Verse > Anthologies > Harriet Monroe, ed. > Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 1912–22
Harriet Monroe, ed. (1860–1936).  Poetry: A Magazine of Verse.  1912–22.
The Two Kings
By William Butler Yeats
“WE ride but slowly though so near our home.”
King Eochaid 1 said, and he that bore his shield
Sighing replied: “What need have we for haste
Towards the hour for speaking of the dead?
My married sister put into my care        5
A boy of twenty years;—a mound and stone
Between the wood of Duras and Magai
Have been the measure of that care.” But Eochaid,
Having no thought but for his queen Edain,
Outrode his troop that after twelve months’ war        10
Toiled with empounded cattle through the mire,
And came into a wood as the sun set
Westward of Tara. Where in the middle wood
A clump of beech trees made an empty space
He thought to have given his horse the spur, but saw,        15
Between the pale-green light of the beech leaves
And the ground ivy’s bluer light, 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        20
He sat with tightened rein amazed, his horse
Trembling beneath him, and then drove the spur
Not doubting to have shouldered it away.
But the stag stooped its heavy branching horns,
And ran at him, and passed, and as it passed        25
Ripped through the horse’s flanks. King Eochaid reeled,
But drew his sword, and thought with levelled point
To stay the stag’s next rush. When sword met horn
The horn resounded as though it had been silver.
Horn locked in sword, they tugged and struggled there        30
As though a stag and unicorn were met
In Africa on mountain of the moon,
Until at last the unlocked horn had torn
Through the entrails of the horse. Dropping his sword
Eochaid seized both the horns in his strong hands        35
And stared into the sea-green eyes, 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,        40
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;        45
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        50
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,        55
The disembowelled horse. King Eochaid gazed,
And then, as terror-stricken as a child
Who has seen a garden image or twisted tree
In the half light, and runs to its own door
Its terror growing wilder at every foot-fall,        60
He ran towards the house his fathers built
On 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        65
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 their noise;
And there had been no sound of living thing        70
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        75
And saw where in the midst of the great hall,
Pale-faced, alone upon a bench, his wife
Sat upright with a sword before her feet.
A kind mild woman had she been, who poured
Her beauty as the constellations pour        80
Their richness through the summer and the spring;
But now she had no mild and no kind look:
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        85
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 out into the fields and woods
The fighting men and servants of this house,        90
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,
Because that were a guilt against her king,        95
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        100
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 raise his pillar stone.” King Eochaid said,
Gazing upon her with bewildered eyes:        105
“If he be living still the whole world’s mine,
But if not living, half the world is lost.”
“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,        110
‘What is this trouble?’ he would answer nothing,
Though always at my words his trouble grew.
And I, that I might find and stub it out,
But asked the more until he spoke these words,
Weary of many questions: ‘There are things        115
That make the heart akin to the dumb stone.’
Then I replied: ‘Although you hide a secret,
Dearer than any that the dumb stone hides,
Speak it, that I may send through the wide world
For medicine.’ Thereon he cried aloud:        120
‘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        125
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.’        130
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 seas        135
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        140
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,        145
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        150
That the immedicable wound’s beyond
Question of ours, 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        155
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        160
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,        165
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        170
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,        175
Stood on my path. Trembling from hand 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        180
Under an alien eyelid, 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        185
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,        190
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.’        195
I was no longer terrified, his voice
Had half wakened 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 burning voice        200
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        205
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 sweethearts’ praise,        210
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        215
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:        220
‘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?’        225
Thereon he seized me in his arms, but I
Thrust him away with both my hands and cried:
‘Never will I believe there’s any change
Can blot out of my memory this life
Sweetened by death, but if I could believe        230
That were a double hunger on my lips
For what is doubly brief.’
                    “But 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        235
Crow upon Tara.”
                    She had fixed her eyes
Upon Kind Eochaid’s face, who lowered his face
And touched her forehead with his lips and said:
“I thank you for your kindness to my brother,
And for the love that you have shown your king,        240
For that you 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.        245
He’d heard that din on the horizon’s edge
And ridden out to welcome them, and now,
Giving his hand to that man and to this,
Praised their great victories and gave them joy
Of their return to that ancestral house.        250
Note 1. Eochaid is pronounced Yohee. [back]

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