Harold: A Drama


Scene I

Alfred Tennyson

The King’s Palace. London.


Sleeping or dying there? If this be death,
Then our great Council wait to crown thee King—
Come hither, I have a power;        [To HAROLD.
They call me near, for I am close to thee
And England—I, old shrivell’d Stigand, I,
Dry as an old wood-fungus on a dead tree,
I have a power!
See here this little key about my neck!
There lies a treasure buried down in Ely:
If e’er the Norman grow too hard for thee,
Ask me for this at thy most need, son Harold,
At thy most need—not sooner.

                        So I will.

Red gold—a hundred purses—yea, and more!
If thou canst make a wholesome use of these
To chink against the Norman, I do believe
My old crook’d spine would bud out two young wings
To fly to heaven straight with.

                        Thank thee, father!
Thou art English, Edward too is English now,
He hath clean repented of his Normanism.

Ay, as the libertine repents who cannot
Make done undone, when thro’ his dying sense
Shrills ‘lost thro’ thee.’ They have built their castles here;
Our priories are Norman; the Norman adder
Hath bitten us; we are poison’d: our dear England
Is demi-Norman. He!—

[Pointing to KING EDWARD, sleeping.

                I would I were
As holy and as passionless as he!
That I might rest as calmly! Look at him—
The rosy face, and long down-silvering beard,
The brows unwrinkled as a summer mere.—

A summer mere with sudden wreckful gusts
From a side-gorge. Passionless? How he flamed
When Tostig’s anger’d earldom flung him, nay,
He fain had calcined all Northumbria
To one black ash, but that thy patriot passion
Siding with our great Council against Tostig,
Out-passion’d his! Holy? ay, ay, forsooth,
A conscience for his own soul, not his realm;
A twilight conscience lighted thro’ a chink;
Thine by the sun; nay, by some sun to be,
When all the world hath learnt to speak the truth,
And lying were self-murder by that state
Which was the exception.

                That sun may God speed!

Come, Harold, shake the cloud off!

                                Can I, father?
Our Tostig parted cursing me and England;
Our sister hates us for his banishment;
He hath gone to kindle Norway against England,
And Wulfnoth is alone in Normandy.
For when I rode with William down to Harfleur,
‘Wulfnoth is sick,’ he said; ‘he cannot follow;’
Then with that friendly-fiendly smile of his,
‘We have learnt to love him, let him a little longer
Remain a hostage for the loyalty
Of Godwin’s house.’ As far as touches Wulfnoth
I that so prized plain word and naked truth
Have sinn’d against it—all in vain.

                                Good brother,
By all the truths that ever priest hath preach’d,
Of all the lies that ever men have lied,
Thine is the pardonablest.

                        May be so!
I think it so, I think I am a fool
To think it can be otherwise than so.

Tut, tut, I have absolved thee: dost thou scorn me,
Because I had my Canterbury pallium,
From one whom they dispoped?

                        No, Stigand, no!

Is naked truth actable in true life?
I have heard a saying of thy father Godwin,
That, were a man of state nakedly true,
Men would but take him for the craftier liar.

Be men less delicate than the Devil himself?
I thought that naked Truth would shame the Devil,
The Devil is so modest.

                He never said it!

Be thou not stupid-honest, brother Gurth!

Better to be a liar’s dog, and hold
My master honest, than believe that lying
And ruling men are fatal twins that cannot
Move one without the other. Edward wakes!—
Dazed—he hath seen a vision.

                        The green tree!
Then a great Angel past along the highest
Crying ‘the doom of England,’ and at once
He stood beside me, in his grasp a sword
Of lightnings, wherewithal he cleft the tree
From off the bearing trunk, and hurl’d it from him
Three fields away, and then he dash’d and drench’d,
He dyed, he soak’d the trunk with human blood,
And brought the sunder’d tree again, and set it
Straight on the trunk, that thus baptized in blood
Grew ever high and higher, beyond my seeing,
And shot out sidelong boughs across the deep
That dropt themselves, and rooted in far isles
Beyond my seeing: and the great Angel rose
And past again along the highest crying
‘The doom of England!’—Tostig, raise my head!

[Falls back senseless.

    HAROLD (raising him).
Let Harold serve for Tostig!

                        Harold served
Tostig so ill, he cannot serve for Tostig!
Ay, raise his head, for thou hast laid it low!
The sickness of our saintly king, for whom
My prayers go up as fast as my tears fall,
I well believe, hath mainly drawn itself
From lack of Tostig—thou hast banish’d him.

Nay—but the council, and the king himself.

Thou hatest him, hatest him.

    HAROLD (coldly).
                                Ay—Stigand, unriddle This vision, canst thou?


    EDWARD (starting up).
                                It is finish’d.
I have built the Lord a house—the Lord hath dwelt
In darkness. I have built the Lord a house—
Palms, flowers, pomegranates, golden cherubim
With twenty-cubit wings from wall to wall—
I have built the Lord a house—sing, Asaph! clash
The cymbal, Heman! blow the trumpet, priest!
Fall, cloud, and fill the house—lo! my two pillars,
Jachin and Boaz!—        [Seeing HAROLD and GURTH.
Harold, Gurth,—where am I?
Where is the charter of our Westminster?

It lies beside thee, king, upon thy bed.

Sign, sign at once—take, sign it, Stigand, Aldred!
Sign it, my good son Harold, Gurth, and Leofwin,
Sign it, my queen!

                We have sign’d it.

                                It is finish’d!
The kingliest Abbey in all Christian lands,
The lordliest, loftiest minster ever built
To Holy Peter in our English isle!
Let me be buried there, and all our kings,
And all our just and wise and holy men
That shall be born hereafter. It is finish’d!
Hast thou had absolution for thine oath?        [To HAROLD.

Stigand hath given me absolution for it.

Stigand is not canonical enough
To save thee from the wrath of Norman Saints.

Norman enough! Be there no Saints of England
To help us from their brethren yonder?

The Saints are one, but those of Normanland
Are mightier than our own. Ask it of Aldred.


It shall be granted him, my king; for he
Who vows a vow to strangle his own mother
Is guiltier keeping this, than breaking it.

O friends, I shall not overlive the day.

Why then the throne is empty. Who inherits?
For tho’ we be not bound by the king’s voice
In making of a king, yet the king’s voice
Is much toward his making. Who inherits?
Edgar the Atheling?

                No, no, but Harold.
I love him: he hath served me: none but he
Can rule all England. Yet the curse is on him
For swearing falsely by those blessed bones;
He did not mean to keep his vow.

                        Not mean
To make our England Norman.

                        There spake Godwin,
Who hated all the Normans; but their Saints
Have heard thee, Harold.

                        Oh! my lord, my king!
He knew not whom he sware by.

                        Yea, I know
He knew not, but those heavenly ears have heard,
Their curse is on him; wilt thou bring another,
Edith, upon his head?

                No, no, not I.

Why then, thou must not wed him.

                                Wherefore, wherefore?

O son, when thou didst tell me of thine oath,
I sorrow’d for my random promise given
To yon fox-lion. I did not dream then
I should be king.—My son, the Saints are virgins;
They love the white rose of virginity,
The cold, white lily blowing in her cell:
I have been myself a virgin; and I sware
To consecrate my virgin here to heaven—
The silent, cloister’d, solitary life,
A life of life-long prayer against the curse
That lies on thee and England.

                        No, no, no.

Treble denial of the tongue of flesh,
Like Peter’s when he fell, and thou wilt have
To wail for it like Peter. O my son!
Are all oaths to be broken then, all promises
Made in our agony for help from heaven?
Son, there is one who loves thee: and a wife,
What matters who, so she be serviceable
In all obedience, as mine own hath been:
God bless thee, wedded daughter.

[Laying his hand on the QUEEN’S head.

                        Bless thou too
That brother whom I love beyond the rest,
My banish’d Tostig.

                All the sweet Saints bless him!
Spare and forbear him, Harold, if he comes!
And let him pass unscathed; he loves me, Harold!
Be kindly to the Normans left among us,
Who follow’d me for love! and dear son, swear
When thou art king, to see my solemn vow

Nay, dear lord, for I have sworn
Not to swear falsely twice.

                        Thou wilt not swear?

I cannot.

                Then on thee remains the curse,
Harold, if thou embrace her: and on thee,
Edith, if thou abide it,—

[The KING swoons; EDITH falls and kneels by the couch.

                He hath swoon’d!
Death? . . . no, as yet a breath.

                        Look up! look up!

Confuse her not; she hath begun
Her life-long prayer for thee.

                        O noble Harold,
I would thou couldst have sworn.

                        For thine own pleasure?

No, but to please our dying king, and those
Who make thy good their own—all England, Earl.

I would thou couldst have sworn. Our holy king
Hath given his virgin lamb to Holy Church
To save thee from the curse.

                        Alas! poor man,
His promise brought it on me.

                        O good son!
That knowledge made him all the carefuller
To find a means whereby the curse might glance
From thee and England.

                Father, we so loved—

The more the love, the mightier is the prayer;
The more the love, the more acceptable
The sacrifice of both your loves to heaven.
No sacrifice to heaven, no help from heaven;
That runs thro’ all the faiths of all the world.
And sacrifice there must be, for the king
Is holy, and hath talk’d with God, and seen
A shadowing horror; there are signs in heaven—

Your comet came and went.

And signs on earth!
Knowest thou Senlac hill?

I know all Sussex;
A good entrenchment for a perilous hour!

Pray God that come not suddenly! There is one
Who passing by that hill three nights ago—
He shook so that he scarce could out with it—
Heard, heard—

                The wind in his hair?

                        A ghostly horn
Blowing continually, and faint battle-hymns,
And cries, and clashes, and the groans of men;
And dreadful shadows strove upon the hill,
And dreadful lights crept up from out the marsh—
Corpse-candles gliding over nameless graves—

At Senlac?


    EDWARD (waking).
                        Senlac! Sanguelac,
The Lake of Blood!

                This lightning before death
Plays on the word,—and Normanizes too!

Hush, father, hush!

                        Thou uncanonical fool,
Wilt thou play with the thunder? North and South
Thunder together, showers of blood are blown
Before a never-ending blast, and hiss
Against the blaze they cannot quench—a lake,
A sea of blood—we are drown’d in blood—for God
Has fill’d the quiver, and Death has drawn the bow—
Sanguelac! Sanguelac! the arrow! the arrow!        [Dies.

It is the arrow of death in his own heart—
And our great Council wait to crown thee King.

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

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