by George Meredith
Ladies who in chains of wedlock
Chafe at an unequal yoke,
Not to nightingales give hearing;
Better this, the raven's croak.
Down the Prado strolled my seigneur,
Arm at lordly bow on hip,
Fingers trimming his moustachios,
Eyes for pirate fellowship.
Home sat she that owned him master;
Like the flower bent to ground
Rain-surcharged and sun-forsaken;
Heedless of her hair unbound.
Sudden at her feet a lover
Palpitating knelt and wooed;
Seemed a very gift from heaven
To the starved of common food.
Love me? she his vows repeated:
Fiery vows oft sung and thrummed:
Wondered, as on earth a stranger;
Thirsted, trusted, and succumbed.
O beloved youth! my lover!
Mine! my lover! take my life
Wholly: thine in soul and body,
By this oath of more than wife!
Know me for no helpless woman;
Nay, nor coward, though I sink
Awed beside thee, like an infant
Learning shame ere it can think.
Swing me hence to do thee service,
Be thy succour, prove thy shield;
Heaven will hear!--in house thy handmaid,
Squire upon the battlefield.
At my breasts I cool thy footsoles;
Wine I pour, I dress thy meats;
Humbly, when my lord it pleaseth,
Lie with him on perfumed sheets:
Pray for him, my blood's dear fountain,
While he sleeps, and watch his yawn
In that wakening babelike moment,
Sweeter to my thought than dawn! -
Thundered then her lord of thunders;
Burst the door, and, flashing sword,
Loud disgorged the woman's title:
Condemnation in one word.
Grand by righteous wrath transfigured,
Towers the husband who provides
In his person judge and witness,
Death's black doorkeeper besides!
Round his head the ancient terrors,
Conjured of the stronger's law,
Circle, to abash the creature
Daring twist beneath his paw.
How though he hath squandered Honour
High of Honour let him scold:
Gilding of the man's possession,
'Tis the woman's coin of gold.
She inheriting from many
Bleeding mothers bleeding sense
Feels 'twixt her and sharp-fanged nature
Honour first did plant the fence.
Nature, that so shrieks for justice;
Honour's thirst, that blood will slake;
These are women's riddles, roughly
Mixed to write them saint or snake.
Never nature cherished woman:
She throughout the sexes' war
Serves as temptress and betrayer,
Favouring man, the muscular.
Lureful is she, bent for folly;
Doating on the child which crows:
Yours to teach him grace in fealty,
What the bloom is, what the rose.
Hard the task: your prison-chamber
Widens not for lifted latch
Till the giant thews and sinews
Meet their Godlike overmatch.
Read that riddle, scorning pity's
Tears, of cockatrices shed:
When the heart is vowed for freedom,
Captaincy it yields to head.
Meanwhile you, freaked nature's martyrs,
Honour's army, flower and weed,
Gentle ladies, wedded ladies,
See for you this fair one bleed.
Sole stood her offence, she faltered;
Prayed her lord the youth to spare;
Prayed that in the orange garden
She might lie, and ceased her prayer.
Then commanding to all women
Chastity, her breasts she laid
Bare unto the self-avenger.
Man in metal was the blade.
Last updated January 14, 2019