Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, A MASQUE OF DEAD QUEENS, by STANLEY E. BABB

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A MASQUE OF DEAD QUEENS, by            
First Line: Queens parade down avenues of memory
Last Line: Remains to be said -- !
Subject(s): Arthurian Legend; Courts & Courtiers; Ghosts; Helen Of Troy; Memory; Mythology - Classical; Supernatural; Arthur, King; Royal Court Life; Royalty; Kings; Queens

Queens parade down avenues of memory
With slow imperial steps to a soft music
Of lutes and trumpets blown by ancient minstrels . . .

Queens whose tragic beauty haunted men
And made them speak in whispers with their eyes
Averted and their fingers tense and itching
For the familiar grasp of a great spear
With its bright whetted edge hungry for blood.

These queens parade, accompanied by peacocks,
To a slow and sorrowful music and a singing
Of many broken voices like a wind
Shuddering over tombstones --

Dust on their lips,
Cobwebs on their hair;
Where kings fondled them
Now foxes lair.

Mould on their lips,
Mould on their eyes:
Down their ruined halls
Ring vultures' cries.

They did not dream
When they were young
That someday their dirges
Would be sung.

For death to them
Was a foreign thing
They only thought
Of pleasuring.
And so they pass

Slowly and majestically, one by one,
As if they were luxuriously young,
Haughty, proud and insolent, these queens
Whose loveliness once shook the world and made
Kings tremble and cringe like beggars seeking alms.

They pass pathetically, each one flaunting
Her withered beauty, wondering why no man
Bends low before her offering his empire
For one kiss from her lips and one caress
From her thin arms once delicately white
As tall proud lilies frosted with sweet dew --

Where is the king
Whose reticence
Conquered each queen's
Sly insolence?

Where is the king
Of the harpers' hymns
Who ran from his queen
To the battle's din?

Dead, all dead,
Rotting in earth;
Dust in their teeth
Quenching their mirth.

The years have spelt their dooms upon the faces
Of these slow-walking queens and each one wanders
Bewilderedly and with pathetic pride,
Her head high and her thin lips parched and cold. . . .

Each passes sorrowing and each wonders why
No king strides forth to greet her, eager and bold
And starved for kisses, and each wonders why
No king lays at her feet a plundered empire's
Treasury of rich merchandize and jewels,
Rare silks and rarer wines and cunning jugglers,
And great hounds straining against their leathern leashes.
No horns ring loud,
No kings reply:
No clash of spears,
No warriors' cry.

No royal minstrels
Lift up old tunes,
No necromancers
Spell out old runes.

No servile king
With stifled pride
Kneels patiently
By his queen's side.

They pass -- these queens whose beauty was a flame
That shrivelled the hearts of sage and stalwart men,
And made them quit their council-halls and roam
Like restless distracted striplings -- and they wonder
Whose cruel fingers snuffed the precious fire
Of youth and beauty burning in their blood
And glowing out to scarlet in their lips.

Remembering great king's kisses and their haste,
These queens come loitering down tall halls of song
To the slow threne of ancient minstrelsy
Of lutes and horns and drums and clarions
Twined into words by the poets of the world.

They pass --
Queen Helen of whom blind Homer sang,
Helen of Troy whose beauty struck a flame
To Ilium and for whom so many men
Quitted their hearthsides, burnished up their spears
And ran forth into battle with a song
Upon their lips, eager to fight and die
For this young queen whom they did love and pity.

Semiramis, whose kisses made kings wonder
That mortal woman could be so marvellous!
Semiramis, the cruel one, who wrought
Tortures upon the bodies of the men
Who journeyed from their mountains to her court.

The Three White queens of Samarkand, whose laughter
Rang low like old temple bells at dusk,
And whose youth and beauty and pitiless insolence
Were woven into legends by old minstrels.

Deidre, whom the ancient Irish bards
Say was more beautiful than any woman
In all the world, Queen Deidre, who died
Upon the body of her lover, Naisi.

And Guenevere, whom Launcelot did love,
Queen Guenevere, wedded to King Arthur,
Who yet did love her husband's bravest knight,
And wrought much strife in ancient Camelot.

These queens parade down avenues of memory
Wrought cunningly by the poets of the world,
Remembering the joyance of their youth,
The empires that were plundered at their whims,
The cities that were burned, and the men who died
In battle to the cry of golden trumpets.

They pass, remembering the kisses of splendid kings,
And they wonder why their slim luxurious beauty
Crumbled to dust through the fingers of the years.

Queen Helen is dead!
Is dust, whom once
Great kings did kiss.

No more than shadows
On barren land
Are the Three White Queens
Of Samarkand.

Deidre, too
Is nought but dust:
She crumbles in earth
As all women must.

These queens are mould,
Their kings are dead
Only this rhyme
Remains to be said -- !

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