Classic and Contemporary Poetry
THE SPEEDING OF THE KING'S SPITE, by JAMES WHITCOMB RILEY Poet's Biography
First Line: A king - estranged from his loving queen
Last Line: "could have ended so happily!"
Alternate Author Name(s): Johnson Of Boone, Benj. F.
Subject(s): Absence; Courts & Courtiers; Fantasy; Love; Separation; Isolation
A king -- estranged from his loving Queen
By a foolish royal whim --
Tired and sick of the dull routine
Of matters surrounding him --
Issued a mandate in this wise. --
"The dower of my daughter's hand
I will give to him who holds this prize,
The strangest thing in the land."
But the King, sad sooth! in this grim decree
Had a motive low and mean; --
'Twas a royal piece of chicanery
To harry and spite the Queen;
For King though he was, and beyond compare,
He had ruled all things save one --
Then blamed the Queen that his only heir
Was a daughter -- not a son.
The girl had grown, in the mother's care,
Like a bud in the shine and shower
That drinks of the wine of the balmy air
Till it blooms into matchless flower;
Her waist was the rose's stem that bore
The flower -- and the flower's perfume --
That ripens on till it bulges o'er
With its wealth of bud and bloom.
And she had a lover -- lowly sprung, --
But a purer, nobler heart
Never spake in a courtlier tongue
Or wooed with a dearer art:
And the fair pair paled at the King's decree;
But the smiling Fates contrived
To have them wed, in a secrecy
That the Queen herself connived --
While the grim King's heralds scoured the land
And the countries roundabout,
Shouting aloud, at the King's command,
A challenge to knave or lout,
Prince or peasant, -- "The mighty King
Would have ye understand
That he who shows him the strangest thing
Shall have his daughter's hand!"
And thousands flocked to the royal throne,
Bringing a thousand things
Strange and curious; -- One, a bone --
The hinge of a fairy's wings;
And one, the glass of a mermaid queen,
Gemmed with a diamond dew,
Where, down in its reflex, dimly seen,
Her face smiled out at you.
One brought a cluster of some strange date,
With a subtle and searching tang
That seemed, as you tasted, to penetrate
The heart like a serpent's fang;
And back you fell for a spell entranced,
As cold as a corpse of stone,
And heard your brains, as they laughed and danced
And talked in an undertone.
One brought a bird that could whistle a tune
So piercingly pure and sweet,
That tears would fall from the eyes of the moon
In dewdrops at its feet;
And the winds would sigh at the sweet refrain,
Till they swooned in an ecstacy,
To waken again in a hurricane
Of riot and jubilee.
One brought a lute that was wrought of a shell
Luminous as the shine
Of a new-born star in a dewy dell, --
And its strings were strands of wine
That sprayed at the Fancy's touch and fused,
As your listening spirit leant
Drunken through with the airs that oozed
From the o'ersweet instrument.
One brought a tablet of ivory
Whereon no thing was writ, --
But, at night -- and the dazzled eyes would see
Flickering lines o'er it, --
And each, as you read from the magic tome,
Lightened and died in flame,
And the memory held but a golden poem
Too beautiful to name.
Till it seemed all marvels that ever were known
Or dreamed of under the sun
Were brought and displayed at the royal throne,
And put by, one by one
Till a graybeard monster came to the King --
Haggard and wrinkled and old --
And spread to his gaze this wondrous thing, --
A gossamer veil of gold. --
Strangely marvelous -- mocking the gaze
Like a tangle of bright sunshine,
Dipping a million glittering rays
In a baptism divine:
And a maiden, sheened in this gauze attire --
Sifting a glance of her eye --
Dazzled men's souls with a fierce desire
To kiss and caress her and -- die.
And the grim King swore by his royal beard
That the veil had won the prize,
While the gray old monster blinked and leered
With his lashless, red-rimmed eyes,
As the fainting form of the princess fell,
And the mother's heart went wild,
Throbbing and swelling a muffled knell
For the dead hopes of her child.
But her clouded face with a faint smile shone,
As suddenly, through the throng,
Pushing his way to the royal throne,
A fair youth strode along,
While a strange smile hovered about his eyes,
As he said to the grim old King: --
"The veil of gold must lose the prize;
For I have a stranger thing."
He bent and whispered a sentence brief;
But the monarch shook his head,
With a look expressive of unbelief --
"It can't be so," he said;
"Or give me proof; and I, the King,
Give you my daughter's hand, --
For certes THAT IS a stranger thing --
The strangest thing in the land!"
Then the fair youth, turning, caught the Queen
In a rapturous caress,
While his lithe form towered in lordly mien,
As he said in a brief address: --
"My fair bride's mother is this; and, lo,
As you stare in your royal awe,
By this pure kiss do I proudly show
A love for a mother-in-law!"
Then a thaw set in the old King's mood,
And a sweet Spring freshet came
Into his eyes, and his heart renewed
Its love for the favored dame:
But often he has been heard to declare
That "he never could clearly see
How, in the deuce, such a strange affair
Could have ended so happily!"
Other Poems of Interest...