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A Fairy Tale - Poem by Philip James Bailey

Once in days of yore a little Princess, who had summers seen
Scarcely seven, and was christened by the holy name Christine,
Found herself, at eve, disporting in a fairy ring of green.

She had left the kingly castle; left her sire's and mother's side,
Left the banquet, where her brother feasted with his royal bride;
And had rambled to the forest valley, 'neath the summer moon,
Where she crossed the charméd circle, aught thereof unknowing. Soon,
Overwearied there she rested, wishing what might come to pass,
When by chance her hand alighted on a tuft of clover--grass.
This she grasped, a tiny handful:--ah! Saint Mary! what she saw!--
Mounted on their milk--white palfreys, issuing from the shady shawe,
Came the Fairies, caracolling gaily as they passed along;
Then, dismounting, closed around her in a bright and joyous throng;
Ladylings and lordlings dancing, piping, harping, full of song.
Clad in robes of silken silver, golden gossamer a few,
Decked with jewels bright as starlets, bright as berries, bright as dew;
Some in kirtle, scarf, and doublet, all of verdant forest hue.

Lovers there she saw, arm--twining, in the wild wood's shadowy slade;
There, some woful knight was kneeling at the feet of haughty maid;
Here was feasting, there was music; many a cunning prank was played.

Suddenly, the stateliest of them, he that most a monarch seemed,
(Cap of crimson his, and mantle like an emerald that beamed)
When he spied the gentle maiden, smiling on the merry scene;
Ho! my lords and ladies! cried he, wist ye who with us hath been?
Lo! a mortal stands among us; fairer than a fairy she;
Let us speak with her a moment; questioning belongs to me.

Straight the jocund throng desisted from their pastime and their play;
While the king of all the fairies to the childling thus 'gan say:--

Lovely mortal! wilt thou, wilt thou quit with us thy childhood's bowers,
And in our enchanted Eden wander through a world of flowers?
All delights that thou hast dreamed of, gathered there shall be, and thine;
Flowers that fade not, games that end not; skies that alway mildliest shine;
Kneaded cates of amber honey, and the rosebud's dewy wine:
Wreaths of jewels, combs of silver, beads and bracelets all of gold,
And a diamond girdle round thee; mine I give thee now, behold!
Bowls of rubies thou shalt sip from, and from crystal tables dine;
And, at eve, on lily leaves, and mingled violets recline;
Wilt thou with me, sweet one, tell me! King, she answered, I am thine.
All the fairy court with rapture danced when thus they heard her say;
Noble chieftain, child of beauty, let us haste, they cried, away!

Seal the covenant first, quoth Oberon; and a magic cup of wine
Straight was brought him, when the king bethought him of the charm divine,
Which the eyes of Life had opened, to perceive their secret line.
Deep within the rosy goblet he the four--fold leaflet dipped,
Drank thereof, and to the damsel gave it; daintily she sipped.
Then to horse; the gallant knighthood lift their ladies to the sells;
Every steed was shod with silver, every bridle hung with bells,
Like the lilies, of the valley, only all of silver. Swells
Soft the moonlit air with strains aforetime never heard;
More sweet than tone of nymph or muse, or god, to both preferred.

So they ambled on until they reached a green and grove--crowned hill,
Which, without a gate, they entered, opening at the monarch's will:
Then the portals closed upon her; woe is me for that dear child,
Mid the insubstantial regions of the fairies thus beguiled.

Streams of bubbling gold flowed round her; fountains flung their diamond spray;
O'er the fields a pearl--dew glistened; polished loadstone paved the way;
Trees were leafed with golden florins; daisies chimed like silver crowns;
Musical and odorous breezes breathed across the velvet downs.
Soon they neared the regal palace twinkling in the aëry dyes,
Lilac, pearl, and beryl blended, of that country's sunless skies;
While the fay--queen and her ladies, with their flower--robed damsels fair,
Came forthright to greet her crownèd spouse, and royal guestling there.

From the centre of the high dome swung a topaz solar bright,
Which through all the palace darted gleams of glad and glorious light;
Emerald lamplets ranked around it, tempered this with cooler ray;
While, without, the welkin poured one pale and ever--dawning day.
There the feast was flowing ever; stream--like music ceaseless played;
There the dance was alway weaving; minstrels chanting in the shade;
There for aye the chase was bounding over dale and hill and plain,
And fair Christine on hound--high steed the foremost of the elfin train.
Still she saddened when she minded of the simple garlands she
Wove of wild rose and of woodbine, with her playmates on the lea;
And the hazel and brown beech nut which they gathered from the tree.
What though clad in jewelled raiment, trilling, tripping, day and night,
What though ply'd with queenly dainties, what though culling gold--blooms bright,
Never in the feast delicious, nor the dance's wildering whirl,
Nor the wine--cup's merry orbit, could forget that lonely girl
The ancient hall where dwelled her sire, and where, too, from her mother's side,
She, one summer's eve had stolen forth into the forest wide.

Drink the dew, the fairy Fate said, that the poppy lends repose,
Mingled with the fragrant nectar chaliced in the golden rose.
Then she drank the draught Letheän from the bowl with flowerets crowned,
Flamy flowers, that all remembrance of her past existence drowned;
Thus, with lustres vainly lapsing, to perpetual childhood bound.
Never moon there marked the season; sun ne'er shadowed forth the time;
Years themselves were undistinguished in that soft and listless clime.

Now where mines of gold and silver branch, in many a gleamy vein;
Through the bosom of the mountain, 'neath the many leaguéd plain;
Where jasper and cornelian clear and alabaster pure,
And purple spars and glass--bright rocks the glittering caves immure,
She roamed; and all the virtues learned of every potent gem
Or mystic or medicinal; all gifts that unto them
Pertained of causing love, or hate, or infinite delight,
Imperial wealth, tyrannic state, long life, and beauty bright;
These into an armlet stringing, ruby, sapphire, emerald, pearl,
Threaded on the sunny tendril of one desultory curl,
As an amulet Titania gave to her, the spell--bound girl.

Through the dwarf king's wondrous regions she with him delighted strayed;
Rings and charms and magic weapons he for her, love--smitten, made.
Blythely oft beneath the seas she roved with mermaids from their caves,
Arched with amber, pearl and ivory roofs, whose floors bright coral paves;
And oft, too, when the fairy court, for pleasure, or for pride,
Would seek the cooling streams that lave earth's plains and meadows wide,
The water spirits, in their arms, the darling maid would fold,
And hidden things of years to come mysteriously they told;
There she viewed in crystal vases souls of hapless wretches drowned,
Which from their pellucid prisons she with holy zeal unbound;
Upward sprang the sprites, with joyful some, and some with mournful sound.
With the sylphs in air she sported; with the golden--palaced gnome,
Earth imbosomed; or the light--elves in their rainbow--clouded home.

Oft times with the Elle--King rode she, in his chariot, o'er the main,
While his martial band, with sea--conchs, blew the war--inspiring strain;
Then upon the headlands landing, counted o'er the frosty meads,
Royal droves of great blue kine, lipping the ice--dew of weeds.

'Gainst the fairies of the fire she with tidal spirits waged
War; and earth, and air, and ocean felt how fierce the battle raged.
High she shook her shining falchion, pliant as the rushen plant,
Falchion her dwarf--lover forged her, hard and bright as adamant;
Fighting by the Elle--King's side, there she the lord of fireland slew;
All the hosts of fire were routed; crowned her queen the conquering crew;
Back to fairyland she hasted; home her train in triumph drew.

King and spouse majestic welcome gave her, on her glad return;
And a thousand tongues besought that her adventures they might learn.
This she grants; and lo! a banquet, by unheard command is seen,
Instantaneously furnished on the flower--embroidered green.
On the east hand of her liege lord sat the bright, the brave Christine;
On his west divine Titania, night's incomparable queen;
Then the victress told Sir Oberon all she had done, and where had been;

How from end to end of faerie she had passed, below, above,
Scathless, by the spells the dwarf--king gave her in his days of love;
How had dealt with Nisses, Noks, and Kobolds, Kelpies, Norns, and Trolls;
How with Peris fared, and Shadim, Afrits, Ogres, Deevs, and Ghouls;
She had travelled in the whirlwind; for no harm to her might fall,
Who had talismans and virtues could enchant or vanquish all;--
How the Elle--chief's broad dominions scarred by war, she, sad, beheld;
How with hosts of fire they fought, and how the first of foes she quelled;
How, she said, in God she trusted;--at that word the banquet ceased;
Shrieked and vanished all the faërie, save the king who bade the feast.

Silent sate the maid and monarch many a moment, till, quoth he,
Knowest thou not, unhappy child, the woe thou hast wrought in faerie?
Know'st thou not that by the name which elfin tongue hath never passed,
Whenso uttered, we are scattered, dust--like, by the tempest's blast?
Know'st thou not that we be spirits, doomed to linger here, unchanged,
In the sunless land of Faërie, from the light of heaven estranged,
Till with promise of salvation, we be blessed by holy priest,
Or some sinless mortal give us hope to be at last released?
Till the universal judgment we, the viewless sons of Eve,
Wander in the hollow underworld, unable to believe,
Till we hold the great assurance, for the lack whereof we grieve.
Still as we of sin were guiltless, save the sin inherited
From our mother's first transgression, ere the floods abroad were spread,
He, the great Creator, hid us in the bosom--shades of earth,
And forbade that in the sunlight ever we should journey forth.

