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

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

Algernon Charles Swinburne 1837–1909

From “Chastelard”


Scene.—In Prison, before Chastelard’s Execution.

Queen.Would God my heart were greater; but God wot

I have no heart to bear with fear and die.

Yea, and I cannot help you: or I know

I should be nobler, bear a better heart:

But as this stands—I pray you for good love,

As you hold honor a costlier thing than life—


Queen.Nay, I would not be denied for shame;

In brief, I pray you give me that again.

Chast.What, my reprieve?

Queen.Even so; deny me not.

For your sake mainly: yea, by God you know

How fain I were to die in your death’s stead,

For your name’s sake. This were no need to swear,

Lest we be mock’d to death with a reprieve,

And so both die, being sham’d. What, shall I swear?

What, if I kiss you? must I pluck it out?

You do not love me: no, nor honor. Come,

I know you have it about you: give it me.

Chast.I cannot yield you such a thing again;

Not as I had it.

Queen.A coward? what shift now?

Do such men make such cravens?

Chast.Chide me not:

Pity me that I cannot help my heart.

Queen.Heaven mend mine eyes that took you for a man!

What, is it sewn into your flesh? take heed—

Nay, but for shame—what have you done with it?

Chast.Why, there it lies, torn up.

Queen.God help me, sir!

Have you done this?

Chast.Yea, sweet; what should I do?

Did I not know you to the bone, my sweet?

God speed you well? you have a goodly lord.

Queen.My love, sweet love, you are more fair than he,

Yea, fairer many times: I love you much,

Sir, know you that?

Chast.I think I know that well.

Sit here a little till I feel you through

In all my breath and blood for some sweet while.

O gracious body that mine arms have had,

And hair my face has felt on it! grave eyes

And low thick lids that keep since years agone

In the blue sweet of each particular vein

Some special print of me! I am right glad

That I must never feel a bitterer thing

Than your soft curl’d-up shoulder and amorous arms

From this time forth; nothing can hap to me

Less good than this for all my whole life through.

I would not have some new pain after this

Come spoil the savor. O, your round bird’s throat,

More soft than sleep or singing; your calm cheeks,

Turn’d bright, turn’d wan with kisses hard and hot;

The beautiful color of your deep curv’d hands,

Made of a red rose that had changed to white;

That mouth mine own holds half the sweetness of,

Yea, my heart holds the sweetness of it, whence

My life began in me; mine that ends here

Because you have no mercy,—nay, you know

You never could have mercy. My fair love,

Kiss me again, God loves you not the less;

Why should one woman have all goodly things?

You have all beauty; let mean women’s lips

Be pitiful and speak truth: they will not be

Such perfect things as yours. Be not asham’d

That hands not made like these that snare men’s souls

Should do men good, give alms, relieve men’s pain;

You have the better, being more fair than they,

They are half foul, being rather good than fair;

You are quite fair: to be quite fair is best.

Why, two nights hence I dream’d that I could see

In through your bosom under the left flower,

And there was a round hollow, and at heart

A little red snake sitting, without spot,

That bit—like this, and suck’d up sweet—like this,

And curl’d its lithe light body right and left,

And quiver’d like a woman in act to love.

Then there was some low flutter’d talk i’ the lips,

Faint sound of soft fierce words caressing them—

Like a fair woman’s when her love gets way.

Ah, your old kiss—I know the ways of it:

Let the lips cling a little. Take them off,

And speak some word, or I go mad with love.

Queen.Will you not have my chaplain come to you?

Chast.Some better thing of yours—some handkerchief,

Some fringe of scarf to make confession to—

You had some book about you that fell out—

Queen.A little written book of Ronsard’s rhymes,

His gift, I wear in there for love of him—

See, here between our feet.

Chast.Ay, my old lord’s—

The sweet chief poet, my dear friend long since?

Give me the book. Lo you, this verse of his:

With coming lilies in late April came

Her body, fashion’d whiter for their shame;

And roses, touch’d with blood since Adon bled,

From her fair color fill’d their lips with red:

A goodly praise: I could not praise you so.

I read that while your marriage-feast went on.

Leave me this book, I pray you: I would read

The hymn of death here over ere I die;

I shall know soon how much he knew of death

When that was written. One thing I know now,

I shall not die with half a heart at least,

Nor shift my face, nor weep my fault alive,

Nor swear if I might live and do new deeds

I would do better. Let me keep the book.

Queen.Yea, keep it: as would God you had kept your life

Out of mine eyes and hands. I am wrung to the heart:

This hour feels dry and bitter in my mouth

As if its sorrow were my body’s food

More than my soul’s. There are bad thoughts in me—

Most bitter fancies biting me like birds

That tear each other. Suppose you need not die?

Chast.You know I cannot live for two hours more.

Our fate was made thus ere our days were made:

Will you fight fortune for so small a grief?

But for one thing I were full fain of death.

QueenWhat thing is that?

Chast.None need to name the thing.

Why, what can death do with me fit to fear?

For if I sleep I shall not weep awake;

Or if their saying be true of things to come,

Though hell be sharp, in the worst ache of it

I shall be eas’d so God will give me back

Sometimes one golden gracious sight of you—

The aureole woven flowerlike through your hair,

And in your lips the little laugh as red

As when it came upon a kiss and ceas’d,

Touching my mouth.

Queen.As I do now, this way,

With my heart after: would I could shed tears,

Tears should not fail when the heart shudders so.

But your bad thought?

Chast.Well, such a thought as this:

It may be, long time after I am dead,

For all you are, you may see bitter days;

God may forget you or be wroth with you:

Then shall you lack a little help of me,

And I shall feel your sorrow touching you,

A happy sorrow, though I may not touch:

I that would fain be turn’d to flesh again,

Fain get back life to give up life for you,

To shed my blood for help, that long ago

You shed and were not holpen: and your heart

Will ache for help and comfort, yea, for love,

And find less love than mine—for I do think

You never will be lov’d thus in your life.

QueenIt may be man will never love me more;

For I am sure I shall not love man twice.

Chast.I know not: men must love you in life’s spite,

For you will always kill them; man by man

Your lips will bite them dead; yea, though you would,

You shall not spare one; all will die of you;

I cannot tell what love shall do with these,

But I for all my love shall have no might

To help you more, mine arms and hands no power

To fasten on you more. This cleaves my heart,

That they shall never touch your body more.

But for your grief—you will not have to grieve;

For being in such poor eyes so beautiful

It must needs be as God is more than I

So much more love he hath of you than mine;

Yea, God shall not be bitter with my love,

Seeing she is so sweet.

Queen.Ah, my sweet fool,

Think you when God will ruin me for sin

My face of color shall prevail so much

With him, so soften the tooth’d iron’s edge

To save my throat a scar? Nay, I am sure

I shall die somehow sadly.

Chast.This is pure grief;

The shadow of your pity for my death,

Mere foolishness of pity: all sweet moods

Throw out such little shadows of themselves,

Leave such light fears behind. You, die like me?

Stretch your throat out that I may kiss all round

Where mine shall be cut through: suppose my mouth

The axe-edge to bite so sweet a throat in twain

With bitter iron, should not it turn soft

As lip is soft to lip?

Queen.I am quite sure

I shall die sadly some day, Chastelard;

I am quite certain.

Chast.Do not think such things;

Lest all my next world’s memories of you be

As heavy as this thought.

Queen.I will not grieve you;

Forgive me that my thoughts were sick with grief.

What can I do to give you ease at heart?

Shall I kiss now? I pray you have no fear

But that I love you.

Chast.Turn your face to me;

I do not grudge your face this death of mine;

It is too fair—by God, you are too fair.

What noise is that?

Queen.Can the hour be through so soon?

I bade them give me but a little hour.

Ah! I do love you! such brief space for love!

I am yours all through, do all your will with me;

What if we lay and let them take us fast,

Lips grasping lips. I dare do anything.

Chast.Show better cheer: let no man see you maz’d;

Make haste and kiss me; cover up your throat,

Lest one see tumbled lace and prate of it.

Enter the guard.