Lyrics: A King At Nightfall |
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A King At Nightfall

by Clive James and Pete Atkin

The ring hangs on a string inside your shirt
You wedge the stable door
You eat your beans and bunk down in the straw
A king at nightfall

You're gonna have to learn to live with this
As you work or beg your way towards the border
And shade your face to miss
The multiplying eyes of the new order

You spun the crown away into a ditch
And saw the water close
The army that you fed now feeds the crows
A king at nightfall

You're gonna have to watch your manners now
And never let your face show what you're missing
Don't wait for them to bow
Stick out your hand for shaking, not for kissing

Tomorrow's men who trace you from the field
Will be in it for the bread
There'll be a price on your anointed head
A king at nightfall

You're gonna have to learn how quick to run
And that means slowly, watching all the angles
Don't try to use that gun
Stay very loose and cool, and out of tangles

You reach to brush your collar free of straw
And then you feel the string
There's light enough for one look at the ring
And it's lovely but it doesn't mean a thing
A king at nightfall
A king at nightfall

Note (from Collected Poems)

My own considered critical opinion is that each of Eliot’s Four Quartets is better than the others, but that ‘Little Gidding’ takes the prize. The nightfall king is flagged near the beginning but makes his full impact near the end, after the fabulous intermediate section which echoes the sequence in Inferno where Dante walks with the ghost of his old teacher Brunetto Latini. Scholarly comment largely agrees that Eliot, in his version, walks with the ghost of Yeats, but I always saw myself as the third man, listening in.