On The Tower

A poem by Sara Teasdale

(A play in one act.)

The Knight.
The Lady.

Voices of men and women on the ground at the foot of the tower.
The voice of the Knight’s Page.

The top of a high battlemented tower of a castle. A stone ledge,
which serves as a seat, extends part way around the parapet.
Small clouds float by in the blue sky, and occasionally a swallow passes.
Entrance R. from an unseen stairway which is supposed to extend around
the outside of the tower.

The Lady (unseen).
Oh do not climb so fast, for I am faint
With looking down the tower to where the earth
Lies dreaming in the sun. I fear to fall.

The Knight (unseen).
Lean on me, love, my love, and look not down.

Call me not “love”, call me your conquered foe,
That now, since you have battered down her gates,
Gives you the keys that lock the highest tower
And mounts with you to prove her homage true;
Oh bid me go no farther lest I fall,
My foot has slipped upon the rain-worn stones,
Why are the stairs so narrow and so steep?
Let us go back, my lord.

Are you afraid,
Who were so dauntless till the walls gave way?
Courage, my sweet. I would that I could climb
A thousand times by wind-swept stairs like these,
That lead so near to heaven.

Sir, you may,
You are a knight and very valorous;
I am a woman. I shall never come
This way but once.
(The Knight and the Lady appear on the top of the tower.)

Kiss me at last, my love.

Oh, my sweet lord, I am too tired to kiss.
Look how the earth is like an emerald,
With rivers veined and flawed with fallow fields.

K. (Lifting her veil)
Then I kiss you, a thousand thousand kisses
For all the days ere I had won to you
Beyond the walls and gates you barred so close.
Call me at last your love, your castle’s lord.

L. (After a pause)
I love you.

(She kisses him. Her veil blows away like a white butterfly
over the parapet. Faint cries and laughter from men and women
under the tower.)

Men and Women.
The veil, the lady’s veil!

(The knight takes the lady in his arms.)

My lord, I pray you loose me from your arms
Lest that my people see how much we love.

May they not see us? All of them have loved.

But you have been an enemy, my lord,
With walls between us and with moss-grown moats,
Now on a sudden must I kiss your mouth?
I who was taught before I learned to speak
That all my house was hostile unto yours,
Now can I put my head against your breast
Here in the sight of all who choose to come?

Are we not past the caring for their eyes
And nearer to the heaven than to earth?
Look up and see.

I only see your face.

(She touches his hair with her hands. Murmuring under the tower.)

Why came we here in all the noon-day light
With only darting swallows over us
To make a speck of darkness on the sun?
Let us go down where walls will shut us round.
Your castle has a hundred quiet halls,
A hundred chambers, where the shadows lie
On things put by, forgotten long ago.
Forgotten lutes with strings that Time has slackened,
We two shall draw them close and bid them sing,
Forgotten games, forgotten books still open
Where you had laid them by at vesper-time,
And your embroidery, whereon half-worked
Weeps Amor wounded by a rose’s thorn.
Shall I not see the room in which you slept,
Palpitant still and breathing of your thoughts,
Where maiden dreams adown the ways of sleep
Swept noiselessly with damosels and knights
To tourneys where the trumpet made no sound,
Blow as he might, the scarlet trumpeter,
And were the dreams not sometimes brimmed with tears
That waked you when the night was loneliest?
Will you not bring me to your oratory
Where prayers arose like little birds set free
Still upward, upward without sound of flight?
Shall I not find your turrets toward the north,
Where you defied white winter armed for war;
Your southern casements where the sun blows in
Between the leaf-bent boughs the wind has lifted?
Shall we not see the sunrise toward the east,
Watch dawn by dawn the rose of day unfolding
Its golden-hearted beauty sovereignly;
And toward the west look quietly at evening?
Shall I not see all these and all your treasures?
In carven coffers hidden in the dark
Have you not laid a sapphire lit with flame
And amethysts set round with deep-wrought gold,
Perhaps a ruby?

All my gems are yours
And all my chambers curtained from the sun.
My lord shall see them all, in time, in time.

(The sun begins to sink.)

Shall I not see them now? To-day, to-night?

How could I show you in one day, my lord,
My castle and my treasures and my tower?
Let all the days to come suffice for this
Since all the past days made them what they are.
You will not be impatient, my sweet lord.
Some of the halls have long been locked and barred,
And some have secret doors and hard to find
Till suddenly you touch them unawares,
And down a sable way runs silver light.
We two will search together for the keys,
But not to-day. Let us sit here to-day,
Since all is yours and always will be yours.

(The stars appear faintly one by one.)

K. (After a pause.)
I grow a little drowsy with the dusk.

L. (Singing.)
There was a man that loved a maid,
(Sleep and take your rest)
Over her lips his kiss was laid,
Over her heart, his breast.

(The knight sleeps.)

All of his vows were sweet to hear,
Sweet was his kiss to take;
Why was her breast so quick to fear,
Why was her heart, to break?

Why was the man so glad to woo?
(Sleep and take your rest)
Why were the maiden’s words so few,

(She sees that he is asleep, and slipping off her long cloak-like
outer garment, she pillows his head upon it against the parapet,
and half kneeling at his feet she sings very softly:)

I love you, I love you, I love you,
I am the flower at your feet,
The birds and the stars are above you,
My place is more sweet.

The birds and the stars are above you,
They envy the flower in the grass,
For I, only I, while I love you
Can die as you pass.

(Light clouds veil the stars, growing denser constantly.
The castle bell rings for vespers, and rising, the lady moves
to a corner of the parapet and kneels there.)

Ave Maria! gratia plena, Dominus,

Voice of the Page (from the foot of the tower.)
My lord, my lord, they call for you at court!

(The knight wakes. It is now quite dark.)

There is a tourney toward; your enemy
Has challenged you. My lord, make haste to come!

(The knight rises and gropes his way toward the stairs.)

I will make haste. Await me where you are.

(To himself.)
There was a lady on this tower with me,

(He glances around hurriedly but does not see her in the darkness.)

My lord has far to ride before the dawn!

K. (To himself.)
Why should I tarry?

(To the page.)
Bring my horse and shield!

(He descends. As the noise of his footfall on the stairs dies away,
the lady gropes toward the stairway, then turns suddenly, and going to
the ledge where they have sat, she throws herself over the parapet.)


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