Reference > Anthologies > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library > Verse

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Artevelde Refuses to Dismiss Elena
By Sir Henry Taylor (1800–1886)
From ‘Philip Van Artevelde’

Scene:  Van Artevelde’s Tent in the Flemish Camp before Oudenarde.  Present, Elena and Cecile.

ELENA  (singing)
QUOTH tongue of neither maid nor wife
  To heart of neither wife nor maid,
“Lead we not here a jolly life
  Betwixt the shine and shade?”
Quoth heart of neither maid nor wife        5
  To tongue of neither wife nor maid,
“Thou wag’st; but I am worn with strife,
  And feel like flowers that fade.”
There was truth in that, Cecile.
  Cecile—                            Fie on such truth!
Rather than that my heart spoke truth in dumps,        10
I’d have it what it is,—a merry liar.
  Elena—Yes, you are right: I would that I were merry!
Not for my own particular, God knows:
But for his cheer,—he needs to be enlivened;
And for myself in him, because I know        15
That often he must think me dull and dry,—
I am so heavy-hearted, and at times
Outright incapable of speech. Oh me!
I was not made to please.
  Cecile—                        Yourself, my lady.
’Tis true, to please yourself you were not made,        20
Being truly by yourself most hard to please:
But speak for none beside; for you were made,
Come gleam or gloom, all others to enchant,
Wherein you never fail.
  Elena—                    Yes, but I do:
How can I please him when I cannot speak?        25
When he is absent I am full of thought,
And fruitful in expression inwardly;
And fresh and free and cordial is the flow
Of my ideal and unheard discourse,
Calling him in my heart endearing names,        30
Familiarly fearless. But alas!
No sooner is he present than my thoughts
Are breathless and bewitched; and stunted so
In force and freedom, that I ask myself
Whether I think at all, or feel, or live,        35
So senseless am I!
  Cecile—                Heed not that, my lady:
Men heed it not; I never heard of one
That quarreled with his lady for not talking.
I have had lovers more than I can count,
And some so quarrelsome a slap in the face        40
Would make them hang themselves, if you’d believe them:
But for my slackness in the matter of speech
They ne’er reproached me; no, the testiest of them
Ne’er fished a quarrel out of that.
Elena—                            Thy swains
Might bear their provocations in that kind,        45
Yet not of silence prove themselves enamored.
But mark you this, Cecile: your grave and wise
And melancholy men, if they have souls,
As commonly they have, susceptible
Of all impressions, lavish most their love        50
Upon the blithe and sportive, and on such
As yield their want and chase their sad excess
With jocund salutations, nimble talk,
And buoyant bearing. Would that I were merry.
Mirth have I valued not before; but now,        55
What would I give to be the laughing fount
Of gay imagination’s ever bright
And sparkling fantasies! Oh, all I have
(Which is not nothing, though I prize it not),—
My understanding soul, my brooding sense,        60
My passionate fancy; and the gift of gifts
Dearest to woman, which deflowering Time,
Slow ravisher, from clenched’st fingers wrings,
My corporal beauty,—would I barter now
For such an antic and exulting spirit        65
As lives in lively women.—Who comes hither?
  Cecile—’Tis the old friar: he they sent abroad;
That ancient man so yellow! Od’s my life!
He’s yellower than he went. Note but his look:
His rind’s the color of a moldy walnut.        70
Troth! his complexion is no wholesomer
Than a sick frog’s.
  Elena—                Be silent: he will hear.
  Cecile—It makes me ill to look at him.
  Elena—                        Hush! hush!
  Cecile—It makes me very ill.
Enter Father John of Heda
  Father John—                Your pardon, lady:
I seek the Regent.
  Elena—                    Please you, sit awhile:
He comes anon.
Father John—                This tent is his?
  Elena—                            It is.
  Father John—And likewise yours.—[Aside.]  Yea, this is as I heard:
A wily woman hither sent from France.
Alas, alas, how frail the state of man!
How weak the strongest! This is such a fall        80
As Samson suffered.
Cecile  [aside to Elena]—        How the friar croaks!
What gibbering is this?  Elena—                May we not deem
Your swift return auspicious? Sure it denotes
