The Murderer’s Haunted Couch

Isbr.
So buckled tight in scaly resolution,
Let my revenge tread on, and, if its footsteps
Be graves, the peering eye of critic doubt,
All dazzled by the bold, reflected day,
May take the jaws of darkness that devour
My swift sword’s flash, as ravening serpent’s famine
Locks up birds’ sunny life in black eclipse,
For pity’s dewy eyelid closing over
Love’s sparkles. I have seen the mottled tigress
Sport with her cubs as tenderly and gay,
As lady Venus with her kitten Cupids;
And flowers, my sagest teachers, beautiful,
Or they were fools, because death-poisonous:
And lies, methinks, oft brighten woman’s lips,
And tears have the right pearly run and diamond shoot
When they bowl down false oaths. World, I will win thee;
Therefore I must deceive thee, gentle World.
Let Heaven look in upon my flaming wrath
As into Ætna’s hell: the sides man sees
I clothe with olives, promising much peace.
But what’s this talk? Must I be one of those
That cannot keep a secret from himself?
The worst of confidants, who oft goes mad,
Through bites of conscience, after many years.
I came to see thee, brother: there thou art
Even in this suit, from which no blood, save his,
This purple doffed by thy imperial life
Shall wash away. To the amazed foe
I will appear thyself returned, and smite him
Ere he has time to doubt or die of horror.
I would I were, thus iron-hooped and sworded,
Thy murderer’s dream this night, to cry, Awake!
Awake, Duke Melveric! Duke Murderer!
Wrap thee up quickly in thy winding sheet,
Without ado! The hearse is at the door,
The widest gate of Hell is open for thee,
And mighty goblins summon thee to Death.—
Come down with me!  [he seizes the sleeping Duke.
Nay, I will shake thy sleep off,
Until thy soul falls out.
What voice more dreadful
Than one at midnight, blood-choaked, crying murder?
Why, Murder’s own! His murder’s, and now thine!
But cheer up. I will let thy blood flow on
Within its pipes to-night.

Duke.
Angel of Death !
Can it be? No, ’tis a grave-digging vision:
The world is somewhere else. Yet even this
Methought I dreamt, and now it stands beside me,
Rattling in iron.

Isbr.
Ay, the murderer’s vision
Is ever so: for at the word, “I’m murdered,”
The gaolers of the dead throw back the grave-stone,
Split the deep ocean, and unclose the mountain,
And let the buried pass. I am more real
Than any airy spirit of a dream,
As Death is mightier, stronger, and more faithful
To man, than Life.

Duke.
Wolfram!—Nay thy grasp
Is warm, thy bosom heaves, thou breath’st, imposter—
Let iron answer iron, flesh crush flesh;
Thou art no spirit, fool.

Isbr.
Fool, art thou murderer,
My murderer, Wolfram’s? To the blood-stained hand
The grave gives way: to the eye, that saw its victim
Sigh off the ravished soul, th’ horrid world of ghosts
Is no more viewless; day and night ’tis open,
Gazing on pale and bleeding spectres ever.
Come, seat thee; no vain struggle. Write thou here,
(And with my blood I trace it on thy brain,)
Thy sentence; which by night, in types of fire,
Shall stand before thee, never to be closed,—
By night the voice of blood shall whisper to thee,
Word slowly after word, and ne’er be silent.
Melveric, thy conscience I will sing to sleep
With softest hymnings; thou shalt not despair,
But live on and grow older than all men,
To all men’s dread: like an old, haunted mountain,
Icy and hoary, shalt thou stand ‘mid life;
And midnight tales be told in secret of thee,
As of crime’s beacon. Thou shalt see thy son
Fall for a woman’s love, as thy friend fell,
Beneath the stabs of him, with whom together
He was at one breast suckled. Thou shalt lose
Friends, subjects, crown, strength, health and all power,
Even despair: thou shalt not dare to break
All men’s contempt, thy life, for fear of worse:
Nor shalt thou e’er go mad for misery.
Write on. I leave the voice with thee, that never
Shall cease to read thee, o’er and o’er, thy doom.
It will the rest, the worst of all, repeat
Till it be written.
Thou art doomed: no trumpet
Shall wake the bravery of thy heart to battle;
No song of love, no beam of child’s glad eye,
Drown that soft whisper, dazzle from thy sight
Those words indelible.
Follow him, dearest curse;
Be true to him, invisible to others,
As his own soul.  [Exit.

Duke.
Hold! mercy!…’Tis enough…
Curse shoulders curse, as in a bloody river.
I will no more.

D.I.B.

[Kelsall, 1851]