History in Verse:
2 – The Middle Ages
This page contains a small sample of the many poems relating to this
period of history.
'Twas in the Roman forum,
Twelve hundred years ago,
A band of fair-haired children stood,
A bright and goodly show.
A holy Pontiff passing,
Inquired who might they be;
They tell him they are Angli,
From isles beyond the sea.
Then said the priest, with smiling eye,
"Non Angli sunt, sed angeli."
"Hast heard of God? hast read of Christ?"
To one the old man said.
The blue-eyed boy looked wondering up,
And slowly shook his head;
For in the land they came from
God's name was then unknown:
They blindly worshipped images,
Gods made of wood and stone.
Then said the priest, with weeping eye,
"Non Angli sunt, sed angeli."
Then straightway sailed for England
St. Austin, with the band
Of holy men to preach for Christ
Throughout the Angle-land—
To tell of God's glad tidings
Of joy, beyond the grave—
To tell how Jesus came to earth
The souls of men to save.
So truly did the old man cry,
"Non Angli sunt, sed angeli."
Sunt Angeli! Yes, ever since
Hath England done her best
To spread abroad through all the land
The news of peace and rest.
Where'er the bright sun shineth
Her messengers are found,
With girded loins and staff in hand,
Spreading the joyful sound.
So truly did that good priest cry,
"Non Angli sunt, sed angeli."
~ D.M. Coleridge ~
The black-haired gaunt Paulinus
By ruddy Edwin stood:
"Bow down, O king of Deira,
Before the blessed Rood;
Cast out thy heathen idols.
And worship Christ our Lord."
But Edwin looked and pondered,
And answered not a word.
Again the gaunt Paulinus
To ruddy Edwin spake:
"God offers life immortal
For His dear Son's own sake!
Wilt thou not hear His message,
Who bears the keys and sword?"
But Edwin looked and pondered,
And answered not a word.
Rose then a sage old warrior—
Was fivescore winters old—
Whose beard from chin to girdle
Like one long snow-wreath rolled:
"At Yule-time in our chamber
We sit in warmth and light,
While cold and howling round us
Lies the black land of Night.
"Athwart the room a sparrow
Darts from the open door:
Within the happy hearth-light
One red flash, and no more!
We see it come from darkness,
And into darkness go.
So is our life, King Edwin!
Alas, that it is so!
"But if this pale Paulinus
Have somewhat more to tell—
Some news of Whence and Whither,
And where the soul will dwell,—
If on that outer darkness
The sun of hope may shine,—
He makes life worth the living.
I take his God for mine!"
So spake the wise old warrior;
And all about him cried,
"Paulinus' God hath conquered!
And he shall be our guide;
For he makes life worth living
Who brings this message plain,
When our brief days are over,
That we shall live again."
~ Anonymous ~
Dark fell the night, the watch was set,
The host was idly spread,
The Danes around their watchfires met,
Caroused, and fiercely fed.
They feasted all on English food,
And quaffed the English ale;
Their hearts leapt up with burning blood
At each old Norseman's tale.
The chiefs beneath a tent of leaves
And Guthrum, king of all,
Devoured the flesh of England's beeves,
And laughed at England's fall.
Each warrior proud, each Danish earl,
In mail of wolf-skin clad,
Their bracelets white with plundered pearl,
Their eyes with triumph mad.
A mace beside each king and lord
Was seen, with blood bestained;
From golden cups upon the board
Their kindling wine they drained.
Ne'er left their sad storm-beaten coast
Sea-kings so hot for gore;
'Mid Selwood's oaks so dreadful host
Ne'er burnt a track before/
From Humber-land to Severn-land,
And on to Tamar stream,
Where Thames makes green the flowery strand,
Where Medway's waters gleam,—
With hands of steel and mouths of flame
They raged the kingdom through;
And where the Norseman's sickle came,
No crop but hunger grew.
They loaded many an English horse
With wealth of cities fair;
They dragged from many a father's corse
The daughter by her hair.
And English slaves, and gems and gold,
Were gathered round the feast;
Till midnight in their woodland hold,
That riot never ceased.
In stalked a warrior, tall and rude
Before the strong sea-kings;
"Ye lords and earls of Odin's brood,
Without, a harper sings.
He seems a simple man and poor,
But well he sounds the lay,
And well, ye Norseman chiefs, be sure,
Will ye the song repay."
In strode the bard with keen cold look,
And glanced along the board,
That with the shout and war-cry shook
Of many a Danish lord.
But thirty brows, inflamed and stern,
Soon bent on him their gaze,
While calm he gazed, as if to learn
Which chief deserved his praise.
Loud Guthrum spake: "Nay, gaze not thus,
Thou harper, weak and poor!
By Thor! who bandy looks with us
Must worse than looks endure.
Sing high the praise of Denmark's host,
High praise each dauntless earl—
The brave who stun this English coast
With war's unceasing whirl."
The harper sat upon a block
Heaped up with wealthy spoil—
The wool of England's helpless flock,
Whose blood had stained the soil.
He sat and slowly bent his head,
And touched aloud the string,
Then raised his face, and boldly said,
"Hear thou my lay, O King!"
"Quick throbs my brain," so burst the song,
"To hear the strife once more;
The mace, the axe, they rest too long,
Earth cries my thirst it sore.
More blithely twang the strings of bows
Than strings of harps in glee;
Red wounds are lovelier than the rose
Or rosy lips to me.
"Oh, fairer than a field of flowers,
When flowers in England grew,
Would be the battle's marshalled powers,
The plain of carnage new.
With all its deaths before my soul,
The vision rises fair;
Raise loud the song and drain the bowl—
I would that I were there.
