Monday, August 4, 2008

Oscar Wilde - The Young King

Oscar Wilde is without a doubt one of the best writers ever. His short stories i enjoy just as much as his plays and his poems. For you today here comes the tale of The Young King:

It was the night before the day fixed for his coronation, and the
young King was sitting alone in his beautiful chamber. His
courtiers had all taken their leave of him, bowing their heads to
the ground, according to the ceremonious usage of the day, and had
retired to the Great Hall of the Palace, to receive a few last
lessons from the Professor of Etiquette; there being some of them
who had still quite natural manners, which in a courtier is, I need
hardly say, a very grave offence.

The lad--for he was only a lad, being but sixteen years of age--was
not sorry at their departure, and had flung himself back with a
deep sigh of relief on the soft cushions of his embroidered couch,
lying there, wild-eyed and open-mouthed, like a brown woodland
Faun, or some young animal of the forest newly snared by the

And, indeed, it was the hunters who had found him, coming upon him
almost by chance as, bare-limbed and pipe in hand, he was following
the flock of the poor goatherd who had brought him up, and whose
son he had always fancied himself to be. The child of the old
King's only daughter by a secret marriage with one much beneath her
in station--a stranger, some said, who, by the wonderful magic of
his lute-playing, had made the young Princess love him; while
others spoke of an artist from Rimini, to whom the Princess had
shown much, perhaps too much honour, and who had suddenly
disappeared from the city, leaving his work in the Cathedral
unfinished--he had been, when but a week old, stolen away from his
mother's side, as she slept, and given into the charge of a common
peasant and his wife, who were without children of their own, and
lived in a remote part of the forest, more than a day's ride from
the town. Grief, or the plague, as the court physician stated, or,
as some suggested, a swift Italian poison administered in a cup of
spiced wine, slew, within an hour of her wakening, the white girl
who had given him birth, and as the trusty messenger who bare the
child across his saddle-bow stooped from his weary horse and
knocked at the rude door of the goatherd's hut, the body of the
Princess was being lowered into an open grave that had been dug in
a deserted churchyard, beyond the city gates, a grave where it was
said that another body was also lying, that of a young man of
marvellous and foreign beauty, whose hands were tied behind him
with a knotted cord, and whose breast was stabbed with many red

Such, at least, was the story that men whispered to each other.
Certain it was that the old King, when on his deathbed, whether
moved by remorse for his great sin, or merely desiring that the
kingdom should not pass away from his line, had had the lad sent
for, and, in the presence of the Council, had acknowledged him as
his heir.

And it seems that from the very first moment of his recognition he
had shown signs of that strange passion for beauty that was
destined to have so great an influence over his life. Those who
accompanied him to the suite of rooms set apart for his service,
often spoke of the cry of pleasure that broke from his lips when he
saw the delicate raiment and rich jewels that had been prepared for
him, and of the almost fierce joy with which he flung aside his
rough leathern tunic and coarse sheepskin cloak. He missed,
indeed, at times the fine freedom of his forest life, and was
always apt to chafe at the tedious Court ceremonies that occupied
so much of each day, but the wonderful palace--Joyeuse, as they
called it--of which he now found himself lord, seemed to him to be
a new world fresh-fashioned for his delight; and as soon as he
could escape from the council-board or audience-chamber, he would
run down the great staircase, with its lions of gilt bronze and its
steps of bright porphyry, and wander from room to room, and from
corridor to corridor, like one who was seeking to find in beauty an
anodyne from pain, a sort of restoration from sickness.

Upon these journeys of discovery, as he would call them--and,
indeed, they were to him real voyages through a marvellous land, he
would sometimes be accompanied by the slim, fair-haired Court
pages, with their floating mantles, and gay fluttering ribands; but
more often he would be alone, feeling through a certain quick
instinct, which was almost a divination, that the secrets of art
are best learned in secret, and that Beauty, like Wisdom, loves the
lonely worshipper.

Many curious stories were related about him at this period. It was
said that a stout Burgo-master, who had come to deliver a florid
oratorical address on behalf of the citizens of the town, had
caught sight of him kneeling in real adoration before a great
picture that had just been brought from Venice, and that seemed to
herald the worship of some new gods. On another occasion he had
been missed for several hours, and after a lengthened search had
been discovered in a little chamber in one of the northern turrets
of the palace gazing, as one in a trance, at a Greek gem carved
with the figure of Adonis. He had been seen, so the tale ran,
pressing his warm lips to the marble brow of an antique statue that
had been discovered in the bed of the river on the occasion of the
building of the stone bridge, and was inscribed with the name of
the Bithynian slave of Hadrian. He had passed a whole night in
noting the effect of the moonlight on a silver image of Endymion.

All rare and costly materials had certainly a great fascination for
him, and in his eagerness to procure them he had sent away many
merchants, some to traffic for amber with the rough fisher-folk of
the north seas, some to Egypt to look for that curious green
turquoise which is found only in the tombs of kings, and is said to
possess magical properties, some to Persia for silken carpets and
painted pottery, and others to India to buy gauze and stained
ivory, moonstones and bracelets of jade, sandal-wood and blue
enamel and shawls of fine wool.

But what had occupied him most was the robe he was to wear at his
coronation, the robe of tissued gold, and the ruby-studded crown,
and the sceptre with its rows and rings of pearls. Indeed, it was
of this that he was thinking to-night, as he lay back on his
luxurious couch, watching the great pinewood log that was burning
itself out on the open hearth. The designs, which were from the
hands of the most famous artists of the time, had been submitted to
him many months before, and he had given orders that the artificers
were to toil night and day to carry them out, and that the whole
world was to be searched for jewels that would be worthy of their
work. He saw himself in fancy standing at the high altar of the
cathedral in the fair raiment of a King, and a smile played and
lingered about his boyish lips, and lit up with a bright lustre his
dark woodland eyes.

After some time he rose from his seat, and leaning against the
carved penthouse of the chimney, looked round at the dimly-lit
room. The walls were hung with rich tapestries representing the
Triumph of Beauty. A large press, inlaid with agate and lapis-
lazuli, filled one corner, and facing the window stood a curiously
wrought cabinet with lacquer panels of powdered and mosaiced gold,
on which were placed some delicate goblets of Venetian glass, and a
cup of dark-veined onyx. Pale poppies were broidered on the silk
coverlet of the bed, as though they had fallen from the tired hands
of sleep, and tall reeds of fluted ivory bare up the velvet canopy,
from which great tufts of ostrich plumes sprang, like white foam,
to the pallid silver of the fretted ceiling. A laughing Narcissus
in green bronze held a polished mirror above its head. On the
table stood a flat bowl of amethyst.

Outside he could see the huge dome of the cathedral, looming like a
bubble over the shadowy houses, and the weary sentinels pacing up
and down on the misty terrace by the river. Far away, in an
orchard, a nightingale was singing. A faint perfume of jasmine
came through the open window. He brushed his brown curls back from
his forehead, and taking up a lute, let his fingers stray across
the cords. His heavy eyelids drooped, and a strange languor came
over him. Never before had he felt so keenly, or with such
exquisite joy, the magic and the mystery of beautiful things.

When midnight sounded from the clock-tower he touched a bell, and
his pages entered and disrobed him with much ceremony, pouring
rose-water over his hands, and strewing flowers on his pillow. A
few moments after that they had left the room, he fell asleep.

And as he slept he dreamed a dream, and this was his dream.

He thought that he was standing in a long, low attic, amidst the
whir and clatter of many looms. The meagre daylight peered in
through the grated windows, and showed him the gaunt figures of the
weavers bending over their cases. Pale, sickly-looking children
were crouched on the huge crossbeams. As the shuttles dashed
through the warp they lifted up the heavy battens, and when the
shuttles stopped they let the battens fall and pressed the threads
together. Their faces were pinched with famine, and their thin
hands shook and trembled. Some haggard women were seated at a
table sewing. A horrible odour filled the place. The air was foul
and heavy, and the walls dripped and streamed with damp.

The young King went over to one of the weavers, and stood by him
and watched him.

And the weaver looked at him angrily, and said, 'Why art thou
watching me? Art thou a spy set on us by our master?'

