The Three Poets

And in that day in the spring, on a cross-roads in the wood, where there are four ways, three poets met by chance, each walking his own way.

The first of them had on his back a great case, for in it was a master’s lute, of thirteen courses. He sang in the squares songs which pleased men great and small, and in the travelling season, made his winters’ meals.

The second of them carried a satchel full of papers, and on them were written the legends and tales of old, translated by him from faraway tongues. He sang them to the people in the country during that time when there was no other work for him.

The third of them had a small cart on wheels behind him, but no instrument; he went about the towns and villages and repaired their organs and other sounding instruments. Then, to prove that he had tuned them well, he would play beautiful music with them.

“I see that you are poets,” said the first, “But some pretend to be else, I wonder if, for shame?”

“Hm,” said the second, “That sounds like a challenge. What say you?”

“Well,” the third replied, “Let us then travel together for a spell, to see who among us is best.”

So travel they did, and they came to a town. Having reached the town square, the first uncased his lute and began singing, from memory, ballads and tunes of his own composing, such that those there wanted to dance, it being a beautiful day in spring, and left him such tokens as they had to bestow.

The first then treated his fellows to a feast at the public house, to show his generosity. And the next day they traveled again. And as they traveled, the first played on his lute and sang a tune which was half-mocking the others, who simply looked at one another.

Then perchance it began to rain, and so the first was obliged to return his lute to its case, lest it be harmed by the precipitation.

“So,” the second said, “See, my voice cares not if it rains or snows. I will show you how it is done.”

And so as they walked in the country, he traveled the road and wayside in such a way that the lay of the land carried his voice about, and soon the daughter of a farmer of many acres heard it, and ran to tell her father.

The farmer invited the three poets in and the second removed from his satchel some legends from far away lands, and sang for them tales of Tsars and Daimyos and Shieks, of cruel and fair, such that all there were well-pleased and feasted them on such crops as the early spring yielded, for the second poet was well-known among those of the country.

The next day, as they traveled in the morning mist, the second found that he had sang too long, and was forced to remain in silence, lest he harm his voice by singing further.

“Well then,” the first said, “A man carries longer with a beast of burden, does he not?”

“What of you?” the second said quietly to the third.

“Soon,” the third said, and pointed to the town to which they were coming, in a valley, which had a great church in it.

And so the three went into that town, and the third went into the church to offer his services, and after a bit of creaking and tooting he came back out of the church.

“Come in,” he said, “And I will give you a concert.”

The other two went in, and the third played for them such songs as rang the whole city with their sounding, and many of the people in that city came, and the sexton soon arranged that people should pay a small sum to stand in the church itself to listen to the music, as a donation to the church and to the poet.

And when he had finished in the evening, the sexton presented him with a tidy sum of money, quite more than the other two had seen all at once, as thanks for keeping the organ in tune and for bringing in so many gifts.

In turn, the third split that money among the three of them, a third for himself, and a third for each of the others. He then took his part and stuffed the box for alms with it.

“Oh, you’re so charitable then,” said the first, “You think to outdo us both by giving away everything?”

“Nothing like that,” said the third, “It’s just that I know that if I travel with you two, I shall never have to worry about having something to eat!”

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