Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE GUERDON, by THOMAS BAILEY ALDRICH

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THE GUERDON, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Soothed by the fountain's drowsy murmuring
Last Line: Worthy to wear a crown of beaten gold.
Subject(s): Legends

Vedder, this legend if it had its due,
Would not be sung by me, but told by you
In colors such as Tintoretto knew.

SOOTHED by the fountain's drowsy murmuring --
Or was it by the west-wind's indolent wing? --
The grim court-poet fell asleep one day
In the lords' chamber, when chance brought that way
The Princess Margaret with a merry train
Of damozels and ladies -- flippant, vain
Court-butterflies -- midst whom fair Margaret
Swayed like a rathe and slender lily set
In rustling leaves, for all her drapery
Was green and gold, and lovely as could be.

Midway in hall the fountain rose and fell,
Filling a listless Naiad's outstretched shell
And weaving rainbows in the shifting light.
Upon the carven friezes, left and right,
Was pictured Pan asleep beside his reed.
In this place all things seemed asleep, indeed --
The hook-billed parrot on his pendent ring,
Sitting high-shouldered, half forgot to swing;
The wind scarce stirred the hangings at the door,
And from the silken arras evermore
Yawned drowsy dwarfs with satyr's face and hoof.

A forest of gold pillars propped the roof,
And like one slim gold pillar overthrown,
The sunlight through a great stained window shone
And lay across the body of Alain.
You would have thought, perchance, the man was slain:
As if the checkered column in its fall
Had caught and crushed him, he lay dead to all.
The parrot's gray bead eye as good as said,
Unclosing viciously, "The clown is dead."
A dragon-fly in narrowing circles neared,
And lit, secure, upon the dead man's beard,
Then spread its iris vans in quick dismay,
And into the blue summer sped away!

Little was his of outward grace to win
The eyes of maids, but white the soul within.
Misshaped, and hideous to look upon
Was this man, dreaming in the noontide sun,
With sunken eyes and winter-whitened hair,
And sallow cheeks deep seamed with thought and care.
And so the laughing ladies of the court,
Coming upon him suddenly, stopped short,
And shrunk together with a nameless dread:
Some, but fear held them, would have turned and fled,
Seeing the uncouth figure lying there.
But Princess Margaret, with her heavy hair
From out its diamond fillet rippling down,
Slipped from the group, and plucking back her gown
With white left hand, stole softly to his side --
The fair court gossips staring, curious-eyed,
Half mockingly. A little while she stood,
Finger on lip; then, with the agile blood
Climbing her cheek, and silken lashes wet --
She scarce knew what vague pity or regret
Wet them -- she stooped, and for a moment's space
Her golden tresses touched the sleeper's face.
Then she stood straight, as lily on its stem,
But hearing her ladies titter, turned on them
Her great queen's eyes, grown black with scornful frown --
Great eyes that looked the shallow women down.
"Nay, not for love" -- one rosy palm she laid
Softly against her bosom -- "as I'm a maid!
Full well I know what cruel things you say
Of this and that, but hold your peace to-day.
I pray you think no evil thing of this.
Nay, not for love's sake did I give the kiss,
Not for his beauty who's nor fair nor young,
But for the songs which those mute lips have sung!'

That was a right brave princess, one, I hold,
Worthy to wear a crown of beaten gold.

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