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KING ROBERT OF SICILY 1

HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW

Robert of Sicily, brother of Pope Urbane
And Valmond, Emperor of Allemaine,
Appareled in magnificent attire,
With retinue of many a knight and squire,
On St. John's eve, at vespers, proudly sat,
And heard the priests chant the Magnificat,
And as he listened, o'er and o'er again
Repeated, like a burden or refrain,
He caught the words, "Deposuit potentes
De sede et exultavit humiles;”
And slowly lifting up his kingly head,
He to the learned clerk beside him said,
“What mean those words?” The clerk made answer meet,
“He has put down the mighty from their seat,
And has exalted them 'of low degree.”
Thereat King Robert muttered scornfully,
“ 'Tis well that such seditious words are sung
Only by priests and in the Latin tongue;
For unto priests and people be it known,
There is no power can push me from my throne !”
And leaning back, he yawned and fell asleep,
Lulled by the chant, monotonous and deep.
When he awoke it was already night;
The church was empty, and there was no light,
Save where the lamps, that glimmered few and faint,
Lighted a little space before some saint.
He started from his seat and gazed around,
But saw no living thing and heard no sound.
He groped toward the door, but it was locked;

1 Used by permission of, and special arrangement with, Houghton, Mifflin, & Co., authorized publishers of his works.

He cried aloud, and listened, and then knocked,
And uttered awful threatenings and complaints,
And imprecations upon men and saints.
The sounds reëchoed from the roof and walls
As if dead priests were laughing in their stalls.

At length the sexton hearing from without
The tumult of the knocking and the shout,
And thinking thieves were in the house of prayer,
Came with his lantern asking, “Who is there?”
Half choked with rage, King Robert fiercely said,
"Open: 'Tis I, the King! Art thou afraid?"
The frightened sexton muttering with a curse,
“This is some drunken vagabond or worse!”
Turned the great key and flung the portal wide;
A man rushed by him at a single stride,
Haggard, half naked, without hat or cloak,
Who neither turned, nor looked at him, nor spoke,
But leaped into the blackness of the night,
And vanished like a spectre from his sight.
Robert of Sicily, brother of Pope Urbane
And Valmond, Emperor of Allemaine,
Despoiled of his magnificent attire,
Bareheaded, breathless, and besprent with mire,
With sense of wrong and outrage desperate,
Strode on and thundered at the palace gate;
Rushed through the courtyard, thrusting in his rage
To right and left each seneschal and page,
And hurried up the broad and sounding stair,
His white face ghastly in the torches' glare.
From hall to hall he rushed in breathless speed,
Voices and cries he heard, but did not heed,
Until at last he reached the banquet room,
Blazing with light and breathing with perfume.

There on the dais sat another king,
Wearing his robes, his crown, his signet ring,
King Robert's self in feature, form and height,
But all transfigured with angelic light.
It was an Angel; and his presence there
With a divine effulgence filled the air,
An exaltation piercing the disguise,
Though none the hidden Angel recognize.

A moment speechless, motionless, amazed,
The throneless monarch on the Angel gazed,
Who met his look of anger and surprise
With the divine compassion of his eyes;
Then said, “Who art thou, and why comest thou here?”
To which King Robert answered with a sneer,
“I am the King, and come to claim my own
From an imposter, who usurps my throne!”
And suddenly, at these audacious words,
Up sprang the angry guests and drew their swords!
The Angel answered with unruffled brow,
“Nay, not the king, but the king's Jester, thou
Henceforth shalt wear the bells and scalloped cape,
And for thy counselor shalt lead an ape;
Thou shalt obey my servants when they call,
And wait upon my henchmen in the hall!”

Deaf to King Robert's threats and cries and prayers,
They thrust him from the hall and down the stairs;
A group of tittering pages ran before,
And as they opened wide the folding doors,
His heart failed, for he heard, with strange alarms,
The boisterous laughter of the men-at-arms,
And all the vaulted chamber roar and ring
With the mock plaudits of “Long live the King !”

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Next morning, waking with the day's first beam,
He said within himself, “It was a dream !”
But the straw rustled as he turned his head,
There were the cap and bells beside his bed,
Around him rose the bare discolored walls,
Close by the steeds were champing in their stalls,
And in the corner, a revolting shape,
Shivering and chattering sat the wretched ape.
It was no dream; the world he loved so much
Had turned to dust and ashes at his touch!

Days came and went; and now returned again
To Sicily the old Saturnian reign;
Under the Angel's governance benign
The happy island danced with corn and wine,
And deep within the mountain's burning breast
Enceladus, the giant, was at rest.

Meanwhile King Robert yielded to his fate,
Sullen and silent and disconsolate,
Dressed in the motley garb that Jesters wear,
With look bewildered and a vacant stare,
Close shaven above the ears as monks are shorn,
By courtiers mocked, by pages laughed to scorn,
His only friend the ape, his only food

,
What others left, he still was unsubdued.
And when the Angel met him on his way,
And half in earnest, half in jest, would say,
Sternly, though tenderly, that he might feel,
The velvet scabbard held a sword of steel,
"Art thou the King ?” the passion of his woe,
Burst from him in resistless overflow,
And, lifting high his forehead he would fling
The haughty answer back, "I am, I am, the King!”

, “

,

Almost three years were ended, when there came
Ambassadors of great repute and fame
From Valmond, Emperor of Allemaine,
Unto King Robert, saying that Pope Urbane
By letter summoned them forthwith to come
On Holy Thursday to his City of Rome.

The Pope received them with great pomp and blare
Of bannered trumpets, on St. Peter's Square,
Giving his benediction and embrace,
Fervent, and full of apostolic grace.
While with congratulations and with prayers
He entertained the Angel unawares.
Robert, the Jester, bursting through the crowd,
Into their presence rushed, and cried aloud,
“I am the King! Look and behold in me
Robert, your brother, King of Sicily!
This man who wears my semblance in your eyes,
Is an imposter in a king's disguise.
Do you not know me? Does no voice within
Answer my cry, and say we are akin?”
The Pope in silence, but with troubled mien,
Gazed at the Angel's countenance serene;
The Emperor, laughing said, “It is strange sport
To keep a madman for thy fool at court!”
And the poor baffled Jester in disgrace
Was hustled back among the populace.

In solemn state the Holy Week went by,
And Easter Sunday gleamed upon the sky;
The presence of the Angel, with its light,
Before the sun rose, made the city bright,
And with new fervor filled the hearts of men,
Who felt that Christ indeed had risen again.

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