’O sweet wife, I suffer sore—
O methinks aye more and more
Dull my day, my courage numb,
Shadows from the night to come.
But no counsel, hope, nor aid
Is to give; a crown being made
Power and rule, yea all good things
Yet to hang on this same weird
I must dree it, ever that brings
Chastening from the white-witch feared.
O that dreams mote me forsake,
Would that man could alway wake.’
Now good sooth doth counsel fail,
Ah this queen is pale, so pale.
‘Love,’ she sigheth, ’thou didst not well
Listening to the white-witch fell,
Leaving her doth thee advance
Thy plumed cap of maintenance.’
‘She is white, as white snow flake,’
Quoth the king; ’a man shall make
Bargains with her and not sin.’
‘Ay,’ she saith, ’but an he win,
Let him look the right be done
Else the rue shall be his own.
No more words. The stars are bright,
For the feast high halls be dight
Late he coucheth. Night—’t is night.
The dead king lying in state in the Minster holy.
Fifty candles burn at his head and burn at his feet,
A crown and royal apparel upon him lorn and lowly,
And the cold hands stiff as horn by their cold palms meet.
Two days dead. Is he dead? Nay, nay—but
is he living?
The weary monks have ended their chantings manifold,
The great door swings behind them, night winds entrance giving,
The candles flare and drip on him, warm and he so cold.
Neither to move nor to moan, though sunk and though
In earth he shall soon be trodden hard and no more seen.
Soft you the door again! Was it a footstep followed,
Falter’d, and yet drew near him?—Malva, Malva the queen!
One hand o’ the dead king liveth (e’en
so him seemeth)
On the purple robe, on the ermine that folds his breast
Cold, very cold. Yet e’en at that pass esteemeth
The king, it were sweet if she kissed the place of its rest.
Laid her warm face on his bosom, a fair wife grieved
For the lord and love of her youth, and bewailed him sore;
Laid her warm face on the bosom of her bereaved
Soon to go under, never to look on her more.
His candles guide her with pomp funereal flaring,
Out of the gulfy dark to the bier whereon he lies.
Cometh this queen i’ the night for grief or for daring,
Out o’ the dark to the light with large affrighted eyes?
The pale queen speaks in the Presence with fear upon
’Where is the ring I gave to thee, where is my ring?
I vowed—’t was an evil vow—by love, and by honour,
Come life or come death to be thine, thou poor dead king.’