King Canute

- 1811-1863
  KING CANUTE was weary hearted; he had reigned for years a score,
  Battling, struggling, pushing, fighting, killing much and robbing more;
  And he thought upon his actions, walking by the wild sea-shore.

  'Twixt the Chancellor and Bishop walked the King with steps sedate,
  Chamberlains and grooms came after, silversticks and goldsticks great,
  Chaplains, aides-de-camp, and pages,—all the officers of state.

  Sliding after like his shadow, pausing when he chose to pause,
  If a frown his face contracted, straight the courtiers dropped their
    jaws;
  If to laugh the king was minded, out they burst in loud hee-haws.

  But that day a something vexed him, that was clear to old and young:
  Thrice his Grace had yawned at table, when his favorite gleemen sung,
  Once the Queen would have consoled him, but he bade her hold her tongue.

  "Something ails my gracious master," cried the Keeper of the Seal.
  "Sure, my lord, it is the lampreys served to dinner, or the veal?"
  "Psha!" exclaimed the angry monarch, "Keeper, 'tis not that I feel.

  "'Tis the HEART, and not the dinner, fool, that doth my rest impair:
  Can a king be great as I am, prithee, and yet know no care?
  Oh, I'm sick, and tired, and weary."—Some one cried, "The King's arm-
    chair!"

  Then towards the lackeys turning, quick my Lord the Keeper nodded,
  Straight the King's great chair was brought him, by two footmen able-
    bodied;
  Languidly he sank into it: it was comfortably wadded.

  "Leading on my fierce companions," cried he, "over storm and brine,
  I have fought and I have conquered!  Where was glory like to mine?"
  Loudly all the courtiers echoed: "Where is glory like to thine?"

  "What avail me all my kingdoms?  Weary am I now and old;
  Those fair sons I have begotten, long to see me dead and cold;
  Would I were, and quiet buried, underneath the silent mould!

  "Oh, remorse, the writhing serpent! at my bosom tears and bites;
  Horrid, horrid things I look on, though I put out all the lights;
  Ghosts of ghastly recollections troop about my bed at nights.

  "Cities burning, convents blazing, red with sacrilegious fires;
  Mothers weeping, virgins screaming vainly for their slaughtered
    sires.—"
  "Such a tender conscience," cries the Bishop, "every one admires."

  "But for such unpleasant bygones, cease, my gracious lord, to search,
  They're forgotten and forgiven by our Holy Mother Church;
  Never, never does she leave her benefactors in the lurch.

  "Look! the land is crowned with minsters, which your Grace's bounty
    raised;
  Abbeys filled with holy men, where you and Heaven are daily praised:
  YOU, my lord, to think of dying? on my conscience I'm amazed!"

  "Nay, I feel," replied King Canute, "that my end is drawing near."
  "Don't say so," exclaimed the courtiers (striving each to squeeze a
    tear).
  "Sure your Grace is strong and lusty, and may live this fifty year."

  "Live these fifty years!" the Bishop roared, with actions made to suit.
  "Are you mad, my good Lord Keeper, thus to speak of King Canute!
  Men have lived a thousand years, and sure his Majesty will do't.

  "Adam, Enoch, Lamech, Cainan, Mahaleel, Methusela,
  Lived nine hundred years apiece, and mayn't the King as well as they?"
  "Fervently," exclaimed the Keeper, "fervently I trust he may."

  "HE to die?" resumed the Bishop.  He a mortal like to US?
  Death was not for him intended, though communis omnibus:
  Keeper, you are irreligious, for to talk and cavil thus.

  "With his wondrous skill in healing ne'er a doctor can compete,
  Loathsome lepers, if he touch them, start up clean upon their feet;
  Surely he could raise the dead up, did his Highness think it meet.

  "Did not once the Jewish captain stay the sun upon the hill,
  And, the while he slew the foemen, bid the silver moon stand still?
  So, no doubt, could gracious Canute, if it were his sacred will."

  "Might I stay the sun above us, good sir Bishop?" Canute cried;
  "Could I bid the silver moon to pause upon her heavenly ride?
  If the moon obeys my orders, sure I can command the tide.

  "Will the advancing waves obey me, Bishop, if I make the sign?"
  Said the Bishop, bowing lowly, "Land and sea, my lord, are thine."
  Canute turned towards the ocean—"Back!" he said, "thou foaming brine.

  "From the sacred shore I stand on, I command thee to retreat;
  Venture not, thou stormy rebel, to approach thy master's seat:
  Ocean, be thou still!  I bid thee come not nearer to my feet!"

  But the sullen ocean answered with a louder, deeper roar,
  And the rapid waves drew nearer, falling sounding on the shore;
  Back the Keeper and the Bishop, back the king and courtiers bore.

  And he sternly bade them never more to kneel to human clay,
  But alone to praise and worship That which earth and seas obey:
  And his golden crown of empire never wore he from that day.
  King Canute is dead and gone:  Parasites exist alway.

More by William Makepeace Thackeray

The Mahogany Tree

Christmas is here;
Winds whistle shrill,
Icy and chill,
Little care we;
Little we fear
Weather without,
Shelter'd about
The Mahogany Tree.

Once on the boughs
Birds of rare plume
Sang, in its bloom;
Night birds are we;
Here we carouse,
Singing, like them,
Perch'd round the stem
Of the jolly old tree.

Here let us sport,
Boys, as we sit—
Laughter and wit
Flashing so free.
Life is but short—
When we are gone,
Let them sing on,
Round the old tree.

Evenings we knew,
Happy as this;
Faces we miss,
Pleasant to see.
Kind hearts and true,
Gentle and just,
Peace to your dust!
We sing round the tree.

Care, like a dun,
Lurks at the gate:
Let the dog wait;
Happy we 'll be!
Drink every one;
Pile up the coals,
Fill the red bowls,
Round the old tree.

Drain we the cup.—
Friend, art afraid?
Spirits are laid
In the Red Sea.
Mantle it up;
Empty it yet;
Let us forget,
Round the old tree.

Sorrows, begone!
Life and its ills,
Duns and their bills,
Bid we to flee.
Come with the dawn,
Blue-devil sprite,
Leave us to-night,
Round the old tree.

The Speculators

  The night was stormy and dark,
  The town was shut up in sleep:
  Only those were abroad who were out on a lark,
  Or those who'd no beds to keep.

  I pass'd through the lonely street,
  The wind did sing and blow;
  I could hear the policeman's feet
  Clapping to and fro.

  There stood a potato-man
  In the midst of all the wet;
  He stood with his 'tato-can
  In the lonely Hay-market.

  Two gents of dismal mien,
  And dank and greasy rags,
  Came out of a shop for gin,
  Swaggering over the flags:

  Swaggering over the stones,
  These shabby bucks did walk;
  And I went and followed those seedy ones,
  And listened to their talk.

  Was I sober or awake?
  Could I believe my ears?
  Those dismal beggars spake
  Of nothing but railroad shares.

  I wondered more and more:
  Says one—"Good friend of mine,
  How many shares have you wrote for,
  In the Diddlesex Junction line?"

  "I wrote for twenty," says Jim,
  "But they wouldn't give me one;"
  His comrade straight rebuked him
  For the folly he had done:

  "O Jim, you are unawares
  Of the ways of this bad town;
  I always write for five hundred shares,
  And THEN they put me down."

  "And yet you got no shares,"
  Says Jim, "for all your boast;"
  "I WOULD have wrote," says Jack, "but where
  Was the penny to pay the post?"

  "I lost, for I couldn't pay
  That first instalment up;
  But here's 'taters smoking hot—I say,
  Let's stop, my boy, and sup."

  And at this simple feast
  The while they did regale,
  I drew each ragged capitalist
  Down on my left thumbnail.

  Their talk did me perplex,
  All night I tumbled and tost,
  And thought of railroad specs,
  And how money was won and lost.

  "Bless railroads everywhere,"
  I said, "and the world's advance;
  Bless every railroad share
  In Italy, Ireland, France;
  For never a beggar need now despair,
  And every rogue has a chance."

