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Muriel Stuart

(1889-1967 / England)

Andromeda Unfettered


ANDROMEDA.

Chained to the years by the measureless wrong of man,
Here I hang, here I suffer, here I cry,
Since the light sprang forth from the dark, and the day began;
Since the sky was sundered and saved from the sea,
And the mouth of the beast was warm on the breast of the sod,
And the bird's feed glimmered like rings on the blossoming tree,
And the rivers ran silver with scales, and the earth was thronged
With creatures lovely and sane and wild and free;
Till the Image of God arose from the dust and trod
Woman and beast and bird into slavery.
Who has wronged me? Man who all earth has wronged:
Who has mocked me? Man, who made mock of God.

CHORUS OF FIRST WOMEN.

Nay, what do you seek?
If of men we be chained,
Our chains be of gold,
If the fetters we break
What conquest is gained?
Shall a hill-top out-spread a pavilion more safe than our palace hold?

Without toil, we are fed,
We have gold to our hire,
We have kings at out thrall,
And made smooth is our bed
For the fools of desire.
We falter the world with our eyelids, at our laughter men scatter and fall.

What is freedom but danger,
And death, and disaster?
We are safe: Fool, to crave
The unknown, the stranger!
More fettered the back than the burden; man bows; he is slave to a slave!

ANDROMEDA.

Yes, in most bitter waters have they drowned
My spirit, And my soul grows grey on sleep!
What if with wreaths my empty hands are bound?
I am slave for all their roses, and I keep
A tryst with cunning, and a troth with tears.
Time has kissed out my lips, and I am dumb.
I am so long called fool, I am become
That fool-of street or shrine. By body bears
Burden of men and children. I have been
All that man has desired or dreamed of me.
I have trodden a double-weary way-with Sin,
Or with Sin's pale, cold sister Chastity.
I am a thing of twilight. I am afraid.
Dull now and tame now; of myself so shamed.
Fortressed against redemption; visited
Of the old dream so seldom, as things tamed
forget the life that their wild brother leads.
I am a hurt beast flinching at the light.
I have been palaced from sun, and night
Runs in my blood, and all night's blushless deeds!

CHORUS OF SECOND WOMEN.

Oh world so blind, so dumb to our desiring,--
To the vague cry and clamour of our being!
Oh world so dark to our supreme aspiring,--
To the pitiful strange travail of our freeing!--

We weary not for love and lips to love us;
These have been ours too often and too long;
We have been hived too close; too sweet above us
Tastes the bees mouth to our honey-wearied tongue.

Not love, not love! Love was our first undoing,
We have lived too long on heart-beats. None can tame
The mind's new hunger, famished and pursuing,
Unleashed, and crying its oppressor's name.

All that the world could give man's mind inherits:
Two paths were set us. Baffled, weeping, yearning,
Tossed between God and man, rebellious spirits,
We wandered, now escaped and unreturning.

We are arming, waking, terribly unfolding,
The spent world shudders in a new creation,
A dread and pitiless flowering beholding,
Burst from the dark root of our long frustration!

ANDROMEDA.

Did God but build this temple for desire
That man defraud my birthright with a kiss?
Did he not give me a spirit to aspire
Beyond man's fortress and necessities?
Man chains the thing he fears, who fears the free;
No wildest beast was tamed as I was tamed,
No prey has been so tracked, no flesh so shamed;
Man hunts no quarry as he hunted me.
Of all the things created, one alone
Rose from the earth his equal; only the might
Of his brute strength could bid my soul renounce
Its claim-forswear its just, predestined right.
To what poor shape of folly am I grown,
In whom God breathed an equal spirit once!

CHORUS OF FIRST WOMEN.

Oh sheltering arms that have bound you,
Oh hearts you have shaped to your will!
The lordliest lovers have crowned you,
They have knelt as they kneel to you still.

Why speak you so ill of such lovers,
Why question the will of such lords?
From your lips, from your laughter, Love offers
The world on a litter off swords,

They have borne for you death and disasters,
They have held you with kingdoms at stake.
The kings of the earth and the masters
Were poets and fools for your sake!

ANDROMEDA.

