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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

The Second-Sight

By Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882)

From ‘The King’s Tragedy’

AGAINST the coming of Christmastide

That year the King bade call

I’ the Black Friars’ Charterhouse of Perth

A solemn festival.

And we of his household rode with him

In a close-ranked company;

But not till the sun had sunk from his throne

Did we reach the Scotish Sea.

That eve was clenched for a boding storm,

’Neath a toilsome moon half seen:

The cloud stooped low and the surf rose high;

And where there was a line of the sky,

Wild wings loomed dark between.

And on a rock of the black beach-side,

By the veiled moon dimly lit,

There was something seemed to heave with life

As the King drew nigh to it.

And was it only the tossing furze

Or brake of the waste sea-wold?

Or was it an eagle bent to the blast?

When near we came, we knew it at last

For a woman tattered and old.

But it seemed as though by a fire within

Her writhen limbs were wrung;

And as soon as the King was close to her

She stood up gaunt and strong.

’Twas then the moon sailed clear of the rack,

On high in her hollow dome;

And still as aloft with hoary crest

Each clamorous wave rang home,

Like fire in snow the moonlight blazed

Amid the champing foam.

And the woman held his eyes with her eyes:—

“O King, thou art come at last;

But thy wraith has haunted the Scotish Sea

To my sight for four years past.

“Four years it is since first I met,

’Twixt the Duchray and the Dhu,

A shape whose feet clung close in a shroud,

And that shape for thine I knew.

“A year again, and on Inchkeith Isle

I saw thee pass in the breeze,

With the cerecloth risen above thy feet

And wound about thy knees.

“And yet a year, in the Links of Forth,

As a wanderer without rest,

Thou cam’st with both thine arms i’ the shroud

That clung high up thy breast.

“And in this hour I find thee here,

And well mine eyes may note

That the winding-sheet hath passed thy breast

And risen around thy throat.

“And when I meet thee again, O King,

That of death hast such sore drouth,—

Except thou turn again on this shore,

The winding-sheet will have moved once more

And covered thine eyes and mouth.

“O King whom poor men bless for their king,

Of thy fate be not so fain;

But these my words for God’s message take,

And turn thy steed, O King, for her sake

Who rides beside thy rein!”

While the woman spoke, the King’s horse reared

As if it would breast the sea,

And the Queen turned pale as she heard on the gale

The voice die dolorously.

When the woman ceased, the steed was still,

But the King gazed on her yet;

And in silence save for the wail of the sea

His eyes and her eyes met.

At last he said:—“God’s ways are his own;

Man is but shadow and dust.

Last night I prayed by his altar-stone;

To-night I wend to the Feast of his Son:

And in him I set my trust.

“I have held my people in sacred charge,

And have not feared the sting

Of proud men’s hate,—to His will resigned

Who has but one same death for a hind

And one same death for a king.

“And if God in his wisdom have brought close

The day when I must die,

That day by water or fire or air

My feet shall fall in the destined snare

Wherever my road may lie.

“What man can say but the Fiend hath set

Thy sorcery on my path,

My heart with the fear of death to fill,

And turn me against God’s very will

To sink in his burning wrath?”

The woman stood as the train rode past,

And moved nor limb nor eye;

And when we were shipped, we saw her there

Still standing against the sky.

As the ship made way, the moon once more

Sank low in her rising pall;

And I thought of the shrouded wraith of the King,

And I said, “The Heavens know all.”