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Locrine - A Tragedy by Algernon Charles Swinburne

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This etext was produced from the 1887 Chatto & Windus edition by
David Price, email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk

LOCRINE--A TRAGEDY

by Algernon Charles Swinburne

DEDICATION
TO ALICE SWINBURNE.

I.

The love that comes and goes like wind or fire
Hath words and wings wherewith to speak and flee.
But love more deep than passion's deep desire,
Clear and inviolable as the unsounded sea,
What wings of words may serve to set it free,
To lift and lead it homeward? Time and death
Are less than love: or man's live spirit saith
False, when he deems his life is more than breath.

II.

No words may utter love; no sovereign song
Speak all it would for love's sake. Yet would I
Fain cast in moulded rhymes that do me wrong
Some little part of all my love: but why
Should weak and wingless words be fain to fly?
For us the years that live not are not dead:
Past days and present in our hearts are wed:
My song can say no more than love hath said.

III.

Love needs nor song nor speech to say what love
Would speak or sing, were speech and song not weak
To bear the sense-belated soul above
And bid the lips of silence breathe and speak.
Nor power nor will has love to find or seek
Words indiscoverable, ampler strains of song
Than ever hailed him fair or shewed him strong:
And less than these should do him worse than wrong.

IV.

We who remember not a day wherein
We have not loved each other,--who can see
No time, since time bade first our days begin,
Within the sweep of memory's wings, when we
Have known not what each other's love must be, -
We are well content to know it, and rest on this,
And call not words to witness that it is.
To love aloud is oft to love amiss.

V.

But if the gracious witness borne of words
Take not from speechless love the secret grace
That binds it round with silence, and engirds
Its heart with memories fair as heaven's own face,
Let love take courage for a little space
To speak and be rebuked not of the soul,
Whose utterance, ere the unwitting speech be whole,
Rebukes itself, and craves again control.

VI.

A ninefold garland wrought of song-flowers nine
Wound each with each in chance-inwoven accord
Here at your feet I lay as on a shrine
Whereof the holiest love that lives is lord.
With faint strange hues their leaves are freaked and scored:
The fable-flowering land wherein they grew
Hath dreams for stars, and grey romance for dew:
Perchance no flower thence plucked may flower anew.

VII.

No part have these wan legends in the sun
Whose glory lightens Greece and gleams on Rome.
Their elders live: but these--their day is done,
Their records written of the wind in foam
Fly down the wind, and darkness takes them home.
What Homer saw, what Virgil dreamed, was truth,
And dies not, being divine: but whence, in sooth,
Might shades that never lived win deathless youth?

VIII.

The fields of fable, by the feet of faith
Untrodden, bloom not where such deep mist drives.
Dead fancy's ghost, not living fancy's wraith,
Is now the storied sorrow that survives
Faith in the record of these lifeless lives.
Yet Milton's sacred feet have lingered there,
His lips have made august the fabulous air,
His hands have touched and left the wild weeds fair.

IX.

So, in some void and thought-untrammelled hour,
Let these find grace, my sister, in your sight,
Whose glance but cast on casual things hath power
To do the sun's work, bidding all be bright
With comfort given of love: for love is light.
Were all the world of song made mine to give,
The best were yours of all its flowers that live:
Though least of all be this my gift, forgive.

July 1887.

PERSONS REPRESENTED.

LOCRINE, King of Britain.
CAMBER, King of Wales, brother to LOCRINE.
MADAN, son to LOCRINE and GUENDOLEN.
DEBON, Lord Chamberlain.

GUENDOLEN, Queen of Britain, cousin and wife to LOCRINE.
ESTRILD, a German princess, widow of the Scythian king HUMBER.
SABRINA, daughter to LOCRINE and ESTRILD.

Scene, BRITAIN.

ACT I.

SCENE I.--Troynovant. A Room in the Palace.

Enter GUENDOLEN and MADAN.

GUENDOLEN.

Child, hast thou looked upon thy grandsire dead?

MADAN.

Ay.

GUENDOLEN.

Then thou sawest our Britain's heart and head
Death-stricken. Seemed not there my sire to thee
More great than thine, or all men living? We
Stand shadows of the fathers we survive:
Earth bears no more nor sees such births alive.

MADAN.

Why, he was great of thews--and wise, thou say'st:
Yet seems my sire to me the fairer-faced -
The kinglier and the kindlier.

GUENDOLEN.

Yea, his eyes
Are liker seas that feel the summering skies
In concord of sweet colour--and his brow
Shines gentler than my father's ever: thou,
So seeing, dost well to hold thy sire so dear.

MADAN.

I said not that his love sat yet so near
My heart as thine doth: rather am I thine,
Thou knowest, than his.

GUENDOLEN.

Nay--rather seems Locrine
Thy sire than I thy mother.

MADAN.

Wherefore?

GUENDOLEN.

Boy,
Because of all our sires who fought for Troy
Most like thy father and my lord Locrine,
I think, was Paris.

MADAN.

How may man divine
Thy meaning? Blunt am I, thou knowest, of wit;
And scarce yet man--men tell me.

GUENDOLEN.

Ask not it.
I meant not thou shouldst understand--I spake
As one that sighs, to ease her heart of ache,
And would not clothe in words her cause for sighs -
Her naked cause of sorrow.

MADAN.

Wert thou wise,
Mother, thy tongue had chosen of two things one -
Silence, or speech.

GUENDOLEN.

Speech had I chosen, my son,
I had wronged thee--yea, perchance I have wronged thine ears
Too far, to say so much.

MADAN.

Nay, these are tears
That gather toward thine eyelids now. Thou hast broken
Silence--if now thy speech die down unspoken,
Thou dost me wrong indeed--but more than mine
The wrong thou dost thyself is.

GUENDOLEN.

And Locrine -
Were not thy sire wronged likewise of me?

MADAN.

