The Sleep of Sigismund

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The doom'd king pacing all night through the windy fallow.
'Let me alone, mine enemy, let me alone,'
Never a Christian bell that dire thick gloom to hallow,
Or guide him, shelterless, succourless, thrust from his own.

Foul spirits riding the wind do flout at him friendless,
The rain and the storm on his head beat ever at will;
His weird is on him to grope in the dark with endless
Weariful feet for a goal that shifteth still.

A sleuth-hound baying! The sleuth-hound bayeth behind him,
His head, he flying and stumbling turns back to the sound,
Whom doth the sleuth-hound follow? What if it find him;
Up! for the scent lieth thick, up from the level ground.

Up, on, he must on, to follow his weird essaying,
Lo you, a flood from the crag cometh raging past,
He falls, he fights in the water, no stop, no staying,
Soon the king's head goes under, the weird is dreed at last.


'Wake, O king, the best star worn
In the crown of night, forlorn
Blinks a fine white point-'t is morn.'
Soft! The queen's voice, fair is she,
'Wake!' He waketh, living, free,
In the chamber of arras lieth he.
Delicate dim shadows yield
Silken curtains over head
All abloom with work of neeld,
Martagon and milleflower spread.
On the wall his golden shield,
Dinted deep in battle field,
When the host o' the Khalif fled.
Gold to gold. Long sunbeams flit
Upward, tremble and break on it.
'Ay, 't is over, all things writ
Of my sleep shall end awake,
Now is joy, and all its bane
The dark shadow of after pain.'
Then the queen saith, 'Nay, but break
Unto me for dear love's sake
This thy matter. Thou hast been
In great bitterness I ween
All the night-time.' But 'My queen,
Life, love, lady, rest content,
Ill dreams fly, the night is spent,
Good day draweth on. Lament
'Vaileth not,-yea peace,' quoth he;
'Sith this thing no better may be,
Best were held 'twixt thee and me.'
Then the fair queen, 'Even so
As thou wilt, O king, but know
Mickle nights have wrought thee woe,
Yet the last was troubled sore
Above all that went before.'
Quoth the king, 'No more, no more.'
Then he riseth, pale of blee,
As one spent, and utterly
Master'd of dark destiny.


Comes a day for glory famed
Tidings brought the enemy shamed,
Fallen; now is peace proclaimed.
And a swarm of bells on high
Make their sweet din scale the sky,
'Hail! hail! hail!' the people cry
To the king his queen beside,
And the knights in armour ride
After until eventide.


All things great may life afford,
Praise, power, love, high pomp, fair gaud,
Till the banquet be toward
Hath this king. Then day takes flight,
Sinketh sun and fadeth light,
Late he coucheth-Night; 't is night.

The proud king heading the host on his red roan charger.
 Dust. On a thicket of spears glares the Syrian sun,
The Saracens swarm to the onset, larger aye larger
 Loom their fierce cohorts, they shout as the day were won.

Brown faces fronting the steel-bright armour, and ever
 The crash o' the combat runs on with a mighty cry,
Fell tumult; trampling and carnage-then fails endeavour,
 O shame upon shame-the Christians falter and fly.

The foe upon them, the foe afore and behind them,
 The king borne back in the mꬩe; all, all is vain;
They fly with death at their heels, fierce sun-rays blind them,
 Riderless steeds affrighted, tread down their ranks amain.

Disgrace, dishonour, no rally, ah no retrieving,
 The scorn of scorns shall his name and his nation brand,
'T is a sword that smites from the rear, his helmet cleaving,
 That hurls him to earth, to his death on the desert sand.

Ever they fly, the cravens, and ever reviling
 Flies after. Athirst, asham褬 he yieldeth his breath,
While one looks down from his charger; and calm slow smiling,
 Curleth his lip. 'T is the Khalif. And this is death.


'Wake, yon purple peaks arise,
Jagged, bare, through saffron skies;
Now is heard a twittering sweet,
For the mother-martins meet,
Where wet ivies, dew-besprent,
Glisten on the battlement.
Now the lark at heaven's gold gate
Aiming, sweetly chides on fate
That his brown wings wearied were
When he, sure, was almost there.
Now the valley mist doth break,
Shifting sparkles edge the lake,
Love, Lord, Master, wake, O wake!'


Ay, he wakes,-and dull of cheer,
Though this queen be very dear,
Though a respite come with day
From th' abhorr褠flight and fray,
E'en though life be not the cost,
Nay, nor crown nor honour lost;
For in his soul abideth fear
Worse than of the Khalif's spear,
Smiting when perforce in flight
He was borne,-for that was night,
That his weird. But now 't is day,
'And good sooth I know not-nay,
Know not how this thing could be.
Never, more it seemeth me
Than when left the weird to dree,
I am I. And it was I
Felt or ever they turned to fly,
How, like wind, a tremor ran,
The right hand of every man
Shaking. Ay, all banners shook,
And the red all cheeks forsook,
Mine as theirs. Since this was I,
Who my soul shall certify
When again I face the foe
Manful courage shall not go.
Ay, it is not thrust o' a spear,
Scorn of infidel eyes austere,
But mine own fear-is to fear.'


After sleep thus sore bestead,
Beaten about and buffeted,
Featly fares the morning spent
In high sport and tournament.


Served within his sumptuous tent,
Looks the king in quiet wise,
Till this fair queen yield the prize
To the bravest; but when day
Falleth to the west away,
Unto her i' the silent hour,
While she sits in her rose-bower.
Come, 'O love, full oft,' quoth she,
'I at dawn have pray褠thee
Thou would'st tell o' the weird to me,
Sith I might some counsel find
Of my wit or in my mind
Thee to better.' 'Ay, e'en so,
But the telling shall let thee know,'
Quoth the king, 'is neither scope
For sweet counsel nor fair hope,
Nor is found for respite room,
Till the uttermost crack of doom.


Then the queen saith, 'Woman's wit
No man asketh aid of it,
Not wild hyssop on a wall
Is of less account; or small
Glossy gnats that flit i' the sun
Less worth weighing-light so light!
Yet when all's said-ay, all done,
Love, I love thee! By love's might
I will counsel thee aright,
Or would share the weird to-night.'
Then he answer'd 'Have thy way.
Know 't is two years gone and a day
Since I, walking lone and late,
Pondered sore mine ill estate;
Open murmurers, foes concealed,
Famines dire i' the marches round,
Neighbour kings unfriendly found,
Ay, and treacherous plots revealed
Where I trusted. I bid stay
All my knights at the high crossway,
And did down the forest fare
To bethink me, and despair.
'Ah! thou gilded toy a throne,
If one mounts to thee alone,
Quoth I, mourning while I went,
Haply he may drop content
As a lark wing-weary down
To the level, and his crown
Leave for another man to don;
Throne, thy gold steps raised upon.
But for me-O as for me
What is named I would not dree,
Earn, or conquer, or forego
For the barring of overthrow.'


'Aloud I spake, but verily
Never an answer looked should be.
But it came to pass from shade
Pacing to an open glade,
Which the oaks a mighty wall
Fence about, methought a call
Sounded, then a pale thin mist
Rose, a pillar, and fronted me,
Rose and took a form I wist,
And it wore a hood on 'ts head,
And a long white garment spread,
And I saw the eyes thereof.


Then my plum褠cap I doff,
Stooping. 'T is the white-witch. 'Hail,'
Quoth the witch, 'thou shalt prevail
An thou wilt; I swear to thee
All thy days shall glorious shine,
Great and rich, ay, fair and fine,
So what followeth rest my fee,
So thou'lt give thy sleep to me.'


While she spake my heart did leap.
Waking is man's life, and sleep-
What is sleep?-a little death
Coming after, and methought
Life is mine and death is nought
Till it come,-so day is mine
I will risk the sleep to shine
In the waking.
 And she saith,
In a soft voice clear and low,
'Give thy plum褠cap also
For a token.'
 'Didst thou give?'
Quoth the queen; and 'As I live
He makes answer 'none can tell.
I did will my sleep to sell,
And in token held to her
That she ask褮 And it fell
To the grass. I saw no stir
In her hand or in her face,
And no going; but the place
Only for an evening mist
Was made empty. There it lay,
That same plum褠cap, alway
On the grasses-but I wist
Well, it must be let to lie,
And I left it. Now the tale
Ends, th' events do testify
Of her truth. The days go by
Better and better; nought doth ail
In the land, right happy and hale
Dwell the seely folk; but sleep
Brings a reckoning; then forth creep
Dreaded creatures, worms of might.
Crested with my plum褠cap
Loll about my neck all night,
Bite me in the side, and lap
My heart's blood. Then oft the weird
Drives me, where amazed, afeard,
I do safe on a river strand
Mark one sinking hard at hand
While fierce sleuth-hounds that me track
Fly upon me, bear me back,
Fling me away, and he for lack
Of man's aid in piteous wise
Goeth under, drowns and dies.


