'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 forego 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 kill'd 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 beloved 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 lock'd, Forced it to tremble with her loyal fear! Which struck her sad, and then it faster rock'd, Until her husband's welfare she did hear; Whereat she smiled with so sweet a cheer, That had Narcissus seen her as she stood, Self-love had never drown'd 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 display'd, The coward fights and will not be dismay'd.

'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 beseem 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 listening 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 self-same seat sits Collatine: That eye which locks 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, flatter'd 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-wandering 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 griping it, the needle his finger pricks; As who should say 'This glove to wanton tricks Is not inured: return again in haste; Thou see'st our mistress' ornaments are chaste.'

William Shakespeare
Classic Literature Library

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