
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