Rossetti Archive Textual Transcription
Document Title: Ballads and Sonnets (1881), proof Signature L (Delaware Museum, initial revise proof,
26 April 1881, copy 1)
Author: Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Date of publication: 1881 April 26
Publisher: F. S. Ellis
Printer: Chiswick Press, C. Whittingham and Co.
full Rossetti Archive record for this transcribed document is available.
- And what I say next I partly saw
- And partly I heard in sooth,
- And partly since from the murderers' lips
- The torture wrung the truth.
- For now again came the armèd tread,
- And fast through the hall it fell;
- But the throng was less; and ere I saw,
- By the voice without I could tell
- That Robert Stuart had come with them
650Who knew that chamber well.
- And over the space the Græme strode dark
- With his mantle round him flung;
- And in his eye was a flaming light
- But not a word on his tongue.
- And Stuart held a torch to the floor,
- And he found the thing he sought;
- And they slashed the plank away with their swords;
- And O God! I fainted not!
- And the traitor held his torch in the gap,
660All smoking and smouldering;
- And through the vapour and fire, beneath
- In the dark crypt's narrow ring,
- With a shout that pealed to the room's high roof
- They saw their naked King.
- Half naked he stood, but stood as one
- Who yet could do and dare:
- With the crown, the King was stript away,—
- The Knight was reft of his battle-array,—
- But still the Man was there.
670From the rout then stepped a villain forth,—
- Sir John Hall was his name;
- With a knife unsheathed he leapt to the vault
- Beneath the torchlight-flame.
- Of his person and stature was the King
- A man right manly strong,
- And mightily by the shoulder-blades
- His foe to his feet he flung.
- Then the traitor's brother, Sir Thomas Hall,
- Sprang down to work his worst;
680And the King caught the second man by the neck
- And flung him above the first.
- And he smote and trampled them under him;
- And a long month thence they bare
- All black their throats with the grip of his hands
- When the hangman's hand came there.
- And sore he strove to have had their knives,
- But the sharp blades gashed his hands.
- Oh James! so armed, thou hadst battled there
- Till help had come of thy bands;
690And oh! once more thou hadst held our throne
- And ruled thy Scotish lands!
- But while the King o'er his foes still raged
- With a heart that nought could tame,
- Another man sprang down to the crypt;
- And with his sword in his hand hard-gripp'd,
- There stood Sir Robert Græme.
- (Now shame on the recreant traitor's heart
- Who durst not face his King
- Till the body unarmed was wearied out
700With two-fold combating!
- Ah! well might the people sing and say,
- As oft ye have heard aright:—
O Robert Græme, O Robert Græme,
Who slew our King, God give thee shame!”
- For he slew him not as a knight.)
- And the naked King turned round at bay,
- But his strength had passed the goal,
- And he could but gasp:—“Mine hour is come;
- But oh! to succour thine own soul's doom,
710Let a priest now shrive my soul!”
- And the traitor looked on the King's spent strength,
- And said:—“Have I kept my word?—
- Yea, King, the mortal pledge that I gave?
- No black friar's shrift thy soul shall have,
- But the shrift of this red sword!”
- With that he smote his King through the breast;
- And all they three in that pen
- Fell on him and stabbed and stabbed him there
- Like merciless murderous men.
720Yet seemed it now that Sir Robert Græme,
- Ere the King's last breath was o'er,
- Turned sick at heart with the deadly sight
- And would have done no more.
- But a cry came from the troop above:—
- “If him thou do not slay,
- The price of his life that thou dost spare
- Thy forfeit life shall pay!”
- O God! what more did I hear or see,
- Or how should I tell the rest?
730But there at length our King lay slain
- With sixteen wounds in his breast.
- O God! and now did a bell boom forth,
- And the murderers turned and fled;—
- Too late, too late, O God, did it sound!—
- And I heard the true men mustering round,
- And the cries and the coming tread.
- But ere they came, to the black death-gap
- Somewise did I creep and steal;
- And lo! or ever I swooned away,
740Through the dusk I saw where the white face lay
- In the Pit of Fortune's Wheel.
- And now, ye Scotish maids who have heard
- Dread things of the days grown old,—
- Even at the last, of true Queen Jane
- May somewhat yet be told,
- And how she dealt for her dear lord's sake
- Dire vengeance manifold.
- 'Twas in the Charterhouse of Perth,
- In the fair-lit Death-chapelle,
750That the slain King's corpse on bier was laid
- With chaunt and requiem-knell.
- And all with royal wealth of balm
- Was the body purified;
- And none could trace on the brow and lips
- The death that he had died.
- In his robes of state he lay asleep
- With orb and sceptre in hand;
- And by the crown he wore on his throne
- Was his kingly forehead spann'd.
760And, girls, 'twas a sweet sad thing to see
- How the curling golden hair,
- As in the day of the poet's youth,
- From the King's crown clustered there.
- And if all had come to pass in the brain
- That throbbed beneath those curls,
- Then Scots had said in the days to come
- That this their soil was a different home
- And a different Scotland, girls!
- And the Queen sat by him night and day,
770And oft she knelt in prayer,
- All wan and pale in the widow's veil
- That shrouded her shining hair.
- And I had got good help of my hurt:
- And only to me some sign
- She made; and save the priests that were there,
- No face would she see but mine.
Note: DGR adds the number 5 to correct the pagination.
- And the month of March wore on apace;
- And now fresh couriers fared
- Still from the country of the Wild Scots
780With news of the traitors snared.
- And still as I told her day by day,
- Her pallor changed to sight,
- And the frost grew to a furnace-flame
- That burnt her visage white.
- And evermore as I brought her word,
- She bent to her dead King James,
- And in the cold ear with fire-drawn breath
- She spoke the traitors' names.
- But when the name of Sir Robert Græme
790Was the one she had to give,
- I ran to hold her up from the floor;
- For the froth was on her lips, and sore
- I feared that she could not live.
- And the month of March wore nigh to its end,
- And still was the death-pall spread;
- For she would not bury her slaughtered lord
- Till his slayers all were dead.
- And now of their dooms dread tidings came,
- And of torments fierce and dire;
800And nought she spake,—she had ceased to speak,—
- But her eyes were a soul on fire.
- But when I told her the bitter end
- Of the stern and just award,
- She leaned o'er the bier, and thrice three times
- She kissed the lips of her lord.
- And then she said,—“My King, they are dead!”
- And she knelt on the chapel-floor,
- And whispered low with a strange proud smile,—
- “James, James, they suffered more!”
810Last she stood up to her queenly height,
- But she shook like an autumn leaf,
- As though the fire wherein she burned
- Then left her body, and all were turned
- To winter of life-long grief.
- And “O James!” she
said,—“My James!” she
- “Alas for the woful thing,
- That a poet true and a friend of man,
- In desperate days of bale and ban,
- Should needs be born a King!”
Transcribed Note (page ):
(The present full series of
The House of Life consists of
sonnets only. It will be evident that many among
now first added are still the work of earlier years.
To speak in the first person is often to speak most vividly :
these emotional poems are in no sense
“Life” involved in life representative, as
associated with love
and death, with aspiration and foreboding, or
with ideal art
and beauty. )
Electronic Archive Edition: 1