Home  »  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895  »  From “Bothwell”

Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

Algernon Charles Swinburne 1837–1909

From “Bothwell”


GOD ye hear not, how shall ye hear me?

Or if your eyes be seal’d to know not her,

If she be fit to live or no, can I

With words unseal them? None so young of you

But hath long life enough to understand

And reason to record what he hath seen

Of hers and of God’s dealings mutually

Since she came in. Then was her spirit made soft,

Her words as oil, and with her amorous face

She caught men’s eyes to turn them where she would,

And with the strong sound of her name of queen

Made their necks bend; that even of God’s own men

There were that bade refuse her not her will,

Deny not her, fair woman and great queen,

Her natural freedom born, to give God praise

What way she would, and pray what prayers; though these

Be as they were, to God abominable

And venomous to men’s souls. So came there back

The cursed thing cast forth of us, and so

Out of her fair face and imperious eyes

Lighten’d the light whereby men walk in hell.

And I that sole stood out and bade not let

The lightning of this curse come down on us

And fly with feet as fire on all winds blown

To burn men’s eyes out that beheld God’s face,

That being long blind but now gat sight, and saw

And prais’d him seeing—I that then spake and said,

Ten thousand men here landed of our foes

Were not so fearful to me on her side

As one mass said in Scotland—that with-stood

The man to his face I lov’d, her father’s son,

Then master’d by the pity of her, and made

Through that good mind not good—who then but I

Was tax’d of wrongful will, and for hard heart

Miscall’d of men? And now, sirs, if her prayer

Were just and reasonable, and unjust I

That bade shut ears against it—if the mass

Hath brought forth innocent fruit, and in this land

Wherein she came to stablish it again

Hath stablish’d peace with honor—if in her

It hath been found no seed of shame, and she

That lov’d and serv’d it seem now in men’s sight

No hateful thing nor fearful—if she stand

Such a queen proven as should prove honorable

The rule of women, and in her that thing

Be shown forth good that was call’d evil of me,

Blest and not curst—then have I sinn’d, and they

That would have cross’d me would have cross’d not God:

Whereof now judge ye. Hath she brought with her

Peace, or a sword? and since her incoming

Hath the land sat in quiet, and the men

Seen rest but for one year? or came not in

Behind her feet, right at her back, and shone

Above her crown’d head as a fierier crown,

Death, and about her as a raiment wrapt

Ruin? and where her foot was ever turn’d

Or her right hand was pointed, hath there fallen

No fire, no cry burst forth of war, no sound

As of a blast blown of an host of men

For summons of destruction? Hath God shown

For sign she had found grace in his sight, and we

For her sake favor, while she hath reign’d on us,

One hour of good, one week of rest, one day?

Or hath he sent not for an opposite sign

Dissensions, wars, rumors of wars, and change,

Flight and return of men, terror with power,

Triumph with trembling?

God is not mock’d; and ye shall surely know

What men were these, and what man he that spake

The things I speak now prophesying, and said

That if ye spare to shed her blood for shame,

For fear or pity of her great name or face,

God shall require of you the innocent blood

Shed for her fair face’ sake, and from your hands

Wring the price forth of her bloodguiltiness.

Nay, for ye know it, nor have I need again

To bring it in your mind if God ere now

Have borne me witness; in that dreary day

When men’s hearts fail’d them for pure grief and fear

To see the tyranny that was, and rule

Of this queen’s mother, where was no light left

But of the fires wherein his servants died,

I bade those lords that clave in heart to God

And were perplex’d with trembling and with tears

Lift up their hearts, and fear not; and they heard

What some now hear no more, the word I spake

Who have been with them, as their own souls know,

In their most extreme danger; Cowper Moor,

Saint Johnston, and the Crags of Edinburgh,

Are recent in my heart; yea, let these know,

That dark and dolorous night wherein all they

With shame and fear were driven forth of this town

Is yet within my mind; and God forbid

That ever I forget it. What, I say,

Was then my exhortation, and what word

Of all God ever promis’d by my mouth

Is fallen in vain, they live to testify

Of whom not one that then was doom’d to death

Is perish’d in that danger; and their foes,

How many of these hath God before their eyes

Plague-stricken with destruction! lo the thanks

They render him, now to betray his cause

Put in their hands to stablish; even that God’s

That kept them all the darkness through to see

Light, and the way that some now see no more,

But are gone after light of the fen’s fire

And walk askant in slippery ways; but ye

Know if God’s hand have ever when I spake

Writ liar upon me, or with adverse proof

Turn’d my free speech to shame; for in my lips

He put a word, and knowledge in my heart,

When I was fast bound of his enemies’ hands

An oarsman on their galleys, and beheld

From off the sea whereon I sat in chains

The walls wherein I knew that I there bound

Should one day witness of him; and this pledge

Hath God redeem’d not? Nay then, in God’s name,

If that false word fell unfulfill’d of mine,

Heed ye not now nor hear me when I say

That for this woman’s sake shall God cut off

The hand that spares her as the hand that shields,

And make their memory who take part with her

As theirs who stood for Baal against the Lord

With Ahab’s daughter; for her reign and end

Shall be like Athaliah’s, as her birth

Was from the womb of Jezebel, that slew

The prophets, and made foul with blood and fire

The same land’s face that now her seed makes foul

With whoredoms and with witchcrafts; yet they say

Peace, where is no peace, while the adulterous blood

Feeds yet with life and sin the murderous heart

That hath brought forth a wonder to the world

And to all time a terror; and this blood

The hands are clean that shed, and they that spare

In God’s just sight spotted as foul as Cain’s.

If then this guilt shall cleave to you or no,

And to your children’s children, for her sake,

Choose ye; for God needs no man that is loth

To serve him, and no word but his own work

To bind and loose their hearts who hear and see

Such things as speak what I lack words to say.