Decameron is in Late Medieval Books.

1916. John William Waterhouse (age 66). "A Tale from the Decameron".

Late Medieval Books, Decameron Day Four

Decameron Day Four Story Five

Summary. Lisabetta's brothers murder her lover. He appears to her in a dream and shows her where he is buried. She secretly disinters the head and places it in a pot of basil, over which she weeps for a long time every day. In the end her brothers take it away from her, and shortly thereafter she dies of grief.

When Elissa's story came to an end, the king bestowed a few words of praise upon it and then called upon Filomena to speak next. Being quite overcome with compassion for the hapless Gerbino and his lady-love, she fetched a deep sigh, then began as follows: This story of mine, fair ladies, will not be about people of so lofty a rank as those of whom Elissa has been speaking, but possibly it will prove to be no less touching, and I was reminded of it by the mention that has just been made of Messina, which was where it all happened.

In Messina, there once lived three brothers, all of them merchants who had been left very rich after the death of their father, whose native town was San Gimignano. They had a sister called Lisabetta, but for some reason or other they had failed to bestow her in marriage, despite the fact that she was uncommonly gracious and beautiful.

In one of their trading establishments, the three brothers employed a young Pisan named Lorenzo, who planned and directed all their operations, and who, being rather dashing and handsomely proportioned, had often attracted the gaze of Lisabetta. Having noticed more than once that she had grown exceedingly fond of him, Lorenzo abandoned all his other amours and began in like fashion to set his own heart on winning Lisabetta. And since they were equally in love with each other, before very long they gratified their dearest wishes, taking care not to be discovered.

In this way, their love continued to prosper, much to their common enjoyment and pleasure. They did everything they could to keep the affair a secret, but one night, as Lisabetta was making her way to Lorenzo's sleeping quarters, she was observed, without knowing it, by her eldest brother. The discovery greatly distressed him, but being a young man of some intelligence, and not wishing to do anything that would bring discredit upon his family, he neither spoke nor made a move, but spent the whole of the night applying his mind to various sides of the matter.

Next morning he described to his brothers what he had seen of Lisabetta and Lorenzo the night before, and the three of them talked the thing over at considerable length. Being determined that the affair should leave no stain upon the reputation either of themselves or of their sister, he decided that they must pass it over in silence and pretend to have neither seen nor heard anything until such time as it was safe and convenient for them to rid themselves of this ignominy before it got out of hand.

Abiding by this decision, the three brothers jested and chatted with Lorenzo in their usual manner, until one day they pretended they were all going off on a pleasure-trip to the country, and took Lorenzo with them. They bided their time, and on reaching a very remote and lonely spot, they took Lorenzo off his guard, murdered him, and buried his corpse. No one had witnessed the deed, and on their return to Messina they put it about that they had sent Lorenzo away on a trading assignment, being all the more readily believed as they had done this so often before.

Lorenzo's continued absence weighed heavily upon Lisabetta, who kept asking her brothers, in anxious tones, what had become of him, and eventually her questioning became so persistent that one of her brothers rounded on her, and said:

"What is the meaning of this? What business do you have with Lorenzo, that you should be asking so many questions about him? If you go on pestering us, we shall give you the answer you deserve."

From then on, the young woman, who was sad and miserable and full of strange forebodings, refrained from asking questions. But at night she would repeatedly utter his name in a heart-rending voice and beseech him to come to her, and from time to time she would burst into tears because of his failure to return. Nothing would restore her spirits, and meanwhile she simply went on waiting.

One night, however, after crying so much over Lorenzo's absence that she eventually cried herself off to sleep, he appeared to her in a dream, pallid looking and all dishevelled, his clothes tattered and decaying, and it seemed to her that he said:

"Ah, Lisabetta, you do nothing but call to me and bemoan my long absence, and you cruelly reprove me with your tears. Hence I must tell you that I can never return, because on the day that you saw me for the last time, I was murdered by your brothers."

He then described the place where they had buried him, told her not to call to him or wait for him any longer, and disappeared.

