Harold: A Drama

Act I

Scene I

Alfred Tennyson

London. The King’s Palace.

(A comet seen through the open window.)

ALDWYTH, GAMEL, COURTIERS talking together.

Lo! there once more—this is the seventh night!
Yon grimly-glaring, treble-brandish’d scourge
Of England!


Look you, there’s a star
That dances in it as mad with agony!

Ay, like a spirit in Hell who skips and flies
To right and left, and cannot scape the flame.

Steam’d upward from the undescendable

Or floated downward from the throne
Of God Almighty.

                Gamel, son of Orm,
What thinkest thou this means?

                        War, my dear lady!

Doth this affright thee?

                        Mightily, my dear lady!

Stand by me then, and look upon my face,
Not on the comet.

                        Brother! why so pale?

It glares in heaven, it flares upon the Thames,
The people are as thick as bees below,
They hum like bees,—they cannot speak—for awe;
Look to the skies, then to the river, strike
Their hearts, and hold their babies up to it.
I think that they would Molochize them too,
To have the heavens clear.

They fright not me.

Enter LEOFWIN, after him GURTH.
Ask thou Lord Leofwin what he thinks of this!

Lord Leofwin, dost thou believe, that these
Three rods of blood-red fire up yonder mean
The doom of England and the wrath of Heaven?

    BISHOP OF LONDON (passing).
Did ye not cast with bestial violence
Our holy Norman bishops down from all
Their thrones in England? I alone remain.
Why should not Heaven be wroth?

                        With us, or thee?

Did ye not outlaw your archbishop Robert,
Robert of Jumiéges—well-nigh murder him too?
Is there no reason for the wrath of Heaven?

Why then the wrath of Heaven hath three tails,
The devil only one.

[Exit Bishop of London.
Ask our Archbishop.
Stigand should know the purposes of Heaven.

Not I. I cannot read the face of heaven;
Perhaps our vines will grow the better for it.

    LEOFWIN (laughing).
He can but read the king’s face on his coins.

Ay, ay, young lord, there the king’s face is power.

O father, mock not at a public fear,
But tell us, is this pendent hell in heaven
A harm to England?

                Ask it of King Edward!
And he may tell thee, I am a harm to England.
Old uncanonical Stigand—ask of me
Who had my pallium from an Antipope!
Not he the man—for in our windy world
What’s up is faith, what’s down is heresy.
Our friends, the Normans, holp to shake his chair.
I have a Norman fever on me, son,
And cannot answer sanely. . . . What it means?
Ask our broad Earl.

[Pointing to HAROLD, who enters.

    HAROLD (seeing GAMEL).
                                Hail, Gamel, son of Orm!
Albeit no rolling stone, my good friend Gamel,
Thou hast rounded since we met. Thy life at home
Is easier than mine here. Look! am I not
Work-wan, flesh-fallen?

                        Art thou sick, good Earl?

Sick as an autumn swallow for a voyage,
Sick for an idle week of hawk and hound
Beyond the seas—a change! When camest thou hither?

To-day, good Earl.

                        Is the North quiet, Gamel?

Nay, there be murmurs, for thy brother breaks us
With over-taxing—quiet, ay, as yet—
Nothing as yet.

                Stand by him, mine old friend,
Thou art a great voice in Northumberland!
Advise him: speak him sweetly, he will hear thee.
He is passionate but honest. Stand thou by him!
More talk of this to-morrow, if yon weird sign
Not blast us in our dreams.—Well, father Stigand—

[To STIGAND, who advances to him.

    STIGAND (pointing to the comet).
War there, my son? is that the doom of England?

Why not the doom of all the world as well?
For all the world sees it as well as England.
These meteors came and went before our day,
Not harming any: it threatens us no more
Than French or Norman. War? the worst that follows
Things that seem jerk’d out of the common rut
Of Nature is the hot religious fool,
Who, seeing war in heaven, for heaven’s credit
Makes it on earth: but look, where Edward draws
A faint foot hither, leaning upon Tostig.
He hath learnt to love our Tostig much of late.

And he hath learnt, despite the tiger in him,
To sleek and supple himself to the king’s hand.

I trust the kingly touch that cures the evil
May serve to charm the tiger out of him.

He hath as much of cat as tiger in him.
Our Tostig loves the hand and not the man.

Nay! Better die than lie!


                        In heaven signs!
Signs upon earth! signs everywhere! your Priests
Gross, worldly, simoniacal, unlearn’d!
They scarce can read their Psalter; and your churches
Uncouth, unhandsome, while in Normanland
God speaks thro’ abler voices, as He dwells
In statelier shrines. I say not this, as being
Half Norman-blooded, nor as some have held,
Because I love the Norman better—no,
But dreading God’s revenge upon this realm
For narrowness and coldness: and I say it
For the last time perchance, before I go
To find the sweet refreshment of the Saints.
I have lived a life of utter purity:
I have builded the great church of Holy Peter:
I have wrought miracles—to God the glory—
And miracles will in my name be wrought
Hereafter.—I have fought the fight and go—
I see the flashing of the gates of pearl—
And it is well with me, tho’ some of you
Have scorn’d me—ay—but after I am gone
Woe, woe to England! I have had a vision;
The seven sleepers in the cave at Ephesus
Have turn’d from right to left.

                                My most dear Master,
What matters? let them turn from left to right
And sleep again.

                Too hardy with thy king!
A life of prayer and fasting well may see
Deeper into the mysteries of heaven
Than thou, good brother.

    ALDWYTH (aside).
                Sees he into thine,
That thou wouldst have his promise for the crown?

Tostig says true; my son, thou art too hard,
Not stagger’d by this ominous earth and heaven:
But heaven and earth are threads of the same loom,
Play into one another, and weave the web
That may confound thee yet.

                        Nay, I trust not,
For I have served thee long and honestly.

I know it, son; I am not thankless: thou
Hast broken all my foes, lighten’d for me
The weight of this poor crown, and left me time
And peace for prayer to gain a better one.
Twelve years of service! England loves thee for it.
Thou art the man to rule her!

    ALDWYTH (aside).
                So, not Tostig!

And after those twelve years a boon, my king,
Respite, a holiday: thyself wast wont
To love the chase: thy leave to set my feet
On board, and hunt and hawk beyond the seas!

What, with this flaming horror overhead?

Well, when it passes then.

                                Ay if it pass.
Go not to Normandy—go not to Normandy.

And wherefore not, my king, to Normandy?
Is not my brother Wulfnoth hostage there
For my dead father’s loyalty to thee?
I pray thee, let me hence and bring him home.

Not thee, my son: some other messenger.

And why not me, my lord, to Normandy?
Is not the Norman Count thy friend and mine?

I pray thee, do not go to Normandy.

Because my father drove the Normans out
Of England?—That was many a summer gone—
Forgotten and forgiven by them and thee.

Harold, I will not yield thee leave to go.

Why then to Flanders. I will hawk and hunt
In Flanders.

                Be there not fair woods and fields
In England? Wilful, wilful. Go—the Saints
Pilot and prosper all thy wandering out
And homeward. Tostig, I am faint again.
Son Harold, I will in and pray for thee.

[Exit, leaning on Tostig, and followed by Stigand, Morcar, and Courtiers.

What lies upon the mind of our good king
That he should harp this way on Normandy?

Brother, the king is wiser than he seems;
And Tostig knows it; Tostig loves the king.

And love should know; and—be the king so wise,—
Then Tostig too were wiser than he seems.
I love the man but not his phantasies.

Re-enter TOSTIG.
Well, brother,
When didst thou hear from thy Northumbria?

When did I hear aught but this ‘When’ from thee?
Leave me alone, brother, with my Northumbria:
She is my mistress, let me look to her!
The King hath made me Earl; make me not fool!
Nor make the King a fool, who made me Earl!

No, Tostig—lest I make myself a fool
Who made the King who made thee, make thee Earl.

Why chafe me then? Thou knowest I soon go wild.

Come, come! as yet thou art not gone so wild
But thou canst hear the best and wisest of us.

So says old Gurth, not I: yet hear! thine earldom,
Tostig, hath been a kingdom. Their old crown
Is yet a force among them, a sun set
But leaving light enough for Alfgar’s house
To strike thee down by—nay, this ghastly glare
May heat their fancies.

                        My most worthy brother,
Thou art the quietest man in all the world—
Ay, ay and wise in peace and great in war—
Pray God the people choose thee for their king!
But all the powers of the house of Godwin
Are not enframed in thee.

                        Thank the Saints, no!
But thou hast drain’d them shallow by thy tolls,
And thou art ever here about the King:
Thine absence well may seem a want of care.
Cling to their love; for, now the sons of Godwin
Sit topmost in the field of England, envy,
Like the rough bear beneath the tree, good brother,
Waits till the man let go.

                        Good counsel truly!
I heard from my Northumbria yesterday.

How goes it then with thy Northumbria? Well?

And wouldst thou that it went aught else than well?

I would it went as well as with mine earldom,
Leofwin’s and Gurth’s.

                        Ye govern milder men.

We have made them milder by just government.

Ay, ever give yourselves your own good word.

An honest gift, by all the Saints, if giver
And taker be but honest! but they bribe
Each other, and so often, an honest world
Will not believe them.

                        I may tell thee, Tostig,
I heard from thy Northumberland to-day.

From spies of thine to spy my nakedness
In my poor North!

                There is a movement there,
A blind one—nothing yet.

                        Crush it at once
With all the power I have!—I must—I will!—
Crush it half-born! Fool still? or wisdom there,
My wise head-shaking Harold?

                                Make not thou
The nothing something. Wisdom when in power
And wisest, should not frown as Power, but smile
As kindness, watching all, till the true must
Shall make her strike as Power: but when to strike—
O Tostig, O dear brother—If they prance,
Rein in, not lash them, lest they rear and run
And break both neck and axle.

                                Good again!
Good counsel tho’ scarce needed. Pour not water
In the full vessel running out at top
To swamp the house.

                Nor thou be a wild thing
Out of the waste, to turn and bite the hand
Would help thee from the trap.

                                Thou playest in tune.

To the deaf adder thee, that wilt not dance
However wisely charm’d.

                        No more, no more!

I likewise cry ‘no more.’ Unwholesome talk
For Godwin’s house! Leofwin, thou hast a tongue!
Tostig, thou look’st as thou wouldst spring upon him.
St. Olaf, not while I am by! Come, come,
Join hands, let brethren dwell in unity;
Let kith and kin stand close as our shield-wall,
Who breaks us then? I say, thou hast a tongue,
And Tostig is not stout enough to bear it.
Vex him not, Leofwin.

                        No, I am not vext,—
Altho’ ye seek to vex me, one and all.
I have to make report of my good earldom
To the good king who gave it—not to you—
Not any of you.—I am not vext at all.

The king? the king is ever at his prayers;
In all that handles matter of the state
I am the king.

                That shall thou never be
If I can thwart thee.

                        Brother, brother!


[Exit Tostig.

Spite of this grisly star ye three must gall
Poor Tostig.

        Tostig, sister, galls himself;
He cannot smell a rose but pricks his nose
Against the thorn, and rails against the rose.

I am the only rose of all the stock
That never thorn’d him; Edward loves him, so
Ye hate him. Harold always hated him.
Why—how they fought when boys—and, Holy Mary!
How Harold used to beat him!

                        Why, boys will fight.
Leofwin would often fight me, and I beat him.
Even old Gurth would fight. I had much ado
To hold mine own against old Gurth. Old Gurth,
We fought like great states for grave cause; but Tostig—
On a sudden—at a something—for a nothing—
The boy would fist me hard, and when we fought
I conquer’d, and he loved me none the less,
Till thou wouldst get him all apart, and tell him
That where he was but worsted, he was wrong’d.
Ah! thou hast taught the king to spoil him too;
Now the spoilt child sways both. Take heed, take heed;
Thou art the Queen; ye are boy and girl no more:
Side not with Tostig in any violence,
Lest thou be sideways guilty of the violence.

Come fall not foul on me. I leave thee, brother.

Nay, my good sister—

[Exeunt Queen, Harold, Gurth, and Leofwin.

                        Gamel, son of Orm,
What thinkest thou this means?        [Pointing to the comet.

                        War, my dear lady,
War, waste, plague, famine, all malignities.

It means the fall of Tostig from his earldom.

That were too small a matter for a comet!

It means the lifting of the house of Alfgar.

Too small! a comet would not show for that!

Not small for thee, if thou canst compass it.

Thy love?

As much as I can give thee, man;
This Tostig is, or like to be, a tyrant;
Stir up thy people: oust him!

                        And thy love?

As much as thou canst bear.

                                I can bear all,
And not be giddy.

                No more now: to-morrow.

Harold: A Drama - Contents     |     Act I - Scene II

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