Sacheverell Sitwell

Rio Grande

By the Rio Grande they dance no sarabande
On level banks like lawns above the glassy, lolling tide,
Nor sing they forlorn madrigals whose sad note stirs the sleeping gales
Till they wake among the trees and shake the boughs
and fright the nightingales.

But they dance in the city down the public squares
On the marble pavers with each colour laid in shares
At the open church doors loud with light within
At the bell’s huge tolling, by the river music, gurgling, thin
through the soft Brazilian air.

The Comendador and Alguacil
Are there on horseback hid with feathers, loud and shrill
Blowing orders on their trumpets like a bird’s sharp bill
Through boughs like a bitter wind, calling
They shine like steady starlight while those other sparks are falling
In burnished armour with their plumes of fire,
Tireless, while all others tire.

The noisy streets are empty and hushed is the town
To where, in the square, they dance and the band is playing,
Such a space of silence through the town to the river
That the water murmurs loud,
Loud above the band and crowd together.

And the strains of the sarabande
More lively than a madrigal go hand in hand
Like the river and its waterfall as the great Rio Grande
Rolls down to the sea.
By the Rio Grande they dance no sarabande

Loud the marimba’s note above these half salt waves
And louder still the tympanum, the plectrum and the kettledrum
Sullen and menacing do these brazen voices ring
They ride outside, above the salt sea’s tide they ride,
Above the salt sea’s tide.

By the Rio Grande they dance no sarabande
Till the ships at anchor hear this enchantment
Of the soft Brazilian air by those Southern winds wafted
Slow and gentle their fierceness tempered
By the air that flows between.



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Sacheverell Sitwell