Literature In English Non-African Poetry: The Proud King by William Morris Summary, Setting, Author’s
Background, Themes, Language and Style for JAMB, WAEC and NECO Students 2015 – 2021 Syllabus.
It is no longer news that the above selected poetry is among the
selected texts for literature students in the WAEC, NECO and JAMB
Syllabus for 2016 – 2020.
Well we have decided to help students by providing some insights such as
summary and poetic devices and analysis of the poem to aid them
understand and prepare ahead of their examination.
“The Proud King” is a poem the evil inherent in arrogance and pride, which is a thematic A preoccupation that is present in many cultures around the world.
However, it is believed that the poem was largely influenced by the Russian version of the folktale of riches to rag and rag to riches. The story revolves around a certin King, Aggei. Aggei became angry after hearing a priest say that it was possible for the rich to become poor and for the poor to become rich, which was an idea that the priest had gleaned from the Bible. Aggei is infuriated by this statement as he wonders whether he, Aggei, could ever become poor, and some beggar become rich in his stead.
He immediately gave orders that the priest should be imprisoned and that the pages containing the passage that the priest had talked about be torn from the Bible.
After this act of declaration of a sacred text, God decided to humiliate and punish Aggei for his arrogance.
On an occasion, while on a hunting expenditure with some of his servants, Aggei saw a deer, which attracted his fancy.
He pursued the deer and in the process he followed it across a river and deep into the forest, far away from his servants. Unknown to Aggei, the deer was an angel, sent by God to deceive him.
Therefore, by God’s divine instructions, the angel turned from a deer into the form, physique and personality of Aggei. The angel, now masquerading as angel, goes to meet the servants and returns with them to the palace where he ruled as the Czar or King, in palace of the real Aggei.
The “new” Aggei became a just ruler, who displayed keen sense of maturity, in everything that he did. He was very responsible and also responsive to the needs of the people.
In the meantime, the real Aggei, very tired and a pathetic sight from his exhausting trip inside the forest, comes in contact with a shepherd and declares to the man that he is the King.
The Shepherd beats him for making such a statement, but after a while, the shepherd becomes convinced that Aggei is insane and gives him some sheepskin to cover his nakedness.
Then Aggei eventually finds his as a common labourer. After coming in contact with the angel who had taken over his throne, Aggei becomes convinced that God had decided to punish him for his many acts of arrogance and pride.
He repents of his past misdeeds and asks for God’s forgiveness. After three years, the angel who had replaced Aggei as King issued a proclamation that the underprivileged members of the society, which included the beggars and poor should come for a feast in his palace. Among those who came was a group of blind men, who had Aggei as their leader.
The angel turned King camr to where Aggei was and asked him whether he was now a beggar. Aggei replied that he was not only a beggar but the servant of beggars.
On hearing this statement, the angel informed Aggei that his punishment had now ended and that he could return to claim his throne.
However, Aggei declined the offer to becoming a king again, opting instead to continue in his position of providing succor and assistance to the blind people.
Another story that is very similar to the one recounted above is the account of the fall from grace to grass of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. His fall had earlier been predicted by Daniel.
Nebuchadnezzar’s offence was that he attributed his achievements as a king to his power and ability alone, without giving credit to God. For his sin arrogance, God pronounce judgement on him. He losses control of his senses and he is forced to live like an animal for seven years.
After the seven years, Nebuchadnezzar is restored to the throne and it is not surprising that after the end of his traumatic ordeal that saw him living and looking like an animal, he acknowledges God’s supremacy and power.
While the poem teaches ideas that are universal in nature, the fact that the poet seems to have been influenced by Christian ethics and standards of morality, especially with regard to the relationship that exists between man and God, cannot be overemphasized.
A CERTAIN King, blinded by pride, thought that he was something more than man, if not equal to God but such a judgment fell on him that none knew him for king, and he suffered many things, till in the end, humbling himself, he regained his kingdom and honor.
IN a far country that I cannot name,
And on a year long ages past away,
A king there dwelt, in rest and ease and fame
And richer than the Emperor is to-day:
The very thought of what this man might say,
From dusk to dawn kept many a lord awake,
For fear of him did many a great man quake.
Young was he when he first sat on the throne,
And he was wedded to a noble wife,
But at the dais must he sit alone,
Nor durst a man speak to him for his life,
Except with leave: nought knew he change or strife,
But that the years passed silently away,
And in his black beard gathered specks of grey
Now so it chanced upon a May morning,
Wake he lay when yet low was the sun,
Looking distraught at many a royal thing,
And counting up his titles one by one,
And thinking much of things that he had done
For full of life, nd hale and strong,
And knew that none durst say – when did wrong
For no man now could give him dread or doubt,
The land was ‘neath his scepter far and wide,
And at his beck would well-armed myriads shout
Then swelled his vain, unthinking heart with pride,
Until at last he raised him up and cried,
“What need I for temple or for priest,
Am I not God, whiles that I live at least.”
And yet withal dead his fathers were,
He needs must think, that quick the years pass by;
But he, who seldom yet had seen death near
Or heard his name, said, “Still I may not die
Though underneath the earth my fathers lie;
My sire indeed was called a mighty king,
Yet in regard of mine, a little thing
“His kingdom was; moreover his grandsire
To him was but a prince of narrow lands,
Whose father, though to things he did aspire
Beyond most men, a great knight of his hands,
Yet ruled some little town where now there stands
The kennel of my dogs; then may not I
Rise higher yet, nor like poor wretches die?
“Since up the ladder over we have gone Step after step nor fallen back again;
And there are tales of people who have won
A life enduring, without care or pain,
Or any man to make their wishes vain;
Perchance this prize unwitting now I hold;
For times change fast, the world is waxen old.”
O ‘mid these thoughts once more he fell asleep,
And when he awoke again, high was the sun,
Then quickly from his gold bed did he leap,
And of his former thought green woods will we run,
Nor shall to-day be worse than yesterday,
But better it may be, for game and play.”
So for the hunt was he apparelled,
And forth he rode with heart right well ease;
And many a strong, deep-chested hound they led,
Over the dewy grass betwix the trees,
And fair white horses fit for the white knees
Of Her the ancients fabled rides a-nights,
Betwixt the setting and the rising lights.
Now, following up a mighty hart and swift
The King rode long upon that morning tide,
And since his horse was worth a kingdom’s gift,
Until unto a shaded river-side
He came alone at hottest of the sun,
When all the freshness of the day was done.
Dismounting there, and seeing so far adown,
The red-finned fishes o’er the gravel play,
It seemed that moment worth his royal crown
To hide there from the burning of the day,
Wherefore he did off all his rich array,
And tied his horse unto a neighboring tree,
And in the water sported leisurely.
But when he was fulfilled of his delight
He gat him to the bank well satisfied,
And thought to do on him his raiment bright
And homeward to his royal house to ride;
But ‘maize and angry, looking far and wide
Nought saw he of his horse and rich attire,
And ‘gainst he thief ‘gan threaten vengeance dire.
But little help his fury was to him,
So lustily he’ gan to shout and cry;
None answered, still the lazy club did swim
By inches ‘gainst the stream; away did fly
The small pied bird, but nathless stayed anight,
And o’er the stream still plied his fluttering trade,
Of such a helpless man not much afraid.
Weary of crying in that lonely place
He ceased at last, and thinking what to do,
E’ en as he was, up stream he set his face,
Since not far off a certain house he knew
Where dwelt his ranger, a lord leal and true,
Who many a bounty at his hand had had
And now to do him ease would be right glad.
Thither be hastened on, and as he went
The hot sun sorely burned his naked skin,
The whiles he thought, “When he to me has lent
Fine raiment, and at ease I sit within
His coolest chamber clad in linen thin,
And drinking wine, the best that he has got
I shall forget this troublous day and hot”
Now note, that while he thus was on his way,
And still his people for their master sought
There met them one who in the King’s array
Bestrode his very horse, and as they thought
Was none but he in good time to them brought
Therefore, they hailed him King, and so all rode
From out the forest to his fair abode.
And there in royal guise he sat at meat
Served, as his wont was, ‘neath the canopy,
And there that city’s elders did he see,
And with his lords took counsel what should be;
And there at supper when the day waxed dim
The Queen within his chamber greeted him.
LEAVE we him there; for to the ranger’s gate
The other came, and on the horn he blew,
Till peered the wary porter through the grate
To see if he should the wicket-gate undo;
But when he saw him standing there, he cried,
“What dost thou friend, to show us all thine hide?
“We list not buy to-day or flesh fell;
Go home and get thyself a shirt at least,
If thou wouldst aught, for saith our vicar well,
That God hath given clothes e’en to the beast”
Therewith he turned to go, but as he ceased
The King cried out, “Open, O foolish man!
I am thy lord and King, Jovinian;
“Go now, and tell thy master I am here
Desiring food and clothes, and in this plight,
And then hereafter need’st thou have no fear,
Because thou didst not know me at first sight”
“Yea, yea, I am but dreaming in the night,”
The carle said, “and I bid thee, friend, to them,
Come through! Here is no gate, it doth ‘but seem.”
With that his visage vanished from the gate;
But when the King now found himself alone,
He hurled himself against the mighty gate,
And beat it madly with a stone,
Half wondering midst his rage, how anyone
Could live, if longed-for things he chanced to lack;
But midst all this, at last the gate flew back,
And there the porter stood, brown-bill in hand,
And said, “Ah, fool, thou makest this ado,
Wishing before my lord’s high seat to stand;
Thou shalt be gladder soon hereby to go,
Or surely nought of handy blows I know.
Come, willymilly, thou shalt tell this tale
Unto my lord, if aught it may avail.”
With that his staff handled, as if he
Would smite the King, and said, “Get on before!
St. Mary! Now thou goest full leisurely,
Who, erewhile, fain wouldst batter down the door.
See now, if ere this matter is pleased o’er,
I come to harm, yet thou shalt not escape,
Thy back is broad enow to pay thy jape.”
Half blind with rage the King before him passed,
But nought of all the doomed him to durst say,
Lest he from rest nigh won should yet be cast,
So with a swelling heart he took his way,
Thinking right soon his shame to cast away,
And the cane followed still, ill satisfied
With such a wretched lose! to abide.
Fair was the ranger’s house and new and white,
And by the King built scarce a year gone,
And carved about for this same lord’s delight
With woodland stories deftly wrought in stone;
There oft the King was wont to come alone,
For much he loved this lord, who erst had been
A landless squire, a servant of the Queen.
Now long a lord and clad in rich attire,
In his fair hall he sat before the wine
Watching the evening sun’s yet burning fire,
Through the close branches of his pleasant shine,
In that mood when man thinks himself divine,
Remembering not whereto we all must come,
Not thinking aught but of his happy home.
From just outside loud mocking merriment
He heard midst this; and there-withal a squire
Came hurrying up, his laughter scarcely spent
Who said, “My lord, a man in such attire
As Adam’s, ere he took the devil’s hire,
Who saith that thou wilt know him for the King,
Up from the gate John Porter needs must bring.
“He to the King is nothing like in aught
But that his beard he weareth in such guise
As doth my lord: with thou that he be brought?
Perchance some treason ‘neath his madness lies.”
“Yea, saith the ranger, “that may well be wise,
But haste, for this eve am I well at ease,
Nor would be wearied with such folk as these.”
Then went the squire, and coming back again,
The porter and the naked King brought in,
Who thinking now that this should end his pain,
Forgot his fury and the porter’s sin,
And said, “Thou wonderest how I came to win
This raiment, that kings long have ceased to wear,
Since Noah’s flood has altered all the air
“Well, thou shall know, but first I pray thee, Hugh,
Reach me that cloak that lieth on the board,
For certes, though thy folk are leal and true,
It seemeth that they deem a mighty lord
Is made by crown, and silken robe, and sword;
Lo, such are bore! folic but thou and I
Fail not to know the signs of majesty.
Ah, what is this? Who reigned in my stead?
How long hast thou been plotting secretly?
Then slay me now, for if I be not dead
Armies will rise up when I nod my head.
Slay me! – or cast my favour from this day.”
“Why should I tell thee that thou ne’er wast king?
The ranger said, “Thou knowest not what I say;
Poor man, I pray God help thee in this thing,
And, ere thou diest send thee some good day;
Nor hence unholpen shall thou go away.
Good fellows, this poor creature is but mad,
Take him, and in a coat let him be glad;
“And give him meat and drink and on this night
Beneath some roof of ours let him abide,
For some day God may set his folly right.”
Then spread the king his arms abroad and cried,
“woe to thy food, thy house, and thee betide,
Thou loathsome traitor! Get ye from the hall,
Lest smitten by God’s hand this roof should fall;
“Yes, if the world be but an idle dream,
And God deals nought with it, yet shall ye see
Red flame from out these careen windows stream.
I, I, will burn this vile place utterly,
And strewn with salt the poisonous earth shall be,
That such a wretch of such a man has made,
That so such Judases may grow afraid.”
Thus raving, those who held him he shook off
And rushed from out the hall, nigh and indeed,
And gained the gate, not heeding blow or scoff,
Nor longer of his nakedness took heed,
But ran, he new not where, at headlong speed.
Till, when at last his strength was fully spent
Worn out, he fell beneath a woody bent.
But for the ranger, left alone in peace,
He bade his folk bring in the mistreslsy;
And thinking of his life, and fair incease
Of all his goods, happy man was he,
And said, “This luckless madman will avail
When next I see the king for one more tale.”
MEANWHILE the real King by the road-side lay,
Panting, confused, scarce knowing if he dreamed,
Until at last, when vanished was the day,
Through the dark night far off a bright light gleamed;
Which growing quickly, down the road there streamed
The glare of torches, held by men who ran
Before the litter of a mighty man.
These mixed with soldiers soon the road did fill,
And so their harness could the King behold
The badge of one erst wont to do his will,
A counsellor, a gatherer-up of gold,
Who underneath his rule had now grown old:
Then wrath and bitterness so filled his heart,
That from his wretched lair he needs must start;
And o’er clatter shrilly did he cry,
“Well met Duke Peter! Ever art thou wise;
Surely thou wilt not let a day go by
Ere thou art good friends with mine enemies;
O fit to rule within a land of lies,
Go on thy journey, make thyself more meet
To sit in hell beneath the devil’s feet!”
But as he ceased a soldier drew anear,
And smote him flatting with his sheathed sword,
And said, “Speak louder, that my lord may hear,
And give thee wages for thy ribald worth
Come forth, for I must show thee to my lord,
For he may think thee more than mad indeed,
Who of men’s ways hast taken wondrous heed.”
Now was the litter stayed midmost the road,
And round about, the torches in a ring
Were gathered, and their flickering light now glowed
In gold and gems and many a lordly thing,
And showed that face well known unto the King,
That, smiling yesterday, right humble words
Had spoken midst the concourse of the lords.
But now he said, “man, thou wed cursing me
If these folk heard aright; what wilt thou then,
Deem’st thou that I have done some wrong to thee,
Or hast thou scathe from nay of men?
In any case tell all thy tale again
When on the judgment-seat thou see’st me sit,
And will give no careless ear to it.”
“The night is dark, and in the summer wind
The torches flicker; canst thou see my face?
Bid them draw nigher yet, and call to mind
Who gave thee all thy riches and thy place-
-Well; -if thou canst, deny me, with such grace
As by the fire-light Peter swore of old,
When in that Maundy-week the night was cold-
“-Alas! Canst thou not see I am King?
So spoke he, as their eyes met mid the blaze,
And the King saw the dead foreshadowing
Within the elder’s proud and stony gaze,
Or what those lips, thin with the lapse of days,
Should utter now; nor better it fell; –
“Friend, a strong story thou art pleased to tell;
“Thy luck it is thou tellest it to me,
Who deem thee mad and let thee go thy way;
The King is not a man to pity thee,
Or on thy folly thy fool’s tale lay:
Poor fool! take this, and with the light day
Buy food and raiment of some laboring clown,
And by my counsel keep thee from the town,
“For fear thy madness break out in some place
Where folk thy body to the judge must hale,
And then indeed wert thou in evil case-
Press on, sirs! Or the time will not avail.”
-There stood the King, with limbs that ‘gan to fail,
Speeches, and holding in his trembling hand
A coin new stamped for people of the land;
Thereon, with sceptre, crown, and royal robe,
The image of a King, himself, was wrought
His jeweled feet upon a quartered globe,
As though by him all men were vain and nought.
One moment the red glare the silver caught,
As the lord ceased, the next his hurrying folk
The flare circle round the litter broke.
The next, their shadows barred a patch of light,
Fast vanishing, all else round was black;
And the poor wretch, left lonely with the night,
Muttered, “I wish the day would ne’er come back,
If all that once I had I now must lack
Ah God! how long is it since I was King,
Nor lacked enough to wish for anything?”
Then down the lonely road he wandered yet
Following the vanished light, he scarcely knew why,
Till he began his sorrows to forget,
And, steeped in drowsiness, at last drew nigh
A glassy bank, where, worn with misery,
That many a time such wretches’ eyes will bless.
BUT at the dawn he woke, nor knew at first
What ugly chain of grief had brought him there,
Nor why he felt so wretched and accursed;
At last remembering, the fresh morning air,
The rising sun, and all things fresh and fair,
Yet caused some little hope in him to rise,
That end might come to these new miseries.
So looking round about, he saw that he
To his own city gates was come anear;
Then he arose and going warily,
And hiding now and then for very fear
Of folk who bore their goods and country cheer,
Unto the city’s market, at the last
Unto a stone’s-throw of the gate he passed.
But when he drew unto the very gate,
Into the throng of country-folk he came
Who for the opening of the door did wait,
Of whom some mocked, and some cried at him shame,
And some would know his country and his name;
But one into his wagon drew him up,
And gave him milk from out a beechen cup,
And asked him of his name and misery;
Then in his throat a swelling passion rose,
Which yet he swallowed down, and, “Friend,” said he,
“Last night I had the hap to meet the foes
Of God and man, who robbed me, and with blows
Stripped off my weed and left me on the way:
Thomas the Pilgrim am I called to-day.
