Verse > Anthologies > Alfred H. Miles, ed. > Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century
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CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
Alfred H. Miles, ed.  Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century.  1907.
 
Vivia Perpetua (1841) (Act V, Scene II)
By Sarah Flower Adams (1805–1848)
 
  Vivia.
CÆCILIUS, go not thou.—Gaoler, give leave.
Nay, quench the lights,—my lamp will serve; and ere
The prison-rounds are o’er, this youth shall meet thee
At the outer gate.
  Pudens.        Thy time, how long soe’er.  [Exit.
  Vivia.
I have not spoke with thee to-night, Cæcilius;
        5
The slightest word had made the ready tears
Brim o’er their boundaries. Said I not?—weep on!
Thou hast wept to me before, and I with thee.
Ease thy full heart; then be thou strong to listen.
I need thee;—thou canst help me, if thou wilt.        10
  Cæcil.  Help thee?—and if I will!
  Vivia.                    But ere I speak
Of the one only thought ’twixt me and heaven,
Tell me of Nola; for my heart is yearning
To see her once again before I die.
  Cæcil.  She stays within her chamber; was forbid        15
To haste to you. She stays in sure belief
That you will be releas’d, will come to her.
  Vivia.  Releas’d I shall be! She must come to me.
[She takes a golden arrow from her hair.
Give her this token. Say, our early love
Is fresh with me, as though ’twere yesterday        20
We wander’d, arm-encircl’d, gathering shells.—
Could it be yesterday she talk’d of it?—
Tell her, that He for whom I die was one
Who taught all love to hope: so bid her thought
Soar up, to meet my blessing on the way.        25
Sure, unforgotten as she is in death,
I still may be her friend in heav’n!—Your thoughts?—
They wander.
  Cæcil.        They are still with thee!—with thee
And with the morrow.
  Vivia.              Mark me! many thoughts
In many morrows I now ask of thee.        30
Much has been said—too much—of loving kindness
Render’d to one who was left motherless;—
This time to-morrow—Thascius—wilt thou——
  Cæcil.  Will I? oh, find thy words to tell me what!
  Vivia.  Thou’rt young; hast many years—and be they blest—        35
Before thee. I have mark’d a strength in thee,
Seen most within these latter days of trial;
And Heav’n hath prosper’d so the thought that thou
Wilt come to hold the faith; I unto thee,
Commit in trust this child, my Thascius,—        40
In trust unto thy thought. It may be years—
Never, perchance—ere act of thine may serve;
Still let him have a home within thy thought.
And thy good strength, and youth, and years to come
And fate alike, so oft a loving bond,        45
And something for his mother’s memory,——
No, no, there needs no word of thine, Cæcilius
That look has laid an answer at my heart!
Blessing of Heav’n descend on thee and him!
  Cæcil.  I would I were your God, to give you wings        50
Now, now to bear you up! I would not stay you,
Though they would take you quite away from me
But, oh, that morrow’s doom!
  Vivia.                Why fear it thus?
The pain of martyrdom dwells not in death.
Think’st thou the love that dares it hath not joy        55
In loving, to make light the keenest pangs
That touch the body? No!—the torture comes
And sharpen’d fangs are busiest at the heart,
When all the old affections are dragg’d forth,
And torn upon the rack. What is’t to die?        60
  Cæcil.  To sink in quiet ’neath a sighing tree,
Like to the warrior in the song you lov’d;
To die like him, lapsing in quiet shadow,
Were peace: but, oh, the death that waits for thee!—
The glare—the tumult!
  Vivia.                What are they? since I
        65
Have sat alone, girt with the dreadful dark,
The never-ceasing night, with that one image
In terrible light, stern, pale, and palpable,—
The image of my father in his grief:
Eyes shut—the same—or staring wide again,        70
Still would it come—look, look, now while I speak!
[VIVIUS appears with a lamp at the
opposite side of the quadrangle. He
comes slowly forward. The father
and daughter gaze at each other for
some time without speaking.
  Vivius.  Do ye know me, who I am?—no, no—no wonder!
I am older many years since yester morn.
I was before that time a man nam’d Vivius,
A happy father, who did read his hopes        75
Upon the noble brows, and, as he thought,
The most true brows, of a beloved daughter!
I am—I know not what. And when I ask
Help of the outward universe to bring
Back to myself the former consciousness,        80
The sun shuts up the while I look on him;
The stars all hurry past me while I pray;
The earth sinks from my feet: all false! all false!
