The Earthly Paradise

Text of The Earthly Pradise I, Summer:

JULY

547

    The Son of Croesus

551

    The Watching of the Falcon

574

 

JULY.

[547] FAIR was the morn to-day, the blossom's scent
Floated across the fresh grass, and the bees
With low vexed song from rose to lily went,
A gentle wind was in the heavy trees,
And thine eyes shone with joyous memories;
5

Fair was the early morn, and fair wert thou,
And I was happy—Ah, be happy now!

   Peace and content without us, love within
That hour there was, now thunder and wild rain,
Have wrapped the cowering world, and foolish sin,
10

And nameless pride, have made us wise in vain;
Ah, love! although the morn shall come again,
And on new rose-buds the new sun shall smile,
Can we regain what we have lost meanwhile?

   E’en now the west grows clear of storm and threat,
15

But midst the lightning did the fair sun die—
—Ah he shall rise again for ages yet,
He cannot waste his life—but thou and I—
Who knows if next morn this felicity
My lips may feel, or if thou still shalt live
20

This seal of love renewed once more to give?

 

[548] WITHIN a lovely valley, watered well
With flowery streams, the July feast befell,
And there within the Chief-priest's fair abode
They cast aside their trouble's heavy load,
Scarce made aweary by the sultry day.
5

The earth no longer laboured; shaded lay
The sweet-breathed kine, across the sunny vale,
From hill to hill the wandering rook did sail,
Lazily croaking, midst his dreams of spring,
Nor more awake the pink-foot dove did cling
10

Unto the beech-bough, murmuring now and then;
All rested but the restless sons of men
And the great sun that wrought this happiness,
And all the vale with fruitful hopes did bless.
So in a marble chamber bright with flowers,
15

The old men feasted through the fresher hours,
And at the hottest time of all the day
When now the sun was on his downward way,
Sat listening to a tale an elder told,
New to his fathers while they yet did hold
20

The cities of some far-off Grecian isle,
Though in the heavens the cloud of force and guile
Was gathering dark that sent them o’er the sea
To win new lands for their posterity.

 

 

THE SON OF CRŒSUS.

ARGUMENT.

[551] CRŒSUS, king of Lydia, dreamed that he saw his Son slain by an iron weapon, and though by every means he strove to avert this doom from him, yet thus it happened, for his Son was slain by the hand of the man who seemed least of all likely to do the deed.

OF Crœsus tells my tale, a king of old
In Lydia, ere the Mede fell on the land,
A man made mighty by great heaps of gold,
Feared for the myriads strong of heart and hand
That ’neath his banners wrought out his command,
5

And though his latter ending fell to ill,
Yet first of every joy he had his fill.

   Two sons he had, and one was dumb from birth;
The other one, that Atys had to name,
Grew up a fair youth, and of might and worth,
10

And well it seemed the race wherefrom he came
From him should never get reproach or shame:
But yet no stroke he struck before his death,
In no war-shout he spent his latest breath.

   Now Crœsus, lying on his bed a-night,
15

Dreamed that he saw this dear son lying low,
And folk lamenting he was slain outright,
[552] And that some iron thing had dealt the blow;
By whose hand guided he could nowise know,
Or if in peace by traitors it were done,
20

Or in some open war not yet begun.

   Three times one night this vision broke his sleep,
So that at last he rose up from his bed,
That he might ponder how he best might keep
The threatened danger from so dear a head;
25

And, since he now was old enough to wed,
The King sent men to search the lands around,
Until some matchless maiden should be found;

   That in her arms this Atys might forget
The praise of men, and fame of history,
30

Whereby full many a field has been made wet
With blood of men, and many a deep green sea
Been reddened therewithal, and yet shall be;
That her sweet voice might drown the people's praise,
Her eyes make bright the uneventful days.
35

   So when at last a wonder they had brought,
From some sweet land down by the ocean's rim,
Than whom no fairer could by man be thought,
And ancient dames, scanning her limb by limb,
Had said that she was fair enough for him,
40

To her was Atys married with much show,
And looked to dwell with her in bliss enow.

   And in meantime afield he never went,
Either to hunting or the frontier war,
No dart was cast, nor any engine bent
45

[553] Anigh him, and the Lydian men afar
Must rein their steeds, and the bright blossoms mar
If they have any lust of tourney now,
And in far meadows must they bend the bow.

   And also though the palace everywhere
50

The swords and spears were taken from the wall
That long with honour had been hanging there,
And from the golden pillars of the hall;
Lest by mischance some sacred blade should fall,
And in its falling bring revenge at last
55

For many a fatal battle overpast.

   And every day King Crœsus wrought with care
To save his dear son from that threatened end,
And many a beast he offered up with prayer
Unto the gods, and much of wealth did spend,
60

That they so prayed might yet perchance defend
That life, until at least that he were dead,
With earth laid heavy on his unseeing head.

   But in the midst even of the wedding feast
There came a man, who by the golden hall
65

Sat down upon the steps, and man or beast
He heeded not, but there against the wall
He leaned his head, speaking no word at all,
Till, with his son and son's wife, came the King,
And then unto his gown the man did cling.
70

   "What man art thou?" the King said to him then,
"That in such guise thou prayest on thy knee;
Hast thou some fell foe here among my men?
Or hast thou done an ill deed unto me?
[554] Or hast thy wife been carried over sea?
75

Or hast thou on this day great need of gold?
Or say, why else thou now art grown so bold."

   "O King," he said, "I ask no gold to-day,
And though indeed thy greatness drew me here,
No wrong have I that thou could’st wipe away;
80

And nought of mine the pirate folk did bear
Across the sea; none of thy folk I fear:
But all the gods are now mine enemies,
Therefore I kneel before thee on my knees.

   "For as with mine own brother on a day
85

Within the running place at home I played,
Unwittingly I smote him in such way
That dead upon the green grass he was laid;
Half-dead myself I fled away dismayed,
Wherefore I pray thee help me in my need,
90

And purify my soul of this sad deed.

   "If of my name and country thou wouldst know,
In Phrygia yet my father is a king,
Gordius, the son of Midas, rich enow
In corn and cattle, golden cup and ring;
95

And mine own name before I did this thing
Was called Adrastus, whom, in street and hall,
The slayer of his brother men now call."

   "Friend," said the King, "have thou no fear of me;
For though, indeed, I am right happy now,
100

Yet well I know this may not always be,
[555] And I may chance some day to kneel full low,
And to some happy man mine head to bow
With prayers to do a greater thing than this,
Dwell thou with us, and win again thy bliss.
105

   "For in this city men in sport and play
Forget the trouble that the gods have sent;
Who therewithal send wine, and many a may
As fair as she for whom the Trojan went,
And many a dear delight besides have lent,
110

Which, whoso is well-loved of them shall keep
Till in forgetful death he falls asleep.

   "Therefore to-morrow shall those rites be done
That kindred blood demands that thou hast shed,
That if the mouth of thine own mother's son
115

Did hap to curse thee ere he was quite dead,
The curse may lie the lighter on thy head,
Because the flower-crowned head of many a beast
Has fallen voiceless in our glorious feast."

   Then did Adrastus rise and thank the King,
120

And the next day when yet low was the sun,
The sacrifice and every other thing
That unto these dread rites belonged, was done;
And there Adrastus dwelt, hated of none,
And loved of many, and the King loved him
125

For brave and wise he was and strong of limb.

   But chiefly amongst all did Atys love
The luckless stranger, whose fair tales of war
The Lydian's heart abundantly did move,
And much they talked of wandering afar
130

Some day, to lands where many marvels are,
[556] With still the Phrygian through all things to be
The leader unto all felicity.

   Now at this time folk came unto the King
Who on a forest's borders dwelling were,
135

Wherein there roamed full many a dangerous thing,
As wolf and wild bull, lion and brown bear;
But chiefly in that forest was the lair
Of a great boar that no man could withstand,
And many a woe he wrought upon the land.
140

   Since long ago that men in Calydon
Held chase, no beast like him had once been seen,
He ruined vineyards lying in the sun,
After his harvesting the men must glean
What he had left; right glad they had not been
145

Among the tall stalks of the ripening wheat,
The fell destroyer's fatal tusks to meet.

   For often would the lonely man entrapped
In vain from his dire fury strive to hide
In some thick hedge, and other whiles it happed
150

Some careless stranger by his place would ride,
And the tusks smote his fallen horse's side,
And what help then to such a wretch could come
With sword he could not draw, and far from home?

   Or else girls, sent their water jars to fill,
155

Would come back pale, too terrified to cry,
Because they had but seen him from the hill;
Or else again with side rent wretchedly,
Some hapless damsel midst the brake would lie.
[557] Shortly to say, there neither man nor maid
160

Was safe afield whether they wrought or played.

   Therefore were come these dwellers by the wood
To pray the king brave men to them to send,
That they might live; and if he deemed it good,
That Atys with the other knights should wend,
165

They thought their grief the easier should have end;
For both by gods and men they knew him loved,
And easily by hope of glory moved.

   "O Sire," they said, "thou know’st how Hercules
Was not content to wait till folk asked aid,
170

But sought the pests among their guarded trees;
Thou know’st what name the Theban Cadmus made,
And how the bull of Marathon was laid
Dead on the fallows of the Athenian land,
And how folk worshipped Atalanta's hand.
175

   "Fair would thy son's name look upon the roll
Wherein such noble deeds as this are told;
And great delight shall surely fill thy soul,
Thinking upon his deeds when thou art old,
And thy brave heart is waxen faint and cold:
180

[558] Dost thou not know, O King, how men will strive
That they, when dead, still in their sons may live?"

   He shuddered as they spoke, because he thought,
Most certainly a winning tale is this
To draw him from the net where he is caught,
185

For hearts of men grow weary of all bliss;
Nor is he one to be content with his,
If he should hear the trumpet-blast of fame
And far-off people calling on his name.

   "Good friends," he said, "go, get ye back again,
190

And doubt not I will send you men to slay
This pest ye fear: yet shall your prayer be vain
If ye with any other speak to-day;
And for my son, with me he needs must stay,
For mighty cares oppress the Lydian land.
195

Fear not, for ye shall have a noble band."

   And with that promise must. they be content,
And so departed, having feasted well.
And yet some god or other ere they went,
If they were silent, this their tale must tell
200

To more than one man; therefore it befell,
That at the last Prince Atys knew the thing,
And came with angry eyes unto the King.

   "Father," he said, "since when am I grown vile?
Since when am I grown helpless of my hands?
205

Or else what folk, with words enwrought with guile,
Thine ears have poisoned; that when far-off lands
My fame might fill, by thy most strange commands
I needs must stay within this slothful home,
Whereto would God that I had never come?
210

   "What! wilt thou take mine honour quite away?
Wouldst thou, that, as with her I just have wed
[559] I sit among thy folk at end of day,
She should be ever turning round her head
To watch some man for war apparelled,
215

Because he wears a sword that he may use,
Which grace to me thou ever wilt refuse?

   "Or dost thou think, when thou hast run thy race
And thou art gone, and in thy stead I reign,
The people will do honour to my place,
220

Or that the lords leal men will still remain,
If yet my father's sword be sharp in vain?
If on the wall his armour still hang up,
While for a spear I hold a drinking-cup?"

   "O Son!" quoth Crœsus, "well I know thee brave,
225

And worthy of high deeds of chivalry;
Therefore the more thy dear life would I save,
Which now is threatened by the gods on high;
Three times one night I dreamed I saw thee die,
Slain by some deadly iron-pointed thing,
230

While weeping lords stood round thee in a ring."

   Then loud laughed Atys, and he said again,
"Father, and did this ugly dream tell thee
What day it was on which I should be slain?
As may the gods grant I may one day be,
235

And not from sickness die right wretchedly,
Groaning with pain, my lords about my bed,
Wishing to God that I were fairly dead;

   "But slain in battle, as the Lydian kings
Have died ere now, in some great victory,
240

While all about the Lydian shouting rings
Death to the beaten foemen as they fly.
What death but this, O father! should I die?
But if my life by iron shall be done,
What steel to-day shall glitter in the sun?
245

   [560] "Yea, father, if to thee it seemeth good
To keep me from the bright steel-bearing throng,
Let me be brave at least within the wood;
For surely, if thy dream be true, no wrong
Can hap to me from this beast's tushes strong:
250

Unless perchance the beast is grown so wise,
He haunts the forest clad in Lydian guise."

   Then Crœsus said: "O Son, I love thee so,
That thou shalt do thy will upon this tide:
But since unto this hunting thou must go,
255

A trusty friend along with thee shall ride,
Who not for anything shall leave thy side.
I think, indeed, he loves thee well enow
To thrust his heart ’twixt thee and any blow.

   "Go then, O Son, and if by some short span
260

Thy life be measured, how shall it harm thee,
If while life last thou art a happy man?
And thou art happy; only unto me
Is trembling left, and infelicity:
The trembling of the man who loves on earth,
265

But unto thee is hope and present mirth.

   "Nay, be thou not ashamed, for on this day
I fear not much: thou read’st my dream aright,
No teeth or claws shall take thy life away.
And it may chance, ere thy last glorious fight,
270

I shall be blinded by the endless night;
And brave Adrastus on this day shall be
Thy safeguard, and shall give good heart to me.

   [561] "Go then, and send him hither, and depart;
And as the heroes did mayst thou too do,
275

Winning such fame as well may please thine heart."
With that word from the King did Atys go,
Who, left behind, sighed, saying "May it be so,
Even as I hope; and yet I would to God
These men upon my threshold ne’er had trod."
280

   So when Adrastus to the King was come
He said unto him, "O my Phrygian friend,
We in this land have given you a fair home,
And ’gainst all foes your life will we defend:
Wherefore for us that life thou shouldest spend,
285

If any day there should be need therefore;
And now a trusty friend I need right sore.

   "Doubtless ere now thou hast heard many say
There is a doom that threatens my son's life;
Therefore this place is stript of arms to-day,
290

And therefore still bides Atys with his wife,
And tempts not any god by raising strife;
Yet none the less by no desire of his,
To whom would war be most abundant bliss.

   "And since to-day some glory he may gain
295

Against a monstrous bestial enemy
And that the meaning of my dream is plain;
That saith that he by steel alone shall die,
His burning wish I may not well deny,
Therefore afield to-morrow doth he wend
300

And herein mayst thou show thyself my friend—

   "For thou as captain of his band shalt ride,
And keep a watchful eye of everything,
[562] Nor leave him whatsoever may betide:
Lo, thou art brave, the son of a great king,
305

And with thy praises doth this city ring,
Why should I tell thee what a name those gain,
Who dying for their friends, die not in vain."

   Then said Adrastus, "Now were I grown base
Beyond all words, if I should spare for aught
310

In guarding him, so sit with smiling face,
And of this matter take no further thought,
Because with my life shall his life be bought,
If ill should hap; and no ill fate it were,
If I should die for what I hold so dear."
315

   Then went Adrastus, and next morn all things,
That 'longed unto the hunting were well dight,
And forth they went clad as the sons of kings,
Fair was the morn, as through the sunshine bright
They rode, the prince half-wild with great delight
320

The Phrygian smiling on him soberly,
And ever looking round with watchful eye.

   So through the city all the rout rode fast,
With many a great black-muzzled yellow hound
And then the teeming country-side they passed,
325

Until they came to sour and rugged ground,
And there rode up a little heathy mound,
That overlooked the scrubby woods and low,
That of the beast's lair somewhat they might know.

   And there a good man of the country-side
330

Showed them the places where he mostly lay;
And they, descending, through the wood did ride,
And followed on his tracks for half the day.
And at the last they brought him well to bay,
Within an oozy space amidst the wood,
335

[563] About the which a ring of alders stood.

   So when the hounds’ changed voices clear they heard,
With hearts aflame on towards him straight they drew;
Atys the first of all, of nought afeard,
Except that folk should say some other slew
340

The beast; and lustily his horn he blew,
Going afoot; then, mighty spear in hand,
Adrastus headed all the following band.

   Now when they came unto the plot of ground
Where stood the boar, hounds dead about him lay
345

Or sprawled about, bleeding from many a wound,
But still the others held him well at bay,
Nor had he been bestead thus ere that day.
But yet, seeing Atys, straight he rushed at him,
Speckled with foam, bleeding in flank and limb.
350

   Then Atys stood and cast his well-steeled spear
With a great shout, and straight and well it flew;
For now the broad blade cutting through the ear,
A stream of blood from out the shoulder drew.
And therewithal another, no less true,
355

Adrastus cast, whereby the boar had died:
But Atys drew the bright sword from his side,

   And to the tottering beast he drew anigh:
But as the sun's rays ran adown the blade
Adrastus threw a javelin hastily,
360

For of the mighty beast was he afraid,
Lest by his wounds he should not yet be stayed,
But with a last rush cast his life away,
And dying there, the son of Crœsus slay.

   But even as the feathered dart he hurled,
365

His strained, despairing eyes, beheld the end,
And changed seemed all the fashion of the world,
[564] And past and future into one did blend,
As he beheld the fixed eyes of his friend,
That no reproach had in them, and no fear,
370

For Death had seized him ere he thought him near.

   Adrastus shrieked, and running up he caught
The falling man, and from his bleeding side
Drew out the dart, and seeing that death had brought
Deliverance to him, he thereby had died;
375

But ere his hand the luckless steel could guide,
And he the refuge of poor souls could win,
The horror-stricken huntsmen had rushed in.

   And these, with blows and cries he heeded nought,
His unresisting hands made haste to bind;
380

Then of the alder-boughs a bier they wrought,
And laid the corpse thereon, and ’gan to wind
Homeward amidst the tangled wood and blind,
And going slowly, at the eventide,
Some leagues from Sardis did that day abide.
385

   Onward next morn the slaughtered man they bore,
With him that slew him, and at end of day
They reached the city, and with mourning sore
Toward the king's palace did they take their way.
He in an open western chamber lay
390

Feasting, though inwardly his heart did burn
Until that Atys should to him return.

   And when those wails first smote upon his ear
He set the wine-cup down, and to his feet
He rose, and bitter all-consuming fear
395

Swallowed his joy, and nigh he went to meet
That which was coming through the weeping street:
But in the end he thought it good to wait,
And stood there doubting all the ills of fate.

   [565] But when at last up to that royal place
400

Folk brought the thing he once had held so dear,
Still stood the King, staring with ghastly face
As they brought forth Adrastus and the bier,
But spoke at last, slowly without a tear,
"O Phrygian man, that I did purify,
405

Is it through thee that Atys came to die?"

   "O King," Adrastus said, "take now my life,
With whatso torment seemeth good to thee,
As my word went, for I would end this strife,
And underneath the earth lie quietly;
410

Nor is it my will here alive to be:
For as my brother, so Prince Atys died,
And this unlucky hand some god did guide."

   Then as a man constrained, the tale he told
From end to end, nor spared himself one whit:
415

And as he spoke, the wood did still behold,
The trodden grass, and Atys dead on it;
And many a change o’er the King's face did flit
Of kingly rage, and hatred and despair,
As on the slayer's face he still did stare.
420

   At last he said, "Thy death avails me nought,
The gods themselves have done this bitter deed,
That I was all too happy was their thought,
Therefore thy heart is dead and mine doth bleed,
And I am helpless as a trodden weed:
425

Thou art but as the handle of the spear,
The caster sits far off from any fear.

   [566] "Yet, if thy hurt they meant, I can do this,—
—Loose him and let him go in peace from me—
I will not slay the slayer of all my bliss;
430

Yet go, poor man, for when thy face I see
I curse the gods for their felicity.
Surely some other slayer they would have found,
If thou hadst long ago been under ground.

   "Alas, Adrastus! in my inmost heart
435

I knew the gods would one day do this thing,
But deemed indeed that it would be thy part
To comfort me amidst my sorrowing;
Make haste to go, for I am still a King!
Madness may take me, I have many hands
440

Who will not spare to do my worst commands."

   With that Adrastus’ bonds were done away,
And forthwith to the city gates he ran,
And on the road where they had been that day
Rushed through the gathering night; and some lone man
445

Beheld next day his visage wild and wan,
Peering from out a thicket of the wood
Where he had spilt that well-beloved blood.

   And now the day of burial pomp must be,
And to those rites all lords of Lydia came
450

About the King, and that day, they and he
Cast royal gifts of rich things on the flame;
But while they stood and wept, and called by name
Upon the dead, amidst them came a man
With raiment rent, and haggard face and wan:
455

   Who when the marshals would have thrust him out
[567] And men looked strange on him, began to say,
"Surely the world is changed since ye have doubt
Of who I am; nay, turn me not away,
For ye have called me princely ere to-day—
460

Adrastus, son of Gordius a great King,
Where unto Pallas Phrygian maidens sing.

   "O Lydians, many a rich thing have ye cast
Into this flame, but I myself will give
A greater gift, since now I see at last
465

The gods are wearied for that still I live,
And with their will, why should I longer strive?
Atys, O Atys, thus I give to thee
A life that lived for thy felicity."

   And therewith from his side a knife he drew,
470

And, crying out, upon the pile he leapt,
And with one mighty stroke himself he slew.
So there these princes both together slept,
And their light ashes, gathered up, were kept
Within a golden vessel wrought all o’er
475

With histories of this hunting of the boar.

 

[568] A GENTLE wind had risen midst his tale,
That bore the sweet scents of the fertile vale
In at the open windows; and these men
The burden of their years scarce noted then,
Soothed by the sweet luxurious summer time,
5

And by the cadence of that ancient rhyme,
Spite of its saddening import; nay, indeed,
Of some such thoughts the Wanderers had need
As that tale gave them—Yea, a man shall be
A wonder for his glorious chivalry,
10

First in all wisdom, of a prudent mind.
Yet none the less him too his fate shall find
Unfenced by these, a man ’mongst other men.
Yea, and will Fortune pick out, now and then,
The noblest for the anvil of her blows;
15

Great names are few, and yet, indeed, who knows
What greater souls have fallen ’neath the stroke
Of careless fate? Purblind are most of folk,
The happy are the masters of the earth
Which ever give small heed to hapless worth;
20

So goes the world, and this we needs must bear
Like eld and death: yet there were some men there
Who drank in silence to the memory
Of those who failed on earth great men to be,
Though better than the men who won the crown.
25

But when the sun was fairly going down
They left the house, and, following up the stream,
In the low sun saw the kingfisher gleam
Twixt bank and alder, and the grebe steal out
From the high sedge, and, in his restless doubt,
30

Dive down, and rise to see what men were there;
They saw the swallow chase high up in air
The circling gnats; the shaded dusky pool
Broke by the splashing chub; the ripple cool,
[569] Rising and falling, of some distant weir
35

They heard, till it oppressed the listening ear,
As twilight grew: so back they turned again
Glad of their rest, and pleasure after pain.

 

[570] WITHIN the gardens once again they met,
That now the roses did well nigh-forget,
For hot July was drawing to an end,
And August came the fainting year to mend
With fruit and grain; so ’neath the trellises,
5

Nigh blossomless, did they lie well at ease,
And watched the poppies burn across the grass,
And o’er the bindweed's bells the brown bee pass
Still murmuring of his gains: windless and bright
The morn had been, to help their dear delight;
10

But heavy clouds ere noon grew round the sun,
And, halfway to the zenith, wild and dun
The sky grew, and the thunder growled afar;
But, ere the steely clouds began their war,
A change there came, and, as by some great hand,
15

The clouds that hung in threatening o’er the land
Were drawn away; then a light wind arose
That shook the light stems of that flowery close,
And made men sigh for pleasure; therewithal
Did mirth upon the feasting elders fall,
20

And they no longer watched the lowering sky,
But called aloud for some new history.
Then spoke the Suabian, "Sirs, this tale is told
Among our searchers for fine stones and gold,
And though I tell it wrong be good to me;
25

For I the written book did never see,
Made by some Fleming, as I think, wherein
Is told this tale of wilfulness and sin."

 

THE

WATCHING OF THE FALCON.

ARGUMENT.

[574] THE case of this Falcon was such, that whoso watched it without sleeping for seven days and seven nights, had his first wish granted him by a fay lady, that appeared to him thereon; and some wished one thing, and some another. But a certain King, who watched the Falcon daily, would wish for nought but the love of that fay; which wish being accomplished, was afterwards his ruin.

ACROSS the sea a land there is,
Where, if fate will, may men have bliss,
For it is fair as any land:
There hath the reaper a full hand,
While in the orchard hangs aloft
5

The purple fig, a-growing soft;
And fair the trellised vine-bunches
Are swung across the high elm-trees;
And in the rivers great fish play,
While over them pass day by day
10

The laden barges to their place.
There maids are straight, and fair of face,
And men are stout for husbandry,
And all is well as it can be
Upon this earth where all has end.
15

For on them God is pleased to send
The gift of Death down from above,
That envy, hatred, and hot love,
Knowledge with hunger by his side,
[575] And avarice and deadly pride,
20

There may have end like everything
Both to the shepherd and the king:
Lest this green earth become but hell
If folk thereon should ever dwell.
Full little most men think of this,
25

But half in woe and half in bliss
They pass their lives, and die at last
Unwilling, though their lot be cast
In wretched places of the earth,
Where men have little joy from birth
30

Until they die; in no such case
Were those who tilled this pleasant place.
There soothly men were loth to die,
Though sometimes in his misery
A man would say "Would I were dead!"
35

Alas! full little likelyhead
That he should live for ever there.
So folk within that country fair
Lived on unable to forget
The longed-for things they could not get,
40

And without need tormenting still
Each other with some bitter ill;
Yea, and themselves too, growing grey
With dread of some long-lingering day,
That never came ere they were dead
45

With green sods growing on the head;
Nowise content with what they had,
But falling still from good to bad
While hard they sought the hopeless best;
And seldom happy or at rest
50

Until at last with lessening blood
One foot within the grave they stood.

   [576] Now so it chanced that in this land
There did a certain castle stand,
Set all alone deep in the hills,
55

Amid the sound of falling rills
Within a valley of sweet grass,
To which there went one narrow pass
Through the dark hills, but seldom trod.
Rarely did horse-hoof press the sod
60

About the quiet weedy moat,
When unscared did the great fish float;
Because men dreaded there to see
The uncouth things of faërie;
Nathless by some few fathers old
65

These tales about the place were told
That neither squire nor seneschal
Or varlet came in bower or hall,
Yet all things were in order due,
Hangings of gold and red and blue,
70

And tables with fair service set;
Cups that had paid the Cæsar's debt
Could he have laid his hands on them;
Dorsars, with pearls in every hem,
And fair embroidered gold-wrought things,
75

Fit for a company of kings;
And in the chambers dainty beds,
With pillows dight for fair young heads;
And horses in the stables were,
And in the cellars wine full clear
80

And strong, and casks of ale and mead;
Yea, all things a great lord could need.
For whom these things were ready there
None knew; but if one chanced to fare
[577] Into that place at Easter-tide,
85

There would he find a falcon tied
Unto a pillar of the Hall;
And such a fate to him would fall,
That if unto the seventh night,
He watched the bird from dark to light,
90

And light to dark unceasingly,
On the last evening he should see
A lady beautiful past words;
Then, were he come of clowns or lords,
Son of a swineherd or a king,
95

There must she grant him anything
Perforce, that he might dare to ask,
And do his very hardest task.
But if he slumbered, ne’er again
The wretch would wake for he was slain
100

Helpless, by hands he could not see,
And his corpse mangled wretchedly.

   Now said these elders—Ere this tide
Full many folk this thing have tried,
But few have got much good thereby;
105

For first, a many came to die
By slumbering ere their watch was done;
Or else they saw that lovely one,
And mazed, they knew not what to say;
Or asked for some small thing that day
110

That easily they might have won,
Nor staked their lives and souls thereon;
Or asking, asked for some great thing
[578] That was their bane; as to be king
One asked, and died the morrow morn
115

That he was crowned, of all forlorn.
Yet thither came a certain man,
Who from being poor great riches wan
Past telling, whose grandsons now are
Great lords thereby in peace and war.
120

And in their coat-of-arms they bear,
Upon a field of azure fair,
A castle and a falcon, set
Below a chief of golden fret.
And in our day a certain knight
125

Prayed to be worsted in no fight,
And so it happed to him: yet he
Died none the less most wretchedly,
And all his prowess was in vain,
For by a losel was he slain,
130

As on the highway side he slept
One summer night, of no man kept.

   [579] Such tales as these the fathers old
About that lonely castle told;
And in their day the king must try
135

Himself to prove that mystery,
Although, unless the fay could give
For ever on the earth to live,
Nought could he ask that he had not:
For boundless riches had he got,
140

Fair children, and a faithful wife;
And happily had passed his life,
And all fulfilled of victory,
Yet was he fain this thing to see.
So towards the mountains he set out
145

One noontide, with a gallant rout
Of knights and lords, and as the day
Began to fail came to the way
Where he must enter all alone,
Between the dreary walls of stone.
150

Thereon to that fair company
He bade farewell, who wistfully
Looked backward oft as home they rode.
But in the entry he abode
Of that rough unknown narrowing pass,
155

Where twilight at the high noon was.
Then onward he began to ride:
Smooth rose the rocks on every side,
And seemed as they were cut by man;
Adown them ever water ran,
160

But they of living things were bare,
Yea, not a blade of grass grew there;
And underfoot rough was the way,
For scattered all about there lay
[580] Great jagged pieces of black stone.
165

Throughout the pass the wind did moan,
With such wild noises, that the King
Could almost think he heard something
Spoken of men; as one might hear
The voices of folk standing near
170

One's chamber wall: yet saw he nought
Except those high walls strangely wrought,
And overhead the strip of sky.
So, going onward painfully,
He met therein no evil thing,
175

But came about the sunsetting
Unto the opening of the pass,
And thence beheld a vale of grass
Bright with the yellow daffodil;
And all the vale the sun did fill
180

With his last glory. Midmost there
Rose up a stronghold, built four-square,
Upon a flowery grassy mound,
That moat and high wall ran around.
Thereby he saw a walled pleasance,
185

With walks and sward fit for the dance
Of Arthur's court in its best time,
That seemed to feel some magic clime;
For though through all the vale outside
Things were as in the April-tide,
190

And daffodils and cowslips grew
And hidden the March violets blew,
Within the bounds of that sweet close
Was trellised the bewildering rose;
There was the lily over-sweet,
195

And starry pinks for garlands meet;
[581] And apricots hung on the wall
And midst the flowers did peaches fall,
And nought had blemish there or spot,
For in that place decay was not.
200

   Silent awhile the King abode
Beholding all, then on he rode
And to the castle-gate drew nigh,
Till fell the drawbridge silently,
And when across it he did ride
205

He found the great gates open wide,
And entered there, but as he passed
The gates were shut behind him fast,
But not before that he could see
The drawbridge rise up silently.
210

Then round he gazed oppressed with awe,
And there no living thing he saw
Except the sparrows in the eaves,
As restless as light autumn leaves
Blown by the fitful rainy wind.
215

Thereon his final goal to find,
He lighted off his war-horse good
And let him wander as he would,
When he had eased him of his gear;
Then gathering heart against his fear.
220

Just at the silent end of day
Through the fair porch he took his way,
And found at last a goodly hall
With glorious hangings on the wall,
Inwrought with trees of every clime,
225

And stories of the ancient time,
But all of sorcery they were.
For o’er the dais Venus fair,
Fluttered about by many a dove,
Made hopeless men for hopeless love,
230

[582] Both sick and sorry; there they stood
Wrought wonderfully in various mood,
But wasted all by that hid fire
Of measureless o’er-sweet desire,
And let the hurrying world go by
235

Forgetting all felicity.
But down the hall the tale was wrought
How Argo in old time was brought
To Colchis for the fleece of gold.
And on the other side was told
240

How mariners for long years came
To Circe, winning grief and shame.
Until at last by hardihead
And craft, Ulysses won her bed.
Long upon these the King did look
245

And of them all good heed he took;
To see if they would tell him aught
About the matter that he sought,
But all were of the times long past;
So going all about, at last
250

When grown nigh weary of his search
A falcon on a silver perch,
Anigh the daïs did he see,
And wondered, because certainly
At his first coming ’twas not there;
255

But ’neath the bird a scroll most fair,
With golden letters on the white
[583] He saw, and in the dim twilight
By diligence could he read this:—

   "Ye who have not enow of bliss,
260

And in this hard world labour sore,
By manhood here may get you more,
And be fulfilled of everything,
Till ye be masters of the King.
   And yet, since I who promise this
265

Am nowise God lo give man bliss
Past ending, now in time beware,
And if you live in little care

At this time get you back again,
Lest unknown woe you chance to gain
270

In wishing for a thing untried
."

   A little while did he abide,
When he had read this, deep in thought,
Wondering indeed if there were aught
He had not got, that a wise man
275

Would wish; yet in his mind it ran
That he might win a boundless realm,
Yea, come to wear upon his helm
The crown of the whole conquered earth;
That all who lived thereon, from birth
280

To death should call him King and Lord,
And great kings tremble at his word,
Until in turn he came to die.
Therewith a little did he sigh,
But thought, "Of Alexander yet
285

[584] Men talk, nor would they e’er forget
My name, if this should come to be,
Whoever should come after me:
But while I lay wrapped round with gold
Should tales and histories manifold
290

Be written of me, false and true;
And as the time still onward drew
Almost a god would folk count me,
Saying, 'In our time none such be.'
But therewith did he sigh again,
295

And said, "Ah, vain, and worse than vain!
For though the world forget me nought,
Yet by that time should I be brought
Where all the world I should forget,
And bitterly should I regret
300

That I, from godlike great renown,
To helpless death must fall adown:
How could I bear to leave it all?"
Then straight upon his mind did fall
Thoughts of old longings half forgot,
305

Matters for which his heart was hot
A while ago: whereof no more
He cared for some, and some right sore
Had vexed him, being fulfilled at last.
And when the thought of these had passed
310

Still something was there left behind,
That by no torturing of his mind,
Could he in any language name,
Or into form of wishing frame.

   At last he thought, "What matters it,
315

Before these seven days shall flit
Some great thing surely shall I find,
That gained will not leave grief behind,
[585] Nor turn to deadly injury.
So now will I let these things be
320

And think of some unknown delight."

   Now, therewithal, was come the night,
And thus his watch was well begun;
And till the rising of the sun,
Waking, he paced about the hall,
325

And saw the hangings on the wall
Fade into nought, and then grow white
In patches by the pale moonlight,
And then again fade utterly
As still the moonbeams passed them by;
330

Then in a while, with hope of day,
Begin a little to grow grey,
Until familiar things they grew,
As up at last the great sun drew,
And lit them with his yellow light
335

At ending of another night.
Then right glad was he of the day,
That passed with him in such like way;
For neither man nor beast came near,
Nor any voices did he hear.
340

And when again it drew to night
Silent it passed, till first twilight
Of morning came, and then he heard
The feeble twittering of some bird,
That, in that utter silence drear,
345

Smote harsh and startling on his ear.
Therewith came on that lonely day
That passed him in no other way;
And thus six days and nights went by
And nothing strange had come anigh.
350

And on that day he well-nigh deemed
That all that story had been dreamed.
[586] Daylight and dark, and night and day,
Passed ever in their wonted way;
The wind played in the trees outside,
355

The rooks from out the high trees cried;
And all seemed natural and fair,
With little signs of magic there.
Yet neither could he quite forget
That close with summer blossoms set,
360

And fruit hung on trees blossoming,
When all about was early spring.
Yea, if all this by man were made,
Strange was it that still undecayed
The food lay on the tables still
365

Unchanged by man, that wine did fill
The golden cups, still bright and red.
And all was so apparelled
For guests that came not, yet was all
As though that servants filled the hall.
370

So waxed and waned his hopes, and still
He formed no wish for good or ill.
And while he thought of this and that
Upon his perch the falcon sat
Unfed, unhooded, his bright eyes
375

Beholders of the hard-earned prize,
Glancing around him restlessly,
As though he knew the time drew nigh
When this long watching should be done.

   So little by little fell the sun,
380

From high noon unto sun-setting;
And in that lapse of time the King,
Though still he woke, yet none the less
Was dreaming in his sleeplessness
Of this and that which he had done
385

Before this watch he had begun;
Till, with a start, he looked at last
[587] About him, and all dreams were past;
For now, though it was past twilight
Without, within all grew as bright
390

As when the noon-sun smote the wall,
Though no lamp shone within the hall.
Then rose the King upon his feet,
And well-nigh heard his own heart beat,
And grew all pale for hope and fear,
395

As sound of footsteps caught his ear
But soft, and as some fair lady,
Going as gently as might be,
Stopped now and then awhile, distraught
By pleasant wanderings of sweet thought.
400

Nigher the sound came, and more nigh,
Until the King unwittingly
Trembled, and felt his hair arise,
But on the door still kept his eyes.
That opened soon, and in the light
405

There stepped alone a lady bright,
And made straight toward him up the hall.
In golden garments was she clad
And round her waist a belt she had
Of emeralds fair, and from her feet
410

That shod with gold the floor did meet,
She held the raiment daintily,
And on her golden head had she
A rose-wreath round a pearl-wrought crown,
Softly she walked with eyes cast down,
415

Nor looked she any other than
An earthly lady, though no man
Has seen so fair a thing as she.,
So when her face the King could see
Still more he trembled, and he thought
420

"Surely my wish is hither brought,
[588] And this will be a goodly day
If for mine own I win this may."
And therewithal she drew anear
Until the trembling King could hear
425

Her very breathing, and she raised
Her head and on the King's face gazed
With serious eyes, and stopping there,
Swept from her shoulders her long hair,
And let her gown fall on her feet,
430

Then spoke in a clear voice and sweet.

   "Well hast thou watched, so now O King,
Be bold, and wish for some good thing;
And yet, I counsel thee, be wise.
Behold, spite of these lips and eyes,
435

Hundreds of years old now am I
And have seen joy and misery.
And thou, who yet hast lived in bliss,
I bid thee well consider this;
Better it were that men should live
440

As beasts, and take what earth can give,
The air, the warm sun and the grass
Until unto the earth they pass,
And gain perchance nought worse than rest,
Than that not knowing what is best
445

For sons of men, they needs must thirst
For what shall make their lives accurst.
"Therefore I bid thee now beware,
Lest getting something seeming fair,
Thou com’st in vain to long for more;
450

Or lest the thing thou wishest for
Make thee unhappy till thou diest,
Or lest with speedy death thou buyest
A little hour of happiness
Or lazy joy with sharp distress.
455

[589] "Alas, why say I this to thee,
For now I see full certainly,
That thou wilt ask for such a thing,
It had been best for thee to fling
Thy body from a mountain top,
460

Or in a white hot fire to drop,
Or ever thou hadst seen me here,
Nay then be speedy and speak clear."
Then the king cried out eagerly,
Grown fearless, "Ah, be kind to me!
465

Thou knowest what I long for then!
Thou know’st that I, a king of men,
Will ask for nothing else than thee!
Thou didst not say this could not be,
And I have had enow of bliss,
470

If I may end my life with this."
"Hearken," she said, "what men will say
When they are mad; before to-day
I knew that words such things could mean,
And wondered that it could have been.
475

"Think well, because this wished-for joy,
That surely will thy bliss destroy,
Will let thee live, until thy life
Is wrapped in such bewildering strife
That all thy days will seem but ill—
480

Now wilt thou wish for this thing still?"
"Wilt thou then grant it?" cried the King;
"Surely thou art an earthly thing,
And all this is but mockery,
And thou canst tell no more than I
485

What ending to my life shall be."
"Nay, then," she said, "I grant it thee
[590] Perforce; come nigh, for I am thine
Until the morning sun doth shine,
And only coming time can prove
490

What thing I am." Dizzy with love,
And with surprise struck motionless
That this divine thing, with far less
Of striving than a village maid,
Had yielded, there he stood afraid,
495

Spite of hot words and passionate,
And strove to think upon his fate.

   But as he stood there, presently
With smiling face she drew anigh,
And on his face he felt her breath.
500

"O love," she said, "dost thou fear death?
Not till next morning shalt thou die,
Or fall into thy misery."
Then on his hand her hand did fall,
And forth she led him down the hall,
505

Going full softly by his side.
"O love," she said, "now well betide
The day whereon thou cam’st to me.
I would this night a year might be,
Yea, life-long; such life as we have,
510

A thousand years from womb to grave."

   And then that clinging hand seemed worth
Whatever joy was left on earth,
And every trouble he forgot,
And time and death remembered not:
515

Kinder she grew, she clung to him
With loving arms, her eyes did swim
With love and pity, as he strove
[591] To show the wisdom of his love;
With trembling lips she praised his choice,
520

And said, "Ah, well may’st thou rejoice,
Well may’st thou think this one short night
Worth years of other men's delight,
If thy own heart as my heart is,
Sunk in a boundless sea of bliss;
525

O love, rejoice with me! rejoice!"
But as she spoke, her honied voice
Trembled, and midst of sobs she said,
"O love, and art thou still afraid?
Return, then, to thine happiness,
530

Nor will I love thee any less;
But watch thee as a mother might
Her child at play." With strange delight
He stammered out, "Nay, keep thy tears
For me, and for my ruined years
535

Weep love, that I may love thee more,
My little hour will soon be o’er."
"Ah, love," she said, "and thou art wise
As men are, with long miseries
Buying these idle words and vain,
540

My foolish love, with lasting pain;
And yet, thou wouldst have died at last
If in all wisdom thou hadst passed
Thy weary life: forgive me then,
In pitying the sad life of men."
545

Then in such bliss his soul did swim,
But tender music unto him
Her words were; death and misery
But empty names were grown to be,
As from that place his steps she drew,
550

And dark the hall behind them grew.

 

[592] BUT end comes to all earthly bliss,
And by his choice full short was his;
And in the morning, grey and cold,
Beside the dais did she hold
555

His trembling hand, and wistfully
He, doubting what his fate should be,
Gazed at her solemn eyes, that now,
Beneath her calm, untroubled brow,
Were fixed on his wild face and wan;
560

At last she said, "Oh, hapless man,
Depart! your full wish you have had;
A little time you have been glad,
You shall be sorry till you die.
"And though, indeed, full fain am I
565

This might not be; nathless, as day
Night follows, colourless and grey,
So this shall follow your delight,
Your joy hath ending with last night—
Nay, peace, and hearken to your fate.
570

"Strife without peace, early and late,
Lasting long after you are dead,
And laid with earth upon your head;
War without victory shall you have
Defeat, nor honour shall you save;
575

Your fair land shall be rent and torn,
Your people be of all forlorn,
And all men curse you for this thing."
She loosed his hand, but yet the King
Said, "Yea, and I may go with thee?
580

Why should we part? then let things be
E’en as they will!" "Poor man," she said,
"Thou ravest; our hot love is dead,
If ever it had any life:
Go, make thee ready for the strife
585

[593] Wherein thy life shall soon be wrapped;
And of the things that here have happed
Make thou such joy as thou may’st do;
But I from this place needs must go,
Nor shalt thou ever see me more
590

Until thy troubled life is o’er:
Alas! to say 'farewell' to thee
Were nought but bitter mockery.
Fare as thou may’st, and with good heart
Play to the end thy wretched part."
595

   Therewith she turned and went from him,
And with such pain his eyes did swim
He scarce could see her leave the place.
And then, with troubled and pale face,
He gat him thence: and soon he found
600

His good horse in the base-court bound;
So, loosing him, forth did he ride,
For the great gates were open wide,
And flat the heavy draw-bridge lay.

   So by the middle of the day,
605

That murky pass had he gone through,
And come to country that he knew;
And homeward turned his horse's head,
And passing village and homestead
Nigh to his palace came at last;
610

And still the further that he passed
From that strange castle of the fays,
More dreamlike seemed those seven days,
And dreamlike the delicious night;
[594] And like a dream the shoulders white,
615

And clinging arms and yellow hair,
And dreamlike the sad morning there.
Until at last he ’gan to deem
That all might well have been a dream—
Yet why was life a weariness?
620

What meant this sting of sharp distress?
This longing for a hopeless love,
No sighing from his heart could move?

   Or else, 'she did not come and go
As fays might do, but soft and slow
625

Her lovely feet fell on the floor;
She set her fair hand to the door
As any dainty maid might do;
And though, indeed, there are but few
Beneath the sun as fair as she,
630

She seemed a fleshly thing to be.
Perchance a merry mock this is,
And I may some day have the bliss
To see her lovely face again,
As smiling she makes all things plain.
635

And then as I am still a king,
With me may she make tarrying
Full long, yea, till I come to die.'
Therewith at last being come anigh
Unto his very palace gate,
640

He saw his knights and squires wait
His coming, therefore on the ground
He lighted, and they flocked around
Till he should tell them of his fare.
Then mocking said he, "Ye may dare,
645

The worst man of you all, to go
And watch as I was bold to do;
For nought I heard except the wind;
And nought I saw to call to mind."
So said he, but they noted well
650

That something more he had to tell
[595] If it had pleased him; one old man,
Beholding his changed face and wan,
Muttered, "Would God it might be so!
Alas! I fear what fate may do;
655

Too much good fortune hast thou had
By anything to be more glad
Than thou hast been, I fear thee then
Lest thou becom’st a curse to men."
But to his place the doomed King passed,
660

And all remembrance strove to cast
From out his mind of that past day,
And spent his life in sport and play.

 

 

GREAT among other kings, I said
He was before he first was led
665

Unto that castle of the fays,
But soon he lost his happy days
And all his goodly life was done.
And first indeed his best-loved son,
The very apple of his eye,
670

Waged war against him bitterly;
And when this son was overcome
And taken, and folk led him home,
And him the King had gone to meet,
Meaning with gentle words and sweet
675

To win him to his love again,
By his own hand he found him slain.
I know not if the doomed King yet
Remembered the fay lady's threat,
But troubles upon troubles came:
680

His daughter next was brought to shame,
Who unto all eyes seemed to be
The image of all purity,
And fleeing from the royal place
The King no more beheld her face.
685

Then next a folk that came from far
[596] Sent to the King great threats of war,
But he, full-fed of victory,
Deemed this a little thing to be,
And thought the troubles of his home
690

Thereby he well might overcome
Amid the hurry of the fight.
His foemen seemed of little might,
Although they thronged like summer bees
About the outlying villages,
695

And on the land great ruin brought.
Well, he this barbarous people sought
With such an army as seemed meet
To put the world beneath his feet;
The day of battle came, and he,
700

Flushed with the hope of victory,
Grew happy, as he had not been
Since he those glorious eyes had seen.
They met,—his solid ranks of steel
There scarcely more the darts could feel
705

Of those new foemen, than if they
Had been a hundred miles away:—
They met,—a storied folk were his
To whom sharp war had long been bliss,
A thousand years of memories
710

Were flashing in their shielded eyes;
And grave philosophers they had
To bid them ever to be glad
To meet their death and get life done
Midst glorious deeds from sire to son.
715

And those they met were beasts, or worse,
To whom life seemed a jest, a curse;
Of fame and name they had not heard;
Honour to them was but a word,
A word spoke in another tongue;
720

No memories round their banners clung,
No walls they knew, no art of war,
[597] By hunger were they driven afar
Unto the place whereon they stood,
Hungry for bestial joys and blood.
725

   No wonder if these barbarous men
Were slain by hundreds to each ten
Of the King's brave well-armoured folk,
No wonder if their charges broke
To nothing, on the walls of steel,
730

And back the baffled hordes must reel.
So stood throughout a summer day
Scarce touched the King's most fair array,
Yet as it drew to even-tide
The foe still surged on every side,
735

As hopeless hunger-bitten men,
About his folk grown wearied then.
Therewith the King beheld that crowd
Howling and dusk, and cried aloud,
"What do ye, soldiers? and how long
740

Shall weak folk hold in check the strong.
Nay, forward banners! end the day
And show these folk how brave men play."
The young knights shouted at his word,
But the old folk in terror heard
745

The shouting run adown the line,
And saw men flush as if with wine—
"O Sire" they said "the day is sure,
Nor will these folk the night endure
Beset with misery and fears."
750

Alas! they spoke to heedless ears;
For scarce one look on them he cast
But forward through the ranks he passed,
And cried out, "Who will follow me
To win a fruitful victory?"
755

And toward the foe in haste he spurred,
And at his back their shouts he heard,
Such shouts as he ne’er heard again.

   [598] They met—ere moonrise all the plain
Was filled by men in hurrying flight
760

The relics of that shameful fight;
The close array, the full-armed men,
The ancient fame availed not then,
The dark night only was a friend
To bring that slaughter to an end;
765

And surely there the King had died,
But driven by that back-rushing tide
Against his will he needs must flee;
And as he pondered bitterly
On all that wreck that he had wrought,
770

From time to time indeed he thought
Of the fay woman's dreadful threat.

   "But everything was not lost yet;"
Next day he said, great was the rout
And shameful beyond any doubt,
775

But since indeed at eventide
The rout began, not many died,
And gathering all the stragglers now
His troops still made a gallant show—
Alas! it was a show indeed;
780

Himself desponding, did he lead
His beaten men against the foe,
Thinking at least to lie alow
Before the final rout should be;
But scarce upon the enemy
785

Could these, whose shaken banners shook
The frightened world, now dare to look;
Nor yet could the doomed King die there
A death he once had held most fair;
Amid unwounded men he came
790

Back to his city, bent with shame,
Unkingly, midst his great distress,
Yea, weeping at the bitterness
[599] Of women's curses that did greet
His passage down the troubled street.
795

But sight of all the things they loved,
The memory of their manhood moved
Within the troops, and aged men
And boys must think of battle then,
And men that had not seen the foe
800

Must clamour to the war to go.
So a great army poured once more
From out the city, and before
The very gates they fought again,.
But their late valour was in vain;
805

They died indeed, and that was good,
But nought they gained for all the blood
Poured out like water; for the foe,
Men might have stayed a while ago,
A match for very gods were grown,
810

So like the field in June-tide mown
The king's men fell, and but in vain
The remnant strove the town to gain;
Whose battlements were nought to stay
An untaught foe upon that day,
815

Though many a tale the annals told
Of sieges in the days of old,
When all the world then knew of war
From that fair place was driven afar.

   As for the King, a charmed life
820

He seemed to bear; from out that strife
He came unhurt, and he could see,
As down the valley he did flee
With his most wretched company,
His palace flaming to the sky.
825

Then in the very midst of woe
His yearning thoughts would backward go
Unto the castle of the fay;
He muttered, "Shall I curse that day,
[600] The last delight that I have had,
830

For certainly I then was glad?
And who knows if what men call bliss
Had been much better now than this
When I am hastening to the end."
That fearful rest, that dreaded friend,
835

That Death, he did not gain as yet;
A band of men he soon did get,
A ruined rout of bad and good,
With whom within the tangled wood,
The rugged mountain, he abode,
840

And thenceforth oftentimes they rode
Into the fair land once called his,
And yet but little came of this,
Except more woe for Heaven to see,
Except some added misery
845

Unto that miserable realm:
The barbarous foe did overwhelm
The cities and the fertile plain,
And many a peaceful man was slain,
And many a maiden brought to shame,
850

And yielded towns were set aflame;
For all the land was masterless.

   Long dwelt the King in great distress
From wood to mountain ever tost,
Mourning for all that he had lost,
855

Until it chanced upon a day,
Asleep in early morn he lay,
And in a vision there did see
Clad all in black, that fay lady
Whereby all this had come to pass,
860

But dim as in a misty glass:
She said "I come thy death to tell
Yet now to thee may say 'farewell,'
[601] For in a short space wilt thou be
Within an endless dim country
865

Where thou mayest well win woe or bliss."
Therewith she stooped his lips to kiss
And vanished straightway from his sight,
So waking there he sat upright
And looked around, but nought could see
870

And heard but song-birds’ melody,
For it was the first hour of day.

   Then with a sigh adown he lay
And slept, nor ever woke again,
For that same hour was he slain
875

By stealthy traitors as he slept.
He of a few was much bewept,
But of most men was well forgot
While that town's ashes still were hot
The foeman on that day did burn.
880

As for the land, great Time did turn
The bloody fields to deep green grass,
And from the minds of men did pass
The memory of that time of woe,
And at this day all things are so
885

As first I said; a land it is
Where men may dwell in rest and bliss
If so they will—Who yet will not,
Because their hasty hearts are hot
With foolish hate, and longing vain
890

The sire and dam of grief and pain.

 

[602] NEATH the bright sky cool grew the weary earth,
And many a bud in that fair hour had birth
Upon the garden bushes; in the west
The sky got ready for the great sun's rest,
And all was fresh and lovely; none the less
5

Although those old men shared the happiness
Of the bright eve, ’twas mixed with memories
Of how they might in old times have been wise,
Not casting by for very wilfulness
What wealth might come their changing life to bless;
10

Lulling their hearts to sleep, amid the cold
Of bitter times, that so they might behold
Some joy at last, e’en if it lingered long.
That, wearing not their souls with grief and wrong,
They still might watch the changing world go by,
15

Content to live, content at last to die.
Alas! if they had reached content at last,
It was perforce when all their strength was past;
And after loss of many days once bright,
With foolish hopes of unattained delight.
20

 

Page numbers are from The Earthly Paradise, edited Florence S. Boos, New York: Routledge, 2001. "July" appears in the 1870 edition, Part I, pages 528-585; in the 1890 edition, pages 147-162; and in the Kelmscott Press edition 1896-97, Vol. IV, pages 1-53.

 

 


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