The Ballad of a Barber
Here is the tale of Carrousel,
The barber of Meridian
He cut, and coiffed, and shaved so well,
That all the world
was at his feet.
The King, the Queen, and all the Court,
To no one else would
trust their hair,
And reigning belles of every sort
Owed their successes
to his care.
With carriage and with cabriolet
Daily Meridian Street
Like bees about a bright bouquet
The beaux about
his doorway flocked.
Such was his art he could with ease
Curl wit into the
Or to a goddess of old Greece
Add a new wonder
and a grace.
All powders, paints, and subtle dyes,
costliest scents that men distil,
And rare pomades, forgot their price
And marvelled at
his splendid skill.
The curling irons in his hand
Almost grew quick
enough to speak,
The razor was a magic wand
the softest cheek.
Yet with no pride his heart was moved;
He was so modest
in his ways!
His daily task was all he loved,
And now and then
a little praise.
An equal care he would bestow
On problems simple
And nobody had seen him show
A preference for
How came it then one summer day,
Coiffing the daughter
of the King,
He lengthened out the least delay
And loitered in
The Princess was a pretty child,
Thirteen years old,
She was as joyous and as wild
As spring flowers
when the sun is out.
Her gold hair fell down to her feet
And hung about her
She was as lyrical and sweet
As one of Schuberts
Three times the barber curled a lock,
And thrice he straightened
And twice the irons scorched her frock,
And twice he stumbled
in her train.
His fingers lost their cunning quite,
His ivory combs
obeyed no more;
Something or other dimmed his sight,
And moved mysteriously
He leant upon the toilet table,
His fingers fumbled
in his breast;
He felt as foolish as a fable,
And feeble as a
He snatched a bottle of Cologne,
And broke the neck
between his hands;
He felt as if he was alone,
And mighty as a
The Princess gave a little scream,
cut was sharp and deep;
He left her softly as a dream
That leaves a sleeper
to his sleep.
He left the room on pointed feet;
Smiling that things
had gone so well.
They hanged him in Meridian Street.
You pray in vain
¶ 1896. First published in The Savoy, No.3,
July 1896. Originally intended to be printed as an episode of Under
the Hill, Beardsleys poem was adversely criticised by Arthur
Symons, the magazines literary editor. When he heard of Symonss
reaction, Beardsley wrote facetiously to Leonard Smithers: I
am horrified at what you tell me about the Ballad. I
had no idea it was poor. For goodness sake print
the poem under a pseudonym and separately from Under the Hill
What do you think of Symons as a nom de plume?