The subject of this narrative poem is pride and its consequence. The poem is anecdotal. It is the story of a rich and proud king called Jovinian married to a noble wife. Full of power and influence spanning from the days of his youth, no one dared him. Obsessed by his immeasurable wealth and achievements which he recounts, his ego soars, his pride is inordinate and he imagines himself, a God since his armies are always at his beck and call. Hence, he boasts: “Am I not God, while I live at least?
Engrossed in these wild thoughts, he fails asleep and rising later from his golden bed, having forgotten his earlier thoughts, he orders his men to prepare his chariot for a picnic: “So amid these thoughts once more he fell asleep. And when he woke again, high was the sun/then quickly from his gold bed did he leap/… Today through green woods will we run…for game and play!
With his servants, the great king goes for a picnic, all dressed in their hunting attire. In the course of hunting, the proud king comes to a riverside where ne is attracted to the fishes in the river jumping up and down. Being thrilled by this sight, he pulls off his royal garb, ties his horse on a tree and begins to swim happily.
When he is done, he comes out of the water to discover that his clothes and horse are gone. He shouts angrily but to no avail, so he decides to go to his ranger (park keeper) who lives nearby. Meanwhile, his servants, while emerging from their hiding see a man in kingly robes riding a horse, they how in reverence. This “artificial king”, the Ranger (servant) is served food as people gather to pay homage, including the queen. Not long, King Jovinian arrives at the gate of the ranger. The gate keeper is startled to see a naked man, wanting to see the king. The porter advises him to go and put on his clothes. However, Jovinian retorts
“The king cried out, open, O foolish man I am thy lord and king Jovinian, Go now and tell thy master I am here”. Desiring food and clothes…”
But when it looks like the porter is unwilling, Jovinian smashes the gate and forces his way into the beautiful house which he built for his servant (Ranger). Having dressed in the stolen robes of the king, this sparks off laughter of mockery from a squire who said;
My lord a man in such attire”
As Adam’s ere he took the devil’s hire who saith that thou wilt know him for the king”.
Meanwhile, the Ranger (the king in disguise) gives order for the gatekeeper and king Jovinian to be brought before him, so as to determine the extent and cause of his (Jovinian’s) seeming insanity. The proud king thinks he will simply talk things over with his servant but is rather infuriated to see the ranger in his elegant king’s attire. He queries his kingship and lineage arguing that the ranger has been nursing this secret plot to dethrone him. He threatens to over run him with his army if he fails to return all stolen items. Instead, the Ranger, in defiance orders that a coat should be given to him, as well as food, believing he will perhaps come back to his senses.
Jovinian is angered by all these, hence, he lays a curse on the Ranger and his food before running out of the Ranger’s house. After a long while, and having been exhausted, he falls down in the dark, only to become a public spectacle: “Meanwhile the real king by road side lay… through the dark night far off. The glare of torches, held by men…”
Thirty years after the horrible event, Jovinian recalls the story in his old age of his pride and folly, his humiliation by God. He hopes his story will be stored for generation to learn from his mistakes and recognize God’s supremacy.