Isabella Valancy Crawford

Caesar's Wife

NAY! swear no more, thou woman whom I called
Star, Empress, Wife!  Were Dian's self to lean
From her white altar and with goddess lip
Swear thee as pure as her pale breast divine,
I could not deem thee purer than I know
Thou art indeed.

                Once, when my triumphs rolled
Along old Rome and blood of roses washed
The battle-stains from off my chariot-wheels,
And triumph's thunders round my legions roared,
And kings in kingly bondage golden bound
Shook at my charger's foot, past the hot din
Of Victory—whose heart of golden pride in wound
Most subtly through with fire of subtlest pain—
My soul on prouder pinion rose above
The Roman shouting, to an air more clear
Than that Jove darks with hurtling thunderbolts,
Or stains with Jovian revels—that separate sphere,
Unshared of gods or man, where thy white feet
Caught their sole staining from my ruddy heart,
Blazing beneath them; where, when Rome looked up,
'Twas with the eyes close shaded with the hand,
As at some glory terrible and pure,—
For no man being pure, a terror dwells
Holy and awful in a sinless thing—
And Caesar's wife, the Empress-Matron, sat
Above a doubt—as high above a stain.

Nay! how know I what hell first belched abroad
Tall flames and slanderous vomitings of smoke,
Blown by infernal breathings, till they scaled
Thy throne of whiteness, and the very slaves
Who crouched in Roman kennels wagged the tongue
Against the wife of Caesar: "Ha! we need not now
And opal-shaded stone wherewith to view
A stainless glory."  In that day my neck
Was bound and yoked with my twin-Caesar's yoke—
Man's master, Sorrow.

                 I know thee pure—
But Caesar's wife must throne herself so high
Upon the hills that touch their snowy crests
So close on Heaven that no slanderous Hell
Can dash its lava up their swelling sides.
I love thee, woman, know thee pure, but thou
No more art wife of Caesar.  Get thee hence!
My heart is hardened as a lonely crag,
Grey granite lifted to a greyer sky,
And where against its solitary crown
Eternal thunders bellow.

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