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.