Death’s Jest-Book, Act III

Scene I.

An apartment in the ducal castle.

The DUKE and THORWALD.

Duke.
Let them be married: give to Adalmar
The sweet society of woman’s soul,
As we impregnate damask swords with odour
Pressed from young flowers’ bosoms, so to sweeten
And purify war’s lightning. For the other,
Who catches love by eyes, the court has stars,
That will take up in his tempestuous bosom
The shining place she leaves.

Thorw.
It shall be done:
The bell, that will ring merrily for their bridal,
Has but few hours to score first.

Duke.
Good. I have seen too
Our ripe rebellion’s ringleaders. They meet
By moonrise; with them I: to-night will be
Fiends’ jubilee, with heaven’s spy among them.
What else was’t that you asked?

Thorw.
The melancholy lady you brought with you?

Duke.
Thorwald, I fear her’s is a broken heart.
When first I met her in the Egyptian prison,
She was the rosy morning of a woman;
Beauty was rising, but the starry grace
Of a calm childhood might be seen in her.
But since the death of Wolfram, who fell there,
Heaven and one single soul only know how,
I have not dared to look upon her sorrow.

Thorw.
Methinks she’s too unearthly beautiful.
Old as I am, I cannot look at her,
And hear her voice, that touches the heart’s core,
Without a dread that she will fade o’ th’ instant.
There’s too much heaven in her: oft it rises,
And, pouring out about the lovely earth,
Almost dissolves it. She is tender too;
And melancholy is the sweet pale smile,
With which she gently doth reproach her fortune.

Duke.
What ladies tend her?

Thorw.
My Amala; she will not often see
One of the others.

Duke.
Too much solitude
Maintains her in this grief. I will look to’t
Hereafter; for the present I’ve enough.
We must not meet again before to-morrow.

Thorw.
I may have something to report…

Duke.
Ho! Ziba.

Enter ZIBA.

Ziba.
Lord of my life!

Duke.
I bought this man of Afric from an Arab,
Under the shadow of a pyramid,
For many jewels. He hath skill in language;
And knowledge is in him root, flower, and fruit,
A palm with winged imagination in it,
Whose roots stretch even underneath the grave,
And on them hangs a lamp of magic science
In his soul’s deepest mine, where folded thoughts
Lie sleeping on the tombs of magi dead:
So said his master when he parted with him.
I know him skilful, faithful: take him with you;
He’s fit for many services.

Thorw.
I’ll try him:
Wilt thou be faithful, Moor?

Ziba.
As soul to body.

Thorw.
Then follow me. Farewell, my noble pilgrim.

[Exeunt THORWALD and ZIBA.

Duke.
It was a fascination, near to madness,
Which held me subjugated to that maiden.
Why do I now so coldly speak of her,
When there is nought between us? O! there is,
A deed as black as the old towers of Hell.
But hence! thou torturing weakness of remorse;
‘Tis time when I am dead to think on that:
Yet my sun shines; so courage, heart, cheer up:
Who should be merrier than a secret villain?

[Exit.

Scene II.

Another room in the same.

SIBYLLA and AMALA.

Sibyl.
I would I were a fairy, Amala,
Or knew some of those winged wizard women,
Then I could bring you a more precious gift.
‘Tis a wild graceful flower, whose name I know not;
Call it Sibylla’s love, while it doth live;
And let it die that you may contradict it,
And say my love doth not, so bears no fruit.
Take it. I wish that happiness may ever
Flow through your days as sweetly and as still,
As did the beauty and the life to this
Out of its roots.

Amala.
Thanks, my kind Sibylla:
To-morrow I will wear it at my wedding,
Since that must be.

Sibyl.
Art thou then discontented?
I thought the choice was thine, and Adalmar
A noble warrior worthy of his fortune.

Amala.
O yes: brave, honourable is my bridegroom,
But somewhat cold perhaps. If his wild brother
Had but more constancy and less insolence
In love, he were a man much to my heart.
But, as it is, I must, I will be happy;
And Adalmar deserves that I should love him.
But see how night o’ertakes us. Good rest, dear:
We will no more profane sleep’s stillest hour.

Sibyl.
Good night, then.

[Exeunt.

Scene III.

A church-yard with the ruins of a spacious gothic cathedral. On the cloister walls the DANCE OF DEATH is painted. On one side the sepulchre of the Dukes with massy carved folding doors. Moonlight.

Enter ISBRAND and SIEGFRIED.

