The Day Is Coming
Come hither lads and hearken,
for a tale there is to tell,
Of the wonderful days a-coming, when all
shall be better than well.
And the tale shall be told of a country,
a land in the midst of the sea,
And folk shall call it England
in the days that are going to be.
There more than one in a thousand
in the days that are yet to come,
Shall have some hope of the morrow,
some joy of the ancient home.
For then, laugh not, but listen,
to this strange tale of mine,
All folk that are in England
shall be better lodged than swine.
Then a man shall work and bethink him,
and rejoice in the deeds of his hand,
Nor yet come home in the even
too faint and weary to stand.
Men in that time a-coming
shall work and have no fear
For to-morrow’s lack of earning
and the hunger-wolf anear.
I tell you this for a wonder,
that no man then shall be glad
Of his fellow’s fall and mishap
to snatch at the work he had.
For that which the worker winneth
shall then be his indeed,
Nor shall half be reaped for nothing
by him that sowed no seed.
O strange new wonderful justice!
But for whom shall we gather the gain?
For ourselves and for each of our fellows,
and no hand shall labour in vain.
Then all Mine and all Thine shall be Ours,
and no more shall any man crave
For riches that serve for nothing
but to fetter a friend for a slave.
And what wealth then shall be left us
when none shall gather gold
To buy his friend in the market,
and pinch and pine the sold?
Nay, what save the lovely city,
and the little house on the hill,
And the wastes and the woodland beauty,
and the happy fields we till;
And the homes of ancient stories,
the tombs of the mighty dead;
And the wise men seeking out marvels,
and the poet’s teeming head;
And the painter’s hand of wonder;
and the marvellous fiddle-bow,
And the banded choirs of music:
all those that do and know.
For all these shall be ours and all men’s
nor shall any lack a share
Of the toil and the gain of living
in the days when the world grows fair.
Ah! such are the days that shall be!
But what are the deeds of to-day,
In the days of the years we dwell in,
that wear our lives away?
Why, then, and for what are we waiting?
There are three words to speak;
WE WILL IT, and what is the foeman
but the dream-strong wakened and weak?
O why and for what are we waiting?
while our brothers droop and die,
And on every wind of the heavens
a wasted life goes by.
How long shall they reproach us
where crowd on crowd they dwell,
Poor ghosts of the wicked city,
the gold-crushed hungry hell?
Through squalid life they laboured,
in sordid grief they died,
Those sons of a mighty mother,
those props of England’s pride.
They are gone; there is none can undo it,
nor save our souls from the curse;
But many a million cometh,
and shall they be better or worse?
It is we must answer and hasten,
and open wide the door
For the rich man’s hurrying terror,
and the slow-foot hope of the poor.
Yea, the voiceless wrath of the wretched,
and their unlearned discontent,
We must give it voice and wisdom
till the waiting-tide be spent.
Come, then, since all things call us,
the living and the dead,
And o’er the weltering tangle
a glimmering light is shed.
Come, then, let us cast off fooling,
and put by ease and rest,
For the Cause alone is worthy
till the good days bring the best.
Come, join in the only battle
wherein no man can fail,
Where whoso fadeth and dieth,
yet his deed shall still prevail.
Ah! come, cast off all fooling,
for this, at least, we know:
That the Dawn and the Day is coming,
and forth the Banners go.
The Folk-Mote By The River
It was up in the morn we rose betimes
From the hall-floor hard by the row of limes.
It was but John the Red and I,
And we were the brethren of Gregory;
And Gregory the Wright was one
Of the valiant men beneath the sun,
And what he bade us that we did
For ne’er he kept his counsel hid.
So out we went, and the clattering latch
Woke up the swallows under the thatch.
It was dark in the porch, but our scythes we felt,
And thrust the whetstone under the belt.
Through the cold garden boughs we went
Where the tumbling roses shed their scent.
Then out a-gates and away we strode
O’er the dewy straws on the dusty road,
And there was the mead by the town-reeve’s close
Where the hedge was sweet with the wilding rose.
Then into the mowing grass we went
Ere the very last of the night was spent.
Young was the moon, and he was gone,
So we whet our scythes by the stars alone:
But or ever the long blades felt the hay
Afar in the East the dawn was grey.
Or ever we struck our earliest stroke
The thrush in the hawthorn-bush awoke.
While yet the bloom of the swathe was dim
The black-bird’s bill had answered him.
Ere half of the road to the river was shorn
The sunbeam smote the twisted thorn.
Now wide was the way ’twixt the standing grass
For the townsfolk unto the mote to pass,
And so when all our work was done
We sat to breakfast in the sun,
While down in the stream the dragon-fly
’Twixt the quivering rushes flickered by;
And though our knives shone sharp and white
The swift bleak heeded not the sight.
So when the bread was done away
We looked along the new-shorn hay,
And heard the voice of the gathering-horn
Come over the garden and the corn;
For the wind was in the blossoming wheat
And drave the bees in the lime-boughs sweet.
Then loud was the horn’s voice drawing near,
And it hid the talk of the prattling weir.
And now was the horn on the pathway wide
That we had shorn to the river-side.
So up we stood, and wide around
We sheared a space by the Elders’ Mound;
And at the feet thereof it was
That highest grew the June-tide grass;
And over all the mound it grew
With clover blent, and dark of hue.
But never aught of the Elders’ Hay
To rick or barn was borne away.
But it was bound and burned to ash
In the barren close by the reedy plash.
For ’neath that mound the valiant dead
Lay hearkening words of valiance said
When wise men stood on the Elders’ Mound,
And the swords were shining bright around.
And now we saw the banners borne
On the first of the way that we had shorn;
So we laid the scythe upon the sward
And girt us to the battle-sword.
For after the banners well we knew
Were the Freemen wending two and two.
There then that high-way of the scythe
With many a hue was brave and blythe.
And first below the Silver Chief
Upon the green was the golden sheaf.
And on the next that went by it
The White Hart in the Park did sit.
Then on the red the White Wings flew,
And on the White was the Cloud-fleck blue.
Last went the Anchor of the Wrights
Beside the Ship of the Faring-Knights.
Then thronged the folk the June-tide field
With naked sword and painted shield,
Till they came adown to the river-side,
And there by the mound did they abide.
Now when the swords stood thick and white
As the mace reeds stand in the streamless bight,
There rose a man on the mound alone
And over his head was the grey mail done.
When over the new-shorn place of the field
Was nought but the steel hood and the shield.
The face on the mound shone ruddy and hale,
But the hoar hair showed from the hoary mail.
And there rose a hand by the ruddy face
And shook a sword o’er the peopled place.
And there came a voice from the mound and said:
“O sons, the days of my youth are dead,
And gone are the faces I have known
In the street and the booths of the goodly town.
O sons, full many a flock have I seen
Feed down this water-girdled green.
Full many a herd of long-horned neat
Have I seen ’twixt water-side and wheat.
Here by this water-side full oft
Have I heaved the flowery hay aloft.
And oft this water-side anigh
Have I bowed adown the wheat-stalks high.
And yet meseems I live and learn
And lore of younglings yet must earn.
For tell me, children, whose are these
Fair meadows of the June’s increase.
Whose are these flocks and whose the neat,
And whose the acres of the wheat?”
Scarce did we hear his latest word,
On the wide shield so rang the sword.
So rang the sword upon the shield
That the lark was hushed above the field.
Then sank the shouts and again we heard
The old voice come from the hoary beard:
“Yea, whose are yonder gables then,
And whose the holy hearths of men?
Whose are the prattling children there,
And whose the sunburnt maids and fair?
Whose thralls are ye, hereby that stand,
Bearing the freeman’s sword in hand?”
As glitters the sun in the rain-washed grass,
So in the tossing swords it was;
As the thunder rattles along and adown
E’en so was the voice of the weaponed town.
And there was the steel of the old man’s sword,
And there was his hollow voice, and his word:
“Many men many minds, the old saw saith,
Though hereof ye be sure as death.
For what spake the herald yestermorn
But this, that ye were thrall-folk born;
That the lord that owneth all and some
Would send his men to fetch us home
Betwixt the haysel, and the tide
When they shear the corn in the country-side?
O children, Who was the lord? ye say,
What prayer to him did our fathers pray.
Did they hold out hands his gyves to bear?
Did their knees his high hall’s pavement wear?
Is his house built up in heaven aloft?
Doth he make the sun rise oft and oft?
Doth he hold the rain in his hollow hand?
Hath he cleft this water through the land?
Or doth he stay the summer-tide,
And make the winter days abide?
O children, Who is the lord? ye say,
Have we heard his name before to-day?
O children, if his name I know,
He hight Earl Hugh of the Shivering Low:
For that herald bore on back and breast
The Black Burg under the Eagle’s Nest.”
As the voice of the winter wind that tears
At the eaves of the thatch and its emptied ears,
E’en so was the voice of laughter and scorn
By the water-side in the mead new-shorn;
And over the garden and the wheat
Went the voice of women shrilly-sweet.
But now by the hoary elder stood
A carle in raiment red as blood.
Red was his weed and his glaive was white,
And there stood Gregory the Wright.
So he spake in a voice was loud and strong:
“Young is the day though the road is long;
There is time if we tarry nought at all
For the kiss in the porch and the meat in the hall.
And safe shall our maidens sit at home
For the foe by the way we wend must come.
Through the three Lavers shall we go
And raise them all against the foe.
Then shall we wend the Downland ways,
And all the shepherd spearmen raise.
To Cheaping Raynes shall we come adown
And gather the bowmen of the town;
And Greenstead next we come unto
Wherein are all folk good and true.
When we come our ways to the Outer Wood
We shall be an host both great and good;
Yea when we come to the open field
There shall be a many under shield.
And maybe Earl Hugh shall lie alow
And yet to the house of Heaven shall go.
But we shall dwell in the land we love
And grudge no hallow Heaven above.
Come ye, who think the time o’er long
Till we have slain the word of wrong!
Come ye who deem the life of fear
On this last day hath drawn o’er near!
Come after me upon the road
That leadeth to the Erne’s abode.”
Down then he leapt from off the mound
And back drew they that were around
Till he was foremost of all those
Betwixt the river and the close.
And uprose shouts both glad and strong
As followed after all the throng;
And overhead the banners flapped,
As we went on our ways to all that happed.
The fields before the Shivering Low
Of many a grief of manfolk know;
There may the autumn acres tell
Of how men met, and what befell.
The Black Burg under the Eagle’s nest
Shall tell the tale as it liketh best.
And sooth it is that the River-land
Lacks many an autumn-gathering hand.
And there are troth-plight maids unwed
Shall deem awhile that love is dead;
And babes there are to men shall grow
Nor ever the face of their fathers know.
And yet in the Land by the River-side
Doth never a thrall or an earl’s man bide;
For Hugh the Earl of might and mirth
Hath left the merry days of Earth;
And we live on in the land we love,
And grudge no hallow Heaven above.
In Arthur's House
In Arthur's house whileome was I
When happily the time went by
In midmost glory of his days.
He held his court then in a place
Whereof ye shall not find the name
In any story of his fame:
Caerliel good sooth men called it not,
Nor London Town, nor Camelot;
Yet therein had we bliss enow.
--Ah, far off was the overthrow
Of all that Britain praised and loved;
And though among us lightly moved
A love that could but lead to death,
Smooth-skinned he seemed, of rosy breath,
A fear to sting a lady's lip,
No ruin of goodly fellowship,
No shame and death of all things good.
Forgive the old carle's babbling mood;
As here I sit grey-haired and old,
My life gone as a story told,
Ye bid me tell a story too;
And then the evil days and few,
That yet were overlong for me
Rise up so clear I may not see
The pictures of my minstrel lore.
Well hearken! on a day of yore
From prime of morn the court did ride
Amidmost of the summertide
To search the dwellings of the deer
Until the heat of noon was near;
Then slackening speed awhile they went
Adown a ragged thorn-bushed bent
At whose feet grew a tangled wood
Of oak and holly nowise good:
But therethrough with some pain indeed
And rending of the ladies' weed
They won at last, and after found
A space of green-sward grown around
By oak and holly set full close;
And in the midst of it arose
Two goodly sycamores that made
A wide and little sun-pierced shade
About their high boles straight and green:
A fount was new-born there-between,
And running on as clear as glass,
Flowed winding on amid the grass
Until the thick wood swallowed it.
A place for happy folk to sit
While the hot day grew hotter still
Till eve began to work his will.
--So might those happy people think
Who grudged to see the red sun sink
And end another day of bliss
Although no joy tomorn should miss --
They laughed for joy as they drew nigh
The shade and fount: but lo, thereby
A man beside the fountain laid
The while his horse 'twixt sun and shade
Cropped the sweet grass: but little care
Had these of guile or giant's lair,
And scarce a foot before the Queen
Rode Gawain o'er the daisied green
To see what man his pleasure took;
Who rose up in meanwhile and shook
His tangled hair aback, as one
Who e'en but now his sleep hath done.
Rough-head and yellow-haired was he
Great-eyed, as folk have told to me,
And big and stout enow of limb:
As one who thinks no harm he smiled,
And cried out: "Well met in the wild,
Fair King and Queen; and ye withal
Sweet dames and damsels! Well befal
This day, whereon I see thee nigh,
O Lancelot, before I die!
And surely shall my heart rejoice
Sir Gawain, when I hear thy voice!"
Then Lancelot laughed: "Thou knowest us then
Full well among a many men?"
"As quoth the lion to the mouse,"
The man said; "in King Arthur's House
Men are not names of men alone,
But coffers rather of deeds done."
The Queen smiled blithe of heart, and spake:
"Hast thou done deeds for ladies' sake?"
"Nay Dame," he said, "I am but young;
A little have I lived and sung
And seen thy face this happy noon."
The King said: "May we hearken soon
Some merry tale of thee? for I
Am skilled to know men low and high
And deem thee neither churl nor fool."
Said he, "My fathers went to school
Where folk are taught a many things,
But not by bliss: men called them kings
In days when kings were near to seek;
But as a long thread waxeth weak,
So is it with our house; and now
I wend me home from oaken bough
Unto a stead where roof and wall
Shall not have over far to fall
When their last day comes."
As he spake
He reddened: "Nathless for their sake,
Whom the world loved once, mock not me
O King, if thence I bring to thee
A morsel and a draught of wine,
Though nothing king-like here thou dine."
Of some kind word King Arthur thought,
But ere he spake the woodman caught
His forest-nag and leapt thereon,
And through the tangled brake was gone.
Then leapt the King down, glad at heart,
Thinking, This day shall not depart
Without some voice from days that were;
And lightly leapt down Guenevere,
And man and maid lay presently
Neath the bee-laden branches high,
And sweet the scent of trodden grass
Amid the blossoms' perfume was.
There long they lay, and little spake,
As folk right loth the calm to break;
Till lo upon the forest-breeze
A noise of folk, and from the trees
They came: the first-seen forester,
A grizzled carle in such-like gear,
And then two maidens poorly clad
Though each a silver chaplet had
And round her neck a golden chain:
And last two varlets led a wain
Drawn by white oxen well bedight
With oaken boughs and lilies white;
Therein there lay a cask of wine
And baskets piled with bread full fine,
And flesh of hart and roe and hare;
And in the midst upon a chair
Done over with a cloth of gold
There sat a man exceeding old
With long white locks: and clad was he
No other than his company
Save that a golden crown he bore
Full fairly fashioned as of yore,
And with a sword was girt about
Such as few folk will see I doubt.
Right great it was: the scabbard thin
Was fashioned of a serpent's skin,
In every scale a stone of worth;
Of tooth of sea-lion of the north
The cross was, and the blood-boot stone
That heals the hurt the blade hath done
Hung down therefrom in silken purse:
The ruddy kin of Niblung's curse
O'er tresses of a sea-wife's hair
Was wrapped about the handle fair;
And last a marvellous sapphire stone
Amidst of the great pommel shone,
A blue flame in the forest green.
And Arthur deemed he ne'er had seen
So fair a sword: nay not when he
The wonder of the land-locked sea
Drew from the stone that Christmas-tide.
Now forth the forest youth did ride,
Leapt down beside the King, and spake:
"King Arthur for thy greatness' sake
My grandsire comes to look on thee;
My father standeth here by me;
These maidens are my sisters twain;
My brethren draw out from the wain
Somewhat thy woodland cheer to mend."
Thereat his sire the knee did bend
Before the King, who o'er the brown
Rough sleeve of the man's homespun gown
Beheld a goodly golden ring:
And fell to greater marvelling
When he beheld how fine and fair
The woodman's kneeling sisters were.
And all folk thereby deemed in sooth
That (save indeed the first seen youth)
These folk were nobler e'en than those
Of Arthur's wonder of a house.
But now the elder drew anigh,
By half a head was he more high
Than Arthur or than Lancelot,
Nor had eld bent him: he kneeled not
Before the King, but smiling took
His hands in hands that nowise shook;
And the King joyed as he who sees
One of his fathers' images
Stand glad before him in a dream.
Then down beside the bubbling stream
They sat together, and the King
Was loth to fall a questioning;
So first the elder spake and said:
"It joys me of thy goodlihead
O great king of our land; and though
Our blood within thee doth not flow,
And I who was a king of yore
May scarcely kneel thy feet before,
Yet do I deem thy right the best
Of all the kings who rule the West.
I love thy name and fame: behold,
King Arthur, I am grown so old
In guilelessness, the Gods have sent,
Be I content or uncontent,
This gift unto my latter days
That I may see as through a haze
The lives and deeds of days to come:
I laugh for some, I weep for some --
I neither laugh nor weep for thee,
But trembling through the clouds I see
Thy life and glory to the end;
And how the sweet and bitter blend
Within the cup that thou must drink.
Good is it that thou shalt not shrink
From either: that the afterdays
Shall still win glory from thy praise
And scarce believe thee laid asleep
When o'er thy deeds the days lie deep."
He ceased but his old lips moved still,
As though they would the tale fulfil
His heart kept secret: Arthur's eyes
Gleamed with the pride that needs would rise
Up from his heart, and low he said:
"I know the living by the dead
I know the future by the past."
Wise eyes and kind the elder cast
Upon him; while a nameless fear
Smote to the heart of Guenevere,
And, fainting there, was turned to love:
And thence a nameless pain did move
The noble heart of Lancelot,
The store of longing unforgot.
-- And west a little moved the sun
And noon began, and noon was done.
But as the elder's grey eyes turned
On Guenevere's, her sweet face burned
With sweet shame; as though she knew
He read her story through and through.
Kindly he looked on her and said:
"O Queen, the chief of goodlihead,
Be blithe and glad this day at least
When in my fathers' house ye feast:
For surely in their ancient hall
Ye sit now: look, there went the wall
Where yon turf ridge runs west-away:
Time was I heard my grand-dame say
She saw this stream run bubbling down
The hall-floor shut in trench of stone;
Therein she washed her father's cup
That last eve e'er the fire went up
O'er ridge and rafter and she passed
Betwixt the foeman's spears the last
Of all the women, wrapping round
This sword the gift of Odin's ground."
He shook the weapon o'er his knee,
Thereon gazed Arthur eagerly.
"Draw it, my lord," quoth Guenevere,
"Of such things have we little fear
In Arthur's house." And Lancelot rose
To look upon the treasure close.
But grimly smiled the ancient man:
"E'en as the sun arising wan
In the black sky when Heimdall's horn
Screams out and the last day is born,
This blade to eyes of men shall be
On that dread day I shall not see --"
Fierce was his old face for a while:
But once again he 'gan to smile
And took the Queen's slim lily hand
And set it on the deadly brand
Then laughed and said: "Hold this, O Queen,
Thine hand is where God's hands have been,
For this is Tyrfing: who knows when
His blade was forged? Belike ere men
Had dwelling on the middle-earth.
At least a man's life is it worth
To draw it out once: so behold
These peace-strings wrought of pearl and gold
The scabbard to the cross that bind
Lest a rash hand and heart made blind
Should draw it forth unwittingly."
Blithe laughed King Arthur: "Sir," said he,
"We well may deem in days by gone
This sword, the blade of such an one
As thou hast been, would seldom slide
Back to its sheath unsatisfied.
Lo now how fair a feast thy kin
Have dight for us and might we win
Some tale of thee in Tyrfing's praise,
Some deed he wrought in greener days,
This were a blithesome hour indeed."
"Sir," said the elder, "little need
To pray me hereof. Please ye dine
And drink a cup of woodman's wine,
Surely meantime some tale shall stir
Within my heart of days that were."
