Verse > Anthologies > Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. > A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895
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Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908).  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895.  1895.
 
From “Niobe”
 
Frederick Tennyson (b. 1807)
 
 
I TOO remember, in the after years,
The long-hair’d Niobe, when she was old,
Sitting alone, without the city gates,
Upon the ground; alone she sat, and mourn’d.
Her watchers, mindful of her royal state,        5
Her widowhood, and sorrows, follow’d her
Far off, when she went forth, to be alone
In lonely places; and at set of sun
They won her back by some fond phantasy,
By telling her some tale of the gone days        10
Of her dear lost ones, promising to show her
Some faded garland, or some broken toy,
Dusty and dim, which they had found, or feign’d
To have found, some plaything of their infant hours.
Within the echoes of a ruin’d court        15
She sat and mourn’d, with her lamenting voice,
Melodious in sorrow, like the sound
Of funeral hymns; for in her youth she sang
Along the myrtle valleys in the spring,
Plucking the fresh pinks and the hyacinths,        20
With her fair troop of girls, who answer’d her
Silverly sweet, so that the lovely tribe
Were Nature’s matchless treble to the last
Delicious pipe, pure, warbling, dewy clear.
In summer and in winter, that lorn voice        25
Went up, like the struck spirit of this world,
Making the starry roof of heaven tremble
With her lament, and agony, and all
The crowned Gods in their high tabernacles
Sigh unawares, and think upon their deeds.        30
Her guardians let her wander at her will,
For all could weep for her; had she not been
The first and fairest of that sunny land,
And bless’d with all things; doubly crown’d with power
And beauty, doubly now discrown’d and fallen?        35
Oh! none would harm her, only she herself;
And chiefly then when they would hold her back,
And sue her to take comfort in her home,
Or in the bridal chambers of her youth,
Or in the old gardens, once her joy and pride,        40
Or the rose-bowers along the river-shore
She lov’d of old, now silent and forsaken.
For then she fled away, as though in fear,
As if she saw the spectres of her hours
Of joyaunce pass before her in the shapes        45
Of her belov’d ones. But most she chose
Waste places, where the moss and lichen crawl’d,
And the wild ivy flutter’d, and the rains
Wept thro’ the roofless ruins, and all seem’d
To mourn in symbols, and to answer to her,        50
Showing her outward that she was within.
The unregarding multitude pass’d on,
Because her woe was a familiar sight.
But some there were that shut their ears and fled,
And they were childless; the rose-lipp’d and young        55
Felt that imperial voice and desolate
Strike cold into their hearts; children at play
Were smit with sudden silence, with their toys
Clutch’d in their hands, forgetful of the game.
Aged she was, yet beautiful in age.        60
Her beauty, thro’ the cloud of years and grief,
Shone as a wintry sun; she never smil’d,
Save when a darkness pass’d across the sun,
And blotted out from her entranced eyes
Disastrous shapes that rode upon his disk,        65
Tyrannous visions, armed presences;
And then she sigh’d and lifted up her head,
And shed a few warm tears. But when he rose,
And her sad eyes unclos’d before his beams,
She started up with terrors in her look,        70
That wither’d up all pity in affright,
And ran about, like one with Furies torn,
And rent her hair, and madly threaten’d Heaven,
And call’d for retribution on the Gods,
Crying, “O save me from Him, He is there;        75
Oh, let me wear my little span of life.
I see Him in the centre of the sun;
His face is black with wrath! thou angry God,
I am a worthless thing, a childless mother,
Widow’d and wasted, old and comfortless,        80
But still I am alive; wouldst thou take all?
Thou who hast snatch’d my hopes and my delights,
Thou who hast kill’d my children, wouldst thou take
The little remnant of my days of sorrow,
Which the sharp winds of the first winter days,        85
Or the first night of frost, may give unto thee?
For never shall I seek again that home
Where they are not; cold, cold shall be the hearth
Where they were gather’d, cold as is my heart!
Oh! if my living lot be bitterness,        90
’T is sweeter than to think, that, if I go
Down to the dust, then I shall think no more
Of them I lov’d and lost, the thoughts of whom
Are all my being, and shall speak no more,
In answer to their voices in my heart,        95
As though it were mine ear, rewording all
Their innocent delights, and fleeting pains,
Their infant fondnesses, their little wants,
And simple words. Oh! while I am, I dream
Of those who are not; thus my anguish grows        100
My solace, as the salt surf of the seas
Clothes the sharp crags with beauty.” Then her mood
Would veer to madness, like a windy change
That brings up thunder, and she rais’d her voice,
Crying, “And yet they are not, they who were,        105
And never more shall be! accursed dreams!”
And, suddenly becoming motionless,
The bright hue from her cheeks and forehead pass’d,
And, full of awful resignation, fixing
Her large undazzled orbs upon the sun,        110
She shriek’d, “Strike, God, thou canst not harm me more!”
 

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