Death’s Jest-Book, Act IV
An apartment in the Governor’s palace.
The DUKE and an attendant.
Your lord sleeps yet?
An hour ago he rose:
About this time he’s busy with his falcons,
And then he takes his meal.
I’ll wait for him.
How strange it is that I can live to day;
Nay look like other men, who have been sleeping
On quiet pillows and not dreamt! Methinks
The look of the world’s a lie, a face made up
O’er graves and fiery depths; and nothing’s true
But what is horrible. If man could see
The perils and diseases that he elbows,
Each day he walks a mile; which catch at him,
Which fall behind and graze him as he passes;
Then would he know that Life’s a single pilgrim,
Fighting unarmed amongst a thousand soldiers.
It is this infinite invisible
Which we must learn to know, and yet to scorn,
And, from the scorn of that, regard the world
As from the edge of a far star. Now then
I feel me in the thickest of the battle;
The arrow-shower pours down, swords hew, mines open
Their ravenous mouths about me; it rains death;
But cheerly I defy the braggart storm,
And set my back against a rock, to fight
Till I am bloodily won.
How? here already?
I’m glad on’t, and to see you look so clear
After that idle talk. How did it end?
Scarcely as I expected.
Dared he conjure?
But surely you have seen no ghost last night:
You seem to have supped well and slept.
And some wild singing. Of the necromancy
We’ll speak no more. Ha! Do you see a shadow?
Ay: and the man who casts it.
Tis true; my eyes are dim and dull with watching.
This castle that fell down, and was rebuilt
With the same stones, is the same castle still;
And so with him.
What mean you?
Darest thou the day-light? Dar’st be seen of more
Than me, the guilty? Vanish! Though thou’rt there,
I’ll not believe I see thee. Or is this
The work of necromantic Conscience? Ha!
‘Tis nothing but a picture: curtain it.
Strange visions, my good Thorwald, are begotten,
When Sleep o’ershadows waking.
Who’s the stranger?
You speak as one familiar.
Is aught here
Besides our-selves? I think not.
Yet you gaze
Straight on the man.
A villanous friend of mine;
Of whom I must speak well, and still permit him
To follow me. So thou’rt yet visible,
Thou grave-breaker! If thou wilt haunt me thus,
I’ll make thee my fool, ghost, my jest and zany.
‘Tis his officious gratitude that pains me:
The carcase owes to me its ruinous life,
(Between whose broken walls and hideous arches
You see the other world’s grey spectral light;)
Therefore he clings to me so ivily.
Now, goblin, lie about it. ‘Tis in truth
A faithful slave.
If I had come unsummoned,
If I had burst into your sunny world,
And stolen visibility and birth
Against thy prayers, thus shouldst thou speak to me:
But thou hast forced me up, remember that.
I am no fiend, no foe; then let me hear
These stern and tyrannous rebukes no more.
Wilt thou be with the born, that have not died?
I vanish: now a short farewell. I fade;
The air doth melt me, and, my form being gone,
I’m all thou see’st not.
Dissolved like snow in water! Be my cloud,
My breath, and fellow soul, I can bear all,
As long as thou art viewless to these others.
Now there are two of us. How stands the bridal?
This evening ’twill be held.
Good; and our plot
Leaps on your pleasure’s lap; here comes my gang;
Away with you.
I do begin to feel
As if I were a ghost among the men,
As all, whom I loved, are; for their affections
Hang on things new, young, and unknown to me:
And that I am is but the obstinate will
Of this my hostile body.
Enter ISBRAND, ADALMAR, and SIEGFRIED.
Come, let’s be doing: we have talked whole nights
Of what an instant, with one flash of action,
Should have performed: you wise and speaking people
Need some one, with a hatchet-stroke, to free
The Pallas of your Jove-like headaches.
Fledging comes after hatching. One day more:
This evening brings the wedding of the prince,
And with it feasts and maskings. In mid bowls
And giddy dances let us fall upon them.
Well thought: our enemies will be assembled.
I like to see Ruin at dinner time,
Firing his cannons with the match they lit
For the buck-roasting faggots. But what say you
To what concerns you most?
That I am ready
To hang my hopeful crown of happiness
Upon the temple of the public good.
Of that no need. Your wedding shall be finished;
Or left, like a full goblet yet untasted,
To be drunk up with greater thirst from toil.
I’ll wed too when I’ve time. My honest pilgrim,
The melancholy lady, you brought with you,
Looks on me with an eye of much content:
I have sent some rhymed love-letters unto her,
In my best style. D’ you think we’re well matched?
How? Would you prop the peach upon the upas?
True: I am rough, a surly bellowing storm;
But fallen, never tear did hang more tender
Upon the eye-lash of a love-lorn girl,
Or any Frenchman’s long, frost-bitten nose,
Than in the rosecup of that lady’s life
I shall lie trembling. Pilgrim, plead for me
With a tongue love-oiled.
