They call me "little man," "King Arthur's fool,"
And "simpleton," those lackeys at the court,
But this fool's mother had the Second Sight,
And sometimes when I caper for the king
I see more than Taliesin the bard
And Merlin the enchanter can, combined.
I stand before the dais, juggling:
The red balls first, then yellow, green and blue,
And when I add the gold and silver spheres,
The oval blur between my hands takes form.
A glowing, rainbow mirrow it becomes
Through which I see the king an older man.
His beard is shot with grey. Astride his horse
He sits up straighter than he would on land
When all the kingdom's cares, some awful guilt,
And the death of all his dreams lie on his back.
I see two rows of soldiers and a snake,
A sword unsheathed to kill it, turned on him--
I drop the balls and stammer out some jest,
A wish for pardon, while the courtiers roar.
He does not laugh. He sees my face go grey
With terror. Arthur thinks I fear his wrath.
He hands me the gold ball, rolled to his feet,
Says, "Dagonet, all people make mistakes."
He glances at his wife; she looks away.
Fool I may be, but even I can tell
There's something wrong when Guinevere looks down
Among the milling courtiers at one knight,
The tallest, bravest, handsomest in spurs:
At Lancelot, who never makes mistakes.
I scramble for the balls. He looks at me,
Then looks away, and shrugs his lion's mane.
Dismiss me as a fool, Sir Lancelot.
Better a fool in small things all my life
Than a great lord who, with one folly alone,
Casts all he loves to ruin at life's end.