Yea.

GUENDOLEN.

Yet--I may choose yet--nothing will I say
More.

MADAN.

Choose, and have thy choice; it galls not me.

GUENDOLEN.

Son, son! thy speech is bitterer than the sea.

MADAN.

Yet, were the gulfs of hell not bitterer, thine
Might match thy son's, who hast called my sire--Locrine -
Thy lord, and lord of all this land--the king
Whose name is bright and sweet as earth in spring,
Whose love is mixed with Britain's very life
As heaven with earth at sunrise--thou, his wife,
Hast called him--and the poison of the word
Set not thy tongue on fire--I lived and heard -
Coward.

GUENDOLEN.

Thou liest.

MADAN.

If then thy speech rang true,
Why, now it rings not false.

GUENDOLEN.

Thou art treacherous too -
His heart, thy father's very heart is thine -
O, well beseems it, meet it is, Locrine,
That liar and traitor and changeling he should be
Who, though I bare him, was begot by thee.

MADAN.

How have I lied, mother? Was this the lie,
That thou didst call my father coward, and I
Heard?

GUENDOLEN.

Nay--I did but liken him with one
Not all unlike him; thou, my child, his son,
Art more unlike thy father.

MADAN.

Was not then,
Of all our fathers, all recorded men,
The man whose name, thou sayest, is like his name -
Paris--a sign in all men's mouths of shame?

GUENDOLEN.

Nay, save when heaven would cross him in the fight,
He bare him, say the minstrels, as a knight -
Yea, like thy father.

MADAN.

Shame then were it none
Though men should liken me to him?

GUENDOLEN.

My son,
I had rather see thee--see thy brave bright head,
Strong limbs, clear eyes--drop here before me dead.

MADAN.

If he were true man, wherefore?

GUENDOLEN.

False was he;
No coward indeed, but faithless, trothless--we
Hold therefore, as thou sayest, his princely name
Unprincely--dead in honour--quick in shame.

MADAN.

And his to mine thou likenest?

GUENDOLEN.

Thine? to thine?
God rather strike thy life as dark as mine
Than tarnish thus thine honour! For to me
Shameful it seems--I know not if it be -
For men to lie, and smile, and swear, and lie,
And bear the gods of heaven false witness. I
Can hold not this but shameful.

MADAN.

Thou dost well.
I had liefer cast my soul alive to hell
Than play a false man false. But were he true
And I the traitor--then what heaven should do
I wot not, but myself, being once awake
Out of that treasonous trance, were fain to slake
With all my blood the fire of shame wherein
My soul should burn me living in my sin.

GUENDOLEN.

Thy soul? Yea, there--how knowest thou, boy, so well? -
The fire is lit that feeds the fires of hell.
Mine is aflame this long time now--but thine -
O, how shall God forgive thee this, Locrine,
That thou, for shame of these thy treasons done,
Hast rent the soul in sunder of thy son?

MADAN.

My heart is whole yet, though thy speech be fire
Whose flame lays hold upon it. Hath my sire
Wronged thee?

GUENDOLEN.

Nay, child, I lied--I did but rave -
I jested--was my face, then, sad and grave,
When most I jested with thee? Child, my brain
Is wearied, and my heart worn down with pain:
I thought awhile, for very sorrow's sake,
To play with sorrow--try thy spirit, and take
Comfort--God knows I know not what I said,
My father, whom I loved, being newly dead.

MADAN.

I pray thee that thou jest with me no more
Thus.

GUENDOLEN.

Dost thou now believe me?

MADAN.

No.

GUENDOLEN.

I bore
A brave man when I bore thee.

MADAN.

I desire
No more of laud or leasing. Hath my sire
Wronged thee?

GUENDOLEN.

Never. But wilt thou trust me now?

MADAN.

As trustful am I, mother of mine, as thou.

Enter LOCRINE.

LOCRINE.

The gods be good to thee! How farest thou?

GUENDOLEN.

Well.
Heaven hath no power to hurt me more: and hell
No fire to fear. The world I dwelt in died
With my dead father. King, thy world is wide
Wherein thy soul rejoicingly puts trust:
But mine is strait, and built by death of dust.

LOCRINE.

Thy sire, mine uncle, stood the sole man, then,
That held thy life up happy? Guendolen,
Hast thou nor child nor husband--or are we
Worth no remembrance more at all of thee?

GUENDOLEN.

Thy speech is sweet; thine eyes are flowers that shine:
If ever siren bare a son, Locrine,
To reign in some green island and bear sway
On shores more shining than the front of day
And cliffs whose brightness dulls the morning's brow,
That son of sorceries and of seas art thou.

LOCRINE.

Nay, now thy tongue it is that plays on men;
And yet no siren's honey, Guendolen,
Is this fair speech, though soft as breathes the south,
Which thus I kiss to silence on thy mouth.

GUENDOLEN.

Thy soul is softer than this boy's of thine:
His heart is all toward battle. Was it mine
That put such fire in his? for none that heard
Thy flatteries--nay, I take not back the word -
A flattering lover lives my loving lord -
Could guess thine hand so great with spear or sword.

LOCRINE.

What have I done for thee to mock with praise
And make the boy's eyes widen? All my days
Are worth not all a week, if war be all,
Of his that loved no bloodless festival -
Thy sire, and sire of slaughters: this was one
Who craved no more of comfort from the sun
But light to lighten him toward battle: I
Love no such life as bids men kill or die.

GUENDOLEN.

Wert thou not woman more in word than act,
Then unrevenged thy brother Albanact
Had given his blood to guard his realm and thine:
But he that slew him found thy stroke, Locrine,
Strong as thy speech is gentle.

LOCRINE.

God assoil
The dead our friends and foes!

GUENDOLEN.

A goodly spoil
Was that thine hand made then by Humber's banks
Of all who swelled the Scythian's riotous ranks
With storm of inland surf and surge of steel:
None there were left, if tongues ring true, to feel
The yoke of days that breathe submissive breath
More bitter than the bitterest edge of death.

LOCRINE.

None.

GUENDOLEN.

This was then a day of blood. I heard,
But know not whence I caught the wandering word,
Strange women were there of that outland crew,
Whom ruthlessly thy soldiers ravening slew.

LOCRINE.

Nay, Scythians then had we been, worse than they.

GUENDOLEN.

These that were taken, then, thou didst not slay?

LOCRINE.

I did not say we spared them.

GUENDOLEN.

Slay nor spare?

LOCRINE.

How if they were not?

GUENDOLEN.

What albeit they were?
Small hurt, meseems, my husband, had it been
Though British hands had haled a Scythian queen -
If such were found--some woman foul and fierce -
To death--or aught we hold for shame's sake worse.

LOCRINE.

For shame's own sake the hand that should not fear
To take such monstrous work upon it here,
And did not wither from the wrist, should be
Hewn off ere hanging. Wolves or men are we,
That thou shouldst question this?

GUENDOLEN.

Not wolves, but men,
Surely: for beasts are loyal.

LOCRINE.

Guendolen,
What irks thee?

GUENDOLEN.

Nought save grief and love; Locrine,
A grievous love, a loving grief is mine.
Here stands my husband: there my father lies:
I know not if there live in either's eyes
More love, more life of comfort. This our son
Loves me: but is there else left living one
That loves me back as I love?

LOCRINE.

Nay, but how
Has this wild question fired thine heart?

GUENDOLEN.

Not thou!
No part have I--nay, never had I part -
Our child that hears me knows it--in thine heart.
Thy sire it was that bade our hands be one
For love of mine, his brother: thou, his son,
Didst give not--no--but yield thy hand to mine,
To mine thy lips--not thee to me, Locrine.
Thy heart has dwelt far off me all these years;
Yet have I never sought with smiles or tears
To lure or melt it meward. I have borne -
I that have borne to thee this boy--thy scorn,
Thy gentleness, thy tender words that bite
More deep than shame would, shouldst thou spurn or smite
These limbs and lips made thine by contract--made
No wife's, no queen's--a servant's--nay, thy shade.
The shadow am I, my lord and king, of thee,
Who art spirit and substance, body and soul to me.
And now,--nay, speak not--now my sire is dead
Thou think'st to cast me crownless from thy bed
Wherein I brought thee forth a son that now
Shall perish with me, if thou wilt--and thou
Shalt live and laugh to think of us--or yet
Play faith more foul--play falser, and forget.

LOCRINE.

Sharp grief has crazed thy brain. Thou knowest of me -

GUENDOLEN.

I know that nought I know, Locrine, of thee.

LOCRINE.

What bids thee then revile me, knowing no cause?

GUENDOLEN.

Strong sorrow knows but sorrow's lawless laws.

LOCRINE.

Yet these should turn not grief to raging fire.

GUENDOLEN.

They should not, had my heart my heart's desire.

LOCRINE.

Would God that love, my queen, could give thee this!

GUENDOLEN.

Thou dost not call me wife--nor call'st amiss.

LOCRINE.

What name should serve to stay this fitful strife?

GUENDOLEN.

Thou dost not ill to call me not thy wife.

LOCRINE.

My sister wellnigh wast thou once: and now -

GUENDOLEN.

Thy sister never I: my brother thou.

LOCRINE.

How shall man sound this riddle? Read it me.

GUENDOLEN.

As loves a sister, never loved I thee.

LOCRINE.

Not when we played as twinborn child with child?

GUENDOLEN.

If then thou thought'st it, both were sore beguiled.

LOCRINE.

I thought thee sweeter then than summer doves.

GUENDOLEN.

Yet not like theirs--woe worth it!--were our loves.

LOCRINE.

No--for they meet and flit again apart.

GUENDOLEN.

And we live linked, inseparate--heart in heart.

LOCRINE.

Is this the grief that wrings and vexes thine?

GUENDOLEN.

Thy mother laughed when thou wast born, Locrine.

LOCRINE.

Did she not well? sweet laughter speaks not scorn.

GUENDOLEN.

And thou didst laugh, and wept'st not, to be born.

LOCRINE.

Did I then ill? didst thou, then, weep to be?

GUENDOLEN.

The same star lit not thee to birth and me.

LOCRINE.

Thine eyes took light, then, from the fairer star.

GUENDOLEN.

Nay; thine was nigh the sun, and mine afar.

LOCRINE.

Too bright was thine to need the neighbouring sun.

GUENDOLEN.

Nay, all its life of light was wellnigh done.

LOCRINE.

If all on thee its light and life were shed
And darkness on thy birthday struck it dead,
It died most happy, leaving life and light
More fair and full in loves more thankful sight.

GUENDOLEN.

Art thou so thankful, king, for love's kind sake?
Would I were worthier thanks like these I take!
For thanks I cannot render thee again.

LOCRINE.

Too heavy sits thy sorrow, Guendolen,
Upon thy spirit of life: I bid thee not
Take comfort while the fire of grief is hot
Still at thine heart, and scarce thy last keen tear
Dried: yet the gods have left thee comfort here.

GUENDOLEN.

Comfort? In thee, fair cousin--or my son?

LOCRINE.

What hast thou done, Madan, or left undone?
Toward thee and me thy mother's mood to-day
Seems less than loving.

MADAN.

Sire, I cannot say.

LOCRINE.

Enough: an hour or half an hour is more
Than wrangling words should stuff with barren store.
Comfort may'st thou bring to her, if I may none,
When all her father quickens in her son.
In Cornish warfare if thou win thee praise,
Thine shall men liken to thy grandsire's days.

GUENDOLEN.

To Cornwall must he fare and fight for thee?

LOCRINE.

If heart be his--and if thy will it be.