'O sweet wife, I suffer sore-
O methinks aye more and more
Dull my day, my courage numb,
Shadows from the night to come.
But no counsel, hope, nor aid
Is to give; a crown being made
Power and rule, yea all good things
Yet to hang on this same weird
I must dree it, ever that brings
Chastening from the white-witch feared.
O that dreams mote me forsake,
Would that man could alway wake.'


Now good sooth doth counsel fail,
Ah this queen is pale, so pale.
'Love,' she sigheth, 'thou didst not well
Listening to the white-witch fell,
Leaving her doth thee advance
Thy plum褠cap of maintenance.'


'She is white, as white snow flake,'
Quoth the king; 'a man shall make
Bargains with her and not sin.'
'Ay,' she saith, 'but an he win,
Let him look the right be done
Else the rue shall be his own.


No more words. The stars are bright,
For the feast high halls be dight
Late he coucheth. Night-'t is night.

The dead king lying in state in the Minster holy.
 Fifty candles burn at his head and burn at his feet,
A crown and royal apparel upon him lorn and lowly,
 And the cold hands stiff as horn by their cold palms meet.

Two days dead. Is he dead? Nay, nay-but is he living?
 The weary monks have ended their chantings manifold,
The great door swings behind them, night winds entrance giving,
 The candles flare and drip on him, warm and he so cold.

Neither to move nor to moan, though sunk and though swallow'd
 In earth he shall soon be trodden hard and no more seen.
Soft you the door again! Was it a footstep followed,
 Falter'd, and yet drew near him?-Malva, Malva the queen!

One hand o' the dead king liveth (e'en so him seemeth)
 On the purple robe, on the ermine that folds his breast
Cold, very cold. Yet e'en at that pass esteemeth
 The king, it were sweet if she kissed the place of its rest.

Laid her warm face on his bosom, a fair wife griev褍
 For the lord and love of her youth, and bewailed him sore;
Laid her warm face on the bosom of her bereav褍
 Soon to go under, never to look on her more.

His candles guide her with pomp funereal flaring,
 Out of the gulfy dark to the bier whereon he lies.
Cometh this queen i' the night for grief or for daring,
 Out o' the dark to the light with large affrighted eyes?

The pale queen speaks in the Presence with fear upon her,
 'Where is the ring I gave to thee, where is my ring?
I vowed-'t was an evil vow-by love, and by honour,
 Come life or come death to be thine, thou poor dead king.'

The pale queen's honour! A low laugh scathing and sereing-
 A mumbling as made by the dead in the tombs ye wot.
Braveth the dead this queen? 'Hear it, whoso hath hearing,
 I vowed by my love, cold king, but I loved thee not.'

Honour! An echo in aisles and the solemn portals,
 Low sinketh this queen by the bier with its freight forlorn;
Yet kneeling, 'Hear me!' she crieth, 'you just immortals,
 You saints bear witness I vowed and am not forsworn.

I vowed in my youth, fool-king, when the golden fetter
 Thy love that bound me and bann'd me full weary I wore,
But all poor men of thy menai I held them better,
 All stalwart knights of thy train unto me were more.

Twenty years I have lived on earth and two beside thee,
 Thirty years thou didst live on earth, and two on the throne:
Let it suffice there be none of thy rights denied thee,
 Though I dare thy presence-I-come for my ring alone.'

She risen shuddereth, peering, afraid to linger
 Behold her ring, it shineth! 'Now yield to me, thou dead,
For this do I dare the touch of thy stark stiff finger.'
 The queen hath drawn her ring from his hand, the queen hath fled.

'O woman fearing sore, to whom my man's heart cleav褬
 The faith enwrought with love and life hath mocks for its meed'-
The dead king lying in state, of his past bereav褬
 Twice dead. Ay, this is death. Now dieth the king indeed.


'Wake, the seely gnomes do fly,
Drenched across yon rainy sky,
With the vex'd moon-mother'd elves,
And the clouds do weep themselves
Into morning.

  All night long
Hath thy weird thee sore opprest;
Wake, I have found within my breast
Counsel.' Ah, the weird was strong,
But the time is told. Release
Openeth on him when his eyes
Lift them in dull desolate wise,
And behold he is at peace.

Ay, but silent. Of all done
And all suffer'd in the night,
Of all ills that do him spite
She shall never know that one.
Then he heareth accents bland,
Seeth the queen's ring on his hand,
And he riseth calmed withal.


Rain and wind on the palace wall
Beat and bluster, sob and moan,
When at noon he musing lone,
Comes the queen anigh his seat,
And she kneeleth at his feet.


Quoth the queen, 'My love, my lord,
Take thy wife and take thy sword,
We must forth in the stormy weather,
Thou and I to the witch together.
Thus I rede thee counsel deep,
Thou didst ill to sell thy sleep,
Turning so man's wholesome life
From its meaning. Thine intent
None shall hold for innocent.
Thou dost take thy good things first,
Then thou art cast into the worst;
First the glory, then the strife.
Nay, but first thy trouble dree,
So thy peace shall sweeter be.
First to work and then to rest,
Is the way for our humanity,
Ay, she sayeth that loves thee best,
We must forth and from this strife
Buy the best part of man's life;
Best and worst thou holdest still
Subject to a witch's will.
Thus I rede thee counsel deep,
Thou didst ill to sell thy sleep;
Take the crown from off thy head,
Give it the white-witch instead,
If in that she say thee nay,
Get the night,-and give the day.'


Then the king (amaz褬 mild,
As one reasoning with a child
All his speech): 'My wife! my fair!
And his hand on her brown hair
Trembles; 'Lady, dost indeed
Weigh the meaning of thy rede?
Would'st thou dare the dropping away
Of allegiance, should our sway
And sweet splendour and renown
All be risked? (methinks a crown
Doth become thee marvellous well).
We ourself are, truth to tell,
Kingly both of wont and kind,
Suits not such the craven mind.'
'Yet this weird thou can'st not dree.'
Quoth the queen, 'And live;' then he,
'I must die and leave the fair
Unborn, long-desired heir
To his rightful heritage.'


But this queen arisen doth high
Her two hands uplifting, sigh
'God forbid.' And he to assuage
Her keen sorrow, for his part
Searcheth, nor can find in his heart
Words. And weeping she will rest
Her sweet cheek upon his breast,
Whispering, 'Dost thou verily
Know thou art to blame? Ah me,
Come,' and yet beseecheth she,
'Ah me, come.'

 For good for ill,
Whom man loveth hath her will.
Court and castle left behind,
Stolen forth in the rain and wind,
Soon they are deep in the forest, fain
The white-witch to raise again;
Down and deep where flat o'erhead
Layer on layer do cedars spread,
Down where lordly maples strain,
Wrestling with the storm amain.


Wide-wing'd eagles struck on high
Headlong fall'n break through, and lie
With their prey in piteous wise,
And no film on their dead eyes.
Matted branches grind and crash,
Into darkness dives the flash,
Stabs, a dread gold dirk of fire,
Loads the lift with splinters dire.
Then a pause i' the deadly feud-
And a sick cowed quietude.


Soh! A pillar misty and grey,
'T is the white-witch in the way.
Shall man deal with her and gain?
I trow not. Albeit the twain
Costly gear and gems and gold
Freely offer, she will hold
Sleep and token for the pay
She did get for greatening day.


'Or the night shall rest my fee
Or the day shall nought of me,'
Quoth the witch. 'An't thee beseem,
Sell thy kingdom for a dream.'


'Now what will be let it be!'
Quoth the queen; 'but choose the right.'
And the white-witch scorns at her,
Stately standing in their sight.
Then without or sound or stir
She is not. For offering meet
Lieth the token at their feet,
Which they, weary and sore bestead
In the storm, lift up, full fain
Ere the waning light hath fled
Those high towers they left to gain.


Deep among tree roots astray
Here a torrent tears its way,
There a cedar split aloft
Lies head downward. Now the oft
Muttering thunder, now the wind
Wakens. How the path to find?
How the turning? Deep ay deep,
Far ay far. She needs must weep,
This fair woman, lost, astray
In the forest; nought to say.
Yet the sick thoughts come and go,
'I, 't was I would have it so.'


Shelter at the last, a roof
Wrought of ling (in their behoof,
Foresters, that drive the deer).
What, and must they couch them here?
Ay, and ere the twilight fall
Gather forest berries small
And nuts down beaten for a meal.


Now the shy wood-wonners steal
Nearer, bright-eyed furry things,
Winking owls on silent wings
Glance, and float away. The light
In the wake o' the storm takes flight,
Day departeth: night-'t is night.

The crown'd king musing at morn by a clear sweet river.
 Palms on the slope o' the valley, and no winds blow;
Birds blameless, dove-eyed, mystical talk deliver,
 Oracles haply. The language he doth not know.

Bare, blue, are yon peak褠hills for a rampart lying,
 As dusty gold is the light in the palms o'erhead,
'What is the name o' the land? and this calm sweet sighing,
 If it be echo, where first was it caught and spread?

I might-I might be at rest in some field Elysian,
 If this be asphodel set in the herbage fair,
I know not how I should wonder, so sweet the vision,
 So clear and silent the water, the field, the air.

Love, are you by me! Malva, what think you this meaneth?
 Love, do you see the fine folk as they move over there?
Are they immortals? Look you a wing褠one leaneth
 Down from yon pine to the river of us unaware.

All unaware; and the country is full of voices,
 Mild strangers passing: they reck not of me nor of thee.
List! about and around us wondrous sweet noises,
 Laughter of little children and maids that dreaming be.

Love, I can see their dreams.' A dim smile flitteth
 Over her lips, and they move as in peace supreme,
And a small thing, silky haired, beside her sitteth,
 'O this is thy dream atween us-this is thy dream.'

Was it then truly his dream with her dream that blended?
 'Speak, dear child dear,' quoth the queen, 'and mine own little son.'
'Father,' the small thing murmurs; then all is ended,
 He starts from that passion of peace-ay, the dream is done.


'I have been in a good land,'
Quoth the king: 'O sweet sleep bland,
Blessed! I am grown to more,
Now the doing of right hath moved
Me to love of right, and proved
If one doth it, he shall be
Twice the man he was before.
Verily and verily,
Thou fair woman, thou didst well;
I look back and scarce may tell
Those false days of tinsel sheen,
Flattery, feasting, that have been.
Shows of life that were but shows,
How they held me; being I ween
Like sand-pictures thin, that rose
Quivering, when our thirsty bands
Marched i' the hot Egyptian lands;
Shade of palms on a thick green plot,
Pools of water that was not,
Mocking us and melting away.


I have been a witch's prey,
Art mine enemy now by day,
Thou fell Fear? There comes an end
To the day; thou canst not wend
After me where I shall fare,
My foredoom褠peace to share.
And awake with a better heart,
I shall meet thee and take my part
O' the dull world's dull spite; with thine
Hard will I strive for me and mine.'


A page and a palfrey pacing nigh,
Malva the queen awakes. A sigh-
One amaz褠moment-'Ay,
We remember yesterday,
Let us to the palace straight:
What! do all my ladies wait-
Is no zeal to find me? What!
No knights forth to meet the king;
Due observance, is it forgot?'


'Lady,' quoth the page, 'I bring
Evil news. Sir king, I say,
My good lord of yesterday,
Evil news,' This king saith low,
'Yesterday, and yesterday,
The queen's yesterday we know,
Tell us thine.' 'Sir king,' saith he,
Hear. Thy castle in the night
Was surprised, and men thy flight
Learned but then; thine enemy
Of old days, our new king, reigns;
And sith thou wert not at pains
To forbid it, hear also,
Marvelling whereto this should grow
How thy knights at break of morn
Have a new allegiance sworn,
And the men-at-arms rejoice,
And the people give their voice
For the conqueror. I, Sir king,
Rest thine only friend. I bring
Means of flight; now therefore fly,
A great price is on thy head.
Cast her jewel'd mantle by,
Mount thy queen i' the selle and hie
(Sith disguise ye need, and bread)
Down yon pleach褠track, down, down,
Till a tower shall on thee frown;
Him that holds it show this ring:
So farewell, my lord the king.'


Had one marked that palfrey led
To the tower, he sooth had said,
These are royal folk and rare-
Jewels in her plaited hair
Shine not clearer than her eyes,
And her lord in goodly wise
With his plum褠cap in 's hand
Moves in the measure of command.


Had one marked where stole forth two
From the friendly tower anew,
'Common folk' he sooth had said,
Making for the mountain track.
Common, common, man and maid,
Clad in russet, and of kind
Meet for russet. On his back
A wallet bears the stalwart hind;
She, all shy, in rustic grace
Steps beside her man apace,
And wild roses match her face.


Whither speed they? Where are toss'd
Like sea foam the dwarfed pines
At the jagged sharp inclines;
To the country of the frost
Up the mountains to be lost,
Lost. No better now may be,
Lost where mighty hollows thrust
'Twixt the fierce teeth of the world,
Fill themselves with crimson dust
When the tumbling sun down hurl'd
Stares among them drearily,
As a' wondering at the lone
Gulfs that weird gaunt company
Fenceth in. Lost there unknown,
Lineage, nation, name, and throne.


Lo, in a crevice choked with ling
And fir, this man, not now the king,
This Sigismund, hath made a fire,
And by his wife in the dark night
He leans at watch, her guard and squire.
His wide eyes stare out for the light
Weary. He needs must chide on fate,
And she is asleep. 'Poor brooding mate,
What! wilt thou on the mountain crest
Slippery and cold scoop thy first nest?
Or must I clear some uncouth cave
That laired the mother wolf, and save-
Spearing her cubs-the grey pelt fine
To be a bed for thee and thine?
It is my doing. Ay,' quoth he,
'Mine; but who dares to pity thee
Shall pity, not for loss of all,
But that thou wert my wife perdie,
E'en wife unto a witch's thrall,-
A man beholden to the cold
Cloud for a covering, he being sold
And hunted for reward of gold.


But who shall chronicle the ways
Of common folk-the nights and days
Spent with rough goatherds on their snows,
Of travellers come whence no man knows,
Then gone aloft on some sharp height
In the dumb peace and the great light
Amid brown eagles and wild roes?


'Tis the whole world whereon they lie,
The rocky pastures hung on high
Shelve off upon an empty sky.
But they creep near the edge, look down-
Great heaven! another world afloat,
Moored as in seas of air; remote
As their own childhood; swooning away
Into a tenderer sweeter day,
Innocent, sunny. 'O for wings!
There lie the lands of other kings-
I Sigismund, my sometime crown
Forfeit; forgotten of renown
My wars, my rule; I fain would go
Down to yon peace obscure.'

 Even so;
Down to the country of the thyme,
Where young kids dance, and a soft chime
Of sheepbells tinkles; then at last
Down to a country of hollows, cast
Up at the mountains full of trees,
Down to fruit orchards and wide leas.


With name unsaid and fame unsunned
He walks that was King Sigismund.
With palmers holy and pilgrims brown,
New from the East, with friar and clown,
He mingles in a wall褠town,
And in the mart where men him scan
He passes for a merchant man.
For from his vest, where by good hap
He thrust it, he his plum褠cap
Hath drawn and plucked the gems away,
And up and down he makes essay
To sell them; they are all his wares
And wealth. He is a man of cares,
A man of toil; no roof hath he
To shelter her full soon to be
The mother of his dispossessed


  Few words are best.
He, once King Sigismund, saith few,
But makes good diligence and true.
Soon with the gold he gather'd so,
A little homestead lone and low
He buyeth: a field, a copse, with these
A melon patch and mulberry trees.
And is the man content? Nay, morn
Is toilsome, oft is noon forlorn,
Though right be done and life be won,
Yet hot is weeding in the sun,
Yea scythe to wield and axe to swing,
Are hard on sinews of a king.


And Malva, must she toil? E'en so.
Full patiently she takes her part,
All, all so new. But her deep heart
Forebodes more change than shall be shown
Betwixt a settle and a throne.
And lost in musing she will go
About the winding of her silk,
About the skimming her goat's milk,
About the kneading of her bread,
And water drawn from her well-head.


Then come the long nights dark and still,
Then come the leaves and cover the sill,
Then come the swift flocks of the stare,
Then comes the snow-then comes the heir.