Then to their meat they gat and there
Feasted amid the woodland fair
The fairest folk of all the land.
Ah me when first the Queen's fair hand
Drew near the kneeling forest youth
New-wrought the whole world seemed in sooth
And nothing left therein of ill.
So at the last the Queen did fill
A cup of wine, and drank and said:
"In memory of thy fathers dead
I drink, fair lord, drink now with me
And then bethink thee presently
Of deeds that once won prize and praise
The glory of thy fathers' days."
He drank and laughed and said," Nay, nay,
Keep we the peace-strings whole today.
This draught from where thy lips have been
Within mine old heart maketh green
The memory of a love full true,
The first recorded deed that drew
My fathers' house from dark to light.
If thus my grandame told aright,
A rougher place our land was then,
Quoth she, than with us living men,
And other trees were in the wood
And folk of somewhat other blood
Than ours: then were the small-eyed bears
More plenty in the woodland lairs
Than badgers now: no holiday
It was to chase the wolves away,
Yea there were folk who had to tell
Of lyngworms lying on the fell,
And fearful things by lake and fen,
And manlike shapes that were not men.
Then fay-folk roamed the woods at noon,
And on the grave-mound in the moon
Faint gleamed the flickering treasure-flame.
Days of the world that won no fame,
Yet now, quoth she, folk looking back
Across the tumult and the wrack
And swelling up of windy lies
And dull fool-fashioned cruelties,
Deem that in those days God abode
On earth and shared ill times and good
And right and wrong with that same folk
Their hands had fashioned for the yoke.
Quoth she, of such nought tells my tale,
Yet saith that such as should prevail
In those days o'er the fears of earth
Must needs have been some deal of worth,
And saith that had ye seen a kin
Who dwelt these very woods within
Them at the least ye would have told
For cousins of the Gods of old.
Amongst all these it tells of one,
The goodman's last-begotten son,
Some twenty summers old: as fair
As any flower that blossomed there
In sun and rain, and strong therewith
And lissom as a willow withe.
Now through these woods amidst of June
This youngling went until at noon
From out of the thicket his fair face
Peered forth upon this very place;
For he had been a-hunting nigh
And wearied thought a while to lie
Beside the freshness of the stream.
But lo as in a morning dream
The place was changed, for there was dight
A fair pavilion blue and white
E'en where we play, and all around
Was talk of men and diverse sound,
Tinkling of bit and neigh of steed
Clashing of arms and iron weed.
For round about the painted tent
Armed folk a many came or went,
Or on the fresh grass lay about.
Surely our youth at first had doubt
If 'twere not better to be gone
Than meet these stranger folk alone --
But wot ye well such things as these
Were new to him born mid the trees
And wild things: and he thought, Maybe
The household of the Gods I see:
Who for as many tales as I
Have heard of them, I ne'er saw nigh.
If they be men, I wotted not
That such fair raiment men had got;
They will be glad to show them then.
For one thing taught these woodland men
Whatever wisdom they let fall
Men since have won Fear nought at all.
So from the holly brake he strode
Shouldering the while his hunter's load,
A new slain roe; but there arose
To meet him half a score of those
Whom in fair words he greeted well.
Now was he clad in a sheep's fell
And at his back his quiver hung,
His woodknife on his thigh: unstrung
His bow he held in a staff's stead.
An oaken wreath was round his head
From whence his crispy locks of brown
Well nigh unto his belt hung down,
And howso frank his eyes might be
A half-frown soothly might you see
As these men handled sword or spear
And cried out, "Hold, what dost thou here?"
"Ah," said he, "then no Gods ye are.
Fear not, I shall not make you war."
Therewith his hunting-knife he drew
And the long blade before them he threw.
Then loud they laughed; one sheathed his sword:
"Thanks, army-leader, for that word!
We are not Gods e'en as thou say'st,
Nor thou a devil of the waste
But e'en a devil's a friend belike."
Something [of] hate hereat did strike
Unto the woodsman's unused heart,
Yet he spake softly for his part:
"What men are ye and where dwell ye?
What is the wondrous house I see?"
"In the fair southland is our home
Yet from the north as now we come,"
Said one: then with a mocking smile,
"And in our house there dwells awhile
A very Goddess of the north.
But lo you, take a thing of worth
For that thy quarry, and begone."
But as he spake another one
Spake softly in his ear: and so
The word from this to that did go,
With laughing that seemed nowise good
Unto the dweller of the wood,
Who saying nought moved toward the tent.
But they came round him as he went
And said: "Nay, pagan, stay thy feet;
Thou art not one our dame to greet
. . .
Through thick Arcadian woods a hunter went,
Following the beasts upon a fresh spring day;
But since his horn-tipped bow but seldom bent,
Now at the noontide nought had happed to slay,
Within a vale he called his hounds away,
Hearkening the echoes of his lone voice cling
About the cliffs and through the beech-trees ring.
But when they ended, still awhile he stood,
And but the sweet familiar thrush could hear,
And all the day-long noises of the wood,
And o'er the dry leaves of the vanished year
His hounds' feet pattering as they drew anear,
And heavy breathing from their heads low hung,
To see the mighty corner bow unstrung.
Then smiling did he turn to leave the place,
But with his first step some new fleeting thought
A shadow cast across his sun-burnt face;
I think the golden net that April brought
From some warm world his wavering soul had caught;
For, sunk in vague sweet longing, did he go
Betwixt the trees with doubtful steps and slow.
Yet howsoever slow he went, at last
The trees grew sparser, and the wood was done;
Whereon one farewell backward look he cast,
Then, turning round to see what place was won,
With shaded eyes looked underneath the sun,
And o'er green meads and new-turned furrows brown
Beheld the gleaming of King Schœneus' town.
So thitherward he turned, and on each side
The folk were busy on the teeming land,
And man and maid from the brown furrows cried,
Or midst the newly blossomed vines did stand,
And as the rustic weapon pressed the hand
Thought of the nodding of the well-filled ear,
Or how the knife the heavy bunch should shear.
Merry it was: about him sung the birds,
The spring flowers bloomed along the firm dry road,
The sleek-skinned mothers of the sharp-horned herds
Now for the barefoot milking-maidens lowed;
While from the freshness of his blue abode,
Glad his death-bearing arrows to forget,
The broad sun blazed, nor scattered plagues as yet.
Through such fair things unto the gates he came,
And found them open, as though peace were there;
Wherethrough, unquestioned of his race or name,
He entered, and along the streets 'gan fare,
Which at the first of folk were well-nigh bare;
But pressing on, and going more hastily,
Men hurrying too he 'gan at last to see.
Following the last of these he still pressed on,
Until an open space he came unto,
Where wreaths of fame had oft been lost and won,
For feats of strength folks there were wont to do.
And now our hunter looked for something new,
Because the whole wide space was bare, and stilled
The high seats were, with eager people filled.
There with the others to a seat he gat,
Whence he beheld a broidered canopy,
'Neath which in fair array King Schœneus sat
Upon his throne with councillors thereby;
And underneath his well-wrought seat and high,
He saw a golden image of the sun,
A silver image of the Fleet-foot One.
A brazen altar stood beneath their feet
Whereon a thin flame flicker'd in the wind;
Nigh this a herald clad in raiment meet
Made ready even now his horn to wind,
By whom a huge man held a sword, entwin'd
With yellow flowers; these stood a little space
From off the altar, nigh the starting place.
And there two runners did the sign abide,
Foot set to foot,--a young man slim and fair,
Crisp-hair'd, well knit, with firm limbs often tried
In places where no man his strength may spare:
Dainty his thin coat was, and on his hair.
A golden circlet of renown he wore,
And in his hand an olive garland bore.
But on this day with whom shall he contend?
A maid stood by him like Diana clad
When in the woods she lists her bow to bend,
Too fair for one to look on and be glad,
Who scarcely yet has thirty summers had,
If he must still behold her from afar;
Too fair to let the world live free from war.
She seem'd all earthly matters to forget;
Of all tormenting lines her face was clear;
Her wide gray eyes upon the goal were set
Calm and unmov'd as though no soul were near.
But her foe trembled as a man in fear,
Nor from her loveliness one moment turn'd
His anxious face with fierce desire that burn'd.
Now through the hush there broke the trumpet's clang
Just as the setting sun made eventide.
Then from light feet a spurt of dust there sprang,
And swiftly were they running side by side;
But silent did the thronging folk abide
Until the turning-post was reach'd at last,
And round about it still abreast they passed.
But when the people saw how close they ran,
When half-way to the starting-point they were,
A cry of joy broke forth, whereat the man
Headed the white-foot runner, and drew near
Unto the very end of all his fear;
And scarce his straining feet the ground could feel,
And bliss unhop'd for o'er his heart 'gan steal.
But 'midst the loud victorious shouts he heard
Her footsteps drawing nearer, and the sound
Of fluttering raiment, and thereat afeard
His flush'd and eager face he turn'd around,
And even then he felt her past him bound
Fleet as the wind, but scarcely saw her there
Till on the goal she laid her fingers fair.
There stood she breathing like a little child
Amid some warlike clamour laid asleep,
For no victorious joy her red lips smil'd,
Her cheek its wonted freshness did but keep;
No glance lit up her clear gray eyes and deep,
Though some divine thought soften'd all her face
As once more rang the trumpet through the place.
But her late foe stopp'd short amidst his course,
One moment gaz'd upon her piteously.
Then with a groan his lingering feet did force
To leave the spot whence he her eyes could see;
And, changed like one who knows his time must be
But short and bitter, without any word
He knelt before the bearer of the sword;
Then high rose up the gleaming deadly blade,
Bar'd of its flowers, and through the crowded place
Was silence now, and midst of it the maid
Went by the poor wretch at a gentle pace,
And he to hers upturn'd his sad white face;
Nor did his eyes behold another sight
Ere on his soul there fell eternal light.
So was the pageant ended, and all folk
Talking of this and that familiar thing
In little groups from that sad concourse broke,
For now the shrill bats were upon the wing,
And soon dark night would slay the evening,
And in dark gardens sang the nightingale
Her little-heeded, oft-repeated tale.
And with the last of all the hunter went,
Who, wondering at the strange sight he had seen,
Prayed an old man to tell him what it meant,
Both why the vanquished man so slain had been,
And if the maiden were an earthly queen,
Or rather what much more she seemed to be,
No sharer in this world's mortality.