Having woken up, believing that what she had seen was true, the young woman wept bitterly. And when she arose next morning, she resolved to go to the place and seek confirmation of what she had seen in her sleep. She dared not mention the apparition to her brothers, but obtained their permission to make a brief trip to the country for pleasure, taking with her a maidservant who had once acted as her go-between and was privy to all her affairs. She immediately set out, and on reaching the spot, swept aside some dead leaves and started to excavate a section of the ground that appeared to have been disturbed. Nor did she have to dig very deep before she uncovered her poor lover's body, which, showing no sign as yet of decomposition or decay, proved all too clearly that her vision had been true. She was the saddest woman alive, but knowing that this was no time for weeping, and seeing that it was impossible for her to take away his whole body (as she would dearly have wished), she laid it to rest in a more appropriate spot, then severed the head from the shoulders as best she could and enveloped it in a towel. This she handed into her maidservant's keeping whilst she covered over the remainder of the corpse with soil, and then they returned home, having completed the whole of their task unobserved.

Taking the head to her room, she locked herself in and cried bitterly, weeping so profusely that she saturated it with her tears, at the same time implanting a thousand kisses upon it. Then she wrapped the head in a piece of rich cloth, and laid it in a large and elegant pot, of the sort in which basil or marjoram is grown. She next covered it with soil, in which she planted several sprigs of the finest Salernitan basil," and never watered them except with essence of roses or orange-blossom, or with her own teardrops. She took to sitting permanently beside this pot and gazing lovingly at it, concentrating the whole of her desire upon it because it was where her beloved Lorenzo lay concealed. And after gazing raptly for a long while upon it, she would bend over it and begin to cry, and her weeping never ceased until the whole of the basil was wet with her tears.

Because of the long and unceasing care that was lavished upon it, and also because the soil was enriched by the decomposing head inside the pot, the basil grew very thick and exceedingly fragrant. The young woman constantly followed this same routine, and from time to time she attracted the attention of her neighbours. And as they had heard her brothers expressing their concern at the decline in her good looks and the way in which her eyes appeared to have sunk into their sockets, they told them what they had seen, adding:

"We have noticed that she follows the same routine every day."

The brothers discovered for themselves that this was so, and having reproached her once or twice without the slightest effect, they caused the pot to be secretly removed from her room. When she found that it was missing, she kept asking for it over and over again, and because they would not restore it to her she sobbed and cried without a pause until eventually she fell seriously ill. And from her bed of sickness she would call for nothing else except her pot of basil.

The young men were astonished by the persistence of her entreaties, and decided to examine its contents. Having shaken out the soil, they saw the cloth and found the decomposing head inside it, still sufficiently intact for them to recognize it as Lorenzo's from the curls of his hair. This discovery greatly amazed them, and they were afraid lest people should come to know what had happened. So they buried the head, and without breathing a word to anyone, having wound up their affairs in Messina, they left the city and went to live in Naples.

The girl went on weeping and demanding her pot of basil, until eventually she cried herself to death, thus bringing her ill-fated love to an end. But after due process of time, many people came to know of the affair, and one of them composed the song which can still be heard to this day:

Whoever it was,

Whoever the villain

That stole my pot of herbs, etc.

Isabella and the Pot of Basil. In 1818 John Keats (age 22) adapted the story of Decameron Day Four Story Five to create the poem Isabella and the Pot of Basil. It was published in 1820.


Fair Isabel, poor simple Isabel!

Lorenzo, a young palmer in Love's eye!

They could not in the self-same mansion dwell

Without some stir of heart, some malady;

They could not sit at meals but feel how well

It soothed each to be the other by;

They could not, sure, beneath the same roof sleep

But to each other dream, and nightly weep.


With every morn their love grew tenderer,

With every eve deeper and tenderer still;

He might not in house, field, or garden stir,

But her full shape would all his seeing fill;

And his continual voice was pleasanter

To her, than noise of trees or hidden rill;

Her lute-string gave an echo of his name,

She spoilt her half-done broidery with the same.


He knew whose gentle hand was at the latch,

Before the door had given her to his eyes;

And from her chamber-window he would catch

Her beauty farther than the falcon spies;

And constant as her vespers would he watch,

Because her face was turn'd to the same skies;

And with sick longing all the night outwear,

To hear her morning-step upon the stair.


