Beauty itself doth of itself persuade The eyes of men without an orator; What needeth then apologies 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' sovereignty 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-pitch'd 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, wrapp'd 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 bragg'd, beauty would blush for shame When beauty boasted blushes, in despite Virtue would stain that o'er with silver white.

But beauty, in that white intituled, 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 call'd it then their shield; Teaching them thus to use it in the fight, When shame assail'd, the red should fence the white.

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.

Their silent war of lilies and of roses, Which Tarquin view'd in her fair face's field, In their pure ranks his traitor eye encloses; Where, lest between them both it should be kill'd, The coward captive vanquished 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, adored by this devil, Little suspecteth the false worshipper; For unstain'd thoughts do seldom dream on evil; Birds never limed no secret bushes fear: So guiltless she securely gives good cheer And reverend welcome to her princely guest, Whose inward ill no outward harm express'd:

For that he colour'd with his high estate, Hiding base sin in plaits of majesty; That nothing in him seem'd 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, cloy'd 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 margents of such books: She touch'd no unknown baits, nor fear'd no hooks; Nor could she moralize his wanton sight, More than his eyes were open'd 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 bruised 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 hither, He makes excuses for his being there: No cloudy show of stormy blustering 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 spright; For, after supper, long he questioned With modest Lucrece, and wore out the night: Now leaden slumber with life's strength doth fight; And every one to rest themselves betake, Save thieves, and cares, and troubled minds, that wake.

William Shakespeare
Classic Literature Library

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W. Shakespeare First Folio