Back to top

The King and the Bard

Come, sing us a lay!" quoth Arthur,
     "My Bard of the Table Round!
Some ballad of lofty courage,
     That shall make our heart's-blood bound!"
And the monarch drain'd his goblet,
     While the minstrel tuned his lyre,
And fill'd it again, that the singer
     Might win from wine new fire.

"Now drink," said the generous sovereign,
      "That, when thy song shall be o'er,
We may fill with bright gold pieces
     And hand thee the cup once more."
But the minstrel's voice was silent,
     And the ruby wine undrain'd,
While Arthur, impatient, wondered
     Why the guerdon was not gain'd.

The bard from his seat rose slowly,
     And spoke to the waiting king:
"Sire, to-day my soul is tuneless,
     And no worthy lay can sing.
Not e'en or your tempting liquor,
     Not e'en for your promised gold,
Will my inner voice yield music;
     For true song cannot be sold!

"But when fitting words can utter
     Dreams that stir my own deep heart,
In thine shall the chords re-echo,
     Till it feels of mine a part.
Not till inspiration smiteth
     On the rock of silent Thought,
Can be welcome living waters
     To the king or people brought!"

"Thou art right!" the sovereign answer'd;
      "'Tis a lesson nobly told:
Monarchs cannot rule men's spirits
     By the might of law or gold!
Thou art first of all my minstrels,
     Thou art best of Britain's boast;
But take now my brimming goblet,
     And quaff it to Arthur's toast.

"Drink, gallant knights, to the minstrel
     Who dreads neither prince nor peer, --
Who can speak the truth to power,
     Nor flatters for price or fear, --
To the bard who freely renders
     The gift he has been given,
And sings but when his strain exalts
     His hearers nigher heaven!"