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

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

Frederick Tennyson b. 1807

From “Niobe”

I TOO remember, in the after years,

The long-hair’d Niobe, when she was old,

Sitting alone, without the city gates,

Upon the ground; alone she sat, and mourn’d.

Her watchers, mindful of her royal state,

Her widowhood, and sorrows, follow’d her

Far off, when she went forth, to be alone

In lonely places; and at set of sun

They won her back by some fond phantasy,

By telling her some tale of the gone days

Of her dear lost ones, promising to show her

Some faded garland, or some broken toy,

Dusty and dim, which they had found, or feign’d

To have found, some plaything of their infant hours.

Within the echoes of a ruin’d court

She sat and mourn’d, with her lamenting voice,

Melodious in sorrow, like the sound

Of funeral hymns; for in her youth she sang

Along the myrtle valleys in the spring,

Plucking the fresh pinks and the hyacinths,

With her fair troop of girls, who answer’d her

Silverly sweet, so that the lovely tribe

Were Nature’s matchless treble to the last

Delicious pipe, pure, warbling, dewy clear.

In summer and in winter, that lorn voice

Went up, like the struck spirit of this world,

Making the starry roof of heaven tremble

With her lament, and agony, and all

The crowned Gods in their high tabernacles

Sigh unawares, and think upon their deeds.

Her guardians let her wander at her will,

For all could weep for her; had she not been

The first and fairest of that sunny land,

And bless’d with all things; doubly crown’d with power

And beauty, doubly now discrown’d and fallen?

Oh! none would harm her, only she herself;

And chiefly then when they would hold her back,

And sue her to take comfort in her home,

Or in the bridal chambers of her youth,

Or in the old gardens, once her joy and pride,

Or the rose-bowers along the river-shore

She lov’d of old, now silent and forsaken.

For then she fled away, as though in fear,

As if she saw the spectres of her hours

Of joyaunce pass before her in the shapes

Of her belov’d ones. But most she chose

Waste places, where the moss and lichen crawl’d,

And the wild ivy flutter’d, and the rains

Wept thro’ the roofless ruins, and all seem’d

To mourn in symbols, and to answer to her,

Showing her outward that she was within.

The unregarding multitude pass’d on,

Because her woe was a familiar sight.

But some there were that shut their ears and fled,

And they were childless; the rose-lipp’d and young

Felt that imperial voice and desolate

Strike cold into their hearts; children at play

Were smit with sudden silence, with their toys

Clutch’d in their hands, forgetful of the game.

Aged she was, yet beautiful in age.

Her beauty, thro’ the cloud of years and grief,

Shone as a wintry sun; she never smil’d,

Save when a darkness pass’d across the sun,

And blotted out from her entranced eyes

Disastrous shapes that rode upon his disk,

Tyrannous visions, armed presences;

And then she sigh’d and lifted up her head,

And shed a few warm tears. But when he rose,

And her sad eyes unclos’d before his beams,

She started up with terrors in her look,

That wither’d up all pity in affright,

And ran about, like one with Furies torn,

And rent her hair, and madly threaten’d Heaven,

And call’d for retribution on the Gods,

Crying, “O save me from Him, He is there;

Oh, let me wear my little span of life.

I see Him in the centre of the sun;

His face is black with wrath! thou angry God,

I am a worthless thing, a childless mother,

Widow’d and wasted, old and comfortless,

But still I am alive; wouldst thou take all?

Thou who hast snatch’d my hopes and my delights,

Thou who hast kill’d my children, wouldst thou take

The little remnant of my days of sorrow,

Which the sharp winds of the first winter days,

Or the first night of frost, may give unto thee?

For never shall I seek again that home

Where they are not; cold, cold shall be the hearth

Where they were gather’d, cold as is my heart!

Oh! if my living lot be bitterness,

’T is sweeter than to think, that, if I go

Down to the dust, then I shall think no more

Of them I lov’d and lost, the thoughts of whom

Are all my being, and shall speak no more,

In answer to their voices in my heart,

As though it were mine ear, rewording all

Their innocent delights, and fleeting pains,

Their infant fondnesses, their little wants,

And simple words. Oh! while I am, I dream

Of those who are not; thus my anguish grows

My solace, as the salt surf of the seas

Clothes the sharp crags with beauty.” Then her mood

Would veer to madness, like a windy change

That brings up thunder, and she rais’d her voice,

Crying, “And yet they are not, they who were,

And never more shall be! accursed dreams!”

And, suddenly becoming motionless,

The bright hue from her cheeks and forehead pass’d,

And, full of awful resignation, fixing

Her large undazzled orbs upon the sun,

She shriek’d, “Strike, God, thou canst not harm me more!”