'Who is thy master?' asked the young King.

'Our master!' cried the weaver, bitterly. 'He is a man like
myself. Indeed, there is but this difference between us--that he
wears fine clothes while I go in rags, and that while I am weak
from hunger he suffers not a little from overfeeding.'

'The land is free,' said the young King, 'and thou art no man's

'In war,' answered the weaver, 'the strong make slaves of the weak,
and in peace the rich make slaves of the poor. We must work to
live, and they give us such mean wages that we die. We toil for
them all day long, and they heap up gold in their coffers, and our
children fade away before their time, and the faces of those we
love become hard and evil. We tread out the grapes, and another
drinks the wine. We sow the corn, and our own board is empty. We
have chains, though no eye beholds them; and are slaves, though men
call us free.'

'Is it so with all?' he asked,

'It is so with all,' answered the weaver, 'with the young as well
as with the old, with the women as well as with the men, with the
little children as well as with those who are stricken in years.
The merchants grind us down, and we must needs do their bidding.
The priest rides by and tells his beads, and no man has care of us.
Through our sunless lanes creeps Poverty with her hungry eyes, and
Sin with his sodden face follows close behind her. Misery wakes us
in the morning, and Shame sits with us at night. But what are
these things to thee? Thou art not one of us. Thy face is too
happy.' And he turned away scowling, and threw the shuttle across
the loom, and the young King saw that it was threaded with a thread
of gold.

And a great terror seized upon him, and he said to the weaver,
'What robe is this that thou art weaving?'

'It is the robe for the coronation of the young King,' he answered;
'what is that to thee?'

And the young King gave a loud cry and woke, and lo! he was in his
own chamber, and through the window he saw the great honey-coloured
moon hanging in the dusky air.

And he fell asleep again and dreamed, and this was his dream.

He thought that he was lying on the deck of a huge galley that was
being rowed by a hundred slaves. On a carpet by his side the
master of the galley was seated. He was black as ebony, and his
turban was of crimson silk. Great earrings of silver dragged down
the thick lobes of his ears, and in his hands he had a pair of
ivory scales.

The slaves were naked, but for a ragged loin-cloth, and each man
was chained to his neighbour. The hot sun beat brightly upon them,
and the negroes ran up and down the gangway and lashed them with
whips of hide. They stretched out their lean arms and pulled the
heavy oars through the water. The salt spray flew from the blades.

At last they reached a little bay, and began to take soundings. A
light wind blew from the shore, and covered the deck and the great
lateen sail with a fine red dust. Three Arabs mounted on wild
asses rode out and threw spears at them. The master of the galley
took a painted bow in his hand and shot one of them in the throat.
He fell heavily into the surf, and his companions galloped away. A
woman wrapped in a yellow veil followed slowly on a camel, looking
back now and then at the dead body.

As soon as they had cast anchor and hauled down the sail, the
negroes went into the hold and brought up a long rope-ladder,
heavily weighted with lead. The master of the galley threw it over
the side, making the ends fast to two iron stanchions. Then the
negroes seized the youngest of the slaves and knocked his gyves
off, and filled his nostrils and his ears with wax, and tied a big
stone round his waist. He crept wearily down the ladder, and
disappeared into the sea. A few bubbles rose where he sank. Some
of the other slaves peered curiously over the side. At the prow of
the galley sat a shark-charmer, beating monotonously upon a drum.

After some time the diver rose up out of the water, and clung
panting to the ladder with a pearl in his right hand. The negroes
seized it from him, and thrust him back. The slaves fell asleep
over their oars.

Again and again he came up, and each time that he did so he brought
with him a beautiful pearl. The master of the galley weighed them,
and put them into a little bag of green leather.

The young King tried to speak, but his tongue seemed to cleave to
the roof of his mouth, and his lips refused to move. The negroes
chattered to each other, and began to quarrel over a string of
bright beads. Two cranes flew round and round the vessel.

Then the diver came up for the last time, and the pearl that he
brought with him was fairer than all the pearls of Ormuz, for it
was shaped like the full moon, and whiter than the morning star.
But his face was strangely pale, and as he fell upon the deck the
blood gushed from his ears and nostrils. He quivered for a little,
and then he was still. The negroes shrugged their shoulders, and
threw the body overboard.

