The Author William Butler Yeats

The Two Kings


    King Eochaid came at sundown to a wood
    Westward of Tara. Hurrying to his queen
    He had out-ridden his war-wasted men
    That with empounded cattle trod the mire;
    And where beech trees had mixed a pale the green light
    With the ground-ivy’s blue, he saw a stag
    Whiter than curds, its eyes the tint of the sea.
    Because it stood upon his path and seemed
    More hands in height than any stag in the world
    He sat with tightened rein and loosened mouth
    Upon his trembling horse, then drove the spur;
    But the stag stooped and ran at him, and passed,
    Rending the horse’s flank. King Eochaid reeled
    Then drew his sword to hold its levelled point
    Against the stag. When horn and steel were met
    The horn resounded as though it had been silver,
    A sweet, miraculous, terrifying sound.
    Horn locked in sword, they tugged and struggled there
    As though a stag and unicorn were met
    In Africa on Mountain of the Moon,
    Until at last the double horns, drawn backward,
    Butted below the single and so pierced
    The entrails of the horse. Dropping his sword
    King Eochaid seized the horns in his strong hands
    And stared into the sea-green eye, and so
    Hither and thither to and fro they trod
    Till all the place was beaten into mire.
    The strong thigh and the agile thigh were met,
    The hands that gathered up the might of the world,
    And hoof and horn that had sucked in their speed
    Amid the elaborate wilderness of the air.
    Through bush they plunged and over ivied root,
    And where the stone struck fire, while in the leaves
    A squirrel whinnied and a bird screamed out;
    But when at last he forced those sinewy flanks
    Against a beech bole, he threw down the beast
    And knelt above it with drawn knife. On the instant
    It vanished like a shadow, and a cry
    So mournful that it seemed the cry of one
    Who had lost some unimaginable treasure
    Wandered between the blue and green leaf
    And climbed into the air, crumbling away,
    Till all had seemed a shadow or a vision
    But for the trodden mire, the pool of blood,
    The disembowelled horse.
    King Eochaid ran,
    Toward peopled Tara, nor stood to draw his breath
    Until he came before the painted wall,
    The posts of polished yew, circled with bronze,
    Of the great door; but though the hanging lamps
    Showed their faint light through the unshuttered windows,
    Nor door, nor mouth, nor slipper made a noise,
    Nor on the ancient beaten paths, that wound
    From well-side or from plough-land, was there noise;
    And there had been no sound of living thing
    Before him or behind, but that far-off
    On the horizon edge bellowed the herds.
    Knowing that silence brings no good to kings,
    And mocks returning victory, he passed
    Between the pillars with a beating heart
    And saw where in the midst of the great hall
    Pale-faced, alone upon a bench, Edain
    Sat upright with a sword before her feet.
    Her hands on either side had gripped the bench,
    Her eyes were cold and steady, her lips tight.
    Some passion had made her stone. Hearing a foot
    She started and then knew whose foot it was;
    But when he thought to take her in his arms
    She motioned him afar, and rose and spoke:
    ‘I have sent among the fields or to the woods
    The fighting men and servants of this house,
    For I would have your judgment upon one
    Who is self-accused. If she be innocent
    She would not look in any known man’s face
    Till judgment has been given, and if guilty,
    Will never look again on known man’s face.’
    And at these words he paled, as she had paled,
    Knowing that he should find upon her lips
    The meaning of that monstrous day.