Bounteous is He, said the maiden, of illimitable grace;
Nor would He have hid ye here, if good he meant not to your race.
Ah, alas; then, why delayeth He his merciful command?
Sighed the Fairy; sooner blossom shall the sceptre in my hand;
Saying,--in the mold he wildly struck his white and star--tipped wand.

Scarce had he the sad word uttered when the peeled and polished rod
Bourgeoned forth in buds and blossoms, rooted in the mossy sod;
Lo! a miracle, said Christine; trust ye henceforth, too, in God.
Rest ye sure his mercy broodeth over all the souls He made.

We are spirits, groaned the Fairy, greatly of our end afraid;
Though a flickering hope inspires us with belief that we shall be
Joined, at last, with Him and heaven, in his boundless clemencie.

Be it, said she; knew not I, nathless, so saintly your desire;
And if mine your royal sanction to reseek my loving sire,
He within his halls sustains, for mercy's sake, a godly frere,
Who to pious aspirations ever lends a piteous ear;
And will grant his sacred blessing to your nation: doubt it ne'er;
He will bless whate'er loves me; for I to him was alway dear.

Speed thee earthwards, said the sovran, speed thee dearest child of light;
On the instant, hosts of fairies warbling darted into sight.
Airs delicious, such as never mortal heard from human hands,
Whispered loud from golden clarions, harped on strings of silver strands,
Strains triumphant, thrilled and echoed through those dim enchanted lands.
Speed thee, heart of love, they faltered, speed thee on thy star--taught way;
Bring to Oberon and his people hope of heaven and peace for aye.
Ah, farewell, ye good and loyal, said the princess, stepping forth;
Ne'er shall I forget your bounties, never see surpassed your worth;
If not pure enough for heaven ye are far too pure for earth.

Towards the limits far of Faerie quick their anxious course they took,
And the hill she entered first self--opened like a magic book;
Forth she peeped, and backward turning to bestow one farewell look,
Nothing saw she, nothing heard she, save a low and eërie wail
With the rustle of the greenwood blending and the sunset gale.

All was changed; and she, deep sighing, tottered on her lonesome way,
Till she neared a stunted hamlet; children at their twilight play,
As she stooped to raise a withering rosebud, by the path that lay,
Shyly tittering; thus she spake them; laugh ye at my fresh pulled roses?
We laughed to see an old, old beldame picking up our cast--off posies,
Said they; but she understood no word of what the bantlings uttered;
And again they mouthed and mocked at that they said the old crone muttered.

Soon she came where, blind with dotage, propped on staff, an old man stood;
All his tresses white with age as with its snows a wintry wood.
Gaffer, said she, where's the castle, that on yonder mountain piled
Held the prince unpeered in honour? Late I left it, foolish child!
Mused a moment, recollecting; presently, the old man smiled.

Second childhood then I fancy must at least good dame, be thine;
I alone in all the region mind me of that lordly line;
I alone some words remember of the tongue that then was spoke,
By the noble race that here dwelt, ere they felt war's iron yoke.
King, peer, peasant, all were conquered, all uprooted at a blow;
One disastrous battle gave the country to a foreign foe;
Slain or banished all; but that's wellnigh a hundred years ago.

Yonder castle's crumbling ruin saw its lord, though dauntless, fall;
Dame and daughter he beheld both slain; in vain his vassals all,
In vain his son for crown and bride fought; he was left an idiot thrall.
On the evening of his bridal, souls of war, those sea--kings came,
And, ere midnight, tower and town were all engulphed in gory flame.
Save the holy chaplain, none of all that princely house remained,
And myself, the humblest menial, on the lands where once they reigned.
He, in rock--hewn hermit's cavern, life, with passion undefiled,
Wore away, in trances murmuring blessings on some wandered child,
Daughter of his Lord, 'twas counted, by the cursed invading host
Killed; or wiled away by fairies; howsoe'er, the child was lost.
Twenty winters since his clay from mine to earth's cold arms was given;
And so long his blessed spirit has been with the saints in Heaven.

Hold, she cried, I hear a weeping; I no longer love the light;
Back she started, and departed straightways through the deepening night.
In the hill she heard a wailing and a sobbing sad and deep;
And the crash of thousand harpstrings hands of desperation sweep;
Then she laid her down, and, praying, slept the long unmorrowing sleep.

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