And the master of the galley laughed, and, reaching out, he took
the pearl, and when he saw it he pressed it to his forehead and
bowed. 'It shall be,' he said, 'for the sceptre of the young
King,' and he made a sign to the negroes to draw up the anchor.

And when the young King heard this he gave a great cry, and woke,
and through the window he saw the long grey fingers of the dawn
clutching at the fading stars.

And he fell asleep again, and dreamed, and this was his dream.

He thought that he was wandering through a dim wood, hung with
strange fruits and with beautiful poisonous flowers. The adders
hissed at him as he went by, and the bright parrots flew screaming
from branch to branch. Huge tortoises lay asleep upon the hot mud.
The trees were full of apes and peacocks.

On and on he went, till he reached the outskirts of the wood, and
there he saw an immense multitude of men toiling in the bed of a
dried-up river. They swarmed up the crag like ants. They dug deep
pits in the ground and went down into them. Some of them cleft the
rocks with great axes; others grabbled in the sand.

They tore up the cactus by its roots, and trampled on the scarlet
blossoms. They hurried about, calling to each other, and no man
was idle.

From the darkness of a cavern Death and Avarice watched them, and
Death said, 'I am weary; give me a third of them and let me go.'
But Avarice shook her head. 'They are my servants,' she answered.

And Death said to her, 'What hast thou in thy hand?'

'I have three grains of corn,' she answered; 'what is that to

'Give me one of them,' cried Death, 'to plant in my garden; only
one of them, and I will go away.'

'I will not give thee anything,' said Avarice, and she hid her hand
in the fold of her raiment.

And Death laughed, and took a cup, and dipped it into a pool of
water, and out of the cup rose Ague. She passed through the great
multitude, and a third of them lay dead. A cold mist followed her,
and the water-snakes ran by her side.

And when Avarice saw that a third of the multitude was dead she
beat her breast and wept. She beat her barren bosom, and cried
aloud. 'Thou hast slain a third of my servants,' she cried, 'get
thee gone. There is war in the mountains of Tartary, and the kings
of each side are calling to thee. The Afghans have slain the black
ox, and are marching to battle. They have beaten upon their
shields with their spears, and have put on their helmets of iron.
What is my valley to thee, that thou shouldst tarry in it? Get
thee gone, and come here no more.'

'Nay,' answered Death, 'but till thou hast given me a grain of corn
I will not go.'

But Avarice shut her hand, and clenched her teeth. 'I will not
give thee anything,' she muttered.

And Death laughed, and took up a black stone, and threw it into the
forest, and out of a thicket of wild hemlock came Fever in a robe
of flame. She passed through the multitude, and touched them, and
each man that she touched died. The grass withered beneath her
feet as she walked.

And Avarice shuddered, and put ashes on her head. 'Thou art
cruel,' she cried; 'thou art cruel. There is famine in the walled
cities of India, and the cisterns of Samarcand have run dry. There
is famine in the walled cities of Egypt, and the locusts have come
up from the desert. The Nile has not overflowed its banks, and the
priests have cursed Isis and Osiris. Get thee gone to those who
need thee, and leave me my servants.'

'Nay,' answered Death, 'but till thou hast given me a grain of corn
I will not go.'

'I will not give thee anything,' said Avarice.

And Death laughed again, and he whistled through his fingers, and a
woman came flying through the air. Plague was written upon her
forehead, and a crowd of lean vultures wheeled round her. She
covered the valley with her wings, and no man was left alive.

And Avarice fled shrieking through the forest, and Death leaped
upon his red horse and galloped away, and his galloping was faster
than the wind.

And out of the slime at the bottom of the valley crept dragons and
horrible things with scales, and the jackals came trotting along
the sand, sniffing up the air with their nostrils.

And the young King wept, and said: 'Who were these men, and for
what were they seeking?'

'For rubies for a king's crown,' answered one who stood behind him.

And the young King started, and, turning round, he saw a man
habited as a pilgrim and holding in his hand a mirror of silver.

