The Final Lecture

. . . so then I said, “That brings to mind the debts
Incurred by Edward, King of England, how
The Bardi and Peruzzi almost met
Their ruins for loaning him such large amounts.”
I tried to help him, but he never gets
It.  “Old-world financiers could make it out,”
I’d offered while he rolled his eyes, “And so
Can you.”  But did he want to listen?  No.

Not like his mother, no.  I met her on
The Ponte alla Grazie, when, most days,
I used to lunch in Santa Croce, and wander
Where La Murate once were walled away
Until a mercantile desire had pawned
For naught the souls of city lords who craved
Hard cash.  Bargellini had it right,
You know.  All poetry gives way to blight.

Unless, of course, you happen by the fringe
Resisting progress, like that aging man
Whose haggard coat unsettled as he pitched
His line into the Arno — quite a fancy,
Believing fish still swam beneath that bridge.
“Italians feel senility commands
Respect,” this woman observed, coming out
Of nowhere, “Dotage brings a certain clout,

A sense of earned unraveling, don’t you think?”
This woman.  Blythe.  Her family had come from Boston,
A summer tour . . . what?  Yes, I’ve had a drink
Or two with lunch, but . . . quiet!  Now don’t get cross
With me!  This class must cover certain things
Because . . . well, Castiglione says the cost
Of age convinces us our youth comprised
A golden time, but do our memories lie?

Of course, I married Blythe, who, then, became
My greatest colleague, her language skills outshining
My own, yes, Salutati’s letters make
Translators deathly mad, and scholars find
His contradictions daunting — he’d praise
Republics in his correspondence while
In De Tyranno monarchs get his best
Assessment.  Sorting this proved quite a test

While finishing my dissertation, but Blythe
Not only worked with me, she helped release
My driving tensions too, suggesting light
Excursions, Lucca during olive season,
Or Prato.  Leonardo’s Virgin, Child
And Saint Anne
comes to mind, reminding me
Of Blythe, her peaceful smile.  Aha!  You know
The artists?  Titian?  Michelangelo?

Who cares that Burkhardt studied Medicis . . .
That Brucker loved the Florentines?  My heart
Indebts itself to history, how the Greeks
Supplied us Reason and Desire.  The art
Defining the Renaissance, the fight between
Consuming lust and higher virtue — art
From discourse!  Blythe believed that, yes, until
She died.  We’d argued it throughout her illness,

But still my son won’t listen.  “Dad,” he says,
“Let’s sell the house.  You’re tenured, Mother’s gone.
So simplify your life.”  Oh, yes, he’ll get
His way, finally disengage my fondest
Attachments, spend his whole inheritance,
Pawning the future, breeding other debts.
I’ll grow forgotten like all names that vanish,
I fear, my hopes for rebirth finally passing . . .

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