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The Princess (part 4)

Written by: Alfred Lord Tennyson | Biography
 | Quotes (78) |
 'There sinks the nebulous star we call the Sun, 
If that hypothesis of theirs be sound' 
Said Ida; 'let us down and rest;' and we 
Down from the lean and wrinkled precipices, 
By every coppice-feathered chasm and cleft, 
Dropt through the ambrosial gloom to where below 
No bigger than a glow-worm shone the tent 
Lamp-lit from the inner. Once she leaned on me, 
Descending; once or twice she lent her hand, 
And blissful palpitations in the blood, 
Stirring a sudden transport rose and fell. 

But when we planted level feet, and dipt 
Beneath the satin dome and entered in, 
There leaning deep in broidered down we sank 
Our elbows: on a tripod in the midst 
A fragrant flame rose, and before us glowed 
Fruit, blossom, viand, amber wine, and gold. 

Then she, 'Let some one sing to us: lightlier move 
The minutes fledged with music:' and a maid, 
Of those beside her, smote her harp, and sang. 

'Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean, 
Tears from the depth of some divine despair 
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes, 
In looking on the happy Autumn-fields, 
And thinking of the days that are no more. 

'Fresh as the first beam glittering on a sail, 
That brings our friends up from the underworld, 
Sad as the last which reddens over one 
That sinks with all we love below the verge; 
So sad, so fresh, the days that are no more. 

'Ah, sad and strange as in dark summer dawns 
The earliest pipe of half-awakened birds 
To dying ears, when unto dying eyes 
The casement slowly grows a glimmering square; 
So sad, so strange, the days that are no more. 

'Dear as remembered kisses after death, 
And sweet as those by hopeless fancy feigned 
On lips that are for others; deep as love, 
Deep as first love, and wild with all regret; 
O Death in Life, the days that are no more.' 

She ended with such passion that the tear, 
She sang of, shook and fell, an erring pearl 
Lost in her bosom: but with some disdain 
Answered the Princess, 'If indeed there haunt 
About the mouldered lodges of the Past 
So sweet a voice and vague, fatal to men, 
Well needs it we should cram our ears with wool 
And so pace by: but thine are fancies hatched 
In silken-folded idleness; nor is it 
Wiser to weep a true occasion lost, 
But trim our sails, and let old bygones be, 
While down the streams that float us each and all 
To the issue, goes, like glittering bergs of ice, 
Throne after throne, and molten on the waste 
Becomes a cloud: for all things serve their time 
Toward that great year of equal mights and rights, 
Nor would I fight with iron laws, in the end 
Found golden: let the past be past; let be 
Their cancelled Babels: though the rough kex break 
The starred mosaic, and the beard-blown goat 
Hang on the shaft, and the wild figtree split 
Their monstrous idols, care not while we hear 
A trumpet in the distance pealing news 
Of better, and Hope, a poising eagle, burns 
Above the unrisen morrow:' then to me; 
'Know you no song of your own land,' she said, 
'Not such as moans about the retrospect, 
But deals with the other distance and the hues 
Of promise; not a death's-head at the wine.' 

Then I remembered one myself had made, 
What time I watched the swallow winging south 
From mine own land, part made long since, and part 
Now while I sang, and maidenlike as far 
As I could ape their treble, did I sing. 

'O Swallow, Swallow, flying, flying South, 
Fly to her, and fall upon her gilded eaves, 
And tell her, tell her, what I tell to thee. 

'O tell her, Swallow, thou that knowest each, 
That bright and fierce and fickle is the South, 
And dark and true and tender is the North. 

'O Swallow, Swallow, if I could follow, and light 
Upon her lattice, I would pipe and trill, 
And cheep and twitter twenty million loves. 

'O were I thou that she might take me in, 
And lay me on her bosom, and her heart 
Would rock the snowy cradle till I died. 

'Why lingereth she to clothe her heart with love, 
Delaying as the tender ash delays 
To clothe herself, when all the woods are green? 

'O tell her, Swallow, that thy brood is flown: 
Say to her, I do but wanton in the South, 
But in the North long since my nest is made. 

'O tell her, brief is life but love is long, 
And brief the sun of summer in the North, 
And brief the moon of beauty in the South. 

