The Rape of Lucrece

From the besieged Ardea all in post,
Borne by the trustless wings of false desire,
Lust-breathèd Tarquin leaves the Roman host
And to Collatium bears the lightless fire
Which, in pale embers hid, lurks to aspire
—And girdle with embracing flames the waist
—Of Collatine's fair love, Lucrece the chaste.

Haply that name of chaste unhapp'ly set
This bateless edge on his keen appetite,
When Collatine unwisely did not let
To praise the clear unmatchèd red and white
Which triumphed in that sky of his delight,
—Where mortal stars as bright as heaven's beauties
—With pure aspects did him peculiar duties.

For he the night before in Tarquin's tent
Unlocked the treasure of his happy state,
What priceless wealth the heavens had him lent
In the possession of his beauteous mate,
Reck'ning his fortune at such high-proud rate
—That kings might be espousèd to more fame,
—But king nor peer to such a peerless dame.

O happiness enjoyed but of a few,
And, if possessed, as soon decayed and done
As is the morning's silver melting dew
Against the golden splendour of the sun,
An expired date cancelled ere well begun!
—Honour and beauty in the owner's arms
—Are weakly fortressed from a world of harms.

Beauty itself doth of itself persuade
The eyes of men without an orator.
What needeth then apology be made
To set forth that which is so singular?
Or why is Collatine the publisher
—Of that rich jewel he should keep unknown
—From thievish ears, because it is his own?

Perchance his boast of Lucrece' sov'reignty
Suggested this proud issue of a king,
For by our ears our hearts oft tainted be.
Perchance that envy of so rich a thing,
Braving compare, disdainfully did sting
—His high-pitched thoughts, that meaner men should vaunt
—That golden hap which their superiors want.

But some untimely thought did instigate
His all-too-timeless speed, if none of those.
His honour, his affairs, his friends, his state
Neglected all, with swift intent he goes
To quench the coal which in his liver glows.
—O rash false heat, wrapped in repentant cold,
—Thy hasty spring still blasts and ne'er grows old!

When at Collatium this false lord arrived,
Well was he welcomed by the Roman dame,
Within whose face beauty and virtue strived
Which of them both should underprop her fame.
When virtue bragged, beauty would blush for shame;
—When beauty boasted blushes, in despite
—Virtue would stain that or with silver white.

But beauty, in that white entitulèd
From Venus' doves, doth challenge that fair field.
Then virtue claims from beauty beauty's red,
Which virtue gave the golden age to gild
Their silver cheeks, and called it then their shield,
—Teaching them thus to use it in the fight:
—When shame assailed, the red should fence the while

This heraldry in Lucrece' face was seen,
Argued by beauty's red and virtue's white.
Of either's colour was the other queen,
Proving from world's minority their right.
Yet their ambition makes them still to fight,
—The sovereignty of either being so great
—That oft they interchange each other's seat.

This silent war of lilies and of roses
Which Tarquin viewed in her fair face's field
In their pure ranks his traitor eye encloses,
Where, lest between them both it should be killed,
The coward captive vanquishèd doth yield
—To those two armies that would let him go
—Rather than triumph in so false a foe.

Now thinks he that her husband's shallow tongue,
The niggard prodigal that praised her so,
In that high task hath done her beauty wrong,
Which far exceeds his barren skill to show.
Therefore that praise which Collatine doth owe
—Enchanted Tarquin answers with surmise
—In silent wonder of still-gazing eyes.

This earthly saint adorèd by this devil
Little suspecteth the false worshipper,
For unstained thoughts do seldom dream on evil.
Birds never limed no secret bushes fear,
So guiltless she securely gives good cheer
—And reverent welcome to her princely guest,
—Whose inward ill no outward harm expressed,

For that he coloured with his high estate,
Hiding base sin in pleats of majesty,
That nothing in him seemed inordinate
Save sometime too much wonder of his eye,
Which, having all, all could not satisfy,
—But poorly rich so wanteth in his store
—That, cloyed with much, he pineth still for more.

But she that never coped with stranger eyes
Could pick no meaning from their parling looks,
Nor read the subtle shining secrecies
Writ in the glassy margins of such books.
She touched no unknown baits nor feared no hooks,
—Nor could she moralize his wanton sight
—More than his eyes were opened to the light.

He stories to her ears her husband's fame
Won in the fields of fruitful Italy,
And decks with praises Collatine's high name
Made glorious by his manly chivalry
With bruisèd arms and wreaths of victory.
—Her joy with heaved-up hand she doth express,
—And wordless so greets heaven for his success.

Far from the purpose of his coming thither
He makes excuses for his being there.
No cloudy show of stormy blust'ring weather
Doth yet in his fair welkin once appear
Till sable night, mother of dread and fear,
—Upon the world dim darkness doth display
—And in her vaulty prison stows the day.

For then is Tarquin brought unto his bed,
Intending weariness with heavy sprite;
For after supper long he questionèd
With modest Lucrece, and wore out the night.
Now leaden slumber with life's strength doth fight,
—And everyone to rest himself betakes
—Save thieves, and cares, and troubled minds that wakes.

As one of which doth Tarquin lie revolving
The sundry dangers of his will's obtaining,
Yet ever to obtain his will resolving,
Though weak-built hopes persuade him to abstaining.
Despair to gain doth traffic oft for gaining,
—And when great treasure is the meed proposed,
—Though death be adjunct, there's no death supposed.

Those that much covet are with gain so fond
That what they have not, that which they possess,
They scatter and unloose it from their bond,
And so by hoping more they have but less,
Or, gaining more, the profit of excess
—Is but to surfeit and such griefs sustain
—That they prove bankrupt in this poor-rich gain.

The aim of all is but to nurse the life
With honour, wealth, and ease in waning age,
And in this aim there is such thwarting strife
That one for all, or all for one, we gage,
As life for honour in fell battle's rage,
—Honour for wealth; and oft that wealth doth cost
—The death of all, and all together lost.

So that, in vent'ring ill, we leave to be
The things we are for that which we expect,
And this ambitious foul infirmity
In having much, torments us with defect
Of that we have; so then we do neglect
—The thing we have, and all for want of wit
—Make something nothing by augmenting it.

Such hazard now must doting Tarquin make,
Pawning his honour to obtain his lust,
And for himself himself he must forsake.
Then where is truth if there be no self-trust?
When shall he think to find a stranger just
—When he himself himself confounds, betrays
—To sland'rous tongues and wretched hateful days?

Now stole upon the time the dead of night
When heavy sleep had closed up mortal eyes.
No comfortable star did lend his light,
No noise but owls' and wolves' death-boding cries
Now serves the season, that they may surprise
—The silly lambs. Pure thoughts are dead and still,
—While lust and murder wakes to stain and kill.

And now this lustful lord leapt from his bed,
Throwing his mantle rudely o'er his arm,
Is madly tossed between desire and dread.
Th'one sweetly flatters, th'other feareth harm,
But honest fear, bewitched with lust's foul charm,
—Doth too-too oft betake him to retire,
—Beaten away by brainsick rude desire.

His falchion on a flint he softly smiteth,
That from the cold stone sparks of fire do fly,
Whereat a waxen torch forthwith he lighteth,
Which must be lodestar to his lustful eye,
And to the flame thus speaks advisedly:
—‘As from this cold flint I enforced this fire,
—So Lucrece must I force to my desire.’

Here pale with fear he doth premeditate
The dangers of his loathsome enterprise,
And in his inward mind he doth debate
What following sorrow may on this arise.
Then, looking scornfully, he doth despise
—His naked armour of still-slaughtered lust,
—And justly thus controls his thoughts unjust:

‘Fair torch, burn out thy light, and lend it not
To darken her whose light excelleth thine;
And die, unhallowed thoughts, before you blot
With your uncleanness that which is divine.
Offer pure incense to so pure a shrine.
—Let fair humanity abhor the deed
—That spots and stains love's modest snow-white weed.

‘O shame to knighthood and to shining arms!
O foul dishonour to my household's grave!
O impious act including all foul harms!
A martial man to be soft fancy's slave!
True valour still a true respect should have;
—Then my digression is so vile, so base,
—That it will live engraven in my face.

‘Yea, though I die the scandal will survive
And be an eyesore in my golden coat.
Some loathsome dash the herald will contrive
To cipher me how fondly I did dote,
That my posterity, shamed with the note,
—Shall curse my bones and hold it for no sin
—To wish that I their father had not been.

‘What win I if I gain the thing I seek?
A dream, a breath, a froth of fleeting joy.
Who buys a minute's mirth to wail a week,
Or sells eternity to get a toy?
For one sweet grape who will the vine destroy?
—Or what fond beggar, but to touch the crown,
—Would with the sceptre straight be strucken down?

‘If Collatinus dream of my intent
Will he not wake, and in a desp'rate rage
Post hither this vile purpose to prevent?—
This siege that hath engirt his marriage,
This blur to youth, this sorrow to the sage,
—This dying virtue, this surviving shame,
—Whose crime will bear an ever-during blame.

‘O what excuse can my invention make
When thou shalt charge me with so black a deed?
Will not my tongue be mute, my frail joints shake,
Mine eyes forgo their light, my false heart bleed?
The guilt being great, the fear doth still exceed,
—And extreme fear can neither fight nor fly,
—But coward-like with trembling terror die.

‘Had Collatinus killed my son or sire,
Or lain in ambush to betray my life,
Or were he not my dear friend, this desire
Might have excuse to work upon his wife
As in revenge or quittal of such strife.
—But as he is my kinsman, my dear friend,
—The shame and fault finds no excuse nor end.

‘Shameful it is—ay, if the fact be known.
Hateful it is—there is no hate in loving.
I'll beg her love—but she is not her own.
The worst is but denial and reproving;
My will is strong past reason's weak removing.
—Who fears a sentence or an old man's saw
—Shall by a painted cloth be kept in awe.’

Thus graceless holds he disputation
'Tween frozen conscience and hot-burning will,
And with good thoughts makes dispensation,
Urging the worser sense for vantage still;
Which in a moment doth confound and kill
—All pure effects, and doth so far proceed
—That what is vile shows like a virtuous deed.

Quoth he, ‘She took me kindly by the hand,
And gazed for tidings in my eager eyes,
Fearing some hard news from the warlike band
Where her belovèd Collatinus lies.
O how her fear did make her colour rise!
—First red as roses that on lawn we lay,
—Then white as lawn, the roses took away.

‘And how her hand, in my hand being locked,
Forced it to tremble with her loyal fear,
Which struck her sad, and then it faster rocked
Until her husband's welfare she did hear,
Whereat she smilèd with so sweet a cheer
—That had Narcissus seen her as she stood
—Self-love had never drowned him in the flood.

‘Why hunt I then for colour or excuses?
All orators are dumb when beauty pleadeth.
Poor wretches have remorse in poor abuses;
Love thrives not in the heart that shadows dreadeth;
Affection is my captain, and he leadeth,
—And when his gaudy banner is displayed,
—The coward fights, and will not be dismayed.

‘Then childish fear avaunt, debating die,
Respect and reason wait on wrinkled age!
My heart shall never countermand mine eye,
Sad pause and deep regard beseems the sage.
My part is youth, and beats these from the stage.
—Desire my pilot is, beauty my prize.
—Then who fears sinking where such treasure lies?’

As corn o'ergrown by weeds, so heedful fear
Is almost choked by unresisted lust.
Away he steals, with open list'ning ear,
Full of foul hope and full of fond mistrust,
Both which as servitors to the unjust
—So cross him with their opposite persuasion
—That now he vows a league, and now invasion.

Within his thought her heavenly image sits,
And in the selfsame seat sits Collatine.
That eye which looks on her confounds his wits,
That eye which him beholds, as more divine,
Unto a view so false will not incline,
—But with a pure appeal seeks to the heart,
—Which once corrupted, takes the worser part,

And therein heartens up his servile powers
Who, flattered by their leader's jocund show,
Stuff up his lust as minutes fill up hours,
And as their captain, so their pride doth grow,
Paying more slavish tribute than they owe.
—By reprobate desire thus madly led
—The Roman lord marcheth to Lucrece' bed.

The locks between her chamber and his will,
Each one by him enforced, retires his ward;
But as they open they all rate his ill,
Which drives the creeping thief to some regard.
The threshold grates the door to have him heard,
—Night-wand'ring weasels shriek to see him there.
—They fright him, yet he still pursues his fear.

As each unwilling portal yields him way,
Through little vents and crannies of the place
The wind wars with his torch to make him stay,
And blows the smoke of it into his face,
Extinguishing his conduct in this case.
—But his hot heart, which fond desire doth scorch,
—Puffs forth another wind that fires the torch,

And being lighted, by the light he spies
Lucretia's glove wherein her needle sticks.
He takes it from the rushes where it lies,
And gripping it, the needle his finger pricks,
As who should say ‘This glove to wanton tricks
—Is not inured. Return again in haste.
—Thou seest our mistress' ornaments are chaste.’

But all these poor forbiddings could not stay him;
He in the worst sense consters their denial.
The doors, the wind, the glove that did delay him
He takes for accidental things of trial,
Or as those bars which stop the hourly dial,
—Who with a ling'ring stay his course doth let
—Till every minute pays the hour his debt.

‘So, so,’ quoth he, ‘these lets attend the time,
Like little frosts that sometime threat the spring
To add a more rejoicing to the prime,
And give the sneapèd birds more cause to sing.
Pain pays the income of each precious thing.
—Huge rocks, high winds, strong pirates, shelves, and sands
—The merchant fears, ere rich at home he lands.’

Now is he come unto the chamber door
That shuts him from the heaven of his thought,
Which with a yielding latch, and with no more,
Hath barred him from the blessèd thing he sought.
So from himself impiety hath wrought
—That for his prey to pray he doth begin,
—As if the heavens should countenance his sin.

But in the midst of his unfruitful prayer
Having solicited th'eternal power
That his foul thoughts might compass his fair fair,
And they would stand auspicious to the hour,
Even there he starts. Quoth he, ‘I must deflower.
—The powers to whom I pray abhor this fact;
—How can they then assist me in the act?

‘Then love and fortune be my gods, my guide!
My will is backed with resolution.
Thoughts are but dreams till their effects be tried;
The blackest sin is cleared with absolution.
Against love's fire fear's frost hath dissolution.
—The eye of heaven is out, and misty night
—Covers the shame that follows sweet delight.’

This said, his guilty hand plucked up the latch,
And with his knee the door he op

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