Saint's Tragedy, The - Scene 2

SCENE II.

A Landscape in Thuringia . Lewis and W ALTER riding .

Lew . So all these lands are mine; these yellow meads —
These village greens, and forest-fretted hills,
With dizzy castles crowned. Mine! Why that word
Is rich in promise, in the action bankrupt
What faculty of mine, save dream-fed pride,
Can these things fatten? Mass! I had forgot:
I have a right to bark at trespassers
Rare privilege! While every fowl and bush,
According to its destiny and nature
(Which were they truly mine, my power could alter),
Will live, and grow, and take no thought of me
Those firs, before whose stealthy-marching ranks
The world-old oaks still dwindle and retreat,
If I could stay their poisoned frown, which cows
The pale shrunk underwood, and nestled seeds
Into an age of sleep, 'twere something: and those men
O'er whom that one word " ownership " uprears me —
If I could make them lift a finger up
But of their own free will, I'd own my seizin
But now — when if I sold them, life and limb,
There's not a sow would litter one pig less
Than when men called her mine. — Possession's naught;
A parchment ghost; a word I am ashamed
To claim even here, lest all the forest spirits,
And bees who drain unasked the free-born flowers,
Should mock, and cry, " Vain man, not thine, but ours. "
Wal . Possession's naught? Possession's beef and ale —
Soft bed, fair wife, gay horse, good steel — Are they naught?
Possession means to sit astride of the world,
Instead of having it astride of you;
Is that naught? 'Tis the easiest trade of all too;
For he that's fit for nothing else, is fit
To own good land, and on the slowest dolt
His state sits easiest, while his serfs thrive best.
Lew . How now? What need then of long discipline,
Not to mere feats of arms, but feats of soul;
To courtesies and high self-sacrifice,
To order and obedience, and the grace
Which makes commands, requests, and service, favour?
To faith and prayer, and pure thoughts, ever turned
To that Valhalla, where the virgin saints
And stainless heroes tend the Queen of heaven?
Why these, if I but need, like stalled ox
To chew the grass cut for me?
Wal . Why? Because
I have trained thee for a knight, boy, not a ruler
All callings want their proper 'prentice time
But this of ruling; it comes by mother-wit;
And if the wit be not exceeding great,
'Tis best the wit be most exceeding small;
And he that holds the reins should let the horse
Range on, feed where he will, live and let live.
Custom and selfishness will keep all steady
For half a life. — Six months before you die
You may begin to think of interfering.
Lew . Alas! while each day blackens with fresh clouds,
Complaints of ague, fever, crumbling huts,
Of land thrown out to the forest, game and keepers,
Bailiffs and barons, plundering all alike;
Need, greed, stupidity: To clear such ruin
Would task the rich prime of some noble hero —
But can I nothing do?
Wal . Oh! plenty, Sir;
Which no man yet has done or e'er will do.
It rests with you, whether the priest be honoured;
It rests with you, whether the knight be knightly;
It rests with you, whether those fields grow corn;
It rests with you, whether those toiling peasants
Lift to their masters free and loyal eyes,
Or crawl, like jaded hacks, to welcome graves
It rests with you — and will rest.
Lew . I'll crowd my court and dais with men of God,
As doth my peerless namesake, King of France.
Wal . Priests, Sir? The Frenchman keeps two counsellors
Worth any drove of priests
Lew . And who are they?
Wal . God and his lady-love. ( aside ) He'll open at that —
Lew . I could be that man's squire.
Wal . ( aside ) Again run riot —
Now for another cast. ( aloud ) If you'd sleep sound, Sir,
You'll let priests pray for you, but school you never.
Lew . Mass! who more fitted?
Wal . None, if you could trust them;
But they are the people's creatures; poor men give them
Their power at the church, and take it back at the ale-house:
Then what's the friar to the starving peasant
Just what the abbot is to the greedy noble —
A scarecrow to lear wolves. Go ask the churchplate,
Safe in knight's cellars, how these priests are feared.
