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The Princess And The Page

Harriet Monroe 1860 (Chicago) – 1936 (Arequipa)

There is a legend—you have read it—
Of a fair page whom evil spells
Held in deep sleep; and men of credit
Tried all in vain, the story tells,
Week after week, by night and noon,
To wake him from his sombre swoon.

Till one, more knowing than the others,
Took counsel of the stars, and said:
'We may not rouse this youth, my brothers;
But if the queen will bow her head
And kiss him on the lips, his soul
Straight shall escape the fiend's control.'

'Then he must perish !' in loud chorus
The learned men lamenting cried;
'Better to let him die before us
Than see our queen abase her pride
And shame her fame from north to south,
Kissing a page upon the mouth.'

And so in sorrow they departed
And through the travelled highways passed.
But the strange news their story started
Filled all the land, and reached at last
The crowded hall where sate alone
The fair young monarch on her throne.

And she, being royal, rose in beauty
Like dawn over a leafy hill.
'Would you then teach your queen her duty?—
Now lead me forth to do God's will.
Know, were this youth my meanest slave,
He should not die whom I could save.'

So forth they led her through the palace,
Beyond the park and past the gate,
Silent as when a sacred chalice
Uplifts the rich wine consecrate.
In royal pomp of robe and crown
Through field and wood they led her down.

There in a mossy glade lay sleeping
A youth so beautiful, 'tis said,
That the still trees were softly keeping
A solemn vigil round his bed;
And the birds sang sweet lullabies,
Fearing lest he should wake and rise.

Then silken-vestured lords and ladies
Circled him like a garland there,
Thinking, 'Thrice blest our royal maid is
To kiss to life a thing so fair.'
And many a damsel envied her,
Feeling the aching pulses stir.

Simply, divinely, like one praying,
The crowned queen passed their shadowed eyes,
And knelt beside the youth, and saying,
'Now in God's name I bid thee rise,'
She bowed and kissed the parted lips,
Like a white cloud that moonward dips.

And as she rose the pale lids lifted
Over his dark eyes veiled and drowned,
That slowly back to being drifted
And in her gaze their refuge found.
Then slowly, bold with rapture sweet,
He turned and sank before her feet.

'Give me thy love—I love thee only!'—
The bold words fluttered like a song.
'Thy love!' and from her station lonely
The young queen heard and took no wrong,
But lifted one white hand to still
Murmurs that dared rebuke her will.

'Blest is thy love, so freely given,
As all things freely given are blest.
Yea, not in vain thy soul hath striven
Even though I grant not thy behest.
Over the hills, across the sea,
The prince comes who my lord shall be.'

'Over the hills, across the ocean—'
The bowed youth echoed, murmuring:
Then rose, reeling with dark emotion,
And striving to his dream to cling.
'Nay, if thou love me not, ah why
Didst thou not leave me here to die?'

'Now, by my crown, thou art not noble
But basely born,' the queen made moan.
'Do penance for thy words ignoble—
Life is not given for love alone.
Oh, purge thee in Christ's altar-flame,
And go to battle in His name.'

So saying, from the forest hoary
She passed, with all who marvelled there;
Nor once gazed back—so runs the story—
To see him on his knees in prayer.
But all this came to pass, they say,
Long, long ago, and far away.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

3:07 min read

Harriet Monroe

Harriet Monroe was an American editor, scholar, literary critic, poet and patron of the arts. more…

All Harriet Monroe poems | Harriet Monroe Books

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