  Vivia.  No bitterness now!
  Vivius.                No bitterness?—gods,
No bitterness!                        [He weeps.
  Vivia.  My father, that thou couldst
        85
Crowd all thyself at once into one thought!
Think of the faith—look on me as I stand,
A creature anguished at thy agony,—
How far beyond the morrow’s suffering!—
One who hath lost even the few brief hours        90
She reckoned as her own, to tend her child;—
Then think upon the faith that bids my heart
Have yet beneath it all, a hope as calm
As were his lids, when last I parted from him.
Whence comes such miracle—of whom such faith?        95
  Vivius.  Faith! faith!—is that the word?—and miracle!
Yes!—that thy tongue would stir to speak the word!
What is thy faith?—a lie. What are its fruits?
What made thee false to me? What made thee thus
Shew forth fine joys to woo me in thy face,—        100
A black’ning plague-spot hidden in thy breast;—
Lur’d me to build my trust on thee for rock,
While thou wert rotten as the poisonous heap
The sea throws up for waste? And this is faith!
A lie!—it is a lie!
  Vivia.            No more! forbear!
        105
I see, though thou dost not, God’s angel stand
Shelt’ring my hope in thee! Thou shalt not speak,
Lest he be moved to stretch a ruffled wing
Up to the Lord, with those accusing words.
I will not have thee less before the Lord        110
When I shall plead for thee—as plead I will—
Plead for the earthly father, who once taught
His child in youth to love the truth, so led
Unto the heav’nly. Hath it been gainsay’d?
Thou know’st it hath not. Thou dost know ’twas love,        115
And love alone, that, fearful of thy grief,
Delay’d to bring it on thee, hoping still
A way might show to mitigate the pang.
And I will not be lesser than I am,
Unworthy as I am for this emprize;—        120
For thy sake, not. ’Twas thou who mad’st me true,
And true I am; ’twas thou who mad’st me dare,
And I have dar’d. Who was it in my youth
Did crown our Dido empress of my soul,
For that she gave her blood for double worth,—        125
A faith unbroken, and her people’s good?
Did tell me of the wife of Asdrubal,
How that she lov’d the honour of her Carthage
More than her life, and leapt from off the walls
Giving herself, her children, to the flames?        130
My Carthage is the world! I do but stretch
The line they held—Christ guiding still my hand,
Who first did point the way.
  Vivius.                And can it be
Thou art that very child so oft hath stood
Between my knees to listen those old tales?        135
Oh for that child again!
  Vivia.                I am that child
In all that’s simple truth. It was your wont
To question, that an answering lisp might come
Of names, of things, almost too large for one
Of infant speech. Ask me of this,—what is it?        140
Why, I should say, it is a water-cruise;
I know it that, and could not say it other.
I could no more deny to those who ask
Of me, what am I;—I do know myself
A Christian, and must say I am a Christian.        145
  Vivius.
Thy breath comes to me like the sharpen’d air
To cut my heart in twain; cold,—cold. But, no!
Here’s fire enough. And I will shew the world
White ashes yet may cover glowing heat!
You had a boy.
  Vivia.          Dead?
  Vivius.                To you!
  Vivia.                      Oh, cruel!
        150
Oh, spare me, for ’tis here that I am weak.
No, no, spare not; ’tis here I would be strong,
And, trust Christ’s mercy, he will guard a child
Blest by such love as mine hath had upon him.
Such love, sure am I, it can never perish.        155
E’en now doth comfort, like a flower, spring up
Sudden within my breast. You—you,—I know
That you will nourish him—will cherish him,—
Will teach his tongue the truth you taught to mine;
(And hath not Christ abundant for the rest?)        160
And when that he and time have smil’d down sorrow,
Oft, will you, while you sit and gaze on him,
See his dead mother live from out his eyes,—
His loving eyes; and then,—dear child! dear father!
  Vivius.  (falling at her feet).  You weep!—you weep! Oh let those tears at once        165
Revive my dying hopes like dew, and quench
The fire that’s smouldering in a tortur’d brain.
Once more; yet save me—save thyself;—thou canst;
’Tis not too late. Although the storm hangs black,
A word can wave it off, and bring us heaven!        170
Oh save me from a poison’d, livid past!
Oh save me from a future, that doth yawn
A flaming gulf of hell before my feet!
These are thy father’s hands that clasp thy knees;
These are his lips, that on thy very feet        175
Now print their hope for mercy. Save me!—save me!
  Vivia.  Oh that my blood had double tide, that I
Might die another death for thy salvation!
Up—up, my father!—my own noble father!
It is thyself in me that stands erect;—        180
Claim kindred with thine own.
  Vivius.                    Thou teachest well.
I thank thee for thy counsel,—this the last
That we shall take together. I am up;
But not to claim. Utterly I disclaim
All kindred with thee! Blood thou’rt none of mine.        185
Blood thou hast none in thee; thy heart is stone.
Weakness in me to pray, to weep to it;
Weakness in thee, that thou dost blindly scan
The doom that darkly gathers o’er our house.
E’en now the Fates begin with busy fingers        190
To weave the dusky web shall dimly shroud
Him, the devoted of a mother’s shame!
Where is the hope that I should cherish him,
Poor sickly sapling, ’neath a blasted tree?
All wreck’d, near mad, ’tis like they may decree        195
That I, my brain on fire, my senses gone,
Wild with an agony of memory,
Taking him for my grief, should swing him thus,
And dash the life from out him!
  Vivia.                    Oh for mercy!
  Cæcil.
The trust will hold, although no word was said.
        200
  Vivius.
Thou here? Come, I must have a vow of thee.
Hearken, young sir! Swear by thy mother’s dust—
Or hath this faith made it but rottenness?
Good boy! good boy!—truer unto dead bones
Than others unto living quivering flesh.        205
Yet swear!—that if in after-life you cross
The path of him was yesterday her child—
For he must live in double orphanage,
Unbless’d with e’en the memory of a mother—
Ne’er to make known to him—to him or any,        210
That he did hold communion with her blood.
  Cæcil.  I will not take such oath!
  Vivius.        How!  (seizing him)  Let me feel it
Come up thy throat——Speak! or——
  Vivia.                    Cæcilius, do it.
  Cæcil.  I swear!        215
  Vivius.  ’Tis well. And now, farewell to all—
To thee, who art the corpse of all my hopes—
Unurned, unburied, ever so to be.
O hell! my very words do twist their sense
Like tortuous snakes, to sting me as I speak.        220
Curses on Carthage!—curses on her people!
Would that to-morrow’s crowds might find the earth,
Treacherous as they, give way beneath them all,
And, with one gape of its devouring jaws,
Swallow them quick. ’Twill come, or soon or late,        225
The flame, the sword, and mighty desolation.
The Goth shall trample where your gardens flourish’d
Scattering your children like the weeds they grew.
  Vivia.  O Christ, who wept over Jerusalem!
  Vivius.
Weep thou, and for thine own—no longer thine—
        230
(Of little heed). Let me but have the pow’r
To fix these loosen’d wits, I’ll make of him
One, who would turn thy love into a curse.
Hope quickens with the thought—there’s much to do:
Time narrows in, and I stay here! Away!        235
Thascius shall be a conqueror—shall hew
His path through this thy faith. Thou sacrifice
Hast chosen;—mark me! sacrifice shall be
His very end of life; his highest triumph
Won by the sword; and Fame, with crimson hands,        240
Shall steep in blood the wreath that crowns his brow.
Away! away!                [Exit VIVIUS.
  Vivia.        Cæcilius, follow him!
My hope lives in thee, as thou wert Christ’s angel.
To-morrow, at the last, bring me thy tidings.
  Cæcil.  To-morrow!        245
  Vivia.  Speak not word (nor look) to mar
My trust in thee.                [Exit CÆCILIUS.
My trust, O God, in thee!—            [She kneels.
So sure, I have no words that come as prayer.
Thou who dost all things well, shall I of thee        250
Crave other than thou dost? And, blessed Christ,
’Twas thou who bad’st us visit in their need
The widow and the fatherless, I know
Thou wilt take pity on a childless father.
Thou, the good Shepherd, who didst gently fold        255
Those little ones, with blessing, in thine arms,
Wilt care for him, my tender one—my yearling,
Else all bereft.—One prayer—but one—the last:
That in the final hours of this frail life,
With love and praise triumphant over all,        260
We may show forth thy glory, blessed Lord.  [She rises.
Now to my rest. Not yet—a little while.    [Exit.

END OF SCENE II.
 
 
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