The Bard and the Harlequin
In the misted days of yore,
She came to a kingdom of great lore.
She rode in upon a steed of silver gray,
A look about her in a strange way.
She carried a dagger on her side,
And rode like a man, across and astride.
Upon her back, she had on a ribbon slung,
A lyre of finest wood whose strings had sung,
Tales and fables of great content,
So she was a bard in every intent.
She had heard of the wedding planned
Of the Princess and a Prince of another land.
So she came to sing her songs of romance
And add her music to the wedding dance.
There was a grand ball to be held in the palace
And all the land's people were gathering without malice.
To celebrate the wedding of a union of love and strength
That with good favor, the rule would last a long length.
After indulging her hunger for the fine fare,
The bard found a comfortable chair
That she placed near the great hearth of fire
Where she could sing to her heart's desire.
As the crowd gathered and milled about
Waiting for the portly king and his queen stout.
She saw him standing in a corner, solemn and quiet,
A look of thought upon his painted face, so silent.
She had seen more than one court jester indeed
But this harlequin gave her interest new seed.
He watched the party goers with a half smirk,
His look of thought within his eyes seemed to lurk.
His poise was calm and assured,
Not cowering nor ridiculous absurd.
As he moved, his bells tingled with a merry sound,
But his painted smile was turned down in a frown.
She watched him, most intent to see,
Where his line of vision seemed to be.
It rested upon a boisterous duke,
A man of ill fame and contemptible rebuke
The bard then decided quick
That silliness this harlequin did not prick,
As his stance was one more of a warrior
Than a fool to make the party goers merrier.
He leaned his shoulder to the wall,
His hand resting upon his belt hidden from all.
He kept his gaze upon his quarry,
The duke, shifting and moving as if not to tarry
In one place too long.
A feeling of ill ease filled the bard so strong.
Was this a harlequin or a man in disguise,
Seeking something, a notable prize?
Deep in contemplation, the bard did not hear,
The great room fill with a thunderous cheer,
As entered in waddling dignity, the heads of state.
But the harlequin did, with his eyes the color of blue agate.
He stood erect and was quick to assume
The stance of court jester in the excited room.
The bard, too as well, came to attention
As the festivities began with gleeful intentions.
The king and queen were seated on the thrones,
Smiling benignly on their subjects, floor prone.
All arose as the minstrels began to play,
With the bard's lyre adding in a gentle way.
The harlequin began to twirl and dance,
His painted face fixed as if in a trance.
No one, not even the bard, saw his eyes glance
As the duke moved through the people who had also begun to dance.
The pageboys and maids rushed and hurried
As from the great kitchen they scurried.
The harlequin watched the king's man fix a plate
And reach for a goblet of wine but it was too late.
A almost unseen pass by the duke at the table grand
Had left something in a goblet, something from his hand.
The bard kept playing but she now began to see
That something was happening; some kind of mystery!
The harlequin did a feisty little jiggle,
Slipping between the couples with barely a wiggle.
He stepped close to the king's man and said in his ear
"Do not let the king drink that if you hold your life dear!"
The servant looked aghast but said not a word
And poured the wine on a liveryman, skinny as a bird.
A look of pure rage crossed the duke's face
As he saw his plan had gone out of place.
He scanned the room for the harlequin culprit
But the harlequin was dancing for the queen like a puppet.
The bard was mystified and intrigued
At the harlequin's brave deed
But she knew as well as did he,
The duke was not finished but just wait and see.
The festivities became a frolic
As merry-makers were more alcoholic.
They danced and twirled and ate their fill
And stumbled through some elaborate waltz drills.
The bard and the harlequin stayed out of sight,
Both entertainers and nothing of importance right.
The duke found his duchess and coped an courtly act
But of the harlequin, he strained to keep track.
The bard wearied of the smoke and strangled air
And laid aside her lyre.
She stepped in the gardens smelling so sweet,
Filling her lungs with the airy treat.
She meandered down a twisting path to a bench
And away from the party's heavy stench.
She found a fountain singing sweetly clear
And a night sky of diamonds stars seeming so near.
She sat and hummed a plaintive melody,
Lost in her own private reverie.
"Wise and sharp are thee,
Oh, pretty bard of music and stories."
A voice had spoken from odd-shaped shadows near
And her hand went to her dagger in concealed fear.
The harlequin stepped into the moonlight,
His costume, crazy-patterned and very bright.
