unutterable for pain,
The thirst at heart that cries on death for ease,
What knows thy soul’s live sense of pangs like these?
Is no love left thee then for comfort?
Thy son’s may serve thee, though thou mock at mine.
Ay—when he comes again from Cornwall.
If now his absence irk thee, bid him stay.
I will not—yea, I would not, though I might.
Go, child: God guard and grace thine hand in fight!
My heart shall give it grace to guard my head.
Well thought, my son: but scarce of thee well said.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wilt thou not bless him going, and bid him speed?
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!
So shall they, if I live.
Scene II.—Gardens of the Palace.
Enter Camber and Debon.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Why, thou art old;
To thee could falsehood bear but fruitless fruit—
Lean grafts and sour. I think thou wouldst not.
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