Verse > Anthologies > Harriet Monroe, ed. > Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 1912–22
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Harriet Monroe, ed. (1860–1936).  Poetry: A Magazine of Verse.  1912–22.
 
Charles the Twelfth of Sweden Rides in the Ukraine
By Rainer Maria Rilke
 
Translated from the German by Jessie Lemont

  Kings in old legends seem
  Like mountains rising in the evening light.
  They blind all with their gleam,
  Their loins encircled are by girdles bright,
  Their robes are edged with bands        5
  Of precious stones, the rarest earth affords.
  With richly jeweled hands
  They hold their slender, shining, naked swords.
 
A YOUNG king from the North did fare,
Defeated in the Ukraine.        10
He hated springtime and women’s hair
And the sound of the harps’ refrain.
Upon a steel grey horse he rode,
And like steel was his grey eyes’ glance;
Never for woman had they glowed,        15
And to none had he lowered his lance.
Never a woman his colors claimed,
And none to kiss him would dare;
For at times, when his quick wrath flamed,
A moon of pearls he would tear        20
From a coil of wondrous hair.
When seized by melancholy mood
He wreaked his will of a maid as he would,
And the bridegroom, whose ring she wore, pursued
Through the glade and across the heath        25
With a hundred hounds for many a rood,
Till he hunted him to his death.
 
He left his grey land dim and far,
Whose voice to him never spake;
And rode out under the thrall of war        30
And fought for danger’s sake.
Now he seemed under a spell to ride,
Dreamily slipping his steel-gloved hand
Over his armor from band to band;
But found no sword at his side.        35
And then a miracle occurred—
A glorious vision of battle stirred
And fired his kindling pride.
He sat on his horse and glanced around—
No movement escaped him and no sound.        40
Steel unto steel in silver spoke,
Voices were now in everything;
Like many bells they seemed to ring
As the soul of each thing awoke.
The wind, too, stealthily onward crept        45
And suddenly into the flags it sprang—
Lean like a panther breathless leapt;
Reeling as blasts from the trumpets rang,
It wrestled and laughed and sang.
Then again it would softly hum,        50
As by some bleeding boy it would dart,
Beating a rally upon his drum,
Carried with uplifted head
Into the grave, borne like his heart
Before his battalions dead.        55
Many a mountain upward reared,
As though the earth not yet old had grown
But in the making still appeared.
And now the iron stood still as stone,
And then like a forest at evening swayed,        60
And ever the rising shape still neared
The army’s mightily moving shade.
The dust rose up like vapors veiled;
Darkness, not of time, enveloped all,
And everything grew grey and paled,        65
And smoke rose up and fell like a pall;
Again flame broadened and grew bright,
And all was festively in light.
They attacked: the exotic colors reeled,
On swarms of fantastic provinces rode;        70
All iron with laughter suddenly pealed;
From a prince in luminous silver flowed
The gleam of the evening battle-field.
Like fluttering joys flags seemed to thrill,
Each gesture now showed the desire        75
To regally waste, to wantonly spill—
The flames leapt on far buildings, till
The stars themselves caught fire.
Night came. And the battle’s surging range
Receded like a tired sea        80
That brought with it many dead and strange;
And all the dead lay there heavily.
The grey horse cautiously picked its way
Past great fists starkly warning it back;
In a foreign land the dead men lay        85
Where it stepped over grass that was matted and black.
And he who upon the grey horse sat,
Looked down on the colors moist and frayed,
Saw silver like shivered glass ground flat,
Saw iron wither, and helmets drink,        90
And swords stand stiff in the armor’s chink;
Saw dying hands waving tattered brocade …
And saw them not.
 
After the tumult of battle he rode
Onward as though in a trance, alone;        95
And as with passion his warm cheeks glowed,
Like those of a lover his grey eyes shone.
 
 
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