William Watson

(1858-1935 / England)

The Princes' Quest - Part The Second - Poem by William Watson

A fearful and a lovely thing is Sleep,
And mighty store of secrets hath in keep;
And those there were of old who well could guess
What meant his fearfulness and loveliness,
And all his many shapes of life and death,
And all the secret things he uttereth.
But Wisdom lacketh sons like those that were,
And Sleep hath never an interpreter:
So there be none that know to read aright
The riddles he propoundeth every night.

And verily, of all the wondrous things
By potence wrought of mortal visionings
In that dark house whereof Sleep hath the keys-
Of suchlike miracles and mysteries
Not least, meseems, is this among them all:
That one in dream enamoured should fall,
And ever afterward, in waking thought,
Worship the phantom which the dream hath brought.
Howbeit such things have been, and in such wise
Did that king's son behold, with mortal eyes,
A more than mortal loveliness, and thus
Was stricken through with love miraculous.

For evermore thereafter he did seem
To see that royal maiden of his dream
Unto her palace riding sovranly;
And much he marvelled where that land might be
That basking lay beneath her beauty's beams,
Well knowing in his heart that suchlike dreams
Come not in idleness but evermore
Are Fate's veiled heralds that do fly before
Their mighty master as he journeyeth,
And sing strange songs of life and love and death.
And so he did scarce aught but dream all day
Of that far land revealed of sleep, that lay
He knew not where; and musing more and more
On her the mistress of that unknown shore,
There fell a sadness on him, thus to be
Vext with desire of her he might not see
Yet could not choose but long for; till erewhile
Nor man nor woman might behold the smile
Make sudden morning of his countenance,
But likest one he seemed half-sunk, in trance,
That wanders groping in a shadowy land,
Hearing strange things that none can understand.
Now after many days and nights had passed,
The queen, his mother well-beloved, at last,
Being sad at heart because his heart was sad,
Would e'en be told what hidden cause he had
To be cast down in so mysterious wise:
And he, beholding by her tearful eyes
How of his grief she was compassionate,
No more a secret made thereof, but straight
Discovered to her all about his dream-
The mystic happy marvel of the stream.
A fountain running Youth to all the land;
Flowing with deep dim woods on either hand
Where through the boughs did birds of strange song flit:
And all beside the bloomy banks of it
The city with its towers and domes far-seen.
And then he told her how that city's queen
Did pass before him like a breathing flower,
That he had loved her image from that hour.
'And sure am I,' upspake the Prince at last,
'That somewhere in this world so wide and vast
Lieth the land mine eyes have inly seen;-
Perhaps in very truth my spirit hath been
Translated thither, and in very truth
Hath seen the brightness of that city of youth.
Who knows?-for I have heard a wise man say
How that in sleep the souls of mortals may,
At certain seasons which the stars decree,
From bondage of the body be set free
To visit farthest countries, and be borne
Back to their fleshly houses ere the morn.'

At this the good queen, greatly marvelling,
Made haste to tell the story to the king;
Who hearing laughed her tale to scorn. But when
Weeks followed one another, and all men
About his person had begun to say
'What ails our Prince? He groweth day by day
Less like the Prince we knew… wan cheeks, and eyes
Hollow for lack of sleep, and secret sighs….
Some hidden grief the youth must surely have,'-
Then like his queen the king himself wox grave;
And thus it chanced one summer eventide,
They sitting in an arbour side by side,
All unawares the Pince passed by that way,
And as he passed, unmark'd of either-they
Nought heeding but their own discourse-could hear
Amidst thereof his own name uttered clear,
And straight was 'ware it was the queen who spake,
And spake of him; whereat the king 'gan make
Answer in this wise, somewhat angerly:
'The youth is crazed, and but one remedy
Know I, to cure such madness-he shall wed
Some princess; ere another day be sped,
Myself will bid this dreamer go prepare
To take whom I shall choose to wife; some fair
And highborn maiden, worthy to be queen
Hereafter.'-So the Prince, albeit unseen,
Heard, and his soul rebelled against the thing
His sire had willed; and slowly wandering
About the darkling pleasance-all amid
A maze of intertangled walks, or hid
In cedarn glooms, or where mysterious bowers
Were heavy with the breath of drowsèd flowers-
Something, he knew not what, within his heart
Rose like a faint-heard voice and said 'Depart
From hence and follow where thy dream shall lead.'
And fain would he have followed it indeed,
But wist not whither it would have him go.

Howbeit, while yet he wandered to and fro,
Among his thoughts a chance remembrance leapt
All sudden-like a seed, that long hath slept
In earth, upspringing as a flower at last,
When he that sowed forgetteth where 'twas cast;
A chance remembrance of the tales men told
Concerning one whose wisdom manifold
Made all the world to wonder and revere-
A mighty mage and learn'd astrologer
Who dwelt in honour at a great king's court
In a far country, whither did resort
Pilgrims innumerable from many lands,
Who crossed the wide seas and the desert sands
To learn of him the occult significance
Of some perplexing omen, or perchance
To hear forewhisperings of their destiny
And know what things in aftertime should be.
'Now surely,' thought the Prince, 'this subtile seer,
To whom the darkest things belike are clear,
Could read the riddle of my dream and tell
Where lieth that strange land delectable
Wherein mine empress hath her dwelling-place.
So might I look at last upon her face,
And make an end of all these weary sighs,
And melt into the shadow of her eyes!'
Thus musing, for a little space he stood
As holden to the spot; and evil, good,
Life, death, and earth beneath and heaven above,
Shrank up to less than shadows,-only Love,
With harpings of an hundred harps unseen,
Filled all the emptiness where these had been.

But soon, like one that hath a sudden thought,
He lifted up his eyes, and turning sought
The halls once more where he was bred, and passed
Through court and corridor, and reached at last
His chamber, in a world of glimmer and gloom.
Here, while the moonrays filled the wide rich room,
The Prince in haste put off his courtly dress
For raiment of a lesser sumptuousness
(A sober habit such as might disguise
His royal rank in any stranger's eyes)
And taking in his hand three gems that made
Three several splendours in the moonlight, laid
These in his bosom, where no eye might see
The triple radiance; then all noiselessly
Down the wide stair from creaking floor to floor
Passed, and went out from the great palace-door.

Crossing the spacious breadth of garden ground,
Wherein his footfalls were the only sound
Save the wind's wooing of the tremulous trees,
Forth of that region of imperial ease
He fared, amid the doubtful shadows dim,
No eye in all the place beholding him;
No eye, save only of the warders, who
Opened the gates that he might pass therethrough.

And now to the safe-keeping of the night
Intrusted he the knowledge of his flight;
And quitting all the purlieus of the court,
Out from the city by a secret port
Went, and along the moonlit highway sped.
And himself spake unto himself and said
(Heard only of the silence in his heart)
'Tarry thou here no longer, but depart
Unto the land of the Great Mage; and seek
The Mage; and whatsoever he shall speak,
Give ear to that he saith, and reverent heed;
And wheresoever he may bid thee speed,
Thitherward thou shalt set thy face and go.
For surely one of so great lore must know
Where lies the land thou sawest in thy dream:
Nay, if he know not that,-why, then I deem
The wisdom of exceeding little worth
That reads the heavens but cannot read the earth.'


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Poem Submitted: Saturday, April 10, 2010

Poem Edited: Saturday, May 7, 2011


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