The Old Swordsman
We were always picking quarrels in my youth —
O, on the nicest points, truth and half-truth,
Whim or opinion. Otherwise, boy, you were naught,
Plain naught, in any Hero’s eyes;
Any lean Hero, with his insolent blade,
His imitation smile, the scar that made
His legend, a haughty whiteness, in the brown
Of his dark cheek; boy after boy cut down
Over spilt Rhenish wine, a bodice-lace.
By God, I think we did it by the grace
Of devils, not of God. Now that I’m old . . .
(Pile on those logs; the very shadows seem cold) . . .
I don’t much like to see those stammering lips
Of Youth; proud to its finger-tips,
Not willing to back down. "Sir, she’s a saint,
Milady." Well, that won’t help you. Riposte and feint,
A thousand deft tricks of the fencing-school,
Always the hard eyes laughing, quarrelsome, cool.
Boy, I was of their best.
A little while at Court, ’twas manifest
One had to be a swordsman, or admit
Deficiencies no quietude or wit
Quite covered. Well, so I learned their rules.
A little, and I grew dangerous for fools.
A little, and I went mincing my way to trouble.
I’ve seen the dark blood bubble
O’er the white shirt of one as young as you.
Tall, he was, staunch, eyes blue,
And slightly drunk. I killed him. O, no crime . . .
Just an affair of honour. Well, that morning,
Unshaven, drunk, I stared in my looking-glass;
Drew out the flexible blade for the last time . . .
Feint and riposte and pass . . .
There, without seconds, without one word of warning,
I killed the Hero, too.
You see the empty scabbard at my side?
I’ve worn it ever since. My name for it is Pride.