Sardanapalus – Monologue (Sardanapalus)

A monologue from the play by Lord Byron

NOTE: This monologue is reprinted from Lord Byron: Six Plays. Lord Byron. Los Angeles: Black Box Press, 2007.


I saw, that is, I dreamed myself
Here—here—even where we are, guests as we were,
Myself a host that deemed himself but guest,
Willing to equal all in social freedom;
But, on my right hand and my left, instead
Of thee and Zames, and our customed meeting,
Was ranged on my left hand a haughty, dark,
And deadly face; I could not recognise it,
Yet I had seen it, though I knew not where:
The features were a giant’s, and the eye
Was still, yet lighted; his long locks curled down
On his vast bust, whence a huge quiver rose
With shaft-heads feathered from the eagle’s wing,
That peeped up bristling through his serpent hair.
I invited him to fill the cup which stood
Between us, but he answered not; I filled it;
He took it not, but stared upon me, till
I trembled at the fixed glare of his eye:
I frowned upon him as a king should frown;
He frowned not in his turn, but looked upon me
With the same aspect, which appalled me more,
Because it changed not; and I turned for refuge
To milder guests, and sought them on the right,
Where thou wert wont to be. But—
In thy own chair—thy own place in the banquet—
I sought thy sweet face in the circle—but
Instead—a grey-haired, withered, bloody-eyed,
And bloody-handed, ghastly, ghostly thing,
Female in garb, and crowned upon the brow,
Furrowed with years, yet sneering with the passion
Of vengeance, leering too with that of lust,
Sate—my veins curdled! Upon
Her right hand—her lank, bird-like, right hand—stood
A goblet, bubbling o’er with blood; and on
Her left, another, filled with—what I saw not,
But turned from it and her. But all along
The table sate a range of crowned wretches,
Of various aspects, but of one expression.
It was so palpable, I could have touched them.
I turned from one face to another, in
The hope to find at last one which I knew
Ere I saw theirs: but no—all turned upon me,
And stared, but neither ate nor drank, but stared,
Till I grew stone, as they seemed half to be,
Yet breathing stone, for I felt life in them,
And life in me: there was a horrid kind
Of sympathy between us, as if they
Had lost a part of death to come to me,
And I the half of life to sit by them.
We were in an existence all apart
From heaven or earth—And rather let me see
Death all than such a being!
At last I sate, marble, as they, when rose
The Hunter and the Crone; and smiling on me—
Yes, the enlarged but noble aspect of
The Hunter smiled upon me—I should say,
His lips, for his eyes moved not—and the woman’s
Thin lips relaxed to something like a smile.
Both rose, and the crowned figures on each hand
Rose also, as if aping their chief shades—
Mere mimics even in death—but I sate still:
A desperate courage crept through every limb,
And at the last I feared them not, but laughed
Full in their phantom faces. But then—then
The Hunter laid his hand on mine: I took it,
And grasped it—but it melted from my own;
While he too vanished, and left nothing but
The memory of a hero, for he looked so.
Aye, Myrrha, but the woman,
The female who remained, she flew upon me,
And burnt my lips up with her noisome kisses;
And, flinging down the goblets on each hand,
Methought their poisons flowed around us, till
Each formed a hideous river. Still she clung;
The other phantoms, like a row of statues,
Stood dull as in our temples, but she still
Embraced me, while I shrunk from her, as if,
In lieu of her remote descendant, I
Had been the son who slew her for her incest.
Then—then—a chaos of all loathsome things
Thronged thick and shapeless: I was dead, yet feeling—
Buried, and raised again—consumed by worms,
Purged by the flames, and withered in the air!
I can fix nothing further of my thoughts,
Save that I longed for thee, and sought for thee,
In all these agonies—and woke and found thee.

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