William Butler Yeats

The Two Kings

King Eochaid came at sundown to a wood Westward of Tara. Hurrying to his queen He had outridden his war-wasted men That with empounded cattle trod the mire, And where beech-trees had mixed a pale 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 Among the African Mountains 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 the 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 noisc; Nor had there been the noise 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, Would never look again on known man's face.' And at these words hc 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 catve 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'II 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 I bade him go when all his household slept To an old empty woodman's house that's hidden Westward of Tara, among the hazel-trees -- For hope would give his limbs the power -- and await A friend that could, he had told her, work his cure And would be no harsh friend. When night had deepened, I groped my way from beech to hazel wood, Found that old 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 wandering dance, Nor an unlaughing mouth, but mine that mourns, Among those mouths that sing their sweethearts' 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 sighcd, '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 atms, 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 deathbed 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, And bade all welcome, being ignorant.