Celia Thaxter

Jun 29, 1835 - Aug 25, 1894


King Midas

by Celia Thaxter

Heard you, O little children,
This wonderful story told
Of the Phrygian king whose fatal touch
Turned everything to gold?

In a great, dim, dreary chamber,
Beneath the palace floor,
He counted his treasures of glittering coin,
And he always longed for more.

When the clouds in the blaze of sunset
Burned flaming fold on fold,
He thought how fine a thing it would be
Were they but real gold!

And when his dear little daughter,
The child he loved so well,
Came bringing in from the pleasant fields
The yellow asphodel,

Or buttercups from the meadow,
Or dandelions gay,
King Midas would look at the blossoms sweet,
And she would hear him say, --

If only the flowers were really
Golden as they appear,
'T were worth your while to gather them,
My little daughter dear!

One day in the dim, drear chamber,
As he counted his treasure o'er,
A sunbeam slipped through a chink in the wall
And quivered down to the floor.

Would it were gold, he muttered,
That broad bright yellow bar!
Suddenly stood in its mellow light,
A figure bright as a star.

Young and ruddy and glorious,
With face as fresh as the day,
With a winged cap and winged heels,
And eyes both wise and gay.

Oh have your wish, King Midas,
A heavenly voice begun,
Like all sweet notes of the morning
Braided and blended in one.

And when to-morrow's sunrise
Wakes you with rosy fire,
All things you touch shall turn to gold,
Even as you desire.

King Midas slept. The morning
At last stole up the sky,
And woke him, full of eagerness
The wondrous spell to try.

And lo! the bed's fine draperies
Of linen fair and cool,
Of quilted satin and cobweb lace,
And blankets of snowy wool,

All had been changed with the sun's first ray
To marvellous cloth of gold,
That rippled and shimmered as soft as silk
In many a gorgeous fold.

But all this splendor weighed so much
'T was irksome to the king,
And up he sprang to try at once
The touch on everything.

The heavy tassel that he grasped
Magnificent became,
And hung by the purple curtain rich
Like a glowing mass of flame.

At every step, on every side,
Such splendor followed him,
The very sunbeams seemed to pale,
And morn itself grow dim.

But when he came to the water
For his delicious bath,
And dipped his hand in the surface smooth,
He started in sudden wrath;

For the liquid, light and leaping,
So crystal-bright and clear,
Grew a solid lake of heavy gold,
And the king began to fear!

But out he went to the garden,
So fresh in the morning hour,
And a thousand buds in the balmy night
Had burst into perfect flower.

'T was a world of perfume and color,
Of tender and delicate bloom,
But only the hideous thirst for wealth
In the king's heart found room.

He passed like a spirit of autumn
Through that fair space of bloom,
And the leaves and the flowers grew yellow
In a dull and senseless gloom.

Back to the lofty palace
Went the glad monarch then,
And sat at his sumptuous breakfast,
Most fortunate of men!

He broke the fine, white wheaten roll,
The light and wholesome bread,
And it turned to a lump of metal rich --
It had as well been lead!

Again did fear assail the king,
When -- what was this he heard?
The voice of his little daughter dear,
As sweet as a grieving bird.

Sobbing she stood before him,
And a golden rose held she,
And the tears that brimmed her blue, blue eyes
Were pitiful to see.

Father! O father dearest!
This dreadful thing -- oh, see!
Oh, what has happened to all the flowers?
Tell me, what can it be?

Why should you cry, my daughter?
Are not these blossoms of gold
Beautiful, precious, and wonderful,
With splendor not to be told?

I hate them, O my father!
They're stiff and hard and dead,
That were so sweet and soft and fair,
And blushed so warm and red.

Come here, he cried, my darling,
And bent, her cheek to kiss,
To comfort her -- when -- Heavenly Powers!
What fearful thing was this?

He sank back, shuddering and aghast,
But she stood still as death --
A statue of horrible gleaming gold,
With neither motion nor breath.

The gold tears hardened on her cheek,
The gold rose in her hand,
Even her little sandals changed
To gold, where she did stand.

Then such a tumult of despair
The wretched king possessed,
He wrung his hands, and tore his hair,
And sobbed, and beat his breast.

Weighed with one look from her sweet eyes
What was the whole world worth?
Against one touch of her loving lips,
The treasure of all the earth?

Then came that voice, like music,
As fresh as the morning air,
How is it with you, King Midas,
Rich in your answered prayer?

And there, in the sunshine smiling,
Majestic as before,
Ruddy and young and glorious,
The Stranger stood once more.

Take back your gift so terrible!
No blessing, but a curse!
One loving heart more precious is
Than the gold of the universe.

The Stranger listened -- a sweeter smile
Kindled his grave, bright eyes.
Glad am I, O King Midas,
That you have grown so wise!

Again your wish is granted;
More swiftly than before,
All you have harmed with the fatal touch
You shall again restore.

He clasped his little daughter --
Oh, joy! -- within his arms
She trembled back to her human self,
With all her human charms.

Across her face he saw the life
Beneath his kiss begin,
And steal to the charming dimple deep
Upon her lovely chin.

Again her eyes grew blue and clear,
Again her cheek flushed red,
She locked her arms about his neck,
My father dear! she said.

Oh, happy was King Midas,
Against his heart to hold
His treasure of love, more precious
Than a thousand worlds of gold!


Poems For Children
Copyright 1883
Houghton, Mifflin and Company, Boston
Illustrator: Miss A. G. Plymptom