I have never heard or read
In annals true or fabled story,
That paths of pleasure ever led
Mortal heroes unto glory;
And in proof of this one sees
The labours twelve of Hercules.
However, once, by Talisman
Induced, a knight conceived the plan
Of mounting horse and couching lance,
And seeking lands of fair romance,
Accompanied by one he knew.
After a time there came in view
A post upon the public way,
On which was writ—"A moment stay,
Adventurous knight. If you would see
That which no knight has seen before,
Venture across yon torrent′s roar,
And from the root of yonder tree
Yon elephant′s huge head of stone
Raise up, and, without resting, bear
To yonder mountain′s crest, which proudly stands alone."
Now of these knights one was of those
Who shudder at your swashing blows.
"The torrent′s deep and broad," he cried;
"And if we reach the other side?
Why climb unto a mountain′s crest,
With a stone elephant opprest?
′Tis true the artist may have wrought
His work on such a scale, a man
Might bear it for a yard, then rest;
But tell me not that mortal can
Bear it to yonder mountain′s top,
Not daring once for breath to stay.
Perhaps this mystic head is naught
But such as one might bear away;
And if the latter be the truth,
Success were honour small, in sooth.
The whole thing is so plain a trick,
I′ll leave it. Come, my friend, be quick."
This wise man having passed along,
The other crossed his breast, and made
A dash across the torrent strong,
And found beneath the tree the beast′s head laid.
He raised it, and, with breathless stride,
He bore it to the mountain′s brow,
And there, upon a terrace wide,
Gazed on a city fair that stretched below.
"Umph!" cried the elephant, and then
Forth swarmed a host of armed men.
All other errant knights but this
Would now have shown some cowardice;
But he, so far from turning back,
Couched lance in rest, and spurred to the attack.
But what the hero′s great surprise,
When all the crowd, with joyful cries,
Proclaimed him monarch, in the place
Of one just dead! With modest grace
The knight declared he was not fit
A crown to wear, and then took it.
Sixtus the Pope once said so, too;
(And is it, then, so bad a thing
To be a pope, or be a king?)
But Sixtus said what was not true.
Blind fortune to blind courage is a friend;
And often he will gain his end
Who rashly acts; whilst he who tarries,
By prudence quite deceived, miscarries.