Win her, sir, and wear her.
But you and she are scarcely for one world.
Enough; I’ll wed her. Siegfried, come with me;
We’ll talk about it in the rainy weather.
Pilgrim, anon I find you in the ruins,
Where we had wine last night.
[Exit with Siegfried.
Would that it all were over, and well over!
Suspicions flash upon me here and there:
But we’re in the mid ocean without compass,
Winds wild, and billows rolling us away:
Onwards with hope!
Of what? Youth, is it possible
That thou art toiling here for liberty,
And others’ welfare, and such virtuous shadows
As philosophic fools and beggars raise
Out of the world that’s gone? Thou’lt sell thy birth-right
For incense praise, less tickling to the sense
Than Esau’s pottage steam?
No, not for these,
Fame’s breath and praise, its shadow. ‘Tis my humour
To do what’s right and good.
Thou’rt a strange prince.
Why all the world, except some fifty lean ones,
Would, in your place and at your ardent years,
Seek the delight that lies in woman’s limbs
And mountain-covering grapes. What’s to be royal,
Unless you pick those girls, whose cheeks you fancy,
As one would cowslips? And soo hills and valleys
Mantled in autumn with the snaky plant,
Whose juice is the right madness, the best godship?
Have men, and beasts, and woods, with flower and fruit
From all the earth, one’s slaves; bid the worm eat
Your next year’s purple from the mulberry leaf,
The tiger shed his skin to line your car,
And men die, thousands in a day, for glory?
Such things should kings bid from their solitude
Upon the top of Man. Justice and Good,
All penniless, base, earthy kind of fellows,
So low, one wonders they were not born dogs,
Can do as well, alas!
There’s cunning in thee.
A year ago this doctrine might have pleased me:
But since, I have remembered, in my childhood
My teachers told me that I was immortal,
And had within me something like a god;
Now, by believing firmly in that promise,
I do enjoy a part of its fulfilment,
And, antedating my eternity,
Act as I were immortal.
Think of now.
This Hope and Memory are wild horses, tearing
The precious now to pieces. Grasp and use
The breath within you; for you know not, whether
That wind about the trees brings you one more.
Thus far yourself. But tell me, hath no other
A right, which you would injure? Is this sceptre,
Which you would stamp to dust and let each varlet
Pick out his grain of power; this great spirit,
This store of mighty men’s concentrate souls,
Which kept your fathers in god’s breath, and you
Would waste in the wide, smoky, pestilent air
For every dog to snuff in; is this royalty
Your own? O! when you were a boy, young prince,
I would have laid my heart upon your spirit:
Now both are broken.
Yes, my son:
We’ll live to be most proud of those two names.
Go on thy way: I follow and o’erlook.
This pilgrim’s shape will hang about and guard thee,
Being but the shadow of my sunniness,
Looking in patience through a cloudy time.
SIBYLLA and ATHULF.
From me no comfort. O you specious creatures,
So poisonous to the eye! Go! you sow madness:
And one of you, although I cannot curse her,
Will make my grave a murderer’s. I’ll do nought;
But rather drink and revel at your bridal.
And why not Isbrand? Many such a serpent
Doth lick heaven’s dew out of as sweet a flower.
Wed, wed! I’ll not prevent it.
I beseech thee,
If there be any tie of love between thee
And her who is thy brother’s.
Curse the word!
And trebly curse the deed that made us brothers!
O that I had been born the man I hate!
Any, at least, but one. Then—sleep my soul;
And walk not in thy sleep to do the act,
Which thou must ever dream of. My fair lady,
I would not be the reason of one tear
Upon thy bosom, if the times were other;
If women were not women. When the world
Turns round the other way, and doing Cain-like
Passes as merrily as doing Eve-like,
Then I’ll be pitiful. Let go my hand;
It is a mischievous limb, and may run wild,
Doing the thing its master would not.
Then no one hears me. O! the world’s too loud,
With trade and battle, for my feeble cry
To rouse the living. The invisible
Hears best what is unspoken; and my thoughts
Have long been calling comfort from the grave.
(WOLFRAM suddenly appears, in the garment of a monk.)
Lady, you called me.
The word was Comfort:
A name by which the master, whose I am,
Is named by many wise and many wretched.
Will you with me to the place where sighs are not;
A shore of blessing, which disease doth beat
Sea-like, and dashes those whom he would wreck
Into the arms of Peace? But ah! what say I?
You’re young and must be merry in the world;
Have friends to envy, lovers to betray you;
And feed young children with the blood of your heart,
Till they have sucked up strength enough to break it.
Poor woman! Art thou nothing but the straw
Bearing a heavy poison, and, that shed,
Cut down to be stamped on? But thou’rt i’ th’ blade;
The green and milky sun-deceived grass:
So stand till the scythe comes, take shine and shower,
And the wind fell you gently.
Do not go.
