The Princes' Quest - Part The Seventh - Poem by William Watson
But Sleep, who makes a mist about the sense,
Doth ope the eyelids of the soul, and thence
Lifteth a heavier cloud than that whereby
He veils the vision of the fleshly eye.
And not alone by dreams doth Sleep make known
The sealèd things and covert-not alone
of the night do mortals hear
The fatal feet and whispering wings draw near;
But dimly and in darkness doth the soul
Drink of the streams of slumber as they roll,
And win fine secrets from their waters deep:
Yea, of a truth, the spirit doth grow in sleep.
Howbeit I know not whether as he slept
A voice from out the depth of dream upleapt
And whispered in his ear; or whether he
Grew to the knowledge blindly, as a tree
Waxes from bloom to fruitage, knowing not
The manner of its growth: but this I wot,
That rising from that sleep beside the spring
The Prince had knowledge of a certain thing
Whereof he had not wist until that hour-
To wit, that two contending spirits had power
spirit, ruling him with sway
Altern; as 'twere dominion now of Day
And now of Dark; for one was of the light,
And one was of the blackness of the night.
Now there be certain evil spirits whom
The mother of the darkness in her womb
Conceived ere darkness' self; and one of these
Did rule that island of the middle seas
Hemmed round with silence and enchantment dim.
Nothing in all the world so pleasured him
As filling human hearts with dolorousness
And banning where another sprite did bless;
But chiefly did his malice take delight
In thwarting lovers' hopes and breathing blight
Into the blossoms newly-openèd
Of sweet desire, till all of sweet were fled:
And (for he knew what secret hopes did fill
The minds of men) 'twas even now his will
To step between the Prince and his desire,
Nor suffer him to fare one furlong nigher
Unto that distant-shining golden goal
That beacon'd through the darkness to his soul.
And so the days, the sultry summer days,
Went by, and wimpled over with fine haze
The noiseless nights stole after them, as steals
The moon-made shadow at some traveller's heels.
And day by day and night by night the Prince
Dwelt in that island of enchantment, since
The hour when Evil Hap, in likeness of
An eagle swooping from the clouds above,
Did bind him body and soul unto that place.
And in due time the summer waxed apace,
And in due time the summer waned: and now
The withered leaf had fallen from the bough,
And now the winter came and now the spring;
Yea, summer's self was toward on the wing
From wandering overseas: and all this while
The Prince abode in that enchanted isle,
Marvelling much at Fortune and her ways.
And by degrees the slowly-sliding days
Gathered themselves together into years,
And oftentimes his spirit welled in tears
From dawn to darkness and from dark to dawn,
By reason of the light of life withdrawn.
And if the night brought sleep, a fitful sleep,
The phantoms of a buried time would creep
Out of their hollow hiding-places vast,
Peopling his Present from the wizard Past.
Sometimes between the whirl of dream and dream,
All in a doubtful middle-world, a gleam
Went shivering past him through the chill grey space,
And lo he knew it for his mother's face,
And wept; and all the silence where he stood
Wept with him. And at times the dreamer would
Dream himself back beneath his father's roof
At eventide, and there would hold aloof
In silence, clothed upon with shadows dim,
To hear if any spake concerning him;
But the hours came and went and went and came,
And no man's mouth did ever name his name.
And year by year he saw the queen and king
Wax older, and beheld a shadowy thing
Lurking behind them, till it came between
His dreamsight and the semblance of the queen,
From which time forth he saw her not: and when
Another year had been it came again,
And after that he saw his sire the king
No more, by reason of the shadowy thing
Stepping between; and all the place became
As darkness, and the echo of a name.
What need to loiter o'er the chronicle
Of days that brought no change? What boots it tell
The tale of hours whereof each moment was
As like its fellow as one blade of grass
Is to another, when the dew doth fall
Without respect of any amongst them all?
Enow that time in that enchanted air
Nor slept nor tarried more than otherwhere,
And so at last the captive lived to see
The fiftieth year of his captivity.
And on a day within that fiftieth year
He wandered down unto the beach, to hear
The breaking of the breakers on the shore,
As he had heard them ofttimes heretofore
In days when he would sit and watch the sea,
If peradventure there some ship might be.
But now his soul no longer yearned as then
To win her way back to the world of men:
For what could now his freedom profit him?
The hope that filled youth's beaker to its brim
The tremulous hand of age had long outspilled,
And whence might now the vessel be refilled?
Moreover, after length of days and years
The soul had ceased to beat her barriers,
And like a freeborn bird that cagèd sings
Had grown at last forgetful of her wings.
And so he took his way toward the sea-
Not, as in former days, if haply he
Might spy some ship upon the nether blue,
And beckon with his hands unto the crew,
But rather with an easeful heart to hear
What things the waves might whisper to his ear
Of counsel wise and comfortable speech.
But while he walked about the yellow beach,
There came upon his limbs an heaviness,
For languor of the sultry time's excess;
And so he lay him down under a tree
Hard by a little cove, and there the sea
Sang him to sleep. And sleeping thus, he dreamed
A dream of very wonderment: himseemed,
The spirit that half an hundred years before
In likeness of an eagle came and bore
His body to that island on a day,
Came yet again and found him where he lay,
And taking him betwixt his talons flew
O'er seas and far-off countries, till they drew
Nigh to a city that was built between
Four mountains in a pleasant land and green;
And there upon the highest mountain's top
The bird that was no bird at all let drop
Its burthen, and was seen of him no more.
Thereat he waked, and issuing from the door
Of dream did marvel in his heart; because
He found he had but dreamed the thing that was:
For there, assuredly, was neither sea
Nor Isle Enchanted; and assuredly
He sat upon the peak of a great hill;
And far below him, looking strangely still,
Uptowered a city exceeding fair to ken,
And murmurous with multitude of men.
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