No! those days are gone away,
And their hours are old and gray,
And their minutes buried all
Under the down-trodden pall
Of the leaves of many years:
Many times have winter’s shears,
Frozen North, and chilling East,
Sounded tempests to the feast
Of the forest’s whispering fleeces,
Since men knew nor rent nor leases. 10
No, the bugle sounds no more,
And the twanging bow no more;
Silent is the ivory shrill
Past the heath and up the hill;
There is no mid-forest laugh,
Where lone Echo gives the half
To some wight, amaz’d to hear
Jesting, deep in forest drear.
On the fairest time of June
You may go, with sun or moon, 20
Or the seven stars to light you,
Or the polar ray to right you;
But you never may behold
Little John, or Robin bold;
Never one, of all the clan,
Thrumming on an empty can
Some old hunting ditty, while
He doth his green way beguile
To fair hostess Merriment,
Down beside the pasture Trent; 30
For he left the merry tale
Messenger for spicy ale.
Gone, the merry morris din;
Gone, the song of Gamelyn;
Gone, the tough-belted outlaw
Idling in the “grenè shawe;”
All are gone away and past!
And if Robin should be cast
Sudden from his turfed grave,
And if Marian should have 40
Once again her forest days,
She would weep, and he would craze:
He would swear, for all his oaks,
Fall’n beneath the dockyard strokes,
Have rotted on the briny seas;
She would weep that her wild bees
Sang not to her — strange! that honey
Can’t be got without hard money!
So it is: yet let us sing,
Honour to the old bow-string! 50
Honour to the bugle-horn!
Honour to the woods unshorn!
Honour to the Lincoln green!
Honour to the archer keen!
Honour to tight little John,
And the horse he rode upon!
Honour to bold Robin Hood,
Sleeping in the underwood!
Honour to maid Marian,
And to all the Sherwood-clan! 60
Though their days have hurried by
Let us two a burden try.
Early in 1818 John Hamilton Reynolds, a friend of Keats, sent him two sonnets which he had written ‘On Robin Hood’. Keats, in his letter of thanks, after giving an appreciation of Reynolds’s production, says: ‘In return for your Dish of Filberts, I have gathered a few Catkins, I hope they’ll look pretty.’ Then follow these lines, entitled, ‘To J. H. R. in answer to his Robin Hood sonnets.’ At the end he writes: ‘I hope you will like them — they are at least written in the spirit of outlawry.’
Robin Hood, the outlaw, was a popular hero of the Middle Ages. He was a great poacher of deer, brave, chivalrous, generous, full of fun, and absolutely without respect for law and order. He robbed the rich to give to the poor, and waged ceaseless war against the wealthy prelates of the church. Indeed, of his endless practical jokes, the majority were played upon sheriffs and bishops. He lived, with his ‘merry men’, in Sherwood Forest, where a hollow tree, said to be his ‘larder’, is still shown.
Innumerable ballads telling of his exploits were composed, the first reference to which is in the second edition of Langland’s Piers Plowman, c. 1377. Many of these ballads still survive, but in all these traditions it is quite impossible to disentangle fact from fiction.
l. 4. pall. Cf. Isabella, l. 268.
l. 9. fleeces, the leaves of the forest, cut from them by the wind as the wool is shorn from the sheep’s back.
l. 13. ivory shrill, the shrill sound of the ivory horn.
ll. 15–18. Keats imagines some man who has not heard the laugh hearing with bewilderment its echo in the depths of the forest.
l. 21. seven stars, Charles’s Wain or the Big Bear.
l. 22. polar ray, the light of the Pole, or North, star.
l. 30. pasture Trent, the fields about the Trent, the river of Nottingham, which runs by Sherwood forest.
l. 33. morris. A dance in costume which, in the Tudor period, formed a part of every village festivity. It was generally danced by five men and a boy in girl’s dress, who represented Maid Marian. Later it came to be associated with the May games, and other characters of the Robin Hood epic were introduced. It was abolished, with other village gaieties, by the Puritans, and though at the Restoration it was revived it never regained its former importance.
l. 34. Gamelyn. The hero of a tale (The Tale of Gamelyn) attributed to Chaucer, and given in some MSS. as The Cook’s Tale in The Canterbury Tales. The story of Orlando’s ill-usage, prowess, and banishment, in As You Like It, Shakespeare derived from this source, and Keats is thinking of the merry life of the hero amongst the outlaws.
l. 36. ‘grenè shawe,’ green wood.
l. 53. Lincoln green. In the Middle Ages Lincoln was very famous for dyeing green cloth, and this green cloth was the characteristic garb of the forester and outlaw.
l. 62. burden. Cf. Isabella, l. 503.
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University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:52