William Michael Rossetti

(1829-1919 / England)

Cordelia - Poem by William Michael Rossetti

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'The jewels of our father, with washed eyes
Cordelia leaves you. I know you what you are
And, like a sister, am most loth to tell
Your faults, as they are named. Use well our father:
To your professed bosoms I commit him.
But yet, alas!--stood I within his grace,
I would prefer him to a better place.
So farewell to you both.'


Cordelia, unabashed and strong,
Her voice's quite scarcely less
Than yester-eve, enduring wrong
And curses of her father's tongue,
Departs, a righteous-souled princess;
Bidding her sisters cherish him.

They turn on her and fix their eyes,
But cease not passing inward;--one
Sneering with lips still curled to lies,
Sinuous of body, serpent-wise;
Her footfall creeps, and her looks shun
The very thing on which they dwell.

The other, proud, with heavy cheeks
And massive forehead, where remains
A mark of frowning. If she seeks
With smiles to tame her eyes, or speaks,
Her mouth grows wanton: she disdains
The ground with haughty, measured steps.

The silent years had grown between
Father and daughter. Always she
Had waited on his will, and been
Foremost in doing it,--unseen
Often: she wished him not to see,
But served him for his sake alone.

He saw her constant love; and, tho'
Occasion surely was not scant,
Perhaps had never sought to know
How she could give it wording. So
His love, not stumbling at a want,
Among the three preferred her first.

Her's is the soul not stubborn, yet
Asserting self. The heart was rich;
But, questioned, she had rather let
Men judge her conscious of a debt
Than freely giving: thus, her speech
Is love according to her bond.

In France the queen Cordelia had
Her hours well satisfied with love:
She loved her king, too, and was glad:
And yet, at times, a something sad,
May be, was with her, thinking of
The manner of his life at home.

But this does not usurp her mind.
It is but sorrow guessed from far
Thro' twilight dimly. She must find
Her duty elsewhere: not resigned--
Because she knows them what they are,
Yet scarcely ruffled from her peace.

Cordelia--a name well revered;
Synonymous with truth and tried
Affection; which but needs be heard
To raise one selfsame thought endeared
To men and women far and wide;
A name our mothers taught to us.

Like placid faces which you knew
Years since, but not again shall meet;
On a sick bed like wind that blew;
An excellent thing, best likened to
Her own voice, gentle, soft, and sweet;
Shakpere's Cordelia;--better thus.


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Poem Submitted: Friday, October 8, 2010



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