The Black Princess

(A True Fable of My Old Kentucky Nurse)

Original Text: 
The Independent (1872)
1I knew a Princess: she was old,
2    Crisp-haired, flat-featured, with a look
3Such as no dainty pen of gold
4    Would write of in a fairy book.
5So bent she almost crouched, her face
7Touched with vast patience, desert grace,
8    And lonesome, brooding mystery.
9What wonder that a face so strong
10    As hers, so sorrowful, so still,
11Should watch in bitter sands so long,
12    Obedient to a burning will!
13This Princess was a slave .- like one
15Yet free enough to see the sun,
16    And all the flowers without a vail.
17Not of the lamp, not of the ring,
18    The helpless, powerful slave was she;
19But of a subtler, fiercer thing .-
20    She was the slave of Slavery.
21Court lace nor jewels had she seen:
22    She wore a precious smile, so rare
23That at her side the whitest queen
24    Were dark .- her darkness was so fair.
25Nothing of loveliest loveliness
26    This strange, sad Princess seemed to lack;
27Majestic with her calm distress
28    She was, and beautiful, though black.
29Black, but enchanted black, and shut
30    In some vague giant's tower of air,
31Built higher than her hope was. But
32    The true knight came and found her there.
33The Knight of the Pale Horse, he laid
34    His shadowy lance against the spell
35That hid her self: as if afraid,
36    The cruel blackness shrank and fell.
37Then, lifting slow her pleasant sleep,
38    He took her self: as if afraid,
39And swam a river cold and deep,
40    And vanished up an awful hight.
41And in her Father's house beyond,
42    They gave her beauty, robe, and crown:
43On me, I think, far, faint, and fond,
44    Her eyes to-day look, yearning, down.


6] Sphinx's face: human, with a lion's body. Back to Line
14] Aladdin's genie is a slave of the lamp, and a wife is a slave of the wedding ring (cf. line 17). Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
Publication Notes: 
cf. Palace–Burner: The Selected Poetry of Sarah Piatt, ed. Paula Bennett (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2001): 38-39.
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: