Act V

Scene II

Alfred Tennyson

A Room in Canterbury Monastery.


York said so?

                  Yes: a man may take good counsel
Ev’n from his foe.

                        York will say anything.
What is he saying now? gone to the King
And taken our anathema with him. York!
Can the King de-anathematise this York?

Thomas, I would thou hadst return’d to England,
Like some wise prince of this world from his wars,
With more of olive-branch and amnesty
For foes at home—thou hast raised the world against thee.

Why, John, my kingdom is not of this world.

If it were more of this world it might be
More of the next. A policy of wise pardon
Wins here as well as there. To bless thine enemies——

Ay, mine, not Heaven’s.

                                    And may there not be something
Of this world’s leaven in thee too, when crying
On Holy Church to thunder out her rights
And thine own wrong so pitilessly. Ah, Thomas,
The lightnings that we think are only Heaven’s
Flash sometimes out of earth against the heavens.
The soldier, when he lets his whole self go
Lost in the common good, the common wrong,
Strikes truest ev’n for his own self. I crave
Thy pardon—I have still thy leave to speak.
Thou hast waged God’s war against the King; and yet
We are self-uncertain creatures, and we may,
Yea, even when we know not, mix our spites
And private hates with our defence of Heaven.


Thou art but yesterday from Cambridge, Grim;
What say ye there of Becket?

                                          I believe him
The bravest in our roll of Primates down
From Austin—there are some—for there are men
Of canker’d judgment everywhere——

                                                Who hold
With York, with York against me.

                                                Well, my lord,
A stranger monk desires access to you.

York against Canterbury, York against God!
I am open to him.

[Exit Grim.

Enter ROSAMUND as a Monk.

                        Can I speak with you
Alone, my father?

                        Come you to confess?

Not now.

            Then speak; this is my other self,
Who like my conscience never lets me be.

    ROSAMUND (throwing back the cowl).
I know him; our good John of Salisbury.

Breaking already from thy noviciate
To plunge into this bitter world again—
These wells of Marah. I am grieved, my daughter.
I thought that I had made a peace for thee.

Small peace was mine in my noviciate, father.
Thro’ all closed doors a dreadful whisper crept
That thou wouldst excommunicate the King.
I could not eat, sleep, pray: I had with me
The monk’s disguise thou gavest me for my bower:
I think our Abbess knew it and allow’d it.
I fled, and found thy name a charm to get me
Food, roof, and rest. I met a robber once,
I told him I was bound to see the Archbishop;
‘Pass on,’ he said, and in thy name I pass’d
From house to house. In one a son stone-blind
Sat by his mother’s hearth: he had gone too far
Into the King’s own woods; and the poor mother,
Soon as she learnt I was a friend of thine,
Cried out against the cruelty of the King.
I said it was the King’s courts, not the King;
But she would not believe me, and she wish’d
The Church were king: she had seen the Archbishop once,
So mild, so kind. The people love thee, father.

Alas! when I was Chancellor to the King,
I fear I was as cruel as the King.

Cruel? Oh, no—it is the law, not he;
The customs of the realm.

                                    The customs! customs!

My lord, you have not excommunicated him?
Oh, if you have, absolve him!

                                          Daughter, daughter,
Deal not with things you know not.

                                                I know him.
Then you have done it, and I call you cruel.

No, daughter, you mistake our good Archbishop;
For once in France the King had been so harsh,
He thought to excommunicate him—Thomas,
You could not—old affection master’d you,
You falter’d into tears.

                                    God bless him for it.

Nay, make me not a woman, John of Salisbury,
Nor make me traitor to my holy office.
Did not a man’s voice ring along the aisle,
‘The King is sick and almost unto death.’
How could I excommunicate him then?

And wilt thou excommunicate him now?

Daughter, my time is short, I shall not do it.
And were it longer—well—I should not do it.

Thanks in this life, and in the life to come.

