Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Locrine - A Tragedy by Algernon Charles Swinburne

Part 2 out of 3

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.2 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

GUENDOLEN.

Fare thou not well, and be defence
Far from thy soul cast naked forth by night!
Hate rose from hell a liar: love came divine
From heaven: yet she that bore thee bore Locrine.
[Exit.

ACT III.

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

Enter LOCRINE and DEBON.

LOCRINE.

Thou knowest not what she knows or dreams of? why
Her face is dark and wan, her lip and eye
Restless and red as fever? Hast thou kept
Faith?

DEBON.

Has my master found my faith a lie
Once all these years through? have I strayed or slept
Once, when he bade me watch? what proof has leapt
At last to light against me?

LOCRINE.

Surely, none.
Weep not.

DEBON.

My lord's grey vassal hath not wept
Once, even since darkness covered from the sun
The woman's face--the sole sweet wifelike one -
Whose memory holds his heart yet fast: but now
Tears, were old age not poor in tears, might run
Free as the words that bid his stricken brow
Burn and bow down to hear them.

LOCRINE.

Hast not thou
Held counsel--played the talebearer whose tales
Bear plague abroad and poison, knowing not how -
Not with my wife nor brother?

DEBON.

Nought avails
Falsehood: and truth it is, the king of Wales
So plied me, sir, with force of craft and threat -

LOCRINE.

That thou, whose faith swerves never, flags nor fails
Nor falters, being as stars are loyal, yet
Wast found as those that fall from heaven, forget
Their station, shoot and shudder down to death
Deep as the pit of hell? What snares were set
To take thy soul--what mist of treasonous breath
Made blind in thee the sense that quickeneth
In true men's inward eyesight, when they know
And know not how they know the word it saith,
The warning word that whispers loud or low -
I ask not: be it enough these things are so.
Thou hast played me false.

DEBON.

Nay, now this long time since
We have seen the queen's face wan with wrath and woe -
Have seen her lip writhe and her eyelid wince
To take men's homage--proof that might convince
Of grief inexpiable and insatiate shame
Her spirit in all men's judgment.

LOCRINE.

But the prince -
My brother, whom thou knowest by proof, not fame,
A coward whose heart is all a flickering flame
That fain would burn and dares not--whence had he
The poison that he gave her? Speak: this came
By chance--mishap--most haplessly for thee
Who hadst my heart in thine, and madest of me
No more than might for folly's sake or fear's
Be bared for even such eyes as his to see?
Old friend that wast, I would not see thy tears.
God comfort thy dishonour!

DEBON.

All these years
Have I not served thee?

LOCRINE.

Yea. So cheer thee now.

DEBON.

Cheered be the traitor, whom the true man cheers?
Nay, smite me: God can be not such as thou,
And will not damn me with forgiveness. How
Hast thou such heart, to comfort such as me?
God's thunder were less fearful than the brow
That frowns not on thy friend found false to thee.
Thy friend--thou said'st--thy friend. Strange friends are we.
Nay, slay me then--nay, slay me rather.

LOCRINE.

Friend,
Take comfort. God's wide-reaching will shall be
Here as of old accomplished, though it blend
All good with ill that none may mar or mend.
Thy works and mine are ripples on the sea.
Take heart, I say: we know not yet their end.
[Exeunt.

SCENE II.--Gardens of the Palace.

Enter CAMBER and MADAN.

CAMBER.

Hath no man seen thee?

MADAN.

Had he seen, and spoken,
His head should lose its tongue. I am far away
In Cornwall.

CAMBER.

Where the front of war is broken
By the onset of thy force--the rebel fray
Shattered. Had no man--canst thou surely say? -
Knowledge betimes, to give us knowledge here -
Us babblers, tongues made quick with fraud and fear -
That thou wast bound from Cornwall hither?

MADAN.

None,
I think, who knowing of steel and fire and cord
That they can smite and burn and strangle one
Would loose without leave of his parting lord
The tongue that else were sharper than a sword
To cut the throat it sprang from.

CAMBER.

Nephew mine,
I have ever loved thee--not thy sire Locrine
More--and for very and only love of thee
Have I desired, or ever even thy mother
Beheld thee, here to know of thee and me
Which loves her best--her and thy sire my brother.

MADAN.

He being away, far hence--and so none other -
Not he--should share the knowledge?

CAMBER.

Surely not
He. Knowest thou whither hence he went?

MADAN.

God wot,
No: haply toward some hidden paramour.

CAMBER.

And that should set not, for thy mother's sake,
And thine, the heart in thee on fire?

MADAN.

An hour
Is less than even the time wherein we take
Breath to let loose the word that fain would break,
And cannot, even for passion,--if we set
An hour against the length of life: and yet
Less in account of life should be those hours -
Should be? should be not, live not, be not known,
Not thought of, not remembered even as ours, -
Whereon the flesh or fancy bears alone
Rule that the soul repudiates for its own,
Rejects and mocks and mourns for, and reclaims
Its nature, none the ignobler for the shames
That were but shadows on it--shed but shade
And perished. If thy brother and king, my sire -

CAMBER.

No king of mine is he--we are equal, weighed
Aright in state, though here his throne stand higher.

MADAN.

So be it. I say, if even some earth-born fire
Have ever lured the loftiest head that earth
Sees royal, toward a charm of baser birth
And force less godlike than the sacred spell
That links with him my mother, what were this
To her or me?

CAMBER.

To her no more than hell
To souls cast forth who hear all hell-fire hiss
All round them, and who feel the red worm's kiss
Shoot mortal poison through the heart that rests
Immortal: serpents suckled at her breasts,
Fire feeding on her limbs, less pain should be
Than sense of pride laid waste and love laid low,
If she be queen or woman: and to thee -

MADAN.

To me that wax not woman though I know
This, what shall hap or hap not?

CAMBER.

Were it so,
It should not irk thee, she being wronged alone;
Thy mother's bed, and not thy father's throne,
Being soiled with usurpation. Ay? but say
That now mine uncle and her sire lies dead
And helpless now to help her, or affray
The heart wherein her ruin and thine were bred,
Not she were cast forth only from his bed,
But thou, loathed issue of a contract loathed
Since first their hands were joined not but betrothed,
Wert cast forth out of kingship? stripped of state,
Unmade his son, unseated, unallowed,
Discrowned, disorbed, discrested--thou, but late
Prince, and of all men's throats acclaimed aloud,
Of all men's hearts accepted and avowed
Prince, now proclaimed for some sweet bastard's sake
Peasant?

MADAN.

Thy sire was sure less man than snake,
Though mine miscall thee brother.

CAMBER.

Coward or mad?
Which might one call thee rather, whose harsh heart
Envenoms so thy tongue toward one that had
No thought less kindly--toward even thee that art
Kindless--than best beseems a kinsman's part?

MADAN.

Lay not on me thine own foul shame, whose tongue
Would turn my blood to poison, while it stung
Thy brother's fame to death. I know my sire
As shame knows thee--and better no man knows
Aught.

CAMBER.

Have thy will, then: take thy full desire:
Drink dry the draught of ruin: bid all blows
Welcome: being harsh with friends, be mild with foes,
And give shame thanks for buffets. Yet I thought -
But how should help avail where heart is nought?

MADAN.

Yet--thou didst think to help me?

CAMBER.

Kinsman, ay.
My hand had held the field beside thine own,
And all wild hills that know my rallying cry
Had poured forth war for heart's pure love alone
To help thee--wouldst thou heed me--to thy throne.

MADAN.

For pure heart's love? what wage holds love in fee?
Might half my kingdom serve? Nay, mock not me,
Fair uncle: should I cleave the crown in twain
And gird thy temples with the goodlier half,
Think'st thou my debt might so be paid again -
Thy sceptre made a more imperial staff
Than sways as now thy hill-folk?

CAMBER.

Dost thou laugh?
Were this too much for kings to give and take?
If warrior Wales do battle for thy sake,
Should I that kept thy crown for thee be held
Worth less than royal guerdon?

MADAN.

Keep thine own,
And let the loud fierce knaves thy brethren quelled
Ward off the wolves whose hides should line thy throne,
Wert thou no coward, no recreant to the bone,
No liar in spirit and soul and heartless heart,
No slave, no traitor--nought of all thou art.
A thing like thee, made big with braggart breath,
Whose tongue shoots fire, whose promise poisons trust,
Would cast a shieldless soldier forth to death
And wreck three realms to sate his rancorous lust
With ruin of them who have weighed and found him dust.
Get thee to Wales: there strut in speech and swell:
And thence betimes God speed thee safe to hell.
[Exeunt severally.

ACT IV.

SCENE I.--The banks of the Ley.

Enter LOCRINE and ESTRILD.

LOCRINE.

If thou didst ever love me, love me now.
I am weary at heart of all on earth save thee.
And yet I lie: and yet I lie not. Thou -
Dost thou not think for love's sake scorn of me?

ESTRILD.

As earth of heaven: as morning of the sun.

LOCRINE.

Nay, what thinks evening, whom he leaves undone?

ESTRILD.

Thou madest me queen and woman: though my life
Were taken, these thou couldst not take again,
The gifts thou gavest me. More am I than wife,
Whom, till my tyrant by thy strength were slain
And by thy love my servile shame cast out,
My naked sorrows clothed and girt about
With princelier pride than binds the brows of queens,
Thou sawest of all things least and lowest alive.
What means thy doubt?

LOCRINE.

Fear knows not what it means:
And I was fearful even of clouds that drive
Across the dawn, and die--of all, of nought -
Winds whispering on the darkling ways of thought,
Sunbeams that flash like fire, and hopes like fears
That slay themselves, and live again, and die.
But in mine eyes thy light is, in mine ears
Thy music: I am thine, and more than I,
Being half of thy sweet soul.

ESTRILD.

Woe worth me then!
For one requires thee wholly.

LOCRINE.

Guendolen?

ESTRILD.

I said she was the fairer--and I lied not.

LOCRINE.

Thou art the fairest fool alive.

ESTRILD.

But she,
Being wise, exceeds me: yet, so she divide not
Thine heart, my best-beloved of liars, with me,
I care not--nor I will not care. Some part
She hath had, it may be, of thy fond false heart -
Nay, couldst thou choose? but now, though she be fairer,
Let her take all or none: I will not be
Partaker of her perfect sway, nor sharer
With any on earth more dear or less to thee.
Nay, be not wroth: what wilt thou have me say?
That I can love thee less than she can? Nay,
Thou knowest I will not ill to her; but she -
Would she not burn my child and me with fire
To wreak herself, who loved thee once, on thee?

LOCRINE.

Thy fear is darker, child, than her desire.

ESTRILD.

I fear not her at all: I would not fear
The one thing fearful to me yet, who here
Sit walled around with waters and with woods
From all things fearful but the fear of change.

LOCRINE.

Fear thou not that: for nothing born eludes
Time; and the joy were sorrowful and strange
That should endure for ever. Yea, I think
Such joy would pray for sorrow's cup to drink,
Such constancy desire an end, for mere
Long weariness of watching. Thou and I
Have all our will of life and loving here, -
A heavenlier heaven on earth: but we shall die,
And if we died not, love we might outlive
As now shall love outlive us.

ESTRILD.

We?

LOCRINE.

Forgive!

ESTRILD.

King! and I held thee more than man!

LOCRINE.

God wot,
Thou art more than I--more strong and wise;
I know
Thou couldst not live one hour if love were not.

ESTRILD

And thou? -

LOCRINE.

I would not. All the world were woe,
And all the day night, if the love I bear thee
Were plucked out of the life wherein I wear thee
As crown and comfort of its nights and days.

ESTRILD.

Thou liest--for love's sake and for mine--and I
Lie not, who swear by thee whereon I gaze
I hold no truth so hallowed as the lie
Wherewith my love redeems me from the snare
Dark doubt had set to take me.

LOCRINE.