Speak as at first you did; there was in the words
A mystery and music, which did thaw
The hard old rocky world into a flood,
Whereon a swan-drawn boat seemed at my feet
Rocking on its blue billows; and I heard
Harmonies, and breathed odours from an isle,
Whose flowers cast tremulous shadows in the day
Of an immortal sun, and crowd the banks
Whereon immortal human kind doth couch.
This I have dreamt before: your speech recalled it.
So speak to soothe me once again.
(aside) Snake Death,
Sweet as the cowslip’s honey is thy whisper:
O let this dove escape thee! I’ll not plead,
I will not be thy suitor to this innocent:
Open thy craggy jaws; speak, coffin-tongued,
Persuasions through the dancing of the yew-bough
And the crow’s nest upon it. (aloud) Lady fair,
Listen not to me, look not on me more.
I have a fascination in my words,
A magnet in my look, which drags you downwards,
From hope and life. You set your eyes upon me,
And think I stand upon this earth beside you:
Alas! I am upon a jutting stone,
Which crumbles down the steeps of an abyss;
And you, above me far, grow wild and giddy:
Leave me, or you must fall into the deep.
I leave thee never, nor thou me. O no!
You know not what a heart you spurn away;
How good it might be, if love cherished it;
And how deserted ’tis; ah! so deserted,
That I have often wished a ghost would come,
Whose love might haunt it. Turn not thou, the last.
Thou see’st I’m young: how happy might I be!
And yet I only wish these tears I shed
Were raining on my grave. If thou’lt not love me,
Then do me the next office; show me only
The shortest path to solitary death.
You’re moved to wildness, maiden. Beg not of me.
I can grant nothing good: quiet thyself,
And seek heaven’s help. Farewell.
Wilt thou leave me?
Unpitying, aye unmoved in cheek and heart,
Stern, selfish mortal? Hast thou heard my prayer;
Hast seen me weep; hast seen my limbs to quiver,
Like a storm-shaken tree over its roots?
Art thou alive, and canst thou see this wretch,
Without a care?
Thou see’st I am unmoved:
Infer the truth.
Thy soul indeed is dead.
My soul, my soul! O that it wore not now
The semblance of a garb it hath cast off;
O that it was disrobed of these mock limbs,
Shed by a rocky birth unnaturally,
Long after their decease and burial!
O woe that I must speak! for she, who hears,
Is marked for no more breathing. There are histories
Of women, nature’s bounties, who disdained
The mortal love of the embodied man,
And sought the solitude which spirits cast
Around their darksome presence. These have loved,
Wooed, wedded, and brought home their moonstruck brides
Unto the world-sanded eternity.
Hast faith in such reports?
So lonely am I,
That I dare wish to prove them true.
A grave-deep question. Answer it religiously.
With him I loved, I dared.
With me and for me.
I am a ghost. Tremble not; fear not me.
The dead are ever good and innocent,
And love the living. They are cheerful creatures,
And quiet as the sunbeams, and most like,
In grace and patient love and spotless beauty,
The new-born of mankind. ‘Tis better too
To die, as thou art, young, in the first grace
And full of beauty, and so be remembered
As one chosen from the earth to be an angel;
Not left to droop and wither, and be borne
Down by the breath of time. Come then, Sibylla,
For I am Wolfram!
Thou art come to fetch me!
It is indeed a proof of boundless love,
That thou hadst need of me even in thy bliss.
I go with thee. O Death! I am thy friend,
I struggle not with thee, I love thy state:
Thou canst be sweet and gentle, be so now;
And let me pass praying away into thee,
As twilight still does into starry night.
[The scene closes.
Voices in the Air
As sudden thunder
As magic wonder,
Our ghost, our corpse; and we
Rise to be.
As flies the lizard
As goblin vizard,
At the spell
Of the wizard,
Sinks to hell:
Our life, our laugh, our lay
As wake the morning
As snow-drop, scorning
Like a spright:
We buried, dead, and slain
A garden, under the windows of Amala’s apartment.
Once more I’ll see thee, love, speak to thee, hear thee;
And then my soul shall cut itself a door
Out of this planet. I’ve been wild and heartless,
Laughed at the feasts where Love had never place,
And pledged my light faith to a hundred women,
Forgotten all next day. A worthless life,
A life ridiculous! Day after day,
Folly on folly! But I’ll not repent.
Remorse and weeping shall not be my virtues:
Let fools do both, and, having had their evil,
And tickled their young hearts with the sweet sins
That feather Cupid’s shafts, turn timid, weep,
Be penitent. Now the wild banquet’s o’er,
Wine spilt, lights out, I cannot brook the world,
It is so silent. And that poisonous reptile,
My past self, is a villain I’ll not pardon.
I hate and will have vengeance on my soul:
Satirical Murder, help me . . Ha! I am
Devil-inspired: out with you, ye fool’s thoughts!
You’re young, strong, healthy yet; years may you live:
Why yield to an ill-humoured moment? No!
I’ll cut his throat across, make her my wife;
Huzza! for a mad life! and be a Duke!
I was born for sin and love it.
O thou villain,
Die, die! Have patience with me, heavenly Mercy!
Let me but once more look upon that blessing,
Then can I calmly offer up to thee
This crime-haired head.
Enter AMALA as bride, with a bridesmaid.
O beauty, beauty!
Thou shed’st a moony night of quiet through me.
Thanks! Now I am resolved.
Amala, good night:
Thou’rt happy. In these high delightful times,
It does the human heart much good to think
On deepest woe, which may be waiting for us,
Masked even in a marriage-hour.
‘Tis well to trust in the good genius.
Are not our hearts, in these great pleasures godded,
Let out awhile to their eternity,
And made prophetic? The past is pale to me;
But I do see my future plain of life,
Full of rejoicings and of harvest-dances,
Clearly, it is so sunny. A year hence
I’ll laugh at you for this, until you weep.
Good night, sweet fear.
Take this flower from me,
(A white rose, fitting for a wedding-gift,)
And lay it on your pillow. Pray to live
So fair and innocently; pray to die,
Leaf after leaf, so softly.
—Now to my chamber; yet an hour or two,
In which years must be sown.
An old acquaintance brings a greeting to you,
Upon your wedding night.
His brother Athulf! What can he do here?
I fear the man.
Dost love him?
That were cause
Indeed to fear him. Leave me, leave me, sir:
It is too late. We cannot be together
For any good.
This once we can. O Amala,
Had I been in my young days taught the truth,
And brought up with the kindness and affection
Of a good man! I was not myself evil,
But out of youth and ignorance did much wrong.
Had I received lessons in thought and nature,
We might have been together, but not thus.
How then? Did you not love me long ago?
More, O much more than him? Yes, Amala,
You would have been mine now. A life with thee,
Heavenly delight and virtue ever with us!
I’ve lost it, trod on it, and crush’d it. Woe!
O bitter woe is me!
Athulf, why make me
Rue the inevitable? Prithee leave me.
Thee bye and bye: and all that is not thee.
Thee, my all, that I’ve forfeited I’ll leave,
And the world’s all, my nothing.
Nay; despond not.
Thou’lt be a merry, happy man some day,
And list to this as to a tale of some one
You had forgotten.
Now no need of comfort:
I’m somehow glad that it did thus fall out.
Then had I lived too softly; in these woes
I can stand up, and show myself a man.
I do not think that I shall live an hour.
Wilt pardon me for that my earlier deeds
Have caused to thee of sorrow? Amala,
Pity me, pardon me, bless me in this hour;
In this my death, in this your bridal, hour.
Pity me, sweet.
Both thee and me: no more!
With all my soul. God bless thee, my dear Athulf.
Kiss I thy hand? O much more fervently
Now, in my grief, than heretofore in love.
Farewell, go; look not back again upon me.
In silence go.
She having left my eyes,
There’s nothing in the world, to look on which
I’d live a moment longer. Therefore come,
Thou sacrament of death: Eternity,
I pledge thee thus.
[He drinks from a vial.
How cold and sweet! It seems
As if the earth already began, shaking,
To sink beneath me. O ye dead, come near;
Why see I you not yet? Come, crowd about me;
Under the arch of this triumphal hour,
Welcome me; I am one of you, and one
That, out of love for you, have forced the doors
Of the stale world.
I’m wearied to the core: where’s Amala?
Ha! Near her chambers! Who?
Ask that to-morrow
Of the marble, Adalmar. Come hither to me.
We must be friends: I’m dying.
I’ve drank myself immortal.
You are poisoned?
I am blessed, Adalmar. I’ve done’t myself.
‘Tis nearly passed, for I begin to hear
Strange but sweet sounds, and the loud rocky dashing
Of waves, where time into Eternity
Falls over ruined worlds. The wind is fair,
The boat is in the bay,
And the fair mermaid pilot calls away.
Ay: a philosophic deed.
Go and be happy.
God! What hast thou done?
Justice upon myself.
No. Thou hast stolen
The right of the deserving good old man
To rest, his cheerful labour being done.
Thou hast been wicked; caused much misery;
Dishonoured maidens; broken fathers’ hearts;
Maddened some; made others wicked as thyself;
And darest thou die, leaving a world behind thee
That groans of thee to heaven?
If I thought so—
Terrible would it be: then I’ve both killed
And damned myself. There’s justice!
Thou should’st have lived;
Devoting every minute to the work
Of useful, penitent amendment: then,
After long years, you might have knelt to Fate,
And ta’en her blow not fearing. Wretch, thou diest not,
But goest living into hell.
It is too true:
I am deserted by those turbulent joys.
The fiend had made me death-drunk. Here I’ll lie,
And die most wretchedly, accursed, unpitied
Of all, most hated by myself. O God,
If thou could’st but repeal this fatal hour,
And let me live, how day and night I’d toil
For all things to atone! Must I wish vainly?
My brother, is there any way to live?
For thee, alas! in this world there is none.
Think not upon’t.
Thou liest: there must be:
Thou know’st it, and dost keep it secret from me,
Letting me die for hate and jealousy.
O that I had not been so pious a fool,
But killed thee, ‘stead of me, and had thy wife!
I should be at the banquet, drinking to her,
Kissing her lip, in her eye smiling…
Thou see’st I’m growing mad: now leave me here,
Accursed as I am, alone to die.
Wretched, yet not despised, farewell my brother.
O Arab, Arab! Thou dost sell true drugs.
Brother, my soul is very weary now:
Speak comfortably to me.
From the Arab,
From Ziba, had’st the poison?
Ay. ‘Twas good:
An honest villain is he.
Hold, sweet brother,
A little longer hold in hope on life;
But a few minutes more. I seek the sorcerer,
And he shall cure thee with some wondrous drug.
He can, and shall perform it: rest thee quiet:
Hope or revenge I’ll bring thee.
Dare I hope?
O no: methinks it is not so unlovely,
This calm unconscious state, this breathless peace,
Which all, but troublesome and riotous man,
Assume without resistance. Here I’ll lay me,
And let life fall from off me tranquilly.
[Enter singers and musicians led by SIEGFRIED; they play under the windows of Amala’s apartment, and sing.]
By female voices.
We have bathed, where none have seen us,
In the lake and in the fountain,
Underneath the charmed statue
Of the timid, bending Venus,
When the water-nymphs were counting
In the waves the stars of night,
And those maidens started at you,
Your limbs shone through so soft and bright.
But no secrets dare we tell,
For thy slaves unlace thee,
And he, who shall embrace thee,
Waits to try thy beauty’s spell.
By male voices.
We have crowned thee queen of women,
Since love’s love, the rose, hath kept her
Court within thy lips and blushes,
And thine eye, in beauty swimming,
Kissing, we rendered up the sceptre,
At whose touch the startled soul
Like an ocean bounds and gushes,
And spirits bend at thy controul.
But no secrets dare we tell,
For thy slaves unlace thee,
And he, who shall embrace thee,
Is at hand, and so farewell.
Shame on you! Do you sing their bridal song
Ere I have closed mine eyes? Who’s there among you
That dare to be enamoured of a maid
So far above you, ye poor rhyming knaves?
Ha! there begins another.
Song by Siegfried.
Lady, was it fair of thee
To seem so passing fair to me?
Not every star to every eye
Is fair; and why
Art thou another’s share?
Did thine eyes shed brighter glances,
Thine unkissed bosom heave more fair,
To his than to my fancies?
But I’ll forgive thee still;
Thou’rt fair without thy will.
So be: but never know,
That ’tis the hue of woe.
Lady, was it fair of thee
To be so gentle still to me?
Not every lip to every eye
Should let smiles fly.
Why didst thou never frown,
To frighten from my pillow
Love’s head, round which Hope wove a crown,
And saw not ’twas of willow?
But I’ll forgive thee still;
Thou knew’st not smiles could kill.
Smile on: but never know,
I die, nor of what woe.
Ha! Ha! That fellow moves my spleen;
A disappointed and contented lover.
Methinks he’s above fifty by his voice:
If not, he should be whipped about the town,
For vending such tame doctrine in love-verses.
Up to the window, carry off the bride,
And away on horseback, squeaker!
Peace, thou bold drunken fellow that liest there!—
Leave him to sleep his folly out, good fellows.
[Exit with musicians.
Well said: I do deserve it. I lie here
A thousand-fold fool, dying ridiculously
Because I could not have the girl I fancied.
Well, they are wedded; how long now will last
Affection or content? Besides ’twere possible
He might have quaffed a like draught. But ’tis done:
Villanous idiot that I am to think on’t.
She willed it so. Then Amala, be fearless:
Wait but a little longer in thy chamber,
And he will be with thee whom thou hast chosen:
Or, if it make thee pastime, listen sweet one,
And I will sing to thee, here in the moonlight,
Thy bridal song and my own dirge in one.
A cypress-bough, and a rose-wreath sweet,
A wedding-robe, and a winding-sheet,
A bridal bed and a bier.
Thine be the kisses, maid,
And smiling Love’s alarms;
And thou, pale youth, be laid
In the grave’s cold arms.
Each in his own charms,
Death and Hymen both are here;
So up with scythe and torch,
And to the old church porch,
While all the bells ring clear:
And rosy, rosy the bed shall bloom,
And earthy, earthy heap up the tomb.
Now tremble dimples on your cheek,
Sweet be your lips to taste and speak,
For he who kisses is near:
By her the bridegod fair,
In youthful power and force;
By him the grizard bare,
Pale knight on a pale horse,
To woo him to a corpse.
Death and Hymen both are here;
So up with scythe and torch,
And to the old church porch,
While all the bells ring clear:
And rosy, rosy the bed shall bloom,
And earthy, earthy heap up the tomb.
Now we’ll lie down and wait for our two summoners;
Each patiently at least.
O thou kind girl,
Art thou again there? Come and lay thine hand
In mine; and speak again thy soft way to me.
Thy voice is fainter, Athulf: why sang’st thou?
It was my farewell: now I’ll sing no more;
Nor speak a great deal after this. ‘Tis well
You weep not. If you had esteemed me much,
It were a horrible mistake of mine.
Wilt close my eyes when I am dead, sweet maid?
O Athulf, thou might’st still have lived.
What boots it,
And thou not mine, nor even loving me?
But that makes dying very sad to me.
Yet even thy pity is worth much.
I pity not alone, but I am wretched,—
Love thee and ever did most fervently,
Still hoping thou would’st turn and merit it.
But now—O God! if life were possible to thee,
I’d be thy friend for ever.
O thou art full of blessings!
Thou lovest me, Amala: one kiss, but one;
It is not much to grant a dying man.
I am thy brother’s bride, forget not that;
And never but to this, thy dying ear,
Had I confessed so much in such an hour.
But this be too forgiven. Now farewell.
‘Twere not amiss if I should die to-night:
Athulf, my love, my only love, farewell.
Yet one more minute. If we meet hereafter,
Wilt thou be mine? I have the right to thee;
And, if thou promise, I will let him live
This life, unenvied, with thee.
I will, Athulf:
Our bliss there will be greater for the sorrow
We now in parting feel.
I go, to wait thee.
Farewell, my bliss! She loves me with her soul,
And I might have enjoyed her, were he fallen.
Ha! ha! and I am dying like a rat,
And he shall drink his wine, twenty years hence,
Beside his cherished wife, and speak of me
With a compassionate smile! Come, Madness, come,
For death is loitering still.
Enter ADALMAR and ZIBA.
Restore him whom thy poisons have laid low,
If thou wilt not sup with thy fellow fiends
In hell to-night.
I pray thee strike me not.
It was his choice; and why should he be breathing
Against his will?
Ziba, I need not perish.
Now my intents are changed: so, if thou canst,
Dispense me life again.
Listen to him, slave,
And once be a preserver.
Let him rise.
Why, think you that I’d deal a benefit,
So precious to the noble as is death,
To such a pampered darling of delight
As he that shivers there? O, not for him,
Blooms my dark Nightshade, nor doth Hemlock brew
Murder for cups within her cavernous root.
Not for him is the metal blessed to kill,
Nor lets the poppy her leaves fall for him.
To heroes such are sacred. He may live,
As long as ’tis the Gout and Dropsy’s pleasure.
He wished to play at suicide, and swallowed
A draught, that may depress and shake his powers
Until he sleeps awhile; then all is o’er.
And so good night, my princes.
Dost thou hear?
Victory! victory! I do hear; and Fate hears,
And plays with Life for one of our two souls,
With dice made of death’s bones. But shall I do’t?
O Heaven! it is a fearful thing to be so saved!
Now, brother, thou’lt be happy.
With thy wife!
I tell thee, hapless brother, on my soul,
Now that I live, I will live; I alone;
And Amala alone shall be my love.
There’s no more room for you, since you have chosen
The woman and the power which I covet.
Out of thy bridal bed, out of thy throne!
Away to Abel’s grave.
Thou murderous fiend!
I was thy brother.
(after a pause) How long a time it is since I was here!
And yet I know not whether I have slept,
Or wandered through a dreary cavernous forest,
Struggling with monsters. ‘Tis a quiet place,
And one inviting strangely to deep rest.
I have forgotten something; my whole life
Seems to have vanished from me to this hour.
There was a foe whom I should guard against;
Who is he?
(from her window) Adalmar!
(in a low voice) Hush! hush! I come to thee.
Let me but see if he be dead: speak gently,
His jealous ghost still hears.
So, it is over
With that poor troubled heart! O then to-night
Leave me alone to weep.
As thou wilt, lady.
I’m stunned with what has happened. He is dead.
O night of sorrow! Bear him from the threshold.
None of my servants must know where and why
He sought his grave. Remove him. O poor Athulf,
Why did’st thou it? I’ll to my bed and mourn.
Hear’st thou, corpse, how I play thy part?
Thus had he
Pitied me in fraternal charity,
And I lain there so helpless. Precious cup,
A few drops more of thy somniferous balm,
To keep out spectres from my dreams to-night:
My eyelids thirst for slumber. But what’s this,
That chills my blood and darkens so my eyes?
What’s going on in my heart and in my brain,
My bones, my life, all over me, all through me?