A whole long month of May in this sad plight

Made their cheeks paler by the break of June:

"To morrow will I bow to my delight,

"To-morrow will I ask my lady's boon."-

"O may I never see another night,

"Lorenzo, if thy lips breathe not love's tune."-

So spake they to their pillows; but, alas,

Honeyless days and days did he let pass;


Until sweet Isabella's untouch'd cheek

Fell sick within the rose's just domain,

Fell thin as a young mother's, who doth seek

By every lull to cool her infant's pain:

"How ill she is," said he, "I may not speak,

"And yet I will, and tell my love all plain:

"If looks speak love-laws, I will drink her tears,

"And at the least 'twill startle off her cares."


So said he one fair morning, and all day

His heart beat awfully against his side;

And to his heart he inwardly did pray

For power to speak; but still the ruddy tide

Stifled his voice, and puls'd resolve away-

Fever'd his high conceit of such a bride,

Yet brought him to the meekness of a child:

Alas! when passion is both meek and wild!


So once more he had wak'd and anguished

A dreary night of love and misery,

If Isabel's quick eye had not been wed

To every symbol on his forehead high;

She saw it waxing very pale and dead,

And straight all flush'd; so, lisped tenderly,

"Lorenzo!"-here she ceas'd her timid quest,

But in her tone and look he read the rest.


"O Isabella, I can half perceive

"That I may speak my grief into thine ear;

"If thou didst ever any thing believe,

"Believe how I love thee, believe how near

"My soul is to its doom: I would not grieve

"Thy hand by unwelcome pressing, would not fear

"Thine eyes by gazing; but I cannot live

"Another night, and not my passion shrive.


"Love! thou art leading me from wintry cold,

"Lady! thou leadest me to summer clime,

"And I must taste the blossoms that unfold

"In its ripe warmth this gracious morning time."

So said, his erewhile timid lips grew bold,

And poesied with hers in dewy rhyme:

Great bliss was with them, and great happiness

Grew, like a lusty flower in June's caress.


Parting they seem'd to tread upon the air,

Twin roses by the zephyr blown apart

Only to meet again more close, and share

The inward fragrance of each other's heart.

She, to her chamber gone, a ditty fair

Sang, of delicious love and honey'd dart;

He with light steps went up a western hill,

And bade the sun farewell, and joy'd his fill.


All close they met again, before the dusk

Had taken from the stars its pleasant veil,

All close they met, all eves, before the dusk

Had taken from the stars its pleasant veil,

Close in a bower of hyacinth and musk,

Unknown of any, free from whispering tale.

Ah! better had it been for ever so,

Than idle ears should pleasure in their woe.


Were they unhappy then?-It cannot be-

Too many tears for lovers have been shed,

Too many sighs give we to them in fee,

Too much of pity after they are dead,

Too many doleful stories do we see,

Whose matter in bright gold were best be read;

Except in such a page where Theseus' spouse

Over the pathless waves towards him bows.


But, for the general award of love,

The little sweet doth kill much bitterness;

Though Dido silent is in under-grove,

And Isabella's was a great distress,

Though young Lorenzo in warm Indian clove

Was not embalm'd, this truth is not the less-

Even bees, the little almsmen of spring-bowers,

Know there is richest juice in poison-flowers.


With her two brothers this fair lady dwelt,

Enriched from ancestral merchandize,

And for them many a weary hand did swelt

In torched mines and noisy factories,

And many once proud-quiver'd loins did melt

In blood from stinging whip;-with hollow eyes

Many all day in dazzling river stood,

To take the rich-ored driftings of the flood.


For them the Ceylon diver held his breath,

And went all naked to the hungry shark;

For them his ears gush'd blood; for them in death

The seal on the cold ice with piteous bark

Lay full of darts; for them alone did seethe

A thousand men in troubles wide and dark:

Half-ignorant, they turn'd an easy wheel,

That set sharp racks at work, to pinch and peel.


Why were they proud? Because their marble founts

Gush'd with more pride than do a wretch's tears?-

Why were they proud? Because fair orange-mounts

Were of more soft ascent than lazar stairs?-

Why were they proud? Because red-lin'd accounts

Were richer than the songs of Grecian years?-

Why were they proud? again we ask aloud,

Why in the name of Glory were they proud?