"Stranger," said he, "I pray she soon may die
Whose lovely youth has slain so many an one!
King Schœneus' daughter is she verily,
Who when her eyes first looked upon the sun
Was fain to end her life but new begun,
For he had vowed to leave but men alone
Sprung from his loins when he from earth was gone.
"Therefore he bade one leave her in the wood,
And let wild things deal with her as they might,
But this being done, some cruel god thought good
To save her beauty in the world's despite;
Folk say that her, so delicate and white
As now she is, a rough root-grubbing bear
Amidst her shapeless cubs at first did rear.
"In course of time the woodfolk slew her nurse,
And to their rude abode the youngling brought,
And reared her up to be a kingdom's curse;
Who grown a woman, of no kingdom thought,
But armed and swift, 'mid beasts destruction wrought,
Nor spared two shaggy centaur kings to slay
To whom her body seemed an easy prey.
"So to this city, led by fate, she came
Whom known by signs, whereof I cannot tell,
King Schœneus for his child at last did claim.
Nor otherwhere since that day doth she dwell
Sending too many a noble soul to hell--
What! shine eyes glisten! what then, thinkest thou
Her shining head unto the yoke to bow?
"Listen, my son, and love some other maid
For she the saffron gown will never wear,
And on no flower-strewn couch shall she be laid,
Nor shall her voice make glad a lover's ear:
Yet if of Death thou hast not any fear,
Yea, rather, if thou lov'st her utterly,
Thou still may'st woo her ere thou com'st to die,
"Like him that on this day thou sawest lie dead;
For fearing as I deem the sea-born one;
The maid has vowed e'en such a man to wed
As in the course her swift feet can outrun,
But whoso fails herein, his days are done:
He came the nighest that was slain to-day,
Although with him I deem she did but play.
"Behold, such mercy Atalanta gives
To those that long to win her loveliness;
Be wise! be sure that many a maid there lives
Gentler than she, of beauty little less,
Whose swimming eyes thy loving words shall bless,
When in some garden, knee set close to knee,
Thou sing'st the song that love may teach to thee."
So to the hunter spake that ancient man,
And left him for his own home presently:
But he turned round, and through the moonlight wan
Reached the thick wood, and there 'twixt tree and tree
Distraught he passed the long night feverishly,
'Twixt sleep and waking, and at dawn arose
To wage hot war against his speechless foes.
There to the hart's flank seemed his shaft to grow,
As panting down the broad green glades he flew,
There by his horn the Dryads well might know
His thrust against the bear's heart had been true,
And there Adonis' bane his javelin slew,
But still in vain through rough and smooth he went,
For none the more his restlessness was spent.
So wandering, he to Argive cities came,
And in the lists with valiant men he stood,
And by great deeds he won him praise and fame,
And heaps of wealth for little-valued blood;
But none of all these things, or life, seemed good
Unto his heart, where still unsatisfied
A ravenous longing warred with fear and pride.
Therefore it happed when but a month had gone
Since he had left King Schœneus' city old,
In hunting-gear again, again alone
The forest-bordered meads did he behold,
Where still mid thoughts of August's quivering gold
Folk hoed the wheat, and clipped the vine in trust
Of faint October's purple-foaming must.
And once again he passed the peaceful gate,
While to his beating heart his lips did lie,
That owning not victorious love and fate,
Said, half aloud, "And here too must I try,
To win of alien men the mastery,
And gather for my head fresh meed of fame
And cast new glory on my father's name."
In spite of that, how beat his heart, when first
Folk said to him, "And art thou come to see
That which still makes our city's name accurst
Among all mothers for its cruelty?
Then know indeed that fate is good to thee
Because to-morrow a new luckless one
Against the white-foot maid is pledged to run."
So on the morrow with no curious eyes
As once he did, that piteous sight he saw,
Nor did that wonder in his heart arise
As toward the goal the conquering maid 'gan draw,
Nor did he gaze upon her eyes with awe,
Too full the pain of longing filled his heart
For fear or wonder there to have a part.
But O, how long the night was ere it went!
How long it was before the dawn begun
Showed to the wakening birds the sun's intent
That not in darkness should the world be done!
And then, and then, how long before the sun
Bade silently the toilers of the earth
Get forth to fruitless cares or empty mirth!
And long it seemed that in the market-place
He stood and saw the chaffering folk go by,
Ere from the ivory throne King Schœneus' face
Looked down upon the murmur royally,
But then came trembling that the time was nigh
When he midst pitying looks his love must claim,
And jeering voices must salute his name.
But as the throng he pierced to gain the throne,
His alien face distraught and anxious told
What hopeless errand he was bound upon,
And, each to each, folk whispered to behold
His godlike limbs; nay, and one woman old
As he went by must pluck him by the sleeve
And pray him yet that wretched love to leave.
For sidling up she said, "Canst thou live twice,
Fair son? canst thou have joyful youth again,
That thus thou goest to the sacrifice
Thyself the victim? nay then, all in vain
Thy mother bore her longing and her pain,
And one more maiden on the earth must dwell
Hopeless of joy, nor fearing death and hell.
"O, fool, thou knowest not the compact then
That with the three-formed goddess she has made
To keep her from the loving lips of men,
And in no saffron gown to be arrayed,
And therewithal with glory to be paid,
And love of her the moonlit river sees
White 'gainst the shadow of the formless trees.
"Come back, and I myself will pray for thee
Unto the sea-born framer of delights,
To give thee her who on the earth may be
The fairest stirrer up to death and fights,
To quench with hopeful days and joyous nights
The flame that doth thy youthful heart consume:
Come back, nor give thy beauty to the tomb."
How should he listen to her earnest speech?
Words, such as he not once or twice had said
Unto himself, whose meaning scarce could reach
The firm abode of that sad hardihead--
He turned about, and through the marketstead
Swiftly he passed, until before the throne
In the cleared space he stood at last alone.
Then said the King, "Stranger, what dost thou here?
Have any of my folk done ill to thee?
Or art thou of the forest men in fear?
Or art thou of the sad fraternity
Who still will strive my daughter's mates to be,
Staking their lives to win an earthly bliss,
The lonely maid, the friend of Artemis?"
"O King," he said, "thou sayest the word indeed;
Nor will I quit the strife till I have won
My sweet delight, or death to end my need.
And know that I am called Milanion,
Of King Amphidamas the well-loved son:
So fear not that to thy old name, O King,
Much loss or shame my victory will bring."
"Nay, Prince," said Schœneus, "welcome to this land
Thou wert indeed, if thou wert here to try
Thy strength 'gainst some one mighty of his hand;
Nor would we grudge thee well-won mastery.
But now, why wilt thou come to me to die,
And at my door lay down thy luckless head,
Swelling the band of the unhappy dead,
"Whose curses even now my heart doth fear?
Lo, I am old, and know what life can be,
And what a bitter thing is death anear.
O, Son! be wise, and harken unto me,
And if no other can be dear to thee,
At least as now, yet is the world full wide,
And bliss in seeming hopeless hearts may hide:
"But if thou losest life, then all is lost."
"Nay, King," Milanion said, "thy words are vain.
Doubt not that I have counted well the cost.
But say, on what day wilt thou that I gain
Fulfilled delight, or death to end my pain.
Right glad were I if it could be to-day,
And all my doubts at rest for ever lay."
"Nay," said King Schœneus, "thus it shall not be,
But rather shalt thou let a month go by,
And weary with thy prayers for victory
What god thou know'st the kindest and most nigh.
So doing, still perchance thou shalt not die:
And with my goodwill wouldst thou have the maid,
For of the equal gods I grow afraid.
"And until then, O Prince, be thou my guest, .
And all these troublous things awhile forget."
"Nay," said he, "couldst thou give my soul good rest,
And on mine head a sleepy garland set,
Then had I 'scaped the meshes of the net,
Nor should thou hear from me another word;
But now, make sharp thy fearful heading-sword.
"Yet will I do what son of man may do,
And promise all the gods may most desire,
That to myself I may at least be true;
And on that day my heart and limbs so tire,
With utmost strain and measureless desire,
That, at the worst, I may but fall asleep
When in the sunlight round that sword shall sweep. "
He went therewith, nor anywhere would bide,
But unto Argos restlessly did wend;
And there, as one who lays all hope aside,
Because the leech has said his life must end,
Silent farewell he bade to foe and friend,
And took his way unto the restless sea,
For there he deemed his rest and help might be.
Upon the shore of Argolis there stands
A temple to the goddess that he sought,
That, turned unto the lion-bearing lands,
Fenced from the east, of cold winds hath no thought,
Though to no homestead there the sheaves are brought,
No groaning press torments the close-clipped murk,
Lonely the fane stands, far from all men's work.
Pass through a close, set thick with myrtle-trees,
Through the brass doors that guard the holy place,
And entering, hear the washing of the seas
That twice a-day rise high above the base,
And with the south-west urging them, embrace
The marble feet of her that standeth there
That shrink not, naked though they be and fair.
Small is the fane through which the sea-wind sings
About Queen Venus' well-wrought image white,
But hung around are many precious things,
The gifts of those who, longing for delight,
Have hung them there within the goddess' sight,
And in return have taken at her hands
The living treasures of the Grecian lands.
And thither now has come Milanion,
And showed unto the priests' wide open eyes
Gifts fairer than all those that there have shone,
Silk cloths, inwrought with Indian fantasies,
And bowls inscribed with sayings of the wise
Above the deeds of foolish living things;
And mirrors fit to be the gifts of kings.
And now before the Sea-born One he stands,
By the sweet veiling smoke made dim and soft,
And while the incense trickles from his hands,
And while the odorous smoke-wreaths hang aloft,
Thus doth he pray to her: "O Thou, who oft
Hast holpen man and maid in their distress
Despise me not for this my wretchedness!
"O goddess, among us who dwelt below,
Kings and great men, great for a little while,
Have pity on the lowly heads that bow,
Nor hate the hearts that love them without guile;
Wilt thou be worse than these, and is thy smile
A vain device of him who set thee here,
An empty dream of some artificer?
"O great one, some men love, and are ashamed;
Some men are weary of the bonds of love;
Yea, and by some men lightly art thou blamed,
That from thy toils their lives they cannot move,
And 'mid the ranks of men their manhood prove.
Alas! O goddess, if thou slayest me,
What new immortal can I serve but thee?