    Then she:
    ‘You brought me where your brother Ardan sat
    Always in his one seat, and bid me care him
    Through that strange illness that had fixed him there,
    And should he die to heap his burial mound
    And carve his name in Ogham.’ Eochaid said,
    ‘He lives?’ ‘He lives and is a healthy man.’
    ‘While I have him and you it matters little
    What man you have lost, what evil you have found.’
    ‘I bid them make his bed under this roof
    And carried him his food with my own hands,
    And so the weeks passed by. But when I said
    “What is this trouble?” he would answer nothing,
    Though always at my words his trouble grew;
    And I but asked the more, till he cried out,
    Weary of many questions: “There are things
    That make the heart akin to the dumb stone.”
    Then I replied: “Although you hide a secret,
    Hopeless and dear, or terrible to think on,
    Speak it, that I may send through the wide world
    For medicine.” Thereon he cried aloud:
    “Day after day you question me, and I,
    Because there is such a storm amid my thoughts
    I shall be carried in the gust, command,
    Forbid, beseech and waste my breath.” Then I,
    “Although the thing that you have hid were evil,
    The speaking of it could be no great wrong,
    And evil must it be, if done ’twere worse
    Than mound and stone that keep all virtue in,
    And loosen on us dreams that waste our life,
    Shadows and shows that can but turn the brain.”
    But finding him still silent I stooped down
    And whispering that none but he should hear,
    Said: “If a woman has put this on you,
    My men, whether it please her or displease,
    And though they have to cross the Loughlan waters
    And take her in the middle of armed men,
    Shall make her look upon her handiwork,
    That she may quench the rick she has fired; and though
    She may have worn silk clothes, or worn a crown,
    She’ll not be proud, knowing within her heart
    That our sufficient portion of the world
    Is that we give, although it be brief giving,
    Happiness to children and to men.”
    Then he, driven by his thought beyond his thought,
    And speaking what he would not though he would,
    Sighed: “You, even you yourself, could work the cure!”
    And at those words I rose and I went out
    And for nine days he had food from other hands,
    And for nine days my mind went whirling round
    The one disastrous zodiac, muttering
    That the immedicable mound’s beyond
    Our questioning, beyond our pity even.
    But when nine days had gone I stood again
    Before his chair and bending down my head
    Told him, that when Orion rose, and all
    The women of his household were asleep,
    To go, for hope would give his limbs the power,
    To an old empty woodman’s house that’s hidden
    Close to a clump of beech trees in the wood
    Westward of Tara, there to await a friend
    That could, as he had told her, work his cure
    And would be no harsh friend.
    When night had deepened,
    I groped my way through boughs, and over roots,
    Till oak and hazel ceased and beech began,
    And found the house, a sputtering torch within,
    And stretched out sleeping on a pile of skins
    Ardan, and though I called to him and tried
    To shake him out of sleep, I could not rouse him.
    I waited till the night was on the turn,
    Then fearing that some labourer, on his way
    To plough or pasture-land, might see me there,
    Went out.
    Among the ivy-covered rocks,
    As on the blue light of a sword, a man
    Who had unnatural majesty, and eyes
    Like the eyes of some great kite scouring the woods,
    Stood on my path. Trembling from head to foot
    I gazed at him like grouse upon a kite;
    But with a voice that had unnatural music,
    “A weary wooing and a long,” he said,
    “Speaking of love through other lips and looking
    Under the eyelids of another, for it was my craft
    That put a passion in the sleeper there,
    And when I had got my will and drawn you here,
    Where I may speak to you alone, my craft
    Sucked up the passion out of him again
    And left mere sleep. He’ll wake when the sun wakes,
    Push out his vigorous limbs and rub his eyes,
    And wonder what has ailed him these twelve months.”
    I cowered back upon the wall in terror,
    But that sweet-sounding voice ran on: “Woman,
    I was your husband when you rode the air,
    Danced in the whirling foam and in the dust,
    In days you have not kept in memory,
    Being betrayed into a cradle, and I come
    That I may claim you as my wife again.”
    I was no longer terrified, his voice
    Had half awakened some old memory,
    Yet answered him: “I am King Eochaid’s wife
    And with him have found every happiness
    Women can find.” With a most masterful voice,
    That made the body seem as it were a string
    Under a bow, he cried: “What happiness
    Can lovers have that know their happiness
    Must end at the dumb stone? But where we build
    Our sudden palaces in the still air
    Pleasure itself can bring no weariness,
    Nor can time waste the cheek, nor is there foot
    That has grown weary of the whirling dance,
    Nor an unlaughing mouth, but mine that mourns,
    Among those mouths that sing their sweathearts’ praise,
    Your empty bed.” “How should I love,” I answered,
    “Were it not that when the dawn has lit my bed
    And shown my husband sleeping there, I have sighed,
    ‘Your strength and nobleness will pass away.’
    Or how should love be worth its pains were it not
    That when he has fallen asleep within my arms,
    Being wearied out, I love in man the child?
    What can they know of love that do not know
    She builds her nest upon a narrow ledge
    Above a windy precipice?” Then he:
    “Seeing that when you come to the death-bed
    You must return, whether you would or no,
    This human life blotted from memory,
    Why must I live some thirty, forty years,
    Alone with all this useless happiness?”
    Thereon he seized me in his arms, but I
    Thrust him away with both my hands and cried,
    “Never will I believe there is any change
    Can blot out of my memory this life
    Sweetened by death, but if I could believe
    That were a double hunger in my lips
    For what is doubly brief.”
    And now the shape,
    My hands were pressed to, vanished suddenly.
    I staggered, but a beech tree stayed my fall,
    And clinging to it I could hear the cocks
    Crow upon Tara.’
    King Eochaid bowed his head
    And thanked her for her kindness to his brother,
    For that she promised, and for that refused.

    Thereon the bellowing of the empounded herds
    Rose round the walls, and through the bronze-ringed door
    Jostled and shouted those war-wasted men,
    And in the midst King Eochaid’s brother stood.
    He’d heard that din on the horizon’s edge
    And ridden towards it, being ignorant.


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