Gloriana Dying

None shall gainsay me. I will lie on the floor.

Hitherto from horseback, throne, balcony,

I have looked down upon your looking up.

Those sands are run. Now I reverse the glass

And bid henceforth your homage downward, falling

Obedient and unheeded as leaves in autumn

To quilt the wakeful study I shall make

Examining my kingdom from below.

How tall my people are! Like a race of trees

They sway, sigh, nod heads, rustle above me,

And their attentive eyes are distant as starshine.

I have still cherished the handsome and well-made:

No queen has better masts within her forests

Growing, nor prouder and more restive minds

Scabbarded in the loyalty of subjects;

No virgin has had better worship than I.

No, no! Leave me alone, woman! I will not

Be put into a bed. Do you suppose

That I who’ve ridden through all weathers, danced

Under a treasury’s weight of jewels, sat

Myself to stone through sermons and addresses,

Shall come to harm by sleeping on a floor?

Not that I sleep. A bed were good enough

If that were in my mind. But I am here

For a deep study and contemplation,

And as Persephone, and the red vixen

Go underground to sharpen their wits,

I have left my dais to learn a new policy

Through watching of your feet, and as the Indian

Lays all his listening body along the earth

I lie in wait for the reverberation

Of things to come and dangers threatening.

Is that the Bishop praying? Let him pray on.

If his knees tire his faith can cushion them.

How the poor man grieves Heaven with news of me!

Deposuit superbos. But no hand

Other than my own has put me down –

Not feebleness enforced on brain or limb,

Not fear, misgiving, fantasy, age, palsy,

Has felled me. I lie here by my own will,

And by the curiosity of a queen.

I dare say there is not in all England

One who lies closer to the ground than I.

Not the traitor in the condemned hold

Whose few straws edge away from under his weight

Of ironed fatality; not the shepherd

Huddled for cold under the hawthorn bush

Nor the long-dreaming country lad who lies

Scorching his book before the dying brand.

from Collected Poems (Carcanet, 1983), copyright © Sylvia Townsend-Warner 1983, by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd. Recording [from Selected Poems, (Canto/Carcanet, 1985)], used by permission of BBC.

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