The Student's Guide
To Shakespeare's
The Rape of Lucrece

With a Complete Annotated Text

By Michael J. Cummings
Copyright 2017     All Rights Reserved

Table of Contents

Type of Work
Publication and Title
Format: Rhyme Royal
Summary of the Poem
Figures of Speech
Imagery: Darkness and Light
Complete Annotated Text of The Rape of Lucrece
The Trojan War, Alluded to Frequently in the Poem
About the Author

Type of Work

The Rape of Lucrece is a narrative poem (one that tells a story) focusing on the rape and tragic death of the title character and on the desire for revenge that follows. The work has been subcategorized as a complaint poem, a work in which the main character laments or bemoans his or her unfair fate or injustice.


The action takes place when Rome was ruled by its last king, the tyrannical Lucius Tarquinius. He was dubbed Tarquinius Superbus, or Tarquin the Proud, and reigned from 539 to 509 BC. The story centers on the rape of Lucrece (a legendary figure known as Lucretia to the Romans) by the king's son, Sextus Tarquinius, or simply Tarquin. According to accounts of the Lucrece legend, the deed outraged Romans and led to the overthrow of Lucius Tarquinius and the rest of his family and to the establishment of the Roman republic in 509 BC. The action takes place at Ardea, twenty-four miles south of Rome; Collatium, ten miles east of Rome; and Rome.

Publication and Title

On May 9, 1594, the poem was entered in the Hall Book of the Worshipful Company of Stationers, the English government's pre-publication registry. Later in the same year, John Harrison of London published the poem in quarto form. A quarto book consisted of pages that were each about 9½ inches wide and 12 inches high. The printer was Richard Field. The poem became highly popular with educated readers. It was listed in the Hall Book under the title of The Ravyshement [Ravishment] of Lucrece but was published with the title Lucrece. The Rape of Lucrece was substituted as a title at a later date.


The History of Rome, by the Roman historian Livy (full name, Titus Livius), was one of Shakespeare's most important sources for The Rape of Lucrece. Livy (59 BC-AD 17) wrote about early Rome—from its legendary founding in 753 BC to the age of Caesar Augustus, down to about 9 BC. Livy's History—told in 142 volumes, of which thirty-five survive intact and others survive in fragments or in references to his History in works of other writers—is a masterpiece and is required reading for all historians. However, Livy was a moralist who wrote history as a reformer. He was also a layman who had little experience in the day-to-day workings of government. When writing, he sometimes accepted undocumented accounts—accounts more properly categorized as legend than as history. Such is his account of the rape of a woman named Lucretia (the Lucrece of Shakespeare's poem). The account is taken as fact by some, fiction by others.

Fasti (Calendar) by the Roman poet Ovid (full name, Publius Ovidius Naso) was another important source of information. Shakespeare may have used an English translation of Fasti by Arthur Golding, although it is just as likely that he used an original Latin text. Of course, he may have paged through both texts while writing his poem. Ovid (43 BC-AD 18) is famous for his love poems, but Fasti was a twelve-volume account of the Roman calendar that listed special events and festivals. Book II of Fasti tells the story of the rape of Lucretia, or Lucrece, because of its importance as a significant turning point in Roman history. Fasti was used as evidence of the corruption of the reigning king of Rome and his son's rape of Lucrece.


Shakespeare dedicated The Rape of Lucrece to Henry Wriothesley, the Third Earl of Southampton. Wriothesley (1573-1624) was a patron of Shakespeare and other writers of the time. Although a favorite at the court of Queen Elizabeth I, his association with the headstrong Robert Devereux, the Second Earl of Essex—another fixture at court—led him to take part in Devereux’s 1601 rebellion against the queen. Wriothesley was sentenced to life imprisonment.


The format of the poem is rhyme royal. In this format, each stanza has seven lines with a rhyme scheme of ababbcc. The last two lines are indented. The first stanza demonstrates this pattern.
a  From the besieged Ardea all in post,     
b  Borne by the trustless wings of false desire,     
a  Lust-breathed Tarquin leaves the Roman host,
b  And to Collatium bears the lightless fire     
b  Which, in pale embers hid, lurks to aspire,            
c    And girdle with embracing flames the waist     
c    Of Collatine’s fair love, Lucrece the chaste.    


The meter of the poem is iambic pentameter. In a line of poetry, iambic pentameter is an arrangement of words consisting of five pairs of syllables, or ten syllables in all. Each pair consists of an unstressed (or unaccented) syllable followed by a stressed (or accented syllable). The first two lines of The Rape of Lucrece demonstrate this pattern.
        1                       2                3            4              5
From THE  |  be SIEGED  |  Ar DE  | a ALL | in POST,

        1                      2                      3                    4               5
Borne BY  |  the TRUST  |  less WINGS  |  of FALSE |  de SIRE
Sometimes a poet deems it necessary to have more or fewer than ten syllables in a line of iambic pentameter to make the line understandable. In addition, a poet sometimes turns one syllable into two by placing an accent over an e, as in receivéd, in order to stretch a line from nine to ten syllables. For example, the third line of the first stanza of The Rape of Lucrece says, "Lust-breathed Tarquin leaves the Roman host." Notice that the line has only nine syllables. However, "breathed" should be read as "breathéd," giving the line ten syllables. Some editions of Shakespeare's works insert an accent over an e wherever needed to make a ten-syllable line; others do not.


Lucrece: Honorable and upright woman of great beauty. She is the wife of a Roman soldier, Collatine.
Collatine: Lucrece's husband, a Roman soldier who boasts about his wife's beauty. 
Tarquin (Sextus Tarquinius): Roman soldier who is the son of the king of Rome and a friend of Collatine. After hearing Collatine brag about his wife's beauty and virtues, he leaves the Roman camp at Ardea and rides to Collatium with lust in his heart. He steals into Collatine's house when Lucrece is alone and vulnerable to his advances.
Lucretius: Father of Lucrece.
Lucius Junius Brutus: Friend of Collatine and Lucretius.
Messenger: Male servant, or groom, who delivers a message from Lucrece to Collatine.
Lucius Tarquinius (Tarquin the Proud): Father of Tarquin and king of Rome. His name appears in the Argument (introduction).
Servius Tullius: Father-in-law of Lucius Tarquinius. His name appears in the Argument (introduction).
Publius Valerius: Friend of Collatine and Lucretius. His name appears in the Argument (introduction).


Historical Background

In the mid-Sixth Century BC, Lucius Tarquinius murders his wife, his older brother, and his father-in-law to become the king of Rome. He is an arrogant, despotic ruler, fully deserving his epithet, Tarquin the Proud, or Tarquinius Superbus. Because he covets the town of Ardea, twenty-four miles south of Rome, he orders troops there to lay siege to the town.

The Poem
While encamped at Ardea, Roman officers gather after supper at the tent of the king’s son, also called Tarquin, to socialize and tell stories. By and by, they begin extolling the virtues of their wives. One officer, Collatine, boasts that his wife, Lucrece, is by far the most beautiful and virtuous woman of all. His accounting of her excellent qualities arouses lust in the heart of young Tarquin; he must see this wonder for himself. So it is that he steals away to Collatine's home in Collatium, ten miles east of Rome, where Lucrece manages the household in the absence of her husband. When he presents himself at her door as a comrade of her husband, she receives him hospitably. Her beauty and innocent charm astound him. He thinks Collatine’s praise of her, generous as it was, was not generous enough. Tarquin resolves to have her. Lucrece believes him honorable and upright, a fine and noble gentleman like her husband; she is trusting to a fault. The narrator draws back the curtain of her mind:
This earthly saint, adored by this devil,
Little suspecteth the false worshipper;
For unstain'd thoughts do seldom dream on evil. (85-87)
The clever Tarquin ingratiates himself with guileless Lucrece, praising her husband’s soldierly valor and “manly chivalry” (109). He also invents excuses for his visit, deciding to restrain his libido until nightfall. After supper, they spend the evening in conversation. When they retire to separate chambers, the omniscient narrator interprets Tarquin’s motives and, in doing so, preaches a lesson:
Those that much covet are with gain so fond,
For what they have not, that which they possess
They scatter and unloose it from their bond,
And so, by hoping more, they have but less;
Or, gaining more, the profit of excess
Is but to surfeit, and such griefs sustain,
That they prove bankrupt in this poor-rich gain. (134-140)
When deepest night silences all living things, save for the howling wolf and the screeching owl, Tarquin steals forth to plunder his treasure. He lifts a latch. He knees open the door. Before him, Lucrece lies fast asleep. “Into the chamber wickedly he stalks, / And gazeth on her yet unstained bed" (365-366). Under his groping hands, Lucrece awakens and "Wrapp'd and confounded in a thousand fears, / Like to a new-kill'd bird she trembling lies" (456-457). She must submit to him willingly, he tells her, or he will take her by force. "Lucrece, quoth he, this night I must enjoy thee: / If thou deny, then force must work my way" (512-513). Lucrece begs him, by all that is right and good, to leave her alone.
She conjures him by high almighty Jove,
By knighthood, gentry, and sweet friendship's oath,
By her untimely tears, her husband's love,
By holy human law, and common troth,
By heaven and earth, and all the power of both,
That to his borrow'd bed he make retire,
And stoop to honour, not to foul desire. (568-574)
Tarquin deafens his ears to her pleadings—and takes her. “The wolf hath seized his prey, the poor lamb cries” (677). Then he leaves her, a wretched, heartbroken woman, polluted to the deepest fathom of her soul. “She hath lost a dearer thing than life” (687). With her nails, she tears her flesh. She says:
"O Night, thou furnace of foul-reeking smoke,
Let not the jealous Day behold that face
Which underneath thy black all-hiding cloak
Immodestly lies martyr'd with disgrace!" (792-802)
In handwritten messages, she summons Collatine from Ardea and her father, Lucretius, from Rome. While awaiting their arrival, she reflects on a painting of the Trojan War and recalls the suffering that resulted in Troy from the event that caused it: the abduction of the beautiful Helen, wife of King Menelaus of Greece, by Paris, son of King Priam of Troy.
"Here friend by friend in bloody channel lies,
And friend to friend gives unadvised wounds,
And one man's lust these many lives confounds:
Had doting Priam cheque'd his son's desire,
Troy had been bright with fame and not with fire." (1487-1491)
Lucrece compares Tarquin to Paris, and herself to Priam.
"To me came Tarquin armed; so beguiled
With outward honesty, but yet defiled
With inward vice: as Priam him did cherish,
So did I Tarquin; so my Troy did perish." (1544-1547)
After her husband and her father arrive with friends, Lucrece—now dressed in mournful black—tells them the shocking news, that she has been raped. "Mine enemy was strong, my poor self weak, / And far the weaker with so strong a fear" (1646-1647). Then, she asks them to avenge the terrible crime:
“But ere I name him, you fair lords,” quoth she,
Speaking to those that came with Collatine,
“Shall plight your honourable faiths to me,
With swift pursuit to venge this wrong of mine;
For 'tis a meritorious fair design
To chase injustice with revengeful arms:
Knights, by their oaths, should right poor ladies' harms.” (1688-1694)
But when she names Tarquin as her assailant (1717), she plunges a knife into her breast. Astonishment paralyzes Collatine. Her father throws himself in grief upon her, and Brutus withdraws the knife, releasing small rivers of blood. Brokenhearted, Lucretius cries out to her, “That life was mine which thou hast here deprived” (1752). Collatine falls on his wife and in her blood “bathes the pale fear in his face” (1775) until “manly shame bids him possess his breath and live to be revenged on her death.” Brutus holds out the bloody weapon, saying, “By this bloody knife we will revenge the death of this true wife” (1840-41). His compatriots fall to their knees and swear they will.
They then bear the body of Lucrece through the streets of Rome and inform the people of Tarquin’s “foul offence” (1852). At the same time, they denounce the tyrannical rule of Lucius Tarquinius. The entire Tarquin family is rooted out, deposed, and banished. And in 509 BC, Rome establishes a republic ruled by representatives of the people. There will be no more Tarquins, no more kings.


The climax of a play or another literary work, such as a short story or a novel, can be defined as (1) the turning point at which the conflict begins to resolve itself for better or worse, or as (2) the final and most exciting event in a series of events. The climax in The Rape of Lucrece occurs, according to the first definition, when Tarquin rapes Lucrece. According to the second definition, the climax occurs when Lucrece kills herself.


The tone of the poem is serious at the beginning, then becomes ominous when Tarquin enters Lucrece's house as a "devil" (85) who hides his evil intentions. The tone becomes tragic after Tarquin rapes Lucrece and she feels so violated that she contemplates, and eventually commits, suicide.


Objectification of Women

Collatine brags to his fellow soldiers that he has a wife of surpassing beauty. If a king possessed her, he says, he would surely increase his fame. It is as if she is a priceless painting or sculpture that must be seen to be believed. The narrator then says, "Why is Collatine the publisher / Of that rich jewel he should keep unknown?" But the blabbermouth babbles on about Lucrece after "some untimely thought did instigate / His all-too-timeless speed." He unwittingly succeeds in whetting the sexual appetite of Tarquin, who visits Lucrece when she is alone and, against her remonstrations to save her virtue, rapes her and flees. Both men thus use Lucrece as a mere object, Collatine to bolster his proud male ego and Tarquin to satisfy his lust. Tarquin, to be sure, commits the greater wrong; but he would never have forced himself upon Lucrece if Collatine had not bragged about her.


Although entirely innocent of wrongdoing, Lucrece experiences overwhelming shame after Tarquin rapes her—so intense that she wishes to die by her own hand, as the following passage indicates:
"Poor hand, why quiver’st thou at this decree?
Honour thyself to rid me of this shame;
For if I die, my honour lives in thee,
But if I live, thou liv’st in my defame;
Since thou couldst not defend thy loyal dame,
   And wast afeard to scratch her wicked foe,
   Kill both thyself and her for yielding so."  (1030-1036)
Modern psychologists observe that feelings of shame devastate many victims of rape despite their complete innocence of wrongdoing. These victims may wonder whether anything they did led to the rape. Other victims believe that the rape tainted them in some way.

Unbridled Emotions

Allowing his pride to control his tongue, Collatine boasts that he has a more desirable wife than any other soldier. Tarquin, for his part, allows his lust for Lucrece to rule him, and he rapes her. Poor Lucrece cannot overcome her intense feelings of unworthiness, and she kills herself.

Paradise Lost

Lucrece is a happy, faithful wife who lives an idyllic existence in Collatium, a veritable Garden of Eden. But her husband's boasting about his wife's incomparable beauty and virtues tempt Tarquin—referred to as a devil in lines 85 and 847—to enter paradise, deceive Lucrece about his intentions, and rape her. Tarquin's brutal rape of Lucrece ends her idyllic existence, just as the devil's invasion of the biblical garden of eden ends the idyllic life of Adam and Eve.

The Plague in London

It is possible that The Rape of Lucrece symbolizes the invasion of London by plague between 1592 and 1594. Like Tarquin entering Lucrece's home, the plague entered London without giving a hint of the devastation it would cause, then unleashed its deadly fury.


Guilt begins to hound Tarquin the moment he leave's Lucrece's house—guilt that he knows will never leave him.
Even in this thought through the dark night he stealeth,
A captive victor that hath lost in gain;
 Bearing away the wound that nothing healeth,
The scar that will despite of cure remain;
Leaving his spoil perplex’d in greater pain.
   She bears the load of lust he left behind,
   And he the burden of a guilty mind.

He like a thievish dog creeps sadly thence,
She like a wearied lamb lies panting there;
He scowls and hates himself for his offence,
She desperate with her nails her flesh doth tear;
He faintly flies, sweating with guilty fear,
   She stays, exclaiming on the direful night;
   He runs, and chides his vanish’d, loath’d delight.  (729-742)

Figures of Speech

The language and imagery in the poem are elegant and accomplished, demonstrating great technical skill. Shakespeare was attempting to establish his reputation when he wrote the poem. If there is a weakness, it is that Lucrece sometimes resembles an automaton expressing emotions rather than feeling them. Following are examples of figures of speech in the poem.

Alliteration: Repetition of a consonant sound at the beginning of syllables
From Venus’ doves doth challenge that fair field;
Then virtue claims from beauty beauty’s red,
Which virtue gave the golden age to gild (58-60)

The coward captive vanquished doth yield (75)
So guiltless she securely gives good cheer (89)
Anaphora: Repetition of a word or group of words at the beginning of clauses
His honour, his affairs, his friends, his state (45)
Be moved with my tears, my sighs, my groans (588)
"Let him have time to tear his curled hair,
Let him have time against himself to rave,
Let him have time of Time’s help to despair,
Let him have time to live a loathed slave,
Let him have time a beggar’s orts to crave" (981-985)
Apostrophe: Addressing an abstraction or a thing, present or absent; addressing an absent entity or person; addressing a deceased person.

Distraught, Lucrece addresses abstractions and things—including opportunity, time, words, and day—to express her anger at a world that she thinks betrayed her. Here are examples.
"O Opportunity! thy guilt is great,     
’Tis thou that execut’st the traitor’s treason;     
Thou sett’st the wolf where he the lamb may get;     
Whoever plots the sin, thou point’st the season." (876-879)

"Mis-shapen Time, copesmate of ugly Night,    
Swift subtle post, carrier of grisly care,     
Eater of youth, false slave to false delight,     
Base watch of woes, sin’s pack-horse, virtue’s snare;     
Thou nursest all, and murderest all that are." (925-929)   

"Out, idle words! servants to shallow fools,     
Unprofitable sounds, weak arbitrators! 
Busy yourselves in skill-contending schools;     
Debate where leisure serves with dull debaters;     
To trembling clients be you mediators."  (1016-1020)

Revealing day through every cranny spies,     
And seems to point her out where she sits weeping;     
To whom she sobbing speaks: "O eye of eyes!     
Why pry’st thou through my window? leave thy peeping;     
Mock with thy tickling beams eyes that are sleeping." (1086-1090)
Metaphor: Comparison of unlike things without using like, as, or than
For he [Collatine] the night before, in Tarquin’s tent,
Unlock’d the treasure of his happy state;

What priceless wealth the heavens had him lent
In the possession of his beauteous mate (15-18)
(Comparison of Lucrece to "treasure" and "priceless wealth")

Or why is Collatine the publisher
Of that rich jewel he should keep unknown? (33-34)
(Comparison of Lucrece to a jewel)

Sable Night, mother of Dread and Fear (117)
(Comparison of night to a mother)

Shame folded up in blind concealing night,
When most unseen, then most doth tyrannize. (675-676)
(Comparison of shame to a tyrant)

'Poor broken glass [mirror], I [Lucretius] often did behold
In thy sweet semblance my old age new born;
But now that fresh fair mirror, dim and old,
Shows me a bare-boned death by time out-worn:
O, from thy cheeks my image thou hast torn,
And shivered all the beauty of my glass,
That I no more can see what once I was! (1758-1764)
(Comparison of Lucrece to a mirror in which her father, Lucretius, can look to see a likeness of himself)
Oxymoron: Use of two words, one after the other, that are contrary or opposite in meaning
earthly saint (85)
poorly rich (97)

O modest wantons! wanton modesty!  (401)  
Personification: Comparison of a thing or an abstraction to a person. Personification is a form of metaphor.
And wilt thou be the school where Lust shall learn?
Must he in thee read lectures of such shame? (617-618)
(Comparison of lust to a student)
Simile: Comparison of unlike things using like, as, or than   
My sighs, like whirlwinds, labour hence to heave thee (586)
(Comparison of sighs to whirlwinds)

Feeble Desire, all recreant, poor, and meek, 
Like to a bankrupt beggar wails his case (710-711)
(Comparison of desire to a beggar)

He like a thievish dog creeps sadly thence,
She like a wearied lamb lies panting there (736-737)  


Ekphrasis is a device in which part or all of a literary work describes, comments on and/or analyzes a painting or another graphic work of art. In The Rape of Lucrece, ekphrasis occurs from line 1366 to 1533, when Lucrece contemplates a tapestry painting of a scene from the Trojan War. In it, she sees the Greek army bearing down on the defeated Trojans. It was a Trojan, Paris, who caused the war, provoking the Greeks by abducting Helen, the wife of the Greek king Menelaus. In line 1369, the narrator refers to the abduction as a rape. Lucrece, who has just been raped by Tarquin, no doubt compares herself to Helen. She also no doubt compares Tarquin to Sinon, a Greek who used deceit to trick the Trojans into allowing the Greeks to enter Troy, which they pillaged and burned.

Imagery: Darkness and Light

Tarquin, perhaps out of guilt, welcomes darkness to hide his evil act. He says, "Fair torch, burn out thy light, and lend it not  / To darken her whose light excelleth thine" (190-191).  Later, as he is about to enter Lucrece's bedroom, he says, "The eye of heaven is out [the moon is out, or the sun has set], and misty night / Covers the shame that follows sweet delight" (356-357).

Lucrece condemns the darkness of night as Tarquin's partner in her rape. It provided the cover for Tarquin to commit his evil deed. Lucrece says,

"O comfort-killing Night, image of hell!     
Dim register and notary of shame!    
Black stage for tragedies and murders fell!     
Vast sin-concealing chaos! nurse of blame!     
Blind muffled bawd! dark harbour for defame!     
  Grim cave of death! whispering conspirator     
  With close-tongu’d treason and the ravisher!" (764-770)
However, Lucrece also regards the brightness of day as an enemy. She believes it will illuminate her as a violator of "holy wedlock's vow."
"Make me not object to the tell-tale Day!     
The light will show, character’d in my brow,     
The story of sweet chastity’s decay,     
The impious breach of holy wedlock vow:     
Yea, the illiterate, that know not how     810
  To ’cipher what is writ in learned books,     
  Will quote my loathsome trespass in my looks." (806-812)  
Thus, she thinks darkness and light have trapped her.

Complete Annotated Text of The Rape of Lucrece

The following version of The Rape of Lucrece is based on the text in the authoritative 1914 Oxford Edition of Shakespeare's works, edited by W. J. Craig. The Craig text numbers the lines. Annotations (notes and definitions) appear in red type after the stanzas.

Annotations by Michael J. Cummings




    THE LOVE I dedicate to your lordship is without end; whereof this pamphlet, without beginning, is but a superfluous moiety [portion; share]. The warrant I have of your honourable disposition, not the worth of my untutored lines, makes it assured of acceptance. What I have done is yours; what I have to do is yours; being part in all I have, devoted yours. Were my worth greater, my duty would show greater; meantime, as it is, it is bound to your lordship, to whom I wish long life, still lengthened with all happiness.
    Your lordship’s in all duty,       

The Argument [Introduction with Historical Background]

    LUCIUS TARQUINIUS,—for his excessive pride surnamed Superbus,—after he had caused his own father-in-law, Servius Tullius, to be cruelly murdered, and contrary to the Roman laws and customs, not requiring or staying for the people’s suffrages, had possessed himself of the kingdom, went, accompanied with his sons and other noblemen of Rome, to besiege Ardea. During which siege the principal men of the army meeting one evening at the tent of Sextus Tarquinius, the king’s son, in their discourses after supper, every one commended the virtues of his own wife: among whom Collatinus extolled the incomparable chastity of his wife Lucretia. In that pleasant humour they all posted to Rome; and intending, by their secret and sudden arrival, to make trial of that which every one had before avouched, only Collatinus finds his wife—though it were late in the night—spinning amongst her maids: the other ladies were all found dancing and revelling, or in several disports. Whereupon the noblemen yielded Collatinus the victory, and his wife the fame. At that time Sextus Tarquinius, being inflamed with Lucrece’ beauty, yet smothering his passions for the present, departed with the rest back to the camp; from whence he shortly after privily withdrew himself, and was, according to his estate, royally entertained and lodged by Lucrece at Collatium. The same night he treacherously stealeth into her chamber, violently ravished her, and early in the morning speedeth away. Lucrece, in this lamentable plight, hastily dispatcheth messengers, one to Rome for her father, and another to the camp for Collatine. They came, the one accompanied with Junius Brutus, the other with Publius Valerius; and finding Lucrece attired in mourning habit, demanded the cause of her sorrow. She, first taking an oath of them for her revenge, revealed the actor, and the whole manner of his dealing, and withal suddenly stabbed herself. Which done, with one consent they all vowed to root out the whole hated family of the Tarquins; and, bearing the dead body to Rome, Brutus acquainted the people with the doer and manner of the vile deed, with a bitter invective against the tyranny of the king: wherewith the people were so moved, that with one consent and a general acclamation the Tarquins were all exiled, and the state government changed from kings to consuls.

The Text of the Poem

FROM the besieged Ardea all in post,     
Borne by the trustless wings of false desire,     
Lust-breathed Tarquin leaves the Roman host,     
And to Collatium bears the lightless fire     
Which, in pale embers hid, lurks to aspire,             5
  And girdle with embracing flames the waist     
  Of Collatine’s fair love, Lucrece the chaste.    

Ardea: Town about twenty miles south of Rome
all in post: In a hurry
false: Lustful
Collatium: Collatia, a town about ten miles northeast of Rome
lightless fire: Hidden passion; lust that stirs in the dark recesses of Tarquin's soul
lurks to aspire: Prepares to break loose
girdle: Surround; embrace
Haply that name of chaste unhappily set     
This bateless edge on his keen appetite;     
When Collatine unwisely did not let      10
To praise the clear unmatched red and white     
Which triumph’d in that sky of his delight,     
  Where mortal stars, as bright as heaven’s beauties,     
  With pure aspects did him peculiar duties.    

8-9: The chance mention of the chaste Lucrece unfortunately aroused Tarquin's sexual appetite.
Haply: By chance; accidentally
bateless: Uncontained; unchecked
let: Hesitate; hold back
red and white: Colors symbolizing Lucrece's beauty and faithfulness to her husband
stars: eyes
For he the night before, in Tarquin’s tent,      15
Unlock’d the treasure of his happy state;     
What priceless wealth the heavens had him lent     
In the possession of his beauteous mate;     
Reckoning his fortune at such high-proud rate,     
  That kings might be espoused to more fame,      20
  But king nor peer to such a peerless dame.    

16: Discussed the treasure (Lucrece) that made him happy
19-21: Said his fortune at having Lucrece was so great that although kings might possess more fame they do not possess so great a treasure as Lucrece
O happiness enjoy’d but of a few!     
And, if possess’d, as soon decay’d and done     
As is the morning’s silver-melting dew     
Against the golden splendour of the sun;      25
An expir’d date, cancell’d ere well begun:     
  Honour and beauty, in the owner’s arms,     
  Are weakly fortress’d from a world of harms.    

23-28: But such happiness, if possessed, is soon gone as quickly as morning dew in sunlight. The happiness ends almost before it began. Honor and beauty, in the owner's arms, are not well protected against potential harm.
Beauty itself doth of itself persuade     
The eyes of men without an orator;      30
What needeth then apology be made     
To set forth that which is so singular?     
Or why is Collatine the publisher     
  Of that rich jewel he should keep unknown     
  From thievish ears, because it is his own?      35

29-30: Beauty is obvious to anyone who sees it; it doesn't need someone to speak on its behalf.
apology: explanation; justification
33-34: Why is collatine bragging about his rich jewel (Lucrece), which he should keep quiet about so that someone does not steal her from him?
Perchance his boast of Lucrece’ sovereignty     
Suggested this proud issue of a king;     
For by our ears our hearts oft tainted be:     
Perchance that envy of so rich a thing,     
Braving compare, disdainfully did sting      40
  His high-pitch’d thoughts, that meaner men should vaunt     
  That golden hap which their superiors want.    

37: Suggested proud Tarquin, the son of a king
39-42: Maybe envy of so rich a prize, incomparable Lucrece, made Tarquin despise Collatine for bragging about his good fortune in having her.
But some untimely thought did instigate     
His all-too-timeless speed, if none of those;     
His honour, his affairs, his friends, his state,      45
Neglected all, with swift intent he goes     
To quench the coal which in his liver glows.     
  O! rash false heat, wrapp’d in repentant cold,     
  Thy hasty spring still blasts, and ne’er grows old.    

43-44: But whatever his motives were, Tarquin quickly rode off on his horse.
liver: The source of passion.
When at Collatium this false lord arriv’d,      50
Well was he welcom’d by the Roman dame,     
Within whose face beauty and virtue striv’d     
Which of them both should underprop her fame:     
When virtue bragg’d, beauty would blush for shame;     
  When beauty boasted blushes, in despite      55
  Virtue would stain that o’er with silver white.    

52-53: Within whose face, beauty and virtue competed to take credit for the stories about her allure
in despite: In spite
But beauty, in that white intituled,     
From Venus’ doves doth challenge that fair field;     
Then virtue claims from beauty beauty’s red,     
Which virtue gave the golden age to gild      60
Their silver cheeks, and call’d it then their shield;     
  Teaching them thus to use it in the fight,     
  When shame assail’d, the red should fence the white. 

intituled: Archaic word for entitled
57-63: But beauty, now appearing white, begins to show her red (blush). Virtue then claims the red, which it gave to women to redden their silver cheeks to display their modesty. Modesty then could serve as a shield to guard women against shameful advances.

This heraldry in Lucrece’ face was seen,     
Argu’d by beauty’s red and virtue’s white:      65
Of either’s colour was the other queen,     
Proving from world’s minority their right:     
Yet their ambition makes them still to fight;     
  The sovereignty of either being so great,     
  That oft they interchange each other’s seat.      70

heraldry: Insignia, like one on a knight's shield
argu'd: Demonstrated; displayed
66: Beauty and virtue, in their competition, often exchanged colors, becoming queen of that color.
67: Proving their right, held from the time when the world was young.
Their silent war of lilies and of roses,     
Which Tarquin view’d in her fair face’s field,     
In their pure ranks his traitor eye encloses;     
Where, lest between them both it should be kill’d,     
The coward captive vanquished doth yield      75
  To those two armies that would let him go,     
  Rather than triumph in so false a foe. 

field: area; cheeks
74: Where, in the war between red and white, his eye yields and looks away lest it be killed. The two armies let him go rather than conquer so false a foe.
Now thinks he that her husband’s shallow tongue—     
The niggard prodigal that prais’d her so—     
In that high task hath done her beauty wrong,      80
Which far exceeds his barren skill to show:     
Therefore that praise which Collatine doth owe     
  Enchanted Tarquin answers with surmise,     
  In silent wonder of still-gazing eyes.    

78-84: Now Tarquin thinks that Lucrece's husband, away at Ardea, was stingy in his praise of her. He apparently lacked the skill to describe her superior beauty.  Tarquin is now able to see for himself all the wondrous details Collatine left out.
This earthly saint, adored by this devil,      85
Little suspecteth the false worshipper;     
For unstain’d thoughts do seldom dream on evil,     
Birds never lim’d no secret bushes fear:     
So guiltless she securely gives good cheer     
  And reverend welcome to her princely guest,      90
  Whose inward ill no outward harm express’d:    

saint: Lucrece
devil: Tarquin
Birds never lim'd: Birds that were never trapped with birdlime, a sticky preparation spread on branches, twigs, or bushes
For that he colour’d with his high estate,     
Hiding base sin in plaits of majesty;     
That nothing in him seem’d inordinate,     
Save sometime too much wonder of his eye,      95
Which, having all, all could not satisfy;     
  But, poorly rich, so wanteth in his store,     
  That, cloy’d with much, he pineth still for more.    

92: For he hid his "inward ill" (mentioned in line 91) with his outward, princely manner
plaits: Displays; demonstrations
94: So that nothing about him seemed suspicious
96-98: Which, having everything as a king's son, was still not satisfied; he did not have Lucrece. Thus, though he was rich, he was poor.
But she, that never cop’d with stranger eyes,     
Could pick no meaning from their parling looks,     100
Nor read the subtle-shining secrecies     
Writ in the glassy margents of such books:     
She touch’d no unknown baits, nor fear’d no hooks;     
  Nor could she moralize his wanton sight,     
  More than his eyes were open’d to the light.     105

cop'd: Coped
with stranger eyes: With a stranger's eyes
parling: Speaking
101-102: Nor read the secrets shining in the margins of his eyes
104-105: Nor could she detect the leer in his eyes. She knew only that his eyes were open to the light.
He stories to her ears her husband’s fame,     
Won in the fields of fruitful Italy;     
And decks with praises Collatine’s high name,     
Made glorious by his manly chivalry     
With bruised arms and wreaths of victory:     110
  Her joy with heav’d-up hand she doth express,     
  And, wordless, so greets heaven for his success.    

06-107: He tells her of her husband's fame as a soldier in the fields of Italy.
bruised arms: Dented weaponry
Far from the purpose of his coming thither,     
He makes excuses for his being there:     
No cloudy show of stormy blustering weather     115
Doth yet in this fair welkin once appear;     
Till sable Night, mother of Dread and Fear,     
  Upon the world dim darkness doth display,     
  And in her vaulty prison stows the Day.    

thither: there; to her home
115-119: There is no hint of trouble in Tarquin's behavior until night darkens the world and imprisons daylight.
For then is Tarquin brought unto his bed,     120
Intending weariness with heavy spright;     
For after supper long he questioned     
With modest Lucrece, and wore out the night:     
Now leaden slumber with life’s strength doth fight,     
  And every one to rest themselves betake,     125
  Save thieves, and cares, and troubled minds, that wake.    

121: Pretending to be weary with a heavy spirit
As one of which doth Tarquin lie revolving     
The sundry dangers of his will’s obtaining;     
Yet ever to obtain his will resolving,     
Though weak-built hopes persuade him to abstaining:     130
Despair to gain doth traffic oft for gaining;     
  And when great treasure is the meed propos’d,     
  Though death be adjunct, there’s no death suppos’d.    

127-133  Tarquin lies awake as he considers the dangers of forcing Lucrece to his will. He wants to have his way with her, but he is hesitant. However, the great treasure that is Lucrece urges him on; he thinks only of her, not of the consequences of violating her.
Those that much covet are with gain so fond,     
For what they have not, that which they possess     135
They scatter and unloose it from their bond,     
And so, by hoping more, they have but less;     
Or, gaining more, the profit of excess     
  Is but to surfeit, and such griefs sustain,     
  That they prove bankrupt in this poor-rich gain.     140

138-140: When they gain more, they indulge in excess, like someone with a banquet before him who overeats and becomes sick. So they actually lose when they gain.
The aim of all is but to nurse the life     
With honour, wealth, and ease, in waning age;     
And in this aim there is such thwarting strife,     
That one for all, or all for one we gage;     
As life for honour in fell battles’ rage;     145
  Honour for wealth; and oft that wealth doth cost     
  The death of all, and all together lost.    

waning: Advancing
144-147: That we are willing to gamble one good thing for another—to put our life at risk, for example, in a raging battle in order to win honor. Sometimes we risk honor for wealth and end up losing everything, including life.
So that in venturing ill we leave to be     
The things we are for that which we expect;     
And this ambitious foul infirmity,     150
In having much, torments us with defect     
Of that we have: so then we do neglect     
  The thing we have: and, all for want of wit,     
  Make something nothing by augmenting it. 

148—154: Thus, in venturing to do ill, we risk the things we already have for the thing we hope to gain. We stand to lose everything by trying to have one more thing.  
Such hazard now must doting Tarquin make,     155
Pawning his honour to obtain his lust,     
And for himself himself he must forsake:     
Then where is truth, if there be no self-trust?     
When shall he think to find a stranger just,     
  When he himself himself confounds, betrays     160
  To slanderous tongues and wretched hateful days?    

155-161: Such a risk Tarquin is now ready to take. He is willing to give up his honor to satisfy his lust for Lucrece. Where is truth, if one cannot be true to oneself? When will he be able to trust a stranger when he himself betrays himself?
Now stole upon the time the dead of night,     
When heavy sleep had clos’d up mortal eyes;     
No comfortable star did lend his light,     
No noise but owls’ and wolves’ death-boding cries;     165
Now serves the season that they may surprise     
  The silly lambs; pure thoughts are dead and still,     
  While lust and murder wake to stain and kill.    

And now this lustful lord leap’d from his bed,     
Throwing his mantle rudely o’er his arm;     170
Is madly toss’d between desire and dread;     
Th’ one sweetly flatters, th’ other feareth harm;     
But honest fear, bewitch’d with lust’s foul charm,     
  Doth too too oft betake him to retire,     
  Beaten away by brain-sick rude desire.     175

mantle: Cloak
173-175: Honest fear tells him not to go through with his plan, but raw desire and foul lust overwhelm fear.
His falchion on a flint he softly smiteth,     
That from the cold stone sparks of fire do fly;     
Whereat a waxen torch forthwith he lighteth,     
Which must be lode-star to his lustful eye;     
And to the flame thus speaks advisedly:     180
  ‘As from this cold flint I enforc’d this fire,     
  So Lucrece must I force to my desire.’     

falchion: Sword
smiteth: Struck
lode-star (lodestar): Star used by sailors to navigate
Here pale with fear he doth premeditate     
The dangers of his loathsome enterprise,     
And in his inward mind he doth debate     185
What following sorrow may on this arise:     
Then looking scornfully, he doth despise     
  His naked armour of still-slaughter’d lust,     
  And justly thus controls his thoughts unjust:    

187-189: Then looking scornfully at his penis (naked armor), still not erect because of his fears, he gains control of his thoughts, using reason to hold off passion.
‘Fair torch, burn out thy light, and lend it not     190
To darken her whose light excelleth thine;     
And die, unhallow’d thoughts, before you blot     
With your uncleanness that which is divine;     
Offer pure incense to so pure a shrine:     
  Let fair humanity abhor the deed     195
  That spots and stains love’s modest snow-white weed.    

unhallow'd: Unholy; evil
that which is divine: Lucrece.
love's modest snow-white weed: Lucrece's innocence or chastity
‘O shame to knighthood and to shining arms!     
O foul dishonour to my household’s grave!     
O impious act, including all foul harms!     
A martial man to be soft fancy’s slave!     200
True valour still a true respect should have;     
  Then my digression is so vile, so base,     
  That it will live engraven in my face.    

household's grave: Family burial site
soft fancy's: Lust's; love's
‘Yea, though I die, the scandal will survive,     
And be an eye-sore in my golden coat;     205
Some loathsome dash the herald will contrive,     
To cipher me how fondly I did dote;     
That my posterity sham’d with the note,     
  Shall curse my bones, and hold it for no sin     
  To wish that I their father had not been.     210

golden coat: Coat of arms; reputation
dash: Symbol on a person's coat of arms indicating that he committed a foul deed
‘What win I if I gain the thing I seek?     
A dream, a breath, a froth of fleeting joy.     
Who buys a minute’s mirth to wail a week?     
Or sells eternity to get a toy?     
For one sweet grape who will the vine destroy?     215
  Or what fond beggar, but to touch the crown,     
  Would with the sceptre straight be strucken down?    

211-217: In this stanza, Tarquin asks himself why he should indulge in a moment of pleasure with Lucrece if it results in an eternity of regrets and negative consequences.
‘If Collatinus dream of my intent,     
Will he not wake, and in a desperate rage     
Post hither, this vile purpose to prevent?     220
This siege that hath engirt his marriage,     
This blur to youth, this sorrow to the sage,     
  This dying virtue, this surviving shame,     
  Whose crime will bear an ever-during blame?    

Post hither: Hurry here
221-224: This evil siege that closes in on his wife, this stain that will dirty his young wife, this act that will cause sorrow and kill virtue, this deed that will bring shame, this crime that will bring me everlasting blame?
‘O! what excuse can my invention make,     225
When thou shalt charge me with so black a deed?     
Will not my tongue be mute, my frail joints shake,     
Mine eyes forego their light, my false heart bleed?     
The guilt being great, the fear doth still exceed;     
  And extreme fear can neither fight nor fly,     230
  But coward-like with trembling terror die.    

invention: Imagination
‘Had Collatinus kill’d my son or sire,     
Or lain in ambush to betray my life,     
Or were he not my dear friend, this desire     
Might have excuse to work upon his wife,     235
As in revenge or quittal of such strife:     
  But as he is my kinsman, my dear friend,     
  The shame and fault finds no excuse nor end.  

quittal: Settlement; revenge for
‘Shameful it is; ay, if the fact be known:     
Hateful it is; there is no hate in loving:     240
I’ll beg her love; but she is not her own:     
The worst is but denial and reproving:     
My will is strong, past reason’s weak removing.     
  Who fears a sentence, or an old man’s saw,     
  Shall by a painted cloth be kept in awe.’     245

fact: Act; deed
In this stanza, Tarquin continues to deliberate. If Lucrece willingly submits to his advances, then intimacy with her would not be hateful. Although she belongs to Collatine, not Tarquin, the worst that could happen is that he would deny accusations against him or accept Collatine's reprovals. At this point, though, Tarquin's lust is getting the better of him; it is "past reason's weak removing." He shouldn't be afraid to go ahead with his plan, he thinks.
Thus, graceless, holds he disputation     
’Tween frozen conscience and hot-burning will,     
And with good thoughts makes dispensation,     
Urging the worser sense for vantage still;     
Which in a moment doth confound and kill     250
  All pure effects, and doth so far proceed,     
  That what is vile shows like a virtuous deed.  

246-252: After the battle between his conscience and his burning passion, Tarquin dispenses with reason and accepts his evil passions, allowing them to guide him. 
Quoth he, ‘She took me kindly by the hand,     
And gaz’d for tidings in my eager eyes,     
Fearing some hard news from the war-like band     255
Where her beloved Collatinus lies.     
O! how her fear did make her colour rise:     
  First red as roses that on lawn we lay,     
  Then white as lawn, the roses took away.  

lawn: White linen 
‘And how her hand, in my hand being lock’d,     260
Forc’d it to tremble with her loyal fear!     
Which struck her sad, and then it faster rock’d,     
Until her husband’s welfare she did hear;     
Whereat she smiled with so sweet a cheer,     
  That had Narcissus seen her as she stood,     265
  Self-love had never drown’d him in the flood.    

Narcissus: In Greek mythology, a young man who fell in love with his own image when he saw it in a pool. One account of his story says he drowned while attempting to kiss the image.
‘Why hunt I then for colour or excuses?     
All orators are dumb when beauty pleadeth;     
Poor wretches have remorse in poor abuses;     
Love thrives not in the heart that shadows dreadeth:     270
Affection is my captain, and he leadeth;     
  And when his gaudy banner is display’d,     
  The coward fights and will not be dismay’d.    

colour: Reasons
266-273: Why am I hunting for reasons or excuses to justify my planned deed? All arguments fail before the lure of beauty. Poor wretches regret actions when they try to make excuses for them. Love (lust) doesn't thrive in a heart that is fearful. I will let my feelings guide me and will not be dismayed.
‘Then, childish fear, avaunt! debating, die!     
Respect and reason, wait on wrinkled age!     275
My heart shall never countermand mine eye:     
Sad pause and deep regard beseem the sage;     
My part is youth, and beats these from the stage.     
  Desire my pilot is, beauty my prize;     
  Then who fears sinking where such treasure lies?’     280

avaunt: Begone; go away
277-280: Hesitation and deep thinking are for wise old men. I am young and will not hesitate; I will not lose myself in contemplation. Desire is my guide and beauty my prize. I will seek the treasure (Lucrece) without fear.
As corn o’ergrown by weeds, so heedful fear     
Is almost chok’d by unresisted lust.     
Away he steals with open listening ear,     
Full of foul hope, and full of fond mistrust;     
Both which, as servitors to the unjust,     285
  So cross him with their opposite persuasion,     
  That now he vows a league, and now invasion.    

281-287: As overgrown weeds threaten corn, Tarquin's lust threatens Lucrece—almost. He still has reservations, doubts. So when he steals away, he is full of hope to gain what he desires but still worries about the consequences of what he plans to do. Thus, hope and annoying mistrust roil within him so that he wishes to hold back one moment and forge ahead the next.
Within his thought her heavenly image sits,     
And in the self-same seat sits Collatine:     
That eye which looks on her confounds his wits;     290
That eye which him beholds, as more divine,     
Unto a view so false will not incline;     
  But with a pure appeal seeks to the heart,     
  Which once corrupted, takes the worser part;    

290-294: When he looks at her image, his reasons against defiling Lucrece fall apart. When he looks at Collatine, he downplays any threat from him. Then he appeals to his heart, which once corrupted prefers to do evil.
And therein heartens up his servile powers,     295
Who, flatter’d by their leader’s jocund show,     
Stuff up his lust, as minutes fill up hours;     
And as their captain, so their pride doth grow,     
Paying more slavish tribute than they owe.     
  By reprobate desire thus madly led,     300
  The Roman lord marcheth to Lucrece’ bed.    

Stuff up: Intensify; increase
299: Working overtime to stir his lust
The locks between her chamber and his will,    
Each one by him enforc’d, retires his ward;     
But as they open they all rate his ill,     
Which drives the creeping thief to some regard:     305
The threshold grates the door to have him heard;     
  Night-wandering weasels shriek to see him there;     
  They fright him, yet he still pursues his fear.    

retires his ward: Retires the guardian—that is, draws back the bolt
rate: Make a warning noise
regard: Pause; consideration of what he plans to do
As each unwilling portal yields him way,     
Through little vents and crannies of the place     310
The wind wars with his torch to make him stay,     
And blows the smoke of it into his face,     
Extinguishing his conduct in this case;     
  But his hot heart, which fond desire doth scorch,     
  Puffs forth another wind that fires the torch:     315

313: Stopping his progress toward Lucrece
And being lighted, by the light he spies     
Lucretia’s glove, wherein her needle sticks:     
He takes it from the rushes where it lies,     
And gripping it, the neeld his finger pricks;     
As who should say, ‘This glove to wanton tricks     320
  Is not inur’d; return again in haste;     
  Thou seest our mistress’ ornaments are chaste.’    

neeld: Needle
320-322: As if the needle says, "This glove will play tricks on you; go back in haste. You see that Lucrece's ornaments are chaste."

But all these poor forbiddings could not stay him;     
He in the worst sense construes their denial:     
The doors, the wind, the glove, that did delay him,     325
He takes for accidental things of trial;     
Or as those bars which stop the hourly dial,     
  Who with a ling’ring stay his course doth let,     
  Till every minute pays the hour his debt.    

things of trial: Things that test his resolve
bars: The minute markings on the face of a clock
328: Which with a lingering pause temporarily halt his progress
329: Until the clock's hand advances and he continues on
‘So, so,’ quoth he, ‘these lets attend the time,     330
Like little frosts that sometime threat the spring,     
To add a more rejoicing to the prime,     
And give the sneaped birds more cause to sing.     
Pain pays the income of each precious thing;     
  Huge rocks, high winds, strong pirates, shelves and sands,     335
  The merchant fears, ere rich at home he lands.’    

lets: Pauses; delays
332: These delays further whet my appetite so that I will enjoy Lucrece more when I have her.
sneaped: Nipped with cold
ere: Before
Now is he come unto the chamber door,     
That shuts him from the heaven of his thought,     
Which with a yielding latch, and with no more,     
Hath barr’d him from the blessed thing he sought.     340
So from himself impiety hath wrought,     
  That for his prey to pray he doth begin,     
  As if the heavens should countenance his sin.    

341-343: As he nears his goal, his impiety ironically makes him pray to be with his prey, as if the heavens should approve his sin.
But in the midst of his unfruitful prayer,     
Having solicited the eternal power     345
That his foul thoughts might compass his fair fair,     
And they would stand auspicious to the hour,     
Even there he starts: quoth he, ‘I must deflower;     
  The powers to whom I pray abhor this fact,     
  How can they then assist me in the act?     350

compass his fair fair: Hold or embrace his wondrous lady
348-349: And even there he hesitates. Says he, "I want to defile her. But the powers to whom I pray abhor my desire to do so."
‘Then Love and Fortune be my gods, my guide!     
My will is back’d with resolution:     
Thoughts are but dreams till their effects be tried;     
The blackest sin is clear’d with absolution;     
Against love’s fire fear’s frost hath dissolution.     355
  The eye of heaven is out, and misty night     
  Covers the shame that follows sweet delight.’ 

354: Shakespeare alludes here to the Roman Catholic sacrament of Penance, in which a priest—acting through and on behalf of God—absolves sins. However, the Roman Catholic Church was not founded until centuries after the time of Tarquin.
The eye of heaven is out: The moon is hidden by clouds.
This said, his guilty hand pluck’d up the latch,     
And with his knee the door he opens wide.     
The dove sleeps fast that this night-owl will catch:     360
Thus treason works ere traitors be espied.     
Who sees the lurking serpent steps aside;     
  But she, sound sleeping, fearing no such thing,     
  Lies at the mercy of his mortal sting.    

362-364: This passage compares Tarquin to a snake that is about to inflict its "mortal sting."
Into the chamber wickedly he stalks,     365
And gazeth on her yet unstained bed.     
The curtains being close, about he walks,     
Rolling his greedy eyeballs in his head:     
By their high treason is his heart misled;     
  Which gives the watchword to his hand full soon,     370
  To draw the cloud that hides the silver moon.    

The curtains being close: The curtains of the bed being closed
eyeballs: Shakespeare invented the word eyeball. No one before or during his time had used it.
371: To open the curtains that hide Lucrece
Look, as the fair and fiery-pointed sun,     
Rushing from forth a cloud, bereaves our sight;     
Even so, the curtain drawn, his eyes begun     
To wink, being blinded with a greater light:     375
Whether it is that she reflects so bright,     
  That dazzleth them, or else some shame supposed,     
  But blind they are, and keep themselves enclosed.    

Look, as: Notice that
bereaves: Dazzles; blinds
wink: Close
greater light: Lucrece
O! had they in that darksome prison died,     
Then had they seen the period of their ill;     380
Then Collatine again, by Lucrece’ side,     
In his clear bed might have reposed still:     
But they must ope, this blessed league to kill,     
  And holy-thoughted Lucrece to their sight     
  Must sell her joy, her life, her world’s delight.     385

379-385: O, if only his eyes had died while they were closed. Then he would have ended his evil task, and life would go on as usual, with Collatine coming home to lie in his bed next to Lucrece. But Tarquin opened his eyes to prey on holy Lucrece and take away her joy, her life, and all that she delights in.
Her lily hand her rosy cheek lies under,     
Cozening the pillow of a lawful kiss;     
Who, therefore angry, seems to part in sunder,     
Swelling on either side to want his bliss;     
Between whose hills her head entombed is:     390
  Where, like a virtuous monument she lies,     
  To be admir’d of lewd unhallow’d eyes.    

386-387: Her lily hand lies under her rosy cheek, preventing the pillow from kissing the cheek. Angry, the pillow sinks in the middle but swells on the sides to demonstrate its desire to connect with Lucrece's cheek. In the depression between the swellings, her head lies entombed. Lewd onlookers have an opportunity to admire her as she sleeps.
Without the bed her other fair hand was,     
On the green coverlet; whose perfect white     
Show’d like an April daisy on the grass,     395
With pearly sweat, resembling dew of night.     
Her eyes, like marigolds, had sheath’d their light,     
  And canopied in darkness sweetly lay,     
  Till they might open to adorn the day.   

393-395: Extending over the edge of the bed, on a green bedspread, was her other hand. Its whiteness was like an April daisy on green grass.
397: Her eyes, like marigolds, were closed.
Her hair, like golden threads, play’d with her breath;     400
O modest wantons! wanton modesty!     
Showing life’s triumph in the map of death,     
And death’s dim look in life’s mortality:     
Each in her sleep themselves so beautify,     
  As if between them twain there were no strife,     405
  But that life liv’d in death, and death in life.    

402: Showing the vibrancy of life in sleep, which resembles death
twain: Both
Her breasts, like ivory globes circled with blue,     
A pair of maiden worlds unconquered,     
Save of their lord no bearing yoke they knew,     
And him by oath they truly honoured.     410
These worlds in Tarquin new ambition bred;     
  Who, like a foul usurper, went about     
  From this fair throne to heave the owner out.     

409: No one had come in contact with her breasts except her husband, Collatine.
411: Seeing her breasts aroused new passion in Tarquin.
412-413: Who, like a foul usurper, was about to take Collatine's place.

What could he see but mightily he noted?     
What did he note but strongly he desir’d?     415
What he beheld, on that he firmly doted,     
And in his will his wilful eye he tir’d.     
With more than admiration he admir’d     
  Her azure veins, her alabaster skin,     
  Her coral lips, her snow-white dimpled chin.     420

414-415: Everything he saw he carefully examined and strongly desired.
417: And in his desire his lustful eye feasted on what it saw.
As the grim lion fawneth o’er his prey,     
Sharp hunger by the conquest satisfied,     
So o’er this sleeping soul doth Tarquin stay,     
His rage of lust by gazing qualified;     
Slack’d, not suppress’d; for standing by her side,     425
  His eye, which late this mutiny restrains,     
  Unto a greater uproar tempts his veins:    

424: His raging lust was pacified momentarily by his gazing at her
426-427: His gaze, restrained until now, renews his passion.

And they, like straggling slaves for pillage fighting,     
Obdurate vassals fell exploits effecting,     
In bloody death and ravishment delighting,     430
Nor children’s tears nor mothers’ groans respecting,     
Swell in their pride, the onset still expecting:     
  Anon his beating heart, alarum striking,     
  Gives the hot charge and bids them do their liking.     

428-434: And the veins, like straggling soldiers hardened by slaughter they carry out—delighting in the death and ravishment they cause, showing no pity for children's tears or mothers' groans, swell in their pride as they await this new assault. Soon, his beating heart, striking alarm, orders the charge and tells them to do as they wish.
His drumming heart cheers up his burning eye,     435
His eye commends the leading to his hand;     
His hand, as proud of such a dignity,     
Smoking with pride, march’d on to make his stand     
On her bare breast, the heart of all her land;     
  Whose ranks of blue veins, as his hand did scale,     440
  Left their round turrets destitute and pale.   

436: His eyes give the honor of leading the charge to his hand
They, mustering to the quiet cabinet     
Where their dear governess and lady lies,     
Do tell her she is dreadfully beset,     
And fright her with confusion of their cries:     445
She, much amaz’d, breaks ope her lock’d-up eyes,     
  Who, peeping forth this tumult to behold,     
  Are by his flaming torch dimm’d and controll’d.  

mustering: Hurrying
cabinet: Heart

Imagine her as one in dead of night     
From forth dull sleep by dreadful fancy waking,     450
That thinks she hath beheld some ghastly sprite,     
Whose grim aspect sets every joint a-shaking;     
What terror ’tis! but she, in worser taking,     
  From sleep disturbed, heedfully doth view     
  The sight which makes supposed terror true.     455

taking: Predicament

Wrapp’d and confounded in a thousand fears,     
Like to a new-kill’d bird she trembling lies;     
She dares not look; yet, winking, there appears     
Quick-shifting antics, ugly in her eyes:     
Such shadows are the weak brain’s forgeries;     460
  Who, angry that the eyes fly from their lights,     
  In darkness daunts them with more dreadful sights.    

winking: Closing her eyes
460: Such shadows are images created by the brain, which—angry that the eyes have closed—in darkness terrorizes the eyes with more dreadful sights.
His hand, that yet remains upon her breast,     
Rude ram to batter such an ivory wall!     
May feel her heart,—poor citizen,—distress’d     465
Wounding itself to death, rise up and fall,     
Beating her bulk, that his hand shakes withal.     
  This moves in him more rage, and lesser pity,     
  To make the breach and enter this sweet city.   

467: Her heart thumps, causing his hand to shake.
withal: Also; as well
First, like a trumpet, doth his tongue begin     470
To sound a parley to his heartless foe;     
Who o’er the white sheet peers her whiter chin,     
The reason of this rash alarm to know,     
Which he by dumb demeanour seeks to show;     
  But she with vehement prayers urgeth still     475
  Under what colour he commits this ill.    

parley: Conference; negotiation; dialogue
heartless: Fearful
dumb: Silent; mute
demeanour: Gesture
colour: Reason; excuse; intention

Thus he replies: ‘The colour in thy face,—     
That even for anger makes the lily pale,     
And the red rose blush at her own disgrace,—     
Shall plead for me and tell my loving tale;     480
Under that colour am I come to scale     
  Thy never-conquer’d fort: the fault is thine,     
  For those thine eyes betray thee unto mine.  

‘Thus I forestall thee, if thou mean to chide:     
Thy beauty hath ensnar’d thee to this night,     485
Where thou with patience must my will abide,     
My will that marks thee for my earth’s delight,     
Which I to conquer sought with all my might;     
  But as reproof and reason beat it dead,     
  By thy bright beauty was it newly bred.     490

484: "Thus, if you mean to protest or condemn me, I prevent you."
489-490: "Even though I momentarily controlled my passion with reason and rebuke, your bright beauty reawakened it."
‘I see what crosses my attempt will bring;     
I know what thorns the growing rose defends;     
I think the honey guarded with a sting;     
All this, beforehand, counsel comprehends:     
But will is deaf and hears no heedful friends;     495
  Only he hath an eye to gaze on beauty,     
  And dotes on what he looks, ’gainst law or duty.  

491-495: Tarquin says he is aware of the troubles his foul deed will cause. There will be thorns and stings to overcome, his reason has told him. But his will, his passionate desire, does not listen to reason. 
‘I have debated, even in my soul,     
What wrong, what shame, what sorrow I shall breed;     
But nothing can affection’s course control,     500
Or stop the headlong fury of his speed.     
I know repentant tears ensue the deed,     
  Reproach, disdain, and deadly enmity;     
  Yet strike I to embrace mine infamy.’    

This said, he shakes aloft his Roman blade,     505
Which like a falcon towering in the skies,     
Coucheth the fowl below with his wings’ shade,     
Whose crooked beak threats if he mount he dies:     
So under his insulting falchion lies     
  Harmless Lucretia, marking what he tells     510
  With trembling fear, as fowl hear falcon’s bells.    

507-508: Makes the fowl cower in the shadows cast by the wings of the falcon. The falcon's beak threatens that if he attacks the fowl dies.
bells: Trained hunting falcons had bells attached to their legs so that their trainers could easily find them.
‘Lucrece,’ quoth he, ‘this night I must enjoy thee:     
If thou deny, then force must work my way,     
For in thy bed I purpose to destroy thee:     
That done, some worthless slave of thine I’ll slay,     515
To kill thine honour with thy life’s decay;     
  And in thy dead arms do I mean to place him,     
  Swearing I slew him, seeing thee embrace him. 

purpose: Plan; intend
‘So thy surviving husband shall remain     
The scornful mark of every open eye;     520
Thy kinsmen hang their heads at this disdain,     
Thy issue blurr’d with nameless bastardy:     
And thou, the author of their obloquy,     
  Shalt have thy trespass cited up in rimes,     
  And sung by children in succeeding times.     525

mark: Target.
issue blurr'd: children stained
nameless bastardy: A bastard was the child of unmarried parents. He or she was sometimes ineligible to bear the surname of the father. In certain cases, the identity of the father was unknown.
obloquy: Disgrace; bad reputation
‘But if thou yield, I rest thy secret friend:     
The fault unknown is as a thought unacted;     
A little harm done to a great good end,     
For lawful policy remains enacted.     
The poisonous simple sometimes is compacted     530
  In a pure compound; being so applied,     
  His venom in effect is purified.    

526-527: But if you yield to me, I won't tell anyone. If our encounter is unknown, it is as if it never happened."
529: "You will remain in good standing."
530-532: "A poisonous ingredient is sometimes mixed with a preparation that neutralizes poison. The poison becomes harmless."
‘Then, for thy husband and thy children’s sake,     
Tender my suit: bequeath not to their lot     
The shame that from them no device can take,     535
The blemish that will never be forgot;     
Worse than a slavish wipe or birth-hour’s blot:     
  For marks descried in men’s nativity     
  Are nature’s faults, not their own infamy.’    

533-539: "Then, for the sake of your husband and children, be open to my plea. Don't cause them shame that cannot be erased or forgotten, shame that is worse than the mark left by the hot brand pressed into the flesh of a slave to mark him at birth. For marks on an infant cannot be regarded as the infant's fault."
Here with a cockatrice’ dead-killing eye     540
He rouseth up himself, and makes a pause;     
While she, the picture of pure piety,     
Like a white hind under the gripe’s sharp claws,     
Pleads in a wilderness where are no laws,     
  To the rough beast that knows no gentle right,     545
  Nor aught obeys but his foul appetite.    

cockatrice: In Greek mythology, a serpent that could kill with the glare of its eyes.
hind: Female deer.
gripe: Griffin, Fabled beast with the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion.
546: Nor obeys any laws or commands except his foul appetite.
But when a black-fac’d cloud the world doth threat,     
In his dim mist the aspiring mountains hiding,     
From earth’s dark womb some gentle gust doth get,     
Which blows these pitchy vapours from their biding,     550
Hindering their present fall by this dividing;     
  So his unhallow’d haste her words delays,     
  And moody Pluto winks while Orpheus plays.

547-553: But when a storm cloud threatens to release its rain on the world—its dim mist hiding the mountains—and some gentle gust rises to blows the rain away, so it is that his unholy haste delays her words. The god of the underworld, Pluto, closes his eyes while the great musician Orpheus plays his lyre.   
Yet, foul night-working cat, he doth but dally,     
While in his hold-fast foot the weak mouse panteth:     555
Her sad behaviour feeds his vulture folly,     
A swallowing gulf that even in plenty wanteth:     
His ear her prayers admits, but his heart granteth     
  No penetrable entrance to her plaining:     
  Tears harden lust though marble wear with raining.     560

544-560: Yet foul Tarquin is but dallying while the weak lady lies in his control. Her helplessness feeds the vulture in him, and he wants more. Her prayers enter his ear, but his heart ignores them. Her tears harden and increase his lust. But even marble wears in the rain after a time.
Her pity-pleading eyes are sadly fix’d     
In the remorseless wrinkles of his face;     
Her modest eloquence with sighs is mix’d,     
Which to her oratory adds more grace.     
She puts the period often from his place;     565
  And midst the sentence so her accent breaks,     
  That twice she doth begin ere once she speaks.    

565-566: She puts the period often in the wrong place, and in the middle of the sentence her voice breaks. Consequently, she begins twice before she speaks.
She conjures him by high almighty Jove,     
By knighthood, gentry, and sweet friendship’s oath,     
By her untimely tears, her husband’s love,     570
By holy human law, and common troth,     
By heaven and earth, and all the power of both,     
  That to his borrow’d bed he make retire,     
  And stoop to honour, not to foul desire.    

conjures: Begs
Jove: Another name for Jupiter, the king of the gods in Roman mythology. His Greek name was Zeus.
gentry: nobility; noble birth
troth: The good faith by which people live
Quoth she, ‘Reward not hospitality     575
With such black payment as thou hast pretended;     
Mud not the fountain that gave drink to thee;     
Mar not the thing that cannot be amended;     
End thy ill aim before thy shoot be ended;     
  He is no woodman that doth bend his bow     580
  To strike a poor unseasonable doe.    

575-576: She says,"Don't reward my hospitality with the black payment that you want to give me."
579-581: "Don't target me for harm. He lacks kindness who draws his bow to strike a poor doe that is illegal to hunt."
‘My husband is thy friend, for his sake spare me;     
Thyself art mighty, for thine own sake leave me;     
Myself a weakling, do not, then, ensnare me;     
Thou look’dst not like deceit, do not deceive me.     585
My sighs, like whirlwinds, labour hence to heave thee;     
  If ever man were mov’d with woman’s moans,     
  Be moved with my tears, my sighs, my groans.    

‘All which together, like a troubled ocean,     
Beat at thy rocky and wrack-threatening heart,     590
To soften it with their continual motion;     
For stones dissolv’d to water do convert.     
O! if no harder than a stone thou art,     
  Melt at my tears, and be compassionate;     
  Soft pity enters at an iron gate.     595

589-594: "I am like a troubled ocean whose waves beat at a rock that wrecks ships. Your heart is that rock. Such a rock softens as the waves crash against it and eventually dissolves into water. O, if you are no harder than a stone, melt as my tears fall; be compassionate."  

‘In Tarquin’s likeness I did entertain thee;     
Hast thou put on his shape to do him shame?     
To all the host of heaven I complain me,     
Thou wrong’st his honour, wound’st his princely name.     
Thou art not what thou seem’st; and if the same,     600
  Thou seem’st not what thou art, a god, a king;     
  For kings like gods should govern every thing.    

596-597: "I entertained you because you looked like Tarquin. But now I wonder whether you are someone who has disguised himself as Tarquin to do him shame."
‘How will thy shame be seeded in thine age,     
When thus thy vices bud before thy spring!     
If in thy hope thou dar’st do such outrage,     605
What dar’st thou not when once thou art a king?     
O! be remembered no outrageous thing     
  From vassal actors can be wip’d away;     
  Then kings’ misdeeds cannot be hid in clay.   

603-609: "How will your shame appear in your old age, when it springs up like budding plant? If you dare to do such an outrage against me now, what will you dare to do when your are a king? O, keep in mind that no outrageous thing can be wiped away even from the reputation of a lowly criminal. So don't think that a king's misdeeds can be hidden away."
‘This deed will make thee only lov’d for fear;     610
But happy monarchs still are fear’d for love:     
With foul offenders thou perforce must bear,     
When they in thee the like offences prove:     
If but for fear of this, thy will remove;     
  For princes are the glass, the school, the book,     615
  Where subjects’ eyes do learn, do read, do look.    

610-616: "This deed will make people love you only because they fear you. But righteous monarchs always enjoy respect and genuine love. You will be cast among foul criminals when you are proven to be no better than they are. If this prospect frightens you, then cease your lustful assault on me. Princes like you are supposed to be the mirror, the school, the book in which subjects learn by example.
‘And wilt thou be the school where Lust shall learn?     
Must he in thee read lectures of such shame?     
Wilt thou be glass wherein it shall discern     
Authority for sin, warrant for blame,     620
To privilege dishonour in thy name?     
  Thou back’st reproach against long-living laud,     
  And mak’st fair reputation but a bawd.    

617-623: "Will you be a school that teaches your subjects lust and lets them read books on shameful deeds? Will you be a mirror that reflects the right to sin? Will you make dishonor a privilege? You favor evil over praiseworthy action and turn fair reputation into a whorehouse madam."
‘Hast thou command? by him that gave it thee,     
From a pure heart command thy rebel will:     625
Draw not thy sword to guard iniquity,     
For it was lent thee all that brood to kill.     
Thy princely office how canst thou fulfill,     
  When, pattern’d by thy fault, foul sin may say,     
  He learn’d to sin, and thou didst teach the way?     630

624-627: "Can you control yourself? Be pure of heart and subdue your lust. Your sword was meant to fight evil, not execute it."
‘Think but how vile a spectacle it were,     
To view thy present trespass in another.     
Men’s faults do seldom to themselves appear;     
Their own transgressions partially they smother:     
This guilt would seem death-worthy in thy brother.     635
  O! how are they wrapp’d in with infamies     
  That from their own misdeeds askance their eyes.    

636-637: "O, how corrupt are those who look away from their own sins."
‘To thee, to thee, my heav’d-up hands appeal,     
Not to seducing lust, thy rash relier:     
I sue for exil’d majesty’s repeal;     640
Let him return, and flattering thoughts retire:     
His true respect will prison false desire,     
  And wipe the dim mist from thy doting eyne,     
  That thou shalt see thy state and pity mine.’    

638-644: "I appeal to you with my heaved-up hands—not to your lustful side, but to your good side. That side lives in exile now. Allow it to return and take control of you. It will imprison your false desire and wipe the mist from your eyes so that they can show you who you are and take pity on me."
‘Have done,’ quoth he; ‘my uncontrolled tide     645
Turns not, but swells the higher by this let.     
Small lights are soon blown out, huge fires abide,     
And with the wind in greater fury fret:     
The petty streams that pay a daily debt     
  To their salt sovereign, with their fresh falls’ haste     650
  Add to his flow, but alter not his taste.’    

645-646: "Stop talking," Tarquin says. "My uncontrolled passion remains and even intensifies during this pause."
fret: Increase
salt sovereign: Sea
‘Thou art,’ quoth she, ‘a sea, a sovereign king;     
And lo! there falls into thy boundless flood     
Black lust, dishonour, shame, misgoverning,     
Who seek to stain the ocean of thy blood.     655
If all these petty ills shall change thy good,     
  Thy sea within a puddle’s womb is hears’d,     
  And not the puddle in thy sea dispers’d.    

657-658: "Your sea is entombed in a puddle. The puddle is not dispersed in your sea."
‘So shall these slaves be king, and thou their slave;     
Thou nobly base, they basely dignified;     660
Thou their fair life, and they thy fouler grave;     
Thou loathed in their shame, they in thy pride:     
The lesser thing should not the greater hide;     
  The cedar stoops not to the base shrub’s foot,     
  But low shrubs wither at the cedar’s root.     665

659-661: "So shall lust, dishonor, shame, and other slaves become your ruler—and you their slave. Though noble, you will become low and detestable. These slaves, though low, will become dignified and kingly. They will live your privileged life, and you will live their lowly life."
‘So let thy thoughts, low vassals to thy state’—     
‘No more,’ quoth he; ‘by heaven, I will not hear thee:     
Yield to my love; if not, enforced hate,     
Instead of love’s coy touch, shall rudely tear thee;     
That done, despitefully I mean to bear thee     670
  Unto the base bed of some rascal groom,     
  To be thy partner in this shameful doom.’    

coy: Soft; gentle
despitefully: Cruelly; harshly
groom: Servant or attendant.
This said, he sets his foot upon the light,     
For light and lust are deadly enemies:     
Shame folded up in blind concealing night,     675
When most unseen, then most doth tyrannize.     
The wolf hath seiz’d his prey, the poor lamb cries;     
  Till with her own white fleece her voice controll’d     
  Entombs her outcry in her lips’ sweet fold:    

678-679: Until, by stuffing part of her nightgown into her mouth, he muffles her outcry.

For with the nightly linen that she wears     680
He pens her piteous clamours in her head,     
Cooling his hot face in the chastest tears     
That ever modest eyes with sorrow shed.     
O! that prone lust should stain so pure a bed,     
  The spots whereof could weeping purify,     685
  Her tears should drop on them perpetually.    

680-681: Thus, with the nightclothes she wears, he traps her piteous cries in her head.
prone: Positioned over her; facing her
But she hath lost a dearer thing than life,     
And he hath won what he would lose again;     
This forced league doth force a further strife;     
This momentary joy breeds months of pain;     690
This hot desire converts to cold disdain:     
  Pure Chastity is rifled of her store,     
  And Lust, the thief, far poorer than before.  

687-693: But she had lost her purity and honor, and he had won momentary satisfaction, which he would lose again. This rape will force another strife, months of pain. Pure Chastity was taken from her. Lust, the thief, is now far poorer than before.
Look! as the full-fed hound or gorged hawk,     
Unapt for tender smell or speedy flight,     695
Make slow pursuit, or altogether balk     
The prey wherein by nature they delight;     
So surfeit-taking Tarquin fares this night:     
  His taste delicious, in digestion souring,     
  Devours his will, that liv’d by foul devouring.     700

694-700: Tarquin is now like the full-fed hound or gorged hawk. The hawk no longer responds to the smell of prey and no longer has the power of speedy flight. Rather, he is slow and bloated and ignores the prey that he would naturally chase. That's how Tarquin feels now. He has had his fill of his delicious prey but now sours in digesting it. His deed has devoured his lust.
O! deeper sin than bottomless conceit     
Can comprehend in still imagination;     
Drunken Desire must vomit his receipt,     
Ere he can see his own abomination.     
While Lust is in his pride, no exclamation     705
  Can curb his heat, or rein his rash desire,     
  Till like a jade Self-will himself doth tire.    

701-707: Oh, the imagination is unable to comprehend a deeper sin than Tarquin's. Drunken desire must vomit what he did before he can see his own abomination. While lust rules him, nothing can curb his passion or rein in his rash desire till, like a stubborn old horse, he tires of having his way.
And then with lank and lean discolour’d cheek,     
With heavy eye, knit brow, and strengthless pace,     
Feeble Desire, all recreant, poor, and meek,     710
Like to a bankrupt beggar wails his case:     
The flesh being proud, Desire doth fight with Grace,     
  For there it revels; and when that decays,     
  The guilty rebel for remission prays.    

recreant: Cowardly; faint-hearted
decays: Decreases; subsides
remission: Pardon; forgiveness
So fares it with this faultful lord of Rome,     715
Who this accomplishment so hotly chas’d;     
For now against himself he sounds this doom,     
That through the length of times he stands disgrac’d;     
Besides, his soul’s fair temple is defac’d;     
  To whose weak ruins muster troops of cares,     720
  To ask the spotted princess how she fares.    

717-718: For now he is doomed for all time to live in disgrace
720-721: This ruined man now has many worries and asks the defiled Lucrece how she is.

She says, her subjects with foul insurrection     
Have batter’d down her consecrated wall,     
And by their mortal fault brought in subjection     
Her immortality, and made her thrall     725
To living death, and pain perpetual:     
  Which in her prescience she controlled still,     
  But her foresight could not forestall their will.    

722-728: Because Tarquin called her a princess, she answers as one, saying her subjects (Tarquin)—in a foul upheaval—have knocked down her consecrated wall (her chastity). Their deadly action assaulted her soul and made her a slave to living death and perpetual pain. She saw what they were up to but could not prevent them (Tarquin) from attacking her.

Even in this thought through the dark night he stealeth,     
A captive victor that hath lost in gain;     730
Bearing away the wound that nothing healeth,     
The scar that will despite of cure remain;     
Leaving his spoil perplex’d in greater pain.     
  She bears the load of lust he left behind,     
  And he the burden of a guilty mind.     735

732: The scar that will remain in spite of attempts to remove it
spoil: Prize of war (Lucrece)
He like a thievish dog creeps sadly thence,     
She like a wearied lamb lies panting there;     
He scowls and hates himself for his offence,     
She desperate with her nails her flesh doth tear;     
He faintly flies, sweating with guilty fear,     740
  She stays, exclaiming on the direful night;     
  He runs, and chides his vanish’d, loath’d delight.   

thence: Away
742: He runs, and scolds himself for taking delight in a loathsome act.
He thence departs a heavy convertite,     
She there remains a hopeless castaway;     
He in his speed looks for the morning light,     745
She prays she never may behold the day;     
‘For day,’ quoth she, ‘night’s ’scapes doth open lay,     
  And my true eyes have never practis’d how     
  To cloak offences with a cunning brow.    

convertite: Penitent; one who is sorry for his sin
747-749: "In the daytime," she says, "night's foul happenings lie open to the light of scrutiny, and I am not clever enough to hide offenses."
‘They think not but that every eye can see     750
The same disgrace which they themselves behold;     
And therefore would they still in darkness be,     
To have their unseen sin remain untold;     
For they their guilt with weeping will unfold,     
  And grave, like water that doth eat in steel,     755
  Upon my cheeks what helpless shame I feel.’    

750-756: "People think that everyone else can see their disgrace and, therefore, prefer to remain in darkness so that no one can see the sin. But their weeping will reveal their guilt. Their tears, like water that eats even into steel, will engrave their shame upon their cheeks."
Here she exclaims against repose and rest,     
And bids her eyes hereafter still be blind.     
She wakes her heart by beating on her breast,     
And bids it leap from thence where it may find     760
Some purer chest to close so pure a mind.     
  Frantic with grief thus breathes she forth her spite     
  Against the unseen secrecy of night:    

757-763: Here she cries out against taking refuge in sleep and tells her eyes to be blind from now on. She wakes her heart by beating on her breast and asks it to leap away and find some purer chest to enclose it. Frantic with grief, she thus speaks her anger against the unseen secrecy of the night.
‘O comfort-killing Night, image of hell!     
Dim register and notary of shame!     765
Black stage for tragedies and murders fell!     
Vast sin-concealing chaos! nurse of blame!     
Blind muffled bawd! dark harbour for defame!     
  Grim cave of death! whispering conspirator     
  With close-tongu’d treason and the ravisher!     770

764-770: In this stanza, Lucrece lashes out at night as the host of shame, tragedy, murder, and defamation. Night is a "cave of death," she says, and a conspirator with rapists.
‘O hateful, vaporous, and foggy Night!     
Since thou art guilty of my curseless crime,     
Muster thy mists to meet the eastern light,     
Make war against proportion’d course of time;     
Or if thou wilt permit the sun to climb     775
  His wonted height, yet ere he go to bed,     
  Knit poisonous clouds about his golden head.    

771-777: Lucrece continues to speak to Night, saying it is guilty of the crime against her. She calls upon night to surround the morning sun with mists to prevent it from moving across the sky. But if Night does permit the sun to climb and move westward, Lucrece wants Night to "knit poisonous clouds" around it.
‘With rotten damps ravish the morning air;     
Let their exhal’d unwholesome breaths make sick     
The life of purity, the supreme fair,     780
Ere he arrive his weary noontide prick;     
And let thy misty vapours march so thick,     
  That in their smoky ranks his smother’d light     
  May set at noon and make perpetual night.    

778-784: Lucrece tells the night to infect the morning air with rotten mists that will make the sun ("supreme fair") sick before it arrives at its noon zenith. She urges night to let its vapors become thick enough that the sun sets at noon and the earth becomes dark.
‘Were Tarquin Night, as he is but Night’s child,     785
The silver-shining queen he would distain;     
Her twinkling handmaids too, by him defil’d,     
Through Night’s black bosom should not peep again:     
So should I have co-partners in my pain;     
  And fellowship in woe doth woe assuage,     790
  As palmers’ chat makes short their pilgrimage.   

queen: The moon personified as the goddess Diana
distain: Stain; defile
handmaids: Stars
789-791: "So will I have these celestial bodies as partners in my pain. Having fellowship in woe eases the woe, as pilgrims' conversation shortens their trip to the Holy Land."
‘Where now I have no one to blush with me,     
To cross their arms and hang their heads with mine,     
To mask their brows and hide their infamy;     
But I alone alone must sit and pine,     795
Seasoning the earth with showers of silver brine,     
  Mingling my talk with tears, my grief with groans,     
  Poor wasting monuments of lasting moans.    

showers of silver brine: Tears
‘O Night! thou furnace of foul-reeking smoke,     
Let not the jealous Day behold that face     800
Which underneath thy black all-hiding cloak     
Immodestly lies martyr’d with disgrace:     
Keep still possession of thy gloomy place,     
  That all the faults which in thy reign are made     
  May likewise be sepulchred in thy shade.     805

799-805: In this stanza, Lucrece asks night to continue to hide her face and her disgrace with its darkness. If Night remains in place, all the faults it hides will remain entombed.
‘Make me not object to the tell-tale Day!     
The light will show, character’d in my brow,     
The story of sweet chastity’s decay,     
The impious breach of holy wedlock vow:     
Yea, the illiterate, that know not how     810
  To ’cipher what is writ in learned books,     
  Will quote my loathsome trespass in my looks.    

cipher: Decipher—that is, read
‘The nurse, to still her child, will tell my story,     
And fright her crying babe with Tarquin’s name;     
The orator, to deck his oratory,     815
Will couple my reproach to Tarquin’s shame;     
Feast-finding minstrels, tuning my defame,     
  Will tie the hearers to attend each line,     
  How Tarquin wronged me, I Collatine.   

couple my reproach to: Associate my stained chastity with
817-819: Minstrels at great feasts will sing of how Tarquin wronged me and I wronged Collatine. (Lucrece, though guiltless, continues to blame herself for her defilement, as if she was a willing participant.)
‘Let my good name, that senseless reputation,     820
For Collatine’s dear love be kept unspotted:     
If that be made a theme for disputation,     
The branches of another root are rotted,     
And undeserv’d reproach to him allotted     
  That is as clear from this attaint of mine,     825
  As I ere this was pure to Collatine.    

senseless: Immaterial; abstract; intangible
822-823: But if my reputation has decayed, his will also rot.
825-826: That is as clear from my disgrace as I was pure to Collatine before Tarquin stained me.
‘O unseen shame! invisible disgrace!     
O unfelt sore! crest-wounding, private scar!     
Reproach is stamp’d in Collatinus’ face,     
And Tarquin’s eye may read the mot afar,     830
How he in peace is wounded, not in war.     
  Alas! how many bear such shameful blows,     
  Which not themselves, but he that gives them knows.   

crest-wounding: A crest is a family symbol on a coat of arms.  Thus, "crest-wounding" means to damage the family reputation or honor.
mot: Motto or saying on a coat of arms expressing an ideal that the family holds high.
‘If, Collatine, thine honour lay in me,     
From me by strong assault it is bereft.     835
My honey lost, and I, a drone-like bee,     
Have no perfection of my summer left,     
But robb’d and ransack’d by injurious theft:     
  In thy weak hive a wandering wasp hath crept,     
  And suck’d the honey which thy chaste bee kept.     840

‘Yet am I guilty of thy honour’s wrack;     
Yet for thy honour did I entertain him;     
Coming from thee, I could not put him back,     
For it had been dishonour to disdain him:     
Besides, of weariness he did complain him,     845
  And talk’d of virtue: O! unlook’d-for evil,     
  When virtue is profan’d in such a devil.    

wrack: Wreck; ruin
‘Why should the worm intrude the maiden bud?     
Or hateful cuckoos hatch in sparrows’ nests?     
Or toads infect fair founts with venom mud?     850
Or tyrant folly lurk in gentle breasts?     
Or kings be breakers of their own behests?     
  But no perfection is so absolute,     
  That some impurity doth not pollute.    

intrude: Invade; intrude on
cuckoo: Bird that lays its eggs in the nests of other birds.
toad: Toads have glands that can release a toxic venom.
folly: Wantonness; lewdness; evil
behests: Directives; commands; orders
‘The aged man that coffers-up his gold     855
Is plagu’d with cramps and gouts and painful fits;     
And scarce hath eyes his treasure to behold,     
But like still-pining Tantalus he sits,     
And useless barns the harvest of his wits;     
  Having no other pleasure of his gain     860
  But torment that it cannot cure his pain.    

coffers-up: Keeps in a chest; stores up
Tantalus: In Greek mythology, king of Sipylus, Lydia. He was a favorite of the gods until he attempted to deceive them by serving them a "feast" consisting of the remains of his son, Pelops, whom he had killed. For his offense, they condemned him to eternal punishment in Hades. There, Tantalus thirsted for water that always receded when he tried to drink it, and he desired fruit on a tree branch that was always out of reach.
barns: Possessions; treasures
‘So then he hath it when he cannot use it,     
And leaves it to be master’d by his young;     
Who in their pride do presently abuse it:     
Their father was too weak, and they too strong,     865
To hold their cursed-blessed fortune long.     
  The sweets we wish for turn to loathed sours     
  Even in the moment that we call them ours.    

master'd: Owned
presently: Without delay
‘Unruly blasts wait on the tender spring;     
Unwholesome weeds take root with precious flowers;     870
The adder hisses where the sweet birds sing;     
What virtue breeds iniquity devours:     
We have no good that we can say is ours,     
  But ill-annexed Opportunity     
  Or kills his life, or else his quality.     875

873-875: "Any good in us or any goodness that we have is ruined or diminished by those who seize on an opportunity to do evil."
‘O Opportunity! thy guilt is great,     
’Tis thou that execut’st the traitor’s treason;     
Thou sett’st the wolf where he the lamb may get;     
Whoever plots the sin, thou point’st the season;     
’Tis thou that spurn’st at right, at law, at reason;     880
  And in thy shady cell, where none may spy him,     
  Sits Sin to seize the souls that wander by him.    

execut'st: Executes; carries out; does
point'st: Appoint; give
880: You mock morality, law, and reason
‘Thou mak’st the vestal violate her oath;     
Thou blow’st the fire when temperance is thaw’d;     
Thou smother’st honesty, thou murder’st troth;     885
Thou foul abettor! thou notorious bawd!     
Thou plantest scandal and displacest laud:     
  Thou ravisher, thou traitor, thou false thief,     
  Thy honey turns to gall, thy joy to grief!    

vestal: Any of the women who tended the perpetually burning sacred fire of Vesta, goddess of the hearth, in Rome. They took a vow of chastity.
thou murder'st troth: You (opportunity) promise murder.
bawd: Madam in a house of prostitution.
887: You create scandal and ruin reputation.
ravisher: Rapist.
889: You make honey bitter and turn joy to grief.

‘Thy secret pleasure turns to open shame,     890
Thy private feasting to a public fast,     
Thy smoothing titles to a ragged name,     
Thy sugar’d tongue to bitter wormwood taste:     
Thy violent vanities can never last.     
  How comes it, then, vile Opportunity,     895
  Being so bad, such numbers seek for thee?    
‘When wilt thou be the humble suppliant’s friend,     
And bring him where his suit may be obtain’d?     
When wilt thou sort an hour great strifes to end?     
Or free that soul which wretchedness hath chain’d?     900
Give physic to the sick, ease to the pain’d?     
  The poor, lame, blind, halt, creep, cry out for thee;     
  But they ne’er meet with Opportunity.    

suit: Request
889: When will you spend time to end great strifes?
physic: Remedy; treatment
902: Allusion to Luke 14:21 in the New Testament: "
And the servant returning, told these things to his lord. Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant: Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the feeble, and the blind, and the lame."
‘The patient dies while the physician sleeps;     
The orphan pines while the oppressor feeds;     905
Justice is feasting while the widow weeps;     
Advice is sporting while infection breeds:     
Thou grant’st no time for charitable deeds:     
  Wrath, envy, treason, rape, and murder’s rages,     
  Thy heinous hours wait on them as their pages.     910
‘When Truth and Virtue have to do with thee,     
A thousand crosses keep them from thy aid:     
They buy thy help; but Sin ne’er gives a fee,     
He gratis comes; and thou art well appaid     
As well to hear as grant what he hath said.     915
  My Collatine would else have come to me     
  When Tarquin did, but he was stay’d by thee.    

crosses: Obstacles; barriers; problems
913-915: "They must buy your help, but Sin never pays for services. He gets them free, but you take delight in what he says.
stay'd: Detained; prevented
‘Guilty thou art of murder and of theft,     
Guilty of perjury and subornation,     
Guilty of treason, forgery, and shift,     920
Guilty of incest, that abomination;     
An accessory by thine inclination     
  To all sins past, and all that are to come,     
  From the creation to the general doom.    

subornation: Inducing a person to break the law
shift: Deception; fraud
‘Mis-shapen Time, copesmate of ugly Night,     925
Swift subtle post, carrier of grisly care,     
Eater of youth, false slave to false delight,     
Base watch of woes, sin’s pack-horse, virtue’s snare;     
Thou nursest all, and murderest all that are;     
  O! hear me, then, injurious, shifting Time,     930
  Be guilty of my death, since of my crime.     
copesmate: Partner
post: Messenger
931: Be guilty of my death, since you are equally guilty of the crime against me.

‘Why hath thy servant, Opportunity,     
Betray’d the hours thou gav’st me to repose?     
Cancell’d my fortunes, and enchained me     
To endless date of never-ending woes?     935
Time’s office is to fine the hate of foes;     
  To eat up errors by opinion bred,     
  Not spend the dowry of a lawful bed.    

fine: Chastise; punish; discipline
dowry: Entitlement
‘Time’s glory is to calm contending kings,     
To unmask falsehood and bring truth to light,     940
To stamp the seal of time in aged things,     
To wake the morn and sentinel the night,     
To wrong the wronger till he render right,     
  To ruinate proud buildings with thy hours,     
  And smear with dust their glittering golden towers;     945

ruinate: Ruin. (After several decades or centuries, many buildings decay and crumble.)
‘To fill with worm-holes stately monuments,     
To feed oblivion with decay of things,     
To blot old books and alter their contents,     
To pluck the quills from ancient ravens’ wings,     
To dry the old oak’s sap and blemish springs,     950
  To spoil antiquities of hammer’d steel,     
  And turn the giddy round of Fortune’s wheel; 

blemish: Pollute; contaminate

‘To show the beldam daughters of her daughter,     
To make the child a man, the man a child,     
To slay the tiger that doth live by slaughter,     955
To tame the unicorn and lion wild,     
To mock the subtle, in themselves beguil’d,     
  To cheer the ploughman with increaseful crops,     
  And waste huge stones with little water-drops.  

953-954: "To show the old woman the daughters of her daughter; to make the child a man, then make the man a child again in his old age" 
957: "To mock those who think they are clever"
waste: Wear away  

‘Why work’st thou mischief in thy pilgrimage,     960
Unless thou couldst return to make amends?     
One poor retiring minute in an age     
Would purchase thee a thousand thousand friends,     
Lending him wit that to bad debtors lends:     
  O! this dread night, wouldst thou one hour come back,     965
  I could prevent this storm and shun thy wrack.   

962-964: "To give back a past minute to allow a lender to change his mind about loaning money to a bad debtor"
965-966: "O, on this dread night, if I could turn the clock back one hour, I could prevent the storm (Tarquin) from entering my home and bringing ruin upon me."
‘Thou ceaseless lackey to eternity,     
With some mischance cross Tarquin in his flight:     
Devise extremes beyond extremity,     
To make him curse this cursed crimeful night:     970
Let ghastly shadows his lewd eyes affright,     
  And the dire thought of his committed evil     
  Shape every bush a hideous shapeless devil.    

967-969: "You ceaseless slave to eternity, inflict some misfortune on Tarquin as hurries off."
affright: Frighten; scare
973: "Turn every bush into a hideous, shapeless devil."
‘Disturb his hours of rest with restless trances,     
Afflict him in his bed with bedrid groans;     975
Let there bechance him pitiful mischances     
To make him moan, but pity not his moans;     
Stone him with harden’d hearts, harder than stones;     
  And let mild women to him lose their mildness,     
  Wilder to him than tigers in their wildness.     980

mischances: Troubles; misfortunes
‘Let him have time to tear his curled hair,     
Let him have time against himself to rave,     
Let him have time of Time’s help to despair,     
Let him have time to live a loathed slave,     
Let him have time a beggar’s orts to crave,     985
  And time to see one that by alms doth live     
  Disdain to him disdained scraps to give.    

983: "Let him have time to give up hope that Time will heal his afflictions."
orts: Scraps of food left from someone's meal
‘Let him have time to see his friends his foes,     
And merry fools to mock at him resort;     
Let him have time to mark how slow time goes     990
In time of sorrow, and how swift and short     
His time of folly and his time of sport;     
  And ever let his unrecalling crime     
  Have time to wail the abusing of his time.    

988-989: "Let him have time to see his friends become his foes, and merry fools resort to mocking him."
unrecalling crime: A crime he cannot take back or undo
‘O Time! thou tutor both to good and bad,     995
Teach me to curse him that thou taught’st this ill;     
At his own shadow let the thief run mad,     
Himself himself seek every hour to kill:     
Such wretched hands such wretched blood should spill;     
  For who so base would such an office have    1000
  As slanderous deathsman to so base a slave?

997-1001: "Let him run in fright from his own shadow, and let him seek to kill himself every hour. Such a wretch as he should use his own hands to spill his own blood. For who else would stoop so low to kill such a lowly man?"  
‘The baser is he, coming from a king,     
To shame his hope with deeds degenerate:     
The mightier man, the mightier is the thing     
That makes him honour’d, or begets him hate;    1005
For greatest scandal waits on greatest state.     
  The moon being clouded presently is miss’d,     
  But little stars may hide them when they list. 

1002-1008: "He is all the more lowly as the son of a king for committing degenerate deeds that sabotage his future. The mightier the man, the mightier is the thing that lifts him up in honor or casts him down as an object of hatred. The greatest scandal waits to bring down the greatest men. People notice the absence of the moon when clouds obscure it, but little stars can hide anytime under any conditions. The same is true of high and mighty men, like Tarquin, whose evil deeds will be noted even if he tries to hide them." 
‘The crow may bathe his coal-black wings in mire,     
And unperceiv’d fly with the filth away;    1010
But if the like the snow-white swan desire,     
The stain upon his silver down will stay.     
Poor grooms are sightless night, kings glorious day.     
  Gnats are unnoted wheresoe’er they fly,     
  But eagles gaz’d upon with every eye.    1015

1009-1015: "If the crow muddies his wings, he may fly away unnoticed because mud blends in with his hue. But if the snow-white swan muddies his wings, everyone will notice him because the mud stands out against his whiteness. Poor servants are like night; nobody notices them in the darkness. Kings are like glorious day; everybody notices them in the bright light. Nobody notices gnats wherever they fly. But everybody notices the majestic eagle. (The idea here is that Tarquin, as the son of a king, cannot hide; everyone will point to him as a prince who committed an evil deed.)
‘Out, idle words! servants to shallow fools,     
Unprofitable sounds, weak arbitrators!     
Busy yourselves in skill-contending schools;     
Debate where leisure serves with dull debaters;     
To trembling clients be you mediators:    1020
  For me, I force not argument a straw,     
  Since that my case is past the help of law.    

1016-1022: "Out, you idle words. You are nothing but servants to stupid fools, making unprofitable sounds and weak negotiators! Go busy yourselves with debates in schoolrooms. Occupy yourselves with dull debaters, or mediate for trembling clients. For me, I regard argument as a mere straw, since my case is past the help of law."

‘In vain I rail at Opportunity,     
At Time, at Tarquin, and uncheerful Night;     
In vain I cavil with mine infamy,    1025
In vain I spurn at my confirm’d despite;     
This helpless smoke of words doth me no right.     
  The remedy indeed to do me good,     
  Is to let forth my foul-defiled blood.    

cavil: Find fault; quibble
confirmed: Irreversible harm or injury
1029: "Is to kill myself."

‘Poor hand, why quiver’st thou at this decree?    1030
Honour thyself to rid me of this shame;     
For if I die, my honour lives in thee,     
But if I live, thou liv’st in my defame;     
Since thou couldst not defend thy loyal dame,     
  And wast afeard to scratch her wicked foe,    1035
  Kill both thyself and her for yielding so.’ 

This said, from her be-tumbled couch she starteth,     
To find some desperate instrument of death;     
But this no slaughter-house no tool imparteth     
To make more vent for passage of her breath;    1040
Which, thronging through her lips, so vanisheth     
  As smoke from Ætna, that in air consumes,     
  Or that which from discharged cannon fumes.    

1039-1040: But because this is no slaughterhouse, it contains no tool for slitting her throat.
Aetna (also Etna): Volcano in eastern Sicily
‘In vain,’ quoth she, ‘I live, and seek in vain     
Some happy mean to end a hapless life:    1045
I fear’d by Tarquin’s falchion to be slain,     
Yet for the self-same purpose seek a knife:     
But when I fear’d I was a loyal wife:     
  So am I now: O no! that cannot be;     
  Of that true type hath Tarquin rifled me.    1050

1048-1050: But when I feared Tarquin's sword I was a loyal wife. So am I now: O, no, that cannot be; Tarquin robbed from my virtue."
‘O! that is gone for which I sought to live,     
And therefore now I need not fear to die.     
To clear this spot by death, at least I give     
A badge of fame to slander’s livery;     
A dying life to living infamy.    1055
  Poor helpless help, the treasure stol’n away,     
  To burn the guiltless casket where it lay?    

1051-1067: "Since I have nothing to live for, I need not fear to die. To wipe away my stain by dying, at least I give a badge of fame for slander to wear. [Slander, as a servant of evil, wears a servant's uniform, called livery.] I will trade my dying life for living infamy in death. Now that my virtue has been stolen, will poor helpless help burn the casket where it lay?"
‘Well, well, dear Collatine, thou shalt not know     
The stained taste of violated troth;     
I will not wrong thy true affection so,    1060
To flatter thee with an infringed oath;     
This bastard graff shall never come to growth;     
  He shall not boast who did thy stock pollute     
  That thou art doting father of his fruit.    

troth: Virtue
infringed oath: Defiled virtue
bastard graff: Illegitimate child. Lucrece apparently thinks Tarquin has impregnated her.
1062-1063: "He shall not be able to boast that you are the parent of a child he begot."
‘Nor shall he smile at thee in secret thought,    1065
Nor laugh with his companions at thy state;     
But thou shalt know thy interest was not bought     
Basely with gold, but stol’n from forth thy gate.     
For me, I am the mistress of my fate,     
  And with my trespass never will dispense,    1070
  Till life to death acquit my forc’d offence.    

thy interest: Thy wife's virtue
‘I will not poison thee with my attaint,     
Nor fold my fault in cleanly-coin’d excuses;     
My sable ground of sin I will not paint,     
To hide the truth of this false night’s abuses;    1075
My tongue shall utter all; mine eyes, like sluices,     
  As from a mountain-spring that feeds a dale,     
  Shall gush pure streams to purge my impure tale.’    

1072-1073: "I will not poison you with my stain. Nor will I make clever excuses for my fault."
By this, lamenting Philomel had ended     
The well-tun’d warble of her nightly sorrow,    1080
And solemn night with slow sad gait descended     
To ugly hell; when, lo! the blushing morrow     
Lends light to all fair eyes that light will borrow:     
  But cloudy Lucrece shames herself to see,     
  And therefore still in night would cloister’d be.    1085

Philomel: Another name for Philomela. In Greek mythology, Philomela was a princess of Athens. Her sister, Procne, was married to King Tereus of Thrace. Not satisfied with only one of the sisters, Tereus lusted after Philomela and one day raped her. To prevent her from revealing his crime, he cut out her tongue. However, Philomela embroidered a tapestry depicting his brutality and showed it to her sister. The two women then plotted against Tereus and ended up serving him his son, Itys, in a stew. When Tereus discovered what they did, he chased them with an axe. The gods then turned Philomela into a nightingale and Procne into a swallow, enabling them to fly away. As a nightingale, Philomela sang a sorrowful song.
1084-1085: But sorrowful Lucrece is ashamed to see herself and therefore prefers to remain hidden by night.
Revealing day through every cranny spies,     
And seems to point her out where she sits weeping;     
To whom she sobbing speaks: ‘O eye of eyes!     
Why pry’st thou through my window? leave thy peeping;     
Mock with thy tickling beams eyes that are sleeping:    1090
  Brand not my forehead with thy piercing light,     
  For day hath nought to do what’s done by night.’ 

1086-1092: Day, which reveals everything, spies on Lucrece through every cranny and seems to point her out where she sits weeping. Lucrece asks day why he is spying on her through her window, then bids him to go away and mock those who are sleeping. She asks him not to shine his revealing light on her, for he has nothing to do with what happens at night. 
Thus cavils she with everything she sees:     
True grief is fond and testy as a child,     
Who wayward once, his mood with nought agrees:    1095
Old woes, not infant sorrows, bear them mild;     
Continuance tames the one; the other wild,     
  Like an unpractis’d swimmer plunging still,     
  With too much labour drowns for want of skill.   

cavils: Complains
1094-1099: True grief is as silly and testy as a child (when the grief first appears). In his bad mood, the child (young grief) disagrees with everything. Old griefs, on the other hand, are not as temperamental, for the passage of time has tamed them. But young griefs, like a novice swimmer, drown for lack of skill.
So she, deep-drenched in a sea of care,    1100
Holds disputation with each thing she views,     
And to herself all sorrow doth compare;     
No object but her passion’s strength renews,     
And as one shifts, another straight ensues:     
  Sometime her grief is dumb and hath no words;    1105
  Sometime ’tis mad and too much talk affords.    

Holds disputation with: Complains about
1102-1103: And compares all the sorrow of others to her own sorrow. Every thought in this regard intensifies her complaining.
too much talk affords: Makes her talk too much
The little birds that tune their morning’s joy     
Make her moans mad with their sweet melody:     
For mirth doth search the bottom of annoy;     
Sad souls are slain in merry company;    1110
Grief best is pleas’d with grief’s society:     
  True sorrow then is feelingly suffic’d     
  When with like semblance it is sympathiz’d.    

1107-1113: The happy morning song of the little birds annoys her. Anything joyful holds no comfort for the grief-stricken. The grieving find solace only in others experiencing grief. A sorrowful woman is satisfied when another sorrowful person sympathizes with her.
’Tis double death to drown in ken of shore;     
He ten times pines that pines beholding food;    1115
To see the salve doth make the wound ache more;     
Great grief grieves most at that would do it good;     
Deep woes roll forward like a gentle flood,     
  Who, being stopp’d, the bounding banks o’erflows;     
  Grief dallied with nor law nor limit knows.    1120

ken: View; sight
pines: Starves
bounding: Bordering
1120: Grief delayed (or trifled with) knows no law or limit.
‘You mocking birds,’ quoth she, ‘your tunes entomb     
Within your hollow-swelling feather’d breasts,     
And in my hearing be you mute and dumb:     
My restless discord loves no stops nor rests;     
A woeful hostess brooks not merry guests:    1125
  Relish your nimble notes to pleasing ears;     
  Distress likes dumps when time is kept with tears.   

1121-1127: "The tunes of you mocking birds are entombed in your breasts, for I cannot hear you. My grief does not stop to listen to happy sounds or to take a rest. It is like a woeful hostess who cannot stand merry guests. Go sing your songs to people who will be pleased to listen to them. Distress likes to hear melancholy songs when it passes time crying."
‘Come, Philomel, that sing’st of ravishment,     
Make thy sad grove in my dishevell’d hair:     
As the dank earth weeps at thy languishment,    1130
So I at each sad strain will strain a tear,     
And with deep groans the diapason bear;     
  For burden-wise I’ll hum on Tarquin still,     
  While thou on Tereus descant’st better skill.  

languishment: Sorrowful condition; mourning sounds
diapason: Deep musical tones

burden-wise: My burden; my sorrow
descant'st: Sing melodiously or sing at a high pitch

‘And whiles against a thorn thou bear’st thy part    1135
To keep thy sharp woes waking, wretched I,     
To imitate thee well, against my heart     
Will fix a sharp knife to affright mine eye,     
Who, if it wink, shall thereon fall and die.     
  These means, as frets upon an instrument,    1140
  Shall tune our heart-strings to true languishment.    

affright: Frighten; scare
‘And for, poor bird, thou sing’st not in the day,     
As shaming any eye should thee behold,     
Some dark deep desert, seated from the way,     
That knows not parching heat nor freezing cold,    1145
We will find out; and there we will unfold     
  To creatures stern sad tunes, to change their kinds:     
  Since men prove beasts, let beasts bear gentle minds.’   
1142-1148: "And, poor bird, because you do not sing in broad daylight to avoid any eye that would shame you, we will find some dark, deep desert that is neither too hot nor too cold. There we will sing to creatures to make them sympathetic with us, for men are just beasts."
As the poor frighted deer, that stands at gaze,     
Wildly determining which way to fly,    1150
Or one encompass’d with a winding maze,     
That cannot tread the way out readily;     
So with herself is she in mutiny,     
  To live or die which of the twain were better,     
  When life is sham’d, and death reproach’s debtor.    1155

encompass'd with: Surrounded by; trapped in
twain: Two
1154: Lucrece faces a terrible dilemma. If she goes on living, she thinks she will bring upon herself great shame and dishonor. If she kills herself, she will commit a wrong that will stain her soul.
‘To kill myself,’ quoth she, ‘alack! what were it     
But with my body my poor soul’s pollution?     
They that lose half with greater patience bear it     
Than they whose whole is swallow’d in confusion.     
That mother tries a merciless conclusion,    1160
  Who, having two sweet babes, when death takes one,     
  Will slay the other and be nurse to none.  

1156-1162: "To kill myself," she says, "is to pollute my pour soul. They that lose half bear up more patiently than they who lose all. If one has two sweet babies and death takes one, it's senseless and cruel to kill the other one and be nurse to none." 
‘My body or my soul, which was the dearer,     
When the one pure, the other made divine?     
Whose love of either to myself was nearer,    1165
When both were kept for heaven and Collatine?     
Ay me! the bark peel’d from the lofty pine,     
  His leaves will wither and his sap decay;     
  So must my soul, her bark being peel’d away.    

1163-1166: "When my body was pure and my soul divine, which was dearer to me? Which did I love better when both were kept for heaven and Collatine?"
‘Her house is sack’d, her quiet interrupted,    1170
Her mansion batter’d by the enemy;     
Her sacred temple spotted, spoil’d, corrupted,     
Grossly engirt with daring infamy:     
Then let it not be call’d impiety,     
  If in this blemish’d fort I make some hole    1175
  Through which I may convey this troubled soul.    

1170-1176: "The soul's house is burglarized, her quiet interrupted, her mansion battered by Tarquin. Her sacred shelter spotted, spoiled, corrupted, grossly surrounded (or polluted with) infamy. Then let no one call me impious if I make some hole in my body through which I may free my troubled soul."
‘Yet die I will not till my Collatine     
Have heard the cause of my untimely death;     
That he may vow, in that sad hour of mine,     
Revenge on him that made me stop my breath.    1180
My stained blood to Tarquin I’ll bequeath,     
  Which by him tainted shall for him be spent,     
  And as his due writ in my testament.    

‘Mine honour I’ll bequeath unto the knife     
That wounds my body so dishonoured.    1185
’Tis honour to deprive dishonour’d life;     
The one will live, the other being dead:     
So of shame’s ashes shall my fame be bred;     
  For in my death I murder shameful scorn:     
  My shame so dead, mine honour is new-born.    1190

1184-1186: "I'll will my honor to the knife that wounds my dishonored body. It's honorable to end a dishonored life."
‘Dear lord of that dear jewel I have lost,     
What legacy shall I bequeath to thee?     
My resolution, love, shall be thy boast,     
By whose example thou reveng’d mayst be.     
How Tarquin must be us’d, read it in me:    1195
  Myself, thy friend, will kill myself, thy foe,     
  And for my sake serve thou false Tarquin so.    

1191-1194: "Dear Collatine, lord of the virtue I have lost, what should I will to you? My determination to act against the shame and dishonor inflicted on me. You can boast of that determination and follow it as an example in gaining revenge against Tarquin."
‘This brief abridgment of my will I make:     
My soul and body to the skies and ground;     
My resolution, husband, do thou take;    1200
Mine honour be the knife’s that makes my wound;     
My shame be his that did my fame confound;     
  And all my fame that lives disbursed be     
  To those that live, and think no shame of me.    

1198-1204 "Here is a summary of my will: I commend my soul to the heavens and my body to the ground; my resolution, to my husband; my honor, to the knife that I will use; my shame, to Tarquin; my reputation, to all those persons who do not mock or reproach me."
‘Thou, Collatine, shalt oversee this will;    1205
How was I overseen that thou shalt see it!     
My blood shall wash the slander of mine ill;     
My life’s foul deed, my life’s fair end shall free it.     
Faint not, faint heart, but stoutly say, “So be it:”     
  Yield to my hand; my hand shall conquer thee:    1210
  Thou dead, both die, and both shall victors be.’     

oversee: Carry out; execute; be the executor of
rseen: Tricked; deceived
This plot of death when sadly she had laid,     
And wip’d the brinish pearl from her bright eyes,     
With untun’d tongue she hoarsely call’d her maid,     
Whose swift obedience to her mistress hies;    1215
For fleet-wing’d duty with thought’s feathers flies.     
  Poor Lucrece’ cheeks unto her maid seem so     
  As winter meads when sun doth melt their snow.    

brinish pearl: Salty tear
untun'd tongue: Halting voice; discordant voice
hies: Hurries
meads: Meadows

Her mistress she doth give demure good-morrow,     
With soft slow tongue, true mark of modesty,    1220
And sorts a sad look to her lady’s sorrow,     
For why her face wore sorrow’s livery;     
But durst not ask of her audaciously     
  Why her two suns were cloud-eclipsed so,     
  Nor why her fair cheeks over-wash’d with woe.    1225

demure good-morrow: Polite greeting
durst: Dared
two suns: Eyes
cloud-eclipsed: Sad
But as the earth doth weep, the sun being set,     
Each flower moisten’d like a melting eye;     
Even so the maid with swelling drops ’gan wet     
Her circled eyne, enforc’d by sympathy     
Of those fair suns set in her mistress’ sky,    1230
  Who in a salt-wav’d ocean quench their light,     
  Which makes the maid weep like the dewy night.    

earth doth weep: Become dewy
'gan wet: Began to wet
eyne: Eyes
enforc'd by: Brought on by
fair suns: Eyes
salt-wav'd ocean: Outpouring of salty tears
quench: Diminish; obscure

A pretty while these pretty creatures stand,     
Like ivory conduits coral cisterns filling;     
One justly weeps, the other takes in hand    1235
No cause but company of her drops spilling;     
Their gentle sex to weep are often willing,     
  Grieving themselves to guess at others’ smarts,     
  And then they drown their eyes or break their hearts:    

1233-1239: For a while, these two women stand facing each other as their tears flow, as if they are channels carrying water to a reservoir. One has a good reason to weep. The other weeps because her mistress is weeping. Women are prone to weeping, sometimes guessing what pain causes another to weep. And then they cry profusely or break their hearts.
For men have marble, women waxen minds,    1240
And therefore are they form’d as marble will;     
The weak oppress’d, the impression of strange kinds     
Is form’d in them by force, by fraud, or skill:     
Then call them not the authors of their ill,     
  No more than wax shall be accounted evil    1245
  Wherein is stamp’d the semblance of a devil.    

1240-1246: Men's minds are hard, like marble. Women's minds are soft, like wax. Consequently, men shape women according to their marble will, oppressing them and molding them by force, fraud, or cleverness into strange beings. Thus, don't say women cause their misfortuneno more than wax shall be called evil if it is stamped with the image of a devil.
Their smoothness, like a goodly champaign plain,     
Lays open all the little worms that creep;     
In men, as in a rough-grown grove, remain     
Cave-keeping evils that obscurely sleep:    1250
Through crystal walls each little mote will peep:     
  Though men can cover crimes with bold stern looks,     
  Poor women’s faces are their own faults’ books.    

1247-1253: Men's smoothness, like an open field, reveals to the onlooker all the little worms that creep. In men, as in a grove, hidden evils sleep unobserved. Through crystal walls each speck of dust will peep. Though men can cover their crimes with bold, stern looks, poor women's faces are books in which anyone can read all their faults.
No man inveigh against the wither’d flower,     
But chide rough winter that the flower hath kill’d:    1255
Not that devour’d, but that which doth devour,     
Is worthy blame. O! let it not be held     
Poor women’s faults, that they are so fulfill’d     
  With men’s abuses: those proud lords, to blame,     
  Make weak-made women tenants to their shame.    1260

1254-1255: No man should condemn the withered flower. Instead, he should chide rough winter, which killed the flower.
The precedent whereof in Lucrece view,     
Assail’d by night with circumstances strong     
Of present death, and shame that might ensue     
By that her death, to do her husband wrong:     
Such danger to resistance did belong,    1265
  The dying fear through all her body spread;     
  And who cannot abuse a body dead?    

1261-1265: View the evidence of these charges in Lucrece, who was assailed by night, feared for her life, and worried about the shame that might ensue by that death if she was believed to have done her husband wrong. Such danger made it difficult to resist her attacker.

By this, mild patience bid fair Lucrece speak     
To the poor counterfeit of her complaining:     
‘My girl,’ quoth she, ‘on what occasion break    1270
Those tears from thee, that down thy cheeks are raining?     
If thou dost weep for grief of my sustaining,     
  Know, gentle wench, it small avails my mood:     
  If tears could help, mine own would do me good.     

1268-1274: With these thoughts in mind, fair Lucrece spoke to her poor maid about the latter's crying. "My girl," she said, "what caused those tears to break from you and rain down your cheeks? If you are weeping for a grief that I suffered, know, gentle wench, it doesn't improve my mood. If tears could help me, my own would be enough to do the job."
‘But tell me, girl, when went’—and there she stay’d    1275
Till after a deep groan—‘Tarquin from hence?’—     
‘Madam, ere I was up,’ replied the maid,     
‘The more to blame my sluggard negligence:     
Yet with the fault I thus far can dispense;     
  Myself was stirring ere the break of day,    1280
  And, ere I rose, was Tarquin gone away.    

1275-1281: Lucrece asks the maid when Tarquin left the house, interrupting the sentence with a deep groan. The maid says Tarquin was gone by the time she arose, which was very early.
‘But, lady, if your maid may be so bold,     
She would request to know your heaviness.’     
‘O! peace,’ quoth Lucrece; ‘if it should be told,     
The repetition cannot make it less;    1285
For more it is than I can well express:     
  And that deep torture may be call’d a hell,     
  When more is felt than one hath power to tell. 

1282-1288: The maid asks why Lucrece is so sad and depressed. But Lucrece says that telling her what's wrong won't make the wrong go away. Besides, trying to put the matter in words is more than she can do. She does say that she is suffering from a "deep torture."
‘Go, get me hither paper, ink, and pen:     
Yet save that labour, for I have them here.    1290
What should I say? One of my husband’s men     
Bid thou be ready by and by, to bear     
A letter to my lord, my love, my dear:     
  Bid him with speed prepare to carry it;     
  The cause craves haste, and it will soon be writ.’    1295

1291-1293: "What should I say?" she says to herself. Then she tells the maid to order one of her husband's men to be ready soon to carry a letter to Collatine."

Her maid is gone, and she prepares to write,     
First hovering o’er the paper with her quill:     
Conceit and grief an eager combat fight;     
What wit sets down is blotted straight with will;     
This is too curious-good, this blunt and ill:    1300
  Much like a press of people at a door,     
  Throng her inventions, which shall go before.

Conceit: Imagination
wit: Intelligence; reason
will: Strong emotion; passion; fear of saying the wrong thing
curious-good: Painstakingly detailed; elaborate
press: Group; crowd
inventions: Thoughts
At last she thus begins: ‘Thou worthy lord     
Of that unworthy wife that greeteth thee,     
Health to thy person! next vouchsafe t’ afford,    1305
If ever, love, thy Lucrece thou wilt see,     
Some present speed to come and visit me.     
  So I commend me from our house in grief:     
  My woes are tedious, though my words are brief.’    

t': To
1306-1309: If ever, my love, you would see me, come without delay to visit me. I am in a state of grief, and my woes are tedious—though this letter is brief.
Here folds she up the tenour of her woe,    1310
Her certain sorrow writ uncertainly.     
By this short schedule Collatine may know     
Her grief, but not her grief’s true quality:     
She dares not thereof make discovery,     
  Lest he should hold it her own gross abuse,    1315
  Ere she with blood had stain’d her stain’d excuse.    

tenour (tenor): General course; state
schedule: Summation
make discovery: Reveal exactly what happened
1315: Lest he should blame her for Tarquin's deed
Besides, the life and feeling of her passion     
She hoards, to spend when he is by to hear her;     
When sighs, and groans, and tears may grace the fashion     
Of her disgrace, the better so to clear her    1320
From that suspicion which the world might bear her.     
  To shun this blot, she would not blot the letter     
  With words, till action might become them better.   

1317-1318: Besides, she holds back her intense emotions until she can express them when Collatine arrives. 
To see sad sights moves more than hear them told;     
For then the eye interprets to the ear    1325
The heavy motion that it doth behold,     
When every part a part of woe doth bear:     
’Tis but a part of sorrow that we hear;     
  Deep sounds make lesser noise than shallow fords,     
  And sorrow ebbs, being blown with wind of words.    1330

1324-1330: To see sad sights arouses more sympathy than hearing about them. For then the eye can see the heavy weight of sorrow in the gestures and other motions of the afflicted person, then interpret them for the ear. If we hear about a sorrowful event, we know only half the story. Deep waterways make less noise than shallow ones. Deep sorrow seems less than it is when it is heard about, but not seen.
Her letter now is seal’d, and on it writ     
‘At Ardea to my lord, with more than haste.’     
The post attends, and she delivers it,     
Charging the sour-fac’d groom to hie as fast     
As lagging fowls before the northern blast.    1335
  Speed more than speed but dull and slow she deems:     
  Extremely still urgeth such extremes.    

post attends: Messenger waits
fowls: Birds
1336-1337: Go faster than the fastest messenger, she tells the man. Speaking slowly, she urges the messenger to carry her letter with all haste.
The homely villein curtsies to her low;     
And, blushing on her, with a steadfast eye     
Receives the scroll without or yea or no,    1340
And forth with bashful innocence doth hie:     
But they whose guilt within their bosoms lie     
  Imagine every eye beholds their blame;     
  For Lucrece thought he blush’d to see her shame:    

villein: Peasant; servant; serf
hie: Hurry
When, silly groom! God wot, it was defect    1345
Of spirit, life, and bold audacity.     
Such harmless creatures have a true respect     
To talk in deeds, while others saucily     
Promise more speed, but do it leisurely:     
  Even so this pattern of the worn-out age    1350
  Pawn’d honest looks, but laid no words to gage.    

silly groom: Simple servant.
wot: Knows
1347-1349: Such harmless creatures as this man tend to act immediately while others promise to act fast but do so at their leisure.
1351: Pledged to do her bidding by the way he looked at her. But he said nothing.

His kindled duty kindled her mistrust,     
That two red fires in both their faces blaz’d;     
She thought he blush’d, as knowing Tarquin’s lust,     
And, blushing with him, wistly on him gaz’d;    1355
Her earnest eye did make him more amaz’d:     
  The more saw the blood his cheeks replenish,     
  The more she thought he spied in her some blemish.    

1352-1355: His promised duty kindled mistrust, and they both blushed. She thought he blushed because he knew about Tarquin's lustful assault. Blushing with him, she wistly gazed on him.
But long she thinks till he return again,     
And yet the duteous vassal scarce is gone.    1360
The weary time she cannot entertain,     
For now ’tis stale to sigh, to weep, to groan:     
So woe hath wearied woe, moan tired moan,     
  That she her plaints a little while doth stay,     
  Pausing for means to mourn some newer way.    1365

1363-1365: Her grieving has worn her out so that now she stops weeping a little while to mourn in some newer way.
At last she calls to mind where hangs a piece     
Of skilful painting, made for Priam’s Troy;     
Before the which is drawn the power of Greece,     
For Helen’s rape the city to destroy,     
Threat’ning cloud-kissing Ilion with annoy;    1370
  Which the conceited painter drew so proud,     
  As heaven, it seem’d, to kiss the turrets bow’d.    

Ilion: Another name for Troy.
conceited: Imaginative; creative
A thousand lamentable objects there,     
In scorn of nature, art gave lifeless life;     
Many a dry drop seem’d a weeping tear,    1375
Shed for the slaughter’d husband by the wife:     
The red blood reek’d, to show the painter’s strife;     
  The dying eyes gleam’d forth their ashy lights,     
  Like dying coals burnt out in tedious nights.    

husband: Priam
wife: Hecuba
reeked: Fumed; smoked
There might you see the labouring pioner,    1380
Begrim’d with sweat, and smeared all with dust;     
And from the towers of Troy there would appear     
The very eyes of men through loop-holes thrust,     
Gazing upon the Greeks with little lust:     
  Such sweet observance in this work was had,    1385
  That one might see those far-off eyes look sad.    

Pioner: Soldier who digs trenches
little lust: Little desire to encounter them
1385-1386: Closely Lucrece examined this work
, imagining that those Trojan eyes looked sad.

In great commanders grace and majesty     
You might behold, triumphing in their faces;     
In youth quick bearing and dexterity;     
And here and there the painter interlaces    1390
Pale cowards, marching on with trembling paces;     
  Which heartless peasants did so well resemble,     
  That one would swear he saw them quake and tremble.   

1387-1388: In great commanders, you might behold grace and majesty in their faces.
In Ajax and Ulysses, O! what art     
Of physiognomy might one behold;    1395
The face of either cipher’d either’s heart;     
Their face their manners most expressly told:     
In Ajax’ eyes blunt rage and rigour roll’d;     
  But the mild glance that sly Ulysses lent     
  Show’d deep regard and smiling government.    1400

physiognomy: Physical characteristics that help an observer form an opinion about a person
cipher'd: Symbolized
There pleading might you see grave Nestor stand,     
As ’twere encouraging the Greeks to fight;     
Making such sober action with his hand,     
That it beguil’d attention, charm’d the sight.     
In speech, it seem’d, his beard, all silver white,    1405
  Wagg’d up and down, and from his lips did fly     
  Thin winding breath, which purl’d up to the sky.    

1401: Standing there giving advice was somber Nestor, the wise old advisor of the Greeks
purl'd: Rippled or curled
About him were a press of gaping faces,     
Which seem’d to swallow up his sound advice;     
All jointly listening, but with several graces,    1410
As if some mermaid did their ears entice,     
Some high, some low, the painter was so nice;     
  The scalps of many, almost hid behind,     
  To jump up higher seem’d, to mock the mind.    

press: Group; crowd
several graces: Separate viewpoints; separate attitudes
nice: Clever; subtle
1413-1414: Some of the men in the back of the crowd seemed to jump up.
Here one man’s hand lean’d on another’s head,    1415
His nose being shadow’d by his neighbour’s ear;     
Here one being throng’d bears back, all boll’n and red;     
Another smother’d seems to pelt and swear;     
And in their rage such signs of rage they bear,     
  As, but for loss of Nestor’s golden words,    1420
  It seem’d they would debate with angry swords.     
bears: Pushes
boll'n: Swollen
pelt: Complain; castigate
Nestor: Elderly wise man and advisor of the Greeks

For much imaginary work was there;     
Conceit deceitful, so compact, so kind,     
That for Achilles’ image stood his spear,     
Grip’d in an armed hand; himself behind,    1425
Was left unseen, save to the eye of mind:     
  A hand, a foot, a face, a leg, a head,     
  Stood for the whole to be imagined.    

1422-1425: For the painter had great skill in creating the work. He tricked the eye with this skill, making everything seem real and natural. Although the face of the great Achilles was not seen, his spear appeared, gripped in an armed hand.
And from the walls of strong-besieged Troy,     
When their brave hope, bold Hector, march’d to field,    1430
Stood many Trojan mothers, sharing joy     
To see their youthful sons bright weapons wield;     
And to their hope they such odd action yield,     
  That through their light joy seemed to appear,—     
  Like bright things stain’d—a kind of heavy fear.    1435
And, from the strand of Dardan, where they fought,     
To Simois’ reedy banks the red blood ran,     
Whose waves to imitate the battle sought     
With swelling ridges; and their ranks began     
To break upon the galled shore, and then    1440
  Retire again, till meeting greater ranks     
  They join and shoot their foam at Simois’ banks.   

strand: Border or bank of a body of water
Dardan: Dardanelles, a narrow strait along the northwest coast of present-day Turkey

Simois: River.
galled: Battered; deteriorating
To this well-painted piece is Lucrece come,     
To find a face where all distress is stell’d.     
Many she sees where cares have carved some,    1445
But none where all distress and dolour dwell’d,     
Till she despairing Hecuba beheld,     
  Staring on Priam’s wounds with her old eyes,     
  Which bleeding under Pyrrhus’ proud foot lies.  

stell'd: Fixed in place; exhibited 
In her the painter had anatomiz’d    1450
Time’s ruin, beauty’s wrack, and grim care’s reign:     
Her cheeks with chaps and wrinkles were disguis’d;     
Of what she was no semblance did remain;     
Her blue blood chang’d to black in every vein,     
  Wanting the spring that those shrunk pipes had fed,    1455
  Show’d life imprison’d in a body dead.    

anatomized: Thoroughly analyzed
wrack: Ruin; wreck
chaps: Rough and reddened spots
semblance: Likeness
spring: Blood
On this sad shadow Lucrece spends her eyes,     
And shapes her sorrow to the beldam’s woes,     
Who nothing wants to answer her but cries,     
And bitter words to ban her cruel foes:    1460
The painter was no god to lend her those;     
  And therefore Lucrece swears he did her wrong,     
  To give her so much grief and not a tongue.    

shadow: Hecuba, as described in the previous stanza
beldam: Old woman
‘Poor instrument,’ quoth she, ‘without a sound,     
I’ll tune thy woes with my lamenting tongue,    1465
And drop sweet balm in Priam’s painted wound,     
And rail on Pyrrhus that hath done him wrong,     
And with my tears quench Troy that burns so long,     
  And with my knife scratch out the angry eyes     
  Of all the Greeks that are thine enemies.    1470

‘Show me the strumpet that began this stir,     
That with my nails her beauty I may tear.     
Thy heat of lust, fond Paris, did incur     
This load of wrath that burning Troy doth bear:     
Thy eye kindled the fire that burneth here;    1475
  And here in Troy, for trespass of thine eye,     
  The sire, the son, the dame, and daughter die.    

strumpet: Helen
stir: War
thy eye: When Paris saw Helen, he fell in love with her and abducted her. The abduction caused the Trojan War.
trespass of thine eye: For looking upon and abducting a married woman 
‘Why should the private pleasure of some one     
Become the public plague of many moe?     
Let sin, alone committed, light alone    1480
Upon his head that hath transgressed so;     
Let guiltless souls be freed from guilty woe;     
  For one’s offence why should so many fall,     
  To plague a private sin in general?    

moe: More
‘Lo! here weeps Hecuba, here Priam dies,    1485
Here manly Hector faints, here Troilus swounds,     
Here friend by friend in bloody channel lies,     
And friend to friend gives unadvised wounds,     
And one man’s lust these many lives confounds:     
  Had doting Priam check’d his son’s desire,    1490
  Troy had been bright with fame and not with fire.’    

Troilus: Another son of Priam
swounds: Faints
1488: And one man accidentally wounds his friend
1490: Had Priam prevented Paris from keeping Helen in Troy
Here feelingly she weeps Troy’s painted woes;     
For sorrow, like a heavy-hanging bell,     
Once set on ringing, with his own weight goes;     
Then little strength rings out the doleful knell:    1495
So Lucrece, set a-work, sad tales doth tell     
  To pencil’d pensiveness and colour’d sorrow;     
  She lends them words, and she their looks doth borrow.    

1492: Here Lucrece weeps with deep emotion at the painting of the Trojan War
pencil'd: Painted
colour'd sorrow: Sorrow depicted in the colorful painting
She throws her eyes about the painting round,     
And whom she finds forlorn she doth lament:    1500
At last she sees a wretched image bound,     
That piteous looks to Phrygian shepherds lent;     
His face, though full of cares, yet show’d content;     
  Onward to Troy with the blunt swains he goes,     
  So mild, that Patience seem’d to scorn his woes.    1505

1502: That looked wretchedly at shepherds from Phrygia (ancient land in present-day Turkey)
blunt swains: Coarse country fellows
1505: So mild that his patience seemed to scorn his woes.
In him the painter labour’d with his skill     
To hide deceit, and give the harmless show     
An humble gait, calm looks, eyes wailing still,     
A brow unbent, that seem’d to welcome woe;     
Cheeks neither red nor pale, but mingled so    1510
  That blushing red no guilty instance gave,     
  Nor ashy pale the fear that false hearts have.    

show: Man
eyes wailing still: Eyes that keep on crying
instance gave: Demeanor revealed
But, like a constant and confirmed devil,     
He entertain’d a show so seeming-just,     
And therein so ensconc’d his secret evil,    1515
That jealousy itself could not mistrust     
False-creeping craft and perjury should thrust     
  Into so bright a day such black-fac’d storms,     
  Or blot with hell-born sin such saint-like forms.    

1515-1519: And in this way he hid his secret evil so that suspicion itself could not mistrust his false-creeping cleverness and could not believe that a man tainted with a black soul and hell-born sin could appear so saintly on so bright a day.
The well-skill’d workman this mild image drew    1520
For perjur’d Sinon, whose enchanting story     
The credulous Old Priam after slew;     
Whose words, like wildfire, burnt the shining glory     
Of rich-built Ilion, that the skies were sorry,     
  And little stars shot from their fixed places,    1525
  When their glass fell wherein they view’d their faces.    

workman: The painter
enchanting: Deceptive
Sinon: The "devil" referred to in the previous stanza. For more on Sinon, see The Trojan War.
glass: Mirror, referring to Troy
fell: Troy "fell" to the Greeks—that is, the Greeks conquered the city.
This picture she advisedly perus’d,     
And chid the painter for his wondrous skill,     
Saying, some shape in Sinon’s was abus’d;     
So fair a form lodg’d not a mind so ill:    1530
And still on him she gaz’d, and gazing still,     
  Such signs of truth in his plain face she spied,     
  That she concludes the picture was belied.  

1527-33: This picture she closely examined and scolded the painter for using his skill to render Sinon as a saintly figure even though he was a liar and deceiver. She continued to gaze on Sinon's form, then concluded that the signs of truth in his plain face gave a false impression. 

‘It cannot be,’ quoth she, ‘that so much guile,’—     
She would have said,—‘can lurk in such a look;’    1535
But Tarquin’s shape came in her mind the while,     
And from her tongue ‘can lurk’ from ‘cannot’ took:     
‘It cannot be,’ she in that sense forsook,     
  And turn’d it thus, ‘It cannot be, I find,     
  But such a face should bear a wicked mind:    1540

1536-1537: But when Tarquin's form appeared in her mind, she thought that such deception could in fact lurk in one who seems innocent.
‘For even as subtle Sinon here is painted,     
So sober-sad, so weary, and so mild,     
As if with grief or travail he had fainted,     
To me came Tarquin armed; so beguil’d     
With outward honesty, but yet defil’d    1545
  With inward vice: as Priam him did cherish,     
  So did I Tarquin; so my Troy did perish.  

my Troy: My chastity; my virtue. (The Greeks burned Troy to the ground.) 
‘Look, look, how listening Priam wets his eyes,     
To see those borrow’d tears that Sinon sheds!     
Priam, why art thou old and yet not wise?    1550
For every tear he falls a Trojan bleeds:     
His eye drops fire, no water thence proceeds;     
  Those round clear pearls of his, that move thy pity,     
  Are balls of quenchless fire to burn thy city.    

falls: Cries
pearls: Eyes
‘Such devils steal effects from lightless hell;    1555
For Sinon in his fire doth quake with cold,     
And in that cold hot-burning fire doth dwell;     
These contraries such unity do hold,     
Only to flatter fools and make them bold:     
  So Priam’s trust false Sinon’s tears doth flatter,    1560
  That he finds means to burn his Troy with water.’    

effects: Deceptive practices or appearances
flatter: tempt; coax to do something
1561: "Thus Sinon finds a way to burn Troy with water."
Here, all enrag’d, such passion her assails,     
That patience is quite beaten from her breast.     
She tears the senseless Sinon with her nails,     
Comparing him to that unhappy guest    1565
Whose deed hath made herself herself detest:     
  At last she smilingly with this gives o’er;     
  ‘Fool, fool!’ quoth she, ‘his wounds will not be sore.’    

1562-1566: Here, she is so enraged that her passion overcomes her patience, and she scratches the hardhearted Sinon, comparing him to Tarquin. Tarquin's assault against her virtue has made her detest herself.
Thus ebbs and flows the current of her sorrow,     
And time doth weary time with her complaining.    1570
She looks for night, and then she longs for morrow,     
And both she thinks too long with her remaining:     
Short time seems long in sorrow’s sharp sustaining:     
  Though woe be heavy, yet it seldom sleeps;     
  And they that watch see time how slow it creeps.    1575

1570: And even time becomes weary with her endless complaining.
1573: A short time seems long when one is suffering
watch: Cannot sleep
Which all this time hath overslipp’d her thought,     
That she with painted images hath spent;     
Being from the feeling of her own grief brought     
By deep surmise of others’ detriment;     
Losing her woes in shows of discontent.    1580
  It easeth some, though none it ever cur’d,     
  To think their dolour others have endur’d.    

1576-1582: During all this time, she did not realize how much time she spent looking at the painting. Staring at it took her mind off her grief; she was concerned about the grief of others, losing her woes in the pity she felt for the others. It helps Lucrece to think that others have endured the kind of suffering that she is experiencing.
But now the mindful messenger, come back,     
Brings home his lord and other company;     
Who finds his Lucrece clad in mourning black;    1585
And round about her tear-distained eye     
Blue circles stream’d, like rainbows in the sky:     
  These water-galls in her dim element     
  Foretell new storms to those already spent.    

mindful: Obedient; punctual
lord: Collatine
tear-distained: Tear-stained
water-galls: Broken or secondary rainbows that indicate more stormy weather is coming
dim element: Sad eyes
to those: Besides those

Which when her sad-beholding husband saw,    1590
Amazedly in her sad face he stares:     
Her eyes, though sod in tears, look’d red and raw,     
Her lively colour kill’d with deadly cares.     
He hath no power to ask her how she fares:     
  Both stood like old acquaintance in a trance,    1595
  Met far from home, wondering each other’s chance. 

sod: Sodden; soaked
1595-1596: Both stood like old friends who run into each other far from home, wondering how each other has fared.  
At last he takes her by the bloodless hand,     
And thus begins: ‘What uncouth ill event     
Hath thee befall’n, that thou dost trembling stand?     
Sweet love, what spite hath thy fair colour spent?    1600
Why art thou thus attir’d in discontent?     
  Unmask, dear dear, this moody heaviness,     
  And tell thy grief, that we may give redress.’    

bloodless: Pale.
uncouth: Unusual; unfamiliar
1600: Sweet love, what harm has made you look so pale?
Three times with sighs she gives her sorrow fire,     
Ere once she can discharge one word of woe:    1605
At length address’d to answer his desire,     
She modestly prepares to let them know     
Her honour is ta’en prisoner by the foe;     
  While Collatine and his consorted lords     
  With sad attention long to hear her words.    1610

Ere: Before
And now this pale swan in her watery nest     
Begins the sad dirge of her certain ending.     
‘Few words,’ quoth she, ‘shall fit the trespass best,     
Where no excuse can give the fault amending:     
In me moe woes than words are now depending;    1615
  And my laments would be drawn out too long,     
  To tell them all with one poor tired tongue.    

watery nest: Reference to Lucrece's tears
1613-1617: "Few words," she said, "are best to tell about the trespass against me. I will give you just the facts without altering any of them. Right now, I have more woes than words. If I told you all of my laments, it would take too long."
‘Then be this all the task it hath to say:     
Dear husband, in the interest of thy bed     
A stranger came, and on that pillow lay    1620
Where thou wast wont to rest thy weary head;     
And what wrong else may be imagined     
  By foul enforcement might be done to me,     
  From that, alas! thy Lucrece is not free.    

1618: "Then this is all I have to say.
enforcement: Force; rape
‘For in the dreadful dead of dark midnight,    1625
With shining falchion in my chamber came     
A creeping creature with a flaming light,     
And softly cried, “Awake, thou Roman dame,     
And entertain my love; else lasting shame     
  On thee and thine this night I will inflict,    1630
  If thou my love’s desire do contradict.    

falchion: Sword
‘“For some hard-favour’d groom of thine,” quoth he,     
“Unless thou yoke thy liking to my will,     
I’ll murder straight, and then I’ll slaughter thee,     
And swear I found you where you did fulfil    1635
The loathsome act of lust, and so did kill     
  The lechers in their deed: this act will be     
  My fame, and thy perpetual infamy.”    

hard-favored: Rough-looking; ugly
‘With this I did begin to start and cry,     
And then against my heart he sets his sword,    1640
Swearing, unless I took all patiently,     
I should not live to speak another word;     
So should my shame still rest upon record,     
  And never be forgot in mighty Rome     
  The adulterate death of Lucrece and her groom.    1645

1645: The adultery committed by Lucrece and her groom that caused their death.

‘Mine enemy was strong, my poor self weak,     
And far the weaker with so strong a fear:     
My bloody judge forbade my tongue to speak;     
No rightful plea might plead for justice there:     
His scarlet lust came evidence to swear    1650
  That my poor beauty had purloin’d his eyes;     
  And when the judge is robb’d the prisoner dies.    

came: Provided
purloin'd: Stolen; captured; captivated
‘O! teach me how to make mine own excuse,     
Or, at the least, this refuge let me find;     
Though my gross blood be stain’d with this abuse,    1655
Immaculate and spotless is my mind;     
That was not forc’d; that never was inclin’d     
  To accessary yieldings, but still pure     
  Doth in her poison’d closet yet endure.’   

1656-1659: My mind is free of guilt. He was never able to make me willingly assent to his lust. I was pure of mind even though he poisoned my body.
Lo! here the hopeless merchant of this loss,    1660
With head declin’d, and voice damm’d up with woe,     
With sad-set eyes, and wretched arms across,     
From lips new-waxen pale begins to blow     
The grief away that stops his answer so:     
  But, wretched as he is, he strives in vain;    1665
  What he breathes out his breath drinks up again.    

hopeless merchant: Collatine. Only he "possessed" the right to to be intimate with Lucrece.
As through an arch the violent roaring tide     
Outruns the eye that doth behold his haste,     
Yet in the eddy boundeth in his pride     
Back to the strait that forc’d him on so fast;    1670
In rage sent out, recall’d in rage, being past:     
  Even so his sighs, his sorrows, make a saw,     
  To push grief on, and back the same grief draw.    

1667-1673: As through an arch supporting a bridge, the violent, roaring tide outruns the eye of the observer. Yet the current reverses itself, becoming and eddy, and rushes back to the ocean strait that forced it under the arch so fast. Thus, in rage, it roared forward, then roared back. It was like this with Collatine's sighs and sorrows. They go back and forth like a saw cutting wood; the sighs bring grief, then draw it back.
Which speechless woe of his poor she attendeth,     
And his untimely frenzy thus awaketh:    1675
‘Dear lord, thy sorrow to my sorrow lendeth     
Another power; no flood by raining slaketh.     
My woe too sensible thy passion maketh     
  More feeling-painful: let it then suffice     
  To drown one woe, one pair of weeping eyes.    1680

poor she attendeth: Poor Lucrece observes
frenzy: Agitation; hysteria.
1676-1680: "Dear lord, your sorrow added to my sorrow creates a mighty grief that no flood of tears can relieve. Your passion makes my extreme woe even more painfully felt. Let it then be sufficient to drown one woe, one pair of weeping eyes."
‘And for my sake, when I might charm thee so,     
For she that was thy Lucrece, now attend me:     
Be suddenly revenged on my foe,     
Thine, mine, his own: suppose thou dost defend me     
From what is past: the help that thou shalt lend me    1685
  Comes all too late, yet let the traitor die;     
  For sparing justice feeds iniquity.    

1681-1687: "And for my sake, regard me as you did before this evil happened to me. Now listen to me. Gain revenge against my foe—who is also your foe and his own foe. Imagine that you are defending me as I was in the past. True, the help that you shall lend me will come too late, but let the traitor die. For sparing the evildoer only makes him commit more sin."
‘But ere I name him, you, fair lords,’ quoth she,—     
Speaking to those that came with Collatine,—     
‘Shall plight your honourable faiths to me,    1690
With swift pursuit to venge this wrong of mine;     
For ’tis a meritorious fair design     
  To chase injustice with revengeful arms:     
  Knights, by their oaths, should right poor ladies’ harms.’    

1688-1691: "But before I identify the man, I ask you, fair lords," she said—speaking to those who came with Collatine—"to plight your faith in me and with swift pursuit avenge this wrong of mine."
At this request, with noble disposition    1695
Each present lord began to promise aid,     
As bound in knighthood to her imposition,     
Longing to hear the hateful foe bewray’d:     
But she, that yet her sad task hath not said,     
  The protestation stops. ‘O! speak,’ quoth she,    1700
  ‘How may this forced stain be wip’d from me?    

bewray'd: Identified; disclosed
‘What is the quality of mine offence,     
Being constrain’d with dreadful circumstance?     
May my pure mind with the foul act dispense,     
My low-declined honour to advance?    1705
May any terms acquit me from this chance?     
  The poison’d fountain clears itself again;     
  And why not I from this compelled stain?’    

1702-1708: "How would you characterize my offense, considering that I was forced under dreadful circumstances? May my pure mind dispense of this foul act and my ruined honor be elevated. Can anything free of this misfortune? The poisoned fountain clears itself again. Why can't I be cleared of this forced stain?"
With this, they all at once began to say,     
Her body’s stain her mind untainted clears;    1710
While with a joyless smile she turns away     
The face, that map which deep impression bears     
Of hard misfortune, carv’d in it with tears.     
  ‘No, no,’ quoth she, ‘no dame, hereafter living,     
  By my excuse shall claim excus’s giving.’    1715

1710: Her untainted mind clears her body's stain.
1714-1715: "No, no," she says, "no married woman of the future should be able to use my excuse as an excuse for her own offense."
Here with a sigh, as if her heart would break,     
She throws forth Tarquin’s name, ‘He, he,’ she says,     
But more than ‘he’ her poor tongue could not speak;     
Till after many accents and delays,     
Untimely breathings, sick and short assays,    1720
  She utters this, ‘He, he, fair lords, ’tis he,     
  That guides this hand to give this wound to me.’    

throws forth: Attempts to speak
accents: Sobs
assays: Tries; attempts
Even here she sheathed in her harmless breast     
A harmful knife, that thence her soul unsheath’d:     
That blow did bail it from the deep unrest    1725
Of that polluted prison where it breath’d;     
Her contrite sighs unto the clouds bequeath’d     
  Her winged sprite, and through her wounds doth fly     
  Life’s lasting date from cancell’d destiny.  

unsheath'd: Liberated
bail: Free
sprite: spirit
1729: Her eternal soul from the cancelled destiny of her body.
Stone-still, astonish’d with this deadly deed,    1730
Stood Collatine and all his lordly crew;     
Till Lucrece’ father, that beholds her bleed,     
Himself on her self-slaughter’d body threw;     
And from the purple fountain Brutus drew     
  The murderous knife, and as it left the place,    1735
  Her blood, in poor revenge, held it in chase;    

purple fountain: Wound
Brutus: Lucius Junius Brutus, who was to become one of the founders of the Roman republic and one of its first consuls
And bubbling from her breast, it doth divide     
In two slow rivers, that the crimson blood     
Circles her body in on every side,     
Who, like a late-sack’d island, vastly stood,    1740
Bare and unpeopled in this fearful flood.     
  Some of her blood still pure and red remain’d,     
  And some look’d black, and that false Tarquin stain’d.    

1740: The body, like a recently pillaged island, stood desolate.
About the mourning and congealed face,     
Of that black blood a watery rigol goes,    1745
Which seems to weep upon the tainted place:     
And ever since, as pitying Lucrece’ woes,     
Corrupted blood some watery token shows;     
  And blood untainted still doth red abide,     
  Blushing at that which is so putrified.    1750

rigol: Gutter; channel; ditch
as pitying: As if pitying
‘Daughter, dear daughter!’ old Lucretius cries,     
‘That life was mine which thou hast here depriv’d     
If in the child the father’s image lies,     
Where shall I live now Lucrece is unliv’d?     
Thou wast not to this end from me deriv’d.    1755
  If children predecease progenitors,     
  We are their offspring, and they none of ours.    

Lucretius: Father of Lucrece
now: Now that
progenitors: Parents
‘Poor broken glass, I often did behold     
In thy sweet semblance my old age new born;     
But now that fair fresh mirror, dim and old,    1760
Shows me a bare-bon’d death by time outworn.     
O! from thy cheeks my image thou hast torn,     
  And shiver’d all the beauty of my glass,     
  That I no more can see what once I was.    

glass: Lucretius regards Lucrece as the mirror (glass) of himself, since her facial features resemble his own.
semblance: Likeness
‘O Time! cease thou thy course, and last no longer,    1765
If they surcease to be that should survive.     
Shall rotten death make conquest of the stronger,     
And leave the faltering feeble souls alive?     
The old bees die, the young possess their hive:     
  Then live, sweet Lucrece, live again and see    1770
  Thy father die, and not thy father thee!’    

surcease: Cease
By this, starts Collatine as from a dream,     
And bids Lucretius give his sorrow place;     
And then in key-cold Lucrece’ bleeding stream     
He falls, and bathes the pale fear in his face,    1775
And counterfeits to die with her a space;     
  Till manly shame bids him possess his breath     
  And live to be revenged on her death.    

1772-1778: By this, Collatine jerks to attention, as if from a dream, and asks Lucretius to move aside. Then Collatine falls onto Lucrece's stream of blood, which is as cold as a metal key, and bathes the pale fear in his face and pretends to die with her. Then manly shame makes him catch his breath and resolve to live in order to gain revenge.
The deep vexation of his inward soul     
Hath serv’d a dumb arrest upon his tongue;    1780
Who, mad that sorrow should his use control     
Or keep him from heart-easing words so long,     
Begins to talk; but through his lips do throng     
  Weak words so thick, come in his poor heart’s aid,     
  That no man could distinguish what he said.    1785

1780: Has paralyzed his tongue
1781-1785: Mad that sorrow dares to rob him of speech, he begins to talk. But his words—which come to the aid of his sad heart—are so weak and thick that no one can understand what he says.
Yet sometime ‘Tarquin’ was pronounced plain,     
But through his teeth, as if the name he tore.     
This windy tempest, till it blow up rain,     
Held back his sorrow’s tide to make it more;     
At last it rains, and busy winds give o’er:    1790
  Then son and father weep with equal strife     
  Who should weep most, for daughter or for wife.    

1786-1787: Yet sometimes he spoke the name of Tarquin plainly, but he had to tear the name through his teeth.
The one doth call her his, the other his,     
Yet neither may possess the claim they lay.     
The father says, ‘She’s mine.’ ‘O! mine she is,’    1795
Replies her husband; ‘do not take away     
My sorrow’s interest; let no mourner say     
  He weeps for her, for she was only mine,     
  And only must be wail’d by Collatine.’    

‘O!’ quoth Lucretius, ‘I did give that life    1800
Which she too early and too late hath spill’d.’     
‘Woe, woe,’ quoth Collatine, ‘she was my wife,     
I ow’d her, and ’tis mine that she hath kill’d.’     
‘My daughter’ and ‘my wife’ with clamours fill’d     
  The dispers’d air, who, holding Lucrece’ life,    1805
  Answer’d their cries, ‘my daughter’ and ‘my wife.’    

ow'd: Owned
1805-1806: The dispersed air, which was holding the soul of Lucrece, echoed their cries, "my daughter" and "my wife."

Brutus, who pluck’d the knife from Lucrece’ side,     
Seeing such emulation in their woe,     
Began to clothe his wit in state and pride,     
Burying in Lucrece’ wound his folly’s show.    1810
He with the Romans was esteemed so     
  As silly-jeering idiots are with kings,     
  For sportive words and uttering foolish things:    

emulation: Rivalry
state: nobility; dignity
1810-1813: These lines indicate that Brutus was held in low regard by his fellow Romans because he acted like a fool and said foolish things.

But now he throws that shallow habit by,     
Wherein deep policy did him disguise;    1815
And arm’d his long-hid wits advisedly,     
To check the tears in Collatinus’ eyes.     
‘Thou wronged lord of Rome,’ quoth he, ‘arise:     
  Let my unsounded self, suppos’d a fool,     
  Now set thy long-experienc’d wit to school.    1820

1814-1820: But now Brutus casts aside his fool's persona and draws upon his long-hidden intelligence to check the tears in Collatine's eyes. He tells the "wronged lord" that he has advice for him.

‘Why, Collatine, is woe the cure for woe?     
Do wounds help wounds, or grief help grievous deeds?     
Is it revenge to give thyself a blow     
For his foul act by whom thy fair wife bleeds?     
Such childish humour from weak minds proceeds:    1825
  Thy wretched wife mistook the matter so,     
  To slay herself, that should have slain her foe.    

1823-1827:  "Is it revenge to punish yourself for the foul act of the man who caused your wife to stab herself? Only those with weak minds do such things? Your poor wife was so confused that she killed herself instead of slaying her foe."
‘Courageous Roman, do not steep thy heart     
In such relenting dew of lamentations;     
But kneel with me and help to bear thy part,    1830
To rouse our Roman gods with invocations,     
That they will suffer these abominations,     
  Since Rome herself in them doth stand disgrac’d,     
  By our strong arms from forth her fair streets chas’d.    

1828-1834: "Courageous Collatine, do not continue to weep over your troubles. Instead, kneel with me and let us rouse our Roman gods with prayers urging them to chase from the streets of Rome these abominations, since they bring disgrace upon the city."

‘Now, by the Capitol that we adore,    1835
And by this chaste blood so unjustly stain’d,     
By heaven’s fair sun that breeds the fat earth’s store,     
By all our country rights in Rome maintain’d,     
And by chaste Lucrece’ soul, that late complain’d     
  Her wrongs to us, and by this bloody knife,    1840
  We will revenge the death of this true wife.’    

Capitol: Seat of Roman government
country: Legal; god-given
fat earth's store: Rich earth's harvest
This said, he struck his hand upon his breast,     
And kiss’d the fatal knife to end his vow;     
And to his protestation urg’d the rest,     
Who, wondering at him, did his words allow:    1845
Then jointly to the ground their knees they bow;     
  And that deep vow, which Brutus made before,     
  He doth again repeat, and that they swore.

allow: Accept; support   
When they had sworn to this advised doom,     
They did conclude to bear dead Lucrece thence;    1850
To show her bleeding body thorough Rome,     
And so to publish Tarquin’s foul offence:     
Which being done with speedy diligence,     
  The Romans plausibly did give consent     
  To Tarquin’s everlasting banishment.    1855

doom: Verdict; judgment
thorough: Through
publish: Announce; make known

The Trojan War

In the works of Shakespeare and other writers, many direct and indirect references to classical mythology derive from accounts of (1) events leading up to the Trojan War, (2) the war itself, and (3) the aftermath of the war. Gods, goddesses, monsters, and humans all appear in these accounts. The war pitted the Bronze Age city of Troy, a walled community in present-day Turkey, against Greece.

Following is a brief summary of key events before, during, and after the war as presented in oral and written stories from ancient Greece and Rome. The most important of these stories are The Iliad and The Odyssey, by Homer, and The Aeneid, by Vergil. The Iliad centers on the Greek hero Achilles, the greatest soldier in classical mythology, during the last year of the war. The Odyssey centers on Odysseus (Roman name: Ulysses) and his perilous voyage home after the war. The Aeneid focuses on the Trojan hero Aeneas on his perilous voyage to Italy after the war.

The Cause of the War

In the ancient Mediterranean world, feminine beauty reaches its zenith in Helen, wife of King Menelaus of Greece. Her wondrous face and body are without flaw. Even the goddess of love, Aphrodite, admires her. When Aphrodite competes with other goddesses in a beauty contest—in which a golden apple is to be awarded as the prize—she bribes the judge, a young Trojan named Paris, promising him the most ravishing woman in the world, Helen, if he will select her, Aphrodite, as the most beautiful goddess. Paris, of course, chooses Aphrodite. After receiving the coveted golden apple, she tells Paris about Helen; he goes to Greece and abducts her, taking her  to Troy.

The abduction is an affront to all the Greeks. How dare an upstart Trojan invade their land! How dare he steal the wife of one of their kings! Which Greek family will be next to fall victim to a Trojan machination? Infuriated, King Menelaus and his brother, Agamemnon, assemble a mighty army with the finest warriors in the land, including Achilles, the greatest warrior in the world, and the giant Ajax, second only to Achilles in battlefield prowess. Agamemnon acts as commanding general. The Greeks then cross the sea in one thousand ships to make war against Troy and win back their pride—and Helen. The king of Troy is named Priam; his wife and queen is Hecuba. Priam's son Hector is the leader of the Trojan army.

The War

The war drags on for ten years—the Trojans gaining an advantage one day, the Greeks gaining the advantage the next.

One day, the Greek warrior Odysseus (Roman name Ulysses), king of Ithaca, proposes to his fellow Greeks that they build a gigantic wooden horse. Inside its hollow belly will be fully armed soldiers. The Greeks will then make the Trojans believe that they have left the battlefield and returned home, leaving behind the horse as a gift. The Greeks accept his plan, build the horse, and leave the wooden horse at the gate of Troy with one of their men, Sinon, while the rest of the Greek army hides outside Troy. Sinon persuades the Trojans that the Greek army has departed but left the horse as a gift in honor of the goddess Athena, who will protect their city. The Trojans believe Sinon, open their main gate, and pull the horse into the city. At nightfall, the Greek soldiers descend from the belly of the horse, open the gate, and surprise the sleeping Trojans. The Greeks outside the city swarm in and conquer and burn Troy. Priam is killed by the son of Achilles, Pyrrhus, also known as Neoptolemus.

The Aftermath

When Odysseus and his men return home on several ships, they encounter many perils at sea and on land—including a one-eyed giant (a Cyclops), who eats some of his men; a sorceress named Circe, who turns several of his men into pigs; the six-headed monster Scylla, who devours more of the crewmen; and other perils. Eventually, he makes it home to Ithaca, where he confronts and disposes of squatters on his land seeking to marry his wife, Penelope.

Aeneas, a Trojan who escaped his burning city with a cohort of soldiers, also goes on a journey fraught with perils. He eventually lands in Italy and establishes the foundation of the Roman civilization that later rises to greatness.

About the Author  

Michael J. Cummings, a native of Williamsport, Pa., was a public-school teacher, journalist, freelance writer, author, and college instructor before retiring and devoting his time to writing. He graduated from King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and undertook additional studies at Elmira (N.Y) College and Lycoming College in Williamsport. He also underwent training at the American Press Institute. Mr. Cummings is the author of five print books, numerous e-books, and more than 2,500 newspaper and magazine articles. Among those he interviewed over the years were actors Peter Ustinov and Dennis Weaver, Merrill-Lynch chairman William Schreyer, Indy race-car champion Rick Mears, and George W. Bush (while he was running for vice president on Ronald Reagan's ticket). Mr. Cummings continues to reside in his hometown.