Isbr.
Not here? That wolf-howled, witch-prayed, owl-sung fool,
Fat mother moon hath brought the cats their light
A whole thief’s hour, and yet they are not met.
I thought the bread and milky thick-spread lies,
With which I plied them, would have drawn to head
The state’s bad humours quickly.

Siegfr.
They delay
Until the twilight strollers are gone home.

Isbr.
That may be. This is a sweet place methinks:
These arches and their caves, now double-nighted
With heaven’s and that creeping darkness, ivy,
Delight me strangely. Ruined churches oft,
As this, are crime’s chief haunt, as ruined angels
Straight become fiends. This tomb too tickleth me
With its wild-rose branches. Dost remember, Siegfried,
About the buried Duchess? In this cradle
I placed the new dead: here the changeling lies.

Siegfr.
Are we so near? A frightful theft!

Isbr.
Fright! idiot!
Peace; there’s a footstep on the pavement.

Enter the DUKE.

Welcome!
I thank you, wanderer, for coming first.
They of the town lag still.

Duke.
The enterprise,
And you its head, much please me.

Isbr.
You are courteous.

Duke.
Better: I’m honest. But your ways and words
Are so familiar to my memory,
That I could almost think we had been friends
Since our now riper and declining lives
Undid their outer leaves.

Isbr.
I can remember
No earlier meeting. What need of it? Methinks
We agree well enough: especially
As you have brought bad tidings of the Duke.

Duke.
If I had time,
And less disturbed thoughts, I’d search my memory
For what thou’rt like. Now we have other matters
To talk about.

Isbr.
And, thank the stingy star-shine,
I see the shades of others of our council.

Enter ADALMAR and other conspirators.

Though late met, well met, friends. Where stay the rest?
For we’re still few here.

Adalm.
They are contented
With all the steps proposed, and keep their chambers
Aloof from the suspecting crowd of eyes,
Which day doth feed with sights for nightly gossip,
Till your hour strikes.

Isbr.
That’s well to keep at home,
And hide, as doth Heaven’s wrath, till the last minute.
Little’s to say. We fall as gently on them,
As the first drops of Noah’s world-washing shower
Upon the birds’ wings and the leaves. Give each
A copy of this paper: it contains
A quick receipt to make a new creation
In our old dukedom. Here stands he who framed it.

Adalm.
The unknown pilgrim! You have warrant, Isbrand,
For trusting him?

Isbr.
I have.

Adalm.
Enough. How are the citizens?
You feasted them these three days.

Isbr.
And have them by the heart for’t.
‘Neath Grüssau’s tiles sleep none, whose deepest bosom
My fathom hath not measured; none, whose thoughts
I have not made a map of. In the depth
And labyrinthine home of the still soul,
Where the seen thing is imaged, and the whisper
Joints the expecting spirit, my spies, which are
Suspicion’s creeping words, have stolen in,
And, with their eyed feelers, touched and sounded
The little hiding holes of cunning thought,
And each dark crack in which a reptile purpose
Hangs in its chrysalis unripe for birth.
All of each heart I know.

Duke.
O perilous boast!
Fathom the wavy caverns of all stars,
Know every side of every sand in earth,
And hold in little all the lore of man,
As a dew’s drop doth miniature the sun:
But never hope to learn the alphabet,
In which the hieroglyphic human soul
More changeably is painted, than the rainbow
Upon the cloudy pages of a shower,
Whose thunderous hinges a wild wind doth turn.
Know all of each! when each doth shift his thought
More often in a minute, than the air
Dust on a summer path.

Isbr.
Liquors can lay them:
Grape-juice or vein-juice.

Duke.
Yet there may be one,
Whose misty mind’s perspective still lies hid.

Isbr.
Ha! stranger, where?

Duke.
A quiet, listening, flesh-concealed soul.

Isbr.
Are the ghosts eaves-dropping? None, that do live,
Listen besides ourselves.

(A struggle behind: Siegfried drags MARIO forward.)

Who’s there?

Siegfr.
A fellow,
Who crouched behind the bush, dipping his ears
Into the stream of your discourse.

Isbr.
Come forward.

Mario.
Then lead me. Were it noon, I could not find him
Whose voice commands me: in these callous hands
There is as much perception for the light,
As in the depth of my poor dayless eyes.

Isbr.
Thy hand then.

Mario.
Art thou leader here?

Isbr.
Perchance.

Mario.
Then listen, as I listened unto you,
And let my life and story end together,
If it seem good to you. A Roman am I;
A Roman in unroman times: I’ve slept
At midnight in our Capitolian ruins,
And breathed the ghost of our great ancient world,
Which there doth walk: and among glorious visions,
That the unquiet tombs sent forth to me,
Learned I the love of freedom. Scipio saw I
Washing the stains of Carthage from his sword,
And his freed poet, playing on his lyre
A melody men’s souls did sing unto:
Oak-bound and laurelled heads, each man a country;
And in the midst, like a sun o’er the sea,
(Each helm in the crowd gilt by a ray from him,)
Bald Julius sitting lonely in his car,
Within the circle of whose laurel wreath
All spirits of the earth and sea were spell-bound.
Down with him to the grave! Down with the god!
Stab, Cassius; Brutus, through him; through him, all!
Dead.—As he fell there was a tearing sigh:
Earth stood on him; her roots were in his heart;
They fell together. Cæsar and his world
Lie in the Capitol; and Jove lies there,
With all the gods of Rome and of Olympus;
Corpses: and does the eagle batten on them?
No; she is flown: the owl sits in her nest;
The toge is cut for cowls; and falsehood dozes
In the chair of freedom, triple-crowned beast,
King Cerberus. Thence I have come in time
To see one grave for foul oppression dug,
Though I may share it.

Isbr.
Nay: thou’rt a bold heart.
Welcome among us.

Mario.
I was guided hither
By one in white, garlanded like a bride,
Divinely beautiful, leading me softly;
And she doth place my hand in thine, once more
Bidding me guard her honour amongst men;
And so I will, with death to him that soils it:
For she is Liberty.

Adalm.
In her name we take thee;
And for her sake welcome thee brotherly.
At the right time thou comest to us, dark man,
Like an eventful unexpected night,
Which finishes a row of plotting days,
Fulfilling their designs.

Isbr.
Now then, my fellows,
No more; but to our unsuspected homes.
Good night to all who rest; hope to the watchful.
Stranger, with me.

[To Mario.

[Exeunt: manet DUKE.

Duke.
I’m old and desolate. O were I dead
With thee, my wife! Oft have I lain by night
Upon thy grave, and burned with the mad wish
To raise thee up to life. Thank God, whom then
I might have thought not pitiful, for lending
No ear to such a prayer. Far better were I
Thy grave-fellow, than thou alive with me,
Amid the fears and perils of the time.

Enter ZIBA.

Who’s in the dark there?

Ziba.
One of the dark’s colour:
Ziba, thy slave.

Duke.
Come at a wish, my Arab.
Is Thorwald’s house asleep yet?

Ziba.
No: his lights still burn.

Duke.
Go; fetch a lantern and some working fellows
With spade and pickaxe. Let not Thorwald come.
In good speed do it.

[Exit ZIBA.

That alone is left me:
I will abandon this ungrateful country,
And leave my dukedom’s earth behind me; all,
Save the small urn that holds my dead beloved:
That relic will I save from my wrecked princedom;
Beside it live and die.

(Enter THORWALD, ZIBA, and gravediggers.)

Thorwald with them!
Old friend, I hoped you were in pleasant sleep:
‘Tis a late walking hour.

Thorw.
I came to learn
Whether the slave spoke true. This haunted hour,
What would you with the earth? Dig you for treasure?

Duke.
Ay, I do dig for treasure. To the vault,
Lift up the kneeling marble woman there,
And delve down to the coffin. Ay, for treasure:
The very dross of such a soul and body
Shall stay no longer in this land of hate.
I’ll covetously rake the ashes up
Of this my love-consumed incense star,
And in a golden urn, over whose sides
An unborn life of sculpture shall be poured,
They shall stand ever on my chamber altar.
I am not Heaven’s rebel; think’t not of me;
Nor that I’d trouble her sepulchral sleep
For a light end. Religiously I come
To change the bed of my beloved lady,
That what remains below of us may join,
Like its immortal.

Thorw.
There is no ill here:
And yet this breaking through the walls, that sever
The quick and cold, led never yet to good.

Ziba.
Our work is done: betwixt the charmed moonshine
And the coffin lies nought but a nettle’s shade,
That shakes its head at the deed.

Duke.
Let the men go.

[Exeunt labourers.

Now Death, thou shadowy miser,
I am thy robber; be not merciful,
But take me in requital. There is she then;
I cannot hold my tears, thinking how altered.
O thoughts, ye fleeting, unsubstantial family!
Thou formless, viewless, and unuttered memory!
How dare ye yet survive that gracious image,
Sculptured about the essence whence ye rose?
That words of her should ever dwell in me,
Who is as if she never had been born
To all earth’s millions, save this one! Nay, prithee,
Let no one comfort me. I’ll mourn awhile
Over her memory.

Thorw.
Let the past be past,
And Lethe freeze unwept on over it.
What is, be patient with: and, with what shall be,
Silence the body-bursting spirit’s yearnings.
Thou say’st that, when she died, that day was spilt
All beauty flesh could hold; that day went down
An oversouled creation. The time comes
When thou shalt find again thy blessed love,
Pure from all earth, and with the usury
Of her heaven-hoarded charms.

Duke.
Is this the silence
That I commanded? Fool, thou say’st a lesson
Out of some philosophic pedant’s book.
I loved no desolate soul: she was a woman,
Whose spirit I knew only through those limbs,
Those tender members thou dost dare despise;
By whose exhaustless beauty, infinite love,
Trackless expression only, I did learn
That there was aught yet viewless and eternal;
Since they could come from such alone. Where is she?
Where shall I ever see her as she was?
With the sweet smile, she smiled only on me;
With those eyes full of thoughts, none else could see?
Where shall I meet that brow and lip with mine?
Hence with thy shadows! But her warm fair body,
Where’s that? There, mouldered to the dust. Old man,
If thou dost dare to mock my ears again
With thy ridiculous, ghostly consolation,
I’ll send thee to the blessings thou dost speak of.

Thorw.
For heaven’s and her sake restrain this passion.

Duke.
She died. But Death is old and half worn out:
Are there no chinks in’t? Could she not come to me?
Ghosts have been seen; but never in a dream,
After she’d sighed her last, was she the blessing
Of these desiring eyes. All, save my soul,
And that but for her sake, were his who knew
The spell of Endor, and could raise her up.

Thorw.
Another time that thought were impious.
Unreasonable longings, such as these,
Fit not your age and reason. In sorrow’s rage
Thou dost demand and bargain for a dream,
Which children smile at in their tales.

Ziba.
Smile ignorance!
But, sure as men have died strong necromancy
Hath set the clock of time and nature back;
And made Earth’s rooty, ruinous, grave-floored caverns
Throb with the pangs of birth. Ay, were I ever
Where the accused innocent did pray
Acquittal from dead lips, I would essay
My sires’ sepulchral magic.

Duke.
Slave, thou tempt’st me
To lay my sword’s point to thy throat, and say
“Do it or die thyself.”

Thorw.
Prithee, come in.
To cherish hopes like these is either madness,
Or a sure cause of it. Come in and sleep:
To morrow we’ll talk further.

Duke.
Go in thou.
Sleep blinds no eyes of mine, till I have proved
This slave’s temptation.

Thorw.
Then I leave you to him.
Good night again.

[Exit Thorwald.

Duke.
Good night, and quiet slumbers.
Now then, thou juggling African, thou shadow,
Think’st thou I will not murder thee this night,
If thou again dare tantalize my soul
With thy accursed hints, thy lying boasts?
Say, shall I stab thee?

Ziba.
Then thou murder’st truth.
I spoke of what I’d do.

Duke.
You told ghost-lies,
And held me for a fool because I wept.
Now, once more, silence: or to-night I shed
Drops royaller and redder than those tears.

Enter ISBRAND and SIEGFRIED.

Isbr.
Pilgrim, not yet abed? Why, ere you’ve time
To lay your cloak down, heaven will strip off night,
And show her daily bosom.

Duke.
Sir, my eyes
Never did feel less appetite for sleep:
I and my slave intend to watch till morrow.

Isbr.
Excellent. You’re a fellow of my humour.
I never sleep o’ nights: the black sky likes me,
And the soul’s solitude, while half mankind
Lie quiet in earth’s shade and rehearse death.
Come, let’s be merry: I have sent for wine,
And here it comes.

[It is brought in.

These mossy stones about us
Will serve for stools, although they have been turrets,
Which scarce aught touched but sunlight, or the claw
Of the strong-winged eagles, who lived here
And fed on battle-bones. Come sit, sir stranger;
Sit too, my devil-coloured one; here’s room
Upon my rock. Fill, Siegfried

Siegfr.
Yellow wine,
And rich be sure. How like you it?

Duke.
Better ne’er wetted lip.

Isbr.
Then fill again. Come, hast no song to-night,
Siegfried? Nor you, my midnight of a man?
I’m weary of dumb toping.

Siegfr.
Yet you sing not.
My songs are staler than the cuckoo’s tune:
And you, companions?

Duke.
We are quite unused.

Isbr.
Then you shall have a ballad of my making.

Siegfr.
How? do you rhyme too?

Isbr.
Sometimes, in rainy weather.
Here’s what I made one night, while picking poisons
To make the rats a sallad.

Duke.
And what’s your tune?

Isbr.
What is the night-bird’s tune, wherewith she startles
The bee out of his dream, that turns and kisses
The inmost of his flower and sleeps again?
What is the lobster’s tune when he is boiling?
I hate your ballads that are made to come
Round like a squirrel’s cage, and round again.
We nightingales sing boldly from our hearts:
So listen to us.

Song by Isbrand.
Squats on a toad-stool under a tree
   A bodiless childfull of life in the gloom,
Crying with frog voice, “What shall I be ?
Poor unborn ghost, for my mother killed me
   Scarcely alive in her wicked womb.
What shall I be? shall I creep to the egg
   That’s cracking asunder yonder by Nile,
         And with eighteen toes,
         And a snuff-taking nose,
   Make an Egyptian crocodile?
Sing, ‘Catch a mummy by the leg
      And crunch him with an upper jaw,
      Wagging tail and clenching claw;
      Take a bill-full from my craw,
      Neighbour raven, caw, O caw,
      Grunt, my crocky, pretty maw!

“Swine, shall I be you? Thou’rt a dear dog;
   But for a smile, and kiss, and pout,
   I much prefer your black-lipped snout,
      Little, gruntless, fairy hog,
      Godson of the hawthorn hedge.
   For, when Ringwood snuffs me out,
      And ‘gins my tender paunch to grapple,
      Sing, ‘Twixt your ancles visage wedge,
         And roll up like an apple.’

“Serpent Lucifer, how do you do?
Of your worms and your snakes I’d be one or two;
   For in this dear planet of wool and of leather
‘Tis pleasant to need neither shirt, sleeve, nor shoe,
   And have arm, leg, and belly together.
   Then aches your head, or are you lazy?
   Sing, ‘Round your neck your belly wrap,
   Tail-a-top, and make your cap
      Any bee and daisy.’

“I’ll not be a fool, like the nightingale
Who sits up all midnight without any ale,
      Making a noise with his nose;
Nor a camel, although ’tis a beautiful back;
Nor a duck, notwithstanding the music of quack,
         And the webby, mud-patting toes.
I’ll be a new bird with the head of an ass,
      Two pigs’ feet, two mens’ feet, and two of a hen;
Devil-winged; dragon-bellied; grave-jawed, because grass
   Is a beard that’s soon shaved, and grows seldom again
      Before it is summer; so cow all the rest;
      The new Dodo is finished. O! come to my nest.”

Siegfr.
A noble hymn to the belly gods indeed:
Would that Pythagoras heard thee, boy!

Isbr.
I fear you flatter: ’tis perhaps a little
Too sweet and tender, but that is the fashion;
Besides my failing is too much sentiment.
Fill the cups up, and pass them round again;
I’m not my nightly self yet. There’s creation
In these thick yellow drops. By my faith, Siegfried,
A man of meat and water’s a thin beast,
But he who sails upon such waves as these
Begins to be a fellow. The old gods
Were only men and wine.

Siegfr.
Here’s to their memory.
They’re dead, poor sinners, all of them but Death,
Who has laughed down Jove’s broad, ambrosian brow,
Furrowed with earth-quake frowns: and not a ghost
Haunts the gods’ town upon Olympus’ peak.

Isbr.
Methinks that earth and heaven are grown bad neighbours,
And have blocked up the common door between them.
Five hundred years ago had we sat here
So late and lonely, many a jolly ghost
Would have joined company.

Siegfr.
To trust in story,
In the old times Death was a feverish sleep,
In which men walked. The other world was cold
And thinly-peopled, so life’s emigrants
Came back to mingle with the crowds of earth:
But now great cities are transplanted thither,
Memphis, and Babylon, and either Thebes,
And Priam’s towery town with its one beech.
The dead are most and merriest: so be sure
There will be no more haunting, till their towns
Are full to the garret; then they’ll shut their gates,
To keep the living out, and perhaps leave
A dead or two between both kingdoms.

Duke.
Ziba;
Hear’st thou, phantastic mountebank, what’s said?

Ziba.
Nay: as I live and shall be one myself,
I can command them hither.

Isbr.
Whom?

Ziba.
Departed spirits.

Duke.
He who dares think that words of human speech,
A chalky ring with monstrous figures in it,
Or smoky flames can draw the distant souls
Of those, whose bones and monuments are dust,
Must shudder at the restless, broken death,
Which he himself in age shall fall into.

Isbr.
Suppose we four had lived in Cyrus’ time,
And had our graves under Egyptian grass,
D’you think, at whistling of a necromant,
I’d leave my wine or subterranean love
To know his bidding? Mummies cannot pull
The breathing to them, when they’d learn the news.

Ziba.
Perhaps they do, in sleep, in swoons, in fevers:
But your belief’s not needed.
[To the Duke]. You remember
The damsel dark at Mecca, whom we saw
Weeping the death of a pale summer flower,
Which her spear-slain beloved had tossed to her
Galloping into battle?

Duke.
Happy one!
Whose eyes could yield a tear to soothe her sorrows.
But what’s that to the point?

Ziba.
As those tears fell,
A magic scholar passed; and, their cause known,
Bade her no longer mourn: he called a bird,
And bade it with its bill select a grain
Out of the gloomy death-bed of the blossom.
The feathery bee obeyed; and scraped aside
The sand, and dropped the seed into its grave:
And there the old plant lay, still and forgotten,
By its just budding grandsons; but not long:
For soon the floral necromant brought forth
A wheel of amber, (such may Clotho use
When she spins lives,) and, as he turned and sung,
The mould was cracked and shouldered up; there came
A curved stalk, and then two leaves unfurled,
And slow and straight between them there arose,
Ghostily still, again the crowned flower.
Is it not easier to raise a man,
Whose soul strives upward ever, than a plant,
Whose very life stands halfway on death’s road,
Asleep and buried half?

Duke.
This was a cheat:
The herb was born anew out of a seed,
Not raised out of a bony skeleton.
What tree is man the seed of?

Ziba.
Of a ghost;
Of his night-coming, tempest-waved phantom:
And even as there is a round dry grain
In a plant’s skeleton, which being buried
Can raise the herb’s green body up again;
So is there such in man, a seed-shaped bone,
Aldabaron, called by the Hebrews Luz,
Which, being laid into the ground, will bear
After three thousand years the grass of flesh,
The bloody, soul-possessed weed called man.

Isbr.
Let’s have a trick then in all haste, I prithee.
The world’s man-crammed; we want no more of them:
But show me, if you will, some four-legged ghost;
Rome’s mother, the she-wolf; or the fat goat
From whose dugs Jove sucked godhead; any thing;
Pig, bullock, goose; for they have goblins too,
Else ours would have no dinner.

Ziba.
Were you worthy,
I’d raise a spirit whom your conscience knows;
And he would drag thee down into that world,
Whither thou didst send him.

Isbr.
Thanks for the offer.
Our wine’s out, and these clouds, whose blackest wombs
Seem swelling with a second centaur-birth,
Threaten plain water. So good night.

[Exit with Siegfried.

Duke.
Obstinate slave! Now that we are alone,
Durst thou again say life and soul has lifted
The dead man from the grave, and sent him walking
Over the earth?

Ziba.
I say it, and will add
Deed to my word, not oath. Within what tomb
Dwells he, whom you would call?

Duke.
There. But stand off!
If you do juggle with her holy bones,
By God I’ll murder thee. I don’t believe you,
For here next to my heart I wear a bond,
Written in the blood of one who was my friend,
In which he swears that, dying first, he would
Borrow some night his body from the ground,
To visit me once more. One day we quarrelled,
Swords hung beside us and we drew: he fell.
Yet never has his bond or his revenge
Raised him to my bed-side, haunting his murderer,
Or keeping blood-sealed promise to his friend.
Does not this prove you lie?

Ziba.
‘Tis not my spell:
Shall I try that with him?

Duke.
No, no! not him.
The heavy world press on him, where he lies,
With all her towers and mountains!

