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The Princess (part 6)

 My dream had never died or lived again.
As in some mystic middle state I lay; Seeing I saw not, hearing not I heard: Though, if I saw not, yet they told me all So often that I speak as having seen.
For so it seemed, or so they said to me, That all things grew more tragic and more strange; That when our side was vanquished and my cause For ever lost, there went up a great cry, The Prince is slain.
My father heard and ran In on the lists, and there unlaced my casque And grovelled on my body, and after him Came Psyche, sorrowing for Aglaïa.
But high upon the palace Ida stood With Psyche's babe in arm: there on the roofs Like that great dame of Lapidoth she sang.
'Our enemies have fallen, have fallen: the seed, The little seed they laughed at in the dark, Has risen and cleft the soil, and grown a bulk Of spanless girth, that lays on every side A thousand arms and rushes to the Sun.
'Our enemies have fallen, have fallen: they came; The leaves were wet with women's tears: they heard A noise of songs they would not understand: They marked it with the red cross to the fall, And would have strown it, and are fallen themselves.
'Our enemies have fallen, have fallen: they came, The woodmen with their axes: lo the tree! But we will make it faggots for the hearth, And shape it plank and beam for roof and floor, And boats and bridges for the use of men.
'Our enemies have fallen, have fallen: they struck; With their own blows they hurt themselves, nor knew There dwelt an iron nature in the grain: The glittering axe was broken in their arms, Their arms were shattered to the shoulder blade.
'Our enemies have fallen, but this shall grow A night of Summer from the heat, a breadth Of Autumn, dropping fruits of power: and rolled With music in the growing breeze of Time, The tops shall strike from star to star, the fangs Shall move the stony bases of the world.
'And now, O maids, behold our sanctuary Is violate, our laws broken: fear we not To break them more in their behoof, whose arms Championed our cause and won it with a day Blanched in our annals, and perpetual feast, When dames and heroines of the golden year Shall strip a hundred hollows bare of Spring, To rain an April of ovation round Their statues, borne aloft, the three: but come, We will be liberal, since our rights are won.
Let them not lie in the tents with coarse mankind, Ill nurses; but descend, and proffer these The brethren of our blood and cause, that there Lie bruised and maimed, the tender ministries Of female hands and hospitality.
' She spoke, and with the babe yet in her arms, Descending, burst the great bronze valves, and led A hundred maids in train across the Park.
Some cowled, and some bare-headed, on they came, Their feet in flowers, her loveliest: by them went The enamoured air sighing, and on their curls From the high tree the blossom wavering fell, And over them the tremulous isles of light Slided, they moving under shade: but Blanche At distance followed: so they came: anon Through open field into the lists they wound Timorously; and as the leader of the herd That holds a stately fretwork to the Sun, And followed up by a hundred airy does, Steps with a tender foot, light as on air, The lovely, lordly creature floated on To where her wounded brethren lay; there stayed; Knelt on one knee,--the child on one,--and prest Their hands, and called them dear deliverers, And happy warriors, and immortal names, And said 'You shall not lie in the tents but here, And nursed by those for whom you fought, and served With female hands and hospitality.
' Then, whether moved by this, or was it chance, She past my way.
Up started from my side The old lion, glaring with his whelpless eye, Silent; but when she saw me lying stark, Dishelmed and mute, and motionlessly pale, Cold even to her, she sighed; and when she saw The haggard father's face and reverend beard Of grisly twine, all dabbled with the blood Of his own son, shuddered, a twitch of pain Tortured her mouth, and o'er her forehead past A shadow, and her hue changed, and she said: 'He saved my life: my brother slew him for it.
' No more: at which the king in bitter scorn Drew from my neck the painting and the tress, And held them up: she saw them, and a day Rose from the distance on her memory, When the good Queen, her mother, shore the tress With kisses, ere the days of Lady Blanche: And then once more she looked at my pale face: Till understanding all the foolish work Of Fancy, and the bitter close of all, Her iron will was broken in her mind; Her noble heart was molten in her breast; She bowed, she set the child on the earth; she laid A feeling finger on my brows, and presently 'O Sire,' she said, 'he lives: he is not dead: O let me have him with my brethren here In our own palace: we will tend on him Like one of these; if so, by any means, To lighten this great clog of thanks, that make Our progress falter to the woman's goal.
' She said: but at the happy word 'he lives' My father stooped, re-fathered o'er my wounds.
So those two foes above my fallen life, With brow to brow like night and evening mixt Their dark and gray, while Psyche ever stole A little nearer, till the babe that by us, Half-lapt in glowing gauze and golden brede, Lay like a new-fallen meteor on the grass, Uncared for, spied its mother and began A blind and babbling laughter, and to dance Its body, and reach its fatling innocent arms And lazy lingering fingers.
