JEZ PUNTER is based in London. When not writing poetry and plays he works as a chef. His poetry has appeared in First Time, Popshot, Bunbury, Eunoia, Snakeskin, Riggwelter, Dream Catcher, theCRANK and on the Society of Classical Poets website. He is currently writing a commentary on Shakespeare’s Sonnets.
After wooing her, Lord Didaco jilts his lowborn wife Violenta in favour of someone else.
Violenta exacts her revenge. Based on a story from Matteo Bandello’s Novelle (1554)
From forth a most grandeval stock of knights
Didaco, noble, young, with heart all riled,
appeared so as to centre neat his sights
on us who, under Spanish climate mild,
held all our dear Valencia beguiled.
He came to seek and court his infamy,
as in like manner he would soon to me.
For we were known, we ladies of the town,
throughout Iberia and thence beyond
for our assured repose and rife renown,
which faithly meant that we would not despond.
A fit and ordered question, we’d respond.
But not to him, this knot from in the grain.
A cut of eye, a smirk for his refrain.
Though thoroughly a city-sprouted son,
too green had he existed hitherto
to wear a badge amongst them all and none.
But then ‘of age’ and everything was ‘due’.
(It was to be my life he would imbue.)
Arising into public show, all heat
of heart (and thigh) he sought to eat,
acquire a means to sate the priming licks
a lust-led junior bears in ripening days,
thus duly set himself to work with clicks
and clucks and japing lines, as were his ways.
(A dog keeps more decorum when it bays.)
Yet what of me? Where else was there to roam?
Away from here, my ever-honoured home?
Valencia, ramparted coil of coast,
my ever chiefest seat of faith most true,
great guardian of justice, known as most
bulwarked and parapeted source of rue
for many a foe who can but pay their due.
I could not leave so was all audience
to what hindsight names lecherous conveyance.
‘Centiglia’, that was his family name;
and when we met it’s so, I do admit,
my gentle friends and I had earned some fame
about the streets provoking as was fit
the Jacks who liked to stalk, and stare at it.
We baited, fooling in our dalliance,
not thinking on a tangible alliance.
When he first cast his rod I lent him line,
did speak in idioms and commonplaces;
I caught his glance, said it I would refine –
if he could prize not every of our faces.
And so he swore, and I allowed embraces.
He swore of further things – of what he felt,
of how my look transfixed him; then he knelt
on knightly knee and pledged all love to me!
He talked of war-won accolades, of feats
of great endeavour, triumphs mercilessly
done, showed wounds as if they were receipts,
said we were fresh and so were owed the streets.
He spoke of how our union was fate;
of future times. I would reciprocate?
I could not say, so he then pried for more,
requesting secret news of where I dwelt,
how was my parentage – well-made or poor? –
my aspirations, what I had been dealt.
What was the look upon my face, pray, guilt?
What was, he wondered, my picked-out vocation?
But I would give no utterance or action
further. I disdained his lack of manner.
So he betook himself to search my name,
did door-to-door pay visit for my honour,
word of me and of my family game.
With bit well-champed ’twas me he wanted tame.
Inevitably by way of searching speech
he learned my place, my curbed societal reach.
For I was but a goldsmith’s modest daughter,
whose father died when he could give no more.
I had a loving and discerning mother,
two brethren working as my Pa before
safeguarding income on our trading floor.
But little else had I; though I was chaste
and honest, virtuous, never debased.
To boot I was well-read, and beautiful,
though you may not discern so here today.
I treasured books of words quite fanciful,
insurance ’gainst those youths renowned to stray
(I never stopped to think they would betray).
When reading ceased I exercised the needle –
to highest degree, no hour ever idle.
The news of all these pastimes he acquired
just like some blood-besotted fox-head hunter;
even the way I liked to be attired!
and that my parents named me Violenta.
He ’compassed me; I was to be his centre,
living flame to burn his pooling oil,
his additive, protection ’gainst his spoil.
And so began his suit. Every day
he called in at our humble residence
to lavish this and that. What could I say
to shun, to quash his over-confidence?
He visited despite my non-compliance;
for I refused them all, the messages,
the flowers, letters set in languages.
But he did persevere, did gift a scent
unto Mama, asked boys on his behalf
to vouch for his trustworthiness as gent.
