Friday, March 09, 2007

Poetry Friday- Excerpt from book two of The Ballad of the White Horse

Up across windy wastes and up,
Went Alfred over the shaws,
Shaken of the joy of the giants,
The joy without a cause.

In the slopes away to the western bays
Where blows never a tree,
He washed his soul in the west wind
And his body in the sea.

And he set to rhyme his ale-measures,
And he sang aloud his laws,
Because of the joy of the giants,
The joy without a cause.

For the King went gathering Wessex men,
As grain out of the chaff,
The few that were alive to die,
Laughing as littered skulls that lie
After lost battles turn to the sky
An everlasting laugh.

The King went gathering Christian men,
As wheat out of the husk;
Eldred, the Franklin by the sea,
And Mark, the man from Italy,
And Colan of the Sacred Tree,
From the old tribe on Usk.

The rook crowed homeward heavily,
The west was clear and warm,
The smoke of the evening food and ease
Rose like a blue tree in the trees
When he came to Eldred's farm.

But Eldred's farm was fallen awry,
Like an old cripples bones,
And Eldred's tools were red with rust,
And on his well was a green crust,
And purple thistles upward thrust,
Between the kitchen stones.

But smoke of some good feasting
Went upwards evermore,
And Eldred's doors stood wide apart
For loitering foot or labouring cart,
And Eldred's great and foolish heart
Stood open like his door.

A mightly man was Eldred,
A bulk for casks to fill,
His face a dreaming furnace,
His body a walking hill.

In the old wars of Wessex
His sword had sunken deep,
But all his friends, he sighed and said,
Were broken about Ethelred;
And between the deep drink and the bead
He had falled upon sleep.

"Come not to me King Alfred,
Save always for the ale;
Why should my harmless hinds be slain
Because the chiefs cry once again,
As in all fights, that we shall gain,
And in all fights we fail?

"Your scalds still thunder and prophesy
That crown that never comes;
Friend, I will watch the certain things,
Swine, and slow moons like silver rings,
And the ripening of the plums."

And Alfred answered, drinking,
And gravely, without blame,
"Nor bear I boast of scald of king,
The thing I bear is a lesser thing,
but comes in a better name.

"Out of the mouth of the Mother of God,
More than the doors of doom,
I call the muster of Wessex men
From grassy hamlet of ditch or den,
To break and be broken, God knows when,
By God, but I know why.

"And this is the word of Mary,
The word of the world's desire:
'No more comfort shall ye get,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.' "

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