Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. V. Browning to Rupert Brooke
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. V. Browning to Rupert Brooke
 
Beatrice Cenci
By Stephen Phillips (1868–1915)
 
WHO stealeth from the turret-stair
In raiment white with streaming hair?
The moon is hid, the stars are pale,
The night-wind hath forgot to wail.
Like to a priestess seemeth she        5
Addressed to some dread ministry.
What solemn sacrifice or rite
Comes she to celebrate this night?
A deed of Hell, and yet of Heaven,
Into these slender hands is given;        10
Blood must she spill, but evil blood,
As evil as hath ever flowed.
Now enters she the moonlit room;
She sees a bed bright in the gloom,
Whereon an old man slumbers deep;        15
Ah, God, how well the wicked sleep!
But a faint breathing all she hears,
As silently the couch she nears.
Now the bright dagger at her breast
She plucks from out her maiden vest.        20
Why hesitates she? and a space
Uncertain stands above that face?
Is it some memory of youth,
That brings upon her heart this ruth?
Some far-off picture that she sees,        25
When she was dandled on his knees?
Is it the hair, so utter white,
Hair that should seem a holy sight?
Then the red shame leaps to her heart
And furious thoughts again upstart.        30
O’er him she leans; no eyelid he
Stirs as tho’ warned of destiny.
 
What cry was that? A single cry,
That pierced the palace to the sky?
And then came down a silence deep,        35
Yet had each sleeper leapt from sleep,
And wandering lights and hurrying feet,
Hither and thither shadows fleet.
But she in silence pure and clean
Passed to her chamber all unseen.        40
 
 
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