L'Ancien Regime

Who has a thing to bring
For a gift to our lord the king,
Our king all kings above?
A young girl brought him love;
And he dowered her with shame,
With a sort of infamous fame,
And then with lonely years
Of penance and bitter tears --
Love is scarcely the thing
To bring as a gift for our king.

Who has a thing to bring
For a gift to our lord the king?
A statesman brought him planned
Justice for all the land;
And he in recompense got
Fierce struggle with brigue and plot,
Then a fall from lofty place
Into exile and disgrace --
Justice is never the thing
To bring as a gift for our king.

Who has a thing to bring
For a gift to our lord the king?
A writer brought him truth;
And first he imprisoned the youth,
And then he bestowed a free pyre
That the works might have plenty of fire,
And also to cure the pain
Of the headache called thought in the brain --
Truth is a very bad thing
To bring as a gift for our king.

Who has a thing to bring
For a gift to our lord the king?
The people brought their sure
Loyalty fervid and pure;
And he gave them bountiful spoil
Of taxes and hunger and toil,
Ignorance, brutish plight,
And wholesale slaughter in fight --
Loyalty's quite the worst thing
To bring as a gift for our king.

Who has a thing to bring
For a gift to our lord the king?
A courtier brought to his feet
Servility graceful and sweet,
With an ever ready smile
And an ever supple guile;
And he got in reward the place
Of the statesman in disgrace --
Servility's always a thing
To bring as a gift for our king.

Who has a thing to bring
For a gift to our lord the king?
A soldier brought him war,
La gloire, la victoire,
Ravage and carnage and groans,
For the pious Te Deum tones;
And he got in return for himself
Rank and honors and pelf --
War is a very fine thing
To bring as a gift for our king.

Who has a thing to bring
For a gift to our lord the king?
A harlot brought him her flesh,
Her lusts, and the manifold mesh
Of her wiles intervolved with caprice;
And he gave her his realm to fleece,
To corrupt, to ruin, and gave
Himself for her toy and her slave
Harlotry's just the thing
To bring as a gift for our king.

Who has a thing to bring
For a gift to our lord the king,
Our king who fears to die?
A priest brought him a lie,
The blackness of hell uprolled
In heaven's shining gold;
And he got as guerdon for that
A see and a cardinal's hat --
A lie is an excellent thing
To bring as a gift for our king.

Has any one yet a thing
For a gift to our lord the king?
The country gave him a tomb,
A magnificent sleeping-room;
And for this it obtained some rest,
Clear riddance of many a pest,
And a hope which it much enjoyed
That the throne would continue void --
A tomb is the very best thing
For a gift to our lord the king.

by James Thomson

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