Canto VI

  1.  Home they brought her warrior dead:
  2.  She nor swoon'd, nor utter'd cry:
  3.  All her maidens, watching, said,
  4.  'She must weep or she will die.'

  5.  Then they praised him, soft and low,
  6.  Call'd him worthy to be loved,
  7.  Truest friend and noblest foe;
  8.  Yet she neither spoke nor moved.

  9.  Stole a maiden from her place,
  10.  Lightly to the warrior stept,
  11.  Took the face-cloth from the face;
  12.  Yet she neither moved nor wept.

  13.  Rose a nurse of ninety years,
  14.  Set his child upon her knee--
  15.  Like summer tempest came her tears-
  16.  'Sweet my child, I live for thee.'

  17. MY dream had never died or lived again,
  18. As in some mystic middle state I lay;
  19. Seeing I saw not, hearing not I heard:
  20. Tho', if I saw not, yet they told me all
  21. So often that I speak as having seen.

  22.  For so it seem'd, or so they said to me,
  23. That all things grew more tragic and more strange;
  24. That when our side was vanquish'd and my cause
  25. For ever lost, there went up a great cry,
  26. The Prince is slain. My father heard and ran
  27. In on the lists, and there unlaced my casque
  28. And grovell'd on my body, and after him
  29. Came Psyche, sorrowing for Aglaï a.

  30.  But high upon the palace Ida stood
  31. With Psyche's babe in arm: there on the roofs
  32. Like that great dame of Lapidoth she sang.

  33.    'Our enemies have fall'n, have fall'n: the seed,
  34.    The little seed they laugh'd at in the dark,
  35.    Has risen and cleft the soil, and grown a bulk
  36.    Of spanless girth, that lays on every side
  37.    A thousand arms and rushes to the Sun.

  38.    'Our enemies have fall'n, have fall'n: they came;
  39.    The leaves were wet with women's tears: they heard
  40.    A noise of songs they would not understand:
  41.    They mark'd it with the red cross to the fall,
  42.    And would have strown it, and are fall'n themselves.

  43.    'Our enemies have fall'n, have fall'n: they came,
  44.    The woodmen with their axes: lo the tree!
  45.    But we will make it faggots for the hearth,
  46.    And shape it plant and beam for roof and floor,
  47.    And boats and bridges for the use of men.

  48.    'Our enemies have fall'n, have fall'n: they struck;
  49.    With their own blows they hurt themselves, nor knew
  50.    There dwelt an iron nature in the grain:
  51.    The glittering axe was broken in their arms,
  52.    Their arms were shatter'd to the shoulder-blade.

  53.    'Our enemies have fall'n, but this shall grow
  54.    A night of Summer from the heat, a breadth
  55.    Of Autumn, dropping fruits of power; and roll'd
  56.    With music in the growing breeze of Time,
  57.    The tops shall strike from star to star; the fangs
  58.    Shall move the stony bases of the world.

  59.  'And now, O maids, behold our sanctuary
  60. Is violate, our laws broken: fear we not
  61. To break them more in their behoof, whose arms
  62. Champion'd our cause and won it with a day
  63. Blanch'd in our annals, and perpetual feast,
  64. When dames and heroines of the golden year
  65. Shall strip a hundred hollows bare of Spring,
  66. To rain an April of ovation round
  67. Their statues, borne aloft, the three: but come,
  68. We will be liberal, since our rights are won.
  69. Let them not lie in the tents with coarse mankind,
  70. Ill nurses: but descend, and proffer these
  71. The brethren of our blood and cause, that there
  72. Lie bruised and maim'd, the tender ministries
  73. Of female hands and hospitality.'

  74.  She spoke, and with the babe yet in her arms,
  75. Descending, burst the great bronze valves, and led
  76. A hundred maids in train across the Park.
  77. Some cowl'd, and some bare-headed, on they came,
  78. Their feet in flowers, her loveliest: by them went
  79. The enamour'd air sighing, and on their curls
  80. From the high tree the blossom wavering fell,
  81. And over them the tremulous isles of light
  82. Slided, they moving under shade: but Blanche
  83. At distance follow'd: so they came: anon
  84. Thro' open field into the lists they wound
  85. Timorously: and as the leader of the herd
  86. That holds a stately fretwork to the Sun,
  87. And follow'd up by a hundred airy does,
  88. Steps with a tender foot, light as on air,
  89. The lovely, lordly creature floated on
  90. To where her wounded brethren lay; there stay'd;
  91. Knelt on one knee, --the child on one--and prest
  92. Their hands, and call'd them dear deliverers,
  93. And happy warriors, and immortal names,
  94. And said 'You shall not lie in the tents but here,
  95. And nursed by those for whom you fought, and served
  96. With female hands and hospitality.'

  97.  Then, whether moved by this, or was it chance,
  98. She past my way. Up started from my side
  99. The old lion, glaring with his whelpless eye,
  100. Silent: but when she saw me lying stark,
  101. Dishelm'd and mute, and motionlessly pale,
  102. Cold ev'n to her, she sigh'd; and when she saw
  103. The haggard father's face and reverent beard
  104. Of grisly twine, all dabbled with the blood
  105. Of his own son, shudder'd, a twitch of pain
  106. Tortured her mouth, and o'er her forehead past
  107. A shadow, and her hue changed, and she said:
  108. 'He saved my life: my brother slew him for it.'
  109. No more: at which the king in bitter scorn
  110. Drew from my neck the painting and the tress,
  111. And held them up: she saw them, and a day
  112. Rose from the distance on her memory,
  113. When the good Queen, her mother, shore the tress
  114. With kisses, ere the days of Lady Blanche:
  115. And then once more she look'd at my pale face:
  116. Till understanding all the foolish work
  117. Of Fancy, and the bitter close of all,
  118. Her iron will was broken in her mind;
  119. Her noble heart was molten in her breast;
  120. She bow'd, she set the child on the earth; she laid
  121. A feeling finger on my brows, and presently
  122. 'O Sire,' she said, 'he lives: he is not dead:
  123. O let me have him with my brethren here
  124. In our own palace: we will tend on him
  125. Like one of these; if so, by any means,
  126. To lighten this great clog of thanks, that make
  127. Our progress falter to the woman's goal.'

  128.  She said: but at the happy word 'he lives'
  129. My father stoop'd, re-father'd o'er my wounds.
  130. So those two foes above my fallen life,
  131. With brow to brow like night and evening mixt
  132. Their dark and gray, while Psyche ever stole
  133. A little nearer, till the babe that by us,
  134. Half-lapt in glowing gauze and golden brede,
  135. Lay like a new-fall'n meteor on the grass,
  136. Uncared for, spied its mother and began
  137. A blind and babbling laughter, and to dance
  138. Its body, and reach its fatling innocent arms
  139. And lazy lingering fingers. She the appeal
  140. Brook'd not, but clamouring out 'Mine--mine--not yours,
  141. It is not yours, but mine: give me the child,'
  142. Ceased all on tremble: piteous was the cry:
  143. So stood the unhappy mother open-mouth'd,
  144. And turn'd each face her way: wan was her cheek
  145. With hollow watch, her blooming mantle torn,
  146. Red grief and mother's hunger in her eye,
  147. And down dead-heavy sank her curls, and half
  148. The sacred mother's bosom, panting, burst
  149. The laces toward her babe; but she nor cared
  150. Nor knew it, clamouring on, till Ida heard,
  151. Look'd up, and rising slowly from me, stood
  152. Erect and silent, striking with her glance
  153. The mother, me, the child; but he that lay
  154. Beside us, Cyril, batter'd as he was,
  155. Trail'd himself up on one knee: then he drew
  156. Her robe to meet his lips, and down she look'd
  157. At the arm'd man sideways, pitying, as it seem'd,
  158. Or self-involved; but when she learnt his face,
  159. Remembering his ill-omen'd song, arose
  160. Once more thro' all her height, and o'er him grew
  161. Tall as a figure lengthen'd on the sand
  162. When the tide ebbs in sunshine, and he said:

  163.  'O fair and strong and terrible! Lioness
  164. That with your long locks play the Lion's mane!
  165. But Love and Nature, these are two more terrible
  166. And stronger. See, your foot is on our necks,
  167. We vanquish'd, you the Victor of your will.
  168. What would you more? give her the child! remain
  169. Orb'd in your isolation: he is dead,
  170. Or all as dead: henceforth we let you be:
  171. Win you the hearts of women; and beware
  172. Lest, where you seek the common love of these,
  173. The common hate with the revolving wheel
  174. Should drag you down, and some great Nemesis
  175. Break from a darken'd future, crown'd with fire,
  176. And tread you out for ever: but howsoe'er
  177. Fix'd in yourself, never in your own arms
  178. To hold your own, deny not hers to her,
  179. Give her the child! O if, I say, you keep
  180. One pulse that beats true woman, if you loved
  181. The breast that fed or arm that dandled you,
  182. Or own one part of sense not flint to prayer,
  183. Give her the child! or if you scorn to lay it,
  184. Yourself, in hands so lately claspt with yours,
  185. Or speak to her, your dearest, her one fault
  186. The tenderness, not yours, that could not kill,
  187. Give me it; I will give it her.'
    He said:
  188. At first her eye with slow dilation roll'd
  189. Dry flame, she listening: after sank and sank
  190. And, into mournful twilight mellowing, dwelt
  191. Full on the child; she took it: 'Pretty bud!
  192. Lily of the vale! half-open'd bell of the woods!
  193. Sole comfort of my dark hour, when a world
  194. Of traitorous friend and broken system made
  195. No purple in the distance, mystery,
  196. Pledge of a love not to be mine, farewell;
  197. These men are hard upon us as of old,
  198. We two must part: and yet how fain was I
  199. To dream thy cause embraced in mine, to think
  200. I might be something to thee, when I felt
  201. Thy helpless warmth about my barren breast
  202. In the dead prime: but may thy mother prove
  203. As true to thee as false, false, false to me!
  204. And, if thou needs must bear the yoke, I wish it
  205. Gentle as freedom '--here she kiss'd it: then--
  206. 'All good go with thee! take it, Sir,' and so
  207. Laid the soft babe in his hard-mailed hands.
  208. Who turn'd half-round to Psyche as she sprang
  209. To meet it, with an eye that swum in thanks;
  210. Then felt it sound and whole from head to foot,
  211. And hugg'd and never hugg'd it close enough,
  212. And in her hunger mouth'd and mumbled it,
  213. And hid her bosom with it; after that
  214. Put on more calm and added suppliantly:

