The Portrait, by Madison Cawein

  In some quaint Nurnberg maler-atelier
  Uprummaged. When and where was never clear
  Nor yet how he obtained it. When, by whom
  'Twas painted—who shall say? itself a gloom
  Resisting inquisition. I opine
  It is a Dürer. Mark that touch, this line;
  Are they deniable?—Distinguished grace
  Of the pure oval of the noble face
  Tarnished in color badly. Half in light
  Extend it so. Incline. The exquisite
  Expression leaps abruptly: piercing scorn;
  Imperial beauty; each, an icy thorn
  Of light, disdainful eyes and … well! no use!
  Effaced and but beheld! a sad abuse
  Of patience.—Often, vaguely visible,
  The portrait fills each feature, making swell
  The heart with hope: avoiding face and hair
  Start out in living hues; astonished, "There!—
  The picture lives!" your soul exults, when, lo!
  You hold a blur; an undetermined glow
  Dislimns a daub.—"Restore?"—Ah, I have tried
  Our best restorers, and it has defied.

  Storied, mysterious, say, perhaps a ghost
  Lives in the canvas; hers, some artist lost;
  A duchess', haply. Her he worshiped; dared
  Not tell he worshiped. From his window stared
  Of Nuremberg one sunny morn when she
  Passed paged to court. Her cold nobility
  Loved, lived for like a purpose. Seized and plied
  A feverish brush—her face!—Despaired and died.

  The narrow Judengasse: gables frown
  Around a humpbacked usurer's, where brown,
  Neglected in a corner, long it lay,
  Heaped in a pile of riff-raff, such as—say,
  Retables done in tempera and old
  Panels by Wohlgemuth; stiff paintings cold
  Of martyrs and apostles,—names forgot,—
  Holbeins and Dürers, say; a haloed lot
  Of praying saints, madonnas: these, perchance,
  'Mid wine-stained purples, mothed; an old romance;
  A crucifix and rosary; inlaid
  Arms, Saracen-elaborate; a strayed
  Niello of Byzantium; rich work,
  In bronze, of Florence: here a murderous dirk,
  There holy patens.
                        So.—My ancestor,
  The first De Herancour, esteemed by far
  This piece most precious, most desirable;

  Purchased and brought to Paris. It looked well
  In the dark paneling above the old
  Hearth of the room. The head's religious gold,
  The soft severity of the nun face,
  Made of the room an apostolic place
  Revered and feared.—
      Like some lived scene I see
  That Gothic room: its Flemish tapestry;
  Embossed within the marble hearth a shield,
  Carved 'round with thistles; in its argent field
  Three sable mallets—arms of Herancour—
  Topped with the crest, a helm and hands that bore,
  Outstretched, two mallets. On a lectern laid,—
  Between two casements, lozenge-paned, embayed,—
  A vellum volume of black-lettered text.
  Near by a taper, winking as if vexed
  With silken gusts a nervous curtain sends,
  Behind which, haply, daggered Murder bends.

  And then I seem to see again the hall;
  The stairway leading to that room.—Then all
  The terror of that night of blood and crime
  Passes before me.—
                      It is Catherine's time:
  The house De Herancour's. On floors, splashed red,
  Torchlight of Medicean wrath is shed.
  Down carven corridors and rooms,—where couch
  And chairs lie shattered and black shadows crouch
  Torch-pierced with fear,—a sound of swords draws near—
  The stir of searching steel.
                                What find they here,
  Torch-bearer, swordsman, and fierce halberdier,
  On St. Bartholomew's?—A Huguenot!
  Dead in his chair! Eyes, violently shot
  With horror, glaring at the portrait there:
  Coiling his neck a blood line, like a hair
  Of finest fire. The portrait, like a fiend,—
  Looking exalted visitation,—leaned
  From its black panel; in its eyes a hate
  Satanic; hair—a glowing auburn; late
  A dull, enduring golden.
                              "Just one thread
  Of the fierce hair around his throat," they said,
  "Twisting a burning ray; he—staring dead."