Wilt thou swear
- By what thou wilt soever--by the sun
That sees us--by the light of all these flowers -
By this full stream whose waves we hear not run -
By all that is nor mine nor thine, but ours -
That thou didst ever doubt indeed? or dream
That doubt, whose breath bids love of love misdeem,
Were other than the child of hate and hell,
The liar first-born of falsehood?

ESTRILD.

Nay--I think -
God help me!--hardly. Never? can I tell?
When half our soul and all our senses sink
From dream to dream down deathward, slain with sleep,
How may faith hold assurance fast, or keep
Her power to cast out fear for love's sake?

LOCRINE.

Could doubt not thee, waking or sleeping.

ESTRILD.

No -
Thou art not mad. How should the sunlit sky
Betray the sun? cast out the sunshine? So
Art thou to me as light to heaven: should light
Die, were not heaven as hell and noon as night?
And wherefore should I hold more dear than life
Death? Could I live, and lack thee? Thou, O king,
Hast lands and lordships--and a royal wife -
And rule of seas that tire the seamew's wing -
And fame as far as fame can travel; I,
What have I save this home wherein to die,
Except thou love me? Nay, nor home were this,
No place to die or live in, were I sure
Thou didst not love me. Swear not by this kiss
That love lives longer--faith may more endure -
Than one poor kiss that passes with the breath
Of lips that gave it life at once and death.
Why shouldst thou swear, and wherefore should I trust?
When day shall drive not night from heaven, and night
Shall chase not day to deathward, then shall dust
Be constant--and the stars endure the sight
Of dawn that shall not slay them.

LOCRINE.

By thine eyes
- Turned stormier now than stars in bare-blown skies
Wherethrough the wind rings menace,--I will swear
Nought: so shall fear, mistrust, and jealous hate
Lie foodless, if not fangless. Thou, so fair
That heaven might change for thee the seal of fate,
How darest thou doubt thy power on souls of men?

ESTRILD.

What vows were those that won thee Guendolen?

LOCRINE.

I sware not so to her. Thou knowest -

ESTRILD.

Not I.
Thou knowest that I know nothing.

LOCRINE.

Nay, I know
That nothing lives under the sweet blue sky
Worth thy sweet heeding, wouldst thou think but so,
Save love--wherewith thou seest thy world fulfilled.

ESTRILD.

Ay,--would I see but with thine eyes.

LOCRINE.

Estrild,
Estrild!

ESTRILD.

No soft reiterance of my name
Can sing my sorrow down that comes and goes
And colours hope with fear and love with shame.
Rose hast thou called me: were I like the rose,
Happier were I than woman: she survives
Not by one hour, like us of longer lives,
The sun she lives in and the love he gives
And takes away: but we, when love grows sere,
Live yet, while trust in love no longer lives,
Nor drink for comfort with the dying year
Death.

LOCRINE.

Wouldst thou drink forgetfulness for wine
To heal thine heart of love toward me?

ESTRILD.

Locrine,
Locrine!

LOCRINE.

Thou wouldst not: do not mock me then,
Saying out of evil heart, in evil jest,
Thy trust is dead to meward.

ESTRILD.

King of men,
Wouldst thou, being only of all men lordliest,
Be lord of women's thoughts and loving fears?
Nay, wert thou less than lord of worlds and years,
Of stars and suns and seasons, couldst thou dream
To take such empire on thee?

LOCRINE.

Nay, not I -
No more than she there playing beside the stream
To slip within a stormier stream and die.

ESTRILD.

She runs too near the brink. Sabrina!

LOCRINE.

See,
Her hands are lily-laden: let them be
A flower-sweet symbol for us.
Enter SABRINA.

SABRINA.

Sire! O sire,
See what fresh flowers--you knew not these before -
The spring has brought, to serve my heart's desire,
Forth of the river's barren bed! no more
Will I rebuke these banks for sterile sloth
When spring restores the woodlands. By my troth,
I hoped not, when you came again, to bring
So large a tribute worth so full a smile.

LOCRINE.

Child! how should I to thee pay tribute?

ESTRILD.

King,
Thou hast not kissed her.

LOCRINE.

Dare my lips defile
Heaven? O my love, in sight of her and thee
I marvel how the sun should look on me
And spare to turn his beams to fire.

ESTRILD.

The child
Hears, and is troubled.

SABRINA.

Did I wrong, to say
'Sire?' but you bade me say so. He is mild,
And will not chide me. Father!

ESTRILD.

Hear'st thou?

LOCRINE.

Yea -
I hear. I would the world beyond our sight
Were dead as worlds forgotten.

ESTRILD.

Wouldst thou fright
Her?

LOCRINE.

Hath all sense forsaken me? Sabrina,
Thou dost not fear me?

SABRINA.

No. But when your eyes
Wax red and dark, with flaughts of fire between,
I fear them--or they fright me.

LOCRINE.

Wert thou wise,
They would not. Never have I looked on thee
So.

SABRINA.

Nay--I fear not what might fall on me.
Here laughs my father--here my mother smiles -
Here smiles and laughs the water--what should I
Fear?

LOCRINE.

Nought more fearful than the water's wiles -
Which whoso fears not ere he fear shall die.

SABRINA.

Die? and is death no less an ill than dread?
I had liefer die than be nor quick nor dead.
I think there is no death but fear of death.

LOCRINE.

Of death or life or anything but love
What knowest thou?

SABRINA.

Less than these, my mother saith -
Less than the flowers that seeing all heaven above
Fade and wax hoar or darken, lose their trust
And leave their joy and let their glories rust
And die for fear ere winter wound them: we
Live no less glad of snowtime than of spring:
It cannot change my father's face for me
Nor turn from mine away my mother's. King
They call thee: hath thy kingship made thee less
In height of heart than we are?

LOCRINE.

No, and yes.
Here sits my heart at height of hers and thine,
Laughing for love: here not the quiring birds
Sing higher than sings my spirit: I am here Locrine,
Whom no sound vexes here of swords or words,
No cloud of thought or thunder: were my life
Crowned but as lord and sire of child and wife,
Throned but as prince of woodland, bank and bower,
My joys were then imperial, and my state
Firm as a star, that now is as a flower.

SABRINA.

Thou shouldst not then--if joy grow here so great -
Part from us.

LOCRINE.

No: for joy grows elsewhere scant.

SABRINA.

I would fain see the towers of Troynovant.

LOCRINE.

God keep thine eyes fulfilled with sweeter sights,
And this one from them ever!

SABRINA.

Why? Men say
Thine halls are full of guests, princes and knights,
And lordly musters of superb array;
Why are we thence alone, and alway?

ESTRILD.

Peace,
Child: let thy babble change its note, or cease
Here; is thy sire not wiser--by God's grace -
Than I or thou?

LOCRINE.

Wouldst thou too see fulfilled
The fear whose shadow fallen on joy's fair face
Strikes it more sad than sorrow's own? Estrild,
Wast thou then happier ere this wildwood shrine
Hid thee from homage, left thee but Locrine
For worshipper less worthy grace of thee
Than those thy sometime suppliants?

ESTRILD.

Nay; my lord
Takes too much thought--if tongues ring true--for me.

LOCRINE.

Such tongues ring falser than a broken chord
Whose jar distunes the music.

ESTRILD.

Wilt thou stay
But three nights here?

LOCRINE.

I had need be hence today.

ESTRILD.

Go.

SABRINA.

But I bid thee tarry; what am I
That thou shouldst heed not what I bid thee?

LOCRINE.

Queen
And empress more imperious and more high
And regent royaller than time hath seen
And mightier mistress of thy sire and thrall:
Yet must I go. But ere the next moon fall
Again will I grow happy.

ESTRILD.

Who can say?

LOCRINE.

So much can I--except the stars combine
Unseasonably to stay me.

ESTRILD.

Let them stay
The tides, the seasons rather. Love! Locrine!
I never parted from thee, nor shall part,
Save with a fire more keen than fire at heart:
But now the pang that wrings me, soul and sense,
And turns fair day to darkness deep as hell,
Warns me, the word that seals thy parting hence -
'Farewell'--shall bid us never more fare well.

SABRINA.

Lo! she too bids thee tarry; dost thou not
Hear?

LOCRINE.

Might I choose, small need were hers, God wot,
Or thine, to bid me tarry. When I come
Again -

SABRINA.

Thou shalt not see me: I will hide
From sight of such a sire--or bow down dumb
Before him--strong and hard as he in pride -
And so thou shalt not hear me.

LOCRINE.

Who can tell?
So now say I.

ESTRILD.

God keep my lord!

LOCRINE.

Farewell.
[Exeunt.

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

Enter GUENDOLEN and MADAN.

GUENDOLEN.

Come close, and look upon me. Child or man, -
I know not how to call thee, being my child,
Who know not how myself am called, nor can -
God witness--tell thee what should she be styled
Who bears the brand and burden set on her
That man hath set on me--the lands are wild
Whence late I bade thee hither, swift of spur
As he that rides to guard his mother's life;
Thou hast found nought loathlier there, nought hate-fuller
In all the wilds that seethe with fluctuant strife,
Than here besets thine advent. Son, if thou
Be son of mine, and I thy father's wife -

MADAN.

If heaven be heaven, and God be God.

GUENDOLEN.

As now
We know not if they be. Give me thine hand.
Thou hast mine eyes beneath thy father's brow, -
And therefore bears it not the traitor's brand.
Swear--But I would not bid thee swear in vain
Nor bind thee ere thine own soul understand,
Ere thine own heart be molten with my pain,
To do such work for bitter love of me
As haply, knowing my heart, thou wert not fain -
Even thou--to take upon thee--bind on thee -
Set all thy soul to do or die.

MADAN.

I swear.

GUENDOLEN.

And though thou sworest not, yet the thing should be.
The burden found for me so sore to bear
Why should I lay on any hand but mine,
Or bid thine own take part therein, and wear
A father's blood upon it--here--for sign?
Ay, now thou pluck'st it forth of hers to whom
Thou sworest and gavest it plighted. O Locrine,
Thy seed it was that sprang within my womb,
Thine, and none other--traitor born and liar,
False-faced, false-tongued--the fire of hell consume
Me, thee, and him for ever!

MADAN.

Hath my sire
Wronged thee?

GUENDOLEN.

Thy sire? my lord? the flower of men?
How?

MADAN.

For thy tongue was tipped but now with fire -
With fire of hell--against him.

GUENDOLEN.

Now, and then,
Are twain; thou knowest not women, how their tongue
Takes fire, and straight learns patience: Guendolen
Is there no more than crownless woman, wrung
At heart with anguish, and in utterance mad
As even the meanest whom a snake hath stung
So near the heart that all the pulse it had
Grows palpitating poison. Wilt thou know
Whence?

MADAN.

Could I heal it, then mine own were glad.

GUENDOLEN.

What think'st thou were the bitterest wrong, the woe
Least bearable by woman, worst of all
That man might lay upon her? Nay, thou art slow:
Speak: though thou speak but folly. Silent? Call
To mind whatso thou hast ever heard of ill
Most monstrous, that should turn to fire and gall
The milk and blood of maid or mother--still
Thou shalt not find, I think, what he hath done -
What I endure, and die not. For my will
It is that holds me yet alive, O son,
Till all my wrong be wroken, here to keep
Fast watch, a living soul before the sun,
Anhungered and athirst for night and sleep,
That will not slake the ravin of her thirst
Nor quench her fire of hunger, till she reap
The harvest loved of all men, last as first -
Vengeance.

MADAN.

What wrong is this he hath done thee? Words
Are edgeless weapons: live we blest or curst,
No jot the more of evil or good engirds
The life with bitterest curses compassed round
Or girt about with blessing. Hinds and herds
Wage threats and brawl and wrangle: wind and sound
Suffice their souls for vengeance: we require
Deeds, and till place for these and time be found
Silence. What bids thee bid me slay my sire?

GUENDOLEN.

I praise the gods that gave me thee: thine heart
Is none of his, no changeling's in desire,
No coward's as who begat thee: mine thou art
All, and mine only. Lend me now thine ear:
Thou knowest -

MADAN.

