Heresy

Prince. What place is this?
All's strange to me, and I
Had fallen at last accustomed to the dark.
Why, then, to this vast radiance bring me blindfold?
H ANGMAN . Why, Prince, a happy surprise!
First coach-room; then,
A steady creeping upward; and now — this.
Once died — and lived — a corse named Lazarus:
Remember, then, to all men else than they
Who will not blab, you have been three days dead —
And, that far gone, even princes are soon forgot.
Lo, then, your resurrection! — take your fill.
Nor need we three have joy in it alone.
Legions of listeners surround us here,
Alert, though out of hearing and of sight.
P RINCE . Like many journeys, this is best being done.
My lungs ache with the ascent and the thin air.
After your souring " coach-room " it smells sweet.

How wondrous a scene of universal calm,
These last days' troubles and distractions done!
Look, how that pretty harebell nods her head,
Whispering, ay , ay . How fresh the scent of thyme!
The knife-winged birds that haunt this sea-blue vault
Even in their droppings mock the eye with flowers
Whiter than snow.
H ANGMAN . Yes, and as bleached have picked
This coney's bones that dared their empire here.
P RINCE . How dark a shadow in so little a head
Peers from its thin-walled skull.
H ANGMAN . By Gis,
Not thyme but stark Eternity domes this perch;
And who needs hempseed when his ghost's gone home?
C OURTIER . When yours goes home, the bitterest weed earth fats
Would taste more savoury to the hawks of hell.
H ANGMAN . Meanwhile, a civil tongue hang in your head!
You've bribed your coming hither; let it rest.
P RINCE . I pray you cut these ropes from off my wrists.
Here's neither need nor hour to challenge why
And by whose tyranny I have endured
Monstrous humiliations. That may wait.
But I am faint, and have no hope in flight.
In quiet we'll sit, and you shall then rehearse
What wrongs are yours a little thought may right.
We all are human, and the heavens be judge.
H ANGMAN . " We all are human, and the heavens be judge " ! —
A dainty saying, Prince, in either part;
Come noon, and ample proof is yours of both!
I've heard of hermits drowned so deep in silence
Their hairy ears dreamed voices in their brains.
I'd be a hermit too, if in my cell
A homelier music than this bleaching wind's
In these sharp-bladed grasses lulled me asleep.
It seemed an instant gone a halting voice
Sighed, flight — as if in envy of these mews
That scream defiance o'er our innocent heads.
Alackaday, the dirge they seem to sing!
C OURTIER . This is sole solitude. It utterly dwarfs
Not merely man's corporeal girth and stature,
But melts to naught the imaginings of his soul.
H ANGMAN . So empty this wide salttang'd vast of air
'Twould gobble up the cries of all the dying
As artlessly as God Man's sabbath prayers!
Raved here some fell she-Roc a shrill lament
Over her brood struck cold by heedless thunder,
The nearest listener would softly smile
Dreaming him lulled by sigh of passing zephyr!
So, sir, our talk has edged again to'rd you.
P RINCE . Ay, has it so? What would you?
H ANGMAN . Our sole selves,
And a something motionless in a huddle of clothes,
Which soon air's birds, earth's ants will disinfect,
Leaving it naught more talkative than bones.
P RINCE . Murder is in your thoughts?
H ANGMAN . Ah, sir, a boy
That lugs poor Puss close-bagged and stone-companioned
Off to her first — and only — watery bath
May have misgivings; but not so grown men.
Murder's no worse a thing when it's called Justice.
We promise you your remorse shall vex no ear
Unwonted to reproaches. Scan this height!
C OURTIER . It is a table open to the eye of heav'n:
And lo, beyond that girdle of huge egg boulders,
Sun-shivering waters to the horizon's verge —
The Ocean Sea — self-lulled, like full-fed babe
That mumbles its mother's nipple in its dreams.
H ANGMAN . You see, sir, though Fate may on Kings cry, " Check! " ,
Princes she merely pushes off the board.
Ay, and one broken down there, upon those stones,
Frenzied with thirst and pain, need not despair!
The lapping comfort of the inning tide,
Though of a languid pace as tardy as time's,
Will, at its leisure, muffle all lamentings.
And what care lobsters if their supper talk?
P RINCE . You speak as if some devil in your brains
Had stolen their sanity.
H ANGMAN . There runs a silly saying in my mind,
Moaned by poor lovers cheated of desire,
Two's company; three's none!
P RINCE . So be it, my friend.
Adieu. I will turn back without delay!
Doubtless the paths by which you have led me blindfold
Some instinct of direction will recall.
H ANGMAN . I'm told that cats have such a sense of home
They'll dog their would-be murderers twenty miles,
To miaow defiance.
P RINCE . Yes. And so would I!
Wait but till I am free from fleshly bonds!
H ANGMAN . An assignation past the post of death!
So be it! tho' night grows cold to'rd crow of cock!
C OURTIER . Hold now your festering tongue awhile, and wait;
A few more minutes, and it's final noon.
C OURTIER . This three days gone — and now no hope can help me —
A last brief message from the King's been mine
To bring you, Prince. In vain, in vain I stayed,
Pining in misery it might harmless prove,
Since Fate the while held all things in the balance.
The waiting's over; and the balance down.
The wild resolve I neither loved nor shared
Has fallen to worse than nothing; and the foes
That hated you can now feed full on scorn.
P RINCE . Cut to the bone, friend; I am sick of snippets.
H ANGMAN . Well said, cut softly to the very bone.
The minutes dwindle, and the tide has turned.
C OURTIER . I'll keep my Master's pace. ... There was a realm,
A state, a hive, a human emmet heap,
Ruled over by a king whose sceptre of iron
He wielded wisely, and bade kiss or crush,
According to his kingdom's need and crisis.
Merciful he when mercy he knew well
Could virtue serve, his People, justice, peace;
But swift and pitiless when his anxious gaze
Pierced to the cancer of that People's ill.
Such rulers win more confidence than love.
None ever assailed his lealty to the good
That in his inmost soul he deemed the best —
Best for the most, less, least — since best for all.
H ANGMAN . A pleasing purge — and kingly common sense.
Think now, had this bold rabbit, gone to dust,
Ruled o'er his warren — why, this bright green turf
Were now a rodents' Golgotha of bones.
He who brews poison should be first to taste it.
P RINCE . Of your twin voices one is wolfish bass,
But keeps the nearer to the tune they share.
C OURTIER . But little more of that , God knows — then none.
In hives of Bees, whose summer is all spent
Toiling and moiling against wintry want,
It's not the worker, or the fatted drone,
May breed disaster, but some royal she
Fed only on nectar in her nymphal cell,
And yet uniquely sensed, who issues out
Into the whispering business of the hive,
Intent on some pre-natal paradise,
To find it but a maze of servile instinct.
What wonder if in heat of youth she rove,
Plagued and impatient at a fate so pinched,
Lusting to free her kind, to entice them on —
On to some dreamed chimera of workless bliss!
Treason! she trumps to her contented kin.
" Awake! Arouse! Fools, fools, your Queen is mad! "
But skeps of straw are not of the weaving of heaven,
And Nature's neutral tyranny is such
She'll sate with sunshine, and then starve in ice.
This jade I tell of, ardent, selfless, rash,
May of truth's essence have sucked, but what of that?
One born too wise within a polity
As ancient as the Bee's is curse more dire
Than countless generations of the dull.
H ANGMAN . All that this prating means is, Look at me! —
Crafty enough to feign I have few wits,
But yet can do with skill the things I'm bid
And after, bloody-fingered, fist my wages.
P RINCE . So plain the gallows shows upon your face
You need no hangman tongue to draw the trap.
Of you I ask only a moment's peace
To be alone in commune with myself.
I weary of your parables and am dumb.
Were I led hither again, again, again,
And at this bleak abyss which now I face
My bowels in a frenzy of fear should melt —
Again, again; I would no word recant,
No act recall, nor one ideal betray
Which these last few vain hours have brought to naught.
Oh, I am weary, give me leave to die.
Words may worse torture wreak than screw or rack.
H ANGMAN . And that's why we have given you words in plenty.
C OURTIER . One other grief — to share; and I have done.
This She I spoke of was, in fact, a prince;
The hive, his father's realm: a prince held dear
Beyond idolatry; the wonder and hope
Of this wise monarch's soul. No Absalom —
Since thrones in time began — was more endued
With beauty, genius, grace, fame, fortune, zeal.
He'd but to turn his head to be beloved.
The dumb-tongued stones that paved his palace court
Echoed of glory when he trod; no bliss
Was past his full achievement. Yes, my lord,
Our royal master grudged you nothing; and
He bade me breathe you peace on this account;
Avow again — though you are past his pity —
That not one blotch of envy in his blood
Did ever incite him to a thought's revenge.
He loved you ... So, 'tis done. And I am here
To bring his blessing ere your feet go on
Into the dark unknown. There this world's kings
May find them less in rank than scullions
In service of the gods; who yet decreed
That they reign faithfully and reign unmoved
By any hope too high for human practice.
To call men equal is a heresy;
And worse — denial of the divine. Think you,
Doth jealousy green the hyssop in the wall
That with the cedar shares her mote of sunlight?
Is pain the blesseder for being shared?
Is aught in life worth having but what the mind
Hath sealed its own within its secret silence?
What is heart's ease — ambition, or the peace
That only comes of loving its poor best? ...
When death is in the pulpit — thus he speaks!
And I, alas, his deputy. But now
I cease. No more the mouthpiece of my Master,
I stay to keep you company to the end.
P RINCE . So wild a light, and then the little dark.
This is the end, then. And, to you, farewell.
What was between my father and his son
I gave you never warranty to share.
What was between my inmost self and me
Yours never the faintest insight to descry.
He gave me life — scant boon in world half-dead.
And now he craves it of me, since his seed
Has fruited past his liking. Tell him this —
When you from your day's pleasuring have gone back:
I died remorseless, yet in shame — for one
So rich in magnanimity who yet
Refused his realm the very elixir of life;
And sick with terror of what the truth might tell,
Uncharged, untried, has chos'n me this for end.
I am gone forth on my high errand; he
Breathes on in infamy.
H ANGMAN . Ha, ha, ha, ha! The pity that a roost
So fecund as this gives the young cock no hens!
C OURTIER . Great deeds great crimes may be; and so
Of their extravagance win doom at last,
Commensurate in scope, in kind, in awe,
With him whose blinded wisdom brought them forth.
Hence this immensity on which we stand.
Such was his edict.
P RINCE . And is this the sot
He of his own sole choice bade bring me here?
We two — though at this pass — are of a kin;
I loved you; love you yet, but —
C OURTIER . I know not, sir. The King's mouth now says nothing.
I came at no man's orders; only lest
This hangman here ...
But hark, we're for a journey
Beyond the talisman of our wits to scan.
H ANGMAN . 'Ware, then! Lift princely eyes into the void
And watch as 'twere your soul's winged silver slide
Into the empyrean. Get you gone!
P RINCE . Away!
C OURTIER . And I! ... Away! ...
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