Canto I

  1. A PRINCE I was, blue-eyed, and fair in face,
  2. Of temper amorous, as the first of May,
  3. With lengths of yellow ringlets, like a girl,
  4. For on my cradle shone the Northern star.

  5.  There lived an ancient legend in our house.
  6. Some sorcerer, whom a far-off grandsire burnt
  7. Because he cast no shadow, had foretold,
  8. Dying, that none of all our blood should know
  9. The shadow from the substance, and that one
  10. Should come to fight with shadows and to fall.
  11. For so, my mother said, the story ran.
  12. And, truly, waking dreams were, more or less,
  13. An old and strange affection of the house.
  14. Myself too had weird seizures, Heaven knows what:
  15. On a sudden in the midst of men and day,
  16. And while I walk'd and talk'd as heretofore,
  17. I seem'd to move among a world of ghosts,
  18. And feel myself the shadow of a dream.
  19. Our great court-Galen poised his gilt-head cane,
  20. And paw'd his beard, and mutter'd 'catalepsy.'
  21. My mother pitying made a thousand prayers;
  22. My mother was as mild as any saint,
  23. Half-canonized by all that look'd on her,
  24. So gracious was her tact and tenderness:
  25. But my good father thought a king a king;
  26. He cared not for the affection of the house;
  27. He held his sceptre like a pedant's wand
  28. To lash offence, and with long arms and hands
  29. Reach'd out, and pick'd offenders from the mass
  30. For judgement.
    Now it chanced that I had been,
  31. While life was yet in bud and blade, betroth'd
  32. To one, a neighbouring Princess: she to me
  33. Was proxy-wedded with a bootless calf
  34. At eight years old; and still from time to time
  35. Came murmurs of her beauty from the South,
  36. And of her brethren, youths of puissance;
  37. And still I wore her picture by my heart,
  38. And one dark tress; and all around them both
  39. Sweet thoughts would swarm as bees about their queen.

  40.  But when the days drew nigh that I should wed,
  41. My father sent ambassadors with furs
  42. And jewels, gifts, to fetch her: these brought back
  43. A present, a great labour of the loom;
  44. And therewithal an answer vague as wind:
  45. Besides, they saw the king; he took the gifts;
  46. He said there was a compact; that was true:
  47. But then she had a will; was he to blame?
  48. And maiden fancies; loved to live alone
  49. Among her women; certain, would not wed.

  50.  That morning in the presence room I stood
  51. With Cyril and with Florian, my two friends:
  52. The first, a gentleman of broken means
  53. (His father's fault) but given to starts and bursts
  54. Of revel; and the last, my other heart,
  55. And almost my half-self, for still we moved
  56. Together, twinn'd as horse's ear and eye.

  57.  Now, while they spake, I saw my father's face
  58. Grow long and troubled like a rising moon,
  59. Inflamed with wrath: he started on his feet,
  60. Tore the king's letter, snow'd it down, and rent
  61. The wonder of the loom thro' warp and woof
  62. From skirt to skirt; and at the last he sware
  63. That he would send a hundred thousand men,
  64. And bring her in a whirlwind: then he chew'd
  65. The thrice-turn'd cud of wrath, and cook'd his spleen,
  66. Communing with his captains of the war.

  67.  At last I spoke. 'My father, let me go.
  68. It cannot be but some gross error lies
  69. In this report, this answer of a king,
  70. Whom all men rate as kind and hospitable:
  71. Or, maybe, I myself, my bride once seen,
  72. Whate'er my grief to find her less than fame,
  73. May rue the bargain made.' And Florian said:
  74. 'I have a sister at the foreign court,
  75. Who moves about the Princess; she, you know,
  76. Who wedded with a nobleman from thence:
  77. He, dying lately, left her, as I hear,
  78. The lady of three castles in that land:
  79. Thro' her this matter might be sifted clean.'
  80. And Cyril whisper'd: 'Take me with you too.'
  81. Then laughing, 'what, if these weird seizures come
  82. Upon you in those lands, and no one near
  83. To point you out the shadow from the truth!
  84. Take me: I'll serve you better in a strait;
  85. I grate on rusty hinges here:' but 'No!'
  86. Roar'd the rough king, 'you shall not; we ourself
  87. Will crush her pretty maiden fancies dead
  88. In iron gauntlets: break the council up.'

  89.  But when the council broke, I rose and past
  90. Thro' the wild woods that hung about the town;
  91. Found a still place, and pluck'd her likeness out;
  92. Laid it on flowers, and watch'd it lying bathed
  93. In the green gleam of dewy-tassell'd trees:
  94. What were those fancies? wherefore break her troth?
  95. Proud look'd the lips: but while I meditated
  96. A wind arose and rush'd upon the South,
  97. And shook the songs, the whispers, and the shrieks
  98. Of the wild woods together; and a Voice
  99. Went with it, 'Follow, follow, thou shalt win.'

  100.  Then, ere the silver sickle of that month
  101. Became her golden shield, I stole from court
  102. With Cyril and with Florian, unperceived,
  103. Cat-footed thro' the town and half in dread
  104. To hear my father's clamour at our backs
  105. With Ho! from some bay-window shake the night;
  106. But all was quiet: from the bastion'd walls
  107. Like threaded spiders, one by one, we dropt,
  108. And flying reach'd the frontier: then we crost
  109. To a livelier land; and so by tilth and grange,
  110. And vines, and blowing bosks of wilderness,
  111. We gain'd the mother-city thick with towers,
  112. And in the imperial palace found the king.

  113.  His name was Gama; crack'd and small his voice,
  114. But bland the smile that like a wrinkling wind
  115. On glassy water drove his cheek in lines;
  116. A little dry old man, without a star,
  117. Not like a king: three days he feasted us,
  118. And on the fourth I spake of why we came,
  119. And my betroth'd. 'You do us, Prince,' he said,
  120. Airing a snowy hand and signet gem,
  121. 'All honour. We remember love ourselves
  122. In our sweet youth: there did a compact pass
  123. Long summers back, a kind of ceremony-
  124. I think the year in which our olives fail'd.
  125. I would you had her, Prince, with all my heart,
  126. With my full heart: but there were widows here,
  127. Two widows, Lady Psyche, Lady Blanche;
  128. They fed her theories, in and out of place
  129. Maintaining that with equal husbandry
  130. The woman were an equal to the man.
  131. They harp'd on this; with this our banquets rang;
  132. Our dances broke and buzz'd in knots of talk;
  133. Nothing but this; my very ears were hot
  134. To hear them: knowledge, so my daughter held,
  135. Was all in all: they had but been, she thought,
  136. As children; they must lose the child, assume
  137. The woman: then, Sir, awful odes she wrote,
  138. Too awful, sure, for what they treated of,
  139. But all she is and does is awful; odes
  140. About this losing of the child; and rhymes
  141. And dismal lyrics, prophesying change
  142. Beyond all reason: these the women sang;
  143. And they that know such things--I sought but peace;
  144. No critic I--would call them masterpieces:
  145. They master'd me. At last she begg'd a boon,
  146. A certain summer-palace which I have
  147. Hard by your father's frontier: I said no,
  148. Yet being an easy man, gave it: and there,
  149. All wild to found an University
  150. For maidens, on the spur she fled; and more
  151. We know not, --only this: they see no men,
  152. Not ev'n her brother Arac, nor the twins
  153. Her brethren, tho' they love her, look upon her
  154. As on a kind of paragon; and I
  155. (Pardon me saying it) were much loth to breed
  156. Dispute betwixt myself and mine: but since
  157. (And I confess with right) you think me bound
  158. In some sort, I can give you letters to her;
  159. And yet, to speak the truth, I rate your chance
  160. Almost at naked nothing.'
    Thus the king;
  161. And I, tho' nettled that he seem'd to slur
  162. With garrulous ease and oily courtesies
  163. Our formal compact, yet, not less (all frets
  164. But chafing me on fire to find my bride)
  165. Went forth again with both my friends. We rode
  166. Many a long league back to the North. At last
  167. From hills, that look'd across a land of hope,
  168. We dropt with evening on a rustic town
  169. Set in a gleaming river's crescent-curve;
  170. Close at the boundary of the liberties;
  171. There, enter'd an old hostel, call'd mine host
  172. To council, plied him with his richest wines,
  173. And show'd the late-writ letters of the king.

  174.  He with a long low sibilation, stared
  175. As blank as death in marble; then exclaim'd
  176. Averring it was clear against all rules
  177. For any man to go: but as his brain
  178. Began to mellow, 'If the king, ' he said
  179. 'Had given us letters, was he bound to speak?
  180. The king would bear him out;' and at the last--
  181. The summer of the vine in all his veins--
  182. 'No doubt that we might make it worth his while.
  183. She once had past that way; he heard her speak;
  184. She scared him; life! he never saw the like;
  185. She look'd as grand as doomsday and as grave:
  186. And he, he reverenced his liege-lady there;
  187. He always made a point to post with mares;
  188. His daughter and his housemaid were the boys:
  189. The land, he understood, for miles about
  190. Was till'd by women; all the swine were sows,
  191. And all the dogs '--
    But while he jested thus,
  192. A thought flash'd thro' me which I clothed in act,
  193. Remembering how we three presented Maid
  194. Or Nymph, or Goddess, at high tide of feast,
  195. In masque or pageant at my father's court.
  196. We sent mine host to purchase female gear;
  197. He brought it, and himself, a sight to shake
  198. The midriff of despair with laughter, holp
  199. To lace us up, till, each, in maiden plumes
  200. We rustled: him we gave a costly bribe
  201. To guerdon silence, mounted our good steeds,
  202. And boldly ventured on the liberties.

  203.  We follow'd up the river as we rode,
  204. And rode till midnight when the college lights
  205. Began to glitter firefly-like in copse
  206. And linden alley: then we past an arch,
  207. Whereon a woman-statue rose with wings
  208. From four wing'd horses dark against the stars;
  209. And some inscription ran along the front,
  210. But deep in shadow: further on we gain'd
  211. A little street half garden and half house;
  212. But scarce could hear each other speak for noise
  213. Of clocks and chimes, like silver hammers falling
  214. On silver anvils, and the splash and stir
  215. Of fountains spouted up and showering down
  216. In meshes of the jasmine and the rose:
  217. And all about us peal'd the nightingale,
  218. Rapt in her song, and careless of the snare.

  219.  There stood a bust of Pallas for a sign,
  220. By two sphere lamps blazon'd like Heaven and Earth
  221. With constellation and with continent,
  222. Above an entry: riding in, we call'd;
  223. A plump-arm'd Ostleress and a stable wench
  224. Came running at the call, and help'd us down.
  225. Then stept a buxom hostess forth, and sail'd,
  226. Full-blown, before us into rooms which gave
  227. Upon a pillar'd porch, the bases lost
  228. In laurel: her we ask'd of that and this,
  229. And who were tutors. 'Lady Blanche,' she said,
  230. 'And Lady Psyche. ' 'Which was prettiest,
  231. Best-natured? ' 'Lady Psyche. ' 'Hers are we, '
  232. One voice, we cried; and I sat down and wrote,
  233. In such a hand as when a field of corn
  234. Bows all its ears before the roaring East;

  235.  'Three ladies of the Northern empire pray
  236. Your Highness would enroll them with your own,
  237. As Lady Psyche's pupils. '
    This I seal'd:
  238. The seal was Cupid bent above a scroll,
  239. And o'er his head Uranian Venus hung,
  240. And raised the blinding bandage from his eyes:
  241. I gave the letter to be sent with dawn;
  242. And then to bed, where half in doze I seem'd
  243. To float about a glimmering night, and watch
  244. A full sea glazed with muffled moonlight, swell
  245. On some dark shore just seen that it was rich.

Prologue | Introduction | Canto II

Last updated October 24, 1997