Изображения страниц

As if to speak, but, utterance failing her,
She whirld them on to me, as who should say
“Read,” and I read-two letters-one her sire's.

'Fair daughter, when we sent the Prince your way
We knew not your ungracious laws, which learnt,
We, conscious of what temper you are built,
Came all in haste to hinder wrong, but fell
Into his father's hands, who has this night,
You lying close upon his territory,
Slipt round and in the dark invested you,
And here he keeps me hostage for his son.”

The second was my father's running thus :
“ You have our son : touch not a hair of his head :
Render him up unscathed : give him your hand :
Cleave to your contract: tho' indeed we hear
You hold the woman is the better man ;
A rampant heresy, such as if it spread
Would make all women kick against their Lords
Thro' all the world, and which might well deserve
That we this night should pluck your palace down;
And we will do it, unless you send us back
Our son, on the instant, whole."

So far I read ;
And then stood up and spoke impetuously.

“O not to pry and peer on your reserve, But led by golden wishes, and a hope The child of regal compact, did I break Your precinct; not a scorner of your sex But venerator, zealous it should be All that it might be: hear me, for I bear, Tho' man, yet human, whatsoe'er your wrongs, From the flaxen curl to the gray lock a life Less mine than yours : my nurse would tell me of you ; I babbled for you, as babies for the moon, Vague brightness; when a boy, you stoop'd to me From all high places, lived in all fair lights, Came in long breezes rapt from inmost south And blown to inmost north ; at eve and dawn With Ida, Ida, Ida, rang the woods; The leader wildswan in among the stars Would clang it, and lapt in wreaths of glowworm light The mellow breaker murmur'd Ida. Now,

Because I would have reach'd


Sphered up with Cassiopeia, or the enthroned
Persephone in Hades, now at length,
Those winters of abeyance all worn out,
A man I came to see you : but, indeed,
Not in this frequence can I lend full tongue,
O noble Ida, to those thoughts that wait
On you, their centre: let me say but this,
That many a famous man and woman, town
And landskip, have I heard of, after seen
The dwarfs of presage; tho' when known, there grew
Another kind of beauty in detail
Made them worth knowing; but in you I found
My boyish dream involved and dazzled down
And master'd, while that after-beauty makes
Such head from act to act, from hour to hour,
Within me, that except you slay me here,
According to your bitter statute-book,
I cannot cease to follow you, as they say
The seal does music; who desire you more
Than growing boys their manhood; dying lips,
With many thousand matters left to do,
The breath of life; O more than poor men wealth,
Than sick men health-yours, yours, not mine—but half
Without you,

with you, whole; and of those halves
You worthiest ; and howe'er you block and bar
Your heart with system out from mine, I hold
That it becomes no man to nurse despair,
But in the teeth of clench'd antagonisms
To follow up the worthiest till he die :
Yet that I came not all unauthorized
Behold your father's letter."

On one knee
Kneeling, I gave it, which she caught, and dash'd

Unopen'd at her feet: a tide of fierce
Invective seem'd to wait behind her lips,
As waits a river level with the dam
Ready to burst and flood the world with foam :
And so she would have spoken, but there rose
A hubbub in the court of half the maids
Gather'd together : from the illumined hall
Long lanes of splendour slanted o'er a press
Of snowy shoulders, thick as herded ewes,
And rainbow robes, and gems and gemlike eyes,
And gold and golden heads; they to and fro

Fluctuated, as flowers in storm, some red, some pale,
All open-mouth'd, all gazing to the light,
Some crying there was an army in the land,
And some that men were in the very walls,
And some they cared not; till a clamour grew
As of a new-world Babel, woman-built,
And worse-confounded: high above them stood
The placid marble Muses, looking peace.

Not peace she look'd, the Head: but rising up Robed in the long night of her deep hair, so To the open window moved, remaining there Fixt like a beacon-tower above the waves Of tempest, when the crimson-rolling eye Glares ruin, and the wild birds on the light Dash themselves dead. She stretch'd her arms and call'd Across the tumult and the tumult fell.