“A merchant am I of another town,
And rich enow to pay thee for thy deed,
If at the King’s door thou wilt set me down,
For there a squire I know, who at my need
Will give me food and drink, and fitting weed.
What is thy name? in what place dost thou live?
That I some day great gifts to thee may give.”
“Fair sir,” the carie said, “I am poor enow,
Though certes food I lack not easily;
My name is Christopher a-Green; I sow
A little orchard set with bush and tree,
And ever there the kind land keepeth me,
For I, now fifty, from a little boy,
Have dwelt thereon, and known both grief and joy.
“The house my grandsire built there has grown old,
And certainly a bounteous gift it were
If thou shouldst give me just enough of gold
To build it new; nor shouldst thou lack my prayer
For such a gift “Nay, firned, have thou no care,
” The King said: “this is but a little thing
To me, who oft am richer than the King.”
Now as thy talked the gate was opened wide,
And towards the place went they through the street,
And Christopher walked ever by the side
Of his rough wain, where midst the May-flower street
Jovinian lay, that folk whom they might meet
Might see him not to mock at his skin:
So shortly to the King’s door did they win.
Then through the open gate Jovivian ran
Of the first court, and no man stayed him there;
But as he reached the second gate, a man
Of the King’s household, seeing him all bare
And bloody, cried out “Wither dost thou fare”?
Sure thou art seventy times more mad than mad,
Or else some magic potion thou hast had.
Whereby thou fear ‘st not steel or anything.”
“But,” said the King, “good fellow,
I know thee; And can it be thou knowest not thy King?
Nay, thou shalt have a good reward of me,
That thou wouldst rather have than ten years’ fee,
If thou wilt clothe me in fair weed again,
For now to see my council am I fain.”
“Out, ribald!” quoth the fellow: “What say’st thou?
Thou art my lord, whom God reward and bless?
Truly before long shalt thou find out how
John Hangman cureth ill folk’s willfulness;
Yea, from his scourge the blood has run for less
Than that which now thou sayest; nay, what say I?
For lighter words have I seen tall men die.
“Come now, the sergeants to thing shall seer
So to the guard-room was Jovinian brought
Where his own soldiers mocked him bitterly,
And all his desperate words they heeded nought
Until at last there came to him this thought
That never from this misery should he win,
But, spite of all his struggle, die therein.
And terrible it seemed, that everything
So utterly was changed since yesterday,
That these who were the soldiers of the King,
Ready to lie down in the common way
Before him, nor durst rest if he bade play,
Now stood and mocked him, knowing not the face
At whose command each man there had his place.
“Ah, God!” said he, “is this another earth
From that whereon I stood two days ago?
Or else in sleep have I had second birth?
Or among mocking shadows do I go,
Unchanged myself of flesh and fell, although
My fair weed I have lost and royal gear?
And meanwhile all are changed that I meet here;
“And yet in heart and nowise outwardly,”
Amid his wretched thought two sergants came,
Who said, “Hold, sirs! because the king would see
The man who thus so rashly brings him shame,
By taking his high style and spotless name,
That never has been questioned ere to-day.
Come, fool! needs is it thou must go our way.”
So at the sight of him all men turned round,
As ‘twixt these two across the courts he went,
With downcast head and hands together bound;
While from the windows maid and valet leant,
And through the morning air fresh laughter sent
Until unto the threshold they were come
Of the great hall within that kingly home.
Therewith right fast Jovinian’s heart must beat
As now he thought “Lo, here shall end the strife;
For either shall I sit on mine own seat
Known unto all, soldier and lord and wife
Or else is this the ending of my life,
And no man henceforth shall remember me,
And a vain name in records shall I be.”
Therewith he raised his head up, and beheld
One clad in gold set on his royal throne,
Gold-crown, whose hand the ivory sceptre held;
And underneath him sat the Queen alone,
Ring round with standing lords, of whom not one
Did aught but utmost reverence unto him;
Then did Joviviaan shake in every limb.
Yet midst amaze and rage to him it seemed
This man was nowise like him in the face;
But with a marvelous glory his head gleamed,
As though and angel sat in that high place,
Where erst he sat like all his royal race, –
-But their eyes met, and with a stern, calm brow
The shining one cried out “And where art thou?
“Where art thou, robber of my majesty?”
“Was I not King, “he said, “but yesterday?
And though to-day folk give my place to thee,
I am Jovivian; yes, though none gainsay,
If on these very stones thou shouldst me slay,
And though no friend be left for mon,
I am Jovinian still, and King alone.”
Then said that other, “O thou foolish man,
King was I yesterday, and long before,
Nor is my name aught but Jovinian,
Whose in this house the Queen my mother bore,
Unto my longing father, for right sore
Was I desired before I saw the ligt
Thou, fool, art fist to speak against my right
“And surely well thou meritest to die;
Yet ere that I bid lead thee unto death,
Hearken to these my lords that stand anigh,
And what this faithful Queen beside me saith,
Then may’st thou many a year hence draw thy breath,
If these should stammer in their speech one whit:
Behold this face, lord, look ye well on it!
“Thou, 0 far Queen, say now whose face is this!”
Then crieth they, “Hail! 0 Lord Jovinian
Long mayst thou liver and the Queen knelt to kiss
His gold-shod feet, and through her face there ran
Sweet colour, as she said, “Thou art the man
By whose side I have lain for many a year,
Thou art my lord Jovinian lief and dear.”
Then said he, “O thou wretch, hear now and see
What thing should hinder m to slay thee now?
And yet indeed, such mercy is in me,
If thou wilt kneel, but base-born, as I know
Thou art no king, but base-born, as I know
Thou art indeed, in mine house shalt thou live,
And as thy service is, so shall thy thrive.”
But the unhappy King laughed bitterly,
The red blood rose to flush his visage wan
Where erst the grey of death began to be;
“Thou liest, “he said, “I am Jovinian,
Come of great Kings; nor am I such a man
As still to live when all delight is gone,
As thou might’s do, who sittest on my throne.”
No answer made the other for a while,
But sat and gazed upon him stedfastly,
Until across his face there came a smile,
Where scorn seemed mingled with some pity.
And then he said, “Nathless thou shalt not die,
But live on as thou was once Jovinian,”
Then wildly round the ball Jovinian gazed,
Turning about to many a well-know face,
But none of all his folk seemed grieved or mazed,
But stood unmoved, each it his wonted place;
There were the Lords, the Marshal with his mace,
The Chamberlain, the Captain of the Guard,
Grey-headed, with his wrinkled face and hard,
That had peered down so many lane of war,
There stood the grave ambassadors arrow,
Come from half-conquered lands; without the bar
The foreign merchants grazed upon the know;
Nor was there any doubt in any man
That the gold throne still held Jovinian.
Yea, as the sergeants laid their hands on him,
The mighty hound that crouched before the throne,
Flew at him fain to tear him from limb,
Through in the woods, the brown bear’s dying groan,
He and that beast had often heard alone.
“Ah!” muttered he, “take thou thy wages too
Worship the risen sun as these men do.”
They thrust him out, and as he passed the door,
The murmur of the stately court he heard
Behind him, and soft footballs on the floor,
And though by this footballs on the floor,
And, through by this somewhat his skin ws scared,
Hung back at the rough eager wind afeard;
But from the place they dragged him through the gate,
Where through oft had rid in royal state.
Then down the streets they led him, where of old,
He, coming back from some well-finished war,
Had seen the line of flashing steel and gold
Wind upwards ‘twixt the houses from the bar,
While clashed the bells from wreathed spires afar;
Now moaning, as they haled him on, he said,
“God and the world against one lonely head!”
But soon, the bar being past they loosed their hold,
And said “Thou saith by us our Lord the King,
Dwell now in peace, but yet be not so bold
To come again, or t thy lies to cling,
Lest unto thee there fall a worser thing;
And for ourslevs we bid thee ever pray
From him who has been good to thee this day.”
Therewith they turned away into the town,
And still he wandered on and knew not where,
Till, stumbling at the last, he fell adown,
And looking round beheld a brook right fir,
That ran in pools and shadows here and there,
And on the further side of it a wood,
Nigh which a lowly clay-built hovel stood.
Gazing thereat, it came into his mind
A priest dwelt there, hermit wise and old,
Whom he had ridden oftentimes to find,
In days when first the sceptre he did hold,
And unto whom his mind he oft had told,
And had good counsel from him, though indeed
A scanty crop had sprung from that good seed.
Therefore he passed the brook with heavy cheer,
And toward the little house went speedily,
And at the door knocked, trembling with his fear,
Because he thought “Will he remember me?
It not, within me must there surely be
Some devil who turns everything to ill,
And makes my wretched body do his will.”
So, while such doleful things as this he thought,
There came unto the door the holy man,
Who said, “Good friend, what tidings hast thou brought?”
