'Thou, Collatine, shalt oversee this will; How was I overseen that thou shalt see it! My blood shall wash the slander of mine ill; My life's foul deed, my life's fair end shall free it. Faint not, faint heart, but stoutly say "So be it:" Yield to my hand; my hand shall conquer thee: Thou dead, both die, and both shall victors be.'

This plot of death when sadly she had laid, And wiped the brinish pearl from her bright eyes, With untuned tongue she hoarsely calls her maid Whose swift obedience to her mistress hies; For fleet-wing'd duty with thought's feathers flies. Poor Lucrece' cheeks unto her maid seem so As winter meads when sun doth melt their snow.

Her mistress she doth give demure good-morrow, With soft-slow tongue, true mark of modesty, And sorts a sad look to her lady's sorrow, For why her face wore sorrow's livery; But durst not ask of her audaciously Why her two suns were cloud-eclipsed so, Nor why her fair cheeks over-wash'd with woe.

But as the earth doth weep, the sun being set, Each flower moisten'd like a melting eye; Even so the maid with swelling drops gan wet Her circled eyne, enforced by sympathy Of those fair suns set in her mistress' sky, Who in a salt-waved ocean quench their light, Which makes the maid weep like the dewy night.

A pretty while these pretty creatures stand, Like ivory conduits coral cisterns filling: One justly weeps; the other takes in hand No cause, but company, of her drops spilling: Their gentle sex to weep are often willing; Grieving themselves to guess at others' smarts, And then they drown their eyes or break their hearts.

For men have marble, women waxen, minds, And therefore are they form'd as marble will; The weak oppress'd, the impression of strange kinds Is form'd in them by force, by fraud, or skill: Then call them not the authors of their ill, No more than wax shall be accounted evil Wherein is stamp'd the semblance of a devil.

Their smoothness, like a goodly campaign plain, Lays open all the little worms that creep; In men, as in a rough-grown grove, remain Cave-keeping evils that obscurely sleep: Through crystal walls each little mote will peep: Though men can cover crimes with bold stern looks, Poor women's faces are their own faults' books.

No man inveigb against the wither'd flower, But chide rough winter that the flower hath kill'd: Not that devour'd, but that which doth devour, Is worthy blame. O, let it not be hild Poor women's faults, that they are so fulfill'd With men's abuses: those proud lords, to blame, Make weak-made women tenants to their shame.

The precedent whereof in Lucrece view, Assail'd by night with circumstances strong Of present death, and shame that might ensue By that her death, to do her husband wrong: Such danger to resistance did belong; The dying fear through all her body spread; And who cannot abuse a body dead?

By this, mild patience bid fair Lucrece speak To the poor counterfeit of her complaining: 'My girl,' quoth she, 'on what occasion break Those tears from thee, that down thy cheeks are raining? If thou dost weep for grief of my sustaining, Know gentle wench, it small avails my mood: If tears could help, mine own would do me good.

'But tell me, girl, when went' -- and there she stay'd

Till after a deep groan -- 'Tarquin from, hence?' 'Madam, ere I was up.' replied the maid, 'The more to blame my sluggard negligence: Yet with the fault I thus far can dispense; Myself was stirring ere the break of day, And ere I rose, was Tarquin gone away.

'But, lady, if your maid may be so bold, She would request to know your heaviness.' 'O, peace!' quoth Lucrece: 'if it should be told, The repetition cannot make it less; For more it is than I can well express: And that deep torture may be call'd a hell When more is felt than one hath power to tell.

'Go, get me hither paper, ink, and pen: Yet save that labour, for I have them here. What should I say? One of my husband's men Bid thou be ready, by and by, to bear A letter to my lord, my love, my dear: Bid him with speed prepare to carry it; The cause craves haste, and it will soon be writ.'

Her maid is gone, and she prepares to write, First hovering o'er the paper with her quill: Conceit and grief an eager combat fight; What wit sets down is blotted straight with will; This is too curious-good, this blunt and ill: Much like a press of people at a door, Throng her inventions, which shall go before.

William Shakespeare
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book