Fiction > Harvard Classics > Percy Bysshe Shelley > The Cenci
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822).  The Cenci.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Act V
Scene IV
A Hall of the Prison.
  Camillo.  The Pope is stern; not to be moved or bent.
He looked as calm and keen as is the engine
Which tortures and which kills, exempt itself        5
From aught that it inflicts; a marble form,
A rite, a law, a custom: not a man.
He frowned, as if to frown had been the trick
Of his machinery, on the advocates
Presenting the defences, which he tore        10
And threw behind, muttering with hoarse, harsh voice:
“Which among ye defended their old father
Killed in his sleep?” Then to another: “Thou
Dost this in virtue of thy place; ’tis well.”
He turned to me then, looking deprecation,        15
And said these three words, coldly: “They must die.”
  Bernardo.  And yet you left him not?
  Camillo.                I urged him still;
Pleading, as I could guess, the devilish wrong
Which prompted your unnatural parent’s death.        20
And he replied: “Paolo Santa Croce
Murdered his mother yester evening,
And he is fled. Parricide grows so rife
That soon, for some just cause no doubt, the young
Will strangle us all, dozing in our chairs.        25
Authority, and power, and hoary hair
Are grown crimes capital. You are my nephew,
You come to ask their pardon; stay a moment;
Here is their sentence; never see me more
Till, to the letter, it be all fulfilled.”        30
  Bernardo.  O God, not so! I did believe indeed
That all you said was but sad preparation
For happy news. Oh, there are words and looks
To bend the sternest purpose! Once I knew them,
Now I forget them at my dearest need.        35
What think you if I seek him out, and bathe
His feet and robe with hot and bitter tears?
Importune him with prayers, vexing his brain
With my perpetual cries, until in rage
He strike me with his pastoral cross, and trample        40
Upon my prostrate head, so that my blood
May stain the senseless dust on which he treads,
And remorse waken mercy? I will do it!
Oh, wait till I return!  [Rushes out.
  Camillo.                Alas! poor boy!        45
A wreck-devoted seaman thus might pray
To the deaf sea.
  Enter LUCRETIA, BEATRICE, and GIACOMO, guarded
  Beatrice.  I hardly dare to fear
That thou bring’st other news than a just pardon.        50
  Camillo.  May God in heaven be less inexorable
To the Pope’s prayers, than he has been to mine.
Here is the sentence and the warrant.
  Beatrice (wildly).                O
My God! Can it be possible I have        55
To die so suddenly? So young to go
Under the obscure, cold, rotting, wormy ground!
To be nailed down into a narrow place;
To see no more sweet sunshine; hear no more
Blithe voice of living thing; muse not again        60
Upon familiar thoughts, sad, yet thus lost—
How fearful! to be nothing! Or to be…
What? Oh, were am I? Let me not go mad!
Sweet Heaven, forgive weak thoughts! If there should be
No God, no Heaven, no Earth in the void world;        65
The wide, gray, lampless, deep, unpeopled world!
If all things then should be … my father’s spirit,
His eye, his voice, his touch surrounding me;
The atmosphere and breath of my dead life!
If sometimes, as a shape more like himself,        70
Even the form which tortured me on earth,
Masked in gray hairs and wrinkles, he should come
And wind me in his hellish arms, and fix
His eyes on mine, and drag me down, down, down!
For was he not alone omnipotent        75
On Earth, and ever present? Even tho’ dead,
Does not his spirit live in all that breathe,
And work for me and mine still the same ruin,
Scorn, pain, despair? Who ever yet returned
To teach the laws of death’s untrodden realm?        80
Unjust perhaps as those which drive us now,
Oh, whither, whither?
  Lucretia.                Trust in God’s sweet love,
The tender promises of Christ: ere night,
Think, we shall be in Paradise.        85
  Beatrice.                ’Tis past!
Whatever comes my heart shall sink no more.
And yet, I know not why, your words strike chill:
How tedious, false and cold seem all things. I
Have met with much injustice in this world;        90
No difference has been made by God or man,
Or any power moulding my wretched lot,
’Twixt good or evil, as regarded me.
I am cut off from the only world I know,
From light, and life, and love, in youth’s sweet prime.        95
You do well telling me to trust in God,
I hope I do trust in him. In whom else
Can any trust? And yet my heart is cold.  [During the latter speeches GIACOMO has retired conversing with CAMILLO, who now goes out; GIACOMO advances.
  Giacomo.  Know you not, Mother … Sister, know you not?
Bernardo even now is gone to implore        100
The Pope to grant our pardon.
  Lucretia.                Child, perhaps
It will be granted. We may all then live
To make these woes a tale for distant years:
Oh, what a thought! It gushes to my heart        105
Like the warm blood.
  Beatrice.                Yet both will soon be cold.
Oh, trample out that thought! Worse than despair,
Worse than the bitterness of death, is hope:
It is the only ill which can find place        110
Upon the giddy, sharp and narrow hour
Tottering beneath us. Plead with the swift frost
That it should spare the eldest flower of spring:
Plead with awakening earthquake, o’er whose couch
Even now a city stands, strong, fair, and free:        115
Now stench and blackness yawn, like death. Oh, plead
With famine, or wind-walking Pestilence,
Blind lightning, or the deaf sea, not with man!
Cruel, cold, formal man; righteous in words,
In deeds a Cain. No, Mother, we must die:        120
Since such is the reward of innocent lives;
Such the alleviation of worst wrongs.
And whilst our murderers live, and hard, cold men,
Smiling and slow, walk thro’ a world of tears
To death as to life’s sleep; ’twere just the grave        125
Were some strange joy for us. Come, obscure Death,
And wind me in thine all-embracing arms!
Like a fond mother hide me in thy bosom,
And rock me to the sleep from which none wake.
Live ye, who live, subject to one another        130
As we were once, who now…  [BERNARDO rushes in.
  Bernardo.                Oh, horrible,
That tears, that looks, that hope poured forth in prayer,
Even till the heart is vacant and despairs,
Should all be vain! The ministers of death        135
Are waiting round the doors. I thought I saw
Blood on the face of one … What if ’twere fancy?
Soon the heart’s blood of all I love on earth
Will sprinkle him, and he will wipe it off
As if ’twere only rain. O life! O world!        140
Cover me! let me be no more! To see
That perfect mirror of pure innocence
Wherein I gazed, and grew happy and good,
Shivered to dust! To see thee, Beatrice,
Who made all lovely thou didst look upon…        145
Thee, light of life … dead, dark! while I say, sister,
To hear I have no sister; and thou, Mother,
Whose love was as a bond to all our loves…
Dead! The sweet bond broken!
Enter CAMILLO and Guards
                They come! Let me
Kiss those warm lips before their crimson leaves
Are blighted … white … cold. Say farewell, before
Death chokes that gentle voice! Oh, let me hear
You speak!        155
  Beatrice.  Farewell, my tender brother. Think
Of our sad fate with gentleness, as now;
And let mild, pitying thoughts lighten for thee
Thy sorrow’s load. Err not in harsh despair,
But tears and patience. One thing more, my child,        160
For thine own sake be constant to the love
Thou bearest us; and to the faith that I,
Tho’ wrapt in a strange cloud of crime and shame,
Lived ever holy and unstained. And tho’
Ill tongues shall wound me, and our common name        165
Be as a mark stamped on thine innocent brow
For men to point at as they pass, do thou
Forbear, and never think a thought unkind
Of those, who perhaps love thee in their graves.
So mayest thou die as I do; fear and pain        170
Being subdued. Farewell! Farewell! Farewell!
  Bernardo.  I cannot say, farewell!
  Camillo.                O Lady Beatrice!
  Beatrice.  Give yourself no unnecessary pain,
My dear Lord Cardinal. Here, Mother, tie        175
My girdle for me, and bind up this hair
In any simple knot; ay, that does well.
And yours I see is coming down. How often
Have we done this for one another, now
We shall not do it any more. My Lord,        180
We are quite ready. Well, ’tis very well.


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