Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE ACCOLADE, by BAYARD TAYLOR

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THE ACCOLADE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Under the lamp in the tavern yard
Last Line: "thou hast made me more of a king!"
Alternate Author Name(s): Taylor, James Bayard
Subject(s): Courts & Courtiers; Evil; Tears


UNDER the lamp in the tavern yard
The beggars and thieves were met;
Ruins of lives that were evil-starred,
Battered bodies and faces hard,
A loveless and lawless set.


The cans were full, if the scrip was lean;
A fiddler played to the crowd
The high-pitched lilt of a tune obscene
When there entered the gate, in gan ments mean,
A stranger tall and proud.


There was danger in their doubting eyes;
"Now who are you?" they said.
"One who has been more wild than wise,
Who has played with force and fed on lies,
As you on your mouldy bread.


"The false have come to me, high and low,
Where I only sought the true:
I am sick of sham and sated with show;
The honest evil I fain would know,
In the license here with you."


"He shall go!" "He shall stay!" In hot debate
Their whims and humors ran,
When Jack o' the Strong Arm square and straight
Stood up, like a man whose word is fate,
A reckless and resolute man.


"Why brawl," said he, "at so slight a thing?
Are fifty afraid of one?
We have taken a stranger into our ring
Ere this, and made him in sport our king;
So let it to-night be done!


"Fetch him a crown of tinsel bright,
For sceptre a tough oak-staff;
And who most serves to the King's delight,
The King shall dub him his own true knight,
And I swear the King shall laugh!"


They brought him a monstrous tinsel crown,
They put the staff in his hand;
There was wrestling and racing up and down,
There was song of singer and jest of clown,
There was strength and sleight-of-hand.


The King, he pledged them with clink of can,
He laughed with a royal glee;
There was dull mistrust when the sports began,
There was roaring mirth when the rearmost man
Gave out, and the ring was free.


For Jack o' the Strong Arm strove with a will,
With the wit and the strength of four;
There was never a part he dared not fill,
Wrestler, and singer, and clown, until
The motley struggle was o'er.


And ever he turned from the deft surprise,
And ever from strain or thrust,
With a dumb appeal in his laughing guise,
And gazed on the King with wistful eyes,
Panting, and rough with dust.


"Kneel, Jack o' the Strong Arm! Our delight
Hath most been due to thee,"
Said the King, and stretched his rapier bright:
"Rise, Sir John Armstrong, our true knight,
Bold, fortunate, and free!"


Jack o' the Strong Arm knelt and bowed,
To meet the christening blade;
He heard the shouts of the careless crowd,
And murmured something, as though be vowed,
When he felt the accolade.


He kissed the King's hand tenderly,
Full slowly then did rise,
And within him a passion seemed to be
For his choking throat they all could see,
And the strange tears in his eyes.


From his massive breast the rags he threw,
He threw them from body and limb,
Till, bare as a new-born babe to view,
He faced them, no longer the man they knew:
They silently stared at him.


"O King!" he said, "thou wert King,
I knew;
I am verily knight, O King!
What thou hast done thou canst not undo;
Thou hast come to the false and found the true
In the carelessly ventured thing.


"As I cast away these rags I have worn,
The life that was in them I cast;
Take me, naked and newly born,
Test me with power and pride and scorn,
I shall be true to the last!"


His large, clear eyes were weak as he spoke,
But his mouth was firm and strong;
And a cry from the thieves and beggars broke,
As the King took off his own wide cloak
And covered him from the throng.


He gave him his royal hand in their sight,
And he said, before the ring:
'Come with me, Sir John! Be leal and right;
If I have made thee all of a knight,
Thou hast made me more of a king!"

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