A picture is painted. The rising sun reflects on white petals of oleander; a tinge of crimson surrounded by shadowy grey. A new day dawns. Suddenly, all is quiet. A soft wind stirs fragrance from an almond grove…
“A lonely nightingale is heard.”
By the Arno is a melancholy poem by Oscar Wilde published in Poems (see previous post) when he was twenty-five years old. He seems to be identifying with the nightingale, as only unpaired males sing regularly at night. I chose this painting by François Xavier Fabre because, obviously, a single man is sitting by the Arno. He’s fully-dressed and wrapped in a toga (which is something Mr Wilde might do when he was older). The man’s name is George Allen Smith, the first American tourist to travel to Greece during his 1793 – 1807 European sojourn.
BY THE ARNO
The oleander on the wall
Grows crimson in the dawning light,
Though the grey shadows of the night
Lie yet on Florence like a pall.
The dew is bright upon the hill,
And bright the blossoms overhead,
But ah! the grasshoppers have fled,
The little Attic song is still.
Only the leaves are gently stirred
By the soft breathing of the gale,
And in the almond-scented vale
The lonely nightingale is heard.
The day will make thee silent soon,
O nightingale sing on for love!
While yet upon the shadowy grove
Splinter the arrows of the moon.
Before across the silent lawn
In sea-green vest the morning steals,
And to love’s frightened eyes reveals
The long white fingers of the dawn
Fast climbing up the eastern sky
To grasp and slay the shuddering night,
All careless of my heart’s delight,
Or if the nightingale should die.
NOTE: Francois-Xavier Fabre studied at the Montpelliers art academy before joining the Paris studio of neo-classicist master, Jacques-Louis David. He won the Prix de Rome in 1787 and remained in Italy because of the French Revolution.