A prince I was, blue-eyed, and fair in face, Of temper amorous, as the first of May, With lengths of yellow ringlet, like a girl, For on my cradle shone the Northern star.
There lived an ancient legend in our house. Some sorcerer, whom a far-off grandsire burnt Because he cast no shadow, had foretold, Dying, that none of all our blood should know The shadow from the substance, and that one Should come to fight with shadows and to fall. For so, my mother said, the story ran. And, truly, waking dreams were, more or less, An old and strange affection of the house. Myself too had weird seizures, Heaven knows what: On a sudden in the midst of men and day, And while I walked and talked as heretofore, I seemed to move among a world of ghosts, And feel myself the shadow of a dream. Our great court-Galen poised his gilt-head cane, And pawed his beard, and muttered 'catalepsy'. My mother pitying made a thousand prayers; My mother was as mild as any saint, Half-canonized by all that looked on her, So gracious was her tact and tenderness: But my good father thought a king a king; He cared not for the affection of the house; He held his sceptre like a pedant's wand To lash offence, and with long arms and hands Reached out, and picked offenders from the mass For judgment. Now it chanced that I had been, While life was yet in bud and blade, bethrothed To one, a neighbouring Princess: she to me Was proxy-wedded with a bootless calf At eight years old; and still from time to time Came murmurs of her beauty from the South, And of her brethren, youths of puissance; And still I wore her picture by my heart, And one dark tress; and all around them both Sweet thoughts would swarm as bees about their queen.
But when the days drew nigh that I should wed, My father sent ambassadors with furs And jewels, gifts, to fetch her: these brought back A present, a great labour of the loom; And therewithal an answer vague as wind: Besides, they saw the king; he took the gifts; He said there was a compact; that was true: But then she had a will; was he to blame? And maiden fancies; loved to live alone Among her women; certain, would not wed.
That morning in the presence room I stood With Cyril and with Florian, my two friends: The first, a gentleman of broken means (His father's fault) but given to starts and bursts Of revel; and the last, my other heart, And almost my half-self, for still we moved Together, twinned as horse's ear and eye.
Now, while they spake, I saw my father's face Grow long and troubled like a rising moon, Inflamed with wrath: he started on his feet, Tore the king's letter, snowed it down, and rent The wonder of the loom through warp and woof From skirt to skirt; and at the last he sware That he would send a hundred thousand men, And bring her in a whirlwind: then he chewed The thrice-turned cud of wrath, and cooked his spleen, Communing with his captains of the war.
At last I spoke. 'My father, let me go. It cannot be but some gross error lies In this report, this answer of a king, Whom all men rate as kind and hospitable: Or, maybe, I myself, my bride once seen, Whate'er my grief to find her less than fame, May rue the bargain made.' And Florian said: 'I have a sister at the foreign court, Who moves about the Princess; she, you know, Who wedded with a nobleman from thence: He, dying lately, left her, as I hear, The lady of three castles in that land: Through her this matter might be sifted clean.' And Cyril whispered: 'Take me with you too.' Then laughing 'what, if these weird seizures come Upon you in those lands, and no one near To point you out the shadow from the truth! Take me: I'll serve you better in a strait; I grate on rusty hinges here:' but 'No!' Roared the rough king, 'you shall not; we ourself Will crush her pretty maiden fancies dead In iron gauntlets: break the council up.'
But when the council broke, I rose and past Through the wild woods that hung about the town; Found a still place, and plucked her likeness out; Laid it on flowers, and watched it lying bathed In the green gleam of dewy-tasselled trees: What were those fancies? wherefore break her troth? Proud looked the lips: but while I meditated A wind arose and rushed upon the South, And shook the songs, the whispers, and the shrieks Of the wild woods together; and a Voice Went with it, 'Follow, follow, thou shalt win.'
Then, ere the silver sickle of that month Became her golden shield, I stole from court With Cyril and with Florian, unperceived, Cat-footed through the town and half in dread To hear my father's clamour at our backs With Ho! from some bay-window shake the night; But all was quiet: from the bastioned walls Like threaded spiders, one by one, we dropt, And flying reached the frontier: then we crost To a livelier land; and so by tilth and grange, And vines, and blowing bosks of wilderness, We gained the mother city thick with towers, And in the imperial palace found the king.
His name was Gama; cracked and small his voice, But bland the smile that like a wrinkling wind On glassy water drove his cheek in lines; A little dry old man, without a star, Not like a king: three days he feasted us, And on the fourth I spake of why we came, And my bethrothed. 'You do us, Prince,' he said, Airing a snowy hand and signet gem, 'All honour. We remember love ourselves In our sweet youth: there did a compact pass Long summers back, a kind of ceremony-- I think the year in which our olives failed. I would you had her, Prince, with all my heart, With my full heart: but there were widows here, Two widows, Lady Psyche, Lady Blanche; They fed her theories, in and out of place Maintaining that with equal husbandry The woman were an equal to the man. They harped on this; with this our banquets rang; Our dances broke and buzzed in knots of talk; Nothing but this; my very ears were hot To hear them: knowledge, so my daughter held, Was all in all: they had but been, she thought, As children; they must lose the child, assume The woman: then, Sir, awful odes she wrote, Too awful, sure, for what they treated of, But all she is and does is awful; odes About this losing of the child; and rhymes And dismal lyrics, prophesying change Beyond all reason: these the women sang; And they that know such things--I sought but peace; No critic I--would call them masterpieces: They mastered ~me~. At last she begged a boon, A certain summer-palace which I have Hard by your father's frontier: I said no, Yet being an easy man, gave it: and there, All wild to found an University For maidens, on the spur she fled; and more We know not,--only this: they see no men, Not even her brother Arac, nor the twins Her brethren, though they love her, look upon her As on a kind of paragon; and I (Pardon me saying it) were much loth to breed Dispute betwixt myself and mine: but since (And I confess with right) you think me bound In some sort, I can give you letters to her; And yet, to speak the truth, I rate your chance Almost at naked nothing.' Thus the king; And I, though nettled that he seemed to slur With garrulous ease and oily courtesies Our formal compact, yet, not less (all frets But chafing me on fire to find my bride) Went forth again with both my friends. We rode Many a long league back to the North. At last From hills, that looked across a land of hope, We dropt with evening on a rustic town Set in a gleaming river's crescent-curve, Close at the boundary of the liberties; There, entered an old hostel, called mine host To council, plied him with his richest wines, And showed the late-writ letters of the king.
He with a long low sibilation, stared As blank as death in marble; then exclaimed Averring it was clear against all rules For any man to go: but as his brain Began to mellow, 'If the king,' he said, 'Had given us letters, was he bound to speak? The king would bear him out;' and at the last-- The summer of the vine in all his veins-- 'No doubt that we might make it worth his while. She once had past that way; he heard her speak; She scared him; life! he never saw the like; She looked as grand as doomsday and as grave: And he, he reverenced his liege-lady there; He always made a point to post with mares; His daughter and his housemaid were the boys: The land, he understood, for miles about Was tilled by women; all the swine were sows, And all the dogs'-- But while he jested thus, A thought flashed through me which I clothed in act, Remembering how we three presented Maid Or Nymph, or Goddess, at high tide of feast, In masque or pageant at my father's court. We sent mine host to purchase female gear; He brought it, and himself, a sight to shake The midriff of despair with laughter, holp To lace us up, till, each, in maiden plumes We rustled: him we gave a costly bribe To guerdon silence, mounted our good steeds, And boldly ventured on the liberties.
We followed up the river as we rode, And rode till midnight when the college lights Began to glitter firefly-like in copse And linden alley: then we past an arch, Whereon a woman-statue rose with wings From four winged horses dark against the stars; And some inscription ran along the front, But deep in shadow: further on we gained A little street half garden and half house; But scarce could hear each other speak for noise Of clocks and chimes, like silver hammers falling On silver anvils, and the splash and stir Of fountains spouted up and showering down In meshes of the jasmine and the rose: And all about us pealed the nightingale, Rapt in her song, and careless of the snare.
There stood a bust of Pallas for a sign, By two sphere lamps blazoned like Heaven and Earth With constellation and with continent, Above an entry: riding in, we called; A plump-armed Ostleress and a stable wench Came running at the call, and helped us down. Then stept a buxom hostess forth, and sailed, Full-blown, before us into rooms which gave Upon a pillared porch, the bases lost In laurel: her we asked of that and this, And who were tutors. 'Lady Blanche' she said, 'And Lady Psyche.' 'Which was prettiest, Best-natured?' 'Lady Psyche.' 'Hers are we,' One voice, we cried; and I sat down and wrote, In such a hand as when a field of corn Bows all its ears before the roaring East;
'Three ladies of the Northern empire pray Your Highness would enroll them with your own, As Lady Psyche's pupils.' This I sealed: The seal was Cupid bent above a scroll, And o'er his head Uranian Venus hung, And raised the blinding bandage from his eyes: I gave the letter to be sent with dawn; And then to bed, where half in doze I seemed To float about a glimmering night, and watch A full sea glazed with muffled moonlight, swell On some dark shore just seen that it was rich.
As through the land at eve we went, And plucked the ripened ears, We fell out, my wife and I, O we fell out I know not why, And kissed again with tears. And blessings on the falling out That all the more endears, When we fall out with those we love And kiss again with tears! For when we came where lies the child We lost in other years, There above the little grave, O there above the little grave, We kissed again with tears.