Adams, Oscar Fay

United States, (1855–1919)

Thomas and Vivien

  1. ARGUMENT.
  2. Tom, Tom, the piper’s son,
  3. Stole a pig and away he ran.
  4. The pig was eat, and Tom was beat
  5. And Tom went crying down the street.
  6.  
  7. THOMAS the young, Thomas the mischievous,
  8. Thomas the dark-brow’d lad of Camelot,
  9. After a day of mirth and reveling
  10. At court, in which, tho’ oft rebuk’d, his voice
  11. Had ever mingl’d, louder than the rest,
  12. And shriller than the storm-drave seabird’s cry,
  13. None within a triple-window’d room
  14. That in his father’s dwelling faced the east,
  15. Upon his bed, ere sleep her wings had wav’d
  16. Above him, lay and meditated much
  17. In what new mischief he should next engage;
  18. Then, ere conclusion harmful could be reach’d,
  19. Slipt into sleep, and dreaming, past to fields
  20. Where youth and mischief held high holiday.
  21.  
  22. Sole son was he of old Sir Guy; a man
  23. Of stature humble, but of wisdom great,
  24. Who now was counted of the Table Round,
  25. But in his youth, as some could still recall,
  26. Ere from the land of Cameliard he came,
  27. The sometime piper to its lord and King
  28. Leodogran, ‘gainst whom the heathen warr’d;
  29. But after, when the peerless Guinevere,
  30. The daughter of Leodogran, had been
  31. By holy Dubric to King Arthur wed,
  32. Had past to Camelot; and there by dint
  33. Of faithful service in a humble place,
  34. But more because the King the fire of truth
  35. And nobleness perceiv’d in him and lov’d
  36. Him for it, was now made knight, and brightly shone
  37. In burnisht armor at King Arthur’s court.
  38. With him the King had counsel many times,
  39. For knowledge deep of men and things Sir Guy
  40. Possest, and year my year his wisdom grew
  41. The riper as his head grew white. But since
  42. To no man living perfect wisdom comes
  43. It hapt therefore, that in one thing, not small,
  44. Sir Guy, the sage was wanting, and the King
  45. To him had that day put a question hard.
  46.  
  47. “How chances it, Sir Guy,” had Arthur said,
  48. “That thou whom all men reverently call
  49. The wisest of our court, now Merlin lies
  50. A pris’ner in the wood of Broceliande,
  51. Hast fail’d, or so it seemeth to our eyes,
  52. To rule and govern well thine only son?”
  53. He ceas’d and then, from out a passage close
  54. Beside, a woman came and stood before
  55. And cried:
  56. “O King, who never yet wouldst see
  57. And willingly, injustice done to aught,
  58. Hearken to me. But now my son, in years
  59. Scarce ten and slender as a flower, was set
  60. Upon and beaten by a lad, the son,
  61. It hap’neth, of thy wisest knight, Sir Guy,
  62. And therefore may it please thee, noble King,
  63. To see that this young Thomas, for so him
  64. They call, be dealt with sternly, as is sure
  65. His due.”
  66. She spoke in haste, not seeing him
  67. Who stood beside the king, and courteously
  68. Made Arthur answer to her, and she went
  69. From out the kingly presence glad of heart.
  70. When the last echo of her steps had ceas’d,
  71. The King again to his companion turn’d
  72. Repeating in the glances of his eyes
  73. The question that before was ask’d with lips.
  74. Stroking his chin in thought, Sir Guy abode
  75. In silence for a space, then, sudden, flasht
  76. A face of mirthful radiance on the King,
  77. And begg’d his lord would listen to a tale.
  78. “Full willingly, Sir Guy,” replied the King,
  79. And smooth’d the gilded dragon on his robe.
  80.  
  81. “A peasant in the land of Cameliard,”
  82. Began Sir Guy, “a slender living won
  83. By keeping ducks and geese, and round his hut
  84. Their constant screams and quackings harshly rang
  85. From earliest hours,—sweet music to his ears.
  86. One spring it chanced that from the nest two geese
  87. Came off at once leading their callow young.
  88. One mother proudly walk’d in front of ten
  89. Yellow as gold, and all submissively
  90. They follow’d where she led, nor seem’d to dream
  91. Of will apart from hers. The other goose
  92. Was mother of but one, and this one black
  93. And wayward, such as never had been seen.
  94. In vain the mother strove obedience
  95. From this to gain; and oft her comrades shook
  96. Their heads, foreboding ills that lay in wait
  97. For errant goslings that obey’d no law.
  98. At last the mother strove no more but left
  99. Her single gosling to its own wild will:
  100. But when a year had gone the peasant saw
  101. No finer bird amongst his flock than this
  102. Of which such dire prediction had been made.
  103. But she that led abroad her brood of ten
  104. Ere summer ended saw them fall a prey
  105. To enemies that lurkt in grass and pool,
  106. And one by one they slowly disappear’d
  107. Till autumn came and found her desolate.”
  108.  
  109. “A clever tale,” here spoke the King, and smil’d
  110. “But all things are not rul’d by accident,
  111. Sir Guy, and seldom from the thorns do men
  112. Attempt the purple-cluster’d grape to pluck,
  113. And this Sir Guy, the wise, should know as well,
  114. Or better, even, than the King himself.”
  115. Then, rising, Arthur past with thoughtful step
  116. Unto the bower of Guinevere, his Queen.
  117.  
  118. Thomas the young, Thomas the mischievous,
  119. Awak’ning on the morrow from his sleep,
  120. Beheld from out the windows of his room
  121. A sight that fill’d his bosom with delight,
  122. For while as down the narrow street he glanced,
  123. A well-fed sow, attended by the train
  124. Of youthful swine that made her litter small,
  125. With grunts of deep content slow rang’d along.
  126. A moment only gaz’d the lad, then stole
  127. With soundless steps down the long stair, and peer’d
  128. Into the street without. In narrow lines
  129. Thro’ rifts between high houses shone the sun
  130. And lay in golden bars across the street.
  131. A soft breeze lifted banners from the walls
  132. And tost them lightly in the air. Scarce had
  133. The city wak’d, and only here and there
  134. An early-risen scullion, rubbing eyes
  135. In which the sleep yet linger’d, went his way
  136. To morning task. The lagging steps of these
  137. And noise of swine the only sounds that stirr’d
  138. The silence of the town. All cautiously
  139. The lad with careful feet, on mischief bent
  140. Crept toward the trustful, unsuspicious swine,
  141. But, as his shadow fell across a bar
  142. Of gold, the mother felt the danger near,
  143. And, shrieking, fled, with all her litter’d tribe
  144. At heels. But one, the smallest, tenderest
  145. Of all, because less swift of foot than all
  146. The rest, the ruthless Thomas seiz’d and bore
  147. Triumphant to his friend, the palace cook,
  148. The twain intending later on the pig
  149. To dine.
  150. Ill reckon’d they, the knavish pair,
  151. For wily Vivien thro’ her lattice saw
  152. The theft, and so, because she lov’d to tell
  153. A tale, and more because the lad had been
  154. Full oft a torment to her, later went
  155. And told King Arthur what the son of Guy
  156. Had done. The blameless King when he her tale
  157. In silence heard, not doubting that for once
  158. She spoke the truth, bade some one call Sir Guy
  159. And Tom, and summon likewise all the court.
  160. When this was done the King upon Sir Guy
  161. Bent brows of sudden wrath and said:
  162. “Thy one
  163. Black gosling,’ O Sir Guy, in growing up
  164. To be the chiefest goose, or what thou wilt,
  165. Of all his time, is like, I fear me much,
  166. To prove a very fruitful source of ill
  167. Among the youth of tender age at court.”
  168. To this in humbleness Sir Guy replied:
  169. “It may be as thou sayest; therefore do
  170. Unto him as thou wilt.”
  171. Then call’d the King.
  172. Sir Kay, the seneschal, and gave command
  173. That at the stroke of noon Sir Kay should lay
  174. On thieving Thomas full twelve stripes with rod
  175. Of season’d birch; and hearing this, a smile
  176. Of joy ran round the court, and no one rais’d
  177. A voice of pity, for none pitied him.
  178. Then as Sir Kay the luckless Thomas led
  179. From out the presence of the court and King,
  180. The wily Vivien past to where the cooks
  181. And scullions bode and singling out the one
  182. She knew to be the friend of Thomas, drew
  183. From him with all her wondrous woman’s art
  184. The after hist’ry of the stolen pig.
  185. Won by the damsel’s smile, before he knew,
  186. The cook, a simple knave and all unus’d
  187. To arts like these of Vivien’s, promise gave
  188. That he at noon the roasted pig would place
  189. Upon the table in her private bower,
  190. For on such fare full well she lov’d to dine.
  191. The promise made again she smil’d and seem’d
  192. As innocently fair as Enid, wife
  193. To Prince Geraint, and, dazzl’d by such grace
  194. To him, a kitchen servingman, he stood
  195. With floury hands on hips and open mouth,
  196. And wide eyes staring as she past without.
  197.  
  198. Thomas the young, Thomas the mischievous,
  199. With dark anticipation watcht the sun
  200. As rapidly it clomb the morning sky,
  201. And much too short the time till from the tow’rs
  202. Was clasht the hour of noon, but to the maid
  203. The hours paced slow, and oft she sigh’d for noon
  204. Impatiently exclaiming to herself
  205. That never had been known a morn so long.
  206. But when, on platter hot, the cook the pig
  207. Brought in, her humor chang’d and thereupon
  208. Grew all as sweet as breath of flowers in June.
  209. Low bow’d the man as she within his palm
  210. A gold’n token slipt from fingers white,
  211. The while he heard her voice his cooking praise,
  212. And felt the magic of her presence near
  213. And vainly wish’d himself of her degree;
  214. For breath of scandal soiling Vivien’s name
  215. Had not so far as palace kitchen blown,
  216. And therefore deem’d he still the damsel pure.
  217.  
  218. Long linger’d she o’er this her fav’rite dish,
  219. And none the less ’twas sweet to her who knew
  220. That high above the tumult of the streets
  221. Below, in direful anguish, rang the shrieks
  222. Of Tom.

Editor’s Note:

In some of the many versions of the Arthurian legends Vivien, sometimes called Nineve, is best known as the woman who seals Merlin in a tomb, cave or tree where he suffers a slow death.

In other versions of the legend, despite foreseeing his fate, Merlin is unable to prevent being captivated and captured by Vivien. In other versions, she loves the enchanter and seals him in a beautiful tower, magically constructed, so that she can keep him always for herself, visiting him regularly and granting her love to him.

© Oscar Fay Adams. Post-Laureate Idyls and other poems. Boston: D. Lothrop and Co. (1886).

About the Poet:

Oscar Fay Adams (1855-1919) was a U.S. editor, poet and author as well as a lecturer upon literature and architecture. Adams was born in Worcester, Massachusetts and graduated from New Jersey State Normal School.

He edited various books, that include: Through the Year With the Poets (12 volumes), Chapters from Jane Austen and William Morris’ Atalanta’s Race: and other tales from the earthly paradise.

His own works include: A Brief Handbook of English Authors, A brief Handbook of American Authors, Post-Laureate Idyls, At the Palace of King Lot and The Story of Jane Austin’s Life. [DES-07/12]

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