GUENDOLEN.

What is my will worth more than wind or foam?

LOCRINE.

Why, leave is thine to hold him here at home.

GUENDOLEN.

What power is mine to speed him or to stay?

LOCRINE.

None--should thy child cast love and shame away.

GUENDOLEN.

Most duteous wast thou to thy sire--and mine.

LOCRINE.

Yea, truly--when their bidding sealed me thine.

GUENDOLEN.

Thy smile is as a flame that plays and flits.

LOCRINE.

Yet at my heart thou knowest what fire there sits.

GUENDOLEN.

Not love's--not love's--toward me love burns not there.

LOCRINE.

What wouldst thou have me search therein and swear?

GUENDOLEN.

Swear by the faith none seeking there may find -

LOCRINE.

Then--by the faith that lives not in thy kind -

GUENDOLEN.

Ay--women's faith is water. Then, by men's -

LOCRINE.

Yea--by Locrine's, and not by Guendolen's -

GUENDOLEN.

Swear thou didst never love me more than now.

LOCRINE.

I swear it--not when first we kissed. And thou?

GUENDOLEN.

I cannot give thee back thine oath again.

LOCRINE.

If now love wane within thee, lived it then?

GUENDOLEN.

I said not that it waned. I would not swear -

LOCRINE.

That it was ever more than shadows were?

GUENDOLEN.

- Thy faith and heart were aught but shadow and fire.

LOCRINE.

But thou, meseems, hast loved--thy son and sire.

GUENDOLEN.

And not my lord: I cross and thwart him still.

LOCRINE.

Thy grief it is that wounds me--not thy will.

GUENDOLEN.

Wound? if I would, could I forsooth wound thee?

LOCRINE.

I think thou wouldst not, though thine hands were free.

GUENDOLEN.

These hands, now bound in wedlock fast to thine?

LOCRINE.

Yet were thine heart not then dislinked from mine.

GUENDOLEN.

Nay, life nor death, nor love whose child is hate,
May sunder hearts made one but once by fate.
Wrath may come down as fire between them--life
May bid them yearn for death as man for wife -
Grief bid them stoop as son to father--shame
Brand them, and memory turn their pulse to flame -
Or falsehood change their blood to poisoned wine -
Yet all shall rend them not in twain, Locrine.

LOCRINE.

Who knows not this? but rather would I know
What thought distempers and distunes thy woe.
I came to wed my grief awhile to thine
For love's sake and for comfort's -

GUENDOLEN.

Thou, Locrine?
Today thou knowest not, nor wilt learn tomorrow,
The secret sense of such a word as sorrow.
Thy spirit is soft and sweet: I well believe
Thou wouldst, but well I know thou canst not grieve.
The tears like fire, the fire that burns up tears,
The blind wild woe that seals up eyes and ears,
The sound of raging silence in the brain
That utters things unutterable for pain,
The thirst at heart that cries on death for ease,
What knows thy soul's live sense of pangs like these?

LOCRINE.

Is no love left thee then for comfort?

GUENDOLEN.

Thine?

LOCRINE.

Thy son's may serve thee, though thou mock at mine.

GUENDOLEN.

Ay--when he comes again from Cornwall.

LOCRINE.

Nay;
If now his absence irk thee, bid him stay.

GUENDOLEN. -

I will not--yea, I would not, though I might.
Go, child: God guard and grace thine hand in fight!

MADAN.

My heart shall give it grace to guard my head.

LOCRINE.

Well thought, my son: but scarce of thee well said.

MADAN.

No skill of speech have I: words said or sung
Help me no more than hand is helped of tongue:
Yet, would some better wit than mine, I wis,
Help mine, I fain would render thanks for this.

GUENDOLEN.

Think not the boy I bare thee too much mine,
Though slack of speech and halting: I divine
Thou shalt not find him faint of heart or hand,
Come what may come against him.

LOCRINE.

Nay, this land
Bears not alive, nor bare it ere we came,
Such bloodless hearts as know not fame from shame,
Or quail for hope's sake, or more faithless fear,
From truth of single-sighted manhood, here
Born and bred up to read the word aright
That sunders man from beast as day from night.
That red rank Ireland where men burn and slay
Girls, old men, children, mothers, sires, and say
These wolves and swine that skulk and strike do well,
As soon might know sweet heaven from ravenous hell.

GUENDOLEN.

Ay: no such coward as crawls and licks the dust
Till blood thence licked may slake his murderous lust
And leave his tongue the suppler shall be bred,
I think, in Britain ever--if the dead
May witness for the living. Though my son
Go forth among strange tribes to battle, none
Here shall he meet within our circling seas
So much more vile than vilest men as these.
And though the folk be fierce that harbour there
As once the Scythians driven before thee were,
And though some Cornish water change its name
As Humber then for furtherance of thy fame,
And take some dead man's on it--some dead king's
Slain of our son's hand--and its watersprings
Wax red and radiant from such fire of fight
And swell as high with blood of hosts in flight -
No fiercer foe nor worthier shall he meet
Than then fell grovelling at his father's feet.
Nor, though the day run red with blood of men
As that whose hours rang round thy praises then,
Shall thy son's hand be deeper dipped therein
Than his that gat him--and that held it sin
To spill strange blood of barbarous women--wives
Or harlots--things of monstrous names and lives -
Fit spoil for swords of harsher-hearted folk;
Nor yet, though some that dared and 'scaped the stroke
Be fair as beasts are beauteous,--fit to make
False hearts of fools bow down for love's foul sake,
And burn up faith to ashes--shall my son
Forsake his father's ways for such an one
As whom thy soldiers slew or slew not--thou
Hast no remembrance of them left thee now.
Even therefore may we stand assured of this:
What lip soever lure his lip to kiss,
Past question--else were he nor mine nor thine -
This boy would spurn a Scythian concubine.

LOCRINE.

