Page images


Herself a while she lays aside, and makes
Ready to personate a mortal part.

Joseph, the king's dead brother's shape, she takes ;
What he by nature was, is she by art,

She comes to th' king, and with her cold hand slakes
His spirits, the sparks of life, and chills his heart,
Life's forge; feigned is her voice, and false too be
Her words: 'Sleep'st thou, fond man? sleep'st thou?'
said she.


'So sleeps a pilot whose poor bark is prest
With many a merciless o'ermastering wave;
For whom (as dead) the wrathful winds contest,
Which of them deep'st shall dig her watery grave.
Why dost thou let thy brave soul lie supprest
In death-like slumbers, while thy dangers crave
A waking eye and hand? look up and see
The Fates ripe, in their great conspiracy.


'Know'st thou not how of th' Hebrew's royal stem
(That old dry stock) a despaired branch is sprung,
A most strange Babe! Who here concealed by them
In a neglected stable lies, among

Beasts and base straw: already is the stream

Quite turn'd th' ingrateful rebels this their young
Master (with voice free as the trump of Fame)
Their new King, and thy Successor proclaim.


'What busy motions, what wild engines stand On tiptoe in their giddy brains! they 've fire Already in their bosoms; and their hand

Already reaches at a sword: they hire Poisons to speed thee; yet through all the Land What one comes to reveal what they conspire? Go now, make much of these; wage still their wars, And bring home on thy breast more thankless scars.


'Why did I spend my life, and spill my blood,

That thy firm hand for ever might sustain
A well-poised sceptre? Does it now seem good
Thy brother's blood be spilt, life spent in vain?
'Gainst thy own sons and brothers thou hast stood
In arms, when lesser cause was to complain :

And now cross Fates a watch about thee keep,
Canst thou be careless now? now canst thou sleep?


'Where art thou, man? what cowardly mistake

Of thy great self hath stolen king Herod from thee?

O, call thyself home to thyself; wake, wake,

And fence the hanging sword Heaven throws upon thee: Redeem a worthy wrath, rouse thee, and shake

Thyself into a shape that may become thee.

Be Herod, and thou shalt not miss from me
Immortal stings to thy great thoughts, and thee.'


So said, her richest snake, which to her wrist
For a beseeming bracelet she had tied
(A special worm it was as ever kissed

The foamy lips of Cerberus), she applied

To the king's heart; the snake no sooner hissed

But Virtue heard it, and away she hied.

Dire flames diffuse themselves through every vein ;
This done, home to her Hell she hied amain.


He wakes, and with him (ne'er to sleep) new fears:
His sweat-bedewèd bed hath now betrayed him

To a vast field of thorns; ten thousand spears

All pointed in his heart seemed to invade him :

So mighty were th' amazing characters

With which his feeling dream had thus dismayed him, He his own fancy-framèd foes defies:

In rage, 'My arms, give me my arms,' he cries.


As when a pile of food-preparing fire

The breath of artificial lungs embraves, The cauldron-prisoned waters straight conspire, And beat the hot brass with rebellious waves; He murmurs, and rebukes their bold desire; Th' impatient liquor frets, and foams, and raves, Till his o'erflowing pride suppress the flame, Whence all his high spirits and hot courage came.


So boils the firèd Herod's blood-swollen breast,
Not to be slaked but by a sea of blood.
His faithless crown he feels loose on his crest,

Which on false tyrant's head ne'er firmly stood.
The worm of jealous envy and unrest,

To which his gnawed heart is the growing food,
Makes him impatient of the lingering light,
Hate the sweet peace of all-composing Night.

A thousand prophecies, that talk strange things,
Had sown of old these doubts in his deep breast;
And now of late came tributary kings,

Bringing him nothing but new fears from th' East,
More deep suspicions, and more deadly stings,

With which his feverous cares their cold increased; And now his dream (Hell's firebrand), still more bright,

Showed him his fears, and killed him with the sight.

No sooner therefore shall the Morning see
(Night hangs yet heavy on the lids of Day),
But all the counsellors must summoned be
To meet their troubled lord: without delay
Heralds and messengers immediately

Are sent about, who posting every way

To th' heads and officers of every band,

Declare who sends, and what is his command.


Why art thou troubled, Herod? what vain fear

Thy blood-revolving breast to rage doth move?
Heaven's King, Who doffs Himself weak flesh to wear,
Comes not to rule in wrath, but serve in love:
Nor would He this thy feared crown from thee tear,
But give thee a better with Himself above.

Poor jealousy! why should He wish to prey
Upon thy crown, Who gives His own away?


Make to thy reason, man, and mock thy doubts;
Look how below thy fears their causes are;
Thou art a soldier, Herod; send thy scouts,
See how He's furnished for so feared a war.
What armour does He wear? a few thin clouts.
His trumpets? tender cries.
So much? rude shepherds.
Poor beasts! a slow ox and

His men, to dare

What His steeds? alas! a simple ass.


[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »