Lucilla, wedded to Lucretius, found

Her master cold; for when the morning flush

Of passion and the first embrace had died

Between them, tho’ he loved her none the less,

Yet often when the woman heard his foot

Return from pacings in the field, and ran

To greet him with a kiss, the master took

Small notice, or austerely, for his mind

Half buried in some weightier argument,

Or fancy-borne perhaps upon the rise

And long roll of the hexameter — he past

To turn and ponder those three hundred scrolls

Left by the Teacher, whom he held divine.

She brook’d it not, but wrathful, petulant

Dreaming some rival, sought and found a witch

Who brew’d the philtre which had power, they said

To lead an errant passion home again.

And this, at times, she mingled with his drink,

And this destroy’d him; for the wicked broth

Confused the chemic labor of the blood,

And tickling the brute brain within the man’s

Made havoc among those tender cells, and check’d

His power to shape. He loathed himself, and once

After a tempest woke upon a morn

That mock’d him with returning calm, and cried:

“Storm in the night! for thrice I heard the rain

Rushing; and once the flash of a thunderbolt —

Methought I never saw so fierce a fork —

Struck out the streaming mountain-side, and show’d

A riotous confluence of watercourses

Blanching and billowing in a hollow of it,

Where all but yester-eve was dusty-dry.

“Storm, and what dreams, ye holy Gods, what dreams!

For thrice I waken’d after dreams. Perchance

We do but recollect the dreams that come

Just ere the waking. Terrible: for it seem’d

A void was made in Nature, all her bonds

Crack’d; and I saw the flaring atom-streams

And torrents of her myriad universe,

Ruining along the illimitable inane,

Fly on to clash together again, and make

Another and another frame of things

For ever. That was mine, my dream, I knew it —

Of and belonging to me, as the dog

With inward yelp and restless forefoot plies

His function of the woodland; but the next!

I thought that all the blood by Sylla shed

Came driving rainlike down again on earth,

And where it dash’d the reddening meadow, sprang

No dragon warriors from Cadmean teeth,

For these I thought my dream would show to me,

But girls, Hetairai, curious in their art,

Hired animalisms, vile as those that made

The mulberry-faced Dictator’s orgies worse

Than aught they fable of the quiet Gods.

And hands they mixt, and yell’d and round me drove

In narrowing circles till I yell’d again

Half-suffocated, and sprang up, and saw —

Was it the first beam of my latest day?

“Then, then, from utter gloom stood out the

The breasts of Helen, and hoveringly a sword

Now over and now under, now direct,

Pointed itself to pierce, but sank down shamed

At all that beauty; and as I stared, a fire,

The fire that left a roofless Ilion,

Shot out of them, and scorch’d me that I woke.

“Is this thy vengeance, holy Venus, thine,

Because I would not one of thine own doves,

Not even a rose, were offered to thee? thine,

Forgetful how my rich proemion makes

Thy glory fly along the Italian field,

In lays that will outlast thy deity?

“Deity? nay, thy worshippers. My tongue

Trips, or I speak profanely. Which of these

Angers thee most, or angers thee at all?

Not if thou be’st of those who, far aloof

From envy, hate and pity, and spite and scorn,

Live the great life which all our greatest fain

Would follow, centred in eternal calm.

“Nay, if thou canst,

Goddess, like ourselves

Touch, and be touch’d, then would I cry to thee

To kiss thy Mavors, roll thy tender arms

Round him, and keep him from the lust of blood

That makes a steaming slaughter-house of Rome.

“Ay, but I meant not thee; I meant riot her

Whom all the pines of Ida shook to see

Slide from that quiet heaven of hers, and tempt

The Trojan, while his neatherds were abroad

Nor her that o’er her wounded hunter wept

Her deity false in human-amorous tears;

Nor whom her beardless apple-arbiter

Decided fairest. Rather, O ye Gods,

Poet-like, as the great Sicilian called

Calliope to grace his golden verse —

Ay, and this Kypris also — did I take

That popular name of thine to shadow forth

The all-generating powers and genial heat

Of Nature, when she strikes thro’ the thick blood

Of cattle, and light is large, and lambs are glad

Nosing the mother’s udder, and the bird

Makes his heart voice amid the blaze of flowers;

Which things appear the work of mighty Gods.

“The Gods! and if I go my work is left

Unfinish’d — if I go. The Gods, who haunt

The lucid interspace of world and world,

Where never creeps a cloud, or moves a wind,

Nor ever falls the least white star of mow

Nor ever lowest roll of thunder moans,

Nor sound of human sorrow mounts to mar

Their sacred everlasting calm! and such,

Not all so fine, nor so divine a calm

Not such, nor all unlike it, man may gain

Letting his own life go. The Gods, the Godsl

If all be atoms, how then should the Gods

Being atomic not be dissoluble,

Not follow the great law? My master held

That Gods there are, for all men so believe.

I prest my footsteps into his, and meant

Surely to lead my Memmius in a train

Of fiowery clauses onward to the proof

That Gods there are, and deathless. Meant? I meant?

I have forgotten what I meant, my mind

Stumbles, and all my faculties are lamed.

“Look where another of our Gods, the Sun

Apollo, Delius, or of older use

All-seeing Hyperion — what you will —

Has mounted yonder; since he never sware,

Except his wrath were wreak’d on wretched man,

That he would only shine among the dead

Hereafter — tales! for never yet on earth

Could dead flesh creep, or bits of roasting ox

Moan round the spit — nor knows he what he sees;

King of the East altho’ he seem, and girt

With song and flame and fragrance, slowly lifts

His golden feet on those empurpled stairs

That climb into the windy halls of heaven

And here he glances on an eye new-born,

And gets for greeting but a wail of pain;

And here he stays upon a freezing orb

That fain would gaze upon him to the last;

And here upon a yellow eyelid fallen

And closed by those who mourn a friend in vain,

Not thankful that his troubles are no more.

And me, altho’ his fire is on my face

Blinding, he sees not, nor at all can tell

Whether I mean this day to end myself.

Or lend an ear to Plato where he says,

That men like soldiers may not quit the post

Allotted by the Gods. But he that holds

The Gods are careless, wherefore need he care

Greatly for them, nor rather plunge at once,

Being troubled, wholly out of sight, and sink

Past earthquake — ay, and gout and stone, that break

Body toward death, and palsy, death-in-life,

And wretched age — and worst disease of all,

These prodigies of myriad nakednesses,

And twisted shapes of lust, unspeakable,

Abominable, strangers at my hearth

Not welcome, harpies miring every dish,

The phantom husks of something foully done,

And fleeting thro’ the boundless universe,

And blasting the long quiet of my breast

With animal heat and dire insanity?

“How should the mind, except it loved them, clasp

These idols to herself? or do they fly

Now thinner, and now thicker, like the flakes

In a fall of snow, and so press in, perforce

Of multitude, as crowds that in an hour

Of civic tumult jam the doors, and bear

The keepers down, and throng, their rags and the

The basest, far into that council-hall

Where sit the best and stateliest of the land?

³Can I not fling this horror off me again,

Seeing with how great ease Nature can smile

Balmier and nobler from her bath of storm,

At random ravage? and how easily

The mountain there has cast his cloudy slough,

Now towering o’er him in serenest air,

A mountain o’er a mountain, — ay, and within

All hollow as the hopes and fears of men?

“But who was he that in the garden snared

Picus and Faunus, rustic Gods? a tale

To laugh at — more to laugh at in myself —

For look! what is it? there? yon arbutus

Totters; a noiseless riot underneath

Strikes through the wood, sets all the tops quivering — ;

The mountain quickens into Nymph and Faun,

And here an Oread — how the sun delights

To glance and shift about her slippery sides,

And rosy knees and supple roundedness,

And budded bosom-peaks — who this way runs

Before the rest! — a satyr, a satyr, see,

Follows; but him I proved impossible

Twy-natured is no nature. Yet he draws

Nearer and nearer, and I scan him now

Beastlier than any phantom of his kind

That ever butted his rough brother-brute

For lust or lusty blood or provender.

I hate, abhor, spit, sicken at him; and she

Loathes him as well; such a precipitate heel,

Fledged as it were with Mercury’s ankle-wing,

Whirls her to me — ;but will she fling herself

Shameless upon me? Catch her, goatfoot! nay,

Hide, hide them, million-myrtled wilderness,

And cavern-shadowing laurels, hide! do I wish —

What? — ;that the bush were leafless? or to whelm

All of them in one massacre? O ye Gods

I know you careless, yet, behold, to you

From childly wont and ancient use I call —

I thought I lived securely as yourselves —

No lewdness, narrowing envy, monkey-spite,

No madness of ambition, avarice, none;

No larger feast than under plane or pine

With neighbors laid along the grass, to take

Only such cups as left us friendly-warm,

Affirming each his own philosophy

Nothing to mar the sober majesties

Of settled, sweet, Epicurean life.

But now it seems some unseen monster lays

His vast and filthy hands upon my will,

Wrenching it backward into his, and spoils

My bliss in being; and it was not great,

For save when shutting reasons up in rhythm,

Or Heliconian honey in living words,

To make a truth less harsh, I often grew

Tired of so much within our little life

Or of so little in our little life —

Poor little life that toddles half an hour

Crown’d with a flower or two, and there an end —

And since the nobler pleasure seems to fade,

Why should I, beastlike as I find myself,

Not manlike end myself? — our privilege — ;

What beast has heart to do it? And what man

What Roman would be dragg’d in triumph thus?

Not I; not he, who bears one name with her

Whose death-blow struck the dateless doom of kings,

When, brooking not the Tarquin in her veins,

She made her blood in sight of Collatine

And all his peers, flushing the guiltless air,

Spout from the maiden fountain in her heart.

And from it sprang the Commonwealth, which breaks

As I am breaking now!

“And therefore now

Let her, that is the womb and tomb of all

Great Nature, take, and forcing far apart

Those blind beginnings that have made me man,

Dash them anew together at her will

Thro’ all her cycles — into man once more,

Or beast or bird or fish, or opulent flower.

But till this cosmic order everywhere

Shatter’d into one earthquake m one day

Cracks all to pieces, — and that hour perhaps

Is not so far when momentary man

Shall seem no more a something to himself,

But he, his hopes and hates, his homes and fanes

And even his bones long laid within the grave,

The very sides of the grave itself shall pass,

Vanishing, atom and void, atom and void,

Into the unseen for ever, — till that hour,

My golden work in which I told a truth

That stays the rolling Ixionian wheel,

And numbs the Fury’s ringlet-snake, and plucks

The mortal soul from out immortal hell

Shall stand. Ay, surely; then it fails at last

And perishes as I must, for O Thou

Passionless bride, divine Tranquillity,

Yearn’d after by the wisest of the wise

Who fail to find thee, being as thou art

Without one pleasure and without one pain,

Howbeit I know thou surely must be mine

Or soon or late, yet out of season, thus

I woo thee roughly, for thou carest not

How roughly men may woo thee so they win — ;

Thus — thus — the soul flies out and dies in the air

With that he drove the knife into his side.

She heard him raging, heard him fall, ran in,

Beat breast, tore hair, cried out upon herself

As having fail’d in duty to him, shriek’d

That she but meant to win him back, fell on him

Clasp’d, kiss’d him, wail’d. He answer’d, “Care not thou!

Thy duty? What is duty? Fare thee well!”





Lord Alfred Tennyson

More poems by Baron Alfred, Lord Tennyson