This is a revision of a poem I wrote a few years ago. I’ve tried to tidy up a couple of stanzas where the rhyme scheme unaccountably went ABBA rather than ABAB.
The legend of Charlemagne and the ring appears in many different versions. I found a few of them in a book of essays by the Italian prose writer, Italo Calvino, and thought they might be good material for a narrative poem.
Old Charlemagne smiled, obsessed
with a fair maid of twenty-five,
and left his empire unaddressed.
To the barons’ relief, she died.
His love survived. And with each dusk
the bed shook two, the one embalmed
and cold, the other hot with lust.
His kisses never were returned.
So Turpin, the Archbishop, scanned
the body for himself. A charm,
he thought, had warped his master’s mind.
He checked around the toes, the arms,
within the earhole, the slack mouth.
Beneath the tongue, a garnet ring
lay hidden. Turpin fished it out
and dropped it deep within his gown.
Not deep enough. At first light Turpin
was summoned. Charlemagne pinned
the startled Holy Father on
the quilts; his lips straight for the groin.
For three days Turpin did his royal
duty, until the girl was buried
near the lake. He flung the jewel
to the flat water, barely stirred
the surface. Charlemagne lost
his appetite for love and moped
by the high banks, the awful waste
and pain of drowning all that stopped
a suicidal dive. Each glint
in the waves cut him like an arrow,
but always he sneaked one more glimpse –
the lake’s blank face, a sparkling zero.