It cannot last. No longer shall I be
What I am now. O I am changing, changing,
Dreadfully changing! Even here and now
A transformation will o’ertake me. Hark!
It is God’s sentence muttered over me.
I am unsouled, dishumanized, uncreated;
My passions swell and grow like brutes conceived;
My feet are fixing roots, and every limb
Is billowy and gigantic, till I seem
A wild, old, wicked mountain in the air:
And the abhorred conscience of this murder,
It will grow up a lion, all alone,
A mighty-maned, grave-mouthed prodigy,
And lair him in my caves: and other thoughts,
Some will be snakes, and bears, and savage wolves:
And when I lie tremendous in the desart,
Or abandoned sea, murderers and idiot men
Will come to live upon my rugged sides,
Die, and be buried in me. Now it comes;
I break, and magnify, and lose my form.
And yet I shall be taken for a man,
And never be discovered till I die.
Terrible, terrible: damned before my time,
In secret! ‘Tis a dread, o’erpowering phantom.
(He lies down by the body, and sleeps: the scene closes.)
A large hall in the ducal castle. Through the windows in the back ground appears the illuminated city.
Enter ISBRAND and SIEGFRIED.
By my grave, Siegfried, ’tis a wedding-night.
The wish, that I have courted from my boyhood,
Comes blooming, crowned, to my embrace. Methinks,
The spirit of the city is right lovely;
And she will leave her rocky body sleeping,
To-night, to be my queenly paramour.
Has it gone twelve?
This half hour. Here I’ve set
A little clock, that you may mark the time.
Its hand divides the hour. Are our guards here,
About the castle?
You’ve a thousand swordsmen,
Strong and true soldiers, at the stroke of one.
One’s a good hour; a ghostly hour. To-night
The ghost of a dead planet shall walk through,
And shake the pillars of this dukedom down.
The princes both are occupied and lodged
Far from us: that is well; they will hear little.
Go once more round, to the towers and battlements:
The bell, that strikes, says to our hearts “Be one;”
And, with one motion of a hundred arms,
Be the beacons fixed, the alarums rung,
And tyrants slain! Be busy.
I am with them.
Mine is the hour it strikes; my first of life.
To-morrow, with what pity and contempt,
Shall I look back new-born upon myself!
Enter a servant.
The banquet’s ready.
Let it wait awhile:
The wedding is not ended. That shall be
No common banquet: none sit there, but souls
That have outlived a lower state of being.
Summon the guests.
Some shall have bitter cups,
The honest shall be banished from the board,
And the knaves duped by a luxurious bait.
Enter the DUKE, THORWALD, and other guests.
Friends, welcome hither in the prince’s name,
Who has appointed me his deputy
To-night. Why this is right: while men are here,
They should keep close and warm and thick together,
Many abreast. Our middle life is broad;
But birth and death, the turnstiles that admit us
On earth and off it, send us, one by one,
A solitary walk. Lord governor,
Will you not sit?
You are a thrifty liver,
Keeping the measure of your time beside you.
Sir, I’m a melancholy, lonely man,
A kind of hermit: and to meditate
Is all my being. One has said, that time
Is a great river running to eternity.
Methinks ’tis all one water, and the fragments,
That crumble off our ever-dwindling life,
Dropping into’t, first make the twelve-houred circle,
And that spreads outwards to the great round Ever.
A very ballad-maker.
We quiet men must think and dream at least.
Who likes a rhyme among us? My lord governor,
‘Tis tedious waiting until supper time:
Shall I read some of my new poetry?
One piece at least?
Well; without further preface,
If it be brief.
A fragment, quite unfinished,
Of a new ballad called “The Median Supper.”
It is about Astyages; and I
Differ in somewhat from Herodotus.
But altering the facts of history,
When they are troublesome, good governors
Will hardly visit rigorously. Attention!
(reads)”Harpagus, hast thou salt enough,
“Hast thou broth enough to thy kid?
“And hath the cook put right good stuff
“Under the pasty lid?”
“I’ve salt enough, Astyages,
“And broth enough in sooth;
“And the cook hath mixed the meat and grease
“Most tickling to my tooth.”
So spake no wild red Indian swine,
Eating a forest rattle-snake:
But Harpagus, that Mede of mine,
And king Astyages so spake.
“Wilt have some fruit? Wilt have some wine?
“Here’s what is soft to chew;
“I plucked it from a tree divine,
“More precious never grew.”
Harpagus took the basket up,
Harpagus brushed the leaves away;
But first he filled a brimming cup,
For his heart was light and gay.
And then he looked, and saw a face,
Chopped from the shoulders of some one;
And who alone could smile in grace
So sweet? Why, Harpagus, thy son.
“Alas!” quoth the king, “I’ve no fork,
“Alas! I’ve no spoon of relief,
“Alas! I’ve no neck of a stork
“To push down this throttling grief.