“Father,” he said, “knowest thou Jovinian?
Knowst thou me not, made naked, poor, and wan?
Alas, O father! Am I not the King,
The rightful lord of thee and everything?”
“Nay, thou art mad to tell me such tale!”
The hermit said; “if thou seek’st sours health here,
Right little will such words as this avail;
It were a better deed to shrive thee clear,
And take the pardon Christ has bought so dear,
Than to an ancient man such mocks to say
That would be fitter for a Christmas play.”
So to his but he got his back again,
And fell the unhappy King upon his knees,
And unto God at last he did complain,
Saying, Lord God, what bitter things are these?
What hast thou done, that every man that sees
This wretched body, of my death is fain?
O Lord God, give me back myself again!
“E ‘en if therewith I needs must die straightway.
Indeed I know that since upon the earth
I first did go, I ever day by day
Have grown the worse, who was of little worth
E’en at the best time since my helpless birth.
And yet it pleased thee once to make me King,
Why hast thou made me now this wretched thing?
“Why am I hated so of every one?
Wilt thou not let me live my life again,
Forgetting all the deeds that I have done,
Forgetting my old name, and honours vain,
That I may cast away this lonely strife,
That I may pass my little span of life,
“Not made a monster by unhappiness.
What shall I say? Thousand’st me weak of will,
Thou wrapped’st me in ease and carelessness,
And yet, as some folk say, thou lovest me still;
Look down, of folly I have had my fill,
And am but now as first thou madest me,
Weak, yielding clay to take impress of thee.”
So said he weeping, and but scares had done,
When yet again came forth that hermit old,
And said, “Alas! My master and my son,
Is this a dream my wearied eyes behold?
What doleful wonder now shall I be told,
Of that ill word that I so long have left?
What thing thy glory thee has bereft?”
A strange surprise of joy therewith there came
To that worn heart he said, “For some great sin
The Lord my God has brought me unto shame;
I am unknown of servants, wife, and kin,
Unknown of all the lords that stand within
My father’s house; nor didst thou know me more
When &en just now I stood before thy door.
“Now since thou know’st me, surely God is good,
And will not slay me, and good hope I have
Of help from Him that died upon the rood,
And is a mighty lord to slay and save:
So now again these blind men will I brave,
If thou wilt give me of thy poorest weed,
And some rough food, the which I sorely need;
“Then of my sins thou straight shalt shrive me clean.
” Then weeping said the holy man, “Dear lord,
What heap of woes upon thine head has been;
Enter, O King, take this rough grown and cord,
And scanty food, my hovel can afford;
And tell me everything thou hast to say;
And then the High God speed thee on thy way.”
So when in coarse serge raiment he was clad,
He told him all his pride had made him think
And showed him of his life both good and bad;
And then being houselled, did he eat and drink,
While in the wise man’s heart his words did sink,
For, “God be praised!” he thought, “I am no king,
Who scarcely shall do right in anything!
– Then he made ready for the King his ass,
And bade again, God speed on the way to pass
As it was growing toward the end of day,
With sober joy for troubles passed away;
But trembling still, as onward he did ride,
Meeting few folk upon that even-tide.
So to the city gate being come at last,
He noted there two ancient warders stand,
Whereof one looked askance as he went past
And whispered low behind his held-up hand
Unto his mate, “The King, who gave command
That if disguised he passed this gate to-day,
No reverence we should do him on the way.”
Thereat with joy, Jovinian smiled again,
And so passed onward quickly down the street
And well nigh was he eased of all his pain
When he beheld the folk that he might meet
Gaze hard at him, as thou durst not, knowing well
He would not any of his state should tell.
Withal unto the palace being come,
He ligted down thereby and entered,
And once again it seemed his royal home,
For folk again before him bowed the head;
And to him came a Squire, who softly said,
“The Queen awaits thee, O my lord the King,
Within the little hall where minstrel sing,
“Since there thou badst her meet thee on this night.”
“Lead on then!” said the King, and in his heart
He said, “perfay all goeth more than right
And I am king again, “but with a start
He thought of him who played the kingly part
That morn, yet said, “If God will have it so
This man like all the rest my face will know.”
So in the Little Hall the Queen he found,
Asleep, as one a spell binds suddenly;
For her fair broidery lay upon the ground,
And in her lap her open hand did lie,
The silken-threaded needle close thereby;
And by her stood that image of the King
In rich apparel, crown and signet-ring.
But when the King stepped forth with angry eye
And would have spoken, came a sudden light,
And changed was that other utterly;
Or he was clad in robe of shining white,
Inwrought with flowers of unnamed colours bright,
Girl with a marvelous girdle, and whose hem
Fell to his naked feet and shone in them;
And from his shoulders did two wings arise,
That with the swaying of his body, played
This way and that of strange and lovely dyes
Their feathers were, and wonderfully made:
And now he spoke, “O King, be not dismayed,
Or think my coming here so strange to be,
For oft ere this have been close to thee.
“And now thou knowest in how short a space
The God that made the world can unmake thee,
And though He alter in no whit thy face,
Can make all folk forget thee utterly,
That thou to-day a nameless wretch mayest be,
Who yesterday woke up without a peer,
The wide world’s marvel and the people’s fear.
“Behold, thou oughtest to thank God for this,
That on the hither side of thy dark grave
Thou well hast learned how great a God he is,
Who from the heavens countless rebels drave,
Yet turns himself such folk as thee to save;
For many a man thinks nought at all of it
Till in a darksome land he comes to sit,
“lamenting everything: so do thou!
For inasmuch as thou thoughtst not to die
This thing may happen to thee even now,
Because the day unspeakable draws nigh,
When bathed in unknown flame all things shall lie;
And if thou art upon God’s side that day,
Unslain, thine earthly part shall pass away.
“Or if thy body in the grave must rot
Well mayst thou see how small a thing is this,
Whose pain of yesterday now hurts thee not
Now thou hast come again to earthly bliss,
Through bitter-sweet thou knowest well this is,
And thou on coming day canst ever see
Ending of happiness where thou mayst be.
“Now must I go, nor wilt thou see me more,
Until the day, when unto thee at least,
This world is gone, and an unmeasured shore,
Where all is wonderful and changed, thou seest:
Therefore, farewell! at council and at feast
Thy nobles shalt thou meet as thou hast done,
Nor wilt thou more be strong to any one.”
So scarce had he done speaking, ere his wings
Within the doorway of the hall did gleam,
And then he vanished quite; and all these things
Unto Jovinian little more did seem
Than some distinct and well-remembered dream,
For which one wakes amidst a feverish night,
Taking the moonshine for the morning light
Silent he stood, not moving for a while,
Pondering o’er all these wondrous things, until
The Queen arose from sleep, and with a smile,
Said, “O fair lord, your great men by your will
E’en as I speak the banquet-chamber fill,
To greet thee amidst joy and reveling,
Wilt thou not therefore meet them as a king?”
So from that place of marvels having gone,
Half mazed, he soon was clad in rich array,
And sat therefore on his kingly throne,
As though no other had sat there that day;
Nor did a soul of all his household say
A word about the man, who that morn
Had stood there, naked, helpless and forlon.
But ever day by day the thought of it
Within Jovinian’s heart the clearer grew,
As o’er his head the ceaseless time did fit,
And things becoming old, and old things new;
Till, when a moment of eternity Had passed, grey-headed did Jovinian lie.
One sweet May morning, wakeful in his bed;
And thought, “That day is thirty years a-gone
Since useless folly came into my head,
Whereby, before the steps of mine own throne,
I stood in helpless agony alone,
And of the wondrous things that there befell,
When I am gone there will be none to tell:
“No man is now alive who doubt that he,
Who bade thrust out the madman on that tide,
Was other than the King they used to see:
Long years have passed now, since the hermit died,
So must I tell the tale, ere by his side
I lie, lest it be unrecorded quite,
Like a forgotten dream in morning light.
“Yea, lest I die ere night come, this same day
Unto some scribe will I tell everything,
That it may lie when I am gone away,
Stored up within the archives of the King;
And may God grant the words thereof may ring
Like His own voice in the next corner’s ear!
Whereby his folk shall shed the fewer tears”
So it was done, and at the King’s command
A clerk that day did note it every whit,
And after a man of skilful hand
In golden letters fairly was it writ
Yet little heed the new King took Jovinian died,
So much did all things feed his swelling pride.
But whether God chastised him in his turn,
And he grew wise thereafter, I know not
I think by eld alone he came to learn
How lowly on some day must be his lot
But ye, O kings, think all that ye have got
To be but gawds cast out upon some heap,
And stolen the while the master was asleep.
THE story done, for want of happier things,
Some men must even fall to talk of Kings;
Some trouble of far-off Gracian isle,
Some hard Sicilian craftman’s cruel guile
Whereby he raised himself to be as God,
Till good men slew him; the fell Persian rod
As blighting as the deadly pestilence,
The brazen net of armed men from whence
Was no escape; The fir-built Norway hall
Filled with the bonders waiting for the fall
Filled with the bonders waiting for the fall
Of the great roof whereto the torch is set
The laughing mouth, beneath the eyes still wet
With more than sea-spray, as the well-loved land
The freeman still looks back on, while his hand
Clutches the tiller, and the eastern breeze
Grows fresh and fresher many things like these
They talked about, till they seemed young again,
Remembering what a glory and a gain
Their fathers deemed the death of kings to be.
And yet amidst it, some smiled doubtfully
For thinking how few men escape the yoke,
From this or that man’s hand, and how most folk
Must needs be kings and slaves the while they live,
And take from this man, and to that man give
Things hard enow. Yet as they mused, again
The minstrels raised some high heroic strain
That led men on to battle in old times;
And midst the glory of its mingling rhymes,
Their hard hearts softened, and strange thoughts arose
Of some new end all life’s cruel foes.
“The Proud King” is set in the medieval period, at a time when kings in Europe ruled as absolute sovereigns of their lands. Therefore, the image created in the mind of the reader of this poem is that the location or setting of the poem is very mighty and prosperous European kingdom, which had a wealthy and very powerful king as its leader.
“The Proud King” is a long narrative peom, of epic proportions. It has 119 stanzas in all. 117 of these stanzas contain seven lines each with the first line of each stanza indented. However, the last 2 stanzas have nineteen and eleven lines respectively. The rhyme scheme for the seven line stanzas is consistent.
It is ababbcc while the last two stanzas respectively have aabbccddeeffgghhij and abbcddeff their rhyme schemes. The rhyme schemes for the last two stanzas are highly irregular and they have been identified in this analysis in order to show their uniqueness.
As an epic poem, “The Proud King” is didactic in nature, as the aim and objective of the poet is to teach certain values and virtues, which are essential for the well-being of each individual. It resolves round the relationship between man represented by king Jovinian and elements of the supernatural realm, symbolized by an angel. Like the heroic characters in epics, Jovinian is presented as a mighty, warrior king, whose personality flaws is arrogance, which cause his fall from his lofty position as a mighty King.
Line 1, Line 1 – 7
The first set of seven lines introduces the setting of the poem and also the time within which the poem is located. The country is unknown but it can be deduced from the poem that the events recounted this poem, happened in the distant past in a kingdom ruled by a mighty king, a sovereign whose power and wealth was unrivalled and whose name struck fear in the minds of friends and foes alike. Thus, these lines, there is an attempt to create the image of the subject of the poem as a great powerful king, whose awesomeness and grandeur is unparalleled.
Stanza 2, Lines 8 – 14.
The second stanza provides another piece of information about this great king. He came to the throne as a young man and h had ruled for many years until “his back beard gathered specks of grey” (I. 14) The reader is told that this king is so revered to the extent that anyone who speaks to him without the permission of the King, does so at the risk of his life. Immediately, any discerning reader comes across this information, the image of the biblical King Ahasuerus, the husband of Esther the Queen, comes to mind. We learnt in the Bible that anyone who approaches Ahasuerus, including his wife, Esther, without his permission could be put to death.
Stanza 3, Lines 15 – 21
In this third stanza, the king wakes up one morning and begins to think about himself, his numerous titles and his reign as king. During this period of reminiscence, he comes to the pragmatic and practical conclusion that if he has taken any wrong decision as a king, nobody will have told him, probably because of fear of what he may do to them.
Stanza 4, Lines 22 – 28
This stanza shows the reason why no one would ever tell the king about his faults. His power is unprecedented and unparalleled. He is an absolute monarch who rules over a wide expanse of territory. As he thinks about all these things, his power, his subjects, etc., he become so full of himself and proclaims in arrogance that he is God, who cannot be queried or questioned by anyone.
Stanza 5, Lines 29 – 35
The lines in this fifth stanza show that in spite of this king’s pride and haughtiness, in ascribing to himself the power and position of God, he seems to realize that he is a mere mortal, who must at one point or the other die.
However, despite the fact that the king who had reigned before him had all died, he expresses the opinion that he may in fact die, since he is far greater than the former kings, which include his father, whose achievements as king, pale into insignificance when compared to his own. The thought of his forebears’ death reminds him of the inevitability of death, which ushers in a tone of futility that runs through the poem.
Stanza 6, Lines 36 – 42
The king states very clearly why he believes that he is not only greater than his forefathers, but there was a possibility that he may not even die because of his many enviable achievements. He states that his grandfather, was only a prince “of narrow lands” (I. 37) while his great-grandfather only “ruled some little town where now stands/the kennel of my dogs” (II. 40 – 41)
Stanza 7, Lines 43 – 49
He continues in this stanza to present the reason why he is greater than the former kings. He had steadily built on the little things that his predecessors had achieved and there was a possibility that he might achieve immortality because of all the great things that he has been able to do.
Stanza 8, Lines 50 – 56
The king goes to sleep on “his gold bed” (I. 52) and when he wakes up, he decides to go haunting in the forest.
Stanza 9, Lines 57 – 63
In these lines, he goes into the forest with his retinue of servants “And many a strong, deep chested bound” (I. 59). Apart from these dongs, the king and his servants ride on beautiful “fair white horses” (I. 61), the type of horse that ancient fabled kings rode in their quest to expand their kingdoms.
Stanza 10, Lines 64 – 70
Inside the forest, the king sees an animal, “a mighty hart” (I. 64) and because he was riding on a very strong and powerful horse, that “was worth a kingdom’s gift” (I. 66), he follows it to a river leaving his servants behind in the process.
By the time he gets to the river, he is alone, a subtle, indirect, but symbolic reference to the fact that man must make the journey of life lone. It is also significant that he comes to the river “at the hottest of the sun/When all the freshness of the day was done. (II. 69-70), a prefiguration of his harrowing journey through the tortuous, tasking and tiring road of life to a point of rediscovery and awareness.
Stanza 11, Lines 71 – 77
When he gets to the river, he decided to remove all his clothes and take a swim in the river as a means of getting some relief from the intense heat of the sun. That he takes off all his clothes from his body and removes his crown from his head is symbolic as it also prefigures his imminent transition from a position of power and privilege to the status of a common, unrecognized and uncelebrated member of society.
Stanza 12, Lines 78 – 84
In this stanza„ we learn that after the king has finished swimming, he come out to discover that his horse, clothes and crown, the symbol of his position, have disappeared and he immediately suspects that these things have been stolen by someone.
Stanza 13, Lines 85 – 91
He is angry but he also knows that his anger cannot bring a solution to the pathetic and pitiable situation that he has fallen into. Therefore, he begins to shout for help but no one comes to his rescue.
Stanza 14, Lines 92 – 98
In these lines, we learnt that the king eventually realizes that shouting for help in such a lonely dark spot in the forest is an act of futility. He decides to locate the home of one of his rangers, someone who took care of the king’s forest and who could help him out of his predicament.
Stanza 15, Lines 99 – 105
It is interesting to note that as he makes this journey, he is still naked, for we learnt that, “The hot sun sorely burned his naked skin.” (I. 100). He takes solace in the fact that he soon get to the house of the ranger where he would be given some “fine raiment.” (I. 102) to wear and he would be able to sit within “His coolest chamber clad in linen.” (I. 103).
Stanza 16, Lines 106 – 112
Unfortunately for the king, the process of his demystification has not ended. Back inside the forest, where he had left his servants, another person, looking exactly like him, wearing his clothes and riding on his horse had appeared to the servants who “Therefore … hailed him king, and so all rode/From out the forest to his fair abode.” (II. 111 – 112).
Stanza 17, Lines 113 – 119
When the ‘new’ and lake’ king gets to the city, none of the courtiers, the elders and the lords as well as the Queen is able to see through the deception. They believe that he is the real king and they relate with him, as their Sovereign Lord and Master, as they used to do.
Stanza 18, Lines 120 – 126.
It is very ironical and very amusing that when the real king gets to ranger’s gate, he is not recognized by the person who responds to the knock on the gate. The person expresses his surprise and amazement at the fact that the king is stark naked.
Stanza 19, Lines 129 – 133
The man who receives the king at the ranger’s gate bluntly tells him to go home and put on some clothes: “get thyself a shirt at least.” (I. 128). The king betrays his frustration when he hears this and immediately reveals that he is the king – Jovinian.
Stanza 20, Lines 134 – 140
Jovinian, which the reader now learns is the name of the King, ask the man to go and announce his presence to the ranger, with whom he believes he would find some solace, succor and respite from his present precarious predicament.
However, the man to whom Jovinian is a dreamer and his response to Jovinian implies and it is a way of saying that Jovinian is a fool, who has lost his sense of reasoning.
Stanza 21, Lines 141 – 147
In these lines, the reader learns that the ranger’s servant leaves the gate without doing anything to assist Jovinian. Jovinian is angry and hurls “himself against the mighty gate/And beat upon it madly with a stone” (II. 143 – 144). As a result of the noise created by Jovinian’s tantrums, the man who had initially refused to attend to him comes back.