"'Tis sweet to live in honoured might,
With true and fearless hand;
'Tis sweet to fall in Freedom's fight,
Nor shrink before the brand:
But sweeter far, when girt by foes,
Unmoved to meet their frown,
And count with cheerful thought the woes
That soon shall dash them down."
Loud rang the harp, the minstrel's eye
Rolled fiercely round the throng;
It seemed two crashing hosts were nigh,
Whose shock aroused the song.
A golden cup King Guthrum gave
To him who strongly played;
And said, "I won it from the slave
Who once o'er England swayed."
King Guthrum cried, "'Twas Alfred's own!
Thy song befits the brave:
The King who cannot guard his throne
Nor wine nor song shall have."
The minstrel took the goblet bright,
And said, "I drink the wine
To him who owns by justest right
The cup thou bidd'st be mine.
"To him, your lord, oh, shout ye all!
His meed be deathless praise;
The King who dares not nobly fall,
Dies basely all his days.
The king who dares not guard his throne
May curses heap his head,
But hope and strength be all his own
Whose blood is bravely shed."
"The praise thou speakest," Guthrum said,
"With sweetness fills mine ear;
For Alfred swift before me fled,
And left me monarch here.
The royal coward never dared
Beneath mine eye to stand.
O, would that now this feast he shared,
And saw me rule his land!"
Then stern the minstrel rose, and spake,
And gazed upon the King:
"Not now the golden cup I take,
Nor more to thee I sing;
Another day, a happier hour,
Shall bring me here again:
The cup shall stay in Guthrum's power,
Till I demand it then."
The Harper turned and left the shed,
Nor bent to Guthrum's crown;
And one who marked his visage said
It wore a ghastly frown.
The Danes ne'er saw that Harper more,
For, soon as morning rose,
Upon their camp King Alfred bore,
And slew ten thousand foes.
~ John Sterling ~
Othere, the old sea-captain,
Who dwelt in Helgoland,
To King Alfred, the Lover of Truth,
Brought a snow-white walrus-tooth,
Which he held in his brown right hand.
His figure was tall and stately,
Like a boy's his eye appeared;
His hair was yellow as hay,
But threads of a silvery grey
Gleamed in his tawny beard.
Hearty and hale was Othere,
His cheek had the colour of oak;
With a kind of laugh in his speech,
Like the sea-tide on a beach,
As unto the King he spoke.
And Alfred, King of the Saxons,
Had a book upon his knees,
And wrote down the wondrous tale
Of him who was first to sail
Into the Arctic seas.
"So far I live to the northward,
No man lives north of me;
To the east are wild mountain-chains;
And beyond them meres and plains;
To the westward all is sea.
"So far I live to the northward,
From the harbour of Skeringes-hale,
If you only sailed by day,
With a fair wind all the way,
More than a month would you sail.
"I own six hundred reindeer,
With sheep and swine beside;
I have tribute from the Finns—
Whalebone and reindeer skins,
And ropes of walrus-hide.
"I ploughed the land with horses,
But my heart was ill at ease,
For the old seafaring men
Came to me now and then,
With their sagas of the seas;
"Of Iceland and of Greenland,
And the stormy Hebrides,
And the undiscovered deep.
I could not eat nor sleep
For thinking of those seas.
"To the northward stretched the desert—
How far I fain would know;
So at last I sallied forth,
And three days sailed due north,
As far as the whale-ships go.
"To the west of me was the ocean,
To the right the desolate shore,
But I did not slacken sail
For the walrus or the whale,
Till after three days more.
"The days grew longer and longer,
Till they became as one,
And southward through the haze
I saw the sullen blaze
Of the red midnight sun.
"And then uprose before me,
Upon the water's edge,
The huge and haggard shape
Of that unknown North Cape,
Whose form is like a wedge.
"The sea was rough and stormy,
The tempest howled and wailed,
And the sea-fog, like a ghost,
Haunted that dreary coast,
But onward still I sailed.
"Four days I steered to eastward,
Four days without a night:
Round in a fiery ring
Went the great sun, O King,
With red and lurid light."
Here Alfred, King of the Saxons,
Ceased writing for a while,
And raised his eyes from his book,
With a strange and puzzled look,
And an incredulous smile.
But Othere, the old sea-captain,
He neither paused nor stirred,
Till the King listened, and then
Once more took up his pen,
And wrote down every word.
"And now the land," said Othere,
"Bent southward suddenly,
And I followed the curving shore
And ever southward bore
Into a nameless sea.
"And there we hunted the walrus,
The narwhal, and the seal;
Ha! 'twas a noble game!
And like the lightning's flame
Flew our harpoons of steel.
"There were six of us all together,
Norsemen of Helgoland;
In two days and no more
We killed of them threescore,
And dragged them to the strand!"
Here Alfred the Truth-Teller
Suddenly closed his book,
And lifted his blue eyes,
With doubt and strange surmise
Depicted in their look.
And Othere the old sea-captain
Stared at him wild and weird,
Then smiled, till his shining teeth
Gleamed white from underneath
His tawny, quivering beard.
And to the King of the Saxons,
In witness of the truth,
Raising his noble head,
He stretched his brown hand, and said,
"Behold this walrus-tooth!"
Wadsworth Longfellow ~
King Canute was weary hearted; he had reigned for years a
Battling, struggling, pushing, fighting, killing much and robbing more;
And he thought upon his actions, walking by the wild sea-shore.
'Twixt the Chancellor and Bishop walked the King with steps sedate,
Chamberlains and grooms came after, silver-sticks and gold-sticks great,
Chaplains, aides-de-camp, and pages—all the officers of state.
