Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Germany
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Germany: Vols. XVII–XVIII.  1876–79.
The Royal Portraits
William Dean Howells (1837–1920)
CONFRONTING each other the pictures stare
  Into each other’s sleepless eyes;
  And the daylight into the darkness dies,
From year to year in the palace there:
  But they watch and guard that no device        5
Take either one of them unaware.
Their majesties the king and the queen,
  The parents of the reigning prince:
  Both put off royalty many years since,
With life and the gifts that have always been        10
  Given to kings from God, to evince
His sense of the mighty over the mean.
I cannot say that I like the face
  Of the king; it is something fat and red;
  And the neck that lifts the royal head        15
Is thick and coarse; and a scanty grace
  Dwells in the dull blue eyes that are laid
Sullenly on the queen in her place.
He must have been a king in his day
  ’T were well to pleasure in work and sport:        20
  One of the heaven-anointed sort
Who ruled his people with iron sway,
  And knew that, through good and evil report,
God meant him to rule and them to obey.
There are many other likenesses        25
  Of the king in his royal palace there;
  You find him depicted everywhere,—
In his robes of state, in his hunting-dress,
  In his flowing wig, in his powdered hair,—
A king in all of them, none the less;        30
But most himself in this on the wall
  Over against his consort, whose
  Laces, and hoops, and high-heeled shoes
Make her the finest lady of all
  The queens or courtly dames you choose,        35
In the ancestral portrait hall.
A glorious blonde: a luxury
  Of luring blue and wanton gold,
  Of blanchéd rose and crimson bold,
Of lines that flow voluptuously        40
  In tender, languorous curves to fold
Her form in perfect symmetry.
She might have been false. Of her withered dust
  There scarcely would be enough to write
  Her guilt in now; and the dead have a right        45
To our lenient doubt if not to our trust:
  So if the truth cannot make her white,
Let us be as merciful as we—must.
The queen died first, the queen died young,
  But the king was very old when he died,        50
  Rotten with license and lust and pride;
And the usual Virtues came and hung
  Their cypress wreaths on his tomb, and wide
Throughout his kingdom his praise was sung.
How the queen died is not certainly known,        55
  And faithful subjects are all forbid
  To speak of the murder which some one did
One night while she slept in the dark alone:
  History keeps the story hid,
And Fear only tells it in undertone.        60
Up from your startled feet aloof,
  In the famous Echo-Room, with a bound
  Leaps the echo, and round and round
Beating itself against the roof,—
  A horrible, gasping, shuddering sound,—        65
Dies ere its terror can utter proof
Of that it knows. A door is fast,
  And none is suffered to enter there.
  His sacred majesty could not bear
To look at it toward the last,        70
  As he grew very old. It opened where
The queen died young so many years past.
How the queen died is not certainly known;
  But in the palace’s solitude
  A harking dread and horror brood,        75
And a silence, as if a mortal groan
  Had been hushed the moment before, and would
Break forth again when you were gone.
The present king has never dwelt
  In the desolate palace. From year to year        80
  In the wide and stately garden drear
The snows and the snowy blossoms melt
  Unheeded, and a ghastly fear
Through all the shivering leaves is felt.
By night the gathering shadows creep        85
  Along the dusk and hollow halls,
  And the slumber-broken palace calls
With stifled moans from its nightmare sleep;
  And then the ghostly moonlight falls
Athwart the darkness brown and deep.        90
At early dawn the light wind sighs,
  And through the desert garden blows
  The wasted sweetness of the rose;
At noon the feverish sunshine lies
  Sick in the walks. But at evening’s close,        95
When the last, long rays to the windows rise,
And with many a blood-red, wrathful streak
  Pierce through the twilight glooms that blur
  His cruel vigilance and her
Regard, they light fierce looks that wreak        100
  A hopeless hate that cannot stir,
A voiceless hate that cannot speak
In the awful calm of the sleepless eyes;
  And as if she saw her murderer glare
  On her face, and he the white despair        105
Of his victim kindle in wild surmise,
  Confronted the conscious pictures stare,—
And their secret back into darkness dies.

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