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The Princess (part 3)

Written by: Alfred Lord Tennyson | Biography
 | Quotes (78) |
 Morn in the wake of the morning star 
Came furrowing all the orient into gold. 
We rose, and each by other drest with care 
Descended to the court that lay three parts 
In shadow, but the Muses' heads were touched 
Above the darkness from their native East. 

There while we stood beside the fount, and watched 
Or seemed to watch the dancing bubble, approached 
Melissa, tinged with wan from lack of sleep, 
Or grief, and glowing round her dewy eyes 
The circled Iris of a night of tears; 
'And fly,' she cried, 'O fly, while yet you may! 
My mother knows:' and when I asked her 'how,' 
'My fault' she wept 'my fault! and yet not mine; 
Yet mine in part. O hear me, pardon me. 
My mother, 'tis her wont from night to night 
To rail at Lady Psyche and her side. 
She says the Princess should have been the Head, 
Herself and Lady Psyche the two arms; 
And so it was agreed when first they came; 
But Lady Psyche was the right hand now, 
And the left, or not, or seldom used; 
Hers more than half the students, all the love. 
And so last night she fell to canvass you: 
~Her~ countrywomen! she did not envy her. 
"Who ever saw such wild barbarians? 
Girls?--more like men!" and at these words the snake, 
My secret, seemed to stir within my breast; 
And oh, Sirs, could I help it, but my cheek 
Began to burn and burn, and her lynx eye 
To fix and make me hotter, till she laughed: 
"O marvellously modest maiden, you! 
Men! girls, like men! why, if they had been men 
You need not set your thoughts in rubric thus 
For wholesale comment." Pardon, I am shamed 
That I must needs repeat for my excuse 
What looks so little graceful: "men" (for still 
My mother went revolving on the word) 
"And so they are,--very like men indeed-- 
And with that woman closeted for hours!" 
Then came these dreadful words out one by one, 
"Why--these--~are~--men:" I shuddered: "and you know it." 
"O ask me nothing," I said: "And she knows too, 
And she conceals it." So my mother clutched 
The truth at once, but with no word from me; 
And now thus early risen she goes to inform 
The Princess: Lady Psyche will be crushed; 
But you may yet be saved, and therefore fly; 
But heal me with your pardon ere you go.' 

'What pardon, sweet Melissa, for a blush?' 
Said Cyril: 'Pale one, blush again: than wear 
Those lilies, better blush our lives away. 
Yet let us breathe for one hour more in Heaven' 
He added, 'lest some classic Angel speak 
In scorn of us, "They mounted, Ganymedes, 
To tumble, Vulcans, on the second morn." 
But I will melt this marble into wax 
To yield us farther furlough:' and he went. 

Melissa shook her doubtful curls, and thought 
He scarce would prosper. 'Tell us,' Florian asked, 
'How grew this feud betwixt the right and left.' 
'O long ago,' she said, 'betwixt these two 
Division smoulders hidden; 'tis my mother, 
Too jealous, often fretful as the wind 
Pent in a crevice: much I bear with her: 
I never knew my father, but she says 
(God help her) she was wedded to a fool; 
And still she railed against the state of things. 
She had the care of Lady Ida's youth, 
And from the Queen's decease she brought her up. 
But when your sister came she won the heart 
Of Ida: they were still together, grew 
(For so they said themselves) inosculated; 
Consonant chords that shiver to one note; 
One mind in all things: yet my mother still 
Affirms your Psyche thieved her theories, 
And angled with them for her pupil's love: 
She calls her plagiarist; I know not what: 
But I must go: I dare not tarry,' and light, 
As flies the shadow of a bird, she fled. 

Then murmured Florian gazing after her, 
'An open-hearted maiden, true and pure. 
If I could love, why this were she: how pretty 
Her blushing was, and how she blushed again, 
As if to close with Cyril's random wish: 
Not like your Princess crammed with erring pride, 
Nor like poor Psyche whom she drags in tow.' 

'The crane,' I said, 'may chatter of the crane, 
The dove may murmur of the dove, but I 
An eagle clang an eagle to the sphere. 
My princess, O my princess! true she errs, 
But in her own grand way: being herself 
Three times more noble than three score of men, 
She sees herself in every woman else, 
And so she wears her error like a crown 
To blind the truth and me: for her, and her, 
Hebes are they to hand ambrosia, mix 
The nectar; but--ah she--whene'er she moves 
The Samian Herè rises and she speaks 
A Memnon smitten with the morning Sun.' 

So saying from the court we paced, and gained 
The terrace ranged along the Northern front, 
And leaning there on those balusters, high 
Above the empurpled champaign, drank the gale 
That blown about the foliage underneath, 
And sated with the innumerable rose, 
Beat balm upon our eyelids. Hither came 
Cyril, and yawning 'O hard task,' he cried; 
'No fighting shadows here! I forced a way 
Through opposition crabbed and gnarled. 
Better to clear prime forests, heave and thump 
A league of street in summer solstice down, 
Than hammer at this reverend gentlewoman. 
I knocked and, bidden, entered; found her there 
At point to move, and settled in her eyes 
The green malignant light of coming storm. 
Sir, I was courteous, every phrase well-oiled, 
As man's could be; yet maiden-meek I prayed 
Concealment: she demanded who we were, 
And why we came? I fabled nothing fair, 
But, your example pilot, told her all. 
Up went the hushed amaze of hand and eye. 
But when I dwelt upon your old affiance, 
She answered sharply that I talked astray. 
I urged the fierce inscription on the gate, 
And our three lives. True--we had limed ourselves 
With open eyes, and we must take the chance. 
But such extremes, I told her, well might harm 
The woman's cause. "Not more than now," she said, 
"So puddled as it is with favouritism." 
I tried the mother's heart. Shame might befall 
Melissa, knowing, saying not she knew: 
Her answer was "Leave me to deal with that." 
I spoke of war to come and many deaths, 
And she replied, her duty was to speak, 
And duty duty, clear of consequences. 
I grew discouraged, Sir; but since I knew 
No rock so hard but that a little wave 
May beat admission in a thousand years, 
I recommenced; "Decide not ere you pause. 
I find you here but in the second place, 
Some say the third--the authentic foundress you. 
I offer boldly: we will seat you highest: 
Wink at our advent: help my prince to gain 
His rightful bride, and here I promise you 
Some palace in our land, where you shall reign 
The head and heart of all our fair she-world, 
And your great name flow on with broadening time 
For ever." Well, she balanced this a little, 
And told me she would answer us today, 
meantime be mute: thus much, nor more I gained.' 

He ceasing, came a message from the Head. 
'That afternoon the Princess rode to take 
The dip of certain strata to the North. 
Would we go with her? we should find the land 
Worth seeing; and the river made a fall 
Out yonder:' then she pointed on to where 
A double hill ran up his furrowy forks 
Beyond the thick-leaved platans of the vale. 

Agreed to, this, the day fled on through all 
Its range of duties to the appointed hour. 
Then summoned to the porch we went. She stood 
Among her maidens, higher by the head, 
Her back against a pillar, her foot on one 
Of those tame leopards. Kittenlike he rolled 
And pawed about her sandal. I drew near; 
I gazed. On a sudden my strange seizure came 
Upon me, the weird vision of our house: 
The Princess Ida seemed a hollow show, 
Her gay-furred cats a painted fantasy, 
Her college and her maidens, empty masks, 
And I myself the shadow of a dream, 
For all things were and were not. Yet I felt 
My heart beat thick with passion and with awe; 
Then from my breast the involuntary sigh 
Brake, as she smote me with the light of eyes 
That lent my knee desire to kneel, and shook 
My pulses, till to horse we got, and so 
Went forth in long retinue following up 
The river as it narrowed to the hills. 

I rode beside her and to me she said: 
'O friend, we trust that you esteemed us not 
Too harsh to your companion yestermorn; 
Unwillingly we spake.' 'No--not to her,' 
I answered, 'but to one of whom we spake 
Your Highness might have seemed the thing you say.' 
'Again?' she cried, 'are you ambassadresses 
From him to me? we give you, being strange, 
A license: speak, and let the topic die.' 

I stammered that I knew him--could have wished-- 
'Our king expects--was there no precontract? 
There is no truer-hearted--ah, you seem 
All he prefigured, and he could not see 
The bird of passage flying south but longed 
To follow: surely, if your Highness keep 
Your purport, you will shock him even to death, 
Or baser courses, children of despair.' 

'Poor boy,' she said, 'can he not read--no books? 
Quoit, tennis, ball--no games? nor deals in that 
Which men delight in, martial exercise? 
To nurse a blind ideal like a girl, 
Methinks he seems no better than a girl; 
As girls were once, as we ourself have been: 
We had our dreams; perhaps he mixt with them: 
We touch on our dead self, nor shun to do it, 
Being other--since we learnt our meaning here, 
To lift the woman's fallen divinity 
Upon an even pedestal with man.' 

She paused, and added with a haughtier smile 
'And as to precontracts, we move, my friend, 
At no man's beck, but know ourself and thee, 
O Vashti, noble Vashti! Summoned out 
She kept her state, and left the drunken king 
To brawl at Shushan underneath the palms.' 

'Alas your Highness breathes full East,' I said, 
'On that which leans to you. I know the Prince, 
I prize his truth: and then how vast a work 
To assail this gray preëminence of man! 
You grant me license; might I use it? think; 
Ere half be done perchance your life may fail; 
Then comes the feebler heiress of your plan, 
And takes and ruins all; and thus your pains 
May only make that footprint upon sand 
Which old-recurring waves of prejudice 
Resmooth to nothing: might I dread that you, 
With only Fame for spouse and your great deeds 
For issue, yet may live in vain, and miss, 
Meanwhile, what every woman counts her due, 
Love, children, happiness?' 
And she exclaimed, 
'Peace, you young savage of the Northern wild! 
What! though your Prince's love were like a God's, 
Have we not made ourself the sacrifice? 
You are bold indeed: we are not talked to thus: 
Yet will we say for children, would they grew 
Like field-flowers everywhere! we like them well: 
But children die; and let me tell you, girl, 
Howe'er you babble, great deeds cannot die; 
They with the sun and moon renew their light 
For ever, blessing those that look on them. 
Children--that men may pluck them from our hearts, 
Kill us with pity, break us with ourselves-- 
O--children--there is nothing upon earth 
More miserable than she that has a son 
And sees him err: nor would we work for fame; 
Though she perhaps might reap the applause of Great, 
Who earns the one POU STO whence after-hands 
May move the world, though she herself effect 
But little: wherefore up and act, nor shrink 
For fear our solid aim be dissipated 
By frail successors. Would, indeed, we had been, 
In lieu of many mortal flies, a race 
Of giants living, each, a thousand years, 
That we might see our own work out, and watch 
The sandy footprint harden into stone.' 

I answered nothing, doubtful in myself 
If that strange Poet-princess with her grand 
Imaginations might at all be won. 
And she broke out interpreting my thoughts: 

'No doubt we seem a kind of monster to you; 
We are used to that: for women, up till this 
Cramped under worse than South-sea-isle taboo, 
Dwarfs of the gynæceum, fail so far 
In high desire, they know not, cannot guess 
How much their welfare is a passion to us. 
If we could give them surer, quicker proof-- 
Oh if our end were less achievable 
By slow approaches, than by single act 
Of immolation, any phase of death, 
We were as prompt to spring against the pikes, 
Or down the fiery gulf as talk of it, 
To compass our dear sisters' liberties.' 

She bowed as if to veil a noble tear; 
And up we came to where the river sloped 
To plunge in cataract, shattering on black blocks 
A breadth of thunder. O'er it shook the woods, 
And danced the colour, and, below, stuck out 
The bones of some vast bulk that lived and roared 
Before man was. She gazed awhile and said, 
'As these rude bones to us, are we to her 
That will be.' 'Dare we dream of that,' I asked, 
'Which wrought us, as the workman and his work, 
That practice betters?' 'How,' she cried, 'you love 
The metaphysics! read and earn our prize, 
A golden brooch: beneath an emerald plane 
Sits Diotima, teaching him that died 
Of hemlock; our device; wrought to the life; 
She rapt upon her subject, he on her: 
For there are schools for all.' 'And yet' I said 
'Methinks I have not found among them all 
One anatomic.' 'Nay, we thought of that,' 
She answered, 'but it pleased us not: in truth 
We shudder but to dream our maids should ape 
Those monstrous males that carve the living hound, 
And cram him with the fragments of the grave, 
Or in the dark dissolving human heart, 
And holy secrets of this microcosm, 
Dabbling a shameless hand with shameful jest, 
Encarnalize their spirits: yet we know 
Knowledge is knowledge, and this matter hangs: 
Howbeit ourself, foreseeing casualty, 
Nor willing men should come among us, learnt, 
For many weary moons before we came, 
This craft of healing. Were you sick, ourself 
Would tend upon you. To your question now, 
Which touches on the workman and his work. 
Let there be light and there was light: 'tis so: 
For was, and is, and will be, are but is; 
And all creation is one act at once, 
The birth of light: but we that are not all, 
As parts, can see but parts, now this, now that, 
And live, perforce, from thought to thought, and make 
One act a phantom of succession: thus 
Our weakness somehow shapes the shadow, Time; 
But in the shadow will we work, and mould 
The woman to the fuller day.' 
She spake 
With kindled eyes; we rode a league beyond, 
And, o'er a bridge of pinewood crossing, came 
On flowery levels underneath the crag, 
Full of all beauty. 'O how sweet' I said 
(For I was half-oblivious of my mask) 
'To linger here with one that loved us.' 'Yea,' 
She answered, 'or with fair philosophies 
That lift the fancy; for indeed these fields 
Are lovely, lovelier not the Elysian lawns, 
Where paced the Demigods of old, and saw 
The soft white vapour streak the crownèd towers 
Built to the Sun:' then, turning to her maids, 
'Pitch our pavilion here upon the sward; 
Lay out the viands.' At the word, they raised 
A tent of satin, elaborately wrought 
With fair Corinna's triumph; here she stood, 
Engirt with many a florid maiden-cheek, 
The woman-conqueror; woman-conquered there 
The bearded Victor of ten-thousand hymns, 
And all the men mourned at his side: but we 
Set forth to climb; then, climbing, Cyril kept 
With Psyche, with Melissa Florian, I 
With mine affianced. Many a little hand 
Glanced like a touch of sunshine on the rocks, 
Many a light foot shone like a jewel set 
In the dark crag: and then we turned, we wound 
About the cliffs, the copses, out and in, 
Hammering and clinking, chattering stony names 
Of shales and hornblende, rag and trap and tuff, 
Amygdaloid and trachyte, till the Sun 
Grew broader toward his death and fell, and all 
The rosy heights came out above the lawns. 

The splendour falls on castle walls 
And snowy summits old in story: 
The long light shakes across the lakes, 
And the wild cataract leaps in glory. 
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying, 
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying. 

O hark, O hear! how thin and clear, 
And thinner, clearer, farther going! 
O sweet and far from cliff and scar 
The horns of Elfland faintly blowing! 
Blow, let us hear the purple glens replying: 
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying. 

O love, they die in yon rich sky, 
They faint on hill or field or river: 
Our echoes roll from soul to soul, 
And grow for ever and for ever. 
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying, 
And answer, echoes, answer, dying, dying, dying.