Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, STAVOREN, by HELEN STEVENS CONANT



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STAVOREN, by            
First Line: Upon the shores of zuyder zee, where lands are broad and low
Last Line: She stood a beggar in the street before a year had passed.
Subject(s): Stavoren, The Netherlands


UPON the shores of Zuyder Zee, where lands are broad and low,
There stood a proud and stately town in centuries long ago;
Stavoren was its name, and there the burghers saw with pride
The great ships as they came and went upon the flowing tide—

Ships from the Indies far away, with freight of spice and gold
For the burghers of Stavoren, the men of wealth untold.
But rich and proud above them all was a maid of high degree,
Who owned a hundred mighty ships that sailed on every sea.

A stately palace was her home, with floors inlaid with gold,
And many wondrous stories of her treasure heaps were told;
No queen in greater splendor dwelt, and many jewels rare
Upon her raiment glittered, and in her golden hair.

One day the captain of her fleet, a skipper gray and wise,
She called to her, and spake to him, with cruel glistening eyes:
"Go, weigh thy anchor, sail away! This task I lay on thee,
To seek and bring to port the best contained in land or sea."

The skipper spread his glistening sails, but sore perplexed was he
To know what was the best of all contained in land or sea;
But suddenly it came to him, as the ship ploughed through the main,
That the noblest thing in all the earth was God's own gift of grain.

And anchoring in a distant port, he found the people there
Rejoicing with festivities about the harvest fair;
So golden, rich, and goodly was never grain before.
He loaded with the precious freight, and homeward sailed once more.

And when he reached Stavoren, and stood again on shore,
He hastened to the palace to report his noble store.
But pale with rage his mistress grew. "How dar'st thou, wretch," she said,
"To bring to me miserable grain, from which the poor make bread?"

Then to her trembling servants she gave this stern command:
"Go, cast the grain into the sea; and I myself will stand,
To watch and see the work well done, down by the water's side,
And joy to see the rubbish float upon the ebbing tide."

The news flew forth. From every side the poor came crowding there
To beg this haughty maiden the precious grain to spare.
"Our suffering little ones," they cried, "they die for lack of bread;
For Christ's sake, lady, hear us, that our children may be fed!"

She laughed a laugh of cruel scorn, as the grain fell in the sea,
When before her stood the skipper, and pale with wrath was he.
He raised his hand: "O woman, not a year shall pass before
Through this proud city thou shalt beg thy bread from door to door."

A ring she from her finger drew and cast it in the sea.
"My riches shall endure," she cried, "till that comes back to me."
That very night a fisher laid the ring within her hand;
That very night her ships were strewn in pieces on the strand.

And day by day quick messengers arrived from far and near
With news of sore disasters, which she grew pale to hear.
Her riches flew like drifting sand before the desert's blast:
She stood a beggar in the street before a year had passed.





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