Kings by Michael Keeble

Michael has crafted an epic poem which rewards the effort of reading – it’s a gift


When I was young I earned my keep as servant to a lord
He worked me more and paid me less than he could well afford.
I tended to his clothing and his food and to his drink,
And left him on his own a lot so he could sit and think.
He said his wealth was in his mind; a wealth you cannot hold,
But I know best his wealth was real and counted out in gold.
My wealthy lord had wealthy friends and they too thought a lot
(So much to learn when you’re a have and not a poor have not).
They’d call upon my master’s house and join him in his thought
Or study manuscripts they’d found or papers that they’d brought.
“Ahmed” they’d call (for that’s my name), “bring us some food and drink.
“We need to be sustained with wine, and sweetmeats help us think”
Of course I served my master well, I had no other choice
But none of it fulfilled my mind or made my soul rejoice.

And so these pampered learned lords would while away the day
With reading and with thinking and with nothing much to say
Until my master Melchior one day called out to me
“Go saddle up the camels; you’d better make it three.
“Victual up the caravan we’ll be away a while
“And pack a bag yourself” he said “We’re travelling in style”
That meant of course that I’d be there to dress and preen these fops
As well as feed the camels at our, no doubt frequent, stops.
Earlier that afternoon around came Balthazar
Who huddled up with Melchior to chat about some star.
Then Gaspar rushed excited in and gabbled out the news
That Dan’el and Balaam had both foretold that all the Jews
Would get a new Messiah or at least a brand new King;
That this, tied in with this new star, was really just the thing
They’d all been waiting for so long and time was now quite tight
And they must all be saddled up and set to go tonight.

Of course the preparations took me very many days
And all my lords would do at night was hang around and gaze
Up in the sky into the west and stand around like fools
Until at last I’d packed our bags and loaded all the mules.

Lord Gaspar and Lord Balthazar were very fancy friends
Who’d show off all their fine new gowns and follow fashion trends
And oh they loved their unctuants, their perfumes and pomade
Unlike my own Lord Melchior, his tastes were rather staid.
His pref’rences could trace their roots way back to times of old
Like many more before and since he kept his wealth in gold.
A mule was set aside for each of these three lords to load
With treasures of their choice alone before we hit the road.
Thus it was that Balthazar with frankincense did weigh
His mule to nearly breaking point, but who am I to say
That this was any worse than that of Gaspar who did pack
His mule with jars of Myrrh, while quite concealed inside a sack
Lord Melchior hid bars of gold and strapped them to a beast.
And thus our caravan was set from greatest and to least.
In spite of camels and of mules not one was I to ride;
My Lords climbed up upon their steeds and I walked on beside.

We travelled on at nights and sat to eat at break of dawn
And journeyed on awhile until the brightening sun had worn
A path to highest heavens then, beneath our shelt’ring tent,
We slept until the sun declined and once again had bent
His head below the earth and then we travelled on
Until the sun rose up again and all the night had gone.

Before we slept these worthy lords would check their treasure trove
Ensuring that their wealth was there and that no sneaky cove
Had dipped a thieving hand inside and scooped some myrrh or gold
Or frankincense, though truth be known they would have needs been bold
To get away with such a crime and realise it’s worth
For these lords worshipped nought so well in heaven or on earth.

And so we travelled on until the star (it seemed to them)
Rested near a little town that’s known as Bethlehem.
My lords consulted all their books, then thought and talked a bit
And came to the conclusion that considering that it
Portended a new ruler for the kingdom, then the thing
To do most properly was tell the current king.
So (after checking on their wealth) we trudged a further night
And then far in the distance and by daybreak’s softest light
Jerusalem, King Herod’s seat, appeared as silhouette
It’s mighty temple still half built, the scaffold round it yet.
The caravan is called to halt, my lords they then dismount
They talk awhile and then decide there’s time enough to count
Their wealth again, and so each bag is lifted from its beast
The contents emptied out and back from greatest and to least
And then when it’s accounted for and none has disappeared
They call me to their side and just as I had feared
They tell me they would go alone and I must guard the loot
And woe betide if any ounce or drop or strip or shoot
Should be astray when they returned from meeting with the king
And be assured that they would check by counting ev’rything.

So much for trusting me I thought. These wise old fools have need
Of simple kindly sentiments to overcome their greed.
Enough of all my bitterness, suffice to say I burned
With anger at their attitudes, but then when they returned
They checked their wealth again and finding it all there
They lay down in their tent to chat and ordered me prepare
A fine repast while they discussed the meeting with the King
Who’d greeted them all friendly like and asked them please to bring
The news of where the new King lay so Herod could perforce
Pay homage to his substitute, preparing in due course
A fitting place for him to dwell and rule the lands around,
But asked them not to tell a soul about what they had found.
Well I’m not wise or learned in books and lack the very things
You need to understand the thoughts of rulers and of kings
But nonetheless I didn’t think that any good would come
Of telling Herod what he asked; instead I just played dumb.

When night fell we were up again and following that star
A few more hours ride they said. It wasn’t very far.
Not so far on camel’s back I thought. That’s fine for them
But once more I stayed silent till we came to Bethlehem.

We came upon a humble house, on which the star shone down
The same as many other humble houses in this town.
No battlements upon its roof, no guards beside the door
And yet this was the house foretold, of that they were quite sure.
Lord Gaspar and Lord Balthazar quite lost their dignity
They climbed down from their camels and laughed immod’rately
Outside this little dwelling place wherein was meant to be
The prophesied new Jewish King that they had come to see.
Lord Melchior frowned down on them and in his quiet way
Admonished them to calm themselves; consider how to pay
The rightful homage to a King whose birth had been foretold.
His own intent was to present a humble gift of gold.
The other two could not contain their shock at this proposed
Donation of his worldly wealth and both were quite opposed
To giving up their unctuants and scents so dearly bought
To one whose humble dwelling wasn’t quite a Royal Court
They flounced and sulked and minced about; they just could not be sure,
Till Melchior with firm resolve just knocked upon the door.
Out came a lady, babe in arms, and both looked so serene
That all the lords dropped to their knees as if before a queen.
Nothing came to mind to do and nothing to be said
So I too fell upon my knees and humbly bowed my head.
As if upon a gesture giv’n or at a sound unheard
My lords arose and turned about and then without a word
Approached their mules, still laden down with what they’d valued most
Unhitched them from the caravan and led them to our host.

Each lord unslung the treasure bags to each mule’s great relief
And then to my amazement and my utter disbelief
The frankincense and myrrh and gold were laid before the Child
Who looking down from mother’s arms just raised his hands and smiled.
Well I was still on bended knee when She with holy grace
Asked me to rise and I too saw the Baby’s smiling face.
We said no more but as one man we slowly left that scene
And none of us, not even I, forgot where we had been

King Herod never learned from us where’er the baby lay
And I heard that the family left Judah on that day.
My lords still think a lot it seems and study hard to learn
But now they give away a lot of ev’rything they earn
Melchior no longer hoards his heavy bags of gold,
Lord Gaspar and lord Balthazar unlike the days of old
No longer crave their unctuants and incense as before
Though they still love their finery and keep that all in store.
Myself I still serve Melchior, but he has set me free
And when they all come round to ours I treat them all to tea.


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