If he be glad, if he be sad,
How should one question when the hand
Is full, the heart. That life he had,
While leisure was aside may stand,
Till he shall overtake the task
Of every day, then let him ask
(If he remember-if he will),
'When I could sit me down and muse,
And match my good against mine ill,
And weigh advantage dulled by use
At nothing, was it better with me?'
But Sigismund! It cannot be
But that he toil, nor pause, nor sigh,
A dreamer on a day gone by
The king is come.


  His vassals two
Serve with all homage deep and due.
He is contented, he doth find
Belike the kingdom much to his mind.
And when the long months of his long
Reign are two years, and like a song
From some far sweeter world, a call
From the king's mouth for fealty,
Buds soon to blossom in language fall,
They listen and find not any plea
Left, for fine chiding at destiny.


Sigismund hath ricked the hay,
He sitteth at close o' a sultry day
Under his mulberry boughs at ease.
'Hey for the world, and the world is wide,
The world is mine, and the world is-these
Beautiful Malva leans at his side,
And the small babbler talks at his knees.


Riseth a waft as of summer air,
Floating upon it what moveth there?
Faint as the light of stars and wan
As snow at night when the moon is gone,
It is the white-witch risen once more.


The white-witch that tempted of yore
So utterly doth substance lack,
You may breathe her nearer and breathe her back.
Soft her eyes, her speech full clear:
'Hail, thou Sigismund my fere,
Bargain with me yea or nay.
NAY, I go to my true place,
And no more thou seest my face.
YEA, the good be all thine own,
For now will I advance thy day,
And yet will leave the night alone.


Sigismund makes answer 'NAY.
Though the Highest heaped on me
Trouble, yet the same should be
Welcomer than weal from thee.
Nay;-for ever and ever Nay.'
O, the white-witch floats away.
Look you, look! A still pure smile
Blossoms on her mouth the while,
White wings peak褠high behind,
Bear her;-no, the wafting wind,
For they move not,-floats her back,
Floats her up. They scarce may track
Her swift rising, shot on high
Like a ray from the western sky,
Or a lark from some grey wold
Utterly whelm'd in sunset gold.


Then these two long silence hold,
And the lisping babe doth say
'White white bird, it flew away.'
And they marvel at these things,
For her ghostly visitings
Turn to them another face.
Haply she was sent, a friend
Trying them, and to good end
For their better weal and grace;
One more wonder let to be
In the might and mystery
Of the world, where verily
And good sooth a man may wend
All his life, and no more view
Than the one right next to do.


So, the welcome dusk is here,
Sweet is even, rest is dear;
Mountain heads have lost the light,
Soon they couch them. Night-'t is night.

Sigismund dreaming delightsomely after his haying.
 ('Sleep of the labouring man,' quoth King David, 'is sweet.')
'Sigismund, Sigismund'-'Who is this calling and saying
 "Sigismund, Sigismund," O blessed night do not fleet.

Is it not dark-ay, methinks it is dark, I would slumber,
 O I would rest till the swallow shall chirp 'neath mine eaves.'
'Sigismund, Sigismund,' multitudes now without number
 Calling, the noise is as dropping of rain upon leaves.

'Ay,' quoth he dreaming, 'say on, for I, Sigismund, hear ye.'
 'Sigismund, Sigismund, all the knights weary full sore.
Come back, King Sigismund, come, they shall love thee and fear thee,
 The people cry out O come back to us, reign evermore.

The new king is dead, and we will not his son, no nor brother,
  Come with thy queen, is she busy yet, kneading of cakes?
Sigismund, show us the boy, is he safe, and his mother,
 Sigismund?'-dreaming he falls into laughter and wakes.


And men say this dream came true,
For he walking in the dew
Turned aside while yet was red
On the highest mountain head,
Looking how the wheat he set
Flourished. And the knights him met
And him prayed 'Come again,
Sigismund our king, and reign.'
But at first-at first they tell
How it liked not Malva well;
She must leave her belted bees
And the kids that she did rear.
When she thought on it full dear
Seemed her home. It did not please
Sigismund that he must go
From the wheat that he did sow;
When he thought on it his mind
Was not that should any bind
Into sheaves that wheat but he,
Only he; and yet they went,
And it may be were content.
And they won a nation's heart;
Very well they played their part.
They ruled with sceptre and diadem,
And their children after them.

© Jean Ingelow