In a Castle

by Amy Lowell

Amy Lowell

I

Over the yawning chimney hangs the fog. Drip
-- hiss -- drip -- hiss --
fall the raindrops on the oaken log which burns, and steams,
and smokes the ceiling beams. Drip -- hiss -- the rain
never stops.
The wide, state bed shivers beneath its velvet coverlet. Above,
dim,
in the smoke, a tarnished coronet gleams dully. Overhead
hammers and chinks
the rain. Fearfully wails the wind down distant corridors,
and there comes
the swish and sigh of rushes lifted off the floors. The
arras blows sidewise
out from the wall, and then falls back again.
It is my lady's key, confided with much nice cunning, whisperingly.
He enters on a sob of wind, which gutters the candles almost to
swaling.
The fire flutters and drops. Drip -- hiss -- the rain
never stops.
He shuts the door. The rushes fall again to stillness
along the floor.
Outside, the wind goes wailing.
The velvet coverlet of the wide bed is smooth and cold. Above,
in the firelight, winks the coronet of tarnished gold. The
knight shivers
in his coat of fur, and holds out his hands to the withering flame.
She is always the same, a sweet coquette. He will wait
for her.
How the log hisses and drips! How warm
and satisfying will be her lips!
It is wide and cold, the state bed; but when her head lies under
the coronet,
and her eyes are full and wet with love, and when she holds out
her arms,
and the velvet counterpane half slips from her, and alarms
her trembling modesty, how eagerly he will leap to cover her, and
blot himself
beneath the quilt, making her laugh and tremble.
Is it guilt to free a lady from her palsied lord,
absent and fighting,
terribly abhorred?
He stirs a booted heel and kicks a rolling coal. His
spur clinks
on the hearth. Overhead, the rain hammers and chinks. She
is so pure
and whole. Only because he has her soul will she resign
herself to him,
for where the soul has gone, the body must be given as a sign. He
takes her
by the divine right of the only lover. He has sworn to
fight her lord,
and wed her after. Should he be overborne, she will die
adoring him, forlorn,
shriven by her great love.
Above, the coronet winks in the darkness. Drip
-- hiss -- fall the raindrops.
The arras blows out from the wall, and a door bangs in a far-off
hall.
The candles swale. In the gale the moat below plunges
and spatters.
Will the lady lose courage and not come?
The rain claps on a loosened rafter.
Is that laughter?
The room is filled with lisps and whispers. Something
mutters.
One candle drowns and the other gutters. Is that the
rain
which pads and patters, is it the wind through the winding entries
which chatters?
The state bed is very cold and he is alone. How
far from the wall
the arras is blown!
Christ's Death! It is no storm which makes these little
chuckling sounds.
By the Great Wounds of Holy Jesus, it is his dear lady, kissing
and
clasping someone! Through the sobbing storm he hears
her love take form
and flutter out in words. They prick into his ears and
stun his desire,
which lies within him, hard and dead, like frozen fire. And
the little noise
never stops.
Drip -- hiss -- the rain drops.
He tears down the arras from before an inner chamber's bolted door.

II

The state bed shivers in the watery dawn. Drip
-- hiss -- fall the raindrops.
For the storm never stops.
On the velvet coverlet lie two bodies, stripped
and fair in the cold,
grey air. Drip -- hiss -- fall the blood-drops, for the
bleeding never stops.
The bodies lie quietly. At each side of the bed, on the
floor, is a head.
A man's on this side, a woman's on that, and the red blood oozes
along
the rush mat.
A wisp of paper is twisted carefully into the strands
of the dead man's hair.
It says, "My Lord: Your wife's paramour has paid with
his life
for the high favour."
Through the lady's silver fillet is wound another
paper. It reads,
"Most noble Lord: Your wife's misdeeds are as a double-stranded
necklace of beads. But I have engaged that, on your return,
she shall welcome you here. She will not spurn your love
as before,
you have still the best part of her. Her blood was red,
her body white,
they will both be here for your delight. The soul inside
was a lump of dirt,
I have rid you of that with a spurt of my sword point. Good
luck
to your pleasure. She will be quite complaisant, my friend,
I wager."
The end was a splashed flourish of ink.
Hark! In the passage is heard the clink
of armour, the tread of a heavy man.
The door bursts open and standing there, his thin hair wavering
in the glare of steely daylight, is my Lord of Clair.
Over the yawning chimney hangs the fog. Drip -- hiss
-- drip -- hiss --
fall the raindrops. Overhead hammers and chinks the rain
which never stops.
The velvet coverlet is sodden and wet, yet the
roof beams are tight.
Overhead, the coronet gleams with its blackened gold, winking and
blinking.
Among the rushes three corpses are growing cold.

III

In the castle church you may see them stand,
Two sumptuous tombs on either hand
Of the choir, my Lord's and my Lady's, grand
In sculptured filigrees. And where the transepts of the
church expand,
A crusader, come from the Holy Land,
Lies with crossed legs and embroidered band.
The page's name became a brand
For shame. He was buried in crawling sand,
After having been burnt by royal command.

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