"Think then, will it bring honour to thy head
If folk say, 'Everything aside he cast
And to all fame and honour was he dead,
And to his one hope now is dead at last,
Since all unholpen he is gone and past;
Ah, the gods love not man, for certainly,
He to his helper did not cease to cry.'
"Nay, but thou wilt help; they who died before
Not single-hearted as I deem came here,
Therefore unthanked they laid their gifts before
Thy stainless feet, still shivering with their fear,
Lest in their eyes their true thought might appear,
Who sought to be the lords of that fair town,
Dreaded of men and winners of renown.
"O Queen, thou knowest I pray not for this:
O set us down together in some place
Where not a voice can break our heaven of bliss,
Where nought but rocks and I can see her face,
Softening beneath the marvel of thy grace,
Where not a foot our vanished steps can track--
The golden age, the golden age come back!
"O fairest, hear me now who do thy will,
Plead for thy rebel that she be not slain,
But live and love and be thy servant still;
Ah, give her joy and take away my pain,
And thus two long-enduring servants gain.
An easy thing this is to do for me,
What need of my vain words to weary thee.
"But none the less, this place will I not leave
Until I needs must go my death to meet,
Or at thy hands some happy sign receive
That in great joy we twain may one day greet
Thy presence here and kiss thy silver feet,
Such as we deem thee, fair beyond all words,
Victorious o'er our servants and our lords."
Then from the altar back a space he drew,
But from the Queen turned not his face away,
But 'gainst a pillar leaned, until the blue
That arched the sky, at ending of the day,
Was turned to ruddy gold and changing gray,
And clear, but low, the nigh-ebbed windless sea
In the still evening murmured ceaselessly.
And there he stood when all the sun was down,
Nor had he moved, when the dim golden light,
Like the fair lustre of a godlike town,
Had left the world to seeming hopeless night,
Nor would he move the more when wan moonlight
Streamed through the pillows for a little while,
And lighted up the white Queen's changeless smile.
Nought noted he the shallow-flowing sea
As step by step it set the wrack a-swim;
The yellow torchlight nothing noted he
Wherein with fluttering gown and half-bared limb
The temple damsels sung their midnight hymn;
And nought the doubled stillness of the fane
When they were gone and all was hushed again.
But when the waves had touched the marble base,
And steps the fish swim over twice a-day,
The dawn beheld him sunken in his place
Upon the floor; and sleeping there he lay,
Not heeding aught the little jets of spray
The roughened sea brought nigh, across him cast,
For as one dead all thought from him had passed.
Yet long before the sun had showed his head,
Long ere the varied hangings on the wall
Had gained once more their blue and green and red,
He rose as one some well-known sign doth call
When war upon the city's gates doth fall,
And scarce like one fresh risen out of sleep,
He 'gan again his broken watch to keep.
Then he turned round; not for the sea-gull's cry
That wheeled above the temple in his flight,
Not for the fresh south wind that lovingly
Breathed on the new-born day and dying night,
But some strange hope 'twixt fear and great delight
Drew round his face, now flushed, now pale and wan,
And still constrained his eyes the sea to scan.
Now a faint light lit up the southern sky,
Not sun or moon, for all the world was gray,
But this a bright cloud seemed, that drew anigh,
Lighting the dull waves that beneath it lay
As toward the temple still it took its way,
And still grew greater, till Milanion
Saw nought for dazzling light that round him shone.
But as he staggered with his arms outspread,
Delicious unnamed odours breathed around,
For languid happiness he bowed his head,
And with wet eyes sank down upon the ground,
Nor wished for aught, nor any dream he found
To give him reason for that happiness,
Or make him ask more knowledge of his bliss.
At last his eyes were cleared, and he could see
Through happy tears the goddess face to face
With that faint image of Divinity,
Whose well-wrought smile and dainty changeless grace
Until that morn so gladdened all the place;
Then, he unwitting cried aloud her name
And covered up his eyes for fear and shame.
But through the stillness he her voice could hear
Piercing his heart with joy scarce bearable,
That said, "Milanion, wherefore dost thou fear,
I am not hard to those who love me well;
List to what I a second time will tell,
And thou mayest hear perchance, and live to save
The cruel maiden from a loveless grave.
"See, by my feet three golden apples lie--
Such fruit among the heavy roses falls,
Such fruit my watchful damsels carefully
Store up within the best loved of my walls,
Ancient Damascus, where the lover calls
Above my unseen head, and faint and light
The rose-leaves flutter round me in the night.
"And note, that these are not alone most fair
With heavenly gold, but longing strange they bring
Unto the hearts of men, who will not care
Beholding these, for any once-loved thing
Till round the shining sides their fingers cling.
And thou shalt see thy well-girt swift-foot maid
By sight of these amidst her glory stayed.
"For bearing these within a scrip with thee,
When first she heads thee from the starting-place
Cast down the first one for her eyes to see,
And when she turns aside make on apace,
And if again she heads thee in the race
Spare not the other two to cast aside
If she not long enough behind will bide.
"Farewell, and when has come the happy time
That she Diana's raiment must unbind
And all the world seems blessed with Saturn's clime,
And thou with eager arms about her twined
Beholdest first her gray eyes growing kind,
Surely, O trembler, thou shalt scarcely then
Forget the Helper of unhappy men."
Milanion raised his head at this last word
For now so soft and kind she seemed to be
No longer of her Godhead was he feared;
Too late he looked; for nothing could he see
But the white image glimmering doubtfully
In the departing twilight cold and gray,
And those three apples on the step that lay.
These then he caught up quivering with delight,
Yet fearful lest it all might be a dream;
And though aweary with the watchful night,
And sleepless nights of longing, still did deem
He could not sleep; but yet the first sunbeam
That smote the fane across the heaving deep
Shone on him laid in calm, untroubled sleep.
But little ere the noontide did he rise,
And why he felt so happy scarce could tell
Until the gleaming apples met his eyes.
Then leaving the fair place where this befell
Oft he looked back as one who loved it well,
Then homeward to the haunts of men, 'gan wend
To bring all things unto a happy end.
Now has the lingering month at last gone by,
Again are all folk round the running place,
Nor other seems the dismal pageantry
Than heretofore, but that another face
Looks o'er the smooth course ready for the race,
For now, beheld of all, Milanion
Stands on the spot he twice has looked upon.
But yet--what change is this that holds the maid?
Does she indeed see in his glittering eye
More than disdain of the sharp shearing blade,
Some happy hope of help and victory?
The others seem'd to say, "We come to die;
Look down upon us for a little while,
That, dead, we may bethink us of thy smile."
But he--what look of mastery was this
He cast on her? why were his lips so red;
Why was his face so flush'd with happiness?
So looks not one who deems himself but dead,
E'en if to death he bows a willing head;
So rather looks a god well pleas'd to find
Some earthly damsel fashion'd to his mind,
Why must she drop her lids before his gaze,
And even as she casts adown her eyes
Redden to note his eager glance of praise,
And wish that she were clad in other guise?
Why must the memory to her heart arise
Of things unnoticed when they first were heard,
Some lover's song, some answering maiden's word?
What makes these longings, vague--without a name,
And this vain pity never felt before,
This sudden languor, this contempt of fame,
This tender sorrow for the time past o'er,
These doubts that grow each minute more and more?
Why does she tremble as the time grows near,
And weak defeat and woeful victory fear?
But while she seem'd to hear her beating heart,
Above their heads the trumpet blast rang out
And forth they sprang, and she must play her part;
Then flew her white feet, knowing not a doubt,
Though, slackening once, she turn'd her head about,
But then she cried aloud and faster fled
Than e'er before, and all men deemed him dead.
But with no sound he raised aloft his hand,
And thence what seemed a ray of light there flew
And past the maid rolled on along the sand;
Then trembling she her feet together drew
And in her heart a strong desire there grew
To have the toy, some god she thought had given
That gift to her, to make of earth a heaven.
Then from the course with eager steps she ran,
And in her odorous bosom laid the gold.
But when she turned again, the great-limbed man,
Now well ahead she failed not to behold,
And mindful of her glory waxing cold,
Sprang up and followed him in hot pursuit,
Though with one hand she touched the golden fruit.
Note, too, the bow that she was wont to bear
She laid aside to grasp the glittering prize,
And o'er her shoulder from the quiver fair
Three arrows fell and lay before her eyes
Unnoticed, as amidst the people's cries
She sprang to head the strong Milanion,
Who now the turning-post had well-nigh won.
But as he set his mighty hand on it
White fingers underneath his own were laid,
And white limbs from his dazzled eyes did flit,
Then he the second fruit cast by the maid:
She ran awhile, and then as one afraid
Wavered and stopped, and turned and made no stay,
Until the globe with its bright fellow lay.
Then, as a troubled glance she cast around,
Now far ahead the Argive could she see,
And in her garment's hem one hand she wound
To keep the double prize, and strenuously
Sped o'er the course, and little doubt had she
To win the day, though now but scanty space
Was left betwixt him and the winning place.
Short was the way unto such wingèd feet,
Quickly she gained upon him till at last
He turned about her eager eyes to meet
And from his hand the third fair apple cast.
She wavered not, but turned and ran so fast
After the prize that should her bliss fulfil,
That in her hand it lay ere it was still.
Nor did she rest, but turned about to win
Once more, an unblest woeful victory--
And yet--and yet--why does her breath begin
To fail her, and her feet drag heavily?
Why fails she now to see if far or nigh
The goal is? why do her gray eyes grow dim?
Why do these tremors run through every limb?
She spreads her arms abroad some stay to find
Else must she fall, indeed, and findeth this,
A strong man's arms about her body twined.
Nor may she shudder now to feel his kiss,
So wrapped she is in new unbroken bliss:
Made happy that the foe the prize hath won,
She weeps glad tears for all her glory done.
Shatter the trumpet, hew adown the posts!
Upon the brazen altar break the sword,
And scatter incense to appease the ghosts
Of those who died here by their own award.
Bring forth the image of the mighty Lord,
And her who unseen o'er the runners hung,
And did a deed for ever to be sung.
Here are the gathered folk; make no delay,
Open King Schœneus' well-filled treasury,
Bring out the gifts long hid from light of day,
The golden bowls o'erwrought with imagery,
Gold chains, and unguents brought from over sea,
The saffron gown the old Phœnician brought,
Within the temple of the Goddess wrought.
O ye, O damsels, who shall never see
Her, that Love's servant bringeth now to you,
Returning from another victory,
In some cool bower do all that now is due!