‘A citizen true’ would be his epitaph,
he pledged. And in the end I had to laugh.
His care for me had reached nigh half a year
by now. The gent was ardent, it was clear.
So I a serenade afforded him.
But he was overcome. Could do nothing
but sink with sighs and sobs! He tried to trim
his fevered outburst venturing to sing
but soured his throat with what the words did bring.
I from my casement looked down with alarm,
my mother, worried, gripping at my arm!
Implore the rascal, in the end, I did
to sanction entry of some goodly sense
into his brain. How was he, pray, to bid
for my affections floored and buckled hence?
At this he breathed, ’fore fashioning defence:
‘Mistress Violenta,’ (his zeal was on the run),
‘I fear my eyes are lost, for at the sun
‘I have most helplessly directed them.
I speak not though of that, our shining pointer,
I speak of thee, who like some diadem
of brighter hue, are called good Violenta,
your shine on me so infinitely greater!
Pardon my tears but they flow from a heart
that has long threatened well to split apart.
‘Such numbers of my letters you’ve ignored,
such messengers of mine have turned away,
such smiles I gave returned with cold regard,
dismissive words of me been heard to say,
foundations hard on which a case to lay.
But yet a case to put I have, ’tis true:
I am in love, and my love’s name is you.
‘And so I say to you, Valencian fair,
act not as does the adder in our Psalms
that stoppers up its ears against the care
of its benevolent owner’s words and charms,
but hear with no unwarranted alarms;
and know although I seem a sign of sin
my heart is good if you but look within.’
His lines were medicine, did make me feel
ashamed at ever doubting his intention.
All trembling where he stood he seemed so real,
so virtuous and far from sly invention.
Thus giving pardon yet with apprehension
straight to him did I purpose response.
I would make plain his chances of romance.
‘Listen, Didaco, Señor of all our streets,
though I did not accept your numerous letters,
this does not mean I well denounce their treats,
their lines of passion broken free of fetters,
their moves of mood a youth so often suffers.
Despite a posting I did not allow them,
not once have I since lectured to condemn.
‘But yes, I have stoppered my ears of late;
as well have fortified my gentle heart.
’Thas been for fear, for dread I might relate
too much and so mislay in me that part
that God did label grace. I could not start
again succeeding that. I’d be all shame;
I would have slayed my goodly fam’ly name.
‘Yet you intend no shame to put on me,
of that prospect I am entirely sure.
You wear your openness for all to see,
playing the jester here beneath my door.
You talk of love; perhaps I should hear more?
All of the oaths you say I do believe,
and now you’re here I wish you not to leave.
‘So hear me, world! I promise now henceforth
within my heart Didaco shall be placed,
and not one other as I live on earth;
for I’ve decided to no more be chased.
And yet by no exploit am I disgraced!
One warning though, Didaco: If you abuse
this trust I furnish, you shall truly lose
‘the very thing that you’ve so stubbornly sought.’
And thus I ended my pronounced acceptance
and awaited what it might have wrought.
But he (said beau) could mutter not a sentence
until my mother met him by our entrance:
‘My Lord Didaco, though you’ve been kept guessing,
rest assured that you have all my blessing.’
The Señor wept – presumably with joy –
and took his leave. He’d call upon the morrow
to all my genial company employ.
At this a tingle ran from mind to marrow.
Though my chances elsewhere now were narrow
great excitement overran my veins.
He wanted me, and I could see the gains.
But yet one year and half he kept his length
adhering to my fiat for some dignity.
We trod the battlements, praising their strength,
and laughed – but with upmost propriety.
Yet all the while I kept dubiety –
until of course, he had had enough,
his patience worked and worn away to fluff.
Consulting with his friends for some advice
it came about he next detained my mother
and (six hundred ducats to entice)
sought hard to plant himself into her favour;
as well a dowry, more than any other
he’d assign, if he the title ‘husband’
might receive. Ma smiled and called him brigand.
But I would not be summed in cold currency.
The offer he produced was firm offence!
If he and I in union were to be
a more exuberant plea should he dispense;
for nuptial oaths must not stand on pretence.
His eyes did film again. ‘Why do you tarry?’
he questioned. ‘All I want to do is marry.’
‘But why, you foolish stripling?’ asked my mother.
‘Why all this show and tell, this drooling, acting?’
‘Because, good matron,’ he returned, ‘I love her.
She is my one, yet here I am still waiting
deeds reciprocate to settle our dating.’
At this Mama relented. Now she knew
the match would work, the one fashioned from two.
For confirmation whereof he then eased
from off his finger an almighty emerald,
requested kisses from me (still he teased)
before ensuring that the gem was settled
on my digit and our union labelled.
But then he said (and, yes, I lacked suspicion),
‘Mistress fair, permit a last instruction:
‘Tell not society nor any friends
of this, our partnership now newly sealed,
till I’ve informed them fully of our ends,
and so established what may gossip yield;
for they know not before you I have kneeled.
But notwithstanding this I’ll find a priest
to solemnise our coupling at the least.’
And so it came to pass: a most clandestine
episode at four A.M. o’ th’clock,
the dark, in hindsight, seeming to predestine
what would be one systematic shock
foreshadowing one systematic shock.
Mama, my brothers and our servant thus
did witness marriage without hint of fuss
(although we fussed our bed sheets well in sport
once we withdrew that morn into my chamber!).
For æons we did lustily cavort
in joy and mirth, needless to encumber
urge and itch one single minute longer.
Postpone the moment more? Heaven forfend!
We went to bed and so my eyes opened!
(As did much else.) And it was nigh on evening
when, with our pleasures slept away, we roused
our bodies limp with lust and love remaining,
so I could show my love where he was housed.
He wore a crenulated forehead as he browsed,
for he was not impressed. ‘But ’tis no bother,’
he averred, ‘I do not wish to smother
‘you with too much attendance. I shall keep
a house that is my own, some simple garret
where I can read my books and, after, sleep.
Besides, our marriage hence is to be secret,
yes? – until you’re famed as my love’s object.’
Object? I worried, his speech unordinary.
But yet I swore as he commanded me.
I was his wife, affianced to obey,
and he had business ’bout the town, ’twas clear.
‘Sweet love, fret not,’ he emphasised, ‘I’ll pay
a thousand, nay, twelve hundred ducats here
so you may keep all of your holdings dear.’
Our household (drab and dern) did need the sum,
so I agreed and of our deal kept mum.
He took his leave, my honest husband new,
and Ma and I reoccupied ourselves
with all our daily rounds. My brethren too
resumed their work i’the shop, stocking shelves,
keeping the books, all that that involves.
Didaco often stayed, as was his whim,
and as my duty told I treated him.
Yet soon the sun had made its whole compass,
and of some public advert to our bind
my gallant had not moved to any purpose.
I wished for us to settle, not be maligned.
For now the gossips openly opined
about my mother and the man who came
at oddly hours. It attracted shame!
And then nature bestowed a pregnancy.
a joyous thing in circumstances fine.
But fathering guide was there none such to be.
Though he made call, he was withdrawn by nine.
Some vessel was I – to drain of all its wine?
A boy was born, a day to surely bless,
but joy was fast assuaged by foul distress.
Our nearest neighbour then enlightened all,
suggesting I was something he did ‘rent’,
some sort of secret maiden at his call,
a hidden harlot off’ring entertainment!
I lost myself in tears, I was forspent.
When next he called against him I did rage.
I was his wife! and twenty years in age.
I once was held by all in great esteem,
of reputation decent, conscientious.
But neighbours need no small excuse to scheme
and blame when one is inconspicuous;
they frenzy up themselves, becoming vicious.
‘My love,’ said I, ‘do you not know they taunt?
Foul rumour by its nature stays to haunt.’
At this my knight breathed forth a goodly sigh
and swore of changing his behaviour hence,
acknowledged weddedness he did belie
by playing shirker. He had no defence,
except he had much ‘business to dispense’.
‘For my shambolic ways I shall atone,’
he vowed. ‘Our marriage now will be well known.’
Alas, the lying villain knew to use
affection well, for I had burgeoned lenient.
This man had now become my love, my muse;
’twould hurt to play someone not all-compliant;
upon his whim and way I was reliant.
And this he knew, knew I his heart required.
My solitude was now with him attired.
