Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1861–1889
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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889
 
Tarpeia
By Louise Imogen Guiney (1861–1920)
 
WOE: lightly to part with one’s soul as the sea with its foam!
Woe to Tarpeia, Tarpeia, daughter of Rome!
 
Lo, now it was night, with the moon looking chill as she went:
It was morn when the innocent stranger strayed into the tent.
 
The hostile Sabini were pleased, as one meshing a bird;        5
She sang for them there in the ambush: they smiled as they heard.
 
Her sombre hair purpled in gleams, as she leaned to the light;
All day she had idled and feasted, and now it was night.
 
The chief sat apart, heavy-browed, brooding elbow on knee;
The armlets he wore were thrice royal, and wondrous to see:        10
 
Exquisite artifice, whorls of barbaric design,
Frost’s fixèd mimicry; orbic imaginings fine
 
In sevenfold coils: and in orient glimmer from them,
The variform voluble swinging of gem upon gem.
 
And the glory thereof sent fever and fire to her eye.        15
“I had never such trinkets!” she sighed,—like a lute was her sigh.
 
“Were they mine at the plea, were they mine for the token, all told,
Now the citadel sleeps, now my father the keeper is old,
 
“If I go by the way that I know, and thou followest hard,
If yet at the touch of Tarpeia the gates be unbarred?”        20
 
The chief trembled sharply for joy, then drew rein on his soul:
“Of all this arm beareth I swear I will cede thee the whole.”
 
And up from the nooks of the camp, with hoarse plaudit outdealt,
The bearded Sabini glanced hotly, and vowed as they knelt,
 
Bare-stretching the wrists that bore also the glowing great boon:        25
“Yea! surely as over us shineth the lurid low moon,
 
“Not alone of our lord, but of each of us take what he hath!
Too poor is the guerdon, if thou wilt but show us the path.”
 
Her nostril upraised, like a fawn’s on the arrowy air,
She sped; in a serpentine gleam to the precipice stair,        30
 
They climbed in her traces, they closed on their evil swift star:
She bent to the latches, and swung the huge portal ajar.
 
Repulsed where they passed her, half-tearful for wounded belief,
“The bracelets!” she pleaded. Then faced her the leonine chief,
 
And answered her: “Even as I promised, maid-merchant, I do.”        35
Down from his dark shoulder the baubles he sullenly drew.
 
“This left arm shall nothing begrudge thee. Accept. Find it sweet.
Give, too, O my brothers!” The jewels he flung at her feet,
 
The jewels hard, heavy; she stooped to them, flushing with dread,
But the shield he flung after: it clanged on her beautiful head.        40
 
Like the Apennine bells when the villagers’ warnings begin,
Athwart the first lull broke the ominous din upon din;
 
With a “Hail, benefactress!” upon her they heaped in their zeal
Death: agate and iron; death: chrysoprase, beryl and steel.
 
’Neath the outcry of scorn, ’neath the sinewy tension and hurl,        45
The moaning died slowly, and still they massed over the girl
 
A mountain of shields! and the gemmy bright tangle in links,
A torrent-like gush, pouring out on the grass from the chinks,
 
Pyramidal gold! the sumptuous monument won
By the deed they had loved her for, doing, and loathed her for, done.        50
 
Such was the wage that they paid her, such the acclaim:
All Rome was aroused with the thunder that buried her shame.
 
On surged the Sabini to battle. O you that aspire!
Tarpeia the traitor had fill of her woman’s desire.
 
Woe: lightly to part with one’s soul as the sea with its foam!        55
Woe to Tarpeia, Tarpeia, daughter of Rome!
 
 
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