Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, BOOTH'S PHILIPPI, by EDGAR LEE MASTERS



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BOOTH'S PHILIPPI, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: If this must be, I take it. Be a man
Last Line: (he dies.)
Subject(s): Booth, John Wilkes (1838-1865)


SCENE I

BOOTH

If this must be, I take it. Be a man.
Don't whine like that. You suffer only from fear.
But if you had this torturing leg. My God!
If you rode sixty miles as I did, flesh
Prodded at every jump by broken bones ...

HARROLD

What's that?

BOOTH

A dog there in the yard.

HARROLD

Those troopers
We hid from on the way here -- Federals --
Did they go on, or follow, hunting us?

BOOTH

We're ended likely. Let us stand our ground.
We have our carbines for the ending up ...
But oh, to be thus hunted, like a dog,
Through swamps, woods, thickets, chased by gunboats too,
With every hand against me. And for what?
For doing what brought honor unto Brutus,
And deathless fame to Tell. Who'll clear my name?
Who'll print what I have written? There's the pang
To die and have my spirit and sacrifice
Sealed up in silence, or drowned out in cries
Of "cut-throat" or "assassin."

I struck down
A greater tyrant than great Brutus slew.
And my act was more pure than his or Tell's.
One would be great, and one had private wrongs
To heap his country's up for quick revenge.
But I, what greatness could I hope for this?
What wrongs had I except the common wrong?
I struck for country and for that alone;
I struck for liberty that groaned beneath
A tyrant's monstrous tyranny -- and now look
The cold hand they extend me in the South
For which I struck! Our country bleeding, broken,
Cried to me for relief, and I was made
The instrument of God by God alone.

HARROLD

A rooster crows!

BOOTH

Two hours till morning yet.
It's only two o'clock.

HARROLD

What shall we do?

BOOTH

To-night we'll try the river once again ...
Why not return to Washington and end it?
They'd try me and I'd clear my name. Repent?
No, I do not repent. But I've a soul
Too great to die a felon's death. Swift guns
Against a firing wall are honorable.
Before them I can clear my name. O God!
Give me a brave man's death, for I have wronged,
Nor hated no one. And was this a wrong
To kill a tyrant? God must deem it so,
By making it a curse upon our time,
Our country and our countrymen. My fate
How miserable soever it may be
Proves not I did a wrong.

Great Milton come
And comfort me in this my agony!
You who could write a tyrant forfeits life
To those whom he oppresses, and 'tis just
To take him off. O curse of Cain no less!
Now I must pray again.

(He prays.)

SCENE II. (At the Garrett House.)

(Lieutenant Baker, and a squad, including Boston Corbett.)

BAKER

(Knocking at the door.) Halloo! halloo!

A VOICE

What's wanted?

BAKER

Open the door!

SCENE III. (Inside the Tobacco House.)

HARROLD

They've come.

BOOTH

Yes! rapping at the door. Perhaps
Old Garrett will not tell that we are here.
Hold to your carbine. Do as I command.

SCENE III. (At the Garrett House.)

BAKER

(Taking Garrett by the throat.)
Where are these fellows? In your house?

GARRETT

No! No!

BAKER

We'll search! Men, search the house!

GARRETT

They are not here!

BAKER

You make yourself accomplice if you hide them.
Last time: where are they?

GARRETT

In the Tobacco House.

SCENE IV. (Inside the Tobacco House.)

HARROLD

They're walking toward us.

BOOTH

Do as I command.

BAKER

(Outside.) Come out of there.

BOSTON CORBETT

(Outside.) Lieutenant, they can pick
The whole of us through cracks with their carbines.
Old Garrett says they're armed.
(He goes back of the tobacco house.)

BAKER

Come out of there.
Five minutes to come out, then I set fire
To the tobacco house.

BOOTH

(Inside.)
Who are you? What do you want?

BAKER

(Outside.)
We want you. And we know you. Come, you are
Booth, assassin of the President. Surrender arms.
Come out!

BOOTH

(Inside.)
I want a little time to think about it.

(A silence.)

BAKER

(Outside.)
Well, now come out.

BOOTH

(Inside.)
You are a brave man, captain, I believe,
Honorable too. I am a cripple, have
One leg, the other broken. Yet no less
If you will take your men a hundred yards
From the door of the tobacco house, I'll come
Out as you command and fight you all.

BAKER

(Outside.)
I have not come to fight, but capture you.

BOOTH

(Inside.)
Give me a chance for life. I'll better terms.
If you will take your men off fifty yards
I'll come out, fight you all, till I am killed,
Or kill you all.

BAKER

(Outside.)
NO!

BOOTH

(Inside.)
You are a coward, sir,
Denying to a brave man chance for life.

HARROLD

(Inside.)
They've set the house afire! Now, let me out!
(The house burns.)

BOOTH

(Inside.)
You hellish coward, would you leave me now?
Go! Go! and leave me. It would be dishonor
To die with such a coward.
Let this man
Come out of here!

BAKER

(Outside.)
All right! Hand out his arms
And come.

BOOTH

(Inside amid flames.)
A coward goes to cowards.
(The flames are coming up around Booth.)
(He stands on a crutch, pale and defiant.)

SCENE V. (Boston Corbett looking through a crack in the
Tobacco House at Booth amid the flames.)

CORBETT

I hear you God and will obey!

(He points a carbine through a crack and fires at
Booth. Booth leaps and falls. The soldiers go in and
bring him out on the lawn.)

SCENE VI. (On the lawn.)

BAKER

(To Corbett.)
Why did you shoot? You had no orders to?
I'll take you back to Washington in chains!
Why did you shoot?

CORBETT

God told me to.

BAKER
It looks it.
You hit him just behind the ear. Same place
Where Lincoln got the mortal wound.

BOOTH

Tell mother
I died for country, liberty, as Brutus
Did what he did for Rome. I thought it best
To do what I have done. God's will be done
As I have tried to do it.

(He dies.)





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