The Princess

The Princess

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I A prince I was, blue-eyed, and fair in face,Of temper amorous, as the first of May,With lengths of yellow ringlet, like a girl,For on my cradle shone the Northern star.There lived an ancient legend in our house.Some sorcerer, whom a far-off grandsire burntBecause he cast no shadow, had foretold,Dying, that none of all our blood should knowThe shadow from the substance, and that oneShould come to fight with shadows and to fall.For so, my mother said, the story ran.And, truly, waking dreams were, more or less,An old and strange affection of the house.Myself too had weird seizures, Heaven knows what:On a sudden in the midst of men and day,And while I walked and talked as heretofore,I seemed to move among a world of ghosts,And feel myself the shadow of a dream.Our great court-Galen poised his gilt-head cane,And pawed his beard, and muttered 'catalepsy'.My mother pitying made a thousand prayers;My mother was as mild as any saint,Half-canonized by all that looked on her,So gracious was her tact and tenderness:But my good father thought a king a king;He cared not for the affection of the house;He held his sceptre like a pedant's wandTo lash offence, and with long arms and handsReached out, and picked offenders from the massFor judgment.Now it chanced that I had been,While life was yet in bud and blade, bethrothedTo one, a neighbouring Princess: she to meWas proxy-wedded with a bootless calfAt eight years old; and still from time to timeCame murmurs of her beauty from the South,And of her brethren, youths of puissance;And still I wore her picture by my heart,And one dark tress; and all around them bothSweet thoughts would swarm as bees about their queen.But when the days drew nigh that I should wed,My father sent ambassadors with fursAnd jewels, gifts, to fetch her: these brought backA present, a great labour of the loom;And therewithal an answer vague as wind:Besides, they saw the king; he took the gifts;He said there was a compact; that was true:But then she had a will; was he to blame?And maiden fancies; loved to live aloneAmong her women; certain, would not wed.That morning in the presence room I stoodWith Cyril and with Florian, my two friends:The first, a gentleman of broken means(His father's fault) but given to starts and burstsOf revel; and the last, my other heart,And almost my half-self, for still we movedTogether, twinned as horse's ear and eye.Now, while they spake, I saw my father's faceGrow long and troubled like a rising moon,Inflamed with wrath: he started on his feet,Tore the king's letter, snowed it down, and rentThe wonder of the loom through warp and woofFrom skirt to skirt; and at the last he swareThat he would send a hundred thousand men,And bring her in a whirlwind: then he chewedThe thrice-turned cud of wrath, and cooked his spleen,Communing with his captains of the war.At last I spoke. 'My father, let me go.It cannot be but some gross error liesIn this report, this answer of a king,Whom all men rate as kind and hospitable:Or, maybe, I myself, my bride once seen,Whate'er my grief to find her less than fame,May rue the bargain made.' And Florian said:'I have a sister at the foreign court,Who moves about the Princess; she, you know,Who wedded with a nobleman from thence:He, dying lately, left her, as I hear,The lady of three castles in that land:Through her this matter might be sifted clean.'And Cyril whispered: 'Take me with you too.'Then laughing 'what, if these weird seizures comeUpon you in those lands, and no one nearTo point you out the shadow from the truth...!