The Sundering Flood, by William Morris

Chapter xxxvi. The Staves which Osberne Taught to the Dalesmen

Now all folk at Wethermel when they looked upon Osberne’s face deemed that he was bettering of the drearihood which had weighed on him ever since the battle with the strong-thieves, and of that bettering they were right glad, for they were wont to have much joy of his fellowship. Came on therewith the Midsummer Feast of the Cloven Mote, which, as aforesaid, was the greatest of all the feasts of the Dalesmen, and Osberne was there with a countenance of good cheer no worser than the best. Now at this feast not only did they do in the heedfullest and solemnest wise all that belonged to Midsummer, as the Trundling of the Fiery Wheel, and the Kindling of the Bale, and the Leaping through the Fire; but also before noon, and ere these plays were begun, was high mass sung in the goodliest fashion in each of the two churches of Allhallows for the good rest of them who had fallen manfully in battle with the thieves. And last of all, when the summer night was as dark as it would be before the dawn, and the folk of the two sides were all ranged each in a line on their own shore of the river, they sang these staves from side to side across the Sundering Flood, the Westdalers beginning, and then the Eastdalers taking it up:

Tis Summer and night,

Little dusk and long light,

Little loss and much gain

When the day must needs wane,

Little bitter, much sweet

From the weed to the wheat;

Little moan, mickle praise

Of the Midsummer days,

When the love of the sleeping sun lieth along

And broodeth the acres abiding the song.

Were the spring to come o’er

And again as before,

What then would ye crave

From the summer to have?

Sweeter grass would ye pray,

And more lea-lading hay?

For more wheat would ye cry,

Thicker swathe of the rye?

Stouter sons would ye ask for, and daughters more dear?

Well-willers more trusty than them ye have here?

O the wheat is yet green

But full fair beseen,

And the rye groweth tall

By the turfen wall.

Thick and sweet was the hay

On the lealand that lay;

Dear daughters had we,

Sons goodly to see,

And of all the well-willers ere trusted for true

The least have ye failed us to deal and to do.

What then is this,

That the summer’s bliss

Somewhat ye fail

In your treasure’s tale?

What then have ye lost,

And what call ye the cost

Of the months of life

Since winter’s strife?

For unseldom the summer sun curseth the Dale

With the tears thrust aback and the unuttered wail.

Forsooth o’er-well

The tale may we tell:

Tis the spear and the sword

And the House of the Sward.

The bright and the best

Have gone to their rest,

And our eyes are blind

Their eyes to find.

In mead and house wend we because they were stayed,

And we stand up because in the earth they were laid.

Would ye call them aback

Then, to look on your lack?

Nay, we would that their tale

From our hearts ne’er should fail.

This then maketh you sad,

That such dear death they had?

This night are we sad

For the joy that we had,

And their memory’s beginning

Great grief would be winning.

But while weareth away,

And e’en woe waxeth gay.

In fair words is it told,

Weighed e’en as fine gold;

Sweet as wind of the south

Grows the speech in the mouth.

And from father to son speeds the tale of the true,

Of the brave that forbore that the brethren might do.

When this was sung then each man went home to his house. But it is said that these staves were made by Osberne, and that he taught them to the Western men as well as to the Eastern.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 22:07