Yet were these Florentines as self-retired

In hungry pride and gainful cowardice,

As two close Hebrews in that land inspired,

Paled in and vineyarded from beggar-spies,

The hawks of ship-mast forests-the untired

And pannier'd mules for ducats and old lies-

Quick cat's-paws on the generous stray-away,-

Great wits in Spanish, Tuscan, and Malay.


How was it these same ledger-men could spy

Fair Isabella in her downy nest?

How could they find out in Lorenzo's eye

A straying from his toil? Hot Egypt's pest

Into their vision covetous and sly!

How could these money-bags see east and west?-

Yet so they did-and every dealer fair

Must see behind, as doth the hunted hare.


O eloquent and famed Boccaccio!

Of thee we now should ask forgiving boon,

And of thy spicy myrtles as they blow,

And of thy roses amorous of the moon,

And of thy lilies, that do paler grow

Now they can no more hear thy ghittern's tune,

For venturing syllables that ill beseem

The quiet glooms of such a piteous theme.


Grant thou a pardon here, and then the tale

Shall move on soberly, as it is meet;

There is no other crime, no mad assail

To make old prose in modern rhyme more sweet:

But it is done-succeed the verse or fail-

To honour thee, and thy gone spirit greet;

To stead thee as a verse in English tongue,

An echo of thee in the north-wind sung.


These brethren having found by many signs

What love Lorenzo for their sister had,

And how she lov'd him too, each unconfines

His bitter thoughts to other, well nigh mad

That he, the servant of their trade designs,

Should in their sister's love be blithe and glad,

When 'twas their plan to coax her by degrees

To some high noble and his olive-trees.


And many a jealous conference had they,

And many times they bit their lips alone,

Before they fix'd upon a surest way

To make the youngster for his crime atone;

And at the last, these men of cruel clay

Cut Mercy with a sharp knife to the bone;

For they resolved in some forest dim

To kill Lorenzo, and there bury him.


So on a pleasant morning, as he leant

Into the sun-rise, o'er the balustrade

Of the garden-terrace, towards him they bent

Their footing through the dews; and to him said,

"You seem there in the quiet of content,

"Lorenzo, and we are most loth to invade

"Calm speculation; but if you are wise,

"Bestride your steed while cold is in the skies.


"To-day we purpose, ay, this hour we mount

"To spur three leagues towards the Apennine;

"Come down, we pray thee, ere the hot sun count

"His dewy rosary on the eglantine."

Lorenzo, courteously as he was wont,

Bow'd a fair greeting to these serpents' whine;

And went in haste, to get in readiness,

With belt, and spur, and bracing huntsman's dress.


And as he to the court-yard pass'd along,

Each third step did he pause, and listen'd oft

If he could hear his lady's matin-song,

Or the light whisper of her footstep soft;

And as he thus over his passion hung,

He heard a laugh full musical aloft;

When, looking up, he saw her features bright

Smile through an in-door lattice, all delight.


"Love, Isabel!" said he, "I was in pain

"Lest I should miss to bid thee a good morrow:

"Ah! what if I should lose thee, when so fain

"I am to stifle all the heavy sorrow

"Of a poor three hours' absence? but we'll gain

"Out of the amorous dark what day doth borrow.

"Good bye! I'll soon be back."-"Good bye!" said she:-

And as he went she chanted merrily.


So the two brothers and their murder'd man

Rode past fair Florence, to where Arno's stream

Gurgles through straiten'd banks, and still doth fan

Itself with dancing bulrush, and the bream

Keeps head against the freshets. Sick and wan

The brothers' faces in the ford did seem,

Lorenzo's flush with love.-They pass'd the water

Into a forest quiet for the slaughter.


There was Lorenzo slain and buried in,

There in that forest did his great love cease;

Ah! when a soul doth thus its freedom win,

It aches in loneliness-is ill at peace

As the break-covert blood-hounds of such sin:

They dipp'd their swords in the water, and did tease

Their horses homeward, with convulsed spur,

Each richer by his being a murderer.


They told their sister how, with sudden speed,

Lorenzo had ta'en ship for foreign lands,

Because of some great urgency and need

In their affairs, requiring trusty hands.

Poor Girl! put on thy stifling widow's weed,

And 'scape at once from Hope's accursed bands;

To-day thou wilt not see him, nor to-morrow,

And the next day will be a day of sorrow.


She weeps alone for pleasures not to be;

Sorely she wept until the night came on,

And then, instead of love, O misery!

She brooded o'er the luxury alone:

His image in the dusk she seem'd to see,

And to the silence made a gentle moan,

Spreading her perfect arms upon the air,

And on her couch low murmuring, "Where? O where?"


But Selfishness, Love's cousin, held not long

Its fiery vigil in her single breast;

She fretted for the golden hour, and hung

Upon the time with feverish unrest-

Not long-for soon into her heart a throng

Of higher occupants, a richer zest,

Came tragic; passion not to be subdued,

And sorrow for her love in travels rude.


In the mid days of autumn, on their eves

The breath of Winter comes from far away,

And the sick west continually bereaves

Of some gold tinge, and plays a roundelay

Of death among the bushes and the leaves,

To make all bare before he dares to stray

From his north cavern. So sweet Isabel

By gradual decay from beauty fell,


Because Lorenzo came not. Oftentimes

She ask'd her brothers, with an eye all pale,

Striving to be itself, what dungeon climes

Could keep him off so long? They spake a tale

Time after time, to quiet her. Their crimes

Came on them, like a smoke from Hinnom's vale;

And every night in dreams they groan'd aloud,

To see their sister in her snowy shroud.


And she had died in drowsy ignorance,

But for a thing more deadly dark than all;

It came like a fierce potion, drunk by chance,

Which saves a sick man from the feather'd pall

For some few gasping moments; like a lance,

Waking an Indian from his cloudy hall

With cruel pierce, and bringing him again

Sense of the gnawing fire at heart and brain.


It was a vision.-In the drowsy gloom,

The dull of midnight, at her couch's foot

Lorenzo stood, and wept: the forest tomb

Had marr'd his glossy hair which once could shoot

Lustre into the sun, and put cold doom

Upon his lips, and taken the soft lute

From his lorn voice, and past his loamed ears

Had made a miry channel for his tears.


Strange sound it was, when the pale shadow spake;

For there was striving, in its piteous tongue,

To speak as when on earth it was awake,

And Isabella on its music hung:

Languor there was in it, and tremulous shake,

As in a palsied Druid's harp unstrung;

And through it moan'd a ghostly under-song,

Like hoarse night-gusts sepulchral briars among.


Its eyes, though wild, were still all dewy bright

With love, and kept all phantom fear aloof

From the poor girl by magic of their light,

The while it did unthread the horrid woof

Of the late darken'd time,-the murderous spite

Of pride and avarice,-the dark pine roof

In the forest,-and the sodden turfed dell,

Where, without any word, from stabs he fell.


Saying moreover, "Isabel, my sweet!

"Red whortle-berries droop above my head,

"And a large flint-stone weighs upon my feet;

"Around me beeches and high chestnuts shed

"Their leaves and prickly nuts; a sheep-fold bleat

"Comes from beyond the river to my bed:

"Go, shed one tear upon my heather-bloom,

"And it shall comfort me within the tomb.


"I am a shadow now, alas! alas!

"Upon the skirts of human-nature dwelling

"Alone: I chant alone the holy mass,

"While little sounds of life are round me knelling,

"And glossy bees at noon do fieldward pass,

"And many a chapel bell the hour is telling,

"Paining me through: those sounds grow strange to me,

"And thou art distant in Humanity.


"I know what was, I feel full well what is,

"And I should rage, if spirits could go mad;

"Though I forget the taste of earthly bliss,

"That paleness warms my grave, as though I had

"A Seraph chosen from the bright abyss

"To be my spouse: thy paleness makes me glad;

"Thy beauty grows upon me, and I feel

"A greater love through all my essence steal."


The Spirit mourn'd "Adieu!"-dissolv'd, and left

The atom darkness in a slow turmoil;

As when of healthful midnight sleep bereft,

Thinking on rugged hours and fruitless toil,

We put our eyes into a pillowy cleft,

And see the spangly gloom froth up and boil:

It made sad Isabella's eyelids ache,

And in the dawn she started up awake;


"Ha! ha!" said she, "I knew not this hard life,

"I thought the worst was simple misery;

"I thought some Fate with pleasure or with strife

"Portion'd us-happy days, or else to die;

"But there is crime-a brother's bloody knife!

