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The King in Yellow

This is actually a short play rather than a poem, but as it is a short play written entirely in verse (and as I don't have a section for plays) I have stuck it here

Scene 1 : In which Camilla and Cassilda are hosting a Masqued Ball

[Enter Camilla and Cassilda]

It has been three years since our King's departing
On a spiritual quest spontaneously embarking
Abandoning his kingdom
        of fair Carcosa

Every year hence we have remembered this day
The time when our father did lose his way
And entrusted to his daughters,
        his Kingdom Carcosa

Two sisters born mere heartbeats apart
But too much together for their mother's heart
The elder your narrator,
        the dreamer Cassilda

Two sisters tasked with a kingdom's maintaining
In the face of the sovereign's sudden abstaining
The younger, see yonder
        the controller Camilla

We host in his honour a masked ball
Where the face of the King is worn by all
So absent he remains
        in waiting Carcosa

We bravely attempt to find joy in our mourning
Our tears shed behind these masks we are wearing
O tragic our plight
        O anguished Carcosa

This unseemly frivolity befits not our court
There's no place for jollity in stoical thought
Cassilda may dream and indulge in her tragedy
But I merely seem for the sake of conformity

The King in his fancy abandoned his post
And now in his absence we worship his ghost
The duties of the throne have now become mine
The kingdom I own through Carcosa's dark time

Camilla, my sister, behold all these masks
Do they not bring you solace in our millstone task?
A uniform vista
        of silent solemnity

The face of our father looks back from all corners
Reminding us why we endure in our labours
Lest we lose sight of
        our grave formality

Cassilda, my sister, I endure with humility
It's my duty to administer, my responsibility
My kingdom, my land, would fall to depravity
Without my hand to stave off the levity

[A stranger (The King) enters]

Tell me O stranger from whence do you hail?
In your garments so regal, your eyes so pail?
And yellow robes
        that you are wearing

Pray tell us now what brings you to this place
Pray take off your mask and reveal your face
That we may know
        who is so daring

Mysterious guest who stands so silent
You mock our request with your garish raiment
Take off your mask and speak your name
Do as we ask and we shall do the same

[Camilla and Cassilda unmask]

Camilla: You, sir, should unmask.

Stranger: Indeed?

Cassilda: Indeed it's time. We all have laid aside disguise but you.

Stranger: I wear no mask.

Camilla: (Terrified, aside to Cassilda.) No mask? No mask!

Scene 2 : In which The King unexpectedly returns, only to be imprisoned by Camilla and Cassilda

Cassilda, my sister, the King has returned
Our world's a disaster, our lives overturned
All we've accomplished, all we have made
All of your anguish will surely fade

Camilla, my sister I've lived for the tragedy
Were it to end I couldn't bear the humility
How dare he try
        to reclaim Carcosa

We mourned his absence for three long years
Returning he mocks us and all our shed tears
We must act now
        to save Carcosa

Father your robes do not befit your station
Allow us to clothe you in more kingly a fashion
Your quarters are still as they were when you left
You can return to the ball when more suitably dressed

[Leads the King into his quarters]

My quarters I see are not unchanged
My daughter I fear that I doubt what you say
I see instead a sea of shackles and chains
I conclude it must be your intent to betray

You remained absent, for these long years
Now you'll repent, for all the shed tears
You'll stay here alone, and consider these things
While Carcosa bemoans the death of their King

[The King is cast into his prison]
[Exit King and Camilla]

Along the shore the cloud waves break,
The twin suns sink beneath the lake,
The shadows lengthen
        In Carcosa.

Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies
But stranger still is
        Lost Carcosa.

Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
Where flap the tatters of the King,
Must die unheard in
        Dim Carcosa.

Song of my soul, my voice is dead;
Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed
Shall dry and die in
        Lost Carcosa.


Scene 3 : In which the King is visited by The Pallid Mask

[The King, alone in his cell]

I've travelled far these years, abandoning my throne
While my loyal subjects, slaved for their wage
Ashamed of my birthright , my life not my own
I fled responsibility, escaped my gilded cage

Born to my role as their sovereign king
I felt that my life was a part in a play
I left them alone to quest for a meaning
Never thought of their fate while I was away

Now I dwell in darkness, and dream of the light above
Abandoned and long forgotten, in this timeless cage
Carcosa, my kingdom, my life, my love
I feel your pain, your helpless rage

[Enter the Phantom]

The Phantom:
Carcosa dies, its soul down-trodden
The stars fall dark, the skies grow leaden
A web of mourning binds your subjects
A funereal stasis with no wake's catharsis

Every day your kingdom lies in state
Suspended in time while it ponders your fate
Your daughters, your jailers, propagate a lie
Mourning your absence while they won't let you die

The once gay streets grow grey and still
Grinding their lives like a satanic mill
For decades you have wasted in this oubliette
Dead to the world but not dead yet

But I bring release from your dark confines
But I warn you now that the price will be high
For truth is the cost of the freedom I bring
But the truth I offer is a painful thing

So this is the question that you must ask
For the answer brings pain and a burdensome task
A lifetime's deceit has kept you imprisoned
It's only through truth that escape can be fashioned

I am a Phantom, The Truth manifest
Take off my mask and take my test

O Phantom of Truth, I fear your task
My eyes have seen nothing but darkness so long
I fear what's concealed beneath your Pallid Mask
But when you fear the unknown, the fear is prolonged

If I look on your face will I see my own guilt?
If I lift your mask will I burn in truth's fire?
Should I see the pain I've caused, the destruction I've built
Or stay safe and ignorant in tunnel-vision mire

Your pallid mask featureless, yet blankness is safe
If ignorance is bliss, then I'm happy in my tomb
Could emptiness be preferable to the horrors I may face?
Could I bear enlightenment outside of my cocoon?

This I've learnt above all else - that truth is its own reward
So I shall see your face O Phantom, lower your mask I plead
For though there is pain in revelation, growth can be assured
Whatever the price, I gladly pay, to answer Carcosa's need

Scene 4 : In which The King - having assumed the Pallid Mask - returns

The years pass by, we continue forlorn
I ask you Camilla, how long must we mourn?
I grow bored of remembering
        our departed father

For decades Carcosa's been sullen and grey
Is it surely not time we swept the darkness away?
We can't live forever in
        the shadow of our father

Recall your position, show some respect
Remember our mission, you must not forget
Carcosa was decadent, it revelled in sin
We set the precedent, we mustn't give in

These masked balls are vital, for continued sobriety
They are essential, lest we unleash the levity
Consider the cost, of relaxing these ties
Our progress is lost and Carcosa dies

But hark, yonder stranger who enters so bold
Recalling to my memory the times of old
He has the bearing
        of our former King

Camilla protect me for I fear his wrath
I fear I regret ever taking this path
Can we reverse
        what we've done to our king?

In robes of yellow you could pass as the king
You mock our sorrow with this likeness you bring
Your mask so pail, your bearing the same
I demand you avail to us now your name

Once the King but the King no longer
I have become truth and the destroyer of worlds
I return something greater, I'm now something stronger
And I've seen the future, how your lives unfurl

The Phantom of Truth has passed on his mask
But when he offered to me I was permitted to ask
You two I fear do not have that right
So prepare to be burnt by truth's cleansing light

[He removes the mask]
[Camilla and Cassilda scream]


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