Sliding after like his shadow, pausing when he chose to pause,
If a frown his face contracted, straight the courtiers dropped their jaws;
If to laugh the king was minded, out they burst in loud hee-haws.
But that day a something vexed him—that was clear to old and young:
Thrice his Grace had yawned at table, when his favourite gleemen sung,
Once the Queen would have consoled him, but he bade her hold her tongue.
"Something ails my gracious master," cried the Keeper of the Seal.
"Sure, my lord, it is the lampreys served to dinner, or the veal?"
"Psha!" exclaimed the angry monarch, "Keeper, 'tis not that I feel.
"'Tis the heart, and not the dinner, fool, that doth my rest impair:
Can a king be great as I am, prithee, and yet know no care?
Oh, I'm sick, and tired, and weary."—Some one cried, "The King's arm-chair!"
Then towards the lackeys turning, quick my Lord the Keeper nodded,
Straight the King's great chair was brought him, by two footmen able-bodied;
Languidly he sank into it: it was comfortably wadded.
"Leading on my fierce companions," cried he, "over storm and brine,
I have fought and I have conquered! Where was glory like to mine?"
Loudly all the courtiers echoed: "Where is glory like to thine?"
"What avail me all my kingdoms? Weary am I now and old;
Those fair sons I have begotten, long to see me dead and cold;
Would I were, and quiet buried, underneath the silent mould!
"Oh, remorse, the writhing serpent! at my bosom tears and bites;
Horrid, horrid things I look on, though I put out all the lights;
Ghosts of ghastly recollections troop about my bed at nights.
"Cities burning, convents blazing, red with sacrilegious fires;
Mothers weeping, virgins screaming vainly for their slaughtered sires.—"
Such a tender conscience," cries the Bishop, "every one admires.
"But for such unpleasant bygones, cease, my gracious lord, to search,
They're forgotten and forgiven by our Holy Mother Church;
Never, never does she leave her benefactors in the lurch.
"Look! the land is crowned with minsters, which your Grace's bounty raised;
Abbeys filled with holy men, where you and Heaven are daily praised:
You, my lord, to think of dying? on my conscience I'm amazed!"
"Nay, I feel," replied King Canute, "that my end is drawing near."
"Don't say so," exclaimed the courtiers (striving each to squeeze a tear).
"Sure your Grace is strong and lusty, and may live this fifty year."
"Live these fifty years!" the Bishop roared, with actions made to suit.
"Are you mad, my good Lord Keeper, thus to speak of King Canute!
Men have lived a thousand years, and sure his Majesty will do't.
"Adam, Enoch, Lamech, Cainan, Mahaleel, Methusela,
Lived nine hundred years apiece, and mayn't the King as well as they?"
"Fervently," exclaimed the Keeper, "fervently I trust he may."
"He to die?" resumed the Bishop. He a mortal like to us?
Death was not for him intended, though communis omnibus:
Keeper, you are irreligious, for to talk and cavil thus.
"With his wondrous skill in healing ne'er a doctor can compete,
Loathsome lepers, if he touch them, start up clean upon their feet;
Surely he could raise the dead up, did his Highness think it meet.
"Did not once the Jewish captain stay the sun upon the hill,
And, the while he slew the foemen, bid the silver moon stand still?
So, no doubt, could gracious Canute, if it were his sacred will."
"Might I stay the sun above us, good sir Bishop?" Canute cried;
"Could I bid the silver moon to pause upon her heavenly ride?
If the moon obeys my orders, sure I can command the tide.
"Will the advancing waves obey me, Bishop, if I make the sign?"
Said the Bishop, bowing lowly, "Land and sea, my lord, are thine."
Canute turned towards the ocean—"Back!" he said, "thou foaming brine.
"From the sacred shore I stand on, I command thee to retreat;
Venture not, thou stormy rebel, to approach thy master's seat:
Ocean, be thou still! I bid thee come not nearer to my feet!"
But the sullen ocean answered with a louder, deeper roar,
And the rapid waves drew nearer, falling sounding on the shore;
Back the Keeper and the Bishop, back the King and courtiers bore.
And he sternly bade them never more to kneel to human clay,
But alone to praise and worship That which earth and seas obey:
And his golden crown of empire never wore he from that day.
King Canute is dead and gone: Parasites exist alway.
~ William Makepeace Thackeray ~
"By the splendour of God, I'll have my right,
Or sword upon helm shall ring;
Does the perjured earl think me to fright
From my claim to be England's king?"
Through Rouen's halls the Great Duke strode
And a wrathful lord was he,
For news of King Edward's death the bode*
Had brought him across the sea,
And hateful news that Godwin's son
Had been throned where he would reign,
That Earl Harold the Witan had hailed for one
Who should rule over thrall and thane.
To east, to west, sped the war-call forth,
To Burgundy, France, and Maine;
It was "Arm and out!" from south to north,
From Flanders to Aquitaine.
The Gonfalon it was wrought in Rome,
By the holy Pope
"Go, bring the heathen into my fold;
Go, gather for me Rome's rent!"
Bowman and spearman and mailèd knight
And lords of haut degree,
They gather to win red gold by might,
To win dames beyond the sea.
The landless came to win them fiefs,
The penniless to win fee,
And reivers to be haut lords and chiefs,
Our owners and lords to be.
Three thousand ships, before the wind,
Sail flashing back the sun;
Now where is the robber who lags behind
When a rich land's to be won?
In Pevensey Bay they dint the strand
With thousands full threescore;
Woe to tower and town in our English land
That the Norman leaves no more.
