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George Meredith 1828 (Portsmouth, Hampshire) – 1909 (Box Hill, Surrey)
In middle age an evil thing
Befell Archduchess Anne:
She looked outside her wedding-ring
Upon a princely man.
Count Louis was for horse and arms;
And if its beacon waved,
For love; but ladies had not charms
To match a danger braved.
On battlefields he was the bow
Bestrung to fly the shaft:
In idle hours his heart would flow
As winds on currents waft.
His blood was of those warrior tribes
That streamed from morning's fire,
Whom now with traps and now with bribes
The wily Council wire.
Archduchess Anne the Council ruled,
Count Louis his great dame;
And woe to both when one had cooled!
Little was she to blame.
Among her chiefs who spun their plots,
Old Kraken stood the sword:
As sharp his wits for cutting knots
Of babble he abhorred.
He reverenced her name and line,
Nor other merit had
Save soldierwise to wait her sign,
And do the deed she bade.
He saw her hand jump at her side
Ere royally she smiled
On Louis and his fair young bride
Where courtly ranks defiled.
That was a moment when a shock
Through the procession ran,
And thrilled the plumes, and stayed the clock,
Yet smiled Archduchess Anne.
No touch gave she to hound in leash,
No wink to sword in sheath:
She seemed a woman scarce of flesh;
Above it, or beneath.
Old Kraken spied with kennelled snarl,
His Lady deemed disgraced.
He footed as on burning marl,
When out of Hall he paced.
'Twas seen he hammered striding legs,
And stopped, and strode again.
Now Vengeance has a brood of eggs,
But Patience must be hen.
Too slow are they for wrath to hatch,
Too hot for time to rear.
Old Kraken kept unwinding watch;
He marked his day appear.
He neighed a laugh, though moods were rough
With standards in revolt:
His nostrils took the news for snuff,
His smacking lips for salt.
Count Louis' wavy cock's plumes led
His troops of black-haired manes,
A rebel; and old Kraken sped
To front him on the plains.
Then camp opposed to camp did they
Fret earth with panther claws
For signal of a bloody day,
Each reading from the Laws.
'Forefend it, heaven!' Count Louis cried,
'And let the righteous plead:
My country is a willing bride,
Was never slave decreed.
'Not we for thirst of blood appeal
To sword and slaughter curst;
We have God's blessing on our steel,
Do we our pleading first.'
Count Louis, soul of chivalry,
Put trust in plighted word;
By starlight on the broad brown lea,
To bar the strife he spurred.
Across his breast a crimson spot,
That in a quiver glowed,
The ruddy crested camp-fires shot,
As he to darkness rode.
He rode while omens called, beware
Old Kraken's pledge of faith!
A smile and waving hand in air,
And outward flew the wraith.
Before pale morn had mixed with gold,
His army roared, and chilled,
As men who have a woe foretold,
And see it red fulfilled.
Away and to his young wife speed,
And say that Honour's dead!
Another word she will not need
To bow a widow's head.
Old Kraken roped his white moustache
Right, left, for savage glee:
- To swing him in his soldier's sash
Were kind for such as he!
Old Kraken's look hard Winter wears
When sweeps the wild snow-blast:
He had the hug of Arctic bears
For captives he held fast.
Archduchess Anne sat carved in frost,
Shut off from priest and spouse.
Her lips were locked, her arms were crossed,
Her eyes were in her brows.
One hand enclosed a paper scroll,
Held as a strangled asp.
So may we see the woman's soul
In her dire tempter's grasp.
Along that scroll Count Louis' doom
Throbbed till the letters flamed.
She saw him in his scornful bloom,
She saw him chained and shamed.
Around that scroll Count Louis' fate
Was acted to her stare,
And hate in love and love in hate
Fought fell to smite or spare.
Between the day that struck her old,
And this black star of days,
Her heart swung like a storm-bell tolled
Above a town ablaze.
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"Archduchess Anne" Poetry.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2022. Web. 26 Jan. 2022. <https://www.poetry.com/poem/15434/archduchess-anne>.