She let out a sigh when she saw it was he
As she answered, "But not as mysterious as thee."
The harlequin laughed softly and smiled,
And then turned and walked away, leaving the bard confused and beguiled.
A page appeared in the garden,
Searching for absence without pardon,
The musing bard sitting on the bench,
Feeling somewhat like a discarded kitchen wench.
"The king requests a story from thee"
Said the boy most exasperatedly.
With a sigh and a startled leap,
The bard hurried into the palatial keep.
She found her lyre and her chair of wood
And hurried to the Dias where the thrones stood.
All were seated, waiting to hear,
A story of somewhere far or somewhere near.
She glanced about for the harlequin and saw not,
Wondering to where he had himself be got.
She strummed the lyre's strings gently
And began to sing softly.
"There is a tale I have heard
Of a nobleman who desired a fancy bird.
A bird of faraway with feathers bright
And a croaky mocking voice to delight.
He sent his emissaries far and wide,
Searching every earthly country-side.
At last one returned with the prize,
A bright-colored bird with a beak twice normal size.
The nobleman was delighted to great extent
To possess this bird, he had secured at great expense.
So when at last alone with the bird as he chose,
He leaned too close and the bird bit off his nose.
Moral that lies here is sometimes something from far away
Is not always better than what is here today!"
With these final words, the bard finished her tale
And everyone laughed and cheered, filled with ale.
"Another must we have" cried out the king
So once again, the bard began to sing.
This was a tale of a warrior's glory
But you will have to wait until the next part of the story.
As the bard finished her last tale,
There came from the queen a loud wail.
She doubled over her ample form
And the king reached for her in alarm.
The whole crowd froze in fear
But the bard saw neither the duke or the harlequin near.
She quickly scurried out of sight
As the people seemed filled with fright.
The king had summoned the court physician
And everyone waited for his decision.
Soon the queen was carried away to royal chambers
And the fires died to glowing embers.
The people were ushered away
And the wedding was canceled that day.
The bard received only a paltry fee
Since the ball had ended unhappily.
Then in the night as she curried her horse
She heard out the stable window, an odd discourse.
"You bumbling idiot, you botched your errand again,
The suffering my father's should have been."
Said the oldest son of the house so royal,
The one someday to be king and was loyal
Or until now, this had been thought,
But his masquerade had never been caught!
It was the duke who had poisoned the meat
That had been given to the wrong patriarch to eat.
What this terrible act he had done
Had been so ordered by the king's own son!
The bard crept quietly into the stable darkness,
Her heart sorrowing at the heir's emotional starkness.
The two men soon walked away into the night
And a voice spoke to her out of sight.
"So you heard it too, did you?" came the familiar voice again
And into the dim light, stepped the harlequin!
The bard nodded in ascent,
And the harlequin quietly received her agreement.
Then with a wink of his eye,
He bid her goodbye
The dawn of the next day soon found,
An angry matriarch and an uncertain crown.
A note slipped,
A few words flipped,
In the darkness to hear,
With a bard and a harlequin near.
The jester the king's own man,
And a bard who never from right ran,
With both to confirm,
With an overheard plot that made a prince squirm.
The duke to the dudgeon for the rest of his days,
And the prince banished faraway,
A second son would continue the line,
And the wedding went off, oh, so fine!
The bard was paid well, indeed.
And the Captain of the Guard of his Harlequin disguise freed.
In a fortnight, the King's Man took a leave,
A certain beautiful bard to retrieve
For love and happiness forever,
And loneliness again never!
So ends my tale of fun and rhyme,
Until the next time!
Written in 2001
(The poem below was written many years before this one but it still remains one of my favorite early pieces.)
Dance on, my sad-eyed friend,
With thy painted face.
For thou art the Harlequin.
A joker to dance and play
Before the real fools,
Those who laugh and scorn thee,
Are life's true clowns.
Not thee, who is said to be,
A simpleton to entertain
But not considered a person.
For I know beneath that paint,
On a sad face and a tragic smile,
Thou art real in all sense.
Who would look in a Harlequin's eyes
To search its depths.
Blind are those
That do not see the wisdom there.
Silently, thou laughs at them
In their guady attire and false lives.
But, my Harlequin,
We know what they are!
They will die with screams of fear
While thou will pass on
To other lives with a tinkle of tiny bells.
Written June, 1966