Fiction > Harvard Classics > Percy Bysshe Shelley > The Cenci
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822).  The Cenci.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Scene II
A mean Apartment in GIACOMO’S House.
  Giacomo.  ’Tis midnight, and Orsino comes not yet.  [Thunder, and the sound of a storm.
What! can the everlasting elements
Fell with a worm like man? If so the shaft        5
Of mercy-wingèd lightning would not fall
On stones and trees. My wife and children sleep:
They are now living in unmeaning dreams:
But I must wake, still doubting if that deed
Be just which was most necessary. O,        10
Thou unreplenished lamp! whose narrow fire
Is shaken by the wind, and on whose edge
Devouring darkness hovers! Thou small flame,
Which, as a dying pulse rises and falls,
Still flickerest up and down, how very soon,        15
Did I not feed thee, wouldst thou fail and be
As thou hadst never been! So wastes and sinks
Even now, perhaps, the life that kindled mine:
But that no power can fill with vital oil
That broken lamp of flesh. Ha! ’tis the blood        20
Which fed these veins that ebbs till all is cold:
It is the form that moulded mine that sinks
Into the white and yellow spasms of death:
It is the soul by which mine was arrayed
In God’s immortal likeness which now stands        25
Naked before Heaven’s judgment seat! (A bell strikes.)
                One! Two!
The hours crawl on; and when my hairs are white,
My son will then perhaps be waiting thus,
Tortured between just hate and vain remorse;        30
Chiding the tardy messenger of news
Like those which I expect; I almost wish
He be not dead, although my wrongs are great;
Yet … ’tis Orsino’s step…
  Orsino.                I am come
To say he has escaped.
  Giacomo.                Escaped!
  Orsino.                And safe        40
Within Petrella. He past by the spot
Appointed for the deed an hour too soon.
  Giacomo.  Are we the fools of such contingencies?
And do we waste in blind misgivings thus
The hours when we should act? Then wind and thunder,        45
Which seemed to howl his knell, is the loud laughter
With which Heaven mocks our weakness! I henceforth
Will ne’er repent of aught designed or done
But my repentance.
  Orsino.                See, the lamp is out.        50
  Giacomo.  If no remorse is ours when the dim air
Has drank this innocent flame, why should we quail
When Cenci’s life, that light by which ill spirits
See the worst deeds they prompt, shall sink for ever?
No, I am hardened.        55
  Orsino.  Why, what need of this?
Who feared the pale intrusion of remorse
In a just deed? Altho’ our first plan failed,
Doubt not but he will soon be laid to rest.
But light the lamp; let us not talk i’ the dark.        60
  Giacomo  (lighting the lamp). And yet once quenched I cannot thus relume
My father’s life: do you not think his ghost
Might plead that argument with God?
  Orsino.                Once gone
You cannot now recall your sister’s peace;        65
Your own extinguished years of youth and hope;
Nor your wife’s bitter words; nor all the taunts
Which, from the prosperous, weak misfortune takes;
Nor your dead mother; nor…
  Giacomo.                O, speak no more!        70
I am resolved, although this very hand
Must quench the life that animated it.
  Orsino.  There is no need of that. Listen: you know
Olimpio, the castellan of Petrella
In old Colonna’s time; him whom your father        75
Degraded from his post? And Marzio,
That desperate wretch, whom he deprived last year
Of a reward of blood, well earned and due?
  Giacomo.  I knew Olimpio; and they say he hated
Old Cenci so, that in his silent rage        80
His lips grew white only to see him pass.
Of Marzio I know nothing.
  Orsino.                Marzio’s hate
Matches Olimpio’s. I have sent these men,
But in your name and as at your request,        85
To talk with Beatrice and Lucretia.
  Giacomo.  Only to talk?
  Orsino.  The moments which even now
Pass onward to to-morrow’s midnight hour
May memorise their flight with death: ere then        90
They must have talked, and may perhaps have done
And made an end…
  Giacomo.  Listen! What sound is that?
  Orsino.  The house-dog moans, and the beams crack nought else.
  Giacomo.  It is my wife complaining in her sleep:        95
I doubt not she is saying bitter things
Of me; and all my children round her dreaming
That I deny them sustenance.
  Orsino.                Whilst he
Who truly took it from them, and who fills        100
Their hungry rest with bitterness, now sleeps
Lapped in bad pleasures, and triumphantly
Mocks thee in visions of successful hate
Too like the truth of day.
  Giacomo.                If e’er he wakes        105
Again, I will not trust to hireling hands…
  Orsino.  Why, that were well. I must be gone; good-night:
When next we meet—may all be done!
  Giacomo.                And all
Forgotten: Oh, that I had never been!  [Exeunt.        110


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