  215.  'We two were friends: I go to mine own land
  216. For ever: find some other: as for me
  217. I scarce am fit for your great plans: yet speak to me,
  218. Say one soft word and let me part forgiven.'

  219.  But Ida spoke not, rapt upon the child.
  220. Then Arac. 'Ida--'sdeath! you blame the man;
  221. You wrong yourselves--the woman is so hard
  222. Upon the woman. Come, a grace to me!
  223. I am your warrior: I and mine have fought
  224. Your battle: kiss her; take her hand, she weeps:
  225. 'Sdeath! I would sooner fight thrice o'er than see it.'

  226.  But Ida spoke not, gazing on the ground;
  227. And reddening in the furrows of his chin,
  228. And moved beyond his custom, Gama said:

  229.  'I've heard that there is iron in the blood,
  230. And I believe it. Not one word? not one?
  231. Whence drew you this steel temper? not from me,
  232. Not from your mother, now a saint with saints.
  233. She said you had a heart--I heard her say it--
  234. "Our Ida has a heart"--just ere she died--
  235. "But see that some one with authority
  236. Be near her still:" and I--I sought for one-
  237. All people said she had authority--
  238. The Lady Blanche: much profit! Not one word;
  239. No! tho' your father sues: see how you stand
  240. Stiff as Lot's wife, and all the good knights maim'd,
  241. I trust that there is no one hurt to death,
  242. For your wild whim: and was it then for this,
  243. Was it for this we gave our palace up,
  244. Where we withdrew from summer heats and state,
  245. And had our wine and chess beneath the planes,
  246. And many a pleasant hour with her that's gone,
  247. Ere you were born to vex us? Is it kind?
  248. Speak to her I say: is this not she of whom,
  249. When first she came, all flush'd you said to me
  250. Now had you got a friend of your own age,
  251. Now could you share your thought; now should men see
  252. Two women faster welded in one love
  253. Than pairs of wedlock; she you walk'd with, she
  254. You talk'd with, whole nights long, up in the tower,
  255. Of sine and arc, spheroid and azimuth,
  256. And right ascension, Heaven knows what; and now
  257. A word, but one, one little kindly word,
  258. Not one to spare her: out upon you, flint!
  259. You love nor her, nor me, nor any; nay,
  260. You shame your mother's judgement too. Not one?
  261. You will not? well--no heart have you, or such
  262. As fancies like the vermin in a nut
  263. Have fretted all to dust and bitterness.'
  264. So said the small king moved beyond his wont.

  265.  But Ida stood nor spoke, drain'd of her force
  266. By many a varying influence and so long.
  267. Down thro' her limbs a drooping languor wept:
  268. Her head a little bent; and on her mouth
  269. A doubtful smile dwelt like a clouded moon
  270. In a still water: then brake out my sire,
  271. Lifting his grim head from my wounds: 'O you,
  272. Woman, whom we thought woman even now,
  273. And were half fool'd to let you tend our son,
  274. Because he might have wished it--but we see
  275. The accomplice of your madness unforgiven,
  276. And think that you might mix his draught with death,
  277. When your skies change again: the rougher hand
  278. Is safer: on to the tents: take up the Prince.'

  279.  He rose, and while each ear was prick'd to attend
  280. A tempest, thro' the cloud that dimm'd her broke
  281. A genial warmth and light once more, and shone
  282. Thro' glittering drops on her sad friend.
    'Come hither,
  283. O Psyche,' she cried out, 'embrace me, come,
  284. Quick while I melt; make reconcilement sure
  285. With one that cannot keep her mind an hour:
  286. Come to the hollow heart they slander so!
  287. Kiss and be friends, like children being chid!
  288. I seem no more: I want forgiveness too:
  289. I should have had to do with none but maids,
  290. That have no links with men. Ah false but dear,
  291. Dear traitor, too much loved, why? --why? --Yet see,
  292. Before these kings we embrace you yet once more
  293. With all forgiveness, all oblivion,
  294. And trust, not love you less.
    And now, O Sire,
  295. Grant me your son, to nurse, to wait upon him,
  296. Like mine own brother. For my debt to him,
  297. This nightmare weight of gratitude, I know it;
  298. Taunt me no more: yourself and yours shall have
  299. Free adit; we will scatter all our maids
  300. Till happier times each to her proper hearth:
  301. What use to keep them here now? grant my prayer.
  302. Help, father, brother, help; speak to the king:
  303. Thaw this male nature to some touch of that
  304. Which kills me with myself, and drags me down
  305. From my fixt height to mob me up with all
  306. The soft and milky rabble of womankind,
  307. Poor weakling ev'n as they are.'
    Passionate tears
  308. Follow'd: the king replied not: Cyril said:
  309. 'Your brother, Lady, --Florian, --ask for him
  310. Of your great head--for he is wounded too--
  311. That you may tend upon him with the prince.'
  312. 'Ay so,' said Ida with a bitter smile,
  313. 'Our laws are broken: let him enter too.'
  314. Then Violet, she that sang the mournful song,
  315. And had a cousin tumbled on the plain,
  316. Petition'd too for him. 'Ay so,' she said,
  317. 'I stagger in the stream: I cannot keep
  318. My heart an eddy from the brawling hour:
  319. We break our laws with ease, but let it be.'
  320. 'Ay so?' said Blanche: 'Amazed am I to hear
  321. Your Highness: but your Highness breaks with ease
  322. The law your Highness did not make: 'twas I.
  323. I had been wedded wife, I knew mankind,
  324. And block'd them out; but these men came to woo
  325. Your Highness--verily I think to win.'

  326.  So she, and turn'd askance a wintry eye:
  327. But Ida with a voice, that like a bell
  328. Toll'd by an earthquake in a trembling tower,
  329. Rang ruin, answer'd full of grief and scorn:

  330.  'Fling our doors wide! all, all, not one, but all,
  331. Not only he, but by my mother's soul,
  332. Whatever man lies wounded, friend or foe,
  333. Shall enter, if he will. Let our girls flit,
  334. Till the storm die! but had you stood by us,
  335. The roar that breaks the Pharos from his base
  336. Had left us rock. She fain would sting us too,
  337. But shall not. Pass, and mingle with your likes.
  338. We brook no further insult but are gone.'

  339.  She turn'd; the very nape of her white neck
  340. Was rosed with indignation: but the Prince
  341. Her brother came; the king her father charm'd
  342. Her wounded soul with words: nor did mine own
  343. Refuse her proffer, lastly gave his hand.

  344.  Then us they lifted up, dead weights, and bare
  345. Straight to the doors: to them the doors gave way
  346. Groaning, and in the Vestal entry shriek'd
  347. The virgin marble under iron heels:
  348. And on they moved and gain'd the hall, and there
  349. Rested: but great the crush was, and each base,
  350. To left and right, of those tall columns drown'd
  351. In silken fluctuation and the swarm,
  352. Of female whisperers: at the further end
  353. Was Ida by the throne, the two great cats
  354. Close by her, like supporters on a shield,
  355. Bow-back'd with fear: but in the centre stood
  356. The common men with rolling eyes; amazed
  357. They glared upon the women, and aghast
  358. The women stared at these, all silent, save
  359. When armour clash'd or jingled, while the day,
  360. Descending, struck athwart the hall, and shot
  361. A flying splendour out of brass and steel,
  362. That o'er the statues leapt from head to head,
  363. Now fired an angry Pallas on the helm,
  364. Now set a wrathful Dian's moon on flame,
  365. And now and then an echo started up,
  366. And shuddering fled from room to room, and died
  367. Of fright in far apartments.
    Then the voice
  368. Of Ida sounded, issuing ordinance:
  369. And me they bore up the broad stairs, and thro'
  370. The long-laid galleries past a hundred doors
  371. To one deep chamber shut from sound, and due
  372. To languid limbs and sickness; left me in it;
  373. And others otherwhere they laid; and all
  374. That afternoon a sound arose of hoof
  375. And chariot, many a maiden passing home
  376. Till happier times; but some were left of those
  377. Held sagest, and the great lords out and in,
  378. From those two hosts that lay beside the walls,
  379. Walk'd at their will, and everything was changed.

Canto V | Introduction | Canto VII

Last updated October 24, 1997