What anguish holds thy lips apart
And strikes thee silent? Am I bound to hear
What thou to speak art bound not?

GUENDOLEN.

How my lord,
Our lord, thy sire--the king whose throne is here
Imperial--smote and drove the wolf-like horde
That raged against us from the raging east,
And how their chief sank in the unsounded ford
He thought to traverse, till the floods increased
Against him, and he perished: and Locrine
Found in his camp for sovereign spoil to feast
The sense of power with lustier joy than wine
A woman--Dost thou mock me?

MADAN.

And a fair
Woman, if all men lie not, mother mine -
I have heard so much. And then?

GUENDOLEN.

Thou dost not dare
Mock me?

MADAN.

I know not what should make thee mad
Though this and worse, howbeit it irk thee, were.
Art thou discrowned, dethroned, disrobed, unclad
Of empire? art thou powerless, bloodless, old?
This were some hurt: but now--thou shouldst be glad
To take this chance upon thee, and to hold
So large a lordly happiness in hand
As when my father's and thy lord's is cold
Shall leave in thine the sway of all this land.

GUENDOLEN.

And thou? no she-wolf whelps upon the wold
Whose brood is like thy mother's.

MADAN.

Nay--I stand
A man thy son before thee.

GUENDOLEN.

And a bold
Man: is thine heart flesh, or a burning brand
Lit to burn up and turn for thee to gold
The kingship of thy sire?

MADAN.

Why, blessed or banned,
We thrive alike--thou knowest it--why, but now
I said so,--scarce the glass has dropped one sand -
And thou didst smile on me--and all thy brow
Smiled.

GUENDOLEN.

Thou dost love then, thou, thy mother yet -
Me, dost thou love a little? None but thou
There is to love me; for the gods forget -
Nor shall one hear of me a prayer again;
Yea, none of all whose thrones in heaven are set
Shall hear, nor one of all the sons of men.

MADAN.

What wouldst thou have?

GUENDOLEN.

Thou knowest.

MADAN.

I know not. Speak.

GUENDOLEN.

Have I kept silence all this while?

MADAN.

What then?
What boots it though thy word, thine eye, thy cheek,
Seem all one fire together, if that fire
Sink, and thy face change, and thine heart wax weak,
To hear what deed should slake thy sore desire
And satiate thee with healing? This alone -
Except thine heart be softer toward my sire
Still than a maid's who hears a wood-dove moan
And weeps for pity--this should comfort thee:
His death.

GUENDOLEN.

And sight of Madan on his throne?

MADAN

What ailed thy wits, mother, to send for me?

GUENDOLEN.

Yet shalt thou not go back.

MADAN.

Why, what should I
Do here, where vengeance has not heart to be
And wrath dies out in weeping? Let it die -
And let me go.

GUENDOLEN.

I did not bid thee spare.

MADAN.

Speak then, and bid me smite.

GUENDOLEN.

Thy father?

MADAN.

Ay -
If thus it please my mother.

GUENDOLEN.

Dost thou dare
This?

MADAN.

Nay, I lust not after empire so
That for mine own hand I should haply care
To take this deed upon it: but the blow,
Thou sayest, that speeds my father forth of life,
Speeds too my mother forth of living woe
That till he dies may die not. If his wife
Set in his son's right hand the sword to slay -
No poison brewed of hell, no treasonous knife -
The sword that walks and shines and smites by day,
Not on his hand who takes the sword shall cleave
The blood that clings on hers who gives it.

GUENDOLEN.

Yea -
So be it. What levies wilt thou raise, to heave
Thy father from his seat?

MADAN.

Let that be nought
Of all thy care: do thou but trust--believe
Thy son's right hand no feebler than thy thought,
If that be strong to smite--and thou shalt see
Vengeance.

GUENDOLEN.

I will. But were thy musters brought
Whence now thou art come to cheer me, this should be
A sign for us of comfort.

MADAN.

Dost thou fear
Signs?

GUENDOLEN.

Nay, child, nay--thou art harsh as heaven to me -
I would but have of thee a word of cheer.

MADAN.

I am weak in words: my tongue can match not thine,
Mother.
Voices within] The king!

GUENDOLEN.

Hearst thou?
Voices within.] The king!

MADAN.

I hear.

Enter LOCRINE.

LOCRINE.

How fares my queen?

GUENDOLEN.

Well. And this child of mine -
How he may fare concerns not thee to know?

LOCRINE.

Why, well I see my boy fares well.

GUENDOLEN.

Locrine,
Thou art welcome as the sun to fields of snow.

LOCRINE.

But hardly would they hail the sun whose face
Dissolves them deathward. Was thy meaning so?

GUENDOLEN.

Make answer for me, Madan.

LOCRINE.

In thy place?
The boy's is not beside thee.

GUENDOLEN.

Speak, I say.

MADAN.

God guard my lord and father with his grace!

LOCRINE.

Well prayed, my child.

GUENDOLEN.

Children--who can but pray -
Pray better, if my sense not err, than we.
The God whom all the gods of heaven obey
Should hear them rather, seeing--as gods may see -
How pure of purpose is their perfect prayer.

LOCRINE.

I think not else--the better then for me.
But ours--what manner of child is this? the hair
Buds flowerwise round his darkening lips and chin,
This hand's young hardening palm knows how to bear
The sword-hilt's poise that late I laid therein -
Ha? doth not it?

GUENDOLEN.

Thine enemies know that well.

MADAN.

I make no boast of battles that have been;
But, so God help me, days unborn shall tell
What manner of heart my father gave me.

LOCRINE.

Good.
I doubt thee not.

GUENDOLEN.

In Cornwall they that fell
So found it, that of all their large-limbed brood
No bulk is left to brave thee.

LOCRINE.

Yea, I know
Our son hath given the wolf our foes for food
And won him worthy praise from friend or foe;
And heartier praise and trustier thanks from none,
Boy, than thy father pays thee.

GUENDOLEN.

Wouldst thou show
Thy love, thy thanks, thy fatherhood in one,
Thy perfect honour--yea, thy right to stand
Crowned, and lift up thine eyes against the sun
As one so pure in heart, so clean of hand,
So loyal and so royal, none might cast
A word against thee burning like a brand,
A sound that withers honour, and makes fast
The bondage of a recreant soul to shame -
Thou shouldst, or ever an hour be overpast,
Slay him.

LOCRINE.

Thou art mad.

GUENDOLEN.

What, is not then thy name
Locrine? and hath this boy done ill to thee?
Hath he not won him for thy love's sake fame?
Hath he not served thee loyally? is he
So much thy son, so little son of mine,
That men might call him traitor? May they see
The brand across his brow that reddens thine?
How shouldst thou dare--how dream--to let him live?
Is he not loyal? art not thou Locrine?
What less than death for guerdon shouldst thou give
My son who hath done thee service? Me thou hast given -
Who hast found me truer than falsehood can forgive -
Shame for my guerdon: yea, my heart is riven
With shame that once I loved thee.

LOCRINE.

Guendolen,
A woman's wrath should rest not unforgiven
Save of the slightest of the sons of men:
And no such slight and shameful thing am I
As would not yield thee pardon.

GUENDOLEN.

Slay me then.

LOCRINE.

Thee, or thy son? but now thou bad'st him die.

GUENDOLEN.

Thou liest: I bade thee slay him.

LOCRINE.

Art thou mad
Indeed?

GUENDOLEN.

O liar, is all the world a lie?
I bade thee, knowing thee what thou art--I bade
My lord and king and traitor slay my son -
A heartless hand that lacks the power it had
Smite one whose stroke shall leave it strengthless--one
Whose loyal loathing of his shame in thee
Shall cast it out of eyeshot of the sun.

LOCRINE.

Thou bad'st me slay him that he might--he, slay me?

GUENDOLEN.

Thou hast said--and yet thou hast lied not.

LOCRINE.

Hell's own hate
Brought never forth such fruit as thine.

GUENDOLEN.

But he
Is the issue of thy love and mine, by fate
Made one to no good issue. Didst thou trust
That grief should give to men disconsolate
Comfort, and treason bring forth truth, and dust
Blossom? What love, what reverence, what regard,
Shouldst thou desire, if God or man be just,
Of this thy son, or me more evil-starred,
Whom scorn salutes his mother?

LOCRINE.

How should scorn
Draw near thee, girt about with power for guard,
Power and good fame? unless reproach be born
Of these thy violent vanities of mood
That fight against thine honour.

GUENDOLEN.

Dost thou mourn
For that? Too careful art thou for my good,
Too tender and too true to me and mine,
For shame to make my heart or thine his food
Or scorn lay hold upon my fame or thine.
Art thou not pure as honour's perfect heart -
Not treason-cankered like my lord Locrine,
Whose likeness shows thee fairer than thou art
And falser than thy loving care of me
Would bid my faith believe thee?

LOCRINE.

What strange part
Is this that changing passion plays in thee?
Know'st thou me not?

GUENDOLEN.

Yea--witness heaven and hell,
And all the lights that lighten earth and sea,
And all that wrings my heart, I know thee well.
How should I love and hate and know thee not?

LOCRINE.

Thy voice is as the sound of dead love's knell.

GUENDOLEN.

Long since my heart has tolled it--and forgot
All save the cause that bade the death-bell sound
And cease and bring forth silence.

LOCRINE.

Is thy lot
Less fair and royal, girt with power and crowned, -
Than might fulfil the loftiest heart's desire?

GUENDOLEN.

Not air but fire it is that rings me round -
Thy voice makes all my brain a wheel of fire.
Man, what have I to do with pride of power?
Such pride perchance it was that moved my sire
To bid me wed--woe worth the woful hour! -
His brother's son, the brother's born above
Him as above me thou, the crown and flower
Of Britain, gentler-hearted than the dove
And mightier than the sunward eagle's wing:
But nought moved me save one thing only--love.

LOCRINE.

I know it.

GUENDOLEN.

Thou knowest? but this thou knowest not, king,
How near of kin are bitter love and hate -
Nor which of these may be the deadlier thing.

LOCRINE.

What wouldst thou?

GUENDOLEN.

Death. Would God my heart were great!
Then would I slay myself.

LOCRINE.

I dare not fear
That heaven hath marked for thee no fairer fate.

GUENDOLEN.

Ay! wilt thou slay me then--and slay me here?

LOCRINE.

Mock not thy wrath and me. No hair of thine
Would I--thou knowest it--hurt; nor vex thine ear
With answering wrath more vain than fumes of wine.
I have wronged and yet not wronged thee. Whence or when
Strange whispers rose that turned thy heart from mine
I would not know for shame's sake, Guendolen,
And honour's that I bear thee.

GUENDOLEN.

Didst thou deem
I would outlive with thee the scorn of men,
A slave enthroned beside a traitor? Seem
These eyes and lips and hands of mine a slave's
Uplift for mercy toward thee? Such a dream
Sets realms on fire, and turns their fields to graves.

LOCRINE.

No dream is mine that does thee less than right:
Albeit thy words be wild as warring waves,
I know thee higher of heart than shame could smite
And queenlier than thy queenship.

GUENDOLEN.

Dost the know
What day records to day and night to night -
How he whose wrath was rained as hail or snow
On Troy's adulterous towers, when treacherous flame
Devoured them, and our fathers' roofs lay low,
And all their praise was turned to fire and shame -
All-righteous God, who herds the stars of heaven
As sheep within his sheepfold--God, whose name
Compels the wandering clouds to service, given
As surely as even the sun's is--loves or hates
Treason? He loved our sires: were they forgiven?
Their walls upreared of gods, their sevenfold gates,
Might these keep out his justice? What art thou
To make thy will more strong and sure than fate's?
Thy fate am I, that falls upon thee now.
Wilt thou not slay me yet--and slay thy son?
So shall thy fate change, and unbend the brow
That now looks mortal on thee.

LOCRINE.

