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Short poem

Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt (1836-1919)

The Black Princess
(A True Fable of My Old Kentucky Nurse)

              1I knew a Princess: she was old,
              2    Crisp-haired, flat-featured, with a look
              3Such as no dainty pen of gold
              4    Would write of in a fairy book.

              5So bent she almost crouched, her face
              6    Was like the Sphinx’s face, to me,
              7Touched with vast patience, desert grace,
              8    And lonesome, brooding mystery.

              9What wonder that a face so strong
            10    As hers, so sorrowful, so still,
            11Should watch in bitter sands so long,
            12    Obedient to a burning will!

            13This Princess was a slave – like one
            14    I read of in a painted tale;
            15Yet free enough to see the sun,
            16    And all the flowers without a vail.

            17Not of the lamp, not of the ring,
            18    The helpless, powerful slave was she;
            19But of a subtler, fiercer thing –
            20    She was the slave of Slavery.

            21Court lace nor jewels had she seen:
            22    She wore a precious smile, so rare
            23That at her side the whitest queen
            24    Were dark – her darkness was so fair.

            25Nothing of loveliest loveliness
            26    This strange, sad Princess seemed to lack;
            27Majestic with her calm distress
            28    She was, and beautiful, though black.

            29Black, but enchanted black, and shut
            30    In some vague giant’s tower of air,
            31Built higher than her hope was. But
            32    The true knight came and found her there.

            33The Knight of the Pale Horse, he laid
            34    His shadowy lance against the spell
            35That hid her self: as if afraid,
            36    The cruel blackness shrank and fell.

            37Then, lifting slow her pleasant sleep,
            38    He took her self: as if afraid,
            39And swam a river cold and deep,
            40    And vanished up an awful hight.

            41And in her Father’s house beyond,
            42    They gave her beauty, robe, and crown:
            43On me, I think, far, faint, and fond,
            44    Her eyes to-day look, yearning, down.


6] Sphinx's face: human, with a lion’s body.

14] Aladdin's genie is a slave of the lamp, and a wife is a slave of the wedding ring (cf. line 17).

Online text copyright © 2004, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: The Independent (1872)
First publication date: 1872
Publication date note: cf. Palace–Burner: The Selected Poetry of Sarah Piatt, ed. Paula Bennett (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2001): 38-39.
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: 2004
Recent editing: 1:2004/4/2*1:2004/4/15

Form: quatrains
Rhyme: abab

Other poems by Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt