John Hay Poems >>
The Enchanted Shirt

The King was sick. His cheek was red,
And his eye was clear and bright;
He ate and drank with kingly zest,
And peacefully snored at night.

But he said he was sick, and a king should know,
And doctors came by the score.
They did not cure him. He cut off their heads,
And sent to the schools for more.

At last two famous doctors came,
And one was as poor as a rat, —
He had passed his life in studious toil,
And never found time to grow fat.

The other had never looked in a book;
His patients gave him no trouble:
If they recovered, they paid him well;
If they died, their heirs paid double.

Together they looked at the royal tongue,
As the king on his couch reclined;
In succession they thumped his august chest,
But no trace of disease could find.

The old sage said, "You're as sound as a nut."
"Hang him up," roared the King in a gale —
In a ten-knot gale of royal rage;
The other leech grew a shade pale;

But he pensively rubbed his sagacious nose,
And thus his prescription ran —
The King will be well, if he sleeps one night
In the shirt of a Happy Man


Wide o'er the realm the couriers rode,
And fast their horses ran,
And many they saw, and to many they spoke,
But they found no Happy Man.

They found poor men who would fain be rich,
And rich who thought they were poor;
And men who twisted their waists in stays,
And women that shorthose wore.

They saw two men by the roadside sit,
And both bemoaned their lot;
For one had buried his wife, he said,
And the other one had not.

At last they came to a village gate,
A begger lay whistling there;
He whistled, and sang, and laughed, and rolled
On the grass in the soft June air.

The weary courtiers paused and looked
At the scamp so blithe and gay;
And one of them said, "Heaven save you, friend!
You seem to be happy today."

"O yes, fair sirs," the rascal laughed,
And his voice ran free and glad;
"An idle man has so much to do
That he never has time to be sad."

"This is our man," the courier said;
"Our luck has lead us aright.
I will give you a hundred ducats, friend,
For the loan of your shirt tonight."

The merry blackguard lay back on the grass,
And laughed till his face was black;
"I would do it, God wot," and he roared with the fun,
"But I haven't a shirt to my back."

Each day to the King the report came in
Of his unsuccessful spies,
And the sad panorama of human woes
Passed daily under his eyes.

And he grew ashamed of his useless life,
And his maladies hatched in gloom;
He opened his windows and let the air
Of the free heaven into his room.

And out he went in the world, and toiled
In his appointed way;
And the people blessed him, the land was glad,
And the King was well and gay.