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King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid

An old English ballad, reprinted in Reliques of Ancient English Poetry; consisting of old heroic ballads, songs, and other pieces of our earlier poets; together with some few of later date by Thomas Percy, Lord Bishop of Dromore, 3 vols, 1765 and 1794. The ballad is mentioned by William Shakespeare, Ben Johnson and other writers of the 16th century.

I read that once in Africa
    A princely wight did reign,
Who had to name Cophetua,
    As poets they did feign:
From nature's laws he did decline,
For sure he was not of my mind.
He cared not for women-kind,
    But did them all disdain.
But, mark, what happened on a day,
As he out of his window lay,
He saw a beggar all in gray,
    The which did cause him pain.

The blinded boy, that shoots so trim,
    From heaven down did hie;
He drew a dart and shot at him,
    In place where he did lie:
Which soon did pierce him to the quick,
And when he felt the arrow prick,
Which in his tender heart did stick,
    He looked as he would die.
"What sudden chance is this," quoth he,
"That I to love must subject be,
Which never thereto would agree,
    But still did it defy?"

Then from the window he did come,
    And laid him on his bed,
A thousand heaps of care did run
    Within his troubled head:
For now he means to crave her love,
And now he seeks which way to prove
How he his fancy might remove,
    And not this beggar wed.
But Cupid had him so in snare,
That this poor beggar must prepare
A salve to cure him of his care,
    Or else he would be dead.

And, as he musing thus did lie,
    He thought for to devise
How he might have her company,
    That so did 'maze his eyes.
"In thee," quoth he, "doth rest my life;
    For surely thou shalt be my wife,
Or else this hand with bloody knife
    The Gods shall sure suffice."
Then from his bed he soon arose,
And to his palace gate he goes;
Full little then this beggar knows
    When she the King espies.

"The Gods preserve your majesty,"
    The beggars all 'gan cry:
"Vouchsafe to give your charity
    Our children's food to buy."
The king to them his purse did cast,
And they to part it made great haste;
This silly woman was the last
    That after them did hie.
The king he called her back again,
And unto her he gave his chain;
And said, 'With us you shall remain
    Till such time as we die:

"For thou," quoth he, "shalt be my wife,
    And honoured for my queen;
With thee I mean to lead my life,
    As shortly shall be seen:
Our wedding shall appointed be,
And everything in its degree:
Come on," quoth he, "and follow me,
    Thou shalt go shift thee clean.
What is thy name, fair maid?" quoth he.
"Penelophon, O King," quoth she;
With that she made a low courtsey;
    A trim one as I ween.

Thus hand in hand along they walk
    Unto the king's palace:
The king with courteous, comely talk
    This beggar doth embrace:
The beggar blusheth scarlet red,
And straight again as pale as lead,
But not a word at all she said,
    She was in such amaze.
At last she spake with trembling voice,
And said, "O king, I do rejoice
That you will take me from your choice,
    And my degree's so base."

And when the wedding day was come,
    The king commanded straight
The noblemen both all and some
    Upon the queen to wait.
And she behaved herself that day,
As if she had never walked the way;
She had forgot her gown of gray,
    Which she did wear of late.
The proverb old is come to pass,
The priest, when he begins his mass,
Forgets that ever clerk he was;
    He know'th not his estate.

And thus they led a quiet life
    During their princely reign;
And in a tomb were buried both,
    As writers showeth plain.
The lords they took it grievously,
The ladies took it heavily,
The commons cried piteously,
    Their death to them was pain;
Their fame did sound so passingly,
That it did pierce the starry sky,
And throughout all the world did fly
    To every prince's realm.

Here you may read Cophetua,
    Though long time fancy-fed,
Compelled by the blinded boy
    The beggar for to wed:
He that did lovers' looks disdain,
To do the same was glad and fain,
Or else he would himself have slain,
    In story, as we read.
Disdain no whit, O lady dear,
But pity now thy servant here,
Lest that it hap to thee this year,
    As to that king it did.


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