THE COMPLAINT OF ANNELIDA TO FALSE ARCITE
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
The sword of sorrow, whetted sharp for me
On false delight, with point of memory
Stabb'd so mine heart, bliss-bare and black of hue,
That all to dread is turn'd my dance's glee,
My face's beauty to despondency --
For nothing it availeth to be true --
And, whosoever is so, she shall rue
Obeying love, and cleaving faithfully
Alway to one, and changing for no new.
I ought to know it well as any wight,
For I loved one with all my heart and might,
More than myself a hundred-thousand fold,
And called him my heart's dear life, my knight,
And was all his, as far as it was right;
His gladness did my blitheness make of old,
And in his least disease my death was told;
Who, on his side, had plighted lovers' plight,
Me, evermore, his lady and love to hold.
Now is he false -- alas, alas! -- although
Unwronged! and acting such a ruthless part,
That with a little word he will not deign
To bring the peace back to my mournful heart.
Drawn in, and caught up by another's art,
Right as he will, he laugheth at my pain;
While I -- I cannot my weak heart restrain
From loving him -- still, aye; yet none I know
To whom of all this grief I can complain.
Shall I complain (ah, piteous and harsh sound!)
Unto my foe, who gave mine heart a wound,
And still desireth that the harm be more?
Now certes, if I sought the whole earth round,
No other help, no better leech were found!
My destiny hath shaped it so of yore --
I would not other medicine, nor yet lore.
I would be ever where I once was bound;
And what I said, would say for evermore.
Alas! and where is gone your gentillesse?
Where gone your pleasant words, your humbleness?
Where your devotion full of reverent fear,
Your patient loyalty, your busy address
To me, whom once you called nothing less
Than mistress, sovereign lady, i' the sphere
O' the world? Ah me! no word, no look of cheer.
Will you vouchsafe upon my heaviness!
Alas your love! I bought it all too dear.
Now certes, sweet, howe'er you be
The cause so, and so causelessly,
Of this my mortal agony,
Your reason should amend the failing!
Your friend, your true love, do you flee,
Who never in time nor yet degree
Grieved you: so may the all-knowing He
Save my lorn soul from future wailing.
Because I was so plain, Arcite,
In all my doings, your delight.
Seeking in all things, where I might
In honour, -- meek and kind and free;
Therefore you do me such despite.
Alas! howe'er through cruelty
My heart with sorrow's sword you smite,
You cannot kill its love. -- Ah me!
Ah, my sweet foe, why do you so
Think you that praise, in sooth, will raise
Loving anew, and being untrue
Thus casting down your manhood's crown
And working me adversity,
Who loves you most -- (O God, thou know'st!)
Yet turn again -- be fair and plain
And then shall this, that seems amiss,
All being forgiv'n, while yet from heav'n
Behold, dear heart, I write this to obtain
Some knowledge, whether I should pray or 'plaine:
Which way is best to force you to be true?
For either I must have you in my chain,
Or you, sweet, with the death must part us twain;
There is no mean, no other way more new:
And, that Heaven's mercy on my soul may rue
And let you slay me outright with this pain,
The whiteness in my cheeks may prove to you.
For hitherto mine own death have I sought;
Myself I murder with my secret thought,
In sorrow and ruth of your unkindnesses!
I weep, I wail, I fast -- all helpeth nought,
I flee all joy (I mean the name of aught),
I flee all company, all mirthfulness --
Why, who can make her boast of more distress
Than I? To such a plight you have me brought,
Guiltless (I need no witness) ne'ertheless.
Shall I go pray and wail my womanhood?
Compared to such a deed, death's self were good.
What! ask for mercy, and guiltless -- where 's the need?
And if I wailed my life so, -- that you would
Care nothing, is less feared than understood:
And if mine oath of love I dared to plead
In mine excuse, -- your scorn would be its meed.
Ah, love! it giveth flowers instead of seed --
Full long ago I might have taken heed.
And though I had you back to-morrow again,
I might as well hold April from the rain
As hold you to the vows you vowed me last.
Maker of all things, and truth's sovereign,
Where is the truth of man, who hath it slain,
That she who loveth him should find him fast
As in a tempest is a rotten mast?
Is that a tame beast which is ever fain
To flee us when restraint and fear are past?
Now mercy, sweet, if I mis-say; --
Have I said aught is wrong to-day?
I do not know -- my wit's astray --
I fare as doth the song of one who weepeth;
For now I 'plaine, and now I play --
I am so 'mazed, I die away --
Arcite, you have the key for aye
Of all my world, and all the good it keepeth.
And in this world there is not one
Who walketh with a sadder moan,
And bears more grief than I have done;
And if light slumbers overcome me,
Methinks your image, in the glory
Of skyey azure, stands before me,
Re-vowing the old love you bore me,
And praying for new mercy from me.
Through the long night, this wondrous sight,
Which haunteth still, the daylight, till
But nought of this, your heart, I wis,
Mine eyes down-pour, they nevermore
While to your ruth, and eke your truth,
I cry --
But, weladay, too far be they
Thus destiny is holding me --
And when I fain would break the chain,
And try --
Faileth my wit (so weak is it)
Therefore I end thus, since my hope is o'er --
I give all up both now and evermore;
And in the balance ne'er again will lay
My safety, nor be studious in love-lore.
But like the swan who, as I heard of yore,
Singeth life's penance on his deathly day,
So I sing here my life and woes away, --
Ay, how you, cruel Arcite, wounded sore,
With memory's point, your poor Annelida.
After Annelida, the woeful queen.
Had written in her own hand in this wise,
With ghastly face, less pale than white, I ween,
She fell a-swooning; then she 'gan arise,
And unto Mars voweth a sacrifice
Within the temple, with a sorrowful bearing,
And in such phrase as meets your present hearing.