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Lord Byron (1788–1824). Poetry of Byron. 1881.

III. Dramatic

Cain and Adah

(Cain, Act iii. Scene 1.)

Adah.HUSH! tread softly, Cain.
Cain.I will; but wherefore?

Adah.Our little Enoch sleeps upon yon bed

Of leaves, beneath the cypress.
Cain.Cypress! ’tis

A gloomy tree, which looks as if it mourn’d

O’er what it shadows; wherefore didst thou choose it

For our child’s canopy?
Adah.Because its branches

Shut out the sun like night, and therefore seem’d

Fitting to shadow slumber.
Cain.Ay, the last—

And longest; but no matter—lead me to him.

[They go up to the child.

How lovely he appears! his little cheeks,

In their pure incarnation, vying with

The rose leaves strewn beneath them.
Adah.And his lips, too.

How beautifully parted! No; you shall not

Kiss him, at least not now: he will awake soon—

His hour of mid-day rest is nearly over;

But it were pity to disturb him till

’Tis closed.
Cain.You have said well; I will contain

My heart till then. He smiles, and sleeps!—Sleep on

And smile, thou little, young inheritor

Of a world scarce less young: sleep on, and smile!

Thine are the hours and days when both are cheering

And innocent! thou hast not pluck’d the fruit—

Thou know’st not thou art naked! Must the time

Come thou shalt be amerced for sins unknown,

Which were not thine nor mine? But now sleep on!

His cheeks are reddening into deeper smiles,

And shining lids are trembling o’er his long

Lashes, dark as the cypress which waves o’er them;

Half open, from beneath them the clear blue

Laughs out, although in slumber. He must dream—

Of what? Of Paradise!—Ay! dream of it,

My disinherited boy! ’Tis but a dream;

For never more thyself, thy sons, nor fathers,

Shall walk in that forbidden place of joy!

Adah.Dear Cain! Nay, do not whisper o’er our son

Such melancholy yearnings o’er the past:

Why wilt thou always mourn for Paradise?

Can we not make another?
Adah.Here, or

Where’er thou wilt: where’er thou art, I feel not

The want of this so much regretted Eden.

Have I not thee, our boy, our sire, and brother,

And Zillah—our sweet sister, and our Eve,

To whom we owe so much besides our birth?

Cain.Yes—death, too, is amongst the debts we owe her.

Adah.Cain! that proud spirit, who withdrew thee hence,

Hath sadden’d thine still deeper. I had hoped

The promised wonders which thou hast beheld,

Visions, thou say’st, of past and present worlds,

Would have composed thy mind into the calm

Of a contented knowledge; but I see

Thy guide hath done thee evil; still I thank him,

And can forgive him all, that he so soon

Hath given thee back to us.
Cain.So soon?
Adah.’Tis scarcely

Two hours since ye departed: two long hours

To me, but only hours upon the sun.

Cain.And yet I have approach’d that sun, and seen

Worlds which he once shone on, and never more

Shall light; and worlds he never lit: methought

Years had roll’d o’er my absence.
Adah.Hardly hours.

Cain.The mind then hath capacity of time,

And measures it by that which it beholds,

Pleasing or painful; little or almighty.

I had beheld the immemorial works

Of endless beings; skirr’d extinguish’d worlds;

And, gazing on eternity, methought

I had borrow’d more by a few drops of ages

From its immensity: but now I feel

My littleness again. Well said the spirit,

That I was nothing!
Adah.Wherefore said he so?

Jehovah said not that.
Cain.No: he contents him

With making us the nothing which we are;

And after flattering dust with glimpses of

Eden and Immortality, resolves

It back to dust again—for what?
Adah.Thou know’st—

Even for our parents’ error.
Cain.What is that

To us? they sinn’d, then let them die!

Adah.Thou has not spoken well, nor is that thought

Thy own, but of the spirit who was with thee.

Would I could die for them, so they might live!

Cain.Why, so say I—provided that one victim

Might satiate the insatiable of life,

And that our little rosy sleeper there

Might never taste of death nor human sorrow,

Nor hand it down to those who spring from him.

Adah.How know we that some such atonement one day

May not redeem our race?
Cain.By sacrificing

The harmless for the guilty? what atonement

Were there? why, we are innocent: what have we

Done, that we must be victims for a deed

Before our birth, or need have victims to

Atone for this mysterious, nameless sin—

If it be such a sin to seek for knowledge?

Adah.Alas! thou sinnest now, my Cain: thy words

Sound impious in mine ears.
Cain.Then leave me!

Though thy God left thee.
Cain.Say, what have we here?

Adah.Two altars, which our brother Abel made

During thine absence, whereupon to offer

A sacrifice to God on thy return.

Cain.And how knew he, that I would be so ready

With the burnt offerings, which he daily brings

With a meek brow, whose base humility

Shows more of fear than worship, as a bribe

To the Creator?
Adah.Surely, ’tis well done.

Cain.One altar may suffice; I have no offering.

Adah.The fruits of the earth, the early, beautiful

Blossom and bud, and bloom of flowers, and fruits;

These are a goodly offering to the Lord,

Given with a gentle and a contrite spirit.

Cain.I have toil’d, and till’d, and sweaten in the sun

According to the curse:—must I do more?

For what should I be gentle? for a war

With all the elements ere they will yield

The bread we eat? For what must I be grateful?

For being dust, and groveling in the dust,

Till I return to dust? If I am nothing—

For nothing shall I be an hypocrite,

And seem well-pleased with pain? For what should I

Be contrite? for my father’s sin, already

Expiate with what we all have undergone,

And to be more than expiated by

The ages prophesied, upon our seed.

Little deems our young blooming sleeper, there,

The germs of an eternal misery

To myriads is within him! better ’twere

I snatch’d him in his sleep, and dash’d him ’gainst

The rocks, than let him live to——
Adah.Oh, my God!

Touch not the child—my child! thy child! Oh, Cain!

Cain.Fear not! for all the stars, and all the power

Which sways them, I would not accost yon infant

With ruder greeting than a father’s kiss.

Adah.Then, why so awful in thy speech?
Cain.I said,

’Twere better that he ceased to live, than give

Life to so much of sorrow as he must

Endure, and, harder still, bequeath; but since

That saying jars you, let us only say—

’Twere better that he never had been born.

Adah.Oh, do not say so! Where were then the joys,

The mother’s joys of watching, nourishing,

And loving him? Soft! he awakes. Sweet Enoch!

[She goes to the child.

Oh Cain! look on him; see how full of life,

Of strength, of bloom, of beauty, and of joy,

How like to me—how like to thee, when gentle,

For then we are all alike; is’t not so, Cain?

Mother, and sire, and son, our features are

Reflected in each other; as they are

In the clear waters, when they are gentle, and

When thou art gentle. Love us, then, my Cain!

And love thyself for our sakes, for we love thee.

Look! how he laughs and stretches out his arms,

And opens wide his blue eyes upon thine,

To hail his father; while his little form

Flutters as wing’d with joy. Talk not of pain!

The childless cherubs well might envy thee

The pleasures of a parent! Bless him, Cain!

As yet he hath no words to thank thee, but

His heart will, and thine own too.
Cain.Bless thee, boy!

If that a mortal blessing may avail thee,

To save thee from the serpent’s curse!
Adah.It shall.

Surely a father’s blessing may avert

A reptile’s subtlety.
Cain.Of that I doubt;

But bless him ne’er the less.