Friday, 24 September 2010

Poem "The Battle of Hastings"

 Deeply the Abbot of Waltham sighed
When he heard the news of woe:
How King Harold had come to a pitiful end,
And on Hastings field lay low.
Asgod and Ailrik, two of his monks,
On the mission drear he sped
To search for the corse on the battle-plain
Among the bloody dead.
The monks arose and went sadly forth,
And returned as heavy-hearted.
O Father, the world's a bitter world,
And evil days have started.
For fallen, alack! is the better man;
The Bastard has won, and knaves
And scutcheoned thieves divide the land,
And make the freemen slaves.
The veriest rascals from Normandy,
In Britain are lords and sirs.
I saw a tailor from Bayeux ride
With a pair of golden spurs.
O woe to all who are Saxon born!
Ye Saxon saints, beware!
For high in heaven though ye dwell,
Shame yet may be your share.
Ah, now we know what the comet meant
That rode, blood-red and dire,
Across the midnight firmament
This year on a broom of fire.
Twas an evil star, and Hastings field
Has fulfilled the omen dread.
We went upon the battle-plain,
And sought among the dead.
While still there lingered any hope
We sought, but sought in vain;
King Harold's corse we could not find
Among the bloody slain.
Asgod and Ailrik spake and ceased.
The Abbot wrung his hands.
Awhile he pondered, then he sighed,
Now mark ye my commands.
By the stone of the bard at Grendelfield,
Just midway through the wood,
One, Edith of the Swan's Neck, dwells
In a hovel poor and rude.
They named her thus, because her neck
Was once as slim and white
As any swan's--when, long ago,
She was the king's delight.
He loved and kissed, forsook, forgot,
For such is the way of men.
Time runs his course with a rapid foot;
It is sixteen years since then.
To this woman, brethren, ye shall go,
And she will follow you fain
To the battle-field; the woman's eye
Will not seek the king in vain.
Thereafter to Waltham Abbey here
His body ye shall bring,
That Christian burial he may have,
While for his soul we sing.
The messengers reached the hut in the wood
At the hour of midnight drear.
Wake, Edith of the Swan's Neck, rise
And follow without fear.
The Duke of Normandy has won
The battle, to our bane.
On the field of Hastings, where he fought,
The king is lying slain.
Arise and come with us; we seek
His body among the dead.
To Waltham Abbey it shall be borne.
Twas thus our Abbot said.
The woman arose and girded her gown,
And silently went behind
The hurrying monks. Her grizzly hair
Streamed wildly on the wind.
Barefoot through bog and bush and briar
She followed and did not stay,
Till Hastings and the cliffs of chalk
They saw at dawn of day.
The mist, that like a sheet of white
The field of battle cloaked,
Melted anon; with hideous din
The daws flew up and croaked.
In thousands on the bloody plain
Lay strewn the piteous corpses,
Wounded and torn and maimed and stripped,
Among the fallen horses.
The woman stopped not for the blood;
She waded barefoot through,
And from her fixed and staring eyes
The arrowy glances flew.
Long, with the panting monks behind,
And pausing but to scare
The greedy ravens from their food,
She searched with eager care.
She searched and toiled the livelong day,
Until the night was nigh;
Then sudden from her breast there burst
A shrill and awful cry.
For on the battle-field at last
His body she had found.
She kissed, without a tear or word,
The wan face on the ground.
She kissed his brow, she kissed his mouth,
She clasped him close, and pressed
Her poor lips to the bloody wounds
That gaped upon his breast.
His shoulder stark she kisses too,
When, searching, she discovers
Three little scars her teeth had made
When they were happy lovers.
The monks had been and gotten boughs,
And of these boughs they made
A simple bier, whereon the corse
Of the fallen king was laid.
To Waltham Abbey to his tomb
The king was thus removed;
And Edith of the Swan's Neck walked
By the body that she loved.
She chanted litanies for his soul
With a childish, weird lament
That shuddered through the night. The monks
Prayed softly as they went.

"The Battlefield of Hastings" by Heinrich Heine

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