'O Swallow, flying from the golden woods, 
Fly to her, and pipe and woo her, and make her mine, 
And tell her, tell her, that I follow thee.' 

I ceased, and all the ladies, each at each, 
Like the Ithacensian suitors in old time, 
Stared with great eyes, and laughed with alien lips, 
And knew not what they meant; for still my voice 
Rang false: but smiling 'Not for thee,' she said, 
O Bulbul, any rose of Gulistan 
Shall burst her veil: marsh-divers, rather, maid, 
Shall croak thee sister, or the meadow-crake 
Grate her harsh kindred in the grass: and this 
A mere love-poem! O for such, my friend, 
We hold them slight: they mind us of the time 
When we made bricks in Egypt. Knaves are men, 
That lute and flute fantastic tenderness, 
And dress the victim to the offering up, 
And paint the gates of Hell with Paradise, 
And play the slave to gain the tyranny. 
Poor soul! I had a maid of honour once; 
She wept her true eyes blind for such a one, 
A rogue of canzonets and serenades. 
I loved her. Peace be with her. She is dead. 
So they blaspheme the muse! But great is song 
Used to great ends: ourself have often tried 
Valkyrian hymns, or into rhythm have dashed 
The passion of the prophetess; for song 
Is duer unto freedom, force and growth 
Of spirit than to junketing and love. 
Love is it? Would this same mock-love, and this 
Mock-Hymen were laid up like winter bats, 
Till all men grew to rate us at our worth, 
Not vassals to be beat, nor pretty babes 
To be dandled, no, but living wills, and sphered 
Whole in ourselves and owed to none. Enough! 
But now to leaven play with profit, you, 
Know you no song, the true growth of your soil, 
That gives the manners of your country-women?' 

She spoke and turned her sumptuous head with eyes 
Of shining expectation fixt on mine. 
Then while I dragged my brains for such a song, 
Cyril, with whom the bell-mouthed glass had wrought, 
Or mastered by the sense of sport, began 
To troll a careless, careless tavern-catch 
Of Moll and Meg, and strange experiences 
Unmeet for ladies. Florian nodded at him, 
I frowning; Psyche flushed and wanned and shook; 
The lilylike Melissa drooped her brows; 
'Forbear,' the Princess cried; 'Forbear, Sir' I; 
And heated through and through with wrath and love, 
I smote him on the breast; he started up; 
There rose a shriek as of a city sacked; 
Melissa clamoured 'Flee the death;' 'To horse' 
Said Ida; 'home! to horse!' and fled, as flies 
A troop of snowy doves athwart the dusk, 
When some one batters at the dovecote-doors, 
Disorderly the women. Alone I stood 
With Florian, cursing Cyril, vext at heart, 
In the pavilion: there like parting hopes 
I heard them passing from me: hoof by hoof, 
And every hoof a knell to my desires, 
Clanged on the bridge; and then another shriek, 
'The Head, the Head, the Princess, O the Head!' 
For blind with rage she missed the plank, and rolled 
In the river. Out I sprang from glow to gloom: 
There whirled her white robe like a blossomed branch 
Rapt to the horrible fall: a glance I gave, 
No more; but woman-vested as I was 
Plunged; and the flood drew; yet I caught her; then 
Oaring one arm, and bearing in my left 
The weight of all the hopes of half the world, 
Strove to buffet to land in vain. A tree 
Was half-disrooted from his place and stooped 
To wrench his dark locks in the gurgling wave 
Mid-channel. Right on this we drove and caught, 
And grasping down the boughs I gained the shore. 

There stood her maidens glimmeringly grouped 
In the hollow bank. One reaching forward drew 
My burthen from mine arms; they cried 'she lives:' 
They bore her back into the tent: but I, 
So much a kind of shame within me wrought, 
Not yet endured to meet her opening eyes, 
Nor found my friends; but pushed alone on foot 
(For since her horse was lost I left her mine) 
Across the woods, and less from Indian craft 
Than beelike instinct hiveward, found at length 
The garden portals. Two great statues, Art 
And Science, Caryatids, lifted up 
A weight of emblem, and betwixt were valves 
Of open-work in which the hunter rued 
His rash intrusion, manlike, but his brows 
Had sprouted, and the branches thereupon 
Spread out at top, and grimly spiked the gates. 

A little space was left between the horns, 
Through which I clambered o'er at top with pain, 
Dropt on the sward, and up the linden walks, 
And, tost on thoughts that changed from hue to hue, 
Now poring on the glowworm, now the star, 
I paced the terrace, till the Bear had wheeled 
Through a great arc his seven slow suns. 
A step 
Of lightest echo, then a loftier form 
Than female, moving through the uncertain gloom, 
Disturbed me with the doubt 'if this were she,' 
But it was Florian. 'Hist O Hist,' he said, 
'They seek us: out so late is out of rules. 
Moreover "seize the strangers" is the cry. 
How came you here?' I told him: 'I' said he, 
'Last of the train, a moral leper, I, 
To whom none spake, half-sick at heart, returned. 
Arriving all confused among the rest 
With hooded brows I crept into the hall, 
And, couched behind a Judith, underneath 
The head of Holofernes peeped and saw. 
Girl after girl was called to trial: each 
Disclaimed all knowledge of us: last of all, 
Melissa: trust me, Sir, I pitied her. 
She, questioned if she knew us men, at first 
Was silent; closer prest, denied it not: 
And then, demanded if her mother knew, 
Or Psyche, she affirmed not, or denied: 
From whence the Royal mind, familiar with her, 
Easily gathered either guilt. She sent 
For Psyche, but she was not there; she called 
For Psyche's child to cast it from the doors; 
She sent for Blanche to accuse her face to face; 
And I slipt out: but whither will you now? 
And where are Psyche, Cyril? both are fled: 
What, if together? that were not so well. 
Would rather we had never come! I dread 
His wildness, and the chances of the dark.' 

'And yet,' I said, 'you wrong him more than I 
That struck him: this is proper to the clown, 
Though smocked, or furred and purpled, still the clown, 
To harm the thing that trusts him, and to shame 
That which he says he loves: for Cyril, howe'er 
He deal in frolic, as tonight--the song 
Might have been worse and sinned in grosser lips 
Beyond all pardon--as it is, I hold 
These flashes on the surface are not he. 
He has a solid base of temperament: 
But as the waterlily starts and slides 
Upon the level in little puffs of wind, 
Though anchored to the bottom, such is he.' 

Scarce had I ceased when from a tamarisk near 
Two Proctors leapt upon us, crying, 'Names:' 
He, standing still, was clutched; but I began 
To thrid the musky-circled mazes, wind 
And double in and out the boles, and race 
By all the fountains: fleet I was of foot: 
Before me showered the rose in flakes; behind 
I heard the puffed pursuer; at mine ear 
Bubbled the nightingale and heeded not, 
And secret laughter tickled all my soul. 
At last I hooked my ankle in a vine, 
That claspt the feet of a Mnemosyne, 
And falling on my face was caught and known. 

They haled us to the Princess where she sat 
High in the hall: above her drooped a lamp, 
And made the single jewel on her brow 
Burn like the mystic fire on a mast-head, 
Prophet of storm: a handmaid on each side 
Bowed toward her, combing out her long black hair 
Damp from the river; and close behind her stood 
Eight daughters of the plough, stronger than men, 
Huge women blowzed with health, and wind, and rain, 
And labour. Each was like a Druid rock; 
Or like a spire of land that stands apart 
Cleft from the main, and wailed about with mews. 

Then, as we came, the crowd dividing clove 
An advent to the throne: and therebeside, 
Half-naked as if caught at once from bed 
And tumbled on the purple footcloth, lay 
The lily-shining child; and on the left, 
Bowed on her palms and folded up from wrong, 
Her round white shoulder shaken with her sobs, 
Melissa knelt; but Lady Blanche erect 
Stood up and spake, an affluent orator. 

'It was not thus, O Princess, in old days: 
You prized my counsel, lived upon my lips: 
I led you then to all the Castalies; 
I fed you with the milk of every Muse; 
I loved you like this kneeler, and you me 
Your second mother: those were gracious times. 
Then came your new friend: you began to change-- 
I saw it and grieved--to slacken and to cool; 
Till taken with her seeming openness 
You turned your warmer currents all to her, 
To me you froze: this was my meed for all. 
Yet I bore up in part from ancient love, 
And partly that I hoped to win you back, 
And partly conscious of my own deserts, 
And partly that you were my civil head, 
And chiefly you were born for something great, 
In which I might your fellow-worker be, 
When time should serve; and thus a noble scheme 
Grew up from seed we two long since had sown; 
In us true growth, in her a Jonah's gourd, 
Up in one night and due to sudden sun: 
We took this palace; but even from the first 
You stood in your own light and darkened mine. 
What student came but that you planed her path 
To Lady Psyche, younger, not so wise, 
A foreigner, and I your countrywoman, 
I your old friend and tried, she new in all? 
But still her lists were swelled and mine were lean; 
Yet I bore up in hope she would be known: 
Then came these wolves: ~they~ knew her: ~they~ endured, 
Long-closeted with her the yestermorn, 
To tell her what they were, and she to hear: 
And me none told: not less to an eye like mine 
A lidless watcher of the public weal, 
Last night, their mask was patent, and my foot 
Was to you: but I thought again: I feared 
To meet a cold "We thank you, we shall hear of it 
From Lady Psyche:" you had gone to her, 
She told, perforce; and winning easy grace 
No doubt, for slight delay, remained among us 
In our young nursery still unknown, the stem 
Less grain than touchwood, while my honest heat 
Were all miscounted as malignant haste 
To push my rival out of place and power. 
But public use required she should be known; 
And since my oath was ta'en for public use, 
I broke the letter of it to keep the sense. 
I spoke not then at first, but watched them well, 
Saw that they kept apart, no mischief done; 
And yet this day (though you should hate me for it) 
I came to tell you; found that you had gone, 
Ridden to the hills, she likewise: now, I thought, 
That surely she will speak; if not, then I: 
Did she? These monsters blazoned what they were, 
According to the coarseness of their kind, 
For thus I hear; and known at last (my work) 
And full of cowardice and guilty shame, 
I grant in her some sense of shame, she flies; 
And I remain on whom to wreak your rage, 
I, that have lent my life to build up yours, 
I that have wasted here health, wealth, and time, 
And talent, I--you know it--I will not boast: 
Dismiss me, and I prophesy your plan, 
Divorced from my experience, will be chaff 
For every gust of chance, and men will say 
We did not know the real light, but chased 
The wisp that flickers where no foot can tread.' 

She ceased: the Princess answered coldly, 'Good: 
Your oath is broken: we dismiss you: go. 
For this lost lamb (she pointed to the child) 
Our mind is changed: we take it to ourself.' 

Thereat the Lady stretched a vulture throat, 
And shot from crooked lips a haggard smile. 
'The plan was mine. I built the nest' she said 
'To hatch the cuckoo. Rise!' and stooped to updrag 
Melissa: she, half on her mother propt, 
Half-drooping from her, turned her face, and cast 
A liquid look on Ida, full of prayer, 
Which melted Florian's fancy as she hung, 
A Niobëan daughter, one arm out, 
Appealing to the bolts of Heaven; and while 
We gazed upon her came a little stir 
About the doors, and on a sudden rushed 
Among us, out of breath as one pursued, 
A woman-post in flying raiment. Fear 
Stared in her eyes, and chalked her face, and winged 
Her transit to the throne, whereby she fell 
Delivering sealed dispatches which the Head 
Took half-amazed, and in her lion's mood 
Tore open, silent we with blind surmise 
Regarding, while she read, till over brow 
And cheek and bosom brake the wrathful bloom 
As of some fire against a stormy cloud, 
When the wild peasant rights himself, the rick 
Flames, and his anger reddens in the heavens; 
For anger most it seemed, while now her breast, 
Beaten with some great passion at her heart, 
Palpitated, her hand shook, and we heard 
In the dead hush the papers that she held 
Rustle: at once the lost lamb at her feet 
Sent out a bitter bleating for its dam; 
The plaintive cry jarred on her ire; she crushed 
The scrolls together, made a sudden turn 
As if to speak, but, utterance failing her, 
She whirled them on to me, as who should say 
'Read,' and I read--two letters--one her sire's. 

