THE PROUD KING
BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE ON THE POET
William Morris (1834-1896) was born at Walthamston. Essex 24th of March and died on 3rd October. He is from a wealthy middle Class family and so studied at Oxford University. William Morris later became a socialist. He founded Relmscott Press and published the earthly Paradise, A dream of John Bull, The Life and Death of Jason and The House of the Wolfings.
The Proud King – William Morris
In a far country that I cannot name.
And on a year long
A king there dwelt, in rest and ease and fame,
And richer than the emperor is to-day:
The very thought of what this man might From dusk to dawn kept many a lord awake.
For fear of him did many a great man quake.
Young was he when he first sat on the throne, And he was wedded to a noble wife, Nor durst a man speak to him for his life, Except with leave: nought knew he change or strife, But that the years passed
But at the dais must he sit alone. And in his black beard gathered specks of grey
Now so it chanced, upon a May morning. Line 15
Wakeful he lay when yet low was the sun,
Looking distraught at many a royal thing,
And counting up his titles one by one,
And thinking much of things that he had done:
For full or life he felt, and hale and strong,
And knew that none urst say-when he did wrong.
For no man now could give him dread or doubt.
The land was neath his scepter far and wide.
And at his beck would well-armed myraids shout.
Then swelled his vain, unthinking heart with pride.
Until at last he raised him up and cried,
“What need have I for temple or for priest?
Am I not God, whiles that I live at least?”
And yet withal that dead his fathers were,
He needs must think, that quick the years pass by:
But he, who seldom yet had seen death near
Or heard his name, said, “still I may not die
Through underneath the earth my fathers lie;
My sire indeed was called a mighty kind,
Yet in regard of mine, a little thing Line 35
His kingdom was; moreover his grandsire
To him was but a prince of narrow lands,
Whose father, though to things he did aspire
Beyond most men, a great knight of his hands,
Yet ruled some little town where now there stands Line 40
The kennel of my dogs, then may not 1 Rise higher yet, nor like poor wretches die?
“Since up the ladder ever we have gone
Step after step nor fallen back again:
And there are tales of people who have won Line 45
A life enduring, without care or pain.
Or any man to make their wishes vain;
Perchance this prize unwitting now I hold;
For times change fast, the world is waxen old.”
So mid these thoughts once more he fell asleep.
And when he woke again, high was the sun,
Then quickly from his gold bed did he leap
And of his former thoughts remembered none,
But said, “To-day through green woods will we run,
Nor shall to-day be worse than yesterday, Line 55
But better it may be, for game and play.”
So for the hunt was he appareled,
And forth he rode with heart right well at ease;
And many a strong, deep-chested hound they led,
Over the dewy grass betwixt the trees Line 60
And fair white horses fit for the white knees
Of Her the ancients fabled rides a-nights
Betwixt the setting and the rising lights.
Now following up a mighty hart and swift
The king rode long upon that morning tide,
And since his horse was worth a kingdom’s gift,
It chanced him all his servants to outride,
Until unto a shaded river-side He came alone at hottest of the sun.
When all the freshness of the day was done. Line 70
Dismounting there, and seeing so far adown
The re-finned fishes o’er the gravel play,
It seemed that moment worth his royal crown
To hide there from the burning of the day..
Wherefore he did off all his rich array, Line 75
And tied his horse unto a neighbouring tree,
And in the water sported leisurely.
But when he was fulfilled of this delight
He gat him to the bank well satisfied,
And thought to do on him his raiment bright
And homeward to his royal house to ride:
But ‘mazed and angry, looking far and wide
Nought saw he of his horse and rich attire,
And gainst the thief gan threaten vengeance dire. Line 84
But little help his fury was to him, Line 85
So lustily he gan to shout and cry,
None answered. still the lazy chub did swim
By inches against the stream; away did fly
The small pied bird, but nathless stayed anigh,
And o’er the stream still plied his fluttering trade,
Of such a helpless man not much afraid.
Weary of crying in that lonely place
He ceased at last, and thinking what to do.
E’ en as he was, up stream he set his face.
Since not far off a certain house he knew Line 95
Where dwelt his ranger, a lord leal and true,
ho many a bounty at his hands had had,
And now to do him ease would be right glad.
Thither he hastened on, and as he went
The hot sun sorely burned his naked skin, Line 100
The whiles he thought, “When he to me has lent
Fine raiment, and at ease I sit within
His coolest chamber clad in linen thin,
And drinking wine, the best that he has got. shall
forget this troublous day and hot.
Now note, that while he thus was on his way,
And still his people for their master sought,
There met them one who in the King’s array
Bestrode his very horse, and as they thought
Was none but he in good time to them brought, Line 110
Therefore they hailed him King, and so all rode
From out the forest to his fair abode
And there in royal guise he sat at meat,
Served, as his wont was, neath the canopy,
And there the hounds fawned round about his feet, Line 115
And there that city’s elders did he see,
And with his lords took counsel what should be;
And there at supper when the day waxed dim
The Queen within his chamber greeted him.
LEAVE we him there; for to the ranger’s gate Line 120
The other came, and on the horn he blew,
Till peered the wary porter through the grate
To see if he, perchance, the blower knew.
Before he should the wicket-gate undo;
But when he saw him standing there, he cried, Line 125
“What dost thou, friend to show us all thine hide?”
“We list not buy to-day or flesh or fell;
Go home and get thyself a shirt at least,
If thou wouldst aught, for saith our vicar well,
That God hath given clothes e’en to the beast.” Line 130
Therewith he turned to go, but as he ceased
The king cried out “Open, O foolish man!
I am thy lord and King, Jovinian;
“Go now, and tell thy master I am here
Desiring food and clothes, and in this plight, Line 135
And then hereafter need’st thou have no fear,
Because thou didst not know me at first sight.
” “Yea, yea, I am but dreaming in the night.”
The carle said, “and I bid thee, friend, to dream,
Come through! here is no gate, it doth but seem.” Line 140
With that his visage vanished from the grate;
But when the king now found himself alone,
He hurled himself against the mighty gate,
And beat upon it madly with a stone,
Half wondering midst his rage, how any one Line 145
Could live, if longed-for things he chanced to lack;
But midst all this, at last the gate flew back,
And there the porter stood, brown-bill in hand,
And said, “Ah fool, thou makest this ado,
Wishing before my lord’s high seat to stand; Line 150
Thou shalt be gladder soon hereby to go,
Or surely nought of handy blows I know.
Come, willynilly, thou shalt tell this tale
Unto my lord, if aught it may avail.”
With that his staff he handled, as if he Line 155
Would smite the King, and said. “Get on before!
St. Mary! now thou goest full leisurely,
Who, erewhile, fain wouldst batter down the door.
See now, if ere this matter is passed o’er,
I come to harm, yet thou shalt not escape, Line 160
Thy back is broad enow to pay thy jape.”
Half blind with rage the King before him passed
sucho qu But nought of all he doomed hiin to durst say,
Lest he from rest night won should yet be cast,
So with a swelling heart he took his way, Line 165
Thinking right soon his shame to cast
And the carie followed still, ill satisfied
With such a wretched losel to abide.
Fair was the ranger’s house and new and white,
And by the King built scare a year agone, Line 170
An carved about for this same lord’s delight
With woodland stories deftly wrought in some;
There oft the King was wont to come alone,
For much he loved this lord, who erst had been
A landless squire, a servant of the Queen. Line 175
Now long a lord and clad in rich attire,
In his fair hall he sat before the wine
Watching the evening sun’s yet burning fire,
Through the close branches of his pleasance shine,
In that mood when man thinks himself divine, Line 180
Remembering not whereto we all must come.
Not thinking aught but of his happy home.
From just outside loud mocking merriment He heard midst this; and therewithal a squire
Came hurrying up, his laughter scarcely spent, Line 185
Who said. “My lord, a man in such attire
As Adam’s ere he took the devil’s hire,
Who saith that thou wilt know him for the King,
Up from the gate John Porter needs must bring.”
“He to the King is nothing like in aught Line 190
But that his beard he weareth in such guise
As doth my lord: wilt thou that he be brought?
Perchance some treason ‘neath his madness lies.”
“Yea” saith the ranger, “that may well be wise,
But haste, for this eve am I well at ease, Line 195
Nor would be wearied with such folk as these.”
Then went the squire, and coming back again,
The porter and the naked King brought in
Who thinking now that this should end his pain,
Forgat his fury and the porter’s sin, Line 200
And said, “Thou wonderest how I came to win This raiment, that kings long have ceased to wear, Since Noah’s flood had altered all the air?”
“Well, thou shalt know, but first I pray thee, Hugh, Reach me that cloak that lieth on the board, 205
For certes, though thy folk are leal and true, It seemeth that they deem a mighty lord Is made by crown, and silken robe, and sword; Lo, such are borel folk; but thou and I Fail not to know the signs of majesty. 210
“Thou risest not! thou lookest strange on me! Ah, what is this? Who reigneth in my stead? How long hast thou been plotting secretly? Then slay me now, for if I be not dead. Armies will rise up when I nod my head.
Slay me! – or cast thy treachery away,
And have anew my favour from this day.”
“Why should I tell thee that thou ne’er wast king?” The ranger said, “Thou knowest not what I say; Poor man, I pray God help thee in this thing. 220
And, ere thou diest send thee some good day; Nor hence unholpen shalt thou go away; Good fellows, this poor creature is but mad, Take him, and in a coat let him be clad;
And give him meat and drink, and on this night 225
Beneath some roof of ours let him abide, For some day God may set his folly right.” Then spread the King his arms abroad and cried, “Woe to thy food, thy house, and thee betide, Thou loathsome traitor! Get ye from the hall, 230
Lest smitten by God’s hand this roof should fall;
“Yea, if the world be but an idle dream, And God deals nought with it, yet shall ye see Red flame from out these careen windows stream 1, I, will burn this vile place utterly, 235
And strewn with salt the poisonous earth shall be, That such a wretch of such a man has made, That so such Judases may grow afraid.”
Thus raving, those who held him he shook off And rushed from out the fall, nigh mad indeed. 240
And gained the gate, not heeding blow or scoff, Nor longer his nakedness took heed, But ran, he knew not where, at headlong speed, Till, when at last his strength was fully spent, Worn out, he fell beneath a woody bent. 245
But for the ranger, left alone in peace. He bade his folk bring in the minstrelsy: And thinking of his life, and fair increase Of all his goods, a happy men was he, And towards his master felt right lovingly,
And said, “This luckless madman will avail When next I see the King for one more tale.”
MEANWHILE the real King by the road-side lay, al Panting, confused, scarce knowing if he dreamed, Until at last, when vanished was the day, 255
Through the dark night far off a bright light gleamed; Which growing quickly, down the road there streamed The glare of torches, held by men who ran En Before the litter of a mighty man.
These mixed with soldiers soon the road did fill,
260 And on their harness could the King behold
The badge of one erst wont to do his will, A counselor, a gatherer-up of gold, brest Ste Who underneath his rule had now grown old: 18 m Then wrath and bitterness so filled his heart,
That from his wretched lair he needs must start.
And o’er the clatter shrilly did he cry,
“Well met, Duke Peter! ever art thou wise; Surely thou wilt not let a day go by ab ai tif Ere thou art good friend with mine enemies:
O fit to rule within a land of lief,
Go on thy journey, make thyself more meet To sit in hell beneath the devil’s feet!” —
Bus as he ceased a soldier drew anear, And smote him flatling with his sheathed sword,
And said, “Speak louder, that my lord may hear And give thee wages for thy ribald word! Come forth, for I must show thee to my lord,
For he may think more than mad indeed, Who of men’s ways hast taken wondrous heed.” 280
Now was the litter stayed midmost the road, And round about, the torches in a ring Were gathered, and their flickering light now glowed In gold and gems and many a lordly thing, And showed that face well known unto the King, 285
That, smiling yesterday, right humble words
Had spoken midst the concourse of the lords.
But now he said, “Man, thou wert cursing me If these folk heard aright; what wilt thou then, Deem’st thou that I have done some wrong to thee 290 Or hast thou scathe from any of my men?
In any case tell all thy tale again
When on the judgement-seat thou see’st me sit,
And I will give no careless ear to it.”
“The night is dark, and in the summer wind
295 The torches flicker; canst thou see my face?
Bid them draw nigher yet, and call to mindalon of Who gave thee all thy riches and thy place – Well: – if thou canst, deny me, with such grace As by the fire-light Peter swore of old,
When in that Maundy-week the night was cold
-Alas! Canst thou see I am the King?
So spoke he, as their eyes met mid the blaze, And the King saw the dread foreshadowing Within the elder’s proud and stony gaze, 305 Of what those lips, thin with the lapse of days, Should utter now; nor better it befell; –
“Friend, a strange story thou art pleased to tell;
“Thy luck it is thou tellest it to me, Who deem thee mad and let thee go thy way; 310
The king is not a man to pity thee, Or on thy folly fool’s tale to lay;
Poor fool! take this, and with the light of day Buy food and raiment of some labouring clown. And by my counsel keep thee from the town. 315
“For fear thy madness break out in some
Where folk thy body to the judge must hale, And then indeed wert thou in evil case – Press on, sirs! Or the time will not avail.” – There stood the king, with limbs that gan to fail, Speechless, and holding in his trembling hand
A coin new stamped for people of the land;
Thereon, with scepter, crown, and royal robe, The image of a King, himself, was wrought; His jewelled feet upon a quartered globe, 325
As though by him all men were vain and nought. One moment the red glare the silver caught, As the lord ceased, the next his hurrying folk The flaring circle round the litter broke.
The next, their shadows barred a patch of light, 330 Fast vanishing, all else around was
black, And the poor wretch, left lonely with the night Muttered, “I wish the day would ne’er come back If all that once I had I now must lack: Ah God! How long is it since I was King, Nor lacked enough to wish for anything?”
Then down the lonely road he wandered yet, Following the vanished lights, he scare knew why, Till he began his sorrows to forget, And, steeped in drowsiness, at last drew night 340
A grassy bank, where, worn with misery, He slept the dreamless sleep of weariness, That many a time such wretches’ eyes will bless.
BUT at the dawn he woke, nor knew at first
What ugly chain of grief had brought him there,
Nor why he felt so wretched and accursed; At least remembering, the fresh morning air, The rising sun, and all things fresh and fair, Yet caused some little hope in him to rise, That end might come to these new miseries. 350
So looking round about, he saw that he To his own city gates was come anear; Then he arose and going warily, And hiding now and then for very fear
of folk bore their goods and country cheer,
Unto the city’s market, at the last Unto a stone’s-throw of the gate he passed.
But when he drew unto the very gate, Into the throng of country-folk he came
Who for the opening of the door did wait.
Of whom some mocked, and some cried at him shame, And some would know his country and his name. But one into his wagon drew him up. And gave him milk from out a beechen cup,
And asked him of his name and misery;
365 Then in his throat a swelling passion rose,
Which yet he swallowed down, and, “Friend,” said he, “Last night I had the hap to meet the foes Of God and man, who robbed me, and with blows Stripped off my weed and left me on the way:
Thomas the pilgrim am I called to – day.”
“A merchant am i of another town,
And rich enow to pay thee for thy deed, If at the King’s door thou wilt set me down, For
there a squire I know, who at my need
Will give me food and drink, and fitting weed. What is thy name? in what place dost thou live? That I some day great gifts to thee may give.”
“Fair sir,” the carie said. “I am poor enow, Thought certes food I lack not easily; 380
My name is Christopher a-Green; I sow A little orchard set with bush and tree, And ever there the Kind land keepeth me, For I, now fifty, from a little boy Have dwelt thereon, and known both grief and joy
“The house my grandsire built there had grown old, And certainly a bounteous gift it
were If thou should give me just enough of gold To build it new; nor shouldst thou lack my prayer For such a gift,” “Nay, friend, have thou no care,” 390 The King said: “this is but a little thing
To me, who oft am richer than the King,”
Now as they talked the gate was opened wide, And toward the palace went they through the street And Christopher walked ever by the side 395
of his rough wain, where midst the May-flowers sweet Jovinian lay, that folk whom they might meet Might see him not to mock at his bare skin: So shortly to the King’s door did they win.
Then through the open gate Jovinian ran.
Of the first court, and no man stay’d him there; But as he reac the second gate, a man Of the King’s household, seeing him all bare And bloody, cried out. “Whither dost thou fare?
Sure thou art seventy times more mad than mad, 405 Or else some magic potion thou hast had,
Whereby thou fear’st not steel or anything.” But,” said the King, “good fellow, I know thee; And can it be thou knowest not thy King? Nay, thou shalt have a good reward of me,
410 That thou wouldst rather have than ten year’s fee, If thou wilt clothe me in fair weed again, For now to see my council am I fain.”
“Out ribald!” quoth the fellow: “What say’st thou? Thou art my lord, whom God reward
Truly before long shalt thou find out how John Hangman cureth ill folk’s willfulness; Yea, from his scourge the blood has run for less Than that which now thou sayest: nay, what say I? For lighter words have I seen tall men die. 420
“Come now, the sergeants to this thing shall see!” So to the guard-room was Jovinian brought, Where his own soldiers mocked him bitterly, And all his desperate words they heeded nought, Until at last there came to him this thought, 425
That never from this misery should he win,
But, spite of all his struggles, die therein.
And terrible it seemed, that everything So utterly was changed since yesterday
That these who were the soldiers of King,
430 Ready to lie down in the common way Before him, nor durst rest if he bade play, Now stood and mocked him, knowing not the face At whose command each man there has his place.
“Ah, God!” said he, “is this another earth 435
From that whereon I stood two days ago? Or else in sleep have I had second birth? Or among mocking shadows do I go, Unchanged, myself of flesh and fell, although My fair weed I have lost and royal gear? 440
And meanwhile all are changed that I meet here: “And yet in heart and nowise outwardly.” Amid his wretched thoughts two sergeants
came, Who said, “Hold, sirs! because the King would see The man who thus so rashly brings him shame, 445
By taking his high style and spotless name,
That never has been questioned ere to-day.
Come, fool! needs is it thou must go our way.”
So at the sight of him all men turned round, As ‘twixt these two across the courts he went,
With downcast head and hands together bound; While from the windows maid and varlet leant, And through the morning air fresh laughter sent; Until unto the threshold they were come Of the great hall within that kingly home.
Therewith right fast Jovinian’s heart must beat, As now he thought, “Lo, here shall end the strife; For either shall I sit on mine own seat, Known unto all, soldier and lord and wife, Or else is this the ending of my life, 460
And no man henceforth shall remember me, And a vain name in records shall I be.” Therewith he raised his head up, and beheld One clad in gold set on his royal throne.
Gold-crowned, whose hand the Queen alone, 465
Ringed round with standing lords, of whom not one Did aught but utmost reverence unto him; Then did Jovinian shake in every limb.
Yet midst amaze and rage to him it seemed This man was nowise like in the face; But with a marvelous glory his head gleamed, As thought an angel sat in that high place, Where
erst he sat like all his royal race But their eyes met, and with a stem, calm brow 475 The shining one cried out, ” And where art thou?”
“Where art thou, robber of my majesty?” “Was I not King,” he said, “but yesterday? And though to-day folk give my place to thee, I am Jovinian; yes, though none gainsay 480 If on these very stones thou shouldst me slay,
And though no friend be left for me to moan,
I am Jovinian still, and King alone. Then said that other, “O thou foolish man,
King was I yesterday, and long before,
485 Nor is my name aught but Jovinian, Whom in this house the queen my mother bore, Unto my longing father, for right sore Was I desired before I saw the light; Thou, fool, art first no speak against my right.
And surely well thou meritest to die; Yet are that I bid lead thee unto death Hearken to these my lords that stand anigh, And what this faithful queen beside me saith, Then may’st thou many a year hence draw thy breath,
If these should stammer in their speech one whit:
Behold this face, lords, look ye well on it!”
“Thou, O fair Queen, say now whose face is this!” Then cried they, ‘Hail, O Lord Jovinian! Long may’st thou live! and the Queen knelt to kiss 500 His gold-shod feet, and through her face there ran
Sweet colour, as she said, “Thou art the man By whose side I have lain for many a year, Thou art my lord Jovinian lief and dear.”
Then said he, “O thou wretch, hear now and see!
What thing should hinder me to slay thee now? And yet indeed, such mercy is in me,
I thou wilt kneel down humbly and avow Thou art no King but base-born, as I know Thou art indeed, in mine house shalt thou live.
510 And as thy service is, so shalt thou thrive
But the unhappy King laughed bitterly, The red blood rose to flush his visage wan Where erst the grey of death began to be “Thou liest,” he said, “I am Jovinian, 515
Come of great Kings; nor am I such a man
As still to live when all delight is gone,
As thou might’st do, who sittest on my throne.”
No answer made the other for a while, But sat and gazed upon him steadfastly, 520
Until across his face there came a smile Where scorn seemed mingled with some great pity. And then he said, “Nathless thou shalt not die, But live on as thou mayst, a lowly man Forgetting thou wast once Jovinian.” 525
Then widly round the hall Jovinian gazed, Turning about to many a well-known face, But none of all his folk seemed grieved or mazed, But stood unmoved, each in his wonted place; There were the Lords, the Marshal with his
The Chamberlain, the Captain of the Guard, Grey-headed, with his wrinkled face and hard.
That had peered down so many a larie of war There stood the grave ambassadors arrow, Come from half-conquered lands, without the bes
535 The foreign merchants gazed upon the show. Willing new things of that great land to know, Nor was there any doubt in any man That the gold throne still held Jovinian.
Yea, as the sergeants laid their hands on him,
540 The mighty hound that crouched before the throne Flew at him fain to tear him limb from limb Thought in the woods, the brown bear’s dying gr He and that beast had often
heard alone. “Ah” muttered he, “take thou thy wages too 545
Worship the risen sun as these men do.”
They thrust him out, and as he passed the door The murmur of the stately court he heard Behind him, and soft footfalls on the floor, And, though by this somewhat his skin was scared 550
Hung back at the rough eager wind afeard; But form the place they dragged him through the g Where through he oft had rid in royal state.
Then down the streets they led him, where of old.
He, coming back from some well-finished war,
Had seen the line of flashing steel and gold Wind upwards ‘twixt the houses from the bar. While clashed the bells from wreathed spires afar
Now moaning, as they haled him on, he said,
God and the world against one lonely head!”
BUT soon, the bar being past they loosed their hold, And said, “Thus saith by us our Lord the King. Dwell now in peace, but yet be not so bold To come again, or to thy lies to cling. Lest unto thee there fall a worser thing. 565
And for ourselves we bid thee ever pray For him who has been good to thee this day.”
Therewith they turned away into the town.
And still he wandered on and knew not where, Till, stumbling at the last, he fell adown, 570
And looking round beheld a brook right fair, That ran in pools and shallows here and there, And on the further side of it a wood, Nigh which a lowly clay-built hovel stood.
Gazing thereat, it came into his mind
575 A priest dwelt there, a hermit wise and old,
Who he had ridden oftentimes to find,
In days when first the sceptre he did hold,
And unto whom his mind he oft had told,
And had good counsel form him, though indeed
A scanty crop had sprung from that good seed.
Therefore he passed the brook with heavy cheer
And toward the little house went speedily,
And at the door knocked, trembling with his fear,
Because he thought. “Will he remember me?
If not within me must there surely be Some devil who turns everything to ill And makes my wretched body do his will.”
So, while such doleful things as this he thought,
There came unto the door the holy man.
590 Who said, “Good friend, what tidings hast thou brough “Father,” he said, “Knowest thou
Jovinian? Know’st thou me not. made naked, poor, and wan? Alas, O father am I not the King, The rightful lord of thee and everything? 595
“Nay, thou art mad to tell me such a tale!” The hermit said: “If thou seek’st soul’s health here. Right little will such words as this avail; It were a better deed to shrive thee clear, And take the pardon Christ has bought so dear, 600
Than to an ancient man such mocks to say
That would be fitter for a Christmas play.”
So to his hut he got him back again, And fell the unhappy King upon his knees. And unto God at last he did complain, 605
Saying, “Lord God, what bitter thins are these? What hast thou done, that every man that
sees This wretched body, of my death is fain? O Lord God. give me back myself again!”
E en it therewith I needs must die straightway. 610 Indeed I know that since upon the earth
I first did go, I ever day by day Have grown the worse, who was of little worth E’en at the best time since my helpless birth.. And yet it pleased thee once to make me King,
Why hast thou made me now this wretched thing?
Why am I hated so of every one? Wilt thou not let me live my life again, Torgetting all the deeds that I have done, Forgetting my old name, and honours vain.
620 That I may cast away this lonely pain? Yet if thou wilt not. help me in this strife That I may pass my little span of life.
Not made a monster by unhappiness.
What shall I say? Thou mad st me weak of will, 625
Thou wrapped st me in ease and carelessness. And yet, as some folk say, thou lovest me still; Look down, of folly I have had my fill, And am but now as first thou madest me, Weak, yielding clay to take impress of thee.” 630
So said he weeping, and but scarce had done, When And said. “Alas! My master and my son. yet again care forth that hermit old. Is this a dream my wearied eyes behold?
What doleful wonder now shall I be told,
635 Of that ill world that I so long have left? What thing thy glory from thee has bereft?”
A strange surprise of joy therewith there came To that worn heart; he said, “For some great sin The Lord my God has brought me unto shame; 640
I am unknown of servants, wife, and kin, Unknown of all the lords that stand within My father’s house; nor didst thou know me more When e’en just now I stood before thy door.
“Now since thou know’st me, surely God is good.
645 And will not slay me, and good hope I have Of help from Him that died upon the rood, And is a mighty lord to slay and save: So now again these blind men will I brave, If thou wilt give me of thy poorest weed, 650
And some rough food, the which I sorely need;”
“Then of my sins thou straight shalt shrive me clean.” Then weeping said the holy man, “Dear lord, What heap of woes upon thine head has been; Enter, O King, take this rough gown and cord, 655
And scanty food, my hovel can afford; And tell me everything thou hast to say; And then the High God speed thee on thy way.”
So when in coarse serge raiment he was clad,
He told him all his pride had made him think, 660
And showed him of his life both good and bad: while in the wise man’s heart his words did sink, and then being houselled, did he eat and drink, for. “God be praised!” he thought, “I
am no king. who scarcely shall do right in anything!” 665
Then he made ready for the King his ass. And bade again, God speed him on the way, And down the road the King made haste to pass As it was growing toward the end of day, With sober joy for troubles passed away; 670
But trembling still, as onward he did ride. Meeting few folk upon that even-tide
So to the city gate being come at last, He noted there two ancient warders stand. Whereof one looked askance as he went past,
And whispered low behind his held-up hand Unto his mate, “The King, who gave command That if disguised he passed this gate to-day, No reverence we should do him
on the way.”
Thereat with joy, Jovinian smiled again. 680
And so passed onwards quickly down the street; And well-nigh was he eased of all his pain When he beheld the folk that he might meet Gaze hard at him, as though they fain would greet His well-known face, but durst not, knowing well
He would not any of his state should tell.
Withal unto the palace being cone. He lighted down thereby and entered, And once again it seemed his royal home, For folk again before him bowed the head;
And to him came a Squire, who softly said. “The Queen awaits thee, O my lord the King Within the Little Hall where minstrels sing,
“Since there thou badst her meet thee on this night.”
“Lead on then!” said the King, and in his heart
He said, “Perfay all goeth more than right And I am King again;” but with a start He thought of him who played the kingly part That mom, yet said, “If God will have it so This man like all the rest of my face will know.” 700
So in the Little Hall the Queen he found, Asleep, as one a spell binds suddenly; For her fair broidery lay upon the ground, And in her lap her open hand did lie, The silken-threaded needle close thereby; 705
And by her stood that image of the King In rich apparel, crown and signet-ring.
But when the King stepped forth with angry eye And would have spoken, came a sudden light. And changed was that other utterly; For he was clad in robe of shining white.
In wrought with flowers of unnamed colours bright, Girt with a marvelous girdle, and whose hem Fell to his naked feet and shone in them;
And from his shoulders did two wings arise, 715
That with the swaying of his body, played This way and that; of strange and lovely dyes Their feathers were, and wonderfully made: And now he spoke, “O King, be not dismayed, Or think my coming here so strange to be, 720
For oft ere this have I been close to thee.
“And now thou knowest in how short a space
The God that made the world can unmake thee, And though He alter in no whit thy face, Can make all folk forget thee utterly, 725
That thou to-day a nameless wretch mayst be,
Who yesterday woke up without a peer,
The wide world’s marvel and the people’s fear.
“Behold thou oughtest thank God for this. That on the hither side of thy dark grave 730
Thou well hast learned how great a God He is Who from the heavens countless rebels drave, Yet turns himself such folk as thee to save; For many a man thinks nought at all of it. Till in a darksome land he comes to sit. 735
“Lamenting everything so do not thou! For inasmuch as thou thoughst not to die
This thing may happen to thee even now,
Because the day unspeakable draws nigh, When bathed in unknown flame all things shall lie; 740 And if thou art upon God’s side that day,
Unslain, thine earthly part shall pass away.
“Or if thy body in the grave must rot. We, mayst thou see how small a thing is this, Whose pain of yesterday now hurts thee not,
745 Now thou hast come again to earthly bliss, Though bitter-sweet thou knowest well this is, And though no coming day canst ever see Ending of happiness where thou mayst be.
“Now must I go, nor wilt thou see me more,
750 Until the day, when, unto thee at lease This world is gone, and an unmeasured
shore, Where all is wonderful and changed, thou seest:
Therefore, farewell! at council and at feast Thy nobles shalt thou meet as thou has done, 755 Nor wilt thou more be strange to any one.”
So scarce had he done speaking, ere his wins Within the doorway of the hall did gleam, And then he vanished quite: and all these things Unto Jovinian little more did seem
Than some distinct and well-remembered dream. From which one wakes amidst a feverish night, Taking the moonshine for the morning light.
Silent he stood, not moving for a while, Pondering o’er all these wondrous things, until
765 The Queen arose from sleep, and with a
smile, Said, “O fair lord, your great men by your will E’en as I speak the banquet-chamber fill,
To greet thee amidst joy and reveling,
Wilt thou not therefore meet them as a King?”
So from that place of marvels having gone, Half mazed, he soon was clad in rich array, And sat thereafter on his kingly throne, As though no other had sat there that day, Nor did a soul of all his household say 775
A word about the man, who on that mom
Had stood there, naked, helpless, and forløn.
But every day by day the thought of it Within Jovinian’s heart the clearer grew, As o’er his
head the ceaseless time did flit.
And everything still towards its ending drew, New things becoming old, and old things new; Till, when a moment of eternity
Had passed, grey-headed did Jovinian lie
One sweet May morning, wakeful in his bed; 785
And thought, “That day is thirty years a-gone Since useless folly came into my head. Whereby, before the steps of mine own throne, I stood in helpless agony alone,
And of the wondrous things that there befell,
790 When I am gone there will be none tell
“No man is now alive who doubts that he
Who bade thrust out the madman on that tide Was other than the King they used to see Long years have passed now, since the hermit died 795
So must I tell the tale, ere by his side I lie, lest it be unrecorded quite, Like a forgotten dream in morning light
“Yea, lest I die ere night come, this same day Unto some scribe will I tell everything 800
That it may lie when I am gone away. Stored up within the archives of the King, And may God grant the words thereof may ring Like His own voice in the next corner’s ears! Whereby his folk shall shed the fewer tears.” 805
So it was done, and at the King’s command A clerk that day did note it every whit. And after by a man of skilful hand In golden letters
fairly was it writ; Yet little heed the new King took of it
810 That filled the throne when King Jovinian died.
So much did all things feed his swelling pride. But whether God chastised him in his turn
And he grew wise thereafter, I know not,
I think by eld alone he came to learn
How lowly on some day must be his lot But ye. O Kings, think all that ye have got To be but gawds cast out upon some heap. And stolen the while the Master was asleep
The story done, for want of happier things, 820
Some men must even fall to talk of kings;
Some trouble of a far-off Grecian isle, Some hard Sicilian craftsman’s cruel guile Whereby he raised himself to be as God, Till good men slew him; the fell Persian rod 825
As blighting as the deadly pestilence, The brazen net of armed men from whence Was no escape; The fir-built Norway hall Filled with the bonders waiting for the fall of the great roof whereto the torch is set; 830
The laughing mouth, beneath the eyes still wet With more than sea-spray, as the well-loved land The freeman still looks back on, while his hand Clutches the tiller, and the eastern breeze Grows fresh and fresher: many things like these
They talked about, till they seemed young again. Remembering what a glory and a gain
Their fathers deemed the death of kings to be.
And yet amidst it, some smiled doubtfully For thinking how few men escape the yoke, 840
From this or that man’s hand, and how most folk
Must needs be kings and slaves the while they live,
And take from this man, and to that man give Things hard enow. Yet as they mused, again The minstrels raised some high heroic strain
845 That led men on to battle in old times; And midst the glory of its mingling rhymes, Their hard hearts softened, and strange thoughts arose
Of some new end to all life’s cruel foes.
BACKGROUND OF THE POEM
The Poem, “The Proud King’ by William Morris is an Epic account and record of a certain King named Jovinian who was too pompous, foolish and proud, and assumed too much air and lived like a peacock. He assumed himself to be God Almighty and desecrated the holy bible. Because of this, God Himself brought misfortunes and misery to the king by substituting his reign as a king with another king whom God himself brought in form of an Angel. After three years, the king now a poor beggar, finds himself in the palace of the new king. He had earlier ran into an old hermit to whom he declared that he was the king.
The hermit gave him a beating of his life for uttering non sense; that he is the king. When the hermit goes back to his hut, the old king (Jovinian) feels uncomfortable and unhappy. He fell down on his knees and asked God for
mercy. He prays: ‘Lord God, what bitter things are these?/What hast thou done, that every man that sees/This wretched body, of my death is fain’. He is remorseful and asks God to forgive him and give him opportunity once more to live ordinary life, not as a king, but as ordinary man in the street. He admits his mistakes and rekindles the love of God on him. The hermit at this point comes out and heard him shout and sympathized with him, and gives him ‘rough gown and an ass with which he rides on to the city to meet the Angel who is the new but a fake king. He told Jovinian to be grateful to God for preserving his life. He readily abdicates the usurped throne for the old king (Jovinian) and states that he will no longer be seen on earth as he has completed his assignments which is to humble the king and let him recognise the supremacy of God in all he does. He now handed over the king to his old Queen, the nobbles and council members who now recognise Jovinian as the king. These events before Jovinian takes over his mantle of leadership has lasted for 30 years.
SUMMARY OF THE PROUD KING
In a distant country, there existed a very rich and powerful king whose name is Jovinian. He is a man of influence, power and might and on hearing about him, great men are gripped with fears. This powerful and mighty king, married a noble wife, and reigns from his youthful age and no one born of woman could speak to him without his permission.
On a certain morning in the month of May, “One may morning”, he feels downcast and upset and begins to count his titles and achievements and the rest of his riches and laurels, which he believes had been made possible by his efforts and great and mighty hand. By Jovinian’s command, the chariots of armies’ obey him without questioning and he is such a fearless and courageous king. This disposition makes him too proud and as a result, begins to, not only equating himself with God but declaring openly that people should not be thinking of seeing any other God except him. He declares, albeit foolishly:
What need have I for temple or for priests?
Am I not God, while I live at least? With the above sacrilegious thoughts and vituperation, he goes to sleep in his gold bed’ and when he wakes up, he orders his servants to saddle his royal horse with which he leaves for sporting activities, plays and games. The servants and the king in the sporting outfit go into the forest with “many a strong, deep chested hound”, so the king, his servants and his dogs rode on beautiful fair white horses’.
The king sees an animal a mighty hart he follows it to a river leaving his servants behind on the road, and goes to the river alone “at the hottest of the sun/When all the freshness of the day was done’. He removes all his attire and his crown dives into the river and after bathing, he comes out of the river to discover that his horse, clothes and crown have been stolen and taken was and he shouts for help and remedy.
His servants out of bush, now begin to look for him but couldn’t find him, rather they met a man dressed in the king’s attire an he rides in his horse. They hall him king, believing he is the real king. The self made or fake king gets to the city, the Courtiers, Elders, Lords and the Queen, all receive him not knowing he is a fake king When the real king emerged, he is not recognised by the gate attendant. The porter is shocked to find out that the king is stark naked. The king urges him to open the door:
Open, o foolish man!
I am thy Lord and king, Jovinian:
Go now, and tell thy master I am here
Desiring food and clothes, and in this plight (Lines 106-109)
The porter exchanges banter with the king who forces himself through the gate. The ranger’s (servant’s) house is not far from the scene of the encounter between the Porter and Jovinian The house is ‘new and white Jovinian as king, had built the house for the ranger, a former “landless squire and servant of the Queen’. The fake king orders the squire” to usher in the porter and the naked king to find out what the cause of his madness was, that would make him be naked. This is an opportunity for the naked king to re-establish himself in his original kingdom, the naked king reasons. king Jovinian, the real king, proves by his argument that he is the real king. He challenges the fake king to establish his lineage. which he maintains, has no source. He questions the fake angle (Ranger) how long it has taken him to plan to dethrone him.
The Ranger’s real name is Hugh. He tells the Ranger how it has come to be that his servants cannot recognize ‘a mighty lord like him and accuses them of failing ‘to know the signs of majesty’ Jovinian was thought to be a real mad man by the Ranger “Good fellows, this poor creature is but mad/Take him, and in a coat let him be clad” The Ranger (Hugh) tells his servants to provide Jovinian with food, drink, accommodation and clothing to cover his nakedness, but out of anger, he tells the Ranger ‘woe to thy food, thy house and thee betide’, Jovinian in anger, runs away into the street naked as “there streamed/The glare of touches, held by men who ran/Before the litter of a mighty man’ (lines 257 259).
In the street. Jovinian runs into Duke Peter whom he says is treacherous and would end up ‘in hell beneath the devil’s feet’ One of the soldiers hit Jovinian with a sword for abusing his master. Duke Peter who is one of the Lords who pay allegiance to Jovinian in the past. While Jovinian recognises the Lord, the Lord. Duke Peter never recognises Jovinian as the king and that is why he gave Jovinian a piece of cuin, thinking he is a mad man. Jovinian ashamed by himself and back to the city, changes the story of being a king, to being a victim of an armed robbery attack, of enemies ‘who stripped off, my weed and left me on the way’. Jovinian meets with another indigent fellow by name, Christopher a-Green with whom he goes back to the palace On sighting Jovinian naked, the servant runs away but was promised ten years wages as reward, if he could usher him in, and cloth him. Not moved by the promise of a reward, the servant tells Jovinian that John Hangman, the executioner had executed people who committed lesser offence than himself who commits treason by saying he is he king. Jovinian comes to the conclusion that he might lose the battle of reclaiming his kingship, moreso when those who had worshiped and hailed him as king are the same people ridiculing him now. Shortly afterwards, two sergeants in stanza 64 lines come to invite him to see the king and that is after calling him a fool and as he goes with them some servants mock and make him, Jovinian was asked by the fake king who he was.
Jovinian calls the fake king robber of my majesty and states that he is the real kase the fake king takes him round to Queen and the nobles and asked them whom the right king is. The fake king says that Jounian should die but decides to aks the audience to confirm or otherwise his claim to the kinship. The Queen kneels down to kiss the golden shoes, and says “Thou art man/By whose side I have lain for many a year/Thou art my Lord, Jovinian lief and dear’ (lines 502-504).
And The Lords themselves confirm that the fake king is the king. The fake king now declares: ‘O thou wretch, hear now and see!/What thing should hinder me to slay thee now.’
He decides to show mercy to Jovinian and promised to make Jovinian one of his servants, to which Jovinian declines. Jovinian is angry. The dog that Jovinian had when he was the king in the palace wanted to tear Jovinian into pieces. The soldiers throw Jovinian out of the palace. Jovinian
remembers a certain hermit and decides to consult him. His condition is pathetic and he says:
‘Some devil who turns everything to ill/And makes my wretched body do his will’ is the one that keeps him under this servile condition. The hermit calls him a mad man for saying he is the king and leaves him and enters into the hut. Jovinian falls on his knees and pleaded God for mercy He says:
‘Lord God, what bitter thins are these What has thou done, that every man that Sees/This wretched body, of my death is/fain’.