"Now boune ye, my men, for battle keen,
For yonder on Senlac's height
The perjured Harold full fierce, I ween,
For his land and rule will fight."
There were sounds through that starred October night;
There was linking of rents in mail;
There was chanting of priests till broke the light,
Swell of psalms till the east grew pale.
The fair green valley's a tossing sea,
And its waves are waves of mail;
Yet not for that shall England flee
Or an English cheek wax pale.
Up Senlac's slope floods the iron tide,
And what shall that flood withstand?
There foremost fierce Taillefer joys to ride,
And he chants the Song of Roland.
Their mighty march by that song is led,
As the war-chant swells and falls;
They thunder, as earth shakes to their tread,
The war-deeds of Roncesvalles.
Oh, the game of war is the Norman's game,
But a sport that the Saxon's play;
Norman sword, English axe, now which shall claim
The stakes that are set to-day?
Oh, deeply bites the Norman sword,
And the Norman's lance bites deep,
But mail and helm are as deeply scored
By the English axe's sweep.
From morn through noon the Norman host
Swept up to win Senlac's hill;
Through noon till eve that war-stormed post
Was held by the Saxon still.
In that autumn eve, as the daylight waned,
Our shield-ring that height held well.
What might won not then by guile was gained,
And Harold, shaft-shotten, fell.
They buried him in Waltham's fane.
Oh, better thus hand-crossed there
To lie, than, beneath the Norman's reign,
His Saxons' woes to share.
~ William Cox Bennett ~
*Bode, the Saxon term for messenger.
Great King William spread before him
All his stores of wealth untold,—
Diamonds, emeralds, and rubies,
Heaps on heaps of minted gold.
Mournfully he gazed upon it
As it glittered in the sun,
Sighing to himself, "O treasure!
Held in care, by sorrow won;
Millions think me rich and happy,
But, alas! before me piled,
I would give thee ten times over
For the slumbers of a child."
Great King William from his turret
Heard the martial trumpets blow,
Saw the crimson banners floating
Of a countless host below;
Saw their weapons flash in sunlight,
As the squadrons trod the sward;
And he sighed, "O mighty army!
Hear thy miserable lord:
At my word thy legions gather,
At my nod thy captains bend;
But, with all thy power and splendour,
I would give thee for a friend."
Great King William stood on Windsor,
Looking from its castled height
O'er his wide-spread realm of England,
Glittering in the morning light—
Looking on the tranquil river
And the forest waving free;
And he sighed, "O land of beauty!
Fondled by the circling sea,
Mine thou art, but I would yield thee
And be happy, could I gain,
In exchange, a peasant's garden,
And a conscience free from stain."
~ Charles Mackay ~
Lowly upon his bier
The royal Conqueror lay;
Baron and chief stood near,
Silent, in war array.
Down the long minister's aisle
Crowds mutely gazing streamed;
Altar and tomb, the while,
Through mists of incense gleamed;
And by the torch's blaze
The stately priest had said
High words of power and praise
To the glory of the dead.
They lowered him with the sound
Of requiems to repose,
When from the throngs around
A solemn voice arose:—
"Forbear! forbear!" it cried;
"In the holiest name forbear!
He hath conquered regions wide,
But he shall not slumber
"By the violated hearth
Which made way for yon proud shrine;
By the harvests which this earth
Hath borne to me and mine;
"By the home even here o'erthrown,
On my children's native spot—
Hence! with his dark renown
Cumber our birthplace not!
"Will my sire's unransomed field,
O'er which your censers wave,
To the buried spoiler yield
Soft slumber in the grave?
"The tree before him fell
Which we cherished many a year;
But its deep root yet shall swell,
And heave against his bier.
"The land that I have tilled
Hath yet its brooding breast
With my home's white ashes filled,
And it shall not give him rest.
"Here each proud column's bed
Hath been wet by weeping eyes—
Hence! and bestow your dead
Where no wrong against him cries"
Shame glowed on each dark face
Of those proud and steel-girt men,
And they bought with gold a place
For their leader's dust e'en then.
A little earth for him
Whose banner flew so far!
And a peasant's tale could dim
The name, a nation's star.
One deep voice thus arose
From a heart which wrongs had riven—
Oh! who shall number those
That were but heard in heaven?
Hark! from the dim church-tower
The deep slow Curfew's chime—
A heavy sound unto hall and bower
In England's olden time.
Sadly ‘twas heard by him who came
From the fields of his toil at night,
And who might not see his own hearth-flame
In his children's eyes make light.
Sternly and sadly heard,
As it quenched the wood-fire's glow,
Which had cheered the board with the mirthful word
And the red wine's foaming flow;
Until that sullen boding knell,
Flung out from every fane,
On harp and lip and spirit fell,
With a weight and with a chain.
Woe for the pilgrim then
In the wild deer's forest far!
No cottage lamp to the haunts of men
Might guide him, as a star.
And woe for him whose wakeful soul,
With lone aspirings filled,
Would have lived o'er some immortal scroll
While the sounds of earth were stilled!
And yet a deeper woe
For the watcher by the bed,
Where the fondly-loved in pain lay low,
In pain and sleepless dread!
For the mother, doomed unseen to keep
By the dying babe her place,
And to feel its sleeping pulse, and weep,
Yet not behold its face!
Darkness in chieftain's hall!
Darkness in peasant's cot!
While Freedom, under that shadowy pall,
Sat mourning o'er her lot.
Oh! the fireside's peace we well may prize,
For blood hath flowed like rain,
Poured forth to make sweet sanctuaries
Of England's homes again.
Heap the Yule-fagots high,
Till the red light fills the room!
It is Home's own hour when the stormy sky
Grows thick with evening glom.
Gather ye round the holy hearth,
And by its gladdening blaze,
Unto thankful bliss we will change our mirth,
With a thought of the olden days.
The Red King's gone a-hunting, in the woods his father made
For the tall red deer to wander through the thicket and the glade;
The King and Walter Tyrrel, Prince Henry and the rest,
Are all gone out upon the sport the Red King loves the best.
Last night, when they were feasting in the royal banquet-hall,
De Breteuil told a dream he had, that evil would befall
If the King should go to-morrow to the hunting of the deer;
And while he spoke, the fiery face grew well-nigh pale with fear.
He drank until the fire came back, and all his heart was brave,
Then bade them keep such woman's tales to tell an English slave;
For he would hunt to-morrow, though a thousand dreams foretold
All the sorrow and the mischief De Breteuil's brain could hold.
So the Red King's gone a-hunting, for all that they could do,
And an arrow in the greenwood made De Breteuil's dream come true.
'twas Walter Tyrrel, and so it may have been,
But there's many walk the forest when the leaves are thick and green.
There's many walk the forest, who would gladly see the sport
When the King goes out a-hunting with the nobles of his court;
And when the nobles scatter, and the King is left alone,
There are thickets where an English slave might string his bow unknown.
The forest laws are cruel, and the time is hard as steel
To English slaves, trod down and bruised beneath the Norman heel.
Like worms they writhe, but by-and-by the Norman heel may learn
There are worms that carry poison, and that are not slow to turn.
The lords came back, by one and two, from straying far apart,
And they found the Red King lying with an arrow in his heart.
Who should have done the deed, but him by whom it first was seen?
So they said
'twas Walter Tyrrel, and so it may have been.
They cried upon Prince Henry, the brother of the King,
And he came up the greenwood, and rode into the ring.
He looked upon his brother's face, and then he turned away,
And galloped off to Winchester, where all the treasure lay.
"Now mark ye," cried De Breteuil, "but brothers' blood is thin,
And why should ours be thicker that are neither kith nor kin?"
They spurred their horses in the flank, and swiftly thence they passed,
But Walter Tyrrel lingered and forsook his liege the last.
They say it was enchantment, that fixed him to the scene,
To look upon his traitor's work, and so it may have been.
But presently he got to horse, and took the seaward way,
And all alone within the glade in state the Red King lay.
Then a creaking cart came slowly, which a charcoal-burner drove.
He found the dead man lying, a ghastly treasure-trove;
He raised the corpse for charity, and on his wagon laid,
And so the Red King drove in state from out the forest glade.
His hair was like a yellow flame about the bloated face,
The blood had stained his tunic from the fatal arrow-place.
Not good to look upon was he in life nor yet when dead.
The driver of the cart drove on, and never turned his head.
When next the nobles throng at night the royal banquet-hall,
Another King will rule the feast, the drinking and the brawl,
While Walter Tyrrel walks alone upon the Norman shore,
And the Red King in the forest will chase the deer no more.
~ R.F. Murray ~
chamber, weak and dying,
Was the Norman baron lying;
Loud, without, the tempest thundered,
And the castle-turret shook.
In this fight was Death the gainer,
Spite of vassal and retainer,
And the lands his sires had plundered,
Written in the Doomsday Book.
By his bed a monk was seated,
Who in humble voice repeated
Many a prayer and paternoster,
From the missal on his knee;
And, amid the tempest pealing,
Sound of bells came faintly stealing—
Bells that from the neighbouring cloister
Rang for the nativity.
In the hall, the serf and vassal
Held that night their Christmas wassail:
Many a carol, old and saintly,
Sang the minstrels and the waits.
And so loud these Saxon gleemen
Sang to slaves the songs of freemen,
That the storm was heard but faintly,
Knocking at the castle gates.
Till at length the lays they chaunted
Reached the chamber terror-haunted,
Where the monk, with accents holy,
Whispered at the baron's ear.
Tears upon his eyelids glistened,
As he paused awhile and listened,
And the dying baron slowly
Turned his weary head to hear.
"Wassail for the kingly stranger
Born and cradled in a manger!
King like David, priest like Aaron,
Christ is born to set us free!"
And the lightning showed the sainted
Figures on the casement painted,
And exclaimed the shuddering baron,
In that hour of deep contrition
He beheld, with clearer vision,
Through all outward show and fashion,
Justice, the Avenger, rise.
All the pomp of earth had vanished,
Falsehood and deceit were banished,
Reason spake more loud than passion,
And the truth wore no disguise.
Every vassal of his banner,
Every serf born to his manor,
All those wronged and wretched creatures,
By his hand were freed again.
And, as on the sacred missal,
He recorded their dismissal,
Death relaxed his iron features,
And the monk replied, "Amen!"
Many centuries have been numbered
Since in death the baron slumbered
By the convent's sculptured portal,
Mingling with the common dust;
But the good deed, through the ages
Living in historic pages,
Brighter grows and gleams immortal,
Unconsumed by moth or rust.
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ~
The bark that held a prince went down,
The sweeping waves rolled on;
And what was England's glorious crown
To him that wept a son?
He lived—for life may long be borne
Ere sorrow break its chain;
Why comes not death to those who mourn?
—He never smiled again!
There stood proud forms around his throne,
The stately and the brave,
But which could fill the place of one—
That one beneath the wave?
Before him passed the young and fair,
In pleasure's reckless train,
But seas dashed o'er his son's bright hair
—He never smiled again!