'Fair daughter, when we sent the Prince your way, 
We knew not your ungracious laws, which learnt, 
We, conscious of what temper you are built, 
Came all in haste to hinder wrong, but fell 
Into his father's hands, who has this night, 
You lying close upon his territory, 
Slipt round and in the dark invested you, 
And here he keeps me hostage for his son.' 

The second was my father's running thus: 
'You have our son: touch not a hair of his head: 
Render him up unscathed: give him your hand: 
Cleave to your contract: though indeed we hear 
You hold the woman is the better man; 
A rampant heresy, such as if it spread 
Would make all women kick against their Lords 
Through all the world, and which might well deserve 
That we this night should pluck your palace down; 
And we will do it, unless you send us back 
Our son, on the instant, whole.' 
So far I read; 
And then stood up and spoke impetuously. 

'O not to pry and peer on your reserve, 
But led by golden wishes, and a hope 
The child of regal compact, did I break 
Your precinct; not a scorner of your sex 
But venerator, zealous it should be 
All that it might be: hear me, for I bear, 
Though man, yet human, whatsoe'er your wrongs, 
From the flaxen curl to the gray lock a life 
Less mine than yours: my nurse would tell me of you; 
I babbled for you, as babies for the moon, 
Vague brightness; when a boy, you stooped to me 
From all high places, lived in all fair lights, 
Came in long breezes rapt from inmost south 
And blown to inmost north; at eve and dawn 
With Ida, Ida, Ida, rang the woods; 
The leader wildswan in among the stars 
Would clang it, and lapt in wreaths of glowworm light 
The mellow breaker murmured Ida. Now, 
Because I would have reached you, had you been 
Sphered up with Cassiopëia, or the enthroned 
Persephonè in Hades, now at length, 
Those winters of abeyance all worn out, 
A man I came to see you: but indeed, 
Not in this frequence can I lend full tongue, 
O noble Ida, to those thoughts that wait 
On you, their centre: let me say but this, 
That many a famous man and woman, town 
And landskip, have I heard of, after seen 
The dwarfs of presage: though when known, there grew 
Another kind of beauty in detail 
Made them worth knowing; but in your I found 
My boyish dream involved and dazzled down 
And mastered, while that after-beauty makes 
Such head from act to act, from hour to hour, 
Within me, that except you slay me here, 
According to your bitter statute-book, 
I cannot cease to follow you, as they say 
The seal does music; who desire you more 
Than growing boys their manhood; dying lips, 
With many thousand matters left to do, 
The breath of life; O more than poor men wealth, 
Than sick men health--yours, yours, not mine--but half 
Without you; with you, whole; and of those halves 
You worthiest; and howe'er you block and bar 
Your heart with system out from mine, I hold 
That it becomes no man to nurse despair, 
But in the teeth of clenched antagonisms 
To follow up the worthiest till he die: 
Yet that I came not all unauthorized 
Behold your father's letter.' 
On one knee 
Kneeling, I gave it, which she caught, and dashed 
Unopened at her feet: a tide of fierce 
Invective seemed to wait behind her lips, 
As waits a river level with the dam 
Ready to burst and flood the world with foam: 
And so she would have spoken, but there rose 
A hubbub in the court of half the maids 
Gathered together: from the illumined hall 
Long lanes of splendour slanted o'er a press 
Of snowy shoulders, thick as herded ewes, 
And rainbow robes, and gems and gemlike eyes, 
And gold and golden heads; they to and fro 
Fluctuated, as flowers in storm, some red, some pale, 
All open-mouthed, all gazing to the light, 
Some crying there was an army in the land, 
And some that men were in the very walls, 
And some they cared not; till a clamour grew 
As of a new-world Babel, woman-built, 
And worse-confounded: high above them stood 
The placid marble Muses, looking peace. 

Not peace she looked, the Head: but rising up 
Robed in the long night of her deep hair, so 
To the open window moved, remaining there 
Fixt like a beacon-tower above the waves 
Of tempest, when the crimson-rolling eye 
Glares ruin, and the wild birds on the light 
Dash themselves dead. She stretched her arms and called 
Across the tumult and the tumult fell. 

'What fear ye, brawlers? am not I your Head? 
On me, me, me, the storm first breaks: ~I~ dare 
All these male thunderbolts: what is it ye fear? 
Peace! there are those to avenge us and they come: 
If not,--myself were like enough, O girls, 
To unfurl the maiden banner of our rights, 
And clad in iron burst the ranks of war, 
Or, falling, promartyr of our cause, 
Die: yet I blame you not so much for fear: 
Six thousand years of fear have made you that 
From which I would redeem you: but for those 
That stir this hubbub--you and you--I know 
Your faces there in the crowd--tomorrow morn 
We hold a great convention: then shall they 
That love their voices more than duty, learn 
With whom they deal, dismissed in shame to live 
No wiser than their mothers, household stuff, 
Live chattels, mincers of each other's fame, 
Full of weak poison, turnspits for the clown, 
The drunkard's football, laughing-stocks of Time, 
Whose brains are in their hands and in their heels 
But fit to flaunt, to dress, to dance, to thrum, 
To tramp, to scream, to burnish, and to scour, 
For ever slaves at home and fools abroad.' 

She, ending, waved her hands: thereat the crowd 
Muttering, dissolved: then with a smile, that looked 
A stroke of cruel sunshine on the cliff, 
When all the glens are drowned in azure gloom 
Of thunder-shower, she floated to us and said: 

'You have done well and like a gentleman, 
And like a prince: you have our thanks for all: 
And you look well too in your woman's dress: 
Well have you done and like a gentleman. 
You saved our life: we owe you bitter thanks: 
Better have died and spilt our bones in the flood-- 
Then men had said--but now--What hinders me 
To take such bloody vengeance on you both?-- 
Yet since our father--Wasps in our good hive, 
You would-be quenchers of the light to be, 
Barbarians, grosser than your native bears-- 
O would I had his sceptre for one hour! 
You that have dared to break our bound, and gulled 
Our servants, wronged and lied and thwarted us-- 
~I~ wed with thee! ~I~ bound by precontract 
Your bride, our bondslave! not though all the gold 
That veins the world were packed to make your crown, 
And every spoken tongue should lord you. Sir, 
Your falsehood and yourself are hateful to us: 
I trample on your offers and on you: 
Begone: we will not look upon you more. 
Here, push them out at gates.' 
In wrath she spake. 
Then those eight mighty daughters of the plough 
Bent their broad faces toward us and addressed 
Their motion: twice I sought to plead my cause, 
But on my shoulder hung their heavy hands, 
The weight of destiny: so from her face 
They pushed us, down the steps, and through the court, 
And with grim laughter thrust us out at gates. 

We crossed the street and gained a petty mound 
Beyond it, whence we saw the lights and heard the voices murmuring. While I listened, came 
On a sudden the weird seizure and the doubt: 
I seemed to move among a world of ghosts; 
The Princess with her monstrous woman-guard, 
The jest and earnest working side by side, 
The cataract and the tumult and the kings 
Were shadows; and the long fantastic night 
With all its doings had and had not been, 
And all things were and were not. 
This went by 
As strangely as it came, and on my spirits 
Settled a gentle cloud of melancholy; 
Not long; I shook it off; for spite of doubts 
And sudden ghostly shadowings I was one 
To whom the touch of all mischance but came 
As night to him that sitting on a hill 
Sees the midsummer, midnight, Norway sun 
Set into sunrise; then we moved away. 

Thy voice is heard through rolling drums, 
That beat to battle where he stands; 
Thy face across his fancy comes, 
And gives the battle to his hands: 
A moment, while the trumpets blow, 
He sees his brood about thy knee; 
The next, like fire he meets the foe, 
And strikes him dead for thine and thee. 

So Lilia sang: we thought her half-possessed, 
She struck such warbling fury through the words; 
And, after, feigning pique at what she called 
The raillery, or grotesque, or false sublime-- 
Like one that wishes at a dance to change 
The music--clapt her hands and cried for war, 
Or some grand fight to kill and make an end: 
And he that next inherited the tale 
Half turning to the broken statue, said, 
'Sir Ralph has got your colours: if I prove 
Your knight, and fight your battle, what for me?' 
It chanced, her empty glove upon the tomb 
Lay by her like a model of her hand. 
She took it and she flung it. 'Fight' she said, 
'And make us all we would be, great and good.' 
He knightlike in his cap instead of casque, 
A cap of Tyrol borrowed from the hall, 
Arranged the favour, and assumed the Prince.