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.
Last Hour of Beatrice
By Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)
From ‘The Cenci

Enter Lucretia, Beatrice, and Giacomo, guarded

BEATRICE—                    I hardly dare to fear
That thou bring’st other news than a just pardon.
  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
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        10
Blithe voice of living thing; muse not again
Upon familiar thoughts, sad, yet thus lost—
How fearful! to be nothing! Or to be—
What? Oh, where am I? Let me not go mad!
Sweet Heaven, forgive weak thoughts! If there should be        15
No God, no heaven, no earth in the void world;
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!        20
If sometimes, as a shape more like himself,
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!        25
For was he not alone omnipotent
On earth, and ever present? Even though 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        30
To teach the laws of death’s untrodden realm?
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.
  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;
No difference has been made by God or man,        40
Or any power molding 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.
You do well telling me to trust in God,—        45
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
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
Like the warm blood.
  Beatrice—                    Yet both will soon be cold.
Oh, trample out that thought! Worse than despair,        55
Worse than the bitterness of death, is hope:
It is the only ill which can find place
Upon the giddy, sharp, and narrow hour
Tottering beneath us. Plead with the swift frost
That it should spare the eldest flower of spring;        60
Plead with awakening earthquake, o’er whose couch
Even now a city stands, strong, fair, and free;
Now stench and blackness yawn, like death. Oh plead
With Famine, or wind-walking Pestilence,
Blind lightning, or the deaf sea, not with man!        65
Cruel, cold, formal man: righteous in words,
In deeds a Cain. No, mother, we must die:
Since such is the reward of innocent lives;
Such the alleviation of worst wrongs.
And whilst our murderers live, and hard, cold men,        70
Smiling and slow, walk through a world of tears
To death as to life’s sleep, ’twere just the grave
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,        75
And rock me to the sleep from which none wake.
Live ye, who live, subject to one another
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,        80
Should all be vain! The ministers of death
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        85
As if ’twere only rain. O life! O world!
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,        90
Who made all lovely thou didst look upon—
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.
  Beatrice—            Farewell, my tender brother. Think
Of our sad fate with gentleness, as now;        100
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:
For thine own sake be constant to the love
Thou bearest us; and to the faith that I,        105
Though wrapt in a strange cloud of crime and shame,
Lived ever holy and unstained. And though
Ill tongues shall wound me, and our common name
Be as a mark stamped on thine innocent brow
For men to point at as they pass, do thou        110
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
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
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        120
Have we done this for one another; now
We shall not do it any more. My lord,
We are quite ready. Well, ’tis very well.

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