Menella Bute Smedley

The Captivity of King John of France

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“In mine own land the sun shines bright,
The morning breeze blows fair;
I must not look upon that light,
I must not feel that air.
The chain is heavy on my heart,
Although my limbs are free;
A bitter, bitter loss thou art,
O precious liberty!”
It was King John lamented thus,
With many a mournful word;
But gentle, kind, and chivalrous,
Was the heart of him who heard:
The Black Prince came—he loved to bring
Comfort and sweet relief,
So he spake softly to the king,
And strove to soothe his grief.
“Now cheer thee, noble friend!” he said;
“Right bravely didst thou fight;
Thine honour is untarnishèd;
Thou art a stainless knight.
That man should ne'er desponding be
Who winneth fame in strife;
'Tis a better thing than liberty,
A better thing than life.
I grant thee one full year,” he said;
“For a year thou shalt be free:
Go back to France, and there persuade
Thy lords to ransom thee.
But if thy ransom they refuse,
And do not heed thy pain,
Our realm must not its captive lose—
Thou must return again.
So pledge me now thy royal word,
And pledge it solemnly,
That thou, the captive of my sword,
Wilt faithful be to me.”
The king he pledged his royal faith—
He pledged it gladsomely;
He promised to be true till death:
Of joyous heart was he.
Then did those generous foes embrace
Closely as brethren might,—
“Farewell, and God be with your grace;”—
“Farewell, thou peerless knight.”
The wind was fair, the sea was blue,
The sky without a speck,
When the good ship o'er the waters flew,
With King John upon its deck.
With eager hope his heart beat high
When he sprang on his own dear shore;
But sad and downcast was his eye
Ere one brief month was o'er.
Glad were the lords of lovely France
When they beheld their king;
But, oh! how alter'd was their glance,
When he spoke of ransoming!
They told of wasted revenues,
Of fortunes waxing low;
And when their words did not refuse,
Their looks said plainly, “No.”
Sore grew the heart of that good king,
As closed the winter drear;
And when the rose proclaim'd the spring,
He hail'd it with a tear.
For the year was gliding fast away,
And gold he could not gain,
And honour summon'd him to pay
His freedom back again.
And now the summer-noon is bright,
The warm breeze woos the scent
From a thousand flowers of red and white—
The year is fully spent!
“Paris, farewell, thou ancient town!
Farewell, my woods and plains!
Farewell, my kingdom and my crown!
And welcome, English chains!
Trim, trim the bark, and hoist the sail,
And bid my train advance,
I have found that loyal faith may fail—
I leave thee, thankless France.”
These bitter words spake good King John;
But his liegemen counsel gave:
“What recks it that the year is gone?
There yet is time to save.
Thou standest yet on thine own good land,
Forget thy plighted word,—
Remain! and to thy foe's demand
We'll answer with the sword.”
But the good King John spake firm and bold;
And oh! his words should be
Graven in characters of gold
On each heart's memory:
“Were truth disowned by all mankind,
A scorned and banished thing,
A resting-place it still should find
In the breast of every king.”
Again the good ship cleaves the sea
Before a favouring air,
But it beareth to captivity,
And not to freedom fair.
Yet when King John set foot on land,
Sad he could scarcely be,
For the Black Prince took him by the hand,
And welcomed him courteously.
To Savoy Castle he was brought,
With fair and royal state:
Full many a squire, in rich attire,
Did on his pleasure wait.
They did not as a prisoner hold
That noble king and true,
But as dear guest, whose high behest
'Twas honour and joy to do.
Of treaty and of ransom then
The prince and he had speech;
Like friends and fellow-countrymen,
Great was the love of each;
No angry thought—no gesture proud,
Not a hasty word they spoke,
But a brotherhood of heart they vowed,
And its bond they never broke.
In Savoy Castle died King John—
They buried him royally;
And grief through all the land is gone
That such a knight should die.
And the prince was wont to say this thing
Whene'er his name was spoken,—
“He was a warrior and a king
Whose word was never broken.”

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Menella Bute Smedley