The Battle of Limerick

    Ye Genii of the nation,
    Who look with veneration.
  And Ireland's desolation onsaysingly deplore;
    Ye sons of General Jackson,
    Who thrample on the Saxon,
  Attend to the thransaction upon Shannon shore,

    When William, Duke of Schumbug,
    A tyrant and a humbug,
  With cannon and with thunder on our city bore,
    Our fortitude and valiance
    Insthructed his battalions
  To respict the galliant Irish upon Shannon shore.

    Since that capitulation,
    No city in this nation
  So grand a reputation could boast before,
    As Limerick prodigious,
    That stands with quays and bridges,
  And the ships up to the windies of the Shannon shore.

    A chief of ancient line,
    'Tis William Smith O'Brine
  Reprisints this darling Limerick, this ten years or more:
    O the Saxons can't endure
    To see him on the flure,
  And thrimble at the Cicero from Shannon shore!

    This valliant son of Mars
    Had been to visit Par's,
  That land of Revolution, that grows the tricolor;
    And to welcome his returrn
    From pilgrimages furren,
  We invited him to tay on the Shannon shore.

    Then we summoned to our board
    Young Meagher of the sword:
  'Tis he will sheathe that battle-axe in Saxon gore;
    And Mitchil of Belfast
    We bade to our repast,
  To dthrink a dish of coffee on the Shannon shore.

    Convaniently to hould
    These patriots so bould,
  We tuck the opportunity of Tim Doolan's store;
    And with ornamints and banners
    (As becomes gintale good manners)
  We made the loveliest tay-room upon Shannon shore.

    'Twould binifit your sowls,
    To see the butthered rowls,
  The sugar-tongs and sangwidges and craim galyore,
    And the muffins and the crumpets,
    And the band of hearts and thrumpets,
  To celebrate the sworry upon Shannon shore.

    Sure the Imperor of Bohay
    Would be proud to dthrink the tay
  That Misthress Biddy Rooney for O'Brine did pour;
    And, since the days of Strongbow,
    There never was such Congo—
  Mitchil dthrank six quarts of it—by Shannon shore.

    But Clarndon and Corry
    Connellan beheld this sworry
  With rage and imulation in their black hearts' core;
    And they hired a gang of ruffins
    To interrupt the muffins,
  And the fragrance of the Congo on the Shannon shore.

    When full of tay and cake,
    O'Brine began to spake;
  But juice a one could hear him, for a sudden roar
    Of a ragamuffin rout
    Began to yell and shout,
  And frighten the propriety of Shannon shore.

    As Smith O'Brine harangued,
    They batthered and they banged:
  Tim Doolan's doors and windies down they tore;
    They smashed the lovely windies
    (Hung with muslin from the Indies),
  Purshuing of their shindies upon Shannon shore.

    With throwing of brickbats,
    Drowned puppies and dead rats,
  These ruffin democrats themselves did lower;
    Tin kettles, rotten eggs,
    Cabbage-stalks, and wooden legs,
  They flung among the patriots of Shannon shore.

    O the girls began to scrame
    And upset the milk and crame;
  And the honorable gintlemin, they cursed and swore:
    And Mitchil of Belfast,
    'Twas he that looked aghast,
  When they roasted him in effigy by Shannon shore.

    O the lovely tay was spilt
    On that day of Ireland's guilt;
  Says Jack Mitchil, "I am kilt!  Boys, where's the back door?
    'Tis a national disgrace:
    Let me go and veil me face;"
  And he boulted with quick pace from the Shannon shore.

    "Cut down the bloody horde!"
    Says Meagher of the sword,
  "This conduct would disgrace any blackamore;"
    But the best use Tommy made
    Of his famous battle blade
  Was to cut his own stick from the Shannon shore.

    Immortal Smith O'Brine
    Was raging like a line;
  'Twould have done your sowl good to have heard him roar;
    In his glory he arose,
    And he rushed upon his foes,
  But they hit him on the nose by the Shannon shore.

    Then the Futt and the Dthragoons
    In squadthrons and platoons,
  With their music playing chunes, down upon us bore;
    And they bate the rattatoo,
    But the Peelers came in view,
  And ended the shaloo on the Shannon shore.