Poet and Potentate


A POET at my portal ? Ho !
Summon our household, knight and knave.
Let trumpets from the towers blow,
Strew rushes, make the chamber brave.
What say you, hath he garb of green
Silken and ample, folding down
Straightway from off a lordly mien ;
Are laurels woven for his crown?
Are gems set deep upon the hand
That idles with the strings divine,
Do straining leopards lead his band,
Are bearers bent with skins of wine ?
Go forth and greet him ! Ho, my staff,
Mine ermines. Bid my queen attend!
A Poet? We shall love and laugh
And lift the cup till lamplight end.
Spread napery, trim the banquet wicks,
Make ready fruits and cates of price,
Let flow the vats, and straightway mix
A costly vintage rich with spice.
Lo, he has journeyed; make him ease
Of scented waters, linen sweet;
Forget no maiden ministries;
With unbound fillets dry his feet.
Music! Bring viols of tender tone,
Low-breathing horns, the silvery harp
No clamor, no bassoon to moan,
No hautboy shuddering high and sharp.
He enters, say you ? Truth, but where
The Ethiops that should lift his train,
The rhythmic dancers ankle-bare,
The glow, the scent, the sapphic strain ?
Alone, in simple tunic gray !
No harp, nor any leaf of green —
’T is but a whim, an antic play,
A masque to mock us of our spleen.
Bid him ascend beside us here.
Greeting, Sir Poet, joy and health.
But an you come to dwell a year
This realm were barren of its wealth.
Full many a moon we droop and die ;
A very winter chills our wit;
Laughter we crave, the twinkling eye
And fond romance in passion writ.
God save us, thou hast come from far !
Ay, traveled many leagues, my Lord.
And much have seen ? Ay, stream and star,
And mid-wood green and shadowed sward.
Then sit and tell us — eye and hand
And voice a triple music. — Yea,
My steps have measured many a land
Where beauty waits beside the way.
But what of dogging ballads sung,
And roses reddening every road,
And wreaths from castle casements flung,
And ribboned towns that flocked abroad ?
Nay, these I knew not, save you, Sire;
I kept the byways sweet and still,
My feet were friendly with the mire,
My house is but a roofless hill.
My dance is when the tiptoe sun
Makes merry through an oaken wood,
My roses round the thatches run,
The brier berries are my food;
For music, just the nightingale —
Nay, ’t is a jest. Ho, summon up
His people. Ere we hear the tale
Let’s eat and empty out the cup !
Nay, Sire, my people are but such
As fluted once on sylvan reeds:
Seers who felt the finger-touch
Of Pan and played of mythic deeds ;
Or such as walk the moving air
With rumor of the might of old,
Of wisdom that was once despair,
Of love a thousand lutes foretold.
Marry, his wit is passing rare —
A merry fellow ! — Nay, the quip
Hath lost its savor. Sire, I fare
Alone, what faithfuller fellowship ?
For Nature loves no go-between
To listen at her cloister-latch ;
Alone I trode the listening green
And slept below the forest thatch.
Alone I won the silences,
The summits of the sovereign mind,
And backward, like ascending seas
I saw the moving millions blind —
Save you, Sir Bard, ’t is song we crave,
No sermon. Ere the banquet chill
Get down and dine, defy the grave
Pour wine within, the flagon fill!
Ho, draw the silks, the tapers touch ;
Poet, behold, the lackeys bow —
Nay, Sire, I tarry overmuch,
A simple crust were sweeter now.
Harrison S. Morris.