Mary Sidney Herbert
The Triumph Of Dead : Chap. 1 - Poem by Mary Sidney Herbert
That gallant lady, gloriously bright,
The stately pillar once of worthiness,
And now a little dust, a naked sprite,
Turn'd from her wars a joyful conqueress,
Her wars, where she had foil'd the mighty foe
Whose wily stratagems the world distress,
And foil'd him not with sword, with spear, or bow,
But with chaste heart, fair visage, upright thought,
Wise speech, which did with honour linked go.
And, Love's new plight to see, strange wonders wrought,
With shiver'd bow, chaste arrows, quenched flame,
While here some slain, and there lay others caught.
She, and the rest, who in the glorious fame
Of the exploit, her chosen mates, did share,
All in one squadronet close ranged came;
A few, for nature makes true glory rare,
But each alone (so each alone did shine)
Claim'd whole historian's, whole poet's care.
Borne in green field, a snowy Ermiline,
Colour'd with topazes, set in fine gold,
Was this fair company's unfoiled sign;
No earthly march, but heav'nly, did they hold;
Their speeches holy were, and happy those
Who so are born, to be with them enroll'd.
Clear stars they seem'd, which did a sun unclose
(Who, hiding none, yet all did beautify),
With coronets deck'd, with violet and rose.
And, as gain'd honour fill'd with jollity
Each gentle heart, so made they merry cheer,
When, lo, an ensign sad I might descry,
Black, and in black, a woman did appear;
Fury with her, such as I scarcely know
If like at Phlegra with the giants were.
'Thou dame,' quoth she, 'that doth so proudly go,
Standing upon thy youth and beauty's state,
And of thy life the limits dost not know,
Lo, I am she, so fierce, importunate,
And deaf, and blind, entitled oft by you,
You, whom with night ere evening I amate.
I, to their end, the Greekish nation drew,
The Trojan first, the Roman afterward,
With edge and point of this my blade I slew.
And no barbarian my blow could ward,
Who, stealing on with unexpected wound,
Of idle thoughts have many thousand marr'd.
And now no less to you-ward am I bound,
While life is dearest, ere, to cause you moan,
Fortune some bitter with your sweets compound.'
'To this thou right or interest hast none;
Little to me; but only to this spoil,'
Replied then she, who in the world was one.
'This charge of woe on others will recoil,
I know, whose safety on my life depends;
For me, I thank who shall me hence assoil.'
As one whose eyes some novelty attends,
And what it mark'd not first, it spied at last,
New wonders with itself, now comprehends,
So far'd the cruel, deeply over-ghast
With doubt awhile, then spake: 'I know them now;
I now remember when my teeth they pass'd.'
Then, with less frowning, and less darken'd brow:
'But thou, that lead'st this goodly company,
Didst never yet unto my sceptre bow;
But, on my counsel if thou wilt rely
(Who may enforce thee), better is by far
From age and age's loathsomeness to fly;
More honoured by me than others are
Thou shalt thee find, and neither fear nor pain
The passage shall of thy departure bar.'
'As likes that Lord, who in the heav'n doth reign,
And thence this all doth moderately guide,
As others do, I shall thee entertain.'
So answer'd she, and I withal descried
Of dead appear a never-number'd sum,
Pest'ring the plain from one to th' other side.
From India, Spain, Cathay, Morocco come,
So many ages did together fall
That worlds were fill'd, and yet they wanted room.
There saw I, whom their times did happy call,
Popes, emperors, and kings, but strangely grown
All naked now, all needy, beggars all.
Where is that wealth? Where are those honours gone?
Sceptres, and crowns, and robes, and purple die,
And costly mitres, set with pearl and stone?
O wretch, who dost in mortal things affy!
(Yet who but doth?). And if in end they find
Themselves beguil'd, they find but right, say I.
What means this toil? O blind, O more than blind,
You all return to your great mother old,
And hardly leave your very names behind.
Bring me, who doth your studies well behold,
And of your cares not manifestly vain,
One, let him tell me, when he all hath told.
So many lands to win, what boots the pain?
And on strange peoples tributes to impose,
With hearts still greedy their own loss to gain?
After all these, wherein you winning lose
Treasures and territories dear bought with blood,
Water and bread hath a far sweeter close,
And gold and gem gives place to glass and wood.
But, lest I should too long digression make,
To turn to my first task I think it good.
Now that short-glorious life, her leave to take,
Did near unto the utmost instant go,
And doubtful step, at which the world doth quake,
Another number then themselves did show
Of ladies, such as bodies yet did lade:
If Death could piteous be, they fain would know.
And deep they did in contemplation wade
Of that cold end, presented there to view,
Which must be once and must but once be made;
All friends and neighbours were this careful crew.
But Death with ruthless hand one golden hair
Chosen from out those amber tresses drew;
So cropp'd the flower of all this world most fair,
To show upon the excellentest thing
Her supreme force, and for no hate she bare.
How many drops did flow from briny spring
In who there saw those sightful fountains dry,
For whom this heart so long did burn and sing?
For her, in midst of moan and misery,
Now reaping once what virtue's life did sow,
With joy she sat retired silently.
'In peace,' cried they, 'right mortal goddess go!'
And so she was, but that in no degree
Could Death entreat, her coming to forslow.
What confidence for others, if that she
Could fry and freeze in few nights' changing cheer?
O human hopes, how fond and false you be!
And, for this gentle soul, if many a tear
By pity shed did bathe the ground and grass,
Who saw doth know; think thou, that dost but hear.
The sixth of April, one o'clock, it was,
That tied me once and did me now untie:
Changing her copy, thus doth fortune pass.
None so his thrall as I my liberty,
None so his death as I my life do rue,
Staying with me who fain from it would fly.
Due to the world, and to my years was due,
That I, as first I came, should first be gone;
Not her leaf quail'd, as yet but freshly new.
Now, for my woe, guess not by't what is shown,
For I dare scarce once cast a thought thereto,
So far I am off, in words to make it known.
'Virtue is dead, and dead is beauty too,
And dead is courtesy,' in mournful plight
The ladies said, 'and now what shall we do?
Never again such grace shall bless our sight;
Never like wit shall we from woman hear,
And voice replete with angelic delight!'
The soul, now press'd to leave that bosom dear,
Her virtues all uniting now in one,
There, where it pass'd, did make the heavens clear.
And of the enemies, so hardly none
That once before her show'd his face obscure,
With her assault till Death had thorough gone;
Past plaint and fear when first they could endure
To hold their eyes on that fair visage bent,
And that despair had made them now secure.
Not as great fires violently spent,
But in themselves consuming, so her flight
Took that sweet sprite and pass'd in peace content,
Right like unto some lamp of clearest light,
Little and little wanting nutriture,
Holding to end a never-changing plight.
Pale? No, but whitely, and more whitely pure
Than snow on windless hill that flaking falls,
As one whom labour did to rest allure.
And when that heav'nly guest those mortal walls
Had left, it nought but sweetly sleeping was
In her fair eyes, what folly dying calls:
Death fair did seem to be in her fair face.
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