Ambrose Bierce

(24 June 1842 - 26 December 1913 / Horse Cave Creek, Ohio)

The Royal Jester - Poem by Ambrose Bierce

Once on a time, so ancient poets sing,
There reigned in Godknowswhere a certain king.
So great a monarch ne'er before was seen:
He was a hero, even to his queen,
In whose respect he held so high a place
That none was higher,-nay, not even the ace.
He was so just his Parliament declared
Those subjects happy whom his laws had spared;
So wise that none of the debating throng
Had ever lived to prove him in the wrong;
So good that Crime his anger never feared,
And Beauty boldly plucked him by the beard;
So brave that if his army got a beating
None dared to face him when he was retreating.
This monarch kept a Fool to make his mirth,
And loved him tenderly despite his worth.
Prompted by what caprice I cannot say,
He called the Fool before the throne one day
And to that jester seriously said:
'I'll abdicate, and you shall reign instead,
While I, attired in motley, will make sport
To entertain your Majesty and Court.'

'T was done and the Fool governed. He decreed
The time of harvest and the time of seed;
Ordered the rains and made the weather clear,
And had a famine every second year;
Altered the calendar to suit his freak,
Ordaining six whole holidays a week;
Religious creeds and sacred books prepared;
Made war when angry and made peace when scared.
New taxes he inspired; new laws he made;
Drowned those who broke them, who observed them, flayed,
In short, he ruled so well that all who'd not
Been starved, decapitated, hanged or shot
Made the whole country with his praises ring,
Declaring he was every inch a king;
And the High Priest averred 't was very odd
If one so competent were not a god.

Meantime, his master, now in motley clad,
Wore such a visage, woeful, wan and sad,
That some condoled with him as with a brother
Who, having lost a wife, had got another.
Others, mistaking his profession, often
Approached him to be measured for a coffin.
For years this highborn jester never broke
The silence-he was pondering a joke.
At last, one day, in cap-and-bells arrayed,
He strode into the Council and displayed
A long, bright smile, that glittered in the gloom
Like a gilt epithet within a tomb.
Posing his bauble like a leader's staff,
To give the signal when (and why) to laugh,
He brought it down with peremptory stroke
And simultaneously cracked his joke!

I can't repeat it, friends. I ne'er could school
Myself to quote from any other fool:
A jest, if it were worse than mine, would start
My tears; if better, it would break my heart.
So, if you please, I'll hold you but to state
That royal Jester's melancholy fate.

The insulted nation, so the story goes,
Rose as one man-the very dead arose,
Springing indignant from the riven tomb,
And babes unborn leapt swearing from the womb!
All to the Council Chamber clamoring went,
By rage distracted and on vengeance bent.
In that vast hall, in due disorder laid,
The tools of legislation were displayed,
And the wild populace, its wrath to sate,
Seized them and heaved them at the Jester's pate.
Mountains of writing paper; pools and seas
Of ink, awaiting, to become decrees,
Royal approval-and the same in stacks
Lay ready for attachment, backed with wax;
Pens to make laws, erasers to amend them;
With mucilage convenient to extend them;
Scissors for limiting their application,
And acids to repeal all legislation-
These, flung as missiles till the air was dense,
Were most offensive weapons of offense,
And by their aid the Fool was nigh destroyed.
They ne'er had been so harmlessly employed.
Whelmed underneath a load of legal cap,
His mouth egurgitating ink on tap,
His eyelids mucilaginously sealed,
His fertile head by scissors made to yield
Abundant harvestage of ears, his pelt,
In every wrinkle and on every welt,
Quickset with pencil-points from feet to gills
And thickly studded with a pride of quills,
The royal Jester in the dreadful strife
Was made (in short) an editor for life!

An idle tale, and yet a moral lurks
In this as plainly as in greater works.
I shall not give it birth: one moral here
Would die of loneliness within a year.


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Poem Submitted: Saturday, September 29, 2012



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