Erminia Abbandonata

ERMINIA and female attendant.

Attend.
Come lift your head from that sad pillow, lady,
Let comfort kiss thee dry. Nay, weep no more:
Oh! sure thy brain has emptied all its tears,
Thy breast outsighed its passion, leaving room
For sleep to pour her sweetness into them,
And the cored sleep of sleep, tranquillity,
That opens but one window of the soul,
And, with her hand on sorrow’s face, does keep her
Dark in her bed and dayless. Quiet now—
Will you take peace?

Ermin.
Good-night; you must go in:
The door of life is shut upon me now;
I’m sepulchred alone. Look in the west;
Mark you the dusty, weary traveller,
That stumbles down the clouds?

Attend.
I see the sun
Silently dying.

Ermin.
Weep till your sight is found.—
I have been one that thought there was a sun,
A joyful heat-maker; and, like a child
By a brook’s side spooning the sparkles out,
I caught at his reflection in my soul,
And found ’twas water painted with a lie,
Cold, bitter water; I have cried it out.
Sometimes you may see some one through the clouds
Stepping about the sky,—and then, in sooth,
He robs some mountain of its child, the day,
And lays it at the sea’s door: but for that
I’ the west, ’tis the fat, unwholesome star,
The bald fool-planet, that has men upon it,
And they nick-name it ‘world.’
And oh! this humpy bastard of the sun,
It was my slave, my dog, and in my lap
Laid down its load of pleasure every night,
And spun me sunshine to delight my eyes,—
Carried my cities, and did make me summer,
And flower-limbed spring, and groves with shady autumn:
But now the whelp rolls up his woody back,
And turns it on me, and so trundles down,
Leaving this bit of rock for me to live on,
And his round shadow to be cold in. Go!
Follow the rabble clinging at his heels,
Get thee a seat among his rags.—Dost know
That Momus picked a burnt-out comet up
From Vulcan’s floor, and stuck a man upon it;
Then, having laught, he flung the wick away,
And let the insect feed on planet oil:—
What was’t? Man and his ball.

Attend.
O dearest lady!
Let not your thoughts find instruments of mirth
So on the shore where reason has been wrecked,
To lay them in your brain along with grief;
For grief and laughter, mingled in the skull,
Oft boil to madness. Did you hear my words?

Ermin.
Ay, comfort was among them,—that’s a play-thing
For girls, a rattle, full of noisy lies
To fright away black thoughts, and let the sun
In on the breast. For madness, though I hold it
Kinder to man’s enjoyment than true sense,
And I would choose it, if they lay before me,
Even as a grape beside an adder’s tongue,
To squeeze into my thoughts as in a cup,
Hating the forked and the bitter truth,—
I cannot find it. If my brain were capable
Of this dear madness, should it not be now
All in a bubble with’t? What can make mad,
If not the abandonment of one, whose love
Is more true life than the veins’ crimson sap?
Leonigild has cut my heart away,
And flung it from him: if I could be so,
Should I not be tempestuously mad?

Attend.
Alas! his cruelty looked like a snake
Upon Medusa’s temple.

Ermin.
Had I been waked
By torchlight in my eyes, and by a voice
That said “your babes are burning, stabbed your husband,—
“Room on your bosom for their murderer’s kisses!”
Why, that to this were tickling to a stab,
A pin-wound to an hell-jawed, laughing gash.
You saw me spurned by him who was—Oh! was!—
What was he? not a father, son, or husband,—
Lend me a word.—

Attend.
Indeed your love was much;
Your life but an inhabitant of his.

Ermin.
Loved him! ’tis not enough; the angels might,—
They might think what I mean, but could not speak it.
I dreamt it was the day of judgment once,
And that my soul, in fear of hidden sins,
Went with his stolen body on its shoulders,
And stood for him before the judgment seat:—
O that I now were damned as I was then!
But that same body, that same best-loved soul
Cursed, spurned me yesterday. Should I not rave,
Rave, my girl, rave?

