Algernon Charles Swinburne.

Rosamund, queen of the Lombards, a tragedy online

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Transcribed 1899 Chatto & Windus edition by David Price, email
[email protected]





ROSAMUND,


QUEEN OF THE LOMBARDS

A TRAGEDY

* * * * *

BY
ALGERNON CHARLES SWINBURNE

* * * * *

LONDON
CHATTO & WINDUS
1899

* * * * *




PERSONS REPRESENTED


ALBOVINE, _King of the Lombards_.

ALMACHILDES, _a young Lombard warrior_.

NARSETES, _an old leader and counsellor_.

* * * * *

ROSAMUND, _Queen of the Lombards_.

HILDEGARD, _a noble Lombard maiden_.

SCENE, VERONA.

_Time_, June 573




ACT I.


_A hall in the Palace_: _a curtain drawn midway across it_.

_Enter_ ALBOVINE _and_ NARSETES.

ALBOVINE.

This is no matter of the wars: in war
Thy king, old friend, is less than king of thine,
And comrade less than follower. Hast thou loved
Ever—loved woman, not as chance may love,
But as thou hast loved thy sword or friend—or me?
Thou hast shewn me love more stout of heart than death.
Death quailed before thee when thou gav’st me life,
Borne down in battle.

NARSETES.

Woman? As I love
Flowers in their season. A rose is but a rose.

ALBOVINE.

Dost thou know rose from thistle or bindweed? Man,
Speak as our north wind speaks, if harsh and hard—
Truth.

NARSETES.

White I know from red, and dark from bright,
And milk from blood in hawthorn-flowers: but not
Woman from woman.

ALBOVINE.

How should God our Lord,
Except his eye see further than his world?
For women ever make themselves anew,
Meseems, to match and mock the maker. Friend,
If ever I were friend of thine in fight,
Speak, and I bid thee not speak truth: I know
Thy tongue knows nought but truth or silence.

NARSETES.

Is it
A king’s or friend’s part, king, to bid his friend
Speak what he knows not? Speak then thou, that I
May find thy will and answer it.

ALBOVINE.

I am fain
And loth to tell thee how it wrings my heart
That now this hard-eyed heavy southern sun
Hath wrought its will upon us all a year
And yet I know not if my wife be mine.

NARSETES.

Thy meanest man at arms had known ere dawn
Blinked on his bridal birthday.

ALBOVINE.

Did I bid thee
Mock, and forget me for thy friend—I say not,
King? Is thy heart so light and lean a thing,
So loose in faith and faint in love? I bade thee
Stand to me, help me, hold my hand in thine
And give my heart back answer. This it is,
Old friend and fool, that gnaws my life in twain—
The worm that writhes and feeds about my heart—
The devil and God are crying in either ear
One murderous word for ever, night and day,
Dark day and deadly night and deadly day,
Can she love thee who slewest her father? I
Love her.

NARSETES.

Thy wife should love thee as thy sire’s
Loved him. Thou art worth a woman—heart for heart.

ALBOVINE.

My sire’s wife loved him? Hers he had not slain.
Would God I might but die and burn in hell
And know my love had loved me!

NARSETES.

Is thy name
Babe? Sweet are babes as flowers that wed the sun,
But man may be not born a babe again,
And less than man may woman. Rosamund
Stands radiant now in royal pride of place
As wife of thine and queen of Lombards—not
Cunimund’s daughter. Hadst thou slain her sire
Shamefully, shame were thine to have sought her hand
And shame were hers to love thee: but he died
Manfully, by thy mightier hand than his
Manfully mastered. War, born blind as fire,
Fed not as fire upon her: many a maid
As royal dies disrobed of all but shame
And even to death burnt up for shame’s sake: she
Lives, by thy grace, imperial.

ALBOVINE.

He or I,
Her lord or sire, which hath most part in her,
This hour shall try between us.

_Enter_ ROSAMUND.

ROSAMUND.

Royal lord,
Thy wedded handmaid craves of thee a grace.

ALBOVINE.

My sovereign bids her bondman what she will.

ROSAMUND.

I bid thee mock me not: I may ask thee
Aught, and be heard of any save my lord.

ALBOVINE.

Go, friend.

[_Exit_ NARSETES.]

Speak now. Say first what ails thee?

ROSAMUND.

Me?

ALBOVINE.

Thy voice was honey-hearted music, sweet
As wine and glad as clarions: not in battle
Might man have more of joy than I to hear it
And feel delight dance in my heart and laugh
Too loud for hearing save its own. Thou rose,
Why did God give thee more than all thy kin
Whose pride is perfume only and colour, this?
Music? No rose but mine sings, and the birds
Hush all their hearts to hearken. Dost thou hear not
How heavy sounds her note now?

ROSAMUND.

Sire, not I.
But sire I should not call thee.

ALBOVINE.

Surely, no.
I bade thee speak: I did not bid thee sing:
Thou canst not speak and sing not.

ROSAMUND.

Albovine,
I had at heart a simple thing to crave
And thought not on thy flatteries—as I think not
Now. Knowest thou not my handmaid Hildegard
Free-born, a noble maiden?

ALBOVINE.

And a fair
As ever shone like sundawn on the snows.

ROSAMUND.

I had at heart to plead for her with thee.

ALBOVINE.

Plead? hast thou found her noble maidenhood
Ignobly turned unmaidenlike? I may not
Lightly believe it.

ROSAMUND.

Believe it not at all.
Wouldst thou think shame of me—lightly? She loves
As might a maid whose kin were northern gods
The fairest-faced of warriors Lombard born,
Thine Almachildes.

ALBOVINE.

If he loves not her,
More fool is he than warrior even, though war
Have wakened laughter in his eyes, and left
His golden hair fresh gilded, when his hand
Had won the crown that clasps a boy’s brows close
With first-born sign of battle.

ROSAMUND.

No such fool
May live in such a warrior; if he love not
Some loveliness not hers. No face as bright
Crowned with so fair a Mayflower crown of praise
Lacked ever yet love, if its eyes were set
With all their soul to loveward.

ALBOVINE.

Ay?

ROSAMUND.

I know not
A man so fair of face. I like him well.
And well he hath served and loves thee.

ALBOVINE.

Ay? The boy
Seems winsome then with women.

ROSAMUND.

Hildegard
Hath hearkened when he spake of love—it may be,
Lightly.

ALBOVINE.

To her shall no man lightly speak.
Thy maiden and our natural kin is she.
Wilt thou speak with him—lightly?

ROSAMUND.

If thou wilt,
Gladly.

ALBOVINE.

The boy shall wait upon thy will.

[_Exit_.

ROSAMUND.

My heart is heavier than this heat that weighs
With all the weight of June on us. I know not
Why. And the feast is close on us. I would
This night were now to-morrow morn. I know not
Why.

_Enter_ ALMACHILDES.

Ah! What would you?

ALMACHILDES.

Queen, our lord the king
Bade me before thee hither.

ROSAMUND.

Truth: I know it.
Thou art loved and honoured of our lord the king.
Dost thou, whom honour loves before thy time,
Love?

ALMACHILDES.

Ay: thy noble handmaid, Hildegard.
I know not if she love me.

ROSAMUND.

Thou shalt know.
But this thou knowest: I may not give thee her.

ALMACHILDES.

I would not take her from the Lord God’s hand
If hers were given against her will to mine.

ROSAMUND.

A man said that: a manfuller than men
Who grip the loveless hands of prisoners. Well
It must be with the bride whose happier hand
Lies fond and fast in thine. Our Hildegard,
Being free and noble as Albovine and we,
Born one with us in race and blood, and thence
Our equal in our sole nobility,
Must well be won by noble works, and love
Whose light is one with honour’s.

ALMACHILDES.

Queen, may I
Perchance not win it? I know not.

ROSAMUND.

Nay, nor I.
Soon may we know; they are entering toward the feast.

[_The curtain drawn discovers a banquet_, _with guests assembled_: _among
them_ NARSETES _and_ HILDEGARD.

_Re-enter_ ALBOVINE.

ALBOVINE.

Thine hand: I hold the whitest in the world.
Sit thou, boy, there, beside sweet Hildegard.

[_They sit_.

Bring me the cup. Queen, thou shalt pledge with me
A health to all this kingdom and its weal
Even from the bowl that here to hold in hand
Assures me lord of Lombardy and thine
By right and might of battle and of God—
The skull that was thy father’s: so shalt thou
Drink to me with thy father.

ROSAMUND.

Sire, my lord,
The life my sire, who gave thee up his life,
Gave me, and fostered till thou hadst given him death,
Is all now thine. Thy will be done. I drink
To thee, who art all this kingdom and its weal,
All health and honour that of right should be,
With all good things I wish thee.

[_Drinks_.

ALBOVINE.

Wish me well,
And God must give me what thou wilt. Good friends,
My warriors and my brethren, hath not he
Given me to wife the best one born of man
And loveliest, and most loving? Silent, sirs?
Wherefore?

ROSAMUND.

Thou shouldst not ask it. Bid the cup
Go blithely round.

ALBOVINE.

By Christ and Thor, it shall.
What ails the boy there? Almachildes!

ALMACHILDES.

King,
Nought ails me.

ALBOVINE.

Nor thy maiden?

ALMACHILDES.

King, nor her.

ALBOVINE.

Fall then to feasting. Bear the cup away.
Some savour of the dust of death comes from it.
Sweet, be not wroth nor sad.

ROSAMUND.

I am blithe and fain,
Sire; and I loved thee never more than now.

ALBOVINE.

Nor ever I thee. Now I find thee mine,
And now no daughter of mine enemy’s.

ROSAMUND.

No.
Thou hast no enemy left on earth alive—
No soul unslain that hates thee.

ALBOVINE.

That were much.
What man may say it? and least of all may kings.

ROSAMUND.

What hast thou done that man should hate thee—man
Or woman?

ALBOVINE.

Which of us may answer, Nought?

ROSAMUND.

Thou might’st have made me—me, my father’s child—
Harlot and slave: thou hast made me wife and queen.

ALBOVINE.

Thee have I loved; ay, and myself in thee,
Who hast made me more than king and lord, being thine.

ROSAMUND.

Courtesy sets on kings a goldener crown
That sits upon them seemlier.

ALBOVINE.

Courtesy!
Truth. Hark thee, boy, and let thy Hildegard
Hearken. Is she, thy queen, a peer of mine?

ALMACHILDES.

She wears no crown but heaven’s about her head—
No gold that was not born upon her brows
Transfigures or disfigures them. She is not
A peer of thine.

ROSAMUND.

He answers well.

ALBOVINE.

He answers
Ill—as the spirit of shamelessness might speak.

ALMACHILDES.

Shameless are they that lie. I lie not.

ALBOVINE.

Boy,
Tempt not the rod.

ALMACHILDES.

The rod that man may wield
No man may fear: the slave who fears it is not
Man.

ALBOVINE.

Art thou crazed with wine?

ALMACHILDES.

Am I thy king?

ALBOVINE.

My thrall thou knowest thou art not, or thy tongue
Durst challenge not mine anger.

ROSAMUND.

Thrall and free,
Woman and man, yea, queen and king, are born
More wide apart than earth or hell and heaven.
Sirs, let no wrangling breath distune the peace
That shines and glows about us, and discerns
A banquet from a battle. Thou, my lord,
Hast bidden away the dust of death which fell
Between us at thy bidding, and is now
Nothing—a dream blown out at waking. Thou,
My lord’s young chosen of warriors, be not wroth,
Albeit thy wrath be noble, though my lord
See fit to try my love as gold is tried
By fire: it burns not thee. Strike hand in hand:
Ye have done so after battle.

ALBOVINE.

Drink again.
I pledge thee, boy.

ALMACHILDES.

I pledge thee, king.

ROSAMUND.

My lord,
I am weary at heart, and fain would sleep. Forgive me
That I can sit no more.

ALBOVINE.

What ails thee?

ROSAMUND.

Nought.
The hot and heavy time of year has bound
About my brows a band of iron. Sire,
Thou wouldst not see me sink aswoon, and mar
The raptures of thy revel.

ALBOVINE.

Get thee hence.
Go. God be with thee.

ROSAMUND.

God abide with thee.

[_Exit with attendants_.

ALBOVINE.

This is no feast: I will no more of it. Boy,
Take note, and tempt not so thy bride, albeit
She tempt thee to the trial.

ALMACHILDES.

I shall not, king,

ALBOVINE.

She will not. Sirs, good night—if night may be
Good. Hardly may the day be, here. And yet
For you it may be—Hildegard and thee.
God give you joy.

ALMACHILDES.

God give thee comfort, king.

[_Exeunt_.




ACT II.


_A room in the Queen’s apartments_.

_Enter_ ROSAMUND.

ROSAMUND.

I am yet alive to question if I live
And wonder what may ever bid me die.
But live I will, being yet not dead with thee,
Father. Thou knowest in Paradise my heart.
I feel thy kisses breathing on my lips,
Whereto the dead cold relic of thy face
Was pressed at bidding of thy slayer last night,
And yet they were not withered: nay, they are red
As blood is—blood but newly spilt—not thine.
How good thou wast and sweet of spirit—how dear,
Father! None lives that knew thee now save one,
And none loves me but thou nor thee but I,
That was till yesternight thy daughter: now
That very name is tainted, and my tongue
Tastes poison as I speak it. There is nought
Left in the range and record of the world
For me that is not poisoned: even my heart
Is all envenomed in me. Death is life,
Or priesthood lies that swears it: then I give
The man my husband and thy homicide
Life, if I slay him—the life he gave thee.

_Enter_ HILDEGARD.

Girl,
I sent for thee, I think: stand near me. Child,
Thou art fairer than thou knowest, I doubt: thou art fair
As the awless maidenhood of morning: truth
Should live upon thy lips, though truth were dead
On all men’s tongues and women’s born save thine.
Dawn lies not when it laughs on us. Thy queen
I am not now: thy friend I would be. Tell
Thy friend if love sleep or awake in thee
Toward any man. Thou art silent. Tell me this,
Dost thou not think, where thought scarce knows itself—
Think in the subtle sense too deep for thought—
That Almachildes loves thee?

HILDEGARD.

More than I
Love Almachildes.

ROSAMUND.

Thus a maid should speak.
Dost thou love me?

HILDEGARD.

Thou knowest it, queen.

ROSAMUND.

It lies
Now in thy power to show me more of love
Than ever yet hath man or woman. Swear,
If thou dost love me, thou wilt show it.

HILDEGARD.

I swear.

ROSAMUND.

By all our fathers’ great forsaken gods
Who smiled on all their battles, and by him
Who clomb or crept or leapt upon their throne
And signed us Christian, swear it, then.

HILDEGARD.

I swear.

ROSAMUND.

What if I bid thee give thyself to shame—
Yield up thy soul and body—play such parts
As shameless fame records of women crowned
Imperial in the tale of lust and Rome?

HILDEGARD.

Thou couldst not bid me do it.

ROSAMUND.

Thou hast sworn.

HILDEGARD.

I have sworn.
Queen, I would do it, and die.

ROSAMUND.

Thou shalt not. Yet
This must thou do, and live. Thou shalt not be
Shamed. Thou shalt bid thine Almachildes come
And speak with thee by nightfall. Say, the queen
Will give not up the maiden so beloved
—And truth it is, I love thee—willingly
To the arms of one her husband loves: but were it
Shame, utter shame, that he should wed not her,
The shamefast queen could choose not. Then shall he
Plead. Then shalt thou turn gentler than the snow
That softens at the strong sun’s kiss, and yield.
But needs must night be close about your love
And darkness whet your kisses. Light were death.
Hast thou no heart to guess now? Fear not then.
Not thou but I must put on shame. I lack
A hand for mine to grasp and strike with. His
I have chosen.

HILDEGARD.

I see but as by lightning. Queen,
What should I do but warn the king—or him?

ROSAMUND.

Thou hast sworn. I hold thee by thy word.

HILDEGARD.

My Christ,
Help me!

ROSAMUND.

No God can break thine oath in twain
And leave thee less than perjured. Thou must bid him
Make thee to-night his bride.

HILDEGARD.

I could not say it.

ROSAMUND.

Thou shalt, or God shall smite thee down to hell.
What, art thou godless?

HILDEGARD.

Art not thou?

ROSAMUND.

Not I.
I find him just and gracious, girl: he gives me
My right by might set fast on thine and thee.

HILDEGARD.

For love of mercy, queen—for honour’s sake,
Bid me not shame myself before a man—
The man I love—who gives me back at least
Honour, if love he gives not.

ROSAMUND.

Ay, my maid?
And yet he loves thee, or thy maiden thought
Errs with no gracious error, more than thou
Him?

HILDEGARD.

Art thou woman born, to cast me back
My maiden shame for shame upon my face?
I would not say I loved him more than man
Loved ever woman since the light of love
Lit them alive together. Let us be.

ROSAMUND.

I will not. Mine are both by God’s own gift.
I will not cast it from me. Ye may live
Hereafter happy: never now shall I.

HILDEGARD.

Have mercy. Nay, I cannot do it. And thou,
Albeit thine heart be hot with hate as hell,
Couldst say not, nor fold round with fairer speech,
Those foul three words the Egyptian woman said
Who tempted and could tempt not Joseph.

ROSAMUND.

No.
He would not hearken. Joseph loved not her
More than thine Almachildes me. But thou
Shalt. Now no more may I debate with thee.
Go.

HILDEGARD.

God requite thee!

ROSAMUND.

That shall he and I,
Not thou, make proof of. If I plead with him,
I crave of God but wrong’s requital. Go.

[_Exit_ HILDEGARD.

And yet, God help me! Can I do it? God’s will
May no man thwart, or leave his righteousness
Baffled. I would not say, ‘My will be done,’
Were God’s will not for righteousness as mine,
If right be righteous, wrong be wrong, must be.
How else may God work wrong’s requital? I
Must be or none may be his minister.
And yet what righteousness is his to cast
Athwart my way toward right this wrong to me,
A sin against the soul and honour? Why
Must this vile word of _yet_ cross all my thought
Always, a drifting doom or doubt that still
Strikes up and floats against my purpose? God,
Help me to know it! This weapon chosen of me,
This Almachildes, were his face not fair,
Were not his fame bright—were his aspect foul,
His name dishonourable, his line through life
A loathing and a spitting-stock for scorn,
Could I do this? Am I then even as they
Who queened it once in Rome’s abhorrent face
An empress each, and each by right of sin
Prostitute? All the life I have lived or loved
Hath been, if snows or seas or wellsprings be,
Pure as the spirit of love toward heaven is—chaste
As children’s eyes or mothers’. Though I sinned
As yet my soul hath sinned not, Albovine
Must bear, if God abhor unrighteousness,
The weight of penance heaviest laid on sin,
Shame. Not on me may shame be set, though hell
Take hold upon me dying. I would the deed
Were done, the wreak of wrath were wroken, and I
Dead.

_Enter_ ALBOVINE.

ALBOVINE.


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