Two Scenes From The Life Of Blondel

A poem by James Russell Lowell

AUTUMN, 1863

SCENE I.--Near a castle in Germany.

'Twere no hard task, perchance, to win
The popular laurel for my song;
'Twere only to comply with sin,
And own the crown, though snatched by wrong:
Rather Truth's chaplet let me wear,
Though sharp as death its thorns may sting:
Loyal to Loyalty, I bear
No badge but of my rightful king.

Patient by town and tower I wait,
Or o'er the blustering moorland go;
I buy no praise at cheaper rate,
Or what faint hearts may fancy so;
For me, no joy in lady's bower,
Or hall, or tourney, will I sing,
Till the slow stars wheel round the hour
That crowns my hero and my king.

While all the land runs red with strife,
And wealth is won by pedler-crimes,
Let who will find content in life
And tinkle in unmanly rhymes;
I wait and seek; through dark and light,
Safe in my heart my hope I bring,
Till I once more my faith may plight
To him my whole soul owns her king.

When power is filched by drone and dolt,
And, with canght breath and flashing eye,
Her knuckles whitening round the bolt,
Vengeance leans eager from the sky,
While this and that the people guess,
And to the skirts of praters cling,
Who court the crowd they should compress,
I turn in scorn to seek my king.

Shut in what tower of darkling chance
Or dungeon of a narrow doom,
Dream'st thou of battle-axe and lance
That for the Cross make crashing room?
Come! with hushed breath the battle waits
In the wild van thy mace's swing;
While doubters parley with their fates,
Make thou thine own and ours, my king!

O strong to keep upright the old,
And wise to buttress with the new,
Prudent, as only are the bold,
Clear-eyed, as only are the true,
To foes benign, to friendship stern,
Intent to imp Law's broken wing,
Who would not die, if death might earn
The right to kiss thy hand, my king?

SCENE II.--An Inn near the Ch√Ęteau of Chalus.

Well, the whole thing is over, and here I sit
With one arm in a sling and a milk-score of gashes,
And this flagon of Cyprus must e'en warm my wit,
Since what's left of youth's flame is a head flecked with ashes.
I remember I sat in this very same inn,--
I was young then, and one young man thought I was handsome,--
I had found out what prison King Richard was in,
And was spurring for England to push on the ransom.

How I scorned the dull souls that sat guzzling around
And knew not my secret nor recked my derision!
Let the world sink or swim, John or Richard be crowned,
All one, so the beer-tax got lenient revision.
How little I dreamed, as I tramped up and down,
That granting our wish one of Fate's saddest Jokes is!
I had mine with a vengeance,--my king got his crown,
And made his whole business to break other folks's.

I might as well join in the safe old tum, tum:
A hero's an excellent loadstar,--but, bless ye,
What infinite odds 'twixt a hero to come
And your only too palpable hero in esse!
Precisely the odds (such examples are rife)
'Twixt the poem conceived and the rhyme we make show of,
'Twixt the boy's morning dream and the wake-up of life,
'Twixt the Blondel God meant and a Blondel I know of!

But the world's better off, I'm convinced of it now,
Than if heroes, like buns, could be bought for a penny
To regard all mankind as their haltered milch-cow,
And just care for themselves. Well, God cares for the many;
For somehow the poor old Earth blunders along,
Each son of hers adding his mite of unfitness,
And, choosing the sure way of coming out wrong,
Gets to port as the next generation will witness.

You think her old ribs have come all crashing through,
If a whisk of Fate's broom snap your cobweb asunder;
But her rivets were clinched by a wiser than you.
And our sins cannot push the Lord's right hand from under.
Better one honest man who can wait for God's mind
In our poor shifting scene here though heroes were plenty!
Better one bite, at forty, of Truth's bitter rind,
Than the hot wine that gushed from the vintage of twenty!

I see it all now: when I wanted a king,
'Twas the kingship that failed in myself I was seeking,--
'Tis so much less easy to do than to sing,
So much simpler to reign by a proxy than be king!
Yes, I think I do see; after all's said and sung,
Take this one rule of life and you never will rue it,--
'Tis but do your own duty and hold your own tongue
And Blondel were royal himself, if he knew it!

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