Stanza 22, Lines 148 – 154. The man, who is now described as a porter, tells Jovinian pointedly that he is a “fool” (I. 149) for “Wishing before, my Lord’s high seat to stand.” (I. 150). For the porter, Jovinian is a liar, for ascribing to himself the title of King, a position that did not belong to him.
Stanza 23, Lines 155 – 161 After talking harshly to Jovinian, the porter threatens him with the staff in his hand and commands him to leave.
The only thing that Jovinian is able to say is that if any harm shoud befall him, Jovinian, at the end of the day, the porter would not escape from punishment.
Stanza 24, Lines 162 – 168 Jovinian is “blind with rage” (I. 162) as he leaves, followed by the apparently detests him for proclaiming that he is the king.
Stanza 25, Line 169 – 175 In these lines, we learn that the ranger’s house, which the king had built for him is not very far from the scene of the encounter between the porter and Jovinian. The house is “new and white” (I 169) and Jovinian, as King, had built it for the ranger, a former “landless squire and servant of the Queen” (I. 175)
Stanza 26, Lines 176 – 182
This stanza shows very graphically, the changes in the status of the former hitherto landless squire who is not the ranger. He is now very comfortable; “clad in rich attire/In his fair hall he sat before the wine”(II. 176 – 177). His position, as one of the comfortable servants, is a sharp contrast to the present status of Jovinian, who is naked and devoid of the paraphernalia of office as a king, which had one made him an object of worship and veneration.
Stanza 27, Lines 183 – 189
As the ranger sat in his hall, enjoying his wine basking in the glory and prestige that accompany his position as one of the king’s most favoured courtiers, one of his servants comes inside to tell him about the deranged man, who had come up to the gate, proclaiming that he is the king.
Stanza 28, Lines 190 – 196
The servant who brings the news expresses the opinion that the thing that seems to make the naked man at the gate (Jovinian) look like the King, is his beard.
He also inquiries from the ranger whether Jovinian should be invited into his presence, especially considering the fact that “Perchance some treason ‘neath his madness lies” (I. 193). The ranger grudgingly asks that Jovinian be invited into the hall although it is obvious that he did not like to “be wearied with such folks as these.” (I. 196).
Stanza 29, Lines 197 – 203
When Jovinian, the porter and the Squire come into the hall, into the presence of the ranger, Jovinian expects to be recognized. He speaks to the ranger familiarly as he tries to explain why he is naked and looking so distraught and disheveled.
Stanza 30, Lines 204 – 210
In line 204, Jovinian calls the ranger by his first name, Hugh, and asks the man to give him a cloak to cover himself. He makes fun of the ranger’s servants, who according to him, thinks that “a mighty Lord,” such as himself, Jovinian, could only be recognized if he is adorned with a “crown, and, silken robe and sword.” (I. 208). He accuses them of failing “to know the signs of majesty.” (I. 210)
Stanza 31, Lines 211 – 217
Jovinian is amazed that Hugh, the ranger, does not rise on his feet to acknowledge him, Jovinian, as his lord and master. He believes that there is a conspiracy against him and he requests that Hugh should kill him immediately because if he is able to escape with his life and he is able to regain his position as king, “Armies will rise up when I nod my head.” (I. 215). What this implies is that Hugh does not kill him, he would come back to destroy Hugh.
Stanza 32, Lines 218 – 224
The response of Hugh, as contained in these lines, shows that he believes that Jovinian is a madman. Hugh does not recognize his lord and master and he tells his servants: “Good Fellows, this poor creature is but mad/Take him, and in a coat let him be clad” (II. 223 -224). It is obvious that Hugh is a kind hearted person, a quality that Jovinian did not imbibe or possess as king.
Stanza 33, Lines 225 – 231
Hugh also asks his servants to provide Jovinian with food, drink, a piece of raiment and a place to sleep. Jovinian is very angry when he hears this and with a very haughty tone he tells Hugh: “Woe to thy food, thy house and thee betide” (I. 229). He calls Hugh a traitor.
Stanza 34, Lines 232 – 238
Deluding himself that he is king, with the absolute power to do something, he threatens Hugh with destruction. In an anger-laced voice, he tells Hugh: “I will burn this vile place utterly/strewn with salt the poisonous earth shall be.” (II. 235 – 236). For Jovinian, Hugh is a Judas, a traitor, who must be punished.
Stanza 35, Lines 239 – 245
After his outburst Jovinian runs out of the hall and out of the gate. His anger beclouds his sense of judgment and he runs out of the hall and out of the grounds, completely naked.
Stanza 36, Lines 246 – 252
Inside the ranger’s home, the reader of the poem discovers that the ranger immediately switches his mind from the plight of Jovinian to “thinking of his life, and fair increase/of all his goods, a happy man was he” (II. 248 – 249). He decides to bring up the story of the “luckless madman” (I. 251) anytime he had the opportunity of visiting the king.
Stanza 37, Lines 253 – 259 After leaving the ranger’s house, Jovinian ends up on the streets, panting and confused, he stands by the road as “there streamed/The glare of touches, held by men who ran/Before the litter of a mighty man” (II. 257 – 259). As a King, Jovinian would have been used to such a display of power, influence and affluence, which was no longer available to him.
Stanza 38, Lines 260 – 266
Jovinian discovers that the “mighty man” that is being escorted by the soldier was “A counsellor, a gatherer-up of gold/who underneath his rule had now grown old” (II. 263 -264). Apparently Jovinian is not happy with this individual as we are told that “wrath and bitterness so filled his heart.” (I. 265) when he sees the man and his entourage.
Stanza 39, Lines 267 – 273
In these lines, Jovinian, at the top of his voice, lashes out at the men, whom he calls Duke Peter, accusing him of treachery and conspiring with his enemies. Jovinian says that Duke Peter would eventually end up “in hell beneath the devil’s feet”
Stanza 40, Lines 274 – 280
Following Jovinian’s outburst, one of the soldiers escorting Duke Peter comes out and hits him with a sword, a very humiliating occurrence in the life of a once mighty king.
Stanza 41, Lines 281 – 287
Jovinians’s outburst and the soldier’s reaction forces Duke Peter and his escorts to a stop. In the midst of the flickering lights, Jovinian is able to recognize Duke Peter very clearly, who the day before had spoken humble words to Jovinian in “the concourse of the lords” (I. 287). The “concourse of the lords” is a gathering of nobles where they meet to discuss with the king and also pledge their allegiance to him.
Stanza 42, Lines 288 – 294
Jovinian is brought to the presence of Duke Peter who believes that Jovinian had been accusing him unfairly and falsely. He seeks to know the reason why Jovinian had cursed him.
Stanza 43, Lines 295 – 301
As Jovinian moves closer to Duke Peter, he is still angry. He does not understand why Duke Peter has not yet acknowledged him as king. He attributes Duke Peter’s position to himself. He asks Peter “Who gave thee all thy riches and thy place.” (I. 298). For Jovinian, Duke Peter is another traitor, who has denied him.
Stanza 44, Lines 302 – 308
Jovinian continues to ask why Duke Peter has not recognized him as the king. On his own part, Duke Peter looks at him and concludes that his story, of being the king was a strange, unbelievable tale.
Stanza 45, Lines 309 – 315
In these lines, it is obvious that Duke Peter believes that Jovinian is mad and it is not surprising that he also calls him a fool when he gives Jovinian money, a piece of coin, to buy food and clothes. He advises him not to come to town to spread his, “fool’s tale” (I. 312)
Stanza 46, Lines 316 – 322
Duke Peter apparently believes that Jovinian would get into trouble if he should come to the city to tell people that he is the king. Therefore, he instructs his escorts to continue . their journey, while leaving behind Jovinian with the piece of coin in his hand.
Stanza 47, Lines 323 – 329
The lines in this stanza convey a picture of Duke Peter, elegant and majestic with his sceptre, crown and royal roble” (I. 323), another sharp contrast to Jovinian who has been labelled a “madman” by all those who have come across him. Though this picture of Peter, Jovinian again has a glimpse of the kind of aura that surrounded him before his unfortunate experience in the forest when his clothes were taken away from him.
Stanza 48, Lines 330 – 336
Duke Peter and his entourage leave Jovinian. He is alone again and he begins to ruminate on his past when he had so much in terms of wealth, possession and prestige that there was nothing else to wish for, since he had more than enough of everything.
Stanza 49, Lines 337 – 343
Jovinian begins his journey again, alone. It is very symbolic that he is undertaking this journey of self-rediscovery and transformation into a new man, alone. Eventually, probably as a result of physical weakness and sadness, he falls asleep on a grassy bank where “He slept the dreamless sleep of weariness (I. 342).
Stanza 50, Lines 344 – 350 When he wakes up, the reader learns that at first he does not have the faintest memory of his previous experiences.
Eventually, he remembers what had happened to him the previous day and he again begin to hope for a solution to his problems with the emergence of a bright new day.
Stanza 51, Lines 351 – 357
Jovinian discovers that he had finally made his way to his own city where he had previously reigned as king. As he moves towards the gate, he tries to hide himself from people, apparently afraid that someone might recognize him in spite of the radical physical changes that had happened to him, which had seen him being transformed from the position of the most powerful person in the land to one of the wretched of the earth.
Stanza 52, Lines 358 – 364
When he gets to the gate, many of those who see him mock him and cry at him, apparently alarmed that a deranged person is in their midst. Only one of the people who are gathered at the gate waiting for all to be opened offered him milk.
Stanza 53, Lines 365 – 371
Jovinian’s new friend asks him who he is and the reasons for his miserable condition. This time around Jovinian seems to have become wiser, as he no longer says that he is the king. Instead, he spawns a new tale of having being robbed by “foes” (I. 368) who “stripped off, my weed and left me on the way” (I. 370). He gives himself, a name, “Thomas, the Pilgrim” (I. 370). The “weed” is another name for a cloak.
Stanza 54, Lines 372 – 378
Jovinian continues to amplify his story. He refers to himself as a merchant from another town who desires to get to the king’s palace, where he says he knows a squire that is a noble man who would take care of his needs. He also asks for the man’s name and address so: “That I some day great gifts to thee may give” (I. 378).
Stanza 55, Lines 386 – 385
Jovinian’s new acquaintance introduces himself as a farmer. This farmer’s name is Christopher a-Green, a fifty-year old man who has also had his own fair share of “both grief and joy” (I. 385).
Stanza 56, Lines 386 – 392
It is obvious that Christopher a-Green comes from an indigent background. He makes a request from Jovinian for money. He asks for “enough of gold” (I. 388), to rebuild his grandfather’s house that had been bequeathed to him. To this request, Jovinian’s answer is regal in nature: “this is but a little thing. To me, who oft am richer than the King” (II. 391 – 392), a subtle reference to his previous stature as the undisputed sovereign of the land.
Stanza 57, Lines 393 – 399
Both Jovinian and Christopher move inside the city together, walking towards the palace, with Jovinian trying as much as possible to hide himself from people who might see him and “mock at his bare skin” (I. 398).
Stanza 58, Lines 400 – 406
When they get to the palace, Jovinian runs through the first court of the palace, unchallenged by anyone. However, when he reaches the sound gate, he is accosted by a member of the king’s household, who on “seeing him all bare/And bloody” cries out, “Whither does thou fare?” (II. 403 – 404). The man immediately assumes that Jovinian is mad and begins to speak harshly to him.
Stanza 59, Lines 407 – 413
Jovinian begins to speak to the man. It is apparent that he knows who the man is, and he is surprised that the man does not recognize him. He requests that the man give him some clothes to wear so that he might present himself to his council, most probably, the council of noblemen who serve as advisers to the king. He promises the man ten years wages as reward.
Stanza 60, Lines 414 – 420
The royal servant that Jovinian had spoken to is not moved by the promise of a huge reward. To him, Jovinian is a madman and he admonishes him for saying that he is the king. He tells Jovinian that John Hanman, the executioner, had executed people who had not even made the kind of treasonable statement that Jovinian made, that he is the king.
Stanza 61, Lines 421 – 427
The servant therefore brings Jovinian to the guardroom, where the soldiers mock him bitterly with decision. In spite of all the attempts made by Jovinian to convince the soldiers that he is in fact their king, nobody believes him and he comes to the conclusion that he is most likely not going to win the struggle to reign his throne and that he is going to die, a very miserable death.
Stanza 62, Lines 428 – 434
The reason why Jovinian has become despondent is clearer in these lines. The soldiers who are mocking him are the same set of people who a few days earlier had worshiped him in absolute humility, in acknowledgement of his status as king. Now, he realizes that the veneration, adoration ad adulation have disappeared because they no longer recognize him as their king.
Stanza 63, Lines 435 – 441
Jovinian begins to lament, surprises at the radical and very drastic change that has occurred in his life within a two-day interval. He had been stripped of his glory and the grandeur that accompanied his exalted position as the king. He wonders whether he is dreaming as he does not fully understand why those who had hitherto celebrated him as king now fail to acknowledge him as their lord and master.
Stanza 64 Lines 445 – 455
As Jovinian begins to think about the seeming hopelessness of the pathetic situation that he finds himself in, two sergeants come to tell him and the other soldiers gathered in the room that the king had decided to grant audience to “The man who thus so rashly brings him shame.” (I. 445).
They refer to him as a fool and ask him to follow them. For someone who had been used to giving orders, which must be instantly obeyed, this is another landmark in the process of his humiliation.
Stanza 65, Lines 449 – 455
Jovinian is forced to follow the two soldiers, downcast and sad, with his hands bound together. As he walks away with the soldiers, he is subjected to the derisive laughter of some of the servants working inside the palace.
Stanza 66, Lines 456 – 462
In spite of the pitiable circumstances of his new status, Jovinian is also happy. He is convinced that an encounter with whosoever was masquerading as the king would either lead to his restoration to his former position or his relegation into the status of a villain.
Stanza 67, Lines 463 – 469
When Jovinian gets to the throne room, he is able to see the person who has apparently usurped his position. This other person is “gold” (I. 464) and has a golden crown and an ivory sceptre in his hand. Beneath him sits the Queen, Jovinian’s wife and both the usurper king and the Queen are surrounded by courtiers who do not recognize Joviniah and therefore do not pay any obeisance to him as their lord and king.
Stanza 68, Lines 470 – 476
Jovinian looks at the person who has taken over his position as king. He realizes that although the person “was no wise like him in the face” (I. 471), he is arrayed in “marvelous glory” (I. 472) “As though an angel sat in that high place” (I. 473), which had been the throne of Jovinian and his progenitors. When eventually their eyes meet, the usurper king asks Jovinian, “And where art thou?” (I. 476). “Where art thou” in this context means, “who are you”?
Stanza 69, Lines 477 – 483
It is obvious in these lines that Jovinian is very angry when he begins to speak. He calls the usurper the “rubber of my majesty” (I. 477). He states categorically that he is the king despite the fact that everyone seems to have conceded his throne, crown, wealth and prestige to the usurper.
Stanza 70, Lines 484 – 490
The imposter king counters Jovinian’s accusation that he is a usurper by stating categorically that Jovinian is a foolish man who wants to take what does not rightfully belong to him, that is the throne. He maintains that he is Jovinian, the rightful king and that the real Jovinian is the imposter. He lambasts the real Jovinian for speaking against his “right” as king.
Stanza 71, Lines 491 – 497
The imposter king says that Jovinians deserves to die. However, he says that before he passes his final judgement he would like Jovinian to listen to the speeches of the Queen and the nobles gathered in the throne room.
Stanza 72, Lines 498 – 504
Jovinian’s nemesis, the impostor King, now turns the Queen and the nobles and asks them to identify him in the presence of Jovinian. Both the Queen and the Lords hail the impostor as their king. The Queen kneels down to kiss the golden shoes sworn by the impostor and declares emphatically: “Thou art man/By whose side I have lain for many a year/Thou art my Lord, Jovinian lief and dear” (II. 502 – 504)
Stanza 73, Lines 505 – 511
Following the acknowledgement by the Queen and the Lords that the imposter is the real king, the imposter now turns to Jovinian and says: “O thou wretch, hear now and see!?What thing should hinder me to slay thee now”. (II. 505 – 506).
However, he tells Jovinian that he would show mercy on him, if Jovinian acknowledge him as king and that he Jovinian was “base-born” (I. 509). He promises Jovinian that if he does this, then he would make Jovinian, one of his servants.
Stanza 74, Lines 512 – 518
On hearing the speech of the imposter, Jovinian is very angry and he calls the imposter a liar. He proclaims that he is a descendant “of great kings” (I. 516) and states his determination to die rather than pay obeisance to the imposter.
Stanza 75, Lines 519 – 525
After Jovinian’s outburst, the imposter does not speak for a while. He looks at Jovinian with scorn and pity and says, “Nathless thou shalt not die/But live on as thou mayst, a lowly man” (II. 523 – 524). The word, “Nathless”, is another variant of “nevertheless”
Stanza 76, Lines 526 – 532
When the imposter-king finishes talking, Jovinian looks at the faces of the lords„ the people who had hitherto been his advisers but who no longer acknowledge him as their king.
Stanza 77, Lines 533 – 539
Jovinian continues to look at the faces of all the people who are in the throne room. They include not only the nobles, but ambassadors of “half conquered lands” (I. 535) and foreign merchants. All these are people that Jovinian has once known but who no longer know him or are unwilling to acknowledge his supremacy as their king, because they all believe that the imposter is their rightful king.
Stanza 78, Lines 540 – 546
Everything now seems to be against Jovinian. Even the hound, that is, the dog that had been the companion of Jovinian during many hunting expeditions, betray him in his time of need as it “Flew at him fain to tear him limb from limb” (I. 543)
Stanza 79, Lines 547 – 553
Jovinian is thrown out of the palace. As he is dragged outside of the gate, through which he had often rode on a stately horse, he bears the murmurs of people, who most likely were casting aspersions on him and his mental state.