Attend.
So most women would,
So all would wonder that another did not.

Ermin.
Why now, I rave not, laugh not, think not, care not;
But it is well; so far, I said, ’twas well.
Next was I not abandoned on the rock,
That I might starve? and then you know I prayed,
And when ’twas done, behold! there comes a boat,
Climbing about the waves; I thought and said,
O bless thee, ocean! hither dost thou come,
On the same errand as thy birds returning
Unto their hungry nest; thus has sweet nature
Sown kindness in thy great, and its small, bosom!
And, as I spoke, the waves came sporting on,
And laid their burthen, like a pillow, here:
Look! it’s my brother dead. Should I not rave,
Rave, my girl, rave? What comet-dragon is there,
That makes the air bleed fire with galloping rage,
But should be dove-like in my simile?

Attend.
Alas! such things,
Such sudden pluckings by the heart as these,
People the mad-house, and cram up the grave !

Ermin.
Therefore I laugh: methinks, when I do tell it,
That I am supping up a draught of wine.
Would you know why there’s death, and tears, and blood,
And wrenching hearts out by their shrieking roots,
Which are more tender than the mailed quick,
Or the wet eye-ball? I will tell you this,—
But O! be secret as rocks under sea,—
When the world draws the winter o’er his head,
Capping himself so whitely round his Alp,
Muffling his feet with ice, and beds him so;
Then underneath the coverlid and cloak
He has a poisonous strumpet in his arms,
On whom he gets confusion, war, disease,
Prodigies, earthquakes, blights: she’s in his blood,
The hell-wombed witch, hagged and hideous nature!
But I’ll unwind her.—Nay, I jest, my child:
Leave me; seek something—What is it we want?
O true! ’tis food: take this, and try the huts.

Attend.
‘Tis needful truly: I’ll procure it quick,
And turn the hour back I go upon.
A little then, good bye.

   (Exit.

Ermin.
Yes, I do see
The wronger, and will cut her from my heart,—
Pare myself of her utterly. Thou nature,
Living or dead, thou influence or thou ruler,
I invocate the heaven to hear my charge.
Who tied my heart unto Leonigild
With gordian love-knots of its thousand strings,
Then tore them all away to bleed and wither?
Was it not nature?
Who quickened next that heart a lovely babe,
And when its little smile had learnt its mother,
When thought was rising in its heavenly eye,
Bade the grave jump and snap it? The same nature.
Here lies a brother in my dead embrace,
Loved after, as before, his human life;
For in each other’s unborn arms we lay,
Bedfellows in our mother. Who poisoned him,
Alone among the horrible sea-waves,
And then—O murderess above fratricide,
To kill the sister with the brother’s corpse!—
Sent him a gift to me? Again ’twas nature.
I had a husband; nature widowed me:—
A child; she kidnapped it to earth a tree:—
A brother; him she murdered with her waves:—
Me she would madden:—therefore I defy,
Curse, and abandon Nature henceforth ever.
And, though I cannot creep up to my mother,
Or flow back to my father’s veins again,—
Resex or uncreate me; thus much can I:
I will spunge out the sweetness of my heart,
And suck up horror; woman’s thoughts I’ll kill,
And leave their bodies rotting in my mind,
Hoping their worms will sting; although not man,
Yet will I out of hate engender much,—
I’ll be the father of a world of ghosts,
And get the grave with a carcase. For the rest,
I will encorpse me in my brother’s garments,
Pick me a heart out of a devil’s side,
And so, my own creator, my own child,
Tread on the womb of nature, unbegotten.
Now then, ye waves, I step on you again,
And into my new self, my life outlived:
Come back and kneel, thou world; submit thy side,
And take me on thy neck again, new-made,
Fiend-hearted, woman-corpsed, but man-arrayed.

[Kelsall, 1851]