Since she in token of her service new
Shall give to Venus offerings rich enow,
Her maiden zone, her arrows and her bow.
Sir Peter Harpdon's End
In an English Castle in Poictou. Sir Peter Harpdon, a Gascon knight in the English service, and John Curzon, his lieutenant.
Of those three prisoners, that before you came
We took down at St. John's hard by the mill,
Two are good masons; we have tools enough,
And you have skill to set them working.
What are their names?
Why, Jacques Aquadent,
And Peter Plombiere, but-
What colour'd hair
Has Peter now? has Jacques got bow legs?
Why, sir, you jest: what matters Jacques' hair,
Or Peter's legs to us?
O! John, John, John!
Throw all your mason's tools down the deep well,
Hang Peter up and Jacques; they're no good,
We shall not build, man.
Shall I call the guard
To hang them, sir? and yet, sir, for the tools,
We'd better keep them still; sir, fare you well.
Muttering as he goes.
What have I done that he should jape at me?
And why not build? the walls are weak enough,
And we've two masons and a heap of tools.
Goes, still muttering.
To think a man should have a lump like that
For his lieutenant! I must call him back,
Or else, as surely as St. George is dead,
He'll hang our friends the masonsâ€”here, John! John!
At your good service, sir.
Come now, and talk
This weighty matter out; there, we've no stone
To mend our walls with,â€”neither brick nor stone.
There is a quarry, sir, some ten miles off.
We are not strong enough to send ten men
Ten miles to fetch us stone enough to build.
In three hours' time they would be taken or slain,
The cursed Frenchmen ride abroad so thick.
But we can send some villaynes to get stone.
Alas! John, that we cannot bring them back;
They would go off to Clisson or Sanxere,
And tell them we were weak in walls and men,
Then down go we; for, look you, times are changed,
And now no longer does the country shake
At sound of English names; our captains fade
From off our muster-rolls. At Lusac Bridge
I daresay you may even yet see the hole
That Chandos beat in dying; far in Spain
Pembroke is prisoner; Phelton prisoner here;
Manny lies buried in the Charterhouse;
Oliver Clisson turn'd these years agone;
The Captal died in prison; and, over all,
Edward the prince lies underneath the ground;
Edward the king is dead; at Westminster
The carvers smooth the curls of his long beard.
Everything goes to rack - eh! and we too.
Now, Curzon, listen; if they come, these French,
Whom have I got to lean on here, but you?
A man can die but once; will you die then,
Your brave sword in your hand, thoughts in your heart
Of all the deeds we have done here in France-
And yet may do? So God will have your soul,
Whoever has your body.
Why, sir, I
Will fight till the last moment, until then
Will do whate'er you tell me. Now I see
We must e'en leave the walls; well, well, perhaps
They're stronger than I think for; pity though,
For some few tons of stone, if Guesclin comes!
Farewell, John, pray you watch the Gascons well,
I doubt them.
Truly, sir, I will watch well.
Farewell, good lump! and yet, when all is said,
'Tis a good lump. Why then, if Guesclin comes;
Some dozen stones from his petrariae,
And, under shelter of his crossbows, just
An hour's steady work with pickaxes,
Then a great noiseâ€”some dozen swords and glaives
A-playing on my basnet all at once,
And little more cross purposes on earth
Now this is hard: a month ago,
And a few minutes' talk had set things right
'Twixt me and Alice - if she had a doubt,
As (may Heaven bless her!) I scarce think she had,
'Twas but their hammer, hammer in her ears,
Of 'how Sir Peter fail'd at Lusac Bridge:'
And 'how he was grown moody of late days;'
And 'how Sir Lambert,â€ (think now!) 'his dear friend,
His sweet dear cousin, could not but confess
That Peter's talk tended towards the French,
Which he' (for instance Lambert) 'was glad of,
Being' (Lambert, you see) â€œon the French side.'
If I could but have seen her on that day,
Then, when they sent me off!
I like to think,
Although it hurts me, makes my head twist, what,
If I had seen her, what I should have said,
What she, my darling, would have said and done.
As thus perchance:
To find her sitting there,
In the window-seat, not looking well at all,
Crying perhaps, and I say quietly:
'Alice!' she looks up, chokes a sob, looks grave,
Changes from pale to red; but ere she speaks,
Straightway I kneel down there on both my knees,
And say: â€œO lady, have I sinn'd, your knight?
That still you ever let me walk alone
In the rose garden, that you sing no songs
When I am by, that ever in the dance
You quietly walk away when I come near?
Now that I have you, will you go, think you?â€
Ere she could answer I would speak again,
Still kneeling there:
'What! they have frighted you,
By hanging burs, and clumsily carven puppets,
Round my good name; but afterwards, my love,
I will say what this means; this moment, see!
Do I kneel here, and can you doubt me? Yea,'
(For she would put her hands upon my face),
'Yea, that is best, yea feel, love, am I changed?'
And she would say: â€œGood knight, come, kiss my lips!'
And afterwards as I sat there would say:
'Please a poor silly girl by telling me
What all those things they talk of really were,
For it is true you did not help Chandos,
And true, poor love! you could not come to me
When I was in such peril.'
I should say:
'I am like Balen, all things turn to blame.
I did not come to you? At Bergerath
The Constable had held us close shut up;
If from the barriers I had made three steps,
I should have been but slain; at Lusac, too,
We struggled in a marish half the day,
And came too late at last: you know, my love
How heavy men and horses are all arm'd.
All that Sir Lambert said was pure, unmix'd,
Quite groundless lies; as you can think, sweet love'.
She, holding tight my hand as we sat there,
Started a little at Sir Lambert's name,
But otherwise she listen'd scarce at all
To what I said. Then with moist, weeping eyes,
And quivering lips, that scarcely let her speak,
She said: 'I love you.'
Other words were few,
The remnant of that hour; her hand smooth'd down
My foolish head; she kiss'd me all about
My face, and through the tangles of my beard
Her little fingers crept
O God, my Alice,
Not this good way: my lord but sent and said
That Lambert's sayings were taken at their worth,
Therefore that day I was to start, and keep
This hold against the French; and I am here,-
Looks out of the window.
A sprawling lonely gard with rotten walls,
And no one to bring aid if Guesclin comes,
Or any other.
There's a pennon now!
But not the Constable's: whose arms,
I wonder, does it bear? Three golden rings
On a red ground; my cousin's by the rood!
Well, I should like to kill him, certainly,
But to be kill'd by him-
A trumpet sounds.
That's for a herald;
I doubt this does not mean assaulting yet.
Enter John Curzon.
What says the herald of our cousin, sir?
So please you, sir, concerning your estate,
He has good will to talk with you.
I'll talk with him, close by the gate St. Ives.
Is he unarm'd?
Yea, sir, in a long gown.
Then bid them bring me hither my furr'd gown
With the long sleeves, and under it I'll wear,
By Lambert's leave, a secret coat of mail;
And will you lend me, John, your little axe?
I mean the one with Paul wrought on the blade,
And I will carry it inside my sleeve,
Good to be ready alwaysâ€”you, John, go
And bid them set up many suits of arms,
Bows, archgays, lances, in the base-court, and
Yourself, from the south postern setting out,
With twenty men, be ready to break through
Their unguarded rear when I cry out â€œSt. George!â€
How, sir! will you attack him unawares,
And slay him unarm'd?
Trust me, John, I know
The reason why he comes here with sleeved gown,
Fit to hide axes up. So, let us go.
They go. Outside the castle by the great gate; Sir Lambert and Sir Peter seated; guards attending each, the rest of Sir Lambert's men drawn up about a furlong off.
And if I choose to take the losing side
Still, does it hurt you?
O! no hurt to me;
I see you sneering, â€œWhy take trouble then,
Seeing you love me not?â€ Look you, our house
(Which, taken altogether, I love much)
Had better be upon the right side now,
If, once for all, it wishes to bear rule
As such a house should: cousin, you're too wise
To feed your hope up fat, that this fair France
Will ever draw two ways again; this side
The French, wrong-headed, all a-jar
With envious longings; and the other side
The order'd English, orderly led on
By those two Edwards through all wrong and right,
And muddling right and wrong to a thick broth
With that long stick, their strength. This is all changed,
The true French win, on either side you have
Cool-headed men, good at a tilting match,
And good at setting battles in array,
And good at squeezing taxes at due time;
Therefore by nature we French being here
Upon our own big land-
Sir Peter laughs aloud.
Well, Peter! well!
What makes you laugh?
Hearing you sweat to prove
All this I know so well; but you have read
The siege of Troy?
O! yea, I know it well.
There! they were wrong, as wrong as men could be;
For, as I think, they found it such delight
To see fair Helen going through their town:
Yea, any little common thing she did
(As stooping to pick a flower) seem'd so strange,
So new in its great beauty, that they said:
'Here we will keep her living in this town,
Till all burns up together.' And so, fought,
In a mad whirl of knowing they were wrong;
Yea, they fought well, and ever, like a man
That hangs legs off the ground by both his hands,
Over some great height, did they struggle sore,
Quite sure to slip at last; wherefore, take note
How almost all men, reading that sad siege,
Hold for the Trojans; as I did at least,
Thought Hector the best knight a long way.
Why should I not do this thing that I think,
For even when I come to count the gains,
I have them my side: men will talk, you know,
(We talk of Hector, dead so long agone,)
When I am dead, of how this Peter clung
To what he thought the right; of how he died,
Perchance, at last, doing some desperate deed
Few men would care do now, and this is gain
To me, as ease and money is to you.
Moreover, too, I like the straining game
Of striving well to hold up things that fall;
So one becomes great. See you! in good times
All men live well together, and you, too,
Live dull and happyâ€”happy? not so quick,
Suppose sharp thoughts begin to burn you up.
Why then, but just to fight as I do now,
A halter round my neck, would be great bliss.
O! I am well off.
Talk, and talk, and talk,
I know this man has come to murder me,
And yet I talk still.
If your side were right,
You might be, though you lost; but if I said:
'You are a traitor, being, as you are,
Born Frenchman.' What are Edwards unto you,
Nay, hold there, my Lambert, hold!
For fear your zeal should bring you to some harm,
Don't call me traitor.
Furthermore, my knight,
Men call you slippery on your losing side;
When at Bordeaux I was ambassador,
I heard them say so, and could scarce say â€œNay.â€
He takes hold of something in his sleeve, and rises.