Such peril scarce may cross or charm our son,
Though fairer women earth or heaven sees none
Than those whose breath makes mild our wild south-west
Where now he fares not forth on amorous quest.

GUENDOLEN.

Wilt thou not bless him going, and bid him speed?

LOCRINE.

So be it: yet surely not in word but deed
Lives all the soul of blessing or of ban
Or wrought or won by manhood's might for man.
The gods be gracious to thee, boy, and give
Thy wish its will!

MADAN.

So shall they, if I live.
[Exeunt.

SCENE II.--Gardens of the Palace.

Enter CAMBER and DEBON.

CAMBER.

Nay, tell not me: no smoke of lies can smother
The truth which lightens through thy lies: I see
Whose trust it is that makes a liar of thee,
And how thy falsehood, man, has faith for mother.
What, is not thine the breast wherein my brother
Seals all his heart up? Had he put in me
Faith--but his secret has thy tongue for key,
And all his counsel opens to none other.
Thy tongue, thine eye, thy smile unlocks his trust
Who puts no trust in man.

DEBON.

Sir, then were I
A traitor found more perfect fool than knave
Should I play false, or turn for gold to dust
A gem worth all the gold beneath the sky -
The diamond of the flawless faith he gave
Who sealed his trust upon me.

CAMBER.

What art thou?
Because thy beard ere mine were black was grey
Art thou the prince, and I thy man? I say
Thou shalt not keep his counsel from me.

DEBON.

Now,
Prince, may thine old born servant lift his brow
As from the dust to thine, and answer--Nay.
Nor canst thou turn this nay of mine to yea
With all the lightning of thine eyes, I trow,
Nor this my truth to treason.

CAMBER.

God us aid!
Art thou not mad? Thou knowest what whispers crawl
About the court with serpent sound and speed,
Made out of fire and falsehood; or if made
Not all of lies--it may be thus--not all -
Black yet no less with poison.

DEBON.

Prince, indeed
I know the colour of the tongues of fire
That feed on shame to slake the thirst of hate;
Hell-black, and hot as hell: nor age nor state
May pluck the fangs forth of their foul desire:
I that was trothplight servant to thy sire,
A king more kingly than the front of fate
That bade our lives bow down disconsolate
When death laid hold on him--for hope nor hire,
Prince, would I lie to thee: nay, what avails
Falsehood? thou knowest I would not.

CAMBER.

Why, thou art old;
To thee could falsehood bear but fruitless fruit -
Lean grafts and sour. I think thou wouldst not.

DEBON.

Wales
In such a lord lives happy: young and bold
And yet not mindless of thy sire King Brute,
Who loved his loyal servants even as they
Loved him. Yea, surely, bitter were the fruit,
Prince Camber, and the tree rotten at root
That bare it, whence my tongue should take today
For thee the taste of poisonous treason.

CAMBER.

Nay,
What boots it though thou plight thy word to boot?
True servant wast thou to my sire King Brute,
And Brute thy king true master to thee.

DEBON.

Yea.
Troy, ere her towers dropped hurtling down in flame,
Bare not a son more noble than the sire
Whose son begat thy father. Shame it were
Beyond all record in the world of shame,
If they that hither bore in heart that fire
Which none save men of heavenly heart may bear
Had left no sign, though Troy were spoiled and sacked,
That heavenly was the seed they saved.

CAMBER.

No sign?
Though nought my fame be,--though no praise of mine
Be worth men's tongues for word or thought or act -
Shall fame forget my brother Albanact,
Or how those Huns who drank his blood for wine
Poured forth their own for offering to Locrine?
Though all the soundless maze of time were tracked,
No men should man find nobler.

DEBON.

Surely none.
No man loved ever more than I thy brothers,
Prince.

CAMBER.

Ay--for them thy love is bright like spring,
And colder toward me than the wintering sun.
What am I less--what less am I than others,
That thus thy tongue discrowns my name of king,
Dethrones my title, disanoints my state,
And pricks me down but petty prince?

DEBON.

My lord -

CAMBER.

Ay? must my name among their names stand scored
Who keep my brother's door or guard his gate?
A lordling--princeling--one that stands to wait -
That lights him back to bed or serves at board.
Old man, if yet thy foundering brain record
Aught--if thou know that once my sire was great,
Then must thou know he left no less to me,
His youngest, than to those my brethren born,
Kingship.

DEBON.

I know it. Your servant, sire, am I,
Who lived so long your sire's.

CAMBER.

And how had he
Endured thy silence or sustained thy scorn?
Why must I know not what thou knowest of?

DEBON.

Why?
Hast thou not heard, king, that a true man's trust
Is king for him of life and death? Locrine
Hath sealed with trust my lips--nay, prince, not mine -
His are they now.

CAMBER.

Thou art wise as he, and just,
And secret. God requite thee! yea, he must,
For man shall never. If my sword here shine
Sunward--God guard that reverend head of thine!

DEBON.

My blood should make thy sword the sooner rust,
And rot thy fame for ever. Strike.

CAMBER.

Thou knowest
I will not. Am I Scythian born, or Greek,
That I should take thy bloodshed on my hand?

DEBON.

Nay--if thou seest me soul to soul, and showest
Mercy -

CAMBER.

Thou think'st I would have slain thee? Speak.

DEBON.

