Verse > W.B. Yeats > Responsibilities and Other Poems

W.B. Yeats (1865–1939).  Responsibilities and Other Poems.  1916.

3. 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         5
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  10
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  15
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,  20
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  25
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  30
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  35
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  40
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,  50
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  55
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  60
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  65
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,  70
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.’  75
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  80
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  85
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,  90
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,  95
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 100
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 105
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, 110
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, 115
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, 120
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 125
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. 130
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— 135
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 145
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; 155
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, 160
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, 165
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, 170
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, 175
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 180
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 185
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 190
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? 195
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, 200
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, 205
“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, 215
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. 220
He’d heard that din on the horizon’s edge 
And ridden towards it, being ignorant. 



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