Ziba.
Listen, lord.
Time was when Death was young and pitiful,
Though callous now by use: and then there dwelt,
In the thin world above, a beauteous Arab,
Unmated yet and boyish. To his couch
At night, which shone so starry through the boughs,
A pale flower-breathed nymph with dewy hair
Would often come, but all her love was silent;
And ne’er by day-light could he gaze upon her,
For ray by ray, as morning came, she paled,
And like a snow of air dissolv’d i’ th’ light,
Leaving behind a stalk with lilies hung,
Round which her womanish graces had assembled.
So did the early love-time of his youth
Pass with delight: but when, compelled at length,
He left the wilds and woods for riotous camps
And cities full of men, he saw no more,
Tho’ prayed and wept for, his old bed-time vision,
The pale dissolving maiden. He would wander
Sleepless about the waste, benighted fields,
Asking the speechless shadows of his thoughts
“Who shared my couch? Who was my love? Where is she?”
Thus passing through a grassy burial-ground,
Wherein a new-dug grave gaped wide for food,
“Who was she?” cried he, and the earthy mouth
Did move its nettle-bearded lips together,
And said “‘Twas I—I, Death: behold our child!”
The wanderer looked, and on the lap of the pit
A young child slept as at a mother’s breast.
He raised it and he reared it. From that infant
My race, the death-begotten, draw their blood:
Our prayer for the diseased works more than medicine;
Our blessings oft secure grey hairs and happy
To new-born infants; and, in case of need,
The dead and gone are re-begotten by us,
And motherlessly born to second life.

Duke.
I’ve heard your tale. Now exorcise: but, mark!
If thou dost dare to make my heart thy fool,
I’ll send thee to thy grave-mouthed grandam, Arab.

Ziba.
Wilt thou submit unmurmuring to all evils,
Which this recall to a forgotten being
May cause to thee and thine?

Duke.
With all my soul,
So I may take the good.

Ziba.
And art thou ready
To follow, if so be its will, the ghost,
Whom you will re-imbody, to the place
Which it doth now inhabit?

Duke.
My first wish.
Now to your sorcery: and no more conditions,
In hopes I may break off. All ill be mine,
Which shall the world revisit with the being
That lies within.

Ziba.
Enough. Upon this scroll
Are written words, which read, even in a whisper,
Would in the air create another star;
And, more than thunder-tongued storms in the sky,
Make the old world to quake and sweat with fear;
And, as the chilly damps of her death-swoon
Fall and condense, they to the moon reflect
The forms and colours of the pale old dead.
Laid there among the bones, and left to burn,
With sacred spices, its keen vaporous power
Would draw to life the earliest dead of all,
Swift as the sun doth ravish a dew-drop
Out of a flower. But see, the torch-flame dies:
How shall I light it?

Duke.
Here’s my useless blood-bond;
These words, that should have waked illumination
Within a corpse’s eyes, will make a tinder,
Whose sparks might be of life instead of fire.
Burn it.

Ziba.
An incense for thy senses, god of those,
To whom life is as death to us; who were,
Ere our grey ancestors wrote history;
When these our ruined towers were in the rock;
And our great forests, which do feed the sea
With storm-souled fleets, lay in an acorn’s cup:
When all was seed that now is dust; our minute
Invisibly far future. Send thy spirit
From plant of the air, and from the air and earth,
And from earth’s worms, and roots, again to gather
The dispersed being, ‘mid whose bones I place
The words which, spoken, shall destroy death’s kingdom,
And which no voice, but thunder, can pronounce.
Marrow fill bone, and vine-like veins run round them,
And flesh, thou grass, mown wert thou long ago,—
Now comes the brown dry after-crop. Ho! ghost!
There’s thy old heart a-beating, and thy life
Burning on the old hearth. Come home again!

Duke.
Hush! Do you hear a noise?

Ziba.
It is the sound
Of the ghost’s foot on Jacob’s ladder-rungs.

Duke.
More like the tread upon damp stony steps
Out of a dungeon. Dost thou hear a door
Drop its great bolt and grate upon its hinges?

Ziba.
Serpentine Hell! That is thy staircase echo,

[aside.

And thy jaws’ groaning. What betides it?

Duke.
Thou human murder-time of night,
What hast thou done?

Ziba.
My task: give me to death, if the air has not
What was the earth’s but now. Ho there! i’ th’ vault.

A Voice.
Who breaks my death?

Ziba.
Draw on thy body, take up thy old limbs,
And then come forth tomb-born.

Duke.
One moment’s peace!
Let me remember what a grace she had,
Even in her dying hour: her soul set not,
But at its noon Death like a cloud came o’er it,
And now hath passed away. O come to me,
Thou dear returned spirit of my wife;
And, surely as I clasp thee once again,
Thou shalt not die without me.

Ziba.
Ho! there, Grave,
Is life within thee?

The Voice.
Melveric, I am here.

Duke.
Did’st hear that whisper? Open, and let in
The blessing to my eyes, whose subtle breath
Doth penetrate my heart’s quick; and let me hear
That dearest name out of those dearest lips.
Who comes back to my heart?

(MANDRAKE runs out of the sepulchre.)

Ziba.
Momus of Hell, what’s this?