Nay, then I will, for love of all this land:
Lest, if suspicion bring forth strife, and fear
Hatred, its face be withered with a curse;
Lest the eyeless doubt of unseen ill be worse
Than very truth of evil. Thou shalt hear
Such truth as falling in a base man's ear
Should bring forth evil indeed in hearts perverse;
But forth of thine shall truth, once known, disperse
Doubt: and dispersed, the cloud shall leave thee clear
In judgment--nor, being young, more merciless,
I think, than I toward hearts that erred and yearned,
Struck through with love and blind with fire of life
Enkindled. When the sharp and stormy stress
Of Scythian ravin round our borders burned
Eastward, and he that faced it first in strife,
King Albanact, thy brother, fought and fell,
Locrine our lord, and lordliest born of you, -
Thy chief, my prince, and mine--against them drew
With all the force our southern strengths might tell,
And by the strong mid water's seaward swell
That sunders half our Britain met and slew
The prince whose blood baptized its fame anew
And left no record of the name to dwell
Whereby men called it ere it wore his name,
Humber; and wide on wing the carnage went
Along the drenched red fields that felt the tramp
At once of fliers and slayers with feet like flame:
But the king halted, seeing a royal tent
Reared, with its ensign crowning all the camp,
And entered--where no Scythian spoil he found,
But one fair face, the Scythian's sometime prey,
A lady's whom their ships had borne away
By force of warlike hand from German ground,
A bride and queen by violent power fast bound
To the errant helmsman of their fierce array.
And her, left lordless by that ended fray,
Our lord beholding loved, and hailed, and crowned
Queen.

CAMBER.

Queen! and what perchance of Guendolen?
Slept she forsooth forgotten?

DEBON.

Nay, my lord
Knows that albeit their hands were precontract
By Brute your father dying, no man of men
May fasten hearts with hands in one accord.
The love our master knew not that he lacked
Fulfilled him even as heaven by dawn is filled
With fire and light that burns and blinds and leads
All men to wise or witless works or deeds,
Beholding, ere indeed he wist or willed,
Eyes that sent flame through veins that age had chilled.

CAMBER.

Thine--with that grey goat's fleece on chin, sir? Needs
Must she be fair: thou, wrapt in age's weeds,
Whose blood, if time have touched it not and stilled,
The sun's own fire must once have kindled,--thou
Sing praise of soft-lipped women? doth not shame
Sting thee, to sound this minstrel's note, and gild
A girl's proud face with praises, though her brow
Were bright as dawn's? And had her grace no name
For men to worship by? Her name?

DEBON.

Estrild.

CAMBER.

My brother is a prince of paramours -
Eyes coloured like the springtide sea, and hair
Bright as with fire of sundawn--face as fair
As mine is swart and worn with haggard hours,
Though less in years than his--such hap was ours
When chance drew forth for us the lots that were
Hid close in time's clenched hand: and now I swear,
Though his be goodlier than the stars or flowers,
I would not change this head of mine, or crown
Scarce worth a smile of his--thy lord Locrine's -
For that fair head and crown imperial; nay,
Not were I cast by force of fortune down
Lower than the lowest lean serf that prowls and pines
And loathes for fear all hours of night and day.

DEBON.

What says my lord? how means he?

CAMBER.

Vex not thou
Thine old hoar head with care to learn of me
This. Great is time, and what he wills to be
Is here or ever proof may bring it: now,
Now is the future present. If thy vow
Constrain thee not, yet would I know of thee
One thing: this lustrous love-bird, where is she?
What nest is hers on what green flowering bough
Deep in what wild sweet woodland?

DEBON.

Good my lord,
Have I not sinned already--flawed my faith,
To lend such ear even to such royal suit?

CAMBER.

Yea, by my kingdom hast thou--by my sword,
Yea. Now speak on.

DEBON.

Yet hope--or honour--saith
I did not ill to trust the blood of Brute
Within thee. Not prince Hector's sovereign soul,
The light of all thy lineage, more abhorred
Treason than all his days did Brute my lord.
My trust shall rest not in thee less than whole.

CAMBER.

Speak, then: too long thou falterest nigh the goal.

DEBON.

There is a bower built fast beside a ford
In Essex, held in sure and secret ward
Of woods and walls and waters, still and sole
As love could choose for harbourage: there the king
Keeps close from all men now these seven years since
The light wherein he lives: and there hath she
Borne him a maiden child more sweet than spring.

CAMBER.

A child her daughter? there now hidden?

DEBON.

Prince,
What ails thee?

CAMBER.

Nought. This river's name?

DEBON.

The Ley.

CAMBER.

Nigh Leytonstone in Essex--called of old
By men thine elders Durolitum? There
Are hind and fawn couched close in one green lair?
Speak: hast thou not my faith in pawn, to hold
Fast as my brother's heart this love, untold
And undivined of all men? must I swear
Twice--I, to thee?

DEBON.

But if thou set no snare,
Why shine thine eyes so sharp? I am overbold:
Sir, pardon me.

CAMBER.

My sword shall split thine heart
With pardon if thou palter with me.

DEBON.

Sir,
There is the place: but though thy brow be grim
As hell--I knew thee not the man thou art -
I will not bring thee to it.

CAMBER.

For love of her?
Nay--better shouldst thou know my love of him.
[Exeunt.

ACT II.

SCENE I.--The banks of the Ley.

Enter ESTRILD and SABRINA.

SABRINA.

But will my father come not? not today,
Mother?

ESTRILD.

God help thee! child, I cannot say.
Why this of all days yet in summer's sight?

SABRINA.

My birthday!

ESTRILD.

That should bring him--if it may.

SABRINA.

May should be must: he must not be away.
His faith was pledged to me as king and knight.

ESTRILD.

Small fear he should not keep it--if he might.

SABRINA.

Might! and a king's might his? do kings bear sway
For nought, that aught should keep him hence till night?
Why didst thou bid God help me when I sought
To know but of his coming?

ESTRILD.

Even for nought
But laughter even to think how strait a bound
Shuts in the measure of thy sight and thought
Who seest not why thy sire hath heed of aught
Save thee and me--nor wherefore men stand crowned
And girt about with empire.

SABRINA.

Have they found
Such joy therein as meaner things have wrought?
Sing me the song that ripples round and round.

