In a great and shiny castle,
Behind magnificent gates,
In dark and fetid dungeons,
A banished poet awaits.
“Lock him up forever,”
Did the pragmatic King decree.
“His abstractions are distractions.
Save the folk from poetry.”
He’s fettered, undernourished;
Yet survives the chafes of time;
And in his art he flourished,
Creating his meter and rhyme.
There was no one with whom to share
Soulful musings so observant,
‘Cept the lowly keeper of the gates:
The humble dungeon servant.
A banishment so cold and cruel,
And only once daily fed,
By lackey boy with paltry gruel,
A thin soup and stale bread.
And on days when he was lucky,
At times when he passed by,
He could hear the poet’s verses,
That would make his spirit fly.
The king had a precious daughter:
Serene beauty inside and out.
That all the subjects loved her,
There was certainly no doubt.
So when the Plague was going ‘round,
She made her ownself prone
With daily walks ‘mongst the people –
The Reaper claimed her for his own.
King and Kingdom in despair –
Only wailing everywhere.
Melancholia fell o’er the land;
All fields and shops were left unmanned.
The King knew there was little hope
For the Kingdom’s mental health.
He decreed: “Who can save us all
Shall have half of all my wealth.”
When the dungeon boy had heard this,
He descended to the keep.
His emotions overcame him
And he began to weep.
The poet had spoke but for his own ears,
Yet perceived his server’s mood,
Spoke to him for the first time in years:
“Why dost thou so sadly brood?”
The boy first became despondent,
Then told how people were unblessed.
The poet’s a mute respondent:
He just set his chin upon his chest.
An entire day he thus remained,
And then commenced to pant.
When his meal came, he abstained,
And instead he began to chant:
“If we must go on without you, then that’s what we will do.
‘Though the garden is much less lovely … without you.
We loved you before we saw you; we still love you even now,
But the garden’s master calls on us to carry on … somehow.
And perhaps if we can rise ‘bove, all anchor weight of pain,
Some day we’ll share in the same garden space again.
If we must go on without you, then that we’ll surely do.
And the garden is much more beautiful … ‘cause of you.”
The poet, he put his head down.
Just as he’d done before.
And fell into a deep slumber.
So the boy tip-toed out the door.
The lackey boy fast realized,
Just what he must do –
His feet then carried him up
The stair steps two by two.
And to vizier’s private room,
His face beamed radiance!
He said that is was urgent –
“Grant me a royal audience.”
Confident, he stood before
His royal highness King.
Raised his head ‘n’ opened his mouth,
And then he commenced to sing.
When the filthy boy had finished
You could hear a spider breathe.
Everyone froze and waited –
To see if the King still grieved.
The King he had his head down,
His chin upon his breast bone.
No one made a single sound,
While he pondered on his throne.
For one full day he stayed this way,
Until he’d wept all his tears.
Then he call a people’s assembly
To lay on everybody’s ears
The song of the poet deliver’d
By the lowly dungeon servant.
He knew that it would lift their spirit
If only they all could hear it.
And indeed it came to pass:
The people’s vigor was restored.
So he summoned the lackey boy
For to grant him his reward.
“Half my wealth’s an awful lot!
You’ll have land and wives and wine!”
The boy humbly put his head down;
Whispered: “The verses are not mine.”
“Pray tell”, the King exclaimed,
“From whence these sweet words be.”
“The poet man” the boy explained,
“Shared these and more with me.”
He was o’ercome with pleasure,
And freed the poet on his way,
With an enormous treasure,
In exchange for a verse per day.
That should elevate and inspire
The plebes and royalty,
And motivate as required
To meet needs as they might be.
The poet created as agreed
Thus lifting all emotion.
The leisured life did he lead,
Yielding to his base notions.
Weeks went by – he created verse.
He grew limp, and slow, and bloated.
And his lyrics – they got worse:
All empty and sugar-coated.
After some time, the King was piqued
By lyrics so hollow and trifled,
And gave the poet just one week
To improve – or else be stifled.
Troikas of horses would be used,
And when the King so ordered,
They’d be whipped and driven on,
‘Til the poet’s drawn and quartered.
Oh, inspirationless work!
This is an artiste’s travail.
Oh how this fate to avert?
How can the poet prevail?
The poet labored o’er his chore,
… Tried hard to create the odes,
That could save his flesh before
It was scattered along the roads.
The erstwhile poet was failing.
So he started a task anew.
And he made an assessment
Of all options that he could do.
And under cover of the night,
The poet did stealthily go.
He undertook a moonlit flight
To the dungeon boy’s bungalow.
When the boy was wide awakened
The poet thus appealed:
“Please hide me away in safety;
In your cells I must be sealed.”
Alas, and so, it came to pass,
That the poet remained below.
In dark and fetid dungeons,
And only a servant boy knows.
Joe Girard © 1992