April 10, 2011

The Ballad of the Pauper King

There was a kingdom long ago in a country far away
Whose ruler was quite different from the ones we know today.

For most kings boast of knights and slaves, of wealth and armies vast
But this king was a different sort, his heart a different cast.

I understand it sounds absurd, a king without a crown
Yet listen to my story and you'll hear of his renown.

It started one cold morning when he sat upon his throne
And looking out the window saw an orphan all alone.

She knelt upon the courtyard steps, and begged for food to eat
But everyone ignored the girl and left her on the street.

The king's heart broke inside his chest and so he had her led
into the royal gallery, to see that she was fed.

The courtiers gawked and whispered, this was most astonishing,
A king who ate with peasants was not acting like a king!

He asked the girl the reason why she had no place to live
She said "You've taxed us all so much, we've nothing left to give!"

From that day forth he looked beyond his walls and saw the land
Was full of hurting people who all suffered at his hand.

The king desired to feed the starving subjects of his town
And swore that he would do so, even if it cost his crown.

He emptied out the treasury and castle kitchen's fare
Then made a massive pile in the middle of town square.

The subjects were astonished at the kindness of their lord
But crowded round the market as they divvied up his hoard.

The king took everything he owned and gave it to the poor
Although it left him destitute, he wished to help them more.

He traveled through the city, aiding people who were ill
The invalids all smiled with the warmth of his goodwill.

He weeded gardens, cleaned out stables, groomed the horses too
Always searching eagerly for the next chore to pursue.

He mended children's clothing where the threads had been worn bare
And as he called them each by name he offered up this prayer:

"Oh Father, bless these children, feed them daily, keep them warm
And guide them with your presence safely through the raging storm."

And in a thousand other ways he met their every need
As an example to the city how a servant king must lead.

Across the vast dominion there was not a girl or boy
Who'd not received his kindness or been brightened by his joy.

Yet over time the people grew so used to being free
He slowly faded from their thoughts into a memory.

Until the day a few years hence the world could not recall
That this country was a kingdom, or still had a king at all.

Then winter came around again, and chilled the frosty air.
A beggar sat upon the stone in the middle of town square.

He asked the passersby for shelter from the coming storm
for all he had were tattered rags to keep his body warm.

But everyone ignored the man. They left him all alone.
And so he spent the bitter night curled up on calloused stone.

As starlight faded with the morn a maiden found him there.
She knelt to feel the missing breath and cried out in despair.

For here had died the nation's king, forgotten and unknown
By all except the peasant girl who first approached his throne.

'Twas here the people found their lord, head cradled on her breast
The light of morning kissed the brow which heaven's light had blessed.

The kingdom mourned for what was lost. The very planet cried.
For love had paid the highest cost when love itself had died.

A statue stands there to this day on memory's behalf
Upon the pedestal these words are carved in epitaph:

"Here lies the king of paupers who for love gave everything
to the people of his kingdom, and so died a proper king.

He had no shining palace, no throne or crown of gold
Yet he was crowned with splendour when his very life was sold.

His lesson rings through history, to those who heed the call
That he who wants to be the first must first be last of all."

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