Menella Bute Smedley

The little Queen

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A little child—scarce eight years old—
And she was crowned a queen!
Oh, strange and scarcely to be told
Must her young thoughts have been;
For how should pomp, and storm, and strife,
And prideful discontent,
With childhood's soft and dreamy life
Be for an instant blent?
They took her from her mother's care,
They bore her o'er the sea,
And to the King of England fair
Wedded her solemnly.
Oh, much that mother's heart must miss,
At morn and evening hours,
Her little one's accustom'd kiss,
Dropping like dew on flowers.
Beneath grey Windsor's stately shade,
The aspect of her life
Seem'd a green, quiet, forest glade,
With songs and wood-flowers rife.
No cloud to mar, no grief to break
Its spell so sweet and deep;
'Twas like the picture on a lake
When breezes are asleep.
King Richard was a gentle king;
His visits came like those
Which the gay sunshine makes in spring
To rouse the slumbering rose.
Her childish tasks were flung away,
While, laughing at her glee,
The monarch mingled in her play,
And loved its liberty.
Or down some cool, dark avenue,
Hand clasping hand, they roam,
While in her gaze his fancy drew
Pictures of days to come;
Little reck'd she of crown or throne,
Of regal pomp and pride;
“Oh, would I were a woman grown,
To make thee blest!” she cried.
Ah, little knewest thou, gentle king,
Nor thou, fair infant queen,
The storms which coming days should bring
To mar so sweet a scene;
Rebellion fierce and tameless scorn
Wax'd rampant in the land,
Till sword and sceptre both were torn
From good King Richard's hand.
To Havering Bower the queen was brought,
Where, captive and subdued,
Too soon her childish heart was taught
The cares of womanhood.
The tempest of her sudden grief
Came like a frost in spring,
That withers every bud and leaf
Before its blossoming.
Sternly her sullen guards refuse
All tidings of her lord;
Her eager quest she oft renews,
But they answer not a word.
Strange fears upon her youthful breast
With dark forebodings fell;
But still his name in prayer she blest,
And still she loved him well.
At length, one summer's morn, 'tis said,
Forth journeying from her bower,
She met the rebel troop who led
Her monarch to the Tower;
O piteous meeting! Grave surprise
Check'd even the gaoler train,
When from that child's young earnest eyes
The tears brake forth like rain.
She spake not many words, but strove,
In broken phrase and brief,
Somewhat of comfort and of love
To mingle with his grief;
“God will protect thee in thy fall,”
(Thus sobb'd the captive queen);
“Oh, father, mother, husband, all,
Thou unto me hast been!”
It is sad to see an infant fade
Beneath our very gaze,
As a lily in some poisonous shade
Droops, withers, and decays;
It is sad to see the eye's pure light
Grow fainter, day by day,
And the young, young life, so fresh and bright,
Ebb gradually away.
But sadder when the heart's young life
In the glory of its morn
Is dimm'd by grief, and marr'd by strife,
And stifled ere it dawn;
When childhood's hopes are changed to fears,
And childhood's mirth to gloom,
And life's great treasure-house of tears
Is open'd in life's bloom!
His crown, his hopes, his freedom gone,
King Richard pined away,
Till they slew him in his dungeon lone,
Like a lion brave at bay;
In vain his single strength he sets
'Gainst the rebels' leaguèd power,
Though the soul of the Plantagenets
Was strong in him that hour.
Long, long the false usurper tried,
With speech and promise fair,
To win his captive queen as bride
For Henry, England's heir.
Ever she answer'd stedfastly,
As one that shrank from strife,
“King Richard's widow will I die,
As I have lived his wife!
Still are mine eyes with weeping dim;
And 'twere a fearful thing
That I should wed the son of him
Who slew my gentle king.”
In woe her snowy hands she wrung,
And went to weep apart;
'Twas marvel that a child so young
Should be so true of heart.
Thus years all bootlessly were spent
In pleadings strong but vain;
Till, freed at last, the exile went
Back to her France again.
Oh, trust me, many tears she shed
As she forsook the land
Where the lord she loved so much lay dead,
Slain by a traitor's hand.
A place of grief had England been—
Of grief, and woe, and wrong,
Crushing the heart of that child-queen,
So desolate and young.
Yet firm was she, though wrath might burn,
And civil war rage wild.
Ah, let all men a lesson learn
From that fair, faithful child!

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Menella Bute Smedley