Duke.
Is this thy wretched jest, thou villanous fool?
But I will punish thee, by heaven; and thou too

[To Mandrake.

Shalt soon be what thou shouldst have better acted.

Mandr.
Excuse me: as you have thought proper to call me to the living, I shall take the liberty of remaining alive. If you want to speak to another ghost, of longer standing, look into the old lumber-room of a vault again: some one seems to be putting himself together there. Good night, gentlemen, for I must travel to Egypt once more.

[Exit.

Duke.
Thou disappointed cheat! Was this a fellow,
Whom thou hadst hired to act a spectral part?
Thou see’st how well he does it. But away!
Or I will teach thee better to rehearse it.

Ziba.
Death is a hypocrite then, a white dissembler,
Like all that doth seem good! I am put to shame.

[Exit.

Duke.
Deceived and disappointed vain desires!
Why laugh I not, and ridicule myself?
‘Tis still, and cold, and nothing in the air
But an old grey twilight, or of eve or morn,
I know not which, dim as futurity,
And sad and hoary as the ghostly past,
Fills up the space. Hush! not a wind is there,
Not a cloud sails over the battlements,
Not a bell tolls the hour. Is there an hour?
Or is not all gone by, which here did hive,
Of men and their life’s ways? Could I but hear
The ticking of a clock, or some one breathing,
Or e’en a cricket’s chirping, or the grating
Of the old gates amidst the marble tombs,
I should be sure that this was still the world.
Hark! Hark! Doth nothing stir?
No light, and still no light, besides this ghost
That mocks the dawn, unaltered? Still no sound?
No voice of man? No cry of beast? No rustle
Of any moving creature? And sure I feel
That I remain the same: no more round blood-drops
Roll joyously along my pulseless veins:
The air I seem to breathe is still the same:
And the great dreadful thought, that now comes o’er me,
Must remain ever as it is, unchanged.—
This moment doth endure for evermore;
Eternity hath overshadowed time;
And I alone am left of all that lived,
Pent in this narrow, horrible conviction.
Ha! the dead soon will wake! My Agnes, rise;
Rise up, my wife! One look, ere Wolfram comes;
Quick, or it is too late: the murdered hasten:
My best-beloved, come once to my heart..
But ah! who art thou?

(The gates of the sepulchre fly open and discover WOLFRAM.

Wolfr.
Wolfram, murderer,
To whose heart thou didst come with horrid purpose.

Duke.
Lie of my eyes, begone! Art thou not dead?
Are not the worms, that ate thy marrow, dead?
What dost thou here, thou wretched goblin fool?
Think’st thou, I fear thee? Thou man-mocking air,
Thou art not truer than a mirror’s image,
Nor half so lasting. Back again to coffin,
Thou baffled idiot spectre, or haunt cradles:
Or stay, and I’ll laugh at thee. Guard thyself,
If thou pretendest life.

Wolfr.
Is this thin air, that thrusts thy sword away?
Flesh, bones, and soul, and blood that thou stol’st from me,
Upon thy summons, bound by heart-red letters,
Here Wolfram stands: what wouldst thou?

Duke.
What sorcery else,
But that cursed compact, could have made full Hell
Boil over, and spill thee, thou topmost damned?
But down again! I’ll see no more of thee.
Hound to thy kennel, to your coffin bones,
Ghost to thy torture!

Wolfr.
Thou returnest with me;
So make no hurry. I will stay awhile
To see how the old world goes, feast and be merry,
And then to work again.

Duke.
Darest thou stand there,
Thou shameless vapour, and assert thyself,
While I defy, and question, and deride thee?
The stars, I see them dying: clearly all
The passage of this night remembrance gives me,
And I think coolly: but my brain is mad,
Else why behold I that? Is’t possible
Thou’rt true, and worms have vomited thee up
Upon this rind of earth? No; thou shalt vanish.
Was it for this I hated thee and killed thee?
I’ll have thee dead again, and hounds and eagles
Shall be thy graves, since this old, earthy one
Hath spat thee out for poison.

Wolfr.
Thou, old man,
Art helpless against me. I shall not harm thee;
So lead me home. I am not used to sunlight,
And morn’s a-breaking.

Duke.
Then there is rebellion
Against all kings, even Death. Murder’s worn out
And full of holes; I’ll never make’t the prison,
Of what I hate, again. Come with me, spectre;
If thou wilt live against the body’s laws,
Thou murderer of Nature, it shall be
A question, which haunts which, while thou dost last.
So come with me.

[Exeunt.