Canto II

  1.  As thro' the land at eve we went,
  2.  And pluck'd the ripen'd ears,
  3.  We fell out, my wife and I,
  4.  O we fell out I know not why,
  5.  And kiss'd again with tears.
  6.  And blessings on the falling out
  7.  That all the more endears,
  8.  When we fall out with those we love
  9.  And kiss again with tears!
  10.  For when we came where lies the child
  11.  We lost in other years,
  12.  There above the little grave,
  13.  O there above the little grave,
  14.  We kiss'd again with tears.

  15.  At break of day the College Portress came:
  16. She brought us Academic silks, in hue
  17. The lilac, with a silken hood to each,
  18. And zoned with gold; and now when these were on,
  19. And we as rich as moths from dusk cocoons,
  20. She, curtseying her obeisance, let us know
  21. The Princess Ida waited: out we paced,
  22. I first, and following thro' the porch that sang
  23. All round with laurel, issued in a court
  24. Compact of lucid marbles, boss'd with lengths
  25. Of classic frieze, with ample awnings gay
  26. Betwixt the pillars, and with great urns of flowers.
  27. The Muses and the Graces, group'd in threes,
  28. Enring'd a billowing fountain in the midst;
  29. And here and there on lattice edges lay
  30. Or book or lute; but hastily we past,
  31. And up a flight of stairs into the hall.

  32.  There at a board by tome and paper sat,
  33. With two tame leopards couch'd beside her throne,
  34. All beauty compass'd in a female form,
  35. The Princess; liker to the inhabitant
  36. Of some clear planet close upon the Sun,
  37. Than our man's earth; such eyes were in her head,
  38. And so much grace and power, breathing down
  39. From over her arch'd brows, with every turn
  40. Lived thro' her to the tips of her long hands,
  41. And to her feet. She rose her height, and said:

  42.  'We give you welcome: not without redound
  43. Of use and glory to yourselves ye come,
  44. The first-fruits of the stranger: aftertime,
  45. And that full voice which circles round the grave,
  46. Will rank you nobly, mingled up with me.
  47. What! are the ladies of your land so tall?'
  48. 'We of the court,' said Cyril. 'From the court,'
  49. She answer'd, 'then ye know the Prince?' and he:
  50. 'The climax of his age! as tho' there were
  51. One rose in all the world, your Highness that,
  52. He worships your ideal:' she replied:
  53. 'We scarcely thought in our own hall to hear
  54. This barren verbiage, current among men,
  55. Light coin, the tinsel clink of compliment.
  56. Your flight from out your bookless wilds would seem
  57. As arguing love of knowledge and of power;
  58. Your language proves you still the child. Indeed,
  59. We dream not of him: when we set our hand
  60. To this great work, we purposed with ourself
  61. Never to wed. You likewise will do well,
  62. Ladies, in entering here, to cast and fling
  63. The tricks, which make us toys of men, that so,
  64. Some future time, if so indeed you will,
  65. You may with those self-styled our lords ally
  66. Your fortunes, justlier balanced, scale with scale.'

  67.  At those high words, we conscious of ourselves,
  68. Perused the matting; then an officer
  69. Rose up, and read the statutes, such as these:
  70. Not for three years to correspond with home;
  71. Not for three years to cross the liberties;
  72. Not for three years to speak with any men;
  73. And many more, which hastily subscribed,
  74. We enter'd on the boards: and 'Now,' she cried,
  75. 'Ye are green wood, see ye warp not. Look, our hall!
  76. Our statues! --not of those that men desire,
  77. Sleek Odalisques, or oracles of mode,
  78. Nor stunted squaws of West or East; but she
  79. That taught the Sabine how to rule, and she
  80. The foundress of the Babylonian wall,
  81. The Carian Artemisia strong in war,
  82. The Rhodope, that built the pyramid,
  83. Clelia, Cornelia, with the Palmyrene
  84. That fought Aurelian, and the Roman brows
  85. Of Agrippina. Dwell with these, and lose
  86. Convention, since to look on noble forms
  87. Makes noble thro' the sensuous organism
  88. That which is higher. O lift your natures up:
  89. Embrace our aims: work out your freedom. Girls,
  90. Knowledge is now no more a fountain seal'd:
  91. Drink deep, until the habits of the slave,
  92. The sins of emptiness, gossip and spite
  93. And slander, die. Better not be at all
  94. Than not be noble. Leave us: you may go:
  95. To-day the Lady Psyche will harangue
  96. The fresh arrivals of the week before;
  97. For they press in from all the provinces,
  98. And fill the hive.'
    She spoke, and bowing waved
  99. Dismissal: back again we crost the court
  100. To Lady Psyche's: as we enter'd in,
  101. There sat along the forms, like morning doves
  102. That sun their milky bosoms on the thatch,
  103. A patient range of pupils; she herself
  104. Erect behind a desk of satin-wood,
  105. A quick brunette, well-moulded, falcon eyed,
  106. And on the hither side, or so she look'd,
  107. Of twenty summers. At her left, a child,
  108. In shining draperies, headed like a star,
  109. Her maiden babe, a double April old,
  110. Aglaïa slept. We sat: the Lady glanced:
  111. Then Florian, but no livelier than the dame
  112. That whisper'd 'Asses' ears,' among the sedge,
  113. My sister.' ' Comely, too, by all that's fair,'
  114. Said Cyril. 'O hush, hush!' and she began.

  115.  'This world was once a fluid haze of light,
  116. Till toward the centre set the starry tides,
  117. And eddied into suns, that wheeling cast
  118. The planets: then the monster, then the man;
  119. Tattoo'd or woaded, winter-clad in skins,
  120. Raw from the prime, and crushing down his mate;
  121. As yet we find in barbarous isles, and here
  122. Among the lowest.'
    Thereupon she took
  123. A bird's-eye-view of all the ungracious past;
  124. Glanced at the legendary Amazon
  125. As emblematic of a nobler age;
  126. Appraised the Lycian custom, spoke of those
  127. That lay at wine with Lar and Lucumo;
  128. Ran down the Persian, Grecian, Roman lines
  129. Of empire, and the woman's state in each,
  130. How far from just; till warming with her theme
  131. She fulmined out her scorn of laws Salique
  132. And little-footed China, touch'd on Mahomet
  133. With much contempt, and came to chivalry:
  134. When some respect, however slight, was paid
  135. To woman, superstition all awry:
  136. However then commenced the dawn: a beam
  137. Had slanted forward, falling in a land
  138. Of promise; fruit would follow. Deep, indeed,
  139. Their debt of thanks to her who first had dared
  140. To leap the rotten pales of prejudice,
  141. Disyoke their necks from custom, and assert
  142. None lordlier than themselves but that which made
  143. Woman and man. She had founded; they must build.
  144. Here might they learn whatever men were taught:
  145. Let them not fear: some said their heads were less:
  146. Some men's were small; not they the least of men;
  147. For often fineness compensated size:
  148. Besides the brain was like the hand, and grew
  149. With using; thence the man's, if more was more;
  150. He took advantage of his strength to be
  151. First in the field: some ages had been lost;
  152. But woman ripen'd earlier, and her life
  153. Was longer; and albeit their glorious names
  154. Were fewer, scatter'd stars, yet since in truth
  155. The highest is the measure of the man,
  156. And not the Kaffir, Hottentot, Malay,
  157. Nor those horn-handed breakers of the glebe,
  158. But Homer, Plato, Verulam; even so
  159. With woman: and in arts of government
  160. Elizabeth and others; arts of war
  161. The peasant Joan and others; arts of grace
  162. Sappho and others vied with any man
  163. And, last not least, she who had left her place,
  164. And bow'd her state to them, that they might grow
  165. To use and power on this Oasis, lapt
  166. In the arms of leisure, sacred from the blight
  167. Of ancient influence and scorn.
    At last
  168. She rose upon a wind of prophecy
  169. Dilating on the future; 'everywhere
  170. Two heads in council, two beside the hearth,
  171. Two in the tangled business of the world,
  172. Two in the liberal offices of life,
  173. Two plummets dropt for one to sound the abyss
  174. Of science, and the secrets of the mind:
  175. Musician, painter, sculptor, critic, more:
  176. And everywhere the broad and bounteous Earth
  177. Should bear a double growth of those rare souls,
  178. Poets, whose thoughts enrich the blood of the world.'

  179.  She ended here, and beckon'd us: the rest
  180. Parted; and, glowing full-faced welcome, she
  181. Began to address us, and was moving on
  182. In gratulation, till as when a boat
  183. Tacks, and the slacken'd sail flaps, all her voice
  184. Faltering and fluttering in her throat, she cried,
  185. 'My brother!' ' Well, my sister.' 'O,' she said,
  186. 'What do you here? and in this dress? and these?
  187. Why, who are these? a wolf within the fold!
  188. A pack of wolves! the Lord be gracious to me!
  189. A plot, a plot, a plot to ruin all!'
  190. 'No plot, no plot,' he answer'd. 'Wretched boy,
  191. How saw you not the inscription on the gate,
  193. 'And if I had,' he answer'd, 'who could think
  194. The softer Adams of your Academe,
  195. O sister, Sirens tho' they be, were such
  196. As chanted on the blanching bones of men?'
  197. 'But you will find it otherwise,' she said.
  198. 'You jest: ill jesting with edge-tools! my vow
  199. Binds me to speak, and O that iron will,
  200. That axelike edge unturnable, our Head,
  201. The Princess.' 'Well then, Psyche, take my life,
  202. And nail me like a weasel on a grange
  203. For warning: bury me beside the gate,
  204. And cut this epitaph above my bones:
  205. Here lies a brother by a sister slain,
  206. All for the common good of womankind.'
  207. 'Let me die too,' said Cyril, 'having seen
  208. And heard the Lady Psyche.'
    I struck in:
  209. 'Albeit so mask'd, Madam, I love the truth;
  210. Receive it; and in me behold the Prince
  211. Your countryman, affianced years ago
  212. To the Lady Ida: here, for here she was,
  213. And thus (what other way was left) I came.'
  214. 'O Sir, O Prince, I have no country; none;
  215. If any, this; but none. Whate'er I was
  216. Disrooted, what I am is grafted here.
  217. Affianced, Sir? love-whispers may not breathe
  218. Within this vestal limit, and how should I,
  219. Who am not mine, say, live: the thunderbolt
  220. Hangs silent; but prepare: I speak; it falls.'
  221. 'Yet pause,' I said: 'for that inscription there,
  222. I think no more of deadly lurks therein,
  223. Than in a clapper clapping in a garth,
  224. To scare the fowl from fruit: if more there be,
  225. If more and acted on, what follows? war;
  226. Your own work marr'd: for this your Academe,
  227. Whichever side be Victor, in the halloo
  228. Will topple to the trumpet down, and pass
  229. With all fair theories only made to gild
  230. A stormless summer.' 'Let the Princess judge
  231. Of that,' she said: 'farewell, Sir--and to you
  232. I shudder at the sequel, but I go.'

  233.  'Are you that Lady Psyche,' I rejoin'd,
  234. 'The fifth in line from that old Florian,
  235. Yet hangs his portrait in my father's hall
  236. (The gaunt old Baron with his beetle brow
  237. Sun-shaded in the heat of dusty fights)
  238. As he bestrode my Grandsire, when he fell,
  239. And all else fled: we point to it, and we say,
  240. The loyal warmth of Florian is not cold,
  241. But branches current yet in kindred veins.'
  242. 'Are you that Psyche,' Florian added, 'she
  243. With whom I sang about the morning hills,
  244. Flung ball, flew kite, and raced the purple fly,
  245. And snared the squirrel of the glen? are you
  246. That Psyche, wont to bind my throbbing brow,
  247. To smoothe my pillow, mix the foaming draught
  248. Of fever, tell me pleasant tales, and read
  249. My sickness down to happy dreams? are you
  250. That brother-sister Psyche, both in one?
  251. You were that Psyche, but what are you now?'
  252. 'You are that Psyche,' Cyril said, 'for whom
  253. I would be that for ever which I seem,
  254. Woman, if I might sit beside your feet,
  255. And glean your scatter'd sapience.'
    Then once more,
  256. 'Are you that Lady Psyche,' I began,
  257. 'That on her bridal morn before she past
  258. From all her old companions, when the king
  259. Kiss'd her pale cheek, declared that ancient ties
  260. Would still be dear beyond the southern hills;
  261. That were there any of our people there
  262. In want or peril, there was one to hear
  263. And help them? look! for such are these and I.'
  264. 'Are you that Psyche,' Florian ask'd, 'to whom,
  265. In gentler days, your arrow-wounded fawn
  266. Came flying while you sat beside the well?
  267. The creature laid his muzzle on your lap,
  268. And sobb'd, and you sobb'd with it, and the blood
  269. Was sprinkled on your kirtle, and you wept.
  270. That was fawn's blood, not brother's, yet you wept.
  271. O by the bright head of my little niece,
  272. You were that Psyche, and what are you now?'
  273. 'You are that Psyche,' Cyril said again,
  274. 'The mother of the sweetest little maid,
  275. That ever crow'd for kisses.'
    'Out upon it!'
  276. She answer'd, 'peace! and why should I not play
  277. The Spartan Mother with emotion, be
  278. The Lucius Junius Brutus of my kind?
  279. Him you call great: he for the common weal,
  280. The fading politics of mortal Rome,
  281. As I might slay this child, if good need were,
  282. Slew both his sons: and I, shall I, on whom
  283. The secular emancipation turns
  284. Of half this world, be swerved from right to save
  285. A prince, a brother? a little will I yield.
  286. Best so, perchance, for us, and well for you.
  287. O hard, when love and duty clash! I fear
  288. My conscience will not count me fleckless; yet--
  289. Hear my conditions: promise (otherwise
  290. You perish) as you came, to slip away
  291. To-day, to-morrow, soon: it shall be said,
  292. These women were too barbarous, would not learn;
  293. They fled, who might have shamed us: promise, all.'

  294.  What could we else, we promised each; and she,
  295. Like some wild creature newly-caged, commenced
  296. A to-and-fro, so pacing till she paused
  297. By Florian; holding out her lily arms
  298. Took both his hands, and smiling faintly said:
  299. 'I knew you at the first: tho' you have grown
  300. You scarce have alter'd: I am sad and glad
  301. To see you, Florian. Igive thee to death,
  302. My brother! it was duty spoke, not I.
  303. My needful seeming harshness, pardon it.
  304. Our mother, is she well?'
    With that she kiss'd
  305. His forehead, then, a moment after, clung
  306. About him, and betwixt them blossom'd up
  307. From out a common vein of memory
  308. Sweet household talk, and phrases of the hearth,

  309.  And far allusion, till the gracious dews
  310. Began to glisten and to fall: and while
  311. They stood, so rapt, we gazing, came a voice,
  312. 'I brought a message here from Lady Blanche.'
  313. Back started she, and turning round we saw
  314. The Lady Blanche's daughter where she stood,
  315. Melissa, with her hand upon the lock,
  316. A rosy blonde, and in a college gown,
  317. That clad her like an April daffodilly
  318. (Her mother's colour) with her lips apart,
  319. And all her thoughts as fair within her eyes,
  320. As bottom agates seen to wave and float
  321. In crystal currents of clear morning seas.

  322.  So stood that same fair creature at the door.
  323. Then Lady Psyche, ' Ah--Melissa--you!
  324. You heard us?' and Melissa, ' O pardon me I
  325. I heard, I could not help it, did not wish:
  326. But, dearest Lady, pray you fear me not,
  327. Nor think I bear that heart within my breast,
  328. To give three gallant gentlemen to death.'
  329. 'I trust you,' said the other, 'for we two
  330. Were always friends, none closer, elm and vine:
  331. But yet your mother's jealous temperament--
  332. Let not your prudence, dearest, drowse, or prove
  333. The Danaïd of a leaky vase, for fear
  334. This whole foundation ruin, and I lose
  335. My honour, these their lives.' 'Ah, fear me not'
  336. Replied Melissa; 'no--I would not tell,
  337. No, not for all Aspasia's cleverness,
  338. No, not to answer, Madam, all those hard things
  339. That Sheba came to ask of Solomon.'
  340. 'Be it so,' the other, 'that we still may lead
  341. The new light up, and culminate in peace,
  342. For Solomon may come to Sheba yet.'
  343. Said Cyril, 'Madam, lie the wisest man
  344. Feasted the woman wisest then, in halls
  345. Of Lebanonian cedar: nor should you
  346. (Tho', madam, youshould answer, wewould ask)
  347. Less welcome find among us, if you came
  348. Among us, debtors for our lives to you,
  349. Myself for something more.' He said not what,
  350. But 'Thanks,' she answer'd, 'Go: we have been too long

  351.  Together: keep your hoods about the face;
  352. They do so that affect abstraction here.
  353. Speak little; mix not with the rest; and hold
  354. Your promise: all, I trust, may yet be well.'

  355.  We turn'd to go, but Cyril took the child,
  356. And held her round the knees against his waist,
  357. And blew the swoll'n cheek of a trumpeter,
  358. While Psyche watch'd them, smiling, and the child
  359. Push'd her flat hand against his face and laugh'd;
  360. And thus our conference closed.
    And then we stroll'd
  361. For half the day thro' stately theatres
  362. Bench'd crescent-wise. In each we sat, we heard
  363. The grave Professor. On the lecture slate
  364. The circle rounded under female hands
  365. With flawless demonstration: follow'd then
  366. A classic lecture, rich in sentiment,
  367. With scraps of thundrous Epic lilted out
  368. By violet-hooded Doctors, elegies
  369. And quoted odes, and jewels five-words-long
  370. That on the stretch'd forefinger of all Time
  371. Sparkle for ever: then we dipt in all
  372. That treats of whatsoever is, the state,
  373. The total chronicles of man, the mind,
  374. The morals, something of the frame, the rock,
  375. The star, the bird, the fish, the shell, the flower,
  376. Electric, chemic laws, and all the rest,
  377. And whatsoever can be taught and known;
  378. Till like three horses that have broken fence,
  379. And glutted all night long breast-deep in corn,
  380. We issued gorged with knowledge, and I spoke:
  381. 'Why, Sirs, they do all this as well as we.'
  382. 'They hunt old trails,' said Cyril, 'very well;
  383. But when did woman ever yet invent?'
  384. 'Ungracious!' answer'd Florian, 'have you learnt
  385. No more from Psyche's lecture, you that talk'd
  386. The trash that made me sick, and almost sad? '
  387. 'O trash,' he said, 'but with a kernel in it.
  388. Should I not call her wise, who made me wise?
  389. And learnt? I learnt more from her in a flash,
  390. Than if my brainpan were an empty hull,
  391. And every Muse tumbled a science in.
  392. A thousand hearts lie fallow in these halls,
  393. And round these halls a thousand baby loves
  394. Fly twanging headless arrows at the hearts,
  395. Whence follows many a vacant pang; but O
  396. With me, Sir, enter'd in the bigger boy,
  397. The Head of all the golden-shafted firm,
  398. The long-limb'd lad that had a Psyche too
  399. He cleft me thro' the stomacher; and now
  400. What think you of it, Florian? do I chase
  401. The substance or the shadow? will it hold?
  402. I have no sorcerer's malison on me,
  403. No ghostly hauntings like his Highness. I
  404. Flatter myself that always everywhere
  405. I know the substance when I see it. Well,
  406. Are castles shadows? Three of them? Is she
  407. The sweet proprietress a shadow? If not,
  408. Shall those three castles patch my tatter'd coat?
  409. For dear are those three castles to my wants,
  410. And dear is sister Psyche to my heart,
  411. And two dear things are one of double worth.
  412. And much I might have said, but that my zone
  413. Unmann'd me: then the Doctors! O to hear
  414. The Doctors! O to watch the thirsty plants
  415. Imbibing! once or twice I thought to roar,
  416. To break my chain, to shake my mane: but thou,
  417. Modulate me, Soul of mincing mimicry!
  418. Make liquid treble of that bassoon, my throat;
  419. Abase those eyes that ever loved to meet
  420. Star-sisters answering under crescent brows;
  421. Abate the stride, which speaks of man, and loose
  422. A flying charm of blushes o'er this cheek,
  423. Where they like swallows coming out of time
  424. Will wonder why they came: but hark the bell
  425. For dinner, let us go!'
    And in we stream'd
  426. Among the columns, pacing staid and still
  427. By twos and threes, till all from end to end
  428. With beauties every shade of brown and fair
  429. In colours gayer than the morning mist,
  430. The long hall glitter'd like a bed of flowers.
  431. How might a man not wander from his wits
  432. Pierced thro' with eyes, but that I kept mine own
  433. Intent on her, who rapt in glorious dreams,

  434.  The second-sight of some Astræ an age,
  435. Sat compass'd with professors: they, the while,
  436. Discuss'd a doubt and tost it to and fro:
  437. A clamour thicken'd, mixt with inmost terms
  438. Of art and science: Lady Blanche alone
  439. Of faded form and haughtiest lineaments,
  440. With all her autumn tresses falsely brown,
  441. Shot sidelong daggers at us, a tiger-cat
  442. In act to spring.
    At last a solemn grace
  443. Concluded, and we sought the gardens: there
  444. One walk'd reciting by herself, and one
  445. In this hand held a volume as to read,
  446. And smoothed a petted peacock down with that:
  447. Some to a low song oar'd a shallop by,
  448. Or under arches of the marble bridge
  449. Hung, shadow'd from the heat: some hid and sought
  450. In the orange thickets: others tost a ball
  451. Above the fountain-jets, and back again
  452. With laughter: others lay about the lawns,
  453. Of the older sort, and murmur'd that their May
  454. Was passing: what was learning unto them?
  455. They wish'd to marry; they could rule a house;
  456. Men hated learned women: but we three
  457. Sat muffled like the Fates; and often came
  458. Melissa hitting all we saw with shafts
  459. Of gentle satire, kin to charity,
  460. That harm'd not: then day droopt; the chapel bells
  461. Call'd us: we left the walks; we mixt with those
  462. Six hundred maidens clad in purest white,
  463. Before two streams of light from wall to wall,
  464. While the great organ almost burst his pipes,
  465. Groaning for power, and rolling thro' the court
  466. A long melodious thunder to the sound
  467. Of solemn psalms, and silver litanies,
  468. The work of Ida, to call down from Heaven
  469. A blessing on her labours for the world.

Canto I| Introduction| Canto III

Last updated July 28, 1997