Jovinian is now remorseful and asks God to give him opportunity to live an ordinary citizen. The hermit comes back and recognises Jovinian as the King and wonders what must have gone wrong. He tells the hermit that he committed a great sin and because of this, God had punished him to the extent that his wife (Queen), servants and nobles, no more recognise him as the king. He says that since God had made hermit to now recognise him, it means that God has done it for him; has forgiven him and has blessed him. He posits that God will not kill him. He asks the Hermit to give him his poorest weed/And some rough food’, that is, cloth and food. The Hermit provides ass to Jovinian with which he rides to the city and the guards and others now recognise him. Then a squire tells Jovinian that the Queen is waiting to receive him. On getting to the little hall, he meets the Queen sleeping. He becomes angry. And quickly the man wearing a shining white robe appears in stanza 102. The impostor-king, that is, the fake king is likely to be an angel. He stands beside Jovinian and begins to talk to him. He tells Jovinian that it is curious that God that made the world can unmake thee’. It is God that made Jovinian ‘a nameless wretch’. He tells Jovinian to be grateful to God for his mercies. He reminds Jovinian that unlike Lucifer whom God could not grant second chance when he offended God, Jovinian is lucky to be granted mercy and pardon after his sacrilegious and haughty dispositions. The fake king (Angel) tells Jovinian that he cannot see him on earth again and that his Queen, the nobles, and all members of the council would henceforth recognise him. After the speech, the Angel leaves Jovinian and to Jovinian, it is like a dream. Immediately, the Queen wakes up from sleep and informs him that the banquet-chamber is set to receive him. Jovinian in his royal robes, sits on the throne and could not remember the past. He realises the need to document events fo these 30 years of unforgettable experience so that people would learn from his mistakes. Except the Hermit who is now dead no one could give details of his ordeal except himself. He then decides to put the whole events in a documentary form. The clerk undertakes the task which when completed is to be stored in the king’s archives for the benefit of the future generation, who will benefit immensely from such record and learn to respect and obey God. Notwithstanding, the record, we are told that the king who reigned after Jovinian was also an arrogant and proud king. He did not follow the Jovinian instruction. (Lines 808-812, Stanza 116). Some men gather to discuss sundry issues concerning the king, his fall and other occurrences. This is the import of (Stanza 118, lines 820-838). This is the longest of all the stanzas. Then. finally the last stanza 119, lines 839.849 touch on the end of all things in this great didactic story of the long and epic satire. That is, that the affairs of men and their present and future lives are controlled by kings and death levels all things
Themes of the Poem
- Reverence to God is the beginning of wisdom.
If one wants to be successful in life, the person must start by respecting God. Anyone who is proud to honour God, will not far in life. When Jovinian the king declared: “What need have I for a temple or priest/Am I not God whiles that I live at least”, the consequences of such sacrilegious statement is nothing but tragedy, he lost his kingship and was made a mad man before all.
- Confession is the only instrument of Reconciliation with God.
It is certain in the poetic satire that it is only when the king meets with the priest (Hermit) and with him asks for forgiveness that his prayer was answered by God. So true reconciliation with God should involve a man of God ((Priest) whose true help and honest relationship with God that the battered relationship with God is restored. So when one sins against God, he must have to confess his sin and through a priest and by him-self get reconciled with God.
- Sin of Pride and Haughtiness.
How can one see himself as God, and no longer have need of priest and God? In the poem, the king thought himself as God and God dealt with him. And so once upon a time, existed a king, too full of himself that he saw himself as extra-ordinary being, indeed thought he is equal to God, but such thought and deed. fetched him madness as men hold him, and he suffered other sundry ills. until he reconciled himself through prayer and true repentance and humility, it is only then that he regained his kingship. honour and normality.
- Death is inevitable: Every living thing must
die including kings and princesses. We are told that after Jovinian had died, another king took over and became arrogant. Even Jovinian’s forebears died and not realising the inevitability of death thought that his titles. fame, achievements, worldly possessions and riches would save him from death but he was proved wrong afterwards
Man despite his sins from the garden of Eden till date, only lives not by merit, power or might but by pure love of mercy of God In the poem, despite the great sin of pride (which is one of the greatest seven sins that God hate most) that the king exhibited was at last granted mercy by God, and his kingdom and honour and Queen given back to him. If is only humility and acknowledgment of God’s supremacy over all creatures, and through prayers and reconciliation that God’s mercy shall come upon every soul that sinneth.
- Transient Nature of Power and Authority:
Power corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely, it is often said. Jovinian was a man of absolute authority and this entered into his head and he begins to see himself as God. So this is a lesson for all political office holders who should see themselves as holding a public trust and not otherwise.
Poetic Devices in the Poem
- Antithesis: The use of contradictory expression used for emphasis and to heighten contrast and of course to balance views are used in the following expression:
‘And is a mighty Lord to slay and save’ (line 648)
‘New things becoming old, and old things new’ Line
That it may lie when I am gone away’ is
- Euphemism: expression in the poem that puts death which is unpleasant. in a pleasant way.
- Synecdoche: A whole is used to represent a part in the example in line 560 ‘God and the world against one lonely head‘ (The lonely head refers to Jovinian)
- Oxymoron: The placing of two opposing words to create a sharp contrast and surprise is achieved in line 747 when the poet says. Though bitter-sweet…
- Allusion: There are a number of classical and biblical allusions in the poem such as
” (1) ‘Since Noah’s flood has altered all the air? (line 203)
(2) ‘Some troubles of a far-off Grecian Isle’
(3) My Lord, a man in such attire…’ As Adam’s eve he took the
devil’s hire’ (lines 186-187)
(4)…As by the fire Peter swore of old’ (line 300)
(5) Then he made ready for the king his’ (line 666). This is the reference to the biblical triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The priest here gives Jovinian an ass instead of a house on his second visit to the palace.
- Rhetorical Questions: This literary device which’ emphasises a particular idea for deep reflection, is used in the following lines.
‘Is this a dream my wearied eyes behold?/What doleful wonder now shall I be told of that ill world that I so long have left?/What thing thy glory from thee has bereft
2. Ah God… Is this another earth from that whereon I ago? Or else in sleep have I had second stood two days’ (lines 435-437)
- Personification: In the poem ‘Proud King’ some ideas are expressed as if they are living which makes for clarity and brightness (eg)
- line 780 Ceaseless time did flit’ (line 780).
- “fell to his naked feet and shown inthem.
- Not made a monster by unhappiness’ (line 708)
- … whose hem/Fell to his naked feet (lane 714).