Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE EASTERN KING: THE PILGRIM'S TALE, by LETITIA ELIZABETH LANDON



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THE EASTERN KING: THE PILGRIM'S TALE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: He flung back the chaplet, he threw down the wine
Last Line: Like the lone lily on his grave.
Alternate Author Name(s): L. E. L.; Maclean, Letitia
Subject(s): Despair


HE flung back the chaplet, he threw down the wine,
"Young Monarch, what sorrow or care can be thine?
There are gems in thy palace, each one like a star
That shines in the bosom of twilight afar;
Thy goblets are mantling in purple and light,
The maidens around thee like morning are bright,
Ten kingdoms bow down at the sound of thy name,
The lands of far countries have heard of thy fame,
The wealth of the earth, and the spoils of the seas,
Are thine; O young Monarch, what ail'st thou, with these?"

"I'm weary, I'm weary. O pleasure is pain
When its spell has been broken again and again.
I am weary of smiles that are bought and are sold,
I am weary of beauty whose fetters are gold,
I am weary of wealth -- what makes it of me
But that which the basest and lowest might be?
I have drain'd the red wine-cup, and what found I there?
A beginning of madness, no ending of care!
I am weary of each, I am weary of all,
Listless my revel, and lonely my hall.
Breathe not the song, for its sweetness has flown;
Fling not these flowers at the foot of my throne;
Veil, maidens, veil your warm cheeks of the rose,
Ye are slaves of my sceptre, I reck not of those!"

The Monarch rose up with the reddening of morn,
He rose to the music of trumpet and horn;
His banner is spread to the sun and the wind,
In thousands the plain by his warriors is lined.
The foot ranks go first, their bows in their hand,
In multitudes gathering like waves on the strand;
Behind ride his horsemen, as onwards they come,
Each proud steed is covering his bridle with foam.
In the midst is the King: there is pride on his brow,
As he looks on the myriads that follow him now,
His eye and his sabre are flashing alike,
Woe, woe for the warrior that dares him to strike!
Thousands and thousands are strewn on the ground,
AHMED comes back a conqueror, but what hath he found?
The cry of the orphan is loud on his ear,
And his eye hath beheld the young bride's bitter tear,
And the friend of his youth is left dead on the plain,
And the flower of his nobles return not again.
There are crowds that are filling the air with his name;
Do ye marvel the Monarch is loathing his fame?

Again to the sunshine the banners are spread;
Again rings the earth with the warrior's tread;
And loud on the wings of the morning are borne
The voice of the trumpet, the blast of the horn;
And eager to gaze on the royal array,
The people in crowds gather forth on its way.
Who would deem they were gazing on death and on doom,
That you purple and gold strew'd the way to the tomb?
The canopy glitters; oh, vainest deceit!
There the king's robe of state is his cold winding-sheet.
And he, at whose beck waited life -- waited death,
He hath not command on a poor moment's breath,
A whole people trembled when that he but frown'd,
And his smile was the summer of nations around.
Now who is there watches for smile or for frown?
For the head of another is girt with his crown;
And he lieth a heap of powerless clay,
Where the meanest earth-worm at his pleasure may prey.

They bore the Monarch on to his tomb,
Black marble suiting such dwelling of gloom:
But on it was graven a lesson sublime --
A voice from the grave appealing to time;
Were not voice from the living or dead alike
On the heart in its foolish pride to strike.

"Millions bow'd down at the foot of my throne;
The strength of the north and the south were my own;
I had treasures pour'd forth like the waves of the sea;
Success seem'd the slave of my sceptre to be;
And pleasures in crowds at my least bidding came, --
Every wish that the will in its wildness could frame:
And yet amid all that fell to my share,
How much was weariness, how much was care!
I numbered years of pain and distress,
And but fourteen days of happiness.
Mortal! nor pleasure, nor wealth, nor power,
Are more than the toys of a passing hour;
Earth's flowers bear the foul taint of earth;
Lassitude, sorrow, are theirs by their birth.
One only pleasure will last, to fulfil,
With some shadow of good, the Holy One's will.
The only steadfast hope to us given
Is the one which looks in its trust to heaven."

THERE was silence around the stately hall,
For that song laid the spell of its darkness o'er all;
Some thought of their hopes now low in the tomb;
Others of hopes that were but in their bloom,
And trembled to think how frail, if how fair,
Earth's pleasures in beauty and being are;
Others had thoughts they feared to name,
As that pilgrim could read each heart in its shame:
But word or sign gave he to none,
And away like a shadow in silence hath gone.
Rose the Countess, and left her throne,
Signal it was that the meeting was done,
And spoke her summons, and graceful led
To where the sumptuous board was spread.

Evening came, and found its hours
Vow'd to music, mirth, and flowers.
Wide ten gorgeous halls were flung,
Each with purple tapestry hung;
With wreaths, whose roses were as bright
As in the first morning light;
Mirrors like the glassy plain,
Where the beauty beam'd again;
Pictures whose Italian grace
Show'd inspiration's finest trace,
To whose winged moods were given
Moment's visionings of heaven;
And, more than altogether fair,
Beauty's living soul was there.

Follow'd by those who pleasaunce took
In converse light and curious look,
The Countess led where leaf and flower
Made one small hall an Eastern bower,
The blush acacia seem'd to keep
Watch o'er the rose's purple sleep;
And tulips, like the wine-cups stored
Round a monarch's festal board;
And the roof above, as art.
Vied with nature's loveliest part,
Was so curiously inlaid,
That there another garden play'd.
No lamps amid the foliage hung,
But silver smiles the moonbeams flung;
And radiance from each distant room
Lighted the flowers' and ladies' bloom.
A harp was there. The haunt was one
Where, many a summer noon, alone,
CLEMENZA lent time music's wings;
And, dreaming, o'er the mournful strings,
Learn'd other lessons than those taught
By pride, and wealth, and worldly thought.
Said the band round that it were shame,
Such hour should pass unhymn'd away;
And many a fair lip smiled its claim,
As echo sweet to minstrel lay.
Pray'd they the Countess that her hand
Should first assume the harp's command.
She paused, -- then said that she would wake
One for that nameless poet's sake; --
One song snatch'd from oblivion's wave,
Like the lone lily on his grave.





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