The Singing Leaves - A Ballad

A poem by James Russell Lowell


'What fairings will ye that I bring?'
Said the King to his daughters three;
'For I to Vanity Fair am bound,
Now say what shall they be?'

Then up and spake the eldest daughter,
That lady tall and grand:
'Oh, bring me pearls and diamonds great,
And gold rings for my hand.'

Thereafter spake the second daughter,
That was both white and red:
'For me bring silks that will stand alone,
And a gold comb for my head.'

Then came the turn of the least daughter,
That was whiter than thistle-down,
And among the gold of her blithesome hair
Dim shone the golden crown.

'There came a bird this morning,
And sang 'neath my bower eaves,
Till I dreamed, as his music made me,
"Ask thou for the Singing Leaves."'

Then the brow of the King swelled crimson
With a flush of angry scorn:
'Well have ye spoken, my two eldest,
And chosen as ye were born;

'But she, like a thing of peasant race,
That is happy binding the sheaves;'
Then he saw her dead mother in her face,
And said, 'Thou shalt have thy leaves.'


He mounted and rode three days and nights
Till he came to Vanity Fair,
And 'twas easy to buy the gems and the silk,
But no Singing Leaves were there.

Then deep in the greenwood rode he,
And asked of every tree,
'Oh, if you have ever a Singing Leaf,
I pray you give it me!'

But the trees all kept their counsel,
And never a word said they,
Only there sighed from the pine-tops
A music of seas far away.

Only the pattering aspen
Made a sound of growing rain,
That fell ever faster and faster,
Then faltered to silence again.

'Oh, where shall I find a little foot-page
That would win both hose and shoon,
And will bring to me the Singing Leaves
If they grow under the moon?'

Then lightly turned him Walter the page,
By the stirrup as he ran:
'Now pledge you me the truesome word
Of a king and gentleman,

'That you will give me the first, first thing
You meet at your castle-gate,
And the Princess shall get the Singing Leaves,
Or mine be a traitor's fate.'

The King's head dropt upon his breast
A moment, as it might be;
'Twill be my dog, he thought, and said,
'My faith I plight to thee.'

Then Walter took from next his heart
A packet small and thin,
'Now give you this to the Princess Anne,
The Singing Leaves are therein.'


As the King rode in at his castle-gate,
A maiden to meet him ran,
And 'Welcome, father!' she laughed and cried
Together, the Princess Anne.

'Lo, here the Singing Leaves,' quoth he,
'And woe, but they cost me dear!'
She took the packet, and the smile
Deepened down beneath the tear.

It deepened down till it reached her heart,
And then gushed up again,
And lighted her tears as the sudden sun
Transfigures the summer rain.

And the first Leaf, when it was opened,
Sang: 'I am Walter the page,
And the songs I sing 'neath thy window
Are my only heritage.'

And the second Leaf sang: 'But in the land
That is neither on earth nor sea,
My lute and I are lords of more
Than thrice this kingdom's fee.'

And the third Leaf sang, 'Be mine! Be mine!'
And ever it sang, 'Be mine!'
Then sweeter it sang and ever sweeter,
And said, 'I am thine, thine, thine!'

At the first Leaf she grew pale enough,
At the second she turned aside,
At the third, 'twas as if a lily flushed
With a rose's red heart's tide.

'Good counsel gave the bird,' said she,
'I have my hope thrice o'er,
For they sing to my very heart,' she said,
'And it sings to them evermore.'

She brought to him her beauty and truth,
But and broad earldoms three,
And he made her queen of the broader lands
He held of his lute in fee.

Reader Comments

Tell us what you think of 'The Singing Leaves - A Ballad' by James Russell Lowell

comments powered by Disqus