“What fear ye, brawlers ? am not I your

Head ?
On me, me, me, the storm first breaks: I dare
All these male thunderbolts : what is it ye fear?
Peace! there are those to avenge us and they come :
If not, -myself were like enough, O girls,
To unfurl the maiden banner of our rights,
And clad in iron burst the ranks of war,
Or, falling, protomartyr of our cause,
Die :

: yet I blame ye not so much for fear; Six thousand years of fear have made ye

From which I would redeem ye : but for those
That stir this hubbub—you and you—I know
Your faces there in the crowd-to-morrow morn
We hold a great convention : then shall they
That love their voices more than duty, learn
With whom they deal, dismiss'd in shame to live
No wiser than their mothers, household stuff,
Live chattels, mincers of each other's fame,
Full of weak poison, turnspits for the clown,
The drunkard's football, laughing-stocks of Time,
Whose brains are in their hands and in their heels,
But fit to flaunt, to dress, to dance, to thrum,
To tramp, to scream, to burnish, and to scour,
For ever slaves at home and fools abroad."

She, ending, waved her hands : thereat the crowd Muttering, dissolved: then with a smile, that look'd

A stroke of cruel sunshine on the cliff,
When all the glens are drown'd in azure gloom
Of thunder-shower, she floated to us and said :

“You have done well and like a gentleman,
And like a prince : you have our thanks for all :
And you look well too in your woman's dress :
Well have you done and like a gentleman.
You saved our life: we owe you bitter thanks :
Better have died and spilt our bones in the flood-
Then men had said—but now, -What hinders me
To take such bloody vengeance on you both ?—
Yet since our father-Wasps in our good hive,
You would-be quenchers of the light to be,
Barbarians, grosser than your native bears—
O would I had his sceptre for one hour !
You that have dared to break our bound, and gull’d
Our servants, wrong'd and lied and thwarted us—
I wed with thee! I bound by precontract
Your bride, your bondslave ! not tho' all the gold
That veins the world were pack'd to make your crown,
And every spoken tongue should lord you. Sir,
Your falsehood and yourself are hateful to us :
I trample on your offers and on you:
Begone : we will not look upon you more.
Here, push them out at gates."

In wrath she spake.
Then those eight mighty daughters of the plough
Bent their broad faces toward us and address'd
Their motion : twice I sought to plead my cause,
But on my shoulder hung their heavy hands,
The weight of destiny: so from her face
They push'd us, down the steps, and thro' the court,
And with grim laughter thrust us out at gates.

We cross'd the street and gain'd a petty mound
Beyond it, whence we saw the lights and heard
The voices murmuring. While I listen'd, came
On a sudden the weird seizure and the doubt:
I seem'd to move among a world of ghosts ;
The Princess with her monstrous woman-guard,
The jest and earnest working side by side,
The cataract and the tumult and the kings
Were shadows; and the long fantastic night
With all its doings had and had not been,
And all things were and were not.

This went by
As strangely as it came, and on my spirits
Settled a gentle cloud of melancholy;
Not long ; I shook it off; for spite of doubts
And sudden ghostly shadowings I was one
To whom the touch of all mischance but came
As night to him that sitting on a hill
Sees the midsummer, midnight, Norway sun
Set into sunrise : then we moved away.

Thy voice is heard thro' rolling drums,

That beat to battle where he stands ;
Thy face across his fancy comes,

And gives the battle to his hands :
A moment, while the trumpets blow,

He sees his brood about thy knee;
The next, like fire he meets the foe,

And strikes him dead for thine and thee.
So Lilia sang: we thought her half-possess'd,
She struck such warbling fury thro' the words;
And, after, feigning pique at what she calld
The raillery, or grotesque, or false sublime-
Like one that wishes at a dance to change
The music-clapt her hands and cried for war,
Or some grand fight to kill and make an end :
And he that next inherited the tale
Half turning to the broken statue, said,
“Sir Ralph has got your colours : if I prove
Your knight, and fight your battle, what for me?"
It chanced, her empty glove upon the tomb
Lay by her like a model of her hand.
She took it and she flung it. “Fight” she said,
“ And make us all we would be, great and good.”
He knightlike in his cap instead of casque,
A cap of Tyrol borrow'd from the hall,
Arranged the favour, and assumed the Prince.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Now, scarce three paces measured from the mound,
We stumbled on a stationary voice,
And “Stand, who goes?” “Two from the palace” I.
“The second two: they wait,” he said, “pass on;
His Highness wakes : ” and one, that clash'd in arms,
By glimmering lanes and walls of canvas, led
Threading the soldier-city, till we heard
The drowsy folds of our great ensign shake

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »