At last he takes her by the bloodless hand, And thus begins: 'What uncouth ill event Hath thee befall'n, that thou dost trembling stand? Sweet love, what spite hath thy fair colour spent? Why art thou thus attired in discontent? Unmask, dear dear, this moody heaviness, And tell thy grief, that we may give redress.'

Three times with sighs she gives her sorrow fire, Ere once she can discharge one word of woe: At length address'd to answer his desire, She modestly prepares to let them know Her honour is ta'en prisoner by the foe; While Collatine and his consorted lords With sad attention long to hear her words.

And now this pale swan in her watery nest Begins the sad dirge of her certain ending; 'Few words,' quoth she, 'shall fit the trespass best, Where no excuse can give the fault amending: In me moe woes than words are now depending; And my laments would be drawn out too long, To tell them all with one poor tired tongue.

'Then be this all the task it hath to say: Dear husband, in the interest of thy bed A stranger came, and on that pillow lay Where thou wast wont to rest thy weary head; And what wrong else may be imagined By foul enforcement might be done to me, From that, alas, thy Lucrece is not free.

'For in the dreadful dead of dark midnight, With shining falchion in my chamber came A creeping creature, with a flaming light, And softly cried "Awake, thou Roman dame, And entertain my love; else lasting shame On thee and thine this night I will inflict, If thou my love's desire do contradict.

'"For some hard-favour'd groom of thine," quoth he, "Unless thou yoke thy liking to my will, I'll murder straight, and then I'll slaughter thee And swear I found you where you did fulfil The loathsome act of lust, and so did kill The lechers in their deed: this act will be My fame and thy perpetual infamy."

'With this, I did begin to start and cry; And then against my heart he sets his sword, Swearing, unless I took all patiently, I should not live to speak another word; So should my shame still rest upon record, And never be forgot in mighty Rome Th' adulterate death of Lucrece and her groom.

Mine enemy was strong, my poor self weak, And far the weaker with so strong a fear: My bloody judge forbade my tongue to speak; No rightful plea might plead for justice there: His scarlet lust came evidence to swear That my poor beauty had purloin'd his eyes; And when the judge is robb'd the prisoner dies.

'O, teach me how to make mine own excuse! Or at the least this refuge let me find; Though my gross blood be stain'd with this abuse, Immaculate and spotless is my mind; That was not forced; that never was inclined To accessary yieldings, but still pure Doth in her poison'd closet yet endure.'

Lo, here, the hopeless merchant of this loss, With head declined, and voice damm'd up with woe, With sad set eyes, and wretched arms across, From lips new-waxen pale begins to blow The grief away that stops his answer so: But, wretched as he is, he strives in vain; What he breathes out his breath drinks up again.

As through an arch the violent roaring tide Outruns the eye that doth behold his haste; Yet in the eddy boundeth in his pride Back to the strait that forced him on so fast; In rage sent out, recall'd in rage, being past: Even so his sighs, his sorrows, make a saw. To push grief on, and back the same grief draw.

Which speechless woe of his poor she attendeth, And his untimely frenzy thus awaketh: 'Dear Lord, thy sorrow to my sorrow lendeth Another power; no flood by raining slaketh. My woe too sensible thy passion maketh More feeling-painful: let it then suffice To drown one woe, one pair of weeping eyes.

'And for my sake, when I might charm thee so For she that was thy Lucrece, now attend me: Be suddenly revenged on my foe, Thine, mine, his own: suppose thou dost defend me From what is past: the help that thou shalt lend me Comes all too late, yet let the traitor die; For sparing justice feeds iniquity.

'But ere I name him, you fair lords,' quoth she, Speaking to those that came with Collatine, 'Shall plight your honourable faiths to me, With swift pursuit to venge this wrong of mine; For 'tis a meritorious fair design To chase injustice with revengeful arms: Knights, by their oaths, should right poor ladies' harms.'

William Shakespeare
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book