'The crow may bathe his coal-black wings in mire, And unperceived fly with the filth away; But if the like the snow-white swan desire, The stain upon his silver down will stay. Poor grooms are sightless night, kings glorious day: Gnats are unnoted wheresoe'er they fly, But eagles gazed upon with every eye.

'Out, idle words, servants to shallow fools! Unprofitable sounds, weak arbitrators! Busy yourselves in skill-contending schools; Debate where leisure serves with dull debaters; To trembling clients be you mediators: For me, I force not argument a straw, Since that my case is past the help of law.

'In vain I rail at Opportunity, At Time, at Tarquin, and uncheerful Night; In vain I cavil with mine infamy, In vain I spurn at my confirm'd despite: This helpless smoke of words doth me no right. The remedy indeed to do me good Is to let forth my foul-defiled blood.

'Poor hand, why quiver'st thou at this decree? Honour thyself to rid me of this shame; For if I die, my honour lives in thee; But if I live, thou livest in my defame: Since thou couldst not defend thy loyal dame, And wast afeard to scratch her wicked foe, Kill both thyself and her for yielding so.'

This said, from her be-tumbled couch she starteth, To find some desperate instrument of death: But this no slaughterhouse no tool imparteth To make more vent for passage of her breath; Which, thronging through her lips, so vanisheth As smoke from Aetna, that in air consumes, Or that which from discharged cannon fumes.

'In vain,' quoth she, 'I live, and seek in vain Some happy mean to end a hapless life. I fear'd by Tarquin's falchion to be slain, Yet for the self-same purpose seek a knife: But when I fear'd I was a loyal wife: So am I now: O no, that cannot be; Of that true type hath Tarquin rifled me.

'O, that is gone for which I sought to live, And therefore now I need not fear to die. To clear this spot by death, at least I give A badge of fame to slander's livery; A dying life to living infamy: Poor helpless help, the treasure stol'n away, To burn the guiltless casket where it lay!

'Well, well, dear Collatine, thou shalt know The stained taste of violated troth; I will not wrong thy true affection so, To flatter thee with an infringed oath; This bastard graff shall never come to growth: He shall not boast who did thy stock pollute That thou art doting father of his fruit.

Nor shall he smile at thee in secret thought, Nor laugh with his companions at thy state; But thou shalt know thy interest was not bought Basely with gold, but stol'n from forth thy gate. For me, I am the mistress of my fate, And with my trespass never will dispense, Till life to death acquit my forced offence.

'I will not poison thee with my attaint, Nor fold my fault in cleanly-coin'd excuses; My sable ground of sin I will not paint, To hide the truth of this false night's abuses: My tongue shall utter all; mine eyes, like sluices, As from a mountain-spring that feeds a dale, Shall gush pure streams to purge my impure tale.'

By this; lamenting Philomel had ended The well-tuned warble of her nightly sorrow, And solemn night with slow sad gait descended To ugly hell; when, lo, the blushing morrow Lends light to all fair eyes that light will borrow: But cloudy Lucrece shames herself to see, And therefore still in night would cloister'd be.

Revealing day through every cranny spies, And seems to point her out where she sits weeping; To whom she sobbing speaks: 'O eye of eyes, Why pry'st thou through my window? leave thy peeping: Mock with thy tickling beams eyes that are sleeping Brand not my forehead with thy piercing light, For day hath nought to do what's done by night.'

Thus cavils she with every thing she sees: True grief is fond and testy as a child, Who wayward once, his mood with nought agrees: Old woes, not infant sorrows, bear them mild; Continuance tames the one: the other wild, Like an unpractised swimmer plunging still, With too much labour drowns for want of skill.

So she, deep-drenched in a sea of care, Holds disputation with each thing she views, And to herself all sorrow doth compare; No object but her passion's strength renews; And as one shifts, another straight ensues: Sometime her grief is dumb and hath no words; Sometime 'tis mad and too much talk affords.

William Shakespeare
Classic Literature Library

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