ESTRILD (sings):-

Had I wist, quoth spring to the swallow,
That earth could forget me, kissed
By summer, and lured to follow
Down ways that I know not, I,
My heart should have waxed not high:
Mid March would have seen me die,
Had I wist.

Had I wist, O spring, said the swallow,
That hope was a sunlit mist
And the faint light heart of it hollow,
Thy woods had not heard me sing,
Thy winds had not known my wing;
It had faltered ere thine did, spring,
Had I wist.

SABRINA.

That song is hardly even as wise as I -
Nay, very foolishness it is. To die
In March before its life were well on wing,
Before its time and kindly season--why
Should spring be sad--before the swallows fly -
Enough to dream of such a wintry thing?
Such foolish words were more unmeet for spring
Than snow for summer when his heart is high;
And why should words be foolish when they sing?
The song-birds are not.

ESTRILD.

Dost thou understand,
Child, what the birds are singing?

SABRINA.

All the land
Knows that: the water tells it to the rushes
Aloud, and lower and softlier to the sand:
The flower-fays, lip to lip and hand in hand,
Laugh and repeat it all till darkness hushes
Their singing with a word that falls and crushes
All song to silence down the river-strand
And where the hawthorns hearken for the thrushes.
And all the secret sense is sweet and wise
That sings through all their singing, and replies
When we would know if heaven be gay or grey
And would not open all too soon our eyes
To look perchance on no such happy skies -
As sleep brings close and waking blows away.

ESTRILD.

What gives thy fancy faith enough to say
This?

SABRINA.

Why, meseems the sun would hardly rise
Else, nor the world be half so glad of day.

ESTRILD.

Why didst thou crave of me that song, Sabrina?

SABRINA.

Because, methought, though one were king or queen
And had the world to play with, if one missed
What most were good to have, such joy, I ween,
Were woful as a song with sobs between
And well might wail for ever, 'Had I wist!'
And might my father do but as he list,
And make this day what other days have been,
I should not shut tonight mine eyes unkissed.

ESTRILD.

I wis thou wouldst not.

SABRINA.

Then I would he were
No king at all, and save his golden hair
Wore on his gracious head no golden crown.
Must he be king for ever?

ESTRILD.

Not if prayer
Could lift from off his heart that crown of care
And draw him toward us as with music down.

SABRINA.

Not so, but upward to us. He would but frown
To hear thee talk as though the woodlands there
Were built no lordlier than the wide-walled town.
Thou knowest, when I desire of him to see
What manner of crown that wreath of towers may be
That makes its proud head shine like older Troy's,
His brows are bent even while he laughs on me
And bids me think no more thereon than he,
For flowers are serious things, but towers are toys.

ESTRILD.

Ay, child; his heart was less care's throne than joy's,
Power's less than love's friend ever: and with thee
His mood that plays is blither than a boy's.

SABRINA.

I would the boy would give the maid her will.

ESTRILD.

Has not thine heart as mine has here its fill?

SABRINA.

So have our hearts while sleeping--till they wake.

ESTRILD.

Too soon is this for waking: sleep thou still.

SABRINA.

Bid then the dawn sleep, and the world lie chill.

ESTRILD.

This nest is warm for one small wood-dove's sake.

SABRINA.

And warm the world that feels the sundawn break.

ESTRILD.

But hath my fledgeling cushat here slept ill?

SABRINA.

No plaint is this, but pleading, that I make.

ESTRILD.

Plead not against thine own glad life: the plea
Were like a wrangling babe's that fain would be
Free from the help its hardy heart contemns,
Free from the hand that guides and guards it, free
To take its way and sprawl and stumble. See!
Have we not here enough of diadems
Hung high round portals pillared smooth with stems
More fair than marble?

SABRINA.

This is but the Ley:
I fain would look upon the lordlier Thames.

ESTRILD.

A very water-bird thou art: the river
So draws thee to it that, seeing, my heart-strings quiver
And yearn with fear lest peril teach thee fear
Too late for help or daring to deliver.

SABRINA.

Nay, let the wind make willows weep and shiver:
Me shall nor wind nor water, while I hear
What goodly words saith each in other's ear.
And which is given the gift, and which the giver,
I know not, but they take and give good cheer.

ESTRILD.

Howe'er this be, thou hast no heed of mine,
To take so little of this life of thine
I gave and would not see thee cast away
For childishness in childhood, though it shine
For me sole comfort, for my lord Locrine
Chief comfort in the world.

SABRINA.

Nay, mother, nay,
Make me not weep with chiding: wilt thou say
I love thee not? Hark! see, my sire for sign!
I hear his horse.

ESTRILD.

He comes!

SABRINA.

He comes today!
[Exeunt

SCENE II.--Troynovant. A Room in the Palace.

Enter GUENDOLEN and CAMBER.

GUENDOLEN.

I know not, sir, what ails you to desire
Such audience of me as I give.

CAMBER.

What ails
Me, sister? Were the heart in me no higher
Than his who heeds no more than harpers' tales
Such griefs as set a sister's heart on fire -

GUENDOLEN.

Then were my brother now at rest in Wales,
And royal.

CAMBER.

Am I less than royal here?

GUENDOLEN.

Even here as there alike, sir.

CAMBER.

Dost thou fear
Nothing?

GUENDOLEN.

My princely cousin, not indeed
Much that might hap at word or will of thine.

CAMBER.

Ay--meanest am I of my father's seed,
If men misjudge not, cousin; and Locrine
Noblest.

GUENDOLEN.

Should I gainsay their general rede,
My heart would mock me.

CAMBER.

Such a spirit as mine
Being spiritless--my words heartless--mine acts
Faint shadows of Locrine's or Albanact's?

GUENDOLEN.

Nay--not so much--I said not so. Say thou
What thou wouldst have--if aught thou wouldst--with me.

CAMBER.

No man might see thine eyes and lips and brow
Who would not--what he durst not crave of thee.

GUENDOLEN.

