The Second Brother, Act IV


The Campo Santo. Night.


Whither, and by what law of man or nature,
Do ye thus lead me? Awe of sacred justice,
Dread of the clenched punishment that follows
The tremulous shoulder of pale, muffled guilt,—
Do they not gaze from every silent bed
In this sad place?

Sheathe that nurse’s tongue.
There’s wooing ‘twixt the moon and Death to night:
This is his cabinet.

‘Beseech you, lady,
Break not this still submission, and so force us
To stir our power from ‘ts feigned, complacent sleep.

Force! dost thou know me, that thou threaten’st force?

Why, thou’rt some wealthy sinner, very like,
Whose gloves are worn with lips of richest princes:—
It recks not here. The unfashionable worm,
Respectless of the crown-illumined brow,
The cheek’s bewitchment, or the sceptred clench,
With no more eyes than Love, creeps courtier-like,
On his thin belly, to his food,—no matter
How clad or nicknamed it might strut above,
What age or sex,—it is his dinner-time.
—Now with what name, what coronal’s shade, wilt scare
Our rigour to the wing?

I have a plea,
As dewy-piteous as the gentle ghost’s
That sits alone upon a forest-grave,
Thinking of no revenge: I have a mandate,
As magical and potent as e’er ran
Silently through a battle’s myriad veins,
Undid their fingers from the hanging steel,
And drew them up in prayer: I AM A WOMAN.
O motherly remembered be the name,
And, with the thought of loves and sisters, sweet
And comforting! therefore be piteous to me.
O let my hand touch yours! I could do more
By its sad tremors than my tongue.

We own a mood of marble. There’s no earth
In any crevice of my well-built spirit,
Whence woman’s rain could wake the weedy leaves
Of the eye-poison, pity.

If I were
Another man than this, Nature’s cast child,
Renounced by Life and Death of common men,
And placed by wrongs upon an island-peak,
Methinks I could relent.

Draw up thyself.
This bearskin, charity, is a great coat
For ragged, shivering sin: thine Indian hate,
That shivers, like the serpent’s noontide tongue,
With poisonous, candid heat, must trample on it.

O icy hearts! but no; soft ice doth melt,
And warms contritely;—I renounce the words,
And roll away the tender side of Heaven
To bare its lightnings. I am innocent,—
As white as any angel’s lily wing;
And if you wrong me, mark! I will not weep,
Nor pray against your souls, nor curse your lives,
Nor let my madness wake all things that are
To roll destruction on you,—but be silent,
Secret, as happiness, to man and God,
And let the judgment ripen silently,
Under your feet and o’er you,—mighty, quiet,
Deadly and tedious, as a silent hell.
Now, what ye dare, begin!

Our purpose glides,
Calm and remorseless as this human orb,
Whose moon, thou see’st, bestows an equal beam
Upon the odorous gardens we passed by,
And the gaunt lips of this new-opened grave.
Canst thou reproach our want of charity,
Beholding this, and all the thoughts it lends?

‘Tis a fit oracle for such an hour,
And has the caverns of its inspirations,
More true than Delphian, underneath our being.
Let’s speak to it.

What would’st thou?

It may teach
This tremulous lady resignation, sir.—
Ho, there! thou maker of this earthen bed;
Thou porter of the gates, art thou below?
Whose grave is this thou digg’st?

* * * * * *

Cætera desunt.

[Kelsall, 1851]