“We’ve played at kid for child, lost both;
“I’d give you the limbs if I could;
“Some lie in your platter of broth:
“Good night, and digestion be good.”
Now Harpagus said not a word,
Did no eye-water spill:
His heart replied, for that had heard;
And hearts’ replies are still.
How do you like it?
Poetry, they say,
Should be the poet’s soul; and here, methinks,
In every word speaks yours.
Good. Do’nt be glad too soon.
Do ye think I’ve done? Three minutes’ patience more.
A cannibal of his own boy,
He is a cannibal uncommon;
And Harpagus, he is my joy,
Because he wept not like a woman.
From the old supper-giver’s pole
He tore the many-kingdomed mitre;
To him, who cost him his son’s soul,
He gave it; to the Persian fighter:
“Old art thou, but a fool in blood:
“If thou hast made me eat my son,
“Cyrus hath ta’en his grandsire’s food;
“There’s kid for child, and who has won?
“All kingdomless is thy old head,
“In which began the tyrannous fun;
“Thou’rt slave to him, who should be dead:
“There’s kid for child, and who has won?”
Now let the clock strike, let the clock strike now,
And world be altered!
(The clock strikes one, and the hour is repeated from the steeples of the city.)
Thou hast struck a mighty hour, and thy work’s done;
For never shalt thou count a meaner one.
[He dashes it on the ground.
Thus let us break our old life of dull hours,
And hence begin a being, counted not
By minutes, but by glories and delights.
(He steps to a window and throws it open.
Thou steepled city, that dost lie below,
Time doth demand whether thou wilt be free.
Now give thine answer.
(A trumpet is heard, followed by a peal of cannon. Beacons are fixed, &c. The stage is lined with soldiery.)
Traitor, desperate traitor!
Yet betrayed traitor! Make a path for me,
Or, by the majesty that thou offendest,
Thou shalt be struck with lightning in thy triumph.
All kingdomless is the old mule,
In whom began the tyrannous fun;
Thou’rt slave to him, who was thy fool;
There’s Duke for Brother; who has won?
Take the old man away.
I go: but my revenge
Hangs, in its unseen might, godlike around you.
To work, my friends, to work! Each man his way.
These present instants, cling to them; hold fast;
And spring from this one to the next, still upwards.
They’re rungs of Jacob’s heaven-scaling ladder:
Haste, or ’tis drawn away.
O stingy nature,
To make me but one man! Had I but body
For every several measure of thought and will,
This night should see me world-crowned.
Enter a messenger.
What news bring’st thou?
Friends of the governor hold the strongest tower,
And shoot with death’s own arrows.
Get thee back,
And never let me hear thy voice again,
Unless to say, “’tis taken.” Hark ye, sirrah;
Wood in its walls, lead on its roof, the tower
Cries, “Burn me!” Go and cut away the draw-bridge,
And leave the quiet fire to himself:
He knows his business.
Enter ZIBA armed.
What with you?
When one of us is undermost.
Can a slave fight?
None better. Come; we’ll struggle,
And roar, and dash, and tumble in our rage,
As doth the long-jawed, piteous crocodile
With the blood-howling hippopotamus,
In quaking Nile.
Not quite so great; but rather,
Like to a Hercules of crockery
Slaying a Nemean lion of barley-sugar,
On a twelfth cake.
[They fight: Ziba is disarmed.
Now darest thou cry for mercy?
Never. Eternity! Come give me that,
And I will thank thee.
Something like a man,
And something like a fool. Thou’rt such a reptile,
That I do like thee: pick up thy black life:
I would not make my brother King and Fool,
Friend Death, so poor a present. Hence!
‘Tis a hot hour, which Murder steals from Love,
To beget ghosts in.
Triumph! They cannot stand another half hour.
The loyal had all supped and gone to bed:
When our alarums thundered, they could only
Gaze from their frighted windows: and some few
We had in towers and churches to besiege.
But, when one hornet’s nest was burnt, the rest
Cried quarter, and went home to end their naps.
‘Twas good. I knew it was well planned.
And finish all. I’ll follow thee, and see
How Mars looks in his night-cap.
O! it is nothing now to be a man.
Adam, thy soul was happy that it wore
The first, new, mortal members. To have felt
The joy of the first year, when the one spirit
Kept house-warming within its fresh-built clay,
I’d be content to be as old a ghost.
Thine was the hour to live in. Now we’re common,
And man is tired of being merely human;
And I’ll be something more: yet, not by tearing
This chrysalis of psyche ere its hour,
Will I break through Elysium. There are sometimes,
Even here, the means of being more than men:
And I by wine, and women, and the sceptre,
Will be, my own way, heavenly in my clay.
O you small star-mob, had I been one of you,
I would have seized the sky some moonless night,
And made myself the sun; whose morrow rising
Shall see me new-created by myself.
Come, come; to rest, my soul. I must sleep off
This old plebeian creature that I am.