They liedâ€”and you lie, not for the first time.
What have you got there, fumbling up your sleeve,
A stolen purse?
Nay, liar in your teeth!
Dead liar too; St. Denis and St. Lambert!
Strikes at Sir Peter with a dagger.
striking him flatlings with his axe.
How thief! thief! thief! so there, fair thief, so there,
St. George Guienne! glaives for the castellan!
You French, you are but dead, unless you lay
Your spears upon the earth. St. George Guienne!
Well done, John Curzon, how he has them now.
In the Castle.
What shall we do with all these prisoners, sir?
Why, put them all to ransom, those that can
Pay anything, but not too light though, John,
Seeing we have them on the hip: for those
That have no money, that being certified,
Why, turn them out of doors before they spy;
But bring Sir Lambert guarded unto me.
I will, fair sir. He goes.
I do not wish to kill him,
Although I think I ought; he shall go mark'd,
By all the saints, though! Enter Lambert guarded.
Now, Sir Lambert, now!
What sort of death do you expect to get,
Being taken this way?
Cousin! cousin! think!
I am your own blood; may God pardon me!
I am not fit to die; if you knew all,
All I have done since I was young and good,
O! you would give me yet another chance,
As God would, that I might wash all clear out,
By serving you and Him. Let me go now!
And I will pay you down more golden crowns
Of ransom than the king would!
Well, stand back,
And do not touch me! No, you shall not die,
Nor yet pay ransom. You, John Curzon, cause
Some carpenters to build a scaffold, high,
Outside the gate; when it is built, sound out
To all good folks, 'Come, see a traitor punish'd!'
Take me my knight, and set him up thereon,
And let the hangman shave his head quite clean,
And cut his ears off close up to the head;
And cause the minstrels all the while to play
Soft music and good singing; for this day
Is my high day of triumph; is it not,
Ah! on your own blood,
Own name, you heap this foul disgrace? you dare,
With hands and fame thus sullied, to go back
And take the lady Alice-
Say her name
Again, and you are dead, slain here by me.
Why should I talk with you? I'm master here,
And do not want your schooling; is it not
My mercy that you are not dangling dead
There in the gateway with a broken neck?
Such mercy! why not kill me then outright?
To die is nothing; but to live that all
May point their fingers! yea, I'd rather die.
Why, will it make you any uglier man
To lose your ears? they're much too big for you,
You ugly Judas!
That's your choice,
To die, mind! then you shall dieâ€”Lambert mine,
I thank you now for choosing this so well,
It saves me much perplexity and doubt;
Perchance an ill deed too, for half I count
This sparing traitors is an ill deed.
Lambert, die bravely, and we're almost friends.
O God! this is a fiend and not a man;
Will some one save me from him? help, help, help!
I will not die.
Why, what is this I see?
A man who is a knight, and bandied words
So well just now with me, is lying down,
Gone mad for fear like this! So, so, you thought
You knew the worst, and might say what you pleased.
I should have guess'd this from a man like you.
Eh! righteous Job would give up skin for skin,
Yea, all a man can have for simple life,
And we talk fine, yea, even a hound like this,
Who needs must know that when he dies, deep hell
Will hold him fast for everâ€”so fine we talk,
'Would rather die' - all that. Now sir, get up!
And choose again: shall it be head sans ears,
Or trunk sans head?
John Curzon, pull him up!
What, life then? go and build the scaffold, John.
Lambert, I hope that never on this earth
We meet again; that you'll turn out a monk,
And mend the life I give you, so, farewell,
I'm sorry you're a rascal. John, despatch.
In the French camp before the Castle. Sir Peter prisoner, Guesclin, Clisson, Sir Lambert.
So now is come the ending of my life;
If I could clear this sickening lump away
That sticks in my dry throat, and say a word,
Guesclin might listen.
Tell me, fair sir knight,
If you have been clean liver before God,
And then you need not fear much; as for me,
I cannot say I hate you, yet my oath,
And cousin Lambert's ears here clench the thing.
I knew you could not hate me, therefore I
Am bold to pray for life; 'twill harm your cause
To hang knights of good name, harm here in France
I have small doubt, at any rate hereafter
Men will remember you another way
Than I should care to be remember'd. Ah!
Although hot lead runs through me for my blood,
All this falls cold as though I said: 'Sweet lords,
Give back my falcon!'
See how young I am;
Do you care altogether more for France,
Say rather one French faction, than for all
The state of Christendom? a gallant knight,
As (yea, by God!) I have been, is more worth
Than many castles; will you bring this death,
For a mere act of justice, on my head?
Think how it ends all, death! all other things
Can somehow be retrieved; yea, send me forth
Naked and maimed, rather than slay me here;
Then somehow will I get me other clothes,
And somehow will I get me some poor horse,
And, somehow clad in poor old rusty arms,
Will ride and smite among the serried glaives,
Fear not death so; for I can tilt right well,
Let me not say â€œI could;â€ I know all tricks,
That sway the sharp sword cunningly; ah you,
You, my Lord Clisson, in the other days
Have seen me learning these, yea, call to mind,
How in the trodden corn by ChartrÃ¨s town,
When you were nearly swooning from the back
Of your black horse, those three blades slid at once
From off my sword's edge; pray for me, my lord!
Nay, this is pitiful, to see him die.
My Lord the Constable, I pray you note
That you are losing some few thousand crowns
By slaying this man; also think: his lands
Along the Garonne river lie for leagues,
And are right rich, a many mills he has,
Three abbeys of grey monks do hold of him,
Though wishing well for Clement, as we do;
I know the next heir, his old uncle, well,
Who does not care two deniers for the knight
As things go now, but slay him, and then see
How he will bristle up like any perch,
With curves of spears. What! do not doubt, my lord,
You'll get the money; this man saved my life,
And I will buy him for two thousand crowns;
Well, five thenâ€”eh! what! â€œNoâ€ again? well then,
Ten thousand crowns?
My sweet lord, much I grieve
I cannot please you; yea, good sooth, I grieve
This knight must die, as verily he must;
For I have sworn it, so, men, take him out,
Use him not roughly.
Music, do you know,
Music will suit you well, I think, because
You look so mild, like Laurence being grill'd;
Or perhaps music soft and slow, because
This is high day of triumph unto me,
Is it not, Peter?
You are frighten'd, though,
Eh! you are pale, because this hurts you much,
Whose life was pleasant to you, not like mine,
You ruin'd wretch! Men mock me in the streets,
Only in whispers loud, because I am
Friend of the Constable; will this please you,
Unhappy Peter? once a-going home,
Without my servants, and a little drunk,
At midnight through the lone dim lamp-lit streets,
A whore came up and spat into my eyes,
(Rather to blind me than to make me see,)
But she was very drunk, and tottering back,
Even in the middle of her laughter, fell
And cut her head against the pointed stones,
While I lean'd on my staff, and look'd at her,
And cried, being drunk.
Girls would not spit at you.
You are so handsome, I think verily
Most ladies would be glad to kiss your eyes,
And yet you will be hung like a cur dog
Five minutes hence, and grow black in the face,
And curl your toes up. Therefore I am glad.
Guess why I stand and talk this nonsense now,
With Guesclin getting ready to play chess,
And Clisson doing something with his sword,
I can't see what, talking to Guesclin though,
I don't know what about, perhaps of you.
But, cousin Peter, while I stroke your beard,
Let me say this, I'd like to tell you now
That your life hung upon a game of chess,
That if, say, my squire Robert here should beat,
Why, you should live, but hang if I beat him;
Then guess, clever Peter, what I should do then:
Well, give it up? why, Peter, I should let
My squire Robert beat me, then you would think
That you were safe, you know; Eh? not at all,
But I should keep you three days in some hold,
Giving you salt to eat, which would be kind,
Considering the tax there is on salt;
And afterwards should let you go, perhaps?
No, I should not, but I should hang you, sir,
With a red rope in lieu of mere grey rope.
But I forgot, you have not told me yet
If you can guess why I talk nonsense thus,
Instead of drinking wine while you are hang'd?
You are not quick at guessing, give it up.
This is the reason; here I hold your hand,
And watch you growing paler, see you writhe
And this, my Peter, is a joy so dear,
I cannot by all striving tell you how
I love it, nor I think, good man, would you
Quite understand my great delight therein;
You, when you had me underneath you once,
Spat as it were, and said: 'Go take him out,'
(That they might do that thing to me whereat
E'en now this long time off I could well shriek,)
And then you tried forget I ever lived,
And sunk your hating into other things;
While I - St. Denis! though, I think you'll faint,
Your lips are grey so; yes, you will, unless
You let it out and weep like a hurt child;
Hurrah! you do now. Do not go just yet,
For I am Alice, am right like her now,
Will you not kiss me on the lips, my love?-
You filthy beast, stand back and let him go,
Or by God's eyes I'll choke you. Kneeling to Sir Peter.
Fair sir knight,
I kneel upon my knees and pray to you
That you would pardon me for this your death;
God knows how much I wish you still alive,
Also how heartily I strove to save
Your life at this time; yea, He knows quite well,
(I swear it, so forgive me!) how I would,
If it were possible, give up my life
Upon this grass for yours; fair knight, although,
He knowing all things knows this thing too, well,
Yet when you see His face some short time hence,
Tell Him I tried to save you.
O! my lord,
I cannot say this is as good as life,
But yet it makes me feel far happier now,
And if at all, after a thousand years,
I see God's face, I will speak loud and bold,
And tell Him you were kind, and like Himself;
Sir, may God bless you!
Did you note how I
Fell weeping just now? pray you, do not think
That Lambert's taunts did this, I hardly heard
The base things that he said, being deep in thought
Of all things that have happen'd since I was
A little child; and so at last I thought
Of my true lady: truly, sir, it seem'd
No longer gone than yesterday, that this
Was the sole reason God let me be born
Twenty-five years ago, that I might love
Her, my sweet lady, and be loved by her;
This seem'd so yesterday, to-day death comes,
And is so bitter strong, I cannot see
Why I was born.
But as a last request,
I pray you, O kind Clisson, send some man,
Some good man, mind you, to say how I died,
And take my last love to her: fare-you-well,
And may God keep you; I must go now, lest
I grow too sick with thinking on these things;
Likewise my feet are wearied of the earth,
From whence I shall be lifted up right soon.