Bruised reeds when you most need them. — No, my Lord;
Copy them, trust them never.
Lew . Copy? wherein?
Wal . In letting every man
Do what he likes, and only seeing he does it
As you do your work — well. That's the Church secret
For breeding towns, as fast as you breed roe-deer;
Example, but not meddling. See that hollow —
I knew it once all heath, and deep peat-bog —
I drowned a black mare in that self-same spot
Hunting with your good father: Well, he gave
One jovial night, to six poor Erfurt monks —
Six picked-visaged, wan, bird-fingered wights —
All in their rough hair shirts, like hedgehogs starved —
I told them, six weeks' work would break their hearts:
They answered, Christ would help, and Christ's great mother,
And make them strong when weakest: So they settled:
And starved and froze.
Lew And dug built, it seems.

Wal . Faith, that's true. See — as garden walls draw snails,
They have drawn a hamlet round; the slopes are blue,
Knee-deep with flax, the orchard boughs are breaking
With strange outlandish fruits. See those young rogues
Marching to school; no poachers here, Lord Land-grave, —
Too much to be done at home; there's not a village
Of yours, now, thrives like this. By God's good help
These men have made their ownership worth something.
Here comes one of them.
Lew . I would speak to him —
And learn his secret — We'll await him here.

Enter C ONRAD .

Con . Peace to you, reverend and war-worn knight,
And you, fair youth, upon whose swarthy lip
Blooms the rich promise of a noble manhood.
Methinks, if simple monks may read your thoughts,
That with no envious or distasteful eyes
Ye watch the labours of God's poor elect.
Wal . Why — we were saying, how you cunning rooks
Pitch as by instinct on the fattest fallows.
Con . For He who feeds the ravens, promiseth
Our bread and water sure, and leads us on
By peaceful streams in pastures green to lie,
Beneath our Shepherd's eye.
Lew . In such a nook, now,
To nestle from this noisy world —
Con . And drop
The burden of thyself upon the threshold.
Lew . Think what rich dreams may haunt those lowly roofs!
Con . Rich dreams, — and more; their dreams will find fulfilment —
Their discipline breeds strength — 'Tis we alone
Can join the patience of the labouring ox
Unto the eagle's foresight, — not a fancy
Of ours, but grows in time to mighty deeds;
Victories in heavenly warfare: but yours, yours, Sir,
Oh, choke them, choke the panting hopes of youth,
Ere they be born, and wither in slow pains,
Cast by for the next bauble!
Lew . 'Tis too true!
I dread no toil; toil is the true knight's pastime —
Faith fails, the will intense and fixed, so easy
To thee, cut off from life and love, whose powers
In one close channel must condense their stream:
But I, to whom this life blooms rich and busy,
Whose heart goes out a-Maying all the year
In this new Eden — in my fitful thought
What skill is there, to turn my faith to sight —
To pierce blank Heaven, like some trained falconer
After his game, beyond all human ken?
Wal . And walk into the bog beneath your feet
Con . And change it to firm land by magic step!
Build there cloud-cleaving spires, beneath whose shade
Great cities rise for vassals; to call forth
From plough and loom the rank unlettered hinds,
And make them saints and heroes — send them forth
To sway with heavenly craft the spirit of princes;
Change nations' destinies, and conquer worlds
With love, more mighty than the sword; what, Count?
Art thou ambitious? practical? we monks
Can teach you somewhat there too.
Lew . Be it so;
But love you have forsworn; and what were life
Without that chivalry, which bends man's knees
Before God's image and his glory, best
Revealed in woman's beauty?
Con . Ah! poor worldlings!
Little you dream what maddening ecstasies,
What rich ideals haunt, by day and night,
Alone, and in the crowd, even to the death,
The servitors of that celestial court
Where peerless Mary, sun-enthroned, reigns,
In whom all Eden dreams of womanhood,
All grace of form, hue, sound, all beauty strewn
Like pearls unstrung, about this ruined world,
Have their fulfilment and their archetype.
Why hath the rose its scent, the lily grace?
To mirror forth her loveliness, from whom,
Primeval fount of grace, their livery came:
Pattern of Seraphs! only worthy ark
To bear her God athwart the floods of time!
Lew . Who dare aspire to her? Alas, not I!
To me she is a doctrine, and a picture: —
I cannot live on dreams.
Con . She hath her train: —
There thou may'st choose thy love: If world-wide lore
Shall please thee, and the Cherub's glance of fire,
Let Catharine lift thy soul, and rapt with her
Question the mighty dead, until thou float
Tranced on the ethereal ocean of her spirit.
If pity father passion in thee, hang
Above Eulalia's tortured loveliness;
And for her sake, and in her strength, go forth
To do and suffer greatly. Dost thou long
For some rich heart, as deep in love as weakness,
Whose wild simplicity sweet heaven-born instincts
Alone keep sane?
Lew . I do, I do. I'd live
And die for each and all the three
Con . Then go —
Entangled in the Magdalen's tresses lie;
Dream hours before her picture, till thy lips
Dare to approach her feet, and thou shalt start
To find the canvas warm with life, and matter
A moment transubstantiate to heaven.
Wal . Ay, catch his fever, Sir, and learn to take
An indigestion for a troop of angels.
Come, tell him, monk, about your magic gardens,
Where not a stringy head of kale is cut
But breeds a vision or a revelation.
Lew . Hush, hush, Count! Speak, strange monk, strange words, and waken
Longings more strange than either.
Con . Then, if proved,
As I dare vouch thee, loyal in thy love,
Even to the Queen herself thy saintlier soul
At length may soar: perchance — Oh, bliss too great
For thought — yet possible!
Receive some token — smile — or hallowing touch
Of that white hand, beneath whose soft caress
The raging world is smoothed, and runs its course
To shadow forth her glory.
Lew . Thou dost tempt me —
That were a knightly quest
Con . Ay, here's true love.
Love's heaven, without its hell; the golden fruit
Without the foul husk, which at Adam's fall
Did crust it o'er with filth and selfishness.
I tempt thee heavenward — from yon azure walls
Unearthly beauties beckon — God's own mother
Waits longing for thy choice — —
Lew . Is this a dream?
Wal . Ay, by the Living Lord, who died for you!
Will you be cozened, Sir, by these air-blown fancies,
These male hysterics, by starvation bred
And huge conceit? Cast off God's gift of manhood,
And, like the dog in the adage, drop the true bone
With snapping at the sham one in the water?
What were you born a man for?
Lew . Ay, I know it: —
I cannot live on dreams. Oh, for one friend,
Myself, yet not myself; one not so high
But she could love me, not too pure to pardon
My sloth and meanness! Oh! for flesh and blood,
Before whose feet I could adore, yet love!
How easy then were duty! From her lips
To learn my daily task; — in her pure eyes
To see the living type of those heaven-glories
I dare not look on; — let her work her will
Of love and wisdom on these straining hinds; —
To squire a saint around her labour field,
And she and it both mine: — That were possession!
Con . The flesh, fair youth — —
Wal . Avaunt, bald snake, avaunt!
We are past your burrow now. Come, come, Lord Landgrave,
Look round, and find your saint.
Lew . Alas! one such —
One such, I know, who upward from one cradle
Beside me like a sister — No, thank God! no sister! —
Has grown and grown, and with her mellow shade
Has blanched my thornless thoughts to her own hue,
And even now is budding into blossom,
Which never shall bear fruit, but inward still
Resorb its vital nectar, self-contained,
And leave no living copies of its beauty
To after ages. Ah! be less, sweet maid,
Less than thyself! Yet no — my wife thou might'st be,
If less than thus — but not the saint thou art
What! shall my selfish longings drag thee down
From maid to wife? degrade the soul I worship?
That were a caitiff deed! Oh, misery!
Is wedlock treason to that purity,
Which is the jewel and the soul of wedlock?
Elizabeth! my saint!
Wal . What, Sir? the Princess?
Ye saints in heaven, I thank you!
Lew . Oh, who else,
Who else the minutest lineament fulfils
Of this my cherished portrait?
Wal . So — 'tis well.
Hear me, my Lord — You think this dainty princess
Too perfect for you, eh? That's well again;
For that whose price after fruition falls
May well too high be rated ere enjoyed —
In plain words, — if she looks an angel now, you will be better mated than you expected, when you find her — a woman. For flesh and blood she is, and that young blood, — whom her childish misusage and your brotherly love; her loneliness and your protection; her springing fancy and (for I may speak to you as a son) your beauty and knightly grace, have so bewitched, and as some say, degraded, that briefly, she loves you, and briefly, better, her few friends fear, than you love her.
Lew . Loves me! My Count, that word is quickly spoken;
And yet, if it be true, it thrusts me forth
Upon a shoreless sea of untried passion,
From whence is no return.
Wal . By Siegfried's sword,
My words are true, and I came here to say them,
To thee, my son in all but blood.
Mass, I'm no gossip. Why? What ails the boy?
Lew . Loves me! Henceforth let no man, peering down
Through the dim glittering mine of future years,
Say to himself " Too much! this cannot be! "
To-day, and custom, wall up our horizon:
Before the hourly miracle of life
Blindfold we stand, and sigh, as though God were not.
I have wandered in the mountains, mist-bewildered,
And now a breeze comes, and the veil is lifted,
And priceless flowers, o'er which I trod unheeding,
Gleam ready for my grasp. She loves me then!
She who to me was as a nightingale
That sings in magic gardens, rock-beleaguered,
To passing angels melancholy music —
Whose dark eyes hung, like far-off evening stars,
Through rosy-cushioned windows coldly shining
Down from the cloud-world of her unknown fancy —
She, for whom holiest touch of holiest knight
Seemed all too gross — who might have been a saint
And companied with angels — thus to pluck
The spotless rose of her own maidenhood
To give it unto me!
Wal . You love her then?
Lew . Look! If yon solid mountain were all gold,
And each particular tree a band of jewels,
And from its womb the Niebelungen hoard
With elfin wardens called me, " Leave thy love
And be our Master " — I would turn away —
And know no wealth but her.
Wal . Shall I say this to her?
I am no carrier pigeon, Sir, by breed,
But now, between her friends and persecutors,
My life's a burden.
Lew . Persecutors! Who?
Alas! I guess it — I had known my mother
Too light for that fair saint, — but who else dare wink
When she is by? My knights?
Wal . To a man, my Lord.
Lew . Here's chivalry! Well, that's soon brought to bar
The quarrel's mine; my lance shall clear that stain.
Wal . Quarrel with your knights? Cut your own chair-legs off!
They do but sail with the stream: Her passion, Sir,
Broke shell and ran out twittering before yours did,
And unrequited love is mortal sin
With this chaste world. My boy, my boy, I tell you,
The fault lies nearer home.
Lew . I have played the coward —
And in the sloth of false humility,
Cast by the pearl I dared not to deserve
How laggard I must seem to her, though she love me;
Playing with hawks and hounds, while she sits weeping!
'Tis not too late.
Wal . Too late, my royal eyas?
You shall strike this deer yourself at gaze ere long —
She has no mind to slip to cover.
Lew . Come —
We'll back — we'll back; and you shall bear the message;
I am ashamed to speak. Tell her I love her —
That I should need to tell her! Say, my coyness
Was bred of worship, not of coldness.
Wal . Then the serfs
Must wait?
Lew . Why not? This day to them, too, blessing brings,
Which clears from envious webs their guardian angel's wings.
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