Page images
PDF
EPUB

“ For some hard-favour'd groom of thine, quoth he,
Unless thou yoke thy liking to my will,
I'll murder straight, and then I 'll slaughter thee,
And swear I found you where you did fulfil
The loathsome act of lust, and so did kill

The lechers in their deed : this act will be
My fame, and thy perpetual infamy.

“ With this I did begin to start and cry,
And then against my heart he set his sword,
Swearing, unless I took all patiently
I should not live to speak another word:
So should my shame still rest upon record,

And never be forgot in mighty Rome
The adulterate death of Lucrece and her

groom.

“ Mine enemy was strong, my poor self weak,
And far the weaker with so strong a fear:
My bloody judge forbade my tongue to speak;
No rightful plea might plead for justice there:
His scarlet lust came evidence to swear

That my poor beauty had purloin’d his eyes,
And when the judge is robb’d, the prisoner dies.

“ O teach me how to make mine own excuse !
Or, at the least, this refuge let me find;
Though my gross blood be stain'd with this abuse,
Immaculate and spotless is my mind;
That was not forc'd ; that never was inclin'd

To accessary yieldings, but still pure
Doth in her poison'd closet yet endure.”

Lo here, the hopeless merchant of this loss,
With head declin'd, and voice damm'd up with woe,
With sad-set eyes, and wretched arms across,
From lips new-waxen pale begins to blow
The grief away that stops his answer so:

But wretched as he is he strives in vain;
What he breathes out his breath drinks up again.

As through an arch the violent roaring tide
Outruns the eye that doth behold his haste;
Yet in the eddy boundeth in his pride
Back to the strait that forc'd him on so fast;
In rage sent out, recall’d in rage, being past :

Even so he sighs, his sorrows make a saw,
To push grief on, and back the same grief draw.

Which speechless woe of his poor she attendeth,
And his untimely frenzy thus awaketh:
“ Dear lord, thy sorrow to my sorrow lendeth
Another power; no flood by raining slaketh.
My woe too sensible thy passion maketh

More feeling-painful: let it then suffice
To drown one woe, one pair of weeping eyes.

“And for my sake, when I might charm thee so,
For she that was thy Lucrece,—now attend me;
Be suddenly revenged on my foe,
Thine, mine, his own; suppose thou dost defend me
From what is past: the help that thou shalt lend me

Comes all too late, yet let the traitor die;
For sparing justice feeds iniquity.

“ But ere I name him, you, fair lords,” quoth she,
(Speaking to those that came with Collatine,)
“ Shall plight your honourable faiths to me,
With swift pursuit to venge this wrong of mine;
For 't is a meritorious fair design

To chase injustice with revengeful arms:
Knights, by their oaths, should right poor ladies' harms."

At this request, with noble disposition
Each present lord began to promise aid,
As bound in knighthood to her imposition,
Longing to hear the hateful foe bewray'd.
But she, that yet her sad task hath not said,

The protestation stops. “O speak,” quoth she,
“ How may this forced stain be wip'd from me?

"What is the quality of mine offence,
Being constrain'd with dreadful circumstance?
May my pure mind with the foul act dispense,
My low-declined honour to advance ?
May any terms acquit me from this chance ?

The poison'd fountain clears itself again;

And why not I from this compelled stain ?”
With this, they all at once began to say,
Her body's stain her mind untainted clears;
While with a joyless smile she turns away
The face, that map which deep impression bears
Of hard misfortune, carv'd in it with tears.

“No, no,” quoth she, “no dame, hereafter living,
By my excuse shall claim excuse's giving.”

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

Here with a sigh, as if her heart would break,
She throws forth Tarquin's name: “He, he," she says,
But more than “he” her poor tongue could not speak;
Till after many accents and delays,
Untimely breathings, sick and short assays, ,

She utters this: “He, he, fair lords, 't is he,

That guides this hand to give this wound to me.”
Even here she sheathed in her harmless breast
A harmful knife, that thence her soul unsheath'd :
That blow did bail it from the deep unrest
Of that polluted prison where it breath'd:
Her contrite sighs unto the clouds bequeath'd

Her winged sprite, and through her wounds doth fly
Life's lasting date from cancell'd destiny.

Stone-still, astonish'd with this deadly deed,
Stood Collatine and all his lordly crew;
Till Lucrece' father, that beholds her bleed,
Himself on her self-slaughter'd body threw;
And from the purple fountain Brutus drew

The murderous knife, and as it left the place,
Her blood, in poor revenge, held it in chase ;

And bubbling from her breast, it doth divide
In two slow rivers, that the crimson blood
Circles her body in on every side,
Who like a late-sack'd island vastly a stood
Bare and unpeopled, in this fearful flood.

Some of her blood still pure and red remain’d,
And some look'd black, and that false Tarquin stain'd.

About the mourning and congealed face
Of that black blood a watery rigoló goes,
Which seems to weep upon the tainted place :
And ever since, as pitying Lucrece' woes,
Corrupted blood some watery token shows;

And blood untainted still doth red abide,
Blushing at that which is so putrefied.

Daughter, dear daughter,” old Lucretius cries,
"That life was mine which thou hast here depriv’d.
If in the child the father's image lies,
Were shall I live now Lucrece is unliy'd ?
Thou wast not to this end from me deriv'd.

If children predecease progenitors,
We are their offspring, and they none of ours.

Poor broken glass, I often did behold
In thy sweet semblance my old age new born;
But now that fair fresh mirror, dim and old,
Shows me a barebon'd death by time outworn;
O, from thy cheeks my image thou hast torn!

And shiver'd all the beauty of my glass,
That I no more can see what I

once

was.

“O time, cease thou thy course, and last no longer,
If they surcease to be that should survive.
Shall rotten death make conquest of the stronger,
And leave the faltering feeble souls alive?
The old bees die, the young possess their hive :

[blocks in formation]

Then live, sweet Lucrece, live again, and see
Thy father die, and not thy father thee.”

[ocr errors]

By this starts Collatine as from a dream,
And bids Lucretius give his sorrow place;
And then in key-cold. Lucrece' bleeding stream
He falls, and bathes the pale fear in his face,
And counterfeits to die with her a space;

Till manly shame bids him possess his breath,

And live, to be revenged on her death.
The deep vexation of his inward soul
Hath serv'd a dumb arrest upon his tongue;
Who, mad that sorrow should his use control,
Or keep him from heart-easing words so long,
Begins to talk; but through his lips do throng

Weak words, so thick come, in his poor heart's aid,

That no man could distinguish what he said.
Yet sometime Tarquin was pronounced plain,
But through his teeth, as if the name he tore.
This windy tempest, till it blow up rain,
Held back his sorrow's tide, to make it more;
At last it rains, and busy winds give o'er:

Then son and father weep with equal strife,

Who should weep most for daughter or for wife.
The one doth call her his, the other his,
Yet neither may possess the claim they lay.
The father says, “She's mine.” “O, mine she is,"
Replies her husband : “ do not take away
My sorrow's interest; let no mourner say
He
weeps

for her, for she was only mine,
And only must be wail'd by Collatine.”
“O,” quoth Lucretius, “I did give that life
Which she too early and too lateb hath spill’d.”

* Key-cold. So in “ Richard III.,' Act I., Scene 2 :

Poor key-cold figure of a holy king." b Too late—too recently.

« PreviousContinue »