Rossetti Archive Textual Transcription
Document Title: Ballads and Sonnets (1881), proof Signature L (Delaware Museum, final proof,
Author: Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Date of publication: 1881 June 7
Publisher: F. S. Ellis
Printer: Chiswick Press, C. Whittingham and Co.
full Rossetti Archive record for this transcribed document is available.
Manuscript Addition: [Charles Whittingham's printer date stamp, 7 June 81]
- And now the ladies fled with the Queen;
- And thorough the open door
- The night-wind wailed round the empty room
- And the rushes shook on the floor.
- And the bed drooped low in the dark recess
- Whence the arras was rent away;
- And the firelight still shone over the space
- Where our hidden secret lay.
- And the rain had ceased, and the moonbeams lit
630The window high in the wall,—
- Bright beams that on the plank that I knew
- Through the painted pane did fall
- And gleamed with the splendour of Scotland's crown
- And shield armorial.
- But then a great wind swept up the skies,
- And the climbing moon fell back;
- And the royal blazon fled from the floor,
- And nought remained on its track;
- And high in the darkened window-pane
640The shield and the crown were black.
- 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.
- 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!”
Electronic Archive Edition: 1