A prosperous mission?
  Father John—                    What I see and hear
Of sinful courses, and of nets and snares        85
Encompassing the feet of them that once
Were steadfast deemed, speaks only to my heart
Of coming judgments.
  Cecile—                    What I see and hear
Of naughty friars and of—
  Elena—                        Peace, Cecile!
Go to your chamber: you forget yourself.        90
Father, your words afflict me.  [Exit Cecile.]
Enter Artevelde
  Artevelde  [as he enters]—                Who is it says
That Father John is come? Ah! here he is.
Give me your hand, good father! For your news,
Philosophy befriend me that I show
No strange impatience; for your every word        95
Must touch me in the quick.
  Father John—                        To you alone
Would I address myself.
  Artevelde—                    Nay, heed not her:
She is my privy councilor.
  Father John—                        My Lord,
Such councilors I abjure. My function speaks,
And through me speaks the Master whom I serve;        100
After strange women them that went astray
God never prospered in the olden time,
Nor will he bless them now. An angry eye
That sleeps not, follows thee till from thy camp
Thou shalt have put away the evil thing.        105
This in her presence will I say—
  Elena—                            O God!
  Father John—That whilst a foreign leman—
  Artevelde—                        Nay, spare her:
To me say what thou wilt.
  Father John—                    Thus then it is:
This foreign tie is not to Heaven alone
Displeasing, but to those on whose firm faith        110
Rests under Heaven your all; ’tis good you know
It is offensive to your army;—nay,
And justly, for they deem themselves betrayed,
When circumvented thus by foreign wiles
They see their chief.
  Elena—                Oh! let me quit the camp.
Misfortune follows wheresoe’er I come;
My destiny on whomsoe’er I love
Alights: it shall not, Artevelde, on thee;
For I will leave thee to thy better star
And pray for thee aloof.
  Father John—                    Thou shalt do well
For him and for thyself: the camp is now
A post of danger.
  Elena—                Artevelde! O God!
In such an hour as this—in danger’s hour—
How can I quit thee?
  Father John—                    Dost thou ask? I say,
As thou wouldst make his danger less or more,        125
Depart or stay. The universal camp,
Nay more, the towns of Flanders, are agape
With tales of sorceries, witcheries, and spells,
That blind their chief and yield him up a prey
To treasons foul. How much is true or false        130
I know not and I say not; but this truth
I sorrowfully declare,—that ill repute
And sin and shame grow up with every hour
That sees you linked together in these bonds
Of spurious love.
  Elena—                Father, enough is said.
Clerk’s eyes nor soldier’s will I more molest
By tarrying here. Seek other food to feed
Your pious scorn and pertinent suspicions.
Alien from grace and sinful though I be,
Yet is there room to wrong me. I will go,        140
Lest this injustice done to me work harm
Unto my lord the Regent.
  Artevelde—                        Hold, I say;
Give me a voice in this. You, Father John,
I blame not, nor myself will justify;
But call my weakness what you will, the time        145
Is past for reparation. Now to cast off
The partner of my sin were further sin;
’Twere with her first to sin, and next against her.
And for the army, if their trust in me
Be sliding, let it go: I know my course;        150
And be it armies, cities, people, priests,
That quarrel with my love, wise men or fools,
Friends, foes, or factions, they may swear their oaths,
And make their murmur,—rave, and fret, and fear,
Suspect, admonish,—they but waste their rage,        155
Their wits, their words, their counsel: here I stand
Upon the deep foundations of my faith
To this fair outcast plighted; and the storm
That princes from their palaces shakes out,
Though it should turn and head me, should not strain        160
The seeming silken texture of this tie.—
To business next: Nay, leave us not, beloved,—
I will not have thee go as one suspect;
Stay and hear all. Father, forgive my heat,
And do not deem me stubborn. Now at once        165
The English news?
  Father John—                Your deeds upon your head!
Be silent my surprise—be told my tale.

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