Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. IX. Tragedy: Humor
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume IX. Tragedy: Humor.  1904.
 
Poems of Tragedy: II. Rome
Lucius Junius Brutus over the Body of Lucretia
John Howard Payne (1791–1852)
 
From “Brutus”

WOULD you know why I summoned you together?
Ask ye what brings me here? Behold this dagger,
Clotted with gore! Behold that frozen corse!
See where the lost Lucretia sleeps in death!
She was the mark and model of the time,        5
The mould in which each female face was formed,
The very shrine and sacristy of virtue!
Fairer than ever was a form created
By youthful fancy when the blood strays wild,
And never-resting thought is all on fire!        10
The worthiest of the worthy! Not the nymph
Who met old Numa in his hallowed walks,
And whispered in his ear her strains divine,
Can I conceive beyond her;—the young choir
Of vestal virgins bent to her. ’T is wonderful        15
Amid the darnel, hemlock, and base weeds,
Which now spring rife from the luxurious compost
Spread o’er the realm, how this sweet lily rose,—
How from the shade of those ill-neighboring plants
Her father sheltered her, that not a leaf        20
Was blighted, but, arrayed in purest grace,
She bloomed unsullied beauty. Such perfections
Might have called back the torpid breast of age
To long-forgotten rapture; such a mind
Might have abashed the boldest libertine        25
And turned desire to reverential love
And holiest affection! O my countrymen!
You all can witness when that she went forth
It was a holiday in Rome; old age
Forgot its crutch, labor its task,—all ran,        30
And mothers, turning to their daughters, cried,
“There, there ’s Lucretia!” Now look ye where she lies!
That beauteous flower, that innocent sweet rose,
Torn up by ruthless violence,—gone! gone! gone!
  Say, would you seek instruction? would ye ask        35
What ye should do? Ask ye yon conscious walls,
Which saw his poisoned brother,—
Ask yon deserted street, where Tullia drove
O’er her dead father’s corse, ’t will cry, Revenge!
Ask yonder senate-house, whose stones are purple        40
With human blood, and it will cry, Revenge!
Go to the tomb where lies his murdered wife,
And the poor queen, who loved him as her son,
Their unappeasèd ghosts will shriek, Revenge!
The temples of the gods, the all-viewing heavens,        45
The gods themselves, shall justify the cry,
And swell the general sound, Revenge! Revenge!
  And we will be revenged, my countrymen!
Brutus shall lead you on; Brutus, a name
Which will, when you ’re revenged, be dearer to him        50
Than all the noblest titles earth can boast.
  Brutus your king!—No, fellow-citizens!
If mad ambition in this guilty frame
Had strung one kingly fibre, yea, but one,—
By all the gods, this dagger which I hold        55
Should rip it out, though it intwined my heart.
  Now take the body up. Bear it before us
To Tarquin’s palace; there we ’ll light our torches,
And in the blazing conflagration rear
A pile, for these chaste relics, that shall send        60
Her soul amongst the stars. On! Brutus leads you!
 
 
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