“The Memory”: a poem by Lord Dunsany (1878 – 1957)

This romantic fairy tale comes from Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany, one of the great British fantasists of the turn of the century, the remarkable period that also produced such greats as C.S. Lewis (a fellow Irishman), J.R.R. Tolkien,  G.K. Chesterton, and W.B. Yeats (another Irishman). I have yet to read anything else of Dunsany, though one of his novels is waiting on my bookshelf. In this poem he uses some beautiful imagery to evoke the intense and tragic longing of this lovesick lord of Tartary.

Lord Dunsany (1878 – 1957)

The Memory

I watch the doctors walking with the nurses to and fro
And I hear them softly talking in the garden where they go,
But I envy not their learning, nor their right of walking free,
For the emperor of Tartary has died for love of me.

I can see his face all golden beneath his night-black hair,
And the temples strange and olden in the gleaming eastern air,
Where he walked alone and sighing because I would not sail
To the lands where he was dying for a love of no avail.

He had seen my face by magic in a mirror that they make
For those rulers proud and tragic by their lotus-covered lake,
Where there hangs a pale-blue tiling on an alabaster wall.
And he loved my way of smiling, and loved nothing else at all.

There were peacocks there and peaches, and green monuments of jade,
Where macaws with sudden screeches made the little dogs afraid,
And the silver fountains sprinkled foreign flowers on the sward
As they rose and curved and tinkled for their listless yellow lord.

Ah well, he’s dead and rotten in his far magnolia grove,
But his love is unforgotten and I need no other love,
And with open eyes when sleeping, or closed eyes when awake,
I can see the fountains leaping by the borders of the lake.

They call it my delusion; they may call it what they will,
For the times are in confusion and are growing wilder still,
And there are no splendid memories in any face I see.
But an emperor of Tartary has died for love of me.

The Book of Celtic Verse, ed. John Matthews, p. 137-138.