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Tuesday, 28 October 2014

The Two Foscari, Lord Byron; I Due Foscari, Verdi

Having seen Verdi's opera, I Due Foscari (libretto), I am reading Byron's excellent play.

All things are so to mortals; who can read them

Save he who made? or, if they can, the few

And gifted spirits, who have studied long

That loathsome volume – man, and pored upon

Those black and bloody leaves, his heart and brain,

But learn a magic which recoils upon

The adept who pursues it: all the sins

We find in others, Nature made our own;

All our advantages are those of Fortune;

Birth, wealth, health, beauty, are her accidents,

And when we cry out against Fate, ’twere well

We should remember Fortune can take nought

Save what she gave – the rest was nakedness,

And lusts, and appetites, and vanities,

The universal heritage, to battle

With as we may, and least in humblest stations,

Where Hunger swallows all in one low want,

And the original ordinance, that man

Must sweat for his poor pittance, keeps all passions

Aloof, save fear of famine! All is low,

And false, and hollow – clay from first to last,

The prince’s urn no less than potter’s vessel.

Our fame is in men’s breath, our lives upon

Less than their breath; our durance upon days,

Our days on seasons; our whole being on

Something which is not us! So, we are slaves,

The greatest as the meanest – nothing rests

Upon our will; the will itself no less

Depends upon a straw than on a storm;

And when we think we lead, we are most led,

And still towards Death, a thing which comes as much

Without our act or choice as birth, so that

Methinks we must have sinned in some old world,

And this is Hell: the best is, that it is not Eternal.


If Venice was as corrupt and brutal during the period that Francesco Foscari was Doge of Venice (1423-1457), as it is portrayed in the play and opera, one wonders about conditions on the island of Corfu (a Venetian possession) at that time.

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