THE TWO NOBLE KINSMEN
PALAMON sleeps in a chamber alone. He sits up suddenly and sees the ghost of ARCITE standing before him.
Cousin Arcite, thought I you were dead!
Aye, and that I was, and am, but now
I come to see ye nonetheless—would you
Deny a ghost the satisfying end
Of all the troubles that would drag him back,
The ghost of one you often said you loved?
I could not deny it if I would.
Your bed is unadorned, my noble coz,
And after all the blood that spilled to fill’t!
Pray tell me, Palamon, how it can be,
That now at last I find no Emily
At rest where I expected her fair form,
In marriage-bed so long contested and
For whom you find me here, not home on earth,
But with a foot out o’th’ well-earned grave.
Cousin, Emilia my sweet fair love
And yours--is now my wedded wife, as you
Have guessed—and now you wonder how it comes,
That having her I sleep apart and lone.
The truth, Arcite, is wicked cold and not
An answer which I offer with the warmth
Of comforting your fears or staunching rage
I know your blood would feel did it yet flow.
I lie apart and wrecked in truth because
My sleep is haunted by a thousand foes,
All banishable by a single thought
But one—who, greater than all others, ever grows
A shadow and a haunt in sleeping mind.
I speak of one great foe
Whom I did love as life itself and kill,
Did drag into th’ignoble depths of foul
Jealousy and murder without thought.
Had I known, Arcite, what I did, or how
I bent my spirit low to stifle yours—
Had I then weighed on scales to measure worth,
Not worth entire, but my own augmented—
O, then, Arcite, such brutal deeds would I
Have quick been to endure than to bestow.
For thy face haunts me night by night, sweet coz,
And tells me of my doom, self-figured and
Too well-deserved to earn more tears than cries.
I weep now, cousin, for I see by night
That which broadest day and freedom hid—
The love of brothers battled shield to shield,
Of kin closer by heart and thought than blood,
Of two friends who ought not have been apart—
And now are cast two ways by foolish strife,
Forever split, by stubborn lusty malice
That rear’d its head one moment, and brought both
Down to their knees and cast all honour off.
It is my face you see, I comprehend.
Aye, your face, and all that’s left behind—
Warm memory turned ash by later deeds,
Deeds fouler, self-indulg’d and poorly done.
Alas, be no remorse nor no pleading prayers
That may provoke a satisfying turn,
And resurrect my much-beloved coz
With all the sense that threw him off forthwith.
Even in our strife I loved you well
And left you with kind thought, honestly bless’d.
I could not hate you, Palamon, and yet
It was my greatest wound, not that you should
Find love where I sought too and lost;
I rather guided both my sword and words
T’redress a hurt you did not see: that you
Grant love elsewhere at the cost of mine.
Gentle cousin, please expunge these words,
The wound of which shall surely kill me else!
I know already that I killed good love
For love. Tell me not worse, that I have slain
Where I was most affected and embraced—
By steady loyalty that brooked no loss
Without it hid disguised in trappings of
A love to mirror mine—where ‘twas,
Rather than where’t should have been.
My Palamon, I do not seek to hurt
No more in death than ever did in life.
No foul hell-shade am I, to shadow nights
Already spent enshrouded in the torments
Of a brain unquieted by deeds past cure.
Why then do you appear to me this way?
If not to height’n suff’ring or to bring
An end to that which wracks my every sleep,
Why do you come, Arcite, and bring to eye
What mem’ry paints already in a pain’d
And e’er self-loathing light?
Ghosts, like gods, are slave to none but to
Their own strongest desires; so I come
Because I can not chuse to stay the coming.
Speak plainly coz; the crypt has made you cryptic.
In death my spirit yearns for one thing most,
And being spirit’d won’t deny the urge.
Here I stand, or seem, my cousin, here,
And not th’bed where Emily lie in peace.
For ‘tis not Emilia I desired,
And is not my desire when all else
But one bright coal of human passion
Glows and flares when ev’ry other’s turn’d
To ashy dust. O Palamon, you must
Comprehend my meaning—but I’ll be
Explic’t as the sun at noon is high—
O, do not! I’d rather think a lie
Of all you say this night, than that
I had brought Arcite to his fall, and he
The one that loved me best though I served worst.
An honest man cannot a lying spirit make,
For spirits are but memories impress’d
Upon the living world, unaltering
From that which dying they most truly were.
Know you well I died in love with not
A vengeful thought or last love-staining curse.
I can no more lie comforts than lie comfortably
Within my grave.
O heart! That thought us free,
You to death and I in justice wed—
How now dos’t perceive the world, that seeks
To rattle all your basest sureties, and leave but
The surety that all was done sore ill,
And all the best worth having and would have
Best have enjoyed the vict’ry now is lost,
And lost before me, caged unchanging in
The moments of my failure as a man—
Endless unrequited, he would see—
When truth, a fickle thing, had in truth hid
But shortly--now comes readily in sleep,
The virtue of it bitter on the tongue
And agonizing ev’ry beat o’th’ blood.
Arcite, can ye not change if I do tell
A diff’rent outcome than the one imprinted
In your insubstantial shape?
I, new a spirit, cannot tell the laws
That govern all my kind—I bid ye try
Your truth, if think ye any change it may
Affect is more a blessing than a curse.
Were it a curse I could not stay it now;
Too many nights my sleep awak’d from fits
Of guilty sorrow and of truth unbidden.
Too far have I cast Emily from husband’s bed
In dreaming of a field I never ought have left--
Nay, to have contested. Arcite, I
Have risked all on a lusty caper, and
Though I deemed it worth the price, have lost
That which made me whole, which gave all those
Past capers worth, and battles valour. I
Appear before you here in state undress’d
In body, but in soul by equal measure.
There be no grace I can demand of ye,
Little more in life than now in death,
But know ye Arcite, know it plain and always,
Ye were my prize, and as you said it once,
My heir and brother, and my good as wife.
That which I have lost, I have cast down,
And myself with it, for ‘twas all, ‘twas best.
Wretched Palamon, fair star which I
Cannot but follow now, the stays of that
Which was my heart are loosed and I can breathe,
An air of sorrow but relief as well—
Forgive that, kindly, for a ghost is naught
But selfish, and cannot help its love
Although it be as pain to th’beloved
Arcite, I would walk through
The door which parts us—nay, I would fair fly,
Out through the window yonder to come nearer.
A fall, dear Palamon, is how the road to hell
Is often call’d; you must not rob a life
So precious to the living and to me
Of its full course, of the virtue which
It’s spent but partly yet, and must
Still carry to its proper end. Hold, coz.
But you must.
I would not.
Coz, you speak in passion; think of what
You leave for Emily if you quit her now.
She is the fruit of all the labour late,
Which brought me here and you to where you lie—
Or me to where I lie and you to here—
You must not spend in haste that which the gods
Themselves have answered as the course that’s set.
You seek to anger me, that much is clear.
I have not the faculty for such
A purpose as your anger, nor the will.
Only as you love me live, and dying
True and in good time perhaps be found
Together in the fields where virtue brings
Her honest and her honourable dead.
You come and speak, and ask me then to hold
All proceeds of confession for th’end of life
Which may yet hold me ten years or near half
A century unwelcome and unfriended?
What cruel reply is this, on ripping my
Guard from me on the promise of compassion?
You are not unfriended—call to mind
Who is your faithful and your wedded, and
Your prize in all this fight—So too you hers!
Emilia your company will keep,
And if you’re the less burthened of your guilt,
Then both ye shall the better prove as friends.
I wish to free you, coz, not to clasp anew
The shackles that I once undid with file
And imprudent desire, to aid the one I loved
In all his most intemp’rate schemes.
Ye wound me, Arcite, though it be but with
The gentleness I knew of you in life.
So great a soldier yet so kind a man. . .
If ye wish to wound me less, then live,
And live well, with all liveliness and mirth
Befitting that what’s good—and chearfulness
To face all struggles and survive their end.
Do me service, coz, and live the noble man
Y’are and ever were. You shall not see
Me, though I watch from far Elysium.
Live free, though you remember, Palamon,
And ye shall die a death that in short time—
For centuries are short, i’th’ span of all—
Shall bring ye to me at the mortal’s end.
Then will we have no more regret nor sorrow
And no sword may swing, be it visible or not,
That’ll crack the love of Palamon and Arcite
Which once stood strong, although unspoke, and may
Now hold through all the giddy knots of time.
This I’ll do, and banish suff’ring thoughts
Because you’ve asked it, though my heart is fain
To know how first I’ll smile in your wake.
My wake, coz, is long past, and waking now
Is province only of the vital sun.
Sleep now and well and see ye what I mean
When day breaks and ye find you’re once more whole.
I shall give no farewell.
I ask it not.
But I hold to your promise you will watch.
Until the dying day, my coz, I’ll see
With all th’tender attentions of my state.
I sleep, Arcite.
And sleep well, gentle coz.
PALAMON lies down and returns to sleep as ARCITE watches.