Thenceforth his stays decreased. When he did show
it was to sate his carnal longing only,
with often not so much as a ‘hello’.
He seemed to smirk, cared not that I was lonely,
just had his way; the ill-hewn brute abused me.
Forsaking God and his own conscience then
I learned this cock indulged another hen!
Indeed, frequenting other homes and haunts
of divers gentlewomen in the city
is what he did. It was divulged – his flaunts
and foins of manliness, cupidity
exposed; his actions heartless, arbitrary.
I listened as he talked dissimulation
but knew what words were simply cold concoction.
But yet more salt was there to fire the wound:
Word reached our household he had now obtained
the lasting favour of another. I swooned,
with tears. Two years now past and I had gained
nothing but child, and now the child was stained.
The lover now to whom he played the suitor
was of Ramerio Vigliaracuta,
mayor, senior of a most ancient house,
red-rich and noble, highest in pedigree.
His daughter though was boring as a mouse
they said. But my espoused did not agree.
He wed the girl with great solemnity,
the nuptials eulogised by one and all.
Didaco gained a dowry, me my fall.
In hardest sorrow were we saturated,
me, my mother and my dearest brethren.
My baby cried, sensed something aggravated
his surroundings, like some ominous siren
voicing loud our desperate situation.
But we knew not to whom we could object.
No one would hear, to them we were abject.
Before the Church we pleaded, to relieve
the hurt; against our neighbours made a fuss.
‘You and Didaco?’ They would not believe;
and we knew not the priest who married us!
‘Thus,’ said they, ‘we’ve nothing to discuss.’
We stood against our city’s greatest lords
and were dismissed as prattling rancid bawds.
Didaco now was lodged with his new wife
inside the house of his new pa-in-law.
All dowry-rich, indemnified for life,
he praised the city – it praised him the more,
while I did take the appellation ‘whore’.
Throughout our world – brutal, prized, fortressed –
Didaco’s marriage was proclaimed the best.
The rakes, they envied their young colleague’s catch,
this daughter of Señor Ramerio.
‘Surely Valencia’s greatest ever match,’
they cried throughout the streets. It was a show –
for them. It was not my scenario.
Unto my chamber I withdrew, and there
I cried and cursed the world with not a care.
My body went diseased, did lie constricted:
an ireful, shrunken casing of its form
as fortune grasped, flayed me raw, evicted
hope and let immeasurable torment storm
on through, ever obsessive to perform.
My former lover lessened me. His bilk,
his jeering stayed with me like sour milk.
My torn mind screeled beyond any affliction,
my suff’ring thoughts as soon as born unbound.
For all was snatched away from me, made fiction:
the bliss, felicity I thought I’d found!
But I was just a kernel to be ground.
Oh how I wished that God would grant relief,
for I was burning water, unencumbered grief!
It was some count of days before I stirred.
When finally I broke my lids apart
there stood before my bed the slightly blurred
resemblance of our maid, Janique, her heart
destroyed for me. ‘Mistress,’ she said, ‘let’s start
appeasement. So as to mollify your grief
we should contrive to snag our wretched thief.’
Henceforth she explicated, saying, ‘I,
I’ll beg some speech with the deceitful crack
and make him understand that by and by
he must unto the house that he did wrack
with woe. I’ll talk to him of what you lack.’
‘No, no, Janique,’ said I, so much fatigued.
‘Your meet advice is gratefully received
‘but talking time is past. I wish no longer
for my ears to hear Didaco’s terms.
Such sounds will only blight my insight further,
warren their way inside like rabbits, worms
abusing to implant what he affirms.
No, no. I am resolved so much in malice,
hatred, there shall be no courteousness,
‘only an execution by my hands,
a vengeance for what wrath on me our god
has laid. Painful time’s unyielding brands
reverted cannot be, but yet the sod
can be condemned to the eternal nod.
He takes my honour, I shall take his life –
by any means, Janique. By club, by knife!’
My faithful maid leaned close to hear my plan . . .
[To be continued]
JEZ PUNTER is based in London. His poetry has appeared in First Time, Popshot, Bunbury, Eunoia, Snakeskin, Riggwelter, Dream Catcher, theCRANK and on the Society of Classical Poets website. He is currently writing a commentary on Shakespeare’s Sonnets.