‘King Duffus’ - a Poem by Sylvia Townsend Warner

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Our author of the month for August this year is the English writer Sylvia Townsend Warner. Here’s a poem from her Selected Poems, displaying what Denis Donoghue, writing in the London Review of Books described as her fondness for “ballads, stories true once for all”.

KING DUFFUS

When all the witches were haled to the stake and burned;
When their least ashes were swept up and drowned,
King Duffus opened his eyes and looked round.


For half a year they had trussed him in their spell:
Parching, scorching, roaring, he was blackened as a coal.
Now he wept like a freshet in April.


Tears ran like quicksilver through his rocky beard.
Why have you wakened me, he said, with a clattering sword?
Why have you snatched me back from the green yard?


There I sat feasting under the cool linden shade;
The beer in the silver cup was ever renewed,
I was at peace there, I was well-bestowed:


My crown lay lightly on my brow as a clot of foam,
My wide mantle was yellow as the flower of the broom,
Hale and holy I was in mind and in limb.


I sat among poets and among philosophers,
Carving fat bacon for the mother of Christ;
Sometimes we sang, sometimes we conversed.


Why did you summon me back from the midst of that meal
To a vexed kingdom and a smoky hall?
Could I not stay at least until dewfall?

Copyright Sylvia Townsend Warner, with thanks to Carcanet Press.

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