What is done
Lies now past help or pleading: nor would I
Plead with thee, knowing that love henceforth is none
Nor trust between us till the day we die.
Yet, if thy name be woman,--if thine heart
Be not burnt up with fire of hell, and lie
Not wounded even to death--albeit we part,
Let there not be between us war, but peace,
Though love may be not.

GUENDOLEN.

Peace? The man thou art
Craves--and shame bids not breath within him cease -
Craves of the woman that thou knowest I am
Peace? Ay, take hands at parting, and release
Each heart, each hand, each other: shall the lamb,
The lamb-like woman, born to cower and bleed,
Withstand his will whose choice may save or damn
Her days and nights, her word and thought and deed -
Take heart to outdare her lord the lion? How
Should this be--if the lion's imperial seed
Life not against his sire as brave a brow
As frowns upon his mother?--Peace be then
Between us: none may stand before thee now:
No son of thine keep faith with Guendolen.

MADAN.

I have held my peace perforce, it seems, too long,
Being slower of speech than sons of meaner men.
But seeing my sire hath done my mother wrong,
My hand is hers to serve against my sire.

GUENDOLEN.

And God shall make thine hand against him strong.

LOCRINE.

Ay: when the hearthstead flames, the roof takes fire.

GUENDOLEN.

Woe worth his hand who set the hearth on flame!

LOCRINE.

Curse not our fathers; though thy fierce desire
Drive thine own son against his father, shame
Should rein thy tongue from speech too shameless.

GUENDOLEN.

Ay!
And thou, my holy-hearted lord,--the same
Whose hand was laid in mine and bound to lie
There fast for ever if faith be found on earth -
If truth be true, and shame not wholly die -
Hast thou not made thy mockery and thy mirth,
Thy laughter and thy scorn, of shame? But we,
Thy wife by wedlock, and thy son by birth,
Who have no part in spirit and soul with thee,
Will bear no part in kingdom nor in life
With one who hath put to shame his child and me.
Thy true-born son, and I that was thy wife,
Will see thee dead or perish. Call thy men
About thee; bid them gird their loins for strife
More dire than theirs who storm the wild wolf's den;
For if thou dare not slay us here today
Thou art dead.

LOCRINE.

Thou knowest I dare not, Guendolen,
Dare what the ravenous beasts whose life is prey
Dream not of doing, though drunk with bloodshed.

GUENDOLEN.

No:
Thou art gentle, and beasts are honest: no such way
Lies open toward thy fearful foot: not so
Shalt thou find surety from these foes of thine.
Woe worth thee therefore! yea, a sevenfold woe
Shall God through us rain down on thee, Locrine.
Hadst thou the heart God hath not given thee--then
Our blood might run before thy feet like wine
And wash thy way toward sin in sight of men
Smooth, soft, and safe. But if thou shed it not -
If Madan live to look on Guendolen
Living--I wot not what shall be--I wot
What shall not--thou shalt have no joy to live
More than have they for whom God's wrath grows hot.

LOCRINE.

God's grace is no such gift as thou canst give,
Queen, or withhold. Farewell.

GUENDOLEN.

I dare not say
Farewell.

LOCRINE.

And why?

GUENDOLEN.

Thou hast not said--Forgive.

LOCRINE.

I say it--I have said. Thou wilt not hear me?

GUENDOLEN.

Nay.
[Exeunt.

ACT V.

SCENE I.--Fields near the Severn.

Enter on one side LOCRINE and his army: on the other side
GUENDOLEN, MADAN, and their army.

LOCRINE.

Stand fast, and sound a parley.

MADAN.

Halt: it seems
They would have rather speech than strokes of us.

LOCRINE.

This light of dawn is like an evil dream's
That comes and goes and is not. Yea, and thus
Our hope on both sides wavering dares allow
No light but fire to bid us die or live.
- Son, and my wife that was, my rebels now,
That here we stand with death to take or give
I call the sun of heaven, God's likeness wrought
On darkness, whence all spirits breathe and shine,
To witness, is no work of will or thought
Conceived or bred in brain or heart of mine.
Ye have levied wars against me, and compelled
My will unwilling and my power withheld
To strike the stroke I would not, when I might.
Will ye not yet take thought, and spare these men
Whom else the blind and burning fire of fight
Must feed upon for pasture? Guendolen,
Had I not left thee queen in Troynovant,
Though wife no more of mine, in all this land
No hand had risen, no eye had glared askant,
Against me: thine is each man's heart and hand
That burns and strikes in all this battle raised
To serve and slake thy vengeance. With my son
I plead not, seeing his praise in arms dispraised
For ever, and his deeds of truth undone
By patricidal treason. But with thee
Peace would I have, if peace again may be
Between us. Blood by wrath unnatural shed
Or spent in civic battle burns the land
Whereon it falls like fire, and brands as red
The conqueror's forehead as the warrior's hand.
I pray thee, spare this people: reign in peace
With separate honours in a several state:
As love that was hath ceased, let hatred cease:
Let not our personal cause be made the fate
That damns to death men innocent, and turns
The joy of life to darkness. Thine alone
Is all this war: to slake the flame that burns
Thus high should crown thee royal, and enthrone
Thy praise in all men's memories. If thou wilt,
Peace let there be: if not, be thine the guilt.

GUENDOLEN.

Mine? Hear it, heaven,--and men, bear witness! Mine
The treachery that hath rent our realm in twain -
Mine, mine the adulterous treason. Not Locrine,
Not he, found loyal to my love in vain,
Hath brought the civic sword and fire of strife
On British fields and homesteads, clothed with joy,
Crowned with content and comfort: I, his wife,
Have brought on Troynovant the fires of Troy.
He lifts his head before the sun of heaven
And swears it--lies, and lives. Is God's bright sword
Broken, wherewith the gates of Troy--the seven
Strong gates that gods who built them held in ward -
Were broken even as wattled reeds with fire?
Son, by what name shall honour call thy sire?

MADAN.

How long shall I and all these mail-clad men
Stand and give ear, or gape and catch at flies,
While ye wage warring words that wound not? When
Have I been found of you so wordy-wise
That thou or he should call to counsel one
So slow of speech and wit as thou and he,
Who know my hand no sluggard, know your son?
Till speech be clothed in iron, bid not me
Speak.

