"I Was A King In Babylon And You Were A Christian Slave"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Crippled by tuberculosis of the bone, this tall English poet on crutches was the model for Long John Silver, of Treasure Island. He fought hard, as a critic, against Victorian prudery and in favor of realism. As editor of a magazine, he gave their start to Kipling, Conrad, and Yeats. His own poetry, first collected in A Book of Verse (1888), was aggressively masculine. Perhaps "Invictus" from that volume is the best known. His attempt to be "unpoetic" in vocabulary is evident in his Ballad to W.A. (William Archer), number 37 in the division: "Echoes 1872–1889." It is the poem of which the author was proudest. But though even an unimaginative person can understand being "master of my fate" and "captain of my soul," he may not comprehend the theory of transmigration of souls and the parallel existences of the King of Babylon and his Christian slave, described in the five stanzas of this ballad. So he will prefer "Invictus." "Or ever," that is, before the romantic period of chivalry ended, I was King in Babylon and loved a Christian slave. After loving her, I cast her aside, but upon her death, built her a tomb. Now in a new existence, we are together, but there is still a barrier between us. . . . Expressed poetically:

Or ever the knightly years were gone
With the old world to the grave,
I was a King in Babylon
And you were a Christian Slave.
I saw, I took, I cast you by,
I bent and broke your pride.
You loved me well, or I heard them lie,
But your longing was denied.
Surely I knew that by and by
You cursed your gods and died.
And a myriad suns have set and shone
Since then upon the grave
Decreed by the King of Babylon
To her that had been his Slave.