And he grew pale, and said: 'For what king?'

And the pilgrim answered: 'Look in this mirror, and thou shalt see

And he looked in the mirror, and, seeing his own face, he gave a
great cry and woke, and the bright sunlight was streaming into the
room, and from the trees of the garden and pleasaunce the birds
were singing.

And the Chamberlain and the high officers of State came in and made
obeisance to him, and the pages brought him the robe of tissued
gold, and set the crown and the sceptre before him.

And the young King looked at them, and they were beautiful. More
beautiful were they than aught that he had ever seen. But he
remembered his dreams, and he said to his lords: 'Take these
things away, for I will not wear them.'

And the courtiers were amazed, and some of them laughed, for they
thought that he was jesting.

But he spake sternly to them again, and said: 'Take these things
away, and hide them from me. Though it be the day of my
coronation, I will not wear them. For on the loom of Sorrow, and
by the white hands of Pain, has this my robe been woven. There is
Blood in the heart of the ruby, and Death in the heart of the
pearl.' And he told them his three dreams.

And when the courtiers heard them they looked at each other and
whispered, saying: 'Surely he is mad; for what is a dream but a
dream, and a vision but a vision? They are not real things that
one should heed them. And what have we to do with the lives of
those who toil for us? Shall a man not eat bread till he has seen
the sower, nor drink wine till he has talked with the vinedresser?'

And the Chamberlain spake to the young King, and said, 'My lord, I
pray thee set aside these black thoughts of thine, and put on this
fair robe, and set this crown upon thy head. For how shall the
people know that thou art a king, if thou hast not a king's

And the young King looked at him. 'Is it so, indeed?' he
questioned. 'Will they not know me for a king if I have not a
king's raiment?'

'They will not know thee, my lord,' cried the Chamberlain.

'I had thought that there had been men who were kinglike,' he
answered, 'but it may be as thou sayest. And yet I will not wear
this robe, nor will I be crowned with this crown, but even as I
came to the palace so will I go forth from it.'

And he bade them all leave him, save one page whom he kept as his
companion, a lad a year younger than himself. Him he kept for his
service, and when he had bathed himself in clear water, he opened a
great painted chest, and from it he took the leathern tunic and
rough sheepskin cloak that he had worn when he had watched on the
hillside the shaggy goats of the goatherd. These he put on, and in
his hand he took his rude shepherd's staff.

And the little page opened his big blue eyes in wonder, and said
smiling to him, 'My lord, I see thy robe and thy sceptre, but where
is thy crown?'

And the young King plucked a spray of wild briar that was climbing
over the balcony, and bent it, and made a circlet of it, and set it
on his own head.

'This shall he my crown,' he answered.

And thus attired he passed out of his chamber into the Great Hall,
where the nobles were waiting for him.

And the nobles made merry, and some of them cried out to him, 'My
lord, the people wait for their king, and thou showest them a
beggar,' and others were wroth and said, 'He brings shame upon our
state, and is unworthy to be our master.' But he answered them not
a word, but passed on, and went down the bright porphyry staircase,
and out through the gates of bronze, and mounted upon his horse,
and rode towards the cathedral, the little page running beside him.

And the people laughed and said, 'It is the King's fool who is
riding by,' and they mocked him.

And he drew rein and said, 'Nay, but I am the King.' And he told
them his three dreams.

And a man came out of the crowd and spake bitterly to him, and
said, 'Sir, knowest thou not that out of the luxury of the rich
cometh the life of the poor? By your pomp we are nurtured, and
your vices give us bread. To toil for a hard master is bitter, but
to have no master to toil for is more bitter still. Thinkest thou
that the ravens will feed us? And what cure hast thou for these
things? Wilt thou say to the buyer, "Thou shalt buy for so much,"
and to the seller, "Thou shalt sell at this price"? I trow not.
Therefore go back to thy Palace and put on thy purple and fine
linen. What hast thou to do with us, and what we suffer?'

'Are not the rich and the poor brothers?' asked the young King.

'Ay,' answered the man, 'and the name of the rich brother is Cain.'

And the young King's eyes filled with tears, and he rode on through
the murmurs of the people, and the little page grew afraid and left

And when he reached the great portal of the cathedral, the soldiers
thrust their halberts out and said, 'What dost thou seek here?
None enters by this door but the King.'

And his face flushed with anger, and he said to them, 'I am the
King,' and waved their halberts aside and passed in.

And when the old Bishop saw him coming in his goatherd's dress, he
rose up in wonder from his throne, and went to meet him, and said
to him, 'My son, is this a king's apparel? And with what crown
shall I crown thee, and what sceptre shall I place in thy hand?
Surely this should be to thee a day of joy, and not a day of

'Shall Joy wear what Grief has fashioned?' said the young King.
And he told him his three dreams.

And when the Bishop had heard them he knit his brows, and said, 'My
son, I am an old man, and in the winter of my days, and I know that
many evil things are done in the wide world. The fierce robbers
come down from the mountains, and carry off the little children,
and sell them to the Moors. The lions lie in wait for the
caravans, and leap upon the camels. The wild boar roots up the
corn in the valley, and the foxes gnaw the vines upon the hill.
The pirates lay waste the sea-coast and burn the ships of the
fishermen, and take their nets from them. In the salt-marshes live
the lepers; they have houses of wattled reeds, and none may come
nigh them. The beggars wander through the cities, and eat their
food with the dogs. Canst thou make these things not to be? Wilt
thou take the leper for thy bedfellow, and set the beggar at thy
board? Shall the lion do thy bidding, and the wild boar obey thee?
Is not He who made misery wiser than thou art? Wherefore I praise
thee not for this that thou hast done, but I bid thee ride back to
the Palace and make thy face glad, and put on the raiment that
beseemeth a king, and with the crown of gold I will crown thee, and
the sceptre of pearl will I place in thy hand. And as for thy
dreams, think no more of them. The burden of this world is too
great for one man to bear, and the world's sorrow too heavy for one
heart to suffer.'

'Sayest thou that in this house?' said the young King, and he
strode past the Bishop, and climbed up the steps of the altar, and
stood before the image of Christ.

He stood before the image of Christ, and on his right hand and on
his left were the marvellous vessels of gold, the chalice with the
yellow wine, and the vial with the holy oil. He knelt before the
image of Christ, and the great candles burned brightly by the
jewelled shrine, and the smoke of the incense curled in thin blue
wreaths through the dome. He bowed his head in prayer, and the
priests in their stiff copes crept away from the altar.

And suddenly a wild tumult came from the street outside, and in
entered the nobles with drawn swords and nodding plumes, and
shields of polished steel. 'Where is this dreamer of dreams?' they
cried. 'Where is this King who is apparelled like a beggar--this
boy who brings shame upon our state? Surely we will slay him, for
he is unworthy to rule over us.'

And the young King bowed his head again, and prayed, and when he
had finished his prayer he rose up, and turning round he looked at
them sadly.

And lo! through the painted windows came the sunlight streaming
upon him, and the sun-beams wove round him a tissued robe that was
fairer than the robe that had been fashioned for his pleasure. The
dead staff blossomed, and bare lilies that were whiter than pearls.
The dry thorn blossomed, and bare roses that were redder than
rubies. Whiter than fine pearls were the lilies, and their stems
were of bright silver. Redder than male rubies were the roses, and
their leaves were of beaten gold.

He stood there in the raiment of a king, and the gates of the
jewelled shrine flew open, and from the crystal of the many-rayed
monstrance shone a marvellous and mystical light. He stood there
in a king's raiment, and the Glory of God filled the place, and the
saints in their carven niches seemed to move. In the fair raiment
of a king he stood before them, and the organ pealed out its music,
and the trumpeters blew upon their trumpets, and the singing boys

And the people fell upon their knees in awe, and the nobles
sheathed their swords and did homage, and the Bishop's face grew
pale, and his hands trembled. 'A greater than I hath crowned
thee,' he cried, and he knelt before him.

And the young King came down from the high altar, and passed home
through the midst of the people. But no man dared look upon his
face, for it was like the face of an angel.

Source: Read Books On Line

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