As he goes.
Ah me! shamed too, I wept at fear of death;
And yet not so, I only wept because
There was no beautiful lady to kiss me
Before I died, and sweetly wish good speed
From her dear lips. O for some lady, though
I saw her ne'er before; Alice, my love,
I do not ask for; Clisson was right kind,
If he had been a woman, I should die
Without this sickness: but I am all wrong,
So wrong, and hopelessly afraid to die.
There, I will go.
My God! how sick I am,
If only she could come and kiss me now.
The Hotel de la Barde, Bordeaux. The Lady Alice de la Barde looking out of a window into the street.
No news yet! surely, still he holds his own:
That garde stands well; I mind me passing it
Some months ago; God grant the walls are strong!
I heard some knights say something yestereve,
I tried hard to forget: words far apart
Struck on my heart something like this; one said:
'What eh! a Gascon with an English name,
Harpdon?' then nought, but afterwards: 'Poictou.'
As one who answers to a question ask'd;
Then carelessly regretful came: 'No, no.'
Whereto in answer loud and eagerly,
One said: â€œImpossible! Christ, what foul play!â€
And went off angrily; and while thenceforth
I hurried gaspingly afraid, I heard:
'Guesclin;' 'Five thousand men-at-arms;' 'Clisson.'
My heart misgives me it is all in vain
I send these succours; and in good time there!
Their trumpet sounds, ah! here they are; good knights,
God up in Heaven keep you.
If they come
And find him prisonerâ€”for I can't believe
Guesclin will slay him, even though they stormâ€”
(The last horse turns the corner.)
God in Heaven!
What have I got to thinking of at last!
That thief I will not name is with Guesclin,
Who loves him for his lands. My love! my love!
O, if I lose you after all the past,
What shall I do?
I cannot bear the noise
And light street out there, with this thought alive,
Like any curling snake within my brain;
Let me just hide my head within these soft
Deep cushions, there to try and think it out.
Lying in the window-seat.
I cannot hear much noise now, and I think
That I shall go to sleep: it all sounds dim
And faint, and I shall soon forget most things;
Yea, almost that I am alive and here;
It goes slow, comes slow, like a big mill-wheel
On some broad stream, with long green weeds a-sway,
And soft and slow it rises and it falls,
Still going onward.
Lying so, one kiss,
And I should be in Avalon asleep,
Among the poppies and the yellow flowers;
And they should brush my cheek, my hair being spread
Far out among the stems; soft mice and small
Eating and creeping all about my feet,
Red shod and tired; and the flies should come
Creeping o'er my broad eyelids unafraid;
And there should be a noise of water going,
Clear blue, fresh water breaking on the slates,
Likewise the flies should creepâ€”God's eyes! God help!
A trumpet? I will run fast, leap adown
The slippery sea-stairs, where the crabs fight.
I was half dreaming, but the trumpet's true;
He stops here at our house. The Clisson arms?
Ah, now for news. But I must hold my heart,
And be quite gentle till he is gone out;
And afterwardsâ€”but he is still alive,
He must be still alive.
Enter a Squire of Clisson's.
Good day, fair sir,
I give you welcome, knowing whence you come.
My Lady Alice de la Barde, I come
From Oliver Clisson, knight and mighty lord,
Bringing you tidings: I make bold to hope
You will not count me villain, even if
They wring your heart, nor hold me still in hate.
For I am but a mouthpiece after all,
A mouthpiece, too, of one who wishes well
To you and your's.
Can you talk faster, sir,
Get over all this quicker? fix your eyes
On mine, I pray you, and whate'er you see,
Still go on talking fast, unless I fall,
Or bid you stop.
I pray your pardon then,
And, looking in your eyes, fair lady, say
I am unhappy that your knight is dead.
Take heart, and listen! let me tell you all.
We were five thousand goodly men-at-arms,
And scant five hundred had he in that hold:
His rotten sand-stone walls were wet with rain,
And fell in lumps wherever a stone hit;
Yet for three days about the barrier there
The deadly glaives were gather'd, laid across,
And push'd and pull'd; the fourth our engines came;
But still amid the crash of falling walls,
And roar of lombards, rattle of hard bolts,
The steady bow-strings flash'd, and still stream'd out
St. George's banner, and the seven swords,
And still they cried: â€œSt.George Guienne!â€ until
Their walls were flat as Jericho's of old,
And our rush came, and cut them from the keep.
Stop, sir, and tell me if you slew him then,
And where he died, if you can really mean
That Peter Harpdon, the good knight, is dead?
Fair lady, in the base-court -
What do you talk of? Nay, go on, go on;
'Twas only something gone within my head:
Do you not know, one turns one's head round quick,
And something cracks there with sore pain? go on,
And still look at my eyes.
There in the base-court fought he with his sword,
Using his left hand much, more than the wont
Of most knights now-a-days; our men gave back,
For wheresoever he hit a downright blow,
Some one fell bleeding, for no plate could hold
Against the sway of body and great arm;
Till he grew tired, and some man (no! not I,
I swear not I, fair lady, as I live!)
Thrust at him with a glaive between the knees,
And threw him; down he fell, sword undermost;
Many fell on him, crying out their cries,
Tore his sword from him, tore his helm off, andâ€”
Yea, slew him: I am much too young to live,
Fair God, so let me die!
You have done well,
Done all your message gently; pray you go,
Our knights will make you cheer; moreover, take
This bag of franks for your expenses.
The Squire kneels.
But you do not go; still looking at my face,
You kneel! what, squire, do you mock me then?
You need not tell me who has set you on,
But tell me only, 'tis a made-up tale.
You are some lover may-be, or his friend;
Sir, if you loved me once, or your friend loved,
Think, is it not enough that I kneel down
And kiss your feet? your jest will be right good
If you give in now; carry it too far,
And 'twill be cruel: not yet? but you weep
Almost, as though you loved me; love me then,
And go to Heaven by telling all your sport,
And I will kiss you then with all my heart,
Upon the mouth; O! what can I do then
To move you?
Lady fair, forgive me still!
You know I am so sorry, but my tale
Is not yet finish'd:
So they bound his hands,
And brought him tall and pale to Guesclin's tent,
Who, seeing him, leant his head upon his hand,
And ponder'd somewhile, afterwards, looking upâ€”
Fair dame, what shall I say?
Yea, I know now,
Good squire, you may go now with my thanks.
Yet, lady, for your own sake I say this,
Yea, for my own sake, too, and Clisson's sake:
When Guesclin told him he must be hanged soon,
Within a while he lifted up his head
And spoke for his own life; not crouching, though,
As abjectly afraid to die, nor yet
Sullenly brave as many a thief will die;
Nor yet as one that plays at japes with God:
Few words he spoke; not so much what he said
Moved us, I think, as, saying it, there played
Strange tenderness from that big soldier there
About his pleading; eagerness to live
Because folk loved him, and he loved them back,
And many gallant plans unfinish'd now
For ever. Clisson's heart, which may God bless!
Was moved to pray for him, but all in vain;
Wherefore I bring this message:
That he waits,
Still loving you, within the little church
Whose windows, with the one eye of the light
Over the altar, every night behold
The great dim broken walls he strove to keep!
There my Lord Clisson did his burial well.
Now, lady, I will go; God give you rest!
Thank Clisson from me, squire, and farewell!
And now to keep myself from going mad.
Christ! I have been a many times to church,
And, ever since my mother taught me prayers,
Have used them daily, but to-day I wish
To pray another way; come face to face,
O Christ, that I may clasp your knees and pray
I know not what; at any rate come now
From one of many places where you are,
Either in Heaven amid thick angel wings,
Or sitting on the altar strange with gems,
Or high up in the dustiness of the apse;
Let us go, You and I, a long way off,
To the little damp, dark, Poitevin church;
While you sit on the coffin in the dark,
Will I lie down, my face on the bare stone
Between your feet, and chatter anything
I have heard long ago, what matters it
So I may keep you there, your solemn face
And long hair even-flowing on each side,
Until you love me well enough to speak,
And give me comfort; yea, till o'er your chin,
And cloven red beard the great tears roll down
In pity for my misery, and I die,
Kissed over by you.
Eh Guesclin! if I were
Like Countess Mountfort now, that kiss'd the knight,
Across the salt sea come to fight for her;
Ah! just to go about with many knights,
Wherever you went, and somehow on one day,
In a thick wood to catch you off your guard,
Let you find, you and your some fifty friends,
Nothing but arrows wheresoe'er you turn'd,
Yea, and red crosses, great spears over them;
And so, between a lane of my true men,
To walk up pale and stern and tall, and with
My arms on my surcoat, and his therewith,
And then to make you kneel, O knight Guesclin;
And thenâ€”alas! alas! when all is said,
What could I do but let you go again,
Being pitiful woman? I get no revenge,
Whatever happens; and I get no comfort,
I am but weak, and cannot move my feet,
But as men bid me.
Strange I do not die.
Suppose this has not happen'd after all?
I will lean out again and watch for news.
I wonder how long I can still feel thus,
As though I watch'd for news, feel as I did
Just half-an-hour ago, before this news.
How all the street is humming, some men sing,
And some men talk; some look up at the house,
Then lay their heads together and look grave:
Their laughter pains me sorely in the heart,
Their thoughtful talking makes my head turn round;
Yea, some men sing, what is it then they sing?
Eh? Launcelot, and love and fate and death;
They ought to sing of him who was as wight
As Launcelot or Wade, and yet avail'd
Just nothing, but to fail and fail and fail,
And so at last to die and leave me here,
Alone and wretched; yea, perhaps they will,
When many years are past, make songs of us;
God help me, though, truly I never thought
That I should make a story in this way,
A story that his eyes can never see.
One sings from outside.
Therefore be it believed
Whatsoever he grieved,
Whan his horse was relieved,
Beat down on his knee,
Right valiant was he
God's body to see,
Though he saw it not.
Right valiant to move,
But for his sad love
The high God above
Stinted his praise.
Yet so he was glad
That his son, Lord Galahad,
That high joyaunce had
All his life-days.
Sing we therefore then
Launcelot's praise again,
For he wan crownÃ¨s ten,
If he wan not twelve.
To his death from his birth
He was muckle of worth,
Lay him in the cold earth,
A long grave ye may delve.
Omnes homines benedicite!
This last fitte ye may see,
All men pray for me
Who made this history
Cunning and fairly.