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Poem by Isabella Valancy Crawford


The White Bull


Ev'ry dusk eye in Madrid,
Flash'd blue 'neath its lid;
As the cry and the clamour ran round,
"The king has been crown'd!
And the brow of his bride has been bound
With the crown of a queen!"
    And between
Te Deum and salvo, the roar
    Of the crowd in the square,
Shook tower and bastion and door,
And the marble of altar and floor;
    And high in the air,
The wreaths of the incense were driven
To and fro, as are riven
The leaves of a lily, and cast
By the jubilant shout of the blast
    To and fro, to and fro,
And they fell in the chancel and nave,
As the lily falls back on the wave,
And trembl'd and faded and died,
As the white petals tremble and shiver,
    And fade in the tide
Of the jewel dark breast of the river.

"Ho, gossips, the wonderful news!
I have worn two holes in my shoes,
    With the race I have run;
And, like an old grape in the sun,
I am shrivell'd with drought, for I ran
Like an antelope rather than man.
Our King is a king of Spaniards indeed,
And he loves to see the bold bull bleed;
And the Queen is a queen, by the saints right fit,
In half of the Spanish throne to sit;
Tho' blue her eyes and wanly fair,
Her cheek, and her neck, and her flaxen hair;
    For free and full
She can laugh as she watches the staggering bull;
And tap on the jewels of her fan,
    While horse and man,
Reel on in a ruby rain of gore;
And pout her lip at the Toreador;
    And fling a jest
If he leave the fight with unsullied vest,
    No crack on his skin,
Where the bull's sharp horn has entered in.
Caramba, gossips, I would not be king,
    And rule and reign
Over wine-shop, and palace, and all broad Spain,
    If under my wing
I had not a mate who could joy to the full,
In the gallant death of a man or a bull!"

    "What is the news
That has worn two holes in my Saints'-day shoes,
And parch'd me so with heat and speed,
That a skin of wine down my throat must bleed?
Why this, there's a handsome Hidalgo at Court,
    And half in sport,
He scour'd the country far and wide,
For a gift to pleasure the royal bride;
And on the broad plains of the Guadalquiver
    He gave a pull
To the jewell'd bridle and silken rein,
That made his stout horse rear and shiver;
For in the dusk reeds of the silver river
Like the angry stars that redly fly
From the dark blue peaks of the midnight sky,
    And smouldering lie,
    Blood-red till they die
In the blistering groundthe eyes he saw
Of a bull without blemish, or speck, or flaw,
And a hide as white as a dead saint's soul
With many a clinking of red pistole;
And draughts of sour wine from the herdsman's bowl,
    He paid the full
Price in bright gold of the brave white bull.

    "Comrades we all
    From the pulpit tall
Have heard the fat friars say God has decreed
That the peasant shall sweat and the soldier shall bleed,
    And Hidalgo and King
    May righteously wring
Sweat and blood from us all, weak, strong, young and old,
And turn the tax into Treasury gold.
Well, the friar knows best,
    Or why wear a cowl?
And a cord round his breast?
    So why should we scowl?
The friar is learned and knows the mind,
    From core to rind,
Of God, and the Virgin, and ev'ry saint
That a tongue can name or a brush can paint;
    And I've heard him declare
With a shout that shook all the birds in the air,
    That two kinds of clay
Are used in God's Pottery every day.
The finest and best he puts in a mould
    Of purest gold,
Stamped with the mark of His signet ring,
    And He turns them out,
    (While the angels shout)
The Pope and the priest, the Hidalgo and King!
And He gives them dominion full and just
O'er the creatures He kneads from the common dust,
And the clay, stamped with His proper sign,
    Has right divine
To the sweat, and the blood and the bended knee
Of such, my gossips, as ye and me.
    Who cares? Not I
Only let King and Hidalgo buy,
    With the red pistoles
They wring from our sweltering bodies and souls,
    Treasures as full
Of the worth of gold as the bold white bull!

"The Hidalgo rode back to the Court:
    And to finish the sport,
    When the King had been crowned,
And the flaxen hair of the bride had been bound,
    With the crown of the Queen;
He took a huge necklace of plates of gold,
    With rubies between;
    And wound it threefold
Round the brute's broad neck, and with ruby ring
In its fire-puffed nostrils had it led
To the feet of the Queen as she sat by the King,
With the red crown set on her lily head;
    And she said
    'Let the bull be led
To the floor
    Of the arena: Proclaim,
    In my name,
That the valliant and bold Toreador,
    Who slays him shall pull
The rubies and gold from the gore
    Of the bold white bull!'

"That is the news which I bear;
I heard it below in the square
    And to and fro,
    I heard the voice blow
Of Pedro, the brawny young Toreador,
    As he swore
By the tremulous light of the golden star
That quivers beneath the soft lid
    Of Pilar,
Who sells tall lilies through fair Madrid;
    He would wind six-fold
Round her neck, long, slender, round and full,
    The rubies and gold
    That three times rolled
Round the mighty breast of the bold white bull.
    And loudly he sang,
    While the wine cups rang,
      'If I'm the bravest Toreador
        In gallant, gay Madrid,
      If thou hast got the brightest eye
        That dances 'neath a lid;
      If e'er of Andalusian wine
        I drank a bottle full,
      The gold, the rubies shall be thine
        That deck the bold white bull.'

"Already a chorus rings out in the city,
    A jubilant ditty,
    And every guitar
Vibrates to the names of Pedro and Pilar;
And the strings and voices are soulless and dull
That sound not the name of the bold white bull!"



Isabella Valancy Crawford


Isabella Valancy Crawford's other poems:
  1. Bouche-Mignonne
  2. An Interregnum
  3. Said the Wind
  4. His Sweetheart
  5. Late Loved - Well Loved


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