LOCRINE.

Yet he speaks not ill.

GUENDOLEN.

Did I not know
Mine honour perfect as thy shame, Locrine,
Now might I say, and turn to pride my woe,
Mine only were this boy, and none of thine.
But what thou mayest I may not. Where are they
Who ride not with their lord and sire today?
Thy secret Scythian and your changeling child,
Where hide they now their heads that lurk not hidden
There where thy treason deemed them safe, and smiled?
When arms were levied, and thy servants bidden
About thee to withstand the doom of men
Whose loyal angers flamed upon our side
Against thee, from thy smooth-skinned she-wolf's den
Her whelp and she sought covert unespied,
But not from thee far off. Thou hast born them hither
For refuge in this west that stands for thee
Against our cause, whose very name should wither
The hearts of them that hate it. Where is she?
Hath she not heart to keep thy side? or thou,
Dost thou think shame to stand beside her now
And bid her look upon thy son and wife?
Nay, she should ride at thy right hand and laugh
To see so fair a lordly field of strife
Shine for her sake, whose lips thy love bids quaff
For pledge of trustless troth the blood of men.

LOCRINE.

Should I not put her in thine hand to slay?
Hell hath laid hold upon thee, Guendolen,
And turned thine heart to hell-fire. Be thy prey
Thyself, the wolfish huntress: and the blood
Rest on thine head that here shall now be spilt.

GUENDOLEN.

Let it run broader than this water's flood
Swells after storm, it shall not cleanse thy guilt.
Give now the word of charge; and God do right
Between us in the fiery courts of fight.
[Exeunt.

SCENE II.--The banks of the Severn.

Enter ESTRILD and SABRINA.

SABRINA.

When will my father come again?

ESTRILD.

God knows,
Sweet.

SABRINA.

Hast thou seen how wide this water flows -
How smooth it swells and shines from brim to brim,
How fair, how full? Nay, then thine eyes are dim.
Thou dost not weep for fear lest evil men
Or that more evil woman--Guendolen
Didst thou not call her yesternight by name? -
Should put my father's might in arms to shame?
What is she so to levy shameful strife
Against my sire and thee?

ESTRILD.

His wife! his wife!

SABRINA.

Why, that art thou.

ESTRILD

Woe worth me!

SABRINA.

Nay, woe worth
Her wickedness! How may the heavens and earth
Endure her?

ESTRILD.

Heaven is fire, and earth a sword,
Against us.

SABRINA.

May the wife withstand her lord
And war upon him? Nay, no wife is she -
And no true mother thou to mock at me.

ESTRILD.

Yea, no true wife or mother, child, am I.
Yet, child, thou shouldst not say it--and bid me die.

SABRINA.

I bid thee live and laugh at wicked foes
Even as my sire and I do. What! 'God knows,'
Thou sayest, and yet art fearful? Is he not
Righteous, that we should fear to take the lot
Forth of his hand that deals it? And my sire,
Kind as the sun in heaven, and strong as fire,
Hath he not God upon his side and ours,
Even all the gods and stars and all their powers?

ESTRILD.

I know not. Fate at sight of thee should break
His covenant--doom grow gentle for thy sake.

SABRINA.

Wherefore?

ESTRILD.

Because thou knowest not wherefore. Child,
My days were darkened, and the ways were wild
Wherethrough my dark doom led me toward this end,
Ere I beheld thy sire, my lord, my friend,
My king, my stay, my saviour. Let thine hand
Lie still in mine. Thou canst not understand,
Yet would I tell thee somewhat. Ere I knew
If aught of evil or good were false or true,
If aught of life were worth our hope or fear,
There fell on me the fate that sets us here.
For in my father's kingdom oversea -

SABRINA.

Thou wast not born in Britain?

ESTRILD.

Woe is me,
No: happier hap had mine perchance been then.

SABRINA.

And was not I? Are these all stranger men?

ESTRILD.

Ay, wast thou, child--a Briton born: God give
Thy name the grace on British tongues to live!

SABRINA.

Is that so good a gift of God's--to die
And leave a name alive in memory? I
Would rather live this river's life, and be
Held of no less or more account than he.
Lo, how he lives and laughs! and hath no name,
Thou sayest--or one forgotten even of fame
That lives on poor men's lips and falters down
To nothing. But thy father? and his crown?
Did he less hate the coil of it than mine,
Or love thee less--nay, then he were not thine -
Than he, my sire, loves me?

ESTRILD.

And wilt thou hear
All? Child, my child, love born of love, more dear
Than very love was ever! Hearken then.
This plague, this fire, that hunts us--Guendolen -
Was wedded to thy sire ere I and he
Cast ever eyes on either. Woe is me!
Thou canst not dream, sweet, what my soul would say
And not affright thee.

SABRINA.

Thou affright me? Nay,
Mock not. This evil woman--when he knew
Thee, this my sweet good mother, wise and true -
He cast from him and hated.

ESTRILD.

Yea--and now
For that shall haply he and I and thou
Die.

SABRINA.

What is death? I never saw his face
That I should fear it.

ESTRILD.

Whether grief or grace
Or curse or blessing breathe from it, and give
Aught worse or better than the life we live,
I know no more than thou knowest; perchance,
Less. When we sleep, they say, or fall in trance,
We die awhile. Well spake thine innocent breath -
I THINK THERE IS NO DEATH BUT FEAR OF DEATH.

SABRINA.

Did I say this? but that was long ago -
Months. Now I know not--yet I think I know -
Whether I fear or fear not it. Hard by
Men fight even now--they strike and kill and die
Red-handed; nay, we hear the roar and see
The lightning of the battle: can it be
That what no soul of all these brave men fears
Should sound so fearful save in foolish ears?
But all this while I know not where it lay,
Thy father's kingdom.

ESTRILD.

Far from here away
It lies beyond the wide waste water's bound
That clasps with bitter waves this sweet land round.
Thou hast seen the great sea never, nor canst dream

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest