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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

First Line: "you beauteous ladies, great and small"
Last Line: A serving-man to be a queen

You beauteous ladies, great and small,
I write unto you one and all,
Whereby that you may understand
What I have suffered in this land.
I was by birth a lady fair,
My father's chief and only heir,
But when my good old father died,
Then I was made a young knight's bride.
And then my love built me a bower,
Bedecked with many a fragrant flower;
A braver bower you never did see
Than my true love did build for me.
But there came thieves late in the night,
They robbed my bower, and slew my knight,
And after that my knight was slain,
I could no longer there remain.
My servants all from me did fly
In the midst of my extremity,
And left me there by myself alone,
With a heart more cold than any stone.
Yet, though my heart was full of care,
Heaven would not suffer me to despair;
Wherefore in haste I changed my name
From Fair Elise to Sweet William.
And therewithal I cut my hair,
And dressed myself in man's attire,
My doublet, hose, and beaver-hat,
And a golden band about my neck.
With a silver rapier at my side,
So like a gallant I did ride;
The thing that I delighted on
Was for to be a serving-man.
Thus in my sumptuous man's array,
I bravely rode along the way;
And at the last it chanced so
That I unto the king's court did go.
Then unto the king I bowed full low,
My love and duty for to show,
And so much favour I did crave
That I a serving-man's place might have.
"Stand up, brave youth,' the king replied,
"Thy service shall not be denied;
But tell me first what thou canst do;
Thou shalt be fitted thereunto.
"Wilst thou be usher of my hall,
To wait upon my nobles all?
Or wilt thou be taster of my wine,
To wait on me when I shall dine?
"Or wilt thou be my chamberlain,
To make my bed both soft and fine?
Or wilt thou be one of my guard?
And I shall give thee thy reward.'
Sweet William, with a smiling face,
Said unto the king, "If't please your grace
To show such favour unto me,
Your chamberlain I fain would be.'
The king then did the nobles call,
To ask the counsel of them all,
Who gave consent Sweet William he
The king's own chamberlain should be.
Now mark what strange things came to pass:
As the king one day a-hunting was,
With all his lords and noble train,
Sweet William did at home remain.
Sweet William had no company then
With him at home but an old man;
And when he saw the coast was clear,
He took a lute which he had there.
Upon the lute Sweet William played,
And to the same he sung and said,
With a pleasant and most noble voice,
Which made the old man to rejoice:
"My father was as brave a lord
As ever Europe did afford;
My mother was a lady bright,
My husband was a valiaint knight.
"And I myself a lady gay,
Bedecked with gorgeous rich array;
The bravest lady in the land
Had not more pleasure to command.
"I had my music every day,
Harmonious lessons for to play;
I had my virgins fair and free,
Continually to wait on me.
"But now, alas! my husband's dead,
And all my friends are from me fled;
My former joys are past and gone,
For now I am a serving-man.'
At last the king from hunting came,
And presently upon the same
He called for the good old man,
And thus to speak the king began:
"What news, what news, old man?' quod he,
"What news hast thou to tell to me?'
"Brave news,' the old man did say,
"Sweet William is a lady gay.'
"If this be true thou tellest me
I'll make thee a lord of high degree;
But if thy words do prove a lie,
Thou shalt be hanged up presently.'
But when the kind truth had been found,
His joys did more and more abound;
According as the old man did say,
Sweet William was a lady gay.
Therefore the king without delay
Put on her glorious rich array,
And upon her head a crown of gold,
Which was most famous to behold.
And then for fear of further strife,
He took Sweet William for his wife;
The like before was never seen,
A serving-man to be a queen.

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