He sat where festal bowls went round,
He heard the minstrel sing;
He saw the tourney's victor crowned
Amidst the knightly ring:
A murmur of the restless deep
Was blent with every strain,
A voice of winds that would not sleep
—He never smiled again!
Hearts, in that time, closed o'er the trace
Of vows once fondly poured;
And strangers took the kinsman's place
At many a joyous board;
Graves, which true love had bathed with tears,
Were left to heaven's bright rain;
Fresh hopes were born for other years
—He never smiled again!
The mountain sheep are sweeter,
But the valley sheep are fatter;
We therefore deem'd it meeter
To carry off the latter.
We made an expedition;
We met an host and quell'd it;
We forced a strong position
And kill'd the men who held it.
On Dyfed's richest valley,
Where herds of kine were browsing,
We made a mighty sally,
To furnish our carousing.
Fierce warriors rush'd to meet us;
We met them, and o'erthrew them:
They struggled hard to beat us,
But we conquer'd them, and slew them.
As we drove our prize at leisure,
The king march'd forth to catch us:
His rage surpass'd all measure,
But his people could not match us.
He fled to his hall-pillars;
And, ere our force we led off,
Some sack'd his house and cellars,
While others cut his head off.
We there, in strife bewildering,
Spilt blood enough to swim in:
We orphan'd many children
And widow'd many women.
The eagles and the ravens
We glutted with our foemen:
The heroes and the cravens,
The spearmen and the bowmen.
We brought away from battle,
And much their land bemoan'd them,
Two thousand head of cattle
And the head of him who own'd them:
Ednyfed, King of Dyfed,
His head was borne before us;
His wine and beasts supplied our feasts,
And his overthrow, our chorus.
~ Thomas Love Peacock (1785–1866) ~
What mean the clanging bells, that rend the air,
The thund'ring organ's peal, the trumpet's blare.
The time-worn houses, decked with many a gaud,
Like feeble servitors to meet their Lord?
What mean the crowds, the banners waving high,
The joyous shouts, the glad, expectant eye,
The sudden stillness, as the storm abates,
When the long train winds through the city gates?
'Tis like the progress of a king who comes
With shouts of victory and rolling drums,
Save that the cowled monk and churchman meek
Are foremost in the throng, where ye would seek
For conquest-swollen knights and warriors proud.
And who is he, to whom all heads are bowed,
Who sits his charger with a kingly grace,
Vested in pomp and arrogant in face?
"'Tis he, the great Archbishop; yes!
Shout, shout, ye people; thunder forth your glee.
For years an exile, foreign strands he trod,
In strife for Order, Faith, and mighty God.
Has he not dared the haughty King to thwart?
E'en kings to yield, by Mother Church are taught.
Now kiss of peace has reconciled the twain,
And clothed in right he cometh home again."
Alas! great prelate, 'midst thy lordly state,
Couldst thou behold the Fates that threat'ning wait,
"Anathema, anathema," thou wouldst not cry
On priests rebellious who would thee defy;
The peevish regal ire thou wouldst not raise,
Nor stir fierce knights to win their master's praise,
But lowly cast, thy preparation make
For that eternal journey all must take.
Methinks I see thee, in the glorious gloom
That robes thy grand cathedral, wait thy doom,
While here and there a little flick'ring light
Casts palpitating shadows on the sight,
As if the conscious pile foreknew the deed,
And trembled that its walls should see thee bleed.
I see thee, figure white, with dauntless mien,
Left by the coward priests, alone, serene,
Await the armed crash with martyr's gaze.
The Breton's sword, repentant of the crime,
Shivers to fragments. Then, in death sublime
The might Primate like a column falls,
While rolling thunder loud for vengeance calls.
A lurid light flames in the evening sky,
And sleeping children waken at the cry,
Shrill on the night in deadly anguish hurled,
That shakes a throne and thrills a horrent world.
O'er the rough stones that pave the ancient way,
Barefoot, a king, in penitent array,
Crawls humbly to the canonized bones.
Doffing his state, he eagerly atones,
Performs the penance haughty priests decide,
And stills the throbbings of rebellious pride.
Prostrate, he feels the stroke of chastening rod,
And cleansed, he rises, reconciled with God.
Now o'er those bones is reared a dazzling shrine,
And powers miraculous their fame entwine.
Kings yield their riches to bedeck the place,
And meekly come, the princely tomb to grace.
From East and West the thronging suitors plead
The blissful martyr may requite their meed.
Dan Chaucer's pilgrims, rising o'er the Blea,
A gilded angel's beckoning may see,
That calls them from their idle chat to prayer,
To think upon the Saint enshrined there.
Now in that avenue of vaulted stone
Temple on temples seems, ascending, shown.
Kneeling, the climb the ever-mounting stair
To touch the summit of their pious care.
Knight, Monk, and Clerk, Merchant, and Man of Law,
Franklin and Ploughman, bowed in silent awe,
Make varied offerings at the pious shrine,
And duty done, in haste repair to dine.
~ J. Edward Parrott ~
Chieftains, lead on! our hearts beat high;
Lead on to Salem's towers!
Who would not deem it bliss to die,
Slain in a cause like ours?
The brave who sleep in soil of thine,
Die not entombed but shrined, O Palestine!
Souls of the slain in holy war!
Look from your sainted rest.
Tell us ye rose in Glory's car
To mingle with the blest;
Tell us how short the death-pang's power,
How bright the joys of your immortal bower.
Strike the loud harp, ye minstrel train!
Pour forth your loftiest lays;
Each heart shall echo to the strain
Breathed in the warrior's praise.
Bid every string triumphant swell
The inspiring sounds that heroes love so well.
Salem! amidst the fiercest hour,
The wildest rage of fight,
Thy name shall lend our falchions power,
And nerve our hearts with might.
Envied be those for thee that fall,
Who find their graves beneath thy sacred wall.
For them no need that sculptured tomb
Should chronicle their fame,
Or pyramid record their doom,
Or deathless verse their name;
It is enough that dust of thine
Should shroud their forms, O blessed Palestine!
Chieftains, lead on! our hearts beat high
For combat's glorious hour;
Soon shall the red-cross banner fly
On Salem's loftiest tower.
We burn to mingle in the strife,
but to die ensures eternal life.
Torches were blazing clear,
Hymns pealing deep and slow,
Where a king lay stately on his bier
In the church of Fontevraud.
Banners of battle o'er him hung,
And warriors slept beneath;
And light, as noon's broad light, was flung
On the settled face of death.
There was heard a heavy clang,
As of steel-girt men the tread,
And the tombs and the hollow pavement rang
With a sounding thrill of dread;
And the holy chant was hushed awhile,
As, by the torch's flame,
A gleam of arms up the sweeping aisle
With a mail-clad leader came.
He came with haughty look,
An eagle-glance and clear;
But his proud heart through its breastplate shook
When he stood beside the bier.
He stood there still with a drooping brow,
And clasped hands o'er it raised;
For his father lay before him low—
It was Cœur-de-Lion gazed!
He looked upon the dead,
And sorrow seemed to lie—
A weight of sorrow, even like lead—
Pale on the fast-shut eye.
He stooped, and kissed the frozen cheek
And the heavy hand of clay,
Till bursting words—yet all too weak—
Gave his soul's passion way.
"O father! is it vain,
This late remorse and deep?
Speak to me, father, once again:
I weep—behold, I weep!
Alas! my guilty pride and ire!—
Were but this work undone,
I would give England's crown, my sire,
To hear thee bless thy son!
"Thy silver hairs I see,
So still, so sadly bright;
And, father, father! but for me,
They had not been so white!
I bore thee down, high heart, at last:
No longer couldst thou strive.
Oh for one moment of the past,
To kneel and say, ‘Forgive!'"
As Robin Hood in the forest stood,
All under the greenwood tree,
There was he aware of a fine young man,
As fine as fine could be.
The youngster was clothed in scarlet red,
In scarlet fine and gay,
And he did frisk it over the plain,
And chanted a roundelay.
As Robin Hood next morning stood
Amongst the leaves so gay,
There he did spy the same young man
Come drooping along the way.
The scarlet he wore the day before,
It was clean cast away,
And at every step he fetched a sigh,
Alack! and well-a-day!
Then stepped forth brave Little John
And Midge, the miller's son,
Which made the young man bend his bow,
When as he saw them come.
"Stand off! stand off!" the young man said;
"What is your will with me?"
"You must come before our master straight,
Under yon greenwood tree."
And when he came bold Robin before,
Robin asked him courteously,
"Oh, hast thou any money to spare
For my merry men and me?"
"I have no money," the young man said,
"But five shillings and a ring,
And that I have kept these seven long years
To have at my wedding.
"Yesterday I should have married a maid,
But the same from me was ta'en,
And chosen to be an old knight's delight,
Whereby my poor heart is slain."
"What is thy name?" then said Robin Hood;
"Come, tell me, without any fail."
"By the faith of my body," thus said the young man,
"My name is Allen-a-Dale."
"What wilt thou give me," said Robin Hood,
"In ready gold, as fee,
To help thee to thy true love again,
And deliver her up to thee?"
"I have no money," then quoth the young man,
"No ready gold as fee,
But I will swear upon a book
Thy true servant to be."
Then Robin he hasted over the plain,
He would neither rest nor sleep,
Until he came unto the church
Where Allen his wedding should keep.
With that there came in a wealthy knight,
Which was both grave and old,
And after him a familiar lass
Did shine like glittering gold.
"This is not a fit match," quoth Robin Hood,
"That you do seem to make here;
For since we are come unto the church,
The bride shall choose her own dear."
Then Robin Hood put his horn to his mouth,
And blew out blasts two or three;
Then four-and-twenty bowmen bold
Came leaping o'er the lea.
And when they came into the churchyard,
Marching all in a row,
The first man was Allen-a-Dale
To give bold Robin his bow.
"This is thy true love," Robin he said,
"Young Allen, as I hear say;
And you shall be married at the same time,
Before we depart away."
And thus, having ended this merry wedding,
The bride she looked like a queen;
And so they returned to the merry greenwood,
Amongst the leaves so green.
~ Old Ballad (Abridged) ~
There stands at Runnymede a king,
While summer clothes the plains,
The blood of high Plantagenet
Is coursing through his veins;
But yet a sceptred hand he lifts
To shade his haggard brow,
As if constrained to do a deed
His pride would disallow.
He pauses still. His faint eye rests
Upon those barons bold,
Whose hands are grappling to their swords
With fierce and sudden hold.
The pause is o'er; he bows him down
Before those steel-girt men,
And glorious Magna Carta glows
Beneath his trembling pen.
~ Anon ~
Scots, wha hae wi' Wallace bled;
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led;
Welcome to your gory bed,
Or to victorie!
Now's the day, and now's the hour;
See the front o' battle lour;
See approach proud Edward's pow'r—
Chains and slaverie!
Wha will be a traitor knave?
Wha can fill a coward's grave?
Wha sae base as be a slave?
Let him turn and flee!
Wha for Scotland's king and law,
Freedom's sword will strongly draw,
Freeman stand, or freeman fa',
Let him follow me!