Ay, verily? And thy spirit exalts thee now
So high that these thy words fly forth so free,
And fain thine act would follow--flying above
Shame's reach and fear's? What gift may this be? Love?
Or liking? or compassion?

CAMBER.

Take not thus
Mine innocent words amiss, nor wrest awry
Their piteous purpose toward thee.

GUENDOLEN.

Piteous!
Who lives so low and looks upon the sky
As would desire--who shares the sun with us
That might deserve thy pity?

CAMBER.

Thou.

GUENDOLEN.

Not I,
Though I were cast out hence, cast off, discrowned,
Abject, ungirt of all that guards me round,
Naked. What villainous madness, knave and king,
Is this that puts upon thy babbling tongue
Poison?

CAMBER.

The truth is as a snake to sting
That breathes ill news: but where its fang hath stung
The very pang bids health and healing spring.
God knows the grief wherewith my spirit is wrung -
The spirit of thee so scorned, so misesteemed,
So mocked with strange misprision and misdeemed
Merciless, false, unbrotherly--to take
Such task upon it as may burn thine heart
With bitterer hatred of me that I spake
What, had I held my peace and crept apart
And tamed my soul to silence for thy sake
And mercy toward the royal thing thou art,
Chance haply might have made a fiery sword
To slay thee with--slay thee, and spare thy lord.

GUENDOLEN.

Worse had it done to slay my lord, and spare
Me. Wilt thou now show mercy toward me? Then
Strike with that sword mine heart through--if thou dare.
All know thy tongue's edge deadly.

CAMBER.

Guendolen,
Thou seest me like a vassal bound to bear
All bitter words that bite the hearts of men
From thee, so be it this please thy wrath. I stand
Slave of thy tongue and subject of thine hand,
And pity thee. Take, if thou wilt, my head;
Give it my brother. Thou shalt hear me speak
First, though the soothfast word that hangs unsaid
As yet, being spoken,--albeit this hand be weak
And faint this heart, thou sayest--should strike thee dead
Even with that rose of wrath on brow and cheek.

GUENDOLEN.

I hold not thee too faint of heart to slay
Women. Say forth whate'er thou hast heart to say.

CAMBER.

Silence I have not heart to keep, and see
Scorn and derision gird thee round with shame,
Not knowing what all thy serfs who mock at thee
Know, and make mirth and havoc of thy name.
Does this not move thee?

GUENDOLEN.

How should aught move me
Fallen from such tongues as falsehood finds the same -
Such tongues as fraud or treasonous hate o'erscurfs
With leprous lust--a prince's or a serf's?

CAMBER.

That lust of the evil-speaking tongue which gives
Quick breath to deadly lies, and stings to life
The rottenness of falsehood, when it lives,
Falls dumb, and leaves the lie to bring forth strife.
The liar will say no more--his heart misgives
His knaveship--should he sunder man and wife?
Such, sister, in thy sight, it seems, am I.
Yet shalt thou take, to keep or cast it by,
The truth of shame I would not have thee hear, -
Not might I choose,--but choose I may not.

GUENDOLEN.

Shame
And truth? Shame never toward thine heart came near,
And all thy life hath hung about thy name.
Nor ever truth drew nigh the lips that fear
Whitens, and makes the blood that feeds them tame.
Speak all thou wilt--but even for shame, forsooth,
Talk not of shame--and tell me not of truth.

CAMBER.

Then shalt thou hear a lie. Thy loving lord
Loves none save thee; his heart's pulse beats in thine;
No fairer woman, captive of his sword,
Caught ever captive and subdued Locrine:
The god of lies bear witness. At the ford
Of Humber blood was never shed like wine:
Our brother Albanact lived, fought, and died,
Never: and I that swear it have not lied.

GUENDOLEN.

Fairer?

CAMBER.

They say it: but what are lies to thee?

GUENDOLEN.

Art thou nor man nor woman?

CAMBER.

Nay--I trust -
Man.

GUENDOLEN.

And hast heart to make thy spoil of me?

CAMBER.

Would God I might!

GUENDOLEN.

Thou art made of lies and lust -
Earth's worst is all too good for such to see,
And yet thine eyes turn heavenward--as they must,
Being man's--if man be such as thou--and soil
The light they see. Thou hast made of me thy spoil,
Thy scorn, thy profit--yea, my whole soul's plunder
Is all thy trophy, thy triumphal prize
And harvest reaped of thee; nay, trampled under
And rooted up and scattered. Yet the skies
That see thy trophies reared are full of thunder,
And heaven's high justice loves not lust and lies.

CAMBER.

Ill then should fare thy lord--if heaven be just,
And lies be lies, and lawless love be lust.

GUENDOLEN.

Thou liest. I know my lord and thee. Thou liest.

CAMBER.

If he be true and truth be false, I lie.

GUENDOLEN.

Thou art lowest of all men born--while he sits highest.

CAMBER.

Ay--while he sits. How long shall he sit high?

GUENDOLEN.

If I but whisper him of thee, thou diest.

CAMBER.

I fear not, if till then secure am I.

GUENDOLEN.

Secure as fools are hardy live thou still.

CAMBER.

While ill with good is guerdoned, good with ill.

GUENDOLEN.

I have it in my mind to take thine head.
Dost thou not fear to put me thus in fear?

CAMBER.

I fear nor man nor woman, quick nor dead:
And dead in spirit already stand'st thou here.

GUENDOLEN.

Thou darest not swear my lord hath wronged my bed.
Thou darest but smile and mutter, lie and leer.

CAMBER.

I swear no queen bore ever crown on brow
Who meeklier bore a heavier wrong than thou.

GUENDOLEN.

From thee will I bear nothing. Get thee hence:
Thine eyes defile me. Get thee from my sight.

CAMBER.

The gods defend thee, soul and spirit and sense,
From sense of things thou darest not read aright!
Farewell. [Exit.

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