Was I made free for all their swords and songs?
Do fairest songs sung to caged birds sound sweet?
Did their spears hold the door whence came my wrongs?
Did they sing my spirit and the hurt of it?
There was no battle for my freedom's sake;
They never sang pity of me. Not those
Who laud it cage the eagle: not those who break
The delicate stem most deeply love the rose.
If we have taken the path towards the hills
They have noosed our feet, they have kenneled us again.
If we have dared for separate minds and wills,
We have marched to men's laughter, and the mock of men.
Oh lords, if you be strong why fear to raise
Our groping, pitiful bodies from the dust?
If you were pre-ordained to shape our ways,
Why has your power shaped that way so ill?
Only the hireling master wreaks his will
On slaves, lest rulers they become at last,
And his poor hour of pride is waned and passed:
The rightful lord never fears to be just.

CHORUS OF SECOND WOMEN.

Stars, you run your course unchidden;
Sun, the sky puts forth no hand
To constrain you; unforbidden
Clouds in aëry harness stand;
And unchallenged comes the moon up, right and slow upon the land.

Dew, no shadow moves behind you
To avert your glittering;
Wind, your race is undenied you;
Lightning, you have room to spring!
For the great, free hand of Nature gives sweet leave to everything.

One great law controls their being,--
To their utmost bids them rise;
From the snowdrop, her bell freeing,
To the bow that leaps the skies;
For the universal order of the world in freedom lies.

But one lies here lost and driven
From the free primeval way,
From the rights that she was given,
That she asks of man to-day;
For her soul has faced her masters, and her spirit stands at bay.

ANDROMEDA.

I am the Last Begotten. I am the Rose
Flung for the bed of kings. I am the Cause
Of this world's ills, its follies and its woes;
I am the unclean, the carnal, I make men pause
From God. I am Sex, and ll vain bodily Lust
That men desire and spit on, and would not lose
For the bride of Heaven. I am the little Dust
Blown from their bitter mouths. I am the Way
of death. I am the soiled and spotted One
Bidden in silence to the Church's feast;
Yea, of all bitterest foes, the crafty priest
Is mine; no hand has flung a crueler stone;
Of all oppressors him I most accuse.
I m the Fool that led the world astray,
My motherhood the fruits of my first sin.
I am the Slave to whom sick masters pray.
I am the Mother. I am Magdalen.
I am the Dæmon, I drink at dead men's lips.
My grail is blood at midnight. I am burned
In which craft. I am the Weal of the world's whips.
No age has risen that has not seen me scorned.
I am the Harlot, the Accursed Thing, the Prey;
Bartered for bread; like cattle willed away;
Sold at the shambles. I am the Chastity
Men breed for spoiling. I am the soul at bay.
I am what men have made and marred of me.

CHORUS OF SECOND WOMEN.

Oh, behold, oh, beware,
Andromeda! . . .
A wing on the air,
A step on the sands!
Oh be silent lest he
Who is master prepare,
As of old at your plea,
A new chain for your hands.

Oh, behold, oh, beware,
Andromeda!
She hears not, her cries
Still tremble the air.
O sands, set a snare
For him. Merciful skies,
Uncradle your mist!
O crag, beak your breast
In murdering stone!
O lightning, untwist
Your fang from the cloud!
O winds, shriek aloud
Till the sea heave and groan,
And unlock its white thunder
Till its legions be hurled,
And the beach quakes thereunder . . .
Oh, Fool of the World!

(PERSEUS appears on the sands near ANDROMEDA.)

PERSEUS.

Who crieth with a cry long heard of me?

ANDROMEDA.

The rebel spirit of woman that would be free.

PERSEUS.

How is she named whose wild lips so crave?

ANDROMEDA.

This is the World's Fool. This is the Slave.

PERSEUS.

Who has wronged her?

ANDROMEDA.

The ancient spirit of man.

PERSEUS.

Long was she chained?

ANDROMEDA.

Since the world began.

PERSEUS.

Who are her masters?

ANDROMEDA.

The lords of pride and lust.

PERSEUS.

Whence comes she?

ANDROMEDA.

From dust.

PERSEUS.

Where goes she?

ANDROMEDA.

To dust!

CHORUS OF FIRST WOMEN.

Is he fooled by her hair,
Is he tranced by her eyes,
That he draweth him near,
That he speaketh him wise? . . .

He has spoken again,
He has taken her hands,
He has loosened her chain,
Unfettered she stands!

PERSEUS.

Stand there! Behold the new, uncharted day-
Not as a fool made sweet for fools to kiss;
Not as a saint to whom sick masters pray;
no more the sad shell singing of men's lust;
No more the sum of priest's pale sophistries;
But as men stand, unchallenged, equal, free,
Each path to take and every race to run.
Stand forth, O shining equal in the sun!
Unfold, unspring, outblossomfrom the dust,
O divinist playfellow even as we!

ANDROMEDA.

Where is he who chained me? I am weak.
I crouch still, whom the years forbade to stand.
The chain is still remembered on my neck,
There are the marks of slaves still in this hand.

PERSEUS.

No more shall he who chained you forge that chain;
He has looked upon Medusa, and has seen
What he has made of woman. To him turned
Is the last face (who shall never see again)
With its hissing, furious hair, the eyelids burned
With the eye's hate, slime where the lips have been,
That tumbled death upon him like a stone;
And in your name Medusa smiled and spurned
A dying face more dreadful than her own.

ANDROMEDA.

The shackled feet of centuries cannot keep
Pace yet with feet that have outstripped the world.
For the maimed even the riven way is steep.
I am so strange to greatness, I am hurled
Unsceptered to my glory! I am now
Almost what you have called me, as things take
The colour of names men give them; as things grow
Fierce if dubbed fierce, and weak if branded weak,
And fools if given no name but foolishness.
I have been branded fool in life and art,--
Always a little lower, always the less,
Until the intolerable prompting has grown part
Of all I do; my labouring brain and heart
By that self-doubt are shadowed and undone.
Let me walk long beside you in the sun,
Race, wrestle with you, grow wise and swift and strong.
For I shall speak but foolish words at first W
ho was hindered of wisdom since the world began.
I shall blunder and be so wayward who was nursed
On fear and folly by the laws of man.

PERSEUS.

You shall not be less sweet that you are wise,
And not less beautiful that you are strong.

ANDROMEDA.

I shall not see the scorn leap in your eyes?
Your wisdom will not make my weakness wrong?

PERSEUS.

To the freed soul of woman I make my vow!
Hand in hand we will walk in the sunrise now,
No more implacable foes, but face to face,
As masters of the world, and it shall be
Under an equal law, with equal grace-
A world where life is proud and sane and free.

ANDROMEDA.

Life must be borne. Together let us bear it!
There is no other answer to the vexed,
Sad problem of the world.

PERSEUS.

Together, free of spirit,
Of body free, one minded, equal sexed.

ANDROMEDA.

I claim of man a thousand centuries!
Shall one poor decade serve to make me wise
When men have knelt so long at wisdom's knees?

PERSEUS.

Till the last day grows dim to the last eyes!

ANDROMEDA.

Let us go forth. Comrade and friend at last.

PERSEUS.

Comrade and friend! For me a new day lies,
Splendid and strange. For you the night is passed.

CHORUS OF SECOND WOMEN.

They rise, they go forth, foot by foot, hand in hand.
He goes not before, nor she after; together they stand.

He is no less though she be the more. Thus they meet,
Long sundered, whom life made for union, now at rest, now complete.

They are separate and free, they are woven and one,
And the world has grown quiet; between them the battle is done.

For this is the dream, the ideal, the designate plan,
So slow of fulfillment, so sure, God's prevision of man.

Shared burden, shared wonder, shared vision and strife:
In their fellowship only is found the perfection, of life.

FINAL CHORUS.

From what clear wells of wonder
Upspringing and upspringing,
From what rock cleft asunder
Leaps this stream cool and bright?
What secret joy thereunder
Melodiously uplinging
Its heart in ceaseless music upon the lyre of light?

To what high aëry choiring
This hour her way is winging,
Her dewey troth to plight?
This golden hour aspiring
Above the glad bells ringing,
More sweet than sweet bird's music, more fleet than fleet bird's flight?

What joy and hope here clinging,
With gentle fingers twining,
In wrapt and mystic rite?
What love unblind is bringing
Two mortals swift and shining,
With faces to the morning, with footsteps from the night?

Submitted: Monday, April 12, 2010

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