The Defence of Guenevere, by William Morris

The Haystack in the Floods

Had she come all the way for this,

To part at last without a kiss?

Yea, had she borne the dirt and rain

That her own eyes might see him slain

Beside the haystack in the floods?

Along the dripping leafless woods,

The stirrup touching either shoe,

She rode astride as troopers do;

With kirtle kilted to her knee,

To which the mud splash’d wretchedly;

And the wet dripp’d from every tree

Upon her head and heavy hair,

And on her eyelids broad and fair;

The tears and rain ran down her face.

By fits and starts they rode apace,

And very often was his place

Far off from her; he had to ride

Ahead, to see what might betide

When the roads cross’d; and sometimes, when

There rose a murmuring from his men,

Had to turn back with promises.

Ah me! she had but little ease;

And often for pure doubt and dread

She sobb’d, made giddy in the head

By the swift riding; while, for cold,

Her slender fingers scarce could hold

The wet reins; yea, and scarcely, too,

She felt the foot within her shoe

Against the stirrup: all for this,

To part at last without a kiss

Beside the haystack in the floods.

For when they near’d that old soak’d hay,

They saw across the only way

That Judas, Godmar, and the three

Red running lions dismally

Grinn’d from his pennon, under which

In one straight line along the ditch,

They counted thirty heads.

So then,

While Robert turn’d round to his men,

She saw at once the wretched end,

And, stooping down, tried hard to rend

Her coif the wrong way from her head,

And hid her eyes; while Robert said:

Nay, love, ’tis scarcely two to one,

At Poictiers where we made them run

So fast: why, sweet my love, good cheer,

The Gascon frontier is so near,

Nought after this.

But: O! she said,

My God! my God! I have to tread

The long way back without you; then

The court at Paris; those six men;

The gratings of the Chatelet;

The swift Seine on some rainy day

Like this, and people standing by,

And laughing, while my weak hands try

To recollect how strong men swim.

All this, or else a life with him,

For which I should be damned at last,

Would God that this next hour were past!

He answer’d not, but cried his cry,

St. George for Marny! cheerily;

And laid his hand upon her rein.

Alas! no man of all his train

Gave back that cheery cry again;

And, while for rage his thumb beat fast

Upon his sword-hilt, some one cast

About his neck a kerchief long,

And bound him.

Then they went along

To Godmar; who said: Now, Jehane,

Your lover’s life is on the wane

So fast, that, if this very hour

You yield not as my paramour,

He will not see the rain leave off:

Nay, keep your tongue from gibe and scoff

Sir Robert, or I slay you now.

She laid her hand upon her brow,

Then gazed upon the palm, as though

She thought her forehead bled, and: No!

She said, and turn’d her head away,

As there were nothing else to say,

And everything were settled: red

Grew Godmar’s face from chin to head:

Jehane, on yonder hill there stands

My castle, guarding well my lands;

What hinders me from taking you,

And doing that I list to do

To your fair wilful body, while

Your knight lies dead?

A wicked smile

Wrinkled her face, her lips grew thin,

A long way out she thrust her chin:

You know that I should strangle you

While you were sleeping; or bite through

Your throat, by God’s help: ah! she said,

Lord Jesus, pity your poor maid!

For in such wise they hem me in,

I cannot choose but sin and sin,

Whatever happens: yet I think

They could not make me eat or drink,

And so should I just reach my rest.

Nay, if you do not my behest,

O Jehane! though I love you well,

Said Godmar, would I fail to tell

All that I know? Foul lies, she said.

Eh? lies, my Jehane? by God’s head,

At Paris folks would deem them true!

Do you know, Jehane, they cry for you:

Jehane the brown! Jehane the brown!

Give us Jehane to burn or drown!

Eh! gag me Robert! Sweet my friend,

This were indeed a piteous end

For those long fingers, and long feet,

And long neck, and smooth shoulders sweet;

An end that few men would forget

That saw it. So, an hour yet:

Consider, Jehane, which to take

Of life or death!

So, scarce awake,

Dismounting, did she leave that place,

And totter some yards: with her face

Turn’d upward to the sky she lay,

Her head on a wet heap of hay,

And fell asleep: and while she slept,

And did not dream, the minutes crept

Round to the twelve again; but she,

Being waked at last, sigh’d quietly,

And strangely childlike came, and said:

I will not. Straightway Godmar’s head,

As though it hung on strong wires, turn’d

Most sharply round, and his face burn’d.

For Robert, both his eyes were dry,

He could not weep, but gloomily

He seem’d to watch the rain; yea, too,

His lips were firm; he tried once more

To touch her lips; she reached out, sore

And vain desire so tortured them,

The poor grey lips, and now the hem

Of his sleeve brush’d them.

With a start

Up Godmar rose, thrust them apart;

From Robert’s throat he loosed the bands

Of silk and mail; with empty hands

Held out, she stood and gazed, and saw,

The long bright blade without a flaw

Glide out from Godmar’s sheath, his hand

In Robert’s hair; she saw him bend

Back Robert’s head; she saw him send

The thin steel down; the blow told well,

Right backward the knight Robert fell,

And moaned as dogs do, being half dead,

Unwitting, as I deem: so then

Godmar turn’d grinning to his men,

Who ran, some five or six, and beat

His head to pieces at their feet.

Then Godmar turn’d again and said:

So, Jehane, the first fitte is read!

Take note, my lady, that your way

Lies backward to the Chatelet!

She shook her head and gazed awhile

At her cold hands with a rueful smile,

As though this thing had made her mad.

This was the parting that they had

Beside the haystack in the floods.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58