"Sweet Spirit, thou hast school'd my infancy:

"I'll visit thee for this, and kiss thine eyes,

"And greet thee morn and even in the skies."


When the full morning came, she had devised

How she might secret to the forest hie;

How she might find the clay, so dearly prized,

And sing to it one latest lullaby;

How her short absence might be unsurmised,

While she the inmost of the dream would try.

Resolv'd, she took with her an aged nurse,

And went into that dismal forest-hearse.


See, as they creep along the river side,

How she doth whisper to that aged Dame,

And, after looking round the champaign wide,

Shows her a knife.-"What feverous hectic flame

"Burns in thee, child?-What good can thee betide,

"That thou should'st smile again?"-The evening came,

And they had found Lorenzo's earthy bed;

The flint was there, the berries at his head.


Who hath not loiter'd in a green church-yard,

And let his spirit, like a demon-mole,

Work through the clayey soil and gravel hard,

To see skull, coffin'd bones, and funeral stole;

Pitying each form that hungry Death hath marr'd,

And filling it once more with human soul?

Ah! this is holiday to what was felt

When Isabella by Lorenzo knelt.


She gaz'd into the fresh-thrown mould, as though

One glance did fully all its secrets tell;

Clearly she saw, as other eyes would know

Pale limbs at bottom of a crystal well;

Upon the murderous spot she seem'd to grow,

Like to a native lily of the dell:

Then with her knife, all sudden, she began

To dig more fervently than misers can.


Soon she turn'd up a soiled glove, whereon

Her silk had play'd in purple phantasies,

She kiss'd it with a lip more chill than stone,

And put it in her bosom, where it dries

And freezes utterly unto the bone

Those dainties made to still an infant's cries:

Then 'gan she work again; nor stay'd her care,

But to throw back at times her veiling hair.


That old nurse stood beside her wondering,

Until her heart felt pity to the core

At sight of such a dismal labouring,

And so she kneeled, with her locks all hoar,

And put her lean hands to the horrid thing:

Three hours they labour'd at this travail sore;

At last they felt the kernel of the grave,

And Isabella did not stamp and rave.


Ah! wherefore all this wormy circumstance?

Why linger at the yawning tomb so long?

O for the gentleness of old Romance,

The simple plaining of a minstrel's song!

Fair reader, at the old tale take a glance,

For here, in truth, it doth not well belong

To speak:-O turn thee to the very tale,

And taste the music of that vision pale.


With duller steel than the Persèan sword

They cut away no formless monster's head,

But one, whose gentleness did well accord

With death, as life. The ancient harps have said,

Love never dies, but lives, immortal Lord:

If Love impersonate was ever dead,

Pale Isabella kiss'd it, and low moan'd.

'Twas love; cold,-dead indeed, but not dethroned.


In anxious secrecy they took it home,

And then the prize was all for Isabel:

She calm'd its wild hair with a golden comb,

And all around each eye's sepulchral cell

Pointed each fringed lash; the smeared loam

With tears, as chilly as a dripping well,

She drench'd away:-and still she comb'd, and kept

Sighing all day-and still she kiss'd, and wept.


Then in a silken scarf,-sweet with the dews

Of precious flowers pluck'd in Araby,

And divine liquids come with odorous ooze

Through the cold serpent pipe refreshfully,-

She wrapp'd it up; and for its tomb did choose

A garden-pot, wherein she laid it by,

And cover'd it with mould, and o'er it set

Sweet Basil, which her tears kept ever wet.


And she forgot the stars, the moon, and sun,

And she forgot the blue above the trees,

And she forgot the dells where waters run,

And she forgot the chilly autumn breeze;

She had no knowledge when the day was done,

And the new morn she saw not: but in peace

Hung over her sweet Basil evermore,

And moisten'd it with tears unto the core.


And so she ever fed it with thin tears,

Whence thick, and green, and beautiful it grew,

So that it smelt more balmy than its peers

Of Basil-tufts in Florence; for it drew

Nurture besides, and life, from human fears,

From the fast mouldering head there shut from view:

So that the jewel, safely casketed,

Came forth, and in perfumed leafits spread.


O Melancholy, linger here awhile!

O Music, Music, breathe despondingly!

O Echo, Echo, from some sombre isle,

Unknown, Lethean, sigh to us-O sigh!

Spirits in grief, lift up your heads, and smile;

Lift up your heads, sweet Spirits, heavily,

And make a pale light in your cypress glooms,

Tinting with silver wan your marble tombs.


Moan hither, all ye syllables of woe,

From the deep throat of sad Melpomene!

Through bronzed lyre in tragic order go,

And touch the strings into a mystery;

Sound mournfully upon the winds and low;

For simple Isabel is soon to be

Among the dead: She withers, like a palm

Cut by an Indian for its juicy balm.


O leave the palm to wither by itself;

Let not quick Winter chill its dying hour!-

It may not be-those Baalites of pelf,

Her brethren, noted the continual shower

From her dead eyes; and many a curious elf,

Among her kindred, wonder'd that such dower

Of youth and beauty should be thrown aside

By one mark'd out to be a Noble's bride.


And, furthermore, her brethren wonder'd much

Why she sat drooping by the Basil green,

And why it flourish'd, as by magic touch;

Greatly they wonder'd what the thing might mean:

They could not surely give belief, that such

A very nothing would have power to wean

Her from her own fair youth, and pleasures gay,

And even remembrance of her love's delay.


Therefore they watch'd a time when they might sift

This hidden whim; and long they watch'd in vain;

For seldom did she go to chapel-shrift,

And seldom felt she any hunger-pain;

And when she left, she hurried back, as swift

As bird on wing to breast its eggs again;

And, patient as a hen-bird, sat her there

Beside her Basil, weeping through her hair.


Yet they contriv'd to steal the Basil-pot,

And to examine it in secret place:

The thing was vile with green and livid spot,

And yet they knew it was Lorenzo's face:

The guerdon of their murder they had got,

And so left Florence in a moment's space,

Never to turn again.-Away they went,

With blood upon their heads, to banishment.


O Melancholy, turn thine eyes away!

O Music, Music, breathe despondingly!

O Echo, Echo, on some other day,

From isles Lethean, sigh to us-O sigh!

Spirits of grief, sing not your "Well-a-way!"

For Isabel, sweet Isabel, will die;

Will die a death too lone and incomplete,

Now they have ta'en away her Basil sweet.


Piteous she look'd on dead and senseless things,

Asking for her lost Basil amorously:

And with melodious chuckle in the strings

Of her lorn voice, she oftentimes would cry

After the Pilgrim in his wanderings,

To ask him where her Basil was; and why

'Twas hid from her: "For cruel 'tis," said she,

"To steal my Basil-pot away from me."


And so she pined, and so she died forlorn,

Imploring for her Basil to the last.

No heart was there in Florence but did mourn

In pity of her love, so overcast.

And a sad ditty of this story born

From mouth to mouth through all the country pass'd:

Still is the burthen sung-"O cruelty,

"To steal my Basil-pot away from me!"

1868. William Holman Hunt (age 40). "Isabella, or the Pot of Basil" from the Keats Poem "Isabella and the Pot of Basil" from the Decameron Day Four Story Five. Model Annie Miller (age 33) and/or Fanny Waugh although she, Fanny, died in 1866.

Isabella: Decameron Day Four Story Five. Summary. Lisabetta's brothers murder her lover. He appears to her in a dream and shows her where he is buried. She secretly disinters the head and places it in a pot of basil, over which she weeps for a long time every day. In the end her brothers take it away from her, and shortly thereafter she dies of grief.

1849. John Everett Millais 1st Baronet (age 19). "Isabella". From the poem Isabella and the Pot of Basil and the book Decameron Day Four Story Five. Note the initials PRB on the bottom of the table leg. The painting is on display at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.

The models are believed to be:

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (age 20): Far right drinking from glass.

William Michael Rossetti (age 19): Lorenzo, offering an orange to Isabella.

1907. John William Waterhouse (age 57). "Isabella and the Pot of Basil" from the Keats Poem from the Decameron Day Four Story Five.