Archibald Lampman

(17 November 1861 - 10 February 1899 / Morpeth, Ontario)

The Poet's Song - Poem by Archibald Lampman


There came no change from week to week
On all the land, but all one way,
Like ghosts that cannot touch nor speak,
Day followed day.

Within the palace court the rounds
Of glare and shadow, day and night,
Went ever with the same dull sounds,
The same dull flight:

The motion of slow forms of state,
The far-off murmur of the street,
The din of couriers at the gate,
Half-mad with heat;

Sometimes a distant shout of boys
At play upon the terrace walk,
The shutting of great doors, and noise
Of muttered talk.

In one red corner of the wall,
That fronted with its granite stain
The town, the palms, and, beyond all,
The burning plain,

As listless as the hour, alone,
The poet by his broken lute
Sat like a figure in the stone,
Dark-browed and mute.

He saw the heat on the thin grass
Fall till it withered joint by joint,
The shadow on the dial pass
From point to point.

He saw the midnight bright and bare
Fill with its quietude of stars
The silence that no human prayer
Attains or mars.

He heard the hours divide, and still
The sentry on the outer wall
Make the night wearier with his shrill
Monotonous call.

He watched the lizard where it lay,
Impassive as the watcher's face;
And only once in the long day
It changed its place.

Sometimes with clank of hoofs and cries
The noon through all its trance was stirred;
The poet sat with half-shut eyes,
Nor saw, nor heard.

And once across the heated close
Light laughter in a silver shower
Fell from fair lips: the poet rose
And cursed the hour.

Men paled and sickened; half in fear,
There came to him at dusk of eve
One who but murmured in his ear
And plucked his sleeve:

'The king is filled with irks, distressed,
And bids thee hasten to his side;
For thou alone canst give him rest.'
The poet cried:

'Go, show the king this broken lute!
Even as it is, so am I!
The tree is perished to its root,
The fountain dry.

'What seeks he of the leafless tree,
The broken lute, the empty spring?
Yea, tho' he give his crown to me,
I cannot sing!'


That night there came from either hand
A sense of change upon the land;
A brooding stillness rustled through
With creeping winds that hardly blew;
A shadow from the looming west,
A stir of leaves, a dim unrest;
It seemed as if a spell had broke.

And then the poet turned and woke
As from the darkness of a dream,
And with a smile divine supreme
Drew up his mantle fold on fold,
And strung his lute with strings of gold,
And bound the sandals to his feet,
And strode into the darkling street.

Through crowds of murmuring men he hied,
With working lips and swinging stride,
And gleaming eyes and brow bent down;
Out of the great gate of the town
He hastened ever and passed on,
And ere the darkness came, was gone,
A mote beyond the western swell.

And then the storm arose and fell
From wheeling shadows black with rain
That drowned the hills and strode the plain;
Round the grim mountain-heads it passed,
Down whistling valleys blast on blast,
Surged in upon the snapping trees,
And swept the shuddering villages.

That night, when the fierce hours grew long,
Once more the monarch, old and grey,
Called for the poet and his song,
And called in vain. But far away,
By the wild mountain-gorges, stirred,
The shepherds in their watches heard,
Above the torrent's charge and clang,
The cleaving chant of one that sang.

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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 8, 2010

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