Poetical Tragedies

Mordred: A Tragedy in Five Acts.

by William Wilfred Campbell


 

ACT I.


 

SCENE I.—A Hermitage in the Woods.

Enter ARTHUR, LAUNCELOT and other Knights.

     Launcelot.     Here is a place of prayer, we will alight,

And rest a space and think us of our sins.

 

     Arthur.     Launcelot, and were I shrived and clean

Half hell itself were loosened of its pains.

 

     Launcelot.     Arthur, friend and lover of my youth,

Could’st thou but throw this black mood from thee now,
And get a sweeter hope into thy soul,
Drive out the horrid phantoms of the past,
And it were hope for Britain. Well thou knowest
Men look to thee to succor this poor land
Enrent by inward brawls and foreign hordes,
Whose fields untilled, and vanished the smoke of homes.
It hath been said that thou would’st raise once more
Out of these ruins a kingdom whose great fame
Would ring for ages down the days of earth,
And be a glory in men’s hearts forever.
[Passes to the left.

 

     Arthur.     Launcelot, well know I thy love for Arthur.

’Tis thy sweet, manly kinship of the heart,
Opening thy spirit’s windows toward the sun,
Hath made my dark days lighter. Would that I
Had kept me holy, innocent as thee.
I might in kinder fate have made this land
A place where holiness and peace might dwell,
And such a white and lofty honor held
Before men’s eyes, that all the world would come
And worship manhood’s beauty freed from sin.
Such dreams have haunted me from my first youth,
In fitful slumbers or long marching hours.
These lonesome lofty vigils of the heart
Have made men deem me colder. ’Tis my sin!
Oh Launcelot I am blacker than thou knowest!
[Exit LAUNCELOT.

 

Enter HERMIT.

 

     Hermit.     And comest thou, my son, for Church’s grace?

 

     Arthur.     I come here, Father, for to have me shrived.

[Kneels.

 

     Hermit.     Then thou art shriven, such a noble face

Could never harbor evil in its grace.
[Lifts his hands in blessing.

 

     Arthur.     Stay holy Hermit, fair trees rot at heart,

And I am evil if this world holds ill.
I would lay bare my soul of its foul sin,
And if there be white shrift for such as me
In Heaven’s mercy, I would crave it now;
Though little of hope have I, if thou dost hear.

 

     Hermit.     Wouldst thou confess, my son, the church hath power

To white the blackest sinner crawling foul From earth’s most sensuous cesspool, doth he but
Come in the earnest sorrow of his heart
And lay his sins within her holy keeping.
But well I know that thou art that great Arthur,
The hope of all for succor to this realm:—
For other man hath never worn such grace
And nobleness of bearing as thou wearest.
Fear not my son, whatever be the sin
Of thy hot youth, the past will be forgiven,
And holy Church will freely pardon one
And all the evil deeds that thou hast done.

 

     Arthur.     Father, my life is haunted with one thought

That comes between me and my sweetest hopes.
In battle’s clamor only will it pass,
But in my lonlier moments it comes in;—
The awful memory of one heinous sin.

 

     Hermit.     Of truth thou hast suffered over much, my son.

What is thy sin?

 

     Arthur.     One deed beyond all others of my youth,

Mad passionate and wild to savagery,
I violated a maid’s sanctuary,
And afterwards, I found,—O Christ forgive me!

 

     Hermit.     Say on!

 

     Arthur.     She was my sister!

 

     Hermit.     Sancta Maria—Ora pro nobis!

 

     Arthur.     It will not out. The evil of that night

When I, unknowing, did that awful deed,
Hath blackened all my future like a web.
And when men look up to me as their sun,
It makes my life seem like some whited tower,
Where all is foul and hideous hid within.

 

     Hermit.     Thou sayest truth, my son, thy sin be heavy.

[Crossing himself.

 

     Arthur.     Oh swart, incestuous night whose bat-like wings

O’er-spread my life like thunder-gathering cloud,
When will thy dawn break glimmering on my soul?
Or wilt thou drag thy weary length along
And spell thy moments out in hopeless years
Until thy black o’er-laps the black of death
In that dread journeying where all men go,
When all my dreams are spent and smouldered down
Like some far ruined sunset at life’s ebb,
And hope deferred fades out in endless sleep?
O holy man forgive mine impious presence,
Thy blessed office naught availeth me.

 

     Hermit.     Nay son grieve not as one who hath no hope.

Though awsome be this youthful sin of thine,
Whose memory blurs thy loftier, holier dreams,
Let not this one sin lead thee to blaspheme
Thus ignorantly holy Church’s power.
Thy very sorrow half absolveth thee.
In name of Him who blessed the dying thief,
I bed thee look no longer at thy past,
Which eateth like some canker at thy heart,
Redeem thy past in deeds of future good;
Deem’st thy high dreams were given thee for nought?
There is a noble doom about thy face,
A writing writ of God that telleth me
That thou art not a common ordered man,
But one ordained as holy ones of old
For some great lofty cause. Lift up thy heart,
Earth hath a need of thee, thy people call,
Wrongs long unrighted, evils long unplucked
All cry to thee for judgment. Palsy not
The strength of thy great future brooding on
An indiscretion of thy savage past.

 

     Arthur.     And is it of God, Oh! Father, thinkest thou?

 

     Hermit.     Yea my son;

As are all hope and sunshine. What is life—
But spring unmindful of bleak winter-time,
Joying in living, mindless of old death;
Youth dead to sorrow, age to coming night.
Look up, forget thine evil, drink new faith
From this glad parable of the awakening year.
The church’s arms are round thee, build new hope
In this poor kingdom as the quickening year
Hath made this wrinkled earth forget old sorrows;
Be this but thine to do, and thou are pardoned.

 

     Arthur.     Oh! blessed be thy counsel, even now

I feel new joys run riot in my heart.
Old hopes long faded built on my high dreams!
The old dread sorrow lightens, it is gone,
And I go forth a shrived soul even now.
Yea, hear me Father, now I consecrate
This my poor life to this great kingdom’s weal,
And be my God but with me, I will raise
This head of sorrows out of clouds of ill,
And build a splendour of my chastened will.
Thy blessing Father!

 

     Hermit.     (Raises his hand in blessing.) Go forth from hence

Great Arthur keeper of thy people’s peace.
Go forth to right all wrong and guard all right,
In home and mart, in castle and in cot,
Meting the same to high and lowly lot.
Go forth in name of God to build a realm
Built up on chastity and noble deeds,
Where womanhood is gentle and austere,
And manhood strong in its great innocence.
Go, blessed of God and all thy fellow men,
Go in the strength of thy most high resolve,
Thou wondrous soul unto thy wondrous work,
The glory of all the after days to be.

 

     Arthur.     Amen! Amen!!