By oppression's woes and pains,
By your sons in servile chains,
We will drain our dearest veins,
But they shall be free!
Lay the proud usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in every foe!
Liberty's in every blow!
Let us do, or die!
~ Robert Burns ~
High on a mill-tower Edward stands,
And scans th' approaching foe;
He sees King Philip's mailèd bands
Roll on like waves o'er ocean sands,
And hears their trumpets blow.
The chivalry of France he sees,
King, prince, duke, viscount, knight,
Their banners waving on the breeze,
Their armour gleaming midst the trees,
A fair and fearsome sight.
Their myriad footmen, rank by rank,
Leap onward to the fray;
Cross-bowmen swarm on either flank.
"God, give us all Thy grace to thank
For victory to-day."
King Edward spoke, then turned to view
His host on Creçy's hill.
Brave English lads with bows of yew,
Naught could their valiant souls subdue,
Nor bend their stubborn will.
And foremost midst the English spears
He sees his gallant son
In knightly guise, a boy in years,
His eyes aflame, as swell the cheers
That tell the fight's begun.
The barbèd shafts like blinding snow
In deadly flight assail.
The plain, incarnadined below,
Is cumbered with the dying foe—
The living blench and quail.
The false cross-bowmen turn and fly
Beneath that hurricane.
"Charge now for France!" 'tis Philip's cry.
In fiery whirl his knights reply;
The English line they gain.
Loud clangs the sword upon the shield;
The boy is in the van;
Bravest of brave on that dread field,
Where stricken princes fall or yield,
He nobly plays the man.
The doubtful conflict rages high,
The field runs red with gore.
Knights to the stalwart Edward hie.
"Help for thy son," they loudly cry;
"The foemen press him sore."
"What! is he down?" A vision blurs
The father's anxious gaze.
"Nay? God be thanked! No warrior stirs:
To-day the boy must win his spurs,
The glory his and praise."
See! Now the foe is backward thrust,
The raging fight is o'er,
The lilied banners trail the dust,
King Philip flies, for fly he must,
His legions are no more.
And Creçy we'll remember long,
That field so nobly won,
And tell our sons in tale and song
Of England's pride, her archers strong,
And Edward's gallant son.
~ J. Edward Parrott ~
"When Adam delved and Eve span,
Who was then the gentleman?"
Wretched is the infant's lot,
Born within the straw-roofed cot;
Be he generous, wise, or brave,
He must only be a slave.
Long, long labour, little rest,
Still to toil, to be oppressed;
Drained by taxes of his store,
Punished next for being poor:
This is the poor wretch's lot,
Born within the straw-roofed cot.
While the peasant works—to sleep;
What the peasant sows—to reap;
On the couch of ease to lie,
Rioting in revelry:
Be he villein, be he fool,
Still to hold despotic rule,
Trampling on his slaves with scorn—
This is to be nobly born.
"When Adam delved and Eve span,
Who was then the gentleman?"
~ Robert Southey ~
This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say, "To-morrow is Saint Crispian.:"
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say, "These wounds I had on Crispin's day."
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words—
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester—
Be in their flowing cups freshly remembered.
This story shall the good man teach his son,
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd—
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England, now a-bed,
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap, while any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
~ William Shakespeare (King Henry V) ~
Fair stood the wind for France
When we our sails advance,
Nor now to prove our chance
Longer will tarry;
But putting to the main,
At Kaux, the mouth of Seine,
With all his martial train,
Landed King Harry.
And taking many a fort,
Furnished in warlike sort,
Marched towards Agincourt
In happy hour;
Skirmishing day by day
With those that stopped his way,
Where the French gen'ral lay
With all his power.
Which in his height of pride,
King Henry to deride,
His ransom to provide
To the king sending;
Which he neglects the while,
As from a nation vile,
Yet with an angry smile,
Their fall portending.
And turning to his men,
Quoth our brave Henry then,
Though they to one be ten,
Be not amazed.
Yet have we well begun;
Battles so bravely won
Have ever to the sun
By fame been raised.
And for myself, quoth he,
This my full rest shall be;
England ne'er mourn for me,
Nor more esteem me.
Victor I will remain,
Or on this earth lie slain;
Never shall she sustain
Loss to redeem me.
Poitiers and Cressy tell,
When most their pride did swell,
Under our swords they fell;
No less our skill is,
Than when our grandsire great,
Claiming the regal seat,
By many a warlike feat
Lopped the French lilies.
The Duke of York so dread
The eager vanguard led:
With the main Henry sped,
Amongst his henchmen.
Excester had the rear—
A braver man not there;
O Lord, now hot they were
On the false Frenchmen!
They now to fight are gone;
Armour on armour shone,
Drum now to drum did groan,
To hear was wonder.
That with cries they make
The very earth did shake;
Trumpet to trumpet spake,
Thunder to thunder.
Well it thine age became,
O noble Erpingham,
Which did the signal aim
To our hid forces;
When from a meadow by,
Like a storm suddenly
The English archery
Stuck the French horses.
With Spanish yew so strong,
Arrows a cloth-yard long,
That like to serpents stung,
Piercing the weather;
None from his fellow starts,
But playing manly parts,
And like true English hearts
Stuck close together.
When down their bows they threw,
And forth their bilbows drew,
And on the French they flew,
Not one was tardy;
Arms were from shoulders sent,
Scalps to the teeth were rent,
Down the French peasants went—
Our men were hardy.
Upon St. Crispin's day
Fought was this noble fray,
Which fame did not delay
To England to carry;
Oh, when shall Englishmen
With such acts fill a pen,
Or England breed again
Such a King Harry?
~ Michael Drayton ~