Stanza 80, Lines 554 – 560
As he is taken through the streets of the city in ignominy, Jovinian’s mind goes back to the time when on these same streets where he is now being derided, he was celebrated anytime he came “back from some well-finished war” (I. 555) as an all-conquering, warrior king.
Stanza 81, Lines 561 – 567
After a short distance, the soldier who had dragged him out of the palace through the streets release him. However, they tell him that they are doing so as a result of the magnanimity of the king who has asked them to tell him to “Dwell now in peace, but yet be not so bold?To come again, or to thy lies to cling” (II. 563 – 564). They also ask him to continue to pray for the imposter-king who had been good to the real Jovinian by sparing his life.
Stanza 82, Lines 568 – 574
The soldiers leave Jovinian and return to the town. He is alone and Jovinian to wander away from the city until he comes to a pool of water. Located beside the pool is a “lowly clay-built howel” (I. 574)
Stanza 83, Lines 575 – 581
As Jovinian looks at this seemingly miserable looking but located in the woods, he remembers that the place is the residence of a wise and old hermit, who had often given him advice and counsel.
Stanza 84, Lines 582 – 588
When Jovinian approaches the door of the hut, he begin to think about the hermit and whether the old man would recognize him. It is obvious that he does not have an answer to why people who had served him as king no longer recognize him. He posits that “Some devil who turns everything to ill/And makes my wretched body do his will” (II. 587 – 588) must be responsible for his predicament.
Stanza 85, Lines 589 – 595
On seeing the hermit Jovinian seeks to be recognized by the old man as the king. He tells the hermit “Alas father! Am not the King/the rightful lord of thee and everything?”
Stanza 86, Lines 596 – 602
The hermit’s response to his claim that he, Jovinian, is the king, is very harsh. The hermittells him that he must be mad for saying that he is the king.
He tells Jovinian that if he needs spiritual help to solve his spiritual and psychological problems, he, that is the hermit, is ready to provide such assistance. For the hermit Jovinian is a clown, who has deliberately come to make him and play on his intelligence.
Stanza 87, Lines 603 – 609
After speaking very harsly to Jovinian, the hermit goes back inside his hut. At this stage, Jovinian is very unhappy and he falls down on his knee to plead for mercy: “Lord God, what bitter things are these?/What hast thou done, that every man that sees/This wretched body, of my death is fain.” (II. 607 – 608). Jovinian now seems to be remorseful. He asks God to give him back his body again.
Stanza 88, Lines 610 – 616
In these lines, Jovinian continues to plead his case before God. he acknowledges the fact that he is a mortal whom God had in his benevolence promoted to the exalted rank of a king. In the last line of this stanza, he asks God: “Why hast thou made me now this wretched thing?” (I. 616)
Stanza 89, Lines 617 – 623
He wonders why everyone hates him. He asks God to give him another opportunity to live, this time as in ordinary man, so that he would be able to forget his old name, “and honours vain” (I. 620) and live his “little span of life” (I. 623) in peace. The reader finds that in a very gradual manner, Jovinian has started to recognize the supremacy of God as the Supreme Being in whom everything that exists, subsists.
Stanza 90, Lines 624 – 630
He continues, in these lines, to acknowledge his flaws and fruits. Accept he has been careless with the opportunities that God has given him and he has made mistakes. He tells God that he knows that in spite of his foibles and mistakes, God still loves him.
Stanza 91, Lines 631 – 637
As Jovinian continues to weep and lament the precariousness of his situation, the hermit comes back outside. Apparently, he had suddenly realized that the scruffy looking man in front of his abode was Jovinian, the king. He wonder why Jovinian has been deprived of his glory.
Stanza 92, Lines 638 – 644
Jovinian tells the hermit that because of a great sin that he must have committed, God has punished him to the extent that his wife, his servants, his nobles and even the hermit did not recognize him. He is apparently happy that the hermit has now recognized him.
Stanza 93, Lines 645 – 651
The speech that he makes in these lines is laced with humility. He is grateful to God for allowing the hermits to recognize him and as a result, he is of the opinion that God would and kill him.
He puts his hope in Christ, who died on the cross and he tells the hermit that he would go back to the people who had once rejected him whether they would now recognize him. He requests the hermits to give him his “poorest weed/And some rough food” (II. 650 – 651). When the context of his poem, the word “weed” refers to a cloak or cloth and for Jovinian to have requested for the “poorest weed” and “some rough.
Stanza 94, Lines 652 – 658
The hermits sympathizes with Jovinian’s plight and offers him a “rough grown” (I. 642) to wear and some food. He also tells Jovinian that he is ready to listen to everything that he has to say.
Stanza 95, Lines 659 – 665
After wearing the shabby clothing that the hermit had given him, Jovinian tells the old man the story of his life, the mistakes he had made, especially his being so haughty and arrogant, which had led to his downfall. As he tells his story, the hermit praises God that he is not a king “who scarcely shall do right in anything.” (I. 665).
Stanza 96, Lines 666 – 672
After listening to Jovinian, the hermit provides him with an ass to ride on his journey back to the city. The ass is a symbol of humility, another clear indication of the king’s transformation into a very humble man.
Stanza 97, Lines 673 – 679
When Joviniah gets to the city gate, the two guards at the gate recognize him but do not acknowledge him by saluting him or paying him obeisance to him. According to one of them, Jovinian had given instructions that whenever he posses the gate in disguise, no one should pay him obeisance. Apparently, the angel, masquerading as the king, had given the guards the instructions prior to the arrival of Jovinian.
Stanza 98, Lines 680 – 686
Jovinian smiles as he leaves the guards. He knows the implication of what one of them has just said, which is that those who had for one reason or the other not recognized him when he had earlier made the trip to the city as a “wretched”, “mad man” now had an idea of who he was. For Jovinian this was a positive sign. As he goes further into the city it is apparent that the people that he is meetig recognize him, even if they are not greeting him.
Stanza 99, Lines 689 – 693 When Jovinian eventually gets into the palace, those that he meets “bowed their head” (I. 670) in apparent obeisance.
Then, a squire comes up to him to tell him that the Queen is waiting for him “Within the little hall where minstrels sing” (I. 673)
Stanza 100, Lines 694 – 700
Jovinian decides to follow the courtiers to meet the Queen and for a brief moment, he hesitates, as he thinks about the imposter king, who had usurped his position. He decides to go ahead with gong to meet the Queen with the hope that the imposter, “like all the rest, my face will know.” (I. 700)
Stanza 101, Lines 701 – 707
When Jovinian gets inside the little hall, he sees the Queen on a couch sleeping with an image of the king beside her.
Stanza 102, Lines 708 – 714
On seeing the sleeping Queen, Jovinian becomes angry and he is on the verge of speaking, maybe in very harsh tones, to her, when he sees the other man who had usurped his position and taken over his throne. The man is wearing a shining white robe. It is obvious that this individual is a celestial and a divine being.
Stanza 103, Lines 715 – 721
These lines show very clearly that the imposter-king is an angel. In line 715, the reader is told that “from his shoulders, did two wings rise”.
The feathers on the wings are very beautiful and he stands before Jovinian and begins to talk to him. He tells Jovinian that
he had always been close to him and there is the possibility that this angel, who had impersonated Jovinian, was his guardian angel.
Stanza 104, Lines 722 – 728
In these lines, the main thematic preoccupation of this poem is foregrounded by the angel. He tells Jovinian that within a very short time, he, Joviniah had come to know “God that made the world can unmake thee” (I. 723).
The implication of this statement is that God is all powerful and can do all things – as he is not answerable to anyone for His actions.
He reminds Jovinian that although God did not change Jovinian face, God made everyone, who had known him and who had had a relationship with him to forget him. He tells Joviniah that God turned him into “nameless wretch”. (I. 726), he who at a point in time, had been a very powerful king, that struck fear into the minds of everyone.
Stanza 105, Lines 729 – 735
The angel tells Jovinian to be grateful to God for having mercy on him in spite of his several acts of haughtiness. Indirectly, he compares Jovinian’s actions to that of Lucifer and the fallen angels, who were driven out of heaven when they rebelled against God.
God had mercy on Jovinian. On the other hand, Lucifer and the fallen angels were not given a second to repent of their sins.
Stanza 106, Lines 736 – 742
He tells Jovinian not to lament in any way. The angel also begins to speak about the future, about the end of the world, when God would destroy the world and those who have sinned against Him. The angel expresses his wish that Jovinian, if he was still alive that time, would be on God’s side.
Stanza 107, Lines 743 – 749
The angel continues the trend of the ideas which he had started in the preceding stanza. The message in this stanza is that even if Jovinian had died by the end of time, it was imperative that he should make positive use of the time that he had on earth, as his actions and inactions would definitely influence the afterlife.
Stanza 108, Lines 750 – 756
The angel informs Jovinian that he (Jovinian) would no longer see him on earth again. However, it is implied that Jovinian would be granted a place in heaven by God as he would, most probably now be a better person, who would know how to humble himself before God.
The angel also promises Jovinian that his Queen and the other members of council, the nobles, would now recognize him and he would no longer be a stranger to anyone of them again.