She the appeal Brooked not, but clamouring out 'Mine--mine--not yours, It is not yours, but mine: give me the child' Ceased all on tremble: piteous was the cry: So stood the unhappy mother open-mouthed, And turned each face her way: wan was her cheek With hollow watch, her blooming mantle torn, Red grief and mother's hunger in her eye, And down dead-heavy sank her curls, and half The sacred mother's bosom, panting, burst The laces toward her babe; but she nor cared Nor knew it, clamouring on, till Ida heard, Looked up, and rising slowly from me, stood Erect and silent, striking with her glance The mother, me, the child; but he that lay Beside us, Cyril, battered as he was, Trailed himself up on one knee: then he drew Her robe to meet his lips, and down she looked At the armed man sideways, pitying as it seemed, Or self-involved; but when she learnt his face, Remembering his ill-omened song, arose Once more through all her height, and o'er him grew Tall as a figure lengthened on the sand When the tide ebbs in sunshine, and he said: 'O fair and strong and terrible! Lioness That with your long locks play the Lion's mane! But Love and Nature, these are two more terrible And stronger.
See, your foot is on our necks, We vanquished, you the Victor of your will.
What would you more? Give her the child! remain Orbed in your isolation: he is dead, Or all as dead: henceforth we let you be: Win you the hearts of women; and beware Lest, where you seek the common love of these, The common hate with the revolving wheel Should drag you down, and some great Nemesis Break from a darkened future, crowned with fire, And tread you out for ever: but howso'er Fixed in yourself, never in your own arms To hold your own, deny not hers to her, Give her the child! O if, I say, you keep One pulse that beats true woman, if you loved The breast that fed or arm that dandled you, Or own one port of sense not flint to prayer, Give her the child! or if you scorn to lay it, Yourself, in hands so lately claspt with yours, Or speak to her, your dearest, her one fault, The tenderness, not yours, that could not kill, Give ~me~ it: ~I~ will give it her.
He said: At first her eye with slow dilation rolled Dry flame, she listening; after sank and sank And, into mournful twilight mellowing, dwelt Full on the child; she took it: 'Pretty bud! Lily of the vale! half opened bell of the woods! Sole comfort of my dark hour, when a world Of traitorous friend and broken system made No purple in the distance, mystery, Pledge of a love not to be mine, farewell; These men are hard upon us as of old, We two must part: and yet how fain was I To dream thy cause embraced in mine, to think I might be something to thee, when I felt Thy helpless warmth about my barren breast In the dead prime: but may thy mother prove As true to thee as false, false, false to me! And, if thou needs must needs bear the yoke, I wish it Gentle as freedom'--here she kissed it: then-- 'All good go with thee! take it Sir,' and so Laid the soft babe in his hard-mailèd hands, Who turned half-round to Psyche as she sprang To meet it, with an eye that swum in thanks; Then felt it sound and whole from head to foot, And hugged and never hugged it close enough, And in her hunger mouthed and mumbled it, And hid her bosom with it; after that Put on more calm and added suppliantly: 'We two were friends: I go to mine own land For ever: find some other: as for me I scarce am fit for your great plans: yet speak to me, Say one soft word and let me part forgiven.
' But Ida spoke not, rapt upon the child.
Then Arac.
'Ida--'sdeath! you blame the man; You wrong yourselves--the woman is so hard Upon the woman.
Come, a grace to me! I am your warrior: I and mine have fought Your battle: kiss her; take her hand, she weeps: 'Sdeath! I would sooner fight thrice o'er than see it.
' But Ida spoke not, gazing on the ground, And reddening in the furrows of his chin, And moved beyond his custom, Gama said: 'I've heard that there is iron in the blood, And I believe it.
Not one word? not one? Whence drew you this steel temper? not from me, Not from your mother, now a saint with saints.
She said you had a heart--I heard her say it-- "Our Ida has a heart"--just ere she died-- "But see that some on with authority Be near her still" and I--I sought for one-- All people said she had authority-- The Lady Blanche: much profit! Not one word; No! though your father sues: see how you stand Stiff as Lot's wife, and all the good knights maimed, I trust that there is no one hurt to death, For our wild whim: and was it then for this, Was it for this we gave our palace up, Where we withdrew from summer heats and state, And had our wine and chess beneath the planes, And many a pleasant hour with her that's gone, Ere you were born to vex us? Is it kind? Speak to her I say: is this not she of whom, When first she came, all flushed you said to me Now had you got a friend of your own age, Now could you share your thought; now should men see Two women faster welded in one love Than pairs of wedlock; she you walked with, she You talked with, whole nights long, up in the tower, Of sine and arc, spheroïd and azimuth, And right ascension, Heaven knows what; and now A word, but one, one little kindly word, Not one to spare her: out upon you, flint! You love nor her, nor me, nor any; nay, You shame your mother's judgment too.
Not one? You will not? well--no heart have you, or such As fancies like the vermin in a nut Have fretted all to dust and bitterness.
' So said the small king moved beyond his wont.
But Ida stood nor spoke, drained of her force By many a varying influence and so long.
Down through her limbs a drooping languor wept: Her head a little bent; and on her mouth A doubtful smile dwelt like a clouded moon In a still water: then brake out my sire, Lifted his grim head from my wounds.
'O you, Woman, whom we thought woman even now, And were half fooled to let you tend our son, Because he might have wished it--but we see, The accomplice of your madness unforgiven, And think that you might mix his draught with death, When your skies change again: the rougher hand Is safer: on to the tents: take up the Prince.
' He rose, and while each ear was pricked to attend A tempest, through the cloud that dimmed her broke A genial warmth and light once more, and shone Through glittering drops on her sad friend.
'Come hither.
O Psyche,' she cried out, 'embrace me, come, Quick while I melt; make reconcilement sure With one that cannot keep her mind an hour: Come to the hollow hear they slander so! Kiss and be friends, like children being chid! ~I~ seem no more: ~I~ want forgiveness too: I should have had to do with none but maids, That have no links with men.
Ah false but dear, Dear traitor, too much loved, why?--why?--Yet see, Before these kings we embrace you yet once more With all forgiveness, all oblivion, And trust, not love, you less.
And now, O sire, Grant me your son, to nurse, to wait upon him, Like mine own brother.
For my debt to him, This nightmare weight of gratitude, I know it; Taunt me no more: yourself and yours shall have Free adit; we will scatter all our maids Till happier times each to her proper hearth: What use to keep them here--now? grant my prayer.
Help, father, brother, help; speak to the king: Thaw this male nature to some touch of that Which kills me with myself, and drags me down From my fixt height to mob me up with all The soft and milky rabble of womankind, Poor weakling even as they are.
' Passionate tears Followed: the king replied not: Cyril said: 'Your brother, Lady,--Florian,--ask for him Of your great head--for he is wounded too-- That you may tend upon him with the prince.
' 'Ay so,' said Ida with a bitter smile, 'Our laws are broken: let him enter too.
' Then Violet, she that sang the mournful song, And had a cousin tumbled on the plain, Petitioned too for him.
'Ay so,' she said, 'I stagger in the stream: I cannot keep My heart an eddy from the brawling hour: We break our laws with ease, but let it be.
' 'Ay so?' said Blanche: 'Amazed am I to her Your Highness: but your Highness breaks with ease The law your Highness did not make: 'twas I.
I had been wedded wife, I knew mankind, And blocked them out; but these men came to woo Your Highness--verily I think to win.
' So she, and turned askance a wintry eye: But Ida with a voice, that like a bell Tolled by an earthquake in a trembling tower, Rang ruin, answered full of grief and scorn.
'Fling our doors wide! all, all, not one, but all, Not only he, but by my mother's soul, Whatever man lies wounded, friend or foe, Shall enter, if he will.
Let our girls flit, Till the storm die! but had you stood by us, The roar that breaks the Pharos from his base Had left us rock.
She fain would sting us too, But shall not.
Pass, and mingle with your likes.
We brook no further insult but are gone.
' She turned; the very nape of her white neck Was rosed with indignation: but the Prince Her brother came; the king her father charmed Her wounded soul with words: nor did mine own Refuse her proffer, lastly gave his hand.
Then us they lifted up, dead weights, and bare Straight to the doors: to them the doors gave way Groaning, and in the Vestal entry shrieked The virgin marble under iron heels: And on they moved and gained the hall, and there Rested: but great the crush was, and each base, To left and right, of those tall columns drowned In silken fluctuation and the swarm Of female whisperers: at the further end Was Ida by the throne, the two great cats Close by her, like supporters on a shield, Bow-backed with fear: but in the centre stood The common men with rolling eyes; amazed They glared upon the women, and aghast The women stared at these, all silent, save When armour clashed or jingled, while the day, Descending, struck athwart the hall, and shot A flying splendour out of brass and steel, That o'er the statues leapt from head to head, Now fired an angry Pallas on the helm, Now set a wrathful Dian's moon on flame, And now and then an echo started up, And shuddering fled from room to room, and died Of fright in far apartments.
Then the voice Of Ida sounded, issuing ordinance: And me they bore up the broad stairs, and through The long-laid galleries past a hundred doors To one deep chamber shut from sound, and due To languid limbs and sickness; left me in it; And others otherwhere they laid; and all That afternoon a sound arose of hoof And chariot, many a maiden passing home Till happier times; but some were left of those Held sagest, and the great lords out and in, From those two hosts that lay beside the walls, Walked at their will, and everything was changed.
Ask me no more: the moon may draw the sea; The cloud may stoop from heaven and take the shape With fold to fold, of mountain or of cape; But O too fond, when have I answered thee? Ask me no more.
Ask me no more: what answer should I give? I love not hollow cheek or faded eye: Yet, O my friend, I will not have thee die! Ask me no more, lest I should bid thee live; Ask me no more.
Ask me no more: thy fate and mine are sealed: I strove against the stream and all in vain: Let the great river take me to the main: No more, dear love, for at a touch I yield; Ask me no more.

Poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson
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