Get thee back to thy nunnery with all haste;
Let this be thy last trespass. But one question—
How fares thy pretty boy, the little Geoffrey?
No fever, cough, croup, sickness?

                                                No, but saved
From all that by our solitude. The plagues
That smite the city spare the solitudes.

God save him from all sickness of the soul!
Thee too, thy solitude among thy nuns,
May that save thee! Doth he remember me?

I warrant him.

                  He is marvellously like thee.

Liker the King.

                        No, daughter.

                                          Ay, but wait
Till his nose rises; he will be very king.

Ev’n so: but think not of the King: farewell!

My lord, the city is full of armed men.

Ev’n so: farewell!

                        I will but pass to vespers,
And breathe one prayer for my liege-lord the King,
His child and mine own soul, and so return.

Pray for me too: much need of prayer have I.

[Rosamund kneels and goes.
Dan John, how much we lose, we celibates,
Lacking the love of woman and of child.

More gain than loss; for of your wives you shall
Find one a slut whose fairest linen seems
Foul as her dust-cloth, if she used it—one
So charged with tongue, that every thread of thought
Is broken ere it joins—a shrew to boot,
Whose evil song far on into the night
Thrills to the topmost tile—no hope but death;
One slow, fat, white, a burthen of the hearth;
And one that being thwarted ever swoons
And weeps herself into the place of power;
And one an uxor pauperis Ibyci.
So rare the household honey-making bee,
Man’s help! but we, we have the Blessed Virgin
For worship, and our Mother Church for bride;
And all the souls we saved and father’d here
Will greet us as our babes in Paradise.
What noise was that? she told us of arm’d men
Here in the city. Will you not withdraw?

I once was out with Henry in the days
When Henry loved me, and we came upon
A wild-fowl sitting on her nest, so still
I reach’d my hand and touch’d; she did not stir;
The snow had frozen round her, and she sat
Stone-dead upon a heap of ice-cold eggs.
Look! how this love, this mother, runs thro’ all
The world God made—even the beast—the bird!

Ay, still a lover of the beast and bird?
But these arm’d men—will you not hide yourself?
Perchance the fierce De Brocs from Saltwood Castle,
To assail our Holy Mother lest she brood
Too long o’er this hard egg, the world, and send
Her whole heart’s heat into it, till it break
Into young angels. Pray you, hide yourself.

There was a little fair-hair’d Norman maid
Lived in my mother’s house: if Rosamund is
The world’s rose, as her name imports her—she
Was the world’s lily.

                              Ay, and what of her?

She died of leprosy.

                              I know not why
You call these old things back again, my lord.

The drowning man, they say, remembers all
The chances of his life, just ere he dies.

Ay—but these arm’d men—will you drown yourself?
He loses half the meed of martyrdom
Who will be martyr when he might escape.

What day of the week? Tuesday?

                                          Tuesday, my lord,

On a Tuesday was I born, and on a Tuesday
Baptized; and on a Tuesday did I fly
Forth from Northampton; on a Tuesday pass’d
From England into bitter banishment;
On a Tuesday at Pontigny came to me
The ghostly warning of my martyrdom;
On a Tuesday from mine exile I return’d,
And on a Tuesday——

[TRACY enters, then FITZURSE, DE BRITO, and DE MORVILLE. MONKS following.
                        —on a Tuesday——        Tracy!

    A long silence, broken by FITZURSE saying, contemptuously,
God help thee!

    JOHN OF SALISBURY (aside).
                  How the good Archbishop reddens!
He never yet could brook the note of scorn.

My lord, we bring a message from the King
Beyond the water; will you have it alone,
Or with these listeners near you?

                                                As you will.

Nay, as you will.

                              Nay, as you will.

                                                                                    Why then
Better perhaps to speak with them apart.
Let us withdraw.

[All go out except the four KNIGHTS and BECKET.

                        We are all alone with him.
Shall I not smite him with his own cross-staff?

No, look! the door is open: let him be.

The King condemns your excommunicating——

This is no secret, but a public matter.
In here again!

                  Now, sirs, the King’s commands!

The King beyond the water, thro’ our voices,
Commands you to be dutiful and leal
To your young King on this side of the water,
Not scorn him for the foibles of his youth.
What! you would make his coronation void
By cursing those who crown’d him. Out upon you!

Reginald, all men know I loved the Prince.
His father gave him to my care, and I
Became his second father: he had his faults,
For which I would have laid mine own life down
To help him from them, since indeed I loved him,
And love him next after my lord his father.
Rather than dim the splendour of his crown
I fain would treble and quadruple it
With revenues, realms, and golden provinces
So that were done in equity.

                                          You have broken
Your bond of peace, your treaty with the King—
Wakening such brawls and loud disturbances
In England, that he calls you oversea
To answer for it in his Norman courts.

Prate not of bonds, for never, oh, never again
Shall the waste voice of the bond-breaking sea
Divide me from the mother church of England,
My Canterbury. Loud disturbances!
Oh, ay—the bells rang out even to deafening,
Organ and pipe, and dulcimer, chants and hymns
In all the churches, trumpets in the halls,
Sobs, laughter, cries: they spread their raiment down
Before me—would have made my pathway flowers,
Save that it was mid-winter in the street,
But full mid-summer in those honest hearts.

The King commands you to absolve the bishops
Whom you have excommunicated.

Not I, the Pope. Ask him for absolution.

But you advised the Pope.

                                    And so I did.
They have but to submit.

                                    The King commands you.
We are all King’s men.

                              King’s men at least should know
That their own King closed with me last July
That I should pass the censures of the Church
On those that crown’d young Henry in this realm,
And trampled on the rights of Canterbury.

What! dare you charge the King with treachery?
He sanction thee to excommunicate
The prelates whom he chose to crown his son!

I spake no word of treachery, Reginald.
But for the truth of this I make appeal
To all the archbishops, bishops, prelates, barons,
Monks, knights, five hundred, that were there and heard.
Nay, you yourself were there: you heard yourself.

I was not there.

                        I saw you there.

                                                I was not.

You were. I never forget anything.

He makes the King a traitor, me a liar.
How long shall we forbear him?

    JOHN OF SALISBURY (drawing BECKET aside).
                                          O my good lord.
Speak with them privately on this hereafter.
You see they have been revelling, and I fear
Are braced and brazen’d up with Christmas wines
For any murderous brawl.

                                    And yet they prate
Of mine, my brawls, when those, that name themselves
Of the King’s part, have broken down our barns,
Wasted our diocese, outraged our tenants,
Lifted our produce, driven our clerics out—
Why they, your friends, those ruffians, the De Brocs,
They stood on Dover beach to murder me,
They slew my stags in mine own manor here,
Mutilated, poor brute, my sumpter-mule,
Plunder’d the vessel full of Gascon wine,
The old King’s present, carried off the casks,
Kill’d half the crew, dungeon’d the other half
In Pevensey Castle——

                              Why not rather then,
If this be so, complain to your young King,
Not punish of your own authority?

Mine enemies barr’d all access to the boy.
They knew he loved me.
Hugh, Hugh, how proudly you exalt your head!
Nay, when they seek to overturn our rights,
I ask no leave of king, or mortal man,
To set them straight again. Alone I do it.
Give to the King the things that are the King’s,
And those of God to God.

                                    Threats! threats! ye hear him.
What! will he excommunicate all the world?

[The KNIGHTS come round BECKET.

He shall not.

                  Well, as yet—I should be grateful—
He hath not excommunicated me.

Because thou wast born excommunicate.
I never spied in thee one gleam of grace.

Your Christian’s Christian charity!

                                                      By St. Denis——

Ay, by St. Denis, now will he flame out,
And lose his head as old St. Denis did.

Ye think to scare me from my loyalty
To God and to the Holy Father. No!
Tho’ all the swords in England flash’d above me
Ready to fall at Henry’s word or yours—
Tho’ all the loud-lung’d trumpets upon earth
Blared from the heights of all the thrones of her kings,
Blowing the world against me, I would stand
Clothed with the full authority of Rome,
Mail’d in the perfect panoply of faith,
First of the foremost of their files, who die
For God, to people heaven in the great day
When God makes up his jewels. Once I fled—
Never again, and you—I marvel at you—
Ye know what is between us. Ye have sworn
Yourselves my men when I was Chancellor—
My vassals—and yet threaten your Archbishop
In his own house.

                        Nothing can be between us
That goes against our fealty to the King.

And in his name we charge you that ye keep
This traitor from escaping.

                                          Rest you easy,
For I am easy to keep. I shall not fly.
Here, here, here will you find me.

                                                Know you not
You have spoken to the peril of your life?

As I shall speak again.

                                    To arms!

[They rush out, DE MORVILLE lingers.

                                                De Morville,
I had thought so well of you; and even now
You seem the least assassin of the four.
Oh, do not damn yourself for company!
Is it too late for me to save your soul?
I pray you for one moment stay and speak.

Becket, it is too late.


                                    Is it too late?
Too late on earth may be too soon in hell.

    KNIGHTS (in the distance).
Close the great gate—ho, there—upon the town.

Shut the hall-doors.

[A pause.

                              You hear them, brother John;
Why do you stand so silent, brother John?

For I was musing on an ancient saw,
Suaviter in modo, fortiter in re,
Is strength less strong when hand-in-hand with grace?
Gratior in pulchro corpore virtus. Thomas,
Why should you heat yourself for such as these?

Methought I answer’d moderately enough.

As one that blows the coal to cool the fire.
My lord, I marvel why you never lean
On any man’s advising but your own.

Is it so, Dan John? well, what should I have done?

You should have taken counsel with your friends
Before these bandits brake into your presence.
They seek—you make—occasion for your death.

My counsel is already taken, John.
I am prepared to die.

                              We are sinners all,
The best of all not all-prepared to die.

God’s will be done!

                              Ay, well. God’s will be done!

    GRIM (re-entering).
My lord, the knights are arming in the garden
Beneath the sycamore.

                              Good! let them arm.

And one of the De Brocs is with them, Robert,
The apostate monk that was with Randulf here.
He knows the twists and turnings of the place.

No fear!

            No fear, my lord.

[Crashes on the hall-doors. The Monks flee.

    BECKET (rising).
                                    Our dovecote flown!
I cannot tell why monks should all be cowards.

Take refuge in your own cathedral, Thomas.

Do they not fight the Great Fiend day by day?
Valour and holy life should go together.
Why should all monks be cowards?

                                                Are they so?
I say, take refuge in your own cathedral.

Ay, but I told them I would wait them here.

May they not say you dared not show yourself
In your old place? and vespers are beginning.

[Bell rings for vespers till end of scene.
You should attend the office, give them heart.
They fear you slain: they dread they know not what.

Ay, monks, not men.

                              I am a monk, my lord,
Perhaps, my lord, you wrong us.
Some would stand by you to the death.

                                                      Your pardon.

He said, ‘Attend the office.’

                                          Attend the office?
Why then—The Cross!—who bears my Cross before me?
Methought they would have brain’d me with it, John.

[GRIM takes it.

I! Would that I could bear thy cross indeed!

The Mitre!

            Will you wear it?—there!

[BECKET puts on the mitre.

                                                      The Pall!
I go to meet my King!

[Puts on the pall.

                              To meet the King?

[Crashes on the doors as they go out.

Why do you move with such a stateliness?
Can you not hear them yonder like a storm,
Battering the doors, and breaking thro’ the walls?

Why do the heathen rage? My two good friends,
What matters murder’d here, or murder’d there?
And yet my dream foretold my martyrdom
In mine own church. It is God’s will. Go on.